Monday, June 28, 2021

Semi-Player Characters

One of the burdens of being a Game Master is maintaining the juggling act of: Running the game; Maintaining the flow of the action/adventure/plot/story-flow and readjusting the flow due to players always coming up with out-of-left-field actions/ideas; Playing the part of every single NPC, from the major antagonists and supporting characters, to the random one-note-joke "spear carrier" extra who is just there to make a Warren Ellis-styled joke about a Farmer who brags about fucking pigs. There is so much effort in running a game that I find that I have to scale back on things for the sake of speed and efficiency.

To deal with the game system, I try to use simple, rules-lite game engines. For example, I find it easier to broaden skills into the category of what a character archetype (Soldier, Thief, Barbarian, Technician, Cowboy, etc.) could do then to compile a long-ass list of skill areas (Melee Weapons, Rifles, Survival, Pick-Pockets, Fashion, Mechanics, Electronics, etc., etc.), each with their own set of sub-rules. This is the approach Barbarians of Lemuria did with Heroic Careers. If you want to intimidate someone, you can use Barbarian or Torturer. If you want to hide-in-plan-sight within an urban area, you can use Beggar, Thief or Slave. Its all open-ended, and subject to GM's approval. Also, the use of quick-and-simple combat mechanic, that gives you a good amount of options, without dropping a D20-styled grapple rules on you in the middle of the action, goes a long way into resolving the mechanics quickly so we can focus more on role-playing the action.

Dealing with the herculean task of maintaining the flow of the game without holding the players by their noses into a railroad adventure is a whole topic into itself, and not the topic I want to focus on right now.

To deal with having to play each an every NPC the players would run across, I use SPCs, or Semi-Player Characters. I first did this with intelligent magic items and magical familiars. Instead of acting the part of the magic item or critter, I would have one of the players do that for me, and not the player who is handing the item/critter, but another player as to get more social interaction between them, and without the innate bias that could occur with, let say: A morally questionable Fighter character wielding an intelligent Holy Avenger sword. Outside of intelligent magic items and magical familiars (or high-tech equipment/drones with AI), I can use this for minor NPCs during non-critical social encounters. To do this, I ether slip players index cards with normal NPC notes on them (name, job, personality, motivation, quirks, etc.), or I can allow players, within reason, to write their own SPC notes, then allowing them to "go ham" with it.

SPCs are also good back-up or auxiliary PCs. That is, lets say that Steve plays Dominique, a human cleric, as his main PC and also plays Valerian, a half-orc Bouncer at the local pub. Steve only created Dominique as the party really needed a healer, and he end up playing Valerian so he could still be in the action during scenes that takes place at the local pub -- the hangout of the PCs between adventures --as Dominique's duties do not allow him to go boozing. On top of that, Steve is starting to get board with Dominique and really enjoys the loud snarkness of Valerian. When the group got a new player, Sarah, who really wants to play Cordelia, a Sea-elf Priestess of a water-based healing goddess, Steven asked if he could retire Dominique and play Valerian as his primary character (as a Fighter equal in level to Dominique), the DM agreed and allowed Dominique to remain, now tied to the temple or some other task, as a reoccurring SPC.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

These Colors Run Dead

There is a style of flag in the U.S. that is pattered on the American flag, but is entirely black and while save to a blue band running in the middle were it should be white. A more extreme variant has it in a Punisher skull (like in the Marvel comics). This flag is called the "Blue Lives Matter" flag to most, and "The Thin Blue Line" flag to those who wave it. The idea is that the "thin blue line" is the barrier between "Order" (good, law-abiding citizens) and "Chaos" (deviant criminals and anarchists) and that law enforcement protects "Order" from "Chaos". But that is bullshit!

For one, law enforcement is the "Order"! They are its agents of enforcement. And for another, freedom — true freedom; the type Conservatives clam they want and Libertarians are more honest about — is inherently chaotic. More over, the Punisher skull variant undermines this, as it is naked display authority without justice. Cops who spot this would be less subtle with a Judge Dredd badge or if they pack Dirty Harry's Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum like they want the world to know that they are packing a baby-dick. Law enforcement idealizing a psycho who'll shoot a jaywalker is comically on the nose.

What that flag is about is just fascism, plan is simple. It is about the police-state. It is about subjugation of "The Other". It is about enabling corruption by those in power. It is about maintaining a system even when it is broken. It is the banner of the Evil Empire!

There is a reason why people are risking COVID-19 in protest. There is a reason why the burning of the Third Precinct police station in Minneapolis was a good thing. For too long, the police suffer from the "If Your Only Tool Is a Hammer Then Every Problem Looks Like a Nail" dilemma with their training. They are too reliant on firearm training and lack de-escalation skills. Are are also no better than a gang. The police culture — an informal wall of silence among members of law enforcement — is more in keeping to frat boys and organized crime, which puts the welfare of the so-called "bad apples" above any semblance of justice, with "bad apples" being a comical euphemism used by police agencies to dismiss individuals who were caught, despite them being the products of law enforcement training (no to mention the fact that the full statement is "one bad apple spoils the whole bunch", which is appropriate but always with a dumb sense of irony).

I grew-up knowing how useless the police are when you live in a "red-lined" neighborhood. I grew-up seeing how the police behave when they think know one is looking. I grew-up knowing the actions law enforcement takes when someone crosses them. I grew-up knowing that the wife and kids of a cop have no were to turn to if they are abused by him, nor can they ever escape. I grew-up hearing that the legal system dont give a damn about rape-victims how cops who rape can just get away with it. And due to all that, I grew-up with not respect for authority or the system.

Until they get their shit together the social contract is broken. Their badge — their authority — is meaningless. The scale and the gavel is broken. People should see them no better than another street gang (black people been doing that forever) and we should fight to keep our streets safe. This is nothing new in the US. In the '60s, The Black Panther Moment formed to deal with racist cops. People forget that the most successful insurrection in the United States was the Battle of Athens in 1946, and that involved a shootout with over two-hundred Sharif Deputies (who were in a prison house rigging a local election) loosing to scores of armed WWII veterans. (I don't think gun-rights activists ever bring this event up, ever. Even though is about good-guys-with-guns fighting tyranny and winning. Its like they don't want to alienate their blue-lives supporters.) I'm not saying that people should embrace mindless mayhem and lawlessness, nor am I saying that we should kill cops (I mean, outside of self-defense). No, we can do better! If there is going to be stability, there needs to be accountability as well as better methods of peacekeeping, and the only way to get there is to dismantle the system and makes something better, even it its from the ground-up.
Until then...

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

This Machine (Terrorist?) Kills Fascists!

Well, it seems that as an anti-fascist person — as any good American would be — I am now deemed a criminal terrorist.

My little Punk Rock heart is now all a flutter. ;)

Much like how the Russian and Chinese governments only allowing "state-approved" (that is, pro-state) Hip-hop/Rap and rock music within their countries, you can make almost anything infinitely cooler by having an authoritarian figure and/or state tell people that something is criminal (not to mention the amazing underground scenes). And in the case of Punk Rock and Hip-hop, that gives a lot of creed to the genre and performers.

So in these troubled times, just remember what we did back in WWII:

THIS... is how you make 'Merica great again!

And to all the folks who like to march goosestep to the drums of a dickless "strong leader", well...

Oh, and for anyone who is going to bitch that I'm calling Corporal Bone-Spurs "Another Hitler", I am not, as that would be giving him waaay too much credit. He is just a dumber, frumpier Mussolini.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Toilet Paper Shortage

Things would be way better if more folks knew how to use these properly:

That is all. Go about your business of being stuck at home.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Star Warriors Setting

Some time ago, on a Blog not too far away...

[plays loud orchestral music]

Years ago on the Blog From the Sorcerer's Skull, the owner "Tray" came up with a neat little pulp space setting that takes place in the far-off Azuran System called The Star Warriors.

At first it comes off as just another Star Wars-inspired setting with an evil regime (the Authority), a battle between an order of heroic mystic space knights (the Star Knights) verses an order of evil occult space sorcerers (the Dark Star Warriors) with a supernatural element that is the source light and dark magic (The Enigma Source and Anti-Source), and with some wild west added for flavoring. But when you really look at it, it was inspired by the Vega star system from the Green Lantern comics and the Micronauts' Homeworld from the Marvel comic, as well as a number of obscure '80s toy lines, like the Lords of Light, Power Lords, BraveStarr, etc. (The 1980s was a sea of obscure cartoons and toy lines.)
(Although, it should be said that after Star Wars cough lightning in a bottle, just about everyone wanted to create "the next Star Wars", so the '80s was full of wannabe Star Wars films. And the cartoon-toy craze of the 1980s was due to the successes of Star Wars mechanizing.)

At first, I tried to come up with comprehensive background details on history, customs, costumes, military ranks, etc., as well as stock NPCs both good and bad, but it quickly occurred to me that it was too much detail for a sandbox. Having a good foundation is fine, but I still want the setting to be open-ended enough to make it malleable, without binding myself into a straitjacket. Nor do I want to front-load a butch of powerful NPC heroes to steal the player-character's thunder. After all, if the setting already has powerful heroes in play, what is the point of the player character.

That is the charm about the setting. Even with how fantastic the Star Wars setting is, the glut of background information ("canon" and "legends"), as well as the limitations placed in the well-established setting, makes it hard to run as a role-playing setting. The Star Warriors is a rough outline fresh for adventure and individual world-building. I take whats there and add my own flavoring to the stew, in service to my own games. I see this setting as a place where you'll find 17th century pirates as space-pirates in rocketships; Barsoomian-like people going through space in elegant Spelljammer-like ships; space gypsies; space-elves that look like the nymphish woman in an old Leiji Matsumoto anime; a backwater barbarian hero who is applying his/herself as a great space adventurer; and so on and so forth. Pure kitchen-sink fantasy... IN SPACE!!!

You can find more info about the setting here, here, here, here and here.

Here are my ideas:


This large, powerful corporate conglomerate is the Authority's principle ship and weapon manufacturer. Both entities believes that they are more pivotal to the stability of the Azuran system than the other, buy they are so inescapably codependent off one another that nether side can get control of the other without undoing them both. But that does not stop the scheming and power-plays. The corporate leaders live apart from the common people; in the an orbiting space station above Omicron, the Sky Follower — once a splendid garden park open for anyone to enjoy.

Enforcers form the backbone of the Authority. Covered in black armored spacesuits and armed with lethal weapons and training, Authority Enforcers are fanatically loyal to Authority High Command. They are soldiers who also serve as law enforcement. The most elite become the infamous Night Watch Enforcers — the Authority's covert commandos and secret police. Good citizens of the Azuran System would be wise to not cross Enforcers as the Authority does not tolerate dissension!

Although treated as a monolithic terrorist organization by the Authority, Freedom Fighters are individual insurgence groups with their own leadership, goals and... methods. They range from small bands of scrappy rebellious youth, to well-armed fleets ships and guerrilla fighters; from noble renegade Star Knights, to heartless desperadoes. Without a great leader to unite them, each group bravely and desperately fights a hopeless battle to brake the iron grip of the evil Authority.

Formed form the survivors of the conquest of Elysia by the Authority, they form a scrappy but well-disciplined and well-armed fleet. They have a good number of warships and fighters, and with the right planing and strategy, could take down an Authority's armada head on, but with limited resources, it would be a pyrrhic victory at best. They lack dedicated troops and are dependent on allies for ground battles. When confronted with Authority Enforcers, all they have are technicians and pilots with sidearms.

Travailing in old but well-decorated rocketships, these spacerborne free-spirited vagabonds are a mix of tramp traders, grifters, entertainers and mystics. They are not trusted by civilized people and the Authority see them all with suspect. People seek them out for their fortunetelling abilities, to acquire rare and exotic (and often illicit) goods, or to take in their exotic performances. Their strange music and dance are said to induce an unearthly ecstasy! Whilst there are those who want them to settle down, the wild heart of a Wayfarer will never allow it.

In the chaotic reaches of the Azuran system, space bandits pray on helpless merchant ships and passenger liners. Pirates are feared through out the Azuran System! A few Captains are bold enough to dare strike Authority supply convoys. Vary few pirates are noble, as most are just in it for wealth. Although seen as nothing more than a fairy tale by hopeful youth, there is a legend of a roguish Space Pirate Captain who is driven by revenge and justice to defeat the Authority.

The most infamous Space Piratefleet in the whole Azuran system! Their brutality is the stuff of legends and nightmares! While most Space Pirates would keep prisoners for the sake of slavers and ransoms, they have been known to kill off whole ships of crew and passengers, including on luxury ships full of rich passengers, from time-to-time as a stark reminder to the Azuran System that they are a force not to be reckoned with. As they have a robust trading center for slaves and stolen goods at the well-guarded space fortress on Skull Rock, they are the most well-equipped pirate fleet in the Azuran system. The bounty on an individual Black Star Pirate Ship is enough to buy a small moon!


Omicron: The Industrial Planet
This ancient planet is covered in layers of urban expansion. Once the economic center of the Azuran system, the collapses of the Solar Alliance brought an era of warring corporate feudal states within Omicron that help gave rise to the Authority that filled the power vacuum left by the Alliance. Through the Authority, the corporations coalesced into a single corporate entity: The Consortium. The upper-levels are made up of Consortium-controlled businesses, while the mid-levels are made up of Consortium-controlled communities, both enforced with a heavy hand by Authority peacekeepers. The lower-levels are a lawless den of scum and villainy out of the reach of the Authority. It is infamous for bing the birthplace of the system's worst criminals, bounty hunters and guerilla fighters. But much of the population of the lower-levels are just poor, desperate people. The people of this world are historically hardworking, industrious and practical in nature. Before the collapses of the Solar Alliance they were also a fairly easy-going and philanthropic people, but now they are cynical and aggressively militant. The whole planet is a powder-keg of political and economic discontentment, just waiting for the Authority to loosen their iron grasp on Omicron.

(This world is located at the one of the unnamed planets near Authority Prime, Elysia and Computronia; see first link above for system map)

Skull Rock: The Space Pirate Hideout
The notorious Skull Rock is the hidden base of the dread Black Star Pirates. It is a large hollow asteroid within The Outer Belt. Time and time again, attempts to destroy Skull Rock ended horribly for Authority fleets thanks in large part for the dangers of navigating The Outer Belt, as well as the ambush tactics deployed by the pirates. Smugglers, slave merchants and Wayfarers are often welcome to the Grand Trading Hall of Skull Rock. The bounty in Skull Rock could buy a whole planet!

(This asteroid is found outside the "ring of life" that makes up the solar system; see first link above for system map)

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Mandalorian (Spoilery)

I Just got done watching the first four episodes of The Mandalorian.


*takes deep breath*


Yes, I love it.

The new series takes the original Boba Fett form the Hoilday Special — twin-prong zap-rifle and all — and puts him in an Akira Kurosawa-inspired Spaghetti Western and the seminal manga Lone Wolf and Cub. It is a well-written and well-acted cinematic series with just the right amount of practical vs CGI effects and lots of beautiful props and locations. You'll find a lot of hommage to the Star Wars franchise and the media that inspired it (Spaghetti Westerns, Kurosawa films, Lone Wolf and Cub, etc.).

Its basically is... IN SPAAACE!!!

I'm going to assume everyone and there dog knows about "Baby Yoda". The internet cant get enough of the Baby Yoda (by the way, he is not actually Yoda, but for the lack of a species name). You can already find memes of him on YouTube (search "Baby Yoda Car Radio"). And yes, he is key to the plot. I know I'm not the only one wanting to sodomize the corpse of Walt Disney with a thick wad of cash to get a damn Baby Yoda plushy for the holidays. IT BETTER BE DAMN KUWT AN NOT SOME SOULLESS-EYED FUNKO POPS FIGURE!!!

In a nutshell, the series is about a faceless Mandalorian Bounty Hunter named Dyn Jarren was hired to recover someone, no questions asked. Once he found him, the nameless "Child", he goes on the run to keep the child safe. That is it! Its an on going series with a big mystery.


Unless you are one of those pedantic souls who cannot stand to see a highly unnoticeable boom-mic, or one of those stupid asshats who bitch about Star Trek (of all things) having "too much diversity", then, chances are, you are not going to like anything good, you miserable pieces of shit! For everyone else, I highly recommend it. So far, 5-out-of-5!

Is it worth getting a Disney+ subscription? Fuck no! They are a shitty company and I question their cyber-security. Plus, in the Information Age, why pay for something when you can pirate! ARRRGGG!!! (Or if you really like it, buy the physical media.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Dead in the Water (for MCC RPG)

Hello everyone!

If it seems that I have not posted in awhile, that because I have been caught up with real life — the bane of all RPG players.

I was working on another art project with Tim Snider and the final product came in my mailbox. Unlike the other projects, this one is for Goodman Games' Mutant Crawl Classic (instead of Mutant Future), and this one showcase a painting I did for him years ago on the cover (while working on the last Mutant Future-based supplement). I was so happy to see one of my pictures on the cover, I wanted to shout it from the rooftop, but them I remembered I have a Blog (pardon the dust... and cobwebs... and the old Christmas boxes... and the dead hookers).
The 16-page booklet — first featured at Gamehole Con in Madison, WI — is a simple "funnel adventure", for 12 to 16 zero-level characters. For those unfamiliar with Mutant Crawl Classic, as a standard rule, players start with multiple characters due to the high mortality rate at level-zero — once they gain a level, they play a single character with a class, and all the abilities that comes with it. If you cannot tell, where Mutant Future is the spiritual successor of 2nd ed. Gamma World, MCC feels like a successor of 4th ed. GW.

The adventure that takes place in The Rainbow Sea, on the legendary Island of Fire, where horrible mutants that stalk a local fishing village dwell! Your mission is to head out it the island and deal with these foul creatures.