Firefly RPG Demo

Here you are, on the raggedy edge. You’ve been eatin’ nothing but protein paste for the last week, runnin’ low to spare your fuel cells, and hangin’ on for dear life whenever Serenity’s engines start to creak and groan. This last job for Badger should pay enough to get back into the sky, but not much more. Fortunately, Badger says he’s got another job for you soon as you touch down at the Eavesdown Docks. The way he’s smilin’, you know it ain’t gonna be good. But it pays enough to keep you flyin’.

Come try the new Firefly RPG from Margaret Weis Productions on Sunday, September 29, from 1:00 to 5:00, at Imagine Games and Hobbies here in Winnipeg. Play a member of Serenity’s crew, and brave the black on a job that’s sure to go smooth ((Not a guarantee that things will go smooth. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that they won’t.)). There are nine slots in this game demo, so odds are good that you can just show up and play, but if you sign up at the store, you can reserve your favourite character on a first-come, first served basis.

Tabletop Day at Imagine Games

So, you folks may be familiar with Tabletop Day. It’s happening this coming March 30, and celebrates the one-year anniversary of the launch of Geek & Sundry show, Tabletop, starring Wil Wheaton. The whole idea is to celebrate the playing of games by – and this is the clever part – PLAYING MORE GAMES!

In that spirit, I’m going to be at Imagine Games and Hobbies here in Winnipeg from open to close on Saturday, March 30, with a big stack of games. Some of the games have appeared on Tabletop and some have not, but they’ll all be available to try out. If you know the game, you can just grab my copy and play. If you don’t, I’ll run it for you.

Subject, of course, to demand. I’m unlikely to stop running one game for folks in order to run a different one for newcomers. Also subject to time. I’m going to bring games that can be wrapped up in an hour or two, but hitting me up for a game of Fiasco fifteen minutes before closing is unlikely to get a positive response. But you never know.

Anyway. I’m going to be bringing at least the following games:

  • Dixit
  • Tsuro
  • Tsuro of the Seas
  • Pandemic
  • Zombie Dice
  • Fiasco
  • Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
  • Betrayal at the House on the Hill
  • Leverage RPG
  • Dungeon World
  • Fury of Dracula

How do you play one of the games? Come up and ask me to play. If we can put together enough people to play, we play. So, one of the best ways to make sure you get to play a given game is to come down with a group and grab me.

There is one catch – the entry fee is a food item donated to Winnipeg Harvest. One item gets you in for the day; multiple items give you some ways to cheat at the games. And it all goes to a good cause.

So, come on down and play some games on March 30th. Doors open at 11:00, and close at 6:00. I’ll be there the whole time, anxious to play something.

After all, it’s Tabletop Day.

Uncanny X-Mas!

Yesterday was the 11th Annual Winnipeg Harvest Game Day at Imagine Games & Hobbies. This is a day each year that Wendy and Pedro host a bunch of boardgames, miniature games, and RPGs. People come down and donate non-perishable food items to Winnipeg Harvest and, in return, get to compete in the various games for prizes.

The past couple of years, I’ve been running a Gamma World event there. But last year, there was a TPK, so I figured it was time to retire the Gamma World run ((Also, the popularity of Gamma World has waned over the past couple of years. The game, while fun, didn’t really have the legs to support a long-term play experience.)), and start something new. I’ve been enjoying running Marvel Heroic Roleplaying ((Hard to tell from my posts about it, huh?)), so I thought that would be an interesting game to toss in this year. The games are supposed to be Christmas-themed, so I took advantage of the release of the Civil War: X-Men supplement to create Uncanny X-Mas.

As is usual for these things, by the time I arrived to set up for the game, we had a grand total of one name on the sign-up sheet for Uncanny X-Mas. That number had grown to one ((Yes, that’s a joke. It’s also true.)) by the time the 1:00 start time rolled around. I still wasn’t too worried, because I’ve found that I can always fill the table if I wait a little bit. Ray, the fellow who had signed up, had shown up on time, but he was cool about waiting a little while to get more players, because that would make for a better game. I appreciate your patience, Ray!

Shortly after 1:00, a session of The Walking Dead boardgame ended, and two of those players came over to play, and then other people started gravitating towards the table. By 1:30, all the slots were full, and we were ready to start the game ((See? Told you so.)). Our heroes for the day were:

  • Cyclops
  • Nightcrawler
  • Emma Frost
  • Psylocke
  • Micromax
  • Colossus

I gave them the opening pitch for the game:

Uncanny X-Mas!

The madness of the Scarlet Witch has all but eliminated mutants worldwide. In the aftermath of M Day, the 198 remaining mutants gather at the Xavier Institute. The manned Sentinels of the O*N*E keep watch over the refugee camp that now surrounds the school, protecting humans and mutants from each other. Things are bleak – mutants are now an endangered species, Charles Xavier is missing, and tensions between heroes and normal folks are increasing as the SHRA is being discussed in Congress. Cyclops and Emma Frost are trying to keep Xavier’s dream alive, but even they begin to despair in the face of the uncertain future.

But all that is put aside for now. Christmas is tomorrow, and the remaining X-Men have decided that the mutant children in the school and in the camp deserve the best holiday their protectors can provide. And so a group of mutant heroes have gathered in the mansions great hall, drinking egg nog in front of the roaring fire, and wrapping presents.

What could possibly go wrong?

I ran the first scene as a transition scene, giving the players (only one of whom had played the game previously) a chance to get the hang of the mechanics, build some assets ((And contribute to the doom pool.)), and do some roleplaying. Now, because there was a prize at stake, I resorted to my old method of determining a “winner” for RPGs. At the end of each scene, I had the players vote for the character that they though had done the coolest thing. No one could vote for themselves and, at the end of the session, the player with the most votes got the prize.

The first scene, the votes went overwhelmingly to Emma Frost. See, Colossus decided to dress as Santa Clause and go out to cheer up the mutant children in the tents. He blew his roll badly, and I used the opportunity to show how counterattacks work, saying that he had scared the children, which inflicted some emotional stress on him due to guilt. Emma Frost decided to go out and calm the children down, threw in a little mind control action, and wound up with the asset Worshipful Child Minions d10 ((Which she promptly made persistent by spending a plot point.)), a fistful of XP for hitting some milestones related to her criminal past, and everyone’s stunned admiration. Also, their votes.

The second scene started with Psylocke sensing a disturbance outside, and rushed to help. She found packs of misshapen robotic elves pouring out of a giant flying sleigh-like flying ship. They were snatching mutant children, blasting everyone who got in their way. As they hauled the children back to the sleigh, the X-Men rushed out to stop them. The fight went on in a couple of different locales as the heroes split up to deal with the various groups of elves, and wiped them out in fairly quick order, but not before I had my 2d12 in the doom pool to end the scene.

I was really anticipating the reveal that the mutant children were being stolen away by Nanny – I had her egg-shaped form waddle to the open door of the sleigh, calling the X-Men naughty children, and all the rest of the schtick.

And everyone looked at me blankly.

I thought I had been clever using a fairly obscure villain ((She was, in fact, suggested to me by Cam Banks.)), but I was apparently a little too clever, because no one recognized Nanny. So, I outlined Nanny’s backstory to give some context for the whole thing, and everyone went, “Oh. Okay. Cool,” and we were off again.

The next scene was trying to trace where Nanny was taking the children. I ran it as a sort-of combat – the characters made their attempts to figure out where she had gone, using the effect dice from their attempts to inflict “Solution Stress” against the mystery. When they topped d12, the mystery was taken out, and they had her location, which just happened to be The North Pole, a Santa’s village tourist attraction in Connecticut. They hopped in the Blackbird and flew off to get the children back.

They overflew the site, spotting Nanny sitting on Santa’s Throne in the middle of the village, surrounded by her robo-elves and kidnapped ((And brainwashed, of course.)) children, with Orphan-Maker standing beside her. Emma Frost freed the children from Nanny’s control, while Psylocke put her to sleep. Colossus air-dropped onto Orphan-Maker ((Prompting comments about Peter-on-Peter action, which I quickly stifled, because this was a game in a public space and we had a child at the table.)), plowing him through a gingerbread house. Nightcrawler got the children away from the fight, and Micromax and Cyclops teamed up on the robo-elves.

Now, one of the quirks of the Winnipeg Harvest Game Day this year is that players were given cheat tokens for their donations – one token per dollar’s worth of food donated. They could spend these tokens for benefits during play. Here’s the menu of cheat offerings I came up with for the game:

Cheat Menu

1 Plot Point
1 Cheat Point

You can gain an extra plot point at any time for one cheat point. You can do this as often as you like and can afford.

O*N*E Sentinel Intervention
5 Cheat Points

An O*N*E Sentinel piloted by James Rhodes appears and takes one action that you determine. This can happen once per scene, but each intervention costs five cheat points.

10 Cheat Points

Another hero comes along to help you for one scene. Choose another hero datafile from the pile, and you can play both characters for one scene. You can do this once each scene.

Reborn in Fire
15 Cheat Points

With the very existence of mutants in jeopardy, the Phoenix Force reaches out to you and grants you a portion of its power for one scene. You gain the Phoenix Force power set. This can only happen once in the entire game.

Why bring this up now? Because this is the moment that Nightcrawler spent his cheat points to channel the Phoenix Force. This is what I came up with for the Phoenix Force powers:

The Phoenix Force

The Phoenix Force suffuses your body, mind, and spirit, filling you with godlike power. Unfortunately, it will take time to master the full spectrum of the Phoenix’s abilities; in the heat of battle, you can only access the following powers:

Fiery Blast d12        Space Flight d12      Godlike Senses d12

The Phoenix Force power set has no SFX and no Limit.

In addition to these powers, you channel the energy into one of your mutant abilities. Pick one ability from a mutant power set and step up the power die by +1, to a maximum of d12.

So, Nightcrawler unleashed fire on Peter and the elves, Colossus spent a fistful of cheat points for plot points to soak up Orphan-Makers area attack on the whole group, and I think it was Micromax that finally put Orphan-Maker down.

Christmas was saved, the mutant children were rescued, and everyone lived happily ever after.

When the votes were tallied at the end of the game, it turned out that Emma Frost’s early lead had locked up the game for her. She was awarded the prize: a model of Nanny, made from a Kinder Egg, icing, and candy cane bits.

MHR Winner

The proud winner. Hard to see, but she’s holding a little model of Nanny, made from a Kinder Egg.

Thanks to Pedro and Wendy for hosting the event, and for providing the excellent prizes. And thanks to everyone who came down to play. And thanks especially to my players:

  • Colossus – Ray
  • Cyclops – Leo
  • Emma Frost – Kelsie
  • Micromax – Nathan
  • Nightcrawler – Aaron
  • Psylocke – Nadine

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Assembled! My Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Launch Party

Last weekend, I got the chance to try running Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. I’ve already talked about playing the game, and about reading the game, so it seems like coming full circle to talk about what it was like to run it.

It was the launch party event at Imagine Games & Hobbies. I had brought in a sign-up sheet a couple of weeks previous, hoping to get a gauge of how much interest there was in trying the game. On Monday before the game, all eight slots ((The launch party event is set up for six players, but is really easy to scale, so I put in a couple of extra slots, figuring I could handle an eight-player table if need be.)) were filled, and there were others expressing interest. I was lucky to get in touch with someone else who was willing to read over the rules and adventure and run a second table, so I expanded the available slots to twelve.

Well, when game day rolled around, we had eleven people signed up. And the other Watcher volunteer was hit by the murderous cold that’s been going around ((I did my time with it, and I know it’s a bad one. So I don’t begrudge him.)). But, as is common for Saturday events, not everyone who signed up showed up to play. And one extra person who hadn’t signed up did show up to play. I wound up running a single table of seven players.

Everyone ((Including me, and a few people who stopped for a couple of minutes just to listen in.)) had fun with the game, and lots of cool things happened, and at least one person went and bought the .pdf immediately after the game, so I count the session as a success. That’s the short version of the review.

Here are some specific observations.

Learning Curve

When you’re starting out, just learning the game and just teaching it to others, the first few rounds are going to be slow ((Especially if you’ve got a large group. Like, f’rinstance, SEVEN people. Just as an example.)). Resign yourself to that fact. There will be a discussion with every character on every action about what dice get added to the dice pool, how and when to spend plot points, how to determine your total, what your effect die means, and how the Doom Pool works. This will pretty definitely happen on each hero’s first action, almost definitely happen on each hero’s first reaction, and is likely to happen for each hero once or twice more as they try different things.

This is the learning curve of the game. As Watcher, you’ll go through it, too, but you’ll be muttering under your breath and looking at the rules when you do, rather than having someone else walk you through it.

But don’t sweat it. The way the game narrative works, and the turn sequence, even though each round will take a fair bit of time, players and characters are involved and enjoying most of it. I’m not going to say the round flies by, but there is enough interesting stuff going on that those who are not involved in a given action/reaction cycle will still be interested in listening to the cool things the dice mechanic tells you are happening. And, with the fact that all rolls are opposed, it’s quite possible that each hero will be the centre of the action twice in a round – once on his or her action, and once on a reaction to something a villain does.

Once the mechanic clicks for a player, you can see the lights go on behind the eyes, and things start to speed up. It’s still not a speedy game, round by round, but a lot more happens and changes in a round of MHR than in, say, D&D, so it doesn’t feel like it’s dragging at any point ((Well, it hasn’t to me, anyway.)).

Spotlight Time

Part of the GM’s job in any game is managing spotlight time for the characters: making sure everyone gets a moment to shine in play. MHR actually comes pretty close to automating distribution of spotlight time.This is the product of two things: the narrative nature of assembling the dice pool, and the brilliant turn sequence system.

Each turn, each hero gets the spotlight handed to him or her to do something cool. And building the dice pool – picking the dice you want from your various die categories – creates a narrative image of what your hero is doing. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be cool. You may even get to do this a couple more times during the game, as your hero reacts to a villain’s action.

In addition, the way the turn sequence works ((I’m not going to go into detail about it here. Fred Hicks covered it in detail over on his blog, so go read that.)), it’s primarily the players who are determining who gets the spotlight next. The game plays like a team-up comic book, with each hero getting his or her glamour spot, and then passing it on to another hero. It works wonderfully smoothly ((Except that I need to be better about keeping track of which villains are up and around.)).

The Doom Pool

This is such a fun mechanic. It does a lot to gamify a great deal of what used to be just GM whim, giving license to adjust dice rolls and otherwise “cheat” the players, all within a carefully defined and codified structure. It adds a little resource management mini-game to the Watcher’s job, but it does so in a way that removes other concerns that take up a GM’s attention.

Like what? Well, like deciding when to bump up the bad guy’s attack roll, and how to do that. By making the choices available dependent on the dice in the Doom Pool, and giving clear guidelines on how to spend them and how to regain them, the choices become much more focused and structured. I bump up the attack roll if I’ve got the dice in the Doom Pool to do so, and I’m not saving them for something specific.

Aside from this mechanical benefit, the way the Doom Pool grows and shrinks builds mounting tension into the game. The players can all see the dice in the Doom Pool, and they know that they’re going to get used for something nasty. Adding dice or stepping them up increases tension, and spending them gives a cathartic moment of tension relief. Really, it follows the peaks and valleys of a rising tension chart pretty well.

That is, if you use it properly. I found that I had a tendency to hoard the dice rather than spending them. This had a few problems:

  • It cheated the players out of that cathartic relief moment when a die or two gets spent.
  • It gave fewer opportunities for plot points to move to the players for adding spent Doom dice back into the pool.
  • It made it hard to grow the size of the dice, because when you step a die up, you need to step up the lowest die in the pool.
  • It reinforce the idea that the heroes’ best course of action was directly attacking the villains, because acting against the environment meant that I could roll an ungodly mitt-full of dice against them.
  • It disadvantaged the villains, making them easier to take out, thus lessening the sense of peril in the session.

So, lesson hopefully learned: spend those Doom Pool dice and make the players wish you hadn’t.

The Cheat Sheets

The .pdf of the game ((And the .pdf package for the launch party.)) comes with two cheat sheets: one for players and one for Watchers. I followed Cam Banks’s example – I printed them out and got them laminated. They are very handy tools.

The player sheet gives a basic rundown of the rules the players need to know: how to build your dice pool, how to use plot points, etc. The Watcher sheet is twice the size of the player sheet, and gives an overview of building Watcher dice pools, using the Doom Pool, and so on. It also has a little square on one corner marked Doom Pool where you can put the Doom Pool dice, letting the players keep track of how it’s growing. Below that is a list of lines where you can record the names of the villains and how much stress they’ve taken. This last I found incredibly handy. I used a dry erase pen on the laminated sheet, entering and erasing names and marks as needed.

The idea of the Watcher’s play mat instead of a screen actually speaks to an important point about the game that is subtle and easy to miss. You don’t want a screen because all rolls are opposed rolls, and should therefor be made in the open. The Doom Pool gives you your mechanic if you find you need to fudge a roll – well, I say fudge, but it’s not fudging in this system. It’s using the system as written to skew a roll as required, providing you’ve got the dice for it.

I strongly recommend spending the ten or fifteen bucks to get the play mat laminated. It’s very useful. The one thing I wish it had on it was a quick rundown of what the Watcher gets when he buys an opportunity from a player with a plot point. I just don’t know what I’d take off to fit that in.

An Important Rule to Remember

This is something I kept forgetting, and it’s not a good rule to neglect.

When you beat your opponent’s total by five, you get an extraordinary success. That lets you step up the effect die on your action. For every five points you beat the total, you can step up the effect die again, even going past d12.

Why is this so important? Because without this rule, you can’t stress a character out unless he or she already as a d12 of stress. Without this rule, the attack that really matters is the first attack, because that will determine how many more successful attacks you need to stress the target out. Hit him with a d8 of physical stress? Then you’ll need at least two more attacks, more likely three ((Target has d8 physical stress. If the next attack does less than a d12 stress, then the stress jumps to d10. Next attack will raise it to d12, and the attack after that stresses the target out. If the attack does a d12 stress, then the next attack stresses the target out. So, two or three attacks, and nothing can change that. Except this rule.)) to stress the target out.

By remember and applying this rule, you give more reason for the players to spend plot points in order to increase their dice totals, because there’s more benefit to getting a high total. It makes the action less rigid and mechanical ((The bad kind of mechanical.)), gives more options to the players, and creates some great moments for the take-out blows.

It also, incidentally, lets you one-shot a character. Had I remembered this in the game, Daredevil would have been able to talk the Sentry into joining the fray before the end of the scene.

One Last Tip

Most of the villain datafiles in the core book print out quite legibly on index cards. I ran the game at the launch party using my iPad for the rulebook, and printed out the actual adventure on paper so that I could scribble on the villain datafiles. Unfortunately, this led to me cluttering up my space with sheets of paper as I paged back and forth to the different datafiles. For the next time I run this ((Which will be next Saturday for one of my regular game groups who wants to give the game a try.)), I’m printing out the datafiles on cards. They’re still going to get shuffled and mixed, but they’ll take up much less space.

Final Words

The game runs a lot more easily and smoothly than I had even hoped when I played it and read it. There is, to be sure, a learning curve for both players and Watchers, but it’s not all that severe. It starts slow, but there’s enough going on to keep people interested in more than just sitting and waiting for their turn. And the speed comes with practice, as with all things.

I’m really looking forward to running the game a second time to see how it goes with a little practice.

‘Nuff said.




Central Canada Comic Con 2011

This weekend is Central Canada Comic Con, and once again, I will be there with the good folks from Imagine Games and Hobbies running demos of board and card games on Saturday and Sunday. I’ve made my selection and packed my bags ((I’ll try and get a picture of them up – my bags are awesome!)), so it’s just a matter of hauling them down to the convention centre Saturday morning and setting up.

Last year, I tried the sign-up thing for running the games, and it was a complete bust. The few people who did sign up for a game didn’t show, and I deferred demoing games for interested folks because it was almost time for a game that never happened. So, this year, it’s catch-as-catch-can; come find me in the gaming area, and if I’m not running a game for someone else, I’ll set you up.

Here’s what I’m bringing with me:

  • Legend of Driz’zt
  • Conquest of Nerath
  • Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space
  • Deluxe Illuminati
  • Elder Sign
  • Mansions ofMadness
  • Berzerker Halflings From the Dungeon of Dragons
  • Cthulhu Dice
  • Zombie Dice
  • Fury of Dracula
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Carcassonne
  • Chrononauts
  • Fiasco

In addition, I’m going to bring along the Leverage RPG and The Dresden Files RPG, and am ready to demo either one. These take a little more time, though, so I recommend you get to me by early afternoon if you want to try either of those. And if you can supply a full roster of players (3-5 for Leverage, 3-7 for DFRPG), that’ll make it far more certain that you get to play. Figure three hours for either of those.

So, if you’re at C4, and you’re interested in gaming, come see me, whether to play or just talk about games.

I’ll be there.

How GR, Inc., Stole Xi-Mas

Every year, my friend Dave runs a charity game day at Imagine Games and Hobbies. Proceeds go to Winnipeg Harvest, and the entry fee is a non-perishable food item. It’s a fun day, with Christmas-themed games and great prizes. Originally, it was just Warhammer 40k that was played, but in recent years, it’s expanded to include War Machine, Wings of War, and (for the first time this year) Gamma World.

Yes, this year, Dave asked me to run a Gamma World game ((Okay, that’s a lie. He asked me to run a D&D game, but I pitched Gamma World as being a wackier game, and a better fit to impromptu crazy one-shots, and he acquiesced.)). There were two catches – the game had to be Christmas-themed, and it had to be competitive.

I forget what initial ideas I had for the game ((Really, from what I can recall, they’re best forgotten.)), but eventually I came up with a workable idea for a scenario. Here’s the opening pitch I gave to the players:

How GR, Inc. Stole Xi-Mas

This is the story the elders tell, each year when you gather to receive the gifts of the season.

They tell of the Big Mistake, when the worlds collided, and the walls between the real and the not-real were torn down. They tell of the founders of Whatville, of how they banded together to build a place of safety in the wilderness. They tell of Fall of the Machine, when the great manufactory from the robot-ridden world of Xi crashed into the mountain nearby. They tell of the noble warriors who defended the Machine from the assaults of the evil mutants from Genome Reassignment, Inc. And they tell of the pact forged with the Machine, when it had recovered enough to flee to the northern wastes at the top of the world.

This season commemorates that pact, when the skysled arrives from the workshop in the north, laden with Omega Tech produced by the Machine – a gift to the descendants of those who defended it as it struggled to repair itself in an unfriendly, alien world. These gifts are what have allowed Whatville to flourish in the shadow of GR, Inc.

But one year, GR, Inc., HQ stirred once again. A leader arose among the twisted creatures that dwell there, a mutant of great cunning. The Xi skysled was shot down, and the bounty of Omega Tech destined for Whatville was instead claimed by GR, Inc. With this weaponry, they would have the ability to wipe Whatville from the map.

This is the tale of the season. The story of the valiant defenders of Whatville who refused to stand and sing in the shadow of death. The brave mutants who went up the mountain to regain their stolen gifts.

And of the greatest among them, who became a legend.

The tougher part was coming up with a way to make the game competitive, but not have it degenerate into a PvP slaughterfest. I wanted to preserve the co-operative nature of an adventuring party ((Also, I felt that having the characters turn on each other would be, I dunno, sort of not-Christmasy.)), but I needed a way to secure a single winner. I also didn’t want to be the judge – too easy to display favouritism, real or perceived.

So I did what any good GM does when faced with a decision that he doesn’t want to make: I foisted it off on the players.

I awarded a poker chip to every player whose character survived an encounter ((Why only the survivors? Well, if someone dies, it doesn’t directly penalize them in the voting. In fact, it penalizes the rest of the party for letting that character die – that’s one less chip going to someone who survived. Incentive to keep everyone alive, and a cushion for those who decide to make a heroic sacrifice.)). They then had to give that chip away to the player of the character that they felt had done the coolest, most heroic, or most amusing thing during that encounter. At the end of the session, the player with the most poker chips won. This way, the players were encouraged to try bold, heroic things during the session, and they were competing to impress each other with what their characters were doing. And, of course, it took me out of the loop for the voting, so I had no say about who won ((Well, not directly. I did have a little influence, as I reminded people of cool things that happened during the encounter.)).

As for the adventure itself, I reskinned a few monsters from Gamma World and D&D. The horl chus became tinselballs and mistletoes, bloodthorn vines became holly bushes, hoops became nutcrackers, porkers became teddy bears, and I converted a hoop warchief to an elite to make the dreaded green-furred mutant, Jemkayree. I also kitbashed some reindogs and dire reindogs.

The adventure had three encounters: the tinselballs, holly bushes, and mistletoes outside GR, Inc.; the reindogs and dire reindogs in the basement of the complex; and Jemkayree, the teddy bears, and nutcrackers in the lab with the bag of Omega Tech. To get the size of encounters I wanted with the creatures I wanted to use, I decided it was best to start the characters at second level ((This also gave me the opportunity to see the critical powers in action for the first time. They are cooler than I had expected, just having read them.)) and with two pieced of Omega Tech each.

One other thing that put a fun twist on the game was a house-rule that’s traditional at these charity games: one table always has something on it that can throw random stuff onto other tables to mess up what’s happening there. It hit my table three times, though only twice during an actual encounter – once to crash Santa’s sleigh onto the field ((I tossed a card box blind onto the map. It wiped out one of the tinselballs and created an obstacle during the encounter. Afterwards, the characters looted it for two more pieces of Omega Tech each.)), and once to airdrop a squadron of gummi bears onto the table ((Same encounter, actually – seven gummi bear minions. I set their attacks at +5, 5 damage on a hit, and defenses at 15. The player who killed one got to eat it.)).

I had four players, and we got through character creation and the entire scenario in about three and a half hours. Some highlights:

  • The dream grenade that, on the first action of the first round of the first combat wound up expanding its blast to put pretty much everyone on both sides to sleep.
  • The use of the Explode alpha mutation that missed two out of three reindogs, but hit (and killed outright) the Rat Swarm Speedster character. It incidentally also left only the Felinoid Rat Swarm as the only character facing two dire and one normal reindog.
  • The double whammy of eau de roach and portacomp that dumped Jemkayree through the dimensional portal and then closed it down ((He hadn’t even been bloodied, yet. That was when his heart was going to grow three sizes, and he was going to become seriously badass. Well, more seriously badass.)).

The prize was a wonderful edible scuplture of a Santa sack full of stuff (including Squiddy the Christmas Squid) being grabbed by a cluster of tentacles ((It was also terrain, with the tentacles attacking any character that started its turn within two squares of it.)).

All in all, a great success, I think. Thanks to everyone who came out to play and support Winnipeg Harvest, to Dave for organizing the day, and to Pedro and Wendy for hosting it at the store.

And just wait for next year: The Revenge of Jemkayree!


Pedro kindly sent me a photograph of the prize, as it was serving as terrain and threat during the game. Thanks, Pedro!

Stolen Omega Tech

C4 Report

Last weekend, I spent Saturday and Sunday at the Central Canada Comic Convention, demoing games for Imagine Games and Hobbies. It was a fun time, with lots of folks coming by to look at, talk about, and try out the games we had on display.

I brought a bunch of games ((At this point, I want to mention that I managed to pack everything into a Paladin Mission Pack and a Paladin Mission Go Bag, that I got from Darkthreads. These packs are amazing – they hold a ton of stuff, and are very easy to carry, as you’d expect in bags designed for special forces. If you’ve got a bunch of stuff to carry, I heartily recommend them.)) to show off: Castle Ravenloft, Talisman, Beowulf The Legend, Fury of Dracula, Arkham Horror, Zombie Dice, Cthulhu Dice, Fiasco, and Monty Python Fluxx. So, of course, the first game I wound up demoing was one that I hadn’t heard anything about, or knew anything about.

This was the Resident Evil Deckbuilding Game. A group of folks came over specifically to try it out, Imagine Games having got a preview demo copy, and Pedro said, “Sure. Rick, figure it out and teach it to them ((Thanks again for that, Pedro.)).” Fortunately, the game was very similar to Dominion, with a few wrinkles – less interaction with other players, and a mechanic for fighting zombies, of course. It took about half an hour to get things set up and running – and about twenty minutes of that was to sort out the various piles of cards.

But we got through that, and the people who played said that it was a pretty good game. I got called away once things were running to do some more demos.

I ran a huge number of Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice games – they’re just about perfect games for demoing at cons, being fast, easy, fun, and flashy with the colourful dice. A surprising runner-up for demos was Monty Python Fluxx, which again runs pretty fast – about half an hour – and is a great deal of fun.
A bigger time investment was Castle Ravenloft. It took about fifteen minutes to set up, and we ran through the introductory scenario with five players in about an hour and a half. I ran it on the easiest setting, and am glad I did, because it will chew up the characters and spit them out. Still, the group managed to recover the Icon of Ravenloft and survive, though it looked touch-and-go there for a bit.

I also managed to talk a couple of people into a demo of Fiasco that turned into a whole game. We used the Southern Town playset, and wound up with two cousins competing to sell their grandfather’s civil war memorabilia to a German businessman, with my restaurant owner inserting himself as greedy middleman. Things went to hell pretty quickly ((Of course they did. It’s Fiasco.)), and it all ended in a fiery explosion and jail time. We managed, by staying focused and moving quickly, to get through the game in a little more than an hour.

I also set up Arkham Horror for a big game on Sunday, but only one of the players who signed up ((This year, I decided to do sign-up sheets for a few sessions, to allow people to schedule a time to play, if they wanted. It was not a huge success. No one signed up for Castle Ravenloft or Fiasco, but I wound up running a session of each at different times. Four people signed up for Arkham Horror, but only one showed. As I said, not a huge success, but we still got a lot of gaming done.)) for the session showed, and that’s just not enough to make a good game. So, I apologized, and the player went back to the Gamma World table, which was running great guns.

So, all in all, a busy, fun weekend. Glad I’ve got this weekend off, though. Two busy game weekends in a row is too much for an old guy like me.

Mutants! Mutants Everywhere!

I’m finally starting to dig myself out from under the backlog produced by two very full weeks of gaming. I’ve got a few things that I’m going to be writing about over the next several days, but I’m starting with my thoughts on Gamma World after finally getting to run it. Twice, as it turned out.

You may recall that I ran the Gamma World Game Day for Imagine Games. That was on Saturday. On Sunday, I decided I had too little energy to do the prep work necessary for the next Storm Point installment that evening, so I ran the Gamma World Game Day adventure again, for my Storm Point group. I think it was very useful to run the same adventure twice, with completely different people, and totally different mutants. It illuminated some interesting things about the game.

First off, everyone at the Game Day had a lot of fun, and enjoyed the game. At the Sunday game, it wasn’t as successful, primarily because I was pretty burnt out after running games on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and it left me distracted and testy ((As my players will attest. Sorry again, guys.)). Still, it wasn’t a complete wash – I think the game went fine, it just didn’t show itself off to best effect because of my mental state.

The Game Day crowd was a table of four, and I almost killed them all in the first encounter. And again in the last encounter ((For the record, the other group playing did wipe in the final encounter.)). The middle encounter turned out to be a cakewalk, even with the addition of some sentrybots from the other table ((This is how that happened. In the middle of the fight with the Klickies in the underground parking garage, the GM from the other table comes over with a handful of sentrybot standees and big grin. A couple of the players from that table are behind him. He says, “One of the players just teleported these sentrybots five miles in a random direction. I’ve decided they end up on your table.” My players kind of chuckled, and then I said, “Sounds good,” and started setting up the standees. I did it mainly to see the look on their faces. And it was worth it. And yes, I did make them fight the sentrybots and the Klickies at the same time.)). On the other hand, the Sunday game was a table of six, and they pretty much walked through the entire adventure, except for a few close calls in the final encounter.

Now, I’ve said before that the mortality rate in Gamma World is pretty daunting, and may be a barrier to longterm campaign play. What these two run-throughs of the same adventure taught me is that the mortality rate skews a fair bit based on a number of factors. I was surprised that it wasn’t the size of the group that seemed to have the greatest impact; it was the types of mutants.

The first encounter in the Game Day adventure includes a pretty powerful monster – a blood bird swarm. This is a level 4 soldier, with a damaging radioactive aura, in addition to some pretty nasty attacks ((To be fair, most of the monsters in Gamma World have some pretty nasty attacks. Genghis Tangh and his hoop barbarian are truly frightening when they get rolling.)), and it was responsible for doing the most damage to the Game Day group. On the other hand, they were no problem for the Sunday group. Why? Because two of the Sunday group had a Radioactive origin ((We wound up with a few doubles in the groups. At first, this surprised me, but then I realized it’s another example of the Birthday Problem with a smaller set of possible options.)), and were therefor immune to the damaging aura.

Given the random character generation method, and the random Alpha Mutations, this means that it can be trickier to judge an appropriate encounter absent the knowledge of the player characters. Not necessarily a bad thing, but something you need to be aware of if you’re designing your own adventures.

Another interesting thing I noticed in the game is that the players, even those who were skeptical about the card-based system and the rapidly changing powers and tech, really got into the whole random draw thing. It was like a mini-lottery every encounter, with all the anticipation, exaltation, and disappointment you could ask for. And the fact that rolling a 1 meant Alpha Flux, players who drew crappy mutations for the situation kept trying stuff on their turns, hoping for that 1. It made for a very dynamic, interesting game.

I still don’t think that the game is designed to make things easy for longterm campaign play, but I have a better feel for it now, and some basic ideas of how to go about tweaking it to make it work a little better for that. If I were going to run a full campaign – which I would never do ((This is an in-joke. My players get it.)) – here’s what I would change:

  1. Allow the player to pick at least one of his or her origins.
  2. Use an ability array instead of random rolls to complete the other abilities.
  3. Allow the player to pick his or her third trained skill.
  4. Give each character 10 extra hit points at 1st level.
  5. Change the Alpha Mutation mechanic in one of two ways:
    • Reduce the frequency of Alpha Mutation change, either to every extended rest or to only when there is Alpha Flux, OR
    • Build a themed deck of powers for each character.

The only other factor that might need to be addressed is the silliness factor, and that can be handled through play style and the choices players and GMs make for character types, monster types, and adventures.

So, in short, yay Gamma World. We’re probably going to revisit it in the Storm Point group as a bit of a vacation between Heroic and Paragon tiers. I’m looking forward to it.

Gamma World Game Day

Just a quick reminder that I will be running the Gamma World Game Day this Saturday, October 23, at Imagine Games and Hobbies. Festivities start at 1:00. We’re going to have three GMs on hand to run, so there should be plenty of space. Here’s the snippet for the adventure:

Grab a friend and get ready to celebrate the launch of the new D&D Gamma World Boxed Set. Mutate a brave new hero and be ready to take on just about anything! Experience the return of an old classic in a new play experience using the D&D 4th Edition rules engine! The D&D Gamma World game is a fast, furious romp through a post-apocalyptic Earth where mutant heroes face-off against killer robots, alien weirdness, and strange irradiated creatures.

Gamma World Game Day: Trouble in Freesboro

It’s shocking how the Big Mistake completely obliterated some places while others got by relatively unscathed. Freesboro falls into the latter camp, but if Genghis Tangh has his way, life will never be the same for the mutants of Gamma Terra. Delve into the origins of the Big Mistake as you take on Tangh and his forces! Pick up a D&D Gamma World Boxed Set, a few booster packs of power cards, and create your own characters in an exciting new Game Day experience! A D&D Gamma World Game Day adventure designed for 4-6 characters of 1st level.

Come on down and play. No purchase necessary.

WorldWide D&D Game Day: Red Box

This coming Saturday, September 11, is the next WorldWide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day, celebrating the release of the new Red Box starter set. We’ve got four DMs available to run the game at Imagine Games and Hobbies, starting at 1:00. This is a perfect Game Day for anyone who’s interested in D&D, but who has no experience with the game to come by and give it a try. It should also be fun for more experienced players, who will get to try out the new character builds from the Red Box set.

So, come on down and play with us.