Saturday, June 30, 2018

Converting Pathfinder and D&D Monsters to the Cypher System

Okay, I can't hide it: I am loving the Cypher System. This is a modern system that manages to capture an incredibly easy feel and design to it which is something I just don't see in a lot of contemporary systems, even while being a robust ruleset with lots of stuff for players to mess with. Despite having lots of monsters and three bestiaries out (for The Strange and Numenera), it's still weak on fantasy monsters for Cypher System Fantasy Gaming, so I thought I'd try out making conversion guidelines for converting Pathfinder Monsters over to Cypher System. These rules could easily work for D&D 5E as well, and I'll provide notes for such below. I'll be testing this system out with some monsters in the Saturday game. 

Converting Pathfinder Monsters to the Cypher System

The simplest expression for the Cypher System is the monster level. Luckily it aligns fairly well with hit dice/level in D20 system games with some modification. I find this process below to get the best comparable results, but you might want to fudge it if the result feels over or under powered. 

Simplest conversion for this is to simply take the creature’s hit dice, and divide by 2. After level 8 move to 3 Pathfinder HD or levels per 1 Cypher level. At level 21, you might use your best judgement or the suggested chart below:

Pathfinder Hit Dice (or level)     Cypher System Level              Target Number
1-2                                                               1                                       3
3-4                                                               2                                       6
5-6                                                               3                                       9
7-8                                                               4                                       12
9-11                                                             5                                       15
12-14                                                           6                                       18
15-17                                                           7                                       21
18-20                                                           8                                       24
21-30                                                           9                                       27                                                  
31+                                                              10                                     30
Use this same process for converting HD/level in D&D 5E to Cypher System.

Health should normally equal the target number, but a creature with a large health bonus should be X4, and a huge or larger creature should have X5-X6 or greater as fits the type.

Quick Conversion: damage equals level determined above, as per Cypher System default rules. Use the other system's description of the attack to determine how it deals the damage, but use the damage set by level as default. If the creature deals a lot more damage than normal, or less, adjust up or down a point or two accordingly.

Detailed Conversions of damage can probably be done, but it's tough because the damage/health mechanic in Cypher System does not correlate closely to how D20 mechanics deal damage. My suggestion is as follows:

Most Pathfinder creatures can fit damage expressions in to Cypher’s 2/4/6 structure neatly by eyeballing whether the attacks sounds light, medium or heavy, but special attacks may do 2 or more extra damage. A suggested conversion is: determine average damage from a primary common attack, and set it at 2 damage for every 8 points the creature deals from the average of a single strike. Attacks that do 32 or more in a single strike should have a damage bonus of 2 or more for every 20 extra points that triggers on a potentially avoidable secondary effect.
D&D 5E monsters often do considerably more damage, so it's best to use damage appropriate to the weapon type, or do 2 damage for every 15 points on average. 

EDIT: an alternative I was thinking about is to set the level determined earlier as the base damage. Now, that value X3 is the maximum damage dealt in a combat round. If the damage dealt in Pathfinder or D&D exceeds that value, then add 1 damage for every full 12 points of extra damage dealt in PF/D&D. Example: the Gashodokuro breath attack deals like 12D6 or up to 72 damage, which when compared to its level damage of 8 means you could increase this to 12 damage for the effect if you wanted the attack to be deadlier.

Save Effects
You can divide Pathfinder Saves by 3 and round down to determine the level for an appropriate defense roll; more often than not these will match the actual level of the creature. In D&D 5E you can do the same, but creatures will have lower average saves, so use either the level you determined by HD or this result, whichever is better.

Special Abilities
Most special abilities will be hard effects that trigger similar results in Cypher System, substituting the appropriate mechanical result. Effects which clearly deal mental or psychic damage should deal damage to Intellect first. Special abilities which only pop once could work as GM Intrusions, instead.

Armor Class makes a creature harder to hit, so should reflect a greater (or lesser) modifier to the Level generated target number for attacks. Take the AC and subtract 10. If the remaining AC is greater than the hit dice, it means the calculated level should be 1 higher for defense purposes for every 10 points of AC over the hit dice. If the AC is lower than the hit dice by more than 5, then the defense level is lower by 1 point for every ten points under. Example: the Gashadokuro has 19 HD and AC 28. It would be Level 8 but Level 9 for its defense against attacks.
D&D 5E AC expressions are much lower; do as above, but lower or raise Defense level for every 5 points of difference between the AC (after subtracting 10) and the HD.

Damage Resistance
Damage resistance is a different story. Any DR at all adds 1 point of armor. DR of 11+ should add 2 points of armor. This armor should be noted as bypassable if an appropriate attack type is used (if indicated). For tougher creatures, add 1 point of armor per 5 points of DR.
D&D 5E only has Damage Resistance. This can be converted straight over as reducing damage dealt by 1/2 of the appropriate closest type, or you can assume armor of 1 against that type, or armor 2 if level 10+, or higher if abilities support it.

This is easy....if you need to be within 5 feet to make the thing happen, it's immediate range. Anything from 10 feet to 50 is short range in Cypher System, and anything from 50-100 feet is long range; use the specified distance if its farther than that.

GM Intrusions for Creatures
Creatures with especially distinct or one-use abilities might be suited treating this unique ability as an intrusion.

Example Conversions: 
These are all from the Pathfinder Bestiaries, but I'll try 5E monsters out soon as well.

Gashodokuro (B4, 121) Level 8 (24)
This is a huge 30 foot tall undead being formed from the fused skeletons of hundreds of starvation victims that continues to suffer in unlife, hunting the living.
Health: 24
Defense: Level 8 (24) against attacks.
Armor: With its impressive damage resistance it gains armor points of 2.
Attack: giant pounding fists for 6 points.
Starvation Aura (Level 8): This is a long range aura in radius and all in the area, on the start of their turns, roll against Brawn or suffer 2 damage.
Corpse Breath (Level 8): a short range cone of bone shards, dealing 8 damage, dealt once every 3 rounds.
Corpse Consumption: A slain foe will be devoured by the gashodokuro which will regain health equal to the unmodified Might Pool of the creature before death. This does not give more health than the creature started with.
GM Intrusion: the gashodokuro immediately unleashes its corpse breath, even if has not regenerated yet.

Hellcat (B2, 153) Level 5 (15)
Voracious and intelligent predators from hell!
Health: 15
Defense: Level 5 (15) but see it's invisibility below..
Armor: The hellcat has armor of 1 point and 2 points from fire and heat attacks, but creatures of a good nature can bypass this (angels, magic weapons and cyphers of a certain moral alignment, etc.).
Damage: bite and claws for 5 points.
Invisible in Light (Level 5): Hellcats also are invisible when in full light. In dim light they become partially visible, and in darkness fully visible with their hellish flames. A test to spot them in full light is level 5 (15) to succeed. An inivisble hellcat in daylight is level 7 on its attacks and defenses, level 6 in dim light, and normal (level 5) in total darkness when its flames of hell are visible.
Silent but Intelligent: Hellcats understand the infernal language but cannot speak. They can communicate with intelligent creatures nearby telepathically.
GM Intrusion: The next attack is a Pounce and Rake attack (Level 5) immediately dealing 6 damage and knocking the enemy prone if successful.
Catfolk (B3, 47) Level 1 (3)
Tribal hunter gatherers of the woods who are in harmony with nature (at times).
Health: 3 but a warrior catfolk may be level 2 (6) and health 6 or greater.
Defense: fast and nimble, they are level 2 for defense.
Armor: none but warriors may wear light leather armor for 1 point of protection.
Damage: 1 point claws, but also typically a longsword or longbow (4 points), but catfolk specialize in hunting magical beasts and may do +2 damage as a GM Intrusion to beings of a magical nature they attack.
Cat’s Luck: once per encounter the catfolk can call upon this ability for an attack or defense. The PC must roll twice and take the lower of the two results.
Sprinter: catfolk are fast and can take a move and regular action in one round.

GM Intrusion: The catfolk gains an edge due to its speed and the PC must make a Level 4 (12) intellect test or lose track of the catfolk, which either disappears or may make a stealth attack (at level 4) on its next round.


Catfolk as a Decriptor for Characters

I’m using catfolk in my Ensaria campaign, as a race of wild southern tribal groups who migrated into the Zankani woods centuries ago, and lived in harmony with the men of Ensaria for centuries until invaders from the west disrupted the region, leading to decades of civil war. The catfolk are attuned to nature, worship the deity Susuram the Lord of the Golden Lotus in a quasi-shinto system of belief with deeply animistic roots, and are extremely tribal.
Swift: +2 to your Speed Pool
Cat’s Luck: Once per day you may call upon cat’s luck to roll two D20s and pick the best of the two (costs 1 Intellect point).
Swift: You are trained in Nature tasks related to agriculture, herbalism, animal husbandry and game hunting.
Skill: you are practiced in using bows and swords.
Skill: you are trained in hunting and tracking and can use your enhanced sense of smell for such.
Slender Build: when you fail a Might roll to avoid damage, you take 1 extra damage.
Equipment: you may choose a longsword or longbow (4 point weapons, medium).
Suggested Links to the Starting Adventure:
1.       You met the party while out hunting a local beast and aided them in a skirmish.
2.       You are on a quest to determine your status and purpose for the clan and have decided to take the wanderer’s path.
3.       You owe a debt to one of your companions who saved your life while you visited the human city.
4.       In a vision revealed by the Golden Lotus the god Susuram showed that you must complete a great quest to attain the fame and prosperity you desire.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Genesys Core After Action Report

I completed a five session run on Genesys Core RPG Saturday night, and wanted to summarize my opinions and experience on the system now that I've had a fair shake at testing it out. Here's my observations:

1. The Symbol Dice
The core conceit of Genesys, like the Star Wars RPGs, is funny symbol dice. These are ultimately easy enough to interpret, but it still takes time....more time than just looking at a set of numbers. The problem mainly stems from density of information; one cluster of dice in a single check will carry a lot of information with that roll, such as:
If you hit or not in combat (or succeeded)
Extra damage done
degree and type of failure/success
If any special success/failure happened (triumph/despair)
If special effects from weapons/tools/abilities trigger

In and of itself, this mechanic works just fine, and in playing through it led to scenarios where the dice helped direct the narrative flow of what was going on to aid in justifying a series of advantage or threats. Indeed, for most events not related to combat or magic casting the mechanic is very straight forward, and the GM can interpret extra levels of success/failure/advantage/threat as he or she sees fit.

Of course, a lot of the game (in fantasy gaming, anyway) does involve combat and magic, which gets to part 2...

2. The Charts

Hidden throughout the book are a metric ton of charts you can use to interpret the dice symbols you may gain during combat, social encounters, magic and other situations. There are about eight pages of these charts, and on the Genesys forums some helpful fans have compiled them in to useful reference charts. FFE hasn't produced a GM screen (yet) for Genesys, and I suspect it's because they wouldn't know where to begin to narrow down key charts on a typical four panel screen; there will be no room for art when they are done!

The charts are what make this game less fun. It doesn't necessarily have to be that way, but what I found was that the following issues arose as a result of the charts:

A. You start referring to the charts as a quick work around to determining what the adventage/threat effects mean. This leads to...
B. Necessarily people recognize that consistency is important so the narrative value of the dice results gets eroded a bit in favor of the obvious best modifiers and results of the dice, which leads to....
C. A narrative die mechanic gets overwhelmed by a sort of rules lawyerism that it can't help, because it provided all the essential rules in the first place.

I started to get really tired of the charts. Not the dice, but the charts. The first few sessions were indeed narratively exciting and indeed even liberating, but by sessions 4-5 we were constantly referencing the charts and all sense of narrative purpose to the dice had been wiped out by the mechanical implementation. YMMV but for me I physically stopped wanting to play the game by this point, and especially no longer wanted to engage with combat. 

3. Magic

You might not use Genesys Core for fantasy gaming, but if you do you will be confronted with a fascinating open-ended magic system that seems to encourage creativity....except when it doesn't (especially in combat). The actual play implementation worked best when the player know what he/she was doing, but there tended to be a lot of variables to account for in any given moment, which tended to slow down the magic caster a bit. Not a huge deal (if everyone was on board) but one player who had not had time to learn the system but was trying to play a mage created a great deal of slow down in this process.

4. Combat Overall

Combat in and of itself, charts aside, was fairly smooth and only slowdown came from the pause, usually between 5 and 30 seconds, while people factored in dice symbols. I never got a good idea of how accurately assess difficulty against the party.....foes tended to be either deliberate pushovers or tough as nails but rarely did a PC seem to be at serious risk of death (until one occasion). This led to an interesting analysis of how the system addresses risk of death, and to be honest it's kind of evasive about the entire subject. 

5. Everything Else

I plan to run Genesys Core again with an SF setting of some sort, and hopefully they will produce an SF themed sourcebook soon. Unfortunately the sourcebooks are pretty clearly going to be focused on the FFE boardgame worlds, such as Realms of Terrinoth, which I found to be far less useful than I would have liked as a resource to design and populate my own setting. That said, if you like Terrinoth for a world setting, the book provides in spades.

I don't think I could run this system for more than a 5 session run at a time, though. The dice mechanic itself is absolutely fine, but those charts....oh man those charts. I could see getting used to it, but sometimes I end up asking myself, "Do I really want to?"

Especially with Cypher System waiting to be played! But more on that soon....after Genesys wrapped, we rolled some Cypher System PCs up and started a game with that ruleset right away. One hint on my feelings about it: Cypher is definitely game aiming to provide lots of busywork for players while catering to the lazy GM. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Hall of Judgement Kickstarter for Dungeon Fantasy

SJGames may not have been too happy with the end result and lack of profitability on GURPS Dungeon Fantasy boxed set, but they are kind enough to license out publication of a module for it to Douglas Cole:

The concept of "viking flavored dungeon fantasy" sounds appealing to me. Douglas appears to have done other successful Kickstarters which actually got completed, including one I have (Dungeon Grappling) that is a uniquely exhaustive look on the one subject which we can all agree was a pain in the ass in D&D 3.0.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

It was somewhere around the midpoint of the movie when I realized that I was watching a stealth Spielberg film, indeed...almost, I daresay, an Indiana Jones movie, disguised as a Jurassic Park movie. "Okay, Brady is Indie, or his great grandson. Blue is really the new Short Round, and...yes, yes, it all makes sense now..."

I had that same weird feeling with the first Jurassic World movie, except that I imagined it was a film about what happened when Starlord decided to go back to earth and visit for a while, wrangle dinosaurs, stuff like that. The thing is, these new Jurassic World films do this to me: they not only make me think of some other films with very subtle call outs in terms of their style, but they evoke a type of film I haven't really seen in a long time. A movie where the heroes are tough but ordinary guys, and the bad guys are ruthless and foolish but also ordinary, and the dinosaurs are just plain old awesome, terrifying, and also the ones you're rooting for in the end.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom surprised me by being A: fun, B: lots of fun in a weird 80's Spielberg classic action movie kind of way; C: so much fun that I decided this may be the all around most enjoyable Summer flick in a veritable locust swarm of Summer blockbusters so far this year. And it probably won't do as well because, frankly, this is a really fatiguing year for over-the-top action movies, and people can only take so much. Plus, it's not a perfect movie by any stretch. There's a large swathe of people these days who can't see movies for fun anymore, and their sense of verisimilitude about rampaging genetically recreated dinosaurs will no doubt become deeply incensed at the relatively straight forward and not too critical plot bits that used to serve quite nicely in a world where geek culture hasn't become a writhing mass of purile discontent.

Here's the bottom line, though: my son loved it, and we as a family loved this movie. It was well worth watching, and if you're like me you know exactly what I mean. Take the kids, and have a great time. Note that there are some scary bits so if your kid is (unlike mine) a bit sensitive to some dinosaur violence, keep that in mind. Overall though even the most heinous bits in the movie were surprisingly discreet in how they were filmed....the only people with truly gory deaths all deserved it, in other words....!

Solid A, for Apatosaurus!


Seriously, it was a fun movie, but there were a few things that I did find amusing and/or annoying, specifically the "dinosaur in the bedroom scene" which was (I felt) clearly set up to help promote the movie in the trailers more than anything.

Also, it did feel like The Bad Guy Eli Mills did snuff his mentor with a pillow less because he really thought that was a good idea and more because we really needed him to do something distinctly more heinous in the film to frame him as a genuinely bad dude, even though selling dinosaurs on the black market was enough. It was that later moment, when he rather compellingly points out that what he's doing is not all that different from what the heroes did in the first move....on paper, at least. So even as the heroes wrestle with the moral greyness of the repercussions of their actions from the past, we the audience are at least smug in knowing that he Done Bad and will pay by being eaten at some point. Oddly, I don't think the heroes are ever given a chance to figure out that Mills really was a murderer* before he gets his comeuppance.

Good parts in the movie included a doped up Chris Pratt as Brady trying to escape prycolastic lava flow and then outrunning a volcano. I imagined there must be geologists out there pulling their hair out but I was thinking, "Wow this feels like a movie that is Indiana Jones in all but name."

The film's judicious and effective manipulation of heart strings with the dinosaurs, who continued to be characterized as just Very Dangerous Animals who were also kinda the good guys of nature was intriguing fun, and effective to judge from my kid and wife's enjoyment of the movie. Except the Bad genetically engineered Indo Raptor. Screw that dude!

The pacing was also great, and only a few bits at the beginning and a bit later on were "slow." I also  LOVED that the movie was only 2 hours and 9 minutes long. I really miss the days when most movies were around 2 hours in length. Huge plus.

Overall....not as pretentious (or portentious**) as Jurassic Park: Lost World, and a better overall film I felt than the first Jurassic World (though that was a hard film not to enjoy as well). It's decision to present as an action adventure of the most traditional kind was a welcome relief from the superhero soap operas Disney is otherwise assailing us with constantly, and it was really nice to have a movie where the heroes' mortality was relevant to the tension of the film, and you could actually understand what the heroes' physical limits were.

*Well, except for the part about leaving them to die in the volcanic explosion of course. They had that on him, too.

**Even with Ian Malcom's bit the movie was not half as "woe betide the madmen of science" as prior films, thanks to its extremely generous dive into the deep end of pulp villainy and "we do bad because it's quicker and gets us richer" approach to the whole thing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tightening Up the Collection: Endgame? A Lean, Mean Collection of RPGs

I've narrowed my game collection down...dramatically....and it's been reduced, essentially, to the following titles and associated sourcebooks:

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (All WotC books and a selection of 3PP)
13th Age (all Pelgrane books and one 3PP)
Traveller (All Mongoose 2nd edition only, Traveller edition of Mindjammer)
Starfinder (almost everything so far released, and select 3PP)
Cypher System (All Cypher System and Numenera books plus The Strange and Vurt)
Genesys Core RPG (plus Realms of Terrinoth)
Pathfinder (Pocket Book Editions only!)
Call of Cthulhu (All 7th Edition and a select few earlier titles)
Delta Green (Well, this stuff is new, the Arc Dream edition which I am really enjoying right now)
Basic Roleplaying BGB
Magic World
Cthulhu Dark Ages
Mythras (plus Monster Island and Classic Fantasy, but I'm debating about the value of the latter)
GURPS (all of whatever I still have, which is mostly 4th plus favorite 3rd edition books)
Savage Worlds (core plus genre books, and a couple sourcebooks I love like Tropicana, Zombacalypse and The Last Parsec)
Fantasy AGE (and assorted sourcebooks)

...that constitutes the sum total of "games I continue to own because I run them a lot." Or like to think I will soon.

I also have retained in my "collection" part of the collection the following books which I plan to read and maybe some day run:

Symbaroum (all books released)
Conan: Adventures in and Age Undreamed Of (All releases so far)
Infinity RPG (all books so far)
Unknown Armies (3 book box/screen set)
Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles Deluxe Edition
Mekton Z Reprint
Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls (and related recent releases; all my old stuff from the seventies and eighties has gone to a fine group of diehard collectors via ebay)
Metamorphosis Alpha (the hard to find one from SignalFire; I recently snagged it when I got hold of the producer of the game on his new KS to find out what happened to my copy)
...maybe one or two miscellaneous games I have missed.

But that's it. Depending on whether or not you're a major collector, that list will either sound anemic or immense. To me, this is very anemic, possibly the smallest I've kept my collection since 1995, when I mostly had a medley of AD&D 2nd edition, Call of Cthulhu and GURPS.

The new collection is missing pretty much all of my old OSR collection, which I sold off. As sad as I was to let some of it go, the truth is it was always more fun to read and explore than to actually do anything with. My key exception is White Star Galaxy Edition, but I didn't mind selling it for a very specific reason: the print edition on rpgnow is much higher quality than the cheap-o copy with thin paper and bleed through that I got through Lulu, so I plan to snag a nicer copy that way.

Another reason I got rid of some items is repetition. A lot of RPGs today, thanks to the OGL, tend to be variants of the same system. Most OSR titles are a result of this, and a lot of D100 system titles stem from the Legend OGL. Traveller has a similar (minor) problem of such nature with the Cepheus Engine (which come to think of it I do have in print, too). So a goal has been to reduce the amount of system redundancy in my collection. I still have a few areas where I could shave off a bit here and there. Luckily for D&D 5E, 13th Age, and Pathfinder despite their common ancestry I feel like each is distinct in its own right. But Mythras, Magic World, and BRP? An argument could be made.....and I've already cleared out all the other OGL-Legend derived homages and variants, including Legend itself (and yes that means I have decided to give up on OpenQuest, though I think it a worthy game, along with River of Heaven, M-Space, D10 Revolution and many other spinoffs from the Legend OGL).

I sometimes feel like as glorious as the OGL has been to promote hobby growth, some of that growth has been in a perverse, inward direction that stiffled innovation in the name of repetition.* I see it as a positive trend on the odd days, and a deleterious one on the even days, I guess.

But, I digress....

This grand plan to slim it all down does make me question why I am backing any further Kickstarters right now. Hmmm.

I'm still thinking of further ways to slice it down even more. For example, I almost never run modules. Ever. So why do I own so many for certain games? Things to think about.

*And the canonization of what amounts to a compendium of house rules or heartbreakers disguised as OGL variants.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Here at last: The Advanced Labyrinth Lord Kickstarter is Live (and Funded)

It's here!

I've been eager to get a combined edition of Labyrinth Lord for some time, since the OSR experience I uniquely enjoyed back in the 80's when it was New School was a mix of B/X D&D and AD&D, and Advanced Labyrinth Lord handles that quite nicely.

UPDATE I've tentatively backed this....I love that Orcus cover (#2).....but still debating. I just eliminated close to 85% of my game collection, not sure I want to start down that road again. On the plus side, the newer covers for the Advanced LL look more "sellable" to contemporary groups; I've never been a fan of covers #3 and #4....I lack the deep nostalgic love of the crappy game art from the seventies and eighties necessary to properly appreciate those two covers. Erol Otus's art style is a huge exception, as he had a unique style and quality that went beyond the usual "I want to draw fantasy but never took an antomy class and perspective is haaaaard" style of most art from the time. But seeing as Otus is not doing any of these covers, I'll opt for #2 and #1 in that order.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The E3 Trailers: Cyberpunk 2077, The Division 2, and The Last of Us 2

This is the only new game announcement from E3 that I am really genuinely excited for. It might at least partially be because there's an idea floating around that RTG and Mike Pondsmith will release an updated Cyberpunk RPG book to accompany the computer game, but even if that never happens this trailer really sells it to me:

There were only two other games to genuinely excite me at E3's releases. One was The Division 2:

In many ways The Division damaged my love of Fallout as a franchise with it's brutal "day after tomorrow" approach to quasi realistic depictions of the collapse of civilization.

Finally, I have to admit, The Last of Us 2 looks to be the third and possibly best upcoming release shown at E3:

A Naughty Dog game is a must buy for me. I have never been disappointed by any of their titles.

As for the rest.....Gone Home looks good but the newer trailers leave me wondering where the zombie hordes went.* Anthem looks cool but EA has managed to tank multiple games that should have been hits out of the park so I'll wait and see. This is one the whole family is interested in, but if they load it full of micro-transactions and loot boxes then it's a no go for me. Starfield is a minute long trailer promising something awesome, probably in 2021, and Elder Scrolls VI after it. Don't even get me started on the weird community building MP survival sim that they're turning Fallout 76 in to. But Cyberpunk 2077? Yeah, this one is going to be big.

*You don't see them in The Last of Us 2's trailer, either, but Naughty Dog has earned my total confidence that whatever they offer will be amazing. The producers of Gone Home have shown a lot of cool trailers....but the proof is in the play.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Starfinder Logs: The Rise and Fall of the Aeon Empire

Stretching across the spinward stretch of the Conarium Expanse and spilling in to the area known as Necrospace are the remnants of the old Aeon Empire. Drawn from the advancement of the ancient Haradrim Imperial Consortium on the planet Tesophar, this budding starfaring world became a hub of activity as its united consortium of mercantile organizations expanded outward into the stars after the discovery of the Drift, when elders of the Order of Triune arrived to spread the word of their stellar god.

Within two centuries the Haradrim Imperial Consortium had grown to cover nearly one hundred worlds of varying habitability, from old Tesophar the capitol to remote Tyrnaides, a colony world on the edge of known space at the time. It is said that the Consortium prospered like this for five centuries before conflict arose. The House of Aeon rose up, already known for its military factories and private mercenary companies, and the first elder of the house, Teodan, decided that the Consortium no longer served any purpose. In a war lasting a century the old rule of merchant houses fell and Aeon rose up, declaring Teodan emperor. He ruled for two more centuries using unnatural aging practices both biogenic and arcane to sustain his lifespan before being assassinated by his great granddaughter, Persemene, who took the reign as empress.

The Aeon Empire was said to have lasted a thousand years and covered as many planets, spreading throughout the region called the Haden Expanse and the spinward rim of the Conarium Expanse which defied even the Aeon Empire's efforts to conquer and expand. Haden Expanse was dominated by the Empire, but when it fell, it was renamed Necrospace.

The Aeon Empire ruled through fear and paranoia. It's reign of long lived near-immortal emperors went through six successions, starting with Teodan, then Persemene, who later was killed and replaced by her clone sister Amoree, who died in battle not long in to her rule and was replaced by her son Gathas. Gathas ruled three centuries before tiring of his reign, and he handed off control to his son Spartos before traveling with an explorer fleet into the Unknown Vast. Spartos ruled for two more centuries before being assassinated by his own son Veros.

Veros was the last ruler of the Empire before it collapsed in civil strife and the necrophage plague. The Empire's fall was precipitated by a rise in insurgent worlds seeking to escape the totalitarian grip of the Emperor. The leader of these worlds was Caliria, a peaceful world which was located along the edge of the Empire's expansion in to the Conarium Expanse. A rebellion fomented here and in neighboring worlds, and opposition leaders gained secret funding from the Karthan Star Empire which was troubled by the Aeon Empire's presence and hostility. The Azlanti Empire, which had only recently discovered this region, also sought a way to undermine this dangerous rival deep in the Vast and provided carefully smuggled munitions and military training.

The colonial uprising sent Veros in to a tailspin, first murdering and usurping his father and then instituting a weapons program to wipe out his enemies. This led to rumors of a secret shipyard where spies claimed the Empire was building super weapons. The shipyard was rumored to be in an all-but-impossible to locate region of space in the Unknown Regions called the Vortex, where a convergence of of singularities created a unique portal in to the Drift. There the Empire had forged a military base called Terminus Station. When the Empire collapsed all records of this location were scrubbed, and to this day no one knows where the secret weapons manufacturing station is located.

In the final days of the Empire it is said that Emperor Veros assembled a vast fleet and went to bombard Caliria into ash. En route the fleet was ambushed both from saboteurs and the secretly amassed colonial rebel fleet. The Emperor's power was decimated in one swoop, but not before he issued a command to a remote research station on the colony world of Tyrnaides. There, in the remnants of a ten thousand year old rusting space hulk found in the deserts of the ancient world researchers of the Empire had uncovered a rift into the Nether, where the planes of Chaos bled in to the mortal realm. They had studied the hulk and its bleed, and learned necromantic secrets which were blended with the cybernetic and biogenic research of the Empire. The result was the Death Plague, which in his final hours Veros ordered unleashed.

The death plague was an undead creating plague, which spread like wildfire from its seed point on the Blackstar Station around Tyrnaides and throughout the Empire and beyond. In the space of five years 90% of the Empire's worlds were devastated, as were many of the opposition and neighbor worlds. The Karthan and Azlanti Empires both quarantined the region until it was determined roughly 80 years ago that the death plague had apparently mutated and was no longer dangerous, though entire worlds were now overrun with the living dead, who often proved effective carriers. The Haden Expanse, once home to this vast Empire, was renamed Necrospace as a warning to all.

Despite the destruction of the Empire, a century later many worlds still thrive in the region, though travel is often restricted. Caliria survived, but it took extreme measures to do so, destroying any ships which arrived in-system from potential destinations in the collapsing Empire. Ironically Tyrnaides itself found the death plague largely burnt out, and the world was colonized by several kasathan clans fifty years ago, followed not long after by shobad raiders. Today Tyrnaides is a freeport and a safe haven for scavengers picking over the ruins of the old Empire. Few realize that it was the origin point of the death plague.

Today, travel restrictions in the region are either lifted or removed entirely, as the advances in Drift technology have made the ability to reinforce passage to and from quarantined worlds all but impossible; most worlds with high concentrations of the living dead are monitored by remote automated defense stations that warn visitors of the risk and shoot down attempts to leave a planet once visited. Of the thousand worlds of the Aeon Empire, less than 100 are considered "safe." Hundreds more were bombed out of existence....including the Capitol Tesophar, which was glassed from space by the old Calirian rebel fleet. After purging the lost worlds it is said that Caliria mothballed the fleet, though it was not destroyed, should it's need ever rise again.

Next: visiting Tyrnaides and Blackstar Station

Death Plague: Type: disease (two types: on contact or inhaled); Save: Fortitude DC 17 (contact) or DC 19 (inhaled); Track: Physical; Frequency: 1/hour; Effect: at the Impaired state victim acts like he suffers from Confusion for next hour; at bedridden state victim drops to 0 HP and becomes an undead (some type of zombie or ghoul usually) within 1D6 rounds. Cure: 3 consecutive saves. 

Notes: Contact is the common form encountered now, through being touched or bitten by undead created by the first wave plague. Inhaled is a rare original aerosol form of the plague. It may still be found in untouched century-old containers from the days of the Empire in rare military installations. Once released, this aerosol form remains effective for 1D6 months. Despite similarities to the necrophage which forged the legends of the ancient Tomb Ships, the death plague is not far as anyone knows. At least one scholar named Abuman Sur on Tyrnaides is convinced that the death plague is only the latest in a series of life-destroying viruses introduced by the beings of the nether into mortal space, and that the lost world(s) from which the Tomb Ships hail may have suffered a similar fate.

The death plague is believed to have both biogenic and necromantic components. It's ability to affect across species is considered a potent element of the necromancy introduced by the addition of sorcery from the demons of the nether.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Starfinder Resources: sfrpgtools and more

If you're like me and have succumbed to the inexplicable but unrelenting siren call that is a complete and total love of the Starfinder Role Playing Game, you may be wondering about resources which will make life easier for you. One site I found which is of immense assistance is the golorious site, where you can:

Make new armor, weapons and equipment
Roll up planets, systems and settlements
Generate random loot
Generate random encounters
Create new Starfinder Aliens and Monsters
...and more

The most useful tools on the above list so far are the monster generator which lets you very quickly create useful monster templates with a bit of tweaking (the generator doesn't auto factor in specific abilities so some minor modification is advised), and the loot generator, without which my poor Starfinder players might never find anything good anywhere.

Next up is Rogue Exposure, with a free adventure, pregens and ships available. Not sure if there will be more on the way, but if you need a free scenario with some decent stuff and ready made characters, take a look here. There's also a ton of podcasts to listen to if you're in to that.

You probably know of this one already, but the Starfinder SRD resource is available here. It's a great utility, especially if you either don't want to get the book, are too cheap for the $10 PDF or find the PDF difficult to search. As usual everything you could need (pretty much) to run the game is right here, but it's still best to support the Paizo book and get all that glorious, pretty art.

If you're looking for adventure ideas, check out Cosmic Homebrew for 100 adventure ideas. They even link it all in to a magical Adventure Generator!

Nerds on Earth has five more detailed adventure write ups that each look pretty fun, as well.

As usual, this is stuff I've found useful but if you've found good stuff too please share!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Video Game Micro Reviews: State of Decay 2 and Echo

I've been accruing video games faster (as usual) than I can play them. My son's making up for some of this, but he's got his own backlog due know, being six and all that. But I spent some time recently messing around with some of these titles to some interesting results! I've tried each of these for at least a few hours, unless the experience was so bleh at the start that I felt the overriding desire to retake my time and bail. Consider these less "reviews" and more "opinions" but, this being the internet, it can be hard to tell the difference sometimes!

State of Decay 2 (Xbox One X version)

I grabbed this for the $30 price of a new copy which might be considered a warning sign by some, but I enjoyed spending more than a few hours in State of Decay's first iteration so my thought was maybe the second game would be worth some time as well.

First impressions after a few hours are that it's got better controls and a better feel, but the game (similar to the first, albeit with cleaned up mechanics) places heavy emphasis on the community survival component of a zombie apocalypse. This game does a much better job of accommodating the player who enjoys building up a community of survivors, but does not function so well if you just want to play a lone survivor out there doing their own thing. I will likely play it more and see how many different ways I can push it, though.....but oddly so far I have felt like the SoD2 experience was less dangerous and risky than the first. That might change. So far....Competent B for a game, but there are better and more compelling zombie survival experiences to be found.

If the gameplay experience improves I will follow up. But I think if resource management, community building and zombie survival on a very precise tick of mechanics is your thing, then check this out.

Echo (Playstation 4 Pro version)

This game has a brilliant and subversive transhuman future aesthetic, with a future universe of AI ships, genetically engineered cults of humanity, entire worlds turned into palace tombs by decadent nobility and a plot that is simply excruciatingly interesting. It is also at first a walking simulator that abruptly turns into a stealth game/depleting resource management game/enemies which learn and advance their skills as you do, leading to situations where the person who enjoyed the first hour may not survive the fifth hour. I know I eventually stopped playing because as much as I wanted to love the setting and the story I was HATING the game play. Not in a "I think this gameplay sucks" way (it does, a little) but more in a "The target demographic for this game is either people who like the deep story, or people who want a punishing pseudo stealth shooter game, but not both."

My rating is: find the complete story of cutscenes on Youtube and watch that, unless you love Dark Souls then maybe you'll enjoy the punishment this game delivers. A+ aesthetics and story but C- actual game mechanic experience. Not sure I can bring myself to finish it.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Gaming Family

My son is obsessed with Starfinder. He's also (at just shy of seven) playing other games in the game shop we go to for our Friday gaming, picking up a spot at other tables with kid-friendly game groups. This is a really interesting experience for me as his dad, since I remember how hard it was for me to get in to the hobby back in 1980-81. My sister and I badgered the dickens out of my father to teach us how to play that new red box D&D game that our parents got for us at Kaybee Toys, but my dad was utterly perplexed as to the nature of the game and buried it in newspapers (or mail, or something similar). It wasn't until months later, on my own, that I stumbled across a copy of 1st edition Gamma World in a toy and hobby shop in Santa Fe that I found a game which "spoke" to me. Suddenly, all the cryptic content in D&D made sense through the lens of Gamma World....I ran a game with my sister and her friend immediately, and then found D&D as soon as I got home to begin running it as often as I could. The floodgates were open.

My son is more of a player than GM right now, but he's had an interesting progression in his gaming experience. I tried about a year ago to get him involved, first using "No Thank You, Evil!" and then a Labyrinth Lord game. When Starfinder showed up he grew obsessed with it, especially due to the evocative art which he really dug. He even tried GMing (after a fashion) by running me through a game of "No Thank You, Evil!" although he made the rules up as he went along.

He got the gist of role playing but was still too young to really grokk the rules or overall flow of play. Some of this was also a "son vs. dad" bit I realize now; pushing the limit on what dad will (and won't) allow in the game. Also, for a while dad here was pushing for games that I thought were simpler and easier....but what my son wanted to play was not the game that was simpler, but the game that looked Amazing and Super Cool. It didn't matter if Starfinder is a beast of a game to learn (at age 6 1/2), he wanted to play that, to understand that, and not White Star or Swords & Wizardry. Those games didn't look cool, they looked old and boring to him.*

I thought about using Starfinder as the art resource and White Star as the rule system. In the end, though, his own savvy was for questions about what the Starfinder rulebook was asking him, not what that other book was saying. I caved and made a Starfinder character template for him that was big and bold with a clear way for him to read numbers and items on it, which would of course help his reading and math skills, too.

We ran a couple games like this, but it was hard to compete when his younger friends would show with their parents. Now, in the last few months, we game on Friday nights at one game store where friends show up, which includes lots of kids. There are several game tables which are very kid friendly, and he (being the social extrovert his parents are not) quickly makes friends and joins those games. He's suddenly got a D&D 5E game or three under his belt and even played Firefly last week. He's played a game his father has never even tried!

The Firefly game this last Friday seemed to be a turning point for him. When the game was over, he promptly came over to my game table with the active (adult) Starfinder game and promptly declares that he was ready to join my table. I gave him a Kasthan Solarian commando NPC for him to run, and he got to arrive in time to save the group from an incursion of the Nether (the rift in spacetime where the Abyss and the Nine Hells are spilling out in to). He had a great deal of fun, and was prompt to make sure he was taking his turn.

So, he's starting about 3 and a half years sooner than I did, but I have to say, my son is a living demonstration of just how different the general culture of gaming and geekdom is now than it was in the late seventies and early eighties when I carved my way in to this hobby through sheer determination. I'm glad this is a thing, and he's apparently totally up for it....future family games should be very interesting!

*OSR publishers take note: there's room in the market for a low-difficulty OSR style entry title with art to rival Paizo, Not sure how one might accomplish this on the usual OSR production budget, but it explains (to me) why the Pathfinder Beginner Box remains a successful entry point into the hobby.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is now out in PDF

You can find it here on Chaosium's website. There's free downloads of some sample monsters, a background worksheet and a character sheet. I'm balking at the price right now ($27.95) for a book I really want but am not sure just how much it is tied in to the Glorantha universe.

Example: a background system which is not custom tailored to Glorantha would be useful to me because I could extrapolate from it to other settings. Can I do this in the book? I don't know, but the background sheet provided suggests this might be hard since it even provides Glorantha calendar dates prefilled for your character's history.

I used to run Runequest 2nd edition (and later 3rd edition) in my own settings, which were tinged with the essence of what Runequest had to offer (the runes, spirit magic, and monsters inherent to the system) but back in the 80's you could use all that without seeing much Glorantha in the mix. I'm curious if this system can work that way, too. I mean....technically I'm doing that with Realms of Terrinoth right now to run my own setting with the Genesys Core default fantasy realm as the base.

I think the only reason that it is more of a question with Runequest: Adventures in Glorantha right now is because it seems very clear that the new edition is specifically aimed at being a vessel for this campaign, and Chaosium has indicated that future fantasy earth supplements will be their own separate deal; this is not going to be a "one rule book, many settings" approach. A lot of fans have had thirty years of Runequest editions that allowed you to design your own universe, so going back to Runequest's earliest roots like this is a little jarring for us.

Still, I love this ruleset, and it really looks from reading the free content like this new Runequest is very much an iteration of the system I love the most. I will probably cave and get the PDF....more to come once I've done so and had time to absorb the new system. If I can even just use it to create my own uniquely flavored universe once more with the style of a Runequest Glorantha but the trappings of a world of my own design (say, if I could use it to power Pergerron) then I will be satisfied.

Sometimes I do wish I was the kind of gamer who could just relax and enjoy someone else's universe......but a fundamental component of what I enjoy about this hobby is having the tools to create my own, not the Rough Guide to visiting someone else's.

UPDATE: Got a copy. In reviewing the contents this appears to be very much a core rulebook; while the writing and art is flavored with Glorantha (and it looks damned nice, read extremely well) the immensity of the tome is focused entirely on character generation, rules, magic and downtime.....a bestiary is yet to come, and it looks like there's not much more direct "Glorantha campaign" content in this book than in original RQ2, beyond the fact that the background system is entirely flavored with Glorantha in design. It's very interesting....Gloranthaphiles are going to be ecstatic, and I think people who are just looking for an easy system and setting to pick up and run with will find this an efficient way to jump in.

Anyway, more discussion to come!

UPDATE 2: Reading through this is making me want to strongly work up a "Conversion to Archaic Earth" doc for my Mesopotamia campaign.

UPDATE 3: final comment before I take proper time to dive deep....I am amused that the conversion doc in the back is aimed squarely at RQ2 and also RQ3. This is definitely a succession to those two editions, and in many ways an "alternative" RQ3 for a new altered reality timeline.

As I plow through, I am both awed that the book does such a fantastic job of making Glorantha look on the surface like an accessible play experience (something I feel prior editions were not that great at) and disappointed to realize that there are no longer really any of  the general purpose tools to let you add to and do what you want with RQ. For example: you can use the cultures of Glorantha and the Glorantha background, but beyond a quick and dirty method provided to get a PC in to play there's nothing really that provides guidance on designing new backgrounds and cultures. Likewise, every cult you could want from Glorantha is detailed in glorious depth but I am not seeing any direction on new cult creations, orders or other elements added in other iterations of the game. As a result, adding your own stuff will be through extrapolation rather than any guidelines.

I'm liking this book's design a lot, and impressed at how hard it works to make Glorantha accessible, but it's definitely "Roleplaying in Glorantha" and using it for anything else is probably more work than I want to put in to the process for, so I don't think Mythras or the BGB are going to stop being useful anytime soon.