Bill Heron: Gaming in Edinburgh and other RPG stuff
  
  
  
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Marvel Super Heroes

RPG retrospective 2012 – Edinburgh Gaming

In what’s become something of an annual tradition, I’m taking a look back over the year in a RPG retrospective. By that, I mean to talk about stuff that happened over the last year in various RPGs I’ve been involved with over the year. And events at ORC Edinburgh of course.

I’ve had little chance to do much PC or Xbox gaming this year, although I loved the free mod of Half Life‘s Black Mesa (which has a cracking remixed soundtrack for free too) and played through it. It recreates the original Half Life game but with new graphics, audio and game-play. Worth a look – the next part Xen will be worth the wait I reckon. Still no news on Half Life 2: Episode 3 either. I’ve also backed the Elite: Dangerous Kickstarter (see below), because I loved that game so much on the BBC micro (and, yes, I did reach Elite status).

Edinburgh’s tabletop gaming scene got itself a new venue in August – the Edinburgh Games Hub. Their Tollcross basement has become something of a Mecca to all kinds of tabletop gamers – CCGs, boardgames, war-games and of course RPGs. I myself can be found there on Thursday nights, continuing the adventures of Diogenes “Basilisk” Valexos in our Rogue Trader RPG. I’d have provided a link but their website has been hacked and shows no sign of getting fixed any time soon, but you can find them on FB at https://en-gb.facebook.com/GamesHubEdinburgh. They also have a boardgames and miniatures shop in the basement, 6S2Hit.

As well as Rogue Trader, which I didn’t make it to half as often as I would have liked, we started the year off playing on the Dresden Files RPG on Wednesday nights, followed by the Pathfinder (Isador) game. My workload hit nightmare levels though and I was forced to drop the Wednesday night games.

Yet again, I didn’t make it to Conpulsion, the Edinburgh RPG convention run by Edinburgh Uni’s RPG club, GEAS. I really must try and make it there. I’m considering running my eBranch game there as a one-off next year. It uses the Call of Cthulhu rules, and features physic spies and Brian Lumley’s Wamphyri vampires. It is set in the New Forest, close to Southampton where I was born.

ORC Edinburgh – RPG Retrospective

No RPG Retrospective would be complete without me mentioning ORC – Edinburgh’s Open Roleplaying Community. ORC Edinburgh saw many new faces and also a number of new games, and we had a lot of fun at the pub meets throughout the year. This gave us a chance for many of the community to socialize outside of scheduled games and actually lead to the creation of at least one group. However, the last one wasn’t quite so well attended and the venue let us down somewhat.We’ll need to think about an alternative next time.

We definitely need more GMs at ORC – we had games running at the Meadow Bar, the Games Hub, Illegal Jacks and also Cafe Renroc. Unfortunately these were often on the same day – many of our GMs are also players too, but some of us (like me) rarely get the chance to play. This is partially my choice, but some of the other GMs would love a chance to kick back and let someone else do the work (and so would I really). And of course anyone wishing to try their hand at GMing should feel free to do so.

Call of Cthulhu was definitely popular this year at ORC. We had two home-brew campaigns running (and one still is) and the also Cubicle 7’s Shadows of Scotland campaign – which was over-subscribed at one point! I’d thought about running my Arunstoun setting, but didn’t need to in the end. It did feature in Cthulhutech though! I considered running Masks of Nyarlathotep, but it has significant flaws and pretty much suffers what I call Cthulhu Syndrome where the PCs get drawn to a remote location for a minor reason and the players just know the Mythos is involved.

I put my Cthulhutech game, Through the Looking Glass, on hiatus (to give me a break really). The Dark Edinburgh setting really worked and I’ve been looking forward to getting my mitts on the new Burning Horizons supplement. With Pacific Rim out in 2013 (Guillermo del Toro‘s new movie featuring giant robots – mechs or mecha), I can see there being a few mecha-based games turning up in the future (Cthulhutech or otherwise). Wildfire, the makers of Cthulhutech have had a bad year with distributors so I hope things pick up for them in 2013!

Pathfinder was also popular this year at ORC and continues to be a successor to D&D. The campaign paths of Jade Regent, Raging Swan, Carrion Crown, and Kingmaker all put in an appearance, along with Dee’s Critical Missions home-brew. Nuno’s Shapes of Grey home-brew setting returned in Pathfinder form too. For those of us looking for an alternative to 4th Ed. D&D, Pathfinder provided the necessary fixes it seemed.

This naturally brings me to 4th edition D&D (4e). Oft-requested by players, yet only a handful of people were willing to run games. I’m not going to go in a debate about the version wars, as I’ve posted about that elsewhere. EmbraCraig continues to run Perils of the Nentir Vale at the Games Hub fortnightly, but Jill has wrapped up her War of the Burning Sky game. Radonir’s Scales of War continues to run, although he had some early recruitment problems with players.

At ORC, I began running the WFRP Enemy Within Campaign. As campaigns go, its tough to beat – there’s a lot of background info, not fluff for once, and I’m enjoying running it immensely. I’ve a good bunch of players to work with too, most of whom are enjoying themselves immensely I hope. I started recording the sessions but they’re such a large size that I’ll need to work on compressing them down to a manageable size.

However, my biggest disappointment of the year was Marvel Super Heroes (the original set from the 80s). We had a full session of character generation, but a third of the group then dropped out. As a result I (somewhat petulantly, I admit) decided to cancel the game in its entirety. I’d planned to run the Nightmares of Futures Past storyline, having fond memories of when we played it back in the late ’80s.

We even had a game of Vampire: The Masquerade scheduled to run at ORC at one point. For one session. Then the GM involved disappeared. VtM is one of those games that seems to be something of a Macbeth for ORC RPGers! Every time someone mentions they want to run it something happens, and the game only lasts a few sessions. Many of hose who liked the original VtM have now moved onto the Embraced and Isle of Darkness LARPS (I’d never be able to suspend my sense of disbelief for LARPS – I’d continually have to bite my tongue). I’ll possibly be running Werewolf: the Apocalypse in the future so who knows? Maybe we will get a proper Vampire campaign at ORC too!

And of course there’s D&Dnext, the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons RPG. Surprisingly there’s not been much interest in the Playtest packs at ORC. I think that everyone has largely adopted a wait-and-see attitude, possibly brought on by the whole 4e debacle. There’s a couple of games going on, but no one is seriously participating right now.

We also ran a few pub meets that I’ve mentioned  elsewhere – these have rapidly proved to be a great way to meet other players in a non-RPG setting. So that’s the year at ORC really. Here’s to another year of great RPGs there!

Kickstarter

2012 for me was the “Year of the Kickstarter”, or more likely “Year of the Stretch Goal”. Also “Year of the Stretched Bank account”. I backed a number of Kickstarter campaigns, some of which are still ongoing.

So that’s it. My RPG Retrospective. Sorry if I rambled on a bit, but it has been quite a year. Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year!

Gaming in Edinburgh – July 2012

Well, its been a while since I’ve blogged anything, but that’s largely because I’ve been so busy! These “Gaming in Edinburgh” posts I do are obviously largely geared toward events at http://orcedinburgh.co.uk, but I try to keep things up to date where possible in regard to gaming in Edinburgh generally.

I’m working on a few things right now, and I’m planning to wind up Cthulhutech soon for the summer. Possibly a D&D 5e playtest when the Meadow Bar returns. I might even get in some wh40k wargaming if the weather stays the way it is, and the new edition is worth me picking up. I’m also prepping another article on using video-conferencing technology. I figured I could get some use from my HND in Audio-Visual Technology :)!

At ORC right now, we’re got a few games looking for players:

  • Matt’s looking for players for Cyberpunk 2020.
  • Nuno is looking for players for his Shapes of Grey Pathfinder game too.
  • I’m looking for another player for my Cthulhutech game set in Edinburgh, and I’m also looking for some more players for Marvel Super Heroes.
  • Oh, and we’re having a birthday bash for ORC Edinburgh on 7th July at The Advocate pub. Seating may be limited, but its usually good fun and a chance to talk to folk outside of a game.

Other stuff going on

There’s a new gaming venue opening in Edinburgh on the 3rd August: The Games Hub Edinburgh (https://www.facebook.com/GamesHubEdinburgh). Based in Lauriston (close to Tollcross, for those unfamiliar with the location), this cafe is going to host a number of board games, CCGS and RPGs once it has opened. The owner is a former staff member from Edinburgh’s Black Lion Games, so he’s pretty familiar to most of Edinburgh’s gamers!

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with this cafe, as it opens the same month that the Meadow Bar usually becomes a venue for the Festival. This usually displaces a couple of ORC games as a result, including mine. I usually make use of the time to catch up on some projects that I might have put to one side

Oh yeah, and the Edinburgh Festival will kick off soon, with the Fringe starting not long after it. This will likely mean that any games at the Meadow Bar will decamp elsewhere for August, although Illegal Jacks will likely still remain active as an ORC venue.

Marvel Super Heroes RPG – Vegas, baby!

The recent superhero movies got me fired up to try running a Marvel Super Heroes game. Years ago, I participated in the Nightmares of Futures Past series of modules for the MARVEL SUPER HEROES RPG, referred to now as the Classic Marvel Roleplaying game. The game (both the Basic and Advanced set) was originally produced in the mid-1980s, so the artwork looks a little dated (being from the comics of that era) and pre-dates movies like the X-Men series. TSR (later Wizards of the Coast) lost the Marvel license in later years, and Marvel now license their IP to Margaret Weis productions, in the form of the [amazon asin=1936685167&text= Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game].

I’m quite fond of the original Marvel Super Heroes RPG. Although there are (and were) other RPGs such as MUTANTS & MASTERMINDS and DC HEROES, I’ve always liked how the MSH RPG worked. The ruleset is an interesting one, often referred to as the FASERIP system. It is based upon seven basic percentile-based stats: Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Reason, Intuition, and Psyche (abbreviated to FASERIP, hence the name). Depending on the superhero’s type (which can include undead, angels or demons, minerals, pure energy, as well as the more familiar mutants and robots), stats and their Powers range from Feeble (1) to Unearthly (100). These ranks cover everything else including things like wealth and other assets (Resources). For example Iron Man has Excellent (EX 16) Resources as the millionaire playboy Tony Stark; Spider Man (Peter Parker) struggles with Poor (PR 3) resources as an impoverished Grad student.

Rather than go for the current vogue in assigning points to stats, I decided to go for a completely random approach towards the stat generation  and powers, as featured in the book. I also chose to use the Ultimate Powers book which provides a huge variety of powers for players, as well as adding a variety of origins to the basic builds. I got the players to roll up their stats then gave them the opportunity to re-roll their stats or their origin. Character generation is quite involved but it makes for some very interesting characters once completed. I basically set aside an afternoon at ORC to generate the PCs, which was just as well.

I find that building PCs in a group is a lot more fun than individually: we were all sitting down, bouncing ideas off each other, and it became far more of a social activity. We came up with some good ideas and I think some of the newer and/or quieter players gained some confidence as well. The FASERIP system is actually not too complicated but it can have a few concepts that are a little challenging to new players (such as the Power ranks).

UPDATE (AUGUST 2012): Unfortunately this game never got off the ground. I began with seven players and by the time the second session was booked I was down to three. There wasn’t any further interest so I decided to shelve the game for now.

Days of Future Past

If you’ve seen, the X-Men movies or read the comics, you’re likely aware of the events leading up to the Days of Future Past storyline (from X-Men 141). When a prominent anti-mutant Senator is assassinated, public opinion turns against mutants leading to the creation of Project Wideawake and the  activation of the mutant-hunting robotic Sentinels. In the third X-Men movie, the simulation in the Danger Room features a Sentinel – that’s the big robot head that comes crashing down after the Wolverine/Colossus “Fastball Special” combo move.

Unfortunately, the Sentinels interpret their programming in such a way that all those with super-powers are a threat, and act accordingly – hunting down and killing heroes such as Captain America and those whose DNA has been altered. In the process, much of the major cities in the US are devastated by the conflict, with those surviving mutants imprisoned in internment camps. As a result, the setting is pretty grim  and dark – the PCs are in fear for their lives or risk capture almost constantly.

The game that I originally played in was set in the US capital, Washington (I played a shape-changing reptilian alien named The Outsider). There’s actually four adventures in the setting (also known as Earth 8-11 in the Marvel universe) : Nightmares of Futures Past, the X-Potential, Reap the Whirlwind and Flames of Doom. However there’s a huge amounts of duplication in the first and second modules – whereas other scenarios were somewhat linear, these particular modules tend to encourage the GM (or Judge, in MSH parlance) to think creatively, often requiring them to improvise. For me this works quite well, as my GM style lends itself to this sort of game: the kind of game where I’ve got what I need material-wise in my head, and rules-wise at my fingertips.

Vegas, Baby!

I’d considered initially setting the game in New York, but I felt that that particular city was probably too well-known, as well as the fact that much of the city had been damaged by the Sentinel takeover. Instead, I’ve chosen to set the game in and around Las Vegas. I’ve been there myself, and the desert setting makes it interesting: nuclear test sites, Area 51, Nellis Air Force base, Lake Mead, the Grand Canyon, remote mines and ghost towns, crowds in the Strip, the casinos and shows, the Maggia connections, etc…

The biggest thing to remember about Vegas is that its geared towards making colossal amounts of money on a daily basis. The casinos never close, and with no clocks or windows it is easy to loose track of time. Its also a relatively new city – aside from the glitz and fake glamour of the Strip, the main avenue around where the majority of casinos are located, everything else is geared towards the casinos, with basic housing estates and very little in the way of anything that isn’t gambling-related. Watch the backgrounds in the original CSI to see what I mean. As it is in the middle of the desert it is also geographically remote – so there’s a sense of isolation there too.

Look & Feel

The isolation was stressed right from the outset. The PCs arrived in Vegas with no idea of where they were initially. They had no support network, although they could phone their Contacts, no money and no place to live. They were pretty much walking against the flow the Strip too, in a crowd of fake glamour and glitz. Police and security were everywhere and all around was the desert itself. Sentinels had their base in the former Stratosphere hotel, seen from anywhere in Vegas, a visual reminder constantly looming over everything (its the one with the spire as you can see here).

The players were also expecting to deal with the Maggia – I’d also twisted things so that the organized crime syndicate had been suborned by a clan of shape-shifting alien lizardfolk, the Anunnaki, who effectively ran things in Vegas, looking a bit like the Silurians in Doctor Who, only dressed in suits (David Icke was right in this case 🙂 . The PCs would be dealing with an unknown foe as a result, although it is perfectly possible they could have allied with them. The fact that Nellis Air Force base was nearby also gave me the chance to have shipments of mutants being ferried into the area, possibly allowing new players and PCs to join.

Analysis

I blame myself for what went wrong. The first game was character creation, we all got on great. we had some great ideas for PCs, even though some of the random powers seemed to replicate :). However: the the first proper session, two players couldn’t make it and one was ill. Fair enough, it happens. The game was planned to be largely free-form anyway, with me winging it a lot. With three players we had quite a good session although it became painfully (literally) obvious that Sentinels are tough; and when they hit you with their energy beams it hurts. Although they escaped, nearly all were wounded in some way.

The second session, I had three players. Two had disappeared off the radar, one couldn’t make it (but had let me know in advance). I kind of “threw my toys out the pram” at that point and cancelled the game. I’m relatively certain that it wasn’t the game or me, but it was a bit petulant on my part. I’d actually spent a bit of time getting organised and when half the players can’t be bothered to turn up, it pissed me off.

Downloads

  • My own version of the  Marvel Super Heroes RPG character sheet, a PDF with form-fillable fields.

Links

RPGers assemble & Impossible Odds

The new Avengers movie out this month is something I’m planning to go and see next week. As a result, I’m planning to run the Marvel Super Heroes RPG, originally published in the 1980s – there’s a newer version out but I’m not sure if I’ll get it in time.

I’m planning to run the Days of Futures Past setting. It’s set some time in “the-not-t00-distant-future” after the events in X-Men: the Last Stand, although the film came out some time after the comic. It’s a time when many superheroes have been killed by the robotic Sentinels, who now hunt down anyone with super-powers as part of Project Wideawake (not just  mutants, but normal or augmented humans, aliens, and anyone with super-human powers). It’s a pretty bleak future depicted in Futures Past: mutants, both super-heroes and -villains, are either executed or imprisoned in internment camps; the PCs are thrown into this head-first, avoiding Sentinel patrols, and trying to evade capture and execution.

One aspect I’ve decided to use is one of proper random attribute and power generation. I’m not a big fan of points-based systems that all too often allow min/maxing, allowing an unscrupulous player to wring an unfair advantage from a system. As I’m also using the Ultimate Powers book it means that there’ll be a variety of powers that the PCs could have, rather than them all having the same power (or powers): there should be some variety.

The Sentinels are hugely powerful opponents – a challenge even for the X-men – so the PCs are likely going to be outclassed right from the start. And here’s the thing: that’s how it should be. In the movies, the superhero nearly always gets their butt kicked on the first trip out, or something goes awry. Sometimes the heroes have to be outclassed, and they should retreat or face destruction.

This is why I hate D&D’s concept of Challenge Rating, and why I think encounters should occasionally be impossible for characters to beat. CR is ultimately a total cop-out and does not challenge the creativity of your players. CR is a guideline, not a rule: if your low level group are facing something of the higher level enemy, then they should back off, and formulate a different strategy. It is also a pretty common plot device in literature, where the protagonists frequently face a more powerful foe, sometimes with tragic consequences (e.g. Sturm Brightblade in Dragonlance, Kyle Reese in The Terminator, etc.).

As a GM, make it clear that such foes are powerful enough, and that the party is in deadly danger: of course, if PCs persist in “waking the dragon”, or otherwise pushing their luck, as GM give them ample opportunity to reconsider. If they don’t, then feel free to unleash seven kinds of hell upon them.

However, PCs shouldn’t continually suffer this, as sooner or later it’ll wear thin. However, there’s no reason why the same threat can’t become a recurrent one, so long as it isn’t over-used: Hearing the sound of Sentinels overhead, for example, may be enough to get the PCs moving in a Marvel Superheroes game; the huge roar as the dragon wakes up may motivate the would-be adventurers to get moving with the loot that they can carry, etc.

Of course, if your players are the type to sacrifice their PCs with a “Run, Sara!” moment then by all means give their PC’s death meaning: it shows a weakness, and provides a plot device or macguffin, such as a blind spot or weak spot, e.g. in the film of the same name, the Mummy (the hugely powerful Imhotep) flees a cat, of all things.

RPG plans for Summer 2012

I’ve got quite a bit of things planned over the next few months, both on the site and at ORC Edinburgh. And its not just me: there’s a mini-campaign of the Dragon Age RPG kicking off, a Pathfinder game, a GURPS Swashbuckling Superhero game, as well as my own Marvel Super Heroes game.

I’m also thinking of participating in a Blog Carnival about the Undead as part of May of the Dead next month. Although I’ve never been enthused about zombie films or similar, they and other undead have often featured prominently in my games. I’m probably going to focus on what drives them. I may also look at haunted houses too.

I’ve also got vague plans for running a good old-fashioned Dungeon bash – it may even take the form of a tournament, wherein two different parties take on the same dungeon. I’m leaning towards a Liche-created series of traps and a menagerie of monsters, but may also feature some ideas I came up with for a Thieves Guild trial in Ashes of Freedom. Essentially, I improved upon those shown in that sequence in the 1st D&D movie, featuring Richard O’Brien (reprising his role from the Crystal Maze TV show, “Get through the maze and win a prize!”). I’m considering running it under Pathfinder or The Secret Fire RPG rules, both of which lend themselves to this kind of game.

As we get through to the end of summer, I’m looking at the return of my Ashes of Freedom D&D game. I’m hoping to get a number of the original players back for this, although it’ll likely have a few new folk.

Now that I have largely finished a lot of the work that I was doing for TSF I’ve got a bit more free time (despite upping my game at ORC. This means that I may finally get a chance to start work on a couple of stalled projects: an implementation of the FATE RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom, and the Arunstoun setting/adventure for Call of Cthulhu. Both have had some work done on them but as usual, I’ve not followed up on them due to the time constraints involved.

Any day now I’m hoping to hear more about the global D&D playtest (AKA D&Dnext or 5e) for the next edition, so may also work that into my schedule. I’m not sure how good or bad it will be as there’s a lot of information bouncing around the net, but so far it sounds like it will likely provide some kind of framework to run any edition or implementation. Not sure how that’ll work as each edition tends to have overcompensated for the faults of the previous one. Well, we’ll see.

And finally: I’ve got an idea for NaNoWri month in November (National Novel Writing Month). It’s likely to be a bit of a mystery but played out through the eyes of three different characters in three different times. Should be an interesting experiment!

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