Monday, December 8, 2014

Winding Down The Year: Fading Fantasy, Starting Up Science Fiction

Shift from Fantasy RPGs


Perhaps it's because I'm actually playing in a D&D campaign now, I'm kind of winding down my rules forays into fantasy RPGs. I do like picking at rules systems from the point of view of playing, but it's very different from the usual Armchair Gamer approach of distance and theoretical play.

So, I think I'll just practice that offline for a while, though I'll probably still schedule the play summaries for posting for those following the Isle Imperium and Echoes posts.

Shift to Science Fiction RPGs


In its place, I'll be focusing more on Science Fiction RPGs (and maybe some Science Fantasy -- the line gets blurry, you know) when I find the time to post. No shortage of RPGs there, and I do have some loose ends in my blog concerning this genre, after all.

BUT WAIT: Fantasy Settings


Interestingly enough, there is no shortage of settings that I'd like to begin exploring with D&D 5E or perhaps some of the other options out there.

There's Calidar: In Stranger Skies, by Bruce Heard. Some promising options there for a colonized world with flying ships and an old school setting feel. Lots of great maps, great art, and great source material for a fantasy romp.

There's Uresia: Grave of Heaven, by S. John Ross, which I picked up in the recent Indie Bundle of Holding and have been skimming through and enjoying.

There's A Red & Pleasant Land by Zak S., whose general premise I've kind of grokked through various posts on his famous / infamous blog, but have been intrigued and excited by in my initial skims.

Last but not least, Arrows of Indra by the RPGPundit. Hopeful for an RPG and setting that will open up more ideas on dealing with other cultures in the fantasy realm -- but I'll be looking largely at the setting stuff rather than the rules. And trying to extract parallels with Spears of the Dawn by the machine that is Kevin Crawford.

So, let's see how all this planned blogging works out.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Isle Imperium 1.53 -- Writ Here, Writ Now

Thematic image from (oldserenesforest.net)
Back at the port of Kaven, the Bone legion Keeper of Transgressions CHADRANIZAR CONTUS informs the trio of the First that they have seen too much and cannot be permitted to share their acquired knowledge. He is, however, willing to let one of them go while he keeps the other two hostage for life, having already considered and rejected the possibility that they will agree either to forfeit their quest or betray the Diamond by giving up all the information they possess regarding their legion. He also rejects the notion of wiping their memories, considering this to be an unreliable and impermanent solution.

After much largely futile discussion (in the course of which Chadranizar mentions that the “mote of Magor” has identified their shards as “a Bejeweled… a yearling… and one of the Consonances, Kirian or one of her sisters”), the three decide to end the parley and fight for their freedom, hoping—despite the inflation and prohibition on traverse laid upon them—that Chadranizar’s apparent inability to perceive DEVON will give them an edge in the confrontation.

To their chagrin, however, they learn that not only has the Keeper merely been ignoring Devon because she was not part of the original trespass on Kaven (He gives her the option to stay out of the fight, but she stands with her number), he is accompanied by no less than 12 previously concealed Bone legionaries. To make matters even worse, he then presents them with the shattered pieces of the Torrent Mariner and Imperious Magister, saying, “I have taken the motes of both… consider these a memento.”

At this revelation, VARIAN and ALECTO are essentially prepared to go down in flames, but ARCTURUS proposes that they might as well try to complete their mission before death or capture. Accordingly, then, Aly and particularly Ian spend a great deal of inner reserve for the latter to instantly build a structure that will conceal them for long enough to make the declaration. The mammoth keep thus formed slams into existence and against the cliff side concealing the Bone encampment (and probably into several Bone people as well), while Aly further conceals Arc’s invocation of Terminus’s permission to reform the writ.

His meticulous inclusion of all elements of their quest significantly improves their chances and results in success, such that a female personage appears to Arc and gives him the option to decide what legion the writ will cover. Arc chooses Amber and receives the appropriate writ, at which point the quartet is suffused in a blue light and hears the voices of Bregan and Khimere, the former fiercely applauding their success and the latter telling Aly, “You will have to be her second now.” Grief-stricken but acutely aware that they are still in danger, Arc formally declares the mission over and hopes for extraction back to Peerdin.

Outside the keep, the members of Bone sacrifice their entire encampment in order to bring the structure down, but by the time they have accomplished this, the First are gone. A fat, floating, scary woman with a querulous voice—clearly a Bone authority figure of some rank—appears and declares that Chadranizar Contus has failed. He attempts to maneuver out of this condemnation, but before long is stripped of all his shards and accoutrements, and somehow turned into a shard himself.

Aly, Arc, Devon, and Ian materialize just outside Peerdin, where the subsequent five days of debriefing and ISAACUS’S initial fear that they have returned because of failure are followed by resounding jubilation, albeit tempered by the absence of Brand, Catalina, Kim, and Mantius. Significant notes during the debriefing and celebration include:
  • Information about Bone is restricted to the offices of Oversight and Intelligence; information about Pasver’s shards is restricted to the offices of Oversight, Intelligence, Training, and Finance.
  • GWYNETH and the Ninth number have returned.
  • Ian greets the legendaries of Peerdin, including two new arrivals, ARSINOE TRIEN♀ and POLONIUS DEMARK♂.
  • The Fifth has a new (female!) member, CHALDEA.
  • PATRICUS has recovered and is once again Master Oversight, with TERENTIUS stepping down (and disappearing immediately after discerning Cat’s absence) to make room for OLIVERUS as Master Strategy.
  • PANDORA and 20 mounts of the Amber legion accept their new writ and pledge unofficial alliance with Diamond.
  • Arc presents the Will-o’-Wisp Diadem to LUCIA and witnesses a conversation between Lucia and ELINORA which seems to imply some kind of development between Eli and Terry. (“He’s gone to look for her… as he should.”)
  • Ian is thrown a party by his industrious building committee, and tours the city, in the course of which he discovers that one of the specialist towers is now occupied by the Essence Lancer AMIAH, who happens to be treating the returned and very apologetic VEDA. He also learns from Amiah that Mantius is alive, as his file with her is still active.
  • Aly presents the Harlequin Cowl to KENJIRO and learns that his brother Katsumoto and their sister AJI have been 42 miles outside of Peerdin for a month and a half now, exchanging letters of courtship supposedly with Cat. Aly engages THESSALY’S assistance and they learn that this correspondence was carried on by TALTUN, who then crafts them a letter which they hope will end the matter without shame or insult.

The ruling warders inform the First that they must nominate two new members, with the assurance that their missing teammates will of course be reinstated once found. Devon remains a member of the First, but is withheld from field duty temporarily to undergo training, and the First Tier nominate a candidate of their own to round out the First’s active roster to six, now including new members TOBIAS, ROGELIO, and Thess (after the last ensures that there is no problem with her and Ian).

About to go present the letter ‘from Cat’ to Katsumoto with Kenjiro and Thess, Aly is summoned by Isaac to a general gathering of the Veiled Cardinals, at which the master of Intelligence disseminates the following information:
  • Brand, Mantius, Cat, and Kim (in this order of importance) are missing; steps will be taken to find them, and Brand and Mantius will not be replaced in the Strange Number.
  • It has been ascertained that Amber’s fall was helped along by the presence of a white dragon with a sharded mount—evidently causing a disastrous inflation—as well as three camouflaged agents of Bone, whose signal from outside the city of Amber was answered by a gleam from one of the towers within.
    • Corollary to this: the 25% discount on purchases has been revoked, and Patricus must renegotiate in the place of Cat, who was specifically requested.
  • Ivory and Bone are suspected to now be targeting Sapphire.
    • Aly later confirms that the real target is likely Emerald, and that Bone has rewritten the other two previously destroyed writs, so that they now have three legions, the opposing courts of which have likely been dealt with.
  • The plans of the Renegade’s Number are not to be tolerated, and something will be done.

After Aly’s departure, Isaac uses deviancy and promptly learns the Blood Tear technique, saying, “Could it be that simple?”

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!

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