Sunday, December 31, 2017

Death Bat's 2017 Year in Review and Gaming Plans for 2018

2017 In Review

Well, 2017 was a rough year for me for a lot of reasons, and I suffered from a lot of burn-out, I will admit. I have been growing tired of the standard level/class formula of D&D and it's myriad clones. I had some turmoil in gaming throughout the year which, without going in to detail, meant that fewer campaigns were completed with the consistency that I might have desired, and certain friends with whom I might otherwise have enjoyed gaming more with have fallen to the wayside for many and varied reasons. Sometimes, unfortunately, a person may be a great and interesting personality but that can also translate into deep frustration with how they function as a gamer....we'll just leave it like that.

The highlights of the year were getting much more involved with the D100/BRP systems, specifically a long running Call of Cthulhu campaign which remains ongoing, and a short stint with a Mesopotamian Adventures campaign using Mythras. Running Mythras again reminded me that in the end I prefer the simpler combat mechanics of other BRP games, but luckily I have a solution to continue that campaign in 2018: OpenQuest 2, which will be a ridiculously easy conversion thanks to it being built on the RQII OGL Mongoose put out years ago, which is the same framework from which Mythras springs.

I also ran a 13th Age campaign which also concluded in a spectacular and very satisfying manner, and in so doing convinced me very much that 13th Age will remain one of my eternal favorite systems. Ironically I did not feel class/level burnout while running 13th Age.

Also, Traveller this year was a lot of fun! Traveller has some weird limits in its implied universe and tech, and Mongoose failed to deliver on some pivotal supplements (the Companion, especially, or any alien books), but it's a robust system and with the core books out now (Rules, High Guard, Central Supply Catalog and Vehicle Handbook) I essentially have all I really need going forward.

I have, of course, run multiple D&D campaigns this year. But my drive on running these is, I admit, based more on familiarity and ease of the system than any special interest I have in the D&D-style fantasy genre right now. I just haven't felt as excited for my campaigns this year with D&D as I should be, and it's not because I lack interest in the game or's just over-saturation, burn-out. I need to give it a break.

The weird dark horse experience of 2017 was Starfinder. By all rights I should not be bothering with this system anymore: it's full of the sort of anachronistic blend of fantasy and SF that drives me nuts, and dovetails nicely with other games such as Shadowrun and Rifts, games which I like in principle but don't run in fact because as a GM I personally have a hard time sustaining my suspension of disbelief when running them. But...damnit,  I keep thinking about Starfinder and what I can do with it. Even while being annoyed with the anachronisms and the Very Big Questions of how the frickin' universe functions while running my test games on Starfinder I was still enjoying it. Every time I finish working out a new idea for it I am reminded that I would, in fact, prefer exploring real SF....but Starfinder just has a demented, fun simplicity to it that I keep getting trapped by. Grrrrr.

Plans for 2018

So what's up for 2018? I'm going to try very hard to be more considerate of my own time and my players' by staying more focused and avoiding so much bouncing around. Some of this can be accomplished by know, playing games I have genuine interest in and not buying so many other games that end up as distractions. For 2018 this means the following:

More Call of Cthulhu

And lots of it. I want to continue the ongoing Weird Oregon Campaign, and then I want to tie that in to an old west campaign using Down Darker Trails, and maybe later in the year see if people are interested in a Cold War era campaign as well. All of them will relate to one another.

Mesopotamian Adventures powered by OpenQuest 2

I really like OQ2. It takes the strengths of the BRP/RQII systems and turns them in to a perfect package for gaming. I want to use this to continue the ancient Ubaid campaign I am running, set in Eridu around 3,100-2,900 BC which I feel has between 6-10 sessions of play left in it, and then expand from there if the group interest continues. If I find myself sufficiently enamored with OQ2 after that, then it may be the ideal solution to running my long-planned but often put off Pergerron campaign (a sort of high-fantasy ancient Mesopotamia), or maybe Sarvaelen (the dark fantasy setting).

Genesys Core 

I need to try this one out. It's a great system, very flexible, and it hits a lot of my requisite bells and whistles. Just not sure how, yet, to use it....but we will see!

More Traveller

Everyone in my group likes Traveller, and I have plenty of content ready. The only question is....where to fit it in?


Look, I am very confused about this game, but I admit I love it like I love fatty foods and sugary products that I am not allowed to eat. I don't think I'll get this monkey off my back until I actually run it with serious intent. If the group is willing, I will propose an actual Starfinder campaign, in some capacity, in 2018...probably doing a new location/universe, but one which still ties in to all the Pact World thematics to make compatibility with existing content easier.

Okay so the above all seem likely to happen right now, safe bets for sure. So how about the rest?

A New 13th Age Campaign

I'd really love to do another 10-15 session 13th Age story arc sometime this year. What world I'd set it in and other details remain up in the air, and it's sufficiently unplanned that it won't happen right away, but I think for what I need out of level/class style D&D systems right now 13th Age is it.

Less D&D

As much as I continue to love D&D, I've played it to death in it's many iterations for the last 36 years now and I think I need to give myself some sort of a break (barring 13th Age) in 2018. If I can actually stop running it entirely for a few months, it might help me to reinvigorate interest. I haven't really taken a break from running D&D weekly since or so! Seriously. I think I went 3 months without a D&D game in 2005 as well. Dang, no wonder I feel burnt out.
(Three days in to the new year and it's already clear that this ain't gonna happen. D&D, I can't quit you! I just enjoy it too much.)

Cold & Dark Campaign

I am really eager to actually run this. Cold & Dark is exactly the sort of dark, horror-themed SF I love and the die-pool mechanic of the system sounds solid to me. I'll run this just as soon as I can convince my group to try it. Assuming I can find a spot to fit it in!

Wishlist: Symbaroum, Conan RPG, Adventures in Middle Earth

I'd love to play all three of the above, but finding the time to plot this out is the problem, never mind finding the time to actually play! For now I'll continue to collect and read each of these systems, but who knows, maybe inspiration will strike right when time is free in 2018. There are other games in this boat which I'd love to run, but it turns out I have a hard time "absorbing" 600-700 page rulebooks: Zweihander and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, I am looking at you! Both are "on the list" but damn, I actually think I'd have preferred if each of these tomes were broken up in to 2 or 3 volumes....the psychological impact of one massive book vs. three volumes is a terror to my brain.

That's it for now....everyone have a great New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Death Bat's Top 5 RPGs of 2017

2017 was a flood year for new RPGs, as well as the year in which many big Kickstarters finally saw fruition. Here's my list, as best as I can manage it....too many games this year to ever play!!!

5. Best New Fantasy RPG of 2017: Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of

This game is gorgeous, the character generation mechanics are impressive and provide an elaborate character for you to play, it has loads of support on the way, and the entire game is a very smartly designed tribute to Robert E. Howard's character and world. Even if I never get to play the game I am very much enjoying reading it. Modiphius is doing very good work here.

Runner Up: Zweihander RPG, the OSR retroclone of classic Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. It's a beast of a tome and the most comprehensive new RPG I bought in 2017.

4. Best Universal RPG System of 2017: Genesys Core RPG

The funny-dice system by Fantasy Flight Games which previously powered the Star Wars RPGs is an amazing design and despite a toolkit approach is really accessible and easy to work with. I definitely look forward to trying this game out in  depth in 2018.

Runner Up: FATE Core Adversary Toolkit is a great resource for FATE GMs who would like more tools for building opponents.

3. Best Comeback: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set

The GURPS Kickstarter for Dungeon Fantasy bore delightful fruit, in the form of a meaty boxed set, Companion book, GM Screen and pretty much everything you need to stealthfully teach your players GURPS without them realizing it. DF demonstrated beyond a doubt that GURPS has a bright future, especially in the form of focused "all in one" titles.

Runner Up: Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd edition released in 2017 and this monstrous tome is a fantastic package and easy way to introduce your players to a dark, alternate-reality swords & sorcery themed version of AD&D 1E.

2. Best Sourcebook: Xanathar's Guide to Everything for Dungeons & Dragons

This was a much needed sourcebook for the D&D 5th edition system, with content split between useful new class options for players and tons of delightful DM content. And not a moment too soon! Everything in this book has already proven invaluable to my gaming table. More like this WotC, please!

Runner Up: World War Cthulhu: Cold War is already one of my favorite tomes of this year even though I've only had a few days to read it. Check it out for a great in-depth take on Cold War spying, Mythos style.

1. Best New Science Fiction RPG of 2017: Cold & Dark RPG

This deep delve in to the dark and horrific blend of science fiction and horror provides a fantastic experience, one which I have many plans for in 2018. Excellent art, a robust setting with plenty of details to customize and make it your own, and an excellent all-in-one book design makes this one of my favorite RPGs of 2018. Thanks again to Modiphius for bringing this amazing game to print.

Runner Up: this was a tough choice, as a lot of SF RPGs were released in 2017. In the end, I had to go with Starfinder, even though it's arguably "science fantasy" and not straight SF. That said, it's streamlined Pathfinder rules, excellent focus and design and beautiful art make it a very distinguished game and one I suspect a lot of people (including myself) will be playing more of in 2018.

0. Game of the Year Award: Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of

I was very tempted to give this to Dungeon Fantasy, which gets runner-up, but the Conan RPG is really a masterpiece, and easily one of the nicest designs and most carefully developed books I've seen. Even if you never play it, this book remains worth owning for any fan of Howard or sword & sorcery in general.

Runner Up: Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set is an amazing all-in-one purchase and an excellent gateway drug to GURPS proper. Even if you never touch another GURPS product, Dungeon Fantasy will serve you all on its own just fine, though.

Honorable Mention: Star Trek Adventures RPG is, like all other games produced by Modiphius, pure gold. Alas, I have found myself having a hard time "returning" to the Star Trek universe once more after all these years and so it has been neglected.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Stars Without Number Revised is Here

I just spotted this: Stars Without Number Revised Edition is in the wild. You can get the free download here, and then go over here to buy a copy. No doubt Kickstarter backers have already been notified.

I'll be perfectly honest with you, this is one of the best "inspired by" retroclones on the market, possibly the best. It's an elaborate, deep science fiction RPG, and the revised edition is something I've been waiting very patiently for. I couldn't back the Kickstarter (purely for financial reasons; Kevin Crawford is 100% reliable and guaranteed to produce fantastic works) but I knew he'd have this out on time...or early!

Anyway, check it out....for the low price of free you can see what an amazing product this revised edition is. I'm going to have to save up for the premium hard cover edition!

Death Bat's Top 5 Computer Games of 2017

Here it is! As the year come to a close, once again we review the year. I didn't get as much game time in this year as I'd have liked, but still somehow managed to squeeze some good ones in. So without further delay....

5. Game We Love to Hate to Love: Star Wars Battlefront II

Despite the negative press due to the ridiculous Loot Box issue spurred on by EA's bottomless pit of greed, Battlefront II remains a fun game to play and has a fantastic single player campaign. It contains split-screen co-op and competitive as well, which means my son and I can have fun together. It's the best Star Wars video game experience you can get right now. Despite the loot box controversy. Just....don't buy the loot boxes, m'kay? They turned that option off for now, but the consensus is that EA will retool it and turn it back on as soon as they think no one is looking.

Runner Up: Call of Duty WWII. Impressive multiplayer and a painful single player experience!

4. Best MMORPG Expansion: Morrowind for The Elder Scrolls Online

This robust entry into the DLC content for TESO was well worth exploring and added many hours of additional story-based content to what is arguably the only significant remaining innovative MMORPG on the market right now, in a market that is growing cobwebs otherwise.

Runner Up: Ummmm. Yeah.....I haven't bought any other new expansions for any MMOs this year.

3. Best new RPG+++: NIER: Automata

Look, Nier: Automata is a lot more than just an RPG, and it's also a lot more than just a JRPG. If you are a traditional RPG gamer with poor motor control skills this game is going to suck in many ways, but if you want to see how an RPG can genre-bend into a pretzel and remain a powerful RPG at the same time, then you really need to try N:A out. It's worth the experience, trust me.

Runner Up: Star Ocean: Faithlessness and Integrity, which actually came out in 2016 but I only just discovered it so....yeah. But a ton of fun!

2. Best new Shooter: Destiny 2

I loved the first Destiny and am very much enjoying the continuing story and evolving world of Destiny 2. I don't know if I can talk much about this game as a multiplayer experience, since I approach Destiny 2 like a single-player story-driven shooter experience, but if you play it that way then the game will be amazing....and anything else will just be a happy side perk.

Runner Up: Prey, which was also well worth getting for those who prefer single-player story driven experiences.

1. Best Adventure Game and Overall Game of the Year: Horizon: Zero Dawn

Alas this is only available on the PS4, but it's a good enough reason to actually buy a PS4 if you don't have one. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a better post-apocalyptic experience than you will find in just about any other RPG, as well as providing a distinct blend of open-world and story driven experience that does not get tiring with repetition and manages to impart a sense of urgency even as it tickles your need to explore in random directions. Best game I have played this year, hands down. A new expansion (The Frozen Wilds) recently released as well, and I have much more to play in this game.

Runner Up: Ghost Recon: Wildlands. This game has kept me playing in the post-apocalyptic wilds of Bolivia for months now and while it can get repetitive at times, the game does play best when you pay attention and strive for perfection.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Reviewing the 2017 Gaming Predictions

Back in December 29 of last year I made some gaming predictions/analysis about where things ought to go for how did it stack up?

1. A Companion Book for Fantasy AGE


As it turns out, Green Ronin got Blue Rose out this year, announced a Modern AGE (though that will probably not come out until sometime in 2018) and that was about it.

2. WotC Releases a Player's Tome for D&D 5E


Sure enough, the did it: Xanathar's Tome is also for DMs, but contains plenty of new archetypes for players, new background details, and loads of little bits that D&D 5E needed. I wish they'd do this every year, but understand that the game's focus is on less maybe 2018 will give us a new monster book, instead.

3. Starfinder support for straight SF


Starfinder is fun, but it's pure fantasy space opera of the Nth order. I still contend it needed to be a broader toolkit, but for what it does set out to do, it does very well. So I suppose this is a wash. Given how saturated the market has become with SF game options, though, I would suggest that Starfinder probably is doing fine by distinguishing itself with its fantasy-based Pact Worlds universe and this was probably a smarter move on their part than directly competing with Star Wars, Star Trek, FrontierSpace, a re-release of Star Frontiers in POD, Traveller, Coriolis, and probably two dozen others I haven't mentioned, never mind all the generic systems with SF support. So yeah.

4. Swords & Wizardry goes mainstream


The new edition came out but it doesn't appear to have changed S&W's saturation in the market. If anything the OSR seems to be dominated by the more innovative titles which are better described as "inspired by" as well as a slew of weird "we are going to repurpose the fuck out of B/X D&D" releases on rpgnow that are all over the place. So no mainstream OSR title.

5. GURPS Returns


Hell yeah it did. Dungeon Fantasy has re-energized GURPS, and then Steve Jackson Games got GURPS on to rpgnow which was a bold decision on their part, but brings it back in to the "view" of most gamers who don't frequent e23. They are looking to a future of new stand-alone, Kickstarter-funder releases similar to Dungeon Fantasy, and lastly Steve Jackson also regained control of his content for The Fantasy Trip, which was GURPS's predecessor, which based on his comments on the GURPS forums he plans to re-release as-is, meaning a very "lite" version of the system which inspired GURPS will be available again soon.

SJG could move too slowly on future plans, but for 2017 at least GURPS got some much needed love and attention.

6. Pathfinder 2.0 


They could be quietly working on this, but they didn't announce it. There are lots of streamlined design decisions in Starfinder, but I feel many of those are designed to suit the space fantasy laser gun elements of the setting and may not be so ideal for straight fantasy gaming. There's a planned release schedule that suggests no 2.0 announcement for 2018, either....and judging from the diehard dislike of the Wilderness Adventures book's shifter class, the Pathfinder core will not be happy with anything that isn't fully public in playtest, so I suspect no 2.0 is in the works right now, or the foreseeable future.

So...2 out of 6! About par for the course with any good fortune teller, in other words....

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017: The Year of RIP for MMO Gaming; But All Hail the MMO Shooter/Survival Games!

Last year I reviewed the state of MMORPGs in 2016. This year I can safely state the 2017 brought about, if not a literal end to MMORPGs, it certainly carved up the tombstone and then riddled it with bullets.

MMOs have suffered greatly in recent years. I feel a compelling argument could be made that the legacy of Barrens Chat in WoW is the state of modern political commentary on Twitter, Reddit and other locations today....why play WoW to spam people with crazy when you can do it in real time, on the "real" world?

But that aside, the problem is that outside of Korea, no new MMORPGs appear to be in development, and certainly no new RPGs of the western variety that we expect....everything on the market is aging, and sustaining themselves on expansions, DLC and various freemium models which can be so ridiculously complex that the only way to enjoy the game is ultimately not to play.

That said, we did see a major new expansion (Morrowind) for The Elder Scrolls Online that was well worth playing, even if I did find myself running out of steam to enjoy TESO around the time it released. Guild Wars 2 also released a new expansion, and many other 2nd tier MMOs (Tera, Aion, Neverwinter Nights and others) all keep pumping out some sort of expansion content to garner renewed interest among fans. There's stuff going on's just not as exciting as it once was. Even the diehards of World of Warcraft find themselves having difficulty sustaining interest in the venerable king of the dogpile.

All of the excitement and interest in MMORPGs was instead replaced in 2017 by....the shooter. Specifically, shooters like Destiny 2 and Player Unknown Battlelegrounds, which both focus on a theme of large-scale multiplayer. Destiny 2 is a bit more clever trickery and illusion (the feel of an MMO without the actual result of such) but PUBG is a masterpiece of the modern era for those who love it, a battle royal simulator that has garnered impressive interest and effectively created its own genre, with a bunch of me-too games jumping on the bandwagon.

I played PUBG for a few hours, and felt like that was about all I needed to enjoy it....I can certainly see how the game might be compulsively interesting to some people, but honestly? This is not a genre for people who like more story or complexity. It is, however, a fantastic game for social gamers who only enjoy gaming with other players, and love the survival of the fittest thematics. I like the last part.....but after you've won a match, it's kind of like....."me'h, is this it?" for me at least.

Destiny 2 remains as fun to play as the original, but I haven't even tried engaging with it as anything more than a single player experience that happens to muddy the waters. The hardcore social MP gamers all seem to either love or hate it, or love to hate it, or loved it until their manic-obsessive constant effort to drain all life from a game through playing it to death caused them to start hating it after their 2,000 hour play through.

Remember when taking 50 hours to play Final Fantasy VII felt like a lot of time? Yeah me too.

Then there's Ark: Survival Evolved. I hate this game. It is a ruiner of lives, marriages and self respect. It is a beast and some people LOVE it. It may not be the be-all-and-end-all that WoW was, but it many ways it is the black tar heroin to WoW's simpler crack. The fact that the game can and will punish you for logging off is even more bizarre. But there are people who play this game to death. Probably literally. a world with Ark and PUBG, who the hell needs MMORPGs anymore? And for people like me, really, we should just stick to games that actually give us what we want, like Horizon: Zero Dawn, for example. Or Nier: Automata, or Prey. Good games, focused on one player, with decent stories.

So....yeah RIP MMORPGs in 2017. Maybe 2018 will bring us a new surprise?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn is now in POD!

After a very long absence (barring fan reprints) Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn has returned....! It's located here on rpgnow. This is one of the classics, and behind a few others (Traveller Classic, Space Opera, Starships & Spacemen and Universe RPG and one or two I haven't mentioned) is one of the earliest straight SF RPG titles in the history of gaming. Needless to say.....this is an OSR sci fi fan's dream right here. Several other books in the series are also currently in PDF format, as well.

Star Frontiers has only seen print since the mid eighties in a few odd ways: it's been reproduced in some format via Star Frontiersman and Frontier Explorer, which has always claimed (accurately, I am told) to have been given rights by WotC to reprint the game as well as provide fan support through a regular fanzine. Presumably that right to reprint has been returned to WotC now that the original is back. In the early 00's D20 Modern got a Future supplement that revived some of the Star Frontiers classic aliens as well...and that's pretty much been it.

Anyway, looking forward to seeing this in print and here's hoping the quality holds most of WotC's reprint POD editions have!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Deathbat's Xmas Haul

Well, Xmas is here and already half gone! While my wife and son are meticulously assembling this:

Dad is also working with this:

...Which if I suspect things go the way I imagine, I'll probably be spending more time with the little guy than my son is! It's really an impressive piece of tech, and a cool little robot to boot, but my son's excitement for it seems to be less than he thought it would be, and mine is more than I thought it would be.

But for me, here's the haul Camazotz got for Xmas:

The World War Cthulhu: Cold War series has three books out (sadly probably no more as Cubicle 7 is about to lose its license to publish for Call of Cthulhu), but I now have the core book, Section 46 Operations Manual, and Covert Actions scenario book. These are great resources for a 70's era cold war CoC campaign using the 7th edition rules, and you should find them before they are out of circulation!

It was definitely a Merry Cthulhumas for me, as I also found a copy of Down Darker Trailers, the Chasoium sourcebook on the Wild West, Cthulhu style. So far really liking this. I predict new CoC campaigns in the 1880's (and 1970s) for my group very soon!

Then there's this gem: The Things We Leave Behind, a series of six gruesome modern day scenarios for CoC 7E by Stygian Fox Press. Each scenario promises to deal with grim and gruesome contemporary mystery/murder themes with a focus on the horrific elements of human nature. What I've read so far looks very promising.

Also, more Starfinder! Looks like I have lots of incentive to resume running Starfinder in 2018, probably using the Dead Suns adventure path.

Speaking of which, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Twin Peaks: The Return special Blu-Ray release! This fantastic compilation lets you view the 18 episode run in a series of 9 feature-length films. In a year of cinematic blockbusters and Hollywood over-saturation, Twin Peaks: The Return was the only thing I saw all year that was truly new, unique and inspiring in that special David Lynch way, and should not be missed by his fans or anyone into the Modern Weird.

Anyway...merry Xmas from The Deathbat Clan!

Friday, December 22, 2017

13th Age: Taltus, Lord of Kindess (The Holidays in Lingusia)

Taltus, Lord of Kindness (Cloud Giant Magician and Seraphim)

   Taltus is a kind of seraphim, a cloud giant magician who has a unique ability to shrink to human or even tiny size. He has been known along the coastlands of Octzel for generations now, as he seeks out the Celebration of the Winter Yule, in which men and women of the kingdom of Octzel celebrate a week of the arrival of winter with celebrations of gifts and merry-making. Grand figurines of of the goddess and god Enki and Amasyr are erected during this time, under which offerings are presented in honor of the chief god and goddess. On the seventh night of the celebration, a grand effigy of the goddess Mitra is raised and burned, while three men known as the Sons of Mitra dress as lumbering ogres and taunt the crowd, throwing coal out and chasing children with switches. That night, the celebration winds down, but not before the enigmatic Taltus arrives, leaving small bags of toys for children on the doorsteps of families' houses.

Rumors that Taltus is actually an illusory construct created by three forest gnomes are entirely unfounded. Further rumors that Taltus is a fallen seraphim who is quite mad are also largely unsubstantiated.

"I'm keeping my list and I'm checking it twice....if you be naughty or you be nice, I will show you Taltus's Hammer of Light!"
7th level giant triple-strength boss
Initiative +14
Vulnerability: necrotic

Melee: Giant Hammer +12 vs AC; 84 damage (miss half damage)
Natural even hit or miss: Taltus can invoke the gift bringer action if he likes you (you are nice) or the slay bells action if he doesn't (you are naughty), to one target in sight range.

Ranged: Thrown Lighting Bolt +13 vs. PD against any target in sight range; 75 lighting damage (miss half damage)
16+ Attack that Hits: Taltus may throw another lighting bolt.

Gift Bringer (trigger: Giant Hammer, above) Taltus grants one nice ally a bonus as follows (Roll D12):
1-3 Gain double damage on the next attack you make
4-6 Recover one expended spell slot immediately
7-9 All hit points are restored immediately
10-11 Ally will gain true sight for 24 hours
12 ally becomes immune to one damage type for 24 hours

Slay Bells  (trigger: Giant Hammer, above)  Taltus grants one naughty enemy a penalty as follows, with a difficult save to avoid the effect (Roll D12):
1-3 foe must roll twice on the next action and take the lower roll (save 16+)
4-6 foe loses one ability as if it were expended to no effect immediately (save 16+)
7-9 foe is immediately reduced to 1 hit point (save 16+)
10-11 foe is blinded for 24 hours (save 16+)
12 enemy gains vulnerability to lightning for 24 hours

Ogre Killer Taltus gains +5 to any attack roll to hit against ogres.

Storm Bringer As an action Taltus can summon a thick cloud which obscures all vision (-2 to attacks) to all adjacent and nearby opponents. Does not affect his allies.

Cloud Walker Taltus can walk on any clouds he summons (or is present), to any height. Functions like the storm giant "skystep" ability otherwise.

AC 23, PD 20, MD 18, HP 340

Monday, December 18, 2017

Genesys Core RPG - A Spanky New Generic Universal Game System

Fantasy Flight Games has released Genesys Core, a new generic RPG available in both print and PDF. Genesys Core has it's roots in the Star Wars RPG, which uses symbol-based dice to resolve conflicts with a unique range of combinations. If you've played any of the three Star Wars games from FFG before then you've experienced the same basic game system.

Unlike Star Wars RPG, Genesys Core is designed to be a concise introduction to using the rules in a variety of game settings, with specific support in the cor rules for fantasy, modern, steampunk, space opera, hard(ish) SF and weird war gaming, with additional spot rules for genres such as pulp and horror. The intent is for FFG to publish future source books for their existing IPs such as Runescape and Android, which have until now been represented only within boardgames. These settings have a lot of thought and depth, so it's nice to see them get a chance to be explored from an RPG perspective.

For those of you wondering how this game works, here's the gist of it: you take some funny colored dice with some weird symbols, use a few basic formulae to combine them into a dice pool, and roll. Get more successes and you accomplish your task...more failures and you lose. If you also get some special dice in there you can get complications or perks to your success/failure. It's really very simple, and if you can get used to the non-number based dice it's also very easy. I admit, I ignored the Star Wars RPG for a long time because I didn't like the look of the dice, but now that I've learned the system via Genesys I kinda regret that snap judgement.

Here's what the dice look like:

Symbols identified include: Asteroid ships, explosion, solar hula hoop, cat's anus of failure,
painful wreathe, cat's butt trapped in painful wreathe
Members of my group have creative names for the symbols, but I find it easier to think of thedice by color, actually! The basic method of a skill check works like this: find the largest pool for attribute or skill. Add that many green dice. Find the lower pool (skill or attribute), replace that many green dice with yellow dice. Now add as many purple dice as the difficulty of the task. Roll.....if you get more success explosion symbols than failure implosion symbols, you succeed. Other dice are added due to specific conditionals, triggered by talents, assistance, or unusually beneficial or difficult circumstances, and their symbols can equate to "crits and fumbles" but with more room for story interpretation....and you can, for example, succeed at a task but still get a "fumble" marker which means you pull off the stunt but with complications in the story.

I'm going to be writing a lot more about this game soon, and I plan to run it as early as possible...I actually feel like Genesys may be the sort of generic system I've been waiting for for a long time now, with just the right level of depth and flex, but I need to try it out first.

Some Pros to the rules I've caught so far:

Nice skill system....not too large, not too small, just right
The setback and challenge dice add a lot of depth to your actions
The numeric range in the game is tight, but the depth of play appears to be wide
Designing gear, monsters and abilities for specific setting appears to work easily with some commonsense rules provided in the core book
The game design focuses on story-based play and far less on "level grind" gaming, so it appears on the surface to be great for innovative and unique 6-12 session long campaigns to explore such worlds, but the XP and talent system suggest long term campaigning is feasible, too

Cons I noticed so far:

It's more of a toolkit in the core book; you as GM will need to fill in gaps for your choice of setting, so not many "premade" materials to work with (yet)
The symbol-based dice mechanic may not be easy to get used to if you're not a visually-focused gamer
The system works well as a generic ruleset but maybe lacks specific flavor for unusual settings without work
The dice cost $15 a pack and you'll immediately realize you will want 4-6 packs for your table if you can't be sure your players will chip in
One genre, superheroes, gets a couple pages and doesn't feel as robust as I would expect it to be for the subject....I expect a future sourcebook would loom to flesh the genre out

I can readily see this being a great new generic system for fantasy, modern, horror and sci fi gaming. It clearly works well for steampunk, too. The magic system provided is short but extremely concise.....I will be keen to see what the inevitable sourcebooks offer to flesh these elements out.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Film Review: Star Wars - The Last Jedi

Well, the wife and I got a chance to see the movie tonight ahead of tomorrow's scheduled family event with the kid. Yes, we are bad parents who saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi a full 24 hours before our son, and we even lied and told him our date night was to see the The Disaster Artist. He wanted to see it too, until we played the trailer and he realized it was not Geostorm, the disaster film he also wants to see. Different kind of disaster!

LOL he'll appreciate the humor --someday.

Anyway! This might be my favorite Star Wars movie now. It was...well, I was trying to look disdainfully on all the early reviews and ignored all of them as well as any possible spoilers, just so I could go in to this film with as little bias as possible. Keeping in mind I loved The Force Awakens (and yes, I have no problem with the idea it was an homage to the original movie) I was looking forward to seeing how Finn, Rey and Poe fare in this new movie.

Hooo boy. The Last Jedi did (in some way) try to pay homage to the Empire Strikes Back, at least insofar as it structured itself in a not dissimilar manner, even as it defied convention for a Star Wars film at every opportunity it could manage to do so.

It's hard to talk about this movie without risking spoilers, so for now at least I'll chat about the generalities, as follows:

The Last Jedi sought out clear "Star Warsisms," the things we tend to expect in a Star Wars movie....whether it's set pieces, thematics, underlying tones or moods....the overarching heroic tale. You name it....The Last Jedi turned convention on it's head.

Then, it subverts, smashes, inverts and otherwise seeks to pull it's own "Empire" by carefully deconstructing those expectations. All while still capturing the magic that is Star Wars. It was kind of strange to watch at times, actually. I had several moments where I was like, "This doesn't feel like a Star Wars movie," all of a sudden. Only to be suddenly yanked backed in with a "Oh snap, this really is Star Wars, what they did there."

It made for an interesting ride. I'll just sum it up like this: this movie was so good that I really wish Rian Johnson were making the next movie. But I'll accept that Rian Johnson is in charge of the next trilogy.....that may, in fact, be even better. This is a director and writer who, unfettered by having to make a sequel to a J.J. Abrams film, might be the best thing to happen to Star Wars since Irving Kushner, Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett.

Now for a few Spoilers! I'll hide them behind black text so highlight if you want to read these.

Amazing Moments in The Last Jedi:

Laura Dern (lately in Twin Peaks as Dianne) as Vice Admiral Holdo

There are indeed a LOT Of cute creatures in this movie. And the porg are just one of them. You will, if you have kids or need to buy presents for kids, probably be buying a lot of porg-related media for them. It's okay....these are not as terrifying as ewoks. They're more penguins, crossed with tribbles.

The entire "Sith assassination" wife and I both felt like a moment from SW: The Old Republic snuck in to the middle of this movie

I love how the key questions people have been spending too much time on never really got answered. Questions like Who/what is Snoke? --irrelevant now! What are the Knights of Ren? --probably very dead! And Rey's parents? --Hah! Wrong question all along. And best of all: So yeah you totally can trigger a lightsaber switch with the force at distance.


How did the First Order notice Finn and Rose leave with enough time to get to the Gambler's Planet to set up their elaborate ruse, just them to come back to the super star destroyer so they could gloat on capturing them? They frickin' had them in the brig on that planet. I may have missed something here....will be seeing the movie again tomorrow, maybe that will clear up.(Edit: Yeah I missed some dialogue (a bit quick); basically the splicer conned the First Order by selling them the info he overheard Poe taking to Finn about before they cloaked in to the Super Star Destroyer).

Where is R2 at the end of this movie? Because I kinda have this weird feeling he's stuck on Porg Island. (EDIT: Nope, just wasn't paying attention...he's on the Falcon at the end).

So was that it for Captain Phasma? Or shall she return next film as a cyborg monster for revenge?

I am totally loving that frienemy deal going on between Hux and Kylo Ren. 

One More Question: So, were the crimson guard also the Knights of Ren, I wonder? 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ghost Recon: Predator

I admit, I've spent a lot of time playing Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands, thinking about how the engine for this game is really amazing, and hoping like hell that the bonus costume, the "wasteland warrior" suit, isn't just a fun oddity, but a suggestion that Ubisoft realizes that their "terrorize Bolivia" simulator would be even cooler as a post-apocalypse simulator, or a zombie survival sim, or even....wait for it....a Predator sim:

Well, looks like I got one of the three! Looking forward to trying this new mode out.....Wildlands was made to be a Predator sim.

The Temple of Camelsast and the Journey to Dis - a scenario (Dungeons & Dragons 5E, Lingusia in the Age of Strife)

Notes from a Recent Campaign

--DM's notes presented unedited, for your amusement:

The Temple of Camelsast

--Camelsast is a demonic gnoll-like beast, sometimes depicted as a sand dragon, which is a chaotic demon that was cast into the mortal realm long ago. In his true form he has the body of a camel spider, the torso and upper arms of a gnoll, the head of a goat and the side tentacles of a froghemoth. Lazy DM uses modified Balor stats if somehow it comes to blows with him (but see more below).

--The Temple was once a fortress dedicated to a lost order called the Adonari. The Knights of this order were killed twenty-five hundred years ago when Camelsast took control of the temple. The old knighthood was a dedicated order which served the enigmatic deity called Bashtron.

--About a century ago, shortly after the fall of the Dark Pharaoh, the devils of Avernus, following their general Razzadien, invaded the temple and slew its priests, then fought with Camelsast and drug him to the Nine Hells where he was imprisoned in the City of Dis. Razzadien was slain in the battle and his remains rest at the center of a powerful planar anomaly that permanently binds the temple to the plane of Avernus, first layer of Hell.

--Camelsast has a ring of ancient keys which he keeps. Some of these keys bind the dark chains of the fallen angels which were bound to the Dark Pharaoh Xauraun 150 years earlier . These keys are hung around his neck in a deep, burning pit in the city of Dis. (side note: these were the plot goal of the group entering the temple)

--The body of Razzadien is located in the main hall of the old temple, a moldering mass that is covered in crystalline black blood. Any who enter the circle around the body, or touch the crystalline blood are transported to Avernus.  The body is haunted by a specter of Razzadien, who will inform the PCs that they must journey to Dis if they seek the keys of Camelsast. He offers to take them there for a price….his price is that they must promise to take his crystallized heart and present it to Dispater himself. He’s lying (a bit) though; any who touch the crystalline bones will seem to be transported to Avernus anyway.

--The interior temple has the following guardians:

o   Undead specters of the lost knights who once inhabited this fortress and worshipped Bashtron

o   A lone Nabassu (adult) named Grath which has taken Camelsast’s name and claims to be the demon lord so that the gnolls will worship him. He even has his own unholy amulet and ring of false keys! The keys are actual gate keys, one each to: Acheron, Mechanus, Dis, Arborea and the Material Plane.

o   A horde of hooked horrors occupy the darkest corners of the temple

o   A gang of derro led by the antipaladin derro Crucix occupy the lower regions of the temple as well, studying the phenomenon of an Abyssal tomb ruptured by an Infernal invasion. They are sworn to seek a way to restore Razzadien to life that they may remove his lawful evil corruption from the temple, but prior efforts to take his heart to Dis have proven fatal to those who tried….and each time the heart reappears 13 days later in the corpse’s chest.

o   A Nonaton modron and his small army arrive in search of a group of rogue modrons. The Nonaton is named Cherish-223-00067. He won’t take no for an answer. (In the actual game the group had the three rogue modrons with them).

Journey to Avernus and dis
--Avernus is the first layer of the Nine Hells, and the point of entry for most all creatures. Bypassing Avernus is very difficult.

--The anomaly on this side is a great claw rising from the earth in which the adventurers appear when they interact with the dead Razzadien. A pair of spinagons watch it, waiting patiently for evidence of use. The spinagons are Kratus and Strakos, and they will try to flee if approached to bring word to the nearby fortress of scars and the salt devil Ruukalos that there are invaders.

--A crude path winds through the rocky, devasted countryside of the land, littered with volcanic glass and shards. Cracks filled with boiling water and swimming pools of mewling, worm-like lemurs can be seen.

--The Fortress of Scars is ruled by the salt devil Ruukalos, who will send forth an army of Legion Devils to investigate the new arrivals. He is advised by a petitioner named Ruvan Mool, a Galvonarian vizier hanged for treason last year by the Caliph, now working hard to become a lesser devil.

--“Safe Spots” in this region include the Blade’s Cut, a scar in Avernus where a portal to Acheron can be found. A legion of bladelings led by General Crossika stand guard, waiting for the next great war between Acheron and the Hells. They will show antipathy to the humans, but will aid them if the adventurers promise to return with intel on Dis or other major fortresses of hell.

--Another “safe spot” is the Tower of Mugalin, a lone sorcerer of ancient power who dwells on this plane studying the movement of Tiamat in her ancient prison. His many telescopes allow him to study that land at a safe distance. He explains that Tiamat’s Hellish form is a vessel, an aspect, and that the spirit of the goddess roams the multiverse seeking reincarnation. He speaks with an accent and explains he is from a kingdom called Pellucid (Chirak, four centuries old). If the PCs stay overnight, in the morning the tower is gone, turned to ruins and dust. Beneath the tower is a passage to the legendary Dungeon of a Thousand Gates, an ancient demiplane created by Mugalin after he went mad some centuries ago. Foolish adventurers may brave the dungeon and find a gate to Dis....if they have a key.

And on to Dis
--The Riven Path is the passage along the cliffs leading to the second layer, the hot and untenable land of Dis. Armies of the dead march along this path seeking deeper passage into the Nine Hells, driven by legion devils and spinagons. Masquerading as the shroud-covered lemurs is the only way to pass in disguise.

--Alternatively, a wild ride down the River Styx, including a terrible waterfall, is another way, but bathing in or drinking the water instantly destroys all memories of who and what the person is. Passage by Charonic ferryman is possible, but he charges a steep sum to escort the living…a solid diamond worth 10,000 GP. The only diamond of such value in the area is in the diadem of Ruvan Mool, at the Fortress of Scars!

--Once at Dis, the winding, cutting, burning canyons open up to the iron city, which glows with an eerie burning light. Passage in the city is difficult, and it is filled with all manner of infernal beings.

--Asking around draws attention but reveals that the “former” demon Camelsast is serving his life sentence in the Asking Pits. This information is known to most, but a fallen deva named Cryosine offers to help the PCs. She is remorseful in her ways, and if it is revealed they seek to restore a fallen seraph see will see this as a chance at redemption.

--The deepest, largest pit contains the fallen demon lord, whose exposure to this land has changed him forever to a lawful evil fiend. As a bound pit fiend he still seeks escape and will bargain with the PCs to cough up his chain of keys if they free him, but that they will suffer a terrible curse if they don’t fulfill their portion of the bargain.

--The pit guardian of the Asking Pits is a Pit Fiend named Rugose, who serves Dispater directly. He is also one way the group could ask to see Dis, especially if they bring Razzadien’s heart. If they mention this task to Cryosine, she will warn them that Razzadien sets them up….he owes 1,001 souls to Dispater and they will be given to fulfill his obligation, slain immediately and raised as lemurs.

--No matter what, Camelsast cannot escape until he can answer the question of the Asking Pit, which is “Name the form of your disgrace.” The answer is: Camelsast himself, but he can never see this through his own hubris. If an adventurer answers, then they free him (in error or by design). He will cause havoc and attack the pit fiend Rugose, giving them accidental time to escape. Cryosine, if allying with them, can take them to a portal which leads them back to the material plane, though she is not sure 100% where. The portal opens to a dark cave in a mountainscape of the DM's choice. (Note: in the campaign the group actually took Razzadien's heart to Camelsast and gave it to him; I ruled that this actually freed him, after which he attacked Rugose.)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Call of Cthulhu - The "Weird Oregon" Campaign

For the first time in over two decades I've run a Call of Cthulhu campaign that has now lasted more than twelve consecutive game sessions. Most CoC games I've run usually make it as far as 6-7 session before an accumulation of events finally hit that climatic endgame and the surviving investigators abruptly retire and retreat to the areas of the world they mistakenly think are safe. Last year my campaign ended after about eight sessions with an abrupt and highly revelatory conclusion that also left roughly 60% of the party dead, including at least one second new character introduced after the first expired messily. Eight sessions felt like a lot. I've run CoC games in ages past that made it to at least 12-15 sessions, but those haven't been since the nineties. I've played in only one CoC game that survived 12 sessions, but in fair disclosure those were sessions back in the late nineties/early 2000's that ran the entire day, so the had the quality of a younger man's marathon run.

Needless to say, for a long time now CoC has been my go-to game for very specific short campaigns with definite conclusions, usually lasting from 1-6 sessions. I have never been the sort of CoC GM to really grokk how to run (and sustain) megacampaigns like the Antarktos Cycle or Orient Express.

The new campaign I'm hip deep in was built around some interesting premises, and was inspired heavily by David Lynch's conceptual basis for Twin Peaks: The Return. I still plan to write more on that show soon, but suffice to say that it is the only creatively interesting film or TV I've seen in many years, and I'm on my third viewing now that the Blu Ray edition has been released. It was so interesting, in fact, that the initial game I ran was originally intended to be a 1-2 session CoC campaign with a zombie apocalypse inspired by Herbert West's Reanimator tales, but I almost immediately cancelled that and turned it around in to an ongoing story arc that simply began what looked like a narrowly averted zombie apocalypse.

The idea for the revamped CoC campaign was a sort of "Oregon sure is weird, and a lot of stuff happens here," kind of approach. I took the actual town of Coos Bay, as well as other locales such as North Bend, Astoria, even the Ape Cave region in Washington, on down to Mt. Shasta just on the California side and worked out what effectively amounts to about a dozen Call of Cthulhu scenarios' worth of modern day adventuring, all starting just a month or so before the eclipse earlier this year. Each scenario was tied to one or more of the others by virtue of specific characters, or plots, or artifacts, or the schemes of certain factions of mythos monsters that have a presence in the region. All of it ties in to a couple "super plots" which provide much of the driving background impetus.

The game is still going strong so I can't provide details, unfortunately....wouldn't want spoilers for the players!...but I plan to eventually try to outline the whole thing in a coherent format. One of my players actually built an amazing spreadsheet to try and track all of the goings' on and figure out the relationships of the various associated parties, events, people and places they had's almost a work of art in its own right.

The Twin Peaks influence comes in like this, using these steps:

#1. Have lots of separate stories, all possibly related somehow, going on at the same time.
#2. Give each PC a connection and motivation to resolve one or more of those stories, with a few showing evident overlap.
#3. Keep recurring villains going for as long as feasible, but let them go out in style when the opportunity presents.
#4. Don't be afraid of longer or more quiet moments. These are great for setting mood or resolving obscure plot bits....or creating new ones.
#5. Have some basic underlying ties to everything that are, from an endgame perspective, fairly simple. The idea is to "make it look convoluted and maddeningly complicated at the start, but in the end make it look simple and resolvable toward the end," but then, in true Lynchian fashion pull the rug out from under them just when it looks like closure and simplicity is in reach.
#6. Death as an end goal...even not a primary means of player death though such possibilities lurk. The group so far has only had one actual player death and one retirement/replacement. But all of them are ready with backup characters because the risk of actual death has been insanely high.
#7. Play out weird and unpleasant relationships with the mythos wherever possible. Also, not all mythos encounters are necessarily bad....some might oppose the actions of others and may be indirect allies! This isn't giving much away....but the Esoteric Order of Dagon in fictional Coos Bay is, in fact, the closest thing to an ally the players have right now. Chiefly because things going on in the region do not benefit the order in any way, but hey.....beggars can't be choosers.....

Anyway, those are some of the driving components of this ongoing campaign. If I have my way, and it looks like everyone is sufficiently invested that this will come to pass, but maybe this will be a campaign setting that runs for another 12-15 sessions, making it the longest CoC story arc I've ever run. Factor in that one of the PCs in this game survived last year's 8 session campaign and that means at least one of these characters has already hit an impressive 20 session survival rate, with more to come!

Anyway.....back to working out details on next week's session!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Better Late than Never Review: Watch Dogs 2

Continuing a series on games over the last year for people who have busy lives and can't keep up:

Watch Dogs 2 (PS4 version)

I just keep playing and playing this game. I finished Watch Dogs (at last) before I dived in to Watch Dogs 2, and while you certainly don't need to have played the first to enjoy (or understand) the second, it is helpful to really shine a light on why the original Watch Dogs was lacking in many ways that Watch Dogs 2 not only fixes, but excels at in every way.

Visiting virtual San Francisco and the bay area with the DedSec gang is a blast, no matter how you choose to approach it. The game has a robust storyline that I am still not finished with (according to an FAQ I looked at I am about 60% of the way through the storyline) but when I do take a moment to run story missions I am always rewarded with a thoughtful, entertaining push forward in the tale of hackers, corporate sleazeballs, well intended anarchists and all of the gun toting maniacs in between.

The lead character is hacker Marcus Holloway, a well-intended hacktivist that serves as the glue that binds DedSec. Unlike the prior game's vigilante Aiden Pearce, Marcus is not a madman with an arsenal seeking revenge at any cost, but instead an idealist who wants to make right in the world by humbling the Blume Corporation and others behind the utter annihilation of privacy and decency driven by big data out of control. Sure, you can play Marcus like a gun toting madman if you want, but the game does not require this. As a result, as the storyline progresses I've had far fewer "hmmm, that ain't right" moments  than I did in the first game. Moments such as Aiden pondereing the evil of the guy who he seeks to kill for the murder of his niece, even though he just mowed down a thousand other guys who all had nieces and kids too, you know? Just to get to the one crime lord of Chicago.

Nope, Marcus is represented throughout the game as a guy who prefers to taze an enemy, even if that enemy is shooting at him with lethal force. In fact in my play through the game, with the co-op and multiplayer missions being the only exception, I continue to play Marcus as a nice softy who only uses stunning weapons to get through missions. It's really quite cool.....I'm almost always able to solve most events in the game through non-violence, or worst case the liberal application of electricity.

Anyway, the reason I've played this game so long (I play it at least once a week on average for a couple hours when I have time) is because it's so full of stuff to do. So many distractions. From racing games to the impressive multiplayer, to the enormous number of side missions, photo bombs, stunts, just finding name it, this game is packed with stuff to do. It is very easy to play for hours, feel good about it, and have gotten exactly nowhere on the main storyline.

The multiplayer is also shockingly good. You have players drop in and out of your own phantoms in the night, a player will suddenly be in your area and a chance to either team up or take him down presents itself. The hacker missions are the most fun, where you must spot him, tag him, then steal his data while he tries to find you are some of the best. One of my most successful hacks was one I'll remember as a "Kodak moment" forever, when I crawled in the back of the pickup truck the guy jumped in to try and get out of the area or look for me....I am not sure what he was going for....and he drove all over the place without realizing I was in the back of his truck. My assumption is he was playing in FPS perspective....foolish! Hack from the back of the truck successful.

I once teamed up with a kid who was eager to show me that he had unlocked literally everything in the game. Hours of mayhem ensued, as a showcase of destruction engulfed San Francisco in a manner simply impossible in the more rigorous, set-piece controlled multiplayer of other games. The freedom to cause mayhem in Watch Dogs 2's multiplayer goes way beyond any equivalent experience in other FPS MP or even most MMOs. It's almost intoxicating, although you can sometimes get paired with a jerk, or a guy who has no clue what's going on and proceeds to drive off a cliff or something. But those WTF moments were outshined by the "holy crap this is amazing" moments of the multiplayer experience. The only other game of this scope and design I know of is GTAV....and honestly, Watch Dogs 2 is just a nicer, cleaner experience (even with in-game strip bars).

Verdict: this game is the ultimate sandbox, it gets multiplayer right in a way I didn't realize could be done, and it provides spontaneous gameplay experiences that are unique and exciting. The fact that I can choose to play through most of it as a peacenick pacifist who won't even harm the well-armed gun toting biker gangs is just icing on the cake. A+++

Long after I've deleted Gears of War 4, Halo 5, Titanfall 2, and many others....I suspect I'll still be playing Watch Dogs 2.