Monday, April 30, 2012

Enigmundia: More Pagan Spells from Minerva

In this penultimate post on 1st level pagan spells, I tackle two more that are associated with Minerva:

Read Languages

The gift of understanding other written languages is certainly part of the portfolio of Minerva. In addition to wisdom and education, she is also a keeper of knowledge and secrets. When this spell manifests, the reader's eyes become akin to those of an owl in appearance -- and remain so for the duration of the spell.

Shield

Minerva's affinity with the legendary Aegis is well-known. Supplicants may summon a small measure of its might through this spell. At higher levels, an apparition of Minerva may be seen extending her Aegis over the spellcaster.

Past Pagan Spells 

For the curious, the older posts may be found here:

Pagan Spells of Apollo
More Pagan 1st level spells
Pagan 1st level spells
Pagan Spells of the Underworld



Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stealing from WFRP: Roadwardens in Karameikos

When I was running my D&D Cyclopedia-powered campaign in Mystara, I pilfered something from WFRP's "Enemy Within" campaign: the roadwarden.



A roadwarden is an individual charged with maintaining the safety of the roads and its travelers. In Karameikos, I made them a combination of Texas Rangers and FBI Agents -- ensuring the safety of the roads and its travelers also meant looking after the caravans and their merchandise, as well as the businesses involved in trade.

All roadwardens were 3rd level characters from several possible character classes: the fighter, the elf, or the mage. Unlike WFRP roadwardens, they often traveled in pairs acting as the hands of the Grand Duke and the eyes of the Grand Duchess.

PCs were often asked to liase with these roadwardens, who would deputize one or more of the PCs to perform some service for the Karameikos.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mutant City Blues: Roll Call

I'm trying to come up with a list of cops for a Mutant City Blues campaign, and the one approach I came up with was to create cops based on superheroic detectives.

There are several obvious answers:
  • Batman - since there's an option in the game to create non-powered investigators in the Heightened Crimes division, I think building a low-powered Batman analogue is pretty easy given the game emphasis on investigation. He may not be a master of the fighting arts, but he'll be a master detective with some skills in hand-to-hand. Investigational emphasis would be a jack of all trades investigator, plus the patented intimidation skills.
  • The Elongated Man - an unusual choice for powers, but one that would work well with the Batman analogue. He'd be less driven, less serious, but certainly share in that passion for solving crimes. His powers would be limited to the stretching of limbs, and I have to check the Quade Diagram to see what his twitching nose might be defined as.
  • Jonni Thunder - so she was a private eye, but she tended to rely on her detective skills rather than her Thunderbolt persona. The Thunderbolt abilities seemed to be limited to flying and blasting people with energy, so that should be doable.
  • Wolverine - well, he has a reputation as a tracker, so that would be his specialty. I'd have to figure out how expensive his animal senses + healing + claws would be. Sorry, no adamantium.
  • Daredevil - doesn't have much of a reputation for actual detective work, but certainly takes the cake for enhanced senses. It'll probably be too expensive to get all the enhanced senses -- the supersensitive touch in particular is too far away on the Quade Diagram -- but we'll approximate the best we can.
  • Chameleon Boy - from the Legion of Super-Heroes, Reep Daggle had a skill in this type of thing, especially as a member of the Legion Espionage Squad
I realize that I should probably figure out how they differ in terms of investigational specializations. More as it progresses.

Friday, April 27, 2012

NPC Hero: Elemental Champion of Water -- Part 2

Okay, so continuing from the post almost a month ago, I began listing the most appropriate HERO power mechanics to match the abilities I came up with. At the same time, I started to adjust the character concept -- partially due to natural concept refinement, partially due to the need to fit a complete character into the overall point totals.

I start with the "Torrent Raider" abilities, which are water elemental related powers skewed towards a rogue-ish portfolio:

TORRENT RAIDER Abilities

"Body of Water" - an ability to transform her body into a liquid, making her impervious to most damage
  • Desolid - the classic intangibility power, and also allows the 'walk through walls' type of ability though it'll probably be blocked by airtight or watertight barriers
  • 75% rPD & 75% rED - when attacked, some damage bleeds through, but the remainder passes harmlessly through her after she flickers into her waterform
"Lady of the Lake" - an ability to become invisible by receding into a nearby body of water, and even to skip to other bodies of water and emerge there.
  • Invisibility - slides into the water and disappears, except for ripples
  • Teleport - jumps to another body of water, and remains hidden till she emerges.
"Ripple sense" - allows the ability to sense water in the immediate area, and the ability to sense in a 360 degree arc movement in water (Sense + Analyze)

"Scry Water" - allows her to sense things near bodies of water (Clairsentience)

"Fathom form" -  allows her to deal with breathing underwater, the pressure, and the temperature extremes in the deeps of the water (Life Support)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Flashback: F.R.E.E.Lancers as a Campaign Frame

One of my favorite 'setting' books / sourcebooks was one that I never used in its native ruleset.

It was the FREELancers sourcebook for the RPG Top Secret / S.I. While I wasn't that taken with all the characters' abilities, I was fascinated by the dynamics of the team -- it reminded me of the X-men and the New Teen Titans with all its potential for drama and camaraderie.

In particular, I liked the corporate structure of the F.R.E.E.Lancers as a security / special operations / paramilitary organization with specialized talents and skills. I particularly liked the rules on compensation, and the character of operations. I took it almost verbatim and stuck it into one of my local Champions campaigns as a local franchise of the global organization.

There's something nice about having ready NPCs that are interesting to bounce the characters off, and having a ready corporate structure (and Titan Teams to help rescue players when they occasionally get really close to dying) that tries to straddle the line between helping people and paying the rent.

I also patterned my campaign after a little known DC comic series known as The Power Company -- another corporation that was essentially metahumans for hire, with the various members treated like 'partners' or associates in a law firm.

It was an interesting mix of personalities as well: an authentic superheroic-leaning field leader who joined primarily so she could pay for the upkeep of her powered armor suit (not everyone is Tony Stark), a very mercenary independent-minded Paul Kirk clone, a really strong guy, a spell-casting celebrity, a stuntman, and a mysterious blue-skinned member, plus Josiah Power -- their boss and owner of the company.

I like how their motivations and priorities rubbed off on one another, and -- in true superteam fashion -- how their backstories and life choices end up affecting everyone else in the team. It's too bad it didn't prosper in the Image era, even with Busiek writing and Grummett / Grawbadger on art duties.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Flashback: The Demi-plane of Dread in Mystara

In the 90s, I got a strange hankering to run D&D using the D&D Cyclopedia and setting all my adventures in the Mystara setting. In fact, this was really where my love and awareness of Mystara as a setting really began.

Strangely enough, my campaign -- based in Karameikos -- began to incorporate elements of Ravenloft into it. Or perhaps not so strange. The native Traladarans of Karaemeikos had a culture that echoed Transylvania and nearby lands -- perhaps having the Vistani (a gypsy equivalent in Ravenloft) as a known but feared sight in Karameikos wasn't that far-fetched?

In any case, while still early on in my campaign, I began incorporating modules like RQ1 - Night of the Walking Dead to my players. I remember this being a watershed event for me, because it was one of the times that I was able to, as a GM, lie in character to my players. The secondary villain was able to bluster like an idiot and a fool well enough to misdirect the two biggest fighters away from the party (they had horses) before his ruse was revealed by a sharp-eyed and sharp-witted player. It was a tough battle, but the non-fighters were able to prevail over him, and rejoin the muscle of the party for a showdown with the big bad.

It was also here that I began cultivating a taste for horror in my D&D adventures, and began plundering from Ravenloft and Cthulhu and Chill for horror elements to inject into my own adventures.

I'm not necessarily talking about slavering, red-eyed monsters. I'm talking about the gothic horror feel, about shadowy fields, and mist-choked forests. I'm talking about doors that suddenly nudge open with a creak, or shapes in windows that suggest lurking malevolence. I'm talking about the loss of light in a dark dungeon, as something large takes measured, metal-tinged steps ever closer to your hiding spot.

And when the fight breaks out, players are relieved to be able to finally face something and do something to end that building horror.

Inspiration: Wonder Woman and the New Old Gods

I'm enjoying a lot of the depictions of the Greek gods in the New 52 Wonder Woman series. They weren't all noble, but they were essentially really powerful superheroes -- enigmatic but understandable ultra-high level superheroes / cosmic entities.

The current creative team's take brings the gods back to an earlier perception and sentiment -- they are fickle and vicious and constantly scheming and conspiring against one another. And one seldom profits from being entangled in their games.

Excellent source material for fantasy games, and a good inspiration for Enigmundia's take on Greek / Roman Gods.

So far, Hera and Hermes my favorite depictions, though Apollo is creeping up there. The missing Zeus is one I suspect I'll rather enjoy, as he's been mentioned as always appearing in a form most desirable to the woman he wants, and that's likely to be Wonder Woman down the line.

Hermes is interesting with his affinity to birds, the constant referring to him the messenger by the other gods, and the obvious visual cues to render him avian-like. And even he suggests that as a messenger, he seldom traffics in truth.

Hera is portrayed as powerful, dangerous, and desirable -- I hesitate from using the word sexy because the body language shies away from 'sexy' poses except when she is resting from her labors. Although, I wonder if the choice to suggest her nakedness beneath the peacock cloak was really necessary. I like that she dresses up when she gets home -- perhaps one needs to be naked when cloaked in that artifact?

I'll admit that the modifications to the Wonder Woman canon are severe, and definitely require parental guidance, but they have caught my interest due to their non-sanitized take on the Greco-Roman gods in a modern idiom.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part V -- Superheroes

This two-part graphic novel, along with
the Wold Newton work, helped me
understand the allure of an all-in-one
universe setting.
Here we at the true origins of Hero Universe -- the super-heroic era! After all, the Hero System got its start in a super-hero RPG: Champions. The past four installments can be found here...

Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part I -- Pre-Cataclysm
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part II -- Post-Cataclysm to the Medieval Era
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part III -- Musketeers, Pirates, and Revolutions
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part IV -- Cowboys and Victorians 

... and when you look at it now, you can see how much of those prior eras were approached with a view toward being able to present them in a pastiche-y, superhero comic universe. It is very much like the ground breaking History of the DC Universe book by Wolfman & Perez. In terms of presentation, it solidified the entire universe visually for me, as it was all done by Perez, and in terms of breaking down the times and places for all the heroes in their universe, it gave me a solid handle on the time periods and the heroes and villains in each without overwhelming me with too much detail.

And now, as Super-Grover once said: "Yes, on to our story!"

THE MODERN ERA (1910-2020)

Pulp Hero (1920-1940)

The era of the great pulp adventure stories (and the gangster fighting Prohibition era). Masked adventurers, more commonly known as “mystery men,” abound, and the first true "superhumans” manifest toward the end of this period. However, talented humans and driven adventurers constantly embroiled in mysteries and adventures are a staple of this era as well.

Notes: Mystery, adventure, crime fighting, the occult, science fiction, and more. For influence and inspiration, think Indiana Jones, the Shadow, Doc Savage, the Spider, the Avenger, H. P. Lovecraft, and the other great heroes and stories of the pulp magazines. One can also look at the many pulp era RPGs for inspiration, as well as Justice Inc., the original Hero Games pulp era RPG.

Golden Age Champions (1939 to 1945)

One of the two settings that takes place during WWII, this one focuses on the “Golden Age” superheroes helping to fight World War II and stop Hitler.



Notes: This era is brightly-colored, (mostly) lower powered heroes, or normally powered with some crippling weaknesses to common items -- the original Green Lantern had a weakness to wood, for example. They are highly patriotic and noticeably non-politically correct at times, but their hearts are usually in the right place.

For the comics-savvy, this is the place to throw your All Star Squadron, your Invaders, your Liberty Legion, your Justice Society of America. This is the place to create reasons as to why Superman and Captain America and Dr. Fate and the Spectre don't just walk over to the enemies of the Allies and end the gosh-darned war.

War Hero (1939 to 1945)

The second WWII setting, this one focuses on military and espionage action set against the romantic/horrific backdrop of World War II.



Notes: Think Rat Patrol, Kelly’s Heroes, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List. Think Band of Brothers and Sgt. Rock, the Dirty Dozen and the Howling Commandos. You can even toss in things like the Creature Commandos and G.I. Robot for a real Weird War feel.

Danger International (1950 to 1990)

A classic line.
This is the setting for the turbulent, intrigue- and action-filled post-World War II era. Espionage set in the era of the Cold War, the rise of international terrorism, industrial espionage, conspiracies, drug lords, police action adventure, mercenary activities, detectives, and so on.

Note: Think Dangerman and James Bond and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy and Mission: Impossible and even The Prisoner. Think Challengers of the Unknown and Task Force X. Think of Mack Bolan and The Destroyer.

One could even make a case for Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu as being part of this genre (considering he rubbed elbows with Clive Reston), and perhaps even Richard Dragon.

Pulling from other media, you can look at a lot of the martial arts flicks set not in the past, but in the modern era.


Silver Age Champions (1965 to 1980)

Superheroes at the dawn of the modern age of comics -- optimistic and bright in general, but with social awareness and responsibility creeping into the tales.

There's an explosion of ideas here, stretching beyond the initial pulp roots and early mystery men roots, and fully embracing and integrating sources from science fiction, fantasy, horror, and everything in between. The full flowering of the potential of superhero comics starts here.

Notes: There are many arguments over the definition of Golden Age & Silver Age in comics. You can certainly think of the style of early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and the like. Many comic book history articles and books have been written tackling this era, and many RPG sourcebooks have been done here as well. This is when the concept of a shared, consistent universe began to take shape and solidify, with continuity cops making sure that few contradictions across universes would emerge. For DC, the multiple earths solution arose here, to distinguish between Golden Age heroes and Silver Age heroes with the same secret identities (Superman/Clark Kent, Wonder Woman/Diana Prince, Batman/Bruce Wayne).

Dark Champions (1985 to 2020)

Modern-day cities as an urban battleground between ruthless, heavily-armed criminals who prey upon the innocent and the equally heavily-armed vigilantes determined to stop them. It features no “true” superhumans such as seen in Champions, but some low-powered quasi-superhumans with various powers and abilities that contribute to the feel and flavor of the setting.

Notes: one can think of this as a street-level sort of heroic setting. Martial arts, guns, and gadgets abound. The Punisher, Wild Dog, and The Butcher would be at home here.

Champions (1980 to 2020)

This setting tackles superheroes in the modern-day world. You can include the modern incarnations of all superheroes during this time period, including all the crazy status quo altering / revising / resetting crossovers. You can tackle the grim-and-gritty explosion of WildDarkBloodClawBladeShot named heroes in this era, straddling the line between vigilantism and outright criminal activity, as well as the call for more relevant heroism to return to comics.

At the end of this period, superhumans fade from the scene for centuries due to the concomitant fading of magic (meaning that accidents and discoveries which once created superhumans now have purely mundane outcomes).

Note: A huge volume of material to cover in such short span of time in human history, but with a wealth material to draw from. This is meant to be the modern day superheroic setting, and as such demands a superheroic universe that is relevant to modern technology, socio-political concerns and cultural mores, as well as to the source material itself. For time-traveling heroes, this is often the default time period that they travel from.

Next: the Future

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Do GMs let PCs kill other PCs?

This awesome cover comes from here.
Does this happen in your games?

Do your players have their PCs willingly kill other player PCs for any reason (and we're excluding Paranoia games here for obvious reasons)? And do you, as GM, step in and stop it?

In an old AD&D campaign I was in, almost every character was evil or chaotic neutral. I was one of two good alignment PCs. I was the neutral good elven fighter/thief who sometimes sided with the bloodthirsty lawful good paladin. We worked together, but sometimes some folks were cut out of the loop out of selfishness or sacrificed willingly.

Which is not the same as killing another PC directly.

No, that happened in Champions, of all RPGs. Players would have their 'superhero' PCs kill other 'superhero' PCs because the concept was stupid, or because the player was bragging, or because of sheer spite, or because of sheer idiocy. Here are some examples with names and concepts tweaked to protect the guilty and remorseful:
  • U.S. Secret Agent Alan Blackbird kills a new hero inspired by a Zulu warrior and a prophet (because the player doesn't like the hero's name and character concept). And so Shaka Jesus dies without having thrown a single punch, or even managing to turn the other cheek;
  • The player of the mutant alien soldier Ranger is so ticked off at the player of electrical superhero Tesla Ivanovich's constant belittling of his character, and gets treated to a headshot through the eyesocket in the middle of the game, killing him instantly;
  • Once again, Alan Blackbird kills a powerful fire based hero. This time, at the insistence of the player -- to show the other PCs just how tough his character is, he tells Alan Blackbird to shoot him in the chest. Alan Blackbird complies, but all Fire Laddie's defenses are based on activation rolls (there's a chance that the each of the defenses won't activate), and none of them activate. Fire Laddie dies, in game, to a sucking chest wound.
We always let these things lie, as the dice and the choices were considered sacrosanct. And the GMs in our group did too (though they would sometimes fudge if the heroes were acting particularly heroic when fighting villains).

In our defense, we were young and foolish and insecure and teenagers at the time.

How do you handle situations like this, if at all?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

On the Radar: Chaosium Rising

With a sudden slew of releases on RPGNow, Chaosium has snagged my attention -- primarily due to the variety and the implied quality of the PDFs.

Though my primary experience with Chaosium has been Call of Cthulhu, I've also collected a number of their other books and have always been impressed by the amount of detail worked into the setting material.

Here are some of the releases that have caught my interest for a closer read:
  • Cthulhu by Gaslight, 3rd Edition -- I never picked up the 1890s ruleset for Call of Cthulhu in my younger days. There was always something about the time period that made the idea of running or playing CoC in it daunting. Now, with more years under my belt, I'm looking at this sourcebook afresh in the hopes of better grounding my knowledge of the era.
  • Four Free Cthulhu Invictus PDFs: Bestiae, Patrocinium, Populus, and Fabulae. Horror roleplaying in Ancient Rome has a particular challenge level of its own. But with TV shows like Rome and Spartacus on air currently and in the recent past, it's just a little bit less distant, a little less idealized, and a whole lot more attainable visually and story-wise for players. And if you need more source material for the era, there's always the Cthulhu Invictus Companion and the non-Chaosium (but still Basic Role Playing system-based) RPG Rome: The Life and Death of the Republic.
  • Devils' Gulch is a setting geared for an Wild West or even Weird West campaign. Given my fascination for the genre, I'll definitely be looking at this book to see how the treatment is handled in the BRP system.
  • Last, but not least, is the 4th Edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep. This is a classic Call of Cthulhu campaign, with tons of source material, interesting NPCs, and foes worthy of many an Investigator's steel. If you don't have this in PDF yet, pick it up.

What I really love is the detail on the butt -- of the pistol grips! Geez. Seriously, though --
this cover has just given me an idea for a superheroic character with mystical pistols.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Post necromancy: Practical character creation for supers

Games are stress relief (among many things) and since I'm back into Champions once more, I'm going to try completing this discontinued series from last year.

But here are the first two:

Part 1 - offense and defense concerns
Part 2 - movement concerns

What's next? I suppose, it's balancing concept and capability in superheroic games, particularly Champions.

Technically, there's another sidebar / related post I did in the series, which was about one of the types of popular concepts that are common in comics.

Character Creation: Animal Themed Supers

Note that this is different from the source of their powers, but rather the overall package -- the name, the combination of power, the look, etc.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Research on Gods: Trimorphoi - the triple godhead

Some research from a friend on the Trimorphoi.

"Trimorphoi (tree-MORH-foy) is a term that covers the multiple aspects of triple godhead, which is to say various divinities understood as a set of three. Debatable exceptions to this include Diana and Hecate (both part of the set of Diana, Selene, and Hecate, but each also frequently depicted independently) and the nine Muses, said to be a 'tripled triple'.

While the trimorphoi are classically only depicted as maiden, mother, and crone in their aspect as the Fates, it can be perceived that, in the majority of forms, there is a progression of beginning-middle-end, which is interpreted by some as morning-noon-night, and some as past-present-future, and can certainly be taken as a youngest-to-eldest representation."                  


RPG Theory: Story and Storytelling -- Part II

In the first part of this series of posts on Story and Storytelling in RPGs, I talked a little bit about the difference between the two terms, and how they might be tackled in RPGs.

Moving forward, I wanted to talk about how I perceive RPGs are used in creating a story (which I'll term Story Creation) and then how RPGs are used in telling a story (Storytelling). Hopefully, my exploratory ramblings will make sense to other folks reading this mess.

Story Creation

I'm going to start off by positing that in traditional RPGs (which is a dangerous term, but hey), there are three major pillars that define or create the elements of a story. Those pillars are the Game Master (GM), the Players, and the Game Mechanics.

The short list of two major elements of story that I'm tackling here (which I'm sure I'll be taken to task for by real literary academic types) are the following: plot and character.

As for the contribution of the pillars to each of the elements, I'll use qualitative terms to explain my perceived 'percentage contribution' of each pillar.

Plot

The plot of any game story is generated by the pillars I mentioned above, but the contribution of each varies with the preferences of the GM and the Players, and to some extent the Game Mechanics of the game system used.

For example, in a sandbox style game with a very impartial GM, the determination of the plot might breakdown as follows:
  • Players - 45% (in true sandbox play, the players decide where they go, what they fight, etc.)
  • Game Mechanics - 45% (the rules are applied, and dice are rolled impartially; wandering monster tables contribute to the 'fairness' of encounters)
  • GM - 10% (not everything is covered by module, setting, notes or rules, so the impartial GM makes up for that portion of the plot with judgement calls)

In an adventure path style game, still with an impartial GM, the plot might breakdown as follows:
  • Players - 33% (player agency still in effect, with PCs able to throw monkeywrenches into the path given sound GM judgment)
  • GM - 34% (without a sandboxy setup, the tendency is to follow the various contingencies allowed for in the adventure path, or fudge a few rolls, or to make up stuff; once the PCs have deviated too much from the adventure path, it essentially ceases following the path and either becomes another 'path' or transforms into sandboxiness)
  • Game Mechanics -33% (still used to determine of PCs successfully jump through the hoops given to them, or succeed in their game-wrecking 'alternative option' thinking)
There are more than these two approaches of course, but they're the ones that easily come to mind and are easy fodder for this thought experiment.

I'll return to this when I start tackling different game systems in the future.

Character

Players tend to define their Player Characters (PCs). They either roll up their characters and then give personality and backstory before the game starts or as they play, or they create their character by making choices and assigning points, and again refine personality and backstory as they play.

GMs tend to define the NPCs -- either creating them from scratch or fleshing out/modifying NPCs from available game source material, and then solidifying the characters during play.

In traditional RPG play, the GMs have the ability to affect the character of PCs indirectly (and occasionally directly).

An example of indirect characterization of PCs by GMs is when the GM modifies a certain part of a PCs backstory (your childhood friends remember you being nicer than you make yourself out to be, your entire past is a lie, you are secret royalty). It may have no bearing on how the PC is played in game by the Player, but from a literary perspective (and from the perspective of players into roleplaying) this is part of characterization -- actions, formative experiences, consequences, etc. The fact that it takes place in the past makes it indirect, at least by my definition.

An example of direct characterization of PCs by GMs falls under the banner of really bad railroading. It is when significant PC choices or actions are made by the GM as the PC. For example:
When you return from the dragon's dungeon, you run into a priest with a bunch of orphans attacked by a paladin for some strange reason. After killing the paladin, you realize that the orphans will starve and task the priest to take care of them, and you leave most of the dragon's hoard with them as aid. Happy with your good deed, you set off to the nearest town...
... and the players cry bloody murder. These are character-defining actions that were taken from players by the GM.

Non-traditional RPG play (some of it anyway) seems to mess around with this formula by allowing both indirect and direct characterization of NPCs by any Player. It sometimes allows Players to affect other Players' PCs as well, essentially taking from what is traditionally the GM's fiat basket (though usually this is part of the RPG rules and therefore technically part of Game Mechanics -- but the decisions are clearly made by the Players).

Now it should be said that almost anything that messes with a PC, from changing their backstory, to modifying their abilities, to stealing their gear, to changing their personality, to killing them is a traditional hot button in RPGs. Appeals to 'better story' often fall on deaf ears when a Player disagrees with what happens to their PC. Then again, appeals to 'that's the way the dice came up' don't always work either -- even if those are the rules that everyone agreed to at the beginning of the game.

However, unlike cries about how someone's favorite character was killed (justly or unjustly, plausibly or implausibly) in a novel -- theses PCs are considered the 'property' of the Players. They can be modified to an extent given perceived fairness and the agreed upon rules of the game, but if it goes beyond that hazy threshold, then the experience of the RPG is broken for that Player (and perhaps for others too).

Monday, April 9, 2012

Post-Easter Post: Holy Week in the Philippines

In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, Easter (and indeed, all of Holy Week) is a big thing. How big? Well, it's usually several days worth of holidays. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are official holidays, but many people already start leaving for their provincial homes as early as Monday. Traffic is horrendous as you get closer to Wednesday, because that's when most people can afford to leave work and either drive or catch public transport to their hometown and celebrate the religious holidays with their families.

Here are just three elements of the Filipino Easter Experience that you can modify and insert in your campaigns for some religious flavor:

Visita Iglesia

Photo from my man Ivan.
Experience: As the name suggests, this practice involves visiting churches (usually seven or fourteen) and praying the stations of the cross at each church. The Stations of the Cross normally involve meditation and prayer centered around fourteen key scenes that trace the arrest of Jesus all the way up to his Death (old version) and Resurrection (new version). For my non-Catholic visitors, the images of these fourteen stations can be found in any church, spread out along the walls.

Usage: Now, in the modern era, there are a lot of churches in the Philippines. But in a fantasy world, I'm sure that these places of worship, depending on how the religion is structured, would be few and far between. This would make this devotional practice (it's not required, but some folks do it as penitence for sins or sacrifice for blessings) an interesting bit of local culture that is slowly built up as the year rolls around -- perhaps only the elderly practice an equivalent of it at various times of the day.

Then, at the height of the religious festival, the entire community (and perhaps some fair-weather believers) suddenly turns out around the temple, clogging the streets, blocking traffic, and -- in addition to becoming a very dangerous opponent for blasphemous visitors -- a source of religious benefices and protection.

Crucifixions

Yes, these folks are tied to the crosses. If you want nails,
look for them yourself, but remember that I warned you.
Experience: Yes, some people get crucified in the provincial areas during this time of year. Yes, some of them go beyond (for me) the bounds of reason and use nails. No, I'm not posting pictures -- google "Easter in the Philippines" for yourself, and you'll get a healthy bunch of them. But I'm warning you, that -- in addition to disturbing pictures of nails and the hands and feet, some of those pics also involve the flagellants and thus involve a lot of blood. Anyway, this is an extreme method of penitence or devotion that the Catholic Church disapproves of, but it hasn't really gone away.

Usage: Running into one of these 're-enactments' may trigger some gung-ho members of the adventuring party into rescue attempts -- that is until everyone, including the folks being crucified, start shouting at them and looking at them as if they were mad.

For the slightly more spiritual-oriented campaigns, one can take a page from RuneQuest and actually have this as an annual event wherein the people in the various roles are not performing some devotional activity, but are actually trying to reinforce or subtly modify important aspects of a religion's -- er -- mythology. Yeah, RuneQuest is funky that way, and deserving of an entirely different post, I'm sure.

Black Saturday

Experience: This also known as Easter Saturday or Holy Saturday. Folk wisdom cautions against travel on this day, and keep close watch on your surroundings and your loved ones, because "patay ang Diyos" ("God is dead"). Nietzschean allusions aside, there is some significance to this during the observation of this day in terms of religious observances:

In Roman Catholic churches, the chancel remains stripped completely bare (following the Mass on Maundy Thursday) while the administration of the sacraments is severely limited. Holy Communion after the Good Friday service is given only as Viaticum to the dying. Baptism, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick may be administered because they, like Viaticum, are helpful to ensuring salvation for the dying.

All Masses are severely limited. No Mass at all appears in the normal liturgy for this day, although Mass can be said on Good Friday and on Holy Saturday for an extremely grave or solemn situation with a dispensation from the Vatican or the local bishop. Many of the churches of the Anglican Communion as well as Lutheran, Methodist, and some other Churches observe most of the same; however, their altars may be covered in black instead of being stripped.

-- source: Wikipedia
Usage: Nothing in the chancel (and almost all religious statues or relics covered), no sacraments or Masses except in extreme circumstances, and the whispers of the elderly urging caution.

I'm sure that many DMs out there are already hatching nasty scenarios to take advantage for such a foreboding scene upon reaching a town or city -- I hope they weren't hoping to get religious services like healing or exorcism or raise dead today!

Note that the liturgical end for this is 6PM, but you can shift it to a more dramatic hour -- perhaps the dawning of the next day?



Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part IV -- Cowboys and Victorians

So, here we are just about to hit the modern era of the Hero Universe. The past three installments can be found here...

Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part I -- Pre-Cataclysm
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part II -- Post-Cataclysm to the Medieval Era
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part III -- Musketeers, Pirates, and Revolutions

... and we still have quite a ways to go. No time to dawdle then! On to Leagues of Extraordinary Gentlepersons and Blazing Saddles!

Victorian Hero (1837 to 1910)
A page from Bernie Wrightson's awe-inspiring masterwork: Frankenstein.
His linework and visual interpretation of the novel goes a long way to
evoking the feel of the era and the story. The resoluteness of Frankenstein
and the power and savage strength of his monster are so vivid here.

A fine time for adventures, beginning with Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne and the invention of the cartridge. Encompasses great explorations, gold rushes, frontiers, the American Civil War, lost lands, darkest Africa, strange forbidden magics, Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula, Fu Manchu, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Nemo, and more. Hudson City is a hustling, bustling center of commerce and culture, second only to New York City in the Americas.

As yet, no “superheroes” exist, but there are “masked adventurers” from time to time, and many more who are not masked. Toward the end of this period some people begin to verge, albeit slightly, toward true “superpowers”; this is best seen in Hawley Griffith, the so-called “Invisible Man,” and Dr. Jekyll. The presence of “steampunk” weird science is also possible.

For influence and ideas, see the works of Haggard, Doyle, Verne, Stoker, and Wells.


Note: This era has blossomed into many different types of genre variants and pastiches for gaming. In addition to Steampunk and Faeriepunk (Castle Falkenstein, I'm looking at you), Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels really opened the eyes of many people to the wonders of adventuring in a world where elements of fiction set in the era are/were true. Of course, fans of the work of Jules Verne were sold on the idea long before.

Western Hero (1866 to 1890)

The Wild West, an era of gunfighters, Indians, lawmen, outlaws, gamblers, saloon gals, and trains. Some magical or strange elements — shamanic magic, steampunk science, vampires — could also exist.

I was never able to collect all the graphic novels of Lucky Luke, unlike my Tintin and Asterix collections.
But the man who shoots faster than his own shadow has a certain charm that I wish I'd been able to complete.


Note: well, heck. This is a genre that also has tons of source material for it in various media. My fascination for it on this blog has tackled Western RPGs, an ongoing weird west comic known as The Sixth Gun, and my strangely popular post on a seminal Filipino Western movie. Like many of the eras in the timeline, this era deserves a sourcebook on its own -- and this is the strength of the Hero Universe: the ability to provide a broad canvas for nearly of all the heroic eras in a single timeline.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Armchair Reviews: Leverage -- Hitters, Hackers and Thieves

Leverage has shot to the forefront of my go-to RPGs for modern day espionage, detective, and criminal campaigns. I've been reading through both the RPG and the sourcebooks, and I really like how it's put together.

Age of the Geek, baby.
It is still counter to my preferred simulationist game system approach, but it causes less coredumps to my GM operating system than another system like FATE. Perhaps Cortex Plus will be my gateway drug to FATE, but for now, I'm liking it.

I think that the use of the polyhedral dice probably have a comforting effect.

Anyway, here's the first of my reviews on the Leverage sourcebooks:

I kind of gave the Leverage RPG a pass when it came out because -- I didn't watch the show.

But after I finally encountered first the Smallville RPG, then the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying RPG, I decided to pick up Leverage to give it another try. Then I decided to take a look at the sourcebooks for it.

This book, Leverage: Hitters, Hackers, and Thieves, is an indispensable tool for both players and GMs (Fixers in this RPG) interested in rounding out and deepening the capabilities, backgrounds, rivals, and approaches for these types of roles in the game. While it does not (and cannot) give an encyclopedic account of all things Hitter/Hacker/Thief, it does bolster the treatment given in the rulebook with key points in the history and rationale of the role, very flavorful talents to broaden the cinematic treatment in the game, and some Master Class options to make the PCs and NPCs even more awesome than they already are.

There are also additional rules for Locations in this sourcebook to make things more interesting for the Thief (and everyone else) in your Crew. As a bonus, you get several technology-centric Jobs to take your Crew through.

In addition, the book is written clearly, while successfully providing both information and flavor to further reinforce the genre of the game.

If you're into Leverage, pick it up!

As a result, I may begin revisiting my old 'spies' posts regarding the genre of espionage. This game, in particular, makes me think classic Mission: Impossible TV show scenarios are possible to run in an RPG.

And yes, I have finally seen the first season of Leverage.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Armchair Reviews: Starmada Nova Edition

I've posted about this before. Surprise! There's a new edition out, I haven't gotten anywhere with the old edition beyond creating ships!


In any case here's my review as it appears on RPGNow.com:

This edition of Starmada has all the strengths of prior editions:
(a) a sort of elegance in the ruleset that allows for deep tactical options, while retaining a clarity of statement and explanation. Plus, the guiding rule of simple, but not simplistic, rules is still very much evident;

(b) the ability to not only custom-build your own ships, but also the options to custom-build your ruleset with Advanced Rules and Alternate Movement Systems in order to reflect the type of starship combat reality you want to emulate

(c) really clean and functional ship displays to help you keep track of your ship capabilities and damage;

(d) my favorite -- the default movement rules that reflect the inertia rules in space without having to keep track of two or three Delta V values for each ship.

I like the improvement in the diagrams, particularly the firing arcs. They go a long way to clarifying rules without lengthy discussions. I like the retention of clear examples for each rule. And I like the amount of fleet lists available to get a game going right away!


For those of you who weren't aware, in 2009 Majestic XII announced a collaboration with Amarillo Design Bureau and planned a release of books set in the Star Fleet Universe. Yes, official Klingon, StarFleet and Romulan ships for use with Starmada.

Klingon Armada already has Federation, Klingon, Tholian, Orion, and Kzinti (the StarFleet universe is a separate bit of intellectual property, and basically is the Original Star Trek series, including the cartoons and early writings, but ignoring the Next Generation stuff -- if you're wondering what those Niven Kzinti are doing in the lineup) ready for your tactical pleasure.

According to this current version, those books will be updated to the current ruleset as well. Can't wait!

Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part III -- Musketeers, Pirates, and Revolutions

Carrying on my journey through the mega-setting of the Hero Universe, here's the next segment!

Termed the Early Modern Period, this era ranges from 1500 to 1800, an age familiar to heroic literature fans -- a time of swordplay, gunpowder, and dazzling heroics to gritty life-and-death showdowns.

Swashbuckling Hero (1500 to 1650)

Also known as “Age of Reason Hero” this is the era of the Three Musketeers, and of exploration of the rest of the world by Europeans. By this time magic has largely faded away, especially in “civilized” areas, and is rarely encountered by anyone.

Try the Captain Alatriste novels for a gritty and textured world
of Spanish swashbuckling adventure!
Note: One of the axioms mentioned early on in the document, which I've skipped over, is the rationalization of the ebb and rise of magic and superheroics as a sort of rise and fall of 'the background magic level in the universe'. As word choice and objective correlatives go, it is not my own preference, but I understood the rationale's essence. I myself would posit a different approach, will retaining the core premise.

Pirate Hero (1650 to 1750)
Not DC's Captain Blood, nor the movie,
nor the novel. A newer comic series.

The era of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Treasure Island, and maritime deviltry on the Spanish Main. Pirates and privateers aplenty can be set in this era, and -- despite the loss of magic in 'civilized eras' much of that magic can be place in the mysterious seas of the world and certainly in mystical and mythical places in pirate lore -- ala Pirates of the Carribean.


Note: There's a lot of pirate source material to draw on for adventures here, particularly given the popularity of recent film franchises mentioned above.

In addition, DC Comics itself had a fair amount of pirate action in its older incarnations (like Captain Blood and Jon Valor, the Black Pirate), and recently had a pirate Batman when he was a timelost mythic figure in one of Grant Morrison's storytelling escapades.

Revolutionary Hero (1770 to 1799)

The time of America in the era of the Revolutionary War. Unlike a lot of other settings and comic book universes, the Hero Universe establishes this as the era of the very earliest “masked adventurers” ever seen in America. It is also the era of the Exploration of the Americas, the French Revolution and, later, Napoleon.

Black Mask, the Hero Universe's first
masked adventurer in the Americas, and
founder of a long heroic dynasty.

Note: this is also an era that is rich with mysticism, natural philosophy, secret societies, and encounters with the various Native American tribes and their own myths and views of the world. Again, DC Comics had a number of comics characters set in this era, and regularly have modern heroes thrown back in time to encounter them.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

RPG Theory: Story and Storytelling -- Part I

I've posted in the past about my love for OSR style play, but I'm sure that regular readers know that it's not the be-all and end-all for me. Like almost everyone else in the hobby, my interest in RPGs didn't stop at D&D, and that's because RPGs have such broad potential for entertainment, education, inspiration, and introspection. I wanted to explore different systems and different settings. I wanted to see different GMing styles and approaches. I wanted to see different player approaches to character generation/creation/selection and actual gameplay (from roll-playing to roleplaying and everything between and around those two poles).

But one of my other passions is fiction -- particularly Speculative Fiction (which a group of us tend to use as a catch-all term for all types of fantastic fiction, and yes I know that it has been used to mean other things) especially things along the Fantasy and Science Fiction axes -- and there is an expectation even in D&D, which has been accused of being anti-story, of recreating similar scenes or entire stories that could have been taken from your favorite short story, novelette, novella, novel, trilogy, pentalogy, or what-have-you.

So, before we start tackling if RPGs can be used to tell stories (spoiler: yes), I think it's important to raise some aspects of story, my views on them, and hopefully see how other people view these things.

Story vs. Storytelling

The first thing I have to raise is the difference between story, and storytelling. I'm sure we can get into debates about how the storytelling is the story, how the medium is the message, and so on -- but for now, just accept the axiom that they're different and separate (spoiler: debatable) so that I can define my terms.

The story is what happens -- the plotline of events, the arcs of the characters, the consequences of action and inaction, etc. The storytelling is how all that is related to the reader.

For example, if the story is about a powerful wizard fighting a rampaging orc; the storytelling approaches could be as follows:
  • very clinical 3rd Person Omniscient POV -- you know everything that both characters are thinking or doing, you are privy to all their tactical decisions and their fears that they might die in battle, you are shown their approaches to combat and appreciate both as worthy opponents.
  • very opinionated 1st Person POV -- you only know what the powerful wizard senses or thinks, and known nothing about the orc except whatever he says or does, you know a bit about the wizard's past and are shown in flashbacks how he picked up little combat tricks that buy him time to unleash that massive spell he needs to cast to kill his opponent.
  • unusual alternating 1st Person POV, documentary style -- combat progresses as per action, but with no thoughts, only words and deeds; intercut with each exchange is 1st person POV interview ala reality show/documentary, spoiling the fact that neither dies, but making people wonder how either survived given the seemingly do-or-die stakes in the battle.
To those who feel that story and storytelling are interchangeable, I point them to a more modern invention: wikis for a universe covered in a series of novels. It's quite arguable, especially for the novels with rabid fans maintaining the wikis, that the wikis hold all the story visible in the novels and more (given speculation, interpretations, and reminders of potentially forgotten facts about the characters and settings, higher quality maps, and so on). And yet, the storytelling approach in the wiki is different from actually reading the books.

My point -- storytelling decisions matter, even if your story and characters are the best the world has ever seen, because they impact how readers first experience that story.

So how does this relate to RPGs?

So, yes, RPGs are another medium. And yes, RPGs can be used to tell stories -- the storyteller camp obviously firmly believes in this, while the simulationist camp has raised the argument of 'the emergent story' in their style of play, and from a strict perspective, even short-lived characters can conceivably have something that is a story (however boring or pointless).

What are we fighting about then?

It seems that we're fighting a lot about two huge areas: the creation of the story itself (is it just the GM, or is it just the players, or is it some kind of mix between the two -- and where do the dice come in?) and the telling of the story (GM style, Player style, system rules, dice/no dice, etc.) and which approaches are best.

And right there is where I state my belief: just as in the case of fiction, some techniques work better for certain audiences, for certain genres, for certain stories and all the variants of all of these. Sure, there are best practices that always tend to yield good results, but there are also some pretty startling approaches that can yield wonderful results.

What becomes important, therefore, is determining what techniques are best for the stories you want to create / tell / experience -- given that RPGs are not quite novels or TV or movies or video games. What may also be important, therefore, is finding out what new techniques and approaches can be mashed-up with older ones to achieve new stories and storytelling approaches in the hobby that we love.

Next: Part II

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.21 -- Friends and Comrades

At an impromptu dinner with the Third Number, the party learns of the occurrences during their eighteen days of convalescence:

  • Following the death of Tolirus and the loss of the Abyssal Helm Warder shard, the First has, through challenge, reacquired the mount Caritas and the Glaive Vanguard shard.
  • The Second, in turn, has acquired the mount Megaera and the Ravencloak Walker shard from the Third.
  • Only four mounts are left of the Sixth, that number having been decimated by Chaos attackers described as “powerful beings and a creature of air and void”.
  • The Eighth was attacked by a pair of Chaos beings, resulting in the death of the mount Jezela.
  • A ‘grand call’ of all numbers has been declared for the following morning, at seven o’clock.

Accordingly, following dinner (and far too much drinking, in the course of which MANTIUS is intrigued to learn from STEPHANUS that Ossis Potior once went by a different name, the Bone ___), the group returns with some drunken difficulty to their quarters, nevertheless rising early the next day to visit the First at the cerement for Tolirus. Their last minute (through VARIAN’S pouch) gift of a flower wreath is well received, and they make the reacquaintance of the much happier CARITAS.

An advanced version of the Silk Agent
shard -- the Essential Silk Emissary.
At the grand call, the party is surprised but pleased to see PORENDUS’S number back in place as the Tenth, although this does not last long, as the number is almost immediately collapsed to make room for “another number that will soon be returning”. Porendus and the Havoc Mage VINDAR are reassigned to the Sixth Number; the Sandscourge URSULA, to the Eighth; the Silk Agent THESSALY, to the Ninth; and the mount MARIANA is summarily dismissed and the Harmonic Warder shard taken into custody by the higher warders. It is further announced that all numbers will be granted three days’ leave before new missions are distributed; and the meeting ends, save for DUMAS’S potentially hazardous attempt to detain and speak to ALINA, who is revealed to have become the Diamond Azure Cloak Warder, and therefore the Eighth of Eight Ruling Warders of Diamond.

After a brief encounter in which the distraught Thessaly attempts, with her new warders’ blessings, to speak to her former teammates only to be gently but firmly rebuffed, the group returns to quarters, where Mantius reassures Dumas that he will arrange for a meeting with Alina as promised by the Diamond Blood Cloak Warder Nicomedes. The party has just contacted the Eighth Number and arranged to meet for dinner in order to discuss matters when they are surprised by a visit from the Auditor. Happily, CATALINA, as lead warder, comports herself ably and not only are they not penalized, but somewhat commended.

At dinner later, the Ninth and the Eighth (minus Bartolomus and Ursula, to Thessaly’s dismay) are joined by the Fourth, and much hilarity ensues, along with certain revelations (that the Sixth’s Lucia is a poisoner and Ricius a molester, and that the Auditor has previously confiscated ten and sixteen shards from the Fourth and Eighth respectively, among others). The foundations of friendship are laid down, DANIELUS flirts with a discomfited ALECTO, and all proceeds well and amiably, even when the stunningly expensive bill for VEDA’S extravagant ordering is presented.

As the appalled mounts prepare to divide the expense, they are informed that the matter has been taken care of by NICOMEDES, whom they realize has been dining quietly at a nearby table. The warders naturally go to express their thanks, and DBC expresses his approval of socializing among numbers, though not without a caution as to certain persons’ speaking their opinions too loudly in public. Mantius lingers a bit as the other warders return to their numbers, and Dumas’s meeting with Alina is arranged.

Soon after the party retires once more to quarters, Dumas goes off to see his ward; and before long Mantius is summoned to speak with DBC, who says that he is sorry and hands over Dumas’s shard, the Cerulean Mediator.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

On the Radar: Two Earthdawns

Writing deadline done, short story sent, time for a little catch-up on the blog. Sorry for the gap in posting!

Earthdawn's Pathfinder on a Savage World

As part of the licenses mentioned in the Fading Suns post a few days back, RedBrick picked up a Savage World license and also indicated a Pathfinder version for it. However, recent releases show that they've already done something for Earthdawn along those lines.

Feast your eyes on Earthdawn Pathfinder and Earthdawn Savage Worlds -- different rulesets, same Earthdawn setting.

I'll be honest -- I think it may have a chance at broadening the setting fans. I loved the setting, but I wasn't really keen at the time on learning another rule system.

Now, this may pull me into the Pathfinder world of rules (which I've avoided as an offshoot of 3.5E) or pull me into the Savage World realm of rules (which has intrigued me due to the many supporters that it's garnered).

And just maybe the strategy will work for Fading Suns as well! But I'm not the whole of the gaming 'verse. Time will tell.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ibong Adarna / Adarna Bird -- D&D Stats!

From the blog Save vs. Dragon, we find 0E/BX/1E stats for the Adarna Bird, also known as the Ibong Adarna.

I'm pleased with this entry because it features one of the most well-known Filipino myths / fairy tales / stories in epic poetry format. Check out the wikipedia entry on the Ibong Adarna here.

Won't recount the story here, go to the article for that. But I do leave you with art by Gerry Alanguilan (Winner of the Best Asian Album in Prix-Asie ACBD, France 2011 for his work on Elmer) on the mystical bird in question.

By Gerry Alanguilan (taken from his deviantart account)

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