Friday, May 31, 2019

Film Review - Godzilla: King of the Monsters (channeling the 8 year old spirit in us all)

This review can be mercifully short: Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a fun and brainless summer blockbuster. If you have kids this movie is going to be their favorite film, ever. Yes, they said the same thing about other recent movies, but they probably really meant it with this one.

My seven and a half year old paid close attention to this movie with an almost religious fervor, tapping my shoulder to whisper arcane facts he had divined about Godzilla (mostly from youtube, I think). And nope, it has never occurred to him that dad might have even more facts lingering in the brain from an era forty years ago when I, too, was 8 years old and stayed up until late night to watch grainy black and white Godzilla films on the local free TV station that actually broadcast where I lived in the desert.

Really, he's not wrong: this is the best movie ever if you're eight years old. It's a fun movie if you're the dad of one of those (or in that numeric ballpark) too, but it's maybe not as interesting a movie as, say, John Wick 3: Parabellum was for me the week prior. I took my son to a matinee of that one as well (yes it's R but the violence in John Wick is ridiculously's all about the endless fight choreography). As my son said in that movie with a certain glee at the end, "This is a film for action fans" and he was totally right.

Well, Godzilla is a film for a different kind of action fan....and like John Wick the Godzilla film's plot is mostly a plodding affair designed to string the action sequences together. But unlike John Wick, Godzilla KOTM doesn't quite deliver with its range of pulpy fifties-era characters in terms of the "I care about these people" component. Or, to be more accurate....this film delivers faithfully on its source material, which might be the main problem.

When you go back and watch all the old giant monster movies, it's painfully clear that the very definition of a B movie was formulated in no small part by these films. B movies have cheesy plots, crazy nonsense like guys in rubber monster suits, and a cast of characters in their story that you could give a "meh" about because they're just there to soak up precious film time for when the rubber monster suits arrive.

The new movie is an excellent adaptation of exactly that formula. There are few sympathetic characters in this film, and their plot arcs are ridiculously thin. The movie does convey a not so subtle warning about people who are absolutely convinced through unassailable convictions that they are right, and proceed to have the tools necessary to make sure that they are right...the true villain of the movie (I'm avoiding spoilers here) is not the giant monsters, after all, but the hubris of certain humans. I guess that counts as a certain amount of least, for a movie like this, it is the right depth.

Despite having so many monsters in this film, Godzilla KOTM spends most of its time on the ground watching the humans run around. This was a bit disappointing; the use of scale in the first Godzilla movie was much better. If I had a nickel for every time a person was running while a giant monster's tail flew by overhead I'd have made my return on the movie tickets for sure.

Okay, all musings aside this is a fun movie though maybe not "full box office price fun" by any stretch. I wouldn't advise catching it without a dedicated kid or two at your side, though....their enjoyment of the movie will be much more satisfying.

I feel like this movie should be rated "B" for its B-movie faithfulness, but in terms of overall quality I gotta go with a solid "C." Enjoy it! With the right crowd.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The In-Universe Reason for Starfinder Gear Level Mechanic

In a thread over on Paizo's blogs people were talking about the weird issue of equipment and levels in Starfinder. The problem is one of framing: Starfinder Core basically says that anyone can use any equipment, but they should normally only have access to gear within 1 level of their current class level of experience. They then leave it up to the GM if they want to break this rule. The core book doesn't provide a ton of reasoning behind this that you can use in-game to explain equipment cost/scarcity, however. Anyway, I posted on the forum over there and then thought it was also worth sharing my ideas here on the blog, too....

I initially (and for quite a while) had issues with the way equipment works in Starfinder, and wondered why the  forced level mechanic wasn't instead simplified, and the "damage" regulated to class advancement instead. I eventually realized that the Starfinder equipment system has a certain amount of brilliance* in it, as the system covers the following ideas (and you can use them as in-game reasons) exceedingly well:

Artificial or Forced Scarcity - this is a universe where combat, adventurers, mercenaries and explorers are the norm; an industry around specialized, advanced and prestige level weapons will rapidly form to take advantage of that and milk the space-mercs for their hard won cash.

Industrial but also Curated and Unique - there is little to suggest that many of these weapons aren't being meticulously hand-crafted and individually modified at some level down the road; spells are enforcing and making weapons more effective, even if the weapons themselves aren't exclusively magic items. The technical side of industrialization probably makes tons of cheap weaponry for lower levels, but the really good stuff takes care and art to produce.

An Economy Driven by Adventurers - similar to the first item above, this is an economy driven largely by people who won't spend much on a fancy dress**, but they will totally splurge on a very efficient plasma cannon. Starfinder's universe is not our world; it's a place where much of the cash circulating in the economy comes from plunder, looting and hitting it big; it's a Wild West anything goes Gold Rush combined with a sci fi Gig Economy, and prestige weapons and armor feed right in to it.

Legality - this really does apply at a certain level in our own world, and it's the reason that most of us, in the US at least, might be able to afford a handgun but we can't get ahold of a light machine gun. Starfinder's trade markets are on the civilized worlds and they probably have laws in place to insure that the really deadly stuff doesn't fall into the wrong (e.g. inexperienced or criminal) hands.

Fate - the great thing about Starfinder is it's a universe with magic and gods. When players grouse that the NPCs never seem to drop high level gear (always coincidentally within 1-2 levels of their CR appropriate loads) it is worth pointing out that such is the will of the gods that the PCs never seem to get lucky and drop a skittermander with a set of level 15 storm polarity gauntlets.

None of the above covers the weird issues with starship care, maintenance and advancement as implied in Starfinder....but that is a topic for another post!

Bonus Idea: if you think Starfinder combat (well, 3rd edition combat in general) is too slow, simply make level 10 and higher weapons "standard" from level 1 and let the players have enough credits to arm themselves to the teeth....just don't forget to do the same for the NPCs! Combat will go real quick, all of a sudden.

Even if you don't do that, if your players are always complaining about not getting that sweet, sweet high tech and high level gear, drop one occasionally as a cool reward (don't tell me you've never let a +5 weapon show up in a level 5 game of Pathfinder...same principle!) ....just remember to make sure that the monster that drops it uses the thing, first! I also suggest taking full advantage of the other "in game" explanation above, and make taking such a powerful weapon on to a space station or in to port a major ordeal when all the alarms go off and the security drones come flying in.

*I still think it could have been done differently, and I think the level-pacing on adancement is too tight; a PC who gets a weapon 3-4 levels higher than they currently are really does unbalance the game, I can say from experience. This is probably not optimal design. I think, to contrast, that Advent Horizon shows how to do this sort of thing well, but in Starfinder's defense it doesn't benefit from the Bounded Accuracy mechanic that AH and D&D 5E use, so work with what you got, not what you want, I guess.....!

**But what about the Envoys, you say? We'll pay for a fancy dress with some serious protection built in! And you would be right, but in the Starfinder universe Envoys are clearly parasites in the mercenary gig economy so whatever, man! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Universal World Profile Sourcebook for Cepheus and Traveller

For many of us, particularly the grognards and the gamers who approached SF gaming from the venue of fiction rather than film, there's a consistent expectation that any good SF game will provide you with some useful world building tools, as well as a means by which you can map out your corner of the galaxy for exploration and discovery. Traveller set the bar for this expectation high very early on with a decent system for generating an infinite number of star systems and subsectors to create as large and detailed a galaxy to explore as you could want.

When Mongoose published Traveller in its "1st edition" of their new version of the game they thankfully made it OGL, and then later made the mistake of not keeping MGT2 OGL, thus splitting their market of third party support. Most third party support for Traveller continues, but under the older OGL which has been retooled into a new edition of the game called the Cepheus Engine. This iteration of Traveller is the MGT1 version from the OGL, with some additional content to flesh the game out. It's also spawned lots of new product, aimed primarily as support for Cepheus or for other SF games that could benefits from specific rules such as ship design or world building.

Enter the Universal World Profile. This book is an expansion on the basic world design rules in Cepheus and MGT1, providing more depth of discussion on what each statistic and fact means when creating a world's UWP. For those of you unfamiliar with Traveller's mechanics in world design, each planet gets a "stat block" in Traveller hexadecimal format that lets you quickly determine a planet's composition, size, atmosphere, population, government, star ports and other useful details right no down to trade codes. It was an ingenious way of codifying and making an entire galaxy a prospective explorable could get in a ship, journeying across the parsecs to theoretically endless explorable planets. A creative Traveller referee could take those stat blocks and make them really interesting, or you could play it straight and run Traveller like some sort of trade or merc-driven procedural; the core conceit was brilliant and simple, but it is the reason Traveller remains a persistent and popular RPG to this day and (almost) no one remembers games like Space Opera or Universe (except maybe for how baroque and painful they were).

Anyway, The Universal World Profile sourcebook for Cepheus (and Traveller) is a fully stand-alone resource which will give you more information on the UWP process for its core games, but also serves as a stand-alone resource for GMs who want design worlds for their own preferred SF rpg but maybe don't happen to have a very good resource for that particular game to do so. For example, while the Advent Horizon RPG actually has a nice little world designer in the rules, it's nowhere near as robust as what the UWP can offer. Starfinder has a very Pathfinder-styled section on building locations and encounters for games, but offers zero support for designing a universe to explore in a more organic fashion; it's trending (unfortunately) toward Paizo's desire to sell Adventure Paths rather than material that lets GMs do their own thing, so with a bit of additional effort (such as encounter tables for the Alien Archives) you could use the UWP to actually create some structure to your setting for players to explore.

There are other SF RPGs out there (besides the two I have been messing with a lot recently) that could benefit from a UWP system as well, although it is worth noting some games take the inspiration of the UWP and manage to do their own thing extremely well. GURPS Space has a robust (some might say "too robust") world creator. Stars Without Number, for another example, has a great world generation system that includes building plot hooks and themes in to the design. Unlike SWN however you can design your own brand of SF with the UWP and tailor it to your preferred genre requirements (SWN is great but leans heavily on its implied specific universe). The UWP only really makes the assumption that starships travel discreet distances (parsecs) and that the universe can be captured on a 2-D hex map (hand waive the third dimension). It doesn't presume aliens, but that doesn't stop you from populating every world with them. It doesn't presume technomancy or "the scream" or the idea of an Imperium but all of that can be included or assumed if you so desire.

Anyway, if you need a stand-alone resource for science fiction world building that is accessible and broad in application, check it out. Print version at Lulu, too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Character Generation in Advent Horizons

I have been messing around with Advent Horizons for the last few days....despite some strong contenders for my attention (e.g. The Traveller Companion from Mongoose which just released in print) Advent Horizon has captured my full focus.

Some details so far: AH is based on the 1.0a OGL which is the same OGL that Pathfinder 1.0 operates under, and therefore allows AH to be a complete rules system, as I am reasonably sure the D&D SRD for 5th edition is more limiting in this regard. The book directly mentions Dungeons & Dragons compatibility by name on more than one occasion, which is something I had thought was not permitted, but maybe I'm just assuming that because so many other products just mention it as "The World's Greatest Fantasy Game" or something OGL-fu is a bit rusty here.

As a result, some parts (not many, but enough) of AH feel like 3rd edition thematics wedded to a 5th edition chassis. This actually works, because while the 3rd edition elements add some variables, they do not change the core design conceit, which was to make sure the game's numbers and math matched the bounded accuracy mechanics of D&D 5E. As a result, while a character in AH will look a bit different (and have more stuff, to be honest) than a 5E character, it will remain fully compatible from a numbers and stats point of view.

One example of these older approaches, now revamped and wedded to 5E mechanics, include proficiency slots as a purchase-mechanic for both skills and feats. By adding a point-buy mechanic to skills, and re-adding in "simpler" feats which are also purchased with the same points, you bring a level of design granularity (along with potential design pitfalls and peaks) that is more common in 3rd edition. However it is tempered with the mechanical consistency of 5E, so you do not see issues such as stacking effects and obvious out-of-control of immediately preferable build options getting in your way. Personally, I love what it is doing here....I wish 5E had a rules option similar to this, actually. But I love games with greater emphasis on skill mechanics.

So character generation is pretty straight forward and anyone who has played 5E D&D will know most of the steps. It deviates a bit...and I'll show how and where as I walk through the steps as follows:

1. Basic stuff first. Attributes can be rolled (they default to 2D6+6 for each stat) or point-buy purchased, using a variant method that is not like the standard 5E mechanic (probably for OGL reasons). You also get to pick a species and class, familiar stuff. Of note: the system defaults to metric, which is fine with me, but it has a couple interesting implications for those who are going to blend content with D&D 5E, and AH includes some conversion tables for ease of reference. I'll also note that so far my reading on AH suggests it does not expect much tabletop map/minis will be going on, and the game seems to assume more focus on TotM style combats. I am still ploughing through combat and the additional environmental rules so will confirm that in the next blog post, though.

2. Species. The species all look fairly consistent with 5E standards, and include the following choices:
--The Ba'alur, a warlike draconian race of reptiles that advanced to space through stolen or restored tech
--Colonials, the standard humans, who can pick special traits based on their type of homeworld
--Ephari, mysterious "gray" like aliens who dwell on world ships
--Empyreans, a humanlike race of transgenics
--Ixaxians, the obligatory insectoid race with the ability to communicate via radio frequencies and a penchant for technology
--Seyvul, the obligatory mischievous race that is basically a species of Rocket Raccoons
--Thothid, the totally-not-Mind Flayer species warped by strange beings of Cthulhuian origin; like mind flayers, but with wings! (Actually I love this species as presented)
--Urroru, bulky four-limbed totally-not-Tharks (hey, Starfinder has like 3 of these!) who have a  introspective warrior culture
--Xhu Akreen, an ancient race of blue skinned human-like aliens of a fallen empire

So, some good and iconic choices. All are well illustrated, too. The book looks like it would be fantastic to see in full color, but alas the Barnes & Noble edition I purchased is a black and white soft cover only.

3. Classes. Classes are varied and all built on the design principles of 5E, so they balance together (so far, I am still rolling samples PCs of each class to look for oddities). I've designed a few PCs so far though, and all look damned interesting and fun to play. The classes include:
--Agent, an espionage themed class
--Combat Specialist, the warrior themed class
--Diplomat, the negotiator class
--Explorer, a scientist/adventurer class
--Insurgent, a guerilla combatant (maybe closer to the Starfinder Operator, thematically)
--Marshal, a commander-type (think warlord) class
--Science Specialist, a skill focused academic
--Spacer, an "EVA and Zero-Gravity" specialist
--Spiritualist, a spiritual/religious themed class using akashic knowledge as its theme
--Tactician, a manipulator/operator type
--Technophile, the engineer/technologist type

Although each class follows the class design principles of 5E, they do deviate in two ways: each class at level 1 is front-loaded with four key abilities as a package they get, but none of the classes have standard D&D archetypes of any sort built in by level 3. Instead, some have a range of specific options (the combat specialist gets some soldier specializations to pick from), others give you abilities you pick over time ("spycrafts" for agents, for example), and still others either get nothing specific like this (single ability choices) or make a theme choice earlier (such as science specialists choosing their focus at level 1).  There is a reason for this, it turns out, and this is where AH varies from traditional 5E approaches to design by using proficiency slots to flesh out characters. Finally, you can multiclass in rules which are recognizable to anyone who's played a 3rd edition version of D&D (but it works fine).

4. Backgrounds: Education and Professions. Every character picks from several choices to build their background, allowing for a range of flexible design options. Backgrounds are composed of:
--Education: grants a skill or two and a personality trait based on the type of educational background you have.
--Profession: your career path, which doesn't have to be tied to class necessarily (so a combat specialist who was also an artist is perfectly acceptable). This grants a couple skills and potential reputation and credit boost, as well as an ideal.
--Events: this portion of your background details something that happens to you, as well as the trinket (momento) of your experience and the flaw you gained from that event.

AH also uses something it calls the Axis Alignment, which is a series of descriptors you can pick from to give your character a defining personality focus. The options listed include methodical, analytical, reasonable, passive, zen, passionate, impulsive, zealous, and unaligned. Inspiration rules are also stuck here.

5. Proficiency Slots. Every class grants around 14-16 slots, plus you will gain some free skills due to class as well as possibly your species and later background and profession choices. I found that this meant, on average, you could end up with around 4-6 free skills, plus your points to spend, plus your intelligence modifier in bonus slots.

The system AH uses is based on skill trees: you buy the initial skill in the tree, which opens up basic knowledge of later skills, but you only add your proficiency bonus to skills you have actual training in. For example, if you know Perception as a skill you can use it to make observational checks, but you need to spend another point to also get danger sense, which lets you observe threats you might not notice without actively searching (e.g. passive perception alone won't spot a hidden trap, but danger sense will prompt a roll even if you weren't looking for it).

Proficiency slots/points are a 1:1 cost, and you must have the requisite skills/feats along a skill tree before spending on later items in the same tree. Most of the skill trees have at least 3 layers of depth and multiple forking branches, so in fact there are a lot of things to spend points on. Interestingly, the trees include both standard skills and feats. Feats in AH are not the "deluxe package" feats of D&D 5E, however, and each one usually delivers 1 distinct ability you can use; under this mechanic, a skill is a thing you roll on, and a feat is a thing that gives you a mechanical feature or effect.

My initial thought here was, "this seems like a lot of points to spend at level 1." And it is, from a certain perspective, but most classes then go about giving you a grand total of 12 additional feat points over the next 20 levels of your career (6 for general leveling and 6 for the class; another 3rd edition element). By level 20, assuming a smart character (INT 20) in a class that starts you with 16 slots, you can have a maximum of  33 proficiency slots spent, of which around 19 were spent at level 1. I count at least 154 skill tree choices to pick from plus 14 tool proficiency skills and a bunch of racial proficiencies, and of those quite a few can be taken multiple times for additional effects/ there are a lot of choices here.

The result of this is that level 1 characters in AH are front loaded with a range of interesting skills and abilities, but then progress more slowly in their long term career. This is offset by the fact that at level 1 most characters can be dropped or even killed by one good hit from almost any handgun in the game, so characters with greater expertise don't seem so out of balance against the threat level of the galaxy.

In my experiments with character design I've looked at an array of interesting choices, from an insurgent archer from a primitive world who kills with melee attacks to a sharp-shooting survivalist scientist to a combat specialist who secretly wanted to be a retired artist. You can make a lot of interesting characters here. I'll try posting some of the characters I've rolled soon.

I have found no feat or ability so far that raised my eyebrows in question of its power level ot utility, so far. I do however imagine with a point buy system like this that some players may find ways to game it a bit, or even find odd synergies. I won't likely see any of these (if they exist) until I see what my table rolls up, though.

6. Reputation and Credit. The last bits of character generation are a Reputation Score (another 3rd edition mechanic) which is basically your "bonus to influence" on DCs, and the Credit Score which is what the game uses in lieu of tracking actual cash. This mechanic can work just can see a version of it from the old days in D20 Modern, and it's not unlike the credit rating in Call of Cthulhu, but since all purchases are made with this it can mean a lot of die-rolling when time comes to spend. You can gain credit as a reward or lose it to influence advantage on checks, too. It's a solid mechanic. Not my preferred method (I like counting cash) but it expediently focuses the game on a broader range of topics for play than just acquiring specific amounts of filthy lucre.

So far, I am really enjoying the flexibility and range of options in character generation in AH. I'll be honest....I've been so enamoured with this game's design that I've convinced my group we must try it ASAP and also ordered a second table copy through Barnes & Noble (here) for play.

I'll talk more about Combat and the other mechanics next, and post some sample PCs soon!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Top Articles on Realms of Chirak

Every now and then I like to look at the Google metrics and see what's getting the most attention. Here then is the Top Ten Posts of All Time currently on Realms of Chirak along with my comments on why each article garners so much attention:

1. The 5E Minotaur as a Character Race (3,429 hits)
--I continue to be amazed this sits at the top. It's a write-up of the MM minotaur as a character option, which means you can best use it for class-stated minotaur foes, or if you're not too worried about how OP the minotaur is you can open it up to players. That said, there's an official minotaur option out there, so I can't see much need for this variant now.

2. Shifting From Pathfinder to D&D 5th Edition in 2014? (2,334 hits)
--A lot of people made this leap, around this time, and I find it telling that two of my top ten articles relate to the conversion from Pathfinder to 5E. Makes me wonder about how well Pathfinder 2.0 will do later this summer....I plan on buying all the books, so I guess I'll get to let you know!

3. Ages of Lingusia: The Death Gods (2,224 hits)
--Either people need lots of death gods, or the enigmatic illustration I linked to is highly prized (it's a great illustration).

4. The Many Days of Horror: Return of the Living Dead (NSFW) (2,153 hits)
--The doubling in hits is totally due to my engaging commentary on this zombie classic, and totally not about the nude zombie Linnea Quigley pics in the article.

5. The Super Quick and Dirty Pathfinder Monster Conversion for 5E (1,436 hits)
--Back in 2015 we were still waiting for monster manuals, so converting Pathfinder monsters was often our only option for some beasts not yet documented in 5E. Today...we're drowning in good monster manuals!

6. Tales of the Cannadad Dei: Sabiri Tattoos (1,317 hits)
--I'd like to think there's a compelling interest in Sabiri and their skin-etched tattoo magic, but I think it's really just the linked Luis Royo image. I picked that image because it was the inspiration for my first games set in the Sabiri lands.

7. Halloween Countdown Finale: Dooooooooom! (1,287 hits)
--Just pictures in this post, so presumably more than a few hits from people looking for certain artists or images.

8. Five Things I'm Not Going to Miss About Pathfinder (1,260 hits)
--I think back in 2013-2014 I was not alone among gamers who decided that it was time to take a more or less permanent break from Pathfinder and embrace D&D 5E. I may be having fun with Pathfinder (and Starfinder) these days, but it is with a much more casual and limited approach; 5E made it hard for a lot of us to go back to needlessly more complicated iterations of D20.

9. D&D 5E Updates: The Mohrg (1,170 hits)
--At the time I posted this article no published tome (neither 3PP nor WotC) had stats for the Mohrg, a creature I think is quite popular (or maybe it's just me).

10. Resident Evil 6: The Leon Kennedy Campaign (1,144 hits)
--I'd like to believe it was my entertaining and witty description of this preposterous game's campaign but if the above observations have validity then let's be honest, it's probably Deborah's image.

Bonus: My most accessed Index Page is the Realms or Chirak 5E Index Page which is not surprising, I suppose. The least accessed is my Fantasy AGE Resource page, which is also not surprising, given my mixed feelings about that system and repeated attempts to get in to it, followed by hard crash and burn events.

The Moral of the Story: Use more evocative art, post more NSFW content and wax philosophical on the cons of Pathfinder vs. the Pros of D&D 5E! Or maybe not....I'll just keep doing whatever I feel like instead... ;-)

The top ten list is always interesting because, on average, I may have around 200-300 active browsers who frequent this site regularly, people who maybe have book-marked RoC and like to visit every now and then (and yes, it used to be higher, but as is true with all internet content, when the content slows down people go away). That means that this top ten list shows a lot less about what active blog readers are looking at and what Google's search engine refers people to. Or, put another way, it is likelier showing what people are interested in that by accident coincides with some of the content on my site.

There are probably secondary sources...I run into occasional links to Reddit threads addressing something on my site,* for example (I don't frequent Reddit, have an account, or even try to go there except when a link takes me to one of the threads). There may be other links I am unaware of. But most of these top ten are definitely because people:

...need minotaur PC stats fast, are having a breakup with Pathfinder, need mohrg stats fast, like Luis Royo, like Linnea Quigley, like Return of the Living Dead, like that cool death god image, maybe like death gods, like apocalyptic images, and maybe, just maybe, liked my rip on Resident Evil 6!

*Example: when I started looking for 5E-powered SF RPGs recently I first looked in to Hyperlanes again, to see if issues I had with it had been addressed ever, or if new content was out. I found precious little, and wondering if I was the only one who had been bothered by the way the classes in Hyperlanes (but not the monsters, I will note) dropped iterative attacks and escalating damage as a core design feature of 5E, I did some searching....and ironically that searching brought me back to a Reddit article discussing this and using my own RoC blog post as a reference for the discussion point. Oroborous of the internet!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Advent Chronicles RPG - a Full 5E-based Science Fiction Game Done RIght

I stumbled across this completely by accident, unfortunately. I say that because this is a really nice RPG, well designed and filling a much-needed niche: Advent Horizons, an SF RPG powered by 5E mechanics under the OGL. We've needed this for a while, and so far no third party publisher has quite gotten this right.

My quest started with the idea that sometimes (like, every other session) I find myself too exhausted from the day to think about running Starfinder. Starfinder is cool, but my resolve to enjoy the game occasionally falters with a series of tried and true D20-isms: "I would love to play this game tonight, but the thought of a 3 hour combat, 45 minutes of rules look up and debate, and 15 minutes of plot" sometimes gets to me. It's not totally as bad as that.....but it can be. And combat can take longer than needed anytime you bring out the maps and pawns, a thing which feels necessary with Pathfinder/Starfinder games.

Sometimes, also, I concede that there are moments where I just can't imagine exactly what is going on in the Starfinder universe. Sure, sometimes I have moments where I grokk it.....but then, other times, I want to play a science fiction game, with the known rules of science fiction using a D&D-like D20 system, and not a fantasy game with science fiction trappings. This is tough, because I think aesthetically Starfinder has a lot going for it....but it's not SF, you know what I mean? Starfinder's a universe where you don't need to (or want to) ask how or why Drift Drives work. Sometimes...well, a lot of the time....I want to play an SF game where stuff like that matters.

Anyway....I also wanted to grab a copy of Legendary Games' Alien Bestiary for 5E, which is an awesome book (I have the Starfinder version). Unfortunately I have no "SF sourcebook" to go with it, to make the monsters useful. I had tried Hyperlanes back a while ago and wrote a bit about it here, and concluded that the game was well developed in certain spots, but the mechanical underpinnings and understanding of 5E in Hyperlanes was woefully inadequate. It had some brilliant bits....but the whole package was falling short in important places.

So yes, I went trowelling through the listings at (hey, anyone else notice the site is working again?) and eventually discovered this incredibly under-played, low key "Advent Horizon RPG." Even more, it apparently had a print version through Barnes & Noble's site....unusual, but what the heck...I bought the PDF, then soon thereafter ordered a print copy.

Advent Horizon RPG is the actual SF RPG I've been looking for. While it's not generically designed for GMs to insert their own settings in to, it provides all the material you would need to run it as you see fit (much like how while Traveller makes no effort to hide the Imperium, you can certainly ignore it and do your own thing).

Advent Horizons met these important markers for me:
1. Inspired setting, interesting races and classes
2. Robust equipment; talks about augments/cybernetics and important SF elements
3. Focuses on a hard SF to space opera range, but is not "magic in space"
4. Easy to understand ship and space combat rules
5. It makes the default D&D 5E skill system much more robust for a SF setting
6. The designers understand the D&D 5E mechanics and built their system around this concept, making it properly compatible with other 5E content if desired
7. It's a pretty package (black and white in print, but looks good)

I'll do a proper review very soon, but I wanted to get the word out on this ASAP, because I don't think enough people out there who want this game know it exists yet. Check it out!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Medieval Fantasy Town Generator

If you need a town map fast, this is an amazing tool. Check it out can create an infinite number of fantasy towns and cities for your campaign in seconds, really quite amazing! Here's a sample:

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Lots of Good Gaming Again - D&D is Back!

Well, after taking a break for several months from D&D I am back. Today we needed a one-shot game for Saturday night, with half the group out we didn't want the Cypher System game proceeding without all hands on deck, if you will. So....I thought, a one shot is a perfect way to see how I feel about trying D&D out again....!

And as it turns out, the time was right. We had a good time, I got to test out my campaign idea in a microcosm (more on what I am doing in another post) and all went well. Most importantly: we all had fun, and I had a lot of fun. It was nice to be back again.

Although I am running a "fantasy game" in Cypher System, my setting of Ensaria is very much leaning deep into the trenches of fantasy science that Cypher handles so well. So a D&D campaign will be a welcome change of pace, because in D&D it is perfectly safe to assume that "magic is really magic," and not actually future tech so amazing its indistinguishable from magic. Both styles have their merits....and I look forward to being able to go back to D&D with a fresh appreciation for the style.

So....the question now is, when to get more D&D in? I'm not going to rush it just now, but I might suggest it as the next game after we all need a break from Cypher System or Starfinder. We'll see....for now, I'll keep it ready for the one-shots and filler games, and build up to a proposal soon. In the meantime, I am working on a "Chirak in Antiquity" Era campaign which does for Chirak what my Ages of Lingusia expansions on my other home setting have done...allow me to explore the word in different time periods with the most interesting "stuff." I look forward to this exploration.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Avengers: Endgame Non Review

It hardly seems worth posting a review to a movie doing $1.2 billion in opening weekend box office totals, and likely will be seen by everyone on the planet. So rather than do that, I'll just make the following comments (possible SPOILERS ahead):

--If you want to get off the treadmill of Marvel movies, this is a good one to go out with. It neatly wraps up the last 21 movies into a nice, tight package. Sure, there are future stories, but honestly? I feel like this was a pretty good close to the first decade of Marvel films.

--Now that all the high-cost actors are out of the way for the most part, the movie quietly suggests the direction this future franchise can go with big name characters, even Iron Man (did you catch it?). The questions is....will anything post Robert Downy Jr/Chris Evans really be as fun? I bet the next Captain America movie will be amazing, but I'm not so sure about Iron Man. And Thor....hummm, well, I guess time will tell.

--The Marvel Cinematic Universe is definitely doing one thing boldly no comic universe has done before: it's sticking to real time in its own universe. This means, among other things, that the "roling timeline" of the comic universes does not apply here. In the comics, everything before the current issue happened in the last ten years, and everything in the future is malleable. In film, we have a universe that needs a replacement for guys like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers because they are aging in real time with the actors. Or dying, or retiring, or getting fat and out of get the point.

--The movie does jump forward five years. It's a weird notion, but it fits well with the "weird events happening to our characters/weird alternate future timelines" theme of many Marvel crossover events. Except this time it's permanent and is the new "now" for the MCU. This is weird. I was not expecting them to project a future in which we really do see all the key Avengers effectively out of commission for various strange reasons.

So....good film, good run, and good closure on ten+ years of interlinked films. I'd like to say I am excited to see what the next ten years will bring (and I am, for sure), but I am honestly just elated that I could stop now and feel like I'm actually at a point of closure. It will be weird seeing what the future holds, though....ten years of a future franchise carried by mostly B-List heroes, barring maybe Spider-Man and Black Panther, and the inevitable post Stark/post Rogers incarnations of the two top dogs in the Marvelverse is going to be interesting. Maybe.

The Print Reconversion (and the Problem of Choice Paralysis and Distraction)

I've been going through a phase lately, and I'm not sure what to make of it yet other than that I've decided to just roll with it for as long as possible. Here's the deal:

I'm back to reading more print books now than I am ebooks.

Yep, I love the tablets (I have approximately 6 of them...that still work, anyway) and hundreds of books in both the Nook and Kindle stores, plus lots more through other venues (Google Play and Aldiko most notably). They offer all the obvious conveniences that tablets do when you are a reader, including:
--Easy to read in the dark
--easy to manipulate the font type and size
--extremely portable and you can bring your entire collection anywhere with no effort*
--Most tablets give you at least 7-10 hours good reading time and the proper ereaders last even longer

I've blogged plenty about my love of tablets, ebooks and their conveniences over the years. So....why am I suddenly mostly reading print books again? And why have I spent a few hundred bucks rekindling my mostly anemic print fiction selection again?

At first it seems counter-intuitive. Hell, some of the books I've read in print recently I also had or at least started reading in ebook format. Sometimes I have tired eyes and need to drag out the reader glasses. I have to find convenient places to sit with light. What the hell, man?

I have some theories, though. Here they are in a nut shell: tablets are awesome, but they suffer from two problems that will eventually get in the way of a good time. These are choice paralysis, a problem of the human condition; and distractions, a problem with how the Google and Amazon electronic marketplace wants to sell you things and barter for your time.

The first one is a known problem that people like to wax philosophical on. It is also known that the ebook market lately has been seeing a downward trend, rather steeper than one might expect. Here's my theory: the traditional form of reader requires a structured mechanism by which one finds a book, claims the physicality of it, eventually reads said book, and then passes it on. Some time can pass before this recycling event happens, and the recycling can be where you trade it in to a used book store or give it to a friend, but the important part is that the book exists in your possession for a time and then leaves, to be replaced by a new book at a future date. It does not linger on your shelf forever (in many cases; biblioholics are a different exception here).

I've always liked being able to read and then recycle a book. I have a bad habit of reading one book and then buying ten, but hey....I can always dream of a future in which I have all the time in the world to read, right?

The problem with this notion is that when applied to the ebook ecosystem, I end up with hundreds, then eventually thousands of books. The ebook ecosystem is also designed to drive cheap sales with $1-3 books, hooking you on tons of casual "this looks cheap, I might want to read that" buys. At some point it becomes easy to have twenty or thirty books in your collection you want to read, another hundred or two you thought you'd want to read in the future, and hundreds of additional books that were so cheap or free you couldn't turn them down. (Yes, this is how biblioholics often function, pity us). Before you know it, your tablet or ereader is actually out of room....and you find yourself stricken with the curse that is a bounty of choices every time you pick up the old tablet to read a new tome.

Right now, I have a selection of print tomes I have gathered together and set myself a nice, snug little goal: I will read these ...ah, approximately 25 books over the coming Summer months. Can I pull this off?  Y'know, I feel more confident about these 25 print tomes than I do the 1,000 odd Nook books staring me in the face every time I load up.

I guess I could "load up" my ebook reading list and refuse to look past the first two pages in the Nook library, but that would require discipline...seriously.

The second problem is (in my personal experience) the greater and more insidious issue, and it really boils down to this: when you have 20 minutes to read, are you going to crack open a book and try to plow through a chapter, or are you going to open up the news feed app, or Youtube, or literally any of a hundred other apps on the tablet that can occupy 20 minutes (and more, you realize) of your time more easily and with less effort? To keep a tablet on task you pretty much need to ditch the Google Play store....and forget about the Kindle Fire, it's awesome and all but is so insidiously designed to sell you content that the book section isn't even the first tab you can choose from.

There are other reasons I've decided to make ebooks my secondary thing and go back to print. One of them has to do with screen glare: at some point I got it in to my head that staring at a bright blue-light emitting screen all the time is probably not the best way to keep my eyes healthy. Never mind that blue-light makes sleep harder (and the red-tinted alternative is unpleasant to stare at), just focusing on so much  light emitting tech is tiring. This is, of course, part of the whole current phenomenon of people trying to reduce "screen time" in their lives and I am feeling that screen-fatigue as well. Hell, I feel it right now in front of my giant PC monitor as I type this. I'll be feeling it at work for 8 hours tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe, I can reduce some of that by not feeling it when I'm trying to read?

There's also a little problem with battery life/shelf life of tablets. One of my Samsung Galaxy S2s is acting a little funny these days, and it doesn't hold much battery life anymore. It is my oldest tablet right now, at about five years of age, so not unexpected.....but the idea that I might want to replace it with an equivalent device (it is a very nice tablet) at a $500+ pricepoint every few years? Nah.

The last reason is insidious but notable. Buried in this article is a compelling point: when you have a tablet in your hand you could be doing all sorts of things, and few of them are reading books. My son is growing up in a world of technology, and he is just now starting to take notice of books, actually enjoy them....but to help him with this, I need to be setting a good example. Tablets don't really let you show a book off, show that you're, you know, actually reading something other than a garbage news feed. They also can't be easily exchanged. You can't hand a good book to your friend to enjoy....even after all this time both Nook and Kindle have been woefully inadequate when it comes to book sharing.

Put another way: physical books allow you to be social in certain ways that ebooks cannot and by design will not let you. This, it turns out, has been really important to me.

Anyway....I never stopped preferring print games and comics, so returning to print fiction and nonfiction isn't really that big a step for me. It will cost me a bit more....but I also feel like I'm returning to a space where I am more likely to spend my money wisely, and not just one the daily bargain basement e-deals. Plus, I get to spend more time actually shopping, in real book stores. There's just something about browsing aisles of books that is immeasurably more satisfying to me than scrolling through random lists of what Nook thinks is relevant. So consider me "back in print!"

*When I started the tablet/ereader journey this seemed like a brilliant notion. Years later I realize I almost never actually get any reading done on most trips, except maybe on the plane; and I've been on the plane only a handful of times in the last several years.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Tricky Gray Apocalypse

This is a bit from the past....basis for a 1 shot Savage Worlds game I ran, with the potential for more....if I re-use this it would work well with Cypher System. 

The Tricky Gray Apocalypse Campaign

To the Players:
You are all people in the near present who have found yourselves one month out from an apocalyptic event*. You were each either chosen, invited or kidnapped by the Reverend Wilhelm Sikorsky to his mountain retreat, the "Temple of the Healing Earth" located in the White Mountains east of Sedona. Traditionally Sikorsky is known as a medicine man and healer, something of a mystic, and a major believer in UFOlogy and the presence of aliens in our affairs, even if we don't know it. One day, abruptly and unexpectedly, Sikorsky invites all of his attending guests to the "cave" where he conducts his spiritual healing ceremonies with the Earth and find yourself unexpectedly locked away, the cavern entrance in the mountains protected by a sealed vault door that can only be opened from the outside....

This is where your tale begins!

Suggested archetypes include: the wealthy millionaire looking for a relaxing vacation, the eccentric conspiracy UFO theorist, the healing crystal follower, the skeptic who was out to debunk Sikorsky's "Cult of the Healing Earth," the complete innocent person who was kidnapped from a local diner in the nearby town of Alpine by two of the cultists and locked in a, anachronistic, secure prison chamber in the network of tunnels behind the "healing cave," or perhaps even a halpess cultist who was just trying to help the newcomers feel comfortable and is completely oblivious to why the Reverend closed the foot-thick steel door that you had always been told was designed to keep the cave a "living" environment by preventing its internal moisture and atmosphere from evaporating. 

Equipment is limited (obviously) by what you would have reason to bring to this "cult spa and resort" but stuff you might have in your bags could be inventoried in the event you escape the cave....

Everyone can start with 10 XP (so, 2 picks). No arcane magic, weird science, anything. Zero magic world. Any profession that fits "today, or not too far from now" works. 

The Apocalyptic Event:

Each of you is certain doom is nigh. The apocalyptic event you believe in is as follows (pick one, because none of you think it's the same):

1. Asteroid 2015 GL5589 has been rumored to be on close approach, passing between the orbit of the moon and the Earth. You believe (either rightly as an astronomer or wrongly as a fanatic) that there's a deadly risk it is really going to strike the earth and the government is hiding this from the populace. (FALSE)

2. You recently heard about the bizarre outbreak in South America of the mutating Small Pox Virus that is completely resistant to all vaccines and is deadly so far in 94% of those infected. The news claims the virus is quarantined and under control in Brazil, but rumors are that three cases cropped up on the border in the US...(TRUE)

3. In the wake of belligerent diplomats and politicians, a major conflagration took place in the South China Sea between the US and China. Bombastic rhetoric on both sides could be the lead in to nuclear war....or more noise...but either way you're not taking any chances. White Mountains are way off the grid....(TRUE)

4. The sudden surge in UFO sightings in the last several weeks, culminating a month ago in approximately 200 exotic ufo sightings over Mexico City, Phoenix and Denver have level heads stating it's a product of military build up due to the South China Sea conflict, but you know better....this is the culmination of a pattern that began over twenty years ago, a pattern of invasion....! (???)

5. You can't say it's the "end of the world" but a month ago you attended a conference on the American Association of Biology on the adverse risks of CRISPR technology. One scientist warned that it was already suspected that North Korea had used CRISPR technology to create a cordyceps sinensus that was extremely robust and hearty, primarily (it was suspected) to harvest a more robust form of aphrodisiac for Kim Jung Un. The results were questioned however when it was found that the fungus could infect and grow on large scale hosts outside of ants....and rumors were that North Korea had moved it to weapon testing. Disturbed by the concept, you made your way to the retreat a month later to clear your head, after an ex-GF suggested it was a great place to veg out, if you ignored the crystal stuff. (TRUE)

The Set Up
The post-apocalypse was caused by a startling convergence of events. In sequence the following events transpired in the last month which led to an unexpected apocalyptic scenario…an existential crisis for humanity at large:
Day 1
Yellowstone Erupted. The entire American continent is cast in shadow and darkness, and most of the mid-western states are essentially gone. In the White Mountains several inches of ash dust the region, but the real devastation is a winter-storm effect that blanketed the entire country. Over the course of a month the disruption to electronics and the basic infrastructure of the country is devastating.
Day 2-15
In the middle of this event, China abruptly makes a move, strongly and decisively moving in on the west coast under the pretense that it is providing aid and assistance initially, but rapidly taking pains to secure territory on foreign soil. Two weeks in to what started as humanitarian aid, the west coast collapses into anarchy. Nuclear weapons are abruptly engaged, though few know who made the actual call….rumors of a rogue five star general Arnold Mcallahoun usurped control from the President and made a decisive first strike against China abound, but the reality was that China quickly retaliated. The devastation to most major population centers and military installations in the US was swift and devastating….and the remainder of the country collapsed.
Day 4
Rumors of an immense creature, blackened and ruinous, veined with burning light, moving through the devastated Midwest, are largely disregarded as the ravings of PTSD survivors of the event.
Day 10-20
In Asia, North Korea uses its weaponized Cordyceps fungus as a bioweapon against China and South Korea, sparking additional local conflict and war. The cordyceps virus proves even more devastating than anticpated due to its manufactured airborn quality and the virus spreads across the Pacific and throughout Asia rapidly. By day 20, Canada, the US and Mexico are facing an unprecedented catastrophe as desperate people are turned into fungal zombies. Worse yet, the fungus behaves strangely in the “Super Small Pox Virus” which has been hitting South America during this time….people who succumb to the super pox and then are infected by the cordyceps seem to live on unnaturally past the life span of their body and mind….
Day 12 In a crushing state of alert, stories of refugees from Idaho, both covered in ash and bombed by a Chinese attack, are compounded by stories of thousands killed while seeking escape when the immense creature that was previously sighted days ago appears and seems to “drain” the life of all around it for a mile.
Day 21-29
Desperate militia groups, civilians, rogue military and more are seeking out pockets of safety and resources throughout the country to batten down the hatches in the wake of a grotesquely overwhelming nuclear war coupled with the super volcano eruption. The teeming masses of fungal victims from the coast and the south are initially seen as one more aberration but as their numbers increase, the survivors realize that the only hope is to find a way to hide out, and wait for the devastation to past. Meanwhile, along the southern borders the first of the infected “pox” victims succumbing to the cordyceps fungus begin to attack survivors in that region.
Day 30
Acting President of the US Mcallahoun declares that the state of Emergency has moved from martial law to a need for all citizens to arm themselves and maintain defense of local interests until “such time as the United States can restore its essential governance and infrastructure.” He signs off and the national broadcast goes dead….
Day 31 (Today)
The Sons of the Constitution arrive at the Crystal Healing Ranch to take over, having heard rumors that there’s plenty of resources hidden in the healing cave….they find the ranch abandoned, seemingly devoid of life….a pickup truck is attached to the cave door to pull it off. The noise alerts the lurkers in the woods….for it turns out that the compound survivors were all part of a unique ritual, one which Reverend Sikorsky had intended to be the “point of ascension” for his flock to join the Messengers of the Stars.
The Messengers did indeed hear them, and descended, to take possession of each of the cultists. Only those in the healing cave, ironically, were allowed a chance to live….
The new Hunters, lean and oily with black and gray skin, transformed from their human hosts, quickly make short work of the Sons of the Constitution….and the human abominations protected in the Healing Cave are next….!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Checking out While Complaining About the Lack of Good RPG Sites

If you're an old RPGer and you have scoured the internet over the years then you know that beacons of information in this hobby are few and far between. You pretty much are stuck with one of the following:

--flash in the pan websites which seem to start off strong then evaporate when something changes for the host. You know them....even if you can't remember them, because most of these sites are already gone to the internet grave of fading memories.

--blogs (like this one) that are dependent on the fickle whim and disposition of the author. The blogs are actually the best place for actual game content (stuff you can use, DM and player advice, mad ramblings, and of course lot's of "Get Off my Lawn"isms.

--ICV2 which is an interesting industry site for geek fandom at large, but it's gaming section tells you far more about the fact that RPGs are barely an itch on the back of the geek profit industry than anything else.

--Forum sites like and which are contentious pits of madness from which no cogent discourse escapes (YMMV), and are an embarrassment without exception to the entire hobby. I wrote a lot more about my opinion of this wasteland and then edited it out, reminding myself I prefer to keep my blog about actual gaming, not the mess that is today's rpg forums.*

....and then there's which does sometimes fall in the last category, but has also been going strong for close to 20 years now as a viable daily news source. It's only failure is it usually only has a bit of news, a lot of ad bits, and the site design is kind of bleh.

But no more! They have piloted a new site over there at and it's really kind of cool. It's an aggregate source of information, seems to be doing a really good job of it, and in fact has proven to be my favorite daily stop for what's up in the rpg sphere of gaming. Therefore....I feel compelled to get the word out, so that this nicely designed, informative site gets proper attention for those wondering where to find some daily rpg news and information.

*Yes, I do write on these forums occasionally and that does sort of mean I'm being hypocritical, but I really can't find any actual, decent places to chat about RPGs that doesn't seem to be mired in identity politics, character assassinations and witch hunts. If you know a place, please tell me of it.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Gaming on the PC - Destiny, Anthem, Fallout 76 and More

Not too long ago I snagged an Aurora R7 Alienware PC with some nice specs, loaded it up with All The Fun Stuff and have been more or less neglecting consoles ever since. My PS4 is now the place I pretty much engage the PS exclusives (plus Black Ops IIII, which I tolerate because my son loves it), and my Xbox One X is suddenly a legacy device for where I play Halo and Gears of War again (and sundry other favorites of the past).

PC meanwhile: it's where I'm busy engaging with a medley of New and a few Old. For example....Far Cry 5, which I have been enjoying more on PC than I'd expected. Destiny 2 Forsaken...a resoundingly better way to play Destiny 2. It is with just a tiny measure of self-introspection that I concede I own Destiny in all it's versions and content packs on both PC, PS4 and Xbox One. PS4 because it started there for me, Xbox One because that's where my son and I can team up, and now PC because that's the default preferred stomping ground.

Yes, I will feel a bit foolish if they ever get crossplay going for Destiny 2....thank goodness I got the extra copies (for myself, my wife and my kid, sigh) on various and sundry sales...!

Anyway, the New part of the PC universe includes stuff like Metro: Exodus, Anthem, Assassin's Creed Origins and Odyssey, and The Division 2. Overall there's a deep and compelling satisfaction to powering up the latest and greatest (ymmv) AAA game at maximum graphics and 4K default resolution and enjoying no drop in framerate. Usually, anyway....Anthem runs better in 1080p, for example...but by contrast Division 2 started up that way and is as smooth as you can imagine.

The only problem is....I just keep playing Destiny 2, which I am finally "back in to" after a bit of a hiatus. Destiny 2 came out originally after I had just finished an enormous push to finish all content I reasonably could in Destiny 1, and still play with my son who is currently working through The Tide of Iron (on good school days with homework finished). So the mood for Destiny 2 took longer, but I finally have it, and am eagerly exploring the game in great depth....and my PC account has now surpassed my PS4 explorations. The Destiny universe continues to be my favorite.

It's also a far cry from Anthem, which I am slowly working on but have grave reservations about. More on that in a future post...!

And also....yes, bear with me here....Fallout 76, which is the game everyone loves to hate. I have found it's soothing empty ambience and armies of mutants accompanied by Randos I can Ignore to be a surprisingly fun experience. Maybe not for much longer; it does require more personal dedication to get the most out of, and I've never been much of a crafter or much of a socializer in these games, after all.....but if you're the kind of person who just likes exploring and doesn't mind that the only "live" humans in the game are all a bunch of nutters played by other people then actually yeah, there's something here worth checking out. Just do it on sale, you know?

Monday, April 8, 2019

Cypher System - World of Ensaria: The Hallowed

The Mystery of the Hallowed

Among the many tribes of humans throughout Ensaria, hidden in enclaves around the world of Ensaer, are humans known as the Hallowed. The Hallowed are ordinary men and indistinguishable on the outside from any other common human, but they hold a very special heritage: the Hallowed have kept to themselves over the eons, and have maintained a tradition of close intermarriage within their clades, refusing to commingle with what they consider the “common genotype,” or the “baseline” as their old records refer to it.

The Hallowed are actually the descendants of the last of a breed of ancient human who had uplifted their kind, genetically modifying themselves to be resistant or immune to most diseases of the old era (this immunity has been diminished over the eons, however, as diseases mutated with time), as well as aging (Hallowed can live three or more centuries). They enhanced all elements of their genotype to reflect the peak of performance and function. In this lost era, when the colonial world of Ensaer fell to the control of other-dimensional invaders, a small number of these genetically enhanced survivors banded together and began a strict cultural tradition that insured their genetic traits would continue. In this first generation a series of strict protocols were put in place my means of genetic tags that would encourage future generations to interbreed and remain true to the Hallowed heritage.

Over the course of twenty-seven thousand years, due largely to the inherited protocols, the Hallowed gradually became a distinct and unique species of man, self-described at one time in the past as the “Homo-verum” or true men. Hallowed can still breed with other humans, but their offspring are always sterile, and described within the enclaves as the “fractured,” meaning their genetic heritage has been disrupted and cannot continue.

Despite the genetic programming, homo-verum, the Hallowed, have lost almost all recollection of their heritage outside of a mythical conception of their origins. They know they are descended from what they believe to be the first men, the ancients, and that the inferior stock of men were the lesser beings, the workers of their lost history. This sense of entitlement is carefully hidden, however, for the genetic markers built into all Hallowed leave them almost compulsively unable and unwilling to identify their existence to others as a matter of survival. Hallowed today dwell in their remote communities, sometimes right in the heart of normal cities and lands, but remain distinctly separate from those around them, including exercising a modernized version of the ancient language that has shifted only slightly over twenty-seven thousand years, allowing them to read the lost monuments and records of their people with greater ease.

Although this language is retained, little understanding of what the ancient technology of their ancestors was like is understood, though the Hallowed more than any other group in Ensaria today realize that it was a true lost age of greatness, and that it was brought down only by the hubris of their kind as they learned to harness the interstitial realms for energy, accidentally exposing this world to the corruption of the orcs and other beings which served the Old Gods. A handful of Hallowed belong to an order calling themselves the Wardens of Calipsai, which claims to have a tradition stemming back to the fall of their kind, and a venerable order of ancient servants of the Ancient Empire which protected humans against the Old Gods. Today there are not more than a few dozen in this order, but they dwell in the dark corners of the earth squelching any evidence of cults rising in the name of the Old Gods.

Other rumors suggest stranger things. Stories of hallowed enclaves dwelling in remote regions near volcanoes or the ice shelf at the edge of the world speak of tribes of Hallowed who still serve the whim of ancient technology, and some even seem to have retained an understanding of its purpose. These ancient machines, immense in size, seem to serve some sort of function that keeps the world alive, and the Hallowed who dwell in these remote areas continue to engage in rituals designed to maintain and upkeep the machines, even if the purpose of their behavior has long been forgotten. The names for these machines in the old language is “Terraformers” and it is thought by these Hallowed that they continue to preserve the world and make it possible for all life on Ensaer to continue.

Hallowed Descriptor:

Attributes: Hallowed gain +2 Intellect.

Sense Interstitial Energy: similar to magic, which is forged from the “bleed” of interstitial energy into the world, Hallowed are particularly attuned to this and can spend one minute studying and sensing an object or location to detect and learn of the approximate source of such energies.

Language of the Ancients: Hallowed have carried the language of the ancients from generation to generation, and due to being genetically programmed for tradition they have managed to do so with very little linguistic drift over time. The Hallowed are all able to speak and read this unique language, and original sources from 27,000 years or older can be understood on a level 3 Intellect test.

Technomancy: Hallowed are particularly attuned to their heritage and have an easier time of relating to and understanding the lost technology of the ancients. They gain one favorable shift when attempting to understand lost tech, and because of their genetic purity, technology which required proof of that inheritance to work will respond positively to their genetic markers.

Initial Links to Starting the Adventure:

1. Your enclave is charged with the protection and maintenance of ancient ruins buried nearby. You befriended at least one other PC when you found them snooping around the place, and was charged with helping them out by your elders, while also steering them clear of the ancient site.

2. You are the last of your enclave which was wiped out in a raid by an unknown enemy. You have set out to learn who was responsible and to try to reclaim a better understanding of your people.

3. As you came of age your elders set you out on the world to learn and explore, for while it might be an enclave working within normal human society you have been isolated in your teaching and must learn of the regular world as well as how to “blend” and hide the ancient heritage of your people in plain sight.

4. You are Hallowed but know nothing of your heritage, having been orphaned at a young age, or possibly kidnapped during a raid, and later raised by one of the raiders as their own. One day you encountered a Hallowed warden who revealed to you that you belonged to a greater legacy and charged you with learning of it.

Friday, April 5, 2019

A Quick Shazam Review - Actual, Earnest Fun

I'll keep this simple because Shazam works great when you see it with no expectations at all; the trailers do not do this film justice, and as a result I was pleasantly surprised that it...

A. Had an actual story
B. Was actually well thought out, carefully written and filmed
C. Was actually fun!

I mean, I'm a DC fan at heart (unapologetic) and expected to enjoy this movie, but Shazam did something even the best comic films sometimes have trouble with: it managed to faithfully adapt the character to the big screen for a moderrn audience in a way which was both true to the underlying characters and tales and also resonates well with today's audience. No small feat!

If you were worried that the trailers suggested this would be a cheap Seth McFarland-esque style comedy romp, fear not; the trailers lie, and lie well. There's humor, yes, but this movie felt to me like it deserved a place in the subgenre defined by movies like Ghostbusters and the Goonies as much as any superhero film.

I'll offer no details or spoilers, it's better to see this movie straight up with no knowledge going in if possible. In the Thursday night showing I was in, every kid in the crowd cheered and clapped at least twice during the showing...when was the last time you saw kids (actual kids!) getting that excited over a movie? It was such a fun, earnest experience....absolutely worth it.

For those with kids, do note it's closer to PG-13. There's one spot where some bad CEOs get eaten, and a bit of swearing (the s word) but if you think, "same genre as Goonies" you'll understand. Totally fine for my 7 1/2 year old to see it, and he wants to see it again.

A+++ best DC movie to date, hands down, and better than most Marvel films, too.

P.S. stick around for the mid-credits twist, DC is diving deep down the rabbit hole of its traditional comics weirdness, no holds barred. Speaking of which, I need to blog about the awesomeness that is Doom Patrol soon.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Five Things Pathfinder Classic Does Extremely Well

I considered posting this list as a "Five Things Pathfinder 1.0 Does Better Than D&D 5E" but realized that frankly it does these things well regardless of any specific system comparisons.

As usual with 3E era games, your mileage will man's boon is another's bane when it comes to this system and its many iterations. However for me these happen to be five of the key features of classic Pathfinder that I have always appreciated.

5. The Nuanced Skill System

One of the key features of Pathfinder that changed the rules from D&D 3.5 was the skill system. It cleaned up the slightly more complex system of its predecessor while retaining all of the gritty bits people liked. Sure, you have skill synergies and other pieces still in place, but Pathfinder took the fundamental class vs. non-class focus on 3rd edition skills and refined it to keep the same level of nuance while allowing for plenty of depth in character design. You could much more easily get a return on your skills in PF than before, and the math was easier to figure out without losing any granularity. Overall more skill points, more skills (well, except for poor Rope Use from 3.0) and more flexibility in design. You still have a measure of "escalating skill ranks" tied to level but it is quite possible to make multiple characters of the same class with very different skill sets.

Pathfinder's skill system continues to haunt me as I find that I tend to want to call out skill rolls based on its list to this day, regardless of the game system I am using.

4. No Recovery Rolls

This is very much a YMMV moment as I doubt recovery mechanics would be so popular in D&D 5E and other systems without good cause....and I certainly like how systems like Cypher System handle recovery rolls a great deal. But prior to D&D 4E, the idea of Hit Points as an abstract "numerical value that counts down to when you lie down and groan" mechanic was still open for debate. Pathfinder did not introduce any special recovery mechanic to 3rd edition, and because of this it still feels legitimately in the same bucket as old school game mechanics....the mechanics where your hit points can arguably be considered a good base measurement of how long you have left before you die. When hit points change in PF, it's because of extraordinary effort, natural healing or unnatural magical causes.

What this means is that you can still provide some narrative depth to any Pathfinder session that includes the notion of "you have suffered an actual wound, from which you must somehow recover." It is nearly impossible to accomplish this in D&D 5E with any meaning, to contrast, as no wound will ever be nasty enough in 99.9% of cases that you aren't fully recovered within 1-2 days.

3. A Wealth of Character Class Options

Other D&D variants have ranged from very static class designs (B/X D&D) to rules for just about anything (3rd edition) and in between. Some editions pay lip service, trying to shoehorn a less flexible system in to options because it turns out the design intent of the system didn't mesh with player needs that well (4E), and the farther back you get the stranger and messier class options get (such as 2E's class and kit mechanics). Pathfinder however maintains and expands upon 3rd edition's dynamic class design, leading to a bewildering array of design possibilities while also introducing flavor-driven ideas like archetypes. You can build a far richer array of characters in Pathfinder than almost any other edition of the game, and it patches up many of the issues 3E had with the process. The addition of prestige classes, archetypes and other special options make for a wealth of resources for players.

There are issues with this approach, most notably system mastery creates a situation where you could build suboptimal designs, but there's a school of thought out there which I subscribe to that a game system which tries to proof itself against suboptimal design leads to a more homogenized, less interesting experience.

2. Magic is Rich and Diverse but not Cheap

Homogenous design can lead to a smaller but more tightly designed array of spells for spellcasting classes. Pathfinder is more old school (heh) in this still has spells with teeth, spells with potent effect, and spells that are extremely situational. It only allows at-will magic in cantrips, and cantrips in Pathfinder are minor effects that are not going to have a significant impact. It rewards the studious player of spellcasters but curbs some of the problems with earlier 3rd edition and caster dominance....but not at the expense of having the potential for truly fantastical magic in the game.

If I have a general complaint about magic after 3rd edition in D&D It is that it is sometimes just a bit too boring. Not true in Pathfinder and 3rd edition, though. Yes, magic in 3E was borked for a while because it took much of the power from 1E/2E but stripped it of the in-game controls (rigorous requirements for spellcasting components and time/actions needed to accomplish such spells), but Pathfinder refined this just enough to resolve key issues without necessarily (again, YMMV) making caster dominance an overwhelming issue. I personally had many great games with a mix of casters and non-casters in Pathfinder, and never had the "CoDzilla" experience like I did in one campaign with straight 3.5 edition, and the only time I experienced anything resembling that caster dominance issue happened as a direct result of some third party books on psionics, actually.

1. You Can Have A Complete Game Now

Here's the best thing of all about Pathfinder 1.0: there are about twenty-odd hard cover rulebooks, and you only technically need 2 to play (Core and bestiary), though most GMs usually have 5-10 books they consider "necesssary." For me that list includes Bestiaries 2, 3 and 4, Advanced Player's Guide, Advanced Race Guide, Monster Codex, Gamemastery Guide and probably Ultimate Combat and Ultimate Magic, but mostly for the new classes the introduce to players.

The point though is....thanks to PF 2.0, Classic Pathfinder may now be the best and most complete (and updated) iteration we will have of the 3rd edition rules going forward. Yes, it has enough issues that I could do a top five biggest problems list easily enough (stacking rules, system mastery issues, overly complex NPC stat blocks, too many feats and swingy high level play), but most people who have played Pathfinder have a hard time disputing that the game has a sweet spot from levels 1-10 that is incredibly hard to beat, and it remains fun, even if at times frustrating well into high level play.

Right now, it's hard to find a game currently on the market that offers as many tools and is essentially as complete as Pathfinder classic. And with the pocket editions, its even pretty affordable if your eyesight can take it!