Monday, November 20, 2017

A possible change

So the perils of young love: my godson stopped dating the GM for his and my daughter's D&D group. She asked me to step in for a session or two (or three or just the one; depends on how we all like it: children can be fussy about parents being around). In the mean time I will be glad of the Drop-In on Wednesday, because I get to stop thinking about how the hell I'm supposed to run D&D5E. (I have never run D&D.)

So you might see more D&D content as I try to figure stuff out.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Superheroes don't miss


Having watched Thor Ragnarok and Justice League on two successive days, this morning in the shower I came to a realization:

For the most part, superheroes and supervillains don't miss.

Oh, they fail to do damage...but they rarely miss. They catch the thickest part of the armor, or hit the magical bracelets, or hit the suddenly-manifested shield, or fail to hurt someone because they are invulnerable, or their omniforce field disintegrates the bullets before they hit.

When they do miss, it's part of the hero or villain's schtick or niche: lots of foes miss against the Flash or Quicksilver, because a big part of his thing is being so fast that he moves out of the way. Batman frequently can't be seen (but his foes tend to be more in the human range than the supervillain range.) Spider-Man is so agile that foes miss him.

This is just a narration thing, but I suspect it will give much more of a superhero feel to things. A failed roll doesn't mean a missed shot. For some heroes or villains it will, yes: figure out who that is. But for everyone else, figure out a list of reasons why the super's attack failed to do damage.

(I'm sure I've read this advice before, but coming to it myself makes it more powerful. I'm going to try it at the Drop-In on Wednesday. Of course, those who go to the Drop-In and read this will know I'm trying this, but that shouldn't matter.)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Various campaigns

Another reminiscence post. Skip if you want interesting.

I'm trying to remember the campaigns I've run. Some of them were short because they didn't work (the universe-hopping one seemed like a good idea, but it was flawed). Others were short because of gamer ADHD or because people got bored. Not in chronological order.
  • The Concorde campaign, which I've talked about before. It was run in Champions, second printing to fourth edition.
  • The Wellington campaign, which used DC Heroes 2nd edition and 3rd edition.
  • The Patriot City campaign, which used 1st edition Mutants & Masterminds, and took place in Patriot City decades after the events in Freedom Force
  • The Minotaur campaign, which used 2nd edition Mutants & Masterminds, and used both Freedom City and the city of Bedlam...though it was really more the one adventure.
  • The Emerald Knights campaign, which tested out 3rd edition Mutants & Masterminds for us, and which I set in the Concorde universe's version of Detroit, Steel City.
  • The Aegis campaign, which used Fantasy Hero (though later I revisited it with CORPS).
  • The EABA playtest I did. It was set in the distant future of some other campaign I'd run, though I don't recall which one.
  • The Bureau of Extremely Foreign Affairs campaign, which used Espionage and later Danger International, and took place in the far-off years of the 2130.
  • The Alderson Disk campaign, which was set in the future of the BEFA campaign and ended when I painted myself into a corner.
  • The various ICONS things I've run, set in Halifax, in Toronto (the Hope Prep stuff), in Vancouver, and now in Strange City.
I suspect more will come to me, but those are (I think) the biggies. I don't count the Marvel Heroic playtest or the Masks playtest or the Supers! adventures...they were never campaign-like.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

And we just got back from Justice League...


And it wasn't bad. I certainly didn't feel like I was watching a polished turd (to refer back to Vanity Fair).

And for context, I was underwhelmed by Man of Steel and tolerated the theatre version of Batman v. Superman. But I caught MoS on TV a couple of years ago and found that it was much better than I remembered. What I wanted was something that heartened back to the original Superman film, and it wasn't that. It wasn't great, but it was not the thing I remembered. It was decent.

Was Justice League great? No. But it was, I think, better than the theatre version of Batman v. Superman. The jokes landed, for the most part. Everybody got a bit of character time, though it really wasn't a character movie. It's a group team-up movie, so the assumption is that a lot of the character stuff has happened elsewhere. The CGI for Steppenwolf missed the mark pretty consistently, which I thought was a problem. Some of the CGI on the running Flash seemed off but I didn't notice any problems from the moustache.

Both Barry Allen and Victor Stone are hampered by the fact that this is really their first movie; it would have been nicer if the' had a film each to develop, but I understand why they didn't. I look forward to the Aquaman film, and I'd watch a Cyborg-Flash film.

Visually, it's definitely a Zack Snyder film, and parts of it are gorgeous. And his Batman is fluid in motion, which was nice to see. It's very comic book.

Things I have to adjust in my Justice League writups.
  • Superman has super-speed, at the same level as the Flash's or very close.
  • Wonder Woman's bit of banging the bracers together to create a shock wave...that's got to be a thing.
  • A single parademon has Batman on the ropes for a lengthy part of one scene—the parademons are still minions, but clearly they have to be upped a bit.
  • Cyborg is smarter than I had him, and his data access abilities are pretty much "anything that ever got put into a computer or on a network"...not represented really by the Interface power; I might model it as postcognition.
  • Aquaman's pitchfork (not a trident; it has five tines, so maybe a pentadent?) gets used a certain amount. He never uses talking to sea life, though he refers to the ability obliquely. There seems to be a bit of water control there, but it might be a stunt.
  • Steppenwolf never uses his cable, but he spends time with the electro-axe. He's kinda a generic sort of bad guy, which is part of the reason the movie isn't great.

Atlantean terrorists


You know, hundreds of nuclear weapons have been lost at sea. (I believe it was hundreds, the New York Times did a story on it late in the 1980s, early in the 1990s.) Heck, whole nuclear submarines have been lost at sea.

You know who has the resources and abilities to fish out those nuclear weapons?

Yup, Atlanteans. People who breathe water and can swim and sense things down to the depths of the sea.

Is there some arrangement in your superhero world for them to fetch out the nuclear weapons? I'm sure that they retrieve them: when the casings corrode away, the bombs are a danger to local sea life. But do they just do it, saving the bombs in a storage compartment under the sea, or do they have an arrangement with a surface organization? Like, say, a government? Or Greenpeace?

And even if they do have such an agreement, what if there is a splinter group of Atlanteans who really want the bombs? Because surface dwellers, they do a lot to muck up the oceans, between plastic and chemical pollution and oil spills. They'd be perfectly justified, in their minds, in nuking us. It wouldn't take many nukes...and they probably think that they can eliminate the surface infestation and they'll be safe down in the sea.

Except, of course, let off one nuke and certain governments get antsy and toss other nukes around, and what what a surgical strike becomes a life-ending conflagration. The oceans become uninhabitable, even for Atlanteans.

The Atlanteans have another group that's against nuking the surface dwellers, even if their reason is self-preservation.

So how do you turn the concept into an adventure?

Well, it could be a one-off where everyone's an Atlantean or can travel underwater. Or it could be a situation where the Atlantean terrorist organization has to get the bomb to its proper place for a messy detonation. It's an old bomb, liable to fall apart in the very messiest way if treated the wrong way. A Good Atlantean discovers the plot but too late to stop it in the ocean. Instead, they know where it came out of the water and the name of one person who was acting as their surface contact. First you have to find that person (who has a bomb shelter and figures he or she will ride out the conflagration). Then you have to find the people he or she hired...who are supervillains, of course: maybe the type who don't know what's in the package, maybe the type who know and don't care.

Your players find them, but the bomb has already been set. Fight the bad guys, disarm the touchy bomb, and meanwhile warn all the nuclear-capable countries that there might be a tiny incident in the area...

In the meantime your players can argue the propriety of leaving unexploded nuclear weapons in the oceans, the state of diplomatic relations with the Atlanteans, and whatever eco-things they want.

Easy. Sounds like an evening's play to me.

Thor Ragnarok and being off the scale


Yes, Thor Ragnarok is a fun film that doesn't take itself seriously while demolishing huge swathes of the Thor mythos. There are spoilers galore ahead, as there will be when I finally write up the characters...even though this is mostly about writing up the characters.

This is a movie that moves the scale... so much of it is off the scale. Hela's Strength. Surtur (who is clearly a plot device with a weakness, which Thor takes advantage of at the beginning of the film).

See, when you have these characters in a movie with normal people, then you kinda have to fit them into the range of 8-9-10. Hulk is the strongest one there is, so he's a 10...except Thor generates lightning that knocks him on his butt, and Hela...well, Hela catches and crushes Mjolnir.

Maybe that will get retconned in a later movie as special power that she had over artifacts commissioned by Odin, or she's special because she was the original owner of Mjolnir. Maybe not. But on a normal 1-10 scale, she's probably strength 13 or more (the amped-up Thor is still less than she is). She is just off the scale, and when she gets into Asgard, her power grows (we're told). So Hela might have certain abilities that are just off the scale.

We could just redefine the scale, which you can certainly do: re-define Asgardian nobility as "normal humans" and suddenly Thor becomes a 6, so Hulk is an 8 and Hela is a 10 in Strength...except you don't do bunches of characters like this so they can't interact with characters from other want them to interact. So redefining the scale doesn't help our ultimate goal of putting all the toys in play. We have to say that she and Surtur are off the scale, or we give them numbers over 10.

For ease of play, I'd probably just say that her Strength is 10, and she has the Quality "Goddess of Death, First-born of Odin" that lets her accomplish things like catching Mjolnir and crushing it.

Her other powers—generating weapons from nowhere (a Slashing/Shooting pair of powers, plus the axe she gives poor Skurge) probably fit into the scale. The giant spike she generates to hold back the spaceship seems to me like a stunt, some kind of Quality like "She and the land are one" being activated and used.

Oddly enough, for a Goddess of Death, she has to use the Eternal Flame to bring the dead back as Minions—she can't just snap her fingers and do it. And I rather expected (with Christopher Yost as one of the scriptwriters) that there'd be some of "every warrior I kill becomes one for my side"...but no.

We probably have to put down a generic Asgardian warrior package, which we can then augment for the Warriors Three. In this movie, they're cannon fodder, but we've seen them in previous films and they're dang good. So your average Asgardian warrior is probably Prowess 5, Coordination 5, Strength 7: Captain America or some other member of the Avengers can out-do them, but they will mow through humans pretty easily. Asgardian nobility are incredibly long-lived, but that doesn't really affect gameplay except when you throw in someone with aging powers.

Whatever that package offers, we up it for Valkyrie: she's strong, her Prowess is high, as high as Thor's or higher, and she's within a point of his Strength, wherever you set it.

Thor swaps out Mjolnir (well, flight, really) for a kick-ass electrical control power that does not seem to include immunity to electricity. (I'm presuming the little control disks are effectively tasers; the jolt they deliver is pretty clearly electricity, so maybe there's a double-talk reason why it works. On the other hand, his lightning fries the Hulk in mid-air, so scientific accuracy isn't at the heart of this film.) When he decides to really be the God of Thunder (well, Lightning), he gets an Aura and some darned powerful takes him a turn to re-set his multipower, as it were, but then he's good to go. But that power could be off the scale as well; I choose to believe it was a great roll by Thor's player,

Fenris is probably Growth 9. His main power is being big and intimidating; Growth 9 gives him that and a little space where Hulk can slowly beat him down. (Hmmm. I never thought of Hulk as having Fast Attack, but the thing he does in repeatedly whipping Asgardians around like rag dolls would certainly qualify. Maybe he can only use it when he's established a hold on someone.)

Anyway: when my Thor Ragnarok builds appear, there will be a number of items marked OTS. Hela's off-the-scale powers represent a 15, if you need a number, and Surtur's a 20.

Unless I change my mind by the time I actually write them down.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Thoughts on SuprTindr


I saw a preview over on G+ for Green Lanterns that mentioned a dating app for superheroes. And I started thinking about an app for supervillains and superheroes. Not to date, but to have combats.

Actually, I'm not joking (though I'm sure it has been used as a joke).

Here's the thing: if you have a superhero world where there is a significant amount of celebrity to being a super, where the business of threatening the world and saving the world are objects of interest. Seanan Maquire's Velveteen stories are the kind of world involved.

Now, there probably isn't a market for such an app...but there would be a market for the generic hookup app you imagined first...and it could be a feature in the app. A dating app essentially lets you present a profile to people and it allows people to filter out candidates and choose from them. Really, the same app could be repurposed for a number of things. The pool of possible candidates is probably small.

You a hero looking for another hero to date or hook up with? Use the app. You can filter based on sexual preference. Heck, you can probably predefine whether you want someone who self-identifies as a hero, as a villain, or something else.

And if you were a person with a fixation on dating supers (or a particular super) wouldn't you really want the app so you could maybe meet your dream? Superheroes have to have groupies. Heck, supervillains probably have groupies, which might make for an interesting evening...trying to find the young man who wanted to date Ivory Toxin, the supervillain who sweats mind-altering chemicals before he succeeds and finds her).

And, just to bring us around to the idea of things you can use in your supers games, wouldn't that be exactly the kind of app you'd want to hack, so that the phone involved would always be telling you where a particular super is at any given time?

No Drop-In tonight, November 15

It turns out that tonight is the only night that my son can join his mother and me in seeing Thor: Ragnarok.

So a one-time family event trumps gaming.

Take care tonight, all, and I hope things are well.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Episodes 7 and 8 of the Drop-In: Interlude, and The Panopticon of Hell


Episode 7: Interlude and Episode 8: The Panopticon of Hell

I'm combining these two because, unfortunately, I wasn't running at my best and session 7 of the Drop-In was a largely improvised interlude getting the heroes from outside the security door to the hall.

So I apologize to the fellow who showed up for episode 7 and chose to play Longbow, because he didn't get much to do.


Gold Tiger, George and Professor Jelinek were joined outside the security door by Diriel (a demon of justice, because Hell is all about justice and rules and maybe a bit of entrapment, if I think about it) and Longbow, who have seen the message that Gold Tiger left on various superhero boards and came to join them.

They got in and discovered (a) the moss is omnipresent and (b) they were at the level where the tau generators were, the repair bays were (and one unmentioned nuclear generator). The femmebot Liza was there, strapped to a repair dock and deactivated. Security robots came down, and there was a fight, during which the repair robot followed its protocol, which was to halt repairs and clean up, so pieces can't be used as weapons. Eventually, the heroes won and crept up the stairs.

The center of the building was circular, and by tapping into the security system, Gold Tiger could see that Dr. Warp was in the center part (which also had the elevator to the basement). He had three femmebots, a closeted mysterious platinum android, and improvised living quarters there. He looked rumpled, like he hadn't shaved for a week.

The moss had clumped itself up into a sort-of humanoid form as big as the ceilings and was walking a slow circle around the section where Dr. Warp was imprisoned. Professor Jelinek's tau-sucking gun was full.

As they were discussing plans, Professor Jelinek revealed that the big problem with tau radiation was that it's not properly radiation at all: it's energy moved from other dimensions. The liberal use of it weakens the extra spatial dimensions of ours (predicted by superstring theory) and essentially opens the doorway to Lovecraftian monsters.

(If we want to be nice to Professor Jelinek, he figured this out very recently. It involves the kind of maths they didn't have at the start of his career, and he has acquaintances in Moscow and Geneva who do the new math for him. It is totally in keeping with comic books for him to have known this for twenty years and be the roadblock that has kept people from implementing tau radiation generators.)

We were having technical difficulties, so we called it there.

The Panopticon of Hell

Alas, the extra player did not return, so we had Gold Tiger and Diriel and everyone else was a GM character.

The switch to turn off the tau generators was in another room and was largely non-functional. Diriel's teleportation only worked to places he could see (except Hell; he can always go to Hell, and my assumption is that there are a limited number of "landing zones" there that he has memorized). Using his control of the security system, Gold Tiger jury-rigged a projection of the image of the proper room, and Diriel opened a portal. The two of them left George, Professor Jelinek, and Dr. Warp behind while they went into The Room.

The Room was covered in moss, and the on/off switch was partially melted or corroded by the moss. Gold Tiger started to repair it, but the moss started to gather together and attack, so Diriel was holding it off as Gold Tiger was working. Fortunately, we had established that the moss was sensitive to flame and Diriel is aflame with the Fires of Justice, so... (I formalized this as having all attacks be one degree better against the moss: narrow misses were actually marginal successes, marginal successes were moderate successes, and so on.)

They defeated the moss, turned off the generators, and then portal'ed back to Dr. Warp, where they discovered the two new problems.
  1. Using the miniaturization possible in the modern era, Dr. Warp had built a miniature tau generator inside the new platinum robot, which was tougher than the femmebots.
  2. Dr. Warp wasn't actually forthcoming about helping, having sold the tau weapons to Russia and the CIA and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Diriel opened a portal to a cell in Hell, and Gold Tiger knocked him through. Diriel closed the portal.

But Diriel's "Injustice Sense" said that someone was still thinking evil thoughts. Yes, George was one of them, but there was someone else...

Yup, other-dimensional invaders had got access to the platinum robot, and it was in the process of becoming spidery-er, with the back at an improbable angle and extra joints having appeared in the arms and legs. (I called it a Cybershoggoth.)

Professor Jelinek discharged his tau weapon to power up a femmebot. Moss was trying to get to the tau generator. Longbow fired to no effect.

Gold Tiger asked Longbow if he had a magic nullification arrow somewhere in that quiver; Longbow replied that he did, because of a recent experience with a demon ("No offence," to Diriel). The Cybershoggoth half-melted the femmebot; Professor Jelinek missed the shot that would have sucked tau radiation out of the robot. George was knocked unconscious.

Eventually, the magic nuffication arrow was fired (and Longbow doesn't miss). A portal to another cell in Hell was opened up, and Gold Tiger pushed the robotic beast through.

Then Diriel and Gold Tiger went through a new portal to just outside the cell, in the panopticon of Hell.

A winged demon approached and said that (in Hell-speech) it was fine unless the auditors gave them guff, which would be when they'd have to release them. (The Cybershoggoth because it was extradimensional and they might not have jurisdiction, and Dr. Warp because he wasn't technically dead.

Through difficulties they discovered that the Cybershoggoth was the first invader of a force ("this world..." it hissed. "It needs conjugation." The PC characters assumed that was bad.)

With Diriel's help, Gold Tiger managed to turn off the robot, and they reached an agreement about under what conditions they would retrieve the robot.

Lights down.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Some GMing Thoughts


I'm hit and miss on Johnn Four's GMing newsletter. A lot of it is very D&D-focused, which doesn't mean anything to me. But today he had a couple of pieces of advice that I'd like to re-spin in my own way. And this is basic stuff, because I don't seem to grok advice from Robin Laws and Ken Hite on designing choices into adventures. (I suspect it's terminology, and I feel like there's an insight on the opposite side of the advice, but I'm not getting there.)

Anyway, restated tidbit #1: If there's no interesting results for both making and not making the roll, don't make the roll. I'm not saying there's no point to randomness. (Hey, I play ICONS—of course there's a place for randomness.) Some details are totally fine left to chance. "Do we have Fainting Goat Snack Cakes to distract the demon cow?" "I dunno, you have the Gadgets power; roll on it to see if you can scrounge together a tasty non-meaty treat."

But if you just assumed they'd find the clue about Thutmoses III, don't make them roll to find the book on Egyptology was open. Say, "And the book on Egyptology is open with a passage about Thutmoses III underlined." Or you're pretty sure the bad guys will just execute them if the minions actually defeat them in battle? Use a pyramid test, and instead of determining if they get into the secret base, the pyramid test determines when they get to the headquarters. They get in early, they get some tidbit that makes things easier (they might prevent the launch of the nuclear missile, even though they'll still have to beat the bad guys) or if they get in late, something else has happened that makes it tougher (every time it takes them three pages to eliminate the pyramid test, they have to face another batch of minions...and every pyramid test after the first means another missile readied for launch, for example).

And if someone has an appropriate Specialty or Quality or background, maybe they just get the information or do the task. They can ask to roll if they want more.

Restated tidbit #2: Doing something is better than debating about doing something. Sometimes a dilemma is a part of your hook or your climax. I understand. As a player, I've sometimes had characters had to make tough choices, and they didn't always decide the way the GM thought they would. A scene with the character's romantic interest is doing something. This isn't about that. This is about the entire group waffling about what to do.

"Well, if we go after Dr. Mind-nought directly, we get at the root of the problem, but if we do that, innocent people might die while we're attacking him...but if we stop the people, then Dr. Mind-nought will have a chance to get his hooks into more people and then innocent people might die..."

I'm not suggesting railroading here. But no matter which way they go, the characters do something, and while they're debating it, nothing is happening. And I'm also not suggesting there be no debate. But gaming time is limited. One of three things is probably going to happen:
  • They go after the mind-controlled thralls.
  • They go after Dr. Mind-nought.
  • They split up and go after both.
(In my example, they're not going to ignore the problem and catch a movie.)

Given that one of those three things is going to happen, give them a chance to state the pro and con of each choice, give them a couple of minutes to talk about it, and then force the issue. Ask each player what the character does, and they'll split up or attack one or the other. If they split up, you'll have to interweave the two scenes to keep both groups engaged, but at least they're doing something.

Is one choice optimal? Sometimes. Are they going to get to do both things anyway? Maybe. Obviously, they get to go after Dr. Mind-nought whether they go after the thralls or not. If the choice is between Bank robbery by Cashflow or Hostage situation by Strongarm, maybe they're choosing which adventure to play tonight, and this will eventually lead to the discovery that the villains are tallying up their villain Q scores, to figure out who can be used as a distraction by the others.

Anyway, two thoughts for designing and running your adventures.