JP On Gaming

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Under the Influence Day 31: JP On Gaming

Perhaps the corniest of posts in this series. But one of the inspiration - and perhaps the latest - is this blog. Since I began writing here in 2009, I put up more than 600 posts (628 including the draft posts I have) on topics ranging from real life to inspirations, from predictions of doom to miniature reviews, from LFR to PFS to NeoExodus Legacies, from funnies to rules reflections, from Convention reports to setting up FOE, from Kickstarters to miniature commissions, from writing tips to yearly retrospectives. This blog has really been some kind of gaming diary for me, documenting everything I have been working on, thinking about, disliked or thought the world should know. From LFR to Akos to NeoExodus to Kronea into the future - still secret - projects, I have been able to put all of my thoughts on this blog.

I remember in the summer of 2009 when I started. I was really fired up about some things I was seeing in 4e and I wanted to tell them to the world. I expected this would be some kind of venting medium.

But like many other regular bloggers will tell you, this is like an addiction. Once you get into the habit of writing and elaborating posts and articles, you begin to miss it.

Hi. I'm JP and I'm a blogger.

So how did this blog influence me and my gaming, you ask?

Because writing something and saying stuff is different. When you write things, you usually spend time looking at it. It creates a filter. Even the more ravenous and off-the-top online rant gets a pass of editing - at least mine do (to make them funnier and to make sure the hit the point I am trying to make).

That self-filter has forced me to reflect on the game a lot more. And by game I mean all of gaming. It has given me a new perspective on miniature gaming AND tabletop RPGs - those games I like (nope, I don't do CCGs or board games).

With this blog, I try not to blame or simply blast someone or something (keyword: try), even if I have been harsh with people on occasion, I try to put a positive spin on this. It's easy to critique and destroy, it is hard to find and propose an alternative solution. You may not be surprised, but in my day job, that's what I do: review and offer alternatives. So call it professional deformation that I bring the same mindset to my gaming.

By having to step back and think my position, I have been able to re-evaluate my views on many things. While I still do not like D&D 4e, I see that some of its systems had value (I still love the idea of the skill challenges) and some things were too simple for me.

This concludes this first "31 days" series for this blog. I will post about the series in the next few days.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Under the Influence Day 30: Le Klub

It was 1995. By then I lived in the dorms at the Université de Sherbrooke when I got word that there was an RPG forming through the grapevine. The founder used to be the President of his previous' school and he got the ball rolling. By pure chance I was selected as part of the committee (as Secretary IIRC). Thus began a long love affair with that place.

For the next 3 years, it would be a full-on part of my life as I would spend 5 or 6 nights a week there whenever I was on-campus (I was in a program where you spent a trimester in school and worked for one - a Coop program).

From that time until I became president in 1996 (a full year later), the club only grew and grew. Last I heard, it was still running strong.

I am happy to say that the club went from great to awesome when I became its president. It would be easy to toot my own horn and say that just because I was there everything was good. That would not give credit to the many GMs and organizers who worked tirelessly to put together games and events: Necromunda league, Blood Bowl league, campaigns of D&D, World of Darkness and the thing that bound it all together: Le Héraut, the weekly journal keeping everyone informed of what was happening. But the biggest draw was the week's Quotes, a collection of quotes heard in games or just while hanging out - the less context the better.

"Everything you say will be used against you" we used to say... It was true. The quotes were written on paper towel roll.

Sure a number of ideas and initiatives were mine: I took over the delivery of snacks to ensure a steady income for the club; I arranged for a group purchase at the local game store for members to get a special discount on everything (Shout-out to Christian of Le Griffon Féérique in Sherbrooke); I came up with the idea of the Friday-night demo where someone could take an RPG and run a one-night, introductory game of it; I helped with the coordination to get people playing the game(s) they liked.

In short, I was that guy who lives at the club, knew everyone and was involved in everything.

I would get there are around 4pm and stay well into the night. There were games and events all the time: CCGs, Board games, RPGs, Miniatures, name it, it happened and we'd play it. Many of the people I met at the club (or Klub as it was known then) I keep in regular contact with.

The harsh reality was: when I left, I found myself doing pretty much nothing. From full-time gamer to part-time was... Well it was tough.

As a gamer, I took away that all gamers love the game, whatever the edition, whatever the type of game, whatever time they engage. Though I would later engage heavily in the Edition War, I have tried to attack ideas and the game, not the people. (That did not prevent me from acting like a jerk) The Klub was such a diverse mix of gaming influences and play style that


PS: the embedded picture was taken during a Deadlands demo by Eric-G circa 1997. On the picture are JF-P, Gaetan-C "DJI", Stephane-H "Steve" and myself... When I had hair!


Oh wait, I still have a beard... kinda.

But the hair is definitely gone.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Under the Influence Day 29: Czechoslovakia 1990

in 1990, I got to take a school trip to France again. This time it was a school trip where we went to a number of places I had been on my previous trip: Paris, Avignon, and Nice. But also a number of places I have never been since: Turin, Italy and Geneva, Switzerland. I must admit that neither of these last two places marked me in any significant ways.

At the end of that trip, I flew on my own to Czechoslovakia (the country that is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) where my sister was living, working as an English teacher.

It was a time when things were changing in the world: communism was dying and the country was transitioning into a western nation. However, it was not yet the case. Things were changing and the sounds of Scorpions' "Wind of change" hung over everything. A perfect song for the time.

So little sixteen year old me flew to Prague. From there, we travelled to Cesky Budejovice where she resided. Because the pronounciation of slavic languages is something rather beyond me, I took the habit of reading everything as they would sound in French - a habit I still have today which drives my wife nuts. As such "Denver" is now a verb and the action of being in Denver.

Perhaps what struck me first and most was how grey and grimy everything looked. Up until then I had been quite lucky to travel to western Europe (France), the US and the Caribeans. I had never seen that. Things looked nice, but the exteriors were... grey. This greyness is something that I can never shake off when I think of Communism to this day.

I won't bore you with the details, but it was quite interesting - and scary - to visit some of the local sites as it was filled with its history - a history I admit I was not as up-to-date as I wanted. But to visit the Gestapo offices, then the castles where the communists lived was quite a contrast.

Another thing that is still in my mind today: my sister's friend drove us in his Skoda (I squeezed in the back) to a small town just over the border in Austria. The walls of barbed wires and machinegun towers were still there.

That scared me.

The length to which a government would go to force its people to stay and obey. Our driver told us a number of stories about this which terrorized me even more. To hear stories of people who had lived through this and knew about it first hand made it real. It was not something in a book or a story from "far away". It was real. It was right there. There was really no way to deny it. And unlike the events of WWII, this guy was in his twenties. Barely older than me!

But all was not doom and gloom, far from it.

Cesky Krumlov Castle was quite a sight. It is exquisite and something the communists (and occupying nazis before) did not damage. They both used the castle.

One thing that has stayed with me is a little custom they have. In one of the alleys was a blackened stone statue of a Saint at whose feet, about man-height, is a skull (of stone). Passersby all put their index and middle fingers in the eyes of the skull to prevent death from seeing them. Such a small and strange custom. That was something my North American upbringing had never seen. Yet it made perfect sense as a tradition inherited from the middle ages.

Little things like this have stuck by me and made me see things in a new light. These tiny, inoccuous acts make a people come alive. Make them different from others.

During the final days of the trip, we went to Prague, a wonderful city (but also grey).

Finally, this trip taught me about being in a foreign country where you meet people with whom you do not share a common language other than a few off words here and there. My sister's czech was not great.

It also led me to rethink my travel strategy. If you remember in my post about Spain, I mentioned that I like to travel away from people I know, to immerse myself in the culture. This trip is the one that led me to that decision. I felt really helpless many times not understanding what people said or how to ask for even basic information. That marked me.

To this day, I think the Common tongue in D&D (and other games) is one of convenience, but really not based in reality. I read an article about the Common tongue in an early Kobold Quarterly and understood exactly what that person was saying.

If you read about Bohemia (the medieval name of the region), ethnicities are always mentioned: there were Czechs, Jews, Germans, Romanians, etc. Which to my North American mind meant they all lived together.

BUT NOOOOOO. They each lived in their quarters and parts of town, dealing with each other only in plazas, markets and adjoining areas. Otherwise, they each lived together in their communities with their own language and their own customs. This is something that I try to keep in my RPG writing: a natural separation of people for day-to-day and coming together in specific locations.

Thus there would be a Dwark enclave, an Elf enclave, a human enclave, each with their own uniqueness. Perhaps only the humans poke the eyes of the skull under the saint? Perhaps they all do it.

While making research for this, I looked for pictures and wow! The place has cleaned up nice! The grimy greyness seems to be gone and the place looks good. I would love to visit it again.

To add to the gothic effect? I read Mary Shelly's Frankenstein while in Czechoslovakia... Nice. (Though I will admit I did not enjoy it as much as Dracula).


Monday, October 28, 2013

Under the Influence Day 28: A Clockwork Orange

We each have a movie that we like, but that scares and terrifies us on a visceral level. I remember watching this movie late at night with my friend Francois-M in my basement late at night. He had been hearing about it as a "must watch."

It sounded interesting, so I said sure, let's to do it. We rented it at the video store and put it on.

When the movie ended, we both sat there, stunned.

The brutality of that movie shocked our horror-flick-obsessed mind. I remembered going about my day in a daze, shocked, repulsed, curious, enraged, smug, helpless, ashamed, and disgusted all in one. It wasn't "just" what you saw on-screen... It was all that was implied by that movie. The fact that your freewill could be taken away. That even such a vile and abject person could lose who they are and turn into a zombie. One has to wonder whether lobotomy would be better, more humane, than that. Oh the implications are terrifying.

I took a solid four days.

Four days.

Yes, even after 23 years, I remembered it took me four days to sort out my feelings about this film. What a masterpiece of ultraviolence.

To this day, only two films I plan and brace myself to watch because they scare me: A Clockwork Orange and Night of the Living Dead (Romero's original).

Funny thing, with Halloween coming, the film came up and I immediately DVR'd it. I cannot wait to sit down and re-watch it.

But I am terrified of it.

There won't be no popcorn, just terror.

How did that affect me as a gamer? These themes are some that I care about: the loss of self, the return of karma, and the true nature of evil/ good. It has thought me that sometimes, the best thing to do is set the theme and explore it with an hyperbolic example.

Clockwork Orange wouldn't work on a mild-mannered, kind man. It needs a true scum. Someone who is completely reprehensible. Someone without any obvious redeeming qualities. Someone vile. Someone abject.

That's how a true villain should be, well most of them. The monster here starts with Malcolm McDowell's character but turns out to be society.

To see the darkness within one's self. To see the horrors of society. To learn to temper our natural urges for vengeance. That is what this movie taught me. To be wary of the darker emotions no matter how justified they are.

If you've followed NeoExodus, a number of themes from Clockwork Orange made their way there. I drew direct inspiration from there when I decided to write about the First Ones. The First Ones are irredeemedly evil and without conscience. But to what level should we stoop to make them understand?

How low are we to stoop before we become the monsters we despise?

I shudder.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Under the Influence Day 27: Le Comte de Monte Cristo

After my reading of "The Three Musketeers", I wanted to read more of Dumas' material. So I found out about this other book of his. I had seen some movies: the story of a man who is unjustly imprisoned who escapes then gets revenge.

The plot is quite simple and today has seen a lot of copies. That said, I received it as a gift one Xmas. What a great gift!

Page by page, I devoured this book, enjoying every word, wondering what would come next.

I cannot recommend this book enough to the prospective GM and writer. Why? Because it taught me that good revenge stories took time. Unlike in every movie I saw before and since reading, the Count is not someone who is nice. In any way. I mean the Count from the book is. Wow. He is a charming man, but also one who completely obsessed with his mission. To the point that you almost begin to root against him.

But when the chits fall down, the Count's revenge is complete, merciless and total. One cannot help but savor the brutality of the finale. The awesome evilness of it makes my skin crawl to this day.

This is a complex story that is being developed here. Perhaps a little too long, but great nonetheless.

As a gamer, this book taught me to slowly set up the events so that when you reach the conclusion they make sense to the reader/player and that it makes you both curious and scared to see the ending. This is something I've always tried to put in my games since: a strong finish.

Unfortunately, I did not always succeed. But I always tried to.

A massive work that will keep you reading for hours.

Revenge is a dish best served cool.

Cold and calculated.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Under the Influence Day 26: Foxtrot by Genesis

From the first oppressive notes of "Watcher of the Skies" to the return of the avenging angel of the Lord of "Supper's Ready". This album is just one massive effort of awesome. Seriously, this album is just awesome.

I first came in touch with this album through school. No. Not "a buddy at school told me about" but "the teacher puts on the song and talks about it".

Again in Secondary 4th, two different teachers brought the album to the class room. Daniel Pouppart, the religion teacher, had us listened to, comment, and made our exams based on "Supper's Ready."





If you don't know Supper's Ready is a 23 minute song that is just great from start to finish.



Now how did this album affect me as a gamer? The biggest thing was that is got me to try and think differently about known, common tropes. How so? Supper's Ready's main theme is that of the Apocalypse. Through Genesis, the Apocalypse becomes something that is played by rock n roll angels. And where the angel raises his sword in the darkness. It was imagery that called to me and my religion-curious mind.

It is imagery that still calls to me every time any of its songs comes on.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Under the Influence Day 25: Jean-Pierre Bacon, teacher

Everyone has a teacher that influenced them. I have quite a few myself. For this list, I had to limit myself to one.

I ended up with Jean-Pierre Bacon, the mild-mannered math teacher I had in Secondary 4th grade (10th grade anywhere else in the world). I was a nerd with a strong leaning towards liberal arts and sciences. Though I trudged through math and had decided some two years before that I would become a computer engineer, I did not particularly enjoy doing math.

Yes, you can see that I was in a bind. I had decided on doing something I did not overly enjoy.

All that changed in 1989-90 when I became a pupil in Mr. Bacon's Math-414 (and then Math-434) class. For the first time since elementary school, I enjoyed math. He taught it in a way that made sense to me and that I could relate. That was a major revelation.

From a very average math student, my scores shot up. Although I had decided on engineering before, that year with Mr. Bacon really justified and allowed me to enter College with a love for math.

How does that relate to gaming? I does not.

Well not directly.

I'm still not someone who thinks and seems the game as a purely mathematical exercise. It hurt my interest in the game when I do that. However, by setting me up for the engineering carreer, I got to go to college and play RPGs around the world! Therefore, I believe I owe him a big debt of gratitude.

A few years after I left secondary school, I chanced upon him at the bus station in Longueil. I got to thank him for this, though we did not get to talk for long, I always felt good that I got to tell him that.

Merci Monsier Bacon. Merci.

I did mention a number of other teachers who I feel were particularly influencial. As a shout-out to them, let me mention Farid Doummar (French, formality), Patrice Dupuis (History), Daniel Pouppart (religion), and Gilles Vaillancourt (US History).

Shout out to you guys. I could write a post on each of you (one actually will appear later in this series for something he turned me on to).


Thursday, October 24, 2013

FOE releases Yr1 adventure bundle for Legacies

It took a lot of time, but I finally, the year 1 adventures for Legacies are all available as part of one bundle. I have been working hard to get everything lined up.

Finally, more things are coming together and this great value is available to all.

I will be pushing more and more Legacies products to RPGNow in the coming weeks (assuming I can finish "Sugar and Spice" shortly), so keep watching us!

You can find the Yr 1 Adventure bundle on RPGNow.

You can find the FOE publisher's page also on RPG Now.

Also be sure to check out LPJ Design's NeoExodus page for additional products!


Under the Influence Day 24: A Trick of the Tail by Genesis

As a teen, I listened almost exclusively to Rush (as you can see by the other entries in my list of influence). However, there is another band - one I would discover later - that made an enormous impact on me. That band is Genesis.

No, I am not talking of the more pop-later years (which I enjoy in smaller doses). No I am talking of the era that stretches from the "Trespass" album in 1970 to the "Wind and Wuthering" album in 1977.

A golden age of awesome that is often referred to as "when they were great." Statement with which I agree, but it demeans some of the good - yet different material they would put out later.

One of the albums of that time period is "Trick of the Tail." This album was remarkable for the band: it was the first album post Peter Gabriel and it marked the transition of Phil Collins from being the drummer to the frontman. (Phil would keep on drumming on the albums but had a replacement during live shows).

Why is this album influencial, you ask?

I must say that I debated putting Trick of the Tail or its brother, Wind and Wuthering on the list. In the end, I chose "Trick" because I much prefer its sound, though "Wind" may be more meaningful to me.

I first heard songs from the album - "Squonk" and "Ripples" on a mixed tape my buddy Francois did for me. The tape was his intention to have me "discover" Genesis. That tape died in my car from over use years later.

I received my copy "Trick" for Christmas in 1992 from my girlfriend of the time. When I put the album on, the album transported me away. The tongue in cheek humor with this old feel that early Genesis has is all there. Phil's voice is light and fresh. The short songs brings in moods and feels where one could assume form a story (there is no story overall that I know).

This slow mood - for "Trick" is not a fast album. Is something I particularly enjoy while playing. This album - perhaps more than any other before thought me that hard rock and a fast tempo were not the only moods to convey emergency or the threat of danger. It is something very hard to define clearly how you can set a given mood yet convey completely different ideas through that. The songs also contained a fair bit of humor that lightened the mood of a number of them.

I wrote a number of adventures based on that album: Two adventures I wrote for Tusmit in Living Greyhawk were directly inspired by this album. "Dance on a Volcano" and its looser sequel "In Umbra Draconis" both take directly from the song "Dance on a volcano." In fact, the encounter headers for In Umbra Draconis are taken directly from the lyrics.

Back in 2009-10 I worked on a world that has since fallen apart (Akos) and never saw publication. Two of the major feel for the region I had developed were strongly influenced by this album, namely from the songs "Ripples" (dealing with ageing and dying) and "Entangled" (dealing with getting stuck in a bad situation and making things worse).

My part of Akos may see the light of day... eventually so all of that is not lost to the world!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Under the Influence Day 23: Willow

For many of my early gaming years, I was pretty much by myself. None of my friends were interested in any of what I like (gaming-wise, we played hockey). I watched mostly horror or scifi. But then this movie came out: Willow.

I know, I know. Many of you have a strong view and issues with the plot, Lucas, FX, or whatever else. But I don't care. When I finally saw it in 1989, I was hooked. This movie detailed a lot of things I wanted to see in my games that I did not find at the time: characters that grew and evolved with the story. My players just wanted to kill stuff and take the treasure. All concept of plot, reason, or character was lost on them.

But Willow brought me some hope. If someone could make a movie about a story I liked, maybe there were others.

So I watched it quite a few times (it helped that I thought Joanna Whalley was quite attractive) and dreamed of putting together a story like that. It would be just a few more years (around 1990) before I met a group with some interests in things other than "killing stuff and getting chicks."

I really enjoyed it as a kid, since it was a movie targeted... well for kids!

I hope to see it in a bargain bin or available in my onDemand (I don't do netflix).

But perhaps the best thing is that it put the word "peck" in my vocabulary to talk about the runts... I mean halflings!


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Under the Influence Day 22: Albator, Le Corsaire de l'espace

When I was 6-8, every Tuesday at 4pm, I was rivetted to my television to watch the same awesome TV show.

If you were a boy in the early 80s, you watched Albator. This anime dubbed into French was one of my favorite - and while writing this, I went back and re-watched a number of episodes. It was and still is great. Sure the animation is old but the topic and the story is still something that is valid today. I am talking about the 1978 series, not the bad story line of the '84 version.

Space + Pirate + Evil women + Stupid government + Complex story + gun shaped like sword = How can it not rock?

We are in the far future (close of the 30th century). Mankind has fallen into a degenerative phase where laziness is the norm. Since robots do pretty much everything, people spend all their time in leisure. Sounds cool right? Well, it would be unless and until a big black sphere lined with Aztec symbols crashes into the center of "Tokyo".

That's where the plot becomes more complicated. A scientist - who is not lazy - and his son make some discoveries about the sphere and he gets assinated by a woman that bursts into flame when his son shoots him back leaving no trace of her.

Then Albator, a renegade and criminal wanted by the Earth government appears on the scene. And then the adventure moves to space where the evil women have a massive armada and plan on invading the earth.

But wait.

They have been here all along!

I did say a complex plot, and a good one at that. And I didn't even mention that his dead buddy's mind ran the ship. Or his buddy's daughter - Stelli. Of the subplot of each of his crew. Oh and the government keeps trying to kill him, too.

This show taught me that to do a large-scale plotline, you don't front-load the plot, you build it up through small events. Though the overall plot is fairly simple: aliens want to take over the earth; the twists and nooks that takes us there make for a very interesting storyline. It does one thing very well: you end up hating both the Earth Government and the Aliens. Not because you "have to" but because in episode after episode they reinforce this vision. You want to see the aliens dead and the government exposed for its ridiculous excesses.

All this is done little by little, meaning the viewer is never lost.

Another reason for this awesome is that the show "only" has 42 episodes. That means that there is a beginning, a middle and an end to the plot. In gaming term, we witness a campaign from start to end. Unlike the other shows I watched at the time - like Capitaine Flam and Goldorak, this show's story was bigger and more united that the rest of them. whereas Capitaine Flam had a number of mini-plots, it did not have a lot of overarching story. Albator was all about learning and extending that plot. Even if you missed a few episodes, you could pick it back up pretty quick. That is something I always tried to take into account into any storyline I wrote.

I must say that I never articulated clearly until I began to read Jim Shooter's now-effectively-abandoned-blog. Just like that day when I picked up an X-men comic for the first time, in the middle of a story, I was able to quickly know the characters and pick up the story. Jim Shooter was the editor for Marvel from 78-87 or so. One of the things he insisted was that "every issue could be the first one for the reader." Sounds simple? But its hard to implement. Albator had that. The action: starship battles, starfighter combat and even the gun-sword fighting was great, it would get you in. Because of the many side plots that reinforced either aspects of the bad guys, you would catch on quick.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Under the Influence Day 21: Spain 1992

It was 1992. I was 18 years old. I took a school trip to Alicante in Spain to learn Spanish. It was the first major trip I did where I did by myself. I had already taken 2 classes in school and thought myself to be fluent "enough" in Spanish.

I wasn't.

From the moment I sat on the Iberia flight in Montreal, I knew I had been wrong about my proficiency. It really infuriated me because I wanted to be good at it. And I wasn't.

From my previous trips, I knew that I had to mingle with Spaniards and see the sights. If I remained with the group, I would not learn as much.

I will gloss over the nightly clubbing and parties I attended to focus on the gaming aspect. Okay, a few words: Spanish girls are nice and friendly. Make of this what you will.

One of the greatest elements of Spain is the mingling of Muslim and Christian influences in ancient buildings: like the Casino in Murcia. Wow. Just. Wow.

This mix of culture is much different and more visible here than in other places. Since the Muslim controlled the area for ~ 5 centuries before the Reconquista. Moriscos (Muslims who adopted Christianity - often nominally - to avoid expulsion) remained a major population group here until they were later expelled in the 17th century. This intermingling of culture is quite interesting in and of itself.

Alicante was built in the shadow of Santa Barbara Castle. Which towers over the port. The white stones and it old nature was much different from the castles I had seen in France, most of which dated to the 16-19th centuries. It was the site of a number of conflicts throughout Spain tumultuous history. If you never read about it, the story of Spain is as bloody as they get: from wars to revolutions to overthrowing to foreign intervention to conquest (domestic and foreign), it is full of great potential for gaming - both RPGs and wargaming.

One day, I decided to skip class and visit a few castles, namely Sax and Elda, which were both within 50kms and reachable by train. I spent the day walking through Spain - and doing some trespassing to reach Sax. Travelling to Sax, I expected to find a large, expansive fortification. But I was gravely disappointed in that way. The Castle has a main donjon, a few towers, and a wall. All of that along a narrow ridge. Basically, seeing the castle from the plain to the east, it looks huge. Looking at it from the north or south, it is pretty much a single wall. In contrast, the castle in Elda his abandoned and given over to slums.

These two castles have elements that marked me.

    -  The stone construction was built with defense in mind. Sax is made to look impressive from a far. While Elda is a city fort.

    -  Both are abandoned in that they are no longer used for defense. Because of its location, no one lived there while Elda had been repurposed by the locals.

I imagined armies moving along the coastal plains to attack both, forcing me, as a general to use different tactics - to defend or attack.

By the end of the trip, I was fluent in Spanish. Because I immersed myself in Spanish culture and the environment, I was got taste the Spanish way of living. From a gaming perspective, I got to think how a traveller feels when reaching a new place. In short: the world doesn't change, but you change for the world. On a personal side of thing, having managed to live on my own for a month, taught me that I could live by myself, that I had the skills to live on my own. It would be almost two years before I would leave home for university. By then, it was time for me to leave.

¡Hasta luego!


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Funnies: Never let your players create magic items

Under the Influence Day 20: Quatre-Vingt-Treize de Victor Hugo

I have long expressed my interest in the French Revolution. Of the many books I read on the subject, one really stands out and has led me to think about what it actually meant. This book was Quatre-Vingt-Treize (Ninety Three) by Victor Hugo - the author of the more famous "Les Misérables".

The 93 we're talking about here is, of course 1793.

A quick trip back in time, the Revolution is in full swing. In Paris, the glorious years have given way to the Terror. But our story is not set there. Instead the action takes place in Brittany, in western France. Rather than the tiny, dirty streets of Paris given over to the mob, we are in the country estates, between the fields and the ditches. Western France was torn by civil war as the locals sided with their traditional leaders against the Parisian authorities.

The book present use with two protagonist: The old regime represented by an aging Marquis de Lantenac. The Marquis is a stereotypical old-school conservative: he values tradition, spirituality and the ancient regime. The Marquis leads the insurrection against the Republic. Opposing him is his nephew, Gauvain who represents the modern ideas and the republican ideals. In their own way, both represent the ideal gentlemen of their side.

A third character, the former priest and Gauvain's preceptor represent the hard-line ideals of modernism that opposes the Ancien Régime and seeks its complete annihilation. Although throughout the book, it seems quite possible that Gauvain and his uncle could make up and live together, Cimourdain appears and prevents any peaceful resolution.

The book is awesome and complex. It is hard to hate both the republican and the royalist, as both side are fairly close. But the hard-lined Gauvain is just abject.

To this day, this book holds a strange fascination on me. The approach of "both sides of the same coin" has remained with me ever since and a lot of my writing draws from that philosophical duality.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Under the Influence Day 19: X-Men 111

I must've been eight or nine years old. I was away at summer camp. Now that was a time that I generally disliked because I did not have access to my books (I missed the books more than my toy or my friends). My asthma was acting up and I was a chubby kid. I was alright at sports but had only limited stamina. However, on a rainy day, I decided to visit the "library" and see what I could find.

Going through the long list of girl's books, I chanced upon "X-Men #4". In those days, a small outfit translated the stories into French and collated 4 issues into one. So my X-Men 4 was really 111-115!

So the first impression I had of comics was the writing of Chris Claremont and the penciling of John Byrne.


That's right.

The best comic writer/artist ever. And I chanced upon it. The story was great for a newcomer: all the X-Men start out mesmerized and act like circus freaks. Beast discovers them one by one and the plot expands until we find Magneto! The storytelling, pacing and wheel-within-wheel way the plot has imprinted itself upon me. The plot flows seamlessly in a way that makes sense and in a gradual way. Such an awesome story arc. I just bought myself a new omnibus that includes the arc and just by flipping through the pages, I remember the plot fondly.

Since then I've been looking for that kind of awesome in my comics. For years I've been a fan of the X-men but I have not collected them regularly since the early 90s. Today's price is prohibitive: too pricy, not enough story. That's why I buy and read big omnibus collections from the 60s-80s.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Under the Influence Day 18: Les Memoires du Diable

I have referred to this book on many occasions on this blog.

It was the early 90s. We would gather together in ET's basement, between his father's bookshelf. Within were a number of books, including Heinlein' Starship Troopers and a lot of other sci-fi stuff.

However, one book that really drew me eye was a book whose author was completely unknown to me. Its title shared the anonymity. One day, I asked if I could borrow the book. As I opened the green-colored covered with a green-flamed covered devil's face upon it. The highly philosophical and social commentary is full of venom and quite poignant. I was brought into a sordid story where all the virtues of the world turned out to be vices. Where everyone has deep, dark and hidden secrets.

The story opens on an abandoned castle in France. There, the Baron de Luizzi waits for midnight. At midnight, he is to ring a tiny silver silver bell that will summon the devil to do his bidding as his ancestors have done before him.

From there, he visits every levels of French society: from the high salons to the low-brow taverns, from provincial estates to the ratholes and ditches of the bandits. The devil's influence is subtle and everywhere.

This book, more than any other has taught me about the nature of evil, and how the devil works. How he goes from seductive to threatening. How he puts a loving smile to the worse aspects of things. How he lies blantantly, how he lies by omission, how he cajoles the truth. That devil, I tell you, is delightfully disgusting while being revoltingly charming.

I read that book shortly before I became really involved in Vampire.

I must read volume 2 again.

But I'm afraid.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Under the Influence, Day 17: Colorado

I was living in Quebec City, freezing my butt off as another few inches of snow added to my driveway. Snow I had to shovel. My twenty-foot long driveway had become a canyon. A canyon flanked by two walls of snow, the walls towered over my six-five frame ON BOTH SIDES. I hated my boss. I didn't particularly like my job. I needed something new.

The call finally came from Colorado.

I must admit that it wasn't quite the target area I was looking in (I was looking more towards the East Coast). But talking to my boss to be, Colorado seemed pretty nice. After thinking about it more than a little, I agreed to move there. I signed up for a 6-month probation.

I stayed 8 years.

We had 2 additional children there. Great friends, great people, great weather. Little oxygen.

But let's focus on the gaming.


I came to Colorado in 2005. It was the height of Living Greyhawk. I really liked the vibe and the dynamism of the community.

I saw a number of issues with the campaign. In 2005, the County of Urnst had finished its major arc the year before (the Lordmaker 2000-04). As of Year5, they had some of the very best adventures in the campaign. However, they were like Star Trek episode: completely unrelated to each other. The overplot was non-existent. After a difficult selection process, I was selected.

And thus started a long term work relationship with D'Anne. She and I clashed heads a lot about everything. But in the head, the best ideas prevaled (this is definitely a theme: clashes and arguments lead to a better result). I do have an ego, but as a proponent of Realpolitik, I believe the best result should win and ideas, not people should be fought. This collaboration has lasted beyond LG and into Legacies.

After my trial period at work ended, a seat on the triad became available and I applied for the job. Now I used to be the Triad for Quebec at the time, and had led a major effort to an engaging storyline. I really did not invent much there, simply built on what was already there.

Moving to the County was a challenge. Unlike Tusmit, there had already been a major storyline with strong, interesting characters; the major events HAD happened already, and now we had to deal with the fallout. There were a lot of rough patches - a lot - including:

    -  the dismantling of what I called "the boys club" where a number of great volunteers would be privy to everything that was to happen. These guys would write material, background, NPC notes and basically decide where the County was going. As I moved in, that stopped. The triad was composed of three people and I wanted the plot to be something people discovered together at premieres and interactives. This did not win me any friends, but I had a job to do, and making friends was not part of that. It would help, but it wasn't my job.

    -  the creation of a "We hate D'Anne and JP" group that provided us with many hours of entertainment. We would scan the list daily to see who would post (it was always the same people) and what they would say. One of the funniest thing was when one guy posted that I was completely destroying everything he had worked on for the County. The next sentence read "that said, JP has been keeping my original vision for the NPCs and their goals is what I planned for them." I nearly peed my pants. If you were on there, we knew what you posted about us.

    -  The kobolds. [removed the page of hate]

    -  Repurposing some of the favorite/ major NPC. This included replacing the Contessa with an NPC the PCs chose themselves during a special event, with Countess Rachel. That character was really awesome and had so much flavor and potential. I really loved to write about her and her family. Also, Lord Underley truly became the left hand of the County: he would deal with the undesirables and those the Countesses could not associate with: the drow and the forces of Iuz. I will also point out the mad Baron of Pikemaster who was known for his crazy antics. The "Black Man of the Swamp" was another villain we created - a black dragon. This allowed us to give these NPCs a lot more personality and a "when to use whom" type of document.

    -  We killed the Celestial Devil. It should never have existed, it was illegal. I'd kill it again. In a narrative.

    -  New NPCs were created,namely the Bird of Radigast whom we built up into a major villain was mentioned in previous adventures. The Gold Dragon Auric and his family who helped the county against draconic plots. Forces loyal to Hextor became prevalent towards the end of the campaign also.

I learned through this that if you have a good vision (and I believe we had a good one), that people eventually come to realize that you are not just doing things out of the blue for no reason. We had a long-term plan, a long-term plot, and some more immediate goals. We kept on our toes and used an approach between "best plot wins" and "first adventure done wins." Thus our storyline was never a fixed monolythic thing. It was something that evolved with time.

As a gamer and a writer

As a writer, one of the things that I learned to do was to research in-game material and then re-present it. But present it in a way that people who had played before would be recognize them and new players quickly get in on who these people were.

I also learned how to run a storyline with others. Previously, I was pretty much doing my thing, with some input. But here, I had to convince D'Anne of anyone of my hare-brain schemes. And she is tough. I can easily say that more than half my ideas got the axe.

Tusmit, in contrast had very few recurring non-villain NPCs when I started. The County had many. I just could not simply wipe the slate clean and do what I want. Players had experiences with these NPCs.

Moving to Colorado also saw a vast increase in my travel-for-gaming. While there, I went to the following states and cities I never went before: Arizona (Phoenix), California (Anaheim & San Jose), DC (Washington, I'd already been to DC but not for gaming), Idaho (Boise), Iowa (Council Bluff), Kansas (Wichita), Michigan (Ann Harbor), Nevada (Las Vegas), New Mexico (Albuquerque), Oklahoma (Tulsa), Utah (Salt Lake City), Texas (College Station), Washington (Seattle), and Wisconsin (La Crosse). Wow... a third of the US... NICE!

Freelance Gigs

It was while I was in Colorado that I became a true freelancer. I first got paid for writing work for Living Greyhawk, then Living Forgotten Realms, then NeoExodus and beyond. I participate in Chaosium's adventure contests and got a few writing credits there. I wrote Paizo's "Night Terrors" which became part of the Beginner box. I still maintain that my original adventure set in Ustalav was more interesting and flavorful than Varisia/Magnimar, but I like the adventure nonetheless.


I short, Colorado expanded my horizons: collaborations and willingness to serve as guinea pigs for wacky projects. A willingness that existed in the N-IGA too.

In many ways, Colorado will forever loom over me and my writing style.

I can't say "Thank you" Enough


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Under the Influence Day 16: My Parents

It would be completely dishonest not to mention my parents on this list. The fact that they end up #16 is proof that the order was random as they would normally rank FAR above #16.

Let me preface this by saying that my parents are not very fond of gaming. They are both realistic, down-to-earth people whereas I am a dreamer. To speak of their influence on me would span days (and I expect same for most people), so I will limit myself to their influence on my gaming.

For years, my mother would tell me that gaming would never earn me a dime. And she was right. It was a money-sink where I would put in any available funds I had to get more of my fix. For years, I would write and run games for free. Posting them on sites like, or my own Scenariotheque (I turned off the adventures on my site since). It was not until I wrote my first paid RPGA adventure - COR6-04 A long way for a little knowledge - that I kept my check for almost a full year before cashing it. I had to show it to my mother first. After that, she never said anything about it.

I have since then written a number of products for the RPGA (Living Greyhawk & Living Forgotten Realms), NeoExodus, Kronea, and a few other small-time gigs.

Their opposition to gaming was no doubt the cause and reason for my love of it, as a form of rebellion. Think of it, there are way worse things to do. But it also forced me to try and become better at my craft.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Under the Influence Day 15: France 1988

It was 1988. I was 14 years old when I got the chance to go to France with my sister (who is older than me). I will skip the excitement of flying alone in a plane - no parents, no big sister - alone. It was awesome!

I landed in Orly - the only time I ever flew through that airport. All other flights came through Charles-de-Gaulle (one of its 3 terminals). My sister (who had flown earlier) picked up there and we were off to the RER for Paris. I remember being very tired and wanting to sleep.

Within that first day, I got to do things that would change my life.

We were lodged in Paris by some friends of my parents whom I had met before. It was a rude awakening for me to realize that they did not understand everything I said, with my "typical" Montrealer's accent. Their appartment which was tight and cramped but very homely reminded me a little of Ray Bradbury's office. It was awesome. But the thing I thought was the greatest was their many swords and weapons hanging over doors and on their walls. My young gamer mind was already blown. And I'd been in France for less than 4 hours! Could this get any better?


I was taken to a restaurant I would go again years later and discover another love of my life - calvados - but that is a WHOLE other post. Anyway I discovered what French cuisine was all about. Love it. Still salivate at the endless stream of terrines that passed before me.

The Storyteller

The gentleman where we stayed in Paris - whose name was Fernand - blew my mind by taking me to the side of a church, St-Sulpice, and pointed out a number of chips in the stones. He asked me "do you know what those are?" I looked at them. I'd seen similar chips on buildings in Montreal - my high school dates from the 19th century - so I answered "Yes, its rain and pollution we have on my school."


His eyes grew dark and he pointed out "Why would they only reach this height?" (he pointed out that the chips only reached up to about 6 feet/2m). I was stumped. Then he replied "it's here that the Germans shot resistance fighters with a machinegun they would set over there.


Until that time, history had always been something that happened "somewhere else". But this. But this was real. It happened here. He was a witness to these things. He would go on to tell me a number of stories about the war. Stories that were burned into my mind. It was like listening to one's grandfather (both mine had passed away by then) telling you about things he lived. First hand. I was riveted about his stories of smuggling vegetables and food from under the nose of the Germans. Stories of being stopped outside school and forced to present his papers. Stories of playing spies and passing false papers to people to lure the Germans away from the real spies (he would not admit it might just have been part of the game). Stories of listening to General De Gaulle's broadcast from England. Stories of running to see the Allied tanks roll into Paris.

His storytelling ways - very French by the way - included wild gestures and acting out the Germans clanking their boots. As I said I was riveted. I had never met someone who would tell stories quite like him. My uncle was a great storyteller, but he was not as animated.

Even when he would remain still, his voice was the best tool there was. He would whisper. Then bellow. They dart his eyes around. Then his hands would explode from under the table.

Although completely unrelated to gaming, this meeting, these stories, and the movement he had, I must admit are now part of my storytelling arsenal. I just wish I could

To this day, I consider the two of them, to be grandparent-types to me. Our firstborne - Josiane - bears her name (she passed away shortly before our daughter was borne).

One year later...

It was 1988. One year later would be the bi-centennial of the taking of the Bastille. Paris was cleaning itself up nicely. A lot of public works were ongoing but I did not mind. I got to discover so many things. Having had the "revelation of St-Sulpice" I breathed in the history all around me. It was no longer something I read about. It was something that had soaked through the walls, the streets, the air, the island, the river, in short, into everything.

With everything talking about the Bastille, I got drawn into the study of that conflict. As a proponent of Quebec separation, the idea of Revolution appealed to me. The many stages of it, the characters, all formed in my young mind an idea. First romantic, then tragic. I got me to think about such ideas, and how dangerous they are. I would read a lot about it in the years that followed, in fact, one of the book on this list deals with the French Revolution!

Being able to read about everything and then go to places like the Conciergerie - where Marie-Antoinette was held prisoner. Wow.

The rest of the trip

During that two week trip, we spent a few days in Paris, Avignon, St-Tropez, Nice, Strasbourg and finally back to Paris. I have since returned everywhere but Strasbourg but I do plan on returning one day.

Thinking back on that trip and how much things have changed is amazing. I had no credit cards (I was 14!), so I had to use traveller's checks for fund. There were no ATMs. No cellphones.

Oh! And I did not know any gamers in France - unlike now!

My travel companion

My sister knew that I was very interested in these things, but she often had to pull me away from looking at everything. I would've spend a week in the Louvres.

We got to see a lot of Paris. My sister was a tireless traveler and we went to all of the must-see sights. Later I would lament not having been to Versailles, but I would head there as soon as I would land in Paris 10 years later. To this day, whenever I travel to a new place - particularly in Europe - I plan out my itinerary and walk for hours. From here to there. European cities - and a few places in the East of the US (New York and Washington DC come to mind) have everything so closeby that you can - and should - walk the land.

She endured long times of me reading while listening to my walkman.

The trip was also the site of my first ever drunken event. We had stopped at a small hole in the wall place in Avignon. We were eating some crepe dish and we ordered a pitched warm cider, served in a wooden pitcher with wooden cups. What we didn't know was that it was hard cider. She realized I'd been downing the cider as I ordered the third pitcher. By then, I was quite "Happy". Of course my 14 year old frame was quite large, but still I had no idea.

We then went to do our laundry and I forgot a dark blue hankerchief in the pile of white. When it came out, our whites were now powder blue. I'm surprised she didn't kill me right then and there. Maybe she is still plotting her revenge...


Straight-up Gaming

While I did not do any gaming, I did manage to purchase a few gaming items. I bought "Encyclopedie Galactique, Volume 1", never managed to buy the second and I did not have the money to buy it at the time. The games was out of print when I returned to France two years later. I also bought "Avant Charlemagne", a game that is set in the Dark Ages between the fall of Rome and the Rise of Charlemagne. Finally, I bought a small adventure for Empire Galactique called "Le Cas de l'ambassadeur trop bien protege" (The case of the over-protected Ambassador). A great murder mystery plot. I ran it as a story using Rifts and later, Star Trek TNG. The plot is so good that even modern gamers would be hard-pressed to figure it out with just a glance.

All of these books have been in my gaming library (the small adventure book has been replaced by "Frontieres de L'empire" the compilation of adventures I bought years later second-handed for 4$). Love the art and use them as inspiration.

After that

That trip got me really fired up and excited about history - and French history in particular. My own family (my mother did some research) comes from the Poitou-Vendee, and that's for both sides.

I would return to France two years later, in 1990 and have another great time - though for different reasons.


First Ones Entertainment now active, with products!

It's been a long road and many of you have asked about how to get NeoExodus Legacies products. Well after a long time and much negotiationS, I am very happy to announce that First Ones Entertainment (FOE) is now offering NeoExodus Legacies adventures for sale through RPGNow!

A big shout out goes to LPJ Design for creating such a vibrant world and allowing us to branch off. You can expect more NeoExodus products from him (and me) through his line. This "split" was brought on for a number of reason, mostly having to do with time. As all of us work daytime, and we have a number of projects we need to focus our attention one. Not the least of which is that LPJ is putting the finishing touches on Obsidian Apocalypse (my part for it has been turned in, but there is still a lot more to go). And I must admit waiting with fanboyish glee at the expectation of seeing the finalized product.

I invite you to bookmark us as we will be rolling out more adventures - for Legacies and others in the near future. I don't want to say too much here, but I have a number of thing in the works. Things I can't wait to share.

I spent months teasing you with "big news" well they are finally coming out!

You can check us out by following this link: FOE Site on RPGNow.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Tweaking Pathfinder: Overuse of Perception (Rant)

One thing that greatly annoys me is the Perceptipn skill.

No. Not really. I was one of the many who hailed the combining of Listen, Search, and Spot into one skill as a stroke of genius. I still believe that.

What grinds my gears is the overusage and overreliance on the skill by BOTH players AND GMs. Every situation can be resolved by a Perception skill.

How did he die? Perception.

Where does the trail lead? Perception.

How are they arranged and their troop quality? Perception.

What monsters are present? Perception.

You get my point. The above example are four skill checks (Heal, Survival, Profession (soldier), and Knowledge) that were made useless by Perception.

Who's fault is it?

Who is to blame? Players are not to blame, the GM asked for that roll. The GM is not to blame, if he does not give the players a roll, they have no chance of learning anything. The author is not to blame, he has no clue what the PCs will do with his adventure.

So you're all innocent.


You're all neither blameless nor innocent.

I will do something I rarely do and something I do with a sour aftertaste. I will take a stance here and put the blame on the writers and developers of the Pathfinder RPGs, particularly the AP, modules and PFS adventure crews. I'll start there. Because of the way adventures are written and the constant auto-surprise-unless-you-spam-your-Perception encounters, they have taught us that doing so is the right thing to do. Unlike other skills, not having uber-Perception can and will kill you.

Can we simply say "it's Paizo's fault", raise our hands in surrender and get off the hook so easy?

Hold your horses, I won't let you off so easy.

Not by a long shot.

How Did it get that bad?

How many players do you know have Perception trained and with full ranks in it when they are part of a class that typically does not have Perception? I'm talking about clerics, sorcerers, and wizards in particular? Skills like Perception are why you surround yourself with a party of other adventurers.

Players are a crafty bunch. When they see that their GM is not constantly asking them for Perception, they will go for what makes sense to them, what they can get the biggest bang for their buck. Who can blame them?

Players are a lazy bunch. If you can provide them with no-brainer choices on their characters, so they can focus on other things, they will.

GMs are a crafty bunch. Ther want players to have a good time (unless they're jerks) and to get involved in the story. If the only way to convey is to play to the players' strength, they will most likely do it.

Diversify so they have to use as many skills as possible. If they don't know or don't learn some piece of information because they do not have a given skill, then let them fail, or at least make it harder.

GMs are a lazy bunch, if they can spend their time focusing on the story, and descriptions rather than "what skill would that be?", they will.

Many failed adventures (not just because the players have failed, the whole adventure was a disaster), have rested on a successful skill check. That's bad adventure design (and since I used to write/run home brews a lot back then, the issue was on me). A single skill check should not be the difference between life and death.

I've done that before. I'm not proud of it.

How to fix

Unlike some other cases of rules elements where the fix is "do this", this issue runs deep. It is unlikely to be a quick-fix. However, with a little effort, it can be done.

The simplest (and hardest) things is to "stop granting Perception checks for everything".

Just stop.

I'm serious. Learn the skills and offer as many different skill checks as you can in your adventure.

I personally use Perception for a few finite things:

  -  Searching for traps or secret doors

  -  Determine the starting distance of an encounter

Other than that, unless the situation really calls to Perception, I will do my best to avoid calling for one.

Seriously: just stop calling for these checks all the time.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Under the Influence Day 14: L'Oeil Noir

Even if the first true RPG I got my hand on the red box D&D first, many of its concepts I did not understand. You have to jump back to 1984... Many of the concepts therein I did not understand. Literally. Did not understand. Back then while I spoke English, I was far from fully fluent. The basics, I got.

All that changed at my 12th birthday.

On that day, I received the "Initiation au jeu d'aventure" (trans. Initiation to the adventure game) for the "L'Oeil Noir" RPG. It has since attempted to translate from German into English as "The Dark Eye RPG" with limited success. However if you were a French-speaker and into RPGs in Montreal in the mid-80s: you knew and played that game. It was light, easy and fun. Plus the rule book was the size of a Fighting Fantasy book. Within the box were a rulebook, an adventure book, a D20 and 3d6. All you needed to play the game. I've made reference to the game on my blog here and there.

Like most early 1980s RPGs, it was a D&D clone. You could be a warrior, a wizard, an elf, a dwarf, or the more generic "adventurer". The game was quite simple, but had a number of interesting things within: the attack and defense numbers were assigned by the player each round, there were no alignments, to cast magic the elf or the wizard had to speak out the "magic" formula (I still remember the fulminictus or medousa spells), a mana system for magic.

The adventure book had two short adventures as "example". One was a solo and one was for a small group.

The adventures written for that game system are quite good, and are still in my library. I refer to them regularly, if only to look at the pictures.

I still love this game.


Under the Influence Day 13: Dracula

First off, I swear I did NOT plan for Dracula to be #13. But it is awesome that it is.

I was 5 years old the first time I saw "Dracula" - the Bella Lugosi version. My mother denies it but I remember not only for Logusi's eyes but also because she left me alone at home for 15 minutes as she ran to the store to get something for dinner. It was on the "5pm Cinema". I wasn't supposed to watch it. But.

From that forth, watching Dracula movies has been something that had kept this secret air. Even though thirty five years later, no one will say anything about a fat nerd watching a classic vampire flick, but to me it's got this secret love affair thing. I love classic vampire stuff... The recent "cool" and sparkly vampires no, but the classics.

Then at the tender age of 16, I picked up the book to write a report on for school.


I had been watching movies and thought I knew the story.

If you never read the book, read it. Read it now. As usual, the book is much better. It is written as a series of journal entries written by the various characters. A style that must've been quite novel at the time. The pace is good and the "scary spooky" parts we see in the movies are completely different. The book felt a lot more like a psychological thriller than a "Horror movie".

I did not realize it at the time, but I could not help but notice it once it was pointed out to me. But for 1900, they use all types of modern equipment for the age: electric lamps, recording devices, etc.

I took from this book a feel for troupe-style storytelling. It also made me rethink what I thought I knew about the classics I thought I knew and never to assume one knows a plot. The many movies good and bad thought me how to play on a theme, using the same character and overall plot.

My review of classics, led me to pick up, a few month later, "Les Trois Mousquetaires", which also made this list.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

I just retired a third PFS character

It has been a long time since I retired a character in PFS. It was June of 2011 when Naadhira retired. Naadhira who is still being talked about in spite of having played a single adventure since that day.

This time, it is Sir Alexite von Crispin-Thrune a Chelaxian aristocrat and a man of many talents. From his first adventure - which was GM'd by Sean K Reynolds to yesterday, he was a character I built based off a favorite LG character of mine, the lecherous Mousset, who was a Bard/Rogue/Temple Raider of Olidammara. However, after a few adventures, it didn't feel right. So I dropped the lecherous aspect of him for a more "generic" dissolute dilettante.

He eventually turned into a pretty interesting Hellknight, but one who was not dour. He was happy, friendly and charming.

Perhaps the biggest thing people remember about his were the puffy pirate shirts and the foil parade hellknight armor.

Farewell Alexite.


Under the Influence Day 12: Amiens 2000

One of the biggest influences on my gaming life, without a doubt the first convention I attended was a major influence. I posted my experience there in a previous post, which I will not repost entirely. But you can follow this link and read it all.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Under The Influence Day 11: Star Wars

Is there any normal man who grew up in the 70s/80s who does not have a love affair with Star Wars?

Whatever you think Lucas did with the franchise with Episodes 1-3, doesn't matter. We got to see more Star Wars. And I enjoyed these movies. Again and again.

I spent my youth dreaming of flying my own starfighter in space, taking down evil-doers and attacking the Death Star. I mean, just like those ten years older than me had westerns, my eyes were turned to space. What better to give a little dreamer kid than a setting where he could live all kind of awesome stories?

Unfortunately, the world below still sucks as bad as we abandoned the stars. But that's a whole other rant.

Star Wars has always been - to me - a true fairy tale: a damsel in distress, a goodly rogue, a young hero on the verge of a quest, a dark and evil wizard. Really Star Wars takes the typical tale and sets it up in space. With awesome results.

To add to the awesomeness, I remember going to see "The Empire Strikes Back" at the theater with my sisters on the bus. And the most awesome part of it was that my little brother had to stay at home and he cried as we left.

Talk about a major win!

See Star Wars, go to the movie theater AND my brother crying because he couldn't tag along! To my child's mind, it was a perfect situation. It was awesome!

But don't worry, he has since seen the movie and I told him EVERYTHING about the movie later. I mean EVERYTHING.

Three years later, my sister took me to see Return of the Jedi for my birthday...

To this day, I try to get my kids to watch it with me. But they don't sit around long enough. But they will see it.

I trust in the Force.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Under the Influence Day 10: Caesar's The Gallic Wars

Why some books come to us through the ages, while others disappear is a testament to their greatness and their importance. Once such book was written by one of the most influential minds of Western civilization: Julius Caesar.

Historians such as myself love to debate whether he brought about a great age (the Empire) or if he destroyed a system that was already failing (the Republic). For better or worse, he lived in a time where the Roman Empire saw massive expansion and the additions of provinces that would make it the most powerful, most populous, biggest and largest the world had ever seen.

Caesar was one of the figures that was central to this expansion. By hook and crook (let's be honest, he did not only do some nice things), he added Gaul to the Empire. As a way to self-promote, he kept a journal embellishing his deeds and turn his victories into triumphs.

From a historian's point of view, it is important to keep Caesar's words in their context: he sought election as consul, he was in a close race with other equally valued generals (Marcus Crassus and Pompey the Great), and he wanted to let the people know of the harshness of the conditions.

With that in mind the Gallic Wars is a veritable time machine: a geographic study, a history book, a manual of martial maneuvers, and direct insight into the Gaul of two millennium ago. Names, places and people now long gone have reached us through the ages.

At first, in spite of my great love of history, I must sadly admit that the idea to read this book never occurred to me until I was past twenty-five years of age. But when I began to read it, I could not put it down. Even translated, the narrative was interesting, quick and informative. I expected something much more literal and procedural - like a professor's lecture.

But it reads like a good war novel. I can say that Caesar is even more interesting that writers who have written something similar, I'll name Glenn Cook and his Black Company as an example.

For years now, I have been putting off reading the sequel - the Social Wars - where Caesar tells of his falling out with Crassus and Pompey on the path to him being named dictator. It's on my list, I'll get to it eventually. If the first one was interesting, the second one will also be a blast.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Under the Influence Day 9: Le Canadien de Montreal

I was born in the 70s. The time when the Montreal Canadien Hockey team was the powerhouse in the hockey world. It was a time when their local nickname "Les Glorieux" took on its true meaning.

Though a little young to truly remember these days, I remember how hockey united everyone around me. How it was a true passion in Montreal.

Guess what? It still is! I still follow my team and will always do. I am now sharing this passion with my son. We both follow the habs when they come on TV!



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Under the Influence Day 8: A Farewell to Kings by Rush

From the first melodic accords of this epic album, you are transported away from where you are and into Rush's fantasy land.

The sweet dancing notes on Alex Lifeson's guitar dance much like the sweet sound of water cascading in a brook. Then Geddy-through-Neal-Peart's-Lyric poses the question: When they turn the pages history, When these days have passed long ago, Will they read of us with sadness, For the seeds that we let grow. To my young history-loving mind those words echoed loudly. And I began to think not just in terms of today, but also in terms of "then-through-now". Things you do today affect tomorrow.

I'll mention the epic Xanadu and the space-traveling story of Cygnus X-1 as still on my regular playlist.

But mentioning this album without saying a word about Rush's anthem: Closer to the Heart which is also rooted in philosophy is one of the best loved song and a staple of any Rush show - and live album - since. One I find myself singing to any time it comes on.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Under the Influence Day 7: The Citadel of Chaos

I've told this story a number of time, but the meeting I had with this book really opened my eyes to gaming. I read this book so many times that I ran it for people at a birthday party just a few days later.

From that day forth, there was no going back. I knew I was not alone in the world thinking of these kind of things.

My parents despaired.

The story is fairly classic: evil wizard in a tower, go and take him out. There are a number of really fun, nasty traps and the typical types of combats you find in these books. Fun. Fun. Fun.

As I was writing this, I managed to find a cheap copy of it on Ebay. Guess what. It is now mine!




PS: My wife will kill me for going on Ebay.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Under the Influence Day 6: Capitaine Flam

I spent my childhood dreaming of the stars. Of traveling from one planet to the next. Of solving mysteries and fighting villains. I spent my childhood watching Star Wars and late 70s anime (a few of them appear on this list).

One such show was "Capitaine Flam" or "Captain Future". This show was great, it featured a some-intelligent scientist/adventurer known as Capitaine Flam. According to the French generic,

Au fin fonds de l'univers
A des annees et des années lumière de la Terre,
Veille celui que le gouvernement intersideral appelle
quand il n'est plus capable de faire face a ses problèmes
quand il ne reste plus aucun espoir,
Le Capitaine Flam.

Which translates to roughly: In the deepest depths of space/ many light years from Earth/ lives the man who the galactic government calls/ when it cannot face his own problems/ when all hope is gone/ Capitaine Flam. I will refrain from making modern day politics reference, but I think he should be on speed dial.

One of the biggest and most unique elements of this show is that it was split into a number of 4-episode mini-series. Each of them had a number of plot twists that are still quite enjoyable as an adult. The animation is old, but the stories are still good. (Does it show that I recently re-watched a number of serials?). This many mini-series approach is one I really love.

The supporting cast was entertaining and had some interesting banter between them. He had a robot, an android that could disguise himself, a brain in a flying jar, the hot-looking gov. agent, and the kid. Plus a really sweet ship, that was the target of many lego-rebuilds.

I really like the stories, a number of them were a tad kookie, but not much more than some plot hooks I've encountered in games.

I gotta watch more episodes. Thank you YouTube!


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Under the Influence Day 5: The Non-Irish Gamers' Association

From 2000-02 I was in Ireland with a few trips back to France, the US or Canada. Dublin was "home" and to this day, I feel a strong attachment to the Republic of Ireland. Not the least of with is because of the many friends I met there during my stay.

The name "Non-Irish Gamers' Association" comes from the fact that most of us were not from the Republic! Darryl was from Northern Ireland (UK), Tammy was from Australia, Kristian was from Sweden, Christophe was from France, Mary was from Italy, I was from Canada. How could we forget our "token" Irishman: Oliver-E!

We would play every Tuesday and Thursday. Usually Legend of the Five Rings, but we played a variety of other games, such as 7th Sea, Vampire, Star Trek, and Shadowrun. We played a variety of things... Pretty much everything but D&D! We would attend local cons or travel together to them.

I'm sure Kristian remembers the two lesbians in Waterford who walked around naked while he and I were "sleeping". They had barely left the room that a "Dude, you awake?" was whispered (can't remember who said it, but we had both been watching the show). Hostels for the win!

Or Darryl remembers Gunner's "painted" bug horde army with that towering carnifex primed with that snot green and then having 2 color dots on the carapace to "identify" them. That was the "painted 3+ colors" restriction bypassed. Nice.

Perhaps the best and most recurring joke was the replacing of Oliver's D10s for D8s then seeing him fail and curse why he never rolled "10"s! Yes it was hours of fun.

Though most of the group has left Dublin, most of us for our homeland. Though Tammy married Darryl and Christophe disappeared, we still keep in touch through email and Facebook. These guys really weigh on my mind when I think "man, I would really like to play this this oto try it out." We were all willing and crazy enough to try it.

Miss you guys.


Edit added link to Mary's Picture of the gang.

Hey Fans of the Confederacy!

I have been talking with a few great artists to produce some art for the patrons. There are very few good illustrations for a character like Brutcheck. I tried, but his unique appearance makes it rather difficult to find an image that's not custom-made. Here is how he is described in an adventure.

The cavian points to a kalisan seated at a table, a plate of meat cooling before him. He wears a jaguar skin cloak. His face is painted as a jaw with sharp teeth making his mouth appear extended from ear to ear.

So you can see. Not something people draw every day.

To give a "good" visual I once again resorted to my awesome art skills.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Under the Influence Day 4: Hemispheres by Rush

In a man's life, only a handful of musical albums really makes him think about life and philosophy through clever lyrics and moving music. Not to mention the sheer epicness of an 18 minutes long title track.

I first listened to it - like many other albums in my teens - in the basement of my friend Francois-M's house when I was 11 or 12. The infamous "Cassette #9" which broke years later due to overuse. Ah... that tape had everything from Rush to Queen to Heart to things I can't even remember. But it was awesome. He was an avid music collector as my family wasn't really. My parents (and all my family for that matter) are far from Rush fans, so I listened to my albums by myself, dreaming of their evocation

Back to the title track, which is the 18-minute to the previous album's

The four tracks of the album still resound throughout. All of them are worth listening over and over. I could talk about it over and over, however, you can sample the album on YouTube before buying this phenomenal album.

I have spent days reading or swimming in the family pool listening to this album.

Oh and I dare you not to air drum to these songs.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Under The Influence Day 3: Les Trois Mousquetaires

If there is one book that has influenced me when I picked it up at sixteen, Les Trois Mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas would be that book. Not only packed with action but also full of fairly human emotions. The perfect reading material for a budding writer. I remember the excitement well. How will they get out of this trap? A fair amount of it deals with D'Artagnan trying to find money to eat and all the tricks he uses. Really funny but also very eye opening.

I know my players have accused me of never giving them any money as reward. That they had to take their loot from what was not anchored to the walls.

The three musketeers taught me that money is valuable and that people would rather barter.

The Kid in me

How could my sixteen year old self not identify with the struggles? The boy who comes to town and who gets into three duels on day one. Each one hour apart from the others. Yes, with Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. The story and plot unfolds at a speed someone likened to 24. The queen's jewels, the major focus of most movies is resolved around chapters 25-30 of the 70 chapters epic.

In some way, we are effectively told of a campaign. Because D'Artagnan starts off as a snot-nosed kid and grows into a man as the plot twists, turns, leaps and bounds. So that by the end of the book, he really is a seasoned adventurer. I would love to have a character live the same kind of adventures as D'Artagnan.


Historical Fiction

Not only did this book turn the spark of interest in history into a bonfire, it also opened my mind up to a new genre I never knew existed until then: historical fiction. Early on in this blog, I wrote a number of posts about historical campaigns and how to bring them to life (this posts and its complement post).

The idea to mix of gaming and history stems from this book. At least for me. Although the swashbuckling action is great, the interactions and character development are really the core of the book.

The Villain

Another important lesson it taught me is on having a villain whose goal is not only the destruction of the world or killing the PCs for some nebulous reason. The Cardinal de Richelieu is such a villain. He opposes the queen but is a staunch supporter of the king and royal power. He understands that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar and he uses every tool at his disposal to win. He is part time patron part time enemy.

Though reading the book you never get the feeling that most movies give him that he is a villain. He is a man of conviction with clear goals, but not really a villain. Not in a Manichean term. Shades of grey really apply here.

To this day, whenever I think of lawful evil his portrait comes to mind.

The Cast

Though the story of D'Artagnan, the book really gives us an overview of that slice of time of 1620-25. We don't just have the low gentlemen serving with the musketeers, but also their servants, the king-queen-cardinal, some common folk. In short, a whole piece of the world comes alive before us.


NeoExodus Legacies launches new Legacy Records

We have been running for over a year now and during that time, we have learned a lot. Learned from our players, but also learned by working hard and finding pain points internally.

One such pain points, for me was the creation of the Legacy Records, an integral part of organized play campaigns.

Before I start telling all that I hated about our current LRs, let me preface this by saying that the design D'Anne made - LPJ and I made suggestions but she really did it all. The placement of the logo, the sidebar. I mean we spent a LONG time getting all our duck in order before coming to the current design.

A lucky few at SoCal Smackdown in Anaheim last year got some of the pre-released version with the rounded edges as we sought feedback from people about them. Plus we had to convince ourselves that it was the design we wanted. Taking in all the feedback, critiques and thoughts, she came up with the design.

Life was good.

Fast forward one year and many LRs later, any a few issues have cropped up. Here are some of them: (in no particular order)

- When I update any of the boxes, I have to redo the layout of everything.

- With our new imprint, we needed to put the FOE logo on there.

- As our adventures begin to encompass a wider range of APLs (In sickness and in health had 4 different APLs), the real estate became as a premium. With more rewards, and more complex rewards, I wanted some real estate.

- One thing I find difficult to explain is that favor points are tracked by faction.

- I always wanted to give a clear separation between story awards and favor points. Though I never really had an alternative way to present them.

Well today, I spent a little time playing with the file and came up with the following. Click on the link to see the new sample.

What do you think?


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Under The Influence: Day 2: My year in Paris

We all know that travelling is a great way to expand one's horizons. I cannot agree more.

The year was 1999, I had yet to be out of University for a full year when I changed job. My new job took me back to Paris, France. There, I returned to meet friends at the now-defunct Club Loisir Dauphine (CLD) where I integrated myself the best way I knew how: BY GAMING! I was lucky enough to be in a field where I could get paid to see the world. And I took that opportunity and rolled with it. In fact, one could say that I still do it to this day.

In those days, I would run a lot of World of Darkness and I ran a game of Vampire set during the days of the French Revolution. What better place to play in history in the city where everything happened? This closeness to the places where the events I read about took place really had me do a lot of on-the-spot research.

If you follow this blog, you already know that it was during that time that I attended my first convention, in the beautiful city of Amiens. (You can read all about it in this post from April 2012).

It was also during that first event that I participated in a convention as an organizer (Helios 2000) with the CLD. So many fond memories there...

Miniature Dreams

It was also during that stay that I took part in my first Games Workshop-sponsored event. The 3rd Edition of 40k had just come out not too long ago (about 8-10 months) and I really was into the game. The Paris-St-Michel (near Fontaine St-Michel in central Paris) was hosting this event. First you had to "qualify" by basically taking on an opponent of their choice. Then if you won, you were invited to play on the Saturday for knock-off stages.

I showed up with my vanilla marines - all painted - with Quebec flags and Fleur-de-Lys symbols all over them. I got the feeling the guys did not not really want this tall Canadian there to show up the locals. But I followed all the rules. So they paired me against their "champion" who was playing Chaos Marines. It was a hard-fought match, but I managed to prevail, Huzzah! They invited me back on Saturday.

Saturday morning I showed up early (I was attending another event to the south of Paris, so I hoped to get it done quickly). The guys there paired me against this kid who was playing dark eldar whom no one could beat. Poor kid... I proceeded to slaughter his army by shooting is lord and blasting through his shadow field with masses of bolter fire (in those days the field was a 2+ invulnerable save until it failed once). I kept his talos busy with my scouts for most of the game. By turn 4 he had his talos on the field. I won.

My next match was against another one of their favorites, a fellow playing Dark Angels. I wasn't given much chance to win that fight because "that guy had been playing DAs for many years." The match didn't start off well for me, but I did not panic. I had a plan to flank him with my bikes. As he focused on my scouts, my bikes flanked him and his army disintegrated as he had to deal with the bikes and his firepower stopped coming. I was on him in a flash and after many tense moments, I managed to eeke out a win by a single marine (or something like that).

The final pitted me against an eldar player. I'll say this: he played his army well and my dice were just horrible. I lost to someone who was on top of his form. I was given a few scouts (that I still have and use) and some random bitz. I was happy. First 40k tourney.


Just a few words to say that it was during that time that spent one full year without TV. I had a computer but no TV. So I listened to the radio and discovered a number of bands. My musical horizons expanded a lot during that time. Neil Young, Noir Desir, Oasis, Blur, The Verve, Muse, and many others entered my musical library. Thanks to OUI-FM.


What is better than to be a tourist on the weekends? I spent a lot of time at the Louvres, visited Versailles and the Invalides a number of times, getting a visitor's pass, you can enter a number of museums for "free" so I really took in a lot of what there was to see. Saw le Tombeau de l'Empereur many times.


But perhaps, the most enduring legacy of the time I spent in Paris in 1999-2000 resides in the many friendships I made. One of them, led to meeting my now-Brother-in-law and a year later, my wife, others I still speak to on a regular basis.

A piece of me now forever roots for "Les Bleus".


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Under the Influence: Day 1, my wife

I should come as little surprise that my wife is perhaps the number one influence on my gaming life.

For those who do not know Julie (that's her name), she is rabidly anti-gaming. Because of her, I actually have a life outside gaming. Really! Those weeks when I send her out to Canada in the summer, I tend to have a 6/week gaming schedule (I usually took a break one night a week where I veg-out and watch TV).

I first met her in 2001 in Paris when I flew from Dublin for her brother's wedding (I introduced her brother to his wife). I really tought she was beautiful and that her accent was just great. Of course, she will deny having an accent, but the Montrealer in me knew one when I saw one. The funniest thing about this whole thing is that I jokingly told my now brother-in-law never to introduce your friends to your sister, that you might be forced to see them at Christmas for the rest of your life.

The first view I had of her was on a quai with Notre-Dame-de-Paris just slightly in the background. The view not too dissimilar to the image below.

Where I first saw my wife

Funny? Yes. Did it happen? Yes.

Now my sister-in-law hates us because we stole her thunder by making out on the boat (the reception was on a boat on the Seine River).

I flew back to Dublin, she returned to Montreal. We kept talking on the phone and through IM. When I returned to Canada for the Holidays, we spent two awesome weeks together. When I got back in Ireland, I told my then-boss (Dave) that I would marry that girl. Came April, she joined me in Ireland and we've been together ever since!

Twelve years, one wedding, three monsters, 2 appartments, and 4 houses later, she can still tolerate me, which is something that really amazes me! She displays great patience with me as I disappear for long evenings in the basement, writing away on my PC (though I spend a fair amount of it playing games too). Of course, I do have to pay for it by taking her out regularly, for which I have to write more and more.

She also provides me with a lot of entertainment.

NO you dirty-minded pigs, I'm not talking about THAT!

She is one of the most colorful and funny people that I know. Plus she has the good sense of knowing how to take (and make) a joke. Only I know how many different versions of my wife have made it into the writing of a number of NPCs over the years. I can only tell you one thing: it's a lot.

There you have it, the biggest influence on every aspects of my life: My wife, Julie.

Je t'aime chérie.