Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cloak & Dagger

In lieu of a blog post, it's time once again for me to share a short piece of fiction. This piece is titled Cloak & Dagger, as you saw in the title of this post. It can be read on my tumblr:

http://red-hot-fic.tumblr.com/post/146704169764/cloak-and-dagger

I'd be thrilled to get any feedback you might have on this thing. I typed it up in a feverish hurry because I need to go get my car inspected today before the sticker expires. Comment on this post or tweet me over at twitter.com/Red_Hot_Kick.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

BUILDING CHARACTER: Fetch

After finishing a two and a half year long D&D 3.5 campaign, my group wandered and played a bunch of games in a bunch of settings. After about half a year, our GM pitched a new campaign: a Dungeon World game set 200 years after the events of our first 3.5 game. At the time I was working a warehouse job on the other side of town, so I couldn't play, but I joined in spirit thanks to one player recording their sessions for me to listen to later. I played a oneshot adventure with my GM and one other player in Dungeon World set in a corner of our setting that hadn't been explored yet, and thus Fetch and Ken were born.

Fetch used a class playbook called the Mimic, which I cannot at this time find online. I'll link it below (if I can find it). The basic gist of the class was that it was Mega Man. You copy things you see other people do, watch people and analyze their actions, and shoot lots of crossbow bolts. Later on, Fetch was able to pick up someone else's weapon or tool and use it just as effectively as they had. It's a neat class. You should play Dungeon World if you haven't.

Fetch hailed from a technomancer-influenced city called the Grid, which had a Tron styling to it. She wore hoods and cloaks to hide her face as she ran the streets with a gnome crew. She grew up on the streets with no parents or anyone to even name her. The gnomes took her into their circle of thieves and burglars, having her fetch things for them. The "name" stuck. Throughout the campaign, it was clear that Fetch never really belonged. She didn't really understand how life was for people with stable situations, and definitely didn't know anything about proper or ladylike behavior. But as a mimic, she could fit in. Not belong, but fit in. She could pretend to be part of any group.

She went through a lot. My characters don't typically have happy lives. She went off adventuring and fell in with Ken, a ninja from a clan that worshiped the Raven Queen, the goddess of death. I joined the regular game when my schedule changed, hopping in midway through the game's first arc. After Ken died in our oneshot (cactuars are not to be trifled with), she met up with one of her old gnome friends, played by Ken's player in the regular game.

In the regular game, our knight died protecting our samurai from an avalanche. It was a dumb moment. Anyway, Fetch took up his title and weapon. A little while later, though, our knight came back--brought back to life by the Raven Queen and told that she needed a champion. What she didn't tell him was that she already had another champion, and only one could survive. The second was Ken, of course. Ken tracked the party down and attacked Knight (His name was Knight. The Mighty Knight of Night. Just go with it.). Fetch tried to talk him down, but he wouldn't listen. Fetch tried to shoot her crossbow in an attempt to force them apart, but accidentally shot Ken in the chest with a trio of bolts (her wrist-mounted crossbow is a burst fire thing). Her best friend then died in her arms, killed by her hand.

Fetch left the party after that and wandered. She ended up in a plague-ridden town and instinctively started mimicking the doctors there, helping to treat the afflicted. She caught the plague herself, but after having saved a decent chunk of the town's population. As she lay dying, she was visited by Knight. He expressed his remorse and guilt for what had happened to Ken, and passed the Raven Queen's artifact, the Skeleton Key, to her, giving up the energy keeping him alive to revive her at the cost of his own life. Now she wields the Key herself as the Raven Queen's champion despite her ever-growing hatred for the goddess of death, who she blames for the (in her eyes) senseless deaths of Ken and Knight.

It was as the Raven Queen's champion that she helped rescue a bunch of children with strangely similar mimicry talents that were going to be turned into shapeshifters. One of them, a young girl named Flint, accompanied Fetch and joined the party. Fetch adopted Flint as a sort of little sister, just like Fetch's gnome friend Ghost had her. (Half the party in that campaign had single syllable names. Fetch. Knight. Ghost. Tai.)

We haven't finished this campaign, and we aren't likely to play it again any time soon. But I like recounting Fetch's story. We'll probably never know anything about Fetch's parents or past, but that's not really the interesting part about her. Her development is all about her future. Flint was going to teach her some shapeshifting tricks, so I imagine she'd end up being some kind of Arya Stark figure.

Oh, also, I always imagined that Fetch looked like Bex Taylor-Klaus. And since my group loves to have character-specific theme songs, I made a mini-playlist for Fetch:

Begging For Thread (Banks)
Cigarette Daydreams (Cage the Elephant)
Something From Nothing (Foo Fighters)

Also also, I found this comment on our group's Facebook page about Ken from his player:

Ken was really complicated and made other characters stories more emotional. He started out as a vital part of Fetch's story, but ended up drastically changing the lives of two PCs.

As for his own character development, he didn't have strong motivations to start off with when I first created him. But when he died and the Raven Queen gave him a second chance, he unfortunately followed those convictions until the very end. He died tragically and unfulfilled. That fascinating to me, despite also making me a little sad.


Tabletop games are fun and good.

(If I find the Mimic class again I'll link it here.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

ADDITIONAL NOTES: Atman (Part 4)

What follows is the prepwork I had for the one session of Dungeon World that I ran in the Atman setting. It's a straightforward one-shot about rescuing a hostage from the sewers.

---
The party begins in the North End Market Square, where they are chance bystanders of an act of terrorism. The plaza's fountain implodes, and a handful of trolls escape from the sewers below. At the same time, someone sets up an antimagic field. While the party fights the monsters, one of the trolls makes off with a hostage--Alfred of the Mage's Circle. The party meets Ilja in the fight when she jumps in to help dispatch the creatures. As the only nearby Hunter, she requests their help in tracking down the final beast and slaying it. Soon after entering, the party is separated from her and must go on alone for a time. After a tussle with some gargoyles and a little sewer-spelunking they meet up with Ilja, and approach the final chamber where the hostage lies. Four trolls and a bonded shifter look over the hostage and are waiting for someone to show up and collect. When engaged, the shifter draws a poisoned dagger.


Factions in Zentrum

Firebrands - Revolutionaries/terrorists calling for the usurpation of the Council and the exile of mages.
Hunters - Enigmatic slayers that keep the city safe from monsters lurking in the slums and sewers. Each wears a uniquely designed white mask.
Blackpowder Heretics - A secret society of smiths and craftsmen with a reckless approach to innovation. Created Magefire.
The Mage's Circle- Annalise, Sebastian, and Alfred. The governing body of Zentrum and most powerful mages residing therein.


Locations

Old Zentrum- A ruined neighborhood scoured by Magefire, giving birth to the Firebrands. Full of vagrants and rebels.
Sewers - A massive complex under the city stretching far deeper than intended. Home to monsters and ruins, as well as slum towns filled with plague-ridden wretches.


NPCs

Josephine - Leader of the Firebrands, scarred by Magefire. Despises mages and most magic.
Ilja - Hunter patrolling the Eastern Chambers beneath Zentrum with a plague doctor mask and scythe.


Monsters

Trolls - Goblins that overflow with regenerative magic, granting them potent regeneration and muscle growth.
Dregs - The lowest of the low, driven mad by the plague. Incoherent and animalistic.
Gargoyles- Arcane sentries. Fly at the group as they inch around a deep pit in the sewers.
---

It occurs to me that I haven't mentioned shifters yet. The western third of Froll is home to a massive, sprawling forest known as the Titanwood. It is home to trees so massive as to put California redwoods to shame. In this wood, there is a society of humans who bond their souls to the animals and plants around them. Some of them can change their form to adopt that of the life forms they have bonded with, which has given rise to many folktales in Froll of fairies and beastmen. This is this setting's equivalent to lycanthropes.

The identity of the person who hired the shifter is a plot hook that I would consider exploring at a later time if more sessions were run. They weren't, so here's this post. (For the record, I don't consider any of this 'canon' as I continue to flesh out the world on its own in my spare time. This was just stuff I made up for this session)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Some Brief Thoughts on Knights of Sidonia (Season 1)

Knights of Sidonia, based on the Japanese manga of the same name by Tsutomu Nihei, is a CGI anime available for streaming from Netflix. It tells the story of Nagate Tanikaze, a mysterious young man raised by his grandfather in the "underground" levels of a massive space station. With a mastery of piloting granted by spending his entire life training in a simulator, he joins the military to pilot mechs called Gardes in an ongoing defense effort to defend the space station, Sidonia, from the bio-technological aliens known as Gauna. Little is known of the creatures, except that they destroyed Earth centuries ago and have been pursuing the remnants of humanity across the stars.

Knights of Sidonia is, in broad terms, something of a mix between Neon Genesis Evangelion and Attack on Titan. It follows a contained population as elite warriors protect civilization from mysterious beings attempting to breach their defenses. These beings have one very specific weakness that the warriors exploit to kill them. I cut the show a bit of slack since it was actually written around the same time as Attack on Titan, so I bring up the similarity less as a criticism and more as a sales pitch. The structure of the first season reminds me of the early episodes of Evangelion, where we see the alien threat in multiple different forms and explore what the creatures might be capable of.

There are a lot of things I liked about this show. I was turned off at first because it was 3D instead of more traditional 2D, but by the end of the season I didn't even care. The design of the world and the things in it is really interesting an unique. The Gauna are grotesque, fleshy monsters that morph and twist their flesh to adapt to new combat situations, and as someone who still like the Yuuzhan Vong, bio-ships will always get my attention. The setting involves all sorts of interesting bits and bobs you wouldn't hear about in most shows--emergency protocols and pieces of technology are given just the right amount of explanation.

The show features the Big Eater Anime Hero cliche, but actually manages to somewhat justify it. In this future world, all humans are genetically modified to be able to photosynthesize. This means they only have to eat once a week. But, having been raised under mysterious circumstances (And for other, spoilery reasons), Nagate can't photosynthesize. To the viewer, he eats a totally normal amount of food, but in-universe, he eats three weeks' worth of food a day.

The show teases some questions about identity: an alien attempts to form itself a human body to imitate its captors and communicate, one of the main characters is genderqueer, an old war criminal is replaced by a clone while the original body is kept in stasis so they can occasionally mine its brain for information. These questions never really pay off. Perhaps they are addressed further in Season 2, but as of the end of the first season, they're little more than set dressing. In fact, other than being one of three or so prospective love interests, the genderqueer character mentioned above doesn't really accomplish anything on their own or indeed seem to matter much outside of occasionally reminding the viewer that other, nonbinary genders exist...yet, again, there's no payoff. That's not really a theme that gets explored, they seem to exist just to constantly get misgendered and pine for the hero. You have to do more with the character than nothing at all.

A surprising arc to me was an early trio of episodes that depict the main hero and one of his several (approaching harem level, really) love interests stuck in the cockpit of a mech with no power. They live off of rations and emergency supplies for three weeks and grow very close in this time, and it's the first time we see Nagate really bond with someone. I had expected nothing but shooting and explosions and fighting, so it was a welcome change of pace to slow down and just think about space for a while.

My last point is another low one: The pacing is brisk to a fault. Outside of the above mini-arc, characters rarely get time to absorb and process the revelations of the plot as they occur. As a result, the show begins to give itself an urgency and a tension that it really hasn't earned. It establishes two rivals for the hero to butt heads with, but instead of letting those conflicts happen, those characters are either killed off or slowly hedged out of the plot to become excuses for technobabble and exposition. If you watch the show in large chunks, you may not notice these hiccups, but when you look back, you'll find plenty of questions about why characters just accepted the events of the show and moved on without any question.

I hope I don't sound too dour. I do like the show and I'll watch the second season. I think I'm mostly upset at how it gets so close to being great but falls just short, mainly due to the pacing more than anything else. But if you like cool mechs and fighting monsters in space, you could do a lot worse than Knights of Sidonia.

Friday, June 24, 2016

ADDITIONAL NOTES: Atman (Part 3)

You know the deal by now. Let's go.

Cyril

Cyril is an island of luxury. Wealthy people from all over the world travel to Cyril to trade for silks and spices. The city is controlled by a group of ethereally beautiful women called the Courtesans. In truth, these women are vampires. Cyril exports a lot of silk to the Rashesh in Khidra.


Froll

Froll is an insular and xenophobic country. Like Jagdea, they won independence from the Divine Supremacy--however, they did this four centuries ago, and have closed their borders since. This country is inspired by more typical Western European fantasy, and resembles Britain in the century leading up to the Age of Discovery. They have incredibly stringent laws concerning etiquette and gender roles in society. It is a monarchy, but the King is bound by a generations-old set of laws dictating what he will and will not do. He is assisted by the headmaster of the Royal Academy, which teaches the practice of magic. Froll has several noble houses that bicker amongst themselves for the most part and are kept in check by the King.


The Far Isles

These small islands to the south of the continent were once home to a Vikings-esque culture that would occasionally raid the shores, but in recent years they have been conquered. The new inhabitants of the Isles, pale people with faces full of piercings, came in black ships and slaughtered the indigenous people almost to a man, but as soon as they had control of the island they halted their invasion and settled in. It took some time for the rest of the world to trust them, but they have recently opened up trade with Commerce.


The Divine Supremacy

This crumbling empire once held all the lands from one sea to the other, but over the centuries its borders have slowly shrunk. Its ruler is, supposedly, the immortal god king that slew the gods and took their power for himself, that the capricious powers above would no longer trouble mankind. No one has seen this ruler in some time, and most decisions are made by the church. In visual style, this culture is heavily inspired by India, albeit an India with crazy magic technology and airships and colossal constructs that guard its capital.



That's all I have for the cultures in Atman. I'll be back next week to continue this at some point.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

ADDITIONAL NOTES: Atman (Part 2)

Yesterday I went over some basic, broad strokes concepts for my homebrew fantasy setting, Atman. Today, I'mgoing to dive into some of the cultures of Atman, and their places in it. Starting off the list is...

The Jagdean Panarchy

Sometimes known as simply Jagdea or the Panarchy, this country is a recent addition to the world, having just recently won their independence from the Divine Supremacy. They rejected that divine rule and reinstated some of their culture's old beliefs from many centuries ago. The people vote on candidates, which are then placed into pools to be selected randomly to serve as leaders in the seven ministries. The seven ministries and the titles held by their heads are as follows:

The Ministry of Diplomacy (Chancellor)
The Ministry of Security (Marshal)
The Ministry of Technology (Director)
The Ministry of Thaumaturgy (Prelate)
The Ministry of Finance (Scrivener)
The Ministry of Agriculture (Attendant)
The Ministry of Artistry (Curator)

The heads of state have equal authority and make decisions based on votes and debate. Every year, one head is replaced via sortition according to a set rotation. One term lasts six years, and it is not possible to serve multiple consecutive terms.

Jagdea is tonally and aesthetically inspired in great part by the Weimar Republic, albeit mixed with some ancient Greece. They have the most advanced technology outside of the Supremacy, with firearms and trains being somewhat commonplace--or at least, not out of the ordinary. In the setting as written, they've just recently discovered electricity, but they have only barely started to realize its applications.


The Petrans

These mountain folk are not quite as well developed as Jagdea, but are a crucial part of the setting. Inspired by the classic D&D race called Goliaths, these huge men and women keep themselves completely free of hair and cover their bodies in magic tattoos. These tattoos contain orichalcum, a mineral made entirely of solidified magical energy, and they use that power to shape stone as they see fit. They are master craftsmen, despite their nearly tribal appearance to the rest of the world. They have often been severely underestimated by outsiders because of that aesthetic, in fact.


Commerce

Commerce is a port city on the border of Jagdea and its insular southern neighbor, Froll. It used to be under Frollan jurisdiction, but a bloodless coup fixed that right up, and the city is now an independent city-state. It is the only port that ships from Cyril land at. The most prominent thing about Cyril's diverse population is the goblin immigrants. Goblins are one of the two non-human races in the setting, and they come into the world through this port. Most of them are either nomadic merchant princes of the ocean or refugees from their ancestral homeland across the sea seeking refuge. Their influx is the source of more than a little tension as things back home seem to be getting worse. Also, they aren't tiny. I was tired of tiny goblins, so they're human sized green people. But then they would be orcs, so instead of big and brutish, they're thinner and...sharp looking? Lots of angles to their features. Somewhere between githyanki and green elves, I guess.



I'll have more to talk about tomorrow, including the opulent Cyril, xenophobic Froll, and mysterious Divine Supremacy. I'd write more, but I had to work an extra half a shift today and am pretty tuckered out. Stay tuned. Or don't. You do you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

ADDITIONAL NOTES: Atman (Part 1)

Atman (noun)
The spiritual life principle of the universe, especially when regarded as inherent in the real self of the individual.

Atman, named after a Sanskrit word meaning self or soul, is the working title of a fantasy setting I developed over the last year and a half. The main themes I wanted to explore with it and its magic system are cycles, rebirth, fate, and destiny. 

I started working on it early last year after reading this series of articles by Rich Burlew, author of Order of the Stick. In the articles, he details his own process for creating a setting, both for private play and for publication. I took some of the questions that he asked there and ran with them. Where he got inspiration from Zoroasterism and its dualities, I took inspiration from Hinduism and the idea of constant rebirth. The first thing I decided was:

Everything that dies is reborn.

There is no afterlife in Atman, nor are there gods. It's a perpetually spinning top sustained by an inherently cyclical cosmology. Beings that die dissolve into pure ambient magic energy that arcanists use to power spells. Because this was originally for an RPG, I had to have that duality of arcane and divine magic, so I worked out their differences as such: Instead of gods, people honor saints and channel lingering magic auras that form like dust around objects that have been used for great feats. There is a third type of magic in most RPGs, which is inner power. Ki, or psionics, or whatever you want to call it. That exists, but it involves burning your own soul like a battery to enhance your abilities. People that do this have dramatically lower lifespans, but are renowned fighters or mages. In the final version of the setting, there are other methods of magic that are more specific or based on a particular culture's traditions--like the Petrans, who use magic stored in tattoos to shape stone. More on cultures later. (Or right now, as my previously detailed Khidran Principalities article describes one of the cultures from this setting.)

But those artifacts, those relics of old folk heroes and saints. That's all well and good, but the rules don't discriminate. If a sword that kills a lot of people gets better at killing, a murderer's knife would be good at murdering. Imagine an untrained thief tapping into a knife's memory of a famous assassin's abilities. There would need to be some kind of authority to cleanse people's belongings after they died. I decided that these people would be specialists, since for every service, there's someone willing to pay for it. I also liked the idea of "magic police," so I decided that some of the mages who specialized in this art were like Men in Black, working either for the government or from above the government to ensure that nothing became too saturated with magic over time. I like the idea of a noble prince having to cleanse his father's sword on the day of his inheritance. It makes for interesting scenery.

I should mention that anyone is capable of learning magic in this setting. There's no point to this Harry Potter bullshit where some people are just born Better Than You. Especially when thinking of how magic works in this setting. There's no reason someone would be physically unable to use magic. It's magic, not science. Yes, I take a vaguely scientific approach to explaining how magic works and what it can and can't do. Still, it's fantasy. I don't want to pretend I'm born better than everyone else for no reason, especially when there are loads of shitty people in real life who actually think that way. I treat fantasy as a space to relax and have fun and experience things that are impossible in the real world. That's why I often play RPG characters that are different from me, whether by means of personality, sexuality, or gender...ality. Gender identity. Whatever. I wanted a rhyme.

Okay, so I got a little sidetracked. I'll be back tomorrow to talk about some of the worldbuilding I did for Atman based on the cosmology and magic detailed above.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Play That Funky Music, Wight Boy: Tabletop RPGs and Playlists

When prepping for an RPG, whether running or playing, I like to assemble a playlist on Spotify to get my headspace so, so right. Usually these are songs that fit the mood of the world, session, or character that I'm working on. I've linked a few below as examples:


Hannah

Hannah is the name of my Clock Mage from an ongoing Dungeon World campaign. She's a woman of indeterminable age who can skip forward and backward through very small segments of time. She's a widow who married into a huge and powerful wizard mafia family, and that has caused some tension as one of her fellow party members has a borderline insane vendetta against that faction. The tracks I picked for this are all about either her time powers or her chosen role in the group, which is that she has basically adopted them. She doesn't really have any stake in the group's main goal; she's there because she wants to make sure they're all okay. Those poor teens.

Erebus

I'll have a full post about Erebus in the future, but the short version is that it's a Paranormal Americana story set in a fictional Alaskan town where the sun sets for a long period of time in the winter. It's sort of a crude amalgamation of Nome and Barrow, AK. It involves things like the boogeyman, Zalmoxis, and Mothman.


Now some people like to play music during the game. This is an approach taken occasionally by Matt Mercer in Critical Role. This can be helpful, so long as your GM doesn't hide a single instance of Rick Astley somewhere in the 115 hour playlist he created like my GM did. I'd recommend keeping multiple playlists for different moods, like ambient, combat, etc. In fact, my GM goes into much more detail on the use of music in-game on his own blog, DMpathy. Check that out.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Three Video Games to Play If You're Disappointed in Mighty No. 9

Review embargo dates for Mighty No. 9, (Keiji Inafune's long-suffering Mega Man successor) have finally arrived, bringing with them a tide of tepid responses. The PS4 version, at the time of this writing, has a Metacritic score of 65, while the Xbox One version carries a cool 58. After months of delays, a handful of minor controversies, and a slowly withering sense of trust in the creator, the world is finally getting a taste of Inafune's return to game development.

But maybe you're not into it. It seems plenty of people aren't. So if these reviews have you crying like a backer on release night, maybe check out these other games. They may be different, but they're of similar scale and scope to Mighty No. 9, and some of them may even be cheaper.


OXENFREE (2016, Night School Studio, Windows, OS X, Linux, PS4, XB1)

Oxenfree is a melancholic adventure game about teens, grief, sibling relationships, radios, and ghost stories. It's very dialogue heavy, with a unique dialogue system that forces you to interrupt other characters if you ever want to say anything, much like real conversations between more than three teenagers at once.The plot is touching and emotional, and the characters are all really well written. If you like Paranormal Americana style horror (Horror is a strong word, but it's definitely a ghost story), give this one a go. The developers just recently added a New Game Plus, where you can replay the game after finishing and get different options and endings.

HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER (2016, Heart Machine, Windows, OS X | PS4/XB1 to follow)

Hyper Light Drifter is a top-down 2D action RPG in the style of the original Legend of Zelda, albeit with a slick visual style and a distinct Souls-esque vibe. This game is just dripping with style, really. You have to see it. In fact, here's the intro. The game is somewhat challenging, as befits its heritage, and gives close to no outright information about plot or setting.

SHOVEL KNIGHT (2014, Yacht Club, Windows, 3DS, WiiU, OS X, Linux, PS3, PS4, Vita, XB1, Amazon Fire TV)

Shovel Knight is the closest in style to what Mighty No. 9 was expected to be. It's a 16-bit inspired sidescrolling platformer with impeccable sprite art, an amazing chiptune soundtrack, and extremely charming character design and humor. This game is available on just about every modern system out there, and it's well worth the price of admission. It also has a ton of DLC, including extra characters and stages. Certain versions of the game also have special cameos--Kratos appears as an optional boss in the three Sony versions, for example.

There are, of course, plenty of other great titles out there if you want a quick and simple video game fix. I don't have time to describe them all here, but while you're at it, you might check out Dex, Ronin, or Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist.

Friday, June 17, 2016

BUILDING CHARACTER: The Many Faces of Reiko

Back in 2015, I attended A-Kon in Dallas. The convention, not the singer. While there are a lot of cool things there, like anime and overpriced merchandise, I spent almost all of my time in the gaming section playing Pathfinder. Now, Pathfinder isn't my favorite system, but it's the one I own the most books for, and it's the one that most people play at that convention.

Anyway, at the 2015 con I was given a pre-made character named Reiko. She was a ninja. I love ninjas. The adventure was simple--sneak into the sewers, find whatever villain was lurking there,and kill them. Acting as a lookout, I appointed myself as the party caboose. (Party Caboose? Great band name.) Reiko, I decided, was a silent and perceptive sharpshooter. I readied my shortbow and kept watch to make sure we weren't followed or flanked. We weren't--it was a con game,and that wasn't written in. The rest of the session doesn't really matter, especially since I ended up being put to sleep for the duration of the final encounter by a teammate (probably accidentally? I can't remember.). The point is, I made that quick decision to characterize her in a specific way. Silent. Careful. Perceptive.

Later on, I remade Reiko as a backup character in a 4th Edition D&D game. I started as a ninja, but then after a while I switched and built her as an Ardent. I think that was because I could get a higher Perception score that way, and the point of the character was to get the highest Perception I could without compromising the character.

In that same campaign, I ran a spin-off mini-campaign in a town somewhat isolated from our main adventures--Thaliost, for you Eberron buffs out there. As part of the setting, I added Reiko as an NPC since I knew I'd probably never get to play her otherwise. In this version, she was a Cyran Ardent and a survivor of the Day of Mourning.She had been just a few miles outside of her doomed homeland when the catastrophe struck. As an NPC, I gave her the GM fiat power to know things by looking into people's eyes--sort of like a traumatized Maz Kanata. As the plot went on, she ended up falling in love with one of the player characters, a notably spacey Kalashtar. Last we saw of her, she kissed the very confused sorcerer and went off to adventure on her own for a while.

Reiko is one of my favorite characters, and one of the two I have in my back pocket that have transcended games. I'll talk about my other cross-game character later. The core elements of Reiko, as I mentioned, are her perceptiveness, her caution, and her stealth. In the Eberron game, I reinterpreted stealth as soft-spoken and based that portrayal on Ally Sheedy's character from The Breakfast Club. I don't know how she'll show up next time, but I'm sure it'll be a good time.


(I recently rebuilt Reiko as a Pathfinder ninja to make her more in line with what I wanted her to be. For funsies, here's the stat block as I have it from a text file on my desktop. Not sure if I finished or not, this is from March of 2015.)

Lawful Neutral
STR 14
DEX 16
CON 12
INT 07
WIS 12
CHA 16

HP: 9
AC: 15
BAB: +0(+4)

Feats
Point-Blank Shot
Precise Shot
Skills
Acrobatics 1
Climb 1
Disable Device 1
Perception 1
Sleight of Hand 1
Stealth 1
Gear
Shortbow (+4/1d6+1)
Quiver (20)
Quiver (20)
Leather Armor
108 gp
Other
Poison Use
Sneak Attack 1d6

Thursday, June 16, 2016

.–. .-. — - . -.-. - / - …. . / -.-. .-…–

I just love writing things in morse code. It's so intimidating and creepy! Anyway, no blog post today. Instead,I wrote the first draft of my submission to this week's Neogaf Creative Writing Challenge Thread. You can read it here if you like:

http://red-hot-fic.tumblr.com/post/146012699819

There are also a couple other pieces on that blog if you're interested. Since this blog is more for musings, RPG notes, and opinions, I'll be posting all my fiction over on the tumblr.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

ADDITIONAL NOTES: Krynn Mage (Dungeon World playbook)

More notes from yet another stillborn RPG! This time, I'm sharing what was going to be a homebrewed Dungeon World playbook to replace the standard Wizard in a game set in the Dragonlance setting. Why did I feel the need to reinvent the wheel? Because I have a passion for half-assed homebrew. For those not in the know...

In the Dragonlance setting, there are three moons. Each is associated with its own god, and those three gods are the gods of magic. Unlike other settings, all magic comes from gods, not just divine magic. Anyway, the study of magic is strictly regimented,with three Orders based on the three moons, three gods, and three philosophies of magic. They're also given Good, Neutral, and Evil alignments, because alignments (and the balancing thereof) are a huge part of the Dragonlance setting. My intent was to translate some of the more common aspects of those different Orders into a playbook for Dungeon World. The campaign in this case was meant to essentially be Red Dawn, but in the minotaur-occupied former elven nation of Silvanesti in the aftermath of the War of Souls and Mina's ascension to godhood. Players would have been elven freedom fighters formerly of the now-scattered kirath who once patrolled the borders.

All I have is a move and some alternative character creation options. First the Orders, which would replace the racial moves for a character:

ORDERS (Replaces Race)
White Robes of Solinari: Use magic to help someone who doesn't deserve it.
Red Robes of Lunitari: Discover a secret or artifact of magic.
Black Robes of Nuitari: Gain knowledge or power through deceit or force.

I wanted to emphasize the Black and Red Orders' desire to collect power and knowledge and the White Order's instinct to help anyone if given the chance. The actual move is as follows, and would replace the Spell Defense move that standard Dungeon World Wizards have. I wanted to show what each type of wizard would most likely be like and how they might interact with the world.

Order of Magic (CHA)
When you use the reputation of your chosen Order as leverage, take +1 forward to Parley. In addition, you gain the move associated with your Order:

Dark Charms (Requires Black Robes)
When you use your wit and charm (and perhaps a dab of magic) to worm out of trouble, roll+CHA.
On a 10+, you're free to go, choose 1. On a 7-9, your crime is recognized, but still choose 1.
- A good person is impressed by you.
- You make an loyal ally of a foolish person.
- You did one extra thing they don't know about yet, describe it.

Studious Mind (Requires Red Robes)
When you spend a moonlit night preparing for additional contingencies, roll+INT.
On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7-9, hold 1.
Spend your hold at any time to:
-Ask an additional question from Discern Realities, even on a miss.
-Take +1 forward on Spout Lore regarding something magical.
-Remember the perfect counterspell at just the right moment. 
On a 6-, hold 1 anyway, but you stay up too late studying and the GM will give you a debility for the following day.

Solinari's Warding (Requires White Robes)
When you stand against evil and invoke Solinari's light, roll+WIS.
On a 10+, choose 3. On a 7-9, choose 1.
- Your allies take +1 armor forward.
- One of your allies will ignore a debility in the coming battle.
- Your enemy is blinded or otherwise inconvenienced by a piercing incandescence.

Feel free to snatch these moves up for your home games; I know Dragonlance is super popular.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

ADDITIONAL NOTES: The Khidran Principalities

Last year, I created a homebrewed setting for a tabletop RPG campaign I had intended to run in Cypher. It was going to be a fantasy setting in a post post-apocalypse world with themes like reincarnation, cycles, and fate being primary focuses. This game never happened, but I recently found these notes on the creation of one of the larger nations in the setting. I won't say this is perfect, but it's definitely my favorite of the nations I had made up.

The Khidran Principalities

The Khidran Principalities, or Khidra, is a state comprised of three cultures united by the Treaty of Garuda. The Bator and the Rashesh were once feuding states, with the docile Kito trapped between. Eventually the wars grew too much, and a Kito princess interrupted the Battle of the Bridges to quell both sides. In folklore, she was married to the wind and the wind created for her a typhoon that rent the two armies to shreds. Now the three peoples live in relative peace with each other.

The Rashesh live in the desert. They wear polished wooden masks and swoop gracefully over the dunes thanks to their magical footwear. Their sandstriders are quick and deadly with scimitars. They generally have a fondness for flowing clothes that fly behind them as they cross the desert. Despite being a part of Khidra, the Rashesh are very secretive about their own culture and are reluctant
to let outsiders see their traditional ceremonies and festivals.

The Bator live on the open plains. They ride the sturdiest breed of horse in the world and are matched in horsemanship only by the cavalry of Froll across the Petran Mountains in the east. Their archers fire from horseback, providing a mobile skirmishing force that can attack almost any position. They do not have gendered pronouns in their native tongue, instead likening people to one of four ancient folk heroes, each representing a different virtue or personality type.

The Kito live on the great rivers the separate the Rashesh and the Bator. They are a quiet people, both literally and politically. They use hand signs and pictorial drawings as their primary language, and they are known for their subtlety in many areas. They are known chroniclers and preservers, recording new stories and information from other lands when they get the opportunity. Some say the Kito possess the ability to breathe underwater, but these claims have not been substantially proven as genetic inherency.

My intent with this was to make a culture that was comprised of multiple older cultures that were forced to mingle and coexist. The founding happened so long ago, and the individual industries and politics were so entwined, that by the time we see it in a campaign, there's no way to really extricate one from the rest. It also presents some opportunities for passionate human enemies like hypernationalistic terrorists or confronting ideas like the suppression of a less dominant culture in the world by bigger, louder voices. Also, racism probably? I never really got to play around with the place, since I never ran the game.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Robots, Pastels, and the Sea: Three Good Vibes Anime to Brighten Your Day

I like dark and gritty morality dramas as much as the next guy, but sometimes that's not what you want. Sometimes you just want some nice, fun adventures or colorful and exotic worlds. Nothing wrong with that. Things have been heavy recently. Some might say things have always been heavy. That's where these come in. These are some of my favorite shows that feature some degree of optimism, light-hearted fun, or just general warm fuzzy feelings.

1) Gatchaman Crowds
A reboot of the classic 70s anime Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, this anime is a bright and cheery story about a group of teens who protect the world from aliens, especially the sadistic Berg-Katze. It features a very stylish aesthetic and an absolutely stellar soundtrack. On top of that, the tone is just generally hopeful. The way it views things like the internet and human nature are unusually optimistic for a show like this. It also features a smattering of nonbinary gendered characters, if you appreciate that sort of thing (and I do). Also of note is the finale--the final confrontation with the villain isn't even shown on screen, because their philosophical defeat is the focus of the climax, not the physical struggle. It's definitely a little weird, but if you like quirky and happy stories, this one's for you.

2) Voltron: Legendary Defender
Another reboot of a classic anime, Voltron: Legendary Defender just premiered on Netflix last week. From the animation studio behind Legend of Korra, and featuring a couple of other names with the Avatar/Korra pedigree, this reimagining of the old school Voltron is a snappy, modern take. Five teens reunite the five Voltron lions and become Paladins of Voltron to fight back against a galaxy-spanning empire. The characters, especially the space princess keeping the team together, are fun and likable, and the alien designsare great--almost no generic sexy space lady aliens. The music is a cool, synthy affair that adds to the cozy space anime vibe. There are some flaws--the villains are barely explored, with a few very interesting implications about their place in the world sneaking in at the last second in the final episode. The pilot is also the weakest part, but if you can endure a little bit of kids' show exposition, it's fine. At only ten 22 minute episodes (plus the hour long pilot), this show is perfect for binging.

3) Squid Girl
Squid Girl is a conqueror of the deep come to punish the wicked surface dwellers for polluting the ocean. Unfortunately, she's woefully and adorably incompetent, and gets roped into working at a beachside restaurant instead of exacting vengeance on mankind. This show is cute and funny, and depending on which dub you watch, full of squid puns. It's kind of a slice of life style show that follows our hero as she learns about human culture. This is the one I have the least to say on, because I never got around to finishing it. But it's good!

Hopefully you find these to be as cathartic as I did. If not, there are plenty of other happy shows out there, and some of them aren't even anime. These are just the ones that I'd curl up and get cozy to, and I encourage you to do the same.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

ADDITIONAL NOTES: Psychopocalypse

What follows is the campaign intro/setting pitch for a post-apocalyptic tabletop RPG that I never got around to running. I wanted to play around with the post-apocalypse setting and trappings without just being a ripoff of Mad Max, which had just recently come out at the time I wrote this. The result reminds me more of Deadlands than Mad Max, and I'm pretty okay with that.

Some said the world would end in fire. But the fires that killed the world were not the flames of torches or the rains of nuclear destruction. Even the people of the Enlightened Age could not foresee their own demise. In a way,they were as far from enlightenment as they could have been. None of them could have predicted the end, for the fires that killed the world were born of the same sparks that created it: the human mind.

There once were people who knew, who understood what humanity was capable of. But man fears what it does not understand, and so we came to suppress our true nature. We abandoned the old ways to seek comfort and stability in a world of cold logic and scientific fact. Even so, the human ego is irrepressible. We never quite shook the feeling that there was something special about us. Something that set us apart from the beasts of the fields. We didn't know, at the time, that what we called sentience, intelligence, was so much more. We cast out and put to the sword the only people who could have prevented all this thousands of years before it happened.

Time marched on, and after ages of strife, countless wars and struggles, a pressure grew. Like a weight on a garden hose. All the emotions of life and war and death grew and grew, suppressed without outlet. Eventually, it became too much. In one violent burst, all the trauma of the human race was unleashed upon the world. On that day, the psychosphere erupted from our collective minds and shattered the world.

The maelstrom of psychic energy ravaged the planet for over a week, blasting the ground with crackling lightning and shaking the earth with thunderclaps. Tornadoes of impossible speeds cut through mountains like drills and reshaped anything it their paths. When at last the skies cleared, we emerged from the rubble and gazed upon the wreckage. We could all feel the psychosphere--a shifting field of energy surrounding the planet. Some could see it, shimmering and swirling in the skies. Others simply felt a new uneasiness, a taste of aluminum and ash in the back of their mouth.

With the pressure relieved, mankind has rediscovered its potential. Some welcome the advent of psychic powers, marveling at the accomplishments made possible by a single esper, while others shun and persecute those who they label as corrupted or infected by the psychosphere. People cluster together in compounds and camps, eking out their existence under the thumb of whoever's the biggest dog. Civilization has been relegated to a scattering of bright spots on a canvas of darkness. Out in the wilderness, a man can be his own man and answer to nothing but his thirst and his gun, and a well-trained esper  or two can make even a gang of bandits think twice before accosting them. But there are more dangerous things than bandits in the weird wastes, things that watch from the shadows and have no names...

I never settled on a system for this game, and group interest eventually waned. Today, if pressed, I'd probably run it in Monte Cook's Cypher System. Foci allow for diversity of expression when it comes to powers and abilities, and I like the idea of psychic powers in this setting being kind of like martial arts. Anyone can punch a dude, but only a trained martial artist can accomplish certain advanced tasks, and every interpretation of any given technique would yield vastly different results.

I did re-purpose this setting in a project that I started last November for NaNoWriMo, but that never really got off the ground. I may do a writeup of the characters and notes I still have for this game in the future.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

BUILDING CHARACTER: Damien Allondar

When I was told by my regular and somewhat long-time Dungeon Master that our new campaign, following the two-year long one we had just completed, would migrate from the fun and flawed 3.5 edition of yore to the newer, sexier, and simpler 4th edition, I did what I always do when presented with a new and exciting RPG system: Immediately find the black sheep of the game's splatbooks and make a character from it simply because I know that it will be a particularly unique character. This same instinct is what led me to bring Skarn from the 3.5 edition sourcebook Magic of Incarnum into our campaign, which led to the species becoming an integral part of our homebrew setting. With 4th edition, ended up looking through the Heroes of Shadow book. Though I didn't know it at the time, I was doing the same thing as I had with the Skarn.

Damien was the first 4th edition character I ever made, and is memorable for entirely the wrong reasons. I only played him once. Damien was cool. He was a lot of things, in fact, but his defining aspect was that he was cool. He looked like Vampire Hunter D, but had all the charm and panache of a swashbuckler. He had a silver tongue and a lightning-quick blade. But no one liked him. Why? Astute readers will know that the vampire class in 4th edition has extremely little freedom in character creation, especially when compared to the rest of the system. The problem was not that Damien wasn't pulling his weight on the battlefield. The problem was that Damien had no reason to BE on the battlefield. Damien was an eladrin (high elf) who had once been a bit of a party animal. Then he had the misfortune of being seduced by a vampire and turned into a thrall. Luckily, his brothers and friends came to the rescue and slew the creature, freeing him from her control--though his vampiric affliction was incurable. After this, he mellowed out quite a bit, leaving his party days behind as he focused more on what he could use his newfound power and lifespan to accomplish. We were playing in the Eberron setting, which encourages player diversity in terms of race, class, etc. But we had a problem. Why would Damien be with the group? He had plenty of things he could do, like wander the world and do good deeds--but why here? Why with this group of individuals?

A more serious problem revealed itself to me as the session wore on: Damien's arc was over. He had already confronted the consequences of his recklessness, and had paid a dear price for his pride. He had come to terms with and accepted his own flaws and shortcomings. He had nowhere to grow, and nowhere to evolve. He wasn't a player character. He was an NPC. Now if that doesn't sound objectionable to you, you can go right ahead and play that type of character. But in my group, my DM and fellow players expect a certain amount of fluidity in our characters. We like to see characters grow and change, to rise or fall as the dice roll or the plot demands. But Damien had little to work with when trying to integrate him into the story at large. The only thing worse than a bad character is one who doesn't belong. Those issues combined with the fact that no one was willing to roleplay a character who was as relaxed and nonchalant about Damien's condition as he was proved to be a jarring clash of characters. So I swapped him out. But he's still in my worn green binder of character sheets. You never know when you might need a vampire.

Friday, June 10, 2016

An Excerpt from the Journals of Podcasting

There are some things you talk about around the water cooler. Or, rather, would. If you had one. Perhaps the latest Game of Thrones or Walking Dead. But I don't really watch TV, both because I just don't care to and because I don't even have cable. Serial media in general is hard for me to keep up with. If I fall off, even for a moment, I almost never regain my momentum. It's why I watched nine seasons of Scrubs in half as many days. When it comes to shows, I usually have to wait for it to be out and over with before I start.

That's why I like podcasts. I can listen to them just about anywhere, so I don't need to set aside special time for them. Since I am a security guard who works nights, podcasts are the perfect type of entertainment that can get me through the long hours of nothing without getting me in trouble for bringing in a book or a laptop. One type of podcast that I have started listening to of late is the actual play genre, which essentially is like a Let's Play, but of a tabletop RPG like Dungeons & Dragons.
Friends at the Table is an actual play podcast focused on critical worldbuilding, smart characterization, and fun interactions between good friends. Says so right at the start of every episode. I have been following this podcast for about ten months now, getting to know its world and characters. It's become a big part of my creative mind as I see fan art and interact with the showrunners on twitter (read: hassle).

Their most recent season, called COUNTER/Weight, is a 43 episode space opera with heavy cyberpunk and anime influences. In the wake of a galactic war, we follow the adventures of four spectacular individuals. As bounty hunters and problem solvers, they navigate the treacherous post-war politics of the planet Counterweight while slowly unraveling the mysteries of the galaxy around them. Mysteries that draw them ever closer to another war--or worse. Along the way, they meet some of the most colorful characters I've ever seen, including the fan favorite: a character inspired by the rapper Riff Raff.

Sounds familiar, right? Standard adventuring party stuff. But FatT adds another layer. Then a few more. On a monthly basis, the game shifts to a galactic scale, and we watch the factions and powerhouses of the Golden Branch Star Sector trade blows, forge alliances, awaken ancient evils, and generally cause ripples throughout the sector that affect the ground level game. Then the next layer gets added. For the Friends at the Table Holiday Special, they take a look back at the Golden War nine years prior, exploring the actions and motives of its heroes and villains. Another flashback later on takes us even farther back some 80,000 years before the start of the campaign, and one episode shows us scenes from so long ago I can't even remember the chronology.

This could easily be cumbersome and dense, but it's all welded together by the airtight pre- and post-episode narrations by the GM, Austin Walker. This dude is easily among my favorite GMs, and I'd put him up alongside the greats like Chris Perkins and Matt Mercer. This is obviously a very different beast, but Austin delivers tone and setting so skillfully that I just have to give him some major props. I was so invested in the world created by this show that background characters with no speaking parts were among my favorites just because of where they came from and what they could do.

It's refreshing to see something end with intent. All too often I see things, especially serial media, end on either a cliffhanger or a gentle fade into obscurity and mediocrity. COUNTER/Weight ends with a gut-wrenching series of vignettes showcasing all of the people and places that we've come to love over the last year. Then Austin gives one last ending narration before we see one last scene, tinged with nostalgia, that doesn't end with credits or music, but fades out as we contentedly unfocus from the world, its story told and done.

On top of the actual content, the delivery and presentation are top-notch. Music is provided by one of the players, Jack de Quidt, which you can find at the link below, and it's masterfully spliced into the audio mix by another player, Alicia Acampora. While I loved every episode of the show, it switches systems in episode 10. The change from MechNoir to The Sprawl brings some stability and consistency to the game, and you're totally able to jump in at that point if you want a more streamlined listening experience. If you do, however, I'd strongly suggest you still listen to episodes 0, 5, and 9, as they provide quite a bit of crucial context to the setting.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this is knowing that I'm carrying these warm memories alone. None of my friends have gotten around to listening to COUNTER/Weight, as none of them have the spare time I do. I'm walking around with this piece of media that I love, with awesome moments that blew me away just like when I watched...well, I was going to give examples, but they're mostly anime. I'll just say "more public works." But my point is that since I don't know anyone else who's listened to this show, I have these moments to myself. They are purely my own memories, and it's a very unique feeling. Kind of like imagining that perfect anime you wish was real, except it is. In the words of Ibex, Candidate of Righteousness, it's a special kind of warmth.


Friends at the Table can be found here: http://friendsatthetable.net/
and here: http://twitter.com/Friends_Table
The soundtrack, by Jack de Quidt, can be found here: https://notquitereal.bandcamp.com/

And lastly, I'll just direct you to the creators' twitter accounts.

Austin Walker, GM: http://twitter.com/austin_walker
Ali Acampora, Aria Joie & Jace Rethal: http://twitter.com/ali_west
Keith Carberry, Mako Trig & Sokrates Nikon Artemisios: http://twitter.com/keithjcarberry
Art Tebbel, Cassander Timaeus Berenice & Addax: http://twitter.com/atebbel
Jack de Quidt, Automated Dynamics ("AuDy") & Orth Godlove: http://twitter.com/notquitereal
Andi Clare, Faction Game, Tea Kenridge, & Jillian Red: http://twitter.com/captaintrash
Andrew Swan, Faction Game, Natalya Greaves, & Kobus: http://twitter.com/swandre3000