Saturday, July 7, 2018

A Quick Peek at Microscope

 Microscope by Ben Robbins from Lame Mage Productions

In a nutshell - Microscope is world building as a role playing game. I'm planning on introducing it to my group the next time we need to create a setting for a sandbox campaign. Which, unfortunately, is going to be awhile since I'm currently running Star Trek Adventures with a couple of games featuring well-established settings planned after that.

Microscope has no gamemaster. Instead, players take turns presenting ideas for historical events within the setting that the group has come together to build. Each player has a free hand to move up and down the timeline. The detail level begins with an elevated view ("there was a war at this location between these parties that falls within those dates"), can focus all the way down into scenes between individuals during these events ("this is the meeting between the folks who planned out the final battle of that war"), and can be dialed in and out as the players desire. The scenes are where the roleplaying comes in - the players take on the roles of characters within the scene in question. Discussing ideas with other players only takes place within the context of playing out those ideas during roleplaying scenes. This creates a dynamic where players collaborate by building on what other players create, but don't interact with each other's ideas through conversation. This is intended to prevent any one player from dominating the creative process. Players can't shoot down ideas before they can be fully explained and explored. Having a mechanic to make sure that every player gets their turn is important for a game without a gamemaster.

Using Microscope during the formative period to create a roleplaying campaign setting avoids the dreaded infodump. Since everyone - players and gamemaster included - had an active role in making the setting, everyone involved is already familiar with the aspects of that setting. This avoids the problem of having to stop play to present background to players who are not already invested in the world that the campaign takes place in.

Overall, I believe Microscope to be a solid approach to collaborative world-building. It places everyone on a level playing field and encourages active participation. The mechanic of playing out scenes during key events helps to invest players in the setting. It is unfortunate that I won't have the chance to use it anytime soon.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Chupacabracon V

Had a great time at the local role-playing game convention Chupacabracon V last weekend. My original plan was to make a weekend of it, but I ended up only attending on Saturday. The work week wore me out to the point that I needed to turn in early on Friday. Even then, I ran out of juice by Saturday evening. This was my first time at Chupacabracon and my first gaming convention in awhile. I was looking forward to a good experience outside of my regular gaming circle.

A quick selfie with the Chupacabracon mascot.

Spent Saturday morning having coffee and donuts while attending a great pair of panels featuring Kenneth Hite and Mark Carroll. Kenneth Hite first showed up on my radar with his "Suppressed Transmission" column in Pyramid magazine. He authored Trail of Cthulhu and Night's Black Agents for Pelgrane Press and is one of the hosts of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast. Mark Carroll is best known to me for his work on the Conan and John Carter of Mars RPGs for Modiphius Entertainment.

The first panel was the "Cthulhu and Donuts Breakfast Special" and, as promised by the name, featured boxes of freshly baked treats from Round Rock Donuts. The discussion focused on Lovecraftian horror in tabletop role-playing games. The second panel was "Dark Campaigning: Beyond the TPK Horror One Shot" and dealt with the consequences of player character mortality in horror role-playing games - what to do when they all die to whatever they were investigating. The panels were lively, the hosts displayed deep knowledge of the subject matter, and the questions were on point. In particular, there were a couple of game recommendations - Ten Candles and Silent Legions - that I'll have to follow up on. There was also excellent gamemastering advice - the best of it was: "Never walk into a place you don't know how to walk out of." In addition to being a quote from the movie Ronin, it tells gamemasters to never commit the group to a long, multi-session series of adventures without a way to pull the player characters out if things don't turn out to be as interesting as planned. An example given was tracking down the source of the Nile - if the players get tired of going up the river, there's no quick way of getting them back to where they started.

I thought that presenting the convention floor plans as a dungeon map was clever.

I left for lunch after inspecting the wares the various dealers had on offer. On returning, I discovered that the parking situation at the Wingate by Wyndham Round Rock Conference Center was pretty dire. My circling the lot like a shark for awhile was rewarded with a choice spot.

Lunch and the time spent looking for a parking spot gave me time to consider what to buy. My completionist desires won out over everything else with the purchase of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Module D3: Vault of the Drow. This completes my set of the Queen of the Spiders "supermodule" by Gary Gygax - modules G, D, and Q.

The people at Chupacabracon - guests, staff, and attendees - were all friendly. I spent much of my time wondering around and chatting with various folks about the hobby. It's always good to share experiences with people outside of your usual circle - it helps ideas circulate.

Never agree to meet with a Hutt on a floating platform with "maintenance" droids hidden underneath it.

I had the opportunity to play in Bill Slavicsek's "Ghost of a Chance" Star Wars RPG session. He used a modified version of West End Games D6 system. Our Rebel cell was dispatched from Yavin 4 to track down and retrieve the Ghost and its crew. Our first lead was a Hutt on the Smuggler's Moon of Nal Shaddaa who was the last to have dealings with them. Some intense - and well-armed - negotiations led us to a technology dealer on the Bothan homeworld of Bothawui. He revealed that the Ghost and its crew were taken captive by an Imperial Security officer who happened to be celebrating in a bar nearby. That officer was kind enough to let us know the location of the Imperial base where the Ghost and its crew were being held. He also "donated" his uniform and code cylinders. Our Rebel cell entered the base through the time-honored tradition of impersonating Imperial personnel, but trouble quickly found us. This led to another time-honored tradition in Star Wars - shooting up Stormtroopers and Imperial facilities.

I had a bad feeling about this.

My long week at work was catching up with me after the Star Wars game. I decided to call it a day and return home for dinner and an evening spent unwinding.

Overall, I had a fantastic experience at Chapabracon V. It's a great convention with great people. I wish I could have spent more time there, but I've long ago learned not to push things too far. I'm looking forward to attending next year!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Warsenal's Access Terminals

The Havoc Girls putting some access terminals to use.

These are Warsenal's Access Terminals. I finished painting and assembling these pieces last week. They have a bright future as roleplaying game scenery and wargaming objectives/terrain in a couple of upcoming projects.

I primed and spray painted the MDF parts prior to assembly. This was to avoid having the raw MDF showing through the transparent acrylic parts. Black primer was used to fill in the details. I picked out a can of purple paint from an old project that wasn't doing anybody any good just sitting there. The purple went on thicker and more glossy than I expected, but the final result looks good. Looking back, I should have glued the MDF parts together prior to priming and painting them. The paint made putting assembling the MDF parts harder than it needed to be.

The combination of small MDF parts, fragile acrylic parts, and my fumble fingers made assembly a challenge. I would strongly recommending watching the assembly video on YouTube when starting the project and immediately prior to any attempt to put these things together. Relying on memory just leads to avoidable mistakes.

Each package contains the parts to build six Access Terminals. There are only five assembled Access Terminals in my photo. And my bits collection is little larger. In the future, I may choose to avoid Warsenal's smaller and more detailed terrain pieces. This isn't a strike against Warsenal - I like their acrylic markers, MDF terrain, and plastic bases. On a personal level, I'm finding that I lack the manual dexterity to put together the small parts that go into their scatter terrain.

Overall, I'm pleased with Warsenal's Access Terminals. The transparent acrylic parts give each piece a holographic appearance. The design is not so specific that it won't fit into a variety of futuristic settings.

Friday, March 30, 2018

From Junk to Stasis Pods

Stasis pods make for secure places to confine prisoners.

This was a quick and easy project that combined a happy coincidence, a moment of inspiration, and a need for a particular piece of terrain. There are better looking pieces available for purchase. Two fine examples are the "Bio Chamber” from RAFM Miniatures and the gorgeous "Stasis Coffin" from Warsenal . Unfortunately, I was both in a hurry and broke. So I made my own out of things I had lying around.

The coincidence happened when I was playing with some random junk from my bits collection. The shape of the milk bottle caps saved them from the recycle bin. A trip through the dishwasher later and they were in my bits collection. The prescription medicine bottles were washed and saved because of how useful they are in storing bits small enough to get lost in bags and boxes. The coincidence was that the threading on the milk bottle cap meshed with the medicine bottle. It isn’t a perfect fit, but is tight enough to be secure.

The inspiration was the appearance of the two joined bits. I had recently watched Rogue One again and it reminded me of the bacta tank that Darth Vader spent some time in before dealing with some personnel issues. I didn’t have any need for any such terrain pieces at the time, so I made a note to myself and moved on.

Havoc Girls in trouble.

It was a good thing I made that note. Sure enough, I have a need for some kind of cryo-stasis pod for a game coming up in about a week at the time this gets posted. It would take too much time for me to order something, have it arrive, and get it ready for the gaming table. Besides, I have nothing in the gaming budget at the moment. The stuff in my bits collection is already paid off and saved from the recycling bin.

Digging around my bits collection turned up four caps and bottles along with some random plastic bits to add a little detail to the finished piece. The caps and random bits were sprayed with black primer. Next was a spray of silver paint at an angle. The goal was to leave some of the black primer coat showing to give the impression of shadows. The rest was just a matter of gluing the now-silver painted plastic bits to the bottoms (now tops) of the medicine bottles.

Prescription bottle, milk bottle cap, and random plastic bit before painting.
The pieces are right size to fit a 28mm-32mm scale human figure as long as the figure doesn’t extend too far from the base. So figures striking epic poses are not suitable volunteers for trips into these stasis pods. A 25mm base fits with plenty of room and a 30mm base barely squeezes in. So I’ll need a bigger pod to put any ogres or dragons into stasis.

Overall, I’m pleased at how this quick and easy project turned out!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Khurasan Miniatures Parasachnid Warriors

Carnivorous space critters out for a snack.

These are the Parasachnid Warriors of the 15mm Feral Parasachnid "Bug" line from Khurasan Miniatures. Sculpted by Aaron Brown. These little guys get through life by swarming with their buddies and skittering around for a bite to eat.

This batch of freshly painted space critters are long time residents of my lead pile. I honestly have no idea when I bought them. These got pulled out of storage when I realized that I needed some kind of alien carnivore for an upcoming game.

The Parasachnid Warriors come in two pieces - one for upper body and one for the lower body/legs. The two piece construction offer the option of mounting the lower body/legs lengthwise or widthwise. Lengthwise offers the narrow appearance of a creature built for speed. Widthwise gives a wider look resembling that of a spider or crab. I choose the widthwise option.

I went for a simple paint scheme dictated by what paints I happened to have on hand. My paint collection survived my years-long illness induced gaming interregnum mostly intact. However, I am trying to use up certain lines and products before they degrade. The base coat is Formula P3 Menoth White Base, which is actually a light tan color. Highlights are Formula P3 Morrow White. As the names imply, Formula P3 is produced by Privateer Press for their Warmachine/Hordes line. I bought the two paints some time ago simply because I heard good things about the line and wanted to it a try. The quality is impressive, especially since they have been in storage for years. Two thin coats were all that was needed to provide good coverage with no separation or uneven patches.

Next, I applied Citadel Ogryn Flesh Wash to the bodies. Well out of production, Ogryn Flesh provides a middle ground between Devlan Mud and Gryphonne Sepia. The result is a reddish brown glaze that pools in the details.

Half of the Parasachnid Warriors were modeled with open mouths. I applied Citadel Baal Red to imply the softer flesh of the little guys' gaping jaws. The teeth were highlighted with Formula P3 Morrow White. The red flesh and white teeth contrast nicely with each other. I'm sure my players will appreciate that level of detail. Speaking of detail - the eyes were picked out in Citadel Chaos Black.

Ain't it the cutest little critter? Just begging for a treat!

None of the bases I had on hand would fit well with the figures. I ended up using some circular plastic pieces I salvaged from elsewhere. The basing material is the sand/brown craft paint/glue/water mix I use when I can't think of anything better to do. I drybrushed some light tan on the basing material after it had dried to bring out the texture.

The Parasachnid Warriors are scaled for 15mm - one Warrior is about the right size to consume a 15mm human figure without too much trouble. However, they are suitable for use in 28mm games as creatures about the size of a large dog. The eight figures that come in a pack are enough to menace a party of space adventurers, but more would be needed to threaten a formation of infantry.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Star Trek Adventures Character Generation

My group dove into character generation for Star Trek Adventures recently. Every one of us is a Star Trek fan and we're excited about revisiting the setting as role players. A science fiction RPG would also be a welcome change of pace for some of our players.

Star Trek Adventures assumes that the player characters will be the bridge officers of a Federation starship. The character generation system creates characters comparable to the main characters of each TV series. They are highly capable in their area of expertise and competent in a range of other skills. No character is going to be good at everything, but with each player character occupying a different bridge position, a variety of specialties will exist within a given group. This will tend to insure that everything is covered.

The game uses a lifepath system as a possible nod to FASA's Star Trek: The Role Playing Game. The system takes each character from early life through Starfleet Academy and their pre-campaign Starfleet career. Players can choose or randomly determine the results of each stage of their character's development. Questions are posed about each stage to develop the details needed to flesh out the character's background. For example, it turns out that the character's ship was destroyed earlier in their career. The obvious questions are which ship, what were the circumstances of its destruction, and what role did the character play in those circumstances? The combination of a lifepath system for inspiration and questions to provide details helps to avoid characters who are fully defined mechanically, but are blank slates for role playing.

The lifepath system can create characters ranging in experience from a fresh-from-the-Academy Ensign to a seasoned officer to a veteran Captain. All of these characters will be built with the same number of points - the main difference will be in role playing opportunities and specializations. The Ensign will be pretty good at a variety of things, but not as good at what a seasoned officer has years of training and experience in doing. Likewise, their Captain is better at leading and inspiring others than any of them.

The core book provides a diverse selection of species for players to pick from. Each species has a set of bonuses that give them a slight bias towards a particular role - it should come as no surprise that Vulcans gravitate towards Science. That said, the bonuses are small enough to be easily overcome during the rest of character generation. Humans have the advantage of being able to pick what bonuses they receive, allowing them to boost themselves towards whatever role they wish to fill.

The species available in the core book cover a range of Star Trek eras. Many species are available in all eras of play - Humans and Vulcans are always going to be around, even as early as Enterprise. Other species are only available in later eras - Trills show up during TOS and Bajorans during TNG/DS9/VOY.

The group's starship can also be created during character generation. The players select a ship class and various options to customize their specific vessel. These options include mission packages, additional equipment, and - for older ships - refits.

The ships available in the core book offer a variety of choices from different eras and intended roles. Each ship class reflects what the source material established about it - a Defiant punches way above its weight, but isn't exceptional in any other category while many of the cruisers are jacks-of-all-trades. Newer designs are naturally more technologically advanced, but refits help longer-serving starships to stay viable decades after launch.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Effigy Miniatures' Havoc Girls

Three sci-fi adventurers just arrived at a busy spaceport? Or three figures taking their place in my display case?

These are the Havoc Girls, a set of 28mm figures individually called the the Pilot, Recon, and Hacker from the now-defunct Effigy Miniatures. I'm not sure if the sculptor - Tom Mason - was going for a sci-fi version of "Charlie's Angels" when he created these figures, but I have strong suspicions. These were the first figures available from Effigy Miniatures' initial Kickstarter and later the company's online shop. They later become part of Effigy Miniatures' Havoc Protocol line – a series of miniatures with a similar futuristic aesthetic. In 2013, a career change prompted Tom Mason to close down Effigy Miniatures. To the best of my knowledge, these figures are no longer available for sale, even at the new company that Tom Mason started up.

These long-term residents of my lead pile finally made it to the work table early this year. I decided on a darker color scheme than the one used in the original artwork for greater contrast between the bodysuits and the accessories. The accessory colors on each figure are based on the Starfleet uniform colors used in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the 24th century Starfleet, Pilot would be in the Command division and wear red. Recon would be in the Security department and wear gold. I decided that Hacker would be in the Sciences division and wear blue for variety, but an argument could be made for her to be in Engineering. The uniform color choices were made with an eye towards using them in a future Star Trek Adventures campaign. The hair colors are the result of me being unable to decide what natural hair colors to use and picking the three brightest paint colors to catch my eye.

The bases are from a Warsenal Tracking Beacon 3-pack that proved a little too fragile for my fumble fingers during assembly. The remains of that project found a home in my bits box. The bases are assembled from two pieces of plastic and create a layered effect. They are available separately from the Warsenal Tracking Beacon 3-pack as Tunguskan Bases.

I'm not entirely happy with how the paint jobs worked out. The base coating and highlighting went fine. Unfortunately, the washes broke after I applied them, leading to uneven coats on the figures and the bases. Still, given that this is my first painting project in a long while, I'm willing to live with a "tabletop as long as nobody looks too closely" standard.

Improvised light box on the kitchen table. It has the advantage of folding up for storage.

The initial set of photos that I took in my improvised light box were also disappointing. None of them turned out well. I resorted to snapping a shot of the Havoc Girls in my display case with my phone. The results were a pleasant surprise – not perfect, but better than the ones I took earlier. If this keeps up, I might make it my standard practice – it would certainly be easier!