Tuesday, September 30, 2008

de Blob

I'm really digging this odd Wii game we rented. It's called de Blob.

In the game, you're battling against a Fascist government that has illegally seized power. So, it fits my politics.

I was nearly an hour into the game before the first fight scene happened, and it lasted maybe 2 seconds and three swings of the wiimote. You see, it's not yet another first person shooter. Instead, in this game you're playing a blob of paint, and the enemy includes inkwells and little robots that suck pigment out of people. The Fascists have stolen all the color from the world, and your job is to paint the buildings. Doing so will liberate the people, and return funk music to the land. When you paint a block, the inhabitants come outside, and celebrate. Then you paint them, and they celebrate more. You bounce around trying to find more surfaces to paint, mixing colors as you go, and spreading joyful populist graffiti to the masses.

It's pretty kooky.

I wish they'd done a little more with the controls, though. I think the challenges could be harder, and the controls more responsive. Seems like the same swinging motion does just about everything, and that's my only complaint with the game. Despite it, I'm finding the game ravenously addictive.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ultimate Mass

I was about to provide someone on the forum with a link to James McMurray's big ol' Scion mass chart, when I realized it had an error.

Epic Strength 1 gives +500 lbs lifting capacity. The 2nd and 3rd dots double that. The 4th to 7th dots Quintuple the bonus at each level. The 8th to 10th dots multiply the total of the previous dot by 10.

It would appear the chart at James's site (which I and formorach69 helped create) didn't take that last transition into account. The chart was made before any of us were playing God-level PCs, and may have been made before the God book was published (I don't remember). Whatever the timing, the chart seems to progress levels 8 through 10 at the same x5 multiplier of levels 4 to 7. As a result, it lists the Empire State Building as Mass 11, when it's actually Mass 10. Military Tugboats should be adjusted to Mass 8. The entries for Loaded Freighter, Cruiser, and Large Bridge should all be downgraded to Mass 9.

I'm gonna try to contact James McMurray and get it fixed. He's not currently active on the Scion forum, so I might not be able to get it changed. Update: I got in touch with him, and he updated/fixed the page linked above.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Neighbor's A Gamer

A piece of my mail ended up in my neighbor's mailbox by accident, and he dropped it off.

This is the first time we'd ever talked. Turns out he's a gamer, who used to play a lot of D&D, but lately hasn't had any luck finding a group since moving to Seattle. He seems like a good guy, and I'll probably do some measure of gaming with him in the future.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Computer's In Dry-Dock

Yar. On Friday last, I got up at the booty of dawn ('tis less southerly, and more pleasantly desirous than the dirty ol' buttcrack of dawn), hauled my piratical dictionary up'n from below-decks, and prepared to set match ta a volley of swarthy countenances that would clarly belabour both'n the cut of me jib an' the temper o' me steel. But'n, fer land's sakes, me ship just lingered there in port - the sails were mutinously refusing to unfurl. Eventually, wit' great personal effort and displeasure, I was able to make them unfurl, but even then they weren't but catchin' nary a wind. Instead of blowing out to sea, they just sat there making a gawd awful racket, like a three pence whore grindin' her holey teeth agin' the basket hilt of me cutlass.

In less flavorful terms, my computer died. I've spent nearly14 hours across the past 3 days trying every trick, system disk, and repair program I know. It won't even recognize that it has a hard-drive now. Crap.

I've got my wife's laptop to fall back on, but since she teleworks two days a week, my internet time will be a bit restricted in the near future. And since she just got her holey teeth filled (so as to not resemble a 3-pence whore), we lack the dubloons to get my 'puter's hull shored up this paycheck. It sits in drydock till some unforseen horizon, and I'm left to wrestle with a windows machine running a variety of microsoft products. Somebody'll be walkin' the plank fer that, I assurn ye.

In short, if'n yer expectin' this scurvy dog to entertain ya, or respond to any parchments stuffed in emailical bottles, yer outta luck.

Werse yet: Since that scuttled ship had all me notes, an' the newly updated but not yet printed character sheets fer the godlier part of Scion, it done keelhauled my prospects of gaming this weekend past. The cap'n get a mite bit ornery when he ain't 'ad is fix!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Spasmodic Dysphonia

I'd never heard of it before today, but I think I may have a relatively mild (and undiagnosed) case of Spasmodic Dysphonia.

I first noticed it while working at Active Imagination. Whenever I was calling a customer, my voice would crack, and I would get short of breath. The first calls I did there were practically cold calls - I was calling Magic players to remind them about upcoming tournaments. Despite supposedly doing them a service, I always felt bad about it, so the fact that I'd be hoarse before the end of the first call didn't strike me as terribly odd. But it did make me very self-conscious, and I tried to hide it from those jerks I worked for. I'm fairly certain they interpreted my reluctance to make the marketing calls in their presence to mean that I wasn't making the calls at all, or was badmouthing them to their customers, or something. Over time, they insisted more and more on being present in the offices when I was making the calls, and they'd "listen in" frequently.

Later, I ended up working more retail shifts for them. These went fine, I rarely had trouble interacting with people face to face. But on days when shipments would come in, I'd have to call everyone who'd placed special orders and preorders. I knew that I was calling them with good news. I was calling to say "your game is here, and waiting for you!" It wasn't a cold call, it was at their request. Yet, my voice would shatter like I was terrified. I could never explain it. I'd have to take the phone calls slowly, and take deep breaths between each call. At first, I was calm but a little puzzled. Eventually, it made me fear making those calls, especially if co-workers or customers were in earshot, and it got worse after that. The fear made it more pronounced.

Often, I was calling someone that I gamed with casually and personally, but calling to say the book they asked me to order for them was in would make me breathless. Seriously, I could call James or Jeremy and gab all friendly from home, but if I called the same friends from work because the new expansion was in, it hurt to talk. Every word was like fighting for oxygen.

I'd been raised largely without a phone, so I assumed it was psychological, and phone-related. *

But then, I started judging Magic tournaments. All went well for the first few months, until one day, in the midst of giving my opening announcements at a Pro Tour Qualifier, my voice cracked and went up nearly an octave. Everybody laughed at me, Cameron made a snide joke and I felt like I was back in junior high. It happened again during opening announcements at my next couple tournaments, and then sporadically at tourneys thereafter.

I have no stage fright. I'm happy to be in the spotlight. I ran a 40-player LARP for several years without anything like this happening. But for whatever reason, the opening ceremonies of Magic tournaments made my throat constrict and wheeze. Sometimes I could control it, but generally, once started it would last the rest of the event. My boss somehow hadn't noticed until one time when I was in the process of giving out a unsporting conduct penalty to a guy who well deserved it. She dressed me down in front of the whole tournament, and said I was too emotionally invested to give out that penalty. She could tell, so she said, because of the way I sounded. I was calm (but yes, sounding hoarse as I often did at tourneys) until she said that.

That's the point where I started hating her. (There were lots of reasons to do so, but that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Her behavior that day will never be forgotten, and probably never forgiven.)

I resolved at that point to overcome my problem, since I assumed it was all in my head, and somehow anxiety-related. I taught myself to breathe through my nose before talking, and take long pauses, to control the tone of my voice. This worked for a while, till one day Level 4 Judge John Shannon mentioned that the pauses made me come off as uncertain or stupid, instead of thoughtful. That kinda hurt. Unfortunately, by this point, the pauses were part of how I talk. I only manage to totally avoid them when in-character RPGing. When in-character, nothing like this affects me at all. By the end of my time at Active Imagination, I was a basket case. I still pause, and my voice now cracks nearly any time I call anyone for any reason. Just typing about it has made my nose clog up and my neck constrict for the last 20 minutes.

*: An aside about my "it's psychological, and us not having a phone from 1987 to 1995" notion. I've always had a distaste for telephone conversations, because they were not part of my life at all for those years, and minimal before that. I once made a really cool video poem called "I Hate Telephones". So it seemed 'obvious' to me that all my trouble (prior to Magic tournaments) was somehow related to fear and unfamiliarity.

At the same time I was blaming it on that, I had doubts about it, too. I'd done all the movie times on the recording at the theatre for a few years because I had such a good phone voice. I also did the recorded message at Page One, Too for a while for the same reason.

Come to think of it, the only hint before Active Imagination that I might have actual problems with phones was the nightly call from my office at the movie theatre to the 3rd party theatre-polling company that we reported box office grosses to. I always got "choked up" calling in things like "Brave Heart: $7,235; A Very Brady Sequel: $3,128;" to the answering machine of some corporate suit I'd never interact with. My voice would crack, and my breath shallow. I couldn't explain that, but I was always very glad to be making those calls alone in the office late at night.

I've done a lot of soul-searching and healing in the year+ out here in Seattle. Despite that healing, I've been terrified to get back into the job market, because what guarantees did I have that these problems wouldn't just remanifest as soon as I was in a workplace? I was also worried my voice would crack while interviewing. Or that I'd pause a little too much, and they'd write me off as dumb. Even scarier was the notion that I'd get through the interview process, get a job I loved, and then have my problem manifest again.

This wasn't entirely unjustified. During this year i got back in touch with some old friends, and when that finally resulted in a phone conversation with Daved, my voice sounded like I was calling customers about special orders again. Getting away from work reduced the frequency of my triggers, but did not cure it the underlying problem.

I left Magic / quit judging tournaments, despite moving to the city that Magic: The Gathering is designed in, largely because of the things judging did to my voice, and the insecurities that the Godards instilled in me over that voice issue.

That's context. That's what went before. I thought it was psychological, and that I was probably unique in my troubles.

Today I read an article about Economists and the Election on CNN. The article was by Scott Adams, and that reminded me that I really like The Dilbert Blog back before Jeremy and I had that weird little argument that resulted in months of silence between us. (Why that would result in even more months of me not reading Dilbert is hard to explain. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.) So I clicked on Dilbert's blog today, and started reading back posts.

Turns out, Scott Adams has Spasmodic Dysphonia. It's symptoms sound very close to my problem. People with SD have acute hoarseness while speaking, but the situations that trigger it vary widely. Frequently, it involves talking on the phone. One example that's given is people who's voice cracks or falls apart on the phone, but have no problem talking to their cats. Adams claims his has progressed to the point where the only time his voice sounds normal is when he's talking about Spasmodic Dysphonia. Any other topic of conversation makes his voice go falsetto or scratchy.

From what I've read, there's no cure. There's a form of speech therapy that might help, but it's also possible that to overcome it I might need quarterly botox injections to my throat or surgery every couple of years. Neither of those last two options are appealing unless my condition gets a lot worse. It's also quite possible that I might not have Spasmodic Dysphonia, but Dilbert's descriptions sound very much like what I experience. I'll need to see a doctor to know for certain.

Knowing that it might be this actual physical disorder is actually very comforting. When I thought it was just me being a phone-fearing wuss, I scared me. But I pwn diseases and disorders. I beat DermatoFibroSarcoma Protuberans (aka cancer), I can sure as hell beat a little thing like Dysphonia. I'm even seriously considering getting back on the judging horse.

Cult Birthright

Here's a link to a new Birthright proposed by Gnomish_American at the Scion forums. I think this birthright has a lot of potential, and I wish I'd remembered it when advancing our Scion PCs to Godhood.

It's intended to be a Gods-only birthright, like Avatar and Sanctum. It refreshes the legend pools of the character, based on the worship services of their mortal followers. As such, Gnomish_American's version had it granting Legend points at certain times of day and certain days of the week. I play kinda fast and loose with time (at least when not running Continuum), so that wouldn't work for me.

Instead, I'd have each dot of Cult:
  • restore one point of temporary Legend at the start of each session.
  • restore one point of temporary Legend any time the GM advanced time by 1 or more days. (If months or years pass, we're probably starting a new story, so everyone's whole pool refreshes regardless of cult level.)
  • restore 5 points of temporary Legend once per story, to represent major holy days. The PC can invoke this at any time, but they don't get the restored points till the scene ends. That way, you can use it to "freshen-up" before going and doing something important, but you can't strain believability by timing religious festivals to occur in the middle of your battles.
While I didn't think to offer this birthright as an option while "leveling up" the PCs, I may just grant them all 2 dots for free. There was a point in the story where they saved a lost island and converted the natives to polytheism. This would be a fun way to reward those efforts.

Signature Power (Scion Knack) (Edited)

Here's a new knack I've approved for my campaign. This is the revised/edited version. The original was clunkier and wordier than it needed to be, and granted a secondary power that was not needed. Simply getting the speed break is good enough for 5 xp.

Signature Power
Wits Knack

The Scion has mastered one of their powers, such as a Boon or Knack. They know it inside and out, it's completely intuitive to them. This may be the result of constant practice, or just instinctual talent. You choose what pre-existing power becomes your "Signature Power" at the time you purchase this knack. You cannot chose reflexive powers (such as Damage Conversion) or those that already have a speed rating below 4 (such as Animal Aspect or the divine ability to become immaterial). The chosen power has it's activation speed reduced by one. Most commonly, this means it goes from being a Speed:5 miscellaneous action to being a Speed: 4 action.

The decision of which power to augment is permanent. Under normal circumstances, you can never change which power you chose, nor can you take this knack a second time to affect a different power - so choose wisely. However, the GM has the ability to waive this restriction under some circumstances. An example would be if the PC chose Water Control (Water 2) as their signature power, and later purchased Water Mastery (Water 6). The 6-dot boon specifically mentions that it duplicates the powers of the 2-dot boon, so the GM may let you revise which is your Signature Power. Shifting your Signature Power to the upgraded form requires permission from your story-teller, and an expenditure of 3 additional experience points. Once shifted, the lesser form is no longer their signature power, and only the advanced version benefits from this Knack.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wearable Motorcycle

When I saw the name of Brad's post on this, I didn't think much of it, and certainly didn't rush over to click on it. I figured it was one of those monowheel thingees that they had at the beijing olympics, and the puyallup fair. But no, it's a prototype vertical-parking wearable three-wheeled "motorcycle". It looks cool. But I'm not sure what benefits, if any, it would have over any other motorcycle. Slightly less parking space is all I can figure. If I have to choose between safety and parking space, it's easy...

Thankfully, I'm a gamer, and I've played Cyberpunk 2020. CP2020 is all about style over substance, cool over safety. It's a setting where a 3-wheeled wearable motorcycle that has your body dangling just inches above the onrushing pavement sounds just great. After all, you've probably got skinweave and an armored t-shirt between you and the road.

Changes to Godhood

The PCs in my Scion group ascended to godhood recently. We didn't want this level of play to feel like superheroes, we wanted it to feel like gods. So we figured out how to do as much.

First off, we moved everyone up to Legend 11. Rather than charging 14 bonus points off the template to do so, I just charged 10, and the whole group advanced.

We made sure that everyone had some method to world-hop, so no PC would be stranded if they split up. Sanctums with gates, various movement powers, etc. To facilitate this, I gave them 1 free dot of sanctum, to represent "real estate mom or dad gave you".

I'm making stunt dice into stunt successes at this level. I'll be deciding this week whether to work in something like the Cult birthright that Gnomish American came up with (man I wish I'd remembered that last week), or to just double the legend point rewards of stunts. I want Legend going back and forth dynamically, not just spiking at story start and then dropping steadily off.

I did work up and implement an alternate system for Bavatar - similar to Darkening Of The Light's bavatar system, modified by ideas stolen from BlaineTog's Title and Godhood Title questing boons.

various sources of inspiration wrote:

Darkening of the Light's Bavatar system:
BlaineTog's questing purview (see Title and Godhood Title)
Gnomish_American's Cult birthright

Basically, each PC got 3 avatars they could build. Each avatar could have a different appearance, and a different Legend Rating.
For each avatar, they could choose a few parts of their persona, reputation or fate that didn't apply to that avatar. The players worked together to develop avatars that work together.
Everyone's got a low level avatar that is designed to be used for spying, walking amongst the people unnoticed, and doing their laundry. Smile
Then they've all got a bad-ass war avatar that's their most nastiest form, Legend 11 and decked out with all kinds of sick powers.
Then there's a mid-range negotiation and problem-solving avatar.

These avatars are set in stone - and must always manifest the same way. However, I told them that if and when they get to Legend 12, they'll each get a new Avatar.

I encouraged symbolism amongst the avatars: one has Judge, Jury, and Executioner incarnations, for example.

They can manifest in only one bavatar at a time. If they die in bavatar form, that bavatar is lost forever, and there may be other not-yet-completely-defined penalties. If the "true you" is killed, instead, death is permanent (accept for a few power capable of saving you - Health or Death 11, Ultimate Stamina, etc). The "true you" is just their inner self, an idealized version of their old mortal coil, without any automatic powers - just like if we were going by the books and nobody bought Bavatar at all.

For each incarnation, I allowed them to pick a small number of powers that were constantly active. These had to be powers that are either free or have a per-scene activation cost. In the case of the later, the per-scene cost was added (once) to the cost to assume that avatar. For doing so, they got a break on it, in that they wouldn't have to repay to reactivate it scene after scene - it'd be constantly "on" whenever in that form. For example, the egyptian character chose a form with "Animal Features" constantly on, so he could have a bird head. The combat forms have UO (and other things) activated constantly, and one has Colossus Armor as her body.

This is all VERY experimental, and I'm aware it rather significantly boosted the power of bavatar and the PCs in general. It certainly wouldn't have been for any game, and it's not the sort of thing I imagined myself ever allowing in a game. This is WAY over the top, and it may come crashing down unexpectedly. That's okay. We've been playing for over a year, and were all getting kinda antsy to move on to something new. We love our characters, but have grown increasingly frustrated with the existing rules, so we thought we'd try something completely different. Hopefully, this will inject some excitement into the game, and reinvigorate us. If not, it'll at least be memorable.

The players understand that we are now moving into the endgame, and that the pace will be breakneck from here on out. We're not looking towards the long-term health of the campaign at this point, we're looking to have the story go out with a bang sometime in the next couple months. There will be no punches pulled from here on out, hence the need for 3 avatars as a way to escape death.

Those of you who've read my various posts here before know that I spend a lot of time worrying about play-balance. I've decided to just throw that by the wayside. While I've tweaked a lot of knacks and low-level powers in the past trying to keep things from "getting out of hand" at Hero and Demigod, I've declared an intent to not reign in any power that you'd need Legend 9+ to access. If it's broke, I ain't fixing it any more.

This is a significant departure from the "comfort zone" of my usual GMing style.

*fingers crossed*

But we aren't stopping there. Since I'm on a truncated timeline, trying to wrap the game in a couple months, I'm not gonna let things be bogged down by saving up to by powers that cost 30-50 xp.
I implemented a new XP chart, that looks like this:

Experience Cost Chart
Attribute 1 to 2 2 to 3 3 to 4 4 to 5 5 to 6 6 to 7 7 to 8 8 to 9 9 to 10 10 to 11 11 to 12
4 xp 8 xp 12 xp 16 xp 17 xp 18 xp 19 xp 20 xp 21 xp 22 xp 23 xp

Epic Attribute NEW 1 to 2 2 to 3 3 to 4 4 to 5 5 to 6 6 to 7 7 to 8 8 to 9 9 to 10 Ultimate
Favored by Parent 8 xp 4 xp 8 xp 12 xp 16 xp 17 xp 18 xp 19 xp 20 xp 21 xp 22 xp

Knack NEW 5 xp

Willpower 7 to 8 8 to 9 9 to 10
14 xp 15 xp 16 xp

Ability NEW 1 to 2 2 to 3 3 to 4 4 to 5 5 to 6 6 to 7 7 to 8 8 to 9 9 to 10 10 to 11 11 to 12
Favored 2 xp 1 xp 3 xp 5 xp 7 xp 9 xp 11 xp 13 xp 15 xp 17 xp 19 xp 21 xp
Non-Favored 3 xp 2 xp 4 xp 6 xp 8 xp 10 xp 12 xp 14 xp 16 xp 18 xp 20 xp 22 xp

Virtue NEW 1 to 2 2 to 3 3 to 4 4 to 5
In-Pantheon 3 xp 3 xp 6 xp 9 xp 12 xp
Out-Pantheon 6 xp 3 xp 7 xp 11 xp 15 xp

Pantheon Purview NEW 1 to 2 2 to 3 3 to 4 4 to 5 5 to 6 6 to 7 7 to 8 8 to 9 9 to 10
Your Pantheon 3 xp 4 xp 8 xp 12 xp 16 xp 17 xp 18 xp 19 xp 20 xp 21 xp

Boons 1-dot 2-dot 3-dot 4-dot 5-dot 6-dot 7-dot 8-dot 9-dot 10-dot Ultimate
Favored 4 xp 8 xp 12 xp 16 xp 17 xp 18 xp 19 xp 20 xp 21 xp 22 xp 23 xp
Not Favored 5 xp 10 xp 15 xp 16 xp 17 xp 18 xp 19 xp 20 xp 21 xp 22 xp 23 xp

No doubt the blogging software will screw up the formatting and make that hard to read. So here's what matters on that chart: There's a cost cap in place. Basically, whatever level of something costs 15 or 16 xp still does, and all the levels below that cost their normal amounts. The levels above it, however, cost only +1 point more for every level higher you go. So, taking Epic 8 to Epic 10 would cost a total of 42 xp, (not 68 xp - so you'll get it at least 3 sessions faster), but getting your first several dots in an Epic will cost just the same as it always has. The point of this is to let the players improve something meaningful every couple of sessions. (The average award over the course of the campaign has been around 8 xp per session.)

Anyhow, as you can see, it's hardly the same game. Hopefully this will result in me bitching less about flaws in the system, and having more fun just letting it all fly.

In fact, next time you hear me whining, you have my permission to remind me that:
a) I'm not really playing Scion anymore,
b) I brought it on myself.

Wish me luck ...or, just mumble "good riddance" under your breath as you click on to the next post. Smile

Lava Burns in Scion

There's a touch of debate on lava stats at the Scion forums, which lead me to google "lava burns". I found this:
>>If you put your hand in activly flowing lava, will your hand just
>>burn, burn off completely, or will you die from severe burning?

>> Jennifer

> The serious injury might kill by causing shock.

>>Dear Jennifer,

>>I'm not exactly sure why anyone would WANT to put his or her hand into
>>lava, are you? If it happened by accident you would get badly burned
>>but your hand wouldn't just melt off. A geologist at the Hawaiian
>>Volcano Observatory fell into some lava up to his knees about 11 years
>>ago. He was wearing boots and long pants, and luckily there was
>>someone to pull him out immediately. He had mostly second-degree burns
>>- which were very painful of course and he spent the whole summer in
>>the hospital - but he was back at work in 5 months. It is a very scary
>>thing to think about, even after all these years.
>>-- Scott Rowland, University of Hawaii

> He had only 2nd-degree burns?

>>From liquid thats red-hot, I'd expect instant fourth-degree burns [all
> the way to the bone].

(quote from Honolulu paper at
http://starbulletin.com/2002/12/29/news/story2.html, about halfway down
the article):

On June 12, 1985, geologist George Ulrich had just taken a temperature
reading of fresh lava, 2,079 degrees. Suddenly a lava crust broke, and
Ulrich stepped into the lava over his boots but was protected by NOMEX
burn-resistant clothing.
Another geologist pulled him out in about five seconds. Ulrich was flown
to Straub Clinic & Hospital on Oahu for treatment of first-, second- and
third-degree burns. He recovered fully.

In my opinion, that suggests lava, in Scion terms, should be 10+X dice of Lethal, where X is the bonus to soak granted by NOMEX burn-resistant clothing. The GM would have to set the level of X. In the absence of further research, I'd be inclined to set X=2.

If a mortal takes 5 damage he's still looking at a month and a half of bed-rest before the pain subsides enough that his actions are no longer penalized. Each point of damage beyond that adds a month to recovery time.

As far as humans are concerned, Agg and Lethal are basically the same thing. I can't think of any mechanical difference between A and L for a mortal with no supernatural abilities. The differences between Agg and Lethal all involve supernatural healing and soak for characters that have Epic Stamina. As such, I'd make lava lethal, and save aggravated damage for supernatural sources.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

4th Ed

We moved out here, and all our GwenCon-and-Werewolf friends (many of whom do or did work for WotC) were talking about 4th Ed. "You've gotta try it, you'll love it, etc." But since we'd settled in the northern part of town, and they all lived southerly, it just never worked out for us to get in on any of the playtests. Honestly, we haven't gotten to game with any of them even half as often as I'd imagined. I didn't stress about it, since I had my Scion game to keep me busy, and this wonderful city to explore. If I had to wait till 4th Ed released, so be it.

I placed a preorder with a store, 'cause I remember how helpful it was to our store to know far in advance how many copies to bring in. Apparently, that's not how these folks use preorders, 'cause while I was committed to the purchase, I had to wait an extra month and a half for them to actually have enough boxed sets for me to get one. Meanwhile, a different store had them available. But, I recalled how much evaporating pre-orders hurt us when I ran a game store, so if I had to wait for them to get it back in stock, so be it.

Finally, I get my copy, but by then we'd moved (which is funny, 'cause the move put is within walking distance of the store that had plenty in stock - wish I'd preordered there instead), and it was getting really close to GwenCon. I had a short couple of weeks to finish unpacking, then figure out Dark Heresy well enough to run it and prep my scenario. Since those weeks were interrupted by 5 days of family visit and several other events, I just knew I wasn't going to get much time to read 4th. But that was okay, as I'd no doubt end up in at least one 4th Ed game at GwenCon. If I had to wait till then, so be it.

If you've read my GwenCon reports, you'll know I didn't get into any 4th Ed games. There were fewer events this year than last, so we ended up almost entirely on our alternate picks. In fact, the only things that were my first choices were the games I ran. Not that I'm saying I didn't have a lot of fun at GwenCon. It was a blast. But I didn't get to play any 4th Ed. (Ironically, Amy and Kevin did get to. And they didn't first-pick any 4th Ed games. There ended up being two unexpected openings in a game during a block were they officially didn't get into anything.)

So, here I am. The summer is over. The game is old news. :) And I haven't played it, nor given it more than the most basic speed-read/skim-over.

Here's what I can tell you from the little I've seen:
  • It's lighter and less cumbersome than the previous edition. I like that a lot. I've gotta say that 3.X was at the top-end of the amount of fiddliness I'm willing to put up with, and I would have played it more often if it had been as straight-forward as 4th Ed looks to be.
  • The monster manual seems to have no descriptions. You're only cue as to what a monster looks like is the pictures. That bugs me. Take the Displacer Beast, for example. It has 6 legs and 2 tentacles. However, in the picture, only 5 legs are visible. How does a new gamer know that the 6th leg is out of view, and not that the 5th leg is a weird painting error? The answer, of course, is they either get told by someone who played a previous edition, or from randomly getting the miniature in a booster pack. That's kinda frustrating.
  • Combat, as a whole, looks to be more exciting. Looks like you move around more - especially when fighting goblins. They freed you up from the yoke of "someone's gotta play a cleric". They give better tactical options to nearly every monster, and pointed them out to the GM. Wizards have to roll to hit. There's some things here that look like huge improvements.
  • Overall, the game leaves a lot more of it's flavor up to the individual group. As the sort of GM who tends to tweak settings heavily, I appreciate that. It's not what you'd expect from a company with such a strong eye on branding and market share - but it is what I'd expect from the various games I'd played at past GwenCons that used 3.X rules and very strange settings. Good to know the artists and visionaries won out over the corporate suits.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

compliance with stupid laws

White Wolf has posted new rules for fan sites.

As such, in order to keep posting content here about my Scion campaign, I'll need to provide a link to White Wolf, and some basic legal text...

Copyright White Wolf Publishing, Inc.
Copyright White Wolf Publishing, Inc.

© [year] CCP hf. All rights reserved. Reproduction without the written permission of the publisher is expressly forbidden, except for the purposes of reviews, and for blank character sheets, which may be reproduced for personal use only. White Wolf and Scion are registered trademarks of CCP hf. All rights reserved. Scion, Exalted, Vampire: The Masquerade and World of Darkness are trademarks of CCP hf. All rights reserved. All characters, names, places and text herein are copyrighted by CCP hf.
Overall, I'm none to happy about this development. Since I blog about a lot of RPGs, not ALL characters "herein" are copyrighted by CCP hf. Obviously, any vampires, demigods, or the like probably are. But trying to clarify what is and isn't is going to be a big pain in the ass. Even when I'm talking about Scion, it's not like White Wolf has an exclusive copyright on Thor, Zeus, and Tlazteotl, since all 3 are drawn from mythology and tradition that's at least several hundred years old. Certainly, white wolf has it's own unique flavorful take on those three characters, and some portion of it has and will influence my own thinking about them. So, yes, within the confines of Scion any reference to them is within the domain of white wolf's copyright. But if I were to blog about how I used Thor in my heavily mythological alien-grey film noir detective game "The Case Of The Stolen Thunder" that I ran more than a year before Scion released, his depiction would therein would have had nothing to do with White Wolf and owed rather more credit to Douglas Adams than to White Wolf. There's some grey areas (pardon the pun) there that the required legal text isn't flexible enough to parse.

I think this policy is a bad mistake on White Wolf's part, and a dangerous route for game companies to travel down. It's just going to generate ill-will amongst the players and fans, and reduce the number of fan sites out there, which in turn reduces the quality of gaming. Unlike the OGL, this legal notice doesn't let someone sell unofficial books of their own design. Instead, it just requires that if you want to blog "Man, I had so much fun playing in my Scion campaign last night" you have to include a copyright statement.

Personally, that seems unreasonable, yet White Wolf's site implies heavily that their lawyers will be contacting you if you make even passing mention of their products and fail to comply with this legal directive. Why spend the money on getting a lawyer to draft you a fan site policy if you weren't planning on suing someone. Man, this sucks.

By their very nature, RPGs are intended to be creative inspiration. They are not like a novel that you can be expected to "just" read - the rule book is intended to provoke you to tell your own stories. Overall, the regulation of fan sites flies in the face of that. Chances are, Larry Lessig or the ACLU could win a case against this, if either felt so inclined. Such a lawsuit, however, would probably be largely detrimental to the roleplaying hobby, so I hope it never happens.

I wish to maintain a friendly relationship with the industry which provides my primary means of entertainment, so I will comply with White Wolf's request, even though it strikes me as ridiculous that they requested it in the first place.

In an ideal world, White Wolf would drop this nonsense, and no other game companies would try anything like this again. But this is not a reasonable world, and as such we should expect the internet to become even more tightly constrained in future years. It, like so many other elements of our society, is rushing to a bottleneck that will result in Fascism, Revolution, or one proceeding the other.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Nukes in Scion

...should do about 50 dice of damage.

Arthur3535 at the forums eyeballed it at 50 levels, and then I did some math to confirm that he was in the right ball park.

Here's some math and notes that lead to that conclusion:

4184 terajoules in 1 megaton explosion

W = F x D

W is foot-pounds. F is force (in pounds). D is distance (in feet).

1 horsepower = 550 foot pounds

1 joule = 0.737562149277 ft·lb

1,000,000,000,000 joules = 1 terajoule

1 terajoule = 737,562,149,277 ft lbs

Epic Strength 11 can lift 1,250,000,000 pounds
and throw 125,000,000 pounds a distance equal to (Str+Ath) in yards
that distance is probably 11+5+46 = 62 yds = 186 feet

125,000,000 x 186 = 23250000000 foot-pounds of energy

0.737562149277 x 23250000000 = 17,148,319,970.69 joules
which is 0.017148319971 terajoules

that's without knacks, but obviously anyone with Epic Strength 10 is going to have a few knacks. Hurl to the moon allows you to throw that same mass as far as you can throw a dart before penalties set in. that's 30 feet times 5,000,000 from epic strength. 150,000,000 feet!

125,000,000 x 150,000,000 = 1.875e+16 foot pounds
1.875e+16 mean 18,750,000,000,000,000

0.737562149277 x 1.875e+16 = 1.38292903e+16 joules
1.38292903e+16 means 13829290300000000
which is 13,829.290298944 terajoules

13,829.290298944 divided by 4,184 is the energy equivalent of 3.3 megatons

The most powerful nuclear weapon in US service is 1.2 megatons.
The God of Strength would do around 13 dice + 46 successes with his bare hands, or as high as 26 dice + 46 successes with a by-the-books relic labrys. (And my improvised weapon system would rate the hurl-to-the-moon attack above at 11 dice + 56 successes). He does more damage than the nuke to a single target, which makes sense since his attacks could have 3.3 megatons of energy. But he doesn't have the multi-mile undodgable blast radius the nuke would presumably have.


Here's some other things I wrote on the forums in the process of convincing myself that 50 dice is the way to go.

I'd suggest starting with Nukes. Figure out how much damage you want a nuke to do in the system, then reverse engineer everything less by plotting where it falls on the rifle to nuke scale.

In another thread, Arthur suggested 50 levels for nukes, which sounds pretty good. According to the list on page 201 of Scion, only stone walls and blast doors would survive that, and the former would have holes blown in it big enough for humans to walk through.

Epic Stamina 7 would guarantee survival... from the first blast. And as a fun bonus, anyone with Epic Strength 9+ would be able to claim they punch with the force of a nuclear device. That'd be flavorful.

Since damage dice become levels against inanimate objects, you could probably just make the nuke be an undodgable 50 dice of lethal with the penetrating tag. That'd be more than enough to fry humans - it'd be pretty rare that 50 dice doesn't turn up the 10 successes needed to kill a non-extra in riot gear. At the same time, it'd allow PCs a chance to survive as far down the power-scale as Legend 6 or so. Making it dice would seriously downgrade the killing power in regards to Gods and Titans, but it'd still be an effective weapon against the titanspawn army depicted in the wicked illustration on page 156 of Demigod.

By Legend 5 or 6, the PCs have the Epic Manipulation to get themselves an A-bomb, or the Epic Intelligence to build their own, or the Epic Physicals to rob a bank to pay off some terrorists...etc. You can't keep the PCs away from it if they want it. Sure, they probably won't want to start nuking the earth, but, they might not think twice about dirty-bombing Helheim or dropping some Atomic Depth Charges into the Drowned Road.

That's why I vote to keep Nukes in the range where a stamina-heavy god (or god-level antagonist) is almost certain to survive it.

Otherwise, the aforementioned deadman's switch starts looking like the optimal in-game tactic, and that's not the game i want to run.

and here's the explanation of the deadman's switch comment:

Or imagine a God carrying a briefcase nuke with a deadman's switch on a 1-second delay. You take a guard action till your target takes any 3 to 5 tick action, then interrupt yourself to spend 1 tick dissolving your physical form. When the bomb goes off, you're safely immaterial, but the target's still waiting a tick or two before they can react. Ugly.

Wild-Die vs Drama Die

Please forgive my calling Last Unicorn's "drama die" a "wild die" in several posts the last couple days.

I've only played ICON Star Trek once, but I've played lots of d6 Star Wars and lots of 7th Sea.

In d6 Star Wars, the Wild Die is the one that indicates critical success on a "6" and critical failure on a "1". Last Unicorn / ICON Star Trek calls that The Drama Die. In some versions of the d6 system, this die explodes.

In 7th Sea, "drama dice" are something completely different. You get them for good roleplaying, or taking cool actions. Later you spend them to boost only the most important rolls.

Because of years of those contexts, I'm likely to continue to use Wild Die and Drama Die as I first learned them. If I say "Wild Die", know that I'm referring to a die you always get to roll that is somehow special (probably involving crits) from the other dice of the roll. If I say "Drama Die" know that it's some sort of reward die or limited resource die that will probably be used sparingly.

Two Trek Links

I've been thinking about the Star Trek RPG since playing it the other day. The scenario we played was fairly fun, but the mechanics were lame. After several campaigns (in the last few years: Cyberpunk, Continuum, Amber, Scion) of very murky morality, it was refreshing to play in the "we're the good guys" Trek setting. Refreshing enough to inspire me to google the game. I found two links I felt compared to share.

  1. I read up more on the mechanics here. It's a fairly critical article that briefly digests the issues of the ICON system mechanics.

    That article pointed out to me that we were using a house-rule in the scenario last weekend. Getting a 6 on your wild die is supposed to let you add your second-highest die to the total. Jason had us roll the wild die again and add them together. Using that house rule has two effects:
    1. Slows down the game by a couple extra seconds every time you roll a 6 on the wild die.
    2. Makes the non-wild dice of your pool matter less*.
    Now, I suspect this wasn't an intentional house-rule. Jason said it was his first time running the system, and some mistakes are to be expected when that's the case. The game's mechanics already have an unfortunate habit of making dice beyond your third nearly irrelevant, but that house-rule just made it worse. Jason struck me as a bright guy, so I imagine it was probably a misread, not intentionally altered for the worst.
    *= For example, let's say the captain and first mate rolled 5 dice and 3 dice respectively, and got these results:
    Kirk: 6, 5, 5, 4, 3, 1
    Spock: 6, 2, 1.
    Assume the 6's are their wild dice. Kirk's roll looks better, and by the official rules he's have a "11" total to Spock's "8", so Kirk would triumph. However, the house-rule wouldn't care about that - they'd each reroll the wild die, and have a 50-50 chance of beating the other. Having extra skill dice becomes less beneficial with that house rule.
    I can clearly say that while Jason's game left me wanting to roleplay more in the Trek universe, it (and the articles I've read on the mechanics since then) gave me no desire to play in the rules sets used by Last Unicorn. It seems mathematically flawed - as that article pointed out, Deanna Troi has a 23% chance of beating Data at arm wrestling, despite Data having super-human strength.

  2. The second Trek-related link I wanted to point out was the Star Trek Crew Replicator. It's a cute little on-line tool that lets you build your own paper Star Trek miniatures. You pick the gender, race, skin and hair color, accessories carried, and era/uniform, and it makes you miniatures you can print out. It's very cool.

Turns out the books on my shelf are for the Decipher CODA system, not the Last Unicorn ICON system. While it looks like CODA fixes the dice-odds problem I was just complaining about, the newer system seems more fiddly than I like.
I'm not looking to simulate the minutae of the Trek technology and canonical Star Fleet hierarchy - I'm looking to capture the feel of the best Trek episodes. If I end up running a Trek game of my own someday, I'll probably make up my own lightweight set of rules. I've got a concept for how to handle starship combat...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

GwenCon Recap

The last couple hours were spent posting about GwenCon. For those unfamiliar, GwenCon is a micro gaming convention that takes place in the home of Gwendolyn Kestrel and Andy Collins every year. Attendance has varied between roughly 50 and 120 people in the years we've been participating. This year seemed a little lower than the previous two years, but still pretty busy.

We attended from 5pm Friday to 1am Saturday, and then again from 11:30am Saturday to 3:00am Sunday. Much fun was had by all.

Index of blog posts about other games I played at this years' GwenCon:

We skipped going today. Sarah's usual bedtime is between 9 and 10 pm (and I trail just shortly after her). Last night we got home about 6 hours past that, so we were barely able to leave the house at noon today. If I'd gotten into Andy's "Something Extraordinary" scenario, that would have been worth setting an alarm, and another 2 car hours on limited sleep. Since it filled up before I could email my prereg, we decided to rest.
  • (While I'm at it, I'll point you at this post about my favorite GwenCon game from last year, cause that game was just that good: League of Extraordinary Cowboys.)
Sleep isn't the only thing holding us off from Sunday, to be honest. It's also that Sunday is kid's day at Gwen Con. There's all these little rug rats running around, and a lighter schedule of almost entirely kid-friendly games. Honestly, I suspect the Kid's day on Sunday is part of why attendance is down this year. On paper, having a kid's day is a way to include families, and ensure the tykes don't show up to more adult games on the first two days of the con. However, it means the third day is less fun for those who don't have kids. Anecdotally, it seems that before there was a Kid's day, you'd end up with 2 or 3 kids at the whole event, as most gamers would send the tykes to grandma's house for the weekend. Now, instead of geeking out for a whole weekend, some parents are just coming for Sunday while non-parental gamers are avoiding Sunday. When we first started going to GwenCon, we just assumed we'd go every hour it was running, and make a mini-vacation out of it. Now, the prospect of 20 or 30 kids running around makes us think twice before driving down on the last day. One day, I may have kids of my own and reconsider that stance, but for now I'm most comfortable gaming with adults.

Werewolves Lynched

I played in 4 games of "Are You A Werewolf?" this weekend, and was a spectator at a 5th. It's hard to remember another time when so many wolves died. The Seers were hot in game after game, and despite adding the werewolf-favoring "The Twins" roles and such prone-to-backfire roles as "The Hunter" and "The Witch" the games were for the most part short, brutal, and they always ended with werewolves swaying from a rope.

GwenCon RPGs - Pure Evil

The second RPG one-shot I played in at GwenCon was Pure Evil. It was a very unique Cthulhu scenario run by Mike Lee. Rules were BRP - that is to say, he was using Chaosium's Basic RolePlaying system, not technically their Cthulhu rules. I've played a fair share of Cthulhu before, and I had a hard time telling what was different mechanically. The sanity rules were a little off (but I think that was house-ruled, not a BRP change) and the skill list was more extensive, but beyond that I couldn't spot any differences. Oh well, the system wasn't the main selling point of this particular one-shot...

We were all members of a Death Metal band called Pure Evil, playing a concert at a creepy mansion near Shreveport, Louisiana. Our last album had flopped, and we were likely going to break up after this one last pathetic little gig. While our albums were packed with satanic iconography, none of us had any reason to suspect the supernatural was real, nor any reason to approach the "mystery" from the angle of trying to solve it. Those of you with Cthulhu experience are shaking your heads already, and with good reason. Our sinister patron was using our music to summon up some horrible body-warping entity from non-euclidean space, and there wasn't a chance in hell of us stopping him.

Out of 5 PCs:
  • 1 went insane.
  • 2 died.
  • 1 went insane, and then died.
  • Only 1 PC escaped with his body and mind mostly intact.
Meanwhile, some unspeakable crystaline "god" awoke, ate 200 concert goers, and then rampaged across Louisiana, ushering in a new era of terror on the bayou.

What made the game fun was the PCs. Figuring we were doomed from the get go, we just chewed the scenery. The lead singer was constantly chasing tail, and spent half the scenario in his bedroom. The lead guitarist was a Prima Donna, constantly beleaguering us all with bitchy tirades about artistic integrity. The drummer was continuously drinking and/or snorting coke, and/or brainstorming ridiculous ideas for stage shows. The bassist was just the replacement bassist, and no one could remember his name nor give a damn what happened to him - and the little bass-playing puppy loved us for it. I played the bitter, jaded, artificially sleazy manager of the band, who was secretly siphoning the books and gambling away all the band's profits.

Everyone's character sheet indicated that they hated all the other PCs, and gave good reasons why. On some level, we felt more like a Paranoia party than a Call Of Cthulhu party.

In the end, I switched sides, sold my soul (and the band) to "The King In Black And White", and delivered the PCs up for sacrifice. They knew it both in- and out- of character, but we were all more or less okay with it. I had a blast.

My wife didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I did. She played the lead singer, doing a understated parody of lusty juvenile gamers of the "if there's any chicks there I do them" sort, without ever delivering the too-often quoted line. Watching her chase skirts made me giggle. She repeatedly put character before plot just like the rest of the band did, however, her heart really wasn't in it. She'd signed up for this event expecting a more traditional Lovecraftian problem-solving/mystery game. She'd played in two such games last year, and really enjoyed trying to puzzle them out in time to save the world, but this just didn't have the same taste.

One small criticism on my part, which despite it's seeming triviality, I just cannot stress it enough. When making a one-shot scenario, it's a really good idea to trim down the character sheets to the bare minimum necessary. The character sheet for this otherwise excellent game was a maze of tables and boxes. My character had a 17 intelligence, and I didn't notice till more than 3 hours into the scenario 'cause the sheet was too obtuse and crowded. I'd played him as kind of weak-willed weasel, when in actuality his stats made him sharp and intuitive with double the sanity points of any other character. Oops.

BRP has a ton of skills, and technically you have default ratings in things based on your ability scores. This meant that I had listed values of 30% for Artillery and Martial Arts - and no clear indicator whether or not that meant the character had some sort of military background. I had three skills listed as "Pilot", "Pilot 2", and "Flying" with no clue what the difference was - not that it mattered since all were in single-digits in a game that uses a percentile system... I wasn't about to fly anywhere even if we'd had a plane. But seriously, if there's no plane available in the scenario, why do I need to know if I have a 1% or 4% chance of flying one? Trimming about 40 skills off that list (and alphabetizing those that remained) would have made the relevant items far more noticeable and minimized player information overload.

Dissapointing Star Trek RPG Dice System

As mentioned in my previous post, I played the Last Unicorn Games' edition of the Star Trek RPG last night, and I had something to say about the game...

The dice mechanic is (in my limited experience) in a word, dumb.

You roll X number of d6's, and use just the highest, then add Y. X is determined by your Attribute + SubAttribute + Advantages. Y is determined by your Skill + Specialization + Advantages.

The only thing shaking this up was that each roll gets one wild die that can explode. But of course, it does so only 1 time in 6 and typically results in a +50% increase when it happens.

My Vulcan Chief Engineer rolled 5d6 for most science or engineering rolls, which almost always meant his best number was a 6. I then had 3's in nearly every tech skill/specialization, so I rolled a very consistent "9" for my final value. Out of probably 15 or 20 rolls for the evening, I had one "7", one "12" and the other 14 to 18 rolls were all "9"s. Since the most common difficulty was 9, and generally no benefit for rolling above the difficulty, it felt like the dice were irrelevant.

It is very unclear to me what they were trying to model. Not even Commander Data was ever that consistent.

I'm not sure I see the value of a system that leaves so little room for variance, yet requires so many layered dice-modifiers to get there - the same thing could have been accomplished by "roll a single d6, and just hope you don't get a 1" or by a far more elegant diceless mechanism of some sort. Why have all the extra bells and whistles if most don't matter at all?

One of my fellow players rolled 5 dice on something and got four 6's (and a 2) which caused him to cheer! However, since his wild die was the lone non-six, it didn't explode. His skill and specialization only added +2, bringing his total to an 8, and he needed a 9 to succeed. Having "the whiff factor" on a roll that elicited an instinctual cheer was really frustrating, and led to us all wondering why we even roll anything but the wild die.

I've got two Star Trek RPG books on my shelf. We've never played, but we like the show (well, some of them) and so held on to the books just in case we ever get a Trek itch. Now I need to look more closely at them. If the core mechanic is such a let-down, it may not be worth keeping the books.

GwenCon RPGs - Star Trek

I played in two 4-hour one-shots last night. The first was a Star Trek RPG scenario run by Jason Anderson (-sen?).

He was using the Last Unicorn Games edition, with some elaborately upscaled starship combat rules. This game was heavily into the Simulationist style of play.

He had print outs of what we saw on our tactical stations and view-screens, and had printed out sensor read-outs for every scan type we could do in every scene. The goal to that was to eliminate the annoyance of "bridge crew parrot-ism." That's the phenomenon where a player asks the GM what the sensors say, the GM answers them, and then the PC has to repeat what the GM said to the rest of the group. Something similar occurs in all RPGs with "the party" organization, but the nature of Trek really draws attention to it. One or two "what he said" comments are all most games need, but for a Trek bridge crew, it'll happen 10 times per scene.

The hand-out heavy work-around functioned quite well for a linear one-shot game. We'd say what we're scanning for, and he'd toss us the appropriate clipping, from which the Science Officer (or whoever) would draw a conclusion and pass on the info in-character. Between that and the sound-effects on the GM's laptop, he did a stellar job of creating the feel of being on the bridge of a Federation Vessel. Kudos to Jason, "A" for effort, etc.

However, I imagine that system would have broken down heavily if the PCs had somewhat more nebulous goals and/or the freedom to fly the ship outside of mission parameters. I'm glad to have had the experience of seeing it in motion, but overall I doubt it was worth all the additional effort on the GM's part. It also made us feel somewhat "railroaded". Having clearly defined goals isn't a bad thing on 4-hour one-shot, but I've known some players that would have rebelled over the principle of the thing. Luckily, they weren't at our table.

I've toyed with a similar approach to GMing before, and learned a lot from this example - but mostly I learned that the extra work isn't worth it.

The game had an overall much higher level of detail than was needed. We had a one-page "transfer of duty" assignment papers hand-out, plus a full page character background sheet, plus a 2-page crew roster, plus a 1-to-6-page handout that explained our role (and options) in starship combat, plus a very busy character sheet with lots of skill entries, specializations, ad/disad-vantages... While that wouldn't be too much for a long-term game, it was an awful lot to have to process before the action could start (especially with a 4-hour time slot).

Starship combat involved maneuvering, power allocation, shield modulation and so much number-crunching that the GM had built a separate excel spreadsheet for each ship, which did all the math you'd never want to do mid-battle. While I was very impressed with the amount of work (and attention for detail) that had obviously gone into the scenario and systems, I couldn't help but wonder if it was necessary.

In a one-shot, simply getting the feel of a Star Trek episode is probably more important than "realistic" devotion to the specs of an Excelsior-class vessel. There was so much detail we couldn't parse it all, and not enough time to really appreciate what we were given. My advice for one-off games: simplify and reduce. Less really is more.

GwenCon Ate Blank White Cards

At the start of Day 2 of Gwen Con '08, I hosted Blank White Cards. I organized two different 2-hour blocks of it.
  • The first game was a very low-scoring game. I won, with a measly 47 points. Sarah (my wife) was 2nd place with 12 points. Mike Lee was 4th, at -200, and Aaron Cooke was 5th at -350. My favorite score was Logan Bonner's 3rd place total of -192.8541 points.
  • The reason for the low scores in that game was a card I made in the pre-game card generation called "Orky Maff" - it overruled all positive scoring cards to cap them at no more than +6 points. It's a GW Ork reference. This dropped everyone's scores by a ton, till it got killed by a card Logan made named "Elfin Math". But then later, another card was used by Sarah to resurrect Orky Maff, 'cause Logan's score was getting far ahead of everyone. The point of the game isn't really to win, but cards that jostle the whole table's scoring tiers are always appreciated.
  • The second 2-hour block had more traditional scores. Kevin Smith (not the famous one) won with 900 points (Clown-filled Manicotti FTW). 2nd place was Aaron Curtis at 701 points, Jennifer Clark-Wilkes was 3rd at 220pts. I and my wife filled out the bottom of the rankings at -150 and -444 points respectively.
  • Logan Bonner made really fun cards, by the way - he had us drawing mustaches on existing cards, shouting "Hey you guys!" at the top of our lungs, and doing other goofy stuff.
  • Aaron Cooke had a great illustrative touch. He cards look really sharp, and it reminded me of playing with my friend Jeremy back in Albuquerque. (Jeremy's cards have traditionally been the most artistic and grokkable, cards that you just love to have in your deck. Comparing Aaron's to Jeremy's is a high compliment for the new player.)
  • There's a natural tendency for each consecutive game of Blank White Cards to get stranger and more complicated. Game 1 always has lots of elegant "just points" cards, while subsequent games get more and more text-based cards. That really bit us in the 2nd 2-hour block. Sarah and I were unintentionally making more advanced cards, but 2 of the 3 other players were just learning the game. The error of our ways became obvious when both those players used a rule on a card to intentionally make themselves lose a turn so they'd have time to figure out what all the other cards in play did. By that point, it was hard to undo the damage. If I host it again next year, I'll run only one 2-hour block per day.
If there's interest, I'll take some photos of at least a few of the cards and post them here later this week.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Last night at Gwen Con

GwenCon Ate started last night. Here's what I played:

  1. San Juan - I really enjoy this card game. Why have I only been playing it yearly? At one time I was pretty good, but my old strategy failed me last night. Three games (4 players in each) resulted in me coming in 3rd, 2nd, and 3rd. Two things I noticed:
    • All of us got better the more we played in a row. 1st place was in the high 20s on game 1, low thirties in game 2, and low fourties in game 3. The 4th place score was always in the 20s, but went up about 4 points per game.
    • Despite that obvious anecdotal evidence that practice improves your skill, the game still feels incredibly random. To win the game you need certain "combos" - there's a production strategy and at least two different "violet" strategies you can choose from - but in two of the three games I failed to ever draw key cards for those strategies. In the third game I did get what I needed, but was barely beaten (mostly because I chose to play a free building that was low-points early on, and should have held out for better).
  2. Lost Waaaaaaaaaaaaagh! I just barely got my Orky 'Eresy scenario assembled in time to run it. For a crazy light-hearted game of 40k Orks and references to ABC's lost, I needed rules that were fast-playing, easy-to-explain, and encouraged crazy orky hijinks. That wasn't going to happen with Dark Heresy's rules, so a lot of elbow grease got applied. Overall the scenario went well, the four Orky PCs got off the island, and everybody laughed repeatedly. I'll furnish more details (and character sheets) in the next couple of days, but right now I have to get ready for Day Two of GwenCon.
  3. Zitterix: Weird little manual-dexterity game. Kinda like pick-up stix, but with a stronger game element and occasionally a tactical decision to be made.
  4. Are You A Werewolf? Only played one game, since we had a long drive home. 2 werewolves in town, and the villagers managed to lynch them on days 1 and 2!
We're off to Day Two of Gwen Con Ate, where-in I will host several rounds of Blank White Cards, and play in a couple of RPGs.