Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dresden Files RPG - First Impressions

Given that I am attempting to stay up a little longer and ignore other pressing responsibilities, I thought I would take a moment to talk about gaming and dust off the ole blog. Just yesterday, I sat down with one of my groups to play my first ever Dresden Files RPG game, as well as my first FATE engine game. Needless to say, I had a marvelous time generating my character and playing a much different system than I'm currently used to, as pretty much, the only offerings at moment are copious amounts of Pathfinder (not a stab against the system, but just a lament on the lack of system diversity). So here goes my horrific review (completely out of practice) of Session 1, from a mostly mechanical standpoint.

Character Generation - Making Ken Doyle
Normally, when I sit down to create a character, I open a Windows sticky note and begin hashing out some basic details. But when sitting down with Dresden, I found myself facing a whole sheet dedicated just to the background. For those unfamiliar with the Dresden Files chargen system, the creation of the background allows the player to establish Phase Aspects, quirks of personality and character history, such as "Lucky at all the wrong moments" and "Ma's Chicken Soup Recipe," that the player can invoke in situations to gain in-game benefits and the GM can compel to complicate your life. My overall inclination rested upon shamelessly ripping off how the designers modeled Harry Dresden as the example for character generation. I essentially took a different approach to Ghost Whisperer and morphed the Jennifer Love Hewitt character into a tough street boxer, who realizes his gift by meeting the ghost of his final boxing opponent, whom he killed in the ring. Both end up working together in order to bring peace to restless souls. In his first adventure off-screen (Round Seven), during one of his "jobs," he takes on a mage bent on inciting a large gang war in Boston. With the additions of some skills, powers, and mortal stunts (special ways to use skills), I fashioned him into a fairly competent boxer just new to investigative work. Through this process, Ken Doyle made his appearance:
  • High Concept: Haunted, Grizzled Boxer
  • Trouble: Anger and Fists Don't Always Mix Well!
  • Aspect 1: These Streets Run Through My Blood.
  • Aspect 2: Trust the Dead; You'll Live Longer.
  • Aspect 3: Mage-Breaking Uppercut. "Hadouken!"
  • Great (+4): Fists, Contacts
  • Good (+3): Endurance, Intimidation
  • Fair (+2): Athletics, Presence, Might
  • Average (+1): Conviction, Discipline, Investigation, Resources, Rapport
  • Powers: Ghost Speaker
  • Stunts: Footwork, I Know Just the Guy, You Don't Want Any of This!
Impression: This system worked out remarkably well. While in most games, I have a fairly solid understanding of the character that I am playing, but ultimately I do not give such considerations too much depth, as they often have little roleplaying or mechanical consequence in the system. However, Dresden provided me with not only the opportunity to flesh the details out as part of character generation, but also the incentive to do so, as I could use them to aid my character. For once in many characters, my grip on this persona was much more tangible than it had been.

Session 1 - Hours 1 & 2
When the group finally amassed at my apartment, we continued the character generation system by adding the last two aspects, which are awesomely derived from how our character impacted the first story of two other characters at the table. Since our table consisted of only three characters, we all showed up in each other's stories. After some negotiation and editing by all players, we finally settled on in how we knew each other. In terms of my relationships:
  • Sabine [Changeling] (Player: Em) - I saved her from a bunch of thugs when she arrived in America. Aspect: Never Overlook a Chance to be Heroic
  • Kira [White Court Virgin] (Player: Beth) - After she witnessed a murder at a convenience store, I interviewed her while attempting to catch his killer. Aspect: A Case w/ a Supernatural Twist
We concluded this section by getting all players into each other's stories and discussing methods of compelling and invoking each of our aspects, arriving at different situations where they could be used to aid and/or complicated the plot. This transactional affair was quite engaging, as I came out with a host of situations where I could use them during future sessions.

Impression: In terms of the whole process, the collaboration at this stage was impressive, and everyone really worked together to establish relationships and interactions prior to our new adventure. This stage also represented one of the more challenging parts of the game, as it can become difficult to find realistic ways of getting characters into certain First Adventures. With a larger number of players (4+), there will be instances where characters will not be in certain other characters' intro stories, which can be quite helpful when an American native who has never left the country would be hard pressed to find his way into a European tale. However, with just the three of us, a healthy dose of rhetcon was needed to get everything in place. Also, the fact that another character, potentially of supernatural origin, enters into the First Adventure could alter its nature and make it rather difficult to manage. This was not a gamebreaker by any means, but it did create some issues at our first meeting as we got our stories straight.

Session 1 - Hour 3
After chargen was finished, we hit the streets of Boston and found ourselves facing the appearance of the Morgan in artifacts at a museum exhibit. My character caught a glimpse of a fleeing raven-haired woman, but the pursuit turned up nothing. Given the abundance of this visual image and the attitude of undead spirits in their "devotion" to the artifacts, we did what every modern investigative party should do: we went to the library and did some research. After gathering a bit of information, Sabine and I parted company with Kira and had dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Upon our exit, two abnormally sized ravens descended upon us and attempted to kill us for conducting our investigation. However, they stood no chance to my physical prowess and Sabine's quick thinking, as we quickly subdued and restrained them.

Impression: I must say that I love FUDGE dice. Unlike d20s, which give a huge range of success and failures, these four, six-sided dice have three different faces (-, 0, and +) which lend themselves to a range of -4 to +4 for any given roll. As such, it means that stuff you will likely not botch stuff that you are really good at, and you could be competent on stuff that you have no training in due to sheer luck. For example, with my Great (+4) Fists, I will have a range of Mediocre (+0) and Legendary (+8), meaning that I will never truly botch and have a reasonable chance on any roll of still doing quite well. The skills rolls felt fairly balanced under this system.

The invoking and compelling mechanics were quite cool to watch in use. Invoking aspects, which leads to a +2 to a skill check or a reroll, requires the use of Fate points drawn from the character's limited pool, so it made the timed usage of Aspects rather important. When we were doing library research with my Average (+1) Investigation, I spent a Fate point to invoke A Case w/ a Supernatural Twist to temporarily make it Good, and with the subsequent +4 on the roll, I went into full-on search engine mode and found much of what we needed, and it felt really epic. I managed similar stuff during the fight with the ravens. Compelling is also pretty neat, in that the GM can offer you a Fate point to use your Aspects as a means to complicate the scene and compel certain reactions. To avoid this, players can spend a Fate point to ignore the compel action. In the session, the GM used it quite openly to push us into the plot, which worked out nicely for us since we all received that Fate point in return. The mechanic was not really used to complicate the situation, but I am certain that will be in store for us next session.

However, my favorite usage of Fate points in the game came when Sabine was looking for a trashcan during our fight outside the restaurant. By spending one point, she immediately ported the item into the scene and made it available for her use, which was really cool and ended up as a rather nasty way of containing one of the ravens.

I won't go too far into the combat and conflict system, as I am still a little fuzzy on how it all works. It is currently the aspect of the game that I understand least, although future sessions should rectify that.

Parting Thoughts
Having played Pathfinder for so long, jumping into this game was a healthy refresher. While Pathfinder requires characters to be mostly dedicated to a specific party role, this system was much more flexible in terms of allowing players to craft their characters and, especially for mundane characters in a sea of supernaturals, to contribute meaningfully to the story without a huge disparity in power. The character creation and system are simple, yet robust enough to allow a hefty degree of customization without overloading players with too much crunch.

Will this book make its way onto my shelf and into my heart? It is too early to tell, but I can say that it offers a unique approach to modern supernatural fantasy/horror, a genre that is rather hard to get going lately in a sea of Paizo saturation.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A New Year, A New Perspective, A New Journey

It's been awhile coming, but I have finally found a few minutes to sit down and change up this tired old blog. Thesis writing and general unrest drove me away from this project and it started to look as if I was not coming back. But...

With the coming of the new year comes a new surge of energy and a new perspective on what I want to do with this blog. Over the coming weeks, expect a new resurgence of posts about gaming, geeking, gabbing, and grounding the competition (which is not really there anyway). However, brief updates are in order for my followers.

  1. STO - Yes, I have gotten back onto STO, which is not the best MMO in existence, but since Trek has been an important part of my childhood, my desire to return is often strong, so I have assigned it the task of brief distraction to allow me to avoid thesis insanity.
  2. MTG - Another acronym that I hoped to avoid, but forces around me have led me back to this game with surprisingly little investment outside of a few.
  3. PS3 - While the initial game acquired for this system (Demon's Souls) is a fairly brutal and likely dead end game, Arkham Asylum and Blu-Ray spell fun times ahead. Again, more technological rewards for academic work.
  4. Gaming Project - With the possible demise of the Saturday campaign, I am shopping around for other things to do for the slot, which might lead to a series of one-shots that should offer some awesome potential for posts and geeking off.
While I know that some of these announcements are rather insignificant, I have not yet decided if I want to post the other, more personal events of late, given that some people involved might not want their names revealed. Yet, I feel that the coming weeks will hold fun times and new subjects for conversations.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Weekly Adventure Write-Up 1 - Smuggler's Shiv

Spoilers will be littered throughout this entry. You have been warned!

The only game currently running within my immediate circle of friends is my Pathfinder campaign running through the Serpent's Skull Adventure Path. This write-up will cover the first session. Our current cast of characters includes:

Bane - N Human Cleric of Pharasma (played by Tito)
Tzaira - CN Elf Witch (played by Captain Crimson)
Zstelian - CN Human Oracle (played by Eelface)
Ddal - LN Dwarf Fighter (played by Kitsukisama)

Two others still wait in the wings.

The Adventure Thus Far
The heroes found themselves on Smuggler's Shiv after being shipwrecked due to unknown circumstances. After some early conflicts involving poisonous crustaceans, they determined that someone had drugged the crew and caused the terrible accident. Our heroes, along with five other NPC castaways began to make their way across the island, headed toward the remenants of a previous civilization, home of the lighthouse that they hoped would lead to their rescue. Some miscellaneous encounters here and there sapped some of their resources, but they endured, finding numerous hauls from unlucky visitors from the past. As they traveled the coast, they came across two terrible discoveries. Some creature in the woods had been stalking them throughout the journey and leaving mangled animals as some sort of warning. One night, as they attempted to locate the creature, it made off with their NPC gnome companion, who ended up worse for wear, requiring Bane's skillful healing hand. They resolved to move on without delay, hoping to outpace the demon who had become fixated on the group.

The second discovery shed some light on their circumstances, as it seemed that one of the passengers had engineered this scenario for some purpose, possibly in collusion with the missing captain. Their resolve to track down these two individuals met with some opposition, as the path had become obscured by a nest of particularly deadly spiders. The group opted to circle around in the hopes of picking the trail back up at a later date.

This skirting led to the major encounter of the night, for which the party was somewhat ill-prepared and the GM a bit heavy-handed in his approach. The NPCs conveniently business (sneeze "quests") for the PCs to complete around the island as a means of forcing the PCs to explore the various corners of the Shiv. The most lucrative "business" by far was the rogue's desire to locate buried treasure. Since he would allow the PCs to take a cut, they agreed to help and once the location had been discovered, they uncovered the underground chamber containing the loot...and 4 Lacedons hoping to splish them across the walls. Given the make-up of the party, 1.5 melee combatants and spell support that would not work on the undead, life got pretty complicated quickly, particularly since my initial full attack splattered the fighter all over the room. What ensued was a clusterfuck of bad roles combined with strong hits against the party. However, I am not above allowing a deus ex every now and again, so after some divine intervention and a slight nod toward completing the quest, they mustered their resolve and continued to kill the lacedons and claim their treasure.

Initial Module Thoughts
It goes without saying that this module is quite fun. It represents my first foray into running published adventures, but I am having a great time each time I sit down. Part of the benefit to module and published campaigns is that I am able to address my two glaring weaknesses as a GM: continuity and pacing. Since the module lays out the scenario from start to finish, I can avoid going off onto moon-jumping tangents and alien invasions (true story). I am a bit taken back by the amount of awesome loot given to the PCs in the module. Without spoiling too much, my part already has some access to +1 weapons and crapload of potions. However, since the PCs are completely isolated and without any support, this approach makes a lot of sense.

I will continue this write-up throughout the next few months, and the next post should be up by the middle of next week. Until then, stay tuned.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Returning from the Grave

Again, it seems that I have lapse in my upkeep, but now that this Labor Day weekend represents a new era of organization in my life, I am hoping that I will be more diligent. So speaking of returning from the grave, my old phone has resurfaced after my panic-filled Friday last week, which resulted in my gleeful purchase of a Droid 2 phone. I have since fallen very much in love with my new phone and am currently undertaking the exciting process of integrating it more and more into my life. But alas, yesterday, I found a notice that a lost phone had been turned in on campus, and sure enough, it was mine.

I loved my previous phone quite a bit, but the larger keyboard and touch screen of the Droid is just so much more snazzy. Also, it is currently feeding my book addiction with Kindle on Android, which for me, is a potent combination. Currently, there are merely three texts, one of which is simply introductory material, but I foresee more purchases in the future.

On a gaming-related note, while I have not started the Pathfinder game, a series of unfortunate and terrifying events yesterday did lead to some Smallworld action, which again, I lost, but that is not as important as playing an awesome game.

Now, onto organization and thesis work.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Game Nostalgia - 4-Bit Fanaticism

(I have removed Friday from the posts since I will likely never post on time.)

"You're still playing Atari?" my dad asked me today as I was piddling around on Game Room before we headed out. The truth is that I have always been behind the video game evolutionary curve. We had our Atari 2600 burning up the T.V. well into 1990 when my parents finally broke down and bought a Nintendo system. I have been consistently rewarded with a system about two years before it goes out of style. (With computers and cellphones, it is about two months.)

With this in mind, I must say: I FUCKING LOVE ATARI GAMES! Yes, their graphics are about as interesting as day old coffee grounds, and game plots were as thin as William Shatner's sanity. Yet they existed in an age when graphical limits challenged designers to innovate games more intriguingly, or steal from everyone else, as game copyright laws were extremely lax at the time. I still remember running through endless mazes to avoid Zots for hours of endless fun, and this happened only three weeks ago.

Tunnel Runner, 1983. Copyright CBS Electronics

Now, one could say that games have evolved so much that there is no point to looking back, and in some regards this is true, for nostalgia is often used as a cheap marketing ploy in lieu of innovation. However, to deny the roots of gaming is to forget the foundations that they laid for the games of today.

I guess in the end, what I find most fascinating about my 4Bit Fanaticism is that it mimics my attachment to other hobbies, for I often love my gateway item and my current fascination. All matters in between are immaterial, and it is often the first that stands as the most endearing and memorable experience.

So, for me, when I fire up Game Room, I wish not only to reclaim something that I once loved, but also to remind myself of where I am now and the path that I took to get here. Wiping out the horror of NES-level game difficulty though is an important step in the process.

Console Sprite Stays Home, Part IV - A Little AFK

Today brought about anticipated family obligations. My mom saddled up in the old family wagon dad, who has not been able to come down in years due to his health. While he is still not recovered fully (we sorta left him in the apartment while we went out to do some initial shopping), the fact that he actually made it down here was extremely satisfying for the day. We hit the usual locations for clothes, as I seem to be losing pairs of khaki shorts at an alarming rate, but we also ran by Best Buy for the most anticipated stop on the trip: camera action. I have been wanting a small digital camera for about four months, and with the near arrival of another paycheck, I should have enough money to buy one. Chronic Geek helped out with some suggestions and I have a couple of options in mind, although with the impending influx of new students, they might sell out of the models that I would like.

After a brief stop back home, we collected the third party to head out to a Lonestar lunch, the remnants of which are still festering in my intestinies. After some conversation and a mushy apple cobbler, we made our last important stop at the local used bookstore, where my father and I were assigned the role of porters carrying around my mother's loots, and believe me, there were quite a few blues in the set.

After we had a few parting words and they departed awaiting my arrival at Thanksgiving, I sat down with my own loots for the day: a couple of books, but most importantly, my first module on the Adventure Path. Staring at it with fanboy glee, I cracked a few pages and relished in the thought of staring it in a few weeks. Life is about to get interesting...

Console Sprite Stays Home, Part III - ZOMG Zombies!!!

Today, to whet my geek palate, I wondered up to the FLGS during what turned out to be one of the most enjoyable days of late summer. 80* temperatures and slight northern winds made for one helluva nice walk uptown. Self-restraint was the name of the game today though, and simply to spite every bone in my body, I walked out with nothing more than a bottle of water, as the walk back to campus would be a bit long and the concrete was starting to warm just a bit. Work ensued, and the day turned out to be fairly productive, with only a few primary responsibilities remaining until the big event next Wednesday.

Upon arriving home, I spent much of the evening moving my boardgames out to the dining room in order to make them more accessible to play in the coming weeks. However, after some prodding and pleading, I finally convinced Kitsuki-sama to play a game this evening too. What was on the menu? Why, Last Night on Earth, an intriguing entry into the zombie apocalypse genre, albeit much more enjoyable than traditional zombies. The scenario involved saving the townspeople from their gruesome fate, and being the Zombie Player, I threw as much as I could muster at Kitsuki-sama, who was catapulting his four heroes (four heroes has become quite an iconic number) against the hordes of zombies. However, luck was not on my side, and I was unable to defeat him. I would have snapped a couple of pictures, but the game was impeding our attempt to eat, so to speed things along, we quickly cleaned up the table to dig into some delicious pizza.

While not the most exciting of evenings, the trend in board gaming is coming along nicely, although I am dreadfully afraid that the return of Tito will push the compass back toward 40K. We shall see...