Green Mountain Gamers Present the Summer Game ‘n Grill 2010

On June 19th, Green Mountain Gamers will host the first in an on-going series of seasonal game days, the Summer Game ‘n Grill 2010. For twelve whole hours, Essex, Vermont’s Memorial Hall hosts a game day of epic proportions. Board games, role-playing adventures, collectible card duels. If you want to play it, they want to host it. Plus, there will be a grill for the cooking of picnicky, summer-type foods, so bring a cooler of what you like best.

The line-up includes, but is not limited to, a Dominion tournament, role-playing games (two of which will be run by yours truly), teaching sessions of various other board games and hopefully some kind of Legends of the 5 Rings collectible card goodness. Check out the game day’s page over at Green Mountain Gamers’ website for more details, including directions, area amenities and more.

Full disclosure: I’m one of the organizers of this little shindig, at which I hinted some time back. We’re pretty excited about this first attempt. It’s going to be instructive on what is and isn’t feasible to make a sustained long haul of year round game days in Vermont. Fortunately, we have some helpful friends who are experienced in these sorts of things, and we’re very grateful for their contributions to the effort.

Retooling Mage: The Ascension

Something about role-playing inspires a do-it-yourself attitude in many hobbyists. If they don’t like something, they’ll often modify to it their needs, or roll their own. So it’s no surprise that Mage: The Ascension, a game about independent individuals all proclaiming they understand the true secrets of the universe — and perhaps later learning that it’s all an illusion of sorts — should accumulate more than a few projects to do it right, better or to taste, depending on the author. Sometimes I think it’s a right of passage, whereat the burgeoning role-player decides that in the end it’s all made up and hell, they should do it the way they prefer.[1]

At any rate, yet another discussion on of where Mage: The Ascension went wrong — or right, depending on one’s perspective — or whose fault or genius it was got me thinking about the Mage conversions that proliferated over the years. I mean, this is a game whose last supplement was published in 2004 and people are still not only casting blame and gnashing teeth, but trying to do it their way. So here’s a quick rundown of the Mage conversions I’ve run across on the web:

  • Mage! was a conversion document by an poster by the name of Redfox Whiteruff for running a Mage game using the Aeon variant of the Storyteller system, particularly the version in Adventure! The PDF doesn’t seem to be in circulation on the web, or I’d link to it.
  • Unisystem Mage was my own modest attempt at a Mage conversion. I’ve yet to playtest the thing, so all I can say is it exists and is freely downloadable.
  • World of Darkness HERO, by Robert Harrison, encompasses much of the original World of Darkness as it stood in the second edition era, written for the HERO role-playing system.
  • Malcolm Sheppard released notes almost immediately upon publication of Mage: The Awakening in 2005 to use the new ruleset to run traditional Ascension games. They’re quick and dirty, but really that’s all one needs.
  • Mage: The Dirty Version, also by Malcolm Sheppard, is a more drastic retooling of the core premises of Mage, altering content to fit the new view.
  • Ascension Nova, on the other hand, is a currently on-going effort to perform a more robust marriage of the Storytelling system and the Mage: The Ascension setting material.
  • GURPS Mage: The Ascension and GURPS Thaumatology get honorable mentions; the former for being an official conversion of then-contemporary Mage to GURPS third edition and the latter for providing a ready made structure to rebuild the Sphere magic system in the fourth edition.

05/28/2010 9:38 AM: Shame on me for failing to include Malcolm Sheppard’s “dirty Mage” reinvention.

[1] Which is not to say “it” is necessarily inconsistent or arbitrary; just arranged to suit one’s own preferences.

The Flatwoods Monster

An artist's impression of the witnesses' description of the entity.

The Flatwoods Monster is one of the more oddball UFO incidents of the 1950s. It has all the classic components of an archetypal close encounter: an object crashes in the woods of Flatwoods, West Virginia. Frightened locals investigate the disturbance, whereupon they run into a bizarre, inhuman creature with glowing eyes, claw-like digits and . . . a skirt.

At least, that’s how they described it to authorities, so that’s how the rendering artist portrayed it, which took a great deal of the edge off the encounter as it made the news circuits of the day. Some skeptics suggested the “monster” was a confluence of a startled barn owl, opportune tricks of light and shadow that gave it a wholly imaginary shape and mass and frightened observers already predisposed to be jumpy by a falling meteorite and unexpected aerial navigation beacon.

Now, Frank Feschino, on the other hand, author of Shoot Them Down!: The Flying Saucer Air Wars of 1952, maintains those West Virginians saw the operator of the object in some kind of flight or possibly encounter suit. In this version, the claws become remote manipulator arms and the skirt a propulsion / levitation unit, as witnesses said the thing floated above the ground. In fact, it could even have been a drone or automaton, attached to the object as a repair unit.

The Reptoid Agenda

In the world of the Cabal, this very nearly escalated into a full-blown diplomatic incident between the reptoids and the surface dwellers. While the reptoid nation largely follows the leadership of King S’sathurax, there are always elements whose loyalty to a given leader is greater or lesser than the majority of the population. In this instance, a flight pod piloted by a member of the fractious House Sharpfang violated the treaty between the reptoid nation and the Cabal that reptoids would not reveal their existence to the masses of humanity. If not for some quick-witted cabalists inserting themselves into the situation as both officials to indirectly ridicule the witnesses’ reports and ostensibly clumsy Men in Black who couldn’t decide if they were Treasury Department agents or reporters, the populace might have given the Flatwoods encounter more credence.

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Happy Towel Day 2010

Happy Towel Day, everyone! May 25th became a day to remember and celebrate the life of Douglas Adams, author of the ever increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, which became a foundation stone of modern geek culture, thanks its eminent quotability and chaotic sense of humor. In particular, the adulation of the towel as the ultimate utility item for a hitchhiker to carry — “A towel, [the guide] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have“; the full quote is under the jump became so iconic of the series and Adams that it became the namesake of this day of remembrance.

Along with translating to a number of media: radio, novels, television and film, the Hitchhiker’s Guide also inspired a number of games over the years, both computer and otherwise:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is possibly one of the most mind-bending, torturous text adventures ever devised. Thus it comes as no surprise that Adams co-created the thing.
  • …in Spaaace! isn’t an outright Hitchhiker’s Guide RPG, but it certainly draws a lot of influence from the source material, albeit sometimes by way of Futurama. It’s a free download from Greg Stolze’s site, so check it out.
  • Gamer’s Guide to the Galaxy is a free print-to-play board game that has a listing on and . . . that’s it. It doesn’t seem to be available for download any more.

Does anyone else have some Hitchhiker-esque games to suggest? Tonight is Tuesday night board games, as it often is, and I’m trying to think of something suitable for the occasion. I could bring Space Alert again, but that will make three weeks in a row and I don’t know if it’s really catching on with the group. After that, I’m kinda stumped for science fiction-y and humorous games, except maybe Chrononauts.

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Tabletop Game-Playing Survey Needs Respondents

Over on the Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games’ Google Group, a member posted a request from Michelle Drury of Middle Tennessee University for respondents to a survey to provide data for a study on the potential beneficial aspects of tabletop and video games.

The survey took me all of five minutes and was completely anonymous. It asked about the time I spend playing games, the type and sort of people with whom I play: friends, gaming friends, etc. Curiously, the survey didn’t specifically include board games, coming only as close as wargames, which certainly don’t cover examples like Dominion and Arkham Horror.

You can find Michelle Drury’s survey here. You should be eighteen years or older to participate.

Is EERIE Radio Going to Gen Con?

In episode 156 of my favorite paranormal podcast, EERIE Radio, the hosts mention the possibility of manning a table at Gen Con of all places. It makes sense. They’re based around Indianapolis and various members of the crew have made passing reference to role-playing games over the years. What’s more, so many people attend Gen Con that a good percentage of them are bound to share interest in paranormal topics.

Host and resident scientist Robfather mentioned one nose-curdling story from a trip he made to Gen Con Milwaukee some time back, in which card gamers were stationed in a skyway between hotels with no ventilation to speak of and hot dog vendors with bratwurst and sauerkraut stationed at either end. I think the implications of such an arrangement is obvious.

This isn’t the only instance paranormal interest and role-playing have crossed over, of course. Brad Younie has an Unexplained scenario in which the investigation team tracks down paranormal phenomena amidst the chaos of a gaming convention. Lake Morey Resort, with its numerous additions, slanting floors and wandering corridors, is a terrific venue in which to stage an investigation. Playing the adventure right there at Carnage gives the participants a powerful sense of the location they’re exploring — and how unnerving it might be to have to distinguish the eerie signs of paranormal activity from typical gaming lunacy of boffer swords and bellowed challenges.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] From Cold Space to the Fiery Abyss, By Way of the Neolithic

This was a red letter date in gaming for me: I actually declined a game of Arkham Horror — mostly because of the stuff I had lugged to Quarterstaff. Since I had lugged it, I was damn well going to play it.

Andrew mistakenly fired the rocket tube allocated to Crewman Amber as a sleeping berth.

I appear to have a comfort plateau in Space Alert. I brought the game to Quarterstaff for the second week in a row, thinking that now people knew the game, we could move on to more difficult missions. Instead, given my own lack of familiarity with the next lesson in the tutorial book, we just played through two scenarios we’d already done, both of which I think we lost for want of sufficient coordination.

It was a disappointing experience for me. I feel like I haven’t learned the game well enough to lead other people through it, so playing well relies on playing with the people who more readily grasp the programming and resource management. They were off playing the new Neuroshima Hex: Babel 13, so it was the newbies and non-programmers bumbling around on board the Sitting Duck.

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Invasion of the Giant Cockroaches

From the Shadows relates a tale of one woman’s encounter with an overgrown cockroach. It’s astonishing and unbelievable, but this makes everything all right:

“Then I remembered a Chuck Norris movie and I dropped to my buns on the floor and kicked its ankles out from under it with my tennis shoes,” Jenice said. “Then I kicked it in the face.”

It’s like something out of Unknown Armies. An avatar of the Green Mother uses its channel of abundance to grow over-sized cockroaches, then unleashes them against the populace in an attempt to advance the archetype’s causes of wild growth.

Alternately, it’s a page ripped from GURPS Cabal or even Mutants & MastermindsFreedom City: the reptoids — or the mole people, lead by Terra King, depending on your poison — stage a morale-boosting action against the cockroach men, driving them from the upper-most levels of the Inner-Earth cave system into the sub-basements and sewers of the surface world. Fun ensues as the cockroaches make variously peaceful and violent advances to humans, depending on which faction of cockroach society they identify with, and human authorities come into conflict with the reptoid nation when they try to drive the displaced roaches back down below.

The Usefulness of a PDF

I have mixed feelings about PDFs. On the one hand, they allow authors to write material that would that otherwise might never be published because its target audience is too small for a traditional print run; they also serve as a proving ground for content that proves popular enough to merit hard copy publishing. PDFs also save older books from Out of Print Hell, a singularly unhappy place.

On the other hand, I just can’t get into reading PDFs as they’re sold. When I first started using a computer at home, I spent hours upon hours in front it, reading whatever that happened to be in my field of interest at the time — confession: there were a lot of Doctor Who episode guides and fan fiction on the family Performa‘s hard drive in those days. Somewhere along the way, probably around the time I started spending a lot of time using a computer to do actual work instead of devouring fan minutiae, in college and later professionally, I lost all ability to read long form documents at a computer, or at least the will. A couple times, I’ve done some PDF consumption at Muddy Waters, but even then, I’ve found it a fiddly, unpleasant process. There’s always scrolling up and down, because the content I want is still laid out portrait style, and fooling with the zoom level to make the text readable at a distance without trimming margins.

In short, I’m predisposed to prefer a printed book. Continue reading

Back to the Future Card Game Cover Art Peek

Not long after letting the news slip that Looney Labs signed the agreement to publish a Back to the Future card game based on Chrononauts, Andy Looney tweeted a link to the cover art, available here.

What interests me most about the cover is the art is so different from Looney Labs’ other products, which are usually characterized by friendly, cartoonish art. Chrononauts is the odd duck out here, because of the design of the timeline cards, but still, the Back to the Future cover suggests a more photograph-oriented design to the cards — which is right and proper, since the game capitalizes on a popular film franchise. It makes me wonder if the card faces will use photograph-like illustrations or something more like in Monty Python Fluxx, hand drawn from real life references.

And this thought just popped up as well: in Chrononauts, all the players are from different, equally valid — or invalid, depending on your point of view — futures competing to get home. In Back to the Future, there’s only one correct future. I wonder how that will affect game play. Will it be a race to fix the timeline first? Will players draw identities originating from alternate Hill Valleys? Are the identities characters from the films? Can I still zip back and acquire my very own dinosaur?

“Time will tell. It always does.”