Monday, August 29, 2005

With Great Capes Under The Bed

I did not demo or buy Capes at GenCon. I suck. I keep reading about it on the Forge and smacking my forehead.

I did buy With Great Power, which is very cool, and which I had bought the preview edition to so I got a discount and all. I wanna read and play that someday when life gets less hectic.

But I didn't even demo Capes? I suck.

I also barely got into the tail end of an Under the Bed demo, and didn't buy it. Seems like a totally cool game. But I wish I'd done another demo.

Shopping list of stuff I didn't buy at Con but still want:

* Under the Bed
* Capes
* Burning Wheel
* Death's Door
* Sweet Dreams -- maybe. I loved this game but I get the impression that the author, Allan, has a headful of ways to make it cooler so I kind of want to watch and see what happens with it.
* Kayfabe

There may be more.

UPDATE: Oh yeah. Conspiracy of Shadows. I don't know anything about this game but the tone in which other people talk about it makes me way curious. Wish I'd demoed that too.

Tunnels & Trolls, 7th Edition

I totally love Tunnels & Trolls, 7th edition.

T&T was my first roleplaying game ever. I don't know when I started but it was sometime in the late 70s, when I was a prepubescent child. Liz Danforth's illustrations defined fantasy art to me for many years, and Tunnels & Trolls was gaming.

I played solos a lot, which I'm sure gives me a warped perspective on gaming and its social aspects. On the other hand, many of those solos had incredible writing and really imaginative contents. They were a lot of fun.

I haven't played in a long time, but the new edition makes me want to play again. The rules are a bit more complex now, but not more complex than I like them. There is a lot more opportunity to make your character unique and interesting, by giving them special "Talents." Levels are now nothing more than a summary of how high your attributes are, which is a way of acknowledging what was always true in T&T -- "level" is pretty unimportant; attributes are totally important. Now adventure points increase attributes directly instead of mediating through "level."

T&T has abandoned the idea of being world-neutral; it's now explicitly about gaming in Trollworld, the world where the cities of Khazan and Khosht exist on the Dragon Continent, and ships trade with Gull, City of Terrors, on the Isle of Phoron.

Magic has been made more specific -- it is the use of a natural "The Force" type stuff called Kremm (when I played with Ken St. Andre he went off on how the word Kremm is nearly identical, but pronounced a bit differently, in all of Trollworld's major languages, which made me extremely curious how much "conlinguistics" has been done for Trollworld. Oh, the Common Tongue in Trollworld is the language of the empire of Khazan, kalled "Khaz'ni".)

There are some really neat rules, such as that as a player you should be able to buy whatever weapons, or play whatever race of character, you feel like, with GM approval -- the example is given of the GM coming up with stat modifiers for Angels off the cuff because a player wants to play one. That is all kinds of awesome.

This is an old school game. It is a game about descending into tunnel complexes, evading, tricking, or killing the monsters that live there, harvesting their treasure, and coming back to the surface all the richer and wiser.

This being T&T, it's about flexibility and cleverness, not just kicking ass with your +12 HackMaster. The Saving Roll system (and the way Talents play into it) means it's all about thinking on your feet, not walking through preplanned possibilities. And that makes it cool.

I wanna make a dungeon. I've been totally busy with work and a side project and I've been carrying the T&T set around with me and a pad of graph paper wishing I had time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sophomoric Post Warning

After the wild GenCon success of Paul Czege's Bacchanal, and the continuing popularity of "Sex and Sorcery," will other indie games move forward into a realm of mature, thoughtful adult sexuality and eroticism?

Hoped-for titles for GenCon 06:

Dog-eared Design: Pay-Per-View Adventures
Errant Knight Games: Kayfabe 2: Jello Wrestling Edition
Lumpley Games: Doggy Style In The Vineyard

And the one which started me down this train of thought:

Timfire Press: Mountin' the Witch

Further suggestions welcomed in comments.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Pencil sketch of my character Kandelo, mentioned in Joe's writeup of our Stranger Things game. Drawing him was a big part of conceptualizing him for me. I actually had to re-do the eyes before I felt I could play him. Weird eh?

Stranger Things - Indy Game

Over the course of two evenings at Gen Con Indy, I ran a short playtest of Stranger Things with a few of my friends. We didn't play an entire game, just a handful of scenes, mainly because we started late in the evening for both sessions and we were all pretty tired.

Tammy's character was Neko, a Stranger with preternatural feline abilities. She ended up not playing in many scenes, as she was the sleepiest of group and nodded off. James played Nanavenes, who had hands, feet and head of smokey quartz and could "sing" pure tones of any frequency in a crystalline voice. Ed's character was Kandelo, a Stranger with luminous, waxy skin who had a flame arising from his body at all times, often from his head.

My memory of the particulars of the game is hazy, as I was tired as well, but there are several scenes that stuck with me. In one, Ed had Kandelo confront a groups of humans that had been chasing a demon, and had in fact shot the demon twice. The leader of the group claimed the demon had slain his cousin and they were going to take the demon back for justice. The demon claimed innocence, and the woman who was killed had been his love (I lifted this plot idea from Bankuei.) Kandelo used his power over fire to get the group to back down. It was a very cool and intense scene. It reminded me of some of the stuff we've had in our Dogs in the Vineyard game, and I mean that as a compliment.

In another, Nanavenes came across a gondola under attack by a gang of vampires. He jumped onto the gondola and during the course of the conflict, smashed the mouths of a few vampires, leaving their teeth tinkling on the deck of the boat. The woman on the gondola was a very famous courtesan in the district, and the vampires had stolen an amulet given to her by one of her paramours. It was the Seven Stars of Meznal, the Goddess of Shadows, seven black smokey stones set in silver. Nanavenes promised to return the amulet to the courtesan.

Later, Nanavenes and Neko were investigating the mysterious disappearance of several demons in a demon ghetto. They followed the trail to a street full of shops that specialized in magic, to a book binder's shop. While trying to find a way in, dozens of vampires showed up to enact revenge on Nanavenes. Neko was not pleased to be dragged into this vendetta, and her goal was to get away. Nanavenes had the goal of using vampires to smash his way into the binder's shop. In a rather entertaining exchange, both succeeded, with Nanavenes finally getting into the private area of the shop and encountering a dark mage who was displeased to see him. Neko disappeared onto the rooftops of the Murder Mews.

Meanwhile, Kandelo used a magic ritual to enter the spirit world in order to find the ghost of Lina, the woman who had been killed. A few failures had Kandelo being draw into a dark and twisted spirit carnival, where he almost lost himself. He pulled himself away and completed his mission, finding the spirit in the foyer of her family's home where she had been killed. She told him a human suitor that she had rejected killed her. Kandelo told her to move on to the next world, that he would help avenge her, and she would one day be reunited with her demon lover.

Sadly, that is all we got to play, but I hope to finish up with these character. It was a lot of fun, once we all got up to speed on the system. We were a little unsure of how to do narration on re-rolls, but I found a example that clarified things. There was also a question as to whether the Strangers had access to both demonic and human magic, like it is in Trollbabe, or if you were locked into one by your choice in character creation. We assumed it the same as Trollbabe and moved along. I really enjoyed the game and loved the use of the map tiles, even though the characters were only ever on two tiles. We barely touched on Relationships. I think Kandelo took a relationship with the demon he saved, and I think James was planing on his character getting one with the courtesan. If we play some more, I'm sure well get more into that.

Some funny things with Numbers. Tammy chose 9 for her character. Cats have nine lives after all. James gave Nanavenes a number of 7, the hardness number of quartz, which his character's extremities are made of. Ed also did a cool sketch of Kandelo, and one of Nanavenes giving a vampire a mouthful of bloody Chiclets.

things I want to talk about from gencon when I get a chance

In no particular order and with no guarantee whatsoever of completeness...
  • games played/demoed/was especially intrigued by (some even bought)
    • Tunnels & Trolls, 30th anniversary edition
    • Under The Bed
    • Polaris
    • With Great Power
    • Death's Door
    • City of Brass
    • SNAP
    • didn't get to demo TSOY! Ed sad.
    • Kayfabe (demo: did not expect it to be as awesome as it was)
    • Breaking The Ice (demo: did not expect it to be as awesome as it was)
    • Sweet Dreams (demo: did not expect it to be as awesome as it was)
  • people met/re-met
    • Ken St. Andre
    • mc chris (and joshua newell)
    • P.D. Breeding-Black
    • Paul Czege & Danielle
    • Vincent Baker (tres briefly)
    • The Matt Trifecta:
      • Matt Wilson
      • Matt Snyder
      • Matt Gwinn
    • Ron Edwards
    • Ben Lehman
    • Michael & Kat Miller
    • Malcolm, didn't catch last name, Scottish dude with cool ultra slickly produced game
    • Allan "May Contain Monkeys" Dotson
    • Luke "Made Me Want Burning Wheel thru Sheer Sincere Enthusiasm" Crane
    • Thor Olavsrud
    • Joshua "Ninja Monkey J"
    • Ralph Mazza
    • Mike Holmes
    • Lisa Padol
    • Tim Kleinert
    • Tony Lower-Basch (in passing)
    • Emily Care Boss
    • Gordon Landis
    • Greg Porter
    • Greg Stolze
    • Clinton R. Nixon
    • Andy Kitkowski
    • Jared Sorenson (briefly)
    • Didn't meet Bankuei! sad.
  • events/moments
    • really kind & thought-provoking words from Ron about my art
    • first playtest of an unpublished Greg Stolze game with a recent law school graduate and a wide eyed Stolze fanboy and two of the Matt Trifecta
    • The Indie RPG Awards (I have some great pictures)
    • art trade with P.D. Breeding-Black
    • chillin late night at the embassy suites bar with Paul Czege, Tim Kleinert, and Gordon Landis, all of whom are top notch cool. Finding out that Gordon's been a T&T man even longer than I have been
  • hangin wit my homeboys
    • eating haggis for the first time at the local Scottish bar
    • holy crap I can't believe I almost forgot about the awesome game of Stranger Things we played Thu/Fri nights... loved that
    • almost getting the Pope Room at Buca di Beppo's till the bachelorette party showed up after all and 0wn3d it from us, but anyway had a really incredible conversation with the Droschas
    • "it's not gay if it's funny"
    • some drama best saved fo yo mama
  • personal stuff
    • Losing my credit card - ack
    • really enjoyed myself because I was really present/mindful/focused/"there" -- in the moment. Took care of myself, with the exception of walking too much and getting blisters early on which hobbled me the rest of the con. did stuff cause I wanted to and enjoyed it rather than because the crowd was doing it or whatever. Opened up in conversations with people and enjoyed what I got to say and hear. was in a place I wanted to be.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

GenCon 2005 - Joe's Report

Well, I made it back safe and sound, and at a reasonable time from GenCon. I have to say that the drive from Lansing, Michigan to Indy is MUCH better than the drive to Milwaukee. About 2 hours shorter.

First off, what did I buy? Here's a list:

The Chronicles of Talislanta
Talislanta Menagerie
Usagi Yojimbo (new version)
Dogs in the Vineyard
Primetime Adventurers
My Life With Master
Mountain Witch
Breaking the Ice

I already have Dogs, but had to buy the new version with the Vincent and Ed art. I'm a tool. I have the old PtA, but the new one is so shiny. Looks great Matt! But you know, I think the best purchase I made is Breaking the Ice. Ed played a demo of the game, I think with Ron Edwards -- I'm sure he'll be posting his report soon. I met up with Ed right afterwards and he was geeked about it. I thumbed through his copy, and ended up buying my own. I LOVE the game. It's brilliant and I can't wait to try it out.

Ed and I got a chance to play in a game of Tunnels and Trolls run by Ken St. Andre, the designer of the game. It was a trip, a fun-as-hell little dungeon crawl. We kicked ass, well, except that Ed's character almost died. One very lucky roll saved his butt. Ken's a really nice guy.

Over the course of a couple of evenings, I ran a little playtesting of John Harper's Stranger Things. That was a lot of fun, and I need to get an Actual Play post together for it.

And haggis! We went to this little Scottish pub, and they had haggis. Ed and I were brave and tried a sample of it, and damn it was good. I ended up going again the next night with some of my suite-mates and had some more. If you are in Indy, I highly suggest McNiven's.

I'm sure that there's more that I'm forgetting, but I'll assume Ed will fill in the gaps. He was the king of the Forge demos. If I wasn't sure where he was, I just went to the Forge booth, and imagine that, there he was playing a demo. Ed, I'll give you the floor.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Who I'm Not Gonna See at GenCon

It seems like there's a big long list of people I wish I was gonna see at GenCon who aren't going to make it.

Off the top of my head --

I'm sure there are more. I keep talking to people online whom I might hope to see there and finding out they won't be there. Bums me the heck out.

There are a lot of people I am looking forward to seeing again or meeting for the first time. But the non-attendees list (which included me last year) is sadly long.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Great Stuff from Clinton

Clinton worries that the Forge has "lost the mission," explaining:

The mission is this:
  • Learn that you can write a game as good as any out there.
  • Write it.
  • Play it.
  • Get others interested and get them to play it.
Where'd the "indie" in "" go? When did we lose sight of the above?
I'm really interested lately in the notion that our culture suffers really badly from fetishizing professionalism and expertise, with the result that we render ourselves creative cripples, not believing in our own power to create what we want if we don't meet some arbitrary standard of expertise (a standard that is always adjustable so no matter how good you are you can always imagine you're not good enough).

People sometimes react against that problem by becoming interested in either creating or appreciating "alternative" or "indie" art -- they're thrilled by the realization that the "big guys" don't have a monopoly on creation. Linux and the like started this way. "Alternative" music did too. Several times. It happens again and again.

The problem is that people take the "indie" stuff and fetishize it the same way they fetishized the old professional stuff. They lose the whole point -- that there don't have to be a few virtuosos and the rest of us in a big audience. Anyone who is inclined to create can create, and by creating learn to create better. They may or may not want to spend a long time carefully learning the lessons someone else has learned, learning to do things the other person's way, because that's the way the experts do it. The ones who do may take the lessons of the "masters" and go further, go their own way; the ones who don't may go their own way and learn completely new things. Both work. Both cool.

Anyway, I sometimes see Forge talk going in the direction of creating a new elite (the Skilled and Lauded Award-Winning Indie Designers) to replace the old elite (the Published and Successful Corporate Game Designers). It annoys me and I fume about it.

And then Clinton comes along and puts it all into perspective, and I'm happy.