We had the “postrelease” tournament for the new Twilight Rebellion VTES set on Saturday. I’ve always found pre/postrelease tournaments a lot of fun, and this was no exception – about 20 players, and lots of new cards to try to figure out. We made decks from 5 drafted Anarchs boosters plus 5 drafted Twilight Rebellion boosters, so it was a low-resource game for everyone. No pool gain, very limited intercept, etc. Tuomas took the tournament win once again, with Tuukka coming in second place, proving that some people are just better players than others. No surprise there.
The set looks solid. Lots of powerful cards for the Anarchs, just what they’ve needed in order to be tournament-level viable. The balance looks good; while there are some very powerful cards in there, they also have suitable restrictions; I didn’t spot any immediate this-will-become-a-problem cases yet. We’ll see, once people start building decks from these. It becomes legal for tournament play on June 27th.
Sunday was a lazy day, which was nice and much-needed. We had one of our semi-regular movie weekends, with some people coming over to watch stuff with the theme “virtual realities” – which meant Matrix, The 13th Floor and ExistenZ. I’d seen all three before, but they stood up well to second (or third) viewings. Read a bit, ate lots of good cabbage soup, did some more Rails coding… nice and relaxing.
We finally managed to run a session of Exalted last Sunday, after some scheduling difficulties. The characters, now in the Northern trapper town of Wangler’s Knob, did some expected things (talk with the locals, set out for the even-farther North) and some slightly unexpected ones (ambushed a Dragonblood expedition in the middle of the snowy wilderness). It was a logical (if ruthless) thing to do, and it was great – the fight was the biggest one we’ve had yet, and Khamyn met the limits of his invulnerability for the first time; I was pretty sure he was a goner for a small while there. It was tight, they were facing 9 skilled Wood Aspects plus their retinue. It was also great because of the moral problems it caused and will cause – since they were the ones attacking without warning in the middle of the night, supported by a demon horde (yes, really)… who exactly are the bad guys here? The fact that the target Dragonbloods had actually been quite pleasant to the characters previously adds some fuel to that fire. While it was a bit unexpected (I expected potential violence, but at a different time and place), storywise this was good. The massive fight ate up much of the playtime, but it also gave us a chance to practice the combat mechanics.
Outside that version of Creation, real-life swordplay has involved a lot less flashy gymnastics and a lot more old-fashioned sweat and repetition of basic moves. My heel, which was giving me serious problems last Wednesday and Thursday, has apparently healed; good, since tendon/joint pains are something that I’m extremely wary of. Tuesday’s basic training went well, and yesterday’s rapier also. While tiring and sweaty, rapier didn’t kill my arm too badly this time round. Maybe some little strength is returning, an iota at a time.
With Flashbacks II, it’s time for another batch of classic Paranoia modules converted to Paranoia XP. These are a bit more of the slapstick/pun variety than the batch in the first Flashbacks volume, but they are lots of fun to read – and to play, I suspect. The worst of the pun names have been changed in keeping with Paranoia XP’s slightly more serious tone and some references to new Paranoia XP stuff has been added, but generally the storylines (what little I remember of them) are unchanged.
First off, there’s Orcbusters, which is one long D&D spoof. An interdimensional rift transports three wizards and their henchman into Alpha Complex, with predictable results. Naturally, the action takes place mostly in DND and TSR sectors, but there’s a nice opportunity for the Troubleshooters to go on a genuine dungeon crawl. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the opportunity. Oh, and there’s a Wandering Monster Table.
Second, there’s Clones In Space, in which the Troubleshooters get send to orbit, thanks to a new “experimental high-speed elevator”. Naturally, space contains mad robots, aliens (who want our women), and all the other cliches direct from TV and movies. Probability of successful return to Alpha Complex? Low. Really low. Probability of explosive decompression? 99.999%.
Lastly, there’s the classic The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Adventure. Here the players get to play loyal servants of the Communist Controlled Complex Population (CCCP), under the benevolent eye of Tovarich Computer, the Big Red One. They get the glorious opportunity to be the people’s vanguard in the attack against the imperialist oppressor pig-dog lackeys of Alpha Complex. They also get to wield heavy weaponry, and do lots of stuff players in Paranoia games usually don’t get to do. They also get to do a lot of things that are quite traditional, like get screwed by Catch-22 bureaucracy, get shot at, get incomplete instructions and gear, etc. There’s also a lot of borch to slurp through.
While the adventures in Flashbacks contained most of my personal favorites from among the classics, these three are also great. I’m not sure if I’ve ever played them (maybe Clones in Space, long long time ago), but as usual for good Paranoia modules they are a hell of a lot of fun to read. Good stuff.
Some small notes that don’t really merit a separate post…
Good things about our house #N: having two showers means that if one should break (as one did, by starting to drip ceaselessly), you still have the other one and don’t need to fix the thing right now! (just “asap” will do).
The Cat Containment System (tm) is not fully operational and functioning. In other words, we finally completed the extra fencing on top of our yard fence, so that we can now let the cats out into the yard without too much furry leakage. Seems catproof so far; there is one theoretical escape route but that should vanish Saturday when we get a certain tree cut down. Who knows, maybe the felines will start digging an escape tunnel next – stay tuned.
I’m slowly dipping my toes into miniatures. Having been fascinated with Dream Pod 9’s Heavy Gear roleplaying game for a long time, I’m now getting into the miniatures wargame side of that game. The new tactical system (Blitz!) has been getting a ton of praise from various directions, and the new expanded Heavy Gear Blitz! Locked & Loaded rulebook should be shipping in my direction next week. After I get that, I’ll decide what factions appeal to me most and get a few starter squads… and after that, I’ll actually need to learn how to assemble and paint the things. Scary. I’m not sure if there are many (or any) Heavy Gear tactical players in the Helsinki area, but if nothing else I can recruit some friends to help with playtesting. Don’t know exactly why, but even though “mechs” as a concept has always left me cold, the smaller power-armor style that Heavy Gear uses triggers all my “kewl!” buttons. The rpg rocks, and I’m hoping the miniatures game will too.
The Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity ransom is now at $15750 (of $20k), so it needs 85 more pledges/pre-orders to be a “go!”. Still 12 days to go on that, no panic yet – but it’s hard to predict how this will go. So… if you’re on the fence on this, now would be a good time to throw in your $50. Even if you later decide you don’t need the book, it’s a limited printing of 1000 and the previous such (Eyes Only) sold out very fast. In other words, you can easily make a profit on eBay later, if needed (when available, Eyes Only has been eBay:ing for around $90-$100). Of course, the real reason to get this is to get some more great DG stuff. Not enough of that in the world.
Greg A. Vaughan’s River Into Darkness is an attempt to do a D&D version of the classic “African river journey” story, but it only succeeds partially. Some bits are very nice; I liked the opening town of Bloodcove (despite the silly name), and the almost-paddlesteamer boat is a fun idea.
However, the encounters along the way seem a bit disjointed and not all that exciting, and the finale is maybe a bit too open-ended. Sure, it’s nice to give the PCs lots of freedom to choose, but some more detail on the consequences either way would have been nice. With a good GM and some extra prep, I’m sure this would be a fun romp to run/play, especially if you feel like some “out in the wilderness” action to give your outdoors specialist characters a chance to shine.
This isn’t bad by any means, just a bit lackluster compared to other Paizo modules.
…and so begins a new Paizo adventure path, The Curse of the Crimson Throne. Judging by beginnings, it looks to be at least as good as the previous one; Edge of Anarchy (by Nicolas Logue) sets up the action quite nicely. It’s also an urban adventure set, which is a nice change of pace and provides lots of varied encounter options.
Without giving away too many spoilers, the story is set in the city of Korvosa, where the failing health of the king is about to cause civil unrest and worse. The players are people who originally just set out to get revenge on a certain crime boss, but quickly get sucked into higher-level dealings.
It’s quite nice. On the plus side, it’s a set of loosely connected mini-adventures, which gives the thing quite a bit of flexibility. On the minus side, that same flexibility can be a problem; the players are expected to do some very specific things based on sometimes very flimsy clues and prompting. Also, the beginning link from the crimelord thing to bigger issues is extremely tenuous, I can easily see players either missing it entirely or deciding to ignore it. I’m pretty sure that this thing needs quite a bit of extra GM work to make it play naturally, because you have to have a “plan B” and “plan C” ready for every time the players do something other than what’s expected. Which will be “most of the time”, most likely. So, unless you want to blatantly railroad things, read this through at least twice and do some extra prep before running it.
Is it worth that? I’d say yes, easily. The main plot is quite interesting here, and the whole urban environment thing opens up tons of opportunities. In addition, the encounters themselves tend to be pleasantly varied (no, it’s not only combat all the time). In order for this to work the PCs also need to have approriate motivations, but to Paizo’s credit that’s discussed at some length in the Player Guide to this adventure path. It’s actually nice to see a D&D adventure that takes a stance on what types of motivations the players need in order for things to work, not just “generate some characters and declare them a ‘party’”.
Other than the adventure, the book(let) contains the usual assortment: an article (this time on the local gypsy variants), a fiction “Pathfinder journal” piece, and some new monsters. I’ve always liked the fiction bits in these, and this one was especially good. I’m a tiny bit annoyed at Paizo’s near-1:1 copying of some things – the Varisians are (fantasy) gypsies down to styles of dress, then we have a people who are pretty direct Native American copies, and then there’s the fantasy Egypt copy of “Osirion”, etc etc. It probably wouldn’t have killed them to throw a bit of extra originality into those. I like Exalted’s style of mixing things up a lot more – you might get a vaguely Babylonian culture that’s mixed together with African tribalism, or a people who combine bits of Viking culture with Native American stuff. It creates cultures that are a lot more interesting and have recognizable “handles” without being copies, whereas here they just seem like generic copies with little flavor of their own. It’s not a huge problem, just a small gripe I have.
Overall, a good start to a new city-based adventure path, we’ll see where it goes.
After the somewhat shaky “Dragon-Blooded” book, I’ve really liked the new Exalted hardcover “splatbooks”. While some more anal rulesmongers like to whine about lack of playtesting with some specific charms, I don’t care that much – the ideas have been excellent and the writing good. Special mention goes to the “Lunars” book, which totally reinvented the Lunars and switched them from a boring “yarr, we’re barbarians!” role into being a fascinating group of Darwinist society builders.
So now we have Abyssals. While the original (1st ed) Abyssals wasn’t bad at all, this one is wonderful. Somehow, they’ve made the Abyssals both nastier and more understandable, at the same time. The first part of the book pulls together all the details on what happened when the Solars originally kicked Primordial ass, as seen from the other side. While a lot of this info has been available before, there are tons of small new details here and the whole thing is written in a clear fashion; it makes figuring out what makes the Abyssals (and the Deathlords and the Neverborn) tick a lot less headache-inducing. The Deathlords get great writeups, with some much-needed expansion and clarification on motives and abilities. Much weight is placed on how the Abyssals are complete slaves, and how the deck is stacked against them should they try to be anything else except evil death-dealers (Resonance is nasty now). On the other hand, many options for rebellion are presented.
After the initial overview section, we get the standard character creation stuff, then a long section on Abyssal charms (with some very nice innovations, for example the new Mirror Charm concept), then a section on Necrotech. A discussion on gamemastering an Abyssal chronicle finishes up the book.
If you’re running Exalted and want to use the Abyssals / Deathlords in your game, you want this book. No question. I think it’s one of the best new hardcover splatbooks – it paints the Abyssals in shades of grey while keeping those shades firmly on the “black(ish)” side. These aren’t cartoon villains – unless you want them to be. The art and comics are a mixed bag; some great, some not so, but nothing really bad. A few of the comics are very funny, and the one at the end continues the Arianna / Prince of Shadows / The Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears story begun in earlier comics.
Female players (or female characters, especially when played by a man) have always been a touchy subject in rpgs. On one hand, you have people who go on about how women are no different from men, and how there should be no difference anywhere. Then you have the “men are from mars, women from venus” crowd, who insist that women are just so totally different that you need a completely different approach for everything. And then there’s the majority(?) who recognize that mostly it’s no big deal, but that there are certain differences due to the way society shapes us.
Anyway, I just wanted to point at the latest episode (#42) of The Gamemaster Show, a podcast about gaming. It discusses this issue at (great) length, and I have to say it’s a damn good episode. I especially loved the tiny bit near the end, where one of the guys says that theoretically it should be easier to play a woman than, say, an elf… but it really isn’t, since there is 0% chance of an actual elf sitting down at your game table and telling you how badly you’re playing an elf, how you totally don’t understand the pressures elves operate under, etc yadda yadda.
It’s a funny thing. I actually used to have a (small) problem with people playing opposite gender in rpgs, way back when. No idea why, it was a long time ago, and nowadays it’s routine for us to have no direct correlation between player and character gender (though I suppose it’s still most common to play your own gender, since it’s easier in many ways)… but yeah, it can be a touchy issue.
As players, I really haven’t noticed girls/women being any different from guys. Perhaps there tends to be a slight bit more emphasis on social and inter-character situations, but… dunno. Our current Exalted group has 3 girls & 2 guys as players, and they’re not exactly a “peace and love” bunch of characters. In addition, one of the most pacifist characters of the group is played by one of the guys. So while stereotypes may (or may not) have some relevance statistically, on the individual level they cease to matter. We’re all people – but face it, it takes really long until young guys figure out that “girls are just people”. Maybe that’s one source of the “there are no girls in gaming” myth.
Ok, a quick “heads up”: John Wick’s new game, Houses of the Blooded, was opened for IPR print pre-orders on Monday. There are two options: the normal version (which also includes PDF), and a hardcover limited edition. The limited edition has a slightly different cover to the standard one, and also includes a CD with the book PDF, over an hour of music suitable for the game (“Blood Music”), and graphic files plus fonts suitable for creating your own game handouts etc.
The limited edition is also extremely limited. Only 100 copies will be printed, and after I placed my order some 10 minutes or so ago, there were only 25 copies left. Expect them to sell out over the weekend. So, if you want to get your hands on this, place your order fast. Preordering the normal edition will save you $5 vs normal price, but there’s no huge hurry on that one.
John details the two editions in this blog post.
About the game itself: it’s about Love, Ambition, Opera, Obsession and Tragedy (capitals intentional), set among the “Ven”, a race which could be elves, or high-born humans, or C.J. Cherryh’s “atevi”, or anything in that vein. It uses lots of rules cues from Spirit of the Century, and in all ways it sounds extremely cool to me. There is a preview download available on the game’s web page, in case you want to get some more idea of what it’s like.
“The Ven language has only one word for both ‘love’ and ‘revenge’. Just a slight change in pronounciation.”
A game of romance. A game of revenge. A game of invisible wars and sorcerous blood. A game with no victors. Only casualties.
Sector Zero is supplement for Paranoia XP, the new version of the Paranoia game. It’s a set of three “missions” (pre-gen adventures) which can all be classified as “punishment duty” (Sector Zero being Alpha Complex slang for such). Now, experienced Paranoia players may wonder about that – isn’t life in Alpha Complex already punishment duty in itself? Well, not necessarily; there are always various shades of “bad”, and the new version of Paranoia encourages games that actually may see clones surviving for a game or two. Or not.
So, let’s see. We’re given “Bubblegum Run”, in which the Troubleshooters are sent to watch over some kids, and to investigate a certain bubblegum shipment. Sounds harmles, right? Well, obviously, wrong. Most Alpha Complex citizens have zero experience with “kids”, and here we learn why.
Next up is “The Dinner Party”, in which the team is tasked with setting up a formal dinner for a bunch of Indigo citizens. Considering their normal culinary sophistication is limited to choosing between Red or Stripy Tast-EE-Gruel, this may (=will) present a few tiny little challenges.
Last but not least we have “Lightning Rod”, where the team is sent to the upper reaches of Alpha Complex, to guard the top of the dome against Communist infiltators. Since this happens a mile or so above ground and is already quite dangerous, it would be cruel and unusual to throw subverted robots, insane military personnel, mad scientists and dangerous experiments into the mix. Maybe that’s why all that and more is included.
All in all, a worthy set of Paranoia missions, well suited as continuations to an earlier failed mission. And let’s face it, pretty much all missions fail, so these can be used almost anywhere.
Paranoia XP continues to be a brilliant reinvention of a classic game. If you haven’t already checked it out, you are ordered to do so at once, Citizen. It’s Mandatory Fun Duty.