Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Savage Rifts Playtest Update: Too Many BUGS!

Sean and I went down to one of our many gaming stores -- Court of Gamers -- to run a playtest of Savage Rifts. Gathered around the table were 5 members of the San Antonio Savages, my long-time friend Tomas, Sean, and myself. We tested out all of the new adult Xiticix, several new Iconic Frameworks, and an adventure. It was a good learning experience.

The game was pretty straight-forward. The Tomorrow Legion headed out into the Dakotas to help refugees from Tolkeen. New settlements risked invasion by expanding Xiticix Hives.

When they reached a village, a group of Deathbringer Tribe Psi-Stalkers and their necromancer -- Shizuka Kun -- asked for their help to take out a new hive nearby. Of course, they accepedt the challenge.

They rested the night in the village. Kun shared information garnered from reconnaissance into the hive. The Vampire in the group turned to mist and checked it out himself, bringing back more info. The heroes' Ethical Necromancer spent time communing with the dead and raised a security detail of six skeletons and two zombies

In the morning just as they began to head out, a young boy and some horses came racing into the village. A patrol of Xiticix followed close behind. A few members targeted the Xiticix Super Warrior leading the patrol, and others sought out the Warriors. It did not take long for them to realize the Super Warrior was their greatest threat; their Rahu-Man Cyberknight took on the task alone but found himself lacking. The Vampire used fear and sent over half of the Xiticix Warriors running, freeing up team members to help fight the main threat. After a long arduous battle, they defeated all of the Xitcix and were on their way.

Lucky for them, Shizuka Kun had time to dismantle the Xiticix. She provided Xiticix armor and scent. This proved useful when the heroes chose to sneak into the hive, evading the guards. That was until the Xiticix caught wind of the Rahu-Man who had been sprayed by one of the Xiticix. A tough battle ensued as some on the outside took on the guards (lead by the Necromancer and Knight of the White Rose. The others--including the Rahu-Man, Vampire, Wilderness Scout, Zapper, and Cyber-Horseman--took on those in the main shaft. It was a slog, but they made it through.

The Vampire made it through first. Using his wiles, and desire to be out of the sunlight, he sunk deep into the hive. There he kept the Young Queen's small guard busy until others joined him below. And in a single swing, the Queen was dead and the Xiticix were running.

I learned 4 lessons as I ran that game:

Lesson 1: Xiticix are tough! The Super Warriors are serious business, but they should be. The Workers, Diggers, and Leapers are a reasonable challenges without being a pain. Nannies and Queens may need some work.

Lesson 2: Clarify some material for the Iconic Frameworks. We tried out quite a few, and for the most part, they worked. There are kinks, but they are looking good. The Ethical Necromancer has lots of potential, and our player really helped show that. The Vampire is REALLY complicated. Thankfully, Sean played that character. That one is going to be tough.

Lesson 3: Novices cannot take on a hive, no matter how new. Small bands of Xitcix work. Equal number of Warriors or Hunters is fine. If a Super Warrior is thrown in, the fight must be carefully choreographed. I think I may have figured that out though. The other less combat oriented are good fodder to make a party feel good -- but for the most part, they should be.

Lesson 4: People are really looking forward to Savage Rifts. So our deep drives back into the books is a good thing. Hopefully, we can have more options that players are looking for.

Now on to the next playtest. Sean and I get to run Savage rifts as long as we want for Free RPG day at Multiverse Games. We will definitely be running a revised vampire game, as for the others with a new MARS package. As for the others, who knows.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Wine and Savages Team Now Co-Lead Developers for Savage Rifts®

While most interested parties already know this, Robin English-Bircher and I have combined forces with Sean Roberson as Lead Developers for Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Rifts® for Savage Worlds line. This is, bluntly, the biggest, most awesome thing that has happened in our short RPG careers and we intend to bring all the dedication and creativity we can muster to this role. As Pinnacle CEO Shane Hensley stated in a recent update to the Savage Rifts® Kickstarter:

Hi friends!

We've been talking a bit about the upcoming Savage Rifts® books on our Facebook page and the Savage Rifts® Facebook page and thought we should point it out to you…          
The short version for those who don't want to hunt down the threads is that three new books are in layout now and we hope to launch them later this year once art, approvals, and a bit more playtesting are in place. 
Wanna know what they are? Here you go!
  • Rifts® North America: Empires of Humanity
  • Rifts® North America: Blood & Banes
  • Rifts® North America: Arcana & Mysticism
We'll tell you more about them soon, including what's inside and where we'll focus next!
We've also secured a new team to take over management of the line and speed things along a little faster, including Sean Roberson, Sean Bircher, and Robin Bircher, whom some of you may have seen host the Savage Rifts® panel at the recent Chupacabracon game convention in beautiful Austin, Texas!
The three of us took over as head writers and editors on Empires of Humanity and Blood & Banes last year—Roberson heading EoH and us taking over B&B—while Robin and I also wrote at least a quarter of Arcana & Mysticism. The books are coming along swimmingly; I personally hope to engage in some of that playtesting in the next few weeks, as I really want to see some more people’s reactions to some of the new Iconic Frameworks and M.A.R.S. options.

For all three of us, this is our big break. Trust us to pour all our energy and excitement into Savage Rifts®. We want you to have as much fun playing it as we aare having developing it.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Savage World of Jane Austen Characters

A quizzing glass in action

As promised, the character sheets for the Savage World of Jane Austen game I ran at Chupacabracon V. I removed the character art (because I didn't own it) so feel free to insert pictures of your favorite version of the characters when you run the game. "Standing" and "Courtesies" work remarkably similarly to Rank and Favors in Rippers Resurrected, while the Wealth Die expands on similar rules in Accursed and Shaintar

Unfortunately for the blog (but fortunately for my pocketbook), I literally just accepted a short turnaround editing assignment and can't expand on anything more at this time.







Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Report from Chupacabracon V

Well, that was a weekend and a half.

Chupacabracon V has come and gone—and I am exhausted. Part of this this is due to the fact that I had to go on a liquid diet yesterday (the Monday after the con) for an endoscopy and colonoscopy today in order to get officially tested for celiac disease. Part of this is due to sleeping very badly in hotels. Much of it is due to the weekend being a whirlwind of events.

Since I’m having a hard time stringing things together narratively, let’s just bullet point this sucker:
  • Robin decided to start a new Chupacabracon tradition by hosting a drinking tour of Austin-adjacent boozeries on the Thursday before the con. The only people able to join us were Nicole Lindroos and Chris Pramas of Green Ronin, but we had a great time. We visited two of the absolute best places in the state (Texas Keeper Cider and Andalusia Whiskey), commiserated about recent troubles over great booze, and finished off at Pecan Street Grill in Johnson City. It was great to make new friends outside of the Savage Worlds circle.
  • Speaking of friends, Ross Watson told us that night that he’s hoping to find more work for us soon on Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory. Have I mentioned that Robin and I edited most of the corebook? We did; it was fun and challenging.
  • I watched most of John Wick: Chapter 2 while trying to wake up on Friday. I hadn’t been able to talk Robin into seeing either movie in the theater, renting them, or buying them, but I think she’s now intrigued by their slick setting.
  • Friday segued into surprising (yet also, sadly, expected) news from Shane Hensley and Jodi Black, asking us and Sean Roberson to pitch ideas for the third set of Rifts® for Savage Worlds books. We were also given permission to speak more openly about what’s coming up in the second series, leading Roberson to suggest we host a panel to replace the missing Freedom Squadron panel.
  • Friday afternoon allowed me to test out a new The King is Dead adventure, taking a more espionage-focused tack than usual. Everyone had a good time; Roberson and I actually got to game together. Like everyone who has ever played the character, Roberson had a blast playing Illuminated scoundrel Walther Leigh; I never really planned on having “iconic characters” for TKiD, but Leigh has definitely earned it.
  • Robin ran Savage Rifts®. She might well be the only woman to receive a writing credit for that setting (so far). Her game previewed some of the vampire content from Blood & Banes. I made her some Chango the Chupacabra minis. 
  • Friday night was the charity game. Ed Wetterman stepped in at the last moment to run game designer John Wick’s least-favoriteadventure. I was in the audience while Robin joined Ross, Cam Banks, Steve Muchow, Wendelyn Reischel, Jack Norris, and Brandon Peterson in a very slaphappy jaunt through the dungeon. The highlight for me was Robin and Ross deciding their elfin characters were perfectly happy getting spat out of the Tomb of Horrors naked but alive, and then wandering off to frolic in the forest.

  • We went to the Green Ronin panel at some point on Friday or Saturday. There’s a city book for Aldis in Blue Rose coming up; we’ll definitely give the setting another shot after we buy that. Pramas announced a Dungeon Masters Guild-type setup for the AGE System is in the works. I’m looking forward to Modern AGE, and I hope the terms of Green Ronin’s community content platform allow me to make something a little more R-rated than what Pinnacle prefers for Savage Worlds. (Maybe a stylish crime setting?)
  • Saturday morning, Robin, other Sean, and I hosted our Savage Rifts® panel. Jeffrey Gordon livestreamed it on Facebook; I think you can still find it there. In short, the next three books are in final edits but don’t expect them until after a few more Pinnacle Kickstarters, there’s lots of cool stuff by us and other authors, and the line will continue onward. Also, none of us can agree on what the worst threat to Rifts® Earth is.
  • Saturday afternoon, I stepped in to GM one of the Savage Worlds VIP games—a position I felt far more confident about qualifying for than I had when I volunteered on Thursday. I talked the players into letting me run Lupin III: The Revenge of Mamo, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Since it was a VIP game, I got to run it in a secluded conference room—which meant I got to play Lupin music during the game! Everyone had a great time, the personalized Adventure Cards worked great, Freedom Squadron’s Planning and Operations rules worked perfectly for the setting (and gave the players a taste of what they missed when the original GM had to drop out), and all the props and craziness was just perfect. Damn…
  • Meanwhile, Robin hosted a "Women ON Gaming" (not "Women IN Gaming") panel with Jennifer Baughman and surprise panelist Nicole Lindroos. I'm sorry I missed it.
  • And then on Saturday night, I turned around and ran the adventure again as part of the Savage Saturday Night block. Because of the random, improvisational nature of the missions, it turned into an almost completely different yet no less exciting and fun game. I only wish that group had gotten to enjoy the music too. This is definitely turning into one of my regularly-scheduled con games.

  • Robin was right next to me running Savage Simpsons vs. MST3K, but I have next to no idea how that went because I was too wrapped-up in my game.
    I know Gamera was in it.
  • Sunday morning, John Atkinson ran Freedom Squadron for us and I got to play my utterly ridiculous character. Since posting about building him with FS’s Vocational Frameworks, Catamount has morphed from “Snake Eyes knockoff with knives and a mountain lion” to an unfrozen cryogenics patient from the 1980s who decided to become a ninja (and befriended a mountain lion) after he discovered his whole family was wiped out in WWIII. He’s a little more Deadpool than what I intended, but—honestly—that’s much more the kind of character I enjoy playing.
  • Also, Wally the Mountain Lion took the lead (and succeeded) on an Interaction Challenge because he had Intimidation and no one else had any social skills.   
  • Also, thinking up new Agility Tricks every round is exhausting. Bringing a knife to a gunfight is hard.
  • Also, if someone specific is reading this, stealing Pirates of the Spanish Main’s Close Fighting Edge for Freedom Squadron would really help out Catamount in the future. Knife-fighting techniques are a much more common part of military training than katanas.
    Catamount is the pawn trying to stab the woman with fire powers.
    Robin's mystic, Black Cat, is played by Santa's Little Helper.
    Wally is, of course, the only character with a proper mini.
  • Finally, Sunday afternoon was The Savage World of Jane Austen, once again in the conference room. It went really well for the first half and proved to me that my social combat rules work, but it went kind of off the rails (in a hilarious and entertaining way) during the second half. Admittedly, I was strung out on green tea and lack of sleep. I should write more about this game, but I’m still processing lessons learned.
  • I met Tuxsen!!!
  • We finished Sunday with a party hosted by Mark Carroll and Jennifer Baughman. It was great. Robin and I get to spend so little time physically with members of our tribe that nights like that really make us feel human.

More thoughts to come, I’m sure.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Paradigmatic Framework: Mystic Warrior

The Mystic Warrior puppets of Thunderbolt Fantasy
The Lupin the Third Part 5 recap is going to be late because I do not want the blog to turn into “all Lupin III, all the time.”


I’m playing in a Freedom Squadron game at Chupacabracon this year, so I’ve been digging deeper into Sean Patrick Fannon’s new setting rules. Despite the fact that I worked on some upcoming Savage Rifts® books and wrote a few Iconic Frameworks for them, I’m still surprised by the Vocational Frameworks found in Freedom Squadron. They’re significantly more powerful than the M.A.R.S. packages without getting quite as overpowered as Iconic Frameworks, striking a balance I would call “cinematic.” With one of these, you’re pretty much jumping right in to the competency level of a John McClane as he appeared in Die Hard, if not quite the level of a James Bond.

I like them. If you’re a fan of the long climb from zero to hero, then I certainly wouldn’t recommend adopting anything similar in your campaign. I prefer heroes with some meat on their bones, so these Vocational Frameworks greatly simplify my usual process of having players level up a few Ranks.

With that said, I’ve been longing once again to play a wuxia game and maybe even dust off “Zhàndòu: City of Warriors,” the martial arts setting I created for Savage Insider (and still one of my favorite things I’ve written; follow the affiliate links to buy a copy). Therefore, I think I’ll create a new Framework to support that.

Mystic Warrior

This Framework emulates heroes whose mastery of the arts of war bleeds into the supernatural—characters like the Irish champion Cu Chulainn, Kenshin Himura, and the youxia of wuxia and xianxia books and movies. It is not meant to emulate modern martial arts-style heroes (such as those portrayed by Bruce Lee and Michael Jai White) nor chanbara characters like Zatoichi or the hero of Yojimbo. For those, I would recommend the Athlete and Sword Saint frameworks found in Freedom Squadron.

Hero’s Journey

If you have access to the Freedom Squadron Commando’s Manual, you may make one roll on the Close Quarters Combat, Command, or Physical Training tables. Otherwise, choose one additional Combat or Command Edge.

Abilities and Bonuses

Blending magical training and martial expertise into otherworldly combat skills, Mystic Warriors regularly perform extraordinary feats.

  • Martial Training: All Mystic Warriors begin with a d6 in Agility, d8 in Fighting, and the Acrobat and Martial Artist Edges. If you have the Freedom Squadron Commando’s Manual, then they also gain the Fighting Style Edge; if not, then they gain the Trademark Weapon Edge.
  • Mystic Attunement: All Mystic Warriors begin with a d6 in Spirit, d8 in Faith, and the Adept Edge. The “faith” embraced by Mystic Warriors varies greatly from individual to individual. Some follow stringent codes of conduct, others do reverence to local gods and follow difficult taboos. In a wuxia setting, heroes will either be aligned to Daoist principles (such as the Wudang sect) or Buddhist principles (such as the monastery of Shaolin).
  • One With the Blade: Mystic Warriors are differentiated from unarmed martial artists by their use of weaponry. Early in their training, every Mystic Warrior masters a particular weapon; commonly chosen weapons are the dao (short sword), jian (long sword), gun (staff), and qiang (spear)—though many Mystic Warriors master more exotic weapons. When using this style of weapon, the Mystic Warrior gains the benefits of Adept and any Edges that require Martial Artist as a prerequisite; for example, a Mystic Warrior with Improved Martial Artist who became one with the staff does Str+d6 damage, while any Mystic Warrior might spend Power Points to improve the AP of their weapon attack as per the Adept Edge. 

    Wednesday, April 18, 2018

    Lupin III – The Killers Gather in the Wasteland

    Who the hell is this?! What is this guy's deal?!

    Summary: Lupin turns the tables on the assassins. Ami reveals secrets. Fujiko joins the game.

    Lupin the Third Part 4 (AKA The Italian Adventure) cherrypicked the best elements from the long history of the Lupin III franchise, giving us alternately Green Jacket crime stories, Red Jacket hijinks, Pink Jacket meta-commentary, and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine levels of characterization. They even did an out-and-out Miyazaki homage in the humorous yet melancholy episode “Welcome to the Haunted Hotel!” I’d have to rewatch the whole series, but the only element I can’t remember seeing in Part 4 was truly Monkey Punch-style gallows humor.

    That is not true of “The Killers Gather in the Wasteland,” which might be the most Monkey Punch episode I’ve seen in any series—even the ones that directly adapted manga stories.

    I’m still not sold on the serialized aspect of this series, but this week’s episode is still fan-freakin’-tastic. Admittedly, it’s also really dark, with a level of (largely implied) lethality completely opposite in tone to The Castle of Cagliostro, so one’s mileage will definitely vary.

    As a middle-aged cishet white male named after Sean Connery and for whom the men’s adventure paperback revival of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s forms an indelible link to my late father, I loved the hell out of it. The reformed male, progressive part of my being recoils somewhat from the horrifying backstory revealed for Ami in this episode, but it makes an ugly sort of sense. The rest of “The Killers Gather in the Wasteland” is just badass action backed up with bizarre character designs taken right from the manga.

    And, honestly, it’s hard to object to Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon killing their way through an army of foes when those foes are top-flight assassins. I just find myself wishing we’d gotten entire episodes dedicated to Captain Bone, Union Mama, Ichigo the fisherman, Akagi and his invisible gun, the Rat Gang, and whoever the hell that weirdo with the dog is supposed to be.

    And then Fujiko Mine finally joins the storyline by doing that thing you knew she was going to do but kept hoping she wouldn’t.


    A side of hands served with a sick burn courtesy of Goemon Ishikawa XIII.

    Wednesday, April 11, 2018

    Lupin III - The Lupin Game

    Goemon cuts an unworthy object
    Summary: With all the eyes in the world on him, Lupin III thwarts the Marco Polo backers by stepping into the spotlight. In return, they change the rules of the game.

    Oh no.

    Oh no... No no nonononono...

    The first episode of Lupin the Third Part 5 ended on a cliffhanger, an obvious set up to keep the action moving into the second episode. I was alright with that—earlier series have done two-part episodes—but “The Lupin Game” also ends in a similar manner. I’m not even going to call it a cliffhanger at this point; it’s really like the first 15 minutes of the episode finish the plot begun in the last five minutes of “The Girl in the Twin Towers” while the last five minutes of “The Lupin Game” belong to next week’s episode.

    It’s like a freakin’ Netflix show.

    Admittedly, my familiarity with original Netflix content is largely limited to the Marvel shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, etc.) but I really, really hate how those shows abandon proper serialization structure. A properly serialized narrative is presented in discrete segments; each episode should tell a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end while including plot threads that advance the season-long narrative. The Netflix model encourages binge-watching by basically taking a ten- or thirteen-hour movie and hacking it into hour-long portions with no requirement that those portions contain a full story, leaving you unfulfilled and in need of more.

    Applying this model to Lupin the Third Part 5 wouldn’t be as much of an issue if this full season was available to stream all at once like a Netflix show, but it isn’t. We’re getting one episode a week, like normal, and the last two episodes have not given satisfaction. I don’t even know what to write about the episode’s plot, given the way it jumbles things up. We get the resolution of last week’s chase scene, a couple of comedy and character-building moments, and then the beginning of what the preview promises will be an extended action scene taking up most of the next episode.

    (There’s also a gay panic joke and what might be racism, but it’s mild for the typical Japanese insensitivity to such things.)

    Thankfully, Goemon gets to do some cool things and the crazy, themed assassins (there’s a guy with a harpoon and another one’s a fly fisher) introduced at the end of the episode seem like they burst out of the original manga or the first two TV series. Watching them get beaten promises to be fun.

    Seriously, I can't figure out if this is racist or just reflecting the reality of someplace the creators visited or saw on TV when researching the episode. Maybe they're a dance squad or a volleyball team?

    Savage Rifts Playtest Update: Too Many BUGS!

    Sean and I went down to one of our many gaming stores -- Court of Gamers -- to run a playtest of Savage Rifts. Gathered around the table ...