Sep 28 2012

Gung-Ho Gaming: Why Can’t I Make It Work?

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There is a certain style of RPG that I really enjoy when I can pull it off… but it’s very hard to pull off. For lack of a better term, I call it “Gung Ho.” It’s not a genre in and of itself, but it is a definite style: if you see Abraham Lincoln riding a bear and carrying a machine gun in each hand? That’s Gung Ho gaming.

Gamma World is sorta the archetypal (and one of if not the oldest) Gung Ho RPGs out there, and the recent 4E-ruleset reboot actually worked fairly well as far as it went. Unfortunately, once we finished the initial scenario, I just couldn’t stay interested. I thought for sure that I would, and bought all the expansions… but it didn’t happen.

There have been plenty of other attempts in our group to start and sustain Gung Ho games: Teenagers From Outer Space appears periodically in our repertoire, and my own Furry Battle Academy! was definitely in this vein. But in both cases, while the individual sessions have usually been quite fun, the campaigns have just failed to launch.

Some of it is probably sheer exhaustion. Gung Ho gaming seems to require a massive caffeine/sugar rush to get the ball rolling, and once it’s rolling, you have to keep momentum or you end up needing to start all over again. Some of it is also probably just the mix of players… as weird and creative a bunch as they are, their personalities tend to range from “rather reserved” to “painfully shy,” whereas Gung Ho gaming requires the willingness to be loud and quite often to make an idiot of yourself.

My most successful “Gung Ho” game so far has got to be the Ghostbusters game, but it’s only a bit Gung Ho. In fact, aside from the occasional silly NPC name and the tendency to do a lot of collateral damage with the proton packs, it’s hardly Gung Ho at all. Just… eccentric. Sure, they’ve battled animated modern art, been chased around the streets of D.C. by an enormous ancient Hittite dog-god, and accidentally teleported to Saturn [1] once or twice, but it’s not like they carry around guns that shoot chainsaws or anything.

[1] Actually an alternate dimension. They just call it Saturn, a la Beetlejuice.

The reason this is on my mind is because I was pondering the possibilities of a Borderlands RPG. With its over-the-top badassery and snarky sense of humor, I could easily see Borderlands being a fun beer-and-pretzels setting for a game, and the story arc of Borderlands 2 is for all intents and purposes a “Plot Point Campaign” straight out of Savage Worlds. It’s a natural fit.

And yet… I don’t think I can do it. For some reason, I just don’t seem to be able to come up with enough ideas in the Gung Ho mode. If handed an existing scenario, I can probably take it and make it work (as I did with the Gamma World starter scenario), but coming up with new ones is like voodoo to me. My brain keeps trying to make things make sense. (“Wait… this dude has shotguns grafted onto his forearms instead of hands? How does he reload? For that matter, how does he tie his shoes?”) That kind of thinking is the kiss of death for Gung Ho, but unfortunately it’s often how I come up with my scenario ideas. By thinking about the antagonists and giving them goals that make sense, I can figure out what they will do, how, and why, as well as what they might do when their plans go south (as of course, they will once the players show up).

Of course, it’s not like we need another game anyway. Two Pathfinder games (one of which has only had one session) and Ghostbusters keep our plate pretty full as it is. But whenever I find a new setting or genre that I like, my thoughts on it must eventually turn to gaming. It’s just in my blood, I guess!

-The Gneech

Sep 24 2012

InterventionCon and Borderlands

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So this past weekend was the third (already?) InterventionCon. It’s a fun, if smallish, local con put on by an impressively small staff who nonetheless manage to give it a “big con” professional feel. The basic theme of the con is “your online life, offline,” basically giving it a “meta-geekery” vibe similar to Dragon*Con (but on a much smaller scale). There’s a bit of comics, a bit of anime, a bit of cosplay, a bit of technogeekery, even a tiny hint of furry, but no one element really jumps out. This big tent approach is good in that everyone is welcome, but it also has its downside, in that there’s no really strong pull for any group. Despite being open to everybody, InterventionCon is not a “must-go” con for anybody, at least not yet.

Granted, I see most of the con from inside the Dealer Room (or “Artist Alley/Vendor Room” as the con refers to it), which possibly colors my perceptions. On the other hand, the Dealer Room is also usually the main hub of activity. There are several breakout panel rooms which usually have a double-handful of people in them at any given time, a videogaming room, and an open gaming room, and several corridors. Although the Marriott where the con takes place has a huge and impressive restaurant/lounge area (which at a furry con would be overrun with fursuiters and artists), as far as I can tell InterventionCon doesn’t go down there. What crowds there are to find, are in the Dealer Room.

The other thing I’ve noticed about InterventionCon, is that there isn’t much of an art culture. Most people in the Vendor Hall are there as vendors, selling books or crochet ponies or what have you, not doing art at the table– and the attendees don’t seem to be expecting it, either. I was never asked to do a badge or a sketch (my primary profit-makers at most cons), even by people who seemed very taken with my work. Furthermore, those people who were offering sketches at the table, were undercutting themselves badly. One artist wanted to charge me $10 for a fully inked, elaborate sketch; another $15 for an inked and shaded pair of characters. In both cases, I shoved $20 bills at them, just to drive the lesson home.

gneech_chanWhile sitting around at the con not doing any badges or sketches (le sigh), I decided to noodle around with new persona ideas for myself, including this cute little guy, who combines the whole “dapper lion” thing with my little buddy Keroberos. Only problem is, I still can’t figure out how to get more of the sea green and similar colors I wanted into the design without becoming garish. I’m an autumn, and if the persona is to reflect me, he should totally be dressing in gold and burgundy.

Also, I think way too much about that kind of stuff.

But Enough of That Art’n’Creativity’n’Stuff. Let’s Blow Shit Up

As InterventionCon rolls up its sidewalks at 3:00 on Sunday, that left me with all of last evening to occupy myself. I could have watched that Doctor Who we’ve got on the DVR, but instead I downloaded BorderLands 2 to give it a try. Mrs. Gneech and I are forever on the lookout for brainless shooty games we can play together, and this one is about as brainless and shooty as they come. Gung Ho FPS in a quasi-post-apocalypse SF setting with a soundtrack by Escape From LA, Borderlands 2 is snarky, sarcastic, and winks at you from the other side of the 4th wall to make sure you don’t take all the explosions and bloody head-shots seriously.

Does it work? Eh… sort of. The snarky humor and Wile E. Coyote violence are basically there to punch up pretty cut-and-dried FPS gameplay… go here, kill baddies, pull lever, kill baddies, find boss, kill boss, rinse and repeat. The loot is completely randomized, which does sometimes make for strange and amusing results. I picked up a gun which does something like 70+ points of damage and has a sniper scope (as opposed to the more common ~20 points of damage on the first level), so I spent a lot of time starting a battle from far distant cover and going “Boom! Headshot.” Borderlands 2 also floats around somewhere between FPS and MMO, with quest-givers, side missions, and explorer deeds, and encourages you to hook up with other players (via Steam) and take on missions together. However, your character model is determined by your class (all the women are “sirens,” for instance, and all the sirens are women) and the character models only vary by means of three different heads and palette-swaps. So it won’t be long before every character looks exactly identical to every other character.

Correspondingly, the difficulty seems to be all over the map, too. There’s a giant set-piece battle at the end of the first section of the game where you’re in an open area fighting a giant brute of a guy who is not only on fire, but who keeps setting you on fire as well as opening up giant fire pits all over the level. If you die, you simply respawn around the corner, which is handy, but every time you do, he goes back up to full health again. This led me into a loop for the longest time where I could just get to him, nick him a little, and then run out of ammo and get killed. Over and over. I finally defeated him basically through an exploit– I left the arena all together, which lured him over to one corner that stuck out so he could shoot at me, and he got trapped there by the AI pathing. So all I had to do at that stage was peek around the corner, snipe at him, and duck back until my shield recharged, then do it again. Since he was an otherwise unbeatable boss, I didn’t feel too bad about this– I figured that if the game is gonna cheat, I’m gonna cheat right back.

On the plus side, I do like the animation-esque art style and the western-bluesey soundtrack, which give me (positive) associations with Full Throttle. And I can see how the game would be fun with a full party, although I haven’t had the chance to try it yet. However, I suspect it’s going to be real hard to find a group that isn’t made up of four sirens, just because she’s the most appealing character design. We’ll see!

-The Gneech

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Sep 12 2012

Everybody Can Relax, I Got the Car

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One wrinkle about switching to Savage Worlds for my Ghostbusters campaign is that SW assumes the presence of miniatures, whereas the old UHM system wouldn’t know what to do with ’em if you had ’em.

Of course, there aren’t any readily-available Ghostbusters miniatures; the closest thing would be print-your-own “cardboard heroes” types found on the web. But not about let something like that stop me, I pulled out some of my various oddball moderns from the “Wall o’ Minis” that approximated the group “in their civvies,” as it were. On top of that, I went online and found a 2010 Hot Wheels “ECTO-1,” so here’s the team as it stands (click-through for larger photo):


Thing is, Obsessive Gamer that I am, I know I can do better than this. To that end, I’ve taken a leaf from Carmen’s Fun Painty Time and am hacking together my own proper GB figs. (If you’re interested in GB or minis, I highly recommend you follow the link and check out the related posts– the author goes into a pretty detailed step-by-step on the process they followed.)

So today I ordered the Heresy “Inspectors” as well as some gun bits and “Communication Packs” from Secret Weapon; these will eventually become proper “in uniform” Ghostbuster miniatures for the game.

In order to make the figs a little more readily identifiable at the table, I’ll probably take a cue from The Real Ghostbusters and put the different characters into different uniforms. Goth boss Lola has already been established in the game to be wearing a black jumpsuit (“only until I can find something darker”), with ironic bright pink trim and Hello Kitty motifs. I was figuring that Bruno could have an aggressive (or possibly inmate-ish) orange, Charley could have a classic Ghostbuster gray, and Ivan might go for scientific white, hazmat yellow, or possibly “Dr. Clayton Forrester” green.

Unfortunately, the Heresy stuff is coming from the UK and may take some time to get here! On the other hand, the way life seems to conspire to keep us from playing, we might still only have a session or two before the figs are ready. XD

Expect progress pics as progress is made!

-The Gneech

PS: Yes, that is a miniature of Velma. And yes, I do have the rest of the Scooby Gang. And the van.

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Sep 06 2012

Who Ya Gonna Call?

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So I’ve been putting a great deal of thought and work into my Ghostbusters campaign, which may or may not have a new player in the form of QuillyPen (who is tentatively interested but suffers from Schedule Conflict Syndrome at the moment). I was pondering what sort of character he might bring; not knowing his playstyle, it’s anybody’s guess really. But I also noticed that our current group has a pretty close type-to-type mapping of the Boys In Gray from the movies:

  • Lola, Laurie’s Creepy Goth Chick and the boss of the franchise, has Charisma and talky skills and is the one the rest turn to for direction– i.e., she’s the Venkman.
  • Ivan, Josh’s twitchy Russian mad scientist is easy: he’s the Egon.
  • Charley, Jamie’s parapsychology-oriented grad student, mixes supernatural and occult knowledge with youthful enthusiasm and a distinct lack of self-preservation skills. In other words, he’s Ray.
  • Bruno, Lee’s brawny goon, is just there to blast ghosts and collect a check, making him obviously Winston.

Their personalities aren’t the same as the movie characters (well, except Charley), but storywise they fill the same roles. I could take an episode of The Real Ghostbusters or an issue from the (excellent) IDW comic, and plug in our team with a minimum of fuss. (Actually, I already have stolen bits from Ghostbusters: The Video Game thanks to this ease-of-mapping.) The neatest thing is that this wasn’t planned at all (and in fact, Laurie said, “Really? I’m Venkman?”), it just grew organically out of the game.

On the other hand, this leads to the question of “Well, what’s missing?” I rather doubt anyone wants to play Slimer. 😉 Janine does occasionally strap on a proton pack and bust spooks (at least in the spinoff media), and this campaign does have a framework in place for the receptionist (who is the “temp of the week” in the game) to make an interesting guest star. But is there some compelling long-term role that could be played on this team that we just don’t have yet?

There’s a weird thing I’ve noticed about running Ghostbusters: usually when I create a campaign, I immediately have an idea for a character I’d really like to play in such a game. “Star Wars? Neat, I’ve always wanted to play X!” “Tolkienesque High Fantasy? Oh awesome, I’d love to play Y!” “Call of Cthulhu? Awww, yeah, I can bring out character Z!” Ghostbusters is just about the only game I can think of where this isn’t true. What character would I play in a Ghostbusters game? Uh… me, I guess. With a proton pack.

(Of course, this isn’t without some precedent: I took Parapsychology in college. Got an A as I recall.)

Ghostbusters is a uniquely contemporary, down-to-earth, everyman sort of a framework. Look at Winston: “He’s here about the job…” “Beautiful, you’re hired.” Anybody can be a Ghostbuster, in a way that’s not really true of most “hero” roles, assuming you can get into the jumpsuit. That’s a very cool thing!

Speaking of very cool things involving me and Ghostbusters, @SeiferA on Twitter did this for me! 😀

Gneech and SeiferA by ~SeiferA on deviantART

Dude. ^.^

-The Gneech

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