Monday, December 8, 2014

Winding Down The Year: Fading Fantasy, Starting Up Science Fiction

Shift from Fantasy RPGs


Perhaps it's because I'm actually playing in a D&D campaign now, I'm kind of winding down my rules forays into fantasy RPGs. I do like picking at rules systems from the point of view of playing, but it's very different from the usual Armchair Gamer approach of distance and theoretical play.

So, I think I'll just practice that offline for a while, though I'll probably still schedule the play summaries for posting for those following the Isle Imperium and Echoes posts.

Shift to Science Fiction RPGs


In its place, I'll be focusing more on Science Fiction RPGs (and maybe some Science Fantasy -- the line gets blurry, you know) when I find the time to post. No shortage of RPGs there, and I do have some loose ends in my blog concerning this genre, after all.

BUT WAIT: Fantasy Settings


Interestingly enough, there is no shortage of settings that I'd like to begin exploring with D&D 5E or perhaps some of the other options out there.

There's Calidar: In Stranger Skies, by Bruce Heard. Some promising options there for a colonized world with flying ships and an old school setting feel. Lots of great maps, great art, and great source material for a fantasy romp.

There's Uresia: Grave of Heaven, by S. John Ross, which I picked up in the recent Indie Bundle of Holding and have been skimming through and enjoying.

There's A Red & Pleasant Land by Zak S., whose general premise I've kind of grokked through various posts on his famous / infamous blog, but have been intrigued and excited by in my initial skims.

Last but not least, Arrows of Indra by the RPGPundit. Hopeful for an RPG and setting that will open up more ideas on dealing with other cultures in the fantasy realm -- but I'll be looking largely at the setting stuff rather than the rules. And trying to extract parallels with Spears of the Dawn by the machine that is Kevin Crawford.

So, let's see how all this planned blogging works out.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Isle Imperium 1.53 -- Writ Here, Writ Now

Thematic image from (oldserenesforest.net)
Back at the port of Kaven, the Bone legion Keeper of Transgressions CHADRANIZAR CONTUS informs the trio of the First that they have seen too much and cannot be permitted to share their acquired knowledge. He is, however, willing to let one of them go while he keeps the other two hostage for life, having already considered and rejected the possibility that they will agree either to forfeit their quest or betray the Diamond by giving up all the information they possess regarding their legion. He also rejects the notion of wiping their memories, considering this to be an unreliable and impermanent solution.

After much largely futile discussion (in the course of which Chadranizar mentions that the “mote of Magor” has identified their shards as “a Bejeweled… a yearling… and one of the Consonances, Kirian or one of her sisters”), the three decide to end the parley and fight for their freedom, hoping—despite the inflation and prohibition on traverse laid upon them—that Chadranizar’s apparent inability to perceive DEVON will give them an edge in the confrontation.

To their chagrin, however, they learn that not only has the Keeper merely been ignoring Devon because she was not part of the original trespass on Kaven (He gives her the option to stay out of the fight, but she stands with her number), he is accompanied by no less than 12 previously concealed Bone legionaries. To make matters even worse, he then presents them with the shattered pieces of the Torrent Mariner and Imperious Magister, saying, “I have taken the motes of both… consider these a memento.”

At this revelation, VARIAN and ALECTO are essentially prepared to go down in flames, but ARCTURUS proposes that they might as well try to complete their mission before death or capture. Accordingly, then, Aly and particularly Ian spend a great deal of inner reserve for the latter to instantly build a structure that will conceal them for long enough to make the declaration. The mammoth keep thus formed slams into existence and against the cliff side concealing the Bone encampment (and probably into several Bone people as well), while Aly further conceals Arc’s invocation of Terminus’s permission to reform the writ.

His meticulous inclusion of all elements of their quest significantly improves their chances and results in success, such that a female personage appears to Arc and gives him the option to decide what legion the writ will cover. Arc chooses Amber and receives the appropriate writ, at which point the quartet is suffused in a blue light and hears the voices of Bregan and Khimere, the former fiercely applauding their success and the latter telling Aly, “You will have to be her second now.” Grief-stricken but acutely aware that they are still in danger, Arc formally declares the mission over and hopes for extraction back to Peerdin.

Outside the keep, the members of Bone sacrifice their entire encampment in order to bring the structure down, but by the time they have accomplished this, the First are gone. A fat, floating, scary woman with a querulous voice—clearly a Bone authority figure of some rank—appears and declares that Chadranizar Contus has failed. He attempts to maneuver out of this condemnation, but before long is stripped of all his shards and accoutrements, and somehow turned into a shard himself.

Aly, Arc, Devon, and Ian materialize just outside Peerdin, where the subsequent five days of debriefing and ISAACUS’S initial fear that they have returned because of failure are followed by resounding jubilation, albeit tempered by the absence of Brand, Catalina, Kim, and Mantius. Significant notes during the debriefing and celebration include:
  • Information about Bone is restricted to the offices of Oversight and Intelligence; information about Pasver’s shards is restricted to the offices of Oversight, Intelligence, Training, and Finance.
  • GWYNETH and the Ninth number have returned.
  • Ian greets the legendaries of Peerdin, including two new arrivals, ARSINOE TRIEN♀ and POLONIUS DEMARK♂.
  • The Fifth has a new (female!) member, CHALDEA.
  • PATRICUS has recovered and is once again Master Oversight, with TERENTIUS stepping down (and disappearing immediately after discerning Cat’s absence) to make room for OLIVERUS as Master Strategy.
  • PANDORA and 20 mounts of the Amber legion accept their new writ and pledge unofficial alliance with Diamond.
  • Arc presents the Will-o’-Wisp Diadem to LUCIA and witnesses a conversation between Lucia and ELINORA which seems to imply some kind of development between Eli and Terry. (“He’s gone to look for her… as he should.”)
  • Ian is thrown a party by his industrious building committee, and tours the city, in the course of which he discovers that one of the specialist towers is now occupied by the Essence Lancer AMIAH, who happens to be treating the returned and very apologetic VEDA. He also learns from Amiah that Mantius is alive, as his file with her is still active.
  • Aly presents the Harlequin Cowl to KENJIRO and learns that his brother Katsumoto and their sister AJI have been 42 miles outside of Peerdin for a month and a half now, exchanging letters of courtship supposedly with Cat. Aly engages THESSALY’S assistance and they learn that this correspondence was carried on by TALTUN, who then crafts them a letter which they hope will end the matter without shame or insult.

The ruling warders inform the First that they must nominate two new members, with the assurance that their missing teammates will of course be reinstated once found. Devon remains a member of the First, but is withheld from field duty temporarily to undergo training, and the First Tier nominate a candidate of their own to round out the First’s active roster to six, now including new members TOBIAS, ROGELIO, and Thess (after the last ensures that there is no problem with her and Ian).

About to go present the letter ‘from Cat’ to Katsumoto with Kenjiro and Thess, Aly is summoned by Isaac to a general gathering of the Veiled Cardinals, at which the master of Intelligence disseminates the following information:
  • Brand, Mantius, Cat, and Kim (in this order of importance) are missing; steps will be taken to find them, and Brand and Mantius will not be replaced in the Strange Number.
  • It has been ascertained that Amber’s fall was helped along by the presence of a white dragon with a sharded mount—evidently causing a disastrous inflation—as well as three camouflaged agents of Bone, whose signal from outside the city of Amber was answered by a gleam from one of the towers within.
    • Corollary to this: the 25% discount on purchases has been revoked, and Patricus must renegotiate in the place of Cat, who was specifically requested.
  • Ivory and Bone are suspected to now be targeting Sapphire.
    • Aly later confirms that the real target is likely Emerald, and that Bone has rewritten the other two previously destroyed writs, so that they now have three legions, the opposing courts of which have likely been dealt with.
  • The plans of the Renegade’s Number are not to be tolerated, and something will be done.

After Aly’s departure, Isaac uses deviancy and promptly learns the Blood Tear technique, saying, “Could it be that simple?”

Monday, October 6, 2014

Eye on the 5th: A Changed Piacenza


My group is currently on its 6th adventure in a Steampunk setting, using D&D's 5th edition rules. With the recent (6 sessions ago) cataclysmic changes in the setting, it does feel like D&D, albeit with a different campaign feel. Here are some of the reasons:

A Year After the Cataclysm

We actually played 5 game sessions using the Basic Rules of D&D 5th edition. All as humans, and none with magic -- though we were told to position as close as possible to the classes we eventually wanted. It was much like Italy set in an archipelago, with strong family ties, internal and international politics, and bits of mystery in a large urban setting (connected by bridges).

There are no gods (they are thought of as fairy tales, and there is no worship, no church to speak of), and there's certainly no magic of any kind (but there are stage and street illusionists and performers). There isn't even a word for it, really.

Then came the Violazione, and the intrusion of magic into the world. Many people died, many people were changed, many islands sank, and life in Piacenza was forever changed.

Adventurers & Regulation

Life in old Piacenza was heavily regulated, and survivors clung to those rules and order even as friends and relatives died and changed before their very eyes. With valuable community resources (and the increasingly undeniable existence of magic) becoming increasingly scarce and unreliable, survivors embraced the need for new regulation -- even if there were occasional squabbles over which groups were prioritized.

Companies of treasure hunters (read: adventurers) would have to have charters in order to operate, and could only take on "official" missions. However, with Piacenza slowly looking outward and discovering new islands where old ones used to be, that may be changing.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Eye on the 5th: Rinaldo Cardano - Coastwalker of the League of Naturalists

Rinaldo Cardano
(art by Andrew Drilon, c. 2014)
My character for Echoes: Piacenza is now a 3rd Level Druid!

Of course, the setting started out magic- and god-less, so the sudden infusion of arcane and divine magic into the world made for some interesting opportunities to tweak the classes a bit.

One year ago, Rinaldo was an up-and-coming member of the Science District of Piacenza who figured prominently in the uncovering of the Conspiracy of Shadows. Unfortunately, the understanding of those who stood against the Fellowship of the Shadow was flawed, and the cataclysmic Violazione resulted in the deaths of many, and the change of many in the lands of Piacenza -- and perhaps the rest of the world.

For his part, Rinaldo has been helping contribute to the community of Science District and Farwater District citizens who've been trying to understand the changes to the natural laws, and struggling to find ways to return to a more balanced equilibrium in the natural order. The League of Naturalists (as it calls itself) is a conglomeration of smaller Fellowships, and is therefore technically even more illegal than Fellowships -- they've had to rely on some older tongues of Piacenza as the basis of their fellowspeak cant.

Many members of the League of Naturalists, like Rinaldo, wield new 'magical' abilities and are becoming increasingly skilled in wielding them. However, they note that their philosophical opposition to the Arcane Fellowships' views on the use of magic will likely spark conflict in the future.

Friday, September 5, 2014

IDIC Files: The Characters I've Been (part 01)

There is a practice of looking at the PCs of a given player -- perhaps in one RPG, perhaps across all RPGs played -- and reading into the choices of play as an insight into the player.

On one level, this is similar to watching basketball or chess players and coming to conclusions about their play style, strengths and weaknesses. On another level, it's akin to reading one's creative work and coming to conclusions about the player's conscious and subconscious issues, philosophies, and goals.

Keill Blackthorn

When my age was in the single digits, I remember rolling up a D&D character, and named it Keill Blackthorn. Funky spelling of first name? Check! Stereotypical fantasy last name? Check!

Never played him, as I didn't have a regular crew to play with.

In my teens, at a Recreational Center in the U.S. where I had to build a high-level character (several levels lower than the average in that group, of course) Keill was reborn as a half-elven fighter / thief.

My conscious goals were to keep things simple, keeping magic out of my concerns, and just focusing on doing combat stuff. Subconscious goals may have been:
  • play a character who doesn't have to lead, to be in front the whole time (as fighters were wont to do);
  • provide more skills to the group beyond fighting -- scouting, theivery, and the ever-popular backstab from the shadows;
  • emulate a more finesse- or swashbucklerish-fighter with multi-classing;
  • be mysterious and not have to talk much, because I was shy and uncertain of myself.
I eventually caught up in gaming skill, but I must admit that I lacked gaming experience as a gaming newbie, and in one spectacularly bad game -- I died three times in a 1-hour timespace, all my fault because I didn't quite understand that the magical symbols I was trying to read were actually a ward that caused instant death when looking at them. They were very generous in resurrecting me -- and one player, she took me aside and explained out of character what I was doing, and that I shouldn't do it anymore, and cited the reasons why.

The campaign was great fun, and though I eventually drifted apart from that group, Keill Blackthorn was my first real ongoing PC in a game.

It was also an eye-opener for me in terms of the separation of playing a class from playing a role, because of a trap that shifted the minds of the various players into different bodies. I learned that I could actually play a character's personality separate from the stereotype of the class (forgive me, I was slow and didn't quite understand the role-playing aspect of the game yet). It freed me to play a truer character in future games as well.




Monday, September 1, 2014

Doctor Who Series 08 Ep 01 - Spoilers and Speculation

So the new Doctor officially enters the fray with his first episode, and I watch it to see what new wrinkles (pun intended) this Doctor will add to the canon.

Also, I'm eager to see where the plotline concerning lost Gallifrey where lead -- and to watch the acting chops of Capaldi in its full glory.

He does his manic Doctor quite well, but I'm more interested in the influences of the first Three Doctors on his character, plus the occasional Fifth & Seventh Doctor, rather than any riffs on the Fourth, Sixth, or the Tenth or Eleventh.


Episode 01 - "Deep Breath"

We certainly get a good measure of the manic side of The Doctor during this regeneration and recovery episode. We also get a lot of heavy-handed discussion about the apparent age of The Doctor and the reaction of his companion.

Of greater interest to me is the emergence of the supposedly darker side of The Doctor. Was the lead android pushed, or did it jump (the latter, I believe, for reasons I'll touch on in episode 02)?

I think it's good to see Clara's usually unflappable character unbalanced quite a bit. It allows for that "perky-optimism-as-defense-mechanism" vibe that we got in her first appearance. However, it's very distressing for her character to be dismissed right out of hand, given her important role in saving The Doctor's entire timeline in a past episode of a prior series.

Thematically, I suspect that the villainous creature in this episode being a throwback to a prior episode alludes to this series (and Doctor) being a reexamination of various Doctor Who tropes and elements, and digging at the core of them -- perhaps deconstructing them and reconstructing them for the modern age.

Missy is of interest, not only because she refers to The Doctor as her boyfriend, but also because she bears the same name as a minor character in a prior episode that also involved Cybermen. Some leaked production stills show her and The Doctor appearing together in front of some walking Cybermen, so perhaps there is a connection there?

I do like the sense of there being raw intelligence and untapped physical power in this incarnation of the Doctor (he physically overpowers the lead android, after all). It really lends itself to the feeling that The Doctor is always holding himself back.

Onwards to Episode 2!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Farewell, Robin Williams

"Mork calling Orson; come in, Orson --"

Mr. Robin Williams made a big impact on my life at least three times.

The first was in all four seasons of Mork & Mindy, which my family watched almost religiously here in the Philippines. He made me laugh out loud, and made it okay to be a bit crazy in public (though my sense of humor has always been iffy).

The second was when I first got to the U.S. and watched Robin Williams: Live at the Met and I realized just how much broader his skillset in comedy was, and how much wider the realm of comedy was as well.

The third was at Pacificon, when it was still being held at the Dunfey Hotel in the SF Bay Area. He was walking around the halls with his son, enjoying the convention atmosphere, and buying game stuff for his son. People smiled at him and greeted him, but no one went up to him (that I saw) for his autograph, for questions about his work, nothing like that. It reminded me that we all have different sides to us, and that we're comfortable sharing some of those sides in safe environments -- or around people we trust.

It took me some weeks to think about it, but I think I'm ready to say goodbye. Farewell, sir. I loved all your work; you made a positive impact my childhood and I thank you for it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Quick-Bits: Return to Super-Hero RPG News

New Book -- ICONS: The Assembled Edition

There's a new / alternate version of ICONS out called ICONS Assembled, still by the incomparable Steve Kenson, that offers a substantial amount of alternative rules or rules adjustments -- but packaged as a single rulebook.

To my mind, this was kind of like a D&D Cyclopedia of the ICONS ruleset, which really intrigued me at the get go. But from Mr. Kenson's blog, there's a list of all the changes between the original ICONS ruleset and ICONS Assembled:

  • Adjectives (from Weak to Supreme) see a bit more use in talking about abilities on the scale.
  • Actions characters can perform during their panel are better defined. Supplemental actions are gone; as feedback indicated they were confusing and folks tended not to use them or the associated modifiers. Instead, characters get an Action, a Move, and a number of opportunities to React and Interact.
  • The Benchmarks Table from Great Power is included.
  • The term “Determination Points” (DP) is used to differentiate the resource players spend from the Determination ability level.
  • The default die rolling method is: Effort (Acting Ability + d6) – Difficulty (Opposing Ability/Level + d6) = Outcome. The math is the same, it just equalizes the die-rolling equation so there isn’t a need to “reverse” all the action formulae when its GM characters acting rather than heroes, or vice versa. The original d6-d6 method (along with a couple of others) are optional rules.
  • There is a marginal degree of success, allowing for one of seven degrees of outcome: Massive, Major, and Moderate Failure, and Marginal, Moderate, Major, and Massive Success.
    The Combined Effort rules are more broadly applied for “stacking” instances.
    Pyramid Tests (which first appeared in Sidereal Schemes of Dr. Zodiac) are in the Basics chapter, along with all the Pyramid Test modifiers and variations from Team-Up.
  • Challenges are consolidated into qualities, and the baseline number of qualities is reduced to three to start. Qualities are activated both to create advantage and to cause trouble for characters.
  • The Qualities section has expanded information on creating and learning qualities, removing temporary qualities, and activating qualities through maneuvers and tactics as well as spending Determination Points.
  • Determined Effort is replaced by a simpler Improved Effort that is just a flat +2 bonus, dropping the various requirements that no one really used anyway. Focused Effort is folded in the stunt mechanics (substituting one level for another in a test or effect), a Push Ability option is added.
  • Trouble caused by activating qualities includes Challenge, Compulsion, Disability, Increased Difficulty, and Lost Panel. I may write at some point about the notion of “Editorial Interference” as trouble, but that concept didn’t make the cut (too meta and, frankly, rooting in comics fan cynicism).
  • The Stunts section has expanded to include using superhuman (level 7+) abilities and Master Specialties for stunts, as well as powers.
  • The Damage section include options for minions, more lethal damage, lasting injuries, and different damage effects (from the standard Slam, Stun, and Kill effects).
  • There are two expanded examples of play, one in the Basics chapter and one in the Taking Action chapter.
  • The random Power Type table is tweaked slightly to change the probabilities of generating certain powers (mainly making Movement Powers more common than Mental Powers).
  • There is an optional table for randomly rolling Specialties (if you want, otherwise you just choose them as before).
  • Powers have generally been brought in-line with the material in Great Power and make more reference to qualities for modifiers. The focus is on the “core” powers, with condensed descriptions, leaving the more detailed descriptions, extra and limit lists, and “reskinned” powers for Great Power to cover.
  • Extras and limits from Great Power are included.
  • Power descriptions are now all listed in alphabetical order, for easier reference.
  • A condensed version of the Devices from Great Power is included, with lots of sample equipment.
  • A simple initiative system is included (Coordination test, highest outcome goes first).
  • Actions are broken out by different types (Movement, Action, Reaction, Interaction) and more clearly detailed.
  • An option for Interludes (narrative based scenes that activate qualities and award DP, which can be saved or spent immediately for insight, retcons, or recovery) is in the Game Mastering chapter.
  • Some expanded and cleaned-up Game Master advice.
  • A system of Achievements & Changes for character development.
  • The villain creation system from Villainomicon is included.
  • A slightly updated version of the Universe Creation system from Team-Up is included.
  • Nine sample heroes and nine sample villains are included. There is no sample adventure (as I’m not a big fan of sample adventures in the core rulebook itself). I might look at revising the four-page Wages of Sin from the original ICONS book as a free downloadable sample adventure.
  • A glossary of terms is included at the end.
  • And, of course, the Assembled Edition benefits from new art and new layout by Dan Houser and Daniel Solis, very much in the style of Great Power.
In addition to all this, I've seen what appears to be a nice hardcover edition of this book out there. If that's preferable to the digital version of ICONS Assembled available online -- go for it!

New Book -- Supers! Revised Edition

Simon Washbourne created SUPERS!, a few years back. It was a super-hero RPG characterized by simplicity and flexibility in the genre. Since that time, HAZARD Studio obtained publishing rights to the game, and out a SUPERS! Revised Edition (via a successful Kickstarter campaign).

Here's a great interview of the makers / publishers of this RPG.

I'm always curious about new entrants into the RPG market. With all the movies and TV shows available for this genre, no wonder there's such a huge amount of material out there.

Will this be the new introductory genre for the RPG market? Maybe not yet, but it's a contender for second place, I think.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: beyond Official System Releases




This current version of D&D not only seems to be very friendly towards older D&D conversions, but also -- by extension -- to a lot of the OSR systems that were inspired by those older versions. I think I can see it working for the B/X and BECMI versions of D&D, as well as 1st Edition AD&D -- but I have no real feel for converting the other versions before and after. But it does make it possible to therefore use a lot of (a) old D&D material; and (b) a lot of OSR material.

Unofficial Conversion Document


Fortunately, for people interested in converting older materials (and some OSR systems), James Bowman has produced his own conversion guidelines for D&D 5th Edition.

At the time of this posting, it includes:

  • BECMI to 5E (includes 0E, Holmes, and B/X) - last updated 12 August 2014
    2E to 5E (includes 1E) - last updated 12 August 2014
  • 3.5 to 5E (includes 3E and Pathfinder) - last updated 12 August 2014
  • 4E to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
    Next to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
  • Castles & Crusades to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014

There's both an in-depth document and a quick reference document for each. Great work, Mr. Bowman.

Old School Style: Geomorphs

I'm always happy to see old school maps and geomorphs online, not only because of the nostalgia factor, but also because of my gamer fascination with maps and the design philosophies behind creating 'geomorph' maps in RPGs and boardgames.

Michael Wenman currently is tackling how to create & design geomorphs on his blog in a fascinating (currently 10-part) series.

OSR Game System Listing


And if you're looking for various OSR systems that you might want to go through for source material and perhaps some cool game mechanic hacks for a one-shot, a short campaign, or a permanent house rule -- look no further than the D&D retroclone / neo-clone listing on Taxidermic Owlbear! Logos and links and short summaries aplenty!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: D&D Basic v2 (for Players and DM)


It seems that there's a new version of of the Basic D&D ruleset out on the Wizards of the Coast website.

What used to just be a single document (in standard and printer-friendly formats) is now a set of two documents -- one for the Players, and one for the Dungeon Master.

Here's what the change log says about the revised contents:
Change Log

This change log indicates significant updates from the previous version of the D&D Basic Rules.

  •     Added acid splash and poison spray spells.
  •     Added noble background.
  •     Added appendix containing the Forgotten Realms deities.
  •     Added appendix containing descriptions of the five factions that feature in the D&D Adventurers League.
  •     Legal text added to the footer to allow reproduction for personal purposes.

Of course, it seems that this only tackles the Player's side of things.

In the DM's book, there's a huge section about Monsters, covering monster types, abilities, AC and Proficiency, and then giving a listing of monsters for use in the game. It also provides NPC templates and ways to customize them to your needs. There's also advice on building combat encounters, rules on magic items, and a short list of them.

Looking forward to future updates!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Strike Hard And Fade Away Into The Night: TMNT

There's even a short comic inside this sucker. Awesome stuff. Didn't play this game enough, and probably won't ever again.

And I'm going to give this to a good friend soon, so this is kinda farewell to this game.

Good luck, TMNT RPG. May your new owner use you well.

I remember really being into the turtles back in the day, but then the cartoons started to veer sharply away from the source material in tone.

It wasn't always grim and gritty, after all. There was humor, science fiction, and pizza! But the mixture kinda went a bit weird for me. Oh, well. Good times.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: Bloggers on Basic


I've been enjoying a lot of the posts that have been going up on blogs regarding the current rules release for D&D 5th Edition. At the time of this writing, only the Basic version is up on the WOTC site, but there a quite a lot of blog posts out there that are not just reviewing it, but also posting new material, conversions from older editions, and useful stuff to help run games while we wait for the standard trifecta of books for the game to come out (PHB, DMG, MM).

Here are a few of those posts and links that I've found useful or interesting:

They Got The Math Right by Robb Minneman (on RPGGeek)

A short but informative post about how the math works out for D&D Basic so far. It has a table that displays how calculations were done, and has some interesting observations / analysis about the results:

"First thing to note: Modifiers top out at +11. There's a cap on a PC's ability at 20. Proficiency bonuses do not extend past +6. That means you can't get more than a +11 to a roll, ever. That "nearly impossible" DC 30 check? They mean it. Heck, a "Very Hard" (DC 25) check can really only be attempted once a PC gets up into the level 6-8 range, and even then it's going to be a rare success.

But the math scales very nicely. The fact that bonuses scale gently means that characters get more capable, but the game designers don't have to go through the contortions that the 3e and 4e writers did to continue to make challenges hold up. This is more like the 1e and 2e thief skills: Your chances of success keep going up as your level increases.

That's good! It doesn't break the verisimilitude of your PC becoming more powerful. You can actually try harder things and your chances of succeeding go up. It provides a tangible success meter for characters."


5E Backgrounds by Courtney Campbell (on Hack & Slash)

With character backgrounds emerging as an interesting way to further customize your 1st level character, this series of posts is adding to the available backgrounds by offering up a few new ones. Currently available at the time of this writing are: Torturer, Gravedigger, Farmer, Prisoner.

5E Monsters by Surfarcher (Surf's D&D Blog)

Monsters are always welcome to DMs looking for some interesting opposition to their PCs. We should encourage Surfarcher to complete his 10-part series of D&D monsters as he does some analysis on them. Four of the planned posts are up; check them out!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

RPG A Day: Days 1 through 5

For those of you who may be unaware of +Dave Chapman's call to the #RPGaDay challenge, check out this post on his blog: Autocratik.

Me? I'm a bit late, so I gotta get caught up.

1st Day: First RPG Played

The first RPG that I ever played, believe it or not, wasn't D&D. This is because, growing up as a kid in the Philippines, I was usually trying to get people to play the game -- meaning that I'd be trying to run it, but with a very tenuous grasp of the rules.

Therefore, my first RPG game as a player was another well-known TSR property: Star Frontiers! It was run by a classmate of mine who picked up that boxed set and ran it for us at a class retreat in a beautiful seminary overlooking some of the lovely Baguio scenery.

2nd Day: First RPG Gamemastered

This, without a doubt, would be D&D Basic. This is the Moldvay edition with the Erol Otus cover. I've recounted elsewhere on this blog that I actually first purchased an AD&D module, then was given the basic rules as a gift, and tried to run the game. I remember trying at least twice -- once with my classmates and once with my cousins -- but never managing to really make it stick.

I never stopped cracking it open, despite the fact that I eventually realized that AD&D held the majority of the rules for the modules I'd been collecting from the bookstore, and therefore shifted away from the Basic and Expert Sets to devour the trinity of rules (PHB, DMG, and MM) for 1st edition AD&D back in the misty pasts of my youth.

3rd Day: First RPG Purchased

With my own allowance money? This would be Top Secret. Yeah, TSR was the only real RPG brand we could get in the Philippines (that I knew of). Reconnecting with others when I got back here, I found out that some determined souls had gotten ahold of Champions.

But I digress. Where was I? Top Secret! I remember stumbling through these rules, but having an easier time figuring out what might happen. I had a steadier diet of espionage flicks on TV and in the movie theaters, and my cousins were into them too. We all created characters and tried out a couple of games, but I -- ultimately -- couldn't quite figure out Sprechenhaltestelle.

We did eventually return to the espionage genre with Top Secret/S.I. But that's another story.

4th Day: Most Recent RPG Purchase

All my RPG collecting is in the electronic world these days, as space is costly at home. So my latest purchase comes from RPGnow / DriveThruRPG: a supplement for Sine Nomine's spectacular Stars Without Number -- Relics of the Lost.

Kevin Crawford is a lean, mean RPG writing machine. And he does some interesting work in creating tools for sandbox-style games in the Science Fiction genre. Actually, for multiple genres -- there are supplements for the cyberpunk, post-holocaust, and post-human subgenres as well.

Of course, Mr. Crawford does the same for Fantasy RPGs, and you should just give Sine Nomine a look online to see the full breadth of his work. Then check out how long he's been doing it; you'll be amazed.

5th Day: Most Old School RPG owned

I thought it would be a toss-up between two RPGs: the Moldvay Basic D&D set, and the 1st edition of Champions. I never actually played Champions 1st Edition, as I began playing it with the 3rd Edition. However, I've since traded for a copy of the original rules set, out of a collector's mentality.

However, looking at the release years it turns out that my Oldest Old School RPG owned turns out to be: Traveller. Yes, the classic Traveller rules in those black books by Marc Miller.

It was also the first RPG that I got to play when I was in the U.S. I was a beginning character, playing alongside ridiculously powerful characters, but I was finally playing an RPG with seasoned roleplayers, and I couldn't have been happier (at the time) gaming-wise.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Mining Firebirds: Grimjack 01 - The Suspects

In Part 02 of this series for Grimjack #01's story (titled "A Shade of Truth"), we tackle the suspects, revelations, and red herrings encountered while investigating the suicide.

In Part 01, we learned the premise of the story: One Ms. Sondra Grant, former wife of Cynosure's Finance Minister, engages the services of John Gaunt, also known as Grimjack, to discover the true circumstances surrounding the suicide of her daughter.

Through this setup, we also learn more about Cynosure -- a pan-dimensional city where various realities meet and intersect, but not always reliably or peacefully.

A favorite line of mine from the series: "Guns work here. Magic works there. Swords work everywhere."

A great rationale for a setting where swords still have some relevance.

The Former Lover turns out to be an athlete so full of himself as to be instantly unlikeable. He tries to blow off Grimjack with a combination of an "I don't know her" and "Take a hike". This encourages Grimjack to use more physical means to persuade him to spill information about poor Marcie.

John "Grimjack" Gaunt, aware that this young buck would easily take him in a fair fight, uses a combination of cheap shots and overwhelming violence to triumph. He discovers that Marcie was on drugs, but knows that there's more -- more that won't be forthcoming yet.

Firebird 1: this encounter would give PCs a challenge, since the person being questioned is physically and socially capable of defending himself in civilized company (contender for the tri-sector boxing championship; backed by the University). Even resorting to violence, he won't reveal everything given that he'll lose everything if his involvement with drugs is revealed. And a murder is certainly going to bring its own kind of heat on the PCs.

The Father of Marcie, and Ex-Husband of Sondra Grant, is Finance Minister Honesworth -- who has a reputation for honesty. Quite important, as any hint of favoritism would result in a trade war (something we'll see in future issues).

Firebird 2: this type of character is useful to establish as a) a squeaky-clean suspect who is quite powerful on many levels, surrounded by less honest or scrupulous, but very loyal retainers; and b) a future ally or antagonist depending on the behavior of the PCs.

The New Wife is exotic -- an Ethayr woman of a race that exists across separate planes simultaneously. She drops sparse but concrete hints, but seems a bit distant to be a direct suspect.

Firebird 3: mostly a nice way to re-inforce the scope of the setting. Another race, different realities, matched with issues of prestige and power. However, it's also a good technique to drop hints to the PCs if they're floundering a bit.

Firebird 4: this would be a good fit for the Ur-Obun or (perhaps more controversially) Ur-Ukar in the Fading Suns setting. A window into another culture, as well as an insight into how they're becoming more and more integrated into the Known Worlds.

The Friend & Advisor is a dangerous one. Not only does Heinrich Krupp stop Grimjack's snooping around (while Sondra commiserates with Honesworth), but he also gives a powerful thrashing.

Firebird 5: a fantastic way to introduce a heavyweight race into the adventure -- intelligent and dangerous in combat, killing this individual will certainly mark the PCs as dangerous people, and perhaps earn them the enmity of the people he represents and has befriended.

Firebird 6: You go the obvious route, by dropping in a Vorox noble into this role. Alternately, however, you can hew closer to the visual representation of Krupp, by choosing a rare sub-race of the Etyri with serious physical power.

The Candyman is dangerous. He represents the another dark side of society: crime. He reveals suggests that Marcie delivered drugs and acted as his call-girl for a time.

He used to be small time, but now has serious muscle behind him -- muscle that's looking to find some kind of leverage on Honesworth. It seems like he probably would've killed Gaunt if he'd come alone, but the presence of Sondra probably stayed his hand. But perhaps he still has need of Grimjack in some way?

A lot of things will crystallize, and the portrayal of Marcie gets darker and darker, driving Sondra to the edge -- she wants to stop the investigation.

John Gaunt, however, doesn't do that. He has an obsession with the Truth, and must find out what really happened.

Firebird 7: Almost at the end of the trail, the PCs should have a clear idea of what's been going on, and perhaps have some idea of how high the stakes are.

They should also know about the powerful backing of the Candyman -- in Fading Suns terms, this would be the equivalent of a particular Guild getting a destabilizingly exclusive patent on certain services.

Firebird 8: This should also let the PCs know how much they should be ready for the inevitable resolution. Careful planning and sufficient firepower and contingencies would be wise.

Next post: The conclusion!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

RIP: James Shigeta


TaroIsogi01James Shigeta passed away; rest in peace sir.

I knew of him largely from his appearance in Babylon 5's s02 episode "A Spider in the Web". Though I did recognize him in a couple of Outer Limits episodes during a TV marathon years back. I didn't even recognize him in the original Die Hard movie!

I'm placing him in the IDIC Files tag because I did get a thrill from seeing him in major, non-villainous, non-token roles in these TV shows. Despite the last name (and his general appearance) being clearly Japanese, in the back of my mind I often wondered if he was partially Filipino. I can't explain it; his mannerisms and speech patterns triggered 'old Filipino gentleman grandfather' in my mind.

And I secretly patterned some of my old NPCs in my Fading Suns campaigns after him, as a result.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

D&D 5e: Character Sheet Try-Out

Trying out some of the character sheets for D&D 5th Edition EnWorld stuff. I really like the compressed nature of the stats on this one done by Verys Arkon, as well as the layout of the skills grouped into each Stat.

Wish there was a similarly clean way to handle character abilities, but that's another animal.

The variances of the font sizes can't be avoided, I suppose, given the length of the skill names.

The Combat column is nice, though I feel a bit strange about that proficiencies portion. Could the Proficiencies be combined with the Exploration portion? Or perhaps with the skills associated?

Perhaps after a bit more adventuring, there'll be a few more options for useful blocks on the character sheet front portion.

Rinaldo Cardano is my character for the Echoes 2 campaign, being run by a friend of mine. It's in a homebrew setting which doesn't have native divine or arcane magic, so I guess we'll see how my cleric will deal with things. He assures us that I have herbal-based healing abilities; we'll need them based on the feedback from other bloggers on the nature of combat in this edition.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Echoes Book 2: The Echo of Treviso

A Watery Reality


This reality is composed of really quite a lot of water, islands, and approximately five hundred archipelagos, each comprising anywhere from two to thirty, but most typically an average of three to four large islands, with numerous islets.

These archipelagos do not necessarily form countries, but more often than not are clustered into loose collections of city-states, including that of Piacenza.

The City State of Piacenza

Map of the City-State of Piacenza
(by Andrew Drilon)


Piacenza, due to its geographical location, is a crucial waypoint in sea or air travel to many places of the world, and has thus become a flourishing trade city, its population frequently hosting as well as interbred with foreigners of various stripes.

It is composed of fourteen major islands, each privately owned by one of Piacenza’s fifteen noble families. Each family and therefore island is responsible for a certain Mandate of governance, with the fifteenth (or first) family – that of the Doge – enjoying (or not) oversight and a modicum of rulership over the whole.

The assignment of Mandates (and thus home islands) among families is a shifting affair, such that a family may ‘go into ascent’, taking the office of the Doge, thereby forfeiting their previous island and its rights, resources, and income to another family.

The majority of noble families normally do not wish to ascend, as the Doge and his or her kin live on an artificial island that generates no income aside from a percentage of tithes and taxes from the other fourteen, although this can be fairly substantial.

The Doge, however, has the privilege of assigning Mandates and their associated islands among the fourteen, which may be levied as either favor or burden, as the assigned family thus receives not only the potential income and influence, but also the entire responsibility – financial and otherwise – of operating their designated Mandate.

Mandates & Districts


Each Mandate is linked to a specific island and its neighboring islets, collectively referred to as a District. Each District houses a variety of residential, commercial, and government establishments, along with a number of Guild headquarters.

The Guilds, essentially, are trade associations that operate across the archipelago, some functioning directly under particular Mandates, while others are staunchly independent.

Politically, then, authority in Piacenza is held and granted by, first, the Doge, then the ruling Houses of each District, then the Guilds for professional matters and the Councils for domestic concerns, and lastly, very unofficially, the Fellowships.

Councils are subgroupings of five to ten households, which may or may not be related. The Councils handle non-business-related concerns before elevation to the District level, often with support from the Judiciary or, preferably, Diplomatic Mandates.

Fellowships are informal gatherings of friends or allies toward a common cause or agenda. These are formally banned, but nevertheless thrive in secret.

Fourteen Mandates/Districts, along with some of their linked Guilds

  1. Water
    1. Sanitation
    2. Distribution
  2. Resources – No more than three tree preserves exist in all Piacenza.
    1. Forestry
    2. Animal Husbandry
  3. Transportation – Two airships are maintained under this mandate.
    1. Freight
    2. Drivers
    3. Transport Maintenance
  4. Infrastructure
    1. Architects
    2. Maintenance
  5. Public safety
    1. Police
    2. Fire
  6. Military
    1. Veterans
    2. Mariners
  7. Trade
    1. Merchants
    2. Fishermen
  8. Judiciary
    1. Barristers
    2. Judges
  9. Diplomacy
    1. Spies
    2. Linguists
  10. Finance
    1. Accountants
    2. Coral
  11. Sciences
    1. Steam
    2. Clockwork
  12. Communication
    1. Genealogy
    2. History
  13. Far Water
    1. Cartographers
    2. Explorers
  14. Culture – The head of the Culture District is married to a Civita Vecchia native.
    1. Courtesans
    2. Actors
The five most important Guilds include the Jewelers’ and the most powerful, the Guild of Smoke (The Thieves’ Guild).

Given its resource limitations, Piacenza tends to be highly-regulated in virtually in every aspect of life, not least of which is marriage. Since the islands are relatively small, intermarriage is far from unusual, and often even encouraged, as Piacenzans are not generally very fertile. On the other hand, every Piacenzan is, from birth, considered to be an asset belonging to his or her District, so unions between Districts, while ideally welcomed, are, in practice, subject to long and complex bureaucratic processing. (The couple eventually chooses – or is ‘guided’ to choose – one of the relevant Districts to live in and be affiliated with; any children of the union will be citizens of that district.)

Both despite and because of such regulation, Piacenzans by nature tend to be very savvy people – especially about the rules that relate to them personally – and exceedingly devoted to their families first and friends second. They love to celebrate and are extremely fashion-conscious – it’s a rare Piacenzan indeed who does not sport some form of jewelry on a daily basis, and is not able to make a rapid assessment of another’s general social status based on attire. They are quick to take offense, and quick to forgive – situationally, and at times, only quick to appear to forgive.

There are no private armies, no magic, and no particularly-revered gods in Piacenza. Perhaps as a result of this lack of religion, courtesans are publicly recognized and well respected. A notable aspect of the regard in which they are held is that, while married Piacenzans are expected to refrain from affairs once their unions have resulted in children, dallying with a courtesan or three is not viewed as a violation of this – it is merely a transaction with a businesswoman or businessman, as the case may be. Most courtesan houses and private courtesans reside in the Culture District, although there is one powerful establishment situated elsewhere – a subject of some tension.

Other recent unrest in Piacenza is attributed to a suspected underground group partially composed of inhabitants from, or influenced or financed by Civita Vecchia, one of Piacenza’s three main external trade partners. These are:
  1. Savona – which enjoys a long-standing, harmonious relationship with Piacenza, where they have a permanent embassy (real-world equivalent = Caucasian)
  2. Portici – formerly known as Porti, with which Piacenza once had a troubled relationship, but is now under new governance (Middle Eastern & African)
  3. Civita Vecchia – at war with Piacenza as recently as two generations ago, in the course of which two of the three fallen (and since replaced) noble families collapsed; one of these held the Mandate of War. Currently, only the Cultural and Diplomatic Districts interact with Civita Vecchia. (Middle Oriental)

Using D&D 5th Edition: Blowing on the Embers

The emergence of D&D's Basic Rules (5th Edition, yo) has made its way into our normal rules lite gaming habit.

Season 01 of the Echoes campaign concluded last month, and the second season is undergoing some world- and character-building exercises.

Part of that is actually reading the rules for D&D and seeing what we can use for the (for now) magic-free world of Treviso.

Being called on to create much of this world is forcing me (for reasons that will become clear in subsequent posts) to not only become familiar with the ruleset and subsequent extensions (and cribbing from the OSR library, whee!), but to also unearth some great source material from Blue Planet and other RPGs with similar settings.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Mining Firebirds: Grimjack 01 - The Setup

The inaugural issue of Grimjack was not the first Grimjack story. He'd already appeared as a backup feature in Starslayer, and quickly proved that he could stand on his own. But I start here for several reasons: because it's issue number 01, and that carries some weight with me; because it's a solid story, and made an impression on me in terms of the writing by Ostrander and the visual storytelling by Tim Truman; and because it's one of my fave Grimjack stories.

Now, let's get on with mining some plot, character, and setting elements from this issue for use in Fading Suns! I hope it goes without saying: SPOILERS galore for those who've not read this 30 year old story.

Here's part 01 of Grimjack #1: A Shade of Truth -- the adventure setup.

We start with a suicide. A young girl plummets to her death in a place that is clearly not Earth (note the satellites or planets above the building). That's because Grimjack's default setting is on Cynosure -- a place where dimensions meet, and where ultimately, every dimension or bit of the multiverse will intersect eventually.

Firebird 01: This kind of matches the Fading Suns setting, with its mix of low tech and high tech, psychic abilities and theurgical rites, and other hidden secrets of magic and science.

A bit mysterious at the beginning, but deaths and suicides are possible in the Fading Suns universe. In the Known Worlds, there are limits to healing, limits to technological regeneration -- and if the suicide was very thorough despite access to miraculous healing tech, that says something too about the desperation or the purpose of the death.

Of course, in the tradition of many great RPG adventures, someone wants to find out why the victim took her own life and drags the PCs into it.

In the case of the late Marcie, her mother (Mrs. Sondra Grant) wants to find out the truth about her daughter's suicide. She wants it bad enough to go into one of the roughest parts of Cynosure -- the Pit -- and seek out one of the oldest and toughest guys with a rep for solving difficult problems: John Gaunt a.k.a Grimjack.

I like the line "She looked like an angel slumming." It really drives home the disparity between the quality of her clothing, the care of her skin and hair, and the breeding that must show in her body language, in her poise, and in her speech.

Of course, that's to be expected. The ex-wife of Cynosure's Finance Minister would certainly be of excellent stock and upbringing.

Firebird 02: Of prime importance is this type of character -- one that the PCs are unlikely to ignore out of principle, or curiosity, or profit, or personal interest. She becomes the embodiment of the problem they're trying to solve, the one who helps facilitate things that may be out of reach, and the one who pushes them when they're stuck.

Also, she has ties to very powerful people that are somewhat blunted by the implied severance (or perhaps weakening) of those ties. And she's motivated by very strong emotions to keep close to the PCs to find out the truth.

Of particular interest is this bit: the ghost of Marcie. Her mother, Sondra, went to her former room to look for clues to her suicide.

There, she finds an apparition of her deceased daughter scribbling furiously before taking a step out into the open air. It keeps repeating until dawn.

Now while this may seem tragic and *ahem* haunting, Sondra is also a sharp and practical woman. She searches for the note, paper, or diary that her daughter must have been writing on, but she cannot find it.

Someone must have taken it: why?

Firebird #03: this is the McGuffin that the PCs will be after. Sure, in the process of investigation they'll probably get a lot of additional information from witnesses and antagonists. But the diary will be the words of Marcie -- a deathbed confession of sorts -- to give her own version of events that led up to her extreme actions.

Firebird #4: In the Fading Suns universe, given the religious themes and elements, engaging in activities that will lay a soul to rest would be of critical importance to many. However, this may be balanced against the secrets that some one like to keep. And perhaps some would argue that some souls do not deserve peace -- but that won't sit well with her mother, and probably not with the PCs as well.

NEXT: Grimjack 01 -- The Investigation. Wherein we see how the progress in this case introduces us to different corners and players in the setting of Cynosure, and how such a framework might be used for Fading Suns adventures as well.

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