Friday, August 26, 2011

A Word On Astral Empires: Font Choice

Astral Empires -- an RPG that I've mentioned before -- is one of the things I'm reading now.

It caught my attention because it cites the original Star Wars RPG, which used the D6 system, as one of its inspirations. Furthermore, the universe of Christian Conkle's Lightspeed (a former Fuzion RPG with many homages to favorite SF settings, alien races, and characters) is apparently being (or has already been) folded into this RPG setting. With the presence of my old and decaying Star Wars RPG books and PDFs of the other D6 Science Fiction settings, it seems that D6 is carving out a niche for gonzo / space opera / kitchen sink gameplay.

However, my initial flip-through of the book reveals a big problem for me: layout. In particular, font choice. It's hard to read, and I'm sometime trying to determine from context if something is D6 or 06, or having to interrupt reading and zooming in. I think that even Arial is a bit more readable than the body text font chosen. Which I think could have been the font choice for the original Star Wars RPG body text, I'll have to check.

So, what to do? Fortunately, I notice that copy & paste hasn't been disabled on the PDFs, so I think I'll do that -- copy and paste into Word, change the font, and read through the book so that I can update y'all on the content. It's too bad, since I like a lot of the 3D ship art -- it adds flavor to the read.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Enigmundia: Magical Traditions in Zan Lasario

The name of my Karameikos equivalent in Enigmundia is Zan Lasario, and the magical traditions in that place are split between the native traditions, and those of the Zandarians.

Zandarian traditions include
  • the Arcanum -- the most prevalent, most reliable, most taught magical system in the Empire because of the ability to record, replicate, and disseminate spells through magical scrolls; essentially the default D&D magic system;
  • the Gremio Poetica -- rarer, yet potentially more versatile, this magical system is more art than ritual, and is fueled (and occasionally tainted) by the drives and emotions of the casters; essentially the 'sorcerous' D&D magics of 3E in spirit;
Lasario native traditions include
  • Mankulam -- shamanic and insect-oriented spells; draws from the 'druids' of the D&D magics;
  • Salamangka -- elemental-oriented spells that - at their core - summon and control elemental spirits; not sure where to get this from, but since I'm kit-bashing D&D and HERO I'll find a solution.
Yes, I'm borrowing somewhat from the Hinirang setting for the magical tradition names. Easier than thinking up my own.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Inspiration: Movie Trailers

The Three Musketeers (2011)



Apparently a slightly more fantastic (and a bit steampunkish) take on the classic story. Let's hope the swordplay matches the rest of the spectacle in the trailer.

If only I could understand most of the Alatriste RPG -- but then again, there's no shortage of swordfighting rules in the RPGverse. All that jumping and falling suggests the use of a bit more cinematic ruleset though...

The Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)



I really enjoyed this movie when it came out. I enjoyed the martial arts infusion into the setting, along with the lavish attention paid to period locations, sets, and costumes.

This and my own understanding of the development of martial arts (weapons + barehanded) makes me want to revisit how Monks were treated in the classic D&D ruleset. Because sometimes the martial artists can be "ascetics", but needn't be. Many modern ones certainly aren't, and a lot of the various techniques arose not from priests but from fighters dedicated to improving their fighting skills.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reading Room: Two from the OSR

I rarely get to run games these days. But I do like to collect RPG games and sourcebooks. This means that most of my posting about RPGs comes from the point of view of a non-active GM or Player -- hence the title of blog.

However, I do like to read and occasionally put together an idea for a one-shot game that really allows you to get to the meat and the flavor of some games. I do this because it motivates me to read the damned stuff in my library (paper and electronic) and because it readies me for the off chance that I actually do get to run one of these games.

As far as systems go, I'm pretty much a HERO System fan when it comes to very detailed yet flexible rules -- and a number of other systems that I've run tend to get a sprinkling of HERO System philosophy in the house rules.

With simpler rules, I tend toward the much-maligned core mechanic unless the rules have some other design purpose than merely simulating a plausible genre reality.

What really catches my eye these days is settings. I can always whip up a HERO conversion if I don't like the rules, but good settings always inspire me and get the imagination going.

Therefore, my very short post this night -- so that I can begin reading -- are these two setting sourcebooks: Red Tide and The Majestic Wilderlands.

Both of these settings have been reviewed elsewhere online, and have caught my interest for different reasons.

Red Tide is of interest not only due to the intriguing campaign setup involving the Red Tide itself, but also the mix of cultures and unusual takes on normal D&D races and cosmology.

The Majestic Wilderlands caught my fancy because the wilderlands have always interested me (though I only knew it as the areas around City State of the Invincible Overlord way back in my gaming infancy), and I wanted to see the rules mods for Swords & Wizardry in the book as well.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Character Creation: Animal Themed Supers

One of the most common sources of inspiration for superheroic characters, aside from pre-existing superheroes in comics, is the animal kingdom.

And yet, creating an animal-themed superhero isn't necessarily as simple or simplistic as choosing a cool animal and naming your character after it. There are many approaches to animal-themed characters, but we can group them into three somewhat loose categories: animal-inspired, animal-infused, animal-inherent.

Animal-inspired

This refers to animal-themed characters who take on the name and the look of certain animals in their superheroic personas, without a very strong tie to the specific animal.

One good example of this is Batman, who didn't gain powers after being bitten by a radioactive bat, but instead took on the look of one in order to scare criminals (a superstitious, cowardly lot). Aside from the general bat-like look, the cave and the occasional bat-named gadget, the character is really more of a dark knight detective / caped crusader.

Another somewhat surprising example of this would be Wolverine. This short and ornery mutant with adamantium claws and a healing factor doesn't seem to have taken much from his namesake (wolverines are essentially badgers with worse attitudes) aside from being irascible and having claws. To top it off, he is sometimes shown in pictures alongside wolves -- which of course are not wolverines.

Animal-infused

This refers to animal-themed characters who actually have some claim to the abilities of their namesakes or have some kinship with them.

Spider-man is the classic example of this, thanks to that irradiated spider that bit him and passed on abilities that could arguably be considered as spidery abilities: wall-crawling (cool), proportional strength (ok, sure), spider-sense (uh, what?). Furthermore, he completes the ensemble with invented web-shooters and web-formula to show his dedication to the spider theme.

Hawkman can sometimes be considered to have this, depending on the incarnation of the character in DC Comics. At one time, not only did he fly and have keen eyesight -- he also had the ability to talk to birds! Of course, his huge arsenal of weapons borrows more from the metaphorical connotations of hawks (war-oriented), and he sometimes comes across like Conan with wings, but there's no denying the strong infusion of "hawk-ness" in the character.
 
Animal-inherent

This refers to animal-themed characters who seem have been turned into animals themselves, or have actual animal abilities, or were animals that became humanoid.

Spider-man, at certain points in his career, became like this -- when he sprouted extra limbs for example.

The Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles are another example of this, having been regular turtles before a radioactive isotope that blinded a lawyer further up the street found its way to them and mutated them. While it may be argued that ninjitsu and a fondness for pizza are not very turtle-like, there's considerable weight on the turtleness to keep them in this category.

Kemlo "Hyperdog" Caesar from Alan Moore's Top 10 is another example of an animal-inherent character. In fact, he's essentially an uplifted dog. Out of his suit -- which lets him walk around, manipulate things with fingers, and generally look like a human with a head of a dog -- Kemlo actually seems to be just that: a dog (who's really smart and can talk).

Lycanthropes fall into this category as well, naturally. In fact, it seems that the battle between human nature and beast nature is a common trope of this type of character.

Beyond these categories

There are several types of animal-themed characters that may fall between the cracks of these categories, based on where you want to draw the line.

However, there are metahumans that are able to draw from multiple animal abilities and can be considered to draw from all or none of these categories: the meta-animal superhumans.


Beast Boy / Changeling was able to shapeshift into different creatures from the animal kingdom. Early versions of him had him with the natural form of the animal with green-faced head grafted on top of it. Later versions of him had him look like a normal -- albeit emerald-green colored -- animal.


Animal Man was able to draw upon the abilities of any nearby animal. He could fly if near birds, run a proportional speeds if near ants, gain the senses of various animals when investigating. In many ways, he was like Vixen, who used her Tantu Totem to also draw upon aspects of various beasts.


Last, but not least, there's B'wana Beast. Who had the ability to physically combine different animals together, and retaining the best abilities of each. Like horses and spiders, or sharks and pelicans. Wow, nothing creepy there at all.



Friday, August 19, 2011

Things were bad, now they're better

Was gone for a while, but now I'm back. My child was ill, and he's well now.

Thank God.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Enigmundia: Three Dog Superstitions

Superstition #1: Kobolds are the corrupted and uplifted spirits of ur-dogs.

The ur-dogs were the ones who sided with humanity, who became their best friends and protectors at an early time in the life of Enigmundia, who decided early on -- in the many multi-sided battles waged between the rebels and rejected of the Heavens -- that they would protect this strangely favored race of mortals.

Something took offense, and corrupted a whole race of dogs and transformed them into a mockery of the humanoids that the dogs had pledged themselves to.

"Okay, little doggie. I trust you."
Superstition #2: Dogs can choose to adopt a human or human home and protect it on the physical level and on the spiritual level.

They have senses beyond those of mortals, and in their role as protectors, they can sense approaches and attacks that untrained (and even trained mortals) miss.

Pay attention to the wandering dog that seems to have taken you under its care and is suddenly barking madly at the supposedly injured old man at the crossroads. It is warning you.

Superstition #3: Dogs that have been accepted into a human family can sacrifice themselves to save a member of the family from spiritual attack.

It can opt to interpose itself between a targeted human and a psychic or mystical or spiritual attack, even if not necessarily in proper "line of sight". The more modern city-dwellers think nothing about a mysterious series of maladies befalling their beloved dog, and will do little more than grieve at a sudden death -- but those who come from the jungles and the more distant settlements know that something bore them ill will, and that their animal friend sacrificed itself for them. They will seek revenge.

In fact, in some provincial areas, it is considered high praise when newborns are gifted with puppies -- a sign that the gift-givers wish the child will overcome the hardships of infancy and become a productive family member and a valuable part of the community.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Practical Character Creation for Supers (part 2)

In part 1 of this topic, I tackled the offensive and defensive concerns of building a superheroic character (sans discussions of a complicated topic known as character concept -- the source of much of the delays in building characters in point-based games).

The next two topics I'm tackling are movement capabilities, and something I'm labeling factor X.

Movement capabilities

As astutely pointed out in superheroic RPGs, it's embarrassing for superheroes to have to catch a bus to fight crime. Furthermore, vigilantes who operate in areas that the law frowns upon will find their careers severely curtailed when police catch them jogging from the scene of the crime in their brightly colored crime fighting outfits.

However, even once you've chosen an appropriate movement power, there are some things to consider further. And all these considerations rely on the GM's style of play and understanding of superhero physics, which may differ from yours (and the other players)!

Perceptible SFX

Does your power leave a trail perceptible by normal folks? Like a bright trail of energy, or the sound of roaring engines audible ten blocks away? Keep in mind that this will make it harder for you to sneak up on people, and may make it difficult to keep a civilian identity ("The Comet's flight trail leads directly into the window of the men's bathroom of the 10th floor Daily Planet Bugle!").

Flying

Depending on how your flight works, and how powerful it is, you may find certain questions cropping up in the course of your adventures like
  • how fast can you fly? fast enough to cause you temperature problems due to windchill? fast enough to make it difficult to breathe due to the inability of your lungs to create a strong enough vacuum to suck in air?
  • what's the maximum altitude your flight can take you, and can you handle the cold and thin air at that altitude?
  • how easily can you turn at cruising speed? at top speed?
  • how far can you see? far enough to avoid something in your way?
  • can you hear things like airplanes and helicopters that are flying at the same altitude as you?
Running

Some of the issues here are similar to flying, for obvious reasons. Others though...

  • how fast can you run? fast enough to cause you temperature problems due to windchill?
  • what's your traction like on non-normal surfaces like slippery roads and ice?
  • how easily can you turn at cruising speed? at top speed?
  • how far can you see? far enough to avoid something in your way?
  • can you hear or see other things on the road, and can you react in time to avoid obstacles?
  • can you survive tripping at your running speed?
Teleportation

Some of the biggest headaches come from arguments over the physics of teleportation, as you may find out when you shift from GM to GM and find that they don't necessarily agree with the nuanced uses of your abilities. For example:
  • do you retain momentum when you teleport -- meaning teleporting to the ground when falling will still cause your to impact at the same velocity?
  • will your GM allow your to teleport into the same space you are now, but facing in a different direction -- meaning if you're falling, you can teleport 180 degrees and then fall upwards until you lose momentum and teleport safely to a surface at 0 velocity?
  • what happens when you try to teleport into something solid?
  • what happens when you teleport from one train to another -- with each train moving at slightly different speeds in different directions?
Other movement abilities

So this should give you an idea of what to expect to think about when choosing a movement power, and things that need clarification with the GM before play starts. Most of these things are already resolved (not always consistently) by writers in comics, but when your playing these questions haven't necessarily been hashed out between GM and Players.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Rockstars. Wizards. Scientists.


Guitars. Wands. Pencils.
Songs. Spells. Equations.

It came to me when I saw and listened to clips of "It Might Get Loud" and saw some of the comments about it. High-level wizards could be like viewed as rockstars and scientists in the fantasy milieu by their peers.

When they're old, I suppose you could look on them like the aged caricatures of white-haired wizards. But they do have a past -- possibly a boring one, possibly a wild one -- filled with obstacles and achievements and a long history of enemies and friends and contacts.

A first level character though? In love with the music. Fascinated by the science. Awed by the various rising stars and all-out living gods in the field.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Practical Character Creation for Supers (part 1)

My character concept is: I can do anything! Of course, I can
afford it -- I'll be blue, naked, show no emotion, have a
dysfunctional relationship, be feared by various segments of
society, and have a mystery ubervillain secretly plotting my
downfall as part of his/her masterplan.

I don't have much of a preference between character generation and character creation. It really depends on the RPG itself and the players and the GM.

When dealing with superheroes, however, I truly prefer character creation over character generation. If it's a mixture of both, I prefer the lion's share to come from character creation -- because I don't want to be playing a superhero that doesn't interest me, or worse, has a ridiculous combination of powers that's difficulty to rationalize (and that's something I'm pretty good at).

For the HERO System, there are a couple of great guidelines for character creation [ 1 | 2 ], but I'm going to go at it from a "I wanna be able to do stuff" point of view first, before I swing back towards character concept.

Now, there's a fantastic section in Champions 4th Edition that explains superhero character creation for an RPG from a pragmatic standpoint. It breaks down your character's abilities into four general categories: Offensive capabilities, Defensive capabilities, Movement capabilities, and the "X-factor". If you build a character lacking in any of the first three categories, you'll probably find your effectiveness as a lone hero or a teammate somewhat less than optimal. If miss out on the last category, you become a bland character -- or worse: a wanna-be of some existing superhero.

Offensive capabilities

When thinking about offensive capabilities, understand that -- unless you're Superman -- you can't cover all the bases that well. But you can try, dammit.

Assuming that you can still retain your core rationale for character and power while doing this, you have to think about
  • combat range -- can you attack something well at close range? how about at long range?
  • rate of attack -- how often can you attack in comparison to others
  • multiple attacks -- not necessarily the same as rate of attack, this asks how many targets your attack can handle at once
  • area effect attacks -- not necessarily the same as multiple attacks, this asks if you have an ability that can affect everyone and everything in a given area
  • accuracy -- having a high damage attack is great, but if it can't land on your opponent or if it has a chance of hitting a teammate (see area effect attacks), it's not really that useful
  • power of attack -- being able to hit someone is great, but if it's the equivalent of hitting a tank with a scented stuffed animal, forget it
  • banes -- essentially, keep track if your attacks can potentially do more damage or have greater effect on certain types of villains

Defensive capabilities

In terms of defense, you have to ask yourself:
  • Does my character take hits, or avoid them?
  • Do I want to have one broad type of defensive solution, like a force field, or a bunch of smaller defenses?
  • What possible ways can my defenses be negated, and what do I need to do to avoid those negations or minimize their effects on me?
  • If I am hit with an "x" type of attack, is it acceptable for my character as imagined to (a) ignore it; (b) shrug it off; (c) wince; (d) be stunned; (e) go unconscious.

Seriously, give some thought to this. There's nothing worse than jumping in to save the day only to be one-shotted by a hold-out pistol because you tried to over-optimize your character.

You can check out Part 2 here.

Link to Hari Ragat Games: The Chola Invasions & Hari Ragat

Here's an interesting tidbit for use in Enigmundia and my Hinirang RPG work... the origin of the name of the Visayas in the Philippines, and the potential Indian influence on Philippine culture.

Hari Ragat Games: The Chola Invasions & Hari Ragat: "One of the fascinating but little-known nuggets of history that has always fascinated me is the Chola campaign of King Rajendra Chola agai..."

Man, why am I up this late?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Banes and Weaknesses in Fantasy RPGs

This is pretty much common sense, except common sense isn't that common.

To survive against the dangers of the dungeon, do research and ready some commonly available (and not so commonly available) combat options for creatures that you're likely to encounter.

In haunted tombs, for example, holy water, magical weapons, and the like are pretty much standard. If you can't afford the full-on magical sword, spend on a dagger or smaller backup weapon. Daggers are great because the mage can use 'em if all other party members have dropped.

Here's a quick checklist for weaknesses and banes:

  • Holy symbol -- only if the GM is feeling generous
  • Holy water -- does damage to most undead
  • Silvered weapons -- affects various undead and the werecreatures as well
  • Magic weapons (primary if possible, check the pluses) -- always good to have anyway
  • Fire -- great with webs, cubes, spores, and - in conjunction with oil - folks in the other room whose only door you've spiked shut
  • Electricity -- good stuff for metallic things or things in water
  • Slings -- useful for distanced bane use
  • Water -- not always that useful, but you have some already anyway, right? Find out if it'll save your life against something, especially in conjunction with electricity
  • Herbs and Vegetables -- they say wolfsbane helps, and garlic, and seeds (your GM mileage may vary) but there's no sense in carrying this stuff unless you know you're gonna need it 
Now, while you may not have the money to buy everything, it pays to pick up and hold onto these things as treasure in the dungeons. They can save your life in surprising ways.

Case in point...

Arduin, Wraiths, and Coins

True story. In one of the Arduin dungeons, we encountered a wraith. We were a party of six, but let me read to you the description of the Common Wraith in Arduin:
Only weaponry of silver of magik may harm them, silver doing but half damage...They cannot be mesmerized or mentally controlled, but the priestly Glory Glow will bum them at the rate of 4 HP each melee round they are inside it. These beings, because they are non-corporeal, can drift through solid walls with no difficulty or reduction in speed.

Well, being a relatively low-level party we didn't have a single magic weapon to our name. Silver weapons? Nope.

So when we encountered this nasty thing in a room, only magical spells had effect and that resulted in our mage being targeted and using up his valuable memorized combat spells! So what to do?

We realized that we did have silver weapons: our silver coins, in the purses tied to our belts. So we had a thief with a sling hurl his coins at range while the rest of us descended upon it like mad hooligans, swinging our coinpurses through it (the pouches went through it, but the coins did not) until we beat it back into the afterlife.

Most of us survived, as opposed to none of us.

Moral of the story: never underestimate your more mundane gear. A bane is a bane is a bane.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

High Level Fantasy and Super-heroic RPGs

There's a tendency to associate much old school gaming with low level adventuring.

And, truth be told, there are very good reasons for that -- two that come to mind (though I'm sure the more senior OSR folks could posit far more):

  1. the game has you start off at 1st level and if you die, you created another 1st level character and continued play. Until everyone had a whole bunch of characters beyond 1st to 3rd, much of the gaming tended to stay at that level.
  2. the ceiling was still low -- 10th level was considered frickin' monstrously high-powered. 12th level? What kinda Monty Haul campaign are you playing in, fool?
However, part of my experience in D&D was looking longingly at those high-level tournament modules -- the ones with tricks, traps, and monsters aplenty -- and wondering when the player PCs would reach that level and I could finally run them through those killer dungeons.

Furthermore, I was also a fan of the Arduin series of supplements and modules and not only were you always scared at higher levels of play, you tended to die a lot too. (Stay in the back till you're of some use, new guy).

But I think that when I began alternating play between superhero RPGs and AD&D, I finally got a good grasp of GMing high level play. Well, at least from the point of view of creating challenges for PCs, and for surviving things that nasty DMs throw at you.

So this week's attempted series will tackle several approaches that deal with superhero RPGs and high-level gaming (primarily in the Arduin vein). Topics will include:
  • Teamwork
  • Variety
  • Well-rounded characters (attack, defense, movement, and factor X)
  • Science and the rubber it's made from
  • Generalization, Specialization, and the trap of the Swiss Army Knife

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.17 -- Mission Season Part 1

With considerable difficulty, the party manages to transport the large box through the blue-suffused surroundings to the outpost of Tergoth, despite being separated several times due to the chaotic nature of the area and having to contend with Shrieking Titans, The Headless, and the deaths of most party members upon having to pass through the boundary between blue and non-blue environments (negated by DUMAS, as Cerulean Mediator).
  • Prompted by ARCTURUS’S cold foretelling (one of the abilities of the Winterheart Oracle), MANTIUS, as Renegade Warder, enables ALECTO to access an advanced ability of the Body Servant and assume amphibious form in order to recover two sound-deadening stones from beneath a local lake, thus fulfilling the secondary mission, The Silence of Falling Stars.
  • Upon delivery of the box, the Ruby Blood Cloak Warder ANTIPAS physically threatens Mantius, but is stopped by ALINA in her capacity as Sanomagus. She is then detained by Antipas, and only recovered later through the interference of the Renegade Warder and Bejeweled Nuncio.
  • The party ventures into the Imperium environs to recover the lost Blue Mage shard, only to discover that the area has become infested by the blue. Despite great difficulty and danger, they are able to find the shard and escape, through VARIAN’S shadow door and Dumas’s bluffing of the gate guardian.
  • Mantius is summoned by the PEERLESS LAMBENT WARDER to account for the party’s interference in another number’s mission by having entered the Imperium environs. He explains, and the group is penalized by being assigned to assist the First Number in their aforementioned unique mission.
  • The party decides to contact the First in order to explain what has occurred, in the course of which they meet some more members of the First: MASTER ORINUS, mounted by the Bleak Soul Alchemist; TOLIRUS, mounted by the Abyssal Helm Warder; and young LEONTES, mounted by the Voice of Thunder.

HEROic D&D and Enigmundia: Actual Document Writing

I guess it's actually time to write drafts of sections (and finalize an outline) of these two inter-related projects. Interestingly enough, this was around the time that I discovered several older posts on the topic of laying out / organizing information in RPG materials:
  • from Zak S [ 1 ]
  • from Talysman [ 1 ]

Also, I was interested in the Liber Zero posts [ 1 | 2 | 3 ]by Talysman which seems to be an approach that saves up on the space of writing a whole set of rules by just creating tables, being concise, and noting where your rules differ from the established ones.

Which I suppose is fine if I tackle a more readily available source of rules like Labyrinth Lord (free!) or OSRIC (free!). But what if you gotta buy it?

And, in typical unfocused Gamer ADD fashion, I'm thinking of just doing reviews on all my current retroclone copies to decide. AGH!

What madness has taken root here?

The Old School Renaissance Group: Day Three of the OSR booth (and a whole picture!)

It seems that Old School stuff still rocks!
The Old School Renaissance Group: Day Three of the OSR booth (and a whole picture!): "Day three was quite busy and the traffic heavy. Today began with a short podcast interview about the OSR that should appear in a week or so ..."

Wish I could see all of it!

I'll admit to being a PDF only guy now that space (and money) is very precious. But there's just something about having a whole bunch of new RPGs in book form.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Setting Mashup Source #5: Over The Edge

I picked up the 1st Edition and still have it.
Never found a printed copy of the 2nd Edition.
Al Amarja is a dangerous place for the uninitiated and the ignorant. Heck, it's a dangerous place for anyone (or anything) because of the numerous factions that are constantly jostling for an edge over their rivals and opponents. And the internal rivalry and backstabbing within a faction. And the general weirdness of the place: all kinds of magic represented by members of the mystic sh*t crowd, lots of fringe science, aliens, fate, destiny, time travel, alternate pasts, presents, and futures, and so on.

Now, while the island of Al Amarja is already interesting enough to drag into a fantasy realm (no guns except for the Peace Force, more on that later) -- the city known as The Edge can be a refreshing change to the normal type of fantasy world city.

It is nicely laid out with Plazas that attract a certain kind of personage that tends to co-mingle. Taking this tack, you can create Plazas where artists tend to hang out, where fighters congregate to find hirelings and check out the latest developments in weaponry, where mages browse through book sellers and tomes in the labyrinthine alleyways off the main plaza, and so on.

In addition, Al Amarja has its own patois despite the official language being American English (Common) with interesting twists:
An example would be the word "Yes" — the English "Yes" is used for simple confirmation, the French "Oui" is used to imply apathy or boredom, the Russian "Da" is used for dejected acceptance of the inevitable, and the Japanese "Hai" is selected for enthusiastic agreement.

Another cultural twist that serves to reinforce that your PCs just "aren't in Kansas anymore" include the elimination of the terms "police" and "law" with "peace". Hence:
"Stop! Peace!"
"This is the Peace Force! We have you surrounded!"
"Halt in the name of the Peace!"
"You can't run from the Peace."
The prevalence of poisoning (and forcing altered states of mind on victims) as a favored method of expediting matters has many drinkers -- even in 'trusted company' -- covering their cups, glasses, bottles and flasks with their hands.

This setting would get my vote for a cultural overlay on the creepy Principalities of Glantri in Mystara. Or perhaps as a counterpoint to ruler of the City-State of the Invincible Overlord.

Al Amarja's own President-For-Life Monique D'Aubianne -- who is stated as having been Benito Mussolini's lover in the original setting -- could probably give him a run for his money. Or just give an idea what messing with an outwardly polite ruler of a police state is like.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fuzion Reactions: Overview

Fuzion was an RPG system that came out close to the millenium (1998 says Wikipedia) and I was an instant fan.

How could I not be? I loved Cyberpunk 2020 and the entire Hero System ruleset -- at that time in its 4th Edition.

Heck, my old gaming group in the U.S. had already merged portions of the two rulesets very loosely for our Military Science Fiction campaign for the mech-fighter squadron portion of the game (we'd alternate between storylines for the special forces group and the space navy).

Furthermore, I was looking forward to the new ruleset for Champions and, clearly, Champions: The New Millenium was it! Right?

Well, in terms of ruleset Fuzion both exhilarated and disappointed me.

It was exhilarating because it opened my eyes to the concept of designing game rules to reflect the setting or genre being emulated. I mean, I sort of new it already with Hero and other rulesets with the concept of "optional rules" but I always attributed it to the preference of the players and the GM. It was here that I realized that every choice -- even the dice rolled -- impacted not just game balance, but also game play. Especially when the stated goal was to integrate the Hero System ruleset with the Interlock ruleset.

What can I say? I just never really thought about it before -- I was just there to play.

Ever since then, I've paid closer attention to rulesets (light and otherwise) to see what the designers were trying to go for.

However, Fuzion disappointed me in several areas.

One was the super-powers section -- Champions: TNM just lacked the same depth and breadth of 4th Edition Hero (and made many of us aFuzionados suspect that this was NOT in fact the 5th Edition of the Hero System ruleset). I know that many shared my disappointment because there were several power rulesets that came out from the Fuzion community.

Another problem area: combat skills. I preferred OCV / DCV (which is akin to Dex-based Armor Class rules for OSR folks who don't really care that much, but want to get some idea what I'm referring to) over the concept that the difficulty in hitting someone was based on their ATTRIBUTE + SKILL in Evade or Dodge. It also meant that certain skills could logically pull double duty, raising some issues about game balance.

Another problem area was the shoe-horning of portions of the mecha-building rules of Mekton (which is, admittedly, one of the unique elements of the Interlock System) into the Hero System, which has its own rules for building vehicles and powered armor suits.

Two of the saving graces of the Fuzion revolution were: (1) the sheer volume of professional settings and RPGs that came out for it; and (2) the sheer volume of hobbyist rule variants and settings that came out for it.

In many ways, the OSR movement is -- for me -- what that outpouring of material for Fuzion could have been. If only blogs and social media had been as prevalent as they are now. If only PDF publishing and Print On Demand had been a stronger industry at the time.

If only, if only, if only.

Think I'll take a trip down memory lane for the books I picked up and share some of what I find with you in the coming months.

For the guys in the OSR who've produced one or more products, and for those who haven't stopped: keep on, keeping on. I'm blown away by everything I've seen.

Nothing wrong with nostalgia, but guys and gals -- what's come out is beyond that. There's passion, thought, and attention to detail. I can see there's a concern about pushing the envelope for everything that made OD&D, D&D B/X and BECMI, and AD&D work for you (and hopefully for others). There's a passion about fanning the flames of what hads been the dying embers of a ruleset and sending it roaring to the four corners of the gaming world.

And while I won't always game in the D&D realms, it's something I'll keep coming back to.

Solo Flight: the Warlock of Firetop Mountain

I was frustrated Filipino gamer who had all the 1st Edition AD&D rulebooks and the D&D B/X rulebooks and a smattering of modules who was trying to get a handle on the whole RPG thing without a steady gaming group. I still bought and read game materials whenever I could but wasn't really playing.

Then I found this book (the picture shows the exact cover that I saw) that didn't yet promise to be a series.

The dragon looked cool, but the 'warlock' seemed a bit 'new-agey'/benevolent to suggest any menace.

I picked up the book, read the front cover, read the back cover, read the part about creating a character -- and bought the thing.

That night, I died so many times making wrong decisions or just coming to a dead end because I hadn't found the right path. But it was cool, I really felt that dungeoncrawl experience.

I think that the pictures from the point of view of the adventurer helped, but the writing, the types of encounters, the consistency from the point of view of someone mapping -- it really helped that immersive experience for me.

I was disappointed that it seemed to be a one-shot deal. And even if it wasn't, the Philippines tended not to pick up stuff in sequence.

Fortunately I was wrong and a year later picked up the next four books in the series!

I wonder if this type of experience is still possible for the youth of today, or if computer games are really the de facto gateway drug for table top gaming ("it's like World of Warcraft but with x")?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Enigmundia: Angels, Angels, Angels!

I've been reviewing the Wikipedia entry for the Christian angelic hierarchy, trying to come up with an Enigmundian take on them.

I started with the lowest (?) of the three spheres and the angel groups listed there. Those three groups are angels, archangels, and principalities/princedoms/rulers.

Angels

The "angel group" are normally depicted as these human-looking folks with wings, though apparently it's never really mentioned that they (meaning this particular type of angel) have them in the Bible. Seraphim and Cherubim (angelic types found in the first sphere), on the other hand, are cited as having them. So we may be able to get away with not having any. However, it may be that wings are necessary -- but size and number of wings may denote how powerful they are.

Ha, just had an image of Prince Namor as one such type of angel with teeny-tiny wings on his ankles. Say, didn't Mercury, messenger of the gods, have winged boots and a winged hat/helmet? If we go with the idea that some of the pagan gods actually came to hide out on Enigmundia during the War in the Heavens, then a Mercury analogy could work. Anyway, to end this digression:wings are definitely in, but we'll work on the number and size.

The role they play is that of messenger (hi Mercury), so we can play with that a bit as well.

We'll call this group the melekhim -- twisting the Hebrew term somewhat.

Archangels

The article seems to differentiate "archangels" and "Arch-Angels". While archangels belong in the third sphere, Arch-Angels seem to refer to the big seven Arch-Angels who hang around the throne of God. Since we're talking about the "archangel" group, let's see what we've got:

1. Not much, since most of the talk is about the "Arch-Angels" who are theorized to be at the top of all the choirs of angels;
2. that these are chief angels, so are in charge of groups of messengers of God.

I suppose we can assume that they're in charge of different "angel groups" somehow. Like if an angel was like a guardian angel, the archangel in charge of the angel would be responsible for a family line or something like that.

We'll call this group the ramelekhim, again twisting the Hebrew name.

Principalities/Rulers/Princedoms

This week, this group jumped out as most interesting to me. The Wikipedia entry goes:
Their duty also is said to be to carry out the orders given to them by the Dominions and bequeath blessings to the material world. Their task is to oversee groups of people. They are the educators and guardians of the realm of earth. Like beings related to the world of the germinal ideas, they are said to inspire living things to many things such as art or science.

This seems to suggest that these folks act around intellectual movements and organizations (non-national). They are also granters of inspiration, and would perhaps be set over mages, inventors, and or groups composed of these types of people.

“(Mercury), for to you beyond all other
gods it is dearest to be man’s companion..."
- Homer, The Illiad
And once again I think of Mercury/Hermes, the Hermetic Order of Mages, and the hat and staff that he is depicted as having -- could they be equivalent to the crown and the scepter that these types of angels are supposed to have as well?

Evil versions of this angelic group would likely be behind sharing forbidden knowledge, like smaller versions of Prometheus, granting burning bits of innocence-destroying knowledge to the mortals of Enigmundia.

Could some of them be behind my parallel of Mystara's nation of Chaotic mages: Alphatia? Might some of them be hiding as brilliant mortal mages among the wizards of Glantri (Principalites of Glantri, haha)?

We'll see where this goes next time.

What do we call this group of angels? Didn't really see a Hebrew name there. Stick with Principalites?

Checking here, it's sar. So let's call them sehr.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Long Live the Fighters!

As part of my thoughts on the classes, I've been thinking about how weapons can help define the archetypal fighter.

On the classic B/X covers, the fighter is a spear-and-shield type. Interesting, given that in my experience most of the pre-3E fighters I encountered in games (myself included) tended toward the "sword/longsword + shield in close combat, longbow in ranged combat" type.

To that end, I'd like to list some of my thoughts on the default fighters archetypes by weapon in the preliminary Enigmundia setting area:

Spearmen

I'd like to argue that these are actually more prevalent that the sword-swinging type. The long spears are pole arms that allow fighting at a distance from your opponent, are useful as walking sticks, allow the triggering of traps, and are relatively low expensive metal requirements. You can make one, fire-and-smoke-hardened, if you really need to.

You can also throw it in desperate times or -- perhaps more common to the jungle dwellers -- when hunting the next meal.

Probably best to assume that, in war, they'll have shields. But outside of war, they can carry them around just because they look cool. It's arguable that this would also be the weapon of some fighter/mages due to the mystical importance of spears in mythology.

And let's not forget that it's considered the king of weapons in Chinese martial arts circles.

Bolo men

This is taken from Fire in the Jungle, and refers to a bolo -- sort of a local short sword -- used to kill things, but also used for practical matters in the jungle like clearing brush from a path and cutting open coconuts.

The martial artists would be more than capable of using two of these at the same time, but for day-to-day use they'd carry this and maybe a knife when travelling.

Bow men

Rare due to specialization. Shortbows are more prevalent inside the jungle, due to numerous line-of-sight obstructions and the inherent portability issues of the slung bow and arrows.

Backup weapons for close-in fighting would be knives and daggers.

Sword men

We're talking longswords and broadswords here. Normally a sign of nobility or importance, because a well-crafted blade using that much quality metal indicates a source of money or very wealthy friends and family.

We can also assume some kind of ritualized drills, training, and more formal rules of engagement -- which can make them less dangerous or more dangerous depending on the setting (and the skill and temperament of the wielder).

Monday, August 1, 2011

Warders of the Diamond Grey Legion

It's been a while since my last Isle: Imperium post, but deadlines are prohibitive so, here's a short post.

When the Diamond Red Legion fell to the machinations of the Grand Scholar of the Court of Chaos, there was a way to rebuild it.

When rebuilt -- in record time -- the New Diamond Grey Legion had the following positions to fill:
  • the Diamond Silver Sallet Warder (role: oversight)
  • the Diamond Ash Gorget Warder (role: strategy)
  • the Diamond Midnight Cloak Warder (role: operations)
  • the Diamond Smoke Vambrace Warder (role: communications)
  • the Diamond Shadow Bevor Warder (role: intelligence)
  • the Diamond Coal Greave Warder (role: recruitment and training)
  • the Diamond Obsidian Couter Warder (role: finances)

These are the ruling warders of the Diamond Grey Legion.

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