Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rise of the Lycans Meets D&D

Okay, so I just finished watching the film "Rise of the Lycans" on television in between handing out treats to the trick-or-treaters.  I've watched it before but it made for good casual viewing a second time.  I was struck again by how "elvish" the vampire armor looked.  I think it's a combination of the helm plumes and the long coat-tail look.  That got me thinking about a game where all the Elves live forever because they are vampires.  That seemed pretty cool, although I seem to recall that idea cropping up somewhere else, so perhaps it's not an original thought.  But then what about the Lycans?  And Humans?

So how about this:
  • Elves = vampires; the dominant culture, civilized yet decadent with a streak of evil; they live either in fortresses in rural areas or citadels in cities; their nocturnal lifestyle means they are always out of sync with their Human serfs.
  • Dwarves = lycans; the barbarians of the wilderness and deep places, but with quite a few in service to the Elves for historical reasons; the clans are stronger overall than the Elves but always fatally divided by feuding and pride
  • Humans = slaves, serfs, chattel; a life of fear and servitude under the Elves; from time to time a hero arises to lead revolt
  • Gnomes = reskinned as Goblins; sneaky, magicky, trying to survive in the cracks between and amongst the Elves and Dwarves; sometimes useful, always untrustworthy
  • Half-Orc = a type of artificial life created by the Elves in an attempt to make a superior race of soldiers and overseers to keep the Humans under control and conquer the Dwarves; part Frankenstein's monster, part Uruk-Hai; they have no past and no future
  • Dhampir = the inevitable outcome of Elves and Humans living in constant proximity; treated as second-class Elves; useful for dealing with the daylight races; stuck in a social-racial niche
  • Wildlings = the shapechanger offspring of Dwarf and Human; tolerated by some Dwarf clans, driven out by others to form tribes or slink back into Human society--until the moon grows full.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My GM Merit Badges

Okay, so I came across the idea of GM Merit Badges over at the Strange Magic blog recently.  Elthos RPG put together a nice compilation of the badges with an interesting matrix. So, I thought I'd put up my badges; some of there here are my badges:

Story Aspect

My games will tell an interesting Story

My games focuses on Exploration & Mystery

My games are Gonzo and can include a lot of strangeness [in my Sci-Fi games]

My games are Safe and you don't need to worry about content or character death [character death could happen, but I'd rather provide a good dramatic experience than kill off a PC]

Mechanical Orientation

My game focuses on Player Skill rather than character abilities

I play By-The-Book and "rule-zero" is not being used to alter existing rules [well, mostly by-the-book]

Tactics are an important part of my games

Players in my game should be prepared to Run when the odds are against them

I will Mirror back player ideas I think are interesting in the game

My games use a pre-made Map and pre scripted content [sometimes]

Prepare to Enter "The World Between"

Okay, so Andrew Shields over at Fictive Fantasies has finished his long-awaited (by me, anyway) book entitled The World Between for Fictive Hack.  It is based on a setting designed by Jack Shear over at Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque and uses rules hacked from the original Old School Hack rules.  A quick look at the map for the game shows that it is a very rough analog of western Europe and north Africa and the various regions are also rough fantasy analogs (or stereotypical analogs) of those regions.  But there are major fantasy differences and twists--it's not an "alternate Earth" type setting.  I've been enjoying watching Andrew's work progress and I love the Old School Hack rules, so I'm excited to see what the final book will look like.

As I've mentioned in earlier posts I'm working on my own campaign world and still searching for the set of rules I'll eventually use.  Old School Hack is high on the list of rules sets and I've found The World Between to be fantastic food for thought in building my campaign world.  My Wednesday gaming group really enjoyed playing Old School Hack and I think I'll run at least a couple short games set in The World Between for them.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Carnival of Horror! (well, Blog Carnival of Horror actually)

Okay, so I'm finally getting down to actually writing my post for the RPG Blog Alliance Carnival.  No, seriously, I am.  I really mean it this time.  This month's topic, hosted by Troll in the Corner, is HORROR!  This is actually a somewhat tough topic for me because I actually don't like the horror genre.  The only horror fiction I've ever read is H.P. Lovecraft's works--which I highly recommend, by the way.  I don't watch horror films or TV unless it's a lesser feature of something else which is of interest.  The Alien series of films is a good example.  I watch them as science fiction with bits of horror thrown in to provide a unique feel.  When it comes to RPGs the only horror games I've run or played in have all been Call of Cthulhu ones, albeit set in differing time periods, etc.  Actually, I'm in one now, as you may have noted in my earlier postings here.  (Well, actually I did run an X-Files type campaign dubbed Neo Tokyo, using homebrew rules with borrowing from Palladium's Teenage Mutant Turtles, but that's a story for another day.)

But now may I direct your attention to the center ring, where the zombies are warming up.  I want to use this posting to share a few thoughts about zombie survival gaming.  When I think of zombie survival horror it usually involves:
running from zombies
finding gear and supplies
killing zombies
finding survivors (friendly or hostile)
running from zombies
finding gear and supplies
killing zombies
running from zombies
finding gear and supplies
killing zombies
running from zombies
finding gear and supplies
killing zombies
...and so it gets a bit repetitive after a while.  Yes you can vary what supplies are available, come up with interesting tactical situations for killing zombies, use variant zombie types, have gear/supplies get ruined, etc.  But you're mostly alternating between brainstorming  how to get gear/supplies and fighting off attacks.  It's a bit of a scavenger hunt.  Now in a computer/video game or movie the fighting bits are very exciting.  The Left 4 Dead series of games is a good example.  But on the table top combat often bogs down the action rather than speeding it up.  Yes, you can mix up the tactical situations with weird zombies, fast zombies, smart zombies, exploding zombies, etc.  But, again, it's more a set of military-style tactical situations.

Where's the horror?

In films/TV/games they throw in a lot of visually disturbing images, have things jump out suddenly to scare you, have sudden loud noises, etc.  They also use music and sound effects to build tension.  However those are tricky to replicate at the gaming table.  And anyway those are just cheap scare tactics.  It's not real HORROR.

So for a GM like myself who's not even into the genre, how would I run a game.  Since I started as a wargamer I'm good with tactical situations, and I'm pretty good with complicated plots so I can string stuff together from session to session.  But where's the spice?  Well I was thinking that a good way to add a dash of something extra to the mix is via character motivations.  The first modern zombie horror film was Night of the Living Dead.  What makes this story great is the personalities and motivations of the characters--it's not really about the zombies.

In a character-driven zombie survival game the zombies are almost an environmental hazard.  They provide the pressure that pushes the character's buttons.  It's how the characters react to the pressure and to how they react to the other characters' reactions that the story unfolds.  Of course the characters will need strong motivations and personality traits.  This part of character creation will be the most important.  Their attributes and skills will generally be of secondary importance.  The scarcity of equipment/supplies in the larger world will be less important than the scarcity and distribution within the group.  The characters' personalities can be done with a rules set which strongly features this type of play, by GM creation to ensure maximum tension and plenty of secrets which will come to the surface at just the worst moment, or via a collaborative creation process by the players.  This type of heavily character-driven game requires players who can embrace this style of play.  With the right group it would be awesome.

Why Haven't the Drow Killed Themselves Off Yet?

Okay, so I was enjoying a review of the D&D 4th Edition D&D Encounters season "Council of Spiders" over at Derek Myers' Dungeon's Master blog.  The concept behind the season was than all players would be Drow or a slave of another race.  I don't actively play 4E, but I like reading Derek's session write-ups and reviews of the Encounter series he's been running.  One of his points got me thinking: why didn't Drow society implode a long time ago?  And how could members of different Drow houses/factions cooperate, as they would have to if belonging to an adventuring party?

My first thought is that maybe the vicious blood-letting isn't really as rampant as the rumors suggest.  Renaissance Italy is infamous for the in-fighting, blood feuds, and treachery within and between city states.  But Italy didn't depopulate itself in a huge auto-genocidal bloodbath.  I would propose that Drow society would have far more political and social maneuvering going on than outright murder and warfare.  There is a lot of posturing, sabre-rattling, acts of brinkmanship, formal dueling, and so on.  Rumors on the surface would, of course, paint the situation in lurid colors.

Yes, there is the occasional secret ambush or assassination, but open murder and blatant acts of war are rare.  Being caught as a murderer of a house member gives rivals a convenient opportunity to band together to declare you traitor.  Traitors are executed or exiled, possibly with all immediate family members, and their holdings divided up as rewards to the the "loyal" family members.  Open warfare is rare as well.  Each house has its strongholds and armed forces, but also vulnerable supply lines, trading routes, slave villages, mining operations, etc. which cannot be recklessly hazarded on a whim.

Now, having a Drow adventuring party presents other difficulties.  If the members are from rival factions/houses then you need some plot devices to keep the party (mostly) outwardly focused.  One obvious plot device is the "Greater Evil".  The houses have formed a joint team (possibly one of a number of such teams) to counter something with threatens them all.  Some quick ideas for the Greater Evil are:
  • A dragon clan has gathered an army and is carving out a new empire
  • Githyanki forces are making devastating raids from the ethereal plane at will; all are vulnerable
  • Conquering Duergar wield new steampunk technology giving them a decisive edge on the battlefield
  • Drow society is infiltrated by Cthulhu-style Elder God cultists, with a major summoning rumored soon
Personally I like the idea of playing an all-Drow game, complete with the political/social maneuvering.  But then, I'm one of those huge Elf fans you've heard about.  However, the fact that all other races must be slaves would definitely put some people off.  But perhaps you could add in other races as representatives of non-Drow parties to the alliance against the Greater Evil--with the Drow holding a senior position in the alliance due to their intimate knowledge of the Everdark.

But I doubt I'll ever get to run it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A First Deity: Lentarula, Goddess of the Isles

 Okay, so I've decided to push on through a bad cold and write up a first deity for my campaign world.  I'm starting small, with one of the independent, lesser ones, kind of as an intellectual warm-up exercise.  For now I'm approaching this as a Pathfinder/3.x style description, 


Titles: Goddess of the Isles, Lady of the Smoking Mountain
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Domains: Fire, Protection, Rune
Subdomains: Ash, Defense, Wards
Favored Weapon: shield

Lentarula reigns over an active volcanic island surrounded by a dozen or smaller islands located in the far southeast oceans.  During the War of Angels and Demons she belonged to a faction of Angels which was annihilated in a major battle in the south late in the war.  She and a few other surviving angels barely escaped the combat, fleeing with their mortal followers.  The demons harried their retreat, destroying all but Lentarula and a few hundred mortals.  Eventually they evaded their pursuers, found an isolated volcanic island, and settled.

Today the population of the isles is nearly 10,000, divided fairly evenly between humans, elves, half-elves, and fire drakkar (dragonborn).  The main town, named Port Lentar after the goddess, is on the large volcanic island of Wulu Nalur.  The community is ruled by a council of three called the  with one member each from the human, elvish, and drakkar.  The council members are often priests or priestesses of Lentarula.  The largest structure in Port Lentaru is the Temple of Fire, dedicated to Lentarula.  Originally the goddess was known for her knowledge, particularly of runic magic and the protective strength of her faith.  After settling on the island she gained elemental powers of fire, partly from the effects of the upwelling of elemental fire mana flowing up from the volcano and partly from the particular prayers of her fire drakkar followers.

The goddess stresses the protection of all life and also knowledge as revealed and applied via ancient arcane runes.  All her clerics learn the language of the goddess, Celestial, and all holy books, prayers, and rituals are conducted in it.  Her followers originally took silver as a color to be her sign, and frequently use the shape of a shield.  Since coming to the island some have begun using red, particularly the drakkar.  Some of the original followers oppose the use of red and insist that only the traditional silver be used.  Clerical vestments are typically white or light gray robes with short, wide sleeves.  Whenever possible they have silver embroidery and silver decorations, particularly shields on the back, chest and each shoulder.  Again, some use red as well but usually added at the cuffs, collar, and hems.

Although the goddess does not mandate any holy symbol, various shield shapes have been used as convenient reminders that she protects all under her care.  Devout followers sometimes draw a circle in the air representing a shield when they wish to ward off some real or potential evil.  Unlike some deities the clerics of the goddess do not favor use of a particular weapon but do equip themselves with a shield whenever possible.

In keeping with the Lady's focus on protection and arcane learning, temples to her are strongly built to serve as refuge or even fortress in time of peril.  The teaching of the ways of the goddess always include inspirational stories of her part in the War of Angels and Demons and how she brought her followers to safety.  Everyone is constantly reminded to be on guard lest the ancient enemies find them and return for a final assault.  The usually have a library and try to have books with knowledge of arcane defensive magic so that wizards of good character may increase their skills.

The church has two major festivals.  The first, called Founding Festival, is to commemorate the original arrival of the goddess and remaining followers to the island.  This is held in the fall, eight days after the autumnal equinox.  In more recent times the traditional fall harvest celebrations have start at the equinox and climax alongside the Founding Festival.  The second most important is usually held two weeks after the summer solstice.  It is called Ending of Light.  This is a somber remembrance of the fallen Angel companions of Lentarula.  Temples of Lentarula typically include icons or small statues of the Bright Companions.  These are usually brought out and taken through the community in a procession rather like that of a funeral.  The faithful wear funeral garb on that day and fasting is observed from dawn to dusk.

Monday, October 22, 2012

You Gotta Have Faith (and Pilgrimages)

Okay, so I just watched a slightly annoying but nonetheless interesting show called Departures on which the hosts toured a couple places in India.  This episode was called "India: Sacred Ground" and the bit which inspired me to jump into this post was where they visit the sacred Hindu city of Varanasi on the Ganges.  The city is chock full of heavy religious significance and observances.  And that's exactly what I want a lot of in the campaign world I'm building now.  Here are some examples from the city's Wikipedia entry of the sort of thing I want to create:
  • Varanasi is a holy city in Hinduism, being one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus of all denominations and is one of seven most holy places for Hindus in India. 
  • A Kᚣetra is a sacred ground, a field of active power, a place where Moksha, final release can be obtained. Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person's soul from the cycle of its transmigrations.
  • Hindus believe that Vishalakshi Temple stands on the spot where Goddess Sati's earrings fell. 
  • Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard the river Ganges itself as the Goddess Shakti. 
  • Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too, being one of the four pilgrimage sites said to have been designated by Gautama Buddha himself. In the residential neighborhood of Varanasi lies Sarnath, the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha is said to have given his first sermon about the basic principles of Buddhism. 
 Fantastic!  I want a game world where you can go visit the very spot (so they say) that goddess X or saint Y actually preached/wept/loved/died.  There must be places of pilgrimage, either as sole destinations or as part of a pilgrimage trail to be followed.  Each holy place should have a story behind it (usually embellished to some extent), but a story with actual divine substance to it.  There will be places to visit, particular rituals which can be performed, unique local worship festivals, personalities (priests, hermits, monks, zealots, etc.), and holy items to be purchased and brought home (e.g., sacred anointing oil, healing waters from the holy spring, an image of the saint blessed by the high priest right on the tomb of the saint, etc.).

I want to add these details because they accord with my view of the divine background to the world, add to the wonder of exploring and experiencing a new place, and provide endless plot elements to enhance play.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A World of Angels and Demons

Okay, so I'm still really stuck on how to develop interesting, flavorful deities for my new campaign world.  I've already laid down that there is a small group of enigmatic Primordial deities (temporarily called the Totemas, a la Final Fantasy), a set of major but limited nature deities such as the sun god, earth goddess, and divine elemental dragons, and then finally the "everyday" deities which reign over particular regions or locations (although their followers can be in communion with them from anywhere inside the world).

These "everyday" deities are the survivors or remnants of armies of powerful beings from some other realm of existence who fought each other for centuries in the War of the Angels and Demons.  The Demons fought to control or destroy, the Angels to thwart the Demons and protect the native inhabitants of the world.  After the gates to their origins were sealed, cutting off reinforcements, the number of combatants dwindled in the wars.  Eventually they fell back and regrouped in certain areas, unwilling to risk a decisive battle with their limited forces.  A few were left isolated or sought solitude alone, but most ended up in groups (now pantheons) with dominion over a particular geographic region.

Now, one meta-concept I'm using is that a deity's power is in proportion to the number and righteousness of his/her/its followers.  Thus there is a tendency, particularly by the power-hungry Demon deities, to enforce worship.  The inhabitants of their dominion will be raised with constant religious instruction or guidance.  Heretics and apostates must repent or be executed.  Followers of other deities should be converted or compromised.  Holy wars occur and have deep divine significance.  Thus not only is it important to come up with a cast of divine characters but I will need to lay out which geographic regions are their dominions and work their influences into the culture of each dominion.  A grand imperial dominion ruled by a pantheon of major Demon deities will be a very different place than a small island with a single minor Angel deity watching over it.

My earlier Dorky or Dynamite posting laid out the possibility of using historical pantheons, maybe with the original names or maybe with new names to disguise them.  The history buff in me is fascinated by the historical aspect, but I wouldn't feel proud of taking the slacker route.  And what would the players think about it?  I really should design them all from scratch.

If I design from scratch the first step will be to drag out the map, which I have roughed out in Hexographer, and decide on the geographic dominions.  These will be the dominions of the major pantheons and major individual deities.  The smaller minor deity dominions can be filled in later, as their dominions will typically be too small to appear on the world map at its current scale; plus, it will be better to create them as needed for plots and stories as the campaign unfolds.  Once I have the number of domains decided upon and the number of deities for each domain with a pantheon I can begin filling in the blanks.  I decided early on to use a structured approach to designing the world and I plan to continue in that vein for the deities.

Now, the terms "angels" and "demons" are ones given to the "newcomer" deities by the First Races (humans, elves, and dwarves) based on how they treated the native peoples.  Not all of the "angels" are pure paragons: some are quite rather neutral, most have personality quirks, many have a touchy sense of their own nobility--especially after many, many centuries of worship as gods and goddesses.  The "demons" mostly really are definitely evil.  Some are relatively neutral, but none are kind.  The grouping of deities into pantheons allows for some common threads to connect the member deities.  For instance, all the clerics of a relatively Lawful pantheon might use red and gold, but each deity having different types of hats, vestments, holy symbols in those colors.  Thus there is room for variety both between and within various pantheons and lots of room for quirky lone deities tucked away here and there.  I like the idea of having lone deities so that players who really don't like any of the ones I've created (perish the thought!) can work with me to design a new one.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Next Up: Star Wars (I think....)

Okay, so I've mentioned before (or maybe it's just a weird flashback) that I'm gaming on alternate Wednesday nights now. This Wednesday my buddy Kaiser is running a Star Wars game with pre-gen characters and we're using the Mini Six rules for the D6 system.  I've been intrigued by these rules, and the regular D6 rules, ever since I came across them.  So I'm really looking forward to this game because I will get to see the rules in action.  As I slowly build my new fantasy RPG campaign world I'm leaving aside the decision on which set of rules I'll use.  My work on the world has been almost system-independant so far.  I say "almost" because it will have a D&Dish flavor to it.  There will be paladins, orcs, and a few other bits.

However, I still have plenty of time to think about what the final set of rules will be.  Right now the contenders are:
  • Pathfinder
  • Old School Hack (hacked to be customized it for my world)
  • D6 (or Mini Six)
  • BESM 3rd Edition
  • BESM d20
So Wednesday's session will be a major deciding factor in whether Mini Six (and/or the D6 rules) gets voted off the island or not.

What other rules were voted off already?  Well, so far we have:
  • AD&D
  • Chivalry & Sorcery (1st and 2nd Editions)
  • D&D 3rd Edition
  • Ironclaw
  • Basic Role Play (BRP)
  • Dark Dungeons
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  • Swords & Wizardry
  • The Secret Fire
  • Microlite74
  • Labyrinth Lord
  • Palladium Fantasy
A couple sets of rules are still awaiting sentencing by the judge:
  • Savage World
  • BASH Fantasy Edition
  • 13th Age
  • Dying Earth RPG
  • D&D 4th Edition
  • D&D Next (?) 
  • Exalted
A big part of the problem for me is that I really am torn between rules with lots of detailed crunchy bits (e.g. Pathfinder) with lots of options for everyone and something simpler which runs smoothly at the table (e.g. Old School Hack) but with lower granularity in the crunchy options.  I'm also undecided on what amount of power level inflation I want in the game.  The player powers at higher levels in D&D/Pathfinder are cool, but a high-level game is very different from a low-level game: it's almost superhero vs. gritty.  Do I want the high power levels?  Will staying with a lower power level mean that nothing really "big" can happen in a game?

Actually, one of the main things the final rules set must be able to accommodate is customization.  I do want the game to have classes/templates/jobs (or whatever the rules set calls them).  My earlier posting on the class templates I made up for my BESM game shows the sort of customization I want in this area.  To me the types you will meet (or be) in the campaign world are a big part of setting the tone and style of the game.  This is a major reason I reject the OSR type rules with only three or four classes (mage/fighter/expert or wizard/fighter/thief/cleric).  There's no room there for the customization I require.

Monday, October 15, 2012

BESM, The Game With No Class

Okay, so I've probably let slip that I have a fondness for BESM 3rd Edition and, to a lesser extent. BESM d20.  It really is a nice rules-light system...well the rules of play are simple but the design work can be work.  But as I've mentioned before it needs campaign sourcebooks, bestiaries, detailed equipment lists, etc.  Now, when I started my last fantasy campaign using BESM 3rd I had just been playing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on the Gameboy Advance (yes, it was that long ago) and I really liked the classes and races.  I'd never really been exposed to the Final Fantasy series, since I really don't play console video games (the controllers are too fiddly for me), so the content was quite fresh to me.

So, I decided to freshen up my fantasy game by combining my favorite D&D classes with some jobs taken from the Final Fantasy line.  In addition I added a couple of my own.  For each class (job) I made up a template of attributes.  I deliberately kept all class templates at a cost of 40 Character Points (CP) so that players would not be using cost a a factor in choosing a template.  I selected 40 CP because I planned to start characters with 180 to 190 CP.  Thus a PC with human average stats of 4 Body, 4 Mind, and 4 Soul plus a template would cost 160 CP, leaving 20 to 30 CP for buying skills, equipment, etc.  The final 18 classes were:
  • Archer/Musketeer [a ranged attack type fighter with bow, musket, or crossbow]
  • Black Mage [an elemental magic wizard, starting with meta/lightning, water/ice, and fire]
  • (Clockwork Knight)* [pilots a small mechanical "power suit"]
  • Dancer [a magical dancer, spy, thief, lover, and assassin]
  • (Dark Rose)* [gothic lolita badgirl with magic, daggers, a whip, bat wings, and dark attitude]
  • (Dragon Priest)* [follower of the divine dragon gods, their own race matters not]
  • Dragoon [an acrobatic lance fighter specializing in fighting dragons]
  • Kensai [a melee attack master]
  • (Ninja)* [a thief/assassin/spy with acrobatics and illusion magic]
  • Paladin
  • Red Mage [a light melee fighter with one school of elemental magic and a bit of holy healing]
  • (Shadow Knight)* [dark counterpart to the Paladin, the shadow of evil is strong with this one]
  • (Shadow Mage)* [dark counterpart to the White Mage; a wielder of unholy shadow magic]
  • Summoner [summons and commands creatures from other dimensions, or this one]
  • Thief
  • Valkyrie [the female-only counterpart to the paladin]
  • White Mage [a cleric of the Light, bringing the holy light to push back the shadow]
  • White Monk [martial arts meets the power of the Light; a monk-paladin]
    *NPC classes

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Paladins and Valkyries

Okay, so many fantasy RPGs have the Paladin, a holy warrior who fights evil bolstered with divine powers.  Some also have the Anti-Paladin who is the Paladin's evil counterpart.  Being a big history buff, I when I think of the paladin I immediately recall the European religious fighting orders of the middle ages such as the Hospitalers.  These fighting orders were male-only and had requirements including vows of poverty and chastity.  (Vows like that make for good character backgrounds for paladins in a RPG campaign.)

But more recently I came across artwork from the video game Valkyrie Profile.  It gave me the idea of splitting the typical paladin class into two classes: paladins (male-only) and valkyries (female-only).  I realize that this might alienate some players, since single-gender (or single-race) classes are "not politically correct".  However, I think it adds a cool twist to the old paladin class.  But my valkyries are not just a female-only order of paladins but a slightly different class.

So I did up versions of the Valkyrie for BESM d20 and BESM 3rd Edition; when I get fully comfortable with Pathfinder's classes I'll do up a Pathfinder version.

Valkyrie (BESM d20 version)

    The Valkyrie is a type of holy warrior similar to the Paladin.  The most obvious difference is that where the Paladin may gain a divine mount at 5th level, the Valkyrie gains the use of holy angelic wings.  Like the Paladin, they also battle evil with weapons and with divine magic spells (though usually only at the Far Circle level of ability).  However the Valkyrie uses Heart magic rather than Holy magic; in addition, they are taught a particular set of magic spells at level 15 which is unique to their cult.

Abilities: Strength and Charisma are important for the Valkyrie.
Alignment: any Good
Hit Die: d10
Mana Die: d4
Skill Points: (2 + Int bonus) x 4
Skill Points at new level: 2 + Int bonus
Class Skills: Concentration, Craft, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Jump, Knowledge (Military Science), Knowledge (Occult), Knowledge (Religion), Medical, Sense Motive, Swim; Melee Attack, Melee Defense.
             Base                 Fort     Ref       Wil
Level    Attack Bonus     Save    Save    Save    Special                                                              
1          +0                     +0        +2       +2        Sixth Sense (Evil), Organizational Ties 1, Armor feat
2          +1                    +0        +3       +3         Massive Damage (sword or spear) 1
3         +2                     +1        +3       +3         Divine Relationship 1
4          +3                    +1        +4       +4         Heart magic level (MKL) 1
5          +3                    +1        +4       +4         Flight (Angel Wings; can't hover) 1
6          +4                    +2        +5       +5        Combination Attack 1
7          +5                    +2        +5       +5        Telepathy (Other Valkyries only) 1
8          +6/+1               +2        +6       +6        Divine Relationship 2
9          +6/+1               +3        +6       +6        Attack Combat Mastery 1
10         +7/+2               +3        +7       +7       Heightened Awareness 1, +1 Character Point (CP)
11         +8/+3               +3        +7       +7       Combination Attack 2
12         +9/+4               +4        +8       +8       Flight (Angel Wings) 2
13         +9/+4               +4        +8      +8       Attack Combat Mastery 2
14         +10/+5             +4        +9      +9       Telepathy (Other Valkyries only) 2
15         +11/+6/+1        +5         +9     +9       Cult magic (varies, see below) 1
16         +12/+7/+2        +5        +10    +10     Divine Relationship 3, +1 CP
17         +12/+7/+2        +5        +10    +10     Attack Combat Mastery 3
18         +13/+8/+3        +6        +11    +11     Combination Attack 3
19         +14/+9/+4        +6        +11    +11     +2 CP
20         +15/+10/+5        +6     +12    +12     Aura of Command 1, +1 CP

The Valkyrie Cults:
Niflheim Cult
Cult Magic: Water

Midgaard Cult
Cult Magic: Metal

Muspellheim Cult
Cult Magic: Fire

Valkyrie (BESM 3rd Edition version

    The Valkyrie is a type of holy warrior similar to the Paladin. This class is only open to females.  The most obvious difference with the Paladin is that the Valkyrie eventually can use one type of elemental magic.  Like the Paladin, they also battle evil with weapons and with divine magic spells.  There are three Valkyrie cults, each of which teaches elemental magic spells to those members who prove themselves worthy.

Novice Kit [40 CP]

    Aura of Inspiration (Hope), Level 1 [4]
    Divine Relationship, Level 1 [2]
    Energy Bonus, Level 2 [4]
    Environmental Influence (Light), Level 1 [2]
    Healing, Level 1 [4]
    Melee Attack (choose swords or polearms), Level 1 [3]
    Melee Defense (choose swords or polearms), Level 1 [3]
    Mind Shield, Level 1 [2]
    Organizational Ties, Level 1 [2]
    Power Flux (Minor—Cult Elemental Magic) [5]
    Resistance, Level 1 [2]
    Shield, Level 1 [4]
    Sixth Sense (Evil), Level 1 [2]
    Telepathy (With Other Valkyrie), Level 1 [2]

    Acrobatics, Level 1 [2]
    Etiquette, Level 1 [1]
    Languages, Level 1 [1]
    Occult, Level 1 [3]

    Owned (Cult Oaths) [-2]
    Special Requirement (Faith) [-4]
    Marked (Wings of Light) [-2]

The Valkyrie Cults:
Niflheim Cult
Cult Magic: Water

Midgaard Cult
Cult Magic: Lightning

Muspellheim Cult
Cult Magic: Fire

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Magic Item Creation for BESM 3rd Edition

Okay, so I have posted some information previously on BESM but I probably haven't fully bared my soul on how much I like this particular system.  Now, I generally have a fascination with deep, rules-heavy systems such as D&D 3rd Edition and Pathfinder.  (I attribute this to the Lawful side of my alignment.)  However I find that play with rules light systems runs much faster and with more roleplay input by both players and GMs.  I attribute this "better" play to the theory that the less time you have to spend at the table digging through rules and re-checking character sheets the more energy you can put into the creative aspects of play.  I find this is particularly true of combat situations, where ideally the action at the table will be as fast and furious as in an action movie.

BESM 3rd Edition suffers, however, from the fact that it is a toolbox of the core rules with only very basic information on NPCs, world settings, equipment, etc.  Personally I find this scarcity of examples to be a serious barrier to running the types of games I want to use it for because so much has to be designed from scratch.  The main type of game I'd like to use BESM for is a swords-and-sorcery type of fantasy campaign.  But there is pretty much nothing in the actual book for this other than an equipment list and one or two NPC/critter examples.

One particular area is magic item creation.  My first fantasy rules set as the old Chivalry and Sorcery (C&S) by Fantasy Games Unlimited.  Really the best part of the rules, far and away, was the magic item creation rules.  It was deep, complex, and very flavorful (yes, we're back to "I like rules-heavy systems because I'm Lawful aligned").  So I want any game I play to have a reasonably flavorful magic item creation process which actually affects play.  I don't want something where you spend X amount of gold pieces and experience points or you spend X amount of CP build points.  I want character to seek out exotic components, go through rituals, etc. in game time.

This led me to come up with a simple set of magic item creation rules for BESM using ideas from the old C&S.  It is based on an attribute called Enchant which is a variation on the Transmutation attribute.  Note that Enchant contains important specifics regarding backlash on failure and a delay to the enchantment taking full effect.

Enchantment Magic (for BESM 3rd Edition)

Enchant (4 CP)
Transmutation - Unlimited 1                                                           12 CP
Unique Attribute (extendable beyond 1 minute duration)                1
Unique Attribute (only transmutes for item enchants)                     1
Activation -2                                                                                    -2
Backlash -2 (if fail by 4 or more; see below for modifiers)             -2
Concentration -6 (requires full concentration)                               -6
Delay -2 (takes 2-12 hours to take effect)                                      -2

- Soul is the Relevant Stat for using Enchant

- The caster may enhance chance of  casting and Enchant by meditation, fasting, chanting, ritual dancing or other types of preparation to gain the a temporary casting modifier (see below).  The  If the casting is not successful the preparation bonus is lost and must be started all over again.
+1    1 hour
+2    2 hours
+3    4 hours
+4    8 hours
+5    12 hours
+6    1 day
+7    2 days
+8    4 days
+9    7 days
+10    14 days

- Enchanting involves altering the basic magical nature of the material being enchanted.  Some materials are naturally enchanted and thus easier to work with:

Arcane Materials (+1 to base difficulty to enchant)
 - Body parts from dragons, elementals, fey, magical beasts, and outsiders
 - Special magical materials, such as magicite and auracite
Challenging Materials (+3 to base difficulty to enchant)
- Body parts from aberrations, oozes, shapechangers, and greater undead
- Rare or precious materials, such as gems, gold, purest steel.

Common Materials (+6 to base difficulty to enchant)
- Body parts from animals, beasts, giants, humanoids, monstrous humanoids, plants, and vermin
- Ordinary materials, such as stone, water, dirt, wood, iron

- A roll is required to cast an enchantment:

(Base difficulty 12) + (material difficulty modifier) vs. 2d6 + (Soul stat) + (levels of Enchant attribute taken) + (enhancement modifier)

- If an enchantment attempt results in a Backlash then the caster is drained of all EP and the material loses one level of enchantment (if it has any yet).

- The number of separate materials and number of successful Enchant casts per material needed to make a magic item is equal to the CP of the item (prior to halving the final value for it being an item).  For instance an enchantment to give a sword a +1 to hit would require enchanting "Melee Attack (sword) 1" into it, costing 3 CP.  This would require three separate materials and three successful Enchant casts on each material, for a total of nine successful Enchants.

- Enchant can be cast in reverse, so to speak, in order to de-Enchant an enchanted item.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Mecha Campaign Intro...

 Okay, so some time back I wrote up this bit of fiction as a mecha campaign intro to use to both tempt players and to set the tone.  Later I did alternative versions of it.  I'll post those later, but here's the original one:

Let Them Eat Cake...

     Through the viewport you can see your new home away from home, the Light Mecha Carrier "Prince Zaporizhye" orbiting above Sirenus III.  The transport carrying you and your mecha docks with the large ship.  The crewmen look on with accustomed respect as you and your unit stroll out of the docking tube with your new dress uniforms and rapiers.  The mecha pilot wings on your chest and gold epaulettes on your shoulders proclaim your status: Mecha Knight.  Once a Mecha Squire on a small, rural plant, now an officer serving the Empire's latest Crusade.

     It was only a few weeks ago that you held up your serving of cake at lunch in the grand hall of your family's castle on Trantus IV and remarked that you were getting a bit tired of cake.  Meals at the estate tended to be tedious, formal affairs--not a chic as you might find at estates in the core worlds of the empire, but one must make the best effort one can.  As the family's income came from the large grain-producing farms of this largely agricultural world, cake was served at every meal as a reminder.  You were just trying to make conversation but unfortunately for you Uncle Ivan, your humorless mentor and ardent Imperial Navy veteran, was right behind you.

     You and the other levy-recruits from the fiefs on your world gather on the mecha hangar deck.  An officer approaches.  His immaculate space-black uniform and large gold and silver epaulettes immediately identify him as a Lieutenant-Commander and member of the ship's Command Staff.  "Quiet, if you please gentlemen", he says in a polite but firm voice.  He applies an icy stare to still the last few chatterers.  The Lieutenant-Commander looks you over casually for a moment with a mixture of boredom and amusement.  "Commodore Count Grigory Alexandrovich Kutusov, commander of this ship and this task force, welcomes you aboard.  I am his adjutant, Lieutenant-Commander Orlov.  The Commodore is pleased to see your prompt response to the Emperor's call to his vassals to join the latest crusade against the heretics and their alien bedfellows in this sector.  Your personal mecha are being brought aboard and will be placed in the suite of bays set aside for your contingent.  You will be joining the distinguished noble Golden Lions, well-connected at court, mind you, as well as a unit of common mercenaries under contract to the Imperium.  Commodore Count Kutusov also sends his complements and requests the pleasure of your company at dinner in the Captain's Mess this evening at 2700 hours for the formal welcome dinner.  The ship's Chief Steward will come by your personal accommodation suites later to arrange payment of your subscription to the Officer's Mess and for contributions to the mess' wine cellar.  Oh, and one more thing.  The Commodore does rather frown on dueling."  The Lieutenant-Commodore, turns smartly and leaves the deck.

     As you begin looking around for the way to your quarters, an overly cultured voice behind you drawls "Trantus IV, that rather...rural, isn't it?"  "Oh yes," says another "I believe they raise swine there!"  A short burst of laughter follows.  Looking over your shoulder you see a handful of junior officers like yourselves wearing brilliant uniforms of golden-yellow with black cuffs, collars, and piping.  By the color of their uniforms and high quality champagne classes in their hands you guess that they must be the well-connected Golden Lions.  Ignoring them, you and your friends pick up your bags and head for a likely-looking companionway.  Behind you one of the Lions, incredulous, says "Look at that, they're even carrying their own luggage!" Peals of laughter follow you as you exit.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Running Away to Join the Circus: RPG Blog Carnival

Okay, so for some time now I've been vaguely aware of an interesting activity going on called the RPG Blog Alliance Carnival.  This is where each month a topic is set out for bloggers to post about and links are posted on the blog which is hosting for that month. (For an archive of past carnivals, see  Now that I've (finally) taken the time to really look into it, I think it's a really cool idea.  So this month I'm running off to join the circus carnival.

For this month the topic is HORROR!  This can be the horror genre or the horror of games gone horribly wrong.  I'm planning to post on both.  Luckily I've only had one really bad experience with a game and I bailed before that session was even over (well, okay the GM had already killed off my character anyway, but that's not important right now).  I'll also be spicing up that Bad Game post with a link to a great video by the Gentleman Gamer of the YouTube RPG Brigade on his worst game.  Hilarious yet poignant.

Now, I don't usually run horror games, although I have done some X-Files type games with creepy stuff going on.  Right now I'm still in a 1920s Call of Cthulhu game run by my buddy Steve.  That's got some good horror elements running through it but it does point up the difficulty of really spooking players who've read all the books already.  My "Neo Tokyo" game was spooky and mysterious because it was totally homebrew, with animal mutant races borrowed from Palladium's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a skill tree system reworked from Paranoia.  The players had no idea what was going to show up next or...WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING!!!

Anyway, I'll be doing up a proper pair (or more) of posts for my exhibits in the carnival freak show next week (or maybe over the weekend--we'll see how things go).

Monday, October 8, 2012

You Can't Get Good Help Anymore

Okay, so I've played quite a few sessions of roleplay gaming and read lots of published adventures and modules.  One of the things which one rarely sees, although they were common in the pre-20th century (and still in many countries today) is servants.  One of the sure signs in the pre-20th century world that one has got a foot on the ladder of wealth and power is the employment of a servant.  In fact, you could easily judge the wealth and power of a person by the number of servants and retainers they employed.  I'm sure you've seen movies where every door in the palace has a pair of servants who just stand there to open and close the doors, or the Chinese films where the courtyard of the imperial palace has literally hundreds of court officials and servants lined up just to impress the arriving visitors.

One of my favorite scenes is in one of the Four Musketeers movie series with Michael York.  The young D'Artagnan needs to get a boat to England and has "acquired" a pass from one of the baddies.  He arrives at the port at night with his servant Planchet.  The guard examines his pass and says "But this pass is for only one person."  D'Artagnan replies "I am only one person.  This <indicates Planchet with his lantern>, is a servant."  Or, in a less serious vein, are the squires in Monty Python and the Holy Grail with their backpacks and coconuts for making horse hoof noises.

Either way, persons of power should have servants--the more powerful the more servants.  And by servants I mean "non-combatants".  Now, probably all of today's RPGs are written by people living in modern First World countries.  In such countries today very few people have servants.  They may have a nanny, housekeeper, or gardener, but that's probably about it.  Only the ultra-rich may employ large numbers of people: a crew for their yacht, hands down at the riding stable, etc.  Thus the writers of RPGs don't really think about servants for the wealthy and powerful as they would appear based on historical norms.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Torpedoes Away! (Secret Santicore on it's way)

Okay, so I just sent off the draft of my "gift" for the Secret Santicore ?sourcebook? 2012 edition.  I'm not sure when the actual final product will be out, but I'm really excited.  The 2011 one was packed with cool stuff and I'm sure this one will be great as well.  I had fun putting my bit together, entitled "Below the Torch and Tankard".

Thursday, October 4, 2012

After Cthulhu

So my friend (or so I consider him) Tetsubo kindly left me a couple of comments on my recent postings and that got me thinking about a different take on running a Call of Cthulhu.  I would start with a futuristic setting where Humanity has spread out amongst the stars.  Then an interdimensional rift occurs and connects this universe to the Other universe, which is populated with the Elder Gods, Mi-Go, etc. and human civilization begins to collapse.  After decades of horror, the rift disappears (apparently).  Now the survivors on one planet are putting the pieces back together and reaching out to find out if there are any other survivors out there, or at least search for needed supplies and resources.

This concept is obviously like the Space Hulk/Warhammer 40K game I posted about earlier.  But instead of using the WH40K setting, which I find very restrictive as a GM, you could use a more "normal" futuristic setting for the background.  One major difference would be factoring in the aftereffects left by the taint of Cthulhoid influences.  The basic race would be humans, but you could also have robots, cyborgs, and androids.  And then there would be human mutants, the insane, and the possessed. The only intelligent non-humans would be hostile ones from the Other dimension--that gives it a "not politically correct" spin, but one good for providing a pulp horror feel.

I would have the game set on one planet and tell the players that it is the only known planet not destroyed or overrun by evil things.  That makes the universe seem colder and scarier, provides a feeling of vulnerability (in a strategic sense), and gives them a reason to care about it which can make for good heroic roleplay.  However, their home planet will contain the taint of the Other still hidden away in places you'd least expect it.  Their home base isn't totally secure--just deceptively so.

The universe outside will have everything from worlds where everyone is dead but the monsters, planets overrun with monsters, places where the aliens dominate a conquered human population, cultists (even entire planets full, complete with battlefleets), places full of the insane, etc.  All this would provide a creepy, depressing, desperate vibe to the game quite different from the cartoonish, wargamey vibe of the Space Hulk/WH40K game I posted about earlier.

Or you could just go ahead and play CthulhuTech, which I want to do a mini-campaign of for my Wednesday night group.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Call of Cthulhu Still Rocks!

Okay, so last night we had another session (our 4th one?) of the Call of Cthulhu game set in 1920's Canada which my buddy Steve is running.  We had a great time, with a train ride across Canada, RP with suspicious characters, a freighter blowing up, meeting a weird Japanese revenant ninja, and preparing for a full-on assault by the Deep Ones against our other freighter (the one that didn't get blown up at Vancouver).  All in all I must say that Call of Cthulhu still rocks as a role-playing game.  I love the creepy feeling of a well-run game, the mystery solving, the role play as you work your character, and trying to figure out what's going on with all the sketchy NPCs.  The fact that the "monsters" are usually deadly dangerous really puts the pressure on when violence looms.  It's a totally different vibe from the D&D style fantasy games we've been running.  I think my friend Bill has been keeping a campaign journal--I'll try to bring him on board as a guest blogger and share some of the game with us.

Speaking of games that still rock, I should mention Paranoia.  Last night we found out, much to our surprise, that Steve has never heard of Paranoia!  Really?!  Well, clearly I shall have to remedy that gap in his gaming education MWAHAHHAHAHAHH!!!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Judge Dredd for RPG Gaming

Okay, so I gave the new Dredd movie quite a drubbing in my earlier post.  But this blog is about tabletop (pen-and-pencil) role play gaming.  So what about gaming in the world of Judge Dredd?  Well, I think it's a fantastic setting for gaming.  The whole dystopian future thing with quirky bits thrown in makes for an interesting mix.  The Wikipedia page for the Judge Dredd comic book series is pretty much a campaign source book all by itself.  One potential downside is that the players' characters pretty much all have to be Judges, but that's okay because the point of playing Dredd is precisely so you can look a perp in the face and say "I am the law!"  The setting makes for a good "based mission" type campaign, with a mix of full-auto, boot-in-the-face, chainsaw badboy mayhem on the streets and intrigue and (maybe, just maybe) forbidden love back at headquarters.

You could, of course, use the setting but run it with the players as street gang members fighting each other, urban terrorists fighting the system, or outland mutants fighting for existence.  Then the Judges would be NPCs, but there you go.

Don't Throw Your Vote Away

Okay, so I recently read a great posting on the Age of Ravens blog by Lowell Francis about the new concepts he'd pitched to his players for their next campaign (  He has an earlier post with other campaign ideas he'd pitched.  In both cases he came up with a set of cool campaigns of various types which he would like to run and then let his players vote on them.  I rather liked that method.

     Right now I'm running Paizo's Shackled City adventure path, but with the Pathfinder rules rather than with the 3.x rules which it was written for (which isn't much of a change, really).  When it's done I'll have to come up with something else--and I am toying with some ideas.  In the meantime I've got my new Wednesday Warriors group to entertain, which games on a more flexible basis.  So, I thought that I'd emulate the esteemed Mr. Francis and throw out a listing of campaign pitches which I'd like to run and see what people would vote for.  Several of these are from my earlier posts, but some are new.

CthulhuTech (as military mecha OR zombie survival, OR "X-Files" mode) [CthulhuTech]

Mecha (RoboTech inspired) [BESM or d20 Modern/Future]

Salvage Hulk (my take on the Hulks & Horrors/Space Hulk games) [d20 Modern or BESM]

Righteous Cloud Temple (see blog post here) [Pathfinder]

Zodiac World (trouble-shooter furries on a near-future type Disney World planet going wrong fast)  [Albedo, or BESM]

Invincible Midnight (a fantasy Shadowfell/Plane of Shadows type setting) [Pathfinder or OSH]

Midgaard (a fantasy/alternate history world where Norse mythology meets steampunk Romanesque Atlanteans and now it's the Middle Ages) [Pathfinder]