Games I love: Fluxx

Fluxx by Looney Labs is, I think, an increasingly well known card game with a growing number of expansions and spinoffs.  While I've played Zombie Fluxx, Cthulhu Fluxx, Star Fluxx, and Monty Python Fluxx, I have a strong soft spot for the original game and first spinoff EcoFluxx.

In Fluxx, the rules are ever changing, including the conditions for victory.  There are five main types of cards: Rules, Actions, Keepers, Goals, and Creepers.  The game starts with players having a hand of 3 cards and a basic rule in play: draw one, play one.  When yellow Rules cards enter a player's hand, they can play them to change the rules, which can result in things such as larger hand size, more cards drawn or played, or limits on Keepers on the table.  Keepers, the green cards, are generally the key to winning and are objects or concepts such as Earth, War, Cake, Trees, or Party.  Goals, colored pink, typically ask for two Keepers within a theme, such as Earth and Peace for the Goal "World Peace."  Blue Action cards let you do something, such as "swap hands with another player" or "draw two play one."  Creepers are colored black and generally block a player's chance at victory; to be perfectly honest, I generally play without them because my group started playing Fluxx far enough back that they didn't exist for most of our experience with the game, but they definitely add another layer of complexity.

The game is relatively simple in that context, but because players are constantly changing the goals and rules, it can be hard to keep up.  Which, I think, is a big part of the value of Fluxx in all its varieties.  It teaches players to be flexible, and to think strategically about when they play their cards, because what might be a great hand one turn might be lackluster the next.  Games of Fluxx sometimes take as little as two minutes or as long as two hours.  Fluxx adapts well to both small and large numbers of players, especially when combining two or more sets, as I regularly do with Fluxx and EcoFluxx.  Even better, Fluxx is easy to transport, quick to set up, and simple to learn, making it great for trips and new groups.  All these things add up to create one of the mainstays of my game collection that I can play with pretty much anyone.


Great Setting Ideas: FEED

There are some amazing roleplaying settings out there that haven't been officially tapped for creation.  Or, occasionally, they've had a game out in the past but it's fallen into disused or unsupported territories.  In either event, sometimes I feel the need to talk about what I'd do if I had a chance to write the book on how to play in these settings.  Typically, this will be as a conversion to Fate Core (as that's my current system of choice) but that may change if I change systems and on occasion I may run with a different system that feels appropriate.

I will try and avoid spoilers in what I write here, but the very nature of trying to build a world for gaming in is seeing behind the curtain a bit, so there will be some spoiler-y material.  You are forewarned.  If you don't want to know, now is probably a good time to stop reading this post.

Okay, that all out of the way, the first setting I want to talk about is the world of Mira Grant's FEED, which is the first novel of the Newsflesh trilogy.  In FEED, zombies have finally appeared and spread throughout the world.  Civilization has recovered in a way fairly different from your typical zombie movie.  Instead of devastation  marauding gangs, and lone survivors, civilization fought the zombies back, despite the intense contagious nature of the disease, and there's still power, the internet, TV, university, government, and plenty of other normal, everyday features of the modern world.

The plague is brought on by the Kellis-Amberlee virus (which isn't a spoiler, as this is well-understood by all the characters in the book), and the characters are regularly blood tested (using small hand-held machines with green "safe" lights and red "dead" lights) to see if the virus is spreading in their bodies ahead of their conversion into a zombie.  Every mammal is infected, every mammal over 40 pounds becomes a zombie or "amplifies."  Amplified zombies are fast at first and slower as they age (and decompose).  Zombies alone are fairly stupid, plodding creatures, but they often moan to attract the attention of other zombies.  As the zombies collect, they gain a sort of hive mind, getting smarter and attempting to lay ambushes, find weaknesses, or create distractions.  The characters in the novel are also aware that the virus drives zombies (and zombified dogs, cows, deer, horses and so on) to first bite victims to make them amplify and once the horde gains a certain level of intelligence to then find victims on which to feed.

The characters of the novels are bloggers, who have basically overtaken the standard press of our world/time.  They are licensed and can move into more dangerous zones of zombie activity, which are rated 10 (basically as safe as possible) down to 1 (where you're basically shot as soon as you leave).  Generally bloggers break out into three groups.  Irwins (named for Steve Irwin) are the adventurers jumping into zombie infested areas and doing the dangerous things most people would avoid at all costs; they're always out in the field.  Newsies report the news as factually as possible and do interviews as well as research pieces, and seem to take to the field about half the time.  Fictionals write poems or stories based on the zombies, the world without zombies, or whatever catches their fancy; they're in the field extremely rarely.

I'll touch on what are called "reservoir conditions" just briefly.  These conditions are when the Kellis-Amberlee virus takes over a body part of a host, but don't push over into full amplification.  These conditions are very important for spoiler-y reasons, and it would be to the benefit of a GM to know why and if their players have one.  It's also important to note that in this setting, the works of zombie writers/moviemakers such as Romero are considered visionary pieces which helped to save lives at the outbreak of the virus.

So that's the general setting.  Now for some suggestions rule-wise.

Zombies should have a separate stress track which corresponds to the size of their herd and therefore the herd's intelligence.  This stress track should probably increase one box with every five zombies, meaning 1-4 zombies would have a 1 stress box of intelligence and be fairly dumb, 5-9 zombies would have 2 stress boxes and come up with simple plans, 10-14 zombies would have 3 stress boxes and could potentially lay a basic ambush, and so on.  Once the zombies reached 5 or 6 stress boxes, it would probably cap and they would stop getting smarter, lest we have zombie hordes piling into planes to fly off in search of more food.

I think it's not super necessary mechanically, but probably cool as a roleplay element if each player had an amplification stress track.  Even better might be if the GM had a copy of it and the player had a copy, reflecting the character's true danger of amplification and the character's perception of that danger.  This track would likely reset after each scene and could have boxes checked off by things such as extreme stress, exposure to zombie fluids, injury, blood loss, other illness, or other factors chosen by the GM.  This might be too brutal a system for some games, but definitely would fit the story world.

The weapons and characters for this setting should basically follow that of a modern realism setting (of which there are several examples already in Fate Core, such as Fight Fire, Ellis Affair, or Crime World).  It seems most fitting for players to play characters who are bloggers, but they could theoretically also be soldiers, police, detectives, scientists, or just hapless bystanders.  There definitely should be a requirement that at least one aspect give them license to go into zombie infested areas (or a lack of license should be their trouble!).  Aside from those things, a FEED setting should work relatively well under basic Fate Core rules.


Terminus 4.21

The DnD group met up for our second Terminus session in as many weeks and it was a pretty entertaining one, though it was more roleplay light than the last one.

We picked up where we left off the last session out.  We started moving deeper into the ruins and in a marshy area, where we yet again were ambushed by plant-looking creatures.  Vallo voiced his disappointment in Adah-Kah (who has a +25 to perception checks) for missing them.  Out of character I joked that I was trying to smell them instead of looking around.  In character, we set up for battle as mossy looking monsters rose from the murk to attack us.

We quickly noticed that there was a larger, mossier creature that seemed to be organizing the others and that the smaller moss creatures were augmenting its strength in turn.  We also realized that they were essentially surrounding us, so we needed to pick a direction to attack.  Meggido did a good job of positioning the monsters and Adah-Kah immediately used the bonuses given to him (and the rest of the party) by Vallo and went after the lead moss monster. It ended up being a fairly quick and brutal fight.  The moss men tried to use the party's powers against the party, but rolled low and the party did not.  The smaller moss men seemed to heal the big boss moss as they died, but it was too little too late and some massive damage from Adah-Kah, Sabriel, and Meggido did it in.  It should be noted here that it was a pretty crit heavy night on my part.  I got one in this fight and "wasted" a second on critting my initiative.

At this point we had the option of going to higher, more visible ruins or lower, less visible ruins.  We quickly decided to go for the high road.  Once we got to the more visible ruins, we ran across some Wood Woags and an Ivy Heart in another pseudo-ambush (still smell checking!).  This was also a fairly quick and brutal fight, but much harder on the party.  The Ivy Heart and Wood Woags got to attack first and managed to bloody three fifths of the party in the first round and a half.  Adah-Kah helped to focus fire down one of the Woags and moved on the Ivy Heart while Meggido pinned down the other Woag.  I got two different crits on the Ivy Heart in this fight and we got pretty massive damage off on it at one point thanks to Vallo buffing the party.

During that fight, Adah-Kah spied (no more smell checking) an older Kuo-toa woman spying on them and then scurrying off.  Her tracks were fairly obvious, so it was easy for Adah-Kah to follow them back to her hut.  Adah-Kah knocked on her door and when she answered explained that he'd seen her watching them.  The inside of her hut appeared to be full of animals.  When the Kuo-toa woman asked Adah-Kah why the party was in the ruins, Sardis exclaimed that they were one world saving business.  The old woman chuckled and Sabriel finally stepped in and explained a bit more and the old Kuo-toa was given a description of the room we suspected we'd find with a piece of the artifact we've been collecting.

The Kuo-toa also explained to the party that Karus (Karus, Karus is on fire...) was a dryad and with some banter, the party also intuited that Karus' tree is actually an Treant and that Karus believes he is as powerful as (or has become) a lich.  Karus was also behind the spread of the darkwood and had recruited most of the local Kuo-toa to his service.  Given past experiences, it seems pretty likely the party will need to end Karus' control of the area in order to get what we need to save the world.  In the past we've done fairly well when directly searching for the artifact and gotten rid of this kind of threat, but when not in that situation we've often left enemies alive to haunt us later.  Hopefully, we'll remember to put this one down when the time comes.

Anyways, we followed the old Kuo-toa lady to a bridge near a large waterway.  As we went to cross the bridge, we were ambushed (smell checks are back!) by a group of three Kuo-toa, one of whom rapidly grew into a raging behemoth.  This fight definitely qualified for brutal, but was by no means fast.  The Hulkuo-toa smashed into the party doing fairly significant damage and the other two Kuo-toa were no slouches either.  The party had to do some fancy positioning to get the best impact out of our attacks and it took a bit of time to whittle away the health of our three opponents.  One of the regular Kuo-toa fell first and then we focused on the Hulkuo-toa while keeping the other smaller Kuo-toa pinned down.  Eventually the big guy fell and we pressed the small Kuo-toa to surrender, which it refused to do.  We had to knock it out with the intent of questioning it on if Karus knows we're coming, what Karus' defenses and plans are, and where Karus' Treant is.  There are vague suspicions that the Treant that we encountered last session might be the one Karus' is bonded to.

We're back to a more normal rotation of gaming after this so it may be a brief bit until the next Terminus posting.


Games I Love: Bang!

It's a pretty simple explanation why I like Bang!(click the British flag in the corner for English!) It's because Bang! is a spaghetti western turned card game where draw can mean pulling a card or shooting someone from across the table.  The game itself has a fairly easy learning curve, though it definitely helps to play with someone who has played before.

There are four roles to play in Bang!: the sheriff, the renegade, the deputy, and the outlaw.  In a given game, there will be only one sheriff and one renegade (except in certain expansions), but the number of deputies and outlaws will increase with the number of players.  Generally the outlaws will be the largest group, at least equaling the sheriff and deputies.  The sheriff is the only player whose role is revealed openly (with a big shiny badge!), and that player's job is to shoot the outlaws and renegade. The deputies are meant to help in this job, but as they're not always known to the sheriff, a lot of bluffing and "false deputizing" can be involved here.  The renegade wants everyone dead; they can only win if the sheriff dies and the outlaws are also dead.  The outlaws simply want the sheriff dead and anyone else is just collateral.  Players also get to choose from a random set of two options for their character, each of which has a special ability.

Players start with a set number of life points and those life points also determine their starting hand size.  The sheriff starts play, drawing two cards and playing as many as they choose.  They can only shoot people within the range of their gun (using a Bang! card, from which the game gets it's name), beer heals them, and other various objects and items can enhance the special skills of each character.  The mystery and bluffing that goes on in Bang! is what really makes the game shine.  Much bantering and yelling has ensued in every game I've played, with players actively commenting on the actions of one another and trying to convince the sheriff of their roles.

I've played Bang! with family members as young as 9 (she won her first game!) and it's an game we play now and again at my gaming group.  Bang! is easy to transport, quick to set up, fairly simple to learn, and because you play against players who can bluff and because each character has special powers, it can be challenging and complex despite how simple it is.  It's a great game that can be played over and over because each session can be completely different than the last.

A Thorren Scene

Thorren stared down onto the plains, shifting slightly as the winds sweeping down from the north buffeted his muscular frame.  He breathed shallowly, eyes searching.  It had been years since he last patrolled Thunder Bluff this way, years since the Cataclysm had roused him from the complacence of never straying from Mulgore, following the duty his family had performed for generations as the defenders of the wandering Tauren tribes.  His grandfather, Enroc, first of the Bluffwatch name, had watched for Centaur marauders and Quillboar.  His mother, Deshra, had fought Centaur and followed Cairne when the High Cheiftan joined the Horde, speaking powerfully against Grimtotem detractors who decried the Tauren’s interactions with other races.  Thorren honored them.  But his duty had called him away from the bluffs.

Thorren spied the lioness a few moments before it sprung upon the zhevra.  The equine beast cried out in fear, but it was already too late.  Thorren’s eyes tracked on.  To the west of them, a kodo train marched toward the outpost, shaking the earth.  In the past, the Alliance would raid these trains in the name of self-defense against the Horde.  Today, though, Thorren feared no Alliance hand.  The humans were occupied, he’d heard, with a Naga incursion in Night Elf lands.  No, today he searched for Taurens.

The thought boiled within him.  He’d been away from Thunder Bluff when Garrosh fought the mak’gora against Cairne, delivering messages to Camp Narache.  Away when the Grimtotem betrayed their people, perpetrating their heinous bloodlust against their own homeland.  Away when Baine, son of Cairne, was driven from Thunder Bluff and many of Thorren’s fellow shamans perished beneath Grimtotem blades.  Away when Thunder Bluff was retaken.  Away when his mother was killed for trusting Orcs, Trolls, and Elves.  Thorren snorted in fury.

The Grimtotem have much to answer for.

He glanced over his shoulder at his compatriots.  “They may have abandoned the plan.  I don’t see them anywhere.”

The female Troll shaman ostensibly leading the group nodded.  “We look elsewhere den.”

Thorren nodded back, shifting his grip on his clawed weapons in frustration.  He shot a final look down to the field, noting the progress of the kudos, before turning to follow his friends down the rise.  Another day.


Yes, Even More Dice on Kickstarter

I've been in on the Fudge It! campaign on Kickstarter for a while now because I really do have a little too much affection for having a wide variety of dice. Call it gamer superstition, but I like having different colors and styles to fall back on if I feel like something isn't rolling well. And the Fudge It! campaign promises to give me some new options for my fudge/fate dice.  The campaign also has support from both Grey Ghost Press, the originators of Fudge dice, and Fred Hicks of Evil Hat, publishers of probably the biggest consumer of Fudge dice: Fate.  It looks like the Fudge It! campaign should just make funding at the end of April.

Speaking of Evil Hat, I'm also jumping on board with Evil Hat's official Fate Dice campaign, which is new but moving quickly. Two of three stretch goal sets of dice have already been revealed and are awesome! The Centurion Set, based off the Fate game Spirit of the Century, is is gold, burgundy, and black which gives me a very steampunk vibe. The first revealed set is based on the cover of Fate Core and features sparkling dice in purple, green, and blue. But my current favorite is the Atomic Robo set, based off the Atomic Robo comic and forthcoming Fate game, which features translucent cyan and green and a pearlized grey. The set is gorgeous and the cyan and grey are a great matching set. I'm sure they'll become my go-to dice.  Rumor has it that the next set to be revealed will pay homage to the Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher and the Dresden Files RPG from Evil Hat.  I can't wait to discover if that's true.  If I can base my estimate off of Fate Core, the Fate Dice campaign is going to blow way past the currently set stretch goals and result in some bonus designs and colors.  We'll see!

Terminus Session ?.? (Calling it 4.14)

Terminus is the campaign of my DnD group and has been running for over two years. We began it not too long after DnD 4th Edition released and have gone from starting level characters to level 16 world travelling heroes. I play Adah-Kah, a Nekhanj (based on the Dromite from previous editions) Avenger of the goddess Ioun.

To give a breif summary of the plot, each of the player characters is the lastor nearly last representative of their respective races. Adah-kah was found on the edge of a desert in the arms of a Nekhanj statue and adopted by a temple of Ioun. Over time, he trained in the teachings of Ioun and the ways of an Avenger. Being always different and ever a subject of study, Adah-kah learned to keep his appearance semi-obscured when in public. He also made it his goal to find his vanished people. Eventually he set out on excursions first to the desert, then the great library in the city of Span to see what he could discover.

Span is a city built on a bridge over a swift moving inland sea called the Scarring. The Scarring also refers to an event in the world's history in which magic users of the Dragonborn race very nearly destroyed the world and broke their continent in two. The Dragonborn had a magi-tech empire that crumbled after the Scarring, leaving a sole representative (the PC Sabriel). The Nekhanj previously warred with the Githyanki, but retreated suddenly and the Githyanki empire went into decline until their former slaves the Lizardfoll began to hunt them down mercilessly. It's possible the PC Vallo is the last Githyanki.

Once, the Warforged race were born at a great factory called the Forge, but the Forge is now missing and the Warcorged are shut down, save for the newly awakened PC, Meggido. It's possible that the Skeshuni, who later became unable to breed, may have had something to do with those events. Their final representative is the PC Sardis. The PCs ostensibly are working for the Watcher, a mysterious godlike being who typically does not interfere with the world but who has gathered this group to face a cataclysmic threat. The Watcher, on occasion, sends visions to the heroes which expand on their powers beyond the normal hero's. The PC's are occasionally aided by Grontonn, a Minotaur ship captain, his crew and a dog Vallo rescued named Kun Kun.

The PC's have helped re-form the Talminar Province, stop a vampire (twice because we avoided her the first time), shut down an army of false Warforged, released a Dragonborn lich (uhhhh...), awoken the lich's dragon ally (UHHHH...), rescued several towns, gathered a war effort against undead forces, crushed a gang called the Firehawks (Firehawks suck!), investigated mines and caves including an ancient Nekhanj city, found two pieces of a device which might save the world, discovered an invasion by Beholders, and most recently maybe, kinda sorta permanently collapsed a demi-plane used for rapid travel (oops!).

This session was focused on getting on to our next objective. We checked in with the folks we'd last worked with and discovered the trolls we'd fought/allied with were moving in to support the other races fighting the undead. The maybe-not-a-Succubus who'd accompanied us was turned over to Sardis' old university for investigation. And Sabriel, using Dragonborn directional senses that the Watcher may be tapping in to, directex the party into a forest to the southwest, quite near to Sardis' home. On the way we fought some assassin vines which put a severe hurting on the party (three or four of us were bloodied within a round and a half). Adah-kah did get a couple good shots in, as did everyone else, but it was a rather unpleasant fight overall.

We continued on riding our magic flying boars (because we're awesome) and came across a Treant (which we immediatelt redubbed an Ent), who told us about a corrupt "pink fleshy thing" (I forget his name) who is spreading kudzu-like Darkwood through the forest, which is increasing the population of plant mosters such as assassin vines. We continued on, flying over an encounter (yeah, our boars are awesome) and then finding overgrown Skeshuni ruins, actually the Skeshuni capital, where Vallo summoned up a guide to help us find the seat of governent. And I believe that's where we left off until next week.


Characters I've Played: Thorren

The goal of this type of post is to update a character that I've played before and intend to play again, though on occasion I may share a character who I probably won't play again.

Thorren was a character I created for Sunday Game Group's Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition campaign in a homebrewed setting in which our group would be playing "monsters" struggling to overthrow a human-elf-eladrin kingdom which enslaved or oppressed all the other races of the world. The intent, eventually, was for the PC's to raise an army and lead the assault on the corrupt kingdom and overthrow it.

Thorren Bluffwatch was a Minotaur Seeker. Given that most of the members of the game played World of Warcraft or WarCraft III, we often referred to him as a Tauren, and the Bluffwatcher NPC type from WoW inspired Thorren's last name. As a Seeker, Thorren was of the primal power source and focused on using that power to aid him in making ranged attacks.

Rather than making Thorren an archer, I chose to make him a thrown weapon focused Seeker, giving him a hammer bound to return to him and a number of axes, javelins, and knives to be thrown situationally. Thorren's abilities generally focused on the production of ice or lightning effects.  He was great fun to play even though the Seeker is a fairly underdeveloped, flawed, and unsupported class in DnD 4e.

In the interim, I've picked up playing WoW and Thorren became a Tauren Shaman, with a leaning toward lightning and fire powers.  So in remaking him for a potential RPG, I'd like to incorporate both versions of Thorren.  As is typical based on Sunday Game Group's system of choice, I'm going to do this exercise in Fate Core's ruleset (just as I did for myself, here).

As a quick reminder, this means I'll need a name, a high concept, three phase aspects, a skill pyramid, and some stunts.  If you'd like more of a breakdown on these, go back and check out my previously linked post for a more detailed rundown.

Naming this character is a simple choice.  The name was inspired by the videogame and transferred out and then back in, so keeping it the same is a no-brainer.
Name:  Thorren Bluffwatch

Next up is the High Concept.  As the most likely place for me to play Thorren is in a Fate WoW RPG as has been discussed several times by SGG, it seems to make sense to involve his race and class here.  Tauren Shaman would be the simple way, but I always try to aim for making the High Concept more dynamic, so I'll try to add a bit on here.  I think Thorren's personality is probably the element missing in this situation.  Thorren's personality, in my mind is based strongly on his loyalty to his friends, people, and the Horde, so I'll call him a Steadfast Tauren Shaman.
High Concept: Steadfast Tauren Shaman

As before, I think of the first phase aspect as "back story" so here's a good opportunity to get in why Thorren is called Bluffwatch.  Tauren have a clan society (pretty clearly influenced by Native Americans) in which children can take on either their parent's surname or a name created by their deeds.  I've always intended that Thorren's family took the name Bluffwatch for being renowned defenders (with keen perception) of the bluffs (or, in WoW terms, Thunderbluff) that are their home.  Thorren carried on in this tradition for a time and took the name, but has since set out on broader adventures.  I summarize this in Generations Watching the Bluffs.
Phase One (Background): Generations Watching the Bluffs

The second phase-aspect is generally the first "guest star" situation that will link a character to the others in the party.  Given that I don't know who else will be in the party, I'll try to leave it a bit open ended.  In terms of the original game, Thorren met his companions because he had been captured by humans who hoped to sell him into gladiatorial slavery, but he escaped with his band of adventurers.  In WoW terms, I tend to consider that Thorren should have entered the lore of the game about when I started playing, and so probably first began his wider journey during the Cataclysm.  So I'll attempt to incorporate those things together.  I think something like, Forced to Battle, talking of Thorren's duty and the fact that he doesn't always look for the battle.  Fighting for Others might actually better sum up my general concept and get back to Thorren's personality, but lacks the outside influence.  I'll split the difference as best I can.
Phase Two: Called to Fight for Others

Third phase is another "guest star" with the same limitations at the moment.  In this case I think it's time to speak to Thorren's connections to nature.  In the original version, he was tied to lightning and ice, and in the WoW version he was tied to lightning and fire.  But in both, he could call upon spirits to aid him.  I think I'll focus on the lightning (or something near to it) and the spirits since they're a commonality.  And I think I have something that sounds cool.
Phase Three: By Ghosts and Thunder

Now for skills.  In the DnD game, Thorren was noted for his perception (which has lived on in SGG by the phrase "what do your ____ eyes see?" since we riffed off Lord of the Rings' "what do your elf eyes see?" by replacing "elf" with "Tauren").  In WoW terms, he's also renowned for his vigilance.  Seems only fitting that his strongest skill be notice.  From there I think fight and empathy make a lot of sense, given that he's a strong fighter in both settings and Shamans in WoW theoretically gain their elemental powers by communicating with and understanding the spirits.  Trailing along with that empathy would have to be rapport and lore, given that they'd strongly correlate the same connections.  I'd include shoot in that same tier as Thorren has always had an element of ranged combat to him, though less so in WoW than in DnD.  I think his Tauren size lends Thorren the physique and athletics skills, he has some ability to ride (aka the drive skill),  and his work and loyalty to the horde have gained him the contacts skill.

Great(+4): Notice
Good(+3): Fight, Empathy
Fair(+2): Lore, Rapport, Shoot
Average(+1): Physique, Athletics, Ride, Contacts

Now to finish off with stunts.  These are the most likely things to change upon actual game play dependent on how we work elemental powers in game. That said, I think the first stunt I should take is one that allows for Thorren to use Empathy to make attacks using elemental powers. To make it aspect-y I'll dub it Speaker to Elements. Next I think I'll add an ability to play off Thorren's ability to notice at a prodigious rate. I'll use it to allow him to use his notice for a trapping of investigate. It seems only right to call it What Do Your Tauren Eyes See? The final stunt should be about Thorren's connections, I think and his ability to call on allies. I'll take a line from the game and call it The Horde is Family.
Stunts: Speaker to Elements
What Do Your Tauren Eyes See?
The Horde is Family

So someday, Thorren will be ready to play again. I'm looking forward to it.


Games I Love: Get Bit!

In Get Bit! You play a robot (or in the newer version, a pirate) swimming for your life to escape a robot (or pirate) munching shark. To do this you have to bluff or luck your way into playing different and higher value cards than your opponents.  It's a relatively simple game, but that's part of the appeal in my mind.

Get Bit! is quick to pick up and play because the rules are intuitive for the most part.  Play a higher card?  You're farther from the shark.  Closest to the shark?  You get bitten.  Get bitten?  Lose a limb.  Lose all your limbs?  Sink to the bottom of the ocean and lose the game.  The only potentially confusing rule is what to do when two players play the same card.  Those players don't move positions except to be next to one another.  That means that players should hope to avoid matching the cards of other players, because a match at the wrong time could be potentially disastrous.

While there's not so many cards that card-counting is impossible, but there's still a degree of bluffing involved.  Similarly, there's a degree of strategy in deciding if you should allow yourself to get bitten.  While it's theoretically possible to survive a game without getting bitten, it's unlikely and grows ever more unlikely the more players are involved in the game.  Generally it seems better strategy to choose carefully when you take your bites so that you can play your cards at the most opportune moments.

It's notable that a pseudo prequel to Get Bit! called Walk the Plank! which is just about to finish a Kickstarter campaign (26 hours as this is being written). While the rules are different and neither needs the other to be played, it's pretty cool that Walk the Plank! and Get Bit! can link together.


An Exercise Completed

A while back, I wrote a piece on how I would make myself in a game using Fate Core.  It took me a while, but I finally put together a cover photo based on that.  At the moment, it lacks the stunts, because I found not having them felt "tidier" but I reserve the right to change my mind again!


Kickstarting: Lords of Gossamer and Shadow

A couple of days ago, I read an excellent post by Rob Donaghue on Google+, talking about the Kickstarter for an RPG called Lords of Gossamer and Shadow. He described it as a successor to Amber Diceless RPG, which was intriguing to me.

I never played Amber Diceless, but I've heard lots about it and know, like Rob Donaghue said, that it has a strong community that has kept it afloat despite the licensing of the setting being muddy and no new official content being produced. I've also read the Chronicles of Amber series by Roger Zelazny on which Amber Diceless was based, and I loved those books. So I headed over to the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow Kickstarter page to check out the campaign.

I was impressed right away by the dedication and activity there as well as the amazing art that had already been commissioned for the book. I took the opportunity to jump in at the $30 pledge level, which is the first level at which I'd have a chance to get a physical copy of the book (side note: I love PDFs and ebooks, but I tend to need a physical copy of the book to really "get" the rules of an RPG). I got a nice personal welcome from Steve Russell, the leader of the project, which is an awesome touch.  A particularly nice feature of the campaign is that the hardcover book I order at the end of the campaign will be at cost, which is certainly not something that was required as part of the Kickstarter and is really looking out for the interests of backers.  Every step of my interaction with the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow Kickstarter has been positive and welcoming and that makes for a campaign well worth talking about.

On a side note, I think that The Chronicles of Amber novels are a must read for anyone who is into science fiction and fantasy.  Amber sets out a lot of concepts about multiverses and how magic can shape reality that have been emulated by other writers in the years since its writing.  It looks at magic in a fairly different way than most RPGs, in particular those who follow the Vancian model of memorization and recall.  Describing fully how they differs might stray into spoiler territory, so I'll just say you should read and find out!


Games I Love: Agricola

When I think of Agricola the thing that immediately comes to mind is the phrase "farming is hard!" It's a common refrain from my gaming group when we play, but it hasn't stopped us from trying to master the art of boardgame farming.

In Agricola players take on the role of farmers in the middle ages, attempting to plant their fields, raise their livestock, feed their families, upgrade their homes, and become successful by taking on any number of occupations. Sound like a lot? It is. Which is why "farming is hard." And the more players added to the game, the harder it gets as people vie for the same resources and upgrades.

That might make Agricola sound unfun, but it's really a huge part of what makes it excellent. The game is deep. So deep, in fact, that in the two years we've been playing it, no one member of my gaming group has ever seen all the occupations or improvements which are dealt out to each player at the start of the game. This means there's almost always something new to look at and half the way to succeed at Agricola is to get a little lucky and find a good way to make your various occupations and improvements synergise so that you're reaping huge benefits.

The game itself is good looking and the wood tokens, whether they're the old versions (circles and blocks) or the new (person or animal shaped), feel right to the spirit of the game.  Similarly, the boards and cards are beautiful but simple, fitting in well with the time period of the game.  There's no dice rolling in Agricola, making the game far more about timing and playing the odds and against the other players than about round to round luck.  Agricola is definitely an excellently made game and I think it should be a welcome addition to any gaming table.


Scions on a Mountain!

This past Sunday, we finally managed to get the band (mostly) back together to play Scion. We picked up where we left off last time; at the base camp if K2 in the deepest part of winter.

Serafiia and Nick's players were absent, so it was decreed that they were off doing in-character things and away we went. Everyone settled in at the base camp, claiming bunk space and preparing to stay the night. Having somewhat bonded with Nick and Brock, Leander offered them some of the rations he'd ordered and began to take stock of the space. Claiming a bunk, Lee checked to see if the satellite internet was patched through to the camp, but there was no such luck. So instead he began to watch a pre-dowloaded StarCraft II tournament cast. For a few minutes the group was serenaded by the sounds of excited casters, but when a few of the others began to prepare for bed, Leander slipped on and hooked up his bluetooth earpiece.

He, and most of the group rose, rose early. Lee worked out alongside Brock for a bit and before long, the band was ready to set out. Leander suited up in arctic camo gear while mocking Brock's neon green Eddie Bauer gear. The group pushed hard up the mountain, but even their divine physiques were slowed by the daunting task and Brock and Leander both began to feel the cold around them.

Which was about the time giant, white-furred, jewelry bedecked humanoids burst from the snows around them. Leander dropped his hands to his relic spearhead and desert eagle but didn't draw, feeling threatened by the apparent yetis but not wiling to provoke them into an attack. Within moments, more yetis and yaks appeared, adding to the tense situation. The yetis spoke at the Scions until William suddenly developed an ability to understand them. They told the Scions that they were trespassing on sacred ground and needed to leave or die. William informed the yetis of the Scions' mission and the yetis retorted that Rivkah bore the stench if Muspelheim. When that was revealed, Leander immediately remembered the giant who had attempted to chain Rivkah at the airport.

William instructed Rivkah to strip, to detect if the giant had placed something on her that gave her the "stench." She complied, to no positive result, but at nearly the same moment, several steaming shapes were spotted charging up the mountain by the Scions and a certain yeti vowed to silence. The shapes resolved into super-heated onyx hounds, readily apparent as servants of Muspelheim.  Leander transformed his spearhead belt buckle into a naginata spear, holding it ready for a fight, and drew his desert eagle.  The other Scions and yetis sprang into action, engaging the onyx hounds.

The silent yeti smashed into a pair of the hounds, crushing them deep into the snow, and the Scions quickly put serious damage to the other leading hounds.  A second wave approached, though, accompanied by a fire giant.  Leander immediately focused on the giant, and Brock's assault on the same individual emboldened the Scions, giving them extra fire for the attack.  Surveying the battlefield and valorously ignoring a pair of onrushing hounds intent on him, Leander directed the Scions and silent yeti in an assault on the fire giant, which Rivkah foolishly chose to remain apart from.  Her attack failed, but the greater assault, including the silent yeti's pet yak, crushed the giant and pushed back the assault by the Muspelheim forces.  For the moment, there was a reprieve, which will no doubt end quickly during our next session...


Excuse me while I freak out...

Recently Blizzard announced that they'd bought the IPL team and technology from IGN.  That small team (and this explains why sone eSports people have suddenly moved to the Bay Area) is going to be based out of San Francisco and will be handling the expansion of Blizzard's eSports presence, presumably starting with a focus on the StarCraft II WCS.  That's basically the most amazing news I've heard ever.  I love the WCS concept and now Blizzard is back in my neighborhood.

A little background...  I've wanted to work for Blizzard since I was 14 (that's more than half my life!) and I haven't really seriously considered it (aside from planning to enter the Blizzard Writing Contest in hopes of being a fiction writer for them at a distance) in about a decade.  I'm pretty entrenched in the Bay Area, given that most of my family and friends are here.  On top of that my wife has what is basically her dream job here and her family and friends are similarly local.  I can't justify asking her to give up her dream to chase mine, it's just not in my nature.  Back in the day, though, I daydreamed about joining Blizzard North, which used to be not too far from my dad's house.

And, as I wrote not too long ago, I'm a big fan of eSports.  I watch tournaments regularly, have favorite players in a few different regions/leagues, and will frequently turn on StarCraft II replays in the background as I game or write.  So now Blizzard is in town to create an office locally and cover something I enjoy?   That definitely piques my interest.

I've got no clear idea if Blizzard will be hiring for this team any time soon, but I can assure that I'll be watching for it closely.  Ideally, I'd love for them to post a job writing tournament recaps and player bios/interviews. Those things, I think, would add to the "find and root for local heroes" vibe Blizzard has said they're going for and those are things I've got some experience and interest in writing.  Obviously, I can't dictate to the company, but I can hope.


A Leander Scene

Leander stared at the dusky valley below, counting the moments between bursts of gunfire-wrought light which marked engagements between rival forces like the moments between lightning and thunder.  It was actually much the same principle; he could tell the flow of the battle by those flashes.  The seconds between flashes told him how certain of the enemy’s position the combatants were; the faster they came and the longer they lasted, the more likely it was that the two sides knew exactly where one another were.  Similarly, the movement of the flashes in those seconds told him which side was pressing forward and where.  The forces moving northeast to southwest were driving forward.  Those were the troops of the rebel faction that had sprung up in this countryside.  Rebels only because they were too numerous and organized to be called “bandits.”  They’d razed an entire town two days past when they found it too poor for their tastes.

In a moment, Leander would lead his troops down into the fray, joining the policing force sent by the regional government.  But he waited now, watching the flashes.  Behind and to his left, one of the men shifted.  Leander guessed it was Ivers, ostensibly second in command here, but still new to the position and unused to the men leaning on his direction.  Lee shook his head and muttered, “Take a breath, Terry.  Give it another moment.  I know it looks like our side is being routed, but give it a minute.  They’re not breaking; they’re pulling back to that ridge on the far side of the treeline.  They’ll put a stand together there and we’ll come down the hill.  The rebels will be caught between us.  We’ll cut their avenue of retreat first, then sweep in.”

“Are… Are you sure, Lee?” gulped Ivers, clearly not calmed by Leander’s plan.

“No.  I can’t be.  They could push to the hill faster than we expect.  A segment of the police force could break and run too soon.  They could have a rear guard that I can’t see from here.  Or reinforcements pushing in that we hadn’t been told were inbound.  No plan is certain.  No plan is perfect.  But this is what I see from here.  And this is what we’re going to move forward with it.  If something changes, we’ll have to change with it.  Tally off a third of our force.  You’ll push to the northwest, swing around and come back in.  You’ll be our reserve force in case of a surprise.”

Leander finally looked back over his shoulder at Ivers, lifting the M16 he’d had before his waist.  The other man still looked nervous but nodded.  Lee ran the costs in his head, adjusting already the calculations he’d made while staring down at the battlefield.  A taste of command in a low pressure situation.  That might help him settle a bit.  And those numbers won’t press away my theoretical advantage, but might save me if their reinforcements do arrive.  If none come, he’ll be with me before things get really hot.  Worth the risk.

Nodding to himself more than to Ivers, Leander raised a handheld red-LED light to signal the nearby troopers.  Two quick flashes and Ivers moved off to gather his third of the men.  Lee turned on his heel and strode to the point where the slope down toward the valley intensified.  Without looking back to see if he was followed he started down, picking up pace as he loped into battle.


StarCraft II WCS and Why I love eSports

You may or may not already know (or have guessed) that I'm a big fan of eSports, particularly StarCraft.  I watched a bit back in the early days of Brood War, but dropped out of paying attention until StarCraft II launched.  During the last phases of the beta, I got back into following some of the names I'd known from before such as Day[9] and Husky who had become casters.  I also quickly became a big fan of HuK, Stephano, and WhiteRa.  As I watched more and more tournaments, I got back in to cheering for Grubby, Machine and iNcontrol.  And if you haven't noticed by now, if I was specifically supporting a StarCraft team it'd be Evil Geniuses (and I own 5 eSports-specific shirts, three of which are EG related).

All of that is a roundabout lead up to describe why I'm very excited for the return of the Blizzard sponsored World Championship Series.  Last year, the event ran concurrently but basically separately from the various leagues already running professional StarCraft tournaments (examples being MLG, GSL, and NASL) and didn't really interact with those other leagues.  That set up was fine and the WCS had some great players and amazing matches, but it was a little strange that the other leagues didn't really have strong interaction with it, since they've had plenty of their own crossover and have previously shared players  This year's event is a clear step up from that.  While there will be WCS specific qualifying tournaments leading up to the actual 2013 World Championship Series, players will also be able to earn standing and qualification points in other events.  Very cool to see Blizzard respecting the other people who bring their game to the eSports community.

I think a big part of why I like StarCraft as an eSport is the same as why I like watching basketball, baseball, or hockey.  I've played the games and understand a bit of the strategy, but also understand that I'm not a world class player and don't have the time or dedication to put in to become one.  Still, I get enough of the action to know when someone's pulled off a big attack or survived an aggressive assault.  I remember freaking out at Blizzcon two years ago when I got to see MMA vs Mvp and NesTea vs Mvp in a single weekend.  The final game by Mvp against NesTea to win the Blizzard Invitational was amazing, with a use of ghosts and nukes that I'm not sure I've ever seen matched.  I remember clearly staring up at the screen while in line for a last run at StarCraft II's preview with my mouth open as the roars erupted in response to Mvp's play.  It was definitely up there with the baseball playoff games I've been to.

Similarly, my love of watching StarCraft has been greatly enhanced by attending a few BarCraft events here and there.  While I don't drink (long story, but let it be said that I don't begrudge anyone who does), it doesn't really matter at a BarCraft.  What's far more important is that typically the place is filled with people cheering the way I normally associate with playoff atmosphere for other sports.  I've watched the ends of a few different MLG seasons in this way and it's been tons of fun to sit and talk about what's going on in the matches, joke about which casters are best (I have an strong affiliation for the Day[9]-Husky pairing, but think they often can overshadow games with their awesome), and cheer on the various players.  I'm excited to get out to a couple BarCrafts this year to see WCS qualifications happen and hopefully I'll be at Blizzcon to see the finals!


TableTop Day Recap

On Saturday it was International TableTop Day (based on Geek and Sundry's show TableTop, hosted by Wil Wheaton), so I rolled on down to Santa Cruz to hang out with friends at Inklings Books and Things.  They held raffles for awesome loot, provided table space for various games, and helped a bunch of boardgamers hang out with friends and new acquaintances alike.

All the loot to be raffled...

I got lucky and won one of the first raffles, getting loot for Kaijudo, Spot It, Worra, The Resistance, and DnD!  An awesome way to get rolling.  I sat in on games of Zombicide (for three or four games) and Agricola and watched games of Evo and Roborally.  And all the while, Zombicide's Kickstarter was rolling through its second to last day and introducing awesome survivors based on Sean Connery, John Cleese, Tom Selleck, and Jack Nicholson as the 9 or 10 of us who were in on the Kickstarter kept one another updated.  Tons of fun.

In Zombicide, we play tested a scenario set up by my buddy Frost, in which we had to rescue trapped survivors from cars and escape the onrushing zombie horde.  We played the first couple rounds mostly with experienced Zombiciders.  Our first game out, we drew an Abomination on the second turn, which I tried to slow down (I was playing Nick, which gave me a little extra survivability).  Once the Abom was on the board, our downfall was inevitable.  We made it a little bit further in the second play through, getting what we needed to free the trapped survivors, but never quite reaching them.  We decided to take a break for a bit and come back to it later.

That meant it was time for Agricola!  I really enjoy Agricola when not playing with someone I know who seems to be able to optimize his actions without any effort and always wins.  Good guy, but man that's annoying!  Anyways, I got a great hand.  Lots of synergy between my occupations and minor improvements and I managed to steal first player right away and get rolling quickly.  We were introducing Frost to the game and he ended up with the Taster occupation which let him steal first player fairly effectively over and over!  It was a competitive game and I don't think anyone ever felt completely out of it, which made it even more fun than usual.

We had lunch, and spread out to other games.  I was feeling a bit of a headache coming on, so I spied on some games of Evo and watched my group reconvene to play RoboRally.  Both games looked pretty entertaining, though I think Evo is more my speed.  And it's got dinosaurs!  How can anyone say no to dinosaurs?

We finished the night out trying the Zombicide scenario again.  With some slight modifications and some luck, we got the first car open before an Abomination showed up and were able to hold on long enough to get the second car open.  We were mobbed at that point, but managed to kill enough zombies to clear a path and escape!  It was in doubt until the very last turn, which made the win extremely satisfying.  We also had three Zombicide newbies in the game and has been my experience, everyone who plays Zombicide gets hooked and declares they're going to buy the game.  That's a great sign.

All in all, International TableTop Day was great fun and I can't wait until next year when it all goes down again!