States of Play

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hell Bend (Session 5 & 6)

These sessions were originally recorded 11/1 and 11/8/2015.

Nov. 1, 6:37pm

From the Journal of Josephine Maxwell
October 21st, 1875

I set up my camera in the house that I had taken a picture of.  We stayed in the house over the night.

We did not see or feel anything strange.  We did hear the scream in the middle of the night.  We went outside to investigate but found nothing.

The next morning I went out to go take a picture of the men that were working on building at the spirit lodge.  The was a very strange aura that we could all feel.  Once the picture was developed, it was very disturbing.  I took it to the Yellow Rose to show them.  It had a blackness behind the people in the picture where the lodge should be.

That night, a few of us decide to stay up and watch the town.  We set lanterns and  I laid red clay dust along the entrances and exits of town.  That night I found the locket from the house in my bedding.

In the middle of the night we heard the scream again and followed it to find a girl in the middle of town.  She looked sad, and pointed out of town toward the stream.  We went out to the area indicated and found a lit cabin.

We called out to the cabin, and an evil-seeming man came out to greet us.  There was a strange horse.  He told us there were lots of spirits in the creek.  He suddenly asked about the locket that I had.  I showed it to him after it seemed to get warm.  The man said his name was Burke.  He grabbed my arms and tried to make a drinking motion toward it.

Juan punched him and he let go of my arm.  We went back to town.  There was a trail through the clay dust where the girl had walked.

The next morning, we headed out of town after a nap.  We went to investigate the creek.  We found an old cabin.  In the cabin, under the floorboards we found three bodies buried in the ground.  There were two women and a girl.  We take them to bury them in the church yard.

The nightly screams cease.

Nov. 8, 6:37pm

From the Journal of Josephine Maxwell
October 31st, 1875

We decided to have a celebration around the totem and try to raise the spirits of people around town.  The kids are going to trick or treat.

After the party is over we hear a man yelling for help.  We run to try to help him - he was covered in blood and proclaimed "They're coming!"  Then he ran away.  We went to see who "they" were.  Out of the darkness came a blood-covered woman who was missing half her head.

All the men shot her.  She fell to the ground.  Just then we heard more shuffling footsteps in the dark.  There were more people covered in blood with split heads  The things moved in a terrible way, and were upon us in moments.

We shot the men and took the bodies to the house of the Doctor.  A man from town panicked when he we saw the bodies and us covered in blood.  We all go to get cleaned.

Not long after that we heard gunfire and a terrible roar outside of town.

November 1st, 1875

The sheriff went to find the man that we saw covered in blood  The man has left town.

A stage stopped in town to drop off a passenger.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Star Wars: The Resurgence of the Hype (...or Why You Should Stop Worrying and Love the Death Star)

Star Wars is one of the biggest properties around right now.  I mean, it's always been a big deal (for at least my entire life) but it's not always at the forefront of pop culture.  That has to coincide with special days / events - such as the release of a new movie.  The 4th may be with us, but it's not the gigantic festival we've seen lately every single year.

We've seen how the franchise has gained traction in the gaming world over the past few year and a half or so with X-Wing blowing up, but things are starting to get a little crazy since this particular thing showed up on the internet a while back:

I thought I'd take a moment and talk about Star Wars at the Wargate, and our plans for the future.  The franchise has some life back in it now, but we've been planning a resurgence of our own for a few years now.  We had great campaigns earlier this year, and that just happened to coincide with the release of the new movie.

Most of us have fond memories of Star Wars of ancient times.  Playing with action figures with our lil' buddies, watching the movies when they were first released, buying the glass cup set from Lucasfilms' promotional partners, etc.  Dropping Boba Fett to his death from the dizzying heights of the swingset slide.  I know I was overly fond of watching things fall and hit the ground when I was a child.  That's not creepy - I never dropped any of my brothers off a ledge or anything.  Action figures were not a protected species, however.

So about four or five years ago, there was a motion to bring Star Wars to the Wargate in the form of a supported season, but at the time the franchise and setting were regarded as passe.  People were more in favor of FASA's Star Trek or Dr. Who and showed absolutely no interest in the Force.  I didn't really understand all of that, but the focus group had spoken:  not only was Star Wars right out, but in a sense we found that the whole thing was an object of derision and ridicule.

For us, I think the biggest reason we hadn't supported the franchise was the failure of Sony's Star Wars Galaxies than the prequel trilogy, which are widely maligned and at first glance you might have assumed that's why Star Wars got a bad rap.  Yes, in 2003 we at the Wargate were total Star Wars nerds. Somewhere, it turned sour for us - probably born of that experience with Sony.  Lucasarts, if you're listening then take note there.  Your licensee was a total failure and cost you big - at least with this small club of gamers.

"Actually, I'm kinda 'meh' about this hyperdrive right now."
Fast forward a decade or so.  We got a good deal on a pile of D20 Star Wars books - almost the entire run of the Revised D20 version.  Then a peculiar thing happened.  X-Wing had just released, and it looked we checked it out.  Then folks started looking at the D20 books...then we realized there were Star Wars miniatures in the treasure hoard.  After that, it was easy - Star Wars was on a resurgence...and we jumped on it willingly.

We even started buying lots of the old Wizards of the Coast prepainted miniatures...something we hadn't done before the Pathfinder Battles line came out and showed us that prepaints didn't have to suck.  X-Wing was a dealbreaker - everyone fell in love instantly, even most of the ardent Star Wars detractors.  Then I finally started watching The Clone Wars animated series and began to understand what we had been missing this whole time.

I was still on the fence about The Force Awakens at this point in time.  The first trailer (above) didn't really titillate me for some reason - maybe it was just the *bleh* of the prequels that kept my fervor from rising for the movie, even as the club's enthusiasm for the setting and, most importantly, the games continued to rise.  Then, the second trailer came out.  I had been hearing about it for a week, as it had broken the intenet.  I avoided it, is my wont with things so...mainstream I guess you might say.  Everyone was on that wagon, and you know how that goes.  Then, one night very late at night while I was by myself and about to crash out I was browsing YouTube and said "What the Hell?".  I clicked the button.

I don't really know how to describe the feelings that washed over me as I watched that, alone in the dark and half asleep, for the first time.  I felt an unfamiliar feeling as my face contorted into a grimace, and tears welled up in my eyes.  For those of you that know me and know full well I don't even have emotions, let alone cry about things will know that this is highly peculiar, but it's true.  I cried tears.  It was weird.

It moved me.  I was mad about it though, and started combing the internet for the week's worth of information I had missed.  I was literally mad that it had touched me in a place I didn't even know existed and I wanted answers.

Turns out, I wasn't the only one.  The first thing I found on the internet was this gem.  Someone had made that.  It was exactly how I felt.  I have never, ever felt closer to Matthew Mcconaughey.  Not even when I watched Magic Mike.

Turns out, I wasn't the only person this had happened to.  It was like that trailer was perfectly designed by mind-control experts to tug on the heartstrings of nerds like me, i.e. brought up on or greatly influenced by Star Wars.  And it worked like a charm.

So, we started getting models.  We drafted Star Wars stories and began our RPG campaign.  We played X-Wing...and loved it.  The setting has things that appeal to everyone, even if they don't admit it at first (looking at you, Star Trek guys).  What's more, people readily identify with Star Wars.  I think the only other setting that's close to the familiarity folks have with Star Wars are the World War II games...and generally speaking are far more familiar with the space opera than the real world history.  Star Wars was not only on the upswing for project enthusiasm here at the Wargate, it's picking up a lot of momentum in the mainstream.

A padawan might call this mainstream momentum "hype"...but true Jedi understand that this resurgence in the Force could very well herald the dawn of a new age.  The amount of money that's behind this is only thrown at it because of the amount of excitement among it's target demographic is phenomenal.  Perhaps even unprecedented.  They aren't trying to brainwash you into watching the film, they pretty much already know you will (most likely whether you have any desire to or not).  No, all those mainstream TV / product tie-ins are there because the demand is there.

We'll leave all the film speculation to other corners of the internet, as what I want to focus on here is what that means for us as gamers.  The Force Awakens was titled conspicuously from the very beginning, in my mind.  It long signaled that Disney wanted to revive the franchise long-term.  I knew there would be at least six more films, judging simply by the release schedule.  3 films in the new trilogy (part 7-9) and then three stand-alones.

The idea that the franchise would be officially supported by the "hype-machine" helped us make the decision to keep Star Wars on the Wargate schedule long-term.  2020 is pretty much the foreseeable future, and we all want our investments to pan-out.  However, apparently there is a lot more in store even than that, and that points our meters to an upcoming golden age of Star Wars gaming, headed up by Fantasy Flight.

Star Wars will be occupying Season 3 of next year's schedule.  Next year will be slightly different in format, as there will be 3 four-month seasons instead of 4 three-month seasons.  In fact, Star Wars will probably be our Season 3 setting for the foreseeable future, as it titillates us to no end that at the end of each season we'll be treated to a full-on Star Wars movie.  December will be full of even more fun here at the Wargate - Krampus at the beginning of the month, and Star Wars movie release at the end!

Don't worry though.  We're not going to build any new Death Stars.  We'll leave that to Disney, and explore the Star Wars universe outside the immediate vicinity of certain types of artificial moons (i.e. with planet destroying super-lasers).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hell Bend (Sessions 3 & 4)

These sessions were originally recorded 10/18 and 10/25/15.

From the Journal of Josephine Maxwell
October 19th, 1874

We went to greet the men herding the animals, and they were friendly.

We continued to the area that Barton wanted to go to.  The area was a pit in the ground.  That pit was covered in blood.  there was a stone in the center of the pit that had a burn mark near a split in the center.  The stone is covered in blood and there is a boot.

There was a cowskin stretched on rack that has some sort of writing near the altar.

There was a trail of blood that looked as if someone had crawled away out of the pit.  After a brief argument in the pit about the plan of action to take, we come to an agreement that we should follow the trail of blood.  Upon leaving the pit I heard something that sounded like three voices speaking in unison.

"Come back if you ever need anything."

At the end of the trail was a man in a crumbled heap.  Barton reached down and grabbed the man and the man said "I have failed, Praxiteles..." - and after that Barton shot the man in the face.

The man's body then stood back up - after being shot - and said in the same voice that spoke in the pit.  This time it said "Behold my Testament!"

Then, the Doc shot it again.  Barton wanted us to burn the body.  We did and we sat to watch it burn.

October 20th, 1875

10/25, 7:35pm
The next morning we had a funeral for the pioneer couple.

A man came into the town that the people seem to know.  They greeted him warmly.  He seemed somewhat disturbed at the state of the settlement.

Jakey Wells informed us that he wanted to let us know about the events the night before.  He told us that the Doc had followed Barton to his house the night before.  He watched the Doc and Barton talk to a demon that Barton had summoned from a skull in a bag.  Mr Wells tells us that he witnessed the Doc sell a "year of his life" to the demon in return for information about the shrine that we found,.

The group decided to go out to Bartons'.  After no answer at the door we notice a note from the Doc saying he is at the Sweat Lodge.  When we get there the Doc tells us that we sold a year of his life to teh demon so that he could get the name "Locar the Avenger" - a spirit he claims can save the town from a three-headed eagle demon.

After that we noticed smoke coming from the other side of town.  We dashed to the source of the smoke and found a man's body burning on a pyre.  I took a picture of it.  Just after I took a picture of the burning body the fire flared up and burned blue.  The body was burned away in a matter of moments.

We investigated the fire and determined that the person who set the fire probably escaped into the woods.  We headed back to the Yellow Rose to discuss what the next move would be.

Barton told us that the totem was attracting things (even him) to the town.  We decided to build something from the materials of an old house to surround the totem.

In the evening we went back to the houses.  Late in the night we all wake to the sound of multiple voices screaming.  The deputies went to check the town.

We awoke the next day and the deputies went out to build the structure.  I went about the town to take pictures and interview townsfolk.  Once developed, one of the photos was very peculiar.  There was a woman in the window of an empty house.

We went to the house to investigate and found a picture of the girl in the house in a locket.  The Doc asked the innkeeper Sarah about the woman.  She said her name was Anna Sharp, and she died of fever.

That night I stayed at the Yellow Rose.  I heard footsteps under my door in the middle of the night.  I screamed, and the owners of the inn ran to see what the matter was.

After finding no one there, I went to go talk to the Doctor.  There was a real feeling of unease in the town.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Getting Into the Wild, Weird West!

It might come as a shock to you that in Oklahoma, in the center of the United States, it's almost impossible to find a Western game.  We went a long way to find a game that fit the genre and our needs, and it traveled across the ocean to get to us.  It seems as if the entire countryside full of gamers has absolutely no interest in this genre.  Well, except us here at the Wargate.

It really should be natural for us to get into this genre, but although enthusiasm is built up pretty high there's very little actual historical knowledge about this period with most gamers, especially those here.  Let me clarify we had everything we need as far as roleplaying games go - what we started looking for was a way to bring the action to our miniature battles!

Since we started the World of Darkness Wild West game a few years ago, we've been looking at how to bring it to the table.  There's a lot of different game systems out there, but it was difficult to find a new-ish game to help bring the enthusiasm level up.  As I said before, our game stuff had to travel a long way to get to Oklahoma.

It took a little searching around, but Wargames Illustrated has some coverage of all eras.  In that esteemed magazine, we saw a little about a game called Dead Man's Hand.  We searched for it high and low, but were only able to get a copy in from the United Kingdom.  This, for a wild west game.  We live in OKLAHOMA.

Great Escape Games has done a great job - Dead Man's Hand seems to fill all the criteria we were looking for in a skirmish game.  We had a few Wild West miniatures lingering around from various purchases previously, but most were Reaper...and a few of them I've been unable to identify.  Not even really sure where some of these came from, but there were at least four different manufacturers in our Wild West case before we started this project.

After looking through several manufacturer's catalogues, we settled on what we were going to use to populate our Weird West.  In addition to the Dead Man's Hand range (which is nice and has great sculpts, it's rather limited) we will be using Black Scorpion Miniatures' Tombstone range.  There's a wealth of cool miniatures in there, and they are FANTASTIC sculpts.  The resin Black Scorpion casts in is also one of the finest materials on the market and I suggest you check some of their work out.  With Great Escape, Black Scorpion and Reaper's model ranges leading our charge into the West, we'll have more than enough stuff to keep us busy for this season and the next.

"Badges?  We don't need no stinking badges!!"
Yet as any wargamer knows, you can't just have the miniatures without building terrain for the milieu.  Lucky for us, 4Ground's American Legends range has the makings of our dusty Territory township.  Those are great terrain pieces, and since we intend to build the town square of our main settlement we can expect to see several of these constructions building in Smokefall Ridge very soon.  Not only that, but the Blackwater Gulch range has EVEN MORE great kits we're going to grab up to help populate the Settlements.

"Get a rope."
It's not hard to imagine the entire place.  Dusty roads, a dirty well and a few facade buildings.  Livestock will be kept, and fences.  It's almost a model railroad project but for the fact that this is all centered around gaming.  There's all sorts of variety.

Whatever the case in Smokefall Ridge that would necessitate the construction of a gallows, one thing remains certain:  you're probably going to need one, eventually.  And for me that's good enough reason to build one - notwithstanding how cheap it is!  Going forward into this project with our group is going to be a blast.

We don't need a HUGE amount of new items, and can afford to focus on the whole thing as a collective.  As we build up our model collection and terrain set, the Settlements will become a more solidified place in our hearts and minds.  Welcome to Smokefall Ridge partner - in miniature.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hell Bend (Session 2)

(Session Recorded 10.11.15)

From the Journal of Josephine Maxwell
October 17, 1875

We were awoken in the early hours of the morning by a shrieking scream.  It seemed to have come from many voices.  We rushed across the town to find a horrible crime has taken place in the home of one of the homestead couples.

I was able to deduce that the man murdered his wife by stabbing her and then almost cut off her head with a butcher knife.  Then he took the kife and stabbed himself in the neck with it.  He has scrawled the word "TESTIFY" on the wall in his wife's blood.

As far as the towspeople knew, this man could not write.

We look around and find a journal in the house.  In the journal there doesn't seem to be any English writing.  It is covered in pentagrams and seems to be written in some Indian language, with the word "Silence" repeating over and over.

Out side we found all the mans' dogs still in their pens, except for one.  It barks at us and then stares until it runs into the darkness.

We investigated thoroughly and then debated what we should do with the bodies.

I took a black male dog with me.

In the morning light we collect the bodies and apparently the Doctor cut the head off the man.  He claimed it was so the devil could not use the body as a puppet.  The sheriff and Jakey Wales became enraged and punched the Doctor in the face.

I was awoken by the sound of a woman singing in the middle of the town.  I stayed in my bed.  After an ear-splitting shriek, the singing stopped.

I went to the saloon, and there were several other people there.  They decided with me after a story from Rusty Shackleford that it must have been a "banshee".

Kyle Barton has asked if some of the townsfolk would ride out to a place that he has been told about.  When we get out to the middle of no place, he told us that he is looking for the encampment of his friend Simon Drake.  At that point we hear a lot of livestock nearby.

We go to see what the sound is, and we see five to six men with a mixed herd of animals.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rulebook Ruminations: Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Player's Handbook

I kept up with the development of 5th Edition from the very beginning.  Dungeons & Dragons is close to my heart, and I was very eager to see what solidified on this.  Veterans and refugees from the Edition Wars will know what I mean.  I wanted to wait until I had a chance to play with it to make any rash decisions, and the Wargate just finished a two-season (six month) campaign using the launch materials in the new Basic boxed set, together with the Player's Handbook.  Now after all that, and despite all the forebodings and ill omens, I can say without reserve that I very much like the new game.

The physical book is beautiful, as is to be expected.  Matte and gloss hardcover, full color interior.  Very nice, as all Wizards of the Coast publications always are.  The price point is $49.99 MSRP, though that might be stretching it for an item like this - especially if WotC intends to pop a new edition if five or so years.  If you are fixed on this, Wizards, see to it that fifty bucks remains the standard for some time to come, and that quality does not diminish.  Remember, you are competing with yourselves and the 2000 launch of 3rd Edition.

Anyways, the meat of it.  Not a whole lot has changed really.  The basic mechanics of the D20 system haven't changed, and really if you break it down it's all it how the information is presented.  A lot of rules have been streamlined, and combat isn't nearly as complex.  However, a lot of the material we're used to using has been changed or shuffled away.  This streamlining limits the system's ability to adjudicate things on its' own and a lot more is left to DM interpretation.  I know there are sets of gamers who like this sort of thing but by and large Gatekeepers don't care for it - but this didn't diminish our enjoyment of the ruleset by much, if at all.

Classes always change between the editions.  In this volume, there is a single principle that binds all the class mechanics and choices.  Each class is well balanced against one another, even as we might rail against spellcasters slinging 1d10 damage at will - but as gameplay progresses you will see that's not really any different from the other classes.  As the player classes create the basic game experience for the players, it's important not to downplay this balance - this is a key concept.  Under certain situations, something can seem very overpowered, but give gameplay a chance to show you how limited you really are.  A lot of things folks would normally scoff at isn't really an issue, as the dice roll.

Gone are the lists and lists of Feats (good luck on those) and most options are built into the class choices instead.  There are several variations of each class, and it gives a good spread of the flavors of previous editions, with warlocks making pacts and sorcerers with mystical bloodlines.  In addition, there is a big change in the philosophy of how the game should play seems to have changed.  The actual gameplay in combat is not a clone of some boring MMO, as 4th Edition was prone to feeling at times.

For six months, we played using only the Player's Handbook and the Basic set.  We had one TPK, and the DM did change the scenario for the second party.  I'd say that was a pretty good run for the entry level materials, and we're firm believers in 5th Edition now.  I can say I'm eager to complete the collection and explore the new adventure tomes.

We might need a few more of these Handbooks for the table.