Coming in for a soft landing

Hey, friends! Well, I’m back from spa…I mean…Orlando. It was a whirlwind trip wherein I brained a lot, drank a lot of coffee, pretended to be a ten year old aboard the ISS, wore funny hats, played with Lego, drove a small Italian car at very high speeds on the 408 around Orlando, and made some pretty great contacts. There was more to it, of course. Would you like to know more? Of course you would!

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In the Town that Walt Built…

Pretty as an airport.

Never in the history of mankind has anyone described something as “Pretty as an airport”, and with good reason.

(Note: I did, in fact, write this in the air. Sadly, I couldn’t actually figure out how to post it from there, so you get it from my comfy room in downtown Orlando. Enjoy.)

Well hey there, friends! So, here I am, somewhere around 25,000 feet over Ohio in a cramped, oversold 757 speeding south to Orlando. Now, truth be told, I don’t care much for Florida. In fact, my opinion on the whole state can pretty much be summed up by Bugs Bunny and his giant saw. Having said that, I’d suffer all kinds of indignities for this trip, including sitting behind an incredibly obese, red-faced, middle-aged meathead with his seat back aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way reclined, encroaching on what little space is available to me for work. But I digress. Anyway, here I am on my way to the Sunshine State to talk about space. Yep, tomorrow is the day join some of the greatest minds of our generation to talk about what to do with the International Space Station. Crazy, right? I mean, seriously, it’s like a reverse of the “not my job” segment on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. You know, where a bunch of radio dorks invite someone super important and accomplished onto their show to ask them ridiculous questions about the history of astrology or butts or whatever strikes their fancy. In Orlando, it’s going to be all this brain power, all these eminent scientists and engineers and rocket surgeons and thinkers….and me. A dude who writes about spaceships and giant robots for a living. I’m not going to complain, though. Because, seriously, I’m super stoked about it. Honestly, this is as close to being an astronaut as I’ll probably ever get, and being an astronaut was the end-game of my whole life plan when I was in fifth grade. That was a good plan too, man. Waaaaaaaaaaaaay better than the Cylon’s plan. Good grades, Air Force Academy, flight school, F-16 pilot (I’ve always had a soft spot for the Viper, but now I’d probably rather be an A-10 driver), major by the age of 36, then bam!, astronaut time. But then reality set it, it turned out I was terrible at maths, then what with the distractions from girls and RPGs and model airplanes and books about dragons and obsessively reading about aircraft and all I got kind of sidetracked and here I am. I guess I don’t have any complaints, though. Hell, in hindsight, I’d have made a terrible military man what with my low tolerance for bullshit and even lower tolerance for authority. Anyway, so, yeah. Gonna talk about Space. I’ll write more about it tomorrow night after the conference, give you guys a taste of what went on, then probably do a larger post about it next week sometime in between writing about Orks, SPEHS MARINES, and future-past wild west demon apocalypses. So, stay tuned. This should be pretty good. You know, if I don’t just break down and start babbling about space like the Space Core.

Two Great Tastes that Taste Great Together

What the hell is this? Awesome, that’s what.
So, today’s post isn’t going to be very long or insightful, ’cause I’ve got Rogues and Traders to write about. I’ve got something on my mind though, and that’s the time-honored tradition of the mash-up.

I love a good mash-up. I love the juxtaposition of disparate settings or technologies or ideas to make something new. That’s why I made AEGIS vs. SPIDER. It’s why I like the idea of robbing a train with a goddamned spaceship and why I will always love Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. I mean, it’s Cadillacs! And Dinosaurs! That’s an awesome story that writes itself. A well done mash-up, like Firefly, can make you look at some careworn ideas, say space opera and western serials, in a new light. Getting your flavors mixed, as it were, stretches the creative muscles and presents previously unknown questions and answers to game masters and writers alike. So tell me, Gentle Readers, what are your favorite mash-ups? What do you like in a good one, and which ones do you think have failed miserably?

PS: I’ll probably expand on this at a later date, but right now, seriously, I’ve got deadlines to keep.


Man, the costume contest was intense this year*

Okay, here it is finally. Now that I’ve been able to catch up on sleep and unpack everything that happened, here’s my post about GenCon 2010. Let me preface this by saying that this is from my point of view, and I’m just some opinionated smartass with a ‘blog. I am, in no way, objective or unbiased and I implore you not to assume in any way that this is real journalism. If I miss stuff here, it’s because I missed stuff at GenCon, and I wasn’t going to pretend that I was a really real reporter with a fedora and a little card that read “press” in my hatband. So, keeping that in mind and without further ado, here’s my report!

After a long and perilous ride from North Carolina to Indy, and a fitful night in a bed built for an eight year old girl at my man Zach Houghton’s place (yes, the Zach Houghton of RPGBlogII), I rolled into the convention center after a delicious breakfast at Patachou to get my press pass. The ladies in the press room were helpful and attentive, and after signing a whole bunch of paperwork I got my badge and I was off and running. Now, let me tell you, this was my first GenCon since ’08 when I was with Palladium. Back in ’08 the attendance seemed a little, I don’t know, anemic. Not this year, though. The dealer hall was packed. Packed I say! I heard that attendance was over 30,000 people, which is apparently a record for GenCon. I believe it, too.

Anyway, the dealer hall looked great. Seemed like everyone important was there. WotC seemed a bit subdued, with nothing major to release and a smaller booth than normal. Fantasy Flight’s booth was roughly eighteen square acres in the middle of the hall, where they had their retail part on one side of an aisle, and on the other was a huge game area where slaves smiling employees demoed FFG’s fine selection of board games all day. In the broiling heat. While chained to their tables. I sat in on a demo of Descent ran by my editor Sam, and it was hilariously awesome. It’s mainly this comic as a board game, which I whole-heartedly support. Privateer was hopping, their demo area is always packed since they’ve got great games. Instead of their steaming Iron Lich they had a giant monster out front in honor of Monsterpocalypse. Hopefully some day they’ll get back to the Iron Kingdoms RPG. That will be a great day. In all, the hall was great and there was tons to do and see save for one glaring exception, White Wolf.

White Wolf didn’t have a booth so much as they had a scene. Their tiny little corner tucked back by the heads was tarted up to look like the shabbier kind of New Orleans opium den. Supposedly this was in support of an upcoming product having to do with the Big Easy, but you could have fooled me since there wasn’t any product. Right, they didn’t have a single book for sale. Not one. They had a DJ though! And (shitty) beer! And a faux edgy, spooky ambiance that was ruined by the hall’s bright-ass lights and the neckbeards milling around in their utili-kilts breathing heavy on the gothy booth girls. Way to go, White Wolf. Seriously, I’ve seen better room sets in a LARP for crying out loud.

After lunch I sat on a panel with Sam discussing Rogue Trader, which was pretty cool. After that I met up with Matt Forbeck, who is a pretty cool guy and a great game writer. He was sitting on a panel called “Writing in the RPG Industry” and was joined by Bryan Tillman and his afro, Owen K.C. Stevens, and Jeff Tidball. Once the panel was over, I had to hurry to grab a snack and a coffee since I had a hot date to make. I’d been invited to the Ennies by the FFG guys! Now, I’d never been to the Ennies before, and I’ll admit that I’d heard some uncharitable things about them in the past. The ceremony itself was very nice, though. A guy came out on stage in nothing but a towel and did a riff on the Old Spice guy, which was hysterical. I have no idea how he fit his huge balls in that towel, I certainly wouldn’t have had the stones to do that, no matter how funny. There were some great celebrity presenters like Stan!, Margaret Weis, and Monte Cook (who looks about fifteen years old), and in all it was a fun night. The results of this year’s Ennie Awards have been discussed at length already, suffice it to say that Paizo swept with Pathfinder. However, many other very deserving games like Shadowrun, Diaspora, Eclipse Phase, and Victoriana won awards, and Fantasy Flight won silver for Fan Award for Best Publisher, so it wasn’t a total rout. 

Once the awards were all given out and there was sufficient milling around and congratulating everyone, Ross and Sam and I and a bunch of other great FFG writers and designers all decamped to Scotty’s Brew House for some late night burgers and beer. On the way, Ross asked me a seriously loaded question about what I’d do with Robotech if it were my property, and we got into this great discussion about high-concept, feral children, and giant robots. After a very nice time of talking games and drinking our faces off, we all split up and headed back to our respective hotels. I, having missed my ride back to Zach’s because he wanted to get home right after the Ennies, slept on the floor in an undisclosed location, but it was totally worth it.

I got up surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for having slept on the floor, and made it to a pre-con meeting with Sam about some rewrites I have with time to spare. Saturday was busier than Friday of course, with the added greatness of the costume contest. Now, I’m not really what you’d call a fan of cosplay, but there were some great costumes there. A couple dressed as The Joker and Harley Quin (and she in a vinyl outfit), the requisite nubile young women in chainmail bikinis, a dude in a great Mad Max/Road Warrior costume, and a pair of siblings, both under four years old, who were rocking excellent Mario and Luigi costumes. My personal favorite, though, was a dude dressed as, I shit you not, the Duck Hunt dog. Seriously! My word is bond. He was coming down the elevator and as one part of my brain dismissed him for a goddamned furry, another more astute part said, “Wait a minute, what’s he got in his hand? A duck. A wood duck? Wait, two wood ducks? Hooooooooly shit!”  

So, yeah. Aside from the costumes, Saturday was more of the same. I spend the majority of the time talking games at booths with publishers, kissing hands and shaking babies and passing out business cards like crazy. I met some great people, like John Nguyen and Sean Callaway from Dream Pod 9. I didn’t get to make it to any panels, as my day was taken up with shmoozing and seeing old friends like Chris Perrin and Jim and Dianne Brown and Lonnie Langston. Speaking of Chris Perrin, his new awesome giant robot smash-em-up game Mecha is out and sold like crazy during GenCon. He and his partner Mark Reed even got a copy into the hands of Wil Wheaton, who seemed suitably impressed. You should ask Chris about that story, though. I don’t want to steal his thunder. I spent my meager dealer hall budget on a big pitcher of dice from the Chessex Booth, a copy of Cthulhu 101 by Ken Hite (which, by the way, won a well deserved Gold Ennie for Best RPG Related Product), and this here sticker for the Saturn.

Anyway, after a long day wherein I spent all my money and talked my voice out, I scooted back to Scotty’s with Jim, Dianne, Lonnie, and young Connor who was sporting an excellent Horton Hears Cthulhu t-shirt, which I will surely be getting for Katya. Now, Scotty’s seems like a typical meathead sports bar kind of place that I typically wouldn’t be caught dead in. During GenCon however, it’s a nerd-o-rama. They had a special GenCon menu and played nerdcore movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings on their huge flatscreen jumbotrons in the dining room. When we got there Saturday night, elements of the 501st Imperial Legion were there, with special appearances by Lord Vader and a sand person whose rifle was made out of an old Mosin-Nagant 91/30! We finally got sat after a long-ass wait listening to a frankly terrible wannabe nerdcore rap group singing awkward songs about D&D and Mega Man. Once inside, we were blessed with a showing of, and you’re not going to believe this Gentle Readers, Ice Pirates! I mean, holy crap Ice Pirates! I couldn’t have been happier. Finally, it was time to head back to Zach’s. I said goodbye to the Browns and Lonnie and his buddy, packed in the minivan and shipped back to Noblesville. 

Welp, I don’t have a lot to say about Sunday. I got up and realized that I hadn’t slept in my own bed in 12 days and that I missed the hell out of The Wife and The Kid, so I decided to pack it in and head back to Detroit. After an incredibly surreal denouement to the story where I unexpectedly ran into John Nguyen from DP9 at a Panera in Noblesville and couldn’t string a coherent sentence together due to lack of sleep and want of coffee, I headed north out of Indiana and went home.

And that was that. In my opinion GenCon was a shattering success this year, both for GenCon, the publishers and merchants in the dealer hall, and for yours truly. It looked like everyone was having a blast, I got to meet a bunch of awesome people and make some further progress into the industry, and generally had a great time. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the GenCon staff and volunteers for rolling out a pro convention this year and showing everyone a great time. Zach and Theresa Houghton for their hospitality at Chez Houghton. Michael Wolf from Stargazer’s World for putting up with me mentioning The War and being nerdy about the Fatherland. Matt Forbeck, John Nguyen, Jeff Tidball, Sean Callaway, and everyone else I met for being gracious and spending time talking to a stranger begging for work. And I’d especially like to thank the guys from Fantasy Flight for continuing to be awesome and showing me a good time like I was part of the team which, in all fairness, I guess I am. Thanks again, GenCon. I’ll see you next year.

*Image copyright Wizards of the Coast

A Comedy of Errors

Welp, they made it. Our first night of Rogue Trader was a pretty rousing success. Here’s last night’s game log. Enjoy!

For ease of reference, here are the players:

Marneus Machariel - Rogue Trader
Bors Tovon - Arch-militant
Victrus Karellius - Void-Master
Anastasia Xanatov - Void-Master
Jotham Lentillus - Missionary
Opiter Castus - Explorator

Now, I’ll let Zorak, the writer of the log and our young Missionary, tell you how it all went down.

Marneus returns home after a disastrous voyage through the warp and some wicked time dilation to find that his father is retiring, and the family wants him to have Solo Drakban so he can show them what he’s made of. He’s done a few basic courier-type runs to shake the ship down, and now he’s been sent to Footfall. The mission: meet with a guy, who has some stuff for the ship.

Marneus has Drakban parked in the mooring area while the bridge crew fly to the rock where the meet is to take place. Anastasia and Victrus remain on the shuttle, while Marneus, Bors, Opiter, Jotham, and Seneschal Cornelius, an old family functionary, cheerfully blunder into a trap. With the trap sprung and Cornelius dead, A mob of eight thugs give chase seeking to do bad things to us. Running through a crowded street, Bors deploys his heavy bolter and puts on an exhibition of firepower, generating substantial panic among the bystanders. Opiter sets up overwatch with his bolter. Marneus asks Anastasia to prepare for hasty takeoff, and Jotham runs ahead to try to set an ambush with his flamer. The enemy boss facepalms the nearest civilian, exposing him to Opiter’s fire, and ends up getting pasted badly – the third bolter shot effectively amputates his leg. Opiter claims first kill by a PC. The fire toward us actually intensifies as the bad guys’ rage increases. Their return fire hits Bors and Opiter, bloodying both, but not causing any critical damage.

Meanwhile, back at the ship, Anastasia and Victrus fail perception rolls. It surprises them a lot when someone shoots the viewport, which starts to show a spiderweb of cracks. Victrus investigates and sees a guy in a dockworker’s coverall spraying the shuttle’s hatch with a bolter. Victrus’ return fire suppresses him. Anastasia struggles to expedite the startup sequence. The situation deteriorates as another bad guy comes around the shuttle, firing yet another automatic weapon, forcing Victrus to duck back into the hatch. Even so, Victrus gets nicked.

Bors, seeing the crowd thinning out, decides to engage properly. He finds a decorative buttress and uses it to brace his heavy bolter, taking aim to set up some extreme hate-death next round. Opiter ducks behind a delivery truck and puts two rounds each into two guys. The first guy loses his arm at the shoulder, spraying blood and shoulder bones everywhere. The second guy also loses an arm, and in this case, his severed arm begins twitching and freaking out any perceptive bystanders. Good call on the running away, innocent civilians! Marneus joins the fight with his laspistol but fails to impress. Jotham’s attempt to set up an ambush is failing dismally, but fortunately the bad guys decide that it’s better to run before the properly braced heavy bolter comes into play.

At the shuttle, Victrus’ return fire forces the nearer bad guy to duck again. Sadly for the foe, he ducks behind the engines. Victrus tells Anastasia over the vox to spool up the engines, which deliver unto the bad guy such a vast cleansing flame that Jotham, had he seen it, would have died of envy. Of course there were two bad guys, but bad guy number one is still un-jamming his weapon. When he finally pops back up, Victrus has him dead to rights, and blows a big ol’ hole in his stomach.

Back in the street fight, Opiter tries to hotwire the delivery truck, but gets a nasty shock for his pains, and gets blown out of the cab, smoking and unconscious. The local law draws closer. Marneus tries to hotwire the same truck, and can’t. Bors wakes Opiter up. Marneus moves to plan B: step out into traffic with a power sword and a pistol, and demand that the oncoming car stop. Fear: delivered. We make the youthful driver of the delivery truck sufficiently terrified that he drives us to the docks.

At the shuttle, port control demands that we shut down, but Anastasia patches the Lord Captain through and he successfully commands them to free his shuttle. Sadly they don’t speak for port security, who surround the shuttle and insist that the crew vacate the craft. The shuttle crew refuse to comply. When the landing party arrive, the standoff continues, with port security growing increasingly upset. Marneus gives him some attitude, and they stand down. Victrus opens the hatch and we board the ship. Yay, we got away with it! Except that the Lord Captain seems upset about his shuttle window.

As we travel through the outer system, Jotham conducts funeral services for Seneschal Cornelius, and then the ship enters warp for the week-long trip back to Machariel Base. Victrus keeps an aggressive drill schedule going, beating to quarters twice a day, running out the guns, training them on arbitrary coordinates, and generally keeping the gun crews busy. About two and a half days into the warp, the navigator warns the Lord Captain of an oncoming warp storm. We try to detour around it, but by the fourth day, the whole ship feels the immanence of chaos. On the fifth day, the storm’s strength has the whole ship rocking. Marneus gets a video call from a former shipmate who’s been dead for a score of years. The line of voidmen looking for religious counseling has Jotham busy as a one-handed Eversor assassin. On the bridge, the ship is handling badly, the navigator is freaking out, and the astropath’s third eye is glowing a bit. The captain summons extra security to the bridge. Just as Victrus arrives, a massive warp current strikes the ship firmly abeam, causing klaxons to blare, the navigator to have a fatal aneurism, and bridge deck morale to plummet. Oh yeah, and the comms officer tells us that there’s something wrong with the Choir. In fact, there’s a containment alarm for the Choir room. They’ve gone mad and are ripping each other apart with their bare hands. The Lord Captain summons Chaplain Lentillus to the bridge just before the Gellar Field alarm sounds. Bad, meet worse. We’re down to 60% capacity on the starboard Gellar field, where 50% means breaking. Captain Machariel goes on the 1MC to calm the crew down. Drakban takes another hit from a warp tide, and this time Anastasia can’t hold it; the ship is thrown violently on to another tack. The Gellar field actually flickers, but Opiter manages to correct it almost instantly. Bors decides to annhilate the shrieking Astropaths, but can’t get in to the choir chambers due to the containment door. When Jotham arrives on the bridge, he tries to calm everyone down, but his lack of a human touch prevents him from delivering that reassuring touch. He and Bors go to roam the ship and dispatch any difficulties. Meanwhile, Opiter estimates he will require seven hours to fully repair navigational control.

A bridge conference results in a disturbing realization: we have no control, we don’t know where we are, and the senior remaining navigator can’t see the Astronomcon. If we drop warp, we probably won’t land in a star. Probably. We do have void navigation and propulsion intact, so as long as we don’t land inside something inimitable, we ought to be OK. Jotham finally gets to burn something. A mysterious hand the size of a grown man appeared on the gun deck during the Field failure, and while the lay preachers had done some basic praying over it, a little holy cleansing fire does it good.

We transit out of warp. We immediately get void shield warnings, but it’s just a little debris. We pick up a beacon! We also discover, by comparing star positions, that during our five days in warp, only two days passed in real space. The storm dumped us in Cinefus Maleficum, near The Cauldron. We got flung almost exactly the wrong direction. Opiter takes the warp drive down for maintenance, marooning us in real space for several hours.

Let’s Go To Work!

Meet our new art director…

–noun, plural -men.
In modern apprenticeship systems, a journeyman is a man who has a tradesman certificate that required completion of an apprenticeship. This is the highest formal rank, that of master having been eliminated; it allows them to perform all the tasks of the trade within the area where they are certified, to supervise apprentices and to become self-employed.

As the descendant of hard-working and hard-drinking Eastern European immigrants, the iconography and symbology of the “working man” resonates in me like a genetic memory. For over a hundred years the men of my family have been creators. The first generation came to America from countries that don’t evenexist anymore. They tilled the land, built towns, forged lives in a strange country, and toiled endlessly in the hellish steel mills of Eastern Ohio, Western PA, and Northern West Virginia. Their sweat, and much of their blood, tempered the steel that forms the bones of our great cities. Their sons were masons, carpenters, bricklayers, farmers, ironworkers, and steelworkers. They worked ceaselessly building this country, and in what they had of leisure time they built their own homes, made music and musical instruments, made art, brewed and distilled, and even found the time to win a war. Their sons, my father among them, were creators, too. Engineers, mechanics, contractors, welders, ironworkers, and entrepreneurs. Like their fathers, they created for work and they created for play. They built lasting things, great things, and took pride in a job well done. Now here I am, not a bricklayer or a carpenter, but a creator nonetheless. This is my inheritance, the creative impulse, an I’m here to tell you about a new creative endeavor that I’m about to embark upon.

Okay, so that may have been kind of a florid and overwrought over-serious way of pitching you my latest hare-brained scheme, but them’s the breaks. What is this new hare-brained scheme you ask? Why, it’s Journeyman Games! Journeyman. No, Journeyman. No it doesn’t have anything to do with Steve Perry, why? Anyway, Journeyman Games is this crazy idea I have that was largely inspired by both Jason Richards and my new friend Jess Hartley. What Journeyman Games is not is a full-on game company. I’m not ginning up my own rule set, I’m not hiring artists, I’m not renting a warehouse or printing books. What it is is basically a name I can work under to publish some gaming PDFs. These will be products like the original HarnMaster: fully fleshed out settings that are easily adaptable for use with any rule set. Here’s what I have so far:

A.E.G.I.S vs. S.P.I.D.E.R.
AvS is set in the early sixties during the Cold War (ask your parents, kids), and revolves around different national super-secret espionage organisations made up of men and women with minor super powers trying to keep each other in check. AEGIS, the American agency, is tasked specifically with neutralizing SPIDER, the Soviet agency (again, ask your parents.) It’s a little serious and a little pulpy, much like Ian Flemming’s James Bond novels. Some of you may have heard me talk about AvS before, and may have even played in one of my AvS games like Vladivostok Sea Monster or Prodigal Son,so you kind of get the idea.

Precinct 13
Set in a much reduced, crumbling city that was once a proud industrial powerhouse, this is a modern horror setting about specially trained police officers trying to stem the rising tide of supernatural phenomena that threatens to swallow their city whole. The cops are either possessors of paranormal talents, or have had a frightening brush with the paranormal that has marked them for life. Along with fighting monsters and investigating hauntings and exorcising abandoned churches, they also walk beats, drive scout cars and deal with regular workaday crime.

Unnamed Space Setting
This one is probably the least developed of the three. It takes place a few hundred years in the future, and is the story of the human diaspora as we leave our planet and develop our solar system. It’s largely a hard science setting, no FTL and no aliens for example. People have left Earth because there simply wasn’t enough room or resources, not due to any horrible cataclysm. The story basically revolves around the conflict between a United Earth Navy which is underfunded and undermanned, and the well fed and well equipped private military fleets that protect the numerous corporate and industrial interests in the system. Sort of an exploration of the conflicts between actual serving members of our military and private contractors like Haliburton and Blackwater.

So there you go. I want to develop these settings further, really make them breathe, then probably sell them on DriveThruRPG as PDFs for a few bucks a shot. I’m under the impression that people do this sort of thing, so I figured I’d give it a whack. Stay tuned.

Friday Mea Culpa: No Excuse Edition.

Mea culpa, mea culpa…

Okay, look. I know going over two weeks between posts is total bullshit. I know I’ve let down my tens of readers, and for that I’m sorry. I don’t really have a good excuse, not one that holds water anyway. Let’s just say that I took a little hiatus, and I’m in good company, but now I’m back. Instead of boring you with what I did on my hiatus, I’ll just skim some important points, starting with what caused my absence, the train-wreck that was Origins.

So, I had this long-ass post all ready to write when I got back from Origins, then once I started I just couldn’t finish. I didn’t have the heart, didn’t have the energy, couldn’t be arsed, etc. So, I’ll give you a taste of the opening. This is how it was to go down…

Cthulhu was my co-pilot

I have returned from the hinterlands, brothers and sisters. I’ve returned from the state of my birth with a full report on the absolute train-wreck that was Origins 2010. Marvel at tales of scheduling cock-ups! Gasp at the sheer audacity of running a major convention like a pack of Ritalin addled tweens! Look on in horror as no one shows up and attendance numbers go in the toilet! All of this and more were the wonders that awaited me when I rolled into Columbus on Wednesday night.

 Good, eh? Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that bad. It was pretty disorganized, though. I won’t go into the details, since I’m pretty over it now. I’ll say this, though.


GAMA needs to get their shit together, and pronto. Whoever is running that chicken shack needs to hitch up their pants like a big boy and make some major changes. Origins and the Gama Trade Show need to be rolled together into one big party. GAMA needs to hire a goddamned web developer who can get a navigable and easy to read website with a usable event sign-up live more than a month before the con. Origins is a good con, a great con, a con with over thirty years of good will and positive feelings attached to it by the hordes of people who usually attend. GAMA seems to be unable to leverage this into anything meaningful, and is apparently content to dither around like a pack of hens while they piss their con away.

Whew, now that that’s over, lets talk about some other stuff. In no particular order, here’s what’s been eating up my time lately.

  • Pandemic - The wife and I and our friends play a shitload of board and card games along with our dice-throwing trad games. Usually it’s Settlers of Catan or Flux or one of the brazillion versions of Munchkin, or something like that train game that Mayfair does. Recently though, we can’t get enough of Pandemic. Seriously, ZMan games hit it out of the park with this one. It’s one of the best designed games I’ve ever played. The gameplay is fast and brutal, it requires the ability to work quickly and smartly with other players, and punishes you for a lack of planning and foresight. Seriously, there are more ways to lose this game than there are to win it. Also, there’s a version where someone gets to play an invisible bio-terrorist wherein hilarity invariably ensues. Go out right now and get the game and its expansion, you won’t regret it.
  • Holiday Travel - Over the Independence Day holiday, the wife and babby and I all packed up and headed out to the west side of the state for a weekend at ace GM Munin’s folk’s place. Once there we had a hard few days of fireworks, shooting guns, going to the beach, floating down the river, playing airsoft, playing disc golf, eating a lot, playing, well, shitloads of board games, watching Zombieland, and generally having a good time. While there, I took the opportunity to talk game design with Munin, Selnaric, Namaimo, and the wife, and familiarized with Dream Pod 9′s interesting mech game Heavy Gear. Of course, that leads me to…
  • Design/Book Stuff - So, remember that novel I keep telling you about? I’m currently in the process of getting the world, which is a hard-science real world setting set 400 years in the future during the human diaspora, straight so I can write in it. I’m also toying with making some of my other settings (AEGIS vs. SPIDER and my Paranormal Police games) into ruleless settings and selling some PDFs. There’s also a non-fiction book about gaming that I’d like to write, and I’m looking into that as well.
  • Bringing up Babby - The Kid is nearly four months old now, and dadding is becoming increasingly labor intensive. Eventually we’re going to have to get some kind of daycare so that I can actually get work done during the day. Speaking of…
  • Work - I’m down to only one Rogue Trader assignment for Fantasy Flight, but more are probably on the way along with (hopefully) more stuff for Deathwatch. Despite Origins being mostly crap, I did have an opportunity to talk with Tara from Catalyst Games about some possible freelancing for Shadowrun 4, along with the guys who do Cthulhutech. Fighting the great old ones? In space? With lasers? Sign me up! I also need to get back into doing those quick essays for Demand Studios, no matter how bad their editors are.
  • Rogue Trader - Since our Shadowrun/Cthulhu/In Nomine game finally ended, now it’s time for me to run my Rogue Trader game. My man Zorak has put a Wiki together for us, wherein we’re putting our characters and ships and NPCS and lots of other background stuff to give the game some flavor, as if Rogue Trader doesn’t already have enough flavor. 

    Welp, that’s it. That’s how I spent my hiatus. Now I need to get back to, you know, writing so that I can pay my bills and buy The Kid shoes. In the coming days I’ll probably post to elaborate on all that stuff up there, or maybe I’ll just talk about spaceships and motorbikes and space-motorbikes.

    The Old Girl: Vehicles as Characters in Your Game

    “She’s not old, she’s in her prime.”
    I’m not going to lie to you gentle readers, I’m an inveterate gearhead. I love machines of all kinds, but vehicles especially turn my crank, as it were. Anything from a 50cc minibike to a five-kilometre long starship capable of blowing suns all to hell and back, you give me an owners manual and a little time and I’ll obsess over every little niggling detail from cylinder compression to the exact placement of the heads. I’ve also got this tendency to name and anthropomorphize my own vehicles, which is kind of a common quirk among gearheads. I name every vehicle I own out of a mixture of love and superstition, and feel that you can’t keep a machine running without love no matter how well you maintain it. Sadly, in role-playing games, modern and future ones at least, any vehicles the players might have are often treated as background. Sort of a simple, bite-sized deus-ex machina that magically moves players from one spot to another in game without a thought. This is a missed opportunity, though. A missed opportunity for adventure and hilarity that can come from making the vehicle itself a character.

    The “vehicle as character” gag has been used over and over again in all sorts of media. The A-Team van, KITT, the Millennium Falcon, Serenity, Galactica, HMS Surprise, James Bond’s Bugatti, Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang, all important to the characters and to the plot in greater or lesser degree. Some were simple but beloved machines, homes away from home like the Millennium Falcon or HMS Surprise. Others, like KITT or Stephen King’s killer Plymouth Christine, were full characters in their own right with personalities and motivations. Whatever their place in the story, they served not just to move the characters from one place to another, but as a unique focus for or extension of the characters’ emotions and psyches.

    Now, using vehicles and ships as characters in literature and film is easy, but what about in a game setting? How can a game master and his players make their ship or APC or whatever into a living and breathing, or should we say clanking and howling, NPC? Well, take ships for example. Galactica and Surprise and Serenity were mother and home to their officers and crew. These ships sheltered and cared for their crew, protected them from storms and enemy fire and provided a safe and relatively stable home. Now translate that to game terms. What if your players had something like that, a ship or some other vehicle that wasn’t just a conveyance but a beloved home. What would they do to protect it? How far would they go to get it back if it were lost or taken from them? Would they give all of their wealth? Would they give their lives? Good role-playing can answer those questions, and game masters should never be afraid to ask them.

    Vehicles in a game are also a great way to get your players in trouble and send them off in directions they hadn’t planned on. I’ve used haunted suits of powered armor that came alive for no reason, stow-aways aboard post-apocalyptic RVs and other contrivances to throw wrenches into my players’ plans and make their days more interesting. Hell, in Rogue Trader, the vehicle as character is an actual game mechanic! Starships in the 40K setting are thousands of years old and have seen all manner of horror and action and have nurtured hundreds of thousands of crewmen in their time. Over their careers they’ve picked up a number of quirks, which are reflected in a ship’s “complications”, her history and the various quirks of her machine spirits. Complications are chosen or rolled for during ship creation, and make for excellent role-playing opportunities. The players’ ship could have been sold out of Imperial service or been wandering the void for 10,000 years as part of a space hulk. She could be skittish, reliable, have a nose for trouble or any of a dozen other strong personalities available for the players’ and game masters’ enjoyment.

    So, give it some thought and give it a try. It’s yet another way to add some flavor to your game, and gives the players one more thing to sink their teeth into.