Friday, July 29, 2016

Introducing: Fireteam Omega

Over the past week I have cobbled together my first attempt at RPG game design, and the fruit of that labor is...well, it's an rtf and a pdf of that rtf that messed up some of the formatting during the transfer. It's an Apocalypse World hack, not a full game on its own, so you'd need to know how that game works to play this. This is an INCREDIBLY rough first draft, and I already see a LOT of things that need to be tweaked and adjusted and in some cases ripped out.

This is a game about a squad of operatives being dropped into a situation beyond their means. This game is intended to be an homage to movies like Aliens, Predator, Doom, Resident Evil, and a little bit of Cabin In The Woods (You know the bit). It's a hack of Apocalypse World, but I've replaced most of the rules with my own.

Equipment is forthcoming, but for now it's not too hard to eyeball weapons and the like. Play is intended to be episodic and fairly dangerous, so it isn't really tooled for campaigns. You could follow a squad through multiple missions, but out of the box it's meant so you play a full in and out mission in one session.

If I've set this up properly, you should be able to access the document here.

I'll keep tinkering with it here and there, but I just wanted to post the first draft for funsies and to let those who care know (some of) what I've been working on. (This isn't the only project I have currently, after all.)

If nothing else, maybe it'll inspire you, reader, in your next RPG.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Star Trek, Tarzan, and Ghostbusters: A Red Hot Take

Lately I've been seeing a lot more movies than I usually do. That's one of the perks of having someone who wants to go see movies with you. The three I've seen this summer have been the newest works in the Tarzan, Ghostbusters, and Star Trek franchises/intellectual properties/whatever. Here are some stream of consciousness thoughts on them.

My favorite of the three was definitely Star Trek. This movie was fun, fast, and...not very furious. But it was very good. There was a surprising amount of focus on Chekhov, which is kind of a bummer after what happened to Anton Yelchin. Idris Elba was pretty good as the love child of Donald Trump and Big Boss. The scene with the classical music was super fun. I'm interested to see where the franchise goes from here--and I'm also keeping an eye on the new show they're making.

Tarzan was a surprise hit for me. I didn't go in knowing what to expect other than Christoph Waltz. Waltz was just Waltz the whole time and it was great. Samuel L Jackson was the secret proagonist of the film, as he has much more motivation and development than our titular hero. In fact, Tarzan seems more like a force of nature than a character. When discussing what Tarzan will do, the villain says, "He is Tarzan. You are Jane. He'll come."

Ghostbusters is a minefield to talk about, I know. It was kind of a roller coaster ride for me. New Ghostbusters? Meh. All female Ghostbusters? Yeah, okay! First trailer: Oh nooooo. After seeing the movie: Meh. There's no franchise potential here, though. Definitely won't be a sequel. It was, at its peak, a 7/10 for me (With the lower points feeling more like a 5). I'm not a huge Ghostbusters guy, granted. I saw the old movies as a kid but I barely remember them, and I certainly wouldn't hold them up as some kind of masterpiece of comedy. Now, Back To The Future, on the other hand...give me a female reboot of THAT. Sigourney Weaver as Doc Brown? Mae Whitman as Marty McFly? Come on, Hollywood. This is free money.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Back At Last

It's been a while! I took last week off blog posts and used my writing time to work on a Secret Project. Hopefully I can share some details soon, but I'd like to get it into a more stable state before talking about it at length. I can assure you that it is pretty cool, though.

In the meantime, I also scribbled out a couple of other pieces of writing, which can be found here. One is a prose poem, the other is a hastily conjured and minimally edited piece of fanfiction based on the Team Leaders from Pokemon Go--specifically, the only way anyone seems to be shipping them. The pairing shouldn't surprise you. I've never lent much credence to fan works like that, but I'm starting to see value in it as a way to get into the Writing Zone even when all I want to think about is Overwatch or whatever. In fact, that poem started as a piece inspired by this year's DOOM reboot.

Anyway, I'm gonna try and not just give up on days willy nilly, but I am going to work on my Project, so expect some scheduling wonkyness.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Domo Arigato, Rami Malek

Recently, Amazon had its now-annual Prime Day, where a bunch of stuff went on sale. While not as hyped as, say, a Steam sale, I heard enough buzz to check it out. Picked up the new Brandon Sanderson graphic novel and DOOM (PS4) for decent enough prices. But the real story is that as a Prime member, I learned that I had access to a handful of movies and TV shows I could stream for free. Included in this deal is Mr. Robot, the 2015 hacker drama from USA.

I'd heard a lot of good things about this show, and from a lot of different places. I knew Rami Malek from Until Dawn, where he plays the vengeful and mentally unbalanced Joshua Washington. He was great in that role, especially later on when he's allowed to kind of go off the rails for a few scenes. So I sat down and watched the first episode.

You may have noticed I didn't post yesterday. This is why. By the end of the first six minute scene of Malek in a coffee shop giving a monologue to a nervous child porn dealer, I was intrigued. By the end of the first episode, I was hooked. Not since Prison Break has a pilot gotten me so on board so quick. And for the most part, it's because of Rami Malek's literally award-winning performance. I watched the first season, ten forty-five minute episodes, over the course of two days. I just finished last night at work.

The first few episodes introduce the characters and subplots, of which there are several. Every character has more going on than you think (With the exception of the three other hackers within fsociety). But then there's a crux where everything goes south. The second half of the season is one swerve after another. The whole narrative starts to spin around and around, threatening to shake itself apart and fly into pieces, but holds together by threads until in the end, the strings snap and everything falls apart in a tremendous and tumultuous crash. It's a brilliant climax.

There were characters in this show that would have been terrible in other shows. Angela Moss could have been like Arrow's Laurel Lance or Daredevil's Karen Page, but instead she's played really well and has a pretty cool arc (even if she doesn't see it happening yet). The only presence that matches Malek's is the gruff, no-nonsense performance of Christian Slater as the titular Mr. Robot. His role in the show leads to one of the coolest reveals I've seen in TV shows lately. I knew absolutely nothing about this show going in, and the later episodes really took things in a direction that I didn't expect--and I absolutely loved it.

This show is a real "page-turner," and I look forward to the second season, which I believe has just premiered. Let's hope it keeps up with itself.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Some Thoughts On Roleplaying

I follow somewhere around a dozen podcasts, most of which are about video games or tabletop games. One of these, Never Tell Me the Pods, is about Star Wars. Hosted by Pranks Paul and featuring the cast of the renowned Campaign and One Shot podcasts, it's basically a collection of Star Wars fans talking about the good and bad of Star Wars. On recent episodes, there was discussion about RPG characters and how some people prefer to play characters that are similar to themselves. Upon reflection, I realized that I hadn't really ever played a character based heavily on myself. I've played a variety of characters over the years, but none have been the self-insert or self-pastiche kind of character like Dan Harmon's Jim Nightblade.

In fact, I often use RPG characters (and characters in my fiction) to explore alternative viewpoints. I'd say I probably play about a 60/40 split between genders, favoring female characters. I've played characters of a number of social classes, sexual orientations, gender identities, and races. I would be pretty bored if every character I played was just me In fact, I get bored when the protagonists in media I consume are just like me, which is (part of) why I push for diversity in the characters I have a hand in making, both as a player and a GM.

I also enjoy taking steps to accurately portray my characters when they differ from me. I've spent the last couple days listening to the type of music I feel my next character would most enjoy (Mostly Silversun Pickups and The Birthday Massacre). I did a bunch of reading about Chinese American immigrants in the 1800s for a Deadlands game. Character research is fun, and it gets me to read a bunch of cool stuff on Wikipedia that I probably never would have. And if the setting is established like Star Wars, there's a HUGE archive of very detailed garbage for me to pick through for character quirks or backgrounds. Norra, my Chiss spy, reacts very poorly to being talked down to because I read somewhere about how haughty and bigoted Chiss were in the old Star Wars canon.

That's not to say I don't occasionally fuck up. My seductress heiress from Game of Thrones isn't my best, and my PTSD'd Eberron fighter is still pretty dry. But I'd like to think I'm getting better. At the time of this writing, I think my most popular character is my time wizard Hannah, who is essentially that team's mom who tries to keep everyone alive and okay. The character that I've played that is most like me, in my opinion, is a Cavalier I played in a Skype Pathfinder game a year or two ago. He was based on my memory of what I had been like at 16--moralistic, naive, and irrationally optimistic.

One last note I'll make is about joke characters. The characters that rely on a gimmick or are the punchline to a joke. They just kind of get old after a while. It's part of why I passed off my half-orc luchador to be an NPC. I got tired of the whole bit. I know more comedy-minded players can make that work, but I don't have fun playing the comic relief character. I prefer my character to have as bad a time as possible and never be happy. Well, that's an exaggeration. But in the end, I'm a messy bitch who lives for drama.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Star Wars: The Phantom Characters

When playing RPGs, sometimes you die. It happens. When it does, it's good to have a backup on hand so you can jump right back into the game. Some groups prefer to wait until the next session to introduce a new character, and you can always play a nearby NPC if this is the case. I always have at least one backup character, but for my current Star Wars game, I actually have more. One of these is already built, while the other two would require a little character creation. We play a mix of all three Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPGs.

Starfall, Human Bounty Hunter (Assassin)

Starfall was a sniper I played in a couple sessions a few years back. He's quick, silent, and a crack shot with a slugthrower. He's addicted to muscle relaxers, which he often uses to steady his aim. He basically looks like Adam Jensen from Deus Ex, and has about as much personality. He's just a really dry contract killer. This would be for if I really just need a character really fast whose head doesn't require much subtlety or nuance to get into. His name's Starfall because I was put on the spot and never went back to give him a real name.

Tal'warat, Twi'lek Seeker (Hermit)

Tal is my most recent backup for in case Norra dies or becomes obsolete. He's a twi'lek with pale red skin who would be accompanied by some sort of small creature. (Maybe a Tailring?) I would want Tal to exhibit some of Jacen Solo's Force-empowered empathy when interacting with other living things. Sort of like a Force-druid. Go watch that new Tarzan movie, you'll see what I mean. I also imagine that early in his career he was tricked by a grifter into buying a vibrostaff--not the kind with blades, but a regular looking staff with a vibroweapon motor. It's literally just a staff with an inflated price tag since it has no blades to take advantage of the motor.

Grace Render, Mirialan Smuggler (Scoundrel)

Grace is partially inspired by Sabine from Star Wars Rebels mixed with a little bit of both versions of Dante from Devil May Cry. She's a smartass, smooth-talking street punk who has a fondness for defacing public property. She's the rebellious teen of the lot, and I imagine she also DJs at some club wherever she lives (Possibly Coruscant or Nar Shaddaa, depending on the game) while wearing a stormtrooper helmet in the style of Deadmau5.

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Look, I really like Star Wars. Making characters for that setting is really fun, even if I'm not allowed to play the really neat stuff like Vong or Fosh or Gen'Dai. I didn't come up with any good droid ideas, but I'd love to do an all-droid one shot sometime.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

ADDITIONAL NOTES: The Backburner

When you go as long between sessions as I do, you tend to collect RPG ideas and put them away for either a rainy day (or never). This is a brief list of my own backlog of games I wish I could run. A lot of these are Powered By The Apocalypse-adjacent games, because I like those games.

Erebus (Tremulus)
In the fictional Alaskan town of Erebus, weird things are afoot. When the sun sets for its nine week polar night, people start going to sleep--and not waking up. What exactly is happening to Erebus, and how can anyone escape? This is a horror-themed game run in Tremulus, which is a Lovecraftian style game in the same vein as Apocalypse World and the like.

Dragonlance (D&D 4th Edition)
A rewrite of the 3.0 Dragons of Autumn campaign, which itself was a rewrite of the original AD&D 2nd Edition campaign inspired by the Dragonlance novels. I have all of the Heroes of the Lance statted as different 4E classes, as well as a host of backups should someone die (No plot armor in this game).

Mobile Frame 0: Firebrands
This is a conversational RPG from the creator behind Apocalypse World. It's designed as a one-shot game and focuses on a collection of ace mech pilots from three different warring factions as they fight, ally, or betray each other.

Station Zero (Tremulus or Edge of the Empire)
This one's a weird one. It's another horror game, but set in Star Wars. On a massive space colony, the players would have to journey to one of the lowest sectors, abandoned for centuries, to restore power to some crucial functions. But there are a lot of things hiding in the shadows, especially in space. And they aren't all mynocks...

Dragon Age Road Trip (Dragon Age RPG)
This is my loosest idea of them all. Basically, the players are representatives of lower noble houses who travel together and head toward the capital of Ferelden for a Landsmeet. I haven't played the game, so I'm not 100% sure of the details of that event, but the RPG book makes it sound like a somewhat regular occurrence and it makes for a good destination for a team of begrudgingly united travelers who have to learn to get along.

I also have a few other little things drawn up, but I don't have enough material for a blurb.They're pilot episodes for campaigns that'll never happen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

BUILDING CHARACTER: Nora Freeman

I had just moved back to the states after spending seven months living in Germany with my father when I heard that a group of my friends had an RPG group. That very week, I called up my buddy Devin, who ran the show, and made plans to drop by that Friday to try it out. Turns out they were taking a break from their 3.5 campaign to try a new system. One of our players, not our usual GM, would be running a game called Anima. Everyone had already picked certain anime character tropes to play before I got there, and they told me when I arrived that I would be playing "The Little Girl."

And so I built Nora. She was a Thief who used a whip in combat because I am a huge fan of Castlevania, and I will always try out a game's whip. As the first session, spent mostly building our characters and playing a brief introductory scene, went on, Nora began to take shape on the horrendously complex page before me (Seriously, look up Anima sometime. It looks crazy to a first timer). I was thrilled to be able to give my character drawbacks as well as strengths, so Nora ended up being a 16 year old thief who had formerly been a part of a noble house. She lost that house,and her parents and all her belongings, in a great fire. She was rescued by a passing Lord, but the experience left her deathly afraid of fire. In an attempt to quell her fears, she took to the bottle, and soon became somewhat dependent on its liquid courage.

I only played Nora for two sessions, since everyone in the group decided that Anima was too complex and unwieldy for our tastes. I still have her character sheet, which I'll link below. Nora was my first RPG character, and set a precedent for my others: For a long time, I tended toward dexterity-focused characters like thieves and ninjas and rogues. Nowadays I'm much more dynamic and have less of a "type," or at least when it comes to class. A lot of my characters are, however, generally good at talking and usually decent at sneaking. This comes somewhat from how I play video game RPGs like Shadowrun or Dragon Age--I want all the dialogue options, so I make myself talk real good. Nora did some of that, as she picked a guard's pocket while flirting with him and ended up walking away with the boy's grappling hook. Which I never used. but that's always how it is with grappling hooks.

Last we saw Nora, an Evil party member with psychic powers who she didn't get along with had just peered into her mind and seen her greatest fears, and was planning to exploit them somehow to hurt her. We never saw how that would have ended, but I think she could take him. He was a wimp.

Here's Nora's sheet.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

BUILDING CHARACTER: Teszn'orr'antala

Chiss are cool. They're blue and suave and arrogant as kriff. So when I killed off my character in my group's ongoing Star Wars campaign, I decided to play a Chiss. I looked over a bunch of information that is no longer canon, but none of that really mattered in the end. Our game is set in the years leading up to The Force Awakens, so we kind of have a blank slate. Here are the main sticking points:

Names. Chiss have crazy ass names. From what I gathered, their names were three-part words with the first and third words being family names, and the middle word a given name. The names were separated by apostrophes. To outsiders, they went by the middle name, but with one rule: From what I can tell, the male Chiss add the last sound of the first name and the first sound of the last name to the middle name (Mitth'raw'nuruodo becomes Thrawn, Kres'ten'tarthi becomes Stent, and Brast'alshi'barku becomes Talshib), but the female Chiss used only the middle part on its own, as seen with Hess'irolia'nuruodo (Irolia) and Ina'ganet'nuruodo (Ganet). I decided that Norra would use the male styling, but still have a name that resulted in a female name, so I slapped the keyboard until I got the name Teszn'orr'antala. (The reason I chose Norra in the first place was as an homage to my first RPG character ever, Nora Freeman.)

Chiss are also known for being somewhat mysterious, so I made her a spy. This worked out well, since the Chiss inhabit a region known as the Unknown Region, which is also where most of First Order has set up shop. That immediately set me up with a backstory: ex-First Order spy. But I'm not one to let the opportunity for suffering go to waste, so I had to complicate the situation. Not only was Norra a defecting spy joining the Resistance, but she also had defected from the Chiss Ascendancy to First Order in the first place. She was spying on First Order when her cover was blown, and instead of withdraw, she defected to save herself. Did I mention this character is essentially Neutral Evil? This brings me to Joy, or JY-421 as she was once known. Joy was an ace TIE pilot who Norra fell in love with during her time with First Order. Norra gave her the nickname, and it quickly caught on with the other pilots in Joy's squad. When Norra left First Order, a lot of the heat fell on Joy, and Norra didn't come back. As a result of her association with Norra, Joy was severely punished. Now she has reemerged in recent sessions, mind hooked up to a small, state-of-the-art starfighter. She's angry, and has a right to be, as there's probably some Deus Ex stuff going down there.

Norra's relationships with her crewmates are varied. She tolerates the bumbling Zabrak Former-Nightbrother and Tusken bounty hunter. She and the Chadra-Fan technician clash over morality. She confides in the Togruta diplomat at times, and has recently bonded with his pseudo-girlfriend. She and our other Force-sensitive, a spice addict, have had minimal interaction, and she gets on great with the human Black Sun hopeful that occasionally joins the group. In our last session, she spent the day with the female Togruta, and they bought groceries and swimsuits for the pool in the crew's stolen space yacht. She spent that whole session at 10 Strain with a threshold of 11, so it was nice to wind down and not worrying about the past showing up with a pair of white-hot turbolasers.

I have a lot of fun with Norra most of the time, some of which comes from the other players losing their minds when I get close to passing out/dying (If you don't know, it's really hard to die in Star Wars, and we've only had one character loss. That was my Zabrak Surgeon/Force-Healer, who we killed for plot reasons). She's my first "Evil" character, which we only rarely even point out because alignments, am I right? Tomorrow I'll be back to talk about Norra's progenitor Nora and my first tabletop RPG experience.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Things I Read This Week

Hey all, didn't have time for a blog post today on account of running all over creation paying bills. But here's some cool stuff I read this week that you might be interested in:

The Power of Imagined Worlds

This is a wonderfully dense interview with Austin Walker, the GM and showrunner of Friends at the Table. It's well worth the read if you're into that stuff (and you probably are if you're on this blog)

The Oral History of Tony Kushner's play Angels in America

An even longer read, this details the conception, development, and release of Angels in America, a play about gay men during the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. It's a bit of an emotional piece, since you get the story out of the mouths of people who put so much of their lives into it. Good stuff, even if you're not into theater.

Teens React to Bayonetta 2

Okay, so I didn't read this. But it's a really fascinating video. I had never put much thought into Bayo2's touch screen controls, but I can definitely see a very specific niche for them. It's a cool feature that allows players who maybe aren't great at technical execution-based character action games to still experience the awesome spectacle of the game and just have a good time.