Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Downtime: The Messenger, The Minotaur, and the Floating Skull

This week sees a number of deadlines, including the completion of a story involving a messenger a minotaur, and a floating skull. I won't be able to post anything until after this week; sorry to all!

I do expect that as a result of this story, I'll have a lot to post on The Emerald Eye of Ekron, Ba'al, Hermes and Iris, and perhaps some things about labyrinths and libraries.

Till then!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Goodbye RedBrick, Hello FASA

RedBrick is closing up shop, according to this post on their messageboards (which may eventually go down in upcoming months, so I'll copy the post in its entirety):
RedBrick Retiring From Game Publishing

This is an open letter to the game community and to fans of RedBrick.

In a couple of months, RedBrick will be nine years old. We started in 2003 with the Earthdawn license, picking up Fading Suns in 2007, Blue Planet in 2008, and Demonworld in 2011. During this time, the number of people involved waxed and waned. Everyone was part-time (we still are), but we had dozens of talented people contributing in different ways to their favorite games at any one time.

The company was born by accident -- an email sent without my knowledge, in fact -- and it became an opportunity to work with emerging technologies, print-on-demand and e-publishing being key. RedBrick was an early supporter of DriveThruRPG (now OneBookShelf) and an early adopter of Lulu's POD services.

We suffered ups and downs, as all companies do. Some of those were decisions made by myself; others, through the vagaries of real life intervening on members of the RedBrick team. Personally, one life-changing event meant the company relocated from New Zealand to the United States, where it is based today.

But all things have their time. Different opportunities arise and we need to embrace them for what they are. In this case, RedBrick has served its purpose and now it is time for it to become something else.

At Gen Con Indy 2012, RedBrick shared a booth with FASA. There are several interviews on the Internet recorded at Gen Con that summarize the changes and plans going on at present. As is the way of things, there will no doubt be rumor and speculation and all the usual interplay that happens on the Internet. But the reasons for RedBrick's retirement from game publishing are actually very simple, and much of this is just timing:

Business: You could call this lessons learned about people and business. I've made both good decisions and (very) poor decisions; I've been both hands on and (very) uninvolved in how the business runs; I've made many friends along the way, and I've dropped the ball and lost some of those friends also. Overall, I think we had more wins than losses, but it's time for the old ways of doing business to change.

Personal: Part of the reason for setting up RedBrick was to involve my late son in the company (he was a gifted child, very social and intelligent, and crazy about gaming). This isn't going to happen and I need to move on and get some closure.

Opportunity: I was offered an opportunity to work with people far more experienced in this industry than I am. Such opportunities do not come up often, so the answer was yes. To that end, I have accepted a position as President of FASA Games, Inc., working with one of the original founders and owner of FASA Corporation. The upcoming effort and commitment required, however, means that I cannot run multiple game publishing businesses and a day job.

Timing: Well, this is always in the hands of fate. The opportunity came up earlier this year, but the pace of change required to implement it has meant a LOT of work in a very short time, especially with commitments to Gen Con already in hand. So we've had to roll with the punches a lot, sorry.

Here's a summary of what's happening with various game lines previously held by RedBrick:

Earthdawn, Demonworld: These licenses reverted back to FASA Corporation and have been subsequently picked up by FASA Games, Inc.
Fading Suns, Noble Armada, Blue Planet: These licenses reverted back to their licensors and have been subsequently picked up by FASA Games, Inc.

Any future plans that RedBrick had in place or announced are now void or being reviewed. While some RedBrick personnel are working for FASA, not everyone has come across. FASA will be running with Revised Editions of Earthdawn, Blue Planet, and Fading Suns. The Savage Worlds and Pathfinder game lines for Earthdawn are coming across, along with Demonworld. For the most part, it's status quo across the board. "Business as usual."

The RedBrick Forums and Online Store will remain in place, even after the FASA web presence becomes operational in the next month or so. During this transition period, RedBrick is happy to share resources with FASA -- we will sell FASA products on the RedBrick Shop, for instance. Until FASA is fully operational, we will make announcements for new products on the RedBrick web site. In this respect, no change is expected for a while. However, most, if not all, of the ebook products currently sold by RedBrick on OneBookShelf will be going away in the very near future. Many of these will not be coming back.

FASA will make their own announcements in due course, but with the cat out of the bag after Gen Con, it seemed appropriate to let people know what was happening with RedBrick. I do want to be very clear that the decisions to retire RedBrick and the transition to FASA are completely independent and unrelated to recent changes within RedBrick. I do admit, however, that the opportunity to work with FASA did change the timing of RedBrick's retirement, bringing it forward.

So what is happening to RedBrick after this transition is complete? Well, we'll still be around. Many years ago, I promised my late son that he and I would work on some books together. We talked about some ideas and it's time to start getting those down on paper and into print. RedBrick will become an imprint for fiction, no longer publishing games. And at a personal level, I'm hoping it will help achieve the aforementioned closure. "And so to bed."

Lastly, I want to thank the fans and developers who have supported RedBrick over the last nine years. It has been a truly exciting, scary, emotional, sometimes sad, but overall fun journey and everyone who has been a part of it should be proud of being part of the community. You are all a talented bunch and I'm proud that we have collectively been a part of the history of our hobby.

"And so we dim the lights and pour a glass of wine. It is a time for reflection, a time for change."

Thank you all very much.

Kind regards,

James Sutton
Managing Partner, RedBrick LLC

And FASA is stepping in to handle things, as presaged by the post I made last week on its (at the time of this writing) one page website.

But hold on, Mr. James Sutton is also apparently the new President & CEO of the reborn FASA, and was interviewed in this capacity on Roleplayers Chronicle. Choice quotes from this article include:
"RPC: What’s the difference between traditional Earthdawn and the conversions to Savage Worlds and Pathfinder?
JS: That’s a pretty good question. Really it’s just an opportunity to try and get Earthdawn out onto Savage Worlds and Pathfinder… to try and grow the game into a new audience, ideally will largely attract more people back to the core. People that play Pathfinder tend to play Pathfinder and people that play Savage Worlds tend to play Savage Worlds. The intent with Savage [Worlds] is our first foray into the Savage Worlds game. We’re going to be doing some things with Blue Planet and Fading Suns in time [for Savage Worlds] as well. It’s sort of translating the whole Earthdawn genre into the Savage Worlds rules. In the core you play adepts and in the Savage Worlds version you play adepts. Pathfinder is a little different. We took the approach that we didn’t want to upset the Pathfinder core anymore than we needed to. The Pathfinder products are more of a bolt-on to Pathfinder."

"RPC: Moving on to Fading Suns… What is different about this version and the last?
JS: We’ve put this out as a Revised Edition. We were going to be doing a Third Edition, but there were some politics involved with that which we can talk about some other time.

RPC: It’s a Revised Second Edition
JS: Right, Second Edition. A lot has changed. In the core rulebook itself, if you’re familiar with the Victory Point System…? What we’ve done with the Victory Point System is gotten rid of the “whiff” factor that was quite prevalent in Second Edition. It’s a lot simpler; one roll, divide by two, and that’s your number of Victory Points. Everything’s based on those successes, there’s not need to look up additional charts. Much, much simpler. Combat’s been streamlined. We’ve done away with the whole multiple-action “am I doing this, am I doing that”… with the penalties… So the combat system’s been completely overhauled."
RPC: I like the life path systems, but some of them seemed a little bulky.
JS: They were and they’ve been thinned down a bit. Skills have been trimmed down as well, there aren’t quite as many skills. The only area we’ve increased skills is combat, a bit ironic. There’s a couple more that have been added to round out combat a little better. But that’s because we’ve done away with the Second Edition rules of everyone can use this type of fighting action and now you need a fighting style, you actually need to be trained in it. The goal is… you get some core abilities and can add on to that with various stances that give you bonuses and penalties in certain situations. Someone who’s a pugilist can do good things when it comes to boxing, but when they’re outside that particular skill of competency, not quite so good. Psi, theurgy, again they’ve been streamlined and overhauled. We’ve done a lot of revisions with the actual abilities themselves, but they remain largely unchanged, depending upon how you approach it. Characteristics is a big one; we’ve done away with the whole passions thing. You now have spiritual characteristics; three body characteristics, three mind characteristics, and three spiritual characteristics.

RPC: And what do those do?
JS: They do something similar to what you used to get in Second Edition… you still have Wyrd, that’s its own characteristic, but now they allow you do things like Faith for example. If the Faith is strong in this one, then I have some specific abilities I can use my Faith characteristic on.

RPC: What was the motivation to do the separate Player’s Guide and Game Master’s Guide? Page count?
JS: Page count primarily. This [Fading Suns Player's Guide] is a 384-page book in small format, which is probably equivalent to a 320-page book in 8 1/2 by 11. There’s a lot of stuff in here, each chapter has been expanded hugely.

More interesting bits in the interview -- I recommend you read it there.

So there we go, FASA has returned with some old games and some newer games, with Sutton at the helm. Obviously a lot of passion and heartbreak for a lot of people, but life moves on -- hopefully for the better.

The Players Guides are out for Earthdawn, Blue Planet, and Fading Suns and apparently more products on the way. This may also be your last chance to get the RedBrick stuff online.

As for me, I'm not sure how I feel about this yet.

But life goes on.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Enigmundia: Spheres, Magical Fields, and Outsiders

In a gamer's life -- especially a young one playing D&D and seeing stats for a god in a D&D sourcebook -- there often comes a time when one chooses to measure one's self against these gods, perhaps even engage them in combat, perhaps even win.

This can be attributed to an improper appreciation of scale. After all, most game systems tend to a handle a relatively tight range of characteristics, and appeals to 'players just die' tend to smack of either killer DMing -- with players sometimes asking to see the written down stats.

But let's take a look at where players are coming from: the point of view the gods and outsiders are just really high level PCs (usually on a more or less linear progression of characteristics and spell abilities). The expect a chance against other PCs.

They don't see them as forces of nature -- which is what gods have been defined by some. If they did, they would treat them like that series of death saves some PC must make when trying to survive being crushed by the pressures of the deep, deep ocean while avoiding suffocation (hopefully with a magic item or a spell without a verbal component).

This is my rationale of such beings, as well as the various magical fields and disciplines, in Enigmundia -- a rationale that hopefully will help players understand what they're playing with when tackling gods and outsiders and other things that operate on a planetary and even universal scale.

This is the Magical Field of Enigmundia
Okay, it's actually a representation of the magnetic fields of the Earth, but it's my starting point. The reason that there are conflicting tales about Enigmundia's Hollow Earth is because the 'center' of the world actually a collection of spheres that roil and revolve and rotate inside Enigmundia's aetheric core.

What are in the spheres? Some are Ages, preserved spheres of magical reality that act as reservations for races, zoos for creatures, and prisons for gods, titans, demons, and other terrible creatures. Others are pure spheres of magical principle. Others are broken remnants of realities, dimensions, and universes, and perhaps a dead or dormant god or three. Despite their seemingly chaotic dance within the aetheric core, they have settled into a semi-regular pattern for certain intersections with the material plane, resulting in cities and worlds that intersect with Enigmundia on constant, daily, nightly, weekly, monthly, yearly cycles, or the occasional weird every 100 years.

Their movement and interaction has made possible the current, mostly stable set of magical laws that work on a relatively thin layer of the world's material and aetheric atmosphere that eventually shift and even get chaotic as you go further out. There are, of course, nodes of strange magic that wander here and there, and (very) occasional catastrophic changes in the overall magical field due to some inherent instability in the Dance of Ages, leading to (if lucky) the subtle changing of magical rules to (if unlucky) a rewriting of the rules of reality.

However, the existence of this field protects us from the outsiders, who -- try as they might -- cannot penetrate this powerful, chimeric, chaotic field of energy borne from the fierce interactions between powerful sources of reality bending Ages, spheres, and realities. They covet the fragile and bountiful world of Enigmundia, and seek to sear their influence on us as multiple suns would sear life from our world through multiple barrages of solar wind.

The gods of Enigmundia, are parts of this massive mechanism -- some more aware of their role in the grand defense of the world from outsiders, some its secret architects from long forgotten and rewritten eras and eons -- and they fragment their attentions to occasionally deal with the mortals of Enigmundia.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stars Without Number: Free RPG & Source Material

I've written about it Stars Without Number before, but I'd like to go back to it. Primarily because Sine Nomine (Kevin Crawford) has consistently cranked out quality adventures and sourcebooks that, despite their occasional brevity, blow you away with mineable material for your science fiction game.

And all this material is presented from the point of view of a Science Fiction sandbox game.

So what material can you get for free (we're talking PDF, of course) online?
Stars Without Number: Free Edition -- a retro science fiction role playing game influenced by the Old School Renaissance and partially inspired by the great fantasy role-playing game editions written by Tom Moldvay and Frank Mentzer. The contents are compatible with most old school clones and are designed to be easily imported to your own favorite gaming system. In addition to a complete pre-made stellar sector, Stars Without Number offers GMs and players the tools to create their own sandbox-style adventures in the far future.
Mandate Archive: Martial Arts -- From the scattered databases of the fallen Terran Mandate comes the second in a sequence of supplementary files for Stars Without Number, the free OSR retro-influenced game of science-fiction adventure. Sample this free file and learn how to add esoteric martial arts styles to your game and equip your PCs with the arts of the open hand.

Mandate Archive: Bruxelles-class Battlecruiser -- This free Mandate Archive gives you the details on the Bruxelles class of battlecruiser- its history, function, standard crew complements, and statistics for the free Stars Without Number role-playing game. A half-dozen plot seeds are also provided, each one revolving around this ancient engine of war. Finally, several examples of pretech ship weaponry are given with which to terrify the feeble heirs of the Mandate's lost glory.

Mandate Archive: Cabals of Hydra Sector -- This new Mandate Archive provides an overview of two of the sinister covert cabals that operate in the Hydra Sector, as detailed in the Stars Without Number core book. Snatch this free PDF up for your own campaign, or use them in conjunction with the new Darkness Visible campaign guidebook for espionage adventure.

The Gansu Loyalty Association serves as the fist of the brutal Great Exemplar of Gansu, his secret police among the stars. Its ruthless agents war as much amongst each other as against the hated offworlders, each striving to gain more control over the precious flow of offworld luxuries. When not at each others' throats, they gnaw at the pillars of their neighboring worlds. The Great Exemplar can be safe only when every other world is rendered into rubble, flame, and red chaos.

The Daedalus Group hides the grim secret of the AI master of the Mixcoac Shipyards. Faced with the certain destruction of his people at the bloody knives of the Burning Mirror Compact, the AI Daedalus has consented to the removal of the limiting brakes on his artificial reason. Now free, the light of brilliant creativity pours into the shipwright- along with the terrible glare of growing madness. Can the Daedalus Group hide this criminal sacrifice from an unsuspecting people until the AI can produce a war-winning weapon?

Mandate Archive: Bannerjee Construction Solutions -- From the scattered databases of the fallen Terran Mandate comes the first in a sequence of supplementary files for Stars Without Number, the OSR retro-influenced game of science-fiction adventure. Sample this free file and learn of the rough-and-tumble space stations of the far frontier worlds and the Bannerjee Construction Solutions that made them possible.

Mandate Archive: Red Sangha Mercenary Corps -- Heirs to a bloody nirvana, the Red Sangha mercenary corps has built a terrible name on their gene-cursed serenity and smiling ruthlessness. This free supplement to the free Stars Without Number sci-fi role playing game details the grim origins of this band of neo-Buddhist mercenaries along with their current resources and procedures. Additional details are provided for Red Sangha PCs, including a new background and training package, and information on the brutal, self-sacrificial Jivakan martial art of Upaya.

Mandate Archive: The Dust -- The Terran Mandate was forced to let the frontier worlds go when the expansion of the Second Wave sent too many colonists too far from the core's organs of control. The Directorate did not intend to make that mistake a second time. The Dust was their solution- a planet-wide mist of microscopic nanites, conduits for the unblinking gaze of the AI Maestros and their panopticon security state. Not a single core world escaped the basilisk glare of the Dust and its masters, until the madness of men and the cold resolve of the Maestros clashed in the last hours before the Scream destroyed them both. Now the Dust remains scattered throughout abandoned Mandate bases and derelict Fleet ships, watching for what never comes. Unsleeping AI security directors and mad explorers stand ready to seize control of this waiting storm, and as the nanofabs begin to groan to life after half a thousand years, the black streamers of Dust promise a new night without end. This supplement for the free Stars Without Number sci-fi role playing game details not only the insidious nature of the Dust, but also the exotic configurations of long-lost Mandate technology and the dangers of experimenting with their alien designs. New Mandate devices and weapons are included for your Stars Without Number game, all waiting to be found in long-lost Terran caches or aboard starships left derelict for five hundred years.

Mandate Archive: The Qotah -- From the scattered databases of the fallen Terran Mandate comes the next in a sequence of supplementary files for Stars Without Number, the free OSR retro-influenced game of science-fiction adventure. Sample this free file to discover the secrets of the Qotah, an alien race of merciless avian warriors bound by an ancient pledge.

The Qotah were conquerors once, and frontier worlds were peeled of their humans so that the world-flocks could grow. But the Mandate Fleet broke them and extracted the Vow of Red Feathers, the pledge of peace that has held all through the Silence. But now these jewel-plumed hunters grow impatient, and some speak of the vow's end. Is the frontier to face a furious sky once more?

Contained in this file, you'll find...
  • The history, physiology, and alien mindset of the Qotah.
  • The grim demands of the Kri and its check on their conquering ambitions.
  • Plot seeds and capsule NPCs for quick insertion into any sci-fi game.
  • Rules for Qotah PCs and guidelines on their play.
Mandate Archive: The Imago Dei -- Not every synthetic mind is bent on mankind's destruction. Some have a higher purpose, a nobler war to wage in the darkness between stars. Open this free supplement for the equally free Stars Without Number RPG to learn the truth about the enigmatic Imago Dei and their unending crusade to defend worlds ignorant of their very existence. As humanity is the image of God, so the Imago Dei is the shadow of His red right hand. Aside from their little-known history, you'll find specifications for their bleeding-edge ship hulls. Included are seven sample Imago Dei warships for your own campaign, whether found as derelict plunder, seized by fanatics, or threatening the PCs' homeworld with the guns of a heretical Shepherd Fleet!

Mandate Archive: Transhuman Tech -- This mini-supplement to the free Stars Without Number sci-fi role-playing game offers optional mechanics and guidelines for introducing some of the favorite tropes of transhuman science fiction into your campaign.
  • Swap your old body for something new with the guidelines for gengineered Hulls
  • Explore a post-scarcity world with the cornucopian wonders of matter compilers
  • Get guidelines on status-based economies and loot in a post-material world
  • Grow your own ideological zealots with guides to transhuman faction generation
All wrapped up with advice on building a transhuman campaign, tips for developing conflicts in a world without material need, and a convenient one-page player handout on the default Threshold Sector setting. Get it now to add some posthuman spice to your campaign!

On the Radar: Blue Planet... from FASA?

The Blue Planet Player's Guide is finally available on DriveThruRPG. But instead of finding it under the RedBrick banner, it's under FASA. In fact, at the time of this writing, it's the only FASA product listed under this particular publisher.

Completely ignoring the product write-up -- I'm a fan, I want it anyway -- I skip to the following information:
Blue Planet Player's Guide™
Revised Edition Core Rulebook
Published by FASA Games, Inc.
Format: 352 pages, ~6" x 9", B+W Interior

This core rulebook is for Players and Game Masters. For a complete Poseidon game experience, the GM will require a copy of the Blue Planet Game Master's Guide (due out in October 2012).

Blue Planet, Blue Planet Revised, and Blue Planet Player’s Guide are trademarks of Biohazard Games. Blue Planet Second Edition Edition material copyright © 2000–2012 Biohazard Games. FASA and the FASA logo are trademarks of FASA Corporation and are used under license. Published by FASA Games, Inc. under license from Biohazard Games — Made in the USA. Copyright © 2012 Biohazard Games. All rights reserved.
Okay, no mention whatsoever of RedBrick. I clearly missed something, somewhere.

Still, a quick look at a current post on the RedBrick forums has the following message:
Blue Planet Revised Player's Guide Available!

Following on from its release at Gen Con Indy 2012, the Revised Edition of the Blue Planet Player's Guide is now available in PDF format from the following online stores:

FASA's DriveThruRPG Shop
RedBrick's Online Shop

Well, I don't really know what's up here, so I'll dig a bit more. I'm happy the product's out, and I'm just curious as to what's going on with the ownership and publishing of the property.


According to the new FASA website at, uh... well:
Earthdawn is a registered trademark of FASA Corporation. 1879, FASA, and the FASA logo are trademarks of FASA Corporation. Demonworld is a trademark of FASA Corporation and its subsidiary Ral Partha Europe Ltd. Fading Suns and Noble Armada are trademarks of Holistic Design, Inc. Blue Planet is a trademark of Biohazard Games. Anachrocosm, Earthrise, Earthdusk, and Earthfall are trademarks of FASA Games, Inc. Used under license where applicable. Copyright © 2012 FASA Games, Inc. All rights reserved.
So there. Hm...

Friday, August 24, 2012

News about the New HARP (and a discount on the PDF)

I've been wondering about the HARP ruleset that suddenly shot up to the top 10 rankings of RPGNow and DriveThruRPG. It has the old new cover of the edition that I saw in the early 2000s, but what's inside?

Now, according to this news bit from Iron Crown Enterprises, we find out that there are indeed changes to the original 2003 and 2004 editions. Here's what the had to say:
  • The Professions have been rebalanced in terms of their professional abilities
  • Flat 50 Development Points is the default for calculating Development Points
  • Races have been better balanced in terms of stat bonuses, some racial abilities have been revised, and Humans now get Skill Flexibility (the ability to make a single skill in a NonFavored category Favored)
  • Blood Talents have been rebalanced in terms of Development Point cost
  • The Mandatory Subskills rule has been incorporated from HARP SF
  • Four new Influence skills have been added from HARP SF
  • New talents have been added from HARP SF and Development Point costs of existing Talents have been properly balanced
  • The use of Spell Adders and Power Point Adders has been clarified
  • Clarifications and improvements have been made to the rules for Light & Vision, Fighting Blind, Asphyxiation and Holding Breath, Drowning and Stat Loss
  • Life Points have been removed and the Stun rules made consistent with HARP SF
  • All of the spells have had their base costs and scaling options made consistent with the revised spell creation system (to be published in the enhanced College of Magics) and descriptions have been clarified in specific cases
  • Herb and poison prices have been rationalized
  • A new monster creation system has been used to rework the monster collection with some monsters being replaced with new creatures
  • Several magic items have had their effects adjusted
  • The guidance on customizing clerics and magic users has been revised to better fit with the rules given in the enhanced College of Magics and future envisaged sourcebooks.
  • The Language Table and associated rules have been made consistent with HARP SF
  • The “Non-Adventuring Professions” have been removed – these will return in in a future sourcebook in a form suitable for PCs 

Furthermore there's a discount code on the PDF provided, allowing you to get the PDF (for a limited time until September 15th, 2012) for only $5.

Sound like a good deal?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fading Suns 3E Character Sheet Available

A character sheet for the new Fading Suns RPG (3rd Edition) is available for download on the RedBrick website.

It has three pages for the Character Sheet, and one page for a ship.

Looks interesting (the changes are obvious to the Fading Suns faithful), but I'll be waiting for the actual Fading Suns Player's Guide (which some people have mentioned they purchased) for more detail before I comment.

What intrigues me? Well, the changes to the characteristics are intriguing, and the modifications to the progression for the VP successes seem easier keep in memory (if a shift from every 3 or every 2 seems easier to you, however marginal). The skill listings include new Natural Skills, and there's a fairly lengthy set of blank lines for learned languages -- does that mean most characters will have four or five of them?

Just counting the days...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Confederation Chronicles: An SF Campaign Premise -- Part 02

In our original campaign, there were several major players in the galaxy (a different one from the Milky Way), with the Confederation as the 'good guy' star nation, the Alliance as the 'bad guy' star nation, and the remnants of the recently shattered Second Vegan Empire acting as the 'collapsing star nation rife with intrigue, politics, and sources of recently liberated resources and technology'.

There was a horde of sentient machines on the other side of a wormhole that acted as the bogeyman for the campaign (its invasion was the one that shattered the empire by destroying the Second Vegan Homeworld), and was one of the few things that the Star Nations would, at that point in time, cooperate with one another one eradicating.

But what really mattered in the old campaign was the core premise: that of a civilian-led star nation served by one of the finest -- not necessarily largest or most powerful -- military organization in the galaxy.

And this was the core of the campaign premise: most of the PCs are members of military / quasi-military organization.


Since everyone was new to the setting, the military structure allowed for briefings, being sent on missions, meeting sentients from races or cultures different from the norm, and provided a fertile breeding ground for rumors from the campaigns that the veteran NPCs had been on.

There's a ready rationale for a team with members shifting in and out -- being reassigned, being dropped and finding yourself in a different group, ad hoc teams thrown together due to special circumstances, etc. Also, there's a very large potential pool, lots of equipment that can be assigned for one mission then taken away right after, etc.


Well, you can put a definite crimp in player agency. Even a quasi-military agency assumes that you take orders from a chain of command, gentle sentient, or you end up in the brig or kicked out (if you're lucky). A small band of profit-oriented adventurers, or a wild bunch of explorers probably wouldn't prosper in the closely monitored and reviewed military arm of the Confederation -- a star nation that's had its bad run-ins with military coup attempts in the past.

The Twist: Returning To Old Frontier

To soften the downside, we can take a page from shows like Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5, which seasoned their military tension with interstellar politics and intrigue, encounters with strange aliens and technologies, and occasionally dealt with having to source necessities for survival and protection from new providers when their original ones were cut off.

Yes, I'm advocating coming up with a setup where there's a traveling military outpost. This is something like a spike drive -- or something more powerful, heh heh -- capable space station (Babylon 5) with its own fleet of military and supply vessels (Battlestar Galactica) with a mandate to expand the borders of their star nation, or perhaps to return to the Terran Mandate worlds as part of an expedition to reignite the flame of the old worlds.

Instead of seeking out new life and new civilizations, they go back to the old one to find out what happened and perhaps to make us of ancient technologies that have yet to be re-unlocked for use in the newer era of Stars Without Number.

Additional Inspiration

Given the mix of possible stories, I'd throw in comic books like Alien Legion and maybe even the cyber-police manga Appleseed. On the Anime track, definitely Ghost in the Shell, with a bit of the powered-armor and mechs thrown in like AT Votoms, and the military elements of the Macross series and Gundam series (without the super-robot elements that creep in from time to time).

But only things that would add to the depth of the core premise; two many elements might confuse the core campaign. Of course, if an element were particularly awesome, I might bend the guidelines a bit.

"I got a little somethin' for ya, Borg Cube thingie. Say hello to my little -- Wave Motion Gun!"

Up next: fleshing out the premise a bit more with the goodies from Stars Without Number.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

LOTFP: Rolling Up Two Fighters - Choosing a Class

They may be bigger than us, but they only have wooden clubs
and furry loincloths! We can take 'em!
Fighter 01.

STR - 14 (+1)
INT - 12
WIS - 10
DEX - 10
CON - 13 (+1)
CHA - 12

Hit Points
Checking p.06, as a 1st level fighter, she gets 1d8 hp! I rolled a 4. With the CON bonus, that's a 5. Fortunately, there is a minimum number of hit points for a 1st level fighter as per p.20, so Fighter 01 starts of with 8 hp.

Attack Bonus
Also on p.20, it says that I get an attack bonus of +2 at 1st level. That's why she's a fighter, man.

Saving Throws
These are the values that I have to equal or beat on a d20 roll:
  • Paralyze [14]
  • Poison [12]
  • Breath Weapon [15]
  • Magical Device [13]
  • Magic [16]
It seems that the fighter is best at resisting or overcoming the effects of Poison, followed by resisting Magical Devices, then overcoming paralysis and petrification, then area effect breath weapon things, then magic!

Fighter 02

STR - 11
INT - 9
WIS - 11
DEX - 13 (+1)
CON -11
CHA - 8 (-1)

Hit Points

For her, I roll 1d8 and get a 3. Fighter 02 starts of with 8 hp as well.

Attack Bonus
Attack bonus of +2 at 1st level; check.

Saving Throws

Equal or beat on a d20 roll:
  • Paralyze [14]
  • Poison [12]
  • Breath Weapon [15]
  • Magical Device [13]
  • Magic [16]
Concise explanation of what each of these mean on p.21, which helps to further the 'rulings not rules' aspect of running this game.

I've peeked ahead, and know that fighters get some other goodies for their class as well -- like at least two combat options not open to most other classes -- so I'm getting a good feel for this character class.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

LOTFP: Rolling Up Two Fighters - Ability Scores

Never got around to building her as a fighter.
So, she'll be my inspiration for a randomly
generated fighter for now.
Here are the Ability Scores for the fighters that I rolled up, allowing the free swapping of the scores, as per the LOTFP rules:

Fighter 01

STR - 14 (+1)
INT - 12
WIS - 10
DEX - 10
CON - 13 (+1)
CHA - 12

So I went with the STR and CON combo, for a fighter who's stronger and tougher (slightly) than the average person. Luckily, all other stats are 'average' in terms of bonus/penalty ratings. In my mind, though, this one is a little bit more quick-witted and charming, due to the 12s in INT and CHA.

Fighter 02

STR - 11

INT - 9
WIS - 11
DEX - 13 (+1)
CON -11
CHA - 8 (-1)

This one, however, only has one bonus, which goes to DEX to aid in initiative and improvement of AC. I kept the STR, WIS, and CON at the upper ranges of 'average', and slapped this fighter into the lower range of 'average' for INT. This one is, however, not that developed in social skills and has a penalty in CHA. I'm hoping that the DEX choice helps this one live longer -- and then the natural bonuses to 'To Hit' will compensate as this one levels up.

We shall see. Next up, the full character sheet, sans equipment.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Confederation Chronicles: An SF Campaign Premise -- Part 01

My old gaming group used play a Star Hero campaign, which is the main influence for this idea -- coming up with a (mostly) plausible basic premise that allows for multiple types of adventures for an ongoing Science Fiction campaign. I'm hoping to recreate it with the toolkit and setting elements in Sine Nomine's excellent series of Stars Without Number RPG books.

But before you put together something big like this, it helps to list the goals for the premise.

Goals of the Campaign Premise:
  • Combat - no bones about it, we love combat. But because we do, just another combat scene isn't enough for us. We look for different challenges, different restrictions, different locales, different scenarios, and different stakes for every combat scene that's sprung on us. That pretty much makes a military aspect a must in the campaign.
  • Starship combat - related to combat, but a different experience altogether, we want the opportunity for ship-to-ship combat, whether we're talking capital ship combat or fighter ship combat or ships with boarding tactics or some mix of everything..
  • Strange New Worlds - the Star Trek influence of having a new race, a new planet, a new wrinkle in the setting exposed in almost every episode stuck with us as well. This suggests a rationale for constant travel in the setting.
  • Space Opera - inspired by Star Wars, the Lensman series, and elements of Babylon 5, we also looked for things like 'space knights', and 'fragments of a fallen star empire', and 'lost technologies', and 'god-like alien entities and artifacts' mixed up into the stories and adventures of our characters.
  • Cloaks, Daggers, and Senators - equal parts Babylon 5 and Alien Legion, we also like to have that feeling of politics and espionage and compromise and brinksmanship and betrayal. Most of the time, this is backstory for the hoops that the PCs go through, but on occasion they do get to impact the interstellar (and sometimes intergalactic) stage.
Of course, at the same time, I'd need to have a rationale that not only allows the players to portray a team of PCs that work together, but also has a rationale to (a) shift characters in and out; (b) introduce replacement characters; and (c) perhaps send in completely separate character teams connected to the same storyline.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

LOTFP: Professions and Lamentations

I'm going to start creating characters for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I may begin a PBEM campaign for it, set in one of the cities of the Kingdom of the Wheel.

What will I do with them? Well, they're technically going to be NPCs that could be hired by the PCs -- perhaps at the local Adventurer's Guild? Or maybe they're the heads of the expeditions that will be coming up. Or they're there to bolster the two to three people in my current PBEM when they tackle the Tower of the Stargazer. Or maybe they're there to act as surviving characters so little hooks concerning the background won't be lost -- haha, I've done this kind of thing before for the Call of Cthulhu Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign!

Interestingly enough, the adventure of the Tower of the Stargazer will contain more elements about the Kingdom of the Wheel history, the KeyLords, the Adamantine Court, and the Council of Saeculum -- if they survive.

So... I'll create two characters per class, give 'em short backstories, and see where that goes.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.22 -- Threats Old and New

While MANTIUS is off speaking to NICOMEDES—who informs him that the Blue Mage is no longer of their number and that Dumas has elected to remain at the Citadel with Alina, thereby obliging them to find a seventh mount—ARCTURUS unexpectedly communes with his shard in his mirror. BROTHER SUN asks a favor: for them to “go and ask the mount Inea what has happened” to his sister. Arc readily agrees, and ALECTO and VARIAN decide to keep him company on his errand.

The trio soon finds itself at the Hall of Warders, where, feeling a sense of trespass, Aly and Varian elect to remain in the foyer while Arc proceeds within. Upon his request, the mount INEA is called for, and soon revealed to be the Diamond Rose Vambrace Warder. Notwithstanding this, Arc/Brother Sun promptly attacks her, especially when she says that his sister “has been lost”. Arc barely manages to restrain the shard’s fury long enough to refrain from killing the warder before Varian and Aly rush in to distract Brother Sun and spirit Inea away, respectively. The Diamond Scarlet Gorget Warder HAEMON arrives soon afterward and manages to quell the shard, instructing the appalled Arc to return to quarters until summoned.

Soon enough, the Ninth’s warders are informed and the whole number called to a ‘fact finding meeting’, at which Varian discovers that his father is a mount (the Lucent Imperial) of the Thirteenth Number, and CATALINA and Mantius realize barely in time that direct communication between shards and mounts is strictly forbidden. With strategy based on this information and support from the Essence Lancer AMIA as well as Inea herself—who declines to press charges, seemingly from a reluctance to discuss what really has happened to Brother Sun’s sister—the party is able to garner a verdict of ‘non-event’ out of the invoked ‘hierarchy of three’ (non-event, trial, or censure). They emerge from the Hall of Warders to a relieved welcome from the First, Fourth, and Eighth Numbers. Mantius, DUMAS, and ALINA also manage to exchange significant glances, apparently indicating that all is well on the part of the paternal pair.

The matter thankfully if not easily resolved, the party departs the Citadel on the following day for their stronghold, making a stop along the way to pick up the dog, CANIS VARAS, still on board their ship. There they discover that the dog has regained his ability to speak, following his successful defense of himself and the ship from three sharded attackers, the late Hex Elocutor (Specialis Tacticus, an artificer), Saint of Woods (Silva Beatus, a forester/rogue), and Coppertongue Nuncio (Nuncio Longinus, a summoner/bard), all of which are recovered from the bodies of the slain. Having possibly swallowed part of a shard—not to mention a good number of fish which he has learned to call to their doom—the dog somewhat shamefacedly rejoins the group.

Arriving at the stronghold Peerdin through the offices of THESSALY as Silk Envoy, the party is surprised to find a number of lords and ladies engaged in a casual game of croquet on a manicured lawn. Upon learning that the erstwhile rulers of Peerdin, LORD SALINICUS and his daughter JUDEA, have been expecting—albeit not in their lifetimes—to have to essentially abdicate in accordance with their agreement with the Army of Shards, the group hastens to reassure them that this will not be necessary, as long as room, board, and supplies are dependably made available for the party whenever they visit. This is agreed upon, and the Ninth are waiting for their chambers and dinner to be prepared when Aly is contacted by URICH of the Sixth Number.

Since she is wearing the Unconquered Warder, she is challenged to a duel, with the Renegade Warder or the mount Vindar as the prize demanded by each party.  Aly hot-temperedly agrees, and is saved from probable slaughter by the knife expert Urich only through the intervention of the Third’s TERENTIUS, whom the party calls upon for advice and adjudication, but who insists on challenging Urich himself in order to leave the latter incapable of battle. Terry accordingly does so, at evident cost to himself (and his hair), Urich’s loss to the Third and subsequent forfeit to the Ninth resulting in the repositioning of the Grieving Warder Porendus to the former number, and the Havoc Mage VINDAR to the latter.

Upon their return to Peerdin—not without much discord among themselves, an angry challenge issued by the Sixth’s LUCIA and declined by Aly, and the appearance of a frostweave gate (possibly heralding an intended attack from the Sixth) just as they are departing—the party receives a summons from the Citadel, announcing that leaves have been cut short and all numbers are to return immediately. They do so, arriving in good time to attend the reintroduction of the mysterious new Tenth Number (and for Varian and Terry to engage in a rather amusing case of mistaken identity).

To their concern if not quite surprise, they find that the new number, led by the Sapphire Helios Guard Warder of “another legion”, MAXILIUS, includes their old acquaintances ARIUS, GENARIUS, and the woman from the area of Brianna’s Palisade. Others are even more troubled, obviously, as, spearheaded by the First, all numbers save for the Sixth voice their official protest at the inclusion of this new Tenth, PATRICUS and his group even going so far as to refuse all missions for the month. Certain numbers also turn down the mission scrolls, while some choose to take only the unique missions assigned to them.

Keeping their information and opinions to themselves for the meantime, the Ninth accepts its scrolls and retreats once more to quarters, where Catalina as the Prodigious Scholar makes short work of interpreting the tasks laid before them.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Enigmundia: Lords of the Kingdom of the Wheel

Not to scale. Use at your own peril.
Further thoughts on megadungeons, the Kingdom of the Wheel, and a strange intersection with the God in the Machine campaign premise brought me to this:
  • The OverKing ruled over the Kingdom of the Wheel
  • Portions of the Kingdom of the Wheel were ruled by the KeyLords. The KeyLords were masters of the arcs, tangents, secants and chords. They were also wielders of the Keys -- strange magical wands, rods, and staves resembling oversized tuning forks that hummed with strange eldritch energies

Then came the war with Discord.
  • It shattered the Kingdom of the Wheel, sundered hubs from spokes, splintered arcs, shredded important segments of the architecture of the Grand Wheel.
  • It fractured the unity of the Council of Sleep. A maddened handful of KeyLords wished to awaken the Keys before their time and were punished and banished from the Hub.
  • It scattered and isolated the Congress of KeyLords across the broken remnants of the Grand Wheel.

Ultimately, the Kingdom of the Wheel was broken and the Core of the Wheel, the seat of the OverKing's power was lost.

Those who know of its history struggle to unearth its ancient secrets. Ancient allies and enemies struggle to recover artifacts from this plane-spanning civilization.

But it is rumored that a few surviving KeyLords are quietly gathering the lost Keys. But to what end?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Menagerie of Megadungeons

I've been trying to get back to the concept of the Kingdom of the Wheel from my older posts -- the idea of well-known megadungeons, with regular parties of adventurers mapping segments of it, sharing it with several rival mapping guilds, contributing to a dungeoneering town or city that has sprung up around the economy of adventurers and their quirks.

To that end, I encountered a new resource -- -- which only started up this year. I also rediscovered a post from Blood of Prokopius about a solo game called How To Host A Dungeon which, sadly, seems to only be available in PDF form to those of us living outside of the Americas.

I've also been eyeing Doomed Slayers by Jurgen Hubert for a neat take on the culture of adventurers -- one that may not necessarily be adopted country-wide, but certainly take effect in the areas near these megadungeons.

I've also been looking at my old purchased megadungeon material... not sure where I'm going with this yet, but there's interest, and I'm hoping that going through this stuff will trigger something.

There are certainly products that have come out in the past about cities with megadungeons beneath them -- Undermountain is one. In fact, in the heyday of the D20 craze, there was a 'dungeonworld' type supplement. In the OSR realm, there was the completed 'Greyhawk' levels and various experiments in megadungeon design and construction. And let's not forget those fabulous web-based geomorphs online.

So what is it? What are you trying to tell me, brain?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Expect Fading Suns at GenCon 2012

According to a post on their site, RedBrick will be coming out with their much-awaited Fading Suns Player's Guide at GenCon 2012.
The Fading Suns Player's Guide (Revised Edition) will be released at Gen Con Indy 2012 and is available only from the RedBrick/FASA booth #1935. Holistic Design Inc. will also have limited quantities of the Player's Guide for sale at Dragon*Con 2012, in Atlanta, GA. The book is perfect-bound, 6.125x9.125", 384 pages, b+w interior, MSRP$34.99. A PDF version will be available for purchase soon from OneBookShelf (details to come). Trade print and distribution to come after Gen Con (details to come).

The Table of Contents for the book is also available at their site. It gives us a general sense of the depth and breadth of coverage of this book -- important, because we are also expecting the Game Master's Guide to come out after this -- however, they have also shared other bits of news regarding what we can expect:
The universe is still the same as described in Fading Suns Second Edition, but the timeline has advanced to the year 5002. Emperor Alexius has steadily worked to increase the strength of the Phoenix Empire. Minor houses are beginning to play a more important role, both as puppets of the Royal houses and as strong supporters of the Emperor. By placing sons and daughters into the Order of the Phoenix as Questing Knights, the minor houses have been granted new access to land and titles.

The Victory Point System (VPS) has been modified to use Victory Points as both the number of successes and as a quality of success...

Body and Mind traits remain the same as in Fading Suns Second Edition, but there are new Spirit traits: Presence, Will, and Faith. These traits are not the opposed Spirit traits of Fading Suns Second Edition, but mirror the Body and Mind traits...

Skills have been streamlined and narrowed in focus. In some cases (such as combat) there are more skills, instead of relying only on a few skills to perform all combat actions...

Psychic powers are more flexible, as they can be modified by spending extra Wyrd before the power is used, or by spending Victory Points after the power is complete, to reduce the effect but make the duration longer. Theurgic powers are still static, but tend to have more powerful effects. Both Urge and Hubris remain as a counterbalance to using these abilities.

The combat system has been overhauled. Characters have a derived Initiative trait, and each combat turn add a d6 to it to determine their starting order. Combatants can choose different stances, based on whether they want to act aggressively, defensively, or balanced. Those characters that specialize in fighting styles have special stances available to them that can add to or improve the standard stances. Each turn in combat represents one action; multiple actions have been removed, though some actions may act like multiple actions, such as striking or shooting more than once, or drawing and shooting. Instead of dodging attacks, all characters have a Defense trait that represents their ability to avoid harm. The more attacks they face in a turn, the lower their Defense.

Armor and weapons remain the same as in Fading Suns Second Edition by having effect dice for armor or damage respectively...

For more information, check out the post. Now, we may have to wait a while for the actual PDFs to come up and pass judgement -- here's hoping it does reignite this property.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Earth 641: Future Posts

Earth 641 is my combined DC / Marvel Universe. Here are some of the things I've been thinking of expanding into full posts:
  • Skartaris and the Savage Land -- I have some ideas as to why they're really the same expanded location and how they're tied to the Sorcerer Supreme;
  • Skrulls, Green & White Martians, Dire Wraiths, and Durlans -- I wanted to unify, and yet differentiate these races, and try to rationalize why there aren't too many other shapeshifting races in the universe (and why these ones haven't been wiped out);
  • Metahuman demographics -- while it may seem that the comics world is packed to the gills with metahumans and mutants and aliens (especially New York), I'd like to see some numbers to sort of get a grip on the chances of continuously running into them. At the same time, I'd like to define how the subcategories of heroes and villains cross over -- Olympic level athletes, superspies, alien experiments, mutants, mutates, etc.
  • Major superhuman groups -- who are the guys who get their names in the papers and the various country watchlists? who have government sanction? who get U.N. sanction?
  • Magic -- seldom tackled, how do the mystically powered supers deal with other supers AND with the mystic sh*t community at large?
More as I put things to paper.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

20% off selected RPGNow products for Aug 2012

The Products

Now, rather than make everyone click on each link to find out what some of these things are, I decided to grab a paragraph from each that hopefully gives you some idea as to what it is, and whether or not you might wanna find out more.

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit [ Lamentations of the Flame Princess ]

In addition to details on Vornheim, adventure locations, and player commentary from the I Hit It With My Axe girls, every single surface below this jacket – including the back of the jacket, the book covers underneath, and the inside covers – has been crammed full of tools to help you build and run a city in a First, Second, Third, or Fourth Edition game.

The Agency [Realms Publishing]

Never to be considered an accurate portrayal of the period; this is a world where spies can be famous, where an umbrella is a deadly weapon, and where this message will self destruct… This is the world of The Agency; where groovy agents battle sinister supernatural forces.

A finalist for best RPG - Griffie Awards Conpulsion 2012.

Nominated for Best RPG - UK Games Expo Awards 2012
DCC #70: Jewels of the Carnifex [Goodman Games]

Set amid the sprawling decadence of Punjar, Jewels of the Carnifex offers low-level adventurers a chance to plumb the mysteries beneath the city’s soiled streets, explore forgotten crypts lavished with weird artifacts, and – for the quick and daring – claim the lost Jewels of the Carnifex!
Tailslap Issue 1 [Unicorn Rampant]
Tailslap is a new 4th edition magazine of articles detailing new characters, creatures, magic items, encounters, spells, powers, rituals, plot hooks, adventure seeds, playable classes, races, campaign settings and area descriptions for use in your games. We also like to mix in cool little details and intriguing features that will enrich your game world.
Claw/Claw/Bite Issue 18 [Unicorn Rampant]

Claw / Claw / Bite magazine proudly presents issue # 18, full to the brim with an exciting new campaign setting, new magical options for d20 and Pathfinder characters, articles about converting old AD&D; adventures for use with Pathfinder or 4e D&D;, new equipment for your d20 future game, a first glance at Gamma World, convention news, and of course two Ready-to-Roll Encounters for your 4e D&D; game. All in landscape format for easy online reading.
Second World Sourcebook [Second World Simulations]

The Second World Sourcebook bridges the gap between modern day adventuring and traditional fantasy roleplaying... what would happen if people from the modern world regularly trafficked with those in a more traditional fantasy world?

The Sourcebook supports both the d20 Modern Rules and the standard d20 rules and provides a complete set of genre and technology rules for customizing the way reality works in the two worlds, in alternate planes, or even in your own game world. Over 200 powers spread across 8 prestige classes (with an alternate, feat-based system)are detailed... It also includes a complete set of influence rules with over 30 organizations and 100 favors to request; this system provides a nifty method for adding crunch to the political aspect of a game. The Second World Sourcebook also provides a basic campaign setting designed to show off the full potential of genre jumping.
Lore of the Gods [DragonWing Games]

Lore of the Gods breaks down the Egyptian, Greek, Norse and Mesopotamian mythologies into gaming terms that will enhance your campaign and provide new elements to incorporate into your world. Familiar deities, monsters and heroes grace the interior of this tome. In addition, new artifacts, prestige classes, domains, spells, templates, skills, feats and forbidden lore await discovery. The power of Zeus, the wisdom of Odin, the knowledge of Thoth, and the evil malice of Lilith all reside inside these pages. Do you dare unlock the secrets of the gods?
The Malefactor Base Class [Total Party Kill Games]

Total Party Kill Games is proud to announce The Malefactor, a new class sourcebook for use with the Pathfinder RPG. 

Some children begin life cruelly afflicted. Frequently they are abandoned by their communities for being born under an inauspicious sign, or sacrificed to allay curses seemingly brought down by dark Gods. In reality, the birth of these unfortunates was attended by intangible chaos-spirits known as Yla (EE-la). While the Yla are not inherently evil, they are prone to destruction, and ignorant of the pain and misfortune that they cause those whom they bond with.

This sourcebook comes complete with a killer new class and abilities, archetypes, feats, favored class options and the complete stats for the iconic succubus spawned tiefling on the cover -- Talitha Shadowtongue.  Additionally, we have bundled the entire class and content in a self-extracting hero lab file for your use.  Enjoy!
Artists, Artisans, & Workers [Taurus Twelve]

37 New Feats For the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and more!

Bold Backgrounds Series by Taurus Twelve: Even a simple commoner can be full of surprises and put on the mantle of an adventurer! This book is full of new feats that can be used with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and are inspired by the lives of those of humble origins - in this case the artists, artisans, and workers - proving once and for all that even the underdogs are cunning, equipped with fangs and claws, and bold enough to become dogs of war or evolve into something even greater. The next adventurers eagerly await to be recruited: the humble ones definitely have what it takes to beat the odds!
The Code

Here is the Coupon Code for this month's 20% off the listed products: TooHot8450

The Code is live now and will be good through September 10th of this year. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Armchair Reviews: Yggdrasill Core Rulebook

The Yggdrasill RPG grabbed my interest for two reasons: the movie The Thirteenth Warrior and GAZ 7 -- The Northern Reaches.

Both opened my eyes to a very different culture that featured fearless warriors, swords, shields, armor, bloody colors, an deep and unfamiliar mythology (especially jarring due to my four-colored introduction to Norse mythology by Marvel Comics and the somewhat stat-filled counterpoint in Deities and Demigods), and a mix of dangerous, snow-covered, wild lands.

Here's my review:
Yggdrasill is a fantastic combination of sourcebook and RPG. While it does choose to portray a view of Scandia that is more inclined toward a setting fitting for fantasy heroics, it does so in such a way to remain true to the history, culture, and source material.

As a sourcebook, Yggdrasill is a treasure trove of material:
  • The chapter titled In the Shadow of Yggrdasill gives us a stunningly concise, yet evocative understanding of the Norse cosmology and its cults and rituals.
  • The chapter titled Scandia gives us a rundown of the setting's kingdoms, rulers, geography & environment, settlements, organization, and major players.
  • The chapter titled Daily Life gives a welcome idea about what the settlements and social hierarchy would be like in these kingdoms, driving home how the landscape, the environment, and the beliefs all play in shaping the people and its heroes and villains.
  • The chapter titled Archetypes, while ostensibly part of the game system, further gives us an insight into the type of people that would go out and involve themselves in adventures and heroics, and shares with us a different view on magic that the people of Scandia have.
  • The chapter of Magic is another eye-opener that builds on the Archetypes, explaining the three different types of magic (trance magic, incantation magic, and sacred writings) and how humans and the spirits and gods themselves use them.
Along the way, it also torpedoes several myths and misconceptions about: the term 'viking', horned helmets, drinking from human skulls, and the term 'drakkar'.

As an RPG, Yggdrasill provides not only rules on character creation, task resolution, combat, magic, and dealing with the runes of your fate, it also provides a mini-campaign that establishes the kind of epic adventure stories that the game is geared toward telling: dangers of travel, dangers of the wild, the price of fulfilling (or trying to escape) one's fate, magic and the gods, politics, and infighting among the jarls of Scandia.

I highly recommend this RPG if you've a penchant for a different type of fantasy role-playing in mind, or have always wanted a stab at adventuring in heroic Norse waters.

It reminded me of a Norse version of Sengoku, and gave me insights into how an RPG for a Filipino RPG might be put together (particularly a pre-colonial setting with warring and allied kingdoms scattered across an archipelago whose islands have treacherous and unconquered interior lands).

I particularly enjoyed little bits of telling detail like the three different types of souls each person had, the differentiations between the types of berserkers, and the varying methods of magic that were available to the gifted (or cursed).

Friday, August 3, 2012

Campaign Premise: The God in the Machine

If you've ever encountered the TV series Doctor Who, you'd know that his adventuring party -- sorry -- companions don't always get out alive. Which makes the Doctor, or something like him, perfect as a campaign premise.

The Doctor is very much a deus ex machina, armed with two other deus ex machinas. Not only is he 'the last TimeLord' with powers and abilities sometimes limited, sometimes vastly beyond those of mortal ken -- he also has a T.A.R.D.I.S. (a sentient, timetraveling, multidimensional device that can shapeshift but is frozen into the form of a police call box), and a sonic screwdriver (you read that right). He is brilliant, fallible, unpredictable, and capable of terrifying reversals of fortune -- which his opponents have found out, much to their dismay.

From a campaign perspective, he provides some much needed continuity (if not direction) for games where a Total Party Kill can occur from time to time. He also allows characters to gracefully retire (with an option to return in some future incarnation), and allows for new characters to join the story.

If we were to use The Doctor as a template, perhaps for a Mystara campaign, we'd want to retain certain key elements to the nature of the character:
  • brilliant, arrogant, always knows best, fallible, dangerous, merciful, feared by many, loved by a few, with an annoying tendency of not always wanting to explain what his plans are until they've succeeded or gone horribly wrong;
  • has lived a long time; has forgotten more than you'll ever know; has encountered more things than you ever will;
  • has a device that can travel in time and space, but isn't the smoothest or most reliable of rides (and the Neil Gaiman-penned episode gives a suggestion as to why);
  • a keeper of secrets -- dangerous ones, many best left buried;
  • assumes, sometimes incorrectly, that all his companions are as capable as he assesses them to be;
  • likes to travel;
  • plays favorites;
  • has a different sense of morality from the rest of his kind;
  • has a fluid personality and skill set from regeneration to regeneration;
  • occasionally teams up with past and future incarnations of himself.
Okay, maybe that last one wouldn't be so spectacular in a campaign. However, the rest of it does give us a way to hop around Mystara's many places and time periods and generally mess with the fun locales, meet the movers and shakers of the world, elevate the lowly and humble the mighty, and right a few wrongs along the way.

How would I introduce him? Well, I'd start off with a riff on either X2 -- Castle Amber (Chateau d'Amberville) or the first adventure in the Wrath of the Immortals campaign. An imprisoned man with strange powers that seem to confound and defy known principles of nature and magic -- he'd either tag along or constantly 'bump into' the members of the party that he likes, gains their trust, sends them off on missions, sometimes accompanies them...

... actually, Wrath of the Immortals is an excellent jumping off point, since there is a part of the ending wherein beings more powerful than the Immortals appear and set metaphysical things right (not necessarily all the countries decimated, lives lost, etc.) which is a nice echo to Gallifrey and the TimeLords and the Time War and the Daleks and Rassilon and the Hand of Omega and the Nightmare Child...

A campaign like this would mean that the PCs are major players of a sort. They can change the fate of the entire timeline, regardless of character class or level, by being in the right place at the right time. By helping steal a weapon or destroy an artifact, by helping a dynasty rise to power or by helping avert a catastrophe, by sending key individuals down the right paths or by becoming beings of immense power and influence themselves.

They could go anywhere -- to countries present and past, to the Hollow World or to one of the moons, to hidden dungeons in the depths of the earth or to floating fortresses in the skies, and to all the known and unknown dimensions.

Furthermore, adventure can find them. The Doctor has had his enemies and friends leave messages and traps and gifts for him in the strangest of places -- why not our analogue in Mystara?

Another thing: if there is indeed a time war being waged between our Doctor and some other Uber-Immortal, it allows for certain things to be changed from the last time you visited either Alfheim or Darokin or Alphatia or the Empire of the Ghouls or the Shires of Yluaram. What do you mean? You've never heard of the Shires of Yluaram?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Kickstarter: Narosia -- Sea of Tears

Well, it looks like there's a new fantasy setting on Kickstarter. Powered by the Hero System. Check out the pitch on Kickstarter; and then the page with some preview material on the Legendsmiths site.

I am curious about it, since I am a Hero System fan. Especially since, in contrast to the traditional approach with the Hero System rules, all the rules will be included the RPG -- while allowing customization with the larger family of Hero System rules.

In the design philosophy, they even say:
The key design goal of Narosia is to provide a fantasy setting that is both familiar and new. The familiarity is found in the common fantasy elements that have been a part of classic fantasy roleplaying for many years. This means many things to many people, but the goal is to take many of the tropes of fantasy gaming and put them into a context that is coherent and supports the existence of those tropes as part of the backstory and metaplot.

Adventurers are a lauded professionals, dungeon crawling (including traps, greater challenges based on depth, etc.) is common source of adventure, magic has influence on the economy, and the gods walk the land. This is not the extent of Narosian gameplay, but illustrates the extent of the familiar.
  The involvement of Darren Watts and Kenneth Hite certainly caught my attention.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Game Names: Morgan Ironwolf

While Morgan Ironwolf may have been statted out at least twice, her actual personality and backstory are something of a mystery.

If we look at the names assigned to her on a meta level, we know that she was named after a well known mythical figure:
14. This player is female and decides that her character will also be female. Inspired by the name of Morgan le Fay from Arthurian legends, the player decides that the name of Morgan Ironwolf would be a good name for a fighter.

And I'm not the only one thinking that the Ironwolf might've been inspired by the Howard Chaykin comic character.

But what if we go beyond that surface level of naming and weave a bit more backstory into Morgan Ironwolf's past -- especially if we plan on making her a higher level NPC that the players run into?


According to Wikipedia, the name Morgan can mean "magnanimous", or by turns (based on the translation you wish to believe) "Great Queen" or "Phantom Queen" -- though both these names are derived assuming that you agree that Morgan is taken from the name Morrigan.

Morgan le Fay certainly does spring to mind, and we know that this mythical figure was originally fey or a fairy (and later tales made her a mortal spellcaster or enchantress). Interestingly, Morgan le Fay's first name is theorized to be drawn from the creatures known as the Morgens -- water spirits that drown men.

As a surname, Morgan is also affiliated with the sea, meaning "sea chief" or "sea defender".

In my mind, Morgan Ironwolf's background would imply some lineage of royalty or perhaps nobility of a sort (perhaps derived from a line of defenders on a border, or perhaps the daughter of a war chief from an island kingdom). That faint touch of magic -- water magic, sea magic, fey magic -- and the character's chosen profession of fighter and adventurer suggests that this one may have been named for some ties (suspected) to magic.

Clearly, however, she has turned her back on that path.


And perhaps this is a clue to that as well. Her surname (possibly an epithet) can be broken up into Iron and Wolf for inspiration.

Wolves are rife in myth and legends. Aside from the wolves that are central to the founding of cities and empires, and the numerous magical wolves and monsters tied to pantheons, wolves are also sometimes associated to witches and witchcraft.

With the presence of iron, a material traditionally positioned as a counter to magic and fey creatures, it could be argued that she is of a lineage or destiny that may:

a) found a city through the might of arms;
b) become a terror through near-magical skill with weaponry;
c) forge a path that unites her mystical path with the steel-based weaponry of the dawning era.

All this may depend on an individual's campaign, but certainly the seeds are there for using Morgan Ironwolf as a interesting plot hook for your D&D campaign.