Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Fondue Plot, Part I

One of the most fun and simultaneously most terrifying parts of being a GM is when players throw you a curveball. This might be following a lead that you didn't really anticipate as part of the mission you had planned or taking a crazy action that has far-reaching consequences. As the person running the story, often your only option is to improvise like crazy and hope that what you come up with makes for a fun session.

Yesterday, I got together on Skype with a group of six close friends and ran a modern crime/cyberpunk game of Savage Worlds. The characters included:

- Mouse, a nebbishy disguise and security specialist
- Murray, an old-school corporate spy with a penchant for scotch and blackmail
- Ramirez, Green Beret and former private military contractor
- Ray, an internet libertarian techie who lives in a telecom van
- Slick, a spray-tanned con man and quick draw artist
- Theresa, ex-Fish and Wildlife agent turned ecoterrorist hired gun

In true cyberpunk style, the group was hired by a wealthy divorcee, Angela Horwitz, whose developer husband, Travis Blackwell, claimed she was unfaithful and that he wasn't responsible to support their son. She wanted the PCs to acquire a DNA sample from Blackwell, by whatever means they deemed fit. However, the tycoon's new residence was the Arcadia condominium development, a Burj-like monolith with in-house kitchens, self-sustaining power and its own private SWAT team. If the team can deliver the package to Angela and her lawyers, there are $10,000 in bearer bonds waiting for each of them.

After the meeting, Ray took to his van and hacked into Blackwell's personal email account (the business one was too heavily guarded), including his schedule for the rest of the week. At this point, the team divided into two groups. One assessed the security of the Arcadia complex, the other kept their efforts focused on Blackwell. Murray, using his Connections edge, was able to get Ramirez an interview with the Arcadia's security force; given his ex-military background, he was an easy choice. Theresa spent the afternoon sizing up the building's security personnel and Mouse, disguised in prosthetic nose and hunchback as a cleaning lady, took stock of the building's surveillance set-up.

Meanwhile, Murray, Ray and Slick made their way to a Brutalist gentlemen's fitness club, where Blackwell's calendar had scheduled a jai alai match that afternoon. With a little defensive driving on Ray's part, the team got a look at Blackwell's personal security: one ex-Marine bodyguard , Mr. Hart, with him at all times in an armored SUV and another pair of them either trailing or leading in a black sedan. Once they reached the club, the bodyguards entered with him.

It was then that the Blackwell group began to formulate a plan. Ethan, who was playing the role of Slick, had chosen a small high-tech holographic projector as one of his pieces of essential equipment during character creation. His idea was to use the hologram to simulate a jai-alai ball in sight and sound, with Ray's electronic assistence, to pass himself off as an athletics instructor and worm his way into Blackwell's confidence.

Now, this plan has two distinct ways that it could blow up in the group's faces. The first was that Slick barely knew what jai alai was, let alone how a champion jai alai player performed. Second, and much more crucial, was that the minute Blackwell attempted to scoop the jai alai ball, it would instantly be revealed as a ruse. I was completely prepared for this plan to be a complete disaster and to potentially blow their cover completely.

But somehow, it worked. Slick's mannerisms and confidence as Hans, the European jai alai champion (with a fantastically awful Austrian accent by Ethan) didn't convince Blackwell fully, but it was more than enough for his dimmer athletic partner Jackson and his poor Smarts rolls. Jackson may have been gullible enough to challenge 'Hans' to a match, but surely he would have noticed that the ball wasn't real, right?

Except Slick killed it on his Agility rolls. In Savage Worlds, direct athletic competition like this is governed by opposed rolls. While Jackson's roll of 4 against his Agility was nothing to sneeze at, Slick's d8 in Agility exploded, giving him an eventual roll of 10, enough for a Raise (a special situational reaction in Savage Worlds terms).

Jackson never even got his hands on the ball. Slick, through the holographic gadget and Ray's assistance, faked his way through the whole process, like something out of an episode of Leverage. True, I didn't really have a great grasp of the rules of jai alai and played it more like the schoolyard game of fireball/wall ball, but the truth was that I felt that this crazy plan, coupled with some solid rolls on Slick and Ray's part, deserved to succeed.

However, all of my gaming prep had to do with the Arcadia. Literally all of it. Security systems, level layouts, the elevator spindle down the middle of the building. In the heat of the moment, I had Jackson invite Slick to an early dinner at a fancy tapas restaurant in downtown Los Angeles with him and Blackwell to dine on little plates and maybe get lucky with some ladies.

Slick accepted. Why wouldn't he?

Next time: The Fondue Plot, Part II! In which the name actually makes sense!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dungeon Bastard Tells It Like It Is

Thanks to Jeff Rients for introducing me to the Dungeon Bastard. We're a small hobby as it is and division only makes us smaller.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Silver Age Service

This morning, my girlfriend and I went into Camden to volunteer at a community center providing some Martin Luther King Jr. Day programming for K-12 students with the day off. Among the highlights of the day was a 'Make Your Own Comic Book' activity for kids under 10. I helped the budding young artistes focus their story ideas and occasionally drew some hands and in return, I got some pretty solid Silver Age-style hijinks out of it.

Top of the list would probably be the Hairy Men, a crime-fighting family with progressively ridiculous beards and names (Bob, Billy Bob, Bob Jr., Billy Bob Jr., Billy Billy Fo Filly), who attempted to fend off the hair-snatching plans of the envious Bald Man. There were also a solid collection of alliterative superhero names, including Greatness Girl, Mute Man, Burly Boy and Wonderwind.

I guess you give a little and get a little, huh?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cheap Minis Project: Stats and Standouts

It's been a while since I've actually looked at the spreadsheet that I put together for the Cheap Minis project, so I decided to go through the list and see, in broad terms, what I have to work with, as well as any standout awesome minis that I have come across.

There are 303 Dungeons and Dragons miniatures that cost $1.50 or less at CoolStuffInc (the prices at Troll & Toad are fairly similar, but there are exceptions) across each of the 21 expansion series. The vast majority of these minis are Medium-sized, occupying a 1" square and around the size of a standard human. Only 15 of these minis are labeled as Large, or taking up 2x2" on a Chessex-style map.

As I somewhat expected, humanoids and monstrous humanoids take up the bulk of the monster selection: races like humans, elves, dwarves and the like account for 43% of the list and monstrous races like goblins and orcs account for another 23%. The remaining third of the minis include a fair amount of both constructs or animates and undead, outsiders and both mundane and magical beasts.

I'll tackle each of these sections in the future, but for now, I'll post a few standout minis that I think would be an inspiration for any DM looking for cool monsters or PCs.

Blood of Vol Fanatic

A great cultist model for any murderous sect.

Bugbear Gang Leader

I've always had a soft spot for bugbears and this dude totally reinforces that. Angry, well-armed and ready to wreck you.

War Ape

Just like it says on the tin. An ape that is ready for war. I really dig the spiked gauntlets/restraints on him. Maybe his race were forced into battle.


One of a number of great constructs and golems in the cheap minis collection. This one's a little more gear-driven than others, but that hammer hand really sells me on it.

Skeletal Equiceph

Some sort of awesome man-horse that's also a skeleton and has a big ol' spear.

There's plenty of cool stuff to work with, even when your price range is limited.

All miniatures are creations of Wizards of the Coast. Images from CoolStuffInc

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Cheap Minis Project

Miniatures are expensive, no matter what form they take or what company manufactures them. From the detailed pewter of a Warhammer or Malifaux model to the most recent prepainted D&D or Heroclix boosters, it seems like the only way to acquire affordable miniatures in on the secondary market. When I used to play Warhammer 40K, eBay was a godsend for cheap(er) Space Marines built from other people's bits boxes and Rhinos on the sprue without packaging or instructions. For prepainted minis, the places to go are websites like CoolStuffInc and Troll & Toad, where you can find just about any monster released for any collectible game.

However, these websites also illustrate another upsetting part of the miniatures market: their once-collectible status. The randomized booster format of D&D miniatures means that there are 'common' and 'rare' miniatures that cost ridiculous amounts of money for the materials used to create them. Among these 'rare' minis are many of D&D's most iconic monsters: dragons and giants of all shapes and sizes, the beholder, owlbear and displacer beast cost anywhere between $5 to $20 to purchase. In order to play the typical game of D&D with minis, you would most likely end up spending more money on plastic than you did on rulebooks, which is really saying something.

That's not to say that there aren't affordable D&D miniatures, far from it. I think there's a wealth of awesome, weird and quality collectible miniatures out there that won't break your bank account.

Over 300 of them, in fact.

Before the Christmas holiday, I compiled a spreadsheet of every single available D&D miniature under $1.50 on CoolStuffInc, not only as a piece of bargain hunting, but as the basis for a worldbuilding project. Over the next few weeks, I plan to assess the miniatures that I've found on the secondary market and begin to create the structure for a campaign world around them. Instead of lamenting the lack of a cheap Black Dragon or Ogre miniature, I want to build a fantasy setting that is tailor-made to accomodate something like the Maug or the amazing Half-Illithid Lizardfolk that I have come across in the under $2 range. I think that working within this framework will at the very least inspire me to create some cool fluff and adventure ideas and might possibly lead to a campaign in the future.

Later this week, I plan to take stock of the list, its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to creature diversity. There's a lot of great stuff in there, from sword and sorcery looking cultists and warriors to a bunch of off-beat monstrous humaniods like bullywugs and a copious amount of troglodytes. Stay tuned for more!

Where'd You Go II: The Quickening

So, serves me right for announcing big things in Blogland before the winter holidays and a chunk of important job-related deadlines, right?

Never fear, cool things are just around the corner. That is, if there are still any readers out there.