Friday, February 28, 2014

The Trials of the Game Master

I have been part of a regular once a week Tuesday night game for a few years now. We started out playing Legends of the Ancient World, a rules light, yet very old school fantasy RPG based on Steve Jackson's the Fantasy Trip. LAW was a pretty great time for our little group and it is still spoken of fondly.

Our LAW game ended when 4th Edition came out, and I wanted to try it. We were all excited about a new edition of D&D and we weren't the only ones. As we made the switch from LAW to 4E various friends who expressed an interest were invited to play along and our gaming group more than doubled in size. (3 players +Me as GM, became 8 players +Me.) This changed the game dynamic astronomically. More people, new game system. It made for a bumpy ride.

Perhaps because of the harshness of transition, or perhaps because it truly isn't that great a game ... 4E was abandoned within a few months. This left me with a sizable gaming group and nothing to play. It didn't feel right to go back to LAW, that game belonged to the smaller group, and I wasn't prepared to integrate all the new players into that world. So, I tried something else ... and then something else. We tried Castles and Crusades, and Labyrinth Lord. We played Five by Five and a handful of other free RPG's. We tried the D&D Next playtest. But, the group never settled down.

My group was getting frustrated with the inconsistency, and I was getting frustrated, because I couldn't settle into a game I felt strong enough about to run consistently. One of my players came to the rescue and offered to run a Battlestar Galactica game. I was all for it and anxiously accepted. And we played BSG for awhile. The thing is ... and now I am finally getting to the point I want to make.

Being GM is hard.

As GM you come to the table with a specific kind of game play challenge in mind. The thing is, balancing the challenge to your players, isn't easy to do. I am not talking about game balance. I am talking personalities. Each player will come to the table expecting something different from the experience. As GM you have to juggle these expectations. That means being willing and able to alter a plan in midstep to carry the players in a direction they want to go. And it's easy to get lost if one player is especially influencing on the game, while others remain quiet. It can also be frustrating to see all your work in planning get summarily tossed to the side.

The GM for BSG was working hard to recreate the sort of desperate atmosphere that the characters in the television show had experienced. But it seemed like everything the players tried to do was preordained to failure. The GM had a very specific story in mind but he failed to connect with the players to tell the story, and instead the players became frustrated and rebellious. 

Why? Because, being GM is hard.

As GM you feel ultimately responsible for the enjoyment of the play group as a whole. That's a huge burden, and one I am afraid can all too often go unappreciated. The BSG GM felt like he was hitting his head up against the wall ... and that wall was the players. Ultimately, he relinquished GM-ship and the group had a heart to heart about what to do next.

We decided that I would GM Five by Five, but with the promise that no matter what happened, no matter if the game became frustrating and we needed to shift gears, or if I ran out of creative ideas and wanted to go a different direction, that we do all of that with the same characters. No matter what, we would keep these characters in play. Most of all my players wanted some stability.

And that's what we've been doing. And when I wanted another GMing break one of my players stepped up to run the game, but we didn't change systems or start new characters. However, we most certainly did change genres ... as the first place the new GM took us was a Tooniverse! (We had been occupying a zombie apocalypse.) From there we went to a fantasy world, and now we are in a Trek kind of place ... but still the same characters ... and the players (myself included seem to dig it.)

The Tooniverse was a blast ... but in the fantasy realm a story line unfolded that seemed to evolve an unbeatable menace. And in a matter of a few game sessions we were back in BSG territory. I understand not wanting things to become too easy, but players need to feel a sense of potential victory ... they are the heroes of the story and need to feel like heroes ... even when they are losing ... and that can be a tricky order to fill.

In this particular instance, the GM created a threat that had a very specific path to resolution, but he wasn't sure how to get the players on this path without handing them the victory, so instead he merely punished the group with greater failure whenever they strayed from the path as a way to discourage that course of action.

And the players true to form, having encountered an immovable object pushed against it even harder ... sure that the object would eventually yield to their unstoppable force. Ultimately, the GM threw up his hands and gave the players a partial victory to get things moving again. The GM was clearly frustrated, and the players were too ... but, here's the thing ...

Being GM is hard.

It's okay that we all got a little frustrated. Ultimately, we are on the right path and all still playing, and we are having fun. Being GM is a learning experience. And it doesn't matter if you've done it once or 10,000 times, there's always more to learn, because every group is different. We are all friends ... human beings who have gathered together to have some fun. Yes, your GM may play God ... but he's still just this guy, ya know.

My advice to GM's out there based on my experience such as it is: Throw your players a bone. They are the Heroes, they need to feel like winners. Victory doesn't need to be easy, but it should be obtainable and it should feel like a genuine victory when it happens (which I personally think should happen at least once a game session.)

My advice to Players out there based on my experience such as it is: The GM is trying to make everyone's game experience the best it can be. Have you ever considered what you can do to make the GM's game experience more enjoyable? At the very least be sure and let the GM know on a regular basis that you are having a good time and that you appreciate his efforts.

Just some thoughts I needed to get out. Hopefully, not too rambling and some useful stuff in there somewhere.



Thursday, February 27, 2014

Recent Acquisition: Detroit - Cleveland Grand Prix

Detroit - Cleveland Grand Prix - (c) 1996

I have a bi-weekly gaming night with some friends. We alternate between board games and RPG's. (I am currently running 13th Age.) On our previous board game night we played a game called: Detroit - Cleveland Grand Prix. This is a game by Mayfair games and is no longer being produced which is a shame.

I am not really a board game aficionado. I do enjoy playing all manner of games and when going to friends I am up for anything. I did for example really enjoy playing the new Firefly board game at a friends, but it doesn't seem likely that I will buy a copy. In order for me to pull out a game to play at home it needs to be something that is quick to set up and tear down with a manageable number of components. My hat off to gamers who can juggle all the little bits and pieces in the more involved board games, but I don't have the patience for that.

Detroit - Cleveland Grand Prix hit that sweet spot for me as a game with a good amount of strategy and involvement without being difficult to learn or component heavy. There's a board (with both sides usable), some play cars (pawns), some play money, and a deck of cards. Set up and tear down are a breeze, so instant check in the plus column for me.

18 years old and never been played. That's just wrong.

The game works like this: a bunch of cards are dealt to each player. On the cards are numbers of different colors. The different colors correspond to the six different colored cars. There can also be a white number (there isn't a white car) and this counts as a "wild" card, usable to move any car. The interesting bit is that there is usually more than one car on each card. Often 4 cars or all 6 cars are moved by a single card.

The idea is to play cards that help your car more than others, and thanks to a clever board design that can bottleneck cars making it impossible for them to move, there is a fair amount of strategy to card play as you try to move your car ahead while leaving your competitors stuck in a turn.

I loved this card mechanic. Because of it all the cars are constantly moving and the game feels very dynamic and exciting, like watching an actual race where you are both participant and spectator, rooting for your car even when it's not your turn.

As I mentioned earlier, cards are dealt out randomly. But don't worry, you don't pick which car is "yours" until after you are dealt your cards. This is another cool mechanic in the game. You bid money against the other players based on your hand to try to get the car you want. The bidding wars can be tricky. Do you bid high to get just the right car to win the race? Or save some of your money and make the most out of your second or third choice?

Each race awards money based on where your car placed, and at the end of three races you add up all your cash to find out who wins, so there is equal incentive to bid conservatively to save money versus bidding higher to get the best car in an attempt to win more money.

This is a great game! I want more!

Bottom line: I loved playing this game. It's fun, fast, easy to learn, with some strategy thrown in. Easy to set up and tear down is a plus for me as I mentioned, so I hopped on eBay and bought a copy of the game. I managed to get one that had never been played for less than $40 including shipping costs, so I was pretty happy with that. The pictures here are of my copy of the game.

If I had any complaints it would be that the plastic tray for holding everything in the box isn't very well designed. In fact, I get a sense that it was made for a different game and transplanted to this one. Also, a game is comprised of three races, but we have only 2 tracks. I'd love to have a deluxe edition of the game that had something like 6 tracks to choose from. That would be epic!



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Doll Man for Super-Five

Doll Man

Vocation Trait (5)
I am a research chemist.

Hobby Trait (2)
I love comics and collect action figures!

Attack Trait (4)
I may be small, but I retain my full size strength and power for a compact super-sock!

Defense Trait (6)*
It's hard to hit someone when you can't see them coming, and at only 6 inches tall, I can sneak up on the best of 'em!

Mobility Trait (D)
Everyone thinks that the model plane on display in my study is just another part of my action figure collection. No one suspects that it's the real Dollplane!

Charge Trait (3)
My wife Martha knows the secret of my heroic double life. She even made me this awesome costume!

 * Denotes Trait Specialization

Art by Jay Piscopo - lots of great golden age characters in his gallery!


Super-Five Rules
More Super-Five Character Examples

I am a big fan of the characters from the Golden Age and Doll Man is a favorite.



Monday, February 24, 2014

Cats vs. Dogs in the 13th Age

Thomas, The Emperor

Did I mention that one of my players in my 13th Age game is playing a Gnoll Wizard? He is an "animal lover," dogs especially. And he's playing a Gnoll ... So, I had this idea to give him something special. More on that in a second. My last game play report mentioned a magic longsword for Karl the Paladin of the Gold. It was gifted to him by the Emperor's personal bodyguard (she is also an accomplished magicsmith,) Emelia (named for Emilia Clarke who plays Daenerys Targaryen ... I like to "cast" my NPC's.) The Emperor is named Thomas (for Thomas Sean Connery.)

Emilia the Emperor's Bodyguard

Karl's gift was a +1 longsword of Greater Striking (pg 293 of the 13th Age core rules) And Sunfar the Half-Elf Holy Archer (Ranger with Cleric options) got a bag of magical silver sleep powder which an orc shaman had used against him in the last game.

Sunfar's magic sleeping dust!
The amount of dust consumed by each dose isn't exact so I am going to use a "recharge" roll after each usage to determine when it runs out. 
The recharge is currently 6+ (on a d20) each time you use the dust, you roll the recharge (after using the dust.) If the recharge roll fails, the dust has been used up.
Using the dust changes the recharge roll for the next time. 
A pinch of the dust will put the target to sleep if they fail an easy (6+) save.
Roll to recharge, then increase the recharge difficulty permanently by +1. 
A half-hand of the dust will put the target to sleep if they fail an average (11+) save.
Roll to recharge, then increase the recharge difficulty permanently by +3. 
A handful of the dust will put the target to sleep if they fail a difficult (16+) save.
Roll to recharge, then increase the recharge difficulty permanently by +5. 
The dust does not use a magic item slot and does not have a quirk. 
To use the dust you must be engaged in melee contact with your target, but you do not need to roll to hit.

And that's the dust. On with the adventure!

The group had just defeated a cultist-like group made up of a bunch of goblins, one orc, and two bugbears. The monstrous assortment appeared to be worshiping or serving the Red (Dragon) in some way. The adventuring heroes are triumphant but, Karl's comrade Anson loses his life in the battle. This with Blessed Axeheart is the second casualty the party has suffered since beginning their quest.

The group lays to rest the body of Paladin Hero Anson Cole and continue on their journey overland towards Starport. I ask everyone to roll their Icon Relationships.

Sunfar (Half-Elf Holy Archer) rolled double 5's for his two point relationship with the Elf Queen ... double 5's hmmm. A 5 meant that the icon would play into the story in some positive way, but that they would be some sort of price to pay for the benefit. 
Karl (Human Paladin of the Gold) rolled nothing higher than a 4 for his Icon Relationships this game. 
Gar (Unnaturally Gifted with Intelligence Gnoll Wizard) rolled a 6 for his relationship with the Archmage and a 6 for his relationship with the Gold. (That's two more Icons brought into play in a positive way.)

I love this aspect of the game. I can look at what is rolled and try and think of how the Icons in question might be involved in the story. I let these roll results bubble in my subconscious and decide that the best thing to do to make our little quest more exciting is to raise the stakes.

Another day or two into their journey and the group finds themselves the epicenter of an unnatural meteorological occurrence. Thick black clouds roll in from every direction seemingly moving towards the adventuring party as its center. The sun is blotted out, the temperature drops and the winds pick up, and the ground shakes in a violent earthquake.

The unnatural stormquake lasts for several moments before subsiding, at which point the weather turns just as suddenly back to normal. Dravonis the draconic sentience living in Gar's head (and responsible for the heightened intelligence that has allowed the Gnoll to become a Wizard traveling in a world of civilized men) speaks out to Karl (who has the unique ability to hear the telepathic communications of dragons.)

Dravonis informs Karl that this weather is a clear indication that they must hasten their travel. They must reach Starport in the next 2 or 3 days or else all is lost. The group is still a good 500 miles from their destination. Reaching Starport in time seems impossible! Tah, Dah! Stakes raised.

The group has been traveling north along the edge of the Queens Wood and has the idea to turn east into the forest in the hopes of encountering some elves. Elves have a reputation as a magical people and it is hoped that some kind of magical transportation or teleportation might be found to enable them to reach their destination in time. I smile quietly to myself at this decision since Sunfar rolled two "5's" for his Icon relationship with the Elf Queen, the party's detour into the Queens Wood was perfect.

Into the forest they go and this gives me the opportunity to introduce my one "pre-planned" encounter for the night ... the "something special" that I mention above.

The party hears the sounds of dogs yipping and barking and whining and growling and crying ... and dying! The sounds of dogs in combat. The party rushes towards the commotion to see what might be happening and what they find is a pack of small to medium sized dogs of stout squarish build almost like miniature hyenas in appearance, but with thick green fur with brown spots. The dogs "bamph!" around the battle field disappearing from one location to appear at another in a blink of an eye ... blink dogs!

Despite the incredible advantage this method of ambulation affords them, the blink dogs' attackers clearly have the upper hand, as several blink dog bodies decorate the ground. Their enemies are more then twice their size, black jungle cat like monsters with long barbed tentacles protruding from their shoulder blades. The blink dog pack is under attack by displacer beasts!

The start of the dogs vs cats battle.

We found some minis to represent the monsters. One Hyena and three other dogs of some kind to represent the blink dogs. One actual displacer beast mini was located and was joined by a lion and what I think was a dire wolverine to represent the displacer beasts. The stage was set and as I hoped Gar was all gung-ho to leap into the fray on the side of the blink dogs.

Sunfar asked about what they might know about blink dogs. I prefer to play 13th Age without Alignments and say something other than, blink dogs are good and displacer beasts are evil or anything like that. Instead I had him roll a knowledge roll based on his elfin background trait (he rolled a natural 20) and I told him that he had heard many tales of blink dogs helping people. That like tales of dolphins rescuing sailors from sharks that there are tales of heroic deeds by blink dogs, and then went on to tell a story of a blink dog who teleported into a burning building to rescue a family's baby.

This was enough to motivate the group and battle commenced with the roll of initiative. There isn't any rules for Blink Dogs or Displacer Beasts in 13th Age. I had found some stuff on the internet, but didn't end up using it and made up the monsters stats in the moment. The Blink Dogs didn't matter ... their fates were sealed as part of the encounter and in the first round the players got free (although completely ineffective - more in a moment) attacks while the Displacer Beasts felled the Blink Dogs.

Now it was round two and I turned up the escalation die to show a 1.

Here's how I decided to handle the Displacer Beasts.

Displacer Beasts 
AC 16
PD 14
MD 12
3 Attacks at +7 each
Tentacle / Tentacle / Bite - 8 points of damage per hit
50 HP 
Displacement - When hit by an attack, roll a d6. If the roll is equal to or lesser than the escalation die then the attack hit and the displacer beast takes the damage from the attack, otherwise the attack misses.

So, the first round the players had no chance to effect the beasts, but by the 6th round they could hit every time. My thought being that it would take the players a number of rounds to learn the movements and patterns of the displacer beasts but that the longer the melee went on the better they would be at fighting them and at predicting the beasts true locations.

The combat lasted 8 rounds (so the escalation die was a 6 for 2 rounds.) The combat went pretty quickly. The battle was won by the PC's. Karl even managed an amazing critical hit for more than 40 points of damage. And Sunfar took out one of the beasts with a half-handful of silver sleep dust (recharge successful ... recharge difficulty now set at 9+ ) Gar took enough damage in a single round to force Sunfar to perform a clerical healing spell on him in the midst of the combat, so the sense of danger was present although ultimately, it seemed like a pretty easy victory.

After the battle, the PC's find all the adult blink dogs killed and a litter of blink dog puppies, all but one slain by the displacer beasts. Gar gathered up the lone surviving pup and took it with him.

Gar's Blink Dog 
Your Blink Dog Puppy is an animal companion, but treated as a Magic Item for purposes of the game rules. It is a puppy now but grows with time so as your character goes up through tiers so will your Blink Dog. Blink Dog uses one of your magic item slots.
Adventurer Tier (Puppy) 
Gain 1 free melee attack against any nearby enemy each round.
(Blink Dog does not have to target the same enemies as you.)
The attack bonus is equal to your character level.
Do NOT add the value of the escalation die to the attack.
If the attack hits it inflicts a flat 3 points of damage
or 6 points on a natural even hit
and 12 points with a natural 20.
Once per day (recharge) Blink Dog can blink with you to pop you free of an engagement and move you anywhere even far away. (Recharge on 14+)

Champion Tier (Young Dog)
Gain 2 free melee attacks against any nearby enemies each round.
(These attacks can be against different targets.)
The attack bonus is equal to your character level.
Do NOT add the value of the escalation die to the attacks.
If an attack hits it inflicts a flat 6 points of damage
or 12 points on a natural even hit
and 24 points with a natural 20.
Once per day (recharge) Blink Dog can blink with you to pop you free of an engagement and move you anywhere even far away. (Recharge on 7+)

Epic Tier (Adult Dog)
Gain 3 free melee attacks against any nearby enemies each round.
(These attacks can be against different targets.)
The attack bonus is equal to your character level.
Do NOT add the value of the escalation die to the attacks.
If an attack hits it inflicts a flat 12 points of damage
or 24 points on a natural even hit
and 48 points with a natural 20.
Once per battle Blink Dog can blink with you to pop you free of an engagement and move you anywhere even far away.

Quirk: Needy - Blink Dog demands all your attention in his care and feeding.

The party began contemplating skinning the displacer beasts. But, when they declared their intention to undertake this en-devour, I intervened by introducing a traveling band of elves who arrived to investigate the disturbance.

I am cool with them having the displacer beasts hides and using them to make something cool, but I just felt like skinning the monsters could take a bunch of time that they didn't really have. So, I dropped in a new distraction to move things along. This worked and the PC's travel with the elves to their village gathering up the displacer beast carcasses and taking them along.

In the elf village the party asks about teleportation magic and is brought before the village leader. I think about Gar's player who rolled a 6 on his Icon relationship with the Archmage and decide that this particular elf leader has a the unusual distinction of a human court mage / adviser on his right arm. I quickly cast the elf leader and his human mage as Matt Smith and Karen Gillan respectively. I will call the elf leader Trenzalore and the human mage Gillan.

Gillan Village Mage

Oh, and look ... here's a pic of Karen Gillan looking all mage-like as a soothsayer in Fires of Pompeii (pre Amy Pond.) And since I imagine the village leader of the elf village as a village elder ... here's Matt Smith all old and stuff.

Trenzalore the Elf Chieftain

You can even imagine he has pointy elf ears under the hair! Sunfar is a Holy Archer of the Queen's Guard and so he is pretty much treated as royalty. The group gains immediate audience with Trenzalore who offers the service of his court mage in casting a teleportation spell. Gillan takes an immediate interest in Gar. "Are you a Gnoll Wizard?" she asks, and upon confirmation states that she has something for him before kissing Gar full on the mouth!

This is how it looked to Sunfar and Karl ... they'll never forget it!

And then Gillan gave the Gnoll wizard Gar a silver ring. Gillan explains that when last she was in Horizon she met with the Archmage's fortune teller who prophesied to her that she would one day meet a Gnoll Wizard walking among men and that she should give the ring to the Wizard. (Archmage Icon, check! ... note to self, figure out what this ring is before next game!)

Gillan explains that she cannot open a portal to Starport as she has never been there, but that she could open a portal to the Queens Court (or rather to a special teleportation disembarkation chamber in the vicinity of the Court relegated specifically for mage travel.) Gillan suspects that certainly one or more of the mages at the Court will be able to teleport the party to Starport.

The party accepts and steps through the magical portal to the Queens Court. It should be mentioned here that 3 displacer beast carcasses were left behind in the village. Given that I have cast two Doctor Who actors in roles in this village, and created a potential side-story for Gar here. I want them to have a reason to come back. So, I will also go ahead and give this elf village a name ... Gamma Village ... there (another Doctor Who reference) ... good to go.

Upon arriving at the Court, Sunfar is instantly recognized and granted an audience with the Elf Queen (played, perhaps too obviously by Liv Tyler.) I really wasn't sure what to do with the two 5's for the Elf Queen that Sunfar rolled but now was my chance. Well certainly helping them get to Starport before it was too late could be one boon ... but for the other?

Arwen, the Elf Queen

Both benefits should carry a cost and I hadn't figured that out yet either. I decide to put the cost on the back burner. I will plan a way to collect later. Arwen pulls Sunfar into her bed chamber for a sojourn and we move on. Whether this action was Sunfar's second boon or the Queen's method of exacting a payment I haven't decided, but the very idea of such an encounter put a smile on Sunfar's face, so I let it be and move on. (Sunfar's Icon relationships, check, and check.)

Sunfar's back story is that he is the only half-elf to ever gain the prestigious honor of becoming a Holy Archer in the Queen's Guard. Sunfar says that he accomplished this because he has the uncanny ability to obtain "dirt" of the blackmail variety on nearly everyone he meets. I explain to Sunfar that indeed he knows a vital secret about the Elf Queen herself and asked him if he wanted to know what it was. As I suspected, the player said he would rather that I surprised him.

Sunfar's role in this Quest for the Gold is as the bearer of a golden orb. Originally he was tasked with taking this orb to the Gold. Then the Gold requested that Sunfar, Karl and Gar all three take the Orb to Starport. Arwen asks Sunfar if he had completed his mission to carry the Orb to the Gold. Sunfar confirmed this and told the queen that now he was to take the orb to Starport.

After Sunfar returns from his "meeting" with the Queen, the Court Wizards open a portal not just to Starport, but as Dravonis reveals to Karl telepathically, the exact place they need to be. Said place is a sort of giant obelisk outside of Starport. I describe the cityscape in the distance as a magnificent view of tall metal spires straight off the cover of a pulp science fiction novel.


As the party takes in the site before them, the storms kick up again reminding them of the urgency of their mission. Dravonis, the dragon who is hitching a ride in Gar's head takes possession of Gar. He speaks at the entrance to the obelisk but a single word, and the magic of the word is such that the PC's know instantly what it is ... Dravonis has spoken the Gold's true name. And upon speaking the name, the door to the obelisk opens. Dravonis steps aside and informs the party. Now it's the elf's turn.

It is at this point that I reveal to Sunfar's player that the piece of information that he has on the Elf Queen, is that he knows her true name. Sunfar then takes the lead and speaking the Elf Queen's true name he opens the second door inside the obelisk to reveal a small inner chamber of all black with a small pedestal the top of which was fashioned in a bowl like shape. Sunfar placed the gold orb on the pedestal activating the Obelisk.

I described an increase in the rumbling stormquake activity and then a sudden subsidence as everything becomes right in the world. Dravonis tells the party that his mission is over and that he can finally "move on." It seems that many generations ago when the Gold planted himself into the entrance to the underworld to prevent demons from overtaking the world, that the Elf Queen foresaw a time when the evil of the underworld would corrupt the Gold and he would be turned evil.

A magical trap was built that caused a gigantic meteor to constantly fall directly at the Gold. This meteor could be repelled earning the Gold a reprieve from most certain and absolute destruction but the device built to do this could only be activated so long as the Elf Queen's agents and the agents of the Gold continued to work in concert. This is what the party has just achieved, earning the Gold a reprieve for the next 200 years.
(During the game, I said 1000, but I have decided that I should have said 200 ... shouldn't make much difference now.)

Yeah, the whole Obelisk / Meteor thing was stolen from original Trek. But no one saw it coming ... they only recognized it after it had already happened so I call that a win.

Dravonis vacates Gar's mind but leaves him with a gift (once it was realized that a dragon lived in Gar's head, there was some concern regarding what should happen to Gar's intelligence should the dragon ever leave) not only did Gar keep his intelligence, he got to improve the INT ability score +1. (Gar's Icon relationship with the Gold ... check.)

The party having completed their mission and so close to Starport decide to visit the mysterious city. They arrive to find a city walled by a 100' high shiny chrome sliver wall. Walking around they eventually come to a road of gold bricks that leads to a city gate. The gate is open, just a huge doorway really, but it leads inside the wall where another smaller door blocks their passage. This door has glowing lights instead of a door knob but, Gar presses one of the lights and the door opens.

Raston of Starport

No sooner has the group stepped inside, then a featureless silver humanoid steps up to greet them. I am picturing the Raston Warrior Robot that destroyed all those Cybermen in the Five Doctors, so I'll call the greeter at the gate of Starport, Raston.

Raston says, "Hello, travelers ... Welcome to Starport."

And that's where we wrapped it up for the night. Once again, I believe that a good time was had by all.

(Oh, almost forgot! I told everyone to take an incremental advance before our next game.)



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Super to Me (Agent Coulson)

Continuing my Agents of SHIELD love in the absence of any new episodes, here is "Super to Me (Agent Coulson)" by the Doubleclicks a musical duo that I just found out about on Tabletop!

Loves me some beautiful geeky girls singing about beautiful geeky guys!



Friday, February 21, 2014

Nick Fury Classic Comics

So, as I am aching for my Agents of SHIELD fix, I pulled out the holy grail of Christmas Presents from this past season ... the first 15 issues of the classic Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD comic (complete except for issue 7 for which I am now be on the look out!)  K. got me these Nick Fury comics as well as assorted Jack Kirby issues of Captain America from the same period, 1968 to about 1973.

When I opened these gems, there was this wave of amazement that passed over me. My eyes teared and I physically shook. These comics are so awesome! I am only a casual collector these days but there is something truly magical about comics from this time period, and these books are the cream of the crop. 

From now until Agents airs again in March, I am going to be reading through these books and savoring every word of prose and every line of illustration. This is what heaven would look like for me.

Thanks K. for probably the most memorable Christmas present that I have gotten since the "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots" game that I got when I was 6 years old.



What's wrong with Marvel's Agents of SHIELD?

My last two posts were write-ups of the SHIELD team for Super-Five. Creating these characters for Super-Five was problematic. Many of the traits ended up being repetitive. The characters in Marvel's Agents of SHIELD don't exist outside of SHIELD and that is a problem.

Super-Five restricts the Five by Five character traits in order to create a very specific kind of fiction ... the comic book. Below I have copied the text from the introduction to the Super-Five RPG at least as it stands currently ...

Four Color Magic

Imagine a simpler time. It was a time before computers could fit into the palm of your hand, before a favorite movie streamed to your location with the touch of a finger. This was a time, not so very long ago, when the only portable entertainment available to a kid in need of a fantasy was called a book.

When I was young, the most vibrant, colorful, and exciting books, were comic books. Other books seemed a little too much like those we had to read for school. But, comic books, with their bright illustrated pages of larger than life heroes, they were a blockbuster movie on paper, just for me. The magic of the comic book may soon be lost to the passage of time and the forward march of technology. But, comics have left a legacy behind them.

Movies and television tell the stories of costumed vigilantes and their wars against crime. The evolution of the superhero from paper to film has been nothing short of miraculous, but superheroes are an invention of the comic book page. As movies and television bring the superhero to life, steps are taken to create something that moves and breathes and can be portrayed by real living actors, and a bit of the comic book is lost.

Comic books are big and bold, and reality is only hinted at in their pages. Stories are told of comic book editor Stan Lee jumping up on his desk and waving his arms over his head when emphasizing a story to artists and writers that he worked with to encourage them to make absolutely everything larger than life. Big was more important than real.

Yet, Stan told stories that spoke to real people, because his heroes had lives with "real" problems. His reality wasn't in his simulation of action, it was in his view of the people behind the action. The absurdity of a man swinging on ropes from the skyscrapers of New York like Tarzan on vines through a jungle was made all the more real by the fact that at the end of the day, the hero still had to be home in time for supper and to finish his homework.

The absurd is made real, because there are people behind the masks, and they lead real lives. The fantastic can be as big and outlandish as we can make it, and as long as the person under the mask remains relatable, we can see ourselves in their world. This is the magic of the superhero comic book.

When I sit down around a table with some friends to role-play, to collectively tell outlandish adventure stories in which we ourselves are the heroes. I like to remember what made those comic books of my youth so magical and bring some of that magic to the game we play.

The Super Five RPG is written with that magic in mind.

This introduction speaks a lot to what I hope Super-Five will accomplish and about what I think is the secret to the magic of comic books. The magic of the comic book is that the heroes are people with a connection to the world that is our world. Or at least a world that we imagine could be ours. 

I want Super-Five to help reinforce the hero and their connection to their world. I have the "super-powers" oriented trait categories: Attack, Defense, and Mobility. And I have the "secret identity" oriented trait categories: Vocation, Hobby, and Charge. The categories are flexible and open to interpretation. I don't say anywhere, "these" must be super-powers and "these" must be everyday skills. But, the design is meant to create that tendency. A tendency to build Superheroes that are people too.

What makes "ordinary people" relatable is their connection to ordinary things. Joss understood this when he wrote the Avengers. It's why Phil collects Captain America trading cards and has a girlfriend who is a cellist. These are ordinary things; things that connect him to the real world. They make him a character we can relate to.

When Joss created Firefly he took a sort of inside-out approach to this whole thing. Instead of using the "world" to make fantastic characters believable, he used believable characters to introduce us to a fantastic world. The characters in Firefly weren't heroes. They were just people trying to eek out a living by doing a job. They were relatable pretty much from the get-go because their motivations were the same as everyone who works a job to care for himself and his family.

This was necessary, because it was the characters that would connect us to the world and not the other way around. The world of Firefly was new and different and magical, and in order to introduce us to this world in bite sized pieces, Joss locked us away from the world inside the walls of a spaceship. He then introduced us to his world a piece at a time through the eyes of the characters.

Now all of this is just supposition on my part, but I think that Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen are big fans of the way that Firefly isolated the audience from the world and created a fishbowl environment where they as writers could control the flow of information into the world. I say this because I feel that they do this with Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, and I feel that they did this with their previous project, Dollhouse.

Dollhouse was about a group of Agents isolated from the world and connected with a nebulously defined organization. The lives of these agents outside of the agency for which they worked was largely a mystery. Everything that happened to the characters was an aspect of them as an extension of the agency.

Sound familiar?

Here's the thing ... for the average Joe like you or I ... "agent" is not a relatable job. Agent means James Bond. It means Superhero. We cannot feel comfortable in the fishbowl with these people. Dollhouse is about superheroes poking their noses out of their isolated micro world one episode at a time to show us nothing more of the world than what the plot of the episode demands before returning once again to the isolation of the fish-bowl.

Oh, sure there were things going on ... broader story lines for individual characters. The mystery of "Echo" the romance between the director and one of the dolls. But these things were insular to the micro world. Nothing connected the dolls to the greater universe. These people aren't real by themselves. We need a tether to connect them to something we can recognize as reality. 

With Firefly the characters could live in a fish bowl because we understood "them." They were us. They lived for the basic necessities of life. Work, make money, buy food, eat. We understood what motivated these characters because it was the same thing that motivates us every day. We could live in the fishbowl with these characters because we knew them. They were us.

We saw little bits of ourselves in the characters in Dollhouse, but they weren't us. Their lives were too fantastic. They worked for the "Agency" they didn't seem to have a choice. And neither did we as an audience. We watched these characters doing this job they were tasked with doing, but the job was fantastical, the people were fantastical, and the real world ... out of touch.

That was Dollhouse. That is Agents of SHIELD. For all intents and purposes the same show. A show about people tasked with a job that they can't escape. They tend to perform the job without question. And they do not seem to gain any personal benefit from the outcome. They have no loves, no lives, no hopes, no dreams, no aspirations beyond the context of the "Agency" for which they work.

Agents of SHIELD misses the "real world" half of the six trait framework that I designed for Super-Five, and it might be egotistical of me, but I think that if the characters in Marvel's Agents of SHIELD had been created as Super-Five RPG characters first. We'd be watching a better show now.



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD for Super Five (Part 2)

Melinda May

Vocation Trait (3)
I used to kill for SHIELD. Now I "drive the bus" but my skills as an assassin are not forgotten.

Hobby Trait (D)
I've hidden everything about my personal life in a dark corner of my mind. I don't remember what I ever did for "fun."

Attack Trait (6)*
I am an expert in Martial Arts and weapons both close combat and ranged. I kill, and in my hands anything is a weapon.

Defense Trait (5)
My training enables me to not only endure the most painful of tortures, but to use that pain to make myself stronger..

Mobility Trait (4)
I drive the bus. I can pilot anything. I can drive anything. And, I can do it better than anyone else on the team.

Charge Trait (2)
Grant and I are sleeping together. I pretend it's nothing more than casual sex.

Leopold "Leo" Fitz

Vocation Trait (6)*
I am an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. I specialize in engineering, especially weapons technology and robotics.

Hobby Trait (5)
Since joining Coulson's team, I have been called upon to act as a field agent a few times. I think I like it.

Attack Trait (3)
I've had the basic self-defense and fire-arms courses at the academy.

Defense Trait (4)
I'm pretty light on my feet and my reflexes have been honed by years of video games.

Mobility Trait (2)
I can drive, but I usually don't.

Charge Trait (D)
I like Simmons, she's like a sister to me.

Jemma Simmons

Vocation Trait (6)*
I am an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who specializes in life sciences (both human and alien). I am a doctor, a surgeon, and a forensic scientist.

Hobby Trait (4)
I got to go "undercover" a few times. Working in the field is so exciting!

Attack Trait (3)
I've had the basic self-defense and fire-arms courses at the academy.

Defense Trait (D)
People don't really hit girls, do they?

Mobility Trait (2)
I'm not the best driver.

Charge Trait (5)
I think that I am in love with Fitz. But, I don't think that I could ever tell him.

 * Denotes Specialization

And now for the second half of my  Marvel's Agents of SHIELD post for Super-Five. I had more trouble fitting these characters to Super-Five than with any previous post. I actually think that speaks to a weakness in the show which I will address in my next post ... the THIRD half of my Marvel's Agents of SHIELD post.

To check out the Super-Five Fast Play rules click here!

Art is photo-manips of the publicity stills by yours truly.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD for Super Five (Part 1)

Phil Coulson

Vocation Trait (6)*
I am a lead agent in the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) I have my own team dedicated to investigating all the "remarkable" things that have been impacting our world following the battle of New York.

Hobby Trait (3)
I'm a collector of antiques, especially things associated with covert military organizations. This includes things like a working wrist radio communicator from the 40's and anything to do with Captain America.

Attack Trait (4)
I am no Agent May, but I have SHIELD training in unarmed combat and firearms and I consider myself above average.

Defense Trait (D)
I died once. Makes a man feel a little invincible.

Mobility Trait (5)
Well, there's "Lola" a modified 1962 Chevrolet Corvette. She can fly. And then there's the "Bus" a modified Boeing C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft that serves as my mobile headquarters. Yeah, I can pretty much go anywhere.

Charge Trait (2)
I brought Skye on board. I feel especially responsible for her. She feels like the daughter I can never have.


Vocation Trait (6)*
They call me a hacktivist. I hack computers. I am crazy good at it.

Hobby Trait (D)
I am trying to become a real SHIELD agent, but all this spy stuff is like super hard.

Attack Trait (3)
Still learning, but I should be able to hold my own soon.

Defense Trait (4)
For me the best defense is to talk my way out of trouble.

Mobility Trait (2)
I can't believe that SHIELD commandeered my van!

Charge Trait (5)
I want to find out the truth about my mother.  Do I even have one?  What am I?

Grant Ward

Vocation Trait (4)
As a SHIELD Agent, I excel in my physical training, strength, speed, endurance ... I've got these.

Hobby Trait (D)
I guess you could say it's what we're doing now. This team. I don't feel like I fit in. I work best alone.

Attack Trait (6)*
I am an expert in hand to hand combat and proficient with most firearms.

Defense Trait (5)
I can take care of myself.

Mobility Trait (3)
As an expert in Black Ops, stealth is key. I sneak around. You'll never see me coming.

Charge Trait (2)
I am Skye's SO. It's my job to keep an eye on her.

 * Denotes Specialization

Here's the first half of my  Marvel's Agents of SHIELD post for Super-Five. With both Agents of SHIELD and Arrow in reruns right now, I am aching for a superhero fix.

To check out the Super-Five Fast Play rules click here!

Art this time is photo-manips of the publicity stills done by yours truly.



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Five by Five Dice

I am not sure why this never occurred to me before, but the other night I got it into my head to do a search for "dice numbered 0 to 5." I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are a handful of vendors who carry such dice ... Five by Five Dice!

It seems that in teaching math to young students, educators incorporate math games using dice numbered 0-5, and so these dice are often available where teaching aides are sold. I decided to buy from a few different places to compare the results.

The first place I shopped was, . This site was possibly the most convenient. I simply scrolled down through the dice page until I found the dice I wanted and clicked, add to cart. This took me directly to a paypal checkout and I bought my dice. The dice were shipped standard mail in a thick envelope and arrived promptly.

 These dice have rounded edges and numbers in a sanserif font. They are $1 each. I ordered 6 of them paying $6.00 for the dice, .90 shipping and .51 tax for a total of 7.41 or 1.24 each.

Next I tried, . The math learning center was not quite as convenient. I entered the order online and then had to call with my phone to give a live person my credit card information. These dice came 5 to a pack with a flat $5.00 shipping. (Shipped UPS) 

Five dice cost $3 here but shipping charges are rough on a small order. I ended up ordering 2 packs of five bringing my price to $1.10 per die with shipping, which was cheaper than the other place, but only because I ordered 10. These dice have squared edges and a serif font.

Finally, I was going to order from . They pictured dice with different colored numbers. These were .75 each and I placed an order for 10 of them. But then my order was rejected stating that I had not met the company's minimum shipping requirement. "Phewey!" I ended up not ordering the cool dice with the colored numbers.

Which is just as well. I have decided that I don't like the rounded edges or the sanserif font as much as I like the squared edge and the serif font. So, the dice from Math Learning Center end up being my favorite. I bought enough dice to give a pair to everyone in my Tuesday night Five by Five game which will make a nice surprise for tonight.



Friday, February 14, 2014

CutePDF Editor

So, I almost bought a PDF editing tool to combine the landscape character sheet for Super-Five into the same PDF file with the fast play rules. I wanted an editor/joiner that would also rotate one of the PDF files from landscape to portrait prior to joining them. I found a tool. Tried it. Liked it. But it put a watermark on my output. Okay, I believe in supporting developers. This was something useful for me. I work with PDF files a lot and I could see using the application often enough to justify a purchase. Except they wanted $70 for it. I was expecting maybe $40. I decided to "shop around."

What I found was, "CutePDF Editor" a free online PDF editing tool. From their website you click, "Get Started" and you are on your way! I knew that I wanted to rotate the character sheet so I started there.

I clicked "Open File" and chose the character sheet PDF. The file loaded with no problem and I was able to then select the option to "Rotate Pages."

At first I couldn't figure out how to actually apply the requested change. Finally figured out that I needed to click the little check mark in the upper left of the screen.

Success! I saved the newly rotated PDF.

I closed the new rotated character sheet PDF file so I could begin the next step in my project.

With the character sheet turned upright I was ready to merge it with the other PDF files.

I chose "Merge PDFs" from the toolbar on the left.

I noticed that the CutePDF Editor allowed me to merge either PDF or image files. So, I decided to choose a cover image (s5fp.jpg) for my first page.

Next, I selected the Five by Five Fast Play PDF and the Super Five Fast Play PDF files, then finished up with the new portrait oriented Hero Sheet, and clicked OK.

CutePDF Editor merged my files for me and opened the result in the editor. I clicked "Save" and that was it. My newly combined PDF document for Super-Five Fast Play was done!

In retrospect it occurs to me that I could have merged my files first, and then rotated the character sheet on page 4 in the editor afterwards saving myself a few steps in the process.

CutePDF Editor is an amazingly useful online editing tool. And it saved me $70. Funny thing: after I completed the work that I wanted to do, I uninstalled the other PDF tool which resulted in my browser opening on a page that offered the tool to me for $45. If the tool had been priced at $45 to begin with, I probably would have went ahead and purchased it and never discovered CutePDF Editor.

As, it is ... I don't need that tool at all now, and I won't be buying it. Maybe they should have priced their product more reasonably to begin with. Anyway, I recommend CutePDF Editor. It's an awesome tool, especially if you work with PDF documents a lot like I do.



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Super-Five Hero Sheet (Preview)

Today I have a preview of the Hero Sheet I am considering for the full version PDF of Super-Five. The only thing you might notice as different from the Super-Five Fast Play is some changes in terminology and a change to Character Point cost for making character improvements ... (they will be going up.)  I have combined the Hero Sheet, the Five by Five Fast Play and the Super-Five Fast Play into a single PDF document for ease of reference. I hope you enjoy it.

Feed back is encouraged.



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Amazing Spider-man 2 Costume ROCKS!

So, I liked the Amazing Spider-man movie alright. I aparently wasn't thrilled enough by it to give it a shining review here on my blog. Nor did I hate it, which would have likely resulted in a blog review as well. It just didn't move me. It was there. I was there. No one got hurt. I had some popcorn. And that's that. But, it wasn't until yesterday that I came to realize a key reason why the movie didn't "grab" me.

It is the costume! I absolutely HATE Spider-man's costume here. Do you see how they tried to mute the colors and make everything all dark and subdued, and then they did this stylistic Spider-man 2099 AD thing with it to make it seem all science-fictiony ... it's ugly. This is Spider-man, not Blade Runner.

Anyway ... I don't like it, and I think that flavored my experience of the entire film. But, I just watched this trailer for the Amazing Spider-man 2 ...

That costume is fantastic! This is the best looking movie Spider-man ever! He's bright, vibrant! The design is true to the comics! The eye lenses are huge! Everything looks awesome!!  I am so blown away by just the costume that I suddenly find I am totally excited to see this movie! Wow! What a difference.



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

15 Years of Free RPG's (Cover Gallery)

I won't say that I have always written the best most usable RPG's, but I must say ... I've kept at it! I have been doing this long enough now that hopefully there are a few gems in the mix.

In all A+ Fantasy, Hi/Lo Heroes, and Five by Five have garnered the most attention. It is more humbling and gratifying than I can say to know that there might be someone out there somewhere playing a game that I created.

That's just too awesome!

(Hint: You can click on the covers to get the games.)

It's just too cool that someone translated my game into French!


I hope you enjoy perusing this cover gallery as much as I enjoyed putting it together. It seems like quite the collection when thrown all together like this. I hope my next 15 years are just as lucrative.