Sunday, November 4, 2018

My DriveThruRPG POD Haul

For those do don't know, the DriveThruRPG website offers not just game books in a digital Portable Document Format (PDF), but also physical Print-On-Demand (POD) copies, much like with Lulu.com. I have a TON of PDFs on my computer and backups storage mediums (disks, USB sticks, etc.), along with a small tablet to read them, and I love that I have access to a lot of gaming resources (legal or otherwise) at my finger-tip, but I also like to run games with actual physical books instead of fumbling through a sea of digital files that cannot be booked-marked or recalled with any amount of speed. Here is something about having books right there at your desk and in your shelf. Plus, a number of the current PODs are for old, discontinued products, with a good number providing extra income to their creator (although, I could care less about WotC or who ever took over White Wolf Publishing).

Mind you, in a number of cases, retro-clone POD books are cheap enough to buy out of hand, but I still have to save-up for them. It this case, I had to save up for months to buy these "big books":




OK, firstly, months back I got the re-print of the classic Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel.

For a while I was reading through some pirated PDFs about the setting and fell in love with it. It is a rich and beautiful backdrop deep in history and culture. To me, this is true fantasy, as its far beyond the mundane and ordinary fantasy we see everywhere today. This is not a setting like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms where you can jump right in without effort. Tékumel requires a bit of research (and some mental adjustment) to get into. I know this is really off-putting to most, but I eat the setting details up like candy. As a fan of the Barsoom Saga, I'll usually fall back on the Tsolyáni culture to round-out the Barsoom people... or a derivative there off. Buying the hardcopy felt great, as I know it would go to Baker's estate.



I quite enjoyed the book, but I could care less about the rules. I'm more interested in the setting itself, so I put my sights on Swords and Glory vol. 1: Tékumel Source Book, which I ordered last month, along with the next book...

For few a years now, I have been in an '80s nostalgia-driven classic cyberpunk kick. Back in the '90s I was into the cyberpunk genre, but the only thing available was Shadowrun, but I never liked that game. All I wanted was pure, unadulterated cyberpunk! No punk-rock elves! No street-mages! No dragon-CEOs! I have a number of cyberpunk RPGs on my files — Shadowrun, Cyberspace, GURPS Cyberpunk, C.O.P.S., etc. — and I like to mix things up, but the cyberpunk backdrop that really stood out is Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. It has all the right mix of elements: Gibson/Sterling-styled "Mirrorshades" cyber-punks; Bladerunner-like backdrop; Tech Noir-styled bars bathed in blue & pink bisexual neon lighting; OCP-like Machiavellian corporate politics; Mad Max-styled Nomads (and Water World-styled Pirate-bikers for good measure) Rage Against the Machine-like Rockerboys; weapons, gear and vehicles that look like concept art form late-'80s OVA-era anime; a sex-positive attitude towards nudity and sexuality; and a fashion sense and outlook that is so entrenched in the 1980s.


Now, I'm not a fan of the Cyberpunk 2020 rules: I find the game mechanics to be dull and I never liked Humanity Loss, as I see it as a wonky limiter on the number of cybernetics that you can install. Plus it makes no sense that a few cosmetic implants that change your physical features in smalls ways (color-changing hair/eyes/skin, glow-in-the-dark tattoos, etc.) and things that folks do even think about (blood-filters, contraceptive implants, and the like), above and beyond the major mental and physical alterations, would push someone into becoming a murderous psychopath. (If anything, only have the cool, useful things strip one's psyche.) It also has a strange aversion to recreational drug-use in that "Reefer Madness" sort of way. I don't care what Maximum Mike said: Cyberpunk is vary much "Dungeons & Drug-Dealers"! Much like in the real-world, safe recreational drug-use is a skill all its own (hell, even as a kid I was taught: "Even with weed, always know the person you are buying drugs from!"), and drug-dealers do not last long peddling bad shit.



But still, I bought the reprint of Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. (second edition, version 2.01). You might be asking way I would put money down on a system I don't care for. The truth is, I see the Cyberpunk 2020 setting as a foundation for my own cyberpunk games. I can add, mix, alter and remove things as I see fit, using a rule-system of my own choosing. I have a ton of other cyberpunk-related books, RPGs, movies and anime to work with. More over, there is a a great resource for EVERYTHING Cyberpunk 2020-related called Datafortress 2020! It list every item, weapon, armor, cyberware, lifestyle and vehicle found throughout the history of CP2020 and than some. It expands on Night City. Goes into the major military conflicts in Africa and South America. And it really flesh out the Nomad culture. (All while using a lot of images found on countless search results.) I highly recommend that site, even if you are not into the CP2020 setting.

The Tékumel Source Book and Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. reprints arrived a day before Halloween and I have been reading both. The Tékumel Source Book is full of great information, but lacks page numbers with it indexing. Everything is in 1.XYZ index numbers with the "1" being the book, the "X" being a section of a broad topic and "Y" and "Z" going into more and more specific topics. As such, I'm having to write the section headers and index numbers on the top corners of each page to be able to find everything as the sub-section headers tend to get buried it the walls of texts. Due to a lack of artwork, I cannot rely on them to "landmark" sections, so I'm more dependent on the indexing. The top-page headers I put in looks like this (bun in pencil):

Early History — The Historical Empires
1.200 — 1.310


Besides that issue, I really enjoy what it has too offer. Its going to take more time to fully absorb it, but so damn worth it!

Beyond the rules, the Cyberpunk 2020 book is great! The artwork is good, although I wised that it was a little less prudish. I have seen the non-English CP2020 books, and they have less restraint. (Although, if I had my way, Tim Bradstreet, with his hard realistic, film noir style, would totally be apart of their artist pool.) What I really enjoy about the game is how it is presented like a series of magazine articles with magazine adds here and there for notable equipment. I love this! It really adds to game immersion. When you read the start of the chapters it really casual and, much like actual magazine articles, you'll find quotes from the chapter placed in sidebars as large, bold text to really highlight what the section is about. You'll find newspaper articles related to a situation only to turn the page and find a game scenario about it. You'll find quotes form the likes of Johnny Silverhand, a rebel Rockerboy, Morgan Blackhand, the "Solo's Solo", and Maximum Mike, who is essentially the Word-of-God for the game (the game was written by Mike Pondsmith). With all the art, tables and sidebars, is hard to to get lost in this book.

In both cases, the books kind of suffers from the black & white line illustrations due to how both setting love vivid colors. In Tékumel, they love bright, contrasting colors. Houses, clothing, banners, the works: Bathed in bright colors with a lot of meaning. Cyberpunk maybe a futuristic film noir, but it is covered in Hajime Sorayama-styled chrome, with the bold color contrast of Patrick Nagel, and the aforementioned blue-N-pink bisexual neon lighting. (Although, that would have made the reprints more expensive and time-consuming.) Also, I'm not above altering the artwork of a new or reprint RPG, if I have issue with it — I did this for my Crimson Blades books and some others. Being line art, it makes my job way more easy.

If there is one thing I wish DriveThruRPG had for Tékumel is Book of Ebon Bindings. Is is a book about demonology and the occult. Damn good stuff!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Old-School Cyberpunk (and Nostalgia)

For some years now I have been rally into Cyberpunk-genre gaming, mostly out of '80s and '90s nostalgia.

I grew-up in the '80s, will all the cheesy cartoons, comic books, and blood-n-boob filled action & horror films that came with it. On top of that, being from the San Fransisco Bay Area, I was exposed to the Puck scene, the Hip-Hop scene, sci-fi/fantasy/comic/RPG conventions, and bootleg "Japanimation" more-or-less at once. It was neat, but I was mostly in the background as a child too young to really understand a lot of it.

I started to come in to my own as a young teen in the '90s. By then, I was into heavy metal, discovering a lot of legally made "dubbed" anime (before then, you had to rely on bootlegs having subtitles or own a magazine that lists the translations) that came of the OVA video market, and I was running my own D&D games. The '90s anime market had a wide range of genre, but the one that really stood out was cyberpunk, with titles like Akira, Appleseed, Battle Angel Alita, Bubblegum Crisis, Ghost in the Shell, etc. (Much of it was inspired by American films from the '80s) Back in the '90s, I mostly played D&D, Battletech, 1e Gamma World. My first exposure to cyberpunk gaming was Shadowrun (2e). It was classic cyberpunk mixed with fantasy elements. I never liked that combination. By the time I discovered SR, the Tolkien elements of fantasy — elves, orcs, overly-useful magic, etc. — was wearing thin on me. All I wanted was a pure cyberpunk game and I was unaware of Cyberpunk 2020 or ICE's Cyberspace. It felt like everyone was playing 2e AD&D, Shadowrun or Vampire, without much variation.

I finally discovered Cyberpunk 2020 in the mid-2000s. The site that really got me to looking into CP2020 is an old site called Datafortress 2020 by Deric "Wisdom000" Bernier. It is a great resource of CP2020 that helps expand upon the setting, often using anime and images found across the internet.

With Cyberpunk 2020, I found the rules to be... well... Dull. In a nutshell, it was basically "Roll a d10, add relevant attribute, skill and any other adjustment vs a static Target Number." With rules, I want something with more pizazz with the game mechanics, as well as a focus on actual role-playing. On top of that, it also had a "Humanity Cost" for getting fitted with cybernetics, with the ultimate cost being Cyberpsychosis: A mental infliction that turns a character into ether an emotionless introvert who balls-up in the corner and withers away, or a mindless berserker that must murder-fuck EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING!!! I was never a fan of this rule. I see it as a cheap game-balance mechanic to limit the amount of cybernetic a character have at one time. To me, the best limitation to what you can have installed is power and maintenance. That is, some of the more powerful cybernetics would require a lot of power. You might have to use some of the internal areas of a cyber-limb to mount batteries, while a whole cyborg body would require portable motor! Maintenance goes without saying. Its silly to think that you get your right arm replaced and it would stay as good as a natural arm: A cyberarm cannot mend its own cuts and brakes, and you still have to keep it oiled and what have you. If anything, you should be able to mount any number of cosmetic, superficial cyberwear, like any fashionwear, sensory-enchantments, the Mr. Studd™ sexual implant (yes, this is a thing), Skinweave, etc. After all, being able to go "full cyborg" should be an achievement into itself, and not something that is relegated to a murderous corporate attack-dog.

And yet, I still really like it! The game gets "Cyberpunk" right! The chrome, the fashion, the scene, the punk! You can never downplay the fashion or the "punk" enough. Its high-tech lowlife adventure! Cyberpunk took a lot form other fiction and it is better for it. You'll find a lot of great content with it its rulebook and supplements. The art is great. Although, its a shame that is mostly black & white (the cyberpunk future is best viewed in that punk-n-blue neon-back-lit "bisexual lighting"), and a number of the more risqué artwork found in the French language editions was altered or expunged from the English edition, which is a big no-no, as cyberpunk is supposed be erotic. Another great part of CP2020 is that due to people getting disenfranchised by the mega-corporations (aka, the only employers in town), they avoided becoming homeless rats in the urban war-zones by coming free-roving families called the Nomads. Beyond "The Sprawl" of the big cities, fly-over country is an endless landscape of dead farmlands, suburban ruins, old decayed roads, lawless gangs of bloodthirsty raiders, the Nomads trying to survive in the wild countrysides of North America. Basically, Cyberpunk 2020 goes into Mad Max territory.
In this game, you can freely sample classic cyberpunk novels, '80s sci-fi action films, '90s cyberpunk anime, post-apocalyptic biker films, and even the stranger cyberpunk films of the '90s. You can watch Bladerunner, Freejack, and Crime Zone for the urban backdrop, Robocop (1 & 2) for the corporate backdrop and corporate-controlled media, Mad Max (The Road Warrior, Beyond Thunderdome, and any number of their imitators) for the Nomad communities, Liquid Sky (and Patrick Nagel's art, and Jem and the Holograms) for the fashion, '80s punk for the rebel Rockboy scene, Hackers for Netrunner scene, Strange Days for the directive stories, and so much more!

Mind you, I'm still not a fan of the rules, and I will use a system that will strike my fancy. In the past I'd use Dream Pod-9's Silhouette system. Right now, its something more cobbled together from a number of different rule systems. I will ape content from Shadowrun, Cyberspace and any other cyberpunk game I can find. I find the Cyberpunk 2020 setting to be easy and available.

Unsurprisingly, Cyberpunk 2020 is going to see new life with the upcoming video game Cyberpunk 2077 by CD Projekt RED and tabletop RPG Cyberpunk Red by R.Talsorian Games. Here is the tailer for the video game:

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Colder Than A...

...well...

...actually...

They are quit hot. 😉 😍

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Battles of the Mechacyberoids

Battles of the Mechacyberoids is a setting that I just came up with. Years ago, at the old (now defunct) Goblinoid Games forum, we were fooling around with the character generation system used in Mini-Six during its beta-testing stage. We were making stats for all sorts of characters, established and original. Among them, I managed to make stats for some of the Gen-1 Transformers, namely Optimus Prime, Ratchet, Bumblebee, Megatron and Starscream. One of the key things with this was the use of scale. In the rules, scale determines size and firepower (and the resistance there of). Bumblebee had the smallest scale in any form, while everyone else were huge in size. Although, the rules did not cover scale in chargen, it was a neat gimmick. After that, I have been thinking about a Transformer-inspired that was different enough to be its own thing. Only until now, did it hit me...

This setting is a cross between super sentai fiction (think Voltron and Power Rangers) and cartoons with giant transformable robots (Transformers; Go-Bots), with some magical girl transformations (Cutie Honey; Sailor Moon). I wanted to make a setting about giant transformable robots, but to do so, without being reliant on human sidekicks — such characters, often teenagers, were used as intermediates between the young viewers, and the strange alien robots. I wanted the action to jump between human-scale and mecha/vehicle-scale without having to change characters. One of the key ideas came from Transformers: Headmasters; a strange take on later Gen-1 Transformers, where alien humans had the idea of turning Cybertronian heads into transformable exo-suits, allowing humans to serve as a supporting brain, while leaving the Cybertronian in alt-mode (vehicle mode) when not together. I just dropped the human partner, and made it so that the giant robot can detach its own head in order to transform into an artificial human. "Mechacyberoids" is a working title, but it is based on the long-winded titles found in a lot of old '70s-'80s giant robot anime.

In this setting, some alien cyborg drones called the Mechacyberoids, who in their natural state, resemble giant robotic bugs, found their way on earth in the late '70s to early '80s. They were on a mission by their master, the dreaded Cybergorgon, to secure an artifact (a blue gowning dodecahedron) that is believed to had fell on earth. While there, they discovered a strange form of life that could threaten the mission. Initially, they though the machines and cities were a living hive collective. Without a means to communicate, first contact was not pretty. They damaged cities, killed bystanders and had a deadly conflict with the US military. To understand the treat better, they took on new forms. Initially, they formed into vehicles and moved aimless round cities and highways. On further examination, it was revealed that smaller beings that called themselves "humanity" were in control. From there on, they separated their own heads form their bodies, and human form...

After years of close contact, the Mechacyberoids began to understand humanity better and became enamored with human idols and culture. They exist in two bodies: a human form; and a telepathically-linked vehicle. Their human body is mechanical, covered by life-like holographic skin. They have the ability to pull out weapons and tools from out of nowhere, and to transform into "soldier mode." The transformation is vary much like Cutie Honey, and when done, they are in a cool outfit, covered in armor plating and assessors (HUD-set, hover-feet, jet packs, bunny-ear antenna, utility belt, etc.). Their vehicular body can change into "battle mode", where weapons and other equipment (wings, ram-plates, grapple arms, etc.) fold out of the body. The transformation is vary much like M.A.S.K. When the threat gets too big, they can transform their vehicle bodies into "robot mode", jump onto the torso to transform their human body into the giant robot's head. Their giant robot bodies resemble the classic Transformers. Their giant robot bodies are build and armed for battle. Unlike Transformers, their vehicle forms are not fixed to one type of vehicle, but change their alt-mode takes time to scan and reconfigure. And also unlike Transformers (which never had any concept of scale), they are bound by their default size.

They can also combine freely, creating "Gestalt" (aka Combiner) forms form nearly all combinations of fully-formed giant robot Mechacyberoids. A Gestalt form increases the size and power by the number of Mechacyberoids formed into it. The only problem is that all the joined Mechacyberoids form a telepathic link, and they all need to be unified in thought and action in order to function. Normally, in the past, Mechacyberoid drones could work freely in this mode in great numbers, but the differing identities that came with human contact, had made this a difficult feat. (This is vary much like Fusion in Steven Universe, but more mechanical.)

These earth-bound Mechacyberoids pass off as normal people, living one human lifestyle or another. Although, unable to start families, they do engage in human relationships. They have no sense of gender or sexuality, but they have embraced such concepts and take on these identities as part of their "human role." They have two names: A "human name" that is part of their human identity; and their "true name" that would sound like a strange nickname to most people, but is the name chosen, and used with each other, that reflect their unique identity or dispossession. For example, a transformable dump truck was named Granite, as "he" is a stubborn oaf who throws his weight around, without an ounce of grace. As a human, his false identity is Arnold James Bolton, a construction worker from Mechanicsburg, Ohio. Despite their attempts as being as human as possible, they tend to exaggerate what is expected of them in their human roles based on what they see in media. For example, a Mechacyberoid living as a normal husbands, might emulate a fictional husband from an old TV sitcom (smoking jacket, penny loafers, and all). A Mechacyberoid who wants to "protect and serve" might join a local police department and act out a fictional TV/movie cop (short fuse, over-sized pistol and all), or dress in a loud outfit and fight crime as a costumed vigilantly (cape, tights and all).

As enamored they are with human ways, they all know that if Cybergorgon finds the earth, he will consume it, turn it into a dead planet. He would also see any free-thinking Mechacyberoid as an abomination that would infect other Mechacyberoids with its corruption, and thus destroy any humanoid Mechacyberoids. And if he gets the artifact, he would become an unstoppable force in the cosmoses. As such, there are four factions with the earth-bound Mechacyberoids: The Guardians; The Renegades; The Rogues; and The Loyalists. (all are working titles)

The Guardians were founded by a noble leader who dreams of a future were humans and Mechacyberoids live together in harmony. Their primary goal is to keep the earth a secret form Cybergorgon, and to keep the artifact from him. They also seek to defend the earth, when Cybergorgon's forces come looking for answers.

The Renegades are ruled be a power-hungry despot, who wants to secure the artifact, in order to defeat Cybergorgon and take his place as the master of the galaxy. Followers are drawn be the more proactive defense against Cybergorgon, and are more willing to sacrifice the earth and its people, if need be. They look down at humans for being weak on all levels. As the Guardians and Renegades cannot see eye-to-eye on most things, they are always at conflict with each other.

The Rogues are, for the most part, self-indulgent hedonists. They do want to keep earth a secret, but they do not want to engage in outright rebellion. They would rather lay low and hope Cybergorgon forgets about them. They have no leader or unified ideals. They mostly operate as gangs. They make up the majority of Mechacyberoids on earth.

The Loyalists want to continue the mission and hopes that Cybergorgon would forgive them for the delay. As they are seen as a threat all other factions, they operate in secret, trying to rebuild the communication network damaged by Guardians and Renegades forces. They have no regard for humans. Thankfully, they are few in number.

Cybergorgon resembles a large spaceship with three mechanical dragon heads, each mounted on a long articulated "Doc Ock" styled neck. Without any human contact, he has not concept of empathy or free agency. As he built this Mechacyberoid as semi-autonomous tools, he expect all his drones to serve him, and sacrifice themselves, if need be, without hesitation.

So far, it is a premise with a lot of room to build upon. I have no idea when I'll make a sourcebook for this, and I want to stock it with some key players and items. As this is new, I'm still coming up with new ideas, and even this basic premise would likely face revision.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Crimson Blades 2 Review

(Yes, I made is review of this game before, but that was a test of CharGen; this is an actual review. Pardon the spelling errors and the length of the review; that is how I review things.)

A while back, I purchased the first edition of Crimson Blades: Crimson Blades Dark Fantasy RPG (core rulebook) and the Crimson Lords Dark Fantasy RPG Supplement. Together, they were a great ruleset, offering a lot of neat rules and ideas. That I found out that there was a new edition in the works, and Simon was nice enough to send me files with a sample of the newer rules and content. Although, largely unchanged in setting, save for a better map, rule-wise, it was way better that what came before. The rules are more consistent and easier to run. I love it!

Originally, the second edition was going to be in a box-set, much like Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, containing sheets, fold-up map, (possibly) dice and four rule booklets, each dedicated to a content of the game:

Crimson Blades: Characters & Combat
Crimson Scrolls: Sorcery & Summoning
Crimson Lords: Manors & Monsters
Crimson Lands: Legends & Locales


Through reasons beyond his control, he was unable to make that happen, so he published the game in a single book.

"For the honor of Greyskull!!"
(Sorry, it was that sword that made me say that)


______________________________________

The rules are simple and play like the old Basic/Expert D&D rules, but the game uses d6s exclusively. The game is tailored to play in the sort of fantasy seen with Conan of Cimmeria and Elric of Melniboné.

The biggest change between editions is how it handles dice rolls. In the first edition, what you need to roll was based on how you kick-down and hear though doors: roll a d6, with a set number (e.g. 4+; lower, the better) based on ability score or class ability (respectively). Some tasks (including saves) would be based on ability scores, and would not change through level progression, while other tasks would be based on level, with no consideration to high or low ability. Doing anything "untrained" would require a roll of 6 or more on a single die. The second edition streamline the possess by requiring only 4+ on a single die to succeed, high and low ability adjusting all rolls (from -1 to +2), and granting additional dice (thus increasing ones chances of rolling a successful die) through level progression. This also removes a number of ability-based checks like Strength Feat, Lore Roll, Notice Roll and the like.

One of the biggest hooks that got me into the game in the first place is how it handles Hit Dice. Unlike D&D, Hit Dice is not equal to one's level. Hit Dice in this game determines two things: Hit Point total and attacks per turn. Also unlike D&D, you do not keep a running tally of Hit Points per level. Every time you gain a new level, you re-roll your hit points. If you rolled higher that your old total, record the new score. If it equal to or less, than keep the old total. Although, in the new rules, you'll always get the minimum of one hit point per level, which makes hit point totals per level less stagnate. Hit Dice also features a bonus that is added to hit point rolls, but is only applicable to the current level and has no effect on combat rolls. Your Hit Dice is also the number of attack dice you can roll in a single turn. If you have two or more HD, you can use them on a single enemy, or split them between different opponents. You may convert extra dice for bonuses (for yourself or to aid an ally in combat), in order no hit tougher targets. Heavy weapons on the other hand use only one attack die, but the damage dice rolled is equal to your HD, and it is totaled! What that means is that instead of handling damage dice per attack, each effected by Strength and armor, heavy weapons can dish out more damage, with armor being less effective. Originally, defense was much like AC, where armor effected the opponent's ability to hit. Now, AC — called Defence Class (DC) — is based on DEX, shield-use and level bonuses. Armor now absorbs damage, making it possible to not take any damage.

The effects of this system, compared to D&D, is to prevent high level characters from becoming human pincushions, with the trade off being that high level characters are granted more killing power. If find this option to be way better than D&D, as characters who gain level can quickly cut through mobs and down powerful beasts, instead of being bloated meat-shield, who spend all day hacking at monsters.

Another neat rule is its simple encumbrance system. A thing to note, is that I tend to ignore encumbrance. I handle movement and what a character can carry in the laziest way possible. This "Thing" system is insanely simple, and reminds me of the Stone-based (units of 14 lbs.) encumbrance systems used in some of the newer retro-clones. In this game, weapons, armor and gear are rated as "Things." Most weapons, as well as the shield, count as a "Thing." Armor range for one to four "Things." The clothes on your back, some basic adventuring gear and pocket change all counts as only one Thing, but beyond this, what you are carrying is subject to the DM's discretion. In D&D, the thresholds to how much a character can carry is ether static (Basic/Expert), or requires a separate lists, based on STR score (Advanced). The amount of Things a character can carry are such a low numbers, that STR bonus adjusts them without complication.

Your class options in this game are: Barbarian, Griot, Fighter, Mountebank, Thief, Sorcerer, Wayfarer, and the inhuman Dendrelyssi race. This is not a game about characters turning into virtual demigods, so levels are caped at 10th level for all classes. Also, you cannot multi-class.

Fighters are your basic D&D Fighter, but with the ability to preform the kinds of stunts you'll see in Errol Flynn films. Barbarians are your typical berserkers with survival skills and a reliance on agility than heavy armor. Griot are African-styled Bards. Unlike the standard D&D Bard, a Griot can summon spirits to supplement their knowledge. They also have a lot of political clout. Wayfarers play out like D&D Monks, but are strange runaways with mystic abilities. Thieves are like their D&D equivalent, but are focused towards tomb-robbing and second-story work, and possesses no slight-of-hand ability. That ability goes to Mountebanks, who are like Thieves in many ways, but their skills are based on being con-artists. Where a Thief still uses Dexterity as a Prime Requisite, the Mountebank uses Charisma. Sorcerers are like D&D Magic-Users, but they can use meany types of weapons, and can even wear armor. They also benefit from the new rules governing the summoning of unearthly spirits, but not to the same degree as the Dendrelyssi. The Dendrelyssi are a race of white-skin dark elves. Much like D&D Elves, they are as skilled with a sword, as they are skilled with the mystic arts. Their ability to cast spells is weak compared to Sorcerers, but they are exceptional summoners.

Most of the classes have a special skills akin to Thieves' Abilities. They have between three to six skills. The player sets priorities to each skill. The priorities are set as Primary, Secondary and Teriary. From the start, Primary skills offers the best odds of success, while Teriary skills have the lowest odds. As characters progress in level, the odds improve more rapidly with Primary skills as they grant two dice and give more dice sooner, while Teriary skills start you with one die improve only slightly. Mountebanks and Thieves, who have six skills each, can set two skills for each priority. Wayfarers on the other hand, only have four skills, so they can only place one skill in Primary and in Secondary, with the remaining two in Teriary. Saving throws use the same rule. You have the same set of saves as in 3e D&D, with Fort, Ref and Will. Saves by default advance as Teriary skills, but a favorite save, as determine by class, is treated as a Primary skill.

There are other classes, but they are NPCs only. In this case, they are the Fleshcrafter, Merchant, Royal Redeemer and Witch. Fleshcrafters are Dendrelyssi who are skilled in torture and surgery. Merchants are expert hagglers and travelers. The Royal Redeemer are inquisitors who hunt down Dendrelyssi and their sympathizers. And the Witch has a limited cast spells ability (though her familiar), but can brew potions.

Much like Elric of Melniboné, the game is set to the "eternal balance of order and discord", and as such, you can choose to play as Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic. The book makes good note of each of their strengths and shortcomings, without making any side inherently good or evil. Its mostly about being conservative in your outlook (Lawful), or being recalcitrant (Chaotic).

The spell system in this game is the same as D&D, and does not offer much in new rules or ideas. The rules for summoning are wholly original. Whenever a class gains the ability to summon, the player must determine what kind of spirit the character can summon. The are: Elementals (air, earth, fire and water), Demons (of Combat, Desire, Knowledge, Pain, Possession, Protection and Travel) and Undead (corporeal and non-corporeal). Dendrelyssi and Sorcerers can choose what type of spirit they can summon — if they meet Intelligent requirements — then they must roll to see would type they are able to summon. Some classes, like the Griot, are limited to Undead or Demons of Knowledge, while Merchants can call on Demons of Travel. Intelligent and powerful summoners can even summon the lords of these spirits: Elementals Rules, Demon Lords, Liches or Vampires. Instead of the usual D&D-styled magic items, demons can be installed in objects or even people. Demons of Combat can be placed inside weapons to imbue great power to the welder. Demons of Protection can be placed in armor, doors, locks, chests and any other barriers. These items can be dangerous and fickle to use, but they can be awesomely game-braking in the right hands, and that is not a bad thing.

Beyond the core dice mechanics, another major change between edition is the complete removal of Experience Points. The reason for this is that the game is not a dungeon-crawl, nor a hack-n-slash. The goal of this game is to focus on adventure, exploration, mystery, intrigue, drama, politics or anything else that motivates the players beyond just mindless (and eventually boring) killing and looting. In fact, there are no Treasure Types, nor list of random treasure to be fund in this book. The system to rate monsters and encounters by level is still there to help the GM rate the difficulty of an encounter should it get bloody, but is no longer a critical component to the game. Based on how you look at it, this may be a good thing or a bad thing, but to me, it really cuts-down on the time it takes to do a post-game audit.

Weapons are categorized into Weapon Class (Vary Light, Light, Medium and Heavy), and further divided into melee, throwing and range, with example for each. Weapon Class are the same as weapons sizes in Basic D&D, but with different damage dice, or in the case of Heavy, the way you apply damage (although, Medium and Heavy weapons have the same d6 damage dice). Vary Light is basically an unarmed strike or throwing stars/darts (d2 damage die). Armor is categorized into Armor Class (Light, Medium-Light, Medium and Medium-Heavy and Heavy), with each class determining weight (in "Things"), Damage Reduction, Defence Class and penalty to physical actions that requires agility or stealth.

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The game comes with a setting installed called The Crimson Lands. The world was once ruled by a race of amoral, degenerate albino-like elves called the Dendrelyssi, who treated other races, not notably humans, as slaves and lab rats. They are like D&D Drows with their cruel and wicked nature, but they are modeled on the appearance of Elric of Melniboné, with their pale skin, although there eyes are whited-out instead of being pink. They used demons and sorcery to maintain their vast empire. Long ago, their empire crumbed, humans rebelled — eventually forming their own nations — and the ageless Dendrelyssi are barren and slowly dying out. The Crimson Lands is made of around half a dozen small continents, surrounded by several large islands and archipelagos. There are around a dozen of human nations, with the Dendrelyssi largely contains to an small continent to the east. Language is mostly derivative of High Dendrelyssi: the language of Dendrelyssi royalty. As the lands are covered in the ruins of ancient Dendrelyssi cities and temples, there are a lot of strange mysteries and horrors lurking in the shadows, waiting to be uncovered by the greedy and foolish.

Braking from the standard quasi-medieval
esthetic overused in most fantasy RPGs, Crimson Blades tries for a greater sense of orientalism that inspired pulp fantasy in the first place. The art chosen for the book (mostly public domain and stock art form Sine Normine Publishing) evokes an oriental esthetic throughout.Save for Goblins and Beastmen, you'll find a lack of Tolkienesque races. You will find some Lovecraftian, along with classical Greek creatures, as well as some iconic D&D monsters with a name-change in the monster list. Much like the 5e monster list, there are a good number of typical human NPC types (Bandits, Cultists, Townfolk, etc.), and vary few Orc-like humanoid adventure fodder. After a while in D&D, all those Goblinoids become the same, so having more human types available is refreshing in any RPG. The one predominant humanoid monster found in the Crimson Lands are the Beastmen. They include a list of minor mutations akin to the Hoards of Hades from the MMII, thus keeping them from looking all the same. In a way, they are like Broo form RuneQuest, but way primitive and beastly. Even with all the added killing-power of high-level character's, there are monsters that surpass the ability of a party of 10th level characters to slay. Like in any RPG, such monsters help keep players on their toes, and when used sparingly, is good to give the players a memorable encounter, without loosing all awe to ease or repetition.

The book is filled with DM advice that helps adventure go beyond the generic dungeon setting. You'll find find hooks and ideas for running adventures in a wide range of environments (cities, wilderness, seas, old ruins, etc.), and without throwing huge lists of random encounters (although, is a list, but its only takes up a single page). The primary advice is not to railroad the party into a pre-scripted story, as players would just derail such efforts, but to allow the players to determine where they want to go, and to figure out their own way out of a given situation. One of the fun things I enjoy doing, is reading the list of hooks and figuring what book or movie the ideas came form. Some people might find that unoriginal or lacking in creativity, but any DM worth their salt knows how that the best adventures takes liberally form great works of fiction, and the less the players know, the better! I do this a lot. Plus, anyone who casually pitches the idea to incorporate the premise of Alien (1979) in a fantasy game is a winner in my book, because, even with all the clues and foreshadowing, the players will still fall for it. Yes, if they figure it out off the bat, likely avoid it the situation (as they should). But in most cases, they would find out once they are neck-deep into the adventure, and when they do, they go into total panic mode! (Its good to be DM!)

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So yeah, this game does a lot differently. The rules are simple enough to be altered easily. With some changes here are there, you can use the rules for nearly any setting. The setting by itself strays from the same old vanilla fantasy. Which I find strange and funny, as I need an escape like this, for my escapist hobby. Although, I have not had a chance to get the full feel of the game as I have not had the change to house-rule the hell out of the game. I don't always run a game "by the book", so I cant wait to see would I'll add, and what I'll drop. I'm like a grease-monkey with RPGs. To me, tweaking a game engine is high art and a way of life. I know there are rules form Conan (Mongoose Publishing) and 5e D&D that might work well with this game.
Recently, I discovered an old, iconic third-party D&D setting form Judges Guild called The Wilderlands. I quite enjoy the premises of the setting, but their are a number of minor issues I would change about it (and not the odd skin colors; as a Carcosaian fan, I don't mind that much at all). If I was to run a
Wilderlands-inspired setting, I would strongly consider run it with this ruleset.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Potential of HeroMachine 3

Not not long ago, I made a pic to highlight the capabilities of the HeroMachine 3 app, based on a set of videos by this guy. There are limits on what you can do on HeroMachine 2, but with HM3, you can do a lot more. Even with the wider options, HM3 is still limited with its features, so people find creative ways to make the most with whats available, and come with novel ways of getting around the limits. One of the most common things is to re-purpose objects into different things by tilting and reshaping them. It is neat what you can do with the fading and transparency of some of the background objects to emulate the effect lighting and shadowing. It is also good to learn how the "masking" feature works, as you can get a lot of neat results form it. Experiment! Dick around! It is a lot of fun!

Not too long ago, I posted the image on this one forum based on D&D and free-speech, but to the chagrin of the founder/administrator — Prespos — the perverts at ProBoards have issue with breasts. They see it as pornography, and if he dose not take action on pics like them, ProBoards would pull the whole site down. I do not fault Prespos for this, as he hates the restrictions more than me, but he wants to keep the site running. ProBoards is run by faggots who would rather make things kosher for the sake of the ad sponsors. Sponsors should not care who they get advertised to, as longs as someone see the ads. Simply put, if I was to run a forum, I would not use them, and for their shameless and draconian policy, I will maintain my AdBlock on all the ProBoards forums I frequent.

OK, enough with that shit, here is this the picture. Basically, it is a slightly drunk sunbather lying on the beach, dressed as God intended... well, as how I'm used to seeing beach-goes dressed, growing-up in the San Fransisco Bay Area. Enjoy!

(click for full-size image)

Who knew such a simple little program can do so much? _\\\

Friday, October 9, 2015

Reflections of an Old-School Otaku

Anime... A collective of animation that had achieved such mainstream success it is now a catch-all category to anything that even emulates its style, regardless of its origins, even if its its a cheap cash-grab made by people who see the medium as profitable to exploit, without any understanding or respect for what they are emulating.

The mainstream success can largely be contributed to a cartoon lineup called Toonami on Cartoon Network. In 1997, Toonami was an afternoon showcase of western cartoons and some anime thrown in. If you wanted less-edited anime (that was toned down to PG-13 violence, with mild cussing and nothing too risqué), you watch their midnight run. Beyond shows like Gundam Wing and Big-O, one of the most approachable anime aired was Cowboy Bebop. Cowboy Bebop tanked in Japan, but it was a huge success in North America, with it's recognizable archetypes and pop culture references (most episodes were a nod to some American movie, and show titles based on music and album titles). This was when most adult anime fans of today first got their feet wet with the hobby. To an anime historian, Cowboy Bebop is a milestone, with BCB (Before Cowboy Bebop) and ACB (After Cowboy Bebop) used by some of the younger fans. Since then, there have been a number of TV outlets for anime, and even dedicated Netflix-styled subscription-based net-channels like CrunchyRoll.

Before this mainstream success, Japaneses anime had different name — Japanimation — and it was a whole other hobby, with a whole other fan-following. In the years BCB, the hobby was so obscure, mainstream culture had yet to find any real labels or stereotypes placed on the medium or fanship, much less be on their radar, and finding anything or anyone within the hobby was like a grand quest to find The Fabled Legendary Treasure of Epic Legends that would supposedly make you wet yourself over its greatness! Mind you, there was no internet — or what we know as in internet — so we had to brave our greatest enemy: that blinding ball of light that appears in that big blue room the inhabitants call "The Great Outdoors." Braving horrible skin-blisters and possible permanent blindness, we old-school otaku (for a lack of a better name, as we just called ourselves "fans") set forth seeking others like ourselves in darken holes called "Comic Book Shops," and grand pilgrimages to massive gathering halls called "Conventions." There, we meet new people, talk about our interests, and establish networks to help acquire the items we quest for, namely bootlegs. Before the the early-to-mid-'90s, were you could find OVAs (made-for-home-video movies or mini-series) in the "special interest" isles of video rental stores, we had to find and buy them through underground networks of pirated videos.

How this worked, was that sailors who worked in the US Navy and US Coast Guard would be stationed in Japan for a time, were they setup VCRs in their barracks to recorded shows that aired on Japanese television. Thankfully, the Betamax was a highly popular recording system in Japan, as it produce higher quality video than the VHS — unfortunately, that was the standard system in the US. So, when the sailors come home, they sell their tapes to people who would use those tapes as master copes for a massive collection of bootlegs. They would duplicate the shit out of the master copy, and then those copes would be further and further duplicated into granny-as-shit copes. This is a lot like the first "wood-grain box" edition of OD&D, where only one-hundred copes of D&D were published so far, and sold out quickly, so most people had to contend with granny multi-generation Xerox copes of the rules until TSR were able to get more copes to market. They also used video equipment to add translated subtitles (of differing quality) in an old video font that would become harder and harder to read with each new generation. Those bootlegs would then get distributed in conventions, and were sold as "behind the counter merchandise" at comic book shops, where they were not advertised to the general public (they were technically illegal contraband). Although, fans know when a comic book shop sold bootlegs and other anime merchandise (typically toys and model kits), as they would have posters of anime series and characters covering the front widows alongside more iconic scifi characters and comic book superheroes. As a kid, there was no better sight then a storefront with posters and cardboard standies of Captain Harlock, Astroboy and obscure fighting robots standing shoulder-to-shoulder to the likes of Capt. Kirk, Boba Fett, Wolverine, and Superman! (There was also Doctor Who, but I did not know who he was until I was much older.)

In those days, D&D, comic books and Japanimation often gone hand-in-hand. You not just found bootlegs and rare collectibles at comic book shops; people used to hangout in the backroom to play role-playing games. It got nerds out of their dungeons and meet fellow nerds; to play fun games, and watch "cartoons" the FCC and whinny, uptight parent groups would never allow on television. Yeah, one of the big appeals with anime is how ultra violent they can be, and the fact that they casually show T&A in programs targeted at children, but the truth is, you can see all that in R-Rated movies that fulled theaters in the '80s. But where Hollywood spends millions to produce scifi/fantasy spectaculars, animation can produce more of the same results, and have room to explore characters, concepts and settings, while taking greater risks, like mixing genres. For example, Leiji Matsumoto (of Space Battleship Yamato (Starblazers), Captain Harlock, and Galaxy Express 999 fame) likes to take mythologies and fairylands, and craft them into grand space epics with normal Earth-bound vehicles (sailing ships, steam trains, etc.) made into spaceships. While watching the series, you are pulled more and more into his worlds, full of memorable characters. His works are imaginative, beautiful, and make for great settings to role-play in. To me, he was Miyazaki, before Miyazaki.

Well, that was my experience as a kid in the '80s. With a Navel base, a Coast Guard base, lots of comic book shops, conventions that felt like monthly events, and two nerdy parents, there was a lot going on in the San Fransisco bay area for anime fans like myself. In the '90s, there was a growing market of OVAs that was a big thing for me. Yeah, much of the videos were mindless schlock, but I loved them no less. There were some great titles, like Akura, Ghost in the Shell, and Macross Plus. There was a also steady flood of localized anime like Robotech, Technoman Blade, Ronin Warriors, Samuri Pizza Cats (surprising funny, if you're old enough to get the jokes), and Dragonball (DBZ sucked balls, but the original series was great in the same way as the works of Matsumoto, as above). In the mid-or late-'90s, a PBS station in San Jose played uncut anime (subbed and dubbed) like Urusei Yatsura, Evangelion, Key the Metal Idol, alongside great British scifi like Doctor Who, Blake's 7 and Red Dwarf. The level of nerdity was off the charts!! Then there was Toonami in the late '90s that showcased a ton of anime, Anime Unleashed on G4 in '03, were found Last Exile and Serial Experiments Lain, AZN Television/International Channel was were I discovered Armored Trooper Votoms and The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, and now... Well, I dont have cable anymore ($90+/month for fucking basic! Are they out of their fucking minds!?) Now there are all sorts of options. Yeah, I have Netflix and Hulu, but their stocks are limited. I quickly found out that there are quite a number of subscription-free sites were I can see almost any anime I want!

Goddamn, video streaming would have been pure fantasy as a kid! If I had this option as a kid, I would likely missed out on great shows like Pirates of Darkwater, Fox's Peter Pan and the Pirates (that cartoon was strangely dark), Batman the Animated Series (best of the '90s), Animaniacs, Disney Afternoon and so on, as I would be too caught-up with all the edgy Japanese stuff, while dismissing the aforementioned stuff as safe, happy "cartoons." Don't get me wrong, as a kid, I loved all kind of animation, but back then, Japanimation used to be a bitch find, so you appreciated whatever you could get your hands on, regardless if its good or not. They were was so culturally obscure, it made you feel special, and with the adult content; a little rebellious. Because of all that, it felt like all anime was superior. And with that mentality, I had an elitist attitude about it, which I grew out of as I matured, as I learned that many titles I mindlessly advocated were just plain shit, while I have been too dismissive with western titles for their lack of mature content. Plus, I learned that "mature content" does not always mean it actually "mature." For example, as a kid, I was annoyed to learn that Voltron was heavily edited form the original series do to heavy violence. I was annoyed by how grown-ups changed a good show to make it more "kid friendly," despite seeing violence all the time in movies. But getting the chance to see the original GoLion series (the original title) as an adult, I was annoyed by how overly violent the show was. Basically, it was going form one extreme to another. The level of violence and brutality on display undermined all the drama, tragedy and pathos the characters are going through, and the bad guys are even more cartoonishly evil then its western counterpart! Had they tone down the violence to PG-13 levels and rewrote Prince Sincline/Lotor as a more sympathetic and misguided character, then Voltron could have been a more superior program to GoLion as far as storytelling and character depth. If they are going to make changes for the sake of a western audience, then do it right!

Nowadays, I have the luxury to be choosy with what anime I want to be invested in, to were I can better avoid dead end shit like Bleach and Inuyasha. There is such a glut of titles available to me, I can't sort though them all! I really want to find great titles, but most of them have the mentality of people who never grew past high-school — nothing but angsty-ass teens and overly-sexualized junior high-age girls! Plus, they also have to compete with some great western shows I have been caught-up with. The current is Steven Universe, which is a surprisingly deep and brilliant show, with a lot of pathos, that takes me back to why I really love shows Captain Harlock and Dragonball so much. And, if I want a truly weird and obscure collective of animation make me feel cool and special, I'll go headlong into European animation... hum...? Euro-may?  ;)

Western cartoons... Japaneses/Koren anime... European animation... Its all good!  8-)