Friday, October 30, 2009

Next stop, Winds of Chaos

Now that Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is being completely overhauled by FFG - gone are the percentile dice, abundant careers, Halflings, and playing with more than three people - it seems a good time to leap wholeheartedly (at least half the time) into WFRP v2 fandom. The second edition of the game is going to need support.

Again, I won't bother railing about third edition, other than to make passive-aggressive little barbs like the one between long dashes in the last paragraph. What I will do is be proactive and supportive of the game I DO like.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - WFRP (v2) is "just right." It strikes a perfect balance between the almost-too-simple (Classic Traveller) and the almost-too-complicated (Rogue Trader et al).

The best resource out there, in my opinion, for the game is now There you'll find all sorts of invaluable playing aids. Obviously none of it is required, but if you ever need to know the phases of Mannslieb, conditions along a given Imperial road, need some handy weather generation, or just want a much, much longer list of possible disfigurations, you don't need to go anywhere else.

But the site really needs more scenarios. There are two up there now, both by Chuck Morrison. He took first place in both of Black Library's scenario contests. I'm pleased to announce that I am now an official contributor to Winds of Chaos, and a revamped version of Masquerade of Horrors, by Colin Campbell and I, will be up sometime in November. The new edition features art (one of the few pictures I've done that I don't think sucks), new fancy layout and even some minor rewriting (looking over the old version of the adventure, I couldn't believe how many typos and rules mistakes were in it), and a new sidebar on how to keep Hermann Von Barbe alive for a sequel.

That sequel will probably come sometime in 2010, if I can talk Colin into it. Until then, look for Masquerade of Horrors over the next few weeks, followed by my scenarios Honeymoon in Hurlach and Dokken's Dilemna (no, George Lynch does not make an appearance) over the next few months.

Masquerade is much different from the others - it's longer and the writing is more formal. Since then, I've found I prefer shorter scenarios with a lighter writing style, leaving more in the hands of the Game Master. So far, it's been entertaining stuff.

The reason I chose Winds of Chaos is because 1) unlike Strike to Stun and some other better-established sites, WoC won't take just any scenario, and 2) it's a high-quality site. I looked at many, and it is by far the most useful and interesting WFRP site out there, fan-created or no. Personally, I'm proud to be associated with it.

So it could be a few weeks before Dr. Chuck gets my stuff up online, but keep an eye out for it!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Bored Gamer's Club

Connor, Joe Sharp and I had our first-ever meeting of the Bored Gamers Club on Columbus Day at Pulp Fiction in Lee's Summit. Although there were only three of us (we were expecting five) we still had a great time, and had the game room all to ourselves. We were going to play Arkham Horror, but were worried that we wouldn't have enough time for a full game. I brought Last Night on Earth, and I'm glad I did. We had a blast.

The game is very simple, and emphasizes cinematic zombie action. The Zombies move much more slowly than the Heroes, but they can move through walls and have virtually unlimited resources in the form of zombie cards they can use to screw over the heroes. The Heroes can move faster, are smarter, and have access to cards that allow them to use weapons like shotguns and gasoline. They don't have unlimited resources (cards), though, and they have to work together to defeat the zombies.

Game mechanics are easy; when fighting Zombies, Heroes roll 2d6 and Zombies roll 1d6. The highest individual die roll wins the combat - so Heroes have a better chance of getting a higher number. If the Hero wins the combat, he has fended off the Zombie, but it is not destroyed. If the Zombie wins the combat (they win ties), then the hero takes a wound. The Heroes can only kill Zombies by using certain weapons or by rolling not only higher than the Zombie, but also rolling doubles. So if a Zombie rolls one die and gets a 3, and the hero rolls two dice and gets a 1 and a 5, the player has fended off the zombie. If the player rolled a 5 and a 5, he would have killed the Zombie. Weapons increase the chance of a kill by adding more dice to the attack, or, in the case of guns, by using text like this: "Roll one die - on a 1, the revolver is out of ammo. On a 4, 5, or 6, the zombie is destroyed."

The game components are extremely well-done, featuring really creative and fun photographs of the characters in the game. The model who portrays "Jenny, the Farmer's Daughter" (pictured) does a lot of convention appearances now and is something of a geek pin-up girl. Unfortunately she did not show up in person at our game (and her character was eaten in the high school gym by zombies). But she represents the sort of small-town archetypes who are characters in the game: the Sheriff, the High-School Quarterback, the Drifter, etc.

The Hero and Zombie cards are where all the action is; Zombies can play cards on the heroes to hinder them (things like shutting off the lights in buildings and whatnot) and Heroes can "search" a building in lieu of moving, drawing a Hero card and hoping it's something good...

My favorite Zombie card has the same name as the game: "Last Night on Earth." If two Heroes are in the same space, you can play that card on them and they lose a turn while they make out (because, you know, it's the last night on earth). I played this on the priest and Jenny while they were in the church, and I had quite a giggle. While the card specifies that it be played on a male and female pair of characters, we have house-ruled that you can play it on any two characters (which resulted in the priest also making out with Johnny, the High School Quarterback).

There are many scenarios to play - in "Die Zombies Die," the Heroes just have to kill 15 Zombies by dawn (about 15 turns). In "Escape in the Truck" the Heroes have to search until they find the keys and gasoline, then make their way back to the truck and escape. In "Defend the Manor House" the Heroes all start in the house and their only goal is to keep the zombies out. There are lots of others.

The best thing about it the game is that it's just funny. Flat-out funny. I haven't laughed like that since I discovered Munchkin: it's a great party game!

Anyway, Last Night on Earth is great fun, and unlike most of the board games I own, it is easy to learn and set up. It plays in about an hour. It's not a new game, so it already has several expansions. I guess it sold well enough to justify those, and it doesn't surprise me: in the words of my son, "I could play this game every day."

The Bored Gamer's Club will meet again at Pulp Fiction in Lee's Summit from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m., Monday, October 26. We hope to see more people there this time!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Is Life too Short?

As a reporter, I occasionally have to write a story about a child with cancer. This is always a bad experience. As a parent I can completely identify with the suffering that families go through in these situations, and I often feel awkward or intrusive when I try to talk to them.

I'm about to sit down and write a profile about a little girl named Megan, who has a brain tumor. Like my friend Ian Thomas, who died a few years ago from the same affliction, Megan went to the doctor numerous times with headaches, and it wasn't until it was way too late that someone finally diagnosed her properly.

Because of Megan's story, and Ian's story, and so many other sad stories I've heard, I sort of internally freak out every time my son shows the slightest trace of illness. He went to the hospital recently for repeated nausea. I basically demanded blood tests, urinalisis, the whole nine yards, and I could tell the doctor really didn't think any of that was necessary. But Medicaid pays those bills, so the doctor ran the tests and we learned that Connor was fine (at least, there isn't anything serious wrong with him). I felt like a bit of a jerk for demanding things of the doctors, but I didn't care. I wasn't going to let my son end up like my friend Ian - not if I could help it.

I interviewed Megan's best friend's mother this morning. She's a Christian who is now struggling to understand why a sweet little girl must suffer while so many wicked people live long lives. She is becoming frustrated with the platitudes she hears from people in her faith community - that "everything happens for a reason," or that "some good will come out of this."

I can't pretend to even begin to address those sorts of questions. But I do know that some good has come out of Megan's situation, at least in my life: it's made me think about what's important and what isn't. So often, we get bent out of shape over life's tiny little dramas. They often seem like such a big deal in the heat of our gut reactions, when at the end of the day, they mean nothing compared to what's really important.

And what's really important is love. I don't care how unhip, naive, or touchy-feely that makes me sound. It really is all that matters. My family and the love we have for each other is the most important thing in my life. I wrote my son and mother letters this morning so they'd know how much I love, appreciate and admire them. I don't want to wait until I am on my deathbed to say those things. I've also been working hard to make sure my friends know that they're loved and appreciated. But despite the fact that nice words and sincere thoughts do matter and are appreciated, the most important thing I can do is live my life every day showing them how much they all matter to me through my actions.

"Life is too short" is a common phrase we use when we decide not to worry about the small stuff. And maybe it is. For some people, it definitely is. But I don't think it's so much that life is too short - it's that we don't use the time we have, don't think about what a precious gift it is. Every second counts. My life is ticking away. So is yours. What are we going to do with it?

Monday, October 5, 2009

No More Edition Wars!

Gamers are angry people. I should know. I'm one of 'em.

Fantasy Flight Games is pissing off older Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fans left and right with its new revamped, $100, board-game-like Third Edition of the game. Then again, kids and FFG fan-types seem to love it.

Of course, no one has actually seen or played it.

While I'm not going to get the game and I'm not going to play it (for a few good reasons, the first being that FFG will only include enough components for three players + GM, and you'll have to pay extra to fill things out for your group), I'm not going to join the chorus of pissed-off old grognards who are slamming it. I just don't want to be that guy.

I love WFRP, 2nd Edition (hell, I loved 1st Edition). I will continue to play it, despite the presence of the new game. The bottom line is I've just invested too much. I'm also leery of FFG's self-proclaimed "paradigm shift in RPG design," which seems to mean "put everything on cards, use custom dice you can only buy from us and if you want the other 86 Warhammer careers we didn't include in this game, you can feel free to pay us for them, 10 at a time, over the next four years."

But see? There, I'm doing what I said I wasn't going to do.

FFG makes big shiny expensive board games. That's what they do. No one should have been surprised by the direction they took Warhammer in.

What REALLY scares me is what they'll do with WH40K RPG products like Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader. The latter isn't even out yet, and folks are already wondering when the next edition will be.

RPG companies are in business to make money. That's it. While it's possible FFG will alienate guys like me with the new edition, I think it's more likely they'll find a whole new generation of video-game-reared fans (with disposable incomes, apparently). And that's just how things go. There are legions of people - and not all of them kids - who will buy ANYTHING with a Warhammer, or for that matter FFG, logo.

What bugs me even more than FFG's disregard for WFRP tradition (only 14 careers? no percentile dice? no halflings? Oh wait, they'll have more careers and races in upcoming supplements) is the whining of guys like me who are clearly in their late 20s to early 40s and need to NOT GIVE A SHIT if some children have redesigned their favorite game. No one is stopping us from playing Warhammer 2e, and that's what I'll keep doing. I'm even a little bit excited, because I registered the name almost a year and a half ago and I've never done anything with it. Now that 2e is on the way out (really, Warhammer as we have always known it since 1986 is what's on the way out), I think I will try to put some of the adventures I've written up there. It's more fun to keep a dying thing alive, rather than to jump on the latest bandwagon.

No edition wars for me, please! I never thought I'd say this, but we gamers need to grow up a little bit.