Friday, May 31, 2013

BRP Mecha - First Look

In responding to a question about it at I realized I ought to put my answer on the blog for anyone interested in this PDF:

I bought the PDF of BRP Mecha yesterday, plowed through a good chunk of it last night. So far it's a good read, and has a decent set of build mechanics for making mecha of the "super" and mundane variety (Voltron vs. Gundam, essentially). It's got a short campaign setting and scenario in the back. The core conceit of the mecha rules is a matter of taking the BRP rules and scaling them up to "Mecha scale" which is a 10:1 vs. normal BRP scale in terms of translation (so a lot like I recall Mekton Zeta handling this).

The game has a lot of cool build options for mecha, but does not work on a point-buy system, favoring a "setting driven" design approach instead: build to need, essentially. This is about on par with the BRP philosophy. It would have been nice if a point buy option had been included for those GMs who wanted to run a campaign where players have direction and control on building their mecha, but the design goal of a pointless design mechanic was to discourage an obsession with balancing everything (which runs counter to the thematics of most mecha anime, I suppose).

The character updates are a bit leaner, but it adds new skills, a discussion of the different poweer categories as they relate to the mecha genre (psionics, mutations, super powers, magic), rules on motivations, and fate points (which function more like hero points in other games as get-out-of-jail" points you spend to avoid distaster and do cool stuff). The fate points add a cinematic flair and help avoid the "brutal, senseless death" element BRP can be known for.

Artwise it's alright, with a decent cover and lots of anime-flavored black and white interior art. About the same level as old Mekton books, I suppose. Overall editing appears to be good so far...I'm no pedant, but I also haven't encountered any measure of unusual typos or evident errata. The book's design is nice looking, although black-bordered side bars might be printer ink intensive for those who print out copies of their PDFs.

Throughout the design of this book I felt there was more than a little Mekton influence showing. It reminds me of what I might imagine Mekton would look like had it been designed for BRP. That's not a negative.

The book did lack content for character-specific features (new human equipment, for example) although it has detailed vehicle rules. It lacks specific material on introducing cyberpunk or transhumanist material into games, which often go hand-in-hand with mecha anime these days, so you'll have to lean on powers in BRP (with advice from this tome) to construct such content.

One omission: while it has a mecha sheet in the book it's missing a custom BRP character sheet. With the additional skills and fate point rules a customized PC sheet would have been handy.

For me, this is the sort of BRP sourcebook I've been really hoping would come along, with a good SF focus, and a shift away from fantasy and horror, which has dominated BRP resources so far. I hope it does well and motivates Alephtar to publish more cool SF-related BRP material in the future. I am enjoying it enough that I am already planning a campaign.

PDF Version Here (priced at $12.90, and worth it imo)

Print Version coming soon

Thursday, May 30, 2013

BRP Mecha!

Even as I was pondering the recent Mekton Kickstarter and whether or not I should risk putting money into a project that's already technically a decade or more late by some standards, out of the blue pops up Alephtar Games' BRP Mecha. Wow....this is exactly the sort of supplement for BRP I've been waiting for. The BRP monographs, 3PP and Chaosium books have all been very heavy on the fantasy and horror genres, and we haven't gotten enough hard hitting sci fi, so I really hope this sells well and motivates Alephtar and others to start putting out more SF-themed BRP books.

Anyway, check it out in PDF here or pre-order a physical copy here. I'll be doing both!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Warlords of Lingusia XI: Covarte, the Young Kingdom

Capitol City: Eskarda

King: Bothin Drekarad, King of the Water Serpent

Allies: Andanir, at times, and the Amechians

Enemies: no real enemies, save the orcs of Angharak

Racial Mix: Covarte is dominated by humans, but has a large number of elves, dwarves, Halflings and gnomes in the region as well as some oddities like ogres. The southern Angharak ranges are rife with trolls, and a regional phenomenon called trollborn is not uncommon. Such trollborn are commonly mistaken for half-ogres. Due to an old alliance with the orcs of the Angharak Mountains during the plague years, a much larger than normal number of orcs can be found trading and interacting freely with the region than is normal for other lands.

   Covarte was never an important kingdom, sandwiched in between Hyrkania and the North, Amech and the east. It was a small region of riverine kingdoms that relied on modest trade and went about their business for centuries prior to the time of the Deluge, which changed everything for the lowlander riverfolk. The entire region in which Covarte was centered was located along the main stretch of water-level marshlands and riverlands that stretched for hundreds of miles, all the way to the great Amech Basin, which itself was a vast expanse actually located below sea level.

   Within a matter of two to three centuries the entire region turned at first from a wetland in to a region of constant flooding. The entire region was eventually underwater, and the Covartans, ever the pragmatic lot, moved to what used to be the highlands along the north mountains and settled in new homes along the flooded region. In the interim, the entire Amech basin had once more flooded, as some believe it had long ago, before much fo the world’s water had become trapped in glacial ice at the edges of the world.

   Covarte’s people survived during the Plague of Unarak by taking to the highlands as a place of refuge. Curiously, they made brief but meaningful alliances with the orcs and other monstrous humanoids of the Angharak Mountains to aid one another, insuring that everyone survived the plague of undead that swept through the land. Other Covartans survived in boat villages and on islands as the then still-flooding waters had not yet flooded the whole region. Enough Covartans lived to tell many an interesting tale of those dark times. They are also mindful of the fact that virtually all of the eastern kingdoms in the Great Plains that they once were allied to were wiped out during this dark time.

   Covarte remains a relatively uneventful place. They worship remnants of the old spirit gods of Amech, as do many, mixed with a healthy dose of new gods from abroad, including the Eastern Kingdoms and the Middle Kingdoms. Their new position along a major waterway for eas-west travel has accidentally taken the reclusive culture of the locals and forced them to become more worldly.

   Covarte benefits from being situated along a major trade route these days, though it has little to offer in the way of exports outside of grains and other foodstuffs. The Covartan merchants seek many ways to exploit possible exports, and on occasion a Covartan king will try to force merchants to use his kingdom’s ports for trade rather than sailing on past to Yllmar. This usually leads to brief military exchanges with the much more robust Enarrion, followed by a new truce and agreement in which Enarrion merchants agree to funnel more trade past Covarte.

   Covarte is dominated by dozens of small towns and villages along the Vurilek Coast. It has a handful of major cities, including Trebios, Isontir, Chamadas and the capitol, Eskarda where Bothin Drekarad rules from. He is the self styled “King of the Water Serpent” after an ancient spirit-god of the land that is a part of almost all the old lore and decorations of the capitol, but whom no one today worships.

Recent History

Recently, Covarte found itself embroiled in a brutal naval war with fleets from the south, forces of Kadantania which claim to sail in the name of the dark god Orcus, a malevolent demon god who's name has not been spoken of in fear or worship since before the rise of Unarak. The bulk of the Covarte fleet was destroyed in a series of brutal attacks and most of Covarte's coastal ports have been under siege, raided, or even burnt and pillaged in the course of several months. King Drekarad has proven too noble for his own good, as he has only begun to accept that he may need to petition neighbors such as Andanir and Enarrion for aid in this fight, chiefly due to the imminent threat that the next major assault from the Kadantanian fleet will be on the capitol Eskarda itself!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter...!

Oh boy, another Kickstarter I probably will feel obligated to back. Hell, it's even from Chaosium, which I am terminally used to forgiving for late deadlines so this one could run behind schedule (technically I think it already has, pre KS) and I'd still be okay with that.

Call of Cthulhu 7th edition is an interesting experiment, because the designers have a goal of actually upgrading the system a bit, which technically hasn't happened in a long time; CoC, like most BRP games, has very modest changes from edition to edition, almost invisible to the casual eye. From what I've read and heard the changes sound interesting, and not terribly invasive.....but they will definitely give this edition a different "upgraded" feel from CoC 6th and earlier.

One thing I am not keen on is the split to two rulebooks. Sure, I appreciate the intent (keep the stuff out of the player's hands that only the GM should see) but I'd personally prefer an all-in-one rulebook supplemented by a "player's guide" book with just the choice player bits inside.

The deal I want would be the $100 one (hard covers of both) but baby may need a new pair of shoes (his danged feet are already toddler 7 1/2!!!!) so that may not be feasible. We shall see.....

Thanks to Tim at The Other Side for bringing this one to my attention!

Warlords of Lingusia IX: Andanir and Enarrion

Andanir  and Enarrion
Capitol City: Yllmar (Enarrion) and Yvisk (Andanir)
King: Malin Tarmas III rules Enarrion, and he has appointed Arimas Gonn Darspad as the regent of Andanir.
Allies: Hyrkania, Sendral, Octzel, Naminthia, Belladas
Enemies: Hettanar, Golmadras, Naminthia, Crytea, Covarte
Racial Mix: Enarrion and Andanir are predominantly human, but there are almost as many orcs dwelling in the mountains and underworld. The second largest populations can be found among the sylvan elves of the central mountains and the silver dwarves of Angharak. Other notable nonhuman populations include the Terkithyi lizardmen, the Winterbite goblins, several halfling communities, a small but steady population of gnomes and several minor races including satyrs, centaurs and an underworld city of ashtarth dark elves dedicated to the demon god Lamashtu.

   Enarrion and Andanir are linked sister nations, ruled by a feudal monarchy with a council of land owners and merchants as a presiding advisory council. The kingdom is divided in to eight duchies and forty counties. Power is divided between the king and his chosen regent in Andanir (once old Drai’in), as per ancient accords after the time of the Plague of Unarak.

    Throughout Enarrion the chief deity of veneration is Naril, and many lesser gods of the Middle Kingdoms are revered, as well. Worship of Unarak is forbidden and punishable by execution. There is also a strong and ancient druid cult in both lands, dedicated to Zingar, Wolfon and Poltrietie. Throughout the land, ancient stone henges can be found where mysterious druidic rites are practiced. This cult is especially popular with the commoners, the lower class peasants who tend to believe in old Drai’inic and Hettanari ways.

    Enarrion and Andanir are at the epicenter of a cultural clash-zone. The Middle North is where the cultures of the Middle Kingdoms and the cultures of the Northlands have long intersected, as well as those of the plainslanders (such as Covarte) and beyond. In the present era, Enarrion is strongly influenced by the cultural moors and beliefs of the Middle Kingdoms, most notably northern Hyrkania, and it even shares the language. There is still a strong, old influence from the days when the Nordamans and Hettanar conquered the region, however, and this shows most strongly amongst the commoners. There are entire villages and communities in the remote lands of Enarrion and Andanir that only speak the Northron Tongue, for example. Moreover, the older central culture of old Drai’in, the small kingdom of the old era that was annihilated in the Dark Ages when Unarak rose to power and created his vast army of undead, still persists amongst these rural countrymen, including the Drai’inic superstitions and fears. The druid cults of the region are all derived from this adherence to old Drai’in’s beliefs, for example.

   The law in Enarrion is fairly strict when it comes to crime and punishment; theft of valuables from a nobleman can be punished by imprisonment or maiming, and murder is punishable by death. Weapons are not generally restricted in the land, as the persistent threat of orcs and other dangers, along with the legacy of Unarak’s Plague give every man cause to carry some weapon in defense.

   Because of the unique problems posed by the rise of Unarak as a demiurge and the Plague of Undeath that was wrought upon the land eight hundred years ago, burial rites are rigidly enforced, and all bodies must be interred with “rituals of passage” to insure the dead pass peacefully in to the afterlife. Because of the cultural influence of the northerners, it is not generally accepted to use the Hyrkanian custom of cremation to remove the dead, and the northern burial customs are instead adhered to. That said, most tombs are carefully sealed and locked, and when possible (such as with Yllmar’s island necropolis) the dead are placed in areas where, even if they should rise again, it would be difficult for them to get out. 

A Short History
   Yllmar was once an independent city state, founded long ago as a center of trade between the Middle Kingdoms and the North. Over many centuries it grew and expanded and at last became a province of the old Hyrkanian Empire. Amidst its expansion there could be found several emergent cultures, including the Covartans, the Silver Dwarves of Angharak, the Drai’inics and the Hettanar of the north, who were the southern tribelanders of Zarn. The Silver Dwarves warred with the orcs, who after a long war were united by the chaos lord Angharak. The silver dwarves were driven from their mountain homes and scattered in a diaspora across the world.

   Prior to the era of the Long Night and the Dark Ages, Yllmar’s history was one of periodic invasion and succession. Drai’in became its own kingdom, the Hettanar were part of the Nordaman Empire for a time after being conquered during a period when the Nordaman even sacked and pillaged the Emerald City of Hyrkania’s capitol itself. Throughout all this Yllmar prospered.

  During the Long Night a powerful necromancer arose named Unarak. His forces rose up in the east from the cruel kingdom of Starthias and swept across the continent. The conflict brutalized the Middle North, and Drai’in as a kingdom fell in to disarray. Hyrkania was no longer a united empire by this time, and no help was forthcoming. It was thanks to the brothers Enarrius and Andan that a reisstance was mounted, and the various tribes and cities were united under their banner. Yllmar, though sacked and pillaged by the undead horde, was eventually freed. When all was over with, Unarak was imprisoned, though his closest allies later sacrificed themselves to grant him a spiritual ascencion to godhood. His armies, however, fell after his physical form did, and the undead plague was driven from the land. The brothers united the western and eastern peoples and began to rebuild.

   Over several centuries it became evident that the world was warming, and the polar ice caps of the world broke asunder and flooded the coastlands and low-lying regions of Lingusia. This was especially noticeable in Yllmar, where much of the land stretching from west to east to the great Amechain Basin was dikeland, below sea level.  In a matter of years this land was engulfed in rising flood waters that eventually turned in to a never ending torrent, an expanding river delta that turned in to a greta lake and then a small sea. Amech, beneath the sea level, was flooded, creating the new Great Sea of Amech. In turn, land-locked cities such as Yllmar became beachfront property, and the old dike and swamp lands of the region were no more.

   After this long period of renewal, the city itself and its lands were revitalized by the new trade opportunities opened up. Yllmar became a sea port, and it’s old lower city, now engulfed in water, became the bay over which the new city grew up around. Trade became brisk with the scattered islands and the surviving cultures in the Amechian region, and the eastern kingdoms, of which Naminthia had become most prominent. The two founding heroes of the new land had since passed away, and the realm was now known in their honor, as Enarrion and Andanir. It became a tradition that the king would reside in Yllmar and rule western Enarrion, and his most trusted ally would be granted regency of the east, in the darker lands of Andanir.

Recent Events
   Over the last five centuries, a few major events have happened of note:
·         Several major orcish invasions have been mounted from the Angharak Mountains, which had been seized and retained under Andan’s reign in the east, along with the founding of the city of Tamilias. The orcs, unable to unite under a strong leader as of yet, have failed in these attempts to expel men and the returning dwarves to their lands.

·         Covarte has developed as a sea kingdom as well, and now competes fiercely and sometimes with the use of military force against Enarrion.

·         The Hettanar tribes have reunited on two occasions, and posed a threat as an invading force as recently as a decade ago. So far Enarrion and Andanir have repelled any concerted invasion attempts, although Hettanar raiders are a constant threat.

·         Very recently, roaming groups of undead have appeared out of nowhere, and rumors of the rise of the cult of Unarak, now revered as a true god, have begun to emerge. This has led to a paranoid crackdown on any strange cults, and a fierce determination to destroy any undead in the land. The Silver Blades and the Walkers of Final Night have been looking for old barrows and ancient burial lands from the past, to unearth and excavate them that any undead within may be put down.

Orders and Groups of Enarrion and Andanir:               

The Esoteric Order of Warenos
   The venerable order of knowledge and magical teachings has stretched as far north as Enarrion, with a small estate and institute of learning on the outskirts of Yllmar. The Esoteric Order serves as both an institute of teaching for wizardry and a temple to the demiurge or magical lore. The elder magian of the order is Lord Quarios, a man of Naminthian descent, who has resided here for two decades. He is a member of the Order of Twelve, as well.

Knights of the Northern King
   The venerable knights of the Northern King are a long-standing militant order that swears direct fealty to the standing king of Enarrion, a servitude that goes back to the founding of the kingdom after the Plague of Unarak eight centuries ago. The knights were one of several orders that grew out of that time, a band of men who stood fast against the tide of undead that overwhelmed the land.  The knights are about one hundred strong, and spread through the forty counties of Enarrion. Their main headquarters in the Hall of the Northern King in Yllmar, and they have a private fortress located in Skymantle, where Darton Gonn Severus, highest member of the order presides over his men and protects the city in his duchy.

Templars of the Sun
   The principle temple of the sun is located on the island of Sol’Dranir in the city of Atarios, which rests beneath the spire of the Star Mount. At the high peak of the Star Mount is the fabled ancient Tomb of the Sun Lord Naril, the ancient solar god that was once the patron of the old Empire. The Templars revere Naril, and seek to defend the lands of Enarrion and Andanir from evil. They are a sworn military order of paladins and clerics who carry on a variation of the Hyrkanian Solarian Knights from the era of the Empire, and both protect and maintain the Temple of the Sun on Star Mount as well as battling the forces of evil and chaos wherever they may find it. Their leader of the high lord Dalan Gonn Stromerik, ruler of the duchy of Sol’Dranir.

The Hand of Set
   Working a three-way secret war between the rival Servants of the Shroud and the extremely secret and profane Servants of Unarak, the Hand of Set conspires to gain power through the dedication of the land’s highest agents. Unbeknownst to most, the Regent Armias Gonn Darspad of Andanir has been swayed to the belief that his aiding the Hand of Set will grant him the rulership and power he desires. His interest in the cult has let the port city of Yvisk where he rules turn in to a breeding ground of cult activity, and serpent men are rife in the region. The high priestess of the order in Yvisk is the half-serpent woman Ytharra Thane, a witch of the highest order. Her chief enforcer is the dreadful Tarnak Bloodfang, a setite vampire.

Servants of the Shroud
   The mysterious cult of the umbral goddess Phaedra, the Servants of the Shroud work secretively to secure a strong following in Yllmar, and to undermine the throne. They are backed by the traitorous nobleman Kaligos Gonn Trestor, who seeks the throne for himself. The high priestess of the cult is the gorgon Silaernas.

Nightfire Thieve’s Guild
   The oldest and largest thieve’s guild in Yllmar, named after the “nightfire” affect of the Northern Lights. Managed by the notorious thief Tarn Danaros and his gnome enforcer Trignaspar. The best thief in the city is the half elven woman lady Shar Trineste, the chief enforcer for the guild.

Silver Blades
   This is a society of rangers who specialize in hunting down the Orcs of Angharak. The leader of the Silver Blades is the silver elf Sydiratta Thyndalien, and her right-hand man is the reformist ashtarth Enarythen Mandyrkaz. The principle center of operation for the Silver Blades lies in the heart of the Shadowsfar Mountains, in Castle Remargas. The Silver Blades answer directly to the Regent of Andanir.

Walkers of Final Night
   This is the cult of Death, a handful of members who are dedicated to hunting down the last undead from the Plague of Unarak. The High priest of the cult in Enarrion is the old templar Galtos Zern, who manages the Temple of the Nameless One at the southern end of the Greyfire Mountains.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Xbox One: Microsoft's Big Mistake

So by now everyone's had a field day with Microsoft's Xbox One announcement. The general consensus on the internet is that they are preparing to shoot themselves in the foot with this latest console, that Sony will get a boost by virtue of looking Less Bad, and that we're all going to flee to the PC for our gaming resources.

Unfortunately most of the people online complaining are not in Microsoft's demographic anymore, or at least that's my take on it. The real question, however, is just what sort of impact the market is going to experience when Xbox One is actually out and it's primary sales depend on the following customer:

The Casual & Non Gamer Factor

X1 needs a household where games are not a top priority (the sort of house where the only titles bought each year are the latest CoD game for dad, an exercise game for mom and some kid friendly games for the kids). It's going to depend on the more serious gamer crowd to come along for the ride like desperate junkies. It's expecting me, for example, to stick with it because of Halo 5 and whatever Gears of War becomes in the next generation. As much as gamers protest, I expect a lot will cave and follow along for this reason.

The TV Factor

X1 needs a family or individual who somehow thinks that the television features of X1 are great and...more importantly....are worth upgrading to from what is already offered on a a multitude of other devices already (including the 360!) This is a real problem area for them since it seems like (so far) they've pushed this functionality heavily. They're offering me nothing that I am not already getting on my 360 and PS3 right now, or couldn't get through innumerable other devices. I could be underestimating the number of people who will shell out the bucks for a device that integrates everything more smoothly, sure....but that price better be low, because most people who are using their console for TV viewing right now already have a console that does it fine. My suspicion is that if the X1 doesn't do well then Microsoft will try to figure out a way to quickly phase out the features of the 360, to try and force adoption.

The App Factor

X1 needs a household which thinks that accessing apps on your TV (instead of your phone or tablet like real humans) is a cool thing. I don't actually know who these people are. Do they even exist? I will go for my PC, laptop or Nexus for apps long before I'd even contemplate the Xbox.

The Used Market Lockdown Issue

X1 depends on a purchaser who is unconcerned with the need to buy used games, and who is comfortable with content being locked down to their account. This is the least of their hurdles, as we're practically there in every way, shape and form already in terms of electronic media; consoles are relics from an era when digital content came on ownable physical media. However, there is a very large hidden market out there for used games and consoles, and it's really prevalent in my local area. These people also tend to be less likely to have internet connections. This market is being treated as persona non grata in Microsoft's eyes, it looks like. The part of the used market that will have an impact on game sales are those people who sell back games, then use the credit to buy new games. Exactly how large that market is remains a mystery, although I think Gamestop wants us to believe it's huge. My guess? It will have a measurable impact, and the response will be for Microsoft to follow Steam with a reliance on more sale prices to move games to the "secondary buyers" who can't or won't shell out full price new.

Always Online...At Least Once a Day

Most importantly, the X1 needs a household that has a persistent internet connection and is never concerned about the need for periodic offline gaming. This is where I think problems are going to arise. First and foremost, I live in an area that's always in perpetual ecomic decline relative to the rest of the nation (New Mexico), and there's a significant population here that do play games, but don't have internet outside of their phones. This entire market will evaporate for a console that requires a check verification once a day. Even assuming these people are predominantly purchasers of used and discounted games right now, thus making them part of the demographic Microsoft no longer cares to entertain, they're still missing out on a great potential new market for the cheap Steam-style secondary (long tail) buyer market that could come out of making these consoles accessible to people who have limited or no internet access.

A second problem with the internet issue is (on the surface) relatively minor but in reality it's going to be huge, but apparently Microsoft doesn't think so: the US has a lousy infrastructure for decent internet, and it often has troubles. I may lose internet for a couple weeks out of the year, usually a day or two here and there....but on those days I can generally play console games or see what Steam games actually work offline (if I am lucky enough to catch Steam in the mood to play the offline dance). If the consoles lose their ability to work without that connection, even if its only for a few days....then the consoles start looking very, very irritating. People have a lot of choices for entertainment, and the ones which cause the least hassle the least often will look better by comparison. So even assuming you don't live in some rural area where connectivity is impossible or infrequent, you're still looking at a service that's limited by your internet provider's reliability....and we all know how reliable these providers tend to be (Comcast cough cough).

The point though is not that this is a huge's that it's a huge potential annoyance that will surface just often enough to piss people off. Then they will look around for the option that is slightly less annoying, and notice that their PC is still working fine, and their offline Steam connection during that crisis is still okeedokee...or that they have these older consoles that still work great, with a metric ton of fine games still saturating the market.

And finally...

In Competition With Itself

Microsoft probably doesn't need to worry about Sony's PS4, beyond the fact that while nothing in the PS4's announcement to date sounded that exciting, it also sent up no horrible red flags. No, Microsoft needs to worry about its own worst enemy, the Xbox 360. This machine is in households everywhere, still lets you play the same game disc on different consoles, plays offline, can still provide plenty of decent TV and movie watching online, and is supported by an incredibly robust catalog of games, most of which are dirt cheap these days...and you have to go back more than six years to start finding titles that look (comparatively) bad. The top problem here is that their core demographic: a household with a mom and dad who are maybe possibly into the popular games but mostly want a babysitter for the kid and a convenient way to watch TV and movies without a hassle...these people already have that. It's called the 360, or the Wii, or the PS3.

Speaking of the Wii, notice how the WiiU hasn't sold all that well relative to its predecessor. Sure, hardcore gamers didn't adopt it in droves because it looks odd, and a lot of us were lost with the Wii, right? Well...what about the people who bought a Wii? They're in that demographic that Microsoft is targeting right now, the same demographic that already has the Wii, and didn't need to move on...or the 360, or the PS3.

Microsoft is about to make the same mistake as Nintendo by switching focus on its target demographic, and I'll boldly state my prediction right now: by Christmas 2014 the numbers for Xbox One will look a lot like the WiiU in terms of rate of adoption over time...and worst case may even look as bad as, say, the PSVita. PS4, provided Sony doesn't screw up something, will be healthier and have a reputation for being a true gamer's console. Short of the 1% expiring and leaving their fortunes to the 99%, I doubt there's going to be any serious saturation by the Xbox One in this already over saturated market.

Warlords of Lingusia X: The City Port of Yllmar

City Site: Yllmar
Population: approximately 152, 000 urban residents; another 100,000 rural population
Demographics:     Humans                    133,760
                                Elves                        8,208
                                Dwarves                  5,803
                                Halflings                 1,820
                                Half elves               910
                                Gnomes                  728
                                Half orcs                 268
                                Orcs                         139
                                Naga                       182
                                Other                      200
Rulership: King Malin Tarmas III, queen Sirtes Arinir-Tarmas
Coinage: standard coinage of the Middle Kingdoms
Religion: Chief god of the city is Naril, followed by temples to Phonatas, Khovaris, Warenos, Hodon, and Zingar. There are local secret cults to Set, Belphegor and Unarak. Shandrigar has a shrine along the waterfront. The mysterious temple of Etah can be found near the city gates. There are two dozen minor cults in the city, neither recognized nor approved by the state religion of Naril or the king. There is also a Temple of Death in the Old City Necropolis.
Standing Militia: 32,000 troops can be mustered from local and county forces as needed; standing garrison of 2,400 men in the city, with 1,000 men assigned to city watch.

Areas of Yllmar:

The Gorgon’s Respite
   This is a famous adventurer’s tavern and inn, run by Stados the Dwarf. The tavern is reviled by the Servants of the Shroud, who have tried to burn it down on two occasions, but Strados keeps four guards on staff at all times. He runs the tavern because he can, as he made a killing a decade ago while pillaging the Caverns of Chaos, and has no need of further wealth. Beneath the Respite is a small dungeon he has been working on as a side project for several years, including a secret passage in to the sewer region. Strados has a gorgon’s head in his private collection in this dungeon, that of the lady Graethys, who was sister to the high priestess of Phaedra (and the reason the Servants of the Shroud despise him so). Strados himself is curiously immune to petrification, although he has a stone hand to show how it almost got him after he slew Graethys. Strados also often employs local adventurers for curiosity quests, sending them out to retrieve ancient trophies for his dungeon of curiosities.

The Royal Crown Inn
   This venerable establishment is managed by the merchant lord Arados, who took the name from an ancient franchise that functioned long ago in the era of the Hyrkanian Empire. Arados charges steep prices and his customers expect it. He offers consorts and has a clean private bath house. He also runs a service of hired blades on the side for those needing protection on the fly. The Royal Crown Inn is popular among foreign merchants and locals looking for a treat. There is a dress code, and anyone underdressed is evicted or required to pay for proper garb.

 The Northern Star
   This is a famous rowdy tavern and inn, run by lady Terimishka Thay (a sylvan elf) and serves as a front for the Nightfire Thieve’s Guild. Beneath the Northern Star is one of the chief hideouts for the guild, providing a safe house for thieves on the lam. Terimishka Thay collects monthly dues as well, and serves as the chief book keeper for the guild.

 Port District
   Yllmar has the largest port in the Middle North, with foreign quarters for Belladas, Autrengard and the Middle Kingdoms alongside a large shipyard, an extensive warehouse district and an impressive indoor bazaar. Although the region is fairly temperate, the fierce winter storms make the indoor nature of the bazaar appealing to foreign merchants from the warmer southern climes. The Port Master is Yom Scaddor, an older man of pure Yllmarian descent who is professed to be immune to bribes, although he is on the take from the nightfire Thieve’s Guild and several smuggling rings.

 The Sea Palace
   The Sea Palace is an immense and ancient fortress on top of King’s Hill, overlooking the entire bay and city. This is a two-thousand year old castle, and is said to contain dungeons seven levels deep in to the earth. The king lives here, surrounded by his garrisons and attendants. A private road leaves the northern section of the fortress and goes straight to the Royal Hunting Grounds.

Thrane’s Bath and Smokes
   Tjis opium den and and bath house is run by the half-troll Thrane. The complex is a place of meeting for many unscrupulous souls, but is higher end and often used by nobles and merchant lords as well.

The Ember District
   This is the shanty town of the east quarter, stretching from the docks to the perimeter of the city. Ember is called such for the many times it has burned to the ground, leaving only charred embers. This is a maze of buildings used for thievery and shady deals, and also contains the bulk of the poor populace’s housing as well as being the center of the kobold plague.

The Temple District
   Centered around and radiating out from the Temple of Naril, over two dozen lesser temples and shrines can be found here, dedicated to a myriad variety of gods.

The Sewers
   Emptying out in to the bay, the sewers are an ancient construct of Yllmar from its oldest days. A special group commissioned by the king called the “City Drainage and Waterworks Engineering Guild” is in charge of the sewers. They are partially handymen and custodians, mixed with dedicated professional soldiers, since the sewers are so notoriously deadly. That said, they take pride in their job, since Yllmar’s sewer system dramatically reduces disease and contaminated water issues in the city proper.The sewers are partially flooded, but some key details can be found, as follows:
  • The Temple of Unarak can be found in the sewers
  • Several entrances to the sewers connect to both the Underworld and to the dungeons beneath the Sea Palace
  • A massive warren of kobolds led by the kobold known as the “Fisher King” is located here
  • A key passage to the dark elf city of Goz’hadra leads from the sewers

Old City Necropolis
   Most of the Necropolis is located on the Island of Old Yllmar, nestled about a quarter mile out in the bay, where the ruins of the old lower city can be found, where they were long ago engulfed in the deluge. The island has turned in to a popular burial ground, and the many abandoned buildings and structures have been refurbished in to catacombs and tombs. There is still a small village on the island, although most who dwell there make a living on the necropolis, or stand watch against any undead incursions.

Chateau Dumarin
   This coastal keep, located a mile west of Yllmar is managed by the mysterious Lady Silaernas, the gorgon who is the high priestess of Phaedra and second in command of the Servants of the Shroud. Few know much of her; she is believed by most to be a reclusive, aging widow with a fondness for statuary.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review: Voodoo Volume 1 - What Lies Beneath

Voodoo Volume 1: What Lies Beneath is the collected first six issues of the New 52 reinvention of one of the old Wildstorm universe characters. I was a big fan of the Wildstorm universe for as long as I could hang on, despite DC's nebulous mistreatment of it (though to be fair they may have been suffering from a combination of author issues mixed with low sales, so YMMV here). Voodoo as a half-daemonite from the Wildcats era was a fun character but she was also typically one of the eye candy heroines so prevalent in the Image era of comics. Later on she was developed into a more sophisticated character in later iterations of the Wildcats, but she never entirely came into her own. This series definitely changes that.

(Spoilers ahead.)

In What Lies Beneath Voodoo is reinvented as a rather more sinister hybrid daemonite, transplanted into the "New 52" era of the DC Universe and given an interesting make over. She's no longer a confused stip dancer laboring under the problems associated with a hybrid nature which she doesn't quite understand; instead she's a fully realized alien hybrid with an agenda, pursued by agents of the government (the Black Razors) least in the first chapter....briefly masquerading as a stripper as a cover story. She's still Priscilla Kitaen, sure; but she's much, much more than just the human half of her nature, and she's allied with other hybrid daemonites who have a very interesting agenda, one which is complicated by being in the same universe as the Green Lantern Corps.

I won't dwell on the plot specifics, having already said too much in terms of spoilers, and this is a good book to go into reading "blind," but it's definitely got some fun plot twists as the story moves along. It reinvents the daemonites as a force of quiet alien invaders, leaving much of the daemonite intentions somewhat unclear (though secrecy to avoid being detected by the Green Lantern seems to be high on their list). The pure blood daemonites are reimagined as blue-neon tentacle monsters, and while we haven't (unfortunately) seen any sign of some of the original Wildcat daemonite foes yet, their ambiguous intentions, the ruthless nature of the government forces out to oppose them, and the legacy of the daemonites from prior Wildstorm series help to create a decent aura of building mystery and menace as the first six issues move along.

Bottom line: a good "quiet" alien invasion tale with a protagonist who is decidedly an anti-hero but more because she comes from a culture that is at best ambivalent towards humans and at worst fears them enough to exterminate them, several decent plot twists and a number of tertiary supporting characters that are interesting in their own right. Requires almost zero knowledge of the rest of the DC universe to properly follow (barring an appearance by Green Lantern and a hint of other interesting story elements in the Stormwatch series, which I may pick up next).

This series appears to take place before any creation of a Wildcats, filling out a back story for Priscilla Kitaen we haven't ever seen before, and which doesn't really contradict or destroy any of the known or key details about this character's prior iterations, and leaves future plots wide open to move toward some future meeting with Grifter and whatever New 52 iteration of the Wildcats we will (hopefully) see down the road, all while letting DC's writers incorporate whatever regular DC guest stars they feel like guest spotting.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sneak Peak at the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls GM Screen Art + Buffalo Castle PDF out to backers

Thanks to the Lone Delver for pointing this out! Steve Crompton has the art for the screen (a remix of classic module art from the past) and a contest to go with it posted up on his blog. It looks pretty cool:

I recognize the art sources for all of the modules except the blue big guy on the right...he's escaping me at the moment (maybe a book I don't own? Hmmmmm)

ADDENDUM: And no sooner did I post this then look in my gmail than did I find a link from Rick Loomis to my backer's PDF of Buffalo Castle. Joy! Can't wait for the print copies (which I assume will all be bundled together with the other print copies to save on shipping....but I could be wrong). Anyway, good stuff.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nook-pocalypse! Microsoft Eyeballs the Nook like a Tasty Hamhock

Just ran across this tidbit: Microsoft is considering buying Barnes & Noble's Nook Media Division (story here). In the document it indicates that B&N has planned to phase out Nook hardware entirely by the end of 2014, transitioning to an App-delivery approach on other devices.

Anyone know of a good app that can strip out the DRM from books?* I have this nervous feeling I'm going to regret having bought so many books through the Nook store soon.....

EDIT: I guess the real concern I have is, "What if the Nook folds? What then of my DRM-locked books?" Sooner or later something like this will happen, and it will be interesting to see both how the event is handled and how people react to it. The public hasn't been burned yet, but all its going to take is one major distributor of electronic entertainment to signal something of a panic. The stunt from a few years back was a great indicator of just how potentially vulnerable we are to one of these distribution services going belly up and disappearing.

Luckily, a lot of publishers who sell through the Nook sell without DRM attached, and usually it's stated right there in the ad text. Probably half of my books on the Nook are readable in Aldiko or any other ereader. The rest of them, though? Well, I guess the odds are Nook as an app reader will be around for a long time to come....but it's something to consider for the future. Buy with whoever looks like they're the most generous (no DRM) or most stable (Amazon), I guess.

EDIT #2: I take it back, I do recall a prior event which was fairly disastrous and led to ill will, at least amongst myself and others who were burned by a purchase/merger: Direct2Drive's being absorbed into Gamefly. I, and many others to this day (more than a year after that merger) still can't access many of the games we had purchased through Direct2Drive due to the lack of support or sales agreements (presumably) between those publishers and Gamefly. As of today I still won't shop there, not until they cough up my missing games.

*I am aware of the irony here, that such an action might constitute piracy. Strictly speaking, I expect B&N/Microsoft in whatever agreement they cough up to accomodate their paying customers going forward. Realistically, though, I may take this as a reminder not to be buying anything marked as DRM-locked if I can help it.

Diving Back into Comics...Justice League Dark, Voodoo and Pathfinder

I've been in a funk games have been unfulfilling (usually), MMORPGs feel like stale toast to me these days, my focus on RPGs has narrowed down to Pathfinder for now as I find I only have time to focus on it for my Wednesday game and (occasionally) the DDN playtests. On the other hand some fiction I've discovered has been very engaging...I've especially enjoyed Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim novels and Tim Curran's awesome writing (especially Zombie Pulp, a fantastic collection of short fiction that reignited my inerest in both short stories and zombie fiction). Both are excellent reads if you're in the mood for some grizzly, down-to-earth weird horror and modern supernaturalism.

One thing I used to be into which fell to the wayside was comic books. Among my old favorites were Planetary, the Wildstorm universe books (Grifter, Wildcats, Stormwatch, Backlash, Team 6, etc.) and the unbeatable Top 10. Eventually Wildstorm sort of fell apart, and its inconsistent revival through DC made following it tough. Other greats (like Planetary) died due to the whim of the creator, though one can't fault a writer for deciding to end it when the creative drive for the project stopped.

For myself, another big part of the exodus was due to the difficulty of re-entry to the more mainstream comics. Comics are rather expensive by the issue, and the big publishers have a habit of marketing them in ways which make it difficult to get a coherent story if you aren't following every single storyline. I'm a victim of the era of the Blackest Day/Brightest Night (or whatever) era of comics....and effectively dropped out about a year before the New 52 hit. Marvel's even worse in my book....trying to keep track of it all was painful, and some of their writers need to be dragged out back and taught a lesson or two in good storytelling. The Ultimate series was good....until it, too, got overly convoluted and then who knows what they did with it, because staring at the comic shop walls? I can't tell anymore what the hell is going on with Marvel. Easier to stick with the movies, I say.

In the end, the only series I continued collecting were the Dark Horse Conan releases (which are quite good, actually).

Anyway, after a visit to the local Kaboom! comic shop I snagged volumes one and two of Voodoo, the first volume of Justice League Dark, and ordered Grifter and Suicide Squad. I also snagged the compendium of the Pathfinder comic series and put in some orders for the Conan graphic novels my collection is still missing.

I'm kind of excited to be getting back into comics, I like how DC is methodically printing these series in 6-issue compilations at a time, and I think it's just the "spark" I need to help me get some creative energy back.

I'll offer up some belated opinions and reviews soon...

Warlords of Lingusia VIII: The Fire Knives

The Fire Knives are one of the oldest and most persistent villain organizations in my campaign. As such much of their history has translated from one era to the next, but the core conceit: an elite order of dedicated assassins who revere a god of killers with utter dedication remains consistent throughout the ages.

The Fire Knives

   The Fire Knives (also known as Flame Knives) have long served as the secret assassins and cultists of Haro, the ancient betrayer god, and have remained so to this date. Their cult is indomitable and persevering, and even the grand purge of 1110, during which the king Edelaird of Hyrkania sought to destroy the cult was unsuccessful, for the Fire Knives simply disappeared for a time, only to resurface when once again their dark deeds would prove most nefarious and profitable.

   Among the sundry cults and guilds of assassins spread throughout the world, the Fire Knives have remained the most secretive and formidable. Steeped in an ancient tradition of lawless honor, entropic sorcery, and an unyielding dedication to the dreadful mercenary god Haro, the Flame Knives have existed for at least as long Hyrkania has been known by such a name. The origins of the cult are shrouded in mystery and only the eldest, most vile members of the cult are privy to the unwritten tales of their sordid past. To be a Flame Knife is to embrace evil, and to take sides only with your self. Even one’s own allies are considered fodder for the ultimate goal of seeking the divine favor and ascension promised by Haro.

   Those who have investigated this cult know some facts, and most successful entry level members of the Fire Knives also know such facts. It is known that the Fire Knives have hidden guilds within five major cities of the Middle Kingdoms (Capitol Octzel, Eastonia, Hyraphon, Saddikar and Hyrendan) as well as open recognition and acceptance in Golmadras. It is known that the Flame Knives are affiliated, at least peripherally, with similar Eastern cults from as far away as Al’jhira, based on the similarities of their prayers, rituals, and mantras to such other groups. The Flame Knives revere Haro with a fanaticism that precludes meaning in their own existence, but among the fodder a select few seem to be granted visions, in which it is made clear that their true purpose is mercenary, self-serving, and that they are to be the true guiding minions of Haro's will.

   What, however, Haro wishes is often confusing. For example, while he was long believed by the forces of order to be a chaotic deity prior to the Reckoning, it was in fact Haro who betrayed his own brothers of Chaos and caused the collapse of the eons-old conflict between the primordial forces. He did so, however, because of the obvious power gap that was created in the wake of the Reckoning, and his cult grew ever stronger as a result. Today, many greater Devonin (demonic beings) and demiurges are now subservient to him, and so therefore are at the beck and call of his mortal cult.

   Flame Knives are all about the conquest and subjugation of the world through fear, murder, and capitalism (raw, unchecked capitalism). Many Fire Knives are mercenaries, merchants, and con men of a wide variety. A smaller number are mages, professional assassins, and some even rank among nobility. All believe unerringly in the cause of their illuminated assault on the world, and the secret propagation of fear and chaos as the true means of control in society. All of them selfishly believe that they and they alone, will ultimately be granted favor from Haro and elevated to the rank of spiritual soldier or even avatar at his side. This is a cult of evil, and should be exterminated by all who oppose such malevolence.
   Some of the most famous Fire Knives include Cassius Augustus, the undead warrior summoned back from the days of yore to serve Haro as an assassin among assassins, and Lord Celiobantes Astiriate, considered one of the elite Elders, and high lord of the guilds of  Northern Hyrkania. A few suspect he is one of the Ten Who Rule. The House Astiriate has several well known younger agents in the ranks of the order, who are feared by all.

   The Fire Knives have an ancient symbol, which varies only slightly from one region to the next. It is always of a shield, upon which is depicted a starscape showing the chief constellations of the Huntsman and the Wolf in highlights. Crossing the shield are a flaming bow and dagger with jagged edges. If the symbol is to be seen as a warning or threat, then the weapons are placed in front of the shield. If it is used as a secret sign or reflects safety, then they are placed behind the shield. All Fire Knives learn a kind of Thieve's Cant, which is comprised of sign language and a sort of colloquial half-speak intermixed with a clever use of odd kennings to communicate with one another.

   Fire Knives come from all wakes of life. Disciples of the cultic guilds are necessarily drawn from all strata of life, but only practiced, skilled professionals with a cunning and will to use it are granted entry into the inner sanctum. A Fire Knife can be granted such status from a patron of the guild, but it is also possible for a Fire Knife to prove himself so resolutely that he is granted divine inspiration from Haro, and asserts himself over time and often against the will of competitors. Once in the Inner Circle, rivals who seek his status, or wish to take control of the schemes and plans of another will eventually challenge the Fire Knife. The infighting is constant, and only he who surrounds himself with the best lackeys and defenses is likely to make it to the top. No one knows who the ten members of the Elders are, called the Ten Who Rule, and the leader of the Flame Knives remains a whispered mystery to this day.

   Player characters who seek to join this order often do so at the risk of earning the ire of their compatriots should they be discovered, and areoften sworn to secrecy from revealing such membership by the order, even to those allies.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why the new Star Trek is more consistent than you may think - and the parts where it dives into the deep end of crazy

I caught Star Trek: Into Darkness Friday night and it was a real fun movie to watch. Like it's predecessor its more of a spiritual successor to the franchise, lacking some of the grace and philosophical introspection Trek has sometimes been known for in the past. Like Trek in general (and the first Abram's movie in specific) it's full of pseudo-science, science gaffs, and some occasional plot holes you could pilot the Enterprise through. It has an early reference to a "cold fusion bomb" that was such a bad choice of name for the actual device they deployed that I felt like the screenwriters were deliberately screwing with us, for example.

I'll take a moment here to give you my grade on this movie before the spoiler-laden rants below: A solid A+ for general enjoyment, with a C+ for coherence; to contrast with the 2009 Trek film, I'd have given that an A+ for fun and a D for coherence. So in some regards this film is an improvement. I'd also add this caveat: if you are a hardcore Trekkie, the kind who is bothered about why the new movies don't properly emulate the look and feel of the tech from the 1967 series, then you probably already know you hate this movie but that's okay because it's not really for you. It's for Trekkies like me who feel that the rigid adherence to canon had made Trek a wallowing mass of nonsensical contradictions over the years, have accepted that fact, and moved on.

Spoilers ahead, just a warning!

Despite all this, there's an interesting internal coherence going on in the movie that is surprisingly decent, although it may not seem so to non-Trekkies unfamiliar with some of the tenets of the franchise universe, or hardcore Trekkies blinded by the trees and thus missing the forest. For example, in the first Trek movie in the new universe we saw most of Earth's armada devastated by Nero's planetcracker while it was destroying Vulcan. Cut to three years later, roughly, and we find that Earth's fleet is nowhere near up to speed, and a lot of private or hidden resources are being sucked into a defense program to build a Dreadnaught, all at the direction of the Grand Admiral himself. So when, at the film's end, we see that same dreadnaught fighting the Enterprise, some people have wondered where the hell Starfleet's other local ships were. The short answer: the Admiral probably ordered everyone away, to give him breathing room to polish off the Enterprise. Later, when the dreadnaught is piloted by Khan and plows into San Francisco, it's probably not shot down precisely because the ship has all of the Grand Admiral's "stand down and ignore us" protocols in effect.

Now, it's the movie's fault for not at least tacitly addressing this (a simple scene in which Admiral Marcus tells Earth's defense forces to stand down would have sufficed) but it makes sense to me in the context of what happened. A second explanation is that this dreadnaught is pretty tough, and no amount of planetary defenses would have sufficed to take it down. A third, and even likelier option which is implied by the movie's own story is that Earth doesn't really have a very weaponized defense force....given that the flagship of the fleet, the Enterprise, is rendered to swiss cheese by the dreadnaught, I have to say that makes a lot of sense. What we're seeing here is a weird mix of the conventional technology of the Enterprise vs. an unholy union of the pre-war tech info brought to the table by Khan, plus the scanned future-tech taken from Nero's ship in the last movie. The fact that they made this new vessel reminiscent of a mix of Enterprise D and E just made it even more interesting.

So why the advanced technology? This is all way beyond the TOS era tech from the original era, right? This technically was already answered by the film makers, who indicated that the presumption was that in the first movie Nero's ship was scanned and details recorded, opening up Starfleet's eyes to a wide range of technological options not previously imagined. I, however, would suggest a different (or amended) answer, which hinges on the whole time travel element: this isn't really even the same universe rewound; Spock and Nero from the first movie slipped backwards and sideways in time, to a slightly different universe, one with slightly different laws of reality and history that extend well beyond the scope of the original series.

Transporters work differently in this Trek. Seriously, they do; aside from the visuals, which actually imply people being surrounded by an array of circulating particles rather than just being disintegrated, transporters seem to be a lot more fidgety, and have trouble picking people up if a bug is walking on them, or there's atmospheric trouble, or any number of other issues. Simultaneously, a very specific portable device (the Scotty super-transporter) can transport a target light years and even his a moving target in Warp. Is this inconsistent? I have a hard time working this one out, and my gut tells me that the problem here is screenwriters who went for Rule of Cool first and "this will mess with our universe's implied assumptions" ended up ignored.

If, however, I try to apply some logic to the way transporters work (and fail to work) I arrive at the conclusion that it's a suggestion that the technology works very differently in certain key ways from the way it worked in Old Trek. I'd postulate it's using some sort of strange quantum entanglement to get the job done, and that the device is "repopulating" the target at a new destination rather than its current location. This becomes trivially easy to do when you know the speed and distance of a target, but something as simple as a ladybug in your hair could screw things up, because now you have another observer and a whole bunch of additional variables to account for. Something like that? Ah, I got nuthin' on this one.

At least they acknowledged the staggering significance of Scotty's transwarp teleporter device as a distinct thing in this movie, being sequestered away by Section 31 for weaponization.

Another thing that I find head-scratching is the whole "Qo's'Nos" (alias Chronos) event. There are a lot of things we can interpret from the event in which the Enterprise warps to the Klingon Homeworld, as follows:

First, the klingons appear to have already destroyed Praxis. Notice in the one space scene with the disintegrating moon in the background? Now, in the implied new history Nero supposedly was captured by klingons and locked away in Rura Pente for twenty odd years before being freed, and after his escape he destroyed the prison world....but going by Star Trek VI Rura Pente was not a  moon in the Klingon system, best as I could tell. This means that Praxis was already mined out and blew up, a couple decades early. This help explains the next issues.

Second, the klingons have a lousy detection grid around their homeworld. Maybe they used to have one but Praxis blowing up fried it. Maybe Chronos (because I refuse to keep retyping the klingon spelling) has been thoroughly mined out and is now effectively a slum planet, and the bulk of the klingon interests have shifted to other worlds, and resources along with it. Maybe they just aren't as technologically advanced. Remember, in Trek VI the Enterprise-A slipped through the neutral zone and only got picked up by a listening post with a very bored guard. The newer Enterprise (which, as I'll discuss below, moves a lot faster) might have just gotten lucky, or been using coordinates provided by Admiral Marcus which was a known dead zone in Klingon monitoring posts. So this doesn't bug me so much.

Finally, klingons do appear to have effective sensor shielding, and maybe even stealth tech by now, given that the Romulans are out there selling arms to the klingons. As such, even if we didn't see the klingon defense ships in stealth mode its reasonable to assume they had either sensor-defeating stealth tech or actual romulan stealth tech that kept them from being picked up by the Enterprise's sensors. As for the intel that they acted on (that the sector on Chronos was abandoned)...nothing in that scene suggests that info was fresh, and assuming Starfleet got that info from its own stealth probes, could be a bit out of date anyway. So this seems like a problem on the surface that goes away quickly.

Now, a quick bit about Khan. Why did Admiral Marcus think finding a sleeper ship of genetically enhanced humans from the eugenics wars was a good idea? This seems like a no-brainer, although it relies a bit on the assumption that this universe is a retcon timeline: Khan and his people were true super soldiers, genetically engineered not just to be the smartest and most cunning leaders of the world (as the TOS Khan was) but to be true killers and super men. Admiral Marcus realized that in the current era humankind was made of survivors that had operated under a clause of nonviolence and peace for more than 150 years now, and that he needed someone who was a product of the tumultuous and vague wars which wiped out most of Earth from the old days to help him conceive of what could be done with the weapon's technology stolen from Nero's ship.

The movie obliquely references Khan's origins as being from roughly 300 years ago, without being specific (i.e. 1996), and this is a younger less factually-focused crew, so it would be nice if the new Trek universe was one which held even less certainty about exactly when and how everything went down in Earth's past, including exactly when the so-called Eugenics Wars happened. Call me a fool of a Trekkie but I still like the idea that Trek postulates a potential future history that spins off from out own, rather than one which spins off from 1967's conception of such. The scene where Khan kicks the crap out of a small army of klingons lends credence to this whole notion.

The bit where Kirk calls up Scotty? Not an issue. The only reason we didn't see more of that in TOS and the old movies was that we didn't have cell phones back then. Other than that, Kirk and crew took plenty of direct phone calls across vast distances, just usually sitting down in front of a vidscreen. Trek has had a long and established history of instantaneous communication, and this is just the new series continuing the trend in a way more modern and familiar to us.

Some of my unanswerables:

1. Why did Khan hide his crew in torpedoes? What possible benefit did he think could come of this action? Did these torpedoes have such a small payload that they had that much room in them, making the idea seem sensible, or did Spock, toward the end of the movie, have to add in explosive charges to the torpedoes as well after removing their stasis-tube contents? I do not feel the movie explained Khan's actions on this, or the full nature of the torpedoes well enough here.

2. What the hell is a Cold Fusion Bomb and why would they call it that? What that bomb did was more of a energy-sapping device.

3. The entire "Enterprise hidden under water" scene struck me as 100% Rule of Cool and not at all feasible. Assuming the Enterprise can sustain itself under water (I reasonably expect it could) I still question why parking it there made any sense. Also, why were Kirk and McCoy faffing around in the alien temple in the first place? WHY???? I assume it was to provide a distraction from the shuttle gliding into the volcano's mouth.....but....still.

4. So they know Khan's blood can regenerate dead tissue. There are 72 additional supermen in the ship's hold that can be used as well, right? Well, I do have a partial answer for this, as follows: McCoy determined that it was only Khan's blood which would do; his other genetically enhanced followers weren't subject to the same level of modification he was. Given that in Khan's TOS and Trek II appearances his people were all closer to sheep and cult followers than genetic supermen like himself, this makes sense to me. It would also explain why Admiral Marcus left them in cold sleep rather than wake them up, because they were more useful as bargaining chips than actual agents of Section 31. That said, my real question is: WHY DOES KHAN'S BLOOD REGENERATE DEAD TISSUE....including radiated tissue? WHY?!?!?!?

5. When the Enterprise starts to fall into Earth orbit, I can't help but notice that that entire scene started closer to the Moon, but rapidly seemed to move closer to Earth, despite the fact that neither vessel was under power. This is an example of Sci Fi authors have no sense of scale. Another example: the fact that as best I can tell it took the Enterprise maybe 20 minutes to get from Earth to Chronos. Even assuming that this timeline's ships had benefited from improved warp technology thanks to Nero polluting the timeline, that's very damned fast.

6. More evidence this is an alternate universe and not just a timeline reboot: Carol Marcus was a weapon's researcher and not the much more green-friendly physicist she was in TOS.

7. Is it just me, or do Trek shuttles still not have a proper airlock?

Hey look someone got some Dead Space in my Star Trek