Crimson Mystical Mages Chapter One Listening Party

Following on from this morning’s post, this is the official conversation post for the December 27, 2010 listening party of the first episode of Live from SModcastle‘s Crimson Mystical Mages silly role-playing campaign, as “SMastered” by Kevin Smith. The fun starts at 9:00 PM EST, so if you’re a late comer, try to sync up the episode as best you can.

I’ll be tweeting using the hashtag #cmm0 as well as keeping up with comments here on Held Action. After the fact, I’ll compile the tweets here as well for posterity.

Whatever else, this should be funny!

Join the Crimson Mystical Mages Listening Party Tonight

My neck of the woods is receiving a bit of snow at the moment — nowhere near as bad as more southerly regions, but enough to make one rethink going anywhere at a distance. As always, these are the moments I most want to get out and interact with people. So what can I do?

How about a Crimson Mystical Mages listening party?

Kevin Smith’s sprawling podcast network includes Live from SModcastle, shows recorded in front of a live theater audience in Los Angeles. In the most recent episode, they embarked on a role-playing campaign of sorts called Crimson Mystical Mages, the first chapter of which is titled “The Adventures Of SMiddle Earth (as taken from the Journal of the Whills),” in which “Dungeon SMaster Kev leads Scott Mosier, Jason Mewes and Malcolm Ingram into a world of sorcery and sodomy.” So it’s totally in keeping with the usual what-if and role-play scenarios Smith and his friends have concocted before — and also guaranteed to be explicit, so use your best judgment if you want to follow along.

Tonight at 9:00:00 PM EST according to the clock maintained by the NIST and USNO, I’ll start the MP3 of the episode playing on my computer. If possible, you should do the same to keep in sync. For the next fifty-five minutes or so, I’ll comment live on the nonsense via Twitter using the hashtag #cmm01. If you’re already a Twitter user, feel free to comment along there. If not, I’ll set up a separate blog post to appear tonight as the official conversation post for the listening party. Once it’s all over, I’ll compile any tweets using the hashtag in that conversation post for posterity.

For best listening results, you can download the episode file directly from the SModcast website, or via iTunes. If you prefer, you can also use the embedded player in the SModcast website. The episode in question is number eight of the Live from SModcastle series, currently at the top of the page.

I hope some folks will participate, crack a beer and enjoy the show with me!

Slayers and ‘Busters: When Franchises Collide

In a humorous inversion, the Ghostbusters find business has slowed to a crawl. Some crazy vigilante teenagers are fighting monsters for free! It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Ghostbusters in a culture clash of incoming revenue and fighting the good fight.

Don’t Cross the (Revenue) Streams

After a violent seismic disturbance, paranormal activity in Lo-Cal City rises precipitously. The R&D geeks have a very long list of theories, most involving limestone, psychomagnotheric slime deposits or phases of the moon. Regardless of the reasons, six jobs for outlying franchises in two weeks is a clarion call for a brand new GBI start-up outfit. Wouldn’t you know it, on the second job of the night the new team gets tripped up by a gang of teenagers waving crosses and, in one young woman’s case, giving practical lessons in kung fu to ghosts.

The conflict comes from motivations. The Scooby Gang fights the good fight because it’s there and the right thing to do. Ghostbusters come on the scene because the customer’s credit card went through. They might occasionally collaborate, but there will always be mistrust because one group doesn’t honor the other’s reasons for doing what they do.

This Job is Not Worth Eleven-Five a Year

In a take-off of the fifth season of Angel, Ghostbusters International hires the Slayer and her cadre. But for what purpose? Drs. Stantz and Spengler might be motivated to dig into what makes the Slayer a Slayer, perhaps leading to a retail line of designer herbal supplements. Marketing might stump for the appeal of attractive young people sporting the trademark jumpsuits and company logo. Or it could be a scheme to discredit homebrew monster fighting, by pitting Slayer Team One against specially selected menaces.

Future Ghostbusters of America

In The Real Ghostbusters animated series, an informal “junior Ghostbusters” club made a few appearances. Shift that forward a few years. A group of high school students are captivated by Ghostbusters International’s resurgence. At first, the club focuses on following the real deal’s exploits. Then they go out in the field with a borrowed EMF detector. Later, following plans and ideas found on the internet, they start cobbling together their own ghostbusting gear. Nothing nuclear, mind, but relying on older, pre-digital techniques: Carnacki‘s electric pentacle, palindrome snares, and the tried and true pellet gun loaded with rock salt.

The conflict comes from which side of the divide the players put themselves on. As young upstarts, the corporation is concerned with protecting their market from competition and their asses from liability lawsuits. From the perspective of the real deal, the newbies are likely to rile up something they can’t put down with rock salt. Naturally, one or the other is going to come to the rescue of the other, again depending on which side the players have taken up as their own. Or maybe not, depending on how aggravating the other side has been.

Tiered Play in a Science Fiction Colonization Campaign

There’s a mini-setting in the back of GURPS Bio-Tech about the colonization of a far-off star system, which naturally includes terraforming to suit human needs. In addition to the exploration and settlement aspects, there’s also the part about decision-making. There isn’t a set plan for what to do at Sigma Draconis, as the fleet wasn’t sure what to expect when they arrived.

I can envision a multi-tier game where play happens on several levels. On the highest, players take the roles of the policymakers. They’re heads of the different factions and professional organizations involved in the great endeavor. This is about building alliances and trading favors. The next level down are the explorers. It’s more action-oriented: flying shuttles, exploring terrain, dealing with environmental issues, maybe even finding the remains of alien civilizations, if not living aliens. Finally, there’s the nitty gritty of terraforming and establishing habitations in orbit and on the land.

The levels of play roughly analogize to those in Ars Magica. Magi, companion and grog correlate to policymakers, explorers and settlers in terms of the view of the project: the mile high perspective, a bit closer at a half mile, and then ground level. The trick about this idea — and what originally stumped me about the idea when I read it in GURPS Bio-Tech — is how do you keep each level of play fresh and interesting? I mean, terraforming is terraforming. You can’t really dramatize that.

Although, I did just think of a set-up where a saboteur strikes a remote atmospheric modification station. Adverse weather conditions means everyone’s trapped on the station for the time being, so it becomes a tense situation as everyone suspects everyone else of being part of the so-far mythical fifth column, rumors of which dogged the fleet ever since everyone climbed out of cryosleep.

Beware the Krampus

A pretty impressive Krampus mask.

Insertname brought it up on using the Krampus as an antagonist in one’s role-playing games. Coming out of eastern Europe, particular Austria and Hungary, Krampus accompanies St. Nicholas on his journeys, warning children to behave and punishing those who don’t. So he’s the bad cop to St. Nicholas’ good. It’s the classic buddy situation.

Krampus Comes to Town

1901-1910 saw a wave of over two million immigrants to the United States from Austria and Hungary. With so many believers living beyond the old country, St. Nicholas and Krampus expanded their travels to include the land of opportunity. When reports of a shadowy demon-like figure stalking St. Nicholas circulate among the “they know just enough to be dangerous” portion of the occult set, they undertaking the capture and banishment of the fiend lately come to America.

Doing so throws the balance of Christmas dangerously askew, of course. Without the threat of the Krampus’ punishment to keep them in line, children run amok in New York City. St. Nicholas correspondingly declines to travel the land. It’s a huge mess, one that can only be resolved by freeing the Krampus from his Leyden jar prison — and convincing him not to take it out on the well-meaning, if foolish occult investigators.

The League of Extraordinary Companions of St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, it transpires, has a whole entourage of companions, scattered all across Europe. Typically they work alone or with Nick himself, rarely collaborating together. Every once in a while, though, there’s that one child so recalcitrant, so truculent, so incorrigible who requires the attention of an entire pantheon of corrective spirits, with Knecht Ruprecht corralling their efforts. They’ll put that child through metaphorical Hell before the night is over. It’s the preventative maintenance version of A Christmas Carol.

Dark Ascension

In the world of Unknown Armies, some clued-in goon has decided to scoot into the Invisible Clergy as the Dark Companion, the shadowy figure of questionable means and motives that follows so many more visible characters. Come Christmas-time, that means he’s emulating the behavior and signs of the Krampus, including terrifying the local children. This is not going down well in the community, never mind the occult underground. Representatives from the different factions present on the scene come together to put down this would-be Krampus before someone other than him gets hurt.

Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition Preview Reaction

Last week, Green Ronin published a series of art previews for the forthcoming edition of Mutants & Masterminds, starting with a new team of signature characters called the Sentinels, then going on to the stages of developing the cover piece. The Sentinel team roster includes thumbnail descriptions of its ten members.

At first, I was deeply underwhelmed by the character portraits of the Sentinels. My first thoughts were along the lines of “These all sound very painfully like standard issue player characters. They all fit that archetype of awkwardly ‘cool’ name and ‘best powers.’ They aren’t a patch on the Freedom League, which is a much more classical superhero team.” And by “classical,” I of course mean fond homage.

I bit my tongue, though, and thought about it for a bit before writing anything down. After a while, I realized why the Sentinels smelled so strongly of player characters: that’s who they stand in for. The line developer for Mutants & Masterminds, Jon Leithusser, wrote in his post:

But one of the other considerations that loomed large in the creation of the Sentinels is that we wanted them to be disposable. Yep, you heard me, disposable. If you don’t want the Sentinels in your universe, you can remove them and replace them with your own heroes. Our goal was to make it easy for you and your players to jump into playing, but we also wanted to make sure you had an even better chance to make your PCs the central heroes of your series, without other heroes around to take all the glory . . .

The Sentinels are PL10, which is the standard starting point for player characters in a typical four-color campaign. You can play them as written, use some or all or replace them outright. That works pretty well.

Granted, you could do the same thing with the Freedom League, ousting them or any number of Freedom City’s super-teams to make room for the players’ group. Even though the League’s average power level hovers around 12 or 13, PL10 player characters tend to have the advantage on tougher non-player characters because it’s multiple cooperating minds against the GM’s segmented ingenuity.

I’m curious to find out if the Sentinels replace the character archetypes in the front of the corebook completely or appear only in art and system examples, in addition to their role as stand-ins in Emerald City. Those archetypes tend to be straightforward in their mechanical construction, unlike the byzantine contortions some people feel it’s necessary to put the rules through to achieve a character of their liking.

So yeah, now I think I get where they’re coming from with the Sentinels. I’m still not a fan, but I am interested by the mention of Emerald City as a place where the super-villain set has had time to put down roots. I had mentally checked out of the third edition because hey, I’m perfectly happy with the second, but I’ll certainly keep an eye on Emerald City. At the very least it could be a good source for tone and flavor with which to repaint Freedom City. Call it my East Coast bias, but I like this end of the country for my role-playing exploits.

The Acquisition Imperative

Periodically, I get a yen to buy a board game or role-playing game. It’s a strong enough yen that I’ll fixate on it for some time. A couple years ago, for reasons I still can’t fathom, it was a general impulse to buy HERO System books. I gave in to that one and wound up with two or three feet of shelf space given over to books pushing a system I wasn’t entirely sold on. I think I’ve run precisely one session of role-playing using HERO, the sole session of an ersatz Spelljammer campaign I called Known Spheres. That game actually died for scheduling reasons rather than a dislike for HERO, just for the record.

Anyway, I get on these “want it all” or “I want that so much” kicks. For the most part, I keep on top of them, mostly by waiting myself out. Sometimes I will actually get to try the game without buying, usually discovering it’s not something I want. And there are the times I make mistakes.

Lately, the game I’ve fixed on is Talisman, the old fantasy adventure offering from Games Workshop. I will admit that Talisman is not a good game by any means. You roll a die, move your character and, most often, draw at least one card. Even the direction you move along the board doesn’t always matter, as you’ll draw the same card regardless of whether you go right or left. Nevertheless, I do find the game entertaining. The art evokes a simple, parochial sort of fantasy world that’s miles closer to how I envisioned The Hobbit on first reading than the design of Middle-earth in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films or the dungeonpunk aesthete that’s percolated through role-playing games since the launch of Dungeons & Dragons‘ third edition.

Right now, I get to play Talisman once every couple of months whenever Nonny happens to bring it to Tuesday night at Quarterstaff Games, which is probably just enough to keep me from getting tired of the game. But I do find myself thinking “I could easily pick up Fantasy Flight’s new edition of the game, which is widely available and has a steady stream of new content coming out.” (This sets aside the question of whether I need a steady stream of new content; being disappointed by weak Arkham Horror expansions contributed to the lessening of my ardor for that game.)

Recently, the promotion of the new Gamma World happening on Twitter has gotten to me. I really would like to try this, because it sounds like a goofy good time, which is about the only way I want to deal with the premise of “after the Mega-Whoops.” It’d also be a chance to take a good, long look at the rules underlying Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, on which this iteration of Gamma World is based.

Here’s my conundrum: I’ve always — more often than, fairly frequently, a bit, when it suits me — said it’s better to use the stuff you’ve got than buy yet another set of rules for role-playing that are ultimately only slightly different from the dozens one already owns. But the point of trying the new Gamma World is one’s trying the new Gamma World, not mimicking it with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or whatever else. So the usual tactic of “use what you’ve got” doesn’t work, partly for the system involved, but also because I don’t have any role-playing materials about a wacky post-apocalypse.

My first tactic is to mitigate the risk of a non-utilized purchase. If I actually play this one, unlike the many, shamefully unplayed role-playing games on my shelves, I can better rationalize the purchase — which is probably still a logical fallacy given past behavior and the extent by which similar decisions have changed notably in their outcomes. To this end, I’m trying to find some people to commit to playing Gamma World at Winter Weirdness on January 8th.

At what point does a $40 box set become worth it? One play? Two? Six? A dozen? In dollars per hour, if we play a four hour session at Winter Weirdness, that’s $10 per hour of play, not counting tax. If one considers preparation time entertaining and it takes ten hours to absorb everything in the box, it’s less than $3 per hour, but I don’t really hold with that perspective.

Again, though, I think this is an expression of my recurring “Ooh, new. Want!” impulse. I could just ignore it, stick with Ghostbusters and Fiasco for Winter Weirdness and go on my way. That honestly makes the most sense and saying “We’ll have Gamma World to play!” isn’t really going to make a difference in who turns out, will it?

What would you do?

Fate and Solace

A couple months ago, I joined an ongoing role-playing campaign. We met once in August, then just had our first meeting since a Sunday or two ago. It’s set in a world the GM devised, running with a slightly modified version of the Savage Worlds rules, plus what seem like magic systems of his own devising.

I feel a little like I’m seeing how the other half lives — the half that actually plays role-playing games on a periodic basis, rather than just writing about them and thinking wistfully in between game days and conventions. Getting it all to work is even rougher than I remember. Remember I said I first played with the group in August? We didn’t get together again until mid-November.

In the intervening time, everything about the game fell out of my head. I spent that August session mostly getting my bearings. There were a lot of proper nouns flung around the table: player characters, non-player characters, places, things, deities and so on. All that fell out of my head after the session ended. So I took diligent notes in the second session. Writing things down helps me remember them without even having to check the paper. I think I’ve got it all straight now.

As one of those unfortunate souls who’s done far more talking and thinking about role-playing games than I have playing, it’s disconcerting to see how other people play or run a game. Because it never matches up with one’s imaginings. Right now I’m on the side of biting my tongue because I don’t know enough about the group dynamics to understand what’s open to commentary or discussion.

Tomorrow’s the next session. The characters found themselves in a hard spot, as often happens. The form of a decision point looms up ahead. I have a very good idea of who’s going to fall on either side of the decision, assuming I understand everyone’s backgrounds correctly. We’ll see how it plays out.

[Green Mountain Game Days] Winter Weirdness 2011

Visit the Green Mountain Gamers site for more information about Winter Weirdness and future game days in Vermont.

Winter Weirdness, the next of the Green Mountain Gamers‘ seasonal game days, is now a month away. January 8th, 2011 will be the third such outing and our first visit to the Granite City, also known as Barre, Vermont. Like Fall-loha and the Game ‘n Grill before it, Winter Weirdness is an open play event for all kinds of tabletop games.

So far, board game play has dominated Green Mountain Game Days — and why not? They take little prep, are easily transported and generally don’t rely on existing social ties to function well. The most recent game day in Lyndonville did include miniatures and role-playing, though, so the genres of games to play are slowly expanding.

A quick peek at Fall-loha in Lyndonville, Vermont, the most recent Green Mountain Game Day.

It’s my hope that the variety of games played at these events will continue to diversify and my personal goal to keep growing the role-playing opportunities in particular. In the fall, Charlton orchestrated games of Fiasco and The Shab-al-Hiri Roach. We’re only going up from there. I’ll bring my recent Ghostbusters adventure for sure, as well as use the intervening month to flesh out an idea I’ve got percolating for a Fiasco playset. Or maybe I’ll splurge on the Gamma World set. I dunno.

In the interest of self-disclosure, I’ll cop to being one of the folks who organize these game days. Our motivations are purely to provide more opportunities for groups of people to get together and play games and the glowing rush of knowing we did something that made those people happy.

If you’re in the Barre-Montpelier area on January 8th and have a few free hours, I hope you’ll stop by. It’s gonna be a fun day of gaming.