Sunday, January 12, 2020

Space Cowboys

So, thinking more about a space opera game and what I'd want out of it…
The other night I found myself watching the superior Coen Bros. version of True Grit. Then, this afternoon I watched The Proposition.
All this put me in a Western state of mind.
One (obvious) thing that struck me is how both these movies remind me of Keep On The Borderlands. The idea of a place on the edge of civilization, a frontier, and the dangerous lands beyond. The dangerous land full of outlaws and natives and deadly beasts.
Again, obvious stuff.
Both these movies also got me thinking on the nature of 'civilization'… how it is formed and maintained by the same violence and cruelty it claims to have squashed. The characters in these movies do not wear black or white hats… they're all shades of gray.
There are no Dukes swaggering around… Rooster Cogburn is hardly different from the men he is hired to track down. Cogburn's background is established as having been a bandit, a Confederate raider, a (failed) restaurateur and a bank robber.
The lawmen in The Proposition are also dark fellows. Cruel, ignorant and possessing no better moral compass than the men they're hunting. One Englishman sees no issue with having a simple-minded boy publicly beaten to death without a trial… more as an example of his own power than any legitimate 'justice'.
Anyway, all this just reminds me that that civilization has never meant freedom from cruelty. Order is always maintained on direct or implied threat of violence.

Now, the elements of Westerns I enjoy generally have little or no attachment to actual history. It doesn't matter to me if the stories depict actual events. Given that, there are a lot of non-Western films that fill the same boots. Just about anything taking place in a frontier is going to work on a similar level for me.
In terms of space opera, this reiterates the close match that was flagged by shows like Firefly, Outland and chunks of Star Wars.
Again, obvious stuff. But it moves me along the path of discerning themes I'd want to focus on. More about the friction between the established order and the folks who resist it.
The original Rogue Trader game had gobs of this sort of thing. It initially lacked the presence of Chaos and instead had various beasts, alien monsters, rebellious soldiers and wild frontier planets cut off by fickle warp storms.
Then The Lost And The Damned came out and Chaos became the big bad of 40K. Not that I don't enjoy the Chaos forces (especially their subtler aspects depicted in those early books)… but its a strong flavor that quickly overshadowed all those quainter opponents to Imperial control.
Doing away with Chaos, or even just toning it down considerably, might be a first step toward getting myself back to a 40K setting I can have my way with. Let there be Chaos gods and cultists… but lessen their numbers and force to play a stealthier game ala early Warhammer Fantasy.
Laserburn echoes a lot of early 40K elements… but, again, lacks Chaos. The closest thing is the Red Redemption, only for being a faction of human opponents.
Either way, I think turning the volume down on Chaos will let me explore more of the stuff I was rambling on about Westerns… making it less white hat/black hat and more about the forces of Imperial 'civilization' vs. the forces resisting it. That might move it all closer towards Star Wars and its rebellion… but that's fine. I just bought a copy of the anniversary edition of the D6 WEG Star Wars books, to milk for inspiration and such.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

New Year, New Obsessions

The holidays have flown by and with them have gone some of previous notions and projects... at least the enthusiasm for them.

The marbles have shifted and I have to admit I pretty much burned out on the Mythras/Classic Fantasy/World of Warcraft project. In the end I was put off by the same aspects of WoW that drove me away from playing the game. It's a commercial product where choices were made, increasingly, from commercial viewpoints. I'm really much better off 'borrowing' liberally from it than trying to re-create it. Not that re-creation was my original intent anyway.
What will work best, I think, is to... eventually... just run some small-scale games in that setting and see what happens... if it feels like it's working or not. No need for a lot of work up front.

Anyway, most all of that blew out of my headspace before Thanksgiving.

What came in to replace it was a sudden surge of interest in running a science fantasy game... very much inspired by first edition Rogue Trader 40K, Laserburn, and the parts of Star Wars that I still enjoy. Something wild and weird and not so well-mapped out.
I've no interest in what modern 40K has become... too narrowly focused on military antics, to self-serious (though I detect some improvements there... such as the advert for Kill Team: Rogue Trader).
But old school 40K, in the first book that established the setting (and Laserburn, which also provided a lot of 40K canon) the setting is pretty wide-open and borrows from all sorts of seemingly contradictory inspirations.
You've got a lot of Star Wars influences, Dune, 2000 AD, Tolkien (via Warhammer Fantasy) and lotsa bits of re-purposed historical stuff.
The trick of running a game in such a setting, for me, would be keeping it properly 'pulpy' and keeping certain tendencies I associate with scifi games at bay.
Those unwanted tendencies are what I've seen creep into just about any Traveller game I've played. Players who want to bring their real-life knowledge of technology or the military to bear on the setting... pixel-bitching about the combat mechanics or the gun stats or something. Complaining that the communications technology doesn't line up with what they know from being tech support agents at a phone company...
Whatever that impulse is, I want to kill it with fire.
One way is to be a firm GM. The other is to be cautious in choosing who I play with. Gun-fondlers and 'preppers' need not apply. I need to stress the FANTASY in science fantasy to them as well... that none of this is meant a serious extrapolations/speculations on the future... no more than any D&D game is a serious exploration of history.

So anyway, diving into original 40K and sucking out the marrow... boiling it down to get the gist of what inspires me about it, as well as Star Wars/Laserburn and old issues of Heavy Metal... then mixing them into a big bowl of something...
I'll probably mix in some of Warcraft's screwy cosmology as well... and maybe drop those worlds in as potential travel stops.
If nothing else, it keeps me off the streets.

Now, as to what system to use...
Well, I own most all of the books for FFG's Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader games... which are happily based on D100... making a conjoinment between them and BRP fairly simple (and there is a fan-made 40K BRP write-up available already). But those books are still, largely, in modern 40K's po-faced mindset... VERY serious.
I need to shove some more of the original Captain Harlock into the Haarlock trilogy.
I could also use Traveller, which I've always liked but wanted to bend towards more gonzo sentiments... but Traveller fans can get really uptight about stuff. There'd be another set of expectations to squash (no, this is not set in the OTU).
Really, BRP seems like it would be easier for me and has a LOT of elements I could drag in from various sourcebooks... Call of Cthulhu being an obvious fit for Dark Heresy.

And yes, I know I'm supposed to concern myself with what my Players would want... but really, if I'm going to run the game, and run it well, it's important that I'm in love with it as much or more than they are... that I have a solid handle on what I want out of the experience. You have to take care of yourself, first and foremost... otherwise you're no use to anyone else anyway.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

I'm still working on my Mythras WoW hobby project... but fell in a deep hole when thinking about Shamans and such. Troll witchdoctors and how each 'race' should feel different.

My brain got partially eaten as I started planning this year's Nanowrimo project... which will be gothic romance. Which got me reading some reference material and wondering how an RPG version would work out... something like Ravenloft where Strahd is less overtly antagonistic maybe?
I think I can justify it as a sideline of the WoW project since it could be turned toward expanding certain classic 'spooky' areas, like Duskwood.
Deadwind Pass and Kerazhan feel like the proper abodes of a powerful vampire...

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

(Mythras WoW) Terror of Tinytown

While pondering how I want to go about this Mythras WoW project I've had a lingering doubt about it all.
Reading some of the official 3.X rulebooks failed to inspire... in fact, I think it kind of clouded my enthusiasm. It reminded me of the whole 'character build' aspect of WoW that I never enjoyed.

Then, today, I started looking into another aspect of the MMO that I always found peculiar... the map.
WoW is a video game with a video game's limitations. Cities are tiny, villages consist of a small handful of buildings. There are farms... but only a few... and there are very scary places within spitting distance of happy little inns. The whole thing is too damn small.
But that's something I can probably deal with... other people online have jumped on the problem and offered some useful ideas.

Then there's the issue that the climates of these places don't make any sort of real world sense... Northrend IS cold and it IS in the North... but that's about it. There's otherwise little or no plausible geography going on here... and that's NOT something I'm interested in trying to correct, I might as well make up an entirely new map.

But is that really an issue anyway? Probably not. My idea of running the game is not focused on world-spanning 'epic' adventures. It's not something I'd want to run for years on end either.

So I guess I'm just coming to terms with the sillier aspects of taking this on as a project... checking with myself to see if it's something I want to keep on with... asking myself if I might just rather build my own WoW-inspired setting from scratch.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

(Mythras Warcraft) So THIS is why I never got into third edition!

I bit the bullet last night and read through the official Warcraft 3.X entry on Warlocks... and... WTF?!!
Now, I never did engage with D&D past first edition. By that time I'd moved on to Runequest and Traveller and other stuff. All I knew of 3e was what elements of it were implemented in the Neverwinter Nights games on my computer... and I didn't much care for the mechanical elements of those. I'm not a 'character build' sort of guy.
Yet I'm trying to cram an MMO into Mythras...
Truly, I wasn't that sort of WoW player either. I'd blunder along, picking whatever powers sounded cool. I wanted to level up to see more content, that's all.

Anyway, the 3.X version of Warlocks was not inspiration for me.
Firstly, it's lumped into a general 'Arcanist' class... which covers 3 paths: Mages, Necromancers, and Warlocks (were there necromancers in WoW? Not that I recall). So they're saying that Warlocks are an offshoot of arcane magic... OK, I can live with that... though in WoW lore the first Warlocks were created from Orc Shamans... so that whole spirit angle goes unsung.

Secondly, and this bit did put me off, the description of the Warlock's abilities are just a dense mass of pluses and minuses... with a number of them aimed at the concerns of multi-classing. Why would a Warlock ever want to multiclass? He/She is a fucking Warlock! Best of the best! (I see Warlocks as necessarily arrogant, considering their chosen path).
There's nothing at all about using Soul Shards to fuel their summonings. The whole section is pretty flavorless.

Thirdly, the spell list is a bland collection of vanilla D&D spells that might kindasorta go with Warlocks. Unseen Servant and Summon Monster I-X. There nothing like Curse of Agony or Curse of Weakness. True, there is Soul Stone and Eye of Kilrogg... and there is a Drain Life and Drain Soul spell (why does Drain Soul cost XP to use?)... but AFAICT Soul Shards gained from Drain Soul are just for creating Soul Stones.
Oh, and Death Coil is a spell... but it's for Necromancers...

I'm still digging into the rulebook... seeing what there is to see... but I'm not getting much so far.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Mythras World of Warcraft

This has been my hobby project for the past few weeks. Exploring how I might use Mythras Classic Fantasy to run a game set in the World of Warcraft setting. This came up, partially, because of the new launch of WoW Classic. I enjoyed WoW Classic a lot... and the expansions after Lich King not so much. But the whole time I was playing I was reminded how much better tabletop RPGs were for adventure gaming. I mean, sure, you get the fancy visuals, the music, the fast combat... but you give up so much depth and potential. So many WoW quests are just variations on 'go here and kill this'. You can't bargain with foes, you can't sit in the inn and talk to the other patrons, you can't make friends with a murloc...
There are shedloads of interesting things I'd want to investigate... but no content has been written for them... so they exist as ongoing enigmas.

Anyway, I always thought it would be fun to play a 'real' RPG set there.
I knew there had been a 3.X game based on WoW, but I was never on the bandwagon for that system and it skipped my notice. From what I've read it's a good set of books for the setting lore, but didn't try very hard to recreate the PC classes and their iconic abilities.

So that's where I'm starting with Mythras/Classic Fantasy. Going through the Classic WoW classes and trying to sort out what's unique about each one. I'd played a bit of each of them during Classic WoW, so I wasn't blank slating it.
I started with the Warlock, since that's the class I'd played the most... and quickly ran into a big heaping pile of setting lore I had to suss out in order to understand how the Warlocks work in the setting.

See, the written lore for WoW doesn't necessarily match up with how the game plays.

In the game the Warlock trainers are usually found in hidden places, like the musty basements of taverns. It isn't mentioned so much during the game, but Warlocks are rightly pariahs and best keep their practices under wraps. In-game you can run through the streets of Stormwind with your demon pets out, but in lore-based Stormwind that would NOT end well.
So, early decision, I'm going to favor the lore over how things work in the MMO.

Another thing that I quickly realized is that the map for WoW is severely distorted. Areas are sized for video game capabilities and Player attention spans. But each zone really oughtta be MUCH larger. Stormwind is the size of a large village.
My first inclination there is to just expand the existing map and dot in more stuff... more streets and canals in Stormweind, more farms and mines in Elwynn Forest... but keep the same base layout and features. Places you fly past in the MMO, like Goldshire, should be a major hub of commerce (and have more than 3 buildings).

So, LOTS of work to do... and I'm not sure this will ever get on the table. But on the flip-side, I am learning a lot more about Mythras and Classic Fantasy as I look for matches with WoWs races, classes, and factions. Running Warlocks along the lines of the cults in Mythras seems fitting.
We'll see how it goes. I might lose interest quickly... or I might dig in deeper. Either way, it's not nearly the time sink that re-upping to play Classic WoW would be.

Aarklash B/X follow-up

I thought I'd mention how a season of B/X set in Rackham's Aarklash setting went...

Well... I was playing with kids... 13yr olds mostly... and most of them newbies to D&D... as if that's an excuse. Anyway, they pretty much took any hook I presented as evidence NOT to go looking that direction. Some of them wanted to loot the Keep, which led to a split in the party and those Players going off under another GM (which was good, because 10 Players is just too much).
So the ones that were left poked around the Keep and got embroiled in trying track the bandits who raided it (the other group of PCs).
The girls in the group banded together and wandered out into Tir-Na-Bor territory, avoiding any sign of life the came upon and eventually ending up near the chasm of Mid-Nor... but were taken in by guardian dwarfs and shunted off to one of the main dwarf cities. They tried to buy magic items there to beef themselves up but couldn't afford any. Quests were offered, quests were refused. The girls wandered off to find better shopping opportunities.
It all went on that way for a while... presenting situations that the kids generally would turn away from for safer pastures.
Eventually they ended up on the docks of Cadwallon... but were loathe to enter the city for some reason.
So the gist was, they were looking for magic items, but had no money, and were not willing to do any of the things offered that would have gained them treasure/fame/experience.

During this time, various Players dropped out for various reasons... mostly having to do with school work. One kid got kicked out for calling another kid a name. One boy was picked on mercilessly by the girls and eventually dropped out (yes, I tried to intervene... no, he didn't come back).

Not really a success... though I did feel that Aarklash was a great setting for running an RPG.
I also learned that we really need to break up cliques when D&D club starts... because that became a problem, with some kids not wanting to play with other kids and such.
Oh well, it was the first try. Most everyone seemed to have fun with it... most of the time.