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Jeff's Gameblog
Tuesday, 1 June 2004

So last night I started reading Planet in Peril, book 1 of the Cyborg Commando trilogy, the official novel line for Gary Gygax's rpg by the same name. I'll say one thing for this novel, it's a fast read. I'm already to page 118. It wouldn't take much effort for me to tear down the writing in Planet in Peril, but what would be the point? It's game fiction for a game that's generally regarded as one of the worst ever written (yes, Cyborg Commando will make an appearance in my "In Praise of Bad Games" series). I wasn't exactly expecting great literature when I blew a dollar on this puppy.

Posted by jrients at 9:26 PM CDT
In Praise of Bad Games, Part 1
Before I begin praising bad rpgs I think a little disclaimer is in order. I am not going to be praising the three worst role-playing games ever devised. In all my rpg-geekery I have encountered tales of three games that are completely without merit:

1) FATAL would be just another piss-poor fantasy heartbreaker if not for its skin-crawlingly creepy fascination with rape.

2) Racial Holy War (a.k.a. RaHoWa) is the official rpg for skinhead Nazi fuckwits. When it comes to Nazis I hold with Professor H. Jones ("Nazis. I hate these guys.") and J. Blues, esq. ("I hate Illinois Nazis.") but I believe it was the Dead Kennedys who put it most eloquently: "Nazi punks fuck off!"

3) HYBRID claims to be an rpg but is just plain crazy. Not good, zany, funny crazy, but sad, pathetic, incoherent crazy. HYBRID is nothing more than the sad ramblings of a mentally distrubed man who truly needs professional psychiatric help.

The above trio constitute the top three worst rpgs of all time. If you can find a game as abhorrent as FATAL or RaHoWa or as insane than HYBRID, please let me know so I can add it to the above list.

Anyway, what I really want to talk about are other games that perpetually hover on lists of "all-time worst rpgs". A detailed look at these games reveals that most of them have a redeeming feature or two that deserves mention. Some of these so-called "bad games" may even have an unwarranted reputation.

Posted by jrients at 4:43 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 1 June 2004 9:13 PM CDT
Monday, 31 May 2004

Yesterday Pat came over for a few hours. We shot the breeze about games like we usually do. He brought over, among other stuff, a run of Challenge magazines he had found in a quarter bin somewhere. I'm not into any of the games GDW was hawking back in the early nineties, but Challenge still had some pretty good stuff. Issue 66 had a short article on conference games, things like faux UN assemblies and such. There's also a handful of Call of Cthulhu and FASATrek stuff peppered throughout the issues he had found.

We also rolled up some first edition Gamma World characters as a first step toward a campaign. We each made one of each type: mutant animal, pure strain human, and humanoid. The PSH's were pretty boring to make compared to all the fun to be had rolling on the mutation charts. Once I get a copy of the 2nd edition rules we'll have to add some mutant plants to the party.

Pat also talked about wanting to finally start a campaign for that old Palladium rpg The Mechanoids. I suggested that I could make a large cast of PCs from the Palladium books I had handy. Using Heroes Unlimited, Ninjas & Superspies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness and the Palladium FRPG to make characters for a sci-fi campaign may not make much sense, but it sure infuses the project with a gonzo sense of fun.

I finished reading Queen Victoria's Little Wars last night. I'm tempted to hunt down a book on the Crimean War as a follow-up, but I'm also starting to wonder if maybe I should read a book that isn't about war or murder. You know, just for a change of pace from my current routine.

The last couple of days has been a challenge for me on the eBay front. Just before I vowed to clean up my act I found a game that I wanted and I put it on my watch list. It was in new condition, going for less than half cover price (including shipping), and being sold by a reputable dealer whom I have donw business with in the past. But it wasn't from the Gamma World line. As per my new self-imposed eBaying limits I'm only buying items for one line at a time. I really wanted that game, but I allowed the action to end without bidding on it. A small victory for financial responsibility, perhaps, but I'm happy to have passed the test.

Posted by jrients at 3:36 PM CDT
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

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