Random Thoughts

Do you own any games you haven’t played?

During a recent conversation on Twitter, a question was asked: What RPGs do you own, but have never played? I literally could not answer that question in 140 characters. I came up with twenty-plus titles, depending on how you count.

So many games, so little time.

Games Owned, Never Played

The Strange
Gods of the Fall
Cypher System Core Rules

Are these one game, or three? Should I even count the Cypher System Core Rules? I’ve played Numenera, so it could be argued that it’s close enough and these don’t count. On the other hand, they’re each self-contained and have their own twists on the Cypher System rules.

Deadlands: Reloaded
Deadlands – Hell on Earth: Reloaded
Interface Zero 2.0
I’ve played Savage Worlds, both in pulp games and in a Space: 1889 game. I even ran a Realms of Cthulhu adventure, but like with Cypher System,  I think all these variants have enough of a twist on the rules that they count a games in their own right.

This would be a great game if I had kids or a group of friends really into Anime, or both. I’m still keeping it around because it’s so charming and well-done.

Feng Shui 2
Hong Kong Action Movie Fu! When I read this, I immediately thought of the ways I could essentially run a Shadowrun game with it, but without all the baggage of the Shadowrun system.

A classic… that I’ve never played. I like running wacky, off-the-wall stuff at conventions, though and I found these mint condition books at Half-Price Books for a steal, so I couldn’t afford NOT to buy them.

Atomic Highway
Mad Max meets Fallout! Seriously, if you ever read these rules, that’s exactly the vibe you get. The V8 system the game uses maps almost exactly to the SPECIAL system the Fallout CRPGs use and it’s easy enough to bolt-on perks, if you like. Plus, there’s a robust set of vehicle rules in case you want to die historic on Fury Road.

Middle-Eastern themed sci-fi with a heavy dose of spirtualism. It looks very cool and it lets the PCs configure their own ship. You could probably play a less gonzo/grimdark version of Rogue Trader with this with a bunch of mysticism on the side.

Mutant: Year Zero
This game reminded me of the settlement building portion of Fallout 4, but without the frustration of using a set-up that was not designed for a left-handed person to change the controls. Sorry, that’s a rant for another time. Post-apocalyptic goodness that’s more Fallout Shelter than Mad Max.

Achtung! Cthulhu
This has dual rules for Savage Worlds and Call of Cthulhu, which is why I didn’t put it up with the rest of the Savage Worlds stuff. It has a real “First Ten Minutes of the Hellboy Film” feel. Nazis, Eldritch Horrors, what’s not to like?

Pulp Cthulhu
Pulp action using the BRP rules (aka the same system Call of Cthulhu uses). You don’t even have to use the Mythos to do proper Indiana Jones-style pulp action/adventure with this game. It’s a close race between this and Hollow Earth Expedition for my preferred pulp game, though that may change once I play it (Savage Worlds does pulp well, too)

Shadowrun 5th Edition
Shadowrun is the setting I love most couple with a game system I like least. 10 – 15 years ago, I’d probably be all over it, but as I’ve gotten older, my interest in complex, fiddly system has diminished. I had hopes that 5th edition would reduce the complexity I grew to dread in 4th edition (which I played several times), but alas… DIS-A-PPOINTMENT!

Dragon Age
Fantasy Age
Green Ronin’s Age system intrigues me, but I’ve yet to run it. D&D 5E does everything I really want a fantasy game to do right now.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
Pulp Fantasy (like the original Conan stories) meets AD&D, but with a more standardized system. Seems to be popular with the crowd that likes Old School, but wants bit more modern rules than a retro clone could provide.

The 77 Lost Worlds
I think this is the ONLY RPG my wife has played that I have no. James Ward playtested this at Gary Con for several years and she really enjoyed it. If I recall, it’s like a far-future sci-fi RPG where society has survived by building domed cities, each of which is themed, sort of like a theme park. So you might have the Medieval Europe dome over there and the Ancient Egyptian dome over here, along with 75 others.

Shadows of Esteren
This is a French horror-fantasy RPG I’ve been acquiring mostly because my wife loves the art and production values.

Star Trek Adventures
I have the PDF, but the print version is still en route. I’m going to count it anyway, even though I haven’t counted any other games I own solely on PDF.

Owned – Played once or twice, Back in The Day

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Forget the cartoon. Forget the films. This game is based on the Kevin Eastman comic. I played it once on a bus during a school trip. I remember having a lot of fun, but it is a Palladium game, so who knows if I could even get past the system now.

Top Secret, SI
I haven’t played this since the height of the Cold War. It’s the action/James Bondian version where the original Top Secret was more about the espionage. The new TSR is currently running a Kickstarter for a modern, third version (Top Secret: New World Order — written by the original Administrator, Merle Rasmussen!), which I’ve played the last two years at Gary Con (and I played the original Top Secret the previous two years at Gary Con, once with Merle, which is why it’s not listed here).

Marvel Super Heroes
I remember liking this more than it’s contemporary, DC Heroes. I’m still looking for that perfect Supers game that has rules I can grok along with enough inspiration within that I don’t have to wonder, WTF do I do this session that isn’t a variation of the last game? Maybe the Sentinels Comics RPG will do it for me. Of course, now you look at Aunt May’s stats (Feeble in just about everything) and you look at Marisa Tomei and have severe cognative dissonance.

Buck Rogers XXVc
AD&D 2nd edition if it was a pulp sci-fi game “based” on the Buck Rogers comics. The history of this game basically boils down to a cash grab by the then-owners of TSR since they also owned the Buck Rogers estate. No funny Mel Blanc-voiced robots or hawkmen here, but there was a heavy dose of transhumanism and solar system exploration. It was actually a really well-done game, as I recall.

Star Trek
I think making a character is the best part of this game. You can literally tell the story of a character’s entire Starfleet career during character creation (you’re supposed to stop when you get to the point at which your game starts). It’s really a solo game all to itself.

Doctor Who
I knew about The Doctor and Jelly Babies for decades before I actually saw the show, because of this game (not strictly true, I rented Pyramids of Mars on VHS from the base video store, but only had vague memories of it until I started watching the show in earnest sometimes during the 10th Doctor’s run). FASA really need some better quality control because the black & white photos used to illustrate this game are DARK.

Did this post need pictures? I feel like I should have tracked down box art for all of these games… but dang, that’s a lot of pictures and I only have so much time in the day!

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A Short Hiatus

One of my regular players was out with a medical issue for the last two games, so rather than continue the D&D game (we left off in the middle of exploring a druidic grove), I took the opportunity to play test two adventures I’m running at Gary Con next month.

I won’t go into too much detail in case anyone reading this is signed up to play in those games.

timewatch-logoThe first was “Recruiting Call,” an adventure for Pelgrane Press’s Timewatch RPG. This was both the first time I’d ever played or GMed a Gumshoe-system game.

Basically, the premise of Timewatch is similar to the Van Damme move from the 90s, “Timecop.” If you haven’t seen it, I won’t tell you to run out right now and watch it, but it does have Bruce McGill, so that’s a plus in my book.

So, time-traveling secret agents on a time-and-location-hopping adventure. It worked out pretty well. I found the system pretty easy to run, one of the easiest to grok from scratch I’ve experienced, in fact. Fate took several play and GM sessions before I felt comfortable with it. I’m still not entire comfortable with Ubiquity (of Hollow Earth Expedition fame), despite having played it at least once and run it twice. My players discovered that violence-based solutions were a poor choice for their characters (it didn’t help that their rolls were crappy all night), so there’s a hint for you if you’re signed up to play in this at Gary Con.

starwars_logoThe second game was “Imperial Entanglements,” a Star Wars adventure I wrote and ran at Gary Con V four years ago for West End Games’s d6-based Star Wars RPG (long out-of-print, but never forgotten). I foolishly included a character four years ago that was able to break the adventure in the very beginning so I re-vamped all the pre-gens and fleshed out and expanded the adventure even more (to cop to my mistake, I was woefully unprepared to run it that year and decided then that ad-libbing my way through most of a con adventure was a BAD idea for me).

I may have added too much material, but it certainly went better than the last time I ran it. In addition, the pre-gens I created are much more suited for the type of adventure it is and everyone had a chance to shine over the course of the evening. I didn’t even really need the miniatures I had (though I’ll probably still bring them, because not every group is as good at avoiding combat at my current home group can be).

So, that’s what I’ve been doing. Next weekend we return to our regularly-schedule, but twice-delayed Fifth Edition Spelljammer game.

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And now for something completely different… The Rapture! (Doctor Who)

Way back around Christmas (2016), we played another session of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. The PCs in this game consist of Jenny Smith (The Doctor’s Daughter), Doctor Cornelius Constance (a 19th century scientician), and Bart, a golden retriever from the planet Xylanthia.
The TARDIS crew was en route to fun Christmastime frivolity on some strange planet when all of a sudden, the Cloister bell started chiming. The sensors went off the charts with artron activity.  This threw them out of the time track and their TARDIS landed with a thud.

Scanners indicated it was the year 2020, Monday the 21st of December, Earth, Unites States, Indianapolis, IN.

You are on Monument Circle. You open the door and the circle is bathed in multi-colored lights as the monument above you is decorated as a large Christmas tree. You look back and notice that the chameleon circuit has disguised the TARDIS as one of the statues. Across the street from you is the Christ Church Cathedral Episcopal Church. There is a sign advertising the upcoming Christmas service. With the message “The Rapture is upon us! Rejoice!”

Jenny immediately felt there was something “off” about the church and the group decided to investigate. They entered the church just as the evening service let out. People filed into the fellowship hall for coffee, cookies, and gossip.

Cornelius noticed a bulletin board captioned “Those who have been Raptured” with the names and pictures of 43 people, including the former Bishop of the church, Marcus Froman. He filed this away in his photographic memory and moved on. Below the board there was a schedule of rapture times. Doctor Constance shrugs and quipped that he was not familiar with the concept of scheduling the rapture, must be some new future church mumbo-jumbo. (Though I did make sure the former Bishop was not related to the Sausage King of Chicago.)

They chatted up the rather gruff dean of the church, Dean David Stone for a little while. Since Jenny was rather charismatic and could get info out of almost anyone, they found out that there are multiple church services a day and each one ends with the new leader of the church, Vicar Judy Pertmore, announcing the next two people to be raptured. The names just come to her. The chosen are sent to the basement and into the catacombs beneath the church to the crypt of the founder. This was where the raptures happen. The group all found it rather odd that the rapture happens underground so they decided to take their leave of the Dean and go snoop around the church.

The group snuck their way around looking for the basement. First, they decided to check out the Vicar’s office. It was locked but nothing Doctor Constance’s sonic screwdriver couldn’t handle. They found nothing of any real value in there, though Bart found grains of sand all over the office. Weird, but meaningless at the weeping-angelmoment. Next, they hit the former Bishop’s office. No sand in there. It appeared as though it had not been touched. They did find a hidden compartment in the wall that contained a note from 1885 warning whoever finds the note to not trust the Vicar and to watch out for the statues. “They look like angels but they are the devil himself. If you encounter them do not look
away for that is when they strike!”
This is when those of us familiar with Doctor Who lore said: nopenopenope

Following Bart’s keen nose they eventually made their way into the basement and into the catacombs. There were random burial niches set into the walls each with a name plaque. Doctor Constance started matching up the names with the names he saw on the Rapture Board. With a quick scan they found out that the bodies were at least 100 years old and seemed to have died of natural causes. In one of the niches, they also found a journal detailing that the members of the church are being sent back in time somehow and that Judy Pertmore is working for the statues. They are put them to work digging tunnels underneath the city looking for something. In the last entry he thinks they found it. There was some sort of glowing chamber and they dragged desiccated statues into the catacombs.

Making their way to the Founder’s tomb they were greeted by two stone angel statues. The group decided it would be in their best interest to run as the lights in the catacombs, including the flashlights in their hands, started going out.  A chase ensued and the group made it up the stairs before anything happened.

The plan: hop in the TARDIS and go back to the date found in the journal. However, their TARDIS was fickle and they wound up in the Cretaceous period. A little percussive maintenance on the console set things right and they eventually arrived at their destination, December 21st 1885. A small altercation ensued with the burly men guarding the entrance to the church but they eventually made their way into the catacombs. There were more angel statues that time but there were too many eyes upon them; roughly three dozen people toiling away digging and lugging other statues around.

crack-in-timeThey made their way to the glowing room. It was a space/time rift. The statues seemed to be feeding off of the artron energy it is produced. Splitting up, they desperately searched for Bishop Froman and eventually found him. They dragged him back to the TARDIS ignoring his fascination at it being “bigger on the inside” and piloted the craft into the center of the rift causing an explosion of blue light as it slammed itself shut. The resulting paradox fixed everything the Angels worked so hard to accomplish and everything was right in the world.

The group unceremoniously dumped the Bishop back at his church and set off for destinations unknown.

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Doctor StrangeRoll – Post-Gen Con Hypnosis

We’re taking a break from the Spelljammer campaign on Doctor StrangeRoll so I can concentrate on writing my next novel*. I’ve found it increasingly difficult to write a mostly-original D&D campaign and try to write long-form fiction at the same time.

Not to worry, this hiatus is only going to last six weeks or so (the length of time it takes me to complete a first draft), though it’ll probably be November before a proper resumption of D&D since I want to play-test a Ghostbusters adventure on the session just prior to Hallowe’en.

For our post-Gen Con session, we BSed about Gen Con, broke in a new player with CAH (apparently, it’s becoming my group’s litmus test, because it’s far worse than ANY jokes we make during a regular game), and created character for the first of possibly two short games.

dungeoncrawlclassicsThe first of these two is Dungeon Crawl Classics. Next game session, we’re going through a 0-level funnel. My four characters are: Dennis the Mendicant (think Dennis the Peasant from Monty Python & the Holy Grail), Lazlo the Smuggler, Bob the Butcher, and Lightfoot the Shaman. We’re a four-man frat party! Dennis has cheese dip, Bob has a side of beef, Lightfoot brings the herbs, and Lazlo… well, Lazlo has a waterproof sack. Maybe they’ll mix some trash can punch in it.

Between the five players, we have a LOT of herbs. “Herbs.” The jokes have already started. Of course, one could argue that to go off on a life of adventuring in the world of Dungeon Crawl Classics, one would HAVE to be high (or drunk, or insane). We also have a lot of chain, for some reason. I should douse one of the chains in oil, light it, and pretend I’m Ghost Rider!

GMG5070WCoverLargeWhile I played Dungeon Crawl Classics at Gary Con last year, that was a playtest (I suspect of something Lahnkmar related) with pre-gens. This is for real.

* What’s this novel, you ask? (If you’re not asking, skip this part.) It’s the fourth book in the Zack Jackson sci-fi series for all ages. I spent a lot of time trying to find my voice for this series again because I spent way too much time writing Scars of the Sundering (not that it wasn’t worth it, it was just more time-consuming than I expected and Zack Jackson sat fallow too long for a series in which I plan 6-7 books). You can stay up-to-date on all my fiction by going over to my other blog: VFF Publishing.

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Things to Look Forward to

Coming soon, to a Doctor StrangeRoll channel near you:

I will be starting a D&D 5th edition Spelljammer campaign this Friday! You can expect session synopses and other goodies regularly here! It will be an original campaign, so unless I incorporate some pre-published material as filler (which I’m wont to do when prep time gets tight), there will be no adventure spoilers like there was with Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Beyond the Rim, or The Jewel of Yavin.

The campaign, for which I still have not thought of an awesome name, will pick up where Hoard of the Dragon Queen left off. If you’ll remember, Broken Sky and Tobin the bard were eaten by a white dragon and the rest of the players capitulated and chose to quit the campaign because they felt they were in a spot where there was no way out other than death. I’m using a bit of GM fiat and ruling that some bit of magic in the dragon’s stomach interacted with the bag of holding it ingested when it ate Tobin ripped open a portal which turned the dragon inside-out and sucked the surviving PCs through, depositing them into the phlogiston where they are picked up some time later by Boccob’s Barge. The hammership, out of the Rock of Bral, is crewed, in part, by two new PCs (played by Broken Sky’s and Tobin’s players).

I’m also working on a Fallout 4 review (game play only, very little to no plot spoilers). I’m going to post it here, on Amazon, and over at VFF Publishing. There’s a lot of crossover between Fallout gamers and tabletop gamers (at least in my circles), so it seems appropriate, plus it’s a hot property right now.

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#RPGaDay2015 – Favorite non-RPG Thing to Come Out of RPGing

RPG a day 2015 - Twitter

That’s easy: friends. Apart from my wife, I can’t think of one real friend I have that I didn’t meet through role-playing games. To me, that’s Gary Gygax’s true legacy: the creation of a huge network of friends and colleagues so many of us share. Without the influence of role-playing games, my life would be unrecognizable. I wouldn’t even begin to guess what I’d be doing, who I’d be hanging out with, what my job would be. It has, quite literally, informed every aspect of my life.

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#RPGaDay2015 – Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity

RPG a day 2015 - Twitter

I’m sure Vin Diesel will be a popular choice for this one and Stephen Colbert, too. I haven’t actually heard Robin Williams talk about D&D, though he was a huge fan of The Legend of Zelda (hence his daughter’s name). So, I’ll give a shout out to Jon Favreau. I’ve been a fan of his since he played Rudy’s friend in… Rudy. Of course, he’s more famous now as the director of Elf and Iron Man. He credits D&D with helping develop his imagination and storytelling skills. From the L.A. Times in 2008:

Some filmmakers get their start making shaky home movies, others catch the bug in a high school drama class or maybe through an art institute where they put paint to canvas. Favreau has more of an eight-sided education.

“It was Dungeons & Dragons, but I wouldn’t have owned up so quickly a few years ago,” Favreau said sheepishly.

“It’s rough. It’s one of the few groups that even comic-book fans look down on. But it gave me a really strong background in imagination, storytelling, understanding how to create tone and a sense of balance. You’re creating this modular, mythic environment where people can play in it.”

Maybe there should be a new Hollywood respect for eight- and 10-sided dice and a talent for troll tales: Robin Williams, Mike Myers, Stephen Colbert and Vin Diesel have all professed their passion (past or present) for the role-playing game.

For Favreau, it was the fantasy element that pulled him in, but it was the sense of story that he carried with him.

“It allowed me to not tamp down my imagination; I think there’s a tendency to turn that part of you off,” he said.

“Every kid has imagination, but at a certain age, that spigot gets turned off. I set it aside in high school. I really couldn’t do it now,” Favreau said, shaking his head. “There’s something in my heart — there was such a stigma to it.

“When I was young, it was exciting, but as I got older it felt like it was keeping me from progressing. You’re social in your small circle, but it’s asocial to the wider world.”

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#RPGaDay2015 – Favorite RPG Website/Blog

RPG a day 2015 - Twitter

This one?



Okay, so that’s a total cop-out. After all, I don’t offer new rules, game reviews (well, rarely), or news. I tend to go to ENWorld for that. I’ve been going there since it was Eric Noah’s 3rd Edition D&D News (or whatever it was called in those days). I’ve been there long enough that I lost my original log-in somehow and had to start over (though it has always been JediSoth). Still, despite the years, I’m barely above 1,000 posts in the forums (joined August 2003 (the second time), 1022 posts = average of 85 posts/year). I’m a Professional Lurker.

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#RPGaDay2015 – Favorite Game You No Longer Play

RPG a day 2015 - Twitter

The game of my youth: AD&D 2nd Edition. By the time 3rd edition came out, I had a measure of system mastery, I could run it in my sleep, and I felt comfortable creating rules content for it that wasn’t unbalanced. I played 2nd edition for its entire life cycle, though I didn’t truly appreciate some of the settings (like Planescape and Spelljammer) until their time was long gone.

Of course, no game is truly dead as long as you still have the rules and can still play it. I play multiple, so-called “dead” games each year at Gary Con, but with the advent of 5th edition D&D, I doubt I’ll go back to 2nd edition AD&D for any reason. 5th edition captures the feel of AD&D for me, and if I was to run it at a convention, I would stick with 1st edition AD&D (though the two games are similar enough mechanically that new players wouldn’t even notice) because it’s what everyone thinks of when they think of the classic version (BECMI, B/X, or Rules Compendium D&D, aka “Basic” is fantastic, too; I would run that again before I run AD&D).

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#RPGaDay2015 – Favorite Idea for Merging Two Games into One

RPG a day 2015 - Twitter

Cross-genre mashups are my favorite, particularly for con games. Games run at conventions, typically one-shot, action-packed scenarios, are perfect for going gonzo and trying out things that you might never attempt in a long-term home game. Consider the following: A Call of Cthulhu game based on a “reality” TV series. Saturday Morning Cartoons cast as Superheroes. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with 70s or 80s movie/TV icons. Call of Cthulhu on Gilligan’s Island. A KISS Superhero game. Something that sounds silly for a “serious” weekly game can be perfect for a 3-4 hour convention game where people need to grasp the concept quickly and have near-instant immersion. High concept games are fine, but when you have less than 4 hours to hand out pre-gens, explain the rules & background, and accomplish something during the game, you need all the help you can get.

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