Friday, November 23, 2007

It's Cthulhutastic

Every year on Hallowe'en, I run a one-night game of Call of Cthulhu; this has been going on for about 5 years, and attendence varies from 2 - 8 people. I pull out the folder of characters who've been killed in other adventures over my GMing career, and since it's Hallowe'en, the dead can walk again (ie, players can play any dead character they fancy for the evening.) Some years it's been great, some years it's been kind of chaotic and ridiculous. (MORE ridiculous than my usual Cthulhu games. I just don't get how anyone could take this game too seriously...)

Ordinarily I think of myself as a GM who requires a very precise script--my improvisation skills are considerable, but I'm not good at developing what I'd consider a really worthwhile plot from scratch. I'd rather riff off someone else's ideas. But the problem is, there's a limited number of good published adventures for the game which can be run in a single 3-4 hour session. This year I was expecting a small crowd, and decided to leap into the unknown and run a session based solely on a single paragraph written during my lunch break at work, as follows:

Where: train.
Who: Dr. Langstrom, mad scientist, has developed zombie midgets a purple blob that eats people.
The monster 1) eats people. 2) zaps people with electricity. 3) makes the lights in the train car go off when it enters. 4) leaves a trail of purple ooze 5) travels almost undetectably on the roofs of train cars.
Others on train include: Mr and Mrs. Thorn, an arguing married couple; Mr. Morton, a dull guy reading a newspaper; Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny, 4 kids on their way to boarding school; Larry the conductor and Porgy the porter.

That was it, no stats, no complex plot other than that the monster is brought to life in Dr. Langstrom's luggage by a lightning strike on the baggage car. Now, here is the shocking (ahem) part--this was arguably one of the best Hallowe'en game sessions I've ever run. Probably this was partly due to the limited # of players, but also partly due to the fact that I didn't have to spend forever trying to keep them on track. (Dammit, another unintended pun!) I set up a closed environment--the train--and a finite set of people they could talk to and things they could do, and then I let them run the adventure completely. I'd envisioned all 4 of the children being eaten right off the bat, as sort of an appetizer course for the monster, but this didn't happen at all. Poor Harry was the inciting incident to get things rolling, but the other three were fiercely protected by Player #1, who spent considerable time trying to draw out of the children more information about "He Who Is Not To Be Named," who one of them mentioned in a random aside early in the game. Of course, this had nothing to do with anything, but it was funny watching Player #1 try in-game to find out Harry's Big Secret. Player #2's big moment came when he climbed up to the roof of the train to check on Porgy the Porter--like all 1920's NPC's, a horrible ethnic stereotype--and found Porgy valiently fighting off a giant sanity-shattering purple blob of goo. "I'll save you!" shouts Player #2, and then proceeds to accidentally shoot Porgy instead, killing him instantly. Player #2 was genuinely horrified, but recovered sufficiently enough to come back down the ladder and tell his fellow heroes, "The monster got him, it was terrible."

This makes me think that despite my love of having everything written down for me in an intricate and complex manner, it's entirely possible for my players (and me!) to have fun without worrying about whether the physics of the monster's powers make sense, or exactly what is contained in every single passenger's luggage in case the players decide to toss the baggage car. This is both liberating and scary for me as a GM, and I think my skills will improve as a result of this little adventure...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fastest Hunk of Junk in the Galaxy

Just a few helpful tips, for those who might find themselves in a similar situation. First, Kenner plastic holds up amazingly well over time. Seriously, there's hardly any true discoloration to 99% of my collection; I'll chronicle the exceptions later, but for now, let me say that the Falcon is still in awesome shape.

However, being in my parents' garage for about 10 years did take a certain toll on the old girl. I would have loved to have seen the mice nesting over by the radar dish and in her cockpit, because I'm sure it was cute as hell--seriously, the seats are just the right size! But let's not kid ourselves, they're filthy little beasts. So the first step was to get the traces of mildew and mouse residue off the outer hull. This proved to not be so terrible; Lysol Anti-Bacterial Kitchen cleaner, a soft toothbrush, and moist paper towels were all the tools needed. The decals are an issue of course, but much like the plastic, they are tougher than I might have imagined. I wouldn't recommmend soaking them with the cleaner, but gently scrubbing them with a moist brush didn't take them off, and any peeling should be easily fixable with Elmers. The blessing and curse to these Kenner toys is that they have a tremendous amount of surface detail--the whole ship is a maze of crevices, doodads, and little projections which all add to the ship's versimilitude but are a bitch to clean. Still, with patience it can be done. In the next installment, we'll have a look at the finished product, and move on to Chapter Two in I Refuse to Let Go of My Childhood.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gen Con 07 Come and Gone

I've been going to GenCon since around 1994 or so. For the first 8 years of going, I'd toil my way up to Milwaukee with my "retailer" badge in hand, arrive at the con with a driving-induced migraine, stay one or two nights at the cheapest motel I could find, eat at Karl Ratzche's, look at all the new stuff my customers would be demanding in the coming months, and then head back home, exhausted but feeling very professional. One year I went with my then-boyfriend; we went on impulse, and hadn't reserved a hotel room. Tried to drive back the same night, and realized we were risking death around 11 pm, only to find that all the hotels in eastern Wisconsin were booked due to some boat and travel show that same weekend. We ended up in a seedy Bates-motel clone in Racine, which was not exactly conducive to romance; we broke up not long after, but remain friends. A number of years later, I went with my then-girlfriend, who completely won my heart by not only allowing, but ENCOURAGING me to stop at the "Mars Cheese Castle" on the way home. (It was not, alas, an actual castle made of cheese.) The year after that, we'd broken up and I ran into her and her new boyfriend on the dealer floor, which prompted an emotional crisis of epic proportions, by my standards. Still, I weathered it, and kept going to Gencon. The first guy I ever really dated styles himself as the "Keeper of Ancient Gencon Lore;" he was a guest of honor this year, which goes to show you that if you carve your niche with a deep enough chisel, eventually people will sit up and take notice. He introduced me to the mystique of GenCon back in 1987 with tales of the SafeHouse and Cthulhu for president rallies. Needless to say, I'm always predisposed to like GenCon.

Now, all that said, I must say that this year had some great stuff, and some less great stuff than my usual experience. It certainly beat the hell out of the past two years in which I worked at the Croc Booth for 8+ hours each day from Weds - Sunday. I love Croc, and I love working in their booth, and yet it's so exhausting to be "on" for the entirety of the Dealer Room hours that I ended up not enjoying anything about the con even after it closed down. So in a nutshell, here's the cool stuff about this year's Gencon:
1) Working at the Croc booth for less! I still got to see some of our far-flung staff and fans, and that was awesome--yet so much less stressful than last year.
2) Getting a chance to actually do some of the puzzles; I loved the puzzle hunt 3 years ago, and then once I started working for Croc it was all over. This year I got to do about 8 of them, not as many as I'dve liked, but still fun and was joined variously by Andy, Karen, Martin, Michelle, Carl, and Rat Girl.
3) Jane, Steve and Joe coming to the con for the day. I gather it was not entirely what they'd expected, :) but I'm glad they came and it was great to see them, as well as Rob and Ian at dinner on Saturday.
4) True Dungeon, while disappointing in the final two rooms, was still a lot of fun and had corrected some of the annoying things from the last couple years. It's like they fix the things that bug me, but come up with new annoying things each year to make up for it. (Basically, we had a bitchy GM in room 7 who told us not to touch any of the props on pain of death--despite the fact that we were one of the very last groups to go through all weekend so it shouldn't have mattered much--and of course the only way to solve the puzzle was to handle the props. I'm planning on complaining about her. And then the final room puzzle was just dumb, too many red herrings and then the solution was way stupid. But overall still a lot of fun to do.)
5) LARPing with Rat Girl and her sister; we did one Firefly LARP which was fun--Andy was at that one too, I had minor complaints about it but it was overall fun--and then a 7th Sea pirate LARP which was way too crowded and complicated, but entertaining for a while. I like LARPing at cons just fine, but next year I may do Nascrag instead.
6) I did NOT spend an asston of money this year! Last year I bought a bunch of stuff, and traded Croc minis for even more stuff (wooo! boffer weapons!!) but this year I bought the Cthulhu movie, a Cthulhu book, a couple of dice, and a t-shirt. Hooray for getting off easy! (relative to my usual loot aquisition, that is.)
So, overall a good con, and I'm already looking forward to next year!

Monday, October 03, 2005

My Big Fat Nerd Posting
Or, "Why it should have been Zoe instead..."

OK, yes, Serenity was awesome. Yes yes yes. I was totally 100% happy with it--except. The big except. The huge, I-knew-about-it-thanks-to-a-spoiler-but-still-couldn't-believe-it-was-gonna-happen except. Ah, Alan Tudyk... we barely knew ye.

Now, far be it from me to say that beloved characters shouldn't die. I'm a role-playing nerd, after all, and characters in my stories die all the time (frequently in ignominious ways) and it often makes a story better or more compelling. But I was still disappointed to see Wash die, for a number of reasons that I think were fairly rational. Not wanting to subject any readers of my main blog to these arguments, I hash them out here instead.
1. Alan Tudyk is totally hot. Oh, wait, no--that's not rational. Well, it IS, but it's not an argument against killing Wash, for the simple reason that EVERYONE on Firefly is totally hot. Seriously. I've never seen a show with so many attractive people in one place. So kill anyone, you kill a hottie. They're off the hook for that one. But moving on...
2. Wash has characteristics unduplicated by other members of the crew. He fills the role of the normal guy, the guy who doesn't enjoy fighting, who finds the life of crime they lead unnerving, and who is always the one to speak up and say "could we maybe try a solution that doesn't involve killing people, for once?" If we presume that the intention is to continue the Firefly franchise (either in movies or another series) then the subtraction of Wash leaves a gaping hole in the personality grid. Obviously, if this is the end of it, then it's no harm, no foul. But Firefly without the Wash element will seem a little lopsided in favor of the killing trio (Mal, Jayne, and Zoe.) Inara and Simon remain as outsiders, without a full "vote" at the crew table; and Kaylee isn't usually one to argue with the captain. This is why I called this the "It should have been Zoe" post. In the grand scheme of things, Zoe is more disposable than Wash. Don't get me wrong--I love Gina Torres, I loved her on Xena and I love her in this. She's funny, she's sexy, and she's a joy to watch. But at the most basic level, Zoe is a badass with a gun; so is Mal, and so is Jayne. And River is a badass without a gun. The ship is awash in badasses. Losing Zoe wouldn't affect the cast dynamic in a significant way; however, it would create an opportunity for further character development between Mal and Wash. Her captain and her husband--who mourns her more? Who deserves to? Plus, it might have been far more compelling to see Wash going ballistic during the reaver attack--the peacenik goes postal. Zoe's revenge moment frankly looked a lot like Zoe in every other battle. I would miss Zoe as a character; but I will miss Wash as an archetype.
3. Goddamn it, why is it so hard to have a good and believable married couple on a sci-fi show? Seriously. I loved that we had here a couple who were crazy about each other, had great on-screen chemistry, and *gasp!* they were actually married. It strikes me this doesn't happen all that often; apparently people don't marry in space. Or rather, they seldom start out married--couples that evolve during the course of a show may get hitched, but seems to me that you seldom get a character whose initial status is "happily married." Of course, if they'd killed Zoe I'd still be nursing this grudge for the loss of a good screen couple.... But still, that was one of my first reactions. Marriage is dangerous.

I wasn't bothered quite so much by the loss of Shepherd Book. I'll miss Ron Glass, of course--I was a Barney Miller fan, way back when, and I was totally thrilled to see Detective Harris on Firefly. But while I'm disappointed we'll never see the backstory for his character (and I feel certain that would have emerged, on the seasons-that-never-were--thanks again, Fox TV) the death was appropriate to the moment, it was well played, and it cemented our hatred for the Operative dude (who by the way has an amazing voice. like velvet. but evil velvet.) So, to sum up--I loved it. I even saw it twice, full price, during opening weekend (and I don't think I can say that about any other film, even the original star wars trilogy.) It was fantastic, I laughed, I cried, it was better than "Cats." But I do still wish Wash hadn't died. Sniff.

Saturday, November 20, 2004


I won, I won, Neener neener neener!!

Ahem. I won the 7th Annual Formula De tourney this year, and I couldn't be happier! It's also National Games Week 2004, an event worth celebrating no matter who you are. Dave got us signed up as an official NGW event, so all of us who played are eligible for some pretty amazingly nerdy prizes (a set of polyhedrals made out of fossilized mammoth bone--how cool is THAT??) I've posted a vast number of photos of the event on my Flikr account, and will be putting a brief blurb on my main blog... but for the board game nerds I know, I'm doing this more detailed post in case anyone wants to know how this amazing event works each year.

First off, Formula De is a racecar themed board game. However, it has a phenominal game mechanic that makes it one of the most exciting combinations of strategy and luck I've ever played. I won't go into the rules here, you can go to Boardgamegeek if you want to know exactly how it's played. But basically, each player has a car, you start in staggered positions on the track like a real race, and on the turns, you have to stop your car "in the turn" a certain number of times depending on how tight the turn is. You roll different dice depending on what gear you're in; the higher the gear, the bigger #'s you'll roll, but the more likely you are to blow through a turn, which may damage or wreck your car.

To establish pole position at our yearly tournament, each year Dave and Stephen will design a Pre-Game Game to sort out who's first. One year it involved steering a remote control boat around an obstacle course in Stephen and Francie's pool. Last year it was blowgun darts at a target.... This year, we played speed rounds of another race car game called Caribande, where you flick little wooden disks around a slick wood track. To add to the silliness, we had to wear huge "safety goggles" while doing so. (pictures of that on flikr.) Naturally, I placed second-to-last. But it doesn't matter, we change places rapidly during the main tourney.

For the first few years we played full laps of Formula De; however, this made the tournament take ALL DAY. The mechanic we've used for the last three years is, I think, excellent. We set up multiple boards, 4 players per board. We then play randomly timed races, anywhere from 2 minutes to 15 minutes in length--the times are drawn out of a bag, and only the person in last place (who sets the timer) knows how long this particular round will be. Everyone else is clueless. So players 1-4 are on board 1, 5-8 on board 2, and so on. When the timer goes off, whoever's in first and second on each board moves "up" onto the next higher board; the two in third and fourth move "down" to the next lower board. (We only had three boards going today with 11 players, so the Last Place board only had 3 people on it.) Obviously, the two winners on board #1 get to stay put, and the loser on the Last Place board stays there for the next round. Ordinarily, when you play Formula De you try hard to keep your car in good shape--not burning too many tires or brakes in the early turns, because you might need them later as you're coming up to the finish line. But in this speed tournament version, it's pretty tempting to just blow all your points to grab the lead when you can, because you never know when the timer might go off!

As I said, I started #10 of a field of 11. I moved up to board 2 pretty quickly, and hovered between board #2 and #1 for most of the tourney, moving up and back....finally we were on the last timed round, I was in the lead on board #2--hoping to move up to board #1 for the Final Non-Timed Full Lap Round, so that I'd be eligable for the first place trophy. But ALAS! I overshot a turn, blew out all my tires and spun out (ie, had to stop cold.) Everyone else caught up, and the next die roll would take Dave past me--and the timer went off. Amazing. I won despite my car being completely stalled--saved by the bell! Dave and I moved up to fight with Ryan and Donna for Places 1-4. I quickly fell into last place and stayed there as Dave and Ryan got about 2 turns ahead of me, Donna at least 1... so I concentrated my efforts on catching up to Donna and placing third. I just barely caught her on the last turn, and thought woo hoo! Third! If she doesn't pass me! I hadn't really been paying attention to Dave and Ryan's moves at this point. That is, until Stephen (whose game was over at this stage) pointed out that both of them had been forced to downshift into 2nd and 3rd gear on the final turn to not wipe out. Since my car was still in perfect shape due to my poor rolls and conservative play, I was cruising in 4th gear, and only a few spaces behind them. I sped through the last turn, burning all my extra tires and brakes to pull into first; I immediately got to go again, since the turn order goes in order of position. Shifted up into 5th, zoomed toward the finish line with them trailing....Shifted up into 6th for good measure and BLEW THROUGH TO THE WIN!!! From 4th to 1st in two turns! What an awesome game. Never give up, that's the moral. Wowee. Well, check out my photos--no pic of me with the trophy, the one on my camera is a pretty bad photo so I'm waiting for one from Stephen to post. Woop woop woop!

Monday, August 23, 2004


A rundown of the gaming orgy that is Gencon. Last year I was a little lukewarm on it being in my hometown instead of in Milwaukee.... But now, I'm a convert. Indy has better parking, better hotelage (not that I need it anymore, which is also good), and--with the exception of Karl Ratzches, a fabulous German restaurant in downtown Milwaukee where I couldn't have afforded to eat this year anyway--better food. And a mall that's open after 5. And a convention center whose geography is not that of an underground alien city from another dimension. I'm sorry, but I could never find my way around in MECCA. So yeah. Gencon Indy Good.

If you've never been to Gencon, you may think to yourself, what's it like to be at the world's biggest gaming event? The answer: kinda horrifying. If you think, "geez, I hate all those gamer stereotypes of the fat unwashed nerd in his mom's basement rolling dice and eating ho-hos while babbling on about his 103rd level paladin....Gencon will be a gathering of people like ME, intelligent and well-educated gamers who eat right, exercise, and spend time outdoors in the fresh air on a regular basis!" then you are in for a rude shock. Sure, thousands of those folks are there--but so are thousands upon thousands of men and women who live the stereotype. I'm not saying they're bad people, or that they shouldn't live their lives and do their hobbies in whatever way floats their boat.... I'm just sayin' that any convention where they include a note in the registration packet reminding attendees that showering and deodorant are both good ideas is a convention I'm always going to have slightly mixed feelings about going to.

Thursday played Cthulhu in Alex's hotel room with Alex, Gareth, Philip, Keely, and Sally. Friday solved puzzles and played TrueDungeon, more at length on that later. Saturday did the dealer room and solved puzzles. Saturday night was the Cthulhu for President rally and human sacrifice, followed by the Crocodile Games Gencon party at a local goth dance club. Sunday was a final lap around the dealer room, and the reveal for True Dungeon, which made me like it better. I bought way too many minis and spent way too much cash. And that's all for now. More on TD later.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Game Wish, Numero 84

Ginger's askin', so I'm answerin'.
What five games would you love to run/play if you had a willing group and a weekly time slot?
1. Nephilim
2. Brave New World
3. 7th Sea
4. Pendragon
5. Shadowrun.
I'm assuming, of course, that we mean stuff we're not already playing, such as RQ and CoC. (It's like I already got my wish...awww....) But I'd love to play in or run Nephilim. I still want to run my LARP version of Nephilim, but the problem is that it's a very time-intensive game for the GM, because the storyline is necessarily so complex. BNW is like my dream Superhero game, combining elements both of Silver Age DC comics and the angst-ridden 1960's genre of Marvel. I own it, own several of the sourcebooks, but don't have the time to learn the system and no one else i know wants to run it. 7th Sea actually IS going on weekly here with my northside group, but I have a class Tuesdays now and so am missing it. Its cinematic possibilities are limitless. Pendragon has such a cool cool character development system that I've always wanted to play a long term campaign of it, but again--I'd have to run it, and don't have time to devote to the development of a campaign. Shadowrun has always been a love of mine, despite the system holes, and I would desperately love for someone (not me) to an SR campaign with the rules tweaked for playability. I tried to run it myself when 3rd ed. came out, and it was just nightmarish for me... I want someone else to do it for me. So yes, please, I'll take them all....