Monday, October 6, 2014

Eye on the 5th: A Changed Piacenza


My group is currently on its 6th adventure in a Steampunk setting, using D&D's 5th edition rules. With the recent (6 sessions ago) cataclysmic changes in the setting, it does feel like D&D, albeit with a different campaign feel. Here are some of the reasons:

A Year After the Cataclysm

We actually played 5 game sessions using the Basic Rules of D&D 5th edition. All as humans, and none with magic -- though we were told to position as close as possible to the classes we eventually wanted. It was much like Italy set in an archipelago, with strong family ties, internal and international politics, and bits of mystery in a large urban setting (connected by bridges).

There are no gods (they are thought of as fairy tales, and there is no worship, no church to speak of), and there's certainly no magic of any kind (but there are stage and street illusionists and performers). There isn't even a word for it, really.

Then came the Violazione, and the intrusion of magic into the world. Many people died, many people were changed, many islands sank, and life in Piacenza was forever changed.

Adventurers & Regulation

Life in old Piacenza was heavily regulated, and survivors clung to those rules and order even as friends and relatives died and changed before their very eyes. With valuable community resources (and the increasingly undeniable existence of magic) becoming increasingly scarce and unreliable, survivors embraced the need for new regulation -- even if there were occasional squabbles over which groups were prioritized.

Companies of treasure hunters (read: adventurers) would have to have charters in order to operate, and could only take on "official" missions. However, with Piacenza slowly looking outward and discovering new islands where old ones used to be, that may be changing.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Eye on the 5th: Rinaldo Cardano - Coastwalker of the League of Naturalists

Rinaldo Cardano
(art by Andrew Drilon, c. 2014)
My character for Echoes: Piacenza is now a 3rd Level Druid!

Of course, the setting started out magic- and god-less, so the sudden infusion of arcane and divine magic into the world made for some interesting opportunities to tweak the classes a bit.

One year ago, Rinaldo was an up-and-coming member of the Science District of Piacenza who figured prominently in the uncovering of the Conspiracy of Shadows. Unfortunately, the understanding of those who stood against the Fellowship of the Shadow was flawed, and the cataclysmic Violazione resulted in the deaths of many, and the change of many in the lands of Piacenza -- and perhaps the rest of the world.

For his part, Rinaldo has been helping contribute to the community of Science District and Farwater District citizens who've been trying to understand the changes to the natural laws, and struggling to find ways to return to a more balanced equilibrium in the natural order. The League of Naturalists (as it calls itself) is a conglomeration of smaller Fellowships, and is therefore technically even more illegal than Fellowships -- they've had to rely on some older tongues of Piacenza as the basis of their fellowspeak cant.

Many members of the League of Naturalists, like Rinaldo, wield new 'magical' abilities and are becoming increasingly skilled in wielding them. However, they note that their philosophical opposition to the Arcane Fellowships' views on the use of magic will likely spark conflict in the future.

Friday, September 5, 2014

IDIC Files: The Characters I've Been (part 01)

There is a practice of looking at the PCs of a given player -- perhaps in one RPG, perhaps across all RPGs played -- and reading into the choices of play as an insight into the player.

On one level, this is similar to watching basketball or chess players and coming to conclusions about their play style, strengths and weaknesses. On another level, it's akin to reading one's creative work and coming to conclusions about the player's conscious and subconscious issues, philosophies, and goals.

Keill Blackthorn

When my age was in the single digits, I remember rolling up a D&D character, and named it Keill Blackthorn. Funky spelling of first name? Check! Stereotypical fantasy last name? Check!

Never played him, as I didn't have a regular crew to play with.

In my teens, at a Recreational Center in the U.S. where I had to build a high-level character (several levels lower than the average in that group, of course) Keill was reborn as a half-elven fighter / thief.

My conscious goals were to keep things simple, keeping magic out of my concerns, and just focusing on doing combat stuff. Subconscious goals may have been:
  • play a character who doesn't have to lead, to be in front the whole time (as fighters were wont to do);
  • provide more skills to the group beyond fighting -- scouting, theivery, and the ever-popular backstab from the shadows;
  • emulate a more finesse- or swashbucklerish-fighter with multi-classing;
  • be mysterious and not have to talk much, because I was shy and uncertain of myself.
I eventually caught up in gaming skill, but I must admit that I lacked gaming experience as a gaming newbie, and in one spectacularly bad game -- I died three times in a 1-hour timespace, all my fault because I didn't quite understand that the magical symbols I was trying to read were actually a ward that caused instant death when looking at them. They were very generous in resurrecting me -- and one player, she took me aside and explained out of character what I was doing, and that I shouldn't do it anymore, and cited the reasons why.

The campaign was great fun, and though I eventually drifted apart from that group, Keill Blackthorn was my first real ongoing PC in a game.

It was also an eye-opener for me in terms of the separation of playing a class from playing a role, because of a trap that shifted the minds of the various players into different bodies. I learned that I could actually play a character's personality separate from the stereotype of the class (forgive me, I was slow and didn't quite understand the role-playing aspect of the game yet). It freed me to play a truer character in future games as well.




Monday, September 1, 2014

Doctor Who Series 08 Ep 01 - Spoilers and Speculation

So the new Doctor officially enters the fray with his first episode, and I watch it to see what new wrinkles (pun intended) this Doctor will add to the canon.

Also, I'm eager to see where the plotline concerning lost Gallifrey where lead -- and to watch the acting chops of Capaldi in its full glory.

He does his manic Doctor quite well, but I'm more interested in the influences of the first Three Doctors on his character, plus the occasional Fifth & Seventh Doctor, rather than any riffs on the Fourth, Sixth, or the Tenth or Eleventh.


Episode 01 - "Deep Breath"

We certainly get a good measure of the manic side of The Doctor during this regeneration and recovery episode. We also get a lot of heavy-handed discussion about the apparent age of The Doctor and the reaction of his companion.

Of greater interest to me is the emergence of the supposedly darker side of The Doctor. Was the lead android pushed, or did it jump (the latter, I believe, for reasons I'll touch on in episode 02)?

I think it's good to see Clara's usually unflappable character unbalanced quite a bit. It allows for that "perky-optimism-as-defense-mechanism" vibe that we got in her first appearance. However, it's very distressing for her character to be dismissed right out of hand, given her important role in saving The Doctor's entire timeline in a past episode of a prior series.

Thematically, I suspect that the villainous creature in this episode being a throwback to a prior episode alludes to this series (and Doctor) being a reexamination of various Doctor Who tropes and elements, and digging at the core of them -- perhaps deconstructing them and reconstructing them for the modern age.

Missy is of interest, not only because she refers to The Doctor as her boyfriend, but also because she bears the same name as a minor character in a prior episode that also involved Cybermen. Some leaked production stills show her and The Doctor appearing together in front of some walking Cybermen, so perhaps there is a connection there?

I do like the sense of there being raw intelligence and untapped physical power in this incarnation of the Doctor (he physically overpowers the lead android, after all). It really lends itself to the feeling that The Doctor is always holding himself back.

Onwards to Episode 2!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Farewell, Robin Williams

"Mork calling Orson; come in, Orson --"

Mr. Robin Williams made a big impact on my life at least three times.

The first was in all four seasons of Mork & Mindy, which my family watched almost religiously here in the Philippines. He made me laugh out loud, and made it okay to be a bit crazy in public (though my sense of humor has always been iffy).

The second was when I first got to the U.S. and watched Robin Williams: Live at the Met and I realized just how much broader his skillset in comedy was, and how much wider the realm of comedy was as well.

The third was at Pacificon, when it was still being held at the Dunfey Hotel in the SF Bay Area. He was walking around the halls with his son, enjoying the convention atmosphere, and buying game stuff for his son. People smiled at him and greeted him, but no one went up to him (that I saw) for his autograph, for questions about his work, nothing like that. It reminded me that we all have different sides to us, and that we're comfortable sharing some of those sides in safe environments -- or around people we trust.

It took me some weeks to think about it, but I think I'm ready to say goodbye. Farewell, sir. I loved all your work; you made a positive impact my childhood and I thank you for it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Quick-Bits: Return to Super-Hero RPG News

New Book -- ICONS: The Assembled Edition

There's a new / alternate version of ICONS out called ICONS Assembled, still by the incomparable Steve Kenson, that offers a substantial amount of alternative rules or rules adjustments -- but packaged as a single rulebook.

To my mind, this was kind of like a D&D Cyclopedia of the ICONS ruleset, which really intrigued me at the get go. But from Mr. Kenson's blog, there's a list of all the changes between the original ICONS ruleset and ICONS Assembled:

  • Adjectives (from Weak to Supreme) see a bit more use in talking about abilities on the scale.
  • Actions characters can perform during their panel are better defined. Supplemental actions are gone; as feedback indicated they were confusing and folks tended not to use them or the associated modifiers. Instead, characters get an Action, a Move, and a number of opportunities to React and Interact.
  • The Benchmarks Table from Great Power is included.
  • The term “Determination Points” (DP) is used to differentiate the resource players spend from the Determination ability level.
  • The default die rolling method is: Effort (Acting Ability + d6) – Difficulty (Opposing Ability/Level + d6) = Outcome. The math is the same, it just equalizes the die-rolling equation so there isn’t a need to “reverse” all the action formulae when its GM characters acting rather than heroes, or vice versa. The original d6-d6 method (along with a couple of others) are optional rules.
  • There is a marginal degree of success, allowing for one of seven degrees of outcome: Massive, Major, and Moderate Failure, and Marginal, Moderate, Major, and Massive Success.
    The Combined Effort rules are more broadly applied for “stacking” instances.
    Pyramid Tests (which first appeared in Sidereal Schemes of Dr. Zodiac) are in the Basics chapter, along with all the Pyramid Test modifiers and variations from Team-Up.
  • Challenges are consolidated into qualities, and the baseline number of qualities is reduced to three to start. Qualities are activated both to create advantage and to cause trouble for characters.
  • The Qualities section has expanded information on creating and learning qualities, removing temporary qualities, and activating qualities through maneuvers and tactics as well as spending Determination Points.
  • Determined Effort is replaced by a simpler Improved Effort that is just a flat +2 bonus, dropping the various requirements that no one really used anyway. Focused Effort is folded in the stunt mechanics (substituting one level for another in a test or effect), a Push Ability option is added.
  • Trouble caused by activating qualities includes Challenge, Compulsion, Disability, Increased Difficulty, and Lost Panel. I may write at some point about the notion of “Editorial Interference” as trouble, but that concept didn’t make the cut (too meta and, frankly, rooting in comics fan cynicism).
  • The Stunts section has expanded to include using superhuman (level 7+) abilities and Master Specialties for stunts, as well as powers.
  • The Damage section include options for minions, more lethal damage, lasting injuries, and different damage effects (from the standard Slam, Stun, and Kill effects).
  • There are two expanded examples of play, one in the Basics chapter and one in the Taking Action chapter.
  • The random Power Type table is tweaked slightly to change the probabilities of generating certain powers (mainly making Movement Powers more common than Mental Powers).
  • There is an optional table for randomly rolling Specialties (if you want, otherwise you just choose them as before).
  • Powers have generally been brought in-line with the material in Great Power and make more reference to qualities for modifiers. The focus is on the “core” powers, with condensed descriptions, leaving the more detailed descriptions, extra and limit lists, and “reskinned” powers for Great Power to cover.
  • Extras and limits from Great Power are included.
  • Power descriptions are now all listed in alphabetical order, for easier reference.
  • A condensed version of the Devices from Great Power is included, with lots of sample equipment.
  • A simple initiative system is included (Coordination test, highest outcome goes first).
  • Actions are broken out by different types (Movement, Action, Reaction, Interaction) and more clearly detailed.
  • An option for Interludes (narrative based scenes that activate qualities and award DP, which can be saved or spent immediately for insight, retcons, or recovery) is in the Game Mastering chapter.
  • Some expanded and cleaned-up Game Master advice.
  • A system of Achievements & Changes for character development.
  • The villain creation system from Villainomicon is included.
  • A slightly updated version of the Universe Creation system from Team-Up is included.
  • Nine sample heroes and nine sample villains are included. There is no sample adventure (as I’m not a big fan of sample adventures in the core rulebook itself). I might look at revising the four-page Wages of Sin from the original ICONS book as a free downloadable sample adventure.
  • A glossary of terms is included at the end.
  • And, of course, the Assembled Edition benefits from new art and new layout by Dan Houser and Daniel Solis, very much in the style of Great Power.
In addition to all this, I've seen what appears to be a nice hardcover edition of this book out there. If that's preferable to the digital version of ICONS Assembled available online -- go for it!

New Book -- Supers! Revised Edition

Simon Washbourne created SUPERS!, a few years back. It was a super-hero RPG characterized by simplicity and flexibility in the genre. Since that time, HAZARD Studio obtained publishing rights to the game, and out a SUPERS! Revised Edition (via a successful Kickstarter campaign).

Here's a great interview of the makers / publishers of this RPG.

I'm always curious about new entrants into the RPG market. With all the movies and TV shows available for this genre, no wonder there's such a huge amount of material out there.

Will this be the new introductory genre for the RPG market? Maybe not yet, but it's a contender for second place, I think.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: beyond Official System Releases




This current version of D&D not only seems to be very friendly towards older D&D conversions, but also -- by extension -- to a lot of the OSR systems that were inspired by those older versions. I think I can see it working for the B/X and BECMI versions of D&D, as well as 1st Edition AD&D -- but I have no real feel for converting the other versions before and after. But it does make it possible to therefore use a lot of (a) old D&D material; and (b) a lot of OSR material.

Unofficial Conversion Document


Fortunately, for people interested in converting older materials (and some OSR systems), James Bowman has produced his own conversion guidelines for D&D 5th Edition.

At the time of this posting, it includes:

  • BECMI to 5E (includes 0E, Holmes, and B/X) - last updated 12 August 2014
    2E to 5E (includes 1E) - last updated 12 August 2014
  • 3.5 to 5E (includes 3E and Pathfinder) - last updated 12 August 2014
  • 4E to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
    Next to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
  • Castles & Crusades to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014

There's both an in-depth document and a quick reference document for each. Great work, Mr. Bowman.

Old School Style: Geomorphs

I'm always happy to see old school maps and geomorphs online, not only because of the nostalgia factor, but also because of my gamer fascination with maps and the design philosophies behind creating 'geomorph' maps in RPGs and boardgames.

Michael Wenman currently is tackling how to create & design geomorphs on his blog in a fascinating (currently 10-part) series.

OSR Game System Listing


And if you're looking for various OSR systems that you might want to go through for source material and perhaps some cool game mechanic hacks for a one-shot, a short campaign, or a permanent house rule -- look no further than the D&D retroclone / neo-clone listing on Taxidermic Owlbear! Logos and links and short summaries aplenty!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: D&D Basic v2 (for Players and DM)


It seems that there's a new version of of the Basic D&D ruleset out on the Wizards of the Coast website.

What used to just be a single document (in standard and printer-friendly formats) is now a set of two documents -- one for the Players, and one for the Dungeon Master.

Here's what the change log says about the revised contents:
Change Log

This change log indicates significant updates from the previous version of the D&D Basic Rules.

  •     Added acid splash and poison spray spells.
  •     Added noble background.
  •     Added appendix containing the Forgotten Realms deities.
  •     Added appendix containing descriptions of the five factions that feature in the D&D Adventurers League.
  •     Legal text added to the footer to allow reproduction for personal purposes.

Of course, it seems that this only tackles the Player's side of things.

In the DM's book, there's a huge section about Monsters, covering monster types, abilities, AC and Proficiency, and then giving a listing of monsters for use in the game. It also provides NPC templates and ways to customize them to your needs. There's also advice on building combat encounters, rules on magic items, and a short list of them.

Looking forward to future updates!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Strike Hard And Fade Away Into The Night: TMNT

There's even a short comic inside this sucker. Awesome stuff. Didn't play this game enough, and probably won't ever again.

And I'm going to give this to a good friend soon, so this is kinda farewell to this game.

Good luck, TMNT RPG. May your new owner use you well.

I remember really being into the turtles back in the day, but then the cartoons started to veer sharply away from the source material in tone.

It wasn't always grim and gritty, after all. There was humor, science fiction, and pizza! But the mixture kinda went a bit weird for me. Oh, well. Good times.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: Bloggers on Basic


I've been enjoying a lot of the posts that have been going up on blogs regarding the current rules release for D&D 5th Edition. At the time of this writing, only the Basic version is up on the WOTC site, but there a quite a lot of blog posts out there that are not just reviewing it, but also posting new material, conversions from older editions, and useful stuff to help run games while we wait for the standard trifecta of books for the game to come out (PHB, DMG, MM).

Here are a few of those posts and links that I've found useful or interesting:

They Got The Math Right by Robb Minneman (on RPGGeek)

A short but informative post about how the math works out for D&D Basic so far. It has a table that displays how calculations were done, and has some interesting observations / analysis about the results:

"First thing to note: Modifiers top out at +11. There's a cap on a PC's ability at 20. Proficiency bonuses do not extend past +6. That means you can't get more than a +11 to a roll, ever. That "nearly impossible" DC 30 check? They mean it. Heck, a "Very Hard" (DC 25) check can really only be attempted once a PC gets up into the level 6-8 range, and even then it's going to be a rare success.

But the math scales very nicely. The fact that bonuses scale gently means that characters get more capable, but the game designers don't have to go through the contortions that the 3e and 4e writers did to continue to make challenges hold up. This is more like the 1e and 2e thief skills: Your chances of success keep going up as your level increases.

That's good! It doesn't break the verisimilitude of your PC becoming more powerful. You can actually try harder things and your chances of succeeding go up. It provides a tangible success meter for characters."


5E Backgrounds by Courtney Campbell (on Hack & Slash)

With character backgrounds emerging as an interesting way to further customize your 1st level character, this series of posts is adding to the available backgrounds by offering up a few new ones. Currently available at the time of this writing are: Torturer, Gravedigger, Farmer, Prisoner.

5E Monsters by Surfarcher (Surf's D&D Blog)

Monsters are always welcome to DMs looking for some interesting opposition to their PCs. We should encourage Surfarcher to complete his 10-part series of D&D monsters as he does some analysis on them. Four of the planned posts are up; check them out!

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