Sunday, December 29, 2013

OSR Entry 2013-02: Jovian Chronicles

The Jovian Chronicles RPG is one that combines the 'space mecha as weapons in a war' genre (from anime and manga popularized by the first trio of Gundam anime series and shows like AT Votoms) and a kind of accelerated hard science fiction future.

So think near-light travel. Think space navies with giant robots like fighter planes in skirmishes. Think in-solar-system Robotech and Gundam battles between solar nations, with soldiers and civilians alike caught in a web of interplanetary politics and interpersonal intrigue.

Now, kick the level of detail up a notch with superbly executed art of the suits and ships of war in action, along with clean, clear, meticulously detailed technical drawings and specs of all their gear. Mix in a clear sense of generational progression and forking of mecha designs for nearly all things space-based. Add well-crafted logos and insignias of the companies and nations that make up the setting, and cement it together with a solid, yet ever-improving layout -- that's what Jovian Chronicles was all about to me!

Sadly, while I really enjoyed the ruleset for PC skill resolution and interpersonal combat, the 3D mecha combat rules were a bit of a steep learning curve for me, and certainly provided a barrier to entry for most of the people I knew.

Interestingly enough, it didn't start out as its own RPG. Jovian Chronicles began as a Dream Pod 9 / Ianus Games supplement to the mecha RPG and construction ruleset known as Mekton II. Mekton II was put together by R. Talsorian Games (of Cyberpunk / Cyberpunk 2020 and Castle Falkenstein fame).

This green-colored supplement provided rules additions and modifications to the Mekton II ruleset, to better reflect the feel and technological reality of their setting. It provided page after page of illustrated, cleanly laid out pre-generated PCs, important NPCs, and all key mecha used in the suggested epic storyline for the adventure. It was a slim, compact supplement that somehow managed to give the feel of a well-researched, lovingly detailed setting just waiting to be explored.

And so the only actual experience I have of playing in this setting that I love -- a setting that made SF adventuring in a single solar system interesting -- was only ever played in the Interlock ruleset of Mekton and Cyberpunk.

Here's a detailed review, with some behind-the-scenes stories and insights, on this fabulous setting.

Links to the core products, available on RPGNow:

OSR Entry 2013-01: Cyberpunk / Cyberpunk 2020

[ This post is a contribution to the Obscure Simulations Roundup, a community blog hop dedicated to forgotten / under-appreciated RPGs. ]

I don't remember if I'd already read the Burning Chrome anthology by William Gibson when I picked up my copy of Cyberpunk. Not Cyberpunk 2020, but the first R. Talsorian RPG set in that milieu -- set in the year 2013 (which, itself, is now winding down in our reality) -- the somewhat presumptuously titled Cyberpunk.

Several years later, I also picked up the 1st edition Shadowrun -- which tended to gather more adherents -- but Cyberpunk was my cyberpunk setting of choice. The one I sought out first, and without it, settled for my second fave: the cyberpunk + fantasy RPG.

I suppose that I was really after that grungy, gritty feel, and so many of the genre inspirations led to me to the more tech-heevy scenarios. I picked up almost every book of the run that I could, money and availability willing. I learned a lot about guns and modern technology, devoured the techno-thriller genre, and began focusing on the cyberpunk genre anime & manga like Appleseed and Bubblegum Crisis in my vidwatching schedules.

My Cyberpunk games were full of chipped Solos, Dorph-crazed gangs, Trauma Teams, and the echoes of films like Blade Runner and Robocop in my mind while I encouraged my players to lie and kill their way to success.

It was a game for my youth, an outlet for a young man seeking to rebel but unsure about what he was rebelling against, and how powerful 'they' really were.

These days, I long for the kind of world where a Rockerboy and his music really can topple megacorporations; but I also wish that there would be an equally powerful salve for the economic disaster that would follow.

Perhaps it's time for a review and retooling of the RPG genre in light of the Internet-savvy youth, social media, economic crises, and revelations of ultra-powerful cabals around the world...

Here's an old post that I did on the game:

As part of the RPG history project mentioned on, I began scanning in the covers of some of my RPG collection, beginning with my Cyberpunk 2020 books. Let me share them with you: 
Cyberpunk 2020 was the main rulebook. It was an upgraded system and updated setting, essentially requiring the players of the original game -- Cyberpunk -- to buy the latest and greatest version of the game. Oddly enough, this did dovetail into the proposed cyberpunk ethos of style over substance and jumping headfirst into the latest developments ready to ride out any difficulties that might come up. 
To be fair, it was a sight better than the Cyberpunk boxed set's rulebooks (certainly dated by today's standards), and the modifications to the system did speed up combat. Building a character was often a pain, though, because in addition to buying gear, you also had the option to buy cybernetics -- taking care not to use up your humanity and go cyberpsycho of course. 
In addition to the core rulebook, R.Talsorian came out with new equipment and cybernetics in the form of the Chromebooks -- gear books with pictures for each of the items listed. Not satisfied with this revolutionary bit of sourcebook detail, they also came up with a rationale for it: these are the catalogs of the latest gear that people would order in game (ignoring all the game stats, of course). 


Now that this has been posted, in the grand tradition of cross-pollination of blog postings, I noticed the post from Hereticworks on Fringeworthy (another fave orphaned RPG of mine) mentioning the Tri-Tac podcast, and found a neat three-part podcast sequence (195 to 197) on Cyberpunk!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Isle Imperium 1.50 -- The Last, But Not Least, of the Fae

As the sixth of the First to master the accomplished Unconquered Warder, ARCTURUS causes the shard to become essential, a process that will be complete in a total of seven days (four more by the end of this episode).

Through ideation, CATALINA learns that the whereabouts of the land grant to Nova Aeternus are known by a certain CUBURDUS, tertiary prinsept of the fey court, which evidently is allied via Feylight Pact to the Army of Shards, principally the Amber legion—in fact, all 37 Feylight shards among the army were given by the fey court.

MANTIUS and KHIMERE therefore reactivate their Phantasmic Gate combination to enable transport to Cuburdus’ location, the sunken tree Garthruda, in the midst of which transport Mantius is required to speak “rhymes in the manner of those that mock us”—which turn out to be limericks, ably supplied by one of Kim’s related shard entities, JERIC THELON.

Concerned that Cuburdus might take offense at Cat and VARIAN’S shards—these being an elementalist and a summoner, both technologies mimicked from the fey—Mantius leaves them behind when traverse is abruptly activated. However, they are left alone for just long enough to reshard more appropriately before Kim sends Jeric back to fetch them.

Mantius’ caution and Cat’s ideation are both proven right when, before long, Cuburdus seems as disdainful of BREGAN’S Torrent Mariner—evidently another elementalist, of a sort—as he is clearly charmed by Cat’s Lady of Passion and ALECTO’S Saint of Consonance. As the group goes to talk to Cuburdus, Brand remains behind, kept company by Kim, who is appalled to discover that the prinsept has been snubbing her because her Imperious Magister, contrary to her prior belief, is male.

From the otherwise surprisingly affable Cuburdus—who is deeply distressed when told of the fate of the Amber legion—the rest of the First learn that the land grant to Nova Aeternus was not only stolen but separated into seven pieces. The good news is that not only can the last of the fey—the rest having fled the war as well as the world, according to him—reintegrate the pieces, he also offers to accompany them to Gran Laginus, home of LAGINUS, banished from the fey court as the “undying lord of treachery” and current possessor of at least one piece of the land grant, which may be won at the latter’s dark Carnivale.

At Gran Laginus, Cuburdus goes to deal with Laginus while the First sneak off to the carnival, where the barker demands to see his master’s medallion before letting them in. Luckily, when Mantius presents the Feylight claw from the Master of Merchants, it is accepted, and they are invited to stake shards from their pool for the opportunity to win prizes in the following contests:
1. test of mind = guess a very fat woman’s weight = undertaken by Arc
2. test of spirit = differentiate between true and false voices of the dead = undertaken by Ian
3. test of heart = find the one “pure” blade of grass amid a field = undertaken by Mantius
4. test of body = ring a bell by striking a target with a hammer = undertaken by Aly
Thanks in large part to the aid of the Phantom Herald, the Saint of Consonance, and Cat’s generous gift of a heart box, the First are able to win eight new shards and five pieces of the land grant, albeit at the cost of six of the seven shards they were given by Zanthuza in Ilipa. Then, thanks to immersion in carnie culture, Aly manages to befriend the barker, such that they able to trade Covetous’ necklace for a faux ‘contest victory’, giving them the last three pieces of the land grant.

At the barker’s urging, they hurry backwards—literally—to meet with Cuburdus, whom they overhear exchanging cool threats and imprecations with a voice that presumably belongs to Laginus. Through a trick he learned from the legions—artillery—their fey friend apparently manages to kill the latter, but not without cost. Even as they traverse back to Garthruda, Cuburdus is visibly weak and fading—until Mantius transforms himself into a Feyheart, the sight and presence of which instantly gives the prinsept renewed health and vigor.

They arrive at the sunken tree and Cuburdus promptly reintegrates the land grant, soon after which he regretfully tells them they must go, as prolonged exposure to Garthruda’s ambience will cause them to gradually die. Fond farewells are exchanged—including a limerick written just for him—and the First depart, the 2.5% they thus gained bringing their chance of success at reforming the writ to a running total of 11%.

Just in Case Y’all Want to Remember It -- The Rhyme for Cuburdus:
Cuburdus was last of the fey
For the rest had all gone away.
With many a spark,
He shone in the dark—
The last but not least of the fey.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Border Wardens: An Ancient Evil, A Stirring Tide

My last post (A Balance of Monstrous Intentions) posited one option: that the Caves of Chaos are actually a chokepoint of encroaching chaos denizens that the Keep must keep (heh) in check. There is another option that we might invoke, however.

Option 2: The Rim of Chaos

That symbol on their chests and shields -- a lidless eye, wreathed in flame?
Nah, couldn't be.
Perhaps the creatures of the caves follow a leader -- inasmuch as these chaotic ones follow any one -- and it is a charismatic leader. Perhaps a chieftain, or a cleric, or a witch doctor... or a madman with dreams of conquest.

This thought was stirred up by noticing some similarities between T1 - The Village of Hommlet and B2 - The Keep on the Borderlands: the evil priest of Chaos as a main villain who somehow infiltrates the bastion of civilization (or at least spies on it), the torture chamber, the undead, and the temple in the dungeon.

More online research revealed the work of Unfrozencavemandicechucker, who had already thought about and posted on many related things that will find their way into Border Wardens, such as:

Option 3: The Crimson Shallows

This idea was triggered by the stray thought that Lareth was corrupted by a power that was neither god nor devil, but by something primal yet outside the natural order of things -- and by the fact that the "Chapel of Evil Chaos" is made out of red stone, with a tapestry depicting a landscape of terrible desolation and shadowy figures delighting in the destruction of humanity.

This might be a good opportunity to insert setting elements of Kevin Crawford's Red Tide Campaign Setting. This would certainly add to a more long-term mystery, that even the scholars of this world's deities and mysteries would be hard-pressed to figure out -- as the influence comes from another doomed universe.

It might also give additional twists to the appearance of these demi-humans, if the origins for these creatures in the Red Tide setting are used.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Border Wardens: A Balance of Monstrous Intentions

A border-based campaign really starts with some thought on the dangers that the PCs will face, and the mysteries that they'll encounter and unravel.

The Caves of Chaos
by Michael Kormarck (2005)
The first thing that really triggers in my mind as an influence is B2 - The Keep on the Borderland's main source of monsters: the Caves of Chaos!

You have a cave network teeming with non-human monsters, some with uneasy alliances, others at careful detente with one another. To get away from the 'monster killing zoo' feel that might mar some campaigns, some thought should be given to the rationale for these creatures -- and how the cave network might be refreshed for future returns.

Option 1: the Chokepoint

A more *ahem* mundane approach would be to have the Caves of Chaos to be the part of a natural funnel, a bottlenneck, that the lands of Chaos feed into. This has been beneficial to the empire of humanity and demi-humanity, because any one of these monstrous hordes might threaten its civilization -- and may yet do so in the future.

Possible Adventure Hooks

  1. Testing the balance -- the PCs are sent into the Caves of Chaos to investigate the balance of power. What are the factions, how are they allied or opposed? In the process, they may get in over the heads, forcing a confrontation and leading into the next hook...
  2. Upsetting the balance -- the PCs kill an important monster leader, decimate the numbers of a particular faction, or steal a powerful magical item that may have kept one or more of the vanguards of the monstrous hordes in check, and now they have to fight against the forces of a growing power...
  3. Resetting the balance -- the PCs must find a way to weaken the dominant force through assassination, or aiding another monstrous faction, or to shut down the path to the lands of that monstrous race to bring the region back into a delicate state of balance
A future Border Wardens post will be a close reading of B2's material to see how it might flesh out this particular aspect of the setting. But for now, this will be the broad strokes treatment of the monsters of the Caves of Chaos.

Other Ideas
  • loot from different caves (stolen, taken, or found) may provide a hint about future events in the Caves of Chaos, or perhaps turn out to be a powerful McGuffin;
  • rumors from the various monsters of the networks may reveal a hidden secret about the Caves' history
  • the PCs are not the first adventurers and explorers in this region -- perhaps the last resting place of a former hero may be hidden deep in the cave network.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Isle Imperium 1.49 -- The Funnel Trap

ISAACUS wakes from sleep, convinced that something has gone terribly wrong. After claiming his cloak from his “fabrication” of a bedmate, OLIVIA, he summons FIDA and HADRIAN of the Veiled Cardinals, neither of whom is able to discern the cause of his distress. After sending both away in succession (Hadrian says, “Is this about Master Kenjiro?”), he is wracked by involuntary bodily spasms en route to his Circle of Insight. There, the BEJEWELED ACTUARY asks if he is willing to pay “a terrible price”, telling him two of the Circle of Insight are lost. Isaac learns from her that the First are doomed, having traveled into the past beyond the destruction of Nicopolis, thus becoming unable to return from past that point in time.

Meanwhile, in the Torrent Mariner’s sidebar, KHIMERE speaks perplexing words of farewell to CATALINA moments before there is a terrific slam. Later, they learn that this is due to the funnel trap of Nicopolis, which prevents time travelers from journeying forward beyond its destruction. Despite most of them being injured and many of them unsharded, ALECTO, ARCTURUS, Cat, MANTIUS, and VARIAN are able to work together to eventually free themselves from the mass of human bodies, the recurrent rising tide of water, and the eighth-level-civilar-crafted sloping walls that compose the insidious prison.

It is at this point, evidently, that the destruction of Nicopolis commences, causing the imminent collapse of the funnel trap. Unable to locate BREGAN and Kim, the First are forced to leave without them, through the reluctant cooperation of the shards of the Renegade number (Canar and the others having abandoned ARIA and the rest of their erstwhile mounts), as compelled by the angry and expressed OSSIS POTIOR EXCELSIS. As they are about to depart, a man comes up to them and begs them to take his shard—“simply called Ellis”—with them. They agree and leave just as ELIANDRA catches up to the man, screaming.

As they travel—left early on by Canar et al—Aly and Mantius become aware of Isaacus’ voice calling to them. He tells them to “follow this beacon” and they do, ending up with the other three in front of the home base of the Amber legion, not long before its demise. Just as they resolve to take this opportunity to steal the Amber writ, they are intercepted by MARIUS LOGERUS♂, Amber’s Torrent Justicar, along with three of his colleagues, KITHAN♂, KORTHENON♂, and IGEAL♀. After ascertaining that their number includes Catalina and Alecto, the Amber mounts summon a much-older Brand, who has apparently been with them for some time, looking for his friends as well as helping them try to find a way to prevent Amber’s fall.

It is no doubt partly due to this that the officials of Amber tell the First, with certainty, that neither taking their writ nor trying to help them can avert what has and will certainly occur. They further affirm that it is well worth taking the land grant of Nova Aeternus in order to form a new writ, especially since it is no longer in the keeping of Nova Aeternus in any case. Brand, for his part, offers words of advice to each of his friends, in the process making it quite clear that he is and has been in love with Cat.

He then sends them forward in time again, to the point immediately prior to their departure for Nicopolis. Hampered by their fear of revealing too much of future events, they warn the present-day Brand and Kim as much as they dare, watching with mingled hope and trepidation as the pair, along with their past selves, embark on their task. Their faith is rewarded before very long when Brand returns with a shaken but triumphant Kim, who has not only been rescued by the former (after repeated attempts, by her account) but has fallen in love with him. Kim tells Brand, managing to put on a brave face at his gentle rebuff.

A portal opens and Isaac, AUDEN, KENJIRO, and TERENTIUS burst through, the first of these falling in relief to his knees, only to then be burdened with the task of disentangling the other three from Ian, Aly, and Cat respectively. After the latter three regretfully decline various covert offers of assistance, the ruling warders (Terry having retaken the post of Master of Strategy) depart, having refrained (sort of) from assisting or communicating with the First, for fear of compromising their mission.

Gleeful that Kim and Brand managed to recover their vortex pouch and complete inventory of shards, Ian goes through them, noticing the shard given to them by the stranger in Nicopolis. Upon seeing it, Kim begins to experience acute dread, fueled by abilities from the shard entity she calls Jeric(?), which apparently gives her the surety that many people will be searching for this new shard, putting the First’s mission and quite possibly the First themselves at risk if they continue to possess it.

Ian and Cat attempt to explain this situation to the shard, which Ian identifies as the Perfect Mimetic, only to be met by unintelligible screaming—“Tarlun! Elana!”—from the shard entity. Following this, the shard becomes motive and seeks out Arc, whereupon the group makes the decision to flee from it, needing to use several gates and portals before finally losing it.

Back at Peerdin, Isaac has another conversation with Olivia, stating that what he wishes is “for the First to succeed”. Elsewhere in Peerdin, Auden strives to convince Terry and Kenjiro that the three of them should not hie off to the aid of the First. This is practically though not entirely agreed upon when their secret meeting is interrupted by ALOYSIUS, who “wants in” as well.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fading Zones: Tech from the Zones

There are a number of fairly common hyper-technological items that seem to be based on Zone Technology. Their relative ubiquitousness might cause people to dismiss their unusual origins, but the literature on what early zone tech was like points to a link.

Shields: The manipulation of fields of energy for protective purposes belies a precision and incredible amounts of power. Shield technicians are a secretive bunch, actually comprising a sub-guild of the Engineers. They guard their patent zealously, and a fair number of them have exhibited low-level abilities that might be considered psychic in origin.

Flux Swords & Mist Swords: Flux swords are capable of storing a 'blade' of super-heated plasma -- already suggestive of zone-originated tech. However, mist swords -- with their psychic-enhancing abilities -- suggest and even stronger link. Given the high prevalence of psychic abilities erupting from Zone Stalkers, and, of course, from the bloodlines of Sathra cultists and from frequent jumpgate travelers using the earliest Sathra dampers, zone tech influence on these rare artifacts is almost a certainty.

Sathra Effect artifacts: These can be a holographic mandala, a deck of animated cards, a zone string banjo -- early Sathra cultists seem to have found a way to create / recreate the high from the Sathra effect. Most of these have been confiscated by the Church, and probably studied by Penitents and Engineers in an attempt to stop the effects and hopefully find the creators.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Armchair Review: The Time Traveller's Companion

If there's one sourcebook you should get for your Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (DWAITAS for short) RPG to really play in the mythology of the Whoniverse, it's DWAITAS: The Time Traveller's Companion.

The title might mislead you into thinking it's about companions -- no, it's really about being a time traveller in the universe of Doctor Who.

It tackles the history of the universe from the point of view of the Gallifreyans, sheds some light on how the Daleks first resolved to take out their planet and race in a Time War, explains the social and political classes of the Time Lord world, and why they initially came up with their non-intervention stance.

Rassilon -- who created the Rassilon Imprimatur -- facing down the
Doctor as he tries to break Gallifrey out of the time lock.
The book also gives a lot of options in playing people from Gallifrey beyond a single racial package -- there are options based on caste, and role in society. There's also a section on the different types of TARDISes available to renegade Time Lords who may or may not be working for the Celestial Intervention Agency (CIA), a shadowy organization that is historically significant to both the Doctor, and to all of Gallifrey.

There's a great amount of explanation and recapping of the temporal mechanics that have arisen in the course of the 50 year old TV series, and a respectable set of adventure ideas that arise out of those mind-twisting possibilities. There are weapons, gear, and feared artifacts from the luminaries of Gallifrey, and a joyous celebration of the many NPCs from that planet that have appeared in the show.

To top it all off, there's a TARDIS sheet that will help you understand how to craft your own TARDIS, and pilot it based on the control panel -- and what happens when key items are damaged or destroyed while travelling!

Pick it up if you're serious about a time & space romp campaign!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Border Wardens: The Benefits of a Border Setting

Some people might dismiss a Borderlands-like setup out of hand because the sheer number of gamers who've gone through this type of initial setting has made it a trope (and in some cases worse -- a cliche).

But there are many benefits to this type of setting; here are few:

  1. the law is only as strong, and is as omnipresent, as its enforcers -- A lot of new players, especially those that tend toward the 'game' side of RPGs, rather than the 'story' or 'roleplaying' sides, focus on racking up kills. In a city, the city watch will not countenance rampant (unsanctioned) criminal activities -- especially activities witnessed by citizens. On the border, the representatives of the law are stretched thin, cannot see everything, and certainly will only expend resources to hunt down fleeing criminals in extreme circumstances. This can cut your players' character some slack in the early days of gaming, before you lay down the law.
  2. the wilderness has a different set of rules, a different kind of justice -- On the other hand, this deficiency on the part of the reach of law means that other sentients besides the players' characters can also take advantage of lapses and weaknesses. And things like honor, reputation, one's word, friendship, family, and vendetta are things that are not taken lightly by humans and demi-humans struggling to carve out their existences in the wild.
  3. the border is a wild, unexplored, unpredictable reality -- Few records are kept, most knowledge is based on limited archives, rumors, and stories from travelers and adventurers who saw things days, weeks, months ago. And on the border, where boundaries are blurred and negotiable, where the bold venture out to better their fortunes with cunning and might of arms, where wielders of strange magics may walk, where travelers from other lands may arise, and where prophets of strange gods may yet be found, few things can be certain.
  4. civilization is a distant, ghostly memory -- If unwilling to read up on the main empire or civilization
    (or one hasn't been chosen yet), then the DM can paint it in the broadest terms, with a few choice details to keep it from being a very vanilla fantasy setting. Here at the edge of civilization, where everyone may have a different (and perhaps utterly flawed) view of the politics, economics, customs, and players of the capital, you can shape your world as you desire. If you ever finalize things, your players can find out the hard way, on the road to the capital, how badly they've been misinformed. And isn't that how a lot of these rural, farmland-based chosen one heroes in many a fantasy novel find out about the world anyway?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fading Zones: Husks

The influence of the Zones allows us to revisit the Husks of the Fading Suns and cast them in different lights.

A passable half-life

It's rumored that early into the exploration of the Zones, the dead rose and took their place once more among the living. There might have been a graveyard within one of those early zones, and this might be why the overall effects were benign (as far as records tell us).

Once dead relatives came back to life, incapable of speech, but able to effect painfully slow movement.

There are no stories similar to the husk outbreaks in the era of the Fading Suns, so it's assumed that these people eventually perished along with their loved ones.

The incredible husks

In the era of the Fading Suns, outbreaks in major cities are unheard of -- they are relegated to lesser provinces and rural areas. It's suggested that damaged or malfunctioning Zone tech (or even improperly disposed of Zone tech) is responsible for this, echoing its effect from centuries before.

However, rather than bringing the dead back to life -- it seems that only their bodies are returned, and that their minds -- and souls, as all Pancreator-fearing members of the faithful will attest -- are absent and replaced by something that hungers for the living.

The reanimation also lacks the regenerative abilities of the earliest Zone records on resurrection -- the dead are often rotting or decaying, unlike their precursors, who were able to eke out a slow, silent living without rotting to death in the houses of their loved ones.

It is also suggested that the malevolence points to the influence of the dark intelligences that hunger for and hate humanity in the blackness between the stars. Or perhaps, the Zones have spawned a new form of life that might yet compete with our own.

Wandering Immortals

And there may also be those who have been granted full immortality -- blasphemy -- by the effect of the Zones. Were they these resurrected humans who managed to fade into humanity, changing locations and identities, or perhaps constantly living at the fringes of humanity to mask their longevity.

What mundane secrets might they keep close to their chests?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Border Wardens: Adventures on the Edges of Civilization

There's something about being on the frontier, or at the edge of a known civilization that makes it right for adventure. Finished goods are hard to come by, but some raw materials are plentiful. People rely on family and neighbors for food, shelter, clothing and other necessities -- and hope for protection and aid from the representatives of the law.

And there are things to fight against, the enemies of civilization, of law, of order. Beasts and intelligences that rail against the affront to chaos, or live in fear of this encroaching empire on their lands, their borders.

The Border Wardens campaign notes series will be a bunch of posts on how to cobble together a campaign along these lines, based on classics like B2 - The Keep on the Borderlands, B5 - The Horror on the Hill, B10 - Night's Dark Terror, and perhaps even a bit of T1 - The Village of Hommlet.

It'll probably be based in Mystara, but can also be transplanted to Enigmundia (or any other setting with a similar setup).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Isle Imperium 1.48 -- Times Past

En route to the area where the First were told they might make shelter, VARIAN collapses. CATALINA determines that this is because there is a fragment of one of the monstrous trees from the Tortured Swath within him and, following much panic, firing off of abilities, desharding and reslotting (in the midst of which BREGAN painstakingly tends to the unconscious Ian and ARCTURUS manages to transform himself from dragon back to human), ALECTO hits upon the notion of prompting DIONES to expel the fragment. As the active warders present, Cat and KHIMERE go to rouse Diones, Kim going to the extent of challenging the Bejeweled Warder in order to get his attention. Cat smoothes over the tension that results from this; and Diones is able—through the expediency of mounting Arc and using three of the gems from the jeweled breastplate to activate what is presumably gempalm healing—to restore Ian.

Cat erects a briar complex for the number to rest in, as well as to cleanse themselves and for her to cleanse their possessions of what seem to be spores left on them from exposure in the Swath. Ian awakens sometime later from his healing sleep, and the First decide to use the wondrous advantage of Pasver’s Almoner just once the next morning, eschewing the use of scholarly abilities for one sharding period in hopes of keeping the knowledge of Pasver’s shards secret for the nonce.

When this has been accomplished (through MANTIUS’ graciousness) they find a small contingency of villagers just outside the complex, demanding (in a meek sort of way) an explanation of the number’s presence. Through Cat and Aly’s diplomacy and Kim’s money, matters are soon resolved amicably; and the girls further learn in passing of a woman named ZANTHUZA, who has become “very strange” since a large rock fell from the sky onto her farmstead. They resolve to look into the matter before visiting the shrine to Proserpine that they also learn of, some distance outside the village of Manon in this region of Ilipa.

At what once was the richest farm in the area, Aly manages to gain the confidence of the clearly mentally fragile Zanthuza, and the First learn her story:

  1. About a year ago, a set of seven shards landed on the territory left to the orphaned young woman by her parents. The landing left a large crater and caused all the other members of the household (slaves) to flee.
  2. With the notion of using the “sparkly rocks” to make jewelry, Zanthuza strung one of them on a cord around her neck, whereupon she began to communicate with stones, eventually enabling her to build her ramshackle house.
  3. On the third night after the descent, one of the slaves, Rusio by name, returned and harmed Zanthuza in some unspecified way, making off with one of the shards and her inheritance from her father.

After the number except for Aly and Brand have visited Proserpine’s shrine, where they make the acquaintance of the priestess ALMAVIVRA—who knows of the legions through an apparent dalliance with a Ruby legionnaire named Antonio, and thus happily consents to officiate at the temple in Peerdin once it is built—they help Zanthuza remove her shard (which she was unable to previously, since it “felt wrong”) and she gratefully turns over all six in her possession. It is only after Ian significantly improves her home and the First have taken their leave that Mantius discovers what Zanthuza has either lied about or, more likely, blocked from her memory—that she killed the fleeing Rusio, using the Stone Collector shard. Deciding that the woman has been punished enough, having been driven nearly insane by wearing a shard without being able to master it, the First simply unearth Rusio’s remains from where he fell, recover the warder shard he took, and consign his soul to the gods.

After some frantic moments in which they realize that none of them have possession of the Luna Noxus Triptych, the number is thankfully able to recover it in the former location of the now-dissipated briar complex. Aly activates her Saint of Scholars ability, and they discover (for free this time, yay!) that in order to continue their quest, the Luna Noxus Triptych must be interpreted by the artist’s descendant, Ferando GIOVANNI of Nicopolis. Brand then tells them that the city of Nicopolis fell some 350 years ago, and he believes that he will have to travel into the past in order to accomplish their task.

After some discussion, it is agreed to do so, and Brand informs them that the journey will take several days’ travel, during which they must not eat, drink, or move around much. After making appropriate preparations, they therefore set out—only to be interrupted some immeasurable amount of time later when Brand is attacked and brought down by two civilars, evidently of Nicopolis, OCTAVIAN and ULA. Perceiving the First’s presence as an attack upon their city, these two are prepared to destroy them when they in turn are interrupted by the appearance of the Renegade’s number, comprising:

ARIA, Renegade Warder AIDA, Impeccable Scholar
MARCUS, Bejeweled Nuncio JENICUS (?), Feylight Pathmage

This quartet easily takes down the surprised civilars and lets the First go—but not for long, as Aida discerns “something interesting” that Mantius is concealing. The Renegade’s number is on the verge of forcing the First to reveal what it is when Aly reminds Canar that they have or will have an alliance, which is enough for Aria to overrule Aida and again let them go.

Arriving at last at Nicopolis in the right time period, the number is stunned to discover that nearly all its inhabitants are sharded. Nevertheless, they put their amazement aside to find Giovanni, whose initial disinterest is soon alleviated by his apparent romantic interest in Ian, who plays along in order to gain entry into the young man’s house, as well as his cooperation in interpreting the triptych. While Ian, Mantius, and Giovanni are thus occupied within, the members of the First left outside run afoul of the civilar Ula, who recognizes Cat from their earlier encounter and moves to arrest them for the evident death of Octavian. Fortunately, she is first stalled by Brand and later stopped by Ian, who leads the First in a round of playacting intended to convince Ula that he, as a young civilar hoping to make an impression, has dealt with the miscreants in her stead.

The otherwise lackadaisical Giovanni proves brilliant at his task of interpretation, such that he significantly improves the mission’s overall chance of success (by 3.5%!), as well as determining the following information.

  1. When the opal writ was destroyed, an attempt was made to reconstruct it. However, since Opal, like the other vanished legion, was sacrificed rather than attacked, it could not be reconstituted. But a methodology was devised:
  2. The most esteemed number of a legion must find Terminus, the god of boundaries, and present an offering to obtain his permission to rewrite the writ.
  3. The offering must be in two parts: the land grant of Nova Aeternus (kept in the city sanctum, where it is overseen by twelve Praetorian guards) and three wagons’ worth of myrrh.

Giovanni begs to be allowed to accompany the First, and—having seen how he can help them and having firmly laid down the law that he must return to Nicopolis after three months to face his predestined death in a year’s time—they agree.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fading Zones: A Nightroadside Picnic?

Hoping to contribute to the Zones community project, I began with reading the novel and pouring through source material (canon and fan-made) to get a feel for it. (Thanks for the starting logo, Hereticworks!)

As usual for me, one of the most immediate reactions is to drop it into the Fading Suns setting, one of my favorite kitchen sink settings.

Basic Premise: Aliens Among Us

In the setting of Fading Suns, humanity has encountered at least one enigmatic and powerful alien race: The Vau.

It's been hinted that they are carefully watching humans, for some reason unfathomable to the citizens of the Known Worlds. Perhaps, in addition to all the reasons cited in the books, it's because they know that we've been gifted or touched by a power that they have also encountered -- and fear.

That power is evident in the many artifacts that come from the Zones. It's rumored that the ability to activate the Jumpgates comes from technology that originated in the Zones.

Other alien races -- especially the Ur-Obun and Ur-Ukar -- are kept in the dark about the very existence of the Zones, and only a select few of the powerful factions on Terra know about the long-sequestered Zones on Earth.

On the Front Lines: Scravers & Charioteers

The Killroy sub-faction of the Charioteers therefore serves a dual purpose. Not only do they protect the value of the jumpgates for their guild; they also work to safeguard people from the potential consequences of unrestrained use of Zone technology.

Scravers have strict protocols and rumors about black technology coming from the Zone, with strict and harshly enforced rules about swift notification regarding the unauthorized use or surprise discovery of these things. In this manner, they may actually have a strange hybrid of Stalkers and Zone Police that are sent out when a new world is discovered, and evidence of Zone technology is present. There may even be an intelligence organization that exclusively tracks the flow of these items, before turning them over to the Engineers in the Guild.

Unknown Agendas: The Annunaki

Of course, one of the continuing mysteries of the setting centers around the old 'gods', the Annunaki, who are assumed to have built the jumpgates and were responsible for the Ur-Obun and Ur-Ukar races.

If they are indeed tied to the Zones, one can see the power of the lowest levels of their abilities -- creating artifacts that defy the conservation of energy, warping gravitic fields, and the strange corruptions of the strands of human fate that can result in the delayed (or passed on) fatality of many a human line.

Future Posts: Greater Detail

So these are just the broad strokes. More detailed examples will be forthcoming in this series of posts.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Inspirations: Flash and the New Gods

I read this comic book story as a kid, not yet a teenager. I picked it up in a magazine / bookstore in Hong Kong in digest format, along with some classic Usborne books on being a detective -- and it was my first introduction to the New Gods.

I don't even remember the title, honestly. Reading comics in the Philippines at the time meant getting whatever National Bookstore had copied and reprinted, or getting ahold of whatever had come through the P/X stores of the U.S. bases -- and neither source was fairly regular. But collecting comics? Forget it.

This three parter, where the Flash (at the time undergoing a trial for murder), helped out the New Gods by trying to figure out what had happened to Orion (who I never again saw look like he did below), and then traveling with them to the Source to get the cure for Orion's rapid growth... kick-ass cosmic stuff that felt different somehow from the standard DC fare I'd been reading.

Perhaps it prepared me for my delving into Marvel's own cosmic stuff, and even the Dreadstar series later.

I was fascinated by Lightray and Metron, and would remember them again when they reappeared more regularly in DC. I was especially thrilled when Darkseid came out as the villain in DC's Legion of Super-Heroes because of this story.

So in putting together my own mashed-up Marvel / DC Universe to adventure in -- Flash and Lightray would be definite buddies; perhaps even regular pool hall pals.

Thanks to, whose panel scans brought back a bit of my childhood.

Now to hunt down that strange story in the same digest comic that talked about the 'modern timeline' for Superman wherein he splashed down in the water, and was claimed by a cold war military diver for the U.S. Military...