South Park Me

Games I Will Never Run: The Ten Thousand

The PCs are a group of American soldiers in modern-day Iraq, not special ops but regular Joes (and Janes), reservists waiting for their tour to end. They are close to that date when their unit is suddenly ordered to assault an insurgent stronghold 70 klicks north of Al-Hillah. The unofficial word is that the bad guys have access to some kind of biological weapon which they plan to release on Baghdad, and there are a bunch of black ops eggheads attached to the PC's unit as escort for a rumored counter-agent codenamed ANABASIS. That's all the PC's know before they launch the assault, the insurgents release their weapon, and everything everywhere literally goes to hell.

The PCs wake up in an abandoned Battalion Aid Station or in the smoking remains of a crashed medevac chopper. Their last memory is of a bright light emanating from the insurgents' complex and the eggheads opening the ANABASIS container. Whether it is a hospital orderly feasting on the open skull of a wounded soldier or a medevac pilot stumbling around with unnatural purpose after being decapitated by the chopper's main rotor, it is immediately obvious that the dead no longer stay dead and crave the life of the few still remaining alive. They seem to be temporarily immune to the virus, perhaps due to their proximity to ANABASIS when it was released. Once they flee their immediate surroundings and are able to raise communications, it becomes apparent that the Virus has reached everywhere in the world. Out of the 150,000 American troops deployed in Iraq on land and sea, there are perhaps 10,000 left alive. They are alone, surrounded by both the undead and whatever hostile insurgents who have not been "infected", and whatever contact they can make back home is sporadic, dying, and full of bad news. But there is an American destroyer waiting at Trabzon, free of infection and waiting to pick up any survivors that make the long march to the sea.

For those that didn't catch the references already, this a zombie game based on the march of the Ten Thousand, a group of Greek mercenaries that were left stranded in the middle of Persia in the 5th-century BC, having to march through hostile territory back to the sea after the Persian leader who hired them died in battle. Their story was chronicled by the Greek general Xenophon in his work Anabasis. I figure this to be an All Flesh Must Eaten game, but any zombie-friendly system would do. As for the source of the virus, it could've been an old Soviet experiment found by the Taliban and smuggled out of Afghanistan for maximum carnage in Iraq (or you could just ignore the Anabasis references and set the game in the Hindu Kush); or the ANABASIS package was the actual culprit, a designer virus targeting genetic markers American intelligence identifies with "insurgent ethnicities" as a final attempt to "win" the war, with the "insurgent stronghold" being GRAY FOX types impersonating terrorists to place the blame on Al-Qaeda; or a lost ritual to Ubbo-Sathla found by insurgents among the rediscovered annals of the Hashshashin... whatever floats your boat.

And as for why I'll never run it... well, some might consider it in bad taste as hundreds of thousands to over a million people have died in that war, and continue to die to this very day. I rather do, but more honestly, I'd never consider it because, if I were to run this at a convention, there's a decent chance there might be an Iraq War veteran or two at the table. I'd feel very uncomfortable, not so much for using their personal history as the backdrop for a silly zombie game, but moreso because everything I'd have to say about the environment, what kind of resources would be available, to just how characters might react in certain situations, would be obviously bullshit. I can roleplay an orc because it doesn't exist and exists only in fantasy. I can roleplay a Nazi because there are acceptable cinematic examples of Nazis and a screen of "fantasy" can be placed between the real Nazis and the face-melting Tohts (with that screen being moved as close to or as far from reality as your historical awareness and sensitivity allows). But there just aren't enough cinematic versions of the Iraq War to play against... yet.
South Park Me

DunDraCon 2009

It was a good con, with only one game where I didn't have fun (and that was entirely my own fault). I picked up Pagan's new Mysteries of Mesoamerica in the dealer's room, and snagged a book on artifacts for the Masterbook Indiana Jones RPG system and the Weird Wars: Blood on the Rhine occult WWII game. Food was dirt-cheap, as the only time I paid more than five bucks for a meal was when I left the buffet table for nearby restaurants. There was an odd snafu where the power went out in the hotel just hours before my game started on Friday evening, but power was restored in time and I suffered no setbacks (though several folks got shafted as the game shuffler database was corrupted). Here's what I played:

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All in all, I had a good time, and got into plenty of decent (if not awe-inspiring magnificent) games. There is an Endgame mini-con coming up, and then there'll be my first and my favorite - KublaCon - in May.
South Park Me

Endgame Mini-Con January 2009

Long time no post, I is the suxxor, etc, etc...

This year's Mini-Con at the game store Endgame in Oakland was pretty good. I accidentally ended up in two Spirit of the Century games, didn't get into the Call of Cthulhu game I tried to sign up for, and instead played in a very CoC-esque horror game (i.e. pretty much everyone died in the throes of insanity). I also dropped some ducats on Pagan Publishing for one of their latest releases.

The Demon Run (Spirit of the Century) - A very humorous high-octane adventure of a whacky spaceship crew trying to win an interstellar race where the the winner gets bragging rights on a galactic reality show and the loser gets vaporized into debris (by a mandated time of the slowest ship being detonated remotely every half-hour). This one was played entirely for laughs, which I got into the spirit of by running my mad scientist as Walter from Fringe. We didn't use a lot of Spirit of the Century rules, but that was pretty much beside the point as everyone at the table was an experienced SotC player and we were all really just trying to make each other laugh, to which we succeeded admirably.

City in the Skull (Spirit of the Century) - I didn't plan to sign up for this game, as it was another SotC game run by the same GM. These Mini-Cons are often the best (and sometimes the only places in the Bay Area) to try out uncommon games, so I like to keep my schedule varied; and, I didn't want the GM to get the idea I was stalking him. Yet the Endgame staff inadvertently signed me up for both, and I was glad as this was a blast. The scenario used the standard pulp-era setting, and I played an Iraqi driver/pilot/assistant to an archaeologist who'd unearthed a crystal-containing skull that ended up as a portal to the Plateau of Leng. I got to crash-land a seaplane, machine-gun a pterodactyl, and listen as my Iraqi accent quickly degenerated from an understated Sayid to a campy Apu. Although it was a great deal of fun, I kinda feel bad as I went into the game intending to play my character straight and not get all outrageous. Ever since I listened to the first episode of the gaming podcast Narrative Control and found out that a GM felt I nearly ruined his Wilderness of Mirrors game because I played my role too campy, I've been trying to see if I could tone myself down when it calls for it, and have yet been unable to do so. Do I have fun going a little off the reservation and injecting humor into my characterizations? Yes. Does everyone else at the table have fun when I do that? They seem to, and I often get compliments on it. But unfortunately, I can't shake the nagging feeling that I'm spoiling other's fun.

The House on Raven Hill (Basic Role-Playing) - I failed to make it past the waitlist for a Call of Cthulhu game, and was heading for home when I ran into my regular gaming bud Matt Steele and was informed that I had indeed not played in the game he was running that evening. So I took part in that, a B-movie grindhouse horror game of teens and young adults with dark secrets trying to spend the weekend at a creepy house in the Arizonan desert, with the last one surviving to end up with the keys to the manse. It started slowly and I was worried that we wouldn't reach an ending before the store closed, but things kicked into high gear in the last hour and then satisfyingly went off the rails as doors started eating some while pictures abducted others. Good times, and it was nice to finally see the full-bore version of the new BRP system in action, with all the bells-&-whistles the collected rulebook adds to the venerable guts of CoC.

Loot - I picked up Final Flight by Pagan Publishing in the hopes that it would provide some useful rules and inspiration for my upcoming DunDraCon game, which will also involve a pre-WWII era passenger plane and cthulhoid horrors: not so much with the rules, but it did give me some ideas for my game. It's ten dollars for all of 28 pages, which leaves little meat on what seems a pretty barebones scenario. Nevertheless, the scenario, although straightforward, looks solid, and I ended spending more that day on some teeny-tiny excuse of a crab salad at a froo-froo restaurant near the store. I also skimmed through Pagan's new Mysteries of Mesoamerica, which looks really REALLY good. Its respectable pagecount is split in half between real-world data on Mexican and Central American religions, archaeological exploration, and Call of Cthulhu linkage, and the other half consisting of three short but well-detailed scenarios. That and the copious amount of Blair Reynolds' gorgeous and evocative art made it very difficult to not simply buy it there and then, but I figure I can wait till DunDraCon as that's only three weeks away.

All in all, it was a very fun con, and I was glad to hear that Endgame plans to do four of these a year now. I was rather surprised at the almost complete lack of Good Omens people, who normally populate the Mini-Cons but this time, besides a few, I didn't really see them in attendance as GM's or players. Still, there were enough good games and plenty of solid players, and, the truth is that, on a consistent basis, this was probably the best group of players I've gamed with at a con in quite awhile.
South Park Me

ConQuest 2008

I'm actually unsure about what the proper name of this convention is anymore (all the con materials referrred to it dually as PacifiCon and ConQuest). Another change was the location, which moved from a nice Marriott in Burlingame to an equally-nice (if maddeningly laid-out) Marriott in Santa Clara. Yet the biggest change was in the con itself, which has finally seemed to regroup from the change of ownership that rendered the RPG section of the con as amateurishly ad-hoc. Having gotten at least the illusion of a game-shuffler system with advance sign-ups like DunDraCon and KublaCon, as well as holding all the RPGs in their own seperate rooms, there is now no systematic difference between ConQuest and its more established brethren. About the only thing keeping ConQuest from reaching a similar level of greatness is for more GM's to attend and run games, and I feel that'll will grow in time.

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Anyways, to sum up: good con. I look forward to next year's ConQuest, something I haven't been able to say in many years.

Me Again

D&D 4th Edition... hypothetically

So let's say that I have a "friend" who may have hypothetically downloaded the illegal PDF's of the new Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual, because said "friend" thought spending over one hundred dollars to check out a system they're very unsure they'll ultimately use is an absurd waste of money (although I am sure this "friend" would be very willing to pay out for the hardcover books if this "friend" ends up running more than a single one-shot of 4th Ed). And said "friend" may have spent the last couple of days reading through the Player's Handbook, and skimming over the rest. What might this "friend" think of the new system?

A tentative "meh". Not a "meh, this thing sucks but maybe there's a glimmer of hope here" but more of a "meh, the system works but the feel is all wrong for what I want to do with a fantasy setting although there is enough interesting stuff to make it worthwhile to edit it into what I want from it."

  • The core system is very streamlined and intuitive, and should be easy enough to pick up within a single session. I know this from experience based on the 4th Ed games I played at KublaCon.
  • Characters of all classes have a deep set of abilities that allows everyone to have an almost equal hand in combat, meaning that no one need sit by the sidelines waiting to heal characters or for the combat to end to recharge their spells.
  • The dynamic of healing surges, action points, and the difference between at-will, encounter, and daily powers all combine to create a game that gives players a great deal more tactical control over how their characters carry out their action, and this should trickle-down into some degree of narrative control.
  • The model of "points of light in a world overrun by dark forces" makes for a more interesting campaign setting than the usual "you start in a tavern and go from place to place killing things and taking their stuff".
  • Although the core dynamic is simple and easy-to-learn, it is instantly burdened with the plethora of special conditions that power many of the feats and powers. Even with just the core books, there's a lot to keep track of but it should be easily manageable; however, once WotC begins bloating the system with splatbooks, I'm sure that is going to change.
  • That deep set of abilities for all characters also means that no class feels as special as it did in previous editions. When most if not all characters can stand well in combat, heal others, etc. it becomes easy for the characters to become faceless and homogenized based on their stats alone. That last bit is why I don't really think this is much of a con, but I can see it being a culture shock for veteran D&D players.
  • Based on my experiences at KublaCon, it is very difficult to bring a character to a final death as long as they are near still-living comrades (particularly ones with healing powers) and not fighting against unusually bad odds (and have no way to run away). This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the system balances it out by making enemies with greater-than-expected hit points (unless they are mook-like minions) which bogs combat down into a long slugfest of attrition.
  • The art is still the angular "SCA gone wrong" with lots of buckles fetish motif of 3rd Ed, rather than the pseudo-medieval Tolkienesque look of past editions. I list this as a con as I really like the Tolkienesque look, even if it is done-to-death.
  • And my biggest con: starting characters are simply too powerful. I don't mean in stat terms, which is neither here-nor-there, but in terms of their status in the bad-ass hiearchy. A 1st level character in 4th Ed has almost as many powers, feats, and abilities as a starting character in Exalted, where the characters are meant to be superhuman combat monsters capable of levelling whole cities and punching the moon with their big toe. Whereas in previous editions, you were meant to be, at best, a veteran soldier or a novice spellcaster not too long from their bumpkin village roots, in 4th Ed you begin as a great hero with fantastic abilities. Now I suspect in play this does not seem so, as the low-level antagonists also have high hit points and access to superhuman feats; but that actually only makes the situation worse for me, as now you have characters that only look like ultimate bad-asses that end up taking forever to slaughter a measly kobold or two. I like the idea of starting small and building oneself into a paragon full of wonders, but 4th Ed wants to skip that part and get directly into the bad-assitude. That's not necessarily a bad thing (and, as some folks on web forums have pointed out, makes 4th Ed a good choice to revive the old Birthright campaign setting), but that's not really what I've been looking for.
So all in all, "meh"... hypothetically.
South Park Me

ODH Update

Not a lot of progress made over the past couple weeks, due primarily to KublaCon and the usual post-con lethargy. I spent all last week working on my scenario for the con, the con itself took all of the Memorial Day weekend, Tuesday was my weekly Shadowrun game, Wednesday I tried (and failed instantly) to start a regimen of diet and exercise, Thursday I got caught up in reading new comics and watching the Lost season finale, Friday I was lazy and watched Atonement (probably a good novel but pedestrian and pretentious as a film), and yesterday I was enthralled by coverage of the Democratic Party Rules & Byways Committee. In between all that, I did organize the Karotechia rough draft into a position where I can begin writing, which is what I plan to do over the next week. I am going to be more realistic, and set a goal of completing at least one of the pre-Karotechia sections (Ariosophy, Thule Gesellschaft, Ahnenerbe) by next Sunday.

My secondary goal will be to write up my Toteninsel scenario for publication. I don't plan to put it up anyplace other than the Delta Green: 1939-1945 website, but I do want it to be written in such a way as it'll be most useful for anyone that wants to run it.
South Park Me

KublaCon 2008

This past weekend I attended KublaCon, one of the three main gaming conventions in the Bay Area. It was mostly solid, with one major hiccup. The only loot I snagged from the dealers was some dice (and a few glow-in-the-dark zombie minis from a boardgame supplement I won, having thrown away the rest of the game). I played in two demo games of the forthcoming 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, another demo of the forthcoming Hunter: the Vigil game from White Wolf, a game of Rippers from the Savage Worlds system, and what was advertised as a "modern supernatural" LARP which seemed entirely like Changeling.

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So in summation: D&D 4E is mostly more of the same (both good and bad), Hunter: the Vigil looks awesome (without violating my NDA, I will say that all Delta Green fans with any fondness for the nWoD system must check this game out), not all LARPs are fun, Savage Worlds is still a kick-ass system that I wish had more thickly-realized campaign settings, and KublaCon remains my favorite. Now on to GOcon in July!
South Park Me

ODH Update

Whisperer in Darkness and The Haunter in the Dark have been added fully to the chronology, but I punted on the rough draft of the Karotechia chapter. As I got into it, I decided that it was silly to write a rough draft quoting almost verbatim the Karotechia information in the Delta Green books, as I'm going to have to rewrite all that anyways. Instead, I'm going to try to make a full-out and proper rough draft, consisting of all the research and most of the ideas I've developed on the Karotechia. This is a much more ambitious undertaking, but I hope to get the early sections on Ariosphy, the Thulegesellschaft, and the Ahnenerbe done in the next couple of weeks.

Speaking of which, next weeked is KublaCon, so they'll be no update till the following Sunday, June 1st. I don't expect to get much work done this coming week, as my time will be entirely focused on prepping my scenario for the convention. Still, my goals for the following week are to get those early sections of the Karotechia written into a rough draft.
South Park Me

ODH Update

I spent this past week mainly organizing stuff. I transferred my chronology (which currently starts in 1855 with the arrival of the Green Men of Agartha to Japan and ends in 1969 with the opening of Club Apocalypse in New York) into MS Excel, which is not the best format available but does allow me to filter the 916 (and growing) entries. I've also started go through my Karotechia notes, which are a complete mess. I wasn't able to add Whisperer in the Darkness to the chronology, but I hope to get that done this week. In addition, here are the other goals for the next week:
  • Continue working on the chronology. Besides Whisperer, I'm also hoping to add The Haunter in the Dark.
  • Continue organizing my Karotechia notes. I think I might be able to complete this task this week.
  • Write a rough draft of the Karotechia solely from material in the gaming books. I might be able to add the extra material from the fiction as well.
In the next two weeks, I'll also be doing some serious edits to my convention scenario Toteninsel, which I will be running at the KublaCon gaming convention in Burlingame (just south of San Francisco). This will be the last convention I'll be running it at, and when that's done I'll edit it  for non-pregenerated characters and put it up on the Delta Green: 1939-1945 website.