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

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.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Tempest System

For the P.A.L.A.D.I.N. Blues campaign I’ve been working on I wanted a dystopian far future. I wanted to set it on a planet in solar system of my own creation. Mostly I did this because I’m lazy I wanted to be able to be able to just make shit up based on real world people and places. I don’t want to be chained to real world near future geo-politics, history and science. I wanted a futuristic noir space opera set on Coruscant like planet. Think of this campaign as being the bastard love child of a passionate threesome between the Matrix, Firefly, and Star Wars.

With that in mind I came up with a collection of planets known as the Tempest System. Located in the distant reaches of space the Tempest System lies in sector spacers call the Outback. The Tempest System is made up of: Tempest: This solar systems Sun, and the Planets, Sycorax, Setebos, Caliban, Ariel, Prospero, Miranda, Iris, Ceres, and Juno.

At the center of the Systems web of commerce and government is the Planet Prospero. As one begins their descent to the planet surface the Mega-City of New Kowloon can be seen sprawling across the entirety of the planet like a scabrous skin of steel and concrete. It’s massive building complexes and towers stretch high into the planets polluted skyline. It’s here on Prospero that I plan on setting the stage for probably the bulk of the campaign, and in future blog posts I plan to elaborate on the myriad of people and places of this vile hive of dreams and despair.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

P.A.L.A.D.I.N. Blues

As I wrote yesterday for the past few months or so I’ve been running a D&D 4e campaign. I haven’t been as thrilled with it as I had initially hoped for. The fault ultimately lies with myself. One of the things that made my previous Cthulhu campaign so much fun was the interactions that the PC’s had with the world and NPC’s they met along the way. You just don’t get that many meaningful interactions in a dungeon crawl, and thus far it’s been a real crawl. Pace wise it’s taking forever to complete the mission the group was hired to accomplish. Like I said my fault as I should have done things differently and have been more focused in my design. But lets face it, the game is called Dungeons & Dragons after all!

As I began to consider aborting this cluster fuck of a campaign I went back through my old notebooks for ideas on running my next great campaign. One of my unrealized rpg dreams has been to run a campaign with major cyberpunk themes running through it. So when I came across an entry I had scribbled about an elite police force called P.A.L.A.D.I.N. my imagination went into over drive. The idea was basically inspired by anime shows like Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed, A.D. Police, and Bubblegum Crisis. The thinking being that the PC’s would play what boils down to modern day knights in shining mecha armor.

My concept revolved around the idea of the PC’s taking on the role of an elite mechanized swat team. The over arching plot would be to confront the escalating threat of the drug cartels in a city rotting from crime and corruption. I really like the implications of running a police drama campaign. For instance I like the police station as an easy way of handing out missions. Yet at the same time having lots of potential for numerous conflicts outside of investigating and combating crime. There are all sorts of other personal and political conflicts that could engage the PC’s attention. Best of all in my opinion is that by having all the PC’s beginning as members of a team you don’t have any of that awkward, how did you all meet, or motivation for going on an assignment business to worry about. Presumably the teams collective goals will coincide most of the time, thus having less reasons for the team to split up as well.

It’s said that when your trying to sell a TV series one of the best things you can do is come up with a compelling logline to capture the essence of what your series will be about. This is the logline I might use to sell this campaign idea to my current group:

P.A.L.A.D.I.N. Blues
From the cockpits of armored fighting machines, an elite police task force fights a desperate war against pervasive and bloodthirsty drug cartels in a bid to reclaim a city gripped by crime and corruption.

The more I think about it the more I dig it. It might even be interesting to explore doing some kind of a D&D 4e rules hack that could make for some intense mech combat.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Back in Black

Hello there fellow Dice Chuckers! I’m back. In some ways I imagine as if this is how a bear must feel like after a long winter period of hibernation.

So what’s been going on in my life?

Glad you asked. I finished up my Call of Cthulhu campaign I dubbed Arkham heat some months ago. I had a blast running that one. But I will tell you one thing. I really didn’t like BRP rules way of handling opposed rolls or combat too much. For the most part things were fairly rules light, which I really REALLY liked. Yet at the same time I did feel myself yearning for rules, combat ones in particular that were a little more robust.

Then I got laid off from my delivery driver job.

This was sort of a mixed bag of good and bad. Good because I was pretty fed up with that job. Good because I needed a change. And good because now I’m on the way to new and better things in my life. On the other hand it was bad, because losing your job is pretty scary shit, and the uncertainty of what’s next can be even more scary. Anyway, I’m taking it one day at a time, and things are starting to look like my future is gonna be so bright I’m going to have to wear shades.

Then I started a D&D 4e campaign.

I dunno. This is the second time I’ve tried running this system and I’m still not feeling it. One of my biggest beefs is that the combat is just too bloody long. Part of this is all of us learning the ins and outs of the rules. But I think the biggest problem is what I call the economy of actions. My players feel that they need to eek out every little last drop of potential from their characters, making sure that they spend every action that they can. Did I do something with my free, minor, move, and all mighty standard action this turn? I’ve read the various ways of trying to speed up combat, but I’m still sort of at a loss of how I should deal with this.

Then there’s the news of D&D 5e on the horizon.

In some ways I hope that this edition finds the middle ground between 3e and 4e. I’ve always contended that while I think there’s a lot of nifty things I really like about 4e I think that they took it too far. I loved 4e’s monsters; I love that combat is more dynamic, and that skills got chopped down. In fact I almost would rather do away with skills altogether and IF you really need to determine something use an Ability check to see if you succeed or not. Otherwise I’ve been going with the rule, the more specific a player is about their characters actions, then the more likely they will automatically succeed at a given task. For example, If your character decides to cut open the mattress to locate the hidden gems, and that is where the gems are actually hidden you will automatically find them. If on the other hand you say I search the room, roll the bones, and hope you pass the appropriate DC for your level.

What’s next?

Well, first on the docket is getting a new job obviously. That’s more or less sorted out, and I have a number of different things I’m working on. My finances at this point are OK so no need to worry. Not yet anyway.
On the gaming front I’m thinking I may finally give Savage Worlds a shot. There was also some discussion of a Star Wars Saga Edition game, or variant setting using those rules but I’m still sort of on the fence about that. I have been giving a lot of thought to writing my own rules system since I cant seem to find that one system that really satisfies my needs behind the screen.
Lastly I think it’s time to get back into the Pen-Monkey saddle. Words they don’t write themselves. So I should probably get on that while I have a little more free time than usual.