Tuesday, August 17, 2010

3 Days, 3 Games, 3 Different Styles (Part 2)

Before we get down to Game #2, I need to mention a little something more about myself: I don’t get to play games all that much. That is, I don’t often get to play as a PLAYER. Usually I’m the DM/GM/referee of the game. I said in the prior post that I’m experienced at running 15-20 different game systems and that ain’t no lie. I’ve run campaigns and multi-session games with: Gamma World (2nd edition), Star Frontiers, Boot Hill (2nd edition), D&D (all editions through 3.5), ElfQuest, Shadow Run, Story Engine (preferably Maelstrom, but with other settings), Capes, InSpectres, Rifts, Vampire the Masquerade (1st & 2nd), Stormbringer (1st through 4th), Ars Magica (2nd through 4th), Marvel Superheroes (basic and Advanced), Over the Edge, Amber Diceless RPG, and BattleTech…and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.

But as a player? I’ve only played in a handful myself. AD&D 1st and 2nd, D20 D&D and a couple B/X games (for the first time this last year!), though on-line only. Marvel (basic and Advanced). Stormbringer 4th. Ars Magica 2nd. Toon (which I hate-Hate-HATE). Heroes Unlimited. Mage (1st edition). James Bond, Classic Traveller, Story Engine, ElfQuest. And most of these (not some, MOST) have been one-off games, not sagas or campaigns.

In fact, I think that ONLY in the various D&Ds and Marvel (Advanced) have I ever played the same character in multiple sessions in someone else’s campaign. How fucking sad is that?!

And playing the games are fun, so please believe me when I say I cherish nearly every single game session I’ve played, good and bad. They are all sweet to me...I just like playing games.


So, now, onto PDQ...a game I've never even heard of, though I have heard of Truth & Justice, which is apparently the superhero setting for PDQ (a generic system in and of itself...or so I gathered from the rules explanation I was given). Folks who've read my blog know that I am a man of many obsessions, and one of these is finding the ultimate superhero RPG. In earlier posts regarding this subject, several commentators suggested checking out T&J as a possible answer to my prayers.

When Laura (the GM) invited me away from my own sorry and deserted gaming table Saturday, part of her rap that enticed me was her mention that the PDQ system might be familiar to me through the T&J game. My beleaguered brain assumed what it wanted...I was going to get to play a superhero game!...and I signed up. However, we weren't playing Truth & Justice, nor were we playing a superhero game. We were playing a cop game. We were a paramilitary police force.

Or rather we were in the utopian land of Zo, where the wonderful Zorcerer of Zo had found it in his kind heart to provide a place for all the misfit, unwanted toys from the Island. Of course, every toy had to work, and our characters (as misfit toys) were no different. We were newly drafted cadets in the "Playful Watch" and today would be our first day on the job. Training Day, in other words.

PDQ reminded me a bit of Sketch! except without the drawing part and a bit more "wide open." For your character you would pick several aspects or characteristics, based on what you felt was the capability of your character. This could be anything from "Fiery Breath" to "Rich as Rockefeller" (I suppose) and each characteristic would be rated +2, +4, or +6. All positive characteristics had to total +10. These characteristics could be used as bonuses to dice rolls (when appropriate) and would be reduced by any damage taken. If any were reduced to 0, your character was knocked out.

In addition, your character had one negative characteristic or quirk at -2 that could be activated whenever the GM thought it appropriate, to screw up your character. This could not be reduced with damage.

Okay, I can hear people asking already...how the hell do you determine what type of misfit toy your character is? Is there a random chart or something?

Ha. This was the bit I found to be sheer genius. As if the game wasn't insane enough already (no, really), the GM had gone out to the $0.99 Store and bought a bunch of random $0.99 toys (you know, those cheap-cheap knock-offs from China or Thailand or something?) and wrapped 'em up in Christmas paper so no one knew what they were. Then we all had to pick one at random, open it, and create a character from the truly unwanted and misfit toy.

As a bonus, Laura told us we could all keep the toy. "Free toys!" I believe is the way she gleefully put it (spritely might be a semi-apt description of Laura). She had a very high-pitched voice if you want to imagine the whole sound effect.

Of the players at the table, Chey had a wind-up helicopter with wheels that rolled along the ground while spinning his rotor blades. I forget what "whirly's" name was but his quirk was a fear of flying...however, he was a super-fast road racer. He also had missiles and super chopping rotor blades for "melee" combat.

Kris (Kriss? I forget), had some sort of flimsy plastic robot that transformed into a slightly be-weaponed triceratops. The name of her critter escapes my mind as well, but she was definitely the "tank" of the group being a "hard body +4" with "missiles +2" and "frickin' laser beams +4." Its weakness was its floppy joints/limbs.

Oh, wait...Stanley was the dino-bot's name.

Mark, a fellow Emerald City Gamefester (along with Laura the GM) had what was perhaps the weirdest toy. It appeared to be several mis-matched parts of a fantasy action figure line. It consisted of a small dragon figure with articulating forelimbs and flappy wings, a plastic crossbow (that the dragon was unable to hold), some sort of magical battlestaff (ditto on the lack of hands), and a disembodied plastic skull that was probably two-thirds the size of the dragon. Making this all work together as a single entity was a stretch, but Mark pulled it off: "Albi" the dragon could summon the skull (+2) by rapping his magic skull staff on the ground in order to get snarky advice...this often turned out to be really terrible stuff due to Mark's poor dice rolling.

Of the five of us (including Laura) only Chey and I had never played this particular game before (i.e. misfit toys in the land of Zo...the "Training Day" scenario was new to everyone)...

Oh, wait. You want to know about my character? Of course you do.

I fingered the (hastily) wrapped packages gingerly, not sure what to expect, not sure what I hoped for. Hopefully something anthropomorphic (Laura told me...gleefully...about what player who had ended up with a plastic tea serving set). Can I shake the presents? I asked the GM.

Sure! (it didn't help)

In the end, I went for something that felt like it might be an action figure or HotWheels car or something...it seemed to have a plastic blister on cardboard anyway. "I just hope it's something I can relate to!" I said as I tore off the paper. Here's what I got:

Yes, faithful readers. That is a fake, toy cell phone. Complete with recorded voice that tells you (in broken English) that you have reached a wrong number at the push of a button. Oh, and sometimes it makes a ringing noise. Also, a fax tone.

"Maybe you can be a cell phone that shoots frickin' laser beams," suggests a player at the table...maybe Kris(s).

Don't be ridiculous...I'm a cell phone, says JB. I should have cell phone powers. Like annoying the hell out of people.

Actually, it didn't take me very long to come up with an idea for a character. Here's what I wrote on my 3"x5" card / character sheet:

Siggi, the Melancholic Toy Cell Phone

Ring Deafeningly Loud +4
Talk In Commanding Tone +4
Look Unobtrusive +2
Catatonic Depression That He's Not A "Real" Cell Phone -2

Nice, huh?

So one might thing a non-anthropomorphic...hell, an IMMOBILE misfit toy would have a helluva' hard time acting as serious law enforcement, especially without opposable thumbs (or limbs of any kind, for that matter).

Well, you would be pretty dead wrong. Siggi was a consummate badass.

And I am being totally serious. When our sergeant was kidnapped and held hostage by hostile forces the morning of our "training day" (apparently there had been a recent civil war in Zo and insurgent toy forces were still "at large"), who do you think was able to sneak past enemy lines and imbed himself in deep cover among the tank and dozen or so plastic toy soldiers? Mr. Un-Obtrusive, that's who! After all, I had the same color uniform (green).

And THEN I was able to get half of them to lay down their arms with my Commanding Tone and shatter the lock on the sergeant's cage with my ringing while my companions were able to swoop in under the cover of chaos and dissent I had sown. Needless to say, their fortified position was pretty easy to overcome once Siggi was Johnny on the spot.

The only moment of panic came when I nearly slipped into a catatonic fetal position. It went something like this:

JB: Dammit, if only I had some means to communicate with my buddies hiding back up on the ridge.

Mark: Too bad your not a REAL cell phone.

Everyone at Table: Awwwwww...

Laura: Make a quirk roll!

This kind of thing happened three or four times over the session, but in all cases but one, I made my dice roll. As with my Traveller game, my six-siders were rolling hot!

After freeing the Sergeant we learned the whole thing had been only a test...it was "Training Day" after all. Now that we had "graduated" to full Playful Watch status, we got our first assignment: track down the REAL toy tank insurgent that was on the loose. He was big, mean, with a lot of firepower and a short temper and he too had a small force of plastic soldiers.

To find Maynard (the tank) we needed to first locate a T-Rex who knew his hideout. Finding Mr. Big & Toothsome wasn't a problem, but getting the info meant first answering his riddle...lest he eat one of us!

The riddle was pretty tricky (my brain was already pretty spongy by this point), but after a looooong time thinking and more than few hints from the GM (one or two from Albi's disembodied skull), we finally guessed it. And got the location of the bad guy's cave.

[by the way, I didn't have my camera Saturday or I would have taken pictures of the game table...Laura used what appeared to be Pathfinder battle mats for terrain and our toys all looked cool maneuvering around on its big squares]

The cave was even more (literally) dug in than the test run the prior day, and Maynard was able to shoot us from pretty much any approach. Once again, Siggi was able to save the day by infiltrating the enemy's territory and calling out to Maynard (in my commanding tone) to come out and surrender or be destroyed!

The ruse worked well enough to get him out of the cave...though only 'cause he was mad enough to shoot me! Fortunately, he wasn't able to kill me with one shot (nearly, though), and between chopper bombs, the dragon's bow and arrow, and Stanley's lasers we were able to bring him down. His little soldiers than dragged his unconscious bulk back into their cave...and Siggi used his deafening ring to bring down the whole place in an avalanche!


I won’t continue with the blow-by-blow…suffice is to say there was a “back entrance” to the cave and the Playful Watch needed to prevent the bad guys from escaping out the back with their fallen leader…which we did. Commendations all around (though no medals, unfortunately) and no casualties were taken.

Reading back over the story of “what happened” I see I glossed over some things, probably due to the fact it was late at night when I was writing most of this. For example, there was more than one trip to the local saloon over the course of the adventure (Albi the dragon was quite the lush), there was a a couple bang-up melees using “Whirly’s” rotar blades, Albi did quite a bit of successful reconnoitering with his “flappy wings +4,” and Stanley the dinobot was gruff and no-nonsense, suggesting “burn the bridge” tactics, and not being afraid to bulldoze when his frikkin’ lasers weren’t the appropriate tool.

Laura, as a GM, was well-prepped and planned for the adventure having (in addition to the “pre-gens”) a bag of toys representing all the individual NPCs and opponents…she even used different tanks/toy soldiers to show the difference between the “training mission” and “the REAL mission!” We had fun maneuvering on the battle mats…or just lining up our toys at attention on the parade grounds…and she brought along a camera to take pictures of the spread at various points.

As far as keeping a handle on the players…well, she obviously knew her way around PDQ but seemed content to allow the players to be “self-policing,” something I have mixed feelings about. One moment stands out in my memory: at some point during a momentary break in action, one player (who shall remain un-named) went off on a loooonng, off-topic tangent (basically re-counting an entire television episode) until another player (who shall also remain un-named), reigned the player in with a terse, “hey, maybe we need to stop talking about that and get back to the game now.”

It was a slightly awkward (and for me, palpable) moment. While we were all new to each other, we were all having a good time, and all quite willing to “be friends” with each other. At the same time, politely allowing one player to continue on their “mental cruise” was side-tracking the game more than the normal minor kibitzing. The GM just kind of smiled afterwards and went back to the story at hand…as did the rest of us despite the awkward moment. I don’t think there were any hard feelings (the “reigning” player had been polite if firm, not mean)…but again, I feel better when this kind of action is taken by the GM. I guess I’m just old fashioned about the “referee” aspect of the job.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and quite appropriate for a Con game, attracting several viewers at different points wondering what the hell was up with all the toys…too bad we weren’t in a more “front-and-center” table (we were waaaay at the end of the hall). While PDQ was a nice diversion, I will say it’s not “crunchy” enough for me in terms of…well, in terms of what I’d want for a superhero RPG. The reason I’ve kind of given up on Capes is that despite its rigid bidding structure, it is too fast and loose with the “limits of the universe.” Which may be fine for a certain age of comic book hero, but not for the type of game I want to play. In other words, PDQ was fine and dandy for The Isle of Misfit Toys, but I doubt I’ll be playing Truth & Justice anytime soon.

: )


  1. Sounds like a lot of fun!

    I've definately got to go to GenCon next year :)

  2. I have to know... why hate on Toon?

  3. That sounds fantastic!

    FYI, T&J is more crunchy than Zorcerers of Zo, perhaps crunchier than Icons (the new superhero darling). Powers are fairly well defined and there are plenty of fiddly bits to get your superhero concept just right. As always, YMMV.

  4. PDQ is a wonderful system. If you think that 'Zo is too light, I agree with Risus Monkey in that Truth & Justice is a bit crunchier. You might want to also check out PDQ#.


    Someone also created a PDQ Planescape hack, if you're interested.

  5. This actually sounds pretty awesome to me.

  6. good stuff! a great setting, that sounds like great fun. i also love how the toys were picked. what a splendid idea!

    btw, i believe "self-policing" is the best way to solve problems in any game, when mature adults are involved.