Friday, September 17, 2010

The View from Dragon Con

So it's been a while since my last post - but this one took a while to get out. There were just too many people to thank, talk about, and hotlink.

So anyways, I went to Dragon*Con this year, marking my 17th visit to the largest sci-fi convention in the South.

A Sister of Battle and a High Priest! Long live the Emperor!

And what makes this year so special? Well, I got shanghaied into being the game programming director at Dragon*Con. That means I was in charge of game panels. Things like Dungeon Design 101, How to Make a Better Character - things like that.

This year, we were able to get some fairly esteemed guests to our game panels. For our two indie games panels, we got Fred Hicks, who is responsible for creating Spirit of the Century and the recently and highly successful Dresden Files game.

Fred was at Dragon*Con just to hang out with Jim Butcher, the author of the Dresden Files books. Turns out these two were old friends that go way back. And not only that Jim Butcher's agent happened to be a gamer-geek, so she got him to put forth his material in RPG form.

Also, appearing in our panels was Jason Bulmahn, the lead designer for the Pathfinder RPG. Jason, too, arrived at Dragon*Con by way of vacation and was kind enough to sit in some panels for us as well.

Finally, we had Eloy LaSanta, who, while not as giant a personality as Bulmahn or Hicks, is living the dream that all gamers have - he has his own gaming company and is actually in the black. He's putting out his own games, game systems, and game worlds and getting returns. And he has one Hell of a combat system, I must say.

But we didn't just draw people from the pen and paper side of things. We also had Michael Capps, who is the CEO of Epic Games. Epic produces the Unreal engine, which is used for most of the console games you see nowadays for anything from the recent Transformers game to Batman: Arkham Asylum. But Epic is best known for producing both of the Gears of War games.

Mike literally hopped off of a plane coming from San Francisco where he shared the stage with Steve Jobs touting his latest upcoming game - Project Sword - to be on a panel with me. That, my friends, is the definition of graciousness. To come from a big, thousand plus sized hall and rush to be in a room with just 100 people for my lil' old panel...well that's just class right there.

Here's the presentation that Mike was at just before he joined me at Dragon*Con.

Coming with Mike was Alexander Macris and Julianne Capps. They were, respectively, the CEO of Themis Media and former Editor-in-Chief of the Escapist Magazine. Not ringing any bells? Well, Themis runs the award-winning Escapist Magazine site. Still not ringing any bells? The Escapist hosts Yahtzee - the famed "No Punctuation Critic". If you haven't seen or heard of Yahtzee, well you just lost some geek cred. No worries, though. Check out his reviews of video games. They're friggin' hilarious. How that guy maintains his level of comedy year after year is beyond me.

Alexander, it turns out, is a huge D&D nerd so we kibitzed about that quite a bit. It all led up to Mike, Alexander, Julianne playing in a game of 3:16 Carnage Across the Stars. We were joined by Alexander's VP Newton Grant and some long time friends of mine, Doug and Melanie.

And, you know, I have to really give credit to the Minions of the Monster Master for being able to introduce this cool group of people to 3:16. We all had a blast while playing it and even after the con, these folks were still emailing me about the game.

Other games played were Weird War II, using the Savage Worlds system. In a nutshell, think Castle Wolfenstein. Put Nazis, zombies, and Cthulhu into the same soup and you have yourself a game. Again, anyone from the Minions podcast would be familiar with this setting, since my pre-generated characters for the scenario were from a campaign we all played together.

Finally, I also got to play Zombie Cinema, which was introduced to me by the Minions. That was very interesting because what should have been an hour to hour-and-a-half game turned into a four hour deep-roleplay experience. If you haven't checked out Zombie Cinema, it's one of my favorite RPGs of all time. It has no GM. No character sheets. No stats. And yet can often yield very powerful role-play experiences.

But despite all of this gaming goodness, the highlight of the weekend had to be me getting to see Stan Lee. Back in the day, Stan Lee could come to Dragon*Con and you could walk up and just say hi. While he was always popular since the launch of the Marvel movie franchises he's a little more in demand. He nearly filled a 1600 seat hall with people wanting to see him. The wait in line for Stan was nearly two hours long. But it was worth it, because we were just three rows back from the front and could see everything quite well.

And, of course, you cannot leave Dragon*Con without a one-on-one celebrity moment. My celeb moment this year was getting to hang out with Brent Spiner for about five minutes. I was fortunately enough to catch him at a good time when the line to see him was light. I paid my money for an autograph and chatted with him about Star Trek and his random cameo on the new show, Leverage.

Of course, I would be completely remiss if I didn't mention my Dragon*Con friends that I saw as well - people that I get to see about once a year at Dragon*Con. Many of my friends are now staffers of the convention like myself, but I'm happy to have seen Dave, Joe, Beau, Shaun (both of them), Rebekah and her new significant other, Rob. Perhaps my only regret this Dragon*Con is that I didn't see more of them.

Two of my players were there - Nick and Doug. The guy who plays the battle-pskyer and the seneschal, respectively. Nick was brave enough to attempt to indoctrinate his fiancee into the convention scene. A complete and total geek-virgin, Jen bravely wandered about the convention taking everything in. To understand how uninitiated Jen is...she didn't even know what Lord of the Rings was until Nick introduced it to her. (I am exaggerating...but only a little.)

One more time, I have to give out major props to the Minions of the Monster Master. While I was at the convention, I met lots of hardcore gamers and game designers. But I was more well versed in the wide variety of RPG games out on the market than most folks that I knew. Most everyone I talked to had no idea about 3:16, Zombie Cinema, With Great Power, or Dogs of the Vineyard. And I have to really give credit to Duck Sauce and the gang for continually exposing me to new games and new experiences all of the time.

Anyhow, that's all for now.

Friday, September 10, 2010

And Now We Pause for some do you say? Battlefleet Gothic

So, a while back one of my buddies got back from Saudi Arabia and we were able to get involved in a game of Battlefleet Gothic. Like a lot of the other defunct Games Workshop games, it's pretty awesome. The game works well on its own and has not suffered from the bloat of numerous rules upgrades and modifications. So it's easy to jump into.

The game is a tight little skirmish game, which employs about seven to five minis to a side. Not at all a big investment for a Games Workshop game. The ships controls and combat are not unlike the controls in Rogue Trader. Ships in motion must move forwards a minimum distance before engaging in a turn. Moving faster than normal or turning sharper than normal requires a special order. Each ship can only receive one special order per turn.

Just like in most Games Workshop games, the combat turn is divided into phases - a movement phase, firing phase, and ordinance phase. Attacks are rolled on a chart, which is modified by range, and the target's ships position relative to yours. Again, like most GW games, the combat is all resolved on the same chart, making it easy to look up and resolve.

Probably the most fun thing about the combat for me was the impact clouds. When a ship is hit, blast tokens are placed on the table at the point of impact. Flying through a blast token causes a ship to move slower and possibly take damage. So, as the battle continues, the battlefield quickly fills up with blast tokens, which function as a sort of terrain. The randomized, shifting-and-moving terrain made the game chaotic and fun. It really helped capture the sense of a massive space battle.

So how did the game go? I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Here's my fleet. Three chaos battlecruisers and four escorts (frigate class).

My opponent's fleet. Imperial cruisers! The two smaller ships are frigates.

To give you an idea of scope in the 40k universe...yes, the small ships are escorts, which is sort of like a Raider in Rogue Trader RPG. The next smallest class are the frigates, which are sort of the default vessel of Rogue Trader. I think it's mind-blowing that most of the massive and grand ships of the Rogue Trader game are just 1 hit fodder in this skirmish-level game.

Here are some more shots, just because they look good and the pictures turned out well.

I love the look of the Chaos cruisers the best. So many spines. So very Ridley Scott.

The heavily armoured prow of an imperial cruiser. What would end up being my downfall.

More spines!

Right. So onto the important stuff. How did I fare? Not well, I'm afraid. Not to say that I didn't have a blast, because I did. But in the end I literally had my arse handed to me. Basically, my opponent did a good job at spreading himself out and getting me to spread out my attacks so that I could not concentrate fire enough to take out many of his ships at all. All of his vessels took some hits, but only one or two took enough to become disabled.

But if it says anything about the game, I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the fact that I lost so badly.

Since forward movement and momentum are inherent, its quite easy for two ships to sail on past each other, firing salvos at each other the entire time. Very naval. Very cinematic. And very different from what I'm used to in a minis game.

Here you can see the real thick of it. Ships right on top of each other. Blast tokens creating that spontaneous terrain that I'm talking about. If Chaos is going to go out, what better way to go out?

Well that's all for now. Next time, I'll give the low-down on Dragon*Con.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tenth Session - Prophecy and Fortelling

After a successful raid of the Space Hulk, our intrepid Explorers then made the rest of the journey to Footfall. There, they picked up their new Astropath, who happened to be a new player.

Rob, our new guy, gravitated towards the Astropath career after learning that the crew had lost their first one. Interesting, considering that the first Astropath was just an NPC. I'm sure there were other factors in his decision-making, but there you have it.

After disembarking on Footfall, the crew was met by a large platoon of Kroot mercenaries, who offered their services. The Kroot come fresh out of Into the Storm, and I was happy to incorporate them into the campaign. The Arch-Militant got fitted for some new power armor and then it was time to get more plot-heavy.

The Explorers were invited to a Fortelling - a great prophecy that bends the future itself. This particular Fortelling was put out by the Witch of Footfall. Actually, there are seven witches in Footfall, but in my campaign there's only the one. One can win a seat at the Fortelling but you have to bid at an auction to do so.

(If any of this seems familiar, the whole scenario comes straight out of Lure of the Expanse, which what I'm currently mining for ideas. )

In any event, the auction isn't one for money but instead for...something curious. Like the toenail of a daemon, ten-thousand blind servants from hive world of Necromunda, or the last sonnet composed by long-dead Sister of Battle. In an unexpected turn of events, the Explorers bid the Senechal's missing memories which he's been wanting to get back for over a decade, now. Yet another reason I'm loving the game and the setting - you can actually do things like that with real consequences. Now, the Senechal will never get to see his hidden backstory. He will never get to know what was taken from his mind.

The crew was able to be present at the Fortelling, though, when all was said and done.

A great presence awakens
But the prophets shall arrive
With their White Light before them
The claw, taloned - shall stir

And lo, near the four suns, a treasure emerges from a Dead World
A great prize to be claimed by those who fear neither Fate or Destiny
And she shall be the key to the awakening
Its slumber
She shall be its key.
All will be revealed with the coming of the Great War

Then, in the middle of the Fortelling, Footfall was attacked, by the mysterious and infamous Null Fleet, a group of bad guys I used for my last campaign. In the next session, we'll have our climactic finish was the Explorers say farewell to a dear friend.