Saturday, February 28, 2015

Super-Hero Saturday: A Ravenous Catalogue of Systems (Pun Intended)

The earliest super-hero RPG I had was Marvel Super-Heroes by TSR. But I've sadly had little chance to actually play it! I actually got more opportunities to play DC Heroes.

Still, it started me down a path that was eventually dominated by Champions and the Hero System, with more recent forays into Mutants & Masterminds, DC Adventures, and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

No doubt, part of it is my love for one of my other geek hobbies: comics. And I'll tackle that large topic another time.

All The Supers Games Out There?

I'm very thankful for the work of Lowell Francis. It's neat to learn about those RPGs that I lost track of when the subgenre just kind of exploded beyond my ability to collect:

From his Age of Ravens Blog:



Friday, February 27, 2015

Filipino Fridays: "You Speak English Really Well!"

Oh, I've had this said to me and -- sad to say -- my initial snarky reaction was: "Well, thanks. So do you!" Thank God I always held back on the rude second sentence.

The Long Preamble


Backing up -- I'm Filipino, don't look like anyone that might conceivable pass hisself offa sum kinda Caucasian American. But I grew up in the Philippines, reasonably well off, and so grew up as part of a group that would be considered privileged in his home country. A home country where English is considered one of the national languages, and where -- when I was going up -- speaking good English was considered a mark of education, in much the same way that speaking Spanish, and at least one other European language was considered a mark of education and prestige in the era of my grandparents.

So, when I was in the 'States, encountering a compliment like the above rubbed me the wrong way. Misplaced pride, I suppose. I mean, it's a compliment -- and one I've also gotten in other countries since: Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia. So why didn't I take offense there?

Many possible reasons that I'm still exploring, but I suppose one is -- I bought into the whole American Dream. Not the white picket fences and suburban bliss, but the one that promises a meritocracy -- you can become anything you want, if you work hard enough. Skin color, ethnic background, economic background don't matter. Bought into it with a steady diet of a strongly American-influenced educational system and imported TV shows (Science Fiction, Crime, and Comedy).

Now, as a published writer, I have a different reaction to these types of compliments: "Thank you so much!"

Because, as someone occasionally lumped into the Person of Color grouping -- as opposed to the "Oh, Alex -- I'm sorry about this, but what nationality are you again?", which I always took as a compliment (yes, I may have complicated identity issues like many people) -- writing in English sometimes triggers an unwanted reaction. You really don't get as much slack as a (perceived) American or British writer -- artistic license with spelling or made-up slang (it's a Fantasy / Futuristic / Modern subculture genre) and get slapped for 'wrong grammar' or 'wrong vocabulary usage' when it's 100% intentional!

Looking back on my adolescent self, I wish I'd taken the compliments more in the spirit that they'd been given: genuine recognition and perhaps even admiration. These days, those things don't seem to be as in vogue as they should be.

This Series

All that is a segue into this: I'm going to be restarting Fridays with a series of posts that will focus on bringing the Filipino element into gaming. Not always a Philippine setting, sometimes just a character or two into a game system, or recognizing a mention in new or old RPG material.

Inspiration

Of course, you may wonder what my Appendix N might be, given my nationality. I tell you this: it started, like many of my generation, with much of the same books as yours. Except harder to find, because they were of low importance to the local bookstores. ("My God, a complete collection of the works of Moorcock? Which branch of National Bookstore? Too far! Buy it for me, pare! I'll pay you back!")

And like some of my generation (and the younger generation), we've started writing our own body of Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror and Speculative Fiction. Here are a few covers & links for those of the eBook persuasion:

[ Full Disclosure: some of my short stories appear in some of these volumes ]

The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005-2010 
Kindle Store (http://amzn.to/1APA6RA)

This is a good starter, a collection of what the original editors of the Philippine Speculative Fiction series considered the best of the collected stories from 2005 to 2010.

A reprint of my story, The Death & Rebirth of Nathaniel Alan Sempio, appears in this volume -- my filipinized homage to the pulp novels of my youth, and a look at a possible two-fisted alternate future of my country.

Stories from this series have been included in the Honorable Mentions list from The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror edited by Ellen Datlow and Kelly Link & Gavin Grant.

"[I] have been impressed with the quality of the fiction and the scope of it -- quiet, personal stories of the fantastic, real science fiction, tales based on traditional Philippine folklore and mythology, structurally experimental pieces, and humorous commentaries on life in the 21st century." - World Fantasy Award-winning author Jeffrey Ford.



Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1
Kindle Store (http://amzn.to/1FADbFT)
Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2
Kindle Store (http://amzn.to/TMZTlM)
Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3
Kindle Store (http://amzn.to/SEzysW)
Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4
Kindle Store (http://amzn.to/YMkblX)
Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 5
Kindle Store (http://amzn.to/1LOBoRF)
Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 6
Kindle Store (http://amzn.to/TEdnDZ)
Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 7
Kindle Store (http://amzn.to/THOaW4)
Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 8
Kindle Store (http://amzn.to/17C6GML)
Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 9
Kindle Store (http://amzn.to/1DXKn0a)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Things I Learned From Champions: Being A Hero Isn't Easy

Some people think that just having powers, putting on a costume, makes you a hero. But playing Champions, with a bunch of players (and a GM) who are fond of things like guns, physics, action movies, military doctrine, anime, improvised munitions, thrillers, building codes, and extremely detailed scenario review can make things difficult.

Stopping a simple bank robbery? Not so easy if you have a secret identity. Or if the bank robbers (especially competent, trained, non-powered ones) have a plan, and are committed to hurting their hostages if necessary to get you damn cops (and super-heroes) back. Or if there are other complications, like a S.W.A.T. team that (understandably) doesn't want untrained vigilantes -- amateurs, really -- playing hero.

It was actually in Champions that I really began to admire police, firefighters, hostage negotiators, and bomb specialists -- going forward with their jobs, laying their lives on the line, relying on other professionals on the team to work as a team to get things done with no loss of life, if possible.

It was also one of the things that made me realize that kicking down doors, killing monsters, and taking their stuff was a world away.

Many folks talk about the narrative in a game being more important than other considerations -- but narratives have to work for an ideal audience. And our ideal audience -- us -- weren't satisfied with scenarios with gaping plot holes. And strangely enough, trying to run through this plausibility gauntlet made these adventures more difficult and fun.

Or maybe not so strange. Heroism is all around, I guess. When you look hard enough, you can really see it all around.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Echoes: Piacenza - Season 01 Episodes 02 and 03 (powered by D&D 5e)

In Which Incursion Effects Redound


Game Summary for Echoes Book 02 S01E02 & S01E03 

(played on September 6 & 13, 2014)


PIACENZA – VIOLAZIONE + DAYS


Far from over, the drastic incursion occurs at least twice more, with terrible results.

Among these, Dolce suffers the necessity of having to tear off her fish tail—ripping cartilage and all—and, staggering to shore on bloody human legs, finds a stony substance forming around her, such that she is encased in a termite-like mound.

Vittorio becomes not only gigantic, as he already was, but something of a primitive brute, with difficulty forming coherent trains of thought. Even in his fugue state, though, he is able to locate Dolce, break her loose, and get them both back home to Salvezza.

Salvezza then experiences only the tail end of a devastating tsunami that literally and evidently permanently submerges Scienza, Diplomazia, Giustizia, and the westernmost demesnes of Guerra. During the deluge, Dolce once again (temporarily) morphs into a mermaid—she and Vito are both what will be known as ‘il Cambiato’, the changed.

Many more people die. Of those who survive, many undergo secondary transformations, typically more painful and horrific—albeit, as discovered later, seemingly short-term—than the first ones, such that even more are then killed by the consequences of the transformation itself. Of those who survive that, some lucky few (well, after being repeatedly struck by lightning) have the essence of magic awakened within them.


VIOLAZIONE + WEEKS


Rinaldo is missing every member of his family except his cousin Fierra. Attempting to find her twin sister Alyanna with the help of a male friend of Fierra’s, they are attacked by one of the newly-formed street gangs, this one composed of reptilian-derived Cambiato. Fierra displays a stunning new ability to absorb and redirect energy attacks.

Cesare, meanwhile, has become the official survival guide for Hans, a few more of his Savonian scientist friends, and an assortment of hapless Piacenzans and displaced erstwhile tourists. He attempts to find them a new place of shelter, only to find it inhabited by a spider-themed fellowship headed by a certain Ebon Widow—none other than his beloved sister Goia, who either does not or pretends not to recognize him.


VIOLAZIONE + MONTHS


Viatriz, parents and brother all missing, has luckily managed to hold on to her family home and assume leadership of a quartet of young Piacenzan diplomats (after unluckily turning into a sort of human-sized praying mantis for a while). During a small riot of starving people trying to breach the Portinari manor, she discovers that her colleague Cosimo is some sort of Cambiato with a tail, while her other colleague Ariadne is simply a bitch. Via works various odd jobs to try to find her family and make ends meet.

On the larger scale, prices for everything have skyrocketed, what with the effects of the incursion on trade and industry. Law and order, while not entirely sundered, are at best challenged, especially with Salvezza about to close itself off as an independent district, as, before long, will every district save Commerzio, Cultura, and the Sovrino isle itself, which become an old-guard coalition known as La Citta Spezzata, the broken city.

Via, Rinaldo, Cesare, and—suspiciously—every single Sovrino that has been spotted to date are all ‘la Illeso’, the unharmed and, at least visually, untouched by the incursion.

Even more troubling, to say the least, is the arrival of ‘il Morti’, the Piacenzan dead, who: seemingly cannot be killed, as much as possible avoid interacting with the living, and come to inhabit the former districts of Archiavare and Finanza, the latter of which is now called il Giardino, having inexplicably become a flourishing garden. A subset of il Morti are those who died from the Violazione and returned to life; these can be killed, and occasionally kill, as they tend to be belligerent and (understandably) resentful.

More strangely yet, a collection of domes has risen over the prior site of drowned Scienza, while a gauzy, yet impenetrable canopy has appeared over what was once Diplomazia—now ‘il Sudario’, the Shroud. Further, a mysterious bright light emanates from Water and Far Water (Acqua and Gran Lunga), which have both become not just politically but physically and communication-wise cut off from the other districts.


VIOLAZIONE + 1 YEAR


With the introduction of magic into Piacenza, more and more magical or magic-altered items have begun to be found—these are referred to as ‘Refined’—giving rise to the new trade of treasure-hunting, since Refined items command a high market price, and people are still far from recovered, financially or otherwise, from the cataclysm.

This being legalistic Piacenza, rules quickly sprang up regulating the use of magic—still fairly nebulous, in general—as well as requiring licenses for treasure-hunting.  Through her months of work and bureaucratic savvy, Via was able to acquire a permit for her group, only for said group to quickly splinter apart in an argument over the allocation of some earnings for house maintenance (Via = for, others led by Ariadne = against).

With the other three going three separate ways, Via is alone for a while until she is visited by Vito and her pal Dolce, fresh from an emotional parting from their father, who implored them to go find their mother, apparently last seen heading off to Cultura in a huff after a vicious argument. Via regretfully informs them that their aunt’s old house—Mama’s stated destination—has been taken over by opportunistic squatters, but hopefully invites them to form a treasure-hunting crew with her.

They agree, and all three reap the rewards—the luxury of time and funding to seek their various loved ones—of a successful exploit or two, until they run afoul of a spellcaster. Because Some People Whose Names Rhyme With ‘Ria’ cannot just cut their losses, they try making a go at the jellyfish-headed magic-user time and again, only to be brought down by the awesome, incomprehensible, and puissant might of a Sleep spell.

Via suggests taking on a spellcaster or two of their own. Dolce readily agrees. Vito reluctantly agrees, after which he proceeds to unwittingly menace the streets of Cultura, being an eight-foot-tall man, armed with a large Smaul, demanding to know whether citizens practice the only-recently and rather-vaguely regulated use of magic.

Luckily, in the course of one of her jobs, Via overhears a couple of restaurant patrons discussing no less than magic! One of these proves to be Rinaldo, who, with Scienza both drowned and closed, has relocated to Cultura to look after his cousin, who is depressed nearly to the point of catatonia, and says little other than, “She’s alive; I know it. I hear her under the water.” His parents, alas, are confirmed to be deceased.

The other fellow is Cesare, whose parents as well as his semi-romantic friend Sali have yet to be located, but he seems to be distracting himself with a characteristically obsessive new interest in “charting” magical ability. Managing to worm (or bludgeon) her way into their conversation, Via eventually drags them home with her, and they are offered a ‘tryout period’ with the crew, providing they agree to allocating some funds to the house.

After some confusion and misfires, the jellyfish magic-user is soon prevented from spellcasting by a combination of mental detection, flashing lights and colors, entangling brambles, and one big-ass Smaul. Pearls are acquired, substantial funds converted, and, officially, a crew is born.

Super-Hero Saturday: A Cast of Thousands

(Magnus Robot Fighter from ComicVine.com)
I used to be overjoyed with, then took for granted, then forgot, then remembered the wonderful sets of websites that have character builds of many comic book characters in the HERO System.

I found some small delight in seeing that some people had spent time building characters that I, too, loved reading about and would like to spend some time rooting through their adventures and creating a mechanically accurate rendition (to my mind) of them in the HERO System.

Magnus, Robot Fighter. Grimjack. Amazing Man (the JSA one). The Confessor & Altar Boy. Nexus, Judah Maccabee, and so on.

My youth knew some hours spent building my own versions, but I no longer have the same hours available to me. Likewise, I'm not as familiar with the current (6th Edition) of HERO. But maybe this is how I'll recover that facility with the system. To that end, I'd like to begin reviewing and cataloging the sites that are still out there.

Here are a few I've found (editions unknown):

Mathew R. Ignash's Champions Page - an old mainstay, with a bunch of 350 pt. and 250 pt. builds, and some higher point builds. An interesting collection of heroes and villains from comics and even TV shows.

Surbrook's Stuff - another dependable source of characters (and creator of some great HERO sourcebooks as well) with a selection of highlights include characters from The Authority, Astro City, and Top 10.

KillerShrike's General HERO System Resources - another impressive collection of HERO resources, like the others, not limited to comics alone. However, the highlights of comic builds include the heavy hitters of the DC & Marvel Universes, plus the JLA 350 project, which has "archetyped" versions of the JLA. Also, characters are conveniently marked by the edition of HERO.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Things I Learned From Champions: Throwback to 2014


Last year, I made a series posts under the unifying theme of Things I Learned from Champions:
But I suppose that, in retrospect, that part of those lessons were experiences that shaped my (admittedly limited and skewed) understanding of RPG theory, from the point of view of both player and GM.

This year, though, I think it's time to widen that a bit to all Supers RPGs, especially those that I've played in the past, and those I'm currently reading up on. There's a lot to learn from Super-heroic RPGs, after all.

But fear not, I've got lots of experiences from playing Champions throughout high school, college, and a bit of my professional life to draw from still -- it'll just be joined by my experiences with Classic Marvel Super-Heroes, DC Heroes, Mutants and Masterminds, Marvel Heroic Role-Playing, and even Fuzion!

Echoes: Piacenza - Season 01 Episode 01 (powered by D&D 5e)

Vittorio with his (s)Maul.

In Which Magic First Invades the World

Game Summary for Echoes Book 02 S01E01

(played on August 30, 2014)

PIACENZA - CELEBRAZIONE DI NAVI DI PENTI


LARISSA

It is time. I hope everyone else is on schedule--

MARA

Don't move!

VITTORIO

You are under arrest! Put down that statue; we know what you are trying to do.

LARISSA

You cannot stop the shadow!

Mara Conti smacks her down, Larissa Deluca shrieking in protest. Vittorio restrains her with binders, while Mara sweeps the room. Deeming it safe and otherwise unoccupied, she heads back out to join Baldesario Greco and the rest of their team in searching the locus.

 

LARISSA

No! This is a mistake! Let me go! You have to let me go!

VITTORIO

Why? What are you waiting for? Make it easy on yourself and tell us.
She spits at him, struggling. Then, inexplicably, she begins to laugh.

IL PICCOLO DI OFICIO DI MUSICA, DISTRETTO DI CULTURA


MAN 1

Who are you? Who is here?

Dolce slips away in shadows, as she was trained. The man sees that the statue is missing.

MAN 1

(shouting) No! No!

He runs up toward the roof. Dolce shadows him, hoping he will call the guard inside, and she can sneak out the way she came, while they check the more accessible ground-level door.


MAN 1

Cirocco! Cirocco!

He shakes a flat vial, waking the fish inside and causing them to glow. It is larger but otherwise identical to Dolce's, which is a tool exclusive to the thieves' guild. Thankfully, her stealth training holds, and she takes the opportunity to note the distinctive scar on his face.


GUARD 1

(from outside)
Are you all right? I'm sorry, I cannot open the door, the combination--

MAN 1

Fool! We are doomed, do you understand?!
(whispering in dread) We are doomed.

IN THE SKIES


CESARE

We need height. We're still just seeing the Science building--

RINALDO

(irritated) I know we need height!

CESARE

Is there a problem, Rinaldo?

RINALDO

Yes, I don't know how to fly this thing! Look around and figure out how!

Cesare obeys and delightedly discovers the navigational console--a wondrous thing that uses intricately-veined leaves, backlit to display several choices of maps--as well as:

CESARE

The controls! Those, there, are the controls! Go! Go, and do the control thing!

RINALDO

What do I do?

CESARE

But how do these leaves show these maps? Are we saying that nature--? No, it cannot be. But then who did the micro-mapping? Could they have grown this?

RINALDO

All plants are grown. Now what do I do?!

Following more of the now-becoming-typical Cesare-Rinaldo productive confusion, they eventually manage to get moving and fly over the Diplomacy district.

CESARE

This is brilliant. I never want to leave this ship.

RINALDO

You'd probably have to, because we don't have much food.

CESARE

But we could map the entirety of Piacenza-- Do you see that?!

RINALDO

No, because you're hogging the viewing mirrors.

CESARE

Here, look--see that rectangular building? It is not on the map. As far as I know, it is not on any map. Like the island in Gran Lunga, Rinaldo, do you think--

RINALDO

Cesare. The canals are turning green.

For a second, they see a flash of red. There seems to be something glowing red in the clouds.

OVRINO FETE, DISTRETTO DI CULTURA

Pio bursts in the door to the locus, the noise going unheard beneath a tremendous cheer emanating from the harbor. There is a man within, facing an ominous shadow figure. Pio expertly attacks the man, while Viatriz tries to comprehend what the shadow is saying.
 

Pio takes the man down. Unnoticed, part of the chalk pentagram on the floor is scuffed in the fight. The shadow reaches out and grabs hold of both men. They struggle to get free.


VIATRIZ

Stop, I command you! Anhalten, ich euch gebiete! Parada, que yo te mando! ArrĂȘtez, je vous commande! Durdur, I komut! Bari, na umarce ka!

The other man breaks loose, while Pio is abruptly pulled into the shadow.

VIATRIZ

(in a certain language)
Stop! Return him. You will return him, mind and body, now!

IL PICCOLO DI OFICIO DI MUSICA, DISTRETTO DI CULTURA


Dolce's purloined statue begins to emit a powerful coldness. The dejected doomsayer having trudged downstairs, she hurriedly picks the rooftop lock from within and yanks it open, causing the hapless guard to tumble inside. She bulls past him, locking the men in.
 

Now she's effectively trapped on the roof, refusing to chance pole-walking while carrying a statue that is evidently capable of quite unexpected behavior, not to mention the additional distraction of red skies and what she presumes to be one of the Transportation airships.
 

Deciding that necessity outweighs secrecy, she wildly hails the airship.

DELUCA LOCUS

The statue Vito confiscated from Larissa is also pouring off waves of cold. She keeps laughing.

VITTORIO

Stop it! What are you trying to do?

THE BITTEN MAN FROM VITO'S DREAMS

It's too late. We are all coming back.

VITTORIO

Mara!

MARA

Damn it, get out!

BALDESARIO

Take her! Everybody, out!

SOVRINO FETE, DISTRETTO DI CULTURA


Pio's body is flung out of the smoke, which then envelops Via instead.

IN THE SKIES


CESARE

There is a person on that rooftop--

RINALDO

Dolce! That's Dolce!

They fire a unit of their payload at the rooftop. It looks like a large pod of wheat, which opens, releases chaff, then twists, beginning to be pulled along by the airship. Caught between being imperiled and stuck, or imperiled and at least mobile, Dolce grabs hold and is shortly dangling over the water, the pod in one hand and the freezing, smoking statue in the other.

CESARE

What is she doing?!

RINALDO

I don't know what she's doing! She's a model!

CESARE

Can you retract it? She's going to kill herself!

RINALDO

Yes! Retract--

The airship swerves, and the smoke from the statue rises into Dolce's face.

CESARE

Uh, Rinaldo? I think your woman has-- She fell in the water, I think.

Despite Rinaldo's dismay, they quickly realize they will never be able to find her in enough time to perform their task. They proceed to the Culture harbor and release their payload.

Then the roof of the airship is ripped off, and they glimpse an obsidian dragon as they fall.


RINALDO

Thimbleberry, now!


SOVRINO FETE, DISTRETTO DI CULTURA - VIOLAZIONE +2


Via wakes, painfully struggling to breathe. She pulls out the healing potion her mother forced on her--it's gleaming. She unstoppers it and sips a bit--finding even its consistency altered, to that of honey--and instantly feels better, as well as able to see in the dimness.

VIATRIZ

I'm hallucinating. But it's working; I'm breathing-- Pio!

He's not moving. She dribbles some potion; it restores healthy color where it touches.

VIATRIZ

Don't mind those wails and screams from outside; I might just be hallucinating them anyway. Let me help you up, and we'll go see if others were affected--

Her hand passes through him.

PIO

I cannot touch you.

VIATRIZ

I cannot touch you, either, but it might be hallucination, so let's not panic--

The entire under-stage shudders.

VIATRIZ

Let's go. We have to go. We'll think about it once we're safer.

PIO

I can't.

VIATRIZ

Wait, there you are! Look, right there is your body-- Obviously, there's a scientific explanation as to why you are here, and your body is there, and we will think about it later, but for now, just go back. Go back to your body.

He tries, but only suffers severe pain.

PIO

Why--? What is happening? I'm dead--

VIATRIZ

No, because obviously you're talking to me--

PIO

No, if I'm dead, or even if I'm just--vaporous--then I won't be hurt, even if the stage collapses. So you go, since I can't. Come back for me when it's safe.

VIATRIZ

Pio, I--

PIO

Go!

She goes, to find a horrific, pitiable scene. The grand floor is strewn with dead people, as well as dazed, confused, and still-panicking people. Her mother is standing in the orchestra pit.


VIATRIZ

Mother? Are you all right?

AZURRA

The music stopped.

VIATRIZ

Are you hurt? I have that potion you gave me--

AZURRA

I am all right, but the music stopped. There must be music; it is my job.

VIATRIZ

We will resume the program later, Mother--

Shaking off Via's hand, Azurra raises her conductor's baton--and music plays.

IL PICCOLO DI OFICIO DI MUSICA, DISTRETTO DI CULTURA - VIOLAZIONE +10


Dolce is unconscious, sinking deeper down into the water. Then her eyes open, and at the sides of her throat, gills flare. All but effortlessly, she shoots up to the surface. Just as easily and swiftly, she glides to the nearest landing and begins to clamber up.
 

A long, filmy-fringed piscene tail slaps against the embankment.
 

She just reels in shock for some moments, before noticing that plants have begun to spring up around her. She swims quickly away, past several floating corpses and debris from various buildings. She ducks underwater, seeing perfectly clearly--though she doesn't realize that she shouldn't--and finds, instead of the statue she was hoping for, even more plants.
 

Something begins to form in her mouth, and she coughs up a particularly lustrous pearl. She swims back toward the plant and thwacks the pearl at it with her tail. The plant immediately shrivels--but then another plant instantly sprouts in its place.


DOLCE

Che palle.

DELUCA LOCUS - VIOLAZIONE +30

 

MARA

Vito?

VITTORIO

Mara! Where are you?

Vito sees only red and white. He blinks--and his eyes shift subtly, allowing him to see clearly.

MARA

I can't breathe. I can't see.

VITTORIO

I see you. There's something on top of you. Wait, I'll try--

Despite his feeling of great heaviness, Vito hauls himself upward. He notices a hand beside him, about four times larger than a regular human hand. It moves when he moves.


VITTORIO

(startled) Huh!

He blinks, and sees in red and white.

VITTORIO

The plant. It must be that stupid plant again.

He blinks again, and his eyesight returns to normal. Ignoring the apparent hugeness of his muscular arms and hands, he begins to pull debris off of Mara--and realizes that the reason she can't see is because there is nothing but smooth flesh where her eyes ought to be.

MARA

The plant? Then I'm not blind?

VITTORIO

I don't think so, because it's like I'm impossibly enormous, and it can't-- Oh, no.

MARA

What is it?

VITTORIO

It's Greco. His tongue has swollen-- I don't understand-- He's dead.

LARISSA

(muffled) Help me! Help me!

Vito first takes Mara outside, where he finds more corpses, and people wandering around in shock and distress. There is a man cradling the body of a dead child. There is another man writhing helplessly on the street, as if in an epileptic fit, because his head is that of a squid's.


IN THE SKIES


Cesare is looking at a map, which he soon realizes is not a map, because he's actually gazing down at Cultura, because he's flying. There are beautiful feathered wings at his shoulders.


CESARE

Hal--hal--lucinating. Yes. Stomp my feet-- I can't stomp my feet. Apparently you cannot stomp your feet when you are flying. I would like to go down, please.

He is able to figure out the appropriate muscle group to move to head downward.

CESARE

Rinaldo?

He looks around, and fairly easily finds a plant that has grown to the monstrous height of over two storeys. Around its base, there are human limbs, trapped, and, near the top, Rinaldo. He clumsily but successfully climbs through the air toward him.

CESARE

Rinaldo! Rinaldo!

His muscles are aching, and he notices that blood is trickling from his back. He hastily decides to land on the plant near Rinaldo. His wings then vibrate tremendously--and the seagull that was somehow plastered against his back falls off, dead. His wings vanish.

CESARE

Rinaldo! Wake up!

Entangled, Rinaldo sees Cesare clambering toward him, but the plant is starting to entwine him as well. Gradually being constricted, Rinaldo can only manage to fumble in his pocket.

RINALDO

I'm awake!

CESARE

Well, it's good you're awake, because we're both about to be eaten!

Rinaldo draws an acidic tuber from his pocket, scratches its skin, and scrubs it against the plant. Then he is standing, or floating, elsewhere, with a representation of the enemy plant behind him and a detailing of the tuber's root system in front of him. He moves the tuber image on top of the plant image--and the massive plant dies. They carefully climb down.
 

As they do, several more plants sprout into existence.


CESARE

No, no-- Stomp my feet. Stomp your feet, Rinaldo.

RINALDO

Here, take some of this; it's Clearmind.

As Cesare's mind clears from the herbal remedy, his body takes on the appearance of glass. He drops the Clearmind and returns to normal, but more plants bloom around them.

SOVRINO FETE, DISTRETTO DI CULTURA


GUARD 2

You have no clearance here! Can't you see something terrible has happened?

VIATRIZ

Which is why I would like to help. I am Viatriz Portinari; I'm just trying to--

GUARD 2

We don't need your help. For all we know, you could be the cause of this.

VIATRIZ

I am not. But if you have everything under control, then I will leave you be.

Via walks respectfully away. The guard's face turns red, and two knobs protrude from his forehead. He attacks her! She is barely able to block his blow. He pins her arm.


VIATRIZ

Stop it!

He stops.

VIATRIZ

Get off me!

He lets go of her.

VIATRIZ

I will not be assaulted; I'm a Portinari! If you don't need my help, just stay there.

He stays. Via returns to Pio, not quite aware of what she has just done.

PIO

I've tried so many things. If you can find Aless, between us, maybe--

VIATRIZ

I was thinking--the last thing I said, when you were unconscious--I was commanding the shadow, in a language. What if I ordered you back to your body, in that same language? Do you think it might help?

PIO

I'm willing to try anything.

VIATRIZ

I don't want to hurt you, but I think we should try, because strange and terrible things are happening. I was assaulted by a guard, can you imagine?

PIO

What?!

Incensed, Pio simply slips into his body, and marches out onto the grand floor.

It turns out that Pio can enter his body when possessed by some strong emotion, but then becomes something of a mindless brute within it. Via can only stop him by ordering him back out of his body, and moving in and out proves to be an enervating endeavor. They come up with a cautious plan for Via to follow Pio out, in hope of finding Aless.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Game Mechanics Monday: HERO System and the Indirect Advantage

This seemingly innocuous pistol may not be familiar to some of you. But those out there familiar with the Akira manga and anime might be able to identify it as a recreation of one of The Colonel's most powerful weapons.

What is it? Well, it emits a laser beam -- that does no direct damage. Instead, it lases the target, estimates distance and direction, calculates coordinates, and transmits these coordinates to an orbiting SOL satellite.

SOL stands for Satellite Orbital Laser. That's right, it's a targeting system for a geosynchronous laser satellite.

The beauty on the left comes from (Kevin Harris), and would be a lovely prop at appropriate RPG games.

My old gaming group encountered this piece of SF weaponry in manga/anime and immediately set around building it (along with many other cool weapons in the media -- being a HERO-head does that to you). So how'd we do it?

1. Estimating Damage

Well, the real questions are: what will the GM let you get away with? and how much damage can you afford?

I think that someone tried to build it as a Killing Attack, but then got pushed down to a regular Energy Blast in the range of 20 to 24d6 (holy crap!).

2. Advantages!

But the Armor Piercing advantage was argued, because it got through Tetsuo's defenses. And they slapped a 1-Hex Area Effect advantage, because -- based on special effect -- it wasn't one of those dinky hand-held laser beams, and seemed to take out things in a nice big hex-sized area.

And last but not least, they built it with the Indirect advantage.

In Champions / HERO, attacks are generally assumed to originate from the hero, travel the space between the hero and the target, and hit the target. This allows for things to get in the way, provides a rationale for the difficulty of aiming, and allows heroic (and not so heroic) attempts to interpose living beings between the origin of the attack and the target.

The Indirect advantage allows an attack to originate at a different point. This has led to some abuse (despite paying for the advantage), like energy projectors blasting an opponent from behind (surprise!) into a teammate's readied, pushed sucker punch (teamwork, baby!), but it's always been curtailed by a good GM.

In this case, the Indirect point of origin is high up above the battle in orbit. Any knockback would, of course, knock the target into the ground. Really nice given (a) knockback damage, and (b) forcing the opponent to waste an action getting back up, or incurring penalties for being prone.


But all this, of course, is secondary to having a character with mostly above average characteristics and highly-trained human skills, and pointing this dinky little weapon that opponents would underestimate or waste an action dodging (you can't dodge an attack to your hex, which is what a smart player would target), and unleashing the fire of heaven onto the poor victim.


"Eat high-energy particles, buddy!"

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Superhero Saturdays: Return to Earth 641

Some time back, I posted about a mixed timeline I dubbed Earth 641 -- a combination Marvel & DC universe.

And really, that's what I always think about when thinking of a Super-heroic RPG setting. My default, if you will.

Which is why with DC Heroes, Classic Marvel Super-Heroes, and the current DC Adventures and the now-defunct Marvel Heroic RPG -- I kept picking up the "official sourcebooks" for official builds of characters, hoping to someday convert them into a single system and game in a completely defined world of combined super-heroes and villains.

Of course, this ignored the fact that I was a big Hero System advocate, and that there lots of sites of conversions (like this one) if I was serious about it.

And then I realized that one of the other problems was the convoluted timeline continuity of each individual timeline, and the increased complexity of combining both!

Still -- it's a fun bit of fandom hobby work, right? Time to put together a worklist on this!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Echoes: Piacenza - Season 01 Episode 18 (powered by D&D 5e)

Rinaldo and his trademark sickle.

Journey to Enclavi di Gozzi

Game Summary for Echoes Book 02: S01E018

Echoes Book 02 is a continuation of a more narrative-oriented campaign (almost no rules, all aspects-based interpretation) that now uses D&D 5E rules. In this summary, we return to the pseudo-script format, which tends to share a bit more of the banter that happens at the gaming table.


PORTO PRINCIPALE, GRAN LUNGA - LATE AFTERNOON

Dolce and Via having tumbled into the ferry with just seconds to spare (and, in the case of Via, two pairs of footwear in hand, but none on her actual feet), they arrive at the hub.

VITTORIO

Well, they are very nice boots, despite the stress.

VIATRIZ

Worth every second. Now, I was thinking we might split up; I'd like to get us registered as an azienda as soon as possible, but we need to know the schedules -

CESARE

Of the vesselages to Gozzi, Doria, and Juven, yes? I will handle that.

RINALDO

What? I thought we were heading back to Amato - Never mind. I'll go with you.

DOLCE

(to Via)
I'll go with you; I'm hoping there is housing for aziendas, or at least a discount, or recommendations on cheaper places to stay at Porto.

VIATRIZ

Whaaat? But I like our hotel! Don't we like our hotel? It's such a nice hotel -

DOLCE

Viatriz Portinari, I'm sure we all love that very classy, very pricey hotel, but you and I each spent over 50,000 lunga in just our first day here, which I know you think doesn't sound like much, but that's 150,000 stella, with which we might have hired Tiziano and his ship to take us to an unknown island three times over, with change to spare. We need to start saving money where we can.

Viatriz subsides, pouting but agreeable, as the two duos agree to meet at the aforementioned classy, pricey hotel once their respective errands have been completed. They head off.

VITTORIO

Wait, where am I going?

VESSELAGE DOCK - SHORTLY

 

ENRICO

Scuzi, I could not help noticing you fine gentlemen may be in need of assistance?

CESARE

Oh, yes, perhaps you could tell us -

RINALDO

(under his breath)
Let's be cautious; you've seen how wary Dolce is when we're at the docks, and remember her experience, becoming 'indebted' to unsavory people.

CESARE

Where we might find the vesselage schedules. That is all the help we require.

ENRICO

Ah! They are posted in that building, right over there, although I can save you some trouble by informing you that there is no more vesselage scheduled for today; it is too late. There is no official travel available by night, although...

CESARE

Although?

ENRICO

Let us say I know people who know people. I can help you if you need a boat.

RINALDO

Thank you for your kind offer, but we are not traveling tonight.

CESARE

We are traveling tomorrow morning, to Gozzi, and then perhaps Doria, and -
Rinaldo smiles meaningfully at Cesare, exasperated at the very small extent of his "caution".

CESARE

And, yes, thank you very much. We can manage from here.
The two friends move onward to the scheduling building, where, alas, they discover that the various schedules are marked only by the stone representing each house.

CESARE

Well, now what? We only know that House Amato is beryl, and another house is onyx, and something called Marin is pearl, or maybe it's mother-of-pearl?

RINALDO

(sighing)
It looks like we're going to have to ask -

ENRICO

(cheerfully)
Your unsavory new friend Enrico Allevi?

CESARE

(startled)
Ahh!

RINALDO

I'm so sorry; of course I didn't mean you, but -

ENRICO

One cannot be too careful; I agree! Which is why, should you need night travel -

CESARE

Of course we will come to you!

ENRICO

Now, there is presently no vesselage at any hour to Ulisse and Issota - those are the silex and ligurios stones respectively, you see? - because people are saying Enclavi di Ulisse is overrun by il Morti, and as for Issota, it is no doubt a matter of Tomassina Issota, about whom the less said, the better, I assure you...

AZIENDA REGISTRATION OFFICE - MEANWHILE

Via is just bubbling over with self-satisfied excitement, Vittorio is doing his best to be helpful, and Dolce is plotting how one might steal azienda records from the vulnerable filing system.

CLERK

I'm truly sorry to have to tell you, beyond the fees, it is a rather complex matter. It would be easier had you an azienda license from your previous district -

VIATRIZ

Such as this one?

CLERK

And you would need complete documentation for each proposed member -

VIATRIZ

Perhaps these might suffice?

CLERK

And then of course tax records, and the delineation of how funds are allocated -

VIATRIZ

It really is dauntingly complex. Might I prevail on you to help me sort it all out? I don't know if it's these papers, or these - I only wish I were as capable as you.
Dolce discreetly rolls her eyes. Vito clears his throat.

VITTORIO

Signor, about the fees that you mentioned - ?

CLERK

Ah, yes. It is 15,000 lunga for the base registration, and 10,000 a month, the first 3 months to be paid in advance, for an initial total of 45,000 lunga.

VITTORIO

(appalled)
"Initial"?!

VIATRIZ

Signor, what if we were to be out of Gran Lunga for a month or so?

CLERK

Oh, if at any time you are to be inactive as an azienda in Gran Lunga, you need only declare it so, and then you will only be charged 10%, or 1,000. But if you do only one mission in a month, you will still be charged the entire monthly fee.

VITTORIO

All right, fair enough.

VIATRIZ

Very fair.

CLERK

That covers a 50% discount on accommodation in Porto Principale, as well as your declared enclavis of operation. You may declare up to six under the base registration; any areas beyond that number require an additional 10,000 each.

VIATRIZ

Oh, we would like to take all twelve -

DOLCE

If only we could afford it.

VIATRIZ

But perhaps we will start with ten?

VITTORIO

Ten!? That's 40,000 extra -

VIATRIZ

Eight?

DOLCE

Eight.
After some slight tension with the rather zealous Signorina Sicurezza guarding the establishment - Dolce has to furtively assure her comrades that she hasn't actually stolen anything - they rendezvous with the other two, who introduce them to Enrico Allevi.

DOLCE

Signor Enrico, such fortune! Via here is convinced that if we transfer from the arrivals hotel, she will be infested by fleas. Perhaps you could recommend - ?

ENRICO

(to Via)
Ah, Signorina, do not be apprehensive! I assure you, thanks to the Punto Canciello, standards in Gran Lunga are high indeed - thus, even if there were to be fleas, which there are not, they would only be fleas of the highest pedigree!

Via laughs. Enrico proceeds to take them just off the Strada Maestra, to the Locanda di Meravigliosa Gioa, where, under Dolce's watchful eye (because she's paranoid at letting someone out of sight with their papers), he cajoles and/or intimidates the concierge Lugia into granting them a prodigious discount, now and whenever they're in Porto. And later:

VITTORIO

What is he doing?

CESARE

He's talking to that fat woman.

RINALDO

Some people, of course, might say 'heavyset'. Or perhaps 'solidly-built'.

DOLCE

They must have a prodigious communication network, because we only just arrived, and she already knew I'm here. That's her, the one who ambushed me.

Vito makes to charge forward. Via stops him.

VIATRIZ

Enrico is handling it. Look at her shoulders, see? She's cowed. You were right, Dolce; he must be high up in the local - what is it you call it? 'Undercurrent'.

DEEPWATER DOCKS - LATE EVENING

VITTORIO

So I understand you've both signed up for Matt's crew!

ELIA

After the ship docked, and we found ourselves abandoned in a strange place...

Vito freezes, eyes wide with horrified guilt.

ELIA

(laughing)
I'm teasing! You said we should get out of the Spezzata, and you were right, and you all made that happen. We would not have made it to safety without you.

ADRIANO

It is not ideal - we are not exactly sailors - but Matt's boat is the best thing for us. You know security here is only handled by females. And my wife is pregnant -

ELIA

I'm right here. And how is it a problem that Gran Lunga recognizes the clear superiority of women in matters of policing, hmm?

Meanwhile, on Tiziano's ship:

TIZIANO

Of course, the refugees are glad enough to be out of that terrible trouble in the Spezzata - they are grateful to us - but unfortunately, it is hardly plain sailing here. There are only limited spaces for refugees, and everything is so expensive, so they need jobs, but they can only leave the refugee allotment if they have jobs, which they can hardly get if they cannot leave the refugee allotment!

VIATRIZ

I'm sure the individual enclavis must have need of personnel.

TIZIANO

Perhaps they do, but how are the refugees to find out what or who is needed in Sardonyx, or Beryl, or Jacinth or Pearl, Topaz, Chrysolite, Ligurios, Carnelian, Onyx, Tourmaline, Silex, or Mare di Vetro?

VIATRIZ

Perhaps we could ask around, as we move among enclavis. We are planning to -

CESARE

Those are not the houses.

TIZIANO

Excuse me?

RINALDO

(under his breath)
Here we go.

CESARE

Those are just the stones that represent the houses.

TIZIANO

No, those are the houses of Gran Lunga: Sardonyx, Beryl, Jacinth, Pearl, Topaz, Chrysolite, Ligurios, Carnelian, Onyx, Tourmaline, Silex, and Mare di Vetro.

CESARE

No, the houses are Amato, Anzio, Bellini, Buonaventuri, Doria, Gozzi, Issota, Juven, Ludovico, Pellagrina, Sforza, and Ulisse.

TIZIANO

I'm afraid you are mistaken.

CESARE

I'm afraid you are mistaken.

VIATRIZ

Neither of you is really, exactly mistaken. You see -

TIZIANO

Are we charting a map here? I may accept your authority in certain matters -

CESARE

Are we piloting a boat here? You are the captain of your vessel, but this -

DOLCE

You are both admirably large men; there is no need to measure length and girth.

TIZIANO

(after a very brief shamefaced pause)
Sardonyx, Beryl, Jacinth, Pearl, Topaz, Chrysolite, Ligurios, Carnelian, Onyx, Tourmaline, Silex, and Mare di Vetro.

CESARE

Amato, Anzio, Bellini, Buonaventuri, Doria, Gozzi, Issota, Juven, Ludovico, Pellagrina, Sforza, and Ulisse.

DOLCE

(to Matt)
Look, we brought you presents!

VIATRIZ

(peering into the bag as she passes it)
Bread! And - soap?

 

AT SEA - THE FOLLOWING MORNING

Having officially registered for azienda operations in their chosen enclavis [Amato, Bellini, Buonaventuri, Doria, Gozzi, Juven, Ludovico, Sforza] - and Via having assured the guilt-ridden Allegris that they will all do their best to find jobs for the Rossis - the Legato members set sail along with Ottavio and Vittorio Barzaghi, a pair of twins who are Gozzi hunters.

Vito, who is only a bit larger than them, is chatting them up. Dolce is, as well - mostly to cover up Via's intense scrutiny of the pair - but finds them strangely immune to her charms.

VITTORIO

So they are very large, these creatures that you hunt?

OTTAVIO

Very large. For instance, there was a spider as large as this boat...

VIATRIZ

(under her breath, to Cesare and Rinaldo)
Goodness, they must be those Barzaghis!

CESARE

Which Barzaghis?

VIATRIZ

The Barzaghis of the Barzaghis!

RINALDO

Well, that clears it up.

VIATRIZ

Their family - from Acqua -

RINALDO

They said they used to be from Far Water.

VIATRIZ

Which they apparently call Far Water -

CESARE

Acqua is not Far Water; Gran Lunga is Far Water.

VIATRIZ

Their family - from Acqua, which they apparently call Far Water, even though Gran Lunga is officially Far Water - has produced two doges! Such a shame if they're the only ones left, and with that tension between them too, since they had a falling-out over a woman whose name starts with 'J'. Or maybe it's 'L'.

RINALDO

You got all that from sitting across the boat from them?

VIATRIZ

Which is why they're pretending not to really notice Dolce.

CESARE

Why would anyone refer to Acqua as 'Far Water'?


A storm springs up, leading to the catastrophic failure of the Linee Spezzata buoy guide system. Not only does the ship go off course, it's attacked by a giant tentacular creature from below! The Barzaghis and Vito fight it off, while Rinaldo helps repair damage to the ship, Cesare helps Captain Pacelli right their course, and Via heals an injured crewmember.

GIANNA

(teasing Rinaldo)
Can you also mend hearts, Signor?

They eventually (after Dolce leaps to recover a vital ship component and embarrassingly becomes a mermaid atop the boat) make it to an island, which features a small shelter, one of many strategically positioned about Gran Lunga. Shelter keeper Alberto Modonessi and his nephew Lucio explain that this was one of the unpredictable, yet hardly unprecedented occasions in which the geography of Gran Lunga has once again mysteriously been altered, such that they can no longer even be sure where Gozzi or Porto Principale is from here.

Their best course, Alberto says, would be to wait for rescue from Porto, although it may take some days for them to be found. Another option arrives in the form of Piero Sessali and his ship the Nave Nano, who is delightfully able to not just talk, but adjust her size as necessary.

CESARE

(to Navi Nano)
Are you Cambiato? Are you il Morti? How do you work? 

After some haggling, Piero agrees to take the passengers on to Gozzi. And after Cesare somewhat offends Nave Nano - actually, Piero is probably more offended than she is - and,  finally, after Nave Nano's size-changing ability enables them to slip away from another attack by a tentacled sea creature, they arrive at the enclavi of hunters.

Rather to their surprise, a great number of the enclavi's inhabitants seem to hail from Civita Vecchia, and - following Rinaldo's observation that the Civita Vecchian architecture surrounding them has to be more than a mere year old – Cesare, Rinaldo, and Via come to the conclusion that at least part of Enclavi di Gozzi was once, somehow, part of Civita Vecchia.

They are in the midst of explaining this epiphany to their more ignorant friends when a klaxon sounds. They are herded into buildings on opposite sides of a street, where they arrive at the vague understanding that something massive - a "Colossale" - is on its way toward town.

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