Saturday, September 23, 2017

AAW Kickstarter: Mini-Dungeon Tome

This one I'm really excited for: Adventure-A-Week produces a ton of content for both Pathfinder and D&D 5E. They have a line of two-page mini dungeons that are fun and easy to integrate into short adventures or to cover you for a night when you haven't had time to prep, and less time to read up on a normal sized adventure. I've used a few already for D&D and even adapted a couple to Savage Worlds with no fuss. They now have a Kickstarter for a hardcover compendium of these adventures, for the system of your choice:

This one's a no brainer! Getting it, backed. These modules are incredibly functional and extremely easy for a time-strapped GM or a GM who just needs "that thing" to drop on the map somewhere. If you're in to hexcrawling this book provides a lot of utility, too.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is in the Wild

My Kickstarter set of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, including the Companion and GM Screen, arrived today. It's a monstrous set: the box is HUGE in traditional over-the-top Steve Jackson Games form, with four core books, a module book, dozens of figurine stand-ups, the stands, dice, and two large maps.

It's so much that I doubt I'll have time to absorb it for the next few days....but it is most definitely the GURPS experience, just pared down to the relevant Dungeon Fantasy bits. Off hand the book seems to cover most of what the DF line has presented in the past, but one can clearly gain additional benefit from many of the other DF modules out there (I noticed for example that there are only a few racial options in the boxed set).

I hope this sells well, and it encourages SJ Games to produce more DF books in print. I'll talk more about it soon once I've had a chance to properly read through the beast...

Monday, September 18, 2017

D&D 5E: Wolven in the Age of Strife

Work on my 5E edition of Keepers of Lingusia is coming along (slowly) but here's a recent entry:

The Vyrkasha Wolven (beastmen)
CR 1/2 (50 XP)
LN medium humanoid (wolven)
Initiative +2
AC 15 (studded leather, shield)
HP 9 (2D8)
Speed 30 feet (40 feet when running on all fours).
Multiattack wolven may make one bit and one scimitar attack per round
Melee Attack bite +3 attack (one target, reach 5’), 1D4+1 piercing damage
Melee Attack scimitar +3 attack (one target, reach 5’), 1D6+1 slashing damage
Ranged Attack long bow +4 attack (one target, ranged), 1D8+2 piercing damage
STR 12 (+1), DEX 14 (+2), CON 11 (+0), INT 11 (0), WIS 12 (+1), CHA 10 (0)
Languages: common, wolven
Senses: scent, darkvision
Skills: Intimidation +3, Perception +3, Survival +3
Scent: Wolven are gifted with exceptional noses and this grants them advantage on any roll to track or detect a target in which scent could play a role. The target could be up to a week old and the wolven would still gain this tracking benefit; if the target is more than a week old, or recent rains have eliminated evidence of the scent then the advantage may disappear (at GM’s discretion).

Quadruped: While running on all fours the wolven gains a Speed of 40 feet. Wolven can shift to all fours as part of a move action, and can also stand back up in the same move action for a 5 foot cost.

Wolven Characters: 

Wolven gain the following traits if run as player characters:

Scent: see details above; grants advantage on any perception or survival skill related to smell and tracking.

Bite: wolven can bite as an attack, dealing 1D4+STR modifier damage. This is considered an unarmed attack.

Run on All Fours: the wolven are ideally suited to running on all fours, and build leather armor with slings to let them carry weapons easily and without hindrance while running. To many men, this has made wolven look like they transform into wolves, but in fact the wolven are simply adept at moving this way. While running on all fours the wolven gains a Speed of 40 feet. Wolven can shift to all fours as part of a move action, and can also stand back up in the same move action for a 5 foot cost.

Dark Vision: Wolven have dark vision and can see exceptionally well in starlight.

Attribute Bonuses: Wolven gain a +1 to Dexterity and Wisdom.

Languages: Wolven know their native tongue (vyrkashan) and one of two possible human tongues: the northern tongue (Zarnian or Autrengardian) if they dwell in the Deep North or Middle Tongue (common) if they dwell in the southern reaches of the Deep Wilderness. Wolven of other worlds know common.

Vyrkasha wolven are indigenous northern beastmen who dwell in the region known as the Northern Wilderness. In the Era of Strife the wolven are engaged in a fierce territorial battle with gnolls who seek to gain control of the vast peninsular region. The wolven are strong but hampered by being divided over seven tribes. Still, the tribes often work together against the demon-worshipping gnolls.

Wolven structure their tribes around a chieftain, and usually among every 10-15 chieftains a warlord will arise who serves to coordinate and protect the tribes and families in his domain of control. There are currently seven “kingdoms” in the northern Wilderness.

Wolven regard the deity Wolfon as their creator deity, but they also pay reverent dedication to the Emerald Queen, a great Dragon which dwells in the Emerald Green of the deep north, and is believed by some to be the Brood Mother of all dragons. Others say the Emerald Queen is favored daughter of ancient Hazyk, who dwells in the Domain of his own name, and is believed to be a ten-thousand year old direct son of Tiamat.

Vyrkasha priests of Wolfon tend to be cleric/rangers while those who serve the Emerald Queen are usually druids. Most adventuring wolven are known to be barbarians and rangers. A few wolven bards exist, calling themselves skalds as the Austrengardian bards do.

The name Vyrkasha is the title wolven ascribe to their own kind, and means "the people" in their own tongue. Wolven is the title applied by the men of the north and south. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

OHMAGERD Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers 2nd Edition PDF Just Arrived

Just discovered an email with my complimentary code for the PDF of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd Edition.....which means, at last, that the hard cover is not too far away!!!

Verrrry excited for this. Will definitely be running a campaign in the ASSH2E rules soon......

If you don't have it yet and want the PDF, looks like it's on sale for $12.75 right now. At 622 pages it's a steal! If you stake your corner of the OSR on AD&D 1E and Robert E. Howard's influence on gaming, then ASSH really is a must-have.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The OSR Survival Kit

Any fan of the OSR knows that one of the cool things about our corner of the hobby is just how portable it is. Sure, you can just load up all the PDFs you want on a tablet, but most old schoolers prefer actual books in hand....

For example, my default "OSR Pack and Go" looks like this, depending on which flavor of RPG I feel like dabbling in:

One copy of the White Box Fantastical Medieval Adventures RPG
One copy of Beasties - Manual of Monsters (or insert other preferred monster book here; I like this one because it's digest format and has very cool, illustrated monsters Night Owl Worskshop style)
A copy of the White Box Omnibus (or alternatively White Box Gothic if you're looking for that)
One or both copies of Dyson's Delves (the best OSR dungeon resource hands down)

Those five books still take up half as much space as a single core rulebook for D&D or Pathfinder.

If I'm in the SF mood, then the adjustment is obvious and easy:

One copy of White Star Core Rules
One copy of the White Star Companion
Throw in a copy of the Hyperspace Messenger Compendium
Optionally you can add Between Star & Void and Tools of the Worldshapers

And just like as above, the five books for White Star still take up less space than Starfinder Core or Traveller core. Add in some dice, a notepad and pencil and you've got yourself a game!

What sort of OSR Surival Kits do you like to drag along? I could easily see one which covers The Black Hack (the most emminently portable OSR-derived game out there), or pretty much any of the Night Owl Workshop games (which are all utterly amazing). I've got a serious preference for digest books, and if I ever saw --say, Goblinoid Games-- produce a thick and portable version of Labyrinth Lord I'd totally snag that sucker.

Monday, September 11, 2017

What Death Bat has Been Running Lately

Short post, but I just wanted to say that this year has been sufficiently taxing* due to a mix of work, family health and school issues (all the stuff I don't normally talk about on the blog!) that I have really grown to appreciate the idea of system loyalty....that fabulous notion of sticking hard and fast to just a few game systems that you grow to know extremely well. It also helps that there are so many games out there now that hit the sweet spot for me in terms of the right level of mechanical detail with the right level of prep time requirements.

Dungeons & Dragons 5E is a no-brainer here; you can spend an hour prepping and have three or four sessions' worth of material ready to go. Using stats from the rules is simple, prepping on the fly a piece of cake.

Call of Cthulhu 7E has become my de facto preferred edition of Basic Role Playing. The new mechanical contrivances, from bonus/penalty dice to the new skill approach (the normal/hard/extreme/crit ranges) are so useful and intuitive that it's hard to imagine a future edition of BRP that doesn't use this approach.

I really can't stress enough how much I like the changes in this new's been a much better overall play experience.

Traveller remains the best and easiest procedural RPG and remains un-dethroned in this capacity. The 2nd edition of Mongoose's version really has managed to hit that sweet spot for SF gaming.

Savage Worlds remains, as ever, the best pick-up-and-play anything system you could possibly ask for.

Swords & Wizardry White Box (specifically this White Box) will remain on my shelf forever as I wait patiently for a time to convince my group to go retro for a while. Likewise White Star will forever be my favorite OSR title and the best pick-up-and-play experience I've had.

My weekly games right now consist of a rotating D&D 5E campaign on Wednesday (we have one group exploring Galvonar one week, and another group exploring the Western Nakamura Isles and Mataclan the next) while on Saturdays we've been sticking exclusively to a long-running Call of Cthulhu campaign aimed at a vaguely Twin peaks vibe but 100% pure mythos in origin. We have two Traveller campaigns, one for each group, currently on hold but with plans to revisit the moment one of the active games hits a good pause.

I do dive in to new stuff when I can find time....I've enjoyed checking out FATE Core even though it remains outside my comfort zone (a bit) and I have recently been really enjoying reading the Symbaroum RPG, for example. I've even valiantly tried getting in to Starfinder although I concede that the rulebook induces fatigue and the game system itself, being Pathfinder, remains a tough sell for me to engage with does not meet the aforementioned criteria of the "right level of mechanical detail relative to prep requirements" that I need....but it is interesting.

*so bad that I still haven't had time to fire up Destiny 2 yet!!!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Comment Moderation!

Looks like I need to turn this on....the current post has been getting spam blasted for a few days now by unsavory links. I'll try to be prompt in reviewing comments!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Death Bat Meanderings: Campaign ideas for Starfinder


As it turns out Destiny 2 day one patch was about 7 GB in size which meant I didn't have enough time to play it last night since it was too busy loading on the Playstation Network's notoriously slow upload rate. Sigh.

So here's a few random things!

Starfinder is pretty cool I've decided, but it took me a while to figure out how I wanted to use it. The game works well as a "fantasy D&D with the trappings of modern looking SF" but that's actually a genre that doesn't quite exist in the form Starfinder is pitching. The last time we saw anything like this it was Fantasy Flight's Dragonstar expansion for D20, and that was close to 15 years ago.

At some point I realized that if I treated Starfinder like the sequel to Spelljammer, but "far in the future" then it might start making more that end I worked up this crude premise, which I am now currently massaging in to a real campaign for future use:

Starfinder Campaign Premise:

The conquest of Pellamorda – the Star Empire of Corgastin Grace has spread throughout the Etherworlds, the region of space which has over many years grown to encompass most of what was once called Wild Space or Chaos Space. The Star Empire is dominated by a confederation of four species, including the Wysentrien Elves. The emperor is the Immortal Astrokan, undying ruler of the Etherworlds of Corgastin Grace.

Pellamorda is a nondescript world of pre-tech societies which were locked in a conflict between good and evil. Lord Vathamre, a disciple of chaos and son of demons had uncovered an ancient artifact called the Star Crystal, a device which granted immense power and insight. The device, I turns  out, was also coveted by Astrokan, and his stellar navy was sent to recover it….and in the process they laid waste to Pellamorda and enslaved the world.

Five years in to the occupation of Pellamorda, the Coalition of Independent Worlds launched a covert operation to free Pellamorda and learn if there was any way to destroy the Star Crystal….a team of elite agents were sent to explore the mysteries of how one of the Infinite Sphere’s most powerful artifacts cam to rest on a remote world of completely nondescript nature…..

Tying it to Keepers of Lingusia:

This campaign takes place in 3503 AW and Lingusia is a remote backwater world! The last time wild space was visited in Lingusia (at the heart of Chaos Space) was in roughly 2090 AW, during the Age of Strife. This early era was a period of expansionism for the arcane elves known as the Naelythians, noted for their deep blue skin. Other entities of the era vied for power in the dawn of space exploration which was driven purely by magic. It was not until events which took place between 2090 AW and the present (3503 AW, the Era of the Warlords) that any of the denizens of Lingusia would be exposed to the stellar culture of blended technology and magic which arose over the following fifteen centuries.

In this time, the Naelythian empire rose and fell and now exists as outlier colonies in the Outer Expanse of the galaxy. The development of more sophisticated FTL drives which did not require magicians as human batteries led to a dramatic shift in the power structure of the universe, and eventually the need to navigate from one system to the next via the use of the etheric crystal spheres became relic technology. As the first worlds to develop true technology ascended in to space, the power dynamic shifted, and by 2500 AW as time is reckoned in the Hyrkanian Empire the era of old wild space was a lost memory. A thousand years later the Star Empire of Corgastin Grace has risen to power, obliterating dozens of other contenders in the process. At this time, Lingusia remains a forgotten system in an obscure corner of the galaxy, but –as with Pellamorda—it is only a matter of time before Astrokan turns to it to loot the world of its ancient relics as well.

In this era, Lingusia is clearly evident as a construct world: it's immense flat plane (more closely resembling a slightly rounded object like a glass token) is evidence of immense construction by cosmic beings capable of constructing whole worlds, and is key to the mystery in its origins as to who built it and why. When scholars of the Empire or the Coalition at last take notice, then it may indeed pose a grave threat if they learn of the true nature of the "planet" as the prison-construct housing a dozen primordial cosmic entities called the Skaeddrath.

By this era, the old gods of Lingusia have gone through a period of cosmic transformation, becoming far less like the humanoids they created and populated the planet with. The enigma of this transformation is part of the mystery, for to some it seems that the gods themselves are becoming not unlike the Skaeddrath they were once jailers to. Should the Empire seek to conquer Lingusia, it may have an unexpected fight on its hands...

Anyway, by doing it this way I manage to keep continuity with what has come before in the campaign and also place it contextually in the lengthy documented history of my most venerable setting (Lingusia), in a timeline that won't even remotely interfere with the ongoing fantasy campaigns set in the 2090s while at the same time getting a chance to revisit, potentially, the Warlords Era of the 3500s.

Ironically it's not actually "out of canon" for me to do this. Technically my first weird Science Fantasy games in Lingusia took place in 1984-1985ish when I ran a series of games in which the intrepid adventurers of the time (including my sister's rogue Wormi) were dealing with space raiders from at least five hundred years in the future, coming to Lingusia from a time when high tech spaceships were normal. It was never clearly established if the future of Lingusia included SF trappings when I ran that campaign but it was clear they were aliens who wanted to harvest the past for their diabolical interests. One of the byproducts of that campaign was the implication that doppelganers were actually aliens trapped on Lingusia (a nod to my appreciation for the shapeshifting wraiths of the Rom comic). I'd later also work out that the mind flayers (hyshkorrid) were very much in the same boat, aliens trapped on Lingusia (by design or accident has never been revealed). 

When Spelljammer came out I loved the concept but had to assume that the campaign I had run years earlier was either an anomaly, or some weird timeline, or that it was just a mystery to be resolved at a future date. I now feel kind of like maybe, perhaps, Starfinder provides a great way to revisit that conceptual space and also expand upon it, as well as providing some "closure" to the mystery of the relic-stealing future space pirates from that particular campaign!  

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Looking Deeper in to FATE Core

As I have continued to absorb FATE Core I actually think I might have reached critical mass, that point at which I feel I have studied the rules and understand the underlying concepts well enough for me to tackle running the system. This is hard to do with FATE, a game system that eschews most of what I take for granted in how an RPG works. That said, I feel I genuinely grokk the four-part action economy of the system, the notion of aspects with their invokes and compels, the very important Fate Point economy and why it works like it does, and I've even been satisfied to see that the quasi-myth of FATE as the game where no one dies unless they decide it's good for their story has been dispelled; FATE Core offers up advice on different approaches to this question, but ultimately it both provides the most compelling framework for situations in which death is inescapable even as it suggests that allowing for more options than death is more important to the coherence of the story being told.

I've grabbed about all of the FATE Core supplements and can safely say that the many different worlds that Evil Hat has compiled for the game run from the incredibly useful (Venture City Source book, worth it for the great superpowers rules, or FATE Freeport which is essentially "D&D adapted to FATE")  to the interesting but very much mixed bags that are the various Evil Hat published "Worlds..." series, such as Worlds on Fire, each of which contains at least four distinct and often very different settings using FATE Core. Then there's the Setting Toolkit and the Adversary Toolkit, both of which contain lots of useful content though I have refrained from getting too involved there until I properly absorb the core rules.

So now the question is: what setting to create, and how? As a GM who lives for setting design I am not precisely the target demographic for FATE Core, which feels to me more like it is aimed at GMs who find setting design tedious and want to farm it out to the players....or RPGers who come from a different experiential angle to gaming (the Indie gaming side) in which there was no preconception about world design as a GM art/process, allowing them to relinquish control of that part of the experience to turn it in to a collaborative effort with the players.

I am not 100% sure I can totally do that, or that the players necessarily want to do that.....but I may consider trying it out anyway so I can experience FATE Core as intended. It does seem to me to require a strong level of improv, and possibly an ability to do improv by riffing off of someone else's ideas. Maybe I'll just find a pre-published FATE world I like and run with that.

I also thought about using an existing setting, such as Lingusia, and enjoying the results. It's a world my core gaming group is familiar enough with to riff off of within the constraints of the existing setting, it support the sort of character-focused story-driven game play FATE Core is known for with minimal or no effort (I propose that running 13th Age is not unlike running FATE Core in terms of the story focus experience, just with more math and numbers) and it's familiar turf, which means teaching how to work aspects, skills and stunts will be easier.

If I use it for my Ages of Lingusia campaign then I'd need to work out a definition of core schools of magic, and decide if equipment will have any additional effect as extras. Given how fluid FATE is in its resolution of effects I feel like for the first game de-emphasizing equipment is a better idea; this is a system where what you're fighting with or using is far less relevant than how you are using it and how it relates to the story, so going hardcore into the "equipment as trappings of your description" feels like a better way to emphasize the unique differences of the system.

I'm currently hip deep in an ongoing Call of Cthulhu campaign and my regular D&D 5E sessions (with Traveller on hold but returning soon) so I don't have a lot of room now, but maybe in a month or two I'll propose a 3-5 session FATE Core experience for the group. When this happens I'll be sure to post the results....!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Ages of Lingusia: Smaller Polities in Northern Octzel (in the Age of Strife)

And a number of smaller locations with some adventure seeds....

Smaller Polities in Northern Octzel (ca. 2092 AW, Age of Strife)


This roadside town is a famous pitstop for overland caravans and travelers looking for a break from the harrying experience of traveling across the Great Divide in the Loroden Mountains to the south. Stetson is the location of an enclave of Wardens of Halale, and is noted for having a vast, ancient ruin just south of the town which dates back to the ancient days of the Halic people who occupied the land before Hyrkanian occupation drove them to extinction. Stories of ghosts haunting these ancient ruins are mostly unfounded, but it is noted by some that necromancers and cultists to the chaos gods have on several occasions seen fit to enact ancient rituals of sacrifice at the hangman’s tree along the road which marks the path to the ruins. The last such event led to an all-out purge by the wardens who spent weeks hunting down cultists to the serpent god Lazar. Prior to that, rumors of arcane rituals committed by members of the Black Society from the capitol have led more than one scholar to conclude that there must be something really, really interesting about that ancient tree.

Adventure Seed in Stetson:

The Dead Tree: few truly understand why the dead tree is so important to the strange cults that lurk in the region. The scholar Idominus Vetheren of the Capitol would like to know, and will mount an expedition to investigate both the tree and the ruins, with the blessing of Stetson’s wardens. Little does he know that the tree itself is tainted with the blood of something terribly ancient and evil buried beneath the land, from which the roots of the tree have drawn the black blood of chaos for many an age. The lost Halic City of Kharamos was destroyed twelve hundred years ago by this ancient evil, in the name of the old Octzellan king Donn-Dadera, who sought to wipe the Halics off the face of the earth…


The town of Diom is mostly regarded for its famous Tall Tales Inn, where merchants and nobles often travel to enjoy some time in the country. It caters to a generally more opulent crowd, but the Inn itself earns its name from the many professional bards and their tales of derring-do that make much of the tavern portion of the inn so entertaining. The tavern is believed to have been more of a shanty in the past founded by the Ederlon Family, but earned a reputation when the Empress Phyxillus Usyllyses and her traveling companions frequented the tavern a century ago, regaling its denizens with tales of their adventures at a time before the Empress had ascended to rule the Empire. The inn’s current proprietor is Kiriney Lesean-Denera, a woman of aristocratic demeanor who is single and portends to be of elven blood (though she in fact an aasimar of indeterminate age).

Adventure Seed in Diom:

The Bounty and the Bard: the sylenic bard Chops Madur has come to play at Diom, but last night in a bout of intense revelry he was kidnapped by unknowns! Was he taken by the amorous noble woman Verithra Elas Tetra, who fell in love with his voice? Or was he kidnapped by local brigands who plan to ransom him for money? Or did he wander off and get snagged by local orcs or goblins, who happen to find sylenic halflings a delicacy?


Indor is a rough fishing port and crafting town, and has little identity outside of its place as a town of tradesmen and artisans who engage in business too stinky, dangerous or uncomfortable for city life. Regular barges take goods too and from the city every day, and the fields around Indor are constantly being worked to meet the harvest needs of the Capitol.

Adventure seed in Indor:

Coastal Pirates: a group of self-proclaimed pirates have begun harassing barges moving to and from the Capitol, but they are using a sleek three-master schooner which is alarmingly fast and agile. The pirate captain call shimself Shandro Ward, and a bounty has been placed on his head to stop the onslaught of piracy.


Smalton grew over the last century from a lone village that had at one time been a sequestered getaway for Octzellan nobles to a more robust township, specializing in some renowned vineyards. The original founder of the town, Orlus Smalton, eventually went on to forge a large family, which grew to the several hunded people the town represents today. It is a remarkably quiet location other than the wealth that pours in from decadent nobles of the Capitol seeking respite from the “rough life of the city.”

Adventure seed in Smalton:

The King is Coming: the King of Octzel has decided at long last it is time to visit this luxurious resort called Smalton! The procession is immense, the opportunities vast, and the mayor of Smalton, Orlus III, needs mercenaries willing to scour the area to make sure there are no threats from bandits, orcs, goblins or cultists to make the King’s visit perfect.


This small town provides much of the agricultural output to sustain Urlu, and is also in the middle of the Western Woodlands, which are variously claimed at times by the orcish Warlord Faragor, who has ruled from his Iron City in the Under Realms for a decade now, and at other times by the Khitteck Spider Queen Ikiriot, who preys on human and elf alike in the region. Adin is also close to the elven home of the Sylveinurien village Woodhome, or Syliedurias, which no humans save a few wardens have ever visited.

Adventure Seed in Adin:

The Demon: Allu Dias is an ancient glabrezu demon that was summoned forth by the orc shaman Morgados, to harry and destroy Adin. In a mishap, Morgados was slain, his spirit and body taken possession of by Allu Dias, who now walks as the shaman and seeks to manipulate the warlord Faragor into not merely razing Adin, but Urlu beyond…

Monday, August 28, 2017

Movie Review: Infini - or "What Solaris would have been like, with more machine guns and screaming"

This movie would never have been on my radar if Hastings hadn't folded last year. While grabbing random movies for 70-90% off I happened to land a copy of Infini. I'd seen this movie before, but buying it for anything less than a pittance seemed like a bad idea. It had the stink of a SyFy special all over it just from looking at the box cover.

Well, I was half right. It might not be a SyFy special, but it does have the stinky resonance of a direct-to-cable production, with the caveat that clearly the people behind the film really wanted to capture the essence of the "Dead Space" genre of film and games, but without stepping too deeply into the obvious tropes. The end result reminds me of one of the countless science fiction tales you find in the middle of any number of random novel collections: a weird work, which feels like an idea half-formed, or maybe fully-realized but without enough character or depth to cover much more distance than a short work of fiction could handle.

It also kind of reminds me of the nearly infinite spew of self-published novels on Amazon's Kindle; you know the ones, with great cover blurbs mentioning all the bells and whistles ("space marine," "alien virus," "haunted space station," "everyone's gone mad in a totally-not-like-the-reavers kind of way," etc.) and the first volume is free.

But this is a film.....and it does exist. So is it worth it? In a nutshell: if you saw it on Netflix and you were really bored, I wouldn't say you had to skip it.

Generic space marine Whit Carmicahel (Daniel MacPherson) is on his first day on the job working for a special forces group that uses advanced teleportation to travel across the galaxy protecting corporate interests in the 23rd century. Apparently this is a high risk technology and you can suffer a mental breakdown when you teleport, but despite the lead text warning us about stuff like this the real problem has nothing to do with teleporting and everything to do with a distant mining facility (Infini station) at the edge of the galaxy, where things have gone to hell in a handbasket.

The exact timing on all of this isn't that important: when the spec ops guys get teleported, when the mining base went rogue, when it really had problems, when the second spec ops team goes, all of this is sort of "there" as fill to the story of a bunch of spec ops space marines trapped on a haunted space station where a virus turns you in to reavers.

Of course it's an alien virus, and actually it's an alien organism which covers the planet. Because it is briefly mentioned as "flammable" it was suggested it was a great fuel source, but that doesn't seem to come in to play in the story later on (thankfully) other than as a one-off to explain why it was being mined, almost like the writers suddenly realized that the idea was kind of stupid, so someone thought two stupids made a smart or something.

I digress though. Okay so Whit (W.C.) is about to get sent to this place when something bad happens....other spec ops teams return and they appear to be quite mad. Right before the entire facility goes on lockdown and gasses everyone his commander gets him teleported. Cut to a week later, and another facility is dressing down a crew of seven spec ops dudes who are all going to investigate the haunted space station, which is apparently something that happened a while ago but it's never entirely clear to me as to the immediate urgency at that moment that they send live humans to the station.

The second crew is informed they need to recover W.C. for reasons that are flimsier than my D&D group explaining why they met the new guy to conveniently replace the old guy who got eaten in the middle of the dungeon. They are also supposed to lock down the station and confirm payload or something along those lines but it sort of becomes more or less irrelevant very quickly. They arrive at the station, we have a few minutes of smart protocol in which they keep their helmets on, don't touch things they shouldn't (or get stopped by someone) and then they meet W.C. who's been hiding in a locked down corner of the facility for a week due to "time dilation" and how it relates to whatever their teleportation is.

Just when it looks like everything's on track for a smart mission complete and extraction, they take off their helmets, let down their guard and help W.C. get things up and running, all while averting a possible overload or something. Then  a couple maddened miners attack from out of nowhere, and in the ensuing carnage everyone becomes infected with a reaver virus due to exposure to blood.

Most of the rest of the movie proceeds to play out like a mix of Bioshock Splicers preying on one another while W.C. tries to figure out what's happening, something he apparently didn't bother to do for the week he was here previously, but now is worried about since he's also apparently infected with the virus (just very, very slowly). He quickly pieces together that the stuff they mine on the planet is a mimic organism which can replicated human tissue...possibly even whole bodies....precisely. This is underplayed (no one starts assuming others are "replicated" because they are all going crazy right now anyway) but becomes relevant later.

The second half of the movie is mostly actors who didn't get a lot of establishment on camera to make you care about them descend into violent madness. It's not at least know who they are (nutjob spec ops people who take their helmets off for any old reason) but their mutual efforts at destruction seem awfully played out for very little payoff.

In the, spoiler alert.....W.C. is left all alone, plagued by the virus, but with enough wits to record a speech to the organism that comprises the entire crust of the planet and explains to it that in messing with people it went for the worst elements of them, and it should feel bad. The organism then creeps out, heals and revives everyone (including at least one guy I thought was completely eviscerated) and the crew for a few moments act like they are either: A. pod people feigning memory loss, or B. the actual crewmen suffering actual memory loss of their deaths. They then beam back to base and everything ends on a shockingly upbeat note.

Indeed, the "shockingly upbeat note" might be the most surprising thing about this movie which otherwise felt like it was pulled from a mosh pit in which Dead Space, Solaris and Event Horizon were all duking it out while The Thing dipped its toes in for a second or two.

It wasn't horrible. It just was very, very basic and it really needed a rewrite on the screenplay. Badly. To the credit of the many actors who I barely recognized or didn't know at all, they were all pretty good at evoking the basic elements of their characters. I don't remember anyone's names, but they each nailed their "TV plot archetype" assignment fairly well.

I give it a solid C average.

"Well it's been 8 minutes and no one's violated quarantine protocol, time to shed these helmets."

Five fun bits about Infini:

1. Even when they are showing good protocol, not touching things or taking off their helmets, the spec ops space marines still take their helmets off.

2. It is important to ask why any live humans get sent with this teleporter tech if they could just send drones. (Answer: not in the budget, and for my case I refer to that scene where the one guy holds a drone in his hand that looks like the ones from Prometheus but it does nothing but flash).

3. If the sentient world goo could understand W.C.'s final rantings and ravings then the question arises: why couldn't it understand anyone else, at any point? How did it take his little speech to convey this message to the alien goo? And Why did it care?

4. I was really bothered by the fact that none of the guns appeared to have scopes or even iron sights. What the hell??? How do you aim with those things?

5. The space goo, in the moments when we did see it, was actually a pretty cool effect.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Ages of Lingusia: The City of Urlu in the Age of strife

The City of Urlu (ca. 2092 AW, the Age of Strife)

The coastal port-city of Urlu was once a freeport in the old days before Octzellan emancipation, where merchants from Jhaknian families would gather and trade with eastern Imperial and Northern merchants. The city was eventually annexed in the Octzellan rebellion, and has been a major trade port ever since. That said, it’s families hold deep ties to Jhakn in the south, and Jhaknian merchants continue to show deference to the port as a center of trade with the north and east over the Capitol.

Three families hold power in Urlu. House Meridar, ruled by Questo Gonn Meridar, is currently the dominant power, and Meridar has used his influence to provide generously low tariffs to foreign merchants choosing Urlu as their main port, so much so that for southern merchants it is more profitable to stop in Urlu and sell goods that middle-men then carry by coastal schooner or cravan to the Capitol than it is to travel directly. The port at the Capitol, which has expanded as much as it can, does not mind Urlu providing relied like this.

The other two major powers are both houses of mixed ancestry, with both Octzellan and Jhaknian blood in their mix: House Thulan and House Jharas are both descended from the old merchant-captains of Jhakn, and they continue to proudly display this mixed heritage. Even the city’s religious values are influenced by their Jhaknian ancestry, with a preponderance of household shrines to various ancestral and elemental spirits. One major temple to Enki overlooks the bay, but it is smaller than most temples, albeit resplendent in décor due to the wealth poured in to it by the locals, who seem to have no problem engaging in a mixture of Octzellan pantheism and Jhaknian animism.

Adventure Seeds in Urlu:

The Smoke Street Stalker: recently people have been terrorized by a late-night murderer moving through the region around Smoke street, the notorious lower-quarters section of the city where the butchery, smoke shops and smithies function. The murderer has been described as a cloaked man who moves in and out of shadow, and a couple sightings say there were multiples. Is it an invasion from the Plane of Shadow? And who keeps leaving the strange figurines with the word “Penumbros” scrawled in the Old Tongue on their bottoms?

The Black Light: every few weeks off the coast of Urulu to the west a mysterious, purple-black light flashes in the distance for a time, seemingly to some unknown cypher, albeit one no semaphore specialist can translate. Efforts to identify the source have led to the remote Isle of Thorns, an abandoned stretch where no one currently resides, but which once contained a thriving pirate colony about two centuries ago. Despite scouring the island, none have found the source of the light….but three weeks back, the adventurer and scholar Rolando Dann Thurik led an expedition to occupy the island right before he predicted the next sighting of the light. His expedition has now been missing ever since. There are rumors that a depraved necromancer named Karlon Vossk, an Eastonian, recently commissioned a ship to take him to the island, as well.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Some Combat House Rules for The Hero's Journey

After messing around with The Hero's Journey, in thinking about how combat is handled with a mixture of deflective (AC) and reductive (reduction value). The book includes some optional rules for GMs who find reduction value gets in the way of conflict resolution, but I felt you could do this with a bit more nuance. Here's three rules I would suggest to improve the combat experience in THJ:

Critical Hits

If a PC or foe roll a natural 20 on their attack roll, they get a critical hit. They may do one of the following with a critical hit:

Deal damage directly, bypassing armor
Deal 1 point of damage directly to the armor (permanently reducing it; armor with a RV reaching 0 is useless)
Automatically deal maximum damage with their roll

This option lets foes damage armor, bypass armor and also choose maximum damage against unarmored opponents. Just remember that they only get one option!


If you can absorb damage with armor in THJ, then why not also parry attacks? If you are wielding a weapon and you want to parry, then make an attack roll against the target number your foe rolled. If you roll higher than the final attack roll (with modifiers) then you may roll the damage value of your weapon, convert it to reduction value, and reduce the total by that amount.

Under this system, while using the crit rule above, you can damage weapons used to block you or bypass them on the crit. If you deal damage to a weapon, it loses 1 point of RV, which is equal to the average of it's damage roll, rounded up. So a two-handed sword, with 2D6 damage, has a RV of 7 for purposes of damage dealt to the weapon. You record this as a "-1" and each time you try parrying again with the weapon you roll the parry value and subtract this total. If the damage on the weapon increases, note it as -2, -3, etc. until it reaches the maximum RV based on the average roll, at which time the weapon breaks.

Daggers under this system have a special deflection property: they roll 1D6+1 for determining RV rather than the actual damage roll of 1D6-1.

You could also treat shields like this. Give bucklers a RV 1, regular small shields an RV 3 and larger shields an RV 5. You have to choose to parry with the shield if you so choose, and like weapons they can be targeted and damaged.


Sundering becomes a specific option under these rules. You can elect to bypass attacking your opponent and aim for his shield, armor or weapon. In these cases the attack roll is aimed at sundering the protection of the defender. Sundering attacks are always at a -2 penalty. A normal success that is not parried will result in the attacker rolling damage against the armor, shield or weapon.If the total damage is higher than the RV of the targeted piece of gear, it's RV is reduced by 1.  So an orc with a 2D6 two-handed sword decided to sunder the paladin in plate, targets the armor, and deals 12 damage. The paladin fails to parry and is hit....7 points are aimed at the armor, and the plate armor goes from RV 5 to RV 4.

Sundering is a declared attack, and because it targets gear it does not deal HP damage to the target.


On a natural "1" on the roll, a critical failure, the GM can rule that one possibility of the fumble is that the RV of a parrying or attacking weapon is reduced by 1.

Repairing Armor

It costs 10 GP per RV and 1D6 hours for a blacksmith to hammer out and repair armor, weapons and shields to reduce damage. Bows, wooden shields and leather armor may require different specialists to repair, and may not be worth the cost.

Damaging Magical Armor and Weapons

GMs can rule that magical arms and armor cannot be damaged, but a more realistic method is to declare that they get a saving throw. Anytime a piece of armor, shield or weapon would take damage, and it is magical, it adds its magical modifier to a saving throw, with a target number of 10. If the magical gear rolls 10 or better then it is undamaged. Repairing magical armor requires special skills and typically is 100 GP per RV fixed, and takes 2D6 hours.

Creatures with Natural or Magical Armor 

If the GM rules that the natural armor is the source of the RV, then the RV cannot be reduced. Alternatively, RV can be reduced but all extra damage rolled is delivered to the target. Magically granted RV should not be possible to reduce (due to spell or nature of supernatural entity) in most cases. A lycanthrope, for example, is naturally resistant to damage but also does not take any damage from unsilvered weapons. In this case, I would rule that the RV of the werewolf can't be reduced.....unless a silvered weapon is used to sunder.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Starfinder - Science Fantasy Madness!

Starfinder is an interesting new direction for the Pathfinder's essentially offering up a new genre of gaming which is both very old and somehow still unexploited, at least in the manner which Paizo is choosing to approach the subject. Yes, we've had lots of space fantasy before (Spelljammer, Star Wars, Space: 1889, Warhammer 40K) but prior to Starfinder I think the only really distinct mixture of hard fantasy and hard SF that was attempted was 3rd edition's Dragonstar, one of Fantasy Flight Games' early D20 series. It wasn't bad, I'll say that much.

Starfinder's unique not because it does anything particularly different....rather, it does some very formulaic content very efficiently, and attempts to wed the free-for-all elements of fantasy gaming in D&D/Pathfinder form to the SF environment. Other attempts to do this have had mixed success. The reason Starfinder feels distinct is because it is actually trying to capture what it's like to play Pathfinder --exactly as it feels, and with all that entails-- but with all the trappings of a science fiction campaign.

This is harder to do than it sounds, as anyone who has played or run their fair share of SF RPGs can attest.....the effort to run an SF game depends on a few key factors, which I consider as follows:

1. The Tech/Science Hurdle. You have to decide if your SF setting is going to be soft or hard on the science bits. This makes a huge difference in style and feel, and also how much technical information you need to consider in your scenarios. Starfinder removes this can sliding scale the SF element all you want but it doesn't change the fact that this is a future universe with lots of magic. So Star Wars, essentially.

2. The Go Anywhere Hurdle. In most SF games you have to do one of the following: you prepare a careful set of scenarios and make sure the PCs don't deviate from the places you have worked out; or, you roll up a region with a minimum of detail and utilize the resources of the game to populate content on the fly. The former is the way most SF games tend to work, and the latter is how Traveller tends to do it. Both are solutions to the problem of a SF game requiring dozens or hundreds of worlds that you need to prep for or at least anticipate your players will visit. A third option is the "use an established setting" to keep prepared, such as Star Wars or Star Trek. Starfinder seems to be aiming for a middle ground here, with a defined area (Golarion Space In the Future) and it's emphasis on a magical future means you don't need to worry about too many technical details of each planet if you don't want to.

3. The Advancement Question. This may seem odd, but think about it....outside of Star Wars D20 editions, most SF games tend to aim for mechanics which de-emphasize character advancement as you see it in most D&D derived games. This is fine, as most SF gamers tend to want a bit more verisimilitude in their gaming and fans of Traveller are cool with the idea that advancement is something that happens slowly with effort rather than in bursts of adventure. But Pathfinder, D&D and their derivatives appeal to the gamers who happen to really enjoy spontaneous advancement through adventure, and Starfinder is squarely in the middle of this approach.

Anyway, I am continuing to read the massive Starfinder tome, and so far it's a fair mix of what I expected (Pathfinder in Spaaaaaaaaaaace) with some occasional surprises (occasional and unexpected rules changes/advancements that are both surprising and sometimes quite welcome).

I can't decide if I have the energy to run it yet. I like the relative simplicity of Traveller and Savage Worlds for my SF gaming, and despite the fact that I've never been a huge fan of hard fantasy/SF mixes I kind of like the aesthetic design that Starfinder is going for. It's evocative enough to get one thinking about how to make it work, and that's kind of really all this game needs to be successful: if people find their imaginations sparked, their interest piqued....then this is going to be a successful game.

I suspect....just an idea.....that the coolest part of Starfinder might be that it can allow a GM to conceive of the distant techno-fantasy future of his own campaign worlds. I once ran extensive Spelljammer campaigns which spun out of my Lingusia setting. Starfinder could also accommodate this, although unlike Spelljammer (which let you project your contemporary fantasy games in to wild space) Starfinder lets you imagine the fantasy world in the distant future. This is untrod turf in the world of fantasy gaming*....something one could do on an individual basis, but never something actually codified into a game before that I am aware of. I'm not even sure from my current reading point that Starfinder definitively addresses this, since it is primarily focused on selling their own future Golarion worlds setting....but it is most definitely an option, and something I'd like to see future GM resources explore.

*The end of the book has lots on this (including the classic races updated for Starfinder).

Monday, August 21, 2017

Biomutant - the Gamma World CRPG you didn't know you wanted (until now)

Check this out:

Polygon has the story here and the official website is here. It's a THQ/Nordic RPG coming out next week, a "mutant kung-fu fable" that looks to me like it's 100% DNA derived from classic Gamma World. Needless to say this is one of the few new games announced this year to have me genuinely interested....!

The Hero's Journey: A Look at Character Creation and Rules Differences

Last year James Spahn produced his own OSR fantasy game, "The Hero's Journey." It was a really nice looking book with an evocative cover designed to remind older gamers of those classic Tolkien novel covers, with a simple, stylized depiction of a pastoral fantasy realm, each layer of the image suggesting more mystery and adventure just over the horizon.

Since then I have been waiting for more of "The Hero's Journey" content but James is only one man, and he's got lots on his plate. I thought I'd take some time to explore this game, which has some very interesting twists to it. I figured exploring character generation might be one good way to talk about this system, so here goes....

I decided to roll up a random PC and ended up with a half-elven wizard. I’ll talk system after the stat block…

Name: Cahrain Desmedre
Race: Half-Elf male
Class: Wizard; Level 1; XP 0
Profession: forester; Alignment: neutral
Strength 14
Dexterity 15 (+1)(improves AAC)
Constitution 9
Intelligence 15 (+1) (5 bonus languages; extra 1st level spell slot)
Willpower 16 (+1)
Charisma 13
Appearance 9
Luck 10
HP: 6, HD 1; BHB +0; ST 15; AAC 11
Half-Elven Traits: martial amateur (long sword), Arcane Dabbler (charm person 3/day), fast learner (+5% XP), star sight
Wizard Abilities: magical awareness (detect magic at will); spell casting (2 1st level slots/day), +2 save vs. magic
Languages: common (Middle Tongue), elvish, orcish, Southron Tongue, Old Tongue, deep speech
Spell Book: read magic, arcane dart
Gear: simple clothes, backpack, 60 GP, long sword (1D6 dmg),

Notes on Character Generation:

Stats: THJ has eight stats, renames wisdom as willpower, then adds appearance and luck. The luck stat has some interesting extra mechanics….if you are lucky, that is! Stat generation is not based on D&D conventions and in fact each race has a different range of dice to roll. In our half elf example, above, each stat was 3D6 except for charisma and appearance which were 2D6+6. (Yes, I rolled poorly.)

Professions: THJ adds in professions, which are not unlike a more detailed version of the background trade from AD&D 1E. You roll, get a short list of things you can do with it, and your starting gear. This is a nice touch and something I’d be tempted to port over for use in any OSR game.

Classes:  I went for a conventional class, but THJ has a dozen interesting options including some weird ones like jester, duelist, cavalier and acrobat. These are all reminiscent of older AD&D classes from the early eighties, introduced in Dragon Magazine, but their versions here cleanly reskin them for the more basic conceptual turf of S&W.

Tweaks in Hit Die and AC Mechanics: THJ does interesting things with hit dice, hit point caps and armor. Armor now has a reduction value, which does not improve your AC (or AAC if you prefer ascending AC), but instead is a damage reduction value….so plate mail, for example, reduces attacks by 5 points. Armor class is still improved by shields, though, which grant an AC bonus (as a deflection bonus). This is an impressive -2 for a buckler and a whopping -8 for a large shield. By simply virtue of mechanical integrity it strongly enforces the idea that all fighters in THJ will be sword-and-board guys hiding behind large shields.

Hit points now only roll for the first three levels and starting at level 4 all advancement is a small static number (typically +1 or +2). For our sample young wizard above, that means he could at most hope for 17 hit points by level 7 (the cap for half elves)….as wizards only get +1 HP at level 2 and +1D6 at level 3, then it’s +1 per level after that. A fighter’s top bonus, assuming a CON of 18, could be a max of 39, however, so the wizard doesn’t seem too poorly off here.

The hit point thing seems interesting because it doesn’t look like the monsters took much of a hit on their hit dice, with most having plenty of dice to roll. This is S&W White Box inspired however, so monster hit dice are rolled on D6s, but a hill giant with 8 hit dice is still going to average 28 hit points.

Level Caps: THJ keeps level caps in place. Each race has a listing of what level caps and allowances are available….the system is designed to go only to tenth level however, so many of these limits aren’t so bad. The level caps did make more sense in AD&D where the non-human races at least had the option of multi-classing, something not discussed here.

Oddities: when rolling up the sample PC I opted for wizard because the minimum intelligence to be a wizard is 15, which seemed like a squandered opportunity if I didn’t go for it. That said, the wizard’s starting allotment of spells and spell slots is a little vague in detail. I assume that the spells per level on the wizard chart is how many slots he gets, since that info must be listed somewhere, right? But then that means he gains….how many spells at first level? From the text I am unable to determine this. It’s almost like adhering to tradition, as I recall in AD&D 1E and 2E both finding out how many spells your magic-user started with was never in the section (or book) you’d expect it to be.

Although I like the concept of armor which absorbs damage, I think the system doesn’t go far enough….what about parrying rules, or deflection rules? If you are going to add in this distinction, then it is worth considering what it means for other components of the game. That said, just getting plate (which absorbs 5 damage points) makes your fighter terrifying against most foes if they roll a typical 1D6 for attack damage. Sidebar rules offer some options for GMs who experience trouble here.

I’m still trying to decide if a fighter under this system would benefit more from the extra die of damage a two-handed sword does (2D6) vs. just taking a long sword and large shield (1D6 damage but you gain a whopping AAC 18).

Alignment: THJ focuses on the law/neutrality/axis order of 0E D&D/S&W. There are a few paragraphs on this which after reading over a bit I felt were saying, “most people are neutral, but a few aren’t.”

So as you can see, from looking at the character generation side of THJ there are a lot of quirks and tweaks that would strip the title of “retroclone” from THJ but keep it squarely in the “OSR camp” anyway. I like a lot of the ideas presented here, and think that the most interesting ideas include the luck stat, the damage reduction value of armor and the weird but clever way of restricting character hit points. I am not sure how it would play out yet….my gut tells me the weak HP structure for PCs coupled with the boundless changes for the monsters would make the game feel both deadlier and more difficult, but this may be a desired result.

The book is a pretty complete package, with over 120 monsters and a robust array of magic items on offer, and just enough GM advice not to feel anemic. I am not sure if I would grab it up and run it over, say, S&W White Box, but there is definitely a lot more flavor and many more options in TSJ than there is in its predecessors. It states it's S&W White Box compatible, too....and for the most part it definitely is (you could use monsters and modules with ease).

If James produces more for THJ down the road I will be intrigued to see where he takes it. I'd like to see something with rules for multi-classing options for humanoids, parrying options for weapons, and more depth of design similar to the professions option in character generation.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

FATE Core: More on Character Generation (tiefling wizard)

Here's an example of a FATE character for my established Ages of Lingusia setting. This shows how you can create a tiefling wizard in FATE Core without necessarily having to jump through hoops. There are several sample magic systems provided in the book as Extras. The one with specific schools appealed to me the most so I used their examples as a template for the necromantic chaos mages of the Black Circle. Anyway, here's a FATE Core swords & sorcery example:

Setting:                 Ages of Lingusia (Age of Strife)
Name                    Denethor Targellan

Description        A tiefling warlock of black leathers, reddened skin and a fiery disposition

High Concept:      World Weary tiefling of the Black Circle
Trouble:                 I accept rejection with furious wrath and burning fire
                                I am enchanted and repulsed by sorcerous women of power
                                I can respect any humanoid who respects me
                                My comrades are my stable foundation of sanity
Great (+4): Lore (Black Circle)
Good (+3): Notice, Provoke
Fair (+2): Physique, Will, Shoot
Average (+1): Rapport, Fight, Stealth, Deceive

School of Power: The Black Circle
Permission: one aspect that names the order
Costs: Aspect slot (for permission), skill ranks, refresh
Aspects: The Servants of Chaos are Given Deceptive Power, Power is Won Through Betrayal, Only Sacrifice to the Demon Lords Brings True Power
Skills: Change +4, Destroy +3, Create +2, Learn +1
Magical Stunts:
Necromancy (+2 to use any of the Black Circle’s skills against the dead)
Chaos Imbuement (+2 per scene to use any of the order’s skills to change a target)
Not Yet Learned: Divination of the Abyss (once per scene to reroll a learn skill and keep best result)

Stunts (Refresh 2)
I’ve Read About That (burn a fate point to use Lore in place of another skill)
Specialist (necromancy) (Gain +2 on Lore checks in this subject)
Danger Sense (Notice is unimpeded by environment when detecting threats)

Physical Stress  3              Mental Stress    3              Consequences  3

The Phase Trio:
While traveling in southern Hyrkania after being driven from Blackholm by fanatics of the Church of Naril, Denethor encounters a mysterious castle of azure stone in the Bluesky Mountains. A witch named Denajia meets him at a campfire, to seduce him to her castle….but despite his intrigue he resists. She sends forth orcish raiders to capture him and place him in her dungeon!
(I am enchanted and repulsed by sorcerous women of power)

While in the dungeons of Denagia, Denethor meets Twisp, a Halfling rogue who fell afoul of the witch as well. His earnest acceptance of the tiefling leaves him refreshed at the basic humanity….of halflings, at least. Together, with lockpick and spell, the two escape the tower.
(I can respect any humanoid who respects me)

Later, while traveling on the road, Twisp and Denethor meet the half-ogre Buruum, who is heading to the free city of Malas, where he has heard any humanoid is accepted as given, and the money flows freely in the arenas. They have a glorious battle against Hyrkanian soldiers on patrol and decide that Malas is a fine destination.
(My comrades are my stable foundation of sanity)

Design Notes:

The design above is under the same rules as the last character, but now for a tiefling mage instead of a human space jockey. The big difference is that I have enhanced detail on the School of Magic which is an extra option for this character. The Extras work in lots of different possible ways in the book, and I could have picked a different approach, but I like this one the best. In essence, the extra has a cost (in this case it requires the lore skill, an aspect naming it, and a refresh cost for more than one stunt from the college of magic). I defined three stunts for the college, so there's one yet to be earned.

In actual play, the skills of the college will default for the four defined magic skills, but if the Lore of the chaarcter is higher than the default skill then he uses his lore. This means our tiefling is actually operating at a +4 on all magical effects. Because these function like skills, it means that an ordinary use of a magic skill may not require an invoke or compel since they are not aspects....but the college also places aspects (and stunts) on the character, which he must accept. So as an example "Power is won through betrayal" could be used by the PC to invoke a perk when using a magic skill, or by the GM who sees an opportunity to suggest a's all fair game.

This system is fascinating in how rife with potential it is for unique effects. It is also making my GM senses tingle, since I have a couple players who could (possibly would!) try to abuse the hell out of a system like this. When considering this, I am cognizant of the fact that the invoke/compel process and limited number of fate points in the game is actually built to curb exactly that sort of if a player decides to invoke his aspect "Only Sacrifice to the Demon Lords Brings True Power" by blasting his hapless henchman to fuel his destruction skill check, then I can feel just fine by calling on a compel to recognize that "Power is Won Through Betrayal" leads to his apprentice seeking to spike his drink with poison later...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Messing with FATE Core: Character Generation

After a very, very long time I am finally warming up to what FATE has to offer, specifically FATE Core, the generic edition of the game from Evil Hat. FATE is not an easy game system to understand, especially if you are used to a more traditional/old school approach to gaming, but it's a system which offers a ton of interesting potential for unique settings that are otherwise hard to do in more conventional game systems, is great for pickup games and collaborative designs, and most interestingly is designed around a core conceit of cinematic/storytelling conventions as key to the experience. Movie logic, if you will, is more important in a FATE game than verisimilitude in design.

Anyway, I recently got inspired to work more with FATE Core when I picked up a copy of the rules and then (many months later!) finally read them. Now I'm kind of hooked on the idea of running this. To try it out I worked out a character to get a sense of how the design works, what things such as aspects (and the associated Invokes and Compels mean) and how FATE Core handles a range of genres. Although it's got a genre Toolkit book out, the FATE Core rules seem pretty well able to handle this as written.

I based the first character design in a setting I ran many years ago for GURPS and then later retooled for Traveller. Ad Astra is a futuristic universe with lots of potential for crazy and unusual high-concept sci fi, so it feels like a good choice for some SF-based FATE gaming. I may revamp prior entries on it for an updated FATE version soon (once I'm done learning the system, anyway!)

To make the test character simple I aim for a pilot. Here's what FATE Core created....I'll talk about how in the notes afterward.

World Ad Astra
Name Tane “Solar Rider” Jones
Description  A rough and world-weary traveler with a scarred right eye, sandy blonde hair (usually short cropped), wears a dusky blue flight jacket from his old Human Commonwealth days.

High Concept:     Freelance pilot of the IF Wildstar operating in Human Space (Freeworld Zone)
Trouble:               Driven to fight fascism and oppression wherever he sees it
Phase Aspects:    Don’t Tell Me the Odds
      Some of My Best Friends are Aliens
      Repay My Debts, No Matter the Cost
Great (+4): Pilot (starship)
Good (+3): Drive (vehicles), Shoot (energy weapons)
Fair (+2): Shoot (slug throwers), Resources, Provoke
Average (+1): Rapport, Physique, Notice, Fight

 The Independent Freighter Wildstar (Aspects could include: "Souped-Up Engine; Turbo-Lasers; Armor Plated Hull) 

Stunts (refresh 3)
Pedal to the Metal
Provoke Violence
Called Shot

Physical Stress  3              Mental Stress    2              Consequences  3

The Phase Trio Story:

Tane stumbled into freelance piloting while working for Exocorp on the terraformed moon world Eodus Prime. He was recruited by locals to help run guns to freedom fighters working against the oppressive corporation, which was backed by Kephran interests. While working to fuel freedom fighters he stumbled across two allies, including the Praektorian rogue Gossamer and the Anageni engineer Teski, who helped him repair his ship during a major firefight from a blockade (Don’t tell me the odds). Gossamer and Tane worked together on a ground operation to help extract guerilla fighters pinned down during the “Automated Offensive” of 2250, a major leap for Tane as he had a general loathing for most non-humanoid species until then (Some of My Best Friends are Aliens). A year later Tane was involved in the strike on Commodus Prison, where he helped free both Gossamer and Teski after they had been captured (Repay my debts, No Matter the Cost).

Design Notes:

FATE builds characters out of the following materials: Aspects, Skills, Stunts and Extras. The Aspects are essentially character descriptors, but the rules provide a lot of context for what these mean and how to make them work.

One Aspect needs to be the High Concept, which you could imagine is the "class+background+archetype" you might see in other games such as D&D. A "Tiefling Warlock Outlander" in D&D could also use that as the High Concept Aspect for a FATE game. In our sample, I went with "Freelance pilot of the IF Wildstar operating in Human Space (Freeworld Zone)." This says the following: he's a pilot, he's got a ship (more on that later), and he's known to operate in the zone, which if this were a collaborative character generation session would likely have been established by the GM in the initial setting discussion phase.

Next up you need a Trouble Aspect. This is the second of five aspects and it needs to be the one which will drive your character into interesting and plot-laden situations. The rules caution against limited trouble aspects....and I imagine a trouble aspect like "Is too awesome to describe adequately" should be vetoed unless the GM wants to read between the lines that the "PC is blinded by his own hubris and false sense of accomplishment." In our case I picked "Driven to fight fascism and oppression wherever he sees it," since that sounds like an easy way to drive conflict: when my dude Tane sees someone oppressed, some system failing the little guy, he is compelled to act.

The next three aspects are defined by creating the "Phase Trio" story, which is a narrative that talks about how he came to be who he is. It's designed in the base rules to create connections with other player characters, but if you have only one or two PCs, or are limited for time the rules provide direction on what to do in those cases as well. For my purposes I went ahead and imagined a couple other PCs in this process just to get a fully functioning Phase Trio story worked out. Each of the three remaining aspects need to reflect some element of the story as presented....this encourages players to get creative, especially if they want specific aspects for their design. I revamped my choices a couple times before settling on the ones I selected...the idea is to make them interesting for both invokes and compels.

These aspects need to show some versatility, because they will be subject to what are called "invokes" which are where you use the aspect to justify a helpful bonus as well as "compels" which are where you use the aspect against the PC in an interesting way (such as the GM saying, for example, "Tane, you are now in an alien bar where the Spulgrot are drinking nectar from the Humfly, which is kind of nerve-wracking since even though Humflies are allegedly non-sentient, they scream just like tortured babies and puppies when being drained by the chitinous spulgort. Would you like to accept a compel to see if you can really negotiate unbiased with the spulgort gangster in the bar while drinking his humfly?")

If you use an invoke, it costs a fate point. If you accept a compel, you gain a fate point. Fate points are limited resources, so essentially you are getting a chance to do something cool later on by accepting your limitation now. The player may also want to see the compel in action since it might lead to a more interesting story, or have consequences in the game that are still desirable....even if the means of getting there require accepting your character's failings.

This, needless to say, is interesting stuff.

Skills are a lot more straight-forward, and FATE Core provides a default skill set with advice on customizing. Each skill includes example Stunts, about which more in a minute. Skills for PCs are ranked from +5 to 0, with zero being untrained. There's a specific formula for skills at the start of char gen, witha "pyramid" of talent dictating what you get. It's a perfectly fine system....but you can tweak the allotment up or down if you are increasing (or decreasing) the number of skills relevant to the setting. The example character is based on the default expectation.

FATE Core's basic mechanical approach to all tasks is to roll four FATE dice, which are labelled with two "-" symbols, two blanks and two "+" symbols. Add the "+" and subtract the "-" and you have your die roll. Then, you add skill bonuses and a +2 bonus if invoking an aspect (you can also invoke an aspect to re-roll). If you exceed the target goal, which the GM sets from +1 to +8 then you are successful. Fail, and you get more interesting and unintended results.

Anyway, stunts are a way to pull off specific effects in the game, which in turn can affect skill checks or aspects depending on what is going on and what the stunt is. The examples in the book provide about 3 per skill, and give you a good idea of what the range is. You could conceivably use these as-is is with minimal or no adjustment for setting or genre. A new PC starts with 3 stunts, and you can get up to 5 if you are willing to reduce what is called your "refresh," which is how many fate points you start with (and regenerate). So the more stunts you can do....the fewer fate points you have to invoke with, and the more you need to accept compels to fill out your points.

In my example, I picked three "from the book" stunts for Tane Jones. Basically he can push his starship (or any vehicle) to the limits of its speed, he can piss off people easily, and he can take a called shot at a moment's notice like nobody's business.

Extras are a catch-all for literally all the extraneous trappings of a genre you can imagine. I've thrown the starship here, with suggested aspects, but I'm still absorbing this chapter so more to come. Needless to say, Extras are basically "characters" which you stat out according to whether they are actions, things, perks, NPCs, or "other." For example, magic, super powers, gadgets, weaponry, vehicles and more all fall under the Extras category.

In the end, character survival in FATE Core is calculated by physical and mental stress, which start at 2 and go up if you have certain skills (physique and will). Consequences are layered in 3, with each one getting progressively worse. You get a consequence with a major risk or failure, and these can be things ranging from "Madness induced by Cthulhu" to "sucking chest wound" and usually disappear after a designated period of time (sessions or even scenarios).

Anyway....more to come....I am quite intrigued at FATE Core and also appreciative that I am at last starting to grokk how this system works. FATE Core is far and away the best iteration of the system I have encountered, and makes much more sense then some other FATE-powered games I tried to delve in to.

FATE Core is PWYW at, so if this sounds interesting, you should check it out!