Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Toxicity continues

Having returned from an out of town trip, it seems my health has taken a turn for the worse. I had been complaining of chills and slight fever brought about by an incipient cold even as early as Sunday night at the beginning of the week. Going out of town thereafter didn't help. My cold is now a painful cough and I've been prescribed some meds and rest by the medics. Unfortunately, my presence is needed at work as we have some deadly deadlines to fulfill. I'll just have to keep crossing my fingers while rolling on my Willpower and Constitution - hoping for a critical roll and not a fumble to get me through the day.

As a slight aside, it has always been my habit to ask for a window seat when taking a plane ride. This normally provides me a view outside which goes far to alleviating the tedium of a long monotonous trip inside a commercial jet. No matter how much I've seen it, I love to look down on mountains, rivers, roads and other terrain features rolling right on below as we speed towards our destination.

Maybe it was the slight grogginess that hit me but on the trip out, I kept mentally superimposing hex grids on the mountains, rivers and plains that rolled out from under the plane. Could it be that some cosmic high stakes role playing game is being waged out there somewhere beyond our space and time reference and that our world is merely a hexmap of the powers that be?

Strange thoughts. I need my medicine... and rest. Glorious rest.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hurried post on the top of a toxic week

Last Friday's game was a blast, with more Mutant Future weirdness and hack and slashing in healthy doses. It's a toxic week for me, I'm headed out of town tomorrow and won't be able to run the game this Friday night. We'll be continuing with our usual post-apocalyptic madness next Friday night. In the meantime, I'll be posting xps and an after-action report asap.

Have a great week ahead everyone!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Oh, so that's why they don't like randomly generated characters...

Going through Theo Dudek's Ultimate Game Master, I stumbled upon his take on why some players seem to object to randomness in character generation. I found his post interesting as it takes a contrary view to my wholehearted acceptance of the application of such randomness. Examples of this dynamic in action include Traveller (wherein Theo cited James M.'s earlier post) and perhaps even more extremely- Mutant Future. In both Classic Traveller and Mutant Future, I admit I enjoy the game-within-a-game random aspect of character generation. In fact I even enjoy character generation as an end in itself using these systems.

Amongst the things said by Theo on this are:

"But perhaps the real reason people object to random stats and random character backgrounds is not “fairness” but that it is too similar to what we have to deal with in real life. Determinism based on biology or upbringing is not most people’s chosen form of escapism (unless it is ‘good’ determinism and they are “destined to be awesome because they are the chosen heir of the throne of blah blah blah” etc.) In real life, we don’t get to choose who we’re born to or where we grow up or whether we have Asperger’s or diabetes. But in RPGs, we at least look forward to having an idealized and personally chosen backstory, even if we may get eaten by a dragon or something shortly after actual gameplay begins. In the gray area before actual gameplay begins, in our epic memories, we can all be heroes. It’s when the dice start rolling that the drama and tragedy and mayhem starts."

While I may not share Theo's side on this matter, I nonetheless thank him for sharing this as it gave me some additional insight on how some of my players may be feeling about random character generation (and the every-present risk of turning up what they may consider a 'loser' character). Reading the above-quoted post brought back at least two separate conversations I had with a couple of my players wherein they just about told me the same thing. At that time, I really could not understand where he was coming from but now, I think I do.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We Aren't Alone

A recent post in A Paladin in the Citadel, a blog I regularly follow, dealt with gamers and bloggers in the place you live in. Speaking for myself, I was under the impression that gamers are a rare breed in my city and most of them do not maintain blogs. Now, I not altogether sure if I was correct in believing so.

I crave your collective pardon if this post takes on a self-serving aspect but I could not help but say something about what recently appeared on The Armchair Gamer. Until recently, I didn't even know my friend Alex actually had a gaming-related blog of his own. This changed when I received an email containing a series of questions posed by my friend, the results of which, were expected to form the basis of a series depicting various experiences and backgrounds of game masters known to him. I have Alex to thank for introducing me to Fading Suns back in 1998. We had a lot of wild, wacky and fun games with a relatively large gaming group that called itself The Herd. A large balance of the players from the Herd never played rpgs before but they took to gaming with a vengeance. They were fun times indeed!

In case you are wondering, Alex was referring to yours truly when he posted the responses of a certain GM Bobby in the above-mentioned post. My apologies go out to him as I fear that my responses were less-than-coherent as I was in the midst of shifting mental gears at the time I sent those out, right at the end of a toxic workday.

Most significantly, the responses gathered by Alex from his fellow game masters here in Manila brought home to me the fact that there are more people who engage in and endeavor to promote role playing games than I originally led myself to believe. This is a very good thing, and I am glad to be proven wrong in my belief that I seemed to be the only one who was doing this in our third world paradise.

I'm also very glad to see that my friend Adrian, whom I've lost touch with for the longest time is still running games in the grand style.

Although we local gamers don't necessarily have the same styles, experiences and preferences in gaming, I firmly believe that Metropolitan Manila can always use another good gamer, or a hundred, anytime. Speaking from experience, things have progressed considerably from the old days when we all had to share one tattered, sacred copy of the AD&D Player's Handbook and cobble up our own polyhedral dice cobbled up from cardboard filled with wax (!) after the soft plastic ones from our basic D&D boxed set died in action. And I look forward to even better gaming days ahead for our gaming community out here knowing that we are not alone.

Looking at things from a truly world-wide perspective, I've come to realize that the same thing is true as to the community of gamers existing all over right now. If there is good thing I picked up from the experience of trying my hand at maintaining my own gaming blog is that I met a lot of decent, intelligent and interesting people who all share a passion for this gaming hobby of ours. It is a realization that constantly provides me a lot of joy, comfort and considerable satisfaction. It makes me proud to have met them and to have learned so much from them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Old School Grind

Joseph Bloch, in his Greyhawk Grognard blog says something very interesting about what is described about the Old School Grind. I have heard a lot from many players denouncing the 'kill the monsters-steal their treasures-rinse and repeat' aspect of old school gaming. Without going into the relative merits of either side in that argument, I, instead, find a lot of gaming wisdom in Joe's observations:

"I think that the "old school" approach to dungeon exploration is not to clear the level and then move down to the next. At least, as it applies to the megadungeon; certainly smaller dungeons might well be designed with the ultimate objective to be "wipe out all the goblins who are raiding the halfling village". But in the old school approach, you're not out to kill the monsters. You're out the get their treasure. In the old school approach, a plethora of monsters might actually be considered a boon. There's a tribe of orcs a few corridors away from a derro outpost? The "grind" mentality would say, take out the orcs, then move on to the derro. The old-school mentality would say, get the orcs to fight the derro through clever play, and take their chest of gold while they're busy hacking each other to bits.

So I think that any grind you can come up with, short of something that was just one room after another, completely linear, stuffed with monsters, the old school could turn into a tactical challenge. That's why there are all those seemingly useless corridors; flanking! And there's no stat check for strategy."

I think I'll sit down with my players before this Friday's game and have a short chat with them about this. I feel it would go far to advance our ongoing game if people kept this in mind.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Traveller and games Before the Long Night

Traveller was one of the first role playing games I ever learned. For the longest time, science fiction role playing to me was synonymous to Traveller. Due to the unavailability of published game material where we lived, my gaming group’s exposure to Traveller was initially confined to the three little black books that comprised the Classic Traveller rules.

Needless to say, we had a smashing time gaming in our own Traveller universes. We didn’t know much about the Third Imperium, although we understood that there appeared to be a default game setting created by GDW. Neither did we care! We were too busy having fun in our own homebrewed games which I ran for most part. At that time, my games were set in game worlds largely derived from existing SF literature which I really liked. I remember running a game based loosely on Larry Niven’s World Out of Time, as well as a longer-running series set in the Fallen Galactic Empire ala Foundation, and still another one, in a junkyard planet straight out of Piper’s Cosmic Computer.

It was only in 1989 when we fully discovered what the Third Imperium was all about when Doc Ben-g, one of my regular players, brought back the Mega Traveller Boxed set from a recent trip to the U.S. We went along with the Rebellion that tore apart the Third Imperium and had our share of adventures in the Hard Times that followed. For some reason, the idea of struggling to survive and prosper amidst the ruins of a fallen empire resonated well with our gaming group. Maybe it was largely on account of our attachment to that other GDW game, Twilight 2000. In any case, we followed through with some Star Viking adventures in the New Era in the early 1990s using the Gurps system, which, for a long time, became our system of choice.

Since then, I’ve ran a few games in the canonical Third Imperium of GDW and even bought some Gurps sourcebooks for this.

The Third Imperium was quite good – it hung together well, and had a lot of support from writers and fans which continues to this date. That said, I can’t help but harken back to the the days when we didn’t know about the Third Imperium and created our own Traveller universes. Far from feeling that we missed out on something, I feel, with the benefit of hindsight, that we created something vibrant, alive and uniquely ours at the time we were gaming with only our three Little Black Books.

Reading this post from James M.'s Grognardia along with a reference to the Burgess Shale Period of Traveller found in Bat in the Attic made me think back and remember the days before we learned about the Third Imperium. If anything, it reinforced to me the point that Classic Traveller was really a versatile and potentially endless game system upon which an enterprising gaming group can bring their own gaming universe to life.

This got me started on actually planning to revisit Classic Traveller and running a few games in the future set in a non-Third Imperium game setting. I had been busily going through my latest acquisitions of Poul Anderson’s future history stories, particularly those of the Polesotechnic League and that of the Terran Empire that followed. These really ranked high on my list along with the future history stories of H.Beam Piper – thus maybe it is hardly surprising that I remain a Traveller fan after all these years. I remember trying (and mostly failing) to locate Anderson’s stories as a high school kid and only caught bits and pieces of his future history in one tattered SF anthology or another. I only lately managed to locate many of these stories in these volumes I just acquired.

Many of the Van Rijn/Falkayn and Flandry stories of Anderson revolve around intrepid characters who live in the what may be described as the Eve of Destruction – that period in time when their civilization is just about to tip over and go crashing down into the abyss of history. As a gamer I am drawn to this kind of setting and personally refer to this as gaming in an era right before The Long Night. While much of my Traveller and Traveller-inspired games were set in the Long Night, I can’t seem to recall running a game where the characters lived right before the The Fall. By analogy, Traveller-wise, my games tended to be set in the Mutant Future, rather than the Mutant Past.

Hence my current plan for a revisit to Classic Traveller begins to take shape slowly- and I have this hankering to run it differently this time. In all likelihood, instead of the Long Night, it will be set on the Eve of Destruction.

Advisory- This Friday's game

This goes out to my players - I confirm that this Friday's game is at Justin's place. Henry's school is temporarily unavailable due to a PTA activity they scheduled for this Saturday.

The exact address has been sent out to each of you by SMS texting. Please let me know if there are directional or transport problems. Shall we start at the same usual time (7.30 p.m.)?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mutant Future A-B-C: B is for Bomb

Bombs. They come in many types, shapes, sizes and levels of lethality. Ever since the very first black powder-and-wick charge cobbled together in the distant past, things got a lot noiser and never were quite the same. What does this mean for the Mutant Future?

Bombs are iconic objects any post-apoc scenario can never have too little of. From the in-your-face, almost real and terrifying duck-and-cover stories of the seventies and the eighties (amongst which Threads, The Day After and The War Game stand out the most) to more exotic tales of mass-die backs such as that found in the Omega Man (redone lately as I Am Legend), the Bomb has always played a central role in the destruction of Life And The World As We Know It, thereby paving the way to a Mutant Future.

In all likelihood, Bombs are the main cause of turning a green planet into the ruined wasteland where adventurers, mutants and critters struggle to survive. Skynet turned humanity's considerable arsenal and brought about Judgment Day. The terminators that followed were only produced to finish the job already started by a considerable rain of nukes.

Bombs don't necessarily equate to nuclear devices of high explosives. The various hellish payloads available are legion, evident in the technology tables of the Mutant Future rules. If you can think of something really lethal to humans and their ilk, chances are you can design a bomb around this.

Most intriguing is the concept of the leftover Bomb after the apocalypse has occured and swept all away with it. Every good Mutant Future sandbox will never be complete without that intact missile silo just waiting to be stumbled into by a band of intrepid adventurers from the wastland. There is also the idea of a Bomb as God - something attributed with awesome powers worshipped by a cult of survivors after its original reason for existence has since been rendered irrelevant. Perhaps the most gripping example of this is the Alpha Omega Nuclear Device worshipped by the surviving mutants in old NYC in Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Ideas/Applications to the Mutant Future- The different Bomb and Explosive types in page 120 of the Mutant Future rulebook can be readily expanded into a chart of its own, featuring strategic-level bombs with a few original ones added on for variety. Such a random table designed around these types of bombs can look like this:

01-15 Bio Toxin
16-25 Concussion
26-40 Mutation
41-50 Negation - the closest thing to the EMP Burst which saved Neo in the Matrix
51-65 Plasma (the closest analogue of a nuke)
66-80 Radiation
81-90 High Explosive (very large versions of the demo-packs mentioned in the rules)
91-100 Psibombs

The latter are of a class of weapons developed by the Ancients right up to the Final War. Along with Psionic Mind Shields, Neural Disruptors and Madbombs, psibombs use electromagnetic impulses which duplicate the effects of a concentrated Mental Blast, liquifying a target's brain synapses. Tactical and strategic applications of this weapon include flushing out all living beings within a target area (much like a neutron bomb is used) leaving the real estate, structures and equipment found there pretty much intact.

A typical small Psibomb would be grenade sized and, upon activation, projects a psionic blast within a 100' radius. Any creature possessed with at least a rudimentary intelligence (including normally non-sentient creatures such as beasts of burden and farm animals) must save against Stun or suffer 2d10 damage.

[this was adapted from the Psibombs used in David Brin's Startide Rising, although in that novel, the bombs were used as signalling devices]

Along with this is a following random table for groups or missions associated with the bomb generated from the table above. Put together, the rolls from both table would produce interesting results:

Group/mission associated with the bomb(s)

01-20 Worshippers- Depending on the kind of bomb generated, this leftover from a bygone age has become the object of worship of some faction or race in the wasteland. For instance, Radiation Bombs would, in all likelihood, be worshipped by the Irradiated or mutants. On the other hand some pure strain humans (fanatics) may worship High Explosives (or nukes) –perhaps have Androids as the priestly class who attended to their ‘God’. Just don’t have a warrior ride on a bomb as it hurtles at the enemy as we saw in Dr. Strangeglove.

21-35 Users – Androids who remain from the old days or mutant animals/regressed humans who are still carrying out the defense orders of long dead governments in some forgotten silo. Quite dangerous as they may take it upon themselves to unleash the Ancient WMD upon the world.

36-55 Defuse the thing! – The player characters have a chance to shine here: given a job to defuse a bomb- this is a ‘race against time’ type of adventure. Failure can be catastrophic not just for them but maybe for the world.

56-70 Recover the thing! - Similar to what's above, the mission here is to recover the bomb- by a merchant guild, a warlord, a cult or government. Maybe a bit of double-crossing involved too.

71-85 Bomb as an enemy – Maybe some master-type monster has a bomb inside him and killing it outright (unless from very far away) will not solve their problem immediately. This will call for a lot of creative thinking on the part of the players.

85-90 Bomb as a dungeon – Here, the dungeon is wired. Maybe it is a central computer/cyborg brain core wired to explode if shut down. Again, this calls for imaginative handling on the part of the players.

91-100 Bomb as a character – as in various SF stories, a bomb is within a character (whether knowing or unknowing). In a extreme case, this could be a one-of-a-kind mutation for an Android character.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Episode Ten (Part Deux) - Into the Blackness and Beyond

Our story:

The survivors from the first group return to Ratsputin’s grounded airboat and link up with the rest of the party. They find Link Seyz awake, aware and apparently fully functional. Link Seyz feels fine –none of that fuzzy half-awareness he had always felt for as long as it could remember. It tests out decision trees and logic synapses long unused. Things test out fine, but there appears to be something vitally important he should be remembering….

“Oh well,” he remarks. “I’ll get to that later…”

Shai fills the rest in on the harrowing fight at the metal mountain and they are shocked to learn that Max is dead.

Together, they set off once more across the wasteland of crunching, glassy sand as the two moons, silver Aleph and green Bast hurtle across Cygnet Delta’s alien sky. Upon reaching the sandy hill forming the base of the metal mountain, they reacquire Orua’s trail and find themselves at a sandy cliff-wall. Zed and Albus brush aside the sand end predictably find the same greyish metallic-hued wall of seamless material behind it. Orua’s tracks end right at the wall.

Upon closer inspection by Mirage, the android finds the last footprint abruptly ending seemingly under the wall itself. Kyoshi and the androids attempt Words of Power learned from their Ancient Lore but nothing disturbs the quiescent seamless wall.

Then, Shai appears to make a fateful decision and, without looking back, resolutely walks into the wall. To everyone’s great surprise, a black disturbance forms when he touches it, and the its seamless surface turns insubstantial, like a black bubble – and he disappears inside it. After much muttering and doubting, the group follows- one by one.

To all there is a momentary feeling of coldness- a numb heart-stopping emptiness through a sea of black, and then they are through. The Androids, on the other hand, feel like an ‘On/Off switch’ was suddenly flicked inside for a moment.

Before them is a great hollow space, hundreds of feet wide are it is high. It is as if they stepped into the inside of a gigantic, seamless, metallic-grey egg. The familiar night sky above Cygnet Delta is replaced by the glossy inner surface of the hollow encompassing the dome above them. The desert sand below their feet is different – there are patches of hardy grass and stunted plants. The smell of moisture is in the air and the ever-present reek of burnt rubber and copper is missing. Under the eerie twilight of the dome about a few hundred feet before them is an even stranger artifact.

It is a building in the likeness of a gigantic mushroom, almost three hundred feet high. There is a great central cylinder rising up from the ground crowned by a disc-like platform of durable grayish stone. They see structures, buildings and machinery built on the platform suspended above. The central cylinder has several massive orbs constructed at intervals rising from the ground until the platform itself. Blinking lights are emplaced on numerous places throughout the structure. It is obviously some temple dating back from the Age of the Republic.

ML’s note: Traveller players will have probably recognized the structure already. All I can say is three words for this: Research Station Gamma.

After recovering from his shock, Shai curtly commands the party to move forward, weapons at the ready. There appears to be an entrance at the ground-level orb visible from their location. They reach the orb but find only a small square panel to the side, at shoulder height. A transparent square and coin-thin slot appear beneath it.

They scrutinize the panel for a while whereupon Zed hits upon an idea. He reaches into his pack and pulls out a small, wafer-thin card of ancient synthetic material, given to him by the Mayor of Jeffton during one of their previous adventures. The blue card with red stripes fits perfectly into the panel’s slot. He inserts it and waits.

ML’s note: I was glad someone had the gumption to remember to properly use the different artifacts they began to accumulate from past adventures. Doc Ben-g caught on very fast!

There is a humming sound and a sharp buzzing. They hear locks disengage and machinery in motion within the orb. The surface before them irises inward smoothly and opens a gateway into the structure.

Entering, they move deeper into the structure. There is an ever-present hum of machinery, all-so-faintly. There is bright artificial light from glowing panels on the ceiling and it is cold compared to the barren wastes outside. Exiting through another irising gateway, they find themselves in the inside of the central cylinder of the structure.

ML’s note: I always imagined the hollow central pylon to look somewhat like the inside of the central cylinder-shaft of Bespin Cloud City in the Empire Strikes back- somewhat like this.

There is a small glass-walled car built on rails running up and down the central cylinder. They check it out and upon entering, Link Seyz finds a wooden stick with a roll of torn cloth wrapped around it. Unraveling it, he finds a stylized smiley drawn on the cloth.

“Orua,” he says. “It’s her sigil. She was here.”

They climb aboard the car but it does not respond to the card inserted by Zed. Shai, being a pure strain human, lays his right palm on the glass square atop the control panel. There is a buzzing sound and the car activates. It moves downward, spiraling ever so lower into the structure until they find themselves in the subterranean levels.

“I don’t like this,” mutters Marcus, drawing sword and dagger.

The car abruptly stops and a disembodied voice enjoins them to “disembark”.

They leave and find massive sealed circular hatches before them. Shai, Kyoshi and three Androids puzzle out the controls and sometime later, they pass beyond the hatches. They find themselves inside a large globular chamber. The ground is rocky and muddy. The walls cannot be glimpsed. Instead, there is a grayish, cloudy sky above from which constant sheets of sleet and rain are pouring. The walls are likewise not evident- instead, they glimpse far-off hills and valleys.

“What is this place?” asks Link Seyz.

They are surprised by a startled squeak from Otiiss. The rat points his rifle to the right, finger twitching on the trigger.

“A cat- a big one!” he yells. “Over there to our left .”

No-one sees anything. Kyoshi, on the other hand approaches a nearby rock after spotting a large furry black and white rabbit. No one else sees the rabbit.

Otiiss fires, but there is nothing to hit. Kyoshi looks around the rock but there are no rabbits.

As the hatches behind them hiss shut, there is a loud carnivore roaring off to the side. The party forms a skirmish line, weapons are drawn. Then they see a shimmering in front of a wall to their side – something large and furry on four legs begins to leap at them, its hide changing chameleon-like. It moved fast!

ML’s note: this is a special random encounter I rolled up. Basic critter is a Sabre-tooth Tiger with upped hit dice. I threw in a few mutations such as Increased Willpower, Chameleon Epidermis, Dual Brain and Quickness. Upon initiative check I won easily!

The feral cat bounds forward and slams into Marcus, pulling him under and repeatedly laying away with teeth and claws. Everyone else piles in and the fight becomes a desperate melee. Albus and Zed are also badly mauled by the time they dispatch the critter.

The ever pragmatic Shai orders Williis and Otiiss to break out the knives and start dismembering the carcass for meat. Food security for the party, he reasons, is still not certain- and food is food.

ML’s note: I didn’t see that coming but trust Justin to turn his kill into rations. Still, it made sense considering they were in the middle of a desert with 3 days of rations left.

While the others keep watch, the rest cut away the meat from the kill.

Then, there is a sharp buzzing and a warning siren in the air. The disembodied voice starts up again – calling for an alert, enjoining all to stay calm and that assistance is on the way. At this, they make ready for another attack. They can’t get the hatches open again.

With not long to wait, the hatches clang open and pull back. A few man-sized robotic forms begin moving into the chamber. The adventurers take up ambush positions, readying themselves for yet another fight.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Episode Ten (Part One) - Robots!

Game held on 5 February 2010

Dramatis personae:

Zed - mutant human (Doc Ben-g)
Albus - mutant human (Doc Ben-g)
Marcus Truman - pure human (JY)
Max Plissken - pure human (Nikos)
Putanesca - mutant plant (Prin)
Kyoshi - mutant human (Matt)
Link Seyz - basic android (Patton)
Orua - autistic pure human (Mika)
Mirage - basic android (Henry)
Ratchet - basic android (Henry)
Shai - pure human (Justin)

Williis - mutant animal- Rat (de facto henchman of Shai)
Otiiss - mutant animal- Rat (de facto henchman of Shai)

Our story:

The party finds itself encamped in a broad expanse of desert as the bloody, rosy sun is disappearing beyond the far west. Orua has turned up missing, the stark imprints of her footprints trailing off to the sandy rise about a mile away in the distance.

A decision is swiftly made to divide the party. Zed, Albus, and the pure strains Max, Shai and Marcus shall be dispatched after Orua. Putanesca and Kyoshi will remain behind along with Mirage and Ratchet, who are still busy restoring Link Seyz’s working systems after they underwent a sudden forced reboot recently. The Rat Otiiss is armed with a Martini-Henry and put on guard duty.

Shai leads the search party which collared the hapless Rat mutant Williis as the group’s scout. Perhaps being very much aware of the fact that a good scout is normally a dead scout, Williis sets upon his task without much ardor and with evident poor grace, whereupon the others bully the hapless Rat into compliance.

Orua’s tracks continue up to the sandy rise far off in the desert. Here, the sandy ground gives way to immense mounds of sand seemingly piled on top of one another, forming a sloping hill hundreds of feet in the air. Everyone is edgy after tromping through crunching sands which, when trod upon, give off a smell of copperish-burnt rubber.

At the base of the hill, the party stops for a short rest. Orua’s tracks continue to their right and disappear around the sandy hill’s base. Being the best climber, Zed agrees to climb the hill, making for the crown which, for some unknown reason, gleams with a shiny metallic sheen in the pale moonlit glow of Aleph.

ML’s note: Zed has the Increased Balance mutation, so he scales the hill without mishap.

Upon gaining the peak, Zed is surprised to find it covered by a dun-colored metallic dome, much like that of the top of gigantic egg. The surface is seamless and smooth. It vibrates subliminally and is hard as granite. Repeated blows don’t even scratch it. Looking around, he finally surmises that the sandy hill he is on is not really a hill, nor is it made of sand. It appears that the hill is, in truth, a giant dun-colored, metallic-seeming, egg-shaped dome, sunk into the ground. It is merely covered with accumulated layers of earth, rock and sand.

The rest of the group are alerted to this and they confirm Zed’s discovery by spotting certain large cracks in the hillside from which the same dun-colored, metallic surface can be seen beneath the sand.

ML’s note: at this point, a possible encounter was called for, and, as luck would have it, a one was rolled – indicating a wandering critter.

Williis is the first to notice they are not alone. From somewhere in the rocks nearby skitters out four many-legged creatures of similar metallic hue, sporting numerous feelers, antennae and limbs- each the size of a largish hound. Weapons are raised but all are reluctant to fire. The creatures appear to be constructs of some sort, with probes which shine a dull reddish glow. Two appear to be scrutinizing Williis while the others are approaching the rest.

“What do we d-do?” mutters the nervous Rat, tail and whiskers a-twich.

Shai orders everyone to stay put, but as the constructs begin to pull out probes with brushes and pointy tips, the group’s discipline gives way to a wild round of gunfire! Two of the constructs are destroyed instantly, riddled with rifle bullets and the occasional laser beam. The adventurers shift their fire rapidly and dispose of the other two just as swiftly, taking no damage.

Then, Zed alerts them from high up above – he sees two large constructs which seem to materialize straight out of the smooth surface of the hillside. These ones are larger and meaner looking: drum-like bodies with formidable steel limbs and rotating turrets on their tops. They levitate a few feet from the ground, and speed towards the adventurers on the ground amidst a droning hum.

“Blast ‘em!” yells Shai, whereupon the party opens up with rifles, shotgun, lasers and Albus’ trusty plasma pistol. Although they concentrate their fire on the nearest one, who takes hit after flaming hit, the robot plods on ominously – and both fire back with energy weapons that spit blinding, bursting fire! Marcus is hit more than once and, suffering grievous burns, drops prone while desperately topping off his scattergun.

ML’s note: While the smaller critters were pesky Exterminator Bot-types, the newcomers were Assault Bots (both from the Mutant Future rulebook), up-armed with energy weapons and fitted with grav lifters instead of robotic legs. The 30-hit dice Assault Bot gives you a LOT of hit points to spare despite the weight of fire being dished out by these desperate players.

Soon, one of the robots is a sparking, smoldering wreck, twitching on its side. As the other begins to float away, the group charges it – and Max takes energy beam fire twice! This is too much even for the indomitable wasteland warrior, and he is promptly killed. The others reach the robot and begin piling on, raining blows with sword and clubbed rifle. Shai leaps unto the robot’s flat top, activating his Warp-field Sword and hacks away at the robot. They discover that the robot becomes unstable on its floating field of force as it is buffeted with blows. It is soon destroyed as well.

Now they begin to wonder if they should turn back – their opposition is stronger than expected. Max is dead and Marcus, badly damaged requiring extensive healing from their scavenged Healing Pack, draining it of precious charges. They finally decide just to come back for the rest of the party – it seems they’ll need every fighter this time and still try find Orua.

A Colossal Waste of Time?

Sometime back, I listened to a podcast from All Games Considered on old school gaming. It was pretty interesting and went far to validate a lot of things about the hobby I knew about or suspected that I knew about. Listening to these podcasts also works for me as it makes my daily morning exercise walks a great deal less monotonous - not to mention lifting my spirits as I seem to have to be reminded periodically that I am not alone in my interest in this hobby and a big community of awfully decent and intelligent people out there share all of this with me.

A line from one of the speakers caught my attention at that time, specifically her remark that she entered the hobby relatively late in life on account of her father's adamant belief that role playing games were a 'colossal waste of time'.

Hearing this brought a smile to my lips as many of the people I grew up with shared this belief. For the record, I think they still do to this date- they just learned to watch their mouths more carefully in my presence.

Speaking for myself though, I can't deny how this interest in role playing games went far to help me out in real life.

I can't exactly remember if it was during one summer break in the eighties, late in high school when, finding myself doing nothing at home, I decided to leaf through the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. Eventually, I found myself reading up on waterborne adventures and various sea travel/combat rules none of us ever used before. While none of our gaming group really applied any of these rules, this suddenly got me interested in the peculiarities of maritime travel. Before the week was out, I started reading up on the concepts of longitude, latitude, knots, and other peculiar terms such as starboard, port, fore and aft.

I didn't think much of this at that time and just added all this to what others tended to dismiss as othewise useless bits of interesting trivia I tended to accumulate in my brain.

Fast forward to the nineties, a year after graduation and I land my first job in a firm which handled, amongst others, maritime litigation. One day, the partner-in-charge is giving me a rundown on the nature of the cases I'll be assisting him from here on. He gets to the part about Safety Of Life At Sea, charts and distances.

"Oh you mean nautical miles," I answer, getting on with the discussion. I could see he was pleased as he didn't have to spend so much time lecturing all these all over again to the newbie.

When we got to collisions and allisions, it was my turn to say, "Oh right, the starboard side of the vessel, not the port side."

I guess it was the right thing to say as he looked quite pleased and asked me 'how I knew all this stuff.' At that time, I felt that maybe it was going to be alright working in that firm.

Happily, it worked out for all of us- and it was alright.

The point I'm driving at here is that this interst of ours in gaming opens doors for many of us into a wider and more vibrant world - and many times, we don't know it has happened, until after the fact. I firmly believe that no experience, no matter how trivial is wasted in this life. Everything happens for a reason - the reason just manifests itself to us when the time and circumstances are right.

Taking the time to read up, prepare for and attend games does take up blocks of time from our already hectic lives. This said, I can't say this is all a waste of time. At the very least, the experience of hanging out and gaming with people you consider your friends is always a welcome activity which goes far to regenerate one's spirits and renew one's strength- thereby enabling one to cope with the ever-present pressures in life. If I could put the good I get from gaming in a bottle and market it to the world at large, I wager I'll make myself a crapload of money to enable myself to retire in style.

So in the face of the oft-repeated belief that this gaming life of ours is a colossal waste of time, I say: Game On! I'm a Gamer and I'm proud of it! My kids will be gamers too and I'll be proud of them as well.

I'm sure you all have similar stories where your experiences in role playing games have served you in good stead in the real world and served to advance you in 'real life'.

If so, I'd sure like to hear them.

By the way (I almost forgot this)- that podcast from AGC I linked to above also includes an interesting review of Mutant Future too!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What would our lives be without them?

This post was prompted by earlier posts by Al and Zak on the subject of the gamer-friendly significant other. In my case, it's that of a gamer-friendly spouse.

I've been married for six years now, and despite the usual challenges faced by a struggling head of the family trying to make an honest living in a third world paradise, I can't say I'd have done otherwise if I had a chance to do it all again. Much of this springs from the fact that the wifey has always sought to understand her sanity-challenged spouse, and, in the event her attempts at understanding failed, learned to accept him for what he is. I could say that this has become our mutual default policy as regards one another, but the point I'm trying to make is that my wife has always sought to understand what this roleplaying-game-hobby-thing is and went on to be supportive of my quaint and oftentimes seemingly strange interests.

I can't say more than what Al has already put so eloquently - I've run through his list and yes, I consider myself so blessed that my wife displays the same level of throughtfulness and understanding as regards this gaming-hobby-thingie of mine. That, plus standing up to her in-laws who had, despite the passage of time, always maintained an attitude towards gaming adopted by the great unwashed masses of humanity- is somewhat over and above the call of duty. And I love her all the more for it.

I can't ask for more and I'll always be grateful. Seems like I did something right sometime, somewhere to deserve this.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mutations, mutations, mutations, mutations and even more mutations

One of the things that really attracted me (and continues to do so) to Mutant Future are the mutations. I adore tables and tables of mutations of all kinds. I guess character generation of mutants becomes a sort of 'game within a game' for me much like the character generation procedure was in the old classic Traveller rules.

I remember Jeff Rients' blogpost wherein I read of his experience in cobbling up pages and pages of mutations from all sorts of related games in his Mutant Future game thus allowing really off-the-wall mutants for his players. Jeff had a subtable connected to other mutation tables which empowered his players to come up with something even more than the original choices in the Mutant Future rules as written.

Needless to say this really captured my imagination as I firmly believe that you can't have too many random choices for your mutants (random choice being one of the strengths of the game in Mutant Future).

Doing the same thing with my available gaming materials, I drew up a list of possible sources for lists of mutational powers I plan to add to the existing ones in my ongoing game. These include the following:

1. Creatures of the Wasteland by Derek Holland and the Skirmisher Game Development Group

2. Gamma World rules, 1st edition

3. Metamorphosis Alpha rules, 1st edition

4. Assorted codices from the Warhammer 40k 3rd edition (including Witchunters, Daemonhunters, Marines and Imperial Guard) - for pysker powers

5. Fading Suns d20 Character Codex (mutations for the Changed, including such nasties like Caustic Puke)

6. Classic Traveller Book 3 (psionics)

7. Material from Warhammer's Slaves to Darkness

8. The Dead Earth player's book which literally has hundreds of mutations (which are quaintly termed as 'radiations')

9. Omegaworld by Jonathan Tweet, which appeared on Polyhedron Magazine issue 153

10. Dungeons and Dragons 1st edition Players Handbook (the appendix that deals with psionics)

I know this list is not exhaustive yet, but I've a feeling that with these additional choices of mutations, my upcoming games are going to be even more intersting in the coming days. I expect the mutants, both player generated and npc-ed to be even more wild, unpredictable and far out.

And who knows, maybe even more deadly as well.

I know exactly what you mean...

This post at The Fine Art of the TPK really got my attention. More importantly, it made me laugh - which is a good thing as it seems I can use more laughs in my life. I guess this post goes out to all Game Masters out there, whether you go by the name of Dungeon Master, Mutant Lord, Umpire, Referee, Mission Controller or some other esoteric monicker. Chances are, while you are in the midst of trying to put some sense into a brewing storm of chaos after your gameplan has (again) been torched by a rampaging band of never satisfied players, these thoughts (or something like them) may have crossed your mind at least once.

Now THAT is a Beholder

I just could not pass up this picture of a Beholder mini from Playing D&D With Porn Stars.

None of those slick but flawed attempts to make a bad-ass, game-balanced, encounter-level impaired two dimensional monster I've frankly grown so sick of in a new version of a game I always played. No.

This is a mini. Something tangible you can reach out and touch.

I love how the eyes pop out at you, and how critter's tongue sticks out from between its incisors - perhaps the last thing you'll see before it bites your head off.

And the eye stalks! No puny stalks here. No sir. They're thickly disgusting - like worms or maggots. Just like how they should really be!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Xps for game session dated 5th February 2010

Here are the xps the survivors of last Friday's game garnered: 1,587 pts for each surviving character. The two Rat troopers are now semi-willing henchmen of Shai the pure human strategos so they each get 1/2 share of a regular member of the adventuring party.

ML's note: xps seem to be flowing in fast, but considering the opposition, I'd say this is just about right.


I've just come up for air to post this short one. I'm happy to report our Friday Mutant Future session of 5 February was, as usual, fun and led to an unexpected turn of events. People came late and Max Plissken, Nikos' tech savvy pure human was killed in combat against Security Droids.

This should tide us over for sometime as we won't be gaming this Friday, the 12th.

I'll be posting an account soonest. I'm just getting spread a bit too thin these days between real life and other lives. That, and my $1,000+ worth of PDF books finally came in from my contribution to the Haiti Gamers' Relief through Drive Thru RPG. My eyes feel like they're going to flow down to my chin but I'm a happy camper.
Amongst the most useful items for me are the Mutant Future compatible Creatures of the Wasteland books which will see much use in the next few games coming up.

Have a good week everyone!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Exprience Points for the last game (29th January session)

This is a rundown of xps for all players for the game session of the 29th of January 2010. Each of the 11 surviving characters gets 2,567 experience points. This takes into account a Mutant Lord awarded bonus of 500 xp for the group for what I observed as excellent teamwork which led the group to survive the last battle without any fatalities. Good show guys!

We resume on Friday night, February 5, same time, same place.

Episode Nine (part two) - Thrilling Air Adventures

The group now finds themselves in a dilemma- their orders clearly stipulate that they are to defend the cave entrance at all costs. However, by the sound of it, the cave complex is already being infiltrated by the enemy. After a hurried conference, it is a agreed that everyone is to take up defensive positions nearer to the cave entrance, while Ratchet, Mirage and Max climb down into the Mine to conduct recon.

By now, Putanesca and Kyoshi join the party from the Air Boat hangar and confirm that the Rats appear to bent on abandoning the place.

As everyone crouches down with their weapons trained down the bloody trail, a shadow passes them swiftly, accompanied by a thrumming mechanical sound. They look up and catch a glimpse of a large contrivance cobbled together with string and canvas over a stretched frame. It is a two or three winged aircraft with a large rotating propeller in front. They clearly see the leonine mutant pilot hunched over the cockpit, in his furred leather helmet and flyer’s goggles. The craft swiftly rises and disappears far behind the cliff above. From afar, there is a sound of a machinegun being fired repeatedly.

Max and the two Androids rappel down the shaft and find themselves in a familiar stone chamber with a steaming pool of water – the same place where the Mutant Puccini met his untimely and gruesome demise from the Brain Lashers HERE. The place is littered with corpses of Rats and all manner of discarded gear. Echoes of gunfire and the sounds of combat reverberate from further down the tunnels. If anything, they seem to be getting louder.

The Androids anxiously rush to the erstwhile central chamber where their former masters, the Brain Lashers, set up their command center. They find the place a mess. Scattered equipment and garbage are scattered everywhere. Ratchet arrives at the inner sanctum where the Regen Chamber HERE was left behind by the group after taking down all the Brain Lashers. Alas, it is but a pile of spare parts, having been gutted and cannibalized by Ratsputin and his ilk. Making the best out of a pointless situation, the Androids fill their packs with useable parts and technological odds and ends. Being natural tinkerers, they reason that these spare parts may always be worth their weight in gold when the time comes.

Max alerts them to ever-nearing sounds of approach of the feline mutants. The Cats are using grenades and automatic fire to clear the outer chambers of the Mine and are getting dangerously closer by the minute. Together, Max and the Androids climb back up to the cave entrance. The party then agrees to make for Ratsputin’s Air Boat.

They make it to the Air Boat seemingly with only minutes to spare, as the metallic saucer-like craft is rising from the ground with a thrumming sound. Putanesca leaps into the closing hatch and finds Ratsputin frantically engaging the controls, attended by two of the sorriest looking Rats in his force. She screams for him to hover, and Rasputin, after momentarily fixing her with a calculating gaze, halts the Boat’s ascent. Putanesca uses her Chameleon Metamorph mutation and takes on the shape of a large resilient stringbean (!) thereby providing the party with a rope-like ladder of sorts to gain entrance to the rising craft.

The Air-Boat rises above the crater lips of the mountaintop and zooms off into bloody redness of the setting sun.

They are cramped and crowded within the Boat’s confines and all they could do is look out the many windows along with craft’s sides. There does not appear to be any exists as the hatch they entered through has blended seamlessly to the wall. Below, they see the mountain receding in the distance. The lesser Azure river is evident, as is Krat’s floating fortress, Cat-tamaran, still pounding away at the Mine, with its armed complement of Cats doubtlessly mopping up the remaining Rat resistance.
Kyoshi could not resist watching Ratsputin deftly manipulate the controls on the craft’s dashboard using his long sinewy fingers and pink, ribbed tail as well. Without warning he leaps atop the dashboard pulling a lever here and pushing a button there.

“Watch it!” squeaks Ratsputin, but it is too late. There is a muffled bang within the craft, followed by disturbing groan amidst the hum of its drives. Then, Ratsputin has all he can handle, trying to right the bucking craft, all the while aiming curses and invectives at the diminutive mutant. With difficulty, the Tech-Rat manages to right the bucking craft and fly it straight on.

Link Seyz is the first to see the ominous approaching shapes from the aft porthole.
What appear to be blips from afar resolve themselves as attacking biplanes. Four of them, in V formation bearing the sigil of Captain Krat are gaining on the Air Boat. Ratsputin sees this and once more cursing vehemently, struggles to get the Boat to speed up even faster. Unfortunately, it is apparent that planes are gaining fast.
Mirage sees what look like orbs of flame shoot from the planes racing almost lazily towards the Boat. Then, there is a thump and another ominous mechanical groan as the orb makes contact with the Boat’s hull.

ML's note: This scene is another attempt on my part to up the Kirby-esque-ness of the game. In case you're wondering, the nearby panel is from Kamandi issue no. 7 which features Mutant feline pilots in biplanes. I left out King Kong this time, but I found the idea of Lion pilots too precious to resist!

“Tracers!”, screams Max. “Everyone get down!”

Everyone is thrown about haphazardly as Ratsputin puts the Boat through desperate aerobatics to escape the planes’ fire. They hear the staccato sound of machinegun fire through the Boat’s hull, but the planes outpace them. Like blood-mad sharks, the Lion pilots circle the stricken Air Boat. They feel the Boat losing altitude.
Up front, there is a muffled hiss and Ratsputin’s pilot seat is encased in a web of resilient film. He violently tugs a nearby switch and then both Rat pilot and seat disappear through a deck hatch which irises shut.

“Damn,” curses Max. “The Rat ratted out on us”.

Kyoshi and Ratchet take the controls and through combination of skill and not an insignificant measure of luck, manage to bring the stricken craft under control. As it descends, the Lions break off their attack, with the last one doing a final pass. Putanesca and Link Seyz see the feline pilot momentarily alongside the Boat giving them the finger as a final parting gesture.

ML’s note: Or should I say ‘the paw’ instead of ‘the finger’? We never really figured that one out.

Down below, they see what looks like a vast expanse of desert rolling beneath the Boat. At the western horizon is an expanse of green and what appears to be water, but their Boat doesn’t look like it will make it that far. Orua sees some sandy mountains below them, with gleaming metallic objects on the summits. The craft is put down nearby. To their surprise, it lands itself gently without any mishap.

Stepping out, they are struck by a wash of desert heat and the ever-present smell of sulfur-like sand. Indeed, in the distance to the south is a gleaming topped hill standing out amongst the giant sand dunes marching wave-like in the desert. Orua looks fascinated as it catches the crimson glow of the setting sun.

Evening comes and the party makes camp in the rising wind of the desert. Everywhere, the sand is granular and metallic, making a distinctive crunching sound when walked upon. Shai takes stock of their existing supplies and commandeers the two remaining and demoralized Rats.

In the meantime, Kyoshi and Max have been busy discussing how to return Link Seyz, to his “natural” synthetic state, having convinced themselves that their sentient constructed companion is suffering from delusions that he is human. They hit upon a plan and immediately endeavor to carry it out. Max takes Link Seyz aside and repeatedly warns him that “everything Kyoshi says is a lie”. Immediately, Kyoshi sidles up to Link Seyz and earnestly attempts to convince him that he, Link Seyz, is human. They keep this up without let up, and Link Seyz eventually feels he is losing his mind.

ML’s note: It seems both Nikos and Matt are at it again, in their attempts to play mind games with their Android friend. The session now revolved on a lot of role-playing and tech rolls – all of which were improvised. This was never really touched on in the rules, but it seems that all these attempts to re-boot their fellow Android is taking the game to places I never figured it would go….

As Aleph, the silver moon rises in the skies of Cygnet Delta, Link Seyz feels likes his head is going to burst. He is palpitating, he can’t breathe. To make matters worse, certain words of power are being called out by his companions sibilantly and continuously. Eventually, the camp is shaken by Link Seyz primal shriek as the he collapses bonelessly to the sand. He is turned over to Mirage and Ratchet, the Android techs who appear to know what to do to restore their shut-down brother to his former operative condition.

In the glow of a campfire, the group has a peaceful meal – the first one for the entire day of slaughter. Link Seyz is still inoperative – lying still like a human in a coma. Mirage and Ratchet are attending to him while the others take stock of their provisions. Shai says they have three days of food and water.

It is then that they notice Orua is missing. A hurried search fails to turn up the young human. All they find are her footprints – leading away from camp and heading out in the distance. It seems Orua has headed out towards the sandy dune-like hill in the distance.

The one with a metallic top gleaming in the pale silver light of Aleph.