Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On the Radar: DC Adventures -- Heroes and Villains Vol. I

Interestingly, at around the time that we expect to see the Flashpoint versions of reality along with the new batch of #1s from DC Comics coming out, we see a new DC Adventures book come from Green Ronin.

Those of you following at home may remember Green Ronin's approach to this particular property was to build 'iconic' versions of the heroes and villains, while steering clear of any very specific backstory (i.e. ridiculously convoluted continuity). With the recent revelations from DC Comics themselves, one wonders if they were given some prior knowledge of the move, or if they just hit upon a sound decision by coincidence.

I, of course, love the DC and Marvel Universes. Not sure if I'll drop money on this one, but Green Ronin has been coming up with quality stuff for DC so color me interested. Also, the blurb says that you'd be getting characters A through K, so don't look for Wonder Woman or Zatanna in this volume.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Enigmundia: A List of Ingredients III

Not every Gazetteer of Mystara is a neighbor to Karameikos, but some of them should certainly be taken in whole or in part out of necessity or because they're just interesting, darn it.

Must-have Nations
  • The Empire of Thyatis -- should be included because it is one of the major powers of the Known World of Mystara and therefore, certainly a major power in Enigmundia) and because it is the empire that Karameikos is associated with. Thyatis has a distinctly Roman-inspired culture that is somewhat at odds with the more Byzantine-attired folks of Karameikos. It is characterized as being primarily utilitarian (hence their view of weapons and magic being of equal value in strategy and tactics) and conquest-driven in nature (kept in check only by their rival to expansion, the Empire of Alphatia).

    After seeing the portrayal of Roman attitudes toward slaves and gladiators in TV shows like Rome and Spartacus, I'm favoring the reason for the monotheistic state religion's popularity as the belief in the equality of all humans, and the need to treat one another with respect, kindness, etc -- overwhelming support in the non-citizen classes of society plus some support higher up propelled it to its current status. At the current time, the monotheistic state religion practices religious tolerance but the officials and social climbers of the empire would do well to shed their pagan ways and worship the one true god.
  • The Empire of Alphatia -- should be included as the only other major power of the Known World. It is ruled by mages, and is characterized by a chaotic view of life.

    Honestly, I never really understood how a society mages could possibly withstand the assault of the Thyatian Empire when both sides use magic and the Alphatian chaotic nature would therefore sabotage many key elements of military strategy such as logistics and planning. This element of the Alphatian Empire would have to be drastically retooled.

    I'd actually want to play with the idea that my version of Alphatia is fragmented from the original Roman-esque mega-empire that Thyatia came from. Unlike Thyatia, however, the monotheistic state religion didn't take root and various pagan religions still exist (most of those surviving tend to veer toward religious portfolios that encourage the pursuit of knowledge in the arcane).
  • The Principalities of Glantri -- should be included because one of the Immortals lives there, and he's the same one that's mentioned in module X2 -- Chateau d'Amberville (Castle Amber)! Still, with its all magic, no cleric stance it begs the question: does it have anything to do with Alphatia?

    Since I'm pulling the 'splintered empire' bit already with Thyatia and Alphatia, I could have mages from Alphatia and / or Thyatia settle in this magic-rich environment and share some of their 'modern' political views.

    But I'm also fond of the idea of having very ancient mystical orders based in this one country that is out of the reach of the so-called Empires. They could fund expeditions to ancient mystical sites all over the world, they could be behind the latest in magical research, and they could be secretly pulling the strings of various mystical fraternal brotherhoods (because these mages tend to invest in longevity, and those are just the living mages).

    Yes, Glantri could be a hidden or at least distant power that the Empires are aware of because its existence predates their own origins. And the ancient texts have hidden messages that may give them good reason to fear Glantri.

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.16 -- Renegade Revelations

While VARIAN, in his capacity as Oracle of Equinox, “sleeps on” the question of how to get to Igeia, ALECTO, CATALINA, and MANTIUS attempt to gain clarity on the matter of the impending challenge from the Sixth through the Winterheart Oracle, learning only that the shard is blocking their opponents from spying on them through their own oracles, and eventually causing ARCTURUS to suffer profound physical damage from all the questions. ALINA posits that this is because the cold foretelling ability he is using is somehow diametrically opposed to the shard currently mounting him—the Rhythmic Warrior—while Catalina, perhaps influenced by the Fire Mage she bears, is convinced that the Rhythmic Warrior is offended since it has just been accomplished and is now being used to access abilities foreign to it. Arc removes the cracked shard and is taken below deck to rest.

At sundown, Varian awakens and tells them that Igeia is not accessible by land, sea, or air, but that their warder can get them there by simply declaring that they are taking on the mission. Accordingly--after Varian briefly consults CITRINE on the cryptic mission instructions—Mantius dons the Renegade Warder, whereupon he is promptly contacted in quick succession by the warders Urich, Cinelis, Donovan, Tessela, and Terentius, all requesting to meet. Mantius politely declines them all on the basis that they are departing for their mission (except for Terentius, who is cut off in midspeech, since he unfortunately communicates just as Mantius is in the process of announcing their acceptance of the mission); and they do so.

They are transported to a place of silver- and jewel-bedecked towers, which they initially assume to be Igeia but soon discover is the citadel of the warders, a haven where the numbers of the army of shards go to make final preparations before embarking on each monthly set of missions. Here they find facilities for improving some of their personal attributes at the cost of others. (Cat, in particular, is distressed when the personified Fire Mage blithely trades away three of her heart points in exchange for three body—and intends to trade still more, until Mantius, warned to an extent by the Renegade Warder, steps in and makes a deal to persuade Cat to make the Fire Mage essential, if the shard will cease and desist.) They also find facilities that allow them to trade purchased abilities for others within their set of shards, as well as shops selling and buying all manner of items.

Arc, Mantius, and Varian trade sundry items in their possession for a goodly amount of experience, which they generously share with their companions. Some choose to spend the experience then and there; others tuck the experience shards away for later use; and still others make use of the services of the citadel’s bank, where experience may be transferred among unpurchased abilities, and where Mantius discovers that the Renegade Warder has a longstanding balance of 65,000.

Having done their shopping, met several acquaintances of their shards as well as their own (CARITAS, JUDITH, and ELINORA of the Second) and avoided others (LUCIA and others of the Sixth), they officially embark on their mission at the circle of statues in the center of the citadel.

They reappear in a place of intense blue, where they find a Shrieking Titan assaulting a white domed building. Quickly discerning that the creature, characterized by the many open mouths all over its huge metal body, is not infested by blue but wholly of the blue, they are able to defeat it, despite its formidable attack and endurance. Mantius announces them at the dome and they enter, meeting the Sundered Blood Cloak Warder GASPARUS, who informs them that this dome is one of several outposts being manned in the effort to reclaim this blue-suffused area. Their mission is to deliver a package from this dome to Tergoth, another outpost across the all-encompassing blue field to the east. He also mentions that an item known as “the tempting songbird” was lost in the environs some time ago, possibly related to their secondary mission to “listen to the lark”.

Upon his realization that Mantius bears the Renegade Warder, Gasparus becomes curt and orders them to take the enormous, unwieldy package and depart immediately, as they are consuming the ability of the dome, which is not meant to sustain such a large number of occupants. Despite Alina’s trepidation about the surrounding blue “calling to her”, the party obeys, Varian channeling the strength of his summoned dragon QUARTZ to lift the box. They go back outside just in time for the assault of another Shrieking Titan.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On the Radar: Microscope

For an RPG that breaks the traditional scope of play in terms of timeline, and allows zooming into the microstories and back out into the macro -- look no further than Microscope. Here's the spiel:
Want to explore an epic history of your own creation, hundreds or thousands of years long, all in an afternoon? That's Microscope.

You won't play the game in chronological order. You can defy the limits of time and space, jumping backward or forward to explore the parts of the history that interest you. Want to leap a thousand years into the future and see how an institution shaped society? Want to jump back to the childhood of the king you just saw assassinated and find out what made him such a hated ruler? That’s normal in Microscope.

You have vast power to create... and to destroy. Build beautiful, tranquil jewels of civilization and then consume them with nuclear fire. Zoom out to watch the majestic tide of history wash across empires, then zoom in and explore the lives of the people who endured it.

Mock chronological order.
Defy time and space.
Build worlds and destroy them.

A role-playing game for two to four players. No GM. No prep. Microscope was playtested for two years by over 150 awesome gamers.

Produced by Lame Mage Productions, the concept is intriguing but it's kind of like having someone explain the concept of RPGs to someone who's never seen it played or tried it. Still, at $9.99 for the PDF it may be of sufficient interest to pick up.

Reading Room: Fighters by Retro-clone

In trying to get a good grasp of the different type of core classes for my setting project in HERO 6th, I've been reading up on the classes from various retro-clones that I have access to. So first up: fighter.

Basic Fantasy RPG says:
Fighters include soldiers, guardsmen, barbarian warriors, and anyone else for whom fighting is a way of life. They train in combat, and they generally approach problems head on, weapon drawn.

Not surprisingly, Fighters are best at fighting of all the classes. They are also the hardiest, able to take more punishment than any other class. Although they are not skilled in the ways of magic, Fighters can nonetheless use many magic items, including but not limited to magical weapons and armor.

Well, that's pretty clear. I particularly like the second paragraph which gives me an idea of how the standard template should be like in comparison with the other character classes.

Labyrinth Lord says:
Fighters, as their name implies, are exclusively trained in the arts of combat and war. They are specialists at dealing physical blows. Unlike other classes, fighters are particularly burdened in a group of adventurers because they are tougher and must take the lead to defend others. Fighters can use any weapons and armor.

Shorter than Basic Fantasy RPG, and talks about familiarities with all weapons and armor, and makes a distinction about the ability to 'deal physical blows'. Also there's an emphasis on the role of fighters in a party as defenders due to their toughness. However, there's a suggestion of professionalism here as well, with a word choice of 'exclusively trained' which differentiates them from talented fighters or dangerous barbarians.

Swords & Wizardry says:
Fighters are warriors, trained in battle and in the use of armor and weapons. Perhaps you are a ferocious Viking raider, a roaming samurai, a dashing swashbuckler, a deadly swordswoman, or a chivalrous knight. Whatever type of Fighter you choose to play, you will probably end up on the front lines of your adventuring party—going toe-to-toe with dragons, goblins, and evil cultists, hacking your way through them and taking the brunt of their attacks. The Fighter character is best-equipped of all the character classes to dish out damage and absorb it, too. Clerics heal and Magic-Users cast spells, but the swordplay and archery are generally up to you. You are going to serve as the party’s sword and shield, protecting the weaker party members and taking down the enemies before you.

Verbose in description, it also gives various cultural incarnation of the fighter class. Like LL it talks about the fighter's role in the party, and identifies the strengths of the class in comparison to other character classes.

OSRIC says:
Fighters are trained in the use of weapons and armour, usually beginning their adventuring careers after a stint of training as a town guardsman, soldier, man-at-arms, bandit, pirate, or mercenary.

Fighters are the backbone of an adventuring party; without them to hold the line, the other members of the party will be overrun before they can bring their own skills to bear. Fighters are the most powerful characters in melee or missile combat, whether on offence or defence. Together with the ranger and paladin, they have the most hit points, and their ability to survive the most brutal battles is therefore unrivalled.

They also have the best chance “to hit” of all the classes, particularly at higher level. They may use any kind of armour, shield, or weapon.

I rather like how it was written. It gave the breadth of roles covered by the character class, identified the role played by the character class in parties, and identifies the combat strengths of the character class when compared to the others.

Consolidated Character Class Guidelines:

Not suprisingly, a Fighter is consistently defined as someone capable of fighting well -- skilled with all weapons and armor, tough in a fight, and so on. Although, in terms of progression, the Underdark Gazette has an interesting view on fighter level progression.

It's not always clear whether the combat ability is purely due to training, or perhaps due to natural skill or talent or curse -- the descriptions differ slightly here. What does matter is that in face-to-face melee combat, the fighter is head and shoulder above all other classes.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Enigmundia: The Preternatural and the Supernatural

Upright pentagram, supposedly symbolic of the 5 wounds
received by Christ during his execution, but I don't see
how the hands (2) + feet (2) + spear in the side (1) would
be arranged into a star shape. Note that this is different
from the downward pentagram normally associated with
the dude with a goat's head who shall not be named.
Fighters and Thieves are easily dealt with using the Basic HERO System 6th Edition rulebook: weapon familiarities, combat levels, and skills. They're also easily handled in terms of setting -- once you decide the role each of them play, and the logical variants of each. Perhaps because there are clear parallels between fantasy fighters and thieves and modern equivalents, there's a quick way to grasp their essential natures and twist them this way and that.

But Clerics and Mages on the other hand, they're different. It could be argued that in some cultures they are the same. In other cultures, the classic D&D clerics and mages don't quite fit so neatly.

Is the medicine man of Native Americans a mage -- knowledgeable about remedies and physical ailments and human nature; or is he a cleric -- a healer who communes with higher realms of existence?

Is the mangkukulam of the Philippines a cleric of neutral or chaotic gods who grant their dark (insect-based) abilities, or a dabbler in occult knowledge passed down through generations?

Are Clerics and Mages opposed to one another?

Clerics and the realm of the Supernatural

In my setting, I'm assuming that the abilities of the clerics stem from the supernatural. The definition of supernatural here being "over/above nature" or "from God/Supreme Being/Creator".

This means that all their abilities are holy or god-given, and while they may be abused (making them subject to terrible punishments from the God they claim to serve) they stem from a divine source.

Clerics and the realm of the Preternatural

Right away, of course, we run into the problem of evil clerics. Their abilities (if we hew to the monotheistic paradigm which I've established I'm favoring in my setting) cannot come from a divine source. Their abilities stem from petitions granted by mischeivous, malevolent, and possibly diabolical entities who are not above nature, but are beyond our outside of it (ooh, outer gods here we come!).

Game mechanics-wise, the difference between the good and bad clerics will be negligible. Although, I can argue for evil cleric abilities to be cheaper with the HERO ability limitation known as Side Effects. In essence, more powerful abilities have a chance to have some harmful side effects on the cleric or his/her associates. This can be rationalized in the setting by having the supreme being as the only power than can create something out of nothing -- benefits without cost. All other beings, no matter how powerful, are subject to TANSTAAFL: healing someone means someone -- somewhere else -- gets sick or is cursed; food that appears for the party is actually taken from some place else; and so on.

So where does that leave the mages?

Magi and the Occult

Well, in my setting the mages are derived from the "wise men" and "practitioners of arcane and esoteric knowledge". They study lore that teaches how -- through the use of formulae including words and symbols and ritual and thought and memory and will -- the very rules by which the universe is governed can be manipulated.

Their studies do not necessarily make them evil or damned, but the paths walked to gain these powerful secrets are not always frequented by the upright or virtuous. And not all of them are human.

However, the usage of their power -- for good or for ill -- will certainly earn them the attention of the supernatural and preternatural entities and their supporters, so they will likely be cut from the cloth of benevolent visionaries and mad scientists and power-hungry despots.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Enigmundia: Symbols of a Christian-ish Religion

In D&D, before there were "holy symbols" there were only crosses. Or so I've heard -- I really need to find me copies of that.

In any case, this idea, plus the success of the Fading Suns RPG in portraying a factionalized religion with a single god (though dominated by a prophet and saints), has me pushing for a similar idea for my Empire of Thyatis and the equivalent of my Karameikos.

So while I've been doing research, I ran into the idea of crosses. What will the cross of this pseudo-Christian religion look like?

Consecration Cross

One type of consecration
cross known as St. John's
Cross, the Maltese Cross,
or the Cross Pattee.
I started off looking at the two variants of the consecration cross (crosses used to consecrate churches and cathedrals, but then I realized that the symbology here could help differentiate various orders in much the same way that Fading Suns created symbols not only for every faction of their Orthodox Church of the Pancreator, but also for every other faction in the universe.

In any case, I wanted the look of the consecration crosses (also known as rounded crosses) a visual step away from the well-known cross and crucifix.

The Sun Cross, aka
The Cardinal Cross,
Woden's Cross,
Odin's Cross

There's the St. John's Cross, as well as the Sun Cross, which is also confusingly used to symbolize Earth and has been used to symbolize other things in pagan religions. But it is exceedingly easy to etch on metal or draw in the ground.

There may be something there in using these two as the foundation for a split between the more mystically oriented of sects, vs. the more hierarchical and dogmatic factions. Alternately, it could be a nice visual split between this religion and the magical circles used by the magic users of the world.

Passion Cross

A four-point Passion
Cross, meant to
symbolize nails
But as I began being drawn into the many variants of the cross symbol, like the glory cross and the passion cross, I realized that I had to be careful of two things: avoiding some of the more well-known uses of the cross (like Germany's usage in WWI), and misusing the elements of symbology.

The passion crosses, for example, tend to reflect a more religion-specific element: the nails used to fasten Christ to the Cross. While it looks nice and has an interesting texture to things, it's very specific to doctrine.

So, ultimately, I'll go with the first two crosses I encountered as starting-off points for building the monotheistic religion of the Roman / Byzantine-inspired Empire of Thyatis.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Enigmundia: A List of Ingredients II

Who are the nations in the neighborhood of the state that will be the focal point of the setting? Again, I'm drawing most of my inspiration from the neighbors of GAZ1's Karameikos. Here's the list, broken down into Yes, No, and Maybe (with changes). And I'll probably rename them accordingly to avoid issues with the canon police.

Yes! I Choose You!
  • Alfheim -- we need a good elvish home, not necessarily where it is now. I do like the fact that it's not adjacent to Karameikos, but near enough to run to for adventures or aid. I have some plans for the Aelves of the world more in keeping with the mysterious tone I've chosen, but nothing's set in stone yet. Speaking of stone...
  • Rockhome -- we need  a good underground dwarven racial home, not necessarily where it is now. I was also particularly fond of the rationale that they came up for Dwarven City geomorphs (when dwarves design something, the make it good the first time and replicate it across all cities), so that's going in somehow.
  • Thyatis -- probably adjacent, but tenuously so. I'd like my version of Karameikos to be something between a colony and a kingdom on the marches (the marquises were in charge of the marches / marshes / borders of kingdoms and empires and had the unenviable task of guarding their borders, which were also the borders of the nation).
  • Yluaram -- a place obviously inspired by islamic arabia is useful, though not necessarily right on the borders of the state. Near enough to have also converted some of the communities and have some ties to the colony / duchy / whatever. 
Maybe With Some Changes
  • Five Shires -- we need a good hin home... nah. This one is really too tied to the whole LOTR kit & kaboodle. I want to have the hin mixed in more with my Karameikos, and the Five Shires as the ancestral homelands but (1) the Black Eagle Baron has the unenviable task of claiming land granted to him by the Grand Duke and the Emperor from the Hin who already live there, thank you very much; (2) the other portions of the Five Shires are outside of the remit of the Empire; (3) Alfheim and Rockhome have come down hard -- diplomatically -- on any designs to extend the borders of Thyatis into those 'other portions' of the shire, for reasons they've been notoriously tight-lipped about.
  • Minrothad Guilds -- I like the general shape of the guilds and the idea that there are other nations besides Thyatis, and I like the potential for the eventual Freeport insertion I plan to do, but there's something about the culture that rubs me wrong for some reason.
  • Republic of Darokin -- same as Minrothad Guilds, but perhaps situated differently. Much like the Majestic Wilderlands, I'd like there to be contested / unclaimed lands between the nations of the Known World.
No! Absolutely Not
  • Kingdom of Ierendi -- replacing this with Freeport and the Lendore Isles somehow, some way. It really just didn't work for me. Plus, this space will help me work on the reputation of the Isle of Dread, my plans for injecting some Cthulhu stuff that will hopefully tie into the Black Eagle Barony and the long history of sea-based defenses for the folks of the region.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Enigmundia: A List of Ingredients

Since the center of the campaign/adventuring portion of world is going to be a riff on Karameikos, here are the elements I'd like to take from it:

A State With Two Semi-Distinct Classes. There are those who are the conquerors (Thyatians in Karameikos) and the conquered (Traladarans). Some of that has been softened with the very Roman approach of treating all true citizens equally, but there are prejudices and other cultural impediments (indentured servitude, a different caste system prior to the arrival of the Thyatians, and die-hard adherents to native traditions). It should make for the mix of adventuring parties interesting.

Of course, my Traladarans (whose GAZ1 inspiration is unclear to me) are also colorfully attired and fond of food and song, but in a more tropical vein than the very temperate clime of the traditional setting.

A State Associated With A Larger Empire. In GAZ 1, the Grand Duchy of Karameikos is identified as the equivalent of its own state -- independent of the Empire of Thyatis -- but the crafty Grand Duke Stefan Karameikos has requested his friend, the Emperor of Thyatis, to call it a Grand Duchy in the hopes of fooling other countries into thinking it is a part of the greater empire. My still-unnamed state will straddle the fence there: it will be a large colony with an Overgovernor who has been granted indefinite responsibility over it.

This should allow me to play with a lot of the elements of Karameikos along with the echoes of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines.

A Charismatic Ruler In A Turbulent Political Clime. The state is semi-stable, but with lots of simmering unrest in various areas. It takes a strong, cunning, and charismatic ruler to carve out his own kingdom in another land, so my ruler (played in my head by Lawrence Fishburne as Othello) is definitely all of the above.

He has many difficulties to deal with: political rivals from the Empire (with the equivalent of the Black Eagle Baron's Ludwig von Hendricks as the worst of them -- perhaps the Iago to Fishburne's Othello?), powerful native families grudgingly allied with the Overgovernor, rebellions motivated by a desire to overthrow the ruling class and / or the invaders, and not-so-friendly neighboring countries seeking to weaken the hold of the Empire in this region.

Fortunately, his wife -- who loves him dearly, despite her initial cool treatment of him early in their arranged marriage -- is an accomplished spymaster in her own right and aids him in his endeavors (sometimes without his knowledge).

An Organized Church Clashing With Local Beliefs. Moreso than in the GAZ1 treatment, there will be very different religious beliefs in play: a Christian-inspired religion for the Empire, animist, polytheistic, and monotheistic religions for the natives (who were engaged in their own tribal and religious wars before the colonists came).

The reason things haven't boiled over: many of the natives are happy with the stability of the new regime (less chances of raids, avoidance of fickle local gods, a syncretic approach to belief, and some genuine conversions to the new faith) and are tired of the old strife. Of course, if the Overgovernor lets things get worse in their various regions than they used to be...

A State on the Borders of the Known World. Not only is the colony partially unexplored (Karameikos was wild in many parts, despite the civilizing influence of the Thyatian infrastructure like roads, capable military forces, and an organized religion), but it borders on lands inhabited by barbarian races and mysterious nations.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Enigmundia: A Setting for HEROic D&D

Goals

This is essentially a consolidation project for my HEROic D&D posts and my Mining Mystara series of posts with a whiff of the filipino setting stuff I've been doing. I plan on building some stuff (weapons, characters, creatures, magic) and HERO has always been my go-to system for things like that.

Also, I guess I don't feel like misleading Mystara fans with posts about the setting that aren't really about canon Mystara -- though I will cite the references as often as I can.

Last reason: what's the point of mining if you don't use that ore for something yes?

Influences

As stated,  a strong influence on this setting is the world of Mystara, which I've already been mining for its ideas.

I'm also looking at settings that sparked my interest for alternative campaigns: the Freeport setting, Thieves' World, Cthulhu-in-D&D setting and mini-settings, as well as deconstructive / back-to-the-origins analysis of D&D.

To complicate matters further, I also want to tap the filipino setting a bit -- already being done by the Nosfecatus and Hari Ragats of the world -- by creating a specific riff on the colonization of another culture in a fantasy setting.

There was a post in the blogosphere about how the art of D&D should reflect the Medieval European roots of the early pseudo-setting (which I'm a bit iffy about, but that's fodder for another post), and I was struck by the possibility of focusing on a High Middle Ages- to Late Middle Ages-inspired setting, with the clash of Christian and pagan religions, the activities of colonial powers, state-sponsored exploration of strange corners of the world, and so on.

Of course, as a history-challenged individual with precious little time available in day-to-day life, I'd prefer to just focus on one location rather than out-and-out world-building. Everything else can be shrouded by rumors, misinformation and mysteries.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hari Ragat Review

There's been a fresh batch of posts over at the Hari Ragat Games blog, and I was struck by the need to make a list of the posts there so far -- for my own use in cobbling together a semi-Filipino setting. I'd be primarily interested in taking stuff from here for the non-Spanish influenced portions of the setting, so here goes:

Core

Project: Hari Ragat -- the first post; gives the general scope of the project
Hari Ragat: Core Stories -- establishes the possible campaign premises of the setting
Hari Ragat: Levels of Play -- establishes the three 'heroic levels' of play for the game setting
Hari Ragat: Voyage Narrative Structure -- more on campaign premises, primarily dealing with the structure of adventures
Hari Ragat: Reasons for Voyaging -- a random table for generating adventures
Hari Ragat: Pledges -- another option to motivate adventuring

Culture

Hari Ragat: Creation Myths -- useful for establishing the mystical side of the setting, as well as history
Hari Ragat: Gods & Religion -- useful for understanding the mystical pantheon from gods down to the spirits
Hari Ragat: Searfaring Traditions -- useful for culture, the seafaring aspect of the setting, and the cool parallels drawn between the local seafaring cultures and the viking culture
Hari Ragat: Epic Feasts -- notes on food and feasts for the culture
Hari Ragat: Warrior Colors -- colors in warrior attire and how they reflect a character's history and stature
Hari Ragat: Hot Buttons -- controversial topics that are part of the historical aspects of the setting and thoughts on how to deal with these optional aspects

Characters

Hari Ragat: Roles -- character templates/classes/options list
Hari Ragat: A Warrior's Assets -- deals with the beginning wealth of a character (not just wealth, but gear, lands owned, retinue, etc.)
Hari Ragat: Treasures -- different from assets, this can be part of the wondrous and fantastic things the characters can start out with (as in the case of certain epic heroes)
Hari Ragat: Flavors of Magic -- deasl with the types of magic that characters may wield
Hari Ragat: Sorcerors and Taint -- deals very briefly with the price of wielding magic

Hari Ragat: Baraka -- deals with 'spiritual power' in the setting, known as Baraka
Hari Ragat: Glory -- deals with Glory as an incentive to character action

Creatures

Hari Ragat: Haunters of the Jungle -- a neat listing of monsters and creatures in the setting
Hari Ragat: Haunters of the Jungle II -- the listing continued

Combat and Conflict

Hari Ragat: Weapons -- neat pics on some of the weapons for the setting
Hari Ragat: A Fistful of Spears and A Fistful of Spears II -- martial culture and organization in Hari Ragat
Hari Ragat: Heroic Feats -- not the Feats of D&D 3E, but rather some feats that characters can attempt in order to gain glory in this epic setting

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Costumes, Super-heroes, and Bones

In most gaming genres, a general description of face, build, and gear is sufficient to sketch the look of a character.

But in super-hero games, the costumes are such a part of the genre that it's often necessary to have even the barest hints of a drawn costume somewhere (or even pegs from actual costumes) in order to cement the idea firmly in players' minds.

To that end, I've been trying out some online tools for costume design. All I can say is... coming up with a concept that works is hard.

My first draft for the costume of the Omega Bones
villain mentioned in my series of short story posts
on the Champions of the Bay Area.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Flag-Waving: Of course, you know this means war.

We're at peace.
I always assume people know this, but then I run into people who don't: when you fly the Philippine Flag upside-down (with the red above the blue, rather than the blue above the red), you're indicating that the Philippines is in a state of war.
Do you know something I don't?
It was something taught to me as a child, along with learning how to hold it, how to fold it, how to present it when hanging from a house, etc. when I was in the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (as a mere cub scout).

And I never realized how alarming it is until someone makes the mistake.

I remember that some people flew the Philippine Flag upside down at some event during my college years in the U.S. and it irked me -- not because someone hadn't done the research on handling a flag of state properly -- but because it seemed like a bad omen. Or maybe someone had declared war an I'd missed it in the newspaper.

I later found out I wasn't the only one; a lot of other folks who knew were antsy and remained so until the error was rectified.

Also, in times of revolution, rebel soldiers identified themselves to one another with patches of the flag shown vertically.

Usage in Fantasy RPGs

Create a similar flag or device that represents a state or a movement. Make sure it looks the same upside-down and rightside-up, except for colors. One is for peace; the other for war.

Create tensions within the state and around the state. Always show the flag at different times (half-mast when someone of importance dies), or at independence / founding day rites. Play up the importance of treating the flag with respect.

And then, when it's time for a campaign shift -- display the flag upside-down. Wait for a while for the players to get it, then if they don't have an NPC point it out. Is it a revolution? A war with a neighboring state? What's going on?

Then have the PCs find out what the rumor mill has and what they should do next.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Inspiration: Amaya -- Costumes and Weapons

Over the past few weeks, I've been trying to find a way to watch the episodes of this show, and trying to find screencaps online.

Aside from the titular Amaya, I've been able to find some pics from the launch of the show that displays the attire of the menfolk of the series.

But first, some backstory on the setup of the show that I've been able to piece together:

Amaya is a child of prophecy. A fortune-teller tells a villainous Datu that his reign will end when a special woman (who is a child right now, twin to a snake) will kill him. While this Datu applies the Herod approach to various populations, another Datu hides his daughter as a 'slave girl' adopted into his family of daughters (not too clear on how that works yet) and as she is raised she grows into the very person the villainous Datu fears.

Cool. But I'm really more into it for the visuals and the fights and the production itself. So here are some of the guys outfits.

So the guy on the right seems to show the general shape of the pre-spanish costumes. Those are tattoos on his chest -- in one episode I saw young man's shins recovering from being tattooed as he was talking to someone else -- meaning something significant that I must research further.

Weapons seem to be a long blade (a kampilan perhaps), and a short blade (probably a barong). Given the amount of jungle outdoorsy stuff that they probably have to do, regardless of station, the short blade probably gets more usage than the long blade.

The lack of armor also means that battles are about swordplay, probably shieldwork, and a lot of positioning, footwork, and the classic triad of power, speed, and accuracy.

Looks cool.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Remixed Archetypes: Astro City's Crossbreed

The approach of remixing archetypes is a useful one, since it injects new life into a well-worn archetype as I've tackled in greater detail before.

I often look to Astro City for inspiration on this approach, because it's done such a great job with so many super-hero archetypes -- making them recognizable, yet retaining their own character in the course of the story rather than being another clone.

My topic for today example would not be another of the more iconic characters (Samaritan, Winged Victory, Jack-in-the-Box, etc.) but rather a misunderstood group of super-powereed beings: The Crossbreed.

Perhaps not that obvious when you first encounter them, but after thinking on it for a while you realize that they're the "misunderstood team of freaks or outcasts" exemplified in popular comic culture by the X-men and the Doom Patrol. Here's the official spiel from the Astro City website:

The Crossbreed — known derogatorily as "The Jesus Freaks," the Crossbreed believe their powers come from God, and are to be used in his service. Led by the enigmatic storm-casting Noah, the Crossbreed include the leonine Daniel, the rock-shaping Peter, the winged, angelic Mary, the giant David and the sonic-powered Joshua.

I'm particularly impressed by the selection of the "Jesus Freak" angle, because it allows a lot of X-menish riffs:
  • the cross paralleled with the ubiquitous "X" naming of the X-teams;
  • the symbol of the cross on their costumes again paralleled with the stylized "X" costumes;
  • the religious dress used as the costume template, similar to the early x-costumes;
  • the label "Jesus Freaks" as a way to rationalize their outcast nature (without necessarily pushing them to the 'hunted and feared' extreme of our favorite bunch of mutants)

Another thing that I liked was the way they tackled superpowers and codenames: none of them have the direct abilities of their namesakes, but rather from other abilities associated with their namesakes' stories. For example, Noah has storm-based abilities rather the ability to build boats or perhaps gather animals of different types together; likewise, David isn't necessarily skilled with the sling, but can grow to goliath size; and so on.

And much like their predecessors in the comics world, they show that they're much more that the caricatures they're made out to be by popular sentiment and the press.

Usage in superhero campaigns

Instead of the somewhat confusing fear of mutants in a world where aliens and other meta-humans are capable of just as much damage, the shift to a given religious, cultural, or political stance as a rationale for the 'hunted and feared' team is very useful. However, there must be ample reason to fear these ideological differences in a modern day and age -- or at least some reason for hostility from some quarters of the general populace. Perhaps they espouse controversial stances (for or against) the government or the major religions of your chosen setting?

If the team is a team of PCs, they're of course misunderstood -- they must strive against the stereotype to be recognized (or not) as true heroes. If they're NPCs, then keeping the PCs guessing the true intentions is key to retaining tension in the game.

Usage in Fantasy RPGs

It's not so much a stretch to borrow from this in Fantasy settings either. Perhaps the clerics of a given religion espouse controversial views on key issues (genocide, the treatment of men/women/children in society, other races, imperialism, etc.) but at the same time wield great power (clerical spells) and as such aren't seen so much as your friendly neighborhood priest or pastor, but rather a strange and aloof master of mysterious arts.

In a stunning reversal, the mad mages and alchemists of the genre could actually be the preferred and more approachable go-to groups for supra-human intervention and healing, rather than the clerics because of this distrust of the clergy.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

On the Radar: Bad@$$ the Roleplaying Game

I apologize in advance for the language, but it is part of the color of the game's marketing blurb.

BADASS is not a game that you can attempt to work your way around with logic. In fact, BADASS kicks that logic in the face, twists its arm behind its back and makes it cry for its momma.

Kick a reinforced metal fire door down off its hinges? BADASS
Catch a bullet with your teeth? BADASS
Slice through an Abrams tank with your katana? BADASS
Does it make sense? NO!
Does it have to? HELL NO!

In fact the moment you start making sense is the moment you lose your Badass Points, reverting into the mewling pathetic 98-pound weakling you truly are.
Fellow blogger pointyman2000 (whose real name you'll see on the game page) has been working on this project for several months, and can now announce that his free Action / Comedy RPG: BADASS is now available over at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG for the low, low price of absolutely nothing.

Check it out!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pre-spanish weapons for a Filipino Fantasy Setting

If you've ever seen the Filipino "Weapons of Moroland" souvenir, you might wonder a bit about these weapons: what are they really like, how do they measure up to one another, and how were they used?

I don't really know aside from researching online, and of course the comments of some practitioners of Filipino Martial Arts who were clearly not alive during that time, but have heard stories passed down through years of martial arts masters and folklore.

Here are a few that have caught my eye.

Thank you, Wikipedia. You're awesome.
The Kampilan is a big sword, and could be considered the local equivalent of a broadsword (though I'm loathe to go to my AD&D stuff right now and research the dimensions). The construction doesn't look too friendly for thrusting; it seems like more of a cutting and chopping type of weapon. This is the weapon that we see Amaya (as portrayed by Marian Rivera) wielding in her teaser of a video. I think that quite a few of the Datus in the story have one too.

I should really donate to Wikipedia the next time they put out a call for money.


The Barong is a knife (not to be confused with the Barong Tagalog which is part of Filipino Formal Dress). I don't think it counts as a dagger, but it could be considered one in terms of damage. I mean, it's pretty broad as knives go. And the leaf-shape probably does some damage in terms of thrusting multiple times into someone, right? Plus, it's thick as blades go -- reputedly capable of cutting through the barrels of muskets and rifles with a good swing.



Last but not least for this post: the Panabas. Panabas is reputedly from the word pangtabas (thing used to chop). It's a forward-curved sword, but one that doesn't use quite so much metal and so in a fantasy economy might be more prevalent than the Kampilan. Since its effectiveness in chopping made it a favorite for use in executions, and it has a vaguely scythe-like look, it may be useful in suggesting that the bearers are of a more sinister bent than sword-bearing warriors.

I'll update this post at a future date just to add in the damage codes after the names of the weapons. Just a bit sleepy now.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mining Firebirds: GRG's Sengoku

One of the best product lines ever to come out of Gold Rush Games was the Sengoku line. Sengoku -- which came out in 1999 -- was considered by many to be one of the most well-researched and well-written Samurai/Ninja/Chanbara 16th Century Japan of all time, Sengoku is still available online for less than $10.

It was inspired by earlier classics such as Land of the Rising Sun and Bushido, and the then-dominant CCG / RPG property Legend of the 5 Rings. In fact, some of the early work on the RPG was done with the potential of creating Bushido Third Edition in mind, but ultimately the group decided to create a brand new RPG on its own.

What's in it for Fading Suns?

One of the major houses of nobility -- the Li Halan house -- is obviously inspired by more Asian cultures. While it could be argued that there's a stronger Chinese influence (which we can draw from other sources), there's no stopping us from doing the same from feudal Japan.

The first stop would be the "Manners & Customs" section, which tackles things like the different types of bowing (greeting superiors, inferiors, and equals; apologies), different levels of politeness and address in speech, removal of footwear when going indoors, audiences with personages (important for meeting the Dukes of  a House), clothing for males and females of all stations, sword / weapon etiquette for posturing, entering buildings, traveling with weapons, and so on.

The next stop would be the "Daily Life in Japan" section, which holds useful telling details on life in an asian culture like education, various games and sports, types recreational activities performed (beyond Go, there's the card game hyakunin isshu, which involves 100 cards with the last half of famous poems and an illustration + 100 cards with the first half of famous poems and an illustration for joining, a dice game known as Han-Cho, various equestrian activities, and we haven't even discussed martial arts matches yet or the Arts).

Since the overall culture of the Known Worlds would somehow overlay the native culture, you can pick and choose from the "Societal Structures" section, which tackles the Imperial Court, Castes, and Samurai Clan membership, and the Shinobi.

Last, but not least, the "Religion" section. Since it is heretical to believe in any other religion other than that of the Pancreator as revealed by the Prophet Zebulon and represented by the Orthodox Church, all the religions detailed here (Shinto, Buddhism, Shugendo, Ryobu-Shinto, and Christianity) would be mineable as small heretical sects -- fodder for the Inquisition or the Avesti.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.15 -- First Shard Audit

The oracle looked like this, only female.
During the first watch of the night, ALECTO, DUMAS, and VARIAN are surprised by the arrival of the WARDER OF THE SCROLLS with their first set of missions. Dumas hurriedly goes to wake the others, and ARCTURUS hastily dons the Stalwart Warder to accommodate their guest. As he is officially welcoming her, however, the AUDITOR makes his appearance; the Warder of the Scrolls consents (with some apparent ill will toward the Auditor) to wait below deck while the audit is conducted.

The Auditor has much to say about the Ninth’s performance thus far, little of it positive. Arc attempts to reason that there has not been sufficient time to master or at least utilize every shard—as the Auditor would evidently prefer—but his reasoning is not accepted and the unused shards are very nearly confiscated and redistributed; eventually, however, the Auditor relents, on the condition that the first six of those shards are worn at the next available opportunity, and the others utilized as well. (Oh, and Varian gets yelled at but is later apologized to by the Auditor.)

Following the Auditor’s departure, Arc goes to speak to the Warder of the Scrolls, only to be informed that he needs an oracle in order to receive the missions. Fortunately, in his capacity as Bejeweled Nuncio, Varian is able to summon an oracle to assist them, a female entity identified by the name of the stone used to summon her, CITRINE. Through Citrine, the party is able to learn most of the details regarding the ten missions that pertain to their number over the next thirty day period.

CATALINA suggests that they consult with the Eighth Number and the group elects to do so, whereupon they learn from the Unbound Warder BARTOLOMUS and the Illuminated Warder JERENUS that the Eighth do not intend to pursue the missions slated for the latter three numbers of the Circle of Ten, despite knowing that all three will be tasked to explain if these missions go unfulfilled. They also find out that the cryptic mission information is typically interpreted through the use of multiple oracles, and that warders are considered an exception to the specific taxonomies allowed for each mission, although it is strongly advised that even warders prepare only such abilities as are outlined in the mission parameters. The consultation ends with a cordial affirmation that each group may rely upon each other for assistance, and the warders of the Eighth send the party’s representatives off with a present of barley wine.

The following morning, the group complies with their agreement by wearing the six named shards, which are quickly and unexpectedly accomplished when the affable Emerald Mask Warder KARNESIS arrives to grant their reward for obtaining the Eye of Pluto—which is, indeed, accomplishment of the shards worn by the group at the time the reward is activated. They learn that rewards are given at the end of each thirty day period, and may be kept for as long as a month after they are received. The “Rewarder”, as she refers to herself, also confirms that while numbers are free to cooperate toward the accomplishment of a mission, the reward goes only to the primary group that achieves the mission goal, although it has been rumored that illegal sharing of rewards goes on clandestinely. (And Karnesis greets Catalina as the person responsible for the chauvinist warder’s downfall—which Cat modestly downplays—and seems inexplicably troubled whenever she catches sight of Aly.)

After Karnesis’s departure, Varian, in his capacity as the Oracle of Equinox, realizes that PORENDUS, the Grieving Warder of the Tenth Number, is trying to contact them, without success since they have no warder at present. They are able to communicate with him through ALINA’S Mirror Magus abilities, and the former Warder of the Second comes to speak with them. They agree to split the two missions slated for the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Numbers; and, learning that the Tenth is in dire need of another warder shard, the party trades their Harmonic Warder for Porendus’s Fractured Mage and Grey Speaker. Porendus mentions that the Eighth are honorable—“sometimes too honorable”—but appears to restrain himself from saying negative things about others, perhaps particularly the highest numbers.

Following Porendus’s departure, Varian announces that the group will soon be dueled by and lose to the Sixth Number, whereupon he and Arc—with the latter’s ability of cold foretelling—are subjected to a battery of questions that leads to the general consensus that they can instead defeat the Sixth if, through the “second father” referred to by the oracles, they challenge the other group first. Luckily, they have the advantage of choosing when this will occur since they have no warder at present, leaving the Sixth unable to contact them.

A commotion above deck brings them all back out into the open, where they witness the arrival of TARAM, who has come for some sort of gathering of “his kind”, but detours long enough to greet them, in particular his second father, Dumas. Dumas urges him to stay with the party, but Taram answers that he can’t, “not yet”.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why no d10 in BECMI Basic?

Okay, short post here. But these trivial questions do come up every so often, and then disappear because they're really not that important.

Now, the d10 is mentioned on the page (explaining how '0' is read as '10' and how to read two d10s as a percentile roll) but the picture of all the dice on the same page doesn't have it.

Why? I guess it's just one of those mysteries that we'll never figure out, but have fun theorizing about.

I'm thinking aliens did it. Or ancient Mayans.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mining Firebirds: Bill Coffin's Septimus

I don't remember fully the story behind this. But the story in my memory is that this was one of the last D6 settings that was done by West End Games (and Bill Coffin worked on it). The setting involves a Dyson Sphere, an intergalactic empire in the process of fading from power, and lots of very interesting bits of technology that would be absolutely fascinating to explore from the point of view of the Fading Suns setting.

In this setting, of course, we're looking at Septimus just after its prime. But it's a Dyson Sphere (which in-game is called a Worldsphere), a classic bit of supertechnology consistent with the rumored wonders of Fading Suns' Second Republic!

The sheer size of the setting (with loads of trash and a few potentially dangerous treasures hiding in the ruins) is enough for an entire archeology-based campaign by itself. Of course you could go the Stargate Universe route and have the PCs suddenly cut off from the Known Worlds due to a Jumpgate malfunction and have them try to find a way to open a route back somehow.


Add to that nanomods, genomods, starships, weapons, armor, and psionic abilities (which in-game are called Metaphysics) and you have almost everything you could want as a portion of the huge, sprawling, Second Republic just before the fall.

And it's free to download.

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