Monday, May 31, 2021

Just have to say...Fantastic Voyage has held up...

After thinking about the shrunken adventurer genre a bit, I decided to give 1966's Fantastic Voyage another watch last weekend, and I thought it'd be worth noting here that the movie has really held up to the passage of time.  It is, in some ways, a seminal work in this sub-sub-subgenre - to the extent that the TV Tropes wiki simply calls this style of adventure the "Fantastic Voyage" plot - and in my mind, it's quite deserving.

The film is, without a doubt, quite dated.  It really feels like 60s sci-fi...and I love that aspect of it.  The (Oscar-winning!) special effects are trippy and somewhat mesmerizing.  It also took home the statue for Art Direction that year, and I can certainly see why as the movie overall just looks cool.  And that's not just the special effects...the sterile look of the facility where the CMDF (Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces) operates sets a nice tone for the more grounded aspects of the film.

One thing that could probably be a drawback for many viewers is that the process of getting the crew shrunk down and into the human body takes forever.  I'd actually have to watch it again to note the specifics of this, but much of the early movie also runs with no music, so there's a very calm and methodical feel to it that I think extends to this scene.  Personally, I love it, as it emphasizes the danger and fragility of the process, rather than just shrinking, injecting, and moving on to the action.  BUT...I do work in a lab, so I may be drawn to that part of the storyline more than most.

Overall, if you enjoy retro SF, or even just solid SF in general, you should give this film a go at least once! about a character?

As portrayed by William Redfield

Capt. Bill Owens
Level 4 Watercraft Pilot

AC 6[13]    HD 3d6+1 (12 HP)
Saving throw: 12
Move 12 ft.
Languages:  English, Russian

STR 11    DEX 17(+1)    CON 10    INT 14    WIS 9    CHA 9

Attack:  By weapon (+1 BHB)
Skill/tool proficiencies:  Pilot watercraft (expert), watercraft repair, perception, history

+2 to Saving Throws vs. explosions and environmental hazards

Stick Jockey (+2 to initiative in aquatic combat); Ocean Ace (may add +1 to two of a watercraft's stats each round); Jury-Rig 1x/day, 4d6 temporary HP to a watercraft

(I drew a lot of this from the Pilot class from White Star...) 

And finally...I suppose Fantastic Voyage is close enough to "military science fiction" to make this a reasonable post to tack on a wish for a happy Memorial Day to my fellow Yanks.  (I hope everyone has a happy day, of course...just calling out Americans since we're enjoying a holiday today...)  I also hope you'll take a moment to reflect on its meaning.  There are a lot of folks who sacrificed everything to help give us this world where I can spend time writing silly stuff on the interwebs.  Our country is in a weird spot, where one side of the political spectrum has attempted to stake a claim to patriotism, to the point that aspects of it have started to seem especially toxic to many who oppose them.  I'd like to think that something like Memorial Day is a great time for us all to find common ground in appreciation for those who truly have helped to maintain our freedom by giving their lives.

Friday, May 21, 2021

On LARPing my way through life and very tiny adventures

 I am 43 years old, and I still play make believe.

If you're reading this blog (which I kind of assume you are), there's a good chance you do too.

I wonder sometimes how common it is for others who enjoy the RPG hobby to apply that love for entering fantastic worlds to daily life.  Maybe I just never quite grew up...?  (Whatever that really means...)

See, I'm not really one to get bored easily.  I can escape into my own head in just about any situation.  Sometimes, though, the task at hand doesn't really allow for drifting off into wholly unrelated thought.  So while I may not get bored, I do sometimes find myself (as I assume most of us do) in the position of needing to focus on things that - due to tedium, or repetition, or just plain old sleepiness - I simply don't "feel like" doing at the time.  And when I do, I like to pretend.

I can remember, as a kid, imagining that I was a member of the G.I. Joe team, mowing the lawn at our headquarters.  Because having to cut the grass is kinda lame.  Getting the opportunity to be a Real American Hero and doing the stuff that has to be done for that team to operate?  Well, that's just fun.

Considering the sort of fictional worlds I enjoy, I have a job now that lends itself to entering a more exciting reality fairly easily.  I work in a lab and get to spend a lot of time doing really interesting science(!) stuff.  When that stuff involves lengthy, repetitive tasks, though - which actually comes up pretty often - I definitely enjoy some impromptu LARPing.  I've worked with Hank McCoy, investigating a mutant "cure."  I've examined the physiology of creatures originating from another realm.  The most fun adventures I've had, though, have probably been as a researcher for the Combined Miniature Defense Force, helping the team prepare for future missions into the wild landscape of human anatomy.

I enjoy this so much, in fact, that lately I've been thinking it's a game setting I should explore more.  (After all, what I really need right now is another setting/adventure seed to distract me from ever accomplishing anything worthwhile in my nerdy pursuits.)  It's actually something I mentioned way back when I was very new to blogging...the idea of adventuring in the tradition of stuff like Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace...

I've never really followed up on it, and I think that's at least partially because I never let my imagination really go on the possibilities of a campaign for very tiny adventurers.  It's easy to think about such a game just becoming a slog through battles with "characters" that don't actually have much character...lymphocytes and antibodies and whatnot.  While there's certainly a place in RPG adventures for faceless foes like gelatinous cubes, I don't think many players want that to be the only sort of menace they face.

In the case of Fantastic Voyage, though, they did manage to make 17 animated episodes' worth of challenges by expanding the scope to include all sorts of missions that can only be accomplished by shrinking.  Maybe that would be the example to follow...?

At any rate, my interest in tabletop Fantastic Voyaging has hit a new high in the past couple of days.  A video made by my coworker Megan just went a bit viral on LinkedIn.  It shows T-cells destroying a tiny tumor and is pretty damn cool.  I could (and do) watch it over and over.

While this is a time lapse video, its sense of action just draws me into the world of the battles that go on within each of us.

Is it the sort of action that's worth springing on a gaming group?  Hmm.  I'm starting to think it is...

Saturday, May 15, 2021

A Monstrous Heartbreaker, Part II: The Warrior

 Now that I've started pondering the goals and structure of my own highly derivative "core" rules for fantasy roleplaying, it's time to start getting the details down.  (Yep, this is just my way of taking notes...)

The first class I'm set on is the Warrior.  I'm keeping this one simple...just using the one I presented for Glaciers & Glyptodons, extended upward a couple of levels.  It's a pretty noncontroversial take, I'd think, and should serve me well across genres and time periods.


You are skilled in combat and tough enough to withstand the hardships of battle.

You can use any weapons or shields and wear any sort of clothing or armor.

If you drop a foe with a melee attack, you may immediately make another melee attack.  (EDIT: I'm gonna have to make this scale with the Warrior's level, I think...)

Level    HD    Attack    Save

   1       1+1      +1         16

   2         2        +2         15

   3         3        +3         14

   4         4        +4         13

   5         5        +5         12

And just like that, I have a working document!

As for an example Warrior...those are probably pretty obvious, but I think I'll simply stat out a miniature I'm hoping to work into some tabletop playtime (not even a fantasy-based one)...

Dewey Shaw, Checkmate Knight

Level 2 Warrior
Checkmate's first appearance:  Action Comics #598 (1988)

STR 15(+1)     DEX 17(+1)     CON 16(+1)     INT 13     WIS 9     CHA 11
2+2 HD (9 HP)     Saving Throw 15
AC 14 (Checkmate armor)

Attack:  Checkmate lance (telescoping) +3, 1d6+1 damage; bodysuit strike +3, 1d6 damage

If Shaw drops a foe with a melee attack, he may immediately make another melee attack.

EDIT:  I realized there may be some WTF reactions to the "bodysuit strike"'s from this scene (from Checkmate #1) really registering with me as a kid for whatever reason...

(I thought the knights of the DC Comics intelligence agency Checkmate looked pretty freakin awesome from the first time I saw them in comic book ads, which must have been back in 1987.  While I didn't keep up with the comic very well, I do remember picking up a couple of issues and definitely enjoyed seeing their introduction in Action Comics, which I did follow at the time.  The look of the Checkmate knight definitely invokes a certain nostalgia for me, which means I was also happy to see that the "retro" appearance made its way to HeroClix years later - Dewey up there is actually a Checkmate Medic figure.  Oh!  And his name came from the great generators over at Masterpiece Generator...I think that's what it's called, anyway...)

And I guess because the universe loves a little chuckle, here's a song that just came on my YouTube mix while I'm writing this post...

I do really like this song.

Next up:  I figure out which, if any, classes to include beyond the "big four"...and maybe go ahead and steal 'em/write 'em up...

Sunday, May 9, 2021

A Monstrous Heartbreaker! Part I

 Alright...I think it's time to start constructing my own little fantasy heartbreaker.

I suppose I could be a bit kinder to the effort and think of it more like my friend Tim's "Frankengame," the goal of his long quest to piece together his ultimate fantasy RPG system, and which he has seemingly chiseled into a thing of beauty with his own big personal stamp on it.  (It looks like the Frankengame is politely stepping aside to give Tim room to dive into his superhero universe with the rules of the new Amazing Heroes, but I'm betting all of the effort to shape his perfect fantasy game is going to keep giving fruit as time goes on...)

I'm not sure that I have that sort of focus and discernment in me, though.  So I'm just gonna call it what it'll probably turn out to be:  A big ol' fantasy heartbreaker.  A monstrous one, in fact.  The goals?  I'd like this game to:

1.  Be a little more proof of concept for an RPG built upon classes that fit OSR games derived from Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, along with races built for fifth edition D&D.

2.  Serve as the "core" system upon which I can base a variety of gaming projects I'd like to one day bring to a state of public presentability.

3.  Comfortably represent the set of mechanics, assumptions, and quirks that I could call my own personal baseline for a fantasy RPG.

4.  Give me an excuse to explore an original fantasy setting in some amount of detail.  (I'm not completely sure what that setting will be, nor if this is actually the route I should take vs. keeping everything within the framework of a generic fantasy world...but I do think I'd like to have a specific setting to accompany the ruleset.)

Snagged this image from HERE...

So here's step one.  I ask myself the question:  What classes should my fantasy heartbreaker include?  And then I answer...that clearly the place to start here is with the four classic roles of a D&D adventuring party: the Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric.  This is pretty convenient, as it's basically the four we get (using a slightly different naming scheme) in the excellent Swords & Wizardry Light.  So...cut, paste, done!

Eh...not quite done.  I'll have to make a few changes.  The Fighter shall become a Warrior, taking care to ensure that there are no rules that tie it to a fantasy setting.  I know this seems like a ridiculous move considering the premise of the project, but I have a real affection for the idea of a time- and place-less Warrior archetype that can cover everything from dungeoneering fighters, to Paleolithic scrappers, to battle-minded folks of the modern day and beyond.  I guess it's mostly just a name change.

Now, for the Rogue.  I'd say that much of the exact same sentiment applies here, so if I take that last paragraph and make just a few edits...

The Thief shall become a Rogue, taking care to ensure that there are no rules that tie it to a fantasy setting.  I know this seems like a ridiculous move considering the premise of the project, but I have a real affection for the idea of a time- and place-less Rogue archetype that can cover everything from dungeoneering thieves, to Paleolithic sneaks, to subterfuge-minded folks of the modern day and beyond.  I guess it's mostly just a name change (and really not even that except relative to old school games that still call this character a thief).

And so we move on to the spellcasters.  It would be very tempting to fold these two into a single class that can cover any variety of magic, whether arcane, divine, or of whatever other origin a setting allows.  I definitely see the elegant beauty in the triangular approach to character abilities seen in games like True20 or Warrior, Rogue & Mage.  Related to Magic: The Gathering, we have recently seen a slight shift in the designation of creature types such that each of the game's five colors has a spellcasting class most closely associated with it:  Clerics in white, Wizards in blue, Warlocks in black, Shamans in red, and Druids in green.  I really like the symmetry of this arrangement, and it has a lot of value in the game's newest set, Strixhaven: School of Mages, which features tons of magic-users from all around the color wheel.  A bit ironically, this division points to the unity of all of these creature types under the title of mage (as we see in the name of the set).  And wasn't that maybe even the point of wizards in Original D&D getting the generic appellation of "Magic-User"?  To give players the freedom to imagine their mages with whatever sort of background they wanted, while still tying them all together with the same set of spell rules?

Ultimately, though, I'm just not sure I can have my own core of a D&D-type ruleset without giving the religious spellcasters at least one class of their own.  It's a trope that's just so strongly bound to the heart of the game at this point that I think the whole thing would feel incomplete without having archetypes for both divine and arcane (or at least other) magic.  I'm not completely sold yet; the implication that all magic comes from the same source, whether it's prayed for or learned from books, is still tempting to strive for.  I'll see where it goes from here, but for now, I'll work on the assumption that the Monstrous Heartbreaker will separate Wizards and Clerics...perhaps even with those class names.

Alright...any more classes to add?  A nature type, perhaps, to work in some Druid and Ranger tropes?  Surely I'll want animal companions, right?  Do I want a Monk, or can Warriors and Clerics cover everything I'd really like to see in it?  I do love music...should I go ahead and codify a Bard?  And why does some sort of Artificer keep popping into my head as a potentially strong choice as a base class?  (Seriously, I don't know that I've ever even played in an adventuring party that included an Artificer, let alone played one myself.)

I have a feeling this decision could be influenced by whether or not I include a specific fantasy setting in this little there's a bit more thinking to do on this.  More to come in Part II...

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

May the Fourth...!

A very happy holiday to all!

I'm going to celebrate by pointing out a very nice set of OSR rules for Star Wars gaming that I'm going to guess a lot of folks have overlooked.  Before my group's trip to the Stone Age, my good friend Josh ran a great adventure for us using RPGPundit's space opera ruleset, Star Adventurer.

While I'm not familiar enough with the game to give it a thorough review (and not that I typically do those anyway), from what I've seen, it's pretty awesome.  They're very solid rules in the general "modern take on B/X" tradition with enough detail to give a good feel for the genre.  And I guess it's almost obligatory to include some sort of "however you may feel about his politics" clause when discussing the Pundit's work, so...well, however you feel, it's hard to deny that the man knows how to put together a good game.

I went into character creation with the intention of making someone I could represent in miniature form with one of the figures from the classic Galaxy Laser Team...

This sealed bag is actually up on eBay right now...

I ended up with a human that matches pretty nicely with this guy:

His name is Garm Tharend.  He's a Human Warrior.  And not that you asked, but here's his backtory:

Garm Tharend comes from a multispecies spacer community with no home planet, many of whom have joined the extended family as a way of avoiding the crippling overreach of the Hegemony. This background often brings additional scrutiny from Galactic authorities during Garm’s interactions with citizens who live more traditional lifestyles, referred to by his community as “Worlders.”

This history has led a majority of Garm’s relatives (most of whom are more beholden to their own moral compass than he is) to side heavily with the Resistance, with many of them actively involved in rebel operations. Garm has been slower to back the movement, seeing a possible Resistance victory as little more than moving on to the next tyrant in line. However, he appreciates that the growing conflict has given him additional freedom to live on the outskirts of Galactic civilization.

Being pretty good with a blaster, he’s managed to put together a comfortable lifestyle by taking on a few lucrative hit jobs and living a low-key life in between. After being hired to take out an old droid running illegal schemes in the spacelanes, Garm was actually convinced by Glossig to give up the mission and join his crew instead. (There were probably some psychic mind tricks involved.)

If you actually took the time to read through that (thank you!), it's probably pretty obvious that Star Adventurer can be used easily enough to run adventures in George Lucas's sandbox.  While I've only ever run an actual Star Wars game using the old West End Games D6 rules...and if I were to run one now, I'd probably try out the 5E/LightBox blend I'm so enamored with at the moment...Star Adventurer is a strong game and could be exactly what you're looking for someday to play in a galaxy far, far away.


Sunday, May 2, 2021

One more trip to the Paleolithic...

 Last weekend, the gaming group I have recently infiltrated finished up our first little trek through fantastical Stone Age Earth (Glaciers & Glyptodons).  I'm obv biased because I GM'ed the adventure, but I really do like some of the details I'm left to think about with the game.

Before that, though, let me note some of my own shortcomings as a GM and adventure designer that became obvious during play...

As someone who feels like I take a fairly combat-centric approach in understanding what RPG rules (especially old school rules) are meant to provide for us, I think I might just not be very good at combat!  There was at least once in running a skirmish that I was ready to jump right back to the PCs' acting a second time in a row, without even giving the enemies a chance to move, attack, etc.  Possibly related to this:  I think I tend to load up combat encounters with way too much same-yness, so that they just amount to slogging through attack rolls until we see how the numbers allow things to play out.  I say it's possibly related because I also think that part of my issue with running combat is realizing how monotonous they have a chance of becoming and immediately trying to compensate for that by speeding things along as quickly as possible - even if it means I lose control of the order of battle in the process.

Ah, well, lots to reflect on in that rambling...

The game had some huge positives for me, though!  First, as a setting I'd been wanting to tackle for a while, the Paleolithic holds a lot of promise for further adventures.  The PCs were set up as inhabitants of a region known simply as The Valley, which I intro'ed with this image...

Stolen from HERE...

...and which hardly got any attention except as the background for the adventure's setup.  The Valley has a lot left for exploration...and coupling this notion with another area I need to improve on as a GM (the balance between sandbox play and railroading), I would really like to work out some hex crawl guidelines for Glaciers & Glyptodons that go beyond the few wilderness encounters I prepared for this first adventure and provide players with more of a chance to feel like they're interacting with a truly open and dangerous world.

With that said, I do like the high points of the story that was told with this adventure, as the PCs were summoned by the Hidden One (read: Denisovan and/or Elf) Drelon to go on a quest to investigate and possibly destroy a metal(!) ring found near the coast to the west of The Valley.  Here's Drelon...

I definitely went as LotR-esque as possible with this setup to emphasize the Stone Age Earth/classic fantasy connection I wanted to see in G&G (heck, "Drelon" is just a barely-rearranged Elrond...­čśÉ).  However, I was also able to work in another trope I've kind of obsessed over for years at this point...Atlantis!  In this adventure, the players were ultimately led (read: railroaded) to the nation of Atlantis, named as the "Island Home" of a dying race of Saurians who possess magic and metallurgy beyond that of the mammalian humanoids that existed during the era.

The end result was a small party of Hidden and Sturdy Ones (Elves and Orcs) helping to defend Atlantis from an invading band of Humans, which nicely set up an invitation from the Saurians to the adventurers to bring more of their kind to the ancient city.  This fits into a little mythology I've worked into my headcanon in which explorers/escapees from a multispecies, magical Atlantis serve as an origin for other fantasy realms.  It's all stretching, I know, but I don't get a chance to run this kind of stuff very often, so I pulled out as many stops as I could in satisfying the stories I've been telling myself for years...!

Finally, my biggest takeaway from G&G is probably how happy I am that I tried the combo of races in the style of 5E and classes at a LightBox power level.  I can't quite put my finger on why I like it so much.  Maybe it's that extra bit of flair that 5E races give a character, compared to the...ahem, lighter treatments they're given in Swords & Wizardry Light.  Or maybe it's because it lets me look at all of those 5E race options out there in a new light...or even just because it makes Ravnica easier for me to visualize running.  Whatever it is, I'm excited to explore it more moving forward, and it seems like an approach that could unite a number of the mini-projects that I've thought about and then ignored on this blog over the years, from running Ravnica, to Light City, to Underground Elemental Beastfighting, to Project 5.5.  I'm even tempted to cobble together my own little Fantasy Heartbreaker to ground the other projects.  Hopefully more to come on this...!