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Wed, Jul. 29th, 2009, 10:33 am
Origins '09 reviews - Bounty Head Bebop RPG

At this point, with Origins a full month gone, only the true gems still remain in my mind. This game was one of them.

It was Saturday night, and deep in the section of the Columbus Convention Center, lay adventure. Trapped in a bad fishing metaphor (for no reason) lies my review.

The Bait:

The moment I saw that someone had created a "Cowboy Bebop themed RPG", I went googly eyed with excitement. The idea that one can use the Bebop world/genre as a storytelling sandbox is terrific. You've got humans roaming the galaxy in space ships using hyperspace travel. You've also got crime, gunplay, criminal syndicates, mystical powers, and "only driven by little old ladies on sundays" used spaceships. The possibilities are endless. Generally speaking, the premise is that the main characters are licensed bounty hunters, seeing out rewards for bringing criminals to justice. Your mileage may vary, as the lines between legality and morality often blur in the space between worlds.

The Cast:

The main book (which, of course, I don't have on hand as I write this) contains a pile of classes to play.
- The Cybernaut (Now, this isn't the real in-game term.. I think it was "Juicer" or something of the sort) is a cyber/genome/Pharmaceutical enhanced person. They tend to be "Combat Wombats" who can punch a T-Rex in the face, and then laugh when it bites back.
- The Investigator is the Private Eye. A calculating person who separates truths from deceptions, and sorts out who is manipulating who. These gumshoes aren't above defending themselves if things get messy.
- The Technician. You know who I'm talking about. The plucky engineer who whispers to broken down equipment (sometimes through the mediator of a steel toed boot) and makes it come to life. Kaylee from Firefly, Strap Coopmore from the Strongbadian Space Program, Scotty from Trek.
- The Feng Shui Master. Using his attunement to the powers of nature (as divined through a Lo-Pan), the Feng Shui Master can determine the best course of action for the party. While he might not be a scrapper himself, he could be the most influential technical character in the game.
***Note: I played the Feng Shui Master in our game, with the ability to spend your action bumping other players dice up or down, changing the target numbers so that the criticals improve, and sending "Surge Points" to someone else. Seriously, if you are a "crunchy dice rule lover" then this is THE class to play. You can change the fickle dice into a mathematical salad of success.
- The Psychic. I'll be honest, nobody, including me, was up to the challenge of taking the psychic. I'm guessing that we're talking about "Carrie" or "River Tam". Someone who reads minds and gives people headaches (or makes their heads explode, but don't quote me on that). If there is, in fact, a "spellcaster" class in this game, this could well be it. The flipside to all this mental power, is that you can burn out, lose your mind, and end up a drooling mushroom who talks to invisible cartoon spiders. Great Power at Great Cost seems to be the name of the game here.
There are more classes, at least 10 of them in total, but at the moment, I can't conjure them all out of memory. Suffice it to say that if you need to generate a character in Firefly, Cowboy Bebop, and most of Outlaw Star, you're covered. If you aren't picking up those references, then take my word for it that in a world where people have gone to space in order to outrun the law, the skillsets exist to break or enforce justice in most any conceivable way.

In addition to some really interesting classes, the option to Edge/Flaw your character is outstanding. I've liked the idea that because my character is meticulously clean, or outlandishly corpulent, that he can be musically gifted or have a photographic memory. In many systems, this becomes a perfect tweak for munchkins who like to say "Well, I'm a hermaphrodite who doesn't read the newspapers and farts a lot, but I'm ambidexterous, a crack shot, and can carry a spare clip of ammo in my ear." The edges and flaws are neither so detrimental as to be crippling, nor so superpowered as to outdo everyone else. They are simply flavorful roleplaying edges that keep you from being a mannequin with a name tag that says "Space Cop Informant #4".


- The Tackle:
http://www.bountyheadbebop.com/BHBPreview.pdf

This is the 4 page PDF that does a much better job of explaining the rules set than I ever could. That being said, here's my take on it.

This game system uses the i20, or Inverted 20 system. My only real reference point is the d20 OGL stuff, so I may use it to compare and contrast...

First off, in i20, you have stats. Your stat is your modifier for that sort of action. If you have a 4 in strength, then you add 4 to all your strength based actions (running, jumping, climbing trees). This is a welcome departure from d20 where you take your starting stat, divide by 2, subtract 5, and there's your starting modifier. What you see is what you've got. Sure, high numbers are exciting, but inflation isn't everything. There are still 6 stats in the game, so good old Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis are true to their longtime meanings and interpretations. Charisma is replaced with "Presence", which gives a wider reach to a classic stat.

You can then purchase additional ranks in skills that will show that your character has gone beyond their raw physical/mental/emotional talent. It's not too hard to get your number boosted into double digits fairly quickly. In d20 there are "Skill Max Limits" based on your level, but in Bounty Head Bebop, there's something better than an arbitrary limit. This is where the system really shines, and becomes a treat for new gamers, and old statistical weasels who love a challenge.

Let's say your character has a disable device skill of 13. That means you want to get 13 or LOWER to generate a success on disarming an alarm trigger, or bomb, or "The Club". Rolling low is a departure from other systems, but makes sense after a while. It's really just a percentile system in 5% increments. You roll the 20 sider and get a 13. Good job, you have thwarted the security system.

BUT (and I can't stress this enough), CRITICALS WORK DIFFERENTLY HERE! Since you rolled EXACTLY your stat number, you roll a critical success. You rolled as high as you possibly could, but still succeeded. This means that you not only took "The Club" off of the steering wheel of a Yugo, you managed to do something extra good (like, knock the keys out of the visor... I mean, it's a Yugo, they WANT you to steal it).

The fact that you critical hit on a number other than 20 is a novelty. Statistically no different than having to roll the 20. Pout if you wish, the best is yet to come.

Now that you've gotten away with starting the Yugo, you realize that there's a psychotic hobo attempting to strangle you from the back seat. Time to make a melee attack check! If your skill with an improvised weapon (The Club) is 14, then roll your die and come up 14 or lower. If you manage to roll that 14, then you've scored a critical hit, which means double damage...

But, what's the damage?

And now, the true beauty of the system. See that 14 you just rolled? The damage you do is the "ones" digit of that number. The one's digit of 14 is 4. So you would do 4 damage. except it's a critical, so you'd do 8 damage. Once you get your melee skill up to 19, you'll be doing 18 damage with the club on a critical. There are, of course, weapon modifiers that change this somewhat, but the neato trick of rolling a single die to hit and damage is something that deserves accolades.

"BUT PYG!" I hear you exclaim "Why does the guy with a 9 skill in combat have a better critical than the guy with an 11!". Well, it's like this... Sometimes, you just can't hit things. You can't send the kid who claps the erasers after school out and expect him to disarm a briefcase nuke, because he's got a 3 in disable device. Sure you could roll the 3... but it's unlikely.

In order to reinforce this, some devices/opponents/challenges have "Minimum Success Numbers". That briefcase bomb has a minimum success number of 15, so even if you critical success on a 3, if you don't have a total of 15 or more at the end of your check..., the countdown timer marches on.... Better hope your character is good at running. Sometimes an enemy just can't be damaged on some cheap shot from a pea shooter... This means that the person who craftily "Max Crits" by stopping all his stats at 9 will not have the skill to deal with anything that requires more than a 50/50 chance of success. There are essentially 2 success curves here, one where you're REALLY GOOD at the easy stuff, and one where you're good enough to do the hard things. It's the difference in real life of being a shade tree mechanic, and a formula one pit team leader.

-The Hook

Based on my limited experience, this does not turn into a hopeless malaise of "Whaaaaah, We can't hurt this guy"... In the adventure we played (Velociraptor Rhapsody), there was always another way to deal with what was going on. Sure, you can't shoot through the bulletproof glass with your piss-ant deck gun, but you can talk/sneak/otherwise trick your way out of the situation.

I prefer to think that it shows off the talent of the writers and storytellers who make/run this module. Additionally, I've heard similar things concerning the other con modules for this system. This is really something to shout about, considering the amount of railroading "One way out" RPGA stuff that folks are likely to encounter at a convention.

Without giving too much away about the plot of the adventure, I will drop the following hints:
1) Jeff Goldblum is not the only sensitive scientist who can deal with genespliced dinosaurs.
2) If you're going to a planet run by a mad scientist, make sure your auto insurance premium is paid up.
3) You can crash a motorcycle into a prehistoric menace, but that doesn't mean he's gonna like it.
4) Fat guys who do judo can put a raptor in a very terminal headlock.
5) The bad guys might get away, but it doesn't mean you won't get paid to let them.


The Line:

So now... let's get to it. Did I buy it?

The yardstick of capitalism says "Yes". I bought this book on the spot.
Not only did I get this book, I bogarded the Adventure notes (as part of the Convention Only giveaways) and got a code to download the PDF of an expansion (Jacked UP, which provides more detail into pimping your cyberware). I even got my mainbook signed yearbook style by the whole table (including the creator), because I've never met 6 strangers who so quickly turned into the "Most Fun Allowed In Ohio" all crammed into a 4 hour time slot.

At $14 in PDF (here: http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?cPath=4672&products_id=59021) or in print for $20 (Again, fuzzy memory, but I'm pretty sure that's what I paid... I can't find the link for the in print copy... sorry) it was a deal.

Not only did it have a great innovative dice system which will serve to entertain my statistical inner weasel, but the way it handles characters as "People with goals to accomplish" as opposed to "Some Stats with a couple of quirks I have to play now and then" is what RPGs are all about.

The Sinker:
Is this something you should buy? Does every gamer need this book?

If you are Bandai of America, you will not want this book, since you didn't think that having an RPG based on your property was worthwhile. I won't chide them further, but it really is their loss.

Predictably enough, the answer to this question is the same as the answer to "Did you like Cowboy Bebop?".

~ If you dig the show this entire game is based on, then you will want this book.
~ If you love quirky dice mechanics, you will want this book.
~ If you like easy-to-resolve combat with lots of strange twiddles and gloriously cinematic action, you will want this book.
~ If "Bullets singing out from between smokey wisps, beneath the knives and saxophones, a million miles from Earth" sounds nice when you whisper it...
Then you owe it to yourself to check this RPG out at the next convention (which, is GenCon 2009, if not sooner). If you like it, it's worth a few bucks for the book...


Oh, and I double-dog dare you to try out the Psychic Character... For extra points, name her "Jade Li"... Trust me.

Mon, Jul. 20th, 2009, 11:48 pm
When I am Messiah...

What is it that possesses a man to write at 10 minutes to midnight on a work night? Well, I'm so glad you asked.

You see, today was a pretty typical day at work, and I managed to get home at a reasonable time. I scarfed down dinner, helped my wife with some projects, ran at the track (well, my hefty ass went around it a few times, so that counts as running in my book)... All situation normal.

My options for an evening of entertainment were:
a) play BattleLore with Kershaw
b) paint with sean
c) sit at home trying not to blow chunks armed only with a well shaken bowl of meatball soup.

For some reason, I chose c)

At this point, sitting around, I decided to turn on Fallout 3... I managed to walk north past little lamplight, take out a nest of super mutants, and die totally unexpectedly after a rapid series of ticks from my radiation meter. Well, what could top being digitally irradiated with no real justification?

It can only be "The Passion of the Christ" by Mel "I can't believe they let me direct this shit" Gibson.

You see, once upon a time, there was a man. Some say he was the son of God (Big G here, folks). Some say he was a real nice guy who spoke up against the power hungry Church and the happ-go-lucky industrial-military complex of ancient Rome. Either way you cut it, standing up for the oppressed, performing healing miracles and being a general propagandist is a good way to piss off people in power.

Since the average intelligence level of your basic Judaic Hittite was somewhere between shouting idiot and shouting pro-wrestling fan, it was easy for the church leaders to get them all to chant "Crucify this Mo-Fo". Now, the roman overseer did everything in his power to shuffle the blame to King Herod, the Pharisees, anyone at all. But instead of saying "Y'know what, you're all a bunch of crazy f*ing idiots... Centurions, kill these morons", he allowed the morons to have the big J.C. beaten, whipped, stabbed, beaten s'more, and forced to carry a heavy ass cross to the top of the hill.

Now, meanwhile, Mel Gibson is doing everything in dramatic slo-mo, with more fake blood than that time a red dye number 5 pipeline exploded at the Karo factory, and a creepy satanesque asshat lounging through the crowd leering.

I am pissed at this movie. I am so pissed that as soon as they handed Jesus the crucifix he had to take through the baggage handling area of Downtown Heebistan, I came up here, and started writing this instead of finishing the film (I mean, it's the only better known ending than Titanic, and the book was arguably better).

Here is what I dislike:

1) I an known to be a miserable ending guy. I like it when the good guys do everything in their power, give their all, sacrifice, put their lives on the line... But in the end, they have some small measure of victory. This is not a victory, This is a whole bunch of apostles walking around with their thumbs up their asses while their main guy is whipped to death. Sure, he knows he's a martyr for a greater cause... but he doesn't solve anything. (Regligious wierdos probably should have stopped reading when I called them shouting idiots... but if you haven't, well, feel free to counterpost on your blog, I won't read it.) This makes for a movie where no change is made. None. You start out with a character who knows he's going to die. I know it, you know it, we all know it. There's no struggle here, only the struggle to stand by like a bunch of cowards as your leader gets killed for 2 hours.

2) The most complelling part of the film was Judas. A man so emotionally unbalanced by the betrayal of his teacher, that he ends up hanging himself. Y'know what, at least he did what was right in the end. If you're going to be a complete self loathing cock swab, then you're better off not making everyone else suffer through it. This is not me advocating suicide... It's me saying "This is a character in a movie who did something horrible, and suffered the consequences at his own hand". He learned from his mistake, and sought out an applicable punishment.

3) When I am the Messiah... If they start beating my ass... I want an army of adulterers, whores, drunkards, lepers, and bat shit insane sword wielding fishermen to come to my rescue. Of a good leader, the people say "He did it"
Of a great leader, the people say "We did it together"
of a bad leader, the people say "Nothing was done".

Congratulations, nothing was done. No move was made to save him, no arrows from a tall tower. No hail of stones to crush the pharisees for all their pompous rantings. Nothing... Everyone just pulled out their "John 3:16" banners and let the fucking bad guys romp all over the place.

4) This movie wouldn't have made a single dime if it weren't for all those people who thought "Y'know, I'd like to see a few hours of romans and jews torturing a man... because he's Jesus, and we pretend we understand the times he lives in". Guess what, Those times aren't now. The fact that I'm writing this is proof. We live in an age where it's up to us to make things start, or stop, or happen, or not. Maybe that's just some simpleton idea, but it can't be any worse than proclaiming that things are 'God's Will'. If there's one part that I agree with in all the Church related activities I was ever part of, it's that humans, as animals with thumbs, have control over their own choices. Laying down arms... Doing nothing in resistance, you've just thrown that away. You didn't make the hard choice... Judas made the hard choice, and paid without Glory.


So, in the end. Don't see Passion of the Christ. In fact, don't get near someone who has. Don't bring it up, don't acknowledge it exists, and if you can, take a dump in Mel Gibson's mailbox slot for 2 hours for me. I can't say for sure if he did this project because he thought everyone needed to see the barbaric cruelty of the time, or because he knew every mouth breather with a crucifix in their trailer likes a First Century A.D. gorefest... but either way, He owes me, and you a severe apology, and 2 hours of actual storyline where we care about the main character.

If I could send this film back to Netflix with a scathing case of herpes, I would, just so someone could get some revenge in this film.

Bullshit!

Thu, Jul. 16th, 2009, 08:54 am
And now, a word from our sponsors.

We interrupt this interruption of Week late Origins coverage to bring you some random mumblings from my life.

1) Blood Bowl
Some weeks ago, I pulled out my Blood Bowl set, and engaged Mr. Dague in mortal struggle, with inch tall plastic men as our proxies. The game continues to be very amusing, and I hosted a couple of simultaneous matches at my house last night.

The game I played in was ~The GreeneFort Grinders V.S. the Tunnel Kings~. My Orcs (and goblins, and troll) managed to put 2 touchdowns on the board, 4 Skaven into the hospital, and a pile of hurt on the Tunnel Kings. I wondered if Damon was actually having a good time at some points, as I managed to grab the ball I kicked to him (thanks, blitz maneuver), whittled his squad down to 7 men, and generally opted to stand around stomping his team into the dirt while his extremely mobile runners trotted around. I managed to get the ball into the end zone with the same Blitzer (Lou P.) both times, thus earning him a skill upgrade after the match.

Damon got the ball in the second half, and after building the perfect cage, managed to pass out of his beseiged ratheap to a wide receiver who took the ball to the one-yard line, and stood there. His plan was to run down the clock. My answer to this tactic? "I think I shall pound you into oblivion, Sirrah!". So, several turns went by with us shoving each other around and rats being knocked out left and right.

In the final drive of the game, The Tunnel Kings kicked off to the Grinders. Upon picking up the ball, Og Snotfinners (one of the throwers) picked up the ball and threw it left handed, sideways, upsidedown, but completely accurately to another thrower, who promptly forgot what his hands were for, and dropped the ball. The only thing left to do was sprint down the sidelines, punch a rat in the face, and end the game with the Grinders up 2-1 over the Kings.

2) Blood Bowl Accounting.
I'm sure this griping isn't appreciated, but I'm going to do it anyhow. Back at the start of the league, I made some grumblings about "How handy an OpenOffice Database might be for tracking my team". This was meant as both a "handy tool" and a "quick project I could do while I was in between turns of the match. But as the plumber is proficient with both wrench and plunger, and I was a forklift operator, the wrench and plunger of OpenSource Software leapt in, and the SLOBB online collaboration thingee was set up. This convenient software allows players to create teams, match them up against other teams, see the progression of the team as it goes from match to match. Brilliant, right?

Well, not so much. You see, I created my team on this software as a test, to see if, in fact, I could use it. It was troublesome to get a team made. A click here or a click there makes it LOOK like you're about to make your team... but then it's the wrong spot...

I hadn't tried to enter match results until last night. After a 2 hour game. Upon playing "Alzheimer's Shuffle" with my password, and managing to actually get in, I found out that my team roster did not match my actual team at all. My black Orcs were swapped around with my blitzers. All the names on my team had changed a half dozen times (because when a lineman flattens a Skaven Blitzer, his name is allowed to go from "OiOverdere" to "Roggo Ratstomper"... and that's final).

All of that being said, I tried to correct the names on my team. Since the database back end makes every teammate entry on the team a unique record, my #10 "OiOverdere" and my #10 Roggo Ratstomper were both on the team... No... No No No.. I edited the teammate record, not the team roster... F*ing database design school dropouts. Oh well, so now all my games (2 of them, plus the unreported one) went completely askew. This screws up 2 matches that were graciously reported by Mr. Dague, and the one I had just played against Damon's Tunnel Kings.

I then made some discouraging words concerning the software, and it's lack of ease of use. Mr. Dague was more than kind in his "I'll fix it". Maybe it's because he deals with unreasonable pricks such as myself all day. Maybe it's because he's an utter devotee to the concept of Open Source software, and working with others to improve it. Me? I just don't see the percentage in making a web based interface to something that has been done perfectly well on paper for years. Sure, a mistake in paper accounting can lead to some disastrous imbalance. Sure, the fresh printouts every game are "nice"... but if I have to do 45 minutes of genuine suckass work in order to play my game (on top of getting stuff ready, and chilling out the Mrs. when I say "People are coming over"), then it just kicks my fun right in the nutsack.

All of this being said... let's get to the point where it stops being a rant and starts being commentary about gaming in general.

A) Some games require a high level of bookkeeping in order to be workable.

In games like Panzer General, or Ogre, or Monsterpocalypse, Knowledge of the game and the tactics within are what make it enjoyable. If you don't know you can pick up your opponents tank and smash it into your opponent's horrible slime beast, you won't have any fun. Blood Bowl has a LOT of record keeping, but it's enough of a guessable pattern after a few games, that it rapidly becomes enjoyable. After a couple rounds of the Orcs Vs. Humans sample game that comes in the box, you're ready to rock and roll with whatever team you want to play. (To be honest, it takes about 3 games to run into all the different scenarios that are in the game, but you'll have a grip after one)

B) Some games have SUCH a high level of bookkeeping, that you need help.

Games such as Blood Bowl do benefit from computer assistance. After all, in order to pass the ball, you have to ...

Determine the distance between the thrower and catcher with a template
See if there are any interceptors between the thrower and catcher
if yes
- Possible interceptor makes a d6-2 roll, hoping to get a result of (7 - (AGility score)) or up.
if no
-Thrower makes a (d6+Range Modifier) - #ofTackleZones) roll, and needs to get (7- (AGility Score) to make the pass accurate.
Is the pass accurate?
- No? (your number was too low) Time to scatter the ball 3 times using a D8 and a scatter template.


See? I'm already sick of typing this just 2 lines after you're sick of reading it. I'm not even through the sequence yet... This is a lot to keep track of. With a computer it's

Click your thrower
Choose the "Throw" action
Click your intended target
Click "Do It"

The interception is then figured out if it exists... See how much simpler that is?


C) Sometimes automation ruins a game.

I take as my primary example of this, Robo Rally. Robo Rally (for those who don't know) is a race game where you are dealt a handful of cards representing "Right turn" "Left turn" "Move Ahead 1" "Move Ahead 2" "Move Ahead 3" "Reverse" and "U-Turn". You (the human) then have to pick 5 of your 9 randomly selected cards, and move your little robot along the 50x50 square grid, avoiding hazards such as pits, spikes, conveyor belts, other robots. Your turn is interleaved with the operations of the other player robots. Wonderfully complex to the point where some people consider it work.

Enter the automated version. All you have to do is click your cards in the order you want them played, and let the computer handle all the work. Your robot stomps and clanks and gets killed and whatever without you having to be aware of why. There's another problem with this, and that's A.I (Automated Intelligence... yes, I know it's supposed to be Artificial... but Automated is much more fitting in this particular case). The Computer, while it may not be dealt the best hand of cards, ALWAYS kicks your ass by optimizing. You never learn how to be a better player by watching it, because all of it's moves are obfuscated behind the simple interface. Likewise all the other players you play against never discuss the problems they face. The interaction is removed with other players, and it is reduced from a clever game of timing and avoidance, to a horrible case of Monopoly with Droids and Occupational Hazards.

Short Version: Having the computer do the interesting part of the game, can make the part you have to do less fun.


D) Sometimes, automation is just a means to an end.

Magic The Gathering Online is my example here. I played cards for years and years in dingy game stores, dingy apartments, and dingy diners. I would flop the cards and ignore phases and make mistakes, and still have fun.

Enter MTGO, where I can now play cards while sitting in front of a dingy keyboard. I click the card, it goes onto the play are of the screen with a whoosh noise. Sure, there's a bit of "Aww crap, I threw down a land instead of triggering my seismic assault effect", but you accept that as "Rule 0 - It's not actually broken, because I can work around that" (which is a rule I stole from someone else, and it's a shit rule, because it allows even the most piss poor product to be "just fine"). Overall, the purpose of computer automated games is to allow people to "get together" despite geographical spans too great to traverse every wednesday. MTGO does this in spades, but does not fundamentally change the game (outside of it's pricing model, and "I never misclicked a card when I played in real life").


E) and sometimes it's just automation for it's own sake.

Nobody every needed Electronic Battleship. Ever. The bells and whistles that get added to a game by technological gee-gaws need to have their own merit. I suppose it's entertaining to hear the whistling howl and explosion with blinking light when you make a hit from one of the 40000 pre-determined fleet formations. But it doesn't add to the fundamentals of the game. You're still playing hide and seek on graph paper. This was automated and made to "Look fun" because playing hide and seek on graph paper isn't so slick and shiny that it can stand up to other board games with tons of toys packed in ("I got this totally sweet "Guy on Horse" action figure, what'd you get?" "Uh, I got this thimble")


So, what's the upshot of all this, how does it apply to SLOBB software for Blood Bowl?

The Slobb Software is not intended to make record keeping "easier". It's a tool to publicize and share league information. You will be able to see what your opponent's team has just done, and the direction they are going with it. You can keep everyone honest about their team upgrades. This isn't actually neccesary with a real cohesive group that meets often and doesn't cheat. I suppose using it is a "forward looking" move, since someday we may have people in the league that are cheating bastards who only show up once a fortnight to steal my silverware or something. For right now, the ability to publicize our playing is a good way to get people we haven't met yet to see what we're doing, and maybe spark some extra interest.

I grudgingly accept that while SLOBB is just a load of extra work for very little current payoff, my tune will change when someone gets excited about the league because they can see all the games we've played.

Thu, Jul. 9th, 2009, 08:54 am
Origins '09 Review - Exodus D20

My "purpose" for going to Origins in the first place was hinged on 3 things (In no particular order).

1) Getting to buy up some Legend of the 5 Rings CCG Celestial Edition on the very day it came out

2) Playing in the Bounty Head Bebop RPG

3) Playing Exodus D20

So, you may find that my review of Exodus D20 is rather positively slanted. In fact, if you don't have a radioactive afterglow from reading this review of the game, you have no place in our horrifyingly radioactive future.

Before I launch into the review, I will say this.

Objective One was sundered mercilessly by AEG not only NOT ATTENDING Origins, but pushing the release date back from the 22nd (Before Origins) to the 29th (after Origins). Maybe they had printing or distribution issues. Maybe they decided that the end of a month is when people have the most free money. Maybe the Snack machine jammed, and the lead logistics officer got stuck in it up to the ribcage... I couldn't tell you.

Objective Two didn't happen until Saturday Night... So you'll have to wait on that one.

I played 2 rounds of Exodus, and had a great time at both. The attendance, however, was sketchy. My Judge in both rounds (2 different guys, both lots of fun, both very into the system) were wearing tags that marked them as part of "The Gathering", which I understand to be some independent group of gaming volunteers (independent meaning, not part of GAMA, RPGA, or any other quazi corporate interest). The players, however, were 2 rabid ticketed players (rabid might be an overstatement, pre-registered?) in each slot. Three players are needed for the event to launch, so we scrabbled up a cute vegan dame, and the Mrs. of one of the other "Gathering" judges, and off we went.

The Background of the game - The Crunchy Dice Stuff:
Exodus d20 uses the Open Gaming License to employ the System Reference Documentation, which gives it a rules framework. This all boils down to "You are playing d20 Modern; Anytime you want to use a skill or fight someone, you roll a 20 sided die and add some modifiers based on your class, ranks in a skill, or circumstances. Higher numbers tend to be more desirable.".

At first, I couldn't tell what the "big difference" was between this game and D20 Modern Apocalypse. Now I remember. In d20 Modern, you're chosing a stat, and basing your character around it. You can be "Strong Guy" or "Fast Chick" or "Doctor Intelligence", but you have to carefully choose your levels to get to the right Advanced class later on.

This game allows you to choose an "Aggressive" or "Defensive" character. You then go on to assign your own values for saves. Your skills and feats are determined by what flavor of character you play (which I pick up a few paragraphs below here).

There is Slavery. This is a bit of a touchy subject, but in a world with no money, and no law, you can bet that this nasty relic of America's Past will return. In fact, as a player, you can own a slave to haul your gear, follow you around, act as a human shield, or make money in "dubious ways". This is a choice your character can make, just like in real life. My character chose against taking the "Slaver" stigma, in favor of doing things himself and keeping his credibility. Your character may choose differently. Since I took the high road with my character and freed slaves instead of purchasing or stealing them, I can't tell you how slaving really works... but know that it's an option. One that you can leave out if you truly find it loathesome in a fictional setting.

Additionally, there are drugs. I am chagrinned to have to now say "NEITHER I NOR GLUTTON CREEPER GAMES ENCOURAGE THE USE OF NON-FDA SANCTIONED PHARMACEUTICALS OF ANY KIND". There you go, Moms, Cops, and DARE Graduates. In this game settings, drugs can be gotten to kill pain, increase speed, increase resistance to damage, and lubricate social situations. They all have percentage chances of addiction, and nasty side effects when they wear off. This means that, like real life, the specter of drugs is always looming, allowing short sighted characters to get a quick boost in exchange for a higher price later. This is a great feature, as it offers some very well balanced "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for some additional accuracy with firearms today" gambit. One, I might add, that some of my D20 modern players are already running with my homebrew rules. My rules for illicit substances have drawbacks that change (somewhat on my whim, but accurate based on my limited knowledge of what happened to Rodney King). I'm pleased to see that someone else forayed out into this area, and that they made up some good rules for it.

The Background of the game - The Nougat Enhanced Flavor:
Once upon a time, there were some humans. These humans lived in the year 2012. These humans apparently didn't do a lot of reading, and completely missed the big signs written in Ancient Mayan that the world was destined to end on December 21, 2012. This lead to the world leaders "Pushing the Button", and turning a lot of the planet into a FALLOUT covered hellhole, which forced people to sit in their Nuclear Proof Vaults and play VIDEO GAMES(Especially in the area right BY BETHESDA, maryland). It's hard to say why this WAS CHOSEN AS THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT FOR THE GAME, BUT I'm certain that no LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS entered into it.

Aww Screw it, I'm not good at sending secret all-caps Messages:
"Once upon a time, again, at a different time, the people who wound up writing Exodus d20 were in talks to make a book and dice RPG based on the FALLOUT franchise. Fallout 3 came out (a game which I enjoy on occasion), and all of a sudden a lot of Intellectual Property Lawyers showed up, and took Glutton Creeper Games on a tour of the legal system". I don't know the specifics, and I'm sure they're keen to put it all behind them, but I think it's important to note that while they've made every effort to separate themselves from all similar post-apocalyptic settings, the fun and joy (and laughable heartache) you experience in Post-Apoc video games is still hugely present, and you'd be hard pressed to find any judge who will allow a company to copyright fun.

Anyhow... So there you are, in the first "Once upon a time", and the world is a blown up parking lot full of twisted metal, mutated beasts, hyper mutable morality, and canned food. There are neigh-immortal necrotic persons who have been irradiated into their sluggish, weak zombie selves. There are Government super soldiers called Trans-Genetic Mutants walking around with 9 foot tall attitudes and weapons to match. There are "normal humans" with various allegiances to Cults, Tribal Organizations, Townships, and "other". Depending on which class (flavor) of character you choose, the skills and feats that are "easy" for your character to excel at change.

The game is largely based in the American Southwest. The games we played were in "San Reno" and "Cripple Creek Township"... There were some basic quests such as "go find so and so" or "figure out what is shaking the hell out of our town".. These are legitimate things to be concerned about when you're a bunch of Non-Player Characters inhabiting a post apocalyptic town... So off we go.

The remnants of a hyper corporatist world-gone-rotten are everywhere in this game. This is not to say that it has the Shadowrun "puppet masters control you at every turn" vibe, but more of an "Everything you see has a corporate logo from a company that no longer exists". I'd imagine it was like ancient Egypt "Buy ~bird~squiggle~eye~cup~snake~ brand papyrus! The only papyrus with ~walklikeanegyptian~!". Anyhow, all the items we encountered were brilliant parodies of things we take for granted today. "Yellow Kitty by the SanReno Corp." or "Toxi-Cola"... The puns and near-puns were brutal.

Our group was confronted by slavers, beaten up by children, force to eat cookies, maced, made to take a really crummy elevator, and met a being who was on the same mission we were, before he was turned into some kind of shy caustic fish beast.

All in all, it's the level of spontaneous fun that one might expect while eeking out a meager living amongst the survivors.


So: What's the the verdict?

By the ultimate yardstick of capitalism?

Yes, I bought the main book, the survivor's guide and the beastiary. All three.

Will I ever play it? Yes, probably... While I do enjoy our current game (which is constantly waylaid due to my own unavailablity), I do long for a day when my players' complete lack of sense and/or morality is a viable decision.

What's the catch?
Who said anything about a catch?
Well, Yes, there is one.
You see, despite their great work in making a well organized, pleasant-to-use book, the Glutton Creeper Games team has run into some printing gremlins on their second and third books. Apparently the final proof went to the printer, and there was no "blank page" inserted at the front of the book. This means that the lovely 2 page spans they created (where you lay the book flat, and a piece of impressive sprawling artwork is there in 30% black underneath the text), are on the front and back of a single page. This isn't a show stopper text-wise.. all the words are there. However, for the person who demands pretty and functional, you may wish to find out exactly what your options for purchasing the PDF are. If you're a "Company Man", just buy 2 copies of the book razor off the bindings, and turn it into a plastic sheet loaded binder with all the pages facing each other in the right way.

The campaign guide (the main book) does not suffer from this, though every now and then you'll catch a tiny slip of editing that reminds you of the games legal history. A word here or there that is reminiscent of some other setting. It makes me smile.

In the end... Should YOU buy this?

Knee Jerk Reaction: Yes... If you play D20 modern, buy this book, it is as cheap as, and better than the d20 modern apocalypse book (which, incidentally, you should also own in conjunction... ). Post apocalypse settings are the ones where people DO expect to die before they kill a fudge coated dragonscale golem to get at it's marshmallowy insides. They do take cinematic risks, and will say things that you can only hear on Jerry Springer outtake videos. In short, it's fun. If you need to escape from the NecroLich Chocolatier for a few nights, let Exodus d20 be your escape. After all, what's a few Roentgens between strangers?

Tue, Jul. 7th, 2009, 09:25 am
Humans can no longer be trusted

It has occurred to me on my way to work today, that humans can no longer be allowed to be the dominant species on Earth. I understand that this is a departure from my promised regiment of game reviewing, but hear me out.

Reasons that humanity can no longer be allowed to continue.

1) Nuclear Arms Reduction talks with Russia
In general, I like the idea of not being irradiated or blasted out of existence. Sure, it would mean that I wouldn't ever get to see the inside of a bomb shelter for 10 years, or grow some tentacles, or test my theories on re-organizing society with a postal route... But that's a trade off I'm afraid I'll simply have to deal with. Our nation's leader (President Obama of the U.S.A.) has gone to speak with Russian leaders about reducing the number of Nuclear Weapons we keep stockpiled. I'm all for having fewer nukes around, since they are big and scary and I understand them in anecdotal ways only. However, it disturbs me to discover that while we agreed to reduce our holdings of these weapons to 1675 units... we only reduced it FROM 1700... Which means this great progress was all about 2 dozen bombs out of hundreds. I'll take progress, but when someone falls on their face, and we proclaim "He's inspecting the ground... what progress!", it makes me sad.

2) The Death of a Man
Michael Jackson... Just a man.
Maybe he was a talented man
Maybe he was a controversial man for his hermetic existance, his odd visage, his alleged kid-touching...
Maybe he was the "king of pop"
But now he's dead, and that's it. The people he's inspired were merely inspired to buy something he created. This isn't philanthropy, it's commercialism. He sold his soul and now all of Los Angeles is having taxpayer supported lottery ticketed farewell ceremonies. This man is deceased, put him in the ground.

To hear all the radio and television interviews, you'd think that anyone gave a crap about this estranged misanthrope for the past 2 decades, but nobody did. He was tabloid fodder and the butt of more jokes than can be counted. Everything in America boils down to color as well... He was a freak and a wierdo for turning white, but now that he's dead, the black/African American/Jaime Foxx community holds him on a pedestal. He made music. That's all he did. Now he's dead. Don't worry about the could-have-been heroes of the past... Remember your dead by trying to make them proud, not wailing at their tombs. Oh, and no kid touching.

3) I came into work today to discover that a half dozen people were standing in a 73 degree room, trying to push buttons on the thermostat to make it colder. They then demanded that I explain why my AC unit worked. Well, mine is a stand alone unit mounted on the wall to keep the PC's cool... so it doesn't operate on a building zone thermostat... Well, why isn't the AC coming on... Now, I pointed out that there were lots of people who do HVAC in this building,and maybe they could lend some insight as to what heating/cooling zone these folks are in. The lead complainer took up bitching at sub-light speed to explain that she has asthma and this is serious and she can't breathe and this needs to be fixed because she can't do her job if she can't breathe and blah blah blah... Jesus... I told her "You sound like you're doing just fine..." and walked out while she was still talking.

So, three strikes humanity, you fail on all counts. Pack your things and leap into the nearest cliff.

Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009, 02:13 pm
Origins '09 Review - Continuum: Roleplaying in the Yet

The game "Continuum: Roleplaying in the Yet" was a role playing one-off game I decided to play simply based on the idea that it was a time travel game. When I think of time travel, such cinematic bungling as "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure", "Back to the Future" (all three of them, thanks ever so much), and whatever flavor of Dr. Who you can stomach.

The players are sure to get stuck into a situation that changes earth forever, get mistaken for a long lost relative / dead ringer future offspring, lose the keys to the delorean/police box/ phone booth in a fight... It's all made for good times right?

No. I'm afraid not... I'm afraid that this time, YOU are the time machine. So, you can't lose you. You are ultimately responsible for your actions, including the ones that you make happen inadvertently in your "Yet". Anything that has already happened to you occurs in your "Age"... As you can tell, there are some very specific words that are used to discuss the "future" and the "past", because depending on where you are, those things change... but that which has YET to happen, is in your Yet, things that have already happened to you, are in your Age.

Got it? Okay then..

As a rookie spanner, your powers can teleport you ANYWHERE within a mile of your current location. This is a "Level Span", so long as you're not moving up or down in time. You can go anyWHEN Up to a year in the Yet, or Down to a Year in Your Age. From there, you can jump yet ANOTHER year...

This terminology is Supermeaningful... so don't screw it up... because you'll be constantly writing down whether you shifted Up, Down, When, what things you will force to occur in your Yet, and what has already happened in your AGE...

Now, if you cause something to have to happen in Your yet, and you willfully don't do that thing when it comes time, you cause "Frag"... Enough points of time fragmentation, and you cease to be, and time fills in your existence like sand in the ocean.


So... now we have a premise... We are time travellers, we have a destiny that we make, and that we are in charge of fulfilling. What's the challenge?

Make Dinner...

Yes, that's the facts, you have to Make Dinner as a time traveller, even if it means travelling to grocery stores that closed 4 years ago, or places that you've already been to (which means you have to make sure that if you didn't already see you, that you don't continue to see you, otherwise, you create problems for yourself, unless the one that sees you is from the yet, in which case... you.... Aww the hell with it.


Here's how this plays out ruleswise.

Your character sheet has 3 stats, Body, Mind, and Chi (again, this info is a week old, so none of this is precise). Your body determines your brawn and the base of your brawny skills, Your brains determines your smarts, and an awful lot of your "Quickness/agility", and your Chi covers your ability to force spans to happen even when you're not ready, too tired, or feeling not so fresh.

The first part of the adventure was good fun... we figured out how to make characters (butt simple, honestly, if you can count backwards from 25. We chose personality quirks (I was a rude Physicist who is not only Right, most of the time, he is always the "Most Correct"). We chose Skills that we were good at, and everything else was a crap shoot.

Bumbling around through time trying to get fresh fish from 4 years ago is fun... trying to find steak sauce when someone bought the last bottle is fun... Having other players trying to get fish from whereever, but just label it incorrectly so that it matches precisely with future events... well, that get dicey... Finding out that some other time traveller is Clock-blocking you wherever you go, trying to get your attention....

Say, that's not cool... That person is a big pain in the butt... we should see who they are, and try to get them to knock it off.

Oh, wait, that person is someone you haven't met yet, but is actually someone you will meet. They've had a psychotic break and will be your major antagonist. Great, let's smoke 'em...

No, you can't... because if you smoke 'em... they're gone, and you can't meet them (Now, this is a little suspect, because I can most certainly meet them in the future, since their current selves are still bumbling around untrained.

No, No you can't... so you have to talk to them about what drove them nuts, and convince them to stop being so goddamn insane.

No, You can't do that either, since they keep telling you it's not possible.


Let me sum up... You see those words that start out the previous three sentences? "No, You can't"... Yeah, I don't ever ever never EVER want to hear those words in a game. Role playing Gaming is all about the possibility that you CAN do something. If I wanted to play a game of can't, I'd spend more time in my real life trying to do things I enjoy and getting shut down.

The system itself was very interesting. You will need a flowchart to figure out all the time anomalies you will create for yourself in your Yet, and you will need a mind like a steel trap for figuring out the logistics of travelling more than your span distance in recursive jumps... but you can do it. The system is again (like Savage worlds) simple, and easy to understand mechanically... But the adventure which started out lighthearted and fun turned into a huge millstone, grinding through 5 hours of a 4 hour slot, forcing us to slog through a heavy handed face-pounding after school special level tale of how time travelers must think of time.

It's no fun to pay 4 bucks for an event only to get frustrated because nothing you do actually works.


All that being said:

The GameMaster, aside from being one of the creators of the game, is a top notch tabletop actor. He's clearly very good at getting into character, and reacting appropriately. He's outstanding at teaching the game. Characters he plays have great, well... character, and each of them has a separate politic that engages your character. If you need someone to be a scholarly old man, a stern Housemaster, a schitzophrenic grad student, and the same grad student in 10 years... well then... He's your guy.

The System itself was good enough for me to purchase On The Spot for 40 bucks (for the main book and the expansion), and it will provide intriguing reading for a few weeks to come. I have no doubt that despite it's light and fast rules, once I finally completely grasp the Age/Yet/Up/Down/Level/Span terminology, it will add greatly to my own games.

The Adventure, however, while it started out fun, does not encourage you to be a completely egotistical wang... Nor does it allow for characters to be weasely schlocks who want to get out of the facts the easy way.... Cleverness is pretty much like peeing yourself in a dark suit. You'll feel a little better, and get a warm feeling for a short time, but nobody will notice, and it fades quickly. Any time you try to outsmart anything, you may as well make a note on your sheet that says "Do this, or I'll kill you" and then write whatever it is.

This is not a game for people who don't like to take notes. This is not a game for someone who philosophizes over his character's next move (well, it is, but that kills the flow, so let's pretend it isn't). This is not a game for people who shoot from the hip.

Who is it for, then? This game is for people who want to know, for a fact that there is a time travel game that can take into account all the things you ever did, will do, and are doing, everyplace. Because it can do that. You may not want to play it , but you will want to see it in action.

I give Continuum a Technical A+, and a Entertainment C-. Speaking straight off the cuff, I am pleased to know it exists, but only as an exercise in "can it be done".

Incidentally, and this may have colored my review a bit, the game was made up as the result of a NYC Subway wager between friends that an accurate time travel game with Zero "Timey-Wimey" factor could be built. It absolutely has been. This is it.

AFTERNOTE: I decided to see if anyone else had reviewed this game... They have : http://www.comnet.ca/~jkahane/cn/cn-intro.html . I'm pleased to say that this person had a much shinier time playing the actual game entertainment-wise, but that the Technical Aspects of time travel still impressed him as well. I suppose that adds a little credence to the notion that this game is spectacular for what it accomplishes, even if it's not the only game you would take with you on a desert island. Incidentally, this guy points out that the game is 10 years old... For all the things the game is... 10 years old is not something I would have guessed it to be.

Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009, 10:26 am
Origins '09 Review - Savage Worlds and the Low Life Event.

I may be wrong in thinking that this event happened on Wednesday (In fact, I'm pretty sure it happened thursday morning, which is why I was late...). Either way... let's get on with it.

Savage Worlds is a system I've heard of quite a bit about on Theminiaturespage.com . Self described "Pulp Gamers" seem to love the system for simplicity, storytelling capability, and the fact that the system is flexible without making you memorize a ton of "If and only if" conditions.

So, I'll break this into 2 sections...

The Fun Section (wherein I regale you with tales of the Low Life World)

You see, once upon a time, there were these you-mans... and they blew themselves up... A lot... A really big bunch. And by the time they were done with that, there was only us left... The Woims who lived so far underground that they didn't get radiated (only enough to make them huge and semiintelligent... not dead). The Croaches who lived under the 'frigerators who stood up and took over. The B.O.D.L.s (Beings of Dubious Lineage) who came from crud only knows where. And the Snack Cakes, who don't have lives, so much as they have half lives.

These living things aimed to pick up what was left of society. Luckily, since there's so little society left, this leaves plenty of space to pick up other stuff, like horrible puns, and goofy situations where a leader can lose his regal throne over a matter of sneezing, or scratching without the royal kercheif or backscratcher.

This was the adventure we went on. The king was itchier than a flea trainer, and our little group (2 Croaches, a BODL, and a Woim) were charged with fetching Ye Olde Royal Backscratcher.

The Gamemaster was a ton of fun, and as an added bonus, he was an Engineering Professor at R.I.T. (I like to think that somehow grants one of us some star points, having been to the same place at different times in our lives... but I suspect it doesn't)

The dungeon our characters ventured into had Terms and Conditions of Service we had to agree to... it had dangerous Office Supplies... it had dart traps and bureaucracy. It was reminiscent of the level of fun you have when playing Paranoia, excepting the "you're sure to die, so try to enjoy it" factor... because Savage Worlds is a VERY forgiving system.

~~~~The Rules Section (Wherein I give my crackpot account of how the system works)
Again, this is a week out of touch with when I played the game. This means that I am NOT giving 100% correct information. If you are truly curious about this system, ask someone who knows what they're talking about.

Initiative is dealt out of a standard deck of 52 + 2 jokers. Aces are high, the suits rank in reverse alphabetical order Spades, then Hearts, then Diamons, then Clubs. Jokers add +1 to every roll you make that round, and they allow you to leap in front of another player during the initiative... They are truly a great reward to have.

As I recall (and, as it is with most game systems), there are stats that represent your quickness, your strength, your ability to hit with melee weapons, ranged weapons, and your ability to avoid damage.

These stats come in the form of Dice... A character may have a d4 in strength if they are particularly wussy, and a d12 in quickness if they are exceptionally fast. Higher numbers are better when rolling a test.

The game uses 'Exploding dice" rules, wherein "If the maximum result is rolled on a die, roll the die again and add the first result to it". So, on a D4, you have a 1 in 4 chance of rolling a four. If you do, you roll again, and your result becomes 4 + your second roll. If your second roll is another 4, you roll it YET AGAIN... You see how this can add up if you've got luck (or dice control) on your side.

The game also uses a "Wild Die" which is a standard d6 cube. No matter what your real stat is, you get to roll the wild die as well. This gives hope to those who have abysmally low stats. Even if you can't roll a D4 worth a damn, the 6 sometimes give you just what you need.

All this time you're rolling against a target number. usually the defense of another creature. sometimes that number is much higher than your dice could achieve, but thanks to the providence of the Wild Die and the Exploding rule... you might just hit it. At no time in this system do you feel as if you are completely sunk... and that's something D20 can't say anywhere near as often.

Let's say you make your roll and it exceeds the target number... Good for you. If the target can't somehow Dodge, then they get "Shaken". If you managed to hit the thing with an EXPLODING die... then it's Shaken and Wounded.

The wounds start to stack up. If a character is shaken at the start of the turn, they can attempt to "unshake" (or shake it off), with a dice rolling test. If they succeed, they act normally. If a character is wounded (shaken or otherwise), they take a -1 to all dice rolls (explode as normal). if they are double wounded... it's -2. Triple... -3, Four... Well, you're actually dead. Now, there are a lot of "steps" between "You don't act" and "You aren't going to appear in any of the sequels", so I suspect that's why this system is so popular.

Be it well known that Pulp Gamers are truly classy, and that any villain in a pulp system will tie you to a set of railroad tracks on top of a flimsy basket full of vipers, and release the starving tigers. Then they will cue the credits to roll before the finale.

This system could very easily replace Gurps as my "good for skirmish, good for lighthearted RPG".


~~~The Verdict~

These kinds of things are best solved in the classical way as well... With your wallet. So, did I buy Savage Worlds and Low Life?


No.

And why not? Because I don't need another system, no matter how good, to add to the ones I already have. If I didn't have Gurps, I'd certainly consider it. If I didn't have other miniatures rules that I'm already not playing, I'd certainly consider it. Since it resolves the same problems that my other systems do, I can't say I needed it.

What about the Low Life Theme world? I'd certainly have been interested in this were it designed for a system I already owned or could convince myself I needed. It has lots of fun twists, some completely demented art by Andy Hunt (who, and this is not meant as an offense) looks like Danny DiVito welded to himself, with pointier hair. He's a cool guy with a lot of talent, but you wouldn't want to fight him for the last stabilo in the art store. The material in the book is comedy gold, but without a lot more play, I'm not sure it's more than a couple of One-Offs. Granted, anything can be turned into an epic saga with enough work... but paranoia (or Call of Cthulu, for that matter) is best run as a one off or three parter. Advancement seems secondary to the fun you'll have while you're playing it. "Live like there's no tomorrow" seems to be the phrase that pays in this game.


So, This game got a solid A for fun, but for some reason that wasn't enough to get me to fork over for the very reasonably priced books... A puzzle I'll have to sort out at some other time.

Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009, 09:10 am
Origins '09 Review - Opening Remarks and Painting miniatures Fast

So, the mighty event (Origins game fair in Columbus Ohio) has come and gone, and there is much to tell.

I carried a tape recorder with me through the event to help me recall some of the "Snap responses" to certain games, as well as to recap them when something triggered my memory later.

Let's go to the "Day By Day" game roster

Wednesday:
I arrived in Columbus Ohio at my hotel at around 11, after an arduous 10 hours of driving (with an additional hour of sleeping/resting/fueling up). As a happy coincidence, this hotel had a shuttlebus available that went straight to the convention center. The "Fun Bus" ran every half hour, and ran on-the-hour during certain times of the day (can't remember if it was roughly-lunchtime and roughly-dinnertime, but I guess that sounds close enough).

I made my way to the mostly empty convention center. That is to say "Free of the surge of gamer bodies plying the halls in between rounds". The convention center itself was full of goodies at every turn. The "big halls" contained a wargames room, a boardgames room, and the dealers room (which wouldn't open until thursday, but here was a steady flow of merchants hauling in loot from every available door. My badge was relatively easy to get from the staff (a welcome change from the agony of pre-registering for the event tickets attached to it), though there was some level of consternation at the prospect of buying generic tickets in a timely fashion.

When you don't pre-register for an event, you can get into it one of two ways. You can "register on site", or you can buy "generics". Generics are 2 dollars each, and are large wooden nickels (about the size of a silver dollar) with the Origins logo on one side, and some snappy phrase on the other. It occurred to me that running around asking to photograph people's origins phrase coins might be a fun experiment, but perhaps it might be a little to invasive to ask people to empty their pockets and photograph the contents. The "register on site" method took a bit longer, but was a more surefire way to get into an event. You simply pull out your 80+ page event manual, thumb through until you find the genre of event you want to attend, then thumb through that until you find the time slot it's in, then take an event number, write it on some other piece of paper, and take it to a line where you wait until someone gets to you. This is not, I repeat, NOT a dig on origins convention staff... it is simply "how it was". It took longer than getting generics. The upside of it, was that you could get into an event with priority over generic token holders.


So, with my 14 bucks worth of Generics on hand, I strode proudly to the artists learning room (no, the name of the room wasn't that lame, I just can't recall it offhand). I signed up for:


~~~How to Paint Miniatures Fast~~~ 2 hrs, $14

Already I'm kicking myself for not having the handbook on my desk while I write this, because I can't remember the instructor's name. Suffice it to say that the man "knew his stuff". He paints armies professionally (or at least, professionally enough to make some scratch on ebay). and his wife was one of the painters for Confrontation (by Rackham [see: Kickass French Miniatures companies that are not fenryll]). She's the one that painted all that Non-metal/Metal, where instead of using metallic paints and shading them with inks like we amateurs do, she paints on shades of grey, adding highlights where the reflective parts of the weapon would be. A sharp white line for an edge here, a little lens flare painted on there... awesome. Of course, when I was trying to do it some 3 years back, it was a disaster. It looked like a monochrome crime scene where someone was hit with a a hammer edged sword.

Anywho... onto the class. The idea here was to take 2 groups of people, and make their painting more time-effective. You have your perfectionists, who hand paint every stud, rivet, spike, hair, eyelash... they generally have a figure that looks incredible at the end... of the month. They don't seem to amass armies in anything short of a geological timescale, because each piece is too meticulous to compromise on. The second group are the people who know which end of a brush to hold, but don't seem to get the results they want when they're banging through 30 figures that they need painted in 3 hours.

Generally speaking, most folks fall somewhere in between these two extremes. I'm sure most other people do as well. Without giving the class myself, I can tell you it went a little like this.

1) Don't get picky
Don't worry if you missed a spot, or if you over ran the creamy white of the face with a shock of red from the hairdo. You aren't going for perfection, you just want it to look good enough from arms distance. Besides, you can go back over it later

2) Neatness counts in the end
If you can avoid making a tremendous blunder by taking an extra second, do so. The seconds you spend up front will save you from going back and nitpicking all your work "at the end". Keep your brush tip formed up sharply, don't overload your brush with paint. Better to have to dip in a second time and go back than to murder your brush with paint in the ferrule, splaying your bristles all over

3) Inside Out
When you start the figure, spend a little time discovering where the skin is, where the underlayer of armor is, where the armor is, and where the "various crap the figure is carrying" is. You want to paint the figure in the way it notionally got dressed that morning. Skin, then hair (let's pretend it wears a wig, and a fake beard. If it's a hobbit, it has a foot toupee.), then move on to underarmor, overarmor, and belts/straps/fannypacks/tankards, then to weapons. If you neatly block out all these things with their associated colors of paint, you will be able to avoid painting a section you'll have to reach over later to get to a deeper part. There's nothing worse than painting someone's fancy jerkin, only to ruin it when you try to paint the figure's adams apple and blast it with dwarf flesh paint.

4) Limit your colors
Now, I'll admit that this one was my interjection to the event. I like to think it was a valuable addition, so I'll list it here. When you paint fast, pull out the black paint, the white paint, your skin tone, a metallic (gold, silver, brass, your pick) and 3 other colors. Yes, 7 colors is what you will need. You may even get it down to 6 colors. If you can, the "3 colors you picked" can be starkly contrasting, or awesomely complimentary. I'm sure some color theorist out there is shaking their heads at this description of "Stark Vs Awesome" and crying into their color wheel. Grab a tissue, everything will be fine. You see, since you are painting quick, you want to grab some attention on the figure so that it doesn't turn into a brown glob in step 5 (no sneaking ahead!). Therefore, if you have a Generic fighter figure with a black shirt and brown pants, he will neither be stark nor awesome if you do step 5. On the other hand, if you have a fighter with a purple shirt and green pants, he can be part of the eggplant legion. Clearly, this isn't a rule you want to use all the time, but limiting your colors keeps you from fussing around later with "which pink goes with this red, and does this orange make my ass look big?" Pick, and stick. You can mix highlight colors by adding a little white to the base color, but we won't get to that until step 6.

5) A Wash is as good as a wish
There are various products out there that will shade your miniature for you, without you poking your brush into the deepest recesses of the figure for 5 hours trying to get the armpit or chainmail bikini cleavage just right (though, practice makes perfect!). They are either washes, inks, or "dips" depending on who you ask. I'll grant that there are some subtle differences in the three terms, but each of them amounts to this.
a) Take a finely ground pigment
b) suspend it in a medium that does not have any color of it's own. The medium is clear, and has a skim milk constancy (just enough to grip the figure, not enough to coat it).
c) the medium will dry, leaving the pigment in the spots it took the longest to dry in (generally the cracks, crevasses, crannies, armpits, and cleavage)

So, if your pigment is a brownish/blackish/shadowy color, you get all your shading in dark places done for you. This means that whatever colors you used in step 4 are ~slightly~ darker than they were a second ago (before you evenly coated the figure with your wash), but as long as you picked bright enough colors, this isn't a problem.

6)The missing step - Drybrushing for the win.
The wash takes a while to dry, so this is your chance to go read some better painting article than this one, to figure out what the hell is going on.

Drybrushing is the practice of leaving only a trace amount of paint on the brush (enough that you get paint only on the highest parts of whatever you're dragging it across, but not so much that you're painting over the whole area). Just take the tip of your brush, and dab it with paint. If your brush IS, in fact, lacking moisture, that's a good thing (water will make the paint run to wierd places). Now take the brush, and paint a paper towel (or the back of your thumb, if you're me) until you barely have any pigment left on the brush at all. Drag the brush across the area of the mini where you want the high spots to be a different color.

Ideally, you've picked a dark spot, and highlighted it with a lighter color (that's the point of this type of thing... you want to make high spots ligher, and low cracks darker). The paint will only stick to the high spots, like chainmail, fur, individual strands of hair. This prevents you from having to have the hands of a concert pianist/surgeon. Besides, if you had hands like that you'd have to paint miniatures while removing someone's appendix and playing a baby grand with your toes. Roll over, Beethoven!

So, with that, I give you the advice passed onto me in the Painting miniatures fast class. I give the class a solid 'B' grade. I knew how to do most of the things the instructor was telling us about, so I suppose it really was a B+ to A- class. I'm new at this "Letter grades for reviewing", so I'm holding back the "A" stamp for an event that truly was spectacular. The instructor was very good at showing the techniques, and asking the students for their personal experiences... he could then help the student understand how what he just taught could help them next time they paint. I suspect that given the amount of work and prep that went into the class, that the $14 price tag was about right, but when you take 2 hours to paint a figure with instruction, somehow the "fast" part gets lost from the equation. If perhaps there were a "Bring your paints, and your squad of 5 figures (primed), and I'll teach you how to bang through them in 2 hours... They'll even look good!", then I'd say this class gets the Solid Gold Alpha. I have no complaints whatsoever with what was presented. It was all real, and good information. I probably should have tried one of the more advanced classes, but there's always next year.


Next up...
A review of Low Life (a very very post-post-apocalyptic setting for Savage Worlds).

Thu, Jun. 11th, 2009, 02:16 pm
" Squeak Squeak" went the wheels

As is mandated by local and national legal statutes... anyone with a blog of any kind must drop off the face of the planet for a couple weeks now and again. Then they must return with a big "summary" post doing no justice to the events themselves.

This keeps the quality of most blogs from getting "Too High" and gaining "credibility".

So, What's making news?

1) Cal-Killer Arrested
It's become increasingly difficult to find time to get my ass up on the exercise bike as of late. Between trips to visit family and family-in-law, entertainment (playing board games), household projects (making shades for gameroom), general household work (which I don't actually do the lion's share of), and 'other'... Exercise fell off the "must-do" list right before "sleeping" and "eating". It's a damned shame, I could save a lot of time on any given day by not eating (I already lose plenty of sleep), and I could get a secondary time boost by not pooping afterwards.

2) Hitler and Poop win arguements.
Here's a topic of much one-sided discussion these days. It orbits around me like a cartoon star, whirling over my crainium with goofy noises. The In-laws own some lake front property. The Dept. of Environmental Conservation has decided that their beach is "Public accessable property". I'll spare you the gory details, but my lovely wife was watching the internet viewable video of the "Town Meeting" that took place concerning the issue... Sure enough, not 30 minutes in, a man started talking about Hitler. How our Moustachio'd Malcontent followed Napoleon's plan to invade Russia in Winter... and how historical mistakes must be learned from or repeated. He then went on to say that they tried this kind of public use law in the 30's and "city folk" came up and destroyed the beaches, which is why they were transferred to public ownership in the first place. He went on to discuss how "Sand Island Beach" (one of the currently publicly accessible beaches) is loaded with fecal material and broken glass. If that jab-haymaker combo doesn't win the fight, I don't know what will.

3) Wherein Pyg decides to play fantasy football
Those of you who know me (and why would you even read this if you didn't...) will recall on one or more occasion my disdain for millionaires playing organized sports. If you caught me on a "going soft" day, I may have confessed that I don't mind football, but only because I enjoy the strategy of the plays. I don't go in for the after game interview of a 400 pound brain damaged hulk slobbering into a microphone, nor the comments of a concussed quarterback who abuses vocabulary worse than his spouse. Team loyalty is roughly equivalent to religious consumerism. All of that being said... I seriously enjoyed the 2 games of "Blood Bowl" I played with Mr. Dague as of late. For those not familiar, you put 22 miniature monsters (11 per side) on a 25 by 15 grid, with the actions Move, Pass, Block, Blitz (move and block), Dodge (move away from another player), Hand-Off, Throw, Catch, Foul, Eat-Other-Player, and "Stand there and be stupid".

The reason this came to light, is that I mentioned having the game to Mr. Dague, who had played it 'once upon a time in high school'. I happened to pick up a copy of the game in my days of game store employment, and probably had played it a half dozen times. We resolved to have a game or two. The usual "Pygrules" applied, with us getting blocking, turnovers, throw ins, hand offs, injuries, and pre/post game actions completely wrong. After 2 matches, we've straightened most of this stuff out.

The game is made by "Games Workshop", and is part of their "Specialist Games" line. Without getting too deeply into European Union Economic concerns, company history, of fanboy ranting, these are the folks that make Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, and a bunch of other games that require a serious financial investment in little inch tall men who cost $7 bucks each. My lonely post college years saw me buying and handling a fair amount of this sort of paraphernalia, back when they were only about 2 bucks a figure. This means I have a large reservoir to draw from when assembling pieces for the game. I'm only too happy to go through my boxes and turn this stored treasure into 2 hours of enjoyable gaming. The rules are available "free to use" from games workshop themselves, but some kind soul has taken it upon themselves to make a superior version of the rulebook at http://www.tybbl.org.uk/library/turfrulebook.pdf and put it out for folks to use. Additionally there are lots of freebie strategy articles at http://fumbbl.com/ , and it's just good fun.

As icing on the cake, you don't need to spend a fortune to play the game, as evidenced at http://yearoffrugalgaming.blogspot.com/search/label/Blood%20Bowl . This fellow made his own game board.... Chances are if you were determined enough you could use something other than $7 each miniatures (In my case, I'm re-purposing $3 each minis... but you could build it out of beer caps and clippings from your sports illustrated magazine).

If you decide dice, charts, little figures, and using your brain to be 'too hard', you can wait until Blood Bowl comes out for Xbox 360, psp, pc, and Nintendo DS. There's no firm release date, only a lot of halfhearted spectulation. Rumors say that the game releases in Europe on the 16th of this month, and that U.S. and Aus. customers get to wait until September. That's all very well, I suppose, since I can see about half the people I could interest in a face to face go at this game saying "What? I can stay at home and play this in my underpants? I Lurve VidjaGames!". I don't mind this, since I don't want them at my house in their underpants, and in fact will probably do something similar myself. It does buy me time to play the real version for a while before hand.

4) Origins is just a shout away
The real reason I wanted to make a post, is so that I could make myself a list of "Stuff to buy at Origins". I've been trying to pinch pennies as of late so that I have a dealer's room budget to work with when I get to Ohio. Despite some misgivings about driving 9.75 hours all by my lonesome... I'm eager to take the time off and truck out there. Things to be on the lookout for

a) Some new dice
At least a couple of clean poly-sets. My sets still roll random numbers, but I want dice I can read from clear across an 8 foot table. I want a bunch of Michigan Red Eyes in case I ever want a color coded sub game.

b) Studio bergstrom BSG Ships
I plan to have a full day of killing cylons (or Colonial pilots... whichever). I'll probably have buy-itis for some kind of extremely small sized, large scale ruleset

c) Starmada Admiralty Edition
Goes with the immediately preceeding
d) Blood Bowl Dwarf team
Some things I just didn't stock up on, and miniatures of walking beards with axes was one of them.
e) A copy of "Ticket to Ride" card game
Played this at Bren & Joni's, and it was deeee-lightful

That's all I've got time for right now.... but stay tuned (in another couple weeks) for more "TALES OF THE EASILY SIDETRACKED

Wed, May. 20th, 2009, 01:50 pm
I'd gladly pay you Tuesday

Tuesday night's calkiller report:
500 cals (by the watch)
768 cals (by the bike)

This was done while playing Left 4 Dead on the Xbox360 for about 45 minutes.

It's certainly odd to be pedaling like a mad person while you're trying to survive the zombie apocalypse closes in around you. Then again, getting the blood pumping may have led to some quicker reactions on my part. Any way you slice it, I'm lagging Physwar by about 100 and change calories per day.

I decided against the Kamikaze 1000 calorie death ride, since it takes so damned long to achieve.

I've already neglected my Ikea home hobby kit bookshelf since saturday, with it's carefully counted and laid out pieces strewn lovingly across 3 rooms. Additionally work (which I should be doing now, but couldn't resist posting the tubbo-numbers) has been my bane for the past couple days, with one screw up which was allowed to persist for several months is now worth 7 figures or more in fuggups.

yeah, seven figures... we're talking about Millions plural here.

So, I've got 4 more hours to figure out how to separate the "Column A's" from the "Column B's", or I'll be looking for new and gainful employment.

So. there you have it. it's a short one with little punctuation and even less grammar.

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