Simultaneous cooperative starship bridge simulators

I’ve played Artemis a few times now. It is, as I’ve said, a pretty revolutionary concept. It’s not quite an RPG, not quite a LAN game, not quite a LARP… Artemis is pretty much its own genre. In my head, I’ve taken to calling it a live-action computer-moderated RPG.

And then there are the boardgames along the same lines… The FASA Star Trek Bridge Simulator is, I think, probably the ancestor of all these games. But there have been several more in recent years that work along similar lines.

As I’ve now discovered, Artemis isn’t just a game — it’s now a genre. There are several other games out there with a similar conceit and format. What should we call them? For lack of a punchier term, I’m calling them Simultaneous Cooperative Starship Bridge Simulators. Here are the ones I know of:

Name

Medium

Silly or serious?

Open source?

Played in a camper converted to look like a starship?

FASA Star Trek Bridge Simulator Boardgame/RPG Pretty serious No, but then it’s tabletop Maybe?
Artemis Starship Bridge Simulator Computer-moderated Pretty serious No Maybe?
Space Nerds in Space Computer-moderated Pretty serious Yes Maybe?
Space Alert Boardgame Somewhat serious No, but then it’s tabletop Maybe?
LHS Bikeshed Computer-based, with human controller Fairly silly No Yes
Spaceteam Computer-moderated Very silly No? Maybe?
Space Cadets Boardgame Pretty silly No, but then it’s tabletop Maybe?

And that’s just the ones that I know about. I assume there are more! (Please comment to tell me new ones that I haven’t listed.)

What do I make of all this? First off, it’s really cool that these games exist.

Second, it’s interesting that so many of them are modeled so closely on Star Trek. Perhaps because the original game was the Star Trek Combat Simulator. Perhaps because Star Trek is just such a huge cultural juggernaut — probably second only to Star Wars for SF cultural cachet, if that. Perhaps because so many of us think of the Enterprise when we think of a crew working together. (Interesting to note that the Honorverse people at Convergence 2013 were running what amounts to a Star Trek simulator in their room. Star Trek, not Honorverse.)

Third, I find it particularly fascinating that there are so many of them. “Simultaneous cooperative starship bridge simulators” has to be a pretty niche type of game, doesn’t it? Yet there are at least seven of them out there.

Minicon this weekend

Minicon logoAnother delay between posts… This weekend is Minicon 49, so for the past nigh-unto-week I’ve been working on the Pocket Program and various other con committee-like duties. (The pocket programs are now printed! Yay!)

At Minicon, I’m going to be doing another round of Let’s Build a World, and I’ll be on a few other panels that may or may not turn out to be gaming-related. Plus I hope to have at least a modicum of gaming — there’s almost always some Zar, Moneyduck and maybe even Star Traders! Look forward to a post-con report or two early next week.

Why the Source is probably the best FLGS in the universe

Tonight before gaming, John texted me to let me know that Classified, the James Bond 007 retroclone, was back in stock at the Source. As I walked into the store, Burl greeted me with a friendly, “You must be here to look at Classified!”

I was a little surprised, but also reminded again of how amazing a store the Source is. In fact, as I’ve said elsewhere, I think I could make a pretty strong argument that the Source is the best FLGS in the universe. Follow my logic:

  • They have a simply huge stock of stuff. Pretty much anything you could want is already on the shelves. They have a vast selection of D&D books (whichever edition); pretty much any kind of die you could want, from multicolored Fate dice to blank D20s to glow in the dark dice to more common things like Gamescience precision dice or multicolored Chessex dice. They have a whole shelf full of just indie games.
  • It’s not perfectly organized, but it’s fairly good. The RPGs, for example, are mostly in alphabetical by system.
  • The books are mostly unwrapped, so you can see what you’re getting.
  • There is generous gaming space — easily enough for your gaming group to get a table all to themselves, most of the time, even when there’s a major event going on.
  • The employees are generally very respectful, even helpful. And there are even women on staff!
  • They have RPGs, boardgames, CCGs, comics, manga, miniatures and general fannish paraphernalia, all under one roof. And their selection of any one of those things is quite excellent. They’re not just a comics store that keeps a few boardgames in stock, or a CCG dealer who also dabbles in RPGs; they probably rival any store around for any one of those categories. And put together, they’re a titan of fannish consumerism in one place.
  • They understand the concept of a ‘sale’. They’ll occasionally put old, dust-collecting things on special discount. They even usually have a $1 shelf — some of which is just bizarre, but some of which can be buried treasure. I think I found my copy of Arrowflight there.
  • They’re very well tapped into the Twin Cities gaming scene. One of the owners is also a co-author for many Tekumel books, for example. They have fairly good bulletin board space, and they have a pretty strong presence at local fannish conventions.
  • I keep mentioning their stock, but it’s also worth noting that they have tons of hard-to-find or out-of-print games, right there on the shelves. There’s a recent thread on RPGnet about how apparently the A Song of Ice and Fire game is very hard to find. Well, the Source has apparently spoiled me, because when I read that thread, I found myself thinking “But doesn’t your FLGS keep ASOIAF on the shelves?” I guess not every FLGS does! Earlier, someone was looking for the GM screen for The One Ring. Again, my reaction was “…but the Source has several copies in stock!” And every year, when I hear people getting psyched about seeing games for the first time at GenCon, I wonder to myself, “…but didn’t I already see that game at the Source?” And I could probably name a dozen others books that they similarly stock, in spite of the games’ apparently rarity. The Source has spoiled me for apparently hard-to-find games.
  • My personal favorite: they sell Blade & Crown!

Okay, but the universe? That’s kind of hyperbole, but a) the US, being the empire that it is, is probably a center for FLGSs in the world, b) I think that gaming and fandom are a pretty uniquely human thing, and c) humans are probably unique in the universe. QED.

And if you’re wondering, like I was: Burl had talked with John about Classified, and John had told him that he was texting me about the game being in stock. Not too often you get an FLGS employee who has his finger so well on the pulse of the local gaming scene!

Dollar Store Dungeons: Your turn

Logo for dollar store dungeons, showing a $-shaped dungeon with various beasties and crannies

All ten of my items are posted now. For the record, they were:

  1. Dinosaurs! A couple nice plastic dinosaurs.
  2. Stance markers for Blade & Crown.
  3. Glass beads as cheap as they come.
  4. Die-cast vehicles for use in SF games.
  5. Chess for cheap minis.
  6. Paints to use with…
  7. Brushes to paint on…
  8. Dominoes to make cheap, easy gaming terrain.
  9. Pencils, because we always need pencils.
  10. Dry-erase board for tracking initiative, making little maps, etc.

In addition, I bought a few things I couldn’t help myself from buying: an extra set of stance markers, an extra set of dominoes and a set of the creepy-crawlies that John has already blogged about.

Really, I could probably do another set of ten. There were a lot of things I didn’t get: dice, playing cards, various office supplies, etc. etc.

Buying paint for the dominoes has recently got me thinking about miniatures a lot. Not that I use them all that often (and when I do, I pretty much exclusively use Lego minifigs). But I love the craft and artistry that goes into painting minis. Also, I have a box or two of minis that I inherited, and I’ve never gotten around to painting them, partially because I didn’t want to make the initial investment to get paints, brushes, mounting materials, a pin vise, etc. etc. But this project has me thinking about the prospect of getting into miniatures in an affordable way. So, since that initial trip, I’ve been prowling dollar stores for primer and other likely materials. A huge bag of sand, a giant wad of plant-like material (suitable for underbrush or a forest in minis terms) and many other items have been tempting me.

But anyway, that’s my initial set of ten items.

So, what about you? What cool stuff have you found in a dollar store? I’ll continue to update the Dollar Stores Dungeons project page — keep me updated on your discoveries!

Movies for gaming: Ladyhawke

Recently I re-watched Ladyhawke for the umpteenth time. It’s always been one of my favorite fantasy movies, but this time, I watched it with a specific eye towards gaming. What ideas could I get from it for gaming? How easy would it be to reproduce that kind of scenario in a game? (If, in fact, it’s even possible or desirable to reproduce — RPGs are a very different artform from movies, after all.)

The story

Cover of the Ladyhawke DVDIn case you don’t remember it: A thief, Philippe, escapes from the Bishop of Aquila’s dungeons. Since no one has ever done this before, the Bishop demands that the thief be found and executed, so his men go out in search of Philippe. The thief stays one step ahead of the Bishop’s troops until they finally catch him — but he is rescued by Etienne of Navarre, a mysterious knight in black who keeps a hawk with him. Etienne dispatches the Bishop’s men handily, then Philippe and Etienne form an unlikely symbiosis: Philippe seems to offer Etienne a way into Aquila to seek revenge, while Etienne offers Philippe protection from the Bishop’s men. But what about the hawk?

Philippe eventually finds out that the hawk is in reality a woman, Isabeau, who is Etienne’s estranged love. During the day, she turns into a hawk. At night, Etienne turns into a wolf. The two have been cursed by the Bishop, who was jealous of their love. Now, they are always together but always apart.

The next day, the Bishop’s men attack and Isabeau is struck by a crossbow bolt. Etienne commands Philippe to take her to a nearby abandoned monastery, where an old monk lives. The monk, Imperius, sees to her wounds and reveals that he was the one who (through drunkenness) revealed to the Bishop that Etienne and Isabeau were in love. For this, Imperius feels he owes them a tremendous debt.

But he has a plan: there will soon come a “day without a night, a night without a day” where Isabeau and Etienne can confront the Bishop and unravel his curse. First, though, they’ll all need to sneak into Aquila…

Reflections

There are a lot of little problems with the movie, some that are more obvious and some that are less so:

  • Why does Etienne command Philippe to take Isabeau to the monastery? The story clearly requires it, but it doesn’t make much sense; Etienne on his giant horse would easily provide better protection than Philippe does.
  • The armor is ridiculous. The chain armor evokes “painted sweater” and “incredibly 80s” far more than “actual armor”, and the strips of tin forming the front of Rutger Hauer’s helmet face look like they wouldn’t even stop a football, much less a sword.
  • Isabeau’s function is mostly to sit around, look pretty, and occasionally be wounded so the men can have some motivation. Feh.
  • At one point, Isabeau, Philippe and Imperius set a pit trap for Etienne (in his wolf form). What exactly were they planning to do with Etienne once they’d captured him? Why couldn’t they just ask him to do whatever they needed him to do? (Etienne in wolf form seems very docile sometimes, and very wild other times.)
  • As they get close to capturing wolf-Etienne, he falls into some ‘ice’. And by ‘ice’, I mean “thick-cut sheets of styrofoam that look like no ice I’ve ever seen.” I think the filmmakers even make sure to have one of the characters say “He’s falling in the ice!” A good thing, because otherwise I’d honestly wonder if Etienne was supposed to be falling through a hole in time to a modern-day pack-and-ship store.
  • Finally, why does Navarre send Philippe off to get help for Isabeau, instead of going along himself? This is narratively convenient — otherwise, Philippe would have nothing to do — but it makes approximately zero in-world sense. There’s even a scene of Etienne sitting and praying. He’s literally just sitting and praying, while Philippe is hopefully rescuing his beloved. Not a very good, or even sensical, plan.

Other than those questions, though, everything else in the story fits together really well. Philippe appearing gives Etienne just the sign he’s been looking for; Navarre was once the captain of the guard, so the guards let him past; how the whole “day without a night” thing works; how Philippe’s thieving skills get used — if this were an RPG, I’d commend the GM on making sure that everyone (well, except Isabeau) gets to contribute something important to the plot, and on making it all fit together so neatly.

It’s tempting to think that the film was designed to ride the wave of D&D-inspired fantasy. The main characters map pretty closely to standard fantasy classes, for example. Etienne is clearly a warrior (perhaps a paladin); Imperius is a priest; and Philippe is one of the better depictions of a thief I’ve seen in a movie. He’s arguably the main character, since he’s the only one who has much of a character arc, and since we effectively see the other characters through his eyes.

Inspirations

Watching the film again reminds me of so many of its set-pieces that make good gaming fodder. The great locations, for a start:

  • The ruined monastery with its rickety, collapsing rope-and-board bridge. I suppose I’m a sucker for rope bridges — I just find them thrilling and evocative in games. And Imperius emphatically reminding Philippe to “walk on the left” is genius.
  • The dungeons of the Bishop are also a lot of fun. Pretty unrealistic, but a nifty setting anyway.
  • The forest houses are another classic. Whole villages in the woods? Again, pretty unrealistic, but fun.
  • Maybe my favorite: the trellis outside the inn. Philippe hopping around from grape vine to grape vine is classic adventure. Might be difficult to simulate satisfactorily with RPG miniatures, though.

And the movie has some very inspirational items:

  • The bishop’s staff with its secret spike.
  • Who doesn’t like Etienne’s double crossbow?
  • And last but not least, Etienne’s sword. It’s not magical, but it doesn’t have to be, because it’s full of possibilities. I can’t help but wonder: What did his forefathers do to earn their gems? What stories has this sword been part of?

A few other generally nifty things:

  • I’ve always liked Ladyhawke’s subtle take on magic. The only magic in the story is the curse, which is (interestingly) called down by a Bishop. It’s a totally effective, highly mysterious, and completely unique piece of magic. By my standard that magic in fantasy be powerful, mysterious and rare, Ladyhawke’s is nearly perfect.
  • The motivations are nice and strong, with some great inter-character tension. Etienne convincing Philippe to go back into the dungeons that he’d barely escaped from, Imperius’ both selfish and selfless reasons for stopping the curse, etc. etc.
  • This reminds me — Imperius could be argued to be the other main character, since his arc is probably second only to Philippe’s. And we learn so many interesting details about his past along the way.

All in all, a great movie, with lots of good gaming fodder. It’s easy to imagine trying for a similar scenario in an RPG. Perhaps a reversal, where Isabeau gets to rescue Etienne and Philippa the thief gets to help her along the way. Or where we learn how the gems in the sword of Navarre were earned.

Dave Trampier: A great artist

Dave Trampier has apparently passed away.

Trampier, aka DAT and Tramp, was a very influential artist. He of course did the famous Players’ Handbook cover with the adventurers clambering over the giant idol. Emirikol the Chaotic surely has had a strong influence on many owners of the 1st edition DMG. Personally, I remember him most for two things: his art for Kings & Things; and his amazing comic Wormy. Many panels from Wormy have imprinted themselves permanently on my memory:

  • Gremorly and the Shadowcat breaking through the heavenly spheres
  • Goblins fighting: “This is no ordinary soupspoon”, indeed.
  • Gremorly opening a magic portal

His art for Kings & Things managed a cartoony, goofy whimsy — much like Tom Wham’s own work, but cleaner. Wormy is cartoony yet elegant, with a superb sense of line and gorgeous coloring. It reminds me a lot of my favorite Japanese woodblock illustrations, such as works by Hiroshige and Kawase Hasui.

It sounds like the latter part of DAT’s life was a hard one. Not what he deserved.

Dollar Store Dungeons, part 10: Dry-erase board

Logo for dollar store dungeons, showing a $-shaped dungeon with various beasties and crannies

The last item in my Dollar Store Dungeons project: a whiteboard. Or, as the package says, a Dry Erase Board:

Photo of small dry erase board

And I suppose it really is a dry-erase board rather than a whiteboard, because the surface is actually a silver color, not white. (Sorry, the photo doesn’t show this very well.)

It comes with a (mostly dried up) dry erase marker with built-in eraser, and there are two pretty decent magnetic strips on the back. Its primary intention is probably for memos on the fridge at home.

I’ll use it for gaming, of course. Probably foremost to keep track of initiative order in Blade & Crown. It could also easily work for tracking mook stats, or for sketching out a simple map. And it would work great as a zone tracker in Fate or other games with similarly abstract mapping.

Dunno if the dry-erase surface will become ghosted or not, but even if it does… hey, it was only $1!

Dollar Store Dungeons, part 9: Pencils

Logo for dollar store dungeons, showing a $-shaped dungeon with various beasties and cranniesThis was the simplest, most practical, most directly usable purchase for Dollar Store Dungeons: a set of mechanical pencils.

A set of mechanical pencils

There’s not much to say about these, really. Just that people often don’t seem to have writing instruments, or enough writing instruments, when gaming. Having extra pencils around is pretty much always a good idea.

I’ll toss these in my GMing kit and will probably, eventually, have lost them. But, again, they were just $1.

Dollar Store Dungeons, parts 6, 7 and 8: Paint, brushes and dominoes

Logo for dollar store dungeons, showing a $-shaped dungeon with various beasties and crannies

My next post for the Dollar Store Dungeons project is a three-for-one. Three items that, once I saw them, I knew I’d need to use together.

Item #6: Paint

Photo of dollar store paint pack

The first part of this mini-project is paint. For $1, I wasn’t expecting very high quality stuff. That’s about what I got: just six pots, with not much range of color. The package gives no further information about the paint than just saying “Paint”, but it seems to be acrylic. Seems, because it turns out that several of the pots were completely dried up, forming a gooey plastic-y substance. And they seem to be water-soluble. I’ve left a small amount of water in the pots. Hopefully, they’ll transmogrify from rubbery goo back into paint overnight. (Update, a day later: the red seems to be slowly remembering that it was once paint, but the yellow is still a piece of rubbery plastic. Hopefully more soaking will help.)

The paint came with a very cheap but serviceable brush. And the black paint seemed to work pretty well as dab-able goo. Also, the paint doesn’t seem the slightest bit stinky.

If I had a spare lifetime or two, one of the hobbies I’d get (back) into is painting miniatures. One great advantage of my Lego minifigs is that they’re almost instantly ready for play — no painting required. But still, it’s nice to be able to paint minis exactly as you want them. And to put in the time and effort creating a work of customized art. Sometimes I like to check out Carmen’s Fun Painty Time or Cool Mini or Not or other cool miniatures galleries. And then I realize that I will never have time to be that good, or even really to get into minis, and I go do something else. As I said, a hobby I wish I had the time for.

Item #7: Brushes

The next part of this mini-project: a basic selection of five brushes, with very low-quality bristles. But still, they work well enough to dabbing on gooey paint, which is all I need them for.

Photo of dollar store brushes

What do I intend to use these paints and brushes for? Well, probably not for painting minis, at least not anytime soon. I actually have a large box of 11th-century Normans that I inherited, and I do dream of painting those up someday. These paints are not right for that job, however; there’s nothing metallic in the lot, and I get the impression that trying to mix a decent variety of colors would be far more trouble than it’s worth. I suppose I could use these paints for touching up (or perhaps roughing up) some of my Lego minifigs, but that seems mostly unnecessary.

So what plans do I have for these paints?

Item #8: Dominoes

The last item in the mini-project. These were a great find, and are what inspired me to buy the paints and brushes. How, you may ask, can I use dominoes in gaming?

Simple:

Dominoes serving as dungeon walls -- what's beyond that door?

Dominoes make great props for minis.

They can make great stand-ins for dungeons walls, walls of an inn… even a table or tree in a pinch. Pile them up and they make a cairn or dais. Pile up enough and they can even serve as altitude markers for an aerial combat. They’re generic enough to serve as lots of different things. They give enough dimension to suggest verticality — which lines on a battlemat don’t — but they are also vastly cheaper than the cheapest purpose-made gaming terrain.

Dominoes really have only three problems, as I see it:

  1. Standing up, in portrait orientation, they aren’t really stable enough to serve on a miniatures combat map without annoyingly falling down a lot. (The domino effect is named that for a reason.)
  2. The color isn’t all that suggestive of stone or wood, unless you get more expensive dominoes.
  3. The spots really ruin the sense of immersion (unless you’re trying to simulate the walls of the Tardis).

The first problem is easily taken care of: just set them up in landscape orientation instead. This doesn’t suggest full-height walls, of course, but it has the additional benefit of allowing easier access to the minis. And now the occasional doors look more like doors.

Dominoes serving as dungeon walls in landscape orientation

As for the second and third problems… well, you’re probably starting to see where I’m going with all the paint supplies, right? Dominoes + paint + brushes = nice, blank, black tiles. Ready to be used as castle palisades, a sarcophagus, gates to the Imperial City or a raft for going down the river.

As with some of the other items in this project, I kinda cheated and bought two sets of dominoes instead of just one. A whole $2! For which I got 56 dominoes, and two nice wooden storage boxes to put them in. If it turns out that I can’t make a serviceable brown or grey from the paints, I may have to splurge on some better paints to create wood or stone effects. Hm, perhaps I should go back to the dollar store and look for some cheap spray paint!