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

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kitchen Sink Expeditions: Lightspeed -- Part II

In Part I, we explored the background of Lightspeed and the broad strokes of the setting. In this Part, I hope to tackle the major elements of the setting, and show how they can be used as the homages that they are.

The Interstellar Federation

This is clearly the Star Trek Federation equivalent, but its origins lie in an alliance of colonies that threw off the yoke of Old Earth Empire exploitation. It is governed as an interstellar republic with almost 1000 Member Worlds, 10,000 Associate Worlds and over 15,000 Colonies and is protected by military and civilian forces known as StarForce and AstroPol respectively.

AstroPol is a star-spanning law enforcement agency, with many different arms to help create many different law enforcement campaign frames. There are the equivelent of Police Departments, Rangers for the borders, and Agents that are the equivalent of FBI/CIA operatives working of the good of the Federation.

StarForce is clearly a StarFleet equivalent, and the military structure and several other existents certainly do little to dispel that notion. The main difference is that StarForce is primarily concerned with defending against the machinations of the Pan-Solar Empire. Therefore, while there can be equivalents of Klingons, Romulans, and the Borg, the primary border of concerns is likely to be the one shared with the Empire.

Basing your campaign in the Interstellar Federation give you a chance to adventure in a stable, progressive space republic. It's not a utopia as the presence of AstroPol and StarForce makes clear, but it is perhaps, a society that believes that such a utopia is possible, despite the difficulties and opposition of rivals in the cold blackness of space.

Speaking of rivals...

The Pan-Solar Empire

The Emperor has a fondness for these insect
inspired designs.
This is the Star Wars equivalent, also originally part of the Old Earth Empire diaspora. The Emperor, a former general, staged a military coup in his quadrant and became the ruler of his corner of the galaxy. Since then, he has subjected himself to many life extension treatments and looks forward to eternal rule.

Opposing him are the Anti-Imperial Rebels -- outnumbered and outgunned at every turn, they fight valiantly to throw off the yoke of Imperial rule. Using guerilla tactics, old colonial spacecraft and secret bases, these Rebels manage to push forward in their efforts through covert financial and supply support from three main sources: aristocratic families that went into hiding after the Emperor came into power, the Interstellar Federation, and friendly Old Earth Empire factions.

There is a distinct lack of a Jedi equivalent in the setting -- which would actually work out well given the tendency of everyone and his mother wanting to play the supposedly extinct Jedi in a Rebellion Era Star Wars setting. There is also no Force in the setting, but older iterations of the Lightspeed may have a solution for that: ESPERs (which will be tackled in Part III).

Without ESPERs, however, the Rebellion will have to find other sources of technology and resources, and those may be found in the troubled birthplace of humanity...

The Old Earth Empires

The Corporation won't be happy about this...
So what is the point of the Old Earth Empires? This part of the setting is meant to capture different versions of a space-based future.

Most visible is the MegaCorporation-dominant vision, as reflected in Blade Runner (and revisited in Anime like Bubblegum Crisis), and the Alien / Aliens series of films. Cyberpunk campaigns and gritty space dramas can unfold in this corner of the galaxy, with protagonists eking out whatever small amount of happiness they can.

However, the MegaCorporations aren't necessarily the only game in town. Countries other than the U.S. have managed to retain their sovereignity and are reaching for the stars themselves. Japan's Space Defense Force, inspired by the Interstellar Federation, is an example of this; other countries in the world have managed to maintain and grow their interstellar holdings. In this setting, the European Union is a sad shadow of its former self, as most of its interstellar holdings were lost to the Pan-Solar Empire centuries ago.

Next Up: notable inclusions and possible additions

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Kitchen Sink Expeditions: Lightspeed -- Part I

Looking for a Science Fiction setting that is a mix of Star Wars, Star Trek, and other SF properties with a little Anime thrown into the mix? Look no further than the Lightspeed RPG by Christian Conkle.


I first encountered Lightspeed back in the days when Fuzion was a still a thriving RPG system, and the first iterations of the game and setting were available for free on the internet. Even in those days, the intent to create a kitchen sink setting was not only apparent, it was stated as a goal by the author:

"If elements of Lightspeed seem familiar, that is intentional. Lightspeed attempts to be all inclusive, drawing inspiration from many Science Fiction films and novels and putting them together into a coherent whole. The purpose of this is to make Lightspeed as generic as possible, allowing players and gamemasters to set their characters and stories against any backdrop they desire. Within you’ll find elements of Star Trek, Star Wars, Aliens, Bladerunner, XFiles, Predator, Japanese Anime, Cyberpunk fiction, Lovecraftian fiction, and other Science Fiction games."

Broad Strokes

Intent is one thing, but how was the execution? To understand the broad strokes of the setting, it's best to take a look at the map of the Galaxy and how it was broken up -- it gives out the clearest visual idea of the approach taken with the setting.

Major elements of the setting include the Interstellar Federation with the StarForce Officers and the Federation Rangers; the PanSolar Empire ruled by the Emperor; and the remnants of the Old Earth Empires, filled with powerful mega-corporations and nations locked in cold and hot wars.

Next Up: A closer look at the major elements of the setting.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kitchen Sink Expeditions: The Lineup

I'm going to try to do a regular series of posts (again), that require mostly reading and critique instead of coming up with stuff. The series will be called Kitchen Sink Expeditions, and has nothing to do with Kitchen Sink press or any other entity or organization with the phrase Kitchen Sink in it.

Anyway, having already mentioned several RPGs and settings that I've noted are kitchen sink settings -- settings that have sufficient depth and breadth, along with pretty hard to miss homages, to handle a variety of genres, subgenres, and characters/gear/organizations from many sources in the course of play -- I think that I should alternate coverage between the already mentioned and the unmentioned.

My current planned listing is as follows:
  • Lightspeed by Christian Conkle
  • Code: Black by BTRC
  • Fading Suns by Holistic Games (now under Redbrick)
  • RIFTS by Palladium
  • "The Hero Games Setting Timeline" or "I got your meta-meta-meta-plot right here" by Hero Games (Steve Long)
  • Astral Empires by Port Nova Media
  • D&D by some company named TSR
And we'll see where we go from there. As for what I'll be talking about: it'll primarily be things that interest me about the way each setting's "kitchen sinkiness" was handled. I seem drawn to settings that do this well, and so I'd like to figure out why through this exercise. Given that each one seems to be huge (by the very nature of kitchen sink settings), I can only tackle what interests me -- hoping to discover some reason as to why I enjoy them.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lone Wolf board game?

In my early gaming career, I didn't get to play or GM much. And so I relied on the Fighting Fantasy books and the Lone Wolf series of Gamebooks!

I'm carefully archiving the copies available at Project Aon, for laptop play. However, I did read from the blog that there's a Lone Wolf board game in the works.

Here's a quick look at the figurines:

Gary Chalk (original illustrator of the books) is involved in the game creation, and I think that dude with the winged helmet is meant to be Prince Pelathar -- charging to meet his fate against the lizard-like Gourgaz.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Inspiration: Jungle Zombies

With shows like The Walking Dead and movies like Shaun of the Dead, and the upcoming World War Z flick sure to fan the flames of zombie mania, an indie film concerning the same subject matter may seem like a rehash of the same subject matter.

However, this movie -- Di Ingon 'Nato -- seems to suggest otherwise.

Based on the trailer above (subtitled for people like me who don't speak Bisaya -- the local language spoken in Cebu in addition to Filipino and English) it seems to really showcase some of the inherent differences that a change in location -- particularly a non-first-world country -- will make to the basic zombie formula, such as:
  • lots of trees that block sight (some of which are mango trees -- Cebu has some of the sweetest mangoes in the world)
  • reliance on both science and syncretic beliefs (religion, superstition, and magic)
  • lack of a lot of modern conveniences (the lady in orange shown carrying a large corrugated metal pan with clothes in it is going to wash her clothes at the local water source)
  • roads that don't go straight, but follow the curvature of the land, resulting in many blind spots
  • communication issues (cellphone signals blocked by mountains, phone cables to expensive to roll out to the poor rural areas because of the lack of a paying user base)
  • and so on.

What will it inspire? Well, aside from an obvious Romero zombie-inspired campaign, perhaps a different look at how monstrous infestations might be handled in places that are familiar with the modern world but don't have access to all its conveniences.

As a quick aside, Di Ingon 'Nato is translated in the disseminated materials as meaning "Not Like Us". The connotations of the phrase, however include spirits, ghosts, and demons. In fact, some I've talked to actually think of it as a noun, rather than a phrase, used to indicate that there are inhuman things lurking in a given place.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On the Radar: Pelgrane Press's entry into OSR Westerns

This post by Pelgrane Press indicates that an RPG is in development called Owl Hoot Trail. It seems to be a Western RPG, but with an old school feel.

As stated in the post, there are several character classes that have some correlation to the classic D&D character classes:
  • the Lawman comes across as paladin-ish
  • the Scout seems ranger-y
  • the Scoundrel is theif-ish
  • the Gunslinger and the Ruffian are fighter-y
  • the Gadgeteer echoes the flash and the prepared / limited use nature of the wizards
  • the Mentalist takes on more the mental / illusionary abilities of the wizards and illusionists
  • the Preacher seems to be a cleric
  • the Shaman is more like a wizard tied to specific nature spirits, though I hesitate to call 'em druids.
I look forward to this release!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Shoulder Surfing: Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer's blog

Pointyman2000 has an ongoing series of posts on Fading Suns.

He's currently studying the rules and setting, and has some interesting insights. I'd like to see what he thinks about my old campaign given his sudden jump in knowledge of the game.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Some Games I'd Run

Following up my last post, here's a list of some of the games I'd be interested in running:

Fading Suns

No surprise there, I've posted a lot on the attraction of this kitchen sink setting.

It also allows me a fair amount of latitude in terms of the types of game sessions I can run, and gives me any number of excuses to take away high technology away from the players when I need to have the isolated, out of touch, and without any wonderful tech devices.

It also grants some rationale for a Science Fantasy campaign where swords and guns can be used.

D&D (of some kind)

Whether it's Labyrinth Lord (or one of the retro-clones), D&D 3E or one of the D20 spin-offs (like True20), or one of the neoclones like Castles & Crusades, I'd be up for running a short campaign of around 3 months or so.

It'd be one part exploration of dungeons, one part exploration of the world, and one part killing monsters. I wouldn't really take it too much in the direction of a city-based adventure, as my knowledge of medieval technology and life is somewhat challenged; I would do what I feel D&D excels at: helping players -- through their PCs -- explore the unknown, kill the nasty monsters that inhabit it, and claim the best of that dark wilderness (below or above ground) for their own.

Star Hero

I've not mentioned this at all, but I'm quite fond of Star Hero. I'd probably run a military-based campaign rather than a trader-oriented one. Missions, politics, espionage, and a heavy amount of combat. It's the kind of thing that I feel the Hero System excels in -- a set of flexible tactical options that can handle a wide variety of special effects.

Like the campaign that inspired it, I'd have players make two characters -- one for the ground forces and one for the space-based battles -- and let the discoveries and progress of the campaign unfold from those two vantage points.

For ship-to-ship combat, I might use the rules for Starmada: Admiralty Edition.

Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition / DC Adventures

Yeah, I know I'm expected to say Champions given my history with the Hero System. But the sad fact is that there aren't that many players who are willing to tinker with the system themselves and build new characters. Hence the Mutants & Masterminds ruleset which is similar enough to the rulesets most of them know (D20) and a lot of templated archetypes to get started quickly.

If there were some like-minded Hero players, I'd run Champions though.

Or give alternative supers rule systems like Icons or G-Core a try. I think BASH! is another system I'd take a look at, although the classics like Mayfair's DC Heroes and the TSR Marvel Super-Heroes RPG would also spark my interest.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Introspection: Gaming Preference Categories

I've been thinking about this a lot recently, spurred on by the many demands on my time and resources.

My current gaming preferences are broken up into two major categories: reading, GMing, and playing.

Lexx, for example, was a read or play setting. But I'd never
run a game in the setting -- I'd be worried about getting the
feel of the setting and the tone of the stories right.
Game Reading refers to the games that I get a kick out of reading.

It may be because the premise is intriguing or particularly difficult to realize in the realm of RPGs. It may be because the art and layout are impressive, or because the rules and/or the setting or the writing are fantastic. It may be because the reviews of gameplay are outstanding. I want to read it and see for myself -- but it's unlikely I'll GM or play it because I just don't have the time or the readily available game posse yet.

As you might imagine, this category has the broadest selection of products in it.

Game Playing refers to games that I want to play in.

I may be attracted by the premise, or the setting, or a new game mechanic. I may even be interested in seeing how people I know run the game or play in the game. I'll want to see how combat is handled, where the edges of the 'sandbox' are, where the rails of the 'railroad' are, and find out how the gameplay feels.

As an avid gamer, this category has a slightly less broad selection. For example, I'm no longer into the whole World of Darkness setting/system -- though I will pick up books and leaf through them out of curiosity -- so I'll usually give playing in a WOD or nWOD game a pass.

Game GMing refers to games that spark my imagination and desire to run a game (either out of the box or modified setting- / rules-wise).

The game premise is particularly important here -- what kind of adventures and experiences will the players go through, and are they interesting enough for me as a GM to go through the reading and prep time necessary in addition to running the game? The setting comes a close second, and a unique system will count for a one-shot try -- provided I can use that system for some other game I'll be running in the future.

This is the narrowest selection of games despite my apparent interest in a lot of the developments in the RPG industry. These days, the desire for experimentation --  wanting to try out a bunch of systems and settings -- is tempered by the reality that I just don't have that many people interested in trying them out, and even then my learning/prep/running time is limited.

For the young ones and the young once who do have the time, enjoy all the industry offerings while you can!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On All Saints' Day: The Arduin Saint

In my misspent youth, I used to play Arduin with a gaming group that also introduced me to the Hero System via Champions. One of the characters that I chose to play was a rotund Saint in the classic -- ahem, D&D-inspired -- RPG known as Arduin.

Playing a saint is a bit difficult because the character class never uses weapons, never dons armor, and never fights.

Rather than being easier pickings in the ridiculously monster-choked world of Arduin over the rest of the poor adventuring sods, the saint get natural protection -- a naturally increasing Armor Value (AV) as one progresses in level. The saint may also don armor or artifacts that increase AV, provided they are holy artifacts consecrated within the saint's religion.

In addition, the saint gets a plethora of unusual abilities that grow as the saint goes up in level, some of the more significant include:
  • an ever-increasing ability to pacify all those in the range of the saint's voice (pacification means that those affected will stop fighting);
  • immunity to undead- or demon/devil-inspired terror;
  • the ability to read magic automatically, and to speak in an ever-growing catalog of tongues;
  • an arsenal of senses and detect abilities: undead, evil, and poison, infravision, direction, and weather
  • at higher levels, the ability to walk on water, walls and sheer surfaces, and even phantasmal surfaces
  • at higher levels, the ability to exorcise by force of will alone -- first lesser demons, then later greater demons
  • at higher levels, increasing to eventual total immunity to undead paralysis, mesmerization, and life force drain
Cheesy ways out of the "no-fighting" rule include choosing a patron deity with war in its portfolio -- so I suppose "sword-saints" are a possibility. Furthermore, there can be evil saints for evil deities, with all the descriptions talking about 'good' substituted with evil.

As an aside, I remember having an ability to "hide like a saint" -- rendering my character effectively invisible after declaration so long as I did not attack (which I obviously wouldn't) or speak (which I might) -- but can no longer find it in the rules. Was it a house rule from my old group? I may never know.

Arduin was a funky place to adventure, but a fun one.