Read an RPG Book in Public Week Begins Today

Today marks the start of the first Read an RPG Book in Public Week, an effort from WJ Walton of The Escapist to promote and normalize role-playing games in everyday settings. As Walton says:

The point is to make the roleplaying hobby more visible, to get it “out of the basement” and into public areas where more people can see it. This will make others more aware of the hobby – some may ask you what your book is about, giving you the opportunity to explain the hobby to them. A few of those may be interested enough to try it themselves. Former gamers may see what you’re reading and think about the great times they used to have with roleplaying, and possibly even try it again.

I have my own funny hang-ups about being overtly nerdy in public. Patches on my bookbag? Fine. Wearing a convention badge when going out to eat? I waver about 50-50 between taking it off and leaving it on. But I get squirrelly when it comes to reading a role-playing game book anywhere less isolated than my favorite reading rock by Lake Champlain. Even when I do my adventure writing at Muddy Waters, it’s on a plain old laptop in an innocuous Open Office document.

We’ll see if I can get the gumption up to break one out at Muddy Waters some weekday evening, say. I’m working my way through The Unexplained at the moment, and there’s still an unhealthily tall stack of other supplements demanding my attention. Fortunately, if I don’t find the nerve, I can try again in July and October. Yes, Read an RPG Book in Public Week is a tri-annual event, because the hobby needs the positive exposure, frankly.

But please, like WJ Walton says, don’t “freak the normies” with Kill Puppies for Satan or World of Synnibar. Role-players have enough of a undeserved bad rap without giving people valid ammunition.

Econocon XIII Pre-reg Opens

Preregistration for Econocon XIII: Get Lucky, in Plymouth, NH, has opened. You can download the PDF of the pre-reg book from their website, as well as register online. Andrew Greenberg, longtime White Wolf developer and contributor to the beloved Fading Suns role-playing game, is guest of honor this year. I see Brad Younie’s demoing the hell out of The Unexplained, too.

I haven’t been able to visit Econocon yet myself, but I know a number of folks who make it a semi-regular destination. April’s become fuzzy for me, since Northeast Wars’ cancellation. Depending on how things shake out on the local gaming scene, I may make a day trip over to PSU for Saturday.

Faces in the Crowd

Christian Walker, author of Destination Unknown and resolute bastion of print zines, announced the publication of Faces in the Crowd Vol. 1, a collection of fifteen non-player characters ready made for new World of Darkness games.

It’s free for the asking, although donations are accepted via Paypal. Click through to find out how to get your copy.

[TotalCon 2010] The Unexplained: Abduction: CE4

Friday night of TotalCon was my first scheduled game: Abduction: CE4, a game using Brad Younie‘s The Unexplained to chronicle the activities of the Foundation for Paranormal Investigation. Brad’s worked on The Unexplained for as long as I’ve known him, and possibly longer. We met at OGC in 2006, where I played his Ghosts of the Lady Grace adventure. Then it was called Strange World — and, the Ogre’s Cave’s review tells me, apparently grew out of Brad’s prior game, Now Playing, which used “FPI: The Show” as a sample game framework. It particularly piqued my interest because at the time, and even since then, I hadn’t come across another role-playing game that took straight, real world paranormal phenomena and the study thereof — as in, the paranormal as we know it, rather than as game designers imagine it might be in a world of secret supernatural beings — as its primary subject matter.

In addition to finally checking out the game, I had the secondary purpose of revisiting FUDGE, the super light rule system Brad uses in his games. I had an absolutely miserable experience with FUDGE in Ghosts of the Lady Grace with a phenomenal run of poor rolls and wanted to give the rules another play experience.  Abduction: CE4 billed itself as investigating the abrupt disappearance of a college student during the observation of a low flying UFO, a true close encounter of the fourth kind.

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[Tuesday Night Board Games] The Stars Are Right During Red November

Alex, Brennan and Sarah (left to right) vigorously compete to summon their Great Old One of choice.

Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn

It’s been far too long since I rode in the demo saddle as a Man in Black, going back to Carnage in November. Steve Jackson Games published a number of new titles since then, the first of which being The Stars Are Right. Players manipulate a five by five grid of tiles called the sky. They push, flip and swap tiles to create specific constellations of celestial objects. For, you see, when the stars are right, squamous beings from beyond time and space can enter our world. The more complicated a constellation required to summon a creature, the more victory points it’s worth, right up to the Great Old Ones themselves, worth four points apiece. The Great Old Ones have their servitors, of course, which can help make summoning one of the big bads easier by providing bonus symbols, making their constellation requirements less stringent.

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Planning for Carnage the 13th

The cast of Dr. Nik's Celestial Decision 2006 at Carnage. / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s over nine months away, but playing at TotalCon — and knowing my long-ass development cycle — fired me up to start thinking about role-playing adventures for Carnage the 13th. Writing two separate adventures tend to be feasible for me — although as I’ve noted in the past, one tends to get a lot more time and attention paid to it than the other. I can toss an Arkham Horror session in there and call it a good weekend.

Yes, We Now Know Whom to Call

This year, I have a different kind of quandary over what to run. I know I want to do another Ghostbusters adventure, using the same group of characters, so that reduces time spent there. With all the plot seeds I’ve run across in the last year, I have plenty of resources to draw on for that one, too. I had a particular McGuffin in mind, but now I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be a good fit for another setting, one which I haven’t had the opportunity to run before, Northern Crown.

I’m tempted to switch over to Cinematic Unisystem, as well. I’m coming to think that at the complexity level I actually run GURPS — i.e., the lightest form of GURPS Lite possible — it could give some people the wrong impression. Besides, Cinematic Unisystem has Drama Points, which I like a lot. Decisions, decisions. It would mean rebuilding characters, but that’s less of a chore in Unisystem.

But Then What?

But I’m not sure what else to run. I have this notion of using one of the old school mega-dungeons floating around the internet, like Greyhawk Grognard‘s Castle of the Mad Arch-Mage in either a free fantasy retro-clone or Pathfinder, just ’cause I have that book. But that’s never really been my oeuvre. I don’t know if I’d do it justice or be sufficiently versed in a fantasy-based system by then — though I certainly could do it in Unisystem or even GURPS.

Given that Carnage has a horror theme, I could resurrect Band on the Run, which I ran a few years ago. Monsters hide in plain sight as members of a touring rock band. The game went wildly off the rails — as they do — for which I felt it suffered, but most of the people who played expressed their enjoyment, so I try to think of it as one of those “gone so gonzo, it’s fun no matter what” games.

I could take another stab at Unknown Armies, brave the intimidating depths of GURPS Cabal, try The Day After Ragnarok or hell, run my beloved Mage: The Ascension. I need to narrow these possibilities down, find what fires my enthusiasm. That’s what energized me last year and I spent so many enjoyable hours bashing out characters and plot seeds for Lurker in the Limelight and Highway to Niflheim.

At some point I will feel comfortable recycling previously written adventures — namely BPRD: The Celestial Legion — but for now, I want to keep building my stable of material.

Suggestions, requests or pleas, Carnage-goers?

[TotalCon 2010] After the Confusion

Half a view of the board game room at TotalCon.

This past weekend was TotalCon, a four day convention in Mansfield, Massachusetts, somewhere between-ish Boston and Rhode Island. I rode down Friday with a couple of folks to help wave the flag for Carnage, New England’s other big game convention — though PAX East‘s imminent debut undoubtedly shifts the standings considerably. I’d only ever heard other people’s stories about TotalCon, so I was curious to experience it for myself.

Checking in was surprisingly easy. I preregistered online, so all I had to do was pick up an envelope with my badge, event tickets and a swag bag — mostly promotional fliers, a rubber duckie and, most amusingly, a publicity photo of Mira Furlan as Delenn from Babylon 5, circa the show’s fifth season in 1998.

Of the four games I signed up for, I got into three: two of Brad Younie‘s paranormal investigations and a Call of Cthulhu scenario called Curse of the Betrothed. I missed out on Frank Mentzer‘s Palace of the Vampire Queen, which was no surprise as I had registered relatively late and Menzter’s old school Dungeons & Dragons modules have become a smash hit on the New England convention circuit since OGC first had him out two years ago. So I had three events and two generic tickets in my pocket to kick off the weekend.

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Spelljammer: “You Got Your Bug in My Feature!”

Spelljammer is one of those settings that gets an unreasonable amount of stick. Monsters and Manuals recognized this. The Cloakmaster Cycle was the second set of tie-in novels I got into without understanding they were attached to a game of some kind, although the original Spelljammer boxed set, AD&D in Space was probably my first role playing supplement. I received it for Christmas, had no idea what to do with it due to a lack of Dungeons & Dragons experience and brought it back to Waldenbooks at the Burlington Square Mall to exchange for store credit — which I probably spent on more Dragonlance novels. I was a weird kid.

Regardless of how I started out, I still hold the grief Spelljammer gets is largely undeserved. Let’s count the reasons down.

The Giff

Some folks hold “militaristic space hippos” are silly. And I hold “Um, why?”

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Total Confusion 24

Sharon, Vermont, as seen from Interstate 89. / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sometime later this morning, I’ll embark down good old Interstate 89, southbound for Total Confusion, the elder statesman of the New England gaming convention circuit. It’s my first trip to this particular show, though I have a rough idea of what to expect, from others’ tales. Fingers crossed for getting into one, if not two, of Brad Younie’s adventures in The Unexplained and plenty of board games on the side.

I’ll have my trusty camera in hand, so you’ll get to see what the convention looked like, as best I can document it. If you attend TotalCon yourself, I’ll be — one of — the guy(s) in souvenir Carnage T-shirts.

[Fletcher Free Library Gaming] Plague and Pestilence at the Library

This week’s Actual Play Friday report is brought to you by Brennan, a local Burlington gamer. In addition to spearheading the new program of board games at the Fletcher Free Library, he’s a general partner in crime when it comes to fostering widespread playing of tabletop games, as well as an avid miniature painter.

A world hangs in the epidemical balance. Photo by Brennan.

Tyler has allowed me to describe the activities of the most recent Game Day at the Fletcher Free Library here in Burlington, Vermont, on February 6th.

The day started off with me meeting Mike for the first time.  I then had the opportunity to introduce him to that highly colorful and semi-tetrisy (I made a word!) game of Blokus.  It’s a great game for two or four players with rules that take a literal minute to teach.  Essentially you are taking turns laying down various shapped tiles onto the board.  Each piece you lay down has to touch one of your own pieces, but only on a corner.  The object is to play all of your pieces before you run out suitable places on the game board.  In practice this involves trying to carve out sections of the board for yourself and to try to cunningly infiltrate your opponents turf.  It’s a game I highly recommend and that I really should get to the table more often.

Afterwards, Orson, Sasha, and Nonny showed up and I showed them how to play Alhambra.  As usual, it was a very fun game, though I did not have my usual luck with it.

We then broke out Pandemic.  We had one of the most atrocious starts I have ever seen with Asia being nearly saturated with the initial outbreaks to the near exclusion of the rest of the board.  The early turns were rough with a nearly immediate outbreak.  But with perseverance, we chipped away and found our cure for the dreaded Red Cube Plague, and sprinted to find the additional cures.  All looked lost as we counted up the remaining turns and discovered we had only five player turns to cure the two remaining diseases.  But, after plotting for a half hour we actually came upon an intricate dance of actions that allowed us to win the game on the very last turn!

We ended the day with a few rounds of Incan Gold.  Another fast and simple (no matter what the Austin Star says) favorite.

As I write this, I am looking forward to even more gaming this coming weekend at the Fletcher.  But whatever should I bring to play?