Monday, July 22, 2013

High and Low Fantasy: Can we have it both ways?

OK, half formed idea to follow, but I think it has potential.

Imagine a D&D campaign starting up.  Sandbox style, possibly with a tent-pole adventuring location (mega-dungeon) near the starting home base.

The sandbox is full of low fantasy swords & sorcery style locations/NPCs/adventure hooks.  Duplicitous thieves' guilds.  Ruins full of loot, guarded by unsavory things from a past age.  What passes for civilization in these parts are wretched hives of scum and villainy.

But there are rumors, legends, travelers' tales about what lies just beyond the edge of the map (or far beyond it).  Lands of evil magical overlords, legendary dragons and their hoards of gold, kingdoms of light and darkness engaged in eternal warfare.

The important point is that this setting is a sandbox.  Players would be free to stay in the starting location their entire careers, looting ruins for treasure, then carousing away the winnings on harlots and black lotus powder, then skipping town just before the enforcers from the guild come to collect on the debt to try their luck in another expedition to kill things and take their stuff.

OR, they could listen to the rumors of the far off lands, the great evils that need fighting, the legendary monsters that could be slain if only the right legendary weapons were to be located, and set off on a Campbellian hero-journey.

Would there be an audience for a product like this?  A setting book that gives a DM the tools to run a Lankhmar/Conan-esque S&S game and also an Tolkien/Eddings/Jordan-esque epic high fantasy game, in the same game world?  Without being 400 pages long?

I think the beauty of the idea is that a set-up like this would allow for occasional crossovers.  The epic questers might take a break and do a bit of dungeon delving.  Or the cutthroat treasure hunters might decide to go after one of those magic weapons to make dungeon delving easier.

So, any settings like this?  The Known World/Mystara was sorta like that after the fact, or it was at least in the way we played it back in the day.  It was set up to be a place modules could easily be slotted into, but eventually (thanks to the epic scope of the Companion/Masters/Immortals sets) became the home of far-flung epic adventures.

More importantly, would people find such a product useful for their games?

Jaegers and Kaiju

Yesterday the family went to see Pacific Rim.  And it was awesome.

My son started laughing as soon as the first kaiju appeared, and strangely got "scared" during the middle of the movie, not during a scary flashback, but after that when everyone was just talking to each other.  Laughter returned as soon as robots started punching monsters in the face again. 

When we got home, out came the legos:
Father and Son collaborative effort

Solo effort by my son, cut off by bed time

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Ftaghn!

Cthulhu menaced the city of Arkham, but a group of brave and plucky investigators managed to turn the tide and send the incomprehensible presences from beyond time and space back to the cyclopean expanses from which they came.

That's right, the old Busan Board Game Club (myself, Pat, Josh, and Alex, plus Pat's friend Jenna) got together this afternoon to play another round of Arkham Horror, the HPL Mythos themed board game.  And again, it was a lot of fun, but we managed to win without too much risk this time.

For whatever reason, before I arrived everyone had decided to go up against Cthulhu (since he's the toughest of the Great Old Ones in the game), but to counteract that we didn't select our heroes randomly.  I was the P.I., and was the primary monster hunter (and became the deputy).  Pat was the psychiatrist, and kept us all in the game with timely aid in sanity tokens and money.  Josh, as the photographer, and Alex as the researcher, were the main gate explorers/closers.  Jenna, as the doctor, ended up being the primary clue collector, and didn't really need to
use her healing ability much except on herself.

Our team worked well together, and managed to seal six gates while Cthulhu still had three open slots to be filled on its track.  Good thing, too.  Cthulhu would have slaughtered us if it had come to the final battle.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Slings, minus the Singapore or the -blade.

+Claytonian JP posted about slings over on G+ today.  He was wondering if making the damage die exploding (like firearms in 2E AD&D), where a maximum on the damage roll would allow a second die to be rolled for more damage, would unbalance the sling.

I think that's not a bad idea for the weapon.  Scrap Princess tried to do some of the math involved, and concluded that it would make it statistically about the same as the d6 damage done by bows/crossbows.  And it would be a whole lot cooler.

Of course, a few people on the thread thought he meant slings firing exploding ammunition like grenades.  That could be cool, too.

Anyway, sticking with Claytonian's original idea, I might allow this, with the proviso that only manufactured sling bullets get exploding dice.  If you run out and restock with rocks from the local stream, they only do a standard 1d4 damage.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Slaughter in the Night Zone

Last Saturday night, Justin, Jeremy and myself cranked up the volume to 11 and ran the Vaults of Ur campaign again.  Been quite a while.

We started out doing a bit of down-time role playing by post, with Thidrek and Noctis following up on some stuff they found while they were away from Fort Low.  When we fought the eagle-shark, on the monument it used for a nest, there was a graven image of a magical flying cauldron and some humans flying around in it fighting orcs.  We'd seen a similar one in the room of the Hive's Great Minds.  We went there to see what they knew about it (not much), and they let us test it out. 

The cauldron didn't work for Thidrek, but an Orc Magi watching us (there is a lot more commerce between Fort Low and the Hive these days, we've cemented the alliance through our past deeds).  Tark was his name, and ghoul-hunting is his game.  We recruited him to come with us, since exploring the Night Zone was the plan of action for the night.  Tark, being skilled in magic, was able to pilot the cauldron.  The Great Minds of course took it back for analysis.

We hired a bunch of men-at-arms, ten light foot and ten archers.  Forager, our main ally in the Hive, also lent us five of his men.  Our mission was to see what's going on in the Night Zone, as I mentioned above.  The Night Zone is an area of perpetual darkness, where ghouls and an army of skeletons/zombies are battling.  This area was created when one of our adventures failed (the one where most of us used new 1st level characters, and explored an old Spiked Circle outpost full of octo-apes in order to find a lost amulet, and apparently we let something out, or the amulet allowed it to come out, and, well, Night Zone). 

It wasn't long after we entered the Night Zone that we heard the approach of many booted feet.  We arranged our force into an ambush position, and waited.  An undead army of skeletons and zombies approached.  They sensed us, and took a defensive posture.  After a few yelled attempts at parlay (we wondered if we could get them to help us fight ghouls, they wanted our bodies to swell their ranks, we reached an impasse), battle began. 

Our archers proved fairly useless, the skeletal archers less so.  The footmen on Thidrek's side were mown down fairly quickly by zombies, but luckily Thidrek had taken his potion of speed, and was doing Matrix-style bullet-time moves to keep things interesting.  On Noctis and Tark's side, the battle was a little more even, with Noctis staying back in "tactical command" mode and using his bow.

When the undead leader charged with the skeletons when the zombies were about finished off, Thidrek focused on him and took him down in short order thanks to that potion.  Unfortunately, while doing that the last of my archers was torn to pieces by skeletons.  The last of Noctis's light foot went down, leaving the three classed characters and two of Noctis's archers standing when we finished off the skeletons.

By this time, ghouls were approaching stealthily--not so stealthily that we didn't notice them, but enough so that we were unsure of their numbers.  We loaded up some of our dead (to keep them from being animated), and high tailed it back to the Hive.

Next time, hopefully we'll have both more players and more NPCs to help us.  A Cleric or two would be helpful for turning undead.  Maybe then we can penetrate to the heart of the Night Zone and find some way to shut it down.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mountain Dew and Miami Vice

Ah, the 80's.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Bad Dudes, Manimal, Men in Hats.

Want to get your 80's era RPG action on?  Well, then check out what Lee B's [the awesome guy who helped me with the Flying Swordsmen cover and character sheet] blog Plateau of XOLGMOD for a project he's working on, 1988 Dudes the RPG.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book Review: Ender's Game

With the movie coming out soon, I figured I ought to finally read this book.  And last Sunday, I found a copy at our local English library.  The Busan English Library is pretty awesome for our family, since the vast majority of their collection is children's books.  They don't have much sci fi for adults, but luckily they did have a copy of Ender's Game.  So I got it, and read it.  Just finished the last fifteen pages or so this evening as my son was in the shower.

Man, that was a good book!  If the movie is half as good, it will be worth watching.  Or it should be, anyway.  My faith in Hollywood's ability to screw up any source material is high.  And so far, this year's potentially awesome movies have been more or less disappointing.

Anyway, this is about the book, not the upcoming movie.  There's a lot to like in this book, especially if you enjoy military sci fi (I do).  It's space opera-ish, but we don't get to see much of the enemy "buggers," it (like the movie Full Metal Jacket) mostly concentrates on Ender's training.

Card does a great job of getting into the mind of a six-year-old boy (who grows to be a 12-year-old by the end of the book), but one who also happens to be a genius with a pair of older siblings who are also geniuses.  We hear about the Bugger Wars, a pair of invasions of the Solar System by insectile aliens, and we see how young Ender Wiggin is trained to become the great leader who will insure victory in the third invasion.  There are a few twists at the end, one I saw coming a mile away, and a couple that surprised me. 

It's a fairly quick read, and definitely worth your time if you've never read it.

I hear from time to time some people complaining about Orson Scott Card, because of his religious views (Mormon) or his political views (not sure, don't care).  They don't want to buy his books or see the movie because that would "support" OSC's points of view.  I've never quite understood this line of thinking.  But we see similar things all the time, for example with regards to Robert E. Howard or H.P. Lovecraft's racist views or the like.  Personally, I don't buy these arguments.  I believe it's possible to support a writer for the strength of their written works, and that has no bearing on whether or not I support their political/religious views.  If you've been avoiding this book because you don't like Card's ideas, I think you're missing out on a nice, evocative, thoughtful piece of science fiction.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What's in a name?

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but if it was called a "goblin's fart" would as many people be willing to give it a chance?

From the beginning, "Chanbara" was only intended as a working title.  I've gotten so comfortable with the name that I may end up using it, but doing so would be a bit disingenuous.  If I call the finished game Chanbara, anyone who knows what chanbara is is going to be a bit disappointed in the game.  It's a bit less about emulating Kurosawa films or the jidai-geki on Japanese TV (although it certainly can be used to do so) and more about sending groups of adventurers of a samurai/ninja bent to battle the spooks of Japanese ghost stories.

Kwaidan, the name of Lafcadio Hearn's famous book of Japanese supernatural stories, has already been used by Rite Publishing for Paizo's Pathfinder, using the more modern romanized spelling Kaidan, as the name of their pseudo-Japan culture.  There's also an adventure for the Bushido RPG that uses the name, with Hearn's original romanization.  Too bad, as that name more closely fits what I envision this game to be.  I suppose I could still use it, but I'm not sure if trying to butt heads with the Pathfinder crowd or having them accuse me of trying to rip off what Paizo/Rite Publishing are doing is the best idea. 

So what does that leave me with?  Something authentically Japanese that lots of people won't understand?

Obake Yawa (Ghost Stories)?
Eiyu Monogatari (Hero Tales)?

Or maybe since it's OGL/OSR/D&D stuff, some alliterative *&* names would work?

Ruins & Ronin has been taken, but that still leaves:

Katana & Kaibutsu
Samurai & Sorcery
Yokai & Yamabushi
Ninja & Nightmares
Bakemono & Blades

Ugh, none of those have the ring that Flying Swordsmen does.  Because this is intended as a companion game to FS, I had spent a considerable amount of time trying to think of a title as "* Swordsmen" but I never thought of anything I liked. 

Samurai Swordsmen - a bit blah
Dutybound Swordsmen - fits for Samurai, but what about Ronin and other PC types?
Grim Swordsmen - ugh, images of the term "grimdark" that I'd rather avoid.
Honorable Swordsmen - dullsville, as far as names go.

Finally, I've got the option to just name it something cool and half-way poetic:

Legends of the Oni Wars
Sunrise Heroes
Blackmarsh Warriors (an homage to Kurosawa Akira)

Anyway, it'll still be a while before I get this thing ready for publication.  I may stick with Chanbara for convenience, even if it's a bit misleading.  Maybe I'll go with Kwaidan (or some variant of that), since the game is focused on monster-hunting and strange magics as much as it is on dueling kensei or skulking ninja.

Anyway, if you've got any suggestions, I'd love to hear them!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Small Oversight

I'm getting my Chanbara rules ready to go for the playtesting, and I noticed a small oversight.  I left out rules for Psychic Duels.  You know, how a pair of characters will stare each other down, size each other up, and then they don't even have to fight, they know who will win.  Common in Wuxia, Chanbara and Western films.

Anyway, I added it in.  It's only a paragraph, and it uses the three mental stats, level, and standard d20 hit rolls and 1d6 damage rolls to pull off.  I'm hoping someone tries to stare someone down during the play tests so I can try them out.  On paper, it looks good.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

More on magic in Chanbara

There are six "schools" of magic in Chanbara.  I still haven't decided what to call them, schools or traditions or domains or ???.  In my draft they're just noted as types at the moment.  Anyway, the six types are:

Divination - knowing is half the battle
Elemental - mostly attack spells
Ki - body and mind effects
Protection - self explanitory
Spirit - grab bag of stuff to deal with spirit creatures
Transformation - again, fairly self explanitory

There are five levels of spells, with each type/school having 3/3/2/2/1 for a total of 18 1st level spells, 18 2nd level spells, 12 3rd level spells, 12 4th level spells, and 6 5th level spells.  A few are new ones I made up, but most are borrowed/adapted from D&D or Flying Swordsmen.

As I mentioned last post, I've transformed the Yokai race-classes into separate racial choices for characters.  This drops the number of classes to nine, with five of them having some access to spells.

Yamabushi - the pure caster, they get no Combat Maneuvers (combat oriented special abilities/feats) or Tricks (thiefy special abilities/feats), just Spells and Secrets (magical special abilities/feats).  They get Elemental, Protection, Spirit and Transformation spells.

Onmyoji - demon/spirit hunters who are primarily spell-casters, they also gain some Tricks on the side at the expense of some Secrets.  They get Divination, Protection and Spirit spells.

Shinsen - enlightened mortals or semi-transformed immortals, they are primarily spell-casters, but have some Combat Maneuvers as well and are a bit more buff.  They get Elemental, Ki and Transformation spells.

Sohei - warrior-monks with mostly combat prowess but some spell access (up to level 3 spells and Secrets).  They get Ki, Protection and Spirit spells. 

Gorotsuki - shinobi who use performance and magic to hide their covert acts, they primarily get Tricks, but have some spell access (again, up to level 3 spells and Secrets).  They get Divination, Ki and Transformation spells.

As for the changes to the Yokai, originally Kappa were Samurai/Ninja cross class, Kitsune were Yamabushi/Ninja cross class, and Tengu were Samurai/Yamabushi cross class.  Now, I've limited each Yokai race to certain classes:

Kappa: Samurai, Ronin, Kagemusha, Ninja (all the non-spellcasting classes).
Kitsune: Yamabushi, Onmyoji, Gorotsuki, Ninja (all the non-combat classes).
Tengu: Samurai, Sohei, Shinsen, Yamabushi (all the non-shinobi classes).

I may open the Yokai classes up, allowing Kappa any Bushi or Shinobi class (so they could cast spells as Sohei or Gorotsuki up to level 3); Kitsune any Shinobi or Maho-tsukai class (so they could get combat maneuvers up to level 3 as Kagemusha and Shinsen); Tengu any Bushi or Maho-tsukai class (so they could get Tricks up to level 3 as Ronin and Onmyoji).  We'll see.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Work continues on Chanbara

Yesterday and today, I decided that I didn't like the way I'd done magic in Chanbara.

Well, that's not 100% accurate.  I've got spell casting with Chainmail style casting rolls to pull off spells, rather than traditional Vancian D&D magic or even the 3E Sorcerer style that I used in Flying Swordsmen.  That stayed.

What I changed was access to spells.  As revisions have gone on, I've reduced the number of special abilities each class gets as they level up.  It just seemed like too much stuff.  But that meant that spell casters had very few spells known.

So, instead, again taking a cue from Chainmail, each spell casting class in Chanbara has a list of spell types (schools if you will) that they have access to.  Well, now they just have blanket access to all of those spells, although they need to be of appropriate level to cast higher level spells.  Jury's still out on a "risking mishaps to cast higher level spells" mechanic.

And to fill the gap, I came up with a list of Secrets, or feat-like special abilities for spell-casters to choose from, similar to the Combat Maneuvers and Tricks. 

The other big change was dropping race-as-class and making the Yokai into racial options, with limited class access.  This adds a small additional choice to character creation, but removes three classes from the game - so down to nine.

Coming up with the Secrets was fairly quick and painless, so I've no doubt there are some problems here and there (less powerful ones high on the level list, or vice versa) but that's what play testing is for, right?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Figures have arrived!

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I ordered a bunch of little plastic figures for my son to play with, including the classic Galaxy Laser Team sci-fi figure set.

They arrived today, and my son was suitably impressed.  Here are a few hastily taken pictures (not the best quality, sorry) of all the little guys set up in ranks.  My son's a bit of a perfectionist/completionist. 

 Here is the whole big mess of them.

Everyone's favorite, the Galaxy Laser Team.  They look really large compared to the other sets.  I've got a couple of the Darth Vader knockoffs in my boxes of random RP related figures.  I'll try to dig them out later and see if they're the same scale as the classics, or if it's just that everything else is on a slightly smaller scale.

Masses of robots!  The ad said 140, we got 147, although one was deformed (looks like they ran out of plastic to pour in its mold).  completely random numbers, but there are six poses in four colors each.  If these were for a Star Frontiers or Gamma World game, yikes!  That would be a tough battle!  The zombies are there on the end of the second picture, in a nice toxic/radioactive green color.  My son thought all of these guys are the bad guys, so they got bunched together.  Sorry there's not a lot of detail on the zombies.  There are twenty of them, four each of five poses (two female, three male).

And here are the zombie hunters.  Slightly disappointing that we didn't get the swat/hazmat dudes from the Amazon ad (I should have read the comments, apparently they're either changed or randomized, not sure).  Anyway, we've got one swat-type with an M4 rifle, and four civilian survivors.  Crazy looking dude with an axe, chick wielding a knife in two hands (?), trucker/farmer with a crossbow, and a dude with a shotgun and a snazzy hat.  All of these (the zombies and the survivors) are really soft plastic, and the bases are concave hollows, so they don't stand up so well.  I'm planning to get some putty to fill in the bases and help keep them upright.

And here we have the cave men set.  Four poses, six of each for each color.  Big old neanderthal with club, and three cro-magnons with boulder, stone ax, and club.  The neanderthals would work well as ogres for standard RPG mini scale.  In fact, all of them could work.  And if you use true 25mm scale, any of these guys could be hill or stone giants.