Saturday, December 31, 2011

Armchair Reviews: Clockwork & Chivalry Core Rulebook 2nd Edition PDF

Here's my latest review:
Having never played any of the flavors of Runequest, ever, it's hard for me to critique this core rulebook's rules (though I am a fan of the parent ruleset and was intrigued at the 1st set of Mongoose Runequest ruleset -- but that's another story). However, as a sourcebook and a spark of inspiration I can offer my opinions.

First off, the setting is one that I thought I was familiar with -- a swashbuckling setting with clockwork marvels -- but I was quickly proven wrong. The game is anchored in the time of the struggle of King Charles I and the English Parliament, with all the political and religious turmoil of that explosive era. Mix in alchemy, clockwork machines, and a changing view of the world, and you have an RPG already very different from the archetypal smooth talk and swordplay model of gameplay.

There rules for character creation seem pretty straightforward, with the 30+ professions and descriptions giving a great feel for the era. The Factions section (and their interrelated nature with the Righteousness mechanic) adds both flavor and potential richness to roleplay and gameplay possibilities.

The illustrated sections on Weapons and Armor will lend players and GMs alike passable expertise on the era's implements of war, and the sections on Alchemy and Witchcraft put a different spin on the traditional view of spellweaving in RPGs, while the section on clockwork devices help frame and make playable this particular conceit of the game. And the source material doesn't end there: maps of Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Europe and the New World; Wages and the Cost of Living, History, Important People, etc.

And there are sections on gamemastering this RPG, a couple of adventures to get you started, and a useful index to find all sorts of material in this dense, seemingly complete RPG corebook.

There are some problems with the PDF bookmarking of the my copy, but these can be easily rectified I'm sure in future iterations of the PDF.

All in all, a fine addition to my RPG collection.

Actually, I doubt I'll ever run it. But I will mine it mercilessly for my Fading Suns campaign.

Friday, December 30, 2011

In Search Of: Go-to OSR Ruleset(s) for 2012

So I'm looking at the various Retro/Neo/Alterclones out there for several reasons:

(1) holidays are stressful;
(2) need moderate complexity ruleset for one Enigmundia subsetting;
(3) need light ruleset for the various OSR setting offerings out there (Carcosa, Weird Adventures, Blackmarsh, Vornheim, etc.).

It's fun looking through the ones I have and seeing which one fits my needs.

Of course, Lamentations of the Flame Princess is really begging to be purchased now... stupid collector's impulse.

Armchair Gamer Plans for 2012

The year 2011 was another learning experience in terms of writing a series of articles. Mainly I learned that I need to set aside time to read and write for some of the series that I had planned -- not all entries are easy to do, and that's what killed some of my attempts.

Still, in 2012 I'd like to continue doing reviews. Perhaps not all new products, some older ones -- even those that are not available in PDF on RPGNow or DriveThruRPG. I've become fascinated by what elements make certain RPG products work better than others and some of my fave rulebooks and sourcebooks come from back in my gaming past.

I'd also like to restart my postings on Enigmundia, and maybe combine that work with the Shards work I was doing.

I'd like to start up some support for the Hero System, sustain my support for Fading Suns, and figure out how to write some stuff for a science fiction campaign inspired by many sources.

That's a lot. I do hope I can do it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Armchair Reviews: Weird Adventures

Damn, what a densely-packed sourcebook. And I couldn't even cite a specific entry that I liked for fear of spoiling player enjoyment by revealing what I liked (twists and surprises galore). Anyway, here's my review as it appeared on

Weird Adventures is a sourcebook for a game setting that is a mixture of traditional fantasy elements and a mad infusion of weird pulp fiction (mostly) set in a strangely familiar nation and city.

The sheer density of setting texture and detail alone makes this sourcebook a must-buy, but it's tied together by a weird conglomeration of almost-recognizable elements taken from history, period culture, myth, movies, fiction, comics, and pulp novel arcana that works as a setting. There is some lacuna left for the tastes of the DM -- but those spaces are easily filled by nabbing from both traditional fantasy and 1920s Americana.

It is a bit light on the game mechanics for a sourcebook, but the new monsters have stats that can be extrapolated to any D&D ruleset, and the DM is open to establishing how prevalent and powerful guns and transport might be in his/her campaign. I do recommend allowing yourself to be inspired by both magic and mad science in answering these questions, as the setting seems to excel at keeping players and GMs on their mental toes in anticipating secrets and twists to the adventure hooks. I'd love to give examples, but to do justice I'd have to give an entire entry away!

The art truly evokes both the feeling of the source material and the conceit of being a travel guide of sorts into this strange realm, and -- while I only have the PDF version -- I think that the printed copy will make a handsome, conversation-starting addition to any gaming collection.

Just make sure your friends don't borrow it without you knowing!

I'm think that an appropriate expansion would be various rulesets expansions for the appropriate retro-clone, but that's another post.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Piecemeal System Reviews: Three from January

I was curious and discovered that I had, in fact, written some reviews before.

There are three "piecemeal system reviews" that I did in January of this year that talk about elements of game systems that I remember. Here they are:

Also, I have the initial post that I made, showing that I had intended to cover a few more system mechanics. Maybe I'll do it next year.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

OSR Cycle of Innovations & Critique Criteria

Fantasy Heartbreakers and militant OSR purists aside, the indie OSR movement has -- in concert with other industry-wide learnings and trends, of course -- produced a lot of quality material. Few are perfect, and of course different people will have varying opinions on the products, but there are best practices that are added to the body of OSR work grows.

Because of the exercise of RPG product review, I've realized several things about my preferences in source material:
  • Dealbreakers - there are certain things that make the product irredeemable or just not worth my time to find out if the content is worth it; this includes layout decisions that make it a pain to read through the material, or painfully inept writing or editing. Bad art, it turns out, I can forgive.
  • Consistency of tone - I don't mind informal writing of source material, nor do I mind material that's meant to evoke a certain emotion or atmosphere (even if done badly). I do mind writing that alternates between the two, especially if the informal tone tends to break the so-called fourth wall. If you're going to poke fun at the atmosphere you're trying to build, just start off informal.
  • Synergistic Crunch and Fluff - I don't think there's a magic ratio of crunch to fluff; I do believe that key elements of your setting demand crunch -- even if you have to say: use the crunch in some other RPG sourcebook. I hate floating pieces of fluff that are ill-defined and yet are intimated at being an "encounterable" bit of fluff.
  • Organization matters - group useful bits of info together, stick them in some place close to where they're mentioned, do it consistently and I'll be happy. Throw in some indexes and I'll be even happier.
I have more, but I realized it might be good to build up a list of this criteria AND to get some folks talking about what they felt worked and didn't work in various source material according similar lists of criteria so that there's a large amount of talk about what makes an RPG sourcebook good aside from just the material in it. And perhaps how certain source material can overcome key failings, break the rules, and become must-haves -- while others languish in the hell of mediocrity.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

On the Radar: Hey! It's Buckaroo Banzai!

I was traipsing through the websites of the various companies whose RPGs have caught my eye and saw this: A Buckaroo Banzai RPG on the Adamant Entertainment website! It'll be out in April of 2012, with an interesting blurb:
Adamant Entertainment, in association with the Banzai Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Strategic Information, has entered into a license agreement by which Adamant will be producing the Buckaroo Banzai Adventure Game — a training manual for Blue Blaze Irregulars which uses the format of a tabletop role-playing game in order to prepare BBI recruits for the sorts of situations in which they may find themselves while aiding Buckaroo. The training manual will feature guidelines for taking on the roles of either your own Blue Blaze Irregular Strike Team, or the roles of Dr. Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers themselves. Familiarize yourselves with global threats ranging from Red Lectroids from Planet 10 to Hanoi Xan and the World Crime League; Learn about the specialized equipment available from the Banzai Institute, such as the Oscillation Overthruster and the Jet Car; And begin to embrace the motto of the Blue Blaze Irregulars: “Helping him to help us.”

The 1984 Buckaroo Banzai "documentary" was a fantastic attempt at a modern-day pulp hero in the vein of Doc Savage and The Shadow, with some of the best sound sweetening work at the time ("Sined. Seeled. Delivered."), a fun plot, and lots of interesting characters and quotable quotes.

Looking forward to this - hope it's good;Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Armchair Reviews: ICONS -- The RetConQuest PDF

Here's my latest review: an adventure for a system I've never played. However, it is an interesting enough adventure as an introduction to a game system and start of a campaign.

In a nutshell, The RetConQuest is a solid adventure that seems -- structurally -- more appropriate as an introductory adventure rather than as a stand-alone adventure in an ongoing campaign.

The core conceit of 'normal humans' remembering their superpowered selves and slowly/instantaneously regaining their identities and abilities in an alternate timeline is a good one, allowing new players (and characters) to slowly be introduced to the character creation and task resolution rules of Icons without necessarily abandoning the game narrative completely. The plot twists seeded in the "initial" and "final" confrontations with Tempus Khan are also useful in terms of helping fine tune characters created in the course of play, in addition to being a clever, limited-novelty nod to the nature of battling time-conquering villains.

For an ongoing campaign, however, I have a preference for more scenes and encounters that would allow the GM to present a series of encounters with heroes, villains, and normals from the regular campaign and how their lives are different from what is remembered. There was only one opportunity for this in the published adventure, though a clever GM could arguably extend or spread out such scenes.

Finally, there were a small number of typos that could have been fixed (and still can be through the magic of updated PDFs): like the "page @@" incident and a missing apostrophe.

All in all, a solid, clever adventure and a potentially great beginning for a great campaign!

I would add to this review that my preferences do tend more to sourcebooks, and adventures that actually flesh out certain portions of a campaign world with little bits of texture and telling detail. Despite this, and a staggering realization that I prefer smaller fonts to larger ones in my gaming material, I thought this was a good product.

A New Fading Suns Site from Redbrick?

Well, technically it's a new Redbrick website.

I think a lot of my links to the old blog posts will go dead soon, which is sad. Although I'll be happy when the New Fading Suns ruleset comes out though!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Setting Expeditions: Code Black -- Part IIIa

Just because I'm in a stressed mood and have a lot of work ahead of me, I decided to do a little quiz (not that hard really) based on the various movies that you can technically run in the Code: Black setting with some minor tweaks to the rationale, and in some cases not at all.

And for fun, I've arranged the pics into a safe for work (I think) arrangement of pics that seems to follow the traditional sequence of horror plots in these kinds of adventures. Hope you enjoy, and let me know if you recognize all the films.

Signs & Portents
Due Diligence
Inciting Artifact
Strange Discovery
Fatal Encounter
Regroup and Rally
The Gang
The Gear
The Garb
Into the Belly of the Beast
Not In Kansas Anymore
Enough Talk
Oh, it's on now!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Armchair Reviews: Isle of the Unknown PDF edition

Something with the title Isle of the Unknown conjures up an island far from the outposts of civilization, shrouded in mystery, brimming with strangeness and wonders. In this case, only the first aspect is untrue since the island in question is 35,00 square miles in size, broken up into 330 land hexes (each 86 square miles), and each hex is keyed with a central point of interest which includes a number of towns and one city (ruled by a king). But there is mystery, strangeness and wonder aplenty on it.

The island in question is 35,00 square miles in size, broken up into 330 land hexes (each 86 square miles), and is described in much the same way that the Carcosa sandbox setting was -- each hex is keyed with a central point of interest.

Comparisons to Carcosa are unavoidable because Isle of the Unknown is written by the same author, published by same publisher, and is presented in roughly the same format (which is not a bad one) as Carcosa, though it does lack the extensive hyperlinking. So let's take a look at what some of those similarities are.

Like Carcosa, the hexmap is numbered -- each numbered hex corresponds to a location or entity of interest. Like Carcosa, Isle of the Unknown is not a sourcebook that deals in minutae, but provides sufficient information for a GM to flesh out (or even run a fast-and-loose game, since Hit Dice, hit points, and other key information are provided without resorting to stat blocks).

Unlike Carcosa, however, Isle of the Unknown is less concerned with emphasizing the non-standard nature of the setting. On the contrary, Isle of the Unknown takes great pains to allow easy slotting of the setting into an existing campaign -- the culture and political structures of the cities and towns and churches are tackled with the lightest of broad strokes.

Instead the book focuses on three primary types of encounters / hexes of interest scattered throughout the island: magic-users, statues, and creatures.
  • The magic-users are clearly non-standard ones: they tend to wear armor not normally associated with their kind, have special innate abilities above and beyond normal mages, and tend to enjoy painted full-page, full-color depictions (which are quite evocative).
  • The statues are strange, powerful, and attired in clothes and armor evocative of a fallen Roman Empire (though clearly, one can insert the attire of another great fallen empire appropriate to one's campaign) and can grant abilities, aid or curse visitors, or attack them outright.
  • The creatures are primarily chimerical creatures, ranging from larger versions of normal animals (a 6' tall roadrunner), twisted versions of normal creatures (an 8' tall humanoid swan with sleeping human faces on its torso), and -- of course -- mix-and-match combinations of creatures.
Taken individually, these encounters can be used as a magical rogues gallery, a statue encounter list, and a large monster's manual. Together, it suggests something else: perhaps the last flowering remnants of a vastly powerful empire, or a land touched by forgotten gods. The magic-users as described and depicted evoke the feeling of Greek or Roman gods, playfully skirting direct analogues and clearly being less powered; the statues smack of powerfully wrought enchantments that once served some greater purpose, and the creatures seem like echoes of an age when rampant magical experimentation on creatures was the norm.

There are, of course, other types of encounters, but the preponderance of these three suggest that a campaign geared towards exploring the unknown nature of the island would do well to focus on these elements.

Isle of the Unknown wraps all this up with the keyed map, printable Player and GM maps, and appendices that list the locations of all magic-users, all statues, and even provide a visual listing of all the creatures grouped by HD rating.

All in all, a rich setting with a lot of usable material the could have perhaps benefited from a few more hints on the origins and nature of the mysteries of the island -- without necessarily setting it in stone, of course.

Friday, December 16, 2011

On the Radar: Weird Adventures Now Out?

Hey, I saw this new product on It seems... strangely familiar.

Armchair Reviews: Carcosa PDF Edition

After that spectacular sale on all the Lamentations of the Flame Princess imprint mentioned earlier in my blog, guess what I get to review first as a DriveThruRPG / RPGNow reviewer? One of the newest offerings (at least on RPGNow / DriveThruRPG) from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess imprint: Carcosa.

Here's the review I gave:
This PDF edition of Carcosa is apparently a compilation and revision of material that has appeared before -- material I'm not familiar with in detail, but have passing familiarity with from the OSR blogosphere.

In a market that often seems to be divided between super-slick hi-resolution imagery and sadly amateurish attempts at passable gaming material, Carcosa manages to stake a claim for solid gaming bang for buck on its own terms.

As stated in the Introduction of this sourcebook, Carcosa is not a sourcebook that will drown its readers in setting minutae, but will give sufficient information concerning the setting that will allow GMs and players to use the material any way they wish -- even if they wish to cannibalize the material for monsters, ideas, rules, and adventure seeds.

Fortunately much of that material is very good, despite my misgivings about the 'mature nature' of the setting and the Weird Science Fantasy label is well-deserved -- it somehow manages to merge legacy alien technology, macabre sorcerous rituals, and a decadent, decaying, dangerous world filled with terrible creatures and awful gods into a uniquely setting that comes across as both challenging and interesting to adventure in.

While some may be more used to slicker and cleaner art styles, I feel that the art direction and execution is excellent -- it captures the weirdness of the setting, and evokes the feel of the sourcebook as an old-style travel guide or almanac for a foreign land. I would go as far as saying that the linework and the composition tends to connote its subject matter more than denoting it -- they have the feel of being "artist's interpretations" of people, places, and things that are real and were lifted from an accomplished artist's sketchbook.

The PDF has the following sections:
  • Introduction -- does much to frame the understanding and use of the sourcebook
  • Men and Magic -- describes rules such as dice conventions, allowed character classes, and building characters in this setting
  • Sorcerous Rituals -- talks about nature of rituals in sorcery; extensively hyperlinked to the appropriate Monster Descriptions
  • Monster Descriptions -- the monstrous menagerie of Carcosa; externsively hyperlinked
  • Hex Description -- there's a Hex Map of Carcosa with number hexes; you can find the descriptions of each number hex here; extensive hyperlinking to monster descriptions and sorcerous rituals
  • Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorceror -- a short sample adventure that takes place in one of the Hexes
  • Addenda -- lots of good stuff here for the GM
The PDF also sports features like a default two-page spread, a handy table of contents sidebar, and meticulously hyperlinked text. That last bit, by the way, is what pushed this product from a four-star product to a five-star product for me -- it may not be as slick or flashy as some other sourcebooks, but in terms of content, design, and utility it was a winner for me.
I don't know if it should be longer, but Carcosa is definitely something I'll be referring to now as one of my favorite sources of gaming material.

Armchair Reviews: Thoughts on Approach

I'm about to start reviewing some products for the DriveThruRPG and RPGNow sites, and it's made me think about methodology.

How does one give a fair review?

First off, I'd have to have a quick disclaimer that my review is based on a mere reading, rather than an actual playtest of the material. I think this is important, because -- and I think most would agree -- reading a good RPG rulebook or sourcebook is a different experience from actually using it in a game.

This observation is not meant to lower the importance of the initial reading and impression of the material. That first experience informs and inspires the GM and his/her players as to the scope, themes, subtexts, vistas, archetypes, and possibilities of the game system, game setting, or game adventure.

Second, I'd have to review the material not only by component elements (chapters, writing, artwork, layout, fluff, crunch) but also by the gestalt impression left on me. This is because certain works work despite the mad, frankenstein's monster approach to the content and presentation, and certain works lie stillborn on the mad scientist's worktable bereft of life despite their surface beauty.

Third, I'd have to figure out how to condense all that into a five-star rating mechanism.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Setting Expeditions: Code Black -- Part II

To my mind, there are three major elements of the Code: Black setting. They are (a) Good and Evil; (b) The Brotherhood; and (c) Earth is a flawed prison.

Good and Evil

Potentially the most difficult or most understandable element is the existence of absolute good (hereafter referred to as Good) in the universe, as well as absolute evil (hereafter referred to as Evil). The setting states that the forces of Good and the forces of Evil, and all the races and intelligences and being that were a mixture of both were caught up in a war. Yes, the classic eternal struggle of Good vs. Evil.

Except that it ended a long time ago, and Good won. And after Good won, it disappeared from the universe utterly, leaving behind Evil and its allies imprisoned in this universe.

Humanity, long an ally of Evil (some were coerced, some joined willingly), for reasons only guessed at, were released from their imprisonment on Earth and inherited the empty universe.

Of course, other creatures of greater Evil escaped as well and fought against humanity and sometimes enslaved it. And there are even more powerful creature of Evil that rage against their imprisonment in the jail that Earth has become, and struggle to weaken the nature of their respective prisons by craft and cunning and power.

The Brotherhood

The Brotherhood of Gilgamesh fights these Evil monsters in all their forms, but must do so with the understanding that there are battles that can be deferred and that there are limited resources to use. The most precious resource is that of personnel with The Sight.

The Sight is the ability to perceive reality as it is. Unlike the mindbending Metropolis of the Kult RPG, reality is pretty much as it is now -- the mundane reality we know is a prison to the more fantastic monsters and worlds that lurk inside it -- except that there may be a werewolf here, a vampire there, a zombie outbreak nearby, and a growing gateway to a nether realm beneath your bed.

People with The Sight can join The Brotherhood and fight monsters, and become part of an organization that tends to lose members in many nasty ways. As a result, there are protocols and secrets in the organization mixed in with the necessary openness to get new hires up to speed. And then it's sink of swim time.

The Brotherhood isn't all about holding hands and expecting everyone to fall in line against Evil. They know that we were once allied with Evil and all its factions -- the pull may be too strong for some. There are protocols about that too.

Earth is a Flawed Prison

As stated earlier, the mundane reality we know is a prison to the more fantastic monsters and worlds that lurk inside it. Some terrible creatures exist in our reality -- vampires, lycanthropes, and so on -- but it's suggested that for all their power they are still bound in certain ways by reality and can thus be slain with the appropriate tools and spells. One wonders how much more powerful they might be in an altered reality.

Altered realities can take place in specific locales: perhaps a place where an elder god is attempting to weaken the prison and burrow out, perhaps minions of a long-dead deity have made sacrifices and performed rituals to allow it to bestow its blessings on its followers, perhaps a great cataclysm has weakened the integrity of the prison in this particular area. And that's why you get strange things happening in places that it shouldn't.

How many cells to this prison? How many realities exist, folded and twisted into the mundane world we call home? How many creatures have escaped?

That's where you come in -- welcome to the Brotherhood.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Setting Expeditions: Code Black -- Part I

Code: Black is an RPG that acts as a Kitchen Sink Setting for your supernatural / preternatural / weird sh*t campaigns.

That's a very broad amount of genre ground to cover, but the overall premise of the setting allows for a campaign that can tackle
  • straightforward "monster showdowns" ala From Dusk Till Dawn and Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight;
  • spooky atmospheric hauntings ala The Eye, The Grudge and The Ring;
  • professionals taking on the weird ala X-Files, Supernatural, Dog Soldiers, and the little known film Double Vision (starring Tony Leung and David Morse);
  • reality-bending, "the world you know is wrong" extravaganzas like Hellraiser and Silent Hill;
  • science-gone-wrong outbreaks like Resident Evil and almost any zombie apocalypse movie;
  • humans tampering with the natural order of things as in the cult film Cube and the riffs on The Island of Dr. Moreau;
  • old standbys like cthulhoid elder gods, demons and devils, and trapped ancient evils.
RPG-wise, the setting feels like a mashup between Stalking the Night Fantastic & Chill, marinated in the juices of Kult, lightly seasoned with some Call of Cthulhu. The flexibility of the setting's recipe allows for the infusion of the ridiculously complex political structures of White Wolf's World of Darkness, the down-the-rabbit-hole weirdness of Over The Edge (especially the mystic sh*t crew), and the fantastic work Pelgrane Press has put into releases like Esoterrorists and Trail of Cthulhu.

System isn't really much of a concern here; it's statted out for BTRC's entry into the Univeral RPG System arena (EABA), but you can make use of whatever gear and creatures you already have in your system of choice and just add the elements you need.

Up Next: Key Elements of the Setting

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On the Radar: H.G. Wells' Little Orc Wars

What the what? Yes, you read that right -- the word 'orc' does appear in that title.

One of the thing I miss about being in a FLGS is the ability to browse for strange and unusual games that I would never buy -- but am sorely tempted to out of curiosity.

After typing in random letters into the new RPGNow search bar, this game was recommended. After a quick spit-take, I read up on it.

It's apparently based on H.G. Wells's Little Wars, but has extra rules that explain how it can be used with any type of miniature set. A bold claim, but intriguing enough to give me pause.

Behold the marketing copy:

H.G. Wells’ Little Orc Wars is a miniatures game based on the rules and concepts published by the genius science fiction author nearly a century ago. It is, in fact, one of the most flexible, innovative, and fast-paced miniatures rule systems for use with fantasy miniatures and models ever created. Indeed, a primary feature of this game is that it can be played with virtually any miniatures, setting it apart from the vast majority of fantasy miniatures games, which demand that only their branded products be used in play.

This booklet contains a fast-play extract of an expanded rules set being published by Skirmisher Publishing LLC. Other highlights of the complete book include guidelines on building props and models; examples of play depicting some of the best wargaming models currently available, including those by the Miniature Building Authority, Armorcast, Fantascene, Dwarven Forge, and Flying Tricycle; and action-oriented images of miniatures in play.

For $1.99, it's really tempting. And excellent cover, by the way.

Well played, Skirmisher Publishing. Well played.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Isle Imperium Shards -- A First Set of Shards

As mentioned early, shards have two names. But how are these revealed?

In two ways: (1) by sharding one, thus committing yourself to bearing that shard for a given amount of time; (2) having a warder shard, which allows you to ask the names from the shards themselves.

If you discovered that a given set (most discovered caches of shards are sets of 7) with the following names, what would you think they do?
  • Ossis Potior | Bone Collector
  • Proeliator Lamniar | Blade Bravo
  • Umbra Beatus | Saint of Shadows
  • Sanomagus | White Mage
  • Aduromagus | Fire Mage
  • Tripudior Tempestas | Storm Talon
  • Cepi Monstrum | Blue Mage
OOC Note: The Latin Names are just a conceit to indicate the 'mystic name' and to reward players who actually bother to see if there's a secret in the 'mystic name'.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Reasons We Play RPGs -- Valid / Not Valid / Incomplete

I wanted to look at 4th Edition Champions, and take a look at the different types of players and explore how:
(1) they may have found satisfaction in other pre-RPG hobbies
(2) their needs were met by RPGs
(3) they may have been lured away by other post-RPG hobbies

The following list is taken from the classic HERO Big Blue Book (4th Edition), but is expanded upon and grouped differently.

Combat-related Reasons

The Combat Monster
- wants to fight; games must have combat

The Mad Slasher
- joins games to "kill" for stress release
- conflicts with roleplayers and plausbility

Intellect-related Reasons

The Tactician
- is primarily interested in the tactical challenges of battles
- can be interested in political challenges if it's a matter of game mechanics or securing a numerical/tactical superiority

The Mad Thinker
- sees everything as a puzzle or a problem to solve
- loves to outwit the villains and sometimes the GM

The Rules Ravager
- wants to bend or exploit the rules
- may not have any interest in the campaign per se

Character- and Story-related Reasons

The Copier
- copies characters from other media
- expects to be as good as those characters

The Pro from Dover
- wants to be the best at what they do
- may conflict with other PCs or NPCs

The Plumber
- likes to detail his/her character with intricate personality and backstory
- loves being ensnared in moral quandries and emotional scenes

The Romantic
- most interested in the interpersonal relationships of characters
- professional and family and romance

The Tragedian
- likes to explore tropes of literary tragedy with PCs
- not concentrated but diffused and sustain betrayal, loss, death, etc. throughout campaign

The Genre Fiend
- expert in the tropes and conventions of the genre
- expects them to come out in play

The Showoff
- wants to be the center of attention

Meta-related Reasons

Social Gamer
- wants to game because all his friends do

Game Sweetheart
- wants to game because current / would-be / former significant other does

Game Spouse
- wants to share experiences with avid RPG spouse

The Questions
How many of these reasons are now satisfied by other outlets? Do computer games -- and more specifically computer RPGs -- satisfy these needs? Does social gaming satisfy some of them? Do easier outlets for creative expression like role-playing forums and online societies address these needs? Has the table top RPG niche shrunk?

And will initiatives like ConstantCon reclaim lost marketshare?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Isle Imperium Shards -- Common Knowledge & Rumors

The Bone Collector shard, after becoming Accomplished,
underwent a slight change in nomenclature. Where once
there was a brutal scourge of the undead now stood a learned
sage of the necromantic arts -- and other secrets.
I've been trying to figure out how best to explain shards, but there's a lot of stuff that may overwhelm. So in classic OSR tradition, I'll treat them like the artifacts or high-powered magical items that they are and share what 'common knowledge' and rumors exist about them from the PC perspective.

Of course, I'm adjusting this from the Isle Imperium perspective (which was shard-centric) to a more standard Fantasy milieu, so that knowledge is a bit more rarified I suppose. Not just any adventurer will know it.

Common Knowledge

Most of them look like elongated crystals, just large enough to jut out from either end of a clasped fist. If you look closely, they're flecked with some kind of silver-gold metal; if you look closer, you might see geometric patterns of that metal inside the shards.

They're called shards, but others have called them power stones, magic rocks, godstones, and so on. It doesn't matter what they're called -- what matters is what they can do.

What they can do -- if you're a viable mount -- is transform you into something more than a mere mortal. And it's more than the garish costumes and frightful armor and strange transformations that shard mounts have to endure -- if you're new to shards and bearing them as a mount, you're only slightly more powerful than normal -- granted access to greater strength and toughness, given one or two magical abilities, and so on. The veteran shard bearers can give high level mages a run for their money, and it's said that some mages are shard mounts as well.

Without the shards, however, the mounts are just as human as before -- but don't think that it's easy to unshard a sharded mount. It seems only truly powerful beings and other sharded mounts can perform forced unshardings -- and shard mounts consider the act worse than rude: it's murderous by their standards, since unhealed damage and uncured illnesses are transferred onto their frail normal forms in full force.

  1. shard mounts can tell shards apart by memorizing the fleck patterns of their shard collections;
  2. different shards grant different abilities;
  3. shard mounts must select which shard abilities they will have access to for a given period of time -- some say this period is every 6 hours, others say it's every 8 or 12 hours;
  4. shard mounts can internalize abilities from different shards through a secret process, allowing them to access abilities from other shards they've borne when wearing a different shard;
  5. there are limits to the number of different abilities open to a shard mount, especially when mixing internalized abilities and current-shard abilities -- though there are supposedly ways to extend those limits;
  6. some shards will not allow shard mounts to select internalized shard abilities from other shards -- it's theorized there is a mystical opposition between the sources of these abilities;
  7. there are families of shards that certain shard scholars feel should be brought together;
  8. there are families of shards taht certain shard scholars feel should never be brought together;
  9. loyalty to a favored shard allows a mount to refine / accomplish / essentialize a shard -- it transforms into a similar, yet more powerful version of itself and gives the shard mount access to newer, more powerful abilities (and perhaps a change in shard wardrobe);
  10. all shards have two names -- a mystic name and a common name;
  11. a common name is said to be the translated version of the mystic name;
  12. if a shard's common name is different, even slightly, from the translated version of the mystic name (which is only learned via shard scholars and sages), then the true nature of the shard is being hidden for some unknown reason;
  13. shards have favored mounts, and mounts have favored shards;
  14. not all shards may be borne by shard mounts -- some have hidden requirements;
  15. unused shards can devolve into simpler versions of themselves after a time;
  16. fractured shards can drive their mounts insane;
  17. shard abilities can sometimes act in accord -- and are more powerful when more shards share that mystic accord;
  18. shards require a specific mystical framework to operate in, and are inert in certain locations;
  19. shards represent abilities and powers from ages gone by, allowed to work in the current time by the power of the mystical shard framework;
  20. shards represent abilities and powers from spheres and realms beyond our own, forced to work in our reality by the secrets and subtleties of the mystical shard framework.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Other Philippine Bestiaries: from HERO and FHM

Before I continue on the Philippine Bestiary series, I'd be remiss in my HERO duties if I didn't mention Michael Surbrook's two-book masterpiece: Asian Bestiary parts 01 & 02.

You might think that it's system specific, but the HERO system has a way of breaking down abilities and stats in a very detailed manner, so it's actually great as a sourcebook not just for Philippine monsters but for other monsters in the region.

I only have reservations about the art of the Philippine monsters, but you have no shortage of monster art online.

In fact, I'd direct your attention to a series of pics that came out in the local version (Oct 2011 issue) of FHM magazine: a deathmatch series between different Philippine creatures! I stumbled upon this stuff from Trese's website -- it's awesome.

Tikbalang vs. Sigbin!

Bungisngis vs. Nuno sa Punso!

Saints of Isle Imperium

I believe that the inspiration for Saints in the Isle Imperium comes not solely from the Catholic / Christian tradition (though they do have halos) but also from a broader view from other religions and cultures.

Wikipedia notes the following characteristics of designated saints across religions:
  • exemplary model;
  • extraordinary teacher;
  • wonder worker or source of benevolent power;
  • intercessor;
  • a life often refusing material attachments or comforts;
  • possession of a special and revelatory relation to the holy.

In Isle Imperium, we definitely see the first three aspects in play; the latter three may yet be revealed.

Initially, the only Saints encountered were shards, and the basic mechanic of shards and purchasing abilities from those shards are explained in this older post. Much later in the campaign, during a sphere-hopping season, we found that they were apparently native to a sphere known as Gariun Arede and were capable of many more things when freed from the shackles of the Shard mechanism.

Here's a sample of the earliest abilities of a Saint from a Shard:

Umbra Beatus (Latin) / Saint of Shadows (Vernacular)

taxonomy: rogue

Weapons & Armor -- only usable equipment in shard form
  • weapon: blade
  • armor: medium
  • accessory 1: pouch
  • accessory 2: satchel

Actions* -- must be triggered consciously / any attacks with weapons count as actions / only one action can be performed per combat round 
  • action 1: sprint - triple all movement for a single combat round
  • action 2: mug - automatic success in stealing one mundane item from an opponent
  • action 3: steal health - allows taking hit points from allies or enemies as an action (but undead count as having negative hit points, so draining them does damage to you)
  • action 4: steal action - allows the Saint to temporarily take another shard's shard action and use it for one combat round (cannot be done if Saint hasn't seen that action performed)

* note: only the first action is visible initially; when that action is 'purchased' using brightlight released by Chaos-infested creatures or when given crystallized brightlight, the next action becomes visible until all actions are visible.

Supports -- always on
  • support 1: body +1
  • support 2: maintenance - cannot be stolen from (unless unconscious, even immobilized, it's proof against theft)

* note: only the first support is visible initially; when that action is 'purchased' using brightlight released by Chaos-infested creatures or when given crystallized brightlight, the next action becomes visible until all actions are visible.

Reactions -- trigger when near death  (last 10% of hp remains)
  • reaction 1: fa├žade - auto-recover from poison, paralysis

* note: only the first reaction is visible; when that action is 'purchased' using brightlight released by Chaos-infested creatures or when given crystallized brightlight, the next action becomes visible until all actions are visible.

More Saints

Of course, the Saint of Shadows is but one of the many Saints.

Here's a short listing of the other Saints encountered in Isle Imperium:

Saint of Eaves (which would have been revealed to be the Saint of Evening)
Saint of Warrens
Saint of Swords
Saint of Consonance
Saint of Widows
Saint of Scholars
Saint of Promises
Saint of Scoundrels
Saint of Augers
Saint of Covenants

And there are many more out there, I'm sure.

Next Up: a better explanation of Shards and an approach on integrating them in D&D campaigns.

Building a Philippine Bestiary: The Pugot

The Pugot as depicted by sculptor Ian Balba, and shown on
the website
of that excellent Filipino Urban fantasy/horror
comics series Trese, whose website is here.
Pugot means beheaded or headless, and when you have creature named pugot, you can imagine what we're looking at here.

Now while there are certainly parallels to the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow fame, there several things to consider when looking at it from the Philippine point of view:

There's a local tradition of monsters that can separate body aparts and reattach them. The manananggal -- the female monster who separates her upper half from her lower half and then flies around on bat wings -- is the most prominent. But it does suggest that some variants of the pugot (at least in a gaming setting, since I'm no expert on the subject) can sever and reattach the head at will.

There's a local tradition of monsters that look normal by day and become monstrous by night. Related to the prior statement, but subtly different, it applies not only to the manananggal but also to the shapeshifting aswang. There are stories of townspeople who know which fellow residents are these creatures but choose not to act unless they or their own have been threatened. Therefore, in a game setting, these creatures can be normal looking by day with a few warning signs that may distinguish them or hint at their monstrous nature: a slightly paler head than the body, a stiffness of the neck, partially frozen facial features that would be attributed to strokes or illness if they didn't recover fully the next day...

There are some lovely descriptions and behaviors of the monster that deviate from the Headless Horseman's portrayal. Some descriptions have a tongue of fire where the head should be. Despite its rumored ability to shapeshift (or give the illusion of a different appearance) it tends to appear as a large, black, headless humanoid. The black description may also be attributed to its fondness for dark and deserted places like groves or houses. It can move swiftly, capable of capturing snakes and insects found in trees and feeds on them by stuffing them down its headless stump.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On the Radar: Lightspeed for Traveller

Well, that's interesting. I just finished posting a brief walkthrough of the Lightspeed setting by Christian Conkle earlier this month and lo and behold: Lightspeed books for Traveller.

This seems to be a conversion job -- because it
mentions that to get the most out of it you should
pick up the original Lightspeed books and, of course,
Mongoose's Traveller books. But in theory
you can use them with Stars Without Number.
This one seems to be a companion book that outlines
threats that Rangers (from the Interstellar Federation)
regularly encounter -- the Lightspeed equivalents of
the Aliens, Predators, and (maybe) the Borg.

No More HERO?

After seeing the shocking post from this blog I went to the HERO Games website.

This is the text of the Nov 28, 2011 posting on the site:

Hero Games has been around for 30 years with ups and downs. The economy's been pretty rough lately, as has the gaming market. With declining sales and fewer releases, Hero has reached the point where it's no longer possible to maintain a full time staff of three, so it's scaling back.

Darren and Steve will be departing December 2nd, with our thanks for a decade of hard work that gave us 108 books, and best wishes for their future endeavors, which may include producing new books under a Hero System license. We'll keep you posted on that.

Jason will remain to continue shipping books and handling day-to-day matters. Existing books will continue to be available for purchase, and the company will continue in business, just a bit more slowly. The online store remains open. Steve will continue to answer rules questions on the Hero boards as "the guy who wrote the rulebook."

We're looking into doing a Kickstarter to print Book of the Empress, since it's complete and ready to go.
For the near future Hero would appreciate your kind thoughts and your patience. Transition periods of this sort take time, and Jason has a lot of work cut out for him, so the support of our fans is much appreciated.

—Jason Walters
General Manager

Oh, hard times all around. It may be that a new model is needed for the industry, because HERO was impressive in terms of its continuous output.

I still have hope that it will continue in some form until the next boom in RPGs.

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lone Wolf: FFTD Chronicles 03 - The Long Road to the Capital

Looks like I earned the Crystal Star clasp shown here
on the cover. Sadly, all those creatures in the background
are still hunting me.
Warnings and Implications

The young wizard is named Banedon, who thanks me and shares news about the Magician's Guild of Toran to the north. A traitor betrayed them as well, and Banedon -- along with two companions who were separated from him during an ambush -- tried to send warnings to the Kai.

When informed about the fate of the Kai Lords, Banedon gives me the Crystal Star pendant around his neck as a sign of friendship and alliance before leaving me to my mission.

I could have used another person on my mission, but his news lends credence to the theory that the attack on the Kai is part of a larger, well-planned and coordinated invasion of my homeland.

There's a strong likelihood that more scouting patrols are dogging my heels and that large forces are traveling down well-known routes to invade the capital -- I don't have much time, but I can't expect to use public roads and expect to remain unseen. Discretion will have to dominate my strategies to reach the capital now.

Banedon and I bid farewell to each other.

It is not long after we part that some Giaks (perhaps some of those we attacked) ambush me from a nearby bush.

To Escape an Ambush

I flee, with Giaks hot on my trail. Faced with a choice of breaking cover or shifting direction and staying in the trees, I take the latter and soon lose the Mountain Giaks in the thickening forest.

Soon enough, I'm faced with a nasty obstacle: a long stretch of a thorny briar known as gallowbrush or "Sleeptooth". If it scratches the skin, it can make the victim very sleepy -- certainly something I don't want.

Since I didn't pick up the Kai discipline of Tracking during my time at the monestary, I can only return to the track I was on, or push on through the "Sleeptooth" laden forest.

Not much of a choice, but I can't risk falling asleep now. It's back to the track for Lone Wolf (me).

Isle Imperium: Shard Art - part 3

And here's the last of this shard art sequence until I can go back and take more pictures.

We have Speculum Magus, the Mirror Mage on the left -- a shard that we never really got to use. We do speculate that the abilities had the ability to reflect attacks, to create illusions, and perhaps to replicate abilities of opponents (at higher levels).

The Rhythmic Warrior seems to have been music-based, but also a type of fighting shard known as a martial (short for martial artist). Some martials start off with no weapon-based abilities, and as they progress begin to allow wearing weapons and armor; others seem to remain the same, but their abilities increase as the shard mount becomes more powerful / worthy.

We never really got to unlock all the abilities of all the shards before the Legion portion of Isle Imperium ended and we shifted to the Adamantine Court in Selasse many decades later.

Isle Imperium: Shard Art - part 2

This is the next batch of shards done for the Isle: Imperium game.

There is the shard from the Emerald Legion known as the Black Dragon Third Hell Talon -- part of the family of Black Dragon shards which tend to belong to a family or clan and are passed down through generations. Like all shards in its line, it has ridiculous prerequisites and requirements, and -- like most shards from its Legion -- has ridiculous Brightlight requirements to use abilities.

It should not be confused with the Talon line of Shards which belong to a different Legion entirely. Talons from that lineage -- like the Phantom Talon shown here -- tend to have abilities that allow them jumping and flight, and long range abilities that allow ranged attacks.

My own character, Mantius, only dabbled with one Talon shard, but did take on a Phantom shard -- the Phantom Archer -- for quite a while. Phantom abilities were obviously related to intangibility and spirit manipulation and were awesome for getting out of traps.

Isle Imperium: Shard Art - part 1

Found some shard art done by a fellow player.

This is the Sapphire Helios Guard Warder, and the Saint of Eaves.

Saints had a strange set of abilities -- they came across like rogues, but with special powers and skill sets when dealing with something falling under the purview of their assumed name. They also had abilities associated with their halos.

Warders usually had some ability to aggregate different abilities that a mount had, as well as the ability to coordinate and combine the abilities of the members of a team of sharded mounts.

The naming convention for this warder suggests that it originally belonged to the Sapphire Legion (Sapphire), belonged to a given reign of warders associated with the colors of the sun (Helios), and had something to do with the role of protection or perhaps security (Guard).

But that's all speculation, since apparently the roles taken on by the ruling warders of a given Legion vary.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lone Wolf: FFTD Chronicles 02 - Go Northeast, Young Wolf!

Lone Wolf [ CS 15, Endurance 24+4 ]

I decide to take the northeast route! It is a bit out of the way, but if I can find a horse or a cart and use it to travel by road rather than by arduous wilderland routes, I can get to the capital faster. Plus it has the advantage of better camouflage opportunities while still close to the Kai monestary.

My path allows me to sight both flying Kraan and their Giak riders, and allows me to hide from them as well before continuing.

Update: The War Party and the Mage

Zounds! I've encountered a war party of 20 to 25 Giaks all fighting a lone magician (who's about my age).

If only I could team up with him; if only he weren't already facing down a huge number of Giaks; if only I could throw lightning bolts like him!

As I watch, a small group charges him, while a lone Giak flanks him, climbs a pillar and hopes to launch a surprise assault on the lone mage.

I should do something!

I could throw something at the Giak, but I'm not too keen on risking my life and this mage's life on a single throw. And I can't just leave -- though the call of cowardice masked by duty is strong -- Kai and Magician together might be enough to scare away or even kill the Giak war party.

Shouting a warning may district them, but may prove less a challenge to their morale than a new combatant entering the fray!

I decide to attack just as the ambushing Giak attacks. If I kill or knock him unconscious impressively enough, it might rout the remaining Giaks.

Of course, that would mean combat so early in the adventure and I have miles to go.

No matter! Have at thee, foul Giak!

Update: Kai vs. Giak fight!

So! The ambusher is now the ambushee! And that gives me a bonus of +4 CS for the duration of the fight...

Lone Wolf [ CS 15+4, Endurance 24+4 ] vs. Giak [CS 9, Endurance 9]

The combat ration of my Combat Skill less the Giak's Combat Skill is 19-9=10! A world of difference between my martial prowess and his.

My first roll is an 8. Checking the combat results table, he takes 18 Endurance damage, and I take none. His Endurance is only 9, and he is deader than dead.

Victory is mine! Only 24 to go -- fantastic.

Let's see what the rest of them have to offer!

Update: Cowards & Comrades!

Not much apparently. The Giaks begin to run away, while the leader of the group tries to keep face.

"Ogot! Ogot!" he says just before managing to hurl a fairly long threat at me and my (hopefully) new compatriot.

The last thing we see of them transpires as follows:
Shaking his mailed fist at you, the black-clad Giak screams, ‘RANEG ROGAG OK—ORGADAKA OKAK ROGAG GAJ!’ before leaving. Surveying the scene of battle, you count over fifteen Giak dead lying among the broken pillars of Raumas.
Maybe I should have learned how to be a wizard instead. Even assuming one of those fifteen was my own kill -- this wizard massacred more than half their number! No wonder they ran!

OOC: this is to be Lone Wolf's first encounter in the books with the foul tongue of the Giaks. It's not actually translated in the book, but through the magic of future sourcebooks and the interweb, we now know what this Giak officer said.

Ogot means retreat; the longer sentence delivered with mailed fist shaking is translated as: "I will return--you humans will die!"

Okay, time to talk to the mage.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Inspiration: Brinicle as death from a higher plane

From KQED, this got my GM setting thoughts flowing:
This extraordinary time-lapse video filmed by the BBC for their "Frozen Planet" series shows how cold, sinking brine forms a deadly "brinicle" when it comes into contact with warmer waters below the surface.

Given the concept of "higher" or "purer" planes of existence mixing in strange ways, this is a nice example of how it works in real life. How an abstract plane of fire, or shadow, or  evil can sink down to the material plane and wreck the life of the inhabitants... but not necessarily in nice spherical, circular areas. They can creep in strange ways across the 'floor' of our existence, leaving some areas mercifully unharmed.

God help those who accidentally cross its path to escape. I mean, think about what it's like for those starfish that manage to escape.. and those that didn't.

Building a Philippine Bestiary: The Sigbin

I'm looking at putting together a bestiary with some lesser known (?) Philippine monsters. Which is hard, because a lot of the monster abilities and descriptions overlap, and some terms (like aswang) are used interchangeably with more specific terms.

There are some things I've not really heard of before, and those are the ones I'm after right now.

Take a look at the Sigbin, at least according to this site:
Sigbin is a creature is said to come out at night to suck the blood of victims from their shadows. The creature walks backward with its head lowered between its hind legs. It resembles a hornless goat, emits a very nauseating smell and possess a pair of very large ears which are capable of clapping like a pair of hands.It is also claimed to issue forth from its lair during Holy Week, looking for children that it will kill for the heart, which is made into an amulet.
I like this one because it's just plain freaky.

The Sigbin as depicted by sculptor Ian Balba, and shown on
the website
of that excellent Filipino Urban fantasy/horror
comics series Trese, whose website is here.
The idea of a creature feeding off someone's lifeforce (blood) through its shadow makes for some interesting encounters and combat. Visually, the twisted bestial nature really evokes a sense of otherness, and the stench can act as a special ability.

The amulet is interesting -- it provides a reason for hunting the creature down. It also makes it a moral issue for those who are after whatever powers this amulet grants, given the source.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lone Wolf: FFTD Chronicles 01 - It Begins

Okay, so I rolled up my character:

Lone Wolf [ CS 15, Endurance 24 ] is setting off on the adventure Flight from the Dark!

My selection for Kai Disciplines:
  • Healing -- for that all important +1 Endurance every numbered section
  • Sixth Sense -- just because
  • Mind Shield -- I don't like being Mind Blasted
  • Animal Kinship -- talking to the animals can help in intelligence gathering
  • Camouflage -- sometimes a hero needs to hide.
Let's see where my decisions and dice rolls take me on this solo adventure.

Update -- more character creation

Let's take a gander at equipment. We have
  • an axe -- good weapon
  • a backpack with 1 Meal
  • some gold crowns (3 only, but I wasn't probably the most wealthy student)
  • a Map of Somerlund
and I also find in the ruins
  • a chainmail waistcoat (+4 to Endurance) -- lucky! Need that.
Update -- the adventure truly begins

This is the cover of the first Lone
Wolf book I ever owned!
Well, I'm at the proper start of the adventure. My mission is clear: make it to the capital and warn the King about the fall of the Kai Lords.

Faced with two possible paths to travel, I'm given an option to use one of the disciplines I selected -- Sixth Sense! I use it and learn that both paths will bring me into contact with enemy patrols.

I can either go south through the undergrowth, or travel northeast (which has heavier foliage). Time to refer to the map. If I go south, I'll have to find a way to cross the river; if I go northeast, I'll probably get to the road, perhaps find some transport, and cross the river easier at the bridge -- but I'll technically be going away from my goal for a while.

So... south or northeast?

Real Life Chronicles: Fevers, Children and Work

It was tough finishing the first Kitchen Sink Expeditions set, because a combination of a feverish child and sudden complications at work on top of some sideline projects ate into my time.

Thankfully my child is now fever free (though having difficulty understanding that fireworks displays don't happen every day), allowing me to focus on burgeoning work problems and slipping deadlines.

My next posts will likely be short ones.

Like this one.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Kitchen Sink Expeditions: Lightspeed -- Part IV

In this brief exploration of the Lightspeed RPG, I've taken a look at the broad strokes of the setting, picked at the major elements, and showed some of the little cameos and campaign options available to players and GMs.

So to wrap things up, I decided to list some campaign premises (a.k.a. the more popular term now, campaign frameworks) that can be run in the setting.

Default Campaigns

The three major default campaigns come from the major powers / political factions of the galaxy.

The most straightforward of the three is the Pan-Solar Empire. This is essentially a no-Jedi Rebel Alliance campaign just waiting to be run. The fact that it isn't Star Wars means that you don't have to deal with fans waving books of Star Wars canon in your face every time you bring out a different kind of stormtrooper that wasn't in the movies or books. Plus, you get to do a lot of "wahoo" type adventuring on seedy planets on the fringes of Imperial power, and some tense infiltration work against well-funded, jackbooted military types on fully armed and operations battlestations -- because the RPG does have vehicle and space combat rules taken from Fuzion.

Almost as straightforward is the Interstellar Federation. While it is essentially Star Trek, there is some variance in terms of power levels here. You can ratchet them up to Next Generation levels, or bring them down to Original Series levels, but the implication is that the might and technology of the Empire should be capable of giving them a run for their money.

Federation campaigns can either be the classic ship-based Star Trek set-up, with a crew and semi-disposable away teams sent to explore the frontier of the Federation (or perform diplomatic missions of import for the Federation even while under this exploratory edict, go figure), or can be patterned after the excellent StarFleet Universe product Prime Directive, which posits an away team based campaign (renamed Prime Teams) with specific protocols on how to deal with hostile targets, first contact, etc.

However, with the existence of the various arms of the AstroPol, a Federation-empowered law enforcement organizations, you can also run planet-, system-, or Federation-wide campaigns that deal with crimes committed against Federation citizenry. As AstroPol Agents you can hunt down high-level criminals in the riches systems in the Galaxy, while as AstroPol Rangers you can keep the peace on the frontier.

Now it's not explicitly stated, but based on the original source material both these settings are fairly optimistic -- there's a prevailing belief that despite difficulties (and insurmountable obstacles) good will eventually triumph over evil.

That's not necessarily true in the Old Earth Empire, which has a dystopian feel tinged with cyberpunk ethos. Blade Runner could have happened here, alongside Alien and Aliens, and Predator. Campaigns with cynical heroes struggling to survive in systems dominated by mega-corporations.

Strange Brews

Those aren't the only possible campaigns, of course. You can have mixes between the mini-settings -- with Interstellar Federation spies going deep into the Pan-Solar Empire to aid the Rebellion with new technology -- cutting edge mecha. You can have Old Earth Empire mercenaries squaring off against criminals with slightly more superior technology from the Interstellar Federation. You can even have a Pan-Solar Empire battlegroup fall through a wormhole into the mysterious Centaurus Quadrant and have to battle their way past strange aliens and mysterious megastructures back to their home sector to suspicious superiors.

Lightspeed has a good mix of SF-inspired settings kluged together without necessarily losing the cores of each, allowing riffs and homages in a holistic setting. You may occasionally wonder how the entire socio-economic-political structure holds together, but there's enough space -- lacuna -- for the GM to come up with whatever rationale he can and the just run his campaign in whatever sandbox he's built for himself in the overall setting.

Here's hoping that Lightspeed eventually finds new life with another system that's more well-supported than Fuzion.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Kitchen Sink Expeditions: Lightspeed -- Part III

Think Space Wars vs. Space Trek. That's the ticket, yeah...
As I mentioned in Part I, there were several iterations of Lightspeed that came out before the current version. In those versions, there were some expansions and supplements that eventually got folded into the final Core Book of Lightspeed you see today. Some stayed in, some didn't make it, but all can give you a feel for the original dimensions of this particular Kitchen Sink Setting.


One of these expansions tackled ESPERs (known as wielders of Psionics and Mental Abilities and Super Powers in other settings).

Inspired, no doubt, by anime shows like Cosmo Police Justy and Dragon Ball, this aspect of the setting posited that high-powered ESPERs existed in the universe. Now don't think Counselor Troi of Star Trek or even the uplifted Telepaths of B5 -- think Goku and his friends, deputized by the AstroPol going out to fight other similarly powered villains.

Any GM worth his salt is going to sense that such a setting element would raise terrible questions in terms of the viability of SF setting plausibility, unless a Legion of Super-Heroes vibe is evoked. So that would mean ditching this particular aspect of the setting, unless the PCs themselves were all ESPERs of that class.

However, I did feel that the complete removal eliminated the potential PSI Judge, Jedi, PsiCorps, Mentat, or Lensman element to the series and wish it could be brought back somehow.


There's no shortage of races in Lightspeed, and there's certainly enough space to add your own in. Some of them come across as homages to certain well-known SF properties, while others take on a more archetypal feel:
  • Argesians: smart, great with technology, pacifistic. Star Trek Vulcans with a dash of the Known Universe Puppeteers.
  • Heshans: a race of ascetics who believe in non-violence, they do have the potential to ignite into a Battle Rage. Star Trek Vulcans crossed with Dragon Ball Z Saiyans (without the planet destroying power levels)
  • Hunters: xenophobic race that uses cloaking devices and prefers hand to hand weaponry when hunting all other races. Predators with the numbers filed off.
  • Krung: a tall, swarthy warrior race. Klingons, man.
  • Mronians: cat-people from outerspace. Chanur, anyone?
  • Nerfel: short, furry mammalian species that is very cute. Ewoks.
  • Yuzri: tall, furry bestial humanoids. Wookies.
  • Saure: an alien species that tends to hibernate in deep space until they encounter another races, then they awaken, hunt, and breed. Hated by the Hunters. Aliens (vs. Predators) to be sure.
  • The Robot Nexus: Think the Borg mixed with the AI Virus of Traveller.

Lightspeed has a lot of ship designs in their art, and even released a supplement on ships of the galaxy. Now while the ships of the Pan-Solar Empire have a distinctive Star Wars feel in the art, the Interstellar Federation doesn't seem to be quite as a Star Trek inspired. If I ran the campaign, I'd definitely make their ships more Trek-ish so contrast with the Empire, and (in my own opinion) the more Babylon 5 meets Firefly feel of the Old Earth Empire ships.

And I think that you'd have to hammer out the balances between the ship designs to make sure that questions wouldn't arise like: why doesn't the Federation wipe out the Empire in one afternoon and then warp back for tea?

To be fair, the author may have balanced out the ship designs, but I never really delved deep enough to figure out if the various factions were an even match for one another despite differences in technological paths.

Up Next: Wrapping things Up