One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” -Hunter S. Thompson

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Out Of The Dark

This post's title has a double meaning. For one it's about this blog finally coming out hibernation and me getting back to writing and blogging. But it's also the title of the book by David Weber that I'm currently reading.

I'm at a loss to explain exactly how David Weber's books have been completely off my radar up until recently. The first book of his I read was “In Fury Born” when a buddy of mine recently recommended it to me. This is military sci-fi at it's best! Set in mankind's far future, the book expands on Weber's earlier novel “Path of Fury”. The story follows the career of Alicia DeVries as she progressively moves higher in the ranks and more into more elite combat units. Then things get really interesting. After a particularity brutal combat mission DeVries becomes disillusioned with the military and quits to live a peaceful life on the frontier planet called Mathison's World. But this peaceful respite is not to last, and a short time after a pirate raid leaves DeVries family dead and her seething with the desire for revenge. Theres more, and I don't really want to spoil anything if you haven’t read this book yet. What I will say is that the book is packed with great action scenes, full of intrigue, and a bunch of interesting twists on typical science fiction literature. This is a dense well written book and it left me hungry for more.

That was when I picked up “Out of the Dark”. Based on a short story of the same name this book takes the old idea of aliens invading Earth and puts an interesting spin on it. The story begins with a race of aliens from the Galactic Hegemony observing Earth during the 15th century. Horrified with just how savage Humanity is and fearing that one day we might reach the stars, a plan is put into motion. The Shongairi, another war like alien race are manipulated into attacking Earth. However, the Hegemony underestimated how quickly we are able to advance technologically and by the time the Shongairi arrive Earth is well into the 21st century.

Weber is a prolific writer with over 40 novels or collaborations to his name. He has quickly become one of my favourite author's. In particular I can't wait to read his signature Honor Harrington Series, and his newest Safehold series. It's times like these that I wish I could read a lot faster! If your looking for some awesome science fiction to read trust me when I say you could do a lot worse than reading anything by David Weber.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Campaign Arcs

It's been a while. I've been writing again and the desire to run a game has been eating me up. These Demons must be fed....

While I was working on my campaign I read this article called "The Covenant of the Arcs" by  Christopher Perkins, from his The Dungeon Master Experience column. I'm not gonna lie, I don't really dig 4e. I've said this before and I don't need to bash the game. It's not my bag, nuff said. However, I do feel that if your not reading this no DDI membership required column your doing yourself a great disservice. Mr. Perkins runs what seems to me to be one of the coolest 4e D&D campaigns for not just one, but TWO weekly groups!

Part of what I think has made his campaign and others like his so awesome is plot weaving. The ability to take multiple story ideas and combine them into something that combines the best of sandboxing and linear structure into one awesome campaign. In this article Perkins gives us a basic understanding of how he did this in his own campaign. Using a foundation built on three major plot arcs he illustrates
how this structure allows for a robust, satisfying and complex long term campaign. This was something I took to heart and I decided that I was going to give it a shot. So below I have included the role of the heroes as well as my three major plot arcs I have planned for this campaign.

If you happen to be a a player in my group I would please ask that you stop reading now! What follows will ruin the fun for you as I plan to reveal what I've planned as my major plot seeds for "The Saint's of Los Angeles" Campaign.

The Role of the Heroes

The Saints of Los Angeles Campaign is a space opera set in mankind’s far future. The PC's are heroes in a universe that is dominated by war, social injustice, and intrigue. As the crew of the space freighter Los Angeles, the PC's will travel through space and explore the galaxy, discover its mysteries, meet unique people, battle hostile aliens, and take on many exciting and dangerous missions. Hopefully during this the PC's will be able to live up to their destiny and calling as heroes and the true “Saints” of a galaxy in dire need of them.

The Campaign Arcs

  1. War Story Arc: War erupts in the Tempest System when a ferocious alien race bent on conquering mankind suddenly appears from the distant reaches of space. This brutal and intelligent race once controlled vast regions of Protectorate territories. However, a civil war millennia ago forced them to abandon the area. Their Empire now revitalized and engorged with a variety of alien slave races seeks to reassert its power and influence over its former territories. However, this race has sorely underestimated their human foe and during their long absence mankind has grown to become a formidable adversary in its own right. The result will no doubt be a war of epic proportions.

  2. Intrigue Story Arc:  Unknown to most the Eclipse Corporation is one of the most powerful organizations in the Empire. The true architects behind the Eclipse Corporation's success and it's low key stature are "The Founders". This ancient cabal of unseen secret masters conspire to manipulate events from behind the scenes for their own inscrutable goals. Eclipse Corporation's CEO and the patriarch of the eccentric Ashton family works as  "The Founders" principle pawn and voice while they push their mysterious agenda from behind the scenes. Chief among "The Founders" preoccupations are Eclipse Corporation's black laboratories. Hidden from the public eye, a myriad of vile and thoroughly illegal experiments take place in numerous asylums and research facilities throughout the galaxy.

  3. Political Story Arc: It is a time of civil unrest. Politicians, crime syndicates, corporations and religious leaders play a dangerous game as they manoeuvre against one another to gain the upper hand in the political arena while promoting their own agendas and best interests. Leviticus Wu, the elusive and charismatic leader of SUNRISE, a growing underground militant political group attempting to over throw the galaxy wide Protectorate government. A government they claim is dominated by corruption, the rich, and the interests of massive corporations. In turn Lord Protector Hektor Tanaka, the official leader of the Protectorate has labeled SUNRISE, a terrorist group, and seeks to eradicate any trace of it. SUNRISE's goal is to form a new government that allows the people to create a new democratic society free from the invisible prison made by the corruption, nepotism, and the powerful rich. Complicating matters is the rapidly and increasingly powerful influence of of the Church of the Holy Resurrection. This Church, loosely based on the Old Earth Catholic Church has discovered a way to offer true and ever lasting life to its devout followers and because of this has become a powerful political player.      

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Going Dark

Things have been quiet on this blog for the past while. Life has been rather busy for me lately. Unfortunately that means that my hobbies are going to need to take a back seat to family and school. If I can manage to post here now and then I will, but I strongly suspect that this will be sporadic at best.

This is Zombiecowboy. If you are listening to this message, you are the Resistance.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Savage Swords Saturday-Wenching Edition!

Yeah, thats tight. Conan has got that shit locked down! For some reason when ever I think of Conan I can't help but think of a quote from Sin City:

Most people think Marv is crazy. He just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century. He'd be right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody's face. Or in a Roman arena, taking his sword to other gladiators like him. They woulda tossed him girls like Nancy back then.
That makes me chuckle to think of Conan as the Marv of the Hyborian Age. Anyway till next week enjoy your Savage Swords Saturday!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Dwarf, An Elf, And A Troll Walk Into An Elevator….

The elevator doors gently close behind them. Soft elevator muzak plays in the background. The three humanoids are wearing perfectly tailored black Armani suits, white silk shirts, and thick black ties. Each of them draws a large handgun from well-worn shoulder holsters. As they check over their weapons in the cramped space an idle conversation begins.

Dwarf: We should have shotguns for this kind of deal.
Elf: How many up there?
Troll: Three or four.
Elf: That's countin' our guy?
Troll: Not sure.
Elf: So that means there could be up to five guys up there?
Troll: It's possible.
Dwarf: We should have fuckin' shotguns.

The elevator doors open with a ding into an open and luxurious penthouse apartment. The human occupants of the room freeze in place at the unexpected rush of the armed trio as they burst into the room.

Troll: Everybody be cool, this is a robbery!
Elf: Any of you fuckin' pricks move and I'll execute every motherfucking last one of you!

Dwarf: [Grumbling under his breath] We should have fuckin' shotguns…..

If that seems familiar its because I stole it from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Man, that would be the bomb! Just imagine how sick a Tarantino/ Rodríguez collaboration on a Shadowrun movie would be!

Anyway, I’m not sure exactly what made me think of this. But part of it was as I was looking for some ideas and inspiration for this Deadlands campaign I was thinking about. One rarely walks a straight line when searching for shit on the internet, and before I new it I was side tracked. I saw on some gaming site a mention about the racial tensions in Shadowrun. It also talked a little bit about the standard framework for a stereotypical SR adventure, and some other stuff, but it was the racial tension thing that grabbed me. That’s an idea I would love to explore one day.

Obviously it doesn’t have to be in a SR game. Imagine for a minute if you implemented something like that in a standard D&D game. As things typically stand, all the standard races pretty much get along. OK so half-orcs are outsiders, dwarves don’t really like elves (but lets face it, dwarves don’t really like anyone that much), and lets just not even talk about drow. But basically speaking D&D comes off like some kind of fantasy version of Star Trek. Once your apart of the Federation no one really is all that racist about you anymore. I know that’s not strictly true, but you get my point.

So imagine a D&D world where in typical fashion the Humans were on top. They are the rulers of the land, they make the laws and call the shots. They have beaten every other race into submission, taken their stuff and their lands, and enslaved their people. That sounds about on par for what we’ve done to people of our own species so it’s not difficult for me to see us doing it to other species.

Right, so the other races are enslaved as indentured servants. They have a few rights and can walk around the city with out the need for shackles. But for all intents and purposes it’s a pretty miserable life. Soon an secret resistance starts. Human sympathizers aid in an underground railway of sorts and smuggle out as many slaves as they can. However humans for the most part are the bad guys in this. Slave Masters employ human wizards to tattoo their mark on their property. Many of these magical tattoos are used to keep track of and scry on them, and if need be strike them dead, or blow them up in a fiery conflagration.

In a world controlled solely by humans, every other specie is forced to live in impoverished ghettos around the city. Seeking a better life than the filth and squalor around them many of these races band together and strike back at their cruel masters. Some rich human merchants and nobles take advantage of this anger and redirect it towards their enemies. This buffer provides these disreputable movers and shakers plausible deniability and wholly unaccountable if for some reason things should go horribly wrong.

Yeah, that would be a great campaign….

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Do Zombies Dream of Steam-Powered Sheep?

Over the Easter weekend I borrowed my brother-in-laws Deadlands Reloaded books. The first campaign I personally ever ran was, as it’s referred to today, Deadlands Classic. This was back when it was just one hardcover book with everything a Marshall and/or Player needed to play the game.

All this is to say that I’m no stranger to what Deadlands is all about, and that I was just looking for a refresher course on the setting, and the changes using the Savage Worlds rules. This in turn led to Monday night and my dreams being dominated by cowboys and undead. The dreams weren’t anything worth repeating. Just the kind of weird nonsense that reminds you that you’re in a dream, and you might as well just roll with it.


It feels as if a bullet has impaled my brain with a Deadlands campaign written all over it. The words on that bullet burn in an infernal red glowing script that only the Devil himself has the patience or inclination to inscribe. My mind has been infected with the blue prints for a Savage Worlds Deadlands campaign, and come Hell or high-water I’m going to need to run it if I ever want to get the poison out.

After reading just a little of the Deadlands books I realized just how over whelming the setting is. There’s just so much detail. I almost hesitate to say TOO much detail. It’s that double edge sword of trying to give your reader everything they need to run a campaign rather than not enough. The problem is that it means that MY Deadlands campaign will end up off the reservation. Not a bad thing by any means, but just that it’s going to conflict with what’s considered cannon in the supplements. To which I say fuck cannon and the horse it rode in on. But that’s just me amigo.

I have a few ideas for how I wanted to handle this campaign. Things will start out normal enough. The Posse is gathered for some reason or another. I haven’t figured out this part too much just yet. Perhaps they will work for one of the Rail Barons, a Government agency, or some other seemingly mundane outfit. They start doing normal jobs that involve normal people. The first few forays would be a more or less straight up western adventures, with maybe a little bit of super science thrown into the mix, but otherwise fairly standard stuff.

Then shit starts to get a little weird. Like ogres, onions, or that tranny prostitute you "accidently" picked up, the layers begin to peel away revealing that things aren’t as normal as you first assumed they were. Subtle strangeness begins to crop up again and again and force you to start questioning what in the world is really going on here. At some point, like Neo or Sarah Connor, you cross the inevitable and invisible line. It is the point of no return and once it is crossed you find yourself sucked down the Rabbit Hole. You’ll forever be a changed person and there’s no going back to "normal".

Like I was saying Deadlands has a pretty complex history and story-line. While having all this info is nice I find it a little intimidating and even over whelming at times. I will most likely use portions whole cloth and other stuff I will change to suit my own needs. I’m just hoping Shane Lacy Hensley doesn’t send the RPG Police to my house, beat me up, and take my books away when he finds out.

So here’s some of the things I wanted to do/explore with this campaign:

  • Chinese Tong Gangs and an ancient power hungry sorcerer leader ala Big Trouble in Little China
  • An Illuminati/Freemason conspiracy
  • The Shan, Mi-Go, and some other stuff ripped from Call of Cthulhu
  • Undead, lots of undead.
  • The PCs begin the campaign seeking a new and better life. They arrive in a newly formed and growing California boomtown. They find themselves embroiled in the affairs and politics of the town. The chance at both fame and fortune become directly linked to the success and preservation of the town, its people, and its interests. Soon the PC's find themselves entangled in a web of horror and conspiracy. It falls to them as pillars of the community to sort through the lies and treachery and fight back the shadows of things "Man was not meant to know".

And that’s what I have so far. But I can feel it all there, lurking heavy in my mind. This could be the mother of all campaigns for me. The Magnum Opus that I have always wanted to run, yet have never been able to succeed at. If I write it, they will play…

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Stars Are Right! Cthulhu Save Us All!-Part 2

Heres the goofy outline I made for this Cthulhu vs, Godzilla adventure. This is a continuation from my idea in Part 1

Part One: Retrieve The Necronomicon
The first phase of the mission is to recover a copy of the Necronomicon. Unfortunately, every time one of Hoover’s researchers tried to study the Book they went mad. Keeping a copy locked up was too dangerous and tended to be a trouble magnet, proving more a liability than it was worth. So he long ago implemented a policy to destroy every copy of the book that his people manage to recover. Hoover and the FBI have kept tabs on all sorts of strange Mythos activity since the Raid on Innsmouth. Thus Hoover provides the group with three choices in which they could conceivably recover a copy for the mission at hand.

Miskatonic University-The restricted book collection has one, but it’s recently been stolen. If they group wants to track down this copy they will have to follow clues that lead to Dunwich. Here a descendant of Wilbur Whateley is using it to do research. Inbred hillbillies, ala "The Hills Have Eyes" are the least of the PC’s concerns as a new Son of Yog-Sothoth is discovered to exisit.

The Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight-A new chapter of this venerable gentleman’s club has opened in Boston. Boston’s social elite rub shoulders here while a warren of ghouls dines on their charnel feasts in festering tunnels below. The Cults copy of the book is located below this labyrinth of tunnels in a subterranean temple complex. If the Cult leader suspects that the book is in danger he flee with it into the Dreamlands with it.

Kingsport Cult- Before the Congregational Hospital on Kingport’s Central Hill could be built the old Congregational Church had to be torn down. The true reasons for tearing the church down were never made public except to say that is was a public safety hazard. The truth of the matter is that a foul cult that worshipped a strange pillar of green fire known as Tulzscha. Few people in the sleepy port town realize that the cult is still alive and well, preying on the innocent and helpless patients in the hospital above. Byakhee, undead, and cultists as well as their horrible master all stand in the PC’s way if they wish to recover the book from this awful place.

Regardless of which place they get the book from, the PC’s drag these cultists into the fray with them. These foul and degenerate souls will dog the PC’s every move seeking the glory and reward of being the ones to aid Great Cthulhu in his return to the world. It’s possible that they might need to hit two, or all three of these places in order to successfully get the book.

Part Two: Escape From Arkham Asylum
Just having the Necronomicon is not enough. While it has the required ritual in it to release Cthulhu from his Temple Prison, its not like just reading and following a recipe from a cook book. This knowledge was compiled by deranged wizards over hundreds of years after all. Yet all is not lost. One of Hoover’s last and finest occult researchers is more than capable of performing the required ritual. There are just two problems that stand in the PC’s way. The first is that this researcher is insane and locked up in Arkham Asylum. The second is that when the PC’s get inside and to the Doctor, a riot in the Asylum breaks out. The place becomes a true mad house! The PC’s must find a way to escape the Asylum with their charge all the while having to deal with insane inmates. Some encounters are comedic and some dangerous and deadly serious. To make matters worse they find themselves locked in with the members of the Cult(s) that they stole the Book from!

Optional: Recover the Relics
If you wanted to flesh it out more you could have the Investigators require a variety of rare and obscure knick-knacks that are required to complete the ritual. In the interest of keeping things moving you might only want three or four of these maguffins, after all Godzilla is on his way! If you do this make sure that the Cult(s) that they tried to steal the Necronomicon from in Part One will be a consistent and reoccurring thorn in the groups side. It might even be fun to have various groups be turned on each other by ingenuous and clever play on the PC’s part.

Part Three: Race to R’lyeh
Necronomicon? Check.
Insane Occult Researcher? Check.
Now all that’s left is for the Investigators to get their asses to the haunted Island near sunken R’lyeh and dreaming Cthuhu, say the words and perform the Ritual. Easier said then done. The journey is a whirlwind race between the PC’s and the Cult(s) that seeks Cthulhu’s favor. Of course Godzilla is almost State side.

When the PC’s finally reach the Island, Hoover, who mysteriously already arrived there first, greets them, and thanks them for a job well done. Then Hoover transforms before their eyes to reveal that all this time they were working for just one more mask of Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos himself.

Before the PC's can deal with Nyarlathotep there cultist enemies arrive on the scene! A last ditch, no holds barred, knock down and drag out fight occurs between the Investigators and whichever cult happens to be their nemesis. All the while Nyarlathotep protects and over sees the insane occult researcher as he performs the ritual that raises R’lyeh and releases Cthulhu.

With Cthulhu free a battle of the Titans goes down. At first it seems like Godzilla will prove the victor. But then in a stunning recovery the likes of which will only ever be on seen pay-per-view during a 1980’s professional wrestling match Cthulhu makes a come back and wins the day. In the aftermath of this cosmic struggle Cthulhu sinks ominously below the blood and froth tinged waves. Leaving the group alone on the beach to wonder if we have seen the last of this horror from beyond the stars, and the sinking feeling in their stomachs of "Oh God what have we done!" 

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Stars Are Right! Cthulhu Save Us All! -Part 1

After I posted that last picture of Cthulhu vs. Godzilla I started to think about it a little more. I started to imagine things not as if it was a cheesy B horror movie, but in the context of what it might mean in a Call of Cthulhu campaign

So I asked this question. What if the world was under the threat of attack by Godzilla? Followed by this question. What if in order to save humanity from the apocalyptic devastation of this reptilian monstrosity the Investigators discovered that the only way to stop Godzilla would be to unleash the fury of Cthulhu against it? Instead of the Investigators trying to stop mad cultists from waking Cthulhu, THEY would be the ones trying to awaken one of the Great Old Ones!

I freely admit that the idea is kinda goofy. But I think it might be fun for a short 3-4 session adventure. Something unusual to futz around with in between campaigns and be a sort of pallet cleanser if you will.
So here’s one possible set up for this slap stick comedy slash horror B movie inspired adventure.

The year is 1954, nine years after the end of WWII and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The monster Godzilla is created from the aftermath of the resulting radiation by mutating a hitherto unknown, one-of-a-kind species of aquatic dinosaur that somehow managed to escape extinction.
This nigh indestructible monstrosity has just come out of the Pacific Ocean and begun a horrible rampage that has all but devastated Tokyo. Now the monster is making its way towards the United States. The U.S. military machine has tried unleashing everything in its arsenal to stop this thing. The results are navel frigates and war planes being smashed and sunk like so many toys in a child’s bath water.

Options and time are running out.

President Eisenhower begins considering a mass evacuation of the cities along the pacific coast. It’s at about this time when J. Edgar Hoover struts into the Oval Office.
"That's it, go ahead and run. Run home and cry to mama" Hoover says.
"Are all men from the FBI loud-mouthed braggarts?" the President retorts.
"Nope. Just me baby... Just me" Hoover replies.

Then Hoover explains to the President about a certain 1928 raid under his command that took place in a backwater and degenerate-fishing village located in Massachusetts.

Hoovers plan is a long shot, yet oddly enough it’s the best hope that humanity has if they want to survive Godzilla. The theory is simple. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Hoover already has a small team of men and women assembled right here with him who will be sent to retrieve the Necronomicon, an unholy book they require in oder to use a ritual found within it pages to raise the sunken city of R’lyeh. From there we let Great Cthulhu rip Godzilla a new asshole.

The President isn’t convinced.
"How will we stop Cthulhu after? How will you fight that? With more words? Most of our people have already fled. We dont have enough men. As the leader of United States of America I will not allow this preposterous plan to go forward!"

Hoover fires back "Well hello Mister Fancypants. Well, I've got news for you pal, you ain't leadin' but two things, right now: Jack and shit... and Jack left town."

At this point the rest of the people in the Oval Office rallies around Hoovers idea.
 Suddenly a hideous voice cackles from out of the corner of the room.
"You’ll never reach the Necronomicon alive! I’ll swallow your soul!"

As the everyone turns to look towards the voice, they see what was once a beautiful secretary has now become twisted and transformed into a horrific looking crone floating a few feet off the ground. The Crone then leaps out and attacks the President with her razor sharp claws and soul sucking magic.

The PC’s have their first fight and hopefully save the President from being killed. In the aftermath of this event the President (or VP if the President bought the farm) gives his approval and the adventure truly begins.

As the Investigators leave the Oval Office to retrieve the Necronomicon and their mission to unleash Cthulhu on Godzilla, Hoover can be heard muttering under his breath "Maybe. Just maybe my boys can get the book and pull this off. Yeah, and maybe I'm a Chinese jet pilot."

To be Concluded in Part 2

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Return Of Savage Swords Saturday!

Savage Sword Saturdays have returned. Not sure why I stopped in the first place. Anyway my favorite cover were always the ones with the half naked broads on them. Sexist? For sure. But I'm a Dude, and I make no apologies for that. What's weird about this cover is the ninja looking dude. Maybe there were always ninjas in the Hyborian age. Either way I find it kinda neat.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Total Recall 2012

Looks like they remade the original Total Recall. Not sure how I feel about this. Sure it looks nice, but i dunno....I mean a Blade Runner remake sure, but I don't see any mutants in this trailer. No Quato or that chick with the three tits. Guess well just see what we see. But seriously, I thought we were past all the remakes. When are we gonna get some more original shite like Inception, The Matrix, stuff like that.

Revisiting Skills & Redefining Failure

Previously I wrote about some of my thoughts on the differences between how 3e and 4e approached skills. Today I read an excellent article on Gnome Stew called How To Make Skill Checks Not Suck. It was a great read and pretty insightful. If you’ve never read Gnome Stew before all I can say is, DUDE! Go now and check it out. Seriously, there is way better material for you there in just a handful of articles than on this entire crappy blog of mine.

Anyway to sum up what that article was trying to say in a nutshell was this:

 1. No Mundane tasks, a skill check should add something interesting to the story .
2. An interesting check will move the story forward regardless of success or failure.
3. Something should be at stake and riding on the success or failure of a check.

So what does this mean?

1. No Mundane tasks, a skill check should add something interesting to the story .
    Not every bloody task requires a roll. Recently when playing with my group I have encouraged them to be more descriptive about exactly what and how they’re trying to accomplish something. Specific beats general. If a player tells me they are looking for a specific clue or item, I don’t require a roll at all. If however they are just trawling for random clues then I make them roll, and then only if it doesn’t matter. I’d rather over load my players with info, than frustrate them with a lack of it. In the end it’s what they do with that information that’s most important.
2. An interesting check will move the story forward regardless of success or failure.
    When a player succeeds at a check it’s meaning is pretty obvious, they succeed at accomplishing the challenge. Failure is where we tend to run into a problem. This is the part where we need to redefine what failure means. Failure at a check shouldn’t be a roadblock that can only be bypassed by requiring additional rolls till someone succeeds. Instead it should be a mitigated success that’s tied with negative consequences. You succeed but not as cleanly as if you had succeeded the check. This creates friction and drama that drives the narrative forward, rather than grinding everything to a sudden boring and unproductive halt.
3. Something should be at stake and riding on the success or failure of a check

If nothing important is ridding on the success or failure of a check then why bother rolling in the first place? What’s important here is that the success should provide a benefit to the player or group, and a failure some kind of penalty.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Godzilla vs. Cthulhu

I Randomly found this image as I was trolling the shady back ways of the inter tubes. All I can say is that this is a B movie that I could see myself having a nerdgasm over. Oh and if your asking, I'm with Team Cthulhu all the way Bub.

The Digital Dark Age: Jeff Rients 20 Campaign Questions-Part 2

This is part 2 of Jeff Rients 20 campaign questions as they apply to my Digital Dark Age campaign setting. Part 1 can be found HERE.

11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
Need some bad ass dudes for a mission of ultra violence and no questions asked? If you have the cash you can enlist the talented legionnaires of Steelgate Security Service. Colonel Angus Steelgate is the CEO of this mecernary company that was based on the framework of the Old Earth French Foreign Legion. For the less discerning and cash deficient you could always hire members of the Hell’s Attic gang known as the Devil’s Rejects.

12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
The Digital Dark Age is a science fantasy wild west. The average person probably doesn’t carry a weapon since it pretty much makes you a target for trouble. That being said it’s not entirely unusual for someone from the Underhive and particularly those people who make their living with a little bit of the ultra violence to be packing some kind of heat. Of course there are some places where carrying weapons and wearing armor is defiantly a not allowed. Government buildings, elite and private gated communities like Milan Towers, the Sky-Gardens of Eden, and Heavens Gate to name a few. In addition most religious temples and churches frown on, if not out right deny access to an armed individual. Oh and don’t even think about going into the New Vatican City with anything even remotely considered a weapon, the Elite Swiss Guard will put your ass down in no time flat. Same thing applies doubly for spell slinging magic meat heads. Practicing magic is outlawed and the average joe fears magic. To practice the art almost anywhere except maybe in the Underhive is just asking for trouble.

13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
The Bronze Horseman is Prospero’s most famous and popular dive. Located in Hell’s Attic, the booze is cheap, the woman cheaper, and an exotic and dangerous atmosphere that’s impossible to find anywhere else. The place is a crossroads for people of all walks of life and is often frequented by youthful upper crust society types when they feel the desire to go slumming. It’s established by anyone whose anyone that this is the place to go if you’re looking to find work, find someone to fill out your team, or hire someone for all manner of illegal activities like hacking, spellcasting, and of course ultra violence. Fights break out here constantly, and over the silliest of slights. The authorities tend to stay out of this den of iniquity but you can count on the fact that everyone and their grandmother has a spy keeping tabs on what goes down here. The Horseman is owned and operated by Yuri Pushkin, and eccentric man with a strong love of beer, sausages and poetry. The beefy twin brothers Dmitri and Bogdan Bogdanovich work as bouncers and doormen. You don’t want to piss these muscle heads off. You defiantly don’t want to mess with their little sister Katya who waits tables along side the flirtatious Anoushka.

14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
The Underhive is infested with all maner of monsters. Heres the ten most commonly encountered: Sarthogg (Frog-Man), Giant Lantern Spider, The Grinning Man (Mothman), Judas Mantis, Hellwasp, Conduit Naga, Shrapnel Rats, Tommyknocker, Witch Hounds, Plague Zombie. In addition the A.I. known as Prophet has been sending his hive legions further and further out into the Underhive. This machine intelligence seems to have a vendetta against most biological life forms. In addition rumors suggest that prisoners of Prophet are experimented on and often remade into Cyborgs in service of the hive. Alarming reports have been coming in that the Sarthogg population is exploding. These reports indicate that these frog-men originate from lairs in and around Crippletown.

15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
There is an underground resistance between the Tempest Systems Protectorate Government and the Church of the Holy Resurrection. There are plenty of political and social uprisings all across the known universe. There is also the increasing plague of the Sarthogg that if not stemmed will lead to something much worse. In the Mega City of Prospero the Drug Cartels have been battling it out for domination of the drug trade and the Prospero Police Department has stepped into the escalating fray with their new P.A.L.A.D.I.N. anti drug task force. There is the Holy Inquisition and their crusade to crush the enemies of the Church and convert all non-believers to the faith.

16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
In Hell’s Attic there are numerous fight clubs. None however can match the opulence and popularity of Belphegor’s Inferno Club. This underground-fighting arena is the hub for illegal gambling and death matches of all types. Well attended, and remotely viewed by thousands the eponymous Belphegor is a energetic and consummate showman. As the host of this multi million-dollar business Belphegor takes on the persona of a well-dressed servant of hell. He sports intricate make up reminiscent of 1980’s metal musicians and has a flare for the dramatic. The wet dreams of wanna be reality television stars have been brutally crushed or realized in the "Rings of Fire".

17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
The Consortium is a legendary body of movers and shakers you supposedly are the true directing force behind the legitimate government. This group seeks nothing more than to serve themselves and their own greedy nature. The Consortium is in direct conflict with the Church of the Holy Resurrection who has thus far been beyond their ability to manipulate. Then there is the Cult of Mem’Dathou which seeks nothing more than the annihilation and rebirth of the universe as prophesied by their alien deity.

18. What is there to eat around here?
The Mega City of Prospero is renowned for an endless selection of a variety of foods from every ethnicity imaginable. If you’re in Hell’s Attic try the Silver Dragon. This is a great place for pan-fried noodles and their famous Spicy General Tao Chicken. But seriously, don’t ask about the chicken. The average persons diet tends to consist of some kind of mixture of soy and rice.

19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
If one was so inclined to look for it a fist sized exquisitely cut red ruby known as the Eye of Azathoth was recently stolen from the Prospero Museum of Natural History. The word on the street is that someone at the Eclipse Corporation wants a stolen and expensive prototype returned to its R&D lab. According to a representative of the Dead Letter Office there are a number of magical books and other arcane artifacts that have disappeared along with their owners. The Yakuza are on the look out for a jacked shipment of Tetrameth, and the Church is always on the look out for any number of holy relics, art, and texts that might be in the possession of an unwitting or disreputable dealer or collector.

20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
The closest thing to a dragon is the Devourer Worm. Also known as Mem’Dathou, this alien monstrosity lives in the bowels of its great underground temple near Crippletown. Only a fool would consider this date with death a sane idea. Protecting the Priory of the Worm is all manner of vile cultists, of which only some are human. Sarthogg live here in great numbers, and according to some accounts so does their leader an immortal behemoth of a Sarthogg known as Leviathan. That being said, if one was crazy enough to mount a raid on the Temple, they could net a great deal of wealth if successful.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

L33T Sk1llz

I wrote already of how Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved partly inspired the idea for the Digital Dark Age campaign. Since then Arcana Evolved has been on my mind quite a bit, so I decided to pull it off the shelf and refresh my memory. I haven’t settled on a particular system to run the Digital Dark Age campaign, though I've been strongly considering using Savage Worlds. My mind has hardly been made up and I’m still open to considering other ideas. Other ideas always seem to lead back to some version of 3.x sooner or later. Out of all the editions of D&D thus far, 3.x was the one that I played the most and thus my familiarity and comfort with the system has consistently drawn me back time and time again.

It's been ages since I’ve picked up anything based on 3e in a long time, the last thing being a Pathfinder game. The last actual D&D game I ran was a recent 4e campaign. I was while flipping through the pages of Arcana Evolved and looking over the section on skills that something started to dig at me. What it came down to was the different ways that skills were handled between 3.x and 4e D&D.

In 3e skills were one of those elements that players would agonize over trying to figure out how to allocate those precious points. Rogues got a ton of them, while fighters seemed to be destined to be dumb meatheads that were just supposed to swing a sword. This often created an odd situation where some classes could do something with a skill check, while others would never have a hope in hell. Nowhere was this more frustrating than when the group wanted to sneak through the enemies’ lair only to have everyone fail the check except the rogue. In addition the skill list was so large and specific that the rules as written seemed to imply that if your character didn’t have ranks in certain trained skills or not enough ranks he was incapable of doing certain tasks. Even if that task was something that might very well be logical for that character of that particular class to know or do.

4e substantially paired down the skill list. Each of these remaining skills became a broad stroke of a character expertise. Skill points were ditched, and now increased based on character level and a flat bonus applied if the character was trained or untrained. The DC checks also seemed to be scaled way back, and now based almost exclusively on the characters current level.

So the rub is this. I like how 4e have Skills and DC’s based on a characters level. I also like the simplification that skills are either trained or not. But I can’t help but feel that in 4e skills are trivialized and unless the player rolls like shit he’s almost guaranteed to succeed on a check. Which begs the question why the fuck even bother with Skills then? An ability check would work just as well.

On the other hand I feel that if you’re going to have Skills as an integral part of a characters class than it should be a meaningful and robust sub system. A system that allows the player the ability to freely customize and choose what kind of tasks his character is or isn’t skilled at, but not to the point that he's restricted in his ability to think of interesting and unique ways of using a skill. A middle ground needs to be found between the narrow and broad use of skills that a character can use to accomplish various tasks. In addition choosing and upgrading skills should be a relatively quick and painless process, and not an exercise in accounting.

It’s when I come to this conclusion that I can finally come to terms with how in pre 3e, or even 2e that the idea of a codified set of skills might be considered an unnecessary element to the old school crowd. It’s a case of rules being either so oversimplified that they become redundant, or so complex that they can become a straight jacket to what can character can and cannot do. Ultimately this lack of freedom can and often does, discourage the creative problem solving that can often lead to some of the most memorable and satisfying moments around the gaming table.

I’m still not sure of where I stand on this subject. It’s when I think about stuff like this that I hope that 5e will truly be the one edition to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them. But I’m not holding my breath.

The Digital Dark Age: Jeff Rients 20 Campaign Questions-Part 1

The other day I noticed Evan from the blog In Places Deep did a write up for his Nightwick Campaign setting using Jeff Rients great 20 campaign questions. That got me thinking I should do the same for the Digital Dark Age Campaign setting I’ve been working on. Granted when Jeff came up with those questions they were focused on the standard assumptions of a D&D campaign, but I thought it would be interesting to see how they might work in a campaign with more of a sci-fi bend to it. In fact when I had first come up with the concept of the Digital Dark Age it had more of a Shadowrun feel to it. Just so it's clear most of my inspiration for this has been directly stolen from Dan Simmons amazing Hyperion Cantos. So here we go:

1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
There is no divine spell granting cleric’s class in the Digital Dark Age. There is no proof that a God or Gods exist, and faith is just that, faith. That being said, many different types of ancient Earth religions are still practiced today. Of all these religions, The Church of the Holy Resurrection is the most powerful and influential. This extremely popular and wide spread faith is based on a reformed version of the Roman Catholic Church. Long ago the Church became reinvigorated when God’s divine blessing granted the Pope and his officials the divine ability (and a monopoly) on being able to offer the very poor and the very rich alike true and eternal life, by resurrecting the dead. The Churches ability to offer the sacrament of eternal life is a closely guarded secret, and only those who become members and devotees to the faith can benefit from the gift of resurrection.

2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
Need gear? Look no farther than Nitro’s Army Surplus Shack. As she is quick to tell you "If Nikki Nitro doesn’t have it, you don’t need it!" Located on the Promenade of Hell’s Attic this disorganized and cluttered store is surprisingly well stocked. Here you can find all types of new and used weapons, ammunition, survival gear, clothes, old ration packs, and much, much more. An extremely paranoid and security conscious woman, Nitro is one honest and very discreet lady, a rare find indeed in the "Attic". You can bet your left leg that if you’ve managed to befriend Nitro you’ve made a friend for life.

3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
Despite what Nikki Nitro would have you believe she doesn’t have everything you need in stock. Some times you absolutely need to have the right tool for the job. If you need a unique tool or piece of equipment, a data rig, custom body armor, weapon, clothing, or droid designed for a special mission, or just to be the fashion conscious diva that you know you are then you need to see Hephaestus. Extremley talented and equally as bitter Hephaestus is a crippled war veteran and a master craftsman. Living in a small apartment/workshop that reeks of cigarette smoke and boiled cabbage in Little Leningrad, Heph can make anything if you can afford to pay his steep fee. Heph or Hephaestus is the only names he ever answers to, and if asked about it will tell the questioner to "Git an education" and "Read a lil bit fer Christ’s sake!". When not working he reads and re-reads the classical works by Old Earth authors. Moby Dick is a favorite. Regardless of whether he’s working or not, Heph chain smokes hand rolled, pungent smelling tobacco cigarettes, while sipping his own homemade vodka from a chipped coffee mug. If somehow one were to manage the monumental feat of cracking Heph’s taciturn shell and befriending this angry old man, they might be one of the few ever invited into his inner sanctum. Here they would be privy to his frequent temper tantrums, rants about everything and anything, and be forced to endure the bitter telling and retelling of his old war stories.

4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
The mightiest and most feared wizard in the Digital Dark Age goes by many names. Some call him the Mad Monk. Others know him only as The Pilgrim, or as the Count of Crippletown. To cultists and the lunatic fringe he is known as the King in Yellow. More commonly however, this legendary sorcerer is known as Grigori Rasputin. Common sense would dictate that this man could not be the figure from Old Earth’s history books. Yet common sense and wizardry rarely, if ever, find themselves bedfellows. Regardless of his true name and origin none can deny the puissant magical power that this master of the Black Arts wields. Rasputin is wanted by the Prospero authorities, as well as by Church Inquisitors, he’s The Boogieman to children everywhere and feared by all, even, especially other wizards. His moniker as the Count of Crippletown fuels the rumors that this is the place he calls his home. Being one of the scariest and largely avoided slums in the Underhive only adds credence to the rumor.

5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
While there are many great warriors in the Digital Dark Age none are more decorated, cunning, or celebrated than the newest commanding officer of the elite Vatican Swiss Guard. Logan Slayke was recently promoted to Colonel after his last resurrection. His latest death was due to his heroic sacrifice in saving the life of the current Pope, Alexander IX. According to a poll on the Datasphere Slayke was voted Prospero’s most sexy and eligible bachelor.

6. Who is the richest person in the land?
As with the greatest warrior in the land there are numerous individuals who could argue their claim that they are the richest. Some might say the current Pope, others might point out that the Tempest Systems Lord Protector Hektor Tanaka is quite affluent. But they would all be wrong. That title belongs to none other than Lord Edwin Ashton III the patriarch of the esteemed House Ashton, and CEO of the Eclipse Mega Corporation. Lord Ashton III has homes all over the Tempest System as well as a space yacht and several mansions on Prospero. He can be most often found in either his mansion in Heavens Gate or at his palatial executive office located at the apex of the Eclipse Arcology Towers.

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
True magical healing is rare in the Digital Dark Age. That being said, the massive advancements in technology and medicine have made healing almost seems like magic. The average citizen can go to the nearest hospital or walk in clinic. All but the poorest corporate arcologies have an in house medical facility. The very rich have a legion of private doctors and hospitals that attend to their every perceived need. For non-citizens and anyone who wants to be a little more discreet there are underground street docs and clinics. Some are no better than back alley butchers, and other are genuinely interested in helping people. For some honest to god magical healing you have a few options. Word on the street is that there are Street Shamans and an order of Druids that can heal people, as well as some bizarre cults. If you’re lucky they only ask for a favor or cash. But some groups like the Church of the Holy Resurrection ask for your allegiance and soul. Lastly there are some wizards and sorcerers who have the ability to heal.

8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
For most conditions a hospital or one of the above mentioned organizations can help out. As for coming back from the Dead there are only three ways currently known:

a)Join your local Church of the Holy Resurrection. Eternal life, but at what price? How much is your soul worth anyway?
b) Find a wizard or necromancer who is willing to raise you. The tetrameth addicted wizard known as Renegade is always willing to do the job. Paying in cash is great, Tetrameth is better.
c) Find and pledge allegiance to the Artificial Intelligence known as Prophet. Then get rebuilt as a cyborg in the machine hive legion that’s rumored to exist somewhere in the depths of the Underhive.

9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
In the Digital Dark Age the Church of the Holy Resurrection outlaws magic, and the holy Inquisition backed by the Protectorate Government enforce this edict. The Church espouses that magic is a sin and that those who practice magic are an abomination in Gods eyes. In response to this edict The Dead Letter Office was created. This secret society acts as a council to govern, regulate, and protect its membership from all whom might persecute its members. In addition these scholars and sorcerers are able to meet face to face and to discuss and trade secrets of the magical arts. For the sake of security The Dead Letter Office has no permanent location. Meetings are held on an irregular basis, and set at a random time and place. Communication is done almost exclusively through encrypted datasphere channels. Oh, and don’t bother asking a member to perform a raise dead ritual, it goes against the guilds charter amigo.

10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
They say in Hell’s Attic you can find anything for the right price, and they just might be right. If your looking for an alchemist your probably only going to find some crack pot who thinks he can turn lead into gold. However if you’re looking for an actual chemist then you want Simon Singh. Simon lives in a highly secure bunker in the basement of gang controlled brothel and specializes in cooking Tetrameth. This drug is all the rage these days, and he enjoys the protection of the gang as well as the company of the working girls. But don’t let his status as a drug dealer fool you, he is a brilliant chemist just trying to make a living in a dog eat dog world. If it’s a sage you want your best bet is to tap into the Datasphere and locate the elusive and childish A.I. known as Loki. If you can deal with his bullshit he can be a gold mine of information. For any other goods and services you might require just track down the pair of chess playing fixers known as Mr. Thick and Mr. Thin. These two hard cases can be found at their regular table in the Chinese take out restaurant known as The Silver Dragon. Slow to anger and quick to punish, these two know all the players, big and small. Oh while your at the Silver Dragon try their super spicy General Tao Chicken. Yummy. Just don’t ask where the chicken come from….

The Q&A for 11-20 will conclude in Part 2

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I'm a Ticket to Ride Pocket Edition Addict

Hi my name is Zombiecowboy and I’m a Ticket to Ride pocket addict.

Ever since I downloaded the Ticket to Ride Pocket Edition board game app to my iphone I can’t stop playing it. Anytime I have a few free minutes I whip out my phone and play a game or two, or three.... Sometimes I just continue a game I started and didn’t have time to finish. Other times I try and defeat the challenges in the achievement section.

What I like about the game is that it’s deceptively simple and easy to master, yet there are numerous strategies that you can employ to win the game. Because of the random nature of the cards, the game will play out slightly differently each time.The best part is no board and game pieces to clean up after each game, and you always have one to four other people to play against at a moment’s notice.

So amigo’s if your looking for a cheap game app that will provide the best bang for your hard-earned dinero, Ticket to Ride pocket edition is the way to go. Just be warned, once you’ve played you just might not be able to stop!
Now I gotta go, I’m starting to get the shakes, and other nasty withdraw symptoms….

Monday, April 2, 2012

Horrors of the Underhive-Part 1

The Underhive is the habitat for a plethora of unique monstrosities. Below are just a sample of creatures that stalk the nightmarish labyrinth of forgotten tunnels below the Mega-City of Prospero.
Sarthogg (Frog-Man)
Sarthogg’s are hulking, hunch backed hybrids of frog and man. From whence they came no one has yet to ascertain, but they seem to congregate in large numbers in and around the forsaken community known as Crippletown. These creatures have tentacle like tongues that can spring forth from their mouths at a range up to 10-feet. Sarthogg’s use this sticky tongue to grapple and reel in a target. It also injects both a numbing poison, and tiny symbiotic like spores into the victims skin. The numbing effect eventually wears off but can slow down an escape attempt, or make an arm useless in wielding a weapon depending on where the tongue has grabbed the victim. The spores if left untreated will eventually cause the victim to undergo a vile and sanity crushing transformation into a new Sarthogg. These foul creatures speak their own croaking language, and when not eating or mindlessly destroying things scrawl on the walls strange eldritch signs and words. While brutish, these creatures are very cunning and will often lay ambushes or traps if they find themselves consistently under attack from outsiders.

Giant Lantern Spider
Lantern Spiders can range in size from a small cat to the size of a large truck. These spiders look like large versions of Tarantula’s with mottled gray and black stripes. These spiders can spin webs and often do though they cunningly use these thick sticky webs to funnel pray directly into their killing ground. Once their potential prey has made it this far the Lantern spider will open and shut it’s eight glowing eyes in a soothing pattern that will effectively hypnotizing the victim. Once hypnotized other Lantern Spiders in the pack will leap out of hiding and attack. They will try to subdue their victims will a paralytic poison, and then wrap them up in webbing and dragged into their larder in their lair for devouring in the neat future. Some times those unfortunate enough to be captured are used as the living incubators for the Lantern spiders females eggs. Upon the hatching of the eggs, which have been implanted under the skin of the victim, and which is quite painful, the newly hatched young swarm and eat their unwilling host.

The Grinning Man (Mothman)
Reports of this enigmatic creature are rare, but when they do surface the sightings tend to be located in the General vicinity of Hell’s Attic. This lead some to speculate that they lair in the nearby area. Other rumors circulate that the Grinning Man or the Mothman is in fact some sort of guardian, like a gargoyle from ancient myth. Descriptions of the creature tend to differ from person to person though there are a few details that consistently reoccur in the recounting of those that genuinely have claimed to have seen this creature, or creatures. The Grinning Man is a roughly as tall as a man, very thin, bald, has glowing red eyes, and the eponymous wide toothy white and ever present grin. It has also been reported that it has moth or butterfly like wings, with a span of 10-feet.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Random Encounters in the Underhive-Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 3 Part series on 100 Random encounters that coud occur in Prospero's Underhive. Here's Part 1 and Part 2

Sub-Table 8: Smells
  1. Rotten Garbage
  2. Decomposing Corpse
  3. Fire Smoke
  4. Fresh Cool Air
  5. Sulphurous Hot Air
  6. Acrid Burnt Fumes
  7. Fresh Excrement
  8. Burning Hair
  9. Cooking Meat
  10. Raw Sewage
Sub-Table 9: Artificial Intelligence
  1. Hive Worker Droids
  2. Hive Scout Drones
  3. Hive Solider Combat Droids
  4. Spy/Assassin Cyborg (Terminator)
  5. Hive Droid Exploration Outpost
  6. Hive Droid Manufacturing Station
  7. Hive Meat Slaves (Humans enslaved via implants)
  8. Hive Droid Homebase
  9. Hive Symbiont Bug Droids
  10. Hive Droid Laboratory
Sub-Table 10: Weird/Supernatural
  1. Cultists performing a Sacrifice
  2. Hidden Cult Temple
  3. A Brass Puzzle Box
  4. Distant Weeping Female Voice
  5. Some Creep Dressed as a Clown
  6. Cannibal Abattoir
  7. Yuggothian Minning Operation
  8. Yuggothian Brain-Mecha
  9. Feeling/Sounds as if your being stalked
  10. Feeling as if your being watched

Friday, March 30, 2012

Random Encounters in the Underhive-Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 3 part series of 100 random encounters that could occur in Prospero's Underhive. Part 1 can be found Here.
Sub-Table 5: Creatures
  1. Sarthogg (Frog-Man)
  2. Giant Lantern Spider
  3. The Grinning Man (Mothman)
  4. Judas Mantis
  5. Hellwasp
  6. Conduit Naga
  7. Shrapnel Rat
  8. Tommyknocker
  9. Witch Hound
  10. Plague Zombie
Sub-Table 6: Sounds
  1. Crash of falling debris
  2. Clash of combat
  3. False call for help
  4. Genuine call for help
  5. Splashing/Dripping liquid
  6. Clanking/Whirring machinery
  7. Door Banging open/close
  8. Large Explosion
  9. Hiss of Gas/Steam
  10. Hum of Oscillating fan
Sub-Table 7: Items/Finds
  1. Modern/Primitive Weapon
  2. Broken Tech (GPS, data pad, com-link)
  3. Drug Paraphernalia
  4. Clothing (Even male, odds female)
  5. Bag (1-7 Empty, 8-9 roll again, 10 roll twice)
  6. Bones/Corpse
  7. Food/Water
  8. Light Source (Flares, Candles, Lamp)
  9. Ammunition/Power cell (batteries)
  10. Lost and Important Plot Maguffin

Random Encounters in the Underhive-Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series of 100 random encounters that could occur in Prospero's Underhive. Check for an encounter every 6 hours the PC's spend in this subterranean labyrinth. Generally an encounter will occur 50% of the time, but this can be increased or decreased at the discretion of the GM. At some point this list would be made into a master list so all the rolls would use a percentile roll. In the mean time I have broken it down into a series of d10 rolls in order to make it more manageable as a blog post. If an encounter is rolled, first roll for what kind of encounter occurs, and then roll on that respective sub-table. This is a pretty bare bones table and at some point I would probably flesh it out a little more. In the meantime it gives you a basic idea of the kinds of encounters you might have in the abyssal hell of the Underhive.
Underhive Encounters
  1. Hivers
  2. Surface People
  3. Criminals
  4. Hazards
  5. Creatures
  6. Sounds
  7. Items/Finds
  8. Smells
  9. Artificial Intelligence
  10. Weird/Supernatural

Sub-Table 1: Hivers
  1. Scavangers
  2. Scouting Party
  3. Hunting Party
  4. Scrappers
  5. Trader
  6. Trapper
  7. Deranged Hermit
  8. Hungry Cannibals 
  9. Mutant Savages
  10. Raiders
Sub-Table 2: Surface People
  1. Police Sweeper Team
  2. Maintenance Crew
  3. Urban Spelunkers
  4. Mercenary Group
  5. Aid Organization
  6. Science Survey Team
  7. Engineering Team
  8. Media Reporter
  9. Stupid College Students
  10. Runaway Child
Sub-Table 3: Criminals
  1. Underhive Gang (The Morlocks) 
  2. Underhive Gang (The Devil's Rejects)
  3. Serial Killer
  4. Fugitives
  5. Drug Deal
  6. Drug Lab
  7. Gang vs. Gang
  8. Gang vs. Surface Group
  9. Gang vs. Hiver Group
  10. Gang/Criminal hideout
Sub-Table 4: Hazards
  1. Scalding Steam Jets
  2. Poison Gas
  3. Dripping Acid or Pool
  4. Giant Fan Blades
  5. Deep Shaft
  6. Live Electrical Wires
  7. Manmade Booby Trap
  8. Cave In
  9. Collapsing Stairs/Catwalk
  10. Radiation Zone

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What I’m Reading: It

Can an entire city be haunted?

This is the question the Mike Hanlon asks in the first interlude chapter of Stephen King’s novel "It". And what a "monster" (pardon the pun) of a novel "It" is (sorry again) that it took him four years to write. In fact I would be willing to bet my left testicle that this question was in fact the very seed, the simplistic what if? Snowball of an idea that grew and grew as King was compelled to produced this masterpiece of horror fiction.

Here’s the blurb from the inside cover of my copy:
Welcome to Derry, Maine….
It’s a Small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry, the haunting is real….
They were just kids when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But none of them can withstand the force that has drawn them back to Derry. To face that nightmare without an end, and an evil with out a name.
I freely admit that was not always a big King fan. I’ve read precious few of his books. This has been something that I’m slowly working to rectify. Previous to this point I've read The Stand, Dreamcatcher, and the first four books in the Dark Tower series (The Gunslinger, A Drawing of Three, The Wasteland, and Wizard in Glass). Just last year I read both Bag of Bones, and On Writing.

With the exception of A Drawing of Three I enjoyed all of his novels very much. But it was the last two books I found extremely difficult to put down. The kind of books that grips you by the balls and keeps you up all-night reading. The kind of book that refuses to loosen its firm, and tenacious grip on your family jewels. Today I myself just as helplessly addicted now. That’s right, this novel has made of me an unapologetic Stephen King crackwhore and I will suffer no intervention to save my soul.

I think it was probably the fact that Bag of Bones and Dreamcatcher both touched on the town of Derry that compelled me to delve deeper into the mythos surrounding it. I knew that the Dark Tower series had its tendrils streching throughout many of King’s other stories. Yet I had no idea that such a great number of his stories seemed to intersect with that cursed place. As I explored more I discovered that the City was first really fleshed out in his novel "It" and that the town also played a significant role in the novel Insomnia.

Like some Lovecraftian antiquarian I felt compelled to unearth things better left alone and undisturbed. According to wikipedia, Derry was King’s homage to Lovecraft’s Arkham. If that’s true and I have no idea if it is, I can see, or more appropriately "feel" the haunting similarities between these two fictional New England towns. If any Call of Cthuhu Keeper worth his salt wanted to get the proper feel for how to run a town as troubled as Arkham, then reading "It" would be a great primer.

For what its worth, I’ve been enjoying the proverbial shit out of this book. I would urge anyone into King's other books or into horror in general to pick this one up and give it a shot. Worst case scenario, you’ll have lots of kindling for you’re next fire, or a great doorstop. But quite frankly I’d be surprised if it came to that. In fact I’m sure that this book will one day be hailed as an one more American classic.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Breaking Bad: Actions & Consequences

Lately I can’t tear myself away from the boob tube as I’ve been ravenously devouring the television series Breaking Bad on DVD. As of this writing I’m a little less than halfway through the second season and it’s taking all my will power to sit here and write this post instead of slacking off and watching just one more episode. So yeah, thus far the series has been effing amazing to say the least. I highly recommend that you check it out if after reading this has compelled you to investigate further. Just be warned, viewer discretion is highly advised. This ain’t no Disney warm and fuzzy make you feel good family flick. Got it compadre?

The show’s central focus is on the continuing story of Walter White, a struggling high school chemistry teacher, who at age 50 discovers that he has terminal lung cancer. Desperate to provide his wife (in the middle of an unplanned pregnancy) and his 15-year-old son (who has cerebral palsy) with some financial security before he dies, makes the choice to cook and sell Methamphetamine. Seriously, this guy got dealt a shitty hand in life, and without revealing any spoilers its not about to get any better.

The series creator Vince Gilligan was interestingly enough, and unbeknownst to at the time I first started watching, also the writer and producer for a number of episodes of the X-Files, and the full run of the Lone Gunmen series. During the special features Gilligan spoke of how one of his mantras while workingon this particular series was that "actions have consequences".

Actions have consequences. No shit, duh we know that. But more specifically significant actions, create significant consequences and its that friction that fuels the forges of both drama and character development. That’ the very reason that I find this show so damned compelling. The drama created by Walter dealing with the often brutal and unexpected consequences that arise in the wake of him pursuing his own agenda is exciting. Forged in the fires of consequence we watch Walter in transform before out eyes from a timid middle age man into a bad ass criminal genius.

I see a parallel between the dramatic use of actions have consequences in television and other media and player characters in RPG’s. It’s my contention that as game masters we should seek to emulate this formula of significant PC actions combined with tough and unexpected consequences is the key to great dramatic campaigns. Your campaigns and stories will become richer and more compelling for it. Forged in a crucible of having to deal with the aftermath of significant choices your PC’s will transform into something more than how they began at the beginning of the campaign. Of course not every choice the PC’s make should be burdened with a trial by fire, but if used with moderation, this advice can become a powerful tool in your GM toolkit.

The Digital Dark Age

As I continue to write out my thoughts on the P.A.L.A.D.I.N. Blues campaign a thought continued to nag at me. While P.A.L.A.D.I.N. Blues is meant to be a cyberpunk police drama it’s far from the only story that could be told in this dystopian universe that has begun to take form in my minds eye.

In fact the whole idea for the Tempest System first emerged years ago from a failed attempt at another campaign I called The Saints of Los Angeles. I tell you more about that campaign later, but suffice it to say that was frighteningly similar to Firefly/Serenity. Frightening in the sense that since I had never seen an episode of the Firefly television series, nor the Serenity movie. In fact I knew absolutely nothing about the franchise at all. It blew me away at how it was possible that my own idea could be so similar.

Finally it dawned on me what it was that was bothering me. I was working on writing more than just the details to be able to run this P.A.L.A.D.I.N. Blues story arc. I was in fact creating a campaign setting that was quite capable of being utilized as shared universe. A setting that in my mind could be plundered to tell as many other stories that could be imagined. Stories told by me, or by others.

After having identified this particular issue the next step in my mind was to provide some sort of framework as to what this campaign setting was all about. I went back to my stack of spiral notebooks and took a gander. That was when I found the notes I had written for my own personal vision for a Shadowrun inspired setting of my own design. A setting I had called the Digital Dark Age.

At the time those notes were meant to be used in conjunction with Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed, a d20 rules variant and fantasy campaign setting. Consider the idea that if a mash up of Cyberpunk 2020 and D&D were the major inspiration for Shadowrun, then a mash up of Shadowrun and MC:AU was the inspirational seeds for the Digital Dark Age. Not a new concept by a long shot, but at the time I was pretty excited about the idea. Of course like most of my hair-brained ideas it never got off the ground. Yet the notebook and ideas endures to this day. Heck, I just might take another shot at that idea again some day. Except this time I might call it Burning Arcana, or something similarly riffing off the Arcana Unearthed or it’s updated abd expanded incarnation, Arcana Evolved titles.

So this all this is all a roundabout way of saying I’m hijacking the Digital Dark Age title and using it for this current world building project right now. Some times we have an idea that’s ahead of its time. Some times I even think our ideas are like that jar full of mixed types and sizes of screws we all have stored away on a shelf somewhere. Every once and a while we take that jar down. We rummage through it, or pour it out looking for the perfect screw for the job. Some times you might even try a few of the out to see how they fit or if it can do the job just right. So welcome friend to the Digital Dark Age. Cyberpunk roleplaying set in a new Dark Age of mankind’s far future.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Prospero’s Underhive: Hell’s Attic

Despite the fact that the entire of Planet Prospero is covered by one large city, living space here is at a premium. Prospero’s Mega-City is divided into sectors based on many of the original municipal boundaries of the cities that were first built during Prospero’s colonization period. The average citizen works for the government, or is a cog one of the massive corporations that bases their central headquarters on the planet. This means that the mid-to-high middleclass citizen on Prospero tends to live in one of the many spartan arcology complexes located throughout the city.

Citizens of Prospero’s privileged wealthy and elite class however, get to bask in the luxurious and spacious, penthouses and condominiums that scrap the city’s skyline. These veritable palaces tend towards the ostentatious, are lavishly decorated, and often sport large swimming pools and lush indoor gardens full of exotic plants gathered from the far reaches of the Galaxy.

But for many even the luxury of a basic arcology apartment is far beyond their means. For those unlucky enough to have to make a choice between food and shelter, the Underhive City of New Kowloon are all they can ever afford to live in. But even these desperate people consider themselves lucky. When the average impoverished citizen of New Kowloon considers the desperate lost souls who find themselves forced to live in the proverbial belly of the beast, they consider themselves wealthy indeed. Located deep in the bowels of Prospero there are forgotten sewers and service tunnels. Here can be found the worst of Prospero’s hive-like ghettos, and one of the most notorious of these abyssal hellholes is Hell’s Attic.

Hell’s Attic
If for some unexplainable reason you wanted to visit Hell’s Attic, the easiest way to get there would be to descend into the dark dregs of the Liberty Trench that divides central New Kowloon east and west. This dark and scary place echoes with strange sounds, reeks of garbage, and other unidentifiable smells. Junkies and other sub species of humanity wander aimlessly around in the shadow. Once here you might think that you have reached the "Attic". This would be a mistake. Your journey is just beginning and it takes you even deeper into the stinking bowels of the planet. Here you must navigate through a labyrinth of zigzagging tunnels, cross-shaky catwalks that threaten tumble fall into chasms. Then finally after what seems like an eternity of following ancient power cables and pipes encrusted with flaking mold and paint and avoiding the putrid fluids that drip from them, that you will eventually find yourself in the infamous ghetto known as Hell’s Attic.

It the "Attic" one finds an odd juxtaposition of people and places. Looking to your left you are quick to discover prostitutes soliciting their carnal services. While directly opposite of them a priest gives an impassioned sermon to a motley congregation of the desperate and hopeless. Squatting inside the burnt out shell of an ancient vehicle a young mother breast-feeds her newborn child, while she waits for her drug addicted boyfriend getting high in the flophouse across the street. Making your way deeper into these warrens of sin and flashing neon lights you can see an armed team of aid workers from the surface. Quickly and quietly they unload much needed medical supplies into the only clinic for miles around. A long line of sick and malnourished "Hivers" squat along the front wall of the clinic hoping for a small measure of food or medical aid. Across from the clinic, the thunderous bass of heavy metal rock music blazes from a gang’s clubhouse. Young hotheaded gang members can be seen inside roughhousing and drinking toxic homemade booze. On a balcony above scrawny dirty children play video games in a cheap arcade. By night the children will be kicked out and Arcade will undergo a subtle transformation into a combinations strip club and brothel. In short Hell’s Attic is a very strange complex place and difficult to generalize about. It’s a place that’s both extremely frightening and yet also a place where people continue to lead normal lives.