Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chrome Dawn

Just before Mike left for Georgia Tech, he and I began discussing a new roleplaying system. Nothing crystallized since he and I were running around trying to get him ready to leave. However we did have some time available on the 3k car ride to Atlanta. Now as some of you may have heard, that particular trip didn't go entirely smoothly. But, we were able to come with a pretty awesome system, called Chrome Dawn.

Before I get too far into it, here is a link to a pdf version of our booklet: ChromeDawn.pdf.

The thing to know about Chrome dawn is that, as Mike likes to say, its a system for those of your who think current cyberpunk games are missing some cyberware. This is a hardcore game for really cyberpunk lovers. Once example of this is the power level, Chrome Dawn rangs from levels 1 to 10. We figure most other systems top out at level 2 and some manage to make it to level 3.

Perhaps it is better to take an example from the write up.

For instance, at level 8, the level at which you can modify groups of other people at will, the Dawn of Cyberspace and the Engine of Cyberspace Child Adept could read like:

With the power and wisdom of the King, the great net gates are built: orante magnificent archways that allow AI and man to pass freely from one realm to the next. Also forged are the great Cyberswords: Excalibur, Arondight, and others; physical weapons of pure cybernetic energy identifying the avatars of the King. These terrible weapons carry almost he full power of their creator - dangerous and powerful in both worlds and accorded great respect among all those who seek the favor of the king of cyberspace

I highly recommend reading through the examples of various cyberware, its a cool read and part of the system we spent a great deal of time on (starts at page 4 in the pdf).

I really like the system, in concept at least. Having cooperatively chosen realms of conflict (the first thing you do in the game is define the 3 dawns of cyberware that are the only areas in which you have stats / tests) is great. Having "Just In Time Character Creation" is another great thing. But I think one of the neatest things is having an entire character defined in terms of cyberware (the only stats in the game are all cyberware related).

We took this game to GenCon and played 3 games with friends. I think it went OK. Mike and I I think were both a little bit overwhelmed by the 4 days of driving we had just done, and I think our games suffered a little bit. Nevertheless there were some cool moments, and I really enjoyed the fashion dawn that occurred in one of Mike's games.

Anyway, I would love to get the opinions of some people out there, I know there are a number of roleplayers who read this blog, and I'd love to get your comments. I think there are some rough edges. In particular, I fear the Steel (the defensive version of Engine) may be too powerful. I also feel like the overemphasis on Engine means that chrome (smaller pieces of cyberware) fall by the wayside.

For those of you who aren't roleplayers, you may still get a kick out of the cyberware descriptions in the booklet.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Kindling and other news

As per my previous post, I do now have an Amazon Kindle. Perhaps even more interesting is that I've almost finished reading my first Kindle book. It works pretty well. Books are actually still better (due to being able to grip it anywhere, but it definitely works even for long reading sessions.

In addition to the book I'm reading ("Poison Study" if you care), I am also experimenting with a newspaper and magazine subscription (Seattle Times and Times, respectively). This is actually going really well for the newspaper, every morning I take a little time to skim the headlines and read some of the articles, and I feel much more in touch with the world. The convenience of having it wireless delivered is really quite large.

I'm also trying to convert my library of DRM-free roleplaying books to the Kindle. I already have a really good version of Bliss Stage on there, but Amber and Exalted are having a very tough time getting translated (partially because they are 50 MB in size). But it is working somewhat, and does allow me to search through the books on the kindle.

But enough about what I love about the device, if you really want to read poetic verse about it, read this MacWorld opinion piece on the subject, its very very positive, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Moving on... I'm not sure I ever updated the blog with car news, but I did end up buying a BMW 5 series. It has been built (I had to order it because I wanted a manual transmission), and is currently on a boat coming to california. It will arrive there in 24-30 days, and another 10 days after that will be up here in Seattle. It's a long process, but hopefully one that will be worth it.

I recently bought several bookshelves, 2 6ft. tall ones and 2 "media" bookshelves for DVDs/video games. I've got all but one of them assembled and put together, and I'm really glad I got them all. Now I have room for all of my books that heretofore were piled in stacks throughout my apartment. My dad is coming to visit next week, which is why all of the work. Hopefully I'll have it all done by the time he gets here.

We finished the Bliss Stage game. The endgame, at least when you're trying to force your crew to an end, doesn't work as smoothly as other portions, and I kept having trouble trying to bring about the semblance of a plot I cooked up, but overall I'm pretty sure everyone had a great time. I for one hope to play another game, and maybe then I can play a pilot and actually get a mecha. We had a little wrap up and we all agreed that the best portion of the game was the interludes with the character development rather than the mecha fighting, even Nikita, whom I had to entice to the game with talk of laser guns and missile tubes and so forth. Next week we try out my crazy DnD idea, where we take DnD for a 2-4 session trial to see how the other side lives. And yes, we've all pointed out that we're playing DnD on "indie" night, but we're still going to do it.

Thats all for now!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Amazon Kindle: The Re-readin-ing

Just a quick note: Amazon Kindle is out! This is big because its the first e-ink device to launch with a good library of titles, IMO.

Yes, I've already ordered mine. Cool features include:

  1. EVDO Wireless Internet Access - Anywhere, always on, for FREE! No service contracts, no worries!
  2. Free Wikipedia access - The power of the world's shared brain anywhere on a great screen
  3. E-ink display - no backlight need apply, no eye strain, it looks like printed paper
  4. Wireless purchase books where ever you are
  5. 3 thousand launch titles in Sci-Fi/Fantasy alone (88k total)
  6. Email content to your kindle wirelessly
  7. Just In: You can go to arbitrary web pages! (according to the device manual)

There are some disappointments. I don't think a $400 device is going to really revolutionize things, but I hope it will get cheaper as time. Also, its not shipping with PDF support. Hopefully that will change, but it does support MOBI files, which I hear there are PDF -> MOBI file converters.

Anyway, I'll be getting the device tomorrow, so more on it then! Welcome to the future!

Playtest: Bliss Stage Part 2/3

So we just wrapped up the 3rd game in our Bliss Stage campaign. I know I never blogged about our second game, but I'm here now aren't I... Next week we're going to play a little bit of a fourth game, but we could probably keep playing for at least another 3-6 sessions if we let it. This game is awesome.

There are definitely some hiccups with the game, and perhaps I should detail them before going into how awesome it is. The structure of the game is such that as the GM I feel that I am very powerless to effect a story. I have almost no control over the mission actions, other than to state their goal in the voice of a character, and I have even less control over interlude actions other than to specify who is in them. I have more control as a player of the authority figure / secondary characters than I do as the GM. I don't really have a problem with taking away the GM's power, quite the contrary, I enjoy even GM-less games like Polaris and Shock. But this in between state where I have to decided what interlude actions exist, and what the missions goals are makes it very difficult to craft some kind of story (like the players want) without stepping on their toes by giving motivations to characters or by taking little bits of narration over from the anchor in the mission actions.

The other big problem with Bliss Stage, I think, is the big dichotomy between mission actions and interlude actions. Interlude actions are where the meat of the story lies. Its where all the betrayal happens, where the trust building happens, where the gritty life of the characters occur. After 3 sessions of play, I can definitely say that it seems like the interlude is what we want to be playing, and the mission actions exist just to give us a break and to effect our characters mechanics. They are necessary to propel change and strife in the relationships, but are not the meat of the story. Consequently, they lack a certain earnestness on the part of the players. To counterbalance that effect, I try to provide the characters with meaningful goals that are personal and character related (or I try to do that by adding nightmare elements to the scene, galvanizing the character). See above for why that is difficult to do.

So, now that I've mention the two difficult things about Bliss Stage, I should definitely talk about the awesome things about Bliss Stage. The greatest thing about Bliss Stage is that there is nothing to do but develop relationships. Its like the designer removed from the entire universe everything that wasn't either developing or destroying a relationship. Indeed except for 2 things (trauma and bliss) there are no stats other than relationships. That combined with the fact that ever interlude action has to have a mechanical effect of some sort, means that every time characters are interacting they are effecting a relationship.

Because of this, you can effect some significant change in relationships. In the last session we saw:

  1. An abusive father apologize to his daughter, and a new, changed, interaction between the two arise.
  2. A devoted lover enter into an affair while the other side was reaffirming their relationship by rejecting another suitor
  3. A brand new relationship gain intimacy up to and including sex.
  4. Two old lovers rekindle their relationship in a completely new and different way.

Maybe I'm not playing the right kind of games, but those kind of actions are a once a campaign style of thing, not all in one session. This compression of development is incredible and really gives you a feeling of anticipation as you wait with baited breath for the next shoe to drop.

The most amazing part to me is that despite all the character development emphasis, everyone in my group has seemed to enjoy the game. This includes people whom I wouldn't have predicted enjoying a purely relationship focused game. If that particular feat is repeatable, then Bliss Stage will have achieved something truly remarkable.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ambercon Northwest 2007

Ambercon NW happened again this year, this time it was the first weekend in November (they've moved it up to accommodate another scheduling conflict). Once again, it was held at the glorious McMenamins Edgefield, and incredible hotel, with what looks like 9 restaurants or bars on site. This is the best convention I go to all year, and a decent part of that is the Edgefield.

This is the first year that I managed to get another person (besides myself and Lee) to come to North West, Keith joined us. This was Keith's second Ambercon and I think he really enjoyed coming to this one.

The big event of the con turned out to be the plague. Evidently Guy (one of the con organizers) got a bad stomach virus right before the con, and before he knew he was sick, managed to infect several people. This provided merry fun as games had to be canceled or combined with others due to missing people, and in general it seemed like every 3rd person you talked to was either sick or getting there. There was even a story of one GM trying to run his game from the bathroom! I managed to avoid it, though Keith did not.

But besides the plague, the con went very well, and I got to play in a lot of very cool games. The most memorable were:

  1. Monster Mayhem III - Run by Lee, this is the continueing moster movie themed game that I had played in twice before. I played a very fun character "Robert Noble (, yes I am)" and his sidekick "Pippy" a tweleve year old girl. Actually a horde-quantity 52 pt item, but you get the idea. There was much frivolity, and Pippy managed to get killed at least 13 times by player characters, the first one before character description!
  2. Giants in the Playground - We played a game-within-a-game with the elders playing DnD with Order of the Stick characters. This was hilarious! All the sniping between elders and all the grittiness of DnD. The game was made especially good by (I believer her name was) Susanne, who played Dara, the mother of Merlin the GM. It was priceless, and a lot of fun.
  3. To Trip the Light Fantastic - I ran a game of Persona cyberpunk, and for once a con game by me went well. There were only 3 plaerys, but I think they all enjoyed themselves a lot, as they got to experience the craziness that is persona in all its glory. At the end of the game, humanity evolved into a group mind and left earth behind... Very Cyberpunk.
  4. OMG!! We're like totally BFFs! - Ah yes, the Best Friends game. Or more appropriately, the game were Ben, Leslie, Chris, John, and Pol get to play snarky backstabbing high school girls. It was awesome. Leslie started us with the idea of all playing girls with T names (Tina, Trisha, etc), and Chris expanded that to be all variations of Kristen. So we had: Keirstan, Krysten, Christina, and Kristeen. Oh, and June. June had replaced Kris (the villian of the story, sorta), whom we had had a falling out with last year after she stole a boyfriend or some such. We had a secret sign and a load of puns, like Kris-tastic, Krissy Council, Krissy Quorum, and the best, Krys-tastrophy (which must be said with a frown, and very sadly). Additionally we had I believe no less than 3 or 4 boyfriend stealing events (the game started with one), a car accident while trying to make a subtle get-away, and one girl getting herself drunk to seduce someone. It was glorious.

As always, I had fun with all my games, those were just the highlights. We are now looking forward to ACUS in March. Oh, also, I even managed to win an Obie (think Oscar, only for ACNW) in the category of "The Prince Brand Memorial Award for Necrotic Merit" for Pippy. ;)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Playtest: Wacky Samurai Sports

The last week of indie night we eschewed our Bliss Stage game (though it will return at least once more, we can't get enough of those angsty teenagers fighting for humanity). Instead, we returned to Persona and played a great game of Squash. Yes, thats right. We roleplaying a high-school squash team. And it rocked.

For those of you who aren't aware, there is a sub-genre of anime that can be very strange. Mike and I call it "wacky samurai action anime." But that isn't quite fair because its not exactly wacky (at least the characters in the series take is very seriously), there are never any samurai involved, and unless you count high school sports as action, there isn't action. There is, however anime. Its wacky samurai action because these showes generally follow a formula that we were first exposed in Rurouni Kenshin, a samurai anime. Generally they will concentrate on one particular sport or activity (Street Racing, Go, Girls Baseball, American Football, Soccer, etc), and they will have crazy techniques with names ("Oh my god, its the Dunk Smash", "Drive B!", "The Hand of God"), and a lot of commentary. Generally the main character is extremely good at the sport (from breeding, practice, or natural talent), and they join a team, and proceed to have many many many fights exploring their skill relative to others.

So, last sunday, after explaining all of this to my reluctant players, we attempted to play some wacky samurai sports anime. I suggested Squash because it seems to have a lot of awesome stunting potential, and one of our players plays. I read up on wikipedia about the game, and we were just about off.

Our cast of characters consisted of:

  1. Hideki - The old captain, experienced in the ways of squash, and therefore life.

  2. John Cockran - The former curling player who brought the skills of the ice to the court

  3. Naoki - Tragically injured in a Kendo match, and never able to play again, Naoki has entered the squash circuit looking to escape his past

In addition, we generated rivals for everyone. This worked out pretty well, as there was a lot of room for comedy.

  1. Squash Player X - With special dispensation for medical reasons, squash player X wears a face mask at all of his actions. He also goes to the same school as Hideki's younger brother, and, oddly, those two are never seen together

  2. Hiroyuki Sakai - This french chief has been insulted one too many times by Cockran, and is now out for blood
  3. Ryu Hiyote - Naoki's former kendo rival, responsible for his inability to ever play kendo again has followed Naoki to the squash courts

As you can see we had a colorful cast of characters. After having our first clash of the titans and establishing the Hideo High squash style as the "Squash of the Heart", we quickly moved into the training portion of the adventure. At this point, I went all out on the comedy. After flying the team to tibet, the coach informed them that in order to have any hope of competing at nationals, they would have to climb a mountain without gear, without food, and without help. That mountain: Mt. Everest.

They had to face 4 challenges:

  1. Don't die from starvation! - Wherein we learned that the northern bear squash style can evidently take out goats
  2. The Ice Cliffs of Death - Wherein we learned serving strategies for climbing sheer cliffs
  3. The Thin Air of Everest - Wherein we learned that the vaccuum ball technique can be used to increase the air pressure of an area, also evidently the Squash of the Heart only requires one breath to accomplish anything
  4. The Helicopter of Death - Wherein machine-gun like squash serving machines were imployed to knock the characters off the mountain

These were a lot of fun. And everything culminated in the nationals. There was much stunting and awesome tricks played on opponents.

In the end, I think I convinced myself of a couple of things: almost anything can be a fun roleplaying game, as long as you're willing to be loose about it (and you use Persona). Making technique a cheap fragement is really effective at promoting a "wacky samurai" feel. Fun games don't have to be planned, at all, but it helps to know the rules of squash.

I'm not sure if I'll run another wacky samurai game soon, but I do know I won't hesitate to in the future.

And just to sum up, some of the awesome techniques we saw:

  1. The Spirit Of Japan
  2. The Eiffel Tower (and its cousin - The Tokyo Tower)
  3. Vaccuum Exploding Ball Serve
  4. Hurricane Whirlwind Double Wall Bounce
  5. Snowman-san
  6. Squash of the Heart
  7. Gyrosopically Minded Ball

If anyone from the game remembers any of the names better or more techniques, tell me and I'll update this