Sunday, May 26, 2013

100 years of Peter Cushing

Today was the 100th anniversary of Peter Cushing's birthday. The video below is a clip that was added to the end of part 2 of Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror when it aired on BBC1.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Campaigns I'd Like to Run: X-COM/STALKER: Fight the Future

Like many GMs I often have more ideas for RPG campaigns than time to run them all. It's part of the fun to build on a creative spark and plan out the "what if" possibilities for new campaigns, even if it's unlikely to hit the table.

This month's RPG Blog Carnival -- hosted by Age of Ravens -- is based on this theme, "Campaigns I'd Like to Run." The Carnival is a great opportunity to work out some of these partially-formed campaign ideas.

X-COM/STALKER: Fight the Future

Yeah, we got the package, Colonel. No we didn't open it.

North of town? No, there's nobody there, no survivors. You see how many of us made it back?

It's perpetual night in there. Like walking though a curtain. Right inside the edge of Zone Mike Three. Gordon lost it right then. Didn't you know that?

The designator signal held out, it's the only way we could have found the package again. We secured it and fell back to the DZ. That's when they hit us. They knew we were there.

This campaign idea is for a near-future sci-fi/horror mashup that combines elements from two complimentary settings, the video game X-COM: Enemy Unknown, and the STALKER tabletop RPG, based on the novel Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky Brothers. Additional inspiration can be found in The X-Files, Delta Green, GURPS Atomic Horror, and GURPS Warehouse 23.

What is the campaign about?

Ever-increasingly desperate battles against an alien threat to humanity. Worldwide, there are gains and losses by both sides. Some areas previously controlled by the aliens have been mysteriously abandoned and are designated Zones. Some of the natural laws of physics no longer apply in the Zones. Despite the danger to body and mind, priceless alien artifacts of every description litter the Zones. It's only a matter of time before we learn how to use what they left behind to finally destroy the aliens. Conspiracy and fear reign: What do the aliens want? Which humans are collaborating with them?

How does the game do this?

The tone and the style of the campaign would depend on the interest of the players. I see two ways to go with the source material, and a sliding continuum between the extremes.

1) Investigation, Research and Building: The player characters are involved with the investigation of alien artifacts, and may be out in the field collecting data and material. This would certainly include forays into Zones of previous alien activity. They could also be involved with the development and management of team and agency resources, from the unit level expanding to the worldwide XCOM organization.

2) Tactical combat: The player characters are assigned to the combat field teams that face the alien threat. This would encompass actual combat roles (ranged, hand-to-hand, sniper) and support roles (medic, engineer, field tech).

As far as which rules system to use, again this would depend on the intended style of the game. For a more investigative game, and a focus on building resources, perhaps GUMSHOE, FATE Core, or Action Cards. For a game focused on combat with the aliens and other field operations, a system with more specific combat options, skills, and weapons might be more appropriate, such as Cyberpunk, Shadowrun or even nWoD. Somewhere in the middle, perhaps True20, Savage Worlds, or Chaosium BRP.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ray Harryhausen was a Magician (including random tables)

(Part of the Ray Harryhausen Blogfest)

Ray Harryhausen was a magician. He took foam rubber and fur wrapped around a wire armature and made it come to life in dozens of feature films and short subjects.

Harryhausen's contributions to visual and photographic effects cannot be overestimated. His pioneering work in refining the art of stop-motion animation over the course of 50 years gave us defining moments in the history of science-fiction and fantasy films. His technical wizardry and attention to detail mark the work of a true professional of the craft. Several generations of film fans, filmmakers, and gamers have been inspired by his creations.

This should have been a story in honor of Ray Harryhausen's 93rd birthday in June. Instead, it is in memoriam for the filmmaker, artist and writer who passed away on Tuesday.

I don't remember the exact first Harryhausen movie that I saw. Many of my early memories of movies as a kid are mixed together. My best guess is that it was 20 Million Miles to Earth, about an alien creature loose in Rome; a late-night showing (9pm?) that my parents let me stay up to watch. I soon began to recognize his work in other movies over many more late nights and Saturday afternoons. They were known as "Harryhausen movies", as his special effects overshadowed the names of producers, directors, and often the actors. I wrote about one particular film, The First Men in the Moon, in this review.

To me, the battle with the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts represents the pinnacle of Harryhausen's talent, even if he would go on to create more intricate models and complicated effects in later films. He spent four months animating the skeleton models, and the amount of synchronization required to match up models to the live actors is still astounding.

Although we can create all manner of wondrous effects, creatures, and whole worlds through the use of computer animation, I feel that sometimes we lose a connection to the real objects, like stop-motion models and the physical sets they inhabit. Their lack of slick perfection make them less polished and more uneven, but more immediate and ultimately, real.

Bonus: Two d12 tables for random Harryhausen monsters in the fantasy role-playing game of your choice.

Small Creatures

1 -A Roc hatchling

2 - Skeletons

3 - Pterodactyl

4 - Giant bee

5 - Harpies

6 - Selenites

7 - A homunculus

8 - Animated ship's figurehead

9 - Centaur

10 - A chess-playing baboon

11 - A mechanical owl

12 - Medusa

Large Creatures

1 - Giant ape

2 - Rhedosaur

3 - Giant octopus

4 - Triceratops

5 - Cyclops

6 - Giant crab

7 - Talos

8 - Hydra

9 - The Avatar of Kali

10 - Griffin

11 - Troglodyte

12 - The Kraken