(Cover by Gail Potocki, one of three variant covers for Morrison’s debut issue.)
I’m a wee bit of a Morrison fan:
. . . and I used to be a regular reader of Heavy Metal back when I was a kid, so putting the two together sounded fantastic to me.
Right off the bat
Here’s an excerpt from Morrison’s introductory piece:
Welcome, one and all, to our jelly-packed Rites of Spring issue – where mighty prehistoric behemoths batter zombie Martian tripods to the bloody pub-sawdust with tree-like, reptile erections while Stravinsky is played at mind-shattering jet-engine volume through the bladder of a screaming helpless pig and STILL those filthy rich squidillionaires in their ermine, crowns, and fancy couture just sit there texting, oblivious to the suffering of performers, audience, and critics alike!
In most cases I’m unfamiliar with the work of the artists assembled between these covers, but I liked the cut of their collective jib and thought they came closest to exemplifying the Heavy Metal spirit as I understand it.
Apart from multi-issue runs of particular stories, and HM regulars like, say, Richard Corben, in the past when I’ve opened up an issue of HM that was generally my experience as well: no idea who these folks are, but their work is awesome and surprising and will likely stick with me. I’ve always loved that about HM.
Is it good?
Yep, it’s good.
It’s a weird mix, as it should be.
Beachhead, written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Benjamin Marra, and colored by Marra and Tom Forget, opens the issue strong, with over-the-top, jingoistic aliens “conquering” a far-future Earth which appears to be populated only by bacteria.
I also loved Anna Larine Kornum’s A Mind Bomb, which is genuinely creepy and wouldn’t feel at all out of place in an Unknown Armies campaign. Check out this dude, who has bloody plastic bags over his hands and the stubs of what look like angel wings on his back:
The Key, by Massimiliano Frezzatto, is lovely. This little guy lives inside a woman-shaped ship of some sort; to say more would spoil it.
There’s plenty more good stuff in there, too, and much of it is eminently gameable, from turtle-people who grow time-manipulating drugs in sacs on their backs (and are hunted for them) to a rather unusual explanation for why airplanes sometimes go missing.
I didn’t love every story, but that’s true of most media that use this kind of format. On the whole, this issue struck exactly the notes I was looking for, with trippy artwork, unusual self-contained tales, and a stew of stuff for my brain to chew on. If this is a sign of things to come under Morrison’s editorship, I say bring it the fuck on.
I haven’t tucked into issue #281 yet, but it’s waiting patiently for me.
Nathan D. Paoletta‘s World Wide Wrestling RPG reminds me of Action Movie World, another tight-premise PbtA game, not because they share a premise but because WWW 100% delivers on its premise (just like AMW).
My last contact with professional wrestling was in the 1980s, when I used to occasionally watch it as a kid. I dug the larger-than-life personalities, but it wasn’t my thing in the same way as, say, G.I. Joe (so much G.I. Joe!). That didn’t crimp my enjoyment of the game one bit — and being accessible to gamers who aren’t into wrestling is just the first of many things WWW does well.
On the night we played WWW, my Seattle group consisted of two wrestling fans, one more casual fan, one lapsed fan (me), and two players with close to zero knowledge of professional wrestling. Without fans in the group, we’d have leaned on WWW’s excellent “How Wrestling Works” essay and been just fine; with fans, we probably got into the action a bit faster than we otherwise might have.
Our GM bought this little wrestling ring, complete with figures, to make it easier for us to demonstrate what we wanted to do in the ring:
It worked nicely, and helped to set the mood. I think it’s this set, which is totally worth its $10 price.
WWW’s playbooks make it easy to create colorful, grandiose, and suitably bananas wrestlers. We created characters as a group, riffing off each others’ ideas, suggesting concepts and special moves and looks and theme songs rapid-fire, and cranked out some memorably crazy characters.
We baked in relationships — rivals, mentor and mentee, etc. — during character creation, which the game facilitates, and that gave the GM (called “Creative” in WWW) fuel to prepare the bookings. He spent a couple of minutes matching us up against each other based on those relationships, and secretly noted who was supposed to win each match.
On my initial read-through of the game, I was concerned about that aspect of the system; it sounded confining. But in play, it worked beautifully. We were all excited about each match-up, and we all had the chance to flip the script and change who won the match; one player used this option at the perfect time, but otherwise we stuck to the bookings.
Ditto my pre-game concern that there might be too many mechanics for my taste. There are more moving parts than some PbtA games, but in play they all did their job and clicked — just like good mechanics should.
A unique rhythm
A game where most of the group watches two people play might sound boring for everyone but those two people (and the GM), but again, WWW sets things up so it isn’t. One person plays the announcer, using a prop microphone to provide color commentary, and that adds a layer of interaction and entertainment for everyone. (The role is supposed to rotate, but we quickly found our best announcer and generally stuck with him.) And of course the matches are quick, so after being on the sidelines in one match the spotlight rotates and suddenly you’re the center of attention again.
The division of wrestlers into babyfaces and heels — good and evil ring personas, more or less — also gave the players on the sidelines something to think about. Not in the match, but have a heated rivalry with someone who is? Use the right move, and you can show up and get involved anyway. This worked really well in play.
The evening played out as a mix of matches and out-of-the-ring scenes. We had fun cutting promos for our wrestlers, striving to outdo each other with cheesy one-liners and catchphrases. We didn’t delve much into the other side of the game — the real wrestlers behind the personalities, and how they interact outside the ring — that much, mostly due to time and this being the first session. But what we did in this session primed that pump beautifully for some more real-world action in a follow-up session.
The best way I can sum up my first WWW session is that there wasn’t a single moment that didn’t feel right. The game facilitates feeling right at every step, from character creation through individual matches through the behind-the-scenes stuff, and the mechanics work to keep everyone engaged and on point.
World Wide Wrestling is pure electric sex. It’s exhilarating to play, and the stuff I had reservations about after reading it — Creative booking match results in advance, the number of moving parts compared to the average PbtA game — fell away at the table.
The over-the-top goodness of pro wrestling is a perfect match for the collaborative, player agency-driven magic of the PbtA engine. World Wide Wrestling is a two cups of coffee, bring my A game sort of RPG for me: No one can coast, because everyone is involved an “on” pretty much all the time. I highly reccommend it.
I buy a lot of gaming books on Lulu (here’s my list of 85+ recommendations), and I can’t remember the last time I didn’t use a coupon code.
Like Steam, Lulu has taught me to never buy anything unless there’s a sale. I don’t know if it’s the healthiest business model, but there’s always a sale (and healthy or not, this model does prompt me to order more books on Lulu than I otherwise would).
For about six months there, it was the glorious LULURC, now sadly no longer working. They ran other coupons alongside that one, which seemed odd, but LULURC just kept on working.
I used to Google “lulu coupon code” before ordering, and poke through the first few links for codes to try. These days, I search on G+, or go through the last couple days of my stream, and find them that way — or I just try a few default options until one works.
Lulu likes to use the same taxonomy for coupon codes, so I always try these:
The number is the percentage off. 15% is my “floor” for placing an order, but if I can’t do better I generally wait for another coupon to roll around.
The taxonomy changes; the year used to be part of their mainstay coupons, until it wasn’t. But once you have a current coupon to work from, experiment with different numbers and variations and see what happens.
Lulu will also sometimes proactively email you a coupon if you sign in, put some books in your cart, close your browser window/tab, and wait a few hours.
Almost a corollary
I coined Lulu’s Law to describe what happens basically every time I place a Lulu order: I immediately hear about another book I should have ordered. (Once in a great while, I escape this curse, but not often.)
But I realized yesterday that there’s a corollary to that law, albeit a “soft” one: The same thing frequently applies to Lulu coupons. Use a sweet 25% off code? Lulu will put out a 30% off coupon the next day. Not always, but often enough to be noticeable.
And at the end of the day, that’s okay: I like Lulu. A lot.
I like the gaming books I can find there, including many that are only there. I like their customer service, which has had my back when I have an order issue (which is rare). I like that they offer an inexpensive shipping option, that their coupons around Christmas and Black Friday tend to be quite good, and that if I’m patient, a good coupon is just around the corner.
 All hail LULURC, may it long be remembered.
 Maybe always? I’ve only done it a couple times, by accident, so I’m not sure.
I play a lot of PbtA games these days, so when I’m eyeing new dice I’m generally thinking about pairs of six-siders. And I’m a sucker for pretty dice.
These puppies stopped me in my tracks — they’re anodized titanium dice from Flytanium, combining one of my favorite metals with one of my favorite colors:
(Sexy dice demanded a sexy book, so I grabbed my sexiest PbtA game, Undying.)
Here’s a closer look:
A 1 oz. apiece, they’re heavy — I weighed an old Armory d6 and a Gamescience d6 for comparison purposes, and those each weigh just 0.1 oz. (Make them out of brass, say, and they’d be about twice as heavy; for a strong, durable metal, titanium is incredibly light.)
They’re also larger than standard gaming d6s, 3/4″ vs. 5/8″, like casino dice.
I love the anodization, which is deliberately “uneven” — they have an antiqued look, and with time (and rolls) they’ll scuff and develop a character all their own.
With respect to fairness, they should be as fair as any other machine-made, tumbled, pipped dice. If Flytanium drilled the pips to different depths based on face (shallowest on the six face, deepest on the one face), that would make them more accurate. But they don’t, and that’s fine by me.
Destroy . . . destroy . . . destroy
I’m generally not a fan of oversized dice, but these are so well chamfered that they feel great in-hand — and they roll well. Unlike precision-edge and non-titanium metal dice I own, these aren’t table-destroyers. I’d roll them on most tables without too much concern, though I’d still prefer a pad, book, or dice tray, because heavy dice are noisy.
I strongly suspect, however, that they would be dice-destroyers. When I used to carry metal dice and plastic dice in the same bag, the plastic ones showed wear pretty quickly. Gamescience dice, with their light, crisp edges, went first; after a week, they looked like they’d been through a war. So I’ll be carrying these on their own, not with their plastic buddies.
I wasn’t sure how readable these suckers would be without contrasting pips — they’re anodized all over. Only real table time will tell for sure, but the pips, which are generally shiny, stand out well against the stonewashed surface.
I experimented with rolling them under different light conditions, and only when the light was so dim that I wouldn’t want to game in a room that dark did they become difficult for me to read — and even then, only at arm’s length. Closer in, or in normal light, they’re surprisingly readable.
Flytanium makes d6s in a variety of materials and colors, often in short runs. As of this writing, their website is sold out, but you can find them in other places. (I got mine on Ebay; BladeHQ also carries them, as do other knife- and EDC-oriented sites).
I’ve seen photos of a titanium version with anodized pips and non-anodized flats, and those pips practically glow. I’m going to keep an eye out for a pair of those, just in case some table time reveals that the all-over-anodized versions are harder to read than I think they will be.
 They’ve also done some that literally glow, thanks to embedded tritium vials.
Attending Go Play NW prompted me to rebuild my “go folder” — the games I can run on zero notice, either by grabbing the book (and having everything else in the folder) or because the whole game is in the folder.
All of them are self-contained, require no prep from anyone, can be played in a session or two, and come packaged with a premise/hook to get us rolling.
My go folder contains the stuff I need for these seven games, each in its own pocket (plus characters, blank paper, and stuff for my group’s ongoing games in the other pockets):
- Lady Blackbird (whole game), a steampunk game with a pregenerated cast that nonetheless plays out entirely differently every time, and which somehow managed to fit the core rules onto every character sheet without impeding usability. So, so good.
- GHOST/ECHO (whole game), a two-page RPG that kicks off with a bang: “WHILE HUNTING FOR LOOT IN THE GHOST WORLD, YOUR CREW WAS SOLD OUT. YOU’VE WALKED RIGHT INTO AN AMBUSH, WITH HUNGRY WRAITHS ON YOUR HEELS.” I haven’t played this one yet.
- Jedi Blackbird (whole game), a Star Wars (Old Republic era) hack of Lady Blackbird. I haven’t run this one either, but I posted about it on Yore.
- Ghost Lines (whole game), another John Harper game (because John is amazing at designing this style of game), this one about hunting spirits in a setting where they’re “free to roam the world since the gates of death were broken in the cataclysm.” The game assumes you’re familiar with Apocalypse World; I haven’t gotten to run it yet.
- DCC RPG (whole game), condensed down into a convention funnel edition, including The Portal Under the Stars and a stack of pregenerated peasants. Funnels are a hoot, and this short one is excellent; for a longer option, I could grab Sailors on the Starless Sea.
- Psi-Run, one of the only RPGs I rate a 10/10, because it’s perfect. The PCs are pyschic escapees from some sort of sinister program, being pursued by relentless Chasers, and if they get caught, they lose. Starts with the tension already ratcheted up to about an 8, and goes from there.
- Love in the Time of Seið, which is based on Archipelago, a Norse-themed Shakespearean tragedy that spirals into blood and death. I played this at GPNW, and it was amazing. All of the characters start off beautifully dovetailed with one another, and there’s almost never any downtime.
I would literally be happy to run any of these games right this hot minute.
I use an Esselte Oxford poly 8-pocket folder as opposed to a multi-pocket folio, because in my experience those tend to smush pages unless I’m extremely careful with them (which I’m not).
This one lays flat (coil binding!), holds a ton of stuff, and has bounced around in my gaming bag for the past year with no signs of wear. It’s now tucked away in my new gaming bag — poised, catlike, ready to pounce on gaming opportunities with no notice whatsoever.
Tags: Apocalypse World, Archipelago, convention events, DCC RPG, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Ghost Lines, GHOST/ECHO, Go Play NW, Jason Morningstar, Jedi Blackbird, John Aegard, John Harper, Lady Blackbird, Love in the Time of Seid, Matthijs Holter, Meguey Baker, Psi-Run, roleplaying games, RPGs, story games
John Aegard has produced some really cool stuff, including two resources that jumped out at me: Jedi Blackbird, a Star Wars hack of Lady Blackbird, and a collection of tips for running a Dungeon World one-shot.
Jedi Blackbird is more structured than its inspiration, but only a little. That’s a good thing: Lady Blackbird is brilliant, but I want a hack of it to do something more than just reskin the characters and call it a day. Jedi Blackbird does more.
It’s still every bit as delightfully brief: two pages of sparse background, one page of GMing notes, and the characters. Boom.
The added structure comes from the premise:
NOW, word has arrived from the distant Outer Rim that the renegade padawan ORDO VALLUS has established a holdfast on the junk world of KONDU. The Jedi Council has hastily dispatched three Jedi aboard the starship BLACKBIRD. Their mission: to bring Vallus back to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, where he will stand trial.
Vallus has an agenda; it’s covered in the GMing notes. The PCs are on a mission, and on a specific planet, which fits well for Star Wars. But beyond that, things are wide open — there’s no plot to follow, no rails to ride. (JB tweaks more things about LB than just the setting and structure, too; those are also in John’s notes.)
I’ve already printed this out and added it to the folder full of zero-prep games that rides in my gaming bag.
Index card mapping
I dig Dungeon World, and John’s tips for fitting a satisfying, emblematic DW experience into a typical four-hour convention event slot look good to me. But what really grabbed me was his mapping technique, which uses index cards.
Here’s why this sounds amazing:
The map will be a grid of index cards arranged where everyone can see. […] A map made of cards is super flexible and totally lets you earn your Draw Maps While Leaving Blanks merit badge. See, if you want to add a location between two other locations while you’re in the middle of play, you can just insert a card in between those two locations.
This turns the map into a pointcrawl, a variation on a hexcrawl that uses more abstract mapping and travel rules, on the fly. Which is brilliant!
For a longer-term game, pin the cards to a corkboard or stick them to the table (or a portable surface) with poster putty. Or hell, just take a picture of the map and rebuild it for each session (until it gets large enough to need a more streamlined solution).
This is one of those mapping techniques I can’t believe I’ve never thought of using before. It has so many applications to different types of game, and it’s right up my alley.
 I suspect I’ll write a post about that folder before too long. I love zero-prep grab-and-go games!
 The pointcrawl series on Hill Cantons is a great look at this style of play.
Having already trimmed the rulebook down to 18 pages, I wondered if I could go even lighter by printing out a version that only includes the rules I needed to run a funnel. There’s stuff in the “core 18” pages that doesn’t apply to funnels, but for a pickup game with strangers I’d also want a few other things included. Here’s what I came up with.
So what’s in the pile? Seven things (starting in the bottom left in the photo, and working deeper into the pile):
- A stack of pregenerated peasants, produced using Purple Sorcerer’s o-level party generator and then cut out, so that we could draw randomly for everyone’s PCs (which feels appropriately DCC).
- The 12-page convention funnel edition of the DCC rules, which is only the stuff you need to run pregenerated peasants, and nothing else. Setting aside the cover pages (use whatever you like), and using the printed page numbers from the 4th printing (not the numbers my PDF reader assigns), that’s:
- Skill checks, pp.66-67
- Equipment and related rules, pp.70-73
- Combat, pp.76-82
- Damage, healing, and other misc. rules, pp.93-96
- The Portal Under the Stars, a fantastic funnel, printed straight from the core rulebook (pp.452-456); ideal for a short session.
- A second funnel option, Sailors on the Starless Sea, which I haven’t run before but have heard only good things about; ideal for a longer session, at least four hours.
- A character creation packet, pp.18-24, in case we decided to make characters. I wanted to have that option, because making funnel PCs is fun.
- Extra copies of the occupation tables, pp.22-23, because experience has taught me that having more than one of these available is a big timesaver.
- A few blank “four-up” 0-level PC sheets, also from Purple Sorcerer, which are hiding at the very bottom.
The whole idea is to reduce size and handling time. If I was less concerned about carrying stuff, I’d have stuck the pages in a binder; keeping them as little packets made them smaller. Making packets also helps with handling time: Not creating PCs? Set that packet aside, and now I don’t have to flip past those pages to look up rules I actually need.
I didn’t wind up running DCC at the con — my lone pickup session was of another game I’d brought, The Quiet Year (one of my favorite RPGs). But the next time I need my “convention edition,” it’ll already be there in a tidy little stack, just waiting to mangle some peasants.
 With the option to only show Luck modifiers if they matter turned on, because those are just noise to first-time players.
 This could easily be included in the main packet, and it does contain rules that aren’t unique to character creation — stuff about saving throws, etc. I’ve run enough DCC that I don’t need these basics handy.
Tags: adventures, convention events, DCC RPG, Dungeon Crawl Classics, fantasy, funnels, modules, old school, Purple Sorcerer, roleplaying games, RPGs, Sailors on the Starless Sea, The Portal Under the Stars
Via private G+ share, I followed a link to Alex Wellerstein‘s NUKEMAP — disturbing and depressing as a real-world visualization tool, but in gaming terms, perfect for nuking the Earth as part of post-apocalyptic setting creation.
NUKEMAP lets you choose a place on the map, the yield of the weapon, and whether it’s a surface strike or an airburst, and then click to see the radii of destruction, fallout, casualty estimates, and more. I nuked Seattle with a W-78 delivered via a Minuteman III missile, ticked the boxes for surface burst, casualties, and fallout, and got this result:
Making a custom Zone map for Mutant: Year Zero? NUKEMAP seems like it’d be a great place to start. Rolling up on one of the cities that got nuked in the original Twilight: 2000 timeline? Pick a yield, NUKEMAP it, and think about how it would look in the game.
As a person, I’m both repelled and fascinated by nuclear weapons. The circumstances of their testing, the reasons they exist, and their effects on real people are profoundly disturbing.
In one of my college film classes, I got to watch Bruce Conner’s Crossroads. It was a life-altering experience. Which sounds so clichéd, right? But for me, in this instance, it was true. Almost 20 years later, I can still remember how I felt watching Crossroads: I felt like the bottom had dropped out of the world. (As far as I can tell, it’s only available online in excerpt form, but imagine watching 37 minutes of that, on a full-size movie screen.)
But as a gamer, I’m equally fascinated with post-apocalyptic settings, nuking things until they glow, and seeing what happens next. There’s something deeply appealing about apocalypses of all kinds in game form.
NUKEMAP sits at the intersection of thoughtful consideration of the real-world devastation caused by nuclear weapons and the escapist fun of romping through post-apocalyptic worlds. It’s a nifty tool.
 And movie lover, TV viewer, avid reader, etc.
The big red one’s the d120, of course. To the right of it is their “Recast 2d6” pack (a version of Sicherman dice that uses a d12 and a d3), and below those are a d3 and a MultiDie.
(It took me a while to find the 120 face for that photo.)
Weighing almost 3 ounces, the d120 is a hand-filling monster — about the size of a large lime or a small lemon. Like the Zocchihedron, stopping isn’t the d120’s forte — but for basically being a big ball, it actually stops fairly quickly.
Like the accompanying card says, it’s numerically balanced in the same way as most dice: all pairs of opposite faces add up to N+1, where N is the number of sides. It’s a nifty little beast.
The MultiDie is a d3 (unembellished numbers, on the faces), a d4 (numbers inside triangles, on vertices), and a d2 (circled numbers, also on vertices). After rolling, you read the top face or the number to either side of it; it works surprisingly well.
This one is quite clever: It’s a d3, in an interesting lozenge shape unlike all of my other d3s (but most like the even-more-lozenge-y Gamescience version), and a d12 numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 6, 7, 8, 9.
Roll the pair of them, and you get the same spread of probabilities as an ordinary 2d6 roll. With all the PbtA games I’ve been playing lately, I figured these could be fun to add to my dice roster.
The paint job on most of the dice I received is below Chessex quality (my go-to for non-precision edge dice), but apart from that they’re nicely made. I dig the funkiness of the d120, and the Recast 2d6 set appeals to my inner probability geek. All in all, I’m glad I picked these up.
 I ordered a second d3 because I like my d3s to be a different shape than my d6s (it makes them easier to spot in the pile) . . . but I somehow missed that I’d be getting the same style of d3 in the Recast 2d6 set.
Thanks to a G+ share by Alex Schroeder, I got a chance to read A bit more about Crimthan The Great’s Game and Group. It’s a blog post by Daithi MacLiam, then 78, about the more than 3,500 sessions of OD&D his group has played together since 1974 (after starting with Chainmail in 1971).
I love reading about long-running campaigns. Like the Rythlondar campaign, a D&D game in Michigan begun in 1976, and extensively chronicles by its players, there’s a lot to unpack in here.
Starting with Chainmail Fantasy and continuing with OD&D we played our 1000th games in January of 1982, our 2000th in December 1995 and our 3000th game in September 2008 and this past weekend April 4th and 5th we played our 3687th and 3688th games.
By contrast, I’ve played 304 gaming sessions since 2008 (as of this writing) — roughly half the number Daithi’s group played during the same period. And I’ve never played anything approaching even a thousand sessions of the same system; the closest I’ve come is probably more like a couple hundred (maybe, at the outside, 300), running multiple AD&D 2nd Edition campaigns back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
I find long-running campaigns fascinating in part because they’re so foreign to my gaming experience. Rob Conley has been running games in the same setting for many years, and I know there are more folks out there doing this. I need system variety in my RPG diet, but I’d love to start a D&D game and keep it going in perpetuity alongside all of my other gaming.
Our typical gaming session used to be about 12 hours in length which works out to about 36 days of game time on the average. […] On the other hand since we passed about 70 years old the length of our games has decreased to about 8 hours split into two – four hour segments with a long break in the middle.
Two 4-hour sessions in the same day is like a mini-con every game day. I hope I can do that when I’m in my 70s! Hell, I wish I could manage that now — and Daithi has 40 years on me.
The original core group of players have had between (I am guessing here) 550-750 characters each. In spite of about 450 TPK’s, each of us have retired about 10-18 characters apiece. But on some game days we have went through 8-10 characters each.
Four hundred and fifty TPKs! Going through 8-10 characters in a session is nothing to sneeze at either: That figure makes the Rythlondar campaign’s top recorded PC death total — six — seem tame.
Looking at wandering monsters in OD&D vs. B/X D&D showed me part of the deadliness of OD&D, but seeing these numbers gives me a whole different perspective.
Daithi’s post was a great read, and I look forward to hearing more war stories from his group’s OD&D campaign.