Friday, June 17, 2011

Favorite Lovecraft Stories

It's not directly related to gaming, although it's close, but I'm going to write about it anyway--Lately I've been re-reading some stories by H.P. Lovecraft. I'm not a huge fan of his the way some people are, but I like his stuff in general, some of it quite a bit. So I'm going to list several of my favorites of his stories.

  • The Dreams in the Witch House: My favorite. It's creepy and fascinating, and (unlike many of the other stories) the characters seem real and you care about them.
  • The Thing on the Doorstep: This story is apparently not well regarded, and I don't know why. I love it.
  • The Music of Erich Zann: Very short, but does a brilliant job of conveying horrible abysses and weirdness.
Some of Lovecraft's most famous and loved stories--such as The Call of Cthulhu and The Shadow Out of Time--seem to me more like descriptions of a weird background and history for a story, rather than stories themselves. And At the Mountains of Madness I find has way too much exposition--the narrator just goes on and on about a history of the Elder Things. These are still decent stories, but I don't get why they're so acclaimed.

Other stories--such as The Dunwich Horror and The Colour Out of Space--I just think are weak. Clearly I'm in the minority here.

Reading Lovecraft again has of course put me in the mood to play Call of Cthulhu (or to try Trail of Cthulhu). Maybe someday . . .

Note--there's a very good podcast about Lovecraft's stories, called the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast. The hosts are going through all the stories Lovecraft wrote, in order, and they talk about each one. Well worth listening to.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Yareth's Pit

One of the stranger places in Andasso is a huge hole in the ground called Yareth's Pit. About 50 years ago, a foreigner named Yareth came to Andasso for unknown reasons. After traveling around the region for a few months, he began hiring all of the laborers he could find, stripping several villages of their entire labor force. For weeks, the laborers dug, completing one deep shaft straight down as well as several incomplete, shallower shafts. Then, abruptly, Yareth ordered them to stop and sent them all home. Yareth was never seen again.

The Pit, located miles away from the nearest village, resembles a dug-out quarry. The main shaft is about one hundred feet deep; the others range from a few feet deep to close to seventy-five feet deep. Much of the rock quarried in the digging remains piled nearby, although some has been taken over the years.

No one knows why Yareth did this, or why he abruptly stopped, or what became of him. Some believe that Yareth was from an entirely different world, and was digging to find a portal back to his home. Others think he was searching for some ancient artifact, and stopped the work as soon as he found it. Most people just think Yareth was a rich lunatic. Today, some of the diggers still share stories about Yareth and his pit.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Civil War Jones

I'm not sure if it's because of the 150th anniversary, or because I've been reading about it (James Macpherson's excellent Battle Cry of Freedom, or some combination of those and other factors, but I've really been jonesing lately to play an American Civil War game or two.

I own several ACW games, and I've love to get one or more on the virtual table (probably no opportunity to play face to face), including:
I also own For the People and In Their Quiet Fields II, but haven't played either; I'd love to learn both of those.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

And Andasso was its name-o

In my last post, I began talking about an old school-ish D&D game idea. I'm going to expand on that in this post, talking a bit about the setting.

Andasso is a medium-sized region sandwiched between two powerful nations: The Empire of the Unbroken Circle to the south, and Brennia to the north. It has remained mostly isolated from these nations for several reasons. Its geography is not conducive to invasion--it is bordered by the two branches of the wide and fast-moving Andasso river, and it is mostly dry hills and scrubland. The people of Andasso (who call themselves the Bisani; everyone else calls them the Andassans) have also fiercely resisted incursions by outsiders, and thereby gained a reputation as barbarians and even cannibals.

Five years ago, though, the Empire learned of a rich deposit of gold in the Andasso hills, so it dispatched its most skilled army into the region to conquer it. The natives resisted fiercely, preventing the Empire from establishing firm control. Then the Brennians intervened, ostensibly to help the Andassans, beginning a protracted and vicious three-way war in the region.

Since the Brennian intervention, Andasso has degenerated into chaos. The two major powers have exhausted themselves fighting each other and the natives. No significant organized government remains. When the Imperial and Brennian armies clashed at a place called World's End (so named because it was the last place created by the gods, according to local lore), both armies collapsed as organized fighting forces.

Now Andasso is chaotic and violent. Towns are usually run by a local warlord, and bandits roam the countryside. Some of the remaining soldiers want to keep fighting for their nation; most simply want to survive. And the people just want to be left alone.

If I were to run this campaign (and I hope to someday), the PCs would start as soldiers from one of the two invading armies. Just before the Battle at World's End, the PCs are instructed by their commander to travel to a nearby mine and retrieve some items that the commander left there for safekeeping. But after that, the PCs are on their own--their army no longer exists, and their commander is dead.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

An Old School-ish D&D Campaign

I have decidedly mixed feelings about the so-called old school renaissance in roleplaying; I don't particularly want to get into that at the moment. One thing the movement (if you could call it that) has done, though, is made me think about playing an old school-ish D&D game ( I say "old school-ish" because it wouldn't be pure old school as defined by the OSR). And one particular setting/campaign has been percolating in my mind for a while now.

The setting is a mash up of sorts, combining D&D with Twilight: 2000. The basic idea is the same as T2K: a protracted and brutal war has shattered civilization (although in my game it'd only be in one region, not the whole world), and the PCs are the survivors of that war trying to make their way in the devastated aftermath. I like this idea because it allows for lots of PC freedom of action, and it gives what I think is a sensible context for a lot of the tropes of old school style D&D. I've even started to put together a map, some names, and some locations for the game. If only I had a chance to run it. Since I don't have that time right now, though, I will occasionally write about it here--not as good as playing, but better than nothing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Victory in A Victory Lost

My PBEM game of A Victory Lost has ended, and I've won--my opponent conceded, saying that I'd broke through in too many places for him to salvage the game. I'm not sure that's true, but I'll take the win happily. We'd played about 2/3 of the way through the game when he conceded.

I think that my opponent is even newer to the game than me. As the Axis, you need to focus almost entirely on force protection for the first few turns, giving up territory to save units. This is especially true of German units, and even more so for German panzer units--the Soviets get victory points for killing German units (1 for infantry, 3 for panzer). My opponent tried to fight delaying actions, which exposed his units to being surrounded, which meant that I destroyed a bunch of his units in the first half of the game.

In AVL, you get victory points for (1) controlling victory cities, and (2) destroying some types of enemy units. Each victory city is worth 5 points, and there are 5 victory cities total. The Axis controls all of the cities at the start, so begins the game with a 25-0 lead. In our game, I hadn't captured a single victory city yet (although I was seriously threatening three of them). The final score was something like 27-22 in his favor. I think my opponent believed that I couldn't be stopped from taking at least one victory city, which would put me up by 27-22, and I might be able to take several cities. I think he's probably right about that, but you never know for sure.

We are now playing another game of AVL now, playing the same sides. I hope he hasn't learned his lesson.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

CWTE #10 Published

My wargaming podcast, Contact With The Enemy, has just put out Episode #10. Download it here.

Ivanhoe: Where's the love?

If you know anything about Euro-type games, you've heard of Reiner Knizia. He's one of the most prolific game designers out there, and some of his games--notably Tigris and Euphrates, Through the Desert, and Samurai---are seen by many Eurogamers as among the best of the genre.

I'm not that much of a Eurogamer--I prefer wargames and less "elegant" games--but there are a few Knizia games that I quite like, including Tigris and Euphrates. One of Knizia's most underrated games, though, is Ivanhoe, published by GMT in 2000. It is a very good game--simple rules, fast playing, tense, and well balanced. I simply don't understand why more people don't like this game. If you like Euro-type games, check it out--it's well worth your time.

Monday, March 14, 2011

AVL Picture

Here's the situation at the end of all Soviet moves in turn 3 (the turned opened with 4 consecutive Soviet activations, I'm done for this turn). Things are going slowly up north, and I don't like that my reinforcements this turn won't be able to arrive across the river. But I think that things are going well in the south. The Axis have tried to hold solid lines against me, which I think is a mistake--he should be withdrawing more. So I've been able to kill a fair number of German units all ready, which is a big boost in the Victory Point column for me. And as of now I've got a fairly open shot towards Rostov and Stalino.

Things change very quickly in this game, though, so I'm not getting overconfident.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Victory Lost PBEM

I've managed to start not one but two PBEM games of A Victory Lost. I tried generating a graphics file of the map using Vassal, but it seems to working badly, so I couldn't get a decent one. In the game, it's is the end of turn 1, and I'm playing the Soviets. My opponent is not doing what everyone claims you're supposed to do as the Axis--run away. So my initial progress is slow, but I hope this means I'll get some shots at his German units early in the game. Given that I'm lousy at most of these games, I expect I'll lose, but I hope I'll at least make it competitive.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Two games with huge reputations are being reprinted this year (at least according to the companies reprinting them). One I already have, but the other . . .
  • 1830, the classic train game that spawned a huge line of games (well, not quite accurate--1829 actually pre-dates 1830, but 1830 was the first 18XX game published in the U.S., and it's the game that generated the insane love for the series). Mayfair Games will be reprinting it, apparently with some variant rules. I own the AH original, so I'm not interested in this one, but it's nice to see the game will be available again. Of course, the fact that several dozen 18XX games are already in print diminishes the excitement for this one, I suspect, but I think a lot of people will still pick this up.
  • Breakout: Normandy, long regarded as the best of the area/impulse games (and according to some the best Normandy campaign game), has been out of print for years. L2 Design Group will be reprinting in time for WBC. This is a game I'd love to try, but given their other games I expect this will be very expensive, so I doubt I'll get it. Of course if someone wants to donate it to me, I'd humbly accept.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tom Waits and the World of Darkness

In an earlier posting, I talked about how King Crimson's music (especially the album "Beat") fit my view of Over the Edge. Another musical association I make is between Tom Waits (especially "Rain Dogs") and the World of Darkness. Why?
  • Waits describes life in the underbelly of a big city; his cast of characters included criminals, bartenders, and struggling workers. The screwed up nature of these characters' lives reminds me of the WoD.
  • The people in Waits' songs are often desperate and crazed, covering these up with bravado and violence. And alcohol. If there's an official songwriter of drinking, it's Tom Waits.
  • The world Waits describes is seedy and decaying.
If I ever run a WoD game again, I definitely will draw on Waits' music for inspiration. And possibly background music.

A World of Darkness Campaign Frame

I've been thinking for a while about a campaign framework for a World of Darkness game for a group of players who know virtually nothing about the setting. That lack of knowledge makes running a Vampire or Werewolf game very hard, but straight-up Hunter doesn't exactly fit what I want either. I've come up with several different ones, but recently I came up with one that I think has legs.

The setting of the campaign is Chicago, mostly in the neighborhood of Rogers Park (where I lived for 7 years). Since I love the city, and think it's a great WoD setting, this makes sense. The PCs are newly assigned members of a gang crime task force that includes the Chicago police, the prosecutor's office, and several federal agencies. In particular, the players are assigned to the section of the task force dealing with Russian gangs in the Rogers Park area.

However, all is not as it seems--the PCs are acting as undercover agents because the Feds suspect corruption. Someone on the task force--maybe several people--has been bought by the gangs, and is sabotaging the task force. So the PCs' real job is to find out who the corrupt people are, and take them down.

How is this a World of Darkness game? Lurking in the background are supernatural forces. The PCs don't know about this, and neither do the players, which makes it good for WoD newcomers. It also presents all kinds of opportunities for intrigue and deception, which is what a good WoD game should have (at least I think so).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's the CRT, stupid

As I've probably mentioned in this blog (and I've certainly said it in my podcast), I'm not very good at most wargames. It takes me longer to get a decent understanding of how to play than most people, I think. I've figured out one reason why this is the case--the CRT (Combat Results Table). The CRT is a staple of many wargames--usually you calculate the odds of an attack, roll a die (or dice) and cross-reference the roll with the appropriate odds column on the CRT to figure out what happens. Most results are fairly standard--units are damaged or eliminated, retreats, etc.

However, every game has a different CRT, and when learning a new game you need to actually study the CRT. Different CRTs can produce wildly different results. I tend to think all CRTs are like the classic Avalon Hill ones, like in The Russian Campaign, so I tend to play that way. Which often leads to bad results.

For example, the CRT in the excellent game A Victory Lost is pretty mild--even at high odds, most attacks don't directly damage or kill units. Instead, retreats are by far the most common result. Since eliminating units is a key way to earn victory points in that game, you really need to know that about the CRT and adjust your play accordingly. Other games have much deadlier CRTs, or ones that favor the attack or defense. I have a feeling if I studied CRTs more diligently, I'd probably be a little bit better at some of these games.

Friday, January 28, 2011

PBEM, anyone?

Basically the only gaming I get to do these days is play by email, especially using Vassal. I haven't actually played a PBEM game in a while, and I'd like to get back into it. So I'm wondering if anyone out there is interested in playing any of the following, using Vassal (and ACTS, if appropriate):

Keep in mind that with the exception of TRC, I pretty much suck at all of these games, and want to play to improve. So if you're looking for a challenging opponent in these games, look somewhere else.

Also, because of my very tight schedule, I may only be able to do a turn or two a week (that's a cardplay or two a week in a CDG). Some weeks I'll be able to do much more, but sometimes I simply won't be able to do that. So if you're looking for a really fast game, look somewhere else.

If anyone is interested, let me know.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An idea for magic

For a number of years, I've thought about trying out a simple but (I think) interesting system for magic in a fantasy RPG (although I suppose it could be used for other genres as well). It's based on the idea that a gifted person can twist probability in his favor, but there are consequences to this action.

The basic idea is simple: the gifted character can, at any time, gain a bonus to a die roll affecting them (or any die roll, depending on how magic works in the game). The bonus can be any size (although the system you're using will obviously affect the size and meaning of the bonus). The GM keeps a running tally of the bonuses used by the character. At any time that he feels like it, the GM can then use some or all of this tally as penalties against the character. The GM can parcel out the penalties in dribs and drabs, or one huge whammy. Do whatever is dramatically appropriate.

For example, in a Fudge style game, a PC takes a +1 bonus during a battle in which he fears for his life. Later, he takes a couple of +1 bonuses to healing checks to recover from the battle. So the tally is now +3. Later in the session, the PC tries to use diplomacy to get an NPC to cooperate, and the GM drops the whammy--a -3 penalty, which leads to catastrophic failure of diplomacy.

I think this system could be adapted in many different rules systems without a problem. And it is balanced if the GM does in fact use the tally to penalize the player. I think it could be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Battle for Moscow

I've spent a bit of time lately toying around with Battle for Moscow, a small and freely available wargame covering Operation Typhoon at the end of 1942. The game was originally published by GDW back in 1986 as a free giveaway to get people in to wargaming. I have no idea if it succeeded at that, but it did succeed as a fun and quick-playing wargame. I think you could probably finish this one in two hours or less, especially after you get to know the rules (not that they're particularly complicated).

As much as I like longer wargames (e.g. The Russian Campaign, maybe the greatest wargame ever), it is nice to have a game like this that moves quickly and can be played in a short period of time. Especially now that I have kids, time is very precious, and I can get the wargaming fix in a short time.

By the way, Victory Point Games recently published a new and cleaned up version of this one. And VPG has also published several other games by Frank Chadwick using a fine-tuned version of this system.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Games I Want to Run or Play In

I think it's probably typical for roleplayers, but there are many, many games that I'd love to play in and/or run. Here's a short list:
  • A long-term Traveller game: I've only become interested in class SF fairly recently, and it'd be a lot of fun to do a sandbox type Traveller game. I actually managed to start a game like this, and I think it was going well, but then I had to stop gaming on account of the impending arrival of twins.
  • A low-magic fantasy game. I'm not sure D&D would be the right system for this, but I'd love to run a game that is very close to medieval Europe, but with magic and horror lurking in the shadows. I've sketched out many setting elements and ideas for this type of game over the years, but never managed to actually run one.
  • A World of Darkness game: I love the World of Darkness games (at least the old WoD games; never played the new ones), and I haven't played one of them in years. I'd love to remedy that. A while back I ran an mash-up of Mage, Unknown Armies, and a bit of Kult for some friends, it was a hell of a lot of fun. But that was years ago. I miss being steeped in that setting.
  • Something set in ancient Rome. That's why I find Cthulhu Invictus so interesting, although Rome could be a great setting for lots of types of campaigns.

I could easily expand that list.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Is my wheel burning?

An RPG that I'm very tempted to try is Burning Wheel, a fantasy game that gets rave reviews for encouraging characters to take an active role in driving the plot. I love that in a game, both as a player and as a GM. So it sounds like Burning Wheel would be a perfect fit for me.

However, BW is also fairly crunchy--it's got a lot of a detail. I don't think it's excessively complex, but there's a lot of interlocking parts. And from what I've heard, it's so well constructed that tinkering with the system can have massive effects. I'm not sure that such a system is for me. I'm especially not sure it's for me when you consider that if I got the game and introduced it to my friends, I'd have to explain it to them. And I hate explaining complicated rule systems to others. If everyone got a copy of the game and read it, then I'd be more willing to try it. But I doubt that'd happen.

However, BW still tempts me. I'd love to give it a try, but I don't know if it'd work for me.

P.S. Anyone interested in learning more about BW but don't want to buy the game, check out the Podgecast. It's an excellent RPG podcast in general, but they love BW, and talk about it a lot. There's even a series of campaign recaps from (so far) two different BW campaigns they've played. Well worth listening to. And I really want to play in a game with those guys.