The King is Dead

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Turkey Day's Eve Ramble

I’m stretched thin between my day job and non-blog writing (some of which is actual work-for-hire), so my attempts to form any coherent blog post are coming to naught. Whenever that happens, it’s time for bullet points!

All I wanted from Captain America III was MODOK, and now I'm stuck with Iron Man instead.
  • Have you heard that creator Joel Hodgson is raising money to fund a new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000? If you’re in my social media circles, then I can assure you that you have! I’d apologize for the shilling on Joel’s part, but MST3K was a seminal influence on my life. I would eagerly give $10,000 to be one of those guys who gets to pitch a riff, but I don’t have that kind of money. Instead, I’ll beg that if you ever enjoyed Joel or Mike, please dig into your wallets and give $35 (at least that way you get some episodes to download).
  • I’m blowing off watching the Captain America: Civil War trailer online because I’d rather see it in the theater – and I’m still mad that it’s not just Steve and Sam driving around in a van fighting MODOK while looking for Bucky.
  • I’m also not interested in Jessica Jones right now. I might get to it after the holiday anxiety season. I'd rather fight off my problems by watching shows about wizards who punch things with fire than watch a superheroine with PTSD.
  • Dammit, I don’t have the time to go see Victor Frankenstein. I’ve got to save my precious time out of the house for Star Wars and wine.
  • Every time I say “I need to run a pre-generated campaign so I can save my brain energy for writing,” I wind up making up a campaign on the run instead. Right now it’s a supernatural 1970s thing and soon it’s going to be a fairy tale-ish “Realms-shattering event.” I either need someone else to write some campaigns with strong romance elements or I need to get paid to write them full-time myself.
  • I know there’s at least one Pathfinder Adventure Path with a whole “relationship tracker” thingamabob. A moment ago I found myself thinking “I hate Pathfinder,” but it’s the system I hate, not the setting. Since I’m playing D&D 5e anyway, what could it hurt to try adapting a Pathfinder AP? It shouldn't be difficult. All I'd need to do is swap around some stats.
  • No, the 1970s game isn’t 5e. It’s Savage Worlds. We barely ever roll any dice anyway. Heck, the magic has veered off into Mage: The Ascension territory.
  • For those who know me, yes, I meant “fairy tale” and not “Fairy Tail” in the description of the Realms-shattering campaign. I mean to have lots of fey and quests and befriending weird things so they’ll help you and all that. Also, a frostwind virago because they are apparently just sexy blue women in fur coats.
  • Hahaha… I just looked up “Pathfinder relationship system” and discovered that the AP in question – Jade Regent – features the character whose portrait we used for Robin’s PC in the defunct 5e FR campaign. And it’s basically a Marco Polo-ish caravan to the East thing. I might actually enjoy it.
  • If you miss Futurama, try Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s a workplace comedy that might as well be animated for all the insanity it throws on the screen – and the police work is just barely more relevant to the show than Planet Express was to Futurama.
  • I'm disappointed the internet hasn't created a Futurama/Brooklyn Nine-Nine mashup image yet. Boyle is totally Zoidberg! Get on it, people!  

I miss sexy D&D. Even 3.5 had an edge to it. Damn you, 4e!

Monday, November 16, 2015

SCAG Observations

This isn’t a review. I’ve got way too much on my plate to read this thing cover to cover, but I have skimmed it a few times and read a few bits more thoroughly so I think I can provide some observations at least.
  • It doesn’t turn back the clock, but the Realms of SCAG is much more like the one I love. A lot of effort has been made to undo most of the random, crazy changes 4e introduced. Mulhorand, Faerun’s goofy-ass Egypt analogue, is back. Waterdeep is once again the shining star of the Sword Coast. The stars are in the sky, the water is in the Sea of Fallen Stars, etc.
  • If anything, the combination of 5e changes and 4e changes moves the Realms back to what it was like in 2e. The Silver Marches (AKA Luruar), a nation of allied city-states based around Silverymoon, has been disbanded and the far north of Faerun is once again a dangerous frontier. I’m not exactly upset about this, even if I would like to see Alustriel reinstated as ruler of Silverymoon.
  • Players worried about their characters being bossed around and eclipsed by NPCs can breathe a sigh of relief. Few of the classic Realms NPCs are back in any significant way, and no one is given any stats. Even I didn’t like the days when Khelben Arunsun was always 10 levels higher than any PCs, just so he could smack them down if they got too uppity.
  • Laeral is the new Alustriel.
  • Is Silverymoon even more Rivendellish than it used to be? 
  • I like how the Serpent Hills and Lizard Marshes are now a reptilian kingdom. I know that 3e had reptile-folk kingdoms way down in the south of the Realms, but who wants to leave the comforts of Waterdeep so far behind just to punch snake-people?
  • The High Forest is definitely more Arcadian, more fairy tale-ish than it used to be. Too bad the 5e Monster Manual has so few fey. 
  • The 4e changes to the Moonshaes are still pretty much in place. I have to admit that I find this wilder, fey-ridden version of the Moonshaes pretty interesting. Again, it’s too bad the 5e Monster Manual has so few fey. 
  • (To be honest, every time I think about fantasy settings these days, I find myself attracted to a more mythical or fairy tale approach. I probably want to buy Beasts of Legend: Coldwood Codex for my own amusement.)
  • The Sun Soul monk is the Ryu/Ken build you thought you were getting from the Way of the Four Elements. I’m going to try talking my monk player into rebuilding her character with this path instead.
  • The Long Death monk makes me really wish WotC would publish a Monster Manual 2 with expanded NPC stats. Or a Sword Coast DM’s Guide with the same.
  • I am not retroactively giving my Uthgardt GM PC the Uthgardt Barbaian background. He's a criminal through and through.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Hey, SCAG! You forgot someone!

Not actually Sharess

The Dancing Lady, the Tawny Temptress
Alignment: CG
Domains: Life, Trickery
Symbol: A pair of luscious lips

The history of Sharess is long and twisted. In brief, the cat-goddess Bast wandered away from the Mulhorandi pantheon, merged with the obscure and dying elf deity Zandilar the Dancer, and eventually was tempted by and partially integrated into the goddess Shar. For centuries, Sharess existed as an aspect of Shar – a reminder that secrets can be enticing, that longing and loss are intimately related – and was worshipped as the patroness of festhalls and sensual fulfillment. Sune helped Sharess regain her independence during the Time of Troubles, but the long, strange road from the Spellplague to the Second Sundering seems to have ended with Sune absorbing Sharess and becoming the goddess of hedonism.

In truth, the worship of Sharess has gone underground. Crusades against Shar (instigator of the Spellplague) resulted in demonization of the goddess who shared her name. Sharess became the center of a small but loyal mystery cult; no longer the goddess of sensual pleasure, she became instead the goddess of desire. Her cult practices a demanding devotion, walking the sword’s edge between gratification and overindulgence, between the enlightened self-interest of hedonism and the selfishness of decadence. Initiation into the cult requires rigorous physical and spiritual testing, weeding out the romantics who would be happier with Sune, the sadomasochists who belong to Loviatar, and the infiltrators in the employ of Shar.

While still the (secret) patroness of festhalls – where her clergy attend the less-pleasant healthcare aspects of festhall work as well as provide spiritual guidance to the employees – her role as goddess of desire makes Sharess the favored goddess of the dissatisfied and dispossessed. Artists and poets who wish to depict the grotesque and sublime – instead of merely the beautiful – are drawn to her worship; philosophers and rebels who dream of nations without kings and cities ruled by the consent of their people find solace in her ever-hungry, never-satisfied desire. If less happy than in bygone ages, if less light of heart than she was before, Sharess now finds greater purpose in this new age.

Symbol of Sharess

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The King is Dead: Illuminated Connections

Ryan Eggold as Dr. Joseph Warren, Michael Raymond-James as Paul Revere, Ben Barnes as Sam Adams, Rafe Spall as John Hancock, and Henry Thomas as John Adams in The History Channel's Sons of Liberty. Wait a sec... Henry Thomas?! He's from San Antonio like me! (Totally tapping the zeitgeist...)

A key component of The King is Dead is leveraging a hero’s connections to her secret society (literalized in all player characters gaining the Connections Edge for free). The Game Master can also utilize these connections to help build the world by developing the hero’s contacts into NPCs with their own goals and personalities. To assist GMs and players in fleshing out these contacts, each secret society has a list of archetypal connections with their own unique abilities.

All heroes know a number of Experts equal to ½ Charisma + 2. Additional Expert contacts can be gained and lost by improving or reducing Charisma, by purchasing the Improved Connections Edge, and by getting the Experts killed in combat.

New Edge

Improved Connections
Requirements: Seasoned, ConnectionsThe hero gains connections with two more Experts. These Experts are not replaced if they die aiding the cabal in a combat mission. This Edge can be taken multiple times.

Illuminated Connections
Most members of the Illuminated are occultists or professionals drawn from the middle class and gentry; the majority are human males of Gothic or Hunnish blood. Exceptions exist but these example contacts are based on typical Illuminated. 

Average Illuminated
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d6, Knowledge (Occult) d6, Investigation d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Stealth d4, Taunt d4
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 6 (rapier); Toughness:5
Equipment: Flintlock musket (Range 10/20/40, Damage 2d8, RoF 1), rapier (Strength+1d4, Parry +1)


Charming Adventurer  A charismatic gambler and seducer, the Charming Adventurer ingratiates himself amongst the aristocracy and gentry, entertaining them with his daring exploits and sponging off their handouts.
Environments: City, Town
Locations: Bordello, Garden Square, Palace
Notable Traits: Gambling d8, Persuasion d10, Stealth d8, Charisma +4, Improved Evasion
Special: On a Connections raise, the Charming Adventurer can provide discrete entry to any of his Locations but will not assist once the cabal is inside. Two or more raises means he will risk his livelihood to aid the cabal.

Firebrand Lawyer
Willing to argue the letter of the law in front of vampires who control its intent, the Firebrand Lawyer inspires his clients to believe in a government by the people, for the people.
Environments: City, Town
Locations: City Hall, Coffeehouse, Garrison
Notable Traits: Intimidation d8, Knowledge (Law) d10, Notice d8, Taunt d8, Strong Willed
Special: For a cost of one Benny per hero, the Firebrand Lawyer can argue the release of cabal members imprisoned on suspicion. For two Bennies, he can free heroes caught in the act of anything less than murder.

Gentleman Farmer
An example to his neighbors, the Gentleman Farmer teaches the benefits of charity and learning in how he handles his estates. His manor house can shelter the weary and his library can aid the curious.
Environments: Town, Countryside
Locations: Coffeehouse, Country Estate, Garden Square
Notable Traits: Smarts d10, Knowledge (Occult and any one other) d8, Filthy Rich
Special: On a Connections raise, the Gentleman Farmer can shelter the cabal from pursuit (+2 Stealth) or aid their research (+1 Investigation or Occult). Two or more raises doubles the bonuses.

Mysterious Mystic
An alchemist and magician, the Mysterious Mystic claims to be in touch with Secret Masters who guide the Illuminated from beyond the earthly sphere. His magical knowledge is second to none, though his motives are obscure.
Environments: City, Town
Locations: Coffeehouse, Garden Square, House of Mystery
Notable Traits: Smarts d10, Knowledge (Occult) d10, Spellcasting d10, Arcane Background: Magic, Wizard
Special: For a cost of one Benny per hero, the Mysterious Mystic can provide the cabal with a Philosopher’s Stone containing one power of Veteran Rank or less. The stone has 10 power points and a d10 Spellcasting skill.

Radical Philosopher
Vociferous in opposing the vampires, the Radical Philosopher issues pamphlets proposing startling social changes and harangues his fellow citizens in the town square. He may be only one step ahead of the law, but he has admirers.
Environments: City, Town
Locations: Coffeehouse, Tavern, Town Square
Notable Traits: Intimidation d6, Persuasion d10, Taunt d10, Strong Willed
Special: On a Connections raise, the Radical Philosopher and five Average Illuminated will join the cabal as muscle. On two or more raises, the Radical Philosopher’s charisma draws a total of ten Average Illuminated into the enterprise.

Slippery Mountebank
Less of a charlatan than he appears, the Slippery Mountebank combines a haphazard education in the occult with innovative medical knowledge to create surprisingly efficacious snake oil. He finds his most gullible customers amongst farmers and the urban poor.
Environments: City, Countryside
Locations: Bordello, Tavern, Town Square
Notable Traits: Healing d10, Knowledge (Science - Physiology) d8, Spellcasting d8, Arcane Background: Magic, Fleet-Footed
Special: On a Connections raise, the Slippery Mountebank can provide the cabal with an elixir of healing (3 doses, Spellcasting d8). Two or more raises allows him to concoct one of greater healing (2 doses, Spellcasting d8).

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

An Altellan Fragment...

I need to practice my prose, so here's a fiction fragment from Altellus...

Rembrandt, self-portrait

Lucan assumed a guarding stance, planting his hooves far (but not too far) apart for balance, tucking his left arm behind his back, and turning his torso to present as little target as possible to his opponent. He held his blade low, point high, in order to interpose as much steel between his vital organs and his foe’s point as possible. His movements were graceful, even poetic, as he studied himself in the mirror.

He smiled fondly at himself and laughed at his own absurdity.

Lucan Aetherious never chuckled. He did not chuckle or snicker or titter. He laughed, he guffawed, and he even brayed but he never laughed quietly, not even at his own thoughts, not even when he was all alone. Cerberos, his sooty-furred cat, had grown used to the sudden outbursts long ago and merely yawned at the satyrid.

Lucan slid his rapier into its sheath, primped his hair, adjusted his codpiece, and opened his door. His room was on the third floor of the Insula Rosa, a relatively new apartment block in the heart of Berenna, built in the quadrangle style popular amongst the nymphidae aristocrats and burghers. The apartments formed a square around a garden plot – in this case filled with the insula’s famed rose bushes – usually allowing all the inhabitants a refreshingly beautiful view of something approaching nature as they headed out their doors. This evening, though, the quadrangle was filled with people and flames. The scent of roasting meat and spices, of fresh-baked bread and grilled vegetables, of wine – always wine! – set Lucan’s mouth to watering.

The St. Ariadne’s Eve celebrations were already underway. Children of all gentes – satyridae, nymphidae, centauridae, and more – made human labyrinths, holding hands and standing in shifting rows as the child playing Theseus tried to escape. The adults ate, drank, talked about their woes (as responsible folk always do), or flirted (as Lucan would much prefer). A sleek-furred, many-times-over descendant of Oedipus and the Sphinx looked up at his balcony, smiling coyly, and the satyrid swordsman wished he had less expensive tastes. He’d much rather join his neighbors and make merry, but the Insula Rosa was an expensive place to live.

Lucan laughed again, his voice drowned out by the laughter and shouting of honest folk, and descended the stairs. He blew a kiss to the sphingid and walked out into the streets of Berenna. Perhaps, if he got back from his assignation in a timely manner, he could share his bed with a better companion than Cerberos this evening.

In the meantime, he had a man to kill.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The King is Dead: The Long Halloween Continues...

And so thirty-one days of (more or less) The King is Dead content concludes. For me this is just the beginning; the next several months will see Wine and Savages most likely reduced to one post a week as Robin and I work on the book. Even when The King is Dead is published next July, I expect I’ll still be providing content and running TKiD games well into next October.

It’s going to be a very long Halloween indeed…

A few hours ago, I caught up on my weekly TV viewing by watching the Bones/Sleepy Hollowcrossover. The first The King is Dead post premiered August 13th and Sleepy Hollow premiered September 16th of that same year; they’ve always been part of the same zeitgeist, but I’ve never before seen an episode of that show embody TKiD – or Savage Worlds-style craziness – quite so much. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” featured Betsy Ross, secret agent, mowing down an army of undead redcoats with a repeating crossbow that shot Greek fire-headed bolts. I fell off the couch laughing, recognizing her weapon as a Weird Science version of the bolt power with a “fire” trapping.

It’s obviously a sign from the game gods that we’re on the right path.

Blue Greek fire, I should add.

My thanks to all of you who have +1d my The King is Dead Google+ posts, left comments there or here at Wine and Savages, or just plain visited the site. My thanks to those French guys who linked here that one time, forcing me to Google Translate their comments and discover that TKiD has an international audience – and my thanks to the Russian and Spanish roleplayers  who have also expressed their interest. My thanks to +Clint Black  and +Richard Woolcock  and everybody else who has chimed in with rules suggestions and critiques (even – no, especially – when I have disagreed with them). My great thanks to +Kristian Serrano  for giving us the Savage Bloggers Network and Google+ Savage Worlds community and helping us all meet in the first place.

My sincere thanks to +Eric Simon for asking to publish The King is Dead through Four-in-HandGames; I really, really didn’t want to go through all the headaches of setting up my own publishing company. I wish I could tell everybody how immensely supportive and generous Eric has been – both with TKiD and Steamscapes – without delving into confidential business matters, but I can’t so you’ll just have to take my word for it. He is a gentleman and a scholar, and I hope The King is Dead is a success for his sake as much as my own.

Finally, my everlasting thanks to my wife, +Robin English-Bircher. Her support and encouragement would alone be more than I could hope for, but she is also joining this project as my co-writer and editor. You can expect to see fiction and in-universe poetry from her pen helping to flesh out Malleus and the world of The King is Dead; perhaps we’ll even dole some out over the next few months.

As for me, I need to write up a bunch of NPCs to flesh out Thornburg, the setting of the ongoing TKiD playtest, so that next week’s game has a bit more meat on its bones. I’ve got the shape of the book in my head, so it’s time to get that down on paper and outline the danged thing. With that in place, I’ll be able to jump around from chapter to chapter, writing things as they come to me, filling it all in a bit at a time. As anyone clicking the TKiD banner at the top of this page knows, there’s an awful lot of material already in place on the blog – and I’ve got several chapters of the book basically written on top of that. Now’s the time to standardize spellings, fill in some blanks, and get The King is Dead ready for the world before the zeitgeist passes us by…

Friday, October 30, 2015

The King is Dead: It Begins!!!

It's been hinted at and mentioned in passing, but now it's official: Four-in-Hand Games, publishers of Steamscapes, will bring you The King is Dead in July 2016. Check out the announcement at the new Four-in-Hand Games site and read more about this exciting news tomorrow!