Friday, May 31, 2019

Film Review - Godzilla: King of the Monsters (channeling the 8 year old spirit in us all)

This review can be mercifully short: Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a fun and brainless summer blockbuster. If you have kids this movie is going to be their favorite film, ever. Yes, they said the same thing about other recent movies, but they probably really meant it with this one.

My seven and a half year old paid close attention to this movie with an almost religious fervor, tapping my shoulder to whisper arcane facts he had divined about Godzilla (mostly from youtube, I think). And nope, it has never occurred to him that dad might have even more facts lingering in the brain from an era forty years ago when I, too, was 8 years old and stayed up until late night to watch grainy black and white Godzilla films on the local free TV station that actually broadcast where I lived in the desert.

Really, he's not wrong: this is the best movie ever if you're eight years old. It's a fun movie if you're the dad of one of those (or in that numeric ballpark) too, but it's maybe not as interesting a movie as, say, John Wick 3: Parabellum was for me the week prior. I took my son to a matinee of that one as well (yes it's R but the violence in John Wick is ridiculously's all about the endless fight choreography). As my son said in that movie with a certain glee at the end, "This is a film for action fans" and he was totally right.

Well, Godzilla is a film for a different kind of action fan....and like John Wick the Godzilla film's plot is mostly a plodding affair designed to string the action sequences together. But unlike John Wick, Godzilla KOTM doesn't quite deliver with its range of pulpy fifties-era characters in terms of the "I care about these people" component. Or, to be more accurate....this film delivers faithfully on its source material, which might be the main problem.

When you go back and watch all the old giant monster movies, it's painfully clear that the very definition of a B movie was formulated in no small part by these films. B movies have cheesy plots, crazy nonsense like guys in rubber monster suits, and a cast of characters in their story that you could give a "meh" about because they're just there to soak up precious film time for when the rubber monster suits arrive.

The new movie is an excellent adaptation of exactly that formula. There are few sympathetic characters in this film, and their plot arcs are ridiculously thin. The movie does convey a not so subtle warning about people who are absolutely convinced through unassailable convictions that they are right, and proceed to have the tools necessary to make sure that they are right...the true villain of the movie (I'm avoiding spoilers here) is not the giant monsters, after all, but the hubris of certain humans. I guess that counts as a certain amount of least, for a movie like this, it is the right depth.

Despite having so many monsters in this film, Godzilla KOTM spends most of its time on the ground watching the humans run around. This was a bit disappointing; the use of scale in the first Godzilla movie was much better. If I had a nickel for every time a person was running while a giant monster's tail flew by overhead I'd have made my return on the movie tickets for sure.

Okay, all musings aside this is a fun movie though maybe not "full box office price fun" by any stretch. I wouldn't advise catching it without a dedicated kid or two at your side, though....their enjoyment of the movie will be much more satisfying.

I feel like this movie should be rated "B" for its B-movie faithfulness, but in terms of overall quality I gotta go with a solid "C." Enjoy it! With the right crowd.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The In-Universe Reason for Starfinder Gear Level Mechanic

In a thread over on Paizo's blogs people were talking about the weird issue of equipment and levels in Starfinder. The problem is one of framing: Starfinder Core basically says that anyone can use any equipment, but they should normally only have access to gear within 1 level of their current class level of experience. They then leave it up to the GM if they want to break this rule. The core book doesn't provide a ton of reasoning behind this that you can use in-game to explain equipment cost/scarcity, however. Anyway, I posted on the forum over there and then thought it was also worth sharing my ideas here on the blog, too....

I initially (and for quite a while) had issues with the way equipment works in Starfinder, and wondered why the  forced level mechanic wasn't instead simplified, and the "damage" regulated to class advancement instead. I eventually realized that the Starfinder equipment system has a certain amount of brilliance* in it, as the system covers the following ideas (and you can use them as in-game reasons) exceedingly well:

Artificial or Forced Scarcity - this is a universe where combat, adventurers, mercenaries and explorers are the norm; an industry around specialized, advanced and prestige level weapons will rapidly form to take advantage of that and milk the space-mercs for their hard won cash.

Industrial but also Curated and Unique - there is little to suggest that many of these weapons aren't being meticulously hand-crafted and individually modified at some level down the road; spells are enforcing and making weapons more effective, even if the weapons themselves aren't exclusively magic items. The technical side of industrialization probably makes tons of cheap weaponry for lower levels, but the really good stuff takes care and art to produce.

An Economy Driven by Adventurers - similar to the first item above, this is an economy driven largely by people who won't spend much on a fancy dress**, but they will totally splurge on a very efficient plasma cannon. Starfinder's universe is not our world; it's a place where much of the cash circulating in the economy comes from plunder, looting and hitting it big; it's a Wild West anything goes Gold Rush combined with a sci fi Gig Economy, and prestige weapons and armor feed right in to it.

Legality - this really does apply at a certain level in our own world, and it's the reason that most of us, in the US at least, might be able to afford a handgun but we can't get ahold of a light machine gun. Starfinder's trade markets are on the civilized worlds and they probably have laws in place to insure that the really deadly stuff doesn't fall into the wrong (e.g. inexperienced or criminal) hands.

Fate - the great thing about Starfinder is it's a universe with magic and gods. When players grouse that the NPCs never seem to drop high level gear (always coincidentally within 1-2 levels of their CR appropriate loads) it is worth pointing out that such is the will of the gods that the PCs never seem to get lucky and drop a skittermander with a set of level 15 storm polarity gauntlets.

None of the above covers the weird issues with starship care, maintenance and advancement as implied in Starfinder....but that is a topic for another post!

Bonus Idea: if you think Starfinder combat (well, 3rd edition combat in general) is too slow, simply make level 10 and higher weapons "standard" from level 1 and let the players have enough credits to arm themselves to the teeth....just don't forget to do the same for the NPCs! Combat will go real quick, all of a sudden.

Even if you don't do that, if your players are always complaining about not getting that sweet, sweet high tech and high level gear, drop one occasionally as a cool reward (don't tell me you've never let a +5 weapon show up in a level 5 game of Pathfinder...same principle!) ....just remember to make sure that the monster that drops it uses the thing, first! I also suggest taking full advantage of the other "in game" explanation above, and make taking such a powerful weapon on to a space station or in to port a major ordeal when all the alarms go off and the security drones come flying in.

*I still think it could have been done differently, and I think the level-pacing on adancement is too tight; a PC who gets a weapon 3-4 levels higher than they currently are really does unbalance the game, I can say from experience. This is probably not optimal design. I think, to contrast, that Advent Horizon shows how to do this sort of thing well, but in Starfinder's defense it doesn't benefit from the Bounded Accuracy mechanic that AH and D&D 5E use, so work with what you got, not what you want, I guess.....!

**But what about the Envoys, you say? We'll pay for a fancy dress with some serious protection built in! And you would be right, but in the Starfinder universe Envoys are clearly parasites in the mercenary gig economy so whatever, man! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Universal World Profile Sourcebook for Cepheus and Traveller

For many of us, particularly the grognards and the gamers who approached SF gaming from the venue of fiction rather than film, there's a consistent expectation that any good SF game will provide you with some useful world building tools, as well as a means by which you can map out your corner of the galaxy for exploration and discovery. Traveller set the bar for this expectation high very early on with a decent system for generating an infinite number of star systems and subsectors to create as large and detailed a galaxy to explore as you could want.

When Mongoose published Traveller in its "1st edition" of their new version of the game they thankfully made it OGL, and then later made the mistake of not keeping MGT2 OGL, thus splitting their market of third party support. Most third party support for Traveller continues, but under the older OGL which has been retooled into a new edition of the game called the Cepheus Engine. This iteration of Traveller is the MGT1 version from the OGL, with some additional content to flesh the game out. It's also spawned lots of new product, aimed primarily as support for Cepheus or for other SF games that could benefits from specific rules such as ship design or world building.

Enter the Universal World Profile. This book is an expansion on the basic world design rules in Cepheus and MGT1, providing more depth of discussion on what each statistic and fact means when creating a world's UWP. For those of you unfamiliar with Traveller's mechanics in world design, each planet gets a "stat block" in Traveller hexadecimal format that lets you quickly determine a planet's composition, size, atmosphere, population, government, star ports and other useful details right no down to trade codes. It was an ingenious way of codifying and making an entire galaxy a prospective explorable could get in a ship, journeying across the parsecs to theoretically endless explorable planets. A creative Traveller referee could take those stat blocks and make them really interesting, or you could play it straight and run Traveller like some sort of trade or merc-driven procedural; the core conceit was brilliant and simple, but it is the reason Traveller remains a persistent and popular RPG to this day and (almost) no one remembers games like Space Opera or Universe (except maybe for how baroque and painful they were).

Anyway, The Universal World Profile sourcebook for Cepheus (and Traveller) is a fully stand-alone resource which will give you more information on the UWP process for its core games, but also serves as a stand-alone resource for GMs who want design worlds for their own preferred SF rpg but maybe don't happen to have a very good resource for that particular game to do so. For example, while the Advent Horizon RPG actually has a nice little world designer in the rules, it's nowhere near as robust as what the UWP can offer. Starfinder has a very Pathfinder-styled section on building locations and encounters for games, but offers zero support for designing a universe to explore in a more organic fashion; it's trending (unfortunately) toward Paizo's desire to sell Adventure Paths rather than material that lets GMs do their own thing, so with a bit of additional effort (such as encounter tables for the Alien Archives) you could use the UWP to actually create some structure to your setting for players to explore.

There are other SF RPGs out there (besides the two I have been messing with a lot recently) that could benefit from a UWP system as well, although it is worth noting some games take the inspiration of the UWP and manage to do their own thing extremely well. GURPS Space has a robust (some might say "too robust") world creator. Stars Without Number, for another example, has a great world generation system that includes building plot hooks and themes in to the design. Unlike SWN however you can design your own brand of SF with the UWP and tailor it to your preferred genre requirements (SWN is great but leans heavily on its implied specific universe). The UWP only really makes the assumption that starships travel discreet distances (parsecs) and that the universe can be captured on a 2-D hex map (hand waive the third dimension). It doesn't presume aliens, but that doesn't stop you from populating every world with them. It doesn't presume technomancy or "the scream" or the idea of an Imperium but all of that can be included or assumed if you so desire.

Anyway, if you need a stand-alone resource for science fiction world building that is accessible and broad in application, check it out. Print version at Lulu, too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Character Generation in Advent Horizons

I have been messing around with Advent Horizons for the last few days....despite some strong contenders for my attention (e.g. The Traveller Companion from Mongoose which just released in print) Advent Horizon has captured my full focus.

Some details so far: AH is based on the 1.0a OGL which is the same OGL that Pathfinder 1.0 operates under, and therefore allows AH to be a complete rules system, as I am reasonably sure the D&D SRD for 5th edition is more limiting in this regard. The book directly mentions Dungeons & Dragons compatibility by name on more than one occasion, which is something I had thought was not permitted, but maybe I'm just assuming that because so many other products just mention it as "The World's Greatest Fantasy Game" or something OGL-fu is a bit rusty here.

As a result, some parts (not many, but enough) of AH feel like 3rd edition thematics wedded to a 5th edition chassis. This actually works, because while the 3rd edition elements add some variables, they do not change the core design conceit, which was to make sure the game's numbers and math matched the bounded accuracy mechanics of D&D 5E. As a result, while a character in AH will look a bit different (and have more stuff, to be honest) than a 5E character, it will remain fully compatible from a numbers and stats point of view.

One example of these older approaches, now revamped and wedded to 5E mechanics, include proficiency slots as a purchase-mechanic for both skills and feats. By adding a point-buy mechanic to skills, and re-adding in "simpler" feats which are also purchased with the same points, you bring a level of design granularity (along with potential design pitfalls and peaks) that is more common in 3rd edition. However it is tempered with the mechanical consistency of 5E, so you do not see issues such as stacking effects and obvious out-of-control of immediately preferable build options getting in your way. Personally, I love what it is doing here....I wish 5E had a rules option similar to this, actually. But I love games with greater emphasis on skill mechanics.

So character generation is pretty straight forward and anyone who has played 5E D&D will know most of the steps. It deviates a bit...and I'll show how and where as I walk through the steps as follows:

1. Basic stuff first. Attributes can be rolled (they default to 2D6+6 for each stat) or point-buy purchased, using a variant method that is not like the standard 5E mechanic (probably for OGL reasons). You also get to pick a species and class, familiar stuff. Of note: the system defaults to metric, which is fine with me, but it has a couple interesting implications for those who are going to blend content with D&D 5E, and AH includes some conversion tables for ease of reference. I'll also note that so far my reading on AH suggests it does not expect much tabletop map/minis will be going on, and the game seems to assume more focus on TotM style combats. I am still ploughing through combat and the additional environmental rules so will confirm that in the next blog post, though.

2. Species. The species all look fairly consistent with 5E standards, and include the following choices:
--The Ba'alur, a warlike draconian race of reptiles that advanced to space through stolen or restored tech
--Colonials, the standard humans, who can pick special traits based on their type of homeworld
--Ephari, mysterious "gray" like aliens who dwell on world ships
--Empyreans, a humanlike race of transgenics
--Ixaxians, the obligatory insectoid race with the ability to communicate via radio frequencies and a penchant for technology
--Seyvul, the obligatory mischievous race that is basically a species of Rocket Raccoons
--Thothid, the totally-not-Mind Flayer species warped by strange beings of Cthulhuian origin; like mind flayers, but with wings! (Actually I love this species as presented)
--Urroru, bulky four-limbed totally-not-Tharks (hey, Starfinder has like 3 of these!) who have a  introspective warrior culture
--Xhu Akreen, an ancient race of blue skinned human-like aliens of a fallen empire

So, some good and iconic choices. All are well illustrated, too. The book looks like it would be fantastic to see in full color, but alas the Barnes & Noble edition I purchased is a black and white soft cover only.

3. Classes. Classes are varied and all built on the design principles of 5E, so they balance together (so far, I am still rolling samples PCs of each class to look for oddities). I've designed a few PCs so far though, and all look damned interesting and fun to play. The classes include:
--Agent, an espionage themed class
--Combat Specialist, the warrior themed class
--Diplomat, the negotiator class
--Explorer, a scientist/adventurer class
--Insurgent, a guerilla combatant (maybe closer to the Starfinder Operator, thematically)
--Marshal, a commander-type (think warlord) class
--Science Specialist, a skill focused academic
--Spacer, an "EVA and Zero-Gravity" specialist
--Spiritualist, a spiritual/religious themed class using akashic knowledge as its theme
--Tactician, a manipulator/operator type
--Technophile, the engineer/technologist type

Although each class follows the class design principles of 5E, they do deviate in two ways: each class at level 1 is front-loaded with four key abilities as a package they get, but none of the classes have standard D&D archetypes of any sort built in by level 3. Instead, some have a range of specific options (the combat specialist gets some soldier specializations to pick from), others give you abilities you pick over time ("spycrafts" for agents, for example), and still others either get nothing specific like this (single ability choices) or make a theme choice earlier (such as science specialists choosing their focus at level 1).  There is a reason for this, it turns out, and this is where AH varies from traditional 5E approaches to design by using proficiency slots to flesh out characters. Finally, you can multiclass in rules which are recognizable to anyone who's played a 3rd edition version of D&D (but it works fine).

4. Backgrounds: Education and Professions. Every character picks from several choices to build their background, allowing for a range of flexible design options. Backgrounds are composed of:
--Education: grants a skill or two and a personality trait based on the type of educational background you have.
--Profession: your career path, which doesn't have to be tied to class necessarily (so a combat specialist who was also an artist is perfectly acceptable). This grants a couple skills and potential reputation and credit boost, as well as an ideal.
--Events: this portion of your background details something that happens to you, as well as the trinket (momento) of your experience and the flaw you gained from that event.

AH also uses something it calls the Axis Alignment, which is a series of descriptors you can pick from to give your character a defining personality focus. The options listed include methodical, analytical, reasonable, passive, zen, passionate, impulsive, zealous, and unaligned. Inspiration rules are also stuck here.

5. Proficiency Slots. Every class grants around 14-16 slots, plus you will gain some free skills due to class as well as possibly your species and later background and profession choices. I found that this meant, on average, you could end up with around 4-6 free skills, plus your points to spend, plus your intelligence modifier in bonus slots.

The system AH uses is based on skill trees: you buy the initial skill in the tree, which opens up basic knowledge of later skills, but you only add your proficiency bonus to skills you have actual training in. For example, if you know Perception as a skill you can use it to make observational checks, but you need to spend another point to also get danger sense, which lets you observe threats you might not notice without actively searching (e.g. passive perception alone won't spot a hidden trap, but danger sense will prompt a roll even if you weren't looking for it).

Proficiency slots/points are a 1:1 cost, and you must have the requisite skills/feats along a skill tree before spending on later items in the same tree. Most of the skill trees have at least 3 layers of depth and multiple forking branches, so in fact there are a lot of things to spend points on. Interestingly, the trees include both standard skills and feats. Feats in AH are not the "deluxe package" feats of D&D 5E, however, and each one usually delivers 1 distinct ability you can use; under this mechanic, a skill is a thing you roll on, and a feat is a thing that gives you a mechanical feature or effect.

My initial thought here was, "this seems like a lot of points to spend at level 1." And it is, from a certain perspective, but most classes then go about giving you a grand total of 12 additional feat points over the next 20 levels of your career (6 for general leveling and 6 for the class; another 3rd edition element). By level 20, assuming a smart character (INT 20) in a class that starts you with 16 slots, you can have a maximum of  33 proficiency slots spent, of which around 19 were spent at level 1. I count at least 154 skill tree choices to pick from plus 14 tool proficiency skills and a bunch of racial proficiencies, and of those quite a few can be taken multiple times for additional effects/ there are a lot of choices here.

The result of this is that level 1 characters in AH are front loaded with a range of interesting skills and abilities, but then progress more slowly in their long term career. This is offset by the fact that at level 1 most characters can be dropped or even killed by one good hit from almost any handgun in the game, so characters with greater expertise don't seem so out of balance against the threat level of the galaxy.

In my experiments with character design I've looked at an array of interesting choices, from an insurgent archer from a primitive world who kills with melee attacks to a sharp-shooting survivalist scientist to a combat specialist who secretly wanted to be a retired artist. You can make a lot of interesting characters here. I'll try posting some of the characters I've rolled soon.

I have found no feat or ability so far that raised my eyebrows in question of its power level ot utility, so far. I do however imagine with a point buy system like this that some players may find ways to game it a bit, or even find odd synergies. I won't likely see any of these (if they exist) until I see what my table rolls up, though.

6. Reputation and Credit. The last bits of character generation are a Reputation Score (another 3rd edition mechanic) which is basically your "bonus to influence" on DCs, and the Credit Score which is what the game uses in lieu of tracking actual cash. This mechanic can work just can see a version of it from the old days in D20 Modern, and it's not unlike the credit rating in Call of Cthulhu, but since all purchases are made with this it can mean a lot of die-rolling when time comes to spend. You can gain credit as a reward or lose it to influence advantage on checks, too. It's a solid mechanic. Not my preferred method (I like counting cash) but it expediently focuses the game on a broader range of topics for play than just acquiring specific amounts of filthy lucre.

So far, I am really enjoying the flexibility and range of options in character generation in AH. I'll be honest....I've been so enamoured with this game's design that I've convinced my group we must try it ASAP and also ordered a second table copy through Barnes & Noble (here) for play.

I'll talk more about Combat and the other mechanics next, and post some sample PCs soon!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Top Articles on Realms of Chirak

Every now and then I like to look at the Google metrics and see what's getting the most attention. Here then is the Top Ten Posts of All Time currently on Realms of Chirak along with my comments on why each article garners so much attention:

1. The 5E Minotaur as a Character Race (3,429 hits)
--I continue to be amazed this sits at the top. It's a write-up of the MM minotaur as a character option, which means you can best use it for class-stated minotaur foes, or if you're not too worried about how OP the minotaur is you can open it up to players. That said, there's an official minotaur option out there, so I can't see much need for this variant now.

2. Shifting From Pathfinder to D&D 5th Edition in 2014? (2,334 hits)
--A lot of people made this leap, around this time, and I find it telling that two of my top ten articles relate to the conversion from Pathfinder to 5E. Makes me wonder about how well Pathfinder 2.0 will do later this summer....I plan on buying all the books, so I guess I'll get to let you know!

3. Ages of Lingusia: The Death Gods (2,224 hits)
--Either people need lots of death gods, or the enigmatic illustration I linked to is highly prized (it's a great illustration).

4. The Many Days of Horror: Return of the Living Dead (NSFW) (2,153 hits)
--The doubling in hits is totally due to my engaging commentary on this zombie classic, and totally not about the nude zombie Linnea Quigley pics in the article.

5. The Super Quick and Dirty Pathfinder Monster Conversion for 5E (1,436 hits)
--Back in 2015 we were still waiting for monster manuals, so converting Pathfinder monsters was often our only option for some beasts not yet documented in 5E. Today...we're drowning in good monster manuals!

6. Tales of the Cannadad Dei: Sabiri Tattoos (1,317 hits)
--I'd like to think there's a compelling interest in Sabiri and their skin-etched tattoo magic, but I think it's really just the linked Luis Royo image. I picked that image because it was the inspiration for my first games set in the Sabiri lands.

7. Halloween Countdown Finale: Dooooooooom! (1,287 hits)
--Just pictures in this post, so presumably more than a few hits from people looking for certain artists or images.

8. Five Things I'm Not Going to Miss About Pathfinder (1,260 hits)
--I think back in 2013-2014 I was not alone among gamers who decided that it was time to take a more or less permanent break from Pathfinder and embrace D&D 5E. I may be having fun with Pathfinder (and Starfinder) these days, but it is with a much more casual and limited approach; 5E made it hard for a lot of us to go back to needlessly more complicated iterations of D20.

9. D&D 5E Updates: The Mohrg (1,170 hits)
--At the time I posted this article no published tome (neither 3PP nor WotC) had stats for the Mohrg, a creature I think is quite popular (or maybe it's just me).

10. Resident Evil 6: The Leon Kennedy Campaign (1,144 hits)
--I'd like to believe it was my entertaining and witty description of this preposterous game's campaign but if the above observations have validity then let's be honest, it's probably Deborah's image.

Bonus: My most accessed Index Page is the Realms or Chirak 5E Index Page which is not surprising, I suppose. The least accessed is my Fantasy AGE Resource page, which is also not surprising, given my mixed feelings about that system and repeated attempts to get in to it, followed by hard crash and burn events.

The Moral of the Story: Use more evocative art, post more NSFW content and wax philosophical on the cons of Pathfinder vs. the Pros of D&D 5E! Or maybe not....I'll just keep doing whatever I feel like instead... ;-)

The top ten list is always interesting because, on average, I may have around 200-300 active browsers who frequent this site regularly, people who maybe have book-marked RoC and like to visit every now and then (and yes, it used to be higher, but as is true with all internet content, when the content slows down people go away). That means that this top ten list shows a lot less about what active blog readers are looking at and what Google's search engine refers people to. Or, put another way, it is likelier showing what people are interested in that by accident coincides with some of the content on my site.

There are probably secondary sources...I run into occasional links to Reddit threads addressing something on my site,* for example (I don't frequent Reddit, have an account, or even try to go there except when a link takes me to one of the threads). There may be other links I am unaware of. But most of these top ten are definitely because people:

...need minotaur PC stats fast, are having a breakup with Pathfinder, need mohrg stats fast, like Luis Royo, like Linnea Quigley, like Return of the Living Dead, like that cool death god image, maybe like death gods, like apocalyptic images, and maybe, just maybe, liked my rip on Resident Evil 6!

*Example: when I started looking for 5E-powered SF RPGs recently I first looked in to Hyperlanes again, to see if issues I had with it had been addressed ever, or if new content was out. I found precious little, and wondering if I was the only one who had been bothered by the way the classes in Hyperlanes (but not the monsters, I will note) dropped iterative attacks and escalating damage as a core design feature of 5E, I did some searching....and ironically that searching brought me back to a Reddit article discussing this and using my own RoC blog post as a reference for the discussion point. Oroborous of the internet!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Advent Chronicles RPG - a Full 5E-based Science Fiction Game Done RIght

I stumbled across this completely by accident, unfortunately. I say that because this is a really nice RPG, well designed and filling a much-needed niche: Advent Horizons, an SF RPG powered by 5E mechanics under the OGL. We've needed this for a while, and so far no third party publisher has quite gotten this right.

My quest started with the idea that sometimes (like, every other session) I find myself too exhausted from the day to think about running Starfinder. Starfinder is cool, but my resolve to enjoy the game occasionally falters with a series of tried and true D20-isms: "I would love to play this game tonight, but the thought of a 3 hour combat, 45 minutes of rules look up and debate, and 15 minutes of plot" sometimes gets to me. It's not totally as bad as that.....but it can be. And combat can take longer than needed anytime you bring out the maps and pawns, a thing which feels necessary with Pathfinder/Starfinder games.

Sometimes, also, I concede that there are moments where I just can't imagine exactly what is going on in the Starfinder universe. Sure, sometimes I have moments where I grokk it.....but then, other times, I want to play a science fiction game, with the known rules of science fiction using a D&D-like D20 system, and not a fantasy game with science fiction trappings. This is tough, because I think aesthetically Starfinder has a lot going for it....but it's not SF, you know what I mean? Starfinder's a universe where you don't need to (or want to) ask how or why Drift Drives work. Sometimes...well, a lot of the time....I want to play an SF game where stuff like that matters.

Anyway....I also wanted to grab a copy of Legendary Games' Alien Bestiary for 5E, which is an awesome book (I have the Starfinder version). Unfortunately I have no "SF sourcebook" to go with it, to make the monsters useful. I had tried Hyperlanes back a while ago and wrote a bit about it here, and concluded that the game was well developed in certain spots, but the mechanical underpinnings and understanding of 5E in Hyperlanes was woefully inadequate. It had some brilliant bits....but the whole package was falling short in important places.

So yes, I went trowelling through the listings at (hey, anyone else notice the site is working again?) and eventually discovered this incredibly under-played, low key "Advent Horizon RPG." Even more, it apparently had a print version through Barnes & Noble's site....unusual, but what the heck...I bought the PDF, then soon thereafter ordered a print copy.

Advent Horizon RPG is the actual SF RPG I've been looking for. While it's not generically designed for GMs to insert their own settings in to, it provides all the material you would need to run it as you see fit (much like how while Traveller makes no effort to hide the Imperium, you can certainly ignore it and do your own thing).

Advent Horizons met these important markers for me:
1. Inspired setting, interesting races and classes
2. Robust equipment; talks about augments/cybernetics and important SF elements
3. Focuses on a hard SF to space opera range, but is not "magic in space"
4. Easy to understand ship and space combat rules
5. It makes the default D&D 5E skill system much more robust for a SF setting
6. The designers understand the D&D 5E mechanics and built their system around this concept, making it properly compatible with other 5E content if desired
7. It's a pretty package (black and white in print, but looks good)

I'll do a proper review very soon, but I wanted to get the word out on this ASAP, because I don't think enough people out there who want this game know it exists yet. Check it out!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Medieval Fantasy Town Generator

If you need a town map fast, this is an amazing tool. Check it out can create an infinite number of fantasy towns and cities for your campaign in seconds, really quite amazing! Here's a sample:

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Lots of Good Gaming Again - D&D is Back!

Well, after taking a break for several months from D&D I am back. Today we needed a one-shot game for Saturday night, with half the group out we didn't want the Cypher System game proceeding without all hands on deck, if you will. So....I thought, a one shot is a perfect way to see how I feel about trying D&D out again....!

And as it turns out, the time was right. We had a good time, I got to test out my campaign idea in a microcosm (more on what I am doing in another post) and all went well. Most importantly: we all had fun, and I had a lot of fun. It was nice to be back again.

Although I am running a "fantasy game" in Cypher System, my setting of Ensaria is very much leaning deep into the trenches of fantasy science that Cypher handles so well. So a D&D campaign will be a welcome change of pace, because in D&D it is perfectly safe to assume that "magic is really magic," and not actually future tech so amazing its indistinguishable from magic. Both styles have their merits....and I look forward to being able to go back to D&D with a fresh appreciation for the style.

So....the question now is, when to get more D&D in? I'm not going to rush it just now, but I might suggest it as the next game after we all need a break from Cypher System or Starfinder. We'll see....for now, I'll keep it ready for the one-shots and filler games, and build up to a proposal soon. In the meantime, I am working on a "Chirak in Antiquity" Era campaign which does for Chirak what my Ages of Lingusia expansions on my other home setting have done...allow me to explore the word in different time periods with the most interesting "stuff." I look forward to this exploration.