Tag Archives: Post Apocalypse

Earth Delta Pathfinder

I haven’t posted an update for a while. It’s been a mix of the usual — family and other related tasks on weekends — and the unusual, namely, working on a long-form project instead of on an article series.

To wit:

A work very much in progress…

No promises, mind you. I’m an infamous procrastinator and starter of projects never finished. But I have 4300-odd words written (some of them very odd indeed…), and some of the design issues that kept me from starting, I’ve resolved.

Focusing, initially, on mutations, and how to best model the “winged grizzly bear with laser eyes” as a starting PC in a system where characters should be front-loaded and classes define most of the key mechanical abilities a character should have. I’m happy enough with the baseline system and balancing to be working on defining lots of mutations w/out fearing I’ll need to rewrite them all completely.

Also thinking about classes, in general. I don’t want magic to be core; if you want to add it, fine, and I might include “science and sorcery” as an option, but the central game is “science fantasy” in the older sense of the word, meaning “stuff that really doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense but which draws on tropes and themes from science”.

So, we’ll see how it goes.

Road Rebels Part II

Road Rebels Part II

Revenge Of The Moltov(sic) Cocktail

Well, here we are again. For Part I of this, please look here. I am not responsible for any loss of sanity that may result. Just remember this: You only have to read what I wrote, and only once. I had to read much more of it, many times over.

I need to name my character, I suppose. With a total lack of originality, I’m going with Angry Al.

So when last we left Angry Al, he (or me) was trying to figure out how to buy skills. After a lot of time pondering the rules… I still don’t know, 100%. I even gently removed the taped-in errata, surveys, and notes from the inside back cover in the hopes it would be there. Nope. (In the survey, though, the author asks “How do you think [Road Rebels] should be improved (Besides art, correct grammar, riffles (sic), and correct tab settings)?” There’s a level of self awareness there, at least.

I think you primarily get your starting skills via spending generation points (of which I have but 50) on “acquired knowledge”, each of which is… uhm… well, they’re kind of different. Some are cheap and simply grant a generically described ability, such as Street Wise (sic), which provides “good knowledge of gangs, people, where they live, where people go”, etc., for 2 points. On the other hand, there’s “Hand Weapons”, which gives +75 to four hand weapon classes, as well as +75 to all three (left, right and two-handed) parry skills, for 50 points.

The skill system is d100 based, so a +75 is pretty damn impressive, though I haven’t studied combat yet. There may be an “opposed roll” mechanic there, as the “parry” skill implies.

With only 50 generation points to my name, there’s not a lot of options. The best choice, for my character concept, is “Hand Combat”, which costs 42 points and provides +50 to Street Fighting, +75 to punching (R/L), +75 to kicking (R/L), +75 dodge, +50 to Jump, and +50 to catch (R and 2H… not sure what you need to improve left-handed catching.)

That leaves me 8 points. Two go to Street Wise.

I’m kind of tempted to put 3 into Musical Instrument, which will make me, and I quote, “totally awesome at an instrument of the character’s choice”. Sure, why not? Instrument of choice has to be electric guitar, never mind the general lack of outlets.

So, 3 left. Well, might as well go for Hot Wiring, which lets me steal a car in 2d10 rounds, unless it has an alarm. In which case, evidently, I just can’t even try. It strikes me as odd, given the detail of many other areas, that Hot Wiring is simply a “spend the time and you’re done” skill; you’d expect a lot of modifiers for kind of car, quality of tools, and so forth.

But that’s my 50!

As near as I can tell, that’s it for the attributes/skills portion of chargen. Now I guess I buy equipment? There’s no real “step by step guide”. Anyway, I have 1d10 dollars.

I roll a D10: 1.

Well, frak.

The only thing I can buy is a candle. A can of beer is 2 dollars. A cigarette lighter, 5. I’m going to hold on to my money. I mean, not really sure what I could do with a candle.


You may remember I was curious about Condition Levels 4 and 5. They do exist; there’s a notation in one of the paragraphs that, as I speculated, they go into effect as a result of multiple concurrent factors, such as being both heavily encumbered (CL 3) and badly wounded. A perfectly reasonable system. High crunch, but I don’t mind that, and the target audience for the game is self-evidently people who like crunch. The character sheet only shows the modifiers for 1-3, which isn’t too bad, because you can do very little at 4 and nothing at 5 but look around (use perceptive skills).

The Road Goes Ever On…

That’s pretty much it for character generation. If I wanted to fill out the full sheet and plug in all the numbers, I could, but we’re past most of the interesting bits. Someone with a higher social status than I rolled would have a lot more Generation Points to play with, and more money to spend.

All of this takes us up to about page 27 or so. (I say “about” because the chargen rules and other rules are kind of muddled together.) The book is nearly 200 pages long. So what’s in the rest of it?

Combat, mostly. And vehicles. And combat with, on, around, and under vehicles.

Rules for “Maltov Cocktails”, of course. Not to mention kerosine (sic) and diesil(sic) fuels. Four different kinds of paint gun ammo (paint, smoke, explosive, stink). Two different super soaker guns (with acid available for ammo, natch).

And vehicles. Hoo, boy. The author freely admits the vehicle sheets are complicated, because he “can’t design a simple game”. I feel your pain there, buddy. But “complicated” is less of an issue than “cluttered”. These sheets need a lot more space — probably spreading the same data over 2 or 3 pages would be better. The use of proportional fonts means a lot of the tables don’t line up very clearly. Well, see for yourself…

I Regularly Used GURPS 3e VDS, Striker, and Mekton Z. This Is Beyond Any Of Those.

I Regularly Used GURPS 3e VDS, Striker, and Mekton Z. This Is Beyond Any Of Those.

Want more? Armored turrets, oil slicks, smoke screens, nitros (sic) systems, “shitty paint job” (100 dollars), “awesome paint job” (500 dollars), and way, way, more. Rules detail ten levels of road quality and the various factors that allow you to determine them. There are rules for how much damage a vehicle takes when jumping (hitting a bump or ramp, flying through the air, then landing), with the ability to design a vehicle specifically to absorb some of the damage (i.e., a stunt car), and charts that consider both the height of the jump and the type of road surface you land on. There are rules here for all sorts of things I never considered, most of which interact with the design and modification systems. (That’s a compliment, by the way.)

Within the scope of the design space, Road Rebels really tries to include damn near everything. How well do the systems work in play? I have no idea, and no time to start learning them all well enough to test even a basic combat, but there’s little doubt that Mr. Gordon was passionate about his interests and was determined to cover as many setting-appropriate situations as possible.

And all of it is buried under so many basic structural errors that it’s virtually impossible to drag the game framework out of the mire, clean it off, and make it run.

Wait, What?

So I’m looking at the creatures section and I notice that the hit location charts include “Four Legged Creatures with 2 heads”. This table is used only for “Zargonites”, which is “a wolf like creature except it has two heads and is much larger”.

Also included is the Kriton, which are large humans with upward pointing noses, and are “hired assassin’s bounty hunters or businessmen”(sic). It seems to me that a hired assassin employing a bounty hunter is taking outsourcing too far. I mean, if I hire an assassin, I expect them to do their own hunting, not get a kriton to do it! Sheesh.

Then there’s the Labotimizers (sic) who kidnap people, pour acid in their ears to destroy their brains, then send them out to repeat the process.

End Of The Road

That about sums it up. Overall, I’d say Road Rebels is a perfect example of a creator’s reach exceeding their grasp. Given a decent editor and a decent (for the era) desktop publishing/layout program, it might have found some niche success. As is, it vanished without nary a trace… at least, I can find few, if any, references to it. When I google “Road Rebels RPG”, the first part of this article is the third hit, and the second… something I wrote back in 2002(!) on RPG,net. And I even used the same line: “Well, uhm, no one can deny that this game has ‘personality’.” Wow. I totally forgot I wrote that… it was 14 years ago… but given identical inputs (the text of the game) I seem to produce nearly identical outputs. Go figure. Perhaps I have failed the Turing Test.

Next time… who knows? Maybe I’ll go to my pile of weird-ass “indie” games and see what strikes my fancy… (Yeah, I keep threatening). Or I might do “All The World’s Monsters” or this game I’ve got around here somewhere about luchadors.

Road Rebels

Road Rebels

Things The Marines Teach You: Courage, Duty, Honor, Service, Loyalty, And, I Presume, How To Kill A Man 26 Different Ways Using Only A Paperclip

Things The Marines Do Not Teach You: How To Spell “Rifle”


This May Be The Only Page In The Entire Book With No Spelling Or Grammatical Errors

This May Be The Only Page In The Entire Book With No Spelling Or Grammatical Errors

Let me begin with a digression. Wait, is that possible? Can you digress from a path not yet traveled? Am I digressing from the digression I wanted to begin with? Anyway, in the early 1990s, I lived in North Carolina, which had a Hungate’s Hobbies. This was primarily a crafting type hobby store, but unlike most such, it also had a fairly vibrant RPG section. And in that RPG section there was a bargain bin. And in that bargain bin, there were treasures. Such treasures! One of them was Machineguns and Magic, already covered here. (Good lord? 2008? I’ve been writing these unread articles for over eight years? Well, they say that true art is not done for an audience, but for oneself. If so, I am the truest artist of all time!)

Another was Road Rebels.

And so if our digression actually leads directly to our topic, is it a digression?

(Mrlizard.com! Where else can you get feeble attempts at humor mixed with pointless jabs at philosophy? “Oh, 99% of the Internet!” “Shut up! It was a rhetorical question!”)

So. Road Rebels.


It Took Until 1989 For The First Game For Serious Roleplayers To Be Published

It Took Until 1989 For The First Game For Serious Roleplayers To Be Published

The introduction, with its oddly centered text, almost seems like heavy metal lyrics. Hell, the entire game tries to evoke that kind of hard-driving, hard-rocking, attitude. The overlap between metal music and culture, and 70s/80s RPGs, deserves study by someone far more competent than myself. Road Rebels isn’t Metallica; it’s more “garage band that’s totally going to get some gigs once we get a drummer who won’t always flake on us, Karl, and when Joey, he’s our bassist, gets back from military school”. At this stage of my read-through (remember, these are mostly extemporaneous, written as I turn the pages, though this little bit you’re reading now was written on my “editing” pass just before I posted this first bit), I can say there’s some interesting mechanical aspects — high crunch, but I don’t mind that — that hint at possibilities, but these glimmerings are buried under some of the worst grammar, spelling, punctuation, and organization I’ve seen in a published game product. (There’s another one, a very minor league supers game called… uh… I’ll have to find it… I thought it was “Guardians”, but the cover image is wrong (and not the new, “old-school” game by that name released circa 2015,this was from the mid-80s or so)..,. that might give it a run for its money. But I digress.)

My ability to forgive grammatical mistakes in older RPG systems is a function of “How old is it?” and “Are the ideas expressed so awesome they transcend crudeness of form?”

By 1989, a certain level of professionalism was expected. The book itself is not something run off on someone’s home mimeograph machine. It is well bound. It is professionally typeset. Anyone who had the budget to produce a book at this level in the late 80s could have afforded an editor, or at least asked a more-literate friend to look at it.

The ideas within… well, let’s just move on, shall we?

In Which I Wear Out My “(Sic)”

I have to include a few samples of the introductory text. Transcribing this is like copying passages from the Necronomicon, only without the hope that perhaps an Elder God will be summoned and devour me, to end my torment.

“It was the year 2010 when the fires stopped burning. They ceased to burn only when there was nothing left to burn. Nothing but a shattered rain forest and an expanding city.”

“All of The (sic) fuel resources in the gulf had been used up. When their (sic. Also, huh?) fuel ran out so did the worlds (sic) supply lines.”

“All power plants stopped, fuel stations ran out (sic) fuel, and factories were shut down.”

“No country could defend their self.” (sic)

Three hundred years later, “Of the few factories still existing there are only a few people in control of them. Unemployment has reached an all time high.”

This I have learned: Post-apocalyptic wastelands where day-to-day life is a struggle to extract the most meager resources needed for basic survival have unemployment rates.

“With no country and no home, there is only the road.”

Because 300 years after ecological disaster and social collapse, someone is still paving the god damn roads, right?

“After all the toxic waist (sic) dumping, oil tanker spills such as the Exzon (sic) Raldez (sic), and the depleted uranium many of the Earth’s animals have mutated. “

“Many of these creatures consider human’s (sic) inferior. This is possibly due to our white skin where their skin is green or some other color, or that they are just smarter.”

And remember, these are a few sample sentences from a full page of text. You owe me, non-existent audience. You owe me.

My assumption that the author was a high school kid with rich parents who indulged him was undermined on the next pages, where he notes he was a Marine and worked over five years on this.

Look, let me be serious for a moment. I respect anyone who is willing to go out and get shot at so I can continue to sit on my fat Big Mac stuffed ass and write snarky comments about other people’s work. I am, without sarcasm or cynicism, genuinely grateful to all of those “rough men (and women) who stand ready to do violence on [my] behalf”, as Orwell is wrongly credited with saying.

But, you know… you don’t get to be a Marine by people giving you a pass on your actual performance because you tried really hard. So I’ve got to follow the same principle. You get judged on what you do.

“Many roll(sic) playing games are created by a bunch of dead head geeks who care more about making money[1] than a decent game. They have about as much personality as a dried up horse turd. In this game you’ll find a lot of personality. It may be crude or strange but it’s better than dried up horse turds.”

No argument there. This game has personality.

Under some GM advice, he notes “If a person like is allowed to run ramped (sic), it takes much fun out of the game for the other players and they can lose interest in your game an (sic) alarming rate.”

“Fruitcakes Stay Away” reads another header.

“If you’re a weird one and think you might take Road Rebels to the streets please buy (sic) all means don’t play this game.”

Perhaps the weird ones need COMPETENT PSYCHIATRIC HELP.

Trying to actually move on without quoting every other sentence, but I keep getting sidetracked. For instance, low technology towns are described as “… generally ancient ruins that are still inhabited. They are usually dangerous since most of the people are sparsely populated.”

Forcing myself to keep going through all the, uh, personality

The Roads Must Roll… Up Characters

Seven characteristics, roll 4d6 and keep the three highest. Put them where you like. To the author’s credit, the rest of the mechanics are not a generic D&D clone. And I’m not going to ding someone for going with a system and value range that works instead of being different solely to be different. Too much of that coming down the pike a few years after this was published.

The seven characteristics are Happy, Sleepy, Snee… no, sorry. But, damn, wouldn’t that be an interesting idea for… something. Some wacko indie system where your personality or abilities or something are defined by your ranking of the Seven Dwarfs. Healing? Roll your Doc. Resist mind control? Roll Grumpy. Social interaction? Roll over your Bashful. Seriously, there’s something here. And I’m getting distracted again.

Strength, Dexterity, Looks, Constitution, Size, Charisma, Speed.

And it’s rolling time!

Every year, at GenCon, I get a scoop-o-dice at Chessex. Let’s see how they roll….

9,7,15, 11,6,13,12

So, about typical for me. Sheesh.

A six and a seven? Seriously? On best 3 out of 4d6?

(In the Pathfinder game I run, a player rolled two crits on their iterative attack, dealing 112 points of damage to a 105 hit point boss monster. Later, in another encounter, when I was attacking with a powerful 2d6+10 trample, I rolled a ‘2’ for the damage. Twice. Dice hate me.)

Anyway, I need to roll for social class. The rules note that a given RM (Road Master, of course!) may have differing social classes in their game, and that social class can change over time.

21. Peasant. (Other options were Thief, Townsman, Barbarian, Assassin, Road Rebel, Choice, and Choose Two. I’m not sure what that last one means. Do you add together the benefits and penalties for two classes? Pick the best features of each? I don’t see an explanation in the general vicinity of the chart, but there might be one later.

As a Peasant, I have a +10 to picking pockets, despite the text noting that “Peasants are generally not good thieves since they appear very ragged.” I have a +3 to my Constitution, and gear such as inexpensive, ill-fitting clothes and a shopping cart. My weapons may include a mop handle or a screwdriver. My wealth is 1d10 dollars, and I have 50 “generation points”.

Now we get a lot of detail about certain physical skills and how they’re affected by your “condition level”, which is a blend of fatigue and encumbrance… the more tired or burdened you are, the worse your skills are going to be. Nothing wrong with that.

It’s looking like I’ll need to assign my crappy rolls before going much further. Hm.

9,7,15, 11,6,13,12

Strength: 15
Dexterity: 13
Looks: 6
Constitution: 12+3=15
Size: 11
Charisma: 7
Speed: 9

Basically, a brawler with nothing else going for him. Probably badly scarred from all of his fights.

But back to condition level. “To determine a character’s mass per condition level he must first determine his mass. He will then go to the chart on page 25 to determine his mass.” Yeah, I’ll let that sink in for a bit. Then, it will sink in, for a bit, while I let it.

Size 11 means my mass is 75. With a Strength of 15 and a Con of 15, I can carry 2/3rds of my mass at Condition Level 2. (Condition Level 1 is fixed at <10kg.) 2/3rds of 75 is 50.

(The necessary charts and tables are on page 25, while the explanation I’m trying to follow is on page 13.)

Also, the text says there are five condition levels, but then only talks about 1, 2, and 3. There may be more rules for 4 and 5 later on, maybe wounded or something? We’ll see. The three-tier system seems reasonable… CL 1 is “Effectively unencumbered”, carrying <10kg. CL 2 is the assumed norm, carrying more than 10 KG and less than the calculated value, and CL 3 is carrying more than your allowed capacity. What I haven’t found, yet, is how to calculate some of those base numbers… such as “Rounds at Maximum”.

I’ll skip the optional pain factors. This is taking too long as it is.

The weapons sheet is also presented here. It’s pretty darn complex. This doesn’t bug me, per se, if the rules are generally well explained. I know all the cool kids like everything to fit onto a fortune cookie, but I like systems where there’s a lot of differentiation between weapons and other gear, especially if they feed into systems that make it make sense to pick specific weapons for specific tasks. (GURPS rules for reach and space, for example, give an advantage to a guy with a short weapon when he’s “all up in your grill” — it’s hard to get a 6′ sword to swing properly against a target who is in direct physical contact with you. At the same time, trying to close with the guy who has a 6′ sword (and the skill to use it) when all you’ve got is a dagger… well, I digress.) Point is, I’m not going to dis the game a priori for a weapons sheet that’s more detailed than many games’ entire character sheet. We’ll see how it’s actually used, first.

Skills: Recognizing The Unhidden

Skills are grouped into classes; some have different scores for Left, Right, or Two Handed use. Some are impacted by condition level. The rules talk about rolling to increase skills, a mechanic familiar to players of Chaosium’s systems, among others.

Then there’s the skill descriptions. Most are pretty bog-standard so far. And it may be the fact I’m writing this late in day when I’m tired (usually, I set aside time on weekends for this blog, but today, some whim struck me to work on it now), but I’m starting to find the author’s personal style to be almost charming. I mean, I praised Hargrave for it, and the Princeton folks, so why not? (Well, for one, 1989 is not 1977 and standards change.)

For example, under Climb, Mr. Gordon writes “This system will be improved as I learn more about climbing. Please excuse my lack of knowledge.” And, earlier in the paragraph, “Forget those cheesy climbing spikes in other games.” Consider them forgotten.

BTW, the use of “riffle” for “rifle” is endemic; it can’t be blamed on a typo. If there was one word (well, one word not included in Carlin’s famous monologue) I’d expect a Marine to be able to spell, it would be “rifle”. Sigh.

Following a longstanding RPG tradition of “highly variable detail”, while many of the skills include detailed rules and modifiers, “Pick Pockets” is almost mechanics-free, noting only that “This skill should not be blown out of proportion”, and that other skills, such as Hide in Cover or Move Silently may have to be used “in conjunction”. The skills, overall, have the mix of ultra-detailed mechanics and generic “just be reasonable” advice that pretty much defined early gaming.

(Speaking of detail… “Sound Detection” is distinct from “Sound Recognition”, and “Recognize Hidden Object” is distinct from “Recognize Camouflage(sic) Object” and “Recognize Unhidden Object”. Yes, that’s a skill. It’s used to recognize something someone tried, but failed, to hide. Yeah. I had the same reaction. Moving on.

Oh, hey, I opened the book to start working on this again, and found the “rounds at maximum” chart… with my Strength and Con I can go 18 rounds at “maximum effort”, if you know what I mean, and I think you do, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more. If I rest for 12 rounds, I will regain my full “Max Rounds”, but if I rest for 2 rounds, I can regain 3 rounds. The mechanical concept here is actually pretty interesting. It lets you take a brief rest in combat (including, per a note, fighting defensively) to regain 3 rounds of maximum effort, which presents a useful tactical option and a way to model someone who, in the course of an ongoing fight, chooses to take a little time to recover, pulling back for a few rounds before resuming the full-on battle. Most games, in my experience, have either no fatigue/exhaustion type systems, or have a pool which can only be refreshed outside of combat.

Well, I was going to try to figure out my skills, but the exact rules for assigning a starting character’s skills are not clear. I think I’ve found all the relevant bits and bobs, but I’m not sure how to put them together in the right order just yet, so, this article just became a two parter.

[1]Boy, did they choose the wrong profession! Where did people get the idea RPGs are a great way to earn a living? RPG writers are paid less per word than pulp writers of the 1930s… unadjusted for inflation. Let that sink in.


Look Sir! Droids!

Another Ancient Game You Probably Saw Advertised In The Dragon

But Which I Somehow Acquired. No Idea When Or How.

With This Exciting Action Scene On The Cover, How Could Customers Resist?

With This Exciting Action Scene On The Cover, How Could Customers Resist?

It is a little-known fact that FASA’s famous “BattleTech” game was originally released as “Battledroids“, until they got a letter from a certain director reading, in part, “Yousa be a violatin mesa’s trademark on droidsa! Yousa be changin thats quick or bombad lawyers gonna sue you maxibig!” The company assumed the odd phrasing was legalese and did not realize they were privy to a glimpse into the dark future of what was currently a beloved movie franchise, so “Battledroids” became “BattleTech”, and the rest is history.

The game I am discussing, called simply “Droids”, was published two years earlier (in 1982) and never attracted Mr. Lucas’ wrath, as far as I know. Really, the entire preceding paragraph is mostly irrelevant, I just wanted to a)verify that I did, indeed, remember seeing a game called “Battledroids” at the Compleat Strategist in NYC way back when, and, b)Get in some decades-late digs at Jar Jar. (But does Rogue One look awesome, or what? Anyway…)

“What Mission? What Are You Babbling About?”

The basic premise of Droids is that the PCs are droids, a naming convention to be adopted by White Wolf a decade or so later. There are no humans, animals, or other life forms to interact with. It’s droids all the way down.

“I’m Only A Droid, I’m Not Much Good At Telling Stories”

Droids May Be The First Sci-Fi Work To Predict The "Selfie"

Droids May Be The First Sci-Fi Work To Predict The “Selfie”

In the very earliest days of RPGs, the first 2-3 years of their existence, there was a point where the line between “skirmish wargame” and “RPG” was much blurrier than it is now. We, as humans, like to fit things in boxes, to categorize, define, name, and limit, enabling us to mentally manipulate complex clouds of concepts as if they had a single handle we could grab onto. “En Garde” by Game Designer’s Workshop (I think they went on to do some kind of space game) was one example. TSR’s “Warriors Of Mars” was another.

Droids, nearly a decade after D&D’s release, and marketed as an RPG, has some aspects of this. Despite it requiring a Referee and including a “Sample of Play” in typical style, the book consists almost entirely of rules for combat and for creating droids to engage in combat. There’s about a page of material suggesting there might be organized Droid societies, but it’s very sparse. The game provides content for the very core of RPGs: Go somewhere, kill things, take their stuff, but is sparse on the “kill things”. There’s three generic sample NPC droids, and two more in the scenario provided (“raid the abandoned army base”). The “stuff” includes a small list of items not available at character creation, from vacuum cleaner attachments to movie projectors, but it is diverse enough to offer some inspiration for additional goodies.

A post-human world inhabited entirely by abandoned artificial intelligences is a fine setting for adventure, but all the work in bringing this to life, including any mechanics for anything other than combat, would be to the referee.

So What’s In The Book?

A lot of charts, tables, and descriptions of various weapons, power plants, mobility mechanisms, and armor, along with rules for using all of these things, a short scenario, and an appendix with summarized charts.

Look, it’s 1982! This is pretty much what you got!

Also contained: A layout completely reminiscent of Traveller. I’d say they borrowed the same Adobe templates, but this is 1982, and “Adobe templates” back then meant “plans for building homes in the southwest”.

Let’s Get On With It

There’s not any kind of list of archetypes or “typical” droids, or a real sense of what you’re going to do besides “explore ruins, scavenge parts”. The advice on building a droid actually steers you away from archetypes, encouraging you to build well-balanced units. Not bad advice, at all, but RPGs tend to work best when there’s a team of characters with mixed strengths and weaknesses. More relevant for this article, I need an idea, stat.

Somewhere in flipping through it, I saw there were options for gasbags. The idea of a blimpdroid appeals to me greatly. Perhaps it was created originally as a silent spy, able to drift into enemy territory with a minimal signature. It should have some self-defense capacity to take out attackers, and ideally a backup ground-based movement system. In the campaign setting, it would work as a scout/spy, locating places to forage, relying on better armed- and armored- allies to do most of the killing once it brought back the intelligence, but not helpless in a fight.

Can I build it? Let’s see.

I have 20 CP to start with. CP are “Construction Points”, of course. Seriously, you need to be told that? Wow, my imaginary readers are dim.

“PC” is the measure of whether I continue to internalize my oppression by using the human supremacist term “droid”, or if I refer to myself as a post-organic ferro-American. Or, it’s “Power Consumption”, the measure of how much power each of my components eats. Well, why can’t it be both, huh? Don’t force me into your binary categories!

“BP”, or “Bulk Points”, sort of combine hit points and volume on a unit-by-unit basis.

Based on the character sheet provided, I’m going to need a spreadsheet to keep track of things. Damn, it’s been a while since I fired up Excel for RPG purposes. Getting a bit giddy, here.


The first thing I’m asked to spend CP on is transport. There’s a lot of choices, but keeping with my character concept, I’m starting with “Propelled Balloon”. The rules are fairly detailed, including time to inflate or deflate and how far you can fall while it fills. (800 meters, so, it’s pretty much useless if you fall from anything smaller than the Empire State Building.) I’m also taking wheels for my ground transport.

Note that each transport unit can support 100 BP, and different types of transport units can’t be combined. So, if I go over 100 BP, I will need more wheels and balloons.


Not the ability to bribe, blackmail, or intimidate, but rather, arms. There’s only three: Repair, Maintenance, and Lifting. Not sure what the future looks like in terms of BP, PC, CP, etcP, so for now, I’m going for a single Maintenance arm, which can do a little repair and a little lifting.

(You may notice the system does not assume a humanoid default. The droids produced by this game will resemble real-world robots much more than space opera ones. You can probably build a humanoid, but it’s not a baseline and there’s no indication non-humanoid droids suffer any notable disadvantage in terms of interacting with the world.)

I… Have… The… POWER!

OK, right era, wrong genre.

Power units have a negative PC… in essence, they reduce your total power consumption by a certain amount. Power plants are the best (most expensive) and can be overloaded at a risk of explosion. Solar cells are tempting, but I plan to operate at night. (I could combine them with a rechargeable battery, I suppose…) Nah. Going with standard power cells.

Power can be allocated to units on as-needed basis. Assuming I may need to move and pick things up at the same time, I will need 4 units of power, minimum. So that’s 4 cells, which will cost me 4 points. Hmm. Let’s kick that up to 7, to allow for what I suspect weapons and sensors will cost. Or, for 5, I could get a power plant. Hm. Power cells are 4 BP each, while a plant is 9, total. This means, in theory, I can lose a few cells and still have some operating power, but a plant is putting all my eggs in one fusion-powered basket. Hm. Let’s go for plant. If I have CP left over, I might get a cell or a battery for backup.

Coin Detected In Pocket

Or, sensors. For vision, I am going with the most expensive, the tri-camera, which also gives me ranger-like tracking capability. It fits my character concept.

CP are starting to get low. I will skimp on the other sensors, going for the most basic sound and communications gear.

Module DR-1: Kill All Humans

Modules are basically programs. You buy an interface, which, I think, determines how many module you can load at once? Or something? The combat modules are insanely expensive — 10 CP for the lowest-level one. The others ain’t much better. I’ll just pick up an M1 Interface for now, in the hopes of finding a data module later on.

Phased Plasma Rifle In The 40 Watt Range

It Costs How Much?

How About A Pointed Stick?

Seriously, the cheapest weapon is 4 CP. I’ve got like 2.1 left. Time to make some adjustments.

Let’s drop the wheels and go for legs. That frees up just enough CP for an energy cannon and a single 10-shot power pack. Hey, that’s 10 times more attacks than a first level magic user gets!

Other Accessories Sold Seperately

I can’t afford armor, ECM gear, or a spotlight. Sigh.

The Naming Of Names

Well, what should I call it? The game explicitly offers an eclectic naming scheme, noting a droid could be named anything from a string of letters and numbers to a computer or industrial themed name. While it’s a year or two late, relative to the publication date, I will go with LASERBEAK for my character.

LASERBEAK’s greatest weakness, mechanically, is its lack of armor. The guidelines caution against this, but something’s got to give. Hopefully, it can stay out of danger until it can scavenge some. It also has only enough power for 10 shots; an additional power supply is needed.

Here’s the final character summary. It seems appropriate I mostly just needed to copy over part of my Excel sheet…

LASERBEAK. It Seems Appropriate This Game's Character Sheet Is An Excel Screenshot

LASERBEAK. It Seems Appropriate This Game’s Character Sheet Is An Excel Screenshot

Other Thoughts

  • I can’t find any limits on attaching new units. There’s rules on how long it will take, based on bulk, but apparently you can stick anything on you that you wish, limited by bulk relative to your movement capacity.
  • There’s rules for robots, which are non-self-aware machines. They are otherwise like droids.
  • There are also some rules for “experimental” devices which have assorted amusing defects.
  • I would have included rules for droids themselves to have various flaws (especially lingering psychological quirks from their programming), in order to gain bonus CP. The 20 points at chargen is very limiting. Of course, I started off with an expensive concept. Downgrading my camera would have given me enough CP for armor.
  • You’ll note there are no attributes, per se. “Strength” is determined by how much your manipulators can lift, in BP. Beyond that, there’s nothing. All droids are equally agile, intelligent, or charismatic. Constitution? You either have power enough to move, or, you don’t.
  • Indicating the era, the communication options are limited to, in essence, voice. There’s radio and light (blinking lights, which, in the rules, goes v…e…r…y s…l…o…w…l…y), but these just transmit your “voice”. No wifi. While it makes sense a post-apocalyptic setting doesn’t have a lot of internet, you can imagine that some intact buildings would still have an intranet, and any droid civilization would be strongly interconnected.
  • Likewise, no viruses or malware to infect you.
  • While the lack of more cyberpunky tropes is not surprising — Neuromancer is two years in the future! — what does surprise me is the lack of melee weapons! It’s a post apocalyptic wasteland where the droids must survive as best they can… no chainsaws? No tasers, even? Perhaps they were planned for the promised, but never materialized (as far as I know) supplements.
  • As is typical of the era and the design, the low-illustration, high-density text conceals many rules and asides that would, in later years, be more clearly called out. Several paragraphs of this bemoaning the lack of thus-and-such rule, with must sarcasm, had to be culled as I stumbled over a good-enough mention of the “missing” information buried in the tenth sentence of a 20 sentence block of text.
  • Overall, the writing is clean, functional, and clear. It’s not plagued by typos, spelling, and grammatical errors.

That last item sort of sums up my thoughts on the game, and perhaps why it did not ignite any kind of spark that I know of. “Functional” is the watchword of Droids. It offers some tools for a unique (at the time) setting, a post-human post-apocalypse, but does very little to inspire. The text describing the various options is perfectly adequate, and that’s it. The art is decent, but it’s all static images of various droids with no background or action going on. The sample of play consists of Player One and Player Two talking to Referee and… looking at things. Shining lights. Examining a hole in a fence. Yay.

So, that’s Droids. Tune in next time, when I look at… I have no idea. I’ll poke around the bookcases until something catches my eye.

For More Reading…

If you like the idea of AIs in a post-apocalyptic (but not post-human) world, you might enjoy this….

Arduin Grimoire, Part XV

Arduin Grimoire, Part XV (And Final)

Air Sharks and Doomguards, and Hell Stars, Oh My!

And Demon Lore

And The 21 Planes Of Hell!

And We’re Done!

As we finally drift towards the end of the first book, we go out on a high note, probably F sharp. (Is that a high note? I don’t actually know anything about music, so my pun might fall flat. Get it? Flat? Sigh. Enjoy the veal, and don’t forget to tip your waiter.)

But seriously, folks: Monsters. Three pages of them, for 16 in all. Yes, you could fit 16 monsters onto three (half size) pages back then, because we didn’t need a lot of ‘background’ or ‘details’, we had imagination! Also, very small type.

Air Shark

Screw your land sharks! We’ve got air sharks!

I'm a shaaaark

I’m a shaaaark!

Key points on the general layout:

  • Hit Dice come in ranges, which is even better than pints, unless you’re a hobbit. I covered this an article or two back, so, go dredge it up for yourself. Point is, it was a real innovation for the time.
  • I discussed %liar (vs. %lair) a while back, too.
  • I have no idea why AC is ‘5+2’ instead of ‘3’. And if you don’t know how 5+2=3 for Armor Class, you are not Old School.
  • I’m not sure if you were supposed to roll for speed, or scale it to the hit dice.
  • It was cool they had a Dex score, but I’m not sure how it was applied. I don’t remember actually ever using it in play.
  • Damage also scales. 8-80???? Remember, boils and ghouls, at the time, a huge ancient red dragon had 88 hit points, and Lolth, a verifiable goddess, had 66.
  • Oh, I do so wish someone in one of my games had shot a flaming arrow at one.

Here’s others of interest:

  • Blue Bellower: Giant blue rhinoceros beetle that emits a nauseating gas when wounded, and has a 50% chance of having lightning bounce off its shell, and produces a bellow that has a 35% chance to deafen targets for 1-6 turns.
  • Doomguard: Perhaps my absolute favorite critter from this book, because I keep using them in games, in various guises. They’re animated suits of plate armor that can teleport and must “literally be dismembered” to stop. No word on if they inform you that “It’s just a flesh wound!” when injured.
  • Grey Horror: Scorpion/Spider hybrid whose poison paralyzes most creatures but dissolves hobbits at 3-18 points/turn. Why hobbits? Why not hobbits?
  • Hell Maiden: Skull-headed Valkyries who ride hell horses (which are, for the record, also described). Despite having skulls for heads and riding undead horses, they’re not undead. They do have a ‘%liar’ of 90%, though, so perhaps they’re lying about not being undead?
  • Holy Freakin' Hell, You Can Encounter Up To SIX Of These Bastiches???

    Holy Freakin’ Hell, You Can Encounter Up To SIX Of These Bastiches???

    Ibathene: Nuff said. OK, it’s not up to Galactic Dragon status, but still… and if you look back at Part XIV, you’ll note there’s a 1-in-20 chance of a random trap dumping you on one of these. Erm.. or not. Huh. Another difference between editions. Where it says “purple worm” there, later editions say “ibathene”. Also, on the treasure tables, they replaced “pizza oven” with “machine gun”.

  • Knoblin: Kobold/Goblin/Bat hybrids. Because the world needs as many low-HD humanoids as it can get. Like the Ibathene, and like many other monsters of this era, it had different AC for different body part — normally 6, wings were 8. This is not, in itself, remotely problematic. What is problematic (and lest anyone be confused, this applies to D&D and AD&D itself, and is not a jibe at Dave, for he’s guilty here of nothing more than cargo cult game design, a sin most everyone in this era committed), is that there were never any official or integrated rules for targeting body parts. Do you just say “I’m aiming for the wings?” Do you randomly determine which body part is being hit, and then use that body part’s AC? Is there a penalty? Does it make sense for there to be a penalty since the whole point is to aim for the lower-AC body part? If you miss, do you hit the body? There were as many answers as there were gaming groups, and the answer depended on the DM’s ideas about combat, his/her interest in making house rules, and how much Chinese food had been made available.
  • Kobbits: Kobold/Hobbit crossbreeds. Rule 34 just exploded. Next!
  • Phraint: Phraints are awesome. They’re mantis people. There’s one on the cover of the later edition; you can see the scan on the main Arduin page. They’re covered in detail in Book 3, the Runes of Doom, which, if I follow the same rate of posting, we’ll be getting to in about 15-20 weeks.
  • Skyray: One-eyed, flying, manta-rays which explode into a cloud of spores when they die, “seeding” all in the cloud as their “host”, with, and I quote “predictable result” in 1-3 months.
  • Thermite: Glowing red-yellow giant warrior termites, that do 1-8 points of fire damage on a touch. Well, my subconscious stole that for Earth Delta. I should have known I wasn’t clever enough to come up with that on my own.
  • Thunderbunnies: While it sounds like the name of a strip club, these are actually insane, “foam mouthed”, jack rabbits that travel in great herds “like land piranhas”.
  • Golems: Can you ever have enough golems? Of course not, duh! We get gold, silver, orichalcum, adamantine, mithral, shadow, and light. A while back, inspired by an entry in, I think, Welcome To Skull Tower, I statted out a green slime golem.

Demon Lore

Stuff Your Heavy Metal Albums Never Taught You

We now have a page of rules about demons, numbered with roman numerals, because why not, and with many underlines to show emphasis.

  • You need to be the same level as a demon to conjure it, and your chance of controlling it is only 10%, which increases very slowly as your level exceeds its. Also, for greater demons, this number is halved. Sucks to be you.
  • Demons hate everything, including their own kind (75% of attacking).
  • Demons just dissipate back to hell when killed, and they also regenerate like trolls, presumably by registering new Twitter accounts. Lesser demons, however, can be killed by phasers and nuclear bombs, and the mere fact that sentence exists makes me very, very, happy.
  • Only dragons and other demons can damage demons, but medusas (only, not gorgons or basilisks) can stone them. Elementals and efreet do half damage; golems, one-quarter damage. I want to be in a game where the issue of golem-on-demon combat comes up.
  • 50th level Patriarchs have a 5% chance to turn away greater demons (+1% per level).
  • The main purpose of demons is to flip out and kill people.
  • Demons are mammals.
  • Demon attacks and saving throws are rolled as if they had double their hit dice, e.g., a 6 hit die demon attacks and saves as a 12 hit die monster. Combine this with their regeneration and other powers, and it amazes me any character in Dave’s games ever made it to fifth level, never mind fiftieth!

Here’s a Rock Demon vs. a Storm Demon. You’re welcome.

It May Be Possible To Create A More Awesome Image Than This, But I Doubt It

It May Be Possible To Create A More Awesome Image Than This, But I Doubt It

The Planes Of Hell

Not To Be Confused With The Plains Of Hell, Which Are Called “Nebraska”

Seriously, Have You Ever Driven Through Nebraska?

Now we have a listing of Planes of Hell, which feature the usual medieval imagery like tidally-locked worlds with superheated argon atmospheres, or dying suns and pools of liquid mercury, or radioactive vacuum worlds dotted with h-bomb craters, or…

Wait, what?

The “21 planes of Hell” in the Arduin-verse are, it seems, hellish sci-fi worlds, which is really cool (even if most of them just kill you instantly) but totally way out in… it’s not even left field, it’s out of the ballpark, down the street, and eating pizza at a hole in the wall pizzeria. Other than the fact the inhabitants are listed as various sorts of demons (which might as well be mutants or aliens, really), there’s virtually no connection between any conception of “hell” I’ve ever heard of. I mean, did Dante ever cover a planet “burned with energy weapons in an interstellar war”?

The 20th plane of hell has an ocher sky, four coppery moons, and billowy fungus forests. Also, star demons.

The 21st level of hell, home to the greater demons (which are noted as mutations, BTW) is filled with bombed-out cities and “dark red mutated seas”, also, kaleidoscope skies and an evilly blue glowing moon.

I would love to hear the backstory behind how these vividly strange worlds become the “hell” of Arduin…

Some Demons

We now get an assortment of “lesser” demons. I’m just going to include one typical example. I shudder to imagine what “greater” demon stats might have looked like; I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think they were ever included in the other books.

Pay Close Attention To How Many Life Levels This Thing Can Drain In One Melee Round

Pay Close Attention To How Many Life Levels This Thing Can Drain In One Melee Round

I also like how it can leap 33′ in a round… again, a number perfectly suited to no mapping system ever used.

And In Conclusion…

Dave ends by saying “The overland and dungeon maps on the next two pages are provided for your interest and enjoyment”, which is nice… but there’s only a dungeon map. As I commented regarding a similar omission in the Princecon III handbook, it’s hard to find a more perfectly zen summary of the essence of old-school supplements. How many days of game time does it take to cross a missing map, grasshopper?

Next Time…

We delve into “Welcome to Skull Tower”. A lot of people have covered/reviewed/dissected the Arduin Grimoire, but far less attention has been paid to the later volumes of the trilogy. This should be fun…



Well, as a late sign of the apocalypse, or an early sign of the next one, here’s an Earth Delta update! As always, this is a “fresh off the grill” version, not particularly edited or tweaked.



V-Borgs, or “Vehicle Cyborgs”, are hideous, blightspawned abominations that fuse partially-living beings with the remnants of vehicles. It’s often theorized that they were the pilots or crew of the craft when they were destroyed, and the combination of blight energies and the vehicle’s self-repair nanobot swarms fused them together. There are countless varieties, many which barely resemble their original forms; over the centuries since the Cataclysm, they have slowly changed and adapted. While not mindless, their motivations are alien and seemingly mad; as far as most who encounter them are concerned, they strike out blindly. Some of them have found their way to the Annihilation Army, while others have been recruited to factions of Turing’s Children.

The transition to V-Borg was hideously painful, and most V-Borgs remain in a state of anguish. This can wax and wane over time; a V-Borg might be rational for a few hours, days, or weeks, then suddenly be consumed by torment and turn violent.

V-Borg Monowheel Gunner

V-Borg Monowheel Gunner

Level 18 Artillery

Medium natural animate (blightspawn, cyborg)

XP 2,000

HP 136; Bloodied 68

AC 29; Fortitude 30; Reflex 32; Will 29

Speed 8

Immune blight, poison, disease; Vulnerability 10 radiant, 10 lightning

Initiative +18

Perception +17

Darkvision, Tremorsense 10

The Monowheel Gunner gets to save twice when an effect would knock it prone, or once if no such save is normally allowed. However, once knocked prone, it must use all of its actions in a turn to stand. This does not apply to external effects of powers which allow it to stand. In addition, the Monowheel Gunner’s maximum climb speed is 1, due to its lack of legs.
Standard Actions
r Machinegun (weapon) • At-Will
Attack: 20; +25 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 13.
C Spray Fire (weapon) • At-Will
Attack: Close Blast 5 (All creatures in blast); +25 vs. AC
Hit: 3d6 + 9.
C Wild Spray (weapon) • Recharge 4 5 6
Attack: Close Burst 3 (All creatures in blast); +23 vs. AC
Hit: 2d10 + 6.
R Line In The Sand (weapon) • Encounter
Effect: Line 8 within 15. The nearest square must be at least two squares from the Monowheel Gunner. (Any creature which crosses the line); Whenever an enemy enters a square that is part of the line, the Monowheel Gunner may make a machinegun attack on the triggering creature as an immediate reaction.
Sustain Minor: The line is sustained. While sustained, the Monowheel Gunner must remain within 15 squares of any square in the line. If it moves (voluntarily or otherwise) more than this distance from any square in the line, this power ends immediately.
Move Actions
Overrun • At-Will
Effect: The Monowheel Gunner can move through any square occupied by an enemy of Medium size or less. This movement provokes opportunity attacks as normal. A critical hit on such an attack will end movement.
Skills Acrobatics +23, Stealth +23
Str 19 (+13) Dex 28 (+18) Wis 16 (+12)
Con 22 (+15) Int 10 (+9) Cha 13 (+10)
Alignment chaotic evil     Languages Binary, Ancient

The monowheel gunner resembles a decaying humanoid torso, interlaced with corroded (yet still functioning) mechanical parts, balanced atop a gyroscopic wheel. Rapid-fire fully-automatic weapons are mounted on both arms; ammunition appears to be endless, possibly synthesized from scavenged materials and stored internally, sufficient to last through any single battle.

Monowheels often roam in packs, speeding across open areas and attacking any living creature they see. It appears they view this as a sport, with complex rules, and the packs often wear identifying tokens, such as scraps of cloth of a particular color, or the skull of a specific animal. Other monowheels will appear with mixed groups of V-Borgs, other Blightspawn, or more rarely wholly unrelated allies.

Their internal balance systems are very effective, allowing them to move over broken and irregular terrain with no more difficulty than a biped.

Design Notes: The idea of the Monowheels as “sports teams” is one of those things that wandered into my brain while I was writing. I was trying to find an interesting hook or concept beyond, “They like to shoot things”, and suddenly the notion of them moving in patterns, wheeling and spinning and criss-crossing as they hunted down some humanoids, competing to kill them or drive them to some goal, according to some set of rules and limits only they perceived, jumped into my mind.

Acid Sands

Acid Sands

Yes, it’s actual content! A hazard for Earth Delta. (I told you it’s not dead, just pining for the fjords.)

Acid Sands

There are many places in Earth Delta where caustic chemical wastes and industrial metamaterials have combined to form pits of ultra-fine particles that in a corrosive suspension. These hazards often merge imperceptibly with the surrounding landscape, and are avoided by the local natives and wildlife (well, those who don’t avoid them tend to suffer the consequences…)

Acid Sands may be as small as a single square or cover an area 20 or more squares on a side. Large patches are rarely perfectly regular, and often have “solid” areas within them and/or wider and narrower regions.

A DC 22 Nature check or DC 30 Perception check is needed to identify a region of acid sands before someone has actually entered it; once tipped off to the existence of the hazard, the DCs to identify which squares within 5 squares of the observer are acidic drop to Nature 15, Perception 22.

Any non-flying creature entering acid sands is slowed and takes 2d6+5 acid damage. (See below for exceptions.)

Any creature starting their turn in acid sands takes 2d6+5 acid damage, and must make a DC 15 Athletics check as a free action or become immobilized. On the second turn of being immobilized, they become restrained. On the third turn, they are submerged in the acid, and begin to drown, but unless they have acid resistance, it’s likely the acid will kill them first. They can continue to make Athletics checks; once they succeed, they can move normally (albeit slowed) until they fail the check again (at which point, the cycle begins anew) or they leave the pit.

Anyone who can reach a trapped character (with a rope, branch, arm, etc) can try to pull them out as a standard action. The is a DC 15 Athletics check, or DC 22 if the trapped character is carrying more than a normal load. (This assumes the trapped creature is willing to grab the proffered branch, has a free limb to do so with, etc.) A creature who has sunk below the surface cannot be easily rescued in this manner. (They are considered to have total concealment, and vice-versa; DMs should consider the various mechanics and options which can negate such concealment and take them into account if players devise cunning plans, as they are wont to do.)

Characters who do not make ground contact (robots with hovering capacity, some types of mutants, etc.) can move freely across acid sands. Creatures who can walk on liquid, but who still make contact with it, take half damage but do not sink. Flying creatures suffer no particular penalties, unless they cannot hover, or are knocked into the sands while not flying, etc. If immobilized in the sands, they cannot fly out; if not immobilized, though, they are also not slowed, though they do take damage from the acid. (At the DMs discretion, creatures whose flight cannot be physically restrained, such as those who fly via telekinesis or anti-gravity, may be able to avoid being immobilized, or they may get a bonus on the Athletics check to break free.)

Any creature who takes more than 20 points of acid damage from the pits in an encounter has the bonus from their armor reduced by 2 (but not to less than 0) until an extended rest. Any creature taking more than 40 points of acid damage in an encounter has the bonus from their armor reduced by 2 until an Easy Technology check at the level of the armor is made during an extended rest.

The acid sands described above are a level 15 hazard. DMs can adjust the DCs and damage upwards or downwards as needed.

Design Notes: It occurs to me that a true Bastard DM could increase the damage by 1d6 after the character is restrained, and again after they’ve sunk into the pit, to reflect the greater exposure.

An interesting scenario using this hazard could be to place an artillery type monster (possibly an industrial robot which is immune to acid, or which is somehow supported above it, or on a rocky outcropping, or whatever) in the center of it, making it harder for the party’s melee types to close with it. This hazard also lends itself to any place with dangerous catwalks, or to mutant creatures or sapient beings with good forced-movement powers.

On a more meta-rules noted, this is a good example of what I consider to be the right balance of explicit rules and player creativity. (Well, obviously, if I considered it to be wrong, I’d just keep editing it…) To my mind, simply saying, “It’s acid quicksand.” and leaving the DM to decide what the effects might be puts too much burden on the DM to come up with rules on the fly and have them be consistent from week to week — nothing is worse[1] than having the laws of the universe change because the DM has a bad case of CRS. (“Can’t remember shit.”). On the other hand, it’s not possible to list every conceivable combination of abilities and situational modifiers. What I’ve tried to do is address the basic “physics” of the hazard (You get in it, you corrode and sink) and the most common and obvious questions and countermeasures (you can hover over it, you can fly over it, flying creatures who are forced into it will be gummed up, you can pull someone out, etc.). Now, it’s pretty likely any DM worthy of the screen could reach most of these conclusions on their own, but why make him do extra work when it’s the designer’s job to solve these problems for him? Even simple things like “OK, you want to pull him out… uhm… how hard should that be?” are things the DM should not need to waste time solving at the table. Given the data points provided, though, as well as gently nudging the DM towards what factors he should consider when making judgment calls (such as encumbrance level and whether you’re above/below the surface and visible to others), the amount of at-the-table work the DM needs to do ought to be minimized.

[1]Well, OK, being eaten alive from the inside by rabid weasels is probably worse. But it’s a close call.



More Earth Delta Critters

Slowly, painfully, Earth Delta inches towards the revised goal of being complete for levels 1-20, as I fill out the last of the level 16 monsters and plod on towards level 17! I will be honest — I’m not entirely happy with the Blightburn. It went through a whole lot of revisions and changes while sitting in the Monster Builder, and it still isn’t what I want it to be, even for a first pass. I’ve got a really clear mental image, but it’s hard to come up with the right mix of powers that are fun, playable, and fit the creature’s role. I mean, it doesn’t completely suck, or I wouldn’t be posting it at all, but I know it can be better.

One Of The Main Inspirations for Earth Delta

Part of it is the issue of role, one of the 4e hobgoblins of my little mind, in that I tend to think more in terms of “This is this, you know, thing, right, and it lives in this world, right, and so, it does this and this and the other, because, you know, that’s what this thing does.” The “role” it fills, if any, flows from its nature. 4e, however, inverts that: Nature flows from role. (It’s worth noting that the developers… including those who cheerleaded (cheerled?) “Role first!” in the run-up to 4e, have now done a perfect 180 for 5e, which I heartily applaud, but it would be nice if they explained how they came to recognize their sins and did a little Maoist self-criticism. Not going to happen, I know. Wait, where was I?) So I started with soldier, but the problem is that soldiers are best in groups, and while there are solo soldiers, most of what makes a soldier “soldier-y” is his ability to draw attacks and act as a defender, pointless in a solo. (“You’re marked, you get a -2 to attack anyone but him.” “You see anyone else on the battlefield?”) I then went with controller, but the power mix isn’t “gelling” properly. The easy out is brute — brutes are trivial to design as solos — but I have enough brutes and I wanted to get more variety. So, the Pyrefly Blightburn is still, pardon the pun, half-baked. The basic Pyrefly, I think, works well. I keep getting ideas to do a “Vampyrefly”, and the way in which Blight thematically damages healing surges certainly makes that plausible. The blightburn is halfway there, as it is, and maybe I need to shove it all the way there… or do the blightburn as an elite soldier, and the Vampyrefly as the solo controller, beginning fresh… hmmm…

Yes, I actually do just think and type what I’m thinking, word for word, literally.

In other news, I’ve also been working on my favorite on/off project, Stellar Warriors, which is back to being Pathfinder based. A little work on classes (mostly just changing flavor text) and weapons (two, two kinds of high-tech whips! Ah ha ha!), and, uhm, something else, don’t recall what. Bugger.

Anyway, the critters!


Possibly related distantly to the thermite, pyreflies are man-size or larger insects commonly found in areas with high background radiation. They strongly resemble giant wasps, but their abdomen is grossly distended and glows with a brilliant, slightly sickening, energy. They can channel this energy into narrow beams, or trigger eruptions of brilliant light. When badly wounded, they respond by igniting the region around them, hoping to incinerate their attackers.



Level 17 Artillery

Medium natural mutant beast (insect)

XP 1,600

HP 126; Bloodied 63AC 29; Fortitude 28; Reflex 30; Will 29

Speed 4, fly 10

Resist 10 fire; Vulnerability 10 cold

Initiative +15

Perception +12

O Glow • Aura 5
The pyrefly’s aura is a region of bright light. It produces dim light in a further 5 squares, for a total illuminated area of 10 squares (5 bright, 5 dim).
O Brilliant Radiance • Aura 1
Any non-blind creature within the pyrefly’s aura is considered to be blind unless they have appropriate countermeasures, such as Resist (Radiant), sunglasses, and so on.
Standard Actions
R Tailbolt (radiant, fire) • At-Will
Attack: 20; +23 vs. AC
Hit: 2d10 + 14 fire and radiant damage.
A Flare (fire, radiant) • Recharge 4 5 6
Attack: Area 3 (All creatures in blast); +21 vs. AC
Hit: 3d6 + 9 fire and radiant damage, and targets are blinded (save ends).
m Tail Smash (fire) • At-Will
Attack: +22 vs. AC
Hit: 2d8 + 12 fire damage.
C Immolation Burst (fire, radiant) • Encounter must be bloodied
Attack: Close Burst 3 (All creatures in burst); +21 vs. Reflex
Hit: 4d6 + 9 fire and radiant damage, and target is blinded (save ends) and takes ongoing 10 fire (save ends). In addition, the entire area of the attack becomes a zone which does 10 fire damage to any creature entering the zone or starting their turn there. This zone lasts until the end of the encounter.
Str 15 (+10) Dex 24 (+15) Wis 18 (+12)
Con 18 (+12) Int 2 (+4) Cha 21 (+13)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

This is a typical adult pyrefly. It will normally be encountered with others of its kind, or share a feeding area with creatures also comfortable in the radioactive zones. Pyreflies are primarily nectar-eaters, and have evolved to eat the highly radioactive nectar and saps of the plants that live in the same ruins they do; it is this mix of highly irradiated organic chemicals which give them their abilities. Creatures which are generally resistant to the pyrefly’s abilities often hunt or feed in the same areas, using the pyreflies as de facto bodyguards.

Common Mutations

Some pyreflies have wings which channel the same eerily glowing radioactive luminescence that fills their abdomen. When viewed through the crystalline exoskeleton that forms the wings themselves, the light takes on shimmering, rainbow hues which have a sort of psychic resonance with most organic life. Pyreflies will often use this ability when closely surrounded or threatened, giving them ample opportunity to retreat and blast their enemies, or just fly away unharmed.


C Hypnotic Wings (radiant, charm) • Encounter
Attack: Close Burst 5 (All non-blind enemies in area); +18 vs. Will
Hit: Creatures are Immobilized and Dazed (save ends both).

Pyrefly Blightburn

Pyrefly Blightburn

Level 16 Solo Controller

Huge natural mutant beast (blightspawn, insect)

XP 7,000

HP 628; Bloodied 314AC 30; Fortitude 29; Reflex 27; Will 28

Speed 6

Immune blight; Resist 10 fire; Vulnerability 10 cold

Saving Throws +5; Action Points 2

Initiative +10

Perception +12

Tremorsense 10

O Sickening Aura • Aura 3
Any non-blightspawn in the aura only regain half the normal hit points from any healing powers. In addition, this aura provides dim light.
Bleeding Blight
When the Pyrefly Blighburn is bloodied, it gains the Bleeding Blight power. See below.
Standard Actions
m Bite (blight, fire) • At-Will
Attack: Reach 2; +21 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 11 blight and fire damage, and ongoing 10 blight and fire damage (save ends).
m Tail Slap (blight, fire) • At-Will
Attack: +21 vs. AC
Hit: 4d6 + 5 blight and fire damage, and the target is knocked prone.
M Pyrelash • At-Will
Effect: The pyrefly blightburn may make up to 3 melee basic attacks against any targets in range, dividing the attacks among legal targets as desired. If all 3 attacks miss, Blighted Burst immediately recharges.
C Blighted Burst (blight, fire) • Recharge
Attack: Close Burst 5 (All creatures in burst); +19 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 3d6 + 8 blight and fire damage, and ongoing 10 blight damage and weakened (save ends both).
Miss: Half damage, and creatures hits are weakened (save ends).
Minor Actions
Stunted Flight • At-Will
Effect: The Pyrefly Blightburn gains a Fly speed of 10 until the end of its next turn.
A Burning Blightspit (blight, fire, zone) • Recharge 4 5 6
Effect: Area Burst 1; This creates a zone of blighted, burning, terrain. Any creature entering the area, or starting their turn there, takes 10 blight and fire damage. Any creature which ends their turn there loses a healing surge. The zone lasts until the end of the encounter or until the pyrefly blightburn creates a different zone.
Blightfeeding (healing) • At-Will
Effect: (Any creature within 2 squares of the Pyrefly Blightburn that is taking ongoing blight damage.); The target creature stops taking damage, and the Pyrefly Blightburn heals 10 hit points.
Triggered Actions
Bleeding Blight (blight, fire) • At-Will
Trigger: The Pyrefly Blightburn takes damage from a melee attack.
Attack (Immediate Reaction): +19 vs. Reflex
Hit: 3d6 + 4 blight and fire damage. .
Str 24 (+15) Dex 15 (+10) Wis 18 (+12)
Con 21 (+13) Int 2 (+4) Cha 21 (+13)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

Pyrefly Blightburns are bloated, hideous creatures, resembling their smaller kin in general outline only. Normally landbound, with shriveled wings, they have a charred black-and-grey exoskeleton and sunken, hollow, pits for eyes. Their abdomen continues to throb with a strange, swirling, miasmic glow, and beneath their ashen flesh, there are occasional sparks of actinic energy. They exist without much purpose, wandering the blight-infused ruins, leaving radioactive fire and crumbling, dead, ground in their wake. When they sense life that is untainted by the blight, they attack with a mindless fury.


Chi-Chian, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Roll Up A Communist Cockroach

Or Maybe Not, I Don’t Know Yet What I’m Going To Roll. Or Even If I Roll.

I don’t want to just do older games or D&D heartbreakers; I want to do any game I own and which might catch my eye. Chi-Chian is one of the games that originally inspired me to do this, way back when, because I knew I’d never play it; it’s only fitting I get around to it eventually, and eventually is now!

The campaign setting, according to the back of the book, is a New York City inhabited by six foot cockroaches, but it’s also set in 3049, so I assume there are some fictional elements added in to the mix, as well as the aforementioned gritty realism. Yes, I’ll be returning to this particular well a lot, folks. I never go for the hard jokes if I can go for the easy ones.

The setting is based on an animated web series and some comic books, neither of which I’ve heard of, by “Voltaire”, who is a modern gothy type and not an ancient philosopher. Knowing nothing but what’s in the book, I’m a good test subject for how well it works as a game in itself.

The first page features a summary of events, which involves skyscraper jumping as a hobby, sentient BioLogic clothing, giant worms that serve as subway trains (and the worm-wranglers that debrain them), lost blind sexbots, homicidal cousins (and the tentacle robots who serve them), and brain merges…. and it still makes more sense, and is better written, and more internally consistent, than Synnibarr.

It goes on for several more pages, in white text on black/grey photographic background. Why white text on black/grey photographic background? Because fuck you, that’s why, as they say on Fark. This book is the product of an artiste, and artistes do not care for your decadent capitalistic running dog bourgeoisie concepts like “legibility”. Actually, it’s pretty much readable, more so than a lot of White Wolf stuff, but there’s a range between “looks like it was Xeroxed in 1974” and “looks like a MySpace page”, and it’s tilting a bit towards the latter.

Anyway… lessee… monks, dragon boats, wormtrains, caterpillar heads, giant samurai, Spirit World, Material World, neuronetic bra(?), waltzing with roaches, flip, flip, more stuff, flip, flip, a bit of fiction, flip, flip… we don’t get to the game until Page 19. I have a feeling I’m going to have to go back and read through the stuff I bleeped through eventually.

Writing for games is, or should be, the antithesis of writing fiction. Tell, don’t show. “Elves get +2 to Perception” is a lot better than three pages of a story about an elf listening for something. At the most, dress it up with “Elves are known for their keen senses, as they are master hunters. (+2 Perception)”.

Now, I get that Chi-Chian is a game set in a specific world, and, as such, introducing that world’s background and history is vital because, without it, you have no guidance as to how to apply the mechanics. Doing this is a delicate dance. You need to introduce the bare minimum of context on an as-needed basis, adding more when it becomes necessary, with dribbles and drabbles of flavor text and micro-fiction, ideally no more than 2-3 paragraphs in a sidebar, to set the mood. Page after page of background, especially background presented in a story fashion, instead of an encyclopedia fashion, is a huge barrier to anyone actually getting to the “play the game” part of things.

Sensei No More

The GM is called the Sensei. Sigh. Anyway, we still have PCs and NPCs, not “Heroic Protagonistic Archetypes” and “Secondary Metafictive Instruments” or some such twaddle. What is an RPG, blah blah, OK, some meat. We have Statistics, which mean what they do in every game, and Capabilities, which seem to incorporate powers, feats, skills, and so on. This isn’t bad; one word means “Shit everyone has some score in”, and one word means “Shit only some people have a score in/can do”. I can dig it.

Oh, cool! A white box, clearly set aside, that gives the framework for making a character. Pick a concept, spend Chi (character points), pick two Tragic Flaws, fill in all the roleplaying fluff (appearance, mannerisms). Good. We have a plan.

Concept. Uhm… uh… OK, this is the time where I go back and read the fluff again, isn’t it, so I can come up with a character who fits in the world… (Why don’t you just hum the Jeopardy theme to simulate the passage of time…)

You know what to do with little “More” type things now, don’t you? Good…

Continue reading



You Should Be Used To Names Like That By Now

Wow, 20 days or so since I last posted? Well, I’ve been replying to comments, I updated Grammar For Gamers, and I’ve been active on some of the 5e boards over at WOTC, telling them what they’re doing wrong. Also, exercising, which has started to take an hour a day away from important things like writing blog entries while eating an entire bag of bacon-wrapped Cheetos.

Anyway, this is a creature which has been in the back of my mind for a while, but I was, surprisingly, stuck on the name… I kept thinking “Porcuboar”, which is obviously not acceptable, and it both astounds and depresses me how long it took for the bleedingly obvious “boarcupine” to emerge.

While the kangaruins are intended to be straightforward creatures, the boarcupine is more complex, as it changes its fighting style and general function when it’s bloodied, going from a quill-tossing piece of artillery to a vicious brute.

The usual caveat: Fresh off the keyboard, not a lot of editing, yadda yadda yadda.


Boarcupine (Artillery/Brute)

Level 16 Elite Artillery/Brute

Large natural beast (mammal)

XP 2,800

HP 252; Bloodied 126

AC 28; Fortitude 29; Reflex 28; Will 27

Speed 6

Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1

Initiative +13

Perception +10, low-light vision

O Prickly Defense • Aura 1
Any creature entering the aura, or starting its turn there, takes 2d6+4 damage. If doubles are rolled on this damage, the creature also takes 5 ongoing damage, save ends. If the first save fails and the target is in the aura, increase to 10 ongoing damage.
Raging Boar
When the Boarcupine is bloodied, it gains 64 temporary hit points, and its AC and Reflex defenses drop by 2. It also changes its abilities in ways noted in each affected power. Once it has been bloodied, it becomes Berserk. It does not lose this condition until the end of the encounter, even if it is healed back above Bloodied.
Standard Actions
m Gore • At-Will
Attack: Reach 2; +21 vs. AC
Hit: 3d10 + 8 damage. If the Boarcupine is Berserk, the damage increases to 4d10+10.
a Quill Toss • At-Will
Requirements: The Boarcupine must not be Berserk.
Attack: Area Burst 2 within 15 (All creatures in burst.); +20 vs. Reflex
Hit: 4d6 + 4 damage, and creature is slowed (save ends). If hit again by this power when still slowed, the condition becomes immobilized (save ends). .
M Trample • At-Will
Requirements: Must be Berserk.
Attack: +21 vs. AC; +2 bonus to attack rolls and +6 bonus to damage against prone targets.
Hit: 2d12 + 10 damage, and target is knocked prone. .
All Out Attack • At-Will
Requirements: Must not be Berserk.
Effect: The Boarcupine makes a Gore attack and a Quill Toss attack. The Quill Toss does not provoke an OA from any creature targeted by the Gore.
C Quill Burst • Recharge 4 5 6; recharge 6 if Berserk
Attack: Close Burst 3 (All creatures in burst); +21 vs. Reflex
Hit: 4d6 + 4 damage, and creature is blinded until the start of the boarcupine’s next turn.
M Tramplegore • At-Will
Requirements: Must be Berserk.
Effect: The boarcupine makes a trample and gore attack, against the same or different targets. If both attacks hit, it may shift half its speed.
Triggered Actions
Bloodied Burst • Encounter
Trigger: The boarcupine is bloodied for the first time in an encounter.
Effect (Immediate Reaction): Quill Burst immediately recharges, and the boarcupine uses it. In addition, the boarcupine become Berserk.
Skills Endurance +20, Intimidate +15
Str 24 (+15) Dex 21 (+13) Wis 15 (+10)
Con 24 (+15) Int 2 (+4) Cha 15 (+10)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

Boarcupines are massive creatures, usually 8-10 feet high at the shoulder. Their general form is that of a greatly enlarged boar, except that they are covered with a dense tangle of jagged quills, and usually have 2-6 tusks that jut in every direction.

Boarcupines are almost never seen with their own kind, except during mating season, when they will gather in the dense, temperate forests that are their homes and engage in violent battles in order to win attention from the females. After mating, the females will leave and raise their offspring away from the violent and territorial males; boarcupines are weaned within 6 months. Some groups of bloodgers will stalk pregnant females and try to capture the young within a week or two of birth; this is the only way to even partially domesticate them.

There are a number of herb and fungus mixes which can mimic particular scents which the boarcupine responds to, such as a female in heat or a male marking its territority. Races which dwell in the forests often use these to control or guide boarcupines, so they may be encountered as guards. Sometimes, female boarcupines are teamed with other creatures, sapient or otherwise, that have been scent-masked to seem to be her young.

Boarcupine Mounts: Bloodgers, and members of the Beast Legion and the Annihilation Army, sometimes manage to make mounts out of these beasts. Such creatures gain the “Mount” keyword, and the following powers:

Difficult Mount
When the boarcupine is Berserk, any rider must make an Easy Athletics or Nature check, with the DC based on the boarcupine’s level, to remain mounted. This check is a free action made at the start of the rider’s turn.


Painful Spur • Encounter
Requirements: Must be mounted by a rider of 16th level or higher.
Effect: As a Standard Action, the rider forces the boarcupine to perform a Quill Burst attack, even if the power has not recharged. After this, the power cannot recharge (even by Bloodied Burst) until the boarcupine has had a short rest.

(Generally, it’s best for riders to save Painful Spur until the boarcupine has been bloodied; otherwise, they lose the bonus recharge from Bloodied Burst, and, besides, Recharge 6 might as well be recharge never when you’re past bloodied — the fight will most likely only go another 2-3 rounds.)