Saturday, July 26, 2014

Digging up the Future's Past

NOTE: I started this post more than a week ago and forgot about it so please forgive any thematic shift that may occur partway through. 

I'm writing this post as I wait for the Destiny beta to install on my PS4. At the rate it's going I could probably get 10,000 words down before I get to repeatedly experience the joy of having my ass handed to me by some 14 year old kid in a midwestern basement.

The install screen shows a robust gallery of concept art for the game, and I'm digging it. The world is somewhere between Gamma World and Numenera. There are still enough near-future bits to be recognizable, but there are also vast, alien constructs and arcologies in the mix. It's pretty cool.

I've run D&D in post-apocalyptic settings before. It's actually my preferred world building style, likely due to my love of Vance's Dying Earth (especially the first book) and Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. Usually the nods to the world's past are well hidden —easter eggs at best— but I think it would be pretty awesome to be more opaque about this stuff.

Numenera's world is so far flung that it becomes completely fantasy. Any nods to scifi are tenuous. The Sufficiently Advanced Technology isn't so much indistinguishable from magic as it is plain old magic. And that's fine, because I don't necessarily want to be describing a toaster to players as if it's some ancient artifact of the Old Ones. I think a world maybe a century on from what you see in the Fallout series is a good model as far as technology levels go.

EDIT: I just went out for a burrito and install screen is only at 20%. God damn it man.

After my previous post I started looking at other stuff on my shelf for things to screw up 5e with. I really like the Icons of 13th Age, though not necessarily their implementation as written. So I wondered what they might look like in a more thematic setting. I'm only doing 9 of them, since that maps to alignment and anyway 9 is more than enough for any single campaign to use. Taken as a whole I think they have the makings of a weird science fantasy campaign.

The Parliament of Paraquantum Logic (LG): At some point, humanity builds and launches a colony ship bound for Sirius.  However, a timespace anomaly causes the ship to return to Earth before it is even built in the first place, causing all sorts of warp havoc and creating the setting. The humans that now inhabit the ship have evolved well beyond their ancestors-turned-contemporaries. These are basically the Elves of the setting and the Parliament are their Jedi Council.
Opposed to: The Forces of Evil, generally speaking.

The Subatomic Congress (NG): A Mycanoid hive mind obsessed with magic of the highest order. Their spores turn people into secret sleeper agents/wizards.
Opposed to: S.C.O.T.T.

Solomon Dark (CG): More rumor than fact, and information is sketchy at best. Described as a freedom fighting Golem, a dangerous wizard, or a common terrorist. It depends on who you ask.
Opposed to: His evil creator, Doctor Collapsar. Doesn't seem to think too highly of the Warlock Syndicate either.

The Imperatrix (LN): Empress of the West, Bride of the Black Blade, clone.
Opposed to: S.C.O.T.T.

The Center for Disease Control (N): A group of vampires dedicated to studying and eradicating disease (which includes finding a cure for their own affliction). Possible group for Cleric PCs to get missions from. 
Opposed to: mostly just the Mindless Undead.

The Nova Academy (CN): This is more or less an adventurer's guild. The Pathfinder Society meets Miskatonic University.  A place to trade loot and information for Murderhobo PCs who don't want to commit to remembering who's who in the game world.
Opposed to: anyone who gets between them and their unquenchable lust for gold and experience.

Doctor Collapsar (LE): Slave lord of the Insectroids and Paraduke of the Spider Syndicate.
Opposed to: His rebellious creation Solomon Dark, The Imperatrix

S.C.O.T.T. (NE): A young psychic boy infected with a nanotech virus which allows total possession by an orbital AI. He is considered a messiah to a fringe android religious movement called the Iron Jihad. Akira with a congregation of IG-88s.
Opposed to: The Subatomic Congress

The Warlock Syndicate (CE): Semi-organized gangs of Witches, Demons, and Night Creeps who take orders from voices emanating from the black hole in the sky left by the Parliament's return.
Opposed to: The Parliament of Paraquantum Logic, all life on Earth.


That game took almost 7 hours to install, so I went to a show and forgot about this post. Now that I've had a few days to play it, Destiny is okay but FPS games just don't interest me like they used to. Not even really well designed ones, which it seems to be.

I've also had the above factions in mind for the past week and they haven't mutated terribly beyond their original concepts, so I think I like them enough to get started on building the rest of the setting. When I say "Setting", I'm talking about random tables and hex descriptions, not Silmarillion levels of backstory. I really like the idea of a classic adventuring party wandering through the melted ruins of the West Coast, fighting alien dragons and automated security golems.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In Which Unconnected Brain Burps Give Birth To Synaptic Siblings, Sorta

This blog has never been particularly prolific, and sometimes I think about torching the entire operation. A number of factors contribute to this, laziness being a principle, but bad health and career stress also play a role.

I’ve recently come out of the second serious and prolonged threat to my life, alive if not unscathed, and slipping the Hangman is beginning to feel like a recurrent theme in my life. It feels a bit like being a low-level player character to be honest.

 One leap of logic later, I’ve come to realize that this is the source of my growing reservations about 5e. I’m happy to see WotC return to a style of game that feels familiar to me, but I think much of my enthusiasm is of the OMG NEW STUFF TO GET variety. This is typical behavior for many fandoms. The need to waste money is probably a deeper psychological issue than I’m ready to confront when it comes to Elfgames though.

There’s a whole lot of hit points in this game. Sometimes I think it’s a good thing. I’m okay with certain videogame-like breaks in verisimilitude because it is, after all, a game. But on the other hand, I spent 18 days in the hospital last month recovering from a particularly gnarly infection —exactly the kind of thing someone living in a shit-smeared, battle-infested medieval milieu might be forced to deal with— and I can tell you firsthand that the “meaningful possibility of death” is good for the protagonist. I feel as if I’ve accomplished something by merely surviving.

There’s at least two ways to look at the protagonists in a D&D game. One is the ragtag group of adventurers wielding rusty swords and secondhand armor, exploring a brutal and mysterious world with two spells and a dozen hit points between them. Let’s call that the George RR Martin version.

The other way to think of PCs is the Robert E Howard version, competent adventurers ready to tread the thrones of Earth beneath tastefully sandaled feet, wading balls deep into every horde of subhuman bastards foolish enough to challenge their magic blades.

There are things I like about both approaches. One of the things I enjoy about my experience with the DCCRPG is that it tends to encourage crazy cinematic exploits while still managing to be quite deadly. I want the threat to be real, the lofty potential of 2nd level to be earned, but I also want to see PCs kicking ass like Sho Kosugi. And players (at least mine) get off on that kind of blockbuster action hero madness.

Honestly, there are better systems to accommodate this balance than D&D has ever done, but those all share the sin of “not being D&D”. This is problematic for my aesthetic obsessions, even though I know it shouldn’t be.

My group is committed to giving 5e an honest chance, but I’m already thinking about fucking around with the rules. I have enough experience running these games to know it’s usually a good idea to play the damn thing as written before you fuck it up, but damned if I don’t want to just swipe a handful of things from it and bolt them onto LotFP.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Local Moron Puts On Airs, Goes To Symphony.

General observations about seeing John Williams conduct the Oregon Symphony tonight:

  • It is impossible to avoid mentally superimposing The Crawl above an orchestra playing the Star Wars theme.
  • John Williams anecdotally refers to Yoda as “The elder wizard character from the second film”.
  • The theme from Close Encounters is badass.
  • The moment when the Eliot’s bicycles takes flight in E.T. is so emotionally tied to the score that hearing it live sans picture actually had the same effect as when I saw that scene in the theater at age 7.
  • Don’t worry about not seeing Indiana Jones listed in the program. There will be an encore.
  • John Williams is not the sort of Maestro who is afraid to follow the Indiana Jones encore with the theme from the NBC Nightly News.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Save vs. Chris Perkins' Wig

The Wig of Perkins is a new magic item compatible with the World's Most Popular Role Playing Game. It confers the following abilities:

+15 skill bonus to Exposition

+5 to resist any player's attempt to control their own character

Once per day, the Wig can create a distraction to convince a humanoid subject that the 5e rules will be ready by GenCon. No saving throw is allowed.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dungeonpunk, and Why Rat Queens is the Most D&D Thing Around

Sometime in the mid-2000s, I started seeing the term “Dungeonpunk” being thrown around online to describe some of the art style of 3rd edition D&D. It seemed to be used to denote “adventurers dressed in spikey leather fetish bits carrying potion bandoleers” as often as it was meant to say “I miss the old art and therefore this is terrible

I’m not going to debate that it’s terrible (much of it was), and I’m not going to rant about the fact that adding the –punk suffix to a noun and calling it a thing is about as punk as the one thousand t-shirt variants of the Black Flag logo that have been bombarding us the last few years (seriously graphics peeps: the Black Flag bars are the new Keep Calm And ______ of tired-ass design jokes).

So, Dungeonpunk. Sounds pretty dumb. In what sort of world would such a thing exist? I suppose Dungeonpunk would become a thing when the Youth get sick of kicking around bumfuck Hommlet and start sneaking off to house parties in Nulb. Checking out dungeons is what amounts to Teenage Kicks in Fantasyland. Like drugs and skateboarding and listening to Slayer, you get into it because it pisses old people off. When all medieval parents want is for their kids to take over the family Serf-ing business, any imaginative teen is going to sneak out of the house, dressed in the leather or wizardly robes that symbolize their rebellion, and hit up the Caves of Chaos for a good time.

By that metric, my game world is pretty dungeonpunk. See, when my players talk about what being an adventurer means, I always say it lies somewhere between being a professional athlete and a rock star. It manages to look glamorous while serving almost no actual function in society. At early levels you’re on the road, sleeping on floors, scraping up whatever gold and experience you can get your hands on. At mid levels, you have fans (and haters) in every town. Kids hang posters with the name of your crew on the walls of their hovels. You might even find a groupie willing to carry your lantern. And at high levels it’s all armor endorsements and a signature line of potions and a fancy home with an entourage.

The Adventurer takes a chance because dying in battle in some ooze-infested shithole still beats the relative-but-guaranteed comfort of gongfarming. They’d rather run away from home and wander the countryside as desperate heroes, dressed like an asshole, killing monsters and busting slave rings, because stuff like that will get you laid.

The Image comic RatQueens captures this philosophy beautifully. The only epic quest the Rat Queens are on is to PARTY BALLZ, which occasionally means killing a troll or casting Evard's Black Tentacles or defending a city from attack. And all that leads to a story, in the same way that rolling on a carousing table can sometimes turn into a great, memorable gaming session. In spirit, humor, and dialogue, Rat Queens is the closest thing I’ve found to what playing D&D is actually like at the table.

I mean, sure: the DM spends all this time building his world and adding arbitrary apostrophes to all the names and making it all cool and dark and perfect, but the moment the PCs finally meet the arch-villain Y’oth the Devil Binder, the party wizard yells “I'ma cast Magic Missile at his nuts!” and it's dumb and funny and everyone cracks up. And that moment is really good, because it took all of you to make it happen, and that’s why you play.

(belated) Scene Report: International Table Top Day

Guardian Games, April 5th 2014

It’s been about two weeks since I sat in on +Jobe Bittman’s playtest for his next DCC RPG module. I had a great time bumbling my way around as the urchin wizard Fantastic Frank, and will be looking forward to running the final release of the module. I’m not going to say much about a work that isn’t published yet but I think it’s okay to say that what I saw of the adventure would’ve felt right at home to both Doctor Strange and Rhialto the Marvelous.

The setting of wizardly intrigue dripped with a far out Jack Vance-meets-Bronze Age Comics atmosphere. Jobe was a great DM, rolling with our bad ideas and adapting (seemingly without effort) when those ideas took us to places that may not be fully prepped yet. In truth, the fact that I wasn’t able to tell what was a fully fleshed out area and what was just a sketch in the DMs head is a good example of Jobe’s ability to stay on his toes.

I liked his previous DCC module quite a bit and look forward to more of his output. While I found some of the early DCC releases to be atmospheric but too linear, the most recent stuff seems to be more inspired, tapping into a primal aesthetic that’s somewhere between New Wave Fantasy and that stoned hesher carving band logos into his desk during detention. Also, Fantastic Frank survived and he and his “sexy-voiced Giant Cricket familiar” are now NPCs in my home campaign.

Also, looks like Jobe announced via G+ that he'd be finishing the writing for the posthumous release of Dave Brockie's Towers Two for Lamentations. Congratulations dude. You seem like the right man for the job. 

Look for The 998th Concord of Wizards later this year, and catch Jobe on Spellburn, the only RPG podcast that uses fucking Glitter Wizard as a theme song. Probably.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wanted: Digesto

Digesto, Carcosan Sorcerer
Armor Class 4, 6HD

Powers and Attacks:

Digesto can fire Cosmic Radiation (Spectral Color: Ulfire) from his bracers for 3D6 damage. The left bracer has 19 charges remaining, the right bracer has 6.

Bigmouth: Digesto’s chest face has infravison 60’ and the mouth has a 15’ prehensile tongue. The tongue does no damage but can attempt to grapple an enemy, and if successful will pull any human-size target toward the mouth which immediately bites for 1d6 damage. A Bitten target must make a save vs. Poison or pass out. On a critical hit, the victim is swallowed whole and Digesto immediately begins digesting them, absorbing 1d4 HP per round (adding them to his own HP total) until the victim is dead.

The round after the victim dies, Digesto barfs up an animated skeleton with 2 hit dice, which serves him until it is destroyed. 

Digesto knows the following rituals:

The Ninth Tracing of the Measureless Void
Chaining of the Formless Aspect
Transmutation of the Slime God
The Ineluctable Name

Digesto has recently escaped the planet Carcosa. His current whereabouts are unknown. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Agents of A.P.E.

The Dungeon Dozen showed up early this morning. A 20-minute browse and a handful of dice gave me a pretty cool campaign pitch. Here are the pages and I results used.

Why The Ancient Empire Fell Pg 185
I rolled a 3: “Victims of first unexpected return of the dinosaurs.” The inclusion of the word “first” denotes a kind of cyclic cataclysm. Good.

Recent Edicts From The Usurper King Pg 131
I got a 2: “Based on horrifying reports, construction to begin on new giant anti-monster walls…” DINOSAUR SIZED WALLS?

Note: I almost cheated here and took a 12 - Miss Usurper Pageant to be held, entrants chosen by public beauty inspectors, because Public Beauty Inspectors is a great hook for an adventuring group but OH WELL. It’s definitely showing up as an adventure hook at least.

Enemies of the City-state currently at large pg. 55
An 11: “Ambassador from formerly secret subterranean kingdom: walked out of talks with human leadership in disgust, publicly declared human surface hegemony officially at an end.” Pretty good opening credits sequence right there.

Planets in the vicinity of the campaign world pg 121
A 6. “Fortress world: leftover death star from some ancient space war…” Not sure what it means yet but it sounds pretty groovy.

Gonzo class/race generator pg 71
A 1, which gives me “Badgermen: the anti-hobbit, vicious and relentless fighters.” Because that’s adorable and also fuck hobbits.

Campaign Pitch-elevating Amalgammator pg 18-19
(Roll on both tables and throw the results in the moshpit)

Table A: Appendix N
A 1: “REH’s Kull: Serpent men intrigue, campaign-ending catastrophe imminent.”

Table B: Pop Culture X Factor
Aaand another 1: “William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch: Interzone, disturbing creatures spewing hallucinogenic ichor.” Rolling a literal snake eyes here was pretty awesome and tied the whole thing together.

Shake it up in a cereal box and you get Dinosaurs Attack: the Medievaling ~ A breach of etiquette during a visit from a Serpent Man dignitary kicks off a cold war between the Underworld and the surface world. Rumors of sleeper agents infected by psychic serpent venom incite paranoia. The Overlord invests every resource in a literal Iron Curtain, unaware that the threat can rise up beneath his feet at any time. Or perhaps he is already one of them? Meanwhile a secret conspiracy within the government hopes to recapture the ancient orbital super weapon left over from a previous administration, just in case the cold war heats up. And there are Badgermen.

7 die rolls and I’m ready to run this shit. In my eyes that might make The Dungeon Dozen the most useable RPG book ever. It’s definitely one of the most entertaining— it’s packed with quality art and the writing is hilarious. It’s genuinely funny, as opposed to the sad kind of goofy you frequently get stuck with when game writers try to have an “irreverent” voice or whatever.

You could do a lot worse.

Here’s a quote for the back of the campaign guide I’m already planning.

"Again the apes outreach themselves. Never satisfied with the Eden that was our gift, they look to aspirations above their station with heresies of reading and ironwork. But no more my egg brothers! The sun has set on simian supremacy. The Great Herpetoid Crusade rides, to smack down the Ape as we did in the days or our great grandlizards! No more the world of Ape! To WAR!!!!"

-Brax Bloodscale, High Ectotherm of the Herpetoid Crusade.