Sunday, November 22, 2015

Yes, I'm still alive.

If you want to call this "living." I've been dealing with a whole lot of nonsense the last few months. Massive amounts of mandatory overtime at work. Sick or dying pets. New drug treatments. Trying to find my floundering RPG group a time and place that fits my crazy schedule.

I should be back posting new material in a couple of days. In the meantime, I'm getting better with HeroMachine. Here's a character inspired by the Primeval Thule campaign setting which I will be reviewing: a priestess of Shub Niggurath. Maybe she's been a tad bit overzealous in her worship of the Black Goat Of The Wood With A Thousand Young?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Bones III Kickstarter Is Underway!

Once again, Reaper is running a Kickstarter to fund the production of a new run of Bones miniatures. They are already three days into a short 18-day campaign and they are pretty close to breaking the million dollar mark. So far, for a $100 pledge, you can get...

Click to Enlarge.
As more money comes rolling in, more miniatures will be added to the basic pool. There are also some awesome options you can purchase on top of the basic package. Among the options, these caught my attention...

Oh, I SO want these powered armored figs. I had picked up about two dozen Nova Corp soldiers in Bones for general sci-fi troops or cyberpunk security goons for role-playing. These beauties will fit in nicely with the Nova Corps figs and will work for everything from Traveller to Mutant Future.

Pledge today!

Monday, June 1, 2015

I just had a disturbing thought...

After the last heart-pounding, action-packed (and nudity-free) episode of Game of Thrones, something occurred to me...

"Let it go! Let it go!"

Friday, May 8, 2015

Review: White Star

A while back, I mentioned that my first RPG (i.e. Star Frontiers) was a science fiction title rather than a fantasy game like all the cool kids were playing. I was one of those poor schmucks who were dealt easily-duped right-wing parents who bought into the Satanic Panic of the early-mid 80s, so D&D and other fantasy games were verboten in my family's household. However, sci-fi games were accepted grudgingly. I assume my mother didn't think I'd be summoning any demons from the deepest pits of Hell with a copy of Palladium’s Robotech or Cyberpunk 2020 (although I was able to sneak Call of Cthulhu past them). Therefore, since I spent most of my adolescent gaming years blasting aliens and leaping across galaxies, science fiction games have a special place in my muscular blood pump.

That's why I was particularly excited when James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games announced the publication of White Star, a new OSR science fiction game using Matt Finch's Swords & Wizardry: White Box engine. There are many sci-fi games with an old school flavor: Stars Without Number. Starships and Spacemen, X-Plorers. However, White Star is meant to be a more direct restatement of the Gygax/Arneson rules specifically for the science fiction genre.

Fans of White Box will have no problem digesting the rules and they are easy enough for the neophyte to jump into without headache. In White Star, damage and hit dice are d6 based, and most of the time the only other dice you'll need is a d20. All characters have a single saving throw and there is the option to use either descending (THAC0) or ascending armor class for combat. White Star is also designed to be 100% compatible with White Box so if you want to attempt a sci-fi/fantasy mash-up like the classic Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module or settings like Dragonstar or Amethyst, you should be in excellent shape.

The classes in White Star cover a wide array of established sci-fi character archetypes: Aristocrats are your leaders and negotiators, lending a bit of social gaming amidst all the blasting and hacking. Mercenaries are your basic fighters. Space Knights defend peace and justice in the universe with star sword and psionic “Meditations” (i.e. think Vanician spells). Pilots are daredevils who can coax your starship to perform gut-churning maneuvers while keep their ships in space. Like Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings, aliens and robots are treated as race-as-class, and they are generic enough to fit whatever setting you desire. There is an Alien Brute class if you want play a hulking non-human warrior, and an Alien Mystic with their own supernatural “Gifts.” Robots can be designed as diplomats fluent in over six million forms of communication, repair and maintenance models that can be useful that hyperdrive or shutting down garbage smashers on the detention level, or hulking combat 'bots programmed for destruction.

White Star features comprehensive equipment list that features everything from communicators to mono-swords, stats for starships as well as simple rules for ship-to-ship combat and operations, and even bionics if you want your campaign to have a more cyperpunk feel to it. There's also a bestiary featuring alien adversaries and monsters ranging from ravening space bugs to assimilating cyborgs. A chapter is devoted to the various campaign styles that the rules would work for, and there is even an introductory adventure for Level 1-3 adventurers, something not a lot of OSR titles include.

Do the various classes, monster's and other tropes seem derivative. Sure, they're pretty much total rip-offs, but you can say that about any modern fantasy role-playing game. If anything the familiar settings and adversaries gives the players and GM a common frame of reference from which they can modify the game to suit their own campaign. When and if I were to run a White Star game, my setting would be slightly grayer than a Star-Wars-style universe. The generic Galactic Empire would be far less tyrannical, rebels would be factious and indiscriminate in their violence, nobles houses would play a bigger role, and the Space Knights would not be cold, emotionless monks with energy blades with a weird disdain for ranged weapons and sex. It's ultimately all up to you.

It's easy to see why White Star has in the span of a very short time (Less than a week!) gained an enthusiastic following. It's already “Electrum” rated on RPGNow and in the Google+ community there is already talk of two fanzines being started. Like all OSR games, White Star's simplicity and open-ended, do-it-yourself nature encourages gamers to get creative. In a hobby that is supposedly fueled upon imagination, that is always welcome.

White Star is currently available on and as a .PDF for $9.99. Print-On-Demand copies are expected to be available by the end of the month.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

White Star Character: Kay'Lanna Dreen, Knight of the Rising Star

James Spahn's OSR science fantasy game White Star has taken off like a tramp cargo ship full of fugitive rebels trying to get to the Alderaan System. While I compose my review, I thought I'd share my first character; Kay'Lanna Dreen, Space Knight. While the inspiration for this character class should be obvious, the White Star universe I'm concocting is far less black and white than that one that took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Think more Dune than A New Hope, where the psionic Space Knights, products of a thousands-of-year-old breeding program, serve their virtually immortal masters who rule planetary fiefdoms as their elite agents and warriors. 

Dame Kay'Lanna Dreen
1st Level Space Knight of the Rising Star Order

STR: 8
DEX; 15 (+1)
CON: 12
INT: 13
WIS: 13
Chas: 12

AC  6 [13] (Using Dex Bonus for AC Option.)
BHB: 0
HP 6 (I always allow my starting PCs max HP)

Meditations: None

Equipment: Star Sword, Laser Pistol, 1 Energy Cell, Light Armor, Clothing (Common), Communicator. 15 Credits.

A scion of the Dreen lineage of the Rising Star Order, Kay'Lanna has just earned her knighthood and vowed fealty to House Salzor of Caldor. As a novice knight of House Salzor's cadre, Kay'Lanna has been assigned protection detail for Lady Almada's ne'er-do-well son Feldan as he leaps across Imperial space in search of adventure. While Feldan is brash and reckless, Kay'Lanna is a loyal knight and will do her duty to keep the party-boy lordling in line and out of trouble as he hones her own skills.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

White Star Emerging From Hyperspace May Fourth!

Yeah, this was what I first thought of when I heard the title, too.
As I briefly touched upon in my last post, James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games has been cooking up White Star, a new OSR sci-fi game using the Swords & Wizardry: White Box engine. Just yesterday, James announced that the .PDF will be released on RPGNow/DriveThru on May the Fourth.

Hmmmmm... I wonder if there is some significance to that date?

White Star promises to feature new classes. robots and aliens, science fiction hardware, starships, cybernetics, and much, much more. The game is also supposed to be completely compatible with S&W:WB so you can easily play high fantasy/science fiction mash-ups like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Dragonstar, or Amethyst. The PDF will retail for $9.99 with a PoD digest (6" x 9") edition in both softcover ($14.99) and hardcover ($24.99) coming out as soon as James okays the proofs. Preliminary reviews appear very positive. James has also wisely started a Google+ Community to give players a place to discuss the game as soon as it drops.

You will be able to read my review here as soon as I get my hands on a copy!

Monday, April 27, 2015

My Muse Wears Combat Boots!

SCENE: Mark's Room. Mark is lying on the bed, semi-conscious. An old MST3K episode is playing on the TV. He's surrounded by empty soda cans and crumpled microwave popcorn bags. Suddenly the door breaks open and Mark's Muse comes storming into the room.

Mark's Muse: Okay you fat, ugly load! Up and at 'em.

Mark: (Groans and mumbles groggily.)

Muse: None of that, wuss. It's been two months since you posted a damn thing on your crappy little blog. Time to get your ass on that computer and post something! Now ooze your tonnage out of that bed and get to work!

Mark: Go away. I've not up for it. I'm feeling depressed. Work has been a real drain. I've got writer's block.

Muse: Oh, writer's block my eye! Look, you totally neglected to post anything about your trip to Gary Con, you let Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day slip by you, you've posted nothing on James Spahn's upcoming SW: Whitebox-based science fiction game, and the "Year of Tekumel" is a quarter over and you've only posted about that lame-ass GM screen!

Mark: Yeah, yeah, it's not as if anyone really cares about this damn blog. I only have around 80 subscribers while all the other cool OSR bloggers have hundreds of followers, some with lucrative Paetron accounts to justify the time and effort they put into their work.

Muse: Oh boo hoo! Nobody reads my blog and I'm a pauper with a lousy day-job! Save the crippling self-doubt for your therapist, worm! Now write!

Mark: Fine! (Gets up to open up his laptop.) This will teach me to get my muses second hand from fantasy porn-comic sites.

Muse: More writing, less snark lard-bottom or I'll use your meager excuse for genitals as a whimsical pencil topper!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Crypts & Things Remastered, Conan, and things Sword & Sorcery

You can hear the heavy metal guitar solos
coming from this cover, can't you?
A few years back, Newt Newton at D101 Games published a sweet Swords & Wizardry variant titled Crypts & Things. This OSR-flavored game has everything who like their fantasy dark and gritty with some pretty cool rules additions inspired by Akrasia of Akratic Wizardry fame. Now Newt is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for a "remastered"edition of C&T.

This upcoming edition promises new and improved artwork, tighter editing, new and streamlined rules, more classes, more spells, more monsters, more EVERYTHING! Donors will also get a sneak peek of the draft rules, so they can get a taste for what is to come.

Makes you want to strip down to your breechcloth and run around with a huge sword slaying serpent men, doesn't it?

(Except myself, of course, Me in any state of undress is a horror of Lovecraftian proportions!)

Since I'm one of those types who needs miniatures for my games, I've been thinking about great sources for appropriate Sword & Sorcery figures. I've mainly been getting mine from Reaper, but Newt's initial announcement turned by attention toward this recently funded Kickstarter campaign by from Monolith Board Games featuring a familiar fantasy hero:

"CROM! What manner of foul sorcery has put me in a box!" 
"Conan is a miniature-based board game that pits one player, the overlord, who controls hordes of savage tribesmen, no-good lowlifes and undead minions against 1 to 4 players who incarnate the legendary Conan and his fellow adventurers. The gameplay is asymetric, as the overlord possesses a large selection of models and objectives which are his own, whereas the brave heroes are played from a first person perspective, much like in a role playing game. An adventure can be played out in 1 hour on one of the beautiful game boards as you pit your wits, daring and tactical acumen against your opponent."
The miniature samples look nothing less than awesome and the "King Pledge" level gives you a heap of familiar heroes, human, enemies, monsters, and terrain. I normally don't buy into board games, but like the Reaper Bones, Heavy Gear, and Robotech: Tactics crowdfunding campaigns that came before, I could not resit the wealth of figures that I would be getting for the price. Even if it turns out that the game itself is a bust, I will certainly use the miniatures for other things.

The Crypts & Things Remastered Kickstarter starts March 1.

Miniatures Jackpot!

The UPS man arrived yesterday, and what did he have for me? Why, the fruits of the the Reaper Bones II Kickstarter, that's what! Over 150 bendy plastic generic fantasy figures (with a few Deadlands and Numenera figs thrown in for good measure) to be painted, used, and abused in role-playing campaigns to come. Look! I say, LOOK upon this glories bounty!

I got in of the first Bones Kickstarter and I haven't even finished half the figs I got from that campaign, so I don't know when I've ever going to start in on these babies. I admit, I do get frustrated at times with the "bendy" nature of these figures, and wish they were molded from a harder variety of plastic, but they're great if you need a lot of miniatures for a very low price.

I better start painting.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I guess I'm running a Gary Con event after all.

I know I said that I wasn't planning on GMing this year at any of the cons I was visiting, but there is a game that I've been wanting to play for some time and a convention maybe the only place I can find interested players. This year, I'm running an introductory game of The Void, a mixture of dark, claustrophobic hard science fiction and Lovecraftian horror from Wildfire. (Gamers may recognize this as a campaign setting for Traveller, Chthonian Stars.) Here's the description I submitted:

It's almost a bad horror vid cliche: Warden command receives a garbled distress call from some rusted-out freighter sliding down the gravity well from the Kuiper Belt and your ship just happens to be "the closest ship in the sector." Now you've just awoken from A/D sleep after a high-G course correction to intercept the wayward freighter. Your mission: board the ship, find any survivors, and determine if it's just a mechanical problem... or something else. 
"The Void" is the role-playing game where hard science fiction action meets Lovecraftian horror from Wildfire games. This is an introductory game, so all comers are welcome. Pregenerated PCs will be provided. Six-sided dice are required.
I intend to run the game twice: Thursday at 2 PM, and Friday at 4 PM. If this works out, I'll also run it at Gamer Hole Con, and maaaaaybe the Nexus Game Fair if I can get off for that weekend—though I doubt it.

So put your mag-boots on, make sure the O2 tank on your EVA suit is charged up, and remember to save the last bullet for yourself.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Coming Soon: The Expanse

There hasn't been a good science fiction TV series since Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his band of merry malcontents flew off into the sun after 14 episodes, and before that, Babylon 5. The various regurgitations of the Trek Franchise got boring after a while, as did the 87 seasons of Stargate SG-1. I never liked any of the surreal "mind fuck" series like The X FilesLost, Heroes, or Fringe. Ronald Moore's rehash of Battlestar Galactica (Or as it call it "Lost... In Space!" Get it?) left me cold after the first season as it tried to be more symbolic and navel-gazing than entertaining. It's not that I don't think that sci-fi shouldn't deal with "BIG" issues, it's just that Hollywood ends up pandering to the lowest common denominator and ends up running back to ideas and conclusions that are safe and comfortable for your average American mass-entertainment-consuming dullard. (e.g. Prometheus. What should have been nihilistic horror gets mired in optimistic religious bullshit and spiritualistic bollocks. Then again, what do you expect from Damon Lindelof?)

That said, it looks like SyFy, in its recent effort to finally put add some actual science fiction to its repertoire of ghost hunting shows ("WHAT WAS THAT! WHAT WAS THAT!") and professional wrestling, are producing The Expanse, a 10-episode micro-series based on James S.A. Corey's series of novels. If you haven't read the series, do so starting with Leviathan Wakes! It's one part Firefly (i.e. ragtag spaceship crew of misfits), one part Game of Thrones (i.e. political machinations and conspiracy), with soupcon of The Walking Dead and a pinch of H.P. Lovecraft (i.e. body horror and ancient alien "Things-That-Man-Was-Not-Meant-To-Know").

 Finally! A return to the TV space opera in all it's glory! Pew pew pew pew...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My 2015 Convention Schedule

A new year has come, and with it, a new year of conventions here. Since I worked all three of the winter holidays (not that I had much choice, mind you), I'm getting a couple of extra vacation days, so I plan to make the most of them! This year, I'm attending...

Gary Con (March 26-29): This has become the con I live for now. It's so close to home that I don't need to rent a hotel room and it's a far more intimate and friendly affair than the larger, more-visible conventions. This year it almost looked like I wasn't going to make it at all. My employer is rather strict and stingy when it comes to approving vacation requests and someone had already requested off for that Thursday and Sunday! However, thanks to a sympathetic co-work willing to trade workdays, I'll be able to make Thursday's festivities. I'm still trying to see if I can get Sunday off, but I won't get my hopes up.

This year, I'm just going to play. I have no time to put together a scenario to GM and I want to flesh out Mu a little more before I try to run it again. After playing in Tim Kask's OD&D games, I'm going to shoot for getting into one of Frank Mentzer's games.

Gamehole Con (November 6-8): Another "local" convention, I've heard enough good things to persuade me to attend for the first time. It has a larger scope than Gary Con, catering to a larger selection of games than just classic role-playing. That suits me fine, of course.

I've got the vacation time cleared with my corporate slave drivers, now all I need to do is scrimp and save for a cheap room. Madison is little further from my place than Lake Geneva, but its still a tolerable distance for a poor gamer like myself. Also the lateness in the year, gives me most of the year to work on some ideas and think up something to run.

See you all there!

The Year of Tekumel: Creating the Impenetrable Screen of Lore for Mastery of Games

The Year of Tekumel is upon us all! Otulengba! 

Recently, my coil-bound copy of Empire of the Petal Throne, which has seen me through many an adventure in the Jakallan underworld and on the Sabke Road, was getting pretty worn out. As I printed out a new copy, I figured that I should be environmentally conscious as possible and try to recycle as much as my old book as I could before consigning the rest to the paper shredder. Therefore, I decided to convert what I could into a much-needed GM screen!

Victor Raymond has used a similar method to create his own EPT GM screen using laminated pages of the tables found in the back of the book, However, since I already own a vinyl, three-panel, landscape screen for Savage Worlds, I decided to try to cut out and re-position these tables onto card stock so they could better fit my screen. I also added vital combat tables (e.g. To-Hit, Hit Dice, Damage, Morale, etc.) so I would no longer have to go flipping around the book to find them. So far, I'm pleased with the results:

No matter how much clever arranging I tried, I couldn't fit them all onto three panels. Fortunately, Hammerdog Games makes a four-panel landscape screen that I've been meaning to pick up the next time I make a POD order from DTRPG.  I also used some the artwork to create panels for the front of the screen. I made several for variety sake:

No the only thing that remains is to laminate the front of the panels (this keeps them from sticking to the clear vinyl of the screen pockets) and I'm ready to torment any new barbarian adventurers that wash up on the shores of Tsolyanu!

Monday, January 12, 2015

(SW) Fearsome Critters: Cake Walk

Savage Worlds is the role-playing game that bills itself on being "Fast, Furious, and Fun." Over the years I've played elvish warriors, pulp adventurers, steampunk cowboys, cyborg assassins, and other action packed player characters. So when I was offered a chance to review Fearsome Critters: Cake Walk, a new one-shot, introductory adventure for Savage Worlds written by John Beattie, with art by T. Jordan Peacock,  and published by Fabled Environments, I wondered what sort of heroic (or anti-heroic) archetypes players would be asked to try one. Then I read the adventure and found out:

Animal Control Officers.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I know what you're about to say next; "Animal control? You mean shooing raccoons out of chimneys and chasing after stray cats? No magic swords, tommy guns, or "vazed-plazma-rivles-in-ze-vorty-vatt-range?"  Outside of the rare rabid rottweiler, what sort of adventurous life is that?"

Well, it depends on what sort of animal you're trying to control. Without giving too much away, in Fearsome Critters: Cake Wake you play members of a special division of animal control that deals with "unusual" fauna and a call from an abandoned snack cake factory leads the players into the very different pest than they bargained for. While reading this humorous adventure (no spoilers here) I realized that Cake Walk reminded me of West End Games' classic Ghostbusters RPG, a game I have many fond memories playing back in middle school when I was a budding gamer.

As an introductory adventure, it's a great way to acclimatize a group of new players to the Savage Worlds engine. It contains just about everything you'll need including five pre-generated PCs and a blank, campaign-specific record sheet for original PCs; a detailed map of the where the action takes place; player handouts; and since Savage Worlds is a miniature-centric game, full color figures including shipping containers and a pair of trucks. This scenario is designed to be a one-shot, just the thing for new players or a quick game to run either at a convention or as a delightful, palette-cleansing, diversion from the usual gaming routine. However, it also includes a few one-page adventure seeds for those who want to draw this out into a larger campaign.Those familiar with Fabled Environments line of gaming maps will recognize the hard work and quality the publisher put into this product.

Obviously, Cake Walk is meant to be a far-less serious adventure than what most gamers expect. In my experience, deliberately humorous games can be rather difficult to pull off well. It often takes a GM with no small amount of comedic skill themselves as well as the ability to think fast if PCs take the adventure outside the author's intended path.  Unless you're gifted at improv, it's very hard to deliver a good punchline when the audience is re-writing your material as you go. It's also works best when PCs also have a great sense of humor and are capable of playing for laughs. That makes GM's job is much easier. Of course, how much humor you choose to inject into Cake Walk is the GMs call.

Cake Walk also tries to get PCs to try to solve their problems with role-playing rather than resorting to gunplay and melee. Your character's most dangerous weapon is a can of pepper spray. How the situation turns out will depend greatly upon how well they can puzzle out the mystery of the Golden Creme Delights Factory and how they react to what they find within. For some, it can be quite refreshing from the usual hacking, slashing, and blasting that are used to resolve most RPG adventures.

Therefore, if you're looking for a light-hearted change of pace or want to give neophyte Savages something easy to play for their first few games, Cake Walk is an excellent and fun-filled choice.