Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Gaming Notes April 28, 2013… with Bill Cavalier

This is Gaming Notes, the weekly news-magazine about all kinds of games and the home of Space Gaming News, Designer Spotlightand Blog Watch.

This week’s special guest is Bill Cavalier… the inimitable Dungeon Bastard!

Space Gaming News:

Car Wars (Wayne’s Books) Sold! — “Car Wars box sets, more so than other game lines, are typically very used. Owners played their Car Wars sets.” The design of the game has been under fire as of late, but I don’t think that many critics are cognizant of just how much play the old editions saw.

Ogre (Steve Jackson Games) Ogre Garage Open For Business! — You’ve probably heard about the hassles that Steve Jackson Games has had getting the plastic “Ogre Garage” produced correctly. Well that particular issue has finally been resolved… and the thing will hold not just every 3D unit in the Kickstarter edition, but it will also hold the 3D units from the sponsored sheets as well! Incredible.

Traveller5 (Marc Miller) The Cold Equations — Marc is currently pushing out about fifty Kickstarter packages a day…. He expects all of the packages to be shipped by the end of May. (Of course, that still leaves all of the deck plans to get out the door this summer….)

Designer Spotlight:

Jeffro: Do you think that science fiction role playing games are just Dungeons & Dragons with jump drives replacing planar travel and techno-gadgets replacing magic items? Or is there something quintessentially different about them?

Bill Cavalier: Sci-fi games are DRAMATICALLY different from fantasy games. Look, if I play a fantasy game CHANCES ARE, I know exactly what I’m getting into. There’s elves, dragons, swords, the world is vaguely medieval. There BETTER BE DWARVES OR I’M OUT. If you come to me and say “Hey, we’re going to play Worg Riders of Hammerstone” I may have no idea what the mechanics are, but I know the genre fairly well.

With sci-fi games, you can throw that right out the window. It could be relatively near-future like Star Trek, or it could be space opera like Star Wars, or super-heroic like RIFTS, or hard sci-fi like Eclipse Phase, or just gonzo balls-out off-the-wall like Gamma World.

So the genre is a lot more varied and specific. You put a D&D guy in a RoleMaster game? No problem. You put a Traveller dude in a Paranoia game, he is going to WIG OUT.

(NOTE: Either way your character dies in the first ten minutes!)

Jeffro: Zowie!! <wipes nonexistent tear from eyes> It’s clear you’re not a D&D-only guy, but that you’re well versed in many of the various strata of gamerdom. Can you describe the most awesome moment you can recall from playing in or game mastering a science fiction themed role playing session…?

Bill Cavalier: It was, in fact, in a game of GAMMA WORLD. Alien forces were attacking the floating outpost of New Berlin and the party was sent aboard the alien destroyer to stop it AT ALL COSTS. Under heavy fire, Oberstkommando Helmut Dankenstein flung a disharmonic bomb directly into the warp core. Everyone else managed to escape before the resulting explosion, but as the turned back, they saw the faint outline of Helmut’s mech raise a beer in salute… and pour it all over the windshield of his battlearmor. END OF CAMPAIGN.

Jeffro: Wow. Give me a second here. I have to just sit back and ponder the extreme awesomeness of that…. <sigh> Yeah. Now… historians of early Dungeons and Dragon gaming often point out that there’s a surprising amount of science fantasy and gonzo elements in the older adventures and campaigns. In your World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl, are you going to suss some of this strangeness out…? What exactly are the parameters of your dungeon design philosophy here…?

Bill Cavalier: There’s no doubt Gygax sprinkled some sci-fi elements into the game. One of my favorite entries in the Monsters & Treasures booklet of the White Box set is “Robots, Golems, Androids: Self-explanatory monsters which are totally subjective as far as statistics are concerned.” YOU SAID IT, GARY: DMing is easy, just MAKE SH*T UP!

That being said, this is the World’s Worst DUNGEON Crawl, so my design goal is to focus on the fantasy elements that make the game simultaneously compelling AND ridiculous. WHY do you tear a rift in the fabric of space if you put a bag of holding into a portable hole? And, more importantly, HOW CAN I USE THIS TO MY ADVANTAGE!? My intent is to take these types of classic — dare I say WORN — tropes and show that if you game THE DUNGEON BASTARD WAY, they can still evoke massive entertainment.

Also, I plan on brutally killing some PCs, because it can’t be the World’s WORST Dungeon Crawl unless somebody dies.

Blog Watch:

Role Playing Games (The RPG Corner) A GNS Timeline of Gaming — “This may be the first decade in the history of gaming where there really isn’t a dominant trend of game play.”

Board Games (Pulsipher Game Design) Buyers versus players –“In the long run certain types of commercial tabletop gaming may not survive because even though there are many people willing to play there are not many willing to buy.” (This post got some push-back on Board Game Geek… but really, there are people that just play, there are people that buy their favorite game and then have all they need for a long while, and there are the people that go to Essen every year and bring back a dozen games with them.)

OSR (Hack & Slash) On the OSR New Wave: Patrick Stuart of False Machine — “Violence, Magic, Faith and Greed. Imagine setting out to make a story with the four characters powered by some of the most fundamental strangeness in human culture, how could that not go horribly wrong and be amazing?” (Hat tip to Brendan. Though I suggest substituting Zealotry for Faith– this is, after all, a game of exploring the anti-virtues.)

AD&D (Delts’a D&D Hotspot) More on Gygax’s Drow — This post exemplifies why AD&D was both mystical and unplayable at the same time. There’s a reason why I never played it much but instead took up comprehensible, tightly designed microgames instead.

GURPS (No School Grognard) Adjusting Swing Damage in Dungeon Fantasy — I’ve always been a bit leery of high point-value GURPS games. I grew up with second edition, so anything beyond 100 points seems uber-munchkiny…! Mark Langsford makes a case for why the core design imbalance between swing and thrust damage actually breaks down in Dungeon Fantasy– and he also offers up a simple means of fixing it. (I may not depart from the rules as written… but this critique is still pretty useful to know.)

GURPS (Dungeon Fantastic) GURPS Weapons & Tactics: Using Shields Offensively — Peter V. Dell’Orto’s series of combat breakdowns are a valuable map to what all is in the rules and include many tactical pointers that you’re unlikely to pick up on during a first read-through..

GURPS (Gaming Ballistic) Shrug It Off — A boxing match in GURPS just will not last all that long, so Douglas Cole tinkers around with some simple house rules to more accurately model what is happening.

GURPS (Orbs and Balrogs) Mining Knowledge in GURPS : Part III. Learning and skill advancement — A new stat-block for tomes of knowledge… and notes on how to use them for research and teaching. (And note that while some other recent house rule posts have come out lately, this is one that was endorsed by Peter V. Dell’Orto over at Dungeon Fantastic!.)

“On the Shelves” at Wayne’s Books…! A quick search on Zenopus Archives reveals that the lizard logo is from the first edition….

Apropos of Nothing:

On KickstarterDark Dungeons: The Movie — “Now I want you to listen to me very carefully here. You cannot parody a work of this magnitude. With something like this, all you can do is present it with one hundred percent sincerity.” (Hat tip to Once More Unto the Breach!)

Tell Me Something I Don’t KnowThe New Rules for the Modern Workplace — “There is no longer such a thing as a linear career path. A college degree doesn’t magically turn into a job and an MBA doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a promotion. Even if you get a job, it’s not stable and you won’t be staying with the same employer for life.”

Currently Watchng: Robotech Episode 9: “Miss Macross” — The Zentradii dispatch a scout vessel to reconnoiter the Miss Macross contest. Rick Hunter violates his orders by borrowing a new armored battleoid (aka a Crusader) and goes out to meet them. Everyone is distracted by the swimsuit competition and the two enemy forces blunder into each other. Rick successfully parries a small missile barrage with his rifle, and unleashes a full salvo of his own in response. The enemy ship comes out of the resulting explosion nearly intact, but the Zentradi must abandon their ship– leaving valuable footage of scantily clad anime characters behind!

Electronic Books: As of this writing, Cyberdrome is #15 on Amazon’s top 100 Free Science Fiction and Fantasy books. It opens up in the middle of some action, introduces some neato tech, and then tops off some snappy banter with the usual mind-blowing twist. On the balance, that’s not a bad hook. Clearly the authors are here to entertain– not to attempt to displace Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein as giants of the field. Some aspects of the “nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and other next generation fields” are more fully developed than the idle speculations I carry around in my own subconscious, but some aspects are pleasantly dated. For example, it’s not since TRON that I have seen anthropomorphic computer programs embraced with such alacrity: “He could still remember his first day as a Green, so full of ambition routines he thought he would overflow a buffer.” Heh.


5 responses to “Gaming Notes April 28, 2013… with Bill Cavalier

  1. RogerBW April 28, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Huh. Business Week catches up with what the rest of the world knew thirty years ago. How quaint.

    There are certainly “different” fantasy games – Talislanta, Tékumel, Jorune. But none of them was ever terribly popular, I think; they weren’t what players wanted.

    For me, the key difference between fantasy and SF games – and why I’d put Gamma World and Star Wars in the fantasy category – is the scientific worldview. In an SF game, there are people who understand how all the weird stuff works, or at least are progressing towards such an understanding. And those people are not the Bad Guys who want to learn all to destroy all, they’re the Good Guys, even if they’re university professors rather than action heroes.

  2. Wayne April 28, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Fun read. Lots of little tidbits. Enjoyed as always

  3. Pingback: Gaming Notes May 12, 2013… with guest Andrew Metzger | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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