Friday, June 28, 2013

USS Carter 12

12: Battle for the Burning Nebula

Synopsis: The joint Federation-Betazed fleet moves in to engage the Klingon stations in the Burning Nebula. To their surprise, the conflict is shortened by the appearance of the Tholian Assembly, who have claimed the center of the Nebula as a territorial annex. The Tholains yank the Klingon ships, along with the USS Petrov, into the interphase. Only the Carter has a chance to get the Petrov back by following them through an interphase rift and negotiating with the enigmatic silicon life forms.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

USS Carter 11

11: Passion

Synopsis: While mapping the Burning Nebula the Carter rescues an Andorian merchant and his passengers - Deltans, whose pheromones, empathy & open sexual mores play hob on the bridge crew's interpersonal relationships. In the midst of this The Deltans racial aptitude with navigation helps the Carter locate the hidden Klingon base in the nebula.

Monday, June 24, 2013

USS Carter 10

10: Maris Ue

Synopsis: The Carter is hit with a blast of energy inside the nebula, knocking Bernie into a coma. He is replaced at helm by a new Lt. - Maris Ue - as the Carter is sent by Star Fleet to a diplomatic mission of vital import: convincing a race inside the nebula to turn from the Klingons - before the Klingons attack! The mission goes badly, but Lt. Maris saves the day at every major juncture. Actually, she's an energy being feeding on the skills and emotional highs & lows, and can best be defeated by convincing her she is just a voyeur & parasite.  Some signaling needs to be done that players can expect one of their PCs to be sidelined relatively early in the scenario.

Friday, June 21, 2013

USS Carter 9

9: Stellar Nursery

The Carter, in its search for Dr. Knox's slowboats has finished its survey of the Virtuous Sector, and the ship has started doing the long slow survey of the more widely spaced targets in and around the Burning Nebula. Star Fleet has also asked that the Carter assist the Sagan Observatory in its research. Sagan has requested that the Carter - which just finished checking a lifeless, overheated Venus-like planet - add a week or so to its route to get some readings on a stellar nursery inside the nebula. Again, there will be a Captain's Log for Asha that explains all this.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

USS Carter 8

8: Gamma One

the Carter, in the face of mounting threats from the Klingon/Orion and now Terabian alliance, re-enters the Burning Nebula to discover a staging area planet that not only houses Klingons and Orion Syndicate members, but also the Gamma I survivors *and* remnants of the Silicon Empire. Everything comes to a head in this season finale!

Monday, June 17, 2013

USS Carter 7

7: Bones of Eden

At the heart of the starless expanse, the Carter finds the spatial anomaly that threw the slowboats so far off course, and learns that it can send ships through time. They must chase Lt. Vandermar, whose returning to 1960's Earth's to stop the birth of Kahn accidentally unmakes the Federation! But what are the moral implications of allowing the Eugenics Wars?


"After weeks in the Long Dark, I still can't believe that we're only halfway across, and that this is the fastest route back to the Sagan. Still, it is the fastest route, and at Warp 6 we're making good time. And finally, at least, we have something to look at: the Heart of Sin nebula is looming before us, and even if Dr. Cotton at Sagan hadn't asked us to give it a thorough going over, I would anyway, just as something to do. The Andorian ships salvaging the Aristophanes are nearby, and Sigfried has arranged a swap of entertainment broadcasts to give the crew some new diversion. Andorian drama is decidedly strange, and awfully bloody. Apparently Crewman Rey likens it to Hong Kong Police Drama of the late 20th century, where honor is avenged with gunplay. What a strange and dangerous time.”

I assume there will be any number of questions about the nebula their scans will reveal a very strong distress signal coming from the Gamma 1 – the slowboat they were looking for back in the first episode! It shouldn’t be anywhere near here! Further scans show that there are pockets of dark matter and subspace fractures inside the nebula. That slowboat was picked to make sure there was no chance the players think the thing is actually in there. Once they get the whole message they’ll hear that it’s the Gamma 1’s captain broadcasting a signal about the ‘bump’ that they hit, which corresponds with the message they pulled out of the wreckage in episode 1

Plot Turn 1

Further research will show that the nebula is not a standard Idari Class dark matter nebula, but a rarer Mar-Obscura class nebula - the sort that has temporal subspace fractures! They'll find this out when their scans start echoing back at them, and they begin picking up radio chatter from other ancient ships, including subspace ones from the frequency that the Andorains used during their first warp flights. I figure once they spend some time doing some research they'll get the following data based on how well they roll:

History or History  - Federation: "The Gamma One's radio call matches the designs of the time, and the other signals match similar slowboat ships from the timeframe, and are likewise distress calls about hitting a 'bump'. The other calls match the records of various other ships, dating back well over 200 years.

Communications/computer use A: "That's clearly the Gamma One's signal, but there is no way that it could be here. We must be dealing with some sort of echo. Digging through the static, there are other, less well defined signals. The most corrupted one I could salvage made reference to the Yena Kolari, or Greater Orion. That's the term for the Orion empire back when they *had* an empire, and the last time they used that term for it, Terran Pharaohs were building pyramids. 

Computer use B: "Combining the normal effects of both nebula and dark matter with these rifts makes the entire Heart of Sin into a non-causal area. By going through records, we've found 6 distinct cases of timekeeping errors recorded with ships passing through the edges of the rift. It's not a constant - there are 22 such transits, now counting ours - and none of the timekeeping errors were significant. But then, none went in far.

Space Science A: "The Nebula isn't an Idaria class, as it had been designated. It's a Mar Obscura class, only the second of its kind found in Federation space. These care classified by not just pockets of dark matter, but by a high occurrence of subspace rips, similar to the one we encountered in the Burning Nebula. It's impossible to read whether those rifts exist just in the outside edge, and what measure of safety there is in the center of the nebula.

Space Science B: "These rifts differ in that they are non-casual fractures in subspace - whatever generated them, they existed both before and after the instant of generation. Functionally, each rift serves as a hole not into just subspace, but through time.

Space Science C: "Given the nature of the transmissions and our scans of the area, this non-casual event is reaching its terminus. It exploded from here some time ago, and it's compressing back to this point. That's not a totally accurate image - imagine a sphere in space-time, and this nebula is its bottom pole. Now, fill the sphere with liquid, and say the subspace fractures were shaken into the liquid, but had a greater density. They have all now settled here.

Space Science D: "What could have caused this remains a mystery, but a careful reading of the starcharts indicates that the Sin Expanse might not be natural. The Nebula might be surrounded by empty space because whatever created the Nebula destroyed everything nearby. The force must have been enormous.

I figure this as being in the conference room, after the various departments have analyzed the data. This cross department analyzing will give sufficient time for Vandermar to find out what's going on and how he can use it. Towards the end of the meeting, the communications officer will get a message coming in from the Andorian ships, asking for one last conversation before they depart the area. 

Pinch 1

Vandermar, one of the crew members picked up from the slowboat in episode 2 and a fugitive from the Eugenics wars, becomes aware of the nature of the Heart of Sin Nebula and sees it as an opportunity to go back and prevent the Eugenics wars. He enters the shuttle bay, clocks the security guard with a surprise shot, grabs his phaser and stuns the other man in the room – if there is a PC security officer or a cadet then he can be here, but make it clear that this is one of those ‘this has to happen’ scenes and that Vandermar is spending drama points or their equivalent like water to assure that. Vandermar will then fire a couple of shots into key conduit panels, knocking out the ships systems temporarily. With their ability to stop him limited, he steals a shuttle and heads into the warp.

The bridge crew will find out about this when they suddenly drop to emergency power and the shields go dead. Sensors will register damage amidships, but the exact information will be confusing. There should be some good panicked minutes of repairing the ship and trying to figure out what happened, with a sketchy screen view of the shuttlecrat vanishing at warp speed into the nebula.

To add to this mess the comm officer is in contact with the Andorians, who are still some distance away. Once the Horus disappears into the nebula, the message shifts suddenly from an offering of aide to a threat from a fully armed Adorian ship!


Midpoint here is them going from investigation of the nebula to an emergency of having to fix the altered timeline. Since they were in the Nebula they were unaffected by the time shift, but now they have to decide what to do and how to do it. The Andorian ship, well, the new Andorian ship has enough firepower to pose a serious threat to the Carter even if she were in peak condition, but is an hour or so away. The damaged system can be repaired quickly by some creative rerouting of power conduits, so there should be no longer term sense of dead in the water.

I wonder if the players will as readily realize what happened – if they don’t some history rolls will make it clear that somehow the Eugenics wars didn’t occur, humanity never made first contact and the Andorains and Vulcans, without humans to act as a social lubricant between them, never joined forces. In any case, they have till the Andorian ship turns up to figure out what to do, and try to guess exactly what occurred. The Carter can certainly survive the travel back through the Nebula’s time rifts if the Horus did, but they might be concerned about that and start making emergency preparations for the voyage.

One thing that will come up is the research on 20th century earth that the historian has been performing with Rey (the other 20th century slowboat refugee) and Vandermar, combined with local records. That should open things up for a few possibilities of where he'd go. 

A complex History test reveals one record that a 'Superman' made, commenting on their being the scions of Brahmins. As we all know, Brahmins are the highest Hindu caste, which fits with Kahn's Indian heritage.

Of course, as time goes on Knox, knowledge will give her a growing sense of the timetable. I'm abstracting from Gre Cox’s Eugenics Wars books here (Gary Seven vs. Kahn; they’re worth reading), but the project itself should take place in India, in the late 1960s. In the early 1960's the scientists involved were still in their various institutions, the core of whom were doing work in the New England universities.  Dr. Singh is still at Harvard.

Vandermar is following the Brahmin reference in its colloquial sense, and is tracking down likely biologists/biotech people in the Boston region. This will fairly quickly connect him with Dr. Singh, who will likely think she's being stalked by a mad killer.

Which, on a certain level, she is.

Pinch 2

This is the trip through time – at least I sure hope the players think they have to follow the Horus -  which should feel rough and tumble, not something worth repeating except to get back and generally shake the crew up, but not too much. Some damage to the shield, a panel shorting out, and if they roll really poorly have the eps conduits go down again. However, they are able to track the Horus' trail through the rifts back to Earth, Spring of 1963. May 15th, to be exact.

A time when all the eyes of the world were on the sky, and they run into some good old fashioned Air Force or Nasa Interference They nearly hit Gordon Cooper, in one of his 22 orbits of earth in Mercury 9 (the faith 7 capsule) between the 15th to the 17th. This should make their arrival a little problematic, but the subspace rift they need to return through is just beyond Saturn. This is a chance fo the helmsman and science officer to show off, but even a failure means they make here, just with a damaged ship; a critical success means one panel shorting out and some cinematic bouncing around.

Plot Turn 2

The sensors on the Carter pick up the signal from the Horus, but they aren't anywhere near India - they're in New England - specifically the wilds of Maine. What the heck is he doing there, you may ask, or you may just throw dice at me for a really bad pun. In any case, there is evidence that he dropped off somewhere and sent the ship on autopilot to here. He was dropped off near Boston, some 36 hours ago.

Armed with this new knowledge, the PCs will have to track down the people that Vandermar is tracking down, and that takes them to beantown. They'll have to confront various types of legalistic hurdles and informational ones to get the info they need, as well as one massive moral dilemma:

This is open ended of the GM, as any group of players is going to approach this differently. In my case we had a) a medical officer who was a fan of baseball and the Red Sox in particular (sad news, Red Sox Nation – the Eugenics Wars interrupted the timeline enough that the Sox never broke their World Series losing streak…) and the PCs parleyed that into a chance to win some money betting on games with her 20th century souvenir $20 bill. The PCs will likewise have to find a way to get the resources they need. If there are PCs who aren’t people who would be commonly accepted or afforded respect on the streets of Boston in 1963 then the GM should work in a scene to address that, given that this is Star Trek.


The whole of the game from here on in is pretty loose, based on what they do, but it should ultimately lead them to Dr. Singh's offices at a science facility outside Harvard. There is some fairly tight security, but depending on where the Carter is they might just be able to beam by it. I leave it to player ingenuity, and the only thing I want to have is an encounter with students trying to get them to join the equal rights movement, hoping that they can change the world.

The final scene of this should involve chasing Vandermar or somehow interrupting him in the offices of Dr. Singh. They will have to be extra careful that she doesn't realize what's going on, but instead take this insane intrusion as a reason to move her facility elsewhere. Like back home to India. 

As per the laws of Star Trek the return time trip is small potatoes but they might have to figure out what to do with Vandemar, if he’s still among the living. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Musings: Man of Steel

No, I haven't seen it yet. I'm leaning against it at the moment. Here's a review from Moviebob, whom I've linked to before. It corroborates a lot of the things I was worried about, but not all of them. Still, the central charge - that it lacks heart - is very easy to believe given who wrote the screenplay.

It might well be visually stunning - again, very easy to believe given the director - but as I commented months ago in this day and age YOU DON'T GET POINTS FOR LOOKING RIGHT. Looking right is easy. In 1978 looking right was hard and we give the Donnar superman full points for that. Now? It's a max 0 category, with lots of room for down.

End of day I don't want to see a movie about Sentinel or Gladiator or Hyperion or Mr Majestic or Supreme* or any other Superman-esque comics creation, someone with Superman's powers and rough origin but not his character or personality. I want to see a movie about Superman, and I'm not sure this is it.

Comments are open for you to convince me otherwise.

* This, my friends, is a big fat lie. If someone made a faithful movie based on Alan Moore's Supreme I would be in line with bells on,

USS Carter 6

6: Lysestrata

The discovery of the trader Aristophenes inside the Temptation nebula exposes the Carter's crew to a disease that kills anyone with a Y Chromosome. An away team needs to comb the freighter to discover the diseases' cause while Dr. Mark struggles to keep the men of the crew alive, and the men face their impending mortality.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Musings: Playtest Follies

I've finally broken down and started listening to Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, and the first episode I listened to included a discussion on what it means to be a good playtester. I'm curious how my readers fell about commenting on the stuff I'm presenting here, or indeed for ant formal playtest or any time they're talking to a game designer.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

USS Carter 5

5: Writ in Tooth and Claw

Sensors detect a potential terran settlement orbiting a variable star, but the planet's EM fields blocks transport. Their shuttle damaged, the away team explores terran and native ruins to learn the field is artificial, has expanded to cover the Carter and causes emotional instability in terran life! Dr. Knox's team must deal with transplanted terran predators and the Carter must fight a Klingon scout, all while on the edge of sanity. Some signaling is needed to the players to let them know what this this is a physiological test adventure, not a combat or ambush, to keep the right feel.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Classic. Just Classic


No, not Airwolf or Street Hawk. I mean SUPER-VEHICLES!

So here's a question for the crew: pick your favorite super hero from an RPG (ideally your own, but hey, whatever) and design their single silliest toy tie-in.

For example, my personal favorite superhero PC is Legerdemain, an alien with magnetic control who flies around on a metal 'flying disk' that he can also use as a shield, or shrink to the size of a Frisbee to store or use as a smaller ranged weapon. And sure, one comes with his action figure since it's a core character visual. However the toy line also included his LEGERDESCENDER, a car-vehicle with six little drills on the front that he can use for BURROWING UNDER THE EARTH! Did Legerdemain ever have a story in which he needed to burrow under the Earth? Don't be silly! We just needed another toy tie in!

Any other suggestions?

Monday, June 10, 2013

USS Carter 4

4: The Only Tar Who Ever Jumped Ship From Vanderveken’s Crew

The USS Carter is at Hope III when it discovers a stellar anomaly in the nearby Type D Star: it has a ring that is only occasionally visible. Investigation reveals that this is not an actual stellar occurrence but a lost Terran slowboat, trapped in the star's gravity and perpetually accelerating in it's hydrogen atmosphere - it is now orbiting at .9999c! The crew must find some way of freeing the ship from this predicament, but when they get on board they learn that the combination of radiation and time dilation sickness has driven the crew a off-kilter, and they will react violently to the presence of outsiders, posing a whole new problem.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Musings: still not getting it

It is going to take some reviews from a lot of people I trust to get past the degree of Superman Mythos Fail that is embedded in the link below.

Man of Steel

It looks more and more like Zod has _conquered_ Krypton. Maybe I'm wrong. It could also be that the Zod Trio have taken over some other spacefaring species or space pirate group or something. I could deal with that as a way to give them cannon fodder for the 'we have to put Amy Adams in a combat suit because otherwise Lois Lane, worlds greatest investigative reporter who wasn't captured to be used as a hostage in the comics but was captured because she had already uncovered the villains plot and broken into their damn base, might not be seen as sufficiently proactive' thought process to give the humans something to shoot at. I really hope that's all it is.


EDIT: James Cambias has told me that the track list for the soundtrack has one entitled "Krypton Explodes", which is heartening.

Friday, June 7, 2013

USS Carter 3

3: The Stars Overhead, the Stones Underfoot

The Carter arrives at the Sagan Observatory just in time to rescue it from a Klingon attack. During the attack Dr. Knox discovers a strange sensor blip from Charity V. This proves to be the drive compartment of a terran slowboat with records that the crew compartment was launched into the Burning Nebula some centuries ago. Their plot should be easy to track, and the nebula will have slowed them down -- can the Carter rescue them?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Musings: Table Size

I had an odd dream last night where I was running a D&D game (in fact, when I have these games there's always one dungeon I'm running where I can almost see the map when I wake up) in a relatively public space. At first it was for 5 players, but then we met again and there were 5 more and the dream got recursive where I had to explain to the newcomers what happened last game, and at the end of the dream I was doing it again to explain it to the 5 more players as I had 15 people at the table.

This is way more people than I like to game for - I don't care for tables larger than 5, maybe 6 at the outside. The most I've ever done is 9, and that was with a co-GM. That smaller preferred table size is one reason why I so often fall back on the primary and secondary PC models to fill in the cast of a campaign without having so many players.

So the question to the throngs is "how many people do you like having at the gaming table at one time?" bonus points for "and how well does that work?"

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

USS Carter 2

2: Series Bible

This is a common term from TV series – the Bible is the list of what the key ideas are and what has been established about the characters to date so that later writers won’t run afoul of what has come before. Here is what I produced for the players on this:

Monday, June 3, 2013

USS Carter 1

1: Analyze Source Material

Given that the new Star Trek movies have decided to basically ignore any canon I think it’s time for canon to fight back. The next month is dedicated to my Original Show style Star Trek campaign.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Today's strange idea

Had a great idea over tea this morning. You know those characters in movies who the moment they appear on screen you know that they're playing the heroes for suckers? (like, say, Robert Downey Jr. in US Marshalls or anyone played by Gary Sinise.) Anyone with an awareness of film plotting or  Hollywood casting know this is coming despite the filmmakers ardent belief that they are setting the audience up for a 'big twist'? In a role playing game the players will sometimes make that connection with an NPC, which is why the GM should never hinge the plot on "the player characters will fall for this guy's BS story" and then insist the players do so even when they don't. 

Sos I had this idea - a comedic element of a game in which that awareness is explicit. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 15

15: Characters in Champions

I had promised myself that I would work out all four of the main main movie heroes in HERO terms for today’s post but it just didn’t happen. I should, heaven knows, but I’m too close to deadline and just don’t have the energy. This is why if I were to run a HERO game it would be in something like this where I only had to build one villain every two months.

More specifically I get to the skills system and come to a screeching halt. I prefer my skill systems to cap out at 20 or so skills, seeing anything past that as skills being too specific or trying to cover too many genres. HERO has a lot more than that, plus things like their skill based martial arts by maneuver, defensive actions and so on. The costs are weighted so much to combat as to be, at least to me, comic. It’s cheaper to be an un-paralleled surgeon than a modestly good martial artist, and being a really good martial artist has to cost as much as being a potent superhuman, in the name of balance. There are reasons why I don’t use the system.  Think I need someone to run a good yearlong HERO game for me to see why it’s so beloved. I get the rules, I can model powers, arrange point balances, etc. but I just don’t understand why.

In any event, here are two of the four heroes. And with all the grousing I’ve done lately about Star Trek no points for guessing what I’m up to next month.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Musings: Last Hero Movie request

Growing up I was a big fan of Iron Man and was therefore thrilled when Marvel got the Iron Man movie right. I liked the X-Men and have been satisfied with the first, second and first class films, even if they stray farther from the comics than I'd like in places (and don't give Cyclops enough to do). I was also a Batman fan but his movies have been very much a mixed bag, and I didn't even bother to go see the last one.

My crown jewel growing up was Fantastic Four. It's a shame that the movie version was so bad. It's a delicate concept in the family dynamics and exploration and I fear I will never see it done right for the same reasons I was grousing about Trek recently - exploration is not a flashy summer blockbuster.

Still, my real question is who you'd like to see a movie for AT ALL. No commenting on how you'd like to see X done right. It has to be a super hero who's never hit the movie screen.

Chewing on this myself I think I'll go with... Blue Devil. Call me crazy but his original series, the first year of it at least, was a lot of fun. Plus it's set in Holywood and about actors and stunt people and Holywood loves being narcissitc. It could be a fun action/comedy horror movie. the feel good folm of the summer!

C'mon - who's with me!

As a side note, I want to plug this awesome blog
covers to super hero team ups that never happened. Check it out!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 14

14: Game Mechanics Changes in HERO

I am not a natural fan of the HERO system and Champions. I admire how long it’s been in publication and how closely it hewed to its original rules but I find character creation to be too math intensive and granular and the characters are too balanced for combat, which makes the fights last too long. This campaign, however, is somewhere that I think it would work well.

First of all, the granularity is a boon when you’re trying to differentiate between the supporting characters – especially in situations with multiple band members or doctors who would have identical backgrounds in V&V. And the time it takes to build a character in HERO is less of a factor when as a GM I only have to make up one villain per movie, along with some mook stats. That takes the burden off.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


This marks post 101. Heh. I guess I'm really doing this. 

I did get a nice affirmation from the readers at Monkey House Games that there were some V&V players who tuned it for last month. Glad to have the company. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 13

13: Characters in V&V

Here are the sample heroes in V&V, to give you an idea of what I was talking about with rules mods. Broad Backgrounds are ALL CAPS, focused backgrounds are Standard Caps. The character Origin is in (parenthesis) as normal.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Star Trek: Dark Tidings

Just as a feared any attempts to discuss the depth of failure and suckatude of the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movie (to be fair, I have not given them money - I saw the first, and the reviews from people I trust are coming back very bad, and the synopses of the plot are worse than I dreamed, and after having suffered through the first one I feel comfortable in trusting that the reviews are accurate) is being met with the usual chorus of "it was a fun ride", "it wasn't that bad" and the worst "you're just too attached to the old series."

Personally I want my movies to engage me, surprise me or challenge me, but I'm not averse to fun rides. But if I wanted a fun ride I would go see Furious 6. But you you liked it as a fun ride, it was designed to be a fun ride, I'm glad it worked for you, please read no further. Your opinion is completely valid.

I just don't share it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 12

12: Game Mechanics Changes - V&V

After all that hoo-ha it’s time to do some game mechanics! As I stated at the beginning I’d likely use Villains & Vigilantes. V&V has an awful lot going for it, but for our purposes it’s big selling point is that powers are clearly separated from the rest of the character – if your hero is super strong it’s because you have the power of Super-Strength, which integrates seamlessly into your attributes but stands on its own. That makes Frequency easier to integrate as a concept. Plus, the really iconic super heroes can boil down to a handful of key abilities, which V&V does without getting bogged down into a lot of in the weeds rules.

It’s not perfect, however – that same ‘view from 500 feet’ ethos that works for the powers makes it hard to model the supporting cast PCs. Sure, someone can have a range of above average stats and hold their own in a fight, but as written it doesn’t model skills that don’t reach to the super-human level (doubly so when it’s an out of combat skill). Backgrounds are loosely defined, which can be a blessing or a curse. I discussed some rules mods back in the Heroes of the United Worlds posts and I’ll be reusing some of them here.

1. Similar to Inventing % being Intelligence x3, characters have Feat  % (Strength x3), a Resistance % (Endurance x3), Acrobatics % (Agility x3) and Influence % (Charisma x3) as a ‘mid-range’ saving throw. GMs use these for truly complex tests against Backgrounds, while moderate tests are done at d20. Outside their Backgrounds moderate tests are done at the x3 numbers and complex tests are done on d% vs. the attribute.

2. Like Inventing Points, characters have Level-increased Points for Charisma (Contact Points, used to create one use or long term contacts in play), Endurance (Resistance Points, used in place of the % save vs. Power Score to avoid death in the current rules) and Evasion Points (Spent to eliminate one single source of damage, a ‘get the hell out of the way’ roll). All of these points require an appropriate save and are single use.

3. In lieu of all other actions in combat characters can make a Feat % to add another Strength Multiple to their carrying capacity. This costs 5 Power Points, takes all actions and goes on Initiative 1 at the end of the round. This gets heroes into the movie levels of super human strength without going nuts.

4. Rules 3 applies to powers as well, with Endurance subbing for Strength for physical powers and Charisma for mental ones. Damages are Increased based on the original powers damage:
D8 normal normally becomes d8 when ‘pushed’
D10 normal normally becomes d12 when ‘pushed’
D12 normal normally becomes 2d8 when ‘pushed’
2d8 normal normally becomes 3d10 when ‘pushed’
D20 normal normally becomes 4d10 when ‘pushed’

5. Rather than changing weight for body transformation powers, each level of the Growth table
a) increases your carrying capacity by the weight factor
b) divides any incoming damage by the height factor, so if you’re at x1.5 height a 9 damage energy blast would do 6 damage; If you’re at 6 times height is does 1.5 rounded down to 1, and
c) your height modifier is added to your Initiative Interval  so at 1x height you act every 15 phases, at 1.5 it’s every 16, and at 7 times height it’s every 22 phases.
Other weight increasing powers can benchmark against the growth chart. The character becomes strong, hard to hurt and slow without recalculating everything.

6. Charisma is no longer a measure of how Good or Evil you are, it’s just how charismatic you are and the ‘same side’ bonuses apply to all.

Now on to the “new” rules

7. Increase the basic HTH chance to 8 – people are just better able to hit. However, you should also place the modifiers for weapons AFTER defenses, making weapons less useful against defense types. This privileges super-types who have defenses as their ability to punch mooks is unhindered but the mooks don’t have that advantage.

8. A character has 2 Backgrounds that count at the ‘broad’ level or 1 at professional and 2 at ’focused’, or 4 at ‘focused’. The difference is in the background’s Penumbra (thanks to Chad Underkoffler for that term) – Broad level is assumed to include a wide array of skills, experience and contacts – a DOCTOR is assumed to have experience with all fields of medicine, instrumentation, contacts in specialized fields and anything else a doctor might do. Focused backgrounds are smaller in their penumbra, with at most one or two contacts and little experience outside the area noted on the sheet – such Doctor would have a specialization in, say, anesthesiology or ophthalmology, in which they may be very skilled (based off their intelligence) but lack the polymath level of their DOCTOR compatriot. All of this links to rules mod #1.

9. Supporting Cast members have a power roll of 1 (so 3 rolls, 1 power or 2 powers + weakness) and those powers should be either on the skills table or designed in such a way as to be extreme skills or other things that aren’t exactly powers. Feel free to get a little wacky with some of these – Nurse Betty has the power of Summon Bondage Incident, after all, so fidelity to the genre rules is much more important than reality. Secondary heroes roll up as normal.

10. For the main heroes go as broad as you want with the powers once they’re rolled – don’t focus on the rulebook except as a starting point. The main heroes probably still have a limited number of Powers as concepts but they are able to be very versatile with those powers. If their heroes have a background of any sort of experience they should be level 4 when they first appear; assume 2 levels of improvement between movies.

That’s all we need to do really to get V&V to work for this. I’ll again stress that it’s just a wonderful system for iconic heroes. The later rules will make more sense with the example heroes next week.

That’s all for today – I’ve been told by reliable sources that my blog posts run too long (Me? Wordy? Never?!?!) and it’s late, so I’m going to cut this one short.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Musings: Borrowing. or, the ending credits

With the presentation of the Universal Comics movies finished I need to run some closing credits for where I stole ideas.

Phoenix first appeared as Rebecca's PC in David Utter's Four Winds PbEM, a V&V campaign where people got powers at the turn of the millennium. She had said once she wanted to do more with the character so I grafted on a new, campaign specific origin story and went nuts when I was prepping to pitch this idea to my players some time ago. For the movie write ups I raided the Four Winds archive for villain concepts. It was a fun little campaign, and if you follow the link you'll be surprised to learn that Tripod is still hosting pages out in webspace.

The original concepts in Captain Nostalgia first came from Dr. Nostalgia, a Champions character created by Scott K. Jamison and described in Alarums & Excursions #400. He got a new background and a change from Doctor to Captain since the UCU was swarming with Doctors already, but the but the idea of the eternally optimistic jetpack and raygun wielding detective came from Scott. Nostalgia's secret id is a nod to Forrest Ackerman, to whom all of us in fandom are indebted. The character's look is directly modeled on Ackerman's costume, seen in the picture accompanying this article.

David Twiddy came up with a lot of the ideas on Aeaea (which he informed me is actually written Aeaeae, but I was too far gone in the posts to try to go back and change it). While take full responsibility for Potemkin Villager and Matryoshka, Mr. Alphabet's original design came from Adam Star Ruvola's V&V campaign for David in the 80's, of which David is still exceedingly fond.

James Cambias obviously came up with Doc Toltec, but I think the link made that clear.

The Chilean Mandrinate's master plan from the second crossover movie was drawn from Stephen Baxter's Xeelee sequence. I have other master plans for them if I ever get to use them.

I think that's everything. Now, what have you been stealing for your games, and from whom?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 11

11: The Rest of the Movies

The creation of a shared cinematic universe is very new. The idea of standard old super-hero sequels go back to the Christopher Reeve Superman films, but the idea that the sequels should form some sort of coherent ‘arc’ for the character is also pretty new. Movies – outside of the James Bond franchise – have real problems with iconic characters. Robin Laws defines Iconic as the heroes who change the lives of the people around them while they don’t substantially change. Bond is a great example in that in each movie Bond is, well Bond and there’s little to no change to his character and techniques.

(They broke this rule with the Daniel Craig films to date, in which they flet the need to do an origin story to get Bond to being Bond over 3 films; one wonders what they’ll do next, other stand start over again. But I digress.)

Movies, as we discussed earlier, have their love of origin stories because of their strong through lines and obvious character growth. Unfortunately a lot of comic book heroes are iconic, and there isn’t a ton of room for what screenwriters consider to be character growth before they stop being who they should be. As Christopher Nolan explored in his Batman films one of the ways for Bruce Wayne – who spent his life training to be one specific thing – to meaningfully change is to stop being Batman. So he does, bot at the start of Dark Knight Rises and at the end, but I don’t want to see Bruce Wayne not be Batman. But Hollywood has no interest in the other changes Bruce Wayne might make. While we making games that should feel like movies that doesn’t mean we have wear those same blinkers when it comes to our sequels. Those blinkers include
·         The hero loses his powers (or control of same) in the second act and has to recover/relearn how to use them – i.e. rerun the origin story.
·         The hero has a new romantic interest (and the old one has vanished) so we can rerun the romantic subplot.

I had started talking about the need for trilogy plotting but decided against it as the math just isn’t there. Therefore I caution you against thinking that way, but will probably example things out like that anyway.

The cinematic universe conceit means that after we get through the next cycle of solo movies we have another team up film, but as long as we have the same connective ideas we established earlier (and perhaps add new ones) the films don’t have to have very strong links to each other or to the next team up. It’s much more important that the underlying Power Metaphor, Universe Origin and tone from the core hero’s first movie stay in place. The first two help link the shared universe together, but the last keeps the hero’s own continuity and style intact. Here are your check points for the sequels
·         Any supporting cast that can return should return
·         If people don’t have PCs; consider taking a secondary hero from the team up film, or creating a new secondary hero.
·         Continue any emotional arcs from the first film – love stories should advance, rivalries should deepen, etc…
·         If a secondary hero with powers similar to the main hero is introduced we might want to have their origin story.
·         Mine the original publication history for one or maybe two bad guys. If you go with two consider having one planner and one tough guy, or figure out how the villains might also be at odds.
Again, examples would help

Captain Nostalgia II

Now is the time to bring in 6E as an agent of the Ad Astras, and Nostalgia has a supporting cast of pretty capable people with similar powers (he, Buzz & 6E) in terms of the willpower, combat training and (for Nostlagia and 6E) the physical advantages, so the Frequency rules are important. Since the Ad Astras are worldwide organization we should take advantage of that. Hollywood would love to have the inherently optimistic Ad Astras actually have a rotten core as the villain but that runs absolutely against the Nostalgia tone. I think that Ralph Crabtree was the villain in the Conflagration and he had ties to Ad Astras, so we kinda did that already. So any tension should be about the Ad Astra repurposing of the Uberjaager training to make 6E but that’s just a character bit and not the core of the plot.

My idea for the plot therefore is the Ad Astras fighting a world wide conspiracy that is something of their opposite number, trying to control scientific advancement and restrain human development (something like the Four from planetary). That lets us start with a murder mystery in the first act (this is captain Nostalgia, after all) that turns into a round the world thriller. All we need now is the fourth PC, and Dave asked to bring in Adam Prime, a Universal Comics character who is an albino gorilla who mastered a universal sign language and served as a G-Man in the 1930’s. His origin started with a murder mystery, and his odd science background works with the Ad Astras. This movie will probably end up feeling like a later era James Bond film.

Aeaea II

Aeaea needs a large new supporting cast, but we can keep Aldebaron. Someone asks to play Glenda, Fairy Princess and that pretty much nails down the villain as being evil Faerie. However the GM wanted to do something with the cold war soviet villains. Solution – Potemkin Villager is now working for Baba Yaga. Finally we can introduce a new love interest since Karnak is gone and not coming back.

First act is some stuff with Aldebaron and Aeaea dealing with routine magical issues that bring them in contact with whoever Aeaea’s new love interest is as well as Glenda. The first act will pull them all together fighting some magical event that is being orchestrated by Potemkin Villager, who is as creepy as we can make him, and who is a cat’s-paw for Baba Yaga, who is aiming for Russian dominance of the bay area’s high magic zone, in part to fight an even bigger threat. If the Nostalgia movies are world spanning mysteries the Aeaea movies are tinged with horror; the inclusion of a magic shoe girl will not change that.

Phoenix: Red Sky Diary

Phoenix’s key supporting cast member, Freddie, is still around, and the player asks to tap into the story arc of Amanda hitting it big in the music scene, becoming the new guitarist and back up vocalist for the band Red Sky Diary. This moves her out of the struggling NYC scene and into the worldwide music glitterati, and Freddie’s job expands to helping her keep her head (yeah, good plan) in the new environment. The other two supporting cast members can be the other band members, one of whom is a romantic interest and the other one is a secret villain, said secret villain is a conflagration victim who happens to show up in the cities that RSD is playing.

I kind of like the idea of the origin story for this movie being the member of the band slowly undergoing a bodily metamorphosis into Chimera, and since Chimera is a shape-shifter we can easily have a fake out villain. Phoenix isn’t really a detective hero so we can string this out long enough. This one feels a little weak, but that’s somewhat common for the second movie….

Doc Toltec II: True Nurse Adventures

Since Ralph Crabtree became the villain and Dr. Robinson died we’re now at the status quo for Doc and Nurse Betty. The other two PCs are a police officer who had been at best a secondary character in the original book an Bill Jackson, who is now a tech guy as he is in the TV show. The movie takes things down from the cosmic level to have Doc Toltec fighting organized crime in Chicago. There’s a war going on between the old school mobs and ONI, who have taken on something of a Tong aspect but with their weird high tech magic. At the end ONI are just a bigger threat and the third act should be Toltec teaming up with the mob to defeat them, and then arrange a sting to capture the core mobsters as well, cleaning up the city in one fell swoop.

In this three way war we see the rise of one particular mobster, Johnny Deuce, who has the hots for Nurse Betty (and come on, who doesn’t?). We could also set things up where Deuce is the 4th player character. In any event the movie should end with Deuce in charge of the remaining Chicago mobs and set things up for the next fim.

Crossover II

And it’s time for the next big crossover movie. The villain in this one is ONI, who are revealed as being the agents of the Chilean Mandrinate, villains from the Aeaea book originally who have been populating the Doc Toltec movies and staying in the background in Aeaea. The Mandrinate’s big plan is to steal one of the existing time machines (ideally Doc Toltec’s time platform, but it could be from Ad Astra) to go back to their own founding and uplift themselves. This means midway through the movie the Mandrinate become vastly, staggeringly more powerful as they have 600+ years of technological and magical advancement as well as improving their own bodies with stolen 23rd Nazi eugenics techniques. Plus they suddenly unveil a colony on Venus and unleash an army. Ideally at the end of the film Phoenix makes a sacrifice play that makes it look like she’s dead but in fact she’s thrown to a new arm of the galaxy.

Captain Nostalgia III

Eztra-Diimensional Nazis appear!

Aeaea III

Mandrinate Clean Up, I expect. I really don’t want to have the HIV demon come back.

Phoenix: Map of Stars

It’s the “other side of the galaxy, getting home” arc

Doc Toltec III

Doc and Johnny Deuce fight Vampires!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 10

10: The Inevitable Crossover!

I’ve been hinting at this for a while, but we’re here now – the movie in which we link together the other films.

Now, in theory we should have had teaser sequences linking one film to another (a good reason to sketch first acts in advance) but nothing is immediately coming to mind. In theory we should also have another movie – either Captain Nostalgia 2 or Aeaea 2 – before the big film to fit in the Iron Man 2 movie, but I’m skipping that. Yes, I could probably use the screen real estate but I also have to take into consideration spotlight time issues.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 9

9: the first film sequence, part 2

Now to detail the other movies in the first sequence:

Phoenix, the Movie!

As discussed last time the PC structure of this movie, along with the basics of the Phoenix stories, is a parallel story that focuses in one part on Amanda and Freddie and the other part on Robinson and Sun. In both cases the threat is Manticore, one of the classic Phoenix villains from the NYC era. To make sure these tie together Abrowski can be Freddie’s uncle (not his father – that might reveal that he has a last name!).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Musings: More movie disappointments

OK, this is a potential spoiler/rumor

If this is true - and part of me is really worried that it is - than Warner Brothers won't be seeing a dime of my money on this one. How hard can it be to get the Superman origin right. I mean really. I don't know why you feel the overwhelming need to do the origin freakin' again, but it's not hard. You want to have someone actual person or group rather than natural forces make Krypton explode I'll be a little unhappy but they did this in the post crisis comic (where the Black Circle group's evil weapons started the chain reaction that destroyed the planet centuries later) so I can let it slide. You want to have General Zod be specifically responsible for it I'll think you're indulging in pointless Hollywood daddy issues. But this? This is a deal breaker. this means that they aren't taking this seriously at all.

Likewise, the identity of the villain in the new Star Trek movie makes it look even stupider than the trailer made it look.

I can tell you, however, that Iron Man 3 was pretty damn good. I don't have much to add past what Jim discusses here, but it was nice being at a movie that wasn't actively insulting my intelligence, trashing the source material, or both.

So what movies are you actively not looking forward to?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 8

8: The First Film Sequence

With the first film out of the way we should look at the other films in the first sequence. Timing wise I’m of two minds on this – do you have this conversation while you’re talking about act I of the first movie, or after the first movie has been gamed out? – but I think some discussion while you’re thrashing out Act I is best.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Glenda, Fairy princess

7.5 Glenda, Fairy Princess

Here’s a supporting cast member in the Aeaea universe who I developed just because I thought it was odd

Glenda Goodfellow is a pre-teen girl living in the generic American town of Springdale. After her mother’s death when Glenda was just a child she was raised by her father until he re-married Harriet Hiss and provided her with a pair of older step sisters. Unfortunately, Anastasia & Drusilla Hiss are mean spirited girls who use their popularity and good looks to cover for their various dastardly deeds, often maneuvering things so that the somewhat plain and bookish Glenda would take the blame. This changed when her father gave her a piece of her mother’s jewelry: a key shaped locket which if held and turned opened a mid-air door to a cabinet of wonders!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 7

7: Supporting Cast and Screenplay

Now we transition building the supporting cast and the plot

Last time we discussed the ideas behind a core hero’s supporting cast – how it gives the character someone to play off of for characterization, rounds out their weaker areas (though unlike team heroes the core hero is probably not wholly deficient in any area that matters for his stories) and give the other players a chance to work with secondary/NPC archetypes that can be fun to tackle as a player as long as there is equitable sharing of spotlight time.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 6

4: First Sample PC, part 2

Back to Captain Nostalgia, and today we’re going to be looking at some conceptual mechanics and work out the supporting cast in his movie.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


5.5 Starling Nurse Adventures on TV!

In 2011 I had a chance to test out the Smallville RPG character/campaign creation system.

Here’s a brief description: the game tries to emulate the form of a televised soap opera, both in terminology (the PCs are Leads, NPCs are Extras or Features based on whether they are important to one Lead or more than one) and in scenario design (GMs are advised to design episodes based on wedges that stress the Leads relationships to each other). Character and Campaign creation are a simultaneous group affair in which the players define their Leads as they define all of the resources (locations, Extras and Features) the lead can draw on, with other players linking to those resources or defining relationships between resources and Leads. Creation takes place along a lifepath where each stage gets mapped by each player allowing for some general character improvements along with a predetermined number of resources or links draw onto the butcher paper holding the relationship web.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 5

5: Remaining Sample PC

One last sample PC before we move on.

Sample PC 4: Phoenix

Our last sample PC is the youngest of the bunch, a female super hero who was a child of the Conflagration. The character first appeared in the Conflagration crossover with the idea being that the new shared universe needed a powerful super-heroine to balance out the team. The top UC creative people (Corey Lawson and Keith Wilson, team behind the popular Psi-Men book) were working the crossover and designed the following:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Make way for Captain Harryhausen!

Ray Harryhausen died today. He was 92 and lived a full life, so I can't feel too bad about it, but I must mark the occasion by sharing some ideas about a man of his skill, patience and dedication to his craft. The man was an expert, a genius, and the giant upon whose shoulders much of the modern blockbuster's special effects stands.

Which makes me wonder what would have happened if he'd turned his genius to super-hero movies. He worked in the monster movies of the 50's because they were what sold, after all. Imagine what he could have done with Superman, or Captain Marvel, fighting an army of robots, or a giant alien? Getting the flight effects to work might have been tricky, but the super-strength? Yeah, I bet he could manage that.

Rather than be regretful I am thankful for the joys and terrors he gave me as a child. Everyone raise a glass to his memory tonight, if you can.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 4

4: Other Sample PCs

One aspect of this style of game is that a certain amount of plotting has to be done in advance to better integrate the various comic book histories. As such each player should make up their core characters in advance, everyone should read them and there should be some further collaboration on world building amongst the group. Given that there has already been discussion on the (potentially) shared metaphor and the (definitely) shared origin type there should be hooks for linking everything together.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 3

3: First Sample PC, Part 1

This is our first sample PC for the Universal Comics movie line. The format for this is going to be unusual because right now I’m not concerned with the characters specific powers & mechanics so much as I am with their concepts and publication history.

Point 3 on my “differences between movies and comics” is that the movies extensively mine the character’s history to fit the themes and origin and then pepper the film with Easter Eggs for the fans. If we want to capture that concept it means we have to actually have a history that can be mined. Comic book histories are made up by the accretion of ideas: some great, some terrible, most OK. Each new creative team adds some as they re-use and rework some others. The characters slowly change personality and powers, some elements take precedence for a while and then fade into the background, events in real life or pop culture change the direction of the book. Obviously your newly created PC won’t have such a history, so we have to build one.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Musings: Film Disappointments

OK, before we go any further, read this. It's a shot by shot breakdown of the new Man of Steel trailer, and by heaven if it doesn't look like they're going to have General Zod be responsible for the destruction of Krypton and attack the Kent's farm. Which means odds on the hero's final motivation is going to be "get the guy who killed my dad(s)" because Hollywood doesn't understand anything else.

If I have just one pet peeve with superhero movies (and to be honest I have a lot more than one) it's this.  Cam we, just for a little while, NOT have a main villain be responsible for the hero's dad's/father figure's death/disappearance. Did it really need to be added to Batman, then indirectly to Batman Begins with Ras a Ghul claiming that he engineered Joe Chill's actions? Did it need to be added to Spider-Man 3? to Daredevil? to the Star Trek reboot? to the Spider Man reboot? At least Iron Man's daddy issues in IM2 are with someone trashing Howard Stark's legacy and not being responsible for his murder.

That's my big gripe about Superhero film translations. What's yours?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 2

2: Design Conceptual Framework

My first point from Monday was that movie super heroes are much tighter in their allowed origin stories than the comics. Let’s look at a few ways to get to that point in your game.

First is that you don’t have to start from scratch. If you’re already running a super hero game you can stop it at a certain point, look over what you’ve done so far for commonalities and then rework everything around those. In some ways this is a big boon when we get to the Easter Egg issue, and a lot of the ideas below still apply (with some modification).

I think it’s more likely, however, that you will be starting from scratch and building a comic book continuity being fitted to movie-style logic from the get go. In this case you should think about two things: Power Metaphor and Shared Origin.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 1

1: Analyze the Source Material

Saddening as it is I suppose I have to bow to reality and accept that comic books are less and less likely to be the primary vehicle for super-heroic adventures. The blockbuster movies that we had hoped for for so long have swallowed the comics whole and now much of the Marvel and DC heroes are much better known for their screen exploits than their page ones. (Plus as a child of the 70’s it’s been a long time since the big two publishers have produced something that strikes my fancy he way that the mid 70’s to late 80’s comics did – too much of it is decompressed and occasionally incomprehensible to me. Call me an old fuddy-duddy if you like.) Those movies, increasingly popular and no longer sneering at their source material, have become the way new gamers know the genre, and so I must turn my attention to adapting that to gaming.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Castle Mordha 12

12: The rest of the dungeon

I’m going to move to a slightly more abstract discussion of the levels because I’m not sure how interesting it is to read the room by room discussions, especially since I don’t have the maps up yet. That’s proving much more time consuming than I expected – the degree of pre-work needed for a dungeon is much greater than other games. I’ll have to see how much it pays off in actual play, but it did feel more labor intensive.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Musings: Aaaaaaaagh!

Now that we're nigh unto finished with the dungeon crawl portion of our program, I'm curious what the best trap or trick you've ever used or encountered in a dungeon has been. Ideally we're looking for something triggerable that the PCs could avoid, or a situation that the PCs have to Encyclopedia Brown their way through in order to get into a specific part of the dungeon or to a special treasure. No fair just referencing White Plume Mountain either.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Full Metal Jackets

So last weekend, pre-vomiting bug, I took the family up to see the Higgins Armory collection in Worcester MA.The museum is closing down at the end of this year as it can no longer afford its building, though the collection is fortunately moving in toto to another local museum. Once there I not only marveld at the intricacy of the armor but of how little gaming (and movies and books) prepared me for the reality of people fighting in armor.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Castle Mordha 9

9: Mordha’s Town

It’s time, I think, for a little bit of detail on the immediate world. Mordha Town is notable for a few things: first, it’s the place that hired the PCs to deal with their bandit problem, which is why they’re here to begin with (and since the bandits are trapped in Castle Mordha the PCs will very likely fulfill that contract. The official terms of the contract were room, board, 5 silvers a day and any loot from the bandits (a strong incentive for the PCs to catch them, and it solves the problem of trying to return the loot to its original owners).

Mordha’s Town contains about 300 citizens, not a backwater even if it’s not huge. It survives based on three factors:
·   First, it is on the overland route between Shankill and Alboling., the other major settlement on the island, and there are still some people or objects that are better transported overland; Mordha’s town is a logical stopping point
·   Second, there are several jungle-provided products that are hunted and farmed here and sold to the coastal cities for profit. There are several other inland towns also act as aggregating points for the hunters and small plantations (here they’re banana farm, or more precisely plantain plantations, plus some coffee and chocolate). This gives the town a second income stream rather than just being a way-station.
·   Third, there’s inertia in that the town was here, has an existing infrastructure (including sewers) and enough natural resources to support a population. People are nothing if not resistant to change, and this is as good a place as any.
Since two of these three depend on trade the bandits are a real problem, and therefore the hiring of the PCs.

I start getting into plot stuff after this, so I'll ask the players to stop reading here. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Musings: Sickbeds

We here at Casa de Kudzu have been laid up with a nasty vomiting bug this week, so this is a short post to discuss illness in RPG. How often have you used them? did you ever rely on the dread 'random chance of infection' table from the 1st edition DMG? What's the coolest one you've ever had in game?

In my cases the answers are 'seldom', 'not more than once before the players rebelled' and... well, there's a longer story to that.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Castle Mordha 8

8: Level 1 West

My but a single level is taking a while to stat out…. Alas I really want at least 50 rooms on a level to capture the megadungeon feel and to give the players plentiful options. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Monsters, part 2

Back in the dim misty recesses of memory (i.e. nearly a decade ago now) I ran a V&V campaign that was set in Boston. After the first couple of sessions of generic super-hero city stuff the players requested a greater use of actual Boston geography. So I gave it to them in spades - they caused a ton of collateral damage in Faneuil Hall, they flew through the Citgo sign, they stopped the theft of rare artifacts from the MFA, they fought animated lions from the the steps of the public library, they even had someone hijack a Duck Tours boat. It was all good clean fun, even if it veered a little dark and villianous from time to time.

As you can imagine the events at the Boston Marathon hit a chord with me because of that.

We gamers, especially those working in contemporary games, make a lot of use of violence as the story conflict. It's not necessary, but it's part of the hobbies formative period - it might not be in the dice's DNA but it's clearly the predominant environment. And sometimes that's good clean fun. Other times, well, we might want to look at a more extensive use of other conflicts to drive our stories. Romance. Mystery. Social Conflict. Exploration. My just completed Mech & Matrimony (the game of Jane Austen Romance and Giant Robot Combat) could, in retrospect, have skipped the giant robots and worked just fine with social concerns as the conflict. Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw is, for most of it, devoid or real violence but possessing a sizable threat of violence. One of my top sessions of my Star Trek game had plenty of threats of damage but none of violence as the USS Carter struggled to understand the plight of an alien species and then assist them. I plan on spending the rest of the year helping young kids learn to bash goblins and loot dungeons and I'm comfortable with that, as long as it's not all we ever do.

As for the events in Boston, I'll reiterate something I put on my Facebook page - terroist acts are attempts at being an allergen. They're designed to get society to turn its defenses on itself, to overreact, and therefore cause more damage to society than the otherwise limited terrorists could do on their own. The bombers are not monsters - they're criminals. Monsters are things that we fear. Criminals are things that we have civil strcutures to locate, neutralize and deal with in a way that keeps out culture intact. They WANT to be monsters.

Don't let them.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Castle Mordha 7

7: Level 1 center

Again, we hope the players honor forbids them from reading further

Friday, April 12, 2013

Castle Mordha 6

6: Castle Mordha Overview/Level 1 E

From here I get into the dungeon proper, and must ask players to not read any further.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Musings: Monsters

One interesting bit about the design decisions in OD&D and AD&D 1E was that for all of the monsters that exist in the game world - from dragons to mind flayers to drow - was that the most dangerous and powerful one in the generic game world was Humans. Seriously. Not the rank and file 1-4 HP commoners but the sheer power available to high level characters, especially high level spellcasters, that no other monster could reach. And with the inclusion of level limits on non-human races not even communities of elves - cool subterranean evil spider elves or not -  would match the power and versatility of a group of suitably high level PCs.

This was, by accounts I've seen, a deliberate decision by Gygax, and one of the places where the games pulp fantasy origins (were non-human protagonists were pretty much non-existent ) shine out over the Tolkien influence of mixed fantasy race parties. He wanted humans to be the focus of the game (hence the level limits for non-humans making them unattractive), and he allowed that this made them both the best heroes and the best villains.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Castle Mordha 5

5: Explaining the Changes

While I came into this with the intent of making a minimal number of changes I wanted to discuss why I made the changes I did and how I think they don’t deviate from D&D’s origins.

First and foremost, the original D&D Little Brown Books have lots of gaps in them (if you want to be fancy we can call them lacunae) where the GM is meant to develop their own rulings to cover what situations arose outside the rules, just as was done in miniatures wargames when people tried to do things outside the designer’s original ideas. The existence of those lacunae was expected by the people who wrote and first played the game, and led to a lot of different annexes built off the same house. This was what Gygax was trying to reverse in AD&D, but the Basic D&D rules set is still gleefully sparse.

My changes fall into 2 types: standardization & customization.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tying in to reality

I find that when I'm running games set in the (ostensible) real world I have a strong desire to tie in parts of the real world to it. Players in my various V&V games are well familiar with my decision to set the games almost exclusively in the 1980's (or flashbacks, or time leaps forward) because that was when I started playing with the world. This gives me a lot of real world events to tie into, the ability to have people invent 'super tech' that's actually late 20th/early 21st century tech, and various other advantages. While I might lose some current world opportunities I think it's a pretty fair trade off. If I were to start a new supers universe I would likely have it run from late 2001 to 2012 to have the same effect - a decade where we know what major things did happen so everyone can see the effect the PCs (and other super-heroes) have on it.

Likewise when I'm setting something in an established genre property (not just aping the feel for it, as i have in the first two campaigns here) I get pretty obsessive about working within the lacunae of the canon (to give the players maximum freedom of action within the setting without violating 'history') and explaining away violations of same when I have to in designing  compelling story. The players in my Star Trek (Christopher Pike era) and Marvel Super Heroes (X-Men circa 1984) will doubtless attest to this insanity.

I'm not entirely sure why I do this. I think in part because my own sense of history is tied in to the fictions that I read set in and around history. Yes, I can tell the real from the fictitious, but it came to mind Monday when reading about Margaret Thatcher's death. My first image of her was not anything from her 'real' history, but her five panels in Alan Moore and John Totleben's "Miracleman". In my head it's all of a piece.

Gaming did this to me. Gaming and comics. And TV. OK, maybe I was like this already.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Castle Mordha 4

4: Further Mechanics & Setting


When a character tries to do something that is not covered by some other part of the rules it is a Test. The Player (or DM if the outcome is meant to be secret) rolls a 1d12 and applies any relevant modifiers. A score of 10+ indicates success. Many things in the rules specifically affect tests (such as Strength on Open Doors tests, a Fawn’s sneakiness on Stealth tests or armor modifiers on stealth, swimming and climbing tests) but in other cases it is up to the DM what modifiers apply at any time.

A test only determines if the task succeeded or failed. If you need to know how well the task succeeded roll a d8 if the task is inside the broad skills of the characters class, or a d6 otherwise. Again, the DM can apply any relevant modifiers to the roll. The higher the roll, the better the character did. In most cases this second step will be unnecessary, but the mechanic exists.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Castle Mordha 3

3: Magic

Clerical Magic

There is a big break between Faith and normal Clerical turning and spellcasting – my largest change from the BD&D as writ. I’m making the change because I want the spellcasting classes to feel different I how they play. While Magic-Users and elves keep the Vancian magic, Clerics have a more flexible system with a number of effects per day chosen at the time of use, with turning undead being one of those uses. There’s still resource management, but it’s of a different sort.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Musings - your strangest character

I suspect that everyone likes to design and play the occasional odd character. Of course your definition of 'odd' may vary from mine. Personally I still want to play in an Atomic Horror game where my character has the ability to summon musical sequences - he can swing his guitar off his hip and give everyone the ability to dance in a musical number of that wacky rock and roll. I'm not sure what the in-game benefit would be (it doesn't even have the get more done during time compression montage effect that a Disney Princess' 'summon musical number' power does(, but I just think it's cool in the genre.

Let see... in one fantasy game in which I was to be an intermittent player my PC was actually a personality inside an amulet that would possess whoever put it on for short periods. Whenever I wasn't there the body became a combat ineffective commoner who the GM would not feel obliged to role play or make combat decisions for. The other cool part was that anyone I explained this too took POW damage and potential insanity, which meant that I could be all strange and mysterious and say "don't ask questions you don't want the answers to" and then when someone insisted, Player Character style that I absolutely tell them I could say to the GM "I tell him" and he'd roll for damage and describe the PC collapsing into a ball of blubbering temporary insanity. I don't know why I found that ability to whack at someone who insisted on trying to remove my PCs aura of mystery so enjoyable, but I did.

There was also my character in Tom's Bureau 13 game, a Banshee who felt really bad about past actions but had attended a twelve-step program and internalized that her wail was a prediction and not something she was causing and had to feel responsible for. She also dressed like a male dandy and each session I would slowly find a use for each handkerchief, pocket watch chain, silk tie and so on until at the end she was inevitably in a state of deshabille.

Those are a couple of mine - what're yours?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Castle Mordha 2

2: Design mechanics based on analysis

All of these rules mods use the Moldvay edited D&DBasic as their starting point.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Open Game License

Since I'm spending this month working on a version of D&D I should provide a copy of the System Reference Document to make it completely legal. Let me take a moment to thank the people at WotC who set this up in 2000 to make it possible for me to do work on this system and to share it openly with others.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Castle Mordha 1

It’s time to kick it Old School

1: Analyze the Source Material

After starting this blog I found James Maliszewski’s blog Grognardia, dedicated to Old School Roleplaying (OSR). OSR eschews a planned story in favor emergent narrative, mixed with “Gygaxian Naturalism”: i.e. in a reasonably well-designed world any sequence of actions by PCs usually produces an enjoyable play session. OSR gleefully ignores modern genre boundaries, drawing instead on pulp traditions where fantasy and SF weren’t just kissing cousins but incestuous lovers with a passel of kids: ancient astronauts leave behind robots, world- jumping wizards carry six guns, modern people find lost worlds aplenty and everything and the kitchen sink is tossed into the mix. While Old School RPGs uses the pulps it doesn’t emulate them: it is sui generis, drawing its wargaming roots, the pulps and thousands of hours of the gaming at the rosy fingered dawn of the hobby to make something unique.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 14

14 And the Monster of Amristar Chapter 13-15

Chapter 13 Being Earnest

It comes time for the play. Symbolically, it is not just about dual or hidden identities but the importance of family and that an identity can be restored through a sudden revelation and that all will turn out right. The play has been altered slightly to enhance the latter aspect, but I’ll stress some aspects of the former so that the players can see the parallels to the situation.

On the actual day of the play Honoria Glory, the 5th year Ravenclaw who had been cast as Miss Prism, slips and falls down the stairs – she had been so absorbed in a last minute learning of her lines (alongside studying for Ancient Runes– Honoria has independently focusing eyes that lets her read two things at once, and her general goggle eyed look has had her cast in any number of ditzy parts over the years) that she didn’t notice that the staircase had moved, sending her falling 30 feet. This school is a dangerous place!

In any event, she broke her leg and, at Pomfery’s assistance, is not able to perform tonight. Jasmine takes the stage, alongside Castor, and the stage is set! There will be a quick run through of the play in the afternoon, followed by the admonition from Prof. Ogham and Madam Hooch that the first performance in front of an audience is the one that matters, with everyone intoning their ritual magic and preparing for the spell.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw 13

13: And the Monster of Amristar Chapter 11-12

Chap. 11: Corruption's Touch

Fame's Tasty fruit

The next class they have to deal with is Hufflepuff Herbology with the Gryffindor's cheering the audacity of the Hufflepuff's plan of action. Gryffindor are always down with the "deeds not rules" ethos.  This is a brief chance to introduce some of the Gryffindor kids, who will have the task of being a bad influence later. The class starts with a description of the Argusatos project and the fact that they have to repot them. The PCs will be told to go to the cupboards and get the next largest pot size, but be careful not to disturb the row further back, as it contains the second year's Mandrake roots, which were also just re-potted. They might see Rowan idly stroking one of the mandrake plants.

Argusatos are key ingredients in potions sharpen eyesight and reverse blindness. They also, in theory, will give the ability to temporarily see through earth & stone if eaten raw (they might think to use this later), though eating them raw requires a Bravery check to make the first bite and a Fortitude check to finish it.