Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Apocalypse World: Power & Glory (3rd session)

This is my first blog post about this game.

William H. Esquire Esquire is a bar and brothel owner, he stumbled across the Arcade and has made the most of it, but now is looking to upgrade the business. There were once games on the second floor but most of them are in various states of disrepair. He spent a week traveling south to the Barges with his custodian, Lovelace, looking to hire a technician to bring back to his Arcade only to find that he had permanently soured his relationship with Rolfball, one of the Barges leaders. As Rolfball's men hunted William H. Esquire Esq. another local stirred up dissent against Rolfball, and a gang war ensued. William H. Esquire Esq. slipped away from the Barges and when he returned home from his journey found that a technician had already settled in the makeshift town around his Arcade. Now he seems to have no worries, as a few small gangs followed him back to the Arcade and seem to be bringing some much needed customers back to his part of the world.

Gau is a member of the Good Deal tribe, named such by others since they always seem to give good deals on the food they trade. Gau has been working for William H. Esquire Esq. for several weeks now, acting as a guide on his trip to the Barges and sometimes as a guard at the Arcade. Gau is an excellent tracker and survivalist, and his skills seem to be going to waste while he hangs out with William H. Esquire Esq. which is perhaps why he has taken up a drug habit. Except the drugs that Lovelace supplies give him visions of things that were and things that are and things to come. It's all very unsettling. In the meantime, Gau's tribe is also branching out...

Snail is a scrawny man hiding away inside of a giant spherical suit of advanced technological origin. He calls the suit the House and seems to have a unique connection to it that allows him to communicate with it's mechanical brain. He followed William H. Esquire Esq. back to the Arcade with the promise of assisting the business, but now that he has arrived the House has other plans and has coerced him to settle into the town underneath a tree. This tree just appeared one day as a sinkhole swallowed part of the town and nobody seems to question it, but nobody in town wants to go near the tree either. Except for Snail and Kidboy.

Kidboy was orphaned in the Barges when the fighting first broke out between Barker, Rolfball, Gnarly, and Jackabacka. In the wake of another fight that left Rolfball and Jackabacka dead, Kidboy followed William H. Esquire Esq. back to the Arcade under promises of games to play and style to be learned. Kidboy was instrumental in getting power back to the second floor of the Arcade and now spends his time playing an old beat up Ms.Pac-Man cabinet.

Spector is good with her hands and has an uncanny technological knowledge that lets her build or repair just about anything. She's new to the Arcade, having fled the increasingly theocratic reign over Hanford from the Church of the Reformed Autumn. Spector was once a member of the church, but is not old enough to remember when Autumn returned to the facility underneath Hanford. She is old enough to remember the last time cultists from Montana traded in Hanford, and spoke of the Arcade to the west, where their once and future prophet The Truth died. Lamprey's occasional visits to Hanford helped embolden her decision to leave when he arrived with news that William H. Esquire Esq. was looking for somebody to repair his games.

Clyde followed William H. Esquire Esq.'s group back to the Arcade, but once there he stayed out of sight and was never seen nor heard from by anyone.

In the last session
William H. Esquire Esq. was very happy that Rolfball's old gang, the Ballers, and Jackabacka's tribe, the Swampys, followed him back to the Arcade. It could only mean he would have more customers! Within one day the Ballers spoiled that illusion by burning down half of the still-standing warehouse where Spector was sleeping, and the Swampys continued to exercise their cannibalistic dietary practices when they found the freshly killed body of Twice, one of William H. Esquire Esq.'s prostitutes.
Spector spent her waking hours drinking booze, looking for a place to set up home (twice), and trying to fix the Arcade's second floor power issues and while there was no lack of supplies, she found Kidboy's assistance invaluable due to his thin arms.
The tree on the edge of town seemed to grow in the night and turned over earth and dirt as it grew. Kidboy grew bold and tried to climb the tree with little difficulty, but when he plucked a leaf from one of the branches was thrown to the ground by the branches of the tree itself. While he was dazed on the ground, Snail opened up the House to Kidboy and the House searched Kidboy's mind and soul. After this, Snail offered a deal. If Kidboy would deliver Gau's gnarly hat to Snail then he would offer Kidboy anything he wanted from the House.
Gau had his hands full after taking some weird drugs, having visions of a gun fight in the Arcade and then falling asleep to visions of the previous owner's love life. William H. Esquire Esq.'s bouncer, Happy, kept trying to take Gau or Kidboy back to his home but was thwarted by William H. Esquire Esq. at every opportunity.
The next day, when William H. Esquire Esq. faced off with some of the Ballers trying to wreck the mobile crane in the center of the yard, he noticed some of the Swampys feasting on his missing prostitute Twice. He called his gang over and ordered them to force a halt to the cannibalism, during the fighting a few people died and Gau was hurt, but the Swampys promised to stop eating people.
A visitor to the Arcade, a one-eyed pimply-faced teenager named Ritchie, brought some good barter into town, but he left as soon as the fighting died down.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

0206 Rhodesia (Empire)

Atmosphere: Breathable
Surface Water: 80%
Weather/Climate: Temperate/Normal
Biosphere: Miscible
Population: 2 billion (Tech 4)
Tags: Psionics Worship, Pilgrimage Site

Rhodesia is a wealthy and powerful Imperial system; most Imperial Naval officers and commanders hail from Rhodesia. It has an unusually dense core but surprisingly little tectonic activity. The population of Rhodesia generally revere psionic powers, and anybody who shows a genetic predisposition toward the development of psionic powers is given academic patronage by the state. The rest of the population works in the shadows of the psionic elite, scrabbling an existence as farmers on the rocky slopes of the many landmasses or fishing the vast oceans.

When Rhodesia and Elizabeth reunited there was a brief culture clash, but Elizabeth have integrated Rhodesian psychics into most positions of political or military power. Only the reigning monarchy of Elizabeth seems to be the only remaining bastion of leaders without psionics, but Rhodesian officials have plans to integrate their own nobles into the royal lineage.

In the wake of exploration and expansion, a hardscrabble band of rebels (terrorists?) have arisen on Rhodesia with the sole aim of limiting psionic power and deposing the psychic leadership in favor for civilian democratic rule. They are incredibly unpopular but have so far eluded capture and elimination in most levels of government where they work their sabotage.

Law: Repressive
Starbase: A class, in orbit; A class, on surface

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ghostwood Haunts, by Johnstone Metzger

Ghostwood Haunts is the third of Johnstone Metzger's Dungeon World series, and while it's the third in the series it doesn't directly follow the events of either of the previous two modules. It does, however, focus on a town called Knifesbridge and Metzger's other series of modules is named River Knife. Crossovers are definitely possible, but don't seem expected or necessary.

I have to say that I wish all adventure modules were written like this.

None of Metzger's previous works feel like traditional adventure modules in any sense of the words, there is never really a central plot or story but you're given an environment, perhaps a mountainous valley or an island or a riverside town, with all of the tools for introducing a series of events that can lead to really bad things happening. In Ghostwood Haunts, if the players neglect or ignore any one event than the greedy brigands or undead things lurking in the shadows will quickly take control of or destroy the township caught in the middle.

In this adventure an unscrupulous mayor holds sway over the town of Knifesbridge where the populace is being terrorized by bandits calling themselves the Wolf Pack. This threat, though formidable, almost seems like a red herring compared to the coven of witch-ghosts that populate the town and the Ghostwood surrounding it. While it takes some work to free these witches from their undead prisons, one careless player could conceivably do it while searching for the Wolf Pack, and one NPC will definitely do it if the players spend too long attempting to smoke out the Wolf Pack from their hideouts.

Metzger illustrates many connections and details between the NPCs and threats, but even if a piece of info seems useless it's still usable and can feed back onto the adventure he has outlined in some way. The names of some of the NPCs seem contrived or lazily written, and maybe that's because he expects you to change them, for example there is no way I'm ever going to refer to the mayor as Old King Cole. But otherwise, I really enjoyed reading this and plan on using this the next time I GM as there is plenty of wiggle room to file off the serial numbers and place this town into any fantasy setting.

You can purchase both pdf and print versions of "DW3 - Ghostwood Haunts" at DriveThruRPG or just a print version at Lulu
Johnstone Metzger also has a blog and a patreon campaign for writing up monsters in Dungeon World and Labyrinth Lord stats

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Island of Fire Mountain, by Johnstone Metzger

Island of Fire Mountain is given the code DW2, it's the second Dungeon World adventure by Johnstone Metzger though it doesn't directly connect to or follow the events of "DW1 - Lair of the Unknown" and after the scenario presented in that first adventure you could be forgiven for assuming that this module is a callback to another famous D&D module. It definitely has some similarities but the inhabitants and plotline are wholly original.

There is no railroading and there is no predetermined mission for the island. If this adventure had been published as a Labyrinth Lord (or any other similar OSR rule system) module then it would probably be classified as a hexcrawl. The booklet consists of five parts; an introduction laying out the island with ways of landing the PCs onto it along with two fronts for creating conflicts with the colonial inhabitants and the tribal natives, a section on the colonial fort that has been practically abandoned but is still occupied by desperate ne'er-do-wells hoping to find a way off the island, the middle part describes the island proper with all of its natives both humane and monstrous, the fourth part describes a ruined city at the base of the island's central volcano in the heart of the jungle, and the last section is a collection of custom rules and a new class to introduce to your game if you feel they're appropriate.

This book is brimming with possibilities. There is no central plotline or story, but there are conflicts that could arise and there is plenty of legroom for a creative GM to take what is here and mold it to fit around her PCs. I kept finding parts of the adventure really inspiring and I repeatedly found myself wishing I was running a game this weekend. Many of the monsters are unique and provide plenty of healthy challenges even before the stories of the NPCs might warp or twist the goals of the players. I love-love-LOVE the Cyclopeans and their strange connection to the cannibals on the island, I would probably use them outside of the adventure if I could get away with transplanting them to multiple environments.

The elementalist class at the back of the book is very cool and interesting, but many aspects of it are vaguely written and I think it's the weakest feature of the book. There are eight tables of grim portents scattered throughout the module and I can't tell you how many times I flipped through the book reading the portents, looking at the NPCs, and studying the map. I was really taken with this adventure, perhaps because I like the idea of stranding some hapless adventurers on a wild and savage island with little to no hope of escape.

You can purchase pdf and print versions of "DW2 - Island of Fire Mountain" at DriveThruRPG or just a print version at Lulu
Johnstone Metzger also has a blog and a patreon campaign for writing up monsters in Dungeon World and Labyrinth Lord stats

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

hit points

I was thinking about how much I hate hit points. When I was playing D&D as a kid and earning levels it was the first thing I latched onto as a symbol of power. Lots of hit points meant you could survive fights longer so in kid logic it meant you were tougher. When I started looking at how the classes had different rates of earning hit points I started to question the rules, my first finagling doubts that D&D wasn't perfect. About the same time I started reading Dragon magazine and if the pages of Out On A Limb (and later called Forum) are to be believed it was a subject of much contention that hit points made no logical sense. That some PCs could achieve triple digit amounts of hit points only added fuel to the fire. It's also a bit of a joke, a 1st-level wizard can be taken out by a housecat due to his abysmally low starting HP.

The game HOL, Human Occupied Landfill, had a rule that every living thing has 20 "hit points" and damage had different thresholds which were adjusted by size and damage type. Hit a bunny with a hammer and you'll cripple it if you don't kill it outright. Hit a man with a hammer and you'll do some damage. Hit a man in powered armor with a hammer and he'll laugh at you. In theory it made a lot of sense but in practice it tended to be wonky and weird and too much math, thus no fun. But the idea really appealed to me and has stuck with me ever since I first read it.

There's a need players have to gain in strength and power as they advance their characters, and there's also a need for some level of realism that allows a suspension of disbelief. It occurred to me the other day that it would be very easy to fulfill the two by returning to the idea that everybody starts with the same amount of hit points but relative to who they are they can increase, without the need to alter anything in the rulebooks.

Every PC has 5 hit points and adds their current level. Constitution modifiers now count as double, but are only applied once.

Let's look at it in practice:
1st level Wizard with CON 10 = 6 HP
1st level Fighter with CON 10 = 6 HP
1st level Wizard with CON 15 (+1) = 8 HP
1st level Fighter with CON 5 (-1) = 4 HP

Now there's a real incentive to NOT have a low Constitution starting out. But this equation does create one obvious problem: How do you compensate for monsters' hit points? All those stats with varying levels of Hit Dice? Another simple equation that can be done just by looking at HD under a monster's stat block. Monsters get 1d8 for HD, so their equation is MAXd8+level. But this creates another question: what about when a monster has a +1 or +2 next their HD number? Just add it to the total. A monster with HD 3+2 would then be 8+3+2 = 13 hit points.

How would this look?
Ogres have HD 4+1 = 13 HP
Trolls have HD 6+6 = 20 HP
Young Red Dragons have HD 13 = 21 HP
Adult Red Dragons have HD 17 = 25 HP

Armor Class becomes a much bigger factor at higher levels now. Ogres have AC 5, Trolls have AC 4, and those Dragons have AC -2 (Young) and -4 (Adult). This greatly enhances the perceptual value of seemingly "low powered" magic items as well. Having a +1 sword suddenly becomes really valuable to the PC wielding it. I haven't looked at books or tables beyond 1st or 2nd edition AD&D so I'm not sure how it work with 3rd edition books, I know some monsters are given different die type so I would have to account for that, and I think magical damage probably needs to be adjusted to compensate for the low numbers but for now I think this works pretty solidly as a simple and elegant system to build off of. Leaving it as is means that Wizards become MUCH more powerful earlier on (casting Magic Missile at 3rd level is possibly deadlyand 5th level Wizards basically become murder machines), and 5th level or higher Clerics can basically heal anybody instantly (maybe kind DMs would allow healing to "bleed" off onto multiple targets).

* - in 1st edition AD&D some monsters were given HUGE modifiers to their hit points, probably to ensure they were difficult to kill regardless of what the DM rolled

Sunday, June 8, 2014


WATCH_DOGS is a game for dudebros. Steeped in manly male manmeat, the man character is a gruff take-no-prisoners antihero who will steal your money and shoot you if you're black. He might be one of those pansy hackers who would normally be sat behind a computer sucking on Mountain Dew and pissing into the bottle after it's empty because nothing can tear them away from their screens, but he wears a stylish hat and a trenchcoat, plus his voice is deep and gravelly, so you know he's a tough guy who don't piss in no bottles. But he's not really a hacker anyway, he's got an app on his cellphone which turns it into a magic wand, it lets him turn on all the traffic lights at an intersection, steal money from some bank accounts, steal any car including ones that look like they were produced before the internet existed, or pop steam tunnels in the road that conveniently disable cars but never ever stop spewing out cubic tons of steam.

In WATCH_DOGS, your man character will beat up gangsters, shoot fixers (which is an obscure way of saying hitmen), collect massive amounts of weaponry that all fit underneath his stylish trenchcoat, construct rudimentary explosives and mp3 players that are the size of a fucking light switch yet somehow will never be able to construct a portable camera or drone, and spy on any citizen, all in a way that totally doesn't rip off any other open world games with better storylines or more interesting casts of characters.

You'll meet Jordi Chin, a badass Asian hitman who should be the character you are playing but you're probably a white male and playing an Asian doesn't get you to pay $60 for games so he's relegated to smartass sidekick and for some stupid reason likes the man character and does favors for him. Jordi is the most interesting and likeable character, but since you're not playing him that means he will probably betray the man character in the second to last mission.

You'll work with Clara Lille, the goth hacker who serves as the nerdbait stand-in plagiarized out of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but without all of that uncomfortably pesky rape storyline, or any storyline really. The man character's search for the hacker who is responsible for his niece's death will almost assuredly lead to her judging from the way she's always looking at Aidan like he's a walking dildo that she feels guilty about not cleaning.

There are other characters in this game, but they're so one-dimensional it actually hurts my psyche just thinking about writing about them. There are some missions you will probably enjoy playing, especially if you like getting chased by cops for 30 minutes at a time, or trying to disable somebody's car so you can knock him down to the ground with your nightstick while he's surrounded by a fucking platoon of soldiers with body armor and assault rifles, or playing poker where the computer opponents will say things like "Too rich for my blood" as they raise the pot because apparently they are all mentally disabled, or playing drinking games which are really just contrived quick time events.

I played the demo for Super Time Force for less than 10 minutes and had more fun than I had playing WATCH_DOGS for four hours. In summation, play something else!
But you won't.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Shadows of Umberto, by Joe Banner

Shadows of Umberto could be thought of as a city sourcebook, but there's enough detail here to turn it into a full campaign setting. Right away, I notice that it has a different layout and design than Joe Banner's previous module, the Green Scar. The maps are now in colour and the pdf has a wider 2-page spread. I'm not sure if this is more useful, because when I print it off now I feel like I need to bend all of the pages in half to make it a proper booklet.

"Shadows of Umberto" feels like Conan meets Arabian Tales, or sword & sorcery meets romantic political intrigue. It is divided into three sections, the first ("Shadows") details the brief history of the city and provides you with plenty of hooks and hazards to introduce to your players, the second ("Darkness") covers a very comprehensive detailing of local threats and monsters along with some choice encounters which have fictional triggers but could almost be used as random events as well, and the final section ("Dawn") introduces some custom moves for navigating Umberto along with some memorable NPCs that could be hired by the players. There is a wealth of details packed into a small space and I think I would find myself having a hard time using all of it.

My only real complaint about "Shadows of Umberto" is that it's too short. Yes, there's a lot of good information here and none of it seems unnecessary or unusable, but somehow it leaves me wanting more. I really like the simple layout of the pdf, but I feel like the 2-pages-on-1-page format of the pdf is best for reading from a tablet or laptop, and I would like to see something that is convenient for printing too. Again I'm stymied by a technical issue, but I am a picky bastard when it comes to this stuff.

You can purchase the pdf of "Shadows of Umberto" at DriveThruRPG

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Green Scar, by Joe Banner

The Green Scar is a very inventive and compelling three-part adventure, but it could act as an entire campaign setting with the adventure acting as the skeleton underneath the setting. Somehow the author manages to create a jungle setting that is unstuck from time, where the players could find themselves warping in and out of the past and the future, and he fills this jungle and the town closest to it with plenty of other perils in addition to this without making the adventure feel bloated or complex.

The first half of the pdf deals with the jungle and the Stone Glade, the primary setting that will vex your players, but it seems more fitting to call this the first act of the drama that is unfolding for them. I think these first 30 pages have enough detail and interesting ideas that are enough to build an entire series of adventures off of, there is even a compendium class that fits seamlessly into everything. There are only two tracks of grim portents, and it would be easy for an enterprising GM to stretch out what is here or even add a few more. The second half of the book details the closest piece of civilization, the town of Brink, and there is a separate adventure here with a completely different pace and theme stretching between the town and an airship where an industrialist is going to destroy the jungle, and in so doing might also destroy a lot more!

There is a lot to like about the Green Scar. I like the dungeon moves, and how the dungeon moves aren't literally used for dungeons but instead for a jungle, a town, and an airship. I like the history behind the Stone Glade and the frogmen, though it seems like you would need players who are curious about it in order to reveal pieces of it, and I like the fact that each of the three parts of this adventure can easily be altered to stand all by itself. There are only two things I didn't like. First, the design of the download is not implemented very well. The maps come bundled as additional pdfs instead of jpgs, and there is a separated beastiary file which would work great as a little printable booklet, but the pages seem to be designed for a full 8.5 x 11 format. I kept imagining how the layout and the design of all the moving parts could work better and I take that as a sign that what was here was lacking. Second, the author spends several pages giving GM advice which is almost identical to what I've read in the Dungeon World rulebook and so I consider it unnecessary. Since these are technical complaints they are barely worth mentioning, as the adventure itself is very good despite them.

You can purchase the pdf of "The Green Scar" at DriveThruRPG