Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Castlevania Netflix Series

I just finished watching the four episode Season 1 of the Netflix Castlevania series. Seeing that it was written by Warren Ellis, who I've heard does good work in comics...I'm way out of the loop in American comics these days...and being a big fan of the video games (as you can tell from the title of the blog)...um, can I add any more parentheticals or asides to this introductory paragraph? OK, I'll get down to it. I was hoping this would be a lot cooler than it turned out to be.

Don't get me wrong, there's some good stuff here. But I wasn't expecting it to be what it was, which is basically all setup. The entire four episode "season" is basically just all Act 1 of the drama. And because of that, it's a bit unfulfilling. I'll break it down episode by episode, but avoid spoilers as much as I can while doing so.

Episode 1 tells us of Dracula's motivation for unleashing his army of monsters on Wallachia.

Episode 2 introduces Trevor Belmont and explains his family's background.

Episode 3 introduces Sypha Belnades and explains why her people, the Seekers, want to help.

Episode 4 introduces Alucard and why he wants to defeat Dracula.

And that's it. There are some cliches from horror movies, some of which seem to contradict things in the video games a bit, but mostly it keeps the gothic horror vibe of the games. And Trevor teaming up with Sypha and Alucard (but no Grant Danasty) to defeat Dracula is what Castlevania III is all about.

The problems are that it's all set-up and no payoff (yet). I was expecting this to basically go from Dracula's army invades to Trevor defeats Dracula in four episodes. And I was expecting each episode to be an hour (or 45 minutes) long. They're about 20 minutes each. So it doesn't get very far in the tale.

I read on Wikipedia that originally it was set to be a feature length movie. The switch to a series was probably a good idea, but I guess it would have been nice if Netflix had had enough faith in this project to fund the whole thing in one 10 or

12 episode series, rather than split it up. Still, I hope it gets enough viewers that Netflix doesn't kill it. I think my opinion of it will go up if they can ramp up the action in the next season.

Basically, watch this so that they keep making it. But it will likely be more satisfying once the show is complete and you can binge-watch it from start to finish.

Oh, and before I sign off here, if you're a parent wondering if there's "cursing" in the show? Yes, quite a bit. And plenty of animated gore and dismemberment. It's a horror themed show based on a horror themed video game, after all. I won't be letting my older boy watch it for several years yet.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Crazy Idea? Or is this basically what DCC does?

I sometimes feel like I'm the only OSR guy that doesn't have Dungeon Crawl Classics. I've gotten some modules for it, but don't have the game itself. I've of course heard about the spell system, where every spell has a random table to go with it.

What I'm proposing is a bit different from my perception of DCC's spell system, but somewhat similar. I'm not sure how well this would work in play, it's just a random idea I had. But enough blather, what was my shower thought last week?*

So, using a TSR version of D&D, or a retroclone of the same, here's an idea for Magic-Users (I probably wouldn't allow it for Clerics, but then again, maybe I might) that might give them a bit more oomph. Once they've cast all of their prepared spells for the day (or if a situation calls for a spell in their spellbook but not prepared), they can cast it, but need to make a roll using the Chainmail spell chances (2d6 rolls) to see if the spell goes off or fizzles.

Probably too powerful if it's just "cast or fail" so (like DCC) it would need some chance of misfire of some sort (Wild Magic tables? Reverse effects or targets? Page in the spellbook is burned and the spell is lost?) to make it a gamble to keep casting spells when you've exhausted your spells per day or are casting something you didn't prepare. Higher level spells would also incur a higher chance of a negative effect besides just not casting the spell.

It might be fun to try this some day.


*Or was it 2 weeks ago? I'm so behind on blogging. We've had two sessions of Dean's game that I haven't posted about. I've also been doing the West Marches for 2 months now, and it's going well. Chanbara is nearly ready for publication. And I've seen a movie or two I could review. No time for any of that recently.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

More Progress on Chanbara

Today was a good day. During my breaks between classes, I rewrote some sections of Chanbara, and I think really improved what I had.

I mentioned in the last post that I was cutting out theoretical blather (that can and should go here on the blog) and replacing it with more concrete tools that should make Chanbara easier to run.

I'm not always trying to reinvent the wheel here. If subsystems from Classic D&D work, I'll copy and slightly modify them for Chanbara. But one thing that is very different, and vital to get a distinctly Japanese (Confucian) feel to the game is the Allegiance system.

This replaces alignment, and gives your PC some ties to the game world. It also has an effect like sword & sorcery carousing rules. To get XP for gold, you need to turn it over to one of your lieges. I like it, because it dispenses with bean counting 'honor' systems like in the original OA but should serve the purpose of making behavior have consequences. My new work today gives some solid guidelines for that, I hope.

So I'm more confident now that Chanbara will be worth people's money. All the delays...and they have been numerous...have given me the time to get this right. Or at least pretty dang good, if not exactly right. So for those of you following the blog and my work on this, thank you for your patience. I hope to amply reward you with a kickass game.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Blessing in Disguise

Chanbara. I've been working on this game in my spare time for nearly five years now. And I'm surprised that some of you are still reading this blog and waiting for its eventual release. Thank you! I probably would have given up on it during the dissertation writing process over the past two years if it weren't for the occasional comment inquiring about it, or expressing excitement about finally getting your hands on it.

As you probably read, if you follow this blog, I lost my USB that had the most recent updates to the game on it, and I'm slowly rebuilding the draft, trying to remember what changes I'd made and how I made them. It's coming along, if slowly.

And one thing that has actually been a bit of a blessing is it got me to re-read the previous version more closely. I've noticed, especially in the GM Section, that I have lots of sections where I outline a philosophy for gaming, rather than give the reader useful tools for running the game. While I think the game will play best in a certain way, it's not really what most people want when reading an RPG rulebook. It's not like many novice GMs are going to be finding and playing Chanbara, after all. Most of you are gaming veterans. And a rulebook is not a blog.

So I've been trying to excise those sections, and replace them with useful stuff you can use (or ignore) when running your own Chanbara games. A lot of it is getting cribbed from BX and BECMI D&D, because why not? The systems there work well. Right now, I'm revising the Dungeon Exploration section, and getting rid of the philosophical/theoretical banter and replacing them with charts and tables and guidelines. In the lost draft, I'd done that for Wilderness Exploration, but not for the Dungeon Exploration section. It's being done now.

So maybe losing that USB was a good thing after all. It's slowed down my progress, but similar to my decision to keep plugging away at the game while doing my dissertation rather than rush the version I had two years ago out, this will only make the game better when I finally get it published.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Into the West Marches

As I mentioned in the previous post, I started my West Marches campaign last Sunday, with my son Flynn, Michael (who plays Oman-Won Shinobi in my Chanbara playtests, and Thorvald the Dwarf Sailor Tempest Cleric in Dean's Eberron game) and new player Richard.

Flynn had a Dragonborn Monk and Richard had a Human Monk. Michael came with three or four PCs prepared, and decided to play a High Elf Rogue.

After I explained a bit about the campaign concept (it's of course my own spin on the West Marches idea) and introduced the main points of interest in the home town. Rather than ask around at any of the locations I'd just described for information or leads, they headed straight across the bridge and into the Wilds for their first adventure.

While still in the first hex, they stumbled upon a baboon lair. While the more experienced players were content to just let them be, Flynn decided to sneak up behind one and pull its tail! And he succeeded on his rolls! Once he yanked the tail, of course it set to screaming and scrambled up atop its large pile of deadwood lair, along with all its companions, which started pelting the party with sticks and stones. Taking a bit of damage, they retreated back to town to heal up.

BTW, I'm doing 5E rests similarly to Dean. Rest up in town, and it's just like in the book. All hit points, hit dice, and abilities are back to full. Take a long rest in the wilds, and abilities refresh, as do half of your hit dice, but no hit points. I need there to be some risk/reward trade-off to continuing to explore vs. camping all the time.

They made a second expedition, and encountered some giant rats while crossing into their second hex. Not finding much of interest in the hex (there's stuff there, they just missed it due to rolls), they again went back to town to rest up after having been slightly wounded by the rats.

The third expedition was much more eventful. They managed to penetrate to a third hex and discovered a ruined "scorpion" temple with a bit of loot. They also fought kobolds on the way, scaring them off after getting the drop on them, killing one with an arrow and wounding another, plus taunts and threats to intimidate them. At the temple, they discovered some loot, as I mentioned, and had to fight some more giant rats. Exploring just a bit more, they encountered a pair of worgs, and Richard's monk was taken down to 0 hp.

BTW, the rules for surviving at 0 hp are pretty generous. You can make saving throws at DC 10 to stabilize, and need 3 successes before you get three failures (so 3 to 5 rounds). During that time, any healing magic, or a DC 10 Medicine check (or untrained...Wis? Int? check) stabilizes the companion.

Long story short, Richard's monk was stabilized by Michael's rogue, and they made it back to town without further incident. Richard was moaning that they'd need to spend their sparse hard earned loot to get him healed up, but I reminded him that he only needed to rest to get his HP back to max. PCs can get healing at the temple, but only need to pay for it if they're in a rush and want to get back out quickly, or need a Lesser Restoration or similar magic cast on them.

My thoughts? I've been sorta mixing in some BX hex crawling rules to use, but they don't really mesh that well with the players' expectations. Rather than wander through several hexes at a time, they were carefully exploring each hex. And some hexes are pretty much empty, and none so far have more than 2 non-random encounters in them. So I may need to redo my system for finding things in a hex. Instead of BX/BECMI style random rolls, I may instead leave it to the 5E skill system, where they can roll things like Nature, Survival, History, Perception, and the like to discover certain facets of the hex (ruins, monster lairs, resources that could be exploited, oddities).

Or maybe I'll do both. Random rolls for them to just stumble across something interesting, and if they call for the above rolls or describe their actions in a way that would seem to call for one, I can have them roll to also find whatever it is they're looking for.

Also, next session, I need to make sure they talk to some of the people in town. There are bits of information that may lead them to more profitable locations, and warnings of dangers...if they bother to ask.

Friday, May 12, 2017

New Campaign Jitters

Starting the West Marches game with my son and others this weekend. It'll be my first time DMing in front of an actual face-to-face group in several years, and there will be (potentially) many new players I've never gamed with before. And my son in the mix.

Most of my recent (as in the past 4-
5 years or so) gaming has been online, via Hangouts, with the Busan Gamers and/or Dean's Eberron campaign.

Man, I really want this campaign to go well, so my son can have a blast playing. And I know I should just relax. I've been DMing for longer than some of my new players have been alive. I got this.

But it's also a 5E game, so a somewhat new system for me. I've got a fair amount of player experience with 5th, but not DMing. So, there's a bit of background anxiety in my head.

Once the first session rolls around this Sunday afternoon, and things get going, I'm sure they'll be fine. But I've always had somewhat low self-esteem (a nerdy D&D player with low self-esteem? Say it ain't so!) and I just need to resist the urge to over plan everything. I've got enough hexes plotted out, I've got a system that will allow me to improvise if the manage to get beyond the first few areas outside the home base. I've got decades of DMing experience to fall back on if things go unexpectedly (and surely they will!).

It's not weird that we put so much pressure on ourselves as the DM. Despite what a recent Kotaku article reviewing a book about Gary would tell you, in any edition of D&D the DM really is the most important aspect of the game. The players can and should take an active roll in the game. We need players to play in the game. But without the DM, there is no game at all.

And apparently I've got a bit of a reputation as an awesome DM here in Busan, but I'm thinking to myself, "Nah, I'm just an average DM who isn't afraid to let the games get silly and isn't afraid to have fun when I DM."

So, what do you folks think? Anyone else suffer from "new campaign jitters" when you know rationally that you have no reason to be nervous? It's just a game, after all, and a game we love.

Anyone want to take contention with my stance that the DM is in fact more important than the players? I don't mind hearing opposing viewpoints.

Any words of encouragement so I can snap out of this funk?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Table of Doom

Based on Jeff Rients' Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom (scroll down for it), I've come up with my own table for the West Marches campaign that will be starting up next weekend.

As you can see, I borrowed lots of ideas from Jeff, but made it a bit different to fit a wilderness hex crawl. I wonder how some of the players will react to it. I mean, as long as they can make a return trip to town (or another safe haven) by the end of a session, they don't need to worry about it.

TABLE OF DOOM
Roll a d20 if in the wilds at the end of the session 
1 You were slain, and all of your gear and loot was destroyed (or stolen). Roll up a new character.
2 You perished attempting to return. Escaping party members know the location where you fell, and your gear may be recovered there. Roll up a new character.
3 You were slain and raised as an undead creature (or polymorphed into a monster of some type), haunting a random hex. Your former gear and loot is now the treasure you guard. Roll up a new character.
4 Lost and presumed dead with all gear and loot. Roll up a new character.
5 Lost in the wilds, DM determines a random hex where you can be found with all of your gear but no loot.
6 Petrified, trapped in a crystal cave, put into a magical slumber, charmed by a dryad, or the like. Escaping members have no idea where you are trapped.
7 Petrified, trapped in a crystal cave, in a magical slumber, charmed by a dryad, or the like. Escaping members know the general location where you are trapped.
8 Captured! No one is sure what captured you, or where it might be located.
9 Captured! Escaping party members know what captured you, but not where its lair is located.
10 Captured! Escaping party members know where you were captured, but do not know exactly what captured you.
11 Held for Ransom! Humanoids demand 1000gp x your level to release you. Local thieves can arrange the payoff (1 in 6 chance the money never gets delivered).
12 Taken in by friendly creatures. You have all of your gear and loot, but are located in a random hex and in no hurry to return home.
13 Wild Man or Woman of the Woods. You've gone mad and wander in a hex known by any escaping party members. They will need to heal your insanity to convince you to return to a life of adventure.
14 Wandering in the wilderness for weeks before you manage to find your way back to town with your gear but no loot. The player must use a different character for one session before playing this PC again.
15 You return to town! Or do you? Something about you seems different. Replaced by a doppelganger or some other shape-shifter. DM rolls again secretly to learn your true fate.
16 You contract a disease, get poisoned, or fall victim to a curse before returning to town with your gear and half of your loot.
17 You crawl into town, with nothing but the clothes on your back. And those clothes are torn to shreds.
18 You make it back, barely. All loot and half of your gear is gone.
19 You gave up your loot to escape your enemies. All gear intact, but no loot.
20 You lucky dog! You make it safely back to town with all gear and loot!