Monday, May 4, 2015

Another Star Wars Post: New Media About A Galaxy Far, Far Away

My daughter with Princess Leia buns in her hair,
doing a Force push at lunch today at school.
They aren't allowed to wear printed t-shirts
or else she'd have a Star Wars shirt on as well.
Pretty much everyone in the blogging community has jumped onto the "May the 4th Be With You" bandwagon, and I actually think it's kind of cool. What was once a small little inside joke has become a pretty big deal in the Star Wars world, and even vendors like Internet giant Amazon are on board, with discounts on Star Wars related merchandise for today only. I would say once something's big enough for Amazon to create a sale out of it, it's safe to say it's hit the mainstream.

Below, I list a few cool Star Wars related things you might not know about that you can check out today to celebrate the day, aside from listening to the music (as I'm doing right now) or watching the movies (as I did last night - my wife, 5 year-old daughter, and I watched Star Wars, aka "A New Hope" for the second time together).

I've written about Star Wars many times before - mentioning how the old Star Wars comics from Marvel were the first comic books I'd ever read, and how my mom really helped encourage my interest in Star Wars even though she really didn't have much interest in it herself. And I've written a few times about Star Wars Day itself, in 2012 and 2013 (last year I was out of town in New Orleans for Jazz Fest, but I did celebrate by wearing a Star Wars T-shirt that day, and I saw several other people doing the same at the concert). What, if anything, do you all do to celebrate Star Wars Day?

As mentioned, if you're looking for a few other things to do, here are some suggestions:


  • TV Shows
    • I've written briefly about of this before, briefly, but you can check out "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" on Netflix, including the 6th season that never aired on Cartoon Network - the show was canceled after Disney acquired Lucasfilm before this season could be shown. Now, I'm not one who actually likes the Prequels (I've been know to say that my daughter can watch them when she turns 18 and moves out of the house, but not before then), but this series, despite taking place between Episodes 2 and 3 of the prequel movies, is quite good. It gets into a lot of background on the Force, especially the Dark Side, and shows in a much better manner than the films how Anakin is seduced. It also includes a very strong and interesting female character in the form of Ahsoka Tano, young Jedi who starts out as Anakin's Padawan but grows into herself and her role as a commander of the Clone Armies during the war. Her character arc along is worth watching the series, but there's so much more to like
    • In the same post above I linked to where I wrote about Clone Wars before, I also wrote about the new Star Wars animated series, Star Wars: Rebels, which airs on Disney XD. Originally it took me a bit to get into, as it is much different in tone than Clone Wars, but after getting used to the change, I really like the show. Yes, it's slightly more kid-friendly than Clone Wars, but the storylines are still very engaging. Watching a somewhat rogue-like Jedi Knight, who mainly tries to hide his past as a Jedi (so as not to be discovered) and is not afraid to use a blaster or to "steal from the rich to feed the poor," but at the same time also tries to honor his past by training a new Padawan, makes for very compelling drama. This is more of a "team" show versus Clone Wars, and all of the characters are interesting. The show creators also did some great work on the main two female leads, who are every bit as tough and clever as the male leads. 
  • Comics
    • The Star Wars. For those of you who are really into Star Wars, you know that George Lucas' initial script included a lot of concepts that were very different than what ended up in the movie. I'm not talking just about things like how Luke's friends Biggs and Carrie were deleted from the silver screen. I'm talking about things like how Han Solo wasn't human, the main character was named Annikin Starkiller, and he is trained in the ways of the force by an old "Jedi Bendu" named Luke Skywalker, to fights against the Knights of the Sith. There's a lot of really different stuff in here, but as a Star Wars fan it's fun to read the original script and see how different the movie ended up being. However, even better than just reading the script is reading an 8-issue comic book adaptation with gorgeous art, to help bring it all to life. Dark Horse Comics, shortly before they lost their license to publish Star Wars comics after it reverted back to Marvel, published this comic and it's one of the more unique Star Wars pieces you'll find. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available in a digital format currently, but you can still buy hard copies of the trade paperback collection over at DarkHorse.com
    • A tale of two different post-Battle of Yavin Star Wars stories. Right around the time that Disney first acquired Lucasfilm, but before Dark Horse lost the license to publish Star Wars comics, they came out with a new title called simply Star Wars. I did a review of the first trade paperback collection (which collects of the first six issues of the series) and I had very positive things to say about it. It's a refreshing look at things that happen directly in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin, before the events of the Empire Strikes Back. I really enjoyed this series a lot. And then, randomly, after Marvel re-acquired the rights to publish Star Wars comics, what did they do? Exactly the same thing Dark Horse did! Marvel's first Star Wars comic in about 25 years was called, coincidentally, Star Wars. And it takes place immediately after the Battle of Yavin, before the events of the Empire Strikes Back. You can read my review of the first issue here. So, if you want to get a sense at how two different companies and creative teams deal with the exact same premise, this is a perfect opportunity to read two different stories. And, the thing is - they are both good - different, but good. You can read the Marvel Star Wars comics digitally on Comixology or ComicStore.Marvel.com. It's not been collected in trade yet, so you'll have to buy the individual issues.
Enjoy Star Wars Day, and May the 4th Be With You! Please do drop me a comment below, or Tweet me, Facebook me, or Google Plus me and let me know how you like to celebrate Star Wars Day or if you checked out any of my recommendations above.


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "The Asteroid Field" by the London Symphony Orchestra (from The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack)




Thursday, April 30, 2015

Catching Up on Avengers History

Tomorrow, May 1st, the newest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, will be released. The new film will explore more of the Avengers rich history as new characters like the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and the Vision join the established team of Captain America, Thor, Iron-Man, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.

As a kid, I loved reading the Avengers and while I usually became attached to certain team lineups, I always enjoyed when new members would join the team, just to see some of my favorite heroes team-up with Earth's Mightiest Heroes. I remember issue #137 in particular when X-Men's Beast joined the team and how fun it was seeing him in a different context as a member of the team.

For those of you planning to see the new movie, now might be a good time to catch up on your Avengers history. There's a new book out called The Avengers Vault, which is a great way to do that. While serious comics buffs might not necessarily learn much that's new, it's a great refresher and is also a perfect introduction for youngsters who are just learning about comics and their heroes.

I still have this issue from when I was a
kid, when the Beast joined the team.
I was giving a free comic of the book for review purposes, and wrote a review over at Comic Attack. One of the coolest things about this book is the inclusion of old "artifact" pieces, like pencil sketches, color guides, posters, and a reproduction of a vintage membership card for the Sentinels of Liberty, a Captain America fan club from 1941. These are all really cool, well-produced pieces that help to give an historical backdrop to the Avengers, and Marvel Comics in general.

I highly recommend this book - below is the first part of my review, including a link at the end where you can click-through to read the full review.

Also, don't forget that this Saturday, May 2nd, is Free Comic Book Day! Head on over to your local comic book shop and grab some free comics to explore some new characters or companies you've not heard of or read before. And, while you're there, don't forget that your shop actually does have to pay for those books - while they're free to you, they do cost the shop money. So, why not pay for a couple of other comics, a graphic novel, trade paperback, or other items while you're at your shop as a way of saying "thanks" for the effort they go to for Free Comic Book Day? One highly anticipated free comic book this year is Divergence by DC Comics, which will unveil new looks for DC's three main characters, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. In particular, given the events of what happened in Batman #40, which just came out yesterday, the Batman news should be pretty interesting.

Here's the opening part of my review of The Avengers Vault:

This spring sees the release of one of the biggest and most anticipated movies of the year, Avengers: Age of Ultron. The first movie was gigantic in terms of its box office receipts and no doubt created some new fans of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in all forms of media, from comics to animation to the silver screen.
 Just in time for the release of the movie, and to help both new and old fans to wade through the more than 50-year history of the team, is The Avengers Vault, a huge, beautifully constructed hardback book with more than 170 pages of history, biographies, art, and reproductions of posters and other items from the Avengers’ past. This is a hefty book, but it’s very approachable and is written in a conversational, but educated and informed, tone that really will appeal to new fans of the franchise without alienating those who have been following the team’s exploits for awhile.
Peter A. David, the author, really knows his stuff. Unlike some comic collection historians, David is actually primarily a fiction and comics writer, having written a long 12-run on the Incredible Hulk...  (click here to read the rest of the review)

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Saturday Night" by Ned's Atomic Dustbin


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Tabletop RPG Show & a Science-Fantasy Campaign Setting

For those of you who follow the show Tabletop, or RPG news in general, or who still have your Tiger Beat poster of Wil Wheaton hanging in your bedroom, you may have heard that Wil's very popular online show, Tabletop, has a spin-off RPG show that will premiering on the Geek & Sundry YouTube Channel on June 2nd.

Just last week, Wil announced the "cast" for the show - basically a bunch of friends of his that are in the entertainment business who also happen to be big fans of role-playing. In the same video announcement, Wil let everyone know what system they'd be using (which is a version of Green Ronin's A.G.E. System but without all of the Dragon Age trappings), and also he talked a bit about the campaign setting and world that he and some friends created for the show.

Wil's been talking about getting this RPG show up and running for a long time, and it's kind of an interesting peak into the world of entertainment and content creation how long it takes for something like this to come together. The public perception is probably something akin to, "How hard can it be? Get someone to film you playing an RPG and put it on YouTube." Lots of people do that.

Unfortunately, most of those are actually not all that fun to watch. The trick with something with a show like this is to find a group that gels together well and can be entertaining for an audience to watch when they aren't actually participating in the game itself. You have to be careful to avoid the inside jokes that are part of every tight-knit RPG group, because those don't translate well to a larger audience. You also have to be careful about the game system you use so that it doesn't have a lot of "secret" pieces that can't be filmed well (as an aside, that's why you'll almost never see a card-based game on an episode of Tabletop, unless the cards are shown for everyone to see). Other considerations are how rules-heavy the game is - for a show like this, getting bogged down in game mechanics like skills, feats, powers, and all that kind of stuff is going to slow the game down and make for a poor viewer experience.

Aside from all of that, there's also the production aspects to take into consideration, including the funding of the show itself. The idea behind these shows, partly, is a business decision from Geek & Sundry. By having popular shows like this, it brings more viewers to Geek & Sundry's other offerings on their channel, and some of those including advertising. YouTube wins because clients buy ads in the hopes that they'll be shown on Geek & Sundry's channel to capture that exact type of people they're looking to reach ("geeks" basically). That's a very simple way of explaining how it all works, but ultimately there are a lot of financial decisions behind-the-scenes that need to be worked out.

I started talking to Wil about his RPG show more than two years ago. And almost exactly two years ago, I met up with Wil and his producer-friend, Boyan, and my friend Cal, and I ran the group through a game of Savage Worlds with a home-brewed campaign setting, as a sort of "test" for Wil and Boyan to see if the game system was one that could work for the show. So, Wil and the crew were primarily focused on the game mechanics and the "viewability" of a show that would use that system. It was a lot of fun - Wil has been very cool over the years to occasionally invite Cal and me over to test potential games that might make a future appearance on Tabletop to make sure that they'll work well on the show. It also helps that Cal and I like to drink craft beer, as does Wil, and we love to inflate Wil's ego by telling him that he makes the absolute best craft beer in the entire history of the world. We mainly do this because it gets us more beer. And now Wil has also been barrel-aging cocktails so I've benefited from samples of those as well (I have yet to reciprocate to Wil because my wife and I end up drinking all the barrel-aged ones I make before I can share them). 

Wil blogged about our game from about two years ago, and I also mentioned it on my Google Plus page, citing the fiction and entertainment inspirations I had used to create the custom campaign setting I used for our short game. In a funny coincidence, it turns out that Wil also is using Thundarr the Barbarian as one of his inspirations for his game world, but it sounds like he's taking it in a completely different direction, whereas my world had a lot more influences from early post-apocalyptic fiction as well, primarily the Horseclans series and Hiero's Journey and its sequel, Unforsaken Hiero.

Ever since that game, I've slowly but surely been working on writing a campaign setting guide for the world I used for that test game, which the three people involved seemed to enjoy. One of the things I noticed a long time ago is that, while there are a ton of campaign settings for fantasy-based games like D&D, there are only a small handful of settings for post-apocalyptic games. I'd actually started working on this setting before I met with Wil and the gang that night, using the rules-light Mutant Future rules for any game mechanics I need. I'll get around to finishing it up one of these days, and then ideally can get some cool art to go along with it.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Gary's Notebook" by Lee Morgan




Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Here Comes the Judge

Well, one of them, anyway.

A few months ago, All Around Cool Cat, Random Wizard, asked me if I'd once again be willing to be a judge for the 2015 One-Page Dungeon Contest. I had a blast judging last year, and was honored again to accept.

Joining me this year are Steve Winter, who was a judge last year as well, and Teos Abadia (his Twitter is here), and once again I feel like the little kid who is sitting at the card table at Thanksgiving while the "big kids" get to drink wine and have adult conversations at the fancy table. But, clearly RW saw something he liked in my judging and that's enough for me.

For those who participated in last year's contest, or who read my blog, may notice that the list of judges is smaller this year. I think that's kind of cool, though - I'm hoping it will give the three of us a chance to chat more directly and see what we all think of the entries (after the contest, of course - we don't "debate" which one(s) should win - it's based purely on votes/points as tabulated by Random Wizard). When the judges were first announced on Twitter, appropriately enough on March 4th, we already had a bit of a goofy back-and-forth:


You can get all of the details on the contest (the rules, how to enter, etc.) by following the link above to the 2015 contest. Here on my blog, you can read my thoughts on judging last year's contest, as well as my interview with a few of last year's judges on their thoughts of the contest (which is also linked to on the 2015 One Page Dungeon Contest website, and which also impacted some of the rules for this year's contest).

You've got about 30 days to get your submissions entered into the contest, so use that time to think of a cool idea, get a good map, and make sure to check for typos and logical flow. I'm looking forward to reading some great entries again this year.

Good luck, everyone!


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "I Was Doing All Right" by Carmen McRae


Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy Anniversary

(Note: I started writing this on Wednesday 2/11 but wasn't able to finish it until today). 

Today is actually my Fourth Anniversary of blogging here at Daddy Rolled a 1. Usually I'm late on the date, and sometimes I've missed it all together. This year I actually remembered it was coming up but I have been extraordinarily busy today, work-wise, so I didn't have a few minutes to sit down and write up a post.

A few things about the past year on the blog...

My posting was more infrequent than ever since I started the blog. When I began back on February 11th, 2011, my daughter was about one and a half years old, and she was in daycare most of the week and my mom would come over to help out on the days that my daughter wasn't in daycare. Having my mom here to help was a huge help to the entire family, and for me personally it meant that on those days I could often times "work late" as I wasn't on the clock to pick my daughter up. Those days are now gone. My daughter is in Kindergarten now and my wife works pretty far away - her one-way commute takes about 60-75 minutes. So, in addition to my work-load which has gotten progressively busier, I'm also walking my daughter to school in the mornings, picking her up after school and spending a good 45 minutes to an hour helping her on her homework (since when did they start giving Kindergarteners homework?!), then putting her in the bath, helping her apply her various prescription and non-prescription lotions for her acute eczema, and then trying to make dinner and have everything ready by the time my wife gets home. All of this has cut into blogging time (and my "personal time" in general).

While my posting has been more infrequent, I'd like to think that the quality of my posts has increased quite a bit. Each year that I continue writing, I continue to feel that my "voice" is becoming more solidified and I'm less copying other peoples' styles.

I've kept up my various "topics" each day, while slightly modifying them. On Wednesdays, usually, I write about comics. Before I used to title my posts with the name of the comics I'm reviewing. Nowadays I'm much more like to give each title a "theme" about that particular book, mainly as a way of showing how you can use the setting, characters, or other ideas from that particular comic as fodder for your role-playing games. This started with my post about the "League of Anarchic Scientists," which +Charles Akins picked up and re-circulated as one of his "Best Reads of the Week!" series over on his Dyvers blog.

Speaking of comics, I've kept up my "professional" reviews over at ComicAttack and got to do some cool things in concert with that side hobby, including going to a "red carpet" premiere of Justice League: War, DC's first animated movie taking place in the New 52 continuity, and I got to interview lots of the talent and others involved in the film, including Andrea Romano who has been the main casting and/or voice directors for DC's animated projects dating all the way back to Batman: The Animated Series. I also got sent a very interesting Rocket Raccoon "costume" hoodie - click through to see pictures of me standing in my front yard dressed like a talking raccoon.

Probably the coolest "geek-related" thing I got to do last year was be a judge for Random Wizard's One Page Dungeon Contest (and be on the lookout for another post about this year's contest very soon). It was really fun to review all of the entries and come up with my Top 10 and then compare that list to the other judges, including Ernie Gygax, Steve Winter, and Sean K. Reynolds. Afterwards, I interviewed most of the other judges about their criteria, which you can read about by following the link above. I also sent out some role-playing books to two young entrants in the contest, which hopefully will inspire them to keep playing and creating.

For more "personal" role-playing, I have kept up with my Friday night Labyrinth Lord hack of S4: Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, albeit at a slower pace due to everyone's work, travel, and family schedules. And I've also kept up with my long-running World of Samoth campaign, which will be entering its 14th year this May. Lastly, I joined a game my friend Wil has been threatening to run for years. It's a 5th Edition game and we're scheduled to play every other Sunday, which in reality means we've only played one time. I did have a lot of fun, though, and hope to play in that game again soon.

This year also saw the first "contest" here at Daddy Rolled a 1, during Movember. I offered prizes to people who donated to my Movember campaign (to raise money for men's health awareness) and then mentioned their donation here on the blog, or on Daddy Rolled a 1's Facebook or Twitter accounts. A few friends entered the contest and the lucky winner, Billy, chose a copy of Of Dice and Men, which I just realized as of writing this that I never mailed to him. That will be going out in the mail shortly. 

The year 2014 wrapped up with me posting my "Daddy's Top 10 of 2014" which did generate quite a few comments (for this blog). Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of the list.

The end of my fourth year of blogging ran through January with a review of the last Hobbit movie, me asking you what was the first comic you read, and discussing some new ideas you can use in pretty much any role-playing game system or genre

Here are some stats for the past year, per Google Analytics:

  • 9,319 pageviews
  • 1.58 pages/session
  • Average session duration 1 minutes 52 seconds
  • 77.76% bounce-rate
  • 81.16% of the sessions were from English-US readers
  • 75.4% of the visits were from new visitors to the blog
Per the Blogger Stats Dashboard, two posts from the past year are now in the "All Time Top 10 Posts" in terms of views:
Over the past month, the top posts have included most of the "new" posts but also include quite a few views of my old "My Time Working with Wizards of the Coast" posts from 2011 and my post about my first visit to the Compleat Strategist in New York.

And that wraps up my latest year of blogging. I'm looking forward to another year, and hope you are, too. As always, comments/discussion are appreciated.

Cheers!

  • Hanging: Home office (laptop - finally got my old one back!)
  • Drinking: Club soda with lime
  • Listening: "Slowly" by Max Sedgley



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Rules for Tabletop RPGs

(I started this yesterday but wasn't able to finish it due to work, so I'm posting it today in lieu of my normal "New Comics Wednseday" post). 

Tuesdays were formerly reserved for my "Design Decisions" - things I decided to include or not include my on-going World of Samoth campaign, and why. I talked about various races, "bad guys," religion, magic, and classes (three posts just on classes). While there are obviously a lot of other things that go into building a campaign world, those were the main things I wanted to talk about.

So I'm going to be turning Tuesdays over now to discussing rules or ideas from a variety of different game systems that are actually really easy to incorporate into any game system, whether you're playing an OSR type game or something more "crunchy" like Pathfinder. The idea here is to share with you some ideas that you might not have seen or considered, mainly because you might consider yourself a die-hard Savage Worlds player or maybe you're more of a Grognard-type AD&D player. In any event, these are ideas that aren't intended to make players better with "cool new powers" or to add extra book-keeping or unnecessary rules. They're more about adding things that ultimately help with world-building and character development, which is what my original "Design Decisions" were about.

Today I'll be focusing on a relatively new game, 13th Age. Before all of your diehard OSR types disappear on me, have a look and see. Maybe you'll hate all of these ideas, but you won't really know if you don't at least skim through them, right?

13th Age was written by Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo, who were some of the primary creators of 3rd Edition and 4th Edition D&D, respectively. As such, 13th Age is their answer to taking the best of both systems, streamlining it, and adding in a very heavy dose of "story first" type of mentality. Lots of OSR type people seem sometimes have a negative view of a "story-based" campaign because they equate it with railroading or DM's being too invested in their worlds. I don't necessarily agree with that line of thinking, but in any case, I think the ideas below could be incorporated into a more traditional 0E or 1E type game while still keeping it focused on the "murdering hobo" type of context.

While 13th Age has a bunch of new ideas that are easy to incorporate into any game (such as the Escalation Die, which I get but I'm not 100% sold on it), I'm going to focus on three other ideas that are easy to take, involve very little rules, and therefore can be applied to pretty much any system of your choice.

"ONE UNIQUE THING." This is a pretty simple idea to get - when each player creates their character, they write down one unique thing about their character that they share with the DM. Then it's up to the DM to figure out how to work that aspect of the player's character into the overall game. The idea here is that the DM shouldn't really say "no" to anybody's idea, within reason. One example they give in the book is a player who told the DM that his halfling character was the only halfling acrobat to ever perform himself out of the Diabolists's Circus of Hell. The DM was caught a bit off-guard because he thought, "I didn't even know there was a Circus of Hell." But, he realized, "Of course there is!" and just went with the idea. Another example is a player who said that his character is the only person in the world to brew an ale that everyone enjoys - elves, dwarves, humans, goblins, and orcs alike. It's the only ale that's equally enjoyed by anyone regardless of race. That's another example of a fun thing that can lead to lots of interesting adventuring and role-playing ideas but that doesn't give a character a mechanical rules-based benefit, which is the whole concept behind this idea.

In my game, a few of my players did this way back in 2001 when we started the game, without calling it a "one unique thing" or anything like that. My friend Brian had a multi-class Cleric-Sorcerer who was a priest in the equivalent of the Medieval Roman Church. In my world, that particular faith had outlawed any form of arcane magic as being "evil" because they said it only came from demonic powers. However, Brian's character had learned early on that he had some innate arcane powers from his mother's side of the family, but he couldn't really control them that well (he was a sorcerer, so the powers came naturally, versus the way wizards learn their spells via book learning and memorization). So, Brian wrote that down and said that his character kept his arcane powers a secret (he did a lot of things like trying to pass off arcane powers as divine, because most commoners didn't know the difference anyway). But, he was always conflicted. It was a neat idea and he sort of build it up that he was the only character in the world like this (he wasn't, but as far as his faith and part of the world was concerned, he probably was). So, he was "unique" in that aspect. I worked that into the game by eventually having his superior in the church appoint Brian's character to be a member of the church's "Inquisition" and specifically tasked with hunting down heretics and bringing them to justice. "Heretics" in this case meant anyone who didn't follow the rules of the church, such as... arcane spellcasters. Lots of very interesting adventures followed from that one little thing Brian wrote on his character sheet.

"FAIL FORWARD." This is bound to cause some controversy, especially with players and DMs who prefer a more "player-skill vs. character skill" type of game. However, with careful application, I think this can even be used in a more player-skill oriented game. The idea here is that when a player's character performs an action in a relatively non-stressful context (e.g., not in the middle of battle), then a "failure" should really just be seen as a "things go wrong" rather than "it didn't work." As an example, maybe there's a locked door that a thief character is trying to pick. The situation isn't that stressful - there's no time limit and it's not in the middle of combat or other distractions. Yet, the thief fails the roll. Rather than say "the door won't open," as the DM you allow the door to open but because the roll failed that means there's a consequence. Maybe the door makes an extraordinary amount of noise when opening, signalling some monsters (that the DM hadn't originally planned on). Maybe there are now extra traps in the room beyond that weren't originally intended. Maybe now, whatever the characters find in the room beyond were also being searched for by a powerful NPC who is aware that the PCs have the items in their possession. It could be anything. The idea is, go ahead and let the thief player enter the room and use the "things go wrong" rule to create new and spontaneous adventure seeds that wouldn't have happened had the thief player succeeded on the roll.

You don't have to do this every time, of course. Sometimes a failure really is just a failure. But it can be a fun idea-generating tool. And it can also be used in "player-skill" type games. Let's say your players are searching and a room and describing how they are searching the room (there are no mechanics on rolls for this - it's all based on the players needing to somehow know how to explain exactly in detail every inch of the room they are searching and what exactly they are searching for), and they miss something. Maybe it's a clue that you as the DM put in that room, like a bad guy's diary or a letter from a foreign dignitary or something. Rather than tell the players "you didn't find anything, " you go ahead and let them find it, but as above, that comes with some unintended consequences. Perhaps they find the bad guy's diary but in so doing, maybe the bad guy knows that the characters found the diary and therefore adjusts his plans accordingly, setting a trap for them, which is something that would not have happened had they been able to find the diary without "failing forward."

"ICON RELATIONSHIPS." This one is a bit harder to explain but the gist of it is, when players create their characters for a game in 13th Age, they choose the relationship that they character has with somewhere between one and three different "Icons" who are sort of like powerful NPCs (near gods) that the characters will pretty much only interact with via the Icons' agents. Each character has three "relationship points" that they are allowed to spend on either a positive, a conflicted, or a negative relationship with the Icons. Each relationship point allows a character to roll a d6 when called about by the DM for that relationship; e.g., if a character put all three relationship points into a positive relationship with, say, "The Emperor," then the player would roll 3d6. You're hoping to roll a 6, which means that you get some meaningful advantage (in the form, typically, of help being offered by agents of that Icon, who might provide items, information, or other stuff to help with the current quest). If you get any 5s, then you "succeed" just like a 6, but with some kind of unexpected complication (almost like "failing forward," discussed above).

Each player rolls his or her relationship dice at the beginning of each session, and the onus is on the DM to somehow try to work in any 5s or 6s into that session. That could mean that a DM might have thought that a story was going a certain way based on actions that the players were having their characters take, but a roll of 5 or 6 introduces a new story element based around a particular Icon and that Icon's desires and philosophies?

Sound confusing? I'll give a more concrete example based on my own campaign world, the World of Samoth. When I went about creating my campaign world, I created a lot of organizations that had world-spanning implications - primarily different religions and cults, but also a few "orders" (kind of like a Masonic Lodge with chapters throughout the world) and some based along racial lines, etc. It was a lot to wrap your head around and in hindsight was probably a bit too much to ask my players to read through and decide how their characters fit in. But, if I were to start my campaign from scratch today, I would pattern my organizations along the same idea as the "Icons" in 13th Age and have the players put relationship dice into their relationships with the various organizations. It would be a great way to help my players have a "hook" for integrating their characters more into the world, and also would help to generate some interesting in-game ideas and also introduce some fun "wrenches" when things don't go as planned, and introducing elements from organizations that didn't seem to be involved in the particular adventure and figuring out how to insert them and still have things make sense. I personally wouldn't roll relationship dice every single session, but more just when it naturally seemed to make sense. Still, I think it's a really clever idea.

The thing I like about all three of the ideas above is that they really involve no mechanical benefits whatsoever - they aren't "rules-based" and so they can easily be inserted into any type of game, and none of them give the players any kind of unfair, game-changing powers or abilities. They're just little mini story-generating ideas, each of which manifests in a different way. Aside from the "One Unique Thing" which evolved kind of naturally for a few of my players, I haven't actually tried any of the above ideas yet, so I'm curious to hear from people who have. Post your thoughts in the comments below.

Hanging: Home office (loaner MAC laptop)
Drinking: Club soda with lime
Listening: "Back at Dawn" by Fenomenon


Monday, January 26, 2015

Victorian Era Monday: Gotham by Gaslight

Mondays I try to keep open for inspirational ideas in either the Pulp Noir or Victorian Era for your tabletop role-playing games. Both genres have a pretty big following (within our small hobby, that is), especially if you add "Steampunk" as a sub-genre of the Victoria Era.

One of the reasons I love the Victorian Era for role-playing games is how it can be relatively easily integrated into a more standard Fantasy Setting just by advancing the more typical D&D medieval timeline. The Victoria Era is right on the cusp of all of the inventions of the Industrial Revolution but there's still a sense of wonder and mystery left. There are large unexplored areas of the world still left, but with travel becoming easier, people of all cultures were starting to get exposed to new ideas, some of which included things like "magic" and the supernatural, which many people believed in.

For today's Victorian Era post, I'll be taking a slightly different, slightly more realistic approach by looking at the concept of superheroes in the late 1880s. In this case, we're talking about Batman, which I'm assuming is the first hero that would come to mind if someone asked, "What superhero might be skulking around in the late 1880?"

Gotham by Gaslight was DC's first "Elseworld" title, before that term even existed (DC Comics has gone back and adjusted future printings of the book to include the Elseworld's tag). It's really more of a murder mystery than the standard superhero fare, and that's fitting due to Batman's mantle of "The World's Greatest Detective." This book is just oozing with atmosphere and all of the trappings that go with a late 1880s Victorian setting (including a very famous murderer of the time period), but also very seamlessly weaves in all of the usual and favorite characters and settings from Batman, including Jim Gordon, Arkham Asylum, the Joker, Alfred, and more.

Art-wise, this is a fantastic-looking book with the art provided by Mike Mignola, whom you may know as the creator of the comic Hellboy (on which the movies were based). Mignola's character design, architectural renderings, and even panel layouts are all just a perfect match for writer Brian Augustyn's script, and properly set the mood and atmosphere of a late 19th Century Gotham City. It really captures the time period so perfectly and will give you plenty of visual inspiration for a Victorian Era game, whether or not it includes supers.

The current version of the story that's for sale also includes a follow-up story called Batman: Master of the Future. It's intended to be the same Batman in the same 1880s Gotham City, but the similarities of the two stories are like watching the Tim Burton Batman Films and then the Joel Schumacher ones that immediately follow them and trying to reconcile that they're all supposed to be one continuous four-movie story. Where Gotham by Gaslight is subtle in its design and depicts a grimy, greedy, Gotham that's been touched by the Industrial Revolution and grown dirtier and grittier as a result, the art by Eduardo Barreto in Batman: Master of the Future is brighter, cleaner, and more "gee-whiz" with steampunky gadgets, robots, and sky pirates. It's not a bad story and some of the steampunk stuff can be fun (and is a treasure trove for those of you who really dig playing Steampunk games) but as a follow-up to Gotham by Gaslight, it's kind of just a huge disconnect.

"The Fleetist" (Gaslight Flash)
©2013 Sillof

In November 2013, I linked to one of my favorite sites, Sillof.com, who had created a bunch of custom Steampunk Era Star Wars Figures. The same artist has also created Victoria/Steampunk Era DC Heroes using Gotham by Gaslight as his inspiration, as well as a Wonder Woman story called Wonder Woman: Amazonia which is also a Victorian-era setting but otherwise is completely unrelated to Gotham by Gaslight. He calls is the Gaslight League, and you've just got to go check it out. It's a perfect way to give you ideas of how to integrate the genres of superheroes and Steampunk/Victoria era while keeping it fun but not silly. I'm posting a couple of his figures below just to encourage you to go to his site to see the full line.

Gotham by Gaslight has received critical praise and is frequently ranked in the top Batman stories ever written. It's a perfect example of what the comics medium can do, especially when the writer and artist are working in sync like Augustyn and Mignola do. This is a self-contained story that doesn't rely on any "continuity baggage" or anything like that, so it's a perfect story to pick-up for first-time readers or people who have been away from comics for a while. It's a "one-and-done." It's also a great source of inspiration for people running or playing in Victorian or Steampunk games, and is an excellent example of integrating supers into a non-modern setting without making the aesthetics of the setting get too goofy.

"The Emerald Lamper"
(Gaslight Green Lantern)
©2013 Sillof
GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT
  • Format: 112 page full-color paperback
  • Where to Buy: If you can, try to buy this at your local comics shop. You might see some other things that you like while you're there! Use the comic shop locator to find one near you. You can also buy the digital version on Comixology, where just the original Gotham by Gaslight is available for $2.99 (you can buy Batman: Master of the Future separately). Lastly, it's available on Amazon, of course.
  • Price: The list price is $12.99.
  • Rated: Comixology has this rated at Ages 12+, but as always, you should at least skim it for yourself before decided if it's right for your kid. Your child might be able to handle it at a younger age, or it maybe be too intense for some kids.
  • More Information: Here's the official DC Comics page for the title, although honestly Wikipedia has a much deeper overview.

Hanging: Home office (loaner MAC laptop - still!)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Like I Want To" by Lisa Shaw




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