Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: Protected by Marcus Calvert

I love to read short stories. Its not that I don't like to read novels, there's just something satisfying about reading through a complete story in one sitting. That is why I tend to gravitate toward short story anthologies - I can get through a story and not have to devote a lot of time to it.

This past Oddmall, I was wandering around the vendor room and came across a man pitching his books. This man was Marcus Calvert. In front of him were three books named Protected, The Book of Schemes, and Unheroic. He described the books as short stories related to the overall theme; Unheroic, for example, all had short stories that dealt with people who were anti-heroes or those who you wouldn't expect to be in the lime light.

The price for one book was right ($15 convention special), so I bought Protected. I'm glad I did.

Protected contains 36 stories and is about 265 pages long with no story more than 8 or 9 pages. From the beginning, I was hooked. Calvert has a style in which he quickly sucks you into the story and then twists it on you, in a very good way. There were many stories I was reading where I thought it was going in one direction and then BAM, something flies out of left field.

The subject matter of the stories are wildly varied. There are some on zombies, super heroes, science fiction, and even angels vs demons.  Each story, however, makes excellent use of the setting no matter its length. Calvert does a great job of fleshing out the scene so that, even if he doesn't spell out all the details of the world it takes place in, you can infer them.

Because of that, I think that this would be an excellent book to design RPG scenarios around. Pick a short story, read it, and start playing in that world 15 minutes later. All through this book I kept thinking how I would love to run a game in the story I just read.

My only complaint is that I actually wish some of the stories were longer. Some are so good that when they ended I wanted more. Many times I thought that I could see myself reading more about this place or what was going on. I suppose, however, that if I did run an RPG in one of these stories I could do that. (More ammunition to run a game based on one of them.)

While not every story is a gem, there are enough in this book to make it worth picking up. Calvert's price is right too - you can pick up all 3 books of stories for $30. While I have not read the other two books yet, I plan on purchasing them in the future. I recommend you do as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Thoughts on the Recent Chaosium News

Just before Origins, the news about the change in leadership at Chaosium broke and it was the talk of the con. Whenever I would see an old friend or Keeper, the conversation would inevitably turn to the subject. Since then, more information has come out concerning what is going on, as well as a lot of criticism. This is my take on it (not that anyone asked, but I just want to get it out there).

If you don't know whats going on, I suggest listening to Paul of Cthulhu's excellent interview with Sandy Petersen.

In my real life, I work security incidents. Due to that, I've had the unique experience of investigating breaches and then seeing the media report "fact" based on rumor, and see others speculate on what is going on. I've learned one important lesson - do not ever speculate on something unless you have the facts, because 9 times out of 10, you'll be wrong.

I've been very guilty of this during this time and for that I apologize (to Chaosium and all others).

A lot of people are passionate about Call of Cthulhu, and rightly so. Its one of the oldest RPGs still being actively played and developed, and it has 1000s of fans world-wide. Chaosium (and Charlie) have done a great job keeping the company and game afloat for a while. However, when people feel they've been lied to, they get angry no matter who is doing it.

The last few weeks have had me go through mixed emotions due to all of the information coming out - from "I'm never playing this game again" to cautious optimism. At this time, I'm still in the cautiously optimistic phase.

The reason is I am giving the new management a chance to right the wrongs that happened. Yes, the Kickstarters are long overdue and, while I don't know what happened, its obvious something happened to delay them farther than what we were told with no end in sight.

And the new management seems to realize they need to do this and are working hard. This is evidenced by the recent Chaosium sale to generate more income, their willingness to talk, and the updates they have been giving. (Note that most of these updates are on their Facebook page that I have seen.) So, I am optimistic.

I am taking this as an opportunity for myself to move forward and look to a brighter (and squamous) future in regards to Call of Cthulhu. What happens in the next few months will decide the game's future. As a fan of the game, I am willing to wait a bit longer and see.

And I highly suspect we will never know what really happened. After all, Chaosium is not a publicly held company. We are not shareholders. While many of us are monetary backers of the Kickstarters, that does not give us the right to company information. They don't have to release any information, but the fact they have has been a good sign.

I'm sure my glasses are a little rosy at the moment, but so be it. Time will tell, but hopefully in a few months I'll be writing another post here that is reviewing the hardback of Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition that I just received.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Origins 2015: Playing Games

As with last year, my wife and daughters attended Origins with me so most of my time as a player was spent with them around the convention. This post details my time at Origins with them and as an attendee.

Registration Lines: Until this year, I don't think I ever spent more than 15 minutes in line badge/ticket pick up. This year we travelled down Wednesday afternoon as I was running a game that evening. We got to the convention at about 4:30PM and spent the next hour in various lines.

This year GAMA used an automated system for pre-registration. You got a barcode when you pre-registered and scanned it at a kiosk. Your badge and tickets were then printed out. This took about 20 minutes to get through for all 4 of us.

Once we got our badges and pre-reg tickets, we hopped in the on-site reg line to sign my daughters up for some events. Unfortunately, this was slow. IMO, the reason was that when you got to the front and gave them the event to register, they had to look it up, and MANUALLY TYPE IN THE CREDIT CARD NUMBER! And if you had 3 people, they had to start the process over each time. This was even worse if the event was sold out and you had to find an alternative.

My only suggestion to this is for GAMA to use the credit card processing tools they offer to their customers. Unless the convention center made them do it this way, there is no excuse for not using a CC swiper to speed things along.

Also, GAMA should hire someone who can create a web interface to their events that is accessible from the con, so everyone can see what events still have openings. (GAMA: This is already possible through eventready!)

Quantum Black: The only RPG I played in was a 2-hour demo for an upcoming Ubiquity-based RPG called Quantum Black. This is a slightly futuristic (e.g. in the year 2020) RPG where you work for a corporation that investigates and takes care of supernatural phenomena. The demo I played in had us investigating a town where a previous team disappeared. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. The kickstarter is supposed to happen in July, and I'll likely back it.

Baker Street RPG: My wife and I had tickets to a session of the Baker Street RPG, of which I was looking forward to because 1) I wanted to try this out and 2) it would be my wife's first RPG. Unfortunately, time got the better of us and we had to cancel our tickets. However, I'm still very interested and will be signing up for a game next year.

Board Games: We are definitely a board game family. On Thursday while I was running games, my wife and daughters went through the Mayfair Games ribbon-fest and played in a number of demos. In the end, they bought Villiany from them and Dohdles from Kosmos. I also got Smash Up, Call of Cthulhu the Card Game, Bioshock: Infinite (board game), and Cargo Noir from the Origins math trade. All in all, a good haul.

Vendor Room: While some may disagree, the vendor room seemed to have more vendors this year. Mayfair and a number of the other boardgame vendors had their large booths moved to the board game hall so there was more space in the vendor room. To me, it seemed like it had filled up. There were a lot of vendors I don't remember seeing before, and a bunch that had returned and appeared to be getting good business.

Unfortunately, once more I saw a lack of used game vendors there. Maybe they've found that Origins isn't the place for them. If so, that makes me sad as I would had easily spent more money at those.

CABS Board Room: The evenings found us at the CABS board room. We had each gotten ribbons and would spend 3-4 hours (at least) a night in the board room, trying out new games and seeing if we liked them. I don't think I ever saw the room completely full, but there were a few times when it was getting close.

I am on the fence about getting ribbons next year. It isn't cheap for a family of 4 to do, but having access to the CABS library is probably worth it alone.

Cosplay: One thing I noticed is there was more cosplay at Origins this year. My daughters dressed up every day, and my wife even dressed up one day! IMO, more cosplay is good. Its a fun hobby and enjoyable for everyone. I think in the years to come we'll only see more of this at Origins.

Overall, Origins this year was a lot of fun. It had its issues like every year, but they were more minor than they have been in previous years. This being my 14th Origins, I can still see that it hasn't recovered fully from the bad years. However, its definitely on its way back. There are still areas it needs to work on, like registration lines, the ways it handles GMs, and the backwards thinking in regards to prizes and vendors; but things are starting to look better.

Unfortunately, attendance for next year is iffy due to some potential scheduling conflicts, but I hope I'm able to come down for at least a day to try things out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Origins 2015: Running Games

Instead of writing out a day by day travelogue of my Origins 2015 experience, I will instead be breaking it out into multiple posts. This one is on my experience this year as a GM.

As I said my a previous post, I was scheduled to run 4 games this year.




The first was a modern day Call of Cthulhu scenario I wrote named Devil's Cave, scheduled for Wednesday evening. Having never run a game on Wednesday, I wasn't sure what to expect. Fortunately, 1 person had signed up and 4 generic tokens showed up before we started.

The 4 players with generic tokens were three kids (aged around 10-15) and their father. The kids had never played in an RPG before and it had been forever for the father.

The game went well, although I did give some leeway to the kids' and their actions, given this was their first RPG experience. In the end, they had fun and the party barely survived. Barely.

I love this scenario, although I need to decide where I want to take it and modify it appropriately. The first half definitely needs improved, but I think I know how to do it in a way that it helps ramp up the horror of the game.


Thursday - Morning


My next game was another modern day Call of Cthulhu game called Paradise Falls. It was scheduled for Thursday morning at 8AM. Unfortunately, no one had pre-reg'd for this and no one showed up. I was a little bummed, as this was the game I was most looking forward to running at Origins. Since this was cancelled, I spent the morning catching up with the amazing Oscar Rios, barely missed braining a passer-by with my water bottle, and hitting the vendor room.

8AM games can be hit or miss, especially on a Thursday since 1) not many people are there yet and 2) the vendor room opens during this time slot. Live and learn.

If anyone is interested, I am probably going to run this at Con on the Cob if I GM this year.


Thursday - Afternoon


Fortunately, my Thursday 1PM game had 5 people pre-register for it so I knew it was going to go off. This was an End of the World Zombie Apocalypse game. If you are not familiar with it, this is a rules-light RPG where you play yourself in an apocalyptic scenario. In this case, it was a zombie apocalypse that I made up. I will be putting the setting out in the next few weeks for all to use if they so desire.

This game went off amazingly. One of the key aspects of this game is you get to play yourself, and the only items you have are the ones that you have on you at that second. As you can imagine, at a convention this could go horribly wrong; fortunately, it was spectacular.

We started by creating characters. I used a shortened method, so the entire process took about 30 minutes (including a rules explanation). After that I explained they were at Origins playing a game I was running when a scream was heard in the hallway. Soon, they the zombies were upon them and they were in survival mode.

For a game that relies upon the players playing themselves, which can go horribly wrong with the wrong group, the game went extremely well. The PCs worked together as a team even though most of them didn't know each other, and made imaginative use of the skills and equipment they could find. Fortunately for them, one of the players worked in the building next door (she showed me her key card), and by the end of the session they were safely on the roof awaiting rescue.

I have to say I love End of the World. The system is simple and doesn't get in the way of story telling. As a GM, I definitely could have done more to make the game more exciting and play to the system's strengths (e.g. diverse encounters, harder combat). However, the players said they had a blast which is all that counts.


Thursday - Evening 


My last game was scheduled for Thursday evening and almost didn't go off. This was my personal favorite Call of Cthulhu scenario, Crack'd and Crook'd Manse. I had 2 registered players who showed up and absorbed 2 others from another game that couldn't run with that few players. Four PCs is my sweet spot, so off we were!

In my opinion, this is one of the best "non-haunted house" haunted house crawls there is. The horror slowly creeps up on the PCs, eating away at their sanity, until the big reveal happens and the PCs are forced to hope for the best. Survival in this scenario is unlikely, although those that do survive, do so by the skin of their teeth (the best way in this game).

I had a 50% survival rate here, and probably the best two deaths I've had in a while for a Call of Cthulhu game. The first death occurred for an insane former Navy sailor who thought he saw a shipmate drowning in the sea, so he dove in to save him. His last thoughts were the realization that his "shipmate" was the corpse of the house's owner and he had just dove into the big bad.

The second was of a folklorist who, after escaping the house, watched her two fellow investigators tear off down the road in their car, leaving her to be horribly killed from the inside out. (I'm keeping these descriptions somewhat vague so as not to spoil anything.)

Needless to say, everyone was happy.




My experience as a GM this year at Origins was a hundreds of times better than last year. While the room we got was small and stuffy, the players and the fun made up for it.

Unfortunately, my fellow GMs and I in the shoggoth.net group have been seeing a decline in the number of players in our Call of Cthulhu games this year. Wednesday and Thursday only saw about 1/3 of our games run due to lack of players. Friday, Saturday and Sunday raised that amount, but there were still some cancelled games. Rogue Cthulhu, another group at Origins, had more games run but said they saw some cancellations as well. I'm not sure if this means that interest in the game is waning, or there were other factors at work.

I think this does mean, however, that if I do GM again at Origins (next year's attendance is questionable for me due to scheduling), I will diversify the games I run. There are a lot of great RPGs out there that don't get a lot of play time at cons, some of which I actually know how to run.

In the end, my players and I enjoyed ourselves in the games I ran. Thats what I go to Origins for, so as a GM I'm calling this one a success.

Monday, June 8, 2015

My Wife's Origins Kickstarter Vendor Experience

So many things have happened over the last week...Origins, news about Chaosium, Origins. :) I'll post about my Origins experience later. Instead I want to write about an interesting conversation I had with my wife on the way back from Columbus.

My wife is a board gamer. This was her 4th or 5th Origins, so she is not new to the vendor hall and having people pitch her new games; however, she is new to Kickstarter. While in the vendor room, she was pitched two different games currently being kickstarted (by two different booths). It was interesting when she said she was seriously considering backing one, and would never back the other one.

The first booth she stopped by asked if they could quickly pitch her the game. She said if they did it quickly, as something in the back of the vendor hall was setting off her allergies (we think it was the incense vendor in the next aisle). They quickly ran through a 2-minute pitch explaining the game, showing her the components, and briefly talked about the kickstarter (e.g. it was already funded, if you backed it you'd get a special thing, etc).

While they did not have the actual game yet to show, they had worked hard on creating as close a replica as possible. They did have some of the actual printed components, but the board and box were high quality printed prototypes. My wife ended up standing there for about 10 minutes, getting more information. I suspect if her allergies hadn't been going off, she would have sat down for a demo.

She then stopped at another booth where they pitched her the game they were kickstarting. They gave her a brief description of the game and that it was currently being funded. However, I could immediately tell she wasn't interested.

The board for the second game was a piece of white paper with concentric circles printed out. The pieces were printed out cardboard glued onto a base (I suspect the art was downloaded from Google Images as I had seen some before). Additionally, in the back of the booth were four guys sitting there, looking like they were hung over. In her words, she felt like "she was being pitched a game by a couple of frat guys who decided to throw something together".

The difference between the two were how it was presented to her. The first looked very professional and it was obvious the designers had worked hard to get something good to show attendees. The presenters were well organized and could answer any question asked.

The second looked like they had printed it out 20 minutes before heading to Origins. When asked a question, she was referred to the Kickstarter page. (We looked and this didn't actually help, as the KS page says very little about the game.)

I can only imagine that preparing a booth for Origins is difficult. However, the second booth could have done a lot more to make their game look better. In their KS video, they have what looks like a prototype game board. Why wasn't that at Origins? Having that would have made it 1000x better.

In the end, when you are pitching a game that doesn't yet exist to people you need to do everything in your power to sell it to them. People, especially gamers like my wife, aren't going to just take your word for it. They want to see something, and not be promised baked goods for backing it. I'm sure I'm not alone in this thinking and the numbers show it. The first booth opened up their Kickstarter when Origins started and was already funded; the second is 50% through and is only 10% to their goal.