Thursday, April 19, 2012

If You're Still Reading This...

Hi all!

Just popped in real quick to mention that if you're still reading this, I'm guest posting over at Mik's Minis for a while.

For all those who followed this blog, I'm terribly sorry that I never finished it. I plan day. We did wrap-up the campaign and it actually ended with a true end. It didn't meltdown or anything like that.

Anyhow, just letting people know.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The View from RuchtCon II - Part 1

So, one reason I haven't been posting in a while was because I was getting ready for a big event - RuchtCon II! Basically, it's a gaming convention that my friends and I throw out of our own homes.

Staging a Gaming Convention Out of Your Home

I was going to just write a post about our latest local gaming convention. But instead, I thought I might share the love and hopefully inspire others to do the same. Yes, indeed, I'm talking about running a gaming convention right out of your own home.

If you already have a gaming group, then this will work. Because all you need is enough people who can sign up to game with you for the weekend. Yes, it's the whole weekend, but hey - it's only once in a blue moon that this will be happening.

The idea is that you and your friends get together and run a series of one-shots. Just like a regular gaming convention. If you limit each one-shot to four hours, then you can run one session on Friday, two to three on Saturday, and perhaps one on Sunday. (I don't recommend trying to pack in more than one on Sunday.)

That means that, at maximum, you might get to game for a solid twenty hours straight over the weekend, pausing only to eat and swig down some Mountain Dew.

So This Isn't New to You?
If you are already familiar with gaming conventions, then this idea shouldn't seem that foreign to you. Usually, a small gaming convention might have a schedule that looks like the lovely flyer above, or something like I have below:

7:00 pm to 11:00 pm - Session 1
9:00 am to 1:00 pm - Session 2
(Lunch Break)
2:00 pm to 6:00 pm - Session 3
(Dinner Break)
8:00 pm to 12:00 am - Session 4
12:00 pm to 4:00 pm - Session 5

If you are new to this, the way it would work would be on Friday, you would run a four-hour session of a game you want to run. Then, on Saturday morning, you'd run another four-hour session of either the same game or a different game. If someone else wanted to run, they could do that as well. If you have enough GMs and players, multiple sessions can be run parallel to one another, just as you see in the flyer.

Looking at all of this, at maximum you might be able to actually play five different games within the same weekend. Though usually for us, three to four is enough. I love this for being able to experience new game systems, try out crazy ideas, and just have fun.

Another way to look at this is a method of getting in a mini-campaign all in the span of a weekend. Let's say that you used to game with some buddies of yours back in the day, but you all moved away. Well, get together on just one weekend and run a mini-campaign made up of three to five chapters - each session being a chapter.

Getting Real
Now, the small sample schedule I posted above would be for the truly hardcore. The people who really, really want to get the most out of their gaming. The flyer at the top is a far more realistic outline, in my opinion.

A tight schedule does not allow anyone to socialize or just reflect on the different games being run. Two sessions on Saturday with a long lunch break lets people sleep in late and in the interim time, everyone can socialize and even get in a boardgame or two.

I find that four hours is the magic number as far as how long a game should run. Five hours makes it difficult to schedule and still have proper break time between the sessions. With four hours, you figure about half and hour for everyone to get acquainted with the game they are about to play and for the GM to explain the setting to them, if need be. At the back end of the session, there should be about fifteen minutes or so for denouement and reflection on the game.

That gives you a little over three hours of game time to run something that has about three, one-hour acts.

I'll write up how are convention went in my next post!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Friday, March 11, 2011

Seventeenth Session Part Three - The Big Battle

A Meeting With Fate

So after dealing with the psychic storm that was unleash by a billion (not exaggerating the numbers) orcs all lining up for a WAAAGH! ... the Explorers trudged on through space, pushing their way towards the Undred-Undred Teef.

Then, they encountered something unexpected. Aid, of sorts.

The Rogue Trader Dynasty ran into a lone raider, slowly plodding its way from the Undred-Undred Teef. It turns out that the raider was part of a convoy. The very convoy of lost ships the Explorers where looking for. It was making its way slowly across the Koronus Expanse with small jumps, entirely lacking its Navigator.

It turns out that the warp storm which caused the fleet to be lost also fried the brains of the fleets' navigators, psykers, and astropaths. When the fleet finally dropped out of the Warp in the Undred-Undred Teef, they had no way of getting back, even though all ships' systems were nominal.

Stranger still was the fact the Sirocco was captained by one Adara - a woman who looks exactly like Sitara, the astropath that was killed while visiting Vedic. This was quite troubling for the Rogue Trader, who had had a illicit relationship with the astropath.

Getting even weirder, it turns out that Adara and Sebastian, the crew's Senechal had a past relationship that he doesn't remember. If you recall, Sebastian was once part of the lost Holocene Dynasty fleet. However, his ship was recovered, though he was missing large chunks of memory.

Finally, however, I was able to drop the big bombshell. One of the vessels of the missing fleet was a ship known as the Pantocrator - a mighty Grand Cruiser. A true prize for the dynasty if there ever was one.

What Should Have Been Epic...Was Kind of Epic

So, the storytelling events of the big, big session went very well. What didn't go so well was...the big battle itself. If you recall, I had a giant poster printed up of the Pantocrator and used that as a battle mat for the huge fight. The players got to bring out their Titan Walker and their Fury Interceptors. And we got to use the vehicle system in Into the Storm for the first time! Yes!

But that was the problem. Because it was the first time using that system for me, aaaaand the player had never seen the system, the battle was clunky, slow, and dry. I learned a big, big lesson here and that's if you're going to stage something big and massive, don't try to introduce "new" mechanics into it. Don't try to do too much. Stick with what you know you can do.

I put "new" in quotes because using the Battlefleet Gothic rules worked out much better for us, but I'll get into that much later.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Seventeenth Session Part Two - Interactive Cutscene

Now, if you remember, when last we left, the Rogue Trader was trapped aboard the Nihontu as 50 percent of its crew went insane. Luckily, the Explorers were able to find the allied vessel and rescue their leader.

Thereafter, the Astropath was able to share with the rest of his mates what he had seen in the psychic storm that hit the entire fleet.

It was a vision - a psychic broadcast from the Undred-Undred Teef.

Since the Astropath elected to share what he saw, I proceeded with my cutscene. The vision panned down to just one planet orbiting just one star in the Undred-Undred Teef. And there, they saw a vision of war. Total war. Orks fighting orks. Orks in stompas. Tanks. Fightas. All killing each other until a transmission is received by one gretchin who rips off a piece of paper from a read out in a teetering iron base, and thrusts it into the face of his kommanda.

On that paper was one orkish symbol, but the kommanda knew it well. "Tau", he breathed.

Then, the ork kommanda contacted the three other opposing bosses, informing them of the news. "I call a krusade!" he barked, but as one of the other bosses said, "For a krusade...there can only be one warboss!"

Then, all four of the bosses activated in their respective bases an ancient teleportarium which transported the bosses to a hollowed out moon which orbited the battleworld.

I explained in the cutscene the great irony of the whole affair - the ork kommandas could have stopped the fighting and the slaughter at any time. At. Any. Time. They could have called a duel to determine a warboss eons ago, but now only did so because there was a "reason" to.

I then described each of the potential warbosses as they made their way across the hollowed out moon toward each other - and here's where the interactive part came in - the players got to vote on which boss won! So, they got to pick which ork was going to become the final warboss. What I did was to provide a picture and a short, two-sentence description of each.

Da Monsta: a hulking, 40 foot tall super-ork

See-Not: A stealthy, cyber-ork. I told them to basically think, "The Predator".

Jawless: A horribly mangled and mutilated ork with no jaw, and limited capacity to speak.

Auld One: Very much the "standard" ork warboss, who happens to be quite old and somewhat cunning.

I had the players vote for two orks a piece. I figured if they just voted for one, it would just be one ork who won overwhelmingly. In the end, Da Monsta and Auld One got the highest votes, with the Auld One winning. See-Not got no votes at all, because he scared everyone too much. Apparently, stealthy 40k orks are scary. Note to anyone who wants to steal this idea from me, the scarier you make something, it may be that the players are less likely to vote for it.

With that, I then finished the cutscene, describing the ork battle with the Auld One winning in the end. In this manner, the players themselves got to pick the villain of the last quarter of the campaign. Kind of neat, I thought.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cutscenes in Roleplaying Games

Way back in my college years, there were many video games that dominated our time - Warcraft, Warcraft II, Doom - the list goes on. But one game in particular sticks out in my mind - Star Wars: TIE Fighter for DOS.

Not only was it a really cool game - but it had a profound effect on how we roleplayed. One of the more rewarding experiences in TIE Fighter were its cutscenes. Every once in a while, you were rewarded with a cinematic, Star Wars-esque scene of how your character had influenced the larger Star Wars universe. In the example above, you are shown how you, a lone TIE Fighter pilot had a hand in bringing an Imperial traitor to "justice". (See above)

Now, remember that back then, very few games had cutscenes. Particularly flight simulators. In any case, the cutscenes in TIE Fighter worked very well for a few reasons.
  • For the most part, each cutscene didn't reveal too much. In the game, "you" took on the role of a TIE Fighter pilot, so most scenes never gave you information you were not supposed to have.
  • The cutscenes were short, sweet, and to the point.
  • The cutscenes also were a form of reward. You got to watch a (what at the time was) a cool motion graphic.
  • The scenes gave the game an epic feel, because it showed how your actions in each individual mission ultimately affected the fate of the Empire and the rest of the galaxy.
  • The scenes allowed you to get to know the villains and antagonists in the story, because you certainly weren't going to meet them in space while flying a starship.
We enjoyed these cutscenes so much that we immediately started incorporating them into our own games, unconsciously following the rules above. Now, with time and distance, I can see why they worked.

What a Cutscene Is
In a table-top RPG, a cutscene is a moment in the campaign where the player characters are not present. The GM describes the scene, the characters, and what happens. For example, you might feature a scene where a king talks about the problems within the kingdom, or a council of Imperial Inquistors discussing the latest heresy. It might feature either allies, neutrals, or antagonists. For example, it might show a the campaign's main villain committing an atrocity or plotting his next move.

Incorporating Cutscenes into a Game
I've found over the years that when I talk about cutscenes in text or on the net, there will always be a number of people who balk at the idea. Critics of this idea state that it creates too much of a strain on the players. It's too much to ask of them to make a disconnect from the information in the cutscene and the information that their character know. Others say it jerks players out of the moment and puts them into someone else's shoes, straining the sense of disbelief.

These criticisms can be very true if cutscenes are done incorrectly. However, the way we used them really addressed those problems. For one, any cutscene we used never gave away information the players didn't already know. For example, a cutscene in Rogue Trader might have the Explorers landing on a planet that was ravaged by orks. As the Explorers comb the planet, they piece together what happened. Then, the GM describes the events in a cutscene, rather than just telling them the cold, hard facts. The point here is that the PCs would have discovered all of the information you had in your cutscene anyway. But the scene you craft helps put the events into perspective and makes your campaign setting seem larger. Hey look, stuff happens when the PCs aren't there...

A cutscene also might be form of reward for players. For example, when the villain of the campaign finds out that the player characters have interfered with his long-range plans again, he might lose his temper or have to go before his superiors and explain himself. Again, it's not a hard stretch that the player characters know the villain has been frustrated. These sorts of cutscenes will often get players high-fiving each other.

To avoid breaking the players out of the game, a cutscene is best used right before a break. The PCs finish what they are doing, and right before people go pour themselves a pint, you give them a little teaser or reward scene to think about.

When it's all said and done, however, cutscenes are simply not for everyone. It may simply not be something that you would want to do in your game because it doesn't fit your style. That's totally fine. This is just my take on them.

My Interactive Cutscene in Rogue Trader
For our big pre-holiday session, I wanted to make it grand, big, and epic. For that reason, I crafted a cutscene for that game. However, when scripting it, I noted that it was fairly long. The thing is, no one wants to see you soliloquy for ten minutes. Even five minutes is pretty long.

So, what I did to break it up a little was to make the cutscene interactive. Huh. As I write this, I see that I've gone on long enough. I'll talk about my interactive cutscene in the next post. Instead, here's a little reward: all of the cutscenes from the old Star Wars: TIE Fighter game.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Prepping for a Big Set Piece

So, for one of the set pieces I had set up for the big battle in the Undred-Undred Teef, I had pictured a huge battle across the hull of a space cruiser, using all of the cool minis that my friend Nick from E-Bay. What is interesting is that I didn't just come up with this idea from the blue, but rather from the fact that he was loaning me all of these neat sci-fi minis.

So, I set out to produce a table surface worthy of a climactic vehicle battle. To that end, I printed out a giant picture of a 40k space cruiser. And the idea for the big print out didn't come from me either, really. It came from my time with the Minions, and their copious use of Kinko's finesse. It just goes to show you the old teacher mantra that is said over and over in the smoke-filled corners of teacher's lounges: "Don't re-invent the wheel. Rob ideas and techniques from other people."

It was relatively simple to do. I took a simple 40k cruiser picture like the one below, printed it out, and then took it to Kinko's and had it blown up to poster size. Using their poster maker cost me about $20 and some change, so it was cheap and expensive. Is $20 a ton of money? Not really, but it might be pretty steep considering that you are doing this for a one-shot affair.

The original pic...
Now, the blow-up model - 8 and a half feet long. Not a bad battle-mat.

Now, the giant picture could simply serve as the battlemap for the game! Simple, easy, and very impressive on the table. The funniest thing was, when we started playing, I had to explain that the picture was still not to scale. An actual cruiser to scale with the minis would have actually been larger than even the printout.

Here's a shot to show the perspective of the minis on the hull of the cruiser.

Now, these pictures of the actual game (forgot my camera), but some staging to give you an idea of what it would have looked like. There are no squares on the improvised battlemat, so old-fashioned measuring tape worked just fine. Yes, you'll see some chaos raiders there. Those were stand-ins for ork fighta-bommas. Didn't have the money to spring for a squadron of real ones.