Friday, August 12, 2016

Stuff You Don't Need to Actually Run a Game - Deadlands Edition

I saw something online and it immediately called out to me as a nifty item to have for my Deadlands stuff:

Short of a bloody handprint I don't think there's anything else you could add to make that more Deadlands. I've been fiddling around with the game for close to 20 years now and I have no plans to give it up so I figured I could afford to go sideways instead of getting more books.

My second thought was "ok how can I use it?" - or really, "how can I justify buying it right now"? I do have some cards I plan to use only for Deadlands, and I was looking at some dice for it and I was going to get a new dice bag for those and, well ...

There's plenty of room in ti for some cards and a dice bag.

I showed the Texas Star deck in a prior post but the 1800 deck is new.

I really like that look. That's my main deck for Deadlands now.

Dicebags: I've only used a few over the years - for the longest time my D&D dice traveled in an index card file box  - but I thought a leather/rawhide//buckskin look fit this game pretty well and it's big enough to hold quite a few dice. The best thing about it is that if it gets dirty/sweaty/grimy over the years it only looks that much more appropriate!

Dice: I co-opted the orange and yellow dice from my pile of Marvel Heroic dice, then added in the copper-colored set. The color choices are a nod to all of those blazing orange and yellow covers and boxes sitting behind me when I run the game. When I think "Deadlands" those are the colors associated with it in my head.

Yeah - that.

Originally I had thought I would keep bennies in the box too but bennies for Deadlands are poker chips and they live in a cowboy hat (lower right in the pic above). We throw it out on the table and use as the fate pot for the game. So no chips in the box.

So that's my little detour into useless gaming crap that you really do not need. I justify it all in the name of "atmosphere" and ... because I just like it. I suspect my teenage self would have looked at it and said "sure, that's cool and all - does it mean you've bought all the games then?" Well no, let's not get silly. I probably could have bought another game book or three instead of getting the box, the cards, the bag, and the dice. Sometimes though it's about making the games you already have better in some way other than more books. Sometimes it's just because it's cool.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mid-Week Media: Suicide Squad

I went in with low expectations as a) I don't really like the concept that much of trying to turn supervillains into sort-of heroes as a pop-culture thing and b) I haven't seen anything terribly interesting in the trailers yet. Oh it's colorful! Oh it's got Harley Quinn! - yeah yeah. I wasn't pushing to see it in the theater but the kids wanted to so we went.

The opening hour or so is decent. I won't say great but I had some interest in seeing what they would do. The second half is something you've probably seen in a bunch of other movies. Parts of it looked a lot like Escape From New York, and most every post-apocalyptic city/zombie/scruffy team-up movie out there. There's a heavy focus on Will Smith and on Harley and the rest of the team is pretty thin. Why is Captain Boomerang there? He has about 5 lines in the whole movie and does very little - could have been an easy cut.

The team concept is pretty flawed here too. "What if the next Superman flies down and tears the roof off of the White House?' is the question that's asked. The answer is that Waller is building a team to handle that scenario - except they couldn't! Harley? Please. Croc? No. Boomerang? Lol. Diablo? Lasts about 3 seconds. Deadshot? Maybe if he is given a glowy green bullet - otherwise no. This is your anti-superman plan?  

These guys just don't come across as "evil". They're supposed to be bad guys, the "worst of the worst" - but we don't see much of that. It mostly happened offscreen, prior to this movie, and we're just supposed to assume they're awful.

  • Deadshot actually kills someone - for money! On screen! Did we mention the target is a mob informant so he's a badguy too? They talk about him killing a bunch of people but that's the only one we see. Then we get beaten over the head with the existence of his daughter and how he wants to change. Not exactly hardcore. Plus it's Will Smith! How bad a guy can you make him? It would take a lot of extra story work and it just doesn't happen here. 
  • Harley isn't shown doing anything particularly bad before- the Joker does a little but not her! Screwed up, sure, but where's the evil?
  • Croc - well he's ugly so he's clearly evil right? 
  • Captain Boomerang - he robs banks - execute him! He may kill people while doing it but they don't really emphasize that in the film. The thing that gets mentioned is how many banks he has robbed. You know, we don't hand out death sentences for that - did these people read any comic books?
  • Diablo - he did do something bad and he regrets it to the point of shutting down. He does deserve to be on the team and he accepts it. He's also the only one with actual superpowers (depending on how you want to count croc) and he is the badass of the team at key points of the story and with more angst than Will Smith. He feels more like he should be in an X-Men movie. I liked his part of the story.
  • Katana?! Why is she in this movie? She joins late and does little. Another unneeded character. 
There's just not enough "anti" in these anti-heroes. There's no unrepentant evil here. It's a shattering weakness: you want to make a super-movie about the bad guys, but you haven't established as all that bad before you're trying to turn them into heroes! When Anakin ignites his saber in a room full of Jedi kindergartners that tells you something about his character. Only Diablo has anything close to that here. Heck Amanda Waller comes out of the movie as more of a "villain" than any of the people on the team and while that may be a somewhat intended outcome this dirty half-dozen needed to be dirtier to drive that home. 

The tone jumps around too - there are some funny moments, then things get all serious but not in a way that makes any sense. Inevitable Marvel comparison: this is something Marvel consistently gets right, using humor to relieve dramatic tension, then jumping into an action scene. The DC movies are still struggling with this. The music jumps around too, like a DJ that can't make up his mind what to do next.

Extra Points

The Joker: He seems more menacing than anyone actually on the team, in a gang leader kind of way, ala The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. He doesn't seem like a world-threatening supervillain. And no, he's not in it enough to push Ledger into obscurity. The actor seems fine but considering this is the 5th Joker we've seen that's given a memorable performance (Romero-Nicholson-Hamil-Ledger-Leto) I'm wondering if maybe the crazy un-Batman is truly that difficult to portray. 

Enchantress: She's sort of on the team and I suppose she would be the anti-superman measure if it came to that, but she gets very little development beyond a 2-minute origin story. There was nothing particularly memorable about her or her alter-ego. She's as generic as it gets. 

Harley Quinn: A lot of the energy of the movie revolves around Harley. I only know the character from Batman The Animated Series and she was pretty memorable there. I am happy to say that she comes across really well here. I'm not sure that "crazy, criminal. hot girl" is all that tough to play either but Margot Robbie does it well. If you're mainly interested in seeing more of her let me direct your attention to Wolf of Wall Street.

The Finale
It's a little bit of a letdown, for two reasons:

First, The "brother" that shows up seems pretty powerful. I'd say he's the most powerful thing in the movie. he destroys tanks, soldiers, aircraft - pretty much everything he runs into. the he gets taken out by a demo charge. Not a nuke. Not a mystically-enhanced-mumbo-jumbo-powered magic bomb. Just a bomb someone brought along to blow holes in buildings and streets. It's a big moment in the movie but once I thought about it the whole thing seemed very anti-climactic.

Second, The "sister" that is the main enemy of the film is close to someone on the team and I really thought would play into the finish. it doesn't, really. I thought it would force some kind of difficult choice on one of the characters but that wasn't really the focus. Instead, like a bad RPG session, one of the other characters picks up a different character's signature weapon and uses that to finish off the opposition. It's not quite to the same level, but if Iron Man picked up Thor's hammer and Cap's shield to take out a villain it just wouldn't be right.

I mean honestly, who would do such a thing?

I hate to offer criticism without some advice on how it could be better, even on a movie, so here are a few thoughts of mine:
  • Let Diablo kill the "brother" - seriously! Let the effort burn him out and kill him but let him do it instead of a bomb. 
  • If you want a certain character to kill the main enemy then give them a reasonable means to do so before the final scene. It's not like the enemy was a secret or a surprise! You'd think they would have come up with some specific means to handle them.
  • Make your bad guys bad! Show us! Don't print out a police record on the screen! Don't make them perpetrators of crimes something that wouldn't get a life sentence! Make them bad!
  • Let's see we want the Joker in the movie but we don't actually want him to be part of the team ... why? Why not make him the leader? I think there's a much better movie lurking out there where the Joker leads a team of super-criminals against something worse, instead of generic elite-military guy.
  • Quit short-circuiting your own storytelling! How much better would this movie be if the villains had all appeared in a small role in a prior movie? Maybe a Batman movie? Maybe even as part of a montage where Batman goes to war on the lesser villains before taking on bigger fish like the Joker or Ras Al Ghul? 

Anyway that's how I felt about the movie and what I thought about ti afterwards. I went in with low expectations, I didn't hate it, I was just disappointed and thought it could have been a lot better.

Yeah, that too...

Monday, August 8, 2016

Gen Con 2016 and the new Trek RPG

It seems to be a continuing trend these last few years - big stuff doesn't get announced at Gen Con anymore. There are playtesting opportunities for new games that were announced prior to the con, but it doesn't seem like it's the place where the news drops anymore. Maybe that's better, but it does feel  different than "the old days". I think there are several reasons:
  • The internet, particularly the social media networks, is the primary channel for gaming news so there's no need to wait to announce stuff on a particular day. Back when magazines still were big players it made sense but nowadays ... once any legal/licensing issues have been cleared and you have a release plan/schedule you might as well get it out there.
  • WOTC and Paizo have their own conventions that seem to have usurped the top dog position from Gen Con. It may be bigger, but it's not theirs. The pattern seems to be announce and playtest at their own con first, then playtest at Gen Con, PAX, etc. 
  • Crowdfunding is such a big deal now for a everyone below Paizo & WOTC & maybe FFG that "new stuff" gets announced every month as the funding campaigns start up. A lot of games have gone to an entirely online process for announcing the upcoming campaign, funding it, playtesting it, and releasing it. They are largely independent of cons other than as some in-person playtesting opportunities. They are also largely independent of game stores, at least until the physical products are created.   
I'm not especially wistful for the old way of doing it. I just know that Gen Con updates used to be full of  new game/new supplement announcements  and that just does not seem to be the case at all any more. 

That does not look like Kurt Russell at all! 

Second, not-particularly-Gen-Con-related issue (but it was available at Gen Con): What do you do when they release a game with a subject you like but it's based on a system you don't? I love Big Trouble in Little China far more than I probably should. It was the first DVD I bought when I bought a DVD player (a long time ago) and I typically re-watch it  at least once a year. I'd love to see more gaming stuff for it if it's well done and fun but I really do not care for any of the Legendary card games that I have been exposed to. I'll look at some reviews online and see once more about it comes out but my initial kneejerk reaction is "pass". 

I was worried that I might be getting the same  treatment with Modiphus new Star Trek RPG. I've read an earlier version of the preview rules for Mutant Chronicles and I am reading them for Conan now too in light of the Trek announcement, and I am more optimistic about how this system works as a Star Trek game.

The basic system is roll under a target number based on your stat + skill (typical stats are 6-12, 8 is human average):

The "Difficulty" is rated as 1-5 which is the number of successes needed to succeed at the task.

OK, that seems simple enough.

  • Rolling 2d20 is clearly similar to the Wild Die for Savage Worlds, an attempt to mitigate the swinginess of a single die resolution mechanic. That seems fine. I love it in that game so it's an attractive feature to me.
  • I'm going to need a little more clarity as to what "skill expertise" is supposed to mean vs. "skill focus" - the examples in the quickstart rules doesn't cover it well enough for me to get a good feel for it. Could someone have say a 5 in Expertise but only say a 1in Focus? What would that represent? How about the inverse? What would that mean?
  • The roll-under approach ... sure it works for Runequest and GURPS  and Hero but it seems really counter-intuitive for a new game to me these days. It feels like it inherently limits the range of possibilities to some degree and while that's probably OK for Conan, a game like Trek that includes tremendously wide power level differences between individuals, tech, and starships I wonder if it will be more of a problem. Aside from that one concern it seems fairly intuitive. 
  • The complications detail seems to cover some of the oddball result options from things like FFG's Star Wars funky dice mechanics. I like what I see there. But what about extra successes?

Sample uses for Momentum - part of a larger chart
I actually think that Momentum Pool mechanic fits Star Trek way better than it does Conan. Conan's companions tend to be few in number, not especially trustworthy, and not long for this world. Trek on the other hand ... this screams "Star Trek" to me. 

OK - so far this looks pretty good? Any other concerns?

So it's like fate points/force points/bennies? What's not to like?

This is where it gets a little weird for me. The GM has never needed "points" to activate special abilities or environmental effects - that's just what the GM does! Seizing the initiative, re-rolling dice, switching the damage from an attack from the villain to a minion - sure, those are "point usage" type things. Marvel Heroic in particular has a very dynamic back and forth between villain actions, player actions, and a growing or shrinking Doom Pool (it's named that in that game too) but it is typically a bonus/modifier type thing, not an enabler/disabler of actions. It also has a nifty mechanic where once it reaches a certain size the GM can end a scene automatically. that might be worth considering for a Trek game too. 

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts after reading through the rules we have. I would encourage anyone else out there who is interested to check them out as they are free downloads and fairly substantial at 50+ pages. The game is supposed to release next summer but there's no reason we can't knock it around some prior to that.

Meme-tastic Monday