Thursday, May 12, 2022

So... DEATH IN SPACE...

Always make it sexy.

DEATH IN SPACE, is brought to us by the Stockholm Kartell (the same group that spawned Mörk Borg) by creators Christian Plogfors and Carl Niblaeus.

The books are gorgeous of course...


These arrived several days ago -- solid, durable books that came packed in the most secure bubble-wrap I think I've ever seen. So all good there.

Every page is black with white letters, because, well... space, and the art, ranking among the best I've ever seen in an RPG, is drawn in a negative style (something I tried to replicate with my drawing above.) Organizationally, the book is stylized, but much more orderly and easier to use than Mörk Borg. The chapters are color coordinated which can make some words hard to read when they are printed in darker colors against the black, this is most evident in the character creation chapter. But, like I said, this is a beautiful book and beautiful books make you want to play the game.


Speaking of the game...

DEATH IN SPACE uses the same basic mechanics as it's predecessor, Mörk Borg, albeit slightly more refined. You have 4 stats, in this case, Body, Dexterity, Savvy, and Tech. You roll a d4-d4 giving you a range of 7 possible values (-3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3.) It's a d20 system and the target number is always 12, so d20 +/- stat vs 12. Sometimes you can have advantage/disadvantage -- I think you all know what that means.

Interestingly, one can find online, a playtest character sheet that lists 6 stats instead of 4, more akin to classic D&D stats.

Comparing this to Mörk Borg where you have: Agility, Presence, Strength, and Toughness, all rolled using 3d6 and comparing the results to a chart for results -3 to 3, ultimately maxing out at 6 (DEATH IN SPACE does not mention any ability caps that I noticed.) In both games, Dexterity/Agility is not used for ranged attacks, instead those are resolved with Tech & Presence. Mörk Borg is player-facing (meaning the players roll to attack and defend) DEATH IN SPACE is not. Mörk Bork also lists multiple difficulty ratings (target numbers) starting at 12 and increasing or decreasing by 2s for easy or harder. DEATH IN SPACE only ever mentions rolling against 12 and never actually labels 12 as a "difficulty rating" or "target number." In fact, in DEATH IN SPACE, DR means "defense rating."

Let's look at this character whom I named, Zo Dage...

Btw, very cool character sheet!

Defense Rating is your Armor Class and it equals 12 + Dexterity. That is your unarmored value, but armor in this game (at least in the core rules) will only get you, at most, 2 more points (yikes!) Personally, I think armor should be more affective than that (perhaps adding a bit of damage reduction balanced by a roll penalty due to bulk, yeah, I would definitely tinker with the armor rules) but this game is stressed as blue-collar in space, a setting where everything is second-hand scrap. 

And it is deadly. 

With 4 Hit Points, Zo Dage, will most likely not survive her first run-in with damage. (House Rule Thought: Staring hit points equal 8 modified by Body, perhaps doubled for something a bit more heroic, the game will still be plenty deadly.)

She did not get a weapon during character creation or the funds to purchase one. Money is called Holos, btw, and she only has 13. With a Tech of 2, she'd be a decent shot (50%) if she gets her hands on a gun.

Her background information... and this is where I think the game could have done a little better. You see, your character is 4 stats and 6 background information rolls, only one of which -- "origin" gives you anything resembling special abilities. Everything else is fluff.

The origins are; Carbon, Chrome, Punk, Solpod, Velocity Cursed, and Void.

Her origin is Void (of course I rolled Void!-- see Praise The Fallen.) You can pick one of two abilities: A re-shapeable mask or the ability to make electronics crackle with static -- which is odd considering the game states that a static already permeates all electronics. Perhaps her ability should stop the crackling, allow for a communication bonus...?

  • She was something called a Monolith Cultist -- up to you to determine what that was. No abilities.
  • Her allegiance was to the contract, i.e., the highest bidder during what the game calls, The Gem War. No abilities.
  • She is "Relentless." No abilities.
  • Her Drive is a "strange drug." Again... up to you.
  • And she wears a necklace with odd skulls.
  • Her gear is -- a faulty star compass, lock picks, holographic playing cards, and 4 doses of... something.

There is definitely flavor here, but right off the bat, I'm contemplating creating some minor bonuses for each of these things.

The game also features Void Corruption and Mutations, some are abilities and some are fluff. There are rules for space travel, space combat, and exposure to the vacuum of space itself -- not as lethal as one might think as long as help is nearby. A handful of monsters and threats are also included, most of them should be avoided at all costs in true space-horror fashion. A bestiary of sorts, however, will be hungered for. 

Here's an example of a monster stat-block, the Apsis Ape, which would easily wipe out a party. Clean for the most part, but I think it would be more readable if the values were in white, e.g., DEX in yellow followed by -1 in white. Also, the actual attack roll should've been included where it says (BDY, 1d8) which means: 1d20 + Body vs 12, doing 1d8 damage. In this particular case (BDY, 8+, 1d8) would save the DM from having to do the, albeit brief, calculation.

Classic morale rules are present.

Another huge part of the game is constructing and maintaining your HUB, a ship or a station, in fact, it is really your main motivation. This kind of gives the game a post-apocalyptic survival feel, accept, you are not planet-side, you're in deep space, in a system called Tenebris. Your beginning HUB is bare bones and no advice is given on how to map it out. Fleeting examples seem to prefer something dungeonesque inside the outline of a ship.

If you choose a station as your HUB it will most likely be attached to this massive structure called, the Iron Ring, which circles the moon Inauro like a belt of metal. It's made up of a mixture of derelict ships, stations, huge mining crafts, and all sorts of other junk. Sometimes you walk through it, sometimes you need a shuttle, and sometimes you actually have to jump through space. It's a sort of dungeon in space that includes your home base. An entire campaign can be based here alone with all kinds of hex/dungeon-crawl potential.

Advancement is not as generous as Mörk Borg... which is a good thing, because even as deadly as Mörk Borg is, a few lucky rolls during advancement and your character starts getting pretty tough. In DEATH IN SPACE, you have to spend XP to improve this or that, which will definitely take time, but let's face it, you'll be dead long before then. Also, in a system mostly dependent on 4 main stats, how do explain all of these -2 or -3 Body characters eventually reaching 2, 3 or even higher, going from wimp to strongman? Raising stats needs to be a bit more expensive. This is where improvable (class) abilities would fit nicely, such as weapon specializations, piloting skills, etc., and small bonuses for this or that. 

Where Mörk Borg doesn't take itself too seriously, DEATH IN SPACE certainly does. And I appreciate this. I'm the guy that wants grim/dark to actually be grim/dark!

DEATH IN SPACE is imminently hackable, just like the rest of these, rule-light (OSR???) games and before long, we'll be seeing a shit-ton of hacks. This is actually a perfect stepping stone to a classic Post-Apocalyptic version because of it's scavenger nature. The art is right, the tone is right. Personally, when I look at rules-light games like this, I always want to add to them. I always feel, as cool as they are (and this is a cool fucking game) that they are missing just a little something, a few more options perhaps (especially during character creation.) I never want to look at a game, right away, as a one-shot. And yes, I want it to be dangerous, but I want my character to survive a few hits... but no more! -- just enough to have some fun. Just enough to decide, maybe it's time to fall back. Action heroes are cool, combat is cool!

Like I said, beautiful book, cool game. 

Glad I backed.


Sunday, April 17, 2022

GAMMA WORLD


I owned (own) all the usual TSR stuff, D&D, Marvel Super Heroes, Star Frontiers, Top Secret, I once played Boot Hill and I even played Indiana Jones, but I never owned GAMMA WORLD, nor did any of my friends, nor do I even remember seeing it in any of the stores, because, I would have bought it. The exception to this was in the early 90s when I purchased the 4th edition of the game, this one...


It's strange how this classic game evaded me and mine throughout the 80s. We all knew about it and it would come up in conversations, "Ever play GAMMA WORLD?" By the time I acquired this copy and read through it though, I wasn't all that impressed, as it seemed too D&D-ish to me at a time when I was looking for newer mechanics. I soon entered a non-gaming phase and even when I resumed rolling dice, GAMMA WORLD sat there, in a box, mostly untouched... for 30 years.  And it's current condition -- like brand new.

Of course, in recent years, one way or another, I've been able to scan through the various editions of GAMMA WORLD and it seems that this edition (4th) (not to be confused with the one based on D&D 4E) is regarded by many as the best, or at the very least, one of. 

I've had post-apocalyptic stuff on my brain lately, so I dug this out, scanned through it and rolled up a character or two.

This is the game that Numenera is trying to be.

Esthetics and some other things (this is not a proper review, it's more of a stream of thought.)

I find the cover boring, but a lot of classic GAMMA WORLD cover art is present inside along with cool inked works, many by the great Larry Elmore. The interior layout is black and white laced with green highlights and charts. It's not the most exciting book to flip through, but it works.

After scanning through and rolling up characters, I see so much potential to my modern OSR eyes. It's connection to D&D is not a bad thing at all, in fact there are cool mechanics here that I'm surprised never actually made the jump over to D&D proper.   

The character I rolled up (drawn above)...

Btw, this isn't a bad character sheet, still, I should draft my own.

Characters are made up of Genotypes (race), Class, and Cryptic Alliance (sort of like Planescape's Sects -- how you see the world along with the pros & cons of that. Where-as Planescape's Sects are cool, I don't find the Cryptic Alliances particularly interesting, probably because I don't like my post-apocalypse to be that well organized, but, you never know.) 

Notice the triad, though...

Now if you're familiar with Numenera (a modern game about collecting artifacts from a bygone era) -- your character is an, Adjective Noun who Verbs. Here, you're a Genotype Cryptic Alliance who Classes (e.g., a Pure Strain Human Archivist who Enforces.) It doesn't work, nor is it even stated in that way, but I'm convinced there's a connection.

The Genotypes are: Pure Strain Humans, Altered Humans (mutants), Mutated Animals, and Sentient Plants. I get the impression that many people play/played GAMMA WORLD as goofy/gonzo. I don't like goofy shit. I like dark and serious, and that's how I would run my GAMMA WORLD game -- dark, survival-oriented. It would almost have to be a hex-crawl thing where you're always looking for food & supplies because that's what the post-apocalypse would be (and yes I've heard of Mutant: Year Zero.)

Classes are (with their Numenera counterparts): Enforcer (Glaive), Esper (Nano), Examiner (all of them), and Scout (Jack.) Numenera also has a Mutant class. I like the archetypes in theory, but feel compelled to redesign all of them. The class skills just feel... meh

You have an AC and an MD (mental defense) that are target numbers for foes to hit and you have Health, Use Artifacts, Robot Recognition (this is actually how well robots recognize you as "human" and thus, obey) Stealth, Remain Unseen, and Perception which are all saving-throw or other types of rolls (actually, Perception functions like AC vs. Stealth or Remain Unseen attempts, btw, Stealth and Remain Unseen, is redundant.) These derived stats are pretty cool and are the concepts that I'm surprised D&D never adopted, especially MD.

Hit Points are a number of D6s equal to your Constitution + 1d6 per level up to 10th (BTW, your stats are: Physical Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Mental Strength, Intelligence, Charisma, and Senses, with the same bonuses as modern versions of D&D and are mostly generated by 4d6 drop the lowest.) It seems like a lot of hit points, but weapons and creatures in this game do a lot of damage and you're only supposed to heal 1 point per day -- that's rough.

Poison and Radiation rules are cool and are basically an Intensity Rank plus a D20 roll vs. your Health score, the higher the roll, the worse the effect. Radiation can also cause mutations.

Lets take a look at the mutations I rolled for this Altered Human, Enforcer (5 physical, 0 mental):

  • Gas Generation: I rolled Poison Gas. You then have to come up with a delivery method on your own, I chose breath, but there should've been a random table to roll on. 
  • Heightened Taste: She can taste a tiny bit of poison or chemical to identify it. Could be useful, but it's minor and might not show up in-game too much. Conveniently, this makes sense considering her Poison Gas Breath. 
  • Tail: I rolled, "New Body Part" then rolled, "Tail" (out of 10 possibilities.) There are NO perks listed, other than to say that the new body part "should be useful." Wow. That is shockingly lame. Her Tail could've been barbed, it could improve dexterity/balance, be prehensile, etc... There should have been extensive benefits to roll for.
  • Infravision: Self explanatory. I used to hate rolling this power in Marvel, but there are ways to make it useful. No mechanical benefits really.
  • Sonar: (Either antennae or ears) She receives info on all objects within 100 meters. This should also have benefits for surprise and initiative and such, but doesn't. 

Not all mutations are beneficial... this is cool.

Artifacts. So many are lame. I don't care to find a toaster or a stapler or a blow dryer. This is where Numenera does it better. There, all Artifacts are useful and the Numenera depletion rules are great -- for any game. I would also skip the Use Artifacts Diagram, it's cool in a way, but tedious (imagine going through all of that rolling just to find out you've found a pencil sharpener!) 

GAMMA WORLD has a monetary unit called the Domar (Numenera has Shins.) I wouldn't have a monetary system at all, it should only be scavenging and barter. So I randomly rolled three artifacts for her to start with and got a Lute, a Shotgun, and a Flash Light. Shotguns do 4d6 damage.

Chain and plate mail and such exist here, but I would portray them differently, Mad Max-ish, not medieval. I would also add some kind of penalty to heavy armors or have them deplete. 

Monsters are basically mutated plants/animals/robots of a 70s/80s imagination. Some are cool, but I would go the Numenera route here, draw something strange -- give it stats! 

It's a shame that Numenera's mechanics are dumb, because... cool ideas. But GAMMA WORLD'S mechanics are mostly not dumb. These GAMMA WORLD rules laced with Numenera's Artifacts and character creation could result in one of the coolest games of all time.

Still, GAMMA WORLD 4th Edition, on it's own and without modification is pretty damn solid.

To those of you who enjoyed this game... I salute you!


Sunday, April 3, 2022

Castles & Crusades Monster Stats, The Riddle That Is...


Castles & Crusades again.

The Troll Lords do a great job of sifting through folklore to find obscure creatures and fairies to spice up your game. Below is the Becolaep. The Becolaep is a medium sized, spectral witch, undead, incorporeal, chaotic-evil, life-draining... thing. Nothing really new here. But...

 

How about HD: 4d20... 

And 2 claws that do 3d10 damage...!

And a Life-Draining touch that drains 1d20+4 hit points (double on a critical hit) which in turn heals the Becolaep, 1d20+4...??? (5-24... that's quite a range!)

Before I go on, let me talk about the stat blocks in general. First, C&C has the perfect balance of information, somewhere closer to B/X than AD&D. However, I don't like that the listed attacks do not include the attack bonus. I know in C&C the attack bonus is equal to the number of HD, but leaving it out creates a little bit of unnecessary work for the DM (CK) even if it is just a glance.

Saving Throws will either say P, M, or both. This means physical and/or mental. If they have the save it is 12 minus their HD, if not, it's 18 minus their HD. This, also, should've been pre-calculated for the reader. In the case of the Becolaep it should read: P: 8, M: 14. If you want people to play your game, make it easy for people to play your game.

The XP for defeating a Becolaep is 500, (+4 per hit point.) I have no idea how they came up with this number. In the beginning of the book there is an XP chart (like with most other versions of D&D) that helps you calculate a monster's XP. Using said chart, I can not come up with 500, even taking into consideration undead traits, which you must look elsewhere for. Which is fine, such charts are just a rough guideline. A lot of monsters in this book don't seem to match up with it though. Again, it's OK, just an observation. I find a lot of traditional monster XP to be low anyway, as I like to reward for killing and finding treasure. Fighting is fun, always has been, always will be.

About these HD... 

At first I thought a creature's HD might depend on it's type, fey, animal, undead, etc. But...

Below we have a sample page of the rather large section on fairies (this is all taken from the latest printing of Monsters & Treasure, btw) All four are small sized and similar in many ways, including XP, yet one has HD: 1d6, another has HD: 2d4, the others are HD: 1d8, and HD: 2d12. 

There's no logic here. This is not a complaint, btw, I actually like it, as well as the crazy damage, just trying to figure it out...

Now, part of the fun of the OSR, is that you can throw stats around, you can be whimsical, you know like -- how about HD: 3d12 and 8d4+7 bite damage, why? -- because.

Now I like this kind of whimsical design, to a degree, and I hope this is sort of what's going on in Castles & Crusades, because, if you are going to use this ruleset, it opens things up, liberates you to really have fun and get creative with it (not that you can't do that with any other version of our favorite game.) And it definitely makes the game more dangerous. And D&D should be dangerous. 

I like the fact that many monsters in C&C do damage like 2d10 or 3d10, but it's usually the more obscure monsters or occasionally a radically different take on an old one. Traditional monsters seem to have more traditional damage, for example, the Minotaur does damage: by weapon +4 -- that's lame as hell for such a savage beast, and the traditional, supernaturally strong Vampire only has a single 1d6 slam! A Troll's claws only do 1d4 and it's bite is 2d6, or by weapon +3 (another flaw, it lists all three attacks for the Troll but doesn't say 2 claws, 1 bite, "or" 1 weapon, it simply says claws, bite, weapon, or perhaps more logically it should say: 1 bite + ((2 claws or 1 weapon.)) And the Troll Lords really love their Valkyrie: (Valkryja in C&C) 15d8 HD, 25 AC, and this is exactly what it says for damage: Spear (8d10), Axe (12d12), Sword (10d8), Bow (6d8) as opposed to: by weapon +7, in AD&D.

So anyway, why 4d20 HD? (That's 4-80 hit points, btw)  I'll say this, no two Becolaeps will be the same as they'll run the gamut from super-weak to super-strong. And be glad that, all though they may have upwards of 80 hit points and have two claws that do 3d10 damage, their saves are mediocre and they will miss a lot in combat with only a +4 to-hit. 

Check out the Krampus...

It only has 4d6 (12 maybe 16) hit points, an average AC (14) and is only worth 55 XP (with no treasure.) But look at that damage in one round, 1d12, 1d10, and 2d20 (2-40!!!... and notice it only says claw, not claws, so 2d20...  twice???) The Krampus will either die in the first round or kill half the party!

Time to learn a new kind of fear.



Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Dungeon Is Life!


The Dungeon. The mythical underworld, of which you will steer clear if you want to have the slightest modicum of a remotely pleasant existence. Because to go there is to die much sooner and much bloodier than you otherwise will. Yet to go there is also to live, to risk, to act, to dare, to take, to kill...or be killed, to leave your mark and say to an uncaring universe as you exploit, illuminate, and beat back the darkness -- Right now, this space is mine!

You exist only for a short time and in the end, you will be broken. Life will beat you, not be beaten by you. It is grim, I know. Sure, you can soften this fate, go with the flow, evade, dare not, delve not. Perhaps you will keep breathing just a little while longer and sleep in a bed not made of dirt. But know this, friend, all will fall and be forgotten -- that is a predetermined fact!

The Dungeon is Life! It will shut doors, it will lock them. It will turn off the lights and blow out your torch. The floors will fall beneath you and walls will shift. It's pitch will terrify and haunt you. It will send countless hordes against you and then send countless more. It's poison will bite! You did not build this place. You do not get to make the rules here and you are not smart, powerful, or privileged enough to break them. This deck and every other deck that was ever put into play is mightily stacked against you!

But before you crumble in the corner, friend, remember this: You were born with something. You have learned something. You are stubborn, bold, defiant, a master of pain. Let the weak numb themselves! You welcome the Dungeon, you yearn for it. You don't care for the town or the tavern, the journey or the parley. Nor do you care that in the Dungeon, doom is your destiny. Because the Dungeon is the heart of Life and it is the heart of gameplay and it is your entire reason for being. For in the Dungeon, you are taking it right to them, a full-on assault on the deepest, darkest, secret center of all things and there you will make your stand, where the odds are always stacked high against you and you will say -- By Crom, stack them higher!


Saturday, March 19, 2022

Player Maps For Praise The Fallen & Sision Tower

 

A couple of you have lamented the lack of player maps for my adventures, so in appreciation that you are indeed running my adventures, I edited out all the secret parts on the maps for Praise The Fallen & Sision Tower

Hopefully this PDF makes running things easier.

I'm not likely to do this any time soon for DATE OF EXPIRATION. That is a separate, time-consuming beast.

Game on.

Player Maps: Praise The Fallen/Sision Tower



Wednesday, March 2, 2022

TWILIGHT: 2022

I almost played TWILIGHT: 2000, way back when. Spent a few days rolling up a character with a buddy in art class with every intention of getting together and playing. Alas, he was only an "at school" friend -- a light-hearted soul, scrawnier than my scrawny self, and a talented artist. Immediately upon graduation, he joined the Marines. Didn't see that coming. As to his fate in life, I haven't got a clue. It is recent events that reminded me that he even existed at all. 

A slight tangent -- he once told me of a dream: He was at a fancy lawn party. The type of "fancy" that involved a huge back porch with great pillars and white tables and chairs as far as the eye could see. A birthday? graduation? -- some such affair. He was standing between two pillars when someone threw a grenade which exploded with exaggerated destruction. The dream went slow-motion (I think) as he stood there completely unharmed. Another man also stood unharmed, leaning against a pillar nearby, who spoke in a chill voice saying, "Depends on where you're standing." My friend spoke those words slowly, as if spoken by a stoner. For weeks after, it was our go-to phrase for laughter.

Several times in the last year, probably because there is a brand new edition, I came close to buying a copy of the original TWILIGHT: 2000. Now, out of perhaps, a morbid curiosity, I've wondered how the original timeline of that game mirrors the events we are now watching unfold in Europe, in-real-time. After a bit of research, it seems, that it does not. For in that timeline, unless I am mistaken, it all starts in 1995 with the Soviets vs the Chinese, followed by a reunification coup attempt in Germany. NATO tries in vain to avoid the conflict, but is ultimately dragged into a limited nuclear war. By 2000, it's pure chaos, ruin, and radiation, wherein your characters are trying only to survive. 

Now, in the real world, we have the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This may seem baffling and sudden to many, but it's actually been building for awhile. So far, the way this fledgling war is playing out, there is an enormous risk of escalation. Of course, this actual war has weapons and elements that TWILIGHT: 2000 did not imagine (to my knowledge) such as drones, cyber-warfare, and the economic cancelation of an entire nation. Much damage can be done to countries without going nuclear, but as Putin is painted into a corner, is it only a matter of time? Prepare yourselves for the real-world debut of tactical nuclear weapons...

I used to have semi-recurring dreams of mushroom clouds in the distance. I would warn people -- they wouldn't listen. I would flee -- and they would die. No matter how far I got (all the way up to Alaska in one dream) the mushroom clouds were always on the horizon. Those dreams ended many years ago when a nuke finally landed right on top of me as I looked out the upstairs window. These weren't nightmares, mind you, just interesting dreams, spawned from a vivid imagination and the zeitgeist of the 1980's.

Since then, the Cold War ended.

For three decades, corporate globalism increasingly took center stage, bringing with it many conveniences for sure. Yet, looking at the violent, entirety of human history, this was a pipe-dream, or at best, a gambit very premature. What I find shocking, is that this current conflict didn't happen sooner. Doesn't it now seem like all the wars in the middle-east were naught but an interlude? And what of Taiwan? If you think there's a microchip shortage now...

These last couple of years feel like we sidestepped into a parallel universe. Perhaps that actually happened 30 years ago and we are only now returning to our regularly scheduled program.

And to think I recently said out-loud that I missed the Cold War.



Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Henchmen Part II


The Henchmen Part II

by Graphite Prime


A pretty little face, swinging back and forth. No, light. Making him dizzy. He could hardly keep his eyes open. Never felt grogginess like this before...

The light was a necklace, the one he earlier found. Talin knelt, hanging the charm before Chade's face, "Her name is Yly," spoke the elf. "A caged sprite, very rare, very useful. She's anchored to this charm, but can leave for brief periods. You merely have to say her name."

"Her name," the sapper barely muttered.

"Yes, Yly," replied Talin. "She's grateful you found her."

"Eelee," Chade's lips hardly moved as if half in a dream.

The charm grew bright and out popped a tiny, four inch tall, glowing faerie, fair-haired, very cute, little wings all a flutter. She buzzed around excitedly before flying and whispering something into Chade's ear, then zipped quickly back into the charm. His eyes widened. That woke him up!

"What!?" he sat up, hands frantically reaching as if for a weapon. His head turned both ways before he froze, eyes locked on the torchlit carnage around him. 

The orcs were all dead, lying in a great pool of blood, flowing from slit throats. Pettr, sat across from him sipping water, his head cleanly bandaged. He looked groggy. Ohn, stood to his right, adjusting his gear, not seeming to be bothered too much by his leg wound, also nicely bandaged. The fight seemed like it happened days ago. In reality, it had been roughly thirty minutes.

Talin stood and motioned for Chade to do the same. "Drink some water, it helps. We can't linger here," he said, slipping the necklace over the sapper's head. He then stood watch as the three gathered their equipment.

Before long, Chade made as if to search the bodies.

"Don't bother," said Talin. "All they had were a few silvers...and those," he pointed to a mass of hair and steel. Ohn already knew, but the other two stared, aghast at the intricate bearded axes and long-braided scalps of Nard and Nalder.

There was silence.

"Orcs don't scalp," said Pettr. "They eat."

"No," said Ohn. "But something with them does."

"Right, what now?" asked Chade.

"We press on," said Ohn. "At least for a bit. If any of the remaining four still live, it can't be good for them. We need to move quickly, we can't hide this mess. Anytime we can choose a direction, we choose up. If we find a way out we take it. Ultimately, we may have to back-track and see where the stairs above the tomb go, worst case, we chance the wasps. Agreed?"

They all nodded.

"Talin and Chade, you lead," commanded Ohn.

They rounded the corner from whence the orcs came, Chade held short sword and torch, Talin ready with his bow. The corridor proceeded for some time, down which they made careful haste.

"At the far end there are steps up, then it turns again to the right, shortly after that, there is a side branch to the left. That's where I ran into the orcs," informed Chade.

Shortly, they arrived at said intersection where they chose to keep going straight. Eventually, the sound of falling water met their ears and they could taste moisture in the musky air. The passage came to an end at an archway with natural steps heading down to their left. They descended the damp stones amid the now loud sounds of crushing water. The steps curled to the right merging naturally with the rocky shore of an underground lake. To either side of them, waterfalls cascaded into the dark water. The place had the same eerie blue candescence of the bridge they crossed earlier, in fact, they could faintly see that very bridge far up and straight away. The lake seemed to stretch for several hundred meters in any direction. Nooks and crannies were aplenty and probably lead to several underground waterways.

A small row-boat was adrift about a hundred feet out. 

They scanned the small shore, but unless they wanted to swim, it seemed a dead-end.

"The boat is peculiar. Your charm..." said the elf, motioning to Chade.

"Huh?" said Chade.

"Yly," stated Talin.

"Ahh, Yly," spoke Chade. The charm burst with light and out shot the little sprite who whispered a question into Chade's ear. "Yes, could you?" he asked, amused, and she wisped away across the lake toward the boat. The three men watched with utter fascination. The elf was accustomed to such glamour.

She shortly returned to Chade's ear and then hovered over his shoulder. "She says there's a dirty halfling sleeping in the boat." he said, smirking, knowing full well who it was.

"Fucking Boze," spat Pettr, literally. "Of course that little shitter's alive."

"Hmm, how do we get to him?" wondered Ohn.

"Yly can you wake him?" asked the sapper. "Maybe?" he repeated, as the sprite fluttered away to the boat again. What followed was a slight flash and a yelp. Up popped the muddied face of a round little man who watched in confusion as Yly flew back to shore and disappeared back into her charm.

"Boze!" Ohn yelled a bit cautiously. "It's us. Can you row yourself back?"

He did not respond, and even at that distance in the eerie blue, they could all detect the utter fear in his eyes as he kept low.

"Boze!" Ohn yelled again. "It's Ohn!"

"Boze, you little shit! Are you deaf?" harassed Pettr.

"Man," remarked Chade. "I don't think I've ever seen him this afraid."

"Are you kidding me? He's afraid of everything," said Pettr. "Fucking little coward is what he is."

Chade glanced sideways at Pettr. "If you were that small..."

"No," shot Pettr. "I've known brave halflings. That one is a shitter!"

Talin interjected skeptically, "Chade's right, he's under the guise of terror, something's amiss, unless, he can't hear us for the waterfalls, but he should see us."

"Or he's been through too much down here. He may be the only one left," said Ohn. "But, we can't keep yelling," he added as he walked backed to the steps and peeked back up toward the corridor.

Just then, everything went unnaturally black!

A darkness spell! They'd seen it used a few times on the battlefield, but none of them had ever been inside one.

They yelled frantically at each other. "Ohn!" "Chade!" "Talin!" "Watch your weapons!" None of them dared move too much, yet they jerked this way and that, reaching out with their free hands, feeling for each other. The darkness was complete, it was absolute! Suffocating! There was a splash. Pettr screamed or exhaled in an odd way. 

"Pettr!" shouted Ohn.

"YLY!!!!!!" shouted Chade.

The sprite appeared again, canceling out some of the pitch, but they now saw everything flickering in the negative. They saw Pettr kneeling in the edge of the lake being choked by something from beyond the grave. He grabbed at the rotting hands wrapped around his throat. His mouth agape, his skin stretching thinner across his face before their very eyes, his strength was waning fast.

They all struck at the undead thing, but their blades had little effect. It's eyes glared at them with a light that somehow expressed darkness. It was negative energy. There was a sentience to it; a hatred. These were hardened men and they were terrified!

Yly flew right up to it's face and seemed to explode in a tiny supernova. The walking corpse lurched back. Ohn rushed with his shield, knocking the creature splashing into the lake. Chade and Talin helped Pettr to his feet and they all rushed back to the steps and up as fast as they'd ever moved. 

They were out of the evil darkness and stumbling back down the corridor. Pettr could hardly stand upright. Their torch had been dropped in the scuffle, now Yly was leading the way. They passed the side passage, intending to head down familiar halls, when they collectively screeched to a halt. Another thing was coming their way! They turned back and raced down the side passage which shortly opened wide, into a maze of colossal columns, between which, the shadows moved. More undead!

"Shit!" exclaimed Ohn.

"Over there, stairs!" informed Talin.

Yly seemed to flicker, giving them all pause. She flickered again, and for lack of a better term, stumbled, back into her charm. They were in darkness once again.

"Torch, now!" cried Ohn.

They formed a circle as Chade fumbled through his gear. He frantically struck his tinder sticks, each little spark a signal of hope until finally...light! 

They proceeded to the stairs, glaring eyes all around. Unfortunately, the stairs went down, not up. They were wide though, as like in a great gallery. Pettr stumbled, his armor echoing as he hit the ground. Ohn and Talin helped him up, but damn, he was weak! The stairs had several landings before they reached the bottom -- a semi-circular room full of alcoves, each occupied by classic looking statues. The stone here seemed to be of yellow marble, but it was hard to say in the dancing torchlight. In between each alcove was a passage.

Ohn looked back up the stairs, the eyes were coming. "Damn! This way!" as he motioned to one of the passages on the right. It led to more stairs, much narrower with a low curved ceiling, again going down...and down...and down...

And finally, a door, very fancy, very old. Locked, of course!

Chade went to work while the others took a guarded stance. Pettr, leaned against the wall and slid to the ground.

There was a click. "Got it," said Chade as he paused and looked back at Ohn for the "go ahead" to open, which he gave.

It was a small, ornate room with a sarcophagus in the center...and no other exit.

"Mercy," said Ohn under his breath. "Go on, we have no choice." They all poured in. "Lock it!" he commanded, and Chade obeyed, then intently listened for activity from the other side. Talin stood near him, bow ready. Pettr sat on the floor.

Ohn gave the room a quick scan with the torch. It was like the earlier tomb they encountered, but much nicer. The walls were painted dull green in between semi-columns. Hieroglyphics dominated the scene. The sarcophagus was intricately carved in places, smooth marble in others. Two braziers hung in the corners farthest from the door. In between them on the wall was a mosaic depiction of two giant serpents hopelessly entangled in battle or dance, it was unclear. 

Ohn went from brazier to brazier lighting them both. When the second one was lit, the lid of the sarcophagus slid sideways with the groan of stone grinding on stone. They all nearly shit themselves! Even Pettr jumped to his feet. Nothing came out though, nothing happened. After a few breathless moments, Ohn nervously approached with the torch.

"Stairs," he said "More stairs."

"We are heading in the wrong direction," said Chade. "What about Boze?"

"Boze will have to look after himself," said Ohn. 

"Where's my axe?" asked Pettr out of the blue, a sense of presence returning to his eyes.

"You dropped it in the lake, do you not remember?" asked Talin.

Pettr shook his his head.

"Here, take this," said Ohn, handing the big man his sword. "I'll use my back-up."

Talin put his hand up, quickly looking at the door. They froze. Something scratched. Then the pounding commenced.

"Let's go!" ordered Ohn, handing Chade the torch. "You first, Talin, Pettr." One by one they climbed into the coffin and descended the narrow, stone steps. Ohn went last, shield and short sword at the ready. The grinding of stone caused him to glance back just in time to see the sarcophagus lid seal itself shut. Both good and bad, he supposed. He followed the others. It was single file, very tight, their shoulders almost scraping the walls. The ceiling was very low, not a good place for the claustrophobe. The steps were well worn and looked hundreds of years old. Ohn glanced back, but the top was no longer in view. He turned to continue his descent and slammed straight into Pettr. It seemed they had stopped.

"Umm...we have a problem," said Chade from the front.

"What is it?" Ohn enquired.

"Water," replied the sapper. "We're at the bottom, but the hallway is flooded. It looks about chest-high."

Ohn looked down and shook his head, he was feeling the pressure of leadership. "Do you remember the siege of Brynmire, how shitty that was?" 

They all answered in the unmistakable affirmative.

"I would rather be there," he said.

Even the elf chuckled.

"Right, back-packs off," said Ohn. "Our supplies must stay dry. We hold them high. Pettr, you carry Chade's. Chade, how's the torch?" 

"Light is good," said Chade.

"Light another and carry two just in case," said Ohn.

When they were all ready, Chade stepped forward. Water immediately seeping through his boots. As a sapper, he'd been in similar situations. It sucked then, it sucked now. But, with no options... Into the  water they went.

The others followed suit, wading down a flooded hallway that smelled only as cold, subterranean water could. Brushing against unseen debris shook their nerves, but they pressed on, navigating several tight bends. At one point the passage dipped dangerously low. The water reached their necks. Chade strained to keep the torches dry. Lesser folk would have succumbed to panic. Mercifully, the corridor then slanted upwards and they all emerged, soaked straight to the bone, onto a stone ledge.

Their arms were like lead. They rested, inspected, and re-slung their gear which seemed in good shape.

"We should re-bandage your leg," Talin said to Ohn.

"No time," he said. "Let's keep moving."

In front was a long pit about three feet deep and ten feet wide filled with mud and debris -- bricks, planks, and such. Further on, they could make out steps going up and around. The moldy walls on either side had occasional holes varying in size, at various heights, going up and out of sight. Some of them trickled water.

"Let me check it out," said the sapper. Carrying one of the torches, he carefully leapt down amongst the debris. His boots squished as he walked, both from the mud and the fact that they were now soaking wet. He poked here and there with his blade. At one point he crouched down and moved a few planks. He scraped at the mud... "Bones, human, someone died here, yep, here's some mail. Looks like it's been awhile though. And over here..." as he moved on, "What's...huh, look at this, a dagger, looks like silver," he held it up fingering the gemmed pommel, "This is worth something."

The other three were too miserable to care.

Stowing the dagger, Chade continued poking here and there. At one point as he passed a hole, his head jerked back. He put the torch in, but saw nothing, or did he? He went to move on, but jerked back again, sure he'd heard something.

The others watched intently.

"Sounds like...rats," he said. "Wait, something's..." he jerked back. "Alright," he motioned to the others. "Let's go!"

They jumped down and followed. "What is it? What'd you see?" asked Ohn.

"Eyes or something, I'm not sure..." he glanced back as he said it. Then his eyes widened. "That!" 

Peeking out of one of the holes was a rat the size of a dog! It eyes were aglow with fiendish crimson dots. It's flesh, rotting, betrayed innards.

It hissed.

And then another one appeared beside it, and then more. Many more.

Then, as if a great valve opened, scores of them cascaded down into the pit, squealing and hissing as they swarmed! 

The men bolted for the steps, but they were quickly surrounded. The rats were maniacal! They didn't just bite, they scratched, they tore, they hissed and climbed. Ohn and Pettr stabbed and slashed furiously. Chade, backing up the steps, cut and burned like a mad man. 

Several rats pulled at Talin's cloak as he was trying to draw his tomahawk. It was a rare moment, but the elf  lost his footing and slipped in the mud. He was promptly covered by the beasts who rabidly bit and tore at his flesh. His mail protected him mostly, but blood was starting to spill. He grabbed at them and rolled in a panic, somehow he got to his knees and retrieved his tomahawk which he immediately put to deadly use. His bow was out of reach and his arrows lay all around. Eventually, he regained his footing and proceeded to slay with elven fury.

They all forgot about being wet and cold. They slashed and stabbed and slashed some more until the tide seemed to turn. But there was a bone-chilling screech from above as a mass dropped. A hulking thing. A rat-thing. A hulking, man-rat thing! Red-eyed and rotting just like the small ones. It let out another screech and scores more rats entered the fray.

The four men stopped trying to fight and ran for their lives up the steps which curled around and out to a corridor. The rats were right with them. The four sprinted desperately, passing several doors, not daring to stop. They cut and stabbed and burned when they absolutely had to, all the while racing toward a large door far away at the hallway's end.

"The door, Chade!" cried Ohn, as he crouched in a defensive posture. Pettr and Talin stopped with him, trying to give the sapper some breathing room. Almost instantly, the three were holding back a veritable wall of vermin. 

Chade reached and tried the door. It was sturdy oak and wouldn't budge at all. Dropping the torch, he fumbled for his picks, dropping many. He worked the lock, but his gut told him it wasn't locked, but braced. He slammed his shoulder into the door in frustration. "Damn it!" he shot. Behind him he heard Talin yell Ohn's name in despair.

Ohn had fallen and was already being torn apart.

Talin and Pettr were on their knees, half buried. A torrent of rats flooded past and assaulted the sapper. 

"YLY!!!!" Chade screamed, but the charm merely flickered. The vermin pulled him to the floor, just as...

The door flew inward! Out stepped a woman clad in the holy armor of the Merciful One. She held strong the cross of her faith and spoke the language of her church. The entire hallway lit up in a righteous flash, setting many rats ablaze with the rest scurrying back toward their dark holes of Hell.

The stunned survivors fell into the room, followed quickly by their savior. There, a tall, lightly armored man braced the door with a large wooden beam.

Talin, Pettr, and Chade lay half dead on the dungeon floor. Standing over them, Cynne and Taer of the original seven.


Too be concluded...


Thursday, January 6, 2022

RIFTS: Wilderness Scout And... Skills


Once again I open the year with Palladium...

In between ideas, looking for a book to flip through... of course I grab from my Palladium shelf...

RIFTS: Ultimate Edition.

This time, I flip to the Wilderness Scout...

Low powered class, one of the mere mortals of RIFTS Earth, basically a tracker with nice bonuses to survival skills. RIFTS: Ultimate Edition adds three special abilities:

  • Trail Blazing: The ability to cut and mark trails for others to follow.
  • Cross-Country Pacing: The ability to pace your journey.
  • Cartography: The specialized art of mapmaking.
Except, these are not special abilities at all, they're just, well... skills. And they're basically just fluff story skills that would rarely come up during play and can really be summed up under Land Navigation, which already exists.

Every class, in every game system, should have abilities that make them valuable to the team, and I'm not talking, balance, I'm talking usefulness, like, "Holy shit, am I glad we have a Wilderness Scout right now!"

Something like this would make this class a little cooler...

  • Group Camouflage: Basically, mass stealth. With a successful roll, the Wilderness Scout can hide his entire team in wild terrain as if they all made their stealth* rolls. If time-keeping is important to you, it takes 1d4 minutes per person. If launching an ambush surprise attack, every member of a Wilderness Scout's group gains one extra attack during the first round of action. A failed attempt means that it's time to roll for initiative. Base Chance: 35%, +5% per level.
    • *Oddly, with the plethora of skills available, there is no actual Stealth skill in RIFTS: Ultimate Edition, the closest thing is Prowl
    • If you're a fan of critical failures and successes, which for me equals rolling doubles on a success or failure, a critical success grants two extra attacks to everyone, and a critical failure gives initiative and one extra attack to the other side.

Anybody familiar with this blog knows that I love Palladium Books regardless of inconsistencies and contradictions in the rules over many books and sometimes within the same book. I mean, who cares, especially from an OSR, DIY point of view? Yet, I would agree that changes could be made. They won't be, which is understandable, because there's too big of a catalogue that could made obsolete. So, we make these changes ourselves.

The three barriers preventing people from enjoying Palladium Games, as far as I see it are:

  • Character creation takes FOR-EV-ER! Skill selection is a drag. I never write down that a character can speak his native language at 95% or can do basic math at 85%. These things are simply not worth recording.
  • M.D.C./S.D.C. My solution, as I've stated before: Scrap M.D.C. Mega-Damage weapons would simply get a multiplier, be rare and dangerous to use.
  • No ready-made monsters and NPCs. And they just released a very nice Bestiary, but you still have to build EVERYTHING, which is fine, but, simplified ready-made stat-blocks would be incredible.

 So, using the Wilderness Scout as an example, here's how I would present character creation:

  • Roll your Attributes as normal.
  • Roll Hit Points/S.D.C.
  • Record Special Abilities.
  • Record automatic skills, then roll for others (see below.)
  • Roll starting money.
  • Ignore the listed starting equipment, because, holy shit that list is extensive! Just take the important things. You don't need to record that your character has a hat or a pair of sunglasses.
  • Choose alignment.
So, Skills... Looking at the Wilderness Scout O.C.C. Skills (pg. 99), the ones below are the only ones I would bother with as automatic to the class:
  • Athletics
  • Climbing (+15%)
  • Horsemanship (+20%) this includes exotic animals.
  • Hunting (+20%) percentage taken from Track Animals which is essentially... Hunting.
  • Land Navigation (+20%) This includes the 3 special abilities from above.
  • Pilot (+10%) motorcycle or hovercycle.
  • Prowl (+15%)
  • Radio: Basic (+10%)
  • Wilderness Survival (+20%) Identify Plants would be combined with this skill.
  • W.P. Knife, Archery, Rifle, Handguns
  • Hand to Hand, I love the idea of rolling this randomly, 25% chance for either Basic, Expert, Martial Arts, or Assassin.
    • Actually, for this class I might make it:
      • 01-50: Basic
      • 51-70: Expert
      • 71-90: Martial Arts
      • 91-00: Assassin
To make life easier for you, assume all skills start at a base of 35% and don't forget to add a possible  I.Q. bonus.

Now you could (and probably should) stop right there and not worry about what follows, but...

Normally, what comes next are some O.C.C. related skills followed by several secondary skills. The real drag here is all the page flipping back and forth between the class page and the section on skills. Because you get to choose all of these new skills, you're obviously going to search for the best ones. Not too painful if you're familiar with the system, but this is an enjoyment barrier for new or even occasional RIFTS fans. 

Another nuisance with such skill-based systems (in RIFTS case, it's a pseudo skill-based system, combat is d20 based) is that upon leveling up, you need to go down your character sheet, skill by skill, and this will easily be 20+ skills, adding 5% to each one (not to mention all your weapon proficiency and special ability bonuses that come at various levels.)

What I would rather do, after recording your automatic skills, is roll randomly, say, 10 times on a custom skill chart (or series of charts) containing mostly related skills and the automatic ones, but also including some possible outliers to see what other skills you have. If you roll an automatic skill, you get a further 5% bonus every time you roll it. If you roll a new skill, you get it at the base 35% and a further 5% bonus every time you roll it again. If you roll a physical skill that you already have, you get those bonuses a second time (e.g., if you roll Athletics and you already have it, now you have Athletics x 2.) If you reroll a weapon proficiency you get an extra +1 bonus.

Then when you level up, at even levels add 5% to all of your % skills and at odd levels add +1 to any weapon proficiencies. Also each time you level up, you get to roll on the class skill chart 4 or 5 times, or 1d6 times (for further randomness.)

Special Abilities improve at the listed rate or at the same rate as % or +1 skills (even and odd levels.)

Unfortunately, designing these charts for every class would be beyond tedious, so this dream really is dead on arrival.

Unless...

You turned the already existing skill lists in random roll charts and said something like: Roll 3 times on your Automatic Skills chart, Roll 2 times on the Rogue Skills chart, Roll 3 times on the Wilderness Skills chart, once on each W.P. chart, and twice on a randomly determined chart. 

Hmmm...

I'm a dreamer, but like I said earlier, take the obvious automatic class skills and stop right there! 


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Marvel FASERIP And Random Character Generation


Nothing beats RANDOM character generation.

Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) is the all time king of random character generation (Traveller is up there, and Heroes Unlimited too.) Often in Marvel, you have to make sense of truly odd power combinations, and many times back yonder, we would just reroll. Screw that. Random generation allows you to create characters that you would never otherwise think of. 

It is the path to true originality.

I rolled up this character in all of 10 minutes, 100% random, no fudging, no rerolls.

A Mutant...

Improve their Endurance by 1 rank (nice, since I only rolled Typical(6)), one extra power, and zero popularity.

Stats are decent, Health is on par with a lot of street level heroes. 

Talents are Military (plenty of sub-plots here, experimented on? Spy?) and Martial Arts E (+1 to initiative, actually makes sense as her two highest stats are Agility and Intuition at Incredible(40) each.)

Powers:

  • Extra Attacks
  • Probability Manipulation* -- counts as two powers (I rolled 4, +1 for being a Mutant)
  • Earth Control
  • Computer Links

What a group!

Looking for patterns...

She can change outcomes, Probability Manipulation (reverses % die rolls), for better and for worse, but only for non-living things -- like making a gun jam. She can manipulate the earth itself, Earth Control (that's earth in an elemental way, as in... dirt) and she has an immensely powerful (Monstrous (75)) connection with computers. Almost sounds like she's from a simulation, a virtual reality, or that's the way she sees reality. She's an architect, a creator, a shaper of the world.

I named her Mint (thought of Warp, Architect, Shaper, etc.)

Extra Attacks, according to the rules, simply gives her a better shot at rolling to see if she can make an extra attack. I prefer to see this power as a minor form of Super Speed, or Super Multi-Tasking. I would allow her to use two powers in one round (makes sense too with her Agility/Intuition.) Perhaps she appears somewhat pixelated when she moves or her Earth Control manifests in a pixilated way like in Minecraft (which I've never played.) Could have called her Pixi...  

Earth Control, at the beginning stage only allows you to use clumps of earth to bash and block. There are several other useful things you can develop as power stunts, tunneling, traveling on waves of earth, grappling, earthquakes, sculpting golems, etc.

She can block and bash, bash twice, bash two separate foes, manipulate and bash, manipulate twice, block block, etc.

Combat with this character would never be dull.

Perhaps she looks like this...


Or this...

FASERIP -- Best Super-Hero system ever!

It's not even close.


Sunday, December 5, 2021

A Couple Of Updates...


NEW! Sision Tower (black cover) is now available in paperback over at Amazon for $6.99.


Sision Tower, is currently a Silver Best-Seller on DriveThruRPG and was given 5 out of 5 stars by Gabor Lux (whom I now illustrate for) over at BeyondFomalhaut.blogspot:


Thank You Gabor!


DATE OF EXPIRATION, is currently a Copper Best-Seller over at DriveThruRPG and was simultaneously released as a paperback on Amazon.


DATE OF EXPIRATION, was just given the rank of BEST by Bryce Lynch over at tenfootpole.org:


Thank You Bryce!



So... DEATH IN SPACE...

Always make it sexy. DEATH IN SPACE, is brought to us by the Stockholm Kartell (the same group that spawned Mörk Borg) by creators Christian...