Browsing articles from "January, 2010"

Super Heroes? Boring, stale and not for me.

Jan 28, 2010

The genre is enjoyable in various forms including film, print, etc. I even enjoy an occasional RPG session. Yet my interest is always fleeting. I cannot continually suspend my disbelief.

Super Hero movies are cool but not for the characters. I watch them with the attitude of seeing an action flick. The special effects, the crazy plots and the magic of computer generated imagery are what I’m there to see. I’m one of the poor extras in the movie — the normal folk who are just watching in awe.

I see super hero characters as reprints of the same tired origins. Sure there are twists on the origins of the power — innate mutant power, alien power in an Earth setting, or advanced technology of unbelievable power. Call it a mental block. All the powers have seemingly been used and reused. I have never come up with any concept that isn’t some variation of something already completely overused. When I do, they are always things which would be of little use in a game.

Super Hero games also always seem to use the good versus evil plot. A super villain plots some madness and the characters must go forth and defeat them to keep the world safe. I can taste the bile at the back of my throat. Even the guy who says “Screw this, I’m staying at home, powering down a bag of Cheetos and watching I Love Lucy.” ends up being forced into being a hero. All of them lack self motivation, goals, and desires. I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with any portrayal of anything other than a superficial personality. Even the internal conflicts some characters have are hard to believe because they are the singular element identified of a personality.

As I stated previously, the characters always seem stuck in time at the point of creation. What precisely do I mean? Often characters have a great history or back story. The problem is the history has no application to the future. They are stuck waiting for the next evil genius plot to take over the world until they are compelled to act yet again. Or they go seek revenge on someone due to a factoid in the background. Once that is over, what’s next? Managing a Burger King? Running a Fortune 500 company? Working as security for someone kicking the spleens out of mere mortals? I prefer games where I’m capable of building my character’s future not being held hostage by who he is.

Mortality is also an issue. Traditionally super heroes and villains rarely die. So even if you are outmatched, outclassed and outwitted, and get your ass kicked what happens? You go home, heal up (while flipping burgers) and come up with a new plan or a better group. If there is no risk of dying, the game is just dull to me. Self preservation is a fundamental element in all other RPGs. If it is missing, I get bored quickly and lose interest in the game. I’m guessing most game systems in the genre have mechanics for death so I am not bashing systems. I’m bashing the way the games I’ve played in have been run.

On the topic of game system mechanics, I will come back to the “stuck in time” comment. Character improvement seems impossible after a point. If a power comes because an alien ability like Superman, its capped at conception. Innate powers based on mutation also have an immediate cap. A mutation can only provide so much benefit before it is fully realized. Certainly discovery and learning can allow you to utilize a power better but at some point you hit the capacity of that ability based on the origin. Technology based powers are the one area I can fathom continued improvement. Sadly, my own background makes me nitpick the technology. I impose self-limitations on the capabilities because I find them absurd at the extremities. And if it isn’t human technology? Well, that’ll take years to understand to begin with yet alone improve. I don’t know how any system handles improvement because I’ve never been engaged enough to actually purchase or read the systems fully.

I’ll be the first to admit that my comments on the Super Hero genre could be applied to nearly any other genre. The genre just doesn’t spark my imagination. It has yet to immerse me so I’m standing in the shoes of my character and looking through his eyes. Instead, I always seem like a puppeteer pulling the strings to move my character around. Many others love the concept and enjoy it immensely. Good for you, go play and have a great time. I’ll wait for the movie.

Gaming at 10,000 feet

Jan 19, 2010

Looks like we’ll be going up for the Spring Convergence. Rather than a hotel, we’re aiming to be a bit more remote this time around. How remote? Well, the University of Denver has a field station partially up Mount Evans at Echo Lake. The facility is around 10,600 foot. The nearest towns are Evergreen or Idaho Springs. We’ll have to bring our supplies in addition to the gaming materials but it should be a great location.

They have another cabin next to the Whomble Observatory I got the opportunity to stay in it during my college days but it doesn’t appear to be available. Probably due to the potential for altitude sickness and the wicked weather at 14,264 feet. I’d like to game on the summit in that A-Frame. I don’t know what the highest gaming session on record currently is but that’d have to push the envelope.

DU’s site does not have enough photos to reveal the “cool” factor. We’ll fire up the cameras during our stay. We won’t be roughing it by any means.

However, the rule of cool cannot be denied.

Prep Work In Fluid Form

Jan 18, 2010

I admit to being easily distracted. There was a post on one of the RPG Bloggers member sites that was focused on brewing. I didn’t bookmark it and cannot seem to find it in the flood of creativity. Suffice to say I was inspired. Coupled with a 3 month window before our Spring Convergence, I did a bit of out of the box preparation.

I did have source material handy as you can see. I waffled a lot before settling on an English style ale. Preparation involves so many choices. I haven’t brewed a batch in several years. Should be fun to see how it turns out. Now back to the game prep… until bottling.

Update 01/22/2010:

Wort transferred from the primary fermenter into the secondary. As always, the initial product doesn’t look that appetizing.

Mmm, Hops

Bleak Horizons: More Thoughts on a 2020 Setting

Jan 15, 2010
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I still do not have a working title so the post titles will be ad hoc until I come up with something. For the confused, it is part of a futuristic/modern setting I’m developing for our semi-annual gaming event, dubbed Convergence.

Apparently, I am not alone in thinking about alternative futures but most are focused on variations of Cyberpunk. DataFortress 2020 was relaunched late last year focusing on R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk Additionally, there is a new contest focused on the general genre. Additional discussion is available at 1km1kt.

My setting isn’t focused on cybernetics but will feature the Internet as a significant element of the modern world. I’ve been focusing on defining society within a pretty narrow geographic region within Colorado. Most of the state has been covered and I sent the notes off to Kevin, who has generously undertaken to depict my setting in his words for the state of Wyoming. I’ve not yet focused on Denver, which will be a likely focal point for my campaign. I’m holding off letting the rest of the setting take hold in my mind before transcribing my thoughts.

Several trends within the setting are becoming apparent. I didn’t specifically focus or dictate them but they keep rising up. If you consider the overall breakdown of societal expectations, the trends should be obvious but make for a completely playable setting.

The trends are microcosms, communities and regional. The previous influence of the national government is present but not universal. The ability to remain a stable portion of society is largely defined by the culture of communities and the natural resources available. Mixed economies that are inherently stable prior the break suffer less than those requiring complete importation for survival. They respond and adapt far better than insular communities supported only by a broad, national economy. Localized ability takes the forefront.

Regions with disparate cultural views fracture. Ones with a shared culture, viewpoint, and outlook remain more intact. Communal survival overshadows greed in many areas and dominates patriotism for a fallen nation. Localized focus is exactly what I was trying to achieve.

This experiment is also useful to pretty much any other setting. Why does this community exist where it is? Under stress, who are they and how will they respond? How do they respond to outsiders who might have the power to destabilize the local society? What natural resources are they leveraging, if any, to maximize the chances of the community surviving?

Kevin’s pointed out numerous things I need to consider but there are many more.

  • Is local law enforcement present? Is the military an influence? How and what impact do they have?
  • Crime is going to be present. Who responds and what are the penalties?
  • On that same bent, organized crime is going to re-emerge. What influence do they have and now far can they bend the laws?
  • Refugees from other areas are constantly arriving. How are they treated? If accepted, how they are accommodated?
  • Bartering is back with a vengeance. What is necessary for import? What goods are now desirable for that community in particular?
  • Are corporations taking indentured servants? Are the gangs who control most of the supplies? Is slavery back in fashion?
  • Disease outbreaks will occur. Medical treatment will not be universal and masses will die. How do communities and corporations respond? How about the gangs?
  • Technology is also going to be closely controlled. How do modern standards of watching what you do play out? Are corps able to retain control of their own infrastructure? Are they exposed? What is the new “hacker” community focused on?
  • Medicine and medical capabilities will also be highly sought after assets. The ability to immunize everyone to prevent long forgotten diseases will degrade. Lack of general hygiene and clean water will shift hordes of refugees back into 3rd world situations.

Having more questions than answers makes the setting very appealing. Having it localized rather than global makes it playable and transferable. So many elements are open to interpretation. Players will have the ability to define many elements but not all.

Feel free to poke at any element you like or dislike. What would your local community become after a series of global disasters? How would you respond as the blows keep coming in?

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Spring Convergence is Set

Jan 13, 2010
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We managed to finally set a date for the Spring Convergence. Trying to pick a single weekend that everyone can attend is getting progressively more difficult. Gaming takes a back seat to birthdays, family commitments, holidays, and careers. It is very difficult to find the narrow window everyone can manage.

I’ll admit to being frustrated on several occasions. Getting everyone together is worth the mental anguish. Even if it feels like you are herding cats during the process. All the planning had some pretty great results.

For the first time, we have a player flying in from across the country. He was a fixture in Kevin’s Top Secret campaign among many others a two decades past. He’s also the first of many players we’d like to invite and play with once again. Another will be back in the U.S. within a couple of weeks. Doubtful he’ll be involved but who knows.

Game wise, I’ll be taking the hot seat for the bulk of the weekend. My game will be based upon a completely new, original setting I wrote about unintelligbly a few days back. Kevin’s been poking at me to think deeper about the setting and I’ve enlisted him to aid in the development. I’ll also be using the KORE rule system. I could have chosen several that work because the campaign will be rules light . However, it presents the opportunity to really play test the system so Kevin can achieve his New Years Resolution. He’s also offered to aid in the development of the mechanics to support the game idea but I think overall we’ll be focusing on the setting. If the setting isn’t clear yet, it will be in the coming weeks.

The group will also be expanding our horizons by getting to play a Cthulu Session or two. To my knowledge, none of us are familiar with the rule system but we’ve been introduced several times to Kevin’s interest in horror settings. It should be fun. Unsurprisingly, it only took one sentence in a single email to get him to agree to run it.

We also have the potential for a CP2020 session from R. He claims to suck at GMing but has all the skills he needs. That might shift a bit based on my broken earth futuristic setting but I aim to put him in the hot seat for at least a few hours. He’s far better than he thinks he is.

It may be difficult to get old groups together but I am ecstatic about the group for spring. None of them have failed and they progressively get better as we understand what we want out of them.

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Falter and Flow

Jan 6, 2010

After many discussions, I’ve settled on a campaign idea for the Spring Convergence. The setting will play off my Red Dawn session from the Fall but will not continue the original session. Instead, I’m going to blend that with other highly requested genres — Modern, Gritty Modern, Top Secret, and Cyberpunk. Each by itself is pretty simple to do although I abhor the over the top cybernetics of most ‘Punk settings. Cybernetics will be available but highly expensive.

I could sit down and run it tonight. My brain is full of the idea but I keep deviating when I attempt to write it up. My Achilles Heel has re-arrived in full force in the form of self distraction. I had a full week off of work during the holidays. My intention was to jot out the history, pick a game system to utilize, and then write up some campaign material. I did manage a few pages of background.

Those pages are not cohesive. They are random 4-5 paragraph blobs of trains of thought. Its a good start but then I started going awry. The concepts I want to use for the campaign are also of interest to me personally. So I bought some books on the subjects. Far too many, I have 5 non-fiction texts and 4 fiction books now just from a campaign idea. I’ve read 3 of the 9 books cover to cover in the last week. So I’m just going to force myself to write tonight in the form of the blog and see where it goes.

Couple that with random wandering on the internet about the subjects and well, I did not get very putting the pen to paper. I want this nugget of an idea to go beyond some mere mental concept into something I can hand to the players to develop characters. Deep characters so the background is critical. Normally I’d be able to sit down and explain my idea vocally. Convergence doesn’t allow me that luxury so I need to find a focus and move forward.

Modern/Post Modern is tough. My target players are all highly educated individuals so if I make a miscue in laying out the science, I fear I’ll fail to engage them properly. I’m probably over thinking the response. However, if I can blend modern science accurately within the session, I get a double entry point — something they want to play and a setting they want to play.

My premise is simple — the break down of modern society, the fall of nations, and the influence of wealth and power. It is not original nor do I intend it to be. This world is just another vision of how things could go wrong. I’m blending the current state of the U.S. with what could happen in the next 20 years. No cataclysmic events occur. My personal nightmare.

Why 2008 as a start? It’s the initial wake up call for everyone that the economy of every nation is intertwined. Sadly, its also the nation, which our wonderful politicians would deem “Too Big to Fail”. The United States economy is based completely on other people wanting to buy our debt. If no one is able or willing to buy that debt, the U.S. is just another Ponzi scheme. Bernie Madoff would be proud. Far too many transactions around the world rely on the U.S. dollar as a basis.

If I were a boxer, I’d see it as Round 1 jabs to determine the defensive posture of my opponent. He keeps hitting me in the body, wearing me down. Crude oil looks cheap on the surface in ’08. Demand is down, the economy is in the tank. Oil supplies are limited and running out.

Green energy is all the rage but it costs. A cost the U.S. economy cannot absorb immediately and the build out will take years and immense amounts of cash. Cash that only comes from people buying our debt. Except they are no longer able or willing to buy the phantom of the U.S. assurance to pay them back. And the efficiency of the green technologies are far below burning oil or coal for power. Everyone is strapped for cash. The U.S. burns more and more fossil fuels to keep the economy running. That boxer just hit me in the kidney…again.

Life sucks at this point…perhaps 2012 but it has been that way for a couple of years. The population is resigned to being in a recession or the Great Depression II. Life will improve. 15% unemployment is unprecedented but things are looking up according to the experts. The U.S. passes new laws. The unemployment extension act for the 12th time. The number of homeless people rises to 10% of the population. The homeless begin migrating across the U.S. in search of work, food, and handouts. The Welfare 2012 bill is held up because no other country wants to purchase debt based on a vacuum. The body blows keep coming.

2015. Financial reckoning. The U.S. starts defaulting on treasury bonds. The rest of the world is no better. Exxon buys Lockheed Martin. Total SA buys the defaulted assets of GM followed by Boeing. Corporations begin to field militaries to defend and protect the resources they own.

2018: Year of Storms. Hurricanes bash the U.S. southern and south eastern states. Florida is obliterated between the flooding and storm surge. New Orleans is swamped once again. The worst drought in history strikes the Mid Western states. The U.S. cannot produce enough food for its residents. Coastal infrastructure is destroyed and the U.S. can no longer produce fuel. Gas prices spike. Mass rioting occurs seeking food and shelter. Unemployment reaches 30%.

2019: The Gulf Stream current breaks down due to the desalination of the oceans. Lack of ice on the poles creates a massive feed forward climate shift. The remainder of the ice at the poles melt resulting in massive flooding of coastal areas. The entire population of the eastern and western seaboard states are forced inland.

Society breaks..