Posts tagged gaming
I am blogging from the road! This is a unique experience but I wanted to type up our yearly PAX roundup before forgetting the details. Hopefully my formatting doesn’t suck.
- Diablo III – The console free play area this year not only was enormous – necessary for the huge League of Legends tournament going on – but for showing games in beta. We never did get to play Torchlight II but we did play Diablo III. My complaints about the game are still the same with the dumbed down skill tree and the always on DRM. But man. Blizzard, shut up and take my money.
- XCOM – I was worried 2K would turn XCOM into some first person shooter. Nope, it’s a squad combat tactical RPG vs. aliens. Now with exploding environments! And on XBox! All good.
- MC Frontalot – I thought my knee was going to disintegrate after standing for hours to get to the last act of the concert but powering through to MC Frontalot was worth it. The dude has so much energy on stage he might have exploded. The song ‘It is Pitch Dark’ is awesome live. Sure, Jonathan Coulton was fun but Frontalot was better.
- Lords of Waterdeep – Yeah, okay WotC just take my money. Game is great board gamey fun. Just a well designed game.
- Cards Against Humanity – With great embarrassment I admit I was introduced to this horrible game by WotC reps. Where they got it from who knows. It’s Apples to Apples for adults. And hilarious. The Cards Against Humanity guys sold out completely. At one time we walked past the tables in the Westin Mezzanine and there were 3 games going.
- Rob’s Cortex Plus Tactics Hack – In which we had fun playing the Marvel Heroic Role Playing system as base classes from Final Fantasy Tactics with a bit of Two Guys With Swords.
- Soul Caliber V – Bought and en route to the house.
- Gazillions of friends – Holy crap PEOPLE! HI PEOPLE! I think I got to everyone!
- The End of the Omegathon – They played…. Crokinole. It’s Canadian bar shuffleboard. At first we were like… What the hell is this? Then we got into it. We started cheering and commenting on the turns. The match went for an hour and a half! I was so happy Eric suggested we watch it from a theater instead of standing in the grand ballroom. YAY CROKINOLE. It was epic.
- Bastion – The guys who made Bastion were manning the booth including the composer for the soundtrack and the kid (!!!) who did the VoiceOver. I felt the need to give them more money but I have the soundtrack so I bought a Bastion bandanna.
- Playtesting Race to Adventure – It’s a super fun game and you will love it when it comes out. Trust me.
- Celebrity Pictures – Rumor is that I made some squeeing noise on meeting Margaret Weis. That might be true. I have good pictures of Eric with MC Frontalot and Jonathan Coulton.
- The Boston Westin – We will never stay anywhere else. They set up the Mezzanine for continuous overflow tabletop play. Service was great. Attached to the Conference Center. Only ~ $10 a night more expensive than the Marriott.
- Getting Mark to play Magic – Rumor is this happened. Sadly no photographic evidence.
- Rock Band Blitz – It hurt my hands.
- Nintendo 3DS – Finally played the 3DS and I had to turn off the 3D because the game was so fuzzy. I’ll stick with my XL.
- Torchlight II – I got a good look at it in the PC Freeplay area and it’s Torchlight with multiplayer. Yeah I know it’s what we want…
- Eminent Domain – Card game that is a cross between Dominion and Race for the Galaxy. Two games I like very much, yeah, but Eminent Domain lacked a personality of it’s own.
- Zillions of MMORPGs – EVERYONE has an MMO and they all look the same. the SWTOR booth was so big it had its own lounge.
- Guy at Battlefield Booth – Felt the need to explain D&D to the girls. Note, I had no such issues with the WotC reps, who were infinitely cooler.
- Missing all the Panels – Went to a convention and went to no talks. Sigh.
- Too many people! I did not get to everyone. Sorry peeps. Also, I am super bad with names… As many people learned.
- PC Freeplay shutting down Dungeon Defenders. Meh.
- Worn Out – We overdid it a bit and now we are trashed.
- Expensive Boston food – Christ, I felt fleeced.
- Bizarre survey guy in the Nintendo booth – He felt the need to take a survey about the 3DS before I had a chance to play it.
So that’s my roundup! Bye PAX East 2012 – you were awesome.
Atlas Games is hosting “Reverb Gamers 2012“ with 31 question prompts about gaming and gamers and games. I’m going to answer all 31 questions for good or for ill. You can do it, too! And check out @ReverbGamers on Twitter or Facebook.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #10: Have you ever played a character originally from a book/TV/movie? How did the character change from the original as you played? If not, who would you most like to play?
Nope. Playing other people’s characters is not my thing.
If the Atomic Robo RPG (by Evil Hat! Of course!) has a stat block for Carl Sagan? It may persuade me to relent so I could say a very ponderous “billions“.
Atlas Games is hosting “Reverb Gamers 2012“ with 31 question prompts about gaming and gamers and games. I’m going to answer all 31 questions for good or for ill. You can do it, too! And check out @ReverbGamers on Twitter or Facebook.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #9: Have you ever played a character of the opposite sex. Why or why not? If yes, how did the other players react?
Yeah. Anyone who knows me knows that 90% of my characters are male. I have a two pronged answer to why this is.
By time I started gaming in earnest in college I was busy climbing to the crest of a grand and beautiful wave of open-throated misogyny. The sand kicking in the face started back in High School with small but poignant reminders of the Harsh Reality (“you cannot take the AP Computer class because there’s only one slot and, well, you’ll never do computers anyway…”). In college it began to reach that glorious crescendo of assholery. I’ve told these stories before so I shant rehash them again. Suffice they are legion and they are tiring and, back then, I made the mistake of living with it instead of doing what I do now, calling the bullshit to the carpet and not standing for any of it.
When it came to Fun Time Pretendy Games which were, above all, supposed to be fun, I had little interest in bringing all the baggage to the table. So I made male characters. In my world, men weren’t questioned why they wanted to be engineers or physicists or Starship Engineers in Starfleet or Jedis or Deckers. Men didn’t have to justify why they were picking up a sword and going off to adventure or throwing around fireballs. And to me, who had grown up on a steady diet of novels starring almost exclusively men in science fiction and horror, it was just easier. It was an escape from having to deal with the stupid all the time.
To all of their credit, my long suffering friends have put up with my quirk for many years.
I prefer female characters in precisely two settings: one-off con games and Cthulhu. At a con, I will not force random strangers to deal with my weird psychological hang-up from years of a faceful of crap.
Online is different. I will never play a female character in an online game unless it is in a private, closed chat room. I know the Internet. I know it is an open sewer. This is one of many common sense protection measures, like firewalls and anti-virus and using non-Windows machines. I’m on to it, I know its tricks, and I take proper procedures to protect myself and others from the jerks.
In 1992, I was exposed to the wonderful world of MUDding. Hey, I was on the University of Michigan Engineering UNIX boxes! They could talk all over the world! I just needed to type:
telnet blahblahdyblah.net 12345
Bingo! Midgaard! The game in question was a Diku. It was named Alpha. It was hosted in Finland. This was miraculous. I could go play a game in Finland. With crazy Finnish people.
I made a female character and it was ~ two days before the propositions began. And they were constant. I suppose at the time they assumed, and rightly, female characters were men looking for online hookups and TS. Why else would anyone make a female character? I logged out, logged back in, made the exact same character with a different gender and… presto!
I achieved Enlightenment.
I played Alpha for a little while but, like all Dikus, it got boring real quick, especially in the face of LPMuds. And MUSHing and MOOs. And chatroom-based games, my very favorite. We grow. We evolve. The Internet is what it is — the home for arguments and cats.
When people do meet me in person I guess it’s a bit of a jolt. But hey, it’s the fucking Internet. Here’s your beanie – it has a propeller! For all you know, I’m a well-designed bot who spews out random blog postings via scraping up bits of this and that from other blog postings and rearranging them in mildly readable ways.
Or, more likely, I’m a sentient can of Folger’s Crystals. How could you tell otherwise?
Atlas Games is hosting “Reverb Gamers 2012“ with 31 question prompts about gaming and gamers and games. I’m going to answer all 31 questions for good or for ill. You can do it, too! And check out @ReverbGamers on Twitter or Facebook.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #8: What’s the one gaming accessory (lucky dice, soundtrack, etc.) you just can’t do without? Why?
Two objects must come to the gaming table: the iPad and post-it notes.
Post-it notes come from Rob, from whom I’ve seen it in action. It’s a pretty simple system: during a session, when a player or the GM invokes a noun (person, place or thing), the noun goes on the post-it and the post-it sticks to the table. As the players reveal new information or arbitrary attach new information to the noun, the post-it note gets a note with the update — a new Aspect, a note about a relationship, dice, some fact, etc. Everyone sitting at the table can see what nouns are in play without having to remember them or make frantic notes. When players use up the noun or it becomes irrelevant, the GM pulls the post-it and throws it away, or hands it to a player. It’s a great system.
The iPad has on it:
- Goodreader for gaming book PDFs
- Note software like Penultimate or Note Taker HD
- Various dice rollers
- iKeepScore, a fantastic die rolling/game score keeping app
We use iKeepScore for a bunch of board and card games. It can sit in the center of the table and everyone can reach forward to update their scores as they take turns. It’s great.
There you go. Two items I could not live without: post-its and iPads. It’s gaming…. in the future.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #7: How do you pick names for your characters?
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #6: Describe your all-time favorite character to play. What was it about him/her/it that you enjoyed so much?
I lean heavily toward nerdy dps characters — wizards, shamans, deckers, nerdly smart people who use their brains to do massive damage to the enemy through overly-complex plans. I also create artistic non-combat sort of characters: bards, artists, musicians and the like. I enjoy taking role-playing games and figuring out the singular most useless and/or goofy and/or idiosyncratic build imaginable and making that character because, why not? Anyone can win with a mini-maxed out tank (fighter, street samurai, your big one-on-one damage dealer) but it takes work to be effective with a D&D 3rd edition bard all the way up through 20th level — which, to be honest, I never did.
I was never completely satisfied on the answer of the perennial and fundamental question: Could a bard could use Summon Monster IV, summon a whale, and drop it on someone from 100′ up? Ever had a whale drop on your army? Because that would rule.
Favorite character of all time: Ezekiel Moonstartulip (it sounds better in Elvish), Ship’s Engineer and Navigator of the Royal Flush, Half-Elf, Mage, and AD&D 2nd Edition Spelljammer Character. Wearer of a Fabulous Coat, Snarker of Snarks. He was completely out of tune with nature. Zeke once watched FRITZHOLM HAMMERMILL eat 50 pancakes in one sitting!
Second favorite character of all time (but only by a single amazing hair): Terry “Teraphim” Jackson, an NPC for my In Nomine game, the Balseraph of the Media, consumed completely by greed and burning need for good shoes, whom I did play a bit on a play-by-post board for a while. He was the demonic partner of my demonic PC Daimon Lightner, whom I played in Fiat Justitia, run long ago by the lovely Genevieve Cogman. (Daimon comes in at a cool #3, beaten out by Terry because that’s how one rolls when your best friend is a giant serpentine sunglasses-wearing demon.)
Sadly, it looks like the Fiat pages have been lost through time and the dissolution of io.com.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #5: Have you ever introduced a child to gaming, or played a game with a young person? How is gaming with kids different than gaming with adults?
Katie (age 7) plays Dixit, 7 Wonders, Blokus, Castle Ravenloft/Wrath of Ashardalon, Fluxx, Ascension (paper and digital version), Ticket to Ride, and a host of card games like Uno and Crazy-8s. One of her perennial favorites is Magic Labyrinth. Last weekend she played Forbidden Island. She regularly plays at the table with the adults during board game night. We haven’t tried Settlers of Catan yet but that’s due to my not owning a hard copy. We are planning to try Pandemic.
We have tried straight-up role-playing games. In our experience with multiple attempts, we learned the games designed “for kids” are too simplistic. The dull rules result in bored children after a while. After abandoning the for-kids games, we tried the D&D Red Box Starter Set. That turned out to be too complex even with the simplified ruleset. We have a copy of the beautifully crafted Mouse Guard Box Set — and it is gorgeous (a birthday gift from Rob) — we are itching to try. Reading through Burning Wheel, it holds promise.
We’ve learned a couple of important factoids while teaching Katie how to game:
o Board games and card games are a big win because they’re contained and social. Games need a good beginning, middle and clear ending to keep interest.
o She easily can play any game rated “Ages 8 and Up” and try any game “Ages 10 and Up.”
o Rule sets can be complex (see 7 Wonders) but she’ll keep up fine with adults if the rule sets are clear and concise with clearly stated objectives and winning conditions.
o She is a fiercely competitive card player who likes to shark opponents. (You have been warned!)
o Kids come up with crazy ways to win games you, an old and boring adult, never imagined.
o A typical RPG session of 3-4 hours is too long for a 6-7 year old. A good session is 1-1.5 hours. After that, she loses her attention span and gets fidgety. This is completely normal. It’s the same with board games: if Ravenloft is dragging on, she will leave the table at the one hour mark to go do something else.
o RPGs need streamlined and easy to understand rules with enough flexibility to be fun but simple enough to get playing immediately. A kid needs to understand how to roll the dice to kill d00ds in about five minutes. This is a hard balance to find.
o Stabbing orcs is lots of fun. Getting stabbed is not so fun. Power balance is less important with kids than you think. Also, trying to “role play out” scenes more complex than a dungeon crawl tend to be failures. Condensing games down to their essentials and planning for minimum time yields a maximum result.
o Dungeon crawls/missions/games with clear goals work much better than opened ended games. Kids need goals or boredom sets it quick.
o Kids make awesome playtesters for board and card games. If the kids find the rules boring, the game has structural issues. If the kids play through one game, it’s a pretty good game. If kids play two games, the game is a winner. If you’re making a card or board game, find a kid to beg, borrow or steal and make them play. What you learn about how the game is played and how well the rules work will surprise you.
o Rory Story Cubes fit in a bag or purse and create RPGs on the fly. Buy a set.
And the big one:
No one has yet successfully produced a good kid’s RPG. The rules are either too simplistic or too complicated for kids, both which bore kids in the first few minutes. This opinion may change after we playtest through Mouse Guard but, so far, none we have tried have hit that 1st-3rd grader demographic well.
What shocks me is the lack of a kid’s supers game. No one loves supers the way kids love supers and they get supers. Kids toys, kids comics, kids video games, kids tv shows, kids movies — supers! The ruleset for most Supers games are too complex (even for me). The thought of playing Champions or GURPS Supers or Hero with a 7 year old gives me the Fear. Mutants and Masterminds isn’t too bad but it has that D&D 3rd Ed flavor. Silver Age Sentinels may be slimmed down to a core BESM set but the book, being out of print for ages, is now hard to find. The new Marvel RPG might come close with a simplified Cortex system but I don’t know. Can you make a character in under five minutes? Does it have a spot to draw the hero on the character sheet in crayon and marker? Does one have to know the universe?
A good kids easy-to-play goal-based supers game is the Holy Grail.
I’ll post a lengthy follow-up to this question when we finally play Mouse Guard.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #4: Are you a “closet gamer?” Have you ever hidden the fact that you’re a gamer from your co-workers, friends, family, or significant other? Why or why not? How did they react if they found out?
I’m a serious geekgrrl nrrd. I’m a chick with multiple engineering degrees from a school that bills itself as “the public ivy league” who is a huge booster for girls to get their geek on. I am not a closet geek.
I’ve had some pretty weird and uncomfortable experiences with gaming and gender — are there any questions in this list on gaming and gender? I do have some horror stories coming up. But anyway. My parents knew I had a major video game and comics addiction. Later when the sourcebooks showed up it was “stuff I liked.” I met Eric through gaming. Most of my friends (although not all) game in some way — RPGs, board games, video games. Mostly video games. I work in a pretty deep geek industry so video gaming conversations are normal watercooler/hallway daily convos every day.
I’ve walked around with a big old “you weirdo” Mark of Cain on my forehead many times for many, many different reasons for most of my life, the least of which is: “You play D&D? NERD.” You like math? NERD. You like literature? NERD. You like computers? RICH NERD. Etc. etc. etc. We need to dig to discover I also enjoy rolling dice and by time we get there, we have so much ammo it’s small fry. We are who we are, man, and live it or lose it. Be a geek grrl and be proud or go home. No closet nonsense. No need to proselytize to other people. Just be who you are.
I don’t like this question much. I’ve rewritten this post three times and not come up with a satisfying answer. It’s annoying me because writing this post on the Internet in public where it shall be stored in the WayBack machine and in search engines evermore and can be trivially found with a google search sort of belays the answer. As it’s starting to work me into a “pro girls in science/engineering” froth which, to my mind, is a much tougher issue with larger social implications than “someone said something mean once about my game” I’m moving on to the next question.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #3: What kind of gamer are you? Rules Lawyer, Munchkin/Power Gamer, Lurker, Storyteller/Method Actor, or something else? (Search “types of gamer” for more ideas!) How does this affect the kinds of games you play? For example, maybe you prefer crunchy rules-heavy systems to more theatrical rules-light ones.
A highly-placed well-informed anonymous source claims I play RPGs to win. This is most likely true, although I would classify it a bit more diplomatically as a “Narrative-based Goal-Oriented Explorer/Achiever.” Who likes to win.
I’m not a PvP gamer. I do not like to pw0n n00bs. Halo holds no interest for me. I’m an obsessive Civilization player who carefully opens the entire map with packs of scouts, takes all the goodies, and then aggressively expands until reaching a turtled civilization I can only cap with a stomp stack. I’m that guy who looks at big lists of achievements in Steam games and has to open them all no matter how stupid because they are there to be opened. I like to have little DINGs on computers when I reach some sort of new apex of awesome.
I enjoy leveling up.
In traditional RPGs, I like to consume all information possible (strange tomes, source material, in-game references, bits of hallucination pulled from my feeble mind) and, once I have exhausted all resources and attained a bit of mastery, find a way to achieve, achieve, achieve. If my character has no mountain to climb, no challenge to overcome, no power-up to get and no foozle to defeat, I’m done and wandered off.
I am, what you might call, a Call of Cthulhu player.
Nothing gets the molars a-grindin’ faster than being cheerfully told “the role playing is the reward!” I will run in tiny circles of madness being told there’s ultimately no goal and I should enjoy the character interactions. I am not a killer — again, I don’t want to simply roll dice and cap orcs — but to me, stories have dramatic structure, they have a climax, and cultists should maim someone in the end. We win, we all get advancement and we’re set up for a sequel.
To get a better feel for me as a gamer, here are Games I Feel are AWESOME (for me):
o Leverage RPG
o Trail of Cthulhu/Esoterrists/GUMSHOE-based games
o D&D 3rd Edition
And equally, Games I Feel are NOT SO AWESOME (for me):
o World of Darkness*
I am currently reading nWoD and this opinion may change. I have discovered a bizarre fondness for Vampire: the Requiem I lacked in all earlier versions of Vampire. Introspective moping did nothing for me.
o Smallville RPG**
Great game, great relationship mechanics. I need to be able to shoot Lex Luthor, not hug him.
o D&D 4th Edition
I am flat-out not 4th ed’s audience. It’s the other direction — too much munch, not enough narrative. Crazy! I like 4th ed more when I stop thinking of it as an RPG and as a tactical board game with no hope of story.
The best games for me are those that can be run episodically. Tiny highs and lows with a season finale. Encapsulated stories, a super cool setting with lots of information to explore, and seriously hated bad guys who get away. Trail of Cthulhu-like games with research, mystery, exploration and sudden action are my apex, my all, my perfect game.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #2: What is it about gaming that you enjoy the most? Why do you game? Is it the adrenaline rush, the social aspect, or something else?
What I enjoy most about gaming:
My house is full of the damn things. They’re packed in boxes in the basement. I just carved out a new niche in a bookshelf for brand- brand- brand-new hardcovers. I own a fair number in PDF on my iPad.
Most of them are awfully written but I’ve wised up over the years and now I check the credits page for QUALITY. I know who writes these things. I have my list. I know who you are.*
I have read an order of magnitude more games than I will ever play.
Second to reading the sourcebooks is going on to the Internet and arguing about said sourcebooks. I’m unclear what else the Internet is for other than funny pictures of cats and inane arguments about meaningless topics. I keep hearing things about expansion of consciousness and great collections of knowledge and freeing oppressed societies but as far as I can tell? Gamer arguments and cats.
Why do I game?
It’s my blog so I’ll cough up an honest answer to this one — because my friends game. If my friends didn’t game, I wouldn’t game. I’d play video games or write my Magnum Opus or write music or do something that contributes to society. It’s that simple. When my friends aren’t gaming, I’m not playing either.
Not everything falls under this aegis. I don’t do everything because my friends are up to no good. I can get up to no good on my own — as has been suitably proven. Yet, gaming needs people participation and if my friends are doing it, I want to do it, too.
This is how I get hooked on MUSHes and other online outlets. My friends are online playing, so I am online playing. My friends are scening, so I am scening because that’s what my friends are doing. When my friends take off, as they inevitably do, I’ll linger around to make sure they’re good and gone and then wander off myself.
Gaming isn’t some great paean to some higher existence or greater consciousness or a way to get in touch with my inner self. I’m not in search of some greater literary drama enacted through playing, say, Vampire. Honestly, guys, I’ve read James Joyce. I’ve read the collective works of Tom Wolfe. I’m good with the highest in English Language Drama. I want out of gaming to hang with friends, eat some doritoes, and roll a bunch of dice to do crazy things and maybe shoot something Cthulhuoid in the face.
Looks like my answer is: “I game because I enjoy the social interaction with my geeky peers.”
* My twitter feed.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #1: What was your first roleplaying experience? Who introduced you to it? How did that introduction shape the gamer you’ve become?
When I was twelve, three friends (all girls) and I played the original Red Box D&D game at a sleepover when we were supposed to be painting our nails and giggling. To set the stage: This was a long time ago (mid-80s) in a land far far away (Brighton, Michigan), almost as distant as a Super Star Destroyer but twice as cold and less of a trap. It wasn’t my box set.* I know whose it was but I will not names to protect the nominally innocent.
No one had told us gaming was for boys and it looked like the sort of game one plays at a sleepover. It had books and manuals and dice and pieces of paper and half intelligible instructions. I dimly remember rolling up a thief. No one knew how to play. The walkthrough manual was worthless. We fought — something! Someone scored hits! Dice was rolled! Treasures were found! We played until nearly four in the morning.
And then, oddly, we never played it again. We just… never did.
I gamed a bit with a High School gaming group (all boys). D&D and a little Battletech. I dimly remember rolling a moose pilot for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game that was never played. I owned a very small number of well-thumbed D&D 2nd Edition splats by time I graduated bought from God knows where. That’s literal. I honestly do not know: God knows where those books came from.
I did not seriously get into gaming until I stepped into that open slobbering gaming maw, a college dormitory next to an engineering school. And then… and then… and then I had access to not only gamers, great insane piles and gouts of gamers, but a hobby store. Rider’s Hobby.** And you know what Rider’s Hobby stocked?
Honestly, I only ever bought a small handful of Shadowrun 2nd edition books — core book, the Decker book, another one I cannot recall as my Shadowrun splatbooks are packed away in boxes and eaten by weevils for years. How I got away with this small set of purchases over a four-year span I can chalk up to my core college addiction: music CDs. One only had so much money for Shadowrun sourcebooks when one needed Nine Inch Nails that much more. And once I laid my hands on money enough to blow on Shadowrun, I had been overtaken by Call of Cthulhu (5th edition, always 5th edition) and that demonic pox on all of humanity, Amber Diceless Roleplaying.
College was D&D 2nd edition until Shadowrun and then Shadowrun Shadowrun Shadowrun until it was overtaken by Star Trek (WEG) and CoC and ADRPG and a little Vampire and that awesome Star Trek game we played with the Shadowrun rules.
I’m left with a warm fondness for huge handfuls of dice, a vague notion in more than four stats, and a belief in a convergence between the Amber’s insane diceless dramafests and the need to quantify and roll dice to adjudicate results on a test of skill or combat. After suffering through AD&D 2nd Ed’s rules, the Shadowrun “roll a crapload of dice and use rule of sixes” was such a breath of fresh air it took over everything like a creeping cthuloid mass. Somewhere there’s an exciting table showing my gaming sweet spot: enough dramafest to keep coming back to the table, enough dice to make it feel like a game, and smooth enough rules I don’t need to read the rulebook. I tend to read RPGs through this lens and judge them all against the simplicity of “you have a 16 roll 16 dice use rule of 6s hit a target number of 30 to succeed.”
I think we’re getting there. I love FATE but it’s a little too complex. I dig Cortex but sometimes I want to roll more than 2 dice. I love GUMSHOE for the problems it solves. But what I want, at the end of the day, is to mash old Shadowrun rules up with ADRPG and have Brand hose down Caine in the Amber Tech ™ Arcology Throne Room with his two Ingram Smart Guns, enormous dice pool born of wired reflexes and an insane stim addiction and then stand there giggling and chanting “I’ve got all the BULLETS, SUCKER.”
* Until recently, I never owned a copy of the Red Box D&D set.
** Rider’s Hobby was by no means a great hobby store but it was a hobby store which was a great deal better than no hobby store whatsoever, my earlier condition.***
*** To get to Rider’s Hobby: “Walk down East Liberty until it hurts and look left. When your feet hurt, it will be before the costume store.” These instructions never failed me. What failed me was this route took me past Borders #1, then the 2nd greatest bookstore on Earth.****
**** The 1st is the Strand in NYC.
Having spent the last 20 years* playing in the boy’s sandbox in tech and in hobbies, I’ve long concluded that 90% of the people I meet along the way are cool and awesome and open and welcoming and want to share and explore together. I also recognize 10% of the boys in the sandbox have a tendency toward Douchebaggery amplified by the no-filter of the Internet. It’s the 10% I’m addressing.
The sexism in gaming meme is an ever-recurring topic in gaming — rpgs, video games, board games, the whole chalupa. Someone on the Internet (or worse, in person) says something dumb, insensitive and mean, a few people pile on, a few other people pile somewhere else, feelings are hurt, women feel marginalized, they wander off to go do something more positive, and everyone decries: “This is why we have no women in gaming!”
First, there are women in gaming. Women playing games, women writing games, and women discussing games. I point to Zynga and their Money Hats to bolster my comment as proof: someone is paying for extras in those Facebook games. The environment for women to enjoy games of all sorts, especially RPGs, is much better than it was 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. We have been slowly coming out of the woodwork. It is better now.
Second, the women in gaming argument is like the women in engineering comment. We have a real, serious problem in engineering with gender ratios and gender disparity. We wring our hands and ask: “Why are there no women in engineering?” And after many years of taking data and keeping little counts I have come to the quasi-scientific conclusion that there are no women in engineering because there are no women in engineering. Women get sick of looking around and going: hey, I’m alone here. I could be in bioinformatics or law or medicine and not be alone anymore. Graduate School, come to me! I must flee this mortal toil! And we exit stage left because a lifetime of being alone takes a special crazy mindset. But…. if we had a few women who stuck around (like me) and decided to stick it out (like me) and maybe did a little dance and said hey, look, if we don’t all exit stage left and a few of us get old and hoary here, maybe we can entice a few more to stay… and a few more… and a few more… and someday we’ll have enough of us to do lunch! Because in the end, insensitive words are just words and what doesn’t kill you just teaches you to mantra of no fear.
Gaming is the same way. Yes, it’s still testosterone laden, even after the roleplaying games themselves have moved hard away from wargaming and strongly into gender-neutral storytelling-play**. Yes, getting dumped on and ignored and targeted for nasty, uncomfortable comments from idiots on the Internet gets old. Yes, soaking stupid comments makes women who hang out in the communities feel ostracized and unwanted. And yes, after a while, we all stand around and go: what the hell are we doing this for? When I can do anything else?
I know this because I am old and I have been there a dozen times now.
But life’s not about giving up something we enjoy because of mean people. Gaming is fun and some of us enjoy it enough to stick it out and realize 10% of jerks does not discount the other 90%. When this rears its head, instead of hiding or yelling or getting into a flamewar, stand up and say (or post):
I am a woman and I game.
Say it right into the stream of comments. Say it in gaming shops and at cons. Because then the women aren’t invisible any more. We are here and you are not speaking to some random, faceless target. You are speaking to a human being and I am right here. And then keep calm and carry on.
When these things erupt, the next time, it takes one woman to simply stand up and post that into the stream of Internet spew. Just one. The response will be ignored at best and derision at worst, but a face and name will now be attached to the target. And maybe the time after that, it will be two. And after that, it will be like Alice’s Restaurant.
One person does it and maybe they’ll think they’re a freak.
Two people do it and maybe they’ll think it’s a plot.
Three people do it and maybe they’re an organization.
But fifty people do it, fifty people, well, hell, then it’s a movement.
We are here.
If we all stood up to be counted, and said: “Hey, I’m a woman and I game” (MMOs or RPGs or FPSs or any other 3 letter acronym) and we stood up and we were proud, well, hell, others might just join us and be just as public and we could stop having this conversation about there being no women in gaming and it not being a place for women. Because it is. We just gotta show up.
And now back to my regularly scheduled boring posts no one reads.
* Holy crap! 20 years!
** Of which some of us are profoundly grateful. And I’d like to thank all the game designers today who have made that happen, but you guys and girls know who you are.
Bookhounds of London by Ken Hite
Available from Pelgrane Press
Bookhounds of London isn’t so much a hardcover supplement for Trail of Cthulhu as a tesseract, a sort of space-time aberrant tear where more information exists between the two covers than the physical space inhabited by the book. In no way could so much dense Cthulhu information exist in such small a space. But then again, this is not just some book. This is a Trail of Cthulhu supplement. It may be warping space time around it preparing for its flight to some far-off alien existence.
So that’s a good thing.
Books go naturally with Cthulhu. After all, Lovecraftian horror is full of fun tomes teaming with terrible ideas which worm their ways into the mind and rip it to shreds. Book selllers and buyers and owners of bookshoppes and librarians and occultists are, also, a natural fit. Who else has the books? Hordes the books? Handles the books? Presented is precisely that: new character templates for book sellers and book agents and book forgers to help the supply and the occasional occultist. But that’s not all! Rules for book stores. Libraries. Book auctions. Book sales. The actual books! Detail on the wear on the books. The bindings of books. Why, there are even more books.
About this time I’d be totally satisfied with the supplement. That’s enough to get up a Cthulhu game centered around the buying, selling, and underground trade in evil books but Bookhounds of London is a strange supplement black hole containing far more information than can be contained in a single supplement. The section on 30s London is thick with NPCs, places, rumors, descriptions, and color plates in the appendix. New cults! Expansions on current cults! New monsters! Even more NPCs for rivals and villains and…
And then a very lengthy adventure involving Gods and crazy city magic and German witch hunters and sacred ley lines and, oh hell, Jack the Ripper. Maybe. A book, perhaps, is involved. And murder. And creatures from beyond. And a race against time. And other good stuff. Unlike most supplement adventures, the Bookhounds of London adventure (Whitechapel Black-Letter) does not disappoint — it can be run, and it makes a great intro-adventure to a big Bookhounds campaign.
The sign of a decent supplement is one good character idea by the end. A great supplement is three character ideas. Bookhounds of London leaves one with ideas for complete Cthulhu variants, teams of rival book stores, and several complete campaign ideas. And this is from someone who doesn’t run all that many campaigns these days. It’s good stuff.
A few things in specific:
* The new skills are brilliant but the best is the Knowledge. Having a skill representing deep and precise geographical information is a great skill for Investigators. Also, claiming to have the Knowledge on a character sheet is damn awesome.
* Bookhounds allows for building a rivalry with NPCs. This cool game mechanic doesn’t exist in normal Cthulhu where the Investigators go and investigate without too much outside pressure beyond “bad guys wish to chew off their faces.” Rival bookstores and rival book auctions introduces a new and interesting pressure on the group without introducing more cackling evil cultist villains. (Although nothing is wrong with cackling evil cultist villains.)
* One can never have enough cults or monsters.
* The new play styles are interesting — Sordid, Arabesque and Technicolor. Yes, one can fill a game full of horrible relationships or trips to Deepest India or like a movie from the 60s.
* The boxes, callouts, rumors — as good as the original book in quality and variety.
* I love the bundle of PDF+Hard Cover. The bundles make me very happy from a customer perspective.
I heartily recommend Bookhounds of London to anyone who bought Trail of Cthulhu. It does require ToC, but if one has ToC sitting on a shelf, it needs a friend. The quality is spectacular. Buy it, cuddle it, read it, run the games for your friends. Definitely pick up a copy. And I still have no idea how all that information got crammed into 128 pages of text.
Meanwhile, I need to finish working up some notes on a Bookhounds of Leverage, a Bookhounds/Leverage crossover game….
I realized late last night I had called the book “Trails of Cthulhu” with an s instead of “Trail of Cthulhu.” I chalk this up to my insidious Michigan accent which compels me to pluralize words regardless if they need to be pluralized or not. Meijers. Krogers. Kmarts. C’mon, Michigan people, you know you have said a sentence construction like this:
“So you wanna go down to Krogers, then?”
I am personally very concerned about the prospect of multiple trails of Cthulhu. Imagine enormous world-spanning trails of sticky slime. Like giant ants. With face tentacles. Ew. They look like this!
It was corrected in the post. And I hang my head in shame. It’s all Michigan’s fault.
In middle school I discovered horror fiction.
I cannot remember what was the first book — I suspect Stephen King’s the Shining in used book form — but I do distinctly remember reading anything that had a dismemberment. If it featured splatters of blood, I read it. Good writing, bad writing, schlock writing, I read it all, and in great spews. Somewhere in there I laid hands on a collection of horror short stories that contained the usual standbys of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.”* It also had HP Lovecraft’s “Rats in the Walls.” And that one was my favorite. I read it over and over.
Later I read the rest of HP Lovecraft’s stuff. Some of it was good. Some of it was terrible. Some of it was incomprehensible. And some of it was the Dream-Quest of the Unknown Kadath.
My copy of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu 5th Edition** is actually the second copy as my first copy disintegrated from overuse. The glue binding did not hold up to the love and after a while the pages fell out. The second one is a used copy from somewhere or other. I know dimly there was a 6th edition but I only have the 5th; that was the version for me. Even reading the rules of the BRP version of CoC belied the obvious: the only way someone was going to get out of an adventure was by being an illiterate track star. The BRP rules were charming in their crappiness but they had that one beautiful sanity meter rule, and that was a permanent brain worm. For 20 years I have been rolling my SAN and I am pretty sure by now it’s pretty low.
BRP had a special lethal charm. I knew of Runemaster games ended in the first five minutes by the entire party failing swim rolls when crossing a river. Or another character killed by a highly dangerous glass of water. But BRP was what was in Chaosium’s books and Chaosium’s books were special so we played it, and made it work, and CoC got ran and played anyway. That’s the greatness of CoC.
That brings me around to Trail of Cthulhu, a game I read and fell fiercely in love with but for completely different reasons than the clunky charm of CoC 5th Edition. It’s CoC where you get to live until you get your head eaten by Azathoth in the end, and that’s the kind of CoC we want to be playing.
A bit about GUMSHOE
I talked about GUMSHOE in my review of the Esoterrorists, so for an overview of GUMSHOE it’s best to consult there. Trail runs with the core idea of getting to the end of the story and not being held up by the system. When we watch Law Dramas, we don’t want the Intrepid Cops to end the plot because they failed a “look for clue” roll. We don’t want House not figure out the disease in the last act because he failed to make some surgery roll halfway through. We do not want our Cthulhu hunters to be killed by a wayward glass of water.*** It’s no good to be blocked because of a botched roll, so GUMSHOE waves that part. The players always get the clue. The question is what do they do with it? That’s where the play is.
And that’s what Trail brings to the table. It feels less blatantly horror-focused as Esoterrorists, it adds some new skills, it goes in with Drives to give players motivation for why they are hunting down the terrors that go bump in the night. The SAN meter is now dual tracked: you can take a Stability hit or take actual Sanity damage but it takes a bit to shave off a little of the ol’ SAN. The focus is on episodes like a show: the point is not the bumbling around with skill checks; the point is to get to the end of the story — where no doubt everyone is turned into splatters.
GUMSHOE is a perfect fit for Cthulhu. You don’t need to be an illiterate track star. You can still be that uber college professor and run away. Run away! AIIII!
PURIST vs PULP
Trail is set in the 30s where, yes, there are Nazis. And where there are Nazis, there are guns and planes and tanks and Socialists and Swinging Archeologists and other such tropes. Trail provides two modes of play: PURIST and PULP.
I get people want to play Cthulhu in all its deadly, terrible, horror glory. And that is what PURIST is for — as close to a simulation of the old BRP system with high levels of DEATH. A great thing for those who love difficulty in their gaming and where a gun is going to kill you.
Then there is PULP. PULP is where you get to shoot Cthulhu. In the face. Or ram him with a boat — HP Lovecraft’s preferred Cthulhu Removal Device. But who doesn’t want to shoot a tentacle or two? It might seem a little silly but hoards of evil cults with dark books that cast horrible spells are also a little silly. So is Hitler on his quest for the Spear of Longinus. It’s all silly, but sometimes, horror calls for a little pulp horror.
Dark horror vs. the Mummy. I find I want to run the game in PULP mode. Who said Cthulhu wasn’t high adventure? When isn’t the dark spawn of the universe high adventure?
The Awesome of the Call-Out Boxes
RPGs almost always have these inset boxes with little bits of random information or skills or stats or tables or whatever in them. They tend to be a bit lame; I find them annoying and want to read around them. In Trail read the call-out boxes because they’re the best parts. Either about the 30s or how to build cults (please add cults!) or about Gods (please don’t add more Gods!) or creeping totalitarianism, they are all wonderful. The boxes are plentiful and worth the price of the book alone. They don’t contain any rules, per se, but they are so chock full of goodness that it is worth sitting there with the book and flipping from call-out box to call-out box.
I need to mention the call-out boxes because they are so deeply wonderful.
Oh, and while I am talking about the call-out boxes with all their wonder, the section on the Cthulhu Elder Gods/Outer Gods is superb and packed with so many incredibly insane ideas for running plots it is hard to talk about it without waving hands around incoherently. One small sentence about Elder Gods as meme loads was so compelling it was a hot topic in my house for three days. If you’re into CoC at all, this is worth getting to juice up campaigns and take them to 11.
I can gush about Trail of Cthulhu for a long time. Much of the original Call of Cthulhu (5th Edition) was preserved from one edition to the next. It’s all here: the Gods, the Monsters, the Cults, the Horrible Books, the Spells, the must and the rain, the horrible New England cities. The Cults section is wonderful**** and full of juicy goodness of evil. The GM section on how to build an adventure from the Horror to the Beginning and then through a list of clues is also very helpful — the advice is spot-on for crafting a horror based adventure.
Me? I am picky about my Cthulhu. I don’t like no d20 editions or LARP editions or Savage Realms. I don’t do Cthulhu card games. In my mind, it is the crumbling second copy of CoC 5th Edition. This is the only worthy successor and it’s glorious.
So I’m fanboying a little bit. I do that on very rare occasions because I’m a curmudgeon and I hate everything. But this is truly, honestly a great version of Cthulhu. It is not Call — it’s a different system — but Trail is an excellent game with compulsively readable text that has ideas and stuff packed into every corner and page. Is it worth the $40? Yes. Would I run it? In pulp mode, yes. Would I play it? Definitely. Can I recommend it? Oh hell yes.
Go buy it. Stop reading blog posts! I bought my PDF+Hard cover bundle from Indie Press Revolution right here.
* The only work by Faulkner I ever liked. A tiny bit of excellent gothic horror.
** Always 5th Edition.
*** Okay, maybe we do. It’s Cthulhu. Those glasses of water are dangerous as hell.
**** And one section turned into a new supplement, the Booksellers of London.