Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Vanishing Tower is starting a Podcast!

Jason Hobbs peaked my interest on doing a gaming podcast with his use of the Anchor app. Not only did the app sound real easy to use, the podcast software provided a straight forward method for listener interaction and participation. 

I don't think I have the time to arrange a structured show complete with guests like Jason does on Hobbs & Friends of the OSR but I can blather away while I drive around in my truck like he does for Random Screed, his axillary podcast he has created using Anchor. The "Leave a Message" feature on Anchor is what really made me feel like this would be a worthwhile endeavor. Listeners can leave a message which can easily be added into a future podcast. 

I know I really enjoy listening to gaming podcasts while I work and my day job gives me ample time to burn through many. Hopefully I can add to the available content with some of my experiences with table top role playing and the online tools which have so far made my gaming experience possible.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Anthropomorphic USR Rides Again! Session Report #4

This session brought two PC's out of Capital City and away from the shores of Lake Eerie to the hot desert country of southern New Mexico. One of the PC's was new to this “side” game I run when the regular session of Clockwork & Cthulhu is running light of players for the scheduled game. He was a bit skeptical of playing a homemade furry animal and other strangeness game, but threw himself in with gusto. Since Anthropomorphic USR runs on the (U)nbelievably (S)imple (R)oleplaying chassis he had a character made up in around five minutes or less. So Bob the Platypus joined Gorilla Dave and the agents of CHROME in their attempt to get to the bottom of the PC's kidnapping from the zoo, their genesis into enhanced beings, and who is behind all this madness. CHROME, understandably, finds secret underground genetic labs complete with nuclear reactor rather dubious. Not to mention posing unacceptable safety concerns for the two million plus inhabitants of Capital City!

I used the PC's Specialisms as jumping off points for starting the session. Bob chose Detective +2 Wits as one of his Specialisms so he was put to work pouring over the data CHROME had gathered from the destroyed lab and the zoo's security cameras and computer logs. The result of this research revealed the zoo's security system was hacked from an IP address in Moriarty, New Mexico. This happened to be the last known whereabouts of Cybermind, a notorious criminal computer hack. If Special Agent Scott Roger Scott could tie Cybermind to the zoo kidnapping he would be able to do what the FBI failed to, bring this international bad guy down!

The PC's were outfitted in the latest CHROME livery, stretchy combat suits which provided +2 Damage Resistance. Bob armed himself with a short katana and an auto pistol while Dave stuck with his robot-head helmet and acidic poo-flinging powers. S.A. Scott was in charge per usual and assigned four other agents to round out the squad. They boarded a chartered jet out of Capital City airport and flew down to Albuquerque. Bob and Dave wanted to approach the target at night, so after the sun set they rolled out of town in a nondescript van provided by the Albuquerque field office. Their ultimate destination being the abandoned amusement park and ghost town of Snake Gulch.

I started making my USR hacks in an attempt to leverage my existing setting books while at the same time doing away with crunchy rule sets. For Anthropomorphic USR I am digging through my old Champions material I purchased in the early two thowws, more for nostalgia than anything. Some of you may recognize Snake Gulch as from Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth. Coupled with the Millennium City source book you would think I would have all I need to run some fantastic Supers action. They both retailed for $24.99, but scored them each for $10.00. The game store in my parent's town was going out of business so everything in the place was slashed. Both books are rather nice to look at. Glossy cover, fine production values and each one over a hundred pages long.

I had to really dig through these Hero published books with a highlighter to find useful text. Text which would invoke the feel of four colored comics. There wasn't much to highlight actually. Many maps of locations, stats of the major NPC's to be met along the way. The usual long and pointless backstories of the villains, snore. This is the adventure, the city book, well maybe more useful. It gives me a street map. What? There is organized crime in the city? Street gangs? I never would have thought!

I have to say the DIY OSR products being produced over the last six or more years have really shined a light on the poor utility of standard RPG products that are usually on offer. Once you use Vornheim, the Complete City Kit in like every game you run the pages of useless information in your usual city guide can just make you angry. I recently used AugmentedReality, The Holistic City Kit For Cyberpunk Games, majorly influenced by Vornheim, (at PWYW it way punches above its weight) to prep for my next Classic Traveller session. It took me seconds with random rolls on a few tables and I had an adventure outline, all hooky, which could sustain open, sandbox play as well as providing enough color to breath life into my game environment. It seems a game like Champions, which Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth and Millennium City were written for rests on the thick, crunchy combat rules. No need for imaginative content because the game will grind to a halt as soon as combat starts. It's what I remember back in high school and it is what I experienced again at GenCon last year. Which misses out on a lot of what supers role playing has to offer. So I guess on my list of RPG projects to complete now I must add Supers City Kit and Supers Secret Hideout Kit to give poor GM's like myself a chance out there. A chance to do what we do best; take some interesting game elements and run fast with your players, letting them move the action and drive the story. Once you strip the stats from Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth you are left with a predictable railroad led by bread crumbs to standard set pieces. Ugh.

There is actually one interesting bit. The opening gambit is set at an old west theme park. I got rid of the original Viper staff and replaced the characters with automatons. Old and unused the PC's came at the place at night and started poking around. Bob headed straight to the Sheriff's office. After listening to the automaton brag about the good old days running with Wyatt Earp and the like Bob liberated the robotic sheriff of his badge, hat, boots and six shooter. A three foot platypus with spurs a jingling now hit the streets of Snake Gulch, bad ass Ape and several CHROME agents in tow, determined to sniff out the bad guys!

They eventually entered the saloon where they found tracks into the cellar. Here the automatonic poker players activated, started accusing each other of cheating, and one stood drawing his smoke wagons squaring off with the PC's. The novelty of the situation quickly wore off when the robot started squeezing off live rounds. After taking out the stiff limbed robot it did not take long for the PC's to find the secret cellar entrance to a more modern part of the theme park. With different use of their Specialisms and reacting off of their die rolls they eventually penetrated secure doors and found what could only be described as a complex computer lab plus living quarters. Surely this was Cybermind's secret hideout. But where was he? 

The PC's did subdue a man in army fatigues, horribly disfigured, green skin, frothing mouth filled with fangs, the usual. He was able to draw blood on Bob the Platypus. Hopefully he isn't infectious. A difficult hand to hand struggle ended with gorilla Dave dropping the bed on top of the disfigured army guy. The ID scan done by the CHROME agents came up empty. Was this Cybermind? Has he been so transformed the ID scan cannot recognize him? Two of the CHROME agents carried out the unconscious stranger while the rest of the squad penetrated further. Here the PC's encountered the central computer room, in alert, plus all the wires in the room, from the computers, lights, generators, bound into a central form crackling with electricity. It forms facial features and speaks! “My specimens, my children you have returned!”

Now your average Champions combat, let's see, with two agents, two heroes and a big bad could take like an hour to run. We had six minutes left in the session. Instead of counting hexes, tracking endurance and stun the PC's could concentrate on how to take out their unknown adversary. The strange creature could make multiple attacks, striking out with various electrical cords. One of the CHROME agents was fried to death before Bob the Platypus, still wearing a cowboy hat and badge, was able to cut the main power cable. Gorilla Dave soaked damage from electric cord creature so it took a coordinated team effort to take down the creature. Here the session ended and began my game design deliberations.

There is a few things to tweak and/or modify with my rules set. That is to be expected. The big takeaway, for me, is to stop looking at adventure and game books for game and adventure material. Unless they are being done with this OSR spirit, of trying to facilitate the GM at the table in real time, the shit is useless. Today's session got more mileage out of the PC's leveraging small bits of color than anything else out of these once expensive game books. For source material I need to go to source material! Much like I did with USR Sword & Sorcery the best bet for good gaming “stuff” is go read the actual comics which got me excited in supers to begin with. That and making stuff up myself, Nuff said!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Classic Traveller Session Report #2

The PC's secured the facility with no loss of life, to themselves. The combat procedure was followed a bit more accurately this session and the trained PC's laid down whole sale slaughter on the opposition. Seven unidentified attackers were slain and one was captured. Carbines are not nearly as effective as Rifles and Shotguns in Medium Range combat. It also was apparent a knife in a gunfight does bear out the old adage.

Unfortunately three other unidentified attackers escaped on a boat out of the lower level with a package believed to be the body of a scout. This deceased scout was from the bizarre “pick-up” mission on Xxcarvis. The first ever adventure arc of Traveller I ever ran. These unknown attackers appeared to have passed unmolested into the facility, apparently by this same boat. Once in the lower dock area killed the two security guards on hand and collected the research staff at gun point. Once the research staff was locked into the live specimen holding cells the staff members were gassed to death with some fast acting nerve toxin. Also located on site was a high-tech device capable of shutting down power and communication within the facility. This device was the cause of the communications black out and power loss to the colonists water supply.

The PC's were able to get the water systems up and pumping again so the VCL owes them a solid. After reporting back in to their Chief in Vanders Omni security forces from Kazawan City were sent on site. The PC's were relieved and allowed to return to Vanders.

Lingering questions remain; who were these guys, why did they steal the body of a dead scout, and do the PC's even care?

Playing Classic Traveller delivers much what I would expect in an old-school rpg. Don't look to the rules to run your game. The mechanics are there to support interesting play. Not make it for you. The referee better come up with interesting stuff to do and your players better be up for a challenge and willing to find their own motivations. As a table top rpg should. I think we have suitable mysteries on hand to pique the player's interest and I will lean on the random generation procedures hard coded into the system to keep things moving, but if you want your game to be interesting you need to be interesting. Or be real good at finding interesting sci-fi stuff to rip off and run with.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Athan Kirk Wins the $200.00 Writing Contest

I posted a request for submissions for one of the adventures which will be included in the upcoming release of Deluxe USR Sword & Sorcery. I received three total submissions; one from Garrett Norman, another from Machine Mandala and the last at the deadline by Athan Kirk. I also received derisive comments from the peanut gallery along the lines of being exploitative, breaking laws and going to get myself sued?!?

Garrett Norman put it best; "...don't let the whiny redditors who wrote 500 words on why your contest sucked instead of 1000 words for a contest entry get ya down."

Athan wins hands down because he submitted an 11,858 word, 34 page adventure submission! Talk about over delivering! 

Thanks to all three of you for participating in this writing experiment and congratulations to Athan, Vanishing Tower Press' first paid writer! 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Turning a page in Clockwork & Cthulhu

The PC's settled their affairs with the Pale Lady's Trans-Arcana penetration into the material plane off the coast of Great Yarmouth this morning. Hero and Improvement points were awarded and they returned to Norton Manor, the now defacto headquarters of these secret agents of Parliament known as C.l U. B., the Clockwork Underground Bureau. One PC death was incurred during this four week (game time) adventure arc and one PC was ordained into the order of Righteous Soldiers, a recognition of his single-minded willingness to deliver death to enemies of the Parliamentary cause. 

For some reason I feel wiped out. Drained. Not that any of the sessions were any "harder" than the rest to run. More that it feels like I have wrung much imaginative juice from this mortal frame to fuel the campaign world. This is with using published adventure material as well. It certainly helped with the heavy lifting of world building. This is also a gaming first for me; a long running campaign. It is deeply satisfying and my belief that under all the entertainment value easily recognizable with TTRP'ing is a legitimate art form is validated.

As the game moves on to another chapter the challenge is clear; continue doing what I am doing, but make it BETTER. What does better mean? Now is not the time for me to come up with the answer. I need to reflect, drift and daydream now. Running a campaign is both a marathon and a sprint. Twenty four miles of fascinating road, some of it has to be run fast, uphill, both ways. On the surface TTRPG's are simple. It taps into the incredible enjoyment from oral storytelling and group collaboration. One thing leads to another, la-de-da la-de-da.

I've learned custom random tables for your world and setting are a godsend for the flagging mind during a session. Hacking published materials with your own ideas relieves the burden of coming up with the endless stream of NPC's needed in your world. I've also discarded the idea that the system really matters. I think when folks are having lovely flame wars over different systems and different editions it is a deflection from how demanding being a game referee is if you want to do it well. Most people don't want to face up that they may suck and they need to make changes. It is sooo much easier to say the system is broken, or it doesn't do this or that well. Rubbish. Here is my analogy to try and make my point; the fine art known as painting has three components. Color, texture and shape. Pigment on the end of a stick is applied to a flat surface. That is it. But from simple ingredients the bottom of this form has never been reached. Some who really want to be a painter won't make it because they will suck. "It wasn't for me." "I like photography better." folks may say as they flit through mediums looking for recognition. I've found it is better to soberly recognize your ability, and figure out for yourself what success looks like. For me it is to challenge myself to do better. Don't get hung up on results. Pursue with dogged determination and be open to the surprise of invention. You are conquering fear, nothing more, nothing less.  

So after this little stream of blathering thought here is my ask; when you feel drained from the work and fear you can do no better what do you do to get geared up to viciously attack your old way of doing things and blow your mind with the next discovery with your long running campaign?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Anthropomorphic USR POD, Almost

Nothing more exciting than a mail call with your latest POD game book!

My proof of Anthropomorphic USR arrived and while it has some graphic errors which need to be fixed I am pleased with Vanishing Tower Press' third POD title. 

This is a revamped version of my old PDF file with a rewrite of the healing rules. I also improved the layout for the introductory adventure "The Terror of Central". All in all Anthro USR contains character creation rules specific for playing talking superpowered animals, super cool equipment rules, simple vehicle combat mechanics, Game Keeper campaign notepad and custom character sheet. Did I also say it comes with an intro adventure!

I even went for color printing. There is not a lot of full color art but the splashes of colored graphics in the pages makes it a more enjoyable rule book overall. 

It is in an A5 size format, the same as Wormskin. I want to increase the inside "gutter" as well so you don't have to bend at the spine so much. The column text just ends up being too close to the center and detracts from the overall look. Hopefully I will be able to do this without reformatting the entire freaking document. The formatting issues with some of the graphics should be easy to fix. It does point out I need to check all these embedded files before I order my proof. Not having a properly format graphic kicks back a general public release like another two weeks, sad.

It will be up for sale on Drive Thru for $5.99 and this price includes the PDF too. The PDF is currently available if you can't wait. It doesn't have the graphic fails. But I find having hard copies of DIY game books one of the coolest things to happen in role playing games since their inception so the best bargain is to wait to order when the POD becomes available. 

Here is a photo giving an example of image fixes I need to make.

The most egregious flaw is in the adventure. I have a two page color spread with the stats for Mindless Clones and Security Robots. The center spread image came out, but the boxed stats of the NPC's is blacked out. Not cool. Once again, the PDF doesn't have these flaws if you want to start playing today!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Traveling Circus of Classic Traveller: Obligatory Session Report #1

So there is this gang of Travellers. Rough sort. Gun toting heavies in the galactic backwater where corporations are the law and colonists try and pursue a better life.

Life is cheap and air, water and artificial sweetener are costly. Out of this Major Schmidt has managed to carve out a better deal than most on Skalvil. He's done this by providing a no questions asked security force for Omni Sun overseeing the peace and prosperity of Colonial Dome One.

Chief radioed in from HQ, his heavy joweled face speaking through the vid.

Omni Horron Research Facility has been incommunicado. Missed a twenty four hour relay to Kazawan City. That and its pump facility appears to be off. Don't know for how long. The colonists are pissed of course. They pay a lot of credits for clean water. I want you out there ASAP. Find out why the facility isn't communicating and get the damn water turned back on.”

Schmidt knew it didn't help that OHRF (O-Rif) was three years behind on delivering the modified crops which can grow in Skalvil's thin, tainted air. The colonists complained it was all a scam to keep soaking them for clean water and indoor grows.

Chief heaved like a beached whale in the screen as he scanned reports Schmidt couldn't see. “Vanders Labor Group is already out there pounding at the gates looking for their water.”

Chief seemed pretty concerned about the situation. Before Schmidt had signed off the Chief had thrown in a 50 pound bag of Zucor on top of his regular pay to get it done. Schmidt never knew the Chief of being magnanimous.

That meant Hernandez was going to have to fly one of those retro-fitted aircraft used to get around Skalvil quickly. The air is really thin so fixed wing just doesn't get it done. With the tech Omni has at its disposal a standard grav shuttle is the way to go, but oh no, not when a few credits can be saved. Omni, in their infinite wisdom, instead elected to re-purpose regular VTOL craft used on the mining platforms on Xxcarvis with decommissioned grav engines. Dam tricky to fly and each Skalvil mechanic has their own ideas on how to keep them running. Schmidt would rather take an ATV, but that would take eight hours minimum to drive around the Skalvil Sea when the plane can have him on site in a half hour. Better take Pavlov too. Hernandez can't find the wet spot without Pavlov checking the charts. Jones and Saar would round out the squad. If the colonists started getting lippy the two ex-army hands tended to shoot real straight.

Schmidt, Pavlov, and Saar clambered aboard with their gear and filter masks while Jones put the last of the fusion tape on his repair work. Hernandez went through the final check and with a course laid in lifted off and out of the dome. It was a typical Skalvil morning. Driving acid rain obscuring the blood purple sky and the brown rugged landscape of the defile spread out into nothing. The black Skalvil “sea” below let Schmidt know they were on course and shortly they were over the prominent outcropping on the far eastern shore where OHRF sat. OHRF's control tower was broadcasting its regular warnings; “Entering restricted air space. Property of Omni Sun. Trespassing prohibited. Unauthorized landings will result in arrest, etc.” Circling the facility all the lights were on. The tower's beam sweeping the premise regularly. Why wasn't anyone home? Just as the chief said a contingent of colonists in their homemade enviro suits were demonstrating at the front gate. Schmidt quickly calculated they couldn't stay out their all day. Oxygen was expensive. The colonists would have to get satisfaction soon or they would need to head back to the dome or a nearby underground farm.

Bring us down inside, right in front of the gate”, ordered Schmidt. “I want to let the dirt farmers know someone is in charge around here”. Hernandez brought the VTOL smartly down on the concrete pad inside the electrified fence and everyone piled out.

Bargas is with them Major.” said Pavlov. Pavlov grew up in the dome and he recognized the union boss among the colonists. A tall man, his patchwork “skins” were well known to security personal. Bargas was tough, smart and the Skalvil dirt farmers loved him. The labor leader was calling out loudly to the squad.

Ask him what he thinks he is going to accomplish out here.” Schmidt replied. “Don't forget to tell him the electrical fence is still live.” Pavlov didn't like to handle heavy firepower like Saar and Jones. With a body pistol tucked away he was the least intimidating looking of the bunch. His mesh security jacket swallowed up his narrow frame making him look like an overgrown child as he walked through the rain to the gate.

What do you want Bargas?” Pavlov asked, looking through the ten foot high chain link fence.

What do you think? I want my damn water! We're all paid up. Omni try to break our back, well, we won't let that happen.” Pavlov, unsurprised, could now see some rifles and other side arms being carried by some of the men. The twenty something colonists came packing.

Well don't worry, that's why we're here. We'll get this all sorted.”

You got four hours.”

Four hours? You're kidding me, right? Something must be wrong with the pumps. If it was an easy fix it would've been done by now.”

Bullshit. Omni's jerking our chain. You got four hours or we go in and fix it ourselves.” It was next to impossible to read Bargas' expression through the thick lenses and rubbery, articulating respirator, but his harsh voice was sounding desperate.

Look, if you want it fixed that fast you are going to have to show me some love. You come up with some of your boys monthly dues and I'll see what I can make happen.”

You do that Pavlov you got a deal. Don't forget I know where you live.”

Pavlov double timed it back to Schmidt and the rest of the squad standing under the shelter of the VTOL. “He says get the water flowing again in four hours and there won't be any trouble. I got him to agree to a piece of the labor coffers for the heavy lift.”

Schmidt gave a derisive snort and ordered the squad to the front door. Jones started whistling, “Love me some chedder, when Omni don't know even better.” He couldn't sing, but he knew Saar hated him singing so it was always worth it.

Major, the access code doesn't work. What gives?” Saar looked over his shoulder at Schmidt. He had taken off his gloves and was punching in the code another time.

Is it broken?” Schmidt asked.

No, everything's powered up. It just keeps telling me invalid access code.”

We don't have time for this Saar, take it apart and get the door open.”

Saar broke out his electronic tool kit, punched out the thick stainless screws and went to work on the wiring being the screen. With the hand-held running diagnostics Saar noticed it wasn't just an unauthorized code change. It seemed the code function was blanked out entirely. Regardless the magnetic locks released under his direction and one of the sturdy metal doors slid back. The soft, yellow glow of the recessed interior lighting was on. The reception area was only unusual by the lack of staff at the front desk. Jones swept the nearby rest rooms while Saar started punching the comm at the front desk calling out for personal.

The plumbing works!” Jones smiled, hitching up his pants as he exited the Men's Room.

That should mean there is only a problem with the pump,” concluded Schmidt. “Let's find access to the lower level. The filter and pump equipment should be there.”

Which way,” asked Hernandez?

That would be restricted information Hernandez,” replied Schmidt. “But there should be a lift near the center. We'll take the corridor straight ahead. Any luck raising the Director or any staff Saar?”

Saar just shook his head, “Everything is working fine Major. There's just no one answering.”

This is strange.” said Jones.

The squad stalked the hall to the door at the end. Saar had to hack the electronic door lock just like the entry. On the other side the passage split three ways. Left, right and straight ahead. To the left down the corridor could be seen a sign for the computer room, to the right at the end of the hall a door to the communications center. Saar, with his electronic hand-held still out begged to check out the computer room.

Let's go, we'll check it out.” said the Major. Saar once again had to hack the door, but by now he had figured out the programming and it took less then ten seconds with the hand-held. Banks of computer tapes hummed in the servers, uploading data which constantly streamed from the facilities different equipment.

I won't be able to decode anything right now Major, but I can download the recent logs. Should be a lot of information what's been going on the last few days.”

Do it” Schmidt knew Saar was more keen on downloading anything he could sell on the black market, but it still was a sensible move. It took ten minutes before Saar called it quits. His data storage drive stuffed with who knows what.

I want to check out the comm room before we head to the pumps. I want to find some staff real soon.” Ordered Schmidt. Saar knew what to do so the squad gave him room and kept their weapons unslung. This time though instead of green lights and releasing mag locks Saar watched the hand-held pop and a violent surge of electricity coursed his arms. He yelled in pain and dropped the slagged electronic tool.

Effing thing was rigged to do that!” Saar complained. He held his scorched hands between his legs rocking back in forth in pain.

That door isn't opening now,” Jones stated the obvious, “but hey Saars, your in luck here is Medical.” Jones was grinning. The dangerous electrical short, while frying the mag locks on the communications door, released the door to the sick bay right near by.

Fracking great!” hissed Saar.

Check it out Jones, weapons ready.” ordered the Major. A quick sweep of the room found it empty besides being a functioning medical unit. Pavlov located a first aid kit and started treating Saar's burnt hands. That's how Pavlov noticed some of the cabinets had been rifled through. Chemical and drug testing equipment was scattered over the counter. Closer inspection showed someone had been testing Zucor, the hard to get and much desired sweetener the wealthy corporates had to have.

Major, why would anyone be needing to test Zucor?” Pavlov pointed to the counter.

I am sure I have no idea.” Schmidt replied. “Are you two done playing paddy-cake? Let's move.”

Pavlov took the lead and the squad exited out Medical into another long hall running left and right. The squad headed right towards the center of the complex and the elevator they could see. The Major brought up the rear while Hernandez hung back in Medical. The pilot wasn't the type to take the lead when the Major and his boys unslung their guns.

Schmidt felt like a flat-footed fool when at either end of the long corridor the electronic doors slid open revealing a pair of armed men leaning in with aimed carbines. It didn't stop him from charging the nearest attacker shotgun blazing. Jones and Saar followed their commander's lead like they've done hundreds of times before; shoot first, then again and again. Armed only with a pistol Pavlov hurled himself at the nearby elevator door hoping it was still active. The shotgun blast was deafening in the metal corridor. Saar's submachine gun barked and sprayed lead like rain drops on a tin roof and the crack of rifle and carbine fire lashed out. The trained army soldiers took down their opponents. Either sloppy in their execution or overly confident in getting the drop on the squad the work clad strangers wearing opaque filter masks lay groaning or unmoving on the floor. They had managed to tag Saar. He was bleeding badly. Schmidt quickly kicked the attacker's carbines away while Jones covered the other two shot at the other end of the hall. He noticed Pavlov had made the elevator in the mayhem and was descending to the second floor. Hernandez stuck his head out from Medical.

We good?”