Saturday, June 30, 2012

MHRP: One team-up over, another on the horizon

The Spider-man & Daredevil team did quite well in the two action scenes on The Raft in the default Mini-Event. They squared off against Carnage, drove back a mob that included Crossbones and Mr. Fear, and managed to pull off some pretty cool stunts.

I'll post the gameplay summaries from the collated e-mail threads we used, but I have to say that the resolution is pretty fast once every body understands the rules.

I think one of the contributing factors is the ease with which all of us can respond to e-mail threads, given WiFi access, smartphones, and tablets.

Next up involves playing with our own characters in the Marvel Event: Civil War. One player has already submitted his character sheet, and I expect to see the next one later this afternoon. Plus, another friend who recently moved to Canada has shared interest in playing the equivalent of O.M.A.C. in the PBEM.

I'll need to go over them all, understand their backgrounds and see how they weave into the overall storylines. Funny thing is, I really tuned out of Marvel (more than normal, being a mostly DC guy) during this event and now I'm going back to see some of the books to flesh things out. But I'm not gonna be a slave to published canon -- it's an alternate timeline in my mind! Am toying with setting it in a DC / Marvel universe, but I just don't have the time to work on that mega-setting.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Inspiration: A Hunt for Dragons -- Part I

One of the things I liked about Dragonlance was the emphasis on dragons. The game is called Dungeons and Dragons, and it was nice to see dragons return to prominence (at that time) over the huge number of other monsters coming out in the game.

But if I were to have a different take on that challenge -- making both dungeons and dragons significant factors in the regular setting -- I'd first start on a quest for inspiration. Now, once in a while I like to look at an image and see what it triggers -- a character, an adventure, a setting, a campaign. I can do a directed version of that here, by searching for the Dragon bit first.

Here's my first entry: the art from one of the stories in the anthology A Time for Dragons.

Blood and bones, plastic and offal, Johnny Tatô said, that’s what the dragon of Pasig feeds on.

The Boat House caretaker Manong Emong, feeling his age in his bones, snorted in disbelief. Beside him, Johnny watched giant water lilies sail placidly on the murky waters, past the empty warehouses and the squatter shanties lining the river. 

Emong had seen a lot of things on the Pasig River but a dragon was not one of them. He hawked phlegm into the water and watched it spin solidly downriver. 

-from "Johnny Tatô and the Dragon of Pasig" by Joseph F. Nacino

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Game Balance Talk: Warriors and Wizards in general

People normally compare the Fighter and the Magic-User when discussing issues of game balance. In D&D, low level fighters tend to be more durable in battle as opposed to the frail mage who can only lob one or two spells before having to hide for the rest of the day. But once hitting the high levels, mages can sling uber-powerful spells while fighters, while still formidable, cannot match their versatility and power.

It may be argued that fighters can have magical items. But then, so can mages.

It may be argued that fighters tend to have a linear progression in their development, while mages have this curved progression -- really crappy for a while, but then a sudden spurt up the power level chart.

But really, all this talk about balance depends on the game you're playing, and the game you want to play.

Players in a campaign with once-a-month sessions will have a different set of goals and expectations from the game from a weekly session campaign. Some players accept the high-risk, high-gain approach of the mages, who bet that they can survive long enough to become powerful -- that's the metagame they choose to play, eschewing the fighter's more even progression. Other players, perhaps those who tend to start off at higher levels (having done the leveling up thing a lot in the past and having no wish to repeat that part of the game), may find it unfair because that part of the game is gone -- mages getting instant jumps in power without having to sacrifice and suffer those early levels.

And others feel that all progression from low level to high level should be balanced across all classes.

Which game do you want to play?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reading Room: Magic-users by Retro-clone

"Are you sure that's not just a tackily-designed magical
spear? Because if it is, none of us can use it."
Similar to my entries from last year for the Fighter, Cleric, and Thief classes, I'm reading through the retro-clone descriptions of the Magic-User / Wizard Class to get some sense of the essence of the character class before building it in HERO System 6th Edition. Here are the older posts:

Yes, there is an 6th Edition Fantasy Hero book out -- HERO prides itself on allowing folks to build exactly the characters they want -- I'm just trying to figure out what I want from the classes first.

Basic Fantasy RPG says:
Magic-Users are those who seek and use knowledge of the arcane. They do magic not as the Cleric does, by faith in a greater power, but rather through insight and understanding. Magic-Users are the worst of all the classes at fighting; hours spent studying massive tomes of magic do not lead a character to become strong or adept with weapons.They are the least hardy, equal to Thieves at lower levels but quickly falling behind.

The only weapons they become proficient with are the dagger and the walking staff (or cudgel). Magic-Users may not wear armor of any sort nor use a shield as such things interfere with spellcasting.

A first level Magic-User begins play knowing read magic and one other spell of first level. These spells are written in a spellbook provided by his or her master.
It's interesting that both clerics and mages perform 'magic', but the sources or catalysts are viewed as different. In particular, the emphasis on insight and understanding suggests that mages are privvy to deeper knowledge about the esoteric arts, and perhaps the world in general (though they would be pegged as lacking in street smarts, if their wisdom score is low).

As is common to the D&D paradigm, they only get two weapons -- the dagger and the walking staff or cudgel -- and it's presumed that they're not quite as skilled with them, as they get the worst weapon bonus advancement in the game. Still, it can be inferred that perhaps they use these implements in intricate ways in spellcasting, because using either of these implements in combat does progress beyond pre-novice levels.

Here, it's suggested that magic-users may not wear armor or shield as they interfere with spellcasting. Arguably then, lower level mages might carry armor and shields around with them -- for use once their store of spells has been used up for the day. It would certainly lead to their survivability. The question of encumberance comes up, however, and given the stereotypical low-STR mage, the heavier armor and shield options immediately drop away.

Spells are assumed to be acquired from a master, and the first spell granted is read magic, plus one other spell. It can be inferred, therefore, that the mage may have cast other spells appropriate to 1st level during the apprenticeship, but these were learned from the master's spellbook during the learning stage.

Labyrinth Lord says:
Sometimes called wizards, warlocks, or witches, magic-users study arcane secrets and cast spells. Magic-users are able to cast a greater number of increasingly more powerful spells as they advance in level.

However, they are limited in their choice of weapons, as they are only able to use small weapons such as a dagger. They are unable to use shields or wear any kind of armor. For these reasons, magic-users are weak at low levels, and in an adventuring group they should be protected.

Magic-users carry spell books, which hold the formulae for spells written on their pages. A magic-user can have any number of spells in a spell book, but can only memorize a certain number of spells that he can know off-hand to cast at any time. This number increases as a magic-user increases in class level.

Reaching 9th Level: When a magic-user reaches the 9th level, he is able to create spells and magic items. These rules are in the Magic Research portion of Section 8.

A magic-user may build a stronghold, often a great tower, when he reaches level 11. He will then attract magic-user apprentices (1d6), who will range from level 1-3.
Here, magical ability seems to derive from arcane secrets -- knowledge of esoteric magical lore kept hidden from the general populace -- rather than being attributed to deep insight or understanding. It is knowing, perhaps even memorizing these things, not necessarily comprehending them that is key to arcane power.

On weapons and armor, they are specifically proscribed from using any (except for 'small weapons'). Rather than ascribing this to the needs of spellcasting, this suggests that there is an absolute lack of emphasis on it (and they pick up the small weapon combat skills as a necessity from adventuring, albeit very slowly). It also suggests that perhaps there is another reason -- interference with arcane abilities beyond encumberance, perhaps due to physical reasons (metal interferes with spellcasting) or mystical reasons (the crafting of weapons and armor clash on the metaphysical plane with a spellcaster's ability to tape the arcane).

Mention is made here of being able to create one's own spells and magic items, which suggests experimentation with the memorized formulae above. This portion of their career seems to parallel the default view in Basic Fantasy RPG -- one where experimentation and engineering of magical spells and artifacts require the intuition and understanding of the principles of magic.

Finally, there is a statement on the typical path of growth on the magic-user career. It is an interesting statement on what typically happens in the adventuring world for the successful mage.

Sword & Wizardry says:
The Magic-User is both a figure of mystery and a student of mysteries, steeped in ancient and arcane knowledge. As a Magic-User you have studied long hours deep into the candlelit nights, delving into the parchment pages of cobweb-covered magic tomes, learning the intricacies of magical circles and runes, the strange significances of the stars and moons, the disquieting theories of mad philosophers, and above all, the casting of magic spells.

You can be a truly devastating opponent as long as your fellow adventurers protect you from physical combat, in which you are the weakest of all the character classes: completely untrained in the use of armor, barely adequate with even the simplest weapons, and having fewer hit points than most other members of an adventuring expedition. You are not limited to the role of providing the party with offensive spells, though, for your spellbook provides an array of other spells that can be critical for surviving the perils of dungeons, lost temples, and other such places where you might venture in search of treasure and knowledge.

If you succeed in such forays into the wild and dangerous places of the world, you might eventually rise to such heights of power that you can build a mystically protected tower for your researches, create fabulous magic items, and scribe new formulae for hitherto unknown spells. Such great Archmages can sway the politics of kingdoms, commanding respect and fear across the realms.
Mages here are cloaked in mystery and no mean amount of sinister imagery, and the fact that they deal with mysteries and perhaps occult secrets that are perhaps meant to be kept to a privileged few. Here it's mentioned that they ignore 'even the simplest of weapons' and even their hardiness in combat is touched upon.

However, the power they may accumulate will eventually grant them the ability to shake the futures of realms -- should they survive.

OSRIC says:

Magic users are a rare breed—practitioners of the mysterious art of arcane spell casting. A lengthy apprenticeship of study and practice allows these somewhat eerie individuals to store arcane energy within their minds and to release it in the form of spells. Magic users cast spells by speaking a few magic words, weaving complex gestures in the air, and employing rare and magical materials. While magic users (with illusionists) are the weakest character class in combat, this weakness is balanced by possessing the most powerful and versatile spells in the game.

The full underlying principles of magic are beyond mortal comprehension; even wizards of the profoundest intellect struggle from momentary inklings to understand its more complex patterns. Nevertheless, those character who possess formidable intelligence and a certain intuitive gift, who are willing to devote themselves to a lifetime of study, may in time sufficiently master the art to be capable of shifting mountains and shattering entire armies. High-level magic users are the most feared and dangerous characters in the game.

Magic users do not gain bonus spells for high intelligence scores; intelligence does determine which spells they can understand and how many spells they may learn for each spell level.

Magic users are dependent upon their spell books, and normally may only cast spell they have learned from these books (exception: magic users may cast spells from arcane magical scrolls). Mages may not cast spells from divine, druidic or phantasmal magic scrolls. The acquisition of a new spell is difficult and demanding and must normally be accomplished through adventuring, although the mage will automatically receive one new spell of the highest spell level that he or she may cast upon acquiring a new level of experience.

Magic users are the only class capable of fabricating magic items that they cannot themselves employ. Clerics, druids and illusionists can fabricate magic items, but only those they themselves can use; items such as magical swords, that no primary spell casting class may use, are in their creation the sole province of magic users.

At 11th level, a magic user may establish a stronghold (usually a tower or small keep) in the same manner as a fighter.
The mechanism of spellcasting it touched on in most detail here, where in 'arcane energy' is stored and released after an apprentice has learned the techniques necessary to do so. However, it is suggested that the true underpinnings of magic are unfathomable to mortals; it is something approached and manipulated by beings who -- even at their hightest levels -- are considered as wasing into the shallows. They are akin to physicists and engineers working on the Manhattan Project, unlocking deadly secrets that can shatter worlds.

Perhaps this can be a reason for the number of magic-users who go 'mad' as they seek to control or master aspects of the arcane whose costs may not ever be fully understood.

It's also stated that magic-users are the only class capable of crafting magical items that other classes can use. An interesting insight that adds further weight to the image of a magic-user as perhaps someone interested in the machinery of war, but unwilling or unable to devote the time to becoming a practitioner. Especially since more efficient avenues to waging it lie just around the next unlocked secret or rediscovered spell.

Consolidated Class Guidelines

This is a tough one, rather similar to my difficulty with the thief. I need to define either one or many valid views on the magic-user, and then define how that is handled mechanically, as well as setting-wise.

I think there's a solution for great latitude in the class, but it takes a bit more reading, thinking, and writing to crystalize.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Watching the Heard: Stoutfellow in Alphatia


For those of you unaware of the posts that Bruce Heard has been making, you may wish to take a brief look at four posts detailing the Stoutfellow province in the Alphatian Empire.

The first post is a freakin' huge surface map of the province of Stoutfellow, updated from the original details in the Dawn of Empires boxed set that covered both Thyatia and Alphatia. Your hexographer-fu is impressive, Mr. Heard.

The second post is another huge map, this time detailing Lower Stoutfellow -- the Underworld of this Alphatian province. Like the first post, there's a download link for those interested in gaming the crap of this location. There are also brief, but intriguing mentions of the Stoutfellows and their activities in this realm, as well as mentions of opposition like trolls and the mysterious Shadow Dwarves. Rounding this out are descriptions of major locations in this realm, and key natural and architectural elements and mysteries that may be discovered.

The third post is a series of Dominion stats for both Upper and Lower Stoutfellow, plus the combined stats of both. It's nicely organized in tabular format, and easily downloadable if you need to store the reference material in your electronic library.

The fourth post details Denwarf-Hurgon, the capital city of Stoutfellow, which simultaneously unites upper and lower Stoutfellow, and defines the two regions as well. Denwarf is the upper city of the capital, while Hurgon is the lower city. The idea alone -- with its opportunities for conflict and architectural spectacle -- cements the attractiveness of this location as a province to visit while in the Alphatian Empire.

Armchair Review: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying -- Civil War Event

There are two versions of this event, so be careful which one you pick up.
  • If you already have the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Book, then pick up the Essentials Edition. It contains only the additional rules for the Event and the Event material itself.
  • If you don't have the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Book, then pick up the Premium Edition. It contains the Rules + Event-specific rules + Event material itself.
That aside, on to our review of the Essentials Edition, as my review and ongoing playtest evaluation of the core rules are elsewhere on my blog.

Additions to the Operations Manual

If you already have the Basic RPG, this is mostly the same material (allegedly with minor modifications and typo fixes -- stuff I haven't actually seen yet). However, there is a random character generation option included in this version. I've heard online that the generator is also available on the publisher's site, though I haven't confirmed it yet.

New Rules

The most interesting rules for this event for me are: Resolving Hero vs. Hero conflicts and Troupe Play.

Hero vs. Hero: interesting because the Civil War event does pit heroes against one another (and villains too), and while some of the rules can be chalked up to extrapolations of the framework already established, it's nice to see it stated outright -- particularly for touchy issues like having one player inflict a crippling complication on another player's character.

Troupe Play: interesting because it allows players to play more than one Hero in the course of this epic event -- important if a character is imprisoned or sidelined by injury. It also posits the option of pooling XP (wherein a player earns XP for the event instead of that player's Heroes), so that key elements of the scenes, storylines, and heroes might be unlocked regardless of the status of any one Hero.

The Event Proper

The book gives a good overview of the Civil War conflict, as well as detail on the factions involved, the key players, and locations and battlefronts that the conflict unfolds on.

In three Acts, the Civil War event is detailed with the recommended sequence of scenes and information on the recommended action and transition scenes for each. There is enough information to run each scene, though I do find myself wanting to pick up the comic books (given the immense amount of backhistory for a lot of the characters) to determine possible reactions of each one in a given scene. There is also space or leeway given to really spin the Event down different paths other than the ones in the official Marvel Universe timeline -- and I'll avoid spoilers here for those who never bothered to pick up all the comics in this mega-crossover event. There's a lovely bibliography in the back if you're interested.

Hero datafiles

32 hero datafiles in the Civil War sourcebook, with an Index that indicates where all the datafiles for the movers and shakers in the Event can be found in either the Basic Book or the Event Sourcebook -- with some of them (like Clint Barton) reflecting the various character changes and roles they played in the entire war.

Excellent material for this widescreen, multi-location, multi-front event.

Summary

Overall, the book really does make me want to get a group together to play out different factions simultaneously to put our own stamp on the Marvel Universe -- perhaps with our own characters or with key players in the event acting the way we feel they should have acted. And that's big praise from someone who really dismissed the entire event when it unfolded in comics as flawed (at best). This tome makes it engaging enough for me to want to be in the event proper and make things turn out differently, hopefully better.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

MHRP: Learning the Ropes

Whoever thought of the name for the mechanic and the
accompanying picture deserves a raise.
I did a review a while back on Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, with a caveat that I hadn't actually played it. Now that I'm running an intimate online PBEM game with two other gamers interested in the system and the setting, I'm ready to post more observations -- colored by the fact that we haven't gone all out with all the rules yet.

Paradigm Shift

I think that there is a fundamental shift in thinking here, and yet I'm having difficulty pinning down exactly why that is the case. In the main resolution mechanic(s), there are several well-known game system elements that are certainly not new to me:
  • building dice pools to roll
  • choose the best 2 values from the roll (by default, anyway)
  • an action roll compared against an opposing roll
  • an effect mechanic tied to a single die from the pool
And yet, the differences somehow add up to a different way of thinking. You can build up your dice pools to something massive if you're creative (though somewhat mitigated by 'story rationale' and the Plot Point mechanic). You can bend the rules of being restricted to only the best two values for your action roll (mitigated by the Plot Point mechanic), and you can bend the Effect Die mechanic (again, mitigated by the Plot Point economy).

There are interesting decisions that can come up in putting together your dice pools and rolls: you can choose a crappier die to add to your die pool because it can add 1 Plot Point to your dwindling pool; you may have to choose between using that 10 you rolled on your d10 as a component of your action total, or as the lone Effect Die; you may shift your d10 expertise into 2d8 or 3d6 -- sacrificing a potentially high roll for a bellcurve-aided chance at getting a decent set of values to choose from.

It feels oddly like a CCG in some ways, but one flexible enough to tell story games with.

Plot Point economy

I come from the Hero paradigm, and disadvantages are something that you put on your character sheet for points but hope and scheme never to have come up in game. In MHRP, players (and Watcher-controlled characters) bring up disadvantage-like options in gameplay regularly to get precious Plot Points into their pool.

The Plot Point mechanic is an interesting one that bears furthers study. I recognize its roots in the FATE system -- quite honestly, I never got it and played MHRP in the hopes that it would help me understand the mechanic finally.

What does make it confusing: how it is equivalent to the Doom Pool?

The Doom Pool

I like this mechanic, a way to keep track of the increasing tension in a scene and a pseudo-currency of Plot Points for the Watcher. I can see how the Watcher gets to do similar things that players would do with their character to add to the Doom Pool, and can see how 'spending dice' from the Doom Pool also acts like Plot Points -- but the fact that you can do other stuff with the Doom Pool complicates matters for me.

I suppose that the parallel to a CCG comes up again -- I have to manage the various uses of the Doom Pool as a resource at the same time I'm running the game story-wise.

It's a little bit difficult, but perhaps it's something that just needs getting used to. Like Weapon Speed Factors in Arduin. Or not.

We'll see.

Record Keeping

Despite all the fiddly bits that you can create with the resolution system, there isn't a substantial amount of record keeping. In fact, coming from the HERO background, it's all quite easy to keep track of things like Complications and Stress levels and Plot Point totals in your head, and the values are low enough that chips and tokens will aid you handily.

STATUS QUO -- KEEP ON PLAYING

Ultimately, I like what I see but we still haven't fully utilized the system. It's still under playtest for us, and we're trying to bend the rules, as well as figure out how it's supposed to be played.

I'm not about to jump on the bandwagon yet, complaining that it's confusingly written. I think there are some passages that should be cleared up, and I'm thinking of drafting several diagrams to clarify the scene resolution options and flows -- but the sidebars of the book are wonderful cheat sheets already, and I like (in general) how they give lots of examples on how to build and roll and use dice.

However, I think that in some cases, notation might have served better. Especially to differentiate when you're building a pool but haven't rolled the dice yet, and when those dice have been rolled and you're now choosing which dice to put together for the action total and the effect die -- as done, sometimes you're not sure which of the two you're looking at.

Still, it's been fun, and combat / conflict resolution is really fast, which is a godsend for PBEM games. I may have found a PBEM system of choice for supers gaming.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Setting Talk: Why I Avoided the Realms At First

When the Forgotten Realms boxed set first came out, I remember subconsciously avoiding it.

On the surface of it, this seemed to be an out-of-character choice for me. I was always fascinated by almost all things D&D, and -- given the relative scarcity of RPG material in the Philippines -- tended to jump on the latest D&D thing. I picked up stuff that I didn't know was Greyhawk, picked up stuff I didn't know was Mystara, devoured the rare Dragonlance module that made it to our shores, so why did I develop an aversion to the Realms before I'd even looked through it? Furthermore, the Realms came out when I was about a year into my time in the U.S. and dazzled by the availability of gaming material that had once been so killingly difficult to get.

Hindsight theorizes that it was my first taste of "it's not my kind of D&D" attitude. Maybe it was a dislike of jumping on the bandwagon (with all the contradictory interpretation of a bandwagon that comes with being a teenager), or a reluctance to learn a completely new world from the ones I was already familiar with, or a general resistance to AD&D 2nd Edition (despite the fact that the first boxed set was all in 1st Edition AD&D -- like I said, I had a weird aversion to it and didn't even look closely at it), which was out at around the same time.

To be clear, I was not yet fully cognizant of either Mystara or Greyhawk at this time; I was still in the module mindset -- adventure sites in D&D and AD&D were these islands of solidity that were connected by vague landscapes of setting. Perhaps this contributed to my aversion -- Dragonlance I could accept, because I felt the modules were just a translation of the novels into game form, but the Forgotten Realms was this weird animal I didn't quite understand in my rudimentary gaming psyche.

Now keep in mind, I was not clued into the whole Gygax controversy, so that definitely didn't factor into things.

It would take 3rd Edition to bring me into the Realms, long after I'd rediscovered Mystara and tried to retroactively claim Greyhawk as a major setting influence on my gaming life.

If you had a similar experience, you may wish to check out this old post on The Troll Ate My Homework to see someone else's view on the impact Forgotten Realms had on his game life (and on others' gaming lives as well).

Friday, June 15, 2012

MHRP: Spider-Man Text Character Sheet

As I mentioned before, there's a test PBP game and here's the text character sheet for Spider-man:

SPIDER-MAN

PLOT POINTS: [   ]
STRESS / TRAUMA: Phys [   ] | Ment [   ] | Emot [   ]

Affiliations: Solo [ d8 ] Buddy [ d10 ] Team [ d6 ]

Distinctions: Friendly Neighborhood Hero? | Wisecracker | With Great Power Come Great Responsibility
Use at d4 for 1 PP or Use at d8

POWER SETS

Spider-Powers: Enhanced Senses [ d8 ], Enhanced Stamina [ d8 ], Superhuman Reflexes [ d10 ], Superhuman Strength [ d10 ], Wall-crawling [ d6 ]

  • SFX -- Spider Sense: Spend 1 PP to add ENHANCED SENSES (or step up by +1 if already in your pool) and reroll all dice on a reaction.
  • SFX -- Second Wind: Before you make an action including a SPIDER-POWERS power, you may move your physical stress die to the doom pool and step up the SPIDER-POWERS power by +1 for this action.
  • SFX -- Spider-Tracer: Spend 1 PP or use an effect die to create a TRACED complication for a target. You may track that target anywhere until the complication is removed or ENHANCED SENSES is shut down.
Limit -- Exhausted: Shut down any SPIDER-POWERS power to gain 1 PP. Recover power by activating an opportunity or during a Transition Scene.

Web-Slinging: Enhanced Durability [ d8 ], Swingline [ d8 ], Weapon [ d8 ]
  • SFX -- Grapple: Add d6 and step up effect die +1 when inflicting a complication on a target.
  • SFX -- Web Constructs: when creating web-related assets, add D6 and step up effect die by +1.
Limit -- Exhausted: Shutdown WEB-SLINGING to gain 1 PP. Recover power by activating an opportunity or during a Transition Scene.

SPECIALTIES

Acrobatic Master [ d10 ], Combat Expert [ d8 ], Covert Expert [ d8 ], Psych Expert [ d8 ], Science Expert [ d8 ], Tech Expert [ d8 ]

Enigmundia: "Priests of the Devil" part 02

Art by Ian Balba.
4. Mankulam: fire and witchcraft

"There are conflicting reports concerning the mangkulam or mancolam. In some, this fell priest is a purveyor of sympathetic magiks, often using fallen hair or cut nails from a victim affixed to a crude effigy in order to torture them with illness or madness or outright pain.

In other accounts, this priest performs a monthly ritual of bursting into flame beneath the stilt-houses that are common to natives of this land. It is said that such an event marks the resident of the house for a painful death, and that extinguishing the flame early will cause immediate death to the target.

Still others mark the mangkulam as a mortal agent of Sitan -- though why such a creature of such prestigious position would be associated with wallowing in the filth that is sometimes associated with the undersides of these houses is beyond me.

Like Sitan's other agents, the mangkulam presents himself or herself as a traveling priest-doctor."

5. Mambarang: cursed insects

"Often conflated with the mankulam, the mambarang is cited as another priest of the damned who utilizes beetles and other insects to effect and inflict curses of illness and death. More than one cursed native delivered by the agency of the Pio Famila has experienced tiny ants or roaches pouring forth from their mouths or nostrils like rats deserting a burning ship."

6. Hukloban: enchantress

"The last of the four agents of Sitan is called hukloban or hocluban depending on the dialect one is answered in. The hukloban is a powerful witch capable of shedding her guises like a snake sheds its skin. Death is her specialty, as she can strike people down with a raised hand or simple salute; but she can cure or raise those she's slain with another simple gesture.

Or can she? Some of the more learned elders intimate that those afflicted can only be cured in the manner that they were cursed. Those enchanted by imbibed poisons or potions or smoke can only be cured by similar charms."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Enigmundia: "Priests of the Devil" part 01

(image taken from the 1st episode of Amaya)
In Zan Lasario, there is much talk of the indigenous wielders of magic and witchcraft. Studies by the priests and the learned of the Pio Familia churches throughout the lands have compiled the following list of names and archetypes:

  1. the Katolonan or Baylan -- "Apparently a high priest or priestess of sorts, held in high regard by the natives. They are wise women, keepers of ancient wisdom and, according to locals, are on good terms what they believe to be the spirits of their ancestors who are called anitos and the spirits of the land who are called engkantos, but are clearly demons and devils in disguise -- perhaps from the lowest circles and arcs of the infernal layers as per Fr. Diego Lopez's writings. Many are women, but some appear to be male with mannerisms and affectations of femininity. Characteristic of their look is long hair; it is apparently a measure of their dedication to their pagan beliefs."
  2. the Mangauay -- "Seem to be witches that specialize in healing, but are also suspected of spreading illness and deadly diseases among the populace. As per our beliefs that true healing can only come from the Blessed Family, it is likely that these evil practitioners merely transfer illness from petitioners to new victims. Interestingly, there is a whispered tale of a mortal servant of the native's evil god that goes by the same name, and apparently has similar abilities. The mortal agents are apparently important because the thresholds of lives and homes can only be violated by mortals or spirits being invited in."
  3. the Manisilat -- "A foul witch that supposedly specializes in matters of the heart, but seems to specialize aiding women to ensnare married men (and visa versa) thus breaking up what passes for married couples in these pagan lands. It is only right that we have come to these lands to sanctify their homes and lives and defend them. Curiously, there are rumors that these witches are all the same creature -- a single 'mortal agent' of an over-devil of sorts known as Sitan."
More to come in part 02

Monday, June 11, 2012

MHRP: Marvel Team-Up (Spider-Man & Daredevil)

The players joining me in an exploration of the Cortex Plus incarnation for the Marvel universe have chosen their characters: Spider-man and Daredevil. Iconic street-level heroes!

I'm modifying the mini-event in the rulebook for this test run and pitting them against Carnage while they're trapped in a malfunctioning underground level of The Raft, and they're currently about to engage.


I have to say, it's interesting to wrap my mind around the logic of the Plot Point economy, though I have to say that at this point it doesn't seem to contribute to immersion into the world. The players seem to become co-authors in the crafting of the scene (but that's a Watcher's perspective, I gotta ask my players how the game feels afterward).

Which is not to say it's not fun; it is. But it's different from my usual experience in gaming.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

MHRP: Daredevil Text Character Sheet

I'm doing a light play-by-post with a couple of friends online, and since we're all first timers with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, I decided to put together text character sheets that I we can adjust and send back and forth via e-mail.

This game is really pushing all three of us out of our comfort zones, since two of us (including me) openly admitted to being confused early on when reading it, and another two of us (including me) admitted that the narrative nature of the game is completely alien to my gaming instincts.

In fact, this RPG (along with the FATE-based RPGs) reminds me a little bit about how confused I was about game mechanics and conflict resolution concepts when I first started gaming. It's not completely new, because the concept of RPGs is very clear to me know. It's just that, unlike more simulationist systems (and I hope I use the term correctly here), the logic that is followed here is more along the narrative path -- a give and take of plot points plus a bit of luck in order to deserve whatever outcomes are achieved.

As far as the character sheet is concerned, I only need to adjust the first few lines periodcially -- the rest of the sheet is just a reminder for the players (and for me) what they can do.

Here's the one for Daredevil:

DAREDEVIL

PLOT POINTS: [   ]
STRESS / TRAUMA: Phys [   ] | Ment [   ] | Emot [   ]

Affiliations: Solo [ d10 ] Buddy [ d8 ] Team [ d6 ]

Distinctions: Blind Justice | Man Without Fear | Protector of Hell's Kitchen ( Use at d4 for 1 PP or Use at d8 )

POWER SETS

Billy Club: Enhanced Durability [ d8 ], Swingline [ d6 ], Weapon [ d6 ]

  • SFX -- Rebound: Step up or double WEAPON die against a single target. Remove highest-rolling die and add an additional die to your total.
  • SFX -- Grapple: Add d6 and step up effect die +1 when inflicting a complication on a target.
  • Limit -- Gear: Shut down BILLY CLUB and gain 1 PP. Take an action vs. the doom pool to recover gear.
Hypersenses: Enhanced Reflexes [ d8 ], Enhanced Stamina [ d8 ], Superhuman Senses [ d10 ]
  • SFX -- Focus: In a pool incuding a HYPERSENSES die, replace two dice of equal steps with one die of +1 step.
  • SFX -- Immunity: Spend 1 PP to ignore stress, trauma, or complications from attacks targeting sight or vision.
  • SFX -- Radar Sense: Spend 1 PP to add SUPERHUMAN SENSES (or step up by +1 if already in your pool) and reroll all dice when taking an action.
  • Limit -- Overstim: Shutdown a HYPERSENSES power and gain 1 PP. Recover power by activating an opportunity or during a Transition Scene.
SPECIALTIES

Acrobatic Master [ d10 ], Combat Expert [ d8 ], Cover Expert [ d8 ], Crime Master [ d10 ], Menace Expert [ d8], Psych Expert [ d8 ]

Saturday, June 9, 2012

On the Radar: More Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

I was doing some online research for the Cortex / Cortex Plus system by Margaret Weis Games, specifically for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying RPG, and happened upon the following images on Amazon:

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Civil War Event Book Essentials


Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Civil War - 50 States Initiative



I like this last book in particular, because it seems like this will finally provide a more detailed set of rules for creating your own heroes and team:
Tony Stark's grand idea following the Superhuman Registration Act is the Initiative, a coast-to-coast operation that sets up Super Hero teams in every state. Train your heroes at Camp Hammond and set up your team in preparation for the next threat to law and order! Includes a full roster of Initiative members and new trainees ready to drop into your Civil War campaign.

Unfortunately, based on the release date, we can expect it some time around July 10, 2012. So that's a bit of a wait.

In the meantime, I am reviewing the rules for a small, intimate, getting-to-know-you play-by-post playtest with a couple of friends. More on that in another post.

Friday, June 8, 2012

On The Radar: Badass -- The RPG That Kicks Logic In The Face

This game has been around for a year now, available for free download. And it is still kicking logic in the face!

Badass, a rules-light roleplaying game, allows you to build characters filled with pure awesomesauce and badassery. They can kick reinforced metal fire doors off their hinges, catch bullets with their teeth, and slice through an Abrams tank with their katanas!


Get your copy now!

On the Radar: Light Bikes

A game based on Tron's light cycles -- that's not a computer game? Intriguing, but how can it replicate that sense of speed and breakneck action? Since it's nominated for an award, it's got to be good though, right?
Light Bikes is a variation of Speed Rally, a fast and easy set of miniature rules designed to be used with any 1/64 scale diecast car. Whether you want to recreate your favorite characters from movies and TV, or run wacky cars in a cartoon setting, Speed Rally gives you all the rules to generate vehicles and drivers, arm them with weapons and devices, and race them anywhere — from terrain-filled tabletops to family room floors or even the beach.

If you're interested, click the image below to find out more. I'm actually more intrigued by Speed Rally, due to the potentially greater variety of games and the ability to play with my son when he's older, but we'll see...


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Online Tabletop Gaming

Like me, a number of my friends are unable to really carve out a respectable amount of time to run/play RPGs via chat.

However, we are game to retry a play-by-post game. It allows us to play at our respective speeds and availability (except for the poor GM who has to run things), and get a gestalt gaming experience.

Some wild thoughts:
  • Investigation + fast combat -- this is what seems to appeal to me for online games, though I'd appreciate some tactical options and variety in the combat;
  • A shared world approach -- try to convince some other person to run games in his corner of the setting, while I run games in my corner of the setting;
  • Encourage side-quests -- in a semi-sandbox setting, there are any number of side-quests to get involved in, usually due to interesting NPCs;
  • Storylets -- taking a cue from the Fallen London browser game, it helps to craft very specific, stand-alone, clear resolution mini-stories that eventually add up to a larger picture story if the players follow up on them;
  • Easy setting -- trying to find a good online resource for the setting without having to deal with 'canon' issues.
More on this later.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dark Corners of Mystara: The Atlas


There are many maps of Mystara found on Thorf's Wiki. I like this map of Karameikos, but I also like the map below showing the whole sweep of the frickin' western kingdoms.

They're pretty cool, and given how much material there is out for them, while still leaving sufficient space for the filling in of your own spaces and sticking in your module dungeons.

I'll get to Bruce's new map soon.

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