Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Cheesecake in RPGs!

Blueberry Cheesecake is my favorite.

  So this guy here wrote about being uncomfortable with sexuality in marketing RPGs and tabletop games and this guy here attacked him a lot about it, pointing out how Fantasy needs to be dangerous and shocking and all that.

  I agree with both in certain parts and disagree with both in certain others. It just depends which part of which post I'm at.

  I think what is being missed on both sides here is context. I'll be using examples outside RPGs to better illustrate my arguments, but I'll bring it back to our hobby. So yeah, context. Context of what the product is and who it's aimed at. I remember way back on another blog I once bashed this poster:

      I still think, years later, that it looks outright ridiculous. Yes, she's giving the sword a blowjob, we get it. But I don't have a problem with it anymore. Why? Because of context. This is who Red Sonja is:

  She's a bikini chainmail hottie whose goal is to be a fantasy for Conan readers. So, y'know, it's kind of natural to sexualize her. I'm not saying you can't tell good stories with her, I'm not saying she's not a valid character in fiction and I'm not saying women can't look up to her if they want to. A lot of female cosplayers seem to like dressing up as her so I imagine her appeal is not only for the male or lesbian gaze. But she's a very sexual character by nature, so her being sexualized should not be criticized, if anything it should be embraced.

  I do have a problem, however, when I see Wonder Woman like this:

  Look, I know Wonder Woman started as a bondage fetish character, and I am not saying she shouldn't be drawn sexy, or even busty. No problems there. It's the whole way she's positioned. If she had stayed that bondage fetish heroine from the Golden Age of comics, then fine. But she has grown to represent women in superhero comics, and I don't mean in an accidental way where people might tell me that a company should be able to do whatever they want with their characters anyway and that it's just the expectations of some readers who are off the mark. I mean in the sense that DC Comics themselves will point to her and say "Look, women are represented in comics! Wonder Woman is a role model for young girls!"
  So that's when context comes into play, in my opinion. Red Sonja is supposed to be hot and to be in lots of titillating positions. Wonder Woman is supposed to be a role model for young girls. And there she is, extremely sexualized in a creepy way. And I'm not saying Wonder Woman shouldn't be a character with a sex life, that she shouldn't date in her stories or whatever. I don't ask for superheroes, male or female, to be virgins. But there are ways of presenting your products and characters that are appropriate with what you are claiming your goals are.

  Raggi claims that with the internet it's no longer true that people will turn to their hobbies for sex, but I strongly disagree with him. I think a lot of people feel titillation from characters they 'know', which is why we so often get weird results while searching the names of fictional characters on the internet, even when we weren't trying to find anything weird. And I think a lot of people like having sex mixed with their hobbies. 

 That car has an amazing engine!

This will be an impressive display of martial arts skills!

  I myself once used a picture that prominently displayed cleavage for one of my posts and got some heat from it on Google +. I remember one woman overreacting about it and I complained that she hadn't even read the post. And she did overreact, but at the same time that picture had very little to do with what I discussed. Sure, I was discussing magic and the woman was a magic-user, but I chose an extremely sexual picture. And in the end, that does distract from an experience instead of adding to it unless you want to incorporate the sexual aspects into what you are doing.

  Anyone complaining that Heavy Metal magazine is too sexual is missing the point.

  Heavy Metal should be adult and sexual because that's the point of the magazine. And yes it should be kept out of the hands of children! But that said, I remember a childhood friend of mine from Spain reading El Vibora (an adult comic-book magazine that was more sexual than Heavy Metal!) during his early teenage years and he grew up not to be a screwed up human being and instead a well-balanced, successful person. It's true, in Europe people tend to freak out a lot less about that kind of stuff.

I Googled cover images of the magazine for an example and could only use this one. All the other ones were too explicit for this blog (which is not rated Adult). Which brings the question; What the hell is GON of all characters doing on the cover of El Vibora??? o__O

  Anyway. When it comes to RPGs, I apply the same logic. If I'm buying Machinations of the Space Princess then I expect trashy sci-fi. The cover will have naughty implications and there will be gratuitous, over-the-top stuff all over the place!

  If anyone were to complain about the sexuality in Machinations, I'd tell them that they are being stuck-up prudes and that they should find something better to do. However, if someone pointed out and complained about over-sexualized art in an official Dungeons & Dragons book, I might agree with them. Why? Because of context. Because D&D is supposed to be for everyone, and it's not an unfair expectation because it markets itself that way. Within that context it would be fair to complain it's a bit too sensual for people of all ages or that it could make some women uncomfortable.
  I don't mean that I'm particularly passionate about that sort of thing, because El Vibora. (Yes, I used the magazine title as an argument in itself.) I think that Castles & Crusades has some pretty cool art but all those butt-shots I find a bit embarrassing because in my opinion they do not belong there. (My lesbian friend Cindy who plays Torad the Barbarian in my game really liked one of those butt-shot pictures though, in the art's defense.) 
  I'm fine with the idea of owning books that I'd have to hide from my kids until they were adults if I ever have children. I will never ask a company, artist, writer or other to change what they do because of my own personal life, it is an unfair demand from the Gnome. That said, if a company does claim that you can bring a book to work, that you can let your kids flip through its pages, then you shouldn't have to feel worried or embarrassed about any of its material. But c'mon, that a cute girl in a sexy cosplay outfit is trying to sell you toys is not really a problem in our hobby. (That said, I'm sure that a lot of defenders of the bikini-clad girl at the Con would complain if a muscular dude wearing only a loincloth was trying to sell them a Conan tabletop game or something. :p )

  Context. Thanks to it, the bikini chainmail babe can co-exist in our hobby with the woman in practical armor.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Reply to "Social Justice and Gaming'

I hope she doesn't destroy your capacity to play and enjoy tabletop RPGs just by existing in a book!

  I've recently done a post that came close to the 'social justice' trend. (Or I guess you could argue it was social justice. I don't know, nor do I care much in that regard.) In that post, I also pointed out I wouldn't make a habit of it because in this hobby about rolling dice and killing dragons, I wanted to keep my blog centered on the fun stuff and not go looking for trouble. I don't go looking for discrimination to point out, in other words.

  But come on, when I come across blatant discrimination without even looking for it, I do have to call it out. And this is where I'll maybe make a few enemies, but honestly I wouldn't want the approval of anyone who agrees with the crap I read there.

 The crap being this post here called 'Social Justice and Gaming'.

  I'll let you all read it first, but here are my main replies to this whining bullcrap:

  "You saw female fighters, barbarians and the like for the first time (again, nothing wrong with this, when it is done in moderation)."
  So there's nothing wrong with this... when done in moderation. LOL. I mean, let's not get carried away. Let's not have too many female protagonists who can handle themselves in a fight here!
  O.k, here's the thing. When a Fantasy author like Richard Morgan talks about the role of female characters and gay people in his stories, he clearly discusses them from a very realistic point of view for a type of storytelling that doesn't sweep things under the rug. How medieval society would be in serious storytelling. D&D is not serious storytelling, it's escapism, it's a social game, it's meant to be fun for everyone. It's meant to be inclusive, and that term is only a vague undefinable thing for people who are bothered by it. D&D is not a serious, historical game. D&D is a game with character alignments that could never encompass the true complexities of real people. D&D is the game where you can fight winged gorillas with laser guns if you go gonzo enough with it. D&D is a type of game where if your character is high enough level he can basically survive a fall from whatever height he/she is falling from. It is not realistic. D&D is not the place to tell your female friends that no more than one of them should play a female Fighter.  Now, I would actually somewhat agree if, say, Call of Cthulhu scenarios from the 20's didn't spotlight how things actually were back then, yet pretending something never happened is no lesson learned. But when you are bothered by the idea of seeing too many minorities in a D&D book instead of simply going "Let's see what this book has to offer my campaign." then you are doing something wrong.

  "Social Justice has taken over our hobby. It is up to us to take it back." 
  Yeah! Let's take back the game so us straight white male gamers are once more fairly represented in games and... Oh wait, we already are.

  "The LGBTQ movement (not a representative of the whole) began to force its worldview down the throats of the American people through legislation (“anti”-discrimination laws) and the courts. They pushed for gay marriage and won in many court cases." 
   Hey idiot, drop the quote marks, they are fighting for anti-discrimination laws. When two consenting adults cannot marry unlike the majority of adults just because the majority likes to rub their genitals against a different type of genitals, they are being discriminated against. It's not even an argument to be had. What you could try to argue is why this discrimination is good for society if you wanted and I would argue against you, but that it is discrimination is not even something to be argued. I find it idiotic when people go "Hey, we don't discriminate, we already allow them to be together, but now they want the same rights as us???" Right, that doesn't sound like discrimination at all.

 Oh no, two dudes are kissing on a Fantasy cover! 

  "As always guys, leave your thoughts, but don’t be a dick!" 
  You mean unlike you? Dude, you can't have your cake and eat it. You can't claim that you don't have a problem with the portrayal of minorities in games but then specify you don't want too much of it.

  As a final side-note, the hobby this guy wants still exists. Most retro-clones and OSR stuff is not inclusive at all and is mostly centered around white dudes and half-naked girls. It hasn't gone anywhere. But last time I checked, Pathfinder, the most inclusive mainstream tabletop RPG I can think of, was the best-selling game on the shelves. (Maybe it's changed, but it was not long ago.) So maybe this guy needs a reality check regarding who the 'true' hobbyists are. Maybe the new generations of geeks don't all look exactly the same.

  Anyway, now that I've posted about this, to hell with it. The next post is about cheesecake in gaming, and I disagree with both this guy and this guy.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Mentally Preparing To Paint Miniatures

  From the very first time I learned about Dwarven Forge, I knew that I would want to get that stuff someday. My current apartment is too small for me to start using miniature sets for my games, but in a few months I'll be moving to a bigger place and I can ponder this again. That also means perhaps facing the notion of -GASP!- painting stuff myself! In fact, all the way back in Bruno's RPG Talk episode 3 I showed some miniatures I had bought at the time.
  A fellow blogger made a painting tutorial video a while back but sadly hasn't done more since then. Not that I should worry about finding more tutorials for that on YouTube...

  Anyway, let's end this post on a high note, here's a video of Peter Cushing himself painting miniatures and showing off his army for Little Wars!

Icons Assemble!

  So I recently made a big deal out of how I was going to use Basic RolePlaying for a superhero campaign eventually. I even mentioned George R.R. Martin as an argument for the game. (It was pointed out to me that he later started using GURPS instead. I love GURPS but like I said, I don't feel like using lots of math for a superhero campaign at the moment.)
  I also made a big deal out of how I wasn't interested in suggestions for other superhero systems out there since I already own so many. And yet... Icons was brought up in more than one place whenever the subject was being discussed. So I checked out their Pay what You Want PDF.
  I read it without much excitement or curiosity at first, but let me tell you, the more I read, the more my opinion changed! Of all the systems I have read and/or used so far for superheroes (And I'll be the first to clarify it's certainly not all of them!) this one feels the most like a comic-book!
  Even the comic-books I was reading yesterday and today from my latest pick-up at Astro Books made me realize how perfectly suited to the genre Icons is!

  Here's a scene from Spider-Gwen #2:

  And instead of thinking "That wouldn't have worked in an RPG system because Gliding is not one of Gwen's typical powers." I went "O.k, Gwen used her Determination Points to pull a Stunt and improvise gliding web wings!"
  Or another way of looking at it is that the fall should have actually killed Gwen but she burned a permanent Determination Point to survive. It's explained via the use of improvised web wings. According to the rules, a character coming back from the dead needs at least one issue of hiatus, but since Gwen is in a solo game that can't be applied, but she is still unconscious and out of commission after the fall. Plus when she wakes up she has to deal with hallucinations of Spider-Ham as a consequence of cheating death! (Which strongly reminded me of how Bat-Mite was used in Batman R.I.P but not to the point of hurting my enjoyment of the comic.)

  When a system for playing superhero characters naturally, without effort, comes to mind while I'm reading my comics, that system is doing something right.
  I've already ordered the hardcover for Icons.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

XP Budget in my Campaign

  Anyone who's been following my blog for a while knows I looooove to over-think things like treasure and XP!
  So anyway, I really enjoy the idea of a 'XP budget' for when designing specific encounters. For random encounters and more story-driven situations I'll just roll with what makes sense and with what's given as treasure for specific creatures, but when I'm planning a dungeon, it's all about the XP Budget.
  I was first introduced to the notion via Pathfinder, and I have to say the set XP for monsters and notion of a XP budget made a lot more sense to me than the way previous 3.5 incarnations handled it. (Not to mention it was way easier!)
  Now that I run an OSR game, the way I do it is all about having every single thing that gives you XP be a bit different from the other, each with their advantage and disadvantage. In other words, keeping a balance of sorts. So yeah, this is how I do it:

  • Monsters and Traps: Yep, I give XP for traps too! I follow the guidelines from Machinations of the Space Princess for those. Anyway, these two are very similar. You face an immediate danger but you also get the XP right away once (if?) you overcome that danger.
  • Magic Items: They are an advantage in itself, but they do come with some disadvantages that make them legit XP rewards. The first is that they have to be recognized as such or be left behind and thus its potential XP is lost. You saw a normal-looking longsword and figured you didn't need it, not knowing it was a +5 longsword of god-slaying? Tough. There's also the fact that monsters might actually use that stuff on the players first! What better way to earn a magic item than facing its power before you can own it? Finally, the way I handle it is that it's XP that cannot be shared. That last one I was unsure of for a bit but decided that owning a magic item in Fantasy always seems like a very personal thing. So there's possible dissent in a group also being a disadvantage as a reward, in a weird way.
  • Treasure: Unless next to a monster and/or a trap, treasure is simply grabbing it and making XP! In a way it can be the easiest way to make XP... If you've prepared for it! Didn't bring with you a cart to transport that treasure through the forest? Tough! You're ambushed by thieves and have your goods stolen before you reach a civilized area? You don't earn XP from treasure. Treasure XP is XP that could potentially be lost at any moment during the way back home. Random encounters become all the more stressful!
  • Good RP and Accomplishing Goals: Accomplishing goals should be its own reward, sure, but it feels proper for some reason to give a bit of extra XP for a long-term goal accomplished. I don't mean just finishing a dungeon run, but rather for something that is relevant and important to the campaign. There's no real disadvantage there, I'll admit, but it does encourage players to get involved with the setting. Same thing for good RP, although I guess the disadvantage is that I won't shy away from docking XP from a player being disruptive to the game. (I've warned one in the past but thankfully the message was clearly heard.)
   That's pretty much it! Opinions and other comments are, as always, welcome.


Rats Are Not Charismatic

It's funny how entirely by accident, Charisma has become an extremely important stat in my campaign. For one thing, I use the Vornheim rules for when characters are asking for directions in a city, and that's all with Charisma. There's even been two times when the rolls were so bad, a PC was actually attacked for asking directions, which is always funny!
  Anyway, a while back I asked readers to give me ideas for what a dead rat magic item could do. I got this comment:

  It's exactly what I did, but I also added the ability to turn into a swarm of rats.

  For fun and without thinking much about it, I decided to add a 1d4 of Charisma damage for every time the user turns back into human form, because having been a swarm of rats shouldn't be the best thing to keep one social and human-like. The user happens to be a Barbarian with a Charisma of 7. Without doing it on purpose, on a whim for a set-back on a magic item that was maybe a bit too good for a then-level one character, I actually limited the use of the item to a degree that seems about right. Torad the Barbarian won't be able to 'spam' this trick for sure. Cindy, Torad's player, also did a great job of playing all rat-like without even being told that's what she should do, she just went for it. Torad used the pillows on the bed of his rented tavern room to scratch and dig inside them to make himself a sort of rat nest. Cindy even went and said Torad would try to bite Rhovanor (The Elf Fighter/Wizard) when he reached his hand towards him. I think it was the first time ever I had to tell a player that they didn't need to play a drawback to that degree, normally you have to push players in that direction. I gave both players bonus XP for an awesome RP session that night.

  As a funny side-note, Torad also slept with someone's wife and her cuckold later went after him with 4 buddies, all armed with longswords. Torad had to turn into a swarm of rats to escape and now some people are saying he could be a vampire. Since lately they mostly go out at night to fight Deep Ones in the sewers of the city (long story!) some people are starting to believe it! Not that I've warned the players of that... Also, an actual vampire has heard the rumors and moved to that tavern to see if he will find a buddy! Fun times...

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Mutant Modern!

'Angel and the Ape' from DC Comics

  Quick idea for an OSR campaign. Grab Mutant Future and instead of playing it in Post-Ap, set it in modern times! Something caused people, animals and plants to turn into mutants five years ago!
  During that time plenty of people have died from the chaos and unhealthy mutations. There are humans who survived it all unchanged thanks to a combination of good genetics and vaccines. (The game's Pure Humans.)
  The resulting setting is kind of like Sin City with mutants.

Such a stretch, I know!

  If you want to add cyborgs and more sci-fi tech stuff you could say that during those five years a lot of progress was made both in a desperate attempt to save civilization and also thanks to those who got mutations that made them geniuses, but the point of this idea is to keep the tech level in par with that of our own modern day Earth.

 Pic from Mutant Girls Squad. Haven't seen the movie, just found this on Google.

  When it comes to pricing things and compatibility with the rest of the OSR, tech beyond medieval doesn't have prices in Mutant Future as it's loot to be found. Not to worry, Machinations of the Space Princess claims that 1 GP = 20 USD and if you need something strictly GP-based, like if the economy changed drastically and society went back to gold as the default currency, Castles & Crusades: Castle Keeper's Guide has prices for modern day tech in GP.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Generic RPG Super-Villain Flaw: Death Trap Obsessed

Jigsaw from the Saw movies.

  One tradition of the superhero genre is having the villain put the heroes in death traps.

60's Batman would have owned Jigsaw, death traps were par for the course for him. Just saying.

  It's to be expected when death traps are simply a lethal security system in the villain's lair, but what about when the villain has defeated the hero and instead of killing him, he puts in a death trap? How do you justify it in a RPG game without it feeling cheap? The players might feel like it's a painfully obvious second chance given to them, one which removes tension from the game because losing a fight is not that bad anymore, there's no real danger!

Nope, Daniel Craig's Bond was not the first one who's had his manhood in danger after being captured by the bad guy...

  I think one way to deal with it is to give a flaw for that to your bad guys in whatever superhero RPG game you are using, as most of them include flaws. Be open about the fact that it's a flaw that exists in your game. Some villains might even be notorious for having that flaw, and at least players will know that the villain will also have more points put elsewhere in return so he can be more dangerous. In other words, it balances out and feels like something natural to the story instead of a sorry excuse not to have a total party kill in the game. By the same token, villains who have a reputation for not taking chances and just shooting heroes in the head as soon as they can will be all the scarier for it.

  The villain could also have the flaws of revealing their plans to a hero they believe to be utterly defeated and about to die anyway ('Compulsive Monologuist' could be the name of the flaw) and/or to be so sure of his death traps that he doesn't stay to confirm the kill. (The average 'Overconfident' flaw or any of its equivalents would cover that and more.)

  Let's finish with a very appropriate quote:

   "Didn't anyone ever tell you, there's one thing you never put in a trap if you're smart? If you value your continued existence. If you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there's one thing you never, ever put in a trap... Me."
  - The Doctor

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Choosing a Superhero RPG!: If It's Good Enough for George R.R. Martin, It's Good Enough For Me!

  I don't have any plans to run an ongoing superhero RPG campaign at the moment, but I really want to. With that said, I took a look at the options on my bookshelf.

  GURPS Supers 2nd Edition (For GURPS 3rd Edition!): The one I used for a short-lived Supers campaign many, many years ago. I like GURPS 3rd edition but next time I play in that genre I wanna try one of my other books. Plus I don't feel like doing lots of math lately.

  Silver Age Sentinels: The Tri-Stat version, I never checked out its d20 counterpart. I really like this one. Really strong contender, you can do any possible character regarding powers, limitations, enhancements and such without half as much book-keeping and math as with GURPS Supers (which I also like, don't get me wrong.) That said, right now I am looking to run a campaign at a power level of Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine and such others. (I'm not saying those three are exactly the same power level but somewhere around them.) Honestly I do think this game would be PERFECT for a cosmic-powered campaign (Superman, Silver Surfer, Green Lantern, Thor!!!) so I kinda want to save it for when I feel like doing one of those even if they have easy-to-use rules for scaling it down.

  Savage Worlds: Super Powers Companion: A recent acquisition, but I'm already using Savage Worlds for the Low Life: Rise of the Lowly campaign I run occasionally with some friends when I go outside Montreal and we have time for it. I want to try something different from something I'm already running.

  Basic RolePlaying: "Huh??? The system used for Call of Cthulhu for those extremely mortal and frail regular human characters?" I like the system but admit I initially dismissed it for Superheroes because of that impression I just pointed out. Still, I took a look at it...

  Thing is, I AM in the mood to play with Basic RolePlaying because I didn't get to use it at all since I bought it, but I needed to be convinced. Taking a look at the system it seemed solid enough, but I looked further. This is what the developer had to say in HERE (And I quote):

  "I can attest that the system's sweet spot is indeed with superheroes at the level of the Heroes, Daredevil, Spider-man, New X-Men, Teen Titans, Batman, etc. end of the spectrum.
   In my opinion, the level of detail that BRP models best isn't ideally-suited to planet-shattering heroes at the level of Thor, Superman, Hulk, etc. The system can work for them to some degree, but once you're figuring things like attacks with an +18D6 damage bonus vs a target with 80 points of kinetic armor, bookkeeping becomes more of a chore than that type of game should require. I've yet to see any generic game that handles that level of superheroics well.

   If that's the sort of game you're after, pick a game designed around that level of superheroics. BRP is like a Swiss Army knife, but in some cases, you need the right tool for the right job."

  O.k, so we're talking pretty much the power level I was looking for. And I do want to try the system. What else would it take me to convince me 100% to try it out? George R.R. Martin's stamp of approval would do the trick!

 One wonders how many characters, NPCs or otherwise, died horribly in his campaign! 
Uh? What do you mean pointing out that Martin kills a lot of his characters got old years ago?

 I found out HERE that Martin is a serious fan of Superworld, the game Basic RolePlaying's current superhero rules were taken from. 

  They still have the old Superworld books in PDF at the Chaosium website. I know for sure that the Superworld Companion has super powers not included in the book I have because they are listed in the description, but I'm not sure about the Superworld main book. I'll be sure to get the companion book either used or in PDF, but I'll have to check if the main book is worth it when I already have Basic RolePlaying.

  Oh, and what's this?


Yeah, okay, I'm sold!!!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

XP For Magic Items: The XP You Can't Split!

  So almost as soon as I decide to reward XP for Magic Items, some questions arise. How long should an adventurer keep a magic item before they get the XP? The Castles & Crusades books leave that vague. It's clear to me they need to have used it at least once. I'm inclined to say one week, but as pointed out in the Playing D&D With Porn Stars blog, Bilbo would have gotten his XP for the One Ring right away. (Speculation, sure, but I agree with that assessment.) So I don't know. Not that I need to make my campaign fit with Bilbo or anything but it's still an influence to take into consideration.
  But that's not the biggest question. The previous is, at the end of the day, a matter of my own personal preference. There is one more matter that is not as easily dealt with. Monsters, normal treasure? All sources of XP that can be shared. Magic items that have to be KEPT to get the XP?
  Then again, that's probably for the players to worry about. I'll just roll magic treasure randomly and let THEM deal with it! >:)