Friday, October 30, 2009

Next stop, Winds of Chaos

Now that Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is being completely overhauled by FFG - gone are the percentile dice, abundant careers, Halflings, and playing with more than three people - it seems a good time to leap wholeheartedly (at least half the time) into WFRP v2 fandom. The second edition of the game is going to need support.

Again, I won't bother railing about third edition, other than to make passive-aggressive little barbs like the one between long dashes in the last paragraph. What I will do is be proactive and supportive of the game I DO like.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - WFRP (v2) is "just right." It strikes a perfect balance between the almost-too-simple (Classic Traveller) and the almost-too-complicated (Rogue Trader et al).

The best resource out there, in my opinion, for the game is now There you'll find all sorts of invaluable playing aids. Obviously none of it is required, but if you ever need to know the phases of Mannslieb, conditions along a given Imperial road, need some handy weather generation, or just want a much, much longer list of possible disfigurations, you don't need to go anywhere else.

But the site really needs more scenarios. There are two up there now, both by Chuck Morrison. He took first place in both of Black Library's scenario contests. I'm pleased to announce that I am now an official contributor to Winds of Chaos, and a revamped version of Masquerade of Horrors, by Colin Campbell and I, will be up sometime in November. The new edition features art (one of the few pictures I've done that I don't think sucks), new fancy layout and even some minor rewriting (looking over the old version of the adventure, I couldn't believe how many typos and rules mistakes were in it), and a new sidebar on how to keep Hermann Von Barbe alive for a sequel.

That sequel will probably come sometime in 2010, if I can talk Colin into it. Until then, look for Masquerade of Horrors over the next few weeks, followed by my scenarios Honeymoon in Hurlach and Dokken's Dilemna (no, George Lynch does not make an appearance) over the next few months.

Masquerade is much different from the others - it's longer and the writing is more formal. Since then, I've found I prefer shorter scenarios with a lighter writing style, leaving more in the hands of the Game Master. So far, it's been entertaining stuff.

The reason I chose Winds of Chaos is because 1) unlike Strike to Stun and some other better-established sites, WoC won't take just any scenario, and 2) it's a high-quality site. I looked at many, and it is by far the most useful and interesting WFRP site out there, fan-created or no. Personally, I'm proud to be associated with it.

So it could be a few weeks before Dr. Chuck gets my stuff up online, but keep an eye out for it!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Bored Gamer's Club

Connor, Joe Sharp and I had our first-ever meeting of the Bored Gamers Club on Columbus Day at Pulp Fiction in Lee's Summit. Although there were only three of us (we were expecting five) we still had a great time, and had the game room all to ourselves. We were going to play Arkham Horror, but were worried that we wouldn't have enough time for a full game. I brought Last Night on Earth, and I'm glad I did. We had a blast.

The game is very simple, and emphasizes cinematic zombie action. The Zombies move much more slowly than the Heroes, but they can move through walls and have virtually unlimited resources in the form of zombie cards they can use to screw over the heroes. The Heroes can move faster, are smarter, and have access to cards that allow them to use weapons like shotguns and gasoline. They don't have unlimited resources (cards), though, and they have to work together to defeat the zombies.

Game mechanics are easy; when fighting Zombies, Heroes roll 2d6 and Zombies roll 1d6. The highest individual die roll wins the combat - so Heroes have a better chance of getting a higher number. If the Hero wins the combat, he has fended off the Zombie, but it is not destroyed. If the Zombie wins the combat (they win ties), then the hero takes a wound. The Heroes can only kill Zombies by using certain weapons or by rolling not only higher than the Zombie, but also rolling doubles. So if a Zombie rolls one die and gets a 3, and the hero rolls two dice and gets a 1 and a 5, the player has fended off the zombie. If the player rolled a 5 and a 5, he would have killed the Zombie. Weapons increase the chance of a kill by adding more dice to the attack, or, in the case of guns, by using text like this: "Roll one die - on a 1, the revolver is out of ammo. On a 4, 5, or 6, the zombie is destroyed."

The game components are extremely well-done, featuring really creative and fun photographs of the characters in the game. The model who portrays "Jenny, the Farmer's Daughter" (pictured) does a lot of convention appearances now and is something of a geek pin-up girl. Unfortunately she did not show up in person at our game (and her character was eaten in the high school gym by zombies). But she represents the sort of small-town archetypes who are characters in the game: the Sheriff, the High-School Quarterback, the Drifter, etc.

The Hero and Zombie cards are where all the action is; Zombies can play cards on the heroes to hinder them (things like shutting off the lights in buildings and whatnot) and Heroes can "search" a building in lieu of moving, drawing a Hero card and hoping it's something good...

My favorite Zombie card has the same name as the game: "Last Night on Earth." If two Heroes are in the same space, you can play that card on them and they lose a turn while they make out (because, you know, it's the last night on earth). I played this on the priest and Jenny while they were in the church, and I had quite a giggle. While the card specifies that it be played on a male and female pair of characters, we have house-ruled that you can play it on any two characters (which resulted in the priest also making out with Johnny, the High School Quarterback).

There are many scenarios to play - in "Die Zombies Die," the Heroes just have to kill 15 Zombies by dawn (about 15 turns). In "Escape in the Truck" the Heroes have to search until they find the keys and gasoline, then make their way back to the truck and escape. In "Defend the Manor House" the Heroes all start in the house and their only goal is to keep the zombies out. There are lots of others.

The best thing about it the game is that it's just funny. Flat-out funny. I haven't laughed like that since I discovered Munchkin: it's a great party game!

Anyway, Last Night on Earth is great fun, and unlike most of the board games I own, it is easy to learn and set up. It plays in about an hour. It's not a new game, so it already has several expansions. I guess it sold well enough to justify those, and it doesn't surprise me: in the words of my son, "I could play this game every day."

The Bored Gamer's Club will meet again at Pulp Fiction in Lee's Summit from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m., Monday, October 26. We hope to see more people there this time!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Is Life too Short?

As a reporter, I occasionally have to write a story about a child with cancer. This is always a bad experience. As a parent I can completely identify with the suffering that families go through in these situations, and I often feel awkward or intrusive when I try to talk to them.

I'm about to sit down and write a profile about a little girl named Megan, who has a brain tumor. Like my friend Ian Thomas, who died a few years ago from the same affliction, Megan went to the doctor numerous times with headaches, and it wasn't until it was way too late that someone finally diagnosed her properly.

Because of Megan's story, and Ian's story, and so many other sad stories I've heard, I sort of internally freak out every time my son shows the slightest trace of illness. He went to the hospital recently for repeated nausea. I basically demanded blood tests, urinalisis, the whole nine yards, and I could tell the doctor really didn't think any of that was necessary. But Medicaid pays those bills, so the doctor ran the tests and we learned that Connor was fine (at least, there isn't anything serious wrong with him). I felt like a bit of a jerk for demanding things of the doctors, but I didn't care. I wasn't going to let my son end up like my friend Ian - not if I could help it.

I interviewed Megan's best friend's mother this morning. She's a Christian who is now struggling to understand why a sweet little girl must suffer while so many wicked people live long lives. She is becoming frustrated with the platitudes she hears from people in her faith community - that "everything happens for a reason," or that "some good will come out of this."

I can't pretend to even begin to address those sorts of questions. But I do know that some good has come out of Megan's situation, at least in my life: it's made me think about what's important and what isn't. So often, we get bent out of shape over life's tiny little dramas. They often seem like such a big deal in the heat of our gut reactions, when at the end of the day, they mean nothing compared to what's really important.

And what's really important is love. I don't care how unhip, naive, or touchy-feely that makes me sound. It really is all that matters. My family and the love we have for each other is the most important thing in my life. I wrote my son and mother letters this morning so they'd know how much I love, appreciate and admire them. I don't want to wait until I am on my deathbed to say those things. I've also been working hard to make sure my friends know that they're loved and appreciated. But despite the fact that nice words and sincere thoughts do matter and are appreciated, the most important thing I can do is live my life every day showing them how much they all matter to me through my actions.

"Life is too short" is a common phrase we use when we decide not to worry about the small stuff. And maybe it is. For some people, it definitely is. But I don't think it's so much that life is too short - it's that we don't use the time we have, don't think about what a precious gift it is. Every second counts. My life is ticking away. So is yours. What are we going to do with it?

Monday, October 5, 2009

No More Edition Wars!

Gamers are angry people. I should know. I'm one of 'em.

Fantasy Flight Games is pissing off older Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fans left and right with its new revamped, $100, board-game-like Third Edition of the game. Then again, kids and FFG fan-types seem to love it.

Of course, no one has actually seen or played it.

While I'm not going to get the game and I'm not going to play it (for a few good reasons, the first being that FFG will only include enough components for three players + GM, and you'll have to pay extra to fill things out for your group), I'm not going to join the chorus of pissed-off old grognards who are slamming it. I just don't want to be that guy.

I love WFRP, 2nd Edition (hell, I loved 1st Edition). I will continue to play it, despite the presence of the new game. The bottom line is I've just invested too much. I'm also leery of FFG's self-proclaimed "paradigm shift in RPG design," which seems to mean "put everything on cards, use custom dice you can only buy from us and if you want the other 86 Warhammer careers we didn't include in this game, you can feel free to pay us for them, 10 at a time, over the next four years."

But see? There, I'm doing what I said I wasn't going to do.

FFG makes big shiny expensive board games. That's what they do. No one should have been surprised by the direction they took Warhammer in.

What REALLY scares me is what they'll do with WH40K RPG products like Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader. The latter isn't even out yet, and folks are already wondering when the next edition will be.

RPG companies are in business to make money. That's it. While it's possible FFG will alienate guys like me with the new edition, I think it's more likely they'll find a whole new generation of video-game-reared fans (with disposable incomes, apparently). And that's just how things go. There are legions of people - and not all of them kids - who will buy ANYTHING with a Warhammer, or for that matter FFG, logo.

What bugs me even more than FFG's disregard for WFRP tradition (only 14 careers? no percentile dice? no halflings? Oh wait, they'll have more careers and races in upcoming supplements) is the whining of guys like me who are clearly in their late 20s to early 40s and need to NOT GIVE A SHIT if some children have redesigned their favorite game. No one is stopping us from playing Warhammer 2e, and that's what I'll keep doing. I'm even a little bit excited, because I registered the name almost a year and a half ago and I've never done anything with it. Now that 2e is on the way out (really, Warhammer as we have always known it since 1986 is what's on the way out), I think I will try to put some of the adventures I've written up there. It's more fun to keep a dying thing alive, rather than to jump on the latest bandwagon.

No edition wars for me, please! I never thought I'd say this, but we gamers need to grow up a little bit.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Top Ten things to know about Classic Traveller

Paraphrased from elsewhere, here are ten important points to keep in mind that will help prepare you for a Classic Traveller campaign.
  1. Accomplished characters: Your character will likely be older & retired from his first career.
  2. Minimal character stats: Don’t expect high numbers & lots of skills on your character sheet.
  3. In-game character development: Don’t expect the numbers on your character sheet to get higher or list of skills to get longer. Character advancement is limited. The rewards (& penalties) are mostly all in-game.
  4. Science-fiction: It’s a science fiction game, which tends to run heavy on the “science” as well as the “fiction” - that is, unlike Star Wars or Warhammer 40,000, this is not space fantasy. While it's made-up, we keep "reality" firmly in mind.
  5. Human dominated: Aliens are everywhere, but many of them are human: when humans from our world first encountered an alien race, we were shocked to find they were genetically identical to us. There are some 40 minor human races, presumably "seeded" across the galaxy by the Ancients.
  6. 1970s sci-fi technology: This game was written in the 1970s, so it has a 1970s (sci-fi) view of technology: it's somewhat anachronistic, particularly as regards computers, but that's part of the charm.
  7. Communication = travel: The fastest you can get information somewhere is in a ship. A ship takes at least a week to get somewhere.
  8. Slug-throwers: High tech weapons exist, but low tech weapons predominate. Laser weapons are bulky. Plasma weapons are limited to the military.
  9. Combat is fatal: Getting shot hurts. Getting shot twice is usually fatal. Tactical advice: Hit the deck. Get behind cover. Call for backup. Murphy’s laws of combat apply.
  10. PCs matter to players, but not to the rest of the Traveller universe.

A few points about technology conceits...

  1. Fusion power is cheap & effective.
  2. Gravitics: the science of gravity manipulation. Both anti-gravity & artificial gravity. Spaceships have artificial gravity. Most planetary vehicles are anti-gravity.
  3. Reactionless drives allow extended acceleration without the need for reaction mass. Spaceships are rated by the maximum acceleration they can produce in Gs, one to six. (A G being, of course, the acceleration due to gravity on Earth at sea-level. i.e. 9.8 m/s2.)
  4. Jump drives allow FTL (faster than light) travel through jumpspace (hyperspace). A starship is rated by the number of parsecs it can travel in one jump, one to six. (A parsec is 3.258 light-years.) Every jump lasts one week regardless of the distance traveled. While the star map is in two dimensions, we aren't expected to believe hyperspace is two-dimensional; star maps are more akin to node maps, showing relative distance rather than physical reality.
...and now, for some final words:
  • The Imperium is a government of men, not laws, and it rules space. Planets rule themselves.
  • Commerce is the lifeblood of the Imperium. Don’t get in the way of the Imperium’s lifeblood.
  • There is no Prime Directive. If you think you’re smarter than the natives, trade with them.

Friday, August 28, 2009

My favorite book, EVER.

...well, it's three books, collectively called the Baroque Cycle.
I can't even begin to describe this epic, three-volume, genre-bending story.
Somehow, Neal Stephenson manages to blend the birth of the scientific revolution, the birth of capitalism, and swashbuckling action into a massive, multi-faceted, intricate tapestry. It's actually six novels, interwoven across three volumes.
The story follows several major characters. One is Daniel Waterhouse, a roommate of Isaac Newton's, who participates in some of of Newton's major discoveries and who witnesses Newton's long-running conflict with the German mathematician Leibniz over who invented calculus. Sound boring? It's not! Waterhouse is also present for early attempts to invent computers, sceintific intrigue and competition that involves Edward Teach (Blackbeard) of all people, and various fires, plagues, and revolutions. Interwoven into Waterhouse's story is the tale of two rogues - "Half-Cocked" Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds (perhaps my favorite fictional character ever), and Eliza, a girl he rescues from a sultan's harem. They range across Europe, tangling with witches, insane French nobles, slavers, and pirates with a penchant for anal rape (quote: "Good Lord, that's an apocalyptic buggering!"). Eliza, much brighter than most of the men in the story, manages to almost single-handedly create our modern capitalist system, while Jack - unable to consummate his love for her due to an unfortunate injury that gives him his nickname - does his best to protect her. Shaftoe also becomes embroiled in a quest for King Solomon's gold, which brings him into the same sphere as Newton, who believes Solomonic gold has semi-mystical properties. The story never quite enters full-on fantasy territory, but it flirts with the fantastic at every step. Again, there is so MUCH of this story that it's difficult to summarize - all I can say is trust me: this is great stuff.

One aspect of the story that is vaguely fantastic is the character Enoch Root, who appears on and off throughout the tale at times of crisis. This is not all that strange, in and of itself. But in Stephenson's previous book, Cryptonomicon (a story about codebreakers in WWII interwoven with stories of computer nerds and underwater salvage - yeah, you kinda have to read it), Enoch Root is also a character. So, seemingly, this guy is immortal, and is equated with the Biblical Enoch. This is never heavy-handed or religious, and the signficance of the Enoch Root character isn't quite clear. He does seem to be connected with Solomonic gold, which is also featured in Cryptonomicon (the characters in Cryptonomicon have the surnames Waterhouse and Shaftoe, indicating they are descendants of the characters in the Baroque Cycle).

Stephenson is probably my favorite writer, and I'm about a fourth of the way through his latest novel, Anathem (a play on words between "anthem" and "anathema"). More blatantly sci-fi, it's quickly shaping up to be every bit as good as the Baroque Cycle or Cryptonomicon. Stephenson's earlier books like Snow Crash are pretty much standard cyberpunk fare. With the Baroque Cycle, he took a quantum leap forward, creating the most intricate, complex, fun-to-read novel I have EVER read. EVER. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

The return of English magic!

How does a virtually uknown (and rather hot) British chick rattle off a 700+ page debut novel and manage to win the prestigious Hugo Award (the Oscars of scifi/fantasy) on her first effort?
Who knows. But I do know that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, absolutely blew me away on every page. I didn't even know it had won the Hugo until well after I'd read this, and I'm glad it got the recognition it deserves.
Most fantasy novels are set in other worlds. Clarke has created an alternate Europe of the early 1800s, where magic was once real, but now forgotten. Then come two rival magicians (the title characters), who each have a very different view of how magic works. Exploding onto the London scene, they do everything from animate statues to wake the dead to help Wellington by giving Napoleon bad dreams. Their rivalry, and eventual partnership, spans hundreds of pages of absolutely charming and witty writing. You know all those girly Jane Austen novels they turn into Gwyneth Paltrow movies? Well, pretend those were all fantasy novels, and you begin to get some idea of how this story "feels." One thing I really like about the book is that it has extensive footnotes (all fake) referencing supposed tomes of magic and historical works. At times cute, at times truly scary (especially when dealing with the ancient magic of the mysterious Raven King), this is a great novel for anyone who appreicates wit and imagination.

If you like Gonen's World...'ll love "The Court of the Air," by Stephen Hunt.
This story - the first of a trilogy - takes place on a world not unlike our own, although whether it's an alternate history or a completely fantastical world is not clear. If I had to describe this genre in a word, I'd call it "steampunk." Airships, robots ("steam men"), analytical engines the size of gymnasiums, guns with glass bullets, and airships...all of that fits, right? Add to that a heavy dose of "faerie" magic of the Celt-loving-girl variety, ultra-violent mayhem, and a culture that's just weird - the king of the Kingdom of Jackals (a "hellish take on Victorian London," according to one reviewer), where most of the story takes place, must have his arms cut off upon ascending the throne, for example - and you've got all the makings of a really cool adventure. The story follows two orphaned teens - Molly Templar and Oliver - who both have mysterious backgrounds. Molly has an intuitive understanding of how the steam men and other machines work, while Oliver is blessed/cursed with a touch of the fey. Against a background of political turmoil, fast-paced action and intrigue, this is just a first-rate adventure story from start to finish. If you like that sort of thing, why not give this a read? If anyone wants to borrow it, let me know!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Gonen's World book scaled back...

It's become apparent to me that a full-size, 40+ illustration version of the book for Gonen's World: The Roleplaying Game is going to be unrealistic.

At this point, I just need to get it done - and that's not going to happen with the grand vision I have laid out for it.

Those of you who know me well know that I adore the old Classic Traveller books - you know, the 8.5x11 sheets folded over - the famous "Little Black Books." Well, in honor of that I've decided to do two "Little Blue Books." The first is Rules of Play, which has all the rules, and the second is World Guide, which has most of the background (there's a short background in the introduction to the first book, just in case someone doesn't want to read all that).

Anyway, to make the text of both books fit into 44 pages each, I had to make some tough cuts. The short stories are out. We have fine short stories from me, Ryan Ashmore and Colin Campbell, but those are going to have to wait for copies of Gonen's World Addendum. Also, I had to cut most of the illustrations. I'm saving only the very best (and the ones that fit most conveniently).

I have a lofty goal of finishing these by the end of July, and I'm hard at work on that today. Of course, I'm supposed to be writing about government issues for South Kansas City and Grandview, but let's face it - Gonen's World is far more interesting.

Keep your fingers crossed for an Aug. release.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Masquerade of Horrors" lives on

I don't believe it is actually posted online anywhere, but Colin Campbell and I once entered a scenario-writing contest Black Industries held for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. We won second place and had fun writing our adventure, called "Masquerade of Horrors." It dealt with a psychotic hermaphroditic Slaanesh-worshipper who had a traveling theater troupe.

It's very gratifying that several years later I am still getting the occasional e-mail about this. I hope all the folks with the Illinois Thinking Dungeoneer's Society, who are currently playing the adventure, enjoy squaring off against the villainous Hermann Von Barbe and his band of theatrical weirdos.

It's so nice to hear from people about this stuff that I wonder how much nicer it would be if I had actually published anything. Alas, the RPG industry folks I've talked to about writing professionally have all been very discouraging. One wonders if they're not trying to scare away potential competition. :)

I'm off cigarettes (again).

I may still be using tobacco products, but as of today I'm officially off cigarettes. I get one Black & Mild a day, and I drag that baby out all day long, a few puffs at a time.

I have absolutely nothing else to say, other than with that, and my daily excercise regimen, I hope to be in fighting shape soon. A guy with no money has to attract the ladies by other means. :)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Gettin' Healthy..No Really!

I've just joined the View, a community center in the town where I work, so I can get into shape. I'm not talking about going nuts or anything - just toning up a bit, losing the gut that's crept up on me over the past few years, and getting my blood pressure down.

I'm switching to one cup of coffee a day, and cutting way back on the cigarettes in anticipation of quitting entirely.

The neat thing about this place (the View) is that it's partially paid for by some local Chamber of Commerce program through my employer, and I'm encouraged to go there during the day when I need a break. I can't see myself working out before or after work - but to have a long lunch, run over there, work out a bit, swim a lap, jump in the shower and come back ready for the afternoon - that sounds fine indeed, and it's something I might actually do.

Furthermore, the View is a really impressive, state-of-the-art community center, and I think it might be just about the only state-of-the-art facility in Grandview, Missouri. :)

It's not much of an update, but I'll keep you posted on how my attempts to become a lean, mean, fightin' machine go.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sea of Shards Campaign Setting

I'm in the process of moving material off of the old Pharaoh's Tomb at and putting it here, mainly so it will not get lost. This is the first entry I've transferred here, and decided to do an illustration to mark the occasion. This is a description of my "Sea of Shards" campaign world, which was inspired by several anime shows Connor and I had been watching at the time. It was also inspired by the 1980 film "Flash Gordon," some Edgar Rice Burroughs, and other stuff. Gonen's World fans will be interested to learn that I had originally envisioned this world as the same, rarely mentioned planet Primus that can be seen in the skies of Gonen's World. Whether that ends up being the case remains to be seen. Anyway, it's a long post but for the record, here it is, Sea of Shards.

Sea of Shards is a "science-fantasy" campaign set on the planet Primus, a huge gas giant in a far-off solar system. The most interesting thing about Primus is that is has thousands of tiny worldlets floating in its upper atmosphere - like moons, but set within the skies of the planet. Folk travel through the "ether," as they call it, from island to island on airships or on flying animals. Magic is real, and technology is almost as mysterious. Warriors fight with swords, guns, and martial arts. They may go up against the fascist state called The Order, fight blimp bandits and Hawk People, or seek out adventures on the countless small islands that drift in the ether. Overshadowing all is the impending war between The Order and The Concord, a free republic, and fear of ancient technology that once destroyed the world.

The Bad Guys
The enemy of all freedom-loving folk is The Order, a fascist state. From their home island of Prasiodimeum, these militaristic predators have spread their conquering tentacles through the ether, bent on dominating all to their will. But what dark secret drives this mad quest for power?
The rulers of some of the independent kingdoms nearby are in thrall to The Order, and may act against innocent folk if their masters order it.

There are many other dangerous folk in the Sea of Shards; the Hawk People, while not wholly evil, are motivated purely by self-interest, and will often attack travellers. A similar threat are the Blimb Bandits, ordinary humans who have been outcast from civilized society, and make their living as sky pirates.

Some enemies live within The Concord, using legal loopholes in the freedom-loving laws of Arkadia to do evil. One example is the Dazzi Corporation, which is seemingly a normal company that sells normal goods, but is in actuality quite secretive and has their own dark agenda. Most people don't trust the Dazzi Corporation, but have no proof that it is up to anything illegal or unsavory.

The Good Guys
At the other end of the spectrum is The Concord, a republic, which is based on the island of Arkadia. Almost everyone prospers in this free state. Elected representatives oversee various worldlets within Arkadia's circle of power. It attempts to be utopian, but the bureaucracy sometimes gets in the way. For example, there are a few large corporations who abuse the freedom of Arkadia and engage in unsavory business practices. Finally, there are many good people within the various islands that make up the Sea of Shards, who enjoy their independence, but if they have to be subject to anyone would prefer The Concord over The Order. The Concord is the most powerful threat to The Order, but the two nations are not yet at open war.

The Neutrals
The Sea of Shards, a vast expanse of small worldlets adrift in the ether, lies roughly between Prasiodimeum (The Order) and Arkadia (The Concord). These tiny, independent states owe no allegiance to The Concord or The Order, but will ultimately be caught up in the struggle between the great powers that surround them.

A Diversity of Worlds
There are thousands of islands in the ether. No one could explore them all, not even in a lifetime. A staggering array of weird planetary types exist, unconstrained by our conventional laws of physics. Worldlets in the lower atmosphere are warm and tropical. Those in the upper atmosphere are arctic. Every climate and terrain type is represented somewhere in the skies of Primus.

The People
The dominant race of Primus is humanity, especially in the spheres controlled by The Order and The Concord. However, there are many breeds and sub-species scattered throughout the ether. The most noteworthy of these are the Animal Folk, sometimes called Half-Breeds, Wild Ones, or worse by some. Others call them Super-Evolved or Augmented. Genetic experimentation in ancient times caused created these chimera-like races. The most powerful are the Hawk People and the Tiger Folk, but many others exist, usually remaining isolated on their own floating islands. Animal-folk often take on the characteristics of the animal they are bonded with, including special adaptations or abilities.

The Wildlife
The flora and fauna of Primus are perfectly adapted for life on a gas giant. Most common are the gigantic Floaters. These balloon-like beings are miles wide, and spend their lives lazily floating in the ether, grazing on helium-plankton. Floaters are so large that in some cases, people have been known to live on them like parasites. Floaters are numerous despite the fact that they are the prey of humans and other races. The most serious predator on Primus are the Hunters - great winged monsters that eat the Floaters for their stored helium. There are so many types of both Floaters and Hunters that no one has ever categorized them all. Also common on the worldlets themselves are the full range of terrestrial animals, as well as many bizarre oddities. The ancient genetic manipulation that created the Animal-Folk created many strange and wonderous creatures, some of which seem to have almost magical abilities. All manner of surprising animals and plants can be found among the Sea of Shards.

The Geography
Only the upper atmosphere of Primus is habitable - a layer about 1,000 miles thick. This is a HUGE amount of space, all of it filled with brilliant arrays of multi-colored clouds. You never know what color the skies of Primus will be on any given day, but mostly they are a deep red-orange, filled with swirls of other colors. The atmosphere is so thick, and the cloud cover is so constant, that no one on Primus has ever seen the stars. Astronomy is unknown.
In the depths of the atmosphere, temperatures increase rapidly, and the atmospheric pressure becomes crushingly intense. Anything that falls into the lower atmosphere is crushed and fried (not necessarily in that order!).

Of the worldlets that float in the ether, the largest is Praseodimeum, in the control of The Order. The second-largest is Arkadia, the home of The Concord. These are nearly continent-sized. Between and around them float the abundant, diverse worldlets that make up the Sea of Shards. Great floating forests of fungi and ferns drift among them. Some are even carnivorous!

Ray Technology
The people of Primus have developed a technology based on light. Complex crystals can break light into its constituent rays, like a prism. Each ray has a special property. For example, the Ray of Propulsion propels airships, and the Ray of Levitation can be used to move heavy objects or keep artificial islands afloat. However, the crystals and the intricate clockwork light-gears that harness the properties of the rays are both rare and expensive. Normally, only the powerful or learned have access to them.

Twelve rays have so far been discovered; the search for the fabled "13th Ray" has long been a preoccupation among the scientists of Primus.

The weapons of Primus are as diverse as its islands and its people, but a few general trends predominate. Various forms of blade are the most common sort of weapon, and in some areas sword-making is considered a form of art, and sword-makers are highly respected. Many swords have been infused with strange properties by various rays as the sword is constructed.
Firearms are also popular, though among the warrior class such weapons are frowned upon as cowardly. Nevertheless, the Sixgun, Slugthrower, and Scattergun are a common hazard as one sails among the islands in the ether.

There are other exotic weapons as well, but only the blade and firearm are spread throughout the lands of Primus.

In addition to weaponry - or sometimes instead of it - some warriors follow a particular fighting style. Each style emphasizes a different aspect of hand-to-hand combat (kicks, throws, etc.) and many include specialized stunts or quasi-mystical power built up through a warrior's innate chi, or aura. Some folk who do not adhere to the old ways scoff at this concept, however.

Outside of animals, the most common form of travel between islands is the airship. The term is misleading, for their are hundreds of kinds of airships. Nevertheless, there are predominant broad classifications into which most airships fit, however bizarrely they may have been modified.

Tiny class ships are the smallest type, and are useful for their high acceleration and maneuverability. However, the top speed of a Tiny ship is relatively low, and it is particularly vulnerable to direct hits.
Medium class refers to a wide range of craft sizes - basically, anything not tiny or huge is considered an airtroll. This is by far the most common type of airship, serving as everything from a tramp freighter to a military patrol cruiser.

Huge class ships are the largest. These massive craft usually carry scores of crew members and many tons of cargo. Aside from a few large trade ships, the majority of wardregs are used as military craft.

Finally, there are freakishly large ships generally referred to as Juggernauts. Ships the size of cities, juggernauts usually serve as semi-permanent artificial islands, rather than traveling craft.
In addition to airships, the races of Primus have found many other ways to get around. All manner of gliders, pedal-powered air bikes, and more exotic craft abound.

It is said that in ancient times, there was only one gigantic floating island on Primus. In those days, folk possessed great powers, and created mighty machines to do their will. The ancient epics tell of the Apocalypse War, when powerful mecha destroyed the First World and shattered it into thousands of fragments - thus, the Sea of Shards was born.

While surviving artifacts of the First World are beyond rare, folk have whispered for thousands of years that keys and clues to the ancients' power must be scattered throughout the ether, perhaps buried in the cores of the many worldlets of the Sea of Shards. Given the fate of the First World, most people think those ancient secrets are best left forgotten. Yet there remain a few who seek the lost secrets, whether for good or evil. Until recently, most of those people have been considered crazy. No real evidence for the First World existed - it was just a myth.

In recent times, however, a top secret cabal among the elite class of The Order began a serious search for the lost technology spoken of in the mythical epics. This cabal was ruled by General Zorba. A brilliant military commander, his otherwise-razor sharp mind was demented from secret studies of occult writings. Zorba and his cabal began to experiment with the Black Ray, a facet of light that is unknown to everyone outside the cabal. With the Black Ray, Zorba began to communicate with the spirits of the dead. With the technology thus gained, Zorba and the cabal uncovered the ruins of a giant mecha on the small world of Shoto. Slowly, painstakingly, and in great secrecy, the cabal excavated the mecha, removed it to Zorba's private Juggernaut (Skull Station) and reverse-engineered it. Within several years, the cabal had constructed six mechas and used them to stage a coup on The Order's homeworld of Praseodimeum. The Order, which prior to the coup had been a fairly liberal oligarchy of nobles and trade barons, became more and more of a fascist state.

Soon, Zorba became the Supreme Leader of The Order, and began the brutal expansion and annexation of its neighbors that exists to this day.

The most potent weapons The Order possesses are the Six Furies - the mecha created by studying the shell of the ancient robot found on Shoto. They are called Fear, Loathing, Wrath, Dominance, Slaughter, and Vengeance. Each of these six mechas has its own special properties.

The Quest of the Heroes
The heroes are the crew of an airship, who must seek out secrets of the ancients so that the forces of good (represented by The Concord) can battle The Order on equal footing. It will take the Order's expeditionary armies a long time to conquer their way across the Sea of Shards to The Concord's homeworld of Arkadia, but if nothing is done to stop them, they will inevitably reach The Concord and subjugate its client states and even Arkadia itself. That cannot be allowed to happen, and The Concord's agents are using the time they have wisely.

For whatever reason, our main characters have been chosen by The Concord's Secret Police to act as freelance "Seekers" - that is, agents who hunt down artifacts of ancient power. Seekers carry Letters of Marque from The Concord. These certificates authorize the Seekers to negotiate on behalf of The Concord for the acquisition of such artifacts. Seekers are also authorized to engate in tactical and strategic combat with the forces of The Order. The Concord military is under orders not to engage the ships of The Order unless The Concord's sovereign territory is invaded. Only the Seekers can, at this point, legally fight the forces of The Order. Usually, however, Seekers are more detectives and archeologists than combat specialists, and while each team of Seekers can hold its own in combat, direct conflict with The Order is often best avoided.
In the Sea of Shards, the political situation is complex. The vast majority of worlds are neutral - although most would probably throw in their sympathies with The Concord, if forced to choose. But in addition to the military, both superpowers have extensive networks of spies and agitators in place among the worldlets of the Sea of Shards. Nothing is ever precisely as it seems, and a shifing, treacherous web of ever-changing alliances makes the task of a Seeker more difficult as he sails the Sea of Shards. For the most part, open combat with The Order is a rare thing. Usually, the chief antagonists are secret agents employed by The Order - similar in many ways to the Seekers themselves. These operatives also seek the ancient secrets. The race to obtain these things is not as critical for The Order as for The Concord, but if nothing else, The Order would like to prevent The Concord from acquiring ancient technology - or at least delay it as long as possible.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gonen's World Art Previews

Here are some previews of art for Gonen's World: The Roleplaying Game. The text is all finalized, and the layout is complete - I'm just drawing pictures and plugging holes at this point. The book is 56 pages long and contains the complete rules (how to create a character, game mechanics, magic, inventions, vehicles and so on), a complete guide to Vlodasai with full descriptions of all races, settlements and geographical features, the history of Vlodasai up until the Classic Age of Queen Farin (the default setting - we've gone way past that in our own games, obviously), including calendar, seasons, celestial bodies and lots of other "crunchy bits," a bestiary with all the monsters you know and hate (and some new ones!), 30 - yes, 30 - adventures and eight short stories by the likes of Colin Campbell, Ryan Ashmore, Connor McAnally and myself. The book is 8.5x11 (that's fourteen 11x17 sheets folded over, creating 56 pages), light cardstock full-color cover, and black and white illustrations throughout. Here are some examples:
A typical view from an airship porthole, with castle and "white flower" in the background.

A globe of Gonen's World, such as one might find in an academic's study. Note Vlodasai in the middle of the globe, with Jamerik jutting up just south of it. The writing is in the Voltern script (a simple substituion cypher, really) which is in the book.

Here is the first illustration from the "Making a Hero" chapter, showing examples of the different carreers. From left to right, we have a Criminal, Barbarian, Mechanic (wee moldai), Aeronaut, Soldier, and Academic (blue kathkari).

...and this is the second illustration from the "Making a Hero" chapter, showing the Bravo, Mathemagician (red kathkari), Scout, Dilettante, Monk, and Priest (in this case, a priest of Darius).

The book is divided into two parts - the Rules of Play and World Guide. This is the "splash page" for the rules section. Some of you might have seen earlier versions of this picture before. I call it "5:10 to Highseat" and it shows Queen Farin's flagship returning to the capitol after some mission. The Voltern script on back of the ship says "Hot Queen."

This is an illustration from Colin Campbell's short story "Lockpicker!" which details one of Corso's many misadventures.

...and the second illustration from "Lockpicker!" Note the little mouth on the chest, and you know what sort of magical alarm Corso faces in the story (not to mention the maniacal little wee moldai!).

That's it for now, I will post more as they come and keep you updated on the way. Of course I won't spoil everything - for most of the pictures you'll just have to wait for the book. I hope to have it all done by the end of summer, in time for a new Gonen's World campaign this fall.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thanks, but no Thanks, for the Angst

This post was edited because it was too...well, angsty. :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lung Cancer, Revisited.

I used to want to be a rock star. Now all I want is health insurance.

Starting to smoke was the biggest mistake I have ever made. Today, at age 36, I calculate I must have smoked some 131,400 cigarettes. Sure, there are some old, old folks out there who have been smoking their whole lives without so much as a polyp. But I don't like my odds.

The problem is, I am compelled to smoke almost constantly. During my recent attempt to quit, I found that nicotine gum took the edge off. But I screwed up, thought I could smoke the occasional Black & Mild, and before I knew it I was no longer an ex-smoker, but a smoker again.

Earlier this week I got a bad chest cold. And I'm sure it's just a chest cold. I hope it's just a chest cold, anyway. I don't know what the signs of lung cancer are. Let me google that real quick. Well, I have two of the signs - chest pain and a pain that shoots down my shoulder (that's what happens if the cancer has spread into the nerves). But both of those are also symptoms of heart disease.

Bottom line: I've gotta quit. It's probably already too late. But I can't imagine laying in that hospice bed, dying, knowing that if only I had not smoked, I would be - well, not dying. So that's it. This pack is my last pack. I've got to beg, borrow or steal enough for some nicotine gum. Even then it won't be easy - even though it took the edge off for me last time, I still wanted to smoke constantly.

I am miserable when I'm not smoking. One would think I'd get over that in time. But right now, it seems my choices are lung cancer or being constantly miserable from wanting to smoke. I guess I'd rather have the latter.

Wish me luck.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Too Many Projects, Too Little Time

OK, here's what I'm working on lately.

Gonen's World: The Roleplaying Game. A full-fledged, original RPG that I've already discussed here ad infinitum. This is my magnum opus. I can't really move forward on any other projects until this one is complete. The writing is done, the final edit is done, but I have a LOT of illustration to do and I'm out of practice (I'm fairly decent at line art, but when it comes to color and shading I have a lot to learn).

After that, I'm going to dabble in some pre-existing game systems that I enjoy.

Howard Hughes' Doom Platoon. This is a mini-campaign (three connected adventures) for Savage Worlds. I am going to put it on my forthcoming Savage Worlds fan site, (there's nothing there, but I've got the name). In this alternate 1950s, set against the backdrop of the Cold War, Howard Hughes has secretly funded a team of elite international adventurers to track down mysterious ancient artifacts (the Urim & Thummim is the first). What does he want them for? Well, I'm not going to spoil the ending. This game was inspired by, believe it or not, an old 1958 World Atlas that has international flight schedules and stuff in it, and really succinct descriptions of cool places.

Swords Against Satan. This is designed as a lengthy campaign for Savage Worlds. I have always enjoyed the grim nature of the Warhammer World. But the real Europe of the 1500s and 1600s was far grimmer than any fiction. In this campaign, the heroes must collect five sacred artifacts to assemble a super-weapon that will destroy the Son of Satan (who just happens to be the Pope). By doing so, they can bring an end to the Hundred Years War and usher in the modern age. The heroes will have to collect artifacts from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas, and the Far East. This is a "mish-mash" campaign, meaning it's been weaved together from several sources (mostly GURPS Illuminati, the Savage World of Solomon Kane, and my stack of European history books), so I'll probably not put it up on, which I'll save for more original material.

Untitled Project (working title: "BC"). A mini-RPG of archaic Greece - that is, the pre-Classical Age, prior to the Greek Dark Age, using the VSM system (open licence). Historically, this is about the time of the Trojan War, the height of Minoan civilization (and, further south, the events depicted in the Biblical Exodus). But this isn't a historically accurate game: this is an archaic Greece designed for adventure, patched together from Edith Hamilton's Greek myths, Herodutus' Histories, and movies like "Clash of the Titans" and other great claymation epics. Rules-lite in the extreme, this game is intended as a one- or two-session diversion for experienced gamers. Mostly, it's just a chance for me to use a bunch of cool public domain Victorian-era engravings of Greek stuff. :)

There are more projects to discuss - Moons of Uranus, Space Station Zulu, Apocalypse Later, Owtland, and others. But I'm at work now, and real life has intervened, so I will save those for a later post.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Gonen's World keeps draggin' on...

Yikes. I'm in neck-deep!

Gonen's World: The Roleplaying Game has been finished (the final draft, anyway) for a few weeks now. But I've been indecisive about how to package it, and that's led to delays.

I had originally intended to do a full 11x17 book (folded over, that's "normal size," or 8.5x11), complete with artwork and short-story sidebars by me, Colin Campbell and Ryan Ashmore. Then, in a fit of nostalgia for the "little black books" of first edition Traveler, I decided to divide the material into two books - the Rules of Play, which featured character creation and all of the "rules," with very little background, and then another book, the World Guide, which had all the background, the bestiary, and stuff aimed more at the game master. I axed the short stories.

So, I laid out the entire first book in InDesign, then changed my mind. :)

So now it's back to square one, layout-wise. For those of you who've been waiting for it, keep waiting. This game has been a decade in the making so I guess another few weeks won't hurt.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rocket to Saturn CD Release (Finally!)

That's right, after more than a year, the concept album "Black Hole Blues" is finally done. It tells the story of the men of Rocket to Saturn, who find themselves shipped far from home, lose their girlfriends to time dilation, and finally say "fuck it all" and fly into a black hole.

Our CD release is May 1 at the Riot Room (formerly the Hurricane) with Rocker Lips, Them Damn Young Livers and sci-fi burlesque from Two Gun Tease (billed as "hot and nerdy").

So if you like a twist of science fiction with your rock'n'roll, Rocket to Saturn might turn you on. Why not give us a visit at or

We're already hard at work on the next album, and I'm pleased to say I'll be singing more on the next one. My favorite song of the new batch is Assault on Black Star, with music (mostly) from Hymie. Nice to have a guitar-playing drummer!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gonen's World RPG Update

In between running a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign and a Dark Heresy campaign simultaneously, I've been plugging away at what I hope is the final manuscript for Gonen's World: The Roleplaying Game. Chapters one through three are now complete.

I need some volunteers to give it a good once-over! We're very close to being finished. More than 10 years of development is finally coming together. I can't tell you how good that feels.

Although our group's Gonen's World campaign has progressed far beyond the "default period" of the Classic Age - that is, the reign of "Good Queen Farin" - I'm looking forward to running a Classic Age campaign once this final version of the rules are finished...although Gonen's World will never be "final." That's why I'm calling this the "Penultimate Edition."

I hope to begin posting some material over the next few weeks, and hope to bring some folks on board as editors. So if you're interested, drop me a line!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Life on Mars...Greatest Ending Ever?

It sucks when a great TV show gets cancelled, but it's nice when the showrunners know it's coming and can finish the story.

ABC's Life on Mars, based on the British show of the same name, had its final episode last night. I don't want to give anything away, other than to say this: talk about a surprise! I haven't watched the British show so I don't know how it ends, but the ending of the American version may well be the most satisfying conclusion to a TV series I have ever seen. I wish I could tell you about it but I won't.

Oddly, reviewers have blasted the ending as unrealistic. But given the premise of the show - a cop from 2008 gets hit by a car, wakes up, and finds himself in 1973 - I'm not sure where realism comes into play.

All I will say is that if you haven't seen Life on Mars, it was probably the best thing on network TV this season and I'm sorry to see it go. But least it had a longer run than Firefly.

Jason O'Mara is a great actor and I hope we see more from him. Personally, I think he was born to play The Flash.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chapter One...

...of Gonen's World: The Roleplaying Game is completely, finally, finished. Rules for character design are complete after years of development.

It just seemed worth a note.

I'll let you know when Chapter Two is finished. At the rate I'm going, the whole thing should be done by no later than summer. I think I'll state a release for my birthday - September 4. In the meantime, I'm going to have to brush up on my artistic skills!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Happy Game Master's Day

Somehow I didn't know about this already, but a quick Google search will confirm that today, March 4, is indeed Game Master's Day. Apparently this has been celebrated since 2005 or so.

Therefore, I'd like to say Happy Game Master's Day to me, to Ryan, Andi, Jason, and everyone else who has ever run a game. It's not easy but the rewards are great. It is indeed my absolute favorite pastime.

To reward myself, I believe I will pick up a copy of the Inquisitor's Handbook.

Geeks on Greeks

As if I didn't have enough to do...
I'm hard at work on a very simple, rules-lite RPG called "B.C."

It's a game about the ancient world (specifically, Greece and the ancient Near East) the way it is remembered in fiction like "The King Must Die" or comics/movies like "300."

One of the chief pleasures of my life is my copy of The Histories, by Herodotus. I have read, re-read, and worn thin my copy of this book. It is filled with exciting, fascinating, sometimes lurid tales, set in Greece, Anatolia (modern Turkey), Eqypt, and other exotic locations.

There are no "worlds" featured in modern fantasy literature/gaming that rival the real world, in my opinion. As Fritz Leiber once said, fantasy should be firmly grounded in - watered and manured in, in fact - reality. The stories Herodotus tells in his Histories are as swashbuckling and awe-inspiring as any tale Leiber, Tolkien, or any other author I'm aware of has come up with. The lands he describes are at once alien, due to their far remove from us in time and distance, and familiar because they're real. The ancient world is ripe for adventure - even without the magic of myth.

Rules-wise, I just don't have time to come up with a whole new system for this, and I don't want to use the Game Frame system that the Gonen's World and Arnegax RPGs use. I want this to be radically minimalist, a diversion for experienced gamers, and not necessarily something to base a long-term campaign on.

After much thought I believe the vsM system (an open license game design that uses cards) would be best, because it's free, simple, easily morphable and customizable to my own needs.

Will this game ever actually be played? Maybe, maybe not. All I know is I've got a love for the ancient world (as seen by Herodotus), a crapload of public domain engravings to illustrate with, and at least a few extra minutes of free time each week. This one will be a labor of love and I look forward to sharing it with you sooner, rather than later.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Failure of the Human Will, Thanks to Tom Petty.

In my quest to quit smoking, I was successful for about two weeks. But the day before yesterday, I bought a pack, and it's entirely Tom Petty's fault.

I had to pay a bill by a deadline and had forgotten to mail it. So I took a late-night drive to drop it off in the night deposit box. It was a gorgeous night. I rolled the windows down. Tom Petty's Refugee came on the radio, and this triggered a fit of nostalgia for a similar night, with the same music, in 1994 or so, when I was dating a really hot volleyball player who later moved to New York (since that is what all the cool people do, apparently), and this reverie somehow resulted in me buying a pack of Pall Malls.

So, as you can see, it is Tom Petty, and not my will, that is to blame. Now, that pack is almost gone, and when it is, I'll just quit all over again.

Except, of course, for the occasional cigar. :)

Feel like rooting out heretics and mutants? Gimme a call.

I've got a lot of homework to do.

By popular request (well, from two people anyway) I will soon begin a Dark Heresy campaign (that's the Warhammer 40,000 RPG). The core rules are more-or-less similar to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but they've tweaked it a bit to account for things like powered armor, fully automatic heavy bolters, and the like.

The Warhammer 40K universe is really interesting, because it's essentially a science fiction setting with a medieval outlook and attitude. Technology is poorly understood; even those who have the skill to repair technological items don't know how to create them. Most warp-capable (that is, faster-than-light) ships are literally thousands of years old, and are considered to be alive by their crews. Regular maintenance on high-tech items is ritualized: when a tech-priest fixes something, he doesn't conceive of himself as diagnosing and fixing a problem, but as performing a rite or catechism to ensure that "the Machine Spirit is within."

Like fantasy Warhammer, the concept of mutations, Chaos, etc., is fully formed here. The "Warp" (hyperspace) is a great scapegoat for all of this (after all, even in the fantasy game "warpstone" is considered the raw stuff of chaos). Denizens of this universe follow the Imperial Creed - that is, they worship the Emperor, to whom 1,000 souls are sacrificed every day. The Emperor is 10,000 years old, and only his pyschic energy (manifesting throughout the universe as a "Astronomican" beacon used by Navigators) keeps the Warp, and the unspeakable creatures within it, at bay.

All in all, the Warhammer 40K universe has a lot more in common with Dune or the silly Riddick movies than it does, say, Star Wars.

Characters in this dark future are Acolytes, agents of the Inquisition. Their adventures basically consist of rooting out heretics, mutants and aliens (all of which are equally despised by all right-thinking Humans). The adventures that have come out for this game so far are really well-done - rich, detailed, ultraviolent and ironic - the way any Warhammer game should be.

Players of the Dawn of War real-time strategy game for the PC will know at least a bit about the Warhammer 40K universe but it's a huge place. So huge that it's going to take three separate, stand-alone games to account for it all (Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch, only the first of which is out). I'm not sure how to even begin to introducing this huge universe to new players. Even the "house" setting for the game, the Calixis Sector, is way too big for any single group to explore. And the culture is so richly detailed, with some 30 years of tradition behind it, that I'm worried about overloading players with "too much detail."

Product-wise the books look very good and they're packed with info (too much, maybe). If I have any complaint, it's that the designers clearly take themselves and the 40K universe very seriously. There's not even a tiny bit of what I think of as the "trademark" black humor of Warhammer. That's OK. I think the players and I will end up adding that ourselves, whether we mean to or not.

Nevertheless, if I said I wasn't looking forward to this, I'd be lying. I got the old rules for the Warhammer 40K miniatures game for Christmas in 1986, and at the time I wondered why there was no RPG version.

Well, now there is, and I'm set to play it with my son, who is now the same age I was then. If I can create some good memories for him this campaign will be worth it.

Let's just hope Cole doesn't play the rules-lawyer too much. There are a lot of damn rules in this game. :)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Join Up and Fight!

A while back on the Star Chamber I posted about plans for a Gonen's World board game that would decide the fate of the war that began at the end of Gonen's World V.

The game was heavily based on Diplomacy, but with some weird randomness thrown in. I never finished it. I did, however, make some recruiting posters I don't think I ever shared.

I found a bunch of very cheap little Victorian/Civil War-era plastic miniatures recently, and they'd make great pieces for a game. So I've gotten excited about it again.

But making a board game - even when you're stealing it, apparently - is a lot harder than making a roleplaying game. So for now, I'll just share these posters. The ones on the left are for Imperial Vlodasai (the forces of the Queen, who is really just a captive of the Regency). The ones on the right are forces loyal to the Claimant, Jared Orijiabi (the Restoration Army and the Gray Legion). There are some other armies, too, such as the Oranje Berets and mercenary army of the Black Queen (Umbugateesha) but I'll get to those eventually. In the meantime I hope this gets your imagination going. If you have any ideas please let me know.

Note that Squadron D is indeed a descendant of the old D-Squad that did black ops for Queen Farin. Unfortunately they're now fighting for the Regency.

Big Trouble: World on Fire

I have a modern game universe called "Big Trouble" in which I've set several adventures, including the Cape City games, my infamous "Air Force Base" alien game, and my short-lived racing game, Big Trouble on I-70. Now I've started a new one.

In addition to our main gaming group, I have a "junior" group consisting of my son and his cousins. While Connor was out of town last summer, I ran a game with the cousins using the Savage Worlds system. It was a re-vamp of my old "Big Trouble on I-70" game. Two brothers, Antoine and Stefonn Bondares, were hired by a U.S. Senator to drive a Cadillac from Baltimore to Hollywood. From the get-go people start chasing them: Nazi bikers, Men in Black, State Troopers, and so on. Eventually they realize they're carrying some valuable cargo (an odd briefcase in the trunk). After a cross-country ultra-violent crime spree (along with a hot Hispanic chick called El Camino) the brothers realize they've got some alien technology in the trunk. One thing leads to another and they learn that the CIA recovered a star map from the alien crash at Roswell. Now, the aliens have returned and want it back. But the government was blackmailing the aliens, withholding its return in exchange for high-tech secrets. The Bondares brothers make their way to Utah and return the star map to the aliens. Unfortunately they are betrayed by El Camino, who works for the Department of Homeland Security. For thwarting the government's plans to blackmail the aliens, the brothers are thrown into a top-secret prison in Alaska called the Freezer, where political prisoners are held without trial.

Now, in "Season Two," the brothers meet a new character, Dr. Ulysses Kane (Connor) in prison. Kane is a charismatic con man who once worked for MI6. Unfortunately, he embellished some intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. This report made it back to the Americans, and...well, look what happened. Eventually Kane's lie was found out, and he was thrown into the Freezer.

Now, the Bondares brothers and Ulysses Kane will have to figure out a way to get out of prison. But that's just the beginning. They will soon stumble onto an ancient conspiracy that seeks to ensure the upcoming Apocalypse, and it will be up to them to save the world.

Drunk Aeronauts Feed Pig

I found this picture online the other day and was instantly reminded of Gonen's World. I don't know what it is supposed to show, exactly, but I really like the helmets and I think I'll steal the design. There's a funny caption in here somewhere, but I can't quite find it. Perhaps this is why Aeronauts do not have the Animal Care skill.

Damage Reduction, Revisited

After a good suggestion from Meanie (see comments on the GW Final Draft post), I've made a change. I had removed Power and Accuracy, changed the name of Might to Power, and instituted a system of "stat bonuses," whereby the Power Bonus is equal to the first digit of Power, Grace Bonus is equal to the first digit of Grace, Mind Bonus was equal to the first digit of Mind, and Spirit Bonus is equal to...well, you got it.

The original draft had no "damage reduction." In the new draft, Power Bonus is added to melee damage and also reduced from incoming damage. Meanie suggested that certain classes might use a different bonus for damage reduction. This makes total sense to me.

To that end, I propose the following breakdown:

Barbarian, Scout, Soldier (Power Bonus)
Aeronaut, Criminal, Monk (Grace Bonus)
Academic, Mathemagician, Mechanic (Mind Bonus)
Bravo, Dilettante, Priest (Spirit Bonus)

Arguments could be made various ways, I suppose, but I think these make pretty good sense, even though they don't necessarily follow the "primary stat" for each career.

Each character now has a "Damage Reduction" factor (DR) that is not really a stat, but is equal to the appropriate bonus for their career.

Nice suggestion!

GW "Designer's Notes" - De-Feat-ism, or "Why Careers?"

In designing the Gonen's World RPG, one of the things we've struggled with since Day One has been the inclusion - or exclusion - of "feats." Call 'em what you will (edges, advantages, etc.) along with the usual opposites (disadvantages, hindrances, what-have-you), most of the latest generation of games have them.

And Gonen's World does, too, in a way. They're there, but they're tied to the careers. The special abilities that come with each career fill this role. That means they're not presented in "buffet" format. That's just something people will either like or dislike about the game, and that's all there is to it.

However, within the broader context of Game Frame, the over-arching or "bedrock" system the Gonen's World RPG is based on, one could easily invent some more free-wheeling or "classless" abilities.

Since the GW game at least partially aims to replicate a bit of that "old school," first edition AD&D feel, and owes a lot to WFRP, I don't think it can do without pretty rigid careers (although it should be noted switching between careers, and learning cross-career skills, is possible). But some other genre needn't use them. Players could simply choose for themselves which stats would be their primaries and secondaries, in terms of what goes up at what rate when they level. Combine that with a choice of relatively well-balanced abilities, and careers shouldn't be necessary.

But in Gonen's World they are, so given that, let's talk a bit about balance. I think "balance" in a game means that no one choice is obviously better or more advantageous than another. You could argue the particulars about this ad infinitum, however. So in the end these career abilities are balanced more on a "what seems right" basis than, say, mathematically.

So I don't know if these are truly "balanced" or not. I hope players of the game will let me know.

Academic Ability: The Academic gets automatic successes on Knowledge tests for his chosen specialty. Arcana is the knowledge of mathematical spells and arcane items, the history of mathemagics and miracles and their practitioners. Lore is familiarity with the history of Gonen’s World, great heroes of the past and their treasures, tombs and legacies, migrations and conquests, heraldry and legends of elder days. Monsters is a detailed understanding of the creatures of Gonen’s World, their habits, histories and dispositions.

Aeronaut Ability: All aeronauts gets a +10 to Climb tests. In addition, choose a type of aeronaut and associated ability. A Helmsman gets automatic successes on Pilot tests, barring adverse conditions. A Navigator gets automatic successes on Navigate tests (again, barring adverse conditions). A Daredevil can make Dodge tests for his ship and gets + 10 to Stunts.

Barbarian Ability: Choose a type of barbarian and associated ability. Mahidi Marshlanders get +10 to Will tests to resist magic. They also get +10 to Fight tests against magic users. Kufu Warriors get +10 to Sneak rolls. They also get +10 to Fight tests against Big or larger creatures. Jameriki Nomads get +10 to Power tests to avoid Exhaustion. They get +10 to Shoot tests if they do not move during the same round.

Bravo Ability: Choose a fencing style and associated ability. Followers of the Highseat Style may make one automatic Dodge test once per round. Adherents of the Natural Style may make one automatic Block test once per round. Followers of the Saltwash Style may use Luck on damage rolls.

Criminal Ability: Choose a specialty and associated ability. Assassins may make one automatic critical hit (either Fight or Shoot test) against an unaware opponent, and get +10 to Hide tests in shadowy environments. Burglars automatically succeed at Burgle rolls, baring adverse conditions, and get a +10 to Sleight of Hand tests. Charlatans get a +20 to Charm rolls at all times.

Dilettante Ability: Dilettantes start the game with 100 farins instead of normal starting funds. In addition, choose a type of dilettante and related ability. A Scion has noble blood. They get +10 to Charm, Intimidate, and Ride tests. A Financier may access d4x100 farins or its equivalent from any banking institution once per game season (see page x). A Connected dilettante may call on help or support from a member of the merchant or noble class once per adventure (the nature of the help is ultimately up to the Game Master).

Mathemagician Ability: The mathemagician has the ability to create and cast spells.

Mechanic Ability: Mechanics get +10 to Mechanics tests. More importantly, they invent complex machines from parts they find lying around.

Monk Ability: Choose a school of combat and associated ability. Adherents of the Cane and Bucket School get +10 to Fight rolls when using improvised or found objects, and get two Dodge attempts per round, rather than one. Members of the Red Herring School get +20 to Tricks, and their critical hits do triple damage. Followers of the Mog Ograth School get +10 to Fight rolls when unarmed, and get two Block attempts per round, rather than one.

Priest Ability: All priests may create one spell per level (see page x) and may give their own Luck to others. In addition, choose a type of priest and associated ability. A Crusader gets +20 to Fight and Shoot tests against followers of another specific religion or a certain race or type of creature (player’s choice). A Theophant may make a Will test to ask a single yes or no question of their deity once per game day, and has a 5 percent chance of having any prayer answered. A Healer is automatically successful at Heal tests, barring adverse conditions, and has a 5 percent chance of raising the dead (see page x). This chance increases by 5 percent per level.

Scout Ability: Choose a specialty and associated ability. A Runner never makes tests for Exhaustion under normal circumstances, and can move through difficult ground without penalty. On a regional map, runners move 1.5 squares per day on foot, instead of one. A Hunter gets automatic successes on Track tests, barring adverse conditions, and gets +20 to Shoot tests against unaware animals (or opponents!). A Vagabond gets a +10 to Gossip and Forage tests, and learns a free Knowledge skill or language each level.

Soldier Ability: Choose a specialty and associated ability. A Dragoon gets +10 to Ride tests, and +10 to Fight tests when using a saber. An Officer may rally his allies with a successful Will roll, giving his side +10 to Fight and Shoot tests for a number of rounds equal to the officer’s Will bonus. A Gunner may reload a ranged weapon as a free action, and gets +10 to Shoot tests when using a Rifle.

More designer's notes to come later. For now, any feedback is appreciated.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gonen's World RPG "final draft" underway

This won't be of interest to anyone who is not familiar with Gonen's World. But I'm fairly certain the only person who ever reads this is intimately familiar with it. So here goes.

The rules at the heart of Gonen's World: The Roleplaying Game, developed by Ryan Ashmore (aka Meanie) and myself, has been playtested twice in two genres. The first was Gonen's World itself and the other was Arnegax, Ryan's space opera setting, which used basically the same rules with some name-changes and other twists.

Having gone through two campaigns with this basic ruleset, both as player and Game Master, it's now time for me to go back through the rules and create that "final" draft. In doing that, I've made a sort of executive decision as "line editor" about a few things.

First, I have reworked the classes and given them updated and/or new class abilities. I also started calling classes "careers," pretty much just because I like Warhammer, and that's what these "classes" really are anyway. Some of the "old" careers offered choices, while some didn't. For example, a follower of the Monk career could specialize in one of three different "schools" of combat (Cane & Bucket, Red Herring, Mog Ograth). But the Bravo, another fighter type, had no similar specialization when he just as easily could have followed Saltwash Style, Natural Style, etc. Similarly, the Soldier can now specialize as a Dragoon, Officer, or Gunner. Each career except Mathemagician offers these choices. I also seriously scaled back Priest, giving that career fewer spells but abilities that recognize different priestly types (such as Crusader, Healer, etc.).

The other major change was to eliminate Power and Accuracy. Instead, each of the four primary stats has a "bonus" which is equal to its first digit (just like WFRP handles Strength and Toughness bonuses). I also changed the name of Might to Power, while I was at it. So instead of Power and Accuracy there is a Power Bonus, Grace Bonus, Mind Bonus and Spirit Bonus (I changed the name of Will to Spirit). These basically work the same way, only with a bit more to do. For example, the Power Bonus is added to your damage from melee attacks but it also is subtracted from damage you take - sort of the WFRP SB/TB all in one. Grace Bonus is still added to ranged damage, just like Accuracy was, but it's also added to initiative rolls. Mind Bonus and Spirit Bonus come in handy for spell damage, number of languages/spells known, and so on and so forth (which is a simple way to limit things and also gives the game a taste of "old-school" AD&D).

Finally, I eliminated damage types. We formerly had four damage types but I found this cumbersome during playtesting. As a Game Master I ended up ignoring it all the time and as a player it was just a pain in the ass. It was a good idea but damage differences can also be handled in a narrative way, so now all damage is just "damage." That of course made it necessary to rework weapons and armor a bit. I think it will turn out to be a lot smoother this way.

Everything else seemed to work really well during playtesting, so those are the only major changes I made. But the whole thing needs a thorough edit, and that will take some time. Of course, I will keep all Children of Gonen informed.

The previous incarnation of the rules is up at the Pharaoh's Tomb, which is soon to be removed...

Cigars, News Feeds, Dark Heresy

Three short blurbs for you today.

First of all, my quest to quit smoking has hit a snag. I started smoking those yummy little Black & Mild cigars as a crutch here and there. Now I'm pretty much smoking one a day, which may well be just as bad as a whole pack of cigarettes. I don't know how to find out, scientifically, whether I have basically made no progress whatever. I'll have to cut back, no doubt about it. I did pretty good last night, so we'll see. This will be an uphill struggle and I'm likely to slide part of the way back down that hill a few times before I make it to the top.

Second, I added a news feed from, which is where I get a lot of my gaming industry news. I hope it is useful to someone (I just kinda like the way it looks). I wonder how one became an RPG journalist? Probably by going to conventions and getting to know people. I have sent exploratory e-mails about this sort of thing before and never got a reply. You'd think someone with my love of gaming and journalistic background would be useful to someone. Unfortunately, most of the RPG "news" sites I have seen simply reprint press releases from the game companies (i.e., Free Advertising), or are simply review sites. Some readers might like to know about the financing, the distribution deals, all that other good stuff that any legitimate reporter should hit first when covering a "business beat."

Finally, my son is at the age (16) where he could benefit from gaming with grown-ups. He's been asking me to start a Dark Heresy (Warhammer 40,000 RPG) campaign, but it's tough to get my friends to commit to another game. Most already have very busy schedules. But I have at least three people on board for an every-other-Monday game (strictly speaking, I guess it's a "first and third Monday" game). I'm currently trying to decide if that's enough people. Dark Heresy is probably deserving of its own post, so I'll drop that for now, other than to say if you're reading this and can spare two Mondays a month for some grim science fantasy adventure, let me know.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I Stink, Therefore I Am

Andy Hopp, you're a genius.

I say this because I once made fun of Low Life, a setting for Savage Worlds, on a message board. I hadn't really seeen it. I was just sounding off. Anyway, I was roundly blasted by everyone who has ever had anything to do with Pinnacle Entertainment Group and even earned a personal rebuke from Shane Hensley for calling Low Life "silly." I think I also called Cheyenne Wright a lousy artist, which he isn't. I was just in a bad mood that day, having just been soundly blown off in an e-mail from a former PEG staffer, and in one ill-considered post burned all my bridges with that crew.

Well, Low Life is silly. But it's awesomely, brilliantly silly. In fact, it may be the most creative and original (and certainly the funniest) of all the so-called "savage" worlds.

Our game group played it as a fill-in game when one of us was sick. We didn't want to play our "main game" (WFRP, incidentally) without him, so I grabbed Low Life. It was a good read, but I hadn't actually played it. I figured it was not serious enough for our group. Once again, I was wrong. We all really had a good time, and Mr. Hopp kept us giggling.

The players rose to the occasion with some great names: Flatus Bumpudding (a pile), Fluffy Muff Puff (a cremefilian), Gertrudius With Much Spirt (a bodul), and Pi'ik (a croach, whose mother coughed when she named him).

Low Life may be the official "filler" game for the forseeable future. When one of our group was in the bathroom, we actually discussed making it a "rolling" campaign, where each time we play it a new person runs the next chapter. We'll see how that goes.

Anyway, on the off chance that Andy Hopp googles himself (he would come up with a good joke there, I'm sure) and he sees this, let me just say thanks. You've proven a comedy campaign can be playable and compelling, in addition to being side-splittingly funny.

More from the weird world of Andy Hopp, and a link to order the book, can be found at his website.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Accidental Genius

Check out Old Skull. It speaks for itself. "It makes me feel dumb and pissed off. I hate you Ronald Reagan!" Reminds me of Pussy Galore. I like it. This seems pure and not contrived like so much other kid music. This aired on Headbanger's Ball back in the day. I wonder what ever happened to these guys?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

William Tecumseh Sherman: Witch Hunter

I recently purchased Ken Burns' landmark PBS documentary on the American Civil War. It was expensive (especially since I've been unemployed recently) but worth it. I've always been interested in the Civil War - my grandfather's farm was near the Shiloh battlefield in western Tennessee, and we visited there almost every year. But it wasn't until recently that I became almost obsessed with it. The Burns documentary features frequent interviews with Shelby Foote, who I found eloquent and charming in his descriptions of the war. He was very charismatic and told interesting anecdotes that gave the participants a human quality I could relate to. So when I learned Foote wrote a massive three-volume history of the Civil War I had to read it. I'm halfway through the first volume right now and it's among the best books I've ever read, fiction or non-fiction.

Anyway, I'm simultaneously deep into a WFRP campaign and I recently purchased the new Career Compendium. So many of those careers could easily fit into a non-medieval/Renaissance context, even without tweaking. And since Games Workshop now has a "Warhammer Historical" line for its miniatures games, it seems only a small extrapolation to do a "historical" version of the RGP.

In fact, I had just toyed with (but pushed to the back burner) a long-term campaign set in the Elizabethan Age called Swords Against Satan. This was originally inspired by the Savage World of Solomon Kane game from Pinnacle, but I very quickly realized there's probably no set of rules better suited to the "real" Old World than WFRP. All you have to do is take out (or tweak) the magic. A Kislevite Kossar becomes a Russian Cossack. An Estalian Diestro becomes a Spanish Bravo. With just a few omissions and name changes, WFRP is perfect for the Elizabethan Age, and with a bit more tweaking, it's good for hundreds of years in either direction.

These thoughts quickly led me to consider a Civil War one-shot using WFRP. But as soon as this thought formed, the possibility of taking it further, turning it into an alternate history, perhaps one where supernatural things or monsters do exist, overwhelmed me. I'm not saying I'd go so far as to posit Rebel cavalry on dragons (but wyverns? Maybe!). But it's not too hard to imagine that weird, backwoods voodoo practices in Louisiana might not translate into some sort of battlefield advantage. At the very least, I can imagine a magical adviser to General Beauregard, for example. From there, I began to imagine Union Witch-Hunters. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

Of course, this is not entirely original. I believe Harry Turtledove has written some alternate history about the Civil War, and Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker books have some similar ideas. PEG's Deadlands line is similar, too (but not as subtle as what I imagine). Nevertheless, it's something I've been contemplating.

As a "proof of concept" I took a picture of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and grafted him with an early photo of the new Solomon Kane movie. The guy looks like a witch-hunter to me.

I'll share more about this as it develops.