Four Years Later

Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

I’m about a month late with this particular article (this is my 212th “regular” blog post). Normally I like to use the beginning of October as my look back at the previous year’s blog posts and point out some of the ones that either got some reaction or others that I felt good about but got overlooked.

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Behind the Comic – Why Kickstarter?

Insight on why exactly I’m doing a Kickstarter for The Gilded Age. And a snapshot of my feelings a few days before I pulled the trigger on something that determines whether a lot of my time might have been wasted on being a comic book writer.

 

Tales from the Loop – Thoughts about the Best Game I Played at GenCon

Probably the one post that surprised me with how well it did, but really it shouldn’t have. If playing the game was as fun as it was, then writing about the game should have had the same amount of excitement for it. If I remember nothing else from GenCon 2017, I will remember this particular game and session.

NES Games Left Off The Classic

I wasn’t sure if I would get the NES Classic. Considering how hard it was to find the system, it seemed more like a pipe dream than anything else. But then my old roommate, Mike, got me one. And I was amazed by what was included and a little disappointed by what wasn’t included. With a few tweaks, they could have taken it from a “10” all the way to “11”.

Death of Ideas

An essay about whether or not you should worry about the idea that “There are no new ideas” or “Sequels are killing the film industry”. I’d like to argue that it might not be as big of a problem as you think.

Not Like This

The aftermath of this year’s Superbowl when things were still very raw and my mind was trying to process everything that had happened.

Gotta admit, rereading it was a little rough.

20 Things I’ve Learn at Concerts

After decades of going to concerts in all sorts of venues from the extremely small to full on stadiums, I’ve decided to classify some of what I’ve seen and learned from all these shows. Think of it as a do and don’t do list (you get to decide which one is which).

Interview with a 9 Year Old

Much like everyone thinks that the past was always better than the here and now, so too do they think that the current generation will be the death of everything Personally, I believe it is just a different way of looking at the world. So in an attempt to get to know a tiny bit of insight – I interviewed my 9-year-old nephew.

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John McGuire

The Gilded Age Kickstarter is still going on. Check it out on Kickstarter here.

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Tales from the Loop – RPG Review

Sometime soon as the week approaches its end, Stranger Things Season 2 will premiere taking with it many people’s weekends with it. Thinking about it makes me turn my thoughts back to Tales from the Loop. I talked about how it was my favorite game I played at Gen Con here, but I didn’t get into much in the way of gameplay details.

Tales from the Loop is about kids. It’s about nostalgia. It’s about playing in a world that King and Spielberg portray.

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Character Creation

Possibly the best part of the game is the character creation. If you are a roleplayer (as opposed to roll-player) then it is perfect for you. Because, more than most games, this one wants you to develop your characters together. It wants you to come up with an idea, but then collaborate to figure out how your kid fits with the other kids. The discussion you end up having serves to help you determine why you guys and gals are actually friends. Each piece somehow builds neatly on what has come before. The game forces you to answer questions about who you are going to be playing, and by doing that, helps to bring to life a more fleshed out character.

You have your base stats where you take your Age and that is the number of points you can put into your primary Skills. Then the Kid types are divided into archetypes: Bookworm, Computer Geek, Hick, Jock, Popular Kid, Rocker, Troublemaker, and Weirdo (though, a little searching on the web can reveal some additional ones players have developed on their own). Each type has 3 sub-Skills they are proficient in, allowing them to devote more points in that particular ability than others (3 is the maximum in your “Key” Skills, where 1 is the maximum in your other Skills).

Next is your Iconic Item. In game terms, it is something that you can potentially use to add a bonus die to a roll, but in character building terms it is that one thing when you were growing up, that possibly identified you as “You”. Maybe it was your badass bike, or you cool jacket, or you cutting edge piece of technology, or…

You get the point.

Then there is your Problem. Problems are the things that all kids have. Think of them almost as a way to grow as a character. It doesn’t have to be solved during a particular adventure, but it is a motivating part of who your Kid is. Which really your Drive. Why are you doing this?

And what is your Relationship to the other players? Was there something in your past that forced you together? Are you siblings or cousins? Parents work together? Share detention most afternoons? All of these are valid and lend themselves to who you are.

Lastly, you have your Anchor. Where the game emphasizes that you can’t really depend on the adults for much help (they are so wrapped up in their own problems), this is the one adult who actually will help, support, and comfort you.

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Oh, one thing I didn’t mention in the Character section is your Favorite Song. We all have/had one. Your character needs to choose one. In my mind, it’s like your walk-up music (and I could see getting a playlist with a group’s favorites and using them as potential story clues).

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The System

Overall the system is pretty easy to figure out. While I have not played the Mutant Zero system that originated this one, it plays very streamlined and well (never seeming to get in the way of the Story you are trying to create).

You have Skills and for each level, you have a Skill you get to roll 1-six-sided dice (1d6). Every “6” you roll is a success. For most things, 1 success is enough to get by a challenge. If you do fail, you can potentially reroll by gaining a Condition (Scared, Upset, Exhausted, Injured, and Broken). Once you have a Condition, you have a minus 1 dice for your rolls until you get to a safe space (with an Anchor or potentially you Hideout).

The only time this gets tweaked a little bit are the BIG challenges (a Climax of the current story being one possibility). It is then that the Kids have to beat a particular number of successes as a team. Each one (or each subgroup) needing to accomplish a series of tasks in order to prevail.

And while Kids Can’t Die… they certainly can fail.

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Location

While the game comes with both a Swedish Loop and an American Loop, my guess is that many campaigns will end up creating something a little more in their backyard. For a GM, those old memories of where the old tree fort in the woods actually lies should only help integrate everyone that much more within the game.

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Mysteries

The last half of the book is for the Game Master. One is more of a sandbox style where it sets up a number of possibilities to explore with various Hooks for the players and NPCs to interact with. Past that are 4 scenarios  (“The Four Seasons of Mad Science”) that can be played as one-shots or as part of a larger campaign. From my various readings online, it seems the majority can be played in 3-4 hours each.

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Overall, what is great about the game is that you can make it your own. Whether that means setting it up in the town you grew up in or inserting NPCs from your childhood or even dialing back a bit on the technology presented by the Loop and focusing more of the strange and unusual within the town/suburbs – you make it your own. And as the players get involved they help expand it into something that is everyone’s.

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John McGuire

The Gilded Age Kickstarter is still going on. Check it out on Kickstarter here.

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

Tales From the Loop – Thoughts About the Best Game I Played At GenCon

Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

I’m not burying the lead on this one. Heck, I put it right there in the title. Tales from the Loop was the best game experience I had at Gen Con. To the point that I talked about the game session to my wife like I was telling her about some awesome movie I’d seen (ask her about my retelling of How to Train Your Dragon – the rated R version – now full of lots of swearing!). I told my sister, a nut for everything 80s, because the game does a great job at delivering on a premise.

So what is Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the 80s that never was?

Think about your favorite kid led movies from the 1980s. Do you have a list in your head?

Goonies?

Flight of the Navigator?

E.T.?

Stand by Me?

Monster Squad?

Explorers?

Cloak and Dagger?

Short Circuit?

D.A.R.Y.L.?

These are the movies just before you get to the John Hughes films in your mid-teens. These are the movies where the kids are the heroes. Where they aren’t treated as dummies just because they aren’t the adults. If anything, the adults are normally the clueless ones who have no idea that a bigger world exists around the next corner, but their kids know it all too well.

This is the feeling Tales from the Loop taps into the nostalgia of that time when you both couldn’t wait to grow up, but also began to understand that it was pretty cool to be a kid sometimes. When you created adventures with your friends, when you bike was your gateway to the larger world, and when the woods were a sanctuary from whatever bothered you.

Tales is a game that takes that premise and puts it into a world very much like our own (or any of the worlds from those movies) but uses the backdrop of artist Simon Stålenhag’s paintings where fantastical machines are becoming more and more commonplace. From the Kickstarter page:

In 1954, the Swedish government ordered the construction of the world’s largest particle accelerator. The facility was complete in 1969, located deep below the pastoral countryside of Mälaröarna. The local population called this marvel of technology The Loop.

While it is a Swedish game, one of the stretch goals set up an American counterpart Loop in Boulder City, Colorado. Again, the thing is you could set this game in the town you grew up in. Those memories of growing up on the coast or in the mountains or playing in the creek or riding your bike through the subdivisions are what the game evokes within the players. It becomes easy to play because you’re tapping into a piece of you from Before you got old(er) and had adult responsibilities.

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When Egg mentioned adding Tales from the Loop to our game schedule, I had no idea what he was talking about. I just smiled and said, “Yeah, whatever. I’m just glad to be going.” Later I looked up the game’s Kickstarter and thought, “Interesting. A game where you play kids in a 1980s style setting.”

Then promptly forgot about it again until the Friday night of GenCon.

Egg was unable to attend the session as he was Cubical 7’s guest at the Ennie Awards. So Lee and I made our way to the room where the game was to take place. After a few minutes our Game Master, Bill Carter, appeared, having hustled from another game. For a while, it was just the three of us. Lucky for us that Alan Precourt and David Cochran decided to swing by and see how things were going. Bill “convinced” them to join in the game, realizing that 4 would probably be better than 2. And off we went into character creation.

Many games we played during the weekend were pregenerated. They had their own stats and histories and connections to the other pregenerated characters. So it can be a bit of a crap-shoot as you’re never 100% on how they are going to work, especially if you’ve never played the system.

However, Bill had us create characters for this game, and I’m especially glad he did.

You pick out an archetype: The Loner, The Jock, The Computer Nerd, etc. in order to have a little bit of framework for your character. But the thing is, you’re a kid, you’re not going to be great at 100 different things like some games. You have 4 main attributes: Body, Tech, Heart, and Mind. You’ll divide up your character points here among those.

Oh, how many character points do you get? How old is your character? Pick a starting age between 10 and 15. Got it? That’s how many points you have to divide.

Pretty cool, right?

Art by Simon Stålenhag

Ah, but there is a catch. There is one other main stat: Luck. Much like other games, using a Luck point lets you reroll a failed roll. So how many Luck points do you get? 15 minus your age. So the younger you are, the luckier you are, but the fewer Build points you’ll have.

The thing that any roleplayer will tell you is that your stats are only part of the story for your character. The story… who you are… what are you afraid of… what do you aspire to be? These are the keys to not only your character but will potentially inform your relationships with the other kids. And that may be the biggest piece of this game. Your kids are going to be friends and it’s really up to the players to figure out why.

In our particular game, I chose the Rocker. A bit of a clumsy, still growing into himself, an 11-year-old kid whose brother had passed away maybe a year or so prior. His parents rode him – trying to have him live up to be his brother, but in his grief, he found his brother’s old guitar and something clicked.

So, I had a background, but how to tie it into the other characters. Why are you friends?

Well… what if the Computer Nerd was helping me actually record something?

What if the Skater-Jock was just big enough to protect the Computer Nerd from the school bully?

And what if the Hick and the Rocker had found friendship in the older brother’s death?

Sounds like we’ve got some friendships going.

And just like that, we were ready to play.

I don’t want to give away the details in case Bill wants to run it again (or maybe publish it at some point). Suffice to say, our four kids immediately noticed something was wrong while at school. You might say that Strange(r) Things were afoot… and it was up to us to figure out why the world seemed to blink or why the robots were acting strange or why- seriously, I probably should stop.

Our attempt at Taunting the missing Egg Embry

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After the game, Lee and I met back up with Egg and proceeded to talk his ear off about the session, about the people we’d played with, and just the joy of the session. I’m sure he was tired of hearing about it by the time we went to bed that night. The next morning we made a b-line to the Modiphius booth where I snagged a hard copy of the game (when we swung back by later that afternoon, they were sold out).

The book comes with all the rules needed to play as well as 4 adventures to get everyone started. So far I haven’t had a chance to bust the game out and play, but I did look to see if they were running any adventures at Dragon Con a couple of weeks later (if they were, I didn’t see any). Regardless, I’m looking forward to jumping into that world!

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For more information about Tales from the Loop, check out the Modiphius Entertainment site here.

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novellas Theft & Therapy and There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Gen Con 2017 Recap – Part Two

You can read Part One Here.

Day 1 Continued

The thing no one realizes is that navigating the Dealer’s Room requires a commitment of time. As it turned out, we had about an hour and a half before the room closed on the day. The goal became see as much as possible while also visiting with some contacts and old friends.

While not the largest Dealers’ Room I’ve been in (New York Comic Con takes that prize), Gen Con doesn’t short change you on the options. Who knew there were so many board, roleplaying, and card games being developed and played?

We immediately ran into David Rodriguez, of Skylanders, Destiny, IDW’s First Strike comic series, and about a billion other things that I’m forgetting right now. I met David many years ago (through Egg) when we roomed together at Chicago Comic Con. It’s always nice to see the successes he’s had over the years, and it led to one of my favorite conversations ever:

Egg – So what are you working on these days?

David – Destiny.

Egg – … um, what’s Destiny?

Yes, Egg doesn’t know what Destiny is. I thought we were going to have to pull David off of him. Luckily, calmer minds prevailed.

After our examining of 5% of the Dealer’s Room, it was on to the game library inside of Lucas Oil Stadium. I’m not sure I’m ever going to be in Indianapolis for a football game, so it was cool to be on the field in an empty stadium.

The Game Library was pretty extensive. So extensive that after our failed attempt to play Arkham House (I’d suggest if you are going to play really complicated games that you get someone who has played the game previously to be around to assist). As it was we spent over an hour setting the game up, played a bit, realized we were playing wrong, still couldn’t figure out how the good guys might end up winning, and put the game away.

At this point, we were saved from our own indecision by Ben. Ben was just looking to game and luckily had bought a copy of Hero Realms earlier that day. It was a fun game (I ended up winning our 4 player game). Pretty easy to teach the rules, and seemed like it had a fair amount of replay value. After the game, though, it was nearly 2 in the morning and time to get back to the hotel and catch some sleep.

Day 2

Friday was a tale of 2 different games: Call of Cthulhu and Tales from the Loop.

Call of Cthulhu is one of those games I often read about. People love Lovecraft and to hear it spoken about in such high regard made it one of those games we had to check out. It also helped that Danny O’Neil was our GM for the session (this was just Egg, Lee, and myself). Egg had contributed to the Dread House Kickstarter, so we were interested to see how it played. Luckily the scenario wasn’t the one he wrote for.

It felt like CoC was very much a Roleplaying game vs. a Roll-playing game. Yes, there are dice rolls, but much of the beginning session was spent gathering clues, talking to NPCs, and interacting in character with each other. When the weirdness began and Sanity checks were called for, it was almost more fun when you failed a check. What did that mean for your character? How would you react to the next bit of oddness? And would you have anything left when it was finished (my character’s answer was a NO, as he failed nearly all of his checks)?

I had a great time. Danny was an excellent GM. It would definitely end up as one I’d like to play again next year.

Tales from the Loop was the second game we played. It was just Lee and I as Egg was the Ebay high bid to be the guest of Cubicle 7 at the Ennies. And from what I understand, he had a great time. But I still feel a little bad for him, because after playing Tales from the Loop we proceeded to talk about it for the rest of the weekend.

There is a reason it won Game of the Year.

I want to write more about it, so I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about the session (in a forthcoming post). What I will say is that all those 80’s kids movies where all sorts of crazy nonsense seem to happen when the parents are away: Goonies, Explorers, Monster Squad, etc., well, that’s what this game is. It takes the best of that genre and lets you play as a kid.

Do yourself a favor and check out the game.

Day 3

Lesson Learned from Gen Con: don’t schedule things at 8 in the morning. That is waaaaay too early. You will skip it.

So it was that Mouse Guard was our first session. I really like the comics, so I was interested to see how the system worked. The basic setup was our group of Mouse Guard needed to find a snake’s nest and deal with the eggs we found there. Using pre-gens, each character had a few roleplaying style traits that they could appeal to during the course of play. Say that you often put other’s needs above your own – you might get a bonus dice to help with that particular skill check. In addition, if someone wanted to assist another character with a check, they could as long as they were willing to accept a condition (tired, injured, etc.) if the roll backfired.

The bigger question I had about the system was more that one of your Skills was your Mouse Nature. You could use this skill when nothing else seemed to fit (or pretty much whenever it might make sense – which could be nearly every time you checked something). As my character’s Nature was probably his best stat, I wasn’t so sure why I would ever use anything else. Perhaps it works itself out in longer campaigns?

The final Boss battle was very different. Basically, you could choose one of 4 different tactics (Defense, Feint, Attack, and Maneuver) as did the GM and then one by one you would almost play a game of Paper Rock Scissors where however the cards came up different things happened. In the end, the Guard was trying to reduce the enemy to 0 before they were reduced to 0 (this was a team determined score). A very interesting idea, but for some of the characters, there wasn’t much to decide. If you were primarily a defensive character, you should probably go with your strengths, but this would leave your combat turns more or less the same. Again, in a longer campaign, I could see a metagame forming as the DM tries to anticipate your moves based off previous battles.

The evening saw us play 7th Sea. Egg and I had supported the 2nd edition Kickstarter and now have more pdfs than I could read in a hundred lifetimes (seriously, it is the gift that keeps on giving). In regards to the session itself…

The successes (known as Raises) work well enough, but my problem is things don’t always feel balanced. The number of Raises you get basically helps to determine the number of things you can accomplish in a round (# of actions you get). Multiple times I saw people get 5 and 6 Raises to my 2 or 3, which meant that they were getting to just do more things. Over a short combat this is less of an issue, but as the rounds increase, the difference of 2 additional “things” means one of the players just isn’t able to do as much.

So while the over the top play was fun, the actual rules didn’t sit well with me.

Day 4

Did I mention not to schedule things at 8 AM?

In the morning.

When you should be sleeping?

Because we didn’t make that session either.

Since this was get-away day, we tried to do the remainder of the Dealer’s Room (you know, that last 95%). I’m proud to say that I think I saw nearly everything, even if it was a drive-by. One of the stand-outs was Shadows of Esteren, a series of RPG books that I nearly bought just to look at the beautiful artwork. It’s definitely one I’m going to keep my eye on for possibly adding to my pdf collection.

As to purchases, I did get a copy of Tales from the Loop (I told you I really liked the game) and a card game called Brass Empire (go figure a Steampunk game MIGHT appeal to me). Still, haven’t busted either of them out to play, but I’m looking forward to doing so.

Wrap Up

Would I go back? Absolutely.There are so many things that I would have liked to do. I’d never roleplayed at a convention before, so this was an eye-opening experience to that. There were tons of games and systems I would have liked to

There are so many things that I would have liked to do. I’d never roleplayed at a convention before, so this was an eye-opening experience to that. There were tons of games and systems I would have liked to play, so those would go to the top of the list.

So did the Convention live up to what I had in my head? Yes and then some.

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list to learn about the upcoming The Gilded Age Kickstarter.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.