Thursday, May 22, 2014

[Atomic Robo] Crimson Skies Characters

In order to force myself to be done with fiddling with these Crimson Skies pregens for Gamex this weekend, and as is often my wont when it comes to convention pregens, I'm sharing them with you. And also so you can see them, I guess, if you're interested. They're built as ARRPG characters, but I have this other little mini-game for dogfights that's new, so you can just ignore any references to that. Anyway, I think they'll be fun.

We have:

So if you're keeping track, that's the protagonist of a contemporaneous film, a canon character from Crimson Skies lore, two Thrilling Adventure Hour characters, and one lone original character who is either a pathological liar or kinda off-kilter. I'm aware that Robo himself could've been a PC in this game, but I didn't want to stray that far from what people might recognize as Crimson Skies (he said, shortly after admitting he'd put the Rocketeer in his game).

I'm looking forward to this game.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

[Fate Accelerated] The Heroes of Three Crossings

WARNING: This is long. It could be even longer. I could gleefully talk about every second of this thing, but I won't.

A while ago, a woman I know told me about how her 8th-grade daughter and 20 or so of her friends staged a freeform boffer Hunger Games LARP. They made their own weapons and made up their own rules. As it happens, they'd never heard of LARPing and just came up with this idea because it seemed fun (and I'm sure it was).

I immediately gave her a copy of Fate Accelerated and a set of four Fudge dice and said, "Here, give these to your daughter." She didn't know what roleplaying games were -- she'd heard of Dungeons & Dragons, but for a lot of people that's not really a useful touchstone -- and neither did her daughter, but I was like, "Trust me, from what I've heard, she and her friends are going to dig this."

Over the next several months, we tried on and off to figure out a time and place for me to run a game of FAE for her and whoever else was interested. Yesterday, it finally happened.

And it was the best, you guys.



We had two hours in a study room at a local library in Murrieta, so after brief introductions and my exhortation to please not call me Mr. Olson -- as weird as that may be for a kid, it's ten times as weird to be called "Mister" anything when you're running a game -- I briefly explained the general idea of a roleplaying game. Y'know, each of you is going to make and take the part of a character in a story, and I play everyone else and the world, and you tell me what you want to do and I tell you what happens and if we disagree we roll dice. That stuff.

My first inkling that I had nothing to worry about on that front came when one of the four girls admitted she didn't even know what we were doing that day, but assumed it was going to be acting or improv. Good start.

I didn't have anything prepared in advance, other than printing off some character sheets and the success-track thing shown up top. I was going to let them tell me what genre they wanted, what premise they wanted, and anything else, then go with it. I'm not used to running games totally off-the-cuff like that, but it seemed like the best way to kick things off.

Despite being smart, creative types, they kinda froze when presented with that much responsibility. So I suggested capital-F Fantasy, because it was a genre that we were all generally familiar with. So, good. Magic and swords and elves and all that jazz. I can do that in my sleep. I probably do and don't even know it. They're in a small but busy trading town at the intersection of three roads called Three Crossings. I use that name all the time. Probably in my sleep too.

I'd brought a Deck of Fate with me, so I took out the Accelerated arcana and had each player pick one. This would be their +3 approach. They loved this idea. I can empathize -- when presented with all that possibility, getting even a single anchor point can be a godsend. They pulled Careful, Clever, Forceful, and Sneaky. These also served as sorta proto-high concepts; I could see them starting to wrap character ideas around them.

Then I helped them come up with high concepts and troubles, and we got some good ones. They kept their sheets (yay!), but here are a few I can remember:
  • Less Brawn, More Brains
  • Trust Issues
  • I Don't Think I Know Everything -- I Do
  • Nobody Takes Me Seriously
  • Wherever It Is, I've Been There
The characters:
  • The Fool, a Careful guy who masquerades as a fool as part of some deeper agenda.
  • Rachel, a Sneaky, well-traveled wanderer.
  • Fang, the Forceful would-be leader of the gang.
  • Ash, a Clever inventor and science-type, fantasy-medieval style.
So me, sitting there listening to them start to form their characters, I already I like where this is going. There's plenty of variation in character types, and it's easy enough to say they're childhood friends who hang out and have adventures, and I'm getting ideas for what we might do for the next 90 minutes. 

It was around here when they started saying "This is so fun!" They're not even playing yet.

Because this was their first time playing anything like this, they didn't bring any gamer-baggage to the table. This included, but was not limited to, second-guessing my every move. Nothing would be cliche to them! So I started things out in a tavern.

"What's the name of this tavern?" I asked.
"The Cave!" one of them immediately shot back.

Great! There's a big tree in the middle of town, a huge tree, a tree so enormous a lot of the town is built into its above-ground roots. That's where the Cave is, so-called because it's in a "cave" of roots. They look at each other and murmur approvingly. (Why this town isn't called Tree Town, I really don't know.)

There's a kefuffle outside! I compel Fang's high concept to need to be the leader-type and go check it out, alone. Fang eagerly accepts the fate point. (They instantly grasped the idea of getting into trouble now to earn later awesomeness.)

"Descending on lines from the tree above--"
"Oh, don't say spiders," Rachel's player said.
"Why, do you not like spiders?"
"They won't be real spiders."
"They'll just have, like, six legs."
"That's what I don't like about them -- eight legs."
Hm. I wasn't even going to do spiders before she spoke up, but now I'm all about it. "What about seven legs? Better or worse?"
"[audible disgust]"
"Okay, so these nine-legged metallic things are descending on lines from the tree...."

Whatever these things were, they were capturing townsfolk by shooting out an entangling line of some kind and imprisoning them inside their weird metal bodies. I'd intended a short fight just to show them how things worked, but it ended up being a chance for the players to really figure out who their characters were. By the time they'd taken care of these three not-spider-things, we'd discovered the following:
  • Fang has long prehensile hair, like a combination of Chinese Ghost Story and Rapunzel in Tangled, but more powerful. And she is kick-ass with it.
  • Rachel has rune-scribed arrows and an invisibility cloak. No, not just invisibility. When she puts up the hood (no D&D cartoon reference was made -- be proud of me), she transformed into pure energy. This makes her invisible, but also gives her the power to teleport. "But you have to pay a fate point for it," I told her. "You can see we're simulating story-logic, not reality here, right? And it'd be boring in a story if this character were to just do that all the time. So the fate point-thing stops you from doing that." This explanation was met with nods and more approving murmurs. These girls are great.
    • Also, when we were working this out, I said, "It's like a TARDIS cloak." Her eyes went wide. "I get that reference!"
  • Ash has wings. At first we thought they'd be, like, feathered wings, but then we remembered she was an inventor-type and that they needed to be something she'd built. So she's Falcon, basically.
  • The Fool has -- well, let me put it in the player's words, if I can. "I reach into my never-ending pocket of thread...." My mouth probably dropped open. What is this never-ending thread pocket and where has it been all my life? "I can use the thread to make things." So she made a thread shield. "And I fight with a big pair of scissors." Look, I get it, you who are reading this: You want to be playing this character in a game right now. I feel the same way.
It's quickly becoming clear that these aren't just four adventurers who merely hang around in the Cave and drink some sort of tree-sap beverage. These are the Heroes of Three Crossings. Nobody messes with this town when choker-hair, TARDIS-cloak, metal-wings, and the never-ending thread pocket are around.

There was a great moment -- in a sea of great moments, really -- when Ash tried to get all the townsfolk to safety, and failed. Because Ash's player knows the value of complications in a story, she chose to succeed at a serious cost. So while everyone's running for the safety of the big tree, one of these nonapods shoots its entangling line at her, misses, and reels in a fleeing kid instead. CLANK! Its metal carapace slams shut with the kid inside.

"...Did you just get that kid killed?" Rachel's player says, aghast.
"Hey, c'mon guys," I say. "I'm not going to kill a kid here. C'mon!"
"I don't know you! Maybe you would!" Fair enough.

This scene also featured Fang grappling a nonapod with her hair and forcibly tearing it to pieces to free an old woman trapped inside. These people are lucky Fang's on their side.

So they take care of these things, and then decide to go up the tree and see what's going on. Earlier I'd said something about a complex ecology in its branches, but implied it was all weirdo fantasy animals, not metallic not-spider things. This is when Rachel's player's mom showed up and she had to leave, but at least Rachel has a plausible exit from the story for the time being in the form of her energy cloak.

Ash flies up the tree. Fang uses her prehensile hair like Spider-Man. The Fool unravels his thread and forms it into a rope, which he throws high into the air. It latches onto nothing, and he climbs up, then does it again, and again and again until he's up in the branches. This has become the Fool's shtick: He breaks reality.

They get up there and because we're running out of time and I don't know when we'll get to play again anyway, there's a spaceship up there, nestled in the branches. Sure, why not! There are a bunch of those nine-legged beetle-things crawling around, scouting things out, and two of them are standing together, their faces split apart from reveal a tiny alien-thing in each having a conversation. So they aren't robots or drones, they're vehicles. This came from the players, in case you thought it didn't, despite almost certainly knowing better by now.

While the Fool and Ash start to make plans to find and disable some sort of central nervous system for the ship, Fang has an "Enough talk!" moment and just strides forward out of their cover to have hair-words with these alien-things. She doesn't go ten feet before a nonapod lurking above them snaps her up into itself with its shooty-line-thing, then go scuttling off to the ship. (This was a compel, of course.) 

Thinking quickly, the Fool throws a thread at the nonapod, which sticks (impossibly), and now they can follow the thread and find Fang. Great idea! This they now do. Of course, they both fail their Sneaky roll, and the Fool's player decides to succeed at a serious cost. So they get in there, avoiding notice, and find where Fang's being held. That's when the ship lifts off into the air.

And that's where we left it!

These girls could not have been more thrilled with the whole thing. "We have to do this again" and "Oh my God, that was so fun" and so on. My goal is to get one of them comfortable enough with FAE that they don't need me anymore to play. I don't think it's going to take long.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

[GenCon 2014] I Assure You I'm GMing

I can't be sure, but I think that's me and Mark Miller talking
while we wait for the hall to open at least year's GenCon.
Event registration opens tomorrow (Sunday) for this year's GenCon, and naturally my scheduled games aren't actually, y'know, on the schedule. So you won't be able to sign up for them tomorrow. However, should you want to attend either of them, here's when they're happening.

"Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars" is happening Thursday the 14th at 1:00 pm.

"Bring Me the Head of Dr. Dinosaur," my Atomic Robo game, is happening Saturday the 16th at 1:00 pm.

They'll be online within two weeks. Why the delay? Because I registered them a couple hours after the March 14th deadline. So... two weeks. Fair enough. (I don't actually think that's fair, but whatever. GenCon's big, and I'm sure getting all these things into the system, in whatever form that takes, is a giant pain, so more power to those unsung heroes who do that.)

I also plan to run a game or two (one of the above, or maybe some other ARRPG scenario) at Games on Demand. Don't know when just yet.

One last thing schedule-wise: I'll be a part of Evil Hat's State of the Hat panel on Thursday the 14th at 5:00 pm. I probably won't have anything especially important to say, but I'll probably crack wise, and you wouldn't want to miss that!

Friday, May 2, 2014

[Gamex 2014] Días De Los Juegos!

Pretty definitive, I'd say.
Gamex pre-reg opens tomorrow at noon PST, and naturally I'm running a couple games. In honor of Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game being kinda out, or at least available in the wild as an actual put-together book instead of a binder of out-of-date rules, I'll be running two games using ARRPG -- one set in the Robo-verse, and the other set in an entirely plausible but unrealized version of the Robo-verse.

Saturday night is my Crimson Skies game using ARRPG as a base. If you don't know what Crimson Skies is, that picture up top should go a long way toward filling you in. Here's the blurb:
The year is 1937, and North America has shattered into more than a dozen competing nations, rife with conflict. With interstate highways and railways a thing of the past, travelers take to the skies. So too do a new breed of air pirates, kept in check by you, the brave men and women of Blake Aviation Security! 
The Crimson Skies setting has a (to me) surprisingly fleshed-out background for a minis game. Yeah, there was the PC game too, and I played the X-Box game a ton, but a lot of it never really comes up in those games, at least not that I remember. If the blurb reads a little vague, that's because I only have a vague notion of what the scenario will be about, but it'll come together before then. It always usually does!

I wrote, obsessed over, and then playtested some Fate-based dogfighting rules that were meant to evoke the Crimson Skies minis game. And they were a lot of fun, let me tell you. I'd play it again right now if I could. But they were also way too involved to stick into the middle of an RPG scenario a couple times. So I've gone back to the drawing board to simplify, simplify, simplify, and I'll be trying this new set of (still fun-seeming) rules out sometime before Gamex.

(For what it's worth, that overly complex version we playtested last night really is a lot of fun and does a pretty good job of translating what most of us think aerial combat is to the tabletop milieu. I stand by it and think it's probably worth developing. But if I were to register that game, it'd be in the Miniatures department, not RPGs.)

Sunday night is a sequel to "Bring Me the Head of Dr. Dinosaur!", the ARRPG game I ran at OrcCon back in February. The PCs feel like they have a lot left in 'em, and that first scenario (which did indeed result in the death of Dr. Dinosaur when a sentient lemur bullseyed the not-a-velociraptor with, if I recall correctly, Jenkins' combat knife) ended on a real "Okay, so what happens to these four weirdos now?" cliffhanger, so that's what we're going to find out. The blurb offers... some hints:
The Asterion Four in "Dia De Los Inmortales!"In 2011, a crack commando unit of genetic experiments was very nearly sent to prison for a crime they definitely committed. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if they didn''t cause it to begin with, you''d better hope you can figure it out without the help of... The Asterion Four!
Beginning to sense a vague pattern here? I thought it'd be more fun to establish who these four are rather than summarize a premise, which might end up spoiling something in a way that spoils some other fun.

What else is going on, Fate-wise? Well, Morgan's running a sorta-related ARRPG game Sunday morning:
Robo Atómico Y La Invasión De Los VampirosThe future of the world depends on Atomic Robo to save Mexico City from a full scale invasion by the sinister Dr. Valkyrie and her army of extra-dimensional vampires. Atomic Robo, Luchadors, Spies, and Science! Using Evil Hat Productions'' brand new Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game.
I'm not sure why we're both running games with Spanish titles. Maybe it's a Cinco de Mayo thing.

He's also running a session of Brian Engard's excellent Venture City Stories Friday afternoon, but I'm not going to be there Friday afternoon, so I don't approve that at all, but it might work out for you, I dunno:
The Corporations have unlocked the genetic code to create super humans. Now heroes and villains clash in the streets of Venture City. A gleaming metropolis surrounded by decaying urban sprawl, a city full of superpowers, villainous corporations, and ruthless gangs in a near-future setting where superpowers are for sale. Come play this new Superpunk setting for Fate Core from Evil Hat Productions.
Friend of the both the blog and me Wes Otis is running a Fate game Saturday night that... well, the blurb makes my head swim. I would play in it if I could. In a heartbeat. Check this out:
Hassbeck's CaseHassbeck was a jerk, now he's a dead jerk. He was also a net runner with a lot of credits in the bank and no loyalty. Karma came calling after years of bills not being paid and he found himself in the dead book. the city of Sigil is full of dead cyberpunks who thought they'd live forever. But before he died, Hassbeck stole files from the Lady of Pain, and now the hunt is on, winner takes all.
Like, WTF is going on here? Cyberpunk meets Planescape? What hath mad science wrought?