Thursday, July 30, 2009

Epic sandboxery

Here's a simple formula for an epic sandbox campaign. Start out with zero experience characters and play through an intro module or two, Keep on the Borderlands or something like. Add to the treasure vault of one of the most badass critters in the module the first section of the Rod of Seven Parts (stats for which can be found in Eldritch Wizardry, but I like the associated fluff in the 1st edition DMG better). We're going to cheat and only slip the Rod into the loot when the PCs find it.

Once the PCs have the Rod in their possession have an Elminster type show up and give them the bad news: they are the Chosen Ones. It is their job to reassemble the Rod to prevent the return of the Wind Dukes of Aaqa. The Wind Dukes created the Rod and only one of their own devices can be used to thwart their return. Most of the ancient sources depict these guys as angelic friendlies who used the Rod to save the world from the forces of Chaos. When they return they are to usher in a new golden age of purity and light.

They did turn back the Chaos, but in human terms these Masters of Law are just as dickish as the Abyssal Hordes they fought. To the Wind Dukes the idea of a perfect Prime Material Plane does not include such a corrupt concept as "matter". That foretold "purity and light" stuff was a literal description of their goal. They plan to burn the whole damn universe down to its subatomic components in the name of winning the Cosmic War on Chaos.

As the GM, all you need is a sandbox to drop the rest of the pieces of the Rod into. The rest of the campaign practically writes itself. If you've got Points of Light and Points of Light II (which you should totally own if you don't), just place each of five segments of the Rod in Wildland, Southland, Borderland, the Golden Shores, Amacui, and/or the Misty Isles. Put the last piece in Acheron or that awesome hell-volcano in the second volume. You could even roll dice for placement. If the Rod segment lands in an otherwise empty hex, build a dungeon around it. The net is lousy with free dungeons that could be pressed into service for such uses.

Or you can use the Wilderlands of High Fantasy for this campaign, if you've got a copy. Just roll a d20 for each Rod segment to find out what map to put it on. Map 19 can be found in Fight On! #3. If you roll a 20 I suggest placing the Rod segment somewhere in the City-State of the Invincible Overlord. If you're crazy, use a Traveller sandbox like the Spinward Marches or the whole dang setting and run the campaign in the Encounter Critical style, using EC or Rifts or something as your system.

For added fun, build a couple of rival NPC parties trying to get the Rod away from the PCs, one of Lawful-type Wind Duke sympathizers and one party serving Chaos. If a decent parlay can be arranged either group might be convinced to help the party, since the Wind Dukians probably don't realize how screwed they are if their side wins and the Chaos side's primary goal is the same as the PCs.

Once the PCs have the whole Rod, they have to rush to some apparently random point on the map where they can seal the portal between the Wind Dukes' realm and the Prime Material. If the PCs drag their feet, set a few minor Dukes (i.e. Godzilla-level threats) loose to stomp around the campaign world like the Vorlons in the fourth season of Babylon 5. They will, of course, attempt to burn down all the nice places the PCs have visited in their travels.

Mutant Future session #3

Last night Carl, Dane and Wheelz all started new characters, since at the end of the previous session the entire party was blow'd up by an android with a grenade launcher. I don’t have the charsheets in front of me as I type this, but Wheelz made a mutant humanoid named Zat who was blind yet possessed the ability to manipulate light waves. Carl played Fruity, a mutant tree with oranges that were actually grenades he could lob. And Dane played Pungent Shamblestump, a plant with both good and bad pheromones (one scent tended to incite people to violence towards him, the other acted as a sort of charm person ability). Pungent also possesses a form of mutational lycanthropy, allowing him to transform into a giant two-headed ant with a poison stinger.

We were joined by Gameblog reader Infamous Jum, who drove all the way from Valparaiso for some mutant mayhem. So of course he was the first and only casualty of the evening. His first PC was a mutant humanoid named Jonagar Throgus, who possessed psionic flight and a Black Canary style sonic scream attack. I thought Jonagar was going to buy the farm when he flew up to the giant mutant spider in the first encounter. The spider promptly entangled him in webbing and drew the poor guy towards his poisonous maw. Fortunately, Fruity’s citrus grenades killed the spider slightly more than it killed Jonagar. Later the J-man volunteered to scout out a strange haziness in the air ahead of the party. It was a rad zone. He died. Death comes that easily in the irradiated doomscape of Mutant Future.

Jum’s replacement PC is Thorny Bill, a giant walking rose with a scary face painted on one of his petals. Jum wanted non-plants to have a reference point for communication purposes, but he didn’t want them to assume that such communications would be pleasant. Brilliant.

So the theme of the evening’s adventure was a continuation of the previous two sessions: the water merchants have stopped coming to the village of Esperanza and the PCs must do something about it. Since the party sent to explore the settlement on Poison River never returned, it was decided that another group should cross the Crunchy Desert in search of the water merchants’ home base. Play began on the far side of the desert, the PCs canteens empty and food supplies almost exhausted. The first pond they found was next to the home of the spider mentioned above. I was a little surprised that no one checked out the webbed up tree for treasure. They would have found the egg sac and a shoebox containing some Reagan pennies (i.e. copper pieces).

Speaking of coins, the village elders had given the party a supply of cash for purchasing water to bring back. At first I described the hundred bucks as lumpy gold coins. Lumpy because I imagined either they were partially melted or had been poorly cast. Dane didn’t seem to dig on carrying a bag of gold, so I told the group I had considered an alternate currency for the campaign world: poker chips. They immediately caught on to the idea of ancient plastic discs of no particular value becoming the standard coin of the mangled present. So instead of the gold standard the campaign setting now uses the chip. And not those fancy pants ones you get at casinos, either. We’re talking about the cheap kind that people have been using in home games since before poker went legit.

The party eventually arrived at a small town on a lake. Their attempts to set up a mutant crustacean as a water merchant were foiled by the guys family patriarch nixing the idea. The lobstercrab people are simple grain farmers and any new idea is a bad idea to their elders. When playing the dude I tried real hard not to fall into my very bad Zoidberg impression, but it wasn’t easy. I’ve gotten a lot of opportunity to work on Futurama voices lately as my daughter has been populating much of her imaginary play with the characters from that show. She Mary Sues herself into the captaincy of the Planetary Express ship, with Leela getting a demotion to first mate. (Professor: Good news, everyone! I’ve hired a seven year old girl with no prior experience as the new captain! Leela: That time the autopilot was put in charge of the ship was humiliating enough, but this completely wangs chung! Zoidberg: I hear little girls often have candy. Does the nice captain have anything to share with her good friend Zoidberg? Etc.)

Anyhoo, the group decided that setting themselves up as the water merchants was the most sensible thing to do. But they needed more cash than the 100 chips they had on hand, so they went looking for work. Not honest work mind you, but adventurer’s work. Eventually they discovered that a band of pig-mutant bandits were holding some prominent townsfolk for ransom. A reward had been posted of 50 chips each for the returned citizens, while the heads of the king and queen of the pigs were worth 250 chips each.

Finding the secret hideout of the pig people involved a minor brush with a radiation zone and an opportunity to annoy some very deadly robots that they took a pass on. Thanks to clever planning and some favorable dice rolls Pungent used his charm person aroma to drive the pigs into a frenzy. As I put it last night “You are the Beetles and they’re willing to kill each other to be the first to get an autograph.” The leftovers were mopped up with various PC weapons and mutations, including Thorny Bill using a heat ray to literally fry some bacon.

What won’t a PC eat? Always an interesting question. Sure, when you’re on the tenth level of a dungeon and the rations have run out, killing and eating giant rats is perfectly acceptable. How about a giant spider? Or howzabout a giant spider with human eyes? Last night’s group didn’t hesitate to consume the latter. And intelligent, bipedal pigs were just another source of tasty ham treats to this group.

So the session ended with the PCs back at town. They collected their rewards and used some of the pig people’s food stocks to throw a party. Everyone made level two. As the session was breaking up they considered retiring to live a longer, more peaceful life as water merchants and farmers. I’m seriously considering setting next session a whole generation later, when the economics of the situation no longer support Esperanza buying its extra water from across the growing desert.

One final note: I’m enjoying all the crazy mutations and weird creatures and super tech, but I’m starting to miss the wizards and stuff. Trying relatively straight (if gonzo) post-apocalyptic in this campaign (and my magic-free Encounter Critical post-apoc game last February) has really driven home for me that the Kitchen Sink Coalition of Arduin/Synnibarr/Rifts/Encounter Critical is definitely where I want to be. Whether that means combining Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future, or finally launching a full-blown campaign in a native kitchen sink system (EC or Rifts or Lords of Creation), or simply chrome plating some variety of D&D, I dunno.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

two brief items

Thanks for all the responses yesterday! Looks like there's a roughly 3 to 2 preference for Japan over cavemen, at least if you count "do both, but Japan first" in the former category. So Book of Choshu is a go. The cavepeople idea may work as a future article for FightOn! or maybe Knockspell instead of a booklet.

The always-awesome Zachary Houghton of RPG Blog II is kicking around the idea of a quarterly fanzine adopting the FightOn! format to science fiction gaming. This is a Good Thing. I'm not sure if I have anything to contribute to such a project, but I'm definitely interested as an end user.

Monday, July 27, 2009

straw poll

So I'm kicking around two ideas for a new book. Let me know which you like better. (Or hell, suggest something else entirely.)

Idea #1: Book of Choshu

This would be a setting book, explicitly for Ruins & Ronin, designed around the northeast corner of that Saikaido campaign world that I've been kicking around here. 13th century Japan plus assorted weirdness in the form of a sandbox hexmap, a small dungeon or two, some monsters & treasures. The goal would be to cram an entire R&R mini-campaign into 32 pages.

Idea #2: People of the Cave

Cavemen and cavewomen versus the unknown. The PCs would be among the tribe's first specialists at the dawn of agriculture. Hunting/gathering and tribal politics would be important, but there would also be spooky caves to be explored. Spellbooks would be in the form of cave paintings. I've actually found some really neat tools for this concept in the 2.5 Skills & Powers book, but the finished book would be "broadly compatible" with all the usual suspects.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Vote for Swords & Wizardry

Image courtesy Al at Beyond the Black Gate.

I urge all Gameblog readers to go to the ENnies voting page and vote for Swords & Wizardry for best free product. S&W publisher Mythmere Games is also one of several groovy outfits in the best publisher category.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

tiled, this is my new desktop image

I am seriously considering shooting an email to the dude who whipped up these custom Micronauts/Star Wars mash-up figures and making the guy an offer. That IG-88 is rad to the max.

Blackstar whips a llama's ass

John Blackstar, astronaut, is swept through a black hole, into an ancient alien universe. Trapped on the planet Sagar, Blackstar is rescued by the tiny Trobbit people. In turn he joins their fight for freedom against the cruel Overlord who rules by the might of the Powerstar. The Powerstar is split into the Powersword and the Starsword. And so with Starsword in hand, Blackstar together with his allies, sets out to save the planet Sagar. This is his destiny. "I am John Blackstar."
This 1981 Filmation series is probably the best sword & planet/science fantasy adventure cartoon ever broadcast on American network television. 80's Buck Rogers falls into a blackhole, ends up with a Conan outfit and one-half of He-Man's sword. He teams up with a sexy alien sorceress, some Seven Dwarvish tree halflings and Meteor Man from the Galaxy Trio. These good guys adventure across a weird world, battling the forces of the local Darth Vader knockoff. So much is stolen from so many places that it all somehow works together. Did I mention dude rides an awesome dragon? Sweet.

That this show only got one season is a crime, but at least you can get it on DVD now, unlike Thundarr the Barbarian.


I read once somewhere that John Blackstar was originally going to be African-American, which would have been both cheesy (Black astronaut named Blackstar falls into a black hole? That's Stan Lee level nominative destiny.) and totally awesome. Apparently the dude at the network felt my fellow youths and I weren't ready for a sword-swinging space brother as the lead in a series. Boo hiss.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tweet is okay by me

Over on my favorite cranky RPG message board there's this thread devoted to flipping out over 3E/Ars Magica author Jonathan Tweet's recent encounter with Swords & Wizardry, the extremely awesome OD&D retro-clone. Jamie Mal has also weighed in on the topic, with the usual wailing and gnashing in the comments. How such a nice guy draws such flamery to his blog continues to amaze me. Obviously, I'm not trying hard enough.

This "OMG! J. Tweet hates OD&D/us!" topic has been done to death, so I'm just going to hit a couple of brief bullet points, aimed particularly at Tweet's list of "bad stuff" from earlier iterations of D&D. Here's the relevant Tweet quote:
For the record, the "bad stuff" I'm referring to is stuff like: too much arithmetic (5 % XP bonus, copper pieces, etc.), wonky XP progression per class, too-random character creation, and poor class balance. It also has the problem that didn't get fixed until 4e: all spells are daily, which makes spellcasters play too differently from the fighters.
Let's take a closer look at these in turn.

1) Too much arithmetic: 5% XP bonus

I continue to be amazed that people with ordinary educations can't do 5% in their head. Can you halve a number in your head? Can you move the decimal point to figure one tenth of a number? Do both of those operations in whichever order suits you. Ta-da. I'm no math wizard and I can do it.

But let's recognize that not everyone wants to deal with that hassle, so when I run games that use XP bonuses for stats I usually announce XP awards like this "That's 220xp each, 242 if you get a 10% bonus and 231 if you get 5%" Compared to tallying XP for multiple awards and dividing by multiple characters and henchmen (who I count as half a PC each), the 5% bonus is one of the easier steps for me.

On the other hand, we need to admit that the XP bonus system is a vestigal mechanic from pre-Supplement OD&D. In the original game the only mechanical goodie you got from a high Strength, Intelligence or Wisdom was the XP bonus you got if the high stat matched up with your class prerequisite. Once you add in the bonuses from Supplement I: Greyhawk, the XP rules become a form of double dipping. A fighter with a high Str gets both more XP earned and more successes in combat (which equals more XP earned). So while I think the XP bonus system works just fine for pre-Supp OD&D and its retroclone, Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, I also think it's an unnecessary redundancy for most later iterations of the game. So from my point of view Tweet is right about this rule for the wrong reasons.

2) Too much arithmetic: Copper Pieces

I'm not entirely sure what the complaint is here. Nothing in the game requires any PC to collect or use copper pieces. I've known plenty of players who simply round up to the nearest 1 sp. I know a few who only work with gold pieces and better currency. And nothing requires the DM to use cp.

However, that doesn't mean that copper pieces should be cut from the game. In the world of dungeons as logistical challenge, a big pile of copper pieces is basically the DM handing you a length of rope to hang yourself with. It's a variation of the classic "Throne Cut from a Single Ruby" or "6' Tall Solid Gold Statue". Yeah, the treasure is worth a lot, but is it really worth dragging it up six dungeon levels and across 100 miles of wilderness? The DM is hoping you are stupid enough to answer 'yes'.

3) Wonky XP progression per class

I will readily admit that the XP charts are wonky as hell. But the 'improvement' to a unified XP chart supported in Tweet's version of D&D (as well as MERP, Rolemaster, and the new HackMaster Basic) has two basic problems: it demands that the designer meticulously balance all the classes so that a level 7 piglicker is functionally equivalent to a level 7 cogpolisher. And that's assuming the designer knows exactly how the players are going to use the classes. The other problem is that unified XP charts are dull as dirt.

4) Too-random character generation

Someone will have to explain to me where the line between "random" and "too random" is, because I'd totally be down with a set of rules that randomly assigned my class, race, alignment, spells and starting equipment. I'd then gladly start in a random hex of the campaign world.

5) Poor class balance

Complaining about both Wonky XP Progressions and Poor Class Balance is hardly playing fair. If you've done your wonky XP homework then class balance isn't really an issue. And exactly why are we so concerned with balancing classes anyway? Should a wizard level X be balanced against a fighter level X, and if so why did Tweet write Ars Magica, where wizards clearly aren't balanced against anyone else in the party?

Random chargen enters into this issue as well. If you roll dice to determine your stats and a character needs a 17 Charisma to be a Paladin, what does it matter if the class is better than the fighter with its 9 Str minimum? I'd go so far as to argue that the player of the Paladin would be getting the short end of the stick if their PC wasn't clearly cooler than the fighters in the party.

6) All spells are daily

The funny thing is that I totally agree with Tweet on this one, but I totally disagree with the 4e solution. Spells shouldn't be faster, they need to be slower. Give me weekly, monthly, annual and once-in-a-lifetime spells of real ultimate power, please!

7) spellcasters play too differently from the fighters

I continue to maintain that this line of thinking is pure crazy talk. I've known players who enjoyed wizards as written. And I've known players who steer clear of wizards and enjoy the straightforward mechanics of fighterdom. Forcing fighters and wizards to use the same mechanics strikes me as a surefire way to dis-serve at least one of those groups, possibly both. When I get run a PC sometimes I want to play a sword-swinging maniac and sometimes I want to play a wizard with world-bending invocations. I just don't understand how it helps me to reduce those two nifty experiences into one.

One final note: Tweet wrote this tribute to Arduin. He can't be all bad.

five links of interest

Death Frost Doom module now available - James Raggi's criminal empire is now an official branch of the government of Finland and here's his latest salvo in the war against stuff that sucks.

Noble Knight Games - If you want a copy of Death Frost Doom and don't mind the wait, I strongly urge you to ask Noble Knight to get you a copy. That way they will order another batch from Raggi and the perceived value of such products will go up. Of course, it's easy for me to ask you to wait, since I ordered my copy just before Noble Knight's initial supply dried up.

Three Headed Monster - A trio of my favorite bloggers (Chgowiz, Sham, and Amityville Mike) have combined to form a Voltron of gaming goodness. Expect great things.

Brave Halfling Publishing - I was disappointed when I heard that these guys were switching over to Castles & Crusades as their only supported old schoolery. Nothing wrong with C&C; it's just not my favorite. Well, now they've decided to support Labyrinth Lord as well and I'm happy as a clam.

Eldritch RPG - This is the third system that Brave Halfling now officially supports. I don't know anything about it other than what is on that page, but if the gang at BHP like it so much I figure I ought to check it out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Non-Fiction Comic Books Rock on Toast

Everybody knows about superhero comics and many have at least seen Archie on the newstand or supermarket check-out. Older fans might remember the good ol' days of war comics, action adventure comics, sci-fi comics and western comics. In the indie comics scene biographical and pseudo-biographical comics have become cliché. But I'm not sure everyone knows about the small stream of absolutely awesome non-fiction comics out there. Here are some of my favorites.

Factoid Press "Big Book" series

Calling some of these books "non-fiction" might stretch the definition a wee bit. The Big Book of the Unexplained, for example, devotes many pages to Big Foot. Either way, at about 11 inches tall and 200 pages, each volume in the Big Book series is a large collection of short pieces by a wide variety of cool artists like Joe Sacco, J. H. Williams, Paul Gulacy, Brent Anderson, Russ Heath, and Gahan Wilson. Any book with Gahan Wilson drawing creepy stuff is a good book. In addition to the Unexplained, I'm fond of The Big Book of Conspiracies, The Big Book of Urban Legends, The Big Book of Grimm (as in unexpurgated versions of the original Grimm fairy tales), The Big Book of the Seventies and The Big Book of Freaks.

Larry Gonick's Cartoon Histories

Pretty much anyone without a degree in history would probably do well to read Gonick's three-volume Cartoon History of the Universe. I just polished off his Cartoon History of the United States a couple days ago. Gonick isn't afraid to let his own voice creep into the narrative, so the latter volume leans more to the left than some people will dig. Gonick's book on basic statistics was a little harder to get through, though that was probably a combination of a shortage of cool characters for Gonick to (ab)use and my own innumeracy. Gonick's goal is to smarten up the readers, but his fun illos and breezy writing style are entertaining at the same time.

Rick Geary's Treasury of Victorian Murder

I got turned on to Rick Geary thanks to his contributions to the Big Book series. Let loose on his own he specializes in one subject: murder. The Treasury of Victorian Murder series includes accounts of the Lincoln assassination and its aftermath, the Ripper Murders, and my own personal favorite, The Beast of Chicago: An Account of the Life and Crimes of Herman W. Mudgett, Known to the World As H.H. Holmes. Other Geary volumes cover Lizzie Borden and the Lindbergh kidnapping. Geary's unsettling linework and matter-of-fact journalistic writing draw you into a disturbing world where crime seems as common as catnip.

Action Philosophers!

My most recent find in the non-fiction comic field is Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey's Action Philosophers! series. (Well, it wasn't much of a 'find' on my part. If Chris Sims says a comic is awesome, you can take that to the bank.) The basic Van Lente and Dunlavey technique is to give you the Executive Summary of a philosopher in comic form. It's like as if Cliff's Notes were actually fun to read. And the cover to the first trade has Plato in a luchadore mask shouting "Plato Smash!" as Nietzsche opens his shirt to reveal the Übermensch costume underneath. What's not to love?

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Six Spheres of Lubanjawi

Under the present understanding of quantum physics (or at least my understanding of the present understanding) the minimal unit of distance is Planck's Length (~1.6 × 10−35 meters) and the minimal unit of time is Planck's Time (~5.4 × 10−44 seconds). These are not arbitrarily short units of measurement, they are natural units representing the physical limits of the universe. Literally nothing can be measured at smaller than one Planck's Length and nothing can happen at shorter than than one Planck's Time. The concept of the infinitesimally small unit of length or an instantaneous event are erroneous. The universe is chunkier than that.

Not so in the campaign world encompassing Asteroid 1618 and the World of Cinder. Scales smaller than 1.6 × 10−35 meters and quicker than 5.4 × 10−44 seconds is where anything becomes possible. Junior gods often pick a small piece of the quantum foam for their early experiments in universe creation. You can fit a lot of cosmos into a Planck's Length, as long as you only allow it to exist for less than a Planck's Time. Most of these universes are completely useless or utterly deadly to the average adventurer, even if you could locate one. But at least one god-made yocto-verse is worth the effort, providing you can get there: the Six Spheres of Lubanjawi.

To an outside observer the Six Spheres are nothing more than a single molecule of benzene, good ol' C6H6. This particular molecule is slightly out of ordinary in that one of the carbon atoms is the isotope Carbon-13, possessing one more neutron than the other members of the benzene ring. But if you can shrink down below the scale of absolute smallness and travel through time to the exactingly right miniscule fraction of a second, you can visit the worlds of Lubanjawi.

At this impossible scale, during this impossible time, the carbon atoms are like unto planets, each with its own hydrogen atom sun. Looking up into the sky, the other worlds hang heavy above, even the most distant carbon atom on the ring appearing larger than the sun or moon appears in our own sky. Thus each of the six spheres has five suns and five moons. The stars in the sky are the other molecules floating in the solution that contains the Six Spheres, they dance in the ever-twilight following the principles of Brownian motion.

One can travel to the other Spheres by means of the Electron Bridges that occasionally arc between the worlds or between a world and its closest sun. Catching a ride on an Electron Bridge is a quick way to eat a buncha d6's in lightning damage, but some wizards know secret spells to enjoy a safe passage between the worlds.

And why would an adventurer want to visit the sub-microscopic flash-in-a-pan universe of Lubanjawi? Because some say that unlike so many other such teeny worlds, Lubanjawi was not a one-off experiment by a fledgling deity. In the whispers between the winds it is sometimes heard that aeons ago a long dead god hid The Most Fabulous Object in the World on one of the atom-planets of Lubanjawi.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunrise over Lake Damned-If-I-Can-Remember

The ol' Gameblog went on an unexpected hiatus for the last week or so because of a number of factors. The primary explanation is that I was super busy getting ready for the family trip to Wisconsin. I'm typing this post from the condo we rented at a very lovely resort near the the small town of Cable. Any Gameblog readers in the area? Shoot me an email: jrients @ gmail.com. Though to be honest, I haven't checked my gmail account in about a week and it might take a day or two for me to get caught up in that department.

So my good buddy Pat is in town for a visit last weekend and he, my daughter and I headed over to the Armored Gopher Games for a used game auction. Armored Gopher's last used game auction was of the silent type, where you simply write down you best bid on an attached slip of paper and then the next day you get an email informing you that you spent way too much money on a big pile of game crap. This time it was a live event, modeled closely on Winter War's excellent format.

I know you all are surprised to hear that I spent too much money on a big pile of game crap. Well, it was only twenty bucks, but I didn't spend more than $3 on an single item, so I ended with a lot of stuff. For some unknown reason I was in a mood to bid on a old board games, winning the bidding on the Parker Brothers D&D cash-in Shadowlords!, the Avalon Hill bookcase game UFO, Alien Contact (which I knew nothing about and bid on solely based upon nifty font used on the box's logo design), The Legend of the Lone Ranger (bought at my daughter's urging) and the licensed board game for the old TV show S.W.A.T.

On the RPG front I ended up buying one of the later, black-covered 2nd edition Player's Handbooks and the infamous Skills & Powers book. I didn't play any AD&D during the period when Skills & Powers and the other "2.5" books were out and I've been meaning to get them for a while. True story: I got heckled when I bid on the 2nd ed PHB. Josh, one of the regulars that make my Encounter Critical and D&D con games so fun, shouted from a couple rows back "isn't that a bit too new for your tastes?" I shot back "The first printing was in '89. That totally counts!" A cheap copy of Palladium's Monsters & Animals also made its way into my win pile. Is it possible to have too many monster nooks? I doubt it. I also nabbed two third edition Gamma World modules and the Buck Rogers adventure War Against the Han. The latter is for the Buck Rogers rpg that TSR did that more closely resembled the original post-apocalyptic pulp novel. I figured now that I'm running Mutant Future as an ongoing venture a few cheap post-apoc resources could come in handy.

Which brings me around to Wednesday and Mutant Future session #2. I had the same three players (Carl, Dane & Wheelz) running the same three characters (Silver Bob, Ted "Creepy Deer" Fletcher & Stern the Pure) with the addition of Stern's new henchman, Dumbo the Elephant Dude. I decided to use WalkerP's One Page Dungeon, MineCo 3000 Uranium Ore Extraction Complex. Continuing the previously established theme of "Oh noes! Our hometown is running out of waters!" I fed the party a totally bullshit rumor about a settlement further down the Poison River. Their mission: find out how the locals are able to purify river water, or at least arrange to buy water from them. [Spoilers!] The Ore Extraction Complex doesn't purify any water. Its run by androids and hypno-zombies that the androids don't mind slowly killing with poisonous water. So a totally false lead, but given reports of activity down river a plausible one. What can I say? Years of watching Gilligan's Island as a youth probably gave me a twisted idea of what constitutes a fair scenario.

Anyway, the party all died. They got through the majority of the adventure and burned through most of the allotted session time, but then things went awry. The One Page Dungeon format leaves a lot of lacunae for the enterprising GM to fill in and with this particular one-pager an unanswered question was "what are the androids armed with?" So I rolled some dice and consulted the artifact charts. I got mostly stuff like laser rifles and six-shooters, with one android armed with an electric stun baton. But one of the two androids guarding the Great Computer God ended with a grenade launcher and some lethal photonic grenades. The sick thing is that photonic grenades only damage living beings, so the androids have absolutely no reason to be dainty about their placement on the battlefield. Only one PC made his save vs. instant grenade death and he was gunned down one round later.

To their credit, the gang immediately started rolling up new PCs. Too bad these new guys are a bands of rejects. Two thirds of the team is blind! We'll see how well that works out next session.

The other thing, besides prepping for vacation, that's been eating up my time lately has been a book. I've been obsessively reading Julian Jaynes's The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. I read it cover-to-cover over the last week and brought it along to immediately re-read. I can't remember the last time I did that. From the first read I can't quite make up my mind whether this Jaynes guy is Sigmund Freud crazy-but-important-to-his-field crazy, Nikola Tesla brilliant-but-doomed-to-be-misunderstood, or Immanuel Velikovsky/Ignatius Donnelly trying-too-hard-to-explain-everything-with-one-theory crazy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

been busy, but not too busy for Shatnerday

General Shatner from 90's B-movie Groom Lake.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

weirder than average Shatnerday

Thanks, Stuart... I think.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Review: Obregon's Dishonor

Obregon's Dishonor is the first standalone adventure for Geoffrey McKinney's moral-panic-inducing Supplement V: Carcosa. (Other published supplementary material include an adventure in Fight On! #4 and the free downloadable, The Carcosan Grimoire). Cameron DuBeers, author of Obregon's Dishonor, sent me a complementary review copy. I had planned on buying a copy, but I like free stuff as much as the next guy so I took up his offer to swap a copy for a review here at the ol' Gameblog.

Anyway, Obregon's Dishonor is 36 pages of adventure for 6 to 8 characters levels 4 to 6. That's a level a number based upon Carcosa PCs, so if you want to use this adventure with regular elves and clerics and stuff you might want to aim a little lower.

At its heart the adventure uses the standard Dungeon & Nearby Town format, with a purple-skinned cyborg amazon serving as the Mysterious Stranger that sends the PCs off on their quest. My biggest beef with the module is the assumption that said lavender robobabe will accompany the party on the adventure. In the official novelization she'd clearly be the main character of the story. That leaves the referee stuck between the rock of overshadowing party autonomy and the hard place of playing an ass-kicking super-chick as a the bionic sexpot who lets the PCs do all the thinking and fighting.

Something that might put off some folk is how sexed up this purple lady is. The text makes sure to let you know how hot she and that she'll flash some cleavage during negotiations with the party. Later she'll sleep with one or more willing members of the party. Finally, her last scene in the story involves her clever scheme to defeat a Cthulhoid menace by taking off all her clothes and giving the shambling thing a massive woody. And I could see some folks not digging on the fact that the author takes the time to point out the dark purple coloration of her nipples and labia. Personally I find all that ridiculously ignorable and much less of a problem than the fact that there is this bigass plot that this NPC is such a key factor in.

One other slightly annoying thing is that the entrance to the dungeon is in room 22. Am I the only one who expects the first room of the dungeon to be labeled Room 1? Anyway, the dungeon itself seems pretty serviceable. It's a one level affair that seems a little heavy on 'holy crap! that's a lot of bad guys!', but I can totally work with it. There's one room that if mishandled by the players can kill them all and utterly wreck the dungeon. I like that a lot. It shows the designer isn't afraid to let the situation spin wildly out of control.

I also have one organizational issue. Before the dungeon is a great description of the Nearby Town, its history and the important players in local politics. This is good stuff. But it should be right next to the key to the town map that appears in the back of the book. Instead, the dungeon sits between these two sections.

The last four paragraphs might give you the impression that there's a lot to bitch about in this module, but I actually really like a lot of what's going on here. The dungeon looks like a fun romp and the town has more going on than most such backwater adventuring bases. I would totally run this module either as a one-shot or part of a larger Carcosa campaign. And I'd consider running the town and dungeon in another setting, though I'd probably chuck the plotline. If you choose to follow the plot, there's a neat little dilemma at the end and the possibility of a mass combat. Also, it's totally cool to see someone else's take on a corner of the weird world of Carcosa. Finally, the dungeon was built by beer-swilling atheist monks. How cool is that?

So despite a few oddities and flaws, I recommend Obregon's Dishonor to folks running Carcosa or people willing to do some work to make a fun little adventure fit into their home campaign. The print version is sold out, but you can buy the PDF from Brave Halfling Publishing.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

here, have some bullet points

  • Howdy, folks! I haven't been on the internets much for almost a week now and when I have it's been to access Google documents. Since misplacing a flash drive for a few days I've decided to switch to a non-localized set-up for my word processing. I've been trying to put the last finishing touches on the Mutant Future sandbox article for the next issue of Fight On! The deadline for submissions has come and gone, but the editor is kindly allowing me a little extra time to finish up. This baby will be my single longest contribution to Fight On! to date, but I'm trying real hard not to overdo it. Paul Crabaugh is my role model for what a good game article should look like: no longer than necessary and immediately useful.

  • Local Item #1: Speaking of Mutant Future, I started a new MF campaign last week. We'll be playing at the Armored Gopher every other Wednesday; next session is next week. Anybody who wants to come sling post-apocalyptic dice for an evening is welcome. So far we have a badass ubermenschian Pure Human (Wheelz rolled his character in front of me and got a 12 as his lowest stat), an anthropomorphic deer that can see the future and a guy that looks like the Silver Surfer who can disintegrate you with the power of his mind. We played out a slight variation of the sample adventure in the book: rather than outsiders hired to find the lost water shipment, the PCs were locals trying to save their town from drying up. Next session I'm parachuting them onto my sandbox.

  • Local Item #2: Some nut came into the Armored Gopher and traded in a bunch of RPG stuff for some Magic cards. If you dig on Palladium products, there was a bigass shelf of the stuff in the used section. I nabbed the always-fun Compendium of Weapons, Armor & Castles and the Rifts Conversion Book. I also got the BECMI D&D supplement Creature Catalog, which is basically the Fiend Folio of non-Advanced D&D though not quite as weird or British. And I talked newly minted DM Dane into getting the unknown nut's Fiend Folio for use in his brand new 2nd edition AD&D campaign. Huzzah!

  • In case you haven't heard HackMaster Basic is out, though my copy hasn't quite made it through the distribution system to my local retailer. Reviews can be found here, here, here and here. That last one was written by Mark Hughes, who I'm pretty sure is both smarter and crazier than I am. His anti-AD&D screed is a classic.

  • A bunch of new gaming goodness has popped up on the radar while I was away: Mike Davison's Ruins & Ronins in both PDF and print, David 'grubman' Bezio's lastest deal, a neo-retro sci-fi game called X-Plorers, is available in a free playtest edition, and James 'the Comissioner of Gaming' Mishler has a bunch of new PDF stuff from Adventure Games Publishing. I haven't had a chance to check all of this stuff out yet but it's all coming from great people chock full of awesome ideas.

  • Lulu sales of the Miscellaneum of Cinder, counting both print and PDF versions, have now surpassed 100 copies. That's literally an order of magnitude greater than I assumed I would sell, so big thanks to everyone who bought a copy!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What Kind of Rat Bastard Are You?

Alignment is a touchy issue with some people, more from various DM's dunderheaded interpretations than anything in most rulesets. A while back I proposed my own dunderheaded alignment system based one picking a home team in the great cosmic battle of good versus evil. Here's another alternative.

First, let us begin by assuming that nearly all PCs are Rat Bastards in some way or another. (Do I really need to justify this position? We're talking about a game where core PC activities are tomb-robbing and orc-murdering.) Alignment under this system is determined by the particular manifestation of Rat Bastardliness.

Example 1: Why are the PCs sneaking around a dungeon, killing monsters?

Lawful: Monsters are evil, so sneaking into their homes and slaughtering them in their sleep is completely justified.
Neutral: The bad guys have all this gold. I like gold.
Chaotic: If I killed things back home, I'd be arrested.

Example 2: Having defeated the orc warriors, what do we do with the orc-mommies and orc-babies?

Lawful: Kill them so their orcish evil will not bloom anew.
Neutral: Kill them so none of those orc kids grow up and start looking for vengeance.
Chaotic: Kill them. They go great with potato salad.

Example 3: A kender wants to join the party, should we let him in?

Lawful: Yes, just periodically turn him upside down and give him a good shake.
Neutral: Yes, he'd be great for testing items to see if they're cursed.
Chaotic: Yes, stealing from other party members is a snap when someone else is such an obvious suspect.