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Jeff's Gameblog
Sunday, 30 May 2004
Can bad games lead to good gaming?
This is one of the questions I'm hoping to answer in my Heroes Unlimited campaign. HU is not a terrible game, but it isn't a particularly good one either, especially if compared to the common standard of superhero gaming: Can I play a reasonable facsimile of [insert favorite superhero]? You can't play Spiderman. The combination of multiple powers plus the gadgety webshooters just won't work. Batman is barely doable. The closest you can come to Superman is an alien that's sorta strong, kinda tough, and can fly. Wolverine will have to choose between either the claws and skeleton or the mutant healing factor.

Yet in my campaign we've got PCs with superpowers who wear costumes and fight crime. That's got to count for something. But as a simulation of comic book heroics, HU falls pretty flat when played as written. Still, I'm hard pressed to take the Stick of Pain to Kevin Symbiotic, even though his game was published after the first two editions of Champions. Levels and classes, hit points and d20 combat rolls, a tacked-on percentile based skill system, these are the primordial building blocks of the second tier game systems of the eighties. Kudos to Palladium for getting so much mileage out of such a well-worn vehicle.

Normally, I fall into Ron Edwards' System Does Matter camp, yet in my current campaign I deliberately chose what may very well be the worst system in my considerable array of Superhero and generic games. Knowing that HU is based on the tired old chestnuts has been liberating for me. I've got a tremendous sense of control over the game mechanics, a feeling of been there, done that ownership that frees me to screw around with the system on the fly. I don't feel caught in a web of tangled mechanical intricacies, like I do when running D&D 3E. For some reason I feel like I might disturb the unity of verse when I have to make an underinformed on-the-spot rules-decision in some games, D&D 3E most notably. When I'm staring down the barrel of a game on the order of D&D 3E or SFB or HERO System or something like that I feel an urgent need to get it right. After all, how many editions has this game gone through and how many people have playtested and edited these rules? Yes, I know both HERO and D&D 3E are messed up in plenty of places, but they are far more coherent than a lot of games on the market. They been subject to a lot more destructive testing than many other games.

Not with hoary old HU though. Good enough is good enough. By many people's opinion the game is already a crap system, how much worse could a flubbed GM ad lib really be? There may be a correct technique for optimally shovelling pig manure, but no one is going to complain if you use a somewhat suboptimal method.

Posted by jrients at 6:30 AM CDT
Saturday, 29 May 2004
I mentioned a D&D campaign idea...

Here's a first draft of a map for my new D&D campaign setting. It's still in the larval stages. Right now I call it the Six Islands. (Yes there are more than six islands on the map. There are 6 Great Islands and many Lesser ones. The people of the archipelago say there are 60 lesser islands, but no one has ever surveyed them all.)

Whipping this little map up was easy as orc pie thanks to S. John Ross's excellent fonts.

Posted by jrients at 9:35 PM CDT

Sometimes I find monotonous tasks a good time for thinking about campaign ideas. Mowing the lawn has helped me develop Traveller and Heroes Unlimited ideas. Today I was sanding a cabinet door to refinish it. I'm using one of those little Black & Decker Mouse brand handheld sanders and dealing with somefairly think varnish, so it takes me like 2 hours for each cabinet door. Redoing the kitchen cabinetry had therefore become an ongoing home project.

Anyway, while sanding today some ideas bubbled up through my noggin. The first was "Savage Cyborgs", a game of Savage Worlds using the ridiculous setting material for Gary Gygax's old Cyborg Commando game. If you don't know anything about Cyborg Commando I suggest you click here right now. It's pretty silly stuff. But what can I say? I like silly stuff. I've been gaming for more than 20 years and "kill orc, take gold" still seems like a viable adventure idea to me. From my seat Terminators killing Aliens seems like good clean rpg fun.

On the serious side, the thing that draws me to Cyborg Commando is the fact that it truly epitomizes both the paranoia and the jingoism of the last part of the cold war. I haven't read a copy yet, but all reviews of the game I've seen indicate that Gary Gygax basically reshoots the film Red Dawn but sends it through a sci-fi filter. Just like the alien invasion films of the 50's.

I've been reading the book Queen Victoria's Little Wars, basically an overview of British military adventures of the 19th century. I doubt you'll find more riveting tales of imperialist shenanagins in any other period. Reading this stuff, I start to wonder why so many sci-fi empires reach back to the Roman era for inspiration. The Great Game of imperialism contains more than enough fodder for a Traveller style campaign.

I also had some ideas pop into my head about a fantasy campaign setting, basically a collection of islands in the middle of the ocean. Sorta Britain if it were located where the Canaries sit. I tend not to put ideas like these to paper because I'm not certain I even _want_ a coherent fantasy campaign setting. An old hodge-podge like the World of Greyhawk usually works just fine for me.

Posted by jrients at 5:56 PM CDT
Friday, 28 May 2004

It has now been 5 weeks since I submitted my write-up for Knight Chase to the Chess Variants Pages. I'm starting to get antsy. I'm sure the editors have got a large queue of submissions, but the timeliness of their handling of the 44-squares contest got my hopes up. Obviously, they expedited the 44-square stuff because they had a deadline to shoot for. There's no particular reason why they can't sit on my items indefinitely. I sure would like to see my Knight Chase and Enochian Chess articles up on the site though. Items are continuing to be added an a daily or near-daily basis, so I figure that eventually they will go up. The waiting between submission and publication just gets my goat sometimes.

I fired off a brief introductory email to one of the mysterious Mr. Michael Strathearns. I guessed the email address of the chemistry professor based upon the format of a publically-available address belonging to one of his colleagues. I really look forward to hearing from someone who might have actually played Lords of Creation back in its heyday. Well, maybe heyday is too strong a term given how little impact the game made upon the hobby. Come to think of it, I ought to start a thread on RPG.net fishing around for some actual play.

Posted by jrients at 5:04 PM CDT
Thursday, 27 May 2004

Well, I decided to try to cut down on my eBay habit. I don't have the willpower to quit cold turkey, so here's my plan:

1) Get rid of most of my automatic searches. These things were killing me. Every damn day my mailbox would be crammed with little "Hey bid on this!" notes. I ditched all of them except for two searches that are longterm, like half a year with no nibbles. One is for original Erol Otus artwork, which I've only seen come up once in the 5 years I've been on eBay. Foolishly, I did not bid on it at the time. Of course, I didn't have a tricked out game room to hang it in either. The other item I want is Seren Ironhand a Tom Moldvay module that he released as a small press item. I've never seen a copy for sale. It exists to me right now only as an entries in the non-TSR xD&D item list and Heroic Worlds, Lawrence Schick's excellent rpg reference book.

2) Collect only one thing at a time. By "thing" I mean like a single game line or whatever. Collecting multiple game lines in parallel results in me placing too many bids. Sure, 5 or 6 bids of two or three bucks doesn't look too bad on paper, but win them all and add in five bucks shipping apiece and suddenly I've just spent fifty bucks without breaking a sweat. Right now, I've narrowed myself down to just Gamma World. At this point there's only a handful of modules I really want, particularly the Mind Masters and Epsilon Cyborgs. If I happened across a copy of the Albequerque Starport minimodule I might bite as well, but I already have the screen it went with. The chances of finding the module solo are pretty low.

Posted by jrients at 9:33 PM CDT
Mitregi and Humpmitregi Arrays
Charles Gilman's Rules for these variants

Posted by jrients at 11:17 AM CDT
Wednesday, 26 May 2004
Behold, the Turquoise Star of Shame

Well, it finally happened. I got my 100th positive feedback on the eBay, earning me a turquoise star next to my name. Back when I got a blue star for being such a good little consumer, I thought it was kinda cool. "Oh look, there's a blue star next to my userid. I rule!" Nowadays I can't help but think about all the game crap I've bought, most of which has yet to be used at the game table.

I'd like to write here that I am committing myself to playing all the games and modules I've bought. I'd like to announce I'm quitting eBay cold turkey and spending my money on something else. But those would both be lies. I may be a cheapskate bottomfeeder who rarely bids more than 5 bucks on an item, but I'm just as hooked as the folks who quit their day jobs to buy and sell on eBay fulltime.

I guess I shouldn't be too hard on myself. Many things I've got off of eBay I have used. Things like some old D&D stuff or my Starmada Compendium. And I continue to stick to my policy of not buying things solely for "collectibility". If I bid on it, I plan on using it in some way, whether it be to play it as written, or to adapt to some other game, or for one of my silly research projects, or (in the case of old magazines) just for light reading.

EDIT: Corrected some spelling.

Posted by jrients at 9:13 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, 26 May 2004 9:16 AM CDT
Monday, 24 May 2004

I'd like to start a second RPG campaign, but I'm torn between two games: Gamma World and Lords of Creation. GW would clearly be the easier of the two to run, as it can be handled as post-apocalyptic D&D. LoC would be a harder sell for players, though I think I could get at least two.

Or maybe I'll punt and run a Savage Worlds minicampaign of some sort. Either way, I need to talk to Pat and find out his take on the situation.

Posted by jrients at 9:13 PM CDT
Sunday, 23 May 2004

Finished The Franco-Prussian War this morning. I'm not entirely satisified with it, so I think I'm going to have to track down a second book on th matter. Maybe the University has the relevant Osprey "Essential History".

I'm knocking around in my head what I'm going to do next with my "Home Team" campaign. I've had two ideas that stray a little outside the rpg narrative formula. I just don't know if the players would buy them.

1) "Night of a Thousand Villains". The premise behind this idea is that heroing ain't easy, but someone's got to do it. Basically, we cut from scene to scene of the heroes fighting bad guys, never giving them a chance to rest. I just need to figure out a way to tell a coherent story, otherwise it would become "Night of a Thousand Wandering Monsters", which is not what I'm shooting for.

2) Reverse Adventure. For most of the night the players run the villains, who are on some sort of sdastardly mission. They bypass security systems and maybe fight guards and/or robots. In the final fight we swotch back to normal as the usual PCs foil the villains plans.

Posted by jrients at 2:37 PM CDT
Saturday, 22 May 2004

Stopped by the library today. I returned my Jack the Ripper books. I figure I get them again as I get closer to the con and need to bear down on my scenario writing. I also returned Songs of Earth & Power. It wasn't doing much for me. I'm not sure if it was my general annoyance at most forms of fiction or maybe the fact that it was starting to look like umpteen chapters of learn-about-this-strange-new-world-and-the-heros-secret-inner-powers. Given that this novel was over 500 pages long, that sort of crap could go on a very long time before the hero actually starts to do something.

I checked out two other books, both history books. The first is Queen Victoria's Little Wars by Byron Farwell. I figured it'd be chock full of imperialistic adventures of old. The second book I got is The Franco-Prussian War: Germany's Rise As A World Power by Irving Werstein. I'm already onto page eighty of this puppy. Its a good light read. I first got interested in the Franco-Prussian War because Martin Gilbert indicated in his book The First World War that the Franco-German animosity leading up to WWI had its roots in this earlier conflict. Interestingly enough, one of the first things mentioned in Werstein's book is that the seeds of the Franco-Prussian war were sown in the 30 Years War. Looks like I'll be needing to find a book on that war now.

Posted by jrients at 3:57 PM CDT

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