Friday, April 29, 2016

The Division - a reversal of decision

Well somehow I ended up with a used copy of Tom Clancy's The Division, and you know what? It's not crap. Since I had previously talked about how I planned to ignore this one entirely an update seemed in order.

I didn't expect it to be crap in a solid, identifiable way....but this game had a lot of contentious press in all directions. People who normally hate all things Ubisoft suddenly liked this game, casting suspicion on themselves. Others hated it with a weird and apathetic contempt. Others analyzed it to death, pointing out that the game's subject and message was rather heavy in import but not treated as such, necessarily.

As usual, if you try to form an opinion on something or make a decision based entirely on aggregating the internet, it will always let you down.

Anyway, I'll keep on playing and do a review soon. Right now The Division is pretty much a disaster prepper's wet dream, situated in a brutal "not too far in the future" post-apocalyptic New York (possibly natural, maybe not) hit by a ravaging mutated small pox virus, something sufficiently bad that it apparently took the military out and all that's left are a hand full of disaster recruits (who all, I suspect, used to be garbage men before this started) and a bunch of sleeper agents trained all their lives to be ready for this event. It's like a zombie game without the zombies, and more of the guys from "Escape From New York." But near-future realistic-looking type dudes who favor beanies and hoodies to deal with the cold weather over mohawks and piercings.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tales from the Sea of Chirak IV: Intrigue in Dunnare

I am way behind on these! Time to catch up:

Our intrepid crew:

Naivara, the noble half-elven wizard
Tia, the half-elven priestess of Kalieyana
Ungarak, the half-orc paladin of the cult of the forgotten
Nehenac, the immortal last emperor of Xaxican and former prisoner of the Fortress of Hathor (NPC)

We have had some in-and-out guests, will name their PCs if I remember who they were....

Session 4 Summary:

When we left off, the crew had arrived in Port Dunnare after some harrowing adventures. Here they have had a day's rest before awakening to a busy day.

In this session the group divvied up to gather information and learn about the port. Key events that transpired include:

Ungarak stumbles on a murder....a druid was slain outside the city in the farmland and crucified on a tree. Evidence suggests it was orcs who did the deed. In following up on this they met the Watch Commander of the city, and learned that this has been an ongoing problem....the orcish tribes of the Northwood seem to be uniting, and are targeting the druids dedicated to the "White Goddess," a local spirit figure revered by the tuadathen elves.

Naivara enjoyed a pleasant stay in the Royal Inn. In the morning she meets Kargath, the minotaur who is a priest-dedicate to the mysterious cult of Hun'hunal, who is sipping martinis on the patio and scaring away customers. She learns Nehenac awoke at dawn and left early on an unknown (and worrisome) errand. She investigates where he went, meeting with Ungarak on his own investigation.

Tia spends time at the local (and smaller) temple of Kalie'yana, before setting out to meet the rest.

The group ultimately finds that they are directed to the Hunting Lodge in northwest Dunnare, where the Warden of the Northwood, a ranger named Ovidio, keeps his own special order. Ovidio might know more about this mysterious local threat by the orcs which has all concerned.

They arrive at the North Lodge and learn that this ancient fortress on the city's edge has been here for at least six centuries, predating the arrival of the old Sea Kings and the founding of Espanea. It was further built on top of older ruins that may be ancient. Ovidio, a pleasant older ranger, has had the complex in his family for almost four centuries.

As it turns out, Ovidio's lodge had an unexpected visit this morning: a mysterious man that by description must be Nehenac broke in, entered the catacombs beneath, and sealed the passage off with a hidden stone block that even the rangers didn't know about. They are working to find men who can remove or chisel away the stone so they can pursue the invader, who is now locked in a catacomb that runs seven levels deep before ending at a flooded passage.

Tia uses her true seeing to discover three hidden secret doors: one is a plastered wall behind which it turns out is what appears to be an ancient planar gate, now overlooking the pig pens. A second secret passage is in the back of the pantry, and a third is in the armory. Ovidio knew of only the pantry, which leads to a secret passage out....a safe passage to escape the fortress if it's defenses were ever compromised. The other two were mysteries; none lead to alternative routes to the catacombs so far as they least not without investigation!

The group begins with the armory secret door, after determining the other is a hidden gate that is very worrisome. Ovidio explains that Taddeos, the high wizard of the local Academy, outfitted the armory as a gift a few years ago with four enchanted suits of animated armor. Each suit contained a silvered skeleton on which the suit draped. As they investigated, pulling a decorative shield triggered the skeleton-armor to turn and push a pivoting hidden door in the wall, revealing a wide spiral staircase going down. This is quite a surprise to Ovidio.

The stairs descend in to a chamber with a strange, blue-illuminated pool dominating a large chamber, with a passage to the right and a far wall in the chamber that appears to have a charnel stone sculpture of human flesh and limbs carved out of marble, partially overlapping two doors along that wall, such that they don't look like they can be opened without breaking the wall statuary to do so. As Naivara gets closer, it turns out the wall is alive! It is flesh with a gray pallor, and moves slowly but certainly, speaking in telepathic whispers, asking the adventurers to come closer, just a bit closer. They decline.

The group, fascinated at what's going on here, head to the passage in the right and follow a cooridor to a large, oddly shaped chamber with six deep cistern-style pools on the floor with utterly still water, and what appears to be a massive white dragon skeleton suspened with metal wires from the high ceiling. Each cistern has what appears to be a sealed iron hatch at the bottom of each pool.

Before they can really investigate a horde of bloody skeletons burst in from two of the three doors at the end of the chamber! A brutal fight ensues, as several of the skeletons appear able to summon a maelstrom "blood storm" in which acidic blood fills the chamber, eating at flesh and blinding the eyes. The party is immediately fighting for its life, and narrowly defeats them after a brutal fight.

In the middle of the fight one of the bloody skeletons is knocked in to a cistern, and its body begins to dissolve immediately....the cisterns are not full of water, but caustic acid!

After they skeletons are defeated the adventurers, with a badly wounded Ovidio, quickly retreat to recover and regroup. They have a very dangerous mystery to solve...

While resting up, a messenger boy from the Royal Inn arrives, looking for Naivara. He has a message from Nehenac, who states that he needs to learn if his "old cache" is still intact, and that he feels he must prepare for the revenge he is commited to against the ancestors of the Masirians who wronged him. He states that he knows the Lodge contains a secret entrance to the old Vault which he built beneath the lost Xaxicani colony that once rest on this exact spot, 2,500 years ago before the Masirians razed it to the ground....and he thinks they may never have found his hidden cache in the vault.

Next: Masurana's Secrets Revealed!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Back to Savage Space!

Yeah....despite what I was thinking, our group went with Savage Worlds SF last Saturday. So luckily I had all of that along with me (I came more or less prepared for AS&SH, 13th Age and Savage Worlds) and worked out a scenario while everyone rolled some new PCs.

Savage Worlds is always fun to play. The swingy dice and vital nature of the bennies always surprise me when I return to SW after an absence, but the incredibly swift play mechanics make up for it. I'm not sure I would get any less of an experience out of using --say-- White Star, but as I put it, "Savage Space is a hard space opera setting with a modicum of seriousness swirled in with the action," whereas my White Star campaign was clearly a "let's see what a gonzo anything-goes-kitchen-sink SF campaign looks like.

I was planning to show off "WOIN," the What's Old Is New RPG from EnWorld Publishing but completely forgot to bring it. Next time....definitely. It's a more nuanced system, not necessarily more complex but provides more detail; it's mechanically around D&D 5E in complexity feel, I think. I'll post more about it's currently in the running for "systems I might actually GM soon."

Anyway, I had done a lot of prep for AS&SH so I was mildly disappointed that the group didn't go that direction.....people in the group had the following reasons not to: 1. and SF option was on the table and they really wanted to try that; 2. selling AS&SH as "a refined and specialized AD&D" was discouraging about 2/3rds of the group who are apparently not as OSR-hip as I might have thought; and 3. No one had a copy of the rules, unlike Savage Worlds, which despite my assurances that ownership wasn't a requisite didn't really work out so well. Ah well, another time.

I'll just say that I really like the Ghost Ship of the Desert Dunes module, and plan to run this one way or another....even if I have to adapt it to D&D 5E or 13th Age or something.  Jeff Talanian's writing style is exactly what I like in a published module.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Saturday Looms....What Will We be Playing....

I've thrown a lot of ideas out to my Saturday group as we prepare for a new phase of gaming. I'm thinking, though, that I know what I'm going to run. I feel like a "fantasy, but different" mood. Not necessarily a "rules" different, but a "weird setting" sort of different.

Mythras and Classic Fantasy is on hold until I get the book sometime in June. After that, it's probably what I'll push for next campaign on Wednesday.

13th Age continues to intrigue me....and may well end up being what we play, but I'm pushing hard to see if people will give......Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea a shot. I've got a real interest in running AS&SH straight up, using the setting in the core boxed set as-is*, with the modules published so far --which means starting with Rats in the Walls since it's the only level 1 adventure for the game I have.

But 13th Age has a lot of interest, too. I admit....the only issue holding me back from fully jumping back to 13th Age right now is my current dislike of the onerous icons system, which is both cool and limiting in weird ways. People do run 13th age without the icons, or mitigating their relevance....but really, I feel like they're sufficiently important to the game's flavor that it makes more sense to save it for when I am feeling inspired.

But the weird classes, world and entities of AS&SH? Those are inspiring me a lot right now....

*The minimalist setting is perfect, just enough to jump into with, but not too much to hamper my own development of the Lands of the North Wind.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

And We're Back! - Family Road Trip Summary

It was a short four-day trip (cut a bit short due to work demands) but well worth it. As usual the best place to start a road trip is Arizona, which has no shortage of random stuff to see. We visited....

   This is a great location as it contains a great array of live rattlesnakes (and some others) in captivity as well as a private garden for desert tortoises in the area. We never make it out of here without spending some cash in the gift shop. It's conveniently only 25 miles away from where my folks live.

   We missed this last visit to Tucson, Arizona, and caught it at last. An amazing display of taxidermied animals, insect collections and more. A lot of placards with interesting stories and information, if you can get the four year old to slow down.

   This was not available for public consumption when I was attending the University of Arizona in the early nineties, so fun to go to a site I had never seen before locally. It's not really a restored site, and there's a signficant swathe which has already been pot-hunted, but the remains of the original Hohokam buildings and walled area are evident, as is a ball court area and a much later ruin of the Romero ranch (pictured).

   We found out about this by accident so headed off to Tempe, AZ to take Marcus there. Turns out Legoland was next door.....but wouldn't open until the end of the week! What timing. Still, we spent a couple hours enjoying what is a rather impressive aquarium (for Arizona) and then continued on to see The Jungle Book in the Arizona Mills mall. (Micro Review: it was a good movie to take the family to, but I wouldn't have bothered to see it on my own.)

   This week was a free week for National Parks, so bonus! We hit this one Tueday morning and took the steep path to view the cluster of Sinagua cliff-dwellings. A lot of fun, and a good work out.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Packing RPGs for a Trip the Minimalist Way

We're about to head off on a little family excursion for a few days. There's a distinct (slight, but distinct) chance that we could play a game along the way. In consideration of this I studied my voluminous collection of RPGs with the idea that I'd try to find one (or two) that worked within the minimalist packing standards I had set for myself.

It was no surprise that any of the White Box games fit the bill, of course....there's a plethora of S&W/OD&D RPGs out there which you can fit in your back pocket (if you wear cargo pants, anyway). I was more surprised to realize that some systems, such as Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, were officially off the table for this option now, unless I opted for an older edition (the Corgi version of T&T 5th edition, for example). T&T really does need a slim, portable edition to compliment  the Deluxe version....a basic edition, if you will.

Beyond that, I had Savage Worlds ready to go. But otherwise? Not so many. I'd probably have more choices if I was in to FATE and -World games, but alas, I am not.

Of course, this is all a moot point when I consider that my Nexus 7 alone has about 8 GB of gaming PDFs loaded on it, and my Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 has a 64GB card loaded to the gills. But, as any proper gamer of my age knows, you just can't pull a game off (easily) with a PDF. Nothing like a physical copy of the book to lure people in....

I do lament that there appears to be no easily portable horror games out right now, other than Savage Worlds with a copy of the Horror Companion in tow. I think Don't Rest Your Head could count, although now we're having to dive in to the realm of minimalist rules mechanics that are gimmicky at best and mildly entertaining for a beer and pretzels night at worst.'s a good game so I'll count it. The entire Void Core line and Shadows over Sol is also highly portable, and both are great systems blending SF and horror.

Remnants, too. That one's pretty cool, actually.

I think I'll pack Warriors of the Lost Planet, Shadows over Sol and White Box Swords & Wizardry with the Companion. That's not really as minimalist as I'd like, but it's plenty to keep me occupied with and all three are easy sells right now. Especially since I'll definitely include my Galaxy Tab and Nexus in the bag.

....Or I could just fill it full of stuff like Mutant Year Zero, Fragged Empire, Chill 3rd and Runequest (Mythras) stuff and lug along an extra 60 lbs. That sounds more like my style, anyway....

Yeah....I totally do not know how to do minimalist living well, at all.

(ADDENDUM: as we plan for an early AM leave I managed to stick only White Box S&W in my main travel bag. Then I crammed my backup book bag full of 13th Age, WOIN, and Fragged Empire  ...well...a lot of Savage Worlds because you can get a lot of those books in one bag. Go figure. My wife, in a surprise move, is reading Amethyst: Quintessence for D&D 5E and will start running it next week for her Thursday group. Wow! And so you can tell this runs in the family, my son has filled his travel bag with Slug Terra stuff and his Planst vs. Zombies action figure collection.)

Twilight City: A Super Powers Setting

Toying with this idea for a superpowers setting...still tossing around the idea of Savage Worlds, Mutants & Marvels or FASERIP as the ruleset of choice....

Twilight City: Savage Worlds Supers Setting

Welcome to Twilight City….a quasi-Cyberpunk near-future dystopian West Coast* sprawl which has exploded over the course of the last decade and a half. Founded as a mining town in the late 1800’s Twilight City grew into a sprawling nightmare, one of the west coast’s most notorious lawless towns. By the mid-forties the town had turned into a decent city thanks to an industrial wartime boom, and it was around this period that some of its first noteworthy costumed vigilantes first appeared, including the Renegade Patriot and Doctor Futurity. By the sixties the city had turned into a major industrial center for the auto industry, rivaling only Detroit until a total crash in the seventies following the oil crisis. As manufacturing jobs fled the city in droves Twilight City collapsed into a steep economic decline and crime exploded.

In the year 2000 the New Twilight City project was founded from the Council of Civic Restoration a state appointed council to invite corporate and architectural interests in to revive Twilight City. The project was so named because it was seen as the modern industrial answer to the urban nightmare that Twilight City had become. Designed to attract the attention and interest of tech start-ups across the world and serve a primary focus for competition and development in science and research, Twilight City initially served well as a focused, upscale living experience, attracting dozens of major corporations and many, many more startups. By 2010 Twilight City had become the most famous high-tech city in the world, and the national center of innovation and advancement.

Today, in the not too distant future, Twilight City is regarded with a measure of awe and is the leading city for growth in the nation, possibly the world. As the population explodes the city has grown too quickly, and crime has returned as an unexpected problem, one which not coincidentally seemed to manifest around the same time several industrialized military tech firms opened up shop in the city. Groups like Mystech are also suspected to have had an influence on the growing prime problem, albeit from a rather unusual angle: the study of the occult, something which the rather unique corporation has perfected in ways no one could imagine. Ostensibly Mystech is to the public and its competitors a tech firm specializing in artificial intelligence design, but internally it is harnessing an enormous amount of research in psychic and paranormal studies. Part of Mystech’s efforts have involved extensive resource collection, including highly illegal artifact theft around the world. To facilitate this Mystech used front companies to set up their reliable allies in the city, to provide a legal avenue for the import of goods it needs for its research and to also distance itself in case plausible deniability is needed.

Elsewhere the illegal import and export of weapons technology has become major driver in high tech crime, as has the ever present urban sprawl of neighboring boroughs in California proper, including the Night district of Twilight City which is regarded as one of the largest hell-holes for crime in the nation. As Twilight City grew in its dense center, the old industrial sections of town continued to rot and fester, providing a cheap and easy way for crime lords to continue to import and export illegal goods such as arms and drugs through the city’s vast port.  In the last few years Night District’s problems began to spill over into the renovated section of the city. The high-tech policing used in Twilight City helps mitigate the problem primarily to maintain the city image, but Night District itself now helps to facilitate the growing industrial crime and espionage that plagues its neighbor.

Amidst all of this a new generation of costumed vigilantes have risen up. In the wake of the legacy of the Renegade Patriot a “new” Doctor Futurity has appeared, along with such icons as the east coast hero Arbalest, who has taken up his ruthless vigil against crime with a sidekick named Bowman 13. Spectros prowls the city, seemingly obsessed with Mystech Corp. and its possible wrong-doings. Dr. Damon Cole, wealthy philanthropist, bought the tallest building downtown for his own Cole Research Corp. and the top levels of the tower now house the Phantom Five, including Dr. Cole himself along with Hyperlight, Sabercat, Shaper, and Lady Occult.

Supervillains plague the city as well. The extra-dimensional Lord Rift, summoned by accident during the testing of the Corvus Corp. Supercollider Experiment in 2009 is loose in the city and appears determined to find a way to forge a portal to his home dimension, that he may summon his armies to invade the earth. Killshot is a known corporate assassin that some believe work for Military Dynamics, Inc. which is one of the leading military contractors centered in the city, and his reputation precedes him. Splatterblast is a renegade bioweapons experiment gone wrong that is believed to prowl the city sewers and commit atrocious murders. The Demon is a super-powered thug in the employ of the crime cartel run by the enigmatic crime lord called Mr. Diamond. Many others aside from these criminals have found their way to Twilight City.

*Where is it? Somewhere out there....either an alt-reality world where the stretch from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara got some heavy historical retooling....

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The "Gamer Who Has Too Much Stuff" Problem

Warning! First World Problems Ahead!

Every now and then I get myself trapped in a weird corner, where I'm faced with too many choices. This is my own fault...I could, y'know, show a little restraint and maybe try to keep focused....but as a long-time sufferer of Gamer ADD this can be a hard thing!

Thus it is that I find myself trying to figure out how to accomplish all of the following --somehow-- this year:

LIST ONE: the Goals I Think I can Actually Achieve:
1. Keep chugging on with my ongoing D&D 5E Realms of Chirak campaign (chance of success: 100%--this is the default no-brainer. I will always have a Chirak game going somewhere and 5E is a great fit)
2. somehow get a new 13th Age campaign going to take advantage of all the cool stuff that has accumulated in the last year (chance of success: was about 65% but Classic Fantasy might have knocked that chance down a bit; still, there's a lot of cool 13th Age stuff out there, and I have quite a few players interested in playing it again)
3. work Mythras and Classic Fantasy in there somewhere (chance of success: 95%; I've even gone on to print out a working copy to hold me over until June, and am busily planning to do some mass conversions of my Pergerron Campaign now)
4. Get season 2 of the White Star campaign up and running (chance of success 90%)
5. Run Curse of Strahd like I promised (this would be on list 2 but I am determined to actually run it) (chance of success: 50%)
6. Barring that, run a 5E version of Red and Pleasant Land (I suppose I could adapt this to any of the above, actually....hmmmm.....)(chance of success: 51% as this book engages with me a bit more than the Curse of Strahd, which is cool and all, but still just the same basic Ravenloft I've known for three decades now).
7. ADDED: Run Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls using the Dungeon of the Bear (chance of success 75% believe it or not....I use T&T as a backup game for odd nights when we have no specific game, are missing players, or all I have to do is convince the regulars to try it for a few sessions in a row!)

And there's the secondary goals....these are ones I'll spend time on even though I doubt they will come to fruition:

LIST TWO: The Stuff I Love Imagining I Can Accomplish But Never Get Around To:
1. Finish prepping a campaign for Mutant Year Zero (chance of success 50%)
2. Finish reading Fragged Empire with plans to run a campaign (chance of success 45%)
3. Figure out if I can find time to run a campaign for superheroes powered by Mutants & Marvels 2E or FASERIP (this is a very tough choice, both great retroclone experiences) (chance of success 30% but mostly because no one wants to play supehero genre stuff in my area)
4. Run White Lies (chance of success 50%)
5. Run Warriors of the Red Planet (chance of success 25%)
6. Run Skyscrapers & Sorcery (chance of success 20%)
7. Convince my wife to read and run Amethyst: Quintessence for D&D 5E (chance of success 10%)
8. Get a weekly horror game using CoC 7E or Chill 3rd running (chance of success 50%)
9. Get back to Savage Space and/or The Last Parsec with Savage Worlds (chance of success: 70% actually pretty wants more....but White Star is competing for that space HARD)

Then there's the pipe dreams....these are the things I'd love to do but know are effectively impossible:

1. Run a Primeval Thule D&D 5E campaign for fun (might be more doable but the truth is I have a hard time caring about "official" settings as the time to prep for them is far more onerous and less fun to me than simply using my own stuff) (chance of success: 25%)
2. Run that revival of the Mythic Rome campaign using A Cool and Appropriate System (TBD) (chance of success 20%)
3. Run Mythic Britain for Mythras (in principle a great objective, but the time it would take to do this right is too much for me to do and get all the easier stuff done in the lists above) (chance of success 5%)
4. Absorb Mutant Chronicles and run it (this sort of game seemed easier to figure out twenty years ago) (chance of success 15%)
5. Run any single campaign book ever put out by Frog God Games (not gonna happen, Too Much Man!)(chance of success .05%)
6. convince spouse to produce 2-3 more progeny so we will have a functional family gaming group in ten-twelve years. (chance of success: 8-Ball says future uncertain!)

....Yeahhhhhh. Not gonna happen! Maybe 4 from list 1, 2 from list two, and 1 from list three.....maybe by the end of 2017 if I'm lucky!

Let's not speak of what will end up sucking half my time away, anyway (hint: they rhyme with bideo frames...)

My nostalgic memories of the 80's and 90's was of all that free time I had, and also that slightly less onerous demand for my attention from such a severe saturation of media. Sigh.....

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Robin Laws on Curb Stomping the Murderhobo

Robin Laws (yes, that guy who knows a thing or two) has a great article on his See Page XX blog I wanted to point out titled Four Heroes and a Murder Hobo. In short, it's about how to handle that rogue player #5, the guy who either wants to steal a scene, act out, work against the party or otherwise do "that thing" that's about to break the group, derail the plot or otherwise screw over everyone's mutual enjoyment of the ongoing game. We all have one or two in our mess of players like this, so I found both the article and the comments following very compelling reading. Check it out!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Classic Fantasy for Mythras (the game system formerly known as RQ6) is in the wild - first impressions review

It's still in pre-order status, but you can get the PDF for free and then the book ships around June 1st. I've pre-ordered by copy, and am now hopeful based on the contents that Classic Fantasy will work for my own dark purposes....especially now that it looks like Magic World won't ever see it's other supplements come to fruition! You can pre-order the book and PDF here (PDF downloads immediately).

Here's the final cover:

Classic Fantasy provides a sort of skeleton on which you can drape the Mythras system in the veneer of classic D&D-style dungeon delving (and other assorted adventuring). That means it's the usual BRP-style system, but it gives you all the plug-ins needed to keep the game focused on a certain style. But because it is actually Mythras (RQ6) you get a much more involved and interesting take on that D&D experience. I'm already kinda sold on seeing if I can get my group to dive in to it, ASAP.

Here's what it contains:

Character Races: the usual littany (human, elf, half elf, gnome, halfing, dwarf, half-orc)

Classes (framed as professions with more stuff): bard, cavalier, cleric, druid, fighter, magic user, monk, paladin, ranger, thief, thief-acrobat, berserker.

Combat: I need to read through this section but cannot help notice that it's loaded with tactical minuatures-based combat options. Interesting....

Magic: this takes classic BRP/RQ/Mythras magic and turns it on it's head. We've now got arcane and divine magic that much more closely resembles D&D style quasi-Vancian magic in feel. There are 82 arcane spells and 77 divine spells. It looks like we get enough spells to mimic D&D up to around the 8th to 10th level of caster experience.

Monsters: there are about 80-90 odd monsters here. It's a literal "who's who" of D&D Monster Manuals, and if you combine this with the RQ6/Mythras core, maybe add Monster Island, you'll have pretty much every possible beast covered. CF does not duplicate any monsters from the core rules, unless the D&D version requires a new entry to handle its variant style. I'm really quite impressed....this is a major hurtle for many GMs who (like me) might want to pull a setting in to Runequest but have to do some footwork to add in beasts introduced from D&D campaigns. Now the work is all done....need some dark elves, lizard men, liches, stirges, bugbears or classic D&D trolls in your Mythras game? Here they are.

Treasure: this section is loaded with D&D-esque treasure, includes treasure tables, and is pretty much going to feel very comfortable to D&D fans. Those who like RQ6, Magic World and other systems but wished the design supported more treasure will be pleased as well...although how well the system works if pulled from it's proper place "in situ" remains to be seen.

Other stuff:

Passions: this is basically an alignment system for Classic Fantasy.

The Planes: there's a whole disucssion of this after treasure. It also talks deities a bit, and identifies the deities of "Greymoor" which is presumably totally "not quite Greyhawk and not quite Blackmoor, but the result of what happened after Mordenkainen's time-space accident." (that's just my take)

Wandering Encounters: there's some decent charts in the back of the book.

Indexed: it looks decently indexed to me in the PDF, which matters to a lot of people.

.....Okay so my initial impression is that this is the proper answer to people who really like the D&D style and feel of gaming, but maybe aren't so thrilled with specific aspects of D&D, and much prefer the more realistic skill system, combat, hit mechanics and injury rules of Runequest/BRP. This product is dramatically better than the Classic Fantasy Monograph which was released many years ago for BRP.....don't even bother thinking about that book in comparison to this one; this new edition is complete, very tightly designed, and incredibly efficient at what it is designed to do.

It also looks like it was carefully designed with the idea that you could grab any classic 1E AD&D module and run it with this system with minimal or zero conversion.

I'll probably talk more soon and may try to set up a scenario or two with it for the blog. Probably, almost certainly, going to try and run this with the regular group ASAP. It does such a good job at blending the feel of D&D with the style of Runequest that I am simply blown away at the fact that the new Classic Fantasy pulled it off.

I'm thinking maybe my Altavir setting I keep trying to start off the ground might find a good home with Mythras's Classic Fantasy. Hmmmm.

Enzada II: The Cosmos and Planes

The Cosmos and the Planes of Enzada

   Enzada is a world that appears to be grounded in the universe as we know it, with a few unusual physical laws that appear to be breached by some higher power or force of magic. This magic is called The Pattern, and it is the force through which reality is manipulated by all beings.

   In Enzada, there is no real distinction between divine and arcane magic, save that divine magic requires the supplication of the caster before the gods or their blessing (supposedly) will not be granted to insure the magic works. Arcane magic is clearly drawn from within the spirit of the caster. All spell casters in Enzada pull magic from their envisioning, drawing, or uttering the words that invoke the Patterns, and all magic is accompanied by a subtle effect, such as a dampening or enhancing of light and sound, a distortion of vision, or a change in natural colors during the length of the effect. Magic is a warping of reality, and that warping can leave a “rubber-band” like effect on things around it.

    There is at least one “other dimension” and any alchemical or magical reference to the astral, ethereal or beyond seems to refer to this plane, called the Spaces Between or simply the In-Between. A common theme of belief throughout all Enzada is that the fabric of reality is woven from some cosmic cloth, and that the world as we know it comes from these woven strands. The Spaces Between are the mysterious nether-realms of the otherworld, wherein the gods and spirits tend to reside, and some believe that the very depths of space allow one to peer in to the deep infinity of the Spaces Between. Most extra planar beings emerge from this other-realm, and some mages devote their lives to trying to explore its mysteries.

   Curiously, Enzada’s people are well-grounded with regards to places of heaven, hell (the Outer Darkness) and other godly realms. Though some believe in the Outer Darkness of the Dasami Patheon, and others believe in the starry sky realms of the Faddasari, none particularly believe in an afterlife, or at least a specific underworld to which all descend. Instead, the Merillian faith suggests that the souls of the dead assemble at the In-Between, an army to stand against or for the tide of the Sun when the end times come, while the Dasam believe that all men are reborn countless times as new entities, not always other men in a perpetual cycle of reincarnation (though the demons of the Outer Darkness always seek to steal these souls to grow their own numbers), and the Faddasar are transfixed with the belief that if one can just attain perfect enlightenment, then you can become immortal and enter the great dance of the stars, but to do so requires a perfectly lived life, and no one seems to have a consistent idea of how to lead the perfect life.

Moral Relativity

   Enzada is a world where there are no absolutes; the morality of the world is dictated arbitrarily by the gods and their followers, but no universal path dictates absolute good or evil, though the many followers of Enzada’s gods might disagree. Individual PCs of Enzada likely believe there is an absolute path of morality, even if the exact nature of that belief varies dramatically from one person to another.


   Alignment is a suggestion, not a rule. As a result of this, if you deploy spells which detect alignment, they will detect intent, instead. If an evil individual has no evil intent with regards to the caster, the spell will indicate such, but will not indicate that the man intends evil. There are spells which can detect a person’s nature, but all such spells are regarded as a heresy; liberation and personal freedom are highly regarded in Enzada, and to know one is attempting to “read” you is seen as a revolting concept.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One Trailer

Check it out! Let me just say I really like this trailer, very excited to see this movie now:

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Crossplanes on DMsGuild: Deities & Domains 1 and 2 - Capsule Review

Mark Craddock (of the incredibly useful Crossplanes blog) was kind enough to provide me some of his 5th edition resources on, and I've had some opportunities to try them out. Given that it can be hard to sort out all the content on DMsguild, it seems like a good idea going forward to talk about the useful stuff you can find out there.....and Mark has got some very useful stuff indeed, especially if you are a player.

First up are two tomes: Deities & Domains and it's sequel, Deities & Domains 2, which are two Forgotten Realms-focused adaptations of the classic priests of specific deities from AD&D 2nd Edition. Each book uses the feat system to create a way to add the flavor of a priest dedicated to a specific deity; this is slightly different in approach from, say, adapting a new domain to the cleric class, and it lets the cleric use the first feat slot he or she gains to add specific deity-themed abilities and flavor to the clerical style.

Book one is 24 pages long and includes 39 divine feats, which cover most of the Faerunian deities I am familiar with in my (admittedly limited) knowledge of the Forgotten Realms. Book 2 is only 10 pages and adds 11 more feats of some more obscure deities. Both books address a bit as to what happens if you fall out of favor with your chosen deity.

The upside of these tomes is they give you everything you need to quickly integrate Faerunian deities in to your game. In reading though the tome I did not find any feat that seemed out of balance compared to the standard practice of 5th edition feat design, which was good....and I think I could use these for my homebrew games with suitable reskinning (a release which provides generic non-setting-specific feats of such a nature sure would be cool though, hint hint!)

The downside of these two tomes is that they do require the use of a feat slot, which is both mighty and precious in 5th edition; it removes direct "flavor" as part of the process of the cleric class itself. However, this keeps everything mechanically balanced, which can be a big plus to some.

If you'd like a resource to go with older FR 2nd edition AD&D books, or you are just craving more FR content beyond the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (which so far as I recall does little to suggest how to integrate specific deity worship with the cleric class) then I think you'll find these very useful. You may also find them very useful to reskin for your own home campaigns, too.

Monday, April 4, 2016

In Print: Hyperspace Messenger Compendium and Beyond the Wall - Heroes Young and Old

This was a pleasant surprise!

DWD Studios has released a print compendium of the Hyperspace Messenger PDFs for use with White Star. These include some useful rules on new robot types, a good skill system (which my group has been using), stunner weapons, vehicles and more, including (according to the description) a star system generator....some of this might replicate material showing up in the White Star Companion, but having used all of the HM PDFs in my recent White Star campaign I think it's well worth adding to your collection. Only downside I can see if there's no PDF option for the compendium right now. Check it out here.

Even more exciting is the new Beyond the Wall - Heroes Young and Old tome, now also in print (and oddly a PWYW model????) which contains 28 (as I count) new playbooks for different character types along with a lot of other useful new player-related content. Great stuff! Check it out here. Much of this (all of it?) may already be available piecemeal in PDF format, but having it in the high-quality hard cover format is really what I want.

If you aren't already aware, I consider Beyond the Wall possibly the best OSR-styled FRPG out there right now, as it's innovative take on OSR magic, the use of playbooks (think lifepath generators for OSR class-mechanic systems), scenario packs (for replayable random themed adventures) and threat reports (for over-arching campaign threats) makes it arguably one of the most innovative OSR designs out there. Hexcrawl mechanics are one of the old school methods of adventure design and exploration that allow one to sit down and start gaming with less fuss and muss than is typical of other more contemporary RPG scenario formats.....Beyond the Wall introduces a story driven approach that is front- and end-loaded on both the GM and player side to create an experience that allows a group to start gaming in some interesting, thoughtful scenarios with almost zero prep....well worth your time to check it out; even if I don't run BtW with the rules as presented, I am sorely tempted to find a way to adapt the playbooks and scenario packs to D&D 5E.*

*I do have this fantasy in which I run a lengthy campaign using Beyond the Wall and all the New Big Dragon supplements, and a medley of classic B/X stuff for support (such as the Creature Catalog).

Enzada I: Introduction

I'm working on my Altavir setting....promise! But while I'm developing that, let me show you this spectacular OTHER setting which I have been developing extensively over the course of several years (since 2010) and which has already been the home of a half-dozen campaigns.....

Enzada is a setting that I would describe as, "The sort of world you devise when you've been playing D&D too long." It's about the inversion of tropes and commonalities in fantasy settings, especially those of my prior worlds, and a subversion in general of D&Disms (to varying degrees of success and failure). It started in Pathfinder, which is an excellent system in terms of options for GMs looking to run non-Anglicized fantasy settings, may I add, but it is also an excellent fit for D&D 5E, which this adaptation shall be a presentation of.


   Enzada is a huge, ancient world. The campaign centers on the “meeting of the Three,” a great region that is essentially a land bridge between three main continents that are slowly converging on one another in geologic time. It is here that the three distinct cultural groups of the world clash, trade, and engage in ready commerce. This hub is called Etyri, after the name of the god of commerce, engagement and diplomacy.

   The three continents are Dasam, Merille, and Faddasar respectively. Each continent is immense and supports a large number of local cultures, kingdoms and species. There is no unified government of particular note, and no distinct empire that commands the attention of all others, although on the northern continent of Merille the young warlord Atrascus of Shevalah has conquered more land and united more people under his banner in ten years than any other previous ruler in the last thousand years.

   The people of Enzada have a diversity of cultures and religion, with three dominant pantheons for each continent, each of which has its variations and exceptions. Visitors from our own world would note that many archetypes among deities are represented among all three religions, though they often take strange paths away from or parallel to the gods of our own old world mythology. Chief among all gods is the Unconquered Sun, the Sol Invictus, which is regarded, curiously as a light-bringer and a destroyer god. It was foretold long ago by the prophets of the god called Tenadrus the Librarian that the sun would one day swell to destroy the world, to purge it of all life and begin anew. This conviction that the end-times draw near makes for many fatalistic viewpoints on Enzada, and many cults of redemption and apocalypse thrive in this era. It does not help that many orders of scholars and astronomers confirm that the sun does, indeed, seem to grow larger, hotter, and redder with each passing year.

   The geography of Enzada is as diverse as any Terran world, but it is a hotter planet and one must travel to the distant north to find constant ice and severe weather, although winter storms can bring terrible weather and snow just about anywhere; the storm god Emachus is revered as a terrifying deity that must be appeased, a harbinger of the wrath of Sol.

    Most of Enzada’s gods are both terrifying and benevolent at different times, and the various religions of Enzada seem to have eschewed any philosophy of divinely appointed notions of good and evil long ago. To be sure, there are some deities that are distinctly benevolent or malevolent in their depictions, but the notion of one deity holding sway over the morality of all other beings is a concept rejected by most all of Enzada’s faiths. Because of this, those men of the world who can practice the Patterns, as magic is usually referred to, find that while magic can often tell one of the intent of a soul, it cannot tell you the truth within the soul itself. This is not entirely true; many forms of magic can compel one to reveal their inner nature, but such magic is considered profane and punishable by death if one is caught using them. The same is true of charming magic and other compulsory effects, which mages may use, at the risk of condemnation or punishment by local laws.

   Some of this fear of the darker Patterns of the world is inspired by a time more than five thousand years ago, when the old Inhuridan Empire rose to power through its use of thought and mind-controlling magic. The Inhuridan Empire fell under its own malignant cancer, but not until its dark templars and evil god kings had ruled for a thousand years across the Hub of Etyri and beyond. The ruins and relics of this ancient empire still dot the lands of Etyri to this day, and some of its greatest monuments can still be seen in Mazadran, as well as its fabled lost necropolis, Drath. To this day, the legacy of the Inhuridan and their vile demon-summoning god kings is so powerful that evil men seek their dark secrets out, and an order of dedicated Paladins called The Hand of Skarradesh, founded by the slave who rose up and cast down the old order, still work to eliminate any presence of the Inhuridan or their influence in the modern world. These paladins use some of the mind-probing magic of the ancient empire, though in limited form, and only in their efforts to destroy others who do the same; it is their belief that they must call upon the evil of their nemeses to cast them down.

   In the Hub of Etyri there is a city greater than any other, located in the Free Lands of Selindar. This land is considered independent and open to the merchants, travelers and adventurers of all societies who would seek knowledge, trade and adventure. The hub of this free land is Uralhat, a vast coastal city which provides a major connection point between overland caravan routes to the three continents, and the waterborn routes of the Vanzarik Ocean. Uralhat is ruled by a benevolent dictator elected by an entrenched republic of elected senators, two chosen from each of Selindar’s free cities, and one each from its towns. There are seventy senators which convene in Uralhat, and as many special representatives, diplomats and ambassadors from the many lands that stake a claim in Uralhat. The current lord protector of Urlahat is Erinsada Dimanes, a thirty-year-old woman who was a priestess of the goddess Natyne before she was elected to regency one year ago. She is a shockingly beautiful mix of northern Hardanish looks with golden hair and green eyes, and the golden dark skin of the southern Xar nomads, where her mother hailed from. She has proved to be an excellent arbitrator in her last year, although she relies heavily on her appointed general Camostus Broges to maintain the standing army which insures Uralhat and Selindar remains free of any undue influence, especially from Mazadran, which is presently ruled by the overly power hungry king Theridos, who has visions of controlling Uralhat himelf.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Nether Realms of Altavir I: A D&D 5E Reintroduction

A while back I started working on a new setting. I was initially inspired by the Deluxe T&T release, but subsequently left it alone for far too long. 

To restart the setting/project, I'm toying with it once more, this time with a 5E representation....gotta follow my muse, and I've been very hooked on 5E so, here we go again....

Anyway, I also have a full sized map done of Altavir, which I'll try to scan in soon and load up. Visuals of a new setting are always useful!

The Nether Realms of Altavir (5E edition)

From legendary Port Vadan there lies the dreaded Straights of Acutum, a deadly passage between the Northern Winter Kingdoms and the southern expanses of the Vidari Empire. Port Vadan remains the only freeport to stand between these two regions, and is called home by the only dastardly sea captains who know how to maneuver through the Straights of Acutum....and live.

The Straights of Acutum are a focal point between to divided lands. Southward lies a sprawling mercantile empire uniting the seven provinces of a great dynasty along the D'oro Sea called Vidari. from there you reach a vast no-man's land, where the Ugadan barbarians prosper despite the constant intrusion of the orcs, the anger of the elven cities in the deep in the Elemental Wood, and the great swathe of ancient ruins that run the length of the Straights of Acutum, ruins which no human believes was forged from ancestral hands. The Vidari call this the Abandoned Lands....the Abandonato Terreno. Stranger beings, such as the skeletal nether and the demonic in'forje occupy many of these ruins and are quick to kill explorers.

Beyond the vast barbaric dominion along the length of the straights lies the collective known as the Winter Kingdoms, which stretch deep to the north, a collection of loose city states and kingdoms forged by a common identity, resolute against the ever present winter that buckles their lands in to a long, narrow swathe of territories that are constantly skirmishing or at war. Only the brutality of the barbarians, elves and monsters that lie between Vidari and the Winter Kingdoms keep them from descending to war.....and so a place like Port Vadan keeps up a brisk trade between the north and south instead, as its daring captains have learned the treacherous waters of the Straights of Acutum well enough to insure that anyone who wishes to journey north or south must depend on them to survive the trip.

Meanwhile a secondary trade has risen up: Port Vadan has become home to antiquarians and explorers, going hand in hand as they seek out the legends and mysteries of the Abandonato Terreno, and to learn more of the ancient lost empires buried in the deep wilderness. But the orcs, elves and barbarians are loathe to give up these secrets, and are deeply mistrustful of outsiders. Adventure in this region is supported by the port and a handful of hearty young nobles who have heard the call of King Teneren in the kingdom of Vormanse, to carve out baronies in his name and to colonies the no-man's land. Any warrior who claims a plot of land in the south, King Teneren asserts, can take a barbarian wife if he so desires....he just has to survive the experience. For the land-starved men of the Winter Kingdoms this sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

Five Special Facts about Altavir in D&D 5E:

1. The In’Forge are a race of demons trapped in the mortal realm, bound here long ago by the machinations of the Hapath

2. Altavir is humanocentric, but among men elves, tieflings and dragonborn are regarded with supernatural awe and dread; dwarves are seen as equals, and halflings are delightful curiosities. Drow are feared, for they rule much of the Barrier Mountains.

3. There are planar realms tethered to Altavir, but they are not the conventional planes of existence most D&D worlds interact with. Altavir is bounded by a realm called the Nether, which is a formless substance, an ectoplasm which has encased and isolated Altavir from the rest of the cosmos. The Nether is where all souls of the dead gather, and the ancient gods of Altavir forge their vast citadels as they watch over the mortal world from darkened, silent halls.

4.  The world of Altavir is quite large, but the dominion of the Winter Kingdoms, Vidari, and the Straights of Acatum appear to be the only remaining center of civilization. Scholars suspect that the relics of Hapath may explain what happened to mankind long ago….but absolutely no knowledge of this lost era still exists (outside of the Hapathic Ruins).

5. The undead called the Nether are regarded by many as the most powerful of the ancient undead, and some scholars even question if the Nether are indeed actually undead. Some think they may have been the survivors of whatever ancient evil befell the Hapathics….mages of Hapath who escaped into the Nether Realm, only to find that the curse of their people chased them there and transformed them into this skeletal, undead race.

Personae The First: Dregatis Ascalair

 Plying his trade as a mercenary of the straights, Dregatis Ascalair is a soldier and explorer when time and madness permits. He has journeyed twice to the ruins of Hapath, where the nether rule and worship a strange being called Kazak the Unbidden as if it were a god. Dregatis is more than willing to serve as a guide to Hapath, though the coin must be right, for on his second journey he acquired the weapon he called Blood Dancer, a blade which sings as it slays. He took it from the hand of a nether war priest, and knows that the next time he goes to Hapath they may well seek to slay him for his actions....but the lure is too tempting to resist, the coin too great. Plus....Dregatis cannot resist an effort to find out what Kazak the Unbidden really is.

Dregatis Ascalair
Level 6 CG  human warrior of Port Vaden (outlander/guide)
ST 18, DX 13, CN 14, INT 11, WIS 10, CHA 6
HPs 55; Saves STR+7, CON +5; AC 14; Base Proficiency +3
Fighter/Outlander Abilities: fighting style (great weapon fighting), second wind, action surge (1), archetype (champion), extra attack, improved critical (19-20), wanderer trait
Feats: Alert, Savage attacker, Skilled (perception, investigation, stealth)
Languages: common (Vormansic)
Proficiencies: Acrobatics +4, Athletics +7, History +3, Investigation +3, Perception +3, Religion +3, Stealth +4, Survival +3, proficient in Lyre
Armor: ring mail (AC 14)
Weapon: Blood Dancer, magical great sword +2 (2D6+6 damage; Attack +9 to hit; special as follows). Weapon Ability: each time Blood Dancer rolls a 6 on its damage dice the wielder regains 1 hit point.  However, after each battle in which healing is received make a CON Save with a DC equal to total healing granted; if you fail, lose 1 HP permanently (a “1” always fails this check).
Backup Weapon: scimitar (1D6+4; Attack +7)
Ranged Weapon: light crossbow with 20 bolts (1D8+1; Attack +4)
Wealth: 77 GP (he's getting low)
Special Gear: one copy of the Codex of the Hapathic Sequence (see below) which he is still studying, plus plenty of bargain basement exploration gear.

The Codex of the Hapathic Sequence

Written by the mad monk Durthenes, who dwelled in the High Tower of Callidamos for nearly a century after he claimed to have been visited by the Vapari god Soragul in person and was revealed the secret of immortality. Durthenes wrote several tomes while isolated in the famous tower that doubles as one of the more prominent manned lighthouses along the Straights of Acutum, by his fellow Monks of the Yellow Cloth. The Codex is one of the more famous ones, however.

The story goes that a nether woman named Atrissa visited Durthenes each night and told him stories about the ancient people that founded the ruined city of Hapath, and of their decline and fall from greatness. He carefully relayed each story into his tome, along with her meticulous descriptions of the seventeen devils which the Hapath worshipped like dark gods. For each, she said, there was a hidden summoning stone and the scholar-wizards of Hapath could not resist the power of these ancient beings, until at last they brought ruin on their great city. The book, it is said, shows where the seventeen summoning stones still lie in the ruins of Hapath and also how to activate them.

Careful study of this book will give adventurers a chance to learn a new language (Ancient Hapathic) on a DC 15 Intelligence Check after at least 3D6 weeks of study. In addition, the tome includes the complete manuscript to learn the 9th level spell Inprisonment (if you can cast magic, that is). Finally, there are many hidden codes in the book. Anyone who reads Hapathic can spend 1D6 days studying the book to make a DC 14 INT check might in that time discern a hidden code pointing to one of the following: (roll 1D6);

1: the location of a ruined wizard's lair or tower in Hapath
2: the lost treasure room of a Hapathic nobleman
3: the location of a tomb/burial site for a famous Hapathic noble
4: the location of a lost Hapathic temple
5: the location of a lost armory in the ruins
6: the alleged location of one of the seventeen summoning stones of the devils of Hapath.

DMs should then roll a D6: on a 1 the information is false and planted to lead into a trap; on a 6 it is out of date and the location is either looted, occupied by monsters, or its contents/location is in fact somewhere else.