December 31, 2012

The Place of Giant Animals in Fantasy

While originally a strong trope of the fantasy genre, (and often science fiction too), the giant animal seems to have been misplaced by the modern fantasy community. So why is this; are they boring, over-used, or simply the abandonment of a society that has moved on? I should note for the gentle reader, that I recognize the trope is still in use by a number of writers and RPGers, myself included, but it goes without saying, that the beasts have become eschewed for strange amalgams of colour, and parts. Made-up species, one and all.

So why is the giant animal an under-utilized asset of the genre? All too often those parties concerned call them unimaginative. After all, what the hell is up with all these giant rats, bats, and gekkos milling about the old cave/labyrinth/dungeon from Crete? Fear, friends. Take if you will the wolf spider, a charging land predator, and not such an arachnid as would use a web. When I was little we would make play of chasing the things, amazed at their speed for something so small. Now imagine, the same creature about the size of a man, or possibly a large dog. And further imagine the scaled anatomy of this thing: its alien visage, the mandibles, expressionless, body-language-lacking thing, with its set of multifaceted eyes. It wouldn't be any such matter of escaping such a beast, no, but a matter of how long before it overcomes you, and takes you. Some fear even the smallest, most harmless of arachnids, never mind gargants.

Furthermore to the topic of fear; we can see that most traditional giant animals are those most commonly feared. The previously mentioned spiders, reptiles of many sorts, rats, and any myriad of invertebrates all stood tallest. And maybe it was the lack of appreciation for how truly terrifying and dangerous these things become when they shadow men, and can be looked at closely without a microscope.

One of my favourite pictures ever of giant animals, was a giant-sized, otherwise ordinary, monitor lizard casually snatching up an army of medieval-era soldiers. That's scary; the things that prey on us. Not being at the top of our presumed food-chain is a concept modern man is quick to deny.

Can it be said the very trope is unimaginative? Possibly, but let's not forget the giant beasts that once roamed the earth in the vast stretch of time known as 'pre-history'. The many species of dinosaur and reptile from millions or years passed, aren't called 'thunder lizards' for nothing. Hell, even a good number of the insects then were ludicrously massive by modern standards. Imagine dragonflies large enough to give the impression a helicopter was flying nearby. And this is all before we get to the more recent stuff. Such as the dire wolf, Megaloceros, Megalodon, titanoboa, giant squid, and etc. Is it so truly an artistic crime if Mother Nature herself dabbled in megafauna? Thankfully there hasn't been a quite proper match to the nefarious ROUS (Rodent Of Unusual Size) yet, unless one counts the giant beaver. (snerk)

Am I yammering to the wind, or has it seemed to the reading audience that there is indeed water in my moat? While it is a generalization made on my part, I find the common trend in current Fantasy, to be a bit too much 'fantastic', in all facets of its makeup to remain receptive for the simplistic, traditional concepts of the fairy tale.

Also, I'll dedicate this last bit to wish the fine folke a productive and pleasant new year, and to many more.

October 10, 2012

Hitting Dirtside, prairie style.

Just finished moving to Calgary, Alberta and it's an exciting place. Still lots to do, like find new employment.

I spent most of the day walking around and beyond Panamount Heights to peruse the several malls and shopping district nearby, including a stroll through several blocks of neighborhood. Everything my modern material life needs is in walking distance. Very strange, really, considering the vast majority of my existence has been out in the forested boonies and misty mountains of BC, and a short stint in this little city called Nelson when I was eight years-old or so. There's such a melting pot of peoples here, it's astounding. Almost like a low-budget Blade Runner scene or something.

Also, there's some fricken snow already. I love snow.

Now if only I could figure out where to look for a hobby shop or suchmuch.

September 17, 2012

Veil of Shadows

Seems I'm returning to the seat of Referee shortly, and this time it is with a copy of Star Wars D20 system (not the one using 4th Ed's system). It plays a lot like 3rd / 3.5 Ed. with Force powers.

Crewed by a motley group of part-time smugglers and mercenaries, the Solar Serpent should be leaving dry-dock next weekend. Attendant, her Captain, Mal, the pilot Jaquet, an estranged Wookie scoundrel, rogue Jedi knight, one astromech, and a forward scouting / fray protocol droid, secondhand.

The play environment is set somewhere after Knights of the Old Republic, with the perspective (for future events and looks) coming from as if only the original Star Wars movie trilogy was made, along with any clues or suggestions to the Jedi presented there.

What terrors lurk beyond the veil of shadows, in the Old Republic?

September 7, 2012


 If such a thing were to exist for me, I'd believe those stated items below would consist of it. On the topic of the original, despite an interest in multiple authors, I have seen just about none of the specific works mentioned there, which is unfortunate, given my interest in what influences guide the hands of designers, but that is so.

Anderson, Poul - The Earth Book of Stormgate, The Broken Sword
Anthony, Piers - A Spell for Chameleon
Asimov, Isaac - Foundation, Robot Series
Bradbury, Ray - Fahrenheit 451, Here There Be Tygers, The Martian Chronicles, The Veldt
Burroughs, Edgar Rice - The Mars Trilogy, Tarzan
Crichton, Michael - Eaters of the Dead, Jurassic Park, The Lost World
Cussler, Clive - Dragon, Sahara
Eddison, E.R. - The Worm Ouroborous
Harrison, Harry - Planet of No Return, Stainless Steel Rat
Heinlein, Robert A. - Job: A Comedy of Justice, Orphans of the Sky, Stranger in a Strange Land
Herbert, Brian & Anderson, Kevin J. - The Butlerian Jihad
Herbert, Frank - Dune, Man of Two Worlds, The Dosadi Experiment, The Dragon in the Sea, The Jesus Incident, The Santaroga Barrier
Howard, Robert E. - Conan
King, Stephen - The Stand
Lewis, C.S. - From Out of the Silent Planet, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Longyear, Barry B. - Manifest Destiny
Lovecraft, Howard Philips - Shadow over Innsmouth, The Mountains of Madness,  The Nameless City
McCaffrey, Anne - Dinosaur Planet
Moorcock, Michael - Gloriana
Nivel, Larry - Ringworld
Norton, Andre - Postmarked the Stars
Stoker, Bram - Dracula
Strugatsky, Arkady & Boris - Roadside Picnic
Tolkien, J.R.R - The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings
Wells, H.G. - The War of the Worlds

Arneson, David - First Fantasy Campaign
Barker, M.A.R. - Empire of the Petal Throne
TSR - Alpha Dawn Basic & Expanded
Ward, James M. - Metamorphosis Alpha
Ward, James M. & Jaquet, Gary - Gamma World

Bioware - Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect
Black Isle - Fallout
Interplay - Wasteland
Irvin, Peter & Smith, Jeremy - Exile
Looking Glass Studios - System Shock 1 & 2, Thief 1 & 2
Stone Soup Team - Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup

Anderson, Michael - Logan's Run
Bakshi, Ralph - The Lord of the Rings, Wizards
Blomkamp, Neill - District Nine
Cameron, James - Aliens
Carpenter, John - The Thing
Jacobs, Arthur P. - Planet of the Apes Series
Jones, L.Q. - A Boy and His Dog
Miller, George - The Road Warrior
Miyazaki, Gorō - Tales from Earthsea
Miyazaki, Hayao - Howl's Moving Castle, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Scott, Ridley - Alien, Bladerunner, Prometheus, The Duelists
Twohy, David - Pitch Black
Ward, Pendleton - Adventure Time

I believe a few people have compiled their own 'N's over the years. If any of this humble readership has, please send me a link to them. There's most certainly more interesting reads and bits of inspiration out there.

August 26, 2012

From Barbarian Prince and Other

While formally considered moreso a boardgame than an role-playing game, and solitaire at that, both the setting and game play of Barbarian Prince follows through with fodder for fantasy RPG goers.

After a thorough read of the game's manual, and a good look-over of its map, I was left almost too inspired to borrow from it. Maybe even lift some of its design. Given its solitaire nature, the player is immediately aware of much meta-information; he has to. And it's a good play of honesty to keep on trudging even when he rolls up something nasty, such as a killer curse or the loss of all his party members, and many other things.

Meta-gaming information was never much of a secret I've murdered to keep off the table. It could be things such as knowing how to kill zombies or vampires. A certain genre savvy nature is often expected and enjoyed by all, whether it's the motives of robotic clowns or the party's non-player. So how does this relate; look no further than the concept of the role-playing game. I wouldn't for the life of me spill a monster's stats and abilities, but things such the powers of a sword are preferably given (to the possessor).

The magic items of Barbarian Prince, by design, follow this. But not only did they know what the item could do, but also what it was worth to certain NPCs. In a way we can begin to see the assumed lore behind objects in a setting, without going through a heap of exposition from the Referee.
Video games from the NES on to early 3-D platforms had it 'all there in the manual'. They needed too, because the game couldn't actively describe or detail items in-game, but still wanted, or needed, to explain an object's purpose in its world. Maybe the influence of these older games comes off too readily for me, but good consideration for why it is sometimes beneficial to let at least a little on for the players.

Meta-game information varies between groups, and often how little or much is allowed can also set the mood of a game, but sometimes even a little will benefit everyone. Especially if they can avoid taking too much advantage of it. Scare them with new stimuli and subvert the old to keep it fresh, if you need to.

Returning to the magical items of the game in question. A mechanic that excited me, and one often excluded in fantasy artifacts (ignoring wand charges), is the chance of burning out. Instead of an arbitrary number assigned, we find each use garnering either a 1 in 6 or 1 in 12 chance of running out of juice (or being destroyed). And just about all magic items use this mechanic (except swords); and can reduce the likelihood of defaulting on the item to snatch success time and again.

By no means an 'item', but certainly an item; the True Love that can be scored by the prince is both an invaluable asset to his adventure, and an under-used, seldom-seen trope of fantasy adventure. Given the NPC-ish nature of the prince's party, this is the one person he can rely upon, even if her activities are randomly determined. Not only this, but a love triangle can form that muddies up the affair, losing the benefits while it persists. She provides a bonus to Wits & Wiles, (woman's good senses, no doubt). Other NPCs offer similar benefits (such as negating the penalties of Reactions with elves, or worsening them with a dwarf). And in all it really expanded the horizon for what Non-players can bring to the party for me, especially if the players available are fewer than wanted. The idea that they aren't just extra hands/swords, but can improve conversations as advisers, among other things. I don't mean as in the Referee talking as them, but as more passive improvements to the players' activities.

The Events booklet provides a great swath of ideas for adventures, encounters and even what sort of event forks could open up between them. The map too is an easy grab.

Hopefully my bestial writing hasn't hidden the values I've intended to place in this document. All the same: Barbarian Prince is interesting mechanically and setting-wise; items and the meta-game; NPCs and the unspoken, but ever present benefits they provide.

For those parties interested: Barbarian Prince is available for free download.

August 22, 2012

The Place of Shields

Traditionally, the lowly shield garners a basic bonus to Armour Class, as needn't be explained here. The problem many outcry is simply how little an impact one of the most useful tools of war has, in foot melee in the realm of Fantasy Role-play.

The shield is cried to uselessness, after all, it's guaranteed the higher-level monsters will beat non-modern AC practically every round of combat. Some are fine with the small bonus of a shield, given that getting hit is so inevitable, but that the bonus is still useful against the more common and mundane foes expected to combat in the original game.

How can we fix or circumnavigate this issue? Simple; a new mechanic, and one that is very simple. But is it really necessary, especially when combat is supposed to remain abstracted by game design? What would a chance of blocking individual blows mean for this concept? especially when it would apply equally to the already disputed nature of arrows and bolts in the abstract combat (should we exacerbate the problem further?).

For some time now, how I've run shields is a bit different from the norm, so I shall make them known. Shields provide a bonus of +1, as the norm, though wooden, hide, and wicker faces do not benefit plate armour, instead requiring a metal shield (preferably kite). Without other armour worn, shields count as AC7, and tower shields as AC6 (normally complementing armour by +2 AC). Archers' shields and other small types counted as normal shields, except without bonus against missiles. Shields could be worn across the back for their bonuses against rear attacks.

This original effort varied their place somewhat, but it still was mostly aesthetic. There wasn't a strong effort to make shields too good in the game, considering the other options available to Fighting Men; two-handed weapons rolled two dice, taking the better with +1 in Hits; and using a second one-handed weapon to deke for a +1 To Hit. So I couldn't lean too much favour. This changed somewhat with the design of offensive shields (tweaked from the tail sweeping mechanic I gave dragons).Shield-barers (excluding bucklers) could opt out their shield bonus to bash with the shield, and any time a '6' turned up, the roughly-man-sized and smaller foe was flattened and stunned for one round. Tower shields did so 1/3 of the time.

Now, this finally brings me to my point and suggestion for shields. Keeping them with their +1 bonus (or dropping it), any hit against a shield-barer is reduced to minimum damage (1 if 1-6, 2 if 2-7, etc.) 1/3 of the time (rolling a 2 in 6 chance). Tower shields could do so 1/2 the time. It's simple, elegant, and best of all, continues finding more uses for those sexy six-siders. The reason it doesn't outright negate an attack's damage is to reflect the savagery the guy behind the shield is feeling regardless. A missed roll to reduce could be seen as not bracing his shield arm well and getting battered around, even if the shield is being hit.

I'd like to thank that Paladin in Citadel for inspiring this post.

For those interested in that dragon attack; the tail swipe was randomly determined (and depended on how the party was fighting it), and dealt one die of damage per age category (!), chopping all in a certain radius (distance in inch spaces by category). Every time a '6' turned up for each person hit, was how many rounds he was stunned and flat. I wanted very dangerous dragons, and the older ones could batter down wooden walls and swaths of forest with ease, so be wary.

August 20, 2012

A Shout-Out: Hulks & Horrors

As misfortune would have me, I've not even a modest sum to donate toward Hulks & Horrors, but all the same, here's a call out to my humble audience that they might support Hulks & Horrors, if not tell others about it.

Here's the jump coordinates.

A Little Something For The Eyes

I don't believe I've much referenced any such capacity in myself here, but occasionally as fancy strikes me, I draw. This is both in traditional and digital mediums. My plan has been for a while now to eventually make a sister site, under the title of 'Cobalt Blue'. There I would display various works of both fantasy and science-fiction both.

All the same, while I do consider my strength moreso to be with a simple Bic pen, I've rather enjoyed my hand with a program called Painttool SAI. Below is the most recent piece, and I trust you hobbyists will enjoy both the visual and subjective values.

Click to Enlarge.
The image is best viewed at 100%, and now folks, the world finally gets to see what I envision Mind Flayers to seem. And for those wondering, both my avatar picture and banner are elements from other illustrations of mine. In a future time, both will be made available to see; either here or at the aforementioned web log.

The pencil and pen drawings will not make an appearance 'till after I acquire a scanner that doesn't butcher the image quality.

August 8, 2012

Curiosities From Times Gone: The Ultimist

Whether a method of satire, or merely innocent of intentions, The Ultimist character class Gygax put up for Polyhedron Magazine is something else. By design it is absurd, and below I shall leave it for your humor.

Not only does the character have minimum requirements (a common feature of AD&D), but it also gives great bonuses to make sure they are met, and then after the rolled scores are modified to greater values. We also see that the character fights as Fighting-men do, cast magics as a Magic-user and Cleric both, and no less does it possess the skills of a Martial Monk and can foil devices as does a Thief (without needing tools)! And by merit, it seems the fellow needs half experience gains as does a Fighting-man to advance in level.

Better still, we find out on the second page the filling for the cake. Each level the character gains nets him 100 "Spell Points", of which at first level he's got 100, and can cast 100 First Level Spells per day, I josh you not! Maybe in EGG's games First Level Spells are diddly-squat, but that's still a whole lot of diddly! The character also comes with a schwanky Bag of Holding from the get-go, among other things and from 1,000 - 4,000 gold pieces fresh off the press.

So, my few readers; satire, or honestly-considered-good-idea? If nothing else, the picture's a good chuckle.

August 6, 2012

Returning from the hills...

... I came baring a trite little beast known as Pathfinder. Yeah, that game.

Been preparing to move off and away, but in the meantime my little group introduced me to Paizo's game by way of a burlap DM-flavoured sack.

A curious game; similar to 3rd/3.5 in most aspects; but it does away with some of my gripes for the aforementioned games, all but one. One problem that always remained: the hurdles and hoops the Referee must contort through. It's a good game for players, but in my experience, an unnecessary mess for the one running it. Challenge Ratings, point budgeting, and what-have-you.

The majority of my DM/GM/SM/etc. experience comes from the older games, systems, and from even the retro clones. These (as I'm sure I needn't explain) games were quite easy to implement new races, creatures and stuff worth Experience Gain without issue. Especially after a good read through 'Encounter/Adventure' design philosophy as it appears in the Three Little Brown Books, and from forum personalities (mainly WaysoftheEarth from OD&D Discussion Board!). Stocking environments was easier than ever, as was determining damage and EXP gain by Hit Die, and other concepts.

Returning to stat-generating and skill-giving of every damn creature, after such an absence is very disheartening. No longer can I just make something improvised-like and still be fair about it, and quite frankly, it appalls me that I can *will* get caught making things up by the players in the newer systems. Because they can just as easily point out conflicts with modern encounter design, and even argue total Challenge Ratings with me, and act as if I've cheated them. Hell, I remember being chewed out for having to make up stats for monsters (lost their statistics PAGE) as battle was provoked, and barely survived to flee. Not that attacking an entire cult of Hero-grade (level 4+) Druids had anything to do with it.

The Encounter (read: Experience) Budgeting especially pulls my nails. It should be the Referee's own right to place down a troll cave (compleat with defenses), even if the 1st level party thought it was a good idea to walk past the warning signs.

Diggin' that they got rid of those ludicrous level adjustments for Player Characters.  There's too many by-the-book types (of the younger generations anyhoo) and, what if someone wants to play a Lizardfolk or some other creature at Starting Level 1? Wouldn't happen in 3rd/3.5, no sirree!

That is all.

May 25, 2012

Thoughts on More-Lethal Combat.

Today we see me actually adding something to the blog, fancy that! In other news, I would like to return to my thoughts on hit points, the abstractions of combat, and how much fun it is to see experienced characters collapse, lifeless forever more.

First however, the topic is the dreaded fire-arm, and its place in the role-playing game. Often scorned in fantasy settings, the efficient, ranged killing device is a common staple of any setting not historical or Tolkien-esque fantasy. I've nothing against the primitive handgonne (sp?) in my backwards fantasy, given that guns, bombs and roman fire are all staples of my favorite sort of fantasy trope, the alchemist.

At the table (when it is mine), my methods are often criticized, mocked even, for it is the players' opinions that they don't "do enough damage." Why so, you or I might ask? Simple: the concept any grognard (or reader of the old scrolls) knows; that a dagger is just as capable of ending one man's life as a spear, though perhaps not that far back (we're talking the variable damage days of that mentality.) Given that a common man usually has 1-6 hit points (average 3-4), I'd based the damages dealt by fire-arms (per bullet) to this standard. Below is a quick list of some guns :

Handgun             - 1-6
Handgun, heavy  - 1-8
Machine Pistol    - 1-4
Pocket Pistol      - 1-4
Rifle, civilian       - 1-6
Rifle, military      - 2-7
Rifle, target        - 2-12
Shotgun, break   - 1-10
Shotgun, pump   - 2-9
Sub-machine gun- 1-6

To an unarmored man, each of these looks to be a fair bet dead, no? Of course, explaining the concept of variable weapon damage, and how it applies to normal men, removes any doubt that my weapons are too "weak," but what it doesn't make up for is how leveled-up characters can survive multiple 'hits', especially in settings like Metamorphosis Alpha. Everyone has so many hit points it's crazy. But back to the leveled characters; my views of hit points have changed some since last I spoke of the matter here, but more or less, I hold to that Arnesonian view of hit points as a "hard-to-kill" rating. In movies we see several instances of the big, strong character taking many bullets before he collapses in death, but how does this work for all Player Characters?

My point, if it can be found somewhere, is when does the character "just die?" This train of thought is one I've often boarded, but only yesterday had I started to actually remember *why* I board it. In Supplement II: Blackmoor, we find a juicy little tidbit that shares my interests in death by common sense: "roll of 19+ (95%+, in any case) — victim seized & severed," as written for the giant crocodile entry. Given the strength and ferocity these creatures can put into ravaging their prey, this is perfect sense for the outcome of a croc, especially a giant version, grabbing a poor, poor human.

This returns to the mentality I've had with a rules system I've been writing on and off for mostly science fiction games of a specific setting. The system follows that the first value of hit points are a character's true "hit points" in the physical damage sort of way, and that later pips gained through the leveling system we all love (or hate and despise) merely increase that "harder-to-kill/hit" value of the character. It also goes on to mention at the section's end, that where common sense dictates, even those at top condition may be claimed by death.

How death by common sense and fire-arms correlate is that I'm somewhere at an impasse between abstraction and easy death for the system. It is predominantly science fiction, so long arms would be fairly common, so following this mentality, I cannot decide if guns should have some (even if small) chance to outright kill both players and monsters alike, if not give them injuries, and if so, should other weapons as well? Being a long-time player of the older video games, there's an inherent interest in the death spiral, given that "bosses" in these games get stronger as their life closes. The death spiral is very self-explaining, and to many people, "no fun," but to me, the abstraction of D&D combat, with no reduction in abilities all the way till 'just dead,' is no worse, nor greater.

So anyway, for more-lethal fire-arms, I was thinking something like this (D&D-isms for reader convenience): on a natural roll of  19+, or maybe 20, characters and comparable non-players are subject to more-lethal damage. Then roll for hit location.

 1          Head
2-4        Trunk
 5          Arm
 6          Leg

1. Injury to the head is fatal with failed Save vs Death (at +1 with helmets). Character stunned for 1-6 turns. Halves current Hit Points.
2-4. Injury to trunk is fatal with failed Save vs Death (at +1/+2?). Makes character easier to hit by 2 until properly healed.
5. Injury to arm lessens chance to hit by 2. Reduces hit points by 2 (subdual).
6. Injury to leg halves movement for duration. Reduces current hit points by 4 (subdual).

How does that seem? It's simple, to the point, and dangerous. My games don't want to focus around a lot of status affectors like busted limbs, allergies and bad colds, but sometimes injuries and other incidents make for more varied and interesting situations. The further reduction in hit points from torso and head wounds does cause a death spiral, but it does emulate the sudden shock and slowing from an obvious wound, therefore lessening the character's "hard-to-kill."

Whaddya' think? Yea, or nay? It's to be a suggested, though unnecessary ruling that has yet to be tested in game situations. I really don't enjoy the "my precious PC" mentality, and am also an advocate for Saves versus Death too, in case that wasn't clear.

May 16, 2012

A to Zed - the rest of 'em

For those keeping track, I ended off with the Elder Scrolls in this challenge. I've been absent for quite some time. Between just not being around and a curiously dodgy internet connection, there's been little time for the web, or Blogger for that matter. Now, instead of spamming everyone's blog watch I'll condense the rest of my list into one post, that you may at least know where I was going to go.

Frank Herbert - the mastermind behind Dune and various other works of science fiction. Besides my long-standing love for Dune, his Destination: Void (The Jesus Incident being my favorite) series and The Dragon in the Sea are some of my favorites of his works.

Gyrojet - Gyrojet were a unique family of weapons back in the 60's that utilized gyroscopically stabilized microjet bullets for projectiles. Poor manufacturing and design dashed their chances of becoming any more than a curiosity. I first encountered these weapons in the role-playing game, Star Frontiers. Curious as to the nature, I did some research and was very pleased with what I had stumbled upon. The designs of the real world Gyrojets even had the visual aesthetics of fire-arms in Traveller.

Hivers - Given my fixation with non-human sapients, the hivers of Traveller fame were a welcome discovery. Their bodies are fine examples of symmetry, with a distinct society and culture.

Illithid - The Mind Flayer, the brain lasher, cutter, devourer, alhoon, and et cetera ad infinum. They're freaking aliens that eat fantasy adventurer brains; what's not to like? These practically build adventures on their own.

Jason and the Argonauts - Any person considering inspirational flicks to watch prior to running a game should see this beauty. The combat isn't retardedly choreographed, the monsters are mean, and the stop-motion animation still looks fluid.

Knights -I would have prefered to have done a bit on armsmen, or "men-at-arms," though knights are these things. Though there has been, I believe, two paladins throughout our group's entire history together, not one knight has ever truly graced its collective chronicles. Whether it be an errant knight, or merely nobility.

Lüscher -My family name; a Swiss name. I like pole-arms, but no, I'm not some autist with a thing for tables and charts. There is history behind this name, though I know so little of it. My grandfather came to North America after his stint as a missionary and eventually married, then later moved to Canada where when he retired, he took up farming. I've seen pictures of the Lüscher homestead in Aargau, somewhere near Muhen in Switzerland. It was a thatch-roof structure that I believe has since been torn down decades ago. Should I ever get a chance to see Europe I would much like to meet his family, and also give Mr. Giger a good handshake, and buy a pint. My name means roughly "he who lives near reeds."

Marathon Series - One of Bungie Software's flagship series. Originally for the personal Macintosh computer, the games were later ported to Windows. Totaling three games, each starts right where the previous left off; going from first contact with a hostile (aren't they all?) collective of races, the generation ship, Marathon, and its colony on Tau Ceti, is assaulted, to later adventures near the galactic core in a stolen vessel with a rampant AI, (and a good supply of expendable human meat-bags). The first game was instrumental in story-telling within first-perspective video games. For those even remotely interested, I heartily recommend going to and downloading Aleph One (all Operating Systems), and the three accompanying games. Marathons RED, Evil and Morgana's Revenge are also available there, and while fan projects, each are built to a high standard, almost befitting professional standards.

Non-Humanity - This is a recurring interest of mine. Sapient life of any matter, form, or environment, that is by definition alien. It could think completely different and apply obscene logics that make sense only to themselves, and it could be bizarre anatomy and senses that stand apart from ours. Basically, while I do enjoy 'men in rubber suits' aliens, I get a figurative hard-on, (pardon my vulgarity), just guessing at and musing how life not like our own would function.

OD&D - When I first encountered Dungeons & Dragons, it was as AD&D 2nd Edition, and that was just before 3rd started doing the rounds. I've never had a real copy of the three Little Brown Books, but once their realm was known to me, and I made my first step past the threshold, I knew what Arneson and Gygax had done, was lost with time, and edition. There is no purist here; I play anything set before me (except 4th Ed., once was enough!), but I am lessened for knowing too few do or want to play the game as it was. As a result, I also became quite interested in the history and development of the game, and later found things like a copy of the First Fantasy Campaign, and the lovely sites Hidden in Shadows, and Philotomy's OD&D Musings.

Pathways into Darkness - Before there was Marathon, there were pathways into darkness, and they  were full of things that go bump in the night. Though most certainly not fantasy, this was a dungeon crawl; with guns, the dead, Nazis, aliens, and skinny Buddha monks. Popular oppinion says Marathon shares more than just a few easter eggs with this gem of a crawler. As of yet though, still no Windows port or source game.

Querulous - And I don't mean the adjective. Arne of Querulous, his blog, has been to some manner of degree an inspiration to me when it comes to visual design, and just video games in general. Through his web log, there is often re-imaginings of various old game series, and other media icons. He is also responsible for Android Arts and Prometheus Spawning Grounds 7. For anyone simply interested in just looking at pretty pictures, or interested in something to ruminate over if video games are an interest of theirs, I heartily suggest taking a gander. His material on Exile is some of my favorite, given how he somehow makes an awesome game better!

Robert A. Heinlein - If you couldn't already guess, I dig science fiction, and the older stuff moreso. Mr. Heinlein is no exception. And I don't care what claim Games Workshop supposedly has to 'space marines', given that this guy (and a coupla' others) all beat those toads to it, (and can make more interesting space marines to boot!)

Syd Mead - A futurist artist of great repute and resume. A good chunk of his early days were doing futuristic paintings for Ford. If I were to look at a non-dystopic future, I would see it in his worlds. The stylings have 50's leanings, but with the right counter of post-modernism to balance it out. The new world look may not be to everyone's tastes, but there's hope, and a bright future to be had in each of his works, and it is things like his paintings that keep my hopes for the future high. That sounded pretty corny, no? All the same, this man is my favorite visual artist ever.

Tales from Earthsea - Or Gedo Senki, is an animated film by Studio Ghibli roughly(?) based on a collection of stories under the same name, as I recall tell. I've only ever watched it a few times, but the setting, along with various other objects and designs that persist about the world made it special. And definitely a setting I would enjoy running or playing a campaign to.

Unobtainium - Phlebotinum, handwavium, et cetera. This is the magical sauce, the stuff, and the E-99 that makes the latest gadgets, gizmos and reactors run on all cylinders. Often a plot point or enabler in any piece of fiction, without Unobtainium we would instead have to rely on real world materials that wouldn't work as well, either stretching plausibility, or completely throwing adventure out the window.

Vallejo, Boris - If Syd Mead is my fondness for the future, Boris is my fondness for monsters and babes in the company of monsters. A maker of very fantastical illustrations, but I'm sure we already know who he is.

Wipple Shields - Science has told me that wipple shields are a very important asset to spacecraft. So what made them get this spot? Simple: it's one of the first realizations of space armour, and is almost as important as radiation shielding. How wipple works, is that it is a very thin layer of ablative material designed to take hits from micro-meteorites, using their own kinetic energy against them, disintegrating the particles with little more than superficial damage to the surfaces below the shield.

X-Files - One thing I've  humored myself with repeatedly is how much this show is an inverse to Scooby-Doo. They kept thinking it wasn't so, yet always found the supernatural. Scoob and Crew are always on the hunt for a monster, but it's always that old man Jenkins. Incidentally, this post is moreso aimed at my general paranormal interests, and the title music still invokes an emotional response from me.

Yazirians - These anthropomorphic, gliding apes are positively my favorite of the main races in Star Frontiers. I couldn't really tell you why, and it definitely is not the battle rage ability, but the idea of power gliding across some moon with bubble goggles might have some say in the matter.

ZOrk - You wouldn't believe how hard I had to think of, and remember, the only interest of mine that starts with a zed. So, Zork. The text adventure role-playing game. Where being eaten by a grue was punishment for trying to not find a lamp. Originally, as I recall, the eponymous grue was added to replace the fallible logic of stumbling into a bottomless pit in the dark, given that this pit could happen in nonsensical locations. I had the gameboy version, not the original.

May 5, 2012

Kickstarter: Champions of Zed

Hello to you lot.

Just stopping by to say that the Champions of Zed is up on Kickstarter, and could use your help, if you've not already. It's all well set out and nicely explained on there what CoZ is if you don't already know.

I'm pretty excited for it and hope it gets enough support. A hard-cover copy would be aces to me.

As for A to Zed. I've been lagging terribly behind schedule, and thankfully this isn't some established, or official, establishment, otherwise I'd have been shit-canned earlier this week, haha! After I go to see the Avengers flick tonight, we'll see about getting me caught up in full.

April 30, 2012

A to Zed - E is for Elder Scrolls, the

And we resume this lovely list with the letter 'E' for our look at The Elder Scrolls series of action role-playing video games.

To date, there are five main titles, along with several expansion packs (almost sounds antiquated next to all the DLC about these days, no?), and spin-off games. The series has seen massive popularity, and presumably so thanks to its deep and rich world, plot-lines, quests and design aesthetics. Much of its inspiration drawn from previous games, including, wait for it... Dungeons & Dragons, is quite apparent.
Throughout the series we see many of the humanoid races develop from simple monster encounters to fleshed-out societies. By the time of TES: Morrowind, players could immerse themselves in the world as either beast-races: the emotion-absent, reptilian argonians, along with the desert folk, the khajiit. And if one were to play TES: Oblivion, well, I hope you don't laugh too much at the well-dressed/groomed orcs, 'cause they might just pound ya' flat for that one.

The later games of The Elder Scrolls focus greatly on the open-world approach to design that allows for great flexibility in where or what the player wishes to explore. The world isn't quite so much a sandbox, given that there's always some drive, or plot, for the player to pursue and conquer.
If I were to choose any specific favorite of the lot, I would tell you that it's gotta' be Morrowind, true and true. The setting of Vvardenfell is, straight off the prison ship, obviously alien in the sense of fantasy visuals. Just about all of the scenery, from the flora to the fauna is unrecognizable to our earthly persons. The player must discover what is and is not nice, and what will rip their face off right from the get-go. It allows for a purveying sense of mystery and exploration that lasts all the way till the hero finally ends his journey. I remember being just 'wowed' at how unique the biome of Morrowind's Vvardenfell was when I first played it, and how distinctly different the people were. Morrowind also marks the point in the series where the pen & paper RPG aspect is at its strongest before it turned more to its action RPG element of the later titles. It was also the last TES game I could specialize in and use pole-arms! I mean, their mechanics in the game were so useful too, in that the player could swing, stab and slash the things, but each worked best when used properly! It being a halberd really mattered, as opposed to mashing the attack button till your foe was paste. TES: Skyrim gets a near second for the visual design, eye-candy, better NPCs, oh, and all the DRAGONS. Plus, FUS RO-DAH!
Here's to hoping I can get this list done before I move next month, haha!

April 29, 2012

A to Zed - D is for Dirtside

Seems I've been off the ball for keeping these posts consistent. At the very least, I have an excuse for yesterday. My friend Evan got beat up pretty bad and we had a hospital day through till this morning. He's doing alright now though. There wasn't a concussion as I initially feared.


On the bounce.
Here I figured I'd dedicate the letter 'D' to an explanation of just why I've chosen to name the blog so.

"Hitting Dirtside" was a game me and some childhood friends long-gone used to play, it had nothing to do with the tabletop game, 'Dirtside'. Depending on where we would play, and what was available, some days the game was akin to 'King of the Hill', and others still, 'Capture the Flag'. "Hitting Dirtside" was never anything more than our fancy way of saying drop troopers hitting planet-side.

So how do the two correlate? Well, in our little game world there were the ground-pounders, or any manner of ground force/garrison; the dirt-stompers, marine forces deployed from space; bug-stompers, marines deployed from space to kill 'aliens' (think the USCMC); muckers, or expeditionaries; and squelchers, the assassins, spies, and saboteurs. In this game, regardless of variants, the bug-stompers would hit dirtside, take the hill (or flag) and defeat whoever was playing the space-jerks, or at least they would try to.

On occasion we'd even play some proto-version of child role-playing game, back when people weren't afraid of using their imagination to make anything fun. We even made up military ranks for our assassin game, where a space-jerk would try to knock off the whole command element. The equivalent of Operational Commander was called 'Head', with second-in-command being the 'Lance'. The aim of the game was to 'cut off the head of the snake', as the old saying goes.

In addition, I do not play the rules system Dirtside, nor do I plan to, though I do have a copy of the rules, and I do at least admire its design aesthetic.

Jumping Starside.

April 25, 2012

A to Zed - C is for Church, Doug

'C' is for Church, or Doug Church, a game designer currently enlisted within the ranks of game company, Valve. After leaving post-secondary, Church went on to begin his career working for Looking Glass Studios. The company, along with Church have received renown as creators of various innovations in video games, all the while still retaining interesting and engaging stories. Funnily enough, their games almost always did quite poorly in sales compared to their contemporaries, and were often regarded as "ahead of their time."

Various titles he is known to have worked on while at LGS include:  Ultima Underworld 1 & 2, System Shock, and Thief. Though I will strain right now that my main interest in this man and his work is for System Shock, and its sequel, System Shock II. He has proven to be an innovative member of the gaming industry time in and out, creating intricate and lively worlds that keep me coming back, even now, when DOS has all but died off.

For what time he has been involved with Valve, we can see his tendrils at work in Portal 2. His work has also influenced spiritual successors Deus Ex and BioShock. And though the company has not said what position he keeps, we can expect from what has been leaked on the internet, that he is involved in another game quite possibly similar to the previous System Shock games. The future can only tell what more this man has in store for us.

April 24, 2012

A to Zed - Broadmore, Greg

Greg Broadmore is an illustrator, designer, writer, and concept artist for Weta Workshop. Whether its science fiction, zeerust, Victorian punk, robots or dinosaurs, the man's on top. Some of his most well known work comes from District 9, King Kong, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And to say he has an eye for detail and flare for creativity is an understatement. Much of his visual design work is as is seen in the films themselves, almost as if transmuted straight from his drawings.

I first came to know of Broadmore and his work after appropriating a copy of the art book by Weta for the 2005 film, King Kong. Though I had known of Weta Workshop since The Lord of the Rings movies came about, it wasn't until the reimagining of one of my favorite films that I came to know of this fellow. And if you can find a copy of The World of Kong, A Natural History of Skull Island, you will be in for a treat, I guarantee it. There are multiple maps of Skull Island, along with breakdowns of the local ecologies for each section of the island. Our gaming group used it to run a fantasy expedition campaign, though I don't recall it ending well for the party...
Beyond the films he's been apart of, Broadmore has created the wonderful universe of Dr. Grordbort, though with the help of Weta, as I'm told. It's a lovely medley of Victorian science fiction and pulp topped off with eye candy. And the bestiary on the site has some beaut monsters! Other things he's had his hand in include the Riff Raff sculpture, and this funny tripod thing.

He regularly keeps the world up to date on his personal art through his website and web log.

Also, 'weta' are roughly 70 species of insect similar to crickets. And I'm not sure I sympathize with those complaining with the new Blogger layout. It seems to work fine for me.

A to Zed - A is for Asimov, Isaac

Well, after finally caving in after seeing how much fun everyone else is doing, I figured, heck, why not? After all, it's all in good sport and an excellent way of sharing one's interests with others, and does so without being intrusive like one of those chain-games. We'll see how well I can manage a-letter-a-day.


I begin with the letter 'A', and to represent it, I choose Asimov, or rather Isaac Asimov to be specific. Writer; futurist; creator of the Three Laws of Robotics; and maker of many science fiction tales. Some of his most notable works include: the Foundation, Galactic Empire, Robot, and Lucky Starr series of books. As time marched on ever forward, he later united these seemingly separate series into one "future history", though Lucky Starr is not included so far as I can recall.

Considered one of the top three science fiction writers that dominated the time, of which the others were respectively, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein, Asimov also wrote works of mystery and fantasy, along with a fair spattering of non-fiction.

While I almost equally enjoy the works of Arthur C. Clarke, and there are numerous other interests and entries suitable for my representation of 'A', Asimov remains simply for the impact his worlds have imprinted on myself.

Any science fiction nut worth his salt is familiar with Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. It frequently turns up in various stories in all seriousness and in jest, but also presents a solid platform of which to oppose the non-sense that any and all A.I. will by nature, eventually turn upon its creators. Not only do the rules govern safer synthetic thought processes, it also presents a challenge to the individual's integrity, and whether or not the rules can be broken. The Robot book series has left its own mark on where my thoughts turn to, and how to approach artificial intelligence, and the potential that true, unshackled synthetic intelligence might possess and utilize. One of my favorite Asimov works is The Robots of Dawn, third in the series, and an interesting "whodunnit" adventure for plainclothesman, Lije Baley.

The man can write an intricate story and plot, laced with interesting and diverse characters, whether or not they're human. Some have criticized his style of prose, for its often direct or sparse way, but its fashion leaves room for the mind to interpret and develop. Another intriguing aspect of all but a select few of works feature worlds devoid of non-humanity, where even at times robots do not accompany Man. It is a neat principle that avoids what is known as 'Clement's Paradox', or the effects of time and longevity on sentient races, and the chances of encountering them. This is also handy for certain interpretations of a humanist Traveller universe.

Plus, Alien has been so oft used for the 'A' entry, I found it a little passe to follow suit.

April 21, 2012


Continuing my long chain of posts not pertaining to miniatures in any scale, (I know a number of you're here for that solely; we'll return to it once I get a new camera), here's a concentrated shot of nostalgia to your lobes.

April 19, 2012

Mine Enemy.

Perhaps for most the flick, 'Enemy Mine' has passed on into obscurity as just another sci-fi thing.

Based on the book written by Barry B. Longyear of the same name, 'Enemy Mine' focuses on the story of a Bilateral Terran Alliance pilot and his Dracian enemy, both wrecked and marooned on an unregistered planet and left for dead. As they struggle to kill one another on the barren world (aren't they all?), the environment forces the two to shift their priorities and work cooperatively to survive, eventually forming an unlikely friendship.

"Shit? What do you mean, shit?"
While compared to today's visual spoilage, just about anyone will consider the effects to be silly, and the brief space battle that sets the premise for the film features noise in space (a la Star Wars), the story told is one marvelously crafted. And if I do say so myself, probably one of the better and more emotional that I've ever seen in film, let alone science fiction from yester-year. And while I admit, I'm quite shit at thoroughly explaining or swaying peoples opinions, as dictated by my rather bestial efforts at chicanery, I implore those of you that have not seen this film to seek it out, and those of you that have, to revisit it, but also to read the book should you find it.

House mk.2
As for you hobbyists out there; what potential does this whole shebang have for gaming? Nothing. Unless you're die-hard role-players that could handle the inter-character tensions and theme, or maybe the meteor showers and planetary fauna would look ace on your next backwater world. Who am I to say; or hold you back?

Also, I swear this web log is more than just binder!

April 15, 2012

Oubliette Magazine

For those of you that haven't heard, it's a mag that focuses mainly around the Labyrinth Lord game system, but any of its articles would be a fine fit for other systems and editions of maze mastering.

Now I suppose I'm not the most informed individual on the net, nor do I ever seem to have my ear to the ground regarding matters even closer to home, but what immediately had my attention about this magazine was the fact that it was an OSR magazine! Many of the older hobbyists have or at least once had magazines such as The Space Gamer, Polyhedron, The Dragon, and others to get their fix of fresh ideas and general hobby reads. Very few options remain these days that aren't just product ads under the guise of a monthly issue. (I'm looking at you, White Dwarf.)

In this day where so much is available across the digital medium, many can just as easily subscribe to a website, or a web log, and be about their merry way without a coin from their pocket. But for folks like me, who like to hold it in their hands; the grit of paper; the smell of new book; and the stack of reading always on-hand, it's a god-send. I would use a Kindle if given one, but the yellowed page is still strong in me.

Not only is it something I can hold physically that draws me to Oubliette, otherwise I'd have a hoard of books I don't like to read, but also that each issue brings with it wide and varied content, pictures, and even adventure modules with maps! There's always something new and exciting to be found within each issue, and I'll dare say that Regan and crew know how to please.

The only thing I regret was accidentally not purchasing issue #5 along with the rest when I did!

Furthermore, Tales from Hell is my kind of cartoon.

March 30, 2012

A worthwhile read for any fan of Mass Effect.

Shortly after Mass Effect 3 went public, and devoted fans far and wide ground through the story like some manic drill to soft dirt, outrage soon swept the field. Never in the history of digital interaction media had the world seen such a vast amount of public outrage and general disappointment. The common complaint? The ending, and it alone, destroyed everything; obliterated company honor; threatened to make martyrs of most of the fan-base.

Here is, in my opinion, a strong essay that renders down and distills the elements of what went wrong, and for any of you that follow me that may even have a passing interest in the Mass Effect series, that you may read it.

March 26, 2012

Just something that really nailed it.

While doing my usual of link jumping on Youtube I came across a music group that just hit everything I've been looking for in passive spacey tunes. I've usually got music playing during games that isn't distracting, so this was a godsend.

Solar Fields - Discovering

March 20, 2012

Sappy Tree Stuff

May the spring wind breathe a warm air to us all.

That being said, it sure is something isn't it; the vernal equinox? Soon the rains, the blooms, and the new life that comes with it will be here with us all once again. I know after the rather poor crop our valley suffered last year, we sure could use a jolt. Hong Kong needs its $5 lapins...

At one time, this day was on the twenty-fifth of March. Go figure.

March 19, 2012

Respects where they're due.

As is no such thing a surprise, I'm sure, that mine is a perpetual state of taking to a living based entirely beneath some small stone; I must bring it forward to those of you who may care, or simply did not know: Jean Giraud, or "Moebius", has recently passed away.

Like most that are familiar with him, I too came to love his illustrated imaginative works and worlds through Heavy Metal magazine. Though I wouldn't say I've tried mimicking his visual style, his art has had a great impact on my life, and often was even a great inspiration to me. He truly is a master among men, and every iota of his universes, worlds and even every stroke of his pen held a vivacity few could match. Our world is truly lessened at his passing.

My good-byes aren't much when all is said and done, but perhaps some of you will come to know what gifts the man has given us if they were originally lost to you.

Good morning,
(prod to expand)

March 18, 2012

Where've I been?

Not far, I'm sure! Though not much has been happening over here as well. A prominent, and I dare say, vital member of our local group is moving away. We've become very small over the years; losing one here, and others there and otherwere. So it is to say, the fate of a group of friends in a very small town. We can certainly adapt and manage to play games with smaller numbers of PCs, but it's just not the same as it used to be, no?

But not all is to be glum as some slum. After all, we've been celebrating and enjoying our last weeks in good cheer. Saint Patrick's Day was as good as any, and I met the acquaintance of a new friend (for celebratory purposes only). I've never been one for drinking alcohol, and I certainly mean it. But there was something that was just right about cracking open a bottle of aged single-malt scotch under a country's night sky with friends. Another bottle will be my goings-away gift, methinks.

February 29, 2012

Eleven Interesting Elements

Normally, not one for these sorts of posts, but I thought, 'eh, whadda'ey.' So here's what it be, and according to the wee list of rules, I've got to put them out to be seen by all, along with tagging about 11 if you, (which I hope don't mind too much) and answer the 11 questions asked of me by my tagger, in turn asking 11 new ones of you I choose. Without further ado:

The Rules Are:
1. You must post the rules.
2. Post eleven fun facts about yourself on the blog post.
3. Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post, and then create eleven new questions to ask the people you've tagged.
4. Tag eleven bloggers, however, you can break the rules and tag fewer people if you want. Make sure you hyperlink their names/blogs.
5. Let them know you've tagged them!
6. Have fun!

01 - What made you decide to write a blog?
The thought that by making ideas or presenting them to the public eye, would boost and augment my will to be more productive within and without my hobby. Basically, if I give myself a reason to hit some rough estimate of a deadline, that I might encourage myself to do it often enough to get somewhere.

02 - What would you say has been the highlight of your blogging career to date?
Most likely that there's at least a few people following my blog that at least consider some of its content interesting, or useful for rumination.

03 - Name your favorite animal.
Damn, now that's a tough one. If we're talking mammals, it would be somewhere between a Burmese cat and a regular old badger. Reptiles would see either a leopard gecko or the local green/yellow garter snakes of my residence. Birds? Hands-down, pelicans of any sort. As for my favorite? Either the cat or the gecko, cause both are lovely, curious little critters that like perching on my shoulder.

04 - What has been the best thing to ever happen to you?
Though beyond corny I'm sure, either my cat or my best chum. Both are always there for me, and keep the warmest of company. Living is an excellent thing that happened to me too.

05 - You are in a lift with a Nun, a middle-aged business man, a Karl Marx look-alike, a twenty-something female charity worker and Stephen Hawking. The lift shudders to a stop, the lights go out. There is a high-pitched scream followed by a thud. The lights come on and the Nun is lying dead on the floor with a knife in her chest. Who did it and why?
For starters, I can imagine anyone who knows anything about Communism (or at least believes they do) would accuse the Marx look-alike. But that would be baseless, as he only looks like Marx, and doesn't necessarily hold anything against religious people, let alone any interest in killing a nun. Everyone would assume it wasn't Hawking, and he would very agree to their logic that he couldn't have possibly done it. The business man could be a hit-man from a local mafia, an assumption made entirely based on his attire and age, but he wouldn't want blood on his good suit. The charity worker is most likely a good person, given what her occupation is, but perhaps she is scorned by the church taking up all of the people's potential charity, and goes for a take-that.

The assassin would have expected and preferred to make their strike when easily picked-out stereotypes could lead people away from the true killer, which would leave the less likely as the true murderer. Which would in turn breed questions of any one person's true motives, or if they really are what they appear to be.

Possibly there was a hidden ninja above the elevator cab, which would explain the sudden loss of visibility, and easy killing of the nun. But there's one crucial mistake: a ninja leaves no trace behind!

So who did it? My character, who just plain outright hates the clergy, haha! Who will glib his way to innocence.

06 - Name your favorite colour.
Burnt orange.

07 - What has been the scariest thing to ever happen to you?
My vehicle stalling at the top of a large hill heading into right-of-way traffic one very cold morning. Not the brakes, nor the power steering work if the thing dies! Blew right through an 4-way intersection, cranking the wheel left and right, then ended up in the parking lot in front of the Chinese food place.

08 - You are about to break the world record for the tallest house of cards in front of a crowded room of onlookers and world press. All of a sudden, some idiot parent allows their errant child to charge over, knocking into your table, sending your world record beating attempt crashing around you. What do you do next?
I'd tell them all, that if I could get it that high before, I'll build it greater again! But will certainly wait some time (weeks at least) before bothering ever again. I don't think I'd get too mad or anything, it's friggin' cards, after all! I think I'd get more sour about having to clean them all back up after everyone leaves.

09 - If you had to spend a month on a tropical island, what four luxury items do you take with you?
-big Tupperware box full of science fiction and fantasy novels
-paper for drawing and writing
-12-piece pencil set
-bag of polyhedrons

10 - Once on your tropical island you are allowed to have one person of your choice to stay with you. Now this can be anyone famous, living or dead, fictional and from any period of time/history - loved ones are not allowed - who do you choose and why?
Quite possibly James M. Ward, or David Arneson, and make them referee for the whole dang shebang! Though maybe Simon Pegg, just 'cause he's an awesome dude, who's gotta' be awesome to hang out with.

11 - What has been the worst impulse purchase of a totally useless item (one you convinced yourself into believing you needed, but didn't)? What was it, and do you still have it?
Well, I'm sure, like any other buyer and collector of miniatures, would be all the ones I only bought because they looked cool and didn't actually serve any use in my games at all. Ever. For example, I own just about one of everything Copplestone currently has available, and only actually use, let alone have painted, less than a dozen figures. Hundreds of dollars sit carefully tucked away for that year when I finally get back to them...

Again, hopefully they don't mind, but here's those I've considered worthy of tagging, and cheers too all!
Now, for my questions eleven:
  1. What... is your name?!
  2. What... is your favorite colour?!
  3. What... is the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?!
  4. If any, what is your absolute favorite game, (tabletop and otherwise) and what makes it greater, or at least more better for coming back to, than others?
  5. Is there greater value in having good friends at the table, or amazing players, and why?
  6. Gorgonops or Shuvuuia?
  7. If there was any great, wonderful and amazing period or setting you'd love to play a game in, what would it be, and what sort of character(s) would you have?
  8. Is a post-scarcity society one you would be comfortable living in? Why?
  9. Do some of these questions remind you of stuff from English class?
  10. Would you reckon there is still, or at least was, life, however small it may be, on the planet Mars?
  11. Where can I get fried meal worms and apple-candied scorpion lollies? I forgot.

February 20, 2012


Hello All!

Just a shout out to any of you interested in aerospace, or science fiction films, and especially space suits. Steve over at Say; Hello Spaceman, has a lovely blog that continuously brings to light more and more gems from space opera past and used-futures present, and he could use some more viewers methinks! Maybe some of you can even give him suggestions to showcase.

To the Gods, Uncaring and Bemused.

Where then have we gone, to abandon the oracle; hoard the boons; and cast out the traditions of cleromancy? Do we no longer seek mysticism and atmosphere? Is there a wanting that consumes us that ever dance to the clatter of knuckles, that we would rather turn to unsavory practices of fudging and dishonesty? Surely not!

Roll yer' damn dice and leave them were they fall! If it's the tank's day to be eaten by a grue, than so be it; and swift Char-Gen to those now dead.

Consequently, random tables are lovely things.

February 15, 2012

With a tip of the palm...

...And the roll of a die.

Traveller was always a system and a setting that appealed to me, yet always out of my grasp. It's very hard to play a game if you're the only one that wants to. But what really kept me was how the game played. I like my big bag of many polyhedrons, don't get me wrong, but the call of the days when only the six-sided die consisted my collection is strong. I've always been a great fan of rolling multiple dice in place of single, higher-value dice; it gives better results. Do take note however, that I'm not big on absurd rolls like 12d4 or 20d6, yikes!

From every mechanic, generation table, character statistic and action with randomized outcome, one would need nothing but the common die in classic Traveller. From shooting a walking bulls-eye to succeeding at one of the character's few trained skills, only two sixers were ever needed. This created a bell curve of success, which tied in fluidly with the human-centric feel of Traveller, in that we as squishy organisms usually only do so well, on average. The average roll of '7' guaranteed that characters still maintained a measure of success with basic skill levels. Because generally, we succeed at things we know (flat DC is usually '8'), while still allowing room for potential failure. A stark contrast to the very random nature of rolling a single d20.

Further on, we see the system continuing its variety of uses for the pairing of 2d6 with generation charts. Using one die in the tens, and another in the ones, to the similar effect of 2d10 for determining percentile successes. Each of these tables generate 36 possible results, which while small compared to 100 for 2d10, this again allows for a bell curve effect. The result places more common encounters nearer the center of the curve. So instead of truly random encounters in the sense, we can see an increased chance of more common mooks arising with more interesting and rare things turning up with a probability to match.

Maybe I'm still just too much of a wargamer at heart, but the simplicity of using fewer varieties of polyhedron while still maximizing their potential can be just as fun as throwing pyramids and buckyballs about the tabletop.

February 14, 2012

Character Skill versus Player Skill

While many blogs have already discussed and dissected what both 'character skill' and 'player skill' are, lets look at why they're different and why they're also used differently.

As most that play just about any version, mutation or blatant rip of D&D know, in the beginning the game gave characters statistics of their raw potential, some perks and abilities that differentiate the classes, and very specific character skills for the thief. Beyond this more rules-light appearance, characters would go on adventures, relying heavily on the goodwill of the dice gods and the mental skills of the player, and hopefully wouldn't die as a result. This approach let the faculties and imaginations of the players steer their destiny, and often led to moments of "outsmarting" or "besting" the DM and his well-thought-out encounters and puzzles. It also lead to a large number of retarded things that players have become infamous for to those inside and out of the hobby.

On another end, we encounter the later editions that bring new light and focus on character skills. This focus became so acute that eventually the rules systems themselves became intricate and complicated, pushing out player skill, where suddenly the character needed to invest time and thought to allow themselves certain abilities not readily available at level one. Suddenly Tarzan needed to take the feat Brachiation just to get around, and even then he had to roll against a difficulty class, or hit the nearest tree trunk. Whether intentional or not, the realm of pen & paper seemed to be turning the way of the new-wave video game role-play.

So, do you find one to be better than the other? Regardless of what side of the fence you lovely readers may sit, I will take a sledgehammer to said fence. Both of these approaches have their uses and the most obvious use, to me, is the perceived value of education present in the game, and its setting. When playing D&D I enjoy knowing I won't be made to roll for every 5 feet of rope I climb, for fear of the eventual and impending critical failure of a '1' of the d20. And when playing Star Frontiers I'm without worry of the percentile roll for one of my character's skills; it's easy and straight forward. Both of these settings mentioned and the skills presented cover two different areas; climbing rope is not beyond anyone with bodily strength, but writing a program into a science fiction computer requires knowledge and training, where still yet such a task comes with the chance of human error. Even without rush it can be as simple as one too many letters in a string of code that crashes the system.

So what do I think? A proper balance of both player and character skills makes for a good system when it pays attention to the setting. Characters are only as perceptive as their players are because they rely so heavily upon direction, while the character may be more fluent in conducting major surgery on alien species that the player could not even begin to comprehend their anatomies. Dungeons & Dragons is (generally) placed in a realm where knowledge is as primitive as medieval (or renaissance) times, where much went to faith, and common sense was the measure of the day, and is a skill that only players bring to the table. Star Frontiers is a universe where technologies easily surpass our modern world (zeerust aside) and the characters themselves bring the skills to the table. This is why they play different, but still both utilize some of one and more of the other category of skills.

Curses to the Cursed!

Reading through some of 'The Book of Marvelous Magic' earlier rekindled a pet peeve of mine: cursed items in fantasy role-play. Why, say you? Simple: they're nothing but a dick move by the DM unless handled properly.

Now before we get far I want to point out that I have nothing wrong with the idea of the cursed item, but rather how it is implemented. Just like any good magic item, a good cursed item needs to have a reason for its existence. Otherwise it is little more than DM fiat and the source of sour expressions turning to the crook behind his screen.

Furthermore is the cursed item a dick move when we have this item not only "just" in a pile of assumed loot, but it also appears exactly like a very useful and beneficial magical artifact. Sure, this is a fun lure for your resident meta-gamer, but there is no reason for it to imitate another object, if only to make player characters suffer.

In my worlds, even if the players lack a wizard or other source of discovering, or recalling the lore of magic items, I will refrain from placing any magical object in the world that doesn't have a reason for existing. It could be a simple sentence of description for a minor thing, or a good paragraph dedicated to the wizard, Pelacelcus the Dimple-Foot and his need for a ring of martini summons. But all the same, there is essence to the object, and not just a convenient/inconvenient item drop.

But what this means for cursed items is a reason for why they are cursed to begin with. Perhaps they were mundane possessions in times passed, later saturated with hateful magicks in an ancient battle against a mage. We could even apply this logic to items that appear as others to explain their dastardly trickery. And maybe yet, some of these items aren't truly cursed in the sense, but act as so when wielded or in possession of those that shouldn't have such things. Like Sauron's One Ring.

Or yet still, a small number of these evil objects were simply made to cause havoc for the victims of circumstance. Like a necklace of strangulation, or barrel of poverty. These are the lamest excuses for killing characters ever; a player should be the death of themselves, not the determination of the one other player, the DM.

Maybe it's just 'cause I'm not the sort that uses lurkers above and floor and wall mimics, nor executioner's hoods, and am rather conservative in my application of killer bed sheets?

February 8, 2012

Disruptive Force and Criticals

Following the trend of providing a look into how I handle hit points, attacks, and general bodily-harm, we now turn to the tactics of 'called shots', or as I prefer, 'disruptive force'.

In systems, where they are utilized, the 'called shot', "aimed shot" or other, is the focused effort of a character to maximize and severely hamper his opponent through a high-risk, high-reward method of taking a full-round action, or simply a -4 to hit in combat, or other similar variation. If successful, results can be anywhere from boosted, doubled or tripled damage that is basically an alternative to rolling a critical hit. The benefit of a called shot however, is that the caller can specify which area of his opponent's body he chooses to strike. Which can have dire consequences to encephalized beings when head-shots are landed, or chins are smashed on ball-chineans.

Now what does that mean for my system with its version of hit points? Dirty fighting: elbows, groin shots, eye-jabs, and sprained or bruised limbs. Similar to Third Edition and newer's -4 in combat for unarmed strikes, the character between his many thrusts per each six-second round takes the effort to land an unpleasant blow against his foe. Damage is often doubled of normal attack/weapon damage for the attacker, as it is assumed s/he would use their preferred method of reducing his foe's abilities, hastening the opportunity for a killing blow. It may be smashing the haft of a pole-arm, decking with a sword pommel, head-butts, knees to the kidneys, and other injuries that are more painful than truly harmful.

Compare to called shots with fire-arms, which are instead treated as damage directly to a character's CON score, or monster HD. This works well as a way of explaining why fire-arms do comparatively unimpressive hit point damage to melee weapons in role-playing games. That 2d4 damage pistol doesn't look so piddly when it lands a called shot, now doesn't it?

As mentioned before, criticals are rolled for on critical charts that I keep stuck to the DM screen. One of the table results is full normal attack/weapon damage directly to a character's CON score. When this result affects monsters, the attack instead outright kills anything with a HD equal to half or less of the attack's damage. Everything else is generally larger monsters under the jurisdiction of hit points as physical damage threshold, and will instead suffer a number of six-sided dice in damage equal to the maximized attack (with strength modifiers). So a weapon that deals 1-8 damage in the hands of a barbarian that also deals 3 additional damage based on his strength, will outright kill anything with 5 HD or less, or will deal 11-66 damage to 6 HD+ beasts. This is one of (usually) 12 results on the criticals table.

Building Better Blades

An idea I've always fancied for representing "masterwork" and other such high-quality weapons is something more dynamic than a simple +1 to hit. Because while in theory, a masterwork weapon may be easier to wield and use, or aim, I was never very keen on the constant and infinite scalability of modifiers in Third Edition and newer. It just seems too lazy and repetitious.

So instead, my idea is that in place of adding a 'to hit' modifier, that the masterwork weapon, rather shift how it deals damage when it hits. Take for example, a weapon that normally deals 1d8 damage by itself, will deal 2d4 damage as a masterclass weapon. This allows weapons to deal greater averages in damage, which if using hit points similarly to how I do, this still works out as making it easier for the attacker to hit. If only because the attacked need dodge harder to avoid a lethal blow, wearing themselves out faster.

And if nothing else, it just makes for more dynamic weapons; though the potential for making attacks tedious becomes a possibility for weapons that already use two dice in attacking. As an advantage for magic-scarce games, the fighter can have a slightly better sword without it having to be a +1 or better magic sword.

Now How to Lose Hit Points!

Instead of sleeping I decided I should throw this next bit up too.

Now where we had previously left off was discussing my view of hit points and how they work, along with what happens when unfortunate adventurers and mooks run out of them. So, naturally, we must figure out how to go from the prior to the latter.

While I prefer one method of handling hit points, the game itself or even the players may ultimately determine what is what and where. For example, games like Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World both assume hit points are a character's physical capacity to survive damage, so we usually would stick to that when playing those. But when I'm having my way, a character's hit point total is divided in half. Monsters, however don't apply to this rule, unless they're hominids.

One side of this division represents a character's ability (in a combination of the facets mentioned last post) to completely avoid damage in combat. Any damage suffered to this value will completely generate post-encounter after five minutes rest.

The second part of hit points represent the character slowing and tiring as they once again avoid any meaningful injury, with the worst damage being light nicks, glances, and blows completely deflecting off or dragging along armour without harm. Despite this, the character is still not surviving injury with this other set of hit points in the standard sense, but is only fatigued enough to take minor superficial damage that at worse makes a conversation starter. The catch with this second value however, also as a way to balance the automatic regeneration of the first number, is that it regenerates like hit points traditionally do, based on the system being played. Which gives magical healing spells and potions the illusion of being more potent.

On the subject of critical hits and massive damage, my system turns away from hit points, as they do not represent physical damage threshold for characters. Instead, a critical is a roll on the critical chart, with the potential of maximum attack/weapon damage directly to a character's Constitution score, which is indeed threatening. Similarly, falling damage is dealt as 1d4 damage to Constitution per 10 feet, with a 2d10 roll against current CON or get knocked unconscious afterward.