Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Savage Space Compilation Updated

I just did an update here (and in the sidebar), with an index of the original articles and an upgraded link to the PDF compilation, along with the link to the later Savage Space article I added a few weeks back.

I have some big plans for my Savage Space setting. The first campaign was a blast and my group wants to do more so I am working hard on a new scenario that will explore different weird regions of the setting. In the meantime, I have plans for more Savage space entries soon....

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pelegar: Rise of the Cult of Vorsag-Null

For fun, I am posting some campaign notes from my last grand Pathfinder campaign in Chirak. It didn't get too far, due largely to the severe burnout I was starting to feel with Pathfinder, but the campaign premise was great....so see below for some insight into the mad methodology of how I plot out story arcs in a sort of "open plot" format. Also, a case study in how ridiculously complicated/esoteric long running campaigns can get. Anyway, I use "plot poimt summaries" like this to keep track of the who/what/why as to what's going on.

"The Voice of Vorsag-Null"

The Fall of Pelegar campaign

Plot #1: Rise of the cult of Vorsag-Null

Vorsag-Null is an abyssal creature from Perdition itself, one of the original overlords of that ancient world, who succumbed to the temptation of power and chaos offered by Ga’Thon. Vorsag-Null was lost to time when he was supposedly slain during the Final War, but this was not actually the case.
Like many of the spirit lords and other immortals during the final era of the old gods, Vorsag-Null had been rendered all but impervious to harm through the power of his god. He was leader of an army of hundreds of thousands, slavering demons of Perdition who had crossed the bridge of time and space to assault the world of men in a bid for total dominance. He was first to set foot upon the Abyssal Rift created by Ga’Thon when he subsumed the feywild into his own mass…and first to claim one of the Abyssal layers for his own.

Vorsag-Null returned to the mortal plane to begin his siege, amassing his army through great rifts opening in the dominion of Pelegar, what was then known as Serevalis, a republic of elves who had been driven mad by the great wave of power which swept over the land; only the Elves of Taretos, who had sworn in secrecy their loyalty to Ga’Thon were spared the madness of the destruction of the Feywild. The abyssal armies descended upon the riven elven kingdom, slaughtering all they could, only to be surprised by the rise of the first elven undying. Amidst the battle Vorsag-Null and twenty other great demon lords observed from their fortress at Taretos.

Unexpectedly, Ga’Thon, who had transmogrified into a great and eclipsing mass in the sky with the intent of descending upon the westerlands to begin his geat absorption, was slain. The power of Akquinarios….or perhaps it was Pornyphiros….struck him down and the two gods in collision perished. The divine energy released at that instant swept over the land and eradicated most of the lesser demons and undying in a brief flash of destructive energy. Then the great mass of the dying god plunged to the earth and engulfed a vast swathe of land, Ga’Thon’s already moldering flesh decomposing into natural elements, forging the vast Cossarit mountains in one fell swoop. From his bowels erupted the disgorged contents of the feywild, which had been reduced to pure chaos and destruction; thus was the weeping wall formed. Amidst all this Mount Taretos, once the greatest single mountain in all the world, erupted instead from the fallen godflesh like a great pike through ga’Thon’s no longer immortal heart.

Vorsag-Null was not slain at that time as many thought, but with his brothers they forged through the arterial tunnels of the god in search of that heart, where they knew the Zodiac Stone which held his power must be located. The fight to this location was difficult, for the body of the god was already shifting to natural elements even as whole chunks of it broke off to become hideous atropal monsters, undead creatures of divine flesh seeking to carry on some sort of eviscerated half-life.
When Vorsag-Null at last arrived with his strongest brethren in the heart-chamber of the Zodiac Stone, it was to the sight of Ga’Thon’s divine spirit engaging in its last act of defiance against the Protector Gods which had laid it low. It shattered the stone even as it bound itself into the sacred artifact, and ten powerful shards pierced the chests of the ten surviving demon lords who had made it this far. The stones, driven by Ga’Thon’s will, called upon the demon Lords to each carry the stones to the four corners of the earth, where they would “hatch” into the children of Ga’Thon….the Thousandspawn.

Driven by the power of Ga’Thon’s spirit, nine of the ten demon lords found themselves driven to flee the land, to walk the four corners of the world where each in turn found that the shard within their chest, feeding upon their demonic essence, “hatched” and in turn brought forth one hundred miniscule shards, each with 1/1000th of the spirit of Ga’Thon; each shard imbedded itself within a suitable host, and that host became one of the Thousandspawn, a monster with a purpose: to heal the sundered spirit of Ga’Thon, and to one day reunite as the god reborn, to finish the job he had started.
There was one demon lord who did not follow this path: Vorsag-Null staggered out of the heart-chamber, realizing he had been infected with a dire disease unique to chaos-kin, and that he was being used by his former master to set about a three-thousand year cycle of regeneration and revenge. Uncertain that he wanted to sacrifice himself for his dead god’s greater will, Vorsag-Null sought out the only help he could imagine: the former seraphim, the angel who had fallen in battle during the final War and been inextricably bathed in the corrupting blood of Ga’Thon called Zeraphys, but later known only as Gloom.

Vorsag-Null explained his plight. Zeraphys, driven mad by what the demons and gods had done to him, used his surgical skill to extract the shard from Vorsag-Null’s own heart, though the demon suffered terrible damage from the act and fell into torpor. Gloom could not destroy the shard, so he cast it deep into the mountains of godlfesh, and proclaimed that he would hearafter cut from the heart of any other god or lesser being the Zodiac Stones they might dare bring within his new dominion….he eschewed the gods forever after, and proclaimed only murder for their future.
In the mountains the shard rested without a host for weeks until a lone warrior of the Great War who had somehow survived, the Inadasir hero known as Caeledus, found the stone, and it force-bonded with him. Caeledus was not as resourceful as Vorsag-Null, and wandered the land for a year in search of a cure before the stone overwhelmed him and he became host to its seed. It was from Caeledus that the human-like Thousandspawn all descend.

Vorsag-Null rested in the ruinous catacombs beneath the war-torn land of the Great Pass where the city of Valen was built, a rift in the mountains which formed from the godflesh of Ga’Thon where he had been struck the mortal blow by the other gods which sought to slay him. His body, in torpor and unable to awaken, dreamed dark dreams, and learned of the ancient presence of Molabal which plagued the lands of Pelegar, an ancient word which had been used to describe the region even before humanity rose to civilization. In these dreams he learned of great power, and his astral form dwelt within the city of Nith. So did Vorsag-Null survive for centuries until a scant thirty years ago, when a man named Tenor Morain, a simple butcher and occasional grave-robber, on an excursions into the ancient catacombs beneath Valen, discovered the body of Vorsag-Null by accident.
Hearing the dream-like call of Vorsag-Null was what brought Tenor Morain to the catacombs, and he came prepared, sacrificing his unsuspecting companions to feed the body of the demon lord. As Vorsag-Null recovered his physical abilities, he nonetheless found himself intensely weak. He needed more blood…a great deal of it, in fact, from the murder of innocents and unsuspecting. He charged Tenor Morain with the acquisition of this blood, and in exchange would make him nearly immortal. Thus did Tenor become the vile Voice of Vorsag-Null, hunting those who the demon required to sustain and recover its flesh; this process would take decades, and require the blood of 1,313 souls sacrificed and fed to the god. After thirty years, Vorsag-Null is at last awakening in flesh as well as spirit, and with the pall of Molabal lifted, he is once more able to command power in both dream and flesh…


Vorag-Null is mobile, but to restore his full power he needs three final sacrifices, which must be three souls of great power or notability. He has decided that the three beings he must consume the souls of are as follows:

Lady Nexi Tinar, an exiled noblewoman and pure soul who has aasimar blood in her veins. She was saved some years ago by the avatar Mardieur Mardieux, and brought to her home city of Talosin. Lady Tinar is said to have the reincarnated soul of an ancient queen and wife to Pornyphiros from long ago.

Lord Alton Kandros, a chieftain of the Dalevar barbarians and rumored to be a pureblood descendant of the lost line of the Inadasir emperor. Kandros is regarded as the greatest warrior in the land.

Salin Zomastar, a human boy of 16 years who lives in Fartheren as a waif. The nature of his soul and why he is desired by Vorsag-Null remains a mystery, but the cultists are even now mounting an expedition to find the boy. Unknown to them, Salin is actually the son of the High Priest of Vagre, Gavel Zomastar, who himself is seeking the boy to finish initiating him into the fire cult. Salin has a natural talent as a pryomantic sorcerer, but rejects it for the life of a rogue.

Agents of the Cult:

Grommagon the Terrible – gnoll lord of the highmountain Giskos tribe, and firm cult dedicate to Vorsag-Null.

The Voice – once known as Tenor Morain, he is now a terrifying near-immortal killer who has spent three decades murding for his demon lord. A grotesque, fat beast of a man who’s flesh is all but impregnable, with cannibalistic appetites.

Yaros Eraskar – The drow noble of Taretos who is also an exile of his people, he has forged an alliance with the cult and offers his agents to their cause. His real motives are unclear, but some suspect he hunts for Vorsag-Null’s true name so that he may control the demon when it returns so he can exact revenge on his enemies in Taretos.

Yonadra Vespiri – Sabiri witch of the plains, she has consorted with Vorsag-Null for years and gained perpetual youth as a result, learning the secrets of murder and magic from him. She is a terrible witch who her people fear. She has allied herself with his cult and eagerly seeks to make her astral husband flesh.

Yonadra Vespiri

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Amazing Adventures second printing Kickstarter!

It's been a while since I mentioned Amazing Adventures, what with my predilection for distraction and all, but I wanted to mention that this is A Real Thing and that if you are into pulp adventure gaming you should check out AA. It's built on the Castles & Crusades SIEGE Engine, and introduces pulp 30's adventure into the mix. As a game about pulp action its great, with old school mechanics layered on a genre savvy presentation of the pulp era. Even if you only love fantasy gaming, getting Amazing Adventuers could facilitate that awesome Steampunk Fantasy campaign you might want to run with C&C.

Anyway, you can read about it at Elf Lair Games here and view the Kickstarter here.

I'm keen to have a hard cover edition of AA and also like the idea of the "Manual of Monsters" as well. so I'll go in on the $45 level. Even though my fantasy gaming is dominated by D&D 5E these days, which fills my much needed spot for fantasy gaming, I believe that AA is a great resource for pulp gaming and like what is being proposed here. Even better, Jason Vey and the Trolls are good for it: they always deliver.

Here are some site links on AA:

The Realms of Chirak review/overview of Amazing Adventures

Making a Rocket Man adventurer in Amazing Adventures

On Reading and Collecting Comics in 2014 (Part I)

Taking a break from writing about RPGs for a bit to talk....comics!

Drinking from the comic book fire hose is never a good thing. You can drown in the sea of Marvel and DC comics (never mind the cornucopia of independents, Dark Horse, Image and others!) and after a while reality begins to warp....the fourth wall starts to loom large, preferably in the reading of the comics and not the real world, but hey....you never know!

This rant was sparked by doing precisely that: I've spent the better part of the last 18 months getting back into comics in a manner consistent with the way it used to be for me, from an era when almost all of my entertainment came from RPGs, comics, and an occasional theatrical release.

For one reason, comics are actually easily digested in relatively short bursts, and are surprisingly easy to get into and also put down when distractions arise....and I have a lot of distractions with my son, to use an example. For another, it's going to be fun to be able to hand over a ton of comics to him in years to come when he needs reading inspiration. I was hit hard by the awesomeness of comics when I was about 8 years old, and it was the single greatest motivator toward improving my reading skills at the time (outside of a cherished tome on Bigfoot, Nessie and UFOs I dragged everywhere).

For another reason, I spend a lot of time in a stressful position tied to the unholy commingling of the medical insurance industry and accounting/auditing. It's an industry I've grown to master, but I am very careful to compartmentalize work and life as much as possible; bringing this stuff home only leads to an early grave, I feel. Comics are a great destresser, even better than video games because you can generally get more plot in 22 pages than you get in 12 hours of your average FPS.

Anyway, as the last year and a half has progressed I've reached the point where I think I'm buying more books per month than I can easily consume, and I probably should cut down. It's hard, though....stopping a good title because its superfluous is harder than dropping one because it's poorly written or uninteresting. Sometimes a book has a weird thing going for it and you just want to see where it ends up (I'd call that the Grant Morrison Factor). Other times you just want to get the whole story, and comic publishers are still up to their old tricks where they find ways to tie the whole "Summer extravanganza" into multiple titles that practically command you get them all to make sense of what has happened.

In fact that last marketing strategy was a huge reason for my decline in interest in comics in the 90's....the cross-referential story lines made it too painful to keep up. I was pretty much just an Image fan for the first half of the 90's, enjoying the shared universe and interesting and more modern character designs and themes of Wildcats, Grifter, Cyberforce, Youngblood and Spawn before the entire thing blew apart and left a smoking crater where a decent comic universe used to exist. Now...it doesn't matter so much. I'm keeping up with Marvel's Original Sins titles just fine, thanks to making a godawfully larger amount of money now than I did in the nineties (duh) and also DC's Batman Eternal and "Future's End" books, which have the decency to be largely self-contained in exchange for having a weekly release schedule for an entire year. Yowza.

The last time I had it "this good" in comics as a reader and collector would have to be roughly 1995 and then 1988. In 1995 I was graduating from college and spent a bit of time jobless and untethered, traveling with my sister to Colorado and abroad, a stack of Image titles in tow so I could play catch-up on Gen 13, Backlash, Grifter and Wildcats (among others). Prior to that in 1988 I was a high school student about to graduate, and I was getting weekly shipments from Mile High Comics by mail order of about as many comics as I currently collect (albeit at better prices) thanks to some profitable publishing efforts and a family windfall that actually trickled down to me. I still remember the old 80's revival of Action Comics as a serial collection...loved that book; or the "vote for the Jason Todd Robin to die" event. For being a comic collector/reader those were good times.

Now, sitting as I am in my forties with a good career and decent income I appreciate that I can still even do this thing I like to do with collecting comics....but I have to wonder how anyone my age in 1988 (17 years old) or 1995 (24 and freshly graduated jobless ex-student) would have pulled this off. Buying 30 comics in 1988 cost about 75 cents an issue, so I'd spend $22.50 a month. In 1995 buying 30 comics a month at $1.50 a copy meant I had doubled my monthly cost for the same intake to $45/month. Now, in 2014, comics are typically $2.99 or $3.99 with a trend toward the $4 side (DC holds most of its titles at the $3 mark but if you pay a higher price you're usually getting a deluxe issue). For 30 comics that's roughly $105 a month assuming a median average of $3.50....bump it up if you like Marvel only.

$105 a month for comics? In 1988 I could afford to pay for 30 comics a month on the money I made working for my folks or publishing cheap games and fanzines. In 1995 I was largely destitute for a while and still managed to scrape together the money once I found even a low wage position. Today? I can do it on my income, but if I made what I did even just three years ago I wouldn't even be buying comics as an unnecessary expense with a low "fun time:cost" ratio.

Now, that said....comics today have better graphics and usually better art than ever before. Paper quality is superior, coloring is digital and state of the art. Writing is often better, or at least it's taken an uptick from a trend I saw in the late nineties which I call the "Liefield Effect" in which you can take two pages of actual story and make it last for 22 pages. But....it looks like comics today are trending away from that (to be replaced by different bad story habits....but I'll save that gripe for another column!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In honor of Maanzecorian, Lord of Knowledge and Tasty Brains.

GLORIA MAANZECORIAN, et Filio, et Cerebrum Sancto. Sicut erat in spiritus immundus, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Ftagn!

Thanks to Albuquerque Chaote for finding this gif, and for all the crazed madness she brings to the Saturday game!

Monday, August 25, 2014

When Rules Disappear Behind the Story - 5E's Secret Weapon

My group decided to stick with 5E for a second session in a row on Saturday, giving Magic World a hiatus for a bit --but we will be back to MW, rest assured! Shiny new wins out for a bit right now.

One of the selling points often discussed in BRP and its related games is the idea that the BRP system is a set of rules which "falls in the background." That is, the rules are something which can exist and serve to arbitrate when needed, but which can be as invisible as you desire. You can narrate a story, role play your heart out, and have a good time and at the end of the session everyone tallies up their skill checks for advancement and rolls away. You can have grand combats, all narrated covertly by the mechanical process of the rules, yet seamlessly dictated by them. This, among many other reasons, is why I like BRP, Magic World, and its associated games. In fact....it's why I like most RPGs, to be honest. Especially the ones that work hard to make the Man behind the Curtain as hard to see as possible.

Interestingly, this feature is now "back" in Dungeons & Dragons with 5E, too. It's not an accident either, I suspect. I think a big part of the design effort in 5E was specifically aimed at capturing this sweet spot in role playing, the moment at which you realize that while yes, you are playing a game, you don't really realize it until you're rolling dice...and even then, the game shifts back immediately to the exciting process of tale-telling, of a rousing adventure, be it grim and gritty or wahoo-gonzo.

My 5E games have been feeling an awful lot like this, and I have to give credit to the system for making this easy. Since 3rd edition D&D has been spiraling off the rails. You could run 3rd edition with a narrative streak, yes....but too many specific rules (such as grapple, for example) could instantly derail the narrative flow of the game, stopping everything cold and breaking the immersion, or what passes for it in collaborative storytelling. Death to immersion by a thousand paper cuts, as I might equate it.

As for 4E....well, let's just say that it was a game about rules, and part of learning to play it as an RPG was learning how to interpret the rules, as if you were commanding a Ouija Board and trying to figure out what the ghost was telling you, or if it even WAS a ghost. The idea of "figuring out what this rule means in the game world" was a fun exercise in 4E, but it was counter-intuitive to the older approach to gaming, where the idea was "figuring what is happening in the game, and then letting the underlying rules support it."

Anyway....my Saturday night and Wednesday night D&D 5E games have thoroughly convinced me that D&D 5E has what it takes to be my permanent go-to game system, for a very long time to come. I can tell a story with this thing and go an entire night without one head-scratching moment where I must divine what a given rule means in the context of the story at hand. That's a pretty mean feat for an edition of D&D to accomplish.

It's like a very important part of the game that was lost more than a decade ago has at last been found again, and suddenly crowned the Most Important Feature: rules that hide behind the story. Who would have guessed that D&D would be able to do this again?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Princes of the Apocalypse and the Adventurer's Handbook for D&D 5E in 2015

ENworld has the scoop so read about it there, but Sasquatch Studios is the next third party developer contracted to produce official products for Dungeons & Dragons 5E in the same manner as Kobold Press for this year's two modules.

The Sasquatch Studios team consists of notable authors Richard Baker, Stephen Schubert and Dave Noonan. Richard Baker is known for developing the 3rd edition Forgotten Realms book among many others, Stephen Schubert is noted for not having a convenient wiki entry although I think he worked on ther D&D Minis game from the 2003-2004 era, and Dave Noonan did a lot of stuff on 3rd edition and also apprently did some work on the MMORPG Tera (that game requires copious back-story to explain the BDSM default armor of the setting, I bet). So: these guys have the design credits to pull this off, basically.

This is very interesting to see how WotC is farming out work to 3rd party developers with official "WotC' branded and distributed products. I'm eager to see who else they can get in on the act.

Shame Paizo has its own IP to protect now.....

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

13th Age: Shadows of Eldolan and the Book of Loot on pre-order with PDF available at Pelgrane

I hadn't noticed, but at some point Shadows of Eldolan became available in PDF with a pre-order of the September book release. Since I had a very good experience with the Bestiary pre-order I went ahead and preordered this one along with the Book of Loot, which I had not heard of until now.

Shadows of Eldolan is the first official 13th Age adventure. The PDF also includes a zip file on the maps. Book of Loot is what it says: a guide to magic items and spiffy loot in the 13th Age.

Still reading both, but they are definitely up to Pelgrane's usual high quality. More to come!

D&D 5th: Moloron the Younger, Level 8 Tiefling Warlock Sage

Contionuing the showcase of just what D&D 5th Edition can do with char gen....I present Moloron, a warlock of Far Therias in the Realms of Chirak:

Moloron the Younger
Tiefling male, age 35
Warlock Sage level 8
Tall, dark hair, reddish black eyes, lean goat-like horns and goatee, 6’4”, 175 lbs (gaunt)
STR      DEX     CON    INT      WIS     CHA     HPs      Proficiency                
10        10        10        12        16        20        48        +3                               
0          0          0          +1        +3/+6   +5/+8        
Hit Dice           Init      Speed  Armor Class                Alignment      Level   Experience     
8D8                  0          30        10                                Neutral Good  8          45,000
Spell    Cantrips          Spell Slots       Slot Level        Spell Save DC
Slots         3                      2                      4th                    16

Saves               WIS, CHA
Languages      Common (Ermanican), Infernal (Kaelinari), Ildrathari, Tuat
Skills                Arcana +9, History +9, Intimidation +5, Deception +5
Tiefling Traits darkvision, hellish resistance (fire), infernal legacy (thaumaturgy, hellish rebuke,  darkness)
Warlock Traits Pact of the Tome, Patron: The Fiend, Dark One’s Blessing, Dark One’s Own Luck
Sage Traits      Researcher

Cantrips                     eldritch blast, mage hand, true strike; thaumaturgy (tielfing)
Tome Cantrips         Guidance, fire bolt, poison spray
Level 1                        Armor of Agathys, Witch Bolt, burning hands, Hellish Rebuke (tiefling)
Level 2                        scorching ray, invisibility
Level 3                        dispel magic, fireball
Level 4                        fire shield
Invocations  Eyes of the Rune Keeper, Mask of Many Faces, One With Shadows, Agonizing Blast

Armor             deathcut leather +1 (AC 12; deals 1d10 necrotic back to melee attacker, 1/day)      
Weapons        Dagger +1 (+4 attack, 1D4+1 damage)
Magic              Circlet of Authority (get advantage on persuade/intimidation)

Personality     I am a student of esoteric knowledge who seeks to better my world, living in the shadow of my father's legacy.
Ideal                Power….the mastery of planar magic and pursuit of the mysteries my father sought.
Bond               I am an outcast from my homeland and have been liberated as an expatriate.
Flaw                I am overcome with the need to know outweighing safety.

Gold Pieces:          127         Platinum Pieces: 200

Background: Moloron’s father was an exile from the Therianic city state of Kaelinari, a bastion of tieflings who had isolated themselves deep in the wilderness away from the Carceri and all the rest of the land. Moloron’s father’s exact crimes at this time are unknown, but it is believed that his Pact, forged with the unholy spirit lord Kaelos, was part of the reason.

Moloron the Elder left for the north mountains of Carceri after his exile, and left behind his young son and wife. Years later Moloron the Younger began to discover his father’s history, and felt the inextricable call of his family bloodline toward the vile Kaelos. When he was eighteen Moloron left his city behind after being discovered summoning the spirit of Kaelos to bind himself in pact, in exchange for information on his father’s location.

Moloron found an ancient mansion with a vast complex beneath of unknown origin which had clearly been his father’s. It appeared that his father had been experimenting with ways and means of opening portals to other planes, and in his quests he uncovered an ancient statue of great power to Kaelos, which he later learned was the petrified demigod himself! Moloron’s father utilized the raw energy within the petrified spirit lord to empower his claimed subterranean complex, where he worked extensively on ancient alchemical machines to breach the planar gap and find a means of communing with the planes. Moloron the Younger concluded that his father had been seeking out a means of lifting the curse of his family, and fallen victim to unknown powers in the process.

Amidst all this Moloron determined that his father had perhaps succeeded too well at his goal, and may have been abducted or plane shifted out of the Realms of Chirak. He powered up the old machines to seek out a way of finding his father, but was interrupted when agents of the Carceric king appeared looking for his father…..it turns out Moloron the Elder had been serving as a sorcerous advisor to the king. Moloron decided to accompany the adventurers, misreprenting himself as his father. So it was that his new career as agent of the crown began. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sweet Zombie Jesus it's Deep Magic for 13th Age

Look here and just think about what good boys and girls we must all be to have this tome converted to 13th Age. Deep Magic was in some ways a grand hurrah and send off for me to Pathfinder, the last great sourcebook that Kobold Press released for a system I knew was about to be trounced by the manifestation of D&D 5th edition.

Deep Magic has a lot of cool stuff in it....but the thought of all that cool stuff coming to 13th Age is almost too much for my system. Must rest....! Too much good stuff this year.