Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Black Sun Deathcrawl

This is the bleakest setting I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Black Sun Deathcrawl is a Dungeon Crawl Classics setting by James MacGeorge.  Imagine the unforgiving world of Dark Sun, the bleak pulp atomic horror of Carcosa, the dark fantasy of Dark Souls, the existential dread of Wraith: the Oblivion.

Black Sun Deathcrawl is worse than all of them.

Many years ago, the apocalypse happened.  The evil Black Sun became ascendant, turning the world to waste.  Its merciless rays have worn the world smooth and featureless.  Its wicked thoughts have taken shape as monsters that harry the few survivors, and push forth with the rays of the Black Sun.  The few survivors became the immortal and mutated Cursed, forced to eternal mutation under the harsh rays of the Black Sun.  The apocalypse was so total, even the gods have fled this landscape.  The only respite from the Black Sun is to dig.  Dig far underground in the hopes of escaping.

Of course, to dig means allowing the rays to penetrate the ground and eventually corrupt the entire planet.  By saving themselves, they doom the world.

It's a short zine, so you get only the barest flavor of the setting.  Fortunately, this means it does not stay overlong nor become tiresome.  Characters start as first level Fighters, but have already gained mutations from the Black Sun's corruption, and will gain more as exposure continues.  Death is not permanent, as characters return from the grave (bearing additional mutations!) within a round.  (Characters can die permanently if they run out of Hope, which replaces the Luck stat — committing suicide might be the only way to "win" at the setting.)  The only hope spot of the setting is that the Black Sun's gravity will eventually pull in existence around it and end its evil.  That's certainly small comfort to your PCs, of course — it could be millennia before that happens.

The zine ends with a sample adventure — the PCs dig into a city of dwarfs, but they bring the corrupting influence of the Black Sun with them, and are forced to flee deeper into the earth.  It plays a lot like the horror-march of Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now — you'll see a lot of horrific tableaus, some of which you can rage against but cannot fully stop.  Maybe you can save a life or two, but eventually, everyone becomes Cursed under the rays of the Black Sun.

I absolutely recommend it.  If any of the above sounds like something that interests you, get the pdf or pre-order from the next print run.

Monday, July 27, 2015


It's Gary Gygax's birthday!  The referee may include a preplanned encounter with fondue, a cask conditioned ale, and Gold & Mild cigars.  Alternately, the referee may roll 1d10 for birthday cake:


In the event of a random cake encounter, the day is usually arranged into three periods (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).  Cake has a 1-in-20 chance of appearing at any of these times.  This may be adjusted according to the referee's game milieu.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Free RPG Day 2015

I'm a little late with my report, but June 20, 2015, was Free RPG Day.  For previous reports, check out 2012 and 2014.

As with last year, places are limiting goods to one per customer, so I did most of my Free RPG Day business through Noble Knight Games.  Nicole and I did make the actual pilgrimage to place in the area, however.  Our go-to spot, Big Planet Comics, was out of the running, but we went to Comics & Gaming and 2nd & Charles.  Both of which had a fine showing; 2nd & Charles actually has an in-store event for the occasion, although we didn't have time to stick around.  We'll need to do so next year.

This year's acquisitions:
  • 13th Age/Night's Black Agents: Pelgrane is one of the regulars at Free RPG Day.  This dual product has two adventures.  For 13th Age, we have "At Land's Edge," featuring a suddenly-appearing island and the dungeon that spawned it (this apparently also acts as a prequel to the adventure, Eyes of the Stone Thief).  Night's Black Agents features a quickstart and the adventure "The Harker Intrusion," designed as a prequel to Dracula Dossier, and featuring the PCs trying to rescue a journalist asset before the vampires take her out.
  • Atlantis: The Second Age: A sword-and-sorcery RPG from Khepera, Atlantis takes its cues from the likes of Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith.  Its similar to d20, in that actions require a d20 roll, and higher is better.  The attached adventure, "Something Foul in Potos," has the PCs rescuing sailors from slavers and black magicians.  Classic pulp fantasy stuff.
  • Battletech/Shadowrun: Catalyst Game Labs makes a strong showing every year, typically putting out a Battletech/Shadowrun product as well as a Cosmic Patrol and a Valiant Universe offering.  (They did all of those this year, although I didn't grab Cosmic Patrol or Valiant Universe.)  Battletech has the MechWarrior PCs fighting mech-riding pirates; Shadowrun has a Mr. Johnson hiring the 'runners to kidnap a former employee.
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics Judge's Screen: A tri-fold cardboard GM screen for Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics featuring kickin' rad artwork and several relevant charts.
  • Hellas: Worlds of Sun & Stone: This science fantasy space opera RPG is also from Khepera and uses the same system as Atlantis.  It's based on classical Greece (!), and the attached adventure tasks the PCs with finding a noble's son who has ended up on a lonely prison planet.  They have to extract him without the guards or prisoners finding out.
  • Into the Dragon's Maw: Also from Goodman Games, this is a module for D&D 5e.  Like most of their modules, it can be set anywhere, but the names and places assume their house setting of Aereth.  The adventure details a Xulmec village that was under the yoke of a green dragon until a century ago, when their shaman went to the beast's lair and confronted it.  Neither shaman nor dragon was ever seen again.  The PCs investigate the situation for whatever reasons adventuring types might investigate an abandoned dragon's lair.
  • Through the Breach: This Fate Core game from Wyrd Miniatures is based off their popular Malifaux wargame.  There's a quickstart and an adventure wherein the PCs face off against the Resurrectionists and their Iron Zombies.
  • We Be Goblins Free!: The third module in Paizo's We Be Goblins! series for Pathfinder, this depicts the goblin adventurers from the previous two modules, having become goblin chieftains in the aftermath.  They're bored, and task their goblin villagers with finding adventures for them to complete.  Naturally, this ends poorly.
Of course, running to the FLGS gave an opportunity to acquire some neat artifacts; I picked up some D&D miniatures from Comics & Gaming and a copy of Pinnacle's 50 Fathoms for Savage Worlds from 2nd and Charles.

The real gem, however, was the 2nd and Charles find Suppressed Transmission from Ken Hite for Steve Jackson Games.  I was totally unfamiliar with his column in Pyramid, and so this was an incredibly pleasant surprise.  Collecting several articles from his column in Pyramid, Ken Hite's Suppressed Transmission details alternate history, hidden occultism, and the Weird as pulled from history and delivered in bite-sized nuggets for gaming.  It's so phenomenal I grabbed the second volume within a week or two of buying it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: World Wide Wrestling

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to play World Wide Wrestling: The Roleplaying Game by Nathan D. Paoletta.  (I've previously encountered the author via Annalise, although I've only skimmed it.)

Professional wrestling is not a part of my background, but I know a fair number of people who enjoy it.  (By-and-large, they're gamers, and they like wrestling for the same reasons they enjoy role-playing games — action and soap opera, in equal measure.)  As with a lot of things, I've absorbed portions of it via osmosis — time spent around friends who watch wrestling, jaunts on TV Tropes or Wikipedia, and the inevitable absorption of pop culture detritus that all minds accumulate.  I probably should have done a bit more research beforehand, but this isn't a terrible game to enter cold.

World Wide Wrestling is an attempt to model professional wrestling in all its chaotic glory, both in and out of the ring.  It is a *World game — Powered by the Apocalypse, as they say — putting it in the camp with Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Monsterhearts, and the like.  The mechanics should be familiar to those familiar with *World games, but I'll give a quick run-down:  Your actions are governed by a list of broad "moves" that define what you can do.  If there's any certainty or randomness involved, you roll 2d6 + some stat.  You fail if you roll 6 or lower, get an incomplete success with a roll of 7-9, and completely succeed on a 10 or higher.  In addition to your stats, you have bonds with your fellow PCs; these bonds form the core mechanic, as increasing your relationships to other PCs is the primary means of leveling up.  It's a fast, light system designed to simulate narrative reality.

Of course, it's been hacked from the core system.  You have four stats: Look (how well you perform), Power (governing feats of strength), Work (how skilled you are at the technical aspects of wrestling), and Real (how well you balance the role you're playing and how good you are at breaking kayfabe and making it work).  You're still trying to improve those relationships (called "Heat," and working almost exactly like Hx from Apocalypse World), but improving your relationships is a direct result of working with a person (be it in a match, cutting promos, whatever).

The biggest change is the wound and advancement system.  You can get injured — accidents do happen — but you're not going to die in the ring; injuries just take you out until you heal.  Instead, the "health" and "experience" mechanics are folded into a single system, called "Audience," which measures how well-received you are by the public.  Certain factors (like increasing your Heat with another wrestler) increase Audience; when you hit Audience 4, you gain an advance (which lets you take an additional move, increase a stat, or gain some advantageous relationship like a manager or tag-team).  If you end an episode at Audience 0, though, you're fired (character "death," essentially).  There are a couple of other methods to gain advances, but that's probably the most straightforward and common one.

The Gimmicks — "playbooks" in other *World games, and character classes in other games — are all wrestling tropes, and focus as much on the actual actor and the wrestling character the person portrays.  (As an example, the playbook I'm using is "The Wasted" — a drug addict, you're pretty adept at flashy stunts in the ring, but you're also a walking threat to kayfabe when you're using.  Which is frequent.)

One of the other differences is the increased import of player-versus-player in this game.  Succeeding at a wrestling maneuver grants bonuses, but also grants narrative control.  Narrative control typically shifts back-and-forth a couple of times during a match until the GM calls for the finish.  As per pro wrestling, outcomes are fixed (although some unruly types can "throw" matches, as happened in the first match), but it is still possible to grow one's audience even if one "loses."

As with other *World games, the GM doesn't roll anything.  The hot potato of narrative control passes as normal, but if the PC loses, the GM accepts it and narrates for a while before returning narrative control to the player.

Amusingly, most of the players present had limited wrestling knowledge, but we still seemed to get into the swing of things as the game progressed.  (Most notably, the quickstart has a list of wrestling moves on pages 8-9.)

About the only complaint about the system is the back-and-forth of the narrative.  The fact that poor dice rolls can prevent a player from describing actions is a bit of a pain, although "narrative control" could just as easily mean collaborating with your opponent and holding final veto rights.  I'm guessing it varies among play groups.

All-in-all, it's the kind of quick, story-driven play I've come expect from *World games.  It seems like a solid system for the genre, likely better than trying to model it with d20.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Savage Worlds: Star Trek

(If you want to skip the rambling, I made a bunch of Star Trek races in Savage Worlds.  You can cobble the rest of the setting together with Memory Alpha, Savage Worlds Deluxe, and Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion.  Go check them out.)

So Nicole and I have been watching a lot of Star Trek recently, because we somehow have it in our heads that we're going to devour the entire franchise.  (Coincidentally, just in time for the 50th anniversary.  For those of you playing along at home, we just re-watched The Search for Spock last night, so we're not very far yet.  Just wrapping up Original Series.)  While there's maybe a 5% chance of this being relevant, I was somehow bitten by the bug to devote headspace to Star Trek.

I haven't read a lot of the official role-playing materials for Star Trek — I've glanced at one of the official The Next Generation core books, and I've got some Star Fleet Universe books floating around — but I did really enjoy Goblinoid's take on Starships & Spacemen.  I don't really have an idea in mind beyond "Here's a sector — map it!" so I've never done anything with it.

Having also recently absorbed all of the Mad Max franchise, I was contemplating the prospect of high-octane insane post apocalyptic action set around the Eugenics Wars or World War III.  (Could you imagine Gary Seven versus Immortan Joe versus Khan Noonien Singh versus Lord Humungus?  That's some straight-up Planet Motherfucker-level shit.)  And while a combination of Starships & Spacemen and Mutant Future could certainly handle that, it just didn't seem right somehow.

Enter Savage Worlds.  I picked up Savage Worlds a while ago, and even read it, but never really did anything with it.  But somehow it clicked as a likely candidate to run Star Trek.  So, I made a bunch of Star Trek races in Savage Worlds.  If I never use them, hopefully you will.

Savage Worlds: Star Trek Races

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dapimancy (New-Wave Videomancy)

People watched television the same way for over half a century, but newer generations are more accustomed to watching their television shows on-demand, and frequently in a single sitting.

Within the last ten years or so, a shift has occurred, with a couple of would-be Videomancers showing behaviors less influenced by the old-school of being beholden to the television schedule, and closer to the custom of binge-watching.

Those who have encountered the occult underground call their new school "Dapimancy" — after the Latin word "daps, dapis" referring to sacrificial banquets — although some occultists derisively call them Truphemancers (after the Greek word for effeminate luxury).

So far, Dapimancy is just a minor school — nobody has quite figured out how to get significant charges for it, but just give it time.

aka Binge-Watchers, Bingers

The Videomancers are rubes, Marx's opiate-drunk cultists suckling at the teat of organized entertainment.  You're a monk, a hermit, who goes into seclusion and returns enlightened.  Your living room is the poustinia, your couch is your sajjada, your Netflix account is your gospel.  You retreat into the wilds so that you may bring wisdom back to the world with you.

Dapimancy forms a middle ground between Infomancy and Videomancy — you take the same inputs as Videomancers, but you remix them like an Infomancer.  You accept the truth of television at your own pace, not based on the dictates of some production staff with no knowledge of your personal truth.  If Videomancy is the Catholic Church, you're Martin Luther nailing your theses to the wall.  You're Thomas Jefferson, taking his favorite pieces of the Bible and making the good book his own.  (Of course, Elvis did the same thing, too.)  The gauntlet has been thrown, and the networks and cable companies — those long-standing monoliths holding television hostage — are running scared.  You're bringing television to the people, one marathon at a time.

The central paradox of Dapimancy is still caught up in the tension between the isolation of television watching and the commonality of the experience, but it turns it on its head by letting you make your own truth.  We're all watching the same shows, but we watch them according to our own schedule on our own terms.  You're free to indulge whenever you want, but when you start, you cannot stop.

Dapimancy Blast Style
Like Videomancers, Dapimancers have no blast.  However, there are persistent rumors that some Dapimancers have determined how to inflict fatigue and health problems on their victims — just like they've been sitting too long, letting their arteries clog and their muscles atrophy.

Like Videomancers, Dapimancers charge up by watching television.  Unlike Videomancers, they can watch whatever they want, as long as they carve out chunks for it.  You don't have to catch every episode of Game of Thrones as it premiers on HBO, but once you start watching it, you'd better have cleared your schedule, because you're in for the long haul.

Also, once Dapimancers are on a kick, they're on it until it's done.  Once you start watching Game of Thrones, you can't intercut episodes of Dexter.  It garbles the nuances of both shows.

Generate a Minor Charge: Spend six hours watching your current program du jour.  You can take small breaks between episodes for food and the bathroom, but you'd better plan carefully.  (A truly knowledgeable lord of the occult underground might notice similarities between this and Charismatics from Thin Black Line, page 17-19, but it's doubtful anybody has that much on the ball.  With the probable exception of the First and Last Man.)

Generate a Significant Charge: Currently unknown.  Maybe a specific pattern is required, or maybe it's just a time thing — binge-watch for a week straight, or something.

Generate a Major Charge: Currently unknown, although dukes in the know suspect that starring in a program might do the trick, just like regular old Videomancers.

Taboo: Once you start, you can't stop.  Interrupting a marathon robs you of all your charges.  As with Videomancers, this means that power outages can royally screw you over, and anybody who knows you're charging can schedule a home invasion and rob you of your charges.

Random Magick Domain: Like Videomancers, you understand people and events through observation, as well as adapting oneself to expectations.  It's perfect for spies and voyeurs.

Starting Charges: Dapimancers start with 5 minor charges, just like Videomancers.

Dapimancers have the same minor formula spells as Videomancers, as seen in Unknown Armies (second edition), pages 160-161.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Early Modern Unknown Armies Masterpost

Since I've been planning to reboot my modern Unknown Armies game (hopefully we're having the first session tonight), and so I've been thinking about the early modern one a little bit more.  (There's now even an early modern Unknown Armies tag on this very blog.)  I didn't devise a ton of content for it, but I did make enough that sometimes I look at it and wonder.

Naturally, all this stuff relies on knowledge of Unknown Armies and the sourcebook The Ascension of the Magdalene.

So, without further ado, have some stuff that I'm unlikely to use again:

Early Modern GMCs: These include historical figures such as Gaspar Graziani and Jan Mydlář, as well as the wholly fictional Divus Giovanni Vabalathus Sarotosia Nibelung (based on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the infant bastard son of Don Juan de Austria).  I was going to provide a writeup for Laurentius Dhur, but the game folded before I got that far.

Encounter Tables: An encounter table suitable for early modern adventuring.  I never made a Special Encounter subtable, so you can put your own weird events there.

Factions: A series of early modern factions written in the style of the faction lists in Unknown Armies (second edition), pages 84-85 and 204-206.

Also, Previously on the Blog:

1610 UA Money Conversion Chart

UA Conversion Notes for Willibald Schwartz from Better Than Any Man

UA Conversion Notes for Dittmar from Better Than Any Man

Durandal, sword of Roland

Shakespeare's The Tempest (rough draft)

Lamentations of the Unknown Armies

And this probably would be incomplete without the Random Shakespearean Insult Generator

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