Friday, March 30, 2012

Oh that was a good laugh

I have a really tough sense of humor, so I'm really impressed when something triggers it in a "laughing like a madman in the office" kinda way. XKCD did that today. The cartoon itself is fine, but it was the subtext (mouse over on the cartoon to read it in the popup box) that did it for me. Funniest damned thing I've read this year....

I once ran a GURPS modern game where the player characters were convinced they had discovered a bizarre alien plot, but it wasn't until they broke into a wealthy suspect's house and observed a baker's dozen of chihuahuas out by the pack pool line up, stand erect and start to river dance that they began to suspect something was amiss....

Isomular: Octogashi, the Octopus Men



Octogashi (Octopus Men)


Type: 6th level Monstrous Humanoid Adept

Size: Medium

Speed: 30 ft, 40ft swimming

Str Dex Con Int Wis Cha
+2   +4   +2   +2   +2   0

Skills: Escape Artist +8, Notice +7, Survival +6, Stealth +8, Swim +14

Feats: Chokehold, Grappling Finesse, Improved Pin

Traits: Darkvision 60’

Combat: Attack +10, Damage +3 (tentacles), Defense +14, Grapple +8, Initiative +0

Saves: Tough Fort Ref Will
              +2     +2    +4    +5

Powers: Water Shaping (Int), Body Control (Wis), Drain Vitality (Wis), Mind Touch (Cha), Pain (Cha), Power Rank 9; Save DC 13

Swimming: +8 racial bonus to swimming

The octogashi appear to be tall, almost creatures with thick legs and a bulging torso. These parts are almost humanoid, except for the head, which is replaced by the body and tentacles of an octopus. The body and head are fused, such that there is no neck and a fair portion of the torso and octopoid component are one and the same. Moreover, the torso has no arms, instead relying entirely on the mass of tentacles to provide manipulative appendages.

Octogashi are a very mysterious race of the aquatic depths, and appear to be venomously hateful of the surface dwellers of Isomular. They worship a strange demon god that they call Ith’quill and will often force other aquatic beings to worship this god. The octogashi are fond of raiding the surface world for possible slaves and general mayhem. They have a unique creature which they breed, called the Chargash Mussel, a sea creature that, when placed along the skin of a human’s throat will bond like a parasite to that person. It simultaneously replaces their own breathing mechanisms, converting water in to breathable filtered oxygen for the land-dwelling host, but that person will not suffocate in open air without a very radical surgery (DC28 Medicine check with surgical tools to succeed) to remove the parasite.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Isomular: Scorponids



Scorponids (Scorpotaurs)


Type: 5th level Monstrous Humanoid Warrior

Size: Large

Speed: 30 ft

Str Dex Con Int Wis Cha
+6     0    +2   0    +1    0

Skills: Notice +7, Survival +7

Feats: Improved Critical (Claws 19-20/+3), All Out Attack

Traits: Armored Carapace +3 Toughness, Darkvision 60’, Double Strike (both pincer claws)

Combat: Attack +4, Damage +9 (pincer claws), Defense +14, Grapple +8, Initiative +0

Saves: Tough Fort Ref Will
              +7      +3   +4   +5

These enormous predators are tall, scorpion-like creatures averaging 10-15 feet in length and about 8 feet in height. They are vaguely centauroid, as where a normal scorpion’s head be there is instead an armored torso from which a multi-eyed head, mandibles, and two large pincers on carpaced arms extend.

Scorponids are one of the more fearsome predatory sapient races of Isomular. The Scorponids were once a warrior-thrall caste in the old Isomular empire, said to have been enhanced in intelligence and prowess by alchemical processes. Since the collapse of the Isomular empire and the rise of humans, the Scorponids have been cut free, and those which survived the old wars now wander in large tribes, ravaging the region in to which they seek to settle.

Scorponids have a callous disregard for most human races, but they are strangely in awe of the Isomular, with some scorponids reacting in fear or anger upon encountering their old slave masters. Curiously, scorponids love the myrmidons, and it is not unknown for one or more scorponids to take up guard as protectors of the myrmidons, who they recognize as another slave species freed from Isomulii rule. These scorponids will usually defend the myrmidon families they protect with their life.

Monday, March 26, 2012

System vs. System: Character Building in 4E vs. BRP



I was messing around for the first time in a good while with actually writing game material, and got inspired to make a character using the Heroes of Elemental Chaos book for 4E, and compare it to an equivalent character build in BRP. I'm seriously entertaining the idea of going all BRP all the time right now, but one selling point is to make sure that the system can and will support the many weird fantasy archetypes that I love in my games, and which are already supported by a wealth of info in D&D and Pathfinder.

So for this experiment I first made a genasai stormsoul who is a hexblade with the windlord theme. She's a blue skinned, crystal haired woman with a perpetually shocking quality to her. The short version of her character write-up is like so: she's bound to an elemental pact, which grants her a blade of chaos, through which she can channel devastating blows. She has the traditional eldritch blast, can occasionally fly in the air and strike foes as she does, moves fluidly through rough terrain, and can conjure up some powerful armor that damages foes around it. Her 4E character sheet looks like this:


Okay! So lots of text. This is a sample of how I stat out 4E characters for home use, just for reference; I try to condense the necessary info on one page or as close as possible. I use short hand like "uteoynt" and such for "until the end of your next turn" and so forth. Anything that ended up requiring thumb-flipping through the books would be a Bad Thing in terms of game pace. I don't like the 4E Character Builder PC records, either; they're okay, but if I don't have a hands-on design, then I tend to lose touch with what and why my character is doing what it does mechanically.

So anyway, enough of that. Good functional planetouched warlock hexblade stormlord adventure. This is one of the things I like about 4E: it has a lot of stuff you can cram onto even a 1st level character, in terms of thematics and flavor. One of my players (who is not a 4E fan) however once mused that the problem he has with 4E was fairly simple: never did he play a character who felt so godlike in description but in actual play was relatively pathetic. How true this can be.

So designing an equivalent character at level 1 in Pathfinder is nigh impossible, but you could probably get something that simulates the power range and effects by maybe 3rd to 5th level. BRP is a different beast entirely, however. It's not level based at all, for one, and it doesn't specifically have genasai and such, but you can fake it a bit and make one anyway.

For BRP, I picked "heroic" to start her for character generation, as  heroic feels comfortably at the same power level as low level 4E characters. I made her a wizard specializing in sorcery with the option to spend her bonus skill points on general magery if she so desired. I am calling her a genasai planetouched on the sheet, but did not bother to work out any special genasai stats; we're going to let the sorcery do all that work for us. In the end, I generated this:


 Not bad, eh? I even added a few extras in that she had the points for (heal, moonrise....two things her 4E counterpart can't do) to make up for one omission involving her armor spell. She has Sorcerer's Armor, which protects her, but it doesn't also deal damage, unfortunately; there may be spells that would do this, which could be linked, but I was going for quick and easy. Likewise, Sorcerer's Razor simulates the blade of chaos element (to which I provided her a broadsword she can enhance for damage), and wings of the sky provides some of the elemental knockdown effect for her. She learned two basic magician's spells: blast (to simulate eldritch blast) and lift (for flight).

Anyway, the BRP version of Atalasia injects the flavor (albeit with some player caveat toward what she is) but with better overall functionality; this character can do a lot more than just fly 30 feet and then spin someone off 5 feet with a quick sword thrust. About the only thing I didn't get right was the armor that damages with intense cold....will have to play around with BRP's sorcery a bit (or look in the BRP Magic Book) and see if there's a way to do it.

(EDIT: it did just occur to me that with giving her the ability to summon an elemental, then maybe what's really going on here is she's summoning a cold elemental that she binds to her armor, which in turn generates cold damage through its attacks against those who come too close....so, problem solved!)

Isomular: The Vile Worm



Before I gave up on this campaign, I designed several monsters for it. Actually, a key reason I gave up was the monumental task of monster design, which in D20 3.X era systems is a laborious pain for the time-challenged (plus I just found it tedious and uninteresting). Anyway, no reason to let the ones I did finish go to waste, so first off we have....

The Vile Worm


Type: 20th level Adept Aberration

Size: Colossal (Reach 15’)

Speed: 30 ft, 40 ft burrowing (both earth and stone)

Str   Dex Con Int Wis Cha
+12   +2   +8    0   +4    0

Skills: Notice +14, Search +10, Survival +14, Intimidate +18

Feats: Great Fortitude, Endurance, Run, Track, Diehard, Stunning Attack, Improved Grab, Trample, Tireless

Traits: darkvision 60’, Blindsense, Swallow Whole, Frightful Presence (DC 20)

Combat: Attack +4, Damage +15 (bite), Defense +14 (dodge), Grapple +20, Damage +15 (Swallow), Initiative +2

Saves: Tough Fort Ref Will
             +16  +16  +8  +10

Powers: Variable, but usually all of the Empathy Focus powers (cha), plus Blink (Wis); Power Rank 23; Save DC 20

Vile worms look like immense, heavily carapaced earthworms, with large sucker-like maws and a ring of glimmering eye-like growths along the first several feet of their head region. The worms are lean, usually about 5-10 feet in diameter but are upwards of 150 feet in length.

Dwelling in the deep wastelands of the largest deserts of the Whispering Kingdoms, the Vile Worm is a ferocious species which has terrorized many communities in its time. There are only known to be a few of these immense creatures, and a handful of ascetics have formed a dedicated cult (The Followers of the Worm), following these enigmatic beasts around, seeking to learn the ways of their kind. The known psionic power of these ancient beings makes them especially fascinating to their followers, who believe the worms are actually an ancient, enlightened race, possibly the first progenitor race of Isomular.

Vile worms are usually encountered as solitary creatures, although they often have a flock of dedicated pilgrims following them. On rare occasions they will encounter another of their kind, at which time the worms will usually go in to a curiosu trance as they seem to communicate with one another telepathically. On very rare occasions (once every hundred years) a few dozen of the creatures will converge in one location for some sort of enigmatic gathering. This can be problematic if they choose an inhabited region.



Sunday, March 25, 2012

ShamAnimal - Dead of the Last Shaman

I love this album, great techno is hard to find but always memorable when you do. It's an upbeat sort of techno that carries its beat and feels distinct:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Magic World for BRP



This is an interesting new bit over at Chaosium: Magic World, a self-contained Basic Role Playing-powered fantasy RPG that sounds like its designed to be an all-in-one book for using BRP straight up as a traditional fantasy RPG (i.e. trope laden). 100 spells, 60 monsters (sounds a bit low to me but maybe they can finally release a bestiary for BRP some day) and best as I can tell BRP streamlined only for fantasy gaming as opposed to dumbed down or anything. I'm looking forward to it, although I admit this book will be entering a rather crowded corner of the RPG market (BRP/D100 powered game systems, which includes Legend, Openquest, Runequest 6 that is forthcoming, GORE, BRP itself and lots of fanbrews; never mind all the OOP games out there).

I did a quick search on Ben Munroe's author name to see what he was all about and found this interview on him. He has a lot of pervious publishing credits with the BRP mechanics, including Nephilim, which is good.

UPDATE: Here's an even more recent review about Ben and Magic World specifically on basicroleplaying.com. From reading this review, it looks like Magic World is going to be its own distinct game/product line, and it's best described as a stealth return of the old Elric system, which I actually liked a lot (even though I had no interest in gaming in the Young Kingdoms).

Anyway, I'm going to cross my fingers on this one and hope it is a nice, clean complete package. I'm starting to move away from the days of multi-volume mega-rulebook-heavy games, and am so enamoured with the genuinely pleasant and not overly encumbered Traveller game nights I've had going that the prospect of the same using BRP (or Magic World) for fantasy gaming sounds pretty tempting. I technically could do that with BRP right now (as my wife did last year) but its got lots of fiddly bits that you need to decide on. Legend can do that too (and I'd like to use it as such) but I'm still running into two problems: the ongoing lack of effort by Mongoose to fix edit and errata issues with their books, and the difficulty in actually getting my hands on them.

 Maybe Magic World's strength will be in its tight no-nonsense design; I'd like that.

Prometheus, plus a John Carter Rant: maybe they should have called it "A Princess of Mars?" Or spent less money?



First, the good: Prometheus. Looks clearly like it will be set in the same universe as Alien (nothing we didn't already suspect from leaks) but even more so than might have been otherwise expected. It kind of has some Mass Effect style influences as well, I noticed. I am really eager to see this.

Now for the rant!

Well it looks like John Carter flopped, and having seen and really liked that movie I am disappointed, as it means that the likelihood of more films like this are dramatically reduced. Same thing of course for last year's Conan the Barbarian, which while admittedly a problematic film in some regards was hardly so bad (in my obviously eccentric and non-mainstream opinion) as to warrant all the knocks it took. Oh well....so much for the revival of the classic pulps in modern film.

As a guy who spent most of his childhood in the late seventies and early to mid eighties, it cracks me up to see these two films get negative reviews or even to do so poorly. I remember when films that look 1/100th as good as these, with a fraction of the acting talent or story would somehow rocket to success. I mean, Beast Master, fer cryin' out loud! (I liked Beast Master, for the record). Galaxy of Terror. Seriously.

I guess what a lot of 70's and 80's films had going for them was actual dearth of cash and FX, though. When you're making the FX with rubber and animal guts and glue, and your story is going to be primarily carried by the weight of the actors then....who am I kidding??? John Carter had better storytelling than 80% of the drek I was forced to watch in the 80's. Oh well.

Maybe it's the actors. The two guys they got for John Carter and Conan both have a certain look that might not be all its cracked up to be anymore. Maybe they should have been clean-cut space marine/football jock looking dudes. They could have pulled that off with John Carter, I bet (not so much with Conan, which suffered primarily for comparisons to the original Arnold film). And maybe they should have done these movies on half the budget, or maybe focused more on traditional special effects as much as possible, realizing that their real target were older audiences, and that apparently a lot of us are grumpy about CGI effects these days.

Eh, who knows. I'll admit, I'm still amazed Disney spent as much as it did on John Carter, an untested property that had minimal recognition outside of a core slice of SF fandom and which was then not even properly titled in a recognizable way to many people.

But hey, Prometheus is up next! I saw the trailer. If that movie doesn't do well I'll just have to conclude that movie going audiences are a bunch of rubes who don't spend cash on anything that isn't made by Michael Bay or doesn't involve street racing or dirty dancing.

Isomular: Monstrosities



Introducing new Creatures to Isomular


When deciding to include a new creature in Isomular, consider the following: fey creatures, most outsiders, and many magical beasts and aberrations with non-psionic magic effects should be excluded. Any beast which has an effect that can be psionically duplicated, as well as any beast which is sufficiently exotic and alien (reptilian, insectoid, or just weirdly alien) will probably work. Humanoids should be excluded, as the only hominids on Isomular are those who arrived on the Coral Ark (the true humans, transgenics, and mutations). If a humanoid does look like it could be a previously undiscovered or forgotten mutation or transgenic species, then feel free to work it in. The key idea here is to preserve the sense of the alien an exotic about Isomular, and to stay as far away as possible from elves, dwarves, orcs and other classic trappings of fantasy. Some beings can have names derived from fantastic elements, but also bear in mind that much of the ancient lore of earth was lost to the men of the Coral Ark even before they left Earth. Notions of medieval magic did not exist for the founders of the modern Isomular cultures, and so they have never been prone to identifying such notions of fanaticism with their strange world and psionic powers.

One good trick you can always use to borrow a monster for Isomular is simple: make it insectoid or reptilian. The planet’s native flora and fauna are dominated by these two types of life, and making almost any species one or the other will allow it to “fit in.” Ogres, for example, could be revised as Great Lizard Men, hulking two-legged brutes that are giant kin to the Kamodons.

Creature Types of Isomular

Alien: The creature is of alien origin, not native to Isomular, but not necessarily an Astral visitor. Such beings may also have traveled to Isomular from space.

Annunaki: The creature is or has been known to work for the enigmatic Annunaki. It is eminently hostile to humanity and all other beings.

Architect: The creature is a disciple and creation of the Architect and appears at his behest.

Construct: The creature is created through the old clockwork technology of the Isomulii, the animating forces of a psionicist, or is a remnant of the ancient apocalyptic civilizations of a million years ago. Some undead (skeletons) are really psychic constructs.

Exotic: The creature is exotic, and does not seem to fit the normal ecosystem, but is also not obviously a visitor from another realm. Such beings may be remnants of older ecosystems destroyed, or products of genetic or psionic experimentation.

Insectoid: The being is part of the insectoid kingdom of animals on Isomular, and is usually a native animal.

Mechanoid: The creature is mechanical, or robotic. It is usually a relic of a forgotten age, or a product of the Architect (a survivor of the Coral Ark).

Native: The creature is a native of Isomular.

Reptilian: The creature belongs to the animal kingdom of the reptilians, and is likely a native to Isomular.

Subterranean: The creature belongs to the strange ecosystem of the subterranean realms of Isomular.

Terran: The creature is part of the transplanted life created by the Architect when man was brought to Isomular. Many creatures from Terra were recreated, though there are many more that did not survive the times during which the native and imported ecosystems fought for cohabitation. Animals which were most useful to man, or most self-subsistent and quick-breeding did best (dogs, rabbits, etc.)

Undead: The disembodied spirits of psychic energy which linger in the astral or return to animate their corpses. These are psionic undead, and all magic traits are changed to psionic traits.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mercury Mystery Rising



The story is here, and it's rather interesting; one might expect an easy explanation of liquid cores and incredible solar tidal effects, but in fact it's not so cut and dry.

I, however, have two words to offer:

It's Hatching...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Soul Not So Dark, and Raccoon City Under Siege Again, Film at 11



I gave up and traded Dark Souls in for Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City after one final, earnest effort to get somewhere without wanting to ragequit the game. After ragequitting (again) and then moving on, I feel as if I finally got out of an abusive relationship. On the downside, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is not the stellar game I (didn't really) expect it to be, although it is fun. It's key problem right now is that it is a bit of a genre break from the traditional Resident Evil format, and so far after only a short time playing through its clear that the game is influenced a bit more by the amoral badassery of Milla Jovovich's character in the movies and slightly less so by the more plodding, sense-of-dread and threat ambience of the classics. It's also clear that this game is trying damned hard to inject a little bit of the RE universe into the Left 4 Dead/Call of Duty/Gear of War multiplayer co-op mode. In fact, just about every move you can make in those aforementioned games is available here.

RE:ORC so far underwhelms for two reasons, though: so far its a linear cooridor slog, and although it's trussed up nicely the fact that I noticed this about 5-10 minutes in is a bad sign of linear cooridors to come. There's nothing wrong with linear game design, I feel, so long as the game's level design does a good enough job of fooling you into not noticing; this is not doing a good job of it. It seems like a lot of Japanese-developed games (for example FFXIII) have this problem.

Second, and more importantly, the game feels kind of by-the-numbers, like the lead developer had a list that marketing gave him after they played L4D, MW and GoW and other games, of each game feature or element they wanted represented here. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it may be the reason the game feels less like an original romp, and more like a "trace"  of  these other games.

Also, there's a lot of classic "hide behind conveniently scattered industrial boxes while capping enemies too dumb to crouch low enough not to have their noggin blown off" gameplay.

It's too early yet for me to say anything else, but if it gets better I'll talk about it more. I do like the character models....the Umbrella goons in your squad are all a bunch of fine, evil looking/acting/talking psychopaths. And Hunk, the unfortunately named side character from the bonus quest in Resident Evil 2 (or was it 3?) shows up right off as a truly malicious patron/insitgator (and ally, at least for now) from the get-go. That part is a lot of fun, and distinguishes this game from the rest of the RE series in a cool, interesting way.

And for the record, as new co-op multiplayer games go, this one has other recent efforts (like the unfortunate Payday: The Heist) beat hands down with better gameplay and even better AI so far. On the other hand, like many co-op games these days its missing a split-screen mode, which disappointed my wife greatly. Not gonna go out and buy a second copy (or second Xbox) anytime soon just to play with her. Hmmmm.....it would be a good excuse, though.....




It's kind of weird, really, it feels like the late 90's all over again with the old PS1. I have Silent Hill: Downpour, the Silent Hill HD Collection and now Resident Evil's latest game all sitting in my console collection waiting for Marcus to fall asleep so I can play. The more things change...

Isomular: Ecology



The Ecology of Isomular


Isomular is a world with a diversity of strange ecologies. The Isomulii and other insectoid species reflect the most ancient of the ecological niches in the long history of this world, but there are a number of strange, reptilian species which are part of a more contemporary stretch of Isomular evolution, as well. Some Eldaran who are privy to the ancient lore suspect that the reptilians and amphibians of Isomular are part of a transplanted ecology, just like the Terran ecology created by the Architect.

When humans arrived, the machines of the Architect began to convert local materials in to a newly created ecosystem derived from Old Terra. The result was a fairly balanced ecology which immediately sought to insert itself in to Isomular’s own rough, predator-heavy ecology. The smaller mammals and beasts of man were better at avoiding predation, and were quick to spread. The result was a devastating shift in Isomular’s newly blended ecosystem, with a sudden dominance of the transplanted mammals. Many native herbivorous species on Isomular died out as small species such as rabbits, rodents, and birds fought for resources. The new species were cultivated by the Arechitect to be compatible with their new environment, even as the region was also seeded with Terran flora to further advance the terraforming process.

After nearly two-thousand years, few scholars can speak much of what the pre-Terran ecology was like. Isomular is now a blended ecosystem, with a strange balance between the insectoid, reptilian, and mammalian groups throughout the land. Some native beasts have still done well, such as Ankhegs, which are caught as young and raised as beasts of war and burden by both men and Isomulii. Likewise, horses and ponies are prized by both men and myrmidons, as well as other sentient species. A few strange niches have kept to their own. Except for the invasion of the mutated grimlocks, a human variant which survived the great journey of the Coral Ark in the deepest bowels of the vessel as beings hideously mutated by cosmic radiaton leeching through he Ark’s protective armor, most of the underground caverns and subterranean ruins of old still harbor a unique ecosystem unsullied by the presence of Terran lifeforms.

The following is a list of Isomular’s native life, as well as a short list of creatures which manifest that have a clear extraplanar origin, deriving from the Astral Realm. These beings from the astral definitely manifest from other dimensional planes and worlds, and some may even be beings from other civilizations on distant worlds which have discovered the secrets of planar gate travel.

When deciding if you want to use an existing creature for an Isomular campaign, consider that some beings which are of the “magical” type have that changed to the “psionic” type instead, and their special abilities are redefined as psionic abilities. This will mostly prove relevant in a cross-worlds campaign, in which real magic users appear in Isomular. Otherwise, assume all powers are psionic in nature.

Sentient, intelligent species are also note so as to provide a basis for those beings which are tribal, engage in civilization, trade, warfare, and communication. Some of these species are sentient, but due to numbers and interest are extremely isolated, but they are included anyway.

Special types of undead are found on Isomular. The undead are psionic manifestations, beings created when a strong psionic mind dies and retains an impression in the psionic energy which permeates the quantum strata of creation. Undead which are appropriate are listed below, and include both corporeal beings animated by a potent psionic presence (a possessing poltergeist) or incorporeal beings which have found a new level of existence in the Astral (a ghost of spirit). The understanding of psionic energy as a binding force of the universe has led psionic practitioners to identify death with transcendence in to deeper understanding of the universe. The afterlife, if it can be seen as such, is thought of as a form of ascension to an immaterial state, in which one joins with the forces of creation. Reincarnation is the return of that soul if it has not learned enough in its mortal journey, to be reborn as a new life. Undead appear when these spirits are unwilling to ascend or be reborn. A strange, reverse form of undead are called the soulless, mortal beings born without souls or psionic ability. These entities are anathema to psionicists, for they are immune to the powers of the mind and can never manifest such abilities, either. The soulless are strange, driven beings, and often outcast in some societies for their nature as anathema (see more on the feat which can be chosen to reflect a soulless character).

The Unbodied are psionic beings which have made and recalled the transition from death to psionic formlessness, and have learned to control this process to the point that they leave their mortal forms behind. Such beings are technically considered undead according to the description above, but they are also much, much more.

As a rule, any undead which is manifested through its own willpower, hatred, or other strong need or emotion is pemitted and considered a viable psionic entity. Undead which can only manifest through magical means or divine means do not exist on Isomular (mummies and skeletons, for example). A few corporal undead, such as ghouls and ghasts, do exist and are classified as undead by most advernturers, but are in fact human off-shoots who suffer from a terrible mutant disease that forces them to live lives as beast-like cannibals. Such undead are classified as “mutations.”

There are a great many different Terran-analog species among the insectoid fauna. Giant and varied sizes of scorpion, centipede, spider and other insects exist, though they are not biologically the same creatures as their Terran counterparts. Most of the human names for these things stem from their own titles, but the native Isomular name will be listed for such creatures in parentheses. These beings, while superficially similar to earth insects, have some startling differences, including stronger shells, larger brains and fully developed lungs with large mouths that extend proboscides for feeding along with mandibles of all sizes.

A small number of the creatures below are classified as “alien.” These beings are not native to Isomular, and clearly do not belong, but if they arrived by space or by the Astral realm, no one can say. Such beings are usually inimical to other life, have strange or unfathomable purposes and natures, and are often opposed to the Annunaki as well as humans and other native beings.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Skyrim vs. Dark Souls, or, "I tried Dark Souls once, until I took an Arrow to the Knee..."



There's an amusing article here comparing the storytelling between the two. It's a good article in the sense that it tells me two key things:

1. I am not really playing Skyrim the way this guy does, because I like reading all the books and see them not as stopping the game but as demonstrating that Skyrim is just a bit more than a game. Also, the names mean a lot to me, and like Dragon Age and Fallout I can tell that with time Skyrim will get progressively more engrained in my psyche as a "place" worth visiting and knowing much about.

2. I should give Dark Souls one more try, because apparently if you can learn to take the game's continuous abuse from abyssmally difficult respawning foes who unrelentingly depants you and rape your corpse then apparently there's a story to be had in there somewhere. A story I'd like to see, if only the damned game would let me.

Anyway, interesting article, and the commentary that follows is all over the board. I have to admit, I deeply wish I was one of those people who could say, "let me tell you about the amazing, deep story of Dark Souls and how it slowly revealed itself to me like an inscruitable onion." But all I can do is marvel that anyone got past those goddamned undead in the beginning of the second act, because I had to stop playing before I damaged my controller, Xbox, TV or wall. So far I've resisted the intense desire to simply sell the game....so far. We'll see. The Silent Hill HD collection comes out tomorrow....now Silent Hill, that's the sort of video game abuse I can take!

The One Hour Adventure



Mike Mearls has a great column up this morning, one which I think is probably the best design focus they've described to date for Dungeons & Dragons Next, not the least of which because it manages to simplify the design philosophy in a manner which of necessity encompasses many other core design features by virtue of this simple goal. The idea of a ruleset that can run a complete adventure in an hour or two is nothing unusual to some games (Tunnels & Trolls is a great example of pick-up-and-play fantasy gaming at its finest, as was the old classic B/X D&D rules), and its actually a design focus that would really, truly make D&D competitive with other media that tends to siphon off players due to ease-of-access (video games). In fact, it might even make it somewhat more competitive with MMOs, which to be fair these days have turned into a major pain if you're not willing to slog through endless hours to get to the "endgame" component most MMOs dangle in front of you like a distant carrot.

Anyway, if they pull this off then I'll be a hearty supporter of D&D Next. This column brought back some old memories for me: of running quick games between classes in college when we had a couple hours to kill, or of running short one-shots at odd moments back in my 1E & 2E days whenever we had some time, opportunity, dice and books. It kind of hit home a major play element of D&D that's been more or less completely absent since 2000, and one I really do miss.

Isomular: More on Technology



Technology on Isomular

There are two sources of ancient technology on Isomular. The Isomulii created many wondrous clockwork items, and their ancient civilization was harnessing steam power when it was shattered in rebellion. The distant apocalyptic society that once existed on Isomular was very high-tech, and while almost nothing of this civilization remains, occasionally a very unusual artifact will surface.


In contrast, the Coral Ark brought with it both men and technology, and while the long voyage of the ark had left much of its wondrous technology exhausted and damaged, enough artifacts survived to make a measurable impact on the future of man.

These artifacts were built to last, and certain small, dedicated orders (especially among the Engineers and the Eldaran) have taught the rituals of maintenance, to insure that these fabulous items are not lost to disrepair and damage. Some of these items include the lightning and fire guns, the war helms, and the communicators. A few air skiffs still survive, held in jealous possession by the noble families of Zymvaj and Kalashtam. There are even a few of the ancient mechanoids, tirelessly serving the needs of the Architect and the Coral Ark out in the Whispering Ocean.

Essentially, almost any old world and science fiction technology described in True20 can have an interesting place in Isomular if the GM wants it to.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Isomular: New feats for True20



New Feats in Isomular


There are a number of new feats which characters of Isomular may take. Among these feats, all characters should have the option of choosing the Hidden Talent feat at 1st level in the EPH (pg. 66). Some feats are unavailable in Isomular, such as all spell enhancement metamagic feats and item creation feats. All of the psionic feats in the EPH are available. Additional feats available include:

Adapted

The harsh ecosystem of Isomular is not too friendly to the human races which settled here. Some humans have developed a good resistance to the local flora and fauna, such that they can eat and partake of plants most people find barely digestible. These people can also resist poisons and toxins in the native environment better.

Prerequisite: 1st level only

Effect: You get a +4 Fortitude save when exposed to poisons and toxins from a native-born plant or animal. You may also get a +4 modifier to your Survival skill rolls to forage for edible food from the native wildlife, as your range of options is somewhat wider than normal. This does not apply to other characters unless they also are Adapted.

Psychic Linguist

You are unusually well-versed in the strange languages of Isomular, even the insectoid ones which are unpronounceable and sometimes incomprehensible to most humans.

The insectoid languages of Isomular all have an ancient, common root and all insectoid species of intelligence derive their language from the same root source. As such, the nature of these languages is similar enough for a wisened linguist to grasp as a spectrum. Similarly, the simplistic languages of the reptilian species are also, apparently, derived from a common source and work much the same way.

Effect: Your keen ear and psychic propensity for the strange languages of the myrmidons, Isomulii, lizardfolk and other species lets you make an Intelligence check at DC 15 whenever communicating with these beings to grasp what they are saying, even if you do not know their languages as skills. You may apply this to any species’ language you encounter, even if it is for the first time. You may also attempt to communicate back, making a DC 20 Intelligence check to try and replicate the strange clicks, whirrs, and hoots of the language to make a basic point known. You won’t be quoting Shakespear, but you will be able to get ideas like, “Don’t kill me,” and “I’ll give gold for food,” across.

Past Lives

You are an old soul, and you have probably reincarnated many, many times. As such, you seem to have a unique grasp on the world around you, and sometimes can relate your current events to spontaneous memories from prior lives. These memories are sudden and usually disconnected. Occasionally, they are older than man’s time on Isomular.

Prerequisite: Wis 15+, psionic abilities

Effect: You may periodically ask to make a Wisdom check against a variable DC to see if a given situation awakens a past-life memory. You may do this a number of times per game session equal to your Wisdom modifier.

Past Lives DC Results:

DC 10< A fun, odd, or otherwise interesting but useless memory of a past life, not relevant at all.

DC 10-14 A vague memory, with some allegorical or suggestive reference to the present quandary.

DC 15-19 A useful memory that provides a +1 circumstance modifier to the current problem.

DC 20-24 A distinct memory that offers a +2 circumstance modifier and some insight.

DC 25+ A vivid memory, which allows the PC to take 10 on the situation even if he normally couldn’t, or a +4 circumstance modifier, whichever is better.


Soulless

You are born without psionic ability, and are described by the cosmology of the psionicists as a being without a soul. You can never manifest psionic ability, and are remarkably resistant to psionic effects.

The philosophy of the psionic colleges and monasteries says that all beings seek true enlightenment in the fabric of the universe, but that until they achieve this goal, they will eventually wander back to the mortal plane to reincarnate. Some children are born that do not have a reincarnated soul, secular vessels which, while biologically alive, are not gifted with the psionic essence of the universe.

Prerequisites: No adept powers at all.

Effect: You can never manifest psionic powers, and can never learn any powers or take levels in the Adept role. Instead you receive a few unique resistances: First, you can never be contacted using the Mind Touch power. Second, you gain a Psionic Resistance score equal to 10 plus your Intelligence modifier. This value increases as your character’s level advances. The trade-off, of course, is that this resistance value is always on, and will work against beneficial psionic effects as well as hostile psionics. The Psi Resistance works like this: any time a power is used that would affect you directly, you must make a Psi Resistance check by rolling 1D20. If your score is equal to or less than your Psi Resistance score, the power fails against you, automatically. If you roll higher than your score, then the power’s normal process continues (including any subsequent saves and effects) as normal.



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wasteland 2 Kickstarter

The kickstarter phenomenon is an interesting concept, but its one that seems to be paying off for certain projects that are looking for funding from the fans and otherwise generous philanthropists out there who want to see some of these things brought to life. At last there's one I can get behind: a sequel to Wasteland, possibly the best RPG of the late 80's/early 90's. I sank countless hours into the original back in the day, and the sequel is aiming at doing a modern recapture of the team-based tactical gameplay and deep sandbox RPG campaigning of the original.

Hell, I've been using "He explodes likea blood sausage in the sun" as a critical hit descriptor for over 24 years now, thanks to Wasteland! Let's try and make this one happen...

Isomular: Racial Backgrounds

Source

Racial Backgrounds of Isomular


Humans are the only core book race to be found in Isomular. The following races are also permitted as player characters:

Bael

Bael are physiologically similar to human beings, but have black skin and large, grey orbs for eyes, as well as mere slits for a nose and ears. The spine and back of their arms, legs and neck have smooth but ridged spinal outgrowths, a sort of exoskeletal carapace that serves to reinforce their musculature and makes them more resistant to damage from broken bones or nerve injury.

Nonetheless, the smooth and graceful features of the Bael have often been found attractive to some humans, and some humans have Bael heritage, as well. Bael tend to remain isolated from humans in communities, but as a species they have lived in the presence of humans so long now that it feels natural, even if they keep their own community tightly entwined within the larger human cultures they find themselves nestled in.

• Ability Adjustments: Con +1, Cha -1

• Bonus Feats: Iron Will, Night Vision, Natural Armor +1 AB

• Favored Feats: Tireless and Body Control

• Physical Data: 5’6”-6’6” feet tall on average; 150-250 lbs; Age: Bael can live 200+ years.

Eldaram

Eldaram are ancient controllers, once the humans who had engineered the great exodus of the Ark and later the humans who became the psychic controllers and manipulative agents of the secret priesthood dedicated to the Coral Ark’s location off the coast of the continent. The Eldaram are firmly entrenched in society as keepers of lore, historians, advisors, and voices of the ancient power that is the Coral Ark.

Eldaram are physically identical to humans, but their brains have changed, and all Eldaram are inherently psychic. Even the least potent of the Eldaram know at least one technique or skill in psionics worth mentioning. Additionally, although they look human, they radiate a presence that belies their human nature, and makes it difficult for Eldaram to disguise themselves as anything else.

• Ability Adjustments: +1 to either Cha, Int or Wis (player choice) and -1 Str

• Bonus Feats: One power of player’s choice. Eldaram also have a Psychic Aura, which makes it difficult to avoid detection. This aura acts as a -2 penalty against stealth and any effort to avoid being seen, felt, heard, or psychically revealed.

• Favored Feats: Any two powers

• Physical Data: 5-6/6” feet tall on average; 125-250 lbs; Age: most live to 70-80 years old.

Empathics

The descendants of the socialites, the social controllers and charismatic personalities of the Coral Ark, Empathics have evolved today into strange, semi angelic beings who have an overwhelming impact on humans and other creatures around them. Empathics appear as graceful, slender humans with an almost radiant glow about them. They have a naturally calming effect if they so desire.

Empathics are valued in the courts of kings as advisors and diplomats. They are popular as entertainers and thespians, able to bring crowds to literal tears of joy or fear with mere thoughts. Some lands fear and hunt Empathics for their reputation as manipulators.

• Ability Adjustments: Cha +1 and Con -1

• Bonus Feats: One power from the Empath Focus group of choice (most Empathics have calm). Empath Adepts must choose the Empath Focus. Empaths also gain the Talented feat (Diplomacy and Bluff) and the Fascinate feat.

• Favored Feats: Any two Empathic Focus powers.

• Physical Data: 5-6 feet tall on average; 120-200 lbs; Age: most live to 70-80 years old.

Engineers

The stout, muscular engineers are strong, resilient, and very efficient folk who descend from the ancient engineering class of the Coral Ark. Most engineers appear to be burly, muscular men and women of short stature (usually no taller than 5 feet). Engineers have a get-it-done kind of attitude, and tend not to mince words. Engineers are the least likely of the human offshoot races to manifest psionics, curiously, and their dour attitude toward all non-technical things make it likely that even if they did have psionic potential it might well be suppressed or disregarded. Nonetheless, the engineers have founded some of the societies of the technomancers, and those engineers who do manifest psionic potential tend to become very good in the Psychometry Focus.

• Ability Adjustments: Str +1, Con +1, Dex -1 and Cha -1

• Bonus Feats: Great Fortitude, Talented (Craft and Disable Device)

• Favored Feats: Diehard, Skill Mastery

• Physical Data: 4-5 feet tall on average; 200-300 lbs; Age: most live to 80-90 years old.

Half-Giants

The last of the human offshoots from the Coral Ark, the half-giants are a curious mixture of humans and the now nearly extinct original giants. Despite their stature, half-giants are actually very slim and delicate, as their bones are brittle and hollow like a bird’s, and they are extremely flexible, with double-jointed knees and elbows, an adaptation transgenically engineered long ago on the Coral Ark to make them more flexible in zero gravity. Some humans describe them as gaunt and bird-like in their features and movement.

Today, on the normal gravity world of Isomular, the half-giants are a slowly dying breed, weak and poorly adapted to their environment. Nonetheless, the half-giants struggle to persevere and maintain their own culture and society within the greater kingdom of humanity. Most half-giants develop excellent psionic talent, and many are widely regarded for their skills of philosophy and esthetics, as quiet and contemplative artists and writers.

• Ability Adjustments: Str -1, Con -1, Int +1, Wis +1

• Bonus Feats: Improved Evasion and Lightning Reflexes

• Favored Feats: Supernatural Talent, Inspire

• Physical Data: 7-8 feet tall on average; 125-200 lbs; Age: most live to 50-60 years old.

Isomulii

The Isomulii are the native species of Isomular, tall and fearsome looking insect-like humanoids with four arms and two legs, a body that is vaguely reminiscent of a cockroach’s, and an ancient legacy upon their world. The Isomulii still have hidden cities, usually in caverns or remote valleys, where they continue their ancient traditions and maintain their curious clockwork and steam-powered technology while revering their mysterious gods and fearing the Drauga, the demon-gods, who most Isomulii, even the ones friendly to humanity, believe were the cause of this alien invasion so long ago upon their world.

• Ability Adjustments: Str -1, Con +1, Cha -1, Dex +1

• Bonus Feats: Night Vision, Natural Armored carapace +2 AB, Razor sharp claws (+2 damage melee), Heightened Senses (+2 Notice)

• Favored Feats: Lightning Reflexes, Mind Touch power

• Physical Data: 7-8’6” on average; 225-350 lbs; Age: most live to 250-300 years old.

Myrmidons

One of the lesser sentient native races on Isomular, the Myrmidons are ant-like and very social, with a keen interest in humanity and a strong willingness to integrate with other cultures. Myrmidons are short, no larger than human children, and very tenacious, often to the point of being very annoying. Myrmidons make great allies, but can be terrible pests.

Myrmidons physically look like small, carpaced gnomes with large ant eyes and antennae, but they only have two arms and four legs, unlike their Isomulii relatives. They can move very fast.

• Ability Adjustments: Str -1, Dex +1

• Bonus Feats: Night Vision, Natural Armored carapace +2 AB, Mandible attack (+1 damage), Lightning Reflexes

• Favored Feats: ElusiveTarget and Improved Evasion

• Physical Data: 2’5”-3’6” on average; 50-150 lbs; Age: most live to 40-50 years old.

Shedahai

The quasi demonic Shedahai were one of many races forced to serve as thralls to the Annunaki. Shedahai who escaped have proven to be very prolific, and their numbers have dramatically risen. Some lands are dominated by the Shedahai now, and the old, warlike nature of these creatures is resurfacing.

Physically, Shedahai are tall, red-skinned humanoids with human-like qualities, but covered in spiny scales and with long tails. They have clawed hands and feet as well as hinged lower legs, like an animal’s, letting them run faster than normal. Shedahai make natural fighters, and those that have psionic ability make excellent psychic warriors, though Bael rarely let them join the orders of the mindblades. Instead, Shedahai like to form their own mercenary companies, offering up services to the highest bidder.

• Ability Adjustments: Str -1, Dex +1

• Bonus Feats: Night Vision, Natural Armor +1 AB, Claw attack (+2 damage), Fast move 7

• Favored Feats: Spirited Charge and Tough

• Physical Data: 6’-7’6” on average; 250-350 lbs; Age: most live to 70-80 years old.

Optional Races in Isomular

There are a few additional races that may be permitted as characters, if the GM is willing:

Greys

The greys would be obvious alien or other-dimensional visitors who are in all likelihood studying the curious phenomenon of Isomular, with its mish-mash of foreign cultures. Greys as player characters might not be seen as terribly strange, just mistaken instead for some foreign race “over the mountains.”

Nords

Much like the Empathics, Nords are a charismatic and ethereal race. This could be a rare off-shoot of humanity or a genuine alien visitor, depending upon your story needs and tastes.

Reptoids

The reptoids might be aliens, or possibly natives of Isomular. Native reptoids are the remnant survivors of an ancient civilization that fought the Isomulii and lost, dwelling in deep caverns of the world and plotting their revenge against the insectoids. Alien reptoids are possibly visitors from a foreign world, discovering Isomular and fascinated at the remnant civilizations of an ancient Reptoid presence that was long ago forgotten.

Calibans

Described as monsters in True20, Calibans are nonetheless representative of mutations and transgenic sample groups gone wrong. The calibans have banded together and taken refuge in the depths of the earth, where they harbor a deep resentment against the more powerful and beatific humans and their kin. Calibans would make excellent villains, but a crafty player could make a character of one, as well.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Isomular: Heroic Roles



Specialized Roles of Isomular


Each of the three core roles is common in Isomular, although it is not uncommon for multi-classed Warrior/Adepts and Expert/Adepts to be encountered. At the GM’s discretion characters may begin also as level 2 heroes with two levels in each role. Multi-classed combinations can then work to create some of the following specialized types:

Ascetic
Role Suggestion: Adept, Adept/Expert
Power Suggestion: Psychometabolism Focus
The ascetics of Kalashtam are famous for their dedication to the perfection of mind and sould through psionic oneness. Ascetics are usually devoted to achieving this mastery through the abstinence of all worldly pleasures and goods, as a means of honing their personal focus to the point where some say that the strongest ascetics are able to go without food or water for years, and are able to reach reserves of strength undiscovered by lesser psychics.

Assassin
Role Suggestion: Expert/Adept or Warrior/Adept
Power Suggestion: Psychic Weapon, Drain Vitality, Harm
The assassins of Isomular are well-versed in their trade, relying not only on their physical capacities to slay foes but their mental abilities, as well. Some well-known assassin’s guilds include the Order of the Red Cloak out of Zymvaj, and the Nightblades of Kalashtam.

Assassins are seen as a vital political tool by most cultures of Isomular, a tradition that goes back to the old culture of the isomulii, who felt that a single killer was infinitely superior to a thousand soldiers on the battlefield. The ancient Isomulii tradition of assassination in the arena of diplomacy and intrigue continues in to the present.

Diplomat
Role Suggestion: Expert, Adept
Feat Suggestion: Psychic Linguist
Diplomats are a much-desired resource in Isomular. A good diplomat needs to be experienced in dealing with many distinct and alien cultures, and ready and willing to learn strange languages, customs, and beliefs in order to best work with the diversity of alien life on Isomular. Those few who have the unique talent for psychic linguistics are considered especially valuable. There is even the College of Diplomacy in Kalashtam, where professional diplomats are trained from the elite citizens to work toward furthering peaceful relations throughout the lands.

Explorer
Role Suggestion: any (esp. Expert)
Feat Suggestion: Adapted feat
The explorer can be everything from a lone adventurer and cartographer looking to make a name for himself on down to a trained member of the Imperial Zymvajian Explorer’s Society, in which organized and well-funded expeditions are regularly sent forth at the whim of wealthy Zymvaji nobles looking for ancient relics, hidden mysteries, fabulous treasures and precious resources.

Mindblade
Role Suggestion: Warrior/Adept
Power Suggestion: Psychic Weapon, Supernatural Weapon
The mindblades are a feared and respected collection of highly skilled warriors who maintain a number of hidden monastic enclaves throughout the world. The mindblades seek perfection in the melding of physical and mental prowess, much like ascetics, but do not abstain from physical pleasures and goods to do so, instead seeking to harness their inner strength by embracing the emotional impulses of violence, letting their empathic sense for battle guide their way.

The mindblades of the Bael have formed long established military orders who hold no allegiance to the kingdoms of the world, instead offering dedicated military contracts as mercenaries. Some orders have been under the employ of specific cities and nations for centuries, others only engage in short-term contacts. Known orders of the mindblades include the Silver Thorns, the Fire Scorpions, the Gilded Knives, and the Sword Saints. Not all members of these orders are Bael, as they accept anyone of sufficient skill and worth, but the Bael are certainly most common.

Oracle
Role Suggestion: Adept
Power Suggestion: Vision
Oracles are actually surprisingly rare in a world rife with psychic powers. The power to see the future, and to witness visions of things to come is a rare blessing and curse. Most children who manfest oracular powers are quickly taken to one of the known mountainous enclaves of the land, where oracles gather in designated neutral regions, to offer up their powers of vision to the kingdoms of the land, for a price.

As often as the enclaves of the oracles receive great wealth from kings who seek their wisdom and portents, there have been times when the oracles offend with terrible visions of disaster, and some rulers, unwise and unwilling to accept their visions of doom, have gone on to disaster, then turned around and struck out at the oracles for producing the vision in the first place. As such, many oracle’s compounds are well-protected, either with a garrison of soldiers recruited from dedicated locals, or sometimes hired from a mercenary order of mindblades.

Psychic Apostate
Role Suggestion: Expert or Warrior only
Feat Suggestion: Must have Soulless feat
On certain rare occasions a human is born who lacks the power of psionics, and indeed seems to be utterly resistant to such powers (see the Soulless feat for more.) These people are valued for their strong resistance to psychic powers, and an almost indomitable mind against psychic intrusion. Nobles will pay generously for the services of such an apostate to aid them against dangerous psychics seeking to manipulate their courts and very persons.

Some psychic apostates group together and seek to find a new life away from the greater world. The children of two such psychic apostates usually, though not always prove to be resistant, as well. These communities are usually quite remote and hostile to foreign intrusion.

Psychic Warrior
Role Suggestion: Warrior/Adept
Power Suggestion: Enhance Ability, Combat Sense
The psychic warrior is the most common psionically adept soldier, often elevated to elite rank as a knight for his proficiency in both mental and physical arts. Not unlike the mindblades, psychic warriors are skilled at integrating their total mental and physical skill in to a fine-tuned weapon, but they tend not to belong to any specific order, and are often found as knights in service to the local nobles. Some psychic warriors wander, seeking to make their own way in the world.

Technomancer
Role Suggestion: Adept/Expert with Psychometry Focus
Power Suggestion: Object Reading
Technomancers are valued for their unusual talent for understanding machinery and other objects usually perceived as psychically inert to most. Technomancers are often prone to skills in which they become especially adept at understanding and creating machines, and are fascinated with ancient artifacts. Some become employed for their curious gadgets they can create, and others gain employment by helping to design weapons of war. A few work with antiquarians to unravel the mysteries of ancient artifacts.

Voice
Role Suggestion: Expert/Adept, Eldaram
Power Suggestion: Fascinate feat, Telepathy and Psychometry Foci
The Voices are the enigmatic priesthood, consisting only of the Eldaram, who have not invited any other humanoid or insect sentient to join their elite order. The Voices serve to keep the Coral Ark functioning, and listen to its ancient voice for guidance in the world, and to act upon its wisdom. The Voices are a mixture of priest, scholar, teacher and student. They gather information requested by the Architect, and in turn are sent forth to disseminate information or perform deeds it has decided are important to its children, the descendents of Terra.

The Voice is a great role for characters who want a built-in plot device that insures they will always be given something to do, sooner or later, no matter how bizarre or incomprehensible it may seem!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

MMO Funtime with Dad

Frostmourning
So I've figured out (so far) how to get some game time in here and there, which is good. Sometimes I can get some game time in with Marcus present, sometimes mom and dad swap duties to give each other a break, and sometimes I get lucky and he passes out for a few hours, giving me some uniterrupted time to blast geth, locusts, zombies, Covenant, or what-not.

One thing I've found really hard to do lately is keep up with MMOs. Part of it is that with limited time I think I prefer shorter normal games that offer a sense of direction, resolution, reward and progress over a tighter span of time. I really want to love Star Wars: The Old Republic, for example, and it wants me to as well, but its a MMO disguised as a CRPG, and I have a hard enough time finding the timeblocks necessary to play Skyrim or Mass Effect, let alone the insanely time-demanding environment of an MMO.

I'm also terrible with repetition, and when a game has me doing too much of the same thing over too long a period, I can burn out much more quickly than your typical hardcore modern MMOer (i.e. my wife). I don't know why, it's just that way for me. So thus am I stalled in Guild Wars and Dungeons & Dragons Online, where the ability to finish a character to max level (or end of story in GW's case) seems like a nigh impossible task due to the unending grind.

But I did notice one thing, which might explain some of the long term success of World of Warcraft: that game lets you play the entire thing one handed with a mouse. A few years ago I might have cracked jokes about one-handed gameplay on FeatherMoon server and the proliferation of stripper night elf chicks. No more! Today I realize that being able to play one handed while you bounce a baby on your lap and keep him propped up is a distinct "game play advantage" that WoW offers, and a pretty compelling one.

I'm tired of WoW, have been for a long time, but getting my character to level 85 seems like a laudable goal if I want a bit of random gametime that also lets me entertain the kid (who appears to be fascinated with WoW's simple but elegant cartoon graphics).

John Carter!

Very brief, but my wife and I dropped the little goober off with grandma today and got to see John Carter (of Mars). Real brief: we both loved it. This was really the kind of movie I wish they made more of. Critics can go stuff themselves. I hope it does well....I want to see the next ten books made into movies, too.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Isomular: Mechanics

Rules of the Game


Isomular is a unique sort of blend of fantasy and science fiction (popularly referred to as “planetary romance”), so pretty much any and all of the rules for either genre can be applied here, within the specific restrictions given (i.e. many people perform “magic,” which is really psionics, and the world is seen as a fantasy realm by its denizens, but is really an alien planet colonized long after Earth was destroyed or occupied by other-dimensional aliens. The world is inhabited by many demi-human races and monsters, but most all humanoids are really transgenically altered human descendants or alien natives.)

Within the above scope you can add or implement many elements of the True20 rules to this setting, but many more should be excluded to insure Isomular retains its distinct look and feel apart from standard fantasy settings.

World Profile

Planetary Characteristics

Isomular is 13,900 km in diameter, slightly larger than earth normal. The local gravity is actually a little less than Earth (.97), and it has a surprisingly weak magnetic field; the poles shift position every few centuries, in fact. Although few scholars know of such forgotten lore, data in the knowledge banks of the Architect can reveal that geosurvey information suggests that Isomular’s metal core is smaller and less dynamic than Earth’s was.

The atmosphere of Isomular is surprisingly close to earth-normal, with minor traces of nusual gasses such as chlorine in higher than normal concentrations. For practical purposes natives are fully adapted and experience no trouble breathing.

Isomular has more water than earth and is currently in a period of global warming. The exact cause of this warming effect is unknown, but as a result, there is very little ice locked at the polar caps, and more than 84% of the world is covered in ocean.

Isomular is a warm world in the middle of a global hothouse effect. Whether it will get worse or better over time remains unknown.

People of Isomular

The population of Isomular is not precisely known, but may be thirty million strong, among sentients, of which man is at least accountable for one third of that.

The governments of Isomular are fragmentary, diverse, and vary with the seasons at times. Feudal kingdoms, anarchy, egalitarian societies and more all await discovery in the land. There is little law beyond that instituted from city to city and by the dictates of whatever passes for authority in one region or another. Most natives strongly value their freedom and independence, and are deeply offended at the suggestion that they disarm, anywhere, anytime.

Technology

Although some of the cultures of man and Isomulii are budding on the cusp of tech level 3, the world is by and large a primitive land of swords and bows, beast-drawn carriages and muscle power.

Psionics


The powers of Isomular are psionic in origin, and all Adepts of this setting are psychically powerful. All of the powers in True20 are permissible. Adepts in True20 should choose a Psionic Focus, in which the powers of the psionic favor a certain type of ability or approach to psionics. The adept can still learn other psionic powers, but he gains an automatic +1 modifier to Will saves against difficulty when using the powers of their focus. Additionally, the Psionic Focus determines which attribute applies to a given power set. Finally, an adept must devote halfof his learned powers to his preferred psionic focus; the others can be used for different powers. Example foci include the following:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Middle Ages



There's a really interesting article over here on the translated edition of ScienceNordic worth reading about for those interested in the psychology of warfare in the soldiers and knights of the medieval era. The article is a bit brief, but it discusses the depth of analysis currently being put into studying the undertones of medieval literature and the way of the fighter during the bloodier periods of the Middle Ages. I thought it was interesting that the researcher Heeboll-Holm (sorry, spelling limited to my poor command of alt characters) suggested that the common perception among students of this period was that of the knight as a violent psychopath (presumably from interpreting literary sources of the period) who was overly glorified. I was largely under the impression that there was a fair amount of aggrandized glorification, but far less aware of the modern perception of this also equating such conduct to psychopathic proclivities.

Anyway, for anyone who has ever thought to themselves, "boy after killing hundreds of vile monsters and foes, my fighter ought to have a bit of psychological scarring to go with those extra feats and HPs," this article might have some bits of interest. In fact, the entire concept of PTSD that those who deal with violence as a way of living must deal with is something that RPGs all too often ignore in favor of the mythic idealism of our protagonist PCs...well, except maybe for Call of Cthulhu, I guess!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Isomular: The Secret History Plus a World Map



The Secret History of Isomular


Isomular is a world orbiting a distant star, thousands of light years from the Sol system and the world called Terra. The Coral Ark was the last of a great fleet of STL generation ships, dispatched to the far quarters of the galaxy in a great wave of human expansion. The Coral Ark, so named for the startling web-work of its assymetrical hull, was the greatest of these vessels, carrying nearly a hundred thousand humans in to the depths of space. The reasons for this outward expansion were varied, but man had reached the end of a singularity in social and cultural evolution, one in which no further development as a species was possible without this great migration. The generation ships were designed to be self-sustained ecosystems, fully developed worlds in their own right, floating cities between the stars. As mankind traveled towards an unknown destiny, each ship would be the seed of a new potential evolutionary branch.

Some of the world ships were lost, never to be seen again. Others found habitable worlds and settled upon new planets for mankind to conquer and develop. A few remained, wandering through the endless night of the galaxy, developing unique ecosystems in an artificial environment. The Coral Ark was the last of the great generation ships, and by the time it launched, more than two hundred such vessels had preceded it. During the decades of its construction, a terrible alien presence, using other-dimensional technology, began to manifest in the Sol system. These entities, ancient, cosmic beings of great power, were served by many minions, including the rapaciously evil Psychic Vampires. These entities had been discovered, somewhere in the depths of space, by one of the generation ships. The ship was seen as an invasion by the species, which was known only as the Annunaki according to their minions. Humanity had almost forgotten the most archaic of references to such beings in their own founding mythologies, and was very nearly destroyed for this lack of knowledge. Man had passed through a million years of social and evolutionary change since the era of the Sumerian cultures founded all civilization, and the realization that there was an undisclosed relationship between humanity and the Annunaki was disturbing. Worse yet, the minions of the Annunaki included humanoid beings, such as the Bael and Shedahai, and other hominid species that had evolved psionic potential. Humanity, in a million years, had discovered the potential of psionic energy, but had barely advanced it beyond telepathy, whereas the minions of the Annunaki could manipulate space and time.

A war which lasted for decades raged between Annunaki forces invading from the Astral Plane, a dimension outside of time and space, while humanity itself struggled to survive against an attacker that seemed to have unlimited resources, as well as the ability to attack any location, anywhere and anytime it wished. As the conflict escalated, the Coral Ark project came to be seen as the final Ark of the generation ship project. A plan was hatched to take the brightest and best of mankind and place them on the Coral Ark, as a final effort to escape the Annunaki assault. The secret location of the ship was compromised, however, but the invaders did not let on to this fact. When at last the ship made its escape, it did so to an earth overrun by the enemy, and the first of the cosmic entities manifesting on the planet. The Coral Ark came under sudden and intense assault, then, in an effort to take the ship intact, for the biotechnical and psionic minions of the Annunaki had no capacity for conventional space travel, and the limits of travel through the Astral Plane depended upon exact knowledge of the destination point.

The invading aliens were thwarted by their own kind. Traitors among the enemy, human psions who may have descended from the stock of the first generation ship to come across the Annunaki homeworld, and Bael aliens who were close relatives of humanity and descended from another planet which had also been conquered by the Annunaki, had conspired to escape aboard the Coral Ark. In the assault, they switched sides and assisted in repelling the assault. The Coral Ark survived the attack, barely, but with serious casualties among the crew and its systems. It escaped the Sol system and gradually crept up to nearly three quarters of the speed of light, headed for the NGC 22778 star system, a world which observational evidence suggested contained a habitable world. The system itself was centered in the ancient Isomular Nebula, remnants of an ancient supernova in the region. For a time, the Coral Ark moved safely along. The handful of psions who were now aboard were quickly integrated in to the active crew compliment, and presented themselves to the scientists of the vessel for study.

Unfortunately, one of the key components of the Coral Ark was its bussard ramjet, which provided a renewable power resource as well as a protective element against stellar particles which would otherwise damage the ship at .70 speed of light. An unknown collision annihilated the bussard ramjet, and severely damaged much of the onboard artificial intelligence, which served as the ship’s master controller. Most of the active crew, not in suspended animation, were killed or madly injured, but they managed to begin the slow down and reverse the ship’s passage. The AI, called the Architect, was brought back online, but most of its functioning systems were corrupted, and the Architect was cut off from its irrevocably damaged library banks. As power systems fluctuated, the surviving crew realized that they had no choice but to awaken the sleeping passengers of the ship.

The Coral Ark seemed doomed. A ship built to comfortable manage no more than ten thousand crew and passengers while the remaining ninety thousand rested in cold sleep, and loaded with the genetic materials to create a new earth-like ecosystem, had been terminally compromised. The managing crew learned to operate the automated backup system as best they could, and put the bio-domes in to full swing. With luck, they felt that they could find a local star to stop at, one which could provide a terra-formable or Earth-like environment, if they could just hold out for a few decades.

Decades turned in to centuries, and centuries turned in to a period of time both undefined and unknown to the inhabitants of the Coral Ark. The inhabitants of the Coral Ark lost much of their advanced knowledge, and only the engineers and crew retained such lore. The anagathic processes of the elite became sparse, and the genetic modifications necessary to reach immortality were distributed only to those who committed to the secret knowledge of the Ark. The infantile voice of the Architect was taught how to learn once more, and how to try and restore its lost knowledge, to little avail. It was centuries before one of these elite, now called the Eldaran, helped restore the higher learning skills and some astrographic data for the AI, returning the Architect to a state of higher intelligence.

The Architect was reawakened to a ship filled with factionalized survivors of the awakening from the long sleep. It discovered that the transgenic variants of humanity had broken into distinct cultural groups, and that these groups had evolved complicated and often misinformed beliefs about the true nature, origin, and purpose of the Coral Ark. Except for the original crew, which had evolved in to the secretive Eldaran, no one truly recalled the real purpose and nature of the Coral Ark. Terra had become a mystery to ponder, the destiny world was now called Isomular and was considered a paradise promised as an escape from the demons of the Planar Realms, the Annunaki and their minions now depicted as monsters from a hideous afterworld sent to slay humanity. This knowledge, it seemed came from the works of the psionically gifted descendants of the original psion defectors, who had become a special cult of sorcerous beings, themselves. More amazing, these original psions had interbred with the human population, and psionic powers were now prevalent throughout many people in the ship, with perhaps one in fifty displaying some talent. The powers displayed were incredible.

The Architect realized there was a problem. The population seemed to have thinned out to about forty-five thousand humans, larger than the ship should have sustained, but made possible by the cooperative nature of the different groups, and the secret direction of the enigmatic Eldaran. The Empathics were once the politicians, leaders and socialites of the ship, transgenics bred for charisma, empathy and charm. They had remained so, as social manipulators, prostitutes, and rulers among the human groups. The people now called Engineers were once the transgenic template for laborers and engineers, bred for hard work in space and high gee environments. They continued to labor, ritualistically, in the bowels of the ship’s great engines and control the production resources of the ship. As such, the ship’s capacity to continue recycling and processing waste in to useable form was intact. The so-called giants were humans who dwelt in the low-gee sections of the great vessel which had lost spin, and no longer held gravity. These great men and women had sometimes grown to twelve or more feet in height, but their strength was limited in the full-gee sections of the ship, and so they had interbred with common men to create the half-giants, who served as intermediaries for their section of the vessel and others. Several of the bio-domes were in the zero-gee section of the ship, and these important resources made the culture and trade of the giants and half-giants vital. Finally, Bael descendants of the original aliens who defected aboard the ship dwelt in small communities of their own, and had evolved in to a rather efficient warrior culture of mindblade practitioners, who provided enforcement to the different human factions.

Over time, it was inevitable that the existing population would swell, and once again a period of warfare would force a thinning. With each period of conflict and collapse, more knowledge of the ship and its past would be lost. The Architect calculated that, in a period of no more than twenty generations, the system would suffer a terminal collapse, if some piece of technology vital to the process did not fail, first. The Architect decided it was time to end the voyage of the Coral Ark. It used its restored knowledge to recalculate its stellar location, and was amazed to discover that the ship was now within two light years of the original star destination; though it had slowed to no more than .31 speed of light, it had never actually deviated from its plotted course. NGC 22778 was just a few generations distant. To speed up the process, the Architect decided it was worth the risk to begin a new acceleration. The damage to the bussard ramjets was extensive, but the Engineers had faithfully repaired what they could long ago, at the direction of the Eldaran. The architect, in preparing for the journey, had relied on its Eldaran contacts to reinstitute itself as an object of faith, a voice of the gods, to be obeyed. With its direction, the cultures of the Coral Ark were instructed on how to prepare for the voyage.

The acceleration was initially successful, and the Coral Ark made the remainder of the journey in less than a generation; the children who were born during the beginning of the acceleration were of middle age when the ship decelerated in to the NGC 22778 system, on approach with the world now dubbed Isomular. Though the Architect detected the presence of sentient beings and primitive civilizations on the two super continents of Isomular, it knew that nothing could be done about this. It’s efforts to establish some sort of contact with the indigenous species were thwarted, as the suborbital shuttle with its crew of enlightened landed in the capitol of the aliens, the insectoid Isomulii. The Eldaran were quickly identified with the Isomulii notion of demonic gods called the drauga, and were enslaved. The Architect searched for an isolated, possibly safe landing point, and concluded that the subcontinent that would come to be called Hadrushar was an ideal location. The Coral Ark was designed to separate and drop its colonization units leaving behind the massive skeletal frame, command station and engine structure of the ship. As the vessel prepared to begin descent and separation, the Coral Ark discovered that it could not release the colony units in to a safe trajectory without compromising the orbital integrity of the skeleton itself. The Coral Ark’s frame and engine would have to come down, as well.

In the end, it was probably a terrible landing, but most all of the human residents in the care of the Architect survived. The great frame of the Coral Ark plunged in to the Whispering Ocean, and the tidal effect devastated the coastline of the Isomulii Empire and its people. The eighteen colonization modules descended like enormous, barely aerodynamic discs from the heavens, slowed only by the nuclear thrusters that properly ignited in all but three. The biodomes almost all arrived intact, and the seeds of Terra were immediately sewn.

Thus did man arrive on Isomular, and a new era of history began. The history of man as recorded in the introduction is a fairly accurate tale as known by the most learned of Kalashtam and Zymvaji scholars. Mankind’s initial presence was seen as a fearsome affront by the gods, but the pragmatic Isomulii, locked in a society of medieval monarchies and slave systems, readily enslaved the diaspora of humanity. Over the generations, all but a few of the true giants died out, unable to survive for long in the nearly earth-normal gravity of Isomular (.97 G). The Bael, ever insular, traveled far to the south, and continue to migrate even in the present. When the Architect fell silent, it was due to systems failure, and the absence of its voice proved the undoing of the secret lore of the Eldaran, who lost much of the knowledge of humanity’s origins. It was not until the gifted Eldaran Vedderik Non sought out the ancient passages of the rusting hulk in the shallow coastal waters that he accidentally awakened the Architect’s power reserves and discovered the AI once more. He restored the secret society, and the Architect chose specific prophets through which to once more carry its voice to humanity, to try and protect its children. By now, the poor AI was so badly damaged that its mind was largely constructed around notions of fantasy and memories of old earth, and it’s grasp of reality had faltered, but the Voices became very good at interpreting its will.

In the present day, Isomular is a world dominated by multiple insectoid species, all in competition with humanity, which has swelled in number to more than fifty million people worldwide, among the various transgenic descendants. Isomular is a world only slightly smaller than Terra, and with two modest moons trapped in orbit, named Krinos and Theris by the Isomulii after the twin creator gods of their old religion. Humanity holds the Architect as their caretaker and savior, but little or no knowledge from old Terra remains. Instead, a complicated society built on the foundations of a million years’ of alien civilizations, which at one time (about a hundred thousand years ago) had reached a scientific peak in a nuclear age before bombing themselves back to the Stone Age has developed. The current level of technology is just barely renaissance level, and developments such as gunpowder are not far off. The ecosystem of Isomular has been thrown in to disarray by the arrival of the Terrans and their bio-domes, as the planet became home to both the strange and menacing local species and the biogenically recreated flora and fauna of old Earth. This is the world of Isomular today.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Some Halo 4 Stuff



There's video footage and discussion here on Videogame Writers, but I thought it was interesting for a few odd reasons:

1. I like that they plan to have some story focus on the "why" of the eternal multiplayer combat of the Halo universe. Up to now, one could only assume more or less that all multiplayer events and arenas for the most part were purely for the game, or if they had a story context it was all "pre Reach."

2. Every single person in this video on the design team looks tired and worn out. Lots of coffee in various shots, I couldn't help but notice. I bet 343 are working their assess off around the clock to make the December 2012 deadline.

3. Spartan IVs? I like!

And....well.....that's it. I am sure the new game will tie heavily into the novels being written by Greg Bear, which I really need to get around to reading soon.

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled tabletop blog!

Steam Box? Also: The fine art of focused storytelling vs. the problem with sandboxes; or, Metro 2033 vs. Dead Island



 First off, this story has me interested: apparently there's more than a little reason to believe that Valve is looking at a dedicated PC design with console features. At first I was thinking, "whatever, I've got my PC at home already," but I concede a few ideas sprung up which make the concept more tantalizing. Notably:

More games that normally only see life on consoles could come to a dedicated "Steam Box," as the design intent behind a console (dedicated architecture) would hopefully lure some of these console-only designers over to offering up ports on a Steam Box. And no I am not a PC elitist who likes to bitch about "console babies." There are plenty of console-only games out there I'd love to be able to play without buying a Wii or PS3. Unfortunately it probably won't help with the 1st party releases designed to sell systems (Gears of War, Halo...the two I care about in this case) but maybe games that normally never see life on the PC would get a chance this way. Maybe. (And also probably a flood of console shovelware too, I am sure...)

It would open up my Steam account to a console that is optimized for sitting on my comfy sofa couch in front of my 55 inch screen TV. Admittedly, I can hook my PC up to my big screen TV right now and play games, but I've found that this experience is not at satisfying as simply playing with the Xbox on the big screen (and don't even try to get any real work done this way!) So for the sake of design and convenience, why not.

It might have a chance of dethroning Microsoft and Sony from their console pillars. I'd like to see that just for the hell of it.

In Mother Russia, Pip Boy Wear You!

Okay! So anyway, as of today I am at last 92% finished (according the the little meter) in Dead Island. By the time this sees print I should be done with it and probably experiencing the agony of poor design that is allegedly found in the Ryder White DLC. We'll see. I also finished Metro 2033 this weekend, even with a baby sitting on my knee staring intensely at the screen while I blew up dark one amoebas (and crying ceaselessly if I tried to put him down; I have no idea why this kid was so fascinated at watching Metro 2033, a game I felt rather nervous about playing with him even being in the same room. Hmmmm definitely my child, though)

Dead Island and Metro 2033 are both amazing games. Both have some weaknesses, but their strengths overcome those, for the most part. Moreover, I look forward to the sequels, because unless suits and marketing start meddling in these games the sequels should only get better. But it was interesting to realize that Metro 2033 was ultimately a more satisfying experience, albeit frustrating at times, if only because it was semi-linear (providing linear levels, but with a modest range of options in how to complete each level) and as a result Metro 2033 was able to focus heavily on mood, atmosphere and integrated story telling. When I got to the end of Metro 2033 I felt like I had experienced a meaningful and coherent story arc.

Although I won't be done with Dead Island until tonight, I have to say that the game's efforts at atmosphere and immersion, while excellent, nonetheless began to wear on me toward the end. The game did mix it up....just when I was starting to think that the second act in the city would never, ever end, suddenly I'm in the Jungle, and then I'm in a research facility, and next thing I know I'm exploring ancient Maori cults on the island. Despite this, and perhaps because of the finsl prison level, I still felt like the game's sole purpose was to exhaust the hell out of me while keeping me in a perpetual state of mild confusion. I think it's because while the game's efforts at creating a sort of sandbox zombie apocalypse environment for me to explore are impressive to experience, I absorbed almost all of that ambience and got my fill of it in the first 12-15 hours of the game, before I'd even penetrated the second act. So by the time I reached the fourth act, I had lost any connection to the "setting immersion" element it had early on, and was no firmly wrapped up in the "gameplay element" which honestly gets a bit redundant. See zombies. Kick them down, hack them up, move to next group, click on quest goal, repeat.

Also, Dead Island could have benefited from not having constant, unending respawns MMO-style...

It doesn't help that Dead Island's ability to tell a story is a shoddy mess. The vast plethora of side quests are, while appropriately narrated, almost entirely disconnected from the player character and consist almost exclusively of fetch quests, occasional escort quests, and periodic "clean up" quests, all thematically at odds with the ragtag gang of four that the story is supposedly about. Of the four possible player characters, only the asian gal really strikes me as a "do-gooder," the other three are hard-as-nails amoral survivors with personal agendas that never really get directly addressed throughout the storyline. Worse yet, whenever the game does have a major cutscene or story event, apparently Dead Island was designed under the expectation that at all times you would have all four characters represented, so these storylines are jarring when you see all four protagonists engaging in discourse about a situation or taking action, then the cutscene ends and its back to just you in a solo run or maybe one or two other co-opers.

Despite the lack of coherence in the storyline, and despite the fact that every damned side quest in the game is an annoying and irrelevant sidetrek that only the most lawful good of paladins would bother with ordinarily, Dead Island does have a story, and its a rather interesting one when taken as a whole; the problem is that the developers of this game clearly are not used to the optimal way to stitch together a coherent plotline in a sandbox environment. I'm no authority on the GTA series of games, but it does seem to me that Rockstar has this sort of approach down to a science. Just play Red Dead Redemption for an example of how to do this very well. In fact, for a full-on zombie experience with coherent storytelling get the Undead Nightmare DLC for some wild west zombie action, too...

So in the end, Metro 2033 was much shorter than Dead Island, but was rewarded with a more focused and coherent storyline and an experience that never got old because it used its set pieces and interesting bits to great effect. Dead Island in turns has felt like someone did not edit a film, and instead released several dozens' of hours of raw footage through which I have been methodically watching, at once fascinated, bored, energized and irritated with occasional brilliant moments shining through.

Carmen Sandiego, Where Are You?!?!?!?