Freaks in Lycra

We playtested Neither Super nor Heroic last night. The tagline for our game might also have been "Freaks in Lycra." Neither Super Nor Heroic is a hack-in-development for Goblin Quest, a silly-fun casual RPG by Grant Howitt.

I’ve found in running Goblin Quest that pre-planning the scenes and risks takes a lot of the spontaneity out of the game, so one of the things I do is plan the starting scene, write down the target numbers for each scene thereafter, and proceed from there. Really, with 4 players, the numerical goal is "roll a 5-6 at least 36 times." Which means a lot of dice rolling (dice hit the table about 108 times).

This hack may have a mechanical flaw, though it hasn’t really come up in my playtesting yet. In Goblin Quest, you might roll up to 3 or 4 dice in one action. In Neither Super, it’s not explicitly stated in the rules what might give you an extra d6, and we ruled only your power gave the extra die. There were cases where description or equipment could have given a boost– one of the characters wanted his IT Guy to both turn into liquid *and* wield a Cat-5 lasso. I probably should have given extra dice for those, but by that point, I’d already needed to change rules (see below).

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A couple of micro-maps

Sorry if you see this a couple of times today. We’re moving my blog server, so this low-content post is going to test a few things for me.

I drew a couple of tiny maps today, stretching my wings after re-joining the Micro Maps group on Google+.

This is Jarl Gorvik’s Meadhall:

2014-10-15 09.24.05

It’s on an index card, in pencil. If you want to use this map, feel free. Here are some of the questions you should have your adventurers try to answer:

  • What’s upstairs?
  • What does the pentacle in the cellar do? Why is it behind a secret door?
  • Why are there so many tables in the meadhall, and so few people….?
  • Where is the Jarl, and why did no one greet you but his "learned advisor"?

Next up is the Cliff-Climber:

2014-10-15 09.53.37

This micro-map is on a post-it flag, stuck to the pen I used to draw it.

  • There’s a cave in the cliff near the path. What lives there? Why is it there?
  • Why is the bridge above the waterfall? What’s in the churning waters below?
  • Who built the bridge, and what toll do they extract when you cross it?

I hope you enjoy these maps, while I continue testing our server migration!

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Dungeon World and the Slave Pits of Drazhu

108028There is an excellent Dungeon World one-shot by Jason Morningstar called The Slave Pit of Drazhu. It’s designed to run in about 2 hours, which makes it a perfect choice for demo games and for running during D&D Encounters at my FLGS.

See, I get burned out on D&D, especially when I have a really bad game night. So I wanted to shake things up and offer something that wasn’t D&D.

We had 10 players on Wednesday. About 8 of them signed up for Dungeon World. I picked 4 and handed the rest over to the Encounters table. I handed out character sheets– I had the 4 “iconic” classes– cleric, wizard, fighter, and thief. I also had the Pit Slave playbooks, but nobody wanted those.

The cleric talked everyone else into playing Evil alignment PCs. I asked some questions about their backstory and gave them bonds to work with each other. They found the backstory questions compelling and interesting and very much engaged in the fiction.

Drazhu the lich was new to lichdom and had once been a member of the cleric’s order.

Drazhu had stolen the halfling fighter’s “girl.” (I changed the orc tunnel-keeper to a female human fighter).

The wizard used to work for Drazhu, but “went too far.” I’m not sure what “too far” is when you’re employed by a lich, but it displeased Drazhu.

The thief had been stealing something from Drazhu’s minions when he was caught and thrown into the slave pit.

I’ve linked the adventure above, so you can read it if you want. My party killed the overseer and then ushered all the pit slaves towards the orc lair. Once done, the cleric said “ok, we follow,” and I grinned and pointed to the other exit.

“Do you? Or, since you know the orcs are gonna be busy slaughtering them, do you take the other exit?”

“Oooh, yeah.” After all, “save the pit slaves” is not a mission objective, here.

In the killing pit, three of the PCs were eventually paralyzed, with the fighter making a Last Breath move. Death’s bargain was this: I let you live, you send me your girl.

The evening was highlighted by lots and lots of 6- rolls. I got to make a lot of moves on these characters. One of these resulted in a second giant spider (“I call him ‘Jumpy!'”) arriving, and all the desiccated corpses hanging in the webs suddenly having their eyes start to glow ominously. This had little meaning in-game, but was a reflection of Drazhu’s new aspect: He knows you’re coming.

The party eventually finished off the spiders and made for what they hoped would be a bridge across the bottomless chasm. In the interest of time, I skipped the assassin vines and the webs and instead put a narrow ledge leading from the tunnel to the bridge (the one on the other side of the orc nest).

All they had to do was walk precariously over to the bridge.

Cleric: “I want to get down on the ledge and check for a mechanism or something that will extract a bridge on this side.”

I nod. Okay, then. I had already warned these players that they might “succeed” on a miss but still have it be a terrible, terrible thing for them, and they had seen that at play several times by this point. They’d stopped keeping track of how many XP they’d earned– it was an impressive amount, let me assure you.

He rolls his Discern Realities and gets a 3 on the dice. Well, damn.

“OK, there is a lever there, next to the ledge, just below it.”

Wizard and Thief: “Uh… I step back into the tunnel.”

Cleric: “I lie down on the ledge and pull the lever.”

Me: facepalm. “OK. The ledge you and the fighter are perched on? Folds down.” Aaaaiii!!!!

They both grab hold of the ledge and lever to save themselves, and the party works to get them back into the tunnel. In the process, the cleric breaks the lever and the ledge is no longer usable.

Before he looked for a lever, there was none there. There had been no trap. The cleric made that trap happen.

I love Dungeon World.

Okay, so the wizard summons up the spirit of the dwarf who originally built this cavern, who is crotchety and pissy and hates heights and people. He chuckles about his ledge trap, and then tells the PCs very little of substance, other than the fact there is no other way to get across, other than the bridge.

They head back to the orc nest, where everyone is dead except a couple of orcs. They kill those and go grab the treasure from the whipmaster’s chambers, where the whipmaster’s pet rat bites one of them.

They continue on, to the bridge (again, no assassin vines– Encounters table had wrapped up by now). They make it to the antechamber. Turn left, and there’s a lich. Turn right, and there’s freedom.

They turn left. The wizard has picked up a support beam from somewhere and goes to open the door to the left. Just as he does so, pushing the door open with the beam, the cleric yells “wait, it’s a trap!” He is not in time to defy the danger of the trap, though, and the ceiling opens, raining a zombie horde down on the PCs.

They are dismayed. The cleric casts Turn Undead to keep them at bay, but oh, look! there’s a lich in the next room!

They move into the next room and slam the door shut, barring it with the support beam.

Yes, they just locked themselves in with a lich.

And his girlfriend.

The party fights both, with the girlfriend barely even acknowledging the fighter (who does, in fact, kill her, completing his bargain with Death. Later, he learns that she barely even knew he existed). They fight the lich, he eventually dies, and they run for freedom.

Hooray!

And they all want to play Dungeon World again. I told them next week or the week after, I’ll run DW as a more whimsical version, but we could possibly do a Grim World campaign a few weeks after that….?

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An Open Letter to Lane Bryant

Dear Lane Bryant,

A month ago, I shopped at one of your retail locations here in Las Vegas. I needed jeans– I was down to two functional pairs before I walked into your store.

I still need jeans. Because I did not and could not buy any at your retail location.

I am 5’1″ tall and am a “size 18″ in Lane Bryant sizes. I have a gut and hips– I won’t lie.

I also run 3 days a week, since I know that the fat-haters of the world like to bitch about lazy people who eat too much and don’t work out. I’m actually in pretty good health, weight aside, and the weight is something I have worked on and struggled with my entire adult life.

But this isn’t about me or my weight. It’s about you and my experience shopping– or not shopping– in your store.

I am short. I like Lane Bryant jeans because you carry a short size for curvy women, and they are made well. They hold up. They are also expensive– at about $$60-80 a pair, these are not cheap jeans. I can buy cheaper pants, but the workmanship isn’t up to par, and I have never been disappointed in your quality.

At least, you used to carry a short size. When I asked where the petites were (for those unaccustomed to Lane Bryant sizing, “petite” is the leg length, there– you can get a size 22 petite, which is awesome if you are a size 22 short lady– trust me when I tell you the the world wants short, fat ladies to wear clothes that fit!) the salesclerks helpfully looked through the same stacks of jeans I had just pawed through and desolately said “I’m sorry– but you can order them online!”

“Yes, I know that. That’s not the point.”

I repeated this elsewhere in the store– business slacks (“online!”), even bras (“online!”)

What is the point? Well, there are a couple of points to be made here, and we’ll start with the practical ones:

1) I can order anything online. In fact, I can probably, for the same cost as 1 pair of your jeans, buy 3 pairs of jeans in my size, if I don’t care what they look like or if they last more than 6 months.

2) I cannot, however, try on anything I order online. And that’s a dealbreaker. If I’m throwing $80 at a pair of jeans, I want them to make my ass look awesome. (For the record, the last pair of Lane Bryant jeans I bought made my ass look like Jessica Alba’s… thank you for that.)

Now the less practical ones. These have to do with loyalty to your brand.

3) If I buy online, I have no guarantee that the jeans I get will be to my standards of quality. You’d be surprised at how often I have bought something that turned out to have a damaged seam or just wasn’t up to snuff in terms of quality. Yes, I can return it, especially for those reasons. But I have a sewing machine and skill, so most of the time, I just repair it myself. I shouldn’t have to do that, and if I picked out the jeans myself, I would not purchase any that were defective on the rack.

4) This is the big one. I shop at Lane Bryant for the exact reason of being able to find something in my size. My entire life, I have been “the wrong size” for everything. I’m too short. I’m too fat. I am an inconvenient size for department stores. I am on the low end of Lane Bryant’s sizing, and when my size drops below Lane Bryant’s “16,” there’s an uncomfortable gap before I am in the “department store 16″ sizes. It’s an unfortunate truth of my life, and one I have struggled with since I was in my 20’s.

For over 20 years, then, I’ve bought a lot of my clothes at Lane Bryant. Especially my business clothes, which also come in “petite” leg sizes.

Shopping should be a fun experience, where you get to discover things that you like! Instead, for me and many women shaped like me, shopping is an ordeal that often ends in frustration, even tears. We retreat to places of safety and comfort, like Lane Bryant, where we know we will always find fashionable clothes that fit us.

Except… not anymore.

The decision to limit retail stock to “regular” and “tall” means I and my short sisters are left out in the cold. Or on the web. Either way, I’m not getting excited about shopping. I’m viewing it as a chore. I’m also looking a lot more closely at those price tags and evaluating if I can’t make my $80 stretch a little further somewhere else?

By not stocking petite sizes in your retail locations, you are excluding my patronage from those locations. Why, exactly, would I then choose to send my money to your online store?

Lane Bryant: Please reconsider your strategy when it comes to the short ladies.

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24 Hour Comic Book Day was a Blast

24 Hour Comic Book Day Team

We look remarkably happy for two sleep-deprived creatives!

Over the weekend, I participated in 24-Hour Comic Book Day. This is a 24-hour challenge to write, draw, ink, and letter a 24-page comic book, by yourself, within 24 hours.

This was my first year attempting this, and I recruited a friend (you may recognize him from the Solar Panel Project) to help get me through it. We decided to collaborate– he’s a better artist than I am, and I’ve written a few comics before.

We started at 2:15 PM on Saturday afternoon. I hadn’t slept well, so I was already going into the experience tired and in need of a nap. As the night wore on, we would get distracted with various side topics, the Internet, or filling out a level of detail that wasn’t strictly necessary (such as the color on page 1).

It didn’t matter, though. The goal of this first attempt at a 24 hour comic book was not to create a comic book. For us, the goal was to have fun creating something and distract me from unhappy thoughts.

In terms of meeting that goal, it absolutely succeeded.

Drawing a panel

We started by bouncing ideas around. I wanted to do a time travel story with the Beatles, but we realized that would be very dark, very gritty. Spending 24 hours with a story that makes you sad isn’t a great idea. A big challenge like this tends to push your limits of emotional and physical endurance, and neither one of us wanted to be as emotionally drained at the end as we were sure to be physically exhausted.

So, we discarded that idea and came up with something different.

“But I’ve been practicing Yoko Ono for the last 20 minutes. Can we at least have an older Asian woman in the story?”

“Yes. Yes, we can.”

And so the hero of our story is Naomi Yamata, a 76 year old Japanese-American grandmother, who is on a quest to find a dragon. Her journey takes her all over the world, meeting new people, and eventually, into space (not drawn yet).

IMG_9786We ate tons of junk food in the process– I’m surprised my face doesn’t look like the pizza we had Saturday night! But the sugar and caffeine fueled us well, and although we did both get about 3 hours of naps (usually while the other one worked on something to catch up), I feel that we did as much as we were able to do in the amount of time we had and accounting for the fact that neither of us wanted to be unhappy.

We didn’t finish the comic book, but that doesn’t matter. We have a full script and 11 pages in some state of “drawn.” Three of them are completely done– one has color, the rest are inked and lettered. The rest of the pages need backgrounds, or lettering, or inking. Or, for pages 11-16 and 18-24, they need to be created at all.

11 pages of a comic book

The work in progress – 11 pages in various states of completion!

If we’d been willing to be really hard on ourselves and each other, we probably would have finished. But would we still be friends? Maybe not. This was our first major collaboration, and it went really well. I’m grateful for the experience and the fun.

I am also grateful to the night owl friend who loaned us her space and huge drafting table. That was awesome, and since she had a WoW raid on Saturday, we weren’t even keeping her up later than her normal bedtime.

We will finish the comic book in November, after the next big project is done. At that point, we’ll decide what options we want to do about distribution, printing, etc. It will probably be posted online somewhere, but I don’t consider this to be pro-quality work (my lettering is sloppy as hell, for example). If we go with a free distribution option, you can be fairly confident that I’ll post it in the Portfolio area of this blog.

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