Sunday, March 26, 2017

For Those Who Must Sacrifice

Click here to listen to an 8tracks mix entitled For Those Who Must Sacrifice

Tracklist:
† King Woman - Heirophant
† Chelsea Wolfe - Iron Moon
† Windhand - Crypt Key
† Mount Salem - The Tower
† Luciferian Light Orchestra - Church of Carmel
† Jex Thoth - When the Raven Calls
† Jess and the Ancient Ones - 13th Breath of the Zodiac
† Blood Ceremony - Hymn to Pan

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bad Books for Bad People - Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis

Have you ever wanted to hear me rant and rave about vampires-as-superheroes, crybaby ancient aliens, ghosts-with-bodies, pants, space-age polymers, and nipple-sucking clones? Well, you're in luck, the new episode of my podcast with Tenebrous Kate is up!

Beginning with her smash hit debut novel, 1976's Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice has spent a career detailing the lives, loves, and melodramas of a sprawling cast of supernatural characters. In interviews where she's discussed 2016's Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, Rice promised a whole new spin on her beloved Vampire Chronicles. The concept of blending gothic vampires with new age science fiction is an appealing one, but does the author deliver on her promise? Jack and Kate dive into this latest offering from the queen of modern gothic horror.
How many of the Vampire Chronicles books have our hosts skipped? Will Kate's dreams of lots of characters she doesn't recognize meeting up with ancient aliens come true? Will we learn the vagaries of vampire science? Isn't a ghost with a body just a dude? How is Lestat doing after all these years? Find out all this and more in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
***Spoilers Abound***
Intro/Outro music: "Pictures of Betrayal" by Nosferatu.
Find us at BadBooksBadPeople.com, on Twitter @badbooksbadppl, Instagram @badbooksbadpeople and on Facebook. You can discover where to get all the books featured on Bad Books for Bad People on our reading list.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sloppy XP Equals Sloppy Design

I have a pet peeve when it comes to rpg design: I really don't like it when designers leave the XP or advancement system undercooked. If the rules for advancement or leveling up don't feel finished and if they don't offer incentives for the players to engage with what the game is about, I think you didn't finish the job of making a game.

Examples


Stars Without Number
According to the Stars Without Number core rules, the game has a particular focus: "In Stars Without Number you play the role of an interstellar adventurer. Whether a grizzled astrotech, lostworlder warrior, or gifted psychic, you dare the currents of space for the sake of riches and glory" (5). Under that given premise, the game claims to reward things like seeking riches and glory: "Characters are awarded experience points by the GM upon accomplishing certain goals, defeating meaningful enemies, or plundering insufficiently guarded wealth" (64). 

But here's where it all falls apart: 
1) Getting XP for "certain goals" is already vague, but what a proper goal looks like and how much XP it should be worth is never spelled out, as far as I can tell. 

2) None of the "meaningful enemies" in the book's Xenobestiary have an XP value for defeating them. I can't find any guidelines for giving XP for defeating enemies in the book at all. 

3) Making off with "insufficiently guarded wealth" is intended to be the old-school D&D method of 1 GP = 1 XP since Stars Without Numbers is basically D&D-in-Space, but that's tucked away in a place that's not very intuitive--about seventy pages after the XP rules are given (131). 

It's also really clunky in its implementation; characters shouldn't get XP for a big-ticket item like a space ships, and you should increase the amount of money they're getting per adventure because space ships are money pits, but that extra money you have to throw at them now shouldn't give XP because there wasn't much effort put into the mechanics of this idea: "You should not be reluctant to increase adventure rewards or offer more remunerative opportunities to players with a starship to feed, though this should not increase the XP gained" (131). 

It's worth noting that if more defined rules are buried somewhere in the book, the index will not help you find them; "Level," "XP," "Experience Points," "Advancement," etc. do not have entries in the index.


Dark Heresy 2nd Edition
Dark Heresy has not one, but two systems for awarding XP. The first is to award a set amount of XP per session: "Under the abstract method, experience points are awarded for time spent gaming, ensuring a steady and even progression for all characters. For each game session composed of multiple encounters, every PC should receive 400 xp. This would allow them to purchase a minor increase in their capabilities approximately every session, or a more significant one every few sessions. This method assumes a game session lasts approximately four hours of active play time. For longer or shorter sessions, the GM can adjust the rewards accordingly" (371). What this system doesn't do is offer an incentive for doing anything during play, and only really rewards showing up to the game. As a system, it's easy and doesn't require much book-keeping, but it also strikes me as lazily designed because it doesn't connect to the premise of what the game is about.

Surely the more detailed system picks up the slack, right? Well, no, "It is also possible to award xp in a more detailed manner, in which every reward is tied to a specific difficulty or challenge. This allows the GM to match the PCs’ progression to the progression of events more closely, or to increase the players’ sense of accomplishment. However, it requires that the GM be able to evaluate each encounter and challenge and assign an appropriate amount of xp" (371). 

This sounds like a system that was fully thought out, and there is even a chart showing you how much XP to award per character based on seven categories of encounter difficulty. Unfortunately, however, although this system does create an incentive ("win" encounters), it is ultimately incomplete because the rules offer no guidance as to what constitutes as "easy" encounter or a "very hard" encounter. The designer has absolved themselves from providing what seems like a fairly crucial part of how XP will be awarded. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Tales of Old Rus by Roman Papsuev

An idle Google image search uncovered a treasure trove of images that were clearly evoking Russian legends through a modern fantasy lens. Before I set to tracking down the artist, I wondered if these were pictures from a Russian version of Red Box-era D&D or maybe the concept art for a awesome toy line we never got in the West. A few clicks more and I learned that the art was by Roman Papsuev, who has made it a personal project to reinterpret Russian folk tales in the aesthetics of Western fantasy gaming under the title "Tales of Old Rus." 































Monday, March 20, 2017

The Seeker of Knowledge and the Destroyer of Knowledge.

Two more figures of intrigue to be wary of in night-haunted Krevborna:

Rumored to be a professor of the dark arts at the Malcovat, Doctor Ulric Montmort makes rare appearances in Krevborna. The aim of these sabbaticals is almost always in service of discovering rare books of occult lore that would aid in his unhallowed researches, which center on the connection between the nature of nightmares and other planes of existence. 

Swithun Vanderhaus is a defrocked priest who served the Church by infiltrating the criminal underground to gather information. The truths he uncovered soured him to the Church's purpose, and he seeks further knowledge hidden by the Church that he believes is inherently dangerous and must be destroyed before it can pose a further menace to mankind.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Evil in the Depths of Kojiyuma Temple

art by JKRoots
Campaign: Scarabae (open-table online 5e D&D)

The Characters:

  • Zunx - fidgety warlock mole-thing
  • Mortimer - pugilistic human monk
  • Albrecht - halfling rogue with criminal connections

Objectives: Find Yuriko, the last of the missing children from the horrors at Fayaz's; stop an apocalyptic ritual

Events:

  • We open on Zunx, Mortimer, and Albrech on a kraken oil-powered paddle boat taking them from the Redgutter Ward to Kojiyuma Island. Albrecht has used his criminal connections to "borrow" the ship.
  • The reason why the party is on a boat, headed to parts unknown, gets handled in flashbacks: in his spare time, Mortimer had been looking into the identities of the missing children and the slain parents from the last adventure at Fayaz's. Everyone was accounted for, except a young tiefling girl named Yuriko. Yuriko's mother was among those killed, and she had no other family. 
  • The other missing children had begun to re-appear in Redgutter. Each had the same story of having been abducted from Fayaz's by men and women wearing coarse robes and furs--clearly the Children of Fimbul, a sect of apocalyptic druids looking to kick-start the end of days.
  • Koska, the party's sometimes employer, had called on her network of informants and uncovered that a girl matching Yuriko's description had been spotted on Kojiyuma Island, an isle to the north that serves as a beach resort for the well-to-do. Koska offered the party money from her own account to go to Kojiyuma and rescue the girl should she be found in nefarious clutches.
  • Before they departed, the crew got more information from Koska and also made visits to Aurulent Masque (drow warlock), Voone Jaskar (kappa fence), and Wick (fire genasi barkeep) to learn what they could. They learned that: one of the island's main tourist attractions is Kojiyuma Temple, an ancient tiefling structure dedicated to the major arcana of Strength; the temple and island had been ruled by the Koji clan of tieflings, a group of renowned mercenaries and weaponsmiths, but the family was believed to have died out long ago; the temple was taken off the island's tour a few years ago in the name of "rennovation," and campfires and guards were spotted near its now off-limits site; if a ritual was being performed at Kojiyuma Temple, it probably involved the invocation of fire and strength for some unknown purpose.
  • Cut back to the steam ship and its arrival at Kojiyuma Island. Things in view: the bungalows of the wealthy, a number of resort hotels, plenty of beachfront bars teeming with half-drunk tourists, and the Aztec-like step pyramid of Kojiyuma Temple peeking over the tops of a forest of palm trees. 
  • A hen party of rich tabaxi women are on the prowl, celebrating one of their party's recent (and financially gainful) divorce, but wisely our adventurers steered clear. The crew talked to Felix, a dwarf bartender manning a Tiki shack and shaking innumerable mixed drinks, to get the lay of the land before setting off along the path to Kojiyuma Temple. 
  • They found a camp of sorts at the pyramid's base, complete with tents, cooking equipment, and the like. Inside the tents, the group found robes that matched descriptions of those worn by the Children of Fimbul cultists. They found robes of the appropriate sizes, and put them on, hoping to blend in with any cultists they might encounter.
  • The party ascended the steps to the top of Kojiyuma Temple, where they found a shaft leading straight down into the temple's depths. Affixing their grappling hooks and ropes to holes bored at the lip of the aperture, they went down into the temple.
  • At the bottom of the shaft, the party found themselves in a long stone hallway lined with large marble statues of tieflings in highly-detailed armor and bearing meticulously-crafted armaments. Torches flicked in brackets upon the walls, and the disturbed dust on the floor evidenced quite a bit of foot traffic. Six stone slab doors, three on the right and three on the left, flanked the hall.
  • Picking a door to open and explore revealed a room with stone rubble that appeared to have once been the remains of a table and other furnishings pushed against the wall. A colorful mosaic in the room depicted tieflings presenting food and drink to a cohort of human, dwarf, and elf visitors. A similar mosaic found later showed tieflings cooking...but they seemed to be cooking human beings.
  • Further search of the room unveiled a hidden door, beyond which they found a party of four Children of Fimbul cultists (male and female elves who appeared to be twins, a dwarf, and a kobold) clustered at the center of the room in conversation. 
  • The Children of Fimbul were startled by this intrusion, but the streams of nonsense coming from Albercht and Mortimer combined with the more quick-thinking stream of nonsense coming from Zunx (particularly his mention of Yuriko) and their scavenged cult robes to trick the Children into believing that the party were members of their faction who had come with important information for their leader.
  • The group was guided through a series of secret doors to a larger chamber where a strange scene was unfolding: upon a dais was a stone basin from which rose shimmering waves of heat; four large anvils sat at the corners of the room, glowing red-hot; an old, white-haired woman in rough robes struggled to maneuver a chain threaded through a hook in the ceiling of the chamber, at the end of which was a metal cage containing two drakes that the women was trying to position above the steaming basin.
  • Parlay and deception ensued! Zunx convinced the old woman that they had the wrong child for their ritual, and managed to get her to show him where the child was--she was at the bottom of the basin, giving off an enormous amount of heat, but strangely unharmed. 
  • To show Zunx where the girl was secreted, she had handed the chain she was maneuvering to Mortimer because he looked to be the strongest of lot. Albrecht managed to sneak behind an anvil and hide himself while the malarkey continued.
  • Zunx used his magic to unlatch the drakes' cage while he had the women, Merrihel, distracted. The drakes climbed out of their cage and began to scamper down the chain. While talking to Zunx, Merrihel looked up and noticed the drakes escaping. Sensing the opportunity to end this ritual, Zunx declared his deception and Merrihel yelled to her fellow cultists to stop these interlopers.
  • From his hiding spot, Albrecht managed to snipe the dwarf cultist with a single shot from his pistol. Mortimer bludgeoned Merrihel into unconsciousness with his fists, dodged vials hurled by the one of elf twins by swinging on the chain he was holding, arcing around to execute a kick-knee combo that left the elf woman unconscious. Once the drakes had scampered down the chain to safety (where they began to run around like overexcited puppies), Mortimer used the chain to entangle the male elf. Zunx was having some trouble with the kobold cultist, who was stabbing him with a knife carved from a femur, but Albrecht managed to shoot him down as well.
  • The male elf surrendered when his unconscious twin was threatened. Interrogation disclosed that the intention of the ritual was to use Yuriko, as the last surviving member of the Koji clan's bloodline, to channel the power of the temple and turn the drakes into ravening dragons they could set lose on Scarabae to sow destruction and chaos. 
  • He also let slip that the cult was working with the 47 Rodents, and that the ratfolk gang still had a headquarters beneath a brothel somewhere in Redgutter.
  • He further informed them that three more members of the cult were still within the temple: Brunhilde, their greatest warrior, and her two servants.
  • Now that Yuriko had been rescued from the basin, the party determined it was time to depart with her and their captives (the two elves and Merrihel), but it was also determined that three captives was too many to take. The male elf was knocked out and left with his unconscious sister.
  • On the way out, the party decided to unlock the single iron chest that remained in the room of wrecked wooden boxes. The lock and gas trap were successfully negotiated, gaining them silver coins, gems, and two vials of mysterious liquids.
  • Back in the initial hallway, Zunx carried the girl as he climbed to the top of the pyramid. But as Albrech began to ascend they were taken by surprise by a spear thrown by a woman wearing Wonder Woman Amazonian-style leather armor. She was accompanied by two smaller women carrying an assortment of spears and javelins. Clearly, Brunhilde had found them.
  • Mortimer tried to threaten Brunhilde by swearing to harm the still-unconscious Merrihel, but Brunhilde threw a spear into Merrihel, killing her, by way of reply. Albrecht took some shots at Brunhilde as he scurried up the rope, but her armor proved impervious to his bullets. Mortimer joined Albrecht on the rope as they made their retreat as spears sailed by them. 
  • As her foes fled up the rope to the top of the temple, Brunhilde took a spear and drove it point down at the stone floor. She and her companions turned to ash and dispersed, leaving behind a familiar arboreal sigil in gray soot on the temple's flagstones.
  • Fearing an ambush, the party chose to return to the beachfront via the forest instead of the path; the crew emerged bloody, battered, and bearing a scared tiefling child in the midst of a party. The awful steel drum music trailed off and all eyes turned toward them. Mortimer bellowed "We're the stork, and we're delivering a baby!" which drew a cheer from the intoxicated crowd. The steel drums began to play again and the partying continued.
  • Albrecht and Zunx made their way back to their ship with Yuriko. Mortimer located Bembe, a dreadlocked half-orc who runs the tourist trade, holding court at a table strewn with liquor, glasses, and ashtrays in a party-hut, a lady-plaything on his lap. 
  • Bembe played the part of the King of Parties, until Mortimer told him of the corruption going on at Kojiyuma Temple, at which point he pushed the girl off his lap and got serious, offering money to Mortimer not to mention the trouble at the temple. Was he bribing Mortimer so as not to harm the tourist trade on the island or was he involved with the Children of Fimbul's plan? Mortimer couldn't be sure, but pocketed the money and left.
  • Back in Redgutter, the crew brought Yuriko to Koska's house. Despite her previous comments about "children cramping her style," she had had a change of heart and had set up a bed for Yuriko. Since Yuriko has no known family left, the only other option was to turn her over to an orphanage, and since Yuriko and Koska hail from the same far-away country...Koska felt moved to adopt the girl into her household. Koska marveled at the party's abilities to get things done, and paid them handsomely for completing their task.
  • The camera cuts back to the Redgutter docks. A ship moors, and a single passenger disembarks. She's wearing ornate leather armor, and carrying a bundle of vicious spears. Brunhilde has arrived in Scarabae.
The Take
  • XP: 225 each
  • Loot: 183 gp (payment fro Koska and the vale of the gems) and 166 sp  each, 
  • Magical Items: potion of climbing, potion of healing
  • Mundane items: 3 vials of alchemist's fire, 3 vials of acid, 4 vials of poison (all looted from the elf cultists)
  • Metal 47 Rodents insignia
  • Mortimer got bribed another 150 gp in gems.
  • Inspiration: if you'd like to note some aspect of the adventure that was important to your character as a way to get Inspiration in an adventure to come, feel free. I've written up my Inspiration replacement rules here. Let me know if you have any questions about that.