Thursday, November 23, 2017

Con on the Cob!

Today is November 24 which in the good ol' US of A means Thanksgiving. Gobble, gobble, gobble. Corny, I know, but happy holidays to everyone.

This is a long overdue post report of Con on the Cob and some thoughts on a game I'm a player in. Con on the Cob is a convention put on by Andy Hopp near Cleveland Ohio. For those of you who don't know, Andy is the author and illustrator of the Savage Worlds game Low Life. This convention was a blast to be a part of. This is the most family friendly con I've ever seen. For me the best part of the con were than the group of friends that attended with me.

Nerds-International was proudly represented at Con on the Cob by Gary McCallum, Jamie Pierson, Blaine Wagner, Eric Lamoureux, Matthew Jones, Chris Holmes, Stephen Dragonspawn, and Tony Fanning. This was the best convention I've ever been to and it was because of these people. Most of us arrived on Wednesday night before the con started. We played a couple of games but mostly just hung out in the atrium. Later that night we saw Andy and he stopped by to say hi. I had so much fun that most of the days start to blur together for me. I remember all the games just not when they were played. All of the games I played were run by the N-I folks so I can't really speak about the other games going on at the con.

Thursday morning I ran Tales from the Loop: Roleplaying in the 80's that never was. This was my first time running Tales from the Loop so I was a bit apprehensive but got into the groove pretty quickly. This game was the most fun I've ever had as a GM and it was all because of the players. We started out by making some characters from the archetypes in the book plus one I made up. This took us somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes. Then we introduced each character and got right into the first mystery in the book; Summer Break and Killer Birds. I think this game went so well because the players fell right into the roles. I think its because all of us at the table grew up in the 80's and they're a group of great role players. I really liked that I didn't have to make any dice rolls as the GM and I could focus more on what the players wanted to do. My job was to give them clues and see how they reacted. Fortunately they had some great ideas and I was able to roll with them. I only used two scenes from the mystery and everything else was based upon what the players wanted to do. I really like Tales from the Loop and if you don't have this yet then you really should pick it up.

Later that day we had a full table of players for Blaine's game of Formula D. This was the second game I've played of Formula D. It was still a little confusing on some of the rules but nonetheless we all had lots of fun. It took us 4 hours to do 2 laps around the board.

On Friday morning I was scheduled to run Savage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Overall I would say the game was a success but there were definitely some problems. I was using Palladium's Truckin' Turtles book for the adventure and the story was inconsistent at best. There were some great scenes and the players were great but the story just seemed to fall apart. I brought along some props for the players but I didn't get it to the level I had hoped to. This game will be a work in progress for sure. I also got some great feedback from the players as well. Later on in the day I met the guy who inspired me to make this game. Norm Hensley's blog, savageboldfistblog is where I got the characters from and I just needed to modify slightly because he made them using the older Savage Worlds rules.

In the afternoon Tony ran a game of Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG. I really wanted to play this game for two reasons. Number one its Star Wars. Come on, who doesn't want to play Star Wars. Number two was because I was always skeptical of the narrative dice system used by FFG. Tony ran a great game and it left me wanting to try the narrative dice again. We went through an entire adventure of Star Wars without once firing a weapon. Well almost. Tony really wanted to show us noobs how combat worked in FFG so he made us fight one minion group of troopers. Unfortunately I think it backfired on him just a little bit. We managed to take out the troopers before they even had a chance to do anything. By the end of this game I was just starting to grasp the concept of FFG's narrative dice. I was still a little confused on the symbols and how to utilize the effects of the dice. With Tony's help and with the help of other experienced players at the table the mechanics of the dice narration made the game run smoothly. I'm still not sold on it though.

As Saturday rolled around, Chris ran a game of Edge of Primeval Thule. This is his home-brew game of FFG's Edge of the Empire mixed with Primeval Thule. Think FFG's narrative dice used with a gritty fantasy setting where Cthulhu is alive and well. I wanted to play this game because I really enjoyed reading Primeval Thule and it would give me another chance at using the narrative dice. The adventure was great and only two characters died at the very end. Chris did a great job of challenging the players and the dice system was starting to grow on me. It's still slow going when trying to interpret the dice symbols but that would come more naturally over time. My biggest confusion with this system is how to use advantage, threat, triumph, and despair. Chris was able to provide suggestions on how to use them best and it worked out well for everyone.

I think Chris and Tony both did an excellent job of explaining FFG's narrative dice and I thoroughly enjoyed both games. Both of you guys are excellent GM's. After the con I find myself wanting to play FFG Star Wars and now FFG Genesys' release is just around the corner. I think my biggest complaint about the narrative dice system is the symbols on the dice. It's not intuitive as to which symbol cancels the corresponding inverse symbol. An explosion (success) cancels a triangle (failure). With the new Genesys dice coming out I think that problem will be solved.

An hour later Eric ran a playtest for a new game he's writing which is tentatively called Wiseguys. This is a full blown Savage Worlds setting in a similar vein as Just Insert Imagination's smash hits Fuhgeddaboudit! and Badabing Badaboom! Eric has some great ideas for this game and the pregenerated characters were awesome. I played an Elvis impersonator who can disguise himself and impersonate others after studying the mark for a short time. He was also a cooler. This was hilarious. As a known cooler in Las Vegas, I was banned from all casino's. Of course I had to convince a casino employee to give me his uniform so I could sneak into the hotel. Then as I walked through the casino floor to the hotel everybody started losing and the machines were acting funky. Eric did a great job with his description of what happened. More wacky antics ensued and in the end we got the guy who sold us out. Keep your eye out for Wiseguys.

Throughout the con we pretty much stopped the RPG's around 7pm every night. That was reserved for events and live streams. We had our own table at the con thanks to Andy and we hung out together and played card games. Gary was the evening entertainment most nights. That guy if fucking hilarious. Gary, you're the man! He convinced a police officer to allow an artist to draw a penis on his forearm. Of course when I said this con is family friendly, the evening is for adults only. All of the child friendly events were held during the day up to 7 pm. There was a costume contest, miniature golf, basketball, video arcade, swimming pool, miniature painting, and more. They even had staff to entertain and babysit the kids so the parents could partake in the convention games.

I also wanted to take this time to write about a bi-weekly game I'm currently in on Wednesday nights. Mutant Year Zero from Modiphius Entertainment. We have played a few sessions of this game and I find myself getting a little bored with it. The setting, the GM, and the other players are good. It just feels like there's way too much book keeping for my tastes. We literally have to keep track of everything. Currency, food, water, status of our ark projects, and condition of our ark are most of it. We just hit a cliffhanger last night so I'm interested to see where it goes but I'm losing focus of my character how to play him. It's really hard to explain why it feels the way it does. There's social conflict in our Ark and now we just got attacked by outsiders. One of the difficult things for me is the meta knowledge. Imagine yourself as someone who has never seen a pair of scissors before. In the game your character doesn't know what they are but you know what it is and how to use them. Separating everyday common knowledge from the game and roleplaying it is difficult for me. I'm also curious to see what the others think about this game. I believe Eric said he's losing interest in the game as well but I don't want to put word in his mouth.

There were many, many, many more games hosted by Nerds from the network that I didn't mention only because the blog post is getting lengthy. I didn't forget and they aren't any less memorable than the ones I mentioned here. You guys Rock! Con on the Caaaaab!

P.S. Thank you to all the people I mentioned earlier for making the first annual Nerds-International gathering at Con on the Cob one I will never forget. Thank you Andy Hopp for your hard work putting on the con and letting us take over part of the atrium. I'm still waiting for you to run Low Life for us Andy, maybe next year.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Seven Worlds Test Drive Review

For those of you that may not have heard, Seven Worlds is a new Savage Worlds setting coming to Kickstarter soon. It is written by Luis Enrique Torres and published by Intellistories. You can get the Seven Worlds Test Drive at DriveThruRPG here. The Wild Die Podcast did an interview episode with Luis but as of this writing it is a Patreon supporter only episode. Here is a link to their Patreon page if you would like to pledge your support to listen to the episode. I believe it will be released to the public when the Kickstarter campaign goes live so you may want to wait.

Right off the bat my first question is, what sets this science fiction RPG apart from all the rest? First of all it has the Atomic Rockets Seal of Approval. What is that you ask? It is a highly sought after approval by Sci-fi writers, game designers, and programmers. It's basically just an acknowledgement that the fiction written is based upon real science and therefore more closely related to hard Sci-fi.

My first impression of this document is it looks really good. The layout by Thomas Shook is clean and simple, I like it. The first page after the cover is the map of the known universe. The map is usually the first thing I look for in Sci-fi settings. This 2-dimensional map looks fantastic and has 7 colonized planets. Hmm, I wonder where they got the name from? You can also go to their webpage at and get yourself a 3-dimensional map. I tried the Instant Reality InstantPlayer but it seemed pretty glitchy to me. I have yet to try the Cortona 3d Viewer.

There are 6 pages of setting background information (I like to call it the fluff). After looking for the map, I then go looking for the fluff. This is where I get a good sense of how the rest of the book will be written. The game starts out in the year 2217, exactly 200 years after the Circle Foundation is created. There are two major organizations, The Circle and The Brotherhood. The Circle, founded by Donovan in 2017, is focused on space exploration, expansion, and protecting humanity from the dangers therein. The Psion Brotherhood, founded by Michaels, is dedicated to protecting and educating people with psionic abilities. These two founders, Donovan and Michaels, were high school friends who had a falling out over a girl named Melissa.

In 2021 Helium-3 fusion reactors are invented and the search for a stable supply of this fuel leads the human race to mine it from the gas planet Saturn in the 2050's. Around this time Donovan passes away and his longtime partner Melissa gives his personal notebooks which include theoretical formulas to what would become the basis for an Interstellar Engine. In 2089 the first test of this engine is successful with a 6 light year jump. Two years later an alien race makes itself known to humanity. The N'ahili race arrived, attracted by the interstellar jump to Barnard's Star, and shared coordinates of jump membranes to several new stars within 12 light years of Earth (Sol).

Humans have now colonized two new worlds and are eager for more expansion. The N'ahili come to the rescue and provide more star coordinates. Now the known universe has expanded to 22 light years from Sol and two more planets are settled. This second set of planets are nearly identical to that of Earth making them important to humanity's survival. In 2133 an unknown comet was discovered on a direct path to Earth. The planetary defenses are able to break up the comet into smaller pieces but it is too late. The effects of an impact induced nuclear winter will last until around 2150. Evacuees are transported to the planets of Concordia and Bay Jing making them equivalent to Earth in both population and importance. By 2165 the N'ahili surprise us again with new coordinates which increase the human presence to 30 light years from Sol.

This new expansion of human kind brings on the settlement of 2 new planets of which one is important. It is important because Concordia and Bay Jing both settle on the planet of Nouvelle Vie. Conflicts between these two colonies leads to the first war humans have in space. During the war, the Circle is instrumental in stopping war crimes mostly by the use of the Stellar Communications Network. Widespread news updates keep the warring planets honest, or at least as honest as possible during war. The Brotherhood also plays an important role in the war by helping to prevent atrocities through the use of "suggestion" and mind-reading without direct mind-control. By 2181 the war is over but the government of Bay Jing is secretly manipulating the population into blaming the Brotherhood which leads to the Psion Riots of 2188.

This brings us to the present day of 2217. Earth has now returned to its former glory and is seen as an equal among Concordia and Bay Jing. Nouvelle Vie is still being torn apart by home grown terrorists waging guerrilla war. The last colonized planet of Logan's End has become the ultimate frontier world with exotic jungles and tourist attractions. Recently, strange energy signatures have been detected in space around an asteroid belt in the far reaches of Nouvelle Vie. Ships are disappearing and stories are circulating about suspicious activity.

Included in the Test Drive are new setting rules, skills, hindrances, edges, psionics, a new derived stat, space ship combat, four pre-generated characters, and an adventure designed for four players. This Test Drive doesn't go into creating characters or covering all the new stats. It is meant to provide you with the necessary information to play the included characters and adventure. Mental Toughness is the new derived stat which is equal to two plus half of your Spirit. This is a measure of how tough your mind is against Psionic attacks.

The two new setting rules are Microgravity and Zero-G and Assistants. Microgravity and Zero-G reduce the character's pace by half and cause a -2 physical action penalty. A roll of a 1 on the trait die regardless of the Wild die causes the character to slip and tumble in around in three dimensions (treat the character as Shaken recover with Agility). Weapons that are not rated for Zero-G use cause the user to become Shaken as before on an attack roll of 1 or 2. There is a -2 penalty for using non Zero-G weapons as well. In Seven Worlds most characters own an Assistant. This virtual assistant appears in your Augmented Reality (AR) glasses, lenses, or on display screens. There are numerous functions the assistant can help the hero's with. During combat the assistant can be activated with the use of a bennie and perform a smarts trick, test of will, generate an advantage/disadvantage, or use a special action. If the assistants roll succeeds with a raise the player gets the bennie back.

There are 7 pages dedicated to space combat in Seven Worlds. Right away that should tell you something. In my opinion this is where Seven Worlds falls short. In a system that's supposed to Fast! Furious! Fun! space combat feels way too crunchy for Savage Worlds. This almost seems like a mini's game within a roleplaying game where distance and facing are important. They do a good job of explaining how to do it and provide examples but it's just now my cup of tea.

That was a highly condensed version of fluff in the Seven Worlds Test Drive document. If any of that sounds interesting to you then I encourage you to read it for yourself. I really hope the final setting includes more fluff. I enjoyed Luis' writing and look forward to reading the full setting once it is published.

Overall 9 out of 10 Lotus Masters recommend Seven Worlds.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Some Thoughts On Railroads and Sandboxes

Yesterday, my friend Eric Lamoureux posted a link to David Hartlage's (a.k.a. DM David) blog post and asked the Nerds-International Google + community what they think about this topic. I posted my brief thoughts on this and the comments afterwards made it clear to me that they misunderstood what I meant. Below is an excerpt of the discussion with my response. Here is a link to the G+ post.

In order to explain what I mean I'll have to get the D&D 5th edition version of The Curse of Strahd out. Hang on a minute. I'll be right back. This is what Bill Lear is asking about. On page 35 you'll find a map of Barovia which details 26 points of interest. 

This campaign is what I would call railroads in a sandbox. With 26 locations on the map players are free to move from one Point Of Interest (POI) to another POI. They get to choose where to go and what to do. Each POI could be a single event or multiple encounters. In the case of one POI containing multiple encounters, I would call that a mini sandbox. Again, the players are free to choose where to go and what to do. 

Up to this point it sounds like one big sandbox, right? Well, yes and no. Each POI has at least one railroad and sometimes more. The premise here is that the players are trying to get home and in order to do that they need to defeat Strahd. In order to defeat him they need to gather clues and obtain magic items to help weaken the vampire. So, how do we find these magic items? Railroad adventures within the sandbox. With a clear defined goal of defeating Strahd to return home, the players are being railroaded into following the story plot. They may accomplish this in any order but the DM has a big influence on where the players will go next by which clues were given at any given POI.

So, with that out of the way, I can explain what I was thinking when I said "Players want a railroad with the illusion of a sandbox." I wasn't referring to a campaign when I made that statement. I was thinking on a smaller scale of a single adventure but that could be expanded to campaign play. For the purposes of a single adventure, I was thinking more along the lines of a GUMSHOE adventure. In the case of Ashen Stars, the adventure has a clear objective set out by the contract the Lasers agreed to take on. This could apply to any adventure though. 

I probably shouldn't post this next picture because I want to run this adventure and it will spoil the game for those potential players but here it is. The picture below will help explain what I mean by a railroad with the illusion of a sandbox. It is a simple flowchart, well it seemed more difficult when I made it, but it is simple nonetheless. 
As you can see, this flow chart represents 13 scenes from an investigative adventure written by Robin D. Laws. The first 3 scenes are on the rails but then the players could potentially have a choice to go in two different directions. This is an illusion of choice though because they converge back to a common scene. Then they could have 3 more choices which split off in different directions (sandbox illusion) but they again converge back to a common scene. And finally, we're back on the rails again for the conclusion of the adventure. The players think it's a sandbox adventure because they have what appear to be free will choices, assuming they ask the right questions to find the clues, but you and I both know that this is a railroad. It is more of a plot-driven story than character-driven one. Sure the players have choices that affect their course through the adventure but they won't change the completion of the story.

This same method could be used for a campaign. Just make another flow chart but replace the scenes with adventures. In the beginning the GM can set them on a path (railroad) and then give them a choice of a couple of adventures to choose from. Whichever path they choose the next adventure will be back on the rails. Now you can give them 3 or more choices of adventures to pick from and they will then converge back to an adventure the GM chooses. It's a masterfully crafted railroad with the illusion of a sandbox.

Well it's late and I'm getting tired as I write this so I hope it makes sense to the 3 people who read this.

P.S. I think both of the approaches I've outlined here are excellent but I prefer the second one.