Jul 17, 2014

9th Place!

I don't know what got in to me today, but I decided to Google "Labyrinth Lord" and then selected images.  Lo and behold I found some of my own artwork on the ninth hit out of, what, millions?  That's pretty darn cool.  Sometimes I forget that I'm releasing a lot of original content, written and illustrated, out into the world.  That's a double-edged sword of +1, though.  It might damn well be cursed.

Constant Readers will, no doubt, have seen a slowdown in posting here at the Digital Orc.  I, myself, have no clear explanation or reason.  I still love gaming, I'm still an adherent to old school traditions in our genre.  I'm still doing art and writing adventures.  I've even bought a Gencon 2014 badge for shits sake!

I planned on writing a bunch of RPG stuff over the summer, but I've fallen away from that.  I'd hoped to finish some rulebooks and a few more adventures before the end of 2014, but I see that's not likely to happen now.  I'm trying new systems  like Savage Worlds, I'm trying new art styles for fun, like a History of Orcs, and I'm doing a lot less gaming than normal.  I've fallen away from most of my usual gaming, in fact.

My gaming group still meets every Monday, but I've not attended in a month.  What have I done?  I went to Canada and fished.  I drove down to Cincinnati and spent a lot of time with my mom and youngest brother and daughter.  I got around to doing a lot of chores I'd been putting off around the house.  I worked on some "work" work in preparation for the next school year.  I read a lot of books including Michio Kaku's Future of the Mind, Funny, Peculiar by Mark Lewisohn, How Not to Be Wrong by Jordon Ellenberg, Focus by Daniel Goleman,  A Game of Thrones by ..., I think you know.  I got into a prolonged debate about atheism with my best friend.  I had a lot of petty thoughts... and a few potentially profound epiphanies, too.  I listened to a shit ton of great new dubstep, remixed 80s hits, classic Bach, and heart-wrenching Blue Grass.  I went back to some childhood locales and found that I'd misplaced a lot of memories and lessons.

I became disgusted with myself.  I found mind searing beauty.  I hiked and hiked and fell in love with a dirt path in a quiet forest all over again.  I drank amazingly imbibable beer and learned how to deliciously cook a fish that every fishermen I met in Canada told me tasted like shit and that I should kill rather than throw back alive into the lake.  I haggled a comic dealer down to ten bucks for a box full of old school comics.

I pissed off my dad and reconnected with my brother.  I smoked smooth cigars and killed a few cases of weak Canadian beer at exorbitant prices.  I bought a lap dance at a Windsor strip club.

Every time I sat down to write an adventure, my thoughts turned elsewhere.  My pen lead me down dark alleys of self doubt and nihilism.  Evenings alone with a tv and my huge DVD collection inevitably turned into horror movie marathons dangerously fueled by cheap American beer when only the dawn in my windows lead me to power down.

I've moved a bit away from my fixation with Labyrinth Lord.  I've come to realize that I don't want 5th edition, but will happily play it with anyone that wants to play.  I don't want to keep my old 4th edition stuff on my shelves (do you want it?).  I'm done with GURPS.  I don't think I'll ever get around to enjoying Big Eyes Small Mouth.  My big box copy of Munchkin remains unplayed despite months of begging my friends to play.  Might as well pitch that, too.  I'm tossing a bunch of old Star Frontiers material and let's not even get into my To Secret crap.

Through all this the Digital Orc remains undeleted.  Why?  I'm not sure.  I hope to keep going, even though my path is unclear.  I'm happy that I don't publish copyright materials.  I like that I offer original adventures, even if people don't buy them.  I worry slightly about people ripping off my artwork, even though it's not that good.  I keep running my stuff at conventions.  I love thinking up adventures and NPCs.

Above all, I love the super cool people I've met via Digital Orc.  People like Tim at Gothridge Manor, Boric at the Dwarven Stronghold, and Martin over at the perpetually groovy Daddy Rolled a 1.  I only hope to get Out West (yes, that was Kerouacian capitalization) sometime to party down with Daddy at a comic book convention sometime before I die.

Oh well.  Tomorrow is another morning.  And I love mornings.  Especially after a cup of coffee as black as a moonless night.  Goodnight, Constant Reader.


Jul 15, 2014

No Earth Tones

I haven't painted miniatures in a several years... and it shows.  In preparation for my upcoming Miami Vice role playing adventure I'm running at Gencon this year, I've purchased a bunch of cheap Batman Heroclix from Frog and Toad and repainted them in pastels.  Yeah, pastels.  That way they fit into the world of Miami, Florida circa 1985.  That's when my game takes place.  All told, I spent about fifteen bucks on nearly thirty miniatures.

Michael Mann produced the first few years of Vice.  He is often credited with much of the visual style for which the show was well known.  He is supposed to have to told the production crew "No earth tones on set".  Whether or not that was true then, I'm using it as a guideline now.  I'm applying a white basecoat to most of my minis and painting on pastel clothes.  Yeah, hot pinks and electric blues.

So, where does that leave us in terms of game prep?  I have the adventure done, the pre-generated character ready to print, the small maps done, and the miniatures all painted.  That leaves drawing the large-scale maps, practicing the rules, and printing identifying codes on the miniatures.  The maps and coding is easy, but learning the rules takes time and effort.  To that end, I'm creating a Savage Worlds Quizlet stack which I'm using to memorize the rules.  I've embedded the quiz I made below.  If you take it, let me know how you did.  You can also find all of my pre-generated characters on my Miami Dice adventure blog.  Feel free to use them if you'd like.  I'd love any sort of feedback as well.  Enjoy the rest of your summer, Constant Reader.

He was supposed to look like Lombard... *sigh*

I bought a Dodge van similar to the one Zito and Switek use.  I painted it green and plan on putting a big bug on top, just like in the show.  In the background from left to right, Trudy Joplin, Sonny Crockett, Lombard.  In front is a character I created for the adventure (notice what his feet are in.)

Two baddies and a Delorean.  Come on, how could a game set in the 80s NOT have a Delorean?

Ricardo Tubbs stands in front of his 1964 Coupe de Ville.

Jun 15, 2014

What Makes a Convention Game Good?

A few months ago I enlisted the help of Tim at Gothridge Manor and Erik at Tenkar's Tavern to solicit reader input regarding good convention games.  I asked for respondents to describe, in as much detail as possible, their best roleplaying convention game sessions.  I also posted a similar prompt at Dragonsfoot and Goblinoid Games forums.  By the end of the week I had received eighteen replies.

Next, I entered them into a spreadsheet and looked for commonalities.  I determined 26 different criteria and noted the frequency of each.  I've made the spreadsheet public if you'd like to take a look or run your own analytics.  I also created a simple bar graph which gives an overall impression, but doesn't account for opposed opinions.  For example, some respondents stated that having pregenerated PCs was a good thing, and others mentioned how enriching the character creation process was.  Some players reveled in the comedic elements, and others found them distasteful.

There are a lot of problems with this analysis.  The sample size is far too small.  My source of samples is also restrictive with a strong bias towards an old-school sample base.  My game elements (listed below) are sometimes vague and repetitive.  However, because some of the data I've compiled contradicts a lot of commonly given convention game advice and because many of my readers are of the old school camp, the results and my compilation may still lead to fruitful discussion and thoughts.

For example, most con game advice highlights the importance of giving all characters play time, not killing PCs, and not having PCs compete with one another.  However, my results show a very different gamer preference.  The most popular con game elements include having a difficult game and PC vs. PC action.  Inversely, it's fascinating to note that LARP and public performance elements are not only ranked low, but enough players claimed they were harmful for a good con game that their scores are negatives!

We shouldn't use these data to mindlessly create a new ten commandments for con games.  Instead, we should use these data and other suggestions for con game creation to better understand what kinds of players like what kinds of games.  For example, if I create and advertise an "old school dungeon crawl", most players will likely want high difficulty, character generation, and a realistic chance of death.

It's also important to remember that "no battle plan survives contact with the enemy".  In other words, rolling up your sleeves, rolling up your dice, and rolling your wheels over to a convention is likely critical for developing the skill to run what your players will consider a good con game.  That said, it's important to plan, too.  That's where this post comes in.  Another reason I wrote this post is because I'm running three games at Gencon 2014; two Labyrinth Lord games and a Savage Worlds game.  I've run quite a few con games in the past, but I'm always looking to improve.  Maybe I'll see you there.  Cheers.

Public Performance-2
Large Play Group (>15)0
Tangible Prize1
Long Session (>4 hours)1
Learned/Appreciation of Mechanic1
Player vs. GM1
Original Story1
Knowledgeable GM1
Player Agency/Responsibility1
Pre Generated Characters2
Character Backgrounds Incorporated into Story2
Celebrity GM2
High Level PCs2
Recurring/Living Game2
Serious-Silly Balance3
Unexpected Story Twist3
Specific Spontaneous Exciting Gameplay Event4
Problem Solving4
Unique Item or Mechanic4
High Difficulty4
Good Group Dynamics5
Competitive PvP5
Clear Goal6

Jun 10, 2014

A Brief History of Orcs: Part the First

Orc Knife
Orcs, as a whole, can not be bothered to become literate.  The effort, dedication and precision required to attain even a basal literacy competency is well beyond the scope of our common pig-nosed companions.  It is said that Eskimos have more than twenty unique words for "snow".  So far as I have counted, Orcs seem to have over thirty terms for "anger".

As a prisoner of war, I was spared by my Orcish conquerors only because of a temporary fancy that grew into a habit eventually forming into a tradition which I was able to pass along to my equally ill-fated offspring (the results of various spoils of war, the details of which I will spare your ears).  My half-elf son Aumar was bashed to death by Orak the Bloodthirsty in his second year of scribal service.  My half-halfling son (does that only make him quarter human, then?) Billgo was betrayed and eventually devoured by half-king Rorank.  I, myself, likely only survived because I followed he who held the Orcstone.

Orc Club
But, enough of my difficult life.  I am allowed to live only to record the exploits of existence of a lifetime of Orcs.  I herein record the carousel of Orcish leaders in their rapid rise to and even faster decline from power.

Zorn the Ferocious
Allow me to start with Zorn the Ferocious, my saviour of sorts.  When my small scout party was laid waste by his forward company (Orc Leaders tend to take the title "Leader" very literally), he already held the Orcstone; An immense dark stone, held over Zorn's chest by twisted links of iron.  It exuded a terrific odor of rot, decay, and something else.  Something not of this world.  I will speak of this stone and its immense importance to the Orcish hordes another day.  Surfice it to say that I was able to scavenge enough sense and luck to secure a temporary position by Zorn's side as scribe.  Three years later, Zorn fell in battle, but my position did not.

Bilis the Furious
Bilis the Furious was dark-skinned and fond of beer.  He would often organize entire raids, leading to massive losses, just to procure suds for himself and his men.  Not nearly as successful as Zorn, his predecessor, by any military account, he was far more popular with his men.  He died in drunken slumber, choking on his own vomit.

Uro the Infernal
Uro the Infernal loved to burn... anything.  If he couldn't find a halfling village, ancient Dryad forest, or lumber yards in which to give rise to flames, he would burn his own men.  This didn't affect any sort of positive morale, and Uro was promptly killed by his second in command; an Orc with a semblance of intelligence that quickly evaporated under the weight of leadership.  Or, perhaps the Orcstone had something to do with that, too.

Blod the Seether
Blod the Seether held, what for Orcs, is a tremendously long reign as leader for over four years.  During this time, the Orcish horde helped Bergman the Unfathomable defeat Vorauf the Fox in the War of Drumtong.  Over time he grew less cunning, even if "cunning" was a stretch to begin with, and eventually died in a challenge to see who could swallow more daggers.  This sort of friendly wager was common among lowly Orcish foot soldiers, but not Bosses, and certainly not Leaders.  Upon Blod's death, the army was split into factions.  The Orcstone remained with Blod's first son, a massive Orc named Fett the Hungry.  Some chose to follow Orak the Bloodthirsty, and another group followed an Orc female named Wiblik the Female.  The War of Three Orcs quickly ensued, ensuring peace for non-Orcs over the next few months, until Wiblik died choking on a bone and Orak was given the Northern Dedlands for his own.

Fett the Hungry
Fett the Hungry marauded from village to village, rarely killing anything that he didn't eat.  Or, rather, rarely not eating anything that he had killed.  He maintained tight control over his Orc armies, but not his hunger.  Soon he was being fitted for new belts once a week.  Fett fell over a river bank one fateful evening as he was urinating and was never seen again.  Luckily, he had hung the Orcstone on a nearby branch prior to attempting to unclasp his trousers.  Stomakor, a lowly foot soldier in the right place at the right time (some say he even pushed the rotund Fett into the murky current) quickly donned the precious and horrendous stone, thus assuming a quickly accepted command as Leader.

Stomakor the Fermentor
Stomakor the Fermentor reigned with blinding ineptitude for several years.  He survived mainly because of luck and stupidity.  Even though the Reclamation War waged around him, he often misplaced troops and missed entire battles.  As a result, he and his troops remained strong while many around him were cut down.  By war's end, he was in a unique position of power... but too stupid to capitalize on it.  He once wandered lost in a forest of less than three square heckmers (comparable to your kilometers) for more than a month.  He died of hunger, surrounded by fruits and vegetables, while conducting a raid on King Aisklack's gardens.  His troops quickly consumed his meager remains, and marched on, under the black banner of Ruct ov Vomit.

Ruct ov Vomit
Named both after his childhood town and inability to keep most food down the first time, Ruct was nonetheless a ruthless Leader.  He oversaw a period of nearly six years of tremendous Orcish growth, especially in the Deadlands when he marched on other Orc tribes, attempting to unite them under his rule.  Ruct was incapable of speeches longer than three words before being interrupted by a series of increasingly violent belches.  This, even though not terribly effective for communication, was taken as a sign of blessing from the (Orcish, of course) gods.  Ruct, himself, was eventually elevated to god-like status.  To this day, Orc's will attempt to form their belches into a semblance of "Ruct" in honor to their esteemed leader.  A particularly strong belch caused a brain hemorrhage which rendered Ruct completely incapable of any speech, or the use of his left hand.  Largely, unnoted by his followers, Ruct continued to lead successfully until killed in battle on Knight's Fall.

Furz the Fetid
Furz the Fetid assumed command after Ruct, attempting to unit all Orc's under his green banner and gaseous clouds of stench.  He treats me not significantly different than his predecessors, but I plan on making my move any day now...

May 30, 2014

Miami Dice

I'm running a Savage Worlds game at Gencon set in Miami, Florida in 1985.  I've also created a temporary website just for the game.  At the moment it's fairly bare bones, including only an introduction to the setting and rough drafts of pregenerated characters.  I hope to include more information in the near future such as maps and game-specific information as Gencon gets closter.  If you're interested in getting a copy of the game when I'm finished, drop me a request at hartwell602 at gmail dot com.  The title, by the way, is "In the Name of Love".  I drew inspiration from The Thompson Twins song of the same name, which, even though it never appeared in an episode of Miami Vice, clearly fits the mold.

In fact, I was thinking about creating a Savage World's Miami Vice living campaign and naming each episode after a song or movie that was never directly referenced in a particular Vice episode, but in my humble opinion, should have been.  The list of potentials immediately grows nearly indefinite in my mind.  Flock of Seagull's Space Age Love Song and Liquid Sky leap to the front of the line.

The last time I wrote a modern RPG adventure was in the early 90s with White Wolf's Vampire.  It's a very different approach with this game compared to my Labyrinth Lord creations in that I don't have to use as much creativity, but I have a tighter framework in which to work.  For example, within my fantasy worlds of Labyrinth Lord I can make up the languages and cultures, and, most importantly, magic.  Magic can answer a lot of logic problems.  This is clearly not an option for a game set in Miami, Florida in May 1985.  At least not the kind of game I want to run.

I find myself pouring through Wikipedia entries and timelines trying to come up with a background that is both interesting and accurate.  It's not as easy as it sounds.  Anyway, if you'd like to watch me bungle along, or even cast your own two cents, you can cast your peepers on the site by visiting www.miamidice.blogspot.com.  Consider yourself warned.

May 21, 2014

Top 10 Tips for Surviving Gencon

I started attending gaming conventions in 1997 and have been going, more or less regularly, ever since.  Some have been tremendously fun, and others remain hazy and painful memories.  At their best, you make new friends, develop skills, add to your collection, and play a lot of fun games.  At their worst, you wake hungover, broke, and notified of a restraining order issued by Will Wheaton's lawyer.  Below are ten ideas that may improve your con-going experience.  Read and implement at your own risk.

1.  Stay Elsewhere
I plan on attending Gencon 2014 in a couple months.  I didn't go last year because of the cost, crowds, and congestion.  I drove down costs significantly this year by staying with my dad.  He lives about 45 minutes north of Indy.  In other words, I'm trading about $10 of gas each day for a $200-$300 hotel cost.  One year with nice weather, I slept in my van for an Origins convention.  Even if you don't have friends or family in Indiana or a nice van, just going outside the Indy belt for hotels is enough to save hundreds of dollars.

2.  Run Games
I'm charging a couple of bucks for each of my games so as to cover the cost of my badge. If all of my players show up, I'll break even on my badge costs.  Next year I might even up the cost another dollar so as to cover my gas and parking, too.  The demand for games has been high enough to warrant a concomitant increase in cost.  I've steadily lifted my table price over the years and have sold out seats every time.

3.  Pack Food & Water
Prior to leaving I bulk buy my favorite granola bars and keep a lot of them in my backpack along with dried fruit (fiber), nuts (protein/concentration), and a couple water bottles (hydration).  I keep my water bottles refilled via water fountains.  I'll also keep a few small energy drink shots just in case.  Not only does this save you a lot of time waiting in lines and money for over-priced food, but I've also found that a lot of people will barter for snack bars and, especially, energy shots given the right time and environment.  I once traded a $3 energy shot for a $10 game book.

4.  Listen to Music
Crowds stress me out in proportion to their size and density.  Gencon is pretty big and there are lots of bottlenecks.  One coping technique I've learned is to create a playlist of calming music and keep my earbuds in while I navigate the many winding hallways and ballrooms.  Not only does it keep me calm, but it creates a psychological barrier between myself and attendees and vendors.  Let me explain.  When I'm in the dealer's room, I like to methodically go through certain vendor booths.  With earbuds in, I can easily ignore the roar of the crowd and conversations from vendors so as to focus on looking through products in a somewhat systematic way.  I also feel more patient as I wait in lines and meander in impossibly slow-moving streams of people.  My playlist this year includes ATB, Brian Eno, M83, Mozart, Bach, Daft Punk, The Killers, Enya, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Vivaldi, and Jan Hammer.  I tried this technique in Gencon 2012 with considerable success.

5.  Buy Generic Tickets
This year, once again, RPG game slots filled within milliseconds of going live.  Yes, this includes my own games.  In years past I've tried to register for games, but usually get maybe 5-10% of the ones I want.  This year, I didn't even try.  My plan is to buy a few generic tickets and simply show up for games I want, hoping the GM either has a spot to squeeze me in, or another player doesn't show.  It's a gamble, but better than giving up.

6.  Limit Beer Consumption
This one is hard, but necessary.  If you're driving, drinking is simply not an option, but there are other good reasons to temporarily be a teetotaler, too.  Not only are beer prices jacked up around Indy, but you'll find yourself making impulse purchases you later regret after you down the sumptuous suds.  That delicious cold beer for lunch, turns into a general mental funk by evening game time.

7. Pack Liquor
If drink you must, a small bottle of high-quality vodka is a great partner. It mixes with nearly anything and can easily be openly concealed in a water bottle.  The hangover is generally more bearable, too.

8.  Go Alone
Indy is a safe town.  Take a walk by yourself; it forces you to meet new gamers.  Who knows, you might even form a new friendship.  With lots of online videoconference options such as Skype and Google Hangouts, it doesn't matter if they live next door or on another continent; you'll be able to game together after the con.  If you go with your friends, you'll be less likely to strike up conversations with strangers.

9.  Barter
I rarely pay asking price at cons.  I recommend you create a bartering line and simply repeat it at every booth.  For example, you could say that you have to save money to buy your sibling a meal, so you don't want to spend too much.  You could vaguely reference seeing it cheaper on eBay or Amazon.  If you can find specific examples on your smartphone, show them.  You could highlight the fact that they're going to have to pay to ship their products out if they don't sell them.  If nothing else, you can just be friendly and say, "Is there any way you can come down a little?"  It's also very important to remember the walkaway.  Simply put, the vendors are stuck there, you aren't.  If they don't want to barter, walk away.  Try again later in the con, or go back when a different vendor takes a shift.  Generally, the longer you wait over the course of the con, the more likely a vendor is to make a deal.  That said, if you're sober and you've determined that you must have that item and there is evidence it might sellout (a lot of limited run Gencon items do), then, by all means, buy it!

10.  Sleep
I tried going without sleep a single night for Origins 1999 and it ruined the experience.  At Gencon 2012 I stayed up extremely late for one of those rowdy late-night game sessions and had a fantastic time... until the next day.  I've found very few activities are worth sleep deprivation.  Sleep is crucial to both brain and body recovery and maximizing con enjoyment.

11.  Booth Babes
Get your pictures taken with them.  Ask a stranger to take the picture if you have to.  It's ok.  We all do it.