Monday, August 20, 2018

Cypher System: Neuromorphs of the Interstitial Realms

Imagine this with a spindly, clawed humanoid form*


Neuromorphs 6 (18)
Health 18
Damage 6

Motivation: Neuromorphs invade and consume the brain matter of other species through a process of psychic neurolysis.

Special Abilities:

Neurolytic Degeneration: through a process of neurolysis the neuromorph’s mere psychic presence causes slow damage every round that someone is present. Each round targets much roll against intellect defense level 6 or suffer 1 point of Intellect damage if they are within 100 feet (long range) or a neuromorph.

A target reduced to 0 Intellect in this manner will be reduced to a vegetable if not removed from the presence of a neuromorph within 1D6 minutes of reaching 0 Intellect. When a target reaches zero Intelect for the first time, the neuromorph heals 3 health.

A neuromorph can, as an attack, directly focus on one target in long range and deal 6 intellect damage per round if the defense is failed. When this happens other targets in the ambient radius are spared for that round. As a last ditch effort a neuromorph can use its claws, but they only deal 4 damage and require a Speed defense level 4 to avoid damage; their bodies are weak compared to their mental abilities, and they have a might and speed defense of level 4 against melee attacks. 

Telepathy: neuromorphs speak via telepathy and can learn any language almost immediately. They can absorb the memories and knowledge of willing subjects in minutes, or unwilling subjects with a level 6 intellect defense check.

Description: neuromorphs have gangly, humanoid bodies attached to strange, multi-limbed “heads” that resemble starfish. Each long limb of the head ends in a series of smaller fractal limbs, which in turn seem to break down even further. The fractal nature of the neuromorph is a result of its strange existence within the “space between worlds” called the Intersticial Realm.

Most neuromorphs cover up their humanoid body, exposing only their head and long claws. They favor colorful robes and garments.

Neuromorphs hover slightly off of the ground in all circumstances and conditions, as if floating on a magnetic cushion, but they can be knocked down and they do not levitate if they are in a state of rest or meditation.

Neuromorphs maintain a sophisticated society, but because they are made of a form of exotic matter which allows them to sustain their existence in the interstices, their ability to directly interact with conventional (baryonic) matter is limited. Specifically, they lack the technology or magic necessary to forge a bridge, portal or wormhole into the normal world, and regularly seek means of doing so, as well as engaging in hostility toward any who would invade the intersticial realm they call home.


*Finding monstrous humanoids with a starfish-like head is harder than I thought. Interwebz, you has failed me.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Realms of Chirak: Gazetteer of the Southlands of The West


Gazetteer of the Southlands of The West

This short gazetteer outlines some information on specific regions in Chirak about which little information has previously been revealed, or only hinted at. Here, at last, are some details on the region of Helios and its surrounding areas. This area is covered on two maps.


Helios


Despite its reputation as a great city in the desert, Helios is in fact a cluster of coastal cities along the southern coast of The West. These cities include:

Sardikus – seat of power of the fabled Sun King

Elene – the center of commerce and the throne of power for the Queen of Helios, wife to the Sun King

Mazdigan – the easternmost city, Madigan is steeped in ancient lore and includes most of the tomb monuments in the region, as well as the enigmatic Death Cult known as the Followers of Sathos

Helios has been locked in a generations-long battle with their eastern neighbors in Zann, but about twenty years ago the Sun King Khal’Hados, at only age 14, led an army through Zann to victory, conquering the region, slaying its kings, and putting the area under his control. Much of Zann consisted of semi-nomadic jungle tribes, but their cultural center was at the city port of Yenne, where the Sun King set down his armies and began building a new, grand city in his name. This conquest took three years.

From there, Khal’Hados, eager to prove himself at only 17 years of age, turned the city over to his Death Priests and then looked to the south, across the gulf between  his lands and Therias to the south. He commissioned a great fleet and sailed on Magdithar, which he conquered after only three months. Impressed with his success, but dissatisfied with the local folk of the island who were erudite scholars, he left a garrison and sailed against Sheddaham.

Naval combat proved difficult against Sheddaham, however, as the foe was equipped with a sophisticated navy and after two years of conflict the Sheddaham was proving costly, when Empress Taminalia suggested a peaceful resolution: she offered up her daughter, Telos, as a bride with a significant payment in wealth to the young Sun King. Khal’Hados was at first hesitant, but when he met Telos he was smitten and married her, accepting unity between Helios and Sheddaham. Telos became the Sun Queen, and would eventually have her own palace in Elene.

Though his servants and advisors cautioned the king about pursuing his imperial expansion, the Sun King soon grew restless. Less than two years later her ventured forth to claim the Helios Desert, the namesake of his kingdom and technically “his land,” but chiefly he sought out the ruined city of Not, once believed to be the sacred city of his people before they were cast out by the encroaching deserts. He briefly attempted to settle and repopulate the region, but the land was too far gone; it was beyond recovery, and after only a few months many workers became mysteriously sick. Of those who died, many rose as undead. The Sun King abandoned his plans, and instead turned to the north east, where he then took his armies to the Sabiri lands. After many fights and skirmishes he conquered Uvalin, but the Sabiri tribes united and called upon the power of Khobal to aid them in their time of need. The stories vary, but according to Anton Joshero of Espanea, who said he witnessed the battle, it was “the most glorious and vile thing man had perpetrated on one another since the Final War.”
In the end, the Helian forces were routed, the Sun King nearly killed with a crippling wound. He retreated, and –shaken to the core—determined that he would amend his ways.

Whether the Sun King has truly settled or not remains a question best left to his heirs. Though Khal’Hados now dwells peacefully in Sardkus at the ripe age of 34 with a crippled leg, his wife Telos of Ellene has born four children, two sons and two daughters, and her oldest son, Pethor, is now 14 years old, the same age his father was when he ascended to rule and began his conquests. Pethor is adept in magic and has already developed close ties to the Death Cult of Sathos, but he displays an acuity for battle and strategy as well. He now considers when his father will pass, and looks to other lands such as Xorias as possible sites of conquest.

The Death Cult of Sathos

Beneath the city of Mazdigan, as the story is told, an ancient wyrm who was the vilest and most evil of the dragons who served Ga’Thon was slain in the Great War. This wyrm, a death dragon named Talax, was not truly slain, and its flesh and bones sank into the swamps of the region and permeated the land with its darkness.

The city was first built by pilgrims after the Final War who heard the calling of the dragon, and were drawn to its inexplicable power. The first to truly understand this power and the whispers of the dragon was the priest Sathos, who founded the Death Cult in the dragon’s honor. He learned of new forms of immortality through undeath, and forged the first great citadels and tombs of the new necropolis which he built, draining the swamplands as he did so and protecting the land against the encroaching sea.

Over the centuries the Death Cult became an obsession among those who would call themselves Helians, but not until the great exodus from the city of Not, which fell some three centuries after the Final War, when a great plague gradually wiped out the entire land. This plague was suspected to be the product of the rivers of blood of the god Ga’Thon poisoning the land, killing all in its wake.

The Death Cults promised salvation and protection; the power of the vestige of the ancient dragon Talax would protect the pilgrims if only the accepted him as their new demiurge. The desperate refugees were willing, and so it was that distant Helios came to found a new kingdom along the coast.

Today, the Death Cult is ubiquitous, and while the Sun King is regarded as something of a “living god” his status is never compared directly to Talax, who’s cult of Sathar reigns supreme. Sathar himself is believed to dwell, in deep undying slumber, beneath the Black Pyramid, the most notable ancient monument in the region. The Necropolis has suffered in some ways, however, as the vast collection of ancient monuments were built on low swampland prone to flooding and the dikes have failed countless times, leading to the majority of the old tombs and monuments being at least partially submerged in water.

Mazdigan itself harbors many secrets, including a large number of willful undead forged by the most elite of the Death Cult. The desire to defy death through undeath has led to a painstaking process by which initiates and the desirable members of the cult may join in undeath, a gift by the Dragon, allowing them to continue to serve Talax and maintain the ancient Necropolis. Some estimate that there are more dead than living in the city, which is not at all off the mark.


Polimark

Polimark is a rival city along the northwestern coast which is known for its close trade connections with Helios. The ruler of the city is the Sun King's brother, who seized the city seventeen years ago during the period when the Sun King was invading Magdathar in the south. Regent Salgrath took the city with minimal effort, for its people were only recently liberated from an evil despot and there was little formal rule or government. He put it under Helian rule in the name of his brother, and later sent his armies to join his brother in assaulting Sabiri. He remains a threat to Enderas which is neatly sandwiched in between Helian holdings, as Salgrath has designs on expanding his own dominion of control, but his first effort to attempt invasion was soundly driven back by the fierceness of the Sindatherae and Enderans who stood against him. Worse yet, the giants of the Shaigothic Mountains have been a constant terror to his city, targeting it for raids every year out of capricious delight.

Enderas

This southern port is nestled in between Helian territories, and serves as a trade center between Therias to the south and Helios for those traders who fear direct interaction with the Sun King’s realm. Both Helian merchants and Therian merchants of Magdathar and Sheddaham congregate here. A large temple to the Raven Queen Morrigan rests here, where the people seem to worship her with unremitting respect, and a large culture of silvered elves calling themselves the Sindatherae live in the forest and beside the men of Enderas.

Enderas has a bustling local industry dedicated to relic art replicas. The artwork is derived largely from pieces once found in the shaigothic Mountains, but the art is regarded as significant, even sacred with trade partners and the city prospers from this art trade as a result.

Enderas is ruled by a Khallum, a sort of king who is called "Shepard of the people." The current Khallum is a Sindatherae half elf named Livias, and she is also a priestess of Morrigan. Though most of the human settlers in the region are believed to be a mix of Sheddaham colonists and old Helian pilgrims and refugees, much of the local political system is adopted from elven systems of rule, the role of Khallum in particular.

The people of Enderas are ethnically related to Helians and Sheddahami, but speak a unique language called Enderic. The language bears no resemblance to any other local languages, and is only spoken in this city and neighboring communities in the Silverwood. Exactly why the people of this region gave up their old languages and learned a new dialect remains a mystery, even to the elves who claim that this was not a gradual change over time but a conscious choice made not long after the first settlers of Enderas arrived. Some strongly suspect that the adoption of this new language had to do with the mysterious ruins in the region, which early settlers plundered for relics and artifacts.

The Shaigothic Mountains

Giants dwell in large numbers in the Shaigothic Mountains, all dedicated to the old Mountain God, who is said to have once been the greatest general of Ga'Thon, though others think the Mountain God is actually a Thousandspawn. It is believed to dwell a mile beneath the mountains, and speaks in mad whispers to the giant priestesses. The greatest dedicates sacrifice themselves to the Mountain God and return as Death Giants.

Along the southern edge of the mountains, running for hundreds of miles intermittently can be found the Ruins of Shaigoth. This is an immense stretch of still intact ruins, partially subsumed in lava flows, of a strange greenish stone. The ruins are ancient, and some scholars think they were old and little understood long before the Ancients had their war. Within the ruins are still undiscovered chambers and buried secrets.

Reaver’s Deep

Reaver's Deep is the name given to the Coastal region where a deep trench makes diving beyond the great shelf all but impossible. Stories of what dwells below are many, but entire cities of underwater denizens such as deepspawn, skum and kopru dwell in the region and occasionally make raids on the surface communities.

Off the coast over the deeps is a strange device called the Silver Machine - a vast, floating silver relic of unknown nature hovering out over Reaver's Deep. Explorers have tried to penetrate it but the Skum and Kopru are vicious defenders of the object, which locals claim has been out there for at least four centuries. They claimed it descended from the sky, possibly called there by dark rituals of the fishmen.

Silverwood
The Silverwood is the homeland of many coastal villages and elven tribes. The region is dangerous for travelers, for the giants of the mountains see fit to raid almost seasonally, but the many fortifications in this region reflect such troubles; most villages are clustered near or within large walled keeps designed to stave off attacks from thirty to fifty-foot-tall giants.

There are a number of oddities in the Silverwood, including The Grand Aviary. Here, the ravens, rooks and crows of the Silverwood are sacred to Morrigan, and an ancient dome of lost ruins has been renovated into a sacred aviary from which all birds are protected and cared for. It is managed by the priestesses of Morrigan, and located south along the coast, overlooking Cualon Bay. Other impressive, ancient monuments forged by the elves long ago dot the forest, a tribute to the ancient culture of the Sindatherae.



Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Realms of Chirak: Artifacts from Theliad (D&D 5E)

In recent campaign reveals, Theliad has been getting a lot of exploration. Among other things, the secret of the Immortals masquerading as the gods have been revealed, and the legacy of the many potent weapons left over from ancient times back to the Apocalypse have allowed the party to get some nifty (albeit flawed) artifacts. Here are a medley you can use for your own D&D 5E campaigns:





The Blood Axe
This great axe was forged in the city of Afar when it was ruled by the immortal lord Sultirian during the height of his reign. The axe was allegedly carried by the General Corvus, who betrayed Sultirian and aided in his assassination.
+3 artifact, great axe, requires attunement
Property: you are immune to disease while attune to this artifact
Property: At the start of your turn, as long as you have at least 1 HP you regain 1D6 HPs immediately
Flaw: while attuned to the Blood Axe you are at Disadvantage on saves vs. poison
Flaw: The Blood Axe was forged in the fires of Afar’s forges by the Immortal Sultirian. There is a 10% chance each morning that an avatar of Sultirian will manifest to claim the Blood Axe, in the form of an empyrean.
Main Property: The blood axe steals blood from those it slays. Each time a foe is slain, the axe gains a Blood Point. It can hold up to 3 Blood Points. When the attuned wielder releases a blood point as an action, it forges a second magical blood axe which will strike a target of the wielder’s choice within 60 feet as a bonus action. The attack will be at the attuned wielder’s attack value and damage as if he/she struck with the axe.

The Raven Bow
The Raven Bow was forged by one of Morrigan the Raven Queen’s sons, specifically Glon, to hunt and kill Fomorians and other threats to her dominion in the Shadowfell. The bow is said to have been used by shadar-kai champions of the Raven Queen to slay thousands of fomorian invaders in her realm.
+3 Artifact, long bow, requires attunement
Property: You gain the ability to Speak with Ravens while attuned to the bow.
Property: while attuned to the weapon, each attack does +1D6 psychic damage.
Flaw: when you are attuned to the artifact, if the bow leaves your possession by more than 10 feet you become Deafened.
Flaw: When you become attuned to the artifact you age 3D10 years and must make a DC 10 Constitution Save or die from the shock. You then rise as a wight sworn to protect the artifact and return to the Shadowfell.
Main Property: Against giants this bow always crits if it rolls 5 better than the target’s AC.

The Weapons of Agarthis:
Each of the following weapons were forged by the Raven Queen for her mortal champion, Agarthis, over twelve hundred years ago in Theliad. Agarthis was corrupted by the Thousandspawn Ierata and was driven mad with the taint of chaos, eventually captured and interred beneath a zigurrat of solid iron by the avatar of Pallath, but his weapons are said to have been stashed in the tomb, protected with wards to limit their power; only the Raven Queen could restore them to permanence.

The Great Sword of Agarthis 
The great sword wielded by the dark king called upon primal spirits to induce battle lust.
+3 artifact; unique; great sword; attunement required
Flaw: the wielder of the weapon can “hear” the vestige thoughts of Agarthis, which require a DC 10 Wisdom save each night to fall asleep without nightmares or awaken as if no long rest happened.
Property: This weapon ignores all forms of damage resistance.
Property: Each round as a free action the wielder may add one extra damage type to it besides slashing, which deals an extra 1D12 of that type of damage; the damage types must be chosen from necrotic, radiant, fire or cold. 
Major Property: The weapon sings dark songs in the head of the wielder during battle, and Once per long rest while in battle it will prompt a DC 15 Wisdom save or the bearer will suddenly go berserk, gaining advantage on attacks and +4 to damage, but reduces the AC by -5 due to extreme recklessness, and the wielder cannot benefit from healing or healing magic effects for the remainder of the combat. The effect lasts until the combat end, or the wielder makes no attacks for one full round, at which time he becomes weakened until a short rest.

The Plate Armor of Agarthis 
The armor of the immortal king was decorated with the symbols of the war goddess of shadow, lady of phantoms. It’s power stems from a single embedded gemstone which projects a prismatic radiance.
+3 armor artifact; unique; attunement required
Flaw: Once attuned, the armor cannot be taken off without a DC 17 Constitution Save.
Property: This armor provides full plate protection and also provide Magic Resistance against any save-inducing effect (gain advantage) when worn with attunement. 
Major Property: When worn, the armor can allow the caster to release a prismatic sphere as an action, as if cast by a level 17 mage (DC 19; Attack +11); this effect is restored with a long rest. When the armor is first worn, and anytime the spell is cast, the wearer must make a DC 19 Wisdom save or become overwhelmed by the vestige of Agarthis that rests within the armor, a being of malice and hubris which changes the bearer’s alignment to Lawful Evil. The vestige will fade after a long rest. 

The Long Bow of Agarthis 
The long reach of this weapon gave the mad king the ability to strike directly against his greatest enemies from any distance.
+3 long bow; artifact; unique; attunement required
Flaw: While attuned to the bow, the wielder cannot maintain a concentration effect and fire the bow in the same round.
Flaw: the bow is unwieldly at point blank range and incurs disadvantage regardless of any feats or special exceptions.
Property: This long bow manifests its own ammunition if none is used; merely pulling back on the bow manifests an arrow made of pure force. 
Property: The bow, like the sword, lets the wielder add an energy type to damage each round that adds 1D12 damage of that type (fire, cold, necrotic, radiant). 
Major Property: once per short rest the bow grants the wielder the ability to make an Impossible Shot; the target could be invisible, inside a building and out of sight, or beyond the range of the bow up to 100 miles away. As a free action the archer adds this effect, then uses his regular action and fires his normal attack. The target must make a DC 19 Wisdom save or the attack unerringly finds its way to the target, dealing full damage. Once used, this effect then deals the same amount of damage to the archer, who may make a DC 19 Wisdom save to take half damage.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Symbaroum Monster Codex and Adventure Pack 3 Live

Just got notice from Modiphius, the most prolific publisher in gaming, that Symbaroum has two new books: the Monster Codex and the Adventure Pack 3.

If you're not familar with Symbaroum, it's a Swedish translation of a grim, low-magic dark fantasy world that has a really interesting design and look to it. The setting of Symbaroum is one of an untamed Davokar wilderness where the men of Korinthia are the intruders, and many strange things await discovery; and much worse waits in the vast forests and mountains to push back, hard. At minimum the game is worth its weight in the fantastic art alone, but the system itself looks quite playable, and it remains on my "must collect and read" list, perhaps one day to graduate to some actual play sessions.



At minimum, I've determined that it is not worth wasting one more second on the Pathfinder 2 playtest for now, as even Paizo on their own site is admitting they need to do some serious work. Any such effort I expend should be placed on cool games like Symbaroum, or Lone Wolf RPG, or even the more generic but intriguing Fantasy AGE.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Cypher System Session Five

The weekend game featured, in no particular order:

--A phantom tower which was trapped in time
--The heart of the Obsidian God, which turned out to be a trapped singularity harnessed for its power
--A vengeful, ancient orc bound to a golem by an alien symbiote who lives only to kill the enemies of his ancient people
--A seemingly dead or undead wizard trapped in stasis who communicates through his magical scrying orb called the Elocutor
--A vast floating city in a star system bathed in red light in the interstices between universes
--An ancient army of parasitic beings from another dimension who destroyed the floating city of angels and now seek to bargain a way into the homeworld of the PCs

Stuff like that is why I like Cypher System. None of it is specifically "mechanics" based but all of it is exceedingly easy to do in the Cypher System for GMs who want to do this sort of thing...and the copious sourcebooks out there, between Numenera and The Strange, make it really easy to borrow from both iterations of the game to build whatever you want in Cypher. 

Anyway, we're five sessions in and some interesting questions are being raised as players advance in level, but the GM side of the equation remains smooth and fun. They are probably going to have to demand Call of Cthulhu returns soon if they want to break the grip this system has on me!



The interesting thing game night was not Cypher System (which continues to excel) but the pre-game talk about Pathfinder 2.0. I've been reading the book from a GM's perspective, but I think Paizo has problems.....players do not like what it's got on offer. The system codifies too much, and takes too much away, and tweaks things that most people I've talked to do not feel needed tweaking. If Paizo doesn't get this under control, they may have some serious problems if the edition published next year is not seriously revised from what they just released. And that's not me specifically stating this....it's the summary or pretty much everyone else's opinions so far.

I am starting to think they should have gone for more of a "1E to 2E" switch rather than whatever it is they're doing now. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Mulling Over the Pathfinder 2.0 Playtest


I've had some time to read through the Pathfinder 2.0 Playtest rulebook as well as the online Bestiary; the playtest adventure's been waiting but the premise sounds exciting if you're in to Golarion. That said, when I run this (and I plan to pitch a try-out to my Wednesday group, off-week) I'll probably do my own thing. I know it doesn't help Paizo, but it does help me. Heh.

In reading through the book and messing around with it to roll up some sample characters I've been keeping an eye out for "4Eisms" that many people are saying they are experiencing with the new playtest. I'm not sure if these are observations from people actually reading the rules or running it, but the idea that there is more in PF2 with 4E D&D DNA in it than, say, 5E DNA is intriguing, especially since I wasn't really seeing it (unless you argue for the extremely superficial nature of the skill/proficiency/ability/spell block layouts, which are coincidentally similar to 4E only in that they try to make the information you need as explicit and easy to find as possible). Contrast with 13th Age, for example, which unambiguously extrapolates from 4E for its power blocks and you'll see a world of difference from what PF2 is doing....which is to try and mitigate "information overload" by sticking to an easy to follow format.

Despite making efforts to clarify, clean up, and tighten the overall mechanics of the system, PF2 seems to be trying exceptionally hard to project a more consistent sense of balance in the game experience. Character creation is where this is most evident. Much like 5E, it appears that PF2 is trying to structure class design around a consistent and predictable series of advancement stages. This has the side effect of making it less likely you will have an outliers in design over time....min/max gamers will, much like with 5E, have a harder time of gaming the system, and people who love to see where things are broken (for better or worse) will find fewer opportunities to do so.

A downside to this is that certain elements of randomness fade away rapidly. PF2 still allows for an optional stat roll system, but almost everything else that might have an element of random chance is gone. Hit dice....gone. Feat choices are tighter now, and happen for certain types of feats at certain times. Feats have lots of types (they did before), but these types tell you which group to pick from at what level.

Of really interesting note in the new edition so far is how they handle bonuses, modifiers, and stacking. The rules are on pages 289-290, and they are insanely simplified from PH1. You have three bonus/penalty types: circumstance bonuses, conditional bonuses, and item bonuses. The stacking rule is what we know from before: bonuses of the same type don't stack, and you only use the highest bonus. However, with only three types of bonuses, you're not going to have to spend a lot of time trying to sort out what sort of bonus applies in a given situation. Penalties apply in the same manner (same type penalties don't stack, only the worst applies), but the rules allow for one special exception, untyped penalties, that seem to cover lots of other broad general modifiers, particularly with combat actions. There's also a special exception on how to handle shields and armor, but it seems to be the only identified outlier.

While one might question whether or not the game's underlying mechanics are still complex, the simple act of tightening up stacking mechanics, along with structuring everything around a more tightly defined level framework for the overall game experience, means that the way PF2 is trying to simplify the play experience is by narrowing the number of choices players have, and reducing the number of potential moving parts. It's not that the core mechanical elements weren't in PF1, but rather than the extra complexity made it easier to overlook, forget, or game the system on certain modifiers. Now....you have a pretty straight forward rule of thumb to refer to when eyeballing why a PC seems to have an outrageous AC, and hit points will always be the same for characters of a certain ancestry/level/class/Constitution.

Some might argue --rightly so-- that this removes some elements of chance, variability, that makes the game inherently more fun. Others might argue that it makes the game more predictable, and therefore more consistent, which can translate in to a better experience. Neither side is wrong.

I'm still mulling over the resonance rules, however. These seem to be the point system which you use to power up magic items, and they appear to be a limiter designed to keep PCs from abusing too much magic. However, the practical application seems to suggest it will only be a limiter at low level when you have few resonance points, and at high level PCs will have more than they know what to do with. It feels to me like this is a rule that can't really be "seen in action" without an actual playtest, so I will reserve judgement until I see how it functions in actual play. But right now, eye-balling it from a spherical cow universe, I find myself wondering if it's fixing a problem that must exist but which I've never seen in my games before.

Anyway.....more to come. Maybe by next week I'll have some actual play to report, too. For now, though, it is interesting that every time D&D or its relatives get a new edition, it is often with the intent to completely retool whatever was there before. I think for a lot of gamers, building off of clasic PF1 and simply fixing specific issues was all they really wanted, but PF2 is going in a direction closer to what 5E did, when it decided to build on the concept of bounded accuracy. PF2 isn't doing bounded accuracy, but it does seem to be trying to limit what you can build in the game even as it creates a metric ton of invisible walls for the play experience.

Reading the Playtest right now, while I've dived off the deep end into Cypher System territory, makes for an interesting experience. I keep weighing the system against what I know D&D 5E can do with less effort (albeit at the expense of the complexity I enjoyed from PF1), even as I mess around with another system (Cypher) that strips all rules down to only the essentials necessary to move the story forward. It's a weird time to be trying to indulge in this new iteration.

EDIT: In re-reading what I wrote it's worth noting that overall I'm really interested in the PF2 playtest, and like what I am seeing....but I am tempering this with exploring the feedback I see on other sites. For example: I love much of what is going on here, but it will matter not at all if the game's overall reception leaves it in the same dustbin of the game store shelves as Fantasy Craft (another exceedingly well designed 3.5 spinoff that no one plays).

A lot of the critical comments on some sites (such as rpg.net) appear to be from people who wouldn't play PF1 anyway, so ultimately PF2 needs to appease its core audience, and its lapsed audience (like myself); not the audience that never will play it, or landed with D&D 5E and cares not for any subsitutes. Paizo needs a game that will convince active PF players to keep going with them, and lapsed PF players like myself to return to the fold. That's a lot of bottled lightning there....but I feel like the playtest doc is about halfway to a decent spot toward capturing that lightning....can it make it the rest of the way?


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Film Review: The Meg


The quick summary of The Meg is as follows: this is the Jason Statham movie that I can trick my wife and son in to seeing, because they love giant prehistoric sharks*, and I like the guy who makes bald dudes viable action heroes. It's a perfect mix!

The Meg is a very old school film, but it's got some interesting modern quirks. It's been adapted --loosely-- from Steve Alten's novels, specifically the first one, but you'll find maybe about 40% of the book's inspiration mixed in to the movie, which presents a more "everyman" hero in Jonas Taylor's character, and moves the action to the Pacific Rim where the Meg gets to terrorize various locales in Asia in a manner that leaves me pretty sure this movie is actually specifically aimed at the Chinese market, and if it does well in the US that will be a happy coincidence. Nothing wrong with this; some of the scenes involving the shark terrorizing the coastal beaches in China are evocative of the original Jaws and are great additions to the movie.

Many of the characters from the original book are loosely represented here, or adapted to new roles; if you read the book you may expect Jonas's ex-wife to be a more conniving sort of person but in the movie she's a deep sea researcher and also a good person. Ruby Rose shows up as (more or less) herself, once again feeling like the obligatory character designed to target multiple modern demographics with as little direct effort as possible. Also, no son of Jonas anywhere (if you read the book you know what I mean), and in fact the film often felt to me like the screenwriters liked their characters too much; not nearly as many people die in this film as you'd expect, and the tone of the film is much more along the line of "epic maritime adventure with a dash of SCIENCE!" and far less of the "horror, with big damn sharks."

Anyway....a completely authentic modern B movie. Which means it's a fine B- or maybe a C+, I just can't decide.  On the plus side, it was fun watching Statham play a role where he (SPOILER) technically, right up until the last confrontation, does not solve a problem with kung fu. And then he kinda sorta does (well, with a spear).

Fun Spoilery Bits:

1. The movie contrives a weird explanation for why Megs live in the deep undetected. It almost sounds plausible, but lacking much familiarity with oceanography I am sure somewhere deep sea researchers are groaning. Maybe even Steve Alten, after he cashes some checks.

2. Was it just me or was the underwater glass tunnel set for the research station really just there for the Meg to bite it?

3. Fat Kid in the water!

4. I wonder what sort of strength it would take to jam a spear several feet into the eye of a giant shark. Statham strength, that's what!

5. Rainn Wilson as Morris, the "Elon Musk of the sea, but dumber and more manipulative" was a perfect casting.




*It could also be the giant shark movie that my wife and son tricked me in to seeing because it had Jason Statham in it.....

Monday, August 6, 2018

Over The Edge Kickstarter

There are a lot of great Kickstarters going on now...too many, if you're not interested in spending all your money on potential next year releases....but one I feel I gotta back is the new edition of Over the Edge:



The original was a fantastic and rare gem, and I'd love to see what a modern iteration of the game of surreal weird adventure might look like.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Using GM Intrusions in Cypher System

GM Intrusions are pretty fun but it's easy to forget to include them....that required a mental shift in my mind from being the GM narrator to making sure I include specific GMIs that the players can choose to accept or spend to make go away. It's fun to do this, but easy to forget that I am supposed to be doing it.

If you're not familiar with Cypher System (or Numenera and The Strange), GM Intrusions are basically "events" a GM can present to a player, along with 2 experience points. The player can accept the event, take 1 XP, and then give the other XP to another player. Alternatively, the player can decide that the intrusion messes life up too much, pay 1 XP from their pool (if they have it), and deny the intrusion.

On average, the system encourages the GM to get in one intrusion per session per player, not counting free intrusions, which are Cypher's version of fumbles on a natural 1.

It's a fascinating inversion on the idea of players having plot points or the ability to influence the story......and it lets players earn XP for increased struggle, and spend XP to make problems go away if it's really going to complicate their lives.

As an example, in last night's game I used intrusions like this:

Player rolled a 1, so I got a free intrusion and stated that the arrow missed the player but killed his horse, forcing him to make a speed defense roll to avoid damage from the crash.

I pushed a GMI on another player who was playing a Speaker and trying to distract the big bad (a rakshasa with revenge in mind). I gave him a GMI where if he accepted, his distraction attempt was too good, and the Rakshasa was now focused on capturing him instead of killing the other PC who had angered her.

Another GMI came up when one player asked an ambivalent NPC who may be a villain for help....the GMI was that she would accept the offer and help, but it would be her way (using her vile abilities to kill the enemies in question), but also spreading her nano-plague in the process. If the PC refused, then she might have offered some nominal (but not damaging) assistance.

Still yet another player was pushing to take out two enemies with daggers after vaulting over the barricade. I used a GMI to state that she succeeded in killing one, but the dagger snapped in his neck.

It's almost like a game within a game, to see what PCs are willing to accept in terms of twists in exchange for the XP. It also encourages me to be even more insidious and inventive with the GMIs, given I have already had a habit of doing something like this as part of the routine narration, anyway.

I've ordered copies of the Asset Deck and Intrusion Deck from Monte Cook Games, interested in seeing how I can put them to use next session.

Cypher System Round Four: Falling For It

We're four sessions in to Cypher System now. Often around this time I might be enjoying elements of a game, disliking others, and usually I have a pretty good sense about how it's going to go for the long run. It took about 4-5 sessions to really decide I liked 13th Age, and a like amount to decide that despite what I love about Mythras it's specific combat mechanics just weren't enjoyable, or that after five sessions I thoroughly was intrigued and frustrated by Genesys Core all at once.

I'm four sessions in with Cypher System and I have come to the conclusion that this is a system that resonates really, really well with the type of GM I am. It's definitely a game which operates in the "GM design style" space, too....like Gumshoe, FATE and most other games, there's a certain expectation of GM style that comes with Cypher System, and systems like this tend to resonate really well with those who can get in to their approach. For example, Gumshoe: GMs who disliked the Call of Cthulhu skill mechanic as a pass/fail (or played it that way) love Gumshoe because it moves to a different sort of mechanic that turns clues into a resource point system for the players. If you as a GM fail to understand how people had a problem with "failing forward" or moving the story along in the regular CoC rules, then Gumshoe's assertion it was a problem to be fixed will perplex you, and the mechanic presented may well be annoying. This is because it is a fix to help a specific kind of GM and style.

Cypher System is very much for GMs who don't want to sweat rules and want to have a system that focuses on the narrative and world-building elements. It's about catering to an experience, while providing a stronger set of mechanics for players to worry about. But the point where player and GM interact in the rules? That's one of the simplest functions of the game.

90% of the material for Cypher System (including Numenera and The Strange) is about inspiring the GM to delve deep in to interesting stories. 10% is about giving more stuff to players to work with. It seems to balance well, because most of my prep on this game as GM has been about world building, and for a system which operates on so few working pieces, it's really doing a fantastic job of giving me what I want.

It does lack in the context of "emergent complexity from mechanics," something I also like at times. D&D and especially Pathfinder do that really well: it's when the system builds deliberate complexity in its design to allow for all sorts of unexpected emergent gameplay elements. These two systems, and others, can do that exceedingly well. In Cypher System, it wants the emergent complexity to spring from the story being told, the areas being explored, and the actions spawned therefrom by the players.

As an example, in Pathfinder you might have a fight where an exciting triple crit drops a foe, or someone uses a feat in an interesting way, or a monster's ability has an unexpected effect. A save made when you didn't expect it, or a shot made that shouldn't, can lead to interesting narrative results spawning from mechanical effect.

In Cypher System, the emergent complexity spawns a bit from this, but more from the GM using intrusions judiciously, players taking advantage of assets and everyone riffing off of the story. An impressive combat maneuver might come from someone asking "Can I stand on my horse, turn around, and fire my bow while galloping?" and the GM sets a level and runs with it rather than explaining you are missing the following requisite feats. (In defense, D&D 5E can handle this improv pretty well, too.) In some games, stuff like this happens because you build toward it. In others, it happens because you are empowered to try (even if you fail).

Anyway, tonight, the fourth night, was a great deal of fun and I anticipate playing this game for a long time to come now. I'm already working on an SF and a superhero setting for future games. It's quite possibly replaced Savage Worlds as my go-to generic RPG--for now, at least.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Pathfinder Playtest is Live

It's out, and downloadable here. The Core rulebook, bestiary, and module Doomsday Dawn are all there for free. Print versions are also showing up at your FLGS and online, and no doubt it's the talk of the town at GenCon.

I have a print copy of the rulebook, and so far it's an interesting dive into yet another alternate reality where Pathfinder morphed into a mythical alt 4E and now a mythical alt 5E. As I digest it, more discussion to come.

EDIT: I'll say this much, the new monster statblock is even tighter and more compressed than the Starfinder or Beginner Box statblocks.

EDIT #2: Why do all orcs now and forever more have to be cursed with getting back up after they should be dying? Thanks, 3.0!


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Gaming on the Nintendo Switch - Skyrim, Zelda, Gear:Club and More

A few months ago I decided to take the dive and purchase the only console I didn't own, the Nintendo Switch. This was based on at least four factors:

1. The Switch had gotten consistently good reviews from most interested parties, and Tobold on his excellent blog talked enough about it (and Legend of Zelda) to convince me that this wasn't a game to miss, and also that maybe the Switch wasn't another Nintendo dud.

2. The concept of a portable Skyrim was overhwhelming my common sense.

3. I had come to the conclusion that the reason I rarely engaged with my old PS Vita was that the screen was too small, and that it had no easy way for me to hook it up to a TV (and that the one option that existed was difficult and limited in functionality).

4. Finally, it was the only gadget console I didn't own and that just wasn't gonna fly in my house!

Anyway, the Switch has proved to be a really fun device, and possibly even more fun, overall (even if in smaller bursts) than the Big Two that tend to dominate my house thanks to their specific offerings (Destiny 1 and 2 for the family, The Divsion for dad, Monster Hunter: World for mom and pretty much Everything Else but especially Lego games and Minecraft for Marcus). The Switch has instead held sway as a portable that works really, really well and doesn't induce eye strain like the PS Vita, as well as being sufficiently portable that we could pack the whole thing up, docking station included, and take it on trips where we hook it up to the hotel TV. It's battery life as a handheld has also been much better than I expected, and one evening my son managed to run it down after about five hours of play.

For my own purposes I played many games on it (and a lot of Skyrim and Xenoblade Chronicles 2) well before I dabbled into the deep waters that is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is a contentious game since everone else in the house also wants to play it, but do not want me playing it where I can accidentally spoil it for them. Luckily my wife's been playing a lot of GTAV on a special roleplay server (yeah, that's a real thing that exists) which keeps her distracted, and I caved in and got Minecraft for my son on the PC so he could play AlienvsPredator mods in the game which has left me safely ignored, and enjoying what I would describe as a more colorful, vibrant open world exploration experience that is like a mellowed out version of Skyrim....or maybe to use a further analogy, Zelda is to Skyrim like The Hobbit (the book) is to its successor The Lord of the Rings (also talking about the book here).

Picking it up and playing on the go is a lot of fun, but docking it and playing on the available TV is even better. Being able to pull the whole system and move it to a different TV is actually quite handy in my household, which is dominated by 2 UHD TVs and an HD TV (and two of these TVs are also serving as monitors). If my son wants to play on the PC, and I allow it, then I can move to the living room TV and plug in the Switch, no issues at all. If I want to lounge in the safety of the bedroom where there are no televisions and play anyway, the Switch makes this possible.

So far the only negatives I've encountered with the Switch are as follows:

720p Resolution is more normal with the Switch, and wouldn't be much of an issue if I didn't also have an Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. Playing a game like Doom or Skyrim on it for the portability is awesome, but if you happen to have Skyrim Remastered on PC or Xbox One X then it's hard to want to invest big screen time in the Switch version of either game. However, being able to play either game on the go is priceless.

The Switch also doesn't currently appear to have any "family sharing" feature similar to the Xbox, which means I am not sure if I get my son or wife a Switch of their own that they could play my games on their account. Currently I can log in to my son's Xbox One S and he can play my games, even if its on his account, so long as I'm logged in (with a few notable exceptions). Even the PS4 allows this, although it has fewer family-friendly features than the Xbox environment does, but the Switch seems to lock these to your account. However, there's an upcoming online service that Nintendo intends to implement which may well provide for a family account sharing option, so fingers crossed.

Finally, the Switch has limited memory options. I have a 128GB mini SD card loaded up, and I think I can get a 256 GB card down the road, but while many of the games are small loads of less than 1 GB in size, all the really good games tend to lean toward 10-25 GB in size, and that means having just a few from the digital store can eat up your space. This is a very personal issue, though, and if you're like me and tend to buy many more games than you can find time to play, then you may notice it....but if you're a more focused and non-obsessive collector type of gamer who likes to finish one game at a time, then you may never notice the issue at all.

So what games have I been enjoying the most on the Switch? Well, the one's I've found the most overall fun and time consuming so far, in no particular order, include:


Gear:Club Unlimited

This racing game is no Forza Horizon 3 but in terms of general racing games its a lot of fun with just the right sort of depth for a game that plays well in both big screen and handheld mode. In fact, if you play it in both modes it feels (to me) like the handling of your vehicle adjusts in response to the way you are playing, making handheld and pro controller play equally smooth and comfortable. The game is designed around buying and upgrading cars and your workshop and racing various circuits of different types; it's a "lite" version of Forza, but the result is a great experience, and playing this while on my recent airplane trip was quite satisfying (pro tip: playing a car racing game while the plane is ascending or descending is not a good feeling, though!)


Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Yes, everyone has raved about this game already, but I will add my two cents and suggest that it's a game with the compelling style of play from Skyrim, but with a more faerie-tale driven element to it, and a escalating series of mechanical elements in the gameplay that one can easily obsess over. Nothing about this design fails to tick the checklist of "things I love in a game" and it's mythology makes for a healthy introduction to the Zelda universe for people who may not know much about it (and considering the last time I delved into a Zelda game it was the Ocarina of Time on the N64, I think I count). If you like Skyrim, and don't mind if most of the violence is exclusively aimed at various goblinoids and monsters, then you will love Breath of the Wild.


Skyrim

Duh, but also, yeah, Duh! The existence of this game on Switch was for me the main selling point on a Switch, if only just to see it work on a portable, and boy, does it work. The graphics are low on a full screen version, and you can tell it's at the low end of the scale compared to Skyrim Remastered on the other consoles, but on a small screen it's hard not to argue that it looks great. Even on a big screen the game is a lot of fun, although it lacks the workshop and ability to load mods, unfortunately.


Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Ordinarily this is a genre of Japanese RPG I might at best dive into for an hour and then get really annoyed with and move on from. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a different breed of game, however, in that it has meticulously careful voice acting with great voice actors who really improve the game over others of its type in dramatic ways, and the game is structured around expansive open world exploration mixed with focused quests in a way that I feel better reflects the genre and play people like than, say, Final Fantasy XV (which I feel tries to hard to be something it is not). I'm still plowing through this game (and likely will be for months to come) but it is definitely recommended.


Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion

This is not a game I thought I'd be playing, and I bought it because I thought my son would get in to it (he's been obsessively playing the Switch version of Lego City Undercover). Instead, he got a little frustrated with this one after a while and dad tried it on a lark. Well, I can see why he got frustrated....the game has a really interesting mastery curve, and even lets you skip hard levels in the single player "Octo Expansion" campaign, although I have not bothered to do so. The design and feel of this game is what I'd call a version of Saints Row (stylistically) if it had been done by Nickelodeon with Cartoon Network and a dollop of Adult Swim mixed in for good measure; the storyline about humanoid inklings, half human/polymorphic squid things which generate copious quantities of ink that they use as both weapons and transportation is hard to fully digest as a concept, but if you just go with it and accept the game for what it is, there's a compelling hybrid shooter/platformer experience to be had that is a ton of fun.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable mentions go to some remastered classics that are on the Switch, such as Bayonetta 1 and 2 (and you can only find Bayonetta 2 on Nintendo!), Resident Evil Revelations 1 and 2, Payday 2, and of course Doom. Doom is a game I have had my ups and downs with, but I have really had fun with it on the portable end....I don't bother to load it up for a big screen event (I have it on PC, after all) ordinarily, but as a fun thing to play in portable mode it's hard to beat.