Wednesday, September 30, 2015

State of the MMO in late 2015: Five Things a Lapsed MMOer Can Do This Year

So what's going on in the MMOverse these days? A subject near and dear to me when I have nothing else to write about and no material planned for real (cough) gaming -- tabletop, that is -- is of course video games. I may be too tired on busy work weeks to write much at the end of the day, but an hour of Destiny, Halo or The Elder Scrolls Online is easy enough to fit in...and only one of those is (arguably) a real MMO.

Anyway, 2015 has been for many the year that the MMO bubble burst and pretty much sputtered out of existence....almost. We have an aging population of MMOs that many of us are burned out on, a smattering of titles that command loyalty across the years and pretty much three games I know of that are still brazen enough to demand a subscription fee (EVE Online, World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn). Virtually all other MMOs have moved to some sort of free-to-play or buy-to-play model.

Worse yet, there don't appear to be many --or any!-- new MMOs on the horizon. News revolves around modest expansions (The Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic having notable expansion packs this year) while the Big Daddy World of Warcraft continues to spew out news bits about a new expansion even as it has dwindling subscription numbers that look like a torrential loss to some --and yet still their surviving base is larger than any other MMO could dream of.

Of course, on the side we are now seeing a new breed of stealth MMO....games which are effectively MMOs in function but do so through other styles of play (Destiny) or other mediums (various Android titles) that eschew the traditional MMORPG model made so popular by Everquest, Ultima and later WoW.

So if you're an MMO fan, what do you do in this environment? Here are five suggestions:

5. Revisit old favorites
You can go home again it turns out, although home might smell weird and suffer from some low polygon counts. I did this recently with Dungeons & Dragons Online and enjoyed reminiscing about my grand mess of old characters before being brutally reminded of the many weird hoops one had to go through to play that game on its odd F2P model, with its elaborate henchmen system designed to suck money from you slowly, and its oppressively slow experience system which only serves the truly dedicated. I had more success with Rift, which I have since returned to playing regularly.

4. Go explore the Asian MMO market
You've seen those strange names and listings on MMORPG.com or in random ads on different sites, often using busty armored women as clickbait lures to get you to check out yet another oddball Korean MMO. While the US market is stagnant, the Asian market for MMOs is grinding them out like there's no tomorrow, and some of them are actually really interesting or even playable.

3. Return to WoW
I can't do this. I just can't.....I played too much, though compared to many I played hardly at all. WoW is a game that I will always fondly remember when it was new, and also remember with much pain as it morphed over the years into something that looks very much like the prettiest pig in lipstick on the market. It's still the default "I'm going back to...." game out there, though.

2. Explore New Horizons
As I mentioned earlier, games like Destiny are pushing the boundary on what you can blend with the MMO genre. It's not 100% like an MMO--yet--but it comes damn close. So does Defiance, and there are other games out there for which the medium is shaping into something entirely different. I am told that there's an entire wave of MMO-like games on Android and iOS which are functionally providing the same "experience" that many people crave in an MMO. For these specific iterations, if the desire is not to play an MMORPG in the traditional sense, then you've got a lot of options to explore.

1. Use this nebulous period for the industry to break free
That's right....while there are no significant new releases on the horizon, and the ex-packs for the current crop are mostly inclined to see if they can lure you back to the cult compound happy customer camp, you can use this lull in the industry to get the hell out of dodge. Go find a forest trail and hike down it. Just remember that in the real world wild pigs are probably gonna kick your ass.

Source

Monday, September 28, 2015

Halo 5 Cinematics

It hit me this weekend (a busy weekend, not much blogging done) that I think I may be looking forward to Halo 5 more than I am Star Wars VII....what has happened to me?!?!?




That video....just amazing. And of course the Blue Team trailer, with Master Chief:



Between Destiny: The Taken King, Halo 5 and Fallout 4 I am completely set for video gaming this year.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Last Parsec - Look at all this stuff!


Pinnacle's new setting for Savage Worlds, The Last Parsec, is just about complete and out. You can get a ton of Last Parsec goodness for a nice deal over on Pinnacle's website.  The Last Parsec Core was the last tome in waiting and I just secured my box along with an early copy thanks to Sara Quinn (Pinnacle) and Jim Searcy (Studio 2) who I want to add have excellent and very responsive customer service, some of the best I've experienced online so far.

I've barely done more than crack open the shipping box and start perusing its contents, but if you're curious what it's all about The Last Parsec is a space opera SF style setting aimed squarely at the high concept "real" SF of fiction and film.....unlike other SF offerings for Savage Worlds such as Slipstream this is an actual science fiction setting rather than a pulp space fantasy universe. There are three setting books, one core book, and a ton of extras you can secure to enhance your Last Parsec experience. The complete set (with all options added) includes:

Hard cover core book:
The Last Parsec Core (setting book)

Three hard cover setting/scenario books:
Eris Beta V
Leviathan
Scientorium

Supplemental stuff:
Enigma Equation (module and GM screen)
Two map packs
Last parsec Double Action Deck (two decks of cards)
a pack of Last Parsec dice
A bunch of bennie chips (actual poker chips with Last Parsec art!)
A mess of metal figures and stands - 12 total (my wife shall be assembling/painting them)

I don't think everything listed above is still available....from the looks of it the website is not showing physical copies of the map packs as still available for example. Per Sara they are there, I just failed my Notice roll.

But let me tell you: if you like your Savage Worlds, and you love your hard-hitting science fiction (and especially love stuff with a feel like Mass Effect or Neal Asher's novels), I think this series is a must-buy. I'll be blogging more about it soon, got to spend this weekend absorbing the entire setting.....especially since my Wednesday group is itching to get back to some Savage Worlds Sci Fi soon!


GURPS and Fantasy: a Tour for the Uninitiated


GURPS has two flavors of fantasy: GURPS Fantasy is a wonderful sourcebook for how to make a deep, meaningful fantasy realm that might truly be inspired by the wondrous epic fantasy novels that fill our shelves and e-readers to the brim. Then there is Dungeon Fantasy, which is the flavor one gets when you grab GURPS Fantasy and spike it into a mosh pit of Mountain Dew, Cheetos, and Frazetta painting blended into a thick slurry of awesome.

So yeah, a lot of choices. There’s also “historical fantasy” which works really well in GURPS, especially if you poke around with GURPS Thaumaturgy to get exactly the sort of quasi-historical magic system you would like to play with. The point, of course, is that you can do a lot of interesting fantasy with GURPS in this genre.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is ostensibly all about a quick and dirty way to kit out regular GURPS for some craziness. Hidden within the madness is a metric ton of stuff that, while regarded as entirely whimsical and not serious by certain GURPS standards (including Kromm, the author!) is seen as serious bizness when you come from the Dungeons & Dragons side of the spectrum. Want to make a tiefling paladin/rogue? Easy enough, make a half-spirit infernal holy warrior-swashbuckler. Dungeon Fantasy was carefully designed to emulate D&D in spirit and form.

However, the timbre and approach of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is not quite on par with the actual GURPS Fantasy book, in which 100-150 point characters are normal (DF starts with 250 points), and the notion of deliberate min-maxing in the tradition of the D20 era of D&D is anathema….or at least discouraged in favor of more realistic character building. This can be problematic because…well….all the COOL stuff is in Dungeon Fantasy, and the GURPS Fantasy tome only provides a modest medley of templates, races and other features, topping it off with a tepid but sorta fun “fantasy Rome but with dinosaurs” overview. Plus the Dungeon Fantasy line is the only 4th edition resource for GURPS that even tries to offer some decent monsters and other fun stuff for adventurers.

Some of this is due to the problem with GURPS as a generic, universal system: its built to do everything, but in the process “everything” isn’t necessarily universally represented in the game’s body of resources. As a result, we have in 2015 a universal game system with one very good book on literary and historical fantasy, and a vast swathe of PDF resources on how to kick down dungeon doors and beat monsters up in contrast. So what should one do with all of this?


Don’t dismiss Dungeon Fantasy just because the subject is a deliberate mash-up of Dungeons & Dragons, and don’t take Kromm too seriously when he disses the genre even as he creates a masterful utility to run dungeon crawls in GURPS. They’re up to sixteen sourcebooks now, and the most recent ones (Wilderness Adventures and Henchmen) actually look at more normalized, gritty templates (which work well for henchies or low-level dungeon crawling just fine) and the Wilderness Adventures book even dabbles in what amounts to wilderness sandboxing. So the DF line is pretty diverse, and I would suggest poaching from it as much as you feel like you need to flesh out your regular GURPS Fantasy games, especially if you really want to have a more measured experience without as much gonzo. Use GURPS Fantasy to set the feel, but pillage the hell out of the GDF line to get all the weird races and concepts that make a good game setting come to life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

GM Dedication and the ease of game prep time


So here's the situation: I started thinking about prepping for a new Pathfinder campaign. This led to an initial moment of excitement, then gradually dwindled to a series of increasingly odd headaches and phantom pains that I realized were due to the painful conditioning of just how onerous and problematic the task at hand was going to be.

Running Pathfinder requires a lot of time. Prepping a game properly requires a lot of time. Being a Pathfinder GM requires.....dedication. Perhaps more dedication than I am capable of mustering anymore.

In the time it would take me to stat out one interesting NPC or opponent for Pathfinder, I could produce a dozen 5E foes or two dozen S&W or C&C foes. In the time it takes me to properly read up on the player's choices of race and class I could completely learn two or even three entire OSR game systems from cover to cover.

I feel bad. I know my players want variety....they want weird classes with weird options; they are all burned out on the same core classes in every iteration of D&D. Something like Class Compendium can't interest them because....despite the fact that my crew is largely of the right age for the OSR crowd.....they still crave more complexity as players. But Pathfinder does not offer what I as the GM need, which is less complexity.

I could wing it all....and may end up doing so.....but I don't know about you, but that usually leads to a less satisfying experience with Pathfinder. I mean: why run a game that requires short cuts and concessions as the GM to find time to prep and run for, when you could play a game that actually designs the GM experience to be a streamlined, smooth process to begin with?

I haven't got any good answers yet, other than to push hard to keep my current 5E game going on Saturday for as long as possible....stall any change! Yeah, that's the ticket.....

If I stall long enough maybe Paizo will release Pathfinder 2E, now with 200% more player-friendly crunch and 50% less GM prep time requirements. I can dream, anyway!

Sword Coast Legends Delayed....Again


Sword Coast Legends, for those of you not keeping score, is the new isometric CRPG being produced by n-Space. It's original release date was September 8th. Then it got pushed back to September 29th. Now it's being delayed again, this time until October 20th.

Wizards of the Coast just can't get a break anymore, can they?

The reason for the delay is time for more polish....which is a damned good reason, of course. But the fact that it's this close to release and still desperately needs polish is kind of concerning. I'm not one to advocate reading the PC Gamer forums, but a few posters on the news announcement over there have some interesting (and coherent) critiques of the closed beta on the game.

Let's just say that we should all downgrade our expectations from "The Next Neverwinter Nights" to maybe "hopefully better than Daggerdale."


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Devil is in the Details: high concept Raiders of the Lost Ark Style Gaming in Pathfinder


Actually, the situation which prompted this musing is the reintroduction of Pathfinder to my Saturday night routine. After the high-level 5E game concludes (possibly in one more session) we're gonna start a new Pathfinder game at level 3. It's set in my Enzada setting, which was effectively built from the ground up with Pathfinder in mind. It's also the setting that uses the following concepts as key building points: too many gods to count, all non-western fantasy based, and rife with exploration and Indiana Jones-esque adventure themes.

Going back to Pathfinder has left me certain of a few key things I want to avoid, if at all possible:

1. no dungeon slogs. I'm not burned out on them, but returning to the methodical minis+map methodology of dungeon crawling is making my skin crawl; put another way: 5E handles the dungeon crawl better I feel

2. mitigate the maps and minis; use the "lessons" of 5E (by which I mean: the deprogramming back to a kinder, gentler era before 3E that 5E has helped us to remember) to make Pathfinder's battles run more smoothely and without the need for rigorous application of locational grid mechanics.

3. Speed it up....a lot. I have a confession to make: I have an unnatural fondness for overland travel and encounters. I like hexcrawls, and as a player that's my default state. Hell, as a DM that's my default state. But I'm doing hexcrawly stuff all over the place in my 5E games right now, and Pathfinder is just mechanically slower when it comes to this stuff. This leads to #4....

4. Focus on the big stuff and use the "Red Line of Travel" to get there. The Red Line is that path the plane takes on Indiana Jones's maps in the movies, where he managed to go from Tibet to Egypt in ten seconds without an array of random wandering nazi encounters. The principle here is the same: don't do travel stuff unless it's important, and don't do encounters unless they are worth reading about. No trash encounters, basically. Those familiar with D&D 4E should be familiar with the concept: the entire game was self-aware of the fact that trash encounters slowed everything down to no discernable benefit. I'm coming back to Pathfinder with the same general notion....an encounter ought to be significant in some way to the plot, or the direction the PCs have taken. If it isn't, scratch it.

One of the reasons for #3 and #4 aren't system related: it's tied to the fact that my Saturday group only meets once every other week for the game, and even then every third or fourth meeting gets skipped due to scheduling issues, so we probably have only 20 actual sessions in a year. Given that we only have X number of sessions, it makes sense to tighten up the plot/narrative a bit and focus on the cool stuff.

This focus on the cool stuff can be hard though for someone like me who tends to run freeform, open-world exploration games which are while not technically hexcrawls (because I use regular graph paper) are still ultimately a variation on the same concept. If my party of adventurers are all in the city of Uralhat, for example, I need to be equally prepared for if they sail off to the port of Syrhaba to investigate the haunted monastery or if they forge inland to Sholtira to find their cohort's missing father. The idea is that.....whichever direction they go....I will promise myself not to make the sea voyage or overland voyage last a session or two just because travel and exploration are fun. Sure, it is fun....but if we want to resolve a plot or two in a dozen sessions or less it's a good idea to gloss over the minor stuff.

Of course, I could be wrong....and it might be worth talking to my players. Maybe they love traveling. Maybe all they want to do is explore the Emerald Spire Superdungeon or something. But part of me really loves the idea of running a Pathfinder game (or any other game) at the breakneck pace of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with periodic locational transitions that happen narratively in the blink of an eye. Anyone else tried it this way? I know I used to run ALL of my games this way back in my 2E days in College....but when I was in school I had to build all my campaigns around the semester, because I had no guarantee my same players would be back at the end of that semester.


All that aside....and despite my head swimming at the layered complexity of Pathfinder once more....I am really keen to play it again, if only for a single campaign, with the right group (of regular players who don't power game). Pathfinder is like a glorious encyclopedia of fantasy, full of everything, and all you need to do to unlock it's secrets is dedicate your every waking hour to deciphering its mad secrets. There's something freakishly compelling about that.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Alephtar Games no longer licensed for Chaosium products? Revoluton to come...

There's a thread here on basicroleplaying.com which does not provide details but does indicate that Alephtar Games no longer has a license to produce official Chaosium content. It suggests that they are looking for a "Revolutionary" solution which some have taken to imply is the Renaissance! RPG, a D100/BRP variant based on the OGL version of Legend. We could be wrong on that last one, but I'm hoping not. (UPDATE: and further browsing revealed this announcement. So they'll be doing their own D100-based system variant. Hmmm. On the plus side it will be OGL-based with an SRD, so if they do a good job on this then maybe Revolution will fill a void that Chaosium seems to be trying to close right now.)

Not sure what this means, other than that it seems that Chaosium is once more drawing tight on the third party publishers out there. Design Mechanism and Alephtar.....hmmmm.

I'll say this much: I am glad I already own all the Alephtar releases to date, and I have recently polished off my collection of Runequest 6 books so that I now own everything Design Mechanism has produced so far.

I better really, really, really like Call of Cthulhu 7th edition when it arrives. (Especially since I can't use my spanky new Cthulhu: Dark Ages 2nd edition which does not, in fact, contain the rules of play.....sigh....)

Why I Love Basic Roleplaying

A while back Dyvers proposed an interesting idea: a collection of blog posts and stories that were love letters to our favorite games. The principle idea was that these talked about how great the game was while (and this was, I felt, the important part) not down-talking other games in the process. I'm not sure all the essays succeeded in this regard (gamers have a hard time not trash talking the stuff they don't like) but a lot of them were great. I'm not sure where the project is right now, but decided since it seems to be in limbo maybe I should put my Love Letter up to BRP for posterity on RoC....


Why I Love the Basic Roleplaying System

Basic Roleplaying isn’t just a fancy gold book that gives me virtually everything I need under one cover to run a game in any genre. It’s a sort of history lesson on role playing games and a system I’ve been playing with since I was a precocious eleven year old in 1982. Basic Roleplaying’s inception was with the rise of Runequest in 1978, and at the time was regarded as one of the “big three” in the industry next to Traveller and D&D. By the time I discovered this system it was already in a 2nd edition for Runequest, as well as a boxed set called Worlds of Wonder, the first effort by any publisher anywhere to make a multi-genre roleplaying game. In 1983 I got my hands on a copy of the Games Workshop edition of Call of Cthulhu…and that was pretty much it for me. By 1984 I was playing anything but AD&D; the BRP-powered games had ruined me forever more from being “just” a D&D gamer.

So what makes BRP such a good system? Why has it been the single engine to power the majority of Chaosium RPGs, and the foundation for so many others? Why is the Gold Book edition (the nominal 4th edition of BRP) the best version out there, the one book I would keep with me on a desert island (presuming there were also players on said island)? Even though BRP is the core engine for dozens of RPGs and spin-offs, from different editions of Runequest to Legend, Renaissance RPG, Openquest and so many others, the current BRP core book is a special beast unto itself. It’s a sort of “glue” edition….the book which binds the rest together, if you will.

BRP isn’t good just because it’s consistent. Even the most divergent versions of the game (such as the Legend-based spin-offs) are still 95% compatible with other editions; you can pick up a Legend supplement or an old Stormbringer sourcebook (Rogue Mistress remains one of my favorites) and still use the content with almost no conversion required in BRP. That’s some amazing consistency in design over time, and only recently has anyone considered rocking the boat--Call of Cthulhu 7th edition mixes up the core conceits of BRP just a tad. In fact the divergent game systems often introduce rules which make for fine optional mechanics in other editions of BRP….the core conceit of the mechanics is that tight. That’s not something you find in the history of many game designs over time.

BRP also isn’t good just because it’s extensive. The Gold Book edition of BRP is specifically designed to emulate a variety of genres well, and provides enough rules to do almost anything you could want. Every other BRP-derived or powered game covers additional genres in amazing depth. The inter-compatibility means that it’s one of the few systems out there where you can grab a few books and do your own genre mashups. Pick any three and make it your own terrifying beast: Val-du-Loop, BRP Mecha and Gladiators of Legend? Sure why not. The Green, Elfquest and BRP Rome? I’d play that.

BRP isn’t good just because it’s grounded in a core conceit of realism. The game mechanics are rooted in a core sense of realistic verisimilitude; this remains consistent across editions, variants and genres such that you have to push hard to make BRP act outside the norm. This means you can run a BRP game….any BRP game, even Supers or Nephilim or a Legend game with all the legendary abilities pumped to the max, and it will still feel “grounded” in a fantasy version of our own world’s physics and expectations. I tend to think of it like this: over the decades I’ve run a lot of games, and sometimes a rules system will surprise me in unexpected ways, those “hmmm” moments where you scratch your head and question the outcome of a certain set of rules. A certain cognitive dissonance sets in as you work to equate what has happened with what the rules tell you has happened. This has never happened to me in all the years I have run BRP; it has always demonstrated a consistency in design and intent that matches my expectations of BRP and the worlds I have used it to model.
Nope, BRP is good because it does all of the above, and a lot more. It’s a reality-based set of mechanics that are consistent across a wide variety of genres and flavors, with rules inter-compatibility that makes utilizing sourcebooks from different editions remarkably easy, and encourages borrowing rules, mechanics and ideas from different iterations of the game. Someone who has only ever played the BRP Gold Book will still be able to have a conversation with someone who’s only ever experienced Runequest 6 or Legend, and the differences will simply provide new, optional rules concepts to deploy in your own games. I could grab an old copy of Ringworld right now, for example, and use it with BRP as-is.

The Gold Book edition of BRP is the great grandkid of the original tiny BRP core rules, a modest brochure-like booklet which accompanied Worlds of Wonder, a boxed set with three additional rulebooks for SF, fantasy and super hero gaming. It was the hobby’s first efforts at making a multi-genre RPG, something which could handle more than one type of game flavor. WoW was superseded by Champions and later GURPS, but the point of the set remained a core driver behind Chaosium’s use of the mechanics to power any game they produced. From licensed products like Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, Ringworld and Elfquest to unique innovations like Nephilim and Supers, BRP was the engine that made it happen.

It wasn’t until the 00’s that BRP got to really return to being its own thing, however. Initially there was an effort to release a version of the rules in monograph format based on a generic version of the Runequest 3 mechanics; there is much history on the Runequest version of the game that doesn’t really relate to the current iteration of BRP, so I will leave this part with the relevant fact that everything worked out in the end, and led to the plethora of choices we have today as BRP fans. This initial foray into a monograph edition paid off for everyone when eventually the Basic Roleplaying gold cover rulebook was at last released. Following BRP’s core rules were a range of supplements in the form of Chaosium’s monographs and official releases, as well as licensed support from Alephtar Games, Cubicle 7 and others. The support level was second only to GURPS and Hero System in terms of diversity of resources. Of special note is that BRP now commands some of the best and most extensively detailed historical sourcebooks available. BRP Rome, Val-du-Loop, Crusaders of the Amber Coast and others continue to show that historical roleplaying has a home here.

BRP as a rulebook is a thick single-volume tome of rules which gives you everything you need to run any genre you feel like. It provides a load of information, and a ton of optional rules and variants that you can deploy to suit to taste. It can look a little daunting to a new player, yes….but once you realize just how much of it is marked as optional, letting you customize your gaming experience, then the formidability begins to evaporate. You can run BRP in a very slim, easy version with few bells and whistles…or you can run a mean, hungry mechanically robust version with all the strike rank mechanics, hit locations and elaborate skill modifiers pumped to max. And the best part is no matter what character your player rolls up, you can make it work….the optional mechanics are layered effects and the game’s core conceits never change.

So what are the core conceits? One obvious one is in the alternative name used for BRP systems: the D100 mechanic. Almost all task resolutions in BRP are done on a D100 percentile roll. Skills are based on percentile scores; and attributes, while rolled with a typical array of three six sided dice (give or take), also offer up a set of percentile scores for task resolution outside of skills. Every current BRP game works this way, without exception. Some of them vary exactly how you resolve certain percentile tasks, and the most common rule that varies from one edition to the next is how to manage contested or resisted rolls….but each version of how to do this is a perfectly functional alternative mechanic you can poach for your own preferred version of the game. The BRP Gold Book itself utilizes the classic Resistance Roll table, something which has held true for the game since its earliest days, but I admit I have a fondness for the Legend/Runequest 6 resolution mechanic myself, which has a simple and functional elegance to it.

The BRP Gold Book provides rules for an array of character types, which are built with a 3D6-style mechanic for ability scores (strength, intelligence, etc.) and percentiles for skills. You have a variety of optional modules that can be turned on according to genre, including mutations, psionics, magic, sorcery and super powers. These modules cover all sorts of sub genres….for example, superpowers will work for a comic book adventure game, but will also work for building cybernetics in a dystopian cyberpunk future setting. Mutations can let you craft a post-apocalyptic wasteland of mutated survivors but, coupled with super powers, expand your supers game into something more akin to X-Men or Doom Patrol. Or pair it with psionics and go for a future based on Gordon Dickson’s Dorsai or the movie Scanners..or even Akira if you want some dystopian body horror in the mix.

Two magic systems in the core reflect a smattering of the diverse options out there for magic and fantasy in BRP. Add supplements like The Magic Book and you can include four more magic systems based on Runequest 3. Grab Magic World and you can include magic based on the old Elric version of the game. Add Advanced Sorcery and you can add eleven more weird magic systems in. Enlightened Magic lets you replicate the weird Victorian era mysticism of the turn of the century….then there’s BRP Witchcraft….you get the idea. Magic can be done in a lot of different ways in BRP, but in the core book you get the two core systems that let you replicate 99% of the adventuring fantasy we’re all familiar with. And so far we’re only talking about official BRP books; there’s a lot more out there for the extended BRP family.

As a new GM this might sound daunting, but remember: it’s all optional. You don’t need any of it in your game if you don’t want it, and the rules make no assumptions about which, if any, of these systems you will use, other than give you the ones you will find to have the most universal applicability. Certain genre books will have their core conceits, but for your game? You can do whatever you want. You can even scrub all of the optional plugins and go with your own. One suggestion if you are not sure about how simple or complex you can set your rules: sit down and play two games, one with the current edition of Runequest (6th edition), and one with Call of Cthulhu 6th edition (since 7th edition is still not quite out as a physical thing in meatspace yet as of this writing so I can’t vouch for it yet). You’ll learn quickly just how different the game can be depending on whether you like to play with all the rules “on” as in Runequest 6, or just go with the bare minimum (as in Call of Cthulhu). It really helps set the stage for imagining just what you can do with BRP. It also shows how, at its core, no matter how many (or few) rules options you use, in actual play you’re mostly still just roleplaying and occasionally rolling some percentiles.

Keep in mind that you can also experience BRP directly and with minimal fuss by grabbing the Quickstart edition, which even includes an array of short adventures. Nothing like actual play to demonstrate how easy BRP is! BRP is also supported by a fantasy-themed ruleset as well, called Magic World, which is a direct demonstration of how you can take the full rules of BRP and customize them to suit your needs. Magic World is a great primer on how to play BRP as well as a fully functioning fantasy iteration of the BRP system in its own right.

Once you’ve settled on your comfort level of play with BRP…noting that even at its most rigorous BRP is not a difficult system to run…you’ll want to settle on a genre. The BRP Gold Book supports pretty much any genre, although a few might need a bit more prep work than others, depending on how much additional crunch or flavor you want to inject into the process. It also provides you with all the core support you need to design your scenarios and settings, although some sourcebooks go into much greater detail. As an example, you can design mecha in the core rules as impressive gadgets as written, and examples are provided. However, if you really want to dive deep into the fountain of mecha madness, there is a BRP Mecha sourcebook waiting for you with more construction design rules than you could ever want.

Is BRP perfect? For many it is, or can be. It has some limitations, of course, as all systems do. BRP’s baseline focus on realism and verisimilitude means that you have to push the system in strange directions if you want to make it function on levels of more abstract reality; if you wanted to emulate a video game level of physics or survivability, for example, BRP is probably not the best system for your needs. Some genres work well as long as you remember that they are spinning out of the baseline assumptions of the rules: BRP for Supers is an excellent system to run a gritty superhero campaign, such as one might see in Batman, Watchmen or Top 10. It is probably not the best system for a more abstract comic book hero game like something modeled after Young Justice or He-Man.
BRP is also what I would call a mixed toolkit/creator’s system, at about a 60/40 split between out-of-the-box features and do-it-yourself needs. The game provides enough material in the core book to run any genre….but at some point you as GM will want to add to that. Designing new material for BRP is as simple as figuring out how it works, but BRP does not offer point buy mechanics in most cases (except when you use plugins to design stuff), so rigorous point buy/balance systems aren’t really a core part of the experience. The important question on how much this impacts you depends really on your aesthetic needs. For example: if you run a cyberpunk game, as I mentioned earlier you will likely use super powers and maybe mutations as a mix to replicate cybernetic enhancements. If you want a consistent baseline for what sort of cybernetics are available (say, modeled after Cyberpunk 2020’s lists), you’ll probably want to sit down and work out the rules and options using the powers and mutations as a base of design. If you’re not so concerned about this consistency, then the process is as simple as letting your players know what powers are available, the starting points they have, and the key rule that their choices must be defined as cybernetic.

Ultimately, BRP does something that I love more than anything: it keeps all of this under one cover. You really don’t need to buy any other books (even though you will probably want to simply because there are so many interesting BRP-powered and compatible resources out there) and having just the Gold Book alone will give you an infinitely re-usable rule system with the foundation for any genre you want to run, and a set of core rules that any player can quickly grasp. It truly is a one-stop shop for role playing, and will remain on my shelf for the life of my gaming career. I’ve run adventures in all sorts of weird genres, including:

· A grim dark fantasy world of humans who survived a Cthulhu-level Stars Are Right Apocalypse

· A future space federation in which humanity seems alone in the galaxy, as cultures of earth spread out to entire worlds, all while a hidden threat in the form of non-baryonic lifeforms threaten to destroy us all

· A gritty film-noir inspired near future tale of government agents who discover there’s a conspiracy with bug eyed aliens

· A “set in our home town” zombie apocalypse tale that starts with Day Zero and ends when everyone is dead or a zombie

· A post-cataclysmic future Earth where a rogue planet wiped out humanity on Earth, and an alien seed ship recolonized it with xenoforms, while humanity hangs on in its space colonies.

· A planetary romance about humans on a crashed colony worldship that landed on a planet of psionic insects

· And once even a story about old world gods reborn as mortals, facing off against ancient awakened threats

I have other multi-genre systems I absolutely love….but every time I imagine a new setting and start thinking about what system to use, I come back to BRP. It involves the fewest steps between “imagine a new campaign” and “we are actually playing” of all the multi-genre systems I own, and for that it will remain my “Trapped on a Desert Island book” forever more.

You can find BRP and all of its many supplements and variants here at Chaosium’s website:

http://www.chaosium.com/basic-roleplaying/

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Major Milestone! (family stuff)

Just a minor family milestone...took my son to see Avengers: Age of Ultron tonight. He was quick to recite the "movie rules" and was very, very well behaved....he made it through a 2 1/2 hour movie without once breaking the rules! Dad was very proud. Avengers: Age of Ultron is now "his favorite movie" and apparently mine is Guardians of the Galaxy --we can't both have the same favorite movie, I am told--there's a rule somewhere, or maybe the Society of 3-5 year olds' all voted on this at pre-k. That is, unless it's Batman, then it's okay....everyone's favorite movie must also be Batman.*

Oh, and he's in to taking my digital camera and doing selfies, too:



And stealth shots of Dad too:


All told he filled up my camera's memory with over 200 photos and videos made by himself and his little buddies. And he's not even 4 until Thanksgiving!



*Which Batman? ALL the Batman

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Class Compendium Random Setting-by-Class Generator

Using Class Compendium as a Setting Generator

You could actually pull a random selection of classes from the Class Compendium and core rules to make thematic campaigns pretty easily....try it! Here's a random generator to get you started....roll 3D6+3 times on the chart to get a selection of classes, then imagine what sort of weird campaign would result in an adventurer selection like that. I've added the LL Advanced Edition class options as well for extra fun:

Campaign by Class Generator:
Roll 3D6+3 for # of classes available (or roll 2D6+3 or even 1D6+3 to limit total choices). Then roll D100 that many times and determine class options from the following; re-roll duplicates.

Special Option: Default Core--if you roll a class under one of these cores (marked in bold) then you include the core class in your list (i.e a knight option will de facto include fighter).

Roll/Class
1-3 Magic-User
4-5 Illusionist
6 Alienist
7 Familiar
8 Thopian Gnome
9 Wild Wizard
10-13 Dwarf
14 Raging Slayer
15 Rune-Smith
16 Warchanter
17-20 Elf
21 Dark Elf
22 Greensinger
23-24 Half-Elf
25-26 Sylvan Elf
27-30 Halfling
31 Burglar
32 Feast Master
33 Huckster
34 Lucky Fool
35 Tavern Singer
36-39 Cleric
40-41 Paladin
42-43 Druid
44 Angel
45 Friar
46 Inquisitor
47 Undead Slayer
48-52 Fighter
53-54 Ranger
55 Commander
56 Dragon Slayer
57 Knight
58 Barbarian
59 Berserker
60 Gladiator
61 Samurai
62 Sword Master
63 Dragon
64 Goblin
65 Half-Ogre
66-67 Half-Orc
68 Treant
69 Fairy
70 Lost Boy
71 Pirate
72-76 Thief
77-78 Assassin
79 Acrobat
80 Explorer
81 Fortune Teller
82 Wanderer
83-85 Bandit
86-88 Bard
89 Bounty Hunter
90 Watchman
91 Cultists
92 Damphir
93 Death Knight
94 Eidolon
95 Automaton
96 Investigator
97 Metaphysician
98 Shootist
99-00 Monk

Example:

I roll 3D6+3 and get 11. For my 11 classes I roll for each and get:

Raging Slayer, Druid, Monk, Elf, Angel, Undead Slayer, Knight, Feast Master, Alienist, Thief, Samurai. I'll use the core class option, which means magic-user, cleric, dwarf and halfling are de facto included.

So...what does our class selection tell us about our new setting?

Core classes allowed are all there (fighter, magic-user, cleric, thief, elf, dwarf, halfling) so that's good. But some clerics can in fact be angels, druids and undead slayers. Fighters could also be monks, knights or samurai, and magic-users could also be alienists. Halflings could be feast masters, while dwarves have a special group of raging slayers in their midst. This world has some interesting implications!

1. There's a war between law and chaos that's more pronounced...with alienists, angels, and undead slayers wandering about.

2. There's probably an east-Asian setting or something comparable, which is where the monks and samurai come from.

3. maybe the dwarves use their raging slayers to stem the tide of evil that the alienists also seek to harness?

With this idea, I envision a setting where magic is generally accepted, but the world is threatened by alien forces..the Old Ones, perhaps...and some mages have learned to harness their magic as alienists. This threat is pervasive; the forces of good have even called upon angels of their gods to defend the world from this evil encroachment beyond the stars.

Amongst elves, they stand resolute and quiet in their woodland kingdoms, while dwarves have an entire culture of raging slayers dedicated to fighting the monstrous evil which is most likely to manifest in subterranean realms. Haflings remain an innocent and prideful folk known for their food, especially with their trade as feast masters.

The human kingdoms of the west (sure, why not) are dominated by a feudal society of knights. clerics and fighters; an entire special order of undead slayers has worked long and hard to stop the encroaching undead that are a byproduct of the Old Ones' manifestation. To the east is an island kingdom of isolated but powerful warrior samurai and their enclaves of militant monks. Thieves are everywhere, of course, that there is civlization. Lastly there is an old way, the pagan beliefs the druids vehemently adhere to with their elven allies.


Campaign by Class Example #2:

For this one I go limited (1D6+3) and exclude core classes except if it makes sense. I roll and get 8. For the classes I roll D100 and get:

Alienist, Half-Elf, Shootist, Ranger, Watchman, Fighter, Illusionist, Commander.

Nice list!

This is a world without demihumans...except for half-elves. I'm excluding regular elves (so no core classes that aren't rolled), which means in this world elves are an aloof mystery race of fey who are unsuitable for mortal minds to play as characters....but the idea of half-elves being viable is cool, so they are the product of baby-swapping unions with elven fey and humans; half-elves in this world are changeling, essentially.

Mages are limited to illusionists and alienists....this is a world where magic is either insubstantial and limited to the trickery of illusion and enchantment, but real mages go for broke and contact alien entities to secure their powers.

For fighter types we have the shootist, ranger, watchman, fighter and commander....this is suggestive of a magic-light world, one in which swordsmanship and a brace of pistols make right over magic. I'm inclined to allow thieves in to the mix as well, but for now, they can sit this one out (thieves exist, just not as honorable adventurers unless a player convinces me otherwise). There are no noble classes, either: this world is a rough place, and it is likely that skill and determination make a man rather than bloodline inheritance.

The shootist suggests a higher level of technology, which could play into the weak magic idea; magic is no longer a force in this world, or never was, but alchemy has turned in to chemistry and engineering for many, leading to a renaissance period and the development of more efficient and deadly weapons. Watchmen are another interesting idea: in this world they may be the ordinary men and women who not only look out for thieves and cut-throats but also keep a vigilant eye for the evils of alienist magic or the ever-dangerous fey which steal children and bring them back "touched."

Rangers meanwhile remain a "wilderness" version of the watchmen.....looking for the monsters in the wilderness that might rise up to destroy remote settlements on the edge of civilization.

Best of all, this is a world with no religion or gods of any import: there is no clerical magic at all! With no PC clerics or healers, the world really is a grim land, a universe where whatever gods are worshipped are uncaring and bequeath no power to followers. The alien minds the alienists reach out to for power may be as closes as it gets....and even they may find little interest in this universe. Or...maybe they have already destroyed the benevolent gods of this realm, and quietly bide their time for when the world is ripe for their cosmic arrival at the end times.

I kind of want to run this campaign now.....hmmmm.....!


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Capsule Review: Class Compendium for Labyrinth Lord and B/X D&D


The Class Compendium from Barrel Rider Games is at last available in a print format. As I understand it this is a compendium of prior classes which were sold individually, although it looks to me like there's a whole lot more in here....235 pages' worth, in fact. It's available in print and PDF for $29.99 or PDF only for $9.99. If you do a lot of OSR gaming, I suggest a print copy for the table.

The Class Compendium is aimed directly at Labyrinth Lord but as with most OSR content you can adapt it with minimal fuss to your preferred brand of retroclone (or just use it straight up with B/X D&D). Here's a quick run-down on the book's contents:

4 new wizard classes (alienist, familiar, thopian gnome, wild wizard)
3 new dwarf classes (ragins layer, runesmith, warchanter)
4 new elf classes (dark elf, greensinger, half-elf, sylvan elf)
5 new halfling classes (burglar, feast master, huckster, lucky fool, tavern singer)
4 new clerical classes (angel, friar, inquisitor, undead slayer)
3 new knight/fighter classes (commander, dragon slayer, knight)
5 new barbarian warrior type classes (barbarian, berserker, gladiator, samurai, sword master)
5 new monstrous classes (dragon, goblin, half-ogre, half-orc, treant)
3 classes based on the Lost Boys/Peter Pan (fairy, lost boy, pirate)
4 new thief type classes (acrobat, explorer, fortune teller, wanderer)
4 evil classes (cultist, damphir, death knight, eidolon)
4 urban adventurer classes (bandit, bard, bounty hunter, watchman)
4 victorian steampunk classes (automaton, investigator, metaphysician, shootist)
a page of new equipment (elf-shot bows and bullseye lanterns)
a page on mastery points and other classes (using some sword master class rules to enhance core classes)
three pages on firearms rules (and 8 weapons in detail) 
over 60 pages of spells (includes core LL spells and new spells; basically a spell compendium to support the classes in this tome)

That's a lot of stuff --52 new classes in total. What you get here is sufficient to provide a lot of flavor and thematic focus for any LL or B/X style campaign, and most of these classes (barring the racial classes) can be used as-is with Swords & Wizardry or OSRIC. The fact is....you could provide this book at your table, and baring specific setting limits (i.e. no monster or evil classes) you could readily end up with an entire table that does not contain a single one of the core classes in your campaign.

Without actually playtesting each class it's hard to comment on their mechanical viability, but each class I've read has distinct features and qualities to make them stand out from just playing "core." Nothing in particular looks overbearing....although I imagine you might not want to let someone roll up a death knight in your otherwise vanilla dungeon crawl, unless they plan on being the villain.

You could pick and choose classes from this book as well to flesh out a campaign idea: steampunk games, monster-centric games, urban adventures and even a setting focused entirely on non-magic users could be well supported with this book. The idea of a Lost Boys style Peter Pan adventure in Neverland is intriguing, too (sorry in an earlier blog I suggested you could to Alice in Wonderland due to a momentary brain lapse, I meant Peter Pan!)

Class Compendium also wisely avoids vampiric classes (which suffer in every iteration of D&D I've seen), although the damphir is done quite well.

Oddly there's only one east-Asian class here: the samurai. Perhaps a future tome will add the shukenja, wu-jen or kensai types that would let one flesh out a proper Asian fantasy campaign. Elves are another exception in this book: you get four new classes, but only one is a themed class (greensinger), whereas halflings get five unique classes and dwarves another three. So we now have "dark elf" for example, but no "dark elf ranger" or "dark elf matron" or even something like a bladesinger.

There are also a lot of spells....a huge number in fact, but many are reprinted from LL, adding the additional details necessary to support the classes in this tome. As such, if you have a spell casting character from this book, you can also use the Class Compendium to manage his spell lists.

In terms of style and art, the book is utilitarian in design, easy to print out if you choose not to go with a POD option, and the art is a mix of creative commons, royalty free and commissioned art....all of it looks good, nothing offensive or tonally off.

If you're like me and always felt that the racial classes of B/X D&D were the major stumbling block to properly enjoying the game, then Class Compendium definitely helps fix that. If you like diversity in class options, this book is for you. My advice is: get this, you will find it well worth your investment. A+

Monday, September 14, 2015

Pulp Adventures: The Weapon of the Ancients

Here's the other Pulp scenario I worked up using Astounding Adventures' random plot generator as a springboard. To my players who follow my blog, I suggest skipping this one in case I ever use it =)


The Weapons of the Ancients: A Pulp Adventure Scenario

The adventurers are approached by Nellie Swanson, a reporter for the Daily Globe about a mysterious package she received at her office, specifically naming the Werner Institute (which the PCs are all affiliated with) and the PCs by name as the intended recipient. The box itself contains a shocking piece of evidence: the private notebook of Doctor Laszlo Szendrey, a Hungarian physicist and researcher who has been known to sell secrets to a pro-fascist organizations for money. Now, a group called the Red Hand has taken an interest in him. The agents of the Red Hand are known affiliates of the Thule Society and other groups promoting the rise of fascism in Europe….and according to the letter in the box, Dr. Szendrey explains:

“My dear associates and rivals at the Werner Institute, though we have all had our fair share of conflict in the past I must beseech your aid. Predicting that I was to come under the scrutiny of an organization which values my craft more than the man, I believe I….and my latest invention….are in great danger. This invention cannot fall in to the hands of the ones who have taken me captive, so I must spirit away and ask you to seek bot myself and the invention out to insure it does not fall in to the grasp of the Red Hand. The Red Hand promotes a purity of thought among German scientists, often by stealing such secrets and claiming them for their own. I will not willingly aid them, but know that they have a means of compelling one to do their bidding. I ask you: save me. Look to Faust’s favorite wine cellar and you may yet save me….and the world. P.S.: please watch after Nellie, she is more special than any of you know.—L.S”

The clue in the text is not obvious, but with a knowledge (European History) or (Hungarian History) check, or a research roll will suggest that there is wine cellar beneath Buda Castle in Budapest that is called Faust’s Wine Cellar. Failing that, the GM should just give it to the most well-traveled PC.

In the box are five additional items: a blank sheet of paper, a bottle of fine aged wine dated 1856 (a close scrutiny will suggest a fake label, for it is too fresh to be otherwise) and a box filled with platinum wires that appear to be etched with tiny, sophisticated marks, almost machine-like in nature. The wires end in unique plugs that don’t fit any known machine. The last device is most perplexing of all: a disk-like sun symbol that bears old Turkish writing on it, a spell-formula engraved for long life by Suleiman I, the longest lived of the Ottoman Emperors (1520-1566)—the amulet appears to be a replica, for it is far too new to be an original.

Finally, the box includes tickets for an overseas zeppelin, scheduled to dock in New York tomorrow. How fortuitious!

The bottle of wine and the amulet of Suleiman are clues, but their real significance comes later….the blank sheet of paper appears to contain nothing, but it has invisible writing revealed by a flame: on the sheet are bizarre schematics for what, after some study, appears to be a machine designed to harness a form of energy Szendrey is calling “The Quintessence.”  The wine for the record says it was sealed at Buda Castle, 1856.

Journey to Budapest!

The PCs should realize that to find out what has happened to Dr. Szendrey they must take a trip to Eastern Europe. Passage overseas is not that exciting, but the journey will take only a week on the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin that has been reserved for their use.  

Buda Castle is currently partially occupied by Miklos Horthy, the current king and ruler in Budapest. Much of the castle is abandoned, far larger than the royal family needs. When the PCs arrive in Budapest they will quickly be able to learn that Horthy is planning to throw one of his many famous parties. This can be a lead to trying to get an invitation or sneaking in on the presumption that the party will keep the officials occupied, allowing the PCs to find Faust’s Wine cellar. A third option is also present, and any swarthy underworld rogue of Budapest can assert that there are hidden ways to the cellar beneath the castle, via the catacombs that saturate the ground beneath. “Old Hungarian kings are buried under the ground,” the rogue will warn. “We don’t mess with them, though. Strange things happen to those who delve too deep beneath that castle.”

The Red Hand strikes!!!
Agents of the Red Hand have been interrogating Doctor Szendrey to learn what he did with his Quintessence Machine and the schematics. He has been quiet, but unknown to him his assistant, Salas Szudenyi has squealed, and said that he knew his boss visited Buda Castle shortly before being captured by the Red Hand, possibly to meet with the Hungarian King about his work….and even hide it.

The Red Hand’s leader is Suleiman the Magnificent himself going by the title of Lord Kanuni, albeit an immortal version of himself who knows that the Quintessence Machine allows one to displace in time. He met Dr. Szendrey when the good doctor visited him centuries ago and took his amulet as a memento. Szendrey did not let on the secret that he knew: Suleiman is actually a living descendant of the ancients known as the ancient immortals that were once known as the Annunaki and have over the ages come to be known under other names, including Nephilim. The amulet, it seems, was critical to Szendrey’s ongoing scheme with his time thefts!

Now Suleiman, who goes by the title of Kanuni of the Red Hand, has a chance at last to seek his vengeance against the man who stole his amulet of knowledge, a powerful ancient artifact of his immortal people. Without the artifact he ages unnaturaly and is using arcane science and sorcery to sustain his life.

The Buda Castle event will come under attack from the Red Hand, though Kanuni will use his political influence and friendship (plus charm magic) to influence Miklos Horthy into letting him bring his personal guard in to sweep the castle for evidence of Szendrey’s deception. Interrogating the Hungarian leader only reveals that Szendrey did not share his knowledge with Horth, and he was given unlimited access to the catacombs.

Below, in the catacombs, Szendrey did indeed hide his Quintessence Machine by powering it up and sending back in time with his other assistant, Greta Fulner, a young German researcher who has been helping him. He told Greta that she must wait in a remote time period before humans developed culture in Europe and then return two months later from the date he send the time machine back….in the Faust Wine Cellar there is a lot of evidence, including burn marks and some receptor equipment that will insure the machine returns to the desired spot, as well as a high level of radiation. Kanuni/Suleiman’s men will be securing this (most likely) when the PCs stumble across what is going on…..but in the middle of all this, Szendrey’s secet trap is sprung….

When the PCs arrive, the one with the amulet will see it flash a silver light (unless they didn’t bring it, in which case….). From the catacombs emerges dozens of undead! Szendrey has used the power of Suleiman’s own amulet to reanimate the dead….and any PC with the amulet will find that the undead will obey him or her. The undead have been ordered by Szendrey to prevent anyone from taking the Receptor Equipment for his Quintessence Machine. If a zombie corpse is studied, it will be impossible not to note that the bodies contain the same weird etching as can be found on the platinum wires, but instead scribed on the bones of the corpses.

Encounter in Buda Castle Stats:
Red Hand: 2 dozen goons armed with machine guns and pistols (thug mooks), 4 lieutenants (thugs), 1 sergeant (thug leader), plus Kanuni (Suleiman)
Szendrey’s Army: 40+ reanimated dead using Annunaki super-science; zombies and skeletons all

Escape From Buda Castle:

The PCs may realize the significance of the receptor equipment and seek to haul it to a safe location. They may not be able to recover it, in which case the equipment falls into the hands of the Red Hand after Kanuni dispels the undead. If the PCs seek to follow the Red Hand, they will find they have cargo planes loading up for a long haul: all the way to Pago Pago in Samoa!!!

Other ways the PCs can learn of the destination of the Red Hand: interrogating one who lives through all this; speaking with Hungarian ruler Horth….who after Suleiman stops dominating him will realize he’s been had, but he’ll recall Suleiman mentioning Pago Pago, though it’s a place he’s never heard of. 

If the PCs get the receptor, they will find there’s some sort of communication device….they can talk through time to Greta Fulner! However, it requires a password (four numbers), which turns out to be….1856. If they convince her to return, she will reveal that the wires in the box are actually pieces of the Quintessence Machine, and that they can, when hooked up, triangulate and determine the correct location of Dr. Szendrey, who keeps a tracking device on his person that emits a “Quantum Signal” as he calls it showing exactly where he is.

Journey to Pago Pago

The PCs are on their own for getting a lift this time, but calling in Navy connections, chartering a ship or a sea plane are all possibilities. Traveling across the world is no easy feat, and will require several stop-overs and refueling events. Along the way the Red Hand will seek to thwart their travel if possible: Suleiman or his ally Guerring will send spies to investigate their actions if the PCs are known to be alive and aren’t discreet.

If the PCs do call in a military favor, Admiral Tom Nelson will let them know that he’ll see what he can do….if they can get to the coast he’ll arrange for pickup. The boat is a highly experimental O-21 submarine, which includes a projector to launch a sea plane, captained by Capt. Arnold Morgan.

Arrival at Pago Pago and the Secret base

As it turns out, the Red Hand have an extensive base on Pago Pago Island, hidden away from but sometimes using resources of the American Navy Base Tutulia. PCs may be able to take advantage of the American military presence when they most need it…..there are sympathizer plants in the base to the Red Hand cause, but most of Tuitila Station is all American and not friendly to fascist secret societies bent on world domination by the Immortal Annunaki.

Pago Pago itself is remote and undeveloped at this time. The Red Hand base is hidden in the Paioa Mountains, where they have built an impressive station adjacent to an ancient ruin they are currently excavating; a relic site of Suleiman’s immortal brethren!

So far investigation in to the deep ruins has been stymied when the first of the Old Tombs was unearthed. Suleiman had to order his troops back when the ancient guardian appeared, a fifteen-foot tall stone golem which crushed his troops and was immune to small arms fire and most conventional explosives. He knows he could control it with his amulet, but Suleiman lost it….and Szendrey kept it away. Inside the tomb that the guardian protects is a cache of ancient weapons….the Annunaki are few in number today, but when they first arrived on earth ten thousand years ago they did so with technology and arms unimaginable. An ancient war of his kind led to their downfall, and Suleiman, on the losing side, was stripped of his memory and rank. However, Suleiman took action to insure he would rise again one day as his people disappeared among the human population of the world. Suleiman stored the last of his technology and armaments away in a tomb, coded it to his amulet, and erased the memory of the amulet from himself and his builders, until an important condition arose: when the last of the immortals that stood against his conquering perished, he would then be able to find the cache with his ancient amulet. Unfortunately, that condition was met, but the amulet was missing, thanks to Szendrey….who does not what it’s for, of course.

Suleiman is allied with General Herman Guerring, a loyalist of Germany and founding agent of the Thule Society. He is working with Suleiman and his promise of power to benefit his own society, but he intends to betray Suleiman when the time arises. The immense golem has put a damper in this plan, however. He is currently calling in a request for additional forces and materials, SS agents from Germany, but he has to handle the issue delicately; if the American Navy is alerted to their actions, it will be their downfall.

Big Secrets and Other Possible Plot Complications:

Suleiman’s Annunaki title was Marduk though he has long forgotten it.

Nellie Swanson is actually an Annunaki, though her memory is also erased. If Suleiman sees her he will recognize her as one of his co-conspirators, the fabled Ereshkigal, and seek to capture and awaken her. Note that she will also be recognized by the golem guardian on the island, which will seek to capture and protect her.

Dr. Szendrey needs Nellie to override the additional hidden security protocols. He is truly a mad scientist, and intends to take control of the stockpile of ancient weapons and start his own arms race, selling the technology that he backwards-creates for his own ends. He doesn’t really care who profits, only that the money lets him delve deeper into the mysteries of the Quintessence, which he has determined is the source of the Annunaki power.

General Guerring is not interested in pretend immortals, and will seek to slay any once he has the technology in the grasp of the Red Hand. He believes that the True Aryans are in opposition to these so-called immortals he sides with for convenience.


The ancient Tomb-Vault contains some powerful ancient weapons, but also a failsafe that not even Suleiman knows about; Nellie, it turns out, was going to betray him: the cache includes a powerful bomb. “An Atomic explosive device” she will remember, if opportunity to explain arises. She will let everyone know that when the bomb detonates it will decimate the entire area and the mountain in the ruins….it was her own failsafe against the madman who forced her to try and conquer the world ten thousand years ago, exterminating most of their kind!


Friday, September 11, 2015

R.I.P. Dinklebot


The opening salvo of changes to Destiny have hit this week, including a revamping of the leveling process, the way you accrue light levels, and all sorts of stuff. Most pronounced was the eradication of Peter Dinklage's voice (retroactively) as the Ghost, your ever-present floating robot companion who likes to explain stuff to you. In his place is now Nolan North, veteran and beloved voice actor. And....oh gods, it's like C3P0 and 343 Guilty Spark (of Halo) had a love child.

Let's just say that I miss the Dinklebot.....sigh. Unlike much of the interwebz I always did like him, but I happen to also be fond of Nolan North's work.....so I had high hopes....and yeah it is okay (tolerable, at least) but Dinklage had a nice, neutral yet caustic tone that really fit well. Nolanbot sounds like a whiny, effete Guilty Spark. He really does.

So I guess....thanks Bungie, you've officially pulled a "MMO expansion" move on Destiny players. I look forward to pining for "Vanilla Destiny" in the distant future and reminiscing about how awesome Dinklebot was in hindsight. Or not.

Forbes has a great article on the real problem: a narrative from a robot with no foil to the dialogue.

Hey look! White Star's in print (also: Class Compendium and Tranzar's Redoubt)


If you're like me, you've been waiting for White Star to get a POD version on rpgnow. Well, it's up so excuses are gone for why I don't have it. I went ahead and ordered copies of Tranzar's Redoubt and Class Compendium in print while I was at it.

I really need to get my B/X S&WC hybrid game going soon. Maybe Sunday afternoons so my wife can play (she loves S&WC).

Also, really interested now to finally see what sort of lighting in a bottle White Star managed to capture. I've seen a ton of praise, a load of PDFs, the thing has hovered in rpgnow's top 10 slot for what feels like a lifetime, and literally only one negative review from someone who I know tends to prefer a more "D&D 3.5/4E" approach to his games. So...I'll write more maybe next week after I get a proper read-through this weekend.

Class Compendium, also by Barrel Rider games, is a Labyrinth Lord and OSR-compatible class book that looks damn meaty, been waiting for it's print option for a while.

Tranzar's Redoubt...I don't know what it's about yet, just that it has some cool art:




100 Ghosts at Elfmaids and Octopi

Just wanted to point you to this chart over at Elfmaids & Octopi. It is a great chart loaded with weird ghosts and haunts you can add to your sandbox. I am printing out a copy for my table, going to stick it in the folder with my copy of RQ Cities and the D30 Companions that I haul to every game.


Fantasy AGE: Feyril, spawn of the goddess Matrigias

Continuing my adaptation of the monsters of Sarvaelen is the feyril, hideous redcap-like, squat men of the woods who are born out of the terror and madness of the Old One Matrigias:



Feyril (sons of Matrigias)
1 Accuracy
-2 Communication
4 Constitution (drinking)
1 Dexterity (stealth)
2 Fighting (axes, heavy blades)
1 Intelligence (shadow, fate)
0 Perception (hearing)
4 Strength (might)
3 Willpower
Speed   11   Health  38    Defense  11     AR 6 (natural; silver is piercing)
Weapon (attack/damage)
Cleaver +4 attack, 2D6+5 damage
Pick Axe +4 attack, 2D6+4 damage
Special Qualities: mighty blow (1 SP), lethal blow (4 SP)
Favored Stunts: mighty blow, lethal blow, pierce armor (1 SP if using the pick axe)
Slayer of Mirth: the feyril despise the happy, friendly or optimistic. A strike against an unsuspecting target that is in such a state deals +2D6 damage due to the sheer venom of the feyril attack.
Skin of the Goddess: The rugged skin of the feyril is exceptionally resilient (6 AR), but silvered weapons are piercing against their hide, bypassing armor.
Magic Skill: feyril are usually (60% chance) mages with the Shadow Arcana and Fate Arcana talents. They typically have shadow dagger, shadow’s embrace, Hands of Fate and Puppets of Fate. Some Feyril (20%) are more powerful with more spells.

Feyril are short, dwarf-like men who have developed a superstitious reputation thanks to the folklore which precedes them. The stories speak of how feyril are not really men at all, but a curious sort of creature born from the turbulent, bubbling dreams of the mad goddess Matrigias, said to have been the first of the Old Gods, and that she was accosted in terrible ways by the male gods who were unable to control themselves. From this horrific union she became pregnant, bloated from one horizon to the next with the spawn of the world, and when she at last broke water she was destined to give birth to all of the animals of the world. The stories say that Matrigias was driven mad by the endless spawn of animals which crawled from her womb to populate the world, and that she shed unbearable tears of blood and water at the endless pain. From these tears grew the feyril, squat and toad-like little men that were described by some as almost like infants in appearance, but horribly wise to the world due to the suffering of their mother. The feyril crawled forth, to extinguish any joy or revelry where they found it. Such was it that when mankind was at last born into the world he could know joy, for the feyril had stolen all of the pain and suffering of their mother by then. It was only later that humanity came to fear the feyril, for they found the joy and merriment of men to be offensive, and sought to extinguish it by means of murder and fright.

There are stories of a feyril who has cast off the ways of his kind and dwells in relative peace in the town of Aelghast.....most accept this is true, as Aelghast is the town of refugees and outcasts of all sorts, and a tame feyril seems almost modest compared to the other denizens of that accursed town.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fantasy AGE: The Ghuls of Camrinal

The blasted world of Sarvaelen is a place of haunted memories, hideous monsters and a bleak history tainted by old gods of the most capricious nature, exceeded only by the even bleaker future the land holds. It's one part post-apocalypse and another part dark fantasy, aimed at a land where populations really are small, and no strong unity exists among men or demihuman to stand against the encroaching darkness. Ghuls are a deliberate effort to emphasize just how wrong things have gone in this world....and to show how even the corrupted start off with minds and memories of their own, slowly eaten by whatever darkness has consumed Camrinal. 




Ghuls of Camrinal
0 Accuracy
-1 Communication
1 Constitution (stamina)
2 Dexterity (stealth)
2 Fighting (claws)
0 Intelligence
1 Perception
2 Strength (intimidation)
4 Willpower
Speed   12           Health  34           Defense               12           AR 0
Weapon (attack/damage)
Claws +4 to hit, 1D6+2 damage

Bite +4 to hit, 1D4+2 damage and ghul fever if damage is dealt (see below)
Special Qualities:
Favored stunts: knock prone, lighting attack (2 SPs)
Ghul Fever: once bitten by a ghul, the target must make a TN 11 vs. Constitution (stamina) of the bite or suffer from a debilitating fever. The principle effect is 1D6 minutes long and induces nausea and severe cramping, causing the target to suffer a -2 penalty to attacks, saves and any other physical prowess checks the GM deems appropriate.
Cannibals: Ghuls are known cannibals. The ghuls of Aelghast restrain themselves, and feed only on their own (so far as anyone knows) and the dead (suspected but not proven; they are very careful to avoid being caught). Any ghul that feeds off of living kindred flesh may immediately recover 1D6 health (per day). Ghuls experience a sort of hungry bloodlust when exposed to wounds on the living, and must make a TN 11 check against willpower (self-discipline) to resist attacking wounded beings.
Half-Dead Immortals: Ghuls don’t age. They look like zombies, with rotting skin and bones visible, clearly not being quite “alive” yet not dead, either. However they do breathe and effects which affect the living usually also harm them (except for diseases). They “appear” as undead on spells that detect such conditions, but with an eerie aura of half-life suggesting something unusual about them.
Seen Too Much: Ghuls have already experienced some amazing horrors in their time. Ghuls gain the willpower (courage) focus for this reason, but if a magical compulsion would induce fear they gain +4 instead of +2 on a resistance roll.
Disease Immunity: Ghuls are immune to the effects of all disease.

The ghuls are a survivor race, mutated descendants of a handful of Camrinal citizens that survived the apocalypse and kept their wits about them. Even hideously changed into half-dead beings the ghuls prosper, though in time it seems the madness inevitably creeps over them.

The ancient empire of Camrinal was a vast, dominant power that subjugated the old kingdoms to its rule about two hundred years ago. Camrinal not only ruled by force of arms but by force of magic as well, for it indulged the aristocracy of its era with a culture of free experimentation and arcane dabbling that eventually led to a magiocracy in which only those who demonstrated sorcerous talent were allowed to hold the reigns of power, ownership of property or positions of strength in the Empire. Magic had, in this now lost era two centuries gone, become ubiquitous.

When the fires of destruction rained down upon Camrinal in the Final Conflict, the vast majority of the old empire was wiped out, but many of its lesser citizens and a few elites survived. Today these survivors are mostly found as changed beings among the population known as the ghuls, but in some odd corners of the world there still exist untainted purebloods, though they often do not realize their own lineage.

As ghuls age they gradually begin to lose their mental faculties, and slowly go insane. When this happens they become feral creatures, driven purely by a desire to devour flesh. When a ghul dies or is slain, it returns within 1D4 days as an actual undead ghoul.


Undead ghouls gain the following modifiers: intelligence, willpower and communication drop to -2, constitution goes up to +2, health goes to 35, they lose the willpower (self-discipline) focus and they gain the Deathly Fortitude quality (like the Walking Dead, see entry in FAGE). Undead ghouls can survive indefinitely without sustenance, but must make a TN 18 willpower (self-discipline) check to resist attacking the living, as they are driven mad in the presence of live flesh.



Ghul Characters: Most ghuls are likely to be NPCs and those which have lost their minds or become true undead are inevitably going to be foes, but a certain number of ghuls walk a fine line between death and madness, retaining their sanity for decades or longer. These are possible player characters.
  •          Ghuls which retain their sanity have strong wills, and so gain +1 to willpower
  •          Ghuls have darkvision for 20 yards like elves
  •          Ghuls are armed with a claws which deal 1D6+strength damage and start with weapon group: claws. The ghul also has a vicious bite dealing 1D4+strength damage; they start with Weapon Group (bite) as well. The bite exposes the victim a nerve-damaging bacteria which acts quickly, requiring a constitution check on the target vs. TN 11 or suffer from a debilitating fever. The principle effect is 1D6 minutes long and induces nausea and severe cramping, causing the target to suffer a -2 penalty to attacks, saves and any other physical prowess checks the GM deems appropriate.
  •          Ghuls engage in cannibalism to revive themselves. Any ghul that feeds off of living kindred flesh may immediately recover 1D6 health (per day). Ghuls experience a sort of hungry bloodlust when exposed to wounds on the living, and must make a TN 11 check against willpower (self-discipline) to resist attacking wounded beings.
  •          Ghuls have already experienced some amazing horrors in their time. Ghuls gain the willpower (courage) focus for this reason, but if a magical compulsion would induce fear they gain +4 instead of +2 on a resistance roll.
  •          Ghuls are immune to the effects of all disease.
  •          Ghuls get two rolls on the following benefits:


Ghul Benefits
2D6      Benefit
2          +1 Strength
3-4       Focus: intelligence (arcane lore)
5          Focus: communication (disguise)
6          Focus: willpower (self-discipline)
7-8       +1 fighting
9          Focus: communication (deception)
10-11   Focus: Strength (intimidation)

12        +1 Constitution