101 Days of Rifts: Side Journey to Nightbane

Rummaging through old files I found one titled ‘Nightbane notes’.

And on 5 Lamat 1 Mol the people shall leave their fields and potteries. They shall gather at the temple. There they shall celebrate the eightieth Calendar Round passing since my glorious ascension. – Pacal, King of Palenque

I wonder if they will, Pacal. Will you be remembered on October 21, 4772? Will there be anyone to remember? As I write this it is December 21, 2013 (insert Mayan date). Many of us think the world ended a year and a day ago and it just hasn’t noticed yet.

Children of the New Creation or Outcasts of the First World
Basic outline: this setting is a riff on Nightbane taking the Dark Day as the Northern Hemisphere winter solstice 2012. Start time will be exactly when the sun reached the Tropic of Capricorn and then 24 hours. Much of the description will be straight from Nightbane.

The question is: did the 4th creation end on that day and the last 24 hours of the long cycle were the creation of the new world?

The Nightlands are the remains of the first world and the Nightlords and their servants are the Mayan cycle equivalent of Qlippoth

The date on it is 2012/08/12 but I can remember working on the idea when I lived in Texas so some of it dates to 2007 or so. I was very interested in using the planned end of the world/end of the Mayan calendar as The Dark Day.

The Qlippoth reference is to a GURPS book, Cabal. Cabal presumes two creations, one mapping to Genesis 1 and one mapping to Genesis 2. The Qlippoth are the remains of the now gone first creation trying to undermine the one that replaced them. With the Mayan calender interpretation that each cycle ends with recreation of the world I wondered “what if the Nightlands” are the remains of the first world trying to use the cycle to recreate themselves.

I’d love to return to these ideas at some point.

101 Days of Rifts: Where to Start?

Rifts Earth is the core of the Palladium Megaverse. It is important the same way Earth is in the Marvel Comics universe. While most Marvel Comic RPGs focus on New York City, Rifts Earth has a lot more options. Much of North America, parts of Central America, parts of Europe, Africa, Russia, China, Japan, and Australia have one or more Rifts books. The default setting is arguably the upper Midwest of the US, home of Chi-town, center of the Collation States.

Of course, what kind of Megaverse would be limited to Earth. It has a major outer space option forming a parallel to Marvel’s space empires (now brought to movies with Guardians of the Galaxy) in Phase World and the Three Galaxies presented over six books. Two books feature other planets. Wormwood describes a weird living medieval type world of the same name. Skraypers presents the world of Charizolonf which has a huge superheroes population fighting alien invaders. The last big official Rifts setting still available covers a pair of hell dimensions and their war which spills across the Megaverse over five books. The setting of the game Manhunter by Myrmiddon Press was presented as a Rifts setting in a long out of print book licensed by Palladium*. Finally, any other Palladium setting can connect to Rifts Earth via the titular dimensional rifts. The universe of the Mechanoids is an interesting case as it has both a separate game and a Rifts Sourcebook.

For a long time my stock Rifts setting was the Connecticut River valley. It’s a nice location in terms of potential opponents and society. Free Quebec is both a threat and a trading partner, the Splugoth will be raiding the coastal area, and Archie Three can be a threat without much work. The key thing for New England was realizing you just couldn’t use the population numbers from Rifts Sourcebook or the combined human/DeeBee population would be lower than even the lowest estimate for native North Americans before Columbus by a factor of three. If you do the math (which I will in a future post) there aren’t enough people left to have adventure.

However, I’d like to try something different. I’m a huge fan of Phase World. I’d also like to do something around the place I did most of my growing up, Casper, Wyoming. One place I want to avoid is the original US Upper Midwest of the US setting. I’m not a big fan of the Collation and would rather avoid anything that makes
them the good guys. That’s what is keeping me from doing a Federation of Magic game.

The biggest advantage now of Phase World is I could sell the campaign as a Guardians of the Galaxy style game. I’ve always though of Phase World as
several setting ideas or perhaps just as something that could be expressed in different way. Traditionally I’ve thought of it as the best BESM setting book
for space and mecha games. As a longtime fan of the Legion of Superheroes I’ve also seen Phase Worlds as a super’s setting. The biggest downside of Phase
World is it’s harder to get a tight initial focus. At least, I think it would be.

Casper, Wyoming is actually mentioned in the book Spirit West:

Casper Preserve (Wyoming): This Preserve is built on the ruins of Casper, Wyoming and is manned and controlled by the Cheyenne/Sioux Coalitions. It is one of the best defended of the Preserves in terms of the skill and determination of its warrior, shamans, and spirit allies, but then it needs to be. It is located on the edge of the Black Hill Nexus and is a land besieged by supernatural horrors.

Sounds great except an Indian preserve might be limiting in terms of the types of characters. This is especially true as 90% are Traiditionalist, Native Americans who have rejected tech in the years since the apocalypse.

That said, this conflicts with the original core Rifts book to a degree. It’s entry for Wyoming says:

The American sector once known as Wyoming is a range of grassland and dense forest where faerie folk abound. There is a feeling of magic about the entire place, although there are no apparent mystic or supernatural forces at work.

This brings up one of the great strengths of Rifts for an old school type GM that has hurt Palladium in the contemporary market. Rifts is often a contradictory mess especially over the course of multiple books. For an old school GM the lack of an official answer gives me a lot more freedom to make the game mine.

I’m going to work on a game set in what was Wyoming and western South Dakota. As we’ll see tomorrow forests, snow, and active ley lines are a huge
part of what drew me to Rifts. This seems the perfect place to take advantage of them.

*We’ll have a review of that book somewhere along the line during my Friday Buried Treasures reviews.

Random Campaign Idea in Pictures

So, lately I’ve been listening to this:

Which lead to me reading, for the first time, this:

While thinking about running:

Yet at the same time I’d like to run:

Where this:

Has always been associated with:

And I’m really excited to get this soon:

Now, post holocaust after the Martians is nothing new. The Aftermath rules suggest it and a later return of the Martians was the ruin for one of their playtest games (even including the human hunters of men the artillery man envisions). Still, the idea of a devastating Martian war where humanity, but not civilization, is saved by monsters and magicians could be fun.

Base on The World After and this, among others, it’s clear I’ve internalized the D&D is the apocalypse trope. It’s also clear that I prefer it not be nuclear war and have a strong bent on the Devil did it (the multiple images above, for those who don’t recognize them, are from Prince of Darkness).

Playing with History

Influenced by a old Jeff Rientspost and prompted because the third has been on my mind today and the second the past week (actually about a week ago, but just finishing the post) here are some pseudo-historically based campaign ideas I’ve had:

Period Campaign Idea Notes Probable Rules
About 110,000 Clark Aston Smith’s Hyperborea set in Sangamonian interglacial period Greenland When reading about Greenland after reading The Tale of Satampra Zeiros I found this map; it’s been the primary inspiration. Of all the ideas this is the one most likely to have me drag out AD&D and believe it or not, second edition. Second edition seems like plays much closer to what I’ve called Intermediate D&D which is the style I played in the early 80s. Also, I’ve never really played second.
871 AD The Viking conquest of Britain during the reign of Alfred the Great. I long had an SCA persona who was a pre-Conquest Saxon. For years he actually bridged the Conquest and afterwards went on the Crusades. Over time I got more interested in earlier periods of Anglo-Saxon England such as Alfred’s reign. Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories would be the major literary influence. Lamentations of the Flame Princess because only the fighter advances in combat and the very magic is very dangerous. Magic would be the hallmark of the invading Vikings in contrast to the clerics of the Saxons.
late 1400s The Valley of Mexico just before the Spanish Conquest (and possibly during). This is the most recently inspired, by the pyramids episode of Out of Egypt which I watched on Netflix. I didn’t realize that Teotihuacan was not of Aztec origin but in fact predates their culture. That alone sounds like an excellent megadungeon. Plus, Aztec culture, even the poor “I read Wikipedia and a overview book plus watched some TV” cultures that characterize D&D games (even ones based on the Middle Ages or Roman), is alien enough for most of the people who might play in my games to make it interesting. While part of me wants to do straight OD&D with this one I suspect Runequest of some form (I’ve got 2nd and 3rd edition as well as BRP and GORE on the shelves and I’m open to either Mongoose version, 6th edition, or Open Quest). More than the other three I’d like to use An Echo Resounding with this one. The Valley of Mexico is perfectly sized for it at 3816sq miles. Remember, in Pre-Columbia America there are no beasts of burdern or riding animals so distances will always be driven by foot speed.


Mash-up Campaign Idea

A while I wrote about trying to actually build a campaign out of this great description of D&D from Jeff Reints:

You play Conan, I play Gandalf.  We team up to fight Dracula.

Last time I tried to translate it somehow but this weekend I had an insight that lead me to want to take it literally: Gandalf doesn’t have to mean Lord of the Rings.  It can just mean The Hobbit.  If you limit the influence of the Gandalf source to just that book you can have a VERY different setting.  With that revelation I think you could actually build a setting where Gandalf and Conan are actual NPCs or will be at some point.

Using Jeff’s old alchemical formula to limit my fluff sources I would use:

  1. The Hobbit
  2. Conan stories are harder because the logical choice for one book would be one of the current volumes from Del Ray. The problem is they include fragments, critical commentary, and worst of all the essay The Hyborian Age.  However, Project Gutenberg Australia comes to the rescue.  Howard’s stories have fallen into the public domain down under and are all available. Because we’re supposed to have one book’s worth let’s create our own volume, Conan: The First Year, containing stories published from December 1932 to November 1933.  That gives us the first six stories.
  3. Finally, we want something that isn’t obviously a fantasy book.  We still need Dracula.  For that I look into D&D‘s history and grab Hammer Films’s Horror of Dracula. After all, Peter Cushing’s van Helsing is the origin of the cleric.  An interesting alternative would be the first volume of Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula (using one of the Essential or Omnibus editions).

Given I’m stealing Jeff’s ideas left and right I should probably grab one in the gripping hand as well.  Taking the idea he suggested based on Oriental Adventures and that Matt showed can be done in Pars Fortuna.  Use the classic rules of D&D but not the races, classes, spells, and monsters.  While I wouldn’t reject all spells, monsters, or magic items certainly new classes would go a long way towards changing the nature of the game.  If we use non-AD&D TSR D&D as our base race is class as well.

Off the top of my head (I haven’t read The Hobbit this millennium) I’d having the following classes (with the iconic character they represent):

  • Hobbit burglar – Bilbo
  • Barbarian – Conan
  • Wizard – Gandalf (Wizard, not magic-user…much more closely aligned to the specific character)
  • Dwarf – Thorin Oakenshield and his band
  • Bowman – Bard the Bowman although you might generalize this to weapon master.
  • Vampire Hunter – van Helsing
  • Wood Elf – The Wood Elf King (Elf fighters with woodland abilities)
  • Sage Elf – Elrond (Elves with magical abilities more related to healing and helping to match the idea of the Last Homely House)

Random Campaign Idea: Roaring Heroes

Imagine a time of great change, a new and unique popular music, the emergence of organized crime in many cities in the US, a ubiquitous underworld, rebellious youth culture, lots of stories of adventure and science, and many people pushing to the limits of human ability and endurance.

Well, if you consider women voting, the emergence of jazz (specifically Dixieland), people from Joe Kennedy to Al Capone to making fortunes running rum, the speakeasy culture, The Lost Generation and flappers, the birth of Amazing Stories, much of Lovecraft’s stories (the landmark Call of Cthulhu was written in 1926 and published in 1928), and things as serious as Lindbergh flight and as frivolous as pole-sitting(although it has a serious religious history).

So why not superheroes? I thing the 20s is a completely ignored period for superheroes, at least in gaming.

Potential heroes could include:

Pole Star: With the emergence of the first Polish nation in over a century the resulting surge of nationalism would inspire one young lady to become the embodiment of the Polish nation. Her powers first appeared on the battlefields of Polish-Soviet War when she blinded an entire Soviet infantry company (leading to their capture) with her “star light”.

The Limmerick: An Irish veteran of the war against British known for his banter while running circles around British troops later showed how literal those circles were. This speedster was also know for his improvised vibes at his opponents.

The Stylist: A record holder during the pole sitting fad would achieve a form of enlightenment and bodily control and go on to fight crime with his mental powers and unstoppable fists.

The Drunken Brawler: The other great fist fighter of the first generation of superheroes was a college student who first learned of his alcohol fueled powers while defending his girl and several others when a gang hit went down in his favorite speakeasy.

The Mol: However, The Drunken Brawler’s girlfriend needed protection the least. A champion trick shooter she would go on to join him in crime fighting in the Northeast US. Given his need for the illegal gin to fuel his abilities she actually held the more prominent position and certainly was the public face of the Flapper Duo.

I think a 1920s game would work best with a few ground rules:

  1. The nature of the heroes is probably better at a lower power level (even the original Superman was less powered than today) and with attitudes halfway between classic pulp heroes such as The Shadow and Doc Savage and the Superheroes decended from them. Domino masks and stylized street clothes should be preferred over tights.
  2. A lighter, early Silver Age style should prevail and even then a more DC “golly, gee why can’t she love me instead of Green Lantern” feel than a “how will I take care of Aunt May” Marvel feel.
  3. At the same time, this is the party before we all die in the wake of WWI. Most men who are heroes are probably veterans of that war and their angst over the killing and senselessness of the war is good. Codes against killing as well as superheroics being an expression of things such as finding meaning or thrill seeking (similar to the emergence of biker gangs after WWII) are good uses of the effects of the war.
  4. The Mysterious East is a double edged sword. Yellow peril is in the air and the Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu (or a suitable clone) is almost required. At the same time characters like Larry Darrell are finding a way to deal with the war and some mysterious powers (even Darrell uses hypnotism) in the Orient.
  5. National heroes could pop up all over Europe with the changes due to the war. That same nationalism deposed many monarchs who could make great villains or national heroes depending on how you play it. Is the Kaiser a villain scheming to re-enslave Germany or the last person defending it to the world?

Random Campaign Idea: Heroes of the Ages

Thought #1: This is a (probably incomplete) list of all the superhero (specific, not generics with supers supplements) I own: Superhero 2044, Villains and Vigilantes, Champions (boxed with 2 & 3 plus Big Blue Book), Marvel FASERIP, Heroes Unlimited (original, revised, and second editions), Batman (cut down Mayfair DC), Blood of Heroes (Mayfair DC minus DC), Mutants and Masterminds (2nd edition only), Truth and Justice, BASH (Ultimate Edition), Icons, and Mystery Men. Depending on how you count that’s as many as twelve (if Batman and Blood of Heroes are considered separately) but I’d really call it eleven. Of them, nine I’m willing to play. Champions is a bit heavy for me these days (Mutants and Masterminds barely makes the cut) and Superhero 2044 is incomplete (something I’ve thought since 7th grade when I got it) although both could make it into rotation. I’m especially excited about the additional material the upcoming Superhero 2044 will have. While it’s not the two books planned back in the day it’s something.

Now, just keep that in the back of your head.

Thought #2: One of the most common thread types on places like RPG.net is “what system for X?”. A similar type takes the inverse question “how to do X with Y?”. In fact, how often a system is mentioned as an answer to the first question is a bit of a bone of contention with the current darlings being mentioned for everything (when Exalted is the answer for the movie Outlands we’ve got issues). Still, it’s a valid question. D&D, as written, doesn’t mesh well with Tolkien, for example. Consider just the issue of Gandalf alone. He’s about 7th level as a magic-user and a sword wielding one at that. Even Conan, a clear inspiration, required dual classing abilities not achievable as per the AD&D rules book when presented by Gygax himself (see Dragon ### for the presentation, the fundamental problem is he goes up in two classes at once). This gets even more complicated when we consider characters that appear in different media by different authors. Do you mean Conan by Howard, in a Robert Jordon pastiche, in The Savage Sword of Conan comic, or the movies? Or, to tie it to my first question do you mean Captain America from the All Winner’s Squad, the Invaders, the Avengers, the recent Marvel Civil War, Ultimate Marvel, or that horrid 70s movie (please don’t let it be the later).

Thought #3:

Random Campaign Idea: To Serve the Emperor

This is the third Star Wars derived random campaign idea (first and second) to appear on this blog. Yet I maintain I’m more a Star Trek guy.

“The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.”

“But that’s impossible. How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?”

“The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line.” Exchange between Governor Tarkin and General Tagge

Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.

“Having exterminated through treachery and deception the Jedi Knights, guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors and bureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the galaxy. Many used the imperal forces and the name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions. – Journal of the Whills

The first Emperor came to power by exploiting a tradition in the history of the Republic. In multiple times of crisis the Senate had elected a dictator with absolute authority for a limited period of time. However, Senator ne Magister Populi Palpatine, using those very boot-lickers he would later appoint his Lictors and eventually Regional Governors, convinced the Senate to not place the traditional fixed limit but one “for the duration”. One cannot help but wonder if Palpatine was actually the power behind both sides of the Clone Wars in an effort to create an open ended crisis to justify his powers.

Regardless, by the time the Clone Wars had ended the Magister Populi had become the Emperor and, in theory, ran the galaxy as his personal fiefdom. The truth of the matter is by this point the aged Palpatine (he was a venerable 121 when first elected to the Senate and nearly 200 when he first became Magister Populi) no longer cared about the details of power but only engaged in their fruits. He considered the handful of rebellious fringe systems beyond his notice. With their victory at Corrin and rising support in the Senate he became tired of the buzzing of malcontents and, dissolving the Senate, sequestered himself in his splendor and turned over the galaxy to his former associates, the Regional Governors.

Still, some retain hope. The Jedi Knight Obi-wan Kenobi, who had both served on Palapine’s staff, believed the Emperor, who’s initial move to become dictator was driven by a desire to restore the Republic, could be reached. They believed his mind had been poisoned by certain of the Governors (Tarkin chief among them) and by Obi-wan’s student, Darth Vader, who had betrayed the Jedi to the Sith. He noted Palapine began to change when Vader replaced Anikan Skywalker as his staff Jedi upon Skywalker’s death. This was cemented when Obi-wan learned that Vader had been behind Skywalker’s death.

Now, the handful of Jedi, mostly semi-trained students, have rallied to Skywalker’s son Luke in the hopes of defeating the illegitimate governors in the name of the Emperor. They believe that should they secure enough of the galaxy they can regain the Emperor’s ear and draw out his original intent to restore the Republic.

This is another “limit the canon” idea. Specifically, this one only requires Star Wars itself and its novelization. It does, however, leave space for the early Marvel comics, Brian Daley novels, and similar material.

I believe this one is well adapted to Traveller or Stars without Number. Each governor could rule over one subsector map and the empire might be as small as a Traveller sector. The psionic assumptions of SWN in particular, lost disciplines with what is known trained by a handful psychics themselves feeling out the powers of the past, match these semi-trained Jedi trying to restore a lost order.

Random Campaign Idea: Potion Miscibility

This is a little different than most Random Campaign Ideas. Instead of a fleshed out idea it’s more framework for creating your own.

Two frameworks already presented in blogs that I know of are Jeff Reint’s Alchemical Formula and Scott’s interesting thought experiment. Lacking the creativity of either gentleman I present my mix of the two. I hope you find my miscibility roll to be a good one.

You get three pairs of game items and three pairs of inspirations and all campaign material must derive from them and you and your player’s imagination. However you only start with one pair, add one when your first PC reaches 3rd level, and then add one when your first PC reaches 14th level. This brings together the limited palette of both ideas and casts it in terms of the B/X tree Scott used.

What are those pairs:

Level 1 Gaming: Moldvay Basic and any single B module published by TSR (except B1-9 combined). It could also work if you opened it to “any TSR, JG, or Mayfair module for levels 1-3” or but limiting to TSR B series is “purer”. You could even open it up to modern OSR modules if you like. The key idea is pick one thing in the 32-64 page range.

Level 1 Inspiration: Any one single book from Moldvay’s list and any single movie or three episodes of a TV series.

Level 1 Reasoning: Instead of a pure Moldavy boxed set I allow for a roll your own with limits. Like Scott I think B2 is a bit too straight jacket if part of your required inspiration. I know in the review in White Dwarf the reviewer of Palace of the Silver Princess recommended it replace B2. Also, for many of us B2 is something we’ve used a lot. While I’m a big fan of writing sources of inspiration for roleplaying being able to show your players a movie and say “like this” can help get them up to speed.

Level 3 Gaming: Cook Expert and any single X module published by TSR or B10, Night’s Dark Terror (which was designed as a transitional module). As with Level 1, opening it up to any single module for levels 4-14 from any source would work if a little less pure.

Level 3 Inspiration: Any one single book from Moldvay’s list and any single non-fantasy novel or year of one comic book.

Level 3 Reasoning: As with the “roll your own Basic Set” I like to let those of us who have used X1 a bit too much although I don’t find it as restrictive as B2. The move to a written medium for inspiration two here is an attempt to get something different: a detective novel, ancient astronaut book, or a Jack Kirby comic is to add some spice to the fantasy staples already in place.

Level 14 Gaming: The new B/X Companion and any single rpg supplement of any kind no longer than 64 pages letter/A4 (scale for other sizes).

Level 14 Inspiration: Any one single book from Moldvay’s list and any single source including modern fantasy novels.

Level 14 Reasoning: The Companion finishes the rules set while the second book gives me Jeff’s “third book” of RPG material. The ability to pick any game book, not limited to a module, and the option to pick any text as the sixth non-gaming inspiration reflects the advanced age of the campaign. At this point, your world should have it’s voice and adding something very open or heavy won’t disrupt it much.

One suggestion if you do decide to use this formula: pick your pairs as you get them…don’t pre-decide. Let where the campaign has gone decide what you’re going to add to the journey. Preconceived notions of what is coming at level three are liable to sink you.

For full disclosure if I was to start doing this tomorrow I’d add the following to my Moldvay Basic:

1. B7 Rahasia
2. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
3. Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

Island as dungeons could easily become a theme here, but the module choice could balance it.

Random Campaign Idea: Marvel Star Wars

Sure, Star Wars campaigns have been common since 1977, with many a version of Traveller twisted to fit the first episode of Lucas’s space epic (or vice versa). Since the late 80s with the first (of 2-4 depending on how you count them) official Star Wars game, a ton of novels, the prequels, and expanded universe (which the original WEG version helped create) it’s hard to not see Star Wars as a fully developed setting with fairly known eras, places, and plots.

But as Space:1970 recently reminded me there is a cannon that you can build on that is mostly superseded. Marvel had a long running Star Wars comic. While the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back were both in the mainline of the series The Return of the Jedi was not, being relegated to its own miniseries. I’m not sure why, but given the dates I suspect it was simply a product of the comics industry at the time. Dark Horse has republished all these issues. That said, Wookiepedia reports the comics are marginal at best in terms of continuity. To me that spells opportunity.

So, the second Star Wars idea to make it to PtG,PtB (the first was my take on an old RPG.net thread) is to use this simpler Star Wars. Much like a Brian Daley oriented corporate sector game this would be more a classic space opera game set against the back drop of the first two movies (you know, the good ones). The cannon would be Star Wars, The Empire Strikes back, their novelizations, and the Marvel comic up to issue 80. For a system I’d hunt down the old WEG Star Wars (any edition) and the free version of D6 Space.

While not a campaign for the hard core Star Wars fan for a GM looking for an easily explained universe for space opera in either the heroic or scoundrel mode this is a fine background. Plus, the research: reading some cool if obscure comics and watching the best two Star Wars movies, would be great fun.