Monthly Archives: February 2011

How Do You Handle A Problem Like A Death Star?

So I’ve started very casually puttering on “Stellar Battles”, enough to already know that if I finish it, it will be a bit different than “OSRIC in Spaaaaace”, thought it’s still going to draw from a lot of older design patterns and probably be pretty “Generic retro-clone compatible if you work at it”. If it gets any further, which, who knows, it may or may not. I like to be definite.

Anyway, in the course of writing Generic Flavor Text while describing how hyperspace works, because that’s the bit which grabbed my mayfly-like attentions, I need to put in $DEATH_STAR, or, in other words, “Something that isn’t called a ‘Death Star’ but which is patently obvious to even the most clueless reader that it occupies the same trope-space.” (I want to use the word ‘tropic space’, but that implies a hot part of space with palm trees and suntanned women in bikinis. Tropeic? Doesn’t look right either.)

So I’d started with Omega Base, but it seemed meh, and I am using Greek letters thematically in Earth Delta, and while Judge Judy would inform me that my trousers have been involved in a conflagration if I ever said anything like “And I hate to repeat myself”, I did want to at least try for something else.

“Murder Moon” sounds great and I’ll need to use it for something, but it’s too Jack Kirby for this. Granted, “too Jack Kirby” borders on inherently contradictory, much like “too much sex and violence” or “too much money”, but it is tossed to the holding pen for now.

So I’m throwing this out to the world.

Random brainstorm of adjective-y words: Death, murder, mayhem, chaos, omega, apocalypse, genocide, armageddon, slaughter, massacre, alpha, prime, ultimate, nova, cataclysm, omni-, fire, firestorm, laser, fusion, plasma, war, doom, dark, orbital

Random brainstorm of noun-y words: Base, station, star, platform, moon, world, complex, center, fort, fortress, craft, point, nova, cannon, sphere, satellite, core

So we can get things like “plasma sphere”, “alpha base”, etc. with any additional decoration as needed… Imperial Plasma Sphere, Imperial Plasma Omni-sphere, Dark Omni-Nova Complex, or something.

Any other ideas?

Battlelords Of The Twenty-Third Century

“Suddenly, five soldiers in heavy assault armor appeared out of nowhere!”

Battlelords Of The Twenty Third century is a game I remember seeing a lot in stores in the early 1990s, but I never picked it up. Recently, I was offered a chance to review the new (or possibly re-released, not 100% sure…) edition, and was given a free copy of the PDF in order to do so. Some bloggers whine and complain that they may have to disclose getting free laptops or vacations in return for reviews… I get a PDF. Go figure.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, the opening quote here is from the introductory game fiction. I do not like introductory game fiction. If I have to read a badly written short story to figure out what the game’s about, it’s a badly designed game. Fortunately, it seems the story is unnecessary to understand the game, a lesson White Wolf still really hasn’t learned. Unfortunately, while it isn’t necessary, it is badly written. The expository dialogue isn’t just ham handed… it’s “entire damn pig” handed. However, this is not a fiction review, it’s a game review, and, as usual, it’s not so much a “review” in the traditional sense as an “I make a character and I write down everything I do and everything I think along the way, as if anyone cares”. So let’s get on with it!

Who Do You Kill, What Stuff Do You Take?

All roleplaying games… well, all good roleplaying games… boil down to “Kill things and take their stuff.” Sometimes, the things you kill are your inner personal demons and the stuff you take is emotional maturity (it’s worth 500 gp to some vendors on the lower planes, by the way), but I think we can safely guess that a game called “Battlelords” is going to be a bit more… literal. (Which is a very, very, good thing.) From the introductory fiction, I learned that the main theme is that you’re going to be mercenaries for a megacorporation, blowing stuff up and risking constant death because there’s nothing good on television and while they’ve invented super-galactic-hyper-travel that allows the setting to cover 20 galaxies(!), they haven’t invented diet pills or Prozac. Really.

“With mixed emotions, the mercs called SSDC “Mother.” Mother offered people from the streets the chance to become something, to be more than fat, alcoholic, armchair quarterbacks whose lives suck so bad that they commit suicide in their early forties.”

The “something” they become is usually a charred corpse, but hey, it’s a living. Oh, wait, it’s not. It’s a dying. Anyway, let’s face it, by any kind of objective standard, virtually every PC in every game ever is basically a homicidal sociopath whose antics would make Stalin and Attila scratch their heads and say, “Dude, don’t you think you’re taking it a bit too far?”, so I’m not going to bitch too much about that.

Anyway… 20 galaxies? Really?

I can’t gripe too much about the general setting, though, since it hits a lot of my own personal favorite themes. Huge frackin’ galactic empires! Mysterious mysteries from the past! Super-psychic powers! Lost artifacts! You know, all the cool stuff. The writing could be a bit less clumsy, but its heart is in the right place (which, depending on species, might be the fourth leg).

By the way, you’ll be happy to know that the author takes time out to assure us that playing an RPG won’t make us believe we’re really a man eating squid. That is, a squid that eats humans, not a human who ordered “calimari” because he didn’t know it meant “squid”. I want to be clear here. The rules also tell us that there’s no devil worship involved. Yes, folks, in the 1990s, some game writers still felt obliged to tell their audience their games weren’t satanic. This tells you a lot more about game writers hoping against hope that people still believed RPGs were satanic, because that would be cool, than it does about the actual made-up scares of the time, which were more focused on Pokemon and games like “Doom”, which would turn everyone into psychopathic axe murders (but with guns, not axes), which is why, after an entire generation has grown up running demons through with chainsaws, violent crime keeps dropping despite harsh economic times that normally lead to an upswing in crime… but, please, Fox News, don’t let “facts” get in the way of your witch hunts… not that they ever have. Wait, where was I? Oh yeah. Battlelords.

Blah blah what is an RPG blah blah…

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The Saga Of Heinrich

I’m working on a much longer article, one of my walkthrough-review thingies, though not my long-promised Alma Mater one (coming soon!), but I wanted to share this little tidbit. In Friday’s 4e game, the Big Fight consisted of the usual — Helena Bonham Carter as “Insane flame wielding sorceress”, two demons with tridents that spent most of their time stabbing at the fighter  (which is her job) or belching poison gas,  and a swarm of high-level minions since the whole plot involved bringing in a small, elite, army, and while minions are easy fodder for level-appropriate PCs, a guy with an AC of 27 is going to take down a LOT of first to fourth level city guard types before he’s killed.

Anyway, 7 of 8 minions were dead by round 2, though to my surprise, most of them survived to act at least once. Then something extraordinary happened. Everyone was bound and determined to take out the villainess, who had been teleported into a swarm of melee types thanks to  the PC chaos mage rolling a natural 1, and I really have to wonder how the fight might have gone if she’d been able to stay back out of reach for a few more rounds, but as Archie Bunker might say, that’s not German to the conversation.

The one last minion (who has been missed by a few area attacks) was standing back, and kept plinking with his crossbow. And hitting. For whatever reason, he was ignored for round after round, and each time, managed to hit a PC from distance, doing 8 points each time… nothing spectacular at 11th level, but more effecting than the god damn (irony sort of intended) mezzodemons who managed to roll 2s and 3s with remarkable consistency.. I think both  of them rolled natural ‘1’s in their first round of combat, and one spent most of the combat blind and hoping his poison breath recharged.

Several of the players had commented on how lucky that minion was, and without really planning on it or intending to, when his turn came up, I said something like, “Well, it’s worked so far… Heinrich is going to fire on the druid…”

And, bingo. He was no longer a minion. He had a name, and that meant he was destined for greater things. The druid decided to go into melee with him, and managed to miss with her first attack, giving them time to parley and work out a bit of respect. Turns out he’d been trained in the borderlands of the nation he was from, so he’d spent some time dealing with elves (in my universe, elves occupy the same trope space as Native Americans do in westerns… except they talk like trailer park rednecks[1] and settle internal disputes like Klingons). When he realized that the demons and his commanding officer were dead, he surrendered. And of course, with a name like Heinrich and wielding a pike, he had to have a Goot Cherman Achsent. With a ‘1’ on his Bluff check (“I do not know anything about the invasion plans, for I am a lowly foot soldier and was not told such information”, said in a flat, dull, monontone, obviously repeating a memorized speech), I suspect there will be some Interrogation next.

He’s got stats now. He has made that rarest of all transitions; he has survived minionhood. He still might not survive the PCs, but at least he can take more than a hit point of damage. He’ll probably end up part of the Watch at the player’s home fortress, or maybe in the city they’re currently in, given that it’s having a bit of an open enrollment session at the moment…

So why am I posting this? Because it’s one of the Cool Things About Gaming, the thing that brings me back to the tabletop again and again and again, as a DM and as a player — the allure of the unexpected. In online games, the unexpected is expected — there’s hard-coded lists of all possible events, and even the lowest probabilities occur over and over again, mostly because you’ll keep farming that boss until he drops the uber-item you want, and you know there’s exactly a 1.54 percent chance of him doing so each time. Only in a tabletop game with a human gamemaster can you truly interact with a world in whatever way you choose, and have the world respond as it should. That’s why it saddens me that a major focus of WOTCs apparent design and marketing efforts are on trying to make tabletop games into limited, quick-to-play and quick-to-finish encounters, disdaining worldbuilding, character depth, improvisation, and fun for straightforward “Enter the dungeon here, kill these monsters, exist here, collect your treasure at the gift shop.” If that’s what you want, WoW does it better. You can’t compete with an online game for get in, kill monsters, log out, play. You can’t. You have to focus on what’s different  about tabletop games, not what’s the same, only slower paced and with no cool particle effects. However, Hasbro is almost certainly looking at the money WoW makes and the money D&D makes and is saying “Hey, they’ve got elves, you’ve got elves, why are they making more money? Elves is elves, right?”

[1]So D&D 4e has nerfed languages. Bah! There’s still accents.

Eladrin Accent:”Surely you do not intend to attack me with that weapon. Put it down, and I might forget your impudence!”

Elvish Accent:”Y’all better think twice afore you try to use that thar pig-sticker on me, less’n you want it shoved up your ass, sideways.”

Drow Accent:”Oh, like, wow, that longsword is sooooo last century. If you don’t, y’know, drop it, I am going to freak. Totally.”

Blog Carnival — Worldbuilding

Oh, boy…

Asking me to write about worldbuilding is like asking Al Gore to write about global warming:

  • It’s an open invitation to endless rants on a topic which is extremely important to me, and boring to everyone else.
  • A great deal of hot air and gaseous emissions are going to be involved.
  • What I consider to be absolute truths, other people consider to be dubious or outright lies.

Hey, this analogy really works!

Anyway, the request from the RPGBloggers carnival was to discuss the whys and wherefores of worldbuilding (gads, I love alliteration!), rather than specific details of one’s world, so this will be less about the the lineage of the Margrail family and how it caused the civil war, and more about worldbuilding in general.

Instant World! — Just add water, land, terrain, people, history, ruins, monsters, factions, gods….

One of the biggest changes in D&D 4.0, as compared to 3.x and to most older versions was the very clear attitude of “Worldbuilding, shmorldbuilding!” The DMG was heavily focused on how to make Big Cool Dramatic Set Piece Fight Scenes… giving these fights a larger context in which they were occurring, not so much. The explicit “assumed world” with its heavy handed background and pre-gen history was supposed to be all you needed; from there, all you had to do, as a DM, was shuffle the players from dungeon to dungeon, with the occasional quick stop back at The Town where you could B)uy Supplies, V)isit the Temple, R)est At The Inn, or T)rain For Next Level.

You know. This.

Wizardry Town Screen

Apparently, according to at least some folks in the know, it was determined that world building “scared” people, that it was a turn off, that what people wanted was to boot up their kitchen table and jump to the instance selection screen. Yeah. Except for one thing — if that’s really all you want from D&D, you’re better off playing a video game. If you’re going to invest the time to play in a real RPG, you’re going to want to get more out of it than you can get from an online game, and that means having more than a bunch of rides in the Dungeonland Amusement Park, however well constructed each ride may be.

As a point of comparison, let’s see what the 1e DMG had to say on the subject:

“You, as the Dungeon Master, are about to embark on a new career, that of universe maker. You will order the universe and direct the activities in each game, becoming one of the elite group of campaign referees referred to as DMs in the vernacular of AD&D. What lies ahead will require the use of all of your skill, put a strain on your imagination, bring your creativity to the fore, test your patience, and exhaust your free time. Being a DM is no matter to be taken lightly!”

Now, you see, who could back down from that kind of challenge? Only some total mealy-mouthed pencil-necked wussbag! Gary Gygax tossed the gauntlet down, and if you don’t have the balls to pick it up, you don’t deserve to be behind the DM Screen! The few, the proud, the DMs! The transition in writing style from R. Lee Ermy to Mr. Rogers marks, in my opinion, a significant decline.

However, both the hyperbolic pontifications of the 1e DMG and the pandering circumlocutions of the 4e DMG hide the real truth — worldbuilding is neither difficult nor terrifying. It is, in fact, rather easy, and infinitely more rewarding than buying someone else’s world off a shelf. (For one thing, when it’s your world, you don’t have some snot nosed brat that thinks JRR Tolkien ripped off R. A. Salvatore whining that apple trees can’t grow in Happy Elf Dale during the month of Widdlywonk due to the time in the Fourth Age Of The Second Crisis that Murglefloop the Mad cast this spell which…(insert noises of DM thwacking brat with book here)).

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Earth Delta Update!

Yes, those long awaited (by, what, two of you?) words! Earth Delta Beta 1e is now up on the main Earth Delta page. This offers a smegload of new material, mostly for Paragon tier, as compared to Beta 1c, which was posted in October. (And a reminder, all creatures are now in the Mutant Manual). It also represents, not an ending, but a momentary break — Earth Delta has been my sole “big project” for a year now, and I need to work on something else. I am still overflowing with ideas for ED, and I’m likely to post more of them here directly (and put them in the book, of course), so there will be a constant flow (I hope) of new monsters, feats, tech items, mutations, etc, along with a more public creation process for my next Big Whatever, which is looking more and more like Stellar Battles.

I’d also like to re-iterate that if anyone has posted legitimate comments and not seen them approved within 24 hours, it means my spam filter is being overzealous and to please repost them and/or email me directly.

Marvel Boy Vs. Mohammed!

It’s amazing what you can find while trolling about the intert00bz. For example, I found a copy of “Astonishing”, issue 3, published by Marvel (during their “Atlas” years) in 1951, in which Marvel Boy, a fourth-tier hero, battled the scourges of Islam.

No, really.

You can read all about Marvel Boy on wikipedia or something; let’s just go with what I got from this issue, which is that Our Hero works for an insurance company in his secret identity and at least some of his cases involve tracking down those sorts of vile, contemptible, criminals who actually expect insurance companies to pay money. No, this isn’t ironic. No, Marvel Boy isn’t like Mr. Incredible, secretly helping customers. No, he’s a total stooge for THE MAN. Fascist!

(When he returned in the 1970s, he was busy tossing bankers off of rooftops in the name of God. Seriously. I am not making this up.)

Anyway, our hero goes about investigating an evil cult that’s killing people for their insurance money. Naturally, this is a totally made-up pseudo-faith that will not offend, insult, or embarrass any actual people…

Marvel Boy Confronts The Islamic Menace

Just in case you’re not convinced, here’s a few more shots:

Allah Is A Jealous God

You know, I figure Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin get most of their ideas on Islam from things like this.

Another Blasphemous Image of Mohammed

Apparently, Muslims in 1951 didn’t read comic books (or were a lot more aware of how silly it would look if they got upset over nothing), so no one was threatened with beheading for this image of Mohammed. Are you listening to me, South Park? Publishers in the 1950s had bigger balls than you! (Well, except when it came to knuckling under to McCarthy. And to the Comics Code. And to darn near everything else. Unless we’re talking about EC, which took on the most sacred cows of the 1950s with courage that most media publishers today never show when it comes to equally controversial issues. But I digress.)

Anyway, it all ends with the evil Omar being caught and arrested. At no point does anyone make a speech about how Islam is a legitimate faith being perverted by a con artist and at no point does an unbelievably perfect, noble, and infallible Muslim show up to provide “balance” and a “positive role model”.

Today, of course, whenever the comics need an Evil Religious Figure, they just make up something. No published in the modern age would use an identifiable modern faith as the basis for their villain’s schemes.


Or, you know, maybe they would…