Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sharp Teeth and Other Things of An Ellisonian Nature

I've always liked Harlan Ellison. My copy of the Essential Ellison sits on the shelf behind me--I remember pouring over that book and reading story after story when I was twenty years old, had very little money, and was living New York. It was the perfect book to be reading. I even wrote a couple of stories that were certainly "Ellisonian" in tone but, mostly, they weren't very good.

But I've been thinking about doing some "real" writing again after not really doing it since I got out of school back in 2004. We'll see.

In the meantime this documentary about Harlan Ellison called Dreams With Sharp Teeth is due out this month on DVD. Looks great.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Finish Line is in Sight

I'm a college English instructor, and I'm currently buried in Final Exams that need to be graded. My postings have been fewer recently due to end of the semester craziness, but I'm hoping to do more writing here at the blog and on a couple of other writing projects I've got lined up (among them two different game designs and a fantasy short story).

Looks like later in the summer we'll be playing this crime-noir science fiction campaign we've been talking about (using a Frankenstein ruleset I came up with that's cobbled together from various indie games). My friend James even came up with a nifty name for it: The 9th Division.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Current Project: Dungeon Battle!

A few month ago I started fiddling with rules for a dungeon miniatures boardgame that was inspired by things like OD&D, Heroquest, Warhammer Quest, and the old Heritage USA rules for their paint and play sets like Crypt of the Sorcerer and Caverns of Doom. I'm calling it Dungeon Battle, The Fantasy Fighting Game. I recently started writing the rules up in earnest and when its finished I will post them here to the blog.

Right now the game has little in the way of an advancement system--you just collect treasure and magic items, but I'm considering trying to cobble together an advancement system that would suit this style of play. Right now the game also doesn't have a single GM--it has a rotating role known as the Sorcerer who places and controls the monsters for a single encounter.

Here's a preview of the write ups for two of the Hero figures:


Move: 5 squares Spells: None
Fighting: 1D6+1 Miracles: None
Defense: 1D6
Missiles: 1D6+1
Magic Resistance: 1D6+2
Wounds: 1D6+1 (roll before game)

Weapons: Two-Handed Sword (roll bonus die on fighting)
Throwing Knife (Range: 2 squares)


Move: 4 squares Spells: None
Fighting: 1D6 Miracles: None
Defense: 1D6
Missiles: 1D6+1
Magic Resistance: 1D6+3
Wounds: 1D6+2 (roll before game)

Weapons: Battle Axe
Throwing Axe (Range: 2 squares)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nick's Headspace: A Clockwork Orange

Just watched 2001: A Space Odyssey again.

Been thinking about Kubrick lately. I just watched this clip of the opening to A Clockwork Orange, and I have to say that his use of the camera is hypnotic. He's all about the power of deliberate slowness whereas many director today cut fifteen times in a minute. Kubrick makes us look.

This is one of the best openings to a film that I can think of.

So look now at Alex and his droogs:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thoughts on Jaws of the Six Serpents & the PDQ System

I received my copy of a new rpg last week. The game is called Jaws of the Six Serpents and it is written by Tim Gray and published by Silver Branch Games. The game uses Chad Underkoffler's Prose Descriptive Qualities System (PDQ). Gray had previously published another PDQ game called Questers of the Middle Realms which from the title you might have guessed is a game that emulates tolkienesque high fantasy. So why the need for another PDQ fantasy game? Well, Jaws of the Six Serpents is inspired by the dark fantasy and pulp sword and sorcery stories written by writers such as Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, Glen Cook, Karl Edward Wagner, and David Gemmell. When I read about it online I decided to give it a go since I was familiar with the PDQ system and was curious to see a real sword and sorcery implementation of it.

I really dug into the game last night, and I have to say I'm quite excited. For some time I've been looking for a system that suits my style of play and which might be well suited to pulp sword and sorcery. D&D can do this, but it misses the mark in a few areas. D&D' s reward system is generally built around exploring underground spaces, killing monsters, and collecting magic items and while this makes for a great and fun game it doesn't really replicate the sort of stories written by the above gentlemen. Some of the folks over at the OD&D boards have some brilliant house rules and variants of OD&D that bring D&D in much closer line with this sort of fiction, but I've been curious to try this type of story using a more narrativist system

I should also note that one reason systems like OD&D, Tunnels & Trolls, the Fate System, The Shadow of Yesterday, and PDQ appeal to me as a GM is that I can be terrifically lazy when it comes to game systems. I don't want to do anything like the sort of prep that something like D&D 3E requires. I'm older, busier, and I've got a family which means that my prep for games should ideally be both easy and fun. I'm done with taking three hours to stat out bad guys that are going to eat it in five minutes when my bloodthirsty players get their hands on them. I want to spend my prep time thinking about interesting npcs, environments, and situations for my players to deal with.

Jaws makes all that stuff quite simple. I'm not going to go into an extensive discussion of the PDQ system here, but I will mention a few things. The system runs on modifiers which are attached to Qualities that the character possesses, and the modifiers range from -2 to +6. Examples of Qualities might be "Swordsmen", "Beserker", "Walks with a Limp", or even things like "Always Carries a Red Scarf in Remembrance of His Slain Lover". The modifiers from the relevant Qualities are added to a roll of 2D6 and compared against a target number or another character's roll. That's the basic mechanic, but the most innovative aspect of the system is the damage system which involves the character taking damage to their respective Qualities. However, the player decides which Qualities will be affected. Eventually, if the character has lost all of their ranks in all of their qualities they are considered to be "zeroed out" which means they've been defeated (but probable not dead unless the stakes are really high for the story). Jaws itself introduces some unique elements to the PDQ system such as Dark Learning points for Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know, and the demonically tainted magic you often find in Sword & Sorcery tales--as opposed to the sort of magic you find in various high fantasy settings.

I'm an incessant tinkerer when it comes to game systems (which is why OD&D/AD&D are so much fun), but Jaws pretty much sold me on running the system as is--which says quite a lot.

I could see using Jaws for all sorts of fantasy games. The system will work pretty well for any sort of low-magic dark fantasy setting, but it could be easily adapted to science fantasy settings or a variety of other things as well. I'd definitely recommend the system if you're looking for a rules lite system that facilitates narrative play, and which allows you to run a dark fantasy styled game.