Monday, April 29, 2024

The Battle for Vulture Point Act II Scene III

The foursome reached Lord Ambleer's manor is good time considering their condition, and were greeted at the door by servants who took their horses, stowed their bags and handed them warm brandy, much to everyone's relief. Lord Ambleer was most gracious as he accepted the return of his medicinal herbs, and indicated that the heroes of the hour should refresh themselves as he had given orders for a banquet this evening with local musicians and rare wines. 

Covered in much as they were the quartet was quick to comply - Melas and Cybele first given the state of their wounds and dress, followed by the others. All were happy to discover that Lord Ambleer, once an adventurer himself, had constructed his bathing chambers with a separate area where one might disrobe and sluice off the worst of the filth (say, incrusted blood, vulture dander, dust and grit from a collapsed ceiling, spider webbing and venomous ichor in Melas' case) so as to not contaminate the heated, rejuvenating waters of the tub. 

As the first pair bathed Hiram wandered through Lord Ambleer's library, finding books on the fire religion, a multitude of atlases the history of the area and his family, and a surprisingly complete collection of the high romances of Lady de la Rosa, starting with "Her Passionate Heart"; alas, there were no plays or other high poetry, so Hiram sniffed derisively at their host's tastes. The young actor might be forgiven for his ego, covering as it was the quaking in his heart over spending another night in the haunted room. Dietrich meandered the grounds and held discourse with Lord Ambleer about the state of the military in the area and their shared agreement that something needed to be done. Ambleer volunteered to write letters anew to the four governors of Emirikol if Lord von Eisenwald would consent to see them to the Chaotic City. Said von Eisenwald agreed. 

Naturally both men had some restorative food during this as well; Dietrich confined himself to some small morsels while Hiram, quite appropriately, had the chicken (GM: OK, that was mean. Sorry.) As he ate Hiram questioned the servants about the ghost, learning that her name was Lorell, Roland's twice great grandmother, who was murdered by a kinsman when it appeared that the then Lord Ambleer had died on his second campaign in the southern mountains. The servant added - with no trace of irony - that the ghost appeared only to those with a musical or dramatic soul, and that if someone were to re-create the seeming of the events that killed her than she might be freed (Hiram totally flubbed his Sense Motive check here so he has no reason to suspect that the servants are yanking his chain).

When they dragged themselves from the bath the Lady Floriane amused herself by claiming some food and additional drink - sandwiches which might work for wandering the library - while Melas joined Roland in the wine cellar to make selections for the evening. While his misshapen face and malformed limbs might have made him appear uncouth, Lord Beliseca possessed a finely honed political mind: as they searched for wines and discussed the nature of technology on the winemaking process (printing on corks and suchlike) Melas hunted out a quality wine that was laid down in a year that had favorable connotations to Lord Ambleer's family. Roland smiled when he saw it, naturally recounting the events of his twice great grandfather's first campaign in the southern mountains and how his victory brought the family a new title and estates inside the Greensward. He also added this observation "Men and history are much like wine, you know. Thy are shaped by the years of their maturation, their roots, their environment and their time in the sun, but their value is not set until they have been laid in the ground for a decade or a century." And with those words the two nobles picked a dozen other lesser bottles for the evening’s repast and went up to join the others.

Feeling mightily refreshed our heroes and their host gathered in Lord Ambleer's study to make an investigation of what was found in Vulture Point. In their previous conversation Dietrich and the lord of the manor determined which of the saddlebags were already Ambleer's property, but that left the one containing what were obviously a pair of magical potions and the ominous lead box to consider. 

Before the conversation began Cybele grimaced at the pain of her injury and Roland, unaware that any of his guests still suffered from such serious wounds, intoned a prayer to the maiden of the flames, laying two fingers on the Lady Floriane's forehead. The beautiful young noblewoman was briefly immolated with a fire that burned away her wounds. Thanking him for his kindness, Cybele couldn't help but wonder why a priest of the fire goddess would be suffering from a disease such as the one that apparently so debilitated their host but kept her tongue. 

The investigation started with the vial of viscous, honey colored liquid. Lord Ambleer was able to identify this for them as a concoction of veinleaves (an ivy whose broad, flat leaves took on the appearance of tanned human skin in the autumn) and the honey of blood-bees (very dangerous insects whose stings thickened the blood of the target, but whose reddish honey, when heated, flowed in a way that resembled blood). By the doctrine of signatures such a mixture would knit skin without scars and ensure the proper clotting or flow of blood, greatly accelerating healing. If consumed at once its properties border on the miraculous, but it also works as an additive to food, speeding the healing of all who consume the dish. 

Seeing the value in keeping such a thing the quartet set it aside for safekeeping. Next they explored the multi-hued liquid in the lead-stoppered bottle. While it radiated a faint conjuration magic and possessed the strange quality of shifting color between red and green as it was jostled, none of them could discern its purpose or origin. [I later told the players it's Green Dragon Blood. Even the players aren't sure what to do with that.] 

Finally the lead box was pulled from the saddlebag, and an inspection in the light found a shallow indention that might be an owner's mark - some sort of flower or dancing man - but said owner's mark was unfamiliar to the gathered quintet. The box was still firmly locked with a complex mechanism, so with his guests permission Lord Ambleer called for one of his servants to get a hammer and small chisel that they might disable to the lock [Bec: Let someone else do it this time. Tom: It's probably just full of darts anyway.] After a few moments the dwarf had opened the lock with a single firm rap, stepping back to give his betters the right of first viewing of the contents. Inside was a carved stone indentation holding am 18" long feather, 3" across at its widest point, of bright red mixed with more autumnal colors. Hiram was easily able to recognize this, as mock Cockatrice Feathers were used in masquerades and opera costumes with disturbing regularity. Based on the alteration magic radiating from the plumage, however, this one was what gnome fences would call 'the real deal'. 

[They began riffing on what to do with the feather somehow ending with Hiram ticking his throat with it to throw up stone on his critics at the theater - it's a Bulimic Breath Weapon. How we got to that I'd rather not speculate at this remove.]

With that task complete Lord Ambleer thanked them again for their aid and insisted that they spend the next week with him before continuing to Emirkol. Melas, Dietrich and Cybele were quite taken with the invitation but Hiram reminded them again and again that they would be remiss in their duty to the republic if they didn't bear word of the chaos beasts they had encountered back to the Paladins of the city. In fact, they should really get on the road this very minute. Unsure why their young comrade in arms had developed such patriotic fervor as the evening approached but unwilling to insult Lord Ambleer by turning down the banquet already prepared for the evening, the group settled on leaving in the morning. . . forcing Hiram to contemplate another night in the company of the shade of Lorell Ambleer. 

It turned out he needn't have worried himself: the repast was delightfully balanced and quite restorative (Melas felt the last of the lethargy brought on by the spider venom lift during his second bottle); the music provided by some local artisans - aided by Hiram's magnificent hurdy-gurdy - was rollicking and joyous, the dancing was subtle and fine (with the Lady Floriane taking turns standing with all of her new friends), and driven on by Hiram's manic energy the party lasted quite through to the dawn. The sliver of the sun cleared the horizon to see Melas & Cybele finishing up the last of a rather amusing Bordeaux on the patio, snacking on breakfast muffins fresh from the oven, watching the night servants load their luggage back onto the coach and listening to the tired, coffee-fueled musicians attempting to exit without waking Dietrich (who stretched out into a chair shortly after midnight and fell asleep to the pleasant sounds of the musicians) and Hiram (who passed out from exhaustion an few hours later). 

[GM: "So, how late are you partying?" Hiram, forcefully: "All Night." Cybele & Melas: "Oh, what the hell. Why not?"]

Eventually the two woke their companions and staggered to the coach. Loran Albleer, who had retired well before they, thanked them again and handed over to lord Von Eisenwald four letters addressed to the governors of the city. The quartet then slept the rest of the way to Emirikol, recuperating from their well-earned entertainment. 

Friday, April 26, 2024

Weekly Book Recommendations (April 26)

Coming as a surprise to no one, I finished rereading Batman '66 this week! 

Batman 66 Vol 5 by Jeff Parker and others: This ones a strange beast because it focuses on integrating all the villains that don't appear in the TV show but do appear in the comics. That changes the tone a bit, but it's worth it for watching the Adam West Batman completely take the piss out of the Bane character/inevitable story arc. 

Batman '66 Meets the Man from UNCLE by Jeff Parker and David Hahn: This is really the coda of Parker's work on the series, closing up some loose ends. It's clear Parker loves the UNCLE franchise as much as he loves the '66 Batman, and the story almost works beginning to end. That's a feat because these 6 issues crossovers get very ragged with the Batman '66 style of ever issue having a midpoint break things look bleak moment to capture the 2-part TV show. 

Batman '66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel by Ian Edginton and Matthew Dow Smith: This was a reeeeeal close call on whether to put this as a recommendation, and it's kinda here for completeness reasons. I wanted this to be so much better, and it would have been if it were a lot shorter. Still, it's the Avengers and Batman, so it's got a baseline charm, I suspect it would have been a notch higher if Parker had been more involved.

Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet by Kevin Smith, Ralph Garman, Ty Templeton: OK, this is just fun. The fact that our protagonists are constantly turning on each other makes the extra length of a 6 issue series work, and the plans of the teamed-up General Gumm and Joker legit work in the goofy obsessed comic book villain sense. Plus the artwork is vibrant and bast paced. Big thumbs up. 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance - New Magic Table

I know, unusual day for a V&V post, but I hadn't been able to finish the Magic table for yesterday's post, so here it is. 

Now corrected to show all the numbers!

You'll see a lot of similarities with the Psionics chart, in part because I want to hew to the similar origins in the 2E rules. But at the same time, there were a lot of changes. Magic Spells is added, obviously, and Psionics removed. But I also added a lot of new powers.

Some things, like Illusions, Invisibility, Weather Control, and Non-Corporealness, were obvious small-chance powers for magic for being classical magical abilities.

Death Touch and Revivification are also magic powers more than they are almost anything else, and both advertise themselves for getting redefined as death and life related powers. 

I hemmed and hawed about Telepathy, Teleportation, and Telekinesis because they are so classically Psionic, but kept them on because lots of magical heroes have some version of them. 

Absorption, Dimensional Travel, Transformation, and Transmutation were added not just because they can feel Magic-y, but also because they are so very open ended in their design. You can do lots with these in ways that don't make the character feel like everyone else with that power. 

I could have added a lot more, or created more special powers that perfectly fit the setting, but these work for me. Next week I will do some of that, creating new text for Cosmic Awareness, Death Touch, and Revivification that makes them more innately useful and comic-booky.

Weekly Cooking Report April 25: Swordfish Steaks with Lemon Parsley Sauce

Starting to get warm enough to use the grill, so we're looking at some simple grilling this weeks with swordfish. For those of you out there who feel more gender-comfortable with directly applying fire to meat for cooking, this is a way to do it that isn't parts of a beef critter as a way to mix things up. 

Ideally you will add other components to this...
As always, this is as simple as I can make it for you. Swordfish has a distinct flavor that isn't too fishy, and the lemon parsley sauce accentuates that. shopping wise you need 

  • 2 1-pound swordfish steaks, about 1.5" thick. Cut each in half to make 4 eight ounce steaks
  • Some vegetable oil for the grate.
  • 2 tbs of olive oil for the steaks 
  • ANOTHER ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil for the sauce 
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 ½ tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
  • Some salt and pepper 

to round out the meal also grab 

  • Some French bread or sourdough
  • A bag salad, ideally with one of those little vinaigrette packets in it. 

Remember, the goal is to make you look good with minimal effort; the fish will do that, you can slack on the veggie. 

Get your grill started, hotted up, and cleaned. You have directions for how to do that somewhere. That will likely take 15 minutes. I'm assuming a gas grill you are keeping at high. If you have a charcoal grill, I don't, so you're on your own. 

While that is happening brush the fish with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper, a pinch or so on each side of each steak. 

The whisk the other 1/4 cup of olive oil with the lemon juice, parsley, and a little more salt and pepper (say. 1/4 tsp of each), taste test, add more salt and pepper to taste. Set that aside. 

Pour out the bag salad into a bowl, add the dressing and any fixings; Slice up the bread and cover it with foil or a small clean towel. Set both on table. 

Wipe down the hot grate with the vegetable oil and grill the fish with the cover on. Flip them at about the 4 minute mark so there are good grill lines on each side. Turn the grill heat to medium cook for another 3 minutes, flip, and give it another minute covered. Check the center, see if the fish is still translucent. If it is, give it another couple minutes before removing to plates. 

Spoon the sauce onto the swordfish and serve immediately to a grateful family. Welcome to grilling season!

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance - New Psionics Tables

Continuing on last week's discussion on the Villains & Vigilantes (available at finer on-line game stores everywhere) power generation tables, and how we can modify them. Here's the expanded Psionics table, separated out from the Magic/Psionics table to give more options for people aiming at being mentalists from the jump. 

All the powers other than Magic Spells and Flight from the original table are on here with 7% chances (except for Cosmic Awareness which was boosted from 1% to 4%), with another 12 powers added that to me, at least, feel like Psionics based powers. You will note that I have added "Companion" to the "Pet" power, just because I like expanding the concept of the power in the players mind. 

Some of these, like Animal/Plant Control, Heightened Senses, Emotion Control, Illusions, Mind Control, and Teleportation, are easy adds. Yes, there are all ways that these powers can be non-psionic in nature, but they are also all powers that are readily equated to psionics. OK maybe not Plant Control, but given the open ended nature of V&V 2E's power design it's better to just list the power and not try to limit them at the jump. Teleportation was the one I struggled with most as adding this at 4% or 1%, but remembering the Tomorrow People I went with the 4%

Keeping that in mind, I added six more powers at 1% - Absorption, Devitalization Ray, Dimensional Travel, Flame Power, Force Field, and Paralysis Ray - that I felt hit the general psionics profile but aren't as often seen in that space. Absorption could always be used to duplicate or steal mental energy, memories, psionic powers, and so on; Devitalization Ray and Paralysis Ray are some form of stunning attack; Flame Powers is Pyrokinesis, and if the 'human torch' equivalent of the power doesn't fit the players conception we can trust them to not pick that one; and Force Field is easily an offshoot of telekinesis. 

I admit Dimensional Travel is a stretch, but none of the other powers in the game quite fit my psionics profile; It might have been better to drop it and increase Fame Powers a 2% chance. Or move Cosmic Awareness back to a 1% chance, dropped Dimensional Travel, and increased Flame Powers, Force Field Devitalization Ray and Paralysis Ray to 2%, leaving Absorption at 1%. While this is all noodling around the edges, it does make Psionics feel like it's own thing, and specific for my campaign world (albeit highly generic). 

I was hoping to get Magic done today too, but that;s for another day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Henchmen and Hirelings in Under the Giant's Shadow

Sunday was the first session of Under the Giants Shadow where the human PCs made use of the "human dungeoneering" power: they hired and brought along henchmen. 

Each of the races in my B/X variant has a racial power that is useful for adventuring - Dwarves have Cavesense (follow trail back* + usual dwarf underground detects). Elves have Elfsight (improved detect secret doors and illusions). Halflings have keen ears (improved hearing at doors/resisting surprise). Humans have Naturally Social, which means not only do they NOT have any reaction penalties for other races (as all the others do), they get to reroll one Henchmen action each round. I felt this was a good balance of a dungeon delve special ability. It's taken over a year for the people with human PCs to make use of it. 

Now, part of this is because the players have been super-secretive about their venturing under the Giant's Shadow to loot one of the destroyed cities there. They suspect that once what they are doing becomes public they will face pressure to stop OR their success will generate competition. In this they are not wrong, but it has made it very difficult for them to get help. (It's also forcing them to make a commercial trading business to hide where their money is coming from; they now own a mule farm... which means by extension they own donkeys and horses and it all gets complicated.)

But another part of it is the psychology against Henchmen that's rooted in post Hickman Revolution play. As the guy playing one of the Dwarves who has been playing since the 1E days said, "Every time I hire a henchmen to do something for me it feels like I'm denying myself the chance for my character to do a cool thing and handing it to this NPC." 

When I was a kid playing B/X and AD&D we never used henchmen; from 1981-1984 it seemed like too much work to have to run the additional characters, and we didn't have a lot of structure to those games. Post 1984 when I started playing with someone who was already running for sweeping plot arcs (and then we did some Dragonlance, and we were all theater kids into our character psychology), having henchmen as back up characters, or anything that smacked of decentralized power, just wasn't comme il faut. 

Since Under the Giants Shadow is specifically leaning into the Exploration and Shenanigans pillars of D&D and not as deeply on the Role Playing and Combat pillars I wanted explore how they would work in play. Making it the human special power would help, I thought. Hopefully after this the players will start to see their value. Unfortunately the three human PCs have Charisma scores of 7, 8, and 10, limiting how many Henchmen they can have in play and how loyal they are. 

The UtGS rules are built for x in 6 chance, so monster armor classes are None (8), Leather (11), Chain (14), Plate (17) or Adamant (20), which are 4-in-6, 3-in-6, 2-in-6, 1-in-6, and 0 in 6 chances. So Henchmen attacks can be handled with a single die roll - d4 if they are not a combat oriented Henchman, d6 of they are - and the damage of their attack equals the die roll. Does this mean every time they do hit someone in plate armor they do 6 damage? Yes, but its also super simple so there you go. 

Finally, Magic-Users can skip the rules for finding and hiring normal henchmen all together and summon and bind creatures to work for them. This process that takes as much time and resources as trying to get conventional henchmen, but their summoned creatures can be incredibly dangerous for everyone. These creatures roll d8 or even d10 in combat, letting them tear through even Adamant armor for potentially massive damage, but they also have an (unknown to the Magic User) maximum number of times they can roll higher than a 6 before the binding snaps and the summoned creature turns on you and your allies.

The Magic-User player thought long and hard about this, but ultimately she opted against it for now. Instead they traded a magic item with inconvenient-for-them side effect to a horseclan leader who wouldn't be bothered by it to get a trio of his men to assist in cleaning out part of the dungeon. Each of the human PCs had a fighter type henchmen with them, and it made the "4 PCs vs 1 Acolyte + 12 Berserkers" fight something they could (and did) win. The 3 human PC players got into having the bonus d6 attack rolls from the Henchmen, and being able to reroll the miss from their one Henchman each should they occur. Never mind the Henchmen soaking up attacks from the berserkers - a huge advantage. 

Is this something they're likely to do again? Time will tell, but as a test this worked great. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

The Battle for Vulture Point, Act II Scene II

 In the aftermath of the life or death struggle the less bloodied of our four nobles investigated the further chamber that had disgorged their foes, finding nearly a dozen female and young dog-men trying to avoid detection. Young Hiram was unable to bring himself to do the deed that needed to be done, (Dietrich: "you keep saying 'women and children' as if that somehow ameliorated 'chaos beast'. They're breeders and future threats") so Dietrich, schooled as he was in the nature of the republic's enemies, took it on himself to dispatch them while Hiram tended to their allies. Once again calling on the arts of Dramaturgy the actor was able to wipe away the wounds that had so debilitated Melas by the battle's end, restoring that fearsome swordsman to nearly his full strength. He then climbed into the Vulture beast's alcove but declared it devoid of anything of value after a quick glance at its slovenly state. 

With an exasperated sigh the wounded Cybele clambered up after him and shoved her hands through the beast's bedding-come-nest, revealing a handful of gold coins and a pair of gems of unknown value. "I can't believe you were willing wear the armor pulled off a corpse and you won't get your hands dirty," she chided him.

"That was out of desperation!" he insisted as the pair returned to aid Melas in looking through the saddlebags that had made up the giant vulture's nest. Inside one they found a collection of household goods; in the next were several packages of herbs labeled for Lord Ambleer. The third produced some curiosities - a vial of honey colored liquid carefully packed to avoid breakage, a second, equally fragile glass tube containing a liquid that changed colors from green to red based on the light and a flat, locked lead case - that the lady Floriane's sorceress-sight revealed as being either magical or, in the lead box, so distinctly non-magical that it must be magic inside. Not wanting to risk anything now they repacked and shouldered the saddle bags. 

There were three exits from the room - the way they came, the path that the dog-men had charged down (which the map showed led back to the vulture's nesting area) and a path that might be nothing more than a waste disposal tube (Tom: Oh good, we needed a place for the Otyough. Brian: No, it's a Neo-Otyough. Different political philosophy. Jim: A Neo Otyough is an Otyough with a stronger interest in foreign policy. Tom: as in 'what's in the midden next door?') Indeed, the passage had been carved to include gutters down the sides so that the rainwater that washed through the caves might carry out wastes without the soldiers’ feet getting wet - not that the dog men had bothered to maintain them. Halfway between the vulture-man's chamber and the opening onto the cliff was a guard room - or what might once have been were it not also covered with detritus. 

Melas's keen elven sight revealed a rope hanging from the shadowed ceiling to a spot further down the corridor that someone had tried to make match the color of the room. He stepped cautiously into the room, keeping an eye both on the rope and on his feet to make sure he didn't somehow trigger whatever trap the rope was attached to. It was then that he heard someone around the bend in the passage pull the rope taut, and glanced up to see the shadow-hidden cross hatching of supports slip as hundreds of pounds of stone groaned and shifted before its descent to bury him in the uncaring earth!

Seeing that the trap was a manually trigged way to bring the ceiling down on the chamber Melas hurled himself back the way he came, sending himself and Cybele into a tangle of limbs in the passage. "Ha! Missed!" he yelled, and the answering bark of the dog people along the passage gave Hiram and Dietrich a target as the dust cleared. Lord Von Eisenwald's training in maintaining his footing let him all but dance across the now uneven floor, reaching their two dog men assailants far faster than the creatures had expected, quickly dispatching one. Hiram's arrival seconds after that let the pair double-team the chaos beast, making short work of it. 

Melas had tried to recover and charge in to assist but the rubble proved more of an impediment to his unbalanced limbs, so he and Cybele more cautiously worked their way across the room to join their companions. The passage continued, as predicted, to a balcony that overlooked the road to Emirikol, and all of them lamented the loss of the army garrison at this obviously strategic point. This overlook had a second passage that worked back into the cliff, and this our heroes took. 

The passage was steep, but with less evidence of effluvia flow down the gutters. This was revealed to be in part because of a second, parallel passage leading out to the cliff and in part because the large chamber deeper in, which must have once been the soldier's dining area, is again cluttered with detritus, some of which had blocked the flow of water, creating a stagnant pool on in part of the floor. The difference between the chaos beasts and civilized men were on stark display in the room - the rank pool and slimy rubble on the floor countered by the carvings on the ceiling. The soldiers, obviously having had some time on their hands, had gone to work on the ceiling with hammer and chisel, creating arches, buttresses, patterns and gargoyles in the living rock. 

Beautiful as it might have been in the light, in the shadows of their lantern the shapes were more than mildly ominous, and the nobles were equally concerned that the pool might be home of some future threat. With Dietrich keeping his eyes turned upward Cybele and Hiram inched forward to explore the pool and the passage beyond it with weapons at the ready. A tossed rock created a sucking sound as the stone passed through the thick water, but no immediate threat. Meanwhile, Melas said he would examine the other exit, which led back to the vulture's nesting room. With everyone so concerned with other potential threats, Melas sudden disappearance went unnoticed . . . until the screaming began!

Melas, his eyes trained towards the passage rather than the floor, was caught unawares when the debris fell out from underneath him, another cunning trap! The drop was an indeterminate distance, but rather than a hard rock surface he was caught by a springy net before being pelted by the rubble his fall had unbalanced. Glancing under him from his supine position he was grateful for being caught rather than hitting the spikes below, but that feeling was short lived as eight glittering points of light detached themselves from the wall and approached him, envenomed mandibles clattering in arachnid hunger.

Melas struggled for position as the enormous spider approached, but realized quickly that his swords were trapped under his weight and his crossbow had discharged in the fall and was useless. Lacking any other clear option he let the creature come closer, and closer still, until its bulk was occluding the dim light from above, and then unleashed a mighty yell and a devastating punch into the creatures eyes. The silent killer's own attack was thrown off and it retreated quickly, turning its back on the distressed noble. 

To Melas' relief he could make out his companion's faces looking down from the top of the pit, but before they could act the spider moved, its spinneret creating a mass of webs that bound the malformed noble into its web before again starting its deadly dance. Melas was unable to move this time as the creature approached, and he felt its weight rest against him in a trio of points as its thin legs further pinned him down. The envenomed mouth was inches from his face when a second stinger sprouted from it - one of Dietrich's well aimed crossbow bolts, transfixing the beast's head!

Fighting down his disgust at having the beast's bulk across him Melas managed to carefully extricate himself from his predicament, and Cybele and Hiram lowered a rope to pull him back to the surface. "I think I need to find someone a little rougher, perhaps a keen eyed street urchin, to bring with me and keep watch for these sorts of things" Melas stated, again showing his grace in his willingness to offer employment to the disenfranchised and putting their natural talents to work. 

This pearl of wisdom proved the last treasure of value located in Vulture Point, and after quickly checking the giant vulture's nesting space the wounded, wearied and in some cases befouled quarter made their way back to past the vultures - which, while angry, did not possess the animal nature to attack such vigorous foes - and to their horses. As expected, it was not yet mid day and their task was complete! Now back to Lord Ambleer's manor and hospitality that they might return to their host his stolen belongings and recuperate from their myriad wounds. 

Friday, April 19, 2024

Weekly Book Recommendations (April 19)

This weeks reads

Batman '66 Volumes 1-4 by Jeff Parker and various Artists. For my money, these are the best Batman comics of the 21st century. But I also think Brave and the Bold is the best animated Batman series, so you make the call. This book perfectly captures the feel 1966 TV show. If you like those, find these. It's so much damn fun.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report April 18: Pasta Alfredo with Grilled Chicken and Wilted Spinach

This is a recipe I picked up very early in my cooking journey and it's a good one. I'm gonna break it into parts. 

For the chicken cutlets, there's more detail here but its pretty basic: get two chicken breasts from the store, salt (3/4 tsp) and pepper (1/4 tsp) them, add them to some hot oil (2 tbs under medium high heat for 3 minutes/until shimmering) in a skillet, and cook 5-7 minutes on a side. Remember the chicken wants to tell you when it's done, so if you try to flip it and it sticks, it's not ready. The internal temp of the chicken should be 165F. Give it 5 minutes minimum to rest and slice it for serving. 

For the pasta alfredo, get a heat resistant serving bowl and put 1 stick of salted butter, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 3/4 cup grated parmesan (should it be freshly grated? yes. Does it have to be? no, buy the damn tub of grated parmesan if you don't have time), 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (see comments on parmesan r.e. grating) and a touch (1/8 tsp) of fresh grated nutmeg (buy the whole nutmeg and grate some of it; this one matters). set the water to boil and put the serving bowl over the saucepan so the sauce melts and comes together under the heat from the water. It should be ready when the water comes to boil. 

Put the pound of pasta - fettuccini is traditional, spaghetti works - in the water, and let the heat bend it until everything is in the water. Cook per the directions on the box, probably 8-10 minutes. When the pasta is ready, pour it into the serving bowl and mix together. Lay the chicken over it and you're done. 

Now, you can skip the spinach and go with chopped fresh basil on top and it's delicious. Or you can do the spinach, which is what I did here.

For the spinach take 4 oz of baby spinach and mix it with some olive oil (2 tbs, just to coat) lemon juice (1 tsp), a pinch of salt and pepper, and put it into a colander and place that over the the boiling water when you're making the pasta. It will wilt under the steam in about 3 minutes, so save it towards the end of the pasta cook time. (A more complex wilted spinach recipe is here, but the flavors on that don't blend as much)

Sprinkle the spinach over the chicken on the pasta and serve to a grateful family. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance - Customized Power Charts

Since we have been discussing the various power designs and generation methods I wanted to take a look an an option for our base system, V&V, that I don't know that other V&V GMs play with, which is redesigning the Power Charts for your specific campaign. The basic idea is that you can prioritize and split the powers up as you wish. Since they are mostly there for inspiration and giving some framework, you're not going to break anything. 

In some ways this takes us back a bit to the 1E charts, where the origin types had separate power charts - and you could recreate that if you wanted, but I more want to take a look at how to tweak the system. V&V 2E has two different sized of power charts: Powers, Devices, and Magic/Psionic items (which also incorporates extreme hypertech like the Green Lantern Corps Rings) are expansive lists, while Skills and Magic/Psionics are tighter lists. The expansive lists have roughly 60 powers on them, with 40-ish at 2% chance and 20-ish at 1%. The tighter lists are 12-14 powers, each with a 7-9% chance (except Cosmic Awareness, with a 1% chance on Magic/Psionics - wow did the scarcity of Cosmic Awareness make me think it must have been the most kickass power ever as a kid; in practice, not so much). 

The Skills list is generally fine, as it's not so much "skills" as it is "abilities common to non-powered heroes" or "if you've already got some things you think are cool roll here to see what training you did". It's great to be a DC style hero with your one high tech device and lots of training, or your badass martial artist. 

The Magic/Psionics list 

It's a very short list of 12 abilities designed to maximize your chance to get mental powers or Magic Spells, which is strange because you can just, ya'know, pick those. And it creates this weird implication that things rolled on the Powers table can't be magical in nature, because the Magic table is here.

This may have all be an aside, but I'm leaving it in. 

My idea then, is to build new power tables for New Salem: Renaissance that better reflect what I want to see in the setting. They will have two designs

Expansive will have 

  • 10 powers with a 3% chance each - the most common super-abilities in the setting.  
  • 20 powers with a 2% chance each - common super abilities
  • 30 powers with a 1% chance each - rarer super-abilities
  • One of those 1% powers is Mutant Power, a unique super-ability. 
Tailored will have 
  • 10 powers with a 7% chance each - core abilities of this tailored set
  • 6 powers with a 4% chance each - common options in the tailored set
  • 6 powers with a 1% chance each - rare options in the tailored set. 

Yes, this is going to force me to expand on the skills list a bit, which is also going to add more powers. But it also lets me build separate Magic and Psionics tables. WATCH THIS SPACE, TRUE BELIEVERS. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Battle for Vulture Point Act II Scene I

The strength of their sinews, the courage in their blood, the quickness of their limbs and the puissance of their enchantments having cleared the immediate field of battle our four noble travelers quickly entered the passage that had disgorged their dog-man foes, closing it behind them lest a vultures follow. A quick checking of the map provided by Lord Ambleer confirmed that they were on a suitable path and so they pressed on, little concerned by the wounds wrought by Vulture points aptly chosen avian guards. 

The passage was ill kept but showed signs of the imperial garrison that once stayed here in the carved steps, smoothed floor, widened tunnel and occasional buttressing. They quickly passed by the point where the dog men guards had been sequestered, and Cybele took that opportunity to summon forth the serpentine aspect of her soul, Renee, and send that enchanted beast scouting ahead. The quartet, with Hiram in the lead, followed at a discrete distance. Hiram's sharp senses spotted signs of stagecraft, and after a moment he was able to locate a tripwire somehow connected to holes in the wall. He gingerly triggered the trap while hopefully out of the line of fire, and was rewarded with the clatter of darts striking either side of the corridor. 

"Darts again." Dietrich muttered. "I'd like to corner the dart concession in this area." 

"Step where I step," Hiram warned his companions before cautiously moving forward. He spotted two more trip wires in the dust and avoided both, but directly behind him Cybele tripped the second, again feeling darts strike her magical protections. "What part of 'step were I step' did you miss?" Hiram hissed as Cybele looked suitably chagrined at her error. The young actor simply bent and triggered the last set to clear the path. Ahead Renee sent back a sense of something like alarm, allowing Lady Floriane to warn her companions. 

Barely moving and with minimal light from the shuttered lantern Hiram salvaged in the Tor they ended the passage, which opened to an unremarkable chamber – ceiling twice the height of a man with rough hewn walls, a finished floor with a large rock at its center, and the southern third raised up some six feet to make an alcove. To the north all of them could hear the sound of dog men in a panic, no doubt preparing the search for the ones who killed their vultures. They were about to confidently move to attack them when Renee indicated with a hiss that the dog men were not the threat…which was when the boulder shifted, revealing itself as another vulture, this one the size of a pony and slowly wakening. But before even that threat could be assessed a figure loomed in the alcove, backlit and sending an enormous shadow across the room - hooked beak, feathered wings, clawed hands and feet - part man, part dog, part vulture, a spawn of chaos the likes of which they had never conceived!

Reactions were swift; before the dog-vulture-man could but utter a single cry a volley of crossbow bolts and darts flew in his direction. Both Melas and Cybele fired wide, their shots misplaced either by fear or by the chaos beast's unseen magical protections, but when Hiram's dart struck its wing to no apparent effect Melas barked "it's immune to our bolts!" Assessing the scene in a flash the quick witted von Eisenwald adopted a new plan: Dietrich smoothly jumped onto the back of the quickening vulture and from there into the alcove, once again drawing his rapier mid leap and landing in full thrust, skewering the dog-vulture abomination in a single action! 

Taken through the lungs the creature fell without a sound, and before the vulture could stir Melas dropped his crossbow, drew his greatsword from the sheath balanced beside his hunch and laid waste to the monstrous bird with a single stroke! The nobles slipped into the room around the felled beast as Dietrich cast a quick eye over the alcove, but there was no time for a more thorough search - the dog men who had been preparing to raid the outside had recognized at last that their enemy had flanked them and were preparing a charge!

Dietrich stepped down, alighting beside Melas and held his sword in a quick salute. Melas, followed, then Hiram and finally the Lady Floriane, her hand dancing with arcane fire, her body limned by an eldritch glow - four of the finest of the old empire, facing a charge of three to one odds with no fear and no regrets.

It is said that a brave man is merely one who is brave for but a few moments longer than the one who runs, but how does that explain the next act of Hiram Desaud, who met the dog men's charge with one of his own, forcing their warriors to break around him, disrupted their momentum and found himself battling three of the abominations with no allies in sight? Perhaps he felt his nerve start to slip and decided to act before he could flee? Perhaps it is the foolhardiness of youth? Or perhaps, just perhaps, a nobleman's courage is cut from a finer cloth than other men. Whatever his reason, the young actor found himself beset on three sides by chaos beasts and only the dash and flare drilled into him on the stage kept his opponents at bay. 

Dietrich von Eisenwald stood his ground, making ready to face his charging opponents. When the first of the lot arrived he neatly parried its attack but saw his counter-thrust dodged by the nimble dog man. He then fell to fighting two on one, back to the wall, the flicking speed of his blade holding the things back but the heat of the fight preventing a clean thrust that would get through their leather armor and matted fur. 

Melas Mejas Belisca found himself encumbered by is greatsword in his battle against two more of the chaos beasts; the creatures too agile to hit with a swing and the sword too large for effective thrusting against the diminutive foes. He felt himself hit by their spears once, twice, three times, and while none of the wounds were deep Melas' hunched back and malformed limbs worked best in quick contests of skill rather than endurance. He knew it would not be long before his breath would begin to grow ragged in the fetid air. 

Cybele Floriane, like Hiram, faced three of the opposition, and while her magical protections turned away the first two of her attackers the third struck home. She was saved from falling to a supine position only by the wall behind her. Still, the shock and stumble were not enough to break her concentration, and with her sword weaving a six-point pattern of defense she unleashed a hellish bolt of energy from her free hand, blowing a hole clean through the beast that struck her. The other two found themselves engaged not just by a fierce noble but the venomous viper linked to her very soul as Renee slipped between them, his hissing and darting throwing the dog-men off stride, preventing them from gaining any advantage until the sorceress regained her footing. 

With first blood to the defenders of the realm the tide shifted: Hiram held his ground, occupying a mass of the enemy while declaiming a great battle oratory from a work of Armado Caltrava – who’s epic octology of the battles of Sybade Mountains never fails to bring the audience to its collective feet – to strengthen their resolve. Melas engaged in a complex beat-thrust to drive both of his opponents back far enough to bring his blade's edge into play, sundering one of the creatures in twain with an arcing swing. One of Dietrich's foes was forced to duck to avoid the great weapon's backswing and never lived to regret the error of lowering his defense, as von Eisenwald's blade flicked through the exposed gap between the creature's doublet and collar, dropping it instantly with a severed spine. Dietrich pressed his advantage with the other, scoring hits in rapid succession that alas did not draw blood through the baying beast's armor. 

Three blades against one is a dance that leaves little room for counterstroke and none for error and so it says much for Hiram's skill that it took so long for one of the beasts flanking him to get through his defenses. Even with the shallow bleeding cut, followed by a second, the young actor never thought to not press his attack, and finally worked his way past the spear of his front most adversary and ended that conflict with a thrust and kill whose flourish would be appreciated by even those in the farthest gallery. 

Cybele, never doubting victory in the overall battle but concerned about not having sufficient arcane energy for later, relied on her blade for a few seconds, holding off both her surviving adversaries and hoping that Renee might bring one down with his venom, but the dog men had quick feet and thick boots. She suffered another hit, and saw Dietrich take one at the same time, leaving all the nobles bloodied, with Melas obviously suffering from his many wounds. While Hiram's voice never faltered the young actor would be forgiven if doubted for a second. 

As second would be all he had time for, as lord von Eisenwald redoubled his attack, taking down his opponent and with a forward run and leap engaged one of the beasts flanking Hiram. Lord Belisca was likewise able to turn to the tables with a thrust that at last got his strength behind it, leaving the beast man impaled on his great blade. With a single stride and swing he flicked the corpse at Cybele's second opponent, then on the backstroke forced the creature off balance, making him short work for the Lady Floriane's saber. Her remaining opponent attempted to flee down a side corridor, but unwilling to let it summon help and no longer harried by combat she neatly removed its head from its body with a blast of magic that snaked across the room. 

Dietrich, while fatigued, was still too much for the dog man who had spent his force against Hiram's near impenetrable defense, dropping the creature with a thrust. This left Hiram alone with the beast who had plagued him from the first, and the young noble, at last able to focus on offense, forced the dog man back with a deft recreation of the balcony battle from Valentin and Esperanza, disarming his foe with a flick of the wrist and placing his rapier directly through the beast's heart, launching the thrust at the exact end of Caltrava's oration.

The four nobles, bloodied but unbowed, surveyed the scene and wondered what might come next. 

Friday, April 12, 2024

Friday Book (and Movie) Recommendations (April 12)

This Week's Read

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: so there's this anecdote about Scooby-Doo where other animators from the time period complain "why didn't my crappy kids cartoon become a cultural icon and this one did?" 

Because it did. Because Zeitgeist. Because I watched Scooby-Doo and Jabberjaw and Speed Buggy and all the rest of them and somehow Scooby-Doo is indefinably slightly better. Because suck up and deal. This is kind of what it's like reading the "Daring" "Contrarian" one-start reviews all one after another on Goodreads. Seeing one person brag that they originally gave it a 5 start review that they reversed to one star after reading Armada and realizing that Klein was a "one trick pony" in terms of his authorial voice is just the cherry on top of the social media trend chasing sundae. In the course of a decade the book went from beloved to derided because enough people on line decided they could get more engagement attacking it. 

Now, I'm not going to say that RPO is a great book. It's not - it's an early century B list book that somehow hit at just the right time with just the right marketing for people with a lot of talent invest in a film version of it. It's the Julie & Julia of the SF market. But what it is a damn engaging, quick read, laser targeted at Gen-Xers that clearly deeply loves the trivia it's tossing at you while still taking it, and the obsession of it, to task. 

There isn't a moment outside the OASIS where Wade isn't commenting on how the world was falling apart just because everyone decided it was too much effort to give a shit any more, where everyone had run away into an artificial reality, and ownership of that might be the last resource to stop the world from falling apart if you could stop it from falling completely under corporate control. There's no where left to run to. But the creators of this place are either forcing you to relive their childhoods in a fantasy realm OASIS, or built a fantasy realm retreat for themselves in the real world. They could change things, but its too much fun watching people play the game. Memorizing the trivia. Making it "matter". While as Wade keeps commenting, the world is imploding and saving it requires playing a perfect game of Joust. It's absurd, and Wade's voice make it clear that Cline knows it's absurd. 

I read it when it came out and enjoyed it for the B list fun it was - it's got just about as much heft as Starter Villain even if it's targeting different villains and audiences -  and the reread basically confirmed this. I did reread this after Netflix kicked the movie at me, but that's not what I'm recommending (it was... meh?) 

Godzilla X Kong from Legendary Pictures: Took the older kiddo, loved it. It's pure unadulterated B movie cheese. If you like the other Mosterverse films, you'll like this one. Again, it's not art, but it was a wonderful father/daughter bonding experience and it was just a ton of fun. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report April 11: Mexican Picadillo

This week we're going a little less fancy than the pepper crusted beef tenderloin with a Mexican Picadillo, which is essentially my grown up Manwich 

This one comes out every once in a while when we have ground beef and want something different with it. My baseline recipe is here but we have alterations. Those alterations don't make it any more complicated.  

So the shopping list is easy, as always - a pound of ground beef, a small onion, a large green bell pepper and 2-3 medium potatoes. Don't sweat the specifics sizes, it's not that kinda recipe. You'll also need 

  • 2 to 3 teaspoons garlic from the giant jar of minced or chopped cloves I told you to get
  • 1.5 cups of beef broth. If you get this with low sodium this will come out bland and you'll need to add extra salt at the end, so splurge on the salt in kind,
  • 8 oz of tomato sauce and some tomato paste for extra body - we really feel the tomato paste helps. 
  • 1 tsp each of salt, ground black pepper, cumin and coriander. I like the extra black pepper, you may want to stick with the 1/4 tsp. You should also add one bay leaf to round the flavor out, just remember to remove it before serving. 
  • Some rice or flour tortillas or both.

To prep the veggies I use one of these, which the family refers to as a 'shunker-shunker' and is damn helpful for getting things diced or chopped to a consistent size. Highly recommended. Plus since all the veggies go in at once you can just keep everything in the collection tray and drop it in at once. 

First, get the rice started per the instructions on the rice box. I used white rice but if you have some Mexican yellow rice mix, that works great too. 

Plunk the ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until it's mostly browned. Once it's, say, 75% browned drain the grease off (NOT INTO YOUR SINK! Find a can or bowl or something) and return to heat. Toss the veggies in and let cook for about 8 minutes, stirring regularly. The add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds. 

Finally pour in the tomato sauce, broth, and all the spices. Stir, bring it to a simmer, and cover. Leave it for 10 minutes, check, and if the potatoes aren't soft and you still have a lot of liquid, leave it for longer. You want the potatoes to smoosh under a fork and most of the liquid gone. 

The rice should be done right about now as well. Remove everything from heat and serve to a grateful family. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Villains & Vigilantes and Charismatic Involvement

I commented on this in the discussion of mutations/power generation, and felt it needed its own post as it's something that MIGHT end up fitting into New Salem. Probably not, but I wanted to kick the idea around. 

Villains & Vigilantes 1.0 includes the origin type of Charismatic Involvement, which is... well it's hard to explain. Here, just read it 

So essentially there is a 10% chance that your PC in a super hero game is going to be... Snapper Carr. Or Rick Jones. Or Jimmy Olsen or Lois Lane. This is, well, kinda nuts and kinda awesome. 

I mean, mostly it's nuts. 

So your advantages for being a Charismatically Involved character are 

  • Your Charisma is permanently set at 17. This nets you a +10% on your reaction roll with vigilantes and... well that's it really. OK not entirely, but charisma doesn't net you much.
  • You have A 5% chance of a single super power from a table that has some awfully weird outcomes as it is the same table used for Mutants and Extraterrestrials and includes pretty much ever power 
  • And you can train without taking time away from adventuring up to a 16 (knowing that 20 is the maximum score for training). This is a legit advantage but needs unpacking. 

This gets weird. In the section on gamemastering the rules advise that the GM at least vaguely stick to the real time = game time rule, with one weekly session covering about one week of time, because they also recommend that you not use the Marvel or DC universe as your backdrop but instead stick to the real world, as newspapers and headlines make great sources of inspiration. So if V&V 1.0 is dealing with the AD&D Gygaxian mandate of "You can not have a meaningful campaign if strict time records are not kept" then trying to train "rapidly" removes your PC from play, and doing it alongside patrolling means it takes 6 months to a year in game, which should also be of PLAY, per point of increase in a single characteristic. 

This get weird because if you do drop out of patrolling/adventuring to train, you don't have another PC to bring in. What makes the Gygaxian comment work is that the player has several PCs and can have the fighter train to go up a level and the wizard do spell research while they play their Monk in whatever is happening now. Time can be tracked across multiple PCs while the players stay engaged. But in V&V, where the PCs is based on the player and the rules for additional characters are under NPC construction, this makes no sense. Shrug Emjoi

In any event, a Charismatically Involved hero doesn't have to do that: they are constantly improving in 2 of the four characteristics they can change, since their Charisma is fixed at 17. Over the year of play sessions that it takes any other hero to increase, say, Dexterity by a point, they can increase their Dex by 3 and their Constitution by up to 6, assuming capping out at 16. This actually turns into a significant advantage if you're playing regularly and start with modestly above average characteristics - After a year of play you'll probably be powerful, very healthy, brilliant, and dexterous if the terminology to score part of the charts is to be believed, with 64 Power and +4 HP per level. 

  • The final advantage is that the Vigilantes have to come to your aid if you get into trouble: they are literally obligated to and they suffer charisma loss if you die. Yes, it's another case of Charisma loss being a stick that is supposed to drive PC behavior. But I want to dive more into this, because it never says that the vigilante or group of vigilantes HAVE TO BE THE OTHER PCS. In fact in a solo game they can't be. 
The charismatically involved hero can jump from vigilante to vigilante, so Rick Jones is clearly the template for this, moving from Hulk, to the Avengers, to Captain America, to Captain Marvel, to Rom, and back and forth. But does this mean that the player can force the GM to come up with NPC Vigilantes who the HAVE TO back the charismatically involved character? Where the original Avengers are Thor, Iron Man, Ant Man, Wasp, and Rick Jones, who is Charismatically Involved with the NPC Hulk? And then pick some NPC Hero like ROM and make the GM come up with adventures for Rick Jones to have with a spaceknight? 

Of course, Rick Jones never had his own solo book, unlike Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, who could have perfectly wonderful and bizarre adventures with the hook that he can summon the best hero in the world at a moment's notice with his watch as the ultimate get out of jail free card? 

I fully understand why this didn't survive into 2E, because it's a very specific character design. It's not like playing a proper "sidekick" who is just a younger version of the hero with a substantially similar power set. It's playing the normal person insert character. It's possible to play this in 2E, if you roll Pet or Animated Servant or in a pinch Vehicle, take any other rolls on the Skills table, and then define the Pet/Servant/Vehicle as a badass monster/hero/transformer who you tag along with, act as the front person for, do all the talking, whatever. It can be a hella fun design, but its not 10% of all PCs. 

How would this work in New Salem? Well either in the design I just set up where the PCs is the heroic investigator of some sort and their created by a power roll hero is a dark knight vigilante who shows up when needed to even the odds in a fight or escape - we already have one of those in Ernie Souchak, who could just become a PC - or you could build an all skills PC and state that they are the Serpico/Jim Gordon style one clean cop working in secret with the other PC heroes. Its an interesting angle. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Eclipses and Heroes

First off, yesterday (4/8) I was lucky enough to be able to take the day off work and drive the older kiddo up to Vergennes, VT to be in the path of totality. Lovely little farm town, old school Main Street, pleasant people, amazing astronomical event. as XKCD put it, a partial solar eclipse is cool; inside totality it feels like someone broke the sky. 

Camera Phone, but still not bad
The whole event got me thinking about the Heroes TV show, which was a big hit in its first season, got crippled by both the writers strike and the creators attempt to broaden out to tell new characters stories that the audience rebelled against for the truncated season 2, and then limped along for a bit after that. 

Obviously (and of course I would say this), V&V 2.1 is the perfect game system for this sort of thing because a) you can base it on players easily if you want that real everyperson gets powers sense, b) you it scales really well for the 'normal to athletic person with 1 super power' setting (which is why I use it for Legion of Super-Heroes), and c) the random power generation works well for the sense that the powers aren't matched to the personality. 

The show worked in the first season due to the puzzle tension of the overlapping precognitions - the time/space manipulator both seeing the immediate nuclear explosion in the future and traveling back to warn against the events after that, and the canvases of the precognitive painter giving a different lens on those events and other smaller ones - providing a way for the audience to anticipate scenes, and the parallel conspiracy adding yet more puzzle pieces for the audience.

Several aspects of the longer plot were clearly adjusted on the fly - Mrs. Patrelli going from a grieving embarrassment shoplifting to feel alive to a key part of the conspiracy makes no sense when you binge watch it but you kind of forget when it was on weekly. 

Note that I keep saying "audience" because the nature of following a dozen or so characters who only all get in the same place at the same time in the last episode means the audience always knows more about what's happening than the players do. That, combined with the precognitive flashes and larger conspiracy, make the also want to run this in some form of Gumshoe. Mutant City Blues wouldn't quite work because so much of the power rules are making the powers things that can be forensically analyzed - critical for a police procedural, not so much for this - but the basic Gumshoe mechanic would be very helpful. 

Of course, this is a springboard for trying to merge some of the helpful bits of Gumshoe into V&V for New Salem, since unravelling a conspiracy and investigating the opposition is a core part of the New Salem design. Anyway, the first season of Heroes is pretty solid. watch it if you have some time. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

Emirikol: Notes from session 1, planning for session 2....

Asking the players what they wanted to do past the obvious clearing out Vulture Point, Dave wants to know more about the ghost, Jim wants to locate the people he’s targeting, Tom wants to settle into his house in Emirikol and Bec wants to wander the city like a gawking rube. Good to know.

Alejandro of Stormcliff Manor left just the right impression on the PCs, he won’t be back for a bit.

Re the Ghost: Since Hiram has claimed the Translator’s Ring if he encounters the ghost again in Ambleer manor Lady Lorell will be able to explain her predicament – the general location of her body and the need for water burial – but only to him. Changing from Elf in the House, Lorell is Roland's twice great grandmother, murdered stashed by a kinsman when it appeared that Lord Ambleer I had died on his 2nd southern mountain campaign.

The servants, if questioned, tell him the ghost appeared only to those with a musical or dramatic soul, and that if someone were to re-create the seeming of the events that killed her than she might be freed. This is them yanking Hiram’s chain. They don’t know who the ghost is or why she’s here, she’s just always been here. Her family portrait was by a bad painter of a much older her then her self-image ghost. Even Roland, Lord Ambleer IV doesn’t know who she is; family legend is that Lorell eloped with a lover when Lord Ambleer I was campaigning. Roland has never connected the ghost with his family’s hereditary ailment.

Apparently, the southern mountains are a constant source of uprisings, rebellions, and battles; Roland's twice great grandfather apparently fought there twice, the first time winning the family a new title and lands inside the greensward (the land on either side of the Rheel river heading to the capital). File that away.

No other threats until they reach Emirikol, where I need to describe the quadrants of the city seen from elevation and the differences between Ferrantino and Serin on the way to Dietrick's house. I suspect that Dietrick will offer up his manor to his fellows until they can find places of their own. At his manor they’ll meet his lawyer, a typical halfling bourgeois in the republic. He is Rudolph Eisenwald, the younger partner in the law firm employed by the Von Eisenwald's as business agents in the city. He's legit and efficient, the house is in good repair and has a wine cellar (apparently a big thing for Melas and Cybele) and in a good part of town.

If the PCs go out on the town to wander like gawking rubes, someone has to insult them. By the law of limited NPCs they're the de la Bellasteros family, the ones Melas is tasked with bringing down. Specifically, they are

·       Raul de la Bellasteros (F2, Ar2 due to inherit, proud and insulting at times),

·       Florian de la Bellasteros (Ar 3, charming wastrel, younger brother),

·       Donato De La Bellastros (C2, Ar1, close cousin, levelheaded fire priest) and

·       Victor d'Berangere (Ar1, F3, more distant cousin, full bore jerk who gets the others into trouble, holds grudges, likes to duel).

It is up to the PCs as to whether this is to the death or first blood, but with two healers on site it should be possible to do this without killing anyone so these guys can be long term NPCs. They might surprise me and go find a judge on these matters, but I somehow doubt it. More likely it will be a duel to first blood, though Victor and Raul wouldn't mind a little death-duel action.

The Vulture Point adventure also has awesome treasures: specifically, one set of saddlebags holds a cockatrice feather and a vial of green dragon blood. These are evocative without meaning anything. But… their saddlebags bear an unknown wizard’s mark… someone who might want them returned. If the PCs choose to follow up on this it will lead them eventually to Aslan Nightshade, bringing him into their orbit on their own recognizance.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Friday Book Recommendations (April 5)

This week's read 

Starter Villain by John Sclazi: Very much in the tone of Kaiju Preservation Society, Scalzo tosses out a fun romp tackling the concept of "James Bond Villainy" as the last book handled "Giant Monsters". I gave it to my daughter for her Easter basket. She read it between 8 and 11 AM and handed it to me, so I could read it from 4-7PM. It's surprisingly deep for something as breezy as it is. 

Failure to Communicate by Kaia S√łnderby: recommended by a friend when I said I was looking for more diverse authors, this is a SF book about an autistic woman in the future who acts as an interspecies translator and diplomat as she has already had to learn how her own species communicates. The broader universe is quickly understandable (an alliance of species in a currently cold war with a conquering slaver race ala Original Series Star Trek) because those elements are there for both the novel's mystery framework and the unique perspective of being in the protagonist/narrators head. If this is what S√łnderby's early work is like I'll be tracking her career with interest. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report April 4: Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin

 I know That you're reading that and thinking "he's crazy, I can't cook that!" but the secret to beef tenderloin in that it is crazy easy to cook. It's also crazy expensive, so that makes it a sometimes thing - find it on sale and freeze it until the big family gatherings. 

So grocery wise you're going to need the tenderloin (about 6 lbs), and that takes some prep. You can pay a butcher to do it for you, but its easier than you think, so you can watch a butcher teach you to do it here. Obviously he makes it look easy, but I've done it as well and I'm far from a professional. 

So here's the secret - set an oven to 300F, put a cooling rack in a cookie sheet, lay the tenderloin on that, stick a probe thermometer in and cook it until it hits 120, 125F and you're done. That's it. it will taste great. Stop worrying. Everything else is accompaniment.

Now, the accompaniment in this case is cracked peppercorns. This requires a little work. You're gong to need: 
4 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
9 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup coarsely cracked black peppercorns
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

A lot of which you likely have around the house but some you're probably going to need to buy. 

So the salt, sugar and baking soda get mixed together in a bowl and set aside. 

The take the peppercorns and put them in a ziplock bag, get all the air out and seal it. Place that on hard surface - countertop, marble board, that sort of thing - and roll a rolling pin or, more likely, a full wine bottle, back and forth over it. Youll hear them crack and pop as they split. This will take a few minutes effort, but a peppermill won't give you a course enough grind for this. 

Put 2/3rd of the olive oil (6 Tbs) in a saucepan with the cracked peppercorns and heat it on low for about 15, 20 minutes. The recipe I'm pulling this from calls for 7-10 minutes after it comes to simmer, which also takes 7-10 minutes. You won't hurt anything with, say, a 15 minute time. Just keep the oil from coming to a full boil. Then use a strainer (lined with paper towels if it's not a fine mesh) to get the peppercorns out, and put them in with the remaining 3 Tbs of olive oil. (You might a use for the pepper infused oil later, but it's not here.)

Add the orange zest and the nutmeg to the peppercorn/olive oil mix. 

Now rub the salt/sugar/baking powder mix all over the top of the tenderloin until the salt disappears and the meat gets a little wet and sticky. Once you have that, fold the smaller thinner end of the tenderloin on itself so then meat has kind of a consistent size and put it on the cooling rack/cookie sheet rig. Press the peppercorn mixture onto the meat, covering the top and sides. The recipe I follow calls for tying the tenderloin with butchers twine at the folded lower end so it keeps its shape while cooking but I don't know it's needed. Insert the probe thermometer and chuck it in the oven. 

Once its at temp, pull it out and let it rest on the cutting board for 30 minutes. During that time you can do what I did and put halved baby potatoes and chopped broccoli (both mixed with 2tsp of olive oil and 1 tsp salt) on the hot cookie sheet and leave it in the 300F oven. Everything should be good to go at the end of the rest. (300F is a bit low for these normally, but 30 minutes is a bit long, so it works out, especially if you halved the potatoes for more surface area and the cookie sheet is hot.)

Carve and serve to a grateful and potentially amazed family. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

On the Generation of Mutations

Continuing the discussion from last week on how the rules presented mutations and powers from Gamma World 1E to V&V 3E/1978 to 2017, I want to talk this week about how mutations/powers were generated in those systems over time (with a bonus rules system tossed in). 

In Gamma World 1E, the mutation generation system is as follows: you roll 1d4 for number of physical mutations, and 1d4 for number of mental mutations. Percentile dice are rolled once for each mutation on the appropriate table and recorded on the sheet. About 30% of the physical mutations table is defects, as is 20% of the mental mutations table; you could get no defects, or all defects depending on your rolls. If you are particularly unlucky on rolling your characteristics and mutations the GM might declare the character hopeless and you start over. All very early style design. EXCEPT....

This? This right here? this blew my mind. You still roll for number of mutations but the player gets to PICK which ones they want. And then based on the number of (presumably positive) mutatons taken the Referee adds defect mutations based on the numbers rolled - from no defects if you only have 3 mutations between physical and mental to 2 defects (one physical, one mental) if you have 3+ mutations in each type. This degree of player control of mutations was so unexpected based on Gamma World reputation for wahoo bananapants crazy. Of course it's also potentially adversarial in that the Referee isn't obligated to consult with the player at all in terms of defects selected, but it's also potentially collaborative in creating reasonable mutant genotypes rather than bizarre combinations. Highly recommended for someone like me who wants the idea of PCs being from stable mutant communities while not being limited to the animals/mutated human strains in the book. 

Now chronologically we jump to V&V First edition, where you start with a roll to determine your origin type 

Followed by rolls to determine how many powers you have based on your origin type and which table you roll them on.

Where each List is tailored with the powers that they felt most likely for heroes with each origin type - you can see that Designed and Sponsored share the same 40 random options... 

Because they get their powers through the same mechanisms, but the origin type is not just how you got your powers but the relationship to maintaining those powers/your place in society. 

Note that the pervasiveness of the Marvel Universe mutants is present in this game, even though it's not in the Marvel Universe. (More on this in another post.)

As with the 2E combat charts, there's a lot of implicit world building in 1E's tables: the powers you may get depend on the origins of the powers, and you're funneled into certain concepts. This isn't bad, per se, but it's got a lot of inherent restrictions, and the tables probably aren't robust enough. Here's the last little step: 

Note the strange division of authority. If you have 2+ powers, you have to drop one. If you only have 2, the player picks which one to drop. If you have 3+, the GM picks which one doesn't fit. I mean, why is this there? Why does the GM get to decide which power doesn't fit? It just seems so bizarre. 

As an aside the language in that last sentence is strange - how does the GM modify a non-combatant power into a weapon? What does that entail? My first thought is that you could take, for example, Invulnerability and make it a sword that grants that power, so the PC now has a sword to attack with that also has, I dunno, super-parrying or something. That is something I do regularly in 2E and a lot of other GMs/Players don't think of, but maybe my doing that is reading something into it. 

Thanks to a friend of the Blog I have had a chance to look at Golden Heroes, which the 1984 printing is apparently pretty close to the 1981 fan publication. Gold Heroes lets you roll 2d6 powers (!) and there is only one table to roll from but many of the powers have Grades, where if you roll it multiple times you get extra stuff. Alternately you can in the process decide to not roll but just spend a power roll upgrading something. You can also allocate rolls for "advantageous background" which is what lets you play a millionaire industrialist with a ton of government contacts, for example (that would be two advantageous backgrounds) or a head of state (another one), but you still have to roll for which one you want. 

This is an interesting gimmick, solving some of the issues of how wealthy/connected to make the super hero in a game without point systems. Easily my favorite bit out of Golden Heroes and maybe stealable for V&V. The player is then urged to develop the rationale for how all the rolled powers fit together - the origin story and core concept - and forfeit anything that doesn't fit. This is very open ended and very much in player control, which is great. There are also statements that if you want to make up a power that is not on the list you and the Scenario Supervisor (SS, unfortunate acronym) can work it out. 

But then the SS is meant to come in and insert weaknesses and limitations into your rationalized powers. This power requires a device, this device is charged this way, these powers can't do X things because of your rationale. It's presented as adversarial and controlling in the dozen examples the book gives, with the player having no control over the changes the SS is making to their character. It's deeply strange, and very freeform, and I can see it going very wrong. But it's also of a piece with V&V 

Moving on to V&V 2E, we have the following: you roll 1d6+2 for number of powers. You can roll on any of 5 tables - Powers, Devices, Magic/Psionic Items, Skills, and Magic/Psionics - swapping tables however you wish on each roll, and then roll 1 time on the Weakness table. You can also skip rolling all together and just write down the powers you want, or pick the ones you know you want and then drop others. Once you've rolled your 3-8 powers (plus any secondary effects they may have, like how good the Heightened Strength is or what your Animal/Plant Powers are), you pick one power to drop. You can also drop your weakness if you're willing to drop another power. You can also work with the GM to modify or tweak any of your powers, decreasing one to increase another, making one a subset of another, or just boosting the ability of your small number of powers to make you more capable compared to PCs on the team who rolled a high number. 

It's all very player controlled, open ended, and pretty much guaranteed to spark ideas while giving you the character you want to play. The GM does have some input to make sure you're not going nuts with the rules, but the combination of randomness and player control make it my favorite of the ones we've seen here. Also notice how the origin type concept is gone from 1E: there's no more implicit worldbuilding in the design. Now, this also means there's no guardrails to help players build consistent characters to steer them towards ideas like the Charismatic Involvement hero (much much more on that later), which can be a problem for some players. 

Last up is Gamma World 4E, which has significantly edited the process. There's no mechanism for the players to select their mutations with the GM determining their defects

Everyone has 5 mutations, which are randomly split between Physical and Mental with a d6 roll 

And then rolled randomly, with high rolls meaning chances for multiple powers or picking a power. So you have somewhere between 2 Defects and 3 Mutations, to 6-7 Mutations. There's no space for GM intervention other than declaring a character hopeless, but there's also no place for player control. The dice rule all.

EXCEPT: Each mutated animal and plant gets mutations based on their player selected base stock. There are some balancing aspects to it, but but it's a player controlled way to get a set of controlled 'mutations' - all Octopi start with chameleon power and extra limbs and gills - and it's a pretty slick implementation for players to feel that their choice of animal or plant stock matters (in 1E it's all up to GM and players deciding what the character has). And they can gain another mutation if they decide to have no human features (including speech). So mutated animals get perhaps an overly generous deal.

This has been interesting to me at least. I obviously like V&V 2E best for this in terms of its player control and general design, but each of the systems has their charms and drives certain things about the games.