The King is Dead

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Savage Rifts® is Pretty Danged Cool

It’s not like the Savage Rifts® Kickstarter needs my help to meet its goals, but there may very well be other Savage Worlds fans (and licensees) out there who are – as I was – skeptical about the use they might get out of the books. To them I simply say, this is the most beautifully hackable version of Savage Worlds yet.

It’s not exactly a secret that I’ve always chafed at the relatively low power of Savage Worlds characters. Most normal Savage Worlds characters at Legendary Rank feel more like “name level” AD&D 1st Edition characters in terms of powers and capabilities than they do “epic level” D&D 5e or Pathfinder characters. This works well for some kinds of games, but it’s always bugged me that you’d have to be 100 experience points beyond Legendary for your hero to catch up with Fafhrd or the Gray Mouser. Savage Rifts® not only brings the mega-damage, it brings eminently theft-worthy options for ways to front-load Savage Worlds characters into less pulpy, more cinematic heroes.

I’ve been friends with Sean Patrick Fannon since last year’s Chupacabracon (though I have apparently utterly forgotten to blog about his work), so it was a delight to join Robin, fellow blogger and Pendragon writer David Larkins, Dungeonesque Red Box developer Stan Shinn, and several SW super fans in playing one of Fannon’s Savage Rifts® games. 

Yes, the one that was filmed and is up on YouTube now.

Rod Grit’s Horatius-like attempt to hold the bridge singlehanded was actually not so much a brilliant tactic as it was a failed attempt to get my character killed so I could try out the Blaze of Glory setting rule. It worked pretty well for the team, though.

Making myself a target also gave me time to study the character sheet in greater detail. There’s lots of neat stuff on there for fans of both Savage Worlds and Rifts®, but the most intriguing thing to me was one of the results on the Heroic Journey Rolls (a way of adding some of the old Rifts® randomness into Savage Worlds). It’s a result called “Underworld” that grants the Thief Edge and three Skill Points to distribute amongst Climbing, Lockpicking, and Stealth. A bonus Edge and bonus Skills all wrapped up as a present for a Novice hero – just like I’m trying to do with The King is Dead.

In fact, most viewers watching the game probably don’t realize that all of those characters slaughtering hordes of Coalition Deadboys and blowing up mechs were all NOVICE RANK CHARACTERS! Well, technically Robin’s character wasn’t, but that’s only because she got a boost to Seasoned as part of the character creation rules for relatively normal humans like Seras Byrd. 

It’s been hinted that some of the new mechanics developed for Savage Rifts® will affect Savage Worlds moving forwards; I can say definitively that they will affect The King is Dead. Sean Patrick Fannon has also solved a design problem for a Savage Worlds anime setting that’s been kicking my butt, and I can’t wait to get my hands on Savage Rifts® to try it out. I am going to hack the heck out of these books.

Shoot, I’m pretty stoked for Rifts® itself now. It has Vampire Hunter D-style vampire kingdoms and a crazy-ass Japanese setting. Maybe it’s right up my alley after all. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

PWYW for this thing I wrote!

Well, we finished the final touches on VARGR last night, got it off to Eric Simon at Four-in-Hand Games, and it's up on DriveThruRPG! I've been writing about The King is Dead here for a couple of years, so it's a great feeling to finally share it in some professional capacity with the world at large.

VARGR is both a short adventure and a teaser for The King is Dead setting, offering a look at the secret societies of Malleus and their related mechanics, the sorcerous vampires of TKiD, and some of the setting rules. As I wrote for the DTRPG blurb:

In an 18th century that never was, revolution rocks the nation of Malleus! Secret societies of rebels strike to unseat the vampire aristocracy with pen and sword, inciting long-dormant dreams of freedom in their fellow humans while driving stakes through the hearts of their oppressors. Frontiersmen, highlanders, mad scientists, occultists, slaves, and more unite to overthrow the immortal regime!

In VARGR, the heroes join the hunt for a mad killer, only to find he holds the secrets to defeat the vampires. Can they save him from the assassins hunting him? Can they save him from himself? Can they save themselves from the wrath of the vampire overlords?

VARGR requires Savage Worlds and the Savage Worlds Horror Companion to play.

Watch for The King is Dead campaign setting in the summer of 2016!

It's pay what you want, so you can have it for free (but please consider throwing a dollar or two our way -- and if you buy it through my affiliate link, we get a kickback from that, too). Thanks!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to DHAMPIR

Robin's probably going to make me rework the cover a bit.
In fact, I think I just figured out how to solve a design issue.

I wrote a different adventure instead. Robin and I are both running some TKiD games at Chupacabracon in Austin in a couple of weeks, and Robin felt she had a better grasp of the plot and nuances of DHAMPIR than she did the other adventure we planned to run, so I wrote the other one instead. It’s called VARGR, and it’s about a bloodthirsty cannibal you have to save from the vampires trying to kill him.

(Yes, “save.” I can't seem to stay away from moral ambiguity even though the setting was supposed to be "The French Revolution except there's no guilt over killing the aristos because they're vampires.")

Hilariously, VARGR is a sequel to certain events in DHAMPIR, but the connection is invisible if you're not one of the five people who has played DHAMPIR. The adventure is pretty short, but including all the pre-generated characters, NPC stats, new crunch, and introductory material plumps the whole thing out to about 30 pages. Unexpectedly writing a different adventure and final tweaks to the layout and art means there were delays and so we probably won’t be finished until tomorrow, meaning it probably won’t be published until Thursday.

Robin’s doing a lovely job on layout, and using period art is turning out to be more evocative and fun than expected – though choosing particular pieces has sometimes been a pain. (I suddenly find myself fantasizing about using some kind of weird, mash-up collage style for the interior art. I doubt the larger Savage Worlds audience would enjoy it.) The increased professionalism of the final product is one of the elements slightly stretching out the completion date.

Hopefully, it will be available on May the Fourth -- which would be funny because of some vague Star Wars allusions in the latter part of the adventure. Wish us luck!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Coming Soon -- The King is Dead: DHAMPIR

cover image not final
illustration from Mary Robinson as Perdita by John Hoppner

A rebellious dhampir approaches the cabal with an astonishing offer: she will trade a key fragment of the Sanguinem Maledicta -- a long-lost ritual that might spell the end of all vampires -- for escape from her vampiric father and her arranged marriage. 

Will the heroes trust the dhampir? Dare they risk the wrath of a vampire lord for such a prize? Can they navigate the treacherous maze of vampire courtly society?

  • 6 pre-generated heroes demonstrating the breath and diversity of The King is Dead's secret societies. Each character is presented with both standard statistics and with the optional Horrid Secret Hindrance.
  • Details about Hammerstadt, the capital city of Malleus, and the courts of the four Blood Princes.
  • Examples of the expanded Connections rules.
  • New Edges, Hindrances, gear, and powers!
Coming May 1st!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Listen to Me Make an Idiot of Myself ;)

Cripes, I keep forgetting to post this...

Back on March 18th, I was the guest on the pilot episode for Gamer's Tavern News, a spin-off of the Gamer's Tavern podcast. It was a blast talking with +Ross Watson and Darryl Mott Jr. -- and I was actually a useful guest for the first half hour when we talked RPGs.

Unfortunately, I totally forgot that I don't play video games or even really board game all that much. Volunteering to be on the news episode instead of talking dump stats was a very bad idea -- and it was very much my bad idea. Ross actually gave me my choice of episodes.


I had a really good time, though, and would eagerly return. Check it out if you want to hear a Muppet-voiced goofball rant on about 7th Sea's success and how the Rohirrim are the most awesome part of Middle-Earth.

And shill heavily for +Eric Simon and The King is Dead, of course.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Accursed: Bone and Barrow is for sale! Have some bonus material!

 Bone and Barrow at DTRPG
I think my part even got the cover illustration!

My latest piece of freelancing is now available for purchase! 

Accursed: Bone and Barrow is the final book to emerge from the Accursed: World of Morden Kickstarter. Expanding the setting beyond the brief region descriptions available in the core book, each World of Morden volume details two of the nations struggling to fight back against the conquering Witches. Bone and Barrow is split between setting creator Ross Watson's chapter on Cairn Kainen and my chapter on the Outlands.

From DriveThruRPG:

Cairn Kainen and the Outlands were the first casualties of the Bane War. Neither could mount an effective defense against the Witch Armies, though for very different reasons. In both cases, their early collapses provided the Witches with the resources they needed to push the battle into Morden's other surviving nations. 

Now, both regions suffer under tyranny, long after the Witch Council dissolved. Hecate's Oubliette remains in the foothills of the Darkwall Peaks, and her banes prowl the Outlands. The Morrigan has made a new home in Blackroot Wode and collects a steady tithe of new souls to feed her cauldron.

Bone and Barrow provides additional information about the nation of Cairn Kainen and the Outlands that provide a barrier between the Darkwall Peaks and Morden's more stable nations.  It includes a broad range of different adventure hooks for GMs and players looking to explore these specific regions. It also introduces new banes as well as Hindrances and Edges specific to these cultures.

Accursed provides additional details about the setting used in this scenario, and is required to fully make use of the game mechanics presented. Savage Worlds and the Savage Worlds Horror Companion are also required. 

Bone and Barrow is a really special project for me. If Savage Insider was where I broke in and Steamscapes: Asia was my big break (HUGE!), then Bone and Barrow is the project that let me know I really made it. It was a blast unraveling the threads Ross and John Dunn wove the original Outlands description out of, weaving in my own ideas, and finishing a chapter they both enthusiastically approved (and which required minimal editing). I would eagerly return to write for Accursed again.

In fact, I enjoyed the project so much, I overwrote by a few hundred words. Therefore, to celebrate the book's release, here's some bonus material I couldn't fit into my word count!

from the Seaharrow section

Child of War [Minor}

The Bane War lasted for decades. Some children were born into the war, growing to maturity and dying in battle without ever knowing a day of peace. Some of these children even became Accursed.
A character with the Child of War Hindrance may be the child of foreign mercenaries or of native Morden blood. As long as he can remember, he has held a weapon in his hands, slept in the caves of refugees or the trenches of soldiers, and dined amidst the dead and dying. He is an outsider among outsiders – uneasy with open laughter, unwilling to make friends, unable to accept peace.

The character suffers a -2 penalty to Charisma. This penalty can stack with the penalty from Outsider or the optional penalty imposed on all Accursed when dealing with normal humans. 

from the Riverspring section

Riverspring Hindrance

Ash Sickness [Minor]

The ash juniper is an evergreen tree pervasive throughout Riverspring and spreading far into the surrounding lands. While its berries are used for flavoring distilled alcohols and pickled cabbage, the tree is generally considered pernicious because of how quickly it grows and the disease it brings. The Springfolk burned the forests to keep the ash juniper away from their villages, but the devastation of the Bane War means the tree now grows rampant everywhere.

From early autumn to late spring, the fine, ash-like pollen of the juniper hangs heavy in the air of Riverspring. Characters who suffer from ash sickness must make a Vigor roll every day they are exposed or gain a level of Fatigue. A dose of the Alchemical power rejuvenating draft banishes the Fatigue for an entire day. 

from the Deepshadow section

The Legend of the Lingerer

Some say that only five hundred ninety-nine Shadow Riders died during their last charge. One knight – rumored to be the youngest scion of the mac Cavendish clan – lingered in bed with her sweetheart, reluctant to go to her death. She arrived on the battlefield in time to see her companions swallowed by the fog, but reached the enemy too late to join them. Instead, she was captured by Hecate’s forces and transformed into a Shade.

The Lingerer survived the Bane War and won her freedom. The Lingerer has utterly embraced her Witchmark, becoming a wrathful specter riding a ghostly pale horse. Now she hunts her former companions across the blighted plains of Deepshadow, bringing justice to the quick and the dead.

Deepshadow Edge

Swift Tracker

Requirements: Seasoned, Riding d6+ or Survival 6+, Tracking d6+

Years in the saddle chasing bandits or following wild wisnetski herds have taught this character how to keep a sharp eye out while on the move. Watching for dust clouds and listening for vibrations in the earth allow the hero to follow a trail for at least five miles before needing to make another Tracking roll.  

It's pretty cool to see monsters I made up illustrated so deftly!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Some Ersatz Races for Your Galaxy XXX Needs

Like 11,000 other gamers out there, I backed John Wick's mega-successful Kickstarter for 7th Sea 2nd Edition. I only learned about 7th Sea a few years after it ceased publication, so I don't have much personal connection with the material or familiarity with Wick as an author, but I figured I had to keep up with what other authors are doing in the Early Modern conspiracy/swashbuckling genre.

After familiarizing myself a bit more with the man and his work, I have to admit that I've suddenly become a John Wick fan -- particularly of his still-in-development space opera game Galaxy XXX. Part Star Wars, part Star Trek, and a big part Barbarella, it's a game where conflict is resolved either through space battles or sex scenes, and that suits me pretty damned well.

The preview of the game contains a small sampling of possible player character (and presumably NPC) species, but I didn't really like the "cat-person" species contained therein (it was too much cat and not enough person). As I started statting up my own cat-eared humanoids, a couple of silly ideas popped into my head so I thought I'd post them to keep my blog active for the hell of it.

Mentor Species
The mentor species began exploring the galaxy millennia before humankind discovered zhuntech, and used their knowledge to shield the younger species from predatory peers like the Cinereal. When the SPIN was founded, the mentor species assumed the role of elder statesmen in global politics. Unfortunately, this tends to make them arrogant in dealing with the younger species, leading them to manipulate SPIN politics to fit the mentor species’ sense of entitlement. 

Trait Bonus:
+2 Talk or +1 Action and +1 Talk
Benefits: Adorable, Iron Teeth, Superior Olfactory Glands
The diminutive, three-eyed Bittles once waged mighty wars that shattered stars and destroyed empires, but they long ago set aside conquest to instead shepherd species new to the galactic community. Gourmands of the highest order, they are eager to explore new species culinary delights.

Trait Bonus: +2 Talk or +1 Talk and +1 Tech
Benefits: Cunning Linguist, Fast Talker, Technically Advanced
Physically identical to humans aside from some quirks of internal bioiogy, the Casterboroi claim to actually be the zhun – or that they will be the zhun once their mastery of zhuntech allows the Casterboroi to travel in time and seed the universe with zhuntech.

Trait Bonus: +2 Tech or +1 Talk and +1 Tech
Benefits: Opposable Thumbs, Strong, Technically Advanced
Tall, severe, and vaguely resembling the elves of ancient Earth literature, the Hepahistion are one of the youngest mentor races – discovering zhuntech only a few centuries ahead of humanity. Their particularly repressed socio-religious philosophy made them late adopters of henta. 

Outlaw Species
Some polities and species reject the SPIN Declaration of Rights, embracing torture, slavery, and even genocide. Some rare, few members of these outlaw species reject their native cultures and embrace the ideals of the SPIN, studying henta, and even becoming Voyeurs, but most have no affinity for henta.

Trait Bonus: +2 Tech or +1 Tech and +1 Sneak
Benefits: Bipedal, Network, Tech Specialist
The gray-skinned Cinereal are as old and advanced as the oldest mentor races, but their vast experience has not brought wisdom or compassion. Driven to the edge of the galaxy by the expansion of the SPIN, the Cinereals still abduct and abuse less advanced species just as they did humankind long ago.

Trait Bonus:
+2 Action or +1 Action and + 1 Talk
Benefits: Armored Hide, Technically Adept, Tentacles
Xenophobic, genocidal cyborg horrors, the Dredlox were locked in a seemingly-endless war with the Casterboroi until the rise of the SPIN shattered their war fleets and sent the survivors into hiding. Despite centuries of mental conditioning, some rogue Dredlox still harbor shreds of empathy. 

Trait Bonus:
+2 Action or +1 Action and +1 Tech
Benefits: Bipedal, Strong, Warlike
A humanoid species evolved from their native planet’s top mammalian predatory species, the K’rgHan adhere to a philosophy of strength and self-interest that puts them at odds with the SPIN. Some few K’rgHan have defected, seeing in henta a truer realization of their culture’s ideal of self-mastery.

Peer Species

Humankind has many peers among the participants in the SPIN. Some are relatives of homo sapiens – genecrafted subspecies and uplifted Earth animals – while others are utterly alien. Some are even, in a sense, humanity's descendants, such as the various AI species that call the galaxy home.

NekomiTrait Bonus: +2 Sneak or +1 Sex and +1 Sneak
Benefits: Agile, Flexible, Sensual
Nekomi appear primarily human with feline traits such as cat ears, fur-like body hair, and tails. A genecrafted offshoot of humanity, they – like the many other human subspecies and Earth-animal uplifted species – usually reside in human-controlled star systems.

Trait Bonus: +2 Tech or + 1 Action and +1 Tech
Benefits: Opposable Thumbs, Strong, Superior Olfactory Glands
Tall, shaggy hominds resembling gangly, long-furred apes, the Okwoos were saved from enslavement by the SPIN. They are technically proficient despite their wild appearance; some even say they can smell a faltering field inhibitor before it explodes.

Trait Bonus: +2 Sex or +1 Sex and +1 Tech
Benefits: Henta Adept, Sexpert, Synthetic
Androids originally created as companions for deep-space explorers but later given legal status, Reldals have found their programming gives them a natural talent for henta manipulation. Able to upload their consciousness into the Galactic Web in case of physical death, Reldal Voyeurs take on some of the most dangerous assignments.

from Barbarella by Jean-Claude Forest