Tuesday, November 30, 2010

December's really the cruelest month

So I'm most likely not going to be blogging for at least the next week, probably more. I'm literally at the point where I've either got to write 1,000 words or read an entire book every day and I'm not really sure where leisure activity fits in there, let along leisure writing.

Godspeed, y'all. Send me your best vibes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I am weak and have poor impulse control

So here's my new Gamma World box set, purchased with a Black Friday Borders coupon and cracked open outside of the plastic. Clearly, Hermes is very excited.

Just for fun, I rolled up a series of Origins and tried to see what I could make of them.

Mind Coercer/Plant: A dryad-like plant woman with hypnotic pollen. Most likely named something like Rose, Tulip or Violet.
Gravity Controller/Speedster: A density-altering mutant
Mind Breaker/Telekinetic: A psychic Russian agent from a parallel earth where the USSR won the Cold War.
Giant/Electrokinetic: A Frankenstein's Monster-like conglomeration animated by a car battery embedded in its back.

And my personal favorite, Android/Doppleganger, which I decided represented an sentient vending machine wearing a cowboy hat a la The Tick's Eastern Bloc Robot Cowboy, who can vend smaller utility robots from a core base block.

I think this game is gonna be all right.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to All

Nothing's worse than being sick on a holiday. I guess the supposition that you only get sick when you can afford to, which I guess is the case. Fortunately, the ibuprofen and Mucinex seem to be working and I'm staying hydrated.

Still, I'm thankful to be home with family, helping them make the Thanksgiving feast. I love my parents and my sister, the cats and the dog. I'm hoping that my girlfriend makes it through her 10am-10pm EMS shift stress-free. On top of all that, I'm hoping I'll be able to make a full recovery by tomorrow and get working.

There's a lot in this world to be thankful for. It's for the best to focus on that, rather than the stuff that gets you down. Do as much as you can to make the world around you a better place to live and don't stress the things you can't change.

And remember, the Bond marathon is on Sci-Fi this year. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Uresia, One Piece and the importance of whimsical fantasy

I'm not the only blogger to have sung the praises of S John Ross's amazing Uresia: Grave of Heaven. Jeff Rients (do I say this guy's name enough or what?) has often doted on the setting in his early Gameblog posts and SirLarkins of The RPG Corner made an attempt at a mechanical conversion for Rules Cyclopedia D&D. It's a dynamite little book, lean on population-density data but chock full of plot hooks, adventure seeds and character ideas. Each continent and civilization has the important cultural details and maybe a few cities sketched out in the descriptions but the book gives GMs more or less free reign to make Uresia a setting of their own based on the building blocks set out by the author. It's a fantastic approach to a published setting that really inspires and if I ever get a group together with the right mindset, I'd love to give my Culinary Adventures campaign a try. Because really, there's gotta be groups of adventurers that have to go out and track down the secret ingredients for the Dreed fighting chefs, be it hunting for giant beasts on Trolllander islands or climbing the Laochrian mountain ranges for a chance to harvest the rare Winter Thyme.

But I think the thing that really sticks with me about Uresia is the whimsical, light-hearted nature of the setting. So much of the role-playing community, old-school or not, is obsessed with increasing doses of grittiness and dystopia in their gaming experiences. Now, I'm not saying that no one should play gritty games: after all, my favorite system of all time is still Unknown Armies and I've had great times playing Cyberpunk and Call of Cthulhu. But the games I really remember are the ones where everyone is having fun and the setting supports that fun.

I'm a huge fan of the shonen manga series One Piece for a multitude of different reasons. I've been reading for six years and over 600 chapters now and I can honestly say that I'm as interested in reading more now as I was when I first started, which I NEVER say about most lost-lasting shonen series (Naruto, Bleach et al.) Honestly, I think it's because the series has maintained a consistent tone of whimsical adventure since it started. Times have gotten dark, situations have felt hopeless and struggles have been overwhelming but at the end of the day, it's still a series about a young boy wanting to become the greatest pirate ever with the help of his friends. No matter how serious matters get, there's always hope and camaraderie to rely upon.

I know that I haven't done a great job of explaining how I feel about this 'style(?)' of gaming, but in the campaign idea that I'm working on for my potential library D&D game, I'm trying to capture this whimsical and hopeful feeling for a group of completely new roleplayers. There are a couple of established settings outside of Uresia that really hit that mark for me, chief among them Shane Lacy Hensley's 50 Fathoms for Savage Worlds and the core-books-only approach to Eberron, which is fortunately made much easier in its new 4th Edition format. But in all honesty, I think that I want to create something using the core assumptions of 4E and frame it in these whimsical ideals.

I want their characters to believe that they can change the world. And goddammit, they should be able to.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Acquisitions Incorporated and Old School Podcasting

Whenever I've felt uninspired or unsure of the direction that my campaign ideas have been taking, I've found myself coming back more and more to the series of Acquisitions Incorporated podcasts that Wizards of the Coast produced with Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulic of Penny Arcade and Scott Kurtz of PVP and joined in later podcasts by your friend Wil Wheaton. The first podcast hit the Internet just as 4th Edition was being released and not only introduced the gaming public to the new rules set, but introduced Krahulic to tabletop roleplaying. Needless to say, it was an utterly successful conversion.

Each podcast 'series' is an actual play session involving the adventuring group Acquisitions Incorporated, chronicling their exploits in the Nentir Vale, the implied corebook setting of 4th Edition. The group dynamic between the three (or four) players is absolutely wonderful; listening to the players argue, strategize and cooperate makes for great radio and a lot of the table talk and banter reminds me of games that I've played. On top of that, it can be gutbustingly funny sometimes, especially when things go wrong. The group's reaction to a series of back to back 1s has to be heard in its entirety.

There are a couple of podcasts out there for older editions of Dungeons and Dragons but frankly, I really don't like them. The Roll For Initiative and Save Or Die podcasts are both steeped in the kinds of frustrating Dragonsfoot-style antagonism and edition warrior machismo that gets me absolutely goddamned steamed. In one of the episodes of Save or Die (the podcast focusing on Basic/Classic D&D), a discussion of campaign lethality had the three hosts tripping over each other to brag about killing stupid players, and "not letting the characters walk all over my world."

No kidding. Actual words that came out of a DM's mouth.

But the real pity of these podcasts is that they're preaching to the choir. The best thing about the Acquisitions Incorporated podcasts is that, on top of the humor and camraderie, it was teaching both the players and the listener how 4th Edition works. I learned the back and forth of the game, alongside how new mechanics like healing surges and skill challenges worked. When Roll For Initiative or Save Or Die goes through their different spotlights and segments or talking about how their old DM did things, it really feels like their audience are the folks who've been playing AD&D or Red Box for decades. As someone who just started looking into older editions of D&D, I was frankly lost.

I think that an old school actual play podcast in the vein of Acquisitions Incorporated could be a wonderful introduction into the strengths and quirks of games like Swords and Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord. I Hit It With My Axe is probably the closest thing to a flagship series out there but even that's been contentious. All I know is that I'd love to hear what James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount or JB's Baranof games are like around the table and maybe it would help new players understand what draws folks to these old editions.

Acquisitions Incorporated picture by Mike Krahulic of Penny Arcade

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Further thoughts on Mutant Future

So, after last week's Mutant Future post, I printed out a copy of the rules at the school's computer lab and have been checking them out when I have the chance. So far, an extended look at the rules has mostly verified my suspicions from last week: still a whole lot of Labyrinth Lord in those rules. I'm mostly afraid that in trying to run the kind of game that I want to run in Mutant Future, I would have to hack out and house rule an inordinate amount of stuff, write up my own equipment lists and probably my own monsters, mutants and robots, too. I don't want to feel like I have to rewrite the entire thing to get it to work for me.

So what would work? Frankly, the more I've been hearing about the new D&D Gamma World, the more inclined I am to pick it up. It seems to be able to do what I want it to do right out of the box, but I've been trying not to spend money on gaming stuff.

Totally awesome mutant pigs vs. PCs picture by Chance II of the Something Awful forums from his Roadhogs and Rednecks Gamma World Let's Play.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Holy shit, next time I don't have anything to do with my friends, I'm just going to whip this game out, put on the Showdown in Little Tokyo soundtrack and play ALL OUTTA BUBBLEGUM!
All Outta Bubblegum

This game is copyright 2001, Michael "Epoch" Sullivan and Jeffrey Grant. If you want to repost it or whatever, drop me an email.

Characters in All Outta Bubblegum have one stat -- Bubblegum. It's technically a number which varies from 0 through 8, though the designers highly, highly recommend that you don't do anything so banal as write down a number, and, instead, pass out actual sticks of bubblegum to the players. This will also help when you play All Outta Bubblegum drunk, which is, let's be blunt, probably the only time you'd even consider playing this game.

Bubblegum always starts out at 8.


Any action which does not fall under the broad category of "kicking ass" is resolved by rolling a d10. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the amount of bubblegum the character has left, then the character succeeds in his task.

Any action which falls under the broad umbrella of "kicking ass" is also resolved by rolling a d10. However, in this case, you wish to roll greater than the amount of bubblegum that you have left.

Losing Bubblegum

Whenever you fail a non-combat roll, you lose a stick of Bubblegum. You may also sacrifice a stick of Bubblegum before the roll to ensure success.

Bubblegum also rates your damage. If someone else succeeds in a roll of asskicking against you, you lose one stick of bubblegum.

Zero Bubblegum

When you lose your last stick of bubblegum, you are officially all outta bubblegum. You may no longer attempt any kind of non-asskicking activity. Simple devices like, say, the handles of doors confound you (eerily enough, you have no problem field-stripping a .50 caliber machinegun to clear a jam in 15 seconds flat). However, you automatically succeed in any asskicking-related activity. You are a nearly unstoppable ball of bubblegum-less fury. When someone else succeeds in an asskicking roll against you, they roll a d10. If they roll a 10, you are knocked out. If they roll a 1 through 9, they've only succeeded in making you, if possible, even more angry.

However, bear in mind that it's relatively easy to trap a zero-bubblegum person in a situation he's totally incapable of dealing with.

There ya go. Think up your own damn adventures and campaign settings.
Seriously, it's genius. Like Trollbabe for 80s action movies.

Mutant Future Inspirado: Sabata

A lot of my post-apocalyptic inspirational material is pretty straightforward. The Road Warrior is obviously at the center of it all, surrounded by its like-minded brethren like the Fallout games, Interstate '76, Six-String Samurai and Fist of the North Star alike. But there's a fair amount of idiosyncratic influence that also inform my idea of a post-apocalyptic game. Over the next couple of days, I'm going to talk a little about what's informing my latest post-apocalyptic shenanigans.

Sabata (and other ridiculous Westerns)

I've said before that the post-apocalyptic genre feels right for me when it's close to being a western. The Road Warrior, the keystone film of the post-apocalyptic genre, fits the redemptive anti-hero western model almost note for note, only with cars replacing horses. Me, I've been watching westerns since my parents showed me Silverado when I was 5 years old and the genre is still very dear to my heart, not to mention my gaming. The Deadlands campaign I ran for my college friends was probably the most successful piece of gaming I've ever done.

The poster for Lee Van Cleef's Sabata has been my background design ever since I started this blog and for good reason. I mean, just LOOK at it! Explosions, dynamite, doing it, a BANJO that's also a GUN! People seem to have this idea that Spaghetti westerns were all gritty, violent and intense affairs, primarily because every Spaghetti western they've seen has starred Clint Eastwood and was directed by Sergio Leone. There's a whole world of Italian westerns out there and most of them are wacky as hell. Sabata and its sequels are fantastic primarily because of this over-the-topness. The banjo gun is just the tip of the iceberg: the series has everything from ball-bearing throwing shoes to suspender slingshots, Yul Brynner's faaabulous fringed black leather ensemble and director Gianfranco Parolini's obsession with finding ways to get actor Aldo Canti to jump off of rooftops onto trampolines. Seriously, the guy's in every Sabata movie as a different character who jumps off stuff.

You can watch Sabata for free on Hulu and Adios Sabata on Netflix Instant. Unfortunately, Return of Sabata isn't available in any easy streaming format, but it's constantly on Encore Westerns and other cable channels that show Spaghetti westerns off and on, so that you too can hear the totally awesome Return of Sabata theme.

EDIT: I can't believe that I didn't actually finish that sentence.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mutant Future: How 'bout some zipguns!

While scouring the internet for pictoral inspiration for post-apocalyptic weaponry, I came across a blog posting from EnglishRussia detailing a whole load of self-made weapons confiscated from Chechnyan rebels.

I can easily see any of these being built by a post-apocalyptic gunsmith, alongside compound bows and compressed air-powered spearguns.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My first impressions of Mutant Future

In the past few weeks, I've been on a pretty serious post-apocalypse and western kick, so I've been trying to find a fun game to scratch that itch. From the posts that I've read about people's Mutant Future games, it seemed like a sure bet. Fun random mutations and lost technology in a gonzo post-apocalyptic wasteland. What's not to like?

Except there's this weird assumption in Mutant Future that the technology level of the post-apocalyptic society is going to go straight back to default D&D medieval level, with literally what seems like the entire Labyrinth Lord equipment list reprinted verbatim, manacles and spyglasses alike. The book is full of illustrations with weird, weapon-wielding mutants, but then tells you about hiring longbowmen and light cavalry. Does this strike anyone else as a little weird? Maybe 'post-apocalypse' is a bit like 'pulp fantasy' in the sense that it can mean radically different things to different people. For some it may mean Thundarr-esque wizardry, to others it's far-future dungeoncrawling for high tech artifacts. For me, it's always been a weird, far-flung western, with bandits, trains and six-shooters alongside mutants, killer robots and Mexican wrestlers.

I guess it's just hard for me to fathom a post-apocalyptic setting with no cars. Is Gamma World (any edition) better about emulating that kind of western post-apocalypse feel? Or should I run with Mutant Future and just add the elements that I want to it? I think that the system's probably pretty solid, I just feel like I'd have to rewrite the entire gear section until I like it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

So there was a Descendents show this weekend

Nothing gaming related about it. Milo definitely looks like a biochemistry professor, though.

Also setlist. They played Uncontrollable Urge! How cool is that?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A further note on the Mixtapes column

For the foreseeable future, I am going to try and find as much of the music for the Mixtapes column on streaming services, like YouTube videos or MySpace and Bandcamp pages. In the case of YouTube videos, this may mean that the video attached to said audio may be of some anime series or a skateboarding video or a fish decaying on the street. Pay no attention to it, unless you wish to.

I'd feel bad about just posting MP3s since, all in all, I'd like people to support these artists if they really like the music. But if it comes down to it and I can't find anywhere on the whole Internet where you can hear this song, which may be the case with a couple of these records, I'll post it on Mediafire.

Carry on...

Mixtapes: Wreck Stuff

So, Christian wrecks stuff to Keith Morris-era Black Flag, Scott does it to Bad Brains and the Gorilla Biscuits and Zak S does it to the blackest of metal...

What have I been listening to that makes me want to wreck stuff?

Lightning Bolt

Seriously, they may look like the biggest hipsters in Hipstertown, but Brian Gibson and Brian Chippendale TEAR IT UP. Armed with only a drumkit, a bass with a banjo top string, an array of distortion pedals and a telephone mouthpiece strapped to Chippendale's face by the neon balaclava that has become his trademark, Lightning Bolt will probably make you go deaf if you're too close to them.

I've always thought about revisiting Cyberpunk 2020. One of my favorite games that I played as a teen was in a friend's Cyberpunk game, where everything went wrong (as it often does) and our team had to improvise our way out of a parking garage filled with Yakuza thugs. But honestly, I could only really do Cyberpunk in two ways: go straight 1980s nostalgia future like the indomitable Doctor Rotwang's Lightstrip (of which I've been enamored since I saw it on RPGnet like three years ago) or just set it 5 years into the future.

We've got cyberpunk technology. Sure, there's no neural interfaces or full conversion combat borgs, but we can access a global information network from our goddamned phones (anywhere from 400 to 800 ebs in Cyberpunk, which is about how much you pay for a fully automatic shotgun). Dubai and Hong Kong are pretty much cyperpunk cities already. Corporations are bigger and meaner than ever.

And who's going to be playing behind those Heat-style shootouts, blending with the echoing blasts of automatic weapons fire?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mixtapes: The Streets of Shrapnel

Mixtapes is a new column that I'm going to try and do every week about the music that inspires my gaming. Many folks on many blogs have gone into great detail about what books, movies and artwork have fueled their campaign worlds and play sessions, but a relative few have discussed music's role in the inspirational process. That's not to say that no one has: early in the history of Playing D&D With Porn Stars, Zak S posted a fantastic list of Songs Useful in D&D Games Renamed To Reflect The Situations Wherein I Have Used Or Plan To Use Said Music, which among other things got me into the Sword, and Christian and Scott, my two favorite guys on the Net, both tend to share my tastes in music and have included choice tracks by Fugazi, the Specials and the Hold Steady in their postings. But music is such an integral part of any campaign or character preparation that I do that it would be amiss for me not to do a column like this. So without further ado...

The Streets of Shrapnel
Soundtrack provided by: Guignol and Mischief Brew - Fight Dirty

Guignol are a punk/Gypsy/klesmer band comprised of members and ex-members of the Hold Steady, the World-Inferno Friendship Society and just about any collaborative musical project in the Tri-State area and have maintained a long and collaborative friendship with Erik Petersen, the frontman and occasionally only member of Philadelphia's Mischief Brew. I occasionally have issues with Petersen's lyrics, as I do with most anarchist songwriters, but I really appreciate his closer kinship towards labor radicalism rather than banal 'smash the state' rhetoric and when he writes a song, he can write a goddamned song. The two groups first collaborated an a song on Mischief Brew's first full-length and finally released a joint record called Fight Dirty, which consists of both Mischief Brew songs backed by Guignol's rhythm section and Guignol songs with Petersen's guitar accompaniment.

When I first started thinking about the Swords and Wizardry game that would later become the Motherlode campaign, the first element that I visualized was the city of Shrapnel. An urban metropolis built on a swamp, Shrapnel was my first fantasy city in the vein of Lankhmar, Sharn and Ankh-Morpork; a place where all sorts of urban adventures involving guilds, taverns and ever-thrumming furnaces underfoot. But it's not just a noir city in fantasy dressing: there's plenty of room for adventure, comedy, class warfare and all sorts of set pieces. It's the kind of city where bodies turn up in interesting places all the time, where you can start your night in a high-end restaurant at the top of the Stairs and end it fighting to the death in an underground gladiatorial fighting ring.

Sugar Park Tavern Death Song was the first song that struck that inspirational spark in me. To me, it conjures up images of dimly lit streets, solitary Chandleresque 'knight errants' smoking short stubby cigarettes and keeping one hand gripped on the long knife strapped to their lower back. The intertwining harmonies of Peter Hess's clarinet and Franz Nicolay's accordion are the backbone of Guignol's sound and they are on full display in this track. I liked the feeling that it gave me, so I kept listening and sure enough, the ideas started coming. Pete Merak has this amazing sleazy klezmer vibe that would be welcome background music in a multi-faceted den of ill repute and Dirty Penny's Pogo sounds like it could be played in a crowded open-air marketplace while people shop, eat and dance.

As I kept Fight Dirty playing during work, trips and walking home, the songs really started to define the feel that I had for Shrapnel. There's a series of about four or five tracks that would make fantastic chase scene music, from the up-tempo Gonzales, The Explosive Chilean to the screaming guitar of Create Destroy to their cover of Iron Maiden's Hallowed Be Thy Name. Even though Shrapnel was a corrupt fantasy city, there were still going to have to be people and organizations unflinching enough to require chase scenes through city streets and buildings, on rooftops, anything that allowed for the kind of manic energy and atmosphere that these songs provided.

I finally settled on the idea of an Arbiter, a 'body of justice' completely independent from the myriad corruptible guilds and councils of the city, much closer to a vigilante organization than a police force. The Arbiter's watchmen and guards are seemingly men on the outside, but that's where all similarity ceases. Their eyes are constantly covered by blank metal visors that don't seem to impair their vision, their speech isn't in any natural cadence and they cannot enter any building or structure unless given specific permission. No one in their right mind would report a crime to them or ask them for help; they enforce justice on the Arbiter's terms, which are utterly unknown to the public, but incredibly dangerous just the same. Thus, taverns, brothels and even temples have become the default locations for dirty dealings and if you do decide to murder someone in a back alleyway, make doubly sure that you're not alone. So characters in Shrapnel have to deal with criminal organizations, corrupt guilds, fickle nobles and on top of all that a nearly unstoppable police force that cannot be bribed or reasoned with. How do they survive?

Fight Dirty.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Because sometimes, when you're at the end of your rope...

...tedious assignments for class are somehow made a little better because you're doing them about Swords and Wizardry monster blocks.