Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

When I first came to the Netherlands, I quickly began to miss many of the wonderful things of home, and few more than Thanksgiving. There's something wonderful about sitting at a table with friends and family, and getting completely stuffed on wonderful home cooking. I mean, there are other, better holidays out there, but the Netherlands celebrates them too. But Thanksgiving is uniquely American, and I missed it.

Well, Bee couldn't let her pooh be said in November, so she made it her mission to bring me Thanksgiving, and we've celebrated it every year, and our friends always pester us to know when they'll be receiving their invitation.

Bee always does the turkey, and she's managed to roast it every year with stuffing, and never undercook it or dry it out. She wraps it in bacon, and after it's done cooking, we take all the bacon/turkey grease, and make a great gravy out of it (with chicken broth, garlic and lots of black pepper). I've added candied yams to the list, which went over very well this year, and macaroni and cheese at the request of a friend. Bee finally mastered jello salad, and I quit enjoyed it myself. We also had mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, coleslaw, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.

For desert, home made pumpkin pie (again, all Bee), homemade chocolate cake (Bee) and apple pie (store bought, alas).

So here's some shots of pretty food, friends and family:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Idle Military Sci-Fi GURPS thoughts

So, as often happens with my brain, while I'm in the midst of prepping for and thinking about Wuxia and Vampire, space opera stuff pops into my head.

Mostly, I've been thinking about the climactic battle where Walter laid down loads of artillery fire, very successfully wiping out the enemy. After discussing it (peripherally) with some friends online, something occured to me: Why didn't the Quetzali infiltrators jam Walter's communications?

Seems like the reasonable thing to do. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the whole Electronic Supremacy that seems to dominate the Ultra Tech battlefield. I grasped fairly early on that in a battle where "I see it, it dies" is the rule, not being seen is how you survive. But putting this into effect has been an another thing entirely.

I simplified alot of the Forward Observer rules in the last fight. Next time, I think, I'm going to make the following changes:
  • Artillery is always an option. With orbiting warships and massive, mobile railguns that can easily fire over the horizon at enormous speeds, the players should be able to call down Artillery no matter where they are. A force that is so beaten it no longer has access to artillery generally surrenders (or goes guerilla)
  • Forward Observer rules work as normal, so it takes a very long time for the shot to land. But artillery is much more powerful: either a single 100ml Thermobaric charge, or 1d6 64mm Thermobarics, or one really big beam blast or kinetic kill missile from orbit (which comes down really fast). This are more like fight-finishers than a supplement for the characters' own fighting.
  • Getting that Forward Observer roll off requires control of the electronic battlefield. In normal cases, this might be no problem, but when electronic warriors are on the field (infiltrators), they'll automatically try to jam your comms (just like they jam your radar). The "battle" then becomes about rooting out the infiltrators and/or defeating their jamming so you can call in your artillery strike before they do.
I suspect this will add a new layer, the sort of multi-dimensional conflict that I think should epitomize UT combat. The officer struggles to beat the jamming while the soldiers struggle to root out the infiltrators, while the heavy infantry wades through the artillery barrage to try to take down the officer before he can call another.

It needs more work, but it's coming together.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


An interesting new mini game by Catalyst Game Labs. Like Eclipse Phase, this is Creative Commons, so if you wanted to download it off a torrent, it's legal to do so.

Experiments in Setting Design: Districts, Families and Sandboxes

I'm not a fan of sandbox game design. In my experience, most people who do this either create nothing and sort of hope the players will come up with something, or design gobs and gobs of stuff that quickly overwhelms the players. I vastly prefer "quest" directed gameplay, where I give you, you know, something to do, and you get to figure out what the world is like by having it run up and hit you in the face.

But after playing things like Oblivion and Grand Theft Auto, I kinda wonder if I can't do it another way. They create huge worlds, and then point you in a direction. Wherever you go, there are interesting possibilities, and even if you go flying off the rails, the world remains fascinating. Vampire seems ideally suited to this style of play, as does any urban fantasy game. You create the city and players just... play in it. I give a strong, starting "quest," and then let players sort of get involved from there. My typical story involves bringing players to an interesting spot, letting them do what they want, and then wrapping up and moving on when they've "played enough." This could work the same way, only on a much larger scale.

It's not like I lack material. Weapons of the Gods had more than 50 NPCs (at least 50 fully statted holy cow). In a horror game where characters can die (and even have the players killing them off), it makes sense to try to have even more. So I'm trying an interesting experiment: Families.

Damnation City suggests designing a city in terms of Districts and Sites. You create an over-reaching district (say, Chinatown) and then design sites within it (Say, a dojo, a brothel, an occult book store). This makes it easier to figure out how to come up with an entire city worth of sites, because they're broken down into districts.

So, why not do the same for NPCs? You come up with families of NPCs. Perhaps there's a group of NPCs from Chinatown, chinese who descend from some immigrants back in the 1860s when people were building the rails, and now are quite Americanized. Come up with 5 specific NPCs per family, design 10 or so families. Now, it's easier to design 50 NPCs and each NPC comes with prewritten attachements. Got a thing for the cute asian girl who keeps showing up at the night clubs? Did you know her younger sister is in school? Or her aunt is a hardcore detective? Or that a boy from the other chinatown family has opinions about the daughters of this family and who they should be with? Suddenly, there's a whole web of relationships for your character to explore and, should he choose, screw up.

I'll try it. We'll see how well it works.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Crimson Fists March to War: My First Battle Report

So, after alot of painting, I finally brought my Crimson Fists to the table and went to battle against the Dark Eldar, as played by a buddy of mine, Rene.

Sergeant Stein breathed deeply into his respirator as he looked over the broken, debris-scattered field with his Force Commander. The cold wind tugged at the astonishingly young Captain's hair, and spatters of rain lined the crags of his face.

"We don't have much time." Captain Nihilus growled, his long, crimson cape fluttering behind him as he turned away from the carnage. "The Dark Eldar are already on their way to scavenge what the brave Imperial Guard left behind in their defeat. We will see to it that they take nothing ." Drawing his huge, crackling relic blade, he shouted his orders to his iron-clad soldiers, who stoically trod onto the broken ruins of the battle-wracked city, intent on recovering the dead and the supplies of their fallen comrades before the Xeno scum took it from them

Alas, my camera skills leave much to be desired, but a shot of the table:

It at least gives you an idea of how everything was set up. I only had 500 points, so it was a relatively small battle. I had a single tac squad (Missile launcher, flamer, split into combat squads) and a single scout squad (a melee combat squad and a sniper combat squad with a heavy bolter) and my Force Commander. He had two raiders with raiding squads, a Homonculous, "wyld hounds" (or something similar) with a beast master, and wytches. Snipers and missile launcher were on my left flank, force commander and the other half of my tac squad on my right flank, and my melee scout squad in the central building. He had all his forces clustered on my right flank, out of sight of my missile launcher.

He stole initiative from me (dammit! >.<) and then proceeded to chase off my two scout squads (the snipers managed to do some damage before they got wiped out to a man) while my missile launcher and my tac squads laid down a withering hail of fire, but nothing seemed to slow the Dark Eldar assault. Starting with four points, I lost one and gave up another.

I couldn't really "charge his wytches before they charged me" as the wyld hounds up front effectively screened them, so I decided to lay in fire instead. We weathered the charge with an astonishing number of 1s and 2s on armor saves (take three wounds, only save once? Wow) and after about two turns of fighting, my Force Commander and Sergeant managed to beat them back and slaughter every last one of them when they tried to run. Meanwhile, the Homonculous's raider zoomed in (not sure why he did that) and out of a desire for revenge, Sergeant Tenebrous (the Scout sergeant, only scout left standing), blasts it with Meltabombs, leaving only the homonculous standing.

Who charged my force commander and died. Without even getting an attack off. I imagine he just threw himself on my sword or something, dunno.

So, then my force commander and sergeant charged his dark eldar warriors, firing like mad (good ol' storm bolters) and actually managed to chase off a unit with nothing but a single turn of firing. He unloads a warrior unit from a raider to protect his final point and zooms his raider to where the scout sergeant is holding his point and...

If we had ended at that turn, I would have one: He had one unit protecting a point, and I had two. Alas, we had another turn, his raider moved close enough to my point to contest it, and I rolled poorly for taking the central point (had to move through "difficult terrain" and only got a 3), but in one more turn, I would have taken my third point, winning the game, except then the game ended. And so, we tied.

"I was Dice Hosed!"

I don't think you could claim otherwise. I lost initiative at the worst possible time. My missile launcher, in 5 turns, only hit once. I lost approximately half of my armor saves, rather than the expected 1/3, and if the game had lasted one turn less or one turn more, I would have won. Instead, the dice perfectly favored him.

But I hate it when people say that. You should play the game in such a way that the dice matter as little as possible. A tie is a perfectly respectable result, but I learned a few things:

First, my melee scout squad was designed to take down low-mobility Heavy Support guys, like artillery-style tanks or Devastator squads. Dark Eldar have nothing like that, so I sorta just sat around with them, doing nothing. A unit that picks its nose is a unit that isn't killing people. If I had brought them to bear more, or supported them better with my snipers, I might have changed the shape of the battlefield. I probably should have put both in the building, giving the camo-cloaked scouts a 3+ save, which might have let them last longer. Instead, I was too greedy and "took all the points I could" right off the bat. Just because you can use infiltrate to be all over the battlefield doesn't mean it's a good idea. Second, I hung back with my Force commander and tactical squads "to protect the points." I don't think I really needed too. If they had moved forward, they would have been charged earlier, but little else. Thereafter, they would have been in a better position to start scaring away the rest of the Dark Eldar, and maybe sit on that central point, rather than force the weaker scouts to try to protect it.

It's hard to play a 500 point battle "wrong," so I don't know if I'm being too hard on myself, I just feel thinking "it's the dice's fault" tends to result in a player who doesn't grow. I did learn, once again, to trust my Space Marines. I tend to forget how tough they really are. Not invincible, of course, but more than capable of taking care of themselves, and that the numerical superiority of the enemy tends to mean nothing. You can see from turn one, I was practically overwhelmed, but by the end, I had almost half my army left standing, but he was down to (basically) a single unit and its transport vehicle.

Next time, I'll find a way to exploit that.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wierd Wikipedia

Finally, after months of collecting, I wanted to offer my "weird wikipedia." Try not to read it in the dark (Because, you know, it's hard to read stuff without a light on)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

After Action Report: Frozen War, Final Thoughts

As the relationship between Sasha and Walter's character grew, I began to consider the possibility that Walter might shortchange my finale, and I was right. Given a choice between killing a mad psionic god, and abandoning the military and the planet to save his shy sweetheart, he chose the latter... and the rest of the group agreed.

But I have no complaints. The final session was as smooth as a man could ask for. We had a dramatic, climactic battle that claimed the lives of at least one named NPC (Heavy), nearly destroyed another (Katje), and despite overwhelming odds, the players managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. My anti-defeat failsafe wasn't even necessary, though it was dramatically appropriate and fun.

The players appreciated the final choice offered to them, the role-playing opportunities, and the slow shift of tone away from military drama to full space opera. Incidentally, for those who played, the Madness Bomb was pulled straight from the pyramid.

I had zero rules complaints. This session felt like the first session where everything came together. The players enjoyed their full technological advantages, nobody fudged or messed up a die roll. Everything went well. The players demand more, and are disappointed that I've put everything on hold for now.

But I wanted to talk about GURPS instead. The whole point of this campaign was to sort of playtest a sci-fi game, and get an idea if I was "doing it right." I wanted to share my thoughts.

1. GURPS is fiddle

Alot of GURPS haters complain that GURPS is too complicated. You know what? I kinda think they're right. There's lots of little things to remember. Consider just shooting. We had to remember: Range penalties, vision penalties, weather penalties, gravity (which we ditched), speed penalties, size modifiers, RoF modifiers, bulk, accuracy, radar aiming bonuses, computer bonuses, and weapon bonds. Unsurprisingly, we tended to miss bits. Now, it's true that other games can be just as fiddly (I'm still learning new things about WotG and WoD), and GURPS doesn't scatter its rules in a dozen books the way some systems do, so when I want to find something, it's easy to do. Still, I can see their point.

2. GURPS is rugged

The typical response to the above by a GURPS fan is dismissing all those funky modifiers as unimportant, and it's kinda true. I mean, my players certainly enjoyed the last session, where I had all my rules down pat, but they didn't exactly hate the first session, where I made lots of mistakes. If you mess things up and wing it in GURPS, it works just fine. I like to have all that detail there, but it's not strictly necessary. It has been and always will be "Roll three dice and look at how pretty they are."

3. GURPS is powerful

So, I fudged the Forward Observer rules for the sake of the game. But, of course, Walter had to play expert and tell me that I was "wrong." So, I grabbed the High Tech book, whipped out the full Forward Observer rules and beat him over the head with them. He gave in. Now, this wasn't strictly necessary. I could have just given him the Disapproving Gaze of Death, but it's nice that it was there. It satisfied Walter, it satisfied me, and the whole group enjoyed the (slightly) more detailed rules we used as a result. We had the same thing turn up again and again. Whenever there was a question, a doubt, or an argument, we could flip open the book, and it answered all of our questions. It was pretty amazing.

4. Templates and Loadouts rock

GURPS has been fun for ages anyway, but I really have to say adding templates and loadouts at the beginning of the game smoothed everything out nicely. It did this in two ways. First, it made the game alot easier for players to get into. Just pick a couple of templates at go! Worried about gear? Don't! It's all right there. Second, it ensured that players had things that I felt they should have. Everyone had luck, serendipity, useful skills and solid gear. This is part of the reason you didn't see people using tech early in the game (they didn't know what it all did), but blossoming into it later (because it was there). If they had chosen their own gear, it would have been "Power armor, guns guns guns," and the infiltrators and mines would have destroyed them. They would never have thought of targeting computers, radar, survival gear, cuff-tape, first aid kits, trauma maintenance gear, and so on. I'm using templates and loadouts all the time now.

5. GURPS has awesome supplements

I look at my WoD collection and despair. Invictus? Never used it. The setting books? Discarded. Coteries, Nomads, the Lodge Books, the Bloodline books, Sanctum and Sigil, the Tome of the Watchtowers, the Banishers, book after book that I bought because I just wanted a book, but never used and barely read. When I do run WoD, I end up using the core books and maybe one or two additional books. And WoD is one of my favorite games. Don't get me started on 7th Sea or oWoD or games I bought and never used.

GURPS, on the other hand, has some wicked awesome supplements. In this campaign alone, I used: GURPS Space, GURPS Ultra-Tech, GURPS Bio-Tech, GURPS High-Tech, GURPS Psionic Powers (PDF), GURPS Loadouts (as inspiration, another PDF), GURPS Action 2 (PDF), and Pyramid issue 9: Space Opera (also a PDF). Now, some people will look at this list and think "I have to buy all that to play?" No, of course not. But if you did, you'd be as well supported as I was, instead of poor and pissed off like you might be with other games.

6. Maptool rocks

Byler introduced us to it, and while it's been a pain, it's also been a huge boon. I've never really messed with GURPS tactical combat until now, but at Walter's insistence, we started grabbing maps, and boom, the entire shape of the game changed. It does take longer to figure things out. For example, our fight in front of the secret lab took the better part of two hours, but instead of fudging and saying that there were more than they could deal with, I showed them that there were more than they could deal with, and they dealt with them anyway.

Miniatures are great, but in a game like GURPS, people want to play what they want to play, and I want to use what I want to use. We would never limit ourselves to the creativity of some modeler somewhere, and we could never afford all the pewter necessary to make our game work. I could not POSSIBLY use Quetzali if I had to rely on models. But in Maptool, it's pretty easy to just clone pretty pictures and use them again and again.

And miniature combat has so many benefits. It provides constant tactical feedback. It helps you remember where everyone is, what they are doing, and that they are there (cough). It's really reshaped the way we play GURPS.

So the big question is, was it a success? Did I enjoy GURPS? Would I run it again?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

It's fiddlier than I would have liked, but the Newton crowd doesn't care, so we're alright. I wouldn't run it for the Eindhoven crowd, but that's ok. It was quite a pleasure to unveil a full setting to my players and have them eat it up and want more. Being the first GURPS game we've ever truly finished (with the possible exception of RG), I think this one definitely goes in the annals as a legend of a game.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

History Lessons

I know, I'll get to posting my final thoughts on the finished Space Opera game ("It's finshed!" you gasp. Yes, yes it is) soon, I promise. In the meantime, I've been working on a little project sorta-kinda in preperation for vampire, but mostly just cuz it's fun. People don't respect/enjoy history nearly as much as they should, and so, I present the first installment of: History Lessons. Today, it's the 1760s.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hey, new rule!

Turns out Gunslinger's accuracy bonus only applies to single-shots (RoF 1-3), not to fully automatic shots.

Roomie will be sad :(

EDIT: Of course, he just runs and guns anyway...

Mountains and Valleys

So, a few weeks back, if you remember, I bemoaned my lack of players. I had three, barely, and I knew I was at a nadir of gaming in Newton. I believe I also mentioned that if I just kept trucking along, more players would come.

I was right.

Shawn has joined us, and Cass is poking to play, and Swoyer wants to be involved when I start running Vampire.

It's hard, very hard, to be in a place where not many people want to game with you. It makes me lonely, but another part of me says: "Keep going, and more people will come." See, RPGs are a social activity, and people want to know that something is worth their investment of time and effort. That may sound cold and callous, but only if you don't understand it, and don't compensate for it. This happened with Dark Souls (I went from 2 players to 7), Hunters Hunted (2 to 5), and it's happening again now. I understand it, I know this, I'm not surprised by it, but there's always that part of me that bemoans when players desert, and rejoices when they return.

Still, something for other newbie GMs to keep in mind. If you can just keep running, keep going along, and make sure other people know about it, don't worry, game will happen, players will come.

Frozen War: After Action Report 4

It's been a crazy busy week. I'll tell you about it tomorrow after I finish my last test. But, I have some breathing room, so I should post while I still can.

So, after previous games had been delayed again and again, it was nice to play *gasp* two weeks after the last game. This time, we focused much more on combat combat combat, with almost no characterization, but it still turned out very well. I don't think I forgot any rules, though I did skip out on a few. For example, I ignored the fragmentation damage on some IEDs some ebil partisans had rigged up but the players are so loaded up with armor that I decided it didn't matter. Roomie also died until someone used Serendipity to make sure he lived (be careful of snipers!), which might have been an excessive fudge, but I'm willing to let it stand. Finally, Byler got pitched by a robot's Force blaster and took 6 damage (blunt trauma), and I didn't give him a -4 on his next roll. It didn't really matter (he beat his attack roll by bunches and bunches... or he ran around the corner and tried to recover, I don't remember which), so I'm not too worried about it.

The players are also adapting alot more to their technology. Roomie started passing along sensor readings, other characters did sensor sweeps to find mines and snipers, and Byler had a nice game of cat-and-mouse with some partisans in the pine jungle.

In a way, this was the game where the players really grasped that we were playing Space Opera. Each session has been a careful revealing of more plot: First, an invasion, then the revelation of sabotage, then the revelation of a spy, then the revelation of a secret government project and the nature of the planet. The next session will reveal the nature of that project. If the last session was when players finally understood their characters, this was the session where they finally started to really see the setting.

The one thing I feel I have neglected thus far is disadvantages. I've smacked a few players with theirs (Byler and his Sense of Duty disadvantage, and Roomie and his Fanaticism), but I'm kinda dejected I don't remember more. It occured to me, the other night, that in WotG or WoD, I usually sit down and plan a game around a player's disadvantage. Perhaps I should do that in the next session. Rather than try to remember the disad in the middle of the game, I should find some way to work it into the planning before hand.

I asked Byler and Walter if they agreed with me, and I think they do: This is the best GURPS game I've run. Shawn claims Dark Souls was better, and Dark Souls was pretty good, but this game feels the most tightly designed, cleanly run, and the addition of things like templates really smooths things out. I'm very pleased with it, especially since I'm gonna finish it up nicely.

As an addendum: I'm very pleased that my efforts in persuading my players to schedule ahead is finally paying off. Last session, Roomie and Walter revealed when particular gun shows would be, and the timing involved. As a result, we're playing again this weekend. Wonderful!
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