Beyond the Game Table

When I was first playing RPGs, back in middle school and high school, I had nothing but free time to spend reading game materials, preparing games, and running them. All through and after college my gaming group met on a weekly basis, sometimes even more often, making it easy to sustain the momentum of a new campaign.

As my gaming group and I got older, got day jobs, got married, even had kids, it became harder to get together once a week for three or four solid hours of game-time. Nowadays, it’s one Sunday afternoon per month to play the game(s) of our choice.

Trouble is, one game a month is just twelve sessions in a year, which can make it difficult to sustain continuity and energy from session to session, and it limits the range of games and campaigns a group can play at once. When we met weekly, it was fairly easy to maintain two or even three campaigns. Now we pretty much have to stick to one at a time. Even then, there’s a lot of “down time” between games. I suspect many game groups and gamers in our age bracket face similar issues.

Fortunately, there are new tools and options that weren’t available when I started playing RPGs. While in-person time for gaming is more limited, we all find time to spend on things like social networking, email, and even online games. What if the game session were to extend beyond the boundaries of just a few hours a month at the game-table and into some of that online connected space? If just half of my Facebook and Google+ time got spent on a game, I’d easily reclaim a lot of that weekly game-time.

My group already does some of this: we use email to coordinate and pre-plan our game sessions and deal with a lot of the bookkeeping and “off-stage” activities of the game in order to maximize our in-person time, but what if the games (and publishers) themselves supported more of this style of play?

Imagine going from in-person tabletop play on the weekend to running a solo or small group encounter online via a website or app, either live in real time or turn-based (as most RPGs are), bringing things back to the game table for the next session. Perhaps the apps and mobile devices come back to the game table with us, handling some of the mathematical “lifting” of the game system and keeping a record of the game that’s seamless with other types of play, whether at the table or not. A lot of gaming would still happen in-person and at the game table, but the game would also extend beyond the table, fitting better into the lives of a new generation of gamers.

Moral Victories

Recently, I was watching “Patriot Act” one of my favorite episodes of Justice League Unlimited. It’s terrific because it has a WWII scene with Nazis and Spy Smasher (in black and white, no less), the General, Green Arrow being a smartypants, Vigilante being his good ol’ Wild West self, and Seven Soldiers of Victory and Newsboy Legion homages, but what really makes it one of my favorites is the final confrontation between Sir Justin, the Shining Knight, and the General, and it’s scenes like these that inspired some of the additional game-system tools I wrote up for the upcoming Icons Team-Up sourcebook, notably pyramid tests, maneuvers, and the idea of using them for alternate types of wins. Let’s take a look at the scene in Icons terms with these options in play, shall we?

Warning – Possible Episode Spoilers

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Emerald City Knights: Chapter Three

Warning! The following may contain spoilers for Chapter 3 of the Emerald City Knights Heroes Journey. Those intending to play in the adventure should avoid reading it if they want to avoid any foreknowledge of the adventure’s contents.

This past Sunday, I ran Chapter 3 of the Emerald City Knights adventure series for my gaming group using the Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition rules.

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Emerald City Knights: Chapter Two

Warning! The following may contain spoilers for Chapter 2 of the Emerald City Knights Heroes Journey. Those intending to play in the adventure should avoid reading it if they want to avoid any foreknowledge of the adventure’s contents.

This past Sunday, I ran the next chapter of the Emerald City Knights adventure series for my gaming group using the Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition rules. Continue reading

Emerald City Knights: Chapter One

This blog entry has been waiting for the release of Chapter One of the Emerald City Knights adventure series, since I was able to run it before it saw general release. I’ll likewise limit any other adventure logs to post after the adventure goes on sale so as not to taunt unnecessarily…

Spoiler Warning! The following may contain spoilers for Chapter One of the Emerald City Knights Heroes Journey. Those intending to play in the adventure should avoid reading it if they want to avoid any advance knowledge of the adventure’s contents. Continue reading

Emerald City Knights: Prologue

This past Sunday, I started running the Emerald City Knights adventure series for my gaming group using the Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition rules. It was also a chance to try out some other new stuff like the Quickstart Character Generator from the M&M GM’s Kit.

My five players (Sean, Lyle, Michael, Meghan, and Andy) quickly rolled up the archetypes for their characters: Paragon, Weather Controller, Psychic, Summoner, and Elemental. Then it was off to the particular sub-tables to generate the characters’ abilities, advantages, skills, and powers. Finally, we wrapped up by assigning the listed defense modifiers and giving the players some time to choose suitable complications and come up with some background.

The players all liked that the various trait packages were “tagged” with descriptive terms like Imposing, Unobtrusive, Man of Action, and so forth, because it gave them quick “handles” on the characters beyond just their traits. Only a minimum of “massaging” of final game traits was necessary: Andy’s Elemental came up rather short in the ranged combat department (in spite of having a primary Ranged Damage attack), but swapping some skill and ability ranks took care of that. Overall, everyone was pleased with how their heroes came out with just a few random die rolls.

Seans, Lyle, and Andy, after talking it over, agreed that it worked for their heroes to gain their powers during the initial adventure. Meghan and Michael’s character concepts fit better with pre-existing origins, so they started out with full-fledged characters.

After about an hour and a half’s work, here’s the group we ended up with:

  • Action-Man (Paragon): Pinnacle of human perfection, with enhanced combat skills, sufficient accuracy to delivery devastating blows (Strength-based Damage bonus), immunity to many mortal concerns, and amazing leaping, swinging, and climbing abilities.
  • Stratos (Weather Controller): Focused primarily on wind and ice effects, but with a dazzling burst of thunder and lightning able to deafen and blind foes. His powers suggested a Russian heritage to Lyle, which worked well in that Emerald City has a fair Russian community.
  • Arcane (Psychic): Psychic warrior with a “psychic blade” able to shift from telepathic to telekinetic effects, mind reading, a psychokinetic shield, and his namesake psychic invisibility, able to fade from others’ perceptions. Michael decided Arcane was a historian who gained his powers from a cursed magical ring that sought to bring out all the dark impulses in his soul, something he struggles against constantly.
  • Tesla (Summoner): Daughter of dimensional explorers, raised by an extradimensional intelligence after her parents were lost in an accident. Although an adult, Tesla still looks like a child. She commands a group of robots she can summon from dimensional folds in spacetime, each robot equipped with an array of weapons and strong enough to lift a car.
  • Fire Chief (Elemental): Emerald City firefighter with the power to transform into fire, fly and shoot fiery bolts and blasts.

Warning! The following may contain spoilers for the Prologue to the Emerald City Knights Heroes Journey. Those intended to play in the adventure should avoid reading it if they want to avoid any advance knowledge of the adventure’s contents.

The series kicked off as detailed in The Silver Storm prologue for the most part. We established that Andy’s character was a fire chief, Sean’s was a police officer, and Lyle’s was a college intern at a local television station (studying meteorology at school). Arcane and Telsa were both novice heroes looking for opportunities to do good with their abilities for different reasons.

Thus, when the explosion occurred on Yellow Brick Row, Pavel (Lyle’s character) was already there reporting with a news team about the unusually pleasant early Spring thaw that brought out crowds to the open-air mall. Officer Hall and Chief Kane were among the first-responders, and Arcane and Tesla were both nearby and took the opportunity to act.

Tesla immediately set her robots to work rescuing people and gathering information. It happened to work out that each of the other four heroes encountered one of the stormers from the Prologue: Hank Hall and his police partner ran up against Death Magnetic, Chief Daniel Kane was grabbed by Octaman, Pavel and his reporter girlfriend Amy were attacked by Mongoose, and Arcane ran afoul of a sneering Lord Etheric, drawn to the “dark power” he possessed. I decided not to use Lightshow, as all of the heroes were pretty busy as it was and I didn’t want it to turn into solely a one-on-one fight.

The adrenaline surge of encountering their respective foes and the effects of the Silver Storm triggered Action-Man, Stratos, and Fire Chief’s powers. Death Magnetic initially got the drop on Action-Man (literally – she dropped a minivan on him) but Tesla helped even the odds. Then Action-Man hit upon switching foes with Fire Chief; the heat of his flame powers was able to interfere with Death Magnetic’s magnetism, and he burned up sufficient oxygen to send her down for the count while Action-Man took down Octaman with a few well-placed hits.

Lord Etheric got about one good hit in before Arcane knocked him into a window display. Stratos (arc-leaping away from Mongoose) hit the goth bad guy with a dazzling burst that allowed Arcane to finish him off.

The new heroes decided not to do anything to conceal their identities, for the most part, although Fire Chief proved the one with the best press (not surprising given his prior experience and leadership abilities). The heroes quickly agreed to work with the local police to track down and contain other stormers, and decided they were none too fond of the heavy-handed local AEGIS commander and his approach to “bagging and tagging” those afflicted by the Silver Storm. They also agreed to work together to investigate the explosion that led to the Storm in hopes of finding out what caused it and who was behind it.

All-in-all it was about an hour and a half for character creation (including sketchy backgrounds, names, complications, etc.) and a couple of hours of game play, including the roleplaying and character introductions afterwards. Emerald City’s new heroes are off to an interesting start and are going to discover they have their work cut out for them…

(E)G.A.D.D.!

I have an issue and, since I hope that I’m not alone, I’m doing what any American with issues does: sharing with the entire Internet.

The issue in my case is Attention Deficit Disorder, particularly as applies to my tabletop RPG hobby. In short, I’m infamous in my game group for my habit of catching a bug to run a particular game, talking it up to my friends and getting them on-board, even creating characters and running a session (or even two!) and then… oooh, shiny! A new game idea comes along, and the previous one gets tossed aside like yesterday’s news.

The prior Crisis on Infinite Campaigns blog entry is one example: I really liked the idea of mixing-and-matching my old superhero campaigns when I wrote it. Now, after the holiday, I’m not so excited, so I have no idea if anything will ever come of it. It’s my issue live and in real time right there: Sometimes I’ve got no staying power (where games are concerned people, just games).

Truth be told, I think one of the reasons why I got into game design and writing is because of my gaming ADD (or G.A.D.D., as we may call it – I’d go with Campaign Attention Deficit Disorder, but then I would be a C.A.D.D.).

I can channel some of those random ideas for games, settings, characters, ad infinitum, into various articles, freelance projects, and whatnot, as I have over the years. I keep a running journal of the things that come to me during the day; originally in various notebooks, nowadays via PlainText on my iPhone (synced to my DropBox – ain’t the future grand?)

Still, it’s not enough. This past week alone, I’ve toyed with ideas for running:

  • Gamma World: Extending the “Cavern of the Sub-Train” adventure I started into a full-fledged campaign.
  • Space 1889: Red Sands: The Savage Worlds setting and plot point campaign I picked up at GenCon.
  • Torg: Starting up some sort of Torg game based off either the original system, or by adapting the setting to a modified version of the system and/or Savage Worlds (a good 2–3 ideas bouncing around in there).
  • Thrilling Tales: Starting my old “Thrilling Tales of the Midnight Society” game back up, based on getting some new Adamant and Triple Ace Games products.
  • Mutants & Masterminds: As a playtest for an upcoming Green Ronin product.

… and on, and on. It never stops. Add to it the fact that my game group can only manage to meet about once a month these days, making game-time even harder to come by and you can start to see the challenge.

I’ve on occasion tried to manage things by going with campaign frameworks allowing for a variety of different ideas, such as my “Agents of Fate” series based around universe-hopping heroes inserted into various dramatic situations in different realities: gaslit Victorian London one week, post-Apocalypse America the next, and so on. Even that campaign approach didn’t last too long. I suspect part of the appeal for superhero settings for me is their “anything goes” attitude, allowing me to do sci-fi, fantasy, and a variety of other things in the same campaign from week to week.

In fact, part of starting up this blog was as a strategy for dealing with my G.A.D.D., one reason I’m thinking of renaming it something based on the term: eGADDS? I dunno…

So, do you experience Gaming Attention Deficit Disorder? How do you deal with it? Drop me a line at stevekenson@me.com or add a comment to this post and let me know.