Monday Pointers: November 26, 2012 Edition

D4: The Joy of Factions
Rather Gamey has a great series of posts about using the Stars without Number factions game for his campaign. Although he has posted another faction turn since the linked post above I choose it because it has a set of links to all the lead up posts.

D6: Changeling Round Up
Among the games I have and would love to play as much as ref few stand out as much as two NWoD games: Mage: The Awakening and Changeling: The Lost. I’ve played the former briefly but never the rather. Age of Raven’s recent and not so recent posts only make me want to play it more.

D8: Speaking of Old School
I have written about Palladium before (here and here for example). I consider them the last true Old School game company and/or the oldest OSR company. While I like a lot of their later games (even stuff that is Rift/Palladium 2nd Edition) the first edition of Palladium Fantasy was my go to fantasy game for a period in the late 80s and is still worth mining. All the books for it are also all available on Drive Thru RPG.

D10: Alternate Wardens and Beanstalks
Until the Internet came along I had started to believe I had imagined The Starlost completely. Certainly the Ark fits my conception of a lost starship best of all (I wouldn’t read Orphans of the Sky or Starship until years later).

The May Project: Introduction and Canon

So, my project for May is designing the initial adventure and setting for campaign whose canon is selected accord to Jeff Rients’ Alchemical Proposal. I’m only aiming to create enough material to run initial characters and adventures. I want to leave enough open that the setting will evolve through play. As a result I suspect much of the source material will remain untouched.

I would like to use only things I have in physical form so I can use a banker’s box to hold it. This is an idea picked up from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit which I’ll discuss tomorrow.

1) Start with any ol’ D&D-esque ruleset, though a simpler system without alot of fiddly bits probably works better here.

Here I’ll be using Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Grindhouse Edition. This is a semi-exception to the physical form rule. I have the Deluxe edition and my Grindhouse is either in shipping or will be shipped this week. For now we’ll toss the Deluxe in the box until Grindhouse gets here.

2) Add some supplementary rules material. You’re primarily looking for new Gygaxian building blocks (classes, races, spells, monsters, magic items, etc) to drop into the game. In this recipe you want exactly two different sources for this stuff, one of which is easy to put into your game, like adding Mutant Future as a source of monsters and treasures to your Labyrinth Lord game. For the other one choose something that might be a little harder to fit into your system of choice without some work.

I like to call these the near and far supplements. For LotFP I will define a “near” supplement as anything written to be directly compatible with TSR D&D. The only conversion that will really be needed is armor class and perhaps a few other things like magic resistance.

The physical rule has the biggest effect here as my first choice, Monster Manual 2, isn’t on the bookshelf. I do want a monster book as this is one area where LotFP is pretty empty. I understand Raggi has done this for philosophical reasons but a collection of monsters is useful for me. One reason I’d like the MM2 is the players are much less likely to be familiar. The other is has the section on mapping rarity to custom encounter tables. In fact, that section is why I first bout the MM2 back in the day.

Lacking the MM2 and not wanting to use the Fiend Folio the next choice on my shelf is Monsters of Myth and Legend from the old Mayfair Games Role Aids line. It contains simple background and monsters from six different real world traditions: American Indian, Australian Aborigine, Chinese, Greek, Irish, and Norse mythologies. That looks like a good fit. It’s material can provide a basic outline for six different regions.

Now that we’ve picked a near supplement let’s look for a far supplement. Scanning the shelf I want something far not only in a rules sense but in a genre/setting sense. Instead of another fantasy book I’d like something a little different. I’m not interested into doing something more science fantasy like but maybe something from a horror or modern-mystical setting. Looking at the shelves two choices jump out at me, Mystic China and Through the Glass Darkly. Both books are from Palladium and are for their Ninjas & Superspies and Nightbane games respectively.

Looking through both books they both add several classes and quite a few magic spells. However, I’m going to go with Mystic China for a few reasons. First, while I’m not sure I want to use new character classes early out of the gate if I do at some point Mystic China’s are more than just magic user types. Second, while the idea of living magic is very interesting I’m not sure that’s a direction I’d like to take. Finally, there is some synergy in my two gaming supplements in that both try to provide some Chinese material. I doubt either is going to provide a real Chinese experience (Mystic China does provide a few pages on quick and dirty feel) but I’ve never run a campaign with an East Asia filtered through typical American rpg sensibilities campaign. Doing something new is always a good exercise.

Tomorrow we’ll move onto step three which is selecting a limited amount of fluff to use as inspiration. Then we’ll put it all in a banker’s box and post a photo plus discuss the banker’s box idea.

R is for Rifts

Okay, who didn’t see this entry coming?

For the three of you out there who don’t know what Rifts is the following is the description from the Palladium catalog:

Rifts® is a multi-genre role-playing game that captures the imagination unlike any other. Elements of magic, horror, and the supernatural co-exist with science, high technology and the ordinary. The game spans countless dimensions, making anything and everything possible. Players are truly limited only by their imaginations!

That really doesn’t capture it. A better example is this ad from the Dragon twenty years ago when it was released. The ad also mentions the first three supplements Palladium produced for the game. The Sourcebook openly admits to being material cut from the core rules for space and it includes some excellent if whacked setting info (more about it below). The first two world books, Vampire Kingdoms and Atlantis, include some great ideas. Vampire Kingdoms features a central America ruled by vampires invulnerable to all human weapons but vulnerable to wooden stakes and running water. It was evocative enough that almost two decades later while reading the Dresden Files novel Changes I couldn’t help but imagine the Red Court Vampires of Central and South America in Rifts via the same supplement. Atlantis includes magical tattoos and the inter-dimensional slavers the Splurgoth and their Blind Slave Women who were on the cover of Rifts first addition. Either of these books would be a great supplement for an old school science-fantasy campaign.

That is the power of Rifts. It is the Arduin of the 1990s combining classic fantasy tropes in a Gamma World setting being invaded by demons from hell whose depredations are opposed by mecha pilots. Every complaint about Palladium rules I mentioned in my Palladium post are present in spades. In fact, many of those complaints apply to Rifts exclusively or nearly exclusively.

Rifts also has an excellent off-shoot/subsetting: Phase World. This intergalatic campaign divided among three galaxies is perfect for Legion of Superheroes or other space supers campaigns or wild anime style space opera as well as classic Edward “World Wrecker” Hamilton and Doc E. E. Smith space opera. Among the great additions in Phase World are the Cosmic Knights which I’ve described as “The Green Lantern Corps with a Knights of the Round Table Questing Knight image instead of magic rings.”

Still, I find myself buying Rifts books on the used market regularly. My anger over the company’s internet policy has softened enough that the latest Phase World supplements I may buy outright. I started off this month with my RDR (Rifts Done Right) material and tomorrow will include a more mundane post in that series. Rifts is a constant source of discussion and dismay over on, mainly a desire to find the right system to run it (hint, Palladium or some other classic D&D variant is a requirement IMHO).

For the old school Rifts, more than almost any other Palladium line except perhaps fantasy, is a set of overlooked classics. If you want gonzo, metal, comic book science fantasy you owe it to yourself to find a ley line and walk into the Earth of Rifts.

Rifts Done Right

RDR (maybe call it Radar) is a tag that I’ve added a couple of times. It is my latest probably not to be finished project. Specifically it stands for Rifts Done Right. It won’t technically be Rifts converted to a retro-clone given Palladium’s rather nasty policy of sending C&Ds to anyone who posts conversions of their material to other systems. Despite that routinely threads turn up at about converting Rifts or doing it right. Most talk about converting it to a “better system” with as diverse a list including EABA, Savage Worlds, Mutants & Masterminds, FATE in several incarnations, Hero, and GURPS regularly coming up. I think that’s misguided as the “clunky, broken, and unbalanced” system Palladium uses is a big source of the gonzo fun that makes Rifts work.

Instead, I’m working on a retro-clone based (probably Swords & Wizardry White Box) game inspired by Rifts: a gonzo post-nuclear and magical apocalypse game about guys in powered armor adventuring with dragons in order to kill demons coming to Earth via tears in reality. After all, if you want weird gonzo science fantasy after the end of the world why not go back to the original “balance, we don’t need no stinking balance” game style. Palladium’s house system has it’s roots in the late 70s/early 80s old school style. In fact, they are arguably the last great old school gaming company.

Why am I bothering to post all of this? Because in surveying my A to Z Blogging Challenge planned posts I see just how many are RDR based. Given that I figured explaining it up front was worth while.

Sure, after April it might turn out to be another Space Monks or Demon Haunted World but I hope not. Both of those projects died for lack of players for me to test my ideas. After this Saturday’s Stars without Numbers game RDR will be what I run at local meet-ups. I find it hard to create RPG material if there is no game to use them. I’m hoping it’ll be a hit at the Meetup and become a monthly game.

The Alternate Thursday Campaign: Initial notes

So, I’ve been wanting to get a second game going. And a third and maybe a fourth.

Insane I know, but let’s start with game two to begin with. Besides, in both The Complete Book of Wargames (A Fireside book) and article about D&D for Games Magazine Jon Freeman noted many people he played with played most days of the week. And yes, they were adults (this was the late 70s).

So, the bullet points:

  • The genre is comic book space opera. Think Jack Kirby, Legion of Superheroes, Doc Smith, Robotech, and The War in Space.
  • This is to be a Palladium based lego game. You need approval before hand but in general you can pick any race class from a Palladium book. I’d like to see the focus be on Heroes Unlimited, Splicers, Phase World, and System Failure. They’re also where you’ll least likely to get kick back. If you want to be Space Navy, look at the Robotech stuff because I will. We’ll just re-skin it.
  • Don’t worry about balance…this is classic OSR gonzo where balance is something you make, not something baked into the characters.
  • This is comic book space opera. That means you can pick magical characters as well as science fiction ones and superheroes.
  • This isn’t Star Wars. In fact, that’s a direction I decidedly don’t want to go.
  • I’ve just gotten both collected volumes of Jack Kirby’s Eternals. You have been warned.

Monday Pointers: President’s Day

D4: 101 Days of Ersatz D&D
Maybe a slightly unfair thread name, but it works. For those who aren’t familiar with, for a while a popular thread was “101 Days of X” where someone, in order to combat gamer ADD, decided they would only read/play/run/etc a given system for 101 days. The latest covers Palladium Fantasy. I have briefly discussed an older Palladium game, The Mechanoids before. I love Palladium’s stuff and although the system used to get me very wound up one side effect of being in the OSR is caring about that a bit less. It was one of the two systems featured in RPG Legos and the little discussed Dark Etiquette RPG has its roots in my efforts to “fix” Rifts.

D6:Choosing which class to be is for sissies… changelings roll for it.
Jeff Rients gives us an interesting take on changelings for OD&D type games complete with random class progression.

D8:For Extra Pages
Erin is back at THe Welsh Piper with a new edition of Basic Chimera close to being out. I’m glad his sabbatical was only January and part of February in length. I’m also excited about a new Basic Chimera as it’s one of two games I’m looking at for an actual campaign in a very changed The Demon Haunted Wordl.

Random Campaign Idea: The Last God

At the dawn of time the gods who inhabited the Astral Sea warred with the Old Ones from beyond the known universe. Aberrant monsters of the Far Realm they sought to unmake creation. The gods were hard pressed and imbued the mortals with their powers to join in the battle. In the end the Old Ones were driven from the moral world and it’s parallels as well as the Astral Sea. However, many gods fell and a handful of openings to the Far Realms permitted the servants of the Old Ones to corrupt creation.

For a time the gods worked to heal the world and mortals hunted down the fell servants but the Old Ones were not permanently deterred. Again the Old Ones struck and were defeated yet more gods fell. Like the tides breaking upon the shore each war ended with reality preserved but more of the gods, and often their planes within the Astral Sea, destroyed. Each time more of the Old One’s servants remained behind.

Now, a thousand years after the last war, the world awaits its fate. The Last God imbues his servants with the power to destroy the aberrant monsters while runepriests join mystery cults dedicated to fallen gods to learn their powers. Other mortals, knowing that the gods are spent and the defense of the world falls to them, have taken to walking arcane paths and making fell pacts to garner power to defeat the Old Ones and their servants. The Fey wilds have sent forth their own champions and even beings of Elemental Chaos have stepped into the world to prepare for its next defense.

Yet even before that can begin the world must be cleansed of the corruption left by the Old Ones, including the promises of power to persevere against them or even among them. It seems no place is pure and no power lies uncorrupted.

This idea comes from two primary sources and one secondary source. The primary sources are James Raggi’s how to make D&D metal and Palladium Book’s Old Ones. The secondary source is Charnel Gods, a supplement to Sorcerer which has no web presence that I can find.

The principle idea behind the setting is an ongoing war for the universe between the gods and Cthuvian Old Ones. As the gods beat off each attack their numbers diminished faster than their ability to regenerate. Now, the Last God prepares for his final battle by empowering servants, while men try to claim both the powers of the fallen gods as well learn the powers of creation directly.

Meanwhile, these wars have corrupted the world itself. Most power is now seduced by servants of the Old Ones and the world wars among itself as much as it tries to heal and prepare. The characters are new heroes rising to fight the corruption of the world only to risk seduction by it. Those who persevere beyond that seduction can rise to defend creation itself.

I originally conceived this for my restricted classes and races 4e campaign.

Buried Treasures: Mechanoid Invasion

When I went home for Christmas I looked through my games collection that still resides at my parents’ house. Among the items I found in boxes that I was very glad I still had was the first roleplaying game Palladium Publishing produced, The Mechanoid Invasion and it’s two sequels.

For those not familiar the series of three games/supplements describes the destruction of a human colony by the Mechanoids. They Mechaniods are an evil, insane, race of cyborgs. Think of the Borg but created while on a peyote trip after reading a decade of Rom: Spaceknight comics. In the first book, The Mechanoid Invasion the colonists are trying to fight off the Mechanoids. In the second book, The Journey, finding out that military assistance will be month’s too late as the Mechanoids are tearing apart the planet for resources the colonist become the rats in the walls of the Mechanoid’s asteriod sized mothership. Interestingly, this book is the only one that is isn’t a stand alone game. Finally, in Homeworld, we reach the Mechanoid homeworld. The last is the longest book at 192 digest pages. The combined reprint is in normal RPG sized is about 200 pages.

Today Palladium has become the butt of jokes for most of the community for their gun porn, power creep, and recycling material. There is truth to that. In fact, if you get the original The Mechanoid Invasion you’ll find material in the newest Palladium games word for word. Even in the third book you get material for the first repeats. The Balrog Destroyer super tank from The Journey is the first instance of the power creep and lack of internal logic that would characterize Rifts material.

However, ever good thing that people would say about Palladium in the next thirty years is in here too. The engine, which is an early D&D derivative, is functional for the game in place. Given the modern view that the Palladium engine is fine for fantasy but broken for modern systems people should look back. The gonzo imagination of Kevin Siembieda is on display. The various kinds of Mechanoids is creative as is the entire idea of the second book. At the time most people expected what we’d later see in Rifts with the Federation showing up with big ships and a power scale up. Instead we got microbe created magic and the ultimate reverse dungeon in space.

After the original digest books went out of print Palladium created a third stand alone game called The Mechanoids set between the first and third book of the original trilogy. While not quite as exciting it isn’t a bad game. A decade later the Mechanoids would appear with mega-damage as yet another Rifts supplement. This is the least enjoyable version in my opinion but for several years was the easiest to find. However, about a decade ago the original books were gathered into a single volume pretty much intact. This big book is one of Palladium’s first e-products and is available at RPGNow. The preview has a complete table of contents if you’re considering any version of the reprint.

With the growing interest in science-fantasy this is truly a buried treasure. If you are using Mutant Future including Mechanoids in a variety of forms is an option. They’d fit well into Encounter Critical. I’m not sure they’d be too great for most science fantasy but I’d encourage someone using Jeff Rient’s Alchemical Proposal to think about making it one supplement. In fact, if you want to do an OSR science fantasy game more from the science side than the fantasy side it it could be a good base game. Regardless, this is one game worth overcoming the post Rifts Palladium prejudices to take a look at.

RPG Legos

A common concept of the OSR is the idea of making the game your own. Beyond keeping the rules available in print the strongest reason for the retro-clones is making the game your own. Mutant Future and Ruins & Ronin are among the best examples of this idea, neither being 100% compatible with a prior game even fairly tight clones like Labrynth Lord or Swords & Wizardry put their own spin on the past. Even more important are the numerous mini-supplements, add-ons, and fanzines like Advanced Edition Characters or Fight On!. They embody something common in the early days of RPGs explemlified by early fanzines, The Dragon (especially in the single and double digit issues) and other professional magazines, and the early fantasy games that were essentially house ruled D&D. These new products all aspire to regain the days when “playing D&D” meant you were playing a game whose genesis was in one or more of a series of books plublished by TSR, that you had a character who had a class and improved by going up in levels, and you had combat by rolling a d20. Beyond those basics you needed to learn the lay of the land, including rules and conventions as well as the setting, when setting down with a new group.

Regaining those days is a noble goal. The increased reliance in the hobby on official and “complete” rules and settings has diminished the hobby as a creative outlet. That said, some more modern games, viewed correctly, provide more of that vibe than we in the OSR acknowledge. In particular there are two systems readily available (one in print and one out of print but very, very common) that provide what I’ll call RPG legos. There is so much published material for these systems, much of it contridictory and some of it trash, that a GM can easily mix and match his way to a unique game completely distinct from the DM next door while still being able to draw on fans of those systems. They are the Palladium Megaversal system and, wait for it, D&D 3.x/D20.

Palladium, in particular, is very much old school at its core having began as a house ruled version of D&D. Several games with different genres or settings exist or have existed. Checking the Palladium website there are currently in print twelve game lines using the Palladium core system (more or less) and 116 individual items in print or back-ordered. They also have several prior lines now out of print but readily found. The design of Palladium’s books make them perfect for a mix or match campaign (as well as great OSR supplements). Each book is a mish-mash of new rules, classes, spells, monsters, and items (magical and tech) with some setting pieces. Even these bits of setting are often easily adaptable to a variety of settings. With new Gygaxian building blocks in each sourcebook you could pick one core rules set and then just pick two more books that wet your appetitate (a la Jeff Rient’s Alchemical Formula) to create an interesting campaign. As new ones tickle your fancy or you need new material you can just add a book.

Before moving on from Palladium let me add one final advantage and a caveat. The advantage is Palladium material is often found used if your FLGS has a used section. It is also quite common new or used on eBay for very reasonable prices. The caveat is the Palladium system can be a bit unweildy, especially if using the MDC rules. Combat requires a lot of judgment callsand nothing is consistant across systems. For an OSR game this problem, as well as many other complaints about Palladium’s system such as a dozen different classes for soldiers or skills having all different percentages to give, are pure gold. In addition the web abounds with houserules as does Palladium’s The Rifter or you can roll your own.

D&D 3.x/D20 (henceforth D&D3 for simplicity) is a tighter system with less room for judgment calls so beloved of the OSR but more than we grognards credit it. At this point it has at least several major variations six or seven by my count) at least two of which have their own minor variations. They cover fantasy (too numerous to list), science fiction at least twice (Star Wars and Traveller), espinage (Spycraft), superheroes (Mutants and Masterminds), and generic modern/historical/future (D20 Modern). Beyond that there exist different tweeks for other styles and conventions (i.e. BESM D20 and True20). Add in a ton of mostly compatible D20 branded supplemental material and you have more than enough to build a unique rules set. More over, much as Palladium, most of this is now in the used market due to 4th edition.

D&D3 has three advantages over Palladium in practical and artistic terms. First, finding players willing to play is easier as the system is more common and familiar to a broad base of players. Next, there is more material available, although almost to the point of being overwhelming. The final benefit is the material is OGL. You can, to a large degree, compose your own player’s handbook out of all the pieces you’ve selected and distribute it. You may have to rewrite lots of descriptions as most OGL materials are OGL only in the game related materials and names while descriptions are considered PI. However, in my opinion this is a plus not a minus. Allowing you to combine the best of OGL game material with your world specific descriptions allows you to create something new and unique to you but clearly built from the widest available game system.