Wednesday, October 31, 2012

DM Screens: Game Artifact of the Past?

The DM screen to the right is one of my old, and most used, DM screens. I used it for D&D BECMI, and used it for D&D 3.0 (by pasting the cheat sheets on the insides).

Nowadays, people tend to use laptops and tablets and the like for their tables and charts and whatnot, right? Searchable, zoomable, taking up less table space?

On the other hand, I liked a lot of these DM screens, especially things that had nice pics on the front, establishing the mood for the players.

Should there be a new boom of DM screens or something like them?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Armchair Review: MHRP Civil War - Fifty State Initiative

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying's Event Supplement, titled Civil War - Fifty State Initiative, is a pretty good expansion of the Civil War event, allowing players to sort of round out the corners of their own version of the Marvel Universe.


This book hold two main sections: The Event Supplement and the Datafiles.

In the Event Supplement, we get some idea of other elements of Marvel's Civil War that can be played out, including:

The Initiative

This tackles the drive to get a sanctioned super-hero team in every state, with details on
  • Camp Hammond: where newbie heroes go to train
  • two action scenes geared toward the Initiative
  • several sanctioned teams: The Great Lakes Champions, the Liberteens, Omega Flight, The Order, Psionex, The Rangers, and the Shadow Initiative.

While I'm okay with a lot of the content for rounding out knowledge of the event, the only elements that really grabbed me for play opportunities were the Action Scenes and the The Order. The former really sets up a good sort of mini-scenario, while The Order comes the closest to detailing -- much as the comic book did -- how a State-sanctioned team might be set up. And this is really what I was expecting from the book, perhaps unfairly: a way for the event to allow a group of player characters to become the de facto go-to government team for a state, and how it might be supported and monitored.

On the other hand, the book is better maximized (in my opinion) if the gaming group plays a rebel team and encounters one or more of these superteams in the course of their rebellion.

The Thunderbolts

As a change of pace mini-campaign, this has a pretty good setup. Villains get recruited into serving the government as sanctioned heroes (and with some nasty, some might say fatal, ways of being controlled by their handlers), and quickly learn that there are some villains already in charge.

It also plays well in an existing campaign as a set of tough opponents for a rebel superteam.

Heroes for Hire

If your players choose to play ball with the government, but retain some kind of autonomy, they can go the mercenary -- er, government contractor route of Heroes for Hire. Some nice datafiles and a rationale that puts the PCs in a sort of rivalry/conflict with superteams on both sides of the Civil War fence (essentially being tasked to actively hunt down and capture Anti-Registration supers.


These are always welcome (and you get a fair number of them in the prior section already), and in this case the standouts are the core membership of NextWave, the Thunderbolts, and Heroes for Hire.

All in all, I think that it wasn't as stellar in my mind as the other Event book. It comes across as a supplement to a supplement, and not a superstar in its own right, if that makes any sense. However, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Civil War - Fifty State Initiative does have some interesting counter-campaign options for a change of pace or different point of view for this mega-event, and is still a must-have for the die-hard Marvel enthusiast.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.25 -- The House of Mim

Following several revelatory introductory scenes, the party journeys to the House of Mim, agreeing to meet Mantius at Peerdin following this first mission. Despite their initial paucity of funds and the staggering cost of even staying at the gambling house, they manage to fulfill the objective of acquiring territory not just once, but thrice.

  • Through THESSALY’S inspiration as Fellmind for the group to bet simultaneously, the party manages to win over 1,650 chips altogether from the Skin Dancer in their first challenge.
  • VARIAN, in particular, charms the floor manager LILLIAN, leading to certain easements in their favor (not counting the really expensive teddy bear drinks) for the duration of their stay.
  • CATALINA keeps things fair through Unconquered Warder, enabling herself and Thess to eke out a win against the Master of Causality.
  • Gambling in between challenges, ARCTURUS manages to make respectable profit overall as well as the acquaintance of the octopus-like couple TAVENDER and TAVINDIR, who later make friends with the rest of the group and help fund their entry into the third challenge.
  • Through the now-heroic Dragon Fist (via the Dragon and Sacred Fists’ earlier revelation that all martials can be made heroes), ALECTO defeats the Lost Pilgrim in one move to his proposed four.
  • After tipping Lillian and treating their octopus friends to a round of drinks, the party takes amiable leave of the House of Mim and arrives to a cordial welcome at Peerdin.

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.24 -- Sister of the Sun

Despite various complications, the party is able to recover not only Sister Moon but an imperiled shard of the Emerald Legion, the Phantom Herald.

  • CATALINA discovers that there are no less that seven sisters of the sun, two at two different Castles Nimbus, one at the Tomb of Yishangang (sp?), one at the Shrine of Asha Iyaki, one destroyed, and two corrupted.
  • Through the Keeper of the Five Winds, VARIAN makes the acquaintance and compels the service of the local wind ENENI, as well as many of her “windlings”, including the Honorable Administrator CHENG.
  • ALECTO, Cat, and THESSALY recover the Phantom Herald from the body of its deceased mount Anar. Aly transforms into a dragon and Cat accepts the shard’s offer to join their number.
  • The men journey to the nearer Castle Nimbus, where ARCTURUS, as Brother Sun, makes short work of a horde of kappa just before LADY INVIDIOUS appears to decapitate MANTIUS, slash at Ian’s throat, and send VINDAR to report to the Army of Shards, sparing the latter two on the grounds that they are “beautiful boys”. Arc remains behind as Brother Sun engages Invidious in single combat.
  • Chasing after Vindar, who tries to command a local blue creature to attack Invidious, Ian contacts Cat to apprise her of the situation. Despite Vindar’s desperate desire to return to the battle, Cat orders the pair to recover Mantius’s body without engaging, and then to secure their extraction point, which they do.
  • Via one of Ian’s windlings, the women enter Castle Nimbus, where Cat and Thess’s Fellmind abilities allow them to move through the castle unmolested, notwithstanding a tense moment with the Esteemed Princess FURATO (and her five-shard necklace). With first the opposition and then the assistance (through Cat and Aly’s persuasion) of the Black Dragon Martial KENJIRO, they are able to free Sister Moon.
  • At Cat’s signal, Varian has his winds bring back the women as well as Arc, who has barely eluded finally being killed by Lady Invidious thanks to the enormous wooden creature controlled by Vindar, which stomps on Invidious just as she seems ready to overcome her reluctance to kill the mount instead of Brother Sun.
  • The party is prevented from leaving by the Wicker King. Upon their tendering the appropriate respect, however, he not only refrains from harming them, but summons both Invidious and the LORD OF THE WASTES (who seems to have some negative history with the Renegade Warder, which is fortunately offset by his apparent enmity toward Lady Invidious) to restore Mantius to life and health.
  • The group returns to the Citadel of the Warders, where they report to INEA and NIKOMEDES, in the process overhearing what may be an assignation of the latter’s. Mantius is ordered to Temple Mount for examination.

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.23 -- Family Business

When ALECTO realizes that Chaos’ Black Carnifex is in fact her eldest sister Tisiphone, CATALINA, as the Prodigious Scholar, discovers that ARCTURUS has been invaded by blue, which MANTIUS, NIKOMEDES, ORESTES, VASILIS, and TERENTIUS quickly gather to deal with, fortunately with success. At Arc’s request, the three original carnies later go to petition that the Diamond Rose Vambrace Warder INEA open the Brother Sun action Sister of the Moon for purchase at the bank, in response to which they are offered and accept a mission preceding those of the coming month, to rescue the Sister of the Sun.

  • Through Cat, the Prodigious Scholar looks over the Ninth’s shards, pronouncing the Grey Speaker and Winterheart Oracle as “possible”, while the Hex Elocutor, Saint of Woods, and Thornsmith Juggernaut are shunned.
  • The party members go on a buying and selling spree, during which the Hex Elocutor is sold and they encounter several members of the mysterious Fifth Number, most notably (to Cat) the Blade of the Fifth Point TOBIAS.
  • Cat learns certain words of power: “Adanos Goridus Vanaro” and “Kalinos Iaius”.
  • HAEMON delivers some mild admonitions to Arc and VARIAN, in particular implying that Brother Sun should be used in the Ninth’s first mission.
  • Aly and Cat meet Inea’s junior warder, ANANIAS, and through him, speak to Iason’s junior and possible child, VIRGAIA. They also learn that Ian’s father Auden is a trainer of some esteem, currently supervising the Thirteenth.
  • The party hears its first definite mention of the Ivory Legion, as well as the Emerald Legion, Lady Invidious, and Dantilus the Wicker King.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On the Radar: Doctor Who RPG and Sourcebooks

Looking to adventure in the universe of the Doctor? Hoping to spend some time on Gallifrey, or take in the sights on Skaro? Well, for those of you who haven't been keeping tabs, there is an official Doctor Who RPG out and available.

And in true Doctor Who fashion, it regenerated to keep up with the current incarnation.

Choose Your Doctor

If you prefer Tennant over Smith or visa versa, there's a Doctor Who RPG available for you:

Tenth Doctor version
Eleventh Doctor version
Of course, if you're a compleatist, you can always purchase the adventure packs for the Tenth and Eleventh doctors if you wish -- yes, they're different in each version -- or if the adventures don't matter to you so much, perhaps buy the Tenth Doctor version of the RPG and buy the Eleventh Doctor upgrade pack. Oh, wait, the upgrade pack's free!

Choose Humanity

Of course, you could choose instead to be a member of U.N.I.T. and battle all those strange things that keep invading Earth with neat technology, and not so much of the 'run, don't shoot' philosophy of the Doctor. You could also use it for a Torchwood campaign, since it doesn't look like they're coming out with one.

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for U.N.I.T., primarily in the person of the Brigadier and those doomed, brave, often nameless soldiers that keep getting mowed down like Star Trek redshirts.

Perhaps we can take a page from Dog Soldiers and X-COM and put together a proper counter-alien team. Too much killing for The Doctor, you say? Well, he isn't always around, you know.

Fight Nasties

Of course, you need your own set of (properly frightening) opponents. If the adventures weren't enough for you, you could certainly pick up the Monster Manual of this RPG -- Doctor Who: Aliens & Creatures. Want to tackle the Cybermen, or face off against the Weeping Angels? Then this is the book for you, you mad, doomed soul.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dark Corners of Mystara: Dwarves and the Hounds of Tindalos

Dark Corners of Mystara is my continuing set of twists and tweaks on the classic D&D setting.

Some of the dwarven clans of Mystara have a sacred duty: building caverns, mazes, and labyrinths according to sacred and infernal geometries to trap the scouting minions of the Outer Intelligences -- the Hounds of Tindalos.

They are known as the Modrigswerg. According to the vaults of Pandius:
The Modrigswerg are an ancient clan of dwarves exiled from Rockhome for pursuit of forbidden lore and traffic with dark powers. Only the gnomes are their peers as artificers, but the Modrigswerg are said to be cursed by the Darkness, condemned forever to suffer distrust, treachery, and madness.
Modrigswerg reside in underground warrens in the hills and mountains of the Northern Reaches. They are aloof and generally dislike visitors. They share their race's traditional conservative attitudes, they are loath to abandon ritual, and adopt new ways reluctantly. They are masters of traps and fiendish devices; the best work in this field is done by Modrigswerg craftsdwarves.
The tale of the exiling of the Modrigswerg clans always leaves out that it was a necessary and noble sacrifice, concocted by a council of clan heads, in order to keep creation safe from the Outer Intelligences. Their creations -- large and small -- are traps for the Hounds and other minion races sent to find and exploit entrances into our reality for their masters. Many of the works that adventurers encounter are, in truth, practice works, drafts, and experiments for their masterpieces -- designed to lure, trap, and kill these servitor races in elaborate underground cathedral-labyrinths.

These craftsdwarves skirt the madness of understanding the creatures and natures of the Outer Dark by hewing tightly to ritual, custom, and tradition. Any deviance from it is a sign of corruption, of succumbing to the taint of the Outer Dark, and is punishable by death.

There are rumors of a grand mega-dungeon in a dweomer-wrapped mountain where the Modrigswerg go to transform themselves into forever unchanging stone forms and stand forever as living batteries for their creations -- many of which are tied to their life forces to remain active.

These crafted items built to safeguard reality are built to last -- were it not for the chaotic, eroding, corrupting nature of the Outer Dark, they would have permanently safeguarded all of creation. But the Modrigswerg must wage an ever-escalating battle against their foes, and if the sentients of this reality must pay the price to unwittingly aid in this battle, then so be it.

In the LOTFP ruleset, the alignment of Modrigswerg dwarves are always Chaotic, due to their innate understanding of magics and how the magical planes and counter-planes arise from the interplay of surfaces between reality and the Outer Dark.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fate, Fortune, and the Adventurer

Both Doomed Slayers and the classic "shearing" rationale of Karameikos for adventurers kicked this idea off for me, but then it mingled with the concepts of Fate & Fortune and the moirae who represent them in mythology.

Fate may seem interchangeable with Fortune in the modern idiom, but I choose approach them in this way:
  • Fate represents the path in life that was fixed for every living and unliving thing in the world. It was the order that was proclaimed when the universe was ripped and formed from the fabric of what would eventually become chaos. It was a delicate dance of matter, energy, time, and thought -- that was corrupted by enemies from without and from within. Now it is a weight, a terrible gravity that pulls all things down to a fixed state and an eventual finite end.
  • Fortune resists Fate. It rages against the confines of fixed destinies and pre-ordained endings. It is the blur in the sight of seers, the gap between the readings of soothsayers, the spark in the eyes and hearts of heroes and villains across the world who struggle to change the world and themselves. Agents of Fortune -- Adventurers, Doomed Slayers, Delvers -- challenge their fates, risking a safe, predictable, and often boring end to their lives in the hopes of making things better for themselves and, perhaps, for society and the world at large.
In my Mystara, some who are Sheared gain employment in more regular jobs. Not all heed the call to Fortune and remain bound to Fate. Some choose to remain Sheared permanently and become known as the Severed and walk a path outside of Fate.

Luck -- good and ill -- dominates the most crucial moments of their lives. But this was something that they accepted or got used to early in their careers: when party members died right and left in an unforeseen encounter, when defeat befell their greatest leaders in the face of almost-certain victory, when inexplicable fumbles plagued even the surest of strikes. And they accept it, because when up against implacable foes, the same rules bedevil them as well.

With this slightly different take on Doomed Slayers, most of the recommended rules and culture can certainly be incorporated into the setting. But some of that separation of cultures can also be attributed to the tension between the two faces of the tripartite goddesses.

Of course, there should theoretically be a third face. Some whisper that it is Destiny, but how does that differ from Fate or Fortune?

Monday, October 15, 2012

On the Radar: Ashen Stars -- Tartarus

The latest release for Pelgrane Press's Ashen Stars RPG is Ashen Stars: Tartarus.

I'm a fan of this stuff from Pelgrane Press, and the copy for this one caught my eye:
In this scenario of exploration and confrontation in a devastatingly hostile environment, hard-bitten lasers, who know enough not to touch the gooey stuff or take off their helmets in an untested biosphere, investigate the demise of a survey crew doomed by the above mistakes, and more.
I chuckled to myself a while after reading that. Those of you who watched Prometheus -- well, you know what this is referring to.

Okay, time to add this to the read pile.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Confederation Chronicles: A Mobile Base of Operations -- Part III

So what can we put together from the materials already out for Stars Without Number to set up our mobile base of operations?

First I'd combine two Mandate Archive sourcebooks: The Imago Dei, and Bruxelles-class Battlecruiser for the fleet.


Here's a snippet of The Imago Dei promo blurb:
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... 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!
Certainly an ultra-powerful set of ships, with a fleet of battlecruisers, is a plausible starting point for the mobile base of operations, and it helps combine the idea of 'ultra-tech', 'sentient ship', and 'battlegroup fleet of ships' quite nicely.

The AIs in charge of the Imago Dei fleet would be driven by some noble purpose -- like rebuilding the fallen empire -- which could pose future problems as the empire wasn't all that noble. Furthermore, these AIs also have a tendency to deteriorate as they age, and not in the funny Red Dwarf way either. Early on, though, the AIs can be completely fair and noble with just a hint of what is to come.

Of course, even with a critical mass of people in the fleet hopping from system to system in their quixotic quest, resource, production, and resupply problems are bound to arise. Hence the introduction of the following technologies in top secret areas of the Imago Dei ships: Transhuman Tech. The matter compilers and a status-based economy in a 'post-material' environment are interesting to explore given that there will be a slow, but steady drain of resources on the fleet that needs to be replenished, even with this wonder technology.

Next up: where do the players come in?

Monday, October 8, 2012

LOTFP Mystara: Death, Magic, and the Jackal-Headed God

I was toying with the idea of inserting the Death Frost Doom module into Karameikos by somehow having him related to the Jackal-Headed god of the Hutaaka known as Pflarr.

This statue appears in the Vatican. How
cool is that?
However, in the process of doing research, I happened upon the god Hermanubis.

Hermanubis is a god that combines the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Anubis -- the son of Egyptian gods Set and Nephthys.

Definitely tied to death via both Hermes's and Anubis's role in bringing the dead to the afterlife, he also carries the sacred caduceus that both Hermes and Iris bore as messengers of the gods.

The twisted Pflarr we're crafting would therefore have provenance over death and magic (in fact, Pflarr is tied to both death & magic based on his written origins), and might be a special patron to those seeking to uncover secrets that mortals were not meant to know.

He may even be the god that -- in my 'pagan spells' approach -- all empowers all spells that deal with death, undeath, and piercing the secrets of the outer dark.

Immediate questions that come to mind: are the Hutaaka possessed of certain abilities tied to their creator's interests? Perhaps they have ties to the Kingdom of the Ghouls that has yet to be placed in LOTFP Mystara. Perhaps they perform the role as a guardian over the portals to the Underworld. And what strange rituals do they perform in their Lost Valley?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

System musings

Listening to the Ken And Robin Talk About Stuff podcasts triggered my fascination with game systems and how they impact gameplay.

And reminded me about systems I used to favor, systems I've only read, and systems I've only heard about. Here are some of them:
  • D6 - ghostbusters has been on the plus threads recently, which makes me happy. I ran it a lot, ripping off and tweaking adventures from Call of Cthulhu and Chill to add that humorous spin. Then Star Wars came round and I ran that a lot - and became the first system I messed with (badly) with house rules. Hope to go back to it again.
  • Amber diceless - there's a new game out which I hope to explore which is based on the Amber Diceless system. Never played it, fascination with diceless systems have always been there, and I like to see how gods are handled system-wise.
  • Mortal Coil - speaking of handling gods, one of the campaign frames for Mortal Coil does deal with gods. However, my main interest in this system is how it handles magic across multiple spell casting styles and systems.
  • Gumshoe - been looking at this damn system since Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists, Mutant City Blues, and Ashen Stars. Need to run a game with this soon.
  • RuneQuest 6 - tried building a character for this already, but the multiple magical disciplines are different enough to constitute separate systems to learn.
  • FATE - Now that I'm able to appreciate the game system elements, thanks to the sideways entry through Cortex Plus's Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, I'm trying to pick the right game or setting to tackle this system with. 
Other systems out there are also creeping around the edges of my awareness, too many to reasonably attempt, but I can dream.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

LOTFP Mystara: The Hutaaka and The Jackal-Headed God -- Part I

In this edition of Dark Corners of Mystara, we tackle the ancient history of Karameikos.

The Short Version

The native human population of what eventually became Karameikos were known as a Traldar, and lived a pitiful existence after the ancient empire they used to be a part of just plain disappeared. And then the Hutaaka -- a then-peaceful humanoid race with heads of Jackals who also lived in those lands -- discovered the Traldar communities and shared their knowledge and wisdom (granted by a mysterious Jackal-headed immortal) with the humans.

For a while, there was peace and prosperity.

Then gnoll tribes invaded, and the Hutaaka -- a race already sliding into decadence and apathy due to natural tendencies and the readily available subservient workforce provided by the humans -- fled to their hidden valley, leaving the humans to fend for themselves.

Betrayed by their jackal-headed masters and assaulted by dog-headed monster tribes, the humans rose up and fought back against all beast men and claimed the lands for themselves.

The Dark Corners Version

The Hutaaka are a race that once knew greatness; they achieved that greatness by entering into a covenant with a being referred to as Pflaar. They say Pflaar granted them wisdom, knowledge, secrets, and technologies that allowed them to stretch their influence across the lands.

The early relationship between Hutakaa and Traldar was mutually beneficial at the start. However, the Hutaaka eventually saw and treated the Traldar as de facto slaves, rather than equals or partners.

Furthermore, the Traldar grew suspicious of the Hutaaka and fearful of their master and his gifts.

Rumors arose:
  • that the Hutaaka had once been humans from distant lands and had traded their humanity for their advancement;
  • that the lack of Hutaakan children was due to the fact that Hutaakans were born human and remained that way until they underwent a binding to the racial covenant;
  • that once a year, on the anniversary of each Hutaakan's oathtaking, they reverted to pitiful, screaming human forms, begging for release from their torment but were bound into the faceless humanoid statues that decorated the hallways of their homes until they rededicated themselves to their god;
  • that some were tempted by the taste of human flesh, and -- once succumbing to this temptation -- lost their wisdom and became barbaric shadows of their former selves.

The gnolls came - perhaps twisted Hutaaka, perhaps followers of a rival dog-headed god -- and began to attack Hutaaka and Traldar alike. The Hutaaka claimed to be a peace-loving race and fled, relying on human Traldar to defend the lands. But humans suspect that Hutaaka will not kill those who might be their family or friends in monstrous guise.

Heroes arose from the tribes of the Traldar and fought against all beast men to liberate the lands for all Traldar. But the Hutaaka and their god still haunt the lands of Karameikos from their hidden valley, seeking to stretch forth their influence once more.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dark Corners of Mystara: LOTFP Edition

Karameikos has always struck me as a great place for a darker, weirder kind of campaign -- far from the luxuries and excesses of the Empires. It's on the frontier, where an imperial force has invaded and taken over lands from clannish natives who reside in the wilderness. Humanity in Karameikos has yet to tame itself; how can it expect to tame the monstrous inhabitants of its dark forests or the malevolent spirits and entities that lurk in its mountains?

I hope to revisit Karameikos with the Lamentations of the Flame Princess ruleset for several reasons:
a) it's my go-to setting for D&D;
b) the classes line up nicely;
c) i like the ruleset.

But the weird vibe of LOTFP seems to resonate with the setting as well. I hope to place a bunch of the modules I picked up into the larger Mystaran realm. Let's see where it takes us.

First stop: that delightfully politically correct history of Traldar and Halav... and the monsters.