Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Exploring Character Generation in the Entropic Game System

Character Generation in EGS

The Entropic Gaming System (EGS) is a new system from Mystic Throne Entertainment.  I feel like it’s time to take a closer look at this generic multi-genre system that is directly competing in the space currently occupied by Cortex, BRP, Savage Worlds and Legend. A walk-through on how the game works, starting with character generation, will help to demonstrate these differences.

For our example, I’m going to assume Aston Kormak, our protagonist, is a Joe Genero of the Fantasy World set. Yep, we’re going to create a classic sword & sorcery adventurer for our example. Aston may pick up some magic if we can work it out as well.

Characters start with a concept (we have a basic one: fantasy adventurer) and a background (such as human, elf, Slavic, alien kree, etc.)  EGS includes a sampling of fantasy, historical and scifi backgrounds to work with. Human is not a background in and of itself, but the default assumption; backgrounds modify that. To keep it simple for now I’m keeping Aston a generic human (the core default).

As a human, Aston starts with a number of dice that he applies to his eight statistics. A character gets a range to divide among his stats: four D6s, two D8s and two D10s. You can drop a D6 to a D4 to boost a D10 to a D12 if you like. In this sense it’s similar to Savage Worlds (and also the Cortex game system).

The eight stats include charisma, dexterity, intelligence, perception, psyche, spirit, strength and vitality. For Aston, we’ll divide his stats as follows:

CHA D6, DEX D6, INT D10, PER D8, PSY D10, SPT D6, STR D8, VIT D6

Next up is Attributes. Attributes are the secondary stats, such as health and combat actions. We have in order:

Combat Action-these define how many actions you take per combat round. Every normal character starts with 3 CAs.

Defense-this is based on dexterity and is used as the target number against attacks. This is a passive score, and you can also burn a CA to take an active defense action. Aston’s Defense is 7.

Health-the hit points of EGS. Aston’s hit points are 14 (based on the maximum of the dice for strength and vitality).

Hero Points-you start with 3, and these are burned for extra die effects when rolling (among other things). Hero Points essentially replace the concept of the wild die from Savage Worlds.

Initiative-this is based on the die maximums for dexterity, perception and acrobatics skill. Without acrobatics Aston has 14 Initiative.

Characters also get a base speed of 30 feet and start with their native language. Aston, being from Fantasy Land, will know “Common.”

Aston’s attibutes are as follows:

CA: 3, Defense 7, Health 14, Hero Pts 3, Init 14, Speed 30, Language: common.

Skills in EGS are point-buy and also die-based. You get 18 points to spend on skills. It costs 1 point to get a skill at D4, another 1 point to boost it to D6 and again to D8, but 2 points to get a D10 and 3 more points to get a D12. So starting with a skill at D12 costs 8 points.

Skills in EGS are of a wider range than Savage Worlds, including 36 base skill choices and a much larger array of skill specializations, and “skill combinations” which are examples of how you would apply the skill+relevant ability score to achieve specific results (i.e. psyche plus husbandry equals animal handling). The skill combinations are demonstrations of how each skill works differently with certain ability scores depending on what you are doing. EGS provides 37 skill combinations, which encompass the majority of typical adventurer interactions that would involve a skill plus ability combination.

Archetypes are also offered as well. These are basically suggested professional builds by category with typical skill choices. You have twelve sample archetypes, such as sorcerer, priest, thief, investigator and so forth.

While the skill system takes the die-system method of Savage Worlds, it is much more robust in terms of options than SW could ever be, and shows some influence from Legend and other skill-focused games.

For Aston’s purposes I’m going to pick Sorcerer since I want to push him into this path to demonstrate how magic works in EGS. Sorcerers get arcana, performing, resist and streetwise as suggested skills. Interesting…

So here’s what I pick for Aston. I’m aiming for an athletic, healthy younger mage:

Awareness D8, Husbandry D4, Melee D6, Performing (scribe) D8, Resist D8, Streetwise D4, Arcana D10

Those 18 points went fast….

Skill Combinations that Aston meets are as follows:

Insight, Parry, Questioning, Willpower.

Next up is Qualities, of which EGS provides 28 examples (but encourages players and GMs to make more). Qualities are similar to the various advantages, disadvantages and perks in GURPS and a bit like Edges in Savage Worlds, but with a key difference: they are all role-play focused “triggers” for gaining additional hero points during play. For example, Acrobatic as a quality lets the character gain a hero point when using acrobatics to perform exceptional stunts with the skill. While an assassin could use it to gain hero points on stealth checks used against a target. A lazy character could gain hero points when engaging in quintessential laziness. 

There's a real edge to picking "negative" qualities over positive qualities, too: you can stockpile the hero points. A character with the assassin quality can gain a hero point for stalking his prey, but he has to use it in the context of that action. A lazy hero however by being lazy gets a hero point he can use later on.

Qualities are kind of cool, actually, especially if you yourself are a low record-keeping GM like I am. One problem I run in to with awarding inspiration in D&D 5E, to use my personal bugaboo, is not keeping track of the chosen ideals and various background traits of seven or eight characters….thereby meaning if my players aren’t on the ball with asking for it, I usually don’t notice until too late that I ought to have awarded it. Here, however, a player using a Quality is calling upon it specifically for effect, and will then wait to see if the GM agrees it deserves a hero point. This sort of “bakes” the reward process into the roleplaying with an easy prompt system. Nice.

Anyway, Aston as a standard human hero gets up to five qualities. I’m picking the following for him:

Enemy-he’s got someone he pissed off in his life. I’m going to say it’s his mother, from whom he is estranged; she’s a sort of Maleficent type and he ran away from her to avoid being sucked into her dark cult to the Old Ones. When the enemy rears its ugly head he could get a hero point. This is his negative quality. 

Geomancer-Aston can apply this when he uses elemental magic in arcane mastery. His aptitude for geomancy is why he fled his mother’s control to avoid becoming a necromancer.

Weird Quality-Aston is talented with magic, and in the next step we’ll discuss his Talent; but for now, he needs to spent one Quality on being weird, essentially.

I’ll devise two of my own for the last two:

Horse Whisperer-Aston gets along well with horses, and has a knack for calming them down, although he’s never learned how to ride well.

Clumsy with the Ladies-Aston has a natural fascination for women and tends to pursue attractive ladies although he has little social prowess due to the years his mother kept him locked away, so he's prone to all sorts of social mishaps. This is his other negative quality.

We’re now ready to take a look at Aston’s talent for magic. When devising a talent, you spend one quality on the “Weird Quality” feature which opens up the talent. Then you need to pick a governing attribute and skill for that talent. For Aston the choice is easy: Intelligence and Arcana are great choices for picking the Sorcerer concept.  Other concepts include the cleric, hierophant, psion, steampunk scientist, shaman, super hero and warlock.

Aston then starts with Weird Points equal to three times the die type for his weird ability (INT), meaning he starts with 30 WPs. Individual talents are based on your skill type: since we’re using Arcana, he starts with half the die type, or 5 talents.

Additional concepts for talents to consider include “manifestation” which is how the power looks/feels by genre (similar in concept to the FX notion in Savage Worlds), as well as a series of manipulation effects that…I’ll be perfectly blunt….are pulled directly from Legend (which is okay! This is an OGL book using the OGL version of the Legend and Renaissance rules to great effect).

So you heard that right: we have the flexible features of the Savage Worlds power system wedded to the extremely customizable manipulation options of the Legend system, which originate in Runequest’s sorcery rules. Nice.

There are 55 talents to choose from in EGS. The list is pretty varied and the wide range makes it more flexible than, say, the modest selection in Savage World’s core rules. It’s also designed with more “types” of weird concepts in mind than the sorcery spell rules in Legend, so this is not merely an OGL-borrowed set of mechanics but its own range of options with a lot of flexibility in the design.

For Aston’s purposes we’re looking at a classic sorcerer, and I’ll pick five useful spell talents for him to get along with:

Abjure (he learned this spell talent to survive without food or water while on the run)
Animate (when your mother is a necromancer you sorta have to learn this)
Burst (his natural elemental talent for creating bursts of fire and ice manifesting)
Elemental Manipulation and Earth (his geomantic talents in full swing)

So we’re almost done with Aston Kormak’s character creation. Equipment is up next. The rules allow for a selection of choices including a suit or armor worth 2 points of protection, an appropriate weapon and a genre-appropriate adventurer’s kit plus $200. For Aston a shortsword (4 Dmg) and leather armor (2 points) seem appropriate. When all is done, Aston looks like this:

Aston Kormak
Background: human male
Archetype: Sorcerer; Weird Concept: Sorcerer
CHA D6, DEX D6, INT D10, PER D8, PSY D10, SPT D6, STR D8, VIT D6
CA: 3, Defense 7, Health 14, Hero Pts 3, Init 14, Speed 30
Language: common
Skills: Awareness D8, Husbandry D4, Melee D6, Performing (scribe) D8, Resist D8, Streetwise D4, Arcana D10
Skill Combinations: Insight, Parry, Questioning, Willpower
Enemy-he’s got someone he pissed off in his life. I’m going to say it’s his mother, from whom he is estranged; she’s a sort of Maleficent type and he ran away from her to avoid being sucked into her dark cult to the Old Ones. When the enemy rears its ugly head he could get a hero point.
Geomancer-Aston can apply this when he uses elemental magic in arcane mastery. His aptitude for geomancy is why he fled his mother’s control to avoid becoming a necromancer.
Weird Quality-Sorcerer Concept
Horse Whisperer-Aston gets along well with horses, and has a knack for calming them down, although he’s never learned how to ride well.
Clumsy with the Ladies-Aston has a natural fascination for women and tends to pursue attractive ladies although he has little social prowess due to the years his mother kept him locked away, so he's prone to all sorts of social mishaps. This is his other negative quality.

Weird Talent: Sorcery; INT based, Arcana; 30 WPs
Spell Talents: Abjure, Animate, Burst, Elemental Manipulation, Earth

Equipment: shortsword (4 dmg), leather armor (2 pts), adventurer’s kit, 200 gold

I’m pretty excited to play this character. In fact….I’m pretty excited to play EGS, or more accurately to run it.

Next time I’ll show off how the combat works a bit. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Deep story games like The Last of Us vs. the rigorous punishment genre of Bloodborne

The Last of Us: Remastered

I finished The Last of Us (Remastered Edition) this weekend. It was easily the best game of the last generation of consoles, and still one of the best of the current generation. I'd have to rank it right next to Dragon Age: Awakening and Fallout 3 in terms of my deep visceral enjoyment.

But, it was a crazily depressing game. And it's efforts at realistically depicting a zombie apocalypse resonated deeply with a sense of "Yeah, this is probably how it would go down." There was a message in The Last of Us, somewhere, which involves questions about at what point one loses one's personal humanity...at what point it becomes inevitable. Survival vs. civilization, integrity vs. necessity. Interesting stuff.

Still....and maybe there was something I missed, but I never could figure out how the first Cordyceps spores managed to traverse the globe so efficiently as to lead to the epidemic. That one still leaves me scratching my head.

I also wonder sometimes if my enjoyment of The Last of Us is in part at least due to the fact that the game's principle protagonist is a man hitting 50, dealing with a lifetime of regret, worry and loss. I'm not fifty yet, but the stuff Joel worries about, while admittedly in the grand poo-bah of crapsack worlds, is still what a great many men worry about in middle age. Likewise, the loss of a daughter or child, a major driver of the game's protagonist, is something that probably speaks more to those who have children. I can safely say that I remember movies and games in the past where a child was present, and prior to becoming a father these tales never affected me as much as they do now.

One last thing on The Last of Us: it's very much the same sort of game as The Order: 1886, except much longer and it mostly avoids some of the "sense of agency" pitfalls of the latter title --you can, in many cases, find multiple paths to success, with only the occasional "kill 'em all" bottleneck moment. Still, a lot of the game is cut scenes and detailed story development. I think....honestly....The Order: 1886 should have spent more development time on about 8-10 hours of additional game play with a good story focus that was softened by an effort at more player agency. And less time rendering superficially relevant photographs and newspapers in glorious 360 degree views. For a game that's a few years old now, even with the improved "next gen" textures for the PS4 The Last of Us was damned nice looking.

Anyway if you're a gamer who plays what's good and not what's new, I recommend The Last of Us: Remastered edition on the PS4.


Then there's Bloodborne. I started playing it and the game felt so much like Dark Souls I had to stop. I spent hours trying to figure out the secret to Dark Souls (and Demon Souls before it) and reached a point of actual physical aversion o the "feel" of the game. Hatred, really. So when Bloodborne fired up and the first damned NPC spoke to me in that same whispery, haunting voice that all Dark Souls NPCs do, I stopped right there. Not even worth trying. So I gave it to my wife. She played it for a couple of days, and then handed it back to me. "It's not that I couldn't play this," she explained. "It's that I know myself...I know I will play this game for however long it takes, and I will win. And I cannot afford to lose that time on such a meaningless task." So much effort for so little gain...the deep satisfaction of being able to say one beat the Souls-like game in question is outweighed by the more important things in life, like going for a walk, playing with your children, and practically anything else. The game doesn't even offer a decent story...at least, not one which is not in and of itself inscrutable. After playing The Last of Us to the end, and experiencing a game that resonated with deep and meaningful story and characters, I am really down on the idea of playing a game purely for the mechanical, visceral ability to "beat it." In fact any game for which my primary satisfaction is going to come from mastery is just not a game I care for anymore. You might imagine I hate roguelikes, and you'd probably be right. I'm also not much of a strategy fan, so, keep that in mind when reading my opinions on the Dark souls genre of games: I'm one of those softies who likes the game to have story elements and give me ephemeral, emotional reasons for caring about it. Being able to kill two werewolves at once only to die just before a lantern is...well...it feels like abuse, really. Not into that.

For me....Bloodborne looks like a game I'd want to play, but it is not. If Naughty Dog were the crafter of the tale I would be determined to play, knowing that the depth of the game would be more than just overcoming mechanical rigor and punishment for failure. But it's not....it's a From game, and I really need to remember that the rigorous punishment genre is not for me. So yep, we're done with Bloodborne.

Anyway, we're bailing out on it pre-emptively because Lives and Reasons and all that. So I'll just say that if you loved Dark Souls and have the time, you'll probably love Bloodborne too.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

D&D Saturday Creature Factory: The Chilopteran Man-Bats

From the bowels of the earth, these hideous creatures are inspired by the movie "Descent," which you should check out for an example of a stealth Lovecraft film.

Chilopteran Man-Bats
CR 2 (450 XP)
CE medium humanoid (monstrous)
Initiative +4
AC 16 (dexterity plus natural hide)
HP 27 (6D8)
Resistance: Necrotic
Immunity: chiloptera are unaffected by spells which induce blindness
Vulnerability: chiloptera take double damage from sonic damage such as Thunderwave and are unable to use their blindsense until the end of the caster’s next round.
Speed 30 feet
Multiattack-chiloptera may attack twice with claws, twice with weapons or once with a claw and once with a weapon.
Melee Attack Claws +6 attack (reach 5 ft.; one target): Hit: 1D4+4 damage slashing plus the target must make a Constitution Save (DC 10) or take 1D6 additional poison damage.
Melee Attack Bone Club +4 attack (reach 5 ft.; one target): Hit: 1D6+2 damage bludgeoning.
STR 14 (+2), DEX 18 (+4), CON 11 (+0), INT 7 (-1), WIS 12 (+1), CHA 5 (-3)
Languages: deep speech
Senses: blindsense 120’, Darkvision 120’, Perception +1 (passive 11)
Skills: Stealth +6
Batlike Senses: the chiloptera have darkvision and blindsense, which functions via sonar like a bat. They lose this ability if something prevents them from making their sonic “chittering” or deafens them (such as sonic attacks or silence effects). When in effect, this blindsense easily defeats invisible opponents (gaining advantage on detection) but they have disadvantage on detecting incorporeal opponents.
Light Blindness: in sunlight (or its equivalent) chiloptera gain disadvantage in all rolls.
Maddening Rage: the chiloptera are almost fearless when provoked and are hard to quell. A chiloptera that is fighting a wounded opponent may add +5 to its damage dealt but takes a -2 to its attack rolls.

Deep beneath the ruins of Pergerron and other worlds are races which have never seen the light of day, and have lost most of what intelligence and civilization they might once have had. From the subterranean catacombs beneath Samaskar to the haunted hauls of Shatan, chiloperta are a known menace, a degenerate race of bat-like men who have haunted the darkness for ages. They seem to have rudimentary speech ability, and a few may learn common, if only to study surface dwellers in preparation for rare night raids.

Adventurers who have delved deep into the earth have found hive-like communities of these creatures dwelling in ancient natural caverns, with crude ceremonial altars to some forgotten beast-god that they call the Black Mother, Shub-Niggurath. On rare occasion a death priest of the Black Mother may have enough wisdom to have 1D4 levels of cleric in her name.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Princes of the Apocalypse is in my hands

I now have The Temple of Elemental Evil Princes of the Apocalypse in my hands, thanks to the FLGS which participates in that Wizards Play Network. It looks like Magic must have had a release too, there seemed to be a horde of card players at the store.

I'm currently reading through it, but wanted to provide some observations for those interested in the contents:

Page Count: The module is 256 pages long. Of that total 187 pages is devoted to the actual scenario, about 39 pages to monster and NPC stat blocks plus magic items, and additional appendices including the genasai player race, new spells and a section on adapting the module to other D&D worlds make up the difference (30 pages). This last part is especially interesting, offering advice on how to stick the module in Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Dark Sun, Eberron and your own world of choice.

Player Stuff: Genasai are in here, but only the genasai; don't delete your Player's Companion, it's the only place you can get aarakocra, deep gnomes and goliath stats.

Level Range: the book says it supports levels 1-15. It does not seem to use milestones like the prior modules did (if it does I haven't found the reference yet) and...here's the trick...it doesn't say it takes you from level 1-15, just that it supports that level of play. Interestingly Chapter 6 includes a low level introductory module if your PCs are starting at levels 1-2 (level 3 is Chapter 1's optimal starting point), as well as a menagerie of side quests the DM can include to break up the main storyline periodically with various side-quests for the PCs to do as he sees fit. Interesting approach.

The Elemental Princes of Evil: all four of them get new Forgotten Realms-themed cults and details, followers, and best of all complete stat blocks. These are some tough hombres. Considering I've been using them (thanks to the Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle I've been running) in my Pergerron campaign, if I can miraculously get my player group to not read this book I may be able to run it eventually.

I may or may not talk more about this one, but I have to say it does look like a very robust, open campaign with lots of stuff to do and explore, and I'm not totally sure yet but it looks like they thematically aimed for a design closer to the Basic Set module (open exploration) than anything else....the Dessarin Valley even has a hex grid overlay, to accompany some robust encounter charts and side quests.

Lands of Pergerron: The Quest for Aladonsis Gedar

This is a short module/outline that I worked up in case I needed a filler scenario for my regular night. It's sort of turning into a mini-treatment of a corner of Pergerron not yet disclosed, however, so I may focus more on this in days to come.

Unlike much of what I present, this is actually written in a "scenario" format with some encounters outlined. I'll work on the journey to Maradraes next week.

Adventures in Pergerron: The Quest for Aladonsis Gedar

PRIMARY PLOT: In my original script the Adventurers have been hired by Kras Zenodar, an Anansic merchant, to travel to the coast of Galitath in search of the hermit-mage Aladonsis Gedar. He needs them to present the hermit with a sealed scroll that has been magically warded from prying eyes. However, for purposes of this plotline the adventurers only need to be arriving in the port for any number of reasons, including as a simple stop-over en route to another adventure.

SECONDARY PLOT: The adventurers will be landing in port Kadantir, in time to find the town under attack by vile forces!

Key Foes:
Warlord Grochas: The Ibixian Warlord Grochas has conquered a region of the southern Bramblewood and claimed it for his own, attacking the local jackalweres and gnolls and subjugating them to his rule. There are only a few ibixians, but they have dominated they local monsters already, thanks to information from bullywug allies.
Spymaster Kensas: a bullywug spy and current “chieftain” of his people, Kensas was the one who opened the gate to the Outlands that let the ibixians in. He has lured the goatmen into doing what he wishes. Kensas is a bullywug wizard, and has grand visions of riding on Grochas’s coat-tails to victory.

Port Kadantir Statistics:
Location on the Map: where the Sullen Sea and the Askofar Mountains meet; the vast stretch of coast and the length of the mountain lowlands are a dense thicket of swampland and trees from the Bramblewood.
Race Relations: Harmony
Ruler’s Status: Lord Valgarin is a feared tyrant in this town; an Anansic northman expatriate
Notable Traits: Kadantir has been the site of many battles between the monstrous tribes of the land and human colonials of Anansis and Mesutin. It has exchanged hands between Mesutin, Anansis and Galitath on multiple occasions.
Known For: strong Anansic patriotism and excellent local mines
Current Calamity: aside from the incursion of invaders, Kadantir has suffered from rising flood waters for several summers and most of its harbor region looks like a venetian canal system. It is nestled along the coast between the southern stretch of the Bramblewood, which in this region is a vast and murky swamp.
A Couple Taverns: The Laughing Stag and the The Drunken Dolphin are two famous local taverns.


#1: The Siege of Port Kadantir

The PCs have arrived at this remote Anansic settlement via the intrepid longship Hidden Glory, piloted by Captain Rohan Austemere (LN human fighter L6) and his first mate Eliza Gotares (LE 1/2 orc rogue L5). It’s been a three week journey with increasingly frigid waters. En route to the port the PCs pass a vessel which signals that the harbor ahead is under attack.

On arrival it is clear the small port is under attack. Two ships are sinking in the harbor as the ibixians, and three more ships are trapped.  gnolls, jackalweres and bullywugs lay siege to the town. Victory can be had if the War Keep is seized….but it looks like the attack by the monsters took the defenders by surprise, and the keep has fallen into the monster’s hands.

Part one: The party arrives in port, where the docks are under attack. Lord Valgarin and his family are trying to escape to their vessel before the beasts wind up the great siege ballista in the tower to sink it. They’ve already holed two ships.
Foes: on the docks a group of bullywugs, gnolls and jackalweres under an ibixian commander.
1 ibixian (450 XP)
8 bullywugs (25 XP each for 200 XP)
1 bullywug fighter level 5 (200 XP)
1 bullywug wizard level 5 (450 XP)
2 jackalweres (100 XP each for 200 XP)
2 gnolls (100 XP each for 200 XP)
Total XP 1,700 (3,400 XP total: a hard encounter for 4 level 5 PCs)
Treasure: 19 gold pieces, 60 silver pieces, and the ibixian is wielding a Great Club +1 (property: hungry quirk), a potion of healing. The bullywug fighter champion has a +1 long sword of behir slaying (deals +3D6 damage to behir).

Part Two: Lord Valgarin will be pleased at being saved, but his commander Goshin will ask the PCs to help him retake the tower. Commander Goshin has a cleric of Katas with him named Esavia who can heal the party. He knows a way in through the drainage grates at the base of the tower, which can be reached along the shore with a DC 15 sneak check. Getting in is easy….but inside the sewage drain is a troll guarding the path!
Foes: A mutant troll (Fifth Edition Foes) and three bullywug henchmen.
1 two-headed troll (2,300 XP)
3 bullywugs rogues level 4 each (100 XP each)
XP Value: 2,600 XP total
Treasure: 171 GP on the troll and 52 SP on the bullywugs plus a scroll of Fireball that they were using to threaten the troll with.

Part Three: The hike to the top of the tower is easy enough but the PCs who push must make Constitution checks (DC 15) or be fatigued when getting to the top. The signal tower and the massive war ballista are under the command of a gnollish strike force led by the bullywug eldritch knight Yamas Getata:
Foes: 1 bullywug leader and 8 gnolls, plus 1 gnoll fang of yeenoghu  (XP 2,350 XP)
 Treasure: the bullywug has 35 EP and 11 PP, the gnoll fang has 50 PP, and the gnolls have 72 GP. Yamas Getata has a shortsword +1 of Human Bane (gains advantage on attacks against humans) and a scroll of fireball as well as a potion of invisibility and two potions of healing (4D4+4).

Aftermath: Liberating the tower and the ballista….then using it against the attackers directly….will cause them to break rapidly and flee to the mountains. Lord Valgarin will feel indebted to the PCs, but surprisingly won’t offer more than his appreciation. He will hold out on any suggested reward, implying the PCs are not done with their duties until this warlord “Grochas” is slain. Captive monsters will readily cave and say that Grochas is now in command, having slain the jackalwere and gnoll leaders, and he is operating out of the old ruins in the ruins of Maradraes, the so-called “Fortress.” A bullywug of note may mention that a great glowing "mirror" has become the center of the ruins, and it was after this was activated by his chieftain Kensas that the goatmen showed up.

Finding Aladonsis Gedar: it turns out the last known location of Sir Gedar was in the ruins of Maradraes, where it is said he was studying the mysteries of the ancient lost culture of the south-eastern Askofar Mountains, a people he said were the Astrakania, a race of men who interbred freely with dragons to create the draconian halfbreeds of the world. But that adventure will be for another future post...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Megatraveller Bundle of Holding

News posts come in threes it seems....so the third one of the day is that the Bundle of Holding guys have a Megatraveller bundle, which you can snag for around $16.96 right now as of this post. I grabbed the "Strongest Forces" spot with my contribution just to knock Dyson Logos off the list (bwah hah hah)....(oh gods, my priorities are screwed up....help me, please....!!!!)

Megatraveller was the second edition of the venerable SF RPG, and the first one to really dive heavily into metaplot. It was also the edition I ran throughout much of my college days, and was probably my fourth most played RPG back then (behind AD&D 2nd edition, Cyberpunk 2020 and GURPS). This edition, despite (or because) of its efforts to make a war-torn, fractured Imperium, was far more interesting in many regards than Classic Traveller, and it was very, very popular in my neck of the woods. Although snagging these books in PDF will be at least partially a trip down memory lane for me, the core conceit of Megatraveller really does make for an action packed background setting in the Imperium.

It runs out in 11 days so grab it if yer interested in seeing one of the better iterations of the Traveller megaverse....

Silent Legions now out

Just noticed that Silent Legions is now available from Sine Nomine. If you're not familiar with Sine Nomine, it is basically an amazing publishing experiment by Kevin Crawford in which he accomplishes the following goals with shocking success:

1. Demonstrate that you can give your game away for free and people will then buy copies of it anyway because it is so good

2. Do a Kickstarter and then finish a quality product that looks good, is well-edited, and people loved plus for extra points put it out a month earlier than the deadline

3. Release a continuous stream of high-quality products that are founded on OSR principles of design but which look and feel like contemporary games (all while still sticking to an 80's style aesthetic that still looks great)

4. Be shockingly generous and humble about it all, including releasing royalty-free art packs for other blossoming game designers to use

Kevin Crawford is (in my opinion) very much cresting the real wave of the future in our hobby, one which blends creativity at the game table with creativity in design and publishing to forge a future for RPGs that is squarely in the hands of the gamers themselves, and he does so in a fashion which demonstrates how easy it is to do this well if you're willing to put some effort in to it. His teaching tools (such as Exemplars & Eidolons) are something anyone with an interest in designing their own game (be it an OSR retroclone or not) should check out.

Kevin, in short, is a very cool guy. I hope he's making a decent profit off of all this, because he deserves it. I buy all of his games in print and PDF when they appear....still need to get Scarlet Heroes, though.

Anyway, his latest game is Silent Legions, and it's a horror genre RPG that, in classic Sine Nomine form, demonstrates a toolbox approach to designing your own horror mythos. I've just now gotten the PDF but the book should arrive in a couple weeks. I'll talk more about it later.

All of this makes me wonder if I should look at Stars Without Number as a rules option for my Savage Space setting, too.....hmmm.

Eyes of the Stone Thief is in! As well as EGS Science Fiction!

I received my copy of Eyes of the Stone Thief this Thursday, and it looks....meaty. In fact it would be hard to imagine just how meaty merely from staring at the PDF. Now that I have the tome I shall dive in and check it out, but I gotta say, it looks formidable. Almost...daunting. But full of neat ideas, of which the Stone Thief himself is the linchpin. This is a very nice book even if you don't run it straight, though...It looks like one could pilfer it for stats, monsters and scenarios easily. The maps in this book are amazing, by the way. Sort of like DCC maps, but with more color and art skill...3D renderings of explorable dominions within the thievish living dungeon.

I also received my EGS Science Fiction Guide in today. Must start reading it ASAP! I have my second round of Savage Space starting next week for April, and I'm thinking I may dual-stat stuff for EGS. EGS (Entropic Game System) for those of you who don't know is an amazingly cool universal game engine which is inspired by Savage Worlds, but offers a wealth of new concepts and ideas that make it very robust and versatile.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

13th Age: The Eladrin Knight of Thorns

Here's a foe I worked out for a recent 13th Age game that I'd like to get back to soon...

Eladrin Knights of Corrigan, part of the Order of Briar and Thorn (also called the Knights of the Thorn Crown), arrive in Octzel to sew discord and pave the way for the arrival of the Witch Queen. An ancient cult, the eladrin who serve the Unseelie Queen are loyal to a fault, and view the mortals of the prime material realm....including even elves who dwell there instead of the Fey Realm of the Weirding....as inferior beings little better than discardable play toys. 
Eladrin Knight of Thorns
Gracile, inhuman beauty that seems to fade in and out of reality.
7th level archer [humanoid]
Initiative: +12
Mithril Shortsword of Burning Light +12 vs. AC (one nearby enemy) —22 damage
Miss: 8 damage.
R: Elfshot barbed arrows +12 vs. AC (one nearby or far away enemy)—20 damage, and target is hit by secondary attack: +10 vs. MD or target falls unconscious (16+ to end, or end sif target takes 10 damage; if the target fails 4 saves in a row he goes into stasis – see special).
Natural even hit: As a free action, the eladrin can make a second barbed arrows attack against a different enemy with a –2 attack penalty. If it gets another natural even hit, it can make a third (and final) barbed arrows attack against a different enemy with a –4 attack penalty as a free action.
Feystep: If unengaged, when the eladrin attacks and rolls a natural even miss, it can step into a the feywild that turn as a move action. While in the fey realm, it can’t be seen or targeted with attacks, and it reappears anywhere nearby at the start of its next turn.
Parkour Master: A knight of thorns can climb on ceilings and walls as easily as he moves on the ground thanks to his mastery of animating vines and plants.
Invisibility: The knight of thorns can pop free and turn invisible once on Escalation Die 2+ and once again on 5+.
AC          23
PD          21           HP 100

MD        17

Monday, March 23, 2015

Carlsbad Caverns

So here's where we went this weekend: Carlsbad Caverns in SW New Mexico
Mister Wiggles only holds still for pics when you restrain him
Or get him in a headlock!

My little iPhone camera can't handle the scope of Carlsbad, so here are some much better samples of the caverns from online:

And best of all, a map that you can use for a dungeon delve if you so desire...

Savage Space II: The Return of Savage Space

Last year I took the month of February and did an entry a day for a free-form "build through inspiration" series of posts on a Savage World Sci Fi setting, using two sources as inspiration: the then-new Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion (a no-fuss, no-muss dirt simple manual on running SF fast and furious style) and a mess of random pics pulled from the inerwebz.

I am now planning a return to Savage Space over the coming weeks. First off is a preamble...a proper "introduction" to the setting as it was constructed piece-by-piece last year. The previous entries via this new foundation become the base off of which I will spring an entirely new round of freeform entries, to expand the scope of Savage Space in new and strange directions. I have many, many weird new pics ready for this exercise. Be warned!!!!

There is one thing I'm mulling over, though. Since I did Savage Space the Entropic Gaming System came out, and it's essentially a "super-deluxe" SW variant game system with all the cool bells and whistles. When I start doing more SW I may just include dual stats for EGS, especially since their first two major sourcebooks are for scifi gaming.

But if I do an EGS version of each entry, would it be fair to call it purely Savage space? Perhaps  can delineate those entries as Entropic space....

Savage Space

Savage Space….a universe of possibilities and adventure. The Savage Space setting is set in the Terran standard year 2820. Earth is the center of a vast, cosmopolitan organization known as the Federated Commonwealth, which sprung from a medley of dissident colonies, political regimes and private corporations that had claimed space during the early days of human travel to the stars. The original Commonwealth was Earth’s attempt to bring humanity under an umbrella of coordinated rule, a sort of “Interstellar United Nations” directive. It did not succeed at its goals until humanity coordinated with other races such as the Fadelik to incorporate into the Federation, which united human, Fadelik and Chevarais interests. Over time the Federation expanded to include dozens of other sapient starfaring species, as well as humanity’s Commonwealth.

The human Commonwealth was built in three stages: in 2097 the first STL interstellar ships were built. The earliest STL ships were compact colony terraformer vessels; the automated ships had a modest crew cryogenically frozen and were built to introduce the tools to create and foster earth-like ecosystems on arrival at their destination worlds. These vessels were powered by early crude but extremely expensive attempts at antimatter engines which used gravitational tubes to accelerate vessels to an appreciable percentage of light speed. These vessels relied on early warp bubble technology which was costly and unreliable, but allowed for travel times which violated relativity. A vessel could reach a star five light years distant in “real time”of 30-50 years. The warp bubble technology was necessary to counter the relativistic side effects of travel at .7c or greater; however getting more than .7c out of a ship protected in a warp bubble consistently led to the loss of the ship as it accelerated to speeds impossible to “slow down” from.

The second wave of STL vessels came during the unpleasant diminishing years of Earth’s own crisis in global collapse due to depleted resources. Humanity had spread throughout the solar system, but the desire to expand out to the stars was fueled by the first reports of successful colonization efforts from the terraformer vessels at nearby stars such as Alpha Centauri. The second wave of colony ships began by 2150, and included large vessels containing tens of thousands of volunteers, often idealists, religious dissidents and corporations investing in the future. The second wave of colony vessels were powered by more effective anti-matter engines and the warp bubble technology had improved to the point where critical failure was statistically insignificant. However….attaining FTL speeds still eluded mankind.

By 2348 there were dozens of colony worlds, and more which had been lost or “forgotten” due to various unusual circumstances. Humanity had met with other sapient beings, but none who had achieved space travel. The year 2348 marked the breakthrough in engineering that led to the creation of the first transitional drive. Today the old drives are called “skip” drives because they pushed ships briefly but continuously into a higher dimensional “tube” that moved through the eleven dimensions of reality. The transitional drive effectively let star travelers cheat the speed of light’s hard limit by moving through shortcuts in the folded additional spatial dimensions, which created an effect similar to moving through a wormhole. Suddenly, ships which took 50 years to reach a destination 5-10 light years distant with the old warp bubble anti-matter drives would arrive only to find that an entire colony had already sprung up with skip drives that took a few months to journey there.

From 2355-2415 after humanity recovered from a devastating system war between the Spacer governments and the Old Terran Order, the new Terran Government which arose from the ashes set a directive to reunite the interstellar colonies. Humanity spread rapidly to new worlds out of reach previously, while trying to restore the colonies under Terran rule. It was this period of expansion and unification that led to conflicts as a number of colonies had grown quite self-sustaining and did not want to relinquish control to the new Commonwealth. Examples include the Tetragon Union, which is the most famous and powerful dissident colonial government.

During this expansion period in 2405 humans met the Fadelik, and it was only a decade after that first contact that the Fadelik, Chevarais and humanity agreed to found the Federation. The Terran Government integrated the Federation in, dubbing it the Federated Commonwealth. As part of this unification the Fadelik provided the research and materials necessary to aid humans in advancing their “skip” drive to full transitional drive. Journeys which took weeks now took days.

The Federated Commonwealth has prospered now for four centuries. There are thirty two full species/interstellar governments which have joined and still more petitioning for right of entry. The Federation provides a strong measure of protection to those who join, and sets strong and fair trade policies for its members, as well as military protection. The Federation itself maintains no standing military, but instead directs the Coalition Forces, which are supplied by the member nations that devote resources to keeping the peace. Local governments still maintain their own stellar navies and ground forces as well.

The human element of all this, the Federated Commonwealth, continues to struggle with the fact that several former colonies emancipated from the Commonwealth or refused to join and fought vigorously to stay independent. The Terran Government retains a keen direct interest in its own affairs as well, while an entirely separate Interstellar Council serves as the governing body of the Commonwealth and also handles all Federation affairs, leaving the Terrans to their own devices for the most part.

There are two distinct organizations that answer to the Federation and the Commonwealth both today which are likely to be of great interest to mercenaries and adventurers. The first is the Aegis Division, and the second is the Interstellar Academy.

The Interstellar Academy:

The Interstellar Academy was founded during the early years of Fadelik and human contact, and was a joint effort to create a dedicated institution of higher learning and research. Over time the Academy became an investigative operation as well, especially as the discoveries of the dead civilizations in the Coreward Expanse were discovered. Today the Interstellar Academy is the most widespread and organized research organization with full Federation authorization to investigate the Coreward Expanse civilizations and discover their fate. The Academy also has a mandate to advance technology and to understand the lost technology and secrets of older, more advanced civilizations. This directive means that the Academy needs plenty of willing and able opportunists who are both scientifically minded and capable of handling dangerous circumstances to work for them to achieve these goals.

Aegis Division (excerpted from the first Aegis Division Entry):

Technically Aegis was a real organization, conducting actual espionage work, about seventy years before the Federated Commonwealth formed (2345). Aegis's inception as an interstellar investigative and peacekeeping force began with the discovery of transitional drive. At that time a group known simply as Aegis was already working to quell dissent from the monolithic one-world government that had formed on Earth, the Terran Order. As the first transitional-drive powered ships left Earth to rediscover the colonies founded during the slow-FTL era of two centuries earlier, Aegis agents were recruited to serve as threat assessors and diplomats to deal with the inevitable resistance of the colonies to reunification with Earth.

Ultimately the Terran Order fell in civil war, but not before establishing contact with more than a dozen colonies, and the work of the Aegis forces deployed to assist in the reintegration was noticed by the Federation that formed out of the rubble of the old Earth government. The new order looked for ways to organize and unite humanity across a vast stellar spectrum, both on Earth and amongst dozens of colony worlds. The Aegis Division was formed at this time, with a new purpose, to serve as the peacekeepers of the colonies, what would come to be known as the commonwealth.

The concept of the Aegis Division was also shared by the fadelik, the first species to assist in the founding of the Federated Commonwealth. The fadelik organization of similar purpose integrated with Aegis Division, expanding their numbers and resources considerably.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Post-Free Weekend!

Sorry I had no post scheduled for Saturday and took off for a fun trip to Carlsbad Caverns for the weekend. During the first night I planned to post on the road using my Surface, but Microsoft had issues with me attempting to log in from the Roswell/Carlsbad area and I had to re-authorize my account...but by then we were past the point that I could find time to blog.

Anyway....still had a great time going on the modern, comfort-laden equivalent of exploring a deep cavern with my son! We'll have a monster with a bat theme next week.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Look what I found...original dice with B/X D&D....

This auction I won for a very nice condition Basic and Expert D&D set (along with the Caves of Chaos and Isle of dread) came in the other day and I'm still shocked I nailed it for $30 with free shipping. The retailer on Ebay was not a regular RPG seller, and the pics were honestly misleading as the books are in better shape than they look from the photos. But what was most shocking...both original dice sets (or damned close) came with the Basic and Experts. We're talking unused original "gumby dice," the kinds that required a grease pencil to see the numbers and with enough rolling would turn into smooth spheres over time....but completely unused. Wow.

My players and I coined the term for these old dice as "gumby dice" back in the mid to late eighties  to identify those dice which had been worn so smooth you couldn't even see the numbers anymore. I have one decades-long gaming cohort who still uses his original set from the late seventies, although mostly for the terrifying novelty of watching him roll a D20 labeled 0-9 twice (with a D6 to settle the "1s" or "10s"). The dice with this book set appear not to be the "original Originals" in that sense as the D20's are number 1-20, but they're still damned close.

The World Gates of the Whispering Kingdoms - a Dungeon Crawl Classics Campaign percolates from the primordial ooze of an Old One's flipper-print

I've had this one percolating as a filler post for a while, but I want it out now that my Vosjin Wood thing is done so I might feel motivated to work on this more....

The Seer of Adeptos Awaits the Return of the Star Gods
I admit, D&D 5E has consumed my attention and interest in fantasy gaming a great deal lately. However, behind the scenes I have quietly labored with a deep fascination for.....Dungeon Crawl Classics. Why DCC? Because...well...I just can't stop thinking about the weird fun that game propagates, and I really want to try it out. I have...geez...all of the modules, most recently including the Chained Coffin. I have five sets of weird dice. I've been doing a great sell job on Wednesdays and may have convinced the group to give it a go soon. I want to see a funnel in action, and I want to see someone botch a spell and make Cthulhu mad.

I really want to run DCC. Or play it. Both.

I was mulling over the sort of setting one could imagine for DCC, and worked up a short list of ideas that, if strung together, create the barest framework for a setting....but one which I think DCC would be innately suited for. Here it is...so far....perhaps this is the start of more focused development on the blog? We shall see....

The World Gates of the Whispering Kingdoms

1.       Premise: Earth, the impossibly distant future, after eons of change and apocalypse. Mankind and his demihuman kin, all descendants of a time long lost, are living in peace and harmony in an era when the lost technology of man is indistinguishable from magic, and the simplicity of a medieval life is once again the center of human culture. Amidst this simple land of medieval kingdoms lie ancient relics that can, if activated, open up to other worlds. Meanwhile rumors of a darkness from beyond stir concerns among the people.

A Star Banshee
2.       The Darkness: Across the depths of space and time comes the Empire of the Star Banshees, five sisters of the unending Darkness who harken to the call of Azathoth’s mad dance through time and space. The Veil of the Great Attractor has been penetrated and the power of the old gods pours into the world once more. Behind the Star Banshees is a army of evil that is set to engulf the entire galaxy in its grip of death and chaos.

The Darkness is a broad term for many evils, all aligned with different factions. The Star Banshees are just the most powerful with their dark cults of Azathoth and their vampiric starfleets commaded by undead helmsmen navigating through eternity. They conquer slowly....so much of their technology is scavenged from the ruins of old empires, and much of the fleet moves at sublight speeds, but to the undead it hardly matters. Finding a working Transitional Gate, though? Those are the golden gems the fleet seeks, for it immediately opens up luscious living worlds to the Star Banshees' endless hunger....

The Wyrm Lord of the Darkness
3.       The Immortals: As the stirrings of the old ones awaken slumbering beings of old, so to do the immortal beings of light, ascended men and women from a lost era of man, return from their extra-dimensional explorations in time to discover the dire peril to the worlds of man. These beings, a handful though they may be, set about awakening the inner magic and spirit of those souls who can call upon the arcane forces of the Dimensions Beyond to harness magic against the onslaught of the darkness.

The immortals are a motley collection of ancient transhumans and AI constructs who barely remember the various epochs from which they originate, although a few may be more "contemporary" in their memories thanks to time travel. Their migration through higher dimensional space was rudely interrupted when they discovered that the entire higher dimensional universe was being twisted into a cosmic singularity by the all-consuming manifestation of Azathoth, who is literally pulling himself through from an entire other universe into our own, ripping up higher dimensional space as he does so.

4.       The Interstellar Expanse of Man: Unknown to most on Earth, the empire of man at one time ranged across the Galaxy, having expanded to include hundreds of inhabitable worlds. The network of this ancient empire was powered by the Transitional Gates that allowed creatures to move freely from one world to the next with minimal cost. It was only when the ancient humans discovered the threat of the Old Ones and their minions from beyond the universe itself that they shut the gate down to keep mankind and his allies safe.

The old Interstellar Empire lasted for tens of thousands of years before they realized that the transitional gates were weakening the boundary between universes.....and even then, it wasn't util the first "exonauts" to try and explore what lay beyond the expanse of the universal membranes discovered that the neighboring universe was an all consuming force known only as Azathoth, which had been quietly harvesting the near-infinite souls of other universes, that they were warned of the threat. But it was too late. 

The Reaver of Worlds
5.       Hydroska and the Whispering Kingdoms: Today, in the pleasant kingdom of Hydroska which is said by many to be the greatest kingdom in all of the Whispering Kingdoms, the men of the land know something is amiss, as new dark cults awaken to the call of strange gods, and the oracles and mystics feel the power of magic returning to them, a gift of the almost forgotten immortals. The king sends out a call: will any adventurers stand up who can take the challenge of the Immortals, the prophetic declaration made by his own daughter as she channeled their power, declaring that the strongest of Hydroska would stop the forces of darkness and the vile Star Banshees?

Hydroska is a smallish realm on a large continent that was formed when North and South America mashed together, and not long after a vast array of extinction-level planet killer asteroids ripped the solar system apart untold ages ago. Despite this, the ruins of untold eons dot the landscape, and there are many strange myths and folklore of "those who came before." The men of Hydroska do sense the antiquity of their world....but few truly understand the magnitude of it.

6.       Transitional Gates (World Gates): These are the relics of the Ancient Men, left behind when they ascended to the heavens. With the return of magic and the rise of darkness some of these portals can be reactivated with the right process, ritual or sacrifice. The portals open up into strange and terrible worlds of mystery, each one a doorway to another planet across the Galaxy, or sometimes another terrifying dimension entirely.

 In the lands of Hydroska and its neighboring kingdoms of the Whispering Kingdoms, the World Gates as they are known are both a boon and a bane. Gates sometimes have keepers who know how to open the portals to other worlds. Sometimes those worlds contain other civilizations, and a brisk trade can begin....other times they contain dead worlds, or lands filled with beasts or conquering armies. There are perhaps three dozen known World Gates in the Whispering Kingdoms, but its the many, many more buried in the underlands and hidden in ancient ruins that most fear. Wizards, in their incessant desire for power, have found that the World Gates are the quickest means to finding the ancient patrons which can teach them dark magic. It is considered a heresy and crime punishable by death to awaken a World Gate in secrecy, but the practice is exceedingly common.

Lord Garon of Hydroska
 In this world of the Whispering Kingdoms are young heroes made...through blood and sweat only the strongest and sturdiest will survive, and even then they may yet face a greater doom if they hear the pleading call of the Immortals to stave off the endless armies of darkness that lurk beyond the edge of the stars....