Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Got game

So, Badger finally came round last Friday so we could try out the new Memoir'44 stuff. We managed to get 4 games in: 2 of the new scenarios, taking turns at each side.

First we played Scenario 35: Nijmegen Bridges (click through and head for p.17 to see the map). This turned out to be a lesson in the power of artillery, the new big guns especially.

My first thought on seeing the layout as the Allied player was what terrible tank country it was. I had a force of 14 units, with 6 of them tanks, and there were no nice open spaces for overrun attacks. Tanks were going to be reduced to the role of mobile artillery in this game I thought.

I was still digesting this thought when Badger's big guns destroyed my artillery unit. Opening fire at long range, he took full advantage of the new zeroing-in rules- which give big guns an extra dice against a target previously fired at- to destroy my artillery unit with a single fortunate roll of the dice. I came to regret this.

As the game developed my attempts to move up on my right were hampered by Badger's damn big guns at least as much as by the terrain. I eventually managed to get some units far enough forward so as to be able to consider a rush at the road bridge and its valuable medal. In the centre I was manoeuvring armour around the pesky railway ready to try and make a grab for the railway bridge and its victory medal.

Painful as it had been then, the situation was shaping up nicely for a grab at victory. So I decided to launch my cross-river assault on the left as a diversion. This decision might've ended up costing me the game. My infantry took some fire as they crossed the river, then one of them disappeared under a Barrage. Some tough fighting ensued as I tried to clear the Germans out of the Fort Hof Van Holland- I even made some headway- but all of a sudden Badger got the inevitable 6th kill and it was all over.

I was game for another try, but Badger wanted to switch sides. He'd learnt the lesson about the power of artillery: as soon as my big guns ranged in on his own artillery, he moved them so that I didn't enjoy the extra dice which had proved so effective in the previous game. The artillery duel in this game was long and fruitless. I must have rained down around a dozen dice on Badger's lone artillery unit (he couldnt' move it every time I zeroed-in on it) and all I ever got were retreats, which were actually counter-productive since they stopped my big guns from zeroing-in on the target. Sheesh.

The survival of Badger's artillery made a huge difference to the Allies in this game. First the German's big guns were occupied trying to take out the Allied artillery unit, which meant that they weren't harassing the Allied advance. Second- and more important IMO: Badger was able to use his artillery to clear the Germans out of the south of Nijmegen. It wasn't that he was able easily to destroy the units located there; rather that he was able to force quick retreats with his artillery, which allowed his other units to advance into central Nijmegen without having to fight their way in. This was to prove decisive.

0-2 :(

After this we played Scenario 37: Across the River Roer (on p.22 this time).

I was the Allies first again. My attack got off to a very quick start: I had an Infantry Assault card, so I spent 2 turns massing infantry into the leftmost section before throwing everything across the river in turn 3. I didn't have a properly planned follow-up (ie. I didn't have a sequence of cards ready to play to maintain the momentum), but I had gambled that Badger would find it difficult to react quickly enough to punish me for this. My gamble paid off.

Other incidents in this game included my attempt to grab the eastern village across the minefield- my unit suffered crossing the minefield but survived so that it was in a position to move on the village. Then Badger brought an armour unit in and blasted the infantry so that all thoughts of grabbing an easy victory medal on the right flank had to be forgotten.

Also of note was Badger's mad charge in the centre: as I ground my way forward on the left, he decided that sitting behind sandbags on the far side of a minefield wasn't good enough for the 2 infantry units in his centre. So they charged forward into the guns of my infantry and artillery around Linnich. Badger maintained afterward that this move might've been a good idea. I guess it might've, but in the event, the units had to retreat before I finished them off, so I'm less than persuaded.

I can't remember that much about the game that followed, other than the fact that Badger won it without much difficulty.

1-3 :(

The new rules
The new rules that we tried out in this game were: big guns, roads and railways, fords, fortresses, minefields, and battle stars- collapsible assault boats.

By and large these rules proved logical and sensible expansions to the game.

Fortresses are strong defensive locations. Their presence serves to fill out the range of terrain types available in M44. The battle-star tokens have been added to designate units and/or locations subject to scenario-specific special rules. This is a handy addition to the game, and good encouragment for would-be scenario designers to bring in interesting unusual circumstances. Roads work by the hoary old mechanic of giving an additional hex of movement to any unit that moves entirely along the road. In the event, road movement wasn't a feature of the games in which roads appeared on the map.

Other new rules struck me as having a more significant impact on the game, or as perhaps being a bit less logical.

Big guns and minefields are rules that will have a big effect on your play I reckon. In addition to their extra range, big guns' zeroing-in rules make them more dangerous for harassing fire than basic artillery units. This gives you a real motive to get out from under the big guns when they've fired at you, something which can change the way you play your hand.

Minefields can similarly have a big effect on your game it seems to me. There are 10 minefield counters ranging in value from 0-4. The value of the minefield counter is the number of dice you must roll when you enter an opponent's minefield. In addition you must stop movement when you enter any minefield. By and large then, minefields are going to slow you down and leave you open to enemy fire more often than destroying your units themselves.

In addition to that, the effect of seeing a minefield in front of you is quite strong: you really don't know if it is worth risking running your units through those hexes. Sure, you might get lucky. But then again, you might not. As I said, the impact of minefields on play strikes me as being much greater than just filling out the range of terrain types represented.

The last new rule that saw play was the railway rules. Use by trains aside, these count as normal open ground except that tanks and artillery must stop when they enter a railway hex. I'm not at all sure why railways should slow tanks down so much. I can see why the designers might've wanted to have a rule that makes railways different from open ground- the effect of the rules in the scenario we played was reasonable enough I guess. But I have to confess that I can't really grasp why moving along railroads is just as hard for tanks as moving through towns and woods, and harder than going uphill.

That minor gripe aside, I thought that the effect of the expansions was just fine. Most importantly, I was pleased that the expansions didn't undermine the essential simplicity of M44, which was always a risk IMO. The other effect of the expansion I noticed was that it did increase set-up time: with three times as many terrain tiles to sort through it can take some time to find specific tiles. Noticeable and a tad inconvenient, but hardly worth complaining about. ;)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My little Old World: Swimming with the Sharks #2

Assaults in and on the Sword and Flail
The PC's welcome was just as warm as before. While they were waiting to get their drinks at the bar, Berthold noticed a drunk being taken through the door behind the bar. He was able to see into the stairwell, and to conclude that the stairs down into the cellar were through that same door.

Having learnt the local form on their last visit, the 3 companions decided not to go for a table this time. They decided instead to stand close to the one table that was occupied. Berthold managed to overhear the burly looking bravoes sitting at the table discussing the violent fate that was to befall some poor unfortunate.

Just at that moment, one of the bravoes noticed Berthold's earwigging. Feck off! the young scribe was told. Before he could react Seigfried jumped in and told the bravo to feck off himself, before launching into a tirade the long and the short of which was that he could take them all, starting with the one who had- in his own earthy fashion- told Berthold to mind his own business. Naturally enough, the bravo and his 4 companions decided to show Seigfried the error of his ways.

The resulting brawl only lasted a couple of minutes, and at first it seemed to go rather well for the PC's. Alane managed to put 2 bravoes to sleep using her magic, and Seigfried managed to knock 1 assailant down, and forced another to withdraw. It was when people stepped forward from the crowd to replace those taken out of the action that Seigfried realised that he had misjudged the locals' reactions to a brawl with strangers.

The final outcome had a certain inevitability to it. Alane and Berthold were quickly knocked out, leaving Siegfried to fight alone against 4 men. Blow after blow rained down on the young protagonist, to no avail. As his stand dragged on and on, Siegfried was filled with a peculiar joy. He knew that he would be beaten down in the end, but he also knew that he would be remembered by the locals at the Sword and Flail.

And so it was that when Grundi and Mordrin returned to the Sword and Flail, they found their 3 companions lying bedraggled and unconscious in the alley outside the tavern. Seigfreid was still full of himself when he came to: sticking his head round the door of the tavern, he tossed a gold crown into the taproom, announcing that it was to pay for the damages, and to buy drinks for the locals.

Not content with that, as the party headed off in search of another tavern in which to eat, Seigfried popped his head back in again to deliver a cocky message to the Sword and Flail locals. This provoked a local to come to the door. A few tense moments resulted as the local and Mordrin and Seigfried indulged in trying to stare each other down. Neither side had any appetite for a fight though, and the party eventually went on their way.

Fed and watered, the party returned to the Sword and Flail with the plan of breaking in via the 1st floor windows once the tavern had emptied.

At the appointed time the party snuck round the side of the tavern. After enduring the humiliation of watching Berthold succeed where he had failed in getting his grappling hook securely located in the 1st story window sill, Seigfried climbed up and levered open the wooden shutter with his dagger. Inside he found himself inside a room full of junk. Sneaking forward he could see light coming in under the door, and could hear the sound of laughter and ribaldry from beyond. At the same time he could hear scrabbling and moaning and exclamations of dismay through the thin wall of the room.

The noise continued for some time. Siegfried decided to risk a peek through the door. He carefully opened it just a crack, and saw in the hall outside the door the barkeep and another man head through a door into another room, leaving a 3rd man waiting for them. He heard the sound of a quick beating being administered in the room from which he had heard the scrabbling before the barkeep and his companion exited the room. Alright said the barkeep, it's time to go downstairs.

Siegfried waited a few minutes, then snuck out the junk room and made his way stealthily downstairs. Reaching the door to the bar, he opened it a crack as carefully as he could. He looked through the door to see shadowy figures crouched behind the bar. One of them was looking straight at him. Hoping that perhaps he hadn't been noticed, Seigfried beat a cautious retreat back up the stairs. Unfortunately Seigfried's efforts at stealth were in vain at this point: he was pursued up the stairs, and the next thing he knew, he had been grabbed by the shoulder and was tumbling back down the stairs, where a swift blow of a cudgel knocked him senseless.

Outside the rest of the party were already restless and edgy when Berthold heard the crashing and thuds from the tavern's stairwell. It was time for action everyone decided. Mordrin and Grundi crashed into the door, once, twice, and burst through. As Berthold and Alane followed they saw the barkeep standing behind the bar, and Siegfried lying still between 2 other men at the end of the bar. The noise of the dwarf's first attempt at the door had alerted the 3 men in the tavern, and they were already drawing weapons and preparing themselves for the fray as the PC's moved in to the attack.

Alane opened the hostilities with a magical firey dart. Grundi and Berthold charged the 2 men standing above their recumbent companion, while Mordrin charged the barkeep. As the combatants exchanged blows and Alane sent magic darts flying, Seigfried came to. Finding himself on the floor in the middle of a melee, he briefly considered crawling out of the way before deciding on a much more useful option: he grabbed one of the enemy by the legs. Moments later, a quick twist brought the man crashing to the floor.

Grundi took full advantage of Seigfried's surprise attack on his opponent, delivering some telling blows against a foe outnumbered, grappled, and then prone. With Seigfried on top of him and a dwarf lining up his axe for another swipe at his head, the man decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and promptly gave up. Seigfried put his knife to the man's throat to keep him honest, pulled his rope out of his pack, and began to bind the fellow. Grundi went to assist Mordrin's against the barkeep.

Meanwhile Berthold's opponent too decided that enough was enough. With some fancy footwork and feints from his cudgel he forced the young scribe back a pace or two, then slipped past him and headed for the door as fast as his legs could carry him. His luck was out though: Alane was still in the doorway and he couldn't slip past her. Alane tried to no avail to drop the man with a sleep spell. Then Berthold charged in and grabbed hold of him. In a superhuman effort the puny scribe was able to wrestle his burly foe to the ground, where he called for help.

Hearing Berthold's shouts Mordrin left the barkeep to Grundi's tender mercies and ran to help the scribe. The dwarf's intervention was enough to foil their foe's escape attempts and Alane was finally able to use her magic to send him to sleep. Berthold began to drag the man across to his fellow so that he could tie him up too.

Grundi meanwhile had been swapping blows with the barkeep, who was proving a capable and determined opponent. Seeing his companions down, he decided to beat a retreat. Vaulting over the bar to head for the door, the barkeep was unlucky when Grundi caught him a blow before he could get out of reach. The man went flying to land in a heap on the floor.

Grundi followed up and quickly had him pinned to the floor. Mordrin ran up and opened Grundi's pack to get at the dwarf's rope. But the barkeep hadn't given up, and he broke free of Grundi's hold. Grundi grabbed him again, and Mordrin laid into the man's head with the edge of his shield. Eventually, sheer weight of numbers and his wounds told on the man's determination to escape: he too gave in, and was quickly bound.

By this time Alane had headed upstairs. Going door-to-door she found a bedroom, the junkroom through which Seigfreid had made his entry, and an upside down room in which an unconscious beggar lay on the floor.

Downstairs Seigfried made for the stairs into the cellar, only to stop when he realised that he was heading into the pitch dark. He backed up and waited until a lantern was lit, which was done while Berthold made the ground floor secure, and dragged the prisoners out of sight behind the bar where he could guard them with a crossbow borrowed from one of his companions.

The cellar, when eventually entered, proved to be just that: a tavern cellar full of barrels. There was certainly no sign of the hideout of a chaos cult, although the PC's suspected that the Sword and Flail tavern had yet to reveal all its secrets.

Swimming with the Sharks
- #1 High poltics and mixed demeanours
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My little Old World: Swimming with the Sharks #1

High poltics and mixed demeanours
Berthold, Grundi, Mordrin and Seigfried sat in the Sword and Flail tavern feeling very aware of the hostile glances of the locals and the searching scrutiny of the barkeep. They noticed that, of the 3 tables in the tavern's taproom, theirs was the only one occupied even though the place was beginning to fill up.

After a while, a well-dressed halfling walked in. Expecting the locals to provide a bit of a show at the halfling's expense, the PC's were surprised to see the small figure was given what passed for a friendly welcome from the locals at the Sword and Flail. The halfling approached the PC's. Ah, I see you've been keeping my table for me he said before introducing himself as Doddy Farthingale. Siegfried introduced the party. So, who sent you then, asked the halfling, as a local came up with a drink for him.

The PC's were a bit nonplussed by this, wondering what information this stranger could have on them. The conversation passed back and forth and the PC's found out that Farthingale was expecting to do business with them. It began to dawn on our heroes that Farthingale was probably a local fence and that this was his table. Seigfried made a last ditch attempt to persuade Farthingale that the party had in fact been sent by someone to do business with the halfling, but Farthingale was having none of it. The confusion notwithstanding the halfling was friendly, and he quickly put the party's minds at rest by ordering a round of drinks.

Just at this moment a woman came into the tavern. She hailed Farthingale and came across to his table. As she reached the table, Siegfried recognised her as Beyer- first seen in the guise of a man back at the Strutting Cock- and who he had been sure for some time was actually a woman in disguise.

Meanwhile, at the Guild of Wizards and Alchemists, Alane had found Bright Magister Nellie Eschlimann. The elf wanted to speak to Eschlimann about becoming a journeyman Bright wizard. Eschlimann explained to Alane that she would need to get herself a grimoire, and that grimoires are rare and expensive items. The Magister told Alane that she could offer her no particular help at the moment.

Alane's conversation with Eschlimann was interrupted by the arrival of Celestial Magister Valdric Gebauer. Gebauer was the wizard in charge of the research taking place at the Guild in Middenheim into the effects of the Storm of Chaos on the Winds of Magic. He had been Alane's stern taskmaster while she had been working at the Guild assisting the researchers with their work. Gebauer sent Alane on an errand to the Scholar's, an inn in the Freiburg frequented by wizards and scholars. She had to go and fetch Hildegund Reifsneider, a Grey Journeyman Wizard whose presence was required at the Guild.

Arriving at the Scholar's Alane soon found Reifsneider, playing a game of chess. The woman was irritated to be interrupted, but knew she had no choice but respond to Gebauer's summons. She made sure that Alane bore the brunt of her irritation though.

As the pair were leaving, Alane heard Deputy High Priest Claus Liebnitz's voice from an alcove. In the company of Gold Magister Giselbrecht Bacher- who Alane recognised from the Guild, and a stranger of striking appearance and nagging vague familiarity, Liebnitz was gloating over the success of political manoeuvres that had forced Commander Schutzmann to bring the Bauer trial forward to the very next day. Continuing past the alcove, Alane looked back to see Liebnitz staring out at her. The Deputy High Priest's face betrayed both surprise and malicious glee at the sight of the elf he had last seen in the dungeons beneath the Temple of Ulric.

Back in the Sword and Flail, Beyer had recognised the party too. She greeted them in a friendly manner as if appearing as a woman in front of people who had hitherto known her as a man was a mere bagatelle. Siegfried meanwhile was simmering with anger. He challenged Beyer about the message she had passed on that had sent the party on their long wild goose chase all the way back to the Strutting Cock.

Beyer was surprised to hear that the message had turned out to be false. She insisted that she had passed it on in good faith, explaining that it had in fact been passed on to her by none other than the same Doddy Farthingale sat at the table with the party. Beyer and Farthingale were pressed further on the matter, and the party were persuaded of their sincerity.

Farthingale was asked if he would say who had passed the message on to him. The halfling willingly agreed, noting that he had a reputation to maintain. He told the PC's that his source had been one Merkel Trachsel, a human scout who had recently been working for the city of Middenheim, guiding parties of refugees safely into the city. Hearing this, Siegfried asked if Trachsel might've known Baumer, a woodsman recently found murdered in the city. Farthingale replied that he didn't know about Baumer, but that Trachsel certainly knew many such people in the local area.

As the conversation continued, Alane was making her way to the Sword and Flail, having decided that she must pass on to her companions the news that they didn't have as much time at their disposal as they believed. She managed to make her way the short distance from the Freiburg to the Neumarket with no difficulty and soon arrived at the tavern. The elf's arrival caused a bit of a stir- and not a few leers- among the locals, but these calmed down when she joined her companions at their table with Farthingale and Beyer.

Alane passed on her news quietly to Seigfried, interrupting him in his- not unsuccessful- efforts to strike up friendly relations with Beyer. Meanwhile, Mordrin decided that it was time to see if he could get any information out of Farthingale or Beyer about the party's mission in the Sword and Flail. So, he announced, I hear that there's a rumour going round that there's a chaos cult here in the tavern. A stunned silence fell at the table.

You know what I mean, the dwarf continued, that Witch Hunter who's going on trial? He's supposed to have found a chaos cult here. This effort to retrieve the situation just made things worse. Beyer and Farthingale quickly finished their drinks and, bidding everyone a polite farewell, made a hasty exit from the tavern.

After their companions' departure, the party fell to discussing Alane's news. Her description of the peculiarly familiar stranger's bald head, bushy eyebrows and hooked nose rang bells in the minds of several other PC's. Soon enough, someone remembered that he had been seen a few times back in Erntezeit when the party had first arrived in Middenheim with the Untergard refugee party. He had had the air of a petty official, but that was all that anyone could recall.

By this time the PC's had decided that just hanging around drinking in the Sword and Flail wasn't going to achieve anything. It was time to leave. Outside, it was decided that Berthold and Seigfried would hang around in the Neumarket to keep an eye on the tavern, while Alane, Grundi and Mordrin would head off to the Temple of Sigmar to see if they could find out more about this mysterious stranger.

Back at the Freiburg, the 2 dwarfs and the elf found that sullen locals still hung around outside the front of the Temple of Sigmar. A strong Watch presence made sure that they were behaving themselves. So the PC's headed round the back, where they saw wagonloads of lumber heading for the nearby Square of Martials where tomorrow's trail was to take place.

Mordrin banged on the door, which was opened by one of the Temple Guard. The dwarf announced that he had to see High Capitular Werner Stolz immediately. State your business, replied the guard. It's a secret, said Mordrin, insisting that he be let in immediately. The guard was having none of this, and again told the dwarf to state his business. As Mordrin repeated his demands in the face of the guard's continued stubbornness and increasingly self-evident disbelief, Alane decided she didn't like the look of the dwarf's rising temper: she took to her heels to rejoin Berthold and Seigfried back in the Neumarket.

After a couple of minutes watching Mordrin getting angrier and angrier in the face of the temple guard's refusal to admit him without an account of his business, Grundi decided to intervene to prevent Mordrin from taking his axe to the door. It was time to try the front door.

Round the front, a watch sergeant intercepted the 2 dwarfs as they headed for the front door. Once again Mordrin insisted on being admitted to see the High Capitular. Once again he was asked to state his business. On replying that it was none of the Watch Sergeant's business, Mordrin was told in no uncertain terms that it was precisely the Watch Sergeant's business because his duty was to guard the temple.

The confrontation between the obdurate and the bloody-minded looked like being as futile as before until the name of Father Greimold came up. The Watch Sergeant agreed to check if Greimold would see the 2 dwarfs. A Watchman went up to the door, and Greimold appeared soon after. When the dwarfs joined him, he took them inside. Pausing just inside, he asked them what their business was.

The dwarfs passed on Alane's description. Greimold told them that the description matched Maximillian Lang, a city official. Mordrin asked if Lang was known to have any dealings with Liebnitz. Greimold said that the pair were known to cooperate politically, citing as an example Liebnitz's support for Lang when the latter was put forward for the position of overseeing Middenheim's efforts to support the influx of refugees into the city in the aftermath of the Storm of Chaos.

Mordrin pressed Greimold on the issue, looking for hints that there might be a darker dimension to Lang and Liebnitz's cooperation. Father Greimold could only reiterate that, as far as he knew, it was all just politics. In the course of this discussion, Mordrin was surprised to discover that Father Greimold knew nothing at all of the party's imprisonment by Liebnitz in the dungeons of the Temple of Ulric.

Eventually convinced that there was nothing more to learn, Grundi and Mordrin took their leave to return to the Sword and Flail. They had given Father Greimold something to think about. And he had perhaps taught them a lesson about how information works in the upper echelons of the Old World.

As these events had been unfolding, Alane had rejoined Berthold and Seigfried outside the Sword and Flail in the Neumarket. The 2 humans were aghast to hear that she had left Mordrin on the point of fighting his way into the Temple of Sigmar. Best left well alone then they decided, and concluded that it was time to pay another visit to the Sword and Flail.

Swimming with the Sharks
- #2 Assaults in and on the Sword and Flail
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Fresh from my FLGS

So, after a hard day's work at the computer last Friday preparing for Sunday's WFRP I decided to reward myself with another trip to Static. It turned out to be very timely, netting me a real bargain and something I've been waiting for for quite some time.

PARANOIA: Mandatory BONUS FUN Card Game
Many citizen readers will be remember Paranoia, the rpg by Greg Costyikan that turned roleplaying on its head with its wicked sense of humour some 20-odd years ago. Some of you might even have been tormen... Erm, had the privilege of loyally serving The Computer in the years since. Recently rereleased in a brand new edition by Mongoose Publishing, it is a game that has been on my 'Please let me express my undying loyalty' list ever since my first taste of life as a clone Troubleshooter many moons ago. So I was exactly as interested as you would expect of a loyal citizen to discover that Mongoose also do a Paranoia card game.

Imagine my horror then to discover this treasonous game on sale for half price (?!) in my FLGS, a real no brainer for me as soon as I saw it- leave well alone! Unfortunately some Traitor must've slipped a copy into my bag, because what should I find when I get home but somebody else's set of this DNCPCG (Definitely Not Collectable Paranoia Card Game). This feeble plot to besmirch the good reputation of JMcL63- the most humble of loyal servants of The All-Benevolent Computer- is doomed to failure. I am sure The Computer will understand upon reading my report.

PARANOIA: Mandatory BONUS FUN Card Game is one of those games that will prove to be either a damp squib because of the simplicity of its elements, or a real winner because of its humourous encouragement of evil backstabbing by your sadistic gaming buddies. It's a simple cardgame in which players vie to have the highest security clearance once the first player has lost all 6 of their Troubleshooter's clones.

The playing pieces are cards: Troubleshooter and Security Clearance cards to keep track of the status of the players' Troubleshooters; and Mission and Action cards for the gameplay. Play proceeds in rounds in which players vie to kill each other or have each other declared a traitor while trying to fulfil a mission set for them by The All-Wise Computer. At the end the mission the Mission Debriefing Phase determines the success or failure of the mission, and the results for the Troubleshooters' Security Clearances; and the Internal Security Investigation Phase determines the fate of Traitors. Oh yes, you can survive and succeed in the mission and still die.

The rules are simple and clear... No, no, no, this is a treasonous game: the rules are complicated and incomprehensible. Nothing makes any sense whatsoever. I read my way through the disappointingly thin rules manual sadly full of far too much padding over and over again, and I was no wiser after all that effort than I was after a first quick skim through the skimpy pages. This poor excuse for a game system is in no way helped by the 150 nicely printed cards and 156 colourful counters used to keep track of your Troubleshooter's status. No doubt The Computer could do much, much better.

If there is one good thing I can say about this game, it's the rule for choosing a Team Leader (1 player is the Team Leader, who starts the game with a higher Security Clearance than The Computer's other, somewhat more treasonous servants):
This can be done by random dice roll or, more appropriately, by having the game's owner proclaim himself Team Leader.
You can be sure that yours truly is going to enjoy that little rule (I waited over 20 years before I qualified to go first in Nuclear War by virtue of a similar rule).

But there isn't one good thing I can say about this game. There are two:
Note on pronoun usage: The Computer suggests any citizen concerned about this game's usage of 'he' for the generic third-person pronoun, instead of 'he' or 'she', should attend to more important matters, such as serving The Computer with fervent loyalty.
The Computer is All Wise and All Benevolent.

Mutants and Masterminds: Freedom City
As a longtime fan of superhero roleplaying suffering from HERO-system burnout and looking for a suitable alternative, I got myself a copy of Mutants and Masterminds: 2nd Edition as soon as I could last year. I was very impressed by the system and the production both. Here, I felt, was a superhero game that I wanted to run.

So, looking for as easy a life as possible as a GM, I thought it'd be interesting to try something in M&M's own setting: Freedom City. My wait for the arrival of the new edition of this setting product ended when I walked into Static last Friday, and it was a real no-brainer that I was going to get myself a copy as soon as I saw it on the racks.

Wow! If anything I'm even more impressed with Freedom City than I am with the M&M core rules. Why do I say this?

Well, M&M gives you exactly what you'd want from a core rulebook for an rpg. You get a good system that immediately serves to awaken your interest in playing the game, including some nice new mechanics that really hit the spot- the Hero point rules in M&M are rules I'm really rather keen to see in action, be it as PC or GM. There are superhero archetypes that could be used as pregenerated PC's to get you and your players quickly into the 2 introductory adventures, or in scenarios of your own devising against the villain archetypes also included. On top of all that M&M also contains some servicable advice for GM's on how to set up and run superhero games.

All in all then, the M&M core rulebook is a strong package which benefits from being written in a solid, no nonsense manner, and from being really well presented.

If I am that impressed by the M&M core rules, what is it about Freedom City that impresses me more? To sum it up in a phrase, I'd have to say that this book is the proverbial quart in the pint pot. Produced and written to the same high standards as the core rules, this book contains absolutely everything a would-be GM needs to get a superhero campaign up and running just as quickly as they could wish.

Freedom City itself is well detailed. You get a brief history of the city and an overview of its different districts. There's a look at a wide variety of institutions and locations, from businesses and the media, through parks and restaurants, to the media and science and technology, and more. This is all topped-off with a look at city government, law and order, and, of course, the criminal underworld.

This material is very strong. It's tightly written and well-focussed, giving you all the different sorts of locations and NPC's that could appear in a typical superhero story. There are several excellent maps, a good crop of fully worked out NPC's alongside plenty of key personalities, and a nice range of appropriate agencies and criminal gangs. The detail is sufficient to give you a good handle on all of these elements of the city for your game, but not so heavy that you'll have problems getting to grips with the content. And there's plenty of room for you to fill out the details as you like.

The rest of the setting material fills out the background of the rest of the world of Freedom City. This includes hidden lands, outer space, and other dimensions. These can obviously only be presented as the briefest of capsule sketches, but sufficient information is still presented to give you a good idea of how everything fits together.

All of this background material fits together to give a strong feel for a classic 4-colour superhero setting after the fashion of classic DC or Marvel. If you want a media-mogul who's decided to turn your heroes into public enemies, you've got it. If you want advanced laboratories in which your heroes can find people to investigate the weird alien technology they've just found, they're there. And of course, there is a mutant academy too.

If the setting material is strong, then the book's crunchiness is perhaps even stronger. There are dozens and dozens of fully detailed heroes and villains presented. There are enough villains in the book that you could run a Freedom City game for months without ever having to turn to designing your own. And the heroes could serve as inspiration for your own, as allies, or even as unwitting agents of villains with mind control powers. Truly an embarrassment of riches.

The book rounds off with notes on suggested frameworks for games; on how the various different supers origins might occur in the Freedom City setting; and on Freedom City 'secrets'- elements of the setting left open for the GM to decide in their own game.

And there you have it: richly detailed and full of just the sort of material needed for pretty much any and every comicbook scene you might wish to stage in your games; and chock full of useful crunch that you can make great use of. And that, I guess, could be getting close to why I think Freedom City might be even better than the core M&M rules. The core rules met my hopes in spades, and really whetted my appetite for the game. Freedom City positively exceeded my expectations, and has left me keen to get a game going just as soon as it's practicable.

Great stuff! Full marks to the crew at Green Ronin. ;)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

General gamism

The emperor's new clothes? The state of roleplaying theory #2

A funny thing happened on my way to this article
I lost the plot. Seriously. This 2nd article in my look at current roleplaying theory was intended to be a pithy refutation of the essential underpinning of today's indie roleplaying theory- the idea that roleplaying is an art form. But, reading up on some of Ron Edwards' articles at the Forge amongst other stuff, and trying to familiarise myself with the indie blogsphere- a.k.a. 'the diaspora'- I found myself losing focus.

It was mostly because I was trying to cram up on several years' of debate in a few afternoons' haphazard reading. I was also having some difficulty in filling the gap between my own thinking (which dates right back to the mid/late 80's, before the whole storytelling thing took off- which I essentially missed BTW), on the one hand; and all this new narrativist stuff, on the other. Plus, to be perfectly honest, just like when I first heard an account of Edwards' GNS theory in a lecture at the Worldcon last August, I was finding useful insights in some of the ideas, even if they were just reminding me of stuff I used to have a notion of when I was an occasional GM and regular player back in the 80's.

More than that, I began to understand what it is these narrativists are on about- which had been my purpose in any case. I even began to wonder, to a certain degree, why 'mainstream' roleplayers make such a fuss about this stuff. And then I was rescued by Ron Edwards himself. I'm referring of course to his infamous- and already widely discussed- 'brain damage' thread at the Forge.

The fuss, and what it's about
The thread which caused all the hoo-hah spun off from here, although Edwards clearly hadn't coined the term there, to wit:
Now - your set of examples is more or less a diagnostic board of what I've been calling, with various reactions 'round the internet, brain damage. There are so many bent/broken features of creativity and interaction embedded in those examples that it'd take a textbook to lay them all out in a way which shows what's really wrong.

Yes - "wrong." Since brain damage (which I think is literally the case) seems to get right up people's asses as a term, I'll analogize to limb-based physical limitations.
But brain damage wasn't enough, no. In the major thread itself, Edwards went on to develop his analogy:
Now for the discussion of brain damage. I'll begin with a closer analogy. Consider that there's a reason I and most other people call an adult having sex with a, say, twelve-year-old, to be abusive. Never mind if it's, technically speaking, consensual. It's still abuse. Why? Because the younger person's mind is currently developing - these experiences are going to be formative in ways that experiences ten years later will not be. I'm not sure if you are familiar with the characteristic behaviors of someone with this history, but I am very familiar with them - and they are not constructive or happiness-oriented behaviors at all. The person's mind has been damaged while it was forming, and it takes a hell of a lot of re-orientation even for functional repairs (which is not the same as undoing the damage).
Before examining quite how despicable that statement is, it is worth considering exactly who this storm in a teacup is about. Here is one of the many discussions that sprung up about this thread across the indie blogsphere (in as thorough a search as I could manage I counted 10 in total, 9 of which appeared to be part of the indie diaspora). Here, from the above-linked thread, are the words of Clinton R. Nixon, Edwards' closest associate at the Forge:
Not to get too about the Forge here, but he [Ron] is under an obligation to me, expressed financially through my continued hosting and maintenence of the Forge. He is under an obligation to the community that was built by him and others, as they have built him up and put him in the position he is in. Do you think anyone would be talking about his theories without a continued and vital community surrounding them talking about them outside the confines of one forum? While elections were not formalized, he is pretty much a duly elected president of a movement and community. And that position comes with responsibility and obligation, most certainly.
And here is how Nixon felt about Edwards' remarks:
I'm not really planning on posting to the Forge again any time soon: honestly, I can't morally justify being a part of a community with those sorts of attitudes.
And that's only one remark in which Nixon expresses his utter dismay at this turn of events.

Remember now, this is Edwards' explanation of why people can't understand the rules of his rpg Sorceror (winner of the Diana Jones Award in 2002 no less): they're functionally brain-damaged to a degree that parallels physical handicap or even the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.

To put this in context, leave aside for the moment the sexual abuse analogy. Let's just imagine if someone had said that gay men couldn't understand romantic love because they were brain damaged by their own sad experiences, that brain damage being the source of their 'deviant' sexual predilections? Or that woman deserve to earn less than men for the same job because their brains are functionally inferior? Or that black people aren't fit to join polite white society for the same reason?

How many of those who made excuses for Edwards' remarks would let ideas like that pass unchallenged? Why then were so many of them willing to bow down to this sort of misanthropic bile? RPGpundit at TheUruguayanGamer deserves credit for calling out one Levi Kornelsen on this point recently.

The tragic irony of desperate measures?
When I originally read the thread, my first considered reaction after the obvious shock was that there was a pathetic air of desperation about the whole thing. Consider: as I mentioned in #1, RPGpundit reported last December on the closure, by Edwards, of the 'RPG Theory' and 'GNS Model Discussion' forums at the Forge. At the time, the pundit took Edwards' own reason for this decision largely at face value:
This forum is no longer available for posting. It has served its purpose: to develop a sensible framework for discussing play, and the children of play, design and publishing.
In other words, all other comments notwithstanding, the pundit accepted Edwards' decision as an arrogant expression of self-confidence from a secure position. This was fair enough on the basis of the evidence at the time.

But seeing the cheap shock tactics Edwards employed in his 'brain damage' thread, I was reminded of the classic tactic of sectarian leaders: namely shocking the faithful with some abrupt U-turn or other dramatic and unexpected manoeuvre. The purpose of this is to generate a psychodrama that will bond the faithful all the more strongly with their glorious leader by instilling fear in them, then comforting them with your strong and implacable leadership in the face of the pseudo-crisis you've carefully conjured up.

If this is the game Edwards was playing, then why, I asked myself? What was the source of his perceived insecurity? This made me reconsider Edwards' reasons for his decision to close his forums last December. I was thinking about this while I was trawling through the indie blogsphere, and I was struck by a possible reason: the indie diaspora itself.

I mean to say: the Forge was instituted in 2001. Readers will already know of its position in the roleplaying ecommunity. Clinton R. Nixon has told us what it has meant to Edwards, and what Edwards means to it. In its own terms it was very successful. Now imagine the impact on it of the rise of the indie blogsphere: suddenly what was a tightly knit community held together at one virtual location and through one man's vision spins off more and more independent sites, which start to become little communities of their own.

At the same time, it is quite possible that the closed 'RPG Theory' and 'GNS Model Discussion' forums were becoming counterproductive from Edwards' point-of-view, because he was constantly having to defend his theories, and was undoubtedly in danger of tripping himself up. Or maybe he just got tired of all those brain-damaged bozos asking him stupid questions which showed that they had understood nothing they'd read in his major works (it's tough at the top I guess). I don't know, I'm speculating here, but this could be verified if anyone really wanted to sit and read their way through a pile of dead Forge threads.

In any event, what I am suggesting here is exactly what the RPGpundit said last December:
So here Ron has set his dogma. Why now? Probably because he has nothing more to say, and leaving the theory open to ongoing discussion would only result in two things: people pointing out that the theory is full of shit being the first (and by far the least dangerous to him), and the second being followers of his coming up with heretical alterations to the theory that stole his own thunder (and that's the clincher, the one that he's really nervous about).
Well, like I said, the first is verifiable. The second is verified: the FUNnel model, and the AGE Model Core Document v 1.a are just 2 of a few challengers to the Edwards crown I've found recently. The first is too crude to give Mr. Edwards sleepness nights. The second is an example of another threefold model, one "which emphasizes an ecological perspective of gaming"(?!). It seems that, just like in the earliest days of roleplaying, people who're copying each other have to borrow each other's acronymic stylings too.

That's it for now. More on this just as soon as I have time to put it together.

The emperor's new clothes? The state of roleplaying theory
- #1: General gamism
- Roleplaying as art? Not for me
- It's art Jim, but not as we know it!