Monday, April 27, 2009

My Top 15 Favorite RPGs

The voting and the tabulations are all done here, so I'm going to share my personal votes. Mind you, I could not come up with a list of 25 games, as I limited myself to games I own, have played, and still would like to run a campaign using them someday.

1. Hideouts & Hoodlums (2008- )
2. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st ed., 1977- )
3. Marvel Super Heroes (1st ed., 1984- )
4. Dungeons & Dragons (Moldvay/Cook ed., 1980- )
5. Pendragon (3rd ed., 1990- )
6. Call of Cthulhu (4th ed., 1989- )
7. Castle Falkenstein (1994)
8. Dungeons & Dragons (1st ed., 1974- )
9. Gamma World (1st ed., 1978- )
10. Champions (4th ed., 1989- )
11. Toon (1984- )
12. James Bond 007 (1983- )
13. Kobolds Ate My Baby (1998- )
14. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness (1985- )
15. Star Wars (2nd ed., 1992- )

Addendum: Two RPGs that I would like to run someday, but did not make the list because I have never played them yet, are Paranoia and Star Trek (the Lost Unicorn version).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cartoon Favorites from the Saturday Morning Cartoons of the 1970s

This was inspired by something I saw on Facebook recently, where you're supposed to give your five favorite cartoon shows from when you were growing up. Well, I thought, "There's no way I can limit it to five!" and wrote this up instead. Indeed, I had to limit this to just Saturday morning cartoons, which eliminated Speed Racer. Thanks to the miracle of re-runs, though, I was able to include some classics from the '60s that I still grew up with.

1964–1966 -
This show, especially in its premiere episode, is actually pretty insulting to the superhero genre. Superheroes are shown to be bumblingly destructive, inexplicably adored by the public, and challenged by puzzles that a kid viewer can solve long before Underdog can. And yet, the show was done with such charm and the lampooning so subtle, that I still like this show.
1967 –
Some kids like Space Ghost best. Me? I liked the Herculoids. Oh no, not for the human cast. You could dump them in a heartbeat and I wouldn’t bat an eye. No, it was Igoo, Gloop, and Gleep that you watched the Herculoids for. Oh yeah.
What do you get when you give Ralph Bakshi a stack of comic books, trip him out on acid, and give him a limited budget? Only one unbeatable superhero cartoon with its own unique character unrivalled until Batman the Animated Series.
1968 -
Banana Splits
There were cartoon shorts, but even as I kid I knew those were lame. But guys dressed up in goofy mascot costumes doing short visual gags? I couldn’t get enough of it.
1969 –
Scooby Doo, Where Are You?
The original three seasons have never been surpassed by later incarnations. This show may have more camp humor appeal today, but this defined what was “edgy” and “darkly atmospheric” for cartoons circa 1970.
1973 –
Multiplication Rock/Schoolhouse Rock
Has any kid since the 1970s made it through school without the benefit of these amazing cartoon shorts? Shouldn’t all classes be taught via jingles by now?
1977 -
Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics
Bizarrely anticipating the entire reality TV show craze, this series had almost the entirety of Hanna-Barbera’s stable of characters competing in teams against each other. And was more interesting than all the live action reality TV shows (and cartoons based on the reality TV genre) to come.
1978 -
Challenge of the Superfriends
The Superfriends had been on TV for awhile by this point, but this is where it got bad guys. The Legion of Doom was more evil than had ever been seen on children’s programming before.
Fantastic Four
Storyboarded by Lee and Kirby themselves, this series was, in its own way, as faithful an adaptation of the comic book series as the earlier Hanna-Barbera version. To the Human Torch’s eternal embarrassment, he was replaced by Herbie the Robot and I never even missed him.
Godzilla Power Hour
My introduction to the Japanese monster genre. I was hugely into dinosaurs at the time and couldn’t get enough of episodes that had actual dinosaurs in them (though I was never, ever able to watch Land of the Lost and its cheesy special effects).
Baggy Pants and the Nitwits. A long forgotten cartoon and probably for good reason, though it introduced me to what I had missed on the adult program, Laugh-In (the first of many shows to steal from Laugh-In, most notably Nickelodeon’s pre-Spongebob main show, You Can’t Do that on Television). Indirectly, the Baggy Pants character introduced me to Charlie Chaplin.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CodConXV Report - pt. 2

After that I was scheduled to play Munchkin Cthulhu, which had a surprisingly large turnout. Rather than crowd the table, I gave up my seat to a more enthusiastic player and, after walking around the convention a bit more, headed home early. Anything after Dan the Bard would have been anticlimactic anyway.

Sunday was a cold, dreary day and attendance looked like half as much as we had on Saturday. I was signed up to play a (shudder) “3.5 ed.” D&D game, but one being run by Penny and Skip Williams, late of WotC. We had a small group of five players and, by that, I mean we practically had three and a half players because three of our group were not very good at playing high-level characters. I myself almost never get to play high-level D&D characters, especially as high as 12th, so doing things like casting Flame Strike and doing 12d6 damage was a real treat for me. And it was the first time I have ever killed a rakshasa with a blessed crossbow bolt. The adventure was just above average, but me and my dwarven high priestess rocked.

After that, I set up for Hideouts & Hoodlums. Still no names on the sign-up sheet and dwindling prospects of finding any players. I had already resigned myself to this sad possibility, but I did try one more time to recruit my friend Darren into abandoning his RPGA tournament for H&H. Although he declined, he did sound interested in my game (we had not had the opportunity to discuss it before). Penny Williams came by, trolling for people to come to her seminar, but also took an interest in my H&H project. I’m hoping her Phoenix Lore magazine can do something for me, like maybe an H&H review.

Then, and only when all hope had faded, did someone actually stop by my table and showed an interest in H&H. He was alone and looking for one more game to play before he left. However, there was also one person left from the Steve Jackson Games crowd competing with me for our one available player! Even though I’d promised Penny Williams I would come to her seminar if I did not have any players, I was not ready to let this one get away. I sat through two hours of Lord of the Fries, a zombie-themed Old Maid variant that I did not even care for that much just so I could get another chance to talk him into my game afterwards. Luckily, we picked up another player during Lord of the Fries and I recruited both of them! And then we ran into a couple of gamers (literally a couple) who were also looking for one more game before they went home. Half my session time was gone, but I finally had my group of players!

This was my fourth time running “Reuter Mansion”, based off the sample dungeon in the original D&D rules (book 3). Level 1 of the hideout is 15 rooms and described in 6 pages. This group made it through about half of this level in just two hours – including the last two rooms that I had written descriptions for only in the time I was setting up for the session (who knew they would find that secret door in so short a time)! They were smart players, constantly returning to the abandoned mansion above to raid for supplies and using them, or the chest full of pennies in the hideout (the boyfriend taught me about using pennies to spike doors shut), to neatly solve every challenge. They also knew when to avoid trouble more than most players I’ve known and managed to avoid combat with the mobsters until almost the end of our session. We had a lot of laughs over their reliance on always following the left wall of the hideout (“We can’t go through that door – it’s not left!”) and their avoidance of combat (“You’re not into fighting evil so much as inconveniencing it” and the mobster that said, “You’re not superheroes – you penny doors!”). It seemed like everyone had a great time and they all thanked me for the session. The girlfriend said she had never played anything else like it, which I took to be a compliment. Sadly, not one of them took the H&H handouts I offered them – they didn’t even keep their character cards (clearly, none of them are packrats like me, as I still have folders full of old handouts from cons). They all said they were satisfied with the number of games they have now and were not looking to expand, but hopefully they came away from it with a good impression of H&H and will recommend it to anyone they meet looking for a good superhero game system.

I left the con as happy as can be. I felt I had accomplished a lot, having introduced H&H to four players in play, several others just by talking to them about it, including one in the professional arena. I also just had a lot of fun.

Monday, April 20, 2009

CodConXV Report - pt. 1

This past weekend was CodConXV, held at the College of DuPage, and was the convention debut of Hideouts & Hoodlums. But that part comes last.

Friday, I raced to Glen Ellyn after work so I could play Toon. It was the first of the “Old School” games being run at the con and the theme of this con was “Old School”. How unfortunate, then, that most of the gamers in attendance all weekend stuck to the RPGA’s adherence to “4th ed.” D&D, the same cosplay group they apparently always game with, the Steve Jackson card game group, or the even smaller miniatures group. Not too many people looking to try some Old School games. No one else was there for Toon – not even the guy who was supposed to run it!

The exhibit hall was interesting, mostly for the “ebay store” exhibiting their collection of used games for sale. I had my eyes on a copy of Tunnels & Trolls all weekend, but did not have $30 to spare for it. Indeed, I had to take in the whole con on the cheap and this turned out to be really easy. I stayed all three days and, not counting gas, it cost me only $13!

I did run into my old friend Darren there, as he’s hugely into the RPGA crowd. We talked for a little bit. I also found the Toon guy an hour later, but instead of playing Toon solo, I joined the Steve Jackson card game group for Kings Blood, a Uno variant that was pretty fun. But the good times were marred by an uneasiness caused by the sign-up sheets for games sitting out – no one had signed up for Sunday’s H&H demo!

Saturday started out very similar to Friday night. The same guy was going to run Car Wars. One of the card gamers, George, and I were looking forward to it. The guy showed up a half-hour later – he thought he was scheduled to run it at 10 instead of 9. George and I wound up playing Munchkin instead. That was fine, as I really enjoy Munchkin and had never played it with a group of seven before. For the first half of the game I had the lowest level character, but after some lucky cards and aggressive playing, I came from behind and, at one point, all but one of us was one level away from winning, going around the table almost three whole times stopping each other from winning. It was exciting and fun. I don’t think either George or I minded that the Car Wars guy ran that without us.

I had planned to stick around with the card game crowd after that anyway, as I was next scheduled to try Greedquest. It was fun, looked great thanks to Phil Foglio artwork, but in play it was a lot like playing the dungeon expansion for Talisman by itself and I had done that plenty of times already. Again, I came pretty close to winning, but that goal still eluded me.

Michael, my DM for his “Dark Ages” 1st ed. AD&D campaign, was running a Swords & Wizardry event that afternoon and I ran into him soon after Greedquest as he was setting up. I had told Michael before that I was going to play a different game in that time slot, as I was already used to seeing him behind the DM’s screen. His sign-up sheet had been blank the whole time so far, just as my game’s sheet still was. Indeed, I was kind of hoping he would cancel his game and come play in the game I had chosen so I could see how he handles being a player on the other side of the DM screen, which I had not had the opportunity to see yet. However, his loyal player Patrick came to his rescue with his own team of Savage World players and Michael’s S&W game was saved.

Coincidentally, the only two 1st ed. AD&D games at the con were running against each other and I had chosen the other one. And, boy, had I backed the wrong horse. The scenario seemed promising enough at first, as we were 1st level spies being sent to find out where orcs scheduled to break off from a passing orc caravan were heading, with four or five possible destinations to choose from. It was a nicely open-ended set-up, but the time limit forced on us made it impossible to explore the locations and we had to head straight for the orcs. Our DM was an old board gamer so, to him, getting us from point A to point B was exciting enough. Our characters had done nothing but buy equipment and travel for two hours before we met our first orc. When we met the main party of orcs, there were over 60 of them! Half of us were ready to call it quits and return to town with the information we had by then, including one of the DM’s friends. We agreed that, had there been half as many orcs or we had at least 3rd level characters, we would have had a chance of winning, but this was impossible. So our DM cheated for us by having the orcs so complacent that they posted no guards at night. Now we were expected to sneak into their camp and kill them in their sleep, using 1st ed.’s infamous assassination tables. There was a combat after that with waking orcs, but I was so put-off by the un-heroic nature of this scenario that I wanted nothing to do with it. Worse, I had snuck out twice already to observe Michael’s game and he and his group were laughing and having fun while my group was frustrated and bored. I went back, packed up my stuff, and came out to watch Michael, et al., have fun and enjoyed that more.

After that lesson in “always trust the DM you know”, the convention took a dramatic turn for the better. A late addition to the convention schedule was an hour-long performance by a “bard” named Dan Marcotte. He was amazing. Basically, he takes real Renaissance ballads and “updates” them to D&D. To get some idea of just how funny this is, you must go to and listen to their theme song, “Phil the Phoenix”. Though the real standout was the “Owlbear Song”. We were spellbound for an hour, or at least spellbound when we weren’t roaring with laughter. The cost of admission for the convention was well-spent on that concert alone. He was just that good. He’s been performing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire for 13 years, he said, but amazingly this is the first time he had ever been invited to perform at a gaming convention, where his true audience has been waiting for him all along.