Monday, June 29, 2015

An interesting revelation on a "Worst of Fantasy" compilation list I stumbled across

Over on there's a list of the blogger's 30 picks for Worst Fantasy Novels ever. He discusses his methodology and admits its his own list, but also makes cogent arguments for why he feels as he does about these novels.

So recently I got back into reading fantasy....something I have largely avoided for years, with the only exceptions being my George R.R. Martin stint that ended a few years back and my persistent devotion to Salvatore's Drizzt novels, although I am still stuck in the Thousand Orcs era of that series. One of the reasons I have otherwise avoided reading most fantasy out there? It seemed to be a vast field of terrible novels, and I couldn't figure out why, other than that most of the books in question seemed trite, derivative, overdone, juvenile, plain old crappy and occasionally professionally bad in that special way that only someone who can hash out a thousand-page epic can manage to achieve.

So, enter this "worst of fantasy" list I my surprise, I had read (or attempted to read) virtually every book on this list, and it is shocking to realize that it is entirely possible that my swearing off almost all fantasy fiction not written by GRRM or RAS back in the late 90's to early 00's may have been due to a poor random sampling on my part of what I was trying to read.

It's good to get some affirmation, I have to say....on the list as presented I disagree (only marginally) with two cases: I happen to like David Eddings but do agree his Belgariad series resonated much better with my young teen self, and I do like Salvatore but I'd never put his books up as pinnacles of exceptionalism.....they're fun the same way comics are fun.

But...everything else on that list? I tried to read them all (well, except #1 which postdates my exodus from fantasy, plus I am very studious in avoiding shitty ebook fiction). I remember trying to plow through the Fifth Sorceress and wondering where I had gone wrong. I tried on several occasions to get in to Terry Goodkind and figured I must be missing something because clearly this looked like a popular series. I was ranting about The Iron Tower Trilogy as a teenager, appalled at how unabashedly derivative it was.

Dragonlance? Never could get into it, even when I really tried. Same with Feist and Brooks...and Douglass, and even Drake's Lord of the Isles, which I was sure I was meant to enjoy but I just couldn't. 

It goes on, but there was a period when the "good stuff I liked" was eclipsed by the growing pile of "stuff I couldn't get in to." But I tended to assume that if I wasn't "getting" it then it was probably because I was losing interest, or the genre was played out for me...or I had too little time to really appreciate it.

Then this list comes along and like a bolt from the blue I realize: I was on an unlucky reading streak, possibly for years. I was buying all the wrong stuff, reading all the wrong books, and in the end it killed my motivation to read more fantasy fiction. My only saving grace was stumbling across A Game of Thrones when I was in the hospital getting my appendix removed....and a concerted binge-reading of Salvatore's first ten Drizzt novels, which I found compelling in a great soap-opera way. Outside of that, I gave up on fantasy fiction entirely for close to fifteen years now.

Recently I started reading Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon, and picked up a few others as well (Sanderson's Mistborn, Bretts' The Warded Man and Rothfuss's Name of the Wind) and I have Joe Abercrombie on my to-get list. I may check out Brent Weeks.

If I dive back, I think now is the time for omnivorous reading habits from the pre-internet days need to be cultivated with a healthy sense of skepticism about what is out there. I have excellent "SF fiction" radar for what is good and what is not....less so for fantasy. If anyone has recommendations I welcome them....I can't help but notice, for example, that Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn is on the "reader's worst" list on the same site....sigh.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Watchers of the Sullen Vigil: the Emon Mage Silagastar Hesteros, cursed by fire (S&W)

Wednesday included a new introduction to the land, races and demi-humans of Sarvaelen. Among those options were the Emoniae, a sort of "ancient decadent magical human race" ala Melniboneans who have dabbled with the elemental lords for so long that many of their kind are at risk of elemental taint. What follows is one example of such, an ancient Emon mage named Silagastar Hesteros, who wanders the lands looking for a way to end his fiery curse before he transforms into a true elemental....

Silagastar Hesteros
Emon male, Neutral, age 76, Magic-User Level 17
STR 6, DEX 11, CON 10, INT 18, WIS 15, CHA 16
Languages Known: Aeronistic, Atlenar, Iandei, Emon, elvish, orcish, elemental tongue
HP 34 (11D4+6 HD), SAVE 5, AC 2 [17] (Bracers of Defense), To Hit Bonus +7
Magical Weapon: Staff of Power
Spells Prepared:
1st Level (6/day): charm person, detect magic, magic missile, read magic, read languages, sleep
2nd Level (6/day): ESP, invisibility, levitate, mirror image, web(X2)
3rd Level (6/day): clairvoyance, dispel magic, fireballX2, protection from normal missiles, suggestion
4th Level (5/day): charm monster, dimension door, hallucinatory terrain, wall of fireX2
5th Level (5/day): Cloudkill, Conjuration of Elementals, Contact other Plane, TelekinesisX2
6th Level (5/day): Control Weather, Disintegrate, Monster Summoning IVX2, Stone to Flesh
7th Level  (2/day): Delayed Blast Fireball, Reverse Gravity
8th Level (2/day): Clone, Mass Charm

Elemental Taint of the Emon: Silagestar has developed a deep level of elemental affinity in his tainted bloodline for the plane of fire. He has manifested the following traits:
1st Taint (5th level): reddish glow on skin in the form of elemental runes of fire; elemental fire resistance
2nd Taint (6th level): the spells magic missile, invisibility and web now have fire elemental traits (web manifests for one round, deals 1D6 fire and burns up; magic missiles are now fire instead of force, and invisibility works but he radiates infrared heat and can be seen by creatures who can see such)
3rd Taint (8th level): fiery skin (1D6 damage on touch); also burns garments worn, can only wear metal or fire resistant clothing
4th Taint (9th level): cosmetic trait (eyes are now fiery orbs)
5th Taint (11th level): the spells charm person and mirror image have fire elemental taint (charm person: target is wreathed in fire, immune to themselves but deals 1D6 on touch; mirror image: mirror images are wreathed in fire and deal 1D6 fire damage if touched)
6th Taint (14th Level): may summon an 8HD fire elemental 1/day for 1 hour
7th Taint (15th Level): manifested as an extraplanar fire elemental; body and flesh are fire.
8th Taint ( 16th Level): hallucinatory terrain and control weather gain fire elemental traits (hallucinatory terrain appears to manifest as the plane of fire; control weather manifests as a firestorm starting forest fires)
9th Taint (17th level): ability to plane shift to elemental plane of fire at will

Silagastar Hesteros is a wandering mage of Emon, tainted by elemental fire. He is ancient as human-kin go, and at 76 he has all but manifested as a full elemental. He sees his touch of fire as a curse placed on him by the Elemental Lord Erasak, and is questing to find a temple to the old god Grotares, for he found a lost Camrinal text which suggested that the deity could purify both body and spirit in a remote spring in the northern mountains. Location of this spring has eluded him, however.

Silagastar wears bracers of protection and swathes himself in rough leathers from hell hounds to contain his fiery emulsion. He travels far at times, looking for earthen and stone beds to lie upon for sleep, to insure he does not awaken in the morning to a raging grassfire around him. Silagastar carries few non-metallic items for most cannot survive constant contact. He does keep a coin purse of 100 platinum pieces and he wields a thin metal Staff of Power.


Silagastar has some unusual traveling companions. In addition to his fire elemental (8 HD) which he can summon that he has dubbed “Charcoal Maker” he keeps a loyal companion and bodyguard in the form of the fire giant Khomostagar, whose life Silagastar once saved. He also has a hellcat he has named “Good Kitty” for a loyal pet companion.

Khomostagar the Fire Giant (HP 57, AC 4[15], Attacks 1 immense metal maul (5D6), move 12, Save 4, AL chaotic, XP Val 12,000; special: hurl boulders, immune to fire)

“Good Kitty” the Hellcat (HP 36, AC 5[14], attack 1 bite (2d^), and 2 claws (1D4+1), move 12, Save 9, AL chaotic, XP Val 1,100; special: hit only by magical weapons, 20% MR). Good Kitty wears two magic items: The Collar of the Cunning Beast (grants INT 13 to an animal intelligence creature) and has been permanently granted fire immunity by Silagastar.

Charocal Maker the 8HD fire elemental (HP 36, AC 2[17], attack 1 strike (3D8), move 12, Save 8, AL neutral, XP Val 1,100; Special: ignite materials, immune to all non-magical weapons)

All of the above can be found in “Monstrosities.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A New Introduction to the Sarvaelen: the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil Setting

In reviewing all I had written for the "Watchers" setting of Sarvaelen I was shocked (not really) to realize I had been letting it organically grow over a series of vignettes but had never established much of a "core introduction" for the world. To fix that I produced the following, along with some new data on characters and race options in the world. Any rules references below assume Swords & Wizardry Complete and Basic Role-Playing/Magic World but they're sufficiently portable to other like systems. 

The History of Sarvaelen since the Fateful Day of Destruction

When the Final War rolled to a close and the Emperor’s war mages of Camrinal called down unimaginable power from the skies, they sundered the cosmos itself in twain for a period of time. It was said that the black and frothing energies of other dimensional realms cascaded uncontrolled down upon the empire, eviscerating the land and its people even as the power of the ritual spell bathed Camrinal’s foes in unholy fire. When the battle ended almost none lived, and the great city of Zaravande was a blackened expanse of ruins dotted by thousands upon thousands of skeletal remains. Whatever it was that oozed forth from the skies and engulfed Zaravande, it picked the flesh clean from the bones of every nearly living thing within one hundred miles of the capitol, and those who lived were transformed into horrific, maddened ghuls.

The old stories say that “it” left; speaking of these unholy energies as if they were an entity with thought and intention, but some questioned that, observing that there is no evidence of any credible living witnesses to this event. Occasional tales from the deep recesses of the wastelands by maddened ghuls suggest that a handful of survivors, all changed into hideous half-dead abominations, claim to have seen the black energy writhe and coil about the land and its inhabitants, draining all of the living, sucking the flesh from their bones, before retracting once more into the rift in the sky. They claim that the rift never closed, and that it opens on occasion and feeds from the world below. It is tethered, these ghuls assert, over the ruins of Zaravande.

It was in this terrifying well of darkness and death that the modern world of Sarvaelen was born: from the ashes of an ancient, evil empire which had at last pushed too far, demanded too much of its client states. When the many enemies of the ancient Emperor rose up against him, to storm the gates of the Capitol and cast out the great evil which had plagued men, it was with the greatest of intentions. War would end, and a new dawn would begin no longer under the yoke of oppression. Instead, in a desperate fit of rage and madness, the Emperor called upon his greatest magic to bring forth the cataclysm that ripped victory from the grasp of his enemies at the expense of his entire empire.

Today, the memory of that devastation is a matter of folklore and few historians can reliably piece together who started what or why. No one disputes that the old Empire had fallen to dark ways, listening to the whispering of the elder gods and debasing themselves before ancient evils in the name of magical power. These imperial citizens of Camrinal subjugated the men of the other lands, including the Aeronost, Atlenar and Emon in the name of their depraved interests and obsession with power. This went on for centuries, it is said, before the subjugated people of these lands at last rose up to destroy their oppressor, Emperor Caradosh and his decadent imperial culture.

That was a little over two centuries ago. The year now is 213 of the New Dawn (ND), a name which implies that the civil war led to a victory. In fact, the name is more one of lost hope; the new dawn of the lands of Sarvaelen have been met with endless danger and a landscape forever altered by the hideous magic of the emperor and his war mages. Camrinal, once a vast imperial hub in the heart of Sarvaelen, is now a wasteland of magically irradiated, uninhabitable desert. Ghuls, undead and monsters prowl the land, spilling out into the neighboring dominions to hunt men for food and sport. A dour order of knights called the Order of the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil patrol the boundary between the desert wastes of Camrinal and the rest of the world, trying to keep the supernatural evil contained, but they falter and dwindle, for no men can stand up to the evil that was unleashed. Beyond the borderlands lie the neighboring kingdoms of Aeronost, Atlenar, Emon and others….all once provincial client states of the old empire, now freed men left to face two centuries of growing, ancient evil.

In the two centuries since the fall of Camrinal several events have taken place which have changed the face of the world. These include:

The fall of the Elder Gods: the pagan elder gods of the old empire were regarded as the reason for Camrinal’s destruction. Whether the emperor called upon one of these gods or some primal, cosmic force is unknown….but it is certain that even if these ancient deities were not responsible, they most certainly did not intervene to save the lives of their flock.

The rise of Nevereth: among most of the free lands of men, including Atlenar, Aeronost and the Iandei people the goddess Nevereth, once a lesser goddess in antiquity has become the principle deity of a growing monotheistic religion which decries the old gods as pagan demons and deceivers and fosters an intense mistrust of mages, branding all who engage with sorcery as witches, warlocks and servitors of demons.

The Yawning of the Gates Between Worlds: the very fabric of reality itself seems to have been damaged. The eerie Realm of Faerie has opened wide in remote lands of the world letting elves and other fey kin back into reality. For millennia now the fey kindred have been gone from the world, leaving when mankind rose to power and the empire was founded. Now after a long absence they are returning. Even as these portals appear, dark passageways to infernal realms open in the depths of the earth, the bottom of the ocean, and in the upper reaches of the sky. The Emon claim that it is the elemental kingdoms, slowly seeking to reclaim the mortal world, which was forged out of the primordial chaos eons ago by the old pagan gods. From these portals monsters of horrible nature emerge.

The Survivors of Sarvaelen

The world of the Watchers is a dreary realm which survived a terrible cataclysm. Among the men of the world there are several prominent contemporary kingdoms that arose from or survived the ashes of the old empire:

The Survivors of Camrinal

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

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

The People of Emon

Also known as the Emoniae, the people of this distant land exist far in the west, beyond the ruined expanse of the wastelands of Camrinal. Emon was the greatest independent threat to Camrinal in its era of rule, and the Emoniae were a culture of sorcerers much like the Empire. When the Final War erupted, their lands were devastated, and the Empire sought to exterminate their greatest rivals as quickly as possible. When the conflict ended with the destruction of Camrinal, most of Emon’s warriors were caught in the destruction, and destroyed. Still, there were plenty of survivors back home, now mostly dwelling in ancient, deep enclaves within the vast Adasatrak Mountains where they stood guard against the outside world.

Today the Emoniae are still driven by magic as a way of life and such arts find a greater acceptance within their mountain fortresses than anywhere else. The Emoniae remain isolated and tend to mistrust the young eastern kingdoms that have arisen from the ashes of the Final War. It is also the only land where the study and worship of the Old Gods is still permitted.

The Dour Atlenar

When the southern kingdom of Atlenar, with is brilliantly-scaled dragons and their riders assaulted the Zaravande, the capitol of the Empire, most of the dragon riders of this fallen kingdom perished. When the unholy energies of the burning spell bathed the world in fire, it slew the entire army and its dragonflights of Atlenar, and laid waste to the lands south, leaving cities and villages burning as the unholy wrath of the Emperor was channeled through the maddening power of the Old Gods he called upon. No one can say for sure what might have happened to this kingdom had they not comprised the single largest contingent of forces allied against Camrinal, but for this reason the wrath of that terrible spell burned Atlenspar almost as badly as it scoured the earth of Camrinal itself.

The Atlenar are the people who survived that scourge two centuries ago, mostly folk who were deep in the south and far from the center of the conflict, or who dwelt in smaller villages and townships in the wilds, escaping the purging fires that razed nearly two dozen strong cities and fortresses to the ground. The nature of the Atlenar today was shaped forever by this catastrophe, leaving them a brooding, dour folk who look with a great pessimism on daily life but at the same time embrace each day as if it were their last. Atlenar are known to be shrewd risk takers who regard all others with suspicion, especially anyone who might have a trace of Imperial blood in their veins.

Atlenar has not recovered from its firey doom, though its people have returned to a more clan-based way of life. The lands of Atlenar are dominated by the politics and rivalries of these twenty-odd clans that stem from the dominat families of their surviving ancestors. They treat their northern neighbors in Aeronost as allies, for they remember that after the devastation many in Aeronost traveled south to aid them in their time of need. Today the Atlenar also worship the monotheistic faith of Nevereth, the Alll-Mother as a result of this influence from Aeronost.

The Aeronost

Much like the other lands devastated by the final doom of Camrinal, Aeronost has had a time of recovery and growth to restore itself to a semblance of civilization. Unlike Emon and Atlenar, Aeronost was not nearly as affected as those kingdoms for by the time of the last conflict in which the forces of old rallied into a great force to siege the capitol of Zaravande, only pockets of resistance still existed in Aeronost to try and aid in the conflict; most of the old kingdom had been devastated after twenty years of continuous conflict with Camrinal, its people subjugated by occupying imperial forces. As a result, when the unholy fires and terrors of the Empire were unleashed to destroy their attackers, Aeronost experienced little of the devastation, and its people soon rose to overthrow and drive out the surviving forces of Camrinal that escaped the doom of the Empire by virtue of their station on Aeronost’s lands.

Aeronost remained a peaceful land after the end of the war, recovering and rebuilding, driven by the new young church of the goddess Nevereth which espoused a monotheistic faith that eschewed the Old Gods, blaming the corruption of those gods for the fall of the Empire and the ruin it left upon the lands. These same missionaries recruited many folk who traveled abroad to aid in helping those devastated by the war’s end. This helped greatly to expand the following of Nevereth, who was rapidly adopted as the savior goddess of most of Sarvaelen’s kin.

About one hundred years ago the first wars of succession began in Aeronost as various nobles and warlords began to aspire to restoring their lost kingdom’s might. It was forty years ago that the first true king was recognized, to whom most current nobles swear fealty to today. Since then Aeronost has grown and developed into a strong, young kingdom and a policy of open overland trade has made it a lucrative corridor for such between the young kingdoms of Sarvaelen.


The iandei are a curious lot. The stories of the iandei, who stand on average shorter than most men, averaging only five feet in height, is that they were actually men taken centuries ago as prisoners and slaves from the kingdom of Sammar (though back then it was known only as the mysterious lands of Shul as Sammar had not yet risen to power), turned into servants of the empire. During the Final War many iandei escaped and took up arms against the Empire, serving as foot soldiers in the armies of Emon and Atlenspar. When the terrible energies of the last conflict in the war bathed the world in fire, some of the iandei somehow escaped doom, and as a people found themselves without their cruel masters, free at last.

Today the iandei have vibrant communities within the borders of other kingdoms, but they tend to remain insular as a community and as such tend to hold to their own. They have, like so many others, embraced the worship of Nevereth but they never truly let go of their old ways during the centuries of subjugation as slaves of the empire and worship a curious form of animistic spirit worship that harkens back to their homeland of Shul. The spirit worship of the iandei is a deeply kept cultural secret, and they build all temples beneath the ground, usually hidden away, known only to the other iandei of the community.

The iandei do not get along with any descendent of Camrinal which takes pride in their ancestry, but they do have a curious respect and pity for the ghuls of the wastelands, seeing them as having suffered greatly for the error of the Empire’s ways. As such, iandei such as can be found in Aelghast are known to take pity on ghuls who seek refuge or aid and so allow them into the community, albeit as second class citizens.

There are more kingdoms and cultures to be revealed in time (such as in the northlands, and across the sea in Sammar), but those shall be saved for another time. What is outlined above comprise the interlocked groups which can be found adjacent to the wastelands of Camrinal and the Stormsinger Coast.

Nonhuman Races of Sarvaelen

There are a handful of deminhuman races in Sarvaelen, and their numbers have been growing in the two centuries since Camrinal’s fall. Among these demihumans are:

The Ilmarain Elves

The elves of Ilmarain are a secretive, suspicious race. The Ilmarain herald from their dominion in the Real of the Faerie where they claim to belong to the Summer Court. Their disdain for men and love of cruelty is only slightly less than that of the Abashan, the dark elves. Their Queen of Air and Water is the ruler of the Summer Court. The term Ilmarain apparently is also the name of the elven city from which most elves enter the mortal world.

The Abashan Dark Elves

The elves of Abashan are counter to the Ilmarain. They are dark of skin, seeped in shadow and darkness, and servants to the Winter Court. Their ruler is the Queen of Fire and Shadow, a destructive immortal of pure power. The Abashan are most comfortable in shadow and seek out the darkest corners and depths of the earth in which to manifest. They are inimical to mortals, and treat them as playthings at best, cattle at worst.

The Orcs of Sugante and Aphoros

The orcs of the Lower Kingdoms are an ancient force unmeasured, for their presence in the world is new. It is not known if they are a recent manifestation, perhaps born out of the incalculable destruction of Camrinal or something more ancient, waiting for the wane of human rule to allow their species passage to conquest. Their rise in numbers has forced many dwarven enclaves to escape closer to the surface realms to avoid destruction.

The Dwarves of the Lower Kingdoms

The stout dwarves are elemental sons of the earth, and they revere the Old God Satarnas as their creator, from whom they rose out of the earth in the wake of his steps in the caverns of the deeps. The dwarves dislike surface dwellers and rarely come out of their caverns save out of necessity. In the last century the rise of the orcs and other monsters in the darkness have forced the dwarves to seek passage out of their dark lands and to even call upon the aid of humans.

The Gnomes of Rekaras

The gnomes are a race similar to the dwarves and some claim a similar origin, created by the Old Gods though the gnomes insist that they are something different. They have some cities, such as Rekaras, on the surface world but many gnome tribes still dwell hidden in deep caverns and dark forests. The gnomes are a pernicious lot, inventors and madmen who have the logic of the fey, suggesting a connection to the Other World.

The Halflings of the Western Shores

Remote communities of halflings thrive north west of Emon. The haflings call themselves the True Folk, and claim to have been around when men were a new race in the world. Haflings are rare but for their lack of adventuresome spirit, and keep to themselves mostly. Halflings can and do disappear in times of war, and their ability to burrow into the earth and hide in the depths of the forests and mountains serve them well in dark times.

The Ghuls of Camrinal

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

Sarvaelen Primer on Character Generation, Gods and More

Random Homeland Culture/Race Generation Table
D100                      Homeland           Special Subtables                      
01-25                     Aeronost              Possible Camrinal bloodline**   
26-32                     Esren                   Possible Camrinal bloodline**   
33-40                     Iandei                  Mixed Homelands*                     
41-45                     Mandrelavas                                                            
46-55                     Thaerinal             Possible Camrinal bloodline**   
56-70                     Atlenar                Possible Camrinal bloodline**   
71-75                     Neremune                                                                
76-80                     Yakhal                                                                    
81-85                     Emon***            Elemental Taint***   (10% chance of 1/2 elvish blood)                
86-90                     Viskar Steppes                                                   
91-95                     Katari Clans       Possible Camrinal bloodline** (15% chance of 1/2 orcish blood) 
96-00                     demihuman        (D8: 1-2 halfling, 3 gnome, 4 elf, 5-6, dwarf, 7 ghul, 8 dark elf)                                                
*Mixed Homelands: The iandei roll a second time to establish their local origin. If Iandei ir Sammar comes up, then the iandei is a pureblood of Shul.
**Camrinal Bloodline: There is a chance that an adventurer from this land has some heritage from the old empire. If the character both has heritage and is magically adept (has class levels/skill in a magic-using class/profession) than he is automatically considered “pureblood.” Purebloods are prone to attracting special attention from demons, old gods, spirits and other malevolent beings. S&W: this is a percentage chance equal to Intelligence (D100 equal to or under INT score) that an adventurer from this land has some heritage from the old empire. If the character both has heritage and is magically adept (has class levels in a magic-using class) than he is automatically considered “pureblood.” Purebloods are prone to attracting special attention from demons, old gods, spirits and other malevolent beings. BRP: There is a percentage chance equal to POWx1 that the adventurer has a Camrinal bloodline. In a Magic World game those of Camrinal blood can cast spells regardless of INT score (does not need to be 16). In straight BRP they start with "normal" level in magic or sorcery on top of any professional bonuses, and regardless of profession chosen.
***Elemental Taint: Emoniae revere the elemental old gods, and still worship them. S&W: There is a percentage chance equal to Wisdom that an emon has some elemental heritage in her or her bloodline. The immediate effect is an innate basic understanding of the elemental tongue and an affinity for that element, which means that they tend to be regarded favorably by elementals of like type that they meet (+2 reaction modifier). BRP: Emoniae roll percentiles against POWx1 at character creation. If they succeed then the emon has INTx3 starting value in the Elemental Tongue (a unique planar language) and a +10% reaction modifier when influencing elementals.

The Emoniae

Many emoniae have a talent for magic, and are the only human race allowed to multiclass as fighter/magic-users or thief/magic-users. Emoniae are, like pureblooded of Camrinal, prone to attracting the attention and interest of demons, spirits, elementals, old gods and other beings from the Elemental Realms. Elves have an abnormal fascination for them, and as a result it is more common to run into half-elves of mixed elvish and emoniae blood than any other combination.

S&W: Multiclassed emoniae have no level limits, but function in the same manner as multiclassed demihumans for purposes of advancement. 

When magic-using emoniae with elemental taint reaches 5th level in any spell casting class (magic-user, cleric or druid) he or she begins to manifest a sign of elemental corruption, usually in the form of a glow or emission from the skin, and a slow but certain "change" on the skin that seems to be a manifestation of that emon's elemental taint (stone-like skin, persistent water running from pores, smoke, or a misty fog following the emon). This first manifestation is cosmetic and can be supressed with concentration. At each level thereafter the emon must make a percentage check against:  (INT plus level)X2. When this check is made (equal to or under) then a new taint manifests. Subsequent taints are harder to supress, requiring a saving throw to quell the effect. When the emon sleeps or is unconscious it reappears. Roll each time to see what manifests:

D12 – Elemental Change
1-4 - a new cosmetic trait related to the source of elemental taint. Gains resistance against elemental type if not already possessed of it (+5 save vs. magic dealing damage of elemental type and immunity to normal damage from that element.)
 5-6 - 1D3 spells of choice take on an elemental trait (e.g. magic missile is now "magic fire missile), either dealing damage of that elemental type or reflecting elemental traits of said type (Hold person could temporarily encase a target in stone  for example). When all 1st-2nd level spells have elemental taint move on to the next, and so forth. GM discretion on the extend of obscure effects.
7-8 - gains ability to summon an 8HD elemental once per day for 1 hour as a servant; second time this is rolled gains ability to summon a 12HD elemental; 3rd time allows a 16HD elemental; fourth time this is rolled go to 9 below.
9-10 - gain resistance from that element (see 1-4 above); second time this is rolled it becomes total immunity to that element (both magical and mundane); third time this is rolled go to 11-12 below.

11-12 - gain permanent emission of elemental type: stone skin (gain +2 AC), fire erupts from flesh (immune to damage from it but deals 1D6 to all on touch), air (gains levitate at will), or water (emits water permanently, gains water breathing). These traits are very difficult to disguise and require a saving throw at -2 to supress for 1 hour.

The second time on this chart you roll a 12 your character gains the elemental type (extraplanar) for purposes of classification. He or she is now considered an elemental. The form changes noticeably to be "more" of the elemental type and the emon's humanity becomes supressed. Breathing is no longer necessary.

The third time you roll a 12 the Emon gains the ability to plane shift to his elemental plane of appropriate type at will.

The fourth time the emon rolls 12 on this chart he becomes a true elemental and departs the material plane, becoming an NPC at the GM's discretion.

BRP: When sorcerer or mage emoniae with elemental taint reaches 70% or more in any spell or professional sorcerer skills he or she begins to manifest a sign of elemental corruption, usually in the form of a glow or emission from the skin, and a slow but certain "change" on the skin that seems to be a manifestation of that emon's elemental taint (stone-like skin, persistent water running from pores, smoke, or a misty fog following the emon). This first manifestation is cosmetic and can be supressed with concentration. At each level thereafter the emon must make a percentage check against POWx2 +2% for each spell of 75% or greater skill. When this check is made (equal to or under) then a new taint manifests. Subsequent taints are harder to supress, requiring a POW vs. POW resistance roll to supress; each effect is unique with a resistance POW of 15+1D8. When the tainted emon sleeps or is unconscious it reappears. Roll each time to see what manifests when failing a check after reaching 70% or more in a given spell:

D12 – Elemental Change
1-4 - a new cosmetic trait related to the source of elemental taint. Gains resistance against elemental type if not already possessed of it (+5 POW resistance against that elemental type and 5 points of protection from the elemental damage type).
 5-6 - gain a new elemental spell of appropriate type, or gain +10% in the skill of an existing spell.
7-8 - gains ability to summon an elemental once per day for 1 hour as a servant. Each additional time increases the number of elementals or adds 1 hour of summoned time. 
9-10 - gain resistance from that element (see 1-4 above); second time this is rolled it becomes total immunity to that element (both magical and mundane); third time this is rolled go to 11-12 below.
11-12 - gain permanent emission of elemental type: stone skin (gain +1d4+1 AP), fire erupts from flesh (immune to damage from it but deals 1D6 to all on touch), air (gains levitation at movement speed at will), or water (emits water permanently, gains water breathing). These traits are very difficult to disguise and require a resistance roll vs. POW 25 to supress for 1 hour.

The second time on this chart you roll a 12 your character gains the elemental type (extraplanar) for purposes of classification. He or she is now considered an elemental. The form changes noticeably to be "more" of the elemental type and the emon's humanity becomes supressed. Breathing is no longer necessary.

The third time you roll a 12 the emon gains the ability to plane shift to his elemental plane of appropriate type at will.

The fourth time the emon rolls 12 on this chart he becomes a true elemental and departs the material plane, becoming an NPC at the GM's discretion, to eventually be summoned by another elementally tainted emon in the future.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Troll Fever Looms: Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls at last on the horizon

Ken St. Andre reports that the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls rules are almost done and ready to go to print. He also provides the final cover image, which as expected is a gorgeous cover by Liz Danforth. Per Ken, there's some final insertions of copyright notices on art, and then in theory it's ready to go to press.

It's been a long wait (the Kickstarter is a little over two years past due), but the hardcore fans of T&T are about to get a fantastic treat, I think. As someone who has been personally tied to T&T for many decades, and who knows and trusts all of the parties involved,* it has been an interesting experience to see how a Kickstarter can be a blessing and a boon to creative professionals. There are times, I admit, that I have regretted backing it and other Kickstarters, because it is so much easier to just plunk down some cash at the end of the road for a finished product.....but the personal stake in saying, "I am a fan of this game and I want it to happen" is just as exciting in its own way....and honestly T&T is the only game I really love being designed by the only people I have always felt this much confidence in. As such...I am really looking forward to at last getting DT&T and the copious quantities of additional reprint/revised books I ordered soon. This may inspire me to start writing about T&T again, as well.

*For most RPGers in the early 80's Gygax and crew were the Big Deal. For T&T fans it was Ken, Liz, Scott, Rick, Mike and co....and especially if you lived in Arizona as I did. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Brief Moment for Pathfinder Online

...I said I would play the free trial, and I did.

You can do the same, but I don't hate you, so I can't earnestly recommended it. Now, for a list of eleven observations about Pathfinder Online that were revealed in about two sessions of 15 minutes of game play each (the maximum time I could afford my free trial before getting annoyed and bored all at once):

1. Open quest giver does not repeat text. Could not find copy of the text to figure out what I was doing wrong.

2. I found and killed many skeletons before finding goblins. When I did find goblins there were six of them and they ganked me instantly. Unlike skeletons which I could kill multiples of before dying.

3. When the goblins killed me I didn't actually know it at first, appearing at the graveyard so quickly I was trying to figure out what happened to the fight....had I been teleported? But I was at the gravestone, so I must have died.

4. You know how in other MMOs they give you a variety of interesting queues for how long your attacks cycle, or if your target is in range? PO doesn't do that.

5. Someone forgot to remove the rod from my avatar's ass so he can run like a normal human.

6. There was an NPC titled "Starting Quest Giver" or somesuch (I deleted it already or I'd log in for the exact title) but I couldn't get him to talk.

7. The game expected me to charge out and forge my destiny. I think. I get that this is the point of the game, but I couldn't even get past the basic warrior quest to find out what was next.

8. Player introductory rules are found in a PDF at the loader screen.

9. The character animations are...ah....okay--for a budget indie title. This is a budget indie title, right?

10. The game's main problem is it is trying to compete in a dominion of space where few have succeeded, and the ones that do are massively developed monster games like WoW, Guild Wars 2, and The Elder Scrolls Online. Just playing PO made me appreciate GW2 and TESO a lot more, actually. Making a game like this that's fun is hard.

11. And finally! I can't say Pathfinder Online had much to brand it as a Golarion setting, but those goblins definitely looked like PF goblins, so kudos for that.

So....I'll keep this on the radar, and am interested in what it looks like in another year or two after it moves from "early pre-alpha" to maybe an early beta level of testing.


I actually really wanted to be surprised by PO, as technically I am a frontline candidate for a Pathfinder MMORPG. I would love to play something with a recognizably Pathfinder experience tied to it. But I am not an EVE Online fan, and not a fan of the concept behind open-world sandbox pvp games (at least, not presented as MMOs; the concept works great in the "other open-world sandbox" genre of games which drop you on desert islands filled with zombies, pirates, dinosaurs, cannibals and murderous co-players.)

So I am sad to see that PO in its current state seems to have very little invested in the front end of the experience...I get that it may be designed to appeal to the hardcore who want no hand-holding, carebears beware and all that....but right now I wouldn't even say that the opening events are "hardcore"....they're just unpolished. Rough. There's a lot missing, and it's not just some hand-holding.

Five Basic Roleplaying Sourcebooks I Would Really Like To See

With the recent changes at Chaosium, followed by the Big Ass Sale which has cleaned me out as I acquire all remaining BRP/CoC books I don't already own, it got me to thinking about what Basic Roleplaying still could use in the way of sourcebooks. Here are five tomes I would like to see in BRP's future, and maybe you would, too:

#5. BRP Zombies
We have GURPS Zombies which, like most GURPS books, works well as a sourcebook for any RPG (although 4E is slightly less useful in this regard than the old 3E sourcebooks, I admit). Sure, there are also dedicated zombie apocalypse games out there, but BRP's baseline "rules of realism" work exceptionally well for zombie apocalypses. I ran a BRP zombies campaign not too long ago that was an amazing experience, and introduced at least one new player to RPGs in's a brutal genre, but an in-depth guide would be well worth exploring.

#4. BRP Bestiary
It goes without saying that one of the strengths of D&D is it's ability to produce copious quanities of creatures for adventurers to fight. Although your average BRP game is going to be about more than just slaughtering monsters and taking their stuff, that's a style of play that nonetheless resonates well, and having a large volume of monstrous foes to pick from has always benefited those games that need it...hell, look no further than Malleus Monstrorum for Call of Cthulhu to see an example of how this works for the horror genre.

#3. BRP Post-Apocalypse
Rubble & Ruin is a great monogaph but it is more like a taste of what we could have. I'd love to see a book for BRP that gets the Will McAusland treatment, but powered by BRP. Just imagine what that could look like...or even something robust enough to support an in-depth Mad Max styled campaign without any extra work on the GM's part. Rubble & Ruin was a good start: we need a glorious, full color finish! If we can get an amazing pirate book like Blood Tide, I think BRP Post-Apocalypse should be a no-brainer.

#2. BRP Cyberpunk/Transhumanism
Although the rules say you can construct cybernetics from the super powers rules, and having done so I would say yes, that is a reasonable work-around, it's still better to have a dedicated system (or extrapolation) on cyberware and wetware, along with a detailed world/setting guide that discusses the future cyberpunk dystopias and transhumanist singularities that we could build stories around. I'm thinking of more of a "world/setting creation book" than a premade setting....too often author bias makes the specific setting books of limited value. We need GURPS Ultratech and GURPS Biotech but for BRP, essentially....along with some glorious world design rules.

#1. Future World
This is the top dog....and it could even include the aforementioned cyberware/wetware rules. Magic World works as a great intro game because of its focus on fantasy. A SF-focused rulebook or even toolkit guide for SF gaming would be a much needed addition to BRP. Something which includes cusomized professions and skills, world generation, star travel, ship design, trade and commerce, exploration rules, alien design, cyberware, robots, androids, wetware and more. A "campaign design" book rather than a single setting book like we've been getting...something akin to Savage World's Science Fiction Companion, which as you all know is one of my favorite little toolkit books.

Friday, June 19, 2015

2 Hour Tests: Steam Summer Sale Round 3 - Ark: Survival Evolved, Interstellar Marines, Life is Strange

For my final entry in the "2 hour reviews" theme of Steam's Summer Sale I present a classic space marine FPS, a open-world crafting game/dinosaur feeding simulator, and a high school simulator. How did they stack up in the "try it for less than 2 hours and if you don't like it get a full refund" category?

Speaking of refunds, my first refunds from the initial test work. All praise St. Newell.

Interstellar Marines: I've seen this one sitting on Steam for a long time now, always in early access. For about $4 I decided I could afford to overlook the early access brand (again) and risk trying it out. Interstellar Marines is basically a "small budget" operation now with a handful of developers, but ten years ago this game would have been a AAA title. Graphically it looks fine...kind of looks like it was built on the Source engine (maybe it was?) and it has a number of solo missions that I explored. If you like space marine type FPS games this is really a no-brainer. It has co-op and multi player modes, too....I haven't found time to explore those yet (I assume it will be hard to find other players, as is typical for most small-budget MP experiences) but the solo missions were well worth the $4 price tag. For a budget early access title that at least one unhappy reviewer suggested has been in actual development for over a decade now, it's not bad.

Ark: Survival Evolved: I finally bought this because my wife and her cohorts online have been playing this game non-stop for weeks. She has a very nice rig that she got for Xmas last year and the game seems to chug along on high settings, but looks gorgeous. From watching her play it appears the game is entirely about punching and then befriending and ultimately riding dinosaurs. When you are not doing that you are making a house and a bed and hoping that no one comes in when you are "sleeping" (offline) and drags you down to the lake to feed a mosasaur. Apparently they can't kill you, but they can move you to a spot where a feral dinosaur will...first case of passive aggressive PVP I've ever experienced.

Unfortunately my attempt to play was thwarted by the fact that despite the low minimum specs my no-longer-cutting-edge PC didn't like the game. On high graphics it chugged with a terrible frame-rate and would freeze and crash. Dumbing it down to the lowest setting made it work very slightly better, but it now looked like my monitor was slathered in vaseline. I tried a pve server  that had room for 3 people left but when I logged on all I could find were tamed dinosaurs and other beasts (even a giant scorpion and a shark) with saddles, huge thatch mansions and not a damn thing to do. The dinosaurs just stood around doing nothing, even the spinosaurus and t-rex stood stock still....were they tamed? Were there special rules on this server I didn't grokk? No idea. So I left and started a private game, which opened with dodos on a beach. Then the game crashed...and crashed again....and again....and I gave up.

I guess I'm a snob for frame rates, need at lest 5-10 to make it all playable. That wife LOVES this game, but she admits it still needs work, and it has glitches, including dinosaur physics death animations that exceed the flying dead bears of Skyrim.

Life is Strange: I have barely scratched the surface of this time traveler/high school sim. Actually it seems to be some community college or special school for gifted students or something, as there are dorms, despite the overbearing principal. The story opens on Max, a girl who's having some out-of-time experiences, and discovers she has the ability to rewind time. This comes fortuitously in time to save another girl's life, and also seems to presage a future event involving her death and the mother of all water funnels. 

Life is Strange was made episodically, but all 5 episodes are out. I'm looking forward to playing more of this; it's a 3rd-person behind the shoulder perspective, one part exploration game (ala Resident Evil) and one part classic adventure (point and click without the point and click). Graphically polished with top-notch voice acting and storytelling. I really want to see where the plot goes. 


Intersteller Marines: if you get it for $5 or less you won't be disappointed. It's a fun FPS that ten years ago could have looked like a legitimate competition for bigger fish like Halo.

Ark: Survival Evolved: my wife loves it, her friends love it, I can't run it for crap. Refund requested, but if you have a smoking not rig and a freaky dinosaur taming fetish you may want to try it out.

Life is Strange: excellent adventure/mystery in third-person view format about a young woman with time traveling abilities, definitely keeping it.

Oh, still playing Infestation: Survivor Stories but I'm getting annoyed at the fact that I can't find any further purpose outside of exploring the vast and empty world. I did find a grave site of another player, apparently killed by some other player. Yeesh.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The New Metamorphosis Alpha

I did not know that there was more than one Metamorphosis Alpha in the works. In addition to the pricey but faithful reprinting of the original at Goodman Games, apparently Signal Fire Studios has a new edition of the game out now in PDF, with a print pre-order available.

I got into RPGs with Gamma World first, and never did get to experience the original Metamorphosis Alpha except posthumously. Later around 1991 or 1992 TSR released their Amazing Engine system with a Metamorphosis Alpha to Omega setting, and I ran a lengthy, amazing campaign.

Anyway, I just ordered it and will try to do a "walk though the rules" ASAP. Finding this today is like walking down the street when a  $100 bill floats by.

Tim Snyder points out on G+ that this actually started as a Kickstarter 3 years ago and is only now coming to fruition....thanks for that detail. Yet another case against backing Kickstarters....this one shows an original release date of September 2012!!! I knew of the Goodman Games Kickstarter but not this one. Yowza.

Still, I'm glad the game is here....and REALLY GLAD I didn't back it eons ago.

Pathfinder Online now offers $0 entry and 15 Day Free Trial

Goblinworks just announced the change in their approach to accessing Pathfinder Online. Now you can try the game out at zero cost for a 15 day trial and there is no purchase price. This is a smart move; the market is so flooded with Unity-Powered games of quality ranging from "okay" to "induces blind rage at how bad it is" that it's a good idea to demonstrate your product so people can judge it for what it is and not what it's competition looks like.

That said, I have had my reservations about Pathfinder Online, and doubt it could be worth a regular subscription price....but thanks to the 15 day trial I can find out first-hand whether these suspicions are true or not. Considering some of the awful stuff I've been trying lately, it can't possibly be any worse...right?

I'll report back once I've had an opportunity to actually play it.

2 Hour Tests Round Two: Toxxik, The Long Dark, Savage Lands and Monstrum

Part II of my "micro reviews of games acquired during the Steam Summer Sale" shall now resume...

Toxxik: actually it took me all of eight minutes and one match to decide to keep this one, if only to support what the developers are trying to accomplish. The downside of Toxxik is: it's only got a few maps and it looked like maybe 30 people were on playing it. The upside is: it's got a bot mode, and my playthrough on that was really fun, in  a very old-school Unreal Tournament way but with clean and smooth modern graphics.

Anyway, Toxxik is an old-school arena shooter game inspired by Unreal. This is a genre we are short on currently.

Savage Lands: it looks insanely hard and felt insanely hard. I died once from the cold and couldn't find enough resources to bail myself out, mainly because the stuff I did have was wasted on making arrows because the vague tutorial missions left me thinking I needed them...although I didn't have a crafting pattern for a bow, so go figure. But the second guy lived and explored a lot, ultimately making his own fire, lean-to, and even the start of a resurrection totem.

I'm not 100% sure what Savage Lands is, but I do know you wake up on a island that is cold and occasionally snowy, it's got haunting ambiant outdoor noise and the graphics are a bit stuttery on my rig but still pretty and playable. There are wolves, deer, occasional shambling skeletons and way in the distance I can see some sort of wyvern nesting. I'm intrigued enough to keep going to see where it lands, but that constant risk of hypothermia and starvation is a pain in the ass.

One thing that intrigues me about Savage Lands is how it manages to be engaging even while being a painfully difficult survival experience...why, I wonder, does this game grab me while the Dark Souls games piss me off to no end?

Monstrum: like Toxxik I only needed to play Monstrum a little bit to realize this was a keeper. You wake up on a large ship, possibly an oil tanker or cargo vessel out at sea, with a note from a fellow mate explaining that you were sick and they had to leave. I my first game I wandered about and found a helicopter in need of refuelling and unchaining, when a purple lightning monster alien straight out of the X-Files showed up. I ran, I hid, he passed by....I got out, he was waiting twenty feet away, I ran, he drained me of all life. Good times.

The thing that's cool about Monstrum is apparently there are three monsters you can face, and there is a definite survival horror story component: you find a way to escape the ship. Doing that is clearly not going to be easy, but I am inclined to try.

The Long Dark: last but not least, the artsy Canadian Wilderness Survival Simulator is like wandering through a wilderness painting in winter, finding relics of old logging camps, occasional mysterious dead bodies that for whatever reason your character is not phased by, and looking for a way to survive before you (surprise) freeze to death.

It didn't look as engaging as I thought....but I'm not a fan of simple graphics. It did show that there are plans for a story mode in the future, and other areas....but the current Alpha build does not have these. Wandering around in an oil painting wilderness might feel awesome to some....but it really fell flat for me. I gave up before I even got to freeze to death or be eaten by wolves.

So, this 2-Hour Play Test Summary:

Toxxik: needs a community, but the game itself is a solid classic run-and-gun shooter. Keeping it, will buy it for my wife to play with me if nothing else.

Savage Lands: intriguing and hard, but the fantasy elements have me hooked to see what's up in this game of painfully difficult survival and crafting. Also keeping it.

Monstrum: genuine survival horror on a ship against one of three monsters. Evidence of a story and a point of escape. Cool stuff, worth keeping.

The Long Dark: it looks like it could be fascinating for the right person, but I clearly need more weirdness or action to keep me engaged, and honestly not that keen on yet another game where my game ends with me freezing to death. Pass, will revisit it in the future when it's out of Alpha build and see if the story mode is getting good reviews.

Follow up: Still playing Infestation: Survivor Stories, and enjoying it. I'm shocked!

Monday, June 15, 2015

"The 2 Hour Test:" Exploring bad Zombie Sandbox Crafting Games and Testing the Steam Refund System

I try not to buy "early access" titles on Steam but every now and then I succumb to the appearance of a great game and the overt love that some reviewers seem to exhibit for these alpha and beta releases. If you hang out on Steam at all you probably have noticed that there's an enormous number of early access zombie/post-apocalypse/medieval/dinosaur crafting games with open world sandbox premises. The one thing you can be sure about all of these games with almost no exception is:

1. Their promotional videos will always look better than the actual game
2. There's almost never anything remotely resembling a storyline; these games depend on your personal motivation and the actions of your fellow players as "being" the storyline
3. No matter what you paid you will probably wish you hadn't

But the good news is: Steam is now offering refunds on games that you have played for less than 2 hours and owned less than 2 weeks. Huzzah!

So with that in mind, I decided to check out a few of these games and apply the "2 hours test" to them. I've already tried a few others in the past, including Nether (which actually is gorgeous and has some freaky monsters in it, but is otherwise a slog through sociopathic pvp land with no real story or meaningful questing going on) and 7 Days to Die which was a particularly egregious example of "video is better than the game." Try as I might I couldn't get anywhere in 7 Days to Die, but some people seem to really love it.

So this time I loaded up Infestation: Survivor Stories (which has a legacy reputation for being hideous, so at $1.98 I decided I was willing to risk it now), as well as the on-sale H1Z1, Survival: Postapocalypse Now, and Survarium. My brief experiences so far:

H1Z1: the gloomy pictures of zombies in a fog-shrouded woodland as you approach with an old axe to take them out was contrasted with bring dropped in a bright, flowery sunny day in what felt like Colorado somewhere. I wandered around looking at old cars and farmland, avoided a wolf that appeared to not care I existed, and avoided other players until I remembered I had chosen a pve server. Never found anything interesting except a map, never saw any zombies. Did see a guy driving a car which was cool. Grew bored and left. Refund requested.

Survarium: this is actually a F2P with a rep for having in-game "pay to win" purchases. Allegedly it's like Stalker if it had been turned into an MMO of some sort. I got to the character screen and opening window for the first arena game....and nothing happened. It couldn't find players, or connect, or something. So uninstalled, moved on.

Survival: Postapocalypse Now: this was the most interesting experience, and I would have kept on except for what happened after I starved to death. First off, the ambiance in the game is pretty decent; I was immediately interested in exploring this world, which is not filled with zombies at all....apparently other players get to be the threatening element. At one point someone started talking to me..."hey dude" but I ran off....he had a torch, and near as I could tell this game is 100% pvp friendly. It turns out that this was a good my poor character staggered off into the wintry night to starve and freeze to death (he did), it turns out while you are waiting for the character to reload you can see what other players are doing. It turns out the guys with torches were collectively ganking new players left and right. Sigh. Uninstall and refund requested. I don't have time for this kind of nonsense.

Infestation: Survivor Stories: this game, if you don't know the history, came out about three years ago and was called The War Z. It earned an early reputation for having all sorts of problems, including poor development, bugs, hackers, ban-happy developers and who knows what. There are very, very bitter people still out there harping on this game. They changed the title at one point to move away from the stigma that The War Z evoked, and ever since it seems to have become a more stable game experience...although YMMV.

My play experience so far was better than all the negative press led me to believe it would be. I had a guy, and there was a town, apparently devoid of other players but full of zombies. The town had loads of random weapons, food, drink and armor lying around. You could enter most residential homes but only a few businesses. You could avoid attracting zombie attention, for the most part, but when you did they usually went down with a hit or two from a rifle or pistol. Oddly I found that melee weapons seemed worse than useless, and could end up hitting a zombie a hundred times before it dropped.

After a while I began to wonder what else there was to do besides collect stuff and tempt fate. There are some quests....and reading online suggests the quests can be more complicated than what I initially found which were things like "kill 20 zombies with your bare fists" type thanks.

I:SS seems to lack much direction as many of these other games do, as the designers seem to focus on the sandbox and experience at the expense of providing any sort of structure, leaning entirely on the players to fill that role. Some people love that freedom an despise any sort of story, I guess....but I sort of like to have a reason to play these days....I'm too old to think that surviving for 100 hours in a zombie game actually counts for anything in the grand scheme of things, and if the game doesn't help establish a sense of purpose and motivation...or at least clearly outline the tools by which you can forge your destiny....then it's not my cup of tea. I:SS may yet do this, and I plan to play more, because of the various titles I did play it was the only one that actually had some action in at the current sale price of $1.98 I'm okay with it being a disappointment if I am past the 2 hour mark and can't get a refund.

So how do they stack up to the 2-Hour Gameplay Test?
H1Z1: too boring and directionless but I'll check this out when it's a completed product out of beta. Uninstalled, refund requested.
Survivor: Apocalypse Now: excellent starvation simulator and needs pve server option for wimps like me. Uninstalled, refund requested.
Survarium: didn't work, not sure why, cost nothing, just uninstalled.
Infestation: Survivor Stories: worth $2 or less for sure and hooked me enough with some actual gameplay involving shooting and zombies to want to try it again. Keeping this one.
And prior games in the genre I previously picked up:
Nether: gorgeous game, I would have kept this for the environment even though there is precious little to do and pvp involves fearing fellow man more than the scary nether monsters.
7 Days to Die: more like seven minutes to uninstall! Bam.

For now, the winner of this contest is Infestation: Survivor Stories, being worth the $1.98 I spent to keep. I did not expect that, I must admit....just trawl through the Steam forums sometime to get a real sense of how much ire this game has caused. Then again....check out any of the forums on these games...i.e. Survivor: Postapocalypse Now, for example.....yeah, sometimes its safe to assume the forums attract lots of angry people and are a "non-representative sampling" of interested players....but another way to think of it is like this: if enough people are pissed off that they go spend effort on the forums to complain, imagine how many people were just generally unhappy about the game but simply walked away from it after an uninstall?

I'll let you know how long it takes Steam to refund games. The money goes into your Steam wallet, as I understand it.