Saturday, November 17, 2007

Northern California Pulp Project - Introduction

Horowitz Fong , Baron von Hauser (both from Artizan Designs), Dr Arthur Heller & The Scorpion (both Indy Heroclix)

Some friends & I were talking about Pulp wargaming & how we were all becoming intereseted in trying it. But, we each had a different set of rules we wanted to try. So we decided to try to run a series of loosely connected games, with each person running a game using their rules set. Each subsequent GM would pick & choose what he wanted from the prior game as a starting point for his own game. I volunteered to be 1st & use the We Could Be Heroes (WCBH) set of generic skirmish rules by Task Force Productions. I had read a scenario for it in Wargames Journal & it had a strong role playing aspect that I felt was important in a pulp game.

I also felt suspense & the build-up of action was key to a pulp story. Therefore, I didn't want just a stand-alone big showdown game. So I searched around for a way to build a storyline throughout the gameplay. I was really stumped until I realized I was basically wanting it to feel like a movie serial from the 1930s. The tabletop game

Artizan Gangsters & Walmart $1 Wooden Truck

would be equivalent to the big showdown/climax of each serial episode. Any of the plot development between games would be condensed down into a short blurb by me, explaining what the players had learned about the situation. This way, I could have the serial feel of building a story, but still focus on the wargames, which was the point of the excercise.

I planned an intro game where the players stumble onto what they think is a regular warehouse robbery. After the robbery is over, they find some information indicating there's a much bigger scheme going on. As they're researching this new info, the 2nd game occurs with the bad guys attacking the Heroes' lair to get the information

Mad Scientist (old GW fig), Monkey sidekick (from Leading Edge Lawnmower Man set), Mister E & Dr Arthur Heller (both Indy Heroclix)

back, which is vital to their nefarious scheme. The 3rd & final game is the big showdown at the Evil Mastermind's lair, with the Heroes rushing to stop the Mastermind before he completes his plans. All 3 mini-games were planned to be run as a single convention game, so I figured the 3 games would need to be no longer than a hour each, to fit into a standard 6 hour convention game slot.

Of course, battleplans don't survive 1st contact with the enemy, & this was no different. I found that the WCBH wouldn't work in its original format for a hero-heavy game like I'd planned. The "good" forces were going to be 4 Heroes & the "bad" forces were going to be gangs of lower level thugs. I had also planned to have the players not only play the good guys, but have some of the players play the bad guys too. Unfortunately, a Hero-classed figure in WCBH so over-powered the thug types, that having 4 Heroes would have made it no fun for the bad guy players. I ended up cutting the Hero abilities in about half & that seemed to mostly mitigate the problem.

Northern California Pulp Project - Constructing the Board

Virtual Armchair General's Warehouse (unmodified)
Crates by WarTorn Worlds

Another aspect of the game that was key was the gameboard itself. I purchased 2 of The Virtual Armchair General's Mean Sets paper buildings, the Garage & Warehouse. I had done some simple paper building before, but was a bit put off initially by what seemed to be the complexity of these buildings. As it turned out, the actual construction was pretty simple, there was just a lot of it.

Virtual Armchair General's Garage (double-wide)
Industrial equipment by Armor Cast

One of the cool things about these buildings is their modularity. Since they are provided on CD, I was able to print out extra floors & walls to customize the floorplans to what I needed. I used the unmodified Warehouse for the 1st game, I built a "double-wide" Garage for the 2nd game, & then combine these 2 buildings to create an even larger Evil Lair for the final game. I also borrowed some of the scientific equipment & the Graviton gun from a friend who'd built Microtactix's Mad Lab set to fill out the evil lair.

Long shot of Garage

The buildings were very well designed. In addition to fully working doors, the sets also came with a variety of extra furniture in the white space of the sheets. There was only a few extra things in each building set, but it filled up the room nicely. While these are paper

Detail of paper fold-overs

buildings, they are actually designed to be mounted on 1/4" foam core board. One of the nice design aspects for use with foam core is that there were fold-over tabs inside all the window & doorways. The tabs are to cover up the white foam core center along the window sills & door jams. Unfortunately, since I'm still a paper building novice, I didn't understand the best way to glue the paper to the foam core, & ended up not getting most of these tabs lined up right with the windows. So, while I did glue some of them down, I ended up cutting most of them off & coloring in the exposed foam core with a black Sharpie for simplicity & to save time.

Mister E's evil lair (Warehouse & Garage pieces combined)
Platforms in background from Microtactix's

Also, I wanted to construct the buildings so they were collapsable. So, I used sheet magnets to put the buildings together with, instead of gluing them. While I had my doubts about the strength of the magnets during game play & the walls getting knocked over, I was surprised at how well they held together. There were no real major collapses during the games. For the magnets, I ended up using the pre-cut business card sized magnets that have peel-&-stick adhesive on one side. I cut them to the size I wanted, & just stuck them on the ends of the walls, or on the floor.

Virtual Armchair General's Garage set in pieces

Garage held together with sheet magnet strips

I thing I learned early on was that you had to be careful of getting polarity of the magnets right. If you've ever played with sheet magnets, you know they kind of jump when you slide them against each other. So when choosing which pieces of magnet to use, I needed to make sure I chose 2 strips that would pretty much line up when they stuck together. Otherwise, the reversed polarity sections would repel each other & cause the magnets to be misaligned & throw your building out of whack.

Detailed diagram of building construction (click to enlarge)

Northern California Pulp Project - RPGs & Summary

Spirit of the Century RPG Cover

As I mentioned in the Intro post, I feel that pulp gaming needs to have a strong character-driven/role playing aspect to it. So, as a way to achieve this in my wargame, I started checking out a number of pulp RPGs for ideas. One I came across was called Spirit of the Century by Evil Hat Productions (reviewed earlier in my blog). I played in a game of it at the local Conquest Sacramento convention & really liked how it worked. The character creation process strongly influenced how I created the characters for my game. The game has unique process to ensure the characters are well-acquainted with each other before the game starts. I used a cut-down version of this to develope elaborate histories for each of the characters. Unfortunately, I tend to get quite wordy & overly imaginative when I am creating "fiction". So while I loved the process & felt it was going to add a lot of depth to the game, the players weren't nearly as thrilled as I was by it. Since the players were all friends & more forgiving, I will probably cut out the lengthy characters background if I run it as an open game at a convention.

Evil Hat Productions logo

I did buy the Spirit of the Century rules (only $15 in PDF), & even if you ignore the RPG part of it, it contains loads of ideas for scenarios, characters, villains, etc. I thought the best part of the rules for wargamers was the 50+ page section on how to design & GM a pulp adventure. This part was invaluable to my final game design. It covered the importance of keeping the pacing fast enough for a pulpy feel, suggestions of when & how to endanger the players to motivate them toward the end-game, etc. Evil Hat could probably excerpt just this section & sell it on it's own as a GM aid.

Master Plan podcast

Ryan Macklin, GM of the Spirit of the Century game I played in, also ended up having an indirect influence on my final game. He has a podcast, called Master Plan, about game design. It mainly focuses on RPGs, but since it's about the design process, instead of any specific RPG system, a lot of what he covers can apply to designing any kind of game, including wargames. If you're working on your own game, I'd recommend his podcast since he covers everything from effective playtesting, designers block, becoming too invested in a "cool" game mechanic, etc.

The battle rages below as Mister E "monologues" from the platform

So, overall, I thought the game went well & the players enjoyed themselves. I was very pleased with how well the paper buildings worked out from the Virtual Armchair General's Mean Sets line. Unfortunately, using the We Could be Heroes rules by Task Force Productions didn't go so well. The rules weren't suited to this kind of game, & seemed a bit dice heavy in places. But they do have some interesting game mechanics that I like & I still hope to try them again with more balanced forces. & I found that the Heroclix range from Wizkids has some great figures for pulp style games. Hopefully, I'll get around to actually writting up the battle report some time soon.

NOTE: Spirit of the Century RPG cover & Evil Hat Logo used in this post are copyrighted by Evil Hat Productions and used with their permission. Master Plan logo used with permission.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Conquest Sac 2007 - Spirit of the Century RPG

Spirit of the Century RPG Cover

I got to play in a great pulp RPG at the Conquest Sacramento gaming covention. The system was Spirit of the Century, a new RPG from last fall, by Evil Hat Productions & was run by Ryan Macklin, a local RPGer. This was definately a storytelling game. It's based on the Fudge RPG system, with some exentions from that. I'd never used Fudge so it was interesting. Instead of numbers for stats, your character had 5 expertise levels running from Average up through Superb. There were 5 more levels below Average & 3 more above Surperb for non-character activies. For anything you try to do, you always roll 4 Fudge dice. The Fudge dice have + on 2 sides, - on 2 sides & 2 sides blank, so 1/3 chance on each die for each result. + & - cancel each other out, so you get a range of +4 to -4 a roll. The amount of the + or - shifts your skill up or down to give the final level of your skill attempt. A task has a difficulty assigned to it, so your final skill score has to equal or beat the task's difficutly level. If you're interacting with a sentient being, they have their own skill level & roll the 4 Fudge dice & get their own final skill level. You have to beat their final skill level to success. Another interesting part of the game are the Fate Points that players use to affect the storyline. The players can spend a point to either add 2 levels of success to a skill attempt, or allow you to reroll. But, the character creation/management is the best part of the game. You basically end up writing the back cover blurbs for novels about your character's life. These blurbs & the story behind them give you Aspects. The Aspects are what really make this game fun. Aspects are descriptive things about your character, like skills, objects, quirks, etc. Aspects can also be descriptive things about any part of the game.

I played Liam MacGregor, the Flying Scotsman. In my background novels, I was given an experimental jetpack. So the jetpack was one of the descriptive things about my character, & therefore was an Aspect. I of course used it to rocket all over the place. I also had a variety of other action type Aspects: "I'll take you all on", Toughest Boxer in all of Glasgow, "It's just a scratch", Natural Aviator, An Enemy in every Port, Seat of my Pants, "Don't Worry, we don't need that part", 2-Fisted Drunk & "I can fly anything". As you can tell, he was a belligerant Rocketeer type.

In addition to using Fate points to affect your roll, you can also spend a point to active one of these Aspects to affect the story. Again, you have to come up with a good explanation of what's happening. The opening sequence had us fighting clockwork ninjas. I, of course, jumped into the fight & paid a Fate point to trigger my "I'll take them all on" Aspect, allowing me to get more attacks than normal. In addition to paying Fate points to activate an Aspect, the GM can also allow you to earch a Fate point back by using one of your Aspects to compel you do to something. We had a French Lady's Man type character with the Aspect of "Love in every Port". The GM used that Aspect to compel the Frenchman to go off with a lady & leave the rest of the party behind. I don't think a player is required to accept this "compelling", but it is the only way to get Fate points back during the game. So compelling Aspects allows the GM to steer the storyline back under his control if he needs to or ensure certain key plot points get hit.

Another interesting mechanic is that you can pay to create Aspects for the environment. When we were on an airship, the GM created the Aspects of "Airship on Fire". Both the players & opponents can use the Aspect. The 1st use of an environmental Aspect is free, you don't have to pay a Fate point for it, but it does cost 1 pt after that. I used the Aspect to say the control room of the airship was full of smoke so the Gorilla Guards I was fighting couldn't see me well. But I had the skill of "Fly By Night" allowing me to fly through any weather, dark, etc. So, I got a bonus to my roll since I could fly & attack the guards without being hindered by the smoke.

Another enviromental Aspect used was "Look out for the Cliffs" when we were running from T-Rexes. A player paid a Fate point to create the Aspect (effectively requiring the GM to add cliffs to the landscape ahead of us), & then we lured the T-Rexes to fall over the cliff. This kind of interactive give & take between the GM & the players, where the players can help shape the adventure as much as the GM, is why I said earlier this was definately a storytelling RPG.

Another benefit to Aspects is that you can pay to trigger one of your Aspects to benefit another player. My biggest moment in the game was when the scientific genius in our party failed a critical roll to prevent a time erasing device from wiping us out from history. I paid a Fate point to use my Aspect of "Dont worry, we dont need that part" to allow the genius to reroll. & because it was such a perfect Aspect to use, I think the GM also allowed a bonus to the reroll too. We ended up not getting erased & saving all of Earth's timeline from being controlled by the evil mastermind.

I really like the Aspects & character management systems. Allowing the players complete control over their character creation (as opposed to dice rolls) & the requirement for the storytelling to start in character creation is great. & the way the players can collaborate in the storytelling by triggering their Aspects is cool too. I know I don't much about the different Pulp RPGs, but it would be tough to convince me there was something better for what I'd like in a game. The one thing that didn't quite sit well with me was that since there were no character classes/levels or numeric stats, it seemed like there wouldn't be much character advancement. Not that I'm a power-gamer, but the thought of playing the same character over & over again, with nothing different about him, does seem to make it lean towards becoming stale sooner. I didn't ask about it or look through the book, so maybe it is part of the game. But, the way the system is set up, it didn't seem to lend itself to advancement.

Evil Hat Logo

NOTE: Spirit of the Century RPG cover, Evil Hat Logo and all other original artwork used in this post is copyrighted by Evil Hat Productions and used with their permission.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Storming the beaches of Norse-mandy - Intro

I'm participating in a Warhammer Fantasy Battle campaign using the Lustria campaign rules. In the 1st turn, I battled Maksim who is running Vampire Counts (see a battle account from different players in the campaign on his blog). He was the defender in the Get Off My Land scenario from the Conquest of the New World suppliment to Lustria. Basically, the further your units make it across the board, the more victory points you get, in addition to the stardard points.

My army uses the Beastman list, but it's a Norse army. So, the Beastmen are Vikings, Bestigors are Valkyries, Minotaurs are Giant Werewolves & Werebears, etc. & I'm using more of the historical Norse mythology for them, instead of the Warhammer Norscan setting.

Hope you enjoy. I know there'll be more stories to come. Oh, & sorry this is so text heavy, I didn't have time to add pictures just yet.
Black Cavalier

Storming the beaches of Norse-mandy - The Battle

They hit the surf running. The longships beached just long enough to disgorge the army and then oarsmen pulled them back into the ocean. The terrain got progressively thick as they pushed in from the shore: 1st the open beach, then a bunch of undergrowth, then light jungle & finally dense, thick jungle. Luckily, it was pretty much like the forests of Norsca, so the army would have no problem maneuvering through it. But, unlike the forests of Norsca, the heat & humidity was so oppressive, it felt like they had to swim through the air (Excessive Humidity: -1" to Bestigors). OTOH, the surprise landings seemed to have worked since he could see vague human shapes still trying to form ranks (Monkey Run: Norse got +1 to die for determining who goes 1st).

Stonecleaver had positioned himself in the center, leading the unit of Valkyrie (Bestigors) that had the gods had blessed them with. To the right was one of the large Hirds, followed by a small Hird, the Norse Dwarf Mountain Goat cavalry who were drunk once again (Centigors), & finally a small unit of wolves (chaos hounds). To the left were Musta Krakish, the Werewolf Lord, & his giant werekin (minotaurs), the other large Hird, & the other unit of Dwarf cavalry.

Stonecleaver prayed to the gods that the solitary longship that left the fleet would have successfully landed the small ambush force further up the beach. He was worried though. Even if the ambushing force showed up, the army's orders were to penetrate as far into the jungle as possible. So once behind the enemy, the ambushers might feel it better to hang back in the dense jungle & not actually come out to help the rest of the army.

Even though he still couldn't completely make out the enemies, he could see they had finally formed up and were in 4 blocks, pretty much equally aligned on his center.

The army surged forward with the surf, eager to meet whatever the vile jungle spat out at them. The werekin got tangled up in the undergrowth & ended up being out of position for most of the battle (I misread the rules & initially thought you could march move through difficult terrain). But, 3 of the 4 ambush troops, 1 small Hird & both units of wolves, successfully navigated the dense jungle & came on behind the enemy. The 4th can wandering up behind the Norscans' own line.

As the 2 armies approached each other, Stonecleaver finally realized what they were fighting: skeletons. 4 HUGE blocks of skeletons, most of them twice the size of his largest Hirds. & some of the skeletons look to have been Norscans from Skeggi at one point, based on the tatters of clothes hanging from their bleached bones.

The idea of being denied a place Valhalla, & instead being forced to fight this cursed jungle for all eternity froze Valgard & his army in their tracks. The outer flanking forces were able to continue to maneuver forward, but the Valkyries & both large Hirds stopped dead.

Valgard tried to get his warriors to charge, but they stayed put & were surprised by a sudden uncharacteristic burst of speed from the skeletons (Maks thought the skeletons' charge move was only 4" until someone wandered by & told him it was 8". He then promptly charged me when I thought I'd have another turn to try to charge.). 2 of the skeleton blocks crunched into the Hirds & a 3rd contacted the Dwarves on the right flank. All were sent running. Fortunately the skeletons lining up against Stonecleaver & the Valkyries didn't quite make it, so they had a reprieve for the moment. & even more fortunately, the Valkyries & the giant werewolves were able to hold their line while everyone around them fled. But, the Dwarves took a unit of wolves with them.

Stonecleaver knew this was a crucial moment, so he had the Valkyries call out to the fleeing warriors, reminding them of the prize of Valhalla, & all the fleeing units rallied, except the wolves who fled out off into the jungle (not any magic ability, just narrative of almost all the units rallying).

Seeing the danger of being caught standing, Valgard led the Valkyries into the skeletons in front of them. & the Godi finally found his land-legs & stepped up to help out. Suddenly a flock of Crows appeared from his fingers pecked any remaining juicy morsels off the skeletons (I had completely forgotten about the shaman & hadn't even rolled his spell, but got 9 deaths out of 2d6 possible for 1st shot, later got 8 deaths).

Unfortunately, the giant werewolves were still fumbling through the undergrowth, & the ambushing wolves were unable to overcome their fear to charge the skeletons in the rear, so the Valkyries went in unsupported. Valgard valiantly held his own, accepting single combat against the whirling blades of the Blood Dragon hero, & the Valkyries actually did more casualties than the skeletons, but as to be expected, the weight of the huge block of skeletons overwhelmed them & they fled. They received a temporary reprieve since skeletons were unmoved by their victory. But then skeletons had another burst of speed (charge), contacted the fleeing Valkyries & destroyed them before they had a chance to rally, cutting Stonecleaver down too. He realized that it was the skeletons in the dark jungle that were "much hidden" in the Godi's readings, & they definitely were now revealed. As the life left Valgard's eyes, he sent one final prayer to the gods, pleading not to be reanimated & denied Valhalla.

Another block of skeletons caught the Godi out in the open & he went down too. A shudder when through the now leaderless Norscan army. Sent into a fury, it charged almost as a whole. The Dwarf cavalry on the left flank charged a block of skeletons & almost completely wiped out their 1st 2 ranks. Stunned by this sudden turn of events, the Blood Dragon hero did little in return & the Dwarves actually won their battle. Another round of combat saw similar results, & finally, with the giant werewolves charging their flank, the skeletons fell to pieces & the army General, who was attached, fled & was run down.

While the battle was not fully complete, a strange call floated over the jungle (game store was closing), so the skeletons melted back into the jungle and the shaken Norscans claimed it a victory.

Storming the beaches of Norse-mandy - The Omens

As the Godi cast the runes on the deck of the largest longship, Torvald Isulfson eagerly looked on. They lay just off the shore of the jungle land that would make them all rich. They were so far south, the Winds of Chaos were hardly a breeze here, so Torvald was hoping for any good omen to encourage his army.

Torvald still cursed those traitorous Norsca back at Skeggi. He'd assumed his force would have been welcomed by their distant cousins, but the greedy whelps refused to allow his ships to land. They felt the owned the whole jungle. Well, he'd show them & plunder the gold right out from under their noses.

So, instead of making an easy landing where there should have been welcoming wenches and ale, his army was having to make a mad dash up the beach & into the jungle. His army was used to fighting like that, but Torvald at least had enough sense to realizing a beach landing on a unknown continent would be tougher than the normal fleecing of those Imperial sheep.

He'd decided to land his army on the only shallow beach near Skeggi. The fact there were skeletal totems all along the beach made no difference to him. It kind of made it look home. Once the army was landed & had drawn out any awaiting enemies, he'd land the supplies in a small inlet near by that would have been too hard to defend. Torvald would ensure the supplies were landed, while one of his sub-chieftains, Valgard Stonecleaver, would lead the army.

Returning his attention to the runes, the Godi's divination said that much that was hidden would be revealed. The army cheered, believing that meant they would find piles of gold & treasure. But, as Torvald let the blood of the final sacrificial victim flow into the ocean in thanks for a safe journey, he realized this Godi's readings had always been particularly vague, & decided to send him along with Stonecleaver to share in whatever vague fate he had foreseen.

Storming the beaches of Norse-mandy - Wrap Up

Great game & even greater thanks to Maksim for patience & being a great person to game with. We made it through the 1st of the 2 combats in my half (the 1st half) of turn 5. Looking at what could have happened, there was really only a few more of my units that he could have wiped out & then he would have advanced 2 of his blocks unopposed, possibly to the next range band for scenario victory points. But I also had some unengaged units that probably could have advanced further too. So, it could have been a much closer point difference, but we agreed I would have still come out on top.

The Extreme Humidity event was supposed to affect all 5+ armor units, but I figured it shouldn't affect undead, & since it would mean his Grave Guard would only move 3" a turn, suggested he skip it.

The key to my victory was my ability to make an incredible number of Rally & Fear check rolls. I think out of 10+ rolls, I only failed 2- 3 of them. The other key was that even though Maks' units would auto-break me because of their size & fear, he tended to roll pretty bad for combat. His WS8 heroes were particularly wimpy.

Monday, February 12, 2007

XZH End Game

At the point where I could hardly talk any more, I finally decided to arbitrarily end the game after 3 more turns. One of the veteran hunters was able to amass a good amount of money by doing several of their plugs in front of their sponsor's billboard. But the marathon running Redneck team ended up getting a couple of dropcases with 2 $1000 plugs & winning the prize for the most money earned. Another one of the veteran hunters won the prize for the most zombies killed, I think 20+. Everyone seemed to have a blast, with a number of people asking for info on the game. I had used the "I [chainsaw] Zombies" type graphics to make buttons that I handed out to all the players. Unfortunately, I hadn't thought enough ahead & didn't really have prizes for the 2 winners, so gave them each a zombie in honor of their heroic efforts.

Overall, other than the confusion of trying to come up with extra characters players, & the standard confusion inherent in running a convention game, I thought it went very well. After implemented the split hunter/zombie move idea, the game went very smoothly, & the players actually ran it themselves, resolving combat & firing, & only really coming to me when there they had a rules question or dispute. The only big mistake I made was how I handled which hunter the zombies would attack. I think I misinterpreted the rules & said that a zombie will continue to chase a hunter, even if the zombies lost Line of Sight. This made for a huge zombie conga-line as one hunter ran all over the board hoping other hunters would pick zombies off the end. I think the rules state the zombies will stop chasing a hunter if it looses LOS to the hunter & gets out of the hunter's brain radius, or if the hunter gets more than X" away & isn't attacking it.

I'll probably be running it at Conquest Sacramento on Apr 13-15 if I don't come up with something else. So, come try it out if you're in the area.

Convention Chaos

Once all the players dropped their characters in on the board, then the real fun started. We found that with that many players the "I move, then move the zombies attacking the player to my right" mechanism meant people had to wait a long time between turns & players were getting bored. Luckily one of the players came up with a great idea to separate the 2 moves. So while one player was moving his hunter, the player on the opposite side of the board moved the zombies attacking the player to his right.

This meant that not only were these 2 move activities happening in parallel which made the process faster, but the players were being actively involved in the game twice as frequently, either moving their hunter or the zombies. This worked very well, & the only problem we had was when the faster processed hunter move caught up with the slower processed zombie move. When that happened, we just had the hunter moves put on hold while the zombie movies got out ahead again. This also allowed the players intermittent breaks from the action to wander off for more than just a few minutes.
Unfortunately, I don't remember a lot of the actual game since I was usually helping someone with a specific question, but lots of zombies did die. The entry-level Redneck pairs didn't seem to work as well as I'd hoped. For one pair, they found the character with the melee weapon couldn't kill most of the zombies unless he could get 2 successful hits on them in 1 turn. So instead of going toe-to-toe with them & being munched on, he ran around in circles, trailing zombies behind him, while the other Redneck with the firearm skill took pot shots at the zombies as they ran by. I think one of the other Redneck pairs was one of the few, if only, hunters to actually die. & another player had to leave just about the time the hunter died, so he transferred his hunter over to that player, so everyone was able to pretty much play all the way to the end of the game.

Since many of the players running the veteran hunters came signed up in pairs (boyfriend/girlfriend, 2 friends, etc) they ended up working in pairs too, just more effectively than the Rednecks. There was some good cross-team help though. In particular, one hunter had about 6 zombies on them, & a hunter pair jumped in & helped them out.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Way too many players

The night before my game, I checked the signup sheet. 2-3 people had signed up, so I knew I'd at least have someone playing. The next morning I set up the board as people showed up. First the expected 2-3 people showed up, then another, then another. "Cool", I thought, "I'll have a full game." Then 2 more showed up, I was already over my character limit by 1. Then a con volunteer brought me the sign up sheet. !9! people had signed up. & 3 other people had shown up asking if they could play. A total of 12 people. I had to scramble to try to get them all characters. Luckily, the wife of a husband & wife team wasn't terribly interested & said she's just watch. & a father & young son ran one of the Red Neck pairs, & 2 young brothers ran the other pair. That still left me 3 characters over what I had planned for.

I ended up having to use the character I'd given the machine gun to, & tear the other 2 pre-generated characters out of the back of the rules. Once I'd gotten everyone a character, I ran through the rules. I pre-generated most of the characters, but didn't assign Attributes. The players picked which Attribute they wanted to allow a bit of customization. I had also used a graphics package to condense the character sheet down to half a sheet, pre-filling in all the info for each character, & using the other half the sheet to include the basic rules & dice mod summary. That way, each player would have everything they needed to run their character all on 1 sheet & everything was pretty much ready to go as soon as I finished reviewing the rules.

Playtesting XZH

In play testing, one of the things that I found lacking was a reason to get the hunters moving. Otherwise they would just sit in a defendable spot until they kill all the zombies in sight. The dropcases of goodies did help to motivate the players somewhat, but if there's not one near you, & you haven't had a weapon break, they aren't as enticing. So, after contacting the game's author for some ideas, I decided to add sponsors' billboards. These were pasted to the sides of buildings. If you were able to do your plug in front of your billboard, you got a larger paycheck, $500 I think. (I used all the sponsors in the book, but made them all pay out $100). Then I planned to have a prize at the end of the game for both the most zombies killed & the most money made.One other important thing I learned in playtesting was that the size of the board was critical. Expecting up to 6 players, I initially tried the game on a 4x6' board. That was way too big. It caused the players to be too far apart, so they didn't interact, & the zombies to be too spread out, allowing the players to easily kill them off. Also, with the number of buildings I assembled, the board was too open. At the convention, I went with a 4x4', using the same number of buildings as on the 4x6' board & things seemed to work much better, much more cramped. I did have about a 1x1' open park area with trees so that it wouldn't all be streets & buildings.The game's author had been working with SeattleGamer to reformat the rules. Both the author & SeattleGamer were very helpful in my preparing for the convention. I addition to discussing different scenario ideas, SeattleGamer took the time to make the very spiffy looking billboards & even graphics that I gave away to the players. The graphics were "I [chainsaw] Zombies", where [chainsaw] is a picture of a chainsaw (kind of like the I [heart] XXX stickers). SeattleGamer made these graphics using a number of different weapons: shotguns, baseball bats, hockey sticks, etc. So, thanks to them for making the game look extra good.

XZH game prep

I made up characters based on a few of Hasslefree's Adventurers line & West Wind's Redneck Militia from the Road Kill line. I wanted the players to survive for most of the allotted game time since it's not too fun to drive all the way to a convention & be killed off in a game early on. So, I decided to make the hunters either veterans or run entry level characters in pairs. I gave each of the veterans (Hasslefree figs) an extra skill (one firearm, one melee) & about $2000. The entry level character pairs were created as normal, but the pair could pool their money so 1 of the pair could get something more expensive than usual.
One of the pairs would have a firearm skill & the other would have a melee skill. Since there were 4 Redneck Militia, I split them into 2 pairs. This allowed most of the characters/pairs to have access to good gun, a cheap back up gun, & a good melee weapon. Since I was basing most of the hunters on the Hasslefree figures, I gave one character an assault rifle because it matched what he was carrying & the story I made up for him (he ended up getting about $3000) in equipment. Unfortunately, in my play testing, this character was WAY too powerful so I didn't intend to run him.

Here are pictures of all the hunters.

The zombies were the Bag O Zombies from Twilight Creation's Zombies! game. Surprisingly, as small as the plastic zombies were in comparison to what my normal 25/28mm figures, the Hasslefree figures matched the zombies exactly in scale. I did modify the zombies, cutting under the arm that was cast against the body to give the zombies a bit more animation. I also hacked up some to make the Crawlers zombie type (great benefit of using soft plastic zombies). I had decided for a convention game that the "bringing friends" ability of the Howlers zombie type would just be too hard to manage, so I didn't try to make them. & the Roamers & Runners zombie types were differentiated by the color of the standing zombie bases (black vs grey). (Not a casting call for Michael Jackson's Thriller video.)

The buildings were paper building templates from Germy's free building site.

XZH Convention Intro

I ran a game of Xtreme Zombie Hunter at the Conquest: San Francisco convention over Labor Day 2006. XZH is by Grimey Games. As a brief intro, it is a zombie hunting game (obviously) with a twist, it's on national TV. & with TV comes corporate sponsors. So if you replace Schwartzenegger with zombies in the movie Running Man, & add NASCAR sponsorship to the hunters, you've got XZH.

The game was very well received, almost too well. The following entries are not a review of the game mechanics, but instead general musing about how I put the game together & what I learned about running it in a convention setting. A discussion of "first impressions" of the game can be found on Grimey Games' forums and a battle report can be found here (this is a 2MB PDF file & not a webpage link, so might be a bit slow on dial-up.)