Monday, December 28, 2020

General Gamery: Freelancing with a Fickle Muse

 Okay, so this is a weird one.

A couple weeks ago, I was working on a new assignment for Paizo (nope, can't talk about it until it's announced). As I was working on it, I had to follow my process to get in the right state of mind for writing.

For me, the pre-game is a two-step process.

Step One: Tactile Goodness

Okay, this is old news, but a couple years ago I put together a keyboard to fill my tactile needs. I like the click-clack of Cherry MX blue switches, and while terrible for gaming, my keyboard (aka Fairlight Excalibur) is perfect for my writing needs. 

For those that don't know, Cherry MX Blue is a type of switch (the apparatus beneath each actual key) that not only supplies the signal for each key depression, but adds a certain amount of bounce and tension to each keystroke. Different switches in the Cherry MX family offer different levels of tension and each feels different when stroked. The blue is fairly bouncy, but not as stiff as green or white switches.

What makes blue switches stand out is that the plunger is in two parts- the blue plunger which is attached to the key above, and a white slider that actually completes the circuit. To some degree, the white slider moves independently, but it is pushed down or drawn up by the plunger. When the slider is fully depressed against the switch housing, it makes an audible "click." The result? An experience that affects both touch and hearing.  As such, for a long time- this element of my necessities to get into the right zone has been met.

Step Two: Music Sets the Mood

Step two is specific to each project. For most of my life, I've had a mild auditory hallucination, sometimes referred to as musical tinnitus. Since I have actual tinnitus from years of performing live music without ear protection, this makes me extra special. But seriously, this basically means that a part of my brain is constantly hearing music. I don't have any cancerous growths or symptoms of Alzheimer's, nor have I been on any medication or drugs that could cause such a malady- I simply always hear music. I sometimes jokingly call it WJOE radio.

When I was younger and in bands, this was easy to remedy- I'd simply put myself to writing music and like magic the songs in my head would change to focus on what I was writing. Mind you, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a good songwriter- and a lot of what I have done is fairly derivative. But I blame my internal musical muse for that. I've also found that listening to music seems to sate that part of my brain (thank the Gods Below that I grew up in an age with the walkman and the products it spawned). To some degree, any time I needed to concentrate, I've required musical accompaniment. And this has transferred more specifically to my writing than any other part of my life.

So yes, Fearless Reader, if you have read more than a dozen words of mine strung together, it was written to music. This has a greater effect on individual projects than I would have expected. Early in my freelancing career, I didn't recognize this need. As a result, my work on Smallville and Red Dragon Inn didn't display the potential I've been able to show in later projects. It wasn't until I worked on Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game: Annihilation that I found my muse.

Annihilation was a big deal for me. Finally, I was not only doing professional work, but it was for one of the pillars of my geekdom. I was working on a project that had the name Marvel on it. Even more importantly, Nova was (and still is) my favorite superhero, and Annihilation was his vehicle, his moment to shine. I could not screw this up. I was more than a little intimidated by the project, and as my deadline was creeping up, I wasn't getting nearly as far as I should. So, I did what I have had to do when buckling down on a spreadsheet- I put on some music and let it pull me along. In this case, it was Chevelle's Sci-fi Crimes. A decent album and it drew me into Annihilation's major beats and space battles perfectly. This was a game-changer for me.

Fast forward a few years, and this is a more formal part of my process. If I'm writing for a project that in any way evokes theme, or depth of character, I've spent time to curate a playlist long before I've put a single word down. For Wayfinder when I wrote The Boomrock Run, I made a list full of Fugazi, the Rollins Band, KMFDM, and started it all off with Faith No More's Surprise, You're Dead. Cosa Nostra, my Cortex Prime setting set during the time of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky found a soundtrack influenced by the music I listened to at the time my grandfather would tell me those stories- Billy Joel, Elton John, the Clash. Starfinder Society: Illegal Shipment drew inspiration from late 80's sci-fi/action movie soundtracks like Aliens, Predator, Terminator, and liberal seasoning of the Mandalorian. While my newest work was entirely drawn from Pink Floyd songs to fill my mind with the haunting mystery and drama that music can inspire. And so on, and so forth.

I don't know if I'm in the minority of people that do this, but I'm curious to see what the next soundtrack will be.

~The Doc

Sunday, June 9, 2019

General Gamery: Dime Stories 2nd Edition and Ch-ch-changes...

Holy crap it's been a while sine I posted here!

Alright- well let's get to it. I've had a bee in my bonnet for a while about Dime Stories.

A few years back, a game designer I respected made the comment that while Dime Stories was fun, it lacked anything mechanically that tied it to the theme. I'm paraphrasing, but the idea stuck. And somewhere in my noggin, wheels started to turn. Sure, Dime Stories was always the red-headed stepchild of my creations. Most of my time and attention had been spent on Superhuman and my freelancing projects and I would make sidelong comments about Dime Stories calling it "barely a game" and "utterly terrible." So, I let the doozers in the back of my head work on the problem for a while. A long while.

Every now and then I jumped in to make things pretty with a new logo and a new cover for the rulebook. I talked to artists about making new and improved art for a print edition of the rulebook, but I never more than skimmed the surface while avoiding the main problem. The game had problems- not unfix-able problems- but problems. And even if I fixed them, the initial comment that the game did not mesh with the theme was still the mountain in front of me.

Every now and then, I touched on something that worked and ran with it. I ran an amazing mod of Dime Stories last year at Gencon with a Shadowrun theme called Nuyen Stories- to be fair, this mod was far better than the original. One time I dipped my toe in to fix Dime Stories and accidentally wrote a GI Joe RPG in the process (more about Battleforce at another time). I even decided to keep much of the core principles of the original game (though fixed with two minor changes) to be used as a generic role-playing system (something else for me to come back to another time).

But ultimately, it was something I had set aside for a wholly different project that proved to be the true impetus for change- cards.

Despite set in the far future on an alien world, Dime Stories is, at its heart, a western. And when I don't think about gunfights in the old west, I think about a handful of unsavory types playin' cards in some seedy bar or brothel. So, I naturally wanted to make a few sets of cards. I briefly toyed with the idea of making some in-world poker variants when I realized that an ancillary game wasn't what I needed to do. Great thematic games like Aces & Eights and Dogs in the Vineyard had found ways to incorporate poker in their games- why hadn't I? Not to mention the SAGA line of games that WotC created in the late nineties to try to change up the aging game systems of RPGs at the time.

So now, it's months later. Dime Stories no longer has dice. Like at all. Cards have replaced just about everything- with each player using their own deck, playing poker for physical and social combat situations, and using  a trumping system similar to my beloved Marvel and Fifth Age SAGA rules from years past. And I love it.

Does it work?

No idea, but it will be with me at Origins and Gen Con for alpha testing with the public before I send it out for beta testing without me involved (yep- I'm looking at you, my fearless reader- reach out and be a part of it!)

Of course, this get's my inner designer going. So on top of the first of Dime Stories' new poker decks (available now at DrivethruRPG), I needed to redesign the pregen PCs and NPCs in Easy Money for convention play. Those that have played Dime Stories with pregens before will see a lot that looks familiar. Thinkin' has been split to two abilities (Thinkin' and Socializin'), traits no longer have numerical scores, but everything else seems pretty similar, right? Well... it looks the same, but holy hell is it different. Everything interacts in new ways that actually feels like it belongs in theme (more on this later)

And for reference- these pregen PC's are not the format for the character sheets going forward- these are just how pregens will appear in our published materials.

Non player characters needed similar changes. Gone are the "come up with three traits and give them numerical scores" days. They need to work the same way (albeit with a few simplifications) as Player Characters- a lesson I learned from running the awesome Nuyen Stories mod (Drew- if you're reading this, that's what I keep forgetting to tell you).

Which leads to the important question my five fans will have- what happens to those that have bought earlier Dime Stories products? Well, that's simple. Anyone that has ever bought a dime stories product has bought the product in pdf or received a free pdf if they bought a printed adventure. Every single one of those products will be updated to 2e after testing is complete (so likely Q3 or so). I will add free downloads of the new material and rules for those customers and as new product moves in, I'll take old products down so limit confusion for new customers.

As far as where to find us at Origins this week?
Saturday Morning Games will be running several events in the GCCC Union Station Ballroom Foyer.

Thursday,-Jeph will be running games of Punk's Been Dead since '79. At 1pm is the 1996 Northwest Ohio Battle of the Bands and at 7pm is Blackjack's Revenge.

Friday- Jeph is running the same two scenarios, but Blackjack's Revenge is at 9am and the 1996 Northwest Ohio Battle of the Bands is at 1pm.

As usual, Saturday is a doozy for us. at 9am I'll be running the 10 cent tale Easy Money updated for Dime Stories 2nd Edition (as I talked about above). At 1pm, Jeph is running his bible camp follow up to PBDs79 in an adventure called Paint over Piety. And finally, at 2pm we're returning to Centennial City in the convention adventure for Superhuman- The Bank Job.

Hope to see you there!

An also, I'm not avoiding you, Fearless Reader. I promise I'll write soon. I... I love you.
~The Doc

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Campaign Concepts- Pathfinder: Outcasts Part 2- Player's Guide I: Character Creation and Traits

Continuing my exploration of an unofficial Adventure Path for Pathfinder RPG. The following is the first part of what would be a Player's Guide highlighting character creation and campaign traits in the proud Paizo tradition.

Character Tips

Your friends are all you have left.

Whatever you did that caused you to become a pariah in your hometown, you’ve come to realize that only your traveling companions can truly be relied on for allies, comrades, even friends. But that doesn’t mean you’ve found a home. Far from it. You’ve left Cheliax behind, and the lot of you have had to keep running.

While pooling storylines that Paizo and 3rd party companies have written in the past, Outcasts doesn’t resemble Paizo’s brilliant adventure paths in structure nearly as much as it does in spirit. But Player’s Guides have helped build PCs that fit with the themes and stories of past Adventure Paths. So, below are several things to keep in mind while designing characters for Outcasts.

Pariahs: For whatever reason, the PCs are pariahs and monsters, cast out of their various homelands and on the run for some reason or another. The characters are in search of a home, but could come from nearly any background. In addition to the following campaign
traits, resources like Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea World Guide and nearly any Pathfinder Player’s Companion will be invaluable to help build your character.

Class Tips: This campaign will take you through a number of dungeons and cities. Knowledge (local) and racial low-light vision or darkvision might come in handy.
Classes that rely on animal companions or mounts might find Large creatures a liability in tight underground corridors or when interacting in some civilized environments, but that should not be the reason to avoid those classes. Social classes should also do well, if only to smooth over the common people’s (read: mob) interaction with the party.

The Bad Guys: Outcasts features the gamut of monster types, so be ready for
anything! You’ll face many different creature types— from vermin, humanoids, and fey at low levels to giants, undead, constructs, aberrations, and evil outsiders at higher levels. But more than anything, the most common enemy will always be the regular humans around you. They don’t like you, will try to scare you off or hunt you down, so be prepared for them first.

Campaign Traits

In Outcasts, the players have been cast out of their respective societies- either through deed, choice, or birth. They’ve banded together to seek kinship, assistance, and a refuge from a world that doesn’t allow for them to fit in. These aren’t crusading knights, adventurous Pathfinders, or even hardened mercenaries. These are the heroes that Golarion forgot and never really cared for.

For whatever reason, you were forced to flee your homeland. Chance or fate has brought you here, and it’s here that your money ran out. Now you can only rely on each other.

Forlorn (Elves and Half-elves only)
Having lived outside of traditional elf society for much or all of your life, you know the world can be cruel, dangerous, and unforgiving of the weak. No matter how hard you have tried, most elves shun your company.

Benefit: You take a -1 penalty on all Charisma-based skill checks made when dealing with elves but gain a +1 trait bonus on Fortitude saves as a result of your steadfast determination to survive. (The penalty aspect of this trait is removed if you ever manage to establish yourself among elven society.)

Monster (Featured and Uncommon Races only)
People fear what they don’t understand. In the towns and countryside you grew up in, you and your family were the only ones of your kind. The public fear of your species was enough to run your family out of town with fire and pitchforks- or worse, adventurers. It only got worse after your parents passed on as a lone monster became oddly scarier than a family.

Benefit: You gain a +1 trait bonus on Intimidate checks, and Intimidate is a class skill for you. In addition, you gain a +1 trait bonus on Will saves against fear effects.

You've spent years at the wrong end of a closed fist. It might have been family, acquaintances, even those you trusted. In the end, you found you could trust relatively few souls and that has made you paranoid and quick to react to danger.

Benefit You gain a +2 trait bonus on Initiative checks.

Religious Pariah
In your homeland, your faith is at best frowned upon, but more likely is illegal (such as non-Asmodean faiths in Cheliax or worship of an evil god in most other regions). But your calling is true and you have no interest in seeking another god to follow.

Benefit: You gain a +1 trait bonus on Knowledge (religion) checks, and Knowledge (religion) is a class skill for you. If you cast divine spells, pick three spells on your spell list. You are particularly adept at casting these spells, so they function at +1 caster level when you cast them, and their save DCs (if any) gain a +1 bonus.

Former Criminal
Life has been hard for you. Perhaps your parents and siblings were crooks and con artists, or maybe your rough, lonely life led you to fall in with thieves and worse. You know how to ambush travelers, bully traders, avoid the law, and camp where no one might find you. Recently, you've run into some trouble, either with the law or with other bandits, and you're looking to get away to somewhere no one would ever think to look for you.

Benefit: You begin the campaign with an extra 100 gp in ill-gotten gains. You also gain a +1 trait bonus on Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Sense Motive checks when dealing with brigands, thieves, bandits, and their ilk.

Political Liability (Humans or Half-humans only)
One of your parents was a member of one of the great families of the Inner Sea (likely from Taldor, Cheliax, or Ustalav). But ill tidings and intrigue has caused terrible tidings to befall your family, and you are likely the last of your line. Yet you have no substantive proof of your nobility, and you've learned that claiming nobility without evidence makes you as good as a liar. While you might own a piece of jewelry, a scrap of once-rich fabric, or an aged confession of love, none of this directly supports your claim.

Benefit: You take a -1 penalty on all Charisma-based skill checks made when dealing with members of nobility but gain a +1 trait bonus on Will saves as a result of your stubbornness and individuality. (The penalty aspect of this trait is removed if you ever manage to establish yourself as a true noble.)

There’s something very wrong with the world. Spouses were not meant to huddle at their windows hoping and fearing day after day that their loved ones returned from work safely. Parents were not meant to hush their children when questioned about what happened to their neighbors. Citizens were not meant to avert their eyes and hurry by as guardsmen beat old friends in the street. The people of your country suffered long enough! Unfortunately, you were not the voice of change you could have hoped. Instead, your nation’s guards and knights want your head on a spike. So you ran.

Benefit: You gain a +1 trait bonus on Initiative checks, and if you act in a surprise round, you gain a +1 trait bonus on all attack rolls.

Your mind works differently than others. You’ve considered that the voices might be some form of mental disorder, or they might be some kind of enlightenment. After all, they make you better able to see the truth of things. In any case, your situation marked you as different from those around you, and those that tried to get close to you were unnerved by your abnormal personality quirks and ability to see right through them. But as far as you are concerned, you are likely the only one that can see things clearly.

Benefit: You gain a +1 trait bonus on Sense Motive checks, and Sense Motive is a class skill for you. In addition, you gain a +1 trait bonus on all Will saves made to resist mind-affecting effects.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Campaign Concepts- Pathfinder: Outcasts Part 1- Laying the Groundwork

For the last few months, I've been running my fourth or fifth Pathfinder Adventure Path (I lose track after a while- especially after starting Rise of the Runelords three times), Curse of the Crimson Throne. I really enjoy the drama of Curse of the Crimson Throne. I like its bad guys, the personalities of the NPCs, and how everything is contained into one major city undergoing major political upheaval. I especially love how the theme feels like Masque of the Red Death and the depth of the antagonist's evil.

Soooo good.

I'd say it is currently third in my list of favorite Adventure Paths behind Ironfang Invasion (because I was sorely missing a good forest campaign and Ironfang gives us that in the middle of a war of LoTR proportions) and Skull & Shackles (because pirates, duh).

But I find myself missing the days when I would create as a GM. Paizo has such good writing that it's made me lazy. I can expect their adventures to be so well written (if sometimes unbalanced) that prep becomes just reading the adventure ahead of time. So, I really wanted to create something new.

Does that mean I want to write an Adventure Path?

Oh, hell no!

Unless I get lucky enough to end up in the Paizo bullpen at some point, I've got enough on my plate (shameless plugs follow) with Dime Stories, Superhuman RPG, my Cosa Nostra supplement for the upcoming Cortex Prime RPG, and my own Pathfinder fantasy/western campaign book, Boomtown (Currently in preliminary planning stages).

Instead, I'd like to use what is already there in modules and third party materials and tap my creative juices to string them together in a coherent storyline (adding my own flourishes and side quests along the way). There's a plethora of great material out there that Paizo published in the dark days of 3.5 that most players these days have never seen (like the Falcon's Hollow storylines) that would make a great starting point and takes place in Golarion.

So let's start with the helicopter view:

Campaign Outline:

Pathfinder Outcasts starts with the players already familiar with each other. They are pariahs and monsters, cast out of their various homelands and on the run for some reason or another. The only people they can trust and rely on are each other. Already, this is different than the normal hometown hero story, these are the people the hometown hero is hired to run out of town. Not necessarily evil, just unwelcome.

Players are encouraged to build deeply flawed characters full of story, hardship, and spirit. They could be of nearly any class, but should be monstrous, morally grey, crazy, untrustworthy, iconoclast, unconventionally devout, or just somehow different than a normal PC (the campaign traits will help flesh this out).

The PCs start out already on the run, having crossed the Cheliax/Andoran border in hopes for a place they could live out their years in relative peace. While leaps and bounds better than Cheliax, the players find that Andoran is hardly welcoming as they pass through Arthell forest in hopes that the oft-mentioned Falcon's Hollow will prove to be a respite.

Spoiler: it's not.

One of their few allies will mention a place much more egalitarian than Falcon's Hollow where our group might find a home: a small town in the River Kingdoms called Hordenheim. Problem is, they'll have to go through the war-torn Galt to get there- and unlike Andoran, galtans aren't exactly welcoming to outsiders.

So far this mini AP has two major arcs.The first is a search for a home which has the PCs trying to make a home for themselves in southwest Andoran to very limited success. This will use the modules Into the Haunted Forest, Hollow's Last Hope, Crown of the Kobold King.

Galt will act as a bridge between arcs with Flight of the Red Raven and Revenge of the Kobold King.

The second act brings them to Hordenheim where they begin to feel more at home. This will primarily follow Colin Stricklin's fantastic Adventure a Week modules in the city of Hordenheim.

All that brings the PCs to level 9 or so. That's where I fill in. Early in the series, they are introduced to the story of a druid king of ages past called Navren. They discovered some magic items of his that act in concert and have been scaling with the PCs as the campaign dragged on. Are they secretly the key to a greater darkness? Will our heroes become the beloved heroes they had always hoped to become?


Primarily I'm playing with the theme of family in a very X-men way. X-men always shined at showing those that society cast out could form true familial bonds by standing together to protect a world that hates them. That's the core theme here. But each arc should have it's own feel as well.

The first arc is a little bit Frankenstein and a little bit Willow. Early on, it becomes obvious that the PCs are the only competent adventurers for the jobs at hand, but they are still ignored, despised, or even chased out of town with fire and pitchforks. Despite the heavy theme,the execution will be a bit tongue-in-cheek with how the villains and other NPCs act (especially with the Kobold King as the early primary recurring villain). This is intentional so that the second arc isn't as jarring.

Hordenheim becoming home is very different. No longer on the run, we can abandon the Frankenstein feel for a more comedy/action feel in a Die Hard vain. This whole arc is more about becoming a part of their new society and should feel a bit like Edward Scissorhands or The Burbs. In fact, let's make that easier:

Required Viewing:

First Arc:
Mary Shelly's Frankenstein
Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Monster Squad
X-men First Class

Second Arc:
Edward Scissorhands
Die Hard
Die Hard with a Vengeance
The 'Burbs
The Witches of Eastwick
The Harry Potter series

Special Rules:

Every Adventure Path introduces a bunch of special rules to make it stand out. Outcasts will be no different.

First, I plan to lift the relationship map from Cortex. Not only will this help to establish the interactions between the PCs, but it will allow each pair of players to agree on a teamwork feat they can use together as if both possessed the feat (think of Colossus and Wolverine with the Fastball Special). Every four levels, the players can agree to change their character's views on each other to add new tactics and feat to their partnering.

Second, the trope of their time in Andoran and Galt will be that they are being run out of town. So I'll be sightly modifying the Pathfinder chase rules from the Gamemastery Guide with serious story implications if the PCs are caught.

This as well as scaling items of power that the PCs get REALLY early on and some other goodies.

I'll expand on all these rules in a later article.

That's it for now. Come back next week as I lay out the campaign traits in a mini Player's Guide.

~The Doc

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Tell Me About Your Character: Ep.4- Tell me lies. Tell me sweet little lies.

Box Text:
Following in the footsteps of Matt McFarland, my fellow Saturday Morning Gamers, Jonathan and Geoff, have begun to slog through their RPG collections and they are making a character for each game. My plan is to do the same, with a slight variant. A lot of my collection is made up of several editions of the same game or setting (D&D, Marvel, Star Wars, Star Trek, Shadowrun, etc.). So while I will document the characters and process for most games normally, for those with multiple editions I will be making one character and remaking the same character for each edition. Ideally, this should give some insight to some of the decisions the design teams made and how they differ even with the same subject matter.

Wherever possible, I am using randomized stats or whatever the most common methods were to build characters at the time and core books rather than entire game libraries to give the entry level experience. Oh sure, there will be some games that I'll pull out all the stops and use half a dozen game books to create a fleshed out character. But that will be a rare occurrence.

Also, I'm not going to be showing you optimized characters. First, that's not how I build characters, I'm a story guy. But more importantly,this column is about the process, not the result.

As usual, we'll start with the character and concept first:

Your reality, sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever.

I tire of explaining things in such a mundane fashion. So, I will allow my followers from Geek and Sundry to explain the good Baron's "Game" with their customary lack of ingenuity and class.

The rules are relatively minimal. The first player prompts the player on their left to regale them with a story of their choosing. This could be anything such as, “Tell us about the time you fended off that invading Mongolian horde with a banana” or “How precisely did you woo Catherine the Great and bring about the age of Russian Enlightenment?” From there, the challenged player begins telling the story with as much detail as possible. The other players may attempt to interrupt, distract, and prove the story false by wagering tokens. “But how could that be true if Genghis Khan had already seized all the bananas in eastern Asia?” The storyteller must then counter the argument with their own token, offering an explanation as to why their story is completely true or an excuse as to why that detail does not fit. Players can argue back and forth until one concedes. Once each player has told their story, all the players use their tokens to select their favorite tale.

Who am I?

I am Marquis Edmond Augustine Ignatious Wilfred Steven du Lac , Second Prince of West Asia, Defender of the Order of Free Peoples, Knight of The Righteous Rose, former Duke of East Carolina.

You've heard of me- or at least my story, you just do not know it yet. Your friend, the blogger, has asked me to fill in to tell you my story in his plain, uninteresting dialect.

I am the second son of the King of West Asia, born far from here in Tycho City, Luna in exile of my homelands. Most of my life was spent sailing the phlogston seas of space and time, having adventures and romantic interludes with the finest lovers and most gallant combatants the ages could have ever produced. Still none have been my equal at sword, treaty, dice, or love. And to this day, hundreds seek my counsel in nearly every matter.

Come to my table and I will merrily tell you a tale. It will only cost you the time and coin to refill my goblet and the pleasure of your company. I need not promise, for it remains fact, that my company is always a pleasure.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen
By Fantasy Flight Games 2017

I do not feel that I have a need to wax philosophical on how the Baron's game came to its Third Printing with the simple plebs of Fantasy Flight. I will say that it greatly improves on previous editions from the likes of Mongoose Publishing by simply adding more words.

Yes, those words highlight new ways to play the "game" with a dozen new variations. They are far from the thirty nine variations the Baron approached me to help him create, but it seems that books can only hold so much information and the publishers were afraid that if we kept my additions, the books would invariably break their bindings and the sheer knowledge that could have been gained would be lost forever. Ah, what a day it might have been to see those words etched forever in paper and ink...

But I digress.

It should be apparent to you that the good Baron consulted me time and again on the creation of his game. He claimed he wanted only to tell the most fantastical tales based on my own exploits, but I suggested he change the focus to others trying to keep up with the truths of my wondrous life.

Wait. Hold. I need to have my goblet refilled. This form of retelling makes one quite thirsty.

Ah, excellent. The Red Queen of the Martian Steppes personally supplied me with this vintage of helioberry wine from the stores of the Jeddak. There is no finer drink of the vine.

Back to the Baron's game. It was nearly thirty years ago that, hat in hand, the Baron approached me gentleman to gentleman and bade me tell him the tales of my exploits throughout the cosmos. As a nobleman, I could hardly dismiss the request of a fellow patrician. So it was surprising, even to me, to see the Baron's eyes wide in recognition of the tales he had heard- far more poorly- detailed before him.

Even from my boyhood adventures at the side of the King of Carolina, my claim to the Shah of Highsand's harem, and my third marriage to the current Queen of West Asia, my tales had spread from dance hall, to tavern; from pauper's pit to royal hall. However, it seems that my tales were so legendary, so influential that others- ne'erdowells and vagabonds, I expect- had dared to lay claim to my story as their own.

And thus, I explained to the good Baron, that he could find his game within. Oh sure, the publisher made the poor decision to not utilize my good name to sell more volumes, but I expect it was fear of my legal wrath if tempted that kept their hand from the affront.

No matter, it is a rare day that I cannot rule the day at the Baron's game, much like any other such idle pastime, simply by telling the amazing truths of the years that have preceded this one in my astonishing life story.

One day, you should see for yourself. But for now, I must call upon the maitre d' to refill my goblet once again.


A note from Joe: The running list of characters can be found here. If you have any other ideas for games not on that list, or know what you'd like me to dive into next, drop me a line.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

General Gamery: Superhuman RPG

Wait... what?

Yeah, you saw it. Superhuman RPG.

Does this mean that I'm not going to continue working on the Superhuman Miniatures Game that was promised forever ago?

No. Not at all. Actually, it's kind of the opposite.

Miniatures are expensive to make. I mean really, really expensive. Especially in the scope that Superhuman requires. But art for the game, I already have in abundance. Not to mention setting.

Oh sure, I'd been tossing around the idea of making a FATE Superhuman RPG... but then I realized something far better designers than me figured out a few years ago. SYNERGY!!!

For the last few years I've been loving the Iron Kingdoms RPG- partially because I adore Immoren as a world. But more than anything else it's that the wizards over at Privateer Press figured out that the same people that roleplay in Iron Kingdoms might also play Warmachine or Hordes. And that making the rules for one work with the others might benefit all three games.

And so that's what I'll do here.

The Superhuman RPG (oh, I should toss up the logo for it, huh?) will use the art I've compiled for the minis game over the years from the likes of Avery Liell-Kok, Bryan Bretz, and Matt Parmenter, build the world, and utilize the entire ruleset for Superhuman with some tweaks and add-ons to give it depth.

Then, whenever it is possible to fund a project like Superhuman Miniatures, we can broaden the scope to change the focus to small teams of supers, rather than individuals like in the RPG.

Sounds simple, right?

Well, it's not. Retooling Superhuman for RPG means digging deep and revisiting all the mistakes I made in the earlier versions of the game. In the decade or so since I first conceived of Superhuman, I've changed and grown as a game designer so much that earlier drafts are pretty much unreadable. Basically it's more difficult to retool than start over.

But no, starting over isn't really the right way. The core of Superhuman was pretty good and I can build from the basic mechanics to something grand on multiple levels.

And I'll want you to help me with it.

We start this summer with Gencon 50.

At Gencon, I will be running a single event for Superhuman on Saturday at 1pm. Players in this event will play the villains in a Bank Heist- the first in The Crew, a line of convention exclusive adventures that longtime readers will remember from my early steps in this blog.

If I do this right, every player will walk away with a copy of the introductory adventure complete with pregenerated PCs and all the rules you would need to run it. From there, we'll start playtests so that Gencon 2018 can see a full release of the book.

Fingers crossed,
Doctor Mono

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Tell Me About Your Character: Ep.3- By Crom!

Box Text:
Following in the footsteps of Matt McFarland, my fellow Saturday Morning Gamers, Jonathan and Geoff, have begun to slog through their RPG collections and they are making a character for each game. My plan is to do the same, with a slight variant. A lot of my collection is made up of several editions of the same game or setting (D&D, Marvel, Star Wars, Star Trek, Shadowrun, etc.). So while I will document the characters and process for most games normally, for those with multiple editions I will be making one character and remaking the same character for each edition. Ideally, this should give some insight to some of the decisions the design teams made and how they differ even with the same subject matter.

Wherever possible, I am using randomized stats or whatever the most common methods were to build characters at the time and core books rather than entire game libraries to give the entry level experience. Oh sure, there will be some games that I'll pull out all the stops and use half a dozen game books to create a fleshed out character. But that will be a rare occurrence.

Also, I'm not going to be showing you optimized characters. First, that's not how I build characters, I'm a story guy. But more importantly,this column is about the process, not the result.

As usual, we'll start with the character and concept first:

To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.

Ah, Conan.

First an admission.

I do not like Conan stories written by the character's creator, Robert E. Howard. Nor do I particularly care for any of the books that followed from authors like Harry Turtledove, Sean A. Moore, and Robert Jordan. Most of my interest in Conan came directly from two sources: the fantastic Marvel Comics Savage Sword of Conan series and the Schwarzenegger films.

But Conan, while a suitable protagonist for his series, did little for me as the hero of the stories. He seemed to be simply a collection of tropes that would have seemed new and interesting in the pulp era, but lost something in the eighties and nineties of my youth.

What really drew me in was the world-building Robert E. Howard and subsequent creators put into the Hyborian Age where Conan's tales are set. Unlike many of the worlds in which sword and sorcery stories find themselves, the Hyborian Age melded historical (if somewhat anachronistic)times and places with an artificial mythology of magic, monsters, and brutality. While Howard himself created a world he placed between the fall of Atlantis and recorded history (around 10,000 BCE), the final creation felt more timeless as it blended in later european, eastern european, and north african influences.

Who is Petrucco?

Petrucco was born to sail.

The town of Tortage is called the gem of the Barachan Islands by the pirates that dwell there. When Petrucco began to quicken in his mother, Carisia's belly, she drydocked the ship she had captained for nearly a decade for exhaustive repairs while she reared and raised her only child.

When Petrucco was old enough to man a sloop of his own, Carisia and the captains of several allied Tortagian vessels took him under their wing to learn the Barachan ways of sword, sea, and piracy. For the next two decades, Petrucco sailed with any ship that would have him and earned a reputation as a fearsome pirate, canny gambler, savvy carouser, and brilliant sailor.

 When Petrucco finally decided to captain a ship under his own flag, he had no shortage of able bodied sailors vying for a position on his crew. It was his mother, now years into a wasting disease that would finally take her life, that offered him the ship he would come to call home- her dry-docked barachan galley, Leviathan.

Conan: The Roleplaying Game
By Mongoose Publishing, 2003

So what the hell was that, right? Okay, again, Conan was far from my favorite character in the series. If I wanted to see Conan, there are plenty examples of him in the book. I wanted to play with other parts of the world.

I toyed with making someone close to Subotai, my favorite character from the first movie. But the Hyrkanian race are built to make pretty much only him (even though Red Sonja should also be Hyrkanian and is far from an archer), so that wasn't really what I wanted to do.

Instead, while I was mulling over the races (more on that in a minute), my wife was watching the most recent version of The Count of Monte Cristo. I got to thinking that Luigi Vampa would be a great Barachan pirate, and on I went. And as Barachans are essentially Italian pirates (related to Argossians which are Mediterranean seafaring merchants), I gave him an Italian sounding name in Petrucco.

Conan: The Roleplaying Game is standard d20 fair with very little deviation from the OGL. Other than a few specifics, no standard D&D 3.0 character would be too far out of place. This meant, for the most part, I already knew what I was getting myself into for character creation.

The bulk of the differences are as follows:

  • There's no alignment and characters are based on their code of honor (if any) and allegiances instead.
  • All characters are human, but a differentiated by their culture, conferring different skills and abilities by region. I love this idea and plan to make culture have as much significance as race in a Pathfinder based campaign world book called Boomtown that's been on the back burner a while. 
  • Multiclassing is done differently,but I'm making a starting character. NEXT.
  • There are 2 stats, Dodge Bonus and Parry Bonus that reflect the defensive options a character can take instead of the normal Armor Class. Instead, armor gives a character damage reduction, but takes a greater toll on what a character can do than in vanilla OGL games.

On to character creation!

I started with Ability Scores as normal. Conan offers two options for standard or heroic character generation. I chose heroic, because duh. Basically, you roll a d10 and add 10 for each stat, then distribute the scores as you see fit. This makes pretty powerful characters, but is fitting with the setting.

I rolled 19, 17, 16, 15,  14, 14. Pretty swanky.

Next I chose Petrucco's race. As an Argossean/Barachan he got all of the "civilized" Hyborean bonuses too, so this was a lot to add in. These included greatswords as martial weapons, extra Fate (think Hero or Force points), and bonuses to all kinds of piraty skills.

The Pirate class is essentially a rogue/ranger mix with a seafaring theme. But it has some pretty cool abilities like Ferocious Attack, but I explain all these on the character sheet.

One of the things I like about Conan is that if you can use a weapon and it is a "finesse"weapon, you are treated as if you have the Weapon Finesse feat from D&D. So that saved me from wasting a feat on it. Two Weapon Fighting was included with the class, so I decided on Persuasive (because Luigi Vampa- remember him), and Combat Expertise. There's a great feat called Intricate Swordplay that eventually allows you to add your Charisma to attacks and Parry Defense. Combat Expertise was the first feat in that tree, so that's what I planned on.

Beyond that, I filled in skills for a swarthy, charismatic, and skilled pirate and gave him class based starting equipment. Nice and simple.

Overall, I'm happy with how Petrucco turned out. He's a little more like the most recent Sinbad that used to be on Syfy than Luigi Vampa, but that's not a bad thing.,

As always, the running list of characters can be found here. If you have any other ideas for games not on that list, or know what you'd like me to dive into next, drop me a line.

~The Doc