Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Languages in Enzada

Languages of the Hub of Etyri:
Selindari (common)
   This is the common tongue of the Hub of Etyri region. Selindari is not only the national language of that kingdom, but it is descended from the language of the usurpers of old Inhuridan, so it traces its linguistric roots back to the lineage of the old slave castes that survived and overthrew the empire. As a result, Selindari is accepted as the dominant trade language throughout the Hub, even by those kingdoms and lands which are otherwise fairly hostile.

Other human languages:
Xar
Arkoskin
Zanzarik ( a variant dialect of Selindari)
Etarnish
Nazadranish
Neparic
Sholtiric (related to Draconic and Kandathric)
Mazadrani
Dasamic
Waladari
   All of the human languages in this region have similar linguistic roots to Selindari except for Xar, which is from a completely unrelated linguistic group to the south, and Neparic which was imported from its source vultures in the north east. Languages such as Waladari, Dasmic and Mazadrani are a mix of languages with root Selindari heritage and other languages introduced elsewhere.

Old (dead) languages (i.e. used by wizards)
High and Low Inhuridan
Goltannic
Dremarish.
Ancient Nadavasian
The Sky Builder Script
   The Sky Builder Script is a dead language studied and only vaguely understood thanks to the older Inhuridan “Rosetta Stone” tablets which still exist and serve to help translate the language; indeed, even the Inhuridan were puzzled by the Sky Builders and their language.
   Inhiridan, Goltannic, Dremarish and Ancient Nadavasian are all dead languages but more well understood. Dremarish is the youngest of the dead languages, and was a dialect spoken in Drath, said to have been the last language descended from the script of The Dead Kingdoms.

Others So Far Known:
Dasam Languages: Mittariin
Merille Languages: Hardanic
   Both Mittariin and Hardanic are “off the map” and come from foreign lands beyond the Hub, but are two of the most well-known foreign languages as such.

Various Racial Languages:
Dahareshnic (elvish)
Uthitinese Halfling
Duwende Dwarvish
Sarnathic Orcish
Draconic
Demonic
The Spirit Tongue (Whisp-tongue, Netherese)
Egleppic
Tengu's Tongue
Dev's Tongue
Kandathric
Gnollish (beast tongue)

   There are many more, but these are the most common. Note that Enzadans don’t distinguish between infernal (devils) and abyssal (demons) in their grouping of planar beings, so there is no “infernal” dialect in the Outer Darkness. Devils speak the spirit tongue, being a lawful evil form of spirit.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Movie Review: Life


Turns out we are getting two new Alien films this year! Who knew!

If you are like me, an irredeemable fan of the Alien franchise, then watching Life is a great way to hold you over until Alien: Covenant finally arrives in late May. Life is in fact an "astronauts vs. aliens" film in all its finest form, but strives to defy its conventions in three interesting ways:

This is a fairly "hard SF" film as Hollywood scifi goes. It's near future, involves the International Space Station of the not too distant future, with a multinational crew of actual astronauts in a zero-gee setting. The plot starts with their interception of an automated probe returning from Mars with soil samples. Naturally, one of those soil samples includes evidence of unique cellular life.

"Calvin" as the life form is named, is a voracious little predator once it grows large enough, but it's still portrayed as just a survivor organism. Shades of the original Alien are inevitable, but unlike the original Alien, Life tries to provide interesting discussion on what exactly is happening with Calvin....what makes it both unique and a threat. Calvin's growth rate is entirely realistic as well (well, relatively speaking) compared to the xenomorph of Alien.

Most important of all, and also a throwback to the original Alien, is that Life succeeds because it has genuinely good actors, including even Ryan Reynolds in a role which both plays on his quirky strength as an actor while managing to not feel out of place in a crew of intellectual scientists and engineers. Seriously....with a cast including Reynolds, Ariyon Bakare, Jake Gylenhall and others, Life really does succeed on this combination of taking its setting, subject, and acting seriously.

Literally the only moment where Life felt like it was honoring its genre traditions came toward the end, when (indirect spoiler alert) you have a sequence that was ripped right out of the finest "gotcha moments" of classic horror and SF fiction....but I will say no more, you'll know it when you see it. This final moment was actually rather entertaining because the film, played so straight up to this moment, managed to leave the audience with a fine conclusion (or cliffhanger) of what is either the end of the film in a decidedly non-franchise intended way, or a clear set up for an ongoing series with all of its associated pitfalls. Time will tell!

Anyway, Solid A here. If you are event remotely into this kind of horror/SF film or if you have been wondering if it's even possible for Hollywood to produce a new film that can stand adjacent to Alien, Predator and The Thing....look no further. Life is worth checking out.

Solid A

Secrets of Enzada: Caste Ranks in the Hub of Etyri Region


Caste Rank in Enzada

   Enzada, especially amongst the cultures of the Hub of Etyri, is dominated by strong regional caste systems, and it is very difficult to shift between castes over the course of one lifetime. The loosest caste system can be found in Selindar, where one may purchase greater rank through wealth. In Nepar caste rank is predetermined at birth and never changes. In Waladar there is no caste system and rank is determined by skill with blade or spell.
   Caste is often divided into two elements: economic station and professional station. A professional warrior will always belong to one of the warrior castes, for example, whereas a mage will belong to the scholar caste.
  Priests are an exception to the rule; priests are almost universally revered for their unique connection to the gods, and gain special privileges and recognition throughout Enzada for this reason. A priest need never worry about the mundane need for financial gain as most of the Hub will attempt to accommodate a priest, recognizing that it is not his or her job to be concerned with worldly gains.
Castes in Selindar
   The Selindar believe strongly in a divine process to the world, and that all men are destined to fulfill the role they were born in to. Leading a good life leads to change in the next life, but rarely does one change stations in a single life time. As such, there are several castes that all Selindari are born into. The caste culture of Selindar has also influenced several neighbor nations, and indeed some variation of this caste ranking exists in the entirety of the Hub due to the fact that its roots lie in the ancient Inhuridan Empire which so heavily influenced the land long ago.

   Adventurers fall into a special subcategory of their castes. Each adventurer who earns a reputation as such is known by one of two titles depending on how they conduct themselves: ghumakkar (a vagrant) or bhare (mercenary). Wandering priests and mages are usually called ramata jogi, a term reserved for hermits as well.

   Beyond the title of those who wander, the settled caste ranks are as follows:

Vaishya: the rank of the artisan and merchant class.
Kishatrya: the rank of the knighted and noble warrior class. The Grand Kishatrya is ruler of the land.
Shudras: the commoner, laborer and servant class. This group is the largest of the castes in terms of members, and is noted for not owning land.
Sardar: the ruling nobility, representing those who declare law but do not go to war.
Pujari: temple priests of all types and orders, sometimes called Acharya. In the real world these priests belong to the Brahmin caste but the Selindar are not actually Hindu worshippers, so that title is eschewed in favor of a slightly more generic caste title.
Voddha: A common soldier, usually without land, holds this station. The voddha retains his station as either Vaishya or Shudras depending on what his original ranking was. Not many Vaishya seek to serve unless they are the youngest of the family and not in line for inheritance. Some voddha can gain the rank of Kishatrya through impressive deeds.
Jadugara: sorcerers and warlocks are most commonly know by this title. Any who ply their trade as mages are given the title of Jadugara. A mage who is also an acolyte would be known as a pujari, sardar or even a Vaishya. Jadugara has unfortunate implications.
Ramata Jogi: wandering mystics, this is one title which can allow a sorcerer or warlock to escape the jadugara title. Sometimes also called Baba.
Bhare: mercenaries who work outside the system or are also foreigners. A bhare can hold another caste, but is identified as separate by trade.
Ghumakkar: a title for those who are vagrant or seem to move about with no land or means of support. Many adventurers may be initially mistaken as ghumakkar until they establish their reputation.


Choosing a Caste and Rank
   To choose your caste, pick from the default choice on the previous Background chart or choose from the one that makes the most sense for your character’s class/background combination. Then do the following:
1.      Make a Charisma check for your patron god (DC 15), apply a +2 modifier if you succeed (or -2 if you fail by 5 or more).
2.      Roll 1D10 and apply the aforementioned modifier plus the best attribute you have for your caste (i.e. STR for kishatrya or WIS for Pujari).
3.      Write that down; it’s your caste ranking in relative terms to those around you.
4.      If you have taken the caste of jadugara, your rank is instead based on the above, but instead of rolling a 1D10 you add level instead. As you rise in level, your rank as a jadugara also goes up.
5.      If your key attribute ever increases, so does your rank. On rare occasions great deeds or impressive/infamous acts may also increase or decrease rank, usually by 1 or 2 points.

Losing Caste Rank
   Performing a horrible deed or act can get you demoted to a criminal rank almost instantly. If you are dropped in rank for such behavior you usually end up as a Shudras of rank 1, or a ghumakkar, which never rolls for rank.
   If you simply lose face in some unfortunate manner (i.e. a kishatrya general loses a battle and is thoroughly spanked) then you tend to lose 1D4-1 points of caste rank. Unless you are fully demoted your rank can’t go below 1.

Gaining Caste Rank
   Great deeds, divine interaction and amazing stories of heroes can lead to an increase of caste rank. It is exceedingly rare to see someone change caste entirely, however. Whenever a sufficiently great deed transpires (and it may happen only once or twice in a hero’s life) the gain will be 1D3 caste rank points.  Hitting level 20 is an exception: you gain 2D6 caste points immediately when you reach that level.

   There is no limit to how high your caste rank can go. If you ever do manage to gain a new caste, your rank resets as if you had just rolled for your caste rank for the first time.


Using Your Selindari Caste Rank
   Those with lower caste rank should show you respect and defer to your wishes in casual social affairs and those of higher rank will expect the same of you. When you try to argue with or impose will on those of higher rank you are at disadvantage on your social rolls, and when you do the same to lower ranked individuals expressing opposition you gain advantage against them.
   The castes rank as follows for reference:
Padisha
Pasha
Sardar / Kishatrya
Priest / Vaishya / itinerant Jogi
Sudrasy / full / Voddha
Gumkkda
Wizard *

*The jadugara is different, however in that his rank is based on his reputation in magic. For station purposes whenever he reveals his nature he treats himself as equivalent in rank to whomever he is intimidating, so long as he is using imtimidation or diplomacy with his reputation to get his way. If he does not reveal his nature he defaults to Shudras in rank, or whatever other rank he seeks to masquerade as.

Foreigners and Selindari Ranks
   This is actually a common practice in the Hub of Etyri. The selindari don’t have a term for foreigner, and consider all men to be children of the gods. As such, any foreigner who petitions for entry into the ranks of the Selindar may do so, and is granted status equivalent to his worth as a man. Such foreigners of caste are regarded as distinct in that it is understood that they often haven’t learned the formal etiquette of their rank. Foreigners who can’t demonstrate ownership of property, wealth or rank in their own society are usually assigned the Shudras or Bhare ranks.

   Because foreigners are regarded with a measure of exemption from proper etiquette, it actually means a character attempting to masquerade as a higher caste rank can have better success if they can pretend to be a foreigner while doing it. In such cases the deceiver does not get penalized for failing to take the time to study the local etiquette.

Deception and Rank
   A Character of different station than a caste he plans to masquerade as will gain a -5 bluff/disguise penalty if he has not spent time and effort studying the habits and etiquette of that caste. Each time a character wishes to study such a caste, he must spend a minimum of 1 week doing so or he will gain this penalty on his deception rolls.  Once he has spent time studying the caste he may add it to a list of those castes he has studied. The castes may function differently in other cultures and require re-studying.

Belonging to the Neparic Castes:
   The Nepar have a rigid caste system, which they adhere to against all common sense by Selindari standards. The lowest level caste, the Eto, are commoners and lesser men of no worth and owning no land. The landed gentry are called the Ehato, but amongst this group is a special caste for warriors, who are called the Shagatei, dedicated to the warlord of Nepar, the Nasua. Shagatei of varying ranks and power exist, and landless or lordless Shagatei are called Etasho. The Etasho are a growing force of mercenaries and rabble in Nepar, caused by the bloody fall-out of the last two decades of warfare, in which the majority of land-holding have been consolidated under the control of a handful of major shagate who are the favored of the Nasua.


   If your character is from Nepar, then his caste rank will be based on one of the above. Advancing in Nepari rank is almost unheard of; you’re either born to nobility or you’re not. If you choose the noble background then you may be shagatei (if of a martial disposition) or ehato (if other). Landless and lordless shagatei are etasho, and any martially inclined adventurer may choose this rank. Otherwise, the only option available to characters is ehato if the adventurer is presumed to come from a settled family, or eto, especially if the character is of the outlander, hermit, urchin or other profession which clearly has no money or status.



Friday, March 24, 2017

D&D 5E: Putting some Bite back in Undead Life Drain

If you're like me, you've run enough D&D 5th edition to notice that the whole "lowered hit point maximum" of most undead is at best a threat around level 1-3 but it quickly becomes just a tiny and rarely noticed detail with no measurable impact on the adventurers. At higher level gaming it's frankly a joke.

My thought is that this needs to be more threatening, and have a real impact on PCs. The idea is really simple: creatures that deal "hit point maximum" damage like undead should instead do hit die drain. The mechanic works like this:

In any case where the PC either has his or her hit point maximum lowered (saving throw potentially applicable) when the damage is dealt, instead apply the drain to hit dice. The PC loses 1 hit die for every 3 damage dealt that would ordinarily reduce the hit point maximum. Take 9 damage? Lose three hit dice instead.

If the undead turns the PC into a monster when hitting zero hit points (conditional to having a lowered hit point maximum) then the conversion instead happens when the PC hits zero HP and also has lost all hit dice due to drain.

You could even apply this as a general rule to all undead, in which any damage the undead deals also lowers hit dice at the same time. This could really make undead scary again, especially in numbers.

DMs could consider a few options....

CR Boost: Improved CRs for undead with this option would make sense.

Variable HD Loss: You could let the victim's class or size HD determine how many are lost by damage dealt. So a Warrior would lose 1 HD for ever 5 hit points dealt. I prefer the simpler method myself, but if I were to use this rule I'd round down on the HD for a slight edge to the undead.

Extreme Converters: Instead of the PC needing to hit zero HP and zero remaining HD, just let the conversion happen when the PC hits zero HD. This might be most suitable for really deadly horror-themed campaigns, or fantasy zombie apocalypse games.

Incorporeal Damage: instead of dealing HP damage have things like wraiths just deal HD damage directly; they never touch you physically, but your HD become the yardstick by which their sapping of life force can be measured.

Necrotic Resistance/Vulnerability: this is definitely damage of necrotic nature, so DMs could allow it to halve or double the damage used to determine HD loss. The easiest formula is to figure damage like normal first, then halve the HD loss result for resistance or double it for vulnerability.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Movie Review: Logan



Logan is definitely a good movie and also a fine example of how enough time spent franchise building can eventually pay off in unique films that might otherwise have been impossible sells just a decade or two ago. Logan is a film for Wolverine fans, X-Men fans, and pretty much anyone who has seen at least two or three X-Men movies and figured out enough to get the basic layout of how 20th C. Fox's take on the franchise functions (which is to say: dysfunctionally).

But yeah, good movie, and worth seeing. And...spoilers ahead.

The film is tangentially related to the graphic novel "Old Man Logan" and also the many Logan spin-offs in the current messed up Marvel universe in the sense that it has an old dude named Logan, who may or may not be the actual guy from somewhere around seven prior movies. You get enough hints in the movie that, for example, the events of the first X-Men movie trilogy happened in the past, and maybe even "Days of Future Past" which must have ended up being a really bad idea if that was the case because at least the mutants were still cool and competent X-Men fighting the existential threat of the sentinels in the DoFP timeline; in Logan it appears that the timeline reboot ended with a much grizzlier, more disturbing future that is not entirely defined here, but does hint at what must have been a really grotesque end to virtually all mutants in the world. We get hints of a mad doctor behind it all, but also the suggestion that an ailing, elderly Professor Xavier might also have played a not insignificant part. In the graphic novel "Old Man Logan" the culprit is Logan himself, driven to hallucinate by Mysterio into killing all of the X-Men. In the movie, Logan is more of Professor X's keeper, and keeps him drugged up to avoid another hinted-at incident like the one which must surely have ended the X-Men and maybe much more.

As interesting as the plot and theme of the movie was, with its meticulous deconstruction of Logan's entire hero story (and the rest of the X-Men) it was just as fascinating for being a futuristic sci-fi, almost cyberpunk tale of a near-future setting in 2029 in which driverless trucks are the norm, corporatization is everywhere in subtle but believable ways, augmentation through prosthetics is standard, and genetic engineering is now where the remaining DNA Of many, many dead mutants lie. In comes X-23, Lara, to serve as the lynch-pin which sets in motion Logan's (and Xavier's) final act of heroism.

The movie captures some other important elements of the graphic novel it is loosely inspired by: we have a buddy road trip (but in the grimmest manner possible with dark humor the best levity you can hope for), a father/daughter relationship, vicious rednecks of different types and breeds (no Hulk clan in site but that's okay), a tour of an America (and Mexico) which is quietly ruled by corporate influences, and a moment of carnage against good people which leads to utter tragedy and unhinges Logan.

There are surprise turns in this movie, too. Twists of small but well-played nature that lead you invariably down a path toward what increasingly becomes a clearly doomed ending for virtually all of the protagonists (and antagonists) on the screen. It culminates in a bloody conflict that might almost have been worthy of Tarantino.

When critics and others say Logan is a good movie, they really aren't kidding. I don't know if I'll ever watch it more than once...it's a great movie weighed down by its own fatalistic path to doom, full of genuinely sad moments for a character who honestly has never been treated with such a sense of the "real" before. Enough so that when it is over, it is both fitting but sad, to know that we finally got a genuinely good Wolverine movie, only to see it close out this way.

I have no idea what the X-Men franchise is trying to do with its timeline, by the way. It seems like it is almost a tradition now that each film in the X-Men and Wolverine fanchises are determined to deconstruct, rewrite or de-canonize what has come before. Logan does a spectaular job of casting all of the prior films in to doubt on one level or another, even as it provides what amounts to the most nihilistic, downtempo end one could imagine for the entire franchise. Sure, there will be more X-Men movies....probably even more Wolverine movies, I bet; but Logan itself will, until it too is deconstructed and expunged from the timeline, be the last X-Men film, the one which ended what Professor X started in First Class, in the most nihilistic, fatalistic manner possible.

Oh, and don't take your kids to see this one. It's too violent for little kids, and the moral crisis of the film is not the sort that kids are likely to be able to tangle with until they are at least 11 or 12. My wife and I saw it while kiddo was sitting with his Nanna, and boy are we glad we did. Thanks to my wife for sneakily arranging this (I missed game night, but this was probably our only chance to see it).

About the only thing I can wonder is: can someone who has never seen an X-Men film really get as much out of this movie? I have no idea. But then the second question I have is....are there any viewers who would see a movie like this in the first place that don't know "just enough" about Wolverine and the X-Men not to "get it?" There are probably a few....and some might like Logan enough to dig into the prior films (but they will be disappointed, a little bit; Logan smokes them all).

So...yeah, A +

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wasteland Wanderers of Earth AD 2

Here's two example characters I worked up for Earth AD 2, to give you a couple examples of how diverse the PCs can be in this game. I used a die rolling method for stats (roll D6s and re-roll 6s) and otherwise used the default point method.

Initially I rolled up some PCs with a range of skills. After testing the system a bit I realized that anything less than a 4 in a skill is a bad idea if you plan on succeeding occasionally, so I revised the characters accordingly.

The first example is a "mutt" or mutated human:

Name              Quron
Stock              mutated human (Mutt)
Description    gruesome looking melted features, male, 6 feet tall, greenish tinge to skin, sickly yellow eyes

Fitness  4, Awareness 2, Creativity 2, Reasoning 4, Influence 1

Skills:                               
Fitness: Archery 3, Athletics 4, Brawling 3
Awareness: tracking 5
Creativity: Scavenging 4
Reasoning: general knowledge 4, Survival 5
Influence: composure 2

Gimmicks:                                    
Technological ignorance
Beneficial Mutations: adaptation, battle sense, empathy, night vision
Detrimental Mutations: Diminished Talent (Influence), periodic amnesia, seizures, ugly

Gear:
Weapons: Lead pipe (3fat; attack 7), knife (1inj; attack 7), bow with 12 arrows (1inj; attack 7)
Armor: coated leathers (1 armor)


Background Details: Quron grew up in a village that thrived on salvage from a nearby ruin and live in mild opulence compared to other tribes. His disgusting form was overlooked for his unique ability to adapt to damage forms, as well as his talent for sensing enemy intent and seeing in the dark. Despite this, his issues with short term memory loss and seizures made him more suitable to guard the village than to venture in to the ruins….until the raiders with advanced weapons came, and torched his town! Now he wanders the wasteland with the spasmodic Speculos, looking for a new path in life…or revenge.

After Quron I worked out Speculos, the dude from my earlier combat example. Speculos is a "ripper" which is basically a robot with a human brain....a relic of the lost age who is somehow still functioning. In the rules you can spend 1 attribute point or 3 skill points to buy a gimmick...I opted to spend 3 skill points to equip him with a built in gun:


Name                 Speculos
Stock                  Robotic Implanted Human (ripper)
Description        a robotic skeleton with a plastic human-like sleeve of fake skin over it. Kind of loose. Eyes appear unnaturally human but the voice is high and monotone. Wears a light blue synth suit with cracked bubble helmet. Right arm can flip wrist back to reveal gun.

Fitness  3, Awareness 1, Creativity 1, Reasoning 5, Influence 4                              
             
Skills:                               
Fitness: athletics +2, Firearms +4, Melee +4
Awareness: ---
Creativity: scavenging +3
Reasoning: old earth lore +3, Mechanics +4, old earth technology +4
Influence: composure +2

Gimmicks:                                    
Inexhaustible energy, mechanical discrimination, radiation immunity, reduced stamina, restrictive movement, toughness (2); Speech limiter (malfunctioning), cybergun implant (blaster pistol)

Gear:
Weapons: Lead pipe (3fat; attack 7), knife (1inj; attack 7), 3 energy clips for arm-mounted blaster pistol (4inj; attack 7)
Armor: synthetic suit (2 armor)

Background Details: Speculos doesn’t remember his real name, but he knows he’s been wandering the wastes for a long time. Some years ago after a run-in with scavengers his speech limiter was damaged and he now spends much of his time cursing and howling until ordered to reboot his speech modulator. He recently stumbled across the mutant Quron who was stumbling around in the wilderness looking for the raiders that destroyed his village. Quron has reluctantly taken to traveling with the human, whom he won’t admit he has taken a liking to.

Speculos is actually ancient, and his addled brain is filled with stories of the old world but the details are often viewed through a hazy fog of memories from a time when he was actually a living being and not just a brain in a robot body. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

EARTH AD 2: It's Post-Apocalyptic Ass Kicking Time!


I knew of Earth AD 2 from some time back but haven't actually had an opportunity to explore this game until I acquired a copy from Precis Intermedia recently. If you have been, like me, wondering: site is active and ordering from PIG for both digital and print is quick and easy! Customer service is stellar and Matt is very accommodating.

Earth AD 2 is one of the many post-apocalyptic RPGs out there on the market right now. It's current definitive edition is a 137 page rulebook which includes all the rules you need to run the game as well as a ten part story arc and thirty ready-to-go character templates. It's a small package by contemporary RPG standards,  but the rulebook really is complete, with a robust game system and a focus on going from "read rules" to "play game" as quickly as possible. It's not OSR, but the design aesthetics will make you feel like it is....and honestly, it's design is reminiscent of the many cool "all in one book" RPGs we got used to in the early eighties, so keep that in mind.

The setting is a robust "kitchen sink apocalypse" in which you have a world of mutants, pure strain humans, cybernetic survivors, robots with human brains, humans adapted to undersea life, radio controlled cyberpunks, mutant animals and even an option for visitors from outer space. The actual rules for character generation are only 23 pages in length but within those 23 pages you get 9 character "stocks" (humanoids of various mutation/change states/origins), 43 skills and about 166 various gimmicks, which cover everything from mutations to defects to cybernetic implants and more. You can make a lot of weird characters within these 23 pages, and the rules allow for campaigns that run the gammut from 1st edition Gamma World in style all the way up to Fallout style games, or with a limit on the character types and choices a more realistic "The Road" or "Morrow Project" style setting is completely feasible (albeit not really the point of the game).

The core mechanic of the "Genre Diversion i" system that Earth AD 2 is powered by is 2D6-based. You add a relevant attribute to a skill, calculate any bonuses or penalties to the difficulty, roll 2D6, and roll equal to or under the target margin of difficulty which is the result of the modified skill+attribute (so yes, in this system a snake eyes is a crit and box cars is a fumble). There are five attributes, and interestingly only one physical trait: fitness. You modify your agility, strength and so forth through a combination of boosting specific skills (such as finesse or athletics) to distinguish character from being strong and clumsy vs. weak and agile, or grab toughness to reflect a  hardy constitution.

Stats can go up to 5 and skills can go up to 8. This means a supremely skilled and gifted character could roll against a skill at a potential 12 value, meaning a very tough hombre only fails on the box cars.

Combat is broken down in to turns that are five second increments long, and involve an initiative check (a reaction roll) followed by a fitness + skill roll based on attack type. Various modifiers will bring the target number up or down, and each round a character can engage in one contested defense action (but no more). Contested checks in the game involve a skill roll off, and the target with the widest margin of success wins.

Damage in Earth AD 2 is tracked by five levels of one of three types of damage: fatigue, injury and disease. Armor reduces damage by letting you roll dice equal to the armor value. If each die rolls equal to or under the armor value, then you reduce the incoming damage by that amount. Some weapons only deal fatigue damage (initially) and armor may only protect against one of the three damage types, as well.

Combat Example: Speculos the Ripper is a robot with a human brain. He has a blaster pistol embedded in his right arm and has a charging giant roach coming at him. Speculos rolled for his reaction modifier and got a 4 plus his modifiers of 4 (fitness 3 and awareness 1) vs. the roach's roll of 1 plus fitness 3 and awareness 2). Speculos has an 8 reaction to the roach's 6. The roach declares it's actions first but Speculos gets to decide what he does afterward: the roach is charging at him; it's hungry for that tasty brain. Speculos is shooting it, and will try to dodge if necessary. All actions are then resolved simultaneously.

Speculos has firearms of 4, so he has a target of 7. The roach is at short range (modifier 0), but it's running at him. Speculos has a built-in weapon so no quick draw penalty. He rolls a 9...a miss! It's over the target.

Simultaneously the roach closes and leaps. The roach has a fitness 3, brawling of 4, and it's jaws are exceptionally tough so the GM declares it's a "1inj" (one injury) attack (more on this in a moment). Target is 7....but Speculos wants to defend with a dodge if the attack hits, so it's potentially a contested attack....target 6 (brawling 2, fitness 4). The roach rolls 9...a miss! Speculos doesn't even need to dodge.

Next turn Speculos gets a reaction of 10 vs. the roach with a reaction of 11! Speculos is trying to side strep and get a point-blank shot and dodging if needed. The roach goes for the head! A head shot is a +4 difficulty margin.

This time Speculos rolls 3! He also has a -2 difficulty due to being at point blank range....so success by a wide margin. The roach can dodge (rolls 11 and fails). But it still gets it's bite: it rolls 9, failing again.

Speculos did hit. His blaster pistol deals 4 injury points. The roach has the extra tough gimmick (2 points the GM decides) and so it gets two armor rolls: rolling 2 and 2 means it actually absorbs 2 damage! The shot only drops the roach to a -2 injury (sprained) which means it has a base +1 difficulty to all actions now.

Next round Speculos gets a reaction 8 and the roach gets a 6. The roach continues to try and bit Speculos, and he will fire and maneuver around. This time Speculos gets a 7 on his attack, which succeeds because a -2 difficulty at point blank range means his margin is 2 better than the target (so his target 7 turns to 9, or at least that's how I interpret it). Roach tries to dodge and fails with an 8, but the roach attacks with a 7, with a margin of 0, but a difficulty of +1 so it needed at least a margin of 1 to hit and misses.

For damage, Speculos deals 4 injury points and the roach rolls 2 armor dice, getting a 6 and 1. It absorbs 1 but takes 3....it's at -5 on the injury track (incapacitates). It is unconscious and will die if it takes 1 more damage. Speculos steps on it.

Some combat notes so far: there are a fair number of modifiers but all of the combat charts total about 4 pages; I think the first couple combats will have a modest learning curve, after which it gets progressively easier and more intuitive. Also, the game's use of a more old school method for reaction rolls as determining the sequence in which actions are declared (to let faster opponents react to the declared actions of the slower characters) while still making all actions simultaneous is an interesting design choice. My expectation is combat will go faster but my modern gaming group might have to adjust to the idea that because they are faster does not necessarily mean they can stop an opponent's action pre-emptively (without creatively describing their action, anyway).

For the rest of the book there are over seventy monsters and a wealth of detail on the hostile environments your PCs can adventure through. The monster stat blocks include stats and suggested gimmicks, some with more details than others (giant roaches, for example, will have some toughness and jaws, but the GM gets to figure out just how much). This is a slight deterrent....the game would help a bit if fully functioning stat blocks were provided up front for monsters (and the scenarios do exactly this). That said, it's still easy to modify on the fly.

The rest of the book includes rules for full vehicle combat, scavenging, wasteland encounters, expanded rules (noting that character advancement is under the expanded content), and ten scenarios that comprise a ready to go campaign, totaling a 32 page mini campaign that will probably get you through ten sessions of gaming, easily. The scenarios do include the functional stat blocks I had mentioned earlier.

About the worst I can say so far about the book is it's a bit sparse on art (not a lot, but what art is here is nice line drawings, and setting appropriate). The rules show a bit of brevity at odd moments...I did a double take on what to do with the monster stat blocks that provided gimmicks but no specifics until I determined it was up to me to "flesh it out," for example. Another spot that was a bit vague is the action economy.....I interpreted the rules to suggest you can move and attack, but it's all very Old School in that the extent to which you allow actions is the GM's view on whether what you are doing takes 5 seconds or not, basically.

So: overall, this book is an absolute steal for fans of simple but robust game systems with lots of options, and those who love wasteland post-apocalyptic adventuring in the tradition of Gamma World and Fallout. I'll be posting some material soon, including sample characters and scenarios.

Solid A+!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Movie Review- Kong: Skull Island


On occasion I will see a movie that I am pretty sure I am going to enjoy, even though I am certain I will be critical of it. Kong: Skull Island is exactly that sort of movie; fun in a precise, measured way which hearkens back to a very old tradition of fun B movies.

Spoilers ahead? I guess? If you've never watched B movies before?

The plot, if you haven't guessed it from the trailer, is pretty obvious: Several adventurous types played by prominent actors (including John Goodman and Samuel Jackson, who both have shades of Moby Dick and Heart of Darkness running through their characters) head off to a mysterious island in the Pacific Ocean which is surrounded by a perpetual, normally impenetrable storm. Of course the island is the eponymous Skull Island, where King Kong rules, and fights the timeless menace of ancient lizard-monsters from the Hollow Earth (yes, you heard that right). Antics ensue.

I don't have a lot negative to say about this movie, other than it has a good grasp on how to revive the classic B-Movie giant monster horror films of yore with the appropriate sense of adventure, fun, awe and (thanks to modern CGI) over-the-top crazy that does the kaiju genre so well. The movie itself managed to be more entertaining than it's direct predecessor Godzilla (which it turns out is retroactively the first film in a new cinematic giant monster universe franchise), and by the end (with an end-credits bonus scene) hints at pretty much all our old favorites returning, eventually.

The movie does a fine job of making a pulp adventure tale by the numbers, which the appropriate cast of characters: the complex protagonist (Hiddleston), the equally competent and uncompromising female lead (Larson), the menagerie of secondary characters that are ultimately either monster fodder or survivors depending on how sympathetic and/or fatalistic they are played, and one crazy survivor who brings the real and the levity all at once (played to the hilt by Reilly; without him this movie might have been a C average). Add in a period setting (1970's end-of-Vietnam) to help avoid messy questions involving why they aren't using modern equipment that would negate much of the questionable mystery of the island, an unfortunate initial encounter that strands everyone in hostile territory, mix with some appropriately Asiatic islanders (of the equally enigmatic...dare I say, exotic sort?) and you've got a classic mix which manages to surprise no one who has watched this sort of movie before, even as it impresses with some by now typically good CGI.

The movie has some fridge logic moments (well, maybe worse since I noticed them while watching the movie), such as questionable moments where they seem to somehow bypass a prior dangerous area on a return trip where it had previously been established there was no other way around, and While I didn't count total crashed helicopters (how many was that boat holding, anyway?) I kept feeling like there were more 'copters in this film than there really should have been. There's also a regular issue with water displacement and giant monsters; more correctly, they don't displace water, which is kind of weird, because honestly? When Kong jumps in the drink if the water level soared ten feet it would be kind of a neat moment.....but the CGI artists probably were just hoping we didn't notice.

Maybe the water pours in or is absorbed depending on the mass; a weird property of Skull Island. Like whatever explanation you can imagine for how a two hundred+ foot tall gorilla could exist without being crushed by his own weight.

See? I've already overthought this movie. Must-stop-overthinking.....

It's weird to say this, but the movie was so utterly up to formula that it was simultaneously a load of fun and utterly predictable in a fashion which left me feeling like the best grade I could give this film was a solid B....as in B for "good B movie which understands its own tired and well-trod genre well enough to take the same formula and make it fun again for a bit." Nothing I saw in this movie was new, even for a second. But it was still fun, and kind of like I was once again in the seventies, watching a late night horror movie in black and white (but this time without a running commentary from robots!)

Now, that said: if you were looking for a collection of films to watch for inspiration with your next Savage Worlds game, especially if it's aimed squarely at the pulp genre, then this is an absolute must-see. It's not the greatest movie, but it absolutely is fun, and it really does capture the essence of pulpy giant monster flicks to a tee.

Plus, my kid LOVED this movie. Except for a few swear words and a couple minor "in the distance" dismemberment moments, this movie struck me as perfectly family friendly. It honestly was slightly less graphic than Jurassic World, to use another recent example.

I do look forward to seeing Ghidra, mothra, Rodan and Godzilla duke it out on some future "Monster Island" movie, though! Be sure to stick around for the after-credits scene for a bonus on where the giant monster film universe plans to go.

Solid B

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Secrets of Enzada: Theft of the Sacred Soul

In looking through interesting material for the blog I happened upon my original adventure in Enzada, using Pathfinder rules. If I revisited it I would rework for D&D 5E, but the original stands well on its own, complete with stat blocks for relevant NPCs....


The Theft of the Sacred Soul
An Adventure Outline in Enzada

Plot: Lord Kharvanos has become obsessed with the mystical soul essence of the goddess Elinzada. He has decided that he desperately wants this soul essence for himself, and has conspired to steal it. For his first effort, he sought out a warlock named Makhek, a Waladari sorcerer of no small repute to aid him in the theft of the sacred soul by way of stealing its carrier, the sacred priest and bearer of the soul named Teritis .

First Effort: Makhek summons a number of demon spirits (undine shadows) to steal the holy one Teritis away, but his efforts are thwarted, when Teritis, a supreme pacifist, ensconces the soul in an NPC to preserve it based on a vision he had. His vision proves true, and so the soul is safe.

Mission: The PCs will be approached by a group of dedicated aristocrats who worship Elinzada, and ask that the possessed PC (who will be “outed” in an unusual healing incident after an accident) be taken to the sacred shrine of Syrhaba, where the displaced soul of the goddess can be conveyed to the intended successor, the holy one’s apprentice, a boy named Sinmir. They offer all the wealth they can muster for this task, which is 1,500 gold pieces, a masterwork long sword, a necklace of pure ivory worth 200 gold pieces, and a small stone idol of Elinzada that is imbued with the power to cast cure light wounds once per day.

   Whether PCs take the mission or not, Kharvanos and his crew are still keen on acquiring the soul, and will plot to kidnap the PC next.

Traveling to Syrhaba
   If the PCs prepare to embark on a journey to Syrhaba, they can find a swift schooner that will carry them across the channel over a two day trip to the port city of the Sunken Islands. Along the way, they will have two encounters:

1. Sahuaghin Attack
   Kharvanos becomes aware through his informants that the PCs are on board a vessel. He hires sahuagin to attack, to secure the ship and the possessed PC until he can catch up to the vessel. One night, several sahuaghin will steal aboard the ship to murder the crew! There will be 4 that the PCs must face, though more in the raid fight the sailors.

2. Lacedon Stalker
   A ghoul-Lacedon, a drowned pirate of Vanzarik descent named Shimadar and his two allies become aware of the holy spirit of Elinzada passing overhead. They will stalk the PCs and demand that the possessed one try to heal them; they think the spirit can cleanse them of the undeath that plagues their bodies, when they were taken for their poor choice in worshipping the Grasping Hand. They will fight to try and force the issue, if necessary.
   In fact, the lacedons can be healed, after a manner of speaking; the first to be “cured”  will disintegrate, leaving a spectral soul-self who quickly slips “sideways” in to the Spaces Between….the others will panic and try escape then! The unbearable radiance of the transformation pains them, even though their converted brethren seems happy at last to pass on to a new life.

At Syrhaba
   On Syrhaba, the PCs must pass through the rough port town carefully, for there are many rogues who aspire to steal the fortune of the priesthood of Elinzada, especially a magical healing spirit. They must then trek in to the mountain where they must find the ancient monastery of the goddess and present the spirit to her intended vessel. This will allow for its release. They will arrive, but only to find that Kharanos and his warlock, guards, and the warlock’s pet gorilla have followed them! Worse yet, they discover that the child has been stolen away by a huecuva named Xondar, a blasphemer priest of old who once betrayed the order. He dragged the child in to the old tombs of the monastery once he sensed that the high priest had been spirited away. He expects the PCs to pursue, and will then take the spirit for his own, or so his plan goes…

Encounters in Syrhaba and the Sunken Isles:
Roll once per hour; 1 or 12 on 1D12 indicates an encounter
D20                     Result
1-3                      1D4 axe beaks in a hunting group (hostile)
4-7                      1D8 savages in a hunting party (neutral); called the H’m’mak clansmen
8-11                    The PCs spy Kharanos’ party behind them, only 1D4 miles back
12-13                  1 tiger (neutral to hostile) surprises the party
14-15                  2D6 savage goblins appear (hostile)
16-17                  2D4 orc savages (hostile)
18-19                  a trader with 1D8 guards and servants offering wares from village to village (friendly)
20                        an alchemist/herbalist and 1D4 guards (friendly) offering potions

Encounters in the Tombs of the Temple of Elinzada:
Xondar, Huecuva priest (max HP, a wand of charm person w/13 charges and Bracers +1)
1 shadow servant
12 skeleton warriors
3 zombies (of priests who entered to recover the boy and were slain)

Traps in the Tomb:
Entrance: poison dart trap (page 420)
Camouflaged Pit Trap (420)


Kharanos Nicharidas
Selindari human male, age 42, Lawful Evil, Adept Level 3, Aristocrat level 2
   Kharvanos is a Selindari noble who has fallen to the lure of the worship of Sai’raddaros
STR 12, DEX 14, CON 10, INT 15, WIS 14, CHA 16               Concentration: +5
Hit Points: 24    AC: 15 (-2ACP, 10% spell fail)      BAB: +2  FORT: +1              REF: +3               WILL: +8            
Skills: Knowledge (Arcana) +9, Knowledge (Local) +9, Knowledge (Nobility) +9, Profession (Merchant) +9, Spellcraft +9, Appraise +7, Bluff +8, Diplomacy +7, Intimidate +7, Ride +6, Sense Motive +6
Feats: summon familiar, arcane strike (*+1 damage w/weapon one round), arcane armor training, power attack (-1 to hit, +2 dmg), quick draw
Attacks: Scimitar +1 of wounding (+3 to hit; 1D6+3* dmg; crit: 18-20/X2; 1 point bleed damage per hit)
Items: Ring of Evasion, potion of cure serious wounds, chain shirt
Coin: 182 gold pieces, 44 platinum pieces, 75 silver pieces, 3 rubies worth 100 gp each
Orison Points: 3, Spell Points: 3               Level 0 DC: 12, Level 1 DC: 13
Spell List:
0 Level: create water, detect magic, ghost sound, guidance, light, mending, purify food and drink, read magic, stabilize, touch of fatigue.
1st Level: bless, burning hands, cause fear, command, comprehend languages, cure light wounds, detect chaos, detect evil, detect good, detect law, endure elements, obscuring mist,
protection from chaos, protection from evil, protection from good, protection from law, sleep.
Familiar: viper (+3 bluff bonus)(12 hit points, bonuses: alertness, improved evasion, share spells, empathic link, deliver touch spells)

Bodyguards (5)
Selindari males, Warriors level 1, Neutral Evil
STR 15, DEX 11, CON 12, INT 10, WIS 9, CHA 8    Armor: chain shirt+shield
Hit Points: 7, 10, 7, 8, 6 AC: 15 (-2 ACP)                BAB: +1  FORT: +3              REF: +0               WILL: -1
Skills: Climb +5, Swim +5, Intimidate +3, Handle Animal +3, Ride +4
Feats:  power attack (+1 th, -2 dmg), Focus: scimitar (+1 to hit)
Attacks:              Scimitar (+4 to hit; 1D6+2 dmg; 18-20/X2 crit)
                            Heavy crossbow (+1 to hit; 1D10 dmg; 19-20/X2 crit)
Items: chain shirt, scimitar, shield, heavy crossbow, 20 bolts
Coin: 12 gold pieces, 20 silver pieces each
Makhek
Waladari human male, age 50, Neutral Evil, Sorcerer level 4
   Makhek is a warlock for hire who is also a worshipper of Sai’raddaros, the Hundred Headed Demon
STR 10, DEX 10, CON 8, INT 15, WIS 13, CHA 17               
Concentration: +11        CMB +2, CMD 12
Hit Points: 14    AC: 11 (Ring of Protection+1)     BAB: +2  
FORT: +1              REF: +1               WILL: +7            
Skills: Knowledge (Arcana)+9 , Knowledge (Planes) +9, Intimidate +10, Spellcraft +9, Bluff +10
Abilities: Bloodline: Aberrant (bloodline arcane, acidic ray, long limbs+5 feet reach), cantrips, eschew materials
Feats: arcane strike (*+1 damage w/weapon one round), combat casting, iron will
Attacks:              Acidic Spray 6/day (+2 ranged touch; 1D6+2 acid dmg; 20/X2 crit; range 30 feet)
                            Spear (+2 to hit; 1D8+1* damage; X3 crit)(*w/arcane strike)
Items: Ring of Protection, Potion of Invisibility (3 uses), wand of shadow summoning (4 charges)
Coin: 25 pieces of Jade (worth 10 gp each), 32 gold pieces, and 127 electrum pieces
Spell Points: 15 Level 0 DC: 13, Level 1 DC: 14, Level 2 DC: 15
Spell List:
0 Level: prestidigitation, bleed, touch of fatigue, mage hand, daze, message
1st Level: enlarge person, jump, mage armor, chill touch 
2nd Level: summon monster II

Fiendish Hyena (summoning, for 4 rounds) (135 XP)
HP 13, Init +2, Spd 50 feet; AC 14 (FF/tch 12), Bite +3 melee (1D6+3), Special: Trip attack, darkvision 60’, scent, alertness; Saves: Ft +5, Ref +5, Will +1; Hide+3, Listen +6, Spot +4. CMB +3 (+5 trip); CMD:  15; resist cold and fire 5; Spell Resistance 5; smite good 1/day (+2 damage against good foe for combat).


The Guard Narzik
This young but industrious man is a hired guard for the holy one, and will aid the PCs as best he can to find him and bring him to safety.

Syrhaban Human male Fighter Level 1, Lawful Good  
ST  18 (+4)        DX     10    CN  12 (+1)       INT 10        WS 8 (-1)       CH  10       
HP 15        AC 14             
Fort +3      Ref  0      Will -1      BAB/Melee +5Ranged: +1

Racial Traits: medium size, bonus skill rank, bonus feat, Proficiency (bastard sword)
Languages: Selindari; Favored Class: fighter
Feats: Athletic, Weapon Focus (bastard sword), Toughness
Skills: Climb +10; Intimidate +4; Ride +4, Swim +6
Weapons:  Bastard Sword (2H 1D10+6 dmg; +6 attack; 19-20/X2 crit)

Armor: Chain Shirt (+4 AB)