The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

Player preconceptions

Posted By on October 8, 2014

These are a couple of stories (or, maybe, the same story twice) both involving Lois and her preconceived notions about RPGs and gamemasters.

It likely is worth mentioning that David and Lois are a couple, because that figures lightly into the story.

So, we’re playing Shadowrun, I’m GM-ing, and David, Lois, Lisa and Steve are playing. This is after David and Lois left the game and refused to play with Ross. However, Ross had left the game, so David and Lois came back.

In the first story, the crew was doing a run against a Renraku facility. Now, they were armed, but no one had drawn guns yet or really done anything other than jump the wall and get chased by some guards. I don’t remember the exact details, but they get split up, and the crew gets away except for Lois’s character. She gets chased by half a dozen Red Samurai armed with automatic weapons. They chase her to a dead end, and tell her to put her hands on her head, face the wall, and get on her knees.

She draws her pistol.

I tell her that there’s no way she’ll win against 6 guys with automatic rifles.

She says she’ll risk it.

In all fairness, she got a shot off before she took half a dozen 3 round bursts center of mass.

So, yeah, her character’s bullet riddled corpse falls back against the wall, and slides to the ground in a bloody smear.

She starts to cry.

I’m like “we can do that over if you want, but what did you think was going to happen?”

Her: “I thought you’d let me fight my way out.”

Me: “No, you get captured, and then the team has to come and break you out in a brilliant escape sequence.”

Her: “But when your character gets captured, the GM kills you.”

Me: “Not in my game.”

In the end, she (the player) couldn’t recover and left my game again, taking David with her.

Okay, so, the second story.

David and Lois are back. the rest of the crew is basically the same, and they’re having to get some hard-copy blackmail paydata out of a safe at some guy’s house in a gated burbclave. What’s the best way to get into a burbclave? Have a big brown and gold delivery truck. Now, in this game, Lois is playing a “hot mage”, essentially the face of the group, a siren seductress type. So, she hits the unsuspecting delivery driver with a come hither stare, and one of the other guys cold-cocks him and leaves him stripped to his boxers and tied up where someone will find him the next day. Meanwhile, they take the truck and get into the burbclave, except that the guys at the guard shack don’t have a corresponding delivery order from the brown parcel service’s computers (remember, it’s the future, all the systems talk to each other). Now, they could have retconned it, and that would have been cool, but instead she charms her way past the young guard standing out in the drive – which works, except the old guard in the shack is older and wiser so, as they’re driving away, he starts yelling at the young guard for letting the truck through.

It’s likely worth mentioning at this point that the only folks in the van are Lisa and David’s characters – the rest of the crew (a hacker and a gun bunny, IIRC) are in reserve just in case things go south.

Lisa and David get to the house, no one is home, they go in, pop the safe, get the data, and head out.. right into the waiting Lone Star crew. Now, the way I play it, magical units are like K-9 units – specialist, uncommon, but can be called in. So, they leave and there’s like half a dozen squad cars, including a couple of wage-mages and summoned spirits.

David’s character polymorphed into a mouse and ran into a gutter, leaving Lois holding the bag.

All the police tell Lois to surrender, and this time, she does. They pack her into a squad car and have a bound spirit watch her. (I figured that’s the best way to handle arresting magically active characters). She tries to cast something and the spirit whacks her with a stun spell knocking her out.

She starts to cry again.

Me: “What? You’re under arrest.”

Her: “I thought you were going to let me escape.”

Me: “The rest of the team needs to break you out.”

That’s not good enough, apparently, because she gets up and leaves, taking David with her.

So, yeah… I’m not really sure what I could have done differently as a GM here. I’m not certain where she got the ideas of how things work in games, and I realize that I’d never GM-ed anything before these series of games, but everyone else thought it was reasonable, and (after the fact) stated that a jailbreak would have been fun. Complications make things interesting. If it was always easy all the time, it would be kind of boring, wouldn’t it?

The story where it all goes sideways

Posted By on September 30, 2014

So, after concluding a plot arc, I started a D20 Modern campaign that lasted all of one or two sessions. In some ways, it was my best game ever. It was the one I was into the most, and also the one which they players were into the most – which is likely why it imploded so quickly.

The hook for the game was that it was set 5 years hence, and everyone could play themselves or someone else – their call. It was a bit of an interesting bit of navelgazing, because you could tell the people who were comfortable in their own skin because they just played themselves, except now with jobs instead of in school. The other folks played themselves too – but hotter, thinner, stronger, etc. Still, escapism is fine, right?

The idea was that we all went out for Chinese food and some guys kidnap me – so they need to find out what all that was about, who nabbed me, what I was up to, all that. There are spies, safe houses, the works.

They find one of the guys who nabbed me, extract information from him, then feed him through a wood chipper. Solid.

Then they regroup and have an argument as to how to proceed. This argument turns serious, and before you can say Mexican standoff most of the characters are pointing guns at each other and screaming for everyone else to stop pointing guns at them.

Of course, then Lisa comes out from where she was preparing food and is like “guys, knock it off”. Everyone put their guns away, and the session ended soon after that.

And so did the game.

And so did the group.

The best explanation that I ever got was that it was too real, too dark, and folks weren’t having fun. I think what was latent was that most of the folks didn’t like David and Lois, and since everyone was playing versions of themselves, that really came out.

It’s too bad, because that intensity was amazing.

Player awesomeness

Posted By on September 29, 2014

Finally getting back to my series of posts on gamemastering, I’d like to relate a tale from the other side of the fence – where the player created and played a character so awesome, I brought the character back for a one-shot I ran for the original group something like 10 years later.

This is the story of Catherine (Cat).

I think the thing you have to understand is that this character’s player, Lisa (again, I’ve changed everyone’s names) typically tended to play magical and social characters, so this felt (at least to me) like a change of pace for her. Cat was a Street Samurai mixed with a dash of Face – very professional, well-connected, very tough, and an excellent negotiator.

I don’t want to super-psychoanalyze my friends, but I think the thing about this character that really made her shine is that it let the player explore her hardass side – moreso than comes out in her everyday life. I don’t mean to suggest that she is a wallflower or anything, she just generally relies on argument and persuasion. Cat, on the other hand, would break your neck before you even knew what hit you. I think that this brought a level of intensity to the role that really made her shine.

Ironically, now that I’ve gotten this far, I can’t really remember any real stories about Cat (perhaps Lisa will read this and drop me an email if she remembers any stories)… well, except one.

During the one shot, Lisa was the experienced one of the group, so Cat pretty much took the lead as they were trying to figure out who was running drugs that had gotten some kids killed. Anyway, one of the players was Lisa’s boyfriend – an experience roleplayer, but more of the D&D bent.

So, they’re in pursuit of someone they saw moving drugs, via a water taxi, and the boyfriend’s character was getting too chummy with the taxi driver. Cat grabs him (the boyfriends character, not the taxi driver) and she’s like “Stop compromising operational security. If you pull shit like that again, I’ll shoot you in the face and dump you overboard.”

The boyfriend looked like he had been slapped in the face. He was like “Are you serious?”

I laughed and said “This is why I wanted Cat back. Welcome to Shadowrun.”.

Cypher system

Posted By on September 29, 2014

(Crossposted to my RPG mailing list)

So, awhile back I got a bundle deal on Numenera (charity, bundle, cheaper, yadda yadda), so I bought it:

http://www.numenera.com/

It’s a bit of a clever system, and a much more interesting setting. As one would expect from Monte’s work on various D20 properties, it’s solidly class and level-based (not my favorite, but I can work with it), but there are some very clever bits there. The idea that you expend extra effort to have a greater effect or an easier time appeals to me. There’s also a lot of focus on exploration and discovery, and that is how you earn XP, not by killing things and taking their stuff.

The setting is interesting in that it’s like a billion years in the future, and there’s a pile of lost tech. There is “magic”, but it’s nanomachines and weird artifacts. There are dragons and other beasties, but they’re the result of genetic manipulations and mutations (think Jurassic Park). For some reason, this appeals to me way more than your classic medieval fantasy.

Anyway. I recently got a product announcement that they came out with a new product which uses the same system, but is a different setting. It is called “The Strange”:

http://www.thestrangerpg.com/

Basically, everything we have in fiction or legend or whatever has its own realm, and the PCs can move between them. So, one session you may be trying to stop Space Nazis from the dark side of the moon (Iron Sky) and another time you may be in New York City fighting ghosts.

I grabbed a copy of that book and will be reading it as time permits.

I note that there is also a free preview:

http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/137783/The-Strange-FREE-PREVIEW

and that the core books are $20 (PDF) and approx $43 (hardcover via Amazon), BUT players only need to buy the players guides, which are $8 (PDF) and approx $17 (paperback via Amazon).

I like this approach. It’s not unlike the PHB/DMG approach of D&D, which I’ve always appreciated.

Grammar Libertarians Unite!

Posted By on September 20, 2014

http://monsterhunternation.com/2014/09/19/grammar-libertarians-unite/

I’m totally on board with this. Go Larry.

Catching up

Posted By on September 14, 2014

So, yeah, August came and went.

Liz was gone for a couple of weeks, hunting Dall’s sheep above the arctic circle in Alaska with her dad. It was the trip he’s always wanted to take, and it was the experience of a lifetime for the two of them to share.

Meanwhile, I got to spend the two weeks with the boys, which is great because I don’t get to spend days with them like Liz does. So, my boys and I hung out, I cleaned up around the house, read them some books, we laughed, giggled, rolled around on the floor, it was grand.

For the second week, my mother came to visit, and we visited Professor Bond’s Emporium. It’s a cool shop in a neat old mill, I hope it sticks around. The website is a bit out of date. If you’re interested, you’d need to pop in to the store or call to see who is playing what when. They have a good inventory of Magic cards and assorted board games, with some Warmachine and RPG books.

Anyway, I picked up Betrayal at House on the Hill and X-Wing. Both are quite good.

X-Wing uses the best preplotted movement system I’ve seen (if you’re in to that sort of thing), which apparently as licensed by WizKids for use in their Attack Wing game. Otherwise, it’s just a cool, fun dogfighting game. I think the system would be great for a reboot of the old Crimson Skies boardgame.

Betrayal is interesting. Basically, you and the other players cooperate in exploring a haunted house, which is different each time you play because it’s made from randomly drawn tiles. As you explore the house, there are events that happen to you, items you find, and omens, which often work like items, except that as there are more omens revealed, the more likely it is that the haunt starts. Once the haunt starts, you look up in a book of 50 different haunts which one you’re playing (based on the omen and room combination), and that tells you who the traitor is. The traitor then tries to complete some objective (typically killing the other players by some means) and the remaining players try to complete their objective and survive. So, there is a tremendous amount of replayability in this game.

While my mother was here, we watched a lot of YouTube videos from The Painting Clinic, which got me thinking again about getting an airbrush for miniatures. Since Liz is going back to work, I figured I had a little bit of pocket money. The missing piece to this when I last looked at getting one several years ago was a spray booth – they were either expensive or took up a lot of space when I wasn’t using them. So, anyway, I found:

  • portable airbrush booth
  • A cheap airbrush kit (Okay, so this wasn’t the kit I got, but it was the kit I should have gotten, because the compressor has a tank, and there is a quick disconnect fitting, and it has an airbrush holder. I ended up getting a lesser one, and buying the other things separately – it saved me some money while I was experimenting, but I’ll likely have to buy a new compressor with tank, etc. So, I should have just bought this, it would have been cheaper in the long run).
  • After some experimenting, I got a second airbrush.

The idea here is that I use one airbrush with the 0.5mm needle for thick stuff (mainly gesso, which I use as a primer) and the other with the 0.3mm needle with thin stuff (namely thinned Vallejo acrylic paints).

What I’ve found is:

  • Primer – 0.5mm airbrush, 1:1 gesso to glass and tile medium. This flows fine, though tends to gack up the airbrush, so I throw it all in the ultrasonic cleaner every time I use it. I do wish the spray was broader, but it works, and I only need to spray one coat (when I brushed it on, for some reason, it always took 2).
  • Paint – 0.3mm airbrush, 2:1 Vallejo to my standard thinner (3 parts distilled water, 1 part flow aid). This works great for general painting, though this spray can actually get broad, which is nice for basecoating.
  • My old crappy craft paints don’t work well through the brush, mainly because they’re a little chunky and tend to jam up the brush. That said, I don’t know if it’s the quality of the paint or the age of the paint – they’re *really* old.

So, that’s what I’m experimenting with and what I’ve figured out so far. I’ll post pictures once I have something that’s actually more than just primed. I’m working on planets and asteroids for space games, some resin Victorian buildings for Dystopian Wars, and a Warmachine gun carriage (which right now just looks like a big red box – but it takes me about 15 minutes to spray a coat, whereas brushing would take me like an hour, and it takes 5 coats to get the color right).

Aaanyway… it’s bedtime.

Updated pics of the boys

Posted By on September 14, 2014

I’ve updated the gallery of the boys with some pictures from August. Since I ended up taking them on several different cameras, and it sort by name and doesn’t seem to allow you to change that. *shrug*.

Updated software

Posted By on August 7, 2014

I’ve updated Owncloud (the thing which hosts the galleries and video) and WordPress (the thing which hosts this blog). If anything is busted or doesn’t work, drop me an email or comment here.

Swim time…

Posted By on August 3, 2014

Liz bought the boys an inflatable pool doodad:

Pool thingy

Pool thingy

It’s pretty cool – you need a compressor to inflate it, and you leave it hooked up to the hose and it sprays water all over, but it’s loads fancier than the injected molded plastic thingies that we used to have when we were kids. There’s a upper pool, a lower pool, and a slide connecting them, which is pretty awesome.

The boys seem okay with it:

Miles

Miles

Max

Max

Gaming table update

Posted By on August 3, 2014

For fathers’ day, Liz got me printed maps for my table, to replace the ones I made up myself last year. These are large format single prints, rather than US letter size taped together. So, you don’t have any tape lines, and there’s no repetition, which is nice. Much more aesthetically pleasing.

It took me so long to get them on the table, because I had a demo game of Alpha Strike set up from before the boys were born, which Liz and I finally got a chance to play on my birthday. While she liked the aesthetic of Battletech, the classic rules are tremendously in depth which means that it’s a bit complex for a casual game. You need to know how every weapon and bit of gear works, and you need to be quick on the dice and quick on filling in the dots (and there are so many dots to fill in, I’ve heard people say that it reminds them of taking standardized tests). If you do not, it takes FOREVER. Like, I’ve had games where each person has 2 mechs and it takes 2 hours to play – which is about all the time one can expect to have on a weeknight. Alpha Strike is loads better – Liz and I played a game with 2 mechs per side, including my explaining the rules, and it took us half an hour. She says that she still prefers Warmachine, but that this is loads better than classic BattleTech.

Anyway, table pics.

Water map

Water map

Space map

Space map

Both Maps

Both Maps