Sunday, June 23, 2013

Back From My Pilgrimage (to the FLGS, that is)

Okay, so I wasn't able to get over to my Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS) for Free RPG Day.  But while checking into it I found that my FLGS, Games and Stuff, had moved! Their old store was tiny and a bit cramped, with a small retail area down stairs and a larger gaming room on the second floor.  Now, however, they are at a much larger location barely a mile from the old one.  The retail area is several times larger, very open, and well-lit.  They have a lot more on display so a trip to browse is definitely worthwhile.  The gaming room in back is huge and also well-lit, with plenty of tables and chairs.

While there I picked up The Plane Above (for D&D 4th Edition), Silver Marches (for the D&D 3.5 Forgotten Realms setting), and a pack of goblins from the Reaper's new Bones line.  I haven't run 4E and may not ever run it but the setting ideas in The Plane Above will be useful for other games.  The Silver Marches is highly likely to become the next setting I run.  It's looking more and more like the new long-term game for my weeknight group will be a Pathfinder-based, classic fantasy game run by me.  So I figured since we're going classic fantasy why not set it in the Forgotten Realms?  That's pretty dang classic.  The Silver Marches looks like a good enough setting all by itself so I'll probably go ahead with that--so, yeah, this trip to the FLGS was a good one.

Oh yeah, and I also put in a special order for the Plot Twist Cards: Flashbacks deck from Paizo.  Our group has really been enjoying these cards and since we've almost gone through the entire deck I figured I'd get the next one to avoid too much repetition.  I'll do a review of both decks and explain how we've been using them a bit later.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cthulhu of the Rings: Ideas for a Mythos Take on Middle Earth

Okay, so I just read a very thought provoking post over at Farsight Blogger entitled "Cthulhu of the Rings in the Dark Ages of Middle-earth". The post is about using the Cthulhu: Dark Ages rules to run a Middle Earth game (and worth reading), but I was immediately struck by the possibilities of running a full-on mythos based Middle Earth game where Sauron is replaced by Cthulhu or one of the other Cthulhu mythos baddies.  Replacing Sauron with Cthulhu means that certain other key elements need to be altered as well.  So a light retouching of Middle Earth to make it mythos could include:

The Big Boss
As mentioned above, we replace Sauron with Cthulhu. Part of the Cthulhu mythos is that Cthulhu is imprisoned deep beneath the sea in R'lyeh.  So for Middle Earth R'lyeh could be beneath the Sea of Nurnen in Mordor.  The Sea of Nurnen looks on the map to be roughly 150 miles long by 50 miles wide.  That's about the size of Lake Ontario or the Gulf of Finland and so reasonably large.  Or you could put R'lyeh somewhere out in Belegaer, the Great Sea.  Another is to have him somewhere under Numenor, making the revolt of Numenor against the Valar gods a Cthulhu cult uprising.  Either way Cthulhu would have an insubstantial nightmarish avatar manifested in Barad Dur.

The Ring Wraiths
In the original, these were nine human kings seduced by the lure of power into taking the rings.  Eventually the fell under Sauron's will through the rings and now serve even unto death.  For a Cthulhu version you could keep the ring idea, but instead of becoming undead they become immortal mutants.  They would look like D&D mind flayers: a repulsive humanoid body with the head and tentacled face of Cthulhu.  Maybe with the vestigial wings as well.

The Orcs
In Tolkien, orcs are cruelly corrupted elves.  The idea of elves (and humans) being taken and corrupted into a monstrous race fits perfectly with the overall mythos theme. But for a mythos version they probably shouldn't look like the stereotypical big green gobliny types like in Warhammer.  So, you could make "orc" a general term for corrupted versions of the major races: svirfneblin (gnome), drow (elf), duergar (dwarf), derro (halfling), and grimlocks (human).  That gives you some extra variety in "orcs" while working with the mythos corruption idea.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: Adventurer Conqueror King System (Part 1)

Okay, so I bought this system a couple months ago, read through it, started drafting a review, lost my hard drive, and now I'm starting it all over from scratch.  Criminey.  Anyway, so yes the Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) is one of those D&D old school renaissance (OSR) systems.  However, that's not why I bought it.  I bought it because reportedly featured a well-designed "end game" for high level characters, including economic and political elements.  I was hoping that it might be adaptable for my Old School Hack/Fictive Hack game if any (surviving) players get to higher levels.  Since ACKS is a mighty tome of gaming richness I'm breaking this review into two parts (or maybe three).

So like most RPGs, ACKS starts out with character generation.  Since it is an OSR system it has a class-based system.  For humans there are the classic fighter, mage, cleric, and thief, but also four campaign classes, the assassin, bard, bladedancer, and explorer.  I particularly liked the bladedancer.  Also typical for an OSR system, the demi-humans (elves and dwarves) have their own racial classes.  However I was glad to see that they at least give each race two classes instead of a single stereotyped one, which is a definite improvement.  The dwarves get the Vaultguard and the Craftpriest; the elves the Spellsword and the Nightblade.

So far so good, but note that none of these classes go to 20th level.  The highest level in ACKS is 14th.  This tames the usual D&D power curve and I'm on board with that.  However, only the human classes go up to 14th.  All the demi-human ones stop short of that: vaultguard just short of it at 13th, nightblade at 11th, but craftpriest and spellsword only at 10th.  That certainly provides a strong incentive to avoid playing the latter three classes.  Why are these classes arbitrarily penalized?  I have no idea.  People who like to play dwarf and elf characters certainly won't think it's a great idea.

ACKS has a system of proficiencies, which are like a blend of the feats and skills you find in D&D 3.x and Pathfinder.  Proficiencies are gained at certain levels, which varies from class to class, and most can only taken once.  I rather like that the feats and skill are essentially blended into one system.  It's simpler, easier to keep track of on the character sheet, and avoids a lot of the fiddly math of allocating new skill points each level.

But then we get to the first of the material for which I bought ACKS: hirelings (henchmen, mercenaries, and specialists).  The early editions of D&D envisioned characters eventually becoming powers in the land, with fighters building a castle, wizards a tower, etc.  And along the way they would hire or recruit NPCs to help them.  At any given time and place the number of hirelings will be limited and they may prove difficult to recruit, based on the local hiring market and the PC's charisma (so you may be sorry you used it as your "dump stat").  Hiring people is something PCs will have to do in an ACKS campaign and the rules here provide enough detail without getting bogged down.  So far so good.

Next, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that for spellcasting ACKS ditched the miserable spell-slot system which has plagued D&D and its derivatives for lo these many years.  (Actually, I almost just skipped this section on the assumption that it would be spell slots.)  In ACKS there is no tedious spell preparation time on the part of the players.  Spellcasters know certain spells and they can cast anything they know, limited by the total number of spells of a given level castable per day.  Nice.  I also like that they have exactly 10 (divine) or 12 (arcane) spells per spell level so you can easily determine a random spell with a quick die roll.  They also discuss limiting the cleric's spell lists based on deity, which is something I feel D&D desperately needs, but unfortunately only provide one example of a limited list.  I think most GMs could take that example and work out their own deity-specific lists, but I wish they'd done more examples to help people out.  (Perhaps that will be covered in future ACKS books, or on a blog somewhere...)

So that's part one.  Still to come: adventures, campaigns, monsters, treasures, and secrets.

Monday, June 17, 2013

What is 6d6's Deal With Us Only Children?

Okay, so I downloaded Issue 3 of 6d6 Free, which is about character creation.  Now, I should mention that I backed the 6d6 Kickstarter so I'm very interested in this game and am keen to see  how it comes along.  But anyway, back to Issue 3.  This issue lays out character creation, using a generic modern setting.  Every character starts with three Paths and there are about 46 paths to choose from.  These include fairly specific ones, such as Artist, and more general ones, such as Country Life.  All well and good--until I get down to Only Child. [Warning: this is semi-rant.]

Now each path has several Advantages under it and you pick one Life advantage and two Ability advantages.  But for Only Child the three available life advantages are:
  • Imagination - "A vibrant creative brain"  [Well, thanks, as a DM of 30+ years I appreciate that idea.  But I don't know that it's really a typical only child trait.]
  • Cunning - "A knack for deviousness, scheming, and exploiting weaknesses"  [Since when are only children known for being devious, schemers, and exploiters?  Actually those traits sound more like the sibling kids I grew up with.  Break something around the house?  Quick, blame it on your 4-year-old sister.]
  • Self - "Personal gain above all else" [So now we only types are all selfish bastards.  Gee, I never knew that. Guess I was too busy being selfish to notice.]
Then the six ability advantages:
  • Family Wealth - "Born and raised in a family of ample wealth." [Since when is there a direct link between being an only child and being born into a wealthy family?]
  • Motormouth - "Able to start and dominate a conversation with almost anyone." [This certainly is the opposite of me.  Sibling kids are more likely to have this because they constantly have to talk over their other siblings to be heard.]
  • Perform - "Expertise in performing the arts in front of an audience." [Okay, I'm pretty good at this when I GM, but I doubt this is necessarily typical of only children.]
  • Create a Scene - "Some people demand attention.  Can be used to do Potential damage." [Again, this is totally the opposite of me.  And actually it's typical of sibling kids to have to make scenes to get attention from their parents over the usual on-going riot at their house.  Only kids already have 100% attention--rather like being in a prison camp spotlight 24  hours a day.]
  • Ride - "Control and direct a mount."  [Yes, I have been on a horse, and a camel, a couple times but I barely know what to do.  My wife is an only child as well and does know how to ride but she grew up in a rural-ish area and they had an old barn. This advantage seems to go with the general idea here that all only children are rich, spoiled upper class types.]
  • Scheming - "Skilled in the art of influence, deal-making, and betrayal" [Actually, it is absolutely typical of sibling kids to do all of the above.  Catch your sibling doing something against the rules?  Threaten to rat them out unless they do you a favor.  Break or lose something?  Just blame the nearest or most vulnerable sibling--the parents will rarely be able to sort out who actually did what.  Very young siblings who aren't articulate yet are perfect for throwing under the bus to avoid punishment.]
Clearly this character sketch of only children is a generally negative one, and certainly doesn't represent me. I won't be using it in any of my games.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Black Dragonkin

Okay, so here is the first of five posts on the five types of dragonkin which I outlined in a recent post.  Each write-up will include a couple small additions to the original basic dragonkin race build and then some cultural-political notes.

Black Dragonkin (Water)
Typical Alignment: ChaoticNeutral
Energy Resistance 5 (cold)

Their scales are black but their world is white.  The water dragonkin live amidst the ice and snow of the far north, separated from the rest of the world by a cold,  bottomless ocean wherein lies the elemental pole of water.  They share their homeland with many scattered tribes of tusk-people, isbjorn, wooly tauren, and frostwolfen.  The north is currently a united kingdom but with many powerful dukes eager for a chance to be next on the throne.

Black dragonkin live in cites of ice near the coast.  They even make ships of carved ice which they use to fish and to raid to the south in winter.  The raiding ships are made anew each raiding season with a ritual where a captive enemy is entombed alive in the ice to give the ship a soul.  In war the black dragonkin favor spears and glaives for melee and javelins and longbows of whale-bone for killing at range.  Most armor and shields are of hide or leather, but they also have some made from the huge scales of giant fish from the deep. The scales come in many colors and have beautiful iridescent qualities.  The ice-ships are also used for the sport of hunting the mighty orca-kraken.  The great black-and-white tentacled beasts provide not only glory for the hunters but ambergris, musk oils, kraken ivory, and other items of great value.

Trade with other lands includes mostly exports of the products of fishing, whaling, and trapping.  Exotic furs, ambergris, oils, musks, ivories, scales, rare meats, fermented liquors, and other items go south.  Sales of those products are used to buy imports of wood, metals, gems, grains, medicines, wines, and textiles.

The realm of the north is currently ruled by King Muran Wave-Rage, a mighty water dragon.  But the kingdom of the water dragons is in crisis.  The three sons of the king have fled the kingdom, accused of trying to overthrow their father and divide the kingdom between them.  The king is said to be on the edge of death from the failure of the high priests to revive him following an assassination attempt.  The sons are also accused of trying to destroy the recent egg-spawn of their father and his new queen, because those spawn would outrank them for the succession.  Queen Aleria Tide-Wing has disappeared, taking the last of her eggs into hiding.  There are  rumors that the sons have one egg which they hold hostage.  The sons and their small fleet of follwers are said to be somewhere on the north coast of the dvarr lands, the Isfold.  They bargain with dvarr pirate kings and mercenary generals to raise forces to take the kingdom.  With the king rumored near death the dukes of the kingdom are already maneuvering for advantage.  Three who have holdings on the north coast of the human lands are negotiating alliances and recruiting monsters for an invasion bid of their own.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hulks & Horrors: My Way

So I threw out some ideas to my gaming group for a longer term game than we've been playing.  One of the options was a Hulks & Horrors (which I reviewed a while back) type game.  I'd use the overall concept from H&H and a lot of the world-building rules from it but the main rules of play would be something else, probably one of: d20 Modern/d20 Future, Albedo: Platinum Catalyst, or classic Traveler.

For my H&H style game I decided to use a hex map with the starting world in the middle.  There would be a couple of semi-explored star systems next to it, and then many others beyond.  Very basic information on the other system would be available, such as type of star, number of planets, and its name from the old days.  The players might be working for a corporation or perhaps with a ship of their own.  The idea is that the homeworld has only rediscovered interstellar travel fairly recently.  Their space navy is almost entirely an intra-system one, built by the allied nations of the planet to battle some aliens who were discovered in the system.  From the alien ships they reverse engineered the jump technology and began exploring.  Several of the first jumps went wrong somehow and ships disappeared.  Eventually they got the hang of it, but then missions to nearby systems ran into serious trouble.  Clearly this wasn't going to be easy.  But the technologies found on the alien ships after the war were amazing and there were more finds on the nearby planets.  The nations of the planet had allied themselves in a common front to face the alien invaders, but that only papered over their on-going differences.  And the technological spoils of war were not shared entirely equally as had been agreed upon.

Thus the race is on to explore the other planets and bring back loot, technological, physical or otherwise.  But building spaceships is expensive and the only ones with the money were national governments, international megacorporations, and a handful of super-rich individuals.  So currently there are national exploration efforts, corporate salvage efforts, individual efforts to salvage, explore, colonize, and more.  There is also a small effort by the Space Navy which most see as window dressing to keep alive the illusion (or hope) of unity.

I'm using a combination of the Traveler and Hulks & Horrors rules to generate the systems and planets.  I looked the world generation rules in Stars Without Number but it didn't have the sort of vibe I was looking for.  I'm still deciding on what exactly caused the fall of civilization earlier.   I figure that once an advance civilization weakens then issues which once were manageable or ignorable become relatively stronger.  So I need a core factor which brought about the tipping point and then several other factors which either then either attacked opportunistically or broke loose and ran amok.  Some ideas are:
- Nano-technology gone wrong (either as a self-replicating virus or evil artificial intelligence)
- Robot rebellion (and almost every device has AI embedded in it)
- Mutagenic bio-virus (but who created it?)
- Alien invasion
- Cthulhoid infiltration (leading to weird powers, cultists, demonic critters, etc.)
- Zombie-pocalypse (possibly as a result of one of the above)
- Sudden scarcity of a critical element used in all the old technologies (the star of the only source planet goes nova and destroys it)

And actually, while putting that list together I just thought that you could even make the home world be sort of like the Earth in CthulhuTech--yes, let's see how many games we can cram into one campaign!  You've got Cthulhu factions on the planet (but we'll file off the serial numbers and call it something besides Cthulhu), an alien space fleet still lurking and maybe with bases on the homeworld, zombie/mutant creatures still infesting certain areas, military-oriented nanotech getting loose and turning on.  I'm trying to decide if that would be a bit too much going on in one game or great extra depth and detail.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Dragonkin Races (a fantasy race build for Pathfinder)

Okay, so for my new campaign world I am positing that when the world was created it was given five elemental poles (corresponding to the five Chinese elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) to hold it together amidst the natural elemental chaos around it. A divine guardian dragon was created to protect and defend each pole.  Over time several generations of dragon-kind were created, finally resulting in the dragonkin (like D&D's dragonborn).  Since Pathfinder doesn't have D&D's dragonborn race I went ahead and built the race using the Advanced Race Guide. Note that the colors of each elemental sub-races are drawn from the colors corresponding to the relevant element; they are not necessarily the same as the chromatic dragon types in D&D.

 Dragonkin (10 RP)
Type: Humanoid [0 RP]
Size: Medium [0 RP]
Base Speed: 30' (normal) [0 RP]
Ability Score Modifiers: [0 RP; standard]
  • +2 Strength
  • +2 Constitution
  • -2 Intelligence
Languages: [0 RP; standard] Common plus the corresponding draconic
Racial Traits:
  • Advanced Strength: +2 Strength [4 RP]
  • Elemental Affinity [1 RP]
  • Energy Resistance (5) [1 RP] (see below for specific energy type for each dragonkin sub-race)
  • Natural Armor: +1 to AC [2 RP]
  • Bite [1 RP]
  • Low-Light Vision [1RP]

Green Dragonkin (Wood): Energy Resistance 5 (sonic)

Red Dragonkin (Fire): Energy Resistance 5 (fire)

Yellow Dragonkin (Earth): Energy Resistance 5 (acid)

White Dragonkin (Metal): Energy Resistance 5 (lightning)

Black Dragonkin (Water): Energy Resistance 5 (cold)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

This is How to do a Mutant Mashup. Thanks Zak!

Okay, so I really love it when someone can take an existing idea and put a cool new spin on it.  When done right it's a real brain-expanding experience.  Too often it's just a tired rehash where they simply file off the serial number and give it a new coat of paint.  Not so with this superb effort by Zak S. over at Playing D&D With Porn Stars.  He's done a weird mashup of Warhammer 40K and Pirates of the Caribbean called "In The Wine Dark Sea of the 40,000 Isles, There Is Only Booty".  Each 40K space marine chapter becomes a pirate ship.  The name of each chapter is twisted into a cool new piratey ship name and the name of the chapter founder/leader is twisted into a cool new pirate queen (captain) name.  There are other references and cool bits in there as well.  Just fantastic.  I could easily use these ships as the basis for an entire campaign.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Almost Done: My Major Art Project

Okay, so this isn't really related to roleplay gaming, but it is medieval-ish.  Several years ago I went with the family on a trip to southern Germany for a Girl Scout conference.  While there we made a side trip to see the famous gothic revival Neuschwanstein castle.  The interior was a fabulous masterpiece of the decorative arts.  After I got back I decided that I was going to re-create a bit of that at my "castle".  While in the home supply store one day I noticed some moldings with the egg-and-dart motif.  The half-covered "eggs" looked just like shields--and I decided then and there that I was going to do a project of painting detailed heraldric coats of arms on the eggs and adding a lot of gold for extra effect.  I'm finally done with the main painting on the shields and the gold edging (and yes it took forever).  I still have the final fine detailing to do on a lot of the shields but here's a sample of what they all look like now:

Next up is a large Chinese-themed painting, but I need to finish this project to make room to work on it.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Bit of Background (@ Dice Monkey)

My second post for Dice Monkey went live today.  It's entitled "A Bit of Background" and is about my approach as a DM to backgrounds for player characters.  I've generally considered backgrounds for PCs to be optional--except for the one bit discussed in this post.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Handy List of Skills for the Traveler RPG

Okay, so I'm doing some generic prep work for probably running another long-term roleplaying campaign.  One of the games I'm considering running would be based on the setting from Hulks & Horrors.  However, I don't like the RPG part of H&H and so I'm going back over the old Traveler rules.  I still have my original boxed set (great memories there) with the little black books but I also bought the nice big reprint of books 0 to 8 by Far Future Enterprises.

Traveler is pretty generic but as an inveterate tinkerer I naturally want to tweak the careers and skill lists.  So, being the methodical, systematic type that I am (can you say "Lawful Alignment"?) my first step was to dig through the books and compose a list of all skills.  And now that I have a list I figured I'd share it out as a handy aid. (If I've missed any, let me know and I'll add it in.)

Classic Traveler Skills List

Battle Dress
Blade Combat
Combat Engineering
FA Gunnery
Fleet Tactic
Forward Observer
Gun Combat
Heavy Weapons
Jack of all Trades
Naval Architect
Ship Tactic
Ship's Boat
Vacc Suit
Vehicle (Aircraft, Grav Vehicle, Tracked Vehicle,Watercraft, Wheeled Vehicle)
Zero-G Combat