Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Cypher System: The Agents of Steel

The Agents of Steel

In the League Universe there is a modern organization,  part adventurer’s club, part humanitarian organization and part private mercenary service known as the Agents of Steel. Here are the write-ups for the Agents of Steel as NPCs for a Cypher System Superhero Genre campaign:

Talbot Steel
Enhanced Human (Arcane Origin) – Level 7 (21)
Motive: explorer and adventurer, with a strong sense of ethical purpose
Environment: wherever there are mysteries to uncover or wrongs to right
Health: 35
Damage Inflicted: 7 damage with fists or dual Desert Eagles
Armor: 3 (natural resilience plus bullet proof vest)
Movement: short
Modifications: 3 shifts recovery rolls (heal 7 health per recovery); 1 shift Dexterity (+3 initiative, Speed defense, skills); Resilience (+1 might defense rolls and armor)
Powers: Talbot Steel is immortal, though it is presumed he can die through unnatural causes. However, his arcane imbuement lets him recover faster and soak more damage, so no one has ever successfully managed to test that theory, not even his nemesis Dr. Alistair Chrome.

The original Agents of Steel were forged in 1929 by Talbot Steel, the centennial man and adventurer who has, over the decades, become a man out of time. Born on January 1st, 1900, a young Talbot Steel made a name for himself during the Great War and following his time as a soldier and pilot he founded Steel Industries, specializing in unique and experimental military aircraft. In 1923 Talbot allegedly worked with his eventual nemesis, Alistair Chrome, to locate the hiding place of the Holy Grail, from which it is said he was forced to drink after his “ally” Chrome turned on him, delivering a fatal gunshot. The result was immortality and greatly enhanced natural skills; Talbot knows where the grail remains, having retrieved it back from his nemesis, but its current location remains a mystery.

As the decades went by Steel’s organization grew and became more sophisticated, and he eventually handed off control of Steel Industries to his younger (mortal) brother Max Steel after World War II. Throughout its years the membership in the Agents of steel has varied considerably. In the late nineties Talbot switched focus to a smaller, more focused team working as both mercenaries and humanitarians, and has never looked back since. The group has focused on the international scene, especially explosive scenarios in nations with a great deal of conflict or war.

Legend (current alias Christopher Long)
Human with Sorcerous Weapon (Arcane Origin) – Level 7 (21)
Motive: (fixed) seeks redemption for an ancient wrong he committed
Environment: Anywhere that his "instinct" or the voice of his conscience tells him to go
Health: 35
Damage Inflicted: 7 damage; 16 with the Spear of Destiny
Armor: 3 points plate
Movement: short
Modifications: +9 damage with the Spear of Destiny (16 damage total); +1 Intellect defense and skills (esp. history); +1 Might Defense and strength checks.
Powers: The Spear of Destiny, which is a Level 8 artifact; nothing less than that level can move Legend if he chooses not to be moved (he may still be injured). The spear can also reveal the true form of all within long range. Legend’s immortality is such that even if he is killed, he will reform in 1D10 months; if he is burned to ashes he reforms in 1D10 years.

Aside from the Spear of Destiny, Legend is immortal, and claims to be thousands of years old. Some believe he may have been Longinus, the soldier serving penitence for slaying Christ, but other stories suggest he is much, much older and may even have been identified as Achilles once. He claims to have been cursed in ancient times, and has walked the world all this time trying to seek a cure, or redemption.

Tachyon (alias Alana Kincaid)
Metahuman (Science Origin) – Level 5 (15)
Motive: pursuit of knowledge, truth, and living up to the legacy of her mother, Diane, the original Tachyon.
Environment: Works out of Upstate Buffalo, New York as a teacher but can travel anywhere.
Health: 25
Damage Inflicted: 5 damage (gauntleted fists)
Armor: 1 point speed armor
Movement: 1,000 feet/move
Modifications: Dexterity +3 shifts on all Speed defense and speed checks (level 8 Speed Defense; +9 initiative); very fast movement (10 times); Accuracy 1 shift bonus (Level 6 attacks).
Powers: Tachyon can move with near lightning speed, and can push it to accelerate to near superluminal speeds for very brief bursts. When moving and doing nothing else she is essentially invisible and impossible to hit (level 10 speed defense).

Alana Kincaid wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps, and when she turned 16 she discovered that she was going to do exactly that in more ways than she could have imagined. The original Tachyon was her mother, and while Tachyon’s genes were modified in a freak accident when she was bombarded with tachyon particles, it turns out that this was genetically inherited by her daughter. Alana discovered overnight her ability to move at accelerated speeds and superluminal velocities for brief bouts. The phenomenon appears to be that she is naturally bathed in tachyon particles which are perpetually moving backwards in time; the side effect is that it allows her to “slow down” reality around her and move at normal speed while the rest of the world remains still.

Alana encountered Talbot Steel while she was on a research expedition in South America, and the older adventurer took a liking to her; he eventually asked her to join his team, which she did just a year ago.

Blackfire (alias Albert Morgan)
Metahuman (Science/Occult Origin) – Level 6 (18)
Motive: clean up the streets, use the funding of Agents of Steel to end crime, stop the Necromancer
Environment: Chicago is his home turf, or wherever Agents of Steel take him
Health: 30
Damage Inflicted: 6 damage (15 with shadow fists)
Armor: 1 point leather suit
Movement: short; long with shadowflight
Modifications: Healing 2 shifts (two extra recoveries, 6 each), Shadow Power 3 shifts (+9 damage)
Powers: The shadow source Blackfire draws from lets him move through shadow, forge it in to objects, obscure his presence, and he can even turn in to shadow.

Albert Morgan was working as a researcher at the Chicago branch of the Advanced Physics Labs when he was badly injured in an explosion, imbuing him with a connection to the interstitial dimension of shadow. It turns out the Necromancer was the cause of the explosion, and he found a disoriented Morgan in the rubble, seizing control of his mind.

Albert remained under the Necromancer’s control for several months before Talbot Steel encountered the wizard and effectively punched him out, freeing Albert of the mind control. Albert swore to pay Talbot back, and not long after joined the Agents of Steel. Albert now uses the resources of the organization to aid him in cleaning up the streets of Chicago by day while conducting research and aiding Talbot on his obscure missions.

Silver Fox (alias Alicia Fox)
Metahuman (Cybernetic Origin) – Level 6 (18)
Motive: head of the Fox PMC organization, coordinates with Agents of Steel and takes government contracts; affiliated with Mystech
Environment: worldwide and beyond; her headquarters is in London
Health: 30
Damage Inflicted: 9 damage (rippers or fists) and autopistols
Armor: 4 points (skinweave and armored suit)
Movement: short; long with jet pack
Modifications: Silver Fox is cybernetically enhanced, with Dexterity 1 shift (+3 initiative, Speed Defense level 7), Strength 1 shift (3 extra damage), Accuracy 2 shifts (Might and Speed defense Level 8), and resilience (+1 armor and Might Defense Level 7)
Powers: all of Silver Fox’s powers come from her cybernetic enhancements, which include durable skinweave, muscle and speed enhancements, a visual enhancement (level 7 Intellect defense to avoid detection), and a number of useful gadgets.
Alicia Fox is the successor to her mother, who is now retired and hidden in an unknown location where she can avoid being bothered. Unlike her mother, Alicia Fox invested heavily in cybernetic enhancements, and at age 28 she is cybernetically modified to be tougher, stronger, faster and more dangerous on all levels.

She has had an on again, off again relationship with Talbot Steel, and while she goes on forays with him frequently, enough that he considers her a member of the team, Silver Fox instead considers it more of a “side commitment” she engages with on an as-needed basis, and she still focuses on her PMC the Fox Group, which engages in lucrative contracts with European and American powers. She has most recently gotten involved with “Space Force,” the American directive for a military presence in space that is secretly being put in place in anticipation of genuine extraterrestrial threats.

Alicia has a secret, and it is her reliance on Mystech cybernetics. The illustrious organization has long been known for its advances in cybernetic design of the finest order, but it is also believed to have some shady dealings, and is unscrupulous in who it sells its tech to. Alicia Fox has avoided coming in to conflict with her cybernetics provider so far, but knows that sooner or later she may be forced into conflict with the organization that effectively created her.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The World Nomad Olympics

This is totally a thing I did not know about until today, and now I think I must plan to eventually go to one of these. The World Nomad Games include a multitude of different kinds of horse races, strategy games (nomad style) and is essentially a smorgasbord of Mongolian and other sports that you have likely never heard of. The most amazing one so far is called Kok Boru, which is as follows:

"Kok Boru – Traditional Kyrgyz Horseback Competition.

Kok Boru, which translates to English as gray wolf, has its origins in the distant past, from a time when men went to go hunt for prey to feed their families and cattle remained under the supervision of elders, women and youth. Wolves often attacked livestock and caused many problems. After returning from the hunt, angry men would go to chase after the wolf pack. Having caught up with the pack, they would pick up running wolves from the ground, throwing them between each other almost playfully. The game today requires teams to throw a dead sheep or goat into their opponent’s well on the playing field.

The main goal of the game in the past was training for fighting. While playing kok-boru, men and horses were taught to be fearless. The game trained men to be courageous, brave, and daring, qualities needed by warriors."

This is giving me all sorts of ideas for future scenarios!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Cypher System: The Emon of Sarvaelen

In messing around with it, I realized that the elementally charged Emon, a human variant touched by elemental magic, stats really well in Cypher. These are one of the possible character types in the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil campaign. Here's what I've worked out:

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

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

Emoniae are a special culture of human which has been profoundly affected by their close affiliation to elemental pools of energy. More on playing emoniae can be found below in new races.

The Emoniae Bloodline (singular Emon)
Many emoniae have a talent for magic, and are most commonly mages by class. Emoniae are, like pureblooded of Camrinal, prone to attracting the attention and interest of demons, spirits, elementals, old gods and other beings from the Elemental Realms. Elves have an abnormal fascination for them, and as a result it is more common to run into half-elves of mixed elvish and emon blood than any other combination. Emoniae are a special type of human, with the following special Descriptor for elementally-tainted Emon:
Stat Modifiers: Emoniae gain +2 Intellect and +2 Speed
Born Sorcerers: Emoniae must include the Magic flavor in their type.
Occultists: Emoniae start with training in Occult Lore.
Languages: Emoniae learn the common (Aeronostic) tongue as well as Emonish, their cultural language.
Elemental Affinity: Emoniae revere the elemental old gods, and still worship them. There is a chance that an emon has some elemental heritage in her or her bloodline. The immediate effect is an innate basic understanding of the elemental language and an affinity for that element, which means that they tend to be regarded favorably by elementals of like type that they meet (+1 favorable asset in Intellect checks to influence elementals).
Elemental Taint: Emoniae may follow the "Tainted by the Elements" focus.

Focus: Tainted by the Elements
When a magic-using emon with elemental taint discovers this heritage, he or she begins to manifest a sign of elemental corruption, usually in the form of a glow or emission from the skin, and a slow but certain "change" on the skin that seems to be a manifestation of that emon's elemental taint (stone-like skin, persistent water running from pores, smoke, or a misty fog following the emon). This first manifestation is cosmetic and can be suppressed with concentration taking one full round.

An emon with this feat must choose one elemental type to exhibit going forward: fire, cold/ice, air, earth, smoke, light, darkness, lightning or other traits as the GM permits. This becomes the primary elemental affinity, which is dominant. If the emon has elemental affinity, this first elemental type must match the one chosen for affinity. An emon who did not have elemental affinity before (see racial traits) gains it with this feat.

Emoniae may have more than one connection to the elements, but each subsequent elemental type exhibits as secondary to the primary elemental affinity. For example, an emon with cold as primary may appear to have icy skin. If he later adds elemental earth affinity, he may display gravel or rocks floating in the ice of his skin. If he later adds fire, his eyes may blaze with hot light as water runs down his flesh.

Tier 1:
Elemental Change new cosmetic trait related to the source of elemental taint manifests (fire hair, frozen skin, stone skin, levitates slightly off ground). This effect grants 1 armor point of resistance to the elemental type.  Choose a different element and effect each time you pick this. Enabler.

 Elemental Damage Type Choose one elemental type (fire, cold, air, water, earth, radiant, necrotic); you may add this elemental type to the damage or effect of a spell you cast, dealing 1 extra damage of that type. Pick a different element each time you choose this. Enabler.

Elemental Affinity you are trained in understanding elemental magic.

Tier 2:
Lower Tier Ability: Gain one ability of lower tier.

Greater Elemental Damage Type Choose one elemental type (fire, cold, air, water, earth, radiant, necrotic) that you already deal damage with from tier 1; you may add this elemental type to the damage or effect of a spell you cast to deal 2 points of that damage type. Enabler.

Elemental Attack Choose one weapon or spell with which you imbue elemental damage. You are now trained in that spell or weapon. Enabler.

Tier 3:
Lower Tier Ability: Gain one ability of lower tier.

Elemental Conjuration Gain the ability to conjure an elemental of a type you have “elemental damage type” to from tier 2, as the spell once per day with as many levels as your current tier, or more than one elemental with total tiers equaling your own.  Action.

Elemental Immunity choose one elemental affinity you already have. You are now immune to damage from that elemental type (including burning, drowning, suffocation, or breathing effects). Enabler.

Tier 4:
Lower Tier Ability: Gain one ability of lower tier.

Greater Elemental Conjuration You may now double your tier for # of levels of elemental level you can conjure of one type, with the highest elemental level equaling your tier. So at tier 4 you can summon two Level 4 elementals, or up to 8 level 1 elementals, or some combination in between. Gain one new elemental change as well from Tier 1, or one new elemental damage type from tier 2. Action.

Master Elemental Damage Type Choose one elemental type (fire, cold, air, water, earth, radiant, necrotic) that you already deal damage with from tier 1 and 2; you may add this elemental type to the damage or effect of a spell you cast to deal 4 points of that damage type. Enabler.

Tier 5:
Lower Tier Ability: Gain one ability of lower tier.

Elemental Transformation You may transform, at will, into one element of a type you already have affinity with. All damage dealt deals damage of indicated type, and you are immune to the elemental type you have become. The effect lasts for one hour. Action.

Elemental Emission gain permanent emission of elemental type: stone skin (gain medium armor 2 points), fire erupts from flesh (immune to damage from fire but deals 2 fire damage to all on touch, or in addition to melee damage), air (gains levitate at will, short range), or water (emits water permanently at the rate of 1 liter/hour, gains water breathing). These traits are very difficult to disguise and require a level 6 Intellect defense roll to suppress the trait for 1 hour.

Tier 6
Lower Tier Ability: Gain one ability of lower tier.

Permanent Transformation You permanently transform into one element of a type you already have Elemental Transformation or Emission with. This form becomes your new default body. All damage dealt deals damage of indicated type, and you are immune to the elemental type you have become. The form changes noticeably to be "more" of the elemental type and the emon's humanity becomes suppressed. Breathing is no longer necessary. If you gain “Elemental Transformation” again, you can change into a different elemental type, but can never return to more than a facsimile of your original human body. Over time, the emon will subsume into the elemental nature of his form and depart the mortal plane for other realms permanently. Enabler.

Elemental Planeshift the Emon gains the ability to plane shift to his elemental plane of appropriate type that matches the current transformation once per day.

Five Facts about the Emoniae:

1.       The Emon city-states in the Adasatrak Mountains are each said to have been built over an elemental portal which leads to each of the elemental realms. Interestingly there is the seventh portal beneath the city Kalimdar, which is said to open into the Twisting Nether.

2.       Some emoniae claim that a spy and patriot named Eredatha, who was a consort to the old Emperor of Camrinal, was responsible for sabotaging the plans of the mad Emperor, leading to the destruction of the kingdom. This is officially decried as apocryphal, but a secret order of spies and assassins called the Dedicates of Eredatha believe it to be true.

3.       In an emon house finding a member who manifests true elemental affinity is considered a house blessing and automatically elevates the house to the affinity caste, giving them special social privileges. Someone of low caste who develops affinity is usually adopted by a willing house, given title and land privileges.

4.       Emon is not very welcome to outsiders, but the gateway cities of Kerenesk and Rathor serve as the safe harbors for outsider merchants and traders. From these two cities the goods of the outside world are imported to the city-states of the inner kingdoms which otherwise allow no outsiders of non-emoniae blood in their walls.

5.       Most emoniae are of sallow, almost albino complexion, but the emoniae of the coast are dark of skin and prone to elemental earth and fire affinity. The coastal emoniae call themselves the Eredenei, and claim to have migrated from across the ocean long ago, coming from a sunken continent called Dakarast.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Class Restrictions, Race Restrictions - Critical to OSR?

Every time I think about firing up an OSR game I run in to a wall with the tradition of restricting races to certain class level limits, excluding them from certain classes, and of course the old school limitations on multiclassing.

Back in the 80's I ran a looser version of D&D, sticking to class/mutliclass restrictions, but ignoring level limits for the most part. When 2nd Edition AD&D arrived it provided rules for ways to alleviate restrictions on demihuman leveling past the "cap," usually by increasing XP. D&D Encyclopedia somehow ignored the issue by adding a letter-based weapon class advancement in. In retrospect it seems amusingly ad hoc and reflective of a determination to stick with tradition by finding weird optional work-arounds for a problem that was inherently arbitrary. By the time D&D 3.0 arrived on scene, the reality of just how arbitrary it all was became blindingly evident.

As I was parsing out Swords & Wizardry Complete for considering an OSR game once more, I was reminded of this problem. Faced with the reality of traditional old school approaches, I was left with the following problem:

--Do I run the OSR game with my modern sensibilities and simply sweep aside racial/class/level restrictions? Would that really be very OSR if I did?


--Do I adhere to them strictly, and design a setting that expects and enforces them? No elven paladins, no multiclass humans, no 20th level halfling fighters.

Option 2 would make for some fun and highly specific world building....for a bit. But the arbitrary nature of the distinctions in classic AD&D not only don't jive with my world building interests now, I have to remind myself that they didn't back in the 80's, either; these are rules from the original game which I had to houserule out, and as such for me they were never very OSR; I never liked them then, and find it hard to like them now.

But....if I do option one above, then I am faced once more with a different conundrum....why not just run a more modern iteration of the game? And if it's D&D 5E, why not just use the optional gritty mechanics in the DMG to simulate the more restrictive magic elements?

So now I'm back to thinking about ways to use 5E to run the kind of game I want again. Or, of course, Cypher System....the game which caters most closely to my GM style these days, and a system which inherently rewards players with ingenious descriptor/type/focus combinations in a way that a traditional OSR game can't even conceive of.

Film Review: The Predator (2018) - Teaching me that I could be a screenwriter, too!

I hate to lead this off with a series of statements like, "I saw the first Predator in 1987, and was genuinely surprised because I actually had no idea it was a movie about an alien vs. Arnold,"* and that in 1990 when the Predator 2 came out I was more or less on my own for an entire summer between semesters and saw that movie like seven times in the theater. Then when Predators came out it was one of the first movies my wife and I saw before we turned into parents, and we had a lot of fun with it.

I guess the point is I like Predator movies. They are fun, engaging B movies with a certain style and theme. Each one has slowly but surely built on the foundation of prior movies with small but distinct reveals. In the original it is enough to know that a species of alien hunters comes to Earth and is responsible for Central American legends of jungle monsters. In Predator 2 we know they visit often, and have done so for a long time, and also hunt on other worlds (including possibly an alien xenomorph). In Predators we learn that there are factions which fight one another, and they also have game planets where they drop off carefully picked prey (and that planet has a derelict starship in which a mad Morpheus lurks....for a while).

If you count the Alien vs. Predator movies in to the mix, then you also know the Predators are responsible for a lost civilization in Antarctica, bred alien xenomorphs on Earth, and are very sloppy about this business when hunt time comes. Most fans regard the AvP movies as their own special "non-canon" What If universe at best, and as atrociously poor fanfic headcanon brought to life at worse.

So.....yeah. Where does 2018's "The Predator" fit in to all this? Is it one of the good ones, adding to the lore of the movies while providing a gripping sci fi action/horror hybrid, or is it something....else....?

Let me put it this way: I love these movies, I love their style, pacing, and focus, and I love that they are great B movies....but only B movies. So I am not expecting them to be amazing; I am expecting them to be good films for what they are.

The Predator is....well......godamnit I don't even know. Here's the best I can put about it:

My son, who is turning seven soon, will LOVE this movie. We have reserved tickets for a 3:30 PM showing tomorrow. My wife was kind enough to let me sneak off to see it tonight, thus why I can write this.

It has things which my son wouldn't just find cool, but he'd find them Super Cool. Like, stuff that he has actually come up with using his alien, predator and other action figures. And video games, especially the Alien/Predator Minecraft mod, and Who Knows What Else.

So from this angle, it's a good movie. It will amaze him, I predict....I'll follow up on that after he and I catch it tomorrow, just to confirm my suspicion.

(UPDATE: Yes, he loved this movie. My wife's opinion is that the film was all over the place and was tonally off, and the new lore made no sense to her; but she's studied a lot of biology as a teacher and I think she's sick of this idea Hollywood has that DNA is this thing that aliens can just absorb as they see fit).

I suspect I would have enjoyed it when I was 15 as well, the age I was when I saw the original movie. I will point out that in 1986 a movie like this would have been amazing no matter what.

But me, at age 47, in 2018? I am wondering how the living fuck this movie was ever green lit. Like.....who thought this movie should ever have been made the way it was? There are so many things wrong with it......okay, gotta stop, just take a break, don't be one of those know, the kind who think The Last Jedi killed their's JUST A PREDATOR Movie....okay, calm......

Unfortunately, the film makers, in the process of trying to get as many decapitations and loathesome swearing and bad jokes squeezed in as possible accidentally made a PG 13 movie for kids in to a R rated movie that will accidentally confuse adults into seeing it. And the core't be able to just go see this movie. That sounds weird to say about  Predator film, I know....but this isn't quite yer daddy's Predator, trust me. I'm a daddy.

So, unlike the deliberate deconstructionist attitude that The Last Jedi took toward it's franchise, which either caused the lamentation of the fan elite or the kudos of those who were impressed that it dared to do what it did....The Predator does none of that. It does what literally any fourth film in a B movie franchise ever does, which is basically just throw some new stuff in, get a little self referential and overly ironic, put cool stuff in just because it hasn't been seen before, and then get handed off to a screenwriter(s) who aren't even that keen on how to do a Save The Cat script let alone a B Movie horror-action film, pair it with a director who's really not qualified to direct, out the film through development hell, recut and refilm to the point where obvious continuity and plot issues just seem to percolate through in every scene, and then release it around the time you need some Halloween movies to flood the market for a fast buck.

I actually feel like maybe I should try writing some screenplays now, because apparently they'll buy anything.

Here's the plot:

A sniper who is either working as a private merc or on some job in Mexico for some reason is at the wrong place when a predator ship crashes. He has a brief excursion with a predator, escapes with the predator's gear, and then goes on the run because --reasons?-- I guess he wasn't sanctioned to be operating in Mexico? He figured that encountering an alien automatically means he's on someone's shit list? I got nothing.

Oh, and right before they grab him (implied off camera) he ships the alien stuff to his address in Everytown, USA. Naturally it ends up in his autistic son's hands....and as we learn later, if you're on the autism spectrum then you're the future evolutionary linchpin of humankind and understanding predator gear is totally normal.

Yeah so anyway: after an interrogation our hero McKenna is put on a military prison bus with a bunch of screwball, wisecracking idiots that we're supposed to like (I think). Meanwhile, Dr. Bracket is a bioscientist who's apparently on the "call me" list for alien contact and they bring her in to where the predator which McKenna enountered is now in captivity....sort of. Really he's just in a white lab, mildly sedated, and out in the open. They are all freaked out because it turns out he has --wait for it!-- human DNA!!!!!! Pesky predators have apparently been stealing the DNA of their best foes to make them stronger.

Just roll with it. This is far from the strangest twist in a story straight out of the junior action figure adventure camp.

Okay, so the rest of the movie is a lengthy sequence in which wisecracking, unlikeable assholes work with the unlikeable hero to fight a super predator which shows up hunting the captured predator. Some predator dogs show up (which look nothing like the much more dangerous predator dogs from Predators) and after one is lobotomized it becomes Dr. Bracket's friend. There a lot of stuff that goes on. Wanted criminals somehow get a lot of military gear, including grenade launchers, but it is unclear where or how. Police and military remain ridiculously ineffective.

Around the tail end of the movie there's a ten minute sequence where the film stops feeling like a wacky asshole roadtrip comedy and starts feeling almost like a predator movie, or at least a film that pretends to have some sense of threat or menace to it. This fails as the sequence is woefully short and we are asked to care for a bunch of guys who are just plain unlikeable. Painfully so.

Then CGI sequences with impossible jumps and bizarre turns of luck ensue (involving the super predator's ship) and the super predator is at last defeated.

Then the movie ends with a sequence which somebody actually greenlighted. I'll spoiler alert you here, but yeah.....this happened:

So, the big plot bit for the movie is that first predator (who is captured) actually is working with the insane dipshit private mercs/black ops/science dudes (or government dudes? movie never really seems to care to elaborate on who they all were; EDIT: second viewing its clear they are government spooks, although maybe it's hard to buy in to that given that the lead spook is such a psychopath; if you get all your info on how the government works from conspiracy theories then it probably looks legit) to deliver some sort of cure for the problem: predators stealing human DNA to make themselves tougher. The plan is apparently to let Earth turn in to a hothouse or something (the predators aren't doing anything, they are just waiting for humans to do it to themselves; EDIT: on second viewing, all of this info is just the lead spook Traeger played by Sterling brown deciding he's figured it all out; problem is, we know that he's the movie's "voice" and the film progresses as if his imaginings are correct) then colonize the planet. The "good" predator who everyone captured was delivering a solution to this. In the very end, the new team who is working for the Black Ops Spooks (but now with more good guys I guess?) opens up the surviving capsule and it contains what is basically a Power Ranger suit that turns a human in to a fully armored Predator Killer.

The movie ends on this note like it's screenwriters thought they were really clever or something.

In the film's defense, my son will love loves this. He's going to want to be a predator killer for Halloween, he has confirmed I bet (or Spider Man). He has been telling me about his plans to make a movie one day called "Super Predator vs. Super Alien." (EDIT: I heard a lot more about it after today's second show).

He will love this movie. He loved this movie. Yep.

Dad, however, is going to just hand the torch over. I think, if we're lucky, this will be the last Predator movie. I will be shocked if it does well; this isn't just a bad movie if you like Predator films, it's a bad movie even if you like just any old films at all.** Maybe in a few years they will reboot the entire franchise, and this one will be buried in the non-canon pile with the AVP films. Or, maybe, my son and his generation will eventually enjoy a bizarre Ready Player One meets Predator style VR mashup in the distant future, Lego Dimensions style. This may, ultimately, be the highly meta future that we are plowing in to...and this film may be one of many symptoms of what that will look like.

Okay! I predict an A+ for my son, but Dad has to go with a C- (it was slightly more interesting to watch and follow round two) D-. If you don't have a kid who loves these movies, you may just want to go back and re-watch the original, or the sequels...especially Predators. Or even better, re-watch Predators after seeing The Predator; it will really make that movie look much better than you remember it.

If you see this movie: remember, when the predator dog goes FULL CUTE, that they stuck that in a Predator film. Yeah.

My kid will probably have the Predator Dog toy by close of day tomorrow. Just sayin'....they put that in there, I expect a damn plushie, you know?


I'm a good dad. I will see this movie with him tomorrow, and I will not say one disparaging thing. If he has fun, it will be worth it. (We saw it. It went as I expected, but even my son commented on a couple of the Obvious Plot Holes, especially in the beginning when MacKenna departs his military op for inexplicable reasons having to do Government is evil even though he IS the government???? MacKenna appears to a cipher for today's modern independent American Dude, convinced he's simultaneously a badass soldier and out to fight The Man, never realizing he is The Man).

*In the good old days before the internet this was actually possible.

**Here's how bad it is: it makes me think Alien: Resurrection was okay, after all. It makes me think AvP isn't as bad as I remember it. That bad.

Post Script on Second Viewing: I'll probably do a follow up blog to talk about the poor story choices in this film. It could have been a tighter, more interesting story, it really could have, but the choices they went with were just so.....stupid, and so many, that I am baffled at what sort of behind the scenes script smashing must have gone down to have arrived at this final result.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Cypher System for Everything

I've got a real temptation to try using Cypher System for a while as my default go-to game. Even more so than I have, recently. This would mean, among other things....

--Seeing how it feels to run one of my existing worlds like Chirak or Lingusia using Cypher System. I suspect that it would actually be a more comfortable and entertaining experience than the default system for those worlds (D&D or Pathfinder)

--Prepping my Cyberpunk campaign idea for Cypher System

--Using my "Restoration" SF campaign which I am already designing for Cypher System

--Experimenting with Cypher for horror settings; here and only here I feel that Cypher may work well for other horror, but pure Lovecraftian Mythos must remain the domain of CoC 7E. However, a Cypher game focusing on something not intrinsically mythos might be worth experimenting with.

If I use it for a Realms of Chirak game I figure some rules are in order, including the need for a house rule that lets each PC pick a descriptor as well as a species (that would mean writing up a human race entry for species). It might mean making them into foci; I could see an animate PC working better as a focus*, for example. I'd need gnomes, dragonborn, and a few others not currently covered in the various Cypher books. Maybe. My current Cypher fantasy game (with heavy SF elements) pretty much lets players pick their race as part of their general nature and doesn't sweat stat details.

Beyond that, there's not a significant amount of prep involved. Almost all magic items in a D&Desque world are already handled by the cypher rules and artifact rules. Monsters are a piece of cake. The inherent archetypes of the descriptor/type/focus system let you build analogs for about all of the classes you might find in D&D, which means that thematic consistency should be self evident.

I have traditionally only run two flavors of Realms of Chirak: one set using the Runequest/Mythras mechanics, and one using D&D mechanics in whatever flavor it currently presents. The idea of running Chirak games in Cypher seems more natural, oddly, than back when I ran Chirak as a setting for D&D 4E, honestly.

Think I need to try this. Just have to get the current D&D campaign to wrap up soon!

*I mean, stuff like "Abides in Stone" is already doing the groundwork, I just need some extra tier options to cover the modifications Animates can make. Or, just tell the PC to make an animate with a suitable flavor, and write up those extra animate options as a "Animate" flavor. So many ways to do it in this system.....

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Really Cool 3rd Edition Swords & Wizardry Complete Book (Very Late Praise Episode)

I already feel that Frog God's Swords & Wizardy Complete is my overall favorite OSR ruleset. It's the one which most closely feels like and reminds me of the AD&D days when I actually ran, covers both descending and ascending ACs to suit to taste, have the one-save mechanic, and provides the AD&D class with race and multiclassing architecture that I was most familiar with. It's also a very complete package in one volume, with all the magic, monsters and rules in one book.

When Frog God released a revamped 3rd edition with the cover I think of as the "dragon lotus" image I decided to not worry about it, since I already had two copies of the Otus edition cover. However, recently I saw that the Frogs were having a Labor Day sale so I snagged a copy for half price, and now that I've had time to absorb it I have to say, it is probably the coolest looking book for an OSR title released by the Frogs and most others. If you like good aesthetics with your OSR titles, there are really only a few places to go that provide top notch art and design*....and S&W Complete 3rd is now one of those books you will want for both content and art.

I've been getting an itch to dig back in to OSR lately. If I do, it will be a tightly focused S&WC campaign, with an intent on experiencing classic old school gaming; I'm getting a little burned out on modern D&D I think, and would like a little more "bite" in my fantasy gaming, albeit without having to go to a more complex system like Mythras. S&W Complete is very good for this sort of game, when you want to play D&D but you want the PCs to be mindful of their mortality, at-will spells don't exist, and healing is a rare commodity to be doled out carefully.

*e.g. Troll Lord's full color Castles & Crusades books are very striking. Anything that Zak Smith produces is artistically high quality, stuff like that.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Cypher System Session Seven and Friday Starfinder; How One System's Style Bleeds into Another

Slidikin and other beasts from Numenera are sneaking their way in to the campaign.....there's a lot of cool stuff in Numenera, and if ever I will run a prepublished setting, it's going to be this one. I recently received my copies of Numenera: Destiny and Discovery, the massive two-volume second edition of the setting, and in a few weeks or months when I finally find the time to properly read it all and run a campaign, I suspect I will.

Until then, I have my ongoing Ensaria campaign, which is walking a fine line between classic high fantasy and weird science fantasy. This allows me to liberally borrow from sourcebooks for both Numenera and The Strange with impunity.

I don't know yet if my current obsession with Cypher System will last forever, but I have to say I think it's got some very long term prospects.

Meanwhile, Fridays have resumed with Starfinder and we had a more or less full group for once. Running Starfinder before Cypher is a good idea; I spend less time questioning why D&D-style systems have to embrace escalating damage and hit point values, and more time just playing it straight....albeit without minis lately. I'm more or less convinced right now that the best way to enjoy the overall D&D style game (or Starfinder, or anything else) as I want it, at least, is without minis.

I know not everyone agrees; on Wednesday nights, where I run my D&D ongoing Chirak campaign, the entire downstairs is filled with Adventure League games, with GMs who often go through painstaking effort to lay out terrain for carefully modulated adventures. D&D can work great that way, I am sure.....but the sorts of games I run make that really difficult, because I often have no idea what direction the players are going to go....and as such, I have to show up with loads of maps and minis to cover any possibility. Moreover, it seems inevitable that the entire pace/flow of the game changes, and not for the better I feel, when you have to start laying everything out.

So for Starfinder and D&D, although I didn't precisely call it as "short/long" range for terminology purposes, I have dramatically encouraged players to think in terms of more fluid movements. "Can I get to this guy?" is a yes/no situation with closing being more relevant to the general headspace of the story flow; it is not as important for the scenario that "PC A" have to spend two rounds moving to close for an attack than it is that he gets there and makes the attack. Doing it this way made for a better integration of combat and narrative; now only the ridiculously high hit point totals and need to land repeated blows over many rounds get in the way of a smooth experience.

That did, of course, leave me with thoughts on how I bet Starfinder could work great with a health system sort of like Savage Worlds; but even as the thought arises, I still feel like the full experience works best as intended, even if its narratively intrusive at times (well, all the time). The simple fact is, part of Starfinder's charm is watching how much damage the operator, soldier or solarian can manage to dish out in one round, so a system where total damage became more static seems...ah....counter productive to the game's spiritual intent.


Lot's of good inspiration across the board for both Cypher and Starfinder. I'll see if I can post some of it next week!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

D&D 5E: Cylovite Overlords in Chirak

Cylovite Overlord
CR 9 (5,000 XP)
CE large humanoid (living construct)
Initiative +1
AC 17 (crystalline armor)
HP 114 (12D10+48)
Resistance: fire, cold, electricity
Vulnerability: triple damage from bludgeoning attacks that deal a critical hit

Speed 30 feet
Ranged Attack – Telekinetic Slam +9 attack (up to three targets within 60 feet) 8D12+4 bludgeoning damage to each target.
STR 16 (+3), DEX 12 (+1), CON 18 (+4), INT 18 (+4), WIS 13 (+1), CHA 20 (+5)
Saves INT +8, WIS +5, CHA +9
Languages: common, cylovite, elvish, and usually 1-2 others
Senses: darkvision 60 feet, Perception +2 (passive 12)
Skills: Deception +9, Persuasion +9
Hybrid Traits: See the hybrid template. Thralls have crystal skin, structural weakness, and telepathy. Escaped thralls who are no longer part of the dominated collective gain the mental resistance trait as well.
Domination: the cylovite overlord can dominate the minds of any creature as if it were using the spell at will. DC 17 Intelligence Save to resist; once resisted, the target cannot be targeted by domination again for 24 hours. The target of this effect may roll a save at the end of each round it is dominated.
Puppeteer: once a target is dominated, the overlord may use its bonus action to dictate what the target does, using its actions as normally, but chosen by the overlord. The target is conscious of being controlled but unable to break free. If an overlord dominates more than one target the others will stand by immobile while the bonus action controls one at a time.
Parasitic Eggs: Overlords can produce 1D12 crystalline eggs per month. A dominated target can be implanted with crystite “eggs” as an action. This deals 2D6 piercing damage. An unwilling target may make a Constitution Save, DC 17, to resist the implanting of eggs. Once implanted an egg will “hatch” and convert the target in to a hybrid within 24 hours. Removal of the egg required difficult surgery (Medicine check DC 18) and deals 4D6 slashing damage in the process.
Levitation: The overlord is perpetually levitating. This ability allows the overlord to move both horizontally and vertically at a constant, silent speed, and makes it immune to trip attacks or knockdowns.
Telekinesis: Overlords move objects of up to 250 lbs. by telekinesis, with a radius of 180 feet. This effect requires an action.
Crystalline Armor Bodies: This armor provides protection across the overlord’s body, and grants resistance to cold, fire and electricity. Overlords are entirely made of crystal, and are subject to damage from spells that target inanimate objects. Bludgeoning weapons that strike an overlord with a critical hit do triple damage.
Induce Fearlessness: When within 120 feet of an overlord, hybrid thralls and commanders are immune to fear effects.

   Overlords look like large, oddly formed crystalline statues that travel by levitation. It is speculated that this is the end stage growth of a hybrid after decades of service, but others think the overlord is a unique entity. They have stubby head-like growths with glowing gems for eyes (usually a dozen or more). They seem to have no other appendages, relying entirely on their telekinesis to manipulate objects around them.
   Overlords like to use their thrall minions and commanders to overwhelm a series of targets. Once restrained, in injects its crystal eggs in to those targets, to implant the seeds of a new thrall in to them. Overlords are driven by an obsessive need to acquire and protect territory and thralls. They rarely get along well with others of their kind, despite an understanding of their need to cooperate, and so the Cylovites have not become a dominant force in the world….yet!

Option: Overlord Spellcasters

Some overlords learn magic, and become quite adept at it. These tend to be level 9 spellcasters of CR 10 (5,900 XP), with the following spells ready:

Cantrips: blade ward, chill touch, mending, minor illusion
Level 1 Spells (4/day): charm person, color spray, sleep, Tasha’s Hideous Laughter
Level 2 Spells (3/day): crown of madness, detect thoughts, mirror image
Level 3 Spells (3/day): fear, lightning bolt, nondetection
Level 4 Spells (2/day): confusion, phantasmal killer
Level 5 Spells (1/day): hold monster

Legendary Actions:
The most powerful overlords gain 3 legendary action points to use during battle and are worth CR 11 (7,200 XP). They may commit to the following actions:
Greater Slam (2): As per the Telekinetic Slam, but targets all foes within 120 feet.
Instant Domination (1): use the domination effect immediately.
Control Second Dominated Target (1): if more than one target is dominated, the overlord may spend this point to gain a second bonus action to control the target.

Monday, September 3, 2018

D&D 5E: Cylovite Hybrid Thralls in Chirak

Next up: the new stat blocks for cylovites. These weird abominations have only featured in a couple campaigns, and occasionally as roaming NPCs, but they are still a distinctly unique monster to the Chirak landscape:

   Cylovite Overlords are a villainous species created out of the Apocalypse. Some appear humanoid but they can be grown in any number of shapes and sizes. Cylovite Overseers are rare, and take a century of gestation to grow to a small sized being, during which they are like curious infants. Another century will pass before they become medium sized, at which time their mature personality and inimical sense of evil reasoning against biological beings arises. Cylovite Overlords can breed but once in a two century period, creating two or three offspring when they do, through an asexual process. They can, however, create up to one hundred parasitic crystals a year to create hybrids. More about hybrids can be found in the New Races section as possible player characters.


   Cylovites come from the Blasted Lands to the west, where rumors abound of an “ancient empire immersed within the mountainous, craggy expanses ruled by these strange crystalline beings, where humans are, the lowest sort of slave fodder imaginable.” On very rare occasions, a cylovites has been encountered outside of these lands, but are immediately destroyed by any and all who encounter it. The myths of the apocalypse tell of the cylovites having a definite relationship to the end of the world, being harbingers who arrived just weeks before the great cataclysm.
   Humans and demihumans who dwell in the regions of the Cylovite-controlled blasted lands may be chosen as player characters. Specific details can be found in the entry on the Crystite Kingdom, but these player characters will also be very rare, and a bit of a challenge to play. Cylovite Thralls are permanently altered by parasitic attachments that make them innately subordinate to the Cylovite Overlords, and as such, player characters of this species must get very far away from the telepathic control of their masters to function normally. It is said that a special concoction created from the mandragora root, when applied to the parasitic attachment, will subdue the entity sufficiently that the host thrall can move freely and think on his own without interference for a time, usually a few hours. It is suspected that some rare escaped thralls have used this method to gain freedom, fleeing to the farthest corners of the world to escape their oppressive masters.   A Cylovite Hybrid is any biological living being implanted with a Parasitic Crystal. The crystal covers the subject over a week long period like a crystalline suit of armor or a mesh of crystal muscles and skin, and bonds with the subject's nervous system. A prospective host must make three saves (one per hour after initial infection) to survive the process and reject the bonding crystal parasite. If the host fails three saves before making three successes, then he or she has become a hybrid.
   All other mental elements of the host remain the same, but the hybrid's original personality will change by one factor toward the implanting overlord's own disposition (i.e. a pacifistic servant of Laddaskar with an overlord master who is a violent and evil being will now either lose his pacifism or become a simpering coward as well.) As such, the base alignment of the hybrid usually shifts one level closer to the overlord's. For example, a chaotic evil overlord would cause a thrall who was lawful good to become lawful evil or chaotic good. Which step happens can be randomized, though the likeliest alignment shift will always be that which makes the thrall most agreeable to the overlord's wishes.
   Willing hybrids are often the source of soldiers and enforcers in the Crystite Kingdom. Unwilling hybrids become fodder, cheap labor, or are (if especially resistant) thrown in to the gladiatorial pits.

   Escaped cylovite thralls are usually humans or other humanoids. This racial entry serves as a template; apply it to another race of your choice (usually human, Halfling, elf, dwarf or tiefling, although shapeshifters and constructs are excluded) to create your escaped thrall.

Cylovite Thrall Template
Cylovites can infect and transform any living creature. To convert an existing creature into a cylovite hybrid, apply the following additional features to an existing creature’s stat block:
Cylovite Language: the newly infected hybrid gains the ability to speak and understand cylovite.
Crystal Skin: Cylovite thralls grow thick, crystalline masses all over their bodies. They gain resistance against fire, cold and electricity. In addition, hybrids become AC 15 unless the base creature has a higher AC thanks to the crystalline growth.
Structural Weakness: Anyone choosing to target the crystalline nodes along the head, neck and back of a hybrid may attempt to do so with an attack at disadvantage; success renders the hybrid vulnerable to the attack, causing double damage as if it were a critical hit. Most creatures are unfamiliar with cylovite hybrids and are unaware of this weakness; a DC 16 nature check may reveal the knowledge, or first-hand or relayed prior experience. 
Telepathy: Hybrids are telepathic, and can communicate with other beings mentally within 1 mile, and up to a distance of 10 miles with a Cylovite overlord. This ability is two way with the Hybrid only, and is a free action that targets one person. It functions for practical purposes like the read thoughts spell.
Mental Resistance: Escaped Hybrids develop a tough defense against mental effects, and gain advantage when saving vs. charm and mind-affecting spells and abilities. Unless special arrangements are made, PC hybrids are all assumed to have escaped captivity and control prior to beginning play.

Cylovite Human Hybrid Thrall
CR 1/2 (100 XP)
CE medium humanoid (human)
Initiative +1
AC 15 (crystalline armor)
HP 19 (3D8+6)
Resistance: fire, cold, electricity
Vulnerability: structural weakness (see template)
Speed 30 feet
Multiattack Thralls are able to make any combination of two short spear or fist attacks per round.
Melee Attack – short spear +4 attack (5 foot reach) 1D6+2 piercing damage
Melee Attack – fists +4 attack (5 foot reach) 1D4+2 bludgeoning damage
STR 14 (+2), DEX 12 (+1), CON 15 (+2), INT 10 (0), WIS 13 (+1), CHA 11 (0)
Languages: common, cylovite
Senses: Perception +1 (passive 11)
Skills: Athletics +4
Hybrid Traits: See the hybrid template. Thralls have crystal skin, structural weakness, and telepathy. Escaped thralls who are no longer part of the dominated collective gain the mental resistance trait as well.

  Thralls form the parasitically dominated armies of the Cylovites. They commonly use group tactics to overwhelm foes, surrounding and beating them down into submission so that the overlord can implant the new subject with a parasitic crystal.
   Some individual thralls prove to be exceptional warriors and quickly rise in rank, being noticed by their overlords. Those special thralls are elevated in purpose and become hybrid commanders, who usually lead the lesser thralls in to battle.

Cylovite Human Hybrid Commander
CR 3 (700 XP)
CE medium humanoid (human)
Initiative +1
AC 18 (full plate and crystalline armor)
HP 52 (7D8+21)
Resistance: fire, cold, electricity
Vulnerability: structural weakness (see template)
Speed 30 feet
Multiattack Commanders may make three attacks per round.
Melee Attack – great sword +7 attack (5 foot reach) 2D6+3 piercing damage
Melee Attack – fists +6 attack (5 foot reach) 1D4+3 bludgeoning damage
Ranged Attack – long bow +4 attack (Range 60/120) 1D8+1 piercing damage
STR 16 (+3), DEX 12 (+1), CON 17 (+3), INT 10 (0), WIS 13 (+1), CHA 11 (0)
Languages: common, cylovite
Senses: Perception +2 (passive 12)
Skills: Athletics +6
Hybrid Traits: See the hybrid template. Thralls have crystal skin, structural weakness, and telepathy. Escaped thralls who are no longer part of the dominated collective gain the mental resistance trait as well.
Uncanny Horsemanship:  Thrall commanders who use a war horse in combat are usually linked to the hybrid thrall horse, a parasitic cylovite link, allows him to instantaneously communicate with the horse in such a manner that he and the beast seem to move unnaturally together. Any proficiency checks for mounted combat are at advantage.

   Thrall commanders are usually armed with magical great swords +1, mounted on a war horse, and have a keen sense of tactics in commanding their lesser troops.

Cylovite War Horse Hybrid Thrall
CR 1/2 (100 XP)
CE medium humanoid (human)
Initiative +1
AC 15 (crystalline armor)
HP 19 (3D10+3)
Resistance: fire, cold, electricity
Vulnerability: structural weakness (see template)
Speed 60 feet
Melee Attack – hooves +6 attack (5 foot reach) 2D6+4 bludgeoning damage
STR 18 (+4), DEX 12 (+1), CON 13 (+1), INT 2 (-4), WIS 12 (+1), CHA 7 (-2)
Languages: none
Senses: Perception +1 (passive 11)
Hybrid Traits: See the hybrid template. Thralls have crystal skin, structural weakness, and telepathy. Escaped thralls who are no longer part of the dominated collective gain the mental resistance trait as well.
Trampling Charge: as per Warhorse, MM.
Mental Link: a hybrid horse can mentally bind with a hybrid rider. This grants advantage on all horsemanship related proficiency checks.
Fearless: hybrid warhorses are immune to fear effects.

Trained warhorses serve cylovite thrall commanders obediently and without fear thanks to their crystalline telepathic bond.