Tuesday, August 19, 2014

[GenCon 2014] It's Over, Go Home

This is funny, trust me.
Well. GenCon 2014 was one for the books. Yup. Some high points:
  • The State of the Hat panel on Thursday. Fun way to kick off the convention. (I like doing panels. Are you doing a panel for a thing? Maybe you want me on it!) Some cool stuff on display there, including the Campaign Coins fate point tokens and a spiral-bound copy of the War of Ashes playtest rules. Finally got to meet Fred, Rob, and Sean in person. At least, I'm pretty positive Sean and I have never met. Anyway, also got to meet my personal savior, Adam Jury. Plus, the panelists didn't outnumber the audience this year, which was nice.
  • Three very successful and fun playtests of The Sparks Nevada Thrilling Adventure Game, including one for a table of four superfans and one for aforementioned Evil Hat project manager Sean Nittner. Good feedback all around. This new version really feels like the show, and it's faster-playing to boot. One of these had the best aspect I've ever come up with (pictured above).
  • An equally successful and fun game of Atomic Robo that let me playstorm ideas for training and planning montages for Shadow of the Century -- plus my players included Dave and Liz of Nearly Enough Dice, all the way from Scotland, which was very cool. Great to meet you guys in person! Wish we could've found time to do an interview face-to-face, but oh well. Hangout it is.
  • The fastest ARRPG game of my or anyone's life at Games on Demand -- about 90 minutes, after introducing the PCs and explaining the basics of Fate -- but still managed to squeeze in two fun fights, a brainstorm, and, y'know, general roleplaying and farting around. Felt like a sprint from start to finish, but we did it, and everyone had a great time. I really enjoyed conceding on behalf of those last two NPCs.
  • Playing in a Tunnels & Trolls game run by childhood idol Ken St. Andre. I told him later at the Flying Buffalo booth that T&T was a formative game for me, and that I was now a famous game designer. I don't think he believed me on either count. But it was still nice to tell him anyway, even if only one of those things is true.
  • A drum corps fan I met Thursday morning while making our D&D characters for the convention. Most of the rest of the gamers at the table were fairly unpleasant, demeanor-wise, so it was cool to be able to talk drum corps with this guy (marched Cadets '92, son marched SCV in... 2011, I want to say), let him look up stuff in my PHB, and ignore those other people entirely.
  • My first D&D game of the convention, when the DM had everyone go around the table and call out their race and class. After "Fighter, fighter, fighter, wizard, cleric," it was a pleasure to say "Bard!" The looks on their faces... priceless. But they changed their tunes the first time I handed out an Inspiration Die. Take that, unbelievers.
  • My second (and, unfortunately, last) D&D game of the convention, when the tweenaged girl at the table got to strike the killing blow against the monster with her magic missile. I just like it when first-time players get to do cool stuff, especially if they're kids.
  • Seeing ARRPG on the rack at the IPR booth and hearing that it was selling like hotcakes.
  • Getting interviewed (on video!) about ARRPG, and suggesting questions to the interviewer, who was -- admit it, Spencer! -- more enthusiastic than prepared. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It was flattering. Cool guys, those guys.
  • Played a demo of D&D Attack Wing. Like X-Wing, but with dragons. I... may be in trouble.
  • Signing books! I feel like I signed a lot of books, including one copy of Jadepunk. No Fate Core, though. I guess that was a 2013 thing.
  • Meeting a few industry-types who either wanted to meet me or felt they had no other option once I had been introduced. Regardless, hey, meeting new people.
  • Talkin' business! Business business business! Numbers!
  • Every single time someone told me they liked/loved/were excited about ARRPG.
  • You! That time I saw you there and we talked about, I dunno, some gaming thing, probably.
  • Going to the ENnie Awards the night that Fate Core, Fate Accelerated, the Fate System Toolkit, Fate Dice, the Fate SRD, and Evil Hat itself won ALL THE ENNIES. And also John Adamus and Ericka Skirpan got engaged on stage, which was a thing only one of them knew was going to happen. I'd never been to the ENnies before -- never really felt like I had a reason to go -- so I can only assume they're all like that.

Low points!
  • Only getting to play games for 3 hours. Boo.
  • That T&T game wasn't actually, like... good.
  • D&D DMs being stingy with Inspiration. I'm roleplayin' my face off over here! Gimme the Inspiration already! Sheesh.
  • Staying at a hotel out by the airport and having to take a 40-minute shuttle there and back every day. This was a bigger hassle than just the time lost. The shuttle only ran once and hour, and at night there was just a 10:00 and a 1:00 -- so if you didn't get the former, you had to wait around for three hours for the latter. Say, if you're at the ENnies and the thing lasts until 10:30.
  • Being constantly aware the whole four days (five, including traveling Wednesday) that Gateway's in two weeks.
  • Not getting around to meeting you. Yeah, you! I meant to meet you, honest.
Looking forward to next year, when I will make good on my promise to myself to not schedule so much stuff. See you there.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

[GenCon] What Am I Doing I Don't Even

GenCon is next week! Holy troat!

Somehow or other, I already have a pretty full schedule for the con. Here's what I know so far:

  • Thursday, 1pm: The Sparks Nevada Thrilling Adventure Game
  • Thursday, 5pm: State of the Hat, the Evil Hat what's-goin'-on panel. Yay, doing a panel! For future reference, I would do more panels. Panels seem fun. Are you putting a panel together? I bet we can contrive a reason for me to be on it!
  • Friday 10am: GMing at Games on Demand (pictured above). It's only a two-hour slot, so odds are good it'll be Sparks Nevada.
  • Friday 2pm: Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game.
  • Friday 7-ish pm: Attending the ENnies. I may be missing an Indianapolis Indians game for this, so some Evil Hat Fate thing had better win something to make this worthwhile.
  • Saturday 2pm: GMing at Games on Demand again. Four-hour slot, which makes Atomic Robo or my ARRPG-based Crimson Skies thing likely.
  • Sunday 10am: My last two-hour stint at Games on Demand.
I'm also currently slated to play a few scheduled games, including a one-hour D&D 5E demo-intro-thing Thursday morning, a Tunnels & Trolls game (with Ken St. Andre!) Saturday morning, and some Crimson Skies (the WizKids minis game) Saturday night. But... I dunno if the D&D and Crimson Skies games are going to make the final cut. For one thing, the shuttle to and from the convention center is an hour. For another, back when I booked those games, I was like "OMG, what will the new edition of D&D be like?!" (I've since played it more than a little) and "If I'm going to run a Fate Crimson Skies game, I should probably play the minis game" (I've since become... less convinced of the necessity of this). 

But there is zero chance of me missing that T&T game. And I have plenty of generics, so come at me, bro.

I'm also trying to leave more gaps in my schedule for GoD or off-the-books games or, like, someone saying, "Hey, I want to talk to you about this project," which, based on the past few months, is a thing that could conceivably happen. If you interpreted that statement an assertion that I am so important and in-demand that I expect people to be stalking me just for the mere chance of hearing words fall out of my mouth, you are absolutely correct.

Seriously though, it's nothing like that. It's more like this is my fourth year at GenCon, and every year I promise myself that "Next year, I'm not going to sign up for any games in advance! All the cool stuff seems to happen at GoD and in off-books games!" and then I've done the exact opposite of that three times now. So I'm trying for a late-game course-correction here.

Anyway, see you there. And hey, if we don't see each other there, then maybe I'll see you at Gateway, because it's only two weeks after GenCon, which was only two-and-a-half weeks after Comic-Con


I'm freaking out.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

[Atomic Robo] At San Diego Comic-Con! UPDATED


Wow, where'd Comic-Con come from this year, huh? Sneaked right up on me. I am... kinda totally not as prepared as I'd thought I'd be. I guess you have to actually, y'know, plan for stuff like that. Which I normally do! But this year, I dunno, it sneaked up on me.

Regardless! I have time Thursday and Sunday, so if you're going to be there and you want to play ARRPG, Sparks Nevada, my Crimson Skies-via-ARRPG thing, uh, my sorta-works D&D-via-Traveller hack, whatever. We have options.

In fact, I'll leave a sign-up sheet at while there's no room at the Red 5 booth (1717) for something like a sign-up sheet (I'll admit, it was optimistic of me to suggest there would be), I'll tell them when games will happen and they'll be happy to direct you accordingly, because they're super-good people. If you're around and interested, and want to let me know both of those things, you can put your name down there and that will accomplish that purpose go to the indicated place at the indicated time, or contact me online (here or on Twitter) to let me know you plan on being there.

Regardless, I'll run games in 15AB, the open-gaming room.

The first game will be Thursday the 24th at 11am. First five cool people to show up get to play!

I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to another San Diego Comic-Con! Comic-Con! Comic-Con! Comic-
Standard foot traffic outside the convention center.
These people would like to hear more about Star Wars, please.
These people would also like to hear about Star Wars. Or whatever.
Oh.

Right.

Almost forgot.

Friday, July 11, 2014

[Atomic Robo] The Robo Has Landed

Pictured: Atomic Robo, existing as a physical product
you can hold in your hands and everything. 
Has your copy of Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game arrived yet? Well did you preorder it? Of course, at this point you could just buy it, because it's out and in stores. You are running out of excuses, in other words.

In all seriousness, it's been extremely gratifying to see ARRPG getting such a great reception from people online. I spent more than two years neck-deep in this game, so it's really rewarding to see tweets like this, or this, or this thing here, or this other bit over here plus this frankly embarrassing praise, and so on. I guess what I'm saying is that the approval of strangers is very important to me, and then on top of that I'm obviously not able to be one-hundred percent sincere about any of this because it's so genuinely affecting. All of this boldfacing is actually part of a defense mechanism against emotional vulnerability. So... thanks!

Anyway, if you're still waiting for yours to show up in the mail, or even if you aren't, you can while away the empty, meaningless hours listening to a couple recent Robo-oriented (Roboriented!) podcasts.

Late last month I was on Useless Drivel talking with Rob and Matt about a bunch of stuff, including but not limited to:
(I mention on this podcast that I'm going to make those Crimson Skies Fate dogfighting rules available, and that's still my intent, but they're not up yet. End of line.)

And just a couple weeks ago, Atomic Robo scribe Brian Clevinger talked Robo and the Technocracy with Ryan Macklin on Master Plan. The focus of the conversation is RPG licensing from the licensor's point of view, and also Brian corroborates my ARRPG origin story, which is kind of a relief.

On a related note, Ryan and Tim Rodriguez are running a Kickstarter right this very moment for Backstory Cards, so go get in on that.

BONUS PODCAST RECOMMENDATION: The last episode of Nearly Enough Dice (episode 141, for future generations) has a very nice, unapologetically glowing review/unpaid endorsement of ARRPG. The episode isn't completely Robo-centric or anything, and neither I nor Brian are interviewed on it, but still, it's good. Especially if you're like "ARRPG sounds pretty cool, but I dunno, I need someone with a Scottish accent to convince me," then this is -- it's the podcast for you. It's almost eerie how precisely they've tailored this episode to suit your exact needs. You'd be foolish not to listen.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

[Atomic Robo] Crimson Skies Characters

In order to force myself to be done with fiddling with these Crimson Skies pregens for Gamex this weekend, and as is often my wont when it comes to convention pregens, I'm sharing them with you. And also so you can see them, I guess, if you're interested. They're built as ARRPG characters, but I have this other little mini-game for dogfights that's new, so you can just ignore any references to that. Anyway, I think they'll be fun.

We have:

So if you're keeping track, that's the protagonist of a contemporaneous film, a canon character from Crimson Skies lore, two Thrilling Adventure Hour characters, and one lone original character who is either a pathological liar or kinda off-kilter. I'm aware that Robo himself could've been a PC in this game, but I didn't want to stray that far from what people might recognize as Crimson Skies (he said, shortly after admitting he'd put the Rocketeer in his game).

I'm looking forward to this game.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

[Fate Accelerated] The Heroes of Three Crossings


WARNING: This is long. It could be even longer. I could gleefully talk about every second of this thing, but I won't.

A while ago, a woman I know told me about how her 8th-grade daughter and 20 or so of her friends staged a freeform boffer Hunger Games LARP. They made their own weapons and made up their own rules. As it happens, they'd never heard of LARPing and just came up with this idea because it seemed fun (and I'm sure it was).

I immediately gave her a copy of Fate Accelerated and a set of four Fudge dice and said, "Here, give these to your daughter." She didn't know what roleplaying games were -- she'd heard of Dungeons & Dragons, but for a lot of people that's not really a useful touchstone -- and neither did her daughter, but I was like, "Trust me, from what I've heard, she and her friends are going to dig this."

Over the next several months, we tried on and off to figure out a time and place for me to run a game of FAE for her and whoever else was interested. Yesterday, it finally happened.

And it was the best, you guys.


THE.

BEST.

We had two hours in a study room at a local library in Murrieta, so after brief introductions and my exhortation to please not call me Mr. Olson -- as weird as that may be for a kid, it's ten times as weird to be called "Mister" anything when you're running a game -- I briefly explained the general idea of a roleplaying game. Y'know, each of you is going to make and take the part of a character in a story, and I play everyone else and the world, and you tell me what you want to do and I tell you what happens and if we disagree we roll dice. That stuff.

My first inkling that I had nothing to worry about on that front came when one of the four girls admitted she didn't even know what we were doing that day, but assumed it was going to be acting or improv. Good start.

I didn't have anything prepared in advance, other than printing off some character sheets and the success-track thing shown up top. I was going to let them tell me what genre they wanted, what premise they wanted, and anything else, then go with it. I'm not used to running games totally off-the-cuff like that, but it seemed like the best way to kick things off.

Despite being smart, creative types, they kinda froze when presented with that much responsibility. So I suggested capital-F Fantasy, because it was a genre that we were all generally familiar with. So, good. Magic and swords and elves and all that jazz. I can do that in my sleep. I probably do and don't even know it. They're in a small but busy trading town at the intersection of three roads called Three Crossings. I use that name all the time. Probably in my sleep too.

I'd brought a Deck of Fate with me, so I took out the Accelerated arcana and had each player pick one. This would be their +3 approach. They loved this idea. I can empathize -- when presented with all that possibility, getting even a single anchor point can be a godsend. They pulled Careful, Clever, Forceful, and Sneaky. These also served as sorta proto-high concepts; I could see them starting to wrap character ideas around them.

Then I helped them come up with high concepts and troubles, and we got some good ones. They kept their sheets (yay!), but here are a few I can remember:
  • Less Brawn, More Brains
  • Trust Issues
  • I Don't Think I Know Everything -- I Do
  • Nobody Takes Me Seriously
  • Wherever It Is, I've Been There
The characters:
  • The Fool, a Careful guy who masquerades as a fool as part of some deeper agenda.
  • Rachel, a Sneaky, well-traveled wanderer.
  • Fang, the Forceful would-be leader of the gang.
  • Ash, a Clever inventor and science-type, fantasy-medieval style.
So me, sitting there listening to them start to form their characters, I already I like where this is going. There's plenty of variation in character types, and it's easy enough to say they're childhood friends who hang out and have adventures, and I'm getting ideas for what we might do for the next 90 minutes. 

It was around here when they started saying "This is so fun!" They're not even playing yet.

Because this was their first time playing anything like this, they didn't bring any gamer-baggage to the table. This included, but was not limited to, second-guessing my every move. Nothing would be cliche to them! So I started things out in a tavern.

"What's the name of this tavern?" I asked.
"The Cave!" one of them immediately shot back.

Great! There's a big tree in the middle of town, a huge tree, a tree so enormous a lot of the town is built into its above-ground roots. That's where the Cave is, so-called because it's in a "cave" of roots. They look at each other and murmur approvingly. (Why this town isn't called Tree Town, I really don't know.)

There's a kefuffle outside! I compel Fang's high concept to need to be the leader-type and go check it out, alone. Fang eagerly accepts the fate point. (They instantly grasped the idea of getting into trouble now to earn later awesomeness.)

"Descending on lines from the tree above--"
"Oh, don't say spiders," Rachel's player said.
"Why, do you not like spiders?"
"No."
"They won't be real spiders."
"Okay."
"They'll just have, like, six legs."
"That's what I don't like about them -- eight legs."
Hm. I wasn't even going to do spiders before she spoke up, but now I'm all about it. "What about seven legs? Better or worse?"
"Meh."
"Nine?"
"[audible disgust]"
"Okay, so these nine-legged metallic things are descending on lines from the tree...."

Whatever these things were, they were capturing townsfolk by shooting out an entangling line of some kind and imprisoning them inside their weird metal bodies. I'd intended a short fight just to show them how things worked, but it ended up being a chance for the players to really figure out who their characters were. By the time they'd taken care of these three not-spider-things, we'd discovered the following:
  • Fang has long prehensile hair, like a combination of Chinese Ghost Story and Rapunzel in Tangled, but more powerful. And she is kick-ass with it.
  • Rachel has rune-scribed arrows and an invisibility cloak. No, not just invisibility. When she puts up the hood (no D&D cartoon reference was made -- be proud of me), she transformed into pure energy. This makes her invisible, but also gives her the power to teleport. "But you have to pay a fate point for it," I told her. "You can see we're simulating story-logic, not reality here, right? And it'd be boring in a story if this character were to just do that all the time. So the fate point-thing stops you from doing that." This explanation was met with nods and more approving murmurs. These girls are great.
    • Also, when we were working this out, I said, "It's like a TARDIS cloak." Her eyes went wide. "I get that reference!"
  • Ash has wings. At first we thought they'd be, like, feathered wings, but then we remembered she was an inventor-type and that they needed to be something she'd built. So she's Falcon, basically.
  • The Fool has -- well, let me put it in the player's words, if I can. "I reach into my never-ending pocket of thread...." My mouth probably dropped open. What is this never-ending thread pocket and where has it been all my life? "I can use the thread to make things." So she made a thread shield. "And I fight with a big pair of scissors." Look, I get it, you who are reading this: You want to be playing this character in a game right now. I feel the same way.
It's quickly becoming clear that these aren't just four adventurers who merely hang around in the Cave and drink some sort of tree-sap beverage. These are the Heroes of Three Crossings. Nobody messes with this town when choker-hair, TARDIS-cloak, metal-wings, and the never-ending thread pocket are around.

There was a great moment -- in a sea of great moments, really -- when Ash tried to get all the townsfolk to safety, and failed. Because Ash's player knows the value of complications in a story, she chose to succeed at a serious cost. So while everyone's running for the safety of the big tree, one of these nonapods shoots its entangling line at her, misses, and reels in a fleeing kid instead. CLANK! Its metal carapace slams shut with the kid inside.

"...Did you just get that kid killed?" Rachel's player says, aghast.
"Hey, c'mon guys," I say. "I'm not going to kill a kid here. C'mon!"
"I don't know you! Maybe you would!" Fair enough.

This scene also featured Fang grappling a nonapod with her hair and forcibly tearing it to pieces to free an old woman trapped inside. These people are lucky Fang's on their side.

So they take care of these things, and then decide to go up the tree and see what's going on. Earlier I'd said something about a complex ecology in its branches, but implied it was all weirdo fantasy animals, not metallic not-spider things. This is when Rachel's player's mom showed up and she had to leave, but at least Rachel has a plausible exit from the story for the time being in the form of her energy cloak.

Ash flies up the tree. Fang uses her prehensile hair like Spider-Man. The Fool unravels his thread and forms it into a rope, which he throws high into the air. It latches onto nothing, and he climbs up, then does it again, and again and again until he's up in the branches. This has become the Fool's shtick: He breaks reality.

They get up there and because we're running out of time and I don't know when we'll get to play again anyway, there's a spaceship up there, nestled in the branches. Sure, why not! There are a bunch of those nine-legged beetle-things crawling around, scouting things out, and two of them are standing together, their faces split apart from reveal a tiny alien-thing in each having a conversation. So they aren't robots or drones, they're vehicles. This came from the players, in case you thought it didn't, despite almost certainly knowing better by now.

While the Fool and Ash start to make plans to find and disable some sort of central nervous system for the ship, Fang has an "Enough talk!" moment and just strides forward out of their cover to have hair-words with these alien-things. She doesn't go ten feet before a nonapod lurking above them snaps her up into itself with its shooty-line-thing, then go scuttling off to the ship. (This was a compel, of course.) 

Thinking quickly, the Fool throws a thread at the nonapod, which sticks (impossibly), and now they can follow the thread and find Fang. Great idea! This they now do. Of course, they both fail their Sneaky roll, and the Fool's player decides to succeed at a serious cost. So they get in there, avoiding notice, and find where Fang's being held. That's when the ship lifts off into the air.

And that's where we left it!

These girls could not have been more thrilled with the whole thing. "We have to do this again" and "Oh my God, that was so fun" and so on. My goal is to get one of them comfortable enough with FAE that they don't need me anymore to play. I don't think it's going to take long.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

[GenCon 2014] I Assure You I'm GMing

I can't be sure, but I think that's me and Mark Miller talking
while we wait for the hall to open at least year's GenCon.
Event registration opens tomorrow (Sunday) for this year's GenCon, and naturally my scheduled games aren't actually, y'know, on the schedule. So you won't be able to sign up for them tomorrow. However, should you want to attend either of them, here's when they're happening.

"Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars" is happening Thursday the 14th at 1:00 pm.

"Bring Me the Head of Dr. Dinosaur," my Atomic Robo game, is happening Saturday the 16th at 1:00 pm.

They'll be online within two weeks. Why the delay? Because I registered them a couple hours after the March 14th deadline. So... two weeks. Fair enough. (I don't actually think that's fair, but whatever. GenCon's big, and I'm sure getting all these things into the system, in whatever form that takes, is a giant pain, so more power to those unsung heroes who do that.)

I also plan to run a game or two (one of the above, or maybe some other ARRPG scenario) at Games on Demand. Don't know when just yet.

One last thing schedule-wise: I'll be a part of Evil Hat's State of the Hat panel on Thursday the 14th at 5:00 pm. I probably won't have anything especially important to say, but I'll probably crack wise, and you wouldn't want to miss that!