Fun and games in June and July 2014

As usual, the start of summer has been busy. On Saturday, 21 June 2014, Janice and I went to the Compleat Strategist in Boston for Free RPG Day. We then met role-players Beruk A., Rich C.G., and some of Rich’s friends at Pandemonium Books & Games in Cambridge, Mass.

I picked up free fantasy supplements for Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Pathfinder, as well as quickstarters for the superhero Valiant Universe and cyberpunk/fantasy Shadowrun. Clearly, I’m still in a retro-clone, old-school Renaissance (OSR) frame of mind.

Other recent acquisitions include Arrows of Indra, Celestial Empire, and the FATE (Core) Freeport Companion, all of which should be useful for my long-running “Vanished Lands” campaign, which is currently using D20/FATE house rules.

As you may have seen by now, I ran four games in one week! After the latest Creation Star Trek convention in Boston (more on that later), I ran my usual “Vanished Lands: A New Dawn” telecom team on Sunday, June 22. The Player Characters encountered monsters while scouting an army approaching the city of Sogewa.

On Monday, June 23, the “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Expedition” face-to-face group continued its adventures. That adventuring party has traveled through time to free some slaves.

Byron V.O., an alumnus of the Boston-area groups who now lives in St. Louis and participates in “A New Dawn” via Skype, stayed with Janice and me after a business trip back east. On Friday, June 27, I ran an extra “Vistel’s Expedition” session, and Byron and I were pleased at the strong turnout.

Byron V.O.'s June 2014 visit
“Vistel’s Expedition,” summer 2014

On Saturday, June 28, I ran “Star Trek: Restoration,” and it was nice to host a smaller group for the first time since moving from Needham to Waltham, Mass. The crew of the U.S.S. Rotha was involved in a tense standoff with Romulan warbirds!

After that afternoon session, we met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. and Josh C. for a solid Italian dinner at Fiorella’s in Newton. Byron, who is always a good houseguest and fun gaming companion, left on Sunday, June 29.

On Monday, June 30, Josh ran a one-shot of Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, using FATE Core (reminding me of what I like and what I’d tweak). That wuxia (Asian-style fantasy) scenario was among the one-shots and miniseries my groups have tried out each summer in between longer campaigns.

Pregenerated P.C.s for “Hammer, Don’t Touch This!” — Josh C.’s Tianxia one-shot at Brian W.’s home in Newton, Mass.:

  • Ma Wei Sheng” [Gene D.]-male eastern human, wandering nobleman, taciturn warrior determined to get out from his family’s shadow and make a name for himself
  • Smiling Ox” [Beruk A.]-male human, master of the Demon Hammer, boastful brute with large appetites and a heart of gold
  • Sister Chuntao” [Brian W.]-female human, Bodhist nun and former thief, conscious of checkered past and seeking harmony, with monkey Sun
  • Jasmina” [Sara F.]-female tiger, talking animal with scars and a strong sense of justice
  • Han ‘Dragon Dog’ Ping” [Bruce K.]-male human, enthusiastic young adventurer and working-class hero
  • Yee Wong” [Rich C.G.]-male human, old Daoist wizard, immortal but absent-minded and irascible alchemist
  • Wolf-Eyed Yue” [Brian S.]-female human, wild woman and member of the secret White Widow sect devoted to helping women defend themselves

The Boston-area and telecom games took a break around the Independence Day weekend, during which Janice and I hosted one of our nieces. During the latest “JasonCon” on Monday, July 7, Jason E.R. (whose “Glassworks: the Devil’s Den” superhero scenario using Icons: Great Power recently ended) graciously hosted Rich’s School Daze, a narrative, rules-light game typically focusing on high school archetypes.

P.C.s for Rich C.G.’s third School Daze session, held in Reading, Mass.:

  • Emo Wallach” [Gene D.]-male human goth, junior at Trowbridge High School specializing in art and comfortable in dank spaces; discovered a dead dog and classmate during a stormy night at Camp Crystal Lake; later a friend of “Reasonable Squid” reporter Cynthia Hoskins
  • Chuck Taylor” [Jason E.R.]-male human jock, Trowbridge senior and friend of “Fighting Krakens” water polo Coach Bronkowski and his bullying son Murphy, helped defeat a homicidal alien with surprise tire-iron attacks; after a change of heart, became a nerd defender
  • Brandon Shaw” [Bruce K.]-male human, shop yank and Trowbridge junior, prone to bad humor; fancies himself a ladies’ man and good with an axe in a scrap
  • Alan Morris” [Brian S.]-male human Trowbridge senior and budding filmmaker; friend of Henry Lee Jackson, an old hermit with a hook hand; recorded attack by assistant camp leader “Ms. Bellum,” who was actually a mantis-like alien; dating Chuck’s younger sister Tracy
  • Feskilado ‘Fesky’ Mepeselph” [Erik R.]-male human Trowbridge senior, science and clank/electronics expert; snuck pet dogs and cat into camp; later found beheaded, and cat Severus was revealed as an alien guardian

I expect “A New Dawn” to resume this coming Sunday, July 13, and Bruce K. will begin his “Eberron/Pathfinder: Reign of Winter” miniseries next Monday. So many games, so little time!

In related news, the Dungeons & Dragons (5e/”Next”) Basic Rules have been released. While there are no earth-shattering revelations, especially after a lengthy playtest period, I’m pleased that Wizards of the Coast released this as a free PDF.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, this looks closer to what I would have preferred for D&D4e, with a mix of AD&D2 style and D&D3.5/D20/4e rules. We’ll still have to wait and see whether D&D5e will tempt role-players away from Pathfinder, OSR, and various indie systems.

“School Daze” one-shot: Taco surprise!

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for the School Daze one-shot that Rich C.G. hosted and ran at his apartment in Waltham, Mass., on Monday, 2 July 2012:

>>”School Daze” Player Characters:

-“Lars ‘Weedy’ Wiedermeyer” [Gene D.]-male human senior at Trowbridge High School in Iowa; chemistry whiz, “crank” (small-time drug dealer) looking for a girlfriend for the summer before college

-“Vincent Marsocchi, a.k.a. ‘Vinny Mars‘” [Brian W.]-male human junior at Trowbridge H.S.; resourceful “jank” (mechanic) trying to avoid bullies and pull a prank at the prom

-“Frank Thomas” [Josh C.]-male human student at Trowbridge H.S.; corn-fed hockey player and romantic drunk looking for a prom date

'80s Redux collage 2
Comedies of the 1980s directed by John Hughes

>>Nerds and jocks

Students arrive in the parking lot of Trowbridge High School for classes a few days before the prom. Weedy parks at the edge of the lot and meets with Clark/”Speedy,” a budding journalist and customer. He’s also nervous about getting a date.

Vinny drives up in his vintage Chevy Nova and immediately gets egged by Biff Thompson, captain of the hockey team. Fortunately, Frank shows up. Since he’s friends with both the jocks and nerds, he defuses the situation — this time.

Weedy scopes out passing cheerleaders while Vinny tells him about his plans to pull a prank at the prom. Frank reminds his pals to watch out for the “Monkey Squad,” three A/V geeks who are loyal assistants to Mrs. Moore, the prom organizer.

All eyes at the parking lot and nearby athletic field turn to wealthy heartthrob Lance Ingbert, who is pursued by Morgan L. Fay, a choirgirl, cheerleader, and skank.

Cynthia Hoskins, a reporter for The Sensible Squid, watches as Lance chats with “Fighting Octopi” teammates Troy Vanderbilt and Biff. Morgan isn’t happy when Lance walks off to talk to others.

“Stealth babe” Hoskins also catches the attention of Weedy, Frank, and Speedy. They each vow to try to get her as their prom date. They reunite in homeroom, where Mrs. Moore drones on about the prom and the musical Spring Awakening.

Cynthia delivers a televised report on how the cafeteria’s taco meat contains carcinogens, and she ambushes the lunch lady. Doris is too surprised to say anything.

Weedy goes to Chemistry, one of his favorite classes. Flaky lab partner Stacy Felicity asks him if he can find out if Frank has a prom date. She and Frank have been friends since childhood. Weedy slips a Bunsen burner into his bag to deliver later to his supplier Carlos.

Vinny tries to stay awake in Mr. Buckson’s Algebra class, since he’d rather be in Shop with Mr. Durgin. Frank goes to Mr. Burlaney’s American History class, where he daydreams about Cynthia.

Speaking of which, Cynthia pulls Weedy and Vinny aside and asks them to wear and distribute T-shirts saying, “Taco meat is murder” at the prom. She explains that she has contacted Chet Carlson of Channel 5 News. Smitten — and already intoxicated — they readily agree.

Weedy later gives out shirts to his customers, including Speedy, Otis, football player Brock, preppy journalist Zack, and Beth. They are impressed with his wares and reluctantly agree to wear the shirts briefly at the prom.

Alvin, Simon, and Ted, a.k.a. the “Monkey Squad,” almost corner Vinny into helping them. He begins hatching a plan, with Troy’s encouragement. In the lunch room, Vinny gets an extra helping of tacos from Doris and avoids bully Biff and dreamy Lance. He boldly asks Amy Kwan to the prom, and she surprises everyone by agreeing!

However, Amy has one condition: Vinny must meet her father, Baptist minister Bishop Parsons, for dinner. Frank tries to talk to Cynthia, but she is busy trying to track down Chris and Lance.

Discouraged, Frank ducks into the lavatory. Troy gives him a pep talk. Weedy and Frank are almost caught smoking by security guard Franz, nicknamed “Col. Clink” by some reprobates.

Inspired by Amy, Vinny excels at poetry about butterflies in Daisy Pfeffeneusen’s English class, but Weedy cuts Phys Ed, which is Frank’s favorite. Frank earns praise from Coach “Bullhorn” Lewis.

Weedy does attend Mrs. Iris Carbuncle’s Economics class, one of the few he aces, thanks to his small-business experience. He pays little attention to exchange student Inga, figuring that she’s out of his league.

>>Coming together and falling apart

Wallpaper for Judd Apatow's comedy TV series
Judd Apatow’s landmark high school TV series

After classes, Vinny drives his heap to dinner at Amy’s house in a respectable suburban neighborhood. He is surprised when Doris answers the door. Apparently, the lunch lady is Mrs. Parsons as well as Amy’s stepmother!

Frank practices with Biff, Lance, and Troy on the field, while Weedy conducts business on the sidelines. Weedy draws skulls and crossbones in his notebook because his romantic plans have gone awry. Stacy was heartbroken to learn that Frank expected to go to the prom with Cynthia rather than her. Cynthia, meanwhile, barely acknowledges Frank and Weedy.

At the Parsons-Kwan household, Vincent tries to make small talk over an elegant meal. Bishop Parsons questions his intentions toward Amy, invokes the wrath of God if he should deliver her home later than 2:00 a.m., and invites him to Sunday services. Fortunately for Vinny, Amy is the apple of her parents’ eyes.

Weedy is shocked to learn that Lance shares an interest in unicorns with Stacy, whom he had started to consider as a backup date. With Vinny securing Amy and Frank still pursuing Cynthia, what is Weedy to do? He confronts Morgan after cheerleading practice and tells her about Lance.

Morgan is disgusted. She storms off, but not before telling Weedy that Cynthia has been playing him and Frank all along. Not only will she embarrass Doris — and, by extension, Amy and Vinny — but she’s actually working on an expose of the drug and alcohol dealers in the school, directly endangering Weedy and Frank’s graduation chances!

Weedy goes home to his long-suffering mother Delores and tries to call his friends. They want nothing to do with him as they get tuxes ready for the prom. In homeroom the next morning, Weedy pulls Vinny and Frank aside and tells them everything.

Vinny agrees to turn the “Taco meat is murder” shirts inside-out and stencil “We heart tacos” on them in shop class. Frank is distraught and vows boozy vengeance on Cynthia, who may actually be pursuing Clark. However, before Weedy and Frank can find new dates, they are distracted by a fight in the lunch room.

Handsome Lance and bully Biff brawl among the linoleum tables. Frank and his hockey mates dive in and separate them. Weedy asks Lance and Stacy, who attends to his wounds, what’s going on, but they are reluctant to open up to him.

Vinny happily goes to shop, ready for his unlikely date and to make mischief for the prom….

We all enjoyed this one-shot, which reminded us of John Hughes’ movies in the 1980s or Freaks and Geeks. Character creation is easy for School Daze, which is a rules-light storytelling game somewhat similar to Fiasco. Just jot down your character’s favorite subject, “ranks” (specialties), motivation, and relationships, and you’ll have a recognizable archetype from high school.

I could easily see this game being good for horror (Buffy: the Vampire Slayer), fantasy (Harry Potter), noir mystery (Brick), superheroes (Spider-Man) or science fiction (Teenagers From Outer Space and lots of anime). I’d recommend School Daze for miniseries and pickup games like this past Monday, when we didn’t have quorum for the Way of the Wicked adventure path.

Rich, let me know if I left anything out, and I look forward to upcoming sessions of the FATE 3e “Vortextelecom space opera and Jason E.R.’s “Glassworks” superhero scenario! Have a good weekend, -Gene