Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dungeon Fantasy RPG powered by GURPS is a Real Thing

ENWorld breaks the news! Look at it right here:

UPDATE! Kickstarter is Live. BACK IT NOW!!!! NOW!!!! BACK IT NOW!!!!!!!!!!

Short version:

It's a full featured stand-alone edition of the game tailored for dungeon fantasy gaming

Box includes five books, maps, cardboard flats and dice

Will incorporate some changes/udates to the 4E GURPS rules

Sounds like its slated for a 2017 release

....If SJGames makes this happen, I will be very pleased. I'm sincerely hoping this does well, as it's exactly the kind of stand-alone product that I and many other GURPS fans have said the game needs, and a boxed/print set, no less!!!!

We could see some GURPS revivalism in gaming in the near future all of a sudden. Print remains the "living" realm for gaming, no matter what PDF fans might say....gaming is very tactile, very much an experience in physicality for most gamers who aren't invested in Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds, so a product like this is necessary for the "health" of a game system. Very exciting!

EDIT: If you're not 100% sure about this, imagine for a moment two scenarios:

1. A realistic fantasy gaming system that goes for verisimilitude on a level unparalleled, while still delivering to you a genuine dungeon crawling experience
2. A revival of The Fantasy Trip, or as close to it as we can get in the 21st century

If either of those appeal to you, then this is why you must back Dungeon Fantasy!!!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lingusia - the Age of Strife: Fire Knife Assassins in D&D 5E

So the rule of thumb is: as soon as I invest time in another fantasy game, I start pining for D&D 5E again. With that, I offer you the 5E version of the Fire Knives for your enjoyment....

Fire Knives
Group Alignment: Neutral Evil
Leader: Shadulos Elas Boron
Headquarters: An anonymous guild hall in the Guild District
   The Fire Knives are an international organization of illuminated conspirators who have supporters within Hyrkania, Octzel, and Jhakn. Rumors indicate that there are even members operating within the empires of Persedonia and Galvonar to the south, and maybe even as far east as Cretea and Namintha. The Fire Knives are a vicious predatory political organization, motivated less by religious or moral principles than they are by political gain, despite their origins as a cult to Haro, the god of murder. The mysterious Council of Thirteen are a secret council of dissident political radicals from across the Middle Kingdoms who work together to maintain long distance ties and support. Their agendas are many and varied. Some employ magical prowess which is often learned from the Cabal of Southern Hyrkania, while others practice bastard magic, culled from the books of Blue Robes and Geomancers who dared to cross their path. Most members of the guild are common men and kindred folk who rely on stealth and swift assassination to accomplish their nefarious deeds.
   At its roots, the guild looks like some sort of thug-enforcer type of thieves’ guild that seems to have little obvious direct connection to their actions. In some cities, such as Octzel, their movements are silent and unobserved by most people. In Krythia, they wear their shield of stars surrounded by a weapons symbol proudly, and are believed to be a mercenary's guild by most people. In Jhakn the existence of the Fire Knives is unknown, as their movements are so carefully concealed and hidden that not even close allies know who they are dealing with.
   In Octzel, the Fire Knives have few allies and many enemies, often coming to blows with rival organizations and guilds. Of the many thieves and mercenaries guilds in Octzel only the Order of the Blade maintains neutral relations, and is willing to hire out sellswords to the Fire Knives for any unsavory deeds.
   The Fire Knives have the primary support of three Barons, and possibly other nobles, in Octzel. House Boron, House Killaman, and House Agrapor are the primary backers. House Boron, of the Merchant Lord Shadulos Elas Boron, and his wicked daughter Teylayurana Sorinos are the most dangerous members. Hallergan Blacknails is an infamous orc assassin of the order.
   Beside the illegal and secretive activities which likely take place in the shadowed chambers of the manors of each noble house, the Fire Knives own property through indirect channels throughout the city. They own a trade and import shop in the Marketplace which leads to a secret meeting place. They own a Guild Hall that is rented out regularly, except on dark, moonless nights when they convene for a recap of their actions. They own warehouses by the docks, where imports of special relation are often kept, or where bodies can safely be dumped. Members of the Fire Knives learn as much as they can about the back alleys, secret passages, sewers, and catacombs beneath the streets of Octzel.
   Some would say that the Fire Knives go beyond being a society of political assassination and into the realm of a secret society for the sake of secretiveness. Much of this is due to the fact that the three barons behind the house lack the backing or funds of a major political interest, and it is believed that none of them belong to the Thirteen. Yet, since some claim that Fire Knives in Hyrkania, such as Dame Magna Mordent, say that there is a member of the Thirteen in Octzel, then who is he or she, and what are they planning?

The Thirteen
   The Thirteen are an entity unto itself, operating in utter secrecy throughout the Middle Kingdoms and the East to further its diabolical ends, using assassination, slavery, and the sale of opiates (especially of the blue and black lotus) to manipulate the political currents of the realms.
   An agent, follower or servant of the Thirteen is likely to be a lower order member of the Fire Knives, but someone could also have a conflicted relationship if they revere the god Haro, or are independent assassins, and an adversarial relationship could stem from any number of cases where one would see cause to oppose the actions of a murderous guild-cult.

Shadulos Elas Boron
   The guild master of Fire Knife operations in Octzel, Boron is a local merchantman with family ties back to Hyrkania. His rise to power on the surface appears to be one of a shrewd businessman, but behind the scenes he is suspected of being ranked as one of the Thirteen, relying on the bloody death that his guild can heap upon those who stand in his way to further his ambitions.
   Boron has locked down the city for the Fire Knives, eliminating most other rival guilds, and now schemes to find ways to dislodge the Black Lotus and the Guild of the Spheres.
Level 12 Human fighter, NE
CR 6 (2,300 XP)
STR 12 (+1)     DEX 16 (+3)     CON 18 (+4)    INT 15 (+2)      WIS 17 (+3)     CHA 20 (+5)
HPs 114 (HD 12D10+48)         AC 16              Saves STR +5, CON +8, DEX +7
Initiative +3
Skills Intimidation +9, Perception +7, Persuasion +9, Sleight of Hand +7, Stealth +7
Multiattack Shadulos Boron may make three rapier attacks or three ranged dagger attacks (or any combination) as an attack action.
Melee Rapier Attack +9 attack, 5 foot reach; 1D8+5 piercing damage; any attack may be sacrificed to attempt a disarm: the target must make a DC 18 DEX save or become disarmed (see additional details below).
Ranged Poisoned Daggers +9 attack, 20/40 range; 1D4+4 damage and target must make a DC 17 CON save or become paralyzed for 1 minute (target may make a save each round to end). If Shadulos rolls a critical hit the target also takes 4D8+2 poison damage.
Disarming Personality Shadulos has learned a little magic in his time and may cast charm person 3 times per day and charm monster once per day. Shadulos has subjected his very body to complex rituals to allow for unnatural magical guile.
Entourage Shadulos rarely travels alone. Typically he travels with 1D6 assassins in his presence at all times.
Equipment scale mail, Rapier +2 of disarming, a bandolier of 2 dozen poisoned daggers, 3 vials of paralytic poison (6 doses per vial), 1,230 GP pocket change

Teylayurana Sorinos
   The bastard daughter of Shadulos Elas Boron, Teylayurana has worked her way up the ranks in the Fire Knives to become the premiere assassin in Octzel. She is ruthless and efficient, though regarded as unstable by those who have seen her succumb on occasion to a bloodlust driven by her madness. Some believe that when she experiences these “episodes” she is actually channeling the spirit of Haro himself; no one knows for sure, but her skill has nonetheless attracted the attention of Celiobantes Astiriate in the east, and within the guild it is rumored the two have had relations.
   About two years earlier Teylayurana also traveled with the adventurer Cassius Augustus and was lured into a war between the Fire Knives and the Guild of the Spheres. This conflict led to ongoing enmity between the two guilds.
Level 14 human rogue, CN
CR 9 (5,000 XP)
STR 14 (+2)     DEX 20 (+5)     CON 13 (+1)    INT 16 (+3)      WIS 12 (+1)     CHA 14 (+2)
HPs 77 (14D8+14)                   AC 19              Saves DEX +10, INT +8
Initiative +9
Skills Acrobatics +10, Intimidation +7, Perception +6, Sleight of Hand +10, Stealth +10
Multiattack Teylayurana may make three twin dagger attacks (at 2 attacks per strike) or three ranged crossbow attacks (or any combination) as an attack action.
Melee Twin-Dagger Strike +12 attack (twice), reach 5 ft against 1 or 2 targets; 1D4+7 piercing damage per strike and target is subject to blue lotus poison (see below).
Ranged Hand Crossbow +12 attack, 1D6+6 piercing damage, and target subject to blue lotus poison (see below).
Blue Lotus Poison target must make a DC 19 save vs. CON or target is incapacitated (save each round to end) due to intense and sudden hallucinations.
Sneak Attack if Teylayurana has advantage on the target then she deals an additional 7D6 damage on a single successful attack.
Evasion if Telayurana rolls a successful DEX save she takes no damage. If she fails the save she takes ½.
Blindsense Teylayurana does not roll for disadvantage on attacks and actions in total darkness or while blinded.
Equipment Leather +2 (wyvernscale), 2 daggers +2, 6 vials of blue lotus poison (5 applications per vial), one hand crossbow +2, a case with 30 bolts, pocket change of 500 GP

Hallergan Blacknails
   Hallergan Blacknails is Shadulos Boron’s right-hand man. He is an accomplished mage, a tough fighter, and a tricky devil. Hallergan is approaching middle years, but has worked hard to keep a lean figure, and avoid the bloatedness so characteristic older male orcs. His snout is stubbier than usual, perhaps due to some forgotten human blood in his ancestry, and he will often pass without question in the city streets if he wears heavy robes like a priest. He is a master tactician when it comes to weaving his magic, and he can bring down some rather impressive foes with little difficulty.
Level16 Orc fighter/warlock, CE
CR 7 (2,900 XP)
STR 20 (+5)     DEX 12 (+1)     CON 18 (+4)    INT 15 (+2)      WIS 14 (+2)     CHA 20 (+5)
HPs 141 (11D8+5D10+64)      AC 19              Saves STR +10, CHA +10
Initiative +5
Skills Arcana +7, Intimidation +10, Perception +7, Stealth +6
Multiattack Hallergan may make two axe attacks as an attack action.
Melee Great Axe of the Beheader +13 attack, reach 5 ft; 1D12+7 slashing damage. On a natural 20 the axe deals triple damage and if the target reaches zero hit points is automatically decapitated.
Ranged Spectral Syphon +10 attack, reach 60 ft (one target); 4D8+5 psychic damage and target must make a DC 18 INT save or target gains -1 AC and Hallergan gains +1 AC. This effect continues each round dealing damage and making a save until the target succeeds; AC gain/loss is cumulative and lasts five minutes. This terrifying and unique warlock power Hallergan has taught himself drains spirit energy from the target and does not stop until forcibly interrupted or the target succumbs.
Warlock Abilities Hallergan has a Spell Attack modifier of +10 and Spell Save DC of 18.
Cantrips: eldritch blast, true strike, blade ward
Warlock Spells (3/day): invisibility, Dream, Hallucinatory Terrain, vampiric touch, tongues, dimension door, hunger of hadar, crown of madness, contact other plane, misty step, shatter
Equipment Great axe +2 of the Beheader, full plate +1, loose change of 225 PP and 1,500 GP

Other Fire Knife Assassins

Use the assassin in the MM but substitute blue lotus poison and black lotus poison (below) for master assassins.

New Magic Items and Gear:

Great Axe of the Beheader
Very rare (attunement required) weapon
This +2 great axe deals triple damage on a critical hit. If the target is reduced to zero hit points as a result of being struck by this axe, the target is automatically beheaded (or equivalent, if target does not have a head).

Rapier of disarming
Very Rare (attunement required)
This +2 rapier makes disarming an opponent incredibly easy. Whenever a strike connects, instead of dealing damage the wielder may declare a disarm attack. The target must save vs. DEX at a DC equal to 8+DEX Mod+Proficiency+2 of the wielder or the target’s weapon lands 1D10 feet away from him in a random direction. Target may save at advantage if it is a two handed weapon or larger.

Blue Lotus Poison
Uncommon (poison); typical retail value 250 GP/vial
The blue paste that is made from the leaves of the blue lotus poison is well known for it’s strong hallucinogenic properties, which seem to cause distressing feelings of madness and entrapment within the walls of the City of Nith in the Dreamlands of Ethenur; some mages speculate that the person’s astral self is actually displaced by this poison.

When used the target must make a DC 19 save vs. CON or target is incapacitated (save each round to end) due to intense and sudden hallucinations. One vial contains 5 doses, and each dose will last for one combat.

Black Lotus Poison
Rare (poison); typical retail value 4,000 GP/vial
The incredibly deadly black lotus leaf, when treated correctly with a special alchemical ingredient known only to assassins and poisoners, can be applied in food (for ingestion) or to a blade (for wounding). The poison in minuscule doses causes severe hallucinations and catatonia (DC 19 save vs. CON or become incapacitated) for 1D6 hours; a DEX check (DC 18) is needed to correctly apply the dose at this level (proficiency in alchemy or poisons will grant proficiency bonus to this check). At full doses the user must make a DC 15 DEX Save to avoid accidentally making contact with the poison, subjecting him or herself to its effects (roll at advantage if wearing thick leather gloves; cloth won’t do). Once applied, a single dose will last until a target drinks or eats the poisoned product, or a wound is made. The target then makes a DC 18 CON Save or immediately drops to zero hit points and begins making death saves. If the target stabilizes he or she will remain catatonic and unconscious for 1D6 hours.

A typical vial of black lotus poison contains 3 doses and comes with measuring tools, pestle, and the “vitae mortae” liquid added to bring out the lethal component of the leaf. Rumors that the liquid is derived from the blood of medusae are not entirely unfounded.

Fun notes about statting for 5E vs. 13th Age:

In working out comparable stats for both systems I realized that 13th Age is much quicker, but also very floaty, since you can pretty much make up anything you want as long as you confine your design to something that makes sense....and be ready to revise when it doesn't work as intended in actual play. The incredibly basic core stat block of 13th Age is also a real boon for quick monster design. It's not the fastest system for statting NPCs and monsters (that honorific necessarily goes to Tunnels & Trolls) but it's probably the fastest one for D&D, short of Swords & Wizardry.

D&D 5E has more precision in it than one might realize, since you have lots of design rules and guidelines (those who say otherwise are coming from Pathfinder and 3.5, where the mechanical complexity makes 5E feel spartan), and compared to 13th Age it's rather complicated in that regard. But you can "template" classes as a base of design without having to rigidly adhere to all features of the class (as I did above), instead focusing on those elements relevant to the likely encounter. It takes longer than 13th Age....but if you get used to 5Eisms and memorize the process it can be almost as speedy.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Argumentation and Representation in the Internet Age

In my youtube haze recently I stumbled across this video on Ryan Holiday, discussing his career as a professional marketing shill slash Internet Troll for hire which has, honestly, been something of a revelation for me.

I mean, yeah....I understand how marketing rules the internet, sure.

And I grokk the concept of the troll, yes.

And I have enough millennial friends to realize that when I speak from my voice as myself online, I am Totally Doing It Wrong. And that taking anything seriously on the internet is a failing, not a strength.

But....this video interview with Ryan Holiday really hammered the message home in a way I had not previously been able to fully grasp. Like, big picture kind of way, I guess.


(Old Tricks New Dog problem here....or the reverse....I just don't think I can "not be myself" despite thinking about it. But the next generation's internet is going to be seriously hosed, I think. Not the millennial's son's, the post-millennials. Where nothing is real and everything is permitted, essentially.)

Revisiting Neverwinter Online

Neverwinter Online has been out for a little over three years now, and judging by the regular updates on WotC's home pages it appears to get a new content update every time they release a book expansion for D&D 5E these days. I had dived in to Neverwinter back in 2013 (an initial impressions review here, followed by my "lost interest" phase here) with all the hope that it would live up to its predecessor, D&D Online from Turbine, which I had played extensively and was quite invested in.

Lomng story short: Neverwinter, in 2013, was not quite what I needed to replace my addiction back then to games like D&D Online and World of Warcraft. In 2013, that is.

Cut to 2016! I've all but given up on ever truly understanding or appreciating the nuances of Guild Wars 2, and while I continue to play and enjoy The Elder Scrolls Online, I have also grown to wonder why it feels like all quests in ESO seem to fall in to one of the following three categories:

1. Bored noble elf who is tomb robbing/inspecting ruins/digging for artifacts/just being a prick deigns to let you suffer through the task on his behalf, and usually with little acknowledgement of credit.

2. Angry/sorrowful ghost either tries to stop you from righting a wrong it did, or begs you to wright a wrong it either did or failed to stop in life.

3. Desperate soldier convinces you to do what his entire army appears unable to do, mostly because they are apparently standing around waiting for you to show up and end the local conflict on their behalf.

Yeah....after a while there's a pattern that emerges from many TESO missions, and not even the awesome Razum Dar can save you from a sense of bored familiarity at these moments.

Enter Neverwinter! With a recent modest upgrade in my PC (to a better i5 setup with a 960GB SSD) thanks to a friend of mine, I've been able to run certain games at max or near max capacity that used to chug on my older rig. Neverwinter was on my "see how it runs now" list, and this weekend, recovering from an illness, I had some time to kill....

Anyway, it turns out Neverwinter has gotten much more robust than I recalled, and had really fleshed out. I still need to play longer than the 23+ hours I sank in to the game leveling a half-dozen characters up to 18-20th level, but I spent a healthy amount of time with Forge adventures as well as taking the time and effort to figure out the bizarre coin economy that Perfect World likes to implement in all of its titles, a sort of weird freemium shell game that they keep in place so you have to be careful figuring out whether you need certain marks, zen coinage bought wish cash, astral diamonds acquired through "means most obscure," auction house trades and still others that don't seem to become relevant until much later in the game. It's not probably much more difficult to decipher than the way such coinage/marks have worked in other titles such as WoW, but the inclusion of RMT in the process makes one want to be careful....

But really, that was only about 5% of the process. Once I had the inventory/item/crafting nonsense figured out so I knew what stuff was relevant and what I could effectively ignore for the time being, then it was much easier to focus on enjoying what the game had to offer that I was actually interested in. Also, I spent about $10 to get some zen coinage, which I can tell you two things about:

1. I bought some keys for the lockboxes, and outside of some training manuals for companions I was nonplussed at what I was getting.
2. I converted some Zen into astral diamonds to pick up companions and stuff on the auction house. What I discovered was that certain things were worth it (if the AD cost was low) but most stuff in the AH was vastly overpriced for the level I was at. If i make it to 70 I'll let you know if that changes.

Anyway, the quests:

First, the storylines in Neverwinter have grown considerably since release, and if D&D 5E has a module release out, it's also in Neverwinter as a scenario pack. The scenarios appear to all be free; they get your cash through zen sales to buy vanity items, special gear and gods know what else. Fine with me! It does so far appear that you can ignore the RMT element of the game and play what one might call "the base game" with no loss of experience.

The basic storylines up to level 20 remain quite entertaining. I hadn't gotten past level 12 when I played before....I really lost steam back then....and it felt like leveling was going faster and making more sense this time to me. An effect of visiting it at the right time, or a reflection of changes and improvements? I couldn't say.

Then I dived in to the Forge scenarios. When I was last playing Forge was fresh and weird but appeard to be very limited. Well, it's still kind of limited, but between 2013 and now people have really taken the Forge system to the nth level. I played some amazingly interesting scenarios, and finding the cream of the crop was now quite easy, with various agents and billboards everywhere providing you advice on what to explore.

Some of the Forge scenarios were so good I took notes on ideas to steal for my weekly tabletop session. That good. 

I have one character of each class type going on right now. Sadly there are only seven classes currently in the game, up 2 from 2013. I had sort of hoped they would have expanded it a bit by now. The classes still have a style/feel closer to D&D 4E in terms of language and thematics, but don't let that dissuade you....those thematics actually convey quite well in an action RPG, which Neverwinter most definitely is.

Back when I was into it before I had bought an extra character slot or two on sale, and had gained access to drow and tieflings. Since then, dragonborn and some weird elf variants have been made available. When I clicked on the "buy dragonborn" option it took me to a page where I could buy the dragonborn pack for an insane $74.99. WTF. In the general in-game store I think I spotted an option for like 2,000 Zen though just to unlock the race itself (no frills), equivalent to $20. Hmmmm. Not sufficiently excited about dragonborn to spend any of that, though.

So Neverwinter looks like a fine game now, with some robust user content in the forge that really stands apart from other MMOs out there. It's got me thinking about it....obsessively!.....which is something I haven't done for a while (in fact only Destiny and The Division have gotten me there in recent years).

I'll report further along as I finally break the 20s in level and start seeing the mid and upper tier of the games. Intrigued to see what the Neverwinter take on the various D&D 5E scenario books are like.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Film Review: Appleseed Alpha

Appleseed Alpha (2014)

Somehow I have not written a review about what is basically one of my top, favorite sci fi/anime/wasteland apocalypse/cyberpunk films. Yes, I'm talking about the 2014 Appleseed Alpha, a sort of reboot/prequel to the Appleseed series which takes a look at the early careers of Deunan and Briareos before they reach's got some story revisionism as well, but nothing that should bother you unless you're a canon nazi.

The story focuses on two survivors in post-apocalyptic New York: Deunan, a former soldier turned surivalist/merc, and her once husband Briareos, who was part of a full metal conversion program and is now a Hecatonchiere-Class combat cyborg that is unfortunately suffering from low power and maintenance issues in a New York City that's a skeleton of its former self, a bombed out wasteland ruled by two groups: a gang led by the oni-like cyborg Two Horns, and Atlas, a rogue corporation trawling the rubble for lost weapons tech led by the cyborg Talos.

The story revolves around Deunan and Briareos being down on their luck, played by Two Horns, when they stumble across a soldier named Olsen who's on a mission to escort a girl, a young bioroid named Iris (for reasons that become obvious toward the end) that eventually reveal they come from the fabled utopia of Olympus....a place that Deunan was hoping was real and Briareos thought a myth. Talos is after them, and he's got some history with Olympus, and Olsen....

The tale weaves between our two protagonists, their unexpected charges, the amusingly comic Two Horns and his vendetta, and the promisingly evil Talos and his henchmen. As Olsen reveals more of their mission, it eventually becomes Deunan and Briareos's jobs to stop Talos from taking control of a "Final Weapon" of the last war, which could wipe out all of New York (or what's left of it).

The movie is well paced and a load of fun to watch with some great action sequences. The animation is CGI but has a sort of "light reality" quality to it where it still feels like animation, just very realistic...the result is something which doesn't stress your inner sense of the uncanny valley (at least, not for me). One would not be remiss in thinking that the movie felt like all of the cuts cenes from a video game streamed together into a coherent definitely feels a bit like that.

Watch this movie if you've got a thing for cyborgs, a battle armor fetish, a deep appreciation for apocalyptic wastelands, and happen to really want to see what a good anime-style CGI film can look like that isn't made by Square-Enix. I easily give this one an A+ and can't wait for more, which the film ends with the tentative promise of for the future.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Lingusia, the Age of Strife: Mihidir Trolls in 13th Age

There are several breeds of troll in Lingusia. In the west, beneath the mountains guarded by the city of Lancaster, lie the devious and vile mihidir trolls, a breed apart from the rest. Here the trolls of the underworld worship Thasrik, god of slavery and domination, and they let their infants fight for dominance in foul breeding pits where no family relations are ever allowed. The elite are true trolls of cunning intelligence, but these elite have mastered fleshwarping arts to craft many breeds of troll for specific purposes. A few examples follow.

Note: we playtested these Wednesday night (albeit in an actual play session!) I have modified the stats to reflect a couple "flaws" in the original design....key being making the grunt regen effortless as possible to track.

BTW don't throw a regular troll, a warmage troll and 20 grunts up against 5 level 1 PCs. They will not be amused!

1 Mihidir Warmage
1st level caster (humanoid, lesser giant)
Init +4
AC 17 PD 11 MD 15 HP 26
Black Bolt +6 vs. PD ranged attack against up to 3 nearby targets, 2 necrotic damage per bolt
Claws +6 vs. AC attack, 3 damage; on a 16+ target takes 6 damage from a rend
Dread Growth (once per encounter, on Escalation die 3+); pick one Mihidir grunt. The grunt grows to large size for the remainder of the combat, gaining 20 hit points and doubling its claw and rend damage, but discards its cleaver. If no grunt is available the warmage can cast this on himself, gaining the bonuses instead.
Trollish Regeneration 5: when damaged the mihidir warmage heals 5 damage at the start of its next turn. It has 5 regeneration tokens. It does not regenerate that turn and loses a token if dealt fire or acid damage.

The mihidir war mage is a clever troll of the mihidir kindred, born and bred in the depths of the Ancient City of their kind for war and magic. The warmages are indoctrinated at an early age in to the teachings of the god Thasrik, lord of slavery and domination. They learn to abuse and subjugate the grunts to tortures considered “humane” and “character building” in the eyes of the mihidir elite. Over time, the best are culled from the chattel and taught a mixture of necromancy and polymorphic magic, especially the ability to enhance the already volatile chemistry of trollish flesh.

Mihidir Grunts (mook)
1st level troop (humanoid, lesser giant)
Init +3
AC 17 PD 15 MD 11 HP 7
Cleaver Strike +6 vs. AC attack, 4 damage; on a 1 or 2 attack roll cleaver breaks!
Claws +6 vs. AC attack, 3 damage; on a 16+ target takes 6 damage from a rend
Trollish Regeneration 5: when reduced to 0 hit points the mihidir grunt heals 5 damage on a save (11+) at the start of its next turn. The grunt dies if it fails the save, or was reduced to 0 HP with fire or acid damage.

The mihidir grunts are medium sized trolls by any other standard, but still stand at least 6-7 feet tall against men and elves. Bred in the breeding pits of Thasrik, the grunts know only slavery, subjugation and torture. They are raised and released as dogs of war, chattel to be thrown against the enemy. The average grunt is an adult by age 6 and dead by age 7.

Mihidir Warbrute
5th level huge wrecker (greater giant)
Init +8
AC 22 PD 20 MD 13 HP 220
Claws +10 vs. AC attack (two attacks), 30 damage per hit. If both attacks hit a living target it deals 20 extra rend damage and tosses the target 15 feet.
Siege Strike: If both claw attacks hit, and the target is an object (such as a porticullis or defensive castle wall), then double the damage and target collapses if both attack rolls were 16+.
Trollish Regeneration 5: when damaged the mihidir warbrute heals 20 damage at the start of its next turn. It has 5 regeneration tokens. It does not regenerate and loses a token if dealt fire or acid damage.
The worst spawn of the breeding pits, the warbrutes are shaped and morphed into monstrous savages by the mihidir elite to become living siege engines. The warbrutes are so large, some up to 50 feet tall, that they are often mistaken for giants. They can transport dozens of mihidir grunts and are usually “directed” by a mihidir troll.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mythras is in the Wild!

Mythras, the full-featured deluxe rulebook of the Design Mechanism Engine is now available in print and PDF. I just placed my order, and now you can too right here for the modest price of $39.95.

Given the fact that Chaosium's future appears to be aimed at highly world-specific pet projects, I think Mythras may just be the best default system for the kind of fantasy gaming I want at this point. I'll post a review of the core book ASAP!!!

Icons of Lingusia in the Age of Strife (13th Age)

Have I published this on the blog before? No idea....but since we're kicking off a new campaign in 13th Age this week, seems like a good idea for a review....

The Age of Strife in One Paragraph

The world of Lingusia is defined by the events of a central domain known as the Middle-Kingdoms, a swathe of territory which grew up in ancient times around a fabled City of the Gods. The gods had a terrible war and slew their mortal forms two thousand years ago, and out of the ashes of this time grew Hyrkania, a great empire. Around Hyrkania lie many lesser polities vying for survival. In the modern era, the year 2,090 Hyrkania has just survived a civil war which nearly tore it apart. The adventurers of this era are largely survivors of that war, soldiers or refugees who witnessed terrifying atrocities as an age-old conflict between Order and Chaos flared up. Into this world stride men and women willing to sieze the chance for power, glory and riches.

The Icons of the Middle Kingdoms in the Age of Strife

The Archmage – Lord Warenis (Heroic – LG)
The immortal champion of order, Lord Warenis works behind the scenes in this era to thwart the machinations of Xauraun, the Crusader. Warenis recruits from the likely heroes of the land to send them out against the diabolical forces of his nemesis. Warenis’s aims are singular: stop the Crusdaer, save the empire.
If you serve the Archmage: You are likely a scholar, mage or dedicate to lore who understands the true nature of the eternal conflict and why it is so important that the gods of chaos do not win. You may belong to the Esoteric Order of Hodon Systalien, one of the most dedicated servants to the archmage, or you may be an independent operator.

The Emperor – Anton Patraeus (Heroic – LN)
Anton Patraeus is a great leader of men who has struggled against the civil war that the War of Strife became, as well as the army of demons his enemies conjured up. He holds the empire together against great adversity and needs agents abroad to do his bidding.
If you serve the Emperor: You are either a vigilant solarian knight, a member of the Shadow Watch, an envoy or agent of the emperor who seeks out trouble in the land to quell it, or to hunt down the enemies of the empire.

The  Crusader – Xauraun Vestillios (Villanous – CE)
Xauraun Vestillios is the immortal champion of chaos, who seeks to bring down the era of man and disembowel the worship of the pantheon of order. He commands ferocious armies of monsters and demons to this end, as well as the loyalty of the human subjects who seek to gain power in his era of rule. The Crusader is always interested in new agents and minions to sew strife.
If you serve the Crusader: You are one who is comfortable in the company of fiends, possible one of the Order of the Ten Circles (the Divinate, in its public guise) or even one of the league of assassins that seek out those who would oppose the Crusader to lay them low. You could be of orcish or demonic descent, feeling the compulsion to serve the immortal chaos lord, or you are a man or elf who desires power at any cost.

The Lich King – Laikhanamen (Ambiguous– TN)
The Lich King was once the greatest wizard of the realm but fell to the passions of the Unseelie Queen centuries ago, such that he was driven to seek out immortality that he would be “alive” for the time of her mortal return to the world. That time is now, and the Lich King is as much a pawn to the Unseelie Queen as he is an agent of his own necromantic self interest in the current era. The lich king has little interest in the current field of politics, but craves power and the expansion of his personal empire of undeath.
If you serve the Lich King: you are either obsessed with death or the darker passions of the soul and admire the Lich King for what he offers….or you are a poduct of necromancy, doomed to obey him forever more.

The High Druid – Zama (Ambiguous TN)
Zama was an elder druid who became hierophant during the last great war against the Crusader a century earlier. The war devastated his homeland in the Niras Forest, and motivated the druids of Niras to grow wary of outsiders and the threats they pose. Today, Zama’s influence as grand hierophant of his order is to create a sense of seclusion and remoteness in the forestlands of his dominion, and he relies on his agents to insure that any threat to the wellspring of the forest, which is the very embodiment of the god Niras’s spirit, be protected from outsiders.
If you serve the High Druid: you are a druid yourself, or a simple elf, gnome or other denizen of the Niras Forest, who has felt the calling of the High Druid or the spirit of the woods and felt a need to protect the land from those who would ravage it. You might be a ranger or other agent of the Knights of Kom’Huandyr, a dedicated order of rangers in the woods who seek to defend the realm of the empire and specifically the province of Niras which encompasses all of the woods from outside invaders.

The Diabolist – Tyriandras Gonn Holivarnen (Villanous – LE)
The dark sorceress of Hyrkania is a shadowy entity, known by name only to her inner cabal. She has an obsessive and seemingly one-sided alliance with the Crusader Xauraun, and works her own schemes to bring Hyrkania to its knees. She believes that conquering the empire will be sufficient to catch Xauraun’s attention.
If you serve the Diabolist: you are a cutting edge agent of evil and you can see the opportunity to both gain power in the Diabolist’s imagined future empire as well as ready yourself for the embrace of chaos.

The Unseelie Queen – Corrigan (Ambiguous – CN)
Corrigan was believed to be destined for resurrection by her elite cabal of unseelie elven knights, but it was in fact the schemes of her paramour, the Lich King, that allowed her to be reborn. Corrigan walks the land again, a dangerous threat as she weaves her enchantments to lure dark elves and vile feykin into her web of control. She is barred from entry into the heart of the Weirding by the Court of Titania, and her unseelie agents are left deep in the mirelands and the briars of the outer Arboreal darkness, where the feywild touches the shadowfell.
If you serve the Unseelie Queen: you felt the call and your fey blood could not resist. If you are no fey, then you are attracted to what she stands for, the liberation of the spirit from the rules of the world. The unseelie queen is a mysterious force in the age of strife but she stands against both order and chaos.

The Elf Queen – Mithrielle (Ambiguous – NG)
Mithrielle rules Sylvias in the south and seeks to make her empire strong against the many forces of evil and chaos in the world. She is half-sister to the empress Phyxillus, but feels an unreasonable level of rivalry for her successful half-sister in the north. Under Mithrielle the elves have attained great power, but their enmity toward other lesser races is at an all time high. Actions in the name of the Elf Queen are to secure of the elven empire and its many outlying tribes and cities in the world, even at the expense of the lesser races.
If you serve the Elf Queen: you stand not only against the enemies of the elvish kingdom, but against those who would seek to destroy the venerable lineage of the world itself in the name of power. You are likely either a selenic knight in the elven courts, a preservationist working in secret in foreign lands against the enemies of elvenkind, or a huntsman knight on the frontiers of Sylvias defending the outlying cities and tribes of all elves, both silver and wood.

The Betrayer King (Orc King) – King Makhorven (Villainous – NE)
Rumors that Makhorven has orcish blood in his lineage are true, and it explains his grim, bestial visage and complexion. Makhorven is a power even while imprisoned in the vast dungeon complex between the city of Hyrendan, for the Order of the Red Robes insures he remains carefully protected and fed, and his network of spies and agents functions throughout the land. The Emperor’s unwillingness to execute Makhorven is still a mystery to many (though there is an ugly rumor of some sort of familial relation) though just as many suspect that Makhorven’s followers would never allow his death to pass. Makhorven is allied with the cults of the chaos gods, but he plays by his own rules and for his own gain.
If you serve the Betrayer King: you work from the shadows, relying on physical force or magic as necessary to undo the empire from within. Though your liege suffered a great defeat, support is as strong as ever, just fluid like water so that the anvil of the empire cannot find you. You serve either the Black Circle, the Order of the Red Robes or the Divinate as an agent of chaos and change.

The Serpent – Saurpikan (Villanous – LE)
The Grant Imperator of the serpent men empire of Hazer-Phennis serves exclusively the will of the dark god Set and his devilish minions, who spread like a cancer throughout the underworld. The rumors that the serpent men walk among humans and elves in magical disguise to sew discord are likely entirely true.
If you serve The Serpent: few who do not have serpent blood serve The Serpent, but they exist. The Serpent is the emobodiment of his people and his vile god, who seeks to subjugate the world to his rule. Following the Serpent means betraying your people for a piece of that pie, or it means being one of the pureblooded, the humanoids who have a trace of ancient serpent ancestry within their veins.

The Great Gold Wyrm – Drakon Shaikor (Ambiguous – CG)
The great gold wyrm of this era is Drakon Shaikor, the most powerful of the gold dragons of the eastern clans. His influence is deep among dragonkind, and many say he has the ear of the Council of Wyrms itself, a secret society of the eldest dragons in the world who still remain free of the controlling machinations of the Wyrmlords. As may be expected, Shaikor and his allies revere Bahamut first and foremost.
If you serve the Great Gold Wyrm: dragons alone do not serve the Great Gold Wyrm. Wizened sages, sorcerers who envy the gold’s power, dragonborn who wish to ally themselves with the agents of Bahamut and others will readily offer fealty to the Great Gold Wyrm.

The Wyrmlords (The Three) – the elder dragons lords of the Dragon Mother’s Brood (Villanous – CE)
The Wyrmlords of the brood follow the Green Mother as they refer to her, a great chromatic beast to the north who dwells in the heart of the Northern Wilderness, giving birth to a new generation of the great dragonflight. The Green Mother’s Brood consists of her hand-picked finest brothers, sisters and those males who court the Green Mother. She sends them out to do her bidding. Rumors are that the Green Mother has determined to awaken the sleeping Tiamat to restore dragonkind to greatness once more.
If you serve the Wyrmlords: there are many dragonborn who ally themselves with the Wyrmlords, and as many other races who envy the power of the dragons who know how to use it. The Wyrlmords are crafty manipulators and they seed their dark interests throughout the Middle Kingdoms and beyond, but they need even craftier agents to carry out their agenda of dragon superiority.

The Prince of Shadows – Wormie Vellsoth (Ambiguous – CG)
The enigmatic guild master of the Black Lotus gang and avatar of the the god Hermes is the undisputed shadow prince of the Age of Strife era. Wormie as his friends call him (because his enemies are all dead, as he says) is a wood elf of roughly two centuries in age who has become the master of secret lore and information in the land, and his agents are tasked with gathering such esoteric knowledge to greater purpose. Despite his nature as a thief and grafter, Wormie uses his agents to further the interests of the pantheons of order and death over chaos; there is no profit in chaos.
If you serve the Prince of Shadows: you are one of the thieves, burglars, scoundrels and grifters of the world with a heart of gold, looking to your local thieve’s guild or possibly even THE thieve’s guild of the Prince of Shadows himself, the legendary Black Lotus Guild. From there you have earned enough trust and cred to find your services as a gatherer of information and protector of the civilized world to be useful to your liege.

The Assassin - Celiobantes Astiriate (Ambiguous – NE)
In many ways Celiobantes Astiriate is like Wormie, though the two are unrelated. Clawing his way up through the ranks of the Fire Knives, Celiobantes is a master of assassins and chief high priest of the assassin god Haro. Like the Black Lotus, the Fire Knives still commit to a dedication to order, albeit through murder as a tool of conflict resolution. The Fire Knives are usually regarded as agents of chaos by most…and they have been known to side with cultists of chaos, which their dark god is ostensibly one of, but true scholars of Haro know that the god considers himself above the petty cliques of the pantheons.
If you serve the Assassin: a few independent operators exist who worship Haro, but universally if you serve the Assassin then you belong to the Fire Knives. The Fire Knives are expansive, with tendrils stretching across two continents and even into the Planar Realms, conducting murder in the name of their vile god. So if you hold this icon as your liege, then you must of necessity be proficient at murder most foul.

The Priestess – The Sacrimori Setianne (Heroic – LG)
Setianne is the young, new high priestess of the Temple of Naril and the voice of all faith in the empire of Hyrkania. Setianne carries a great influence on the land, and is noted for her caring nature but her willingness to use the force of her two dedicated paladin orders (the Solarians and the Ebon Ankh) to enforce the will of Naril. She is singularly dedicated to stamping out all worship of the chaos gods.
If you serve the Priestess: you are a true champion of Naril and the empire, seeking to better humankind and his allies against the tide of chaos. You likely are a priest, scholar or advocate for the church, or a paladin or fighter who has taken up arms and joined the solarian knights. Inquisitors wield magic to root out evil and destroy the demons of chaos at the behest of the Priestess as well.

The Dwarf King – King Madragor, Iron King of the South (Heroic – LN)
Madragor is also a young king a dwarves go, for his father was slain during the War of Strife when the forces of the Black Tower invaded the Iron Mountain strongholds. Madragor has sworn an oath of allegiance to the Emperor, and there are stories of how Madragor adventured with the emperor many years ago. He also seems to be especially fond of the Elf Queen, though the favor is not returned. Madragor’s interests are in eliminating all threats to his people, though the Iron Dwarves of his land are friendlier to the human empire.
If you serve the Dwarf King: you look out for your sovereign allies, but the dwarves come first. From the Deep Company, dwarves who stand against the terrors of the lower depths, to the army of the Iron Fist, the greatest general in the mountains to serve the king you are all about dwarven superiority and the destruction of those races and faiths which stand against your people. If you are not a dwarf, you are a sympathizer or one who has become enamored with the dedicated passion of dwarvenkind and seek to aid them in any way you can.

More about the Icons
The world of Lingusia is too large to have just a baker ’s dozen icons…and as such, while some icons may cast a wide net of influence, many of them are localized to their region of the world. The icons of the east are another set entirely, and the icons of the north are an enigmatic lot who greatly dislike the icons of the Middle Kingdoms. Only a few tend to be universal….the Archmage and the Crusader are known across the world for their endless conflict, for example, as is the Great Gold Wyrm who seeks the unification of dragonkind against the machinations of the Wyrmlords, who manipulate the elder brood queen to produce more chromatic spawn.

Some icons of cosmic note are not present in this era. There is no orc king, for example, and the orcs are but beastly tribes serving whatever lord of chaos happens their way in this era; but the Betrayer King fits the role nicely, and happens to be a half-orc, too. The Prince of Shadows is the avatar Wormie Vellsoth, who has taken on the mantle unwittingly from the former icon Tanis of an older era. Wormie has much to contend with in the form of The Assassin, the Fire Knife Celiobantes Astiriate, who has risen to great power as the lord of the most formidable guild of assassins in the Middle Kingdoms, one which will one day come to be feared even by the gods themselves.

Friday, August 19, 2016

R.I.P. Magic World

In Ab Chaos #25 (the Chaosium newsletter) it was announced that Magic World has been officially put out to pasture. Chaosium will continue to sell the books it has, and PDFs, but that's it. This is nothing (so far as I recall) that we didn't already basically know, it's just mostly closure. The official reasons: they are a small crew focused on other things, Magic World was very niche (I am sure it was) and they don't want to do "generic" fantasy (which is a shame that MW is considered generic fantasy; ain't nothing else like it in the fantasy RPG genre). There is also the more general feeling I get that Chaosium content from 1984 to 2014 has been wiped off the map for all practical purposes, and all projects associated with former Chaosium folk no longer in the mix. Okay, fair must expect that the current crew will focus on what they are most interested in (and what is presumably most profitable).*

But there is good news for the all the MW fans out there: Chaosium is indicating that they are open to licensing for Magic World, for any fans interested. There are definitely a few hardcore fans out there who've produced some impressive online supplements (check out for examples such as the Big Damn Book of Monsters). Dustin Wright, unfortunately, is out of BRP entirely as of the last post I read from him over there so it seems unlikely we'll get any new content from the original author/compiler. It's also unclear to me if Chaosium would be open to a license in which someone produces an entirely new or revised rulebook (given they plan to continue selling the two books they did release in PDF, at least).

The other news in the email is that Mythic Iceland is nearing completion. I imagine this will sell well, both because many found it a great book, and also because this will be our first look at the new edition of the Runequest/BRP Essentials game system. I was never sufficiently excited by this setting to think of using it for gaming, but I am sure it somehow has it's place. It was, admittedly, one of the best sourcebooks for BRP to be released, so it's good to see it will continue to exist.

*And lets face it, Chaosium is practically the poster child for the cottage industry of gaming, where everything is already niche, so supporting a niche within a niche is just not a good idea. That Mythic Iceland really that much better of a seller than Magic World was?

Really Bad Movies: Oasis of the Zombies (1981)

It's back! After a long absence, I have new horror movie reviews on the way....focused like a lightning rod once more on The Really Awful Horror Movie!!!

Sit back and feast upon the corpse of many a film from yesteryear, oh doomed reader....starting with this maddeningly weird and pointless gem...

Oasis of the Zombies (1981...or maybe 1982)

I found this French zombie movie on a 12-pack of films titled "12 Film Flesh Fest: Zombies Unbrained," and picked Oasis of the Zombies to start with completely at random. The film quality was deplorable, with that "copied from a cam focused on an old TV" sort of resolution and jigginess to it. Despite--or perhaps because of--this poor quality the film actually seemed to benefit from it a bit. The box set says it's a 1981 film but wikipedia says it's from 1982.

The story tells three loose tales: after a scene in which two gals in short-shorts visit some desert oasis and get eaten by zombies, the film leads in to a fellow discovering the story of his dad in WWII. This is the first "coherent" narrative of a British soldier and his men who face off during WWII with a vile company of German soldiers in the desert known for their mercilessness. After some brief but fun shots of surplus WWII vehicles there's a classic 80's style gunfight at a remote desert oasis in which everyone dies. The sole surviving commander of the British forces is rescued by a local sheikh in the desert and hauled off for a speedy recovery, followed by a swift relationship with the lovely Ayesha who's exact relationship to the sheikh is  a bit suspect. He leaves her and comes back two years later to find out she is dead, the sheikh and his palace mysteriously ruined, and he has a lone infant son.

There's also the story of this gruff murderous treasure hunter who, along with a random menagerie of cohorts steals off decades later to find this oasis due to a rumor that the dead nazis at the location were hiding gold there before the British got the drop on them. He and his crew spend the night at the oasis and are promptly murdered by zombies. Only the treasure hunter escapes, long enough to arrive in a nearby city where he goes mad from a zombie bite.

The principle story tying the other two together is the son of the British officer, who now seeks to claim that lost gold for his own, something he gleaned from his father's own writings. So in classic 1981 style he, some chummy friends and a hot girl in shorts with a penchant for taking off her shirt all head off to Saudi Arabia to find the oasis. Naturally they arrive, have some weird encounters in the nearby city, then skip on off to the oasis where sure enough at sundown the zombies come out and try to devour most of them. THE END.

So I can't say it's completely pointless. They had a plot, just not a lot of "surprise" to it. For the limited special effects the zombie heads were kind of neat...

...but admittedly, watching a bad, grainy copy made that zombie look much cooler than he probably would have in HD. Still, someone took the time to liberally sprinkle worms on every zombie face, and they blend the use of the masks with the actual guys staggering around well enough to evoke that unique, creepy atmosphere typical of horror films from the period.

The acting in the film is (shockingly) a slight improvement over other typical films in the genre from that period, but this is sort of like comparing two rotten fruits and pointing out how one has mold and the other doesn't.

The music was a four note synthesizer. It "worked" in the sense that it fit the era of this sort of film, but it was tedious by any stretch of the imagination otherwise.

So, as the kick-off to the Return of 31 Days of Horror I will give Oasis of the Zombies a solid D+ (the plus being for the cool zombie heads, and the modicum of effort at depicting the oasis shootout during WWII). It does feel to me like one of those oddball films which sprang out of some unlikely combination of circumstances; one guy had access to surplus WWII vehicles, another guy had been making paper mache zombie heads, and a third guy really wanted an excuse to get some actress naked in a eurosleaze film. but then, so many of the films from this period actually are kind of slapdash and sleazy like that, so there you go...