Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reading Comics


So, is it not enough that my iPad has given me a convenient and usable means to sketch again? Back when I used to draw all the time, I also read comics all the time as well. This is a practice that I have fallen out of over the years. I grew up, got married. Trips to the comic shop grew less and less frequent. Long boxes of comics began to be shuffled around, from main room to bed room to garage ... to yard sale.

Enter the iPad. I started by downloading a few free comics. They were good. I found that I was mildly interested. The iPad screen was only slightly smaller than a comic page, the experience was pretty good. Also, no long box to lug around. Then DC started this whole "New 52" thing. I picked up a few issues. No need to make a trip to the shop. Just a few swipes of the finger and "presto" instant gratification.

I am of mixed feelings about this whole thing. First, it's amazing. I am 46 years old and I haven't read comics regularly for maybe 20 years or more. But, now I find myself anxiously awaiting Wednesdays so I can check out the latest arrivals and read something new. My life won't allow me to stop by the comic shop on a regular basis. The past 20 years is proof of this. So the iPad has opened a whole new door for me. I am excited, because I can read comics again, and reading comics makes me excited about drawing comics too. That's a win, win.

But I also wonder about what this means to the "brick and mortar" comic shop. I know this isn't a new concern, that electronic media has been around for some time now ... but, it's only just become apparent to me how much of an impact this can have, as I find the electronic reading experience may finally have surpassed the paper and ink one. With the iPad the books are just as portable (and not just a single comic, but your entire collection) the artwork is sharp and lovely to look at, and the reading experience is as close to the "real thing" as it's ever been. Plus, instant access to new material.

I would like to see a way to "share" purchases. I could give you one of my issues and it would disappear from my iPad and appear on yours instead. I think this would be cool because trading comics was one of those things you did as a kid that makes collecting them fun.

Now with electronic media, there is no reason for a comic to "go out of print" the issue of Action Comics #1 that I just bought could be bought by anyone this month, next month, or a year from now ... and why not? It means there will never be a sense of "rarity" from the electronic market, but then ... I think that's good. No rarity, means no speculation. There was a time when I felt like speculators were making it harder for the people who really loved to read comics to enjoy the hobby. If electronic distribution eliminates this, then I welcome it.

Also, if I am finding it easier to buy comics again perhaps others are too, and this could give the comics industry as a whole a healthy shot in the arm, which I also see as a very good thing.

I have a friend who owns a comic shop. He is struggling. He will continue to struggle. I say concentrate on back issues. There will always be those who wax nostalgic for the paper books. As for me, I see the electronic future as a saving grace ... both for myself, and for the comics industry.

Thoughts?



Jeff Moore

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Feeling SUPER ...


So, about a week ago I got an iPad 2. I am writing this entry with it. The thing is, this fantastic piece of technology ... This thing ... may very nearly replace my home PC entirely. It's just that amazing. But, not just my computer ... My game console ... My TV ... Everything. How can a single tool be so ridiculously useful?

It only just occurred to me today that I could use my pad as a ... Well, a pad ... Like a drawing pad. I grew up with my nose buried in a drawing pad. I used to want to draw comic books as a kid. Even as a young adult I clung to that dream. Now, as a 46 year-old man who is more adult than he ever wanted to be, I hold this pad in my hands and think ... "Yeah, I could draw again ... I could draw ..."

I downloaded the Art Studio app for my pad about 30 minutes ago. The quick sketch above isn't exactly the best thing I've ever done. But, I drew it with my finger ... With my finger using an app, I'd never seen before. Honestly, I'm proud of it and I felt the need to share. With some practice and a ten dollar stylus, I might be drawing again for real.

Today, I feel 20 years younger.

Regards,

Jeff

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Introducing Mendi . . .


In my previous entry, "Midnight in Paris," I mention the "significant one." Well, I thought it might be fun to introduce her. Pictured above, please enjoy this visage of the beautiful and glamorous "Mendi" on the occassion of her 40th Hello Kitty Pajama Birthday Party!

Regards,


Jeff

Midnight in Paris



I am (or perhaps it would be more correct to say ... "was") a huge Woody Allen fan. Back in my formative years ... from age 13 or 14 to say my early 20's. I loved movies like, "Manhattan" and "Annie Hall." But my favorite was, "Play it Again, Sam."

Woody Allen spoke to me back then. So many of his films seemed to be about the personal struggle to find an identity. In these films, the guy "got" the girl, by first "getting" himself. And the heroes of these stories, like myself were dreamers. People who "imagined" more than pursued ... because the imagination is accessible.

To a small town kid in a small town world, everything seemed inaccessible ... so it was nice to be told that it's okay to dream. In "Play it Again, Sam," the main character was lost in a world of hero worship. To a kid raised on comic books and Doctor Who, this resonates.

Allan (Woody Allen's character) idolized Humphrey Bogart. The idolization was so complete that Bogart appears to Allan like an imaginary friend giving him advise and helping him learn to be more confident and brave, a lesson he ultimately learns as he sacrifices his own selfish happiness for the happiness of those he loves.

It is a lesson that I have carried throughout my life. I told my significant one the other day that, "The selfless decisions are the easiest ones for me to make, because they are the easiest for me to live with." It only occurs to me now, that Woody Allen taught me that ... and Humphrey Bogart taught him in the movie, Casablanca.

After "Play it Again, Sam" I too became something of a Bogart fanatic. I have seen 72 (I had a spreadsheet ... LOL) different Bogart movies all of which I taped with my VCR off of late night broadcast television and PBS back before the age of infomercials took classic movies away from TV.

Woody Allen had shown me another hero to worship, one as big and bold and brave as Superman or Doctor Who, but then he did a film with a message that seemed to kick my dreamer in the teeth. "The Purple Rose of Cairo" was a movie about a dreamer, about hero worship, about seeking an identity, and it was a film with a hard message, that seemed to say, "Dreams can't come true, and the real world is cruel, but it is all we will ever be offered."

The film shook me up (as I am sure it was meant to.) My "purple rose" colored glasses fell away ... and honestly, so did my love affair with Woody Allen. And I have not actually watched much in the way of Woody Allen since ... and that was way back in 1985 for those who are curious.

It's a shame, there is quite the filmography for Woody Allen between then and now, and although I have seen a few, (Hannah and Her Sisters, and Bullets Over Broadway) I have missed so much more. I need to revisit this inspirational force from my youth, and "Midnight in Paris" is proof of this.

"Play it Again, Sam" came to mind as I watched Owen Wilson meet his heroes in "Midnight in Paris" as did Bogart. In Casablanca, Bogart's passion is lost in Paris; in Sabrina, Audry Hepburn tells Bogart that Paris is most beautiful in the rain ... something that Woody Allen reiterates to us through Wilson.

I don't want to give away anything about this movie, so I won't ponder on the plot or events of the film, just that it made me feel the way "Play it Again, Sam" made me feel ... that we can learn from our heroes. But, interestingly it also had a message about not depending too much on dreams, but it didn't feel the need to "shock" us into this realization as "Purple Rose" had done, instead it is delivered to us as a gentle realization, as if to say dreams and reality can co-exist, and that the real danger is in placing too much importance on either one over the other.

In the end, Wilson's reality is made better for the dreams he entertains. I loved, "Midnight in Paris." Chills down my spine, loved it. I cannot recommend it enough.


Regards,


Jeff Moore

Friday, September 16, 2011

DND for Dads ...


If you haven't gotten the chance to look at these or didn't know about them, I feel like I really must spread the word. Over at the blog, "Art by STOWE" James has delighted his followers with a fantastic series of 4E character sheets just for kids in a series of posts that he calls, "DND for Dads!"

This stuff is so beautiful you really MUST give it a look!

Regards,



Jeff Moore

Monday, July 18, 2011

Zombie Game - Second Session

 (Zombie Beauty Queens)


So ... it seems as though my printer is always out of ink. I've gotten used to not being able to print things and my printer is generally a paper weight sitting on the desk. We had one copy of Five by Five at the table during our first game. I decided to reformat Five by Five for my Kindle so we could have two copies of Five by Five available for the next time. The Kindle handles the existing PDF okay ... but a version specifically designed for the format would be even better.

I spoke a bit about this on a previous post, but instead of importing the text and rearranging it, I just started retyping the whole thing. As I began putting the information down, and looking at things with a fresh perspective following our recent game session. I began to make changes.

The second version of Five by Five was written with the hope that I might be able to expand and advance on the first version to make a bigger and better game. However, bigger isn't necessarily better, and prettier isn't necessarily better either. The second version of Five by Five is not as concise as I prefer to be. It's still a small number of rules presented in a small number of pages. But, looking at it now it still seemed to be extraneous. Also, I am not sure why, but even though I had received a fair amount of positive feed back following the first release of Five by Five, the second one received very little.

I got it in my head that I wanted to go backwards a little bit, strip out some of the "new" stuff in the second version of Five by Five. I scrapped rules for miniatures and movement, that were never used and easily house ruled by those who would want it. I scrapped the tiered weapons and armor rules that just didn't fit and again, were not being used (at least not by my group.)

Also, for some reason, the six equals zero idea was confusing to some during play. I also really wanted consistency between the two-die rolls for task resolution and the one-die roll for damage, and more than one player complained when they rolled a "zero" for damage following a successful hit.

It suddenly occurred to me that 6 didn't have to equal zero and it could still work in exactly the same way.  I changed my terminology, now calling 6 "Trump." Rolling trump would override the roll of your dice and give you something good in return. An automatic success for task rolls, improved damage for damage rolls. I got the consistency that I wanted. I fixed the "zero damage" problem. And, upon play testing the new terminology found that things were less confusing and easier to explain. Wins all around.

The term "Trump" also inadvertently created a new aspect of the game mechanic, something that could be manipulated. More little bits to play with was also a good thing. And, I had one more part of the rules that was bothering me: Doubles. The mechanic just didn't work as well as I wanted it to, and honestly, it wasn't all that popular with play testers either. It needed to go.

But, I like the idea that something fun should happen when you rolled doubles. I hit upon the thought that if you roll doubles, your very next roll would get the benefit of a doubled chance at trump (that is trump on a 5 or a 6). I liked the idea and put it on paper.

This meant that Experience and Advancement had to change. I chose the simplest system I could, and in the process eliminated the XP chart. I did the same thing for Hitpoints, incorporating the assignment of HP more properly into character creation, allowing players to assign it an importance along side their other descriptors, but also making HP equal to a simple: "Descriptor value plus 10", thus eliminating the HP table.

And while I was tinkering with character creation, I decided to add an additional descriptor to the process, there had been a few comments from various sources that maybe three starting descriptors was not enough ... so, I increased it ... but I like the simplicity and speed of character creation so I did so with caution, only increasing the number by one.

I talked to the GM about my changes and he was supportive of my new ideas. He was even excited about the new descriptor everyone would get.

Everyone got together and I explained how HP would now be assigned a value like every other descriptor on the character sheet. Players figured out their HP and then the GM revealed that he wanted everyone's new descriptor to be specifically something Zombie related.

This was cool, because in creating our characters we didn't know that we would be Zombies ... now we got the chance to add something Zombie specific.

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My character became:


Old Man Jenkins

6 - Scientist (nuclear physicist, retired)

4 - Tactician (expert chess player, steal initiative)

2 - Awesome Presence (reminds you of your dad, grouchy old man)

4 - Removable (still working) eye-ball

(Eye stops working after an hour away from "home". Must return to socket for 1d6 hours between outings. Task roll is activation upon removal ... if failed, eye must be returned to socket as if following a successful outing.)



12 - Hitpoints

We came up with the rules for the eye-ball in a matter of minutes on the fly. This is really the way I like to do things. Fast and easy. Everything was handled this way. It was quick and painless, it reminded me of gaming in the earliest of days before there was a "rule" for every thing.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The game picked up where the other left off with us running through the sewers being closed in on from two directions. We found a manhole cover and decided to move above ground, but my one footed zombie fell landing on the beauty queen zombie knocking her unconscious. (This was a gimmick as the player who played the beauty queen zombie was unable to make it to the session that evening.)

It seemed like all was lost but another zombie showed up to help lead us out. It was the zombie street kid who had gotten beaten up in the last game. And he was being played by another player who joined our game session but missed the first one.

His character was created as a skater-dude, a young punkish kid with multi-colored "flock-o-seagulls" hair and typical skate boarding street kid attire. He led us back to "his" skate shop, where his handlers promptly used his shock collar to zap him into submission for bringing in strays.

My character "Jenkins" had retained enough scientific knowledge to be able to disable his collar and the collars of his companions, but had not had the chance to do the Skater's collar yet. So, down skater went, and as the remote was turned on us, Jenkins did the same, falling to the ground rather then reveal that the collar didn't work.

Our group, of now 4 zombies (including the still unconscious because her player wasn't there beauty queen zombie) was stacked in the corner like firewood. There we bided our time, waiting for Skater to regain his senses.

When, who should walk in ... but a security patrol who gave the owners of the skate shop our description.

"Sure, they are right over here."

And the combat was on. This combat lasted a good long while with me and Ninja Burger Zombie fighting for our lives. Eventually, Skater woke up, but apparently still suffering under the delusion that he is alive and owns the skate shop, steps in to try and stop his new friends from killing his employees.

It was fun and funny and fast a furious. Again, the system seemed to serve the combat well with the right mix of success, failure and uncertainty.

The new, "Rolling doubles allows you to count both 5 and 6 as trump on your next roll ..." rule worked well and made a difference on more than one roll, including allowing for at least one high damage hit.

We were given XP and several of us (including myself) bought a new descriptor at rank 2. Now with a few combats under his belt, Jenkins added "Brawling."

The only problem I had with the game was that sometimes in the excitement players would forget whether or not they had rolled doubles in the last round.


I already had an idea for how to fix that ... but it would have to wait until our next game ...


Regards,




Jeff

Friday, July 15, 2011

5x5 Zombie Game



So we are playing a Zombie game that a friend is GM-ing. He chose to use the 5x5 rules (I didn't even have to pay him!) and I think we are all very pleased with the way things are working out.

Our first session was pre the most recent rewrite of 5x5 (and is what prompted it.) The GM told us to make up the typical victim turned hero type that might appear in a Zombie Apocalypse kind of movie.

He had us pick our three strong traits but informed us that HE would be "giving" us our one weak trait.

It took no time at all for each of us to pick three traits and write them down. Character creation was finished in moments, even though none of us had been prepared ahead of time.


I made a character and chose three strong traits.

Old Man Jenkins

6 - Scientist (nuclear physicist, retired)
4 - Tactician (expert chess player, steal initiative)
2 - Awesome Presence (reminds you of your dad, grouchy old man)

Once this was done, the GM informed us that we were in actuality all Zombies and explained to us the world we lived in based loosely on a movie called Fido.

He then gave us our "weaknesses" based on this revelation. Mine was that my character was missing a foot. Which I turned into a weak rank trait and added to my character.

Weak - Ambulation (dodge, missing left foot)

Add to this that the character is wearing a shock collar to keep him in line, using a walking cane (that serves as a +1 damage improvised weapon), and that he has 10 hit-points and we were ready to play.

We went from no characters, no ideas, to ready to play in less than an hour (including the time the GM spent explaining the setting and our individual situations).

It seems that our characters (and mine especially, given that I chose to create a character whose traits imply something of a brainiac) have become aware of our plight as the "slave labor" force to humankind and we have decided to try to organise some kind of revolt.

The assumed setting of "Zombie Apocalypse" was revealed to be, "Zombie Freedom Fighters" in a setting that seems very much to be like a post "Shawn of the Dead" world.

We began play by "escaping" from our various places of service/captivity to reconnoitre at a prearranged meeting place, the basement of a McDonald's. (Do McDonalds' even have basements?)

This one did, with convenient sewer tunnel access and was the place of employment of one of the other players, a zombie burger flipper who possessed Ninja like skills with spatula weapons and a weakness of "no thumbs."

The GM explained to the Ninja-Burger's player that because of his expertise with the spatulas he would not suffer any penalties while using them, but that other acts of manual dexterity would in fact fall under the umbrella of his debilitating thumblessness.

For the first game, it was just three player characters, and as we intersected with each other on our way to the agreed meeting place, we were spotted by security patrols who enforce a strict curfew forbidding zombies from being out alone after dark.

The last player was a Beauty-Queen turned zombie pleasure slave and of the three of us looked the least zombie like and the most like a normal human (although she is missing an eye - her weakness.)

She fastened collars on our necks to make us appear to be a wealthy human woman in the control of two zombie escorts, which might have worked except ... The patrol wasn't after us, they had spotted another lone zombie, a street hood zombie of some kind and proceeded to kick the tar out of the lone figure.

This, I decided, was just too much for my own character to bear, and I leapt into the fray, cane in hand, yelling, "Oppressors!"

The battle went well. The dice rolls seemed to work to create the right kind of odds, with the ratio of "hits to misses" feeling about like it would if we had been using a seasoned system like D&D.

The beauty-queen was badly injured however, and the GM had informed us that in this setting, the only way for we as zombies to recover from injury was through the consumption of human flesh. Beauty began snacking on one of the security guards, just as some pedestrians (children) came by and began screaming.

Adding to this, the GM informs us that we can hear "moaning" and it seems as though the other security guard is regaining consciousness. In a state of panic we flee the scene as quickly as possible ... by stealing the security guards' patrol car.

(Turns out the moaning wasn't from the downed security guard at all, but from the assaulted zombie laying helpless on the ground, that we now left behind as we fled the scene.)

We return to our perspective "homes" but, being without thumbs, Ninja is unable to remove the "leash" that Beauty had placed on him earlier, and we completely forgot about it.

Ninja's keepers are concerned that someone has attempted to steal their zombie burger chef and they investigate the possibility, discovering the sewer tunnels we've been using to move about.

Ninja is tethered for his own protection but escapes that night to try to rejoin us and report what has happened. In the process he triggers some new security and the chase is on again.

In the cliff-hanger ending of the evening, we are together lost in the sewer tunnels, with security teams approaching from two different directions.

It was, fun. It was exciting. 5x5's lack of rules proves to be liberating as we find that we have just enough structure to do what we need to do and a good framework for improvising the rest.

The action never slows down and the game system stays very nicely out of the way of the game play.

At the end I am concerned by the lopsided distribution of doubles and also with the scant amount. I make a mental note to look at 5x5's "Doubles equals Experience" mechanic with thoughts of replacing it somehow.

But, overall I am very pleased with 5x5's performance. And everyone has fun.

I will talk about the changes that I have made to the 5x5 rules (and why) and about our second zombie game session in my next post.


Regards,




Jeff

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Five by Five Print ver. and Character Sheet



I have put up a print version of Five by Five. Each page of the Kindle/screen version is one fourth of the print page so the print version came in at 7 pages. I went ahead and added a character sheet to make the page count an even 8.

The character sheet design is courtesy of my friend Burl King. Check it out!


Regards,



Jeff Moore

Friday, July 08, 2011

Five by Five version 2.5

So, it's been ages since I posted. A friend of mine was talking about how he needed to brush up on his writing skills. I suggested that he consider blogging, but this made me realise how neglectful of my own blog I have become.

I usually blog quite a lot if I am working on an RPG project. But these days I don't have any RPG ideas knocking around inside my head ... so, I haven't been writing at all.

That is unfortunate, as I feel writing is a very good exercise for my brain. One of the reasons I have created as many RPG's as I have is just for the exercise it provides me. It's fun, and creative, and very personal. If any of the games I create prove to be playable, and are actually played ... this is an unexpected boon.


So, just for the heck of it I start "re-writing" Five by Five. Not changing it, just recomposing it, in case I might accidentally discover some new elegant way of saying things. I also wanted to format Five by Five for my Kindle. The Kindle can read PDFs but working with multi-column PDFs on the Kindle screen is actually more of a pain then it is on the computer screen.

So I am reformating for an age of eBook Readers, Kindles, and iPods. I also got lazy and cut-and-pasted some of my text in some spots which defeats the whole re-write exercise, but I did find that while I was working on it, I had a few new ideas.

Sixes when rolled are no longer regarded as zero but still work the same way. A simple change in terminology created a new mechanic for the game that adds some fun new possibilities.

I have stripped out a bunch of stuff I added to ver 2 that don't really help the game and have actually taken a few steps back to be closer to the first version of the game.

Things aren't complete, but I felt a need to blog and share ... so, here we are.



Five by Five 2.5

Friday, April 29, 2011

Doctor What



Charlie McDonnell and his band Chameleon Circuit write and perform songs about Doctor Who! (They are so cool like! Check them out on YouTube!)

Regards,



Jeff

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

CONFECTION-ATE!


My friend Larry made me some awesome Dalek cupcakes to celebrate "Doctor Who Day" this past Saturday.

They tasted super-yummy! They were Dalek-cious!

Regards,



Jeff

If you are interested, here is a slide show of pictures Larry took detailing the process as he made the cupcakes!


Monday, April 18, 2011

Getting Ready for the new season of Doctor Who!

This is a music video (song by Charlie McDonnell) that sums up the events of the finale of Season 5 of Doctor Who.



Now you should be all up to date and ready to watch the new season of Doctor Who!

I am so excited!!

Regards,


Jeff

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Doctor ... Me!



A friend posted this photo of me from a convention some 20 years ago and I just had to share it. I've always been such a huge Doctor Who geek.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In Memory of my friend, Robert Briggs – January 4, 1961 ~ February 13, 2011




I want to take a moment to speak out on behalf of one of the lowest ranked tiers on the modern world's tree of social hierarchy: the gamer geek.

I am a gamer geek. On the ladder of social acceptability, I fall pretty close to the bottom. It's not a place I necessarily chose to be. But I reside there happily now, and with some pride.

It happens like this:

From the moment a child enters school they learn to cluster into small social groups. The athletic, strong, and bold children tend to tower over the intelligent introspective children at an early age. On the playground which is a school age child's greatest venue for social interaction, it is he who runs fastest, climbs highest, and kicks the ball the hardest who earns accolades and respect.

The value of things like books and reading has not yet really been recognised. It is not part of the playground social experience and so if a child wants to fit in and grow strong socially, he abandons such things in pursuit of the more physical activities and the social acceptance that goes along with them.

I didn't make that transition. It was never in me to be an athlete. The sad thing is, patterns learned early in life, are hard to unlearn, and once delegated the role of social misfit, that role and the stigmas associated with it tend to stick with a person. And so, I became a social outcast. I had very few friends and grew accustomed to the idea, that for me, this is the way my life would remain.

That is until something special happened to me in high school. I was 15 years old and I was introduced to a game called, Dungeons and Dragons. I joined forces with a few other kids … kids like me, who had been outcasts, who weren't the fastest, strongest, boldest, children on the playground. And if it weren't for this game, we might have remained strangers. Even if we weren't the popular kids on the playground, society had taught us to want to become that, and that meant staying away from the other geeks in hopes of drawing the mercy and attention of the popular kids.

But, this game … it gave us a reason to be together, and the playground … it existed too, in our imaginations. In this game, we could be strong and fast and bold. We created a playground in our minds and we were its heroes. And for the first time in my life, I made friends … real friends. Friendships that survive to this day, 30 years later.

I mention all of this for a reason. I link posts to my gaming blog (this blog) to my Facebook page. So, it's quite possible that someone reading this may be unfamiliar with how a person might come to be a gamer geek. Those of us who lived it, know it's no mystery. It's just a small group of friends united by their uncommon imaginations and the joy found in using their minds to participate in the sports that other “physical” athletes practice with their bodies. Perhaps if more people perceived gamers for what they really are, athletes of mental prowess, the societal preconceptions regarding our ilk might become a bit more friendly.

Anyway … before I forget why I started this post, let me continue. My first and best social interactions began at the gaming table. As an adult when I moved to Tulsa (where I still live twenty five years later) I didn't know anyone and I needed to find some friends. I looked to the one community where I had felt welcome before. The gamer community.

It started in a comic book store, “World of Comics” (Gamer geeks and comic book collector geeks share a lot of crossover. It's all about exercising the imagination to become the best mental athletes that we can. I want to enter “Doctor Who Trivia” in the Olympics.) The owner of the store and I had chatted about gaming a bit (as I was prone to spending my pay checks on gaming books) and one day he approached me about “running” a game at his store. (In role-playing games, one player serves as a sort of auteur /director sort of like the way Charlie Chaplin made films. He presents a scene and allows the other players of the game to react to it, contributing the way the character they have chosen to represent might react or respond within the scene. It's a sort of storytellers brainstorming session lead by a single director.) When Doug (the owner of the comic shop) asked me to run a game, he was asking me to be that “director.”

I agreed, and actually found myself in the back room of Doug's store the rest of that afternoon jotting down notes and forming ideas for some possible scenes and scenarios with which to challenge some players that very evening. And we played that night. The game wasn't Dungeons and Dragons but another of its ilk called Champions. Where Dungeons and Dragons is a game of telling stories about Knights and Wizards in days of yore, Champions was about the heroic battles of superheroes in a modern day metropolis (we were playing in a comic book store after all.)

That first game consisted of myself and Douglas Goodsell who owns World of Comics along with a few of Doug's customers, none of whom I had met before. They were Robert Briggs, Robert Ohlde, and Roland Vogt. So, it was me, the director/referee (called a GM or Game Master) and the four players, Robert, Robert, Roland, and Doug. It was a nice little group and we had a great time. We had such a great time in fact, that each player invited a friend to play the next time, and our little group doubled in size. That's when I met Robert Brigg's best friend, David Crockett. (Yes his name's Davy Crockett … don't make fun, he doesn't like it, and I will hurt you.)

We played in the back of the comic store with 8 or so players for awhile, and it was a great beginning to a new chapter of gamer geekdom social climbing in my life. Doug as a responsible store owner really couldn't in good conscience deny any of his customers who inquired, the opportunity to play. In short order, the group had grown to 25 players and I had to slam on the breaks. There were just too many people to play the game, but despite this, everyone seemed to have a good time hanging around and chatting. Still the game degraded and collapsed under its own weight.

Some of the first and best friends I made in Tulsa, came from that group. In fact, desperate to keep playing, Doug and Robert and David and myself concocted a scheme to play and keep our group smaller and more manageable. Doug really couldn't tell the folks at his store that they couldn't play in his game … but we knew from our past experience that once you said yes, it opened the flood gates to gaming oblivion. So we conspired to meet secretly to game, in a top secret, undisclosed location, the game that no one could know about.

We drove to Broken Arrow, a suburb of Tulsa, and gamed in the back room of my sister's house. No one knew where we were, or what we were doing. We had dropped off the geek radar. We were Ninja Gamer Geeks. And the small group of Doug, Robert, Dave, and Jeff had great fun. Unfortunately, Robert, bless his generous outgoing boisterous little heart just could not keep a secret. And word of the Ninja gamers got out pretty quickly. 

Doug at that point dropped out, because he just didn't feel right about running a store and denying access to the gaming group to the various customers that all counted him as a friend. David, Robert and I kept playing. And despite the tiny size of our group we remained exclusive. Not because we were “snooty” or anything, just because the experience at the comic store made us gun shy. At least at first, then after that, it was just habit.

Our little group met once a week for fifteen years, we added a member or two here or there, then I allowed my life to pull me away from the game and for the last five years I haven't played. Although Dave and Robert (with my brother Chris) continued to play.

On February 13 of this year, Robert Briggs passed away in his sleep. I am so incredibly shaken by the sadness of this event, that I can't begin to express it. All I can do, is tell you here about how we met, about the kindred spirit I found in a fellow gamer geek, and about the love and camaraderie two long time friends were able to form from across the gaming table.

I saw so much of myself in Robert. A gamer like me, not an athlete, not one of the popular kids, but a kid like me who dreamed and imagined and lived a world of grand adventure within the limitless confines of his imagination … a mental athlete of the highest degree. At the memorial service, they didn't ask people to come forward, and give testimony. I wish that they had. I feel that I need that. I am going to do that here.

I remember that Robert never walked into a room … he bounded, like Tigger on Winney the Pooh. He shared a lot in common with that lovable character, the exuberance and enthusiasm. I can almost hear him declairing, “That's what Robert's do best!”

He was a gamer geek and he loved to game. But, unlike the rest of us gamer geeks who were well aware of our lowly status as social outcasts, Robert had no such preconceptions. And in his case, this ignorance was truly bliss. We worked together in the same company. (He recommended me for my job there, and I work there to this day.) He would come to work on Monday morning after a weekend gaming session and bounce around the office telling everyone about the dragon we had slain (or as was more likely in a game in which Robert was playing, the dragon we befriended.)

And … I was … ashamed. I didn't feel comfortable telling everyone about gaming. Men were meant to talk about football, and pro-wrestling, and the stock-market, or some shit … I don't know … but, not gaming … not in public … at work! Didn't he know people would laugh at him?

But, I was wrong. I was very wrong … People didn't laugh at Robert, they embraced him. They embraced him because he was open and honest and genuine, more than any person they were ever likely to meet in their lifetimes. And they all loved him. Everyone who knew Robert loved him almost as much as I did. Because genuine people are rare and they must be cherished.

Robert lived his life as nobly as he played the characters in our games. He was as brave as any knight, and as magical as any wizard. If I believed in an afterlife and a place called heaven, then I think that each heaven would have to be custom made for the spirit who dwells within it, and if that's true, then I know that brave sir Robert is up there somewhere casting magical spells, and befriending dragons even as I write this.

Robert you are loved, and there will always be a place for you at my game table.


Jeff

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Starting Age for Adventurers in Castles and Crusades



So I am transcribing Mendi's new Castles and Crusades Gnome character onto a character sheet and the question of "age" confronted me. There is a racial age chart on page 31 of the Castles and Crusades Players Handbook, but it only talks about ages starting with Middle aged and goes older from there.

I thought about it and we know that humans likely begin adventuring around 18. Well the age chart shows human middle age as 35. Using that as a guide I can extrapolate that a character might normally begin adventuring at half of middle age (35 / 2 = 17.5.)

Using the age table on page 31 and applying this formula I can find the approximate age at which each character likely began adventuring. Problem solved right? Well … That would make Mendi's Gnome 87 years old. And the Elves and Eladrin in the party would be 250 years old and assumed to be of a maturity level roughly similar to a 17 year old human.

That doesn't seem right to me. Neither does the idea that all these races reach maturation at age 18 and the difference in their aging only kicks in after this. I decided to enforce my own concept of character maturation at younger ages that assumes that the races evolve through adolescence at a similar but not exactly the same rates.

Here is what I have devised. I have based choices on the age chart on page 31 of the C&C Players Handbook, but these rules are completely my own.

First I will start with Humans. I am going to include a randomizer to vary things up a little. Consider this. The closest things to humans on the table are Halflings and Half-Orcs. Half-Orcs have shorter life spans while Halfings live longer. After Halflings age jumps get bigger and bigger.

I chose to play with the variation of age range while keeping the minimum starting age fairly close. I have Steve Kenson and his unique approach to Fudge Dice (with the Icons RPG) to thank for the way I applied the age modifiers. I think they work quite well.

Half-Orc starting age: 16 + 2d4–5
(+ or – up to 3 years … 13 – 19 with 16 the average.)

Human starting age: 18 + 2d4–5
(+ or – up to 3 years … 15 – 21 with 18 the average.)

Halfling starting age: 20 + 2d6–7
(+ or – up to 5 years … 15 – 25 with 20 the average.)

Half-Elf starting age: 22 + 2d8–9
(+ or – up to 7 years … 15 – 29 with 22 the average.)

Gnome starting age: 24 + 2d10–11
(+ or – up to 9 years … 15 – 33 with 24 the average.)

Dwarf starting age: 26 + 2d12–13
(+ or – up to 11 years … 15 – 37 with 26 the average.)

Elf starting age: 34 + 2d20–21
(+ or – up to 19 years … 15 – 53 with 34 the average.)

Okay, so this allows for an Elf to begin his adventuring career at over 50. Which seems old. But not nearly as old as 250 … and for a people that live to be almost 2000 years old, I can see 50 seeming to be quite the young pup.

What do you think?


Regards,



Jeff

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Leaving 4E but finding joy in C&C



So, I have been running 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons on Tuesday nights for some months now. This was an experiment by myself and other players to give the new 4th Edition (maybe not so new any more) a go. What we found was that the tendency of the rules to tie everything a player might try to do to a simplified modular process seemed to hamper creativity and made the players feel tied to those processes. Game play felt like a board game, and characters seemed like they came straight from an MMO computer game.

I believe 4E is doing what it intends to do by design. And as a board game it balances all its pieces so that everyone feels like they are getting a fair deal. But for us, a big part of role-play is what you do "outside" of the rules. The creativity the players feel that they themselves are able to bring to the table. The 4E rules don't encourage you as players to "break" them. As silly as it seems ... that's a mistake.

This past week, I decided to switch to Castles and Crusades. I have a first print C&C Players Handbook and a first print Monster and Treasure book which I bought from Peter Bradley (fantastic artist!) at the Troll Lords table at a local convention a few years ago. We are using these rules, but I understand the 4th Printing is out (pictured) and includes some improvements. If someone can clue me in on what I am missing, I may need to make that purchase. At least an electronic copy if nothing else.

Two of my players: my friend, Larry ... and the love of my life, Mendi. Each decided they did not wish to convert their 4th Edition characters and would rather start new characters instead. We chatted about it and all decided that it might be fun if their character's died in some spectacular way. Plans were made.

The last game ended in a cliff hanger as the party was attacked by a group of giant weapon wielding, armor wearing gorillas. I informed the group that these Gorillas had mental powers and that Tieflings (Larry's 4E character's race) were especially susceptible to the mental powers of these Gorillas. Larry played to the plan and when I told him that his character had been mind controlled and that he must attack the party, he of course, attacked Mendi.

The combat against the Gorillas was pretty exciting. I rolled two natural 20's against the same player. This left her at a negative 3 and unconscious. I looked up C&C's rules on death and it seems characters don't die until negative 10 (pretty standard old school) and don't start bleeding out until -5 (I think that was it ... which was happy news to me, because it meant the character was down but stable and not out and I hadn't started my first C&C session by killing (unintentionally) someone.

The character that was down was created as Mendi's character's twin sister. I saw it as a bit of good fortune that she fell early because she was the most likely to put herself between Larry's character and Mendi's character, and ruin one or both of their deaths.

Larry and Mendi happily fudged dice rolls at each other and the other players occupied with armored gorillas and a fallen comrade hardly seemed to notice them. That is, until Mendi announced that she had only two hit points left (who knows how many she really had, but this was what she chose to announce as she set up the group for her impending death) and Larry's fifth level Warlock, now a fifth level C&C wizard announced he was casting fireball.

Larry rolled 5d6. He rolled a total of 16. If Mendi made her save she would take 8 points of damage. Since she had just announced that she had 2 hit points that would mean she would be left with negative 6. Down, but still alive. The tension was palatable. The funny thing is, there was just as much anticipation for Mendi who wanted to fail the roll as there was for the the other players, who weren't in on the plan, and all hoping she would survive.

Now all eyes were on Mendi. There was no fudging this roll. Every player watched in anticipation.  She rolled a 1.

Negative 14. Dead. I took great pleasure in describing the charred remains of Mendi's character as the other players all looked at me aghast! The player who played the character who was Mendi's character's twin was beside herself.

"What do you mean she is dead?"

"Isn't there anything we can do?"

"I will avenge you, my sister. I will!"

Then Mendi says, "My ghost comes to her in a dream and demands vengeance!"

Perfect. I announce to the player of the twin sister that her divine visitation from her dead sister's spirit demanding vengence has awakened her and that she is now up and has 5 hit points.

No hesitation, no questions, she charges straight at Larry. Boom! She hits him for 5 points of damage. He announces that he's at negative 2. That's not going to work. He's down ... defeated, but not dead. Mendi, playing devil's advocate coaxes the other player ... that's not going to satisfy your sister's spirit ... he's still alive.

I allow her an automatic critical hit for double damage against a helpless target and it's all over. Larry's character dies a bloody death at the hands of another player and everyone not in on the plan looks around in shock. Except for the player who killed Larry, she seemed exceptionally pleased with herself that she was able to avenge her sister.

It was awesome!

The remaining Gorillas are defeated and only after all is said and done do I reveal that it was all a set up, and that both Mendi and Larry have requested permission to make new characters.

At this point there is a great sense of relief from everyone and everyone shares how excited they were and how afraid they were that everyone was going to die.

Did I mention that, "It was awesome!"

Castles and Crusades may well prove to be more dangerous and deadly than 4E ... but it seems like that's okay with my players. I already feel liberated from 4E and free to interpret and house rule various aspects of C&C to fit my play-style and that of my group. Something I never felt I was able to do with 4E. The rules just didn't seem flexible enough.

The difference between 4E and C&C is that of Computer MMO RPG's and old school Tabletop RPG's, digital and analogue, Lego Blocks and a lump of clay. There is nothing wrong with 4E, but I think I prefer the freedom of a game where less is more.



Regards,




Jeff Moore