Thursday, December 31, 2009

too many good games is a helluva problem

So I'm trying to put together a list of games I want to sign up for at next month's Winter War. To try and wrap my head around the options I put together this spreadsheet of games that interest me in the various time slots. The two main problems:
  • The incredibly awesome Blind Sniper game has no official end time, thus taking up Saturday afternoon and very likely Saturday evening as well.
  • Saturday evening is positively clogged with good events. I'd like to play in both Chgowiz's Battletech game and Alex Riedel's OSRIC game.
As a side issue I'd really like to play the wild west minis game Desperado this year. It's a regular feature at Winter War and whenever I've walked by a table of it everyone was having a hootin' hollerin' good time. So here's a draft if I play Blind Sniper:

Friday afternoon: maybe hustle a pickup game of something
Friday evening: my Encounter Critical game
Saturday morning: Desperado
Saturday afternoon: Blind Sniper
Saturday evening: if I'm dead in Blind Sniper, hop into whichever game has fewer players, Alex's or Mike's
Sunday morning: my Empire of the Petal Throne game
Sunday afternoon: Roborally w/Al

If I skip Blind Sniper, then I'm looking at this:

Friday afternoon: maybe hustle a pickup game of something
Friday evening: my Encounter Critical game
Saturday morning: Kingmaker
Saturday afternoon: Desperado
Saturday evening: man, I just don't know
Sunday morning: my Empire of the Petal Throne game
Sunday afternoon: Roborally w/Al

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fight on, my friends, fight on.

So a new issue of Fight On! came out a while back and I said nary a peep about it here on the ol' Gameblog. That was a gross oversight and no slight was intended. Fight On! is one of the very best things to come out of this crazy thing we like to call the Old School Renaissance. Each issue is positively crammed with new classes, spells, adventures, monsters, DMs advice and all sorts of fun stuff. Issue seven has several neat articles for Empire of the Petal Throne, some crit charts, a couple full-size D&D adventures and some easily-imported smaller ones, comics, some fab new spells a retrospective on D&D Camp and the Wandering Harlot Table!

Get issue #7 of Fight On! at lulu in print or PDF form. While you're there pick up any back issues you missed and maybe something else, too. I recommend Supplement VI: The Majestic Wilderlands, Ruins & Ronin, X-plorers and/or Savage Swords of Athanor. Until the end of the year use the promo code HOHOHO to get 20% off your purchase.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Shatnermas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Winter War approaches!

The latest installment of Winter War, my local game convention, will be happening on the last weekend in January. My games aren't on the schedule just yet but I've signed on to run Encounter Critical in the Friday evening slot and Empire of the Petal Throne on Sunday afternoon. Don't let Tekumel's reputation for setting heaviness scare you off my EPT game, as my approach will be the same as when I run D&D at cons: we're here to fight monsters, find loot, set off traps and laugh at it all. Don't think of it as Professor Barker's Masterpiece Milieu, but rather as Crazy Uncle Phil's Weirdo D&D Variant.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.
In addition to being one of the coolest lines ever to be uttered in a movie, Roy Batty's death speech at the end of Blade Runner speaks to me about the nature of adventurers. A good adventurer isn't just a corpse count and a treasure tally. Part of an adventurer's soul is wrapped up in the places they've been and the wonders they've beheld.

MERP and RoleMaster have this rule where you earn 1 experience point for every mile travelled. Since it takes 10,000xp to make level 2 in those systems travel isn't the most efficient way to make your sorcerer's apprentice into the next Gandalf, but you could do it. I like the idea of XP earned for visiting new and exciting places, but I'm not sure I like a flat amount per mile. Here's an alternative idea.

Get out your campaign world map (and key if you've got one). If you need don't already have a campaign world to set your fantasy adventures then I recommend starting with Points of Light and/or Points of Light II, but this method should work with any campaign setting. Okay, you've got the campaign map in front of you. Now imagine which of the places on the map are the coolest to visit. What places are breath-takingly beautiful? Which locations are desolate beyond imagination? What spots on the map have no mortals seen in generations? What places surge with magical energies or reek of unholiness?

Take your ideas and make a list of places from most awesome to least awesome. As an example, I'll give a quick look-over to the hexmap in the center of Geoffrey McKinney's mind-rending Supplement V: Carcosa. The following places strike me as particularly nifty:
  • Carcosa (the haunted city in hex 1507 from which the setting derives its name)
  • Mount Voormith'adreth (Shub-Niggurath's lair in hex 0402)
  • Crystal City of the Space Aliens (hex 0604)
  • The Shards in the Blighted Lands (hex 2303)
  • Lake Hali
  • Damned Isles
  • Thaggasoth Peaks
  • Yaglogthotep Forest
  • Icy Wastes
There's plenty of other interesting places on that hexmap. Geoffrey McKinney positively crams Carcosa full of eldritch doom. But for a small map, I think 6 to 12 places is probably sufficient. A larger Wilderlands of High Fantasy map could maybe squeeze in 20 or 30 wondrous places, while a large campaign map (like Darlene's World of Greyhawk map) could easily hold a hundred such locations.

Next think about how much you want to award pure exploration in your campaign. I find these sorts of decisions hard to make in the abstract, so here's the a line of thinking that might help: A newly minted PC decides to cross the campaign map to visit the top item on your list, how close should they be to 2nd level after such an achievement? Set aside any thought as to encounters along the way, we're talking here strictly about the effect of the experience of visiting the location. How changed will the PC be on their return from this fey place?

If I were to run Carcosa I definitely would want visiting the city of Carcosa itself to be a life-changing experience. So let's say I go overboard an establish a 2,000xp award for visiting the place. Once I have the top item set, I can eyeball the rest of the list:
  • Carcosa City: 2,000xp
  • Mount Voormith'adreth: 1,500xp
  • Crystal City: 1,000xp
  • The Shards: 500xp
  • Lake Hali: 250xp
  • Damned Isles: 200xp
  • Thaggasoth Peaks: 150xp
  • Yaglogthotep Forest: 100xp
  • Icy Wastes: 50xp
Obviously I just pulled those numbers out of my butt. If you want to keep the PCs focused on killing things and taking stuff or chasing Elminster-imposed missions, then by all means cut all those awards way the hell down. But assuming you like the idea of PCs climbing mountains just 'cause it's there then I feel you should offer XP awards comparable to standard murder and pillage.

Now, we can glam up this simple chart quite a bit with a special rule for some of the items:
  • Carcosa City: 2,000xp but must spend one night in city
  • Mount Voormith'adreth: 1,500xp for the first human to climb to the peak, 0xp thereafter
  • Crystal City: 1,000xp but must enter the Dome
  • The Shards: 500xp
  • Lake Hali: 250xp if Carcosa City is viewed in the moonlight
  • Damned Isles: 200xp for first island visited, 100xp per island thereafter
  • Thaggasoth Peaks: 150xp if mountains crossed, double if it takes two hexes to get across
  • Yaglogthotep Forest: 100xp
  • Icy Wastes: 50xp but 200xp for crossing hex 2210, "The Frigid Heart of the Wastes"
You can also do up special rules like "dwarves earn triple XP for any ocean voyage" or "followers of St. Salamander earn 1,000xp for praying at each of his Seven Shrines". And one could establish XP awards for non-location based wonders:
  • See a dragon fly overhead: 100xp but 0xp if pooped on
  • Ride a dragon: 500xp first time, half for each additional ride
  • Dance with the fairies: 300xp
  • Watch a city burn: 150xp
  • Shipwrecked: 100xp, but 0 if you sabotage the vessel
  • & etc.
Now to make this all work you need to keep in mind 2 important points. First, you have to share at least some items on this list with your player group. You can't create a feedback loop of action/encouragement if the players don't know what's going on. Hell, get them in on the ground floor. If you're using a well-known setting enterprising players will be happy to suggest ideas. Creative ones will make crap up, to the betterment of your campaign.

Second, when the players accomplish one of these goals, sell it. Break out that over-the-top poetic voice and use those fifty cent words. Have word get around, with peasants in the street whispering "There goes Lucas of the Amber Blade, he's the only man to ever cross the Shimmering Desert and return!" Most players eat that stuff up.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

youtube awesome/cheesy movie trailer linkdown!!!

The Dark Crystal
The Beastmaster
They Live
Hawk the Slayer
The Sword & The Sorcerer
Battle Beyond the Stars
Big Trouble in Little China
Remo Williams - The Adventure Begins
Logan's Run
Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
Escape from New York

That last one's not a trailer, as I couldn't find one. But that scene pretty much tells you everything you need to know to make up your mind about the movie.

Happy Shatnerday!

Of all the pics I've posted for Shatnerday thus far, this might be my favorite. Well, either this one or "Khaaaaaaaaaan!"

Friday, December 18, 2009

two from Jamie Mal

As usual there's been some good stuff over at Grognardia this week. I wanted to respond to two of them very briefly.
  • Although I'm one of the guys that idolizes the '81 Basic D&D rules, I think holding up the 64 page book as a standard or ideal may be an error. If we need a gold standard (and I'm not sure we do) then I want to offer up digest-sized stapled booklets in the 24 to 48 page range as an alternative. Drop a little money on a long-necked stapler and suddenly ordinary printer paper and cardstock can turn ideas into cheap and easily portable gamebooks.
  • Jamie Mal's retrospective of Star Frontiers reminded me of one of my favorite parts of the Star Frontiers Knight Hawks ship-to-ship rules: The hit location chart included the possibility of a fire onboard your vessel. As long as the conflagration continued you rerolled on the damage chart each round to see what other parts of your ship burned down. More spaceship games should include that. Being on fire in the real world is not fun. Being on fire in a game? Hilarious.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Adventures in the Nth Imperium

So here's a campaign idea I've been kicking around in my head off and on for a couple of years. Feel free to steal it for your home game if the spirit moves you. One of my favorite popular science books of the last decade is Fred Adams and Gregory Laughlin's The Five Age of the Universe. I've squeezed some mojo out of this particular gem once before. Today I'm going to tackle the idea on page 74 I mentioned in that old post.

The premise these guys tackle is diabolically simple: what if we run out the clock on the cosmos? Assume everything presently (well, circa 1999) understood about quantum mechanics and astrophysics is right, what happens to the large scale features of the universe over the course of a trillion years? A quadrillion years? A googol years? Turns out some pretty crazy stuff goes down, which can all be broadly divided up into five different periods. Hence the title.

According to Adams and Laughlin's analysis, we are presently living in the Second Age of the universe, the Stelliferous Era. That's the time when stars are plentiful and varied, spanning the first stellar ignitions after the big bang until the last miserly red dwarf sputters out sometime around 100 trillion years from now (give or take). That's when the Degenerate Era begins, a period where the only vaguely starlike objects left in the universe are white dwarfs, brown dwarfs and black holes. The Degenerate Era is when the Nth Imperium campaign happens.

This is the part that comes straight from Five Ages, in the form of a short fictional introduction to the chapter on the Degenerate Era. In this piece the authors imagine a future humanity as living in Dyson sphere type shells surrounding white dwarfs, the last bright emitters of radiation in the universe. Planets have long been abandoned since they no longer have suns to warm them and power biological processes. Only by completely enclosing white dwarfs in solar panel arrays can future society tap enough energy to sustain itself.

Imagine this set-up for a moment as an oddball Traveller game, where all the usual things that can happen in standard Trav are available against this unorthodox backdrop. Good ol' hydrogen, the fuel source for standard Trav FTL drives, ain't as plentiful as it used to be. The only easily accessible hydrogen sources left in the universe are the brown dwarfs, substars that never achieved sufficient mass to ignite the fusion process. In the realm of Nth Imperium, brown dwarf mining is a major factor in the maintenance of interstellar society.

Incidentally, the Dyson sphere white dwarfs, brown dwarf mines and black holes will be a lot less densely distributed throughout the galaxy than stars are today. Imagine a standard Traveller sector map with only a few dozen non-empty hexes instead of the normal 300-500. For Nth Imperium I would posit Quantum 2 Jump Technology. A Q2 jump drive can hop its jump number squared, allowing a jump-6 drive to travel 36 hexes in a single trip. Basically Q2 types drives allow for 'controlled misjumps'.

The wee tale on page 74 suffers from the same basic flaw as most future societies in science fiction: the assumption that people in the future will act just like the folks you meet at the grocery store, except they'll wear shiny silver pantaloons. In this case we're not going to solve that by trying to project some weird transhumanic society. We're talking about people who live so far in the future that they talk about the Sun as a long-gone by-product of the Big Bang. Imagine a timeline from the Big Bang to Now. Stack nearly seven thousand of those babies from end to end. That's how far in the future the Nth Imperium can be found, you can fit about 6,700 everything-that-has-ever-happened in the same period of time. Big Bang to now: one inch. Big Bang to Nth Imperium: nearly two football fields.

The sheer difference in scale demands that merely cyborging up the future ain't gonna cut the mustard. Think about how much 1977's Traveller missed the boat by in terms of computer technology. The first printing of Traveller measured computer memory in K and computer mass in tons. It took a few measly years of realworld technological developments to completely obliterate Trav's predictions of computer technology a mere 3,000 years in the future. Multiply that staggering miscalculation by ten billion to find our margin of error. It just ain't gonna work. Homework: if the sum of human knowledge, X, is presently doubling every five years, how big will the sume of human knowledge be 100 trillion years from now? For extra credit, compare your total to the number of grains of sand in all the beaches of the earth or all the synaptic pathways in the average human brain.

I see two solutions to getting a handle on the social milieu of the Nth Imperium. The first is to assume that rather than a technological singularity sometime in the future, humanity hits some sort of technological and sociological plateau. I reject that option as boring. I'm not about to substitute boring for baffling. I want a setting that is both weird and comprehensible. That's where my good buddy Fred Nietzche comes in.

I'm pretty sure it was Nietzche's Thus Spake Zarathustra where I first encountered the idea of the Eternal Recurrence. I've read a fair bit of Germany's craziest philosopher (at least in translation), but I won't pretend to have any deep understanding of the dude's work. But that won't stop me from woefully misunderstanding him and using that folly to power a game. So in this particular context I've decided that the Eternal Recurrence refers to the cycle of human history, in direct contrast to the arrow inherent in physical cosmology. To put it simply: there was a Roman Empire, there will be a Roman Empire again. And again and again. Over 100 trillion years there may be a thousand Roman Empires, a thousand Marcel Marceaus, a thousand House Unamerican Activities Committees. So when your Q2 jumpship lands at a white dwarf Dyson, you may bump into Mark Twain at the starport bar. Thomas Jefferson may be president of the subsector. Blackbeard is definitely a space pirate. Moreover, since pretty much every other science fiction setting is far, far younger than the Nth Imperium, you can pick one or two of your favorite sci-fi galaxies to be part of this recurrent history.

But why is Mae West, Adolf Hitler and your crazy uncle periodically reincarnated like that? Time to swipe from Babylon 5 here: There are a finite number of souls in the universe. At some point humanity hits its limit and people start getting recycled. Population control in the Nth Imperium isn't simply a matter of rationally managing life in the shadow of energy-poor white dwarfs, its also a way of keeping Philosophical Zombies from being born. And AI's are limited in numbers because every computer sentient is one fewer soul that can inhabit a human body. I hear Abraham Lincoln is a matrioshka brain in the next sector over.

So yeah, that's been knocking around in my head for maybe a couple of years. I think it might make a decent Encounter Critical setting.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

found fragment

From the 'drafts' folder of my work email, addressed to my gmail address but unsent:
The co-evolution of dragons and humans is analogous to the arms race between weapon and armor makers of various nations. Just as plate armor is invented to deflect weapons that were deadly to the users of chain hauberks, so did the genetic code of dinosaurs invent new ways to defeat their proto-hominid enemies. And vice versa. Both genus draco and genus homo evolved cognition and metacognition (i.e. magic), though the potentialities for the two lines are different. Some dragon species seems to have a greater capacity for rational thought than their human [fragment ends]
I have absolutely no memory of writing this passage. Does it look familiar to any body? Maybe I cut and pasted it from somewhere else. That "And vice versa." as a separate sentence looks like something I would write, but I'm not entirely sure.

Monday, December 14, 2009

blogging as therapy

I just got back from taking the Graduate Record Examine, the standardized test that a lot of grad schools use in applications. I nailed the verbal section and I feel pretty good about the essay part, but my game just crumbled on the math. I bought and worked through this 300+ page GRE prep book for the math, but today I got stymied on question #2 of the math section and it unnerved me. I ended up only answering 18 out of 28 of the questions because I ran out of time. Good thing I'm looking at the humanities end of the academic spectrum! At least this puts all the writing I've been doing into proper perspective.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

slamtastic Shatnerday

"Lawler, you may have put Andy Kaufman in the hospital, but I'm William frickin' Shatner!"

(Or at least that's what he's saying in my head.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

paper sci-fi

Chock full o' crazy awesome.Does everyone here read Something Awful's ongoing series WTF, D&D!? I think it's a hoot. The recent two-parter covering the original Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader was a stroll down memory lane. The parallels between 1987's Rogue Trader and OD&D are pretty strong, at least in that they were incomplete crazy-ass funfests. As a kid I could only afford figures for one miniatures game and BattleTech got to me first, so for years 40K remained my favorite minis game that I didn't play. I don't like the regimented, competitive orientation of modern 40K, but I still like the crazy energy and over-the-top violence of the original book. And some days I really want to run some of the crazy ass plots found in the random scenario generator section. From the Something Awful piece:

That's just three of dozens of equally dubious scenarios. Note that this section of the book would work just dandy for an Encounter Critical campaign.

The thing is, as much as I like W40K:RT I'm probably never going to ever amass a bunch of lead or plastic minis for it. I just don't have the money or the patience to get any good at painting the wee buggers. So if I ever wanted to put together some crazy sci-fi battles paper figures look like the way to go. Here are some of the best options I've found so far.

Sparks - S. John Ross's idea of formatting miniatures as a font was a frickin' stroke of genius. Putting together a slew of them is as easy as typing on your keyboard and scaling them is easy as pie. And the artwork is topnotch. The Watch the Skies! set is a good starting place for sci-fi shenanigans, but lots of other stuff from other sets could be used as well. Do yourself a favor and click through just to read the amusing ad copy describing each figure. Ross basically hides a mini-campaign in the flavor text of each set.

Fonts by Greywolf
- Swipes Ross's idea for paper minis and makes 'em for free. Two sets of sci-fi characters.

Crow's Stuff - Free color minis for Traveller, Star Trek, Stargate and Dr. Who. Am I the only one contemplating Hivers versus Cybermen, using 40K rules?

One Monk - Lots of gorgeous full color minis, mostly sold thru RPGNow at 3 dollars a set.The "Future Battle" and "Mutants and Death Ray Guns" lines look perfect for Rogue Trader throwdowns. These figures are more complicated to put together and look like they require a lot of trimming with an exacto knife to get them done up properly. But when finished they'd look better than many half-painted half-ass metal & plastic 40K armies I've seen.

MicroTactix - I tend to think of these folks as the makers of great paper scenery, but their Cheap Folks line of figures look pretty neat and some of their alien armies look like a lot of fun. The Squarn are just awesome.

Precis Intermedia's Disposable Heroes - I like the clean look of these figures and Precis Intermedia offers a "customizable download" option for a premium. Need 20 space marine figure individually numbered? They can hook you up!

Patrick's Cardboard Warriors
- Thank goodness the Internet Wayback machine saved this page! You should all go grab copies of Patrick's fun little guys right now.

Slick's Miniatures - Slick only offers a few items, but his N.C.C. Troopers would make pretty decent Imperial Army dudes. Which is my favorite faction from the original game. They're basically poor pathetic sons of bitches who have been drafted into sci-fi fucking Viet Nam.

Stuff to Beat Up 1: Tech Terrors - Horrible things to kill those Imperial Army conscripts.

Arion Games - This outfit is using poser-type graphics for its figures. I don't normally dig on that, but I must admit that their little bug aliens are pretty cool. I'd love to see some Space Marines blow the crap out of them. They also got several sets of other aliens, including sci-fi civilians and a set of outer space villains.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

there's friends, and then there's friends

Tonight on the way my daughter and I were engaged in some light conversation of the "how was your day?" variety. We wandered off track and ended up chitchatting about Dracula and vampires. (Incidentally, my daughter's first impression of Dracula came from The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, so she probably imagines the big D as a grumpy old blacula.) So Elizabeth asks me what would happen if I got turned into a vampire. Without hesitating I tell her that she would need to call my buddy Pat to come over and put a stake in my heart. Lizzy gets confused on the whole stake/steak thing, but I think she got that Pat would handle the situation.

This exchange got me thinking about Contact mechanics in RPGs. I'm pretty sure I first encountered Contacts in Champions/HERO System. It was pretty simple: you pay some character points for the privilege of writing "Contact: The Space Pope" on your charsheet. The at some point during the game when you needed the Space Pope's assistance you would throw some dice to see if the dude could help you out. The advanced version of the original Marvel game also had some contacts rule. As I recall contacts were rated High or Low. I think that meant that High contact with SHIELD indicated Nick Fury was your poker buddy, while a Low contact meant your schmuck cousin worked in the records department.

I like Contacts rules. It's a good way of establishing ligatures between the PCs and the larger milieu. Some players will use the opportunity to make up some people to add to the campaign world, others will be happy to be pals with the local Gandalf. The HERO System method of making people choose between more friends and bigger Energy Blasts seems self-defeating, but the basic concept is sound. Giving a couple freebies to players strikes me as a better option. For Labyrinth Lord and similar systems maybe 3 + Charisma bonus would be good number. An enterprising GM could have a bigass chart of NPCs for players who didn't want to invent all their contacts. Something like this:

1...Felmar, blacksmith of the Village of Omlet
2...Bumble Bristletoes, Mayor of West Shireton
3...Madame Xandaria, proprietor of the Golden Courtesan
4...Sir Graccus, the Selenium Duke's personal champion
5...Randolph the Red, a wandering wizard
6...Cross-eyed Sarah, a scribe and correspondent of the royal vizier
(etc., etc.)

A second chart would give the level of dedication felt by the contact or the type of dodgy activity they will perform on your behalf. That's where thinking about my buddy Pat comes in. Here's a first stab at such a chart:

1. Will let you and your filthy friends stay over for a few days.
2. Will lend you d100 gp with no real expectation of repayment
3. Will hide you in the root cellar and lie to the Witchfinder General
4. Will share useful or sensitive information
5. Will post bail for you
6. Will organize a jailbreak on your behalf
7. Will help you rob graves and not ask questions
8. Will sneak you in past the guards
9. Will hold a chest of dubious contents for you
10. Will find you an honest job if you'd just give up this stupid adventuring stuff
11. Will execute some side mission assigned by you
12. Will hunt you down and put you out of your misery should you be turned into an abomination against nature

Of course, any DM worth their salt will realize that Contact stuff works both ways. "We can't let some troll kidnap Felmar the Blacksmith, not after the time he tipped us off that bounty hunters were on our tail!"

This post is endorsed by the Space Pope.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Supplement VI

So Rob Conley, author of the truly excellent Points of Light and Points of Light II, has a new book out. Supplement VI: The Majestic Wilderlands is based upon his personal campaign world, which riffs off Bob Bledsaw's original Wilderlands of High Fantasy. But you don't need to be a Wilderlands geek to get something out of this book.

For example, the new classes in the front of the book would make a cool addition to any OD&D/D&D/retroclone game. I particularly dig on Rob's Myrmidon of Set class. On first pass these guys look a little like an Egyptian themed anti-paladin type, but they are actually badasses for Law. It's a harsh, unforgiving Law, but these snake-worshipping sons of bitches are on our side! Very juicy. The magic-user subsection is chock full of alternatives to standard Vancian fire-and-forget spellcasting. And the cleric section is a good example of how to tailor that class to the religions of your specific campaign world. The thief section introduces the least offensive skill system I've seen in D&D. I still don't like skill systems in D&D, but I'd use Supp VI's if a player was keen on it. There's lots of other neat stuff in Supplement VI: an easy-as-pie ritual magic system, a theory of magic, new PCs races, new magic items. This is one of those books that is just full of stuff you can cherrypick for your own use.

While you can see some threads running through much of Supplement VI, I wouldn't say there's an overarching theme to the whole book except for the delightfully simple "Here's how my game works". Rob isn't trying to revolutionize the gaming world, he's inviting us into his much-beloved corner of it. I love DMs who do that. In that way, Supp VI is a callback to the hippy days of Arduin.

Right now you can get a PDF download from RPGnow for seven bucks, but a lulu print edition is forthcoming. In the interests of full disclosure I should note that Rob generously gave me an editing credit for looking over a draft of the first two sections of the book and a second credit because he used (and niftily expanded) my Hedge Mage rules. But the Majestic Wilderlands is Rob's baby and he should get all the kudos. I give Supplement VI: The Majestic Wilderlands a hearty recommendation.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Shameful Shatnerday

Shatnerday is more than 66% over and I'm finally getting a pic up. But I can explain both that and my absence from this here blog. I've been scrambling all week to finish my paper about the Idylls of the King. I even cancelled Wednesday's Mutant Future game to get the job done.

Thanks to Gameblog reader Ed Bilodeau for pointing out this gallery of TOS-themed paintings. I especially like this study. I used the still that's based on as an an illo in my OD&D module.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Turkey Day fun and miscellaneous rambling

Here's what was going on when I arrived at my in-laws' for Thanksgiving this year:

That my two bro-in-laws and two nephews playing a game of the Avalon Hill classic Britannia. It's a holiday favorite with this crew. Before the weekend was up the whole family also ended up playing the fun party-type game Time's Up! (the Title Recall! edition) and Rock Band. One of the nephews also whomped me on some Xbox-360 soccer game he liked. My wife and I were partners for Time's Up!, always a perilous predicament for any couple, but we did sufficiently well to keep me out of the doghouse. I'm still patting myself on the back that we scored 'The Iliad' during the pantomine round by me swinging an imaginary baseball bat. (It was a Homer, you see.)

Here's an extra counter from the Britannia set. The die cut in the wrong place or something like that, resulting in an extra piece with no function. I've been playing Britannia with this particular set on and off for a decade now and this extra counter has always fascinated me. It looks kinda like the insignia of an alien space navy. Maybe I'll use this counter as the jumping off point for an article on the military insignia and national symbols of the Gateway Quadrant.

Jim (the guy in the upper right of the first photo above) and his wife recently moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and this weekend was our first visit. In addition to playing games and eating turkey, on Friday we made a quick stop at McKay's, one of the best used book stores I've ever visited. If you ever get to the Knoxville area, do yourself a favor and check it out. The gaming section is very respectable in size. They had multiple corebooks for every edition of AD&D from from first through fourth and plenty of other stuff to check out. I had just enough time to flip through a stack of magazines and pulled out two issues of White Wolf magazine, an issue of Shadis and some of the issues of Heroes I'm missing.

Before Vampire: the whatever and all that stuff, White Wolf was a very respectable gaming magazine. By which I mean it talked about the kind of games that I like and not the World of Darkness. As far as I can tell, early on it was highly focused on AD&D content, but later issues include all kinds of stuff. Shadis seems underrated in some circles. I always thought it was a great generalist RPG mag that unfortunately suffered the same basic flaw as all generalist RPG magazines: I didn't give a crap about half the systems covered in any particular issue. Still Shadis is the only gaming magazine I ever subscribed to that wasn't put out by TSR Periodicals.

Heroes was a weird one. It came out in 1984 as the house organ for Avalon Hill's rpg division. At some point the brain trust at the Hill figured out that they perhaps made a mistake when they passed on that manuscript Mr. Gygax was shopping around in the early seventies. When Avalon Hill entered the rpg scene they did it in a big way: four RPGs and a new magazine all released in the same year. The magazine supported only the four AH games and occasionally talked about an Avalon Hill wargame with crossover appeal (like Amoeba Wars, my all-time favorite game about giant space amoeba attacking the galaxy).

The four games were James Bond 007 (still an excellent espionage RPG and available in retroclone form on this Uncle Bear page as Double Zero), Powers & Peril (an overly complex fantasy system), a new edition RuneQuest (sold by AH instead of Chaosium as part of some licensing deal I don't really know anything about) and Tom Moldvay's gonzo multiverse-hopping Lords of Creation. One of these days I hope to find an explanation why AH thought it was a good idea to release two and a half fantasy systems at the same time.

Since Lords of Creation is one of my favorite RPGs written by one of my favorite RPG authors, I've been trying for years to put together a full run of Heroes. The RuneQuest connection keeps the eBay prices a little higher than my inner cheapskate likes, as RQ fans are some of the most canon-crazy in the hobby. But at McKay's two days ago the prices for all the magazines were a buck or two a pop, so I bought even the ones I suspected I already owned, just in case I was wrong. By the way if you're one of those canon-crazy RQ fans, McKay's had some issues of Wyrm's Footnotes going for a buck or two.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy Shatnerday!

This week Shatnerday comes to you from Knoxville, Tennesee.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Starwolf Crusades

Today I woke up thinking the Gateway Quadrant needed more menace. So I wrote this:

The Starwolf Crusades

Imperial psychohistorians have long considered free trade and the regular exchange of ideas that accompany it as the best vector for intergalactic piece. Their poster boy for this relationship is the six sector long coreward border the 3rd Imperium shares with the canoids of the Vargr Extents. Although hostilities and outright warfare can be found in the annals of Imperial/Vargr relations, the relatively limited scale of such actions can be directly attributed to the ongoing commercial and cultural exchanges between the two powers.

The situation in the Empty Quarter and Ley Sectors of the Imperium is decidedly different. Paradoxically, the buffer zone of the bleak Star's End Rift allows hostilities to fester. Trade is limited to the handful of merchants with multiparsec-capable vessels willing to risk it all on long hauls across the rift. And save for the occasional effort by the Scout Service, cultural exchanges are non-existent. Thus stellar distribution and economic reality conspire to limit contact in the region between the Imperials and the Vargr to only those most motivated (i.e. crazy enough) to make the voyage. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the trailing end of the Imperium that means incursions by the Starwolf Crusaders.

Led by rogue hierophants of a splinter faction of the Church of the Chosen Ones, the Crusaders follow a creed of belligerent Vargr manifest destiny. Although Imperial chroniclers squabble over what constitutes a full-blown Starwolf Crusade, the Sector Navies closest to the Rift have engaged in fleet scale actions against the Crusaders no less than twelve times in the past half millennium, with many other lesser actions in between. Rarely have the Crusaders gained a foothold on Imperial worlds, but the damage they do to the worlds they target is immense: defense satellites and local navies destroyed, population centers bombarded from space, wholesale looting, and the carrying off of Imperial citizens as slave labor.

The last Starwolf Crusade ended in 1093 [seven years prior to the campaign start], so any ex-Navy or Marine characters with more than one term served can throw 4+ on 1d to have seen action against the Vargr. Scout and Army throw 5+, all others 6+. Those who fought against the Starwolf Crusaders may throw 6+ to receive some sort of decoration or commendation for heroic action, base chance 6+ on one die, with die modifiers of +1 per full term served prior to the conflict and +1 if an officer. Throw 1d on the table below to determine specific award.

1. Emperor’s Legion (Purple Heart type award)
2. Amulet of Cleon
3. Octagon of Honor (roll 1d, 1-5 Silver, 6 Gold)
4. Order of the Corona (nobles are Knights of the Order, others are Members)
5. Iridium Star (military only, civilians reroll)
6. Letter of Commendation (can’t wear it on your chest, but +1 reaction bonus in formal job interviews)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

five links, nano-review edition

Malevolent & Benign - You'd think I'd be really into a book full of shiny new 1st edition monsters, but this thing is just too wordy. Every time I go to read the fluff on one of these monsters I keep thinking Dave Hargrave of Arduin fame could've fit four times as many awesome critters in the same space. But if you like deep background info on your monsters, this may be right up your alley.

The Grinding Gear - Another absolute gem from Jim 'worst attitude in the OSR' Raggi. Like Death Frost Doom before it, this is a great item to drop onto your sandbox hexmap. Just leave it there, lurking menacingly, for some poor bastard PCs to stumble into. Things I wish I had thought of first: dead rats on the wandering monster charts. Like most of Raggi's best work, only get this one if you like material that demands that you DM outside your comfort zone.

X-plorers - I need another sci-fi RPG like I need a third bunghole, but I'll be darned if this doesn't look like a hoot. Remember how that old TSR chestnut Star Frontiers was basically Traveller for the Basic/Expert D&D kids? X-plorers is in the same conceptual territory, but I think it does a better job of it. If you like the mechanics of Swords & Wizardry look no further for your new favorite game about laser beams.

Adventure Games Publishing - The booklets that James Mishler has released recently are all sorts of awesome. I like Curses & More Curses and 100 Encounters & Treasures: Level 1. And Guide to the World of the Wilderlands is both a great campaign overview and a great format to rip off when writing an overview for your own setting. Monster Menaces Compendium 1-5 has the same wordiness of Malevolent & Benign above, but it also contains rules for the Chupacabra and the Rocktopus. It's hard to be dissatisfied with any book that brings that kind of radical-osity to the table.

Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls - One of the best things to come out of the old school hullabaloo. If dungeons are your bag, get a copy. Highest recommendation. 'Nuff said.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Filling Billets 2

Today I'm continuing my attempt to hire a crew for the Leviathan, the merchant cruiser appearing in the Traveller module of the same name.

2nd Officers

Position 07: Computer Officer

Navy 107*
Scout 67, 100

Suprisingly I could find few characters in the right Rank range qualify for this gig. The Naval character also qualifies for the higher-ranking Chief Gunner position. I wonder if offered this lower position instead of Chief Gunner, would that character take the assignment but resent it?

Position 08: Purser (NPC)

The ship's purser is the highest ranked company agent on the vessel and as such the command crew gets no choice in filling this billet. In the module it's explicit that the company people on the ship are present to prevent the PCs from skipping with the vessel. As an alternative idea, one could fill out the company slots with the PCs and start the campaign with them having to mutiny against the captain to prevent him or her from stealing the ship! A nasty firefight could leave the ship seriously under-crewed for the long trip home.

Position 09: Boat Deck Officer

Navy 61*
Other 63, 82, 90 94
Sailor 8
several Doctors
Bureaucrat 18, 23, 26*, 33
Scientist 14, 19, 26, 29, 36

Based upon the qualifications (Admin-1, Computer-1), this looks like mostly a desk job managing the ships complement of small craft. The Navy dude and two of the Scientists also qualify for the much more prestigious Exec Officer billet, so you might be able to put a back-up X.O. in this spot. My sense of humor can be very simple at times and the thought of a surface navy Sailor working as the Ship's Boat officer amuses me to no end. Make sure someone explains the concept of vacuum to that guy!

Position 10: 2nd Pilot (NPC)

No point in the purser seizing command of the ship if he doesn't have a loyal pilot to steer it back to port.

Position 11: Navigator

Navy 27*, 31*
Scout 16, 67, 96, 100
Scientist 4, 40

The two scouts who qualify as Computer Officer above also fill out this billet.

Position 12: Shuttle Pilot

Navy 21, 31*, 50, 53, 58*, 61*, 106
Scout 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, 16, 18, 20, 22, 25, 28, 30, 31, 33, 36, 38, 40, 45, 47, 48, 53, 55, 57, 58, 59, 62, 66, 67, 71, 72, 73, 75, 78, 84, 88, 92, 94, 95, 96, 100, 101, 102, 103, 105, 107, 110, 114, 115, 116, 118, 120, 123, 125, 128, 129, 130, 132
Merchant 5*, 15*, 21*, 37*, 46*, 47*, 54*, 57*, 63*, 69*, 80, 91*, 113*, 131*, 134*, 135*
Other 1, 7, 9, 19, 21, 32, 39, 41, 79, 87, 88, 90, 97, 107, 118
Pirate 9, 16, 37
Belter 2, 6, 7, 31, 34
Flyer 30
Noble 8, 11, 13, 15, 21, 23, 28, 40

The primary qualification of this billet is Piloting-1. In a game about spaceships, that's a pretty common skill. Personally I like the idea of hiring a Belter for this slot. The odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field may only be 3720 to 1, but these folks spend years there! Navy officer #61 makes another appearance here. Exec officer, the boat deck, shuttle pilot: Is there nothing this guy won't do to get onboard this ship?

Incidentally, this is where I would expect the PCs to get sick of recruiting. When 60 Scouts (Quickie adventure seed: Why are there so many out of work Scouts in the area?) and 55 other people show up to interview for the Shuttle Pilot job, it's time to ask the referee if we can hand waive the rest of this and get on to the space adventure. "Sure," says the ref with a grin, "I'll take care of the rest of the crew. I love the prospect of getting to pick out the doctor who puts you back together after laser shoot-outs."

Position 13: Surgeon

Army 12*
Scout 37, 57, 62, 99, 112
Merchant 21*, 59, 74, 131*
Other 4, 75, 112, 117
nearly any Doctor
Noble 30
Scientist 8

Obviously the Doctor career path from Supplement 4 gets big play here. But I'm curious about the Others, the Noble and the Scientist that qualify for this billet. Why did that Noble go to medical school? And why would he or she be trying to get onto a ship heading away from civilization? Are the Others back alley quacks who happen to be pretty good at what they do?

Position 14: Second Engineer

Navy 65
Scout 17, 61, 64, 77, 125
Other 91, 133

Scout 64 is the guy in the kilt from last post. Since's he's the only candidate for Chief Engineer, I doubt he's going to end up as 2nd Engineer. And as the only qualified Chief Engineer available, my guess is that he would respectively inform the captain and X.O. that he will hire his own engineering department and they can mind their own business. I'd look for the engineer department to be scout heavy on this cruise.

Position 15: Second Gunner

Navy 18, 107*
Scout 4, 18, 21, 28, 42, 54, 69, 74, 90, 92, 110

Navy character #107 is my first candidate for Chief Gunner and I'd pick Navy 18 as the first person to interview for this job for the exact same reason: the Navy shoots people for a living, so why not go to that service for gunners?

Position 16: Master-at-Arms (NPC)

The crewmember responsible for discipline among the ranks is another member of the purser's shadow crew. Given that Traveller spaceships operate somewhat like age of sail vessels, I would expect this character to be one hard ass son of a bitch. In the event that the purser has to assume command of the ship, it's probably this guy's job to detain or eliminate the captain.

I'll tackle the 3rd Officers of the MSS Leviathan later in the week. You may get a Mutant Future session update before them.

Happy Life Day!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Filling Billets 1

I've talked about the Traveller adventure Leviathan a couple times before. The eponymous spaceship flown by the PCs in this module has a full complement of 55 officers and crew, making it a much bigger affair than the Millennium Falcon level operations in many outer space RPGs.

An assumption behind the adventure is that the PCs will fill out the top officer positions and then hire on the rest of the crew themselves, aside from a handful of positions that are to be filled by personnel from the company that owns the ship. Each job on the ship is given a position number and a list of qualifications. For example, the Captain of the vessel must have the skills Administration-1, Computer-1 and Pilot-1, while the two Cargo Handlers require Vacc Suit-1, Strength 8 and Endurance 7.

The other limiting factor is rank. You generally need someone with a first officer rank to fill a first officer billet. In the case of a Leviathan-class merchant cruiser, the assignment is prestigious enough that you can convince a recruit to accept a demotion of one rank to secure an assignment. So an ex-admiral might take the captain's slot, while you have a chance of convincing a captain to serve as a first officer, etc.

The module points the referee towards two Trav supplements, 1001 Characters and Citizens of the Imperium, for pregenerated crewmen. I've often wondered how easy it would be to crew the Leviathan with the NPCs from these two books, so I've decided to find out. Today I'm going to look at the First Officers of the vessel and see if I can fill those spots from the two supplements.

Position 02: Captain

Other 107

I was surprised to find exactly one NPC who could fill this billet. The Navy and Merchant NPC lists have plenty of captains, but none of them qualify for this assignment. Merchant #94 is a captain with 2 out of three required skills and Jack-of-all-Trades at a whopping level 5. I'd trust that character with the assignment, but only Other #107 actually has all three required skills. Which means the only qualified merchant cruiser captain has no Navy or Merchant service experience. Weird. Incidentally, another interesting candidate for this assignment is Other #58, whose only skills are Computer-5 and Forgery-3. Imagine a group of junior officer PCs, halfway into their voyage through unknown space, discovering their captain is an unqualified fake!

Position 03: Executive Officer

Navy 61
Bureaucrat 38*
Scientist 26, 36

If I was Other 107, I'd probably take a hard look at the Navy character to help maintain a disciplined ship. At first I thought employing Scentists anywhere on the roster would be odd for a mercantile venture, but the Leviathan is meant to explore new markets. In fact, the module calls for four company scientists to be carried as passengers, to help analyze data found during the voyage. A few more on the payroll might not be a bad idea, though maybe not as X.O. The Bureaucrat would be a fun choice from the ref's point of view, assuming the recruitment roll is made. Assume he worked a straight corporate desk job up until this point and you basically have Hermes from Futurama as second-in-command of the ship.

Position 04: Pilot

Navy 58
Scout 3, 18, 53, 55, 59, 66, 75, 84, 88, 116, 125,
Merchant 8*, 12*, 27*, 47, 56*, 81*, 89*, 122*, 126*, 132*
Pirate 9, 16

A crapload of Scouts qualify for this slot because all Scouts get at least one rank of Piloting skill. Most of the Merchants that qualify would have to agree to a demotion. Either of the pirates could be applying with fake credentials their pal Other #58 cooked up for them. One of them might be trying to go straight while the other one has mutiny on his mind. Or maybe they're just working stiffs who happen to have worked on private warships carrying letters of marque.

Position 05: Chief Engineer

Scout 64

Over a thousand NPCs to pick from and only one guy qualifies for Chief Engineer. Clearly Scout #64 wears a kilt.

Position 06: Chief Gunner

Navy 107
Scout 68, 89
Other 1, 136

Five candidates iseems reasonable. Twenty plus possible pilots looks like a big pain in the ass, while one captain and one engineer applicant would worry me if I was the money guy planetside. My gut here is to call in the Navy character for the first interview, since shooting people is sort of what the Imperial Navy is all about.

Normally all these top assignments go to the PCs. Seven pregens are provided for this purpose. But once the PCs are hired on, they're supposed to fill out most of crew themselves. Tomorrow I'll look at the Second Officers and see what the PCs would get to work with.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

So this is cool.

Last time my daughter had a play date with one of her little friends, the girl's mother cautiously broached the subject of her daughter's game group. My wife and I could tell she was very tentative in her approach out of concern that we were anti-gaming nutjobs, which amused us to no end. Amy politely explained that I am, in fact, a pro-gaming nutjob.

So now my daughter is in a game group of little girls who play the Faery's Tale rpg published by Green Ronin. Elizabeth's first session was today and she came back with a brief report. Her character is Sally Buttercup, a pixie with extraordinary luck. Sally and her friends live in a treehouse in a magic forest. Today's adventure centered on dealing with a band of careless hunters who were killing animals for sport rather than food. The party enlisted the aid of a nearby dragon to scare the huntsmen away.

Needless to say, I'm pretty jazzed about this development.

Happy Waxnerday!

Gameblog reader Roger sent me a link to this pic of the recent opening of the Captain Kirk figure at Madame Tussaud's.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Designing the Ultimate Treehouse

Creating characters for RPGs is a lot of fun, but sometimes I think PCs should be allowed to create something bigger than themselves. The original RPG example is the player of a high-level PC sketching out the plans to their castle and detailing their minions, but there are other possibilities. Here are a few of them, off the top of my head:
  • Designing your own custom spaceship in Traveller.
  • Imperator and Chancel creation in Nobilis.
  • The point-build superspy agency rules in Ninjas & Superspies.
  • Giant robot creation in Mekton Zeta.
  • Superhero base creation in the Marvel Super Hero advanced rules.
I know I can't be the only one here who as a kid sketched out imaginary treehouse designs or super-secret headquarters. Letting the players design the above stuff satisfies this juvenile impulse while also giving the players a feeling of ownership and investment in a larger piece of the campaign world. And if you can get the players to design some of these items as a group, then suddenly they all have something in common beyond all being lone wolf psychos with hair triggers.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

skill systems

I have heard it bandied on the internets about that old schoolers are considered to be against skill systems. Personally, I am not against skill systems. I don't care for skill systems in D&D, but in other RPGs I have no objection to them. My bigger problem with skill systems is that so many of them are cumbersome and/or just plain boring. For my tastes Traveller and RuneQuest said 90% of what needs to be said about skill systems. Which is good, I guess, since so many games rip off RQ.

That's vaguely acceptable if you're Chaosium, but what is everybody else's excuse? A list of skills and a die mechanic does not a good skill system make. I'll grant Savage Worlds some points for brevity and Clash Bowley's In Harm's Way for allowing different skills to solve the same task, but most similar systems don't do much for me. Lords of Creation has a neat mechanic where each new skill level gives you better chances of success and broader uses for your skill. I like that a lot.

And then there's the make-your-own skills games, like Unknown Armies, Ghostbusters and Risus. I like the concept, but I would have trouble keeping it straight for a serious game. I've never played UA but if I did my charsheet would probably say stupid things like "Han shot first" and "I'm Harley Race and you're the new babyface who thinks he's hot stuff".

What other skill systems do people like?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Mutant Future, session 8 part deux

So having completed the new bridge connecting the folks in the Slimy Lake region with the city far to the west, the party set off down the ancient blacktop highway in search of the spellbooks of the legendary wizard. Next came a brief visit to the highway rest stop that had been converted to a shrine which the lich recognized as being dedicated to the Great God Elvis. The undead wizard with the hell's angel jacket lined with newly-slaughtered sloth fur refused to allow the rest of the party to the loot the place. Even heartless abominations respect the King.

As the party traveled down the ancient road they naturally inquired about any ancient wrecks to be looted. Initially I informed the players that all the ancient vehicles by the roadside had been left to rust out then burned down, leaving nothing but mounds of rusty ash. But then Carl pointed out they really only needed a cart for their donkeys to pull. The idea of a couple donkeys pulling the rusty bed of an ancient pickup amused me so much I decided to allow it.

Finally, after two half-sessions of delays and shenanigans, the party exited the Slimy Lake area and began exploring the unknown lands to the west. The party didn't know it yet, but they had just taken their first steps into Dave Hargrave's Arduin modules! First stop was the Winged Elf Inn, which is an ancient metal hull ship inexplicably laying upside on a dry plain with a sign depicting a Keebler elf with angel wings. The owners are a grey-haired three-eyed old mutant and his equally ancient but unmutated wife. At least they are in my campaign world, I don't think Hargrave gives many details in the module.

At the Winged Elf they made contact with some spider mutants who 'mine' a landfill to the north. Periodically they bring a cartload of ancient metal to the inn, where they trade it to 'the fat merchant'. The merchant was overdue and the spiders where running out of beer money, so they sold their wagon o' junk to the party. Spunky the Invincible Wonder Weasel found a functional Rubik's Cube among the tin cans and aluminum foil. It was missing most of the little stickers, so her attempts to solve it where all in vain.

Along the road the party ended up fighting a pair of wobras, which are cobras with wings. That Hargrave sure knew how to make a monster. My second attempt of the night to kill Spunky with poison failed, but maybe I'll get her next session. I allow her to abuse the hell out of her mental illusion powers, so I feel I can get away with picking on her just a little bit extra. With the wobras quickly slain, the party resumed its journey, pushing a full 24 hours to get clear of a forest reputedly the lair of a fearsome dragon. The last time a dragon showed up in one my campaigns it killed the entire party in the first round, so they weren't in any hurry to meet another one.

Instead of a dragon, the party met Ortegg the Obese (the fat merchant) on his way to make his delayed appointment with the spider miners. You remember the fat computer guy from the first Blade flick? That's what the merchant kinda looks like, a slightly more humanoid Jabba the Hut. His caravan is 3 wagons, one of which carries only him. The merchant and his three cyborg minions were late for the rendezvous with the spiders because the axle broke on Ortegg's personal transport.

Ortegg and the party negotiated a trade for the junk he was hoping to buy cheap from the arachnid pioneers. He ended up with a jar of wobra poison that Dane had extraced from a dead wobra as well as the junk and the party got an ancient artifact: a working metal detector. After spending a night on the road with Ortegg and his men they also got directions to an ancient tower. That's where we'll pick up the next session.

Happy Shatnerday!

Jazz hands!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Mutant Future session 8, part 1

When last we left our genetically impaired heroes they had decided to build a new bridge to replace the one they accidentally blew up. So we started this week's session at the next logical step in the narrative: an attack by hostile mutant tree sloths. The logging team recruited by the party tried to chop down the lair of a family of gamma sloths, only to be treated to radioactive eyebeam attacks. The sloth morale broke early and the encounter was brief, but I was entertained because these infamously slow creatures kept winning the initiative roll. Gamma sloths have a low AC and are immune to radiation, so I announced their fur must be shiny and metallic. Joe latched onto this fact and decided that his lich's biker jacket needed a fur lining. Have I mentioned that my players are rad to the max?

The next little hassle in bridge construction was a wandering monster. Instead of rolling up a critter as is my usual wont, I just opened my copy of Labyrinth Lord to a random page. My eyes immediately fell on the entry for crab spiders. I've always felt that crab spiders should have big crab claws, so I added a couple d6 damage attacks with grab ability. And just for good measure I added some wasp wings, allowing it to swoop down and attempt to carry off Spunky the Invincible Wonder Weasel. Also, I arbitrarily gave the spider 9 more hit dice than are in the book. Sometimes I'm a dick that way. Spunky ended up finishing the fight trapped in a spider claw, repeatedly bashing the thing in the face with her sledgehammer.

The last major hurdle in building the new bridge was the Sludge River itself. Periodically slimes, oozes, jellies and puddies float down the river and at least some of them would readily eat the the logs. I thought the PCs would travel upriver to locate and shut down the source of the pollution, but instead they covered the logs with pitch. Although I had this neat side jaunt in mind, I decided that I liked this idea. They got to have their bridge and I got to keep sending oozes down the hexmap. Win-win.

At the grand opening of the bridge I assigned a flat 1 in 6 chance that their would be a catastrophic design flaw, but the structure held firm. The nearby fishing village feted the party for re-opening the old trade route to the city far to the west and I awarded the PCs 200xp each for doing their part to make the world a little more civilized. The next day the party set out on their quest: to find the wizard's tower to the west. Actually, I'm not sure they really want to find the wizard. The lich just wants the dude's spell books.

Well, my daughter is begging me to come watch Futurama with her, so the second half of this recap will have to wait. I can hardly say no to that! Stay awesome, everybody.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Howdy, folks! I'll post a rundown of last night's awesome Mutant Future game later today or tomorrow. Right now I'd like to help out Andrew, who emailed me asking my opinion of the Alternity rpg. The thing is, I don't really have an opinion about Alternity. Never played it, never read it. Anybody care to share an opinion in the comments? Or maybe supply some links to groovy Alternity fansites? Let's see what we can do to assist Andrew in his quest for Alternity information.

Internet... ACTIVATE!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Shatnerween!

"Due to its shoestring budget, the prop department had to use the cheapest mask that they could find in the costume store: a Captain Kirk mask. They later spray-painted the face white, teased out the hair, and reshaped the eye holes." on Halloween (1978)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

more self-absorbed than usual, which I didn't think was possible

A couple of people have noticed that I haven't updated since last Shatnerday, so I thought I might offer an explanation. I'm working on applying to grad school, two English lit departments and two Masters of Liberal Studies programs. It's been almost fifteen years since I got my bachelor's degree and I need to come up with some academic writing samples. Since A) I have no idea if I even have my old papers anymore and B) if I still got 'em I'd probably not be satisfied with the things, I'm starting from scratch. So for the last week or so instead of obsessing over games I've been researching a paper on the character of Arthur in Tennyson's Idylls of the King.

At this point I honestly can't tell you when I'm next going to be in the mood to write about games. Maybe later today, maybe not until after next weeks Mutant Future session.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Friday, October 23, 2009

Traveller: What version?

A couple days ago Gameblog reader Erin asked "if one were interested in the OTU, but didn't know what version to pick up, what would you recommend?" In case Erin missed it I wanted to point out that donm61873, a.k.a. Don McKinney, a.k.a. my personal Traveller guru and one of the coolest cats I've ever met, provided an answer:
Mongoose Traveller is pretty good... (and I'm not just saying that because my name is in the books) but if you're really interested in the OTU, get the CT and MT CD-ROMs produced by FFE ( The TNE CD is now also available.
I think the Classic Traveller CD-ROM is definitely the correct answer here. For $35 you get one of the best buys in the history of the hobby, both in terms of quality and quantity. The only reason I don't own a copy myself is that I have so much of this stuff already and I'm a cheap bastard. Inevitably I'll want one of the harder to find/more expensive items on the disc and I'll order the dang thing. But before you go and get one I want to offer a couple caveats:

1) Holy crap, that's a lot of game stuff! It would be easy for a newbie to get overwhelmed by the amount of material. Don't fret. Start with The Traveller Book and The Traveller Adventure. I think those two would go a long way to figuring out how much you dig this scene. After those two, the rabbit hole goes about as deep as you could possibly want. There are 60 more books on that disc, and that's not everything ever written for the game. Which brings me to my next point.

2) A lot of Trav people take the idea of Canon very seriously. I am not one of them. While I acknowledge Marc Miller as the Supreme Overlord of All Things Traveller, there's a lot of superfun 3rd party stuff that he no longer considers official. If you get the CD-ROM, you get a horse-choking quantity of official Games Designer Workshop materials, but none of the cool stuff from FASA or the Gamelords or Judges Guild or a whole bunch of other publishers. Much of that junk lacks the polish of GDW or the hardcore wargamer work ethic of the people who worked there, but it's all still a vibrant part of Traveller's colorful publishing history.

Just a couple things to keep in mind.

like this, but with more filth

I wanted to share this pic I found yesterday. Crusty Island, the ruined city in my Mutant Future game, is a lot like this except that the water is polluted with some industrial sludge that builds up on top of the water. To get from building to building the PCs walk over the hardened, dried upper surface of the sludge.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

We had to destroy the bridge to save it.

Last night's Mutant Future session was a blast. We started out with a completely arbitrary attack by a Shark With A Friggin' Laser Beam Attached To Its Forehead. The party was in a small fishing boat, so I imagined all sorts of delightful nightmare scenarios based upon the climactic battle in Jaws, but with laser beams. But alas, the party shot my pet dead before it could capsize, eat, or zap the boat. So instead of the intended aquatic mayhem the party ended up have lasershark steaks for second breakfast.

The evening's expedition to the ruins of Crusty Island was pretty successful. They looted an ancient vending machine of soda pops and snack foods, as well as the intact plexiglass sheet between them and the tasty treats. The soda had been flat for centuries, but how would they know it was carbonated to begin with? And Lumpy the Junk Merchant pays top dollar for precursor delicacies like that.

The second floor of the building featured a ceiling full of creepy-crawly mutant centipedes slinking along the ceiling. Spunky the Invincible Wonder Weasel succumb to centipede poison when one of them leapt onto her face. Wheelz found himself in a similar predicament and Carl eagerly tried to bat away the offending centipede. With his crowbar. Somehow Wheelz survived both the enemy and Carl's friendship. Carl's actually an extremely competent player and it was clear he was feeling a little ornery in that encounter. Carl also helped by firing his plasma pistol at another centipede and rolling so poorly I ruled he had set the place on fire, but that wasn't intentional mayhem. Meanwhile Karus the Lich didn't want to be outdone in the firestarting department, so he got out his can of Lysol and used a firefinger cantrip to turn it into a flamethrower. Good times. I especially liked how the encounter ended with the Wonder Weasel fainting (overcome by poison) and Carl rushing about trying to put out the fire he started.

With a bag full of swag to sell and an out of commission Wonder Weasel, the group decided to head back to their base of operations, the nearby fishing village. While they were going about their business I said to Joe (playing the lich), "You know the neat thing about having a magic-user with a spellbook in the party? Plot hooks are dead easy. You hear a rumour that the western end of the Road to Nowhere leads to the realm once ruled by the greatest wizard of the seventh age." Almost immediately the party begins planning an expedition to the west, confirming my intuition that Crusty Lake was starting to feel a little repetitive.

Having come into a little money, they decide to equip the party with some donkeys to ride and carry gear. Here's where I missed a grand opportunity to say something like "No donkeys for sale around here, but you can get some pack-slugs for cheap." But I did make sure to note the logistical problem facing the PCs: how to get to the western end of the road was a non-trivial problem, given the layout of the Slimy Lake area. Their good buddy Swampy Joe was happy to ferry people to and from Crusty Island each given that the party saved his village from the buggem menace. But Joe fishes near the island. To ferry the group and its donkeys to the west side of the lake would take him away from his fishing.

The party ends up deciding to try to clear the bridge upriver of its well-known spidergoat infestation. This proves to be a lot easier than I thought it would be, as Carl whips out his plasma pistol and lights the webbing on fire from maximum range. A handful of spidergoats attempt to bumrush the party, but further plasma volleys break their morale. As the webbing burns I describe the flames revealing several large lumps of spider silk actually contain the shriveled bodies of past spidergoat victims.

The spidergoats actually had some pretty sweet loot in these corpse cocoons, as when I wrote the encounter I imagined the victims as a party of adventurers. One of these poor sons of bitches was carrying a couple sticks of dynamite, so I made an explodey noise and said "That was the dynamite cooking off. Carl, roll a d6. On a 1-3 the bridge is damaged, with a 1 indicating it's completely destroyed." God bless him, he rolled a 1. That spells doom for the last of spidersilk and rust holding the ancient structure together, and the sky rains flaming fragments of bridge. Beautiful. I ask everyone to throw dice to see if they spot some other loot floating down the river and Wheelz ends up braving the polluted, monster-infested waters to pull out a skeletal arm still clutching a large satchel. In it is 300 poker chips, which is real money in my post apocalyptic world (1 chip = 1 gold piece).

The PCs are undeterred by their bridge blowing up. They decide to build their own across a narrows closer to the fishing village. The tail end of the session involved them scouting the Forest of Eyes for lumber, getting permission from the Mother Psiperior of the Convent of the Violet Flame to harvest the trees for the project (provided they don't touch the Ocu-Oaks), and recruiting a gang of workers. Carl handled most of the negotiations and behind the screen I threw some very favorable reaction rolls for his character. Meanwhile, the Sister sent to monitor the logging is trying to convince Spunky the Invincible Wonder Weasel into becoming a nun.