Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Player’s Companion Review: Champions of Corruption

Paizo’s September 2014 Player’s Companion
 release is Champions of Corruption.  The final book in the Champions of series, this guide is focused on helping players develop evil characters and ground them in the evil organizations that plague the Inner Sea.  From the beginning, you can see that the designers took this task seriously.  On the front cover, Seltyiel is killing a unicorn.  I kind of like that the unicorn doesn’t look all that good though.  It would be a lot harder to see Seltyiel killing something that looks super sweet.  Rather, it’s milky white eyes make you think that perhaps the unicorn is the corrupt one and the iconic is trying to defend himself.  In fact, throughout the entirety of the book, the art makes it clear that these are not characters to trifle with.

Gods & (Summoned) Monsters
The guide’s inside covers feature familiar material to other readers of the Champions of series.  On the front inside cover we have a chart detailing the evil gods.  This could actually be really helpful during character creation.  I think I may pull out the ones from Champions of Righteousness & Champions of Balance next time the party has to make characters.  I’m hoping this will be helpful both for world immersion and for reminding them that it would not hurt to have an actual healer in the party.  Much like the previous two Champions of books, this one closes with a feat improving the character’s ability to summon evil monsters.  Like the other two, when a character with this feat summons a creature off the evil monster list, the summoning takes only a standard action.

Moral Uncertainty
Normally the “For Your Character” and “Rules Index” two pages seem like waste to me that could be much better filled with world-building or crunch product.  Here Paizo has introduced ideas that are interesting about how they frame evil—certainly ambiguous.  They’ve included a “Did You Know” box about Hermea and the inherent disagreements about how to characterize Mengkare’s alignment.  Newsflash: Paizo staff can’t even agree as to whether or not Mengkare’s experiment is interesting to him or actually among the most diabolical things happening in the Inner Sea region.  Adopting this viewpoint makes sure that any game taking place in Hermea is that much more interesting by giving us a rationale on how a character’s complex motives could make it evil or not in the eyes of some beholders.

Further Alignment Arguments – But Without the Flaming!
Next we are treated to some information about “Why Be Evil.”  This should be required reading with some actual interesting answers for any character that wants to play evil.  A lot of the tropes that are often picked up by chaotic neutral characters can be found here.  Motivations for evil characters should be well thought out.  I especially thought that terror made an interesting motivator.  The making evil fun call out box present some seriously important and well thought out things that any campaign including evil characters should consider.

Next Paizo takes us through philosophical underpinnings of the three illegal alignments. There are also call out boxes for each evil alignment (teamwork, alliances, and affinities for lawful, neutral, and chaotic evil, respectively) that discuss why an evil character might actually be interested in working with the party and putting up with group decision making as opposed to just killing everyone and taking the loot.  

Thoughts on alignment: MAD POINTS FOR RECOGNIZING THAT NEUTRAL EVIL IS ACTUALLY THE REALLY BAD ONE.  Chaotic evil always gets that wrap, and while it is evil, it’s chaotic nature also often makes it ineffective.  Good call on making the character philosophy for the psychopath neutral evil—it gives people an idea of just how horrible this alignment really is.  The horrifying mind magic trait complements this really well.

Noting that chaotic evil characters are probably the least likely to judge or even care about other characters’ alignments also makes them more compelling. I always have trouble really getting into the idea of a CE character or villain because I just see them as being irredeemably insane and therefore just dismiss them as options, but this has given me some things to think about.  A chaotic evil character with known poor impulse control would be really fun to try running.  Ideally, he’d have family or someone he’s obsessed with in the party.  He might go to any end to make sure that she gets the love and lovely treasure he believes she so richly deserves.

Evil in the Inner Sea
Next the guide contains an overview of how evil works as an organizational force in the Inner Sea.  I did not much care for the ‘Evil Planes’ call out box.  There are so many other options for ‘local’ places where evil is interesting and worth exploring that this is weak sauce.  Better to have given us something more in depth on something in the Inner Sea.  There are several options in the Other Dens of Evil section and I’d have liked to have seen one of them explored rather than just noting (somewhat repetitively) that there are riches to be gained on the evil planes. 

When we’re treated to an explanation of the evil organizations of the Inner Sea, it’s the same treatment.  Again there’s a call out box related to other organizations—would have been nicer to see something shorter here and more on one of the evil organizations that they covered.  Also, thanks for bringing back the Rushlight Society!  They add an interesting piece of spice to Magnimar and are easy to forget for some reason.[1]

Classes & Archetypes
                New Subdomains: Cannibalism, Corruption, and Greed have some neat abilities.  Greed’s ability allows the character to steal the effects of a spell being cast by another caster.  What it doesn’t do is allow you to know what that spell is.  It’s unclear whether or not you can use a spell craft check to learn what spell is being cast in conjunction with this ability.  I’d hope that’s the case, but it’s not totally clear.  Corruption’s ability to make people do evil acts or be sick is just downright devious!  I think in game that I’d want to flavor it as requiring the target of the spell to do something evil that’s in line with the deity granting the subdomain power’s portfolio.
                Dread Vanguard (Antipaladin): This generically evil anti-paladin trades his spell casting abilities for some pretty amazing evil area of effect considerations.  This anti-paladin also need not be beholden to a singular deity, but can be attached to a force—by taking his spells away and giving effects that are much more evil than they are of chaos, you actually have something slightly more akin to an eldritch knight.  But, the eldritch knight-lite hasn’t had to deal with the troubles of multiclassing.  Along with the vile leadership feat, this is another great option for creating a villain in a campaign.
                Alchemist Discoveries:
                         Pickled Quasit - The alchemist for the party I GM is currently working on reforming a goblin and Wart wreaks havoc all over the battlefield.  A quasit promises to be just as fun!
                         Plague Vector - Looks awesome, but also incredibly complicated.
                         Tainted infusion - Amazeballs.  This looks like too much fun.
                Raging Cannibal (Barbarian): Derives its power from violent cannibalism.  Highlight ability comes at 6th level when the barbarian gets a sort of modified power attack when using her bit.  She takes a -1 on her attack roll and adds 2 points of bleed damage.  Much like power attack, every 4 levels the attack penalty becomes one greater and the bleed damage goes up by 2 more.

                Damnation Feats: These are really cool!  First of all, I like how their bonuses and penalties both build off of each other.  I don’t love the magic feat, but the ones that create resistances and boost intimidate are nice.  Actually, the box text on page 25 expands the list of spells that should have the evil descriptor such that the maleficium feat looks a little more attractive. The one that masks alignment is a must for GMing for parties with paladins!  
                Betrayal Feats: These are the dark side of teamwork feats.  These feats let you do absolutely terrible things to your allies in an effort to get wildly awesome bonuses.  Archers can get rid of the penalty for shooting through an ally or into melee at the expense of possibly hitting their allies.  You can force people to switch places with you.  You can use your allies as shields to avoid damage.  You can even gain stupendously huge bonuses to your damage when flanking if you’re also willing to hit your flanking ally.  RAW, you and your ally must take this feat.  I get while that’s the case RAW, but I wouldn’t require it at home.[2]
                Non-magical item destruction feats: Page 23 treats us to a selection of four feats that all relate to breaking items and gaining effects (intimidation, area of effect shrapnel damage, improved improvised weapon).  These all seem like they’d be fun for a brawler or other martial class that has the ability to change out feats.  They also look fun for playing a barbarian or any martial character in a campaign where “real” weapons are hard to come by![3]

Traits & Drawbacks
                Foul brand (drawback) places an evil god’s holy symbol into your flesh.  It imposes penalties based on where on your body it’s located.  The trait won’t let the character use the brand as a holy symbol, which seems like a shame.  If you embrace your branded nature, might as well get something out of it.
                Punish insurrection (combat trait): Gives you +1 to attack and damage rolls against members of the same organization as you, so long as their standing in the organization is less than yours.  As a GM, I love this trait for a villain, especially if I have a PC that is a former member of an evil organization.  However, I think I’d also want to home break a response trait that would allow those who have left an organization and are now fighting against it to do the same thing.  That could be fun especially in a campaign that dealt with Hellknights or the Aspis Consortium.
                Umbral Unmasking (drawback) means you cast no shadow and it freaks people out.  Warded Against Nature (drawback) makes animals avoid you, which is another interesting effect.
     Wicked Leader (Social) trait: I’m going to use this book mostly for villains, so it won’t matter as much (because as the GM I can just let them have lackeys of any level I want).  If I had to play my villains as close to crunch though, this and Vile Leadership would be de rigeur.

                Shared Suffering: You take 1d6 / every odd caster level you possess (up to 5d6 at 9th level) by stabbing yourself with a knife cracking with necromantic energy.  You then target one creature within long range to take that damage plus your ability score bonus that attaches to your spell-casting class.  On balance I do not love this spell and at first I wondered where it would be useful at all.  The target does not get a saving throw (though spell resistance still applies).  So, I guess that it might be useful against an opponent with a high AC that the party’s having trouble finishing off.  That seems like something of an esoteric use, meaning that this is a far better choice for a spontaneous caster than it is for a prepared one.  Of course, being esoteric, would a sorcerer waste a spell slot on it?  Maybe it’s actually best for a hybrid class like the arcanist.
                Wracking Ray: If this hits, it’s going to cause some major problems for your target.  It does 1d4 Dexterity and Strength damage per 3 caster levels possessed (max 5d4).  But, it’s a 5th level spell, meaning that the minimum it’s ever going to do is 3d4 (7.5 average) damage to BOTH of an opponents scores—that’s going to seriously undermine an opponent’s attacks and dodging ability.  A Fortitude save halves (DC 18 minimum), but that can be tough for a monster with a weak fortitude save and you’re still going to get nice effects out of this even if the opponent does save.  This is worth adding to any spell list.

Magic Items
                Shadow Piercings: Neat Nidalese flavor and crunch.  The Guide gives instructions for creating new magic items that mix body piercings and shadow magic.  The piercings have to be placed in specific slots, but also allow another magic item in that slot to function as well.  Each shadow piercing has a minor, major, and greater form, which give increasingly better bonuses.  From a story perspective, I’m a little bummed that they don’t have any effects on characters for adding them (like cybernetics in the Technology Guide), but they might be less attractive for characters if they did.
                Amulet of Euphoric Healing: This thing is AWESOME!  The amulet’s user can imbue her healing spells with an addictive force.  Anyone healed by the user risks becoming addicted to the character’s healing magic and also takes a -2 penalty on Will saves against the caster.
                Collar of Unliving Servitude: A must for all necromancers.  The collar can be placed on an undead creature by a living creature, linking the one placing the collar and the undead creature.  From that point on, anytime the living creature takes negative energy damage, it’s transferred to the undead as healing.  The same is true for when the undead creature takes damage from positive energy.  Also, fun flavor—imagine these being involved in living-undead marriages in a place like Geb to really bring the two together!
                Ring of Plagues: Let’s just say that you do not want to be the person inflicting damage on the wearer of this ring.
                Sinner’s Wage: Amazing little tool for any enchanter.

                New rooms: Want a room filled with blood of virgins that can reverse the effects of aging?  Paizo has you covered.
                New poisons: Here we have poisons with some new and unexpected effects: slowing victims’ move speeds, impeding their concentration checks, and impeding their ability to sleep.  These are some effects that would drive PCs bonkers!

Wrap it up!
Champions of Corruption makes for a fantastic read.  The options presented here are incredibly powerful, some might even say too powerful.  Paizo’s staff has also done an excellent job incorporating the evil themes into Golarion.  This book is going to see a lot of use at my table.  But, it’s not going to see much use in the way of a Player’s Companion.  What I’d really like to see is more books like this in the Campaign Setting line.  This seems like a natural extension of Inner Sea Magic and Inner Sea Combat.  If this were in the Campaign Setting line, I’d give it four stars.  As a Player’s Guide, it still succeeds, but not quite as well as Champions of Purity or Champions of Balance.

3 stars.

[1] Maybe they are covered in greater depth in Shattered Star, which I haven’t read or played.
[2] These are the sorts of things that makes an evil character fun mechanically.  Yes, it will piss off your allies.  But, it’s totally within character.
[3] And those are real folks!  I’m a player in one right now!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Illusory IP & Conjuring Copyright: Live Performance RPGs?

My Favorite Podcasts: Drunks & Dragons

I want to post a shout out to the folks at Geekly, Inc.  Geekly grew out of a few podcasts performed by Michael DiMauro, Jennifer Cheek, Tim Lanning, and Mike Bachmann.  I highly encourage you to check out their flagship podcast Drunks & Dragons.  They play 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons and their sessions are anything but PG for an RPG.

Their Random Encounter podcast feed is also great if you are interested in learning a new game.  They have several friends that join them on these episodes, too!  They go through the rules, create characters, and play a short scenario.  Thus far they've covered Gamma World, Fiasco (twice and this one is better), Durance, Shadowrun, and used the Fate system to play a Firefly-based game.  The Firefly game was the last one that they'd promised as part of their Kickstarter to get better equipment for the main feed.  But I was thrilled to hear that they plan on continuing doing Random Encounters episodes as time goes by.

Dueling Banjos Copyrights

The Random Encounters feed had a problem with their Firefly game.  In their Kickstarter, they’d promised to stream recordings of them playing various games in exchange for hitting stretch goals.  But, before they got around to running their promised Firefly game, competing versions of Firefly RPGs landed in court over copyright and licensing claims.  So, without a commercially-available version, the Geekly crew had to adapt the Fate rules to play in the Firefly universe.

What’s a Performance?

The good folks at Geekly, Inc. use two main channels to get their content out.  First of all, they use a program called Twitch TV to record both the audio and their computer screenswhile they play the game.  They also distribute audio-only feeds as podcasts.  I am a big fan of these—I listen them when I’m coming home from school at night.

But let’s bring this back to copyright law.  The Copyright Act protects authors from having their theatrical productions broadcast without their permission.[1]  So, works of authorship have to have to be fixed in a tangible medium of expression.  In English, that means that the work needs to be written down or recorded somewhere.  The live performance of the fixed expression is a violation of the copyright (without permission).  That’s why companies like Audible.com are in existence.  They promise the author a cut of the sales record the dramatic work, obtain the author’s permission, record the work, and sell, sell, sell!

The rulebooks underlying roleplaying games are copyrighted.[2]  So what happens when you perform a live production of something copyrighted or distribute a sound recording of a copyrighted work?  You get sued.  Then, you have to pay a lot of money[3], pay for the other side’s legal fees[4], and go to jail for up to ten years.[5]  Curious about seeing this in action?  Put on a public performance of Cats and buy a lot of advertising for it.

But, Twitch TV is a thing!  There are lots of live streams of RPG-playing happening on Twitch TV every minute of every day.  Why aren’t these people all being sued for copyright infringement?  The obvious—but not legal—answer is that even if they were infringing on the RPG-publisher’s copyright, it probably wouldn’t make good business sense to crack down on people that are promoting your product to the public.  Most of these “offenders” don’t have enough money to make pursuing these claims worth while either.

The legal answer is much easier: performances of games are not subject to copyright.[6]  That’s because performances of games are not, legally, performances.[7]  The Ninth Circuit ruled on this matter in Allen v. Academic Games League of America, Inc.[8] 

The Case At Hand

In Allen, two parties were fighting over live quiz games that high school students played as part ofacademic tournaments.  Allen was the creator of the games played and the founder of the original league for playing them.  The Academic Games League of America (AGLOA) was made up of people that used to work on the original league with Allen, but who he alienated.  So, they went out and formed a league of their own.[9]  Allen owned the copyrights to the printed game materials.  So, AGLOA just bought Allen’s printed games and used them in AGLOA tournaments.  AGLOA conveniently scheduled their tournaments for the same time as Allen’s and they stole the majority of the market from him.

So, Allen took AGLOA to court.  Copyright law gives the copyright holder the ability to control all public performances of owned “literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works.”[10]

The question was: Is playing a game in public a protected performance under the Copyright Act?

The court first fell back on one of the oldest statements in copyright law, “A copyright only protects a particular expression of an idea and not the idea itself.”[11]  So, “ideas contained in a copyrighted work may be freely used so long as the copyrighted expression [of the idea] is not wholly appropriated.”[12] 

The court noted that this whole appropriation requirement is even more important when there are only limited ways to convey the idea, such as in a rulebook.[13]  Rules lay out the method of playing a game.  Essentially, they are the game’s physics that describe what can happen and what responses happen to players’ actions.  Since games’ rules consist of “stock concepts” and “abstract rules and play ideas,” they—by definition—have limited methods by which they can be conveyed.[14]  For the lawyers in the room, the rules and their expression are too similar.  So, rules’ expression merges into the idea of the rules themselves and the expression’s copyright protection is lost.[15]

The court concludes that although a copyright holder “may be entitled to copyright protection for the physical form of his games, he is not afforded protection for the premises or ideas underlying those games.”[16]

Podcast On, My Friends.  Podcast On!

So, my friends over at Geekly, Inc. are making a live performance of a copyrighted work.  That’s normally not okay.  But, the copyrighted work that they are utilizing is the book explaining the mechanics of the game itself.  We’ll return later to the rulebook’s copyright status.[17]  For now, we’ll just pretend that it has a fully valid copyright.  But, my friends are adding to the game by playing it.  And, to quote the Allen opinion, “games are meant to be played.”[18]  A performance is when you speak, sing, or otherwise “auditoriate” the meaning on the page. 

The rules merely control how they game is played.  They aren’t the game itself.  That might seem like splitting hairs, but that’s how the legal game is played.  Folks at Geekly, Inc. and all the other RPG post casters and live streamers out there are good to go on making me laugh!

Some Parting Thoughts…

This does raise questions about whether or not someone could copyright a game show, like Wheel of Fortune.  On one hand, Wheel of Fortune is a game and therefore playing it isn’t an infringement on the show’s copyright.  On the other hand, live performances on television are pretty clearly protected under copyright law.  I’m not investigating this particular question, but you could always try making a game show called Icosagon of Riches that involved three people taking turns spinning a 20-sided wheel to determine opportunities to name letters that would then be revealed on a word puzzle.  I’m not saying that you could get away with it.  But I’m not saying that you couldn’t, either.

A game publisher doesn’t own the copyright to control performances of playing the game.  So, an RPG publisher likely doesn’t own the copyright to the performance of the RPG session.  But, it is a recording of a unique expression of something.  Are recordings of the RPG sessions in the public domain or have they become performances that are owned by their creators: the very people who were free-riding off of the RPG’s inability to exercise copyright over the live performance of the game?

Disclaimer: I am a law STUDENT.  I am not a LAWYER.  I am licensed to practice law in exactly zero states.  Therefore, I cannot offer anyone legal advice.  Repeat: these postings will NOT constitute LEGAL ADVICE.  While I certainly think that my insights into the law are valid, if you have an actual copyright law question, seek out a competent and barred attorney.  Feel free to show them these posts, but don't rely on this blog as a source of binding authority.  Every case is different and I'm not working on yours.  Partially that's because you aren't paying me to do so.  More importantly, it's because it would be a felony if I did take your money to do so without the supervision of a practicing attorney.  So, let's get this straight.  This is an explorational information source.  I am not your lawyer.  You might be a beautiful and unique snowflake.  But you are not my client.

[1] 17 U.S.C. § 102 (2012) (“(a) Copyright protection subsists…in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible mode of expression…from which they can be perceived…or otherwise communicated…Works of authorship include the following categories:
(1)    literary works;
(2)    musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3)    dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(7)   sound recordings”).
[2] We’ll explore this statement in greater depth later.  For now, let’s just say that the books at least have a copyright symbol on them that exists as a warning to those who’d like to use the work without permission.
[3] 17 U.S.C. § 504 (2012) (Providing that those bringing copyright claims can choose between recovering between $750 and $30,000 if they show infringement happened at all, up to $150,000 if they show the infringement was intentional, and even more if the person bringing the case can show that the damages were higher.)
[4] 17 U.S.C. § 505 (2012).
[5] 17 U.S.C. § 506 (2012); 18 U.S.C. § 2319 (2012).
[6] Allen v. Academic Games League of America, Inc., 89 F.3d 614, 616 (9th Cir. 1996).
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Sound familiar, Pathfinder players?
[10] 17 U.S.C. § 106(4) (2012).
[12] Id. (emphasis added).
[13] Id.
[15] Id.
[16] Id. at 618 (emphasis added to indicate the tenuous nature of copyright in a rulebook).
[17] I know that’s what you are all waiting for.  I’m not blowing my load early on this one.
[18] 89 F.3d at 616 (quotations removed).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The hammer has fallen!

So, my home campaign has been having some scheduling issues.  Nothing that doesn't happen to everyone else, I imagine.  We're all adults and have lives and fitting our habit into those lives can be complicated to say the least.

On the one hand, I very strongly believe that joining a gaming group is much like joining any other team.  Because everyone else's ability to enjoy the game is contingent on all (or at least most) people being there, dedication is required above and beyond just showing up to do something like go to movies or dinner with friends.  Obviously, there's nothing enforceable like a contract here.  But the concept of the non-binding but seriously entered-into covenant does come to mind.  So, I think that it's important that everyone be there because everyone else's enjoyment is, to some degree, contingent on the presence of everyone else.

On the other hand, I believe that because commitments to a group are something so important, it is important that they be spelled out pretty clearly from the beginning.  By constraining the bounds of the commitment, everyone who has committed can take extra care to meet it within its pre-arranged constraints.  It's essential not only that everyone gets on the same page, but that everyone is clear on what the page is form the outset.  And, from the beginning one of the things that we said we were going to do was leave our weekend evenings free.

Funnily enough, as I was listening to some Know Direction footage from Paizo seminars at GenCon on my way home from school tonight, their Ask the Paizo GMs seminar dealt with just this issue.  So, here's their wisdom on the topic.  (I'll switch it over to their YouTube channel once they put up the video).  I think that they hit some very good points (several of which diverge from some of my earlier thoughts on scheduling via email that are excerpted above).  

But, I also want to share a message from our GM that I believe gets the point across far better than I ever could:

Hope you enjoyed it.  Posts coming at least daily now.  After our next session, I’ll be back with further details about our four mismatched adventurers' life with the TREKkies.[1]

[1] Pronounced “Trooks.”

GenCon Recap: Sunday, August 17

Well, I overslept again, so no Pathfinder Society game for me.  They may have started at 9:00, but I woke up at 9:15.  Honestly though, this is my vacation, so I'm not too terribly bummed about this state of affairs.  I don't have any games scheduled for today, so my backpack is blissfully light as I make my way down to the Indiana Convention Center.

I catch the end of the Secrets of Golarion panel and then kill a little bit of time before catching the Developing Pathfinder panel.  Again I ask, why aren't more people at these panels?  Sure, they are recorded (thanks Know Direction), but the opportunity to interact directly with the people that design your game is not something to be missed.  At the dais are Wesley Schneider, Patrick Renie, Mark Moreland, and a developer from the setting-neutral RPG line whose name I didn't quite catch (sorry!).  These are the people that make the big decisions about Paizo, manage the Player Companion line, and manage the Campaign Setting line.  If you want an opportunity to ask for things you are interested in, this is not something to miss out upon!

You can just watch the panel on Know Direction.  I did make two suggestions.  First was an idea for a Campaign Setting book about Travel and Trade in the Inner Sea.  This would be less of a "what products are produced where" book and more of a "while people are living on the road in caravans and merchant trains, what is going on" kind of book.  I'd like to cover things like typical types (maybe a few model NPCs) that you'd meet on the road, fun travelers' inns and caravanserai, etc.  Unfortunately, the developers didn't think that there's much of a market for this.  I might have had too much Gentlemen of the Road on my mind at the time anyway.

My suggestion for a short (3-5 pages MAX) introduction to Golarion document was much better received both by the Paizo staff and the others in the room.  It's very inconvenient to tell someone that they are going to need to learn their way around the 7,459,848 page Core Rulebook and then follow that up with another 250+ pages about the setting in the Inner Sea World Guide.  When Wes Schneider asked for a show of hands about who would be interested, every hand in the room went up.  Apparently, something like this was developed for the Strategy Guide, but was cut for space reasons.  So, I'm hopeful that it will get published.  Wes mused about doing it as a Paizo blog teaser to drum up interest in the Strategy Guide.

Another attendee (aka the Know Direction cameraman!) suggested a book that I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to see!  The suggested title was Ultimate Adventure and it would cover interesting ways to develop and manage all the non-combat but still crunchy things that Pathfinder features.  Such a book would cover things like traps, long-distance travel, and alternate skills systems.  Huge hat tip to you, sir!  This is a great idea and I'd love to see it.

After the panel ended, I headed across the street for some lunch.  There was a macaroni food truck.  They have a mac and cheese dish that is covered in pickles (and that I subsequently covered in barbeque sauce).  Let me be clear.  This was heaven.  I would eat this dish every day for the rest of my life and be so fat and happy doing so.

Finally, it's time for the last official event of the Con: the Pathfinder Tales panel.  I have mixed feelings about RPG tie-in fiction.  On the one hand, you can get novels like James Sutter's The Redemption Engine that tell a story but within a framework of a rule-based system that players can expect.  This is the way that tie-in fiction should be done.  But, there are other works like Ed Greenwood's The Wizard's Mask that read as if someone took a few RPG play sessions and tried turning them into a novel.  If wanted to do that, I'd just go re-read my notes from previous play sessions of my own.  But, because tie-in fiction can be so good (Elaine Cunningham's Elfsong and Elfshadow remain two of my favorite fantasy novels), I wanted to catch the panel.

Walking in I also got a free copy of Monster Hunter (unaffiliated to the panel.  Someone had just been giving them away at another event and had extras he didn't want to fly back with) and a free Mountain Dew.  So, score one for deciding to hit up the seminar!  It was interesting to hear about how the Pathfinder Tales process differs radically from the rest of Paizo's printed product offerings.

But, I also really enjoyed when James Sutter told a story about his and Wes Schneider's working relationship.  Apparently when they started they did a lot of team writing.  Then, as happens with so many teams, they had some creative differences that "almost turned into a fistfight in the Paizo parking lot."  Of course, like all good friends with creative differences, everything was fine again after they had the freedom to go their own way and the two frequently consult each other again on their work.  But the gossip point was in relation to the fight.  Per Sutter, "I'd like to think that if it had come to blows, I could have taken him."

The seminar ended and with it, so did GenCon.  I don't have a flight back until tomorrow afternoon, so I catch a couple of movies Sunday evening, do some adventure design on Monday morning and then fly back home.

I have already booked a closer hotel for next year's Con.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Play It Again, Dick!

This blog is supposed to be about gaming stuff, but every now and again I'll expand on other things that I'm really excited about.  In this particular case, it's a new web-based spin-off from Veronica Mars called Play it Again, Dick!  The show is "a digital series that follows Ryan Hansen as he tries to get a Dick Casablancas show off the ground," according to an announcement to Kickstarter backers of the Veronica Mars movie.

I was a huge fan of Veronica Mars and supported the Kickstarter.  I felt like the movie was a great capstone to the series.  It looks like this show is more meta.  Rob Thomas is actually pretty good at meta and skewering Hollywood.  His Party Down series is a hidden gem.  I actually resented Parks & Recreation for stealing Adam Scott and Megan Mullally and essentially tanking the show (even if Parks & Rec was also awesome!)  I'm cautiously optimistic about this one.  We will see how it turns out...

The series will debut on Tuesday, September 16, on the CW Seed:


 A new episode will air each week after that – for a total of eight episodes, each about 7-10 minutes long.

Buzzfeed has the inside scoop and CW Seed has a teaser trailer.

Buying In to Byenn

We had our second session in the new campaign last night.  According to Roll20, it’s called Byenn.  I’m not sure how that relates to the world as of yet, but I’m going to take it on faith that it will be important, or, if not important, at least serve as a sufficiently indicative moniker for the campaign.  Since we have agreed that we are going to hold our next session on Friday afternoon, I’m under a bit of a time crunch to get this summary written.  On a happier note, I remembered to take some screen shots this time around.  So, there will be some graphics in this update!  Huzzah!

Joramon and our GM getting ready for a play session.  Joramon is reading through the last blog post about our first session.  At the bottom you can see Aliana on the left and cannot so much see Rhyss (me) or Jertyl.

We left our heroes in the midst of a riot (cum rebellion?) in the city of Flynnt.  Rhyss (me), Aliana, Joramon, and Jertyl[1] recently slipped into a building at the behest of a bunch of people who it appears actually started the riot during the execution.  Agreeing to accompany Joramon to his home to find his stuff was a questionable judgment call.  This appears to be completely insane. 

We’re holed up in this building and there are a lot of other people with us.  Yep!  You guessed it!  They are all TREKkies.[2]  We’re taken to meet their leader.  His name is Serge and he’s not particularly friendly.  He definitely has a thing against dwarves, like Joramon.  But, we were fighting in his company, so we appear to be given the benefit of the doubt.  Serge has the four of us packed upstairs so he and his team can decide what to do with us.  There are lots of wounded people, but a several able-bodied ones as well.  We comply and are escorted to wait for the verdict.

The heroes wait upstairs while the TREKkies decide their fate.

As a team we haven’t really had much of an opportunity to really meet each other yet.  Unfortunately, we don’t really get an opportunity to do this because we have to discuss what the hell is going on and how we want to respond to things.  Joramon isn’t surprised about this, but informs us that he doesn’t much care for his fellow dwarves either.  Rhyss is really just in it for the adventure.[3]  He takes a seat and starts playing a popular satirical tune on his pan pipes.  It starts with, “Who runs the world?  Dwarves!”  It gets an approving snort from the other side of the door.

Guards appear at the door and ask us to come back downstairs.  (Did I mention that there’s still a riot going on all around us).  Rhyss decides to be impressive and attempts to do a vaulting flip off out of his chair.  He bombs it and lands on his head, almost destroying his lute!  What’s a bard without his instrument?  The beautiful Aliana pulls him up.  Trying to recover his poise, Rhyss tells Joramon, “That’s the same trick I used to bed the Pasha of Ruana’s daughter!”

On the bright side, Serge and Co. have decided that we are all trustworthy.  On the so bright that it burns side, they have decided that we are all so damned trustworthy that they’d like us to join their order.  They believe in fighting against tyranny so that learning and peace can flourish.  Rhyss is down with concepts like that—it’s a life philosophy he approves of.  Unfortunately, they want us to show our dedication to the cause by getting the first letter in the TREK symbol branded onto our skin.  Joramon and Aliana agree pretty quickly. 

The main floor of our hideaway house.  You can see Serge above.  He's the one with the word "Serge" floating underneath him.

Rhyss pulls one of his favorite tricks—he hides until he’s wanted.  They fail to find him (except one injured guy who sees Rhyss slip under the table and just smiles).  When Serge calls out for Rhyss, he leaps onto the table and informs his new benefactor (or jailer, the two seem pretty congruent at the moment) that his skills run more to sneaking about and garnering information and that a brand would only impede doing that.  Serge agrees, reluctantly, that Rhyss will not need to take the brand.

Rhyss hasn’t had much time to chat with Jertyl yet, but Jertyl’s next move impresses him.  Jertyl doesn’t want to get branded either.  Thank God[4], someone else seems to be showing some sense here.  Before Jertyl and Serge can have it out, there’s a knocking at the door.  Is it a pleasant knocking?  Nope.  It’s the kind that’s followed by a battering ram.  Joramon and a TREKkie run south to reinforce the barricade.  Serge yells that we all need to get upstairs as quickly as possible.  Joramon, Aliana, and Rhyss follow, but Jertyl decides to stay downstairs and take stock of the situation.  Possibly Jertyl also wants a moment to reflect on the joyful development prevented his being branded.  Rhyss certainly felt like it was a close call.

Aliana splits off on the middle floor.  Maybe she heard a noise?  Rhyss and Joramon are rolling upstairs post-haste.  I guess we are going to the roof?  Maybe this is a horror movie?  There are people surrounding the base of the building, so we head to the one place with the least good options for escaping…

Full shot of the grinder house we got thrown into.  The crazy alchemist is hidden behind my name screen.  We are on the roof.  The plank bridge to the right has fallen, but we'll have to rush and defend the one on the left soon!

Chaos reins on the roof.  After a moment’s notice, Rhyss can see that it’s controlled chaos though.  There’s a few guys on the roof along with Serge.  As Rhyss and Joramon get up there, someone pushes a barrel off the roof.  Nothing happens for a second and then there’s a big BOOM!  Apparently the barrels are filled with something incendiary.  We take up positions on the roof.  That’s when Rhyss notices the planks connecting our roof to two other roofs crawling with Flynnt’s city guard.

Things are looking rough when Aliana arrives.  Apparently she went to investigate something she heard—a mad alchemist below who gave her several doses of alchemist’s fire!  We may have a chance!  Battle ensues.  Rhyss takes position behind a barricade and starts firing arrows.  Joramon’s fighting along the edges of the roof keeping defenders back while Aliana chugs vials of alchemist’s fire at our attackers.  Then Jertyl shows up.  He’d stayed downstairs while guards sent in their feral tracking dogs.  He’d laid one out, but then had to flee up the stairs with the little bitches on his heels. 

We’re trapped thirty feet above ground on the roof of a burning building with guards coming at us from both sides.  Rhyss lands a lucky hit on a guard coming from the east building and knocks him off the plank.  When he loses his balance, the plank falls with him.  Joramon is holding the western plank along with Serge and some TREKkies.  Aliana is chugging alchemist’s fire for all she’s worth.  Jertyl lost his hook in a grisly encounter with one of the dogs below, but he’s fighting guards up top with his scimitar. 

Suddenly, Rhyss sees something on the edge of the northern wall.  A small hole has opened up into what looks like a hidden crawlspace.  Most of the TREKkies are dead now.  Joramon has taken out the guards and the western plank bridge, but things don’t look good.  Even Serge is on his last wind.  Rhyss yells to his companions to hightail it into the bolt hole while he covers them with arrows.  The three of them make it in.  Serge and the TREKkies aren’t so lucky.

Someone’s installed a false wall along the northern edge of the building with holes connecting the floors.  We flee down them as quickly as possible.  Finally, there’s a hole too small for the tall folks to fit through.  Aliana and Rhyss slide through to see what’s going on beneath.  Joramon and Jertyl beat a hole and we end up underneath the building before crawling through the last hole—into a subterranean hideout presumably carved by one of the TREKies.

Just as our heroes slip into the bolt hole, the building comes crashing down on top of them.  Our pursuers have been cut off, but we have no route back above.  Jertyl lights a torch and we see we’re in a hideout with six beds, a few chests (full of food no less!) and tunnels heading north and south.  Joramon’s in bad shape and wants to hunker down for the night. 

Jertyl finds the food in the chests and we decide to rest.  Aliana and Joramon are now that last two members of the world’s smallest gang.[5]  Jertyl and Rhyss appear to be along for the ride.  Where are we going next?  You’ll have to wait for our next recap[6] to find out.

End scene.

Like this post?  Hate it?  Tell me in the comments section below!

[1] Who I, Boyd the player, not Rhyss the character, am already lobbying to switch into a class that has an animal companion who will, of course, be called Yertyl the Turtle.
[2] Possibly in response to my last recap, our GM has informed us that the word should be pronounced “Trook” (rhymes with the noise an ape makes).  I am going to continue calling them TREKkies, but you can pronounce them as Trooks, Trookies, Trekkies, or Jumpin’ Jambalaya Juicers for yourself.  I don’t mind.  Really, it’s up to you.
[3] Or is he?
[4] Insert name of the Byennese (Byenni?) deity here.
[5] All credit to Aliana on that joke!
[6] Unless we start live streaming.  We might, if you provide comments asking us to!