How I Met… Shadowrun

I first ran into Shadowrun at a Waldenbooks in Layton, UT. It was brand new, so all that was on the shelves was the 1st printing rulebook, the GM screen, and the first novel. (“Never Deal with a Dragon”, IIRC.)

I loved the setting: orks, elves, and other fantasy races in a cyberpunk world, along with a Matrix, cyberware, drones, and other really cool stuff, most of which I hadn’t encountered before. (I got into cyberpunk because of Shadowrun.) It set off bright lights in my skull.

I couldn’t afford it, so when I went back to my high school, I made my own little setting, complete with cyber-minotaurs and CHUDS. (Hey, I was in high school.) We only played once — a dungeon crawl, no less, a courier making a run through tunnels under the city.

(The mechanics I came up with used 4d6, roll under. (All I could remember of Shadowrun’s system when I got home was that you rolled several d6’s.) I was amused to find out, a couple of years later, that it was pretty similar to GURPS.)

After graduation, a year and a bit later, I found it again in a store. I had enough money to actually buy it, and me and my D&D friends began playing (me as DM). I got “DNA/DOA” and ran it. It was hella fun. I bought everything for first edition and a lot for second. We played the hell out of it, that summer before I went off to college.

What sold me on the system was the setting. (Which, in retrospect, is how all my games went — I love settings first, and learn systems later.) The adventure template was well described and easy to endlessly iterate: get job, legwork, cool run, get paid. Even sessions that weren’t actual runs were easy to imagine: you’re crooks, the cops and the corps are your enemies. Don’t get caught.

It was effortless and exciting. We didn’t have to agonize over mechanics or setting details. We just played it.

I still love fantasy+cyberpunk. Dragons owning corps, city shamans, bug spirits, all the weird idiosyncrasies of an organic magic system lying alongside cyberware and high tech. It speaks to me.

But I haven’t played Shadowrun in years. And when I contributed to the “Shadowrun Returns” Kickstarter, sudden financial problems forced me to withdraw my pledge. Just this month, a few days before pre-orders were closed, I spent $75 of my last $120 to pre-order the collector’s edition.

See, Jordan Weisman, the original designer, is making the game, and it looks really cool. It looks like it could be a throwback to the days when just flipping through the rulebook at a chain bookstore could inspire a high school kid to make his own (crappy) setting and (crappy) system just to play something like it.

Possible “House of Gaming” Podcast

I just got off the phone with a good friend of mine in Seattle, one of the playtesters for ∞ Infinity and a frequent commenter to those threads. He’s provisionally agreed to do a gaming podcast with me (and a possible third player, to be named later).

The current plan is to do a 10-15 minute cast, once a month or so, on a specific topic related to gaming— RPG’s, video games, boardgames, card games, MMO’s, pop culture, and anything else I think is interesting. (The upcoming reveal of the next Xbox would be a great topic. Noted.) That’s long enough to cover most subjects — assuming we stay on topic — but short enough it forces us to be concise, and avoids the meandering dead air conversations that afflict most podcasts.

It’s possible this could be the biggest gaming disaster since E.T. filled landfills to bursting, and if it is, it’ll quietly disappear into the ether. However, if it doesn’t totally suck, once a month is a reasonable schedule to hold to. And, if we happen to do an episode slightly more often than that — bonus!

I still have to do all the prep work — researching software, buying a headset, coming up with an actual opinion about something. (That last could be a problem.) What I’m saying, is that it won’t happen immediately.

All things being equal, I’d like to produce an episode sometime before the Xbox launch on the 21st. If it goes well, you could have a whole new venue for hearing my opinions about… whatever it is I feel like opining about.

I’m looking forward to it. I think it’ll be a lot of fun. And, in all sincerity, I’ll try my damnedest to make sure it’s fun for the listeners, as well.

This isn’t a vanity project, put out there so I can hear myself talk. I was in actual, professional radio for three years — I’ve heard myself enough.

I want to make this as interesting and involving as possible. And if I can’t do it well, I won’t do it. That’s a promise.

[∞ Infinity] Changes to Resolve

Nearly a month ago, I ran a lot of numbers dealing with the internal probabilities of Skill and Combat Challenges. At that point in time, I’d decided to “nerf” Resolve a bit. Now I’m anti-nerfing it.

Resolve isn’t all that common — there’s about 4 points per session (more if you’re getting into trouble). Under the “nerfed” rule — +1 on a spend, +3 if you have a distinction — it changed the odds greatly, but not enough for it to be really noticeable. If the Challenge Rating was Equal to the Skill Rating, you still failed about half the time.

But Resolve, ideally, shouldn’t be: “I spent it… and nothing. Crap.” It should be the “I’m awesome!” button. The new rule — +3 on a spend, +5 with a distinction — makes the point matter more.

Again, taking to testing.

Games I Wish I Could Play More: Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds seemed like a nice, medium crunch, fast-playing game. (“Fast! Furious! Fun!“) Unfortunately, my first experience was with Necessary Evil.

Necessary Evil is all about a superhero world, where an alien invasion has killed all the superheroes, and only the villains remain to save the planet. It seemed like a great super campaign, complete with a huge roster of superpowers…

…which was the problem. The superpower rules were vague and opaque, meaning each use had to be adjudicated carefully, which took time. And since every character used at least one power every turn, combat took f-o-r-e-v-e-r.

Not fast, not furious, and in the end, not much fun. The campaign petered out after three sessions.

There are several campaigns for Savage Worlds, many of which I own: 50 Fathoms, about a fantasy world sunk beneath 50 fathoms of water. “Red Sands”, a Space: 1889 campaign. And Deadlands: Reloaded, the classic Weird West setting, “Savaged”. I have hopes that one of these, divorced from the burdens of poorly-written superpower rules, could in fact be the  “Fast! Furious! Fun!” I was promised.

Unfortunately, I’ve never had the chance to run or play in any of these. But Savage Worlds is still on my “to-play” list.

Why Diablo III, Frankly, Sucked.

Tasteful, Understated Nerdrage on Diablo III. All I can say is that my memories of the first Diablo matched his, and why I enjoyed it is the same. As is why I didn’t enjoy Diablo III.

That’s how bad it was: I can’t even say I hated it. I just… nothinged it. It was the gaming equivalent of eating boiled paper: tasteless, unfilling, and lacking all nutritional value.

It did, however, make me hate always-online games. MMO fans are used to these, I suppose, but I’m not, other than some Borderlands II I play with my brother.

And after Diablo III, and seeing the much love aimed towards the latest SimCity, I can safely say that always-on gaming is a horrible, terrible, no-good, dumbo nothing idea. And the fact that the next Xbox will make it mandatory for everything…

The only people served by “always online” are the companies. It’s a horrible anti-feature for players. It only exists (in non-MMO and Deathmatch FPS’s) for the sake of DRM.

And, companies, your worries over used games (not even piracy anymore, used frickin’ games) isn’t a sufficient reason to cripple my play experience. I don’t have to buy your shit, and if always online is a feature, I won’t.

Crafting Languages for Fun and Profit

Lately I’ve been hanging around on the Conlang mailing list, a forum for people devoted to crafting fictional languages. Recently one of the members of the list — David Peterson, the president of the Language Creation Society — was tapped to create Dothraki and two forms of Valyrian for the Game of Thrones TV series, another for an as-yet-unannounced CW pilot, and 8 (!) different languages for the Syfy series Defiance.

Peterson, along with the creators of Klingon and Na’vi, were featured at a UC San Diego panel, discussing their experiences manufacturing languages from purest imagination. This article (and also this other one) covers the panel discussion, and includes a too-short video interview with the three linguists.

For myself, hanging around on the list, begging for help with Edeinal and my metalinguistics writeup, has been humbling and intimidating. These are some seriously sharp folks, all throughly educated in topics I am utterly ignorant of.

The highest compliment I got on Edeinal (my writeup of the Edeinos tongue, located here) was that there were “[l]ots of interesting concepts in your description”. Folks, anytime something you did is interesting to people who’ve done it for 20 years, you’re gold. The second highest compliment was that I “avoided so *many* silly mistakes” when writing it up. Sold. Again, anytime you can avoid looking like a fool in front of complete strangers, is a good day.

I am definitely not getting deep into conlanging, but it is cool to have done something not wholly terrible my first time out. (Yeah, I’m bragging. What of it?)

(And, seriously, if you’re at all interested in how Klingon, Na’vi, and Dothraki were created, check out the articles.)