Monday, December 7, 2020

Zombies Shuffle Back Home: My Reacquisition Of SPI's Dawn Of The Dead Game

Back in 1980, I was 13 or 14 years old and was just starting to discover what my hobbies and interests were going to be. I liked monster movies, and board games, and late night TV, and other campy-type entertainment. I hadn't yet discovered RPGs, but I was beginning to discover boardgames. But not just games like Sorry or Monopoly and Scrabble. I was starting to fiddle around with wargames. Even though I wasn't interested in combat or world history, I loved the simulation aspect of moving little chits around a map and rolling dice for outcomes. Names like Avalon Hill, Metagaming, and Steve Jackson were on my radar.

One day, I stopped by the local toy shop and saw what would become one of my deepest gaming loves: SPI's "Dawn of the Dead" boardgame (1978). Now at that age, I don't think I'd seen the Romero classic yet, but I had a friend with a Fangoria subscription, so I knew alllllll about it. A game that simulated a horror movie with cannibal undead? My mind reeled at the idea and I plunked down all of my pocket money for the game. My brother (who was likely 9 at the time) had no interest in the game, and we lived out in the country, so neighbors and local kids were nonexistent. But this game had a SOLO mode! I could play AGAINST the game. Once again, my eyes were opened to gaming possibilities I never dreamed of.

Flash-forward 8 or 9 years later. I'm now in college. My well-loved and well-played copy of DotD went to campus with me, still complete (though the box was held together with tape by now). The campus game center was my second home, and by now I had discovered D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and other RPGs, so boardgaming happened a lot less for me. I had a bit of money troubles (as all college kids do), and the gamestore owner - knowing of my DotD game (and its collectible value even back then) - made me a generous offer. So I sold it off without regret. Ok, a LOT of regret. 

Over the years, this game's always been in the back of my mind. I loved playing it. Sure, there are a ton of solo zombie boardgames now with better production, better rules, and deeper gameplay. Hell, you can even download and create your own fanmade DotD game, if you wish. But I really wanted to get this back in hand. Recently, I had a stack of trade-ins at Noble Knight - one of my favorite online gamestores - and they had a used copy of DotD available. That's all I needed to know. My trade-ins were sent in, approved, credit was was spent, and now I have SPI's Dawn of the Dead back in hand - where it shall remain.

I plan to spend the next few weeks getting reacquainted with the game and trying to keep Fran, Peter, Steve, and Roger safe from the zombie hordes invading the Monroeville Mall. And the game will have a place of honor on my shelf next to other cherished games from my youth: Mayfair's Family Business (1989), Mayfair's Encounters (1982), and Dark House's Dark Cults (1983).

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

[GameHack] Improving Game Pieces For Reanimator By Dynamite Entertainment

One of my favorite hobbies is playing boardgames. One of my favorite side-hobbies is tinkering with or improving those same games. I'll create new content or rules for them, or sometimes I'll tweak the game's components to make the playing experience more interesting. Today's project describes the tweaks I made to my copy of Reanimator by Dynamite Entertainment.

A quick overview of the game: You (and a few friends, if you have them) are assistants to Herbert West as he attempts to perfect his reanimator serum. You roam the streets of Arkham, picking up ingredients, research, and corpses for your ghoulish experiments, while avoiding the city watch (as well as any undead you've accidentally let loose). You play through three acts for each player, then attempt to improve the serum. At the end of six rounds, you have one final experiment to finalize the process and either create the perfect formula...or die at the hands of the undead horde you've unleashed.

The game has many nifty 3D buildings that represent the town of Arkham, which is a neat selling point. However, the rest of the components are tokens and chits to represent your health, sanity, the undead, tomes you find, etc. Even Herbert West and the city watch are simple standees. This will not do. So I purchased some bit and pieces here and there and here are the improvements I've made to my "raising the undead" experience:

First, you start with six health and six sanity tokens. Why fool around with 12 easily-lost tokens when one red and one blue die can make an easier-to-use substitute. Just use them to countdown toward death and/or insanity.

For the cadavers/undead, I bought some generic zombie figs. (They glow in the dark too!) If they're laying down, they're cadavers used in experiments. If they're standing upright, they're undead now walking the streets of Arkham.

Tome and ingredient tokens? Feh, how about 3D tomes and small satchels instead! Picked these up from Gamecrafter's Board Game Candy site. (Got the zombies there too.)

For Herbert West and the city watch, I grabbed a couple of DC Heroclix from eBay. Shown here are a Cadmus Scientist and Police Sergeant. I'll swap out their bases for regular mini bases later, but they are a LOT better than the standees.

The Kickstarter for the Reanimator game had a gamemat you could buy that represented the streets of Arkham. I've checked and the mat is no longer available. So I picked up a generic cobblestone gamemat from Frontline Gaming. (Usually used for mini games.)

Put them all together and you have a more immersive Arkham to explore as you play!

Just don't let the city watch track you down and end your research!

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

A Note To Players: The GM Doesn't Need Your "Help"

Hey gang,

Today’s blog post is a bit of a rant session, so if you would rather read a game review or get a new monster for your RPG, this isn’t the post for you. If, however, you’d like to read the tirade of a frustrated GM, feel free to read on.

(One note: I’m paraphrasing and writing in generalities so that I don’t specifically ID or call out anyone. I may have been pissed when I wrote this, but I’m not 100% a dick.)

I had prepped a couple of online games for one of the conventions that was shifting to a virtual presence this year. I made contact with all players, sent out character sheets, and games were scheduled to begin later in the week. A few days later, one of the players contacted me as follows:

“Hi there. I finally got a chance to look over the character you sent me, and I must say, I’m underwhelmed. Do you run a particularly hardcore game with high stakes? If not, he’s not likely to survive. Looking at his hit points, he only has 6. Per the rulebook [snipped math calculations -TS] means this is the absolute minimum he can have. Also, he only has two mutations (one of them Infrasight, which is pretty useless) and, again, according to the rules [more snippage -TS] is the average number of mutations he could have. If you’re trying to have a fun con game, I find it odd you’d provide me with a character who is weak in every possible way. However, I can make it work, but just wanted to point this out to you.”

Huh. OK, so I wrote back and explained that the character was a straight random generation with no GM finagling. I also explained that the character in question had been played in three other games without fatality. In fact, the PC’s other mutation had been instrumental in those games. But if the player wanted another character, I’d send them one.

They wrote back:

“Thanks for the reply. I would suggest in the future that the characters you provide be more substantial for your players so they have more options to work with at the table. For example, when I run a game, I make sure to [snipped suggestions on how to “improve” PCs -TS]. However, I can make this character work, and it will probably be fun to play someone with these many detriments!”

Realizing they were not gonna let this go, I rolled up a new character that had more hit points, better ability scores, and four or five mutations. I sent it to the player as a replacement.

They wrote back:

“Hey, I said I was happy to play the character you sent me. If you’re being passive-aggressive about this, I don’t appreciate it. If you have something to say, just say it. Don’t beat around the bush.”

I snapped, and sent the following reply:

“I was willing to give you a new character because you’ve written to me twice now just to complain about what a crappy character you got. But if you want plain speak, here it is: I found your first email both insulting and condescending. The only passive-aggressiveness is coming from your direction. ‘My character sucks, but I’ll begrudgingly play it if I have to.’ Would you have launched into this diatribe if we had initially met at the table at a convention? Probably not. Your next email was telling me how I could do things better, as if I needed advice on how to improve the adventure I’ve written and run several times before. But the phrase that was over the line was, ‘If you’re trying to have a fun con game…’. I’m not ‘trying’ to have a fun game. I *do* have one. After 35 years of GMing at conventions, I think I have a pretty good notion on how to do it. And I’m stressed out enough trying to juggle 11 other players remotely without unsolicited advice on how I can ‘improve’ things.”

I wrapped up by saying all they needed to do was point out the PC seemed weak and if they could play something else or up the hit points a bit. Not a problem; I would’ve been happy to swap them out. But I didn’t need or want their unsolicited criticism.

The player must’ve been chastised or just didn’t see how they were coming across as they did send an apology as well as an offer to drop out of the game. It became a moot point as I needed to cancel my events due to a personal issue that surfaced.

Now that I have that off my chest, let me remind everyone that – even though we’ve moved to the slightly less personal “online world” – we still need to treat folks the way we’d treat them in person across the game table. GMs, your players have sought you out for the sole reason of having a good time. Treat them with respect because they’ve put their trust in you. Players, your GM has created a world for you to explore. Treat them with respect because they’ve put their trust in you.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

2020: My Busiest Convention Year Ever?

Because I live in the middle of a gaming "black hole", it's tough for me to get to the table without driving an hour north or south of my present location. And, as all GMs know, trying to get a game together remotely is like herding cats. That's why I try to attend two or three conventions every year. It's where I'm guaranteed to have full tables of eager players ready to play. This year's global C19 pandemic squelched that, by cancelling face-to-face tabletop gaming events worldwide.

Or did it?

The first scheduled event this year I was planning to attend was Gary Con, which was also one of the first directly affected (i.e., shut down) by the pandemic. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the gaming community as we all saw the writing on the wall for the rest of the year. However, in an inspiring show of community and never-say-die, the Gary Con staff and organizers hurriedly assembled "Virtual Gary Con", which became solely an online convention. Admittedly, I had never run an online event before, nor had I played in one as I'm admittedly a grognard about such things. But I also wanted to show my support for a convention that I really enjoy and that was having a tough time this year. So I studied up, signed up for a Zoom account, and ran four online games over the weekend.

Shortly thereafter, Goodman Games wanted to test the online waters (and support Tabletop Events) by hosting their own virtual event, Cyclops Con! It's no secret I really enjoy their Mutant Crawl Classics line so - once again - I signed up and ran three more games online. A little less than two months later, Goodman Games' DCC Days expanded to encompass an online event as well, and thus DCC Days Online was launched. And, yet again, I ran three more online games.

So, for those of you who need help with the math, in 5 months, I went from an online gaming know-nothing to running 10 online events with a running time of around 40 hours. And next week, I'm running two events for Gen Con Online - each 4 hours long - taking me to 48 hours of gaming. Heck, even in my best convention-attending years, I've never run that many accumulated hours in a year.

And the year's not even close to being over. Here's hoping I see you at the virtual table this year.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Online Gaming Back in 1983? Yup, Welcome To "CB D&D"

It's fairly plain to see that the world of gaming is going to be online for the foreseeable future. Sure, I miss going to conventions and face-to-face table gaming. And I've heard more than one person lament that they refuse to try remote game sessions as "it's not the same." But to those folks, I gotta tell you you're really missing out as remote gaming has been around since gaming started. (In fact, I found an interesting article that suggests chess was played remotely via correspondence as far back as the 9th century!) In fact, yours truly is an old hand at remote gaming...

I recall playing by mail back in the 1980s, where I gave several of the games run by Flying Buffalo a try (still going strong today!), and I even played Silverdawn over the course of a summer back then. But my favorite session of playing remotely was the time I played D&D over my CB radio.

My first car was a 1972 Ford Pinto handed down to me from my mom. No AC, black plastic interior, AM radio (that didn't work), but it had a CB radio that still worked left over from the 1970's CB radio craze. I used it to listen to truckers gabbing as they passed by my house on the interstate about 1/4 mile away.

Anyway, during our weekly D&D game, my cleric (Brother Jarrod) got separated from the rest of the party deep in a long-forgotten crypt. My DM, Roger, decided he would run the two groups separately until they met up again. Due to circumstances, he and I were unable to get together that week. And my parents made it clear that tying up the phone line playing D&D ws out of the question. Roger, who lived about 5 miles from me, remembered that I had a CB radio in my car.

"Hey, I think I have a CB base unit down in the basement," he said. "How about we do this over the CB?" I thought it was a great idea, so around 7 pm on a Tuesday night (school was out for the summer), I got in my car, laid my character sheet and dice on the passenger seat, fired up the CB, and Roger and I played a one-on-one game over the airwaves. My handle was "Brother Jarrod", and he was "The Overlord", as I recall. We followed CB protocol as best as we could, finding an open channel (so we wouldn't tie up "real" communications), and ending each statement with "over."

"I listen at the door. Do I hear anything? Over."

"Nope, it sounds empty. Over."

"OK, I swing open the door and charge in! Over."

We got through a few rooms, and I managed to not die in combat as a lone 3rd level cleric lost in a tomb. Roger said, off in the distance, I saw a glimmer of torchlight - likely the rest of the party. (Over.) So I ran to meet back up with them (Over.), thus ending the session. The CB game probably lasted about 2 hours and was tons of fun. And, of course, just as we were wrapping up and signing off, an amused laughing voice broke in...

"What the hell are you two kids doing on this channel? Playing some kinda game?"

Yup, it was "some kinda game", all right! Over.

"Quill Noir: Forgotten Case Files" Supplement for Quill Noir RPG Now Available

I knocked on the chief inspector’s office door and walked in before the invite. He glanced up from a stack of paperwork, an annoyed grimace on his face.

“Just returning the Henderson case file,” I said, holding up the tattered Manila folder. The chief wordlessly hooked his thumb toward the row of file cabinets lining one wall and went back to his Sisyphean task. I crossed to the cabinets, opened drawer “G-H-I”, and wedged it back into position. While doing so, my eyes fell upon several red folders stuffed in the back. I wrestled to pull them out and, once freed, I laid them across the tops of the cabinets. There were 10 folders in all, labeled “Case 1” through “Case 10”.

“Hey chief? What are these?” I asked over my shoulder.

“Huh? Oh, those,” came the chief’s bored reply. “Those are cold case files. Unsolved.”

I scowled at the thought. I don’t like the idea of someone getting away with committing a crime. It makes my overly developed sense of justice itchy. “Mind if I take these and give ’em a gander?” I asked. “Maybe I can open up some new leads.”

Once again, the chief glanced up, shrugged, and hooked his thumb toward the door, inviting me to exit. I bundled up the red folders and took my leave…


Quill Noir: Forgotten Case Files is a scenario supplement for use with Quill: A Letter-Writing Roleplaying Game for a Single Player and Quill Noir. To use this supplement, both the Quill rulebook and Quill Noir are necessary. Quill Noir: Forgotten Case Files takes place in the world of Quill Noir, a time reflecting 1930s pulp crime fiction novels and 1940s detective films. Quill Noir: Forgotten Case Files presents 10 new cases for would-be gumshoes and flatfoots to solve. You may find yourself investigating art fraud; rescuing someone from a burning building; testifying on the witness stand; or escaping from thugs who want to put you in a Chicago overcoat. 

Quill Noir: Forgotten Case Files is now available at Drive Through RPG. (A copy of Quill: A Letter-Writing Roleplaying Game for a Single Player and Quill Noir is required to play.)  Quill, Quill Noir, and Quill Noir: Forgotten Case Files are available as Pay What You Want releases, so try before you buy, if you prefer. Also, all have been released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

DCC Days Is Here! Play DCC/MCC All Weekend Long And Support Your FLGS Too!

DCC Days is upon us, so get to your FLGS for DCC-related goodies and plant yourself in front of your computer screen for online games and fun! 

Similar yet bigger and more focused than Cyclops Con last month,  DCC Days grew from DCC Day (singular) which was to be a one-day, in-store celebration of Goodman Games' product line. Your FLGS would provide freebies and new Goodman products and swag (ala Free RPG Day) as well as run in-store games and demos. Well, COVID-19 put the kibosh on in-store games, so the folks at Goodman expanded the gaming to the online realm. So this weekend sees online games of Dungeon Crawl Classics, Mutant Crawl Classics, etc., but if you want the goodies and swag, you must venture forth and visit the stores (who, in turn, could really use your business at this time).

Last night I ran a team of four mighty mutants into The Desk in Room 8-10, and Sunday, I'll be running two more MCC games: Plague From Below and The Albuquerque Starport (yes, the classic Gamma World adventure)! As the social isolation continues, I'm really getting the hang of online gaming, which allows me to play with folks from across the country and around the world. And events like Cyclops Con, DCC Days Online, Virtual Gary Con, and others to come later this year continue to bring us together while we remain apart. 

And now a few photos of DCC Days thus far!

Remember, when you go out, be sure to wear a mask!

Another band of micro-mutants tackling the dangers to be found within The Desk in Room 8-10!

Visited my FLGS and picked up a few DCC Day goodies, including the exclusive adventure "Shadow of the Beakmen" and a compilation Adventure Pack with 3 adventures for DCC, DCC-Lankhmar, and MCC!

I also picked up The Princess Bride RPG as I love the movie, heard the game was good, and wanted to support the store while there getting freebies.

Also, my nifty new toxic waste rusted drum arrived today in the mail. Perfect for holding any radioactive debris during those MCC games.

And my homemade nametag for the event.