Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Reconnecting Is Harder Than It Sounds

So, I've been kind of away for a while. Physically, mentally and in other ways.

In the span of time since I've gone somewhat MIA, my youngest is on the verge of starting to walk and my oldest has graduated high school and is striking on his own. I've lost close to 30 pounds, solely due to increased activity from playing Ingress. I've met a ton of great people, participated in some cool activities and seen parts of my local area I didn't even know existed.

But I recently got the itch to reconnect with my life-long friend and hobby of roleplaying. So I started looking at my G+ feed again (which, honestly, is full of a lot of awesome), glancing at my RSS subscriptions, and generally trying to scope out the new hotness from the past year. Anything that will spark my interest and get my brain juices flowing. Surely, there’s been some cool stuff happening.

This time, I’m not finding a whole lot to get my roleplaying engine revving. The Mekton Zero Kickstarter still hasn’t delivered. Neither has Exalted 3e. I logged into RPG.Net, skimmed through the posts, and closed the browser window. Not much interesting going on there either. Even my old foils (which will remain nameless) that could provide at least some comedy material are slacking.

Now it seems like reconnecting with rpgs is going to take a little more work than I thought. So I figured that I’d open this up to my fellow gamers: what are you really excited about or looking forward to? What’s the latest and greatest that’s going on? Any special projects, stuff that is a must read? Maybe I'll find some inspiration in somebody else’s excitement.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Intersection of Ingress

So aside from having a baby in September - which actually made August extremely busy as we bought things, cleaned the house, and had various appointments and whatnot - in July I started playing Ingress.

I really should say no more.

Those Control Fields don't just create themselves

I'm not sure which G+'er got me onto this hamster wheel, but whoever it was they are totally to blame. It might have been +Topher Gerkey or +Eric Franklin. I blame both, even if they don't play Ingress.

So far it has been a fun, and time consuming, ride. But unlike say running an rpg or writing about rpgs, Ingress fits in with the new lifestyle of having a baby. It's keeping me active (I've lost over 20 lbs), and honestly if I'm sitting down and I'm not at work, I will fall asleep. Guaranteed. It also has lead me to have a better understanding of my home town and surrounding area. I know where everything is around here now.

I am finally finding myself slowing down a little bit though. Ingress hasn't lost it's shine, although honestly the badge requirements for levelling make it seem unlikely I'll ever get beyond level 12 or so anytime in the near future. I'm not going to retire per se from playing Ingress, but as newer players level up in my area and step up to take on the mantle of squashing toad portals every chance they get it allows me to turn my sights on to bigger things. Ops, large fields, exploring interesting new places. I'm going to get a mountain bike and hopefully a rack for it, and become one of those bike Ingressers pedalling along the multitude of trails that criss cross the foothills and mountains around me. I can see those portals lurking up there in the mountains, and I want to find them and hack them.

Finally, aside from taking time away from my roleplaying activities, blogging, etc., I think my time playing Ingress has been extremely worth it. I've made some great new friends and become part of the awesome Resistance team down here in south Orange County. In many ways, the community is a lot like the tabletop community. There are really interesting people, a few jerkstores, and overall a bunch of cool folk. The cost of some extra gas money and wear and tear on my car has been totally worth it for the experiences.

Tomorrow is Ingress First Saturday, and our event is in Irvine. I'll be there, so if you're local and play or are just curious, be sure to swing on by.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Where Have I Been?

It's been a pretty long time. For the past month and a half or so I've been kind of absent from Google+, gaming forums, and other type activities.

I announced a number of months back that we are having a baby, who is due any day now. Preparations for the baby and a few other changes prompted some lifestyle changes for me. I'm a lot more active now, walking at least a couple miles a day. I'm going to bed earlier, waking up earlier, and just a lot busier in general.  +Ingress is definitely a contributing factor there - but many of the changes to my routine came about naturally, with Ingress just coming along for the ride (often literally).

I'm 44, which means when my newborn son turns 18 I'll be 62. Combine the realization that I need to take better care of myself for him with the natural instinct to want to get things in order with a new baby coming - lots of cleaning, fixing things up, putting things together, etc. - and I've had a lot less time for gaming-related activities. The downside is less time spent on rpgs and related activities. I even have Watchdogs and Thief- which I got for my birthday over a month ago - that I haven't even started playing yet. The upside is that once the baby is born and everything is in order - family-wise, physically, and even to some degree mentally - I'm going to be coming back full force.

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Blog Post Sharing Is Needy And Unjustified

Nearly everyone who writes blog posts wants those posts to be read by somebody. Otherwise, we wouldn't write blog posts at all and instead would sit on a bus bench scribbling in notebooks, with the occasional outburst of barely stifled laughter.

Because of this, it's a pretty common practice to share blog posts on social media, push the posts to feeds, and generally promote the blog. It's all fine and dandy to say that an interesting blog will attract eyeballs on its own merit, but in practice that's not how it works. My experience may be atypical, but there's two things that are guaranteed to help out with making sure that at least a few people who might be interested in the subject see the post: post regularly (because then people will at least look to see if there are posts on a semi-regular basis) and share the posts.

On Google+, at least in roleplaying circles, there have been calls to not blast a new blog post to every community. There's some overlap in community membership, and people wind up seeing the same post take over their feed. Lots of us have been guilty of this in the past, and I for one have heeded the requests of various owners and moderators to keep it to a dull roar. I tend to pick a couple communities that the post might be relevant to or might be conducive to a discussion on the topic. One of those communities is Pen & Paper RPG Bloggers, which is dedicated strictly to blogging and blog updates. That means I might choose one or two more - typically, it's the G+ Tabletop Roleplayers Community and that's it, because it's the largest and one of the most active. If it's Fate related, I might post it to Fate Core. If it's worldbuilding, then Worldbuilding or maybe a map community. Kicksnarker for...well, we all know what Kicksnarker is for.

This seems to be working for the majority. I can attempt to get the post seen by people who might be interested, moderators aren't inundated with posts that have little or no relevance, and readers don't find their entire stream covered with the same post over and over. Everybody's happy.

Then, there's this guy.

I see he hasn't appeared on +Top Elf 's Nice list yet...I wonder why
That was a comment on my post to one of three communities I shared this post with (including the aforementioned community that is just for blogging). I responded in kind in the thread, at which point I was told that the mere act of sharing of the post comes across as "needy", and that he is apparently the self-appointed czar of blog content quality and worthiness of promotion.

I really - I mean really - have to resist the urge in tagging him in every blog post I ever write. He's entitled to his opinion. Just as I'm entitled to keep doing exactly what I've been doing: writing posts when the mood or inspiration strikes me, on whatever I want to write about, and sharing those posts in a manner that I think will encourage interested readers. Even if that includes a lengthy post to complain about some dude complaining about posts being spam.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

We Are All Game Designers

This is actually due to some some philosophizing I've been doing lately.

Every one of us who are involved in the roleplaying hobby are game designers. Sure, it comes in matters of degree - some players never get much more involved than creating their characters, while on the other end are the obvious ones who tackle creating entire games. But even sitting down and planning out a session is game design.

That's a great hippy-feely notion, but it begets a corollary. It's easy to get lost in the "design mode" and just come up with something that's not fun or doesn't work quite right in actual play (as I firmly believe happened with Exalted 2e - looked good on paper, but not so great in practice for me). It's also easy to get caught up in "gamer ADD" and change things in the middle of things just because some new method, technique, house rule, whatever caught your interest.

That's my designer hat, right there
FWIW, my own Tribe 8 game recently suffered from a bit of, "This looked good when I designed it, but I'm not sure it's working so well in play." There were a number of factors involved, up to and including a reasonably large hiatus from running games; balancing design goals and intended outcomes over the course of multiple iterations of the rules; and finally adapting to playing online versus face-to-face (where I think this would have been resolved much faster). As a result, I've kind of changed things about the skill implementation mid-stride. In this case, I think the change was a good one but it definitely got me thinking about the propensity to be in "designer mode", and the impact it can have on an actual living game.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mecha Games: Are The Mainstays Really Complicated?

So, something came up recently where someone called Mekton Zeta overly complicated. The word "crunchy" was used, as well as a bunch of hyperbole about having to calculate gigawatts to drive generators and such.

It might very well be experience with the system- over twenty years worth - tinting my glasses, but I don't get it. To me, it sounds like someone flipped through Mekton Zeta Plus, saw some numbers and some systems that they didn't yet know how to use, and decided that it was GURPS Vehicles or something. Yeah, there are a reasonable number of moving parts to have to keep track of. A good spreadsheet helps; not because there's complex calculations, but just to help keep things straight. All of the math is straight arithmetic, and most of it is tallying values. But it took me about an hour to create a cybertank over the weekend, and that was without touching the build system in a few years. Sure, there are some things that I do that aren't standard procedure. For example, I don't try to reduce individual systems to fit within the space available. I tally up the total available spaces in the design, subtract the amount of space that's being used by the systems, and then just buy space efficiency if needed because it's so damn cheap.

I have the same reaction when someone talks about the Silhouette construction system - specifically, the one in Jovian Chronicles or Silhouette Core - being complicated or requiring a lot of math. While it's true that there are some exponents and cube roots and formulas in the construction system - it's also entirely optional. You only do it if you want to generate Threat Values (for balancing, although they're kind of useless for that) or some other fluff values like price. Other than that, the build system is less complicated than MZ by an order of magnitude - you pick the size rating, choose the armor rating, give it some propulsion, stat out a few weapons, add some perks and flaws and you're done.

In systems like Mekton Zeta or Silhouette there's going to be some domain knowledge or system mastery involved in making the right decisions - how much armor to put on, how much damage a weapon should do, what's a good range or movement speed, etc. That's a given - a potential GM or player just needs to design a few mecha and face them off against each other to get a feel for it. But the construction systems themselves? They're really not that complex. GURPS Vehicles? That's complex. MegaTraveller? That was complex. Mekton Zeta has more in common with Car Wars than the former two.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Do People Want To Stick Non-Humans In Everything?

So recently on the Dream Pod 9 forum I saw a thread titled "HG Needs Aliens."

The reasoning for this is, apparently, that when you want to add something into a game the answer is:

You knew that was coming...right?
Now, I like games with the non-humans as much as the next guy. I get that people like things that are novel or different or have a "kewl" factor. I think they have their place. But for the love of Crom, they don't need to be in everything. Some settings, particularly science fiction settings (but this is just as true for fantasy or anything else), do just fine without them. Humanity already has such a huge range of variety and uniqueness. A well-realized setting - like Terra Nova - is missing aliens because it was a conscious design choice. They were a color that wasn't used when Terra Nova was painted (metaphorically speaking). Unless you were some post-modern artist, you wouldn't just go splashing fuchsia paint all over the Mona Lesa would you?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Giving Mekton Zero & Heavy Gear Universe Some Love

I came to the realization recently that two of my most nostalgia-inducing games are coming out with new editions and I haven't recently given them a lot of love.

To me, R. Talsorian Games and Dream Pod 9 exist in a continuum. Mekton was my go to for any mecha game for a number of years, spanning the mid '80s until well after Mekton Zeta was released in 1994. Heavy Gear followed about a year later, and Terra Nova quickly became one of my favorite settings. The release of the Silhouette version of Jovian Chronicles completed the circle, as the Mekton II edition (as well as the magazine Mecha Press and various CP2020 supplements) were what put DP9 on my radar in the first place.

Nearly 20 years later we're getting new editions of both Mekton and Heavy Gear. Mike Pondsmith is joined by his son Cody, along with others, in taking us back to Algol in Mekton Zero. Right now the Kickstarter is a few months behind (it was supposed to deliver in March), but we are getting fairly regular updates. So far, the art is exactly what I'd expect from a top-notch RTal product (although I admit I'm not fond of the layout previews). I've reached out to them about getting some kind of sneak peek of the rules, but haven't heard back yet. Above and beyond getting the PDF from the Kickstarter, I'm also in the process of lining up replacement copies of my much tattered and worn copies of Mekton II and Zeta.

I've always loved the Mauler (the green one) 
Arkrite Press has taken up the standard of developing Heavy Gear Universe. They've actually released a novella, Rumble in the Jungle, with updated art and maps. I'm currently reading it (I rarely read game-fiction), and the writing so far is solid, if workman-like. The graphics, including the updated maps, are really nice. The artists captures the feel of Ghislaine Barbe's include Ghislain Barbe, the original artists for Heavy Gear, but the pieces have slightly different personality. If the art and graphic design is indication, the RPG is going to look amazing. I came this close to picking up a copy of the Heavy Gear 2e hardback - again, replacing a much tattered copy - at Comic Quest in Lake Forest this weekend, but decided to hold off.

Miranda Petite has come a long way

So, with that I'm excited for both of them. It's always nice to see new life breathed into old favorites - especially since it happens relatively rarely with the games that I'm interested in.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Twitter Circle Jerks and Social Marketing in RPGs

This is going to be relatively short and sweet.

I don't pay a lot of attention to social media marketing or what's expected to be "best practice." But from some forays on Twitter and whatnot I've gathered the pattern for guaranteed success is:

1) Follow/retweet/like people.
2) Ask them to reciprocate.
3) ???
4) Profit!

It's the ??? part in these cases that kind of stumps me. For resharing of blog posts, news, Kickstarter announcements, that kind of thing I can see the value. The more eyes you get on something like that, the more people might find it interesting or useful. I can see that to a degree when marketing a product - but from I've seen, the follows/refollows/likes/relikes might be in the same general area of interest (say, science fiction) but aren't targeted toward gamers. I'm having trouble seeing how it could lead to meaningful conversion to sales used in this manner.

For example, say you've gotten a few thousand people to follow you on Twitter. But it's only because you've followed them back. None of the them are actually interested in the game - only getting a follow or like back in order to boost their own numbers. There's no way in hell even a small fraction of them are going to give anything more than moral support to it - there's just not enough time in the day or money (for most people).And for something like Twitter or Facebook, a few thousand somewhat disinterested followers doesn't seem much better than having 50 actual fans.

Maybe it's just me being a crotchety old man - I'm sure that all of this social media marketing wouldn't exist if it didn't have any effect at all. I just can't help thinking that in the case of rpgs, it's just a big social media circle jerk/communal back-patting. Apparently, I'm not the only person who feels this way:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Using Supers Games When You're Not A Supers Fan

I grew up surrounded by friends who loved comic books, and I've picked up a lot of knowledge about them through osmosis. When a friend of mine in junior high school wanted to play Marvel Superheroes, I was the only one remotely capable of running it. So I buckled down with a bunch of copies of his Marvel character encyclopedias (I forgot what they were called) and cooked up a game. It went pretty well, and everyone had fun - it actually spurred me to buy Villains and Vigilantes, Heroes Unlimited (although I used that more for TMNT), and even Champions. Up until the point where I unloaded a lot of my rpgs in the late '90s, I probably had at least one superhero rules set in my collection even though I don't play strictly superhero games. Likewise, a very good friend of mine was a huge comic collector. I used to go with him to the comic shop all the time when he picked up his issues. A few people I know used to work in comic stores. On top of that, there have been a number of comic stores that also stocked rpgs where I used to go.

Still, I never quite developed the taste for comic books that others did (surprisingly, I totally dig the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although I'm not crazy about X-Men, Spiderman, Batman, etc.), and since high school I've never really explored super hero rpgs in any depth. The last I can remember was a Champions game when I was 18 or 19. It took me a few days to create my character. Unsurprising to anyone who knows my interest in powered armor, mecha, etc. it was a battlesuit with some kind of wacky liquid-crystal armor.

This got me thinking: what are some possible alternate uses for superhero rules sets? What are some of the lessons that can be learned in terms of power levels and handling edge cases that can be gleaned from them?

Off the top of my head, I think they tend to be flexible enough to handle crazy stuff. There are obvious parallels between some games and super hero games in terms of power level, even if the game itself isn't a "superhero" game. Exalted is fantasy supers, they just trade in the tights for an anima banner. When I was running GURPs, I used GURPs Supers to round out powers, spells, etc. for fantasy games. The same with Heroes Unlimited and Ninjas & Superspies for my Palladium games. It's nice to keep the toolbox stocked with a variety of tools, even if it's that funny shaped one that I only ever use once in a blue moon.

So, with that in mind, I decided to take a look at Venture City Stories for Fate Core, to see what I might be able to use for a non-supers game.  As I've come to expect from most good Fate products, the meat of the system-related portions is only a couple of pages. There's not a laundry list of powers or a complex power creation system. It's distilled down to a couple very simple principles: one, that a "power" is a collection of related stunts. They have a drawback and a special effect. So far, that's pretty super-powery, but I supposed it could be used for other types of powers, magic, etc. The gem in there is the collateral damage effect - basically something that you can invoke that gives a big bang, but also has other big, unintended effects.

I could see using something similar to this for the weapons package for a mech. Instead of building out each weapon individually, it's an ordnance package with a couple of stunts for each weapon system, a special effect, the drawback (like reloading or heat) and the collateral damage effect.

So, there we have it - that's why I like to at least look at supers games even though I'm not really interested in playing them. And, honestly, Venture City Stories looks like a decent spin on the genre that I probably would give it a try.