Quick Review: The Gamers: Hands of Fate

handsoffateAs my many Demon Hunter themed posts might have hinted at I am a massive fan of Dead Gentlemen Productions who are responsible for not only Demon Hunters but also The Game: Hands of Fate. As I contributed to the Kickstarter I got to see the movie slightly early but I’m happy to say that for everybody else it’s free to watch until the end of August and can be found here on vimeo (or click the image at the top).

So why are you still here? Go and watch it then come back for my quick review.

Watched it? Good. As for my thoughts I have to admit that I am extremely conflicted. Not because the movie isn’t any good, it’s great and probably the best thing that Dead Gentlemen have put out to date. The writing is tight, it’s well shot, has the best acting yet and the story arc is well thought out. My issues lie instead with my expectations of the movie, based upon the previous two and Hands of Fate deviates significantly from those. Primarily because it’s not about a group of gamers, this movie is all about Cass. Sure Gary gets a secondary plot arc but Leo is reduced to the role of Cass’ mentor while Lodge and Joanna are basically named extras (though apparently the expanded non-theatrical edition will include a lot more of them). The reduced screen time for the group has an obvious knock-on, that the Player Characters introduced in Dorkness Rising are also virtually absent from the movie, a shame given the extent to which they had been previously developed.

So my final impression: Go watch it because it is yet another awesome production from Dead Gentlemen. Just don’t expect it to follow all the conventions set up by the first two movies.

Oh and Romance of the Nine Empires looks sweet, I am so picking up the Anniversary Box Set when AEG put it out.

 

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Project Cassandra: Introduction

The cold war. For almost 50 years the world teetered on the brink of destruction as the economic, political and nuclear forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact vied for control of Europe. The war may be over, but its secrets are only beginning to emerge. Secrets such as Project Cassandra, conceived as a remote viewing experiment with the goal of uncovering threats to national security.

A success beyond expectations. Led by Dr Joseph Mercher, a pioneer in his field, Project Cassandra identified and recruited a group of 5 exceptional candidates. Over a period of 18 months, and under the guidance of Dr Marcher, each developed the ability to accurately predict future events. To quote from an early report:

“While each subject possesses a remarkable and unnerving talent to forsee potential outcomes all are limited in the scope, capable only of anticipating incidents closely associated with their own experiences”

A threat from within. On November 2nd of last year the unit housing Project Cassandra was completely destroyed by a fire started from within the main research laboratory. Examination of the surviving reports from that week identified two alarming events, which appear to have been suppressed prior to reaching the offices of the Joint Research Division. Firstly, numerous reports of vague but growing predictions of an impending assassination attempt targeting POTUS (Designation: SHORTSTOP EVENT). Secondly, that each of the subjects was in the process of developing secondary talents, the full extent of which remains UNKNOWN.

Investigations into Project Cassandra and SHORTSTOP have reached the following conclusions:

  1. SUBJECTS PREDICTED AND REPORTED PREMONITIONS OF ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTS AGAINST POTUS.
  2. FACTIONS WITHIN JOINT RESEARCH DIVISION SUPPRESSED REPORTS AND ATTEMPTED TO DESTROY ALL EVIDENCE OF PROJECT CASSANDRA BY MEANS OF ARSON.
  3. THROUGH LUCK OR FOREWARNING THE SUBJECT GROUP ESCAPED UNHARMED.
  4. HAVING ESCAPED, AND WITH KNOWLEDGE OF IMPENDING EVENTS, THE GROUP ATTEMPTED TO INTERVENE IN SHORTSTOP.
  5. THEIR STATUS AND WHEREABOUTS REMAIN UNKNOWN.

projectcassndra

Review: Masks by Engine Publishing

This post was originally published over at Nearly Enough Dice.

Masks is the second GM aid book by Engine Publishing, the writers behind the ever popular Gnome Stew blog and presents a library of 1000 memorable NPCs, spread over the Fantasy, Modern and Sci-Fi genres. Masks won the 2012 Gold ENnie Award for Best Aid/Accessory, was nominated for Product of the Year and is available through DriveThruRPG, the Engine Publishing store and in paperback at many FLGS.

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The concept behind masks is simple, provide a ready made resource of NPCs that can be grabbed by any GM and dropped into their game with minimal effort. The 1000 (yes there are 1000 distinct and well defined NPCs) are separated first by genre (Fantasy, Modern, Sci-Fi) then once again by their likely relationship to the PCs (Villain, Neutral, Ally). The entry for each NPC then covers just about everything you could need, baring attributes as the book is completely system neutral. Briefly these are:

  • Character name
  • A one line description
  • A quote from the character
  • Physical appearance
  • Suggestions for how to roleplay the character
  • Personality, motivations and background
  • A selection of one word traits

Considering the book manages to collect four characters per page without cramping them together this is a lot of information to draw inspiration from.

WP_000141The genius of Masks isn’t, however, the characters as written; it’s the inspiration that they provide. While I utilise the book on a regular basis I have yet to use a single one of the NPCs within it, finding instead that their presentation makes it easy to mix and match the various aspects presented in the book. If I need a bartender for example I’ll flip through looking for somebody that isn’t presented as a bartender but could be working in a tavern. So my bartender is now a self indulgent intellectual but the motivation and background that provided that one line description doesn’t explain why they’d now be serving ale. I flip a bit more, until I find a background that fits, such as an exiled noble, struggling to find enough work but unable to let go of their privileged upbringing. Now I’ve not just got a bartender but an actual character, somebody the PCs could take an interest in and find something interesting to investigate.

If you’re a GM then Masks is a book that I cannot recommend highly enough, especially if you regularly run sandbox style campaigns where you need a regular supply of interesting NPCs to populate the world.

Rating: 5/5

On XP and character loss

Following the most recent session of Legend of the Five Rings game I’m playing in I’ve found myself in that dreaded situation of needing a new character as Dojo Okimoto, the Oriole Crane Lion Bushi Courtier fell in battle while protecting the group Shugenja. For a samurai it was a good death, fighting for an honourable cause and it also fit with the tragic romance angle of samurai stories as Okimoto was due to marry his true love who was already pregnant with their child. Probably the only way I could have tempted fate more would have been by being a day away from retirement. The game is on hiatus for the moment and when we return will have jumped around six months down the timeline with the surviving former magistrates having travelled to the Crab lands in order to learn about combating the Taint (Corruption has been a running theme of the game so far). This leaves me in the position of bringing in a new character and at the end of the session the GM told me to build him using 115xp (which includes the starting points plus ronin bonus).

Which is about 30xp less than the group as a whole is on and just under half the XP earned during the campaign to date.

I’ll be honest, this irks me. Not because I’m worried about being underpowered compared to the rest of the group, if it makes sense story wise I’ll often chose to take that approach. Jimmy is a classic example of this, built to be deliberately weaker than the rest of the Deadlands Noir group due to where he fits in the genre. Likewise by choosing a ronin I’m actively opting to make my life difficult. It irks me because it goes against my personal approach to XP, which centres around the notion that it is a reward to the players. Thus to lose XP because I died in game feels like I’m being penalised for dying which is, in my opinion, wrong. Especially in a game such as Legend of the Five Rings which has a reputation for being deadly.

I know my GM enough to know he’s not doing it to be vindictive or punish me for dying, he’s merely running the game his way and I know if somebody else died he’d apply the same rule to their new character. It’s for that reason alone that I’m willing to accept the situation; I trust my GM. Despite this I’m curious, is this approach common to other gaming groups? Is it something encouraged by particular games? I’d be interested to hear what everybody else does, even if it’s unlikely to change my own preferences.

Putting it all together: My gaming kit

This post was originally posted over at Nearly Enough Dice.

As you’ve probably realised the various contributors to Nearly Enough Dice love gaming accessories and a number of the products we’ve reviewed for the podcast now form the core of what constitutes my gaming kit. With that in mind I thought I’d share my approach and invite the readers to chip in their suggestions or ideas.

The General Kit

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For Science!

At the core of any gaming kit is (IMHO) one thing, dice and like most gamers I have collected a considerable number over the years. When I’m playing, however, most of those dice are unused. In an attempt to streamline my kit I’ve, therefore, cut down the number I carry to 4 polyhedral sets which covers me most games and can be rapidly altered should I join a game that requires more of a particular type.

But what to carry them in? How about an All Rolled Up (ARU), which Liz reviewed recently for the podcast? Having just purchased the one pictured I can also now attest to both the quality of the product and the service (I ordered Monday afternoon and received it on the Thursday).

As well as dice my ARU stores a number of other important parts of my gaming kit. First up are pens, a basic component that people forget on a regular basis. Second is my noteboard, another recent purchase and which Liz reviewed for the podcast (and Mike put to good use for the War of the Dragons game). Although the noteboard really falls into the GM kit category it’s simply far too useful an item for me to leave out so it’s got a semi-permanent place in my ARU. Finally to round out my players kit is a selection of extra whiteboard markers in multiple colours, there just in case the noteboard gets used.

My basic gaming kit
My basic gaming kit

The GM Kit

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Hiding in plain sight

The basis for my GMing kit is, unsurprisingly, that of my player kit but with some notable differences. First is more dice, because it’s apparently up to the GM to have spare in case players forget their own. If required I then add in my GM screen. I’ve tried multiple system specific screens but these days I default to the Savage Worlds Customisable Screen (see my review for more information). The ability to add to or alter the panels as required makes this screen indispensable, I find it particularly useful for tracking characters disadvantages so I have a ready list of hooks I can tap during the session.

Most of the other additions are system specific, poker chip tokens or a deck of cards are added as needed, stored in my ARU or dice bag in order to keep it all together.The final essential component of my GM kit is my moleskin notebook. Between games it lives in whatever bag I’m using that day so I can jot ideas down at a moments notice, which often turns out to be on the train during my commute to work. While I’ve tried digital approaches such as Evernote my approach to note taking is too haphazard for a digital approach, mostly due to my frequent use of multi-directional connections and non-sequitur notes.

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All together now.

The Online Kit

Obviously the vast majority of this kit is only of use when playing together as a group in a single location. Online gaming is, however, a growing market and probably accounts for half of the games I’ve played in the last year. Three websites really provide me with all I need on that front, Google Plus, Roll 20 and Obsidian Portal. Google Plus, combined with Roll 20 provides both the table around which players assemble and the tools such as dice roller, initiative tracker and battle map for playing on. The quality of the Google Plus video hangouts astounds me each and every time, sure lag is an occasional problem but thanks to it I’ve been able to join regular games with players spread throughout the globe. Between games Obsidian Portal serves as a centralised location to store notes and game progress in a convenient wiki format which is currently undergoing a redesign. While an extremely powerful tool I’ve found that the majority of use is by the GM and it predominantly falls into a planning tool and place to keep notes that can be revealed to players as they experience the world.

So there you have it, the basic kit that I make use of on a regular basis and a question for the listeners / readers, how do you do things? Am I over prepared or maybe missing out that one item you consider indispensable to gaming?

Disclaimer: This is not a product placement post, I purchased each of the items described here and none were received for the purpose of a review. I merely happen to think that they’re all awesome.

Project Cassandra – More characters

Until I started working on Project Cassandra I don’t think I fully appreciated how difficult it was to write ‘normal’ individuals for use as player characters in an RPG. While Agent Sarsin was relatively easy to write I now suspect that was because they fall into a more typical PC role, that of the special agent. The rest of the characters are more normal and hence more difficult to write, so I’ve fallen behind my tentative schedule to have a first draft of each ready by now.

The other aspect I hadn’t counted on was how difficult the skill trees would be to generate, keeping the higher branches sufficiently broad yet also making them logically flow to the lower levels has been quite the challenge. While I may alter the approach later on I like the concept enough to keep them in until I’ve playtested them. So without further rambling here’s v0.2 of Agent Sarsin and in addition to v0.1 of Brian Whitford and Karen Jones.

Agent Sarsin v0.2

Brian Whitford v0.1

Karen Jones v0.1

Project Cassandra: Veteran Sarsin

sarsinSo progress continues on Project Cassandra, to the point that I’ve now got the basic rules pinned down and thus have been able to put together a draft of one of the five characters that I’m planing. Working on this has really made me appreciate the elegance of the Lady Blackbird characters, which manage to get both character stats and a rules summary on a single page. While I doubt I’ll manage to get it down that far due to the skill trees the layout definitely needs work.

Oh and obviously playtesting, which will require the rest of the characters.