Friday, May 31, 2024

Weekly Book Recommendations (May 31)

Bad Trips: a monstrous RPG road trip across America by Finn Gallagher: this was something I picked up during the big Kickstarter event in February. I've never, ever, been a fan of FATE (every exposure I've had since it first came out has been negative) so Monster of the Week was never on my radar, — EDIT: friend of the Blog Joshua Kronengold pointed out that MotW is a Powered by the Apocalypse game and not FATE so maybe I will pick it up — but I love my some cryptozoology RPG ever since I ran a one shot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer set in early 1900's Yale with a "raised by wolves" boy as one of the heroes fighting a cryptid, so I figured I could repurpose this to some other system. Gallagher has produced something truly fun here, and if like me you're not a FATE fan it'll be trivial to convert to a GUMSHOE or d6 system or any other game. The concept here is 12 "episodes" of monster hunting across the US, and each episode is clear, clean, thematically distinct, and immediately feels playable. None have a ton of detail, but that's a plus for me since it makes it easy to work out the specifics. Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

V&V and Gamma Word Again!

I've had the first session of my Gamma World game for the kids at the library (I am using 4E for now, which might drive me insane given how overdesigned the mechanics are, being a modified version of 2E AD&D where they have set on ascending armor class but are still using the term To Hit AC instead of Attack Bonus, so I have to explain to the kids what THAC means when there's no THAC0...) and in digging through my various Gamma World iteration notes I came across this gem when I was analyzing 1E/2E and how I would modify the Attack Chart

I think this does a pretty good job of clarifying how the various Armor Classes would be defined as Defense Types, the weapons as Attack Types, and some clear definitions of how it works. I'm especially happy with some of the notes, like the width of personal force fields, that expands the implicit world building that these sorts of charts do. You walk a way with a good idea of the technology and its quirks. 

I'm seriously tempted to institute this inside the otherwise GW 4E, or just convert to GW 2E entirely, just to be able to use this chart. Of course if I'm going to do that I might as well just build a new, better aligned to me system from scratch. 

Monday, May 27, 2024

Emirikol First Blood and other Fencing Changes for 3E

One thing we ran into during the first official set of duels in the Emirikol game was that duels to first blood in D&D - if you count any loss of HP as first blood - are based way too much on initiative. We saw this in the first dual the PCs had where Bard 2 with improved initiative beat Ftr 2/Ari 2 because he rolled higher on initiative and a modest attack roll for 1 pt of damage. But technically damage! Or is it?

This is where the highly abstracted nature of D&D combat comes into play, and the perpetual question of “what is a hit point?”. To my mind Hit Points are all the characters combat skill in avoiding injury. They’re the dodging and parrying and leaping away injury. But since it is applied AFTER armor class in the flowchart of action, and that Armor Class is modified by dexterity, it can be hard for people to wrap their brains around that. And there were not yet in system game mechanics for “Bloodied” as there would be in 4E and 13th Age that gave a clear mechanical point for me to say “this is first blood.” 

I could have just stated something but I instead put in front of my players that we use the flexible concept of hit points to instead work with fractions of the character HP. 

First Blood is actually 'drawn' when the character has taken over 1/3rd (round up) of his HP total. Since Cyble has 10 HP she actually gets cut or bloodied once she's taken more than 4 points of damage. Deitrich, with 17 HP isn't actually cut until he's taken more than 6. This might not mean much now, where a single hit with a sword is enough to take a 12 HP character past their 4 point first blood, but it would have extended Hiram's fight with his 18 HP opponent past that first rapier touch.

Second Blood, or the desire to fight "until one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed" is generally set at taking more than 2/3rds of your HP (round up). Cybele is well blooded once she's taken more than 7 HP of damage, Deitrich can hold out until he's at more than 12 points taken. This is the level of fighting Melas and his adversary were engaged in, which means his critical hit was needed to push the fellow up over the 2/3rd HP mark. 

Fighting to the death is often considered 'concluded' once one of the opponents is at 0 HP. Of course, the terms of the duel can stipulate that no healers be present at the match but can be called later, which gives you a pretty narrow window between 0 HP and being dead. Unless it is specifically stated in the terms of the duel that one of the duelists will not leave the field alive it is ungentlemanly to strike an opponent who's already down (and such a duel is technically illegal anyway). 

This got a surprising to me amount of pushback. 

One of my concerns for wanting to manage it this was to protect the Rogue character class in duel, since their sneak attack if they have initiative in the first round ability was a big source of their damage potential, so I wanted to keep the rules for being flat footed before your first action. Tom playing the Rogue, said he was comfortable dropping flat footed for duels only, due to the formalized ritual of the event. Fair enough. 

Dave (as well as other people on Livejournal) were pushing for the 1 HP equals blood rules. Tom and Jim both pointed out that sticking with as written left Improved Initiative as the critical dueling Feat, followed by anything that was going to boost AC. 

Of four duels only Melas' got that effect, and that was because having seen the others I had his opponent make bad tactical decisions (using all his Expertise + fighting defensively) to boost his AC and reduce his chance to hit. As a result Melas scouted out holes in his enemies armor, leaped from ground to bench, watched his foe do the same, parried and dodged, saw his foe jump to a nearby table and ultimately landed a telling blow. That's what I want to see - if I hadn't done that his opponent's initial attack would have been at +5 to hit rather than -2, and he would have scored first blood right after the initiative roll. If we had made first blood equal to more than 1/3rd Melas HP that initial attack probably wouldn't have done enough to count, and the duel could have continued.

Ultimately the rules for any changes other than abstraction of hit points would have had too many long spillover effects across combat, and I settled on those. But  we also never had any more one on one duels to first blood so it didn’t matter. This is how game mechanics change and are never used….

Friday, May 24, 2024

Weekly Book Recommendations (May 24)

The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse: This memoir of life on the campaign trail for the 1972 election is both highly informative of how the political process is constantly mutating but remarkably stable in some ways, a cautionary tale of the nature of the press and politics today that SHOULD NOT still be as relevant as it is, and a great way to fill in gaps of your awareness of the Watergate affair. Also this is my first real dive into Spiro Agnew and that he was bounced from politics for COMPLETELY DIFFERENT corruption than Richard Nixon is just the chefs kiss of the dumpster fire of that time period. 

The Plastic Man Archives Volume 1 by Jack Cole: This is rough in the way that a lot of early 1940's comics are rough - the wartime jingoism at points, the casual racism of the era, etc. - but I still come down on recommending it just because Cole's panel compositions are just amazing, his creativity with the character is off the charts for the time period, and many of the plots are just batshit crazy. Like, if I tried to explain them to you, you would not believe me. 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report May 23: Pasta with Garlic and Oil

OK team, I've been holding off on the super-simplicity of "just make pasta" but this week we're dipping into a non-traditional pasta sauce to surprise and amaze your family. 

Yes when I made it I had chicken cutlets and chopped veggies on the side; YMMV
Shopping for this couldn't be easier - a pound of spaghetti, some (6 tbs.) extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup minced garlic (the recipe has a count of 30 small, 20 medium, 10 large, or 5 extra large cloves but just use the jar of minced you should already have), some red pepper flakes (1/4 tsp. to 3/4 tsp. to taste), 3 tbs. chopped fresh parsley, and 2 tsp. juice from a lemon. Most of this you probably already have in the house. 

Step 1 is put a heatproof bowl in the oven on a lower rack and set the oven to warm/200F. The make the pasta per the box instructions, adding 1.5 tsp of table salt (don't use the kosher for this, you get more salt from table salt because it's smaller crystals). Save 1/3 cup of the cooking water, and then drain the pasta.

While the water is heating, combined 3 tbs. (half of your total) with 3 tbs. of garlic (there will be 1 tbs. left), 1/2 teaspoon of table salt in a skillet (nonstick 10" if that matters to you) and cook over low heat for 10-12 minutes, or until the garlic foams, turns straw colored, and gets sticky. It's nice when the food has several ways to tell you its done! be careful with the heat - low heat is needed because minced garlic can burn quick. Take it off the heat and add the rest of the raw garlic, the red pepper flakes, the parsley, lemon juice, an 2 tbs of the cooking water. Stir it to keep it from clumping.

Once you drain the pasta, set it in the warmed serving bowl, add the remaining oilve oil and the rest of the reserved cooking water, tossing it around to keep the pasta loose and oiled up. Add the garlic mixture, salt to taste (they recommend 3/4 tsp of table salt), and toss well to combine. serve immediately to a grateful family. If you have parmesan cheese having some of that grated for people to add would be a nice add. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance - and (the end) of EVERYTHING

The third of our three problematic powers is Death Touch. Which is pretty self explanatory in what it does and why it's problematic for a random roll in a supers game. 

The rulebook acknowledges this up front in that superheroes should be allowed to reroll or modify the power as a matter of course. And lots of people do; to the point where it's really "Death Powers" in most of the games I've played in. So much so that the power itself just needs to be rewritten to better fit the rest of the game. 

Lets tackle the basic mechanics of the power as writ, as it's unique in the game. 

  1. It requires an "successful Hand-to-Hand" mode attack" where the effect of the hit is the Death Touch potentially activates. This is weird from the jump because some of the defense types are designed like D&D Armor Class: you are still struck, but not well enough to penetrate your passive defense. Robot Body doesn't make you better at evading attacks, just resisting them; Stretching Powers might be evasion or it might be harmlessly absorbing the force of the blow. The other thing here is unless you're a martial artist type, the HTH attack mode sucks, at a 25% chance to hit at all. Now, we can get into this later, but for a lot of people this is just a lousy way to start.
  2. "If contact is made (i.e. a hit is scored), the effect is..." OK stop here. This seems to imply that the hit that potentially activates the Death Touch might not also do HTH damage. You have to decide if you're trying to punch or if you're Death Touching. That makes sense in comic books - Instant Death attacks are almost always their own thing, so that the heroes can punch it up with the villain before the baddie opens their extended hand and reaches out to.... But if that's the case, the HTH attack mode makes even less sense as, again, you just need to touch them. Obviously this depends a lot of visuals. 
  3. You don't roll damage, the target gets two saves to not die. One can easily see the Agility save being one to minimize the contact ("If he ever really gets his hands on me I'm dead!") and the Endurance to try to fight off the effect for a second to break free. Nicely simulationist. But it kinda neuters the ability. Basically you have a 50/50 chance to incapacitate an average human and a 25% chance to kill them, but much less for other heroes.
    It is fascinating in that it cuts through so much other stuff: a high HP don't help, high Power Score won't let you roll with it, Invulnerability and Armor don't protect you. a Death Touch attack could kill Superman with one hit! Except his Endurance and Agility are at least 15 each, so it has a 6% chance to do that. Or if both are 20+, a 0.25% chance. You're really not likely to kill your opponents, but you COULD. 
  4. It only costs you Power when it works. This shows up a couple other places - Emotion Control and Mind Control - and it's an interesting mechanic. The high PR power that completely removes an opponent from play, but you only pay the cost when it works. Oddly, Paralysis Ray also removes an opponent, but that costs 7 per attempt. (Transmutation also costs 8 per attempt, but can have a ton of versatility and do damage, so I see the logic). Given the action economy trying one of these and failing is a bummer, so having the big drain on your power cost would add insult to injury, especially if you can do Death Touch or HTH damage, but not both. 

I'm torn here because in order to keep to the NSR ethos of this project I want character death to be a distinct possibility. Keeping the "this cuts through all your other defenses" rules works for that. But I also don't want to have rules that say "this auto-kills NPCs and Pcs get these saves" because the game as writ is very symmetrical and that injects some narrative asymmetry I'm trying to avoid. 

I've been gnawing on this for the better part of a week, and I think I've landed on:

Death Powers: The character has powers that allow them to directly damage the life force or biological processes of another living being. When struck by Death Powers, the target has to make two saving throws on d20 - one vs Agility to minimize the length of the contact and one vs. Endurance to survive the contact at all. If the target makes both saves they take 2d8 damage as if this were a regular attack and the attacker expends 5 Power. If the target makes one save, they lose all their HP and are immediately incapacitated - this damage is not mitigated by invulnerability, armor, or rolling with the attack - and the attacker expends 10 Power. If the target fails both saves, they lose all HP and Power, and are dead; note that they do not take any damage to Basic Hits, so the corpse is in excellent condition for Revivification or some other medical intervention.

Heroic characters can usually choose to 'pull' their Death Powers attack so that no saves are rolled and it does 2d8 damage; only one save is rolled and it either does 2d8 damage or incapacitates; or the full range of effects are possible. 

Death Powers normally has no range, needing to be delivered by touch or with a Carrier Attack (see 3.4). If it is delivered by touch, it requires an HTH Mode attack to hit, but with a +4 attack modifier as the attacker needs only to touch the target, not strike them hard enough to do damage. (If Death Powers is carried by an HTH attack that also does damage, no modifier is applied to the attack.) If the power does have range, it is the characters (C+Ch) divided by 5 inches. 

I think this improves things quite a bit, while keeping the potential for instant death. It's something a Player Character can have as their primary power as they can usually 'pull it' to just be an attack with a decent chance to hit and solid damage, with the ability to pull out the stops. It's clear that it can be a touch or a carried attack, and also implies that it can be carried by, say, Lightning Control for an electrical attack specialized in causing cardiac arrest. 

The option for short range death powers as death powers design works well for, say, Needle from the Revolution (who also had a Devitalization ray attack and telekinesis) for her biokinetic powers, or for Demise in the Wild Cards books, who could lock eyes with people at short range and psychically kill them. 



Monday, May 20, 2024

Emirikol: review of session 2, planning for session 3

 Taking things in order of occurrence from the second session 

1) The 3E encounter design rules worked really well for what I wanted here. The mass of kobolds vs. the already battered PCs worked exactly as planned. This comes in part form the players inside the line character creation. I know from experience that playing an 18 Str Barbarian with Cleave just let you rip through encounters like this, throwing off the challenge rating math by maximizing your ability. 

2) Also, the lack of specificity let us provide the detail where we needed. This is one of my important rules for game mastering, which is that when people miss, they miss for a reason. It’s not that the PCs were inept, it’s that circumstances got in their way; it’s not that the villains are inept, it’s that the heroes are just that good. 

3) I was very curious as to how the players would react to the scene with the non-combatants, but the rules of the game universe (chaos beasts vessels for captured souls of this realm, being tortured and twisted by alien forces) meant that the future Paladin was right to do as he did. This is one of those cases where knowing the world also helps with Gygaxian Naturalism. I could have done the “these things just bubble out of the ground) but I wanted to emphasize the almost Lovecraftian horror of the chaos cults and that the chaos beasts are unequivocal bad guys. 

4) More Spiders Trying To Kill Melas! This is one of the perils of a limited number of classic lower level monsters being recycled in these old adventures

5) I love how the players immediately grasped the idiom of politics and connections, urging their host to take political action to prevent a recurrence of the chaos infestation on Vulture Point

6) I did get the chance for Ambleer’s staff to mess with Hiram’s head re the Ghost. This is one of those cases where 3E gave the PC a chance to see through this, but didn’t. What I had not expected with Dave’s fervent, absolute desire on Hiram’s part to not take part in a ghost story. Nope Nope Nope Nope! So they partied all night rather than risking another encounter with Lorell Ambleer. It didn’t matter to me one way or the other, we could come back to this later, or not. We never got back to it. It was a great character moment.

7) The magnificently evocative treasures from the Vulture Point module did exactly what I wanted in piquing the PCs interest, and I was even able to stat out the value of the Wand of Petrification with 1 charge level for the Cockatrice Feather; the detail level of 3E helped a lot there. 

8) The descriptive introduction to the city worked well, and while Dave continued to joke around with things like the Petros the Pugilist Sextet as a stand in for Rocky, it all worked. Likewise, the introduction of Dietrich’s house hit just the right Phoenix Guards note. 

9) Of course the PCs immediately let themselves get insult-goaded into a duel! Again, this is where having the players all on board with the genre conventions. There was a long talk in and around the game as to what “first blood” should mean in a duel after Hiram’s first round hit for 1 point of damage on a Figther 2/Aristocrat 2, but I ceded at the time because his using Sunder as his first round attack to shatter Hiram’s sword made for a great long term rivalry. More on this later. 

Going into session 3, I had asked the players what they wanted to accomplish, and then I tossed in what I wanted to accomplish. 

Player Agenda: 

Drink/Dine with Florian and Donato de la Ballesteros in Scornbul

Visit with the Paladins and possibly the Cardinals of the Endless Ocean over the remains. 

Explore the city as gawking rube; Visit a local theater. 

Visit Raul's solicitor concerning Hiram's broken sword. 

Visit the Ferrantino Library as per the invitation by the Loremistress d'Ferrantino

GM Additional Agenda

Learn that there are tales of someone going into Hightower Tor

Witness actions of 'East Cardinal Sebastian d'Ferrantino' (actually his double Reme Collbras) 

Have Cybele get isolated and braced by her halfling mobsters.

Everything on the player end is immediately following up on subplots from the plot elements dropped in the last two sessions, which is fine because my prep work already has answers and NPCs for most of these cribbed from other modules. On my end I want to set up for the events of the Last of the Iron House, which is being placed straight in the city rather than being some strange roadside event placed outside the city whose events it’s supposed to be influencing, irritate Rebecca’s PC with the halfling mobsters, and generally keep their first session adventure in motion. 

So far my lightly modified 3E was doing everything I wanted it to in terms of how adventures played out, how skills worked in the system, and the adventure long attrition aspect of hit points. Would I have preferred something like 13th Age where your HP swing a lot more over the course of an adventure? I don’t know. It might have worked better, but it might also have had too much detail on each fight. Making the combats last longer.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Battle for Vulture Point, Act II Scene V

 The streets of Serin unfolded about our heroes in all of its glory. Choosing to go south rather than face the warren of Scornbul, they observed the widening of the lanes, the cobbling of the sidewalks and the growth of land surrounding the houses as they worked their way towards Orchid. From several points along the way the Rheel was visible to their right, sparkling in the westward setting sliver of the sun, the moon already visible and half full towards the east. The street was well peopled with others taking their evening constitutionals, from the various members of the old nobility to the gnomish nuveau riche, the men in their top hats with canes, the women with trailing dresses and corsets. As the trip continued both Hiram and Melas began to detect a slight air of snobbery from those they passed - an attitude that might have been cultivated by the many other young swordsmen who have taken up residence in Serin over the years only to sink into the depths of the warrens or the grave as their funds, fate or luck abandoned them. 

This subtle snubbing was shattered when the quartet passed four young swordsmen of a nature very similar to their own, only to hear afterwards one remark to his companions "did you see that monstrosity with them?" Melas, well accustomed to such comments and the need to clear them with blood, stiffened ever so slightly and turned, clearing his throat to catch the attention of the miscreant. The octet faced each other for a moment or two while it became clear that Melas' antagonist would not retract his unkind statements. Instead that fellow suggested that they retire to a nearby garden often used for the clarification and conclusion of such arguments. 

On their way to the local bower of blades Hiram took some pains to declaim to the passers by lines from a common play of the last decade that made the encounter seem very much like a great duel of the ages - with his side in the heroic role of course. One of the other party seemed to take this poorly, but when he warned Hiram to keep quiet the young actor merely bated him more. 

Once the groups reached the garden - with scattered marble benches, tables, chess stands, and arched lattices containing ivy that would bloom prettily in a few months - the four quickly resolved into pairs of two. It was quickly clear that there was no formal witness present to make the duel legal, and the consensus was for duels to first blood: for their parts Dietrich and his lanky opponent, who introduced himself as Donato de la Ballesteros, saw this more as an opportunity to test their skills rather than avenge any slight; Cybele's chosen opponent, a not unattractive young man named Florian de la Ballesteros, had already suffered a first touch at the sight of the sorceress' eyes, also agreed to first blood only. When Hiram squared off against the target of his japes, whose name he learned was Raul de la Ballesteros - to discuss terms that older fellow growled that the terms of thing between them should be obvious as he drew his heavy longsword. Hiram, with a hopeful quirk of his eyebrow, asked if that mean first blood, only to see his foe give a very thin smile. When Hiram pressed again the man agreed to first blood with a chuckle that indicated his initial opinions of the youth had been well confirmed. Melas and his elven opponent, named Victor d'Berangere, but whose colors indicated that he was a cousin at the least to the de la Ballesteros, were both more desirous of a greater degree of bloodshed but also more concerned about the intrusion of the law after such a lethal battle. Eventually Victor nodded to Melas' imprecise 'first dipping of the wick' into the other and the battles were joined. 

Dietrich's was over the fastest, showing the advantages of the constant drilling for speed and accuracy inherent in the von Eisenwald family style. His opponent had obviously hoped to use reach to his advantage, but Donato had not counted on Dietrich's skill at slipping past a blade, laying down a pinprick on the taller man's side that both agreed would have been a dangerous, perhaps fatal strike had the men been in a less formal duel. Their affair concluded the two shared a companionable silence as they viewed the outcome of the others. 

Hiram's quickness served him in his battle as well, darting his smaller weapon in past Raul's blade. The young actor felt a slight pressure on the blade as it slid past Raul's arm, flicking into or just barely through the older man's leather fencing glove as his canny foe moved to prevent a deeper penetration. This dissuaded Raul not at all as the longsword's progress continued through in its clear arc - instinct brought up Hiram's guard, which was obviously as Raul intended, for the thin weapon was at a bad angle and shattered immediately under the heavy blade. Swinging around for a fatal backstroke Raul checked his swing and, with the air of someone dealing with a mosquito bite, lifted his hand to his sleeve and pressed out the drop of two of blood that Hiram's stroke. "Oh. First blood. It seems you won." He glanced down at the shards of Hiram's blade and, by extension, Hiram's honor before fishing out a small card. "Here's the card for my solicitor, boy. He should be able to make amends for my… miscalculation." 

Melas and Victor, both obviously skilled fencers used to defending their honors, both started with defensive postures, making noncommittal strikes and solid parries to defend their space. During the first few passes Melas eyed his opponent carefully, recognizing the design of the man's armor as the sort that has been braced with metal at vital points for additional protection and adjusted his pattern of attack to accommodate for that. His perceptions didn't aid him much, as his opponent's constant emphasis on defense made him impossible for Melas to hit, but likewise made his attacks too tentative to score on the hunchback - either Victor was not prepared for Melas speed or, more likely, was aiming to tire him out so that first blood would be a fatal blow through the heart. Seeking an advantage Melas leaped onto one of the benches and from that height lay down a flurry of slashes and thrusts with his rapier, only to see his opponent continue to defense them with a fierce expression of tightly held anger. Melas had found a second, more vulnerable, weak spot. 

Using the length of the bench to buy himself a second to think, he dredged up what he knew of the d'Berangere lineage, recalling a few scandals, as well as a distant rumor of chaos taint. As Victor leaped onto an adjoining bench Melas pressed his attack on two fronts, as it were, and while d'Berangere was able to block his steel he could not block out his words. After a few seconds the elf's temper snapped - he abandoned his extreme defense in favor of an aggressive attack, and when that did not score a hit he leaped again to one of the nearby chess tables to claim the height advantage. Prepared for the move, Melas struck, driving his blade through the elf's leading thigh at the moment when it was outside his defense. Caught off-guard the otherwise agile foe felt his leg slide from under him and he made a rapid and painful descent into the dirt. 

Melas casually stepped down from the bench, cleaning his blade as the elven noble cursed into the dirt and composed himself before standing. Once upright the elf called to Donato for healing only to hear that tall man respond "You got yourself into this, cousin. If your life is not at risk I see no reason to aide you in your folly." Instead Raul assisted the elf in standing, and Melas could feel the hatred radiating from his justly defeated foe as he stood next to Hiram. 

"I wonder if they're the sort that holds grudges," the young actor inquired in a whisper. Melas replied "It doesn't matter if they are, because I am." 

Having witnessed these events Cybele turned to her adversary, who smiled with warmth bordering on radiance. "How about a side bet - the winner buys the other drinks?" offered the forward young man, and Cybele smiled in return. Determined to win such a bet and secure an evening with this charming rogue, she uttered a brief enchantment to guide her blade before the battle started. The two fencers moved as one as time seemed to slow in Cybele's mind: she saw his blade approaching, felt the gentle pressure of his practiced move that slid her blade off line, felt the very feather touch of his rapier leave a shallow cut on the back of her hand. This was mere tenths of a second before the enchantment inched her saber back on line, invalidating his parry and squaring the blade with his chest during his lunge. Her heavier blade entered point first between his ribs and with a quiet sigh exited the other side. The pair's first embrace was as he collapsed into her, gasping as blood welled around the saber's edge. Even still the fair Florian smiled at his ill won victory, and then collapsed. 

Both Hiram and Donato moved in an instant, but the young actor was the closer of the two, and with a flourish of silks he drew the wound away as the white kerchief both absorbed and assumed the crimson stain. This earned Hiram a clap on the back from Donato as the lady Floriane assisted Florian, both victors and vanquished, to his feet. As Raul and Victor skulked off into the embrowning night the remaining six decided to travel together to dinner, that Florian might make good the price of his victory and the others might bond over a good meal.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report May 9: Grilled Chicken Souvlaki with Green Peppers and Onion

 It's still the start of grilling season my friends, so fire that sucker up. 

This week comes from Cooks Illustrated again, so no easy website to link you to, but this one is hardly complicated enough to warrant the longer description. 

Shopping trip: for the skewers (and you'll need 4 skewers if you don't have them; yes I only used 3. Shut up and listen.)
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 green bell pepper, quartered, stemmed, seeded, each quarter cut into 4 chunks
1 small red onion, ends trimmed, peeled, halved lengthwise, each half cut into 4 chunks

for the marinade: 
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus 1/4 cup juice (2 lemons)
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon dried oregano

for the recommended Tzatziki Sauce
1 bottle of premade Tzatsiki sauce. Don't kill yourself here. 

Also pick up some pita bread. The CI recipe has a whole thing about fancy ways to grill the bread in aluminum foil, but it's not necessary. (The bread isn't even really necessary if you want to serve over rice; just don't forget to the cook the rice! Or... COUSCOUS, the lazy person's rice!)

OK, get a quart of cold water, dissolve 2 tablespoons of salt in it and chuck the chicken in. Cover it and set it in the fridge to brine for 30 minutes. While that's happening take all the marinade ingredients and mix them together; once that's done set 1/4 cup aside in a bowl for serving. 

Once the 30 minute brine is done. dry the chicken with paper towels and toss it into the marinade. Take a skewer and thread 1/4 of the pepper onto it, concave side up. Then thread on 1/4 of the chicken, and then 1/4 of the onions, concave side down. You can see how it looks in the picture. Repeat till you have all 4 skewers ready 

Heat and clean the grill per manufacturer instructions. Once it's hot lay the skewers on it and cook, turning every 4 minutes or so until all sides are cooked. Tae one skewer off the flame and test with a probe thermometer for 160F. If it's not quite there, keep them on another few minutes, rotating every minute or so for even cooking. You should be good at 20 minutes max. 

Use a fork to push the contents of the skewers into the bowl with the set aside marinade, cover with foil and let sit for 5 minutes. Serve with the pita and Tzatsiki for a grateful family!

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance - ...The Universe...

The second in our trio of powers that need modification, Cosmic Awareness. This one needs tweaking because first of all it's not a great adaptation of how the power appears in the comics, and also because it has a degree of meta play that doesn't let it translate as an NPC ability (which is very unusual for V&V)

That's a lot of highly specific text for a power that certainly seems to be designed to not be used, and when used gives a minimum effect. "Correct answers to Yes or No questions" is definitely not worth it for an average charisma hero asking even a single question: that's a 50/50 chance of being messed up. So the player needs to spend a massive amount of Power, say, 25+ points, to get even a 75% chance to to make an attempt. And even then the chance of finding something is, for an average hero, 1 in 3. 

Essentially as written the power is useless without some combination of Heightened Intelligence and Heightened Charisma. Worse, it doesn't really match what Cosmic Awareness did in the comics, with the best known practitioner being Captain Marvel, who was literally granted Cosmic Awareness in the run on his series. This provided him with a general sense of oneness with the universe, let him detect and locate cosmic level threats, and acted similar to a 'spider-sense' in terms of predicting physical harm. I don't know that the term existed in comics prior to that, even if there are other people who have displayed some version of it, including Spider-Man, whose spider-sense might as well be a low level Cosmic Awareness. 

The problem is that almost any other implementation of Cosmic Awareness is just Heightened Senses. Even this iteration of Cosmic Awareness is just "asking questions of the GM" carved out so it's not taken as a Heightened Sense. 

So what do we want Cosmic Awareness to do? I think the general answer is that the character is passively aware of threats to the cosmos and can learn things they would have no way of knowing.

Mechanically this means:

If there is some threat to the cosmos (or the planet, continuity, whatever) the Gm treats it like any other sense: if it's likely big enough for the character to sense it as they would any other stimui, they do. Less obvious cosmic threats, they have a chance equal to their detect danger to sense it. Cosmic Awareness also helps characters using any other senses, letting them re-roll any missed Detect Hidden or Detect Danger checks due to their cosmic senses. 

If the player wants to learn something specific, it's a d% save vs. I * 3, and if successful the GM will give them some level of information about it. The character can spend 1 point of power per 1% added to their chance of success, so this can be exhausting. Failure means no meaningful answer, but not incorrect information; the character knows they can't interpret what they are sensing. Failure by more than 20% causes the character to get lost in the universe - treat this as Paralysis Ray with a d% save vs. Charisma to recover themselves - and if they miss the roll by more than 40% they also take 3d10 Power damage as if hit by Devitalization Ray. 

I think this is a lot cleaner in the concept of the power being a general information feeder, a double for danger sense, and a way to get something closer to an Augury from D&D as opposed to a set series of Yes/No questions that has to be gamed out. 

Monday, May 6, 2024

Battle for Vulture Point Act II Scene IV

As the quartet slumbered their worthy coachman pushed the horses onward, further up the trail into the mountains and then down the carefully modulated descent of switchbacks that lead to the city that was both near and far. Eventually Hiram and Dietrich awoke and took in their first sight of the chaotic city, the distance obscuring some of the confusion and lending the whole an aura of planning that it did not deserve. To the south were the interspersed manors and farms that made up the Orchid, linked to the rest of the city by the river, the aqueduct and a trio of broad, flat boulevards and bounded by the simple stone walls of the distant farms or the gated walls of the mansions. Further north along the Rheel were the colored houses, painted roofs, and tall towers of Serin, the lots becoming smaller and the houses more densely packed until they fused with one another - that fusion marking the first boundary with Scornbul. The second boundary was when the architecture went mad, Scornbul growing and twisting upon itself so that it looked as if someone had taught ants carpentry, and this was the mound that resulted. The city became a mass of wood, impossible to distinguish one house from the next or even ascertain what streets might go where. To the west was the swamp - which they felt certain they would never, ever have cause to enter - and to the east, their avenue of approach, lay Ferrantino. 

By the time they approached the gates the others had been roused for their first look at their new home with the sliver of sun still barely past midday (the Dusty Road in being set one day's ride up, rather than down the mountain). That first encounter was of a mix of smells - as the breeze blew in from the sea it was salt and the mass of humanity that was Scornbul, when it blew from inland it was of the more common smell of gardens and cattle. The crowd before them hindered movement, but their worthy coachman pressed on, trusting that the livery of the imperial coach would see them past the busy guards at the gate. 

Once in the city, the street was temporarily blocked by a crowd of halfling and gnomish members of the mercantile class arguing about the disposition of a rolling wooden construction bearing dozens of plucked ducks, the purchasing gnome insisting that he had also paid for the ducks feather's while the halfling, brandishing a contract, pointing to a total lack of clause indicating the same (having no doubt already made a profit selling the down to a different vendor). Shortly thereafter they were stopped again by another such construction laden with raw fabrics wheeled through the street, followed by one bearing finished clothes. 

The coachman took this time to warn them about the street vendors, and if any leaped onto the running boards with offers they didn't want to consider to simply let him know and he would take the whip to them. This made the good man appear oracular as mere seconds later one young man did just that, informing them of the best prices for rooms in the immediate surroundings if they would just follow his direction… the pitch was cut short by the sound of the crop and the good nobles lowered the shades somewhat to avoid attracting as much attention. 

Even still it was a lost battle, with merchants, venders, hucksters and buskers of all sorts running up to the coach and leaping on to make offers of all kids - fabrics, foods, frolicsome companions - to those wealthy and well positioned enough to afford the nobleman's transit. The most ambitious and well prepared of these was a young man offering directions to the best hotel in Ferrantino who had possessed the foresight to bring a large metal expanding shield with which to fend off the coachman's crop. Melas was able to dissuade the man with a shove.

Still, his presence had raised a question of where to stay. This is when Lord von Eisenwald revealed to his companions that he was coming to the city to claim a family estate, a house in Serin, which ought to have space enough to house the four of them in some comfort. This was quickly agreed upon, so that when inquired as to a destination other than the Ferrantino yards they were able to provide an address with such certainty that the issue could scarcely ever have been in doubt. 

A destination now determined and the crush of the crowd soon past them they were able to take in more of the view. The sound of a large crash caught their attention, and they could see that clever merchants who had warehouses by the Ferrantino gate - a less desirable position now that more of the goods came in through the docks than the road - had found a way to make use of the viaduct, carrying their goods in narrow, long boats along that elevated river and then hiring apprentices wizards to make such goods temporarily weightless with a common alteration magic so that they might float down to the ground with the gentleness of a duck's feather near the aforementioned warehouses. As evidenced by the crash, sometimes the apprentices' timing is poor. Dietrich suggested that if perhaps the apprentices were made to ride the boats down they would be more certain of their timing. 

Cybele pointed out to the south the massive, intimidating construction that was the Ferrantino library - like all of Ferrnatino it was stone, but in this case a pure white marble with the classic 110 steps and 11 pillars later adopted by the old Imperial Court as being the proper design for structure of high social merit (some scholars will argue that the design originated the greensward and was mimicked from there, the age of the library, rebuilt as it was by the d'Ferranntino family with dwarvish laborers almost immediately after the city was reclaimed, stand stalwart against this theory). Hiram reminded all that the steps were made famous on the stage in the initial play of the 'Petros the Pugilist' sextet. All agreed that it was indeed a classic but felt that the middle pieces were weak (the one with Petros fighting a bare-knuckled match against a chaos beast bull man was, while a crowd pleaser, had little artistic merit), and the later ones with the aged Petros were attempting to bring pathos to a character too well defined as a glorious youth in the earlier works.

And with that erudite discussion of the arts, they moved from Ferrantino to Serin, and once in Serin the roads opened to their carriage, and they made good time to the von Eisenwald house. 

The house at which the coach stopped was a tastefully apportioned two- and one-half story wooden construction of the sort commonly built during the reign of Emperor Segundo 'the moderator', the 22nd, and second to last, ruler of the empire. The front yard was just the size enough for a formal duel and well kept, and the house itself appeared to be in excellent shape despite having been uninhabited since the death of Archibald Von Eisenwald some three years previous. Dietrich approached and knocked once, and after a moment the door was opened by a smartly dressed halfling in a bowler hat and waistcoat. 

"Good evening, sirs, lady. I am Rudolph Eisenwald, local solicitor to the von Eisenwalds. Your appearance suggests to me that you are Dietrich von Eisenwald, but I trust you will not take it amiss if the formalities of the situation necessitate my asking for your identifications," the small man said as he ushered the four noblemen into the house. Upon seeing that all was in order he proceeded to explain the arrangements his firm had made for the new von Eisenwald arrival. To wit: all of the rooms had been cleaned and aired all of the bedrooms had been set with fresh linens; the larder had been stocked with sufficient food for a day or two, including some cured ham; the inventory of the wine cellar had been confirmed; a local day servant had been arranged and would begin work the following day. There were no night servants employed as yet, given the expense and contract obligations of hiring the dwarves for the evening work, and since there had been no set date for the new lord's arrival the firm felt that erring towards practicality in expenses was in the lord's best interest. 

(Melas: I look the halfling over to see if he is concealing anything. Is he? GM: No Melas: Then I ignore him.)

Dietrich spent a few moments going over most of the papers as presented - all save a sealed letter - that confirmed the arrangements and quickly tabulating that the money the few small halfling farms outside the city still attached to this house would serve to cover the cost of taxes, salary for a servant (if the servant were full time and provided lodgings) or two (if they lived off site and worked only during the day), a stipend for an acceptable food supply that would be stretched with his companions present and a very small amount left over. That was when Rudolph presented his card and stated that if the new Lord von Eisenwald found the arrangements to date acceptable that the firm of Eisenwald, Eisenwald and Altmann would be most pleased to continue the professional relationship and could promise to provide a four hour response time to any inquiry from the Von Eisenwald estate. Seeing that the cost of the solicitor's monthly retainer would bring his income balance to a net zero Dietrich shrugged, replied that thing were indeed acceptable and presented the halfling with Lord Ambleer's letters to the four governors for delivery. The small man accepted them with precision, bowed sharply and then, with permission, took his leave. 

Dietrich then slit open and read the letter; it was from Portia d'Ferrantino, head loremistress of the Ferrantino Library and scion of the line from which that quarter took its name. With both brevity and precision the letter laid out how the library had been in negotiations with the previous lord von Eisenwald concerning the donation of his library; negotiations that were not yet complete at the time of his unfortunate demise. The lady d'Ferrantino wished to introduce herself to the von Eisenwald heir with the admitted goal of re-starting those negotiations at a later date. To that end he was invited to visit the library at his convenience and arrange a time to dine with her as soon as his schedule permitted.  

Melas and Cybele took it upon themselves to explore the house without delay, (Cybele: Is there a wine cellar? Melas: You beat me to it!) while Hiram watched their worthy coachman unload their luggage and deliver it - lacking any other indication of who would be lodging in which room - in the front hall before he, Hiram, glanced through the other rooms in the first floor, a task which Dietrich also undertook once he had concluded affairs with his solicitor.

The house was in excellent order, the wine cellar somewhat thinly stocked but serviceable, the veranda off of the dining room overlooking a back yard that could do with some thorough refurbishing, with a bird bath and fountain centrally located and rose bower to the right that was overgrown with the thorny stalks. The second floor held bedrooms enough for the four of them - the frontward facing bedroom with direct access to the second story porch and a tower space reachable only by a tightly wound circular stair. The backmost bedroom had a small balcony as well, and a closet that contained a concealed space for the caching of weapons, which was quickly made home to their various treasures, magical artifacts and the rescued remains. The remainder of the frontward half-story, other than the tower, naturally, held a widow's walk (from which one could, with the craning of the neck and a sufficiently advanced imagination to see through the multi-storied wooden warren that was Scornbul, make out the ocean) and long space lined with bookshelves and books, a comfortable chair and the evidence on the worn floorboards of fencing training of the von Eisenwald style. 

All in all it was deemed quite acceptable by its new owner and his friends. Rather than face cooking for themselves just yet they decided to briefly explore their new neighborhood and see what sort of entertainment it might offer

Thursday, May 2, 2024

I committed a filksong: The Ballad of Petrilly Gill

 The Ballad of Petrilly Gill

(To the tune of the Eagles _Lyin’ Eyes_)


Halfling girls just seem to find out early

How to open doors with pick and file

A rich old mark so she won't have to worry

She'll mask in black and climb the wall in style 


Late at night a big old house holds plenty

Where each antique and stature has its price

And it breaks her heart to think she’s has to leave some

But her fence has asked she grab that diamond ice


So she finds the safe and gets on with the thievin’

Pick the locks and shut all the traps down

Grabs the bag of gems but as she is leavin'

A shadow there with maw turned in a frown.


She can't hide from flyin' eyes

And her mask is a thin disguise

Awash in fear she’ll realize

her mark is just a sphere of many eyes


At a dockside bar her favorite fence is waiting

Tracking goods that come and go with the tide

As she runs away from as abomination

She hopes he has ways to get her out alive


“Because if we fall, we will fall together”

She whispers that cold warning with a smile

“Beholders grudges, they go on forever,

They are nothing but malice, hate, and guile.”


She can't hide from flyin' eyes

And her mask is a thin disguise

Awash in fear she’ll realize

her mark is just a sphere of many eyes


She adds this job to ones that she’s regretted

And stares out at the stars up in the sky

Out in the night, the sphere is silhouetted

And her fence tried to run with no goodbye


She wonders how it ever got this crazy

She thinks about the pro she used to be

Did she get gulled or did she just get lazy?

After killing him, her paths are fight and flee


“My, oh my, you sure know how to arrange things

You set me up so well, so carefully”

Taking his poor worthless life just didn't change things

As the sphere appeared and she cursed silently


She can't hide from flyin' eyes

And her mask is a thin disguise

Awash in fear she’ll realize

her mark is just a sphere of many eyes

There ain't no way to hide from flyin' eyes

Her death approaches with nine old magic eyes


Weekly Cooking Report May 2: Sumac Chicken Breasts

You remember when I asked you to pick up sumac for those chicken wings? Well, here's where that pays off. 

The recipe for this is so insanely easy I almost feel guilty for using it. The recipe for the chicken is here and you can see the shopping run is almost non-existent. 

2 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, the Sumac you have from last time I had you get some, some balsamic vinegar that you probably have in the kitchen, salt and pepper. For the rest of the meal it's our old friend couscous and some veggies. When I made it I went with broccoli, but I strongly recommend the ease of getting a bag of baby carrots and roasting them with this in a little olive oil. 

If your chicken breasts run big (and they will with todays breasts) you're going to want to slice them lengthwise before you cook them if you're using broccoli. That will make them cook a lot quicker, but it can be harder to get the thermometer in to track internal temp. If you're using the baby carrots, those take longer to roast so the timing works better. 

Rub the chicken down with the sumac and a little salt and pepper, then put in a container with the balsamic vinegar and let it marinade for an hour. Heat the oven to 375F. Just before cook time put 2 Tbs of olive oil and some salt over the baby carrots. 

Now you can put them all on the same sheet pan, but if you want the flavors separate put down some foil on the pan and fold it at the center to make a crude wall. Carrots on one side, chicken on the other. That will keep most of the process separated. 

Roast until the probe thermometer shows the chicken at temp. Once it is, take it out and check the carrots. If the fork doesn't go in cleanly, take the chicken off to rest, set the oven to 400, and chuck the carrots back in for 5 minutes or so. 

While this is happening, make the couscous from the box... yadda yadda you know the drill. 

The balsamic sumac is a unique and delicious taste. Serve to a grateful family. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance - LIFE...

V&V 2.1 has three powers that stand out either in their general weirdness or in how they don't manage to capture the comic book version of the power. Today we're looking at the first of these.

This is weird, right? It's not just me, right?

Revivification is a strange choice because it's not like there are a lot of supers with this power. It feels very holdover from Empire of the Petal Throne that somehow made it into the 2nd edition. But the concept of healing someone? That's got a lot of comic book antecedents. A such this power often gets changed to some sort of healing ability. 


This is the power to restore health to the wounded, diseased, and perhaps even the dead. It can be used (E/3 round up) times per day, at a range of 1", and taking one full round to do so (if it is not the character's first action of the round they cannot act again until the commensurate action of the next round). Each use restores either the target's Healing Rate in Hit Points or 2d8 Power Points. The character can choose to activate more than one use of this ability at one time, restoring more HP or Power Points with a single action, but doing so costs 8 Power. 

If the character attempts to use this power on someone who has died within the last hour, and who still has Basic Hits remaining, they may discover that the body has a "spark of life" remaining, and may be restored to the living with a single use of Healing and 8 Power Points. The chance of being revived is the percent of their Basic Hits remaining. 

For Example, Captain Awesome has 4 Basic Hits, and has been reduced to 0 HP and 0 Power, and 3 Basic Hits in a fierce battle. To all appearances dead, the healer has a 75% (3/4 = 75%) chance to find a spark of life and bring the Captain back to life. 

The character may bring back person who has been deceased up to 10 days. The circumstances depend on the nature of the death and the characters source of powers - a mystical hero would be be able to revive someone who "died too soon" due to a curse or magical attack, while a high tech hero could revive someone whose death didn't involve brain damage via some memory storage and nanite restoration of dead flesh - but this the attempt is entirely at GM discretion. If the GM deems it is possible, the chance of success is 100% -10% per full day dead, all of the characters uses of Healing for the next week, and 25 Power. If the roll is a failure, but is less than 100%-2% per day dead, the target is revived temporarily; they have long enough to close their last case, capture who killed them, make amends for their crimes, have one last personal discovery, or say goodbye. (If this is a PC, it's for one last game session, and they may have new powers for that one last session based on the method used to revive them.)

Note: If the 'dead' character is a PC who made the d% save vs. their last positive Power score (see 7.2 Replacing Slain Characters), this power revives the 'dead' hero at no additional cost, as this power is the GMs method for explaining their return. 

This includes the original power, but also keeps the Golden/Silver Age feel of these sorts of healings. The Endurance based number of uses is to make sure the players don't abuse this as a "team regeneration" where an hours rest gets everyone back to full health. 

Next Time? THE UNIVERSE...