Category Archives: Fantasy Characters

Characters from games where magic is called magic.

Hackmaster 5e, Part II

Hackmaster Part II: Khan Strikes The Chamber Of Secrets Back

When Last We Left Our Intrepid Hero Protagonist…

OK! Welcome to Part II of my Hackmaster 5e character creation walkthrough! Now with more exclamation points! For those of you who missed Part I, it’s here. So, click the underlined part back there. Unless you’ve got your browser set funky so you can’t see links, in which case, you’re on your own.

Anyway, I had just finished adjusting my stats, and I was going to spend those lovely BPs I’d been hoarding. I had 59 left.

Step 7: Priors And Particulars

Oh, this isn’t about spending BPs. It’s about how much you weigh, that sort of thing. There’s some excellent advice in this section about how to use your background and history to create a rich and full character for roleplaying. Nah, I’m just messin’ with ya. There’s some excellent advice in this section about how to use your background and history to pull some sort of life-saving bullshit out of your ass (hmmm… that’s a disturbing mental image) when you really have to.

Age: I’m a human mage, so, my starting age is 25+1d6p. I roll a 5, so, 30.

Height: 71 inches.

Weight: “Unlike inferior games that utilize an uncorrelated table to determine a character’s body weight…” I just had to copy that in. See, that’s attitude. That’s old school. (I just picked up Chivalry & Sorcery Sourcebook I, circa 1980, and it contained a long rant about “other game designers” (i.e., Gary Gygax) who abused mythology and lore when creating their substandard and inaccurate monsters, blahdy blahdy blah. That’s part of what the OSR is missing. There was none of this ‘if everyone’s having fun, it’s all good’ attitude back then. The gaming community was, if anything, even more fractious and self-righteous in the late 1970s/early 1980s than it is now. We didn’t need no Internet to be assholes back then. But I digress.) Anyway, first I roll for my BMI, which turns out to be 21. The I multiply this by my height in inches, so, 1491. Then I scold my cat for pawing all my dice off my desk and sticking his orange butt in front of my screen. He’s actually scooping dice out of the plastic container so he can roll them onto the floor, where I can step on them and do the Dance Of The Spastic Cat Owner. I love my children. I divide 1491 by 703.. no that, can’t be right. Oh, I multiply BMI by height squared. Stop it, Rocket. Daddy can’t see the screen when you do that. OK, there we go. I weigh 150 lbs.

Handedness: I assume two, but who knows? Yeah, that was pushing it. Right handed. Oddly, half-orcs have an 80 percent chance to be left handed, perhaps because they’re sinister.

Birth: I have a 1-in-10 chance of being illegitimate. I’m not. Both my parents are still alive. My father was indifferent to me (-2 BP) but my mother loved and nurtured me (+2 BP).

Siblings: I have 6 siblings, 4 sisters and 2 brothers, but three of them are dead. So, two surviving sisters and 1 surviving brother. None of them are twins of me. Of the four of us, I’m third-born. I’m also the second-born son, so, not an heir. I have, thus, an older sister and brother, and a younger sister. I now roll 2d12 (Why? Why not?) and add the Morale modifier (+1) from my Charisma, to see how much they like/dislike me.

  • Older Sister: Argumentative, can’t get along.
  • Older Brother: Very close.
  • Younger Sister: Ditto.

 I Can Spendz Bild Pointz Naow?

Yes! Can spendz!

Sorry. I was just reading the Fark Caturday thread. Now, where was I? Ah, yes. Build pointz… er.. points. As I recall, I had 59 BP left. I now go to Chapter 8, Quirks And Flaws, or “How To Be An Annoying Prat At The Game Table And Then Justify It With ‘But I’m Just Playing My Character!'”.

Quirks are mental/personality issues, while Flaws are physical detriments. That’s a nice distinction, and more flavorful than “Mental Disads” and “Physical Disads”, for example.

If I cherry-pick what’s wrong with me, I earn fewer BPs, but I have a lot more control over my character. Screw that. I’m going whoring for BPs. I can spend a BP to re-roll, as often as I like, until I run out. With 59 BPs to blow through, I shouldn’t be saddled with anything so crippling my character is unplayable as a mage.

Random rolls on the chart are D1000. Yes, 1000. Hey, this allows a really high level of granularity, which I love. It means there are, in theory, quirks/flaws that will be in less than 1% of the player base (unless the chart has no ranges less than 10, of course). I need to write down which die is read as what… OK, the dark brown one is the “ones”, the light ten one is the “tens”, and the speckled one is the “hundreds”.

You get full BPs for the first quirk/flaw rolled, then -5 for each additional one, cumulative. This means that you could theoretically end up losing BPs while still being saddled with the drawbacks. Greed is punished in Hackmaster.

A roll of 156 gives me “Clean Freak”. Basically, I am the Felix Unger, or perhaps Adrian Monk, of mages. I go into panic attacks if I am forced to enter sewers. While this is a little problematic for an adventurer, it sounds like it would be a lot of fun to play. Also, the “metagaming” section notes I must begin each game session with a pristine character sheet. Heh.

So, do I want to go again, at a -5 penalty to the BPs? Sure, why not?

582 gives me Spendthrift. I spend my money as soon as I get it. This nets me 20 BP, -5 for the second quirk, so, 15. I think I’ll stop there. That’s an additional 23 BPs, on top of my 59, for 82, total.

Now, I purchase Skills, Talents, and Proficiencies, or STPs, not to be confused with STDs. I hope.

Weapon Proficiencies

As a mage, I can purchase any weapon proficiency, but at double cost, except for staff and dagger. While it might make sense to invest in melee for emergencies, each point in this area is a point I’m not spending on things that could help me avoid melee in the first place, so I will go for a minimal proficiency in dagger, which costs me 2 BP. 80 left. I will also pick up crossbow, at double cost, for 4 BP, so, 76 left.

Other

As a mage, I get the Magical Transcription proficiency for free. And… huh. You know, this character doesn’t have a name, yet. He needs a name. Coracinus Nelumbo, I think, or “Corac” for short. There we go. He also gets a free purchase of Arcane Lore and two purchases of literacy in my native language.

Maintenance/Upkeep, for 5 BP. As a neat freak constantly polishing my staff (heh heh), this makes sense. 71 left.

Style Sense (home region): 2 BP. I know how what’s in this year, and what’s not. I look classy. 69 left.

Combat Casting: This allows me full defense when casting in melee, something that’s quite vital. It’s 30 BP, but that’s part of why I’ve hoarded them. 39 left.

Diminish Spell Fatigue, which lets me recover from casting more quickly, also looks good, but it’s another 20 BP. Let’s see what skills cost, first, then get back here.

Appraisal (Books, Maps, Scrolls): 2 BP gets me my Intelligence score (15)+my mastery die roll (d12p, for 7, +2 for my intelligence), or 23. I’ll spend another 2BP for another roll of the mastery die, a 3, +2 again, so, 28.4 BP spent, down to 35 BP.

Arcane Lore: I get the first purchase for free, and my mastery die roll is an 8, +2 for Intelligence, so, 25. A second purchase would be 10 more BP. Let’s get back to this, too.

Let’s see…

  • Astrology (2 BP) (Score ends up being 23)
  • Escape Artist (4 BP) (Score 21)
  • Hiding (6 BP) (Score 26)
  • Literacy (2 levels free, plus a third for 4 BP) (Score 47 — I rolled a 12 on the mastery die, which got me another roll.)
  • Monster Lore (5 BP) (Score 27)
  • Riddling (4 BP) (Score 23)

That leaves me with 10 BP left. I can save it, or get that other rank in Arcane Lore. Let’s go for it. Mastery die is 6, +2 for my high Intelligence, so 8, added to my existing score of 25, gives me 33.

That’s it for STPs.

Hit Points

Hit points are based on my Constitution (8), my size bonus (10), and my class Hit Die roll (D4 roll, I roll a 1. Yeah, that seems familiar.), for a total of 19 HP.

Other Numbers

My Base Attack is based on my Intelligence and Dexterity, which gives me a +4 (Go back to the first part of this article to see why!). My Base Initiative is +2, which is bad (the higher the number, the slower you act), and my Base Defense is also +2, which is better than nothing (high numbers are good for defense).

I have 45 sp to spend on stuff.

And So…

We’re done!

With 19 hp to my name, I can take a small amount of damage — a goblin with a crossbow does 2d6p, for example.

While I’ve got some mildly useful spells, the only one with even a marginal combat application is Phantom Irritation, which is a “debuff” — it gives the target a -2 to his Attack rolls. Not useless, but hardly a Nuclear Winter Fireball.

It should be noted that the combat rules, which are straightforward but not simplistic or abstract, are demonstrated through a comic-strip sequence featuring the Knight Of The Dinner Table stupidly goading BA into unleashing more monsters on them. It’s probably one of the best examples of combat I’ve seen, because it goes through every step, roll, and calculation in action, and does so in a way that’s fun and amusing to read. If I’m not mistaken, it actually continues the story from Hackmaster Basic, which used the same method.

As I said in the first part, this Hackmaster, while not as over-the-top gonzo as the prior edition, still retains a lot of humor. It’s just less in-your-face. You have to read the spell text, quirk and flaw descriptions, and so on, to find all the jokes and asides. (You can also tell, by reading some of the full text, what kinds of lame-ass exploits players attempted to get away with, and how they were smacked down by their GM.)

In conclusion? Unlike a lot of the more dubious games I perform this process on, there’s not a lot of head scratching, “what were they thinking?” moments, at least not for this particular character. Characters begin with mediocre skills and abilities, but that’s by explicit, called-out, design. There’s no disconnect between the promised game and what the mechanics deliver, and that’s a really good thing. I do admit I miss a lot of the “gonzo” of HM 4e, even if some of it was forced in by mandate; the wider range of races available, the more outre class choices, and so on, were a lot of fun. Mechanically, there’s not much that can stop you from adding such things in. Casters, in general, are very toned down in HM 5e. You have incredibly potent spells at high level, true, but you don’t get a lot of spells to cast at any one time, and the road to high level is going to be a very long slog, indeed.

Also, there’s no Game Master’s Guide yet for Hackmaster, and given that it took several years from Hackmaster Basic for the PHB to come out, I’m not betting on the GMG being at GenCon 2013. There’s a lot of material in the PHB that refers to the GMG, too. This brings back something truly old-school — it took three years for the three core AD&D books to come out. Yes, kids, three years. We made do. We cobbled together rules from OD&D and Holmes Basic and Dragon articles and Arduin. We also walked twenty miles to the game store, barefoot, and uphill, both ways. Through blizzards in summer and winter. So get offa my lawn!

Hackmaster 5e

Hackmaster 5e

This ain’t your father’s Hackmaster.

The original Hackmaster was based on AD&D 1e and 2e, put through a psychedelic blender and cranked up to 11. The only mechanics from that version that really remain in this one were the ones they added to the older game — percentiles for all stats and a working skill system. Gone are gummy bear golems, leperchauns (note spelling), and most (though by no means all) of the other stuff mandated by contract so no one would notice that, under the jokes, was a pretty workable evolution of older D&D, one which might have easily been AD&D 3e in another universe.

This Hackmaster has core mechanics rather unlike those of any edition of D&D, save that there’s a D20 involved and you still have basically 3-18 stats. 1 second combat turns, active defense rolls, and a spell point system are clear departures from the classic game. Mechanically, there’s almost nothing old-school about it. (Unless one defines “old school” as “anything that isn’t exactly like D&D 3.5 or 4e”.) The designers of Hackmaster 5e are aware that the last 35-odd years of game design have happened.

What Hackmaster retains of Old School, gloriously and wondrously so, is the attitude. My lack of God, this book drips with attitude. It knows what Old School really means: Kicking ass and taking names, so you can go back and kick the asses of people you didn’t get a chance to before. It also recognizes the rightful and proper relationship of players and Gamesmasters: The former kneel, grovel, and crawl before the almighty and unforgiving gaze of the latter.

Page 9. Paragraph 2: “In Hackmaster, any rule ambiguity related to character creation and PC powers is construed against the player character.”

Yeah! Viking Hat FTW! VIKING HAT FOREVER!

It is made clear over and over in the rules: This game isn’t about mollycoddling your PC to godhood because he’s so special and wonderful. You begin as a worthless shlump and you might survive to be someone, someday, but you probably won’t. Instead of “Everyone’s a winner!”, the attitude of Hackmaster is, as the Demotivational poster says…

For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers

For Every PC Who Lives, There Are Dozens Who Don’t.

No gamer worth his dicebag can resist a challenge like that. Hackmaster dares you to confront it.

But does it work? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. At least, we’re here to roll up a character.

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The World Of Synnibarr

The World Of Synnibarr

World Of Synnibarr

First Edition Cover, Image From http://www.legrog.org/, because I’m too lazy to scan my own copy of the cover. Hope they don’t mind.

OK, first off, let me note I have a few weird psychological issues with the World of Synnibarr, because I bought my copy (the first edition of the game, with the lion man cover) at an SF con in the early 90s where I a)had a migraine, and b)had my girlfriend of the time decide to spend all her time traipsing around with other people. Yes, I still nurture my two-decade old psychological scars. I hold on to my trivial emotional traumas the way other people hold on to their grandmother’s good china. (If your china is made in New Jersey, why isn’t it new jersey? And how can you have eyeglasses made of plastic? Shouldn’t they be eyeplastics? And that airplane food…)

So. Synnibarr. I will attempt to put my personal issues behind me, and review this San-loss inducing book fairly. No, seriously. No matter what my weird cross-associations may be with things, this game is wonked. I’ve referred many times to things that teeter on the edge of awesome and awful… this doesn’t teeter. Hell, it didn’t even fall off. It never got out of the pit of Awful to begin with.

Or…. so it appears merely from flipping through it, then trying to reconcile what I’ve read with any notion of a sane and ordered universe, or at least, a universe which was not actively malign. I haven’t tried to make a character with it, yet. Let’s see how it goes. Who knows? It might be better than it seems. Odin knows, it couldn’t be worse.

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Chivalry & Sorcery & Eyestrain, Part III

Just The Factors, Ma’am

Last week, as you may recall, we left our intrepid heroine with a huge pile of really crappy stats. This week, we feed those crappy stats into a bunch of functions, equations, and what-not to produce some probably crappy values. Let’s see!

First up on the Eyestrain Agenda is Body. This is found by adding up all the various Body bonuses. I have a +2 for my size, and a +1 for my Constitution and a -1 for my Strength, so, +2. When I get around to picking a career, I get to add another number to this, but let’s keep that +2 in mind.

Fatigue: Fatigue is, basically, hit points, of the non-vital variety. For a while, D&D 3.0 experimented with “Wounds” and “Vitality”, with Vitality being the “hit points” that wore away from small wounds, exhaustion, and so on, while “Hit Points” were actual, serious, damage. Guess what? C&S did it in 1977. Based on my limited understanding of the chart, I roll 2d6 for Fatigue, and with the luck that’s been plaguing this character since her birth, get “4”.

Next up is my carrying capacity. I have a Strength Factor of 0.1 and a Constitution Factor of 0.1, so I multiply the total, 0.2, times my weight of 130 lbs. I can carry 26 lbs.

My Military Ability Factor, which tells if I can master tactics, be bold in battle, etc, is found by adding Intelligence, Wisdom, Strength, Dexterity, and Charisma, dividing by 10, then adding on a bunch of modifiers. When all is said and done, it comes out to 1.2, on a scale of 1 to 10. This gives me a Command Level of 0.6 . Since I’m not a trained fighter (I don’t think… no one’s asked me yet…) I subtract 2 from the Military Ability Factor and 1 from the Command Level.

At this point, it’s becoming evident I need to pick a class, as most of these charts and tables want me to have one. No classes have been described or listed yet. Indeed, looking through the rules, there’s no one section that says “Pick a Class”. There’s sections on fighting, on “Thieves, Brigands, and Assassins”, a huge-ass section on magic, but no obvious “Here’s the classes, pick one.” I think I will bleep over my “Personal Combat Factor” for now until I figure this part out. So what’s next?

My horoscope. Of course. And it’s in the Magician’s Chapter, naturally. A 78 tells me I’m a Capricorn, and if I’m understanding the vague and confusing rules on “well aspected” or “poorly aspected” properly, I’ll do best as a thief, a farmer, or an other. Since my Dexterity is the Stat Which Sucks The Least, I guess I’ll go with thief.

Going back to the PCF (Personal Combat Factor, weren’t you listening, dumbass?), it’s my Carrying Capacity/10 (2.6), plus my Military Ability Factor /2 (0.5), plus Dexterity/10 (1.1) + Class Factor, which is … not listed for a Thief. I guess that’s “Other Men”, or 0.5. This totals to 4.7, on a chart that can get as high as 50.

OK, time for Phobias. I rolled a 55, so I have one phobia, but I really should figure out my social class first, it seems. Of course, that’s on the next page…

Well, there’s a bit of luck. My father was a Noble, and I am his firstborn daughter! This might explain why I’m even still alive. Of course, with my poor Charisma and Appearance, he’s probably having a hard time marrying me off, and I don’t exactly bring anything else to the table — with a Strength of 2, I can barely carry a mop bucket around. Fortunately, I rolled that I am a “good” daughter and am welcome to stay at home.

Of course, as nobles go, Daddy was pretty lame — a Landed Knight only. This gives me a starting status of 5. In theory, I could work out how much land Daddy held, but doing so would require first detailing the entire feudal system of holdings and how they’re divided up, which seems a futile effort. (You see what I did there?)

At this point, I’m a little vague as to where to go next; it mostly seems to be writing down my (crappy) thief skills and buying equipment. So I will call this one done, and the next time someone waxes all nostalgic about how games used to be “simple” and “didn’t have all these rules”, find a way to print out C&S with a readable 12 point font and then beat him to death with the three or four reams of paper such an effort will produce.

PS: Since I’m a Noble, I add +15 to my phobia roll, so I have two phobias. I have xenophobia and demophobia, fear of strangers and fear of crowds. Oh, yeah, Daddy must be having a hell of a time finding a marriage partner for me. Ugly, weak, scared to meet new people and scared to go to social events. You know, dying during character creation in Traveller is more fun than this…

Chivalry & Sorcery & Eyestrain, Part II

Prepare To Wear Out Your Dice

OK, let’s begin!

When last we left our intrepid hero, we had finished writing the introduction, but we hadn’t actually gotten around to creating a character. As noted in that section, you don’t pick a race, per se… you roll for your race. I’m surprised no game in the Cambrian Age didn’t have you roll to see if you were even in the game at all… oh, wait, that would be Traveller. (Infamous, and wonderful, for the fact your character could die before the game even began.)

We begin with Prime Requisites, which is what most other games just call “attributes”. I’m going to give C&S a pass on this one. The vocabulary of RPGs was still in a state of serious flux; this wasn’t some nineties¬† attempt to be different using all the same concepts but giving them goofy names (“Align the chakras of competence in opposition to the hazards of regret.” “What?” “Roll for initiative.” “Oh.”). The rules note, in very small type, that if your life horoscope is well aspected, you can reroll one crappy state.

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Chivalry & Sorcery & Eyestrain

Chivalry & Sorcery

One reason I started doing my character creation walkthroughs was the fact that, well, I have over 2000 RPG items, and I’ve barely used any of them for actual gaming, despite playing constantly for the past 32 years or so. With such a cornucopia, it’s hard to decide what to do next, as I have games ranging from the common to the obscure, from the classic to the just-published.I’ve been looking a lot at the goofier, gonzoier, heavy metal, stuff from the “classic era”, but when D&D came out, there were a lot of reactions to it. Really, for the first few years of RPG history, every game was, in some way, a response to Dungeons & Dragons — some were slavish imitations of it, some were D&D on acid trips, some were “D&D but in a different genre but we copied over a bunch of stuff from D&D because it’s the only template we had for designing an RPG”, and some were more profound statements of disagreement with the design ethos of D&D. One of these rebuttals, Tunnels & Trolls, was pretty much the only game of the era consciously and deliberately designed to be simpler for the sake of simplicity.

This article isn’t about Tunnels & Trolls, as you’ve probably figured out from reading the frakking title. It is about another Noun & Noun game, one which looked at D&D and said “Unhistoric! Simplistic! Balderdash!”. That game, of course, is Chivalry & Sorcery, the SCA Authenticity Fascist to D&D Ren Faire dude wandering around in a T-Shirt saying “I’m just here for the wenches”.

This is Chivalry & Sorcery

This is D&D

Any questions?

Anyway, read on for more!

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Moebius Adventures

Moebius Adventures

An RPGBloggers Network Small-Press-Week Entry

So I joined RPGBloggers Network a month or two ago. Someone decided it would be a good and fun thing to have bloggers give small press games (and when you consider the size of the ‘big’ press in this industry, small press is Very Small Indeed!) a little coverage, not in a shilling/advertising way, but as a means of calling attention to Cool Stuff that might otherwise be easily missed. I scanned down the list of smaller companies interested in participating, and saw Moebius Adventures, a universal RPG.
I love universal RPGs. They’re one of my main passions, and one reason I tend to greatly dislike Forge-style games, which are by design anti-universal — they’re often extremely narrow in scope and are only capable of resolving conflicts which the designer decided ahead of time should be resolved. (Or they have some incredibly vague and generic mechanic which is barely a step above “Roll two dice, if the red one is higher than the blue one, you win!”) I freely admit to preferring more “simulationist” systems, because I am an insane worldbuilder, and I want a system to handle any idea I have, to turn any concept I can come up with into game mechanics I can rely on. If I attack a hamster with an Uzi, I do not want the game to tell me this is a “Conflict Of Violence” and apply the exact same resolution mechanic (“Compare your Heart to the Tragedy Rating of the current Interlude. You may spend Hope.”) as if I’d attacked a tyrannosaurus with a flint knife. Sure, you can go way too far the other way (Spycraft teeters right on the edge of ‘too complex'; something like Phoenix Command plunges way into the abyss), but I find it’s easier to strip rules than to add them, and the perfect game, for me, is one where I can find a rule for anything I might reasonably need to resolve, and the rule reflects, to at least some extent, the perceived reality of the conflict — a wall covered in grease is harder to climb than one which is not, a large animal takes more damage than a smaller one, a strong-willed dwarf is harder to persuade than a cowardly kobold, etcetera.
We’re digressing, of course, but if you’ve read anything in this blog before, you’ll know I’m the Tristram Shandy of bloggers, which is amusing since I utterly despised that piece of incoherent dreck when they made us read it in college.
Enough about why I like universal games, then. Let’s look at Moebius Adventures. I will try not make this review/chargen too one sided.
Get it? Moebius? One sided? Thank you, I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waiter.
More after the break!

Thieves’ Guild

Thieves’ Guild

So. Way back in the early 1980’s , the gaming market was exploding, and experiencing this sort of Cambrian sprawl of adaptive radiation, with everyone looking for new niches and unexplored concepts. A lot of games just went for the highly specialized — Droids, Bunnies&Burrows, and so on. Others became what would later be known as Fantasy Heartbreakers — yet one more version of D&D except “Our wizards can use swords!”. Others chose to just try to do one thing very well, and that brings us to Thieves’ Guild, one of the most successful of the “D&D But Not Quite” games of the 1980s, spawning a legendary line of supplements and producing games and add-ons known for quality and quirky, very 80s, gamer humor. (Go through “Free City of Haven” and count all the pop-culture and fourth-wall-breaking references sometime, from witches named “Samantha” to an insane dwarf who wants to hire adventurers to find the mythical “bearded female dwarves” he considers to be the pinnacle of beauty. And if you don’t get that last one, you weren’t a D&D player in the early 1980s.)

Anyway, Thieves’ Guild asked the question “What the frack is thief doing playing trap monkey from some doofus in plate mail, a poncy git in robes, and a holier-than-thou bible thumper? Shouldn’t he be, you know, stealing?” And so we had a game in which, pretty much, the only character class was “Thief”. (Other games in the system were promised — “Naked Blade” for fighters and “Paths Of Sorcery” for wizards, but I am fairly certain they never came out, nor did the “Downbelow Station” RPG also advertised for “Coming Soon” release.) I remember playing Thieves’ Guild around 1982 or so. We were all halflings, and we set upon a killing spree in the city, burning bodies and shoving corpses into cabinets. Great fun.

I recently acquired the boxed set Gamelords put out in 1984. This version includes what I assume was intended to be the “core” book, “Basic Character Creation”, and then the “Thieves’ Guild” book, which took your basic characters and made them “Thiefy”. Hmmm…. where have I heard the idea of a Core Book followed by individual Splats before….

Anyway, without further ado (or adon’t), let’s roll something up!


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Machineguns & Magic

Lizard takes a fond look at a game he found in the bargain bin fifteen or so years ago… ever wanted to be a typical modern American soldier in a world filled with orcs and goblins? Well, here you go.

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