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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Thing I Wrote is Published!



Savage Insider Vol. 2 Issue 1 is now available at DrivethruRPG!  

As the description says:
This issue of Savage Insider marks the debut of Volume 2, now published by Obatron Productions. We're passionate about Savage Worlds and want to share that with you. Originally envisioned as a 48-page issue, our new format garnered an overwhelming response, allowing us to increase the size by more than 50%. The theme is Rebirth and Reinvention, and it is threaded throughout all the pieces, which can be used across genres.

What's in It for You

  • A Special Address from Clint Black on Behalf of Pinnacle Entertainment Group
  • Two Great Adventures + a Surveyed (between the three you get multiple maps and THREE pages of minis)
  • Two Features on Mechanics
  • Other Returning Favorites: Designer's Diary, Game Prep, Character Gallery, Equipment Corral
  • Exclusive First Appearances
  • Two Discounts: A $5 coupon from Pinnacle Entertainment Group and 33% discount from StoryWeaver
  • Information on Recent Releases and Upcoming Releases, plus Convention Connection
  • Lower Percentage of Advertisements Than Most Popular Magazines
  • Live Links from Table of Contents and Text
We can't wait to hear what you think of this issue. Buy it now and put it to use at your next game.
I wrote one of those "features on Mechanics!"  Woo-hoo!

The article could have been titled "I Hate the Climbing Skill and Wish it Would Die," but I expanded it into a more nuanced peace that argues the case that other Skills in Savage Worlds can be just as optional as Guts.  It might actually be a little controversial and get me yelled at by rules lawyers.

If you'd like to support my burgeoning writing career, please follow one of my affiliate links and buy Savage Insider Vol. 2 Issue 1 "Rebirth and Reinvention" at DrivethruRPG!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The King is Dead: Player's Packet Preview - The Wild Hunt

A perfect synthesis of cultures from Brotherhood of the Wolf
from the in-progress players' packet...
The Wild Hunt
Frontiersmen and natives

“The shadow of the blood-drinker darkens the forest.  The People flee toward the sunset, but where will they go when they reach the ocean?  If we are a wolf at bay, if we are the panther treed, if we are a bear in its den, then let us bite and claw and kill.” – Wooden Knife, chief of the Mahikander Cruthin, quoted in Journeys Along the Neuhammer.

Wild Huntsmen live close to Nature.  They see the cycle of life and death and rebirth firsthand.  They know that even the mighty cave bear grows old and dies, torn to pieces by lesser beasts or succumbing at last to illness and age.  They know that the corpse of the bear is consumed by scavengers and rot, picked clean by ravens flies and mold.  The Wild Hunt knows that something must live and die and rot and be reused to truly be part of Nature.
            Vampires are unnatural.  Not only do they resist the cycle of life and death, they kill and consume in violation of need or reason.  Vast swaths of the Mallean countryside are royal forests and aristocratic estates, where hunting is the exclusive sport of the vampire nobility and forbidden to humans.  Instead of allowing their tenants to fill their bellies with rabbit stew or roasted grouse (let alone venison), the vampires reserve the right to slaughter beast and fowl to appease their unnatural lust for violence.  They cannot even derive sustenance from the blood of their kills.
            When the vampires sent their explorers to find new lands to plunder, their unnatural bloodlust infected societies unprepared to fight it.  The island tribes of the azure Caliban Sea devoured each other, leading the Incusans and Malleans to enslave the people of the Dark Continent to work their plantations.  Casual feeding on the Cruthin of North Atlantika led to a plague of savage wendigo that still flares up in deepest winter.  The relentless growth of colonial cities and increased emigration of disenfranchised vampires and dhampyres threatens the tenuous freedom of the hardy colonists who braved the wilderness to live free of the blood tax.  Vampires despoil Nature around the globe, menacing people of many lands, many races.
            The ranks of the Wild Hunt are filled with hunters, trackers, and shamans from many cultures.  Lederhosen-clad Mallean poachers and buckskin-wearing Colonial frontiersmen have turned against the creatures that would be their masters.  Cruthin archers and spear-wielding Südlich have joined together to fight the vampires that would despoil their lands and devour their people.  A multicultural alliance has sprung up in Malleus and the Colonies amongst backwoods folk that the vampires would never even think to see as a threat.
            The eclectic make-up of the Wild Hunt has resulted in martial and hunting techniques and training from many cultures being diffused across the membership.  Most of the society’s shamans are from native cultures, but interest in this spirituality has led some Mallean members to revive reverence for old Gothic and Keltisch forest gods.  Südlich and Cruthin have learned Mallean sharpshooting skills while hand-to-hand fighting styles have been shared and refined across the membership.  They may not have quite the vampire lore of the Bloodstained Blade or the numbers of the Clan O’Nail, but individual Huntsmen are easily amongst the best warriors the rebellion has created.

Archetypes
Feisty poacher, frontiersman sniper, kickboxing shaman, naturalist gone native

Inspiration
  • Brotherhood of the Wolf: Grégoire de Fronsac, Mani
  • The Brothers Grimm: Angelika, Woodsman
  • The Last of the Mohicans (1992): Chingachgook, Hawkeye, Magua, Uncas, Jack Winthrop
  • Van Helsing: Anna Valerious

Benefits of Membership
The craft and traditions of the Wild Hunt have been culled from a dozen different cultures spread across the globe.  That illiterate rabbit-poacher from the tiny hamlet in Gothland has picked up bits and pieces of Lore from the Cruthin and the far jungles of the Dark Continent during his dealings with fellow Hunstmen; he can recognize even obscure and foreign animals and their ways.  The Wild Hunt is home to hunters, shamans, snipers, trackers, and warriors from all over the world, and they have leveraged it to become one of the most paradoxically cosmopolitan of all the secret societies.  Members of the Wild Hunt receive the following bonus skills and Edge:
+1d4 Survival
+1d4 Tracking
Connections (Wild Hunt) Edge.  The Wild Hunt is thinly spread in Malleus.  There are unlikely to be more than a handful of members in any area, but those members are likely to be skilled veterans who have faced death many times.  


Example Characters
Assassin's Creed III concept art
Eagle-Eyed Hunter (Novice)
This Huntsman can see farther and shoot straighter than anyone around.  While he’s equally adept with black powder weapons, he prefers to carry a longbow to stake vampires from a distance.
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d6, Notice d6, Shooting d10, Stealth d6, Survival d8, Tracking d8.
Charisma: -2 Pace: 6 Parry: 6 Toughness: 6 (1)
Hindrances: Code of Honor [Major], Illiterate [Minor], Outsider [Minor]
Edges: Alertness, Connections (Wild Hunt), Woodsman.
Gear: axe (Str+d6), buckskins (Armor +1), flint & steel, Gothic long bow (2d6, Range 15/30/60, RoF 1), quiver and 20 arrows, whetstone, 11 reichsmarks in coin and barter.
Assasin's Creed III concept art
Spirit Warrior (Novice)
This Huntswoman communes with the beasts and spirits, mastering the fighting arts of the various cultures that commingle in the Wild Hunt.  While she is a stranger in a strange land, the warrior code of her people will not let her turn a blind eye to the growing reach of the vampires and so she baits the beasts in their lair.
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d8, Faith d6, Notice d6, Stealth d6, Survival d8, Throwing d6, Tracking d8.
Charisma: -2 Pace: 6 Parry: 6 Toughness: 6 (1)
Hindrances: Code of Honor [Major], Illiterate [Minor], Outsider [Minor]
Edges: Adept, AB: Miracles, Connections (Wild Hunt)
Gear: pair of throwing hatchets (Str+d6, Range 3/6/12, RoF 1), buckskins (Armor +1), war club (Str+d8)
Special Abilities:
Power Points: 10
Powers: beast friend (she speaks to the animals in their own tongue), boost/lower Trait (an animal spirit guides her; may be activated as a free action targeting the caster only).

 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What I Love Most About "Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine"


 
Spoilers Follow

The Lupin III franchise is Japan’s answer to both the James Bond and Pink Panther series.  Created by manga-ka Monkey Punch (AKA Kazuhiko Katō) in 1967 (the same year You Only Live Twice premiered at the box office, which I highly doubt is a coincidence), the series stars Arsène Lupin III, supposed grandson of Maurice Leblanc’s Edwardian gentleman-thief Arsène Lupin, an id-driven not-so-gentlemanly thief who is always one step ahead of the bumbling Inspector Zenigata.  The original manga has spawned multiple TV shows, an annual series of TV specials, and several anime and live-action films (some of which have been helmed by Hayao Miyazaki).  Lupin III is, without a doubt, my favorite Japanese character.
 
The most recent television series in the franchise was 2012’s Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine, an anime concentrating on Lupin III’s femme fatale, the eponymous Fujiko Mine.  The series was a prequel that aimed to recapture the libidinousness and darker humor of Monkey Punch’s original manga in much the same way that Casino Royale (2006) and the subsequent James Bond films with Daniel Craig recaptured the dark and brutal undercurrents of Ian Fleming’s original Bond novels.  A Woman Called Fujiko Mine was the first Lupin III series to be centered on one of Lupin’s supporting cast and the first to be written and directed by women.
 
The latter point is important because Fujiko Mine is a very, very exploitative series celebrating a character created as an exercise in exploitation.  Fujiko herself began as a nameless, recurring character design that was applied to every woman Lupin tangled with, rather than an actual character with a name and personality of her own.  The name she was quickly given is a play on “Mount Fuji” and a Japanese word for “breasts.”  The character is frequently disrobed in even the family-friendly Miyazaki contributions to the Lupin III franchise.  A Woman Called Fujiko Mine features the most overt sexualizing of the character yet, with her appearing completely nude (except for high-heeled shoes) throughout the opening credits, and gratuitous nudity throughout the series. 
 
[It might surprise some readers to discover I enjoy the Lupin III franchise.  I have, after all, objected in the past to the overly-sexualized covers to the genre Companion books for Savage Worlds and I’m a known feminist and ally to the LGBT community.  The fact of the matter is that life is complex; what is appropriate to one situation may not apply in another.  A role-playing game that is attempting to sell itself to a wider audience should refrain from such titillation, but I’m fine with it if you want to be a game about busty barbarians in leather G-strings and own up to it.  I like Frazetta,too, dudes.]
 
This exploitation of the title character is, however, made deliberately problematic throughout Fujiko Mine. In defiance of decades of characterization as a cunning, confident rival to Lupin, the Fujiko of A Woman Called Fujiko Mine is given a new back story as a haunted, sometimes hysterical survivor of sexual abuse, flaunting her body in a desperate attempt to control her swirling emotions.  I could almost admire the psychological realism of the scenario and almost praise the focus on a survivor trying to write her own narrative, if it wasn’t for the fact that adding this psychological baggage actually reduces Fujiko Mine from Lupin III’s equal into a victim.  While many, many Lupin III stories have involved Lupin rescuing Fujiko, she’s never seemed so vulnerable before.  It almost ruined my enjoyment of the series.
Except…
(Here’s the REALLY BIG SPOILER!)
Except…
It’s all a fake-out.
The memories and the traumas are all false, implanted by another (admittedly terribly traumatized) person who is trying to live vicariously through Fujiko.  The sexual aggressiveness, self-empowerment, and even ruthlessness that made Fujiko Mine so much fun for so many years are revealed to be the real her; the doubt, hysteria, and trauma are fake.  After making the audience worry for 12 episodes that the brassy, joyful character they’ve enjoyed so long has been reduced to a mixed-up mess, the creators pull back the curtain and say “Just kidding!”
I hate twist endings, but I love Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine.
(I just wish they’d gotten Yuji Ohno to do the score.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The King is Dead: Progress!

I've finished the expanded information for the secret societies and am now working on new Edges!

 
EDIT: The Edges actually shouldn't take that long.  I really, really dislike Edge bloat, so I'm limiting myself to 13 new Edges.  I don't know if I'm going to bother with any new Hindrances; the existing core Hindrances can be easily tweaked to fit most concepts (and there's a section in The King is Dead's character creation about doing just that).  After that will be a section on Arcane Backgrounds and their trappings and then some gear.
 
My biggest problem was that I just had a horrible case of writer's block when I got to the Zunft von Hohenheim.  I kept writing them as borderline bad guys and had to force myself out of my post-atmic bomb anti-science prejudices and into the more progressive values of an earlier age.  It was hard.
 
 
 
 


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Two Columns or Not Two Columns? That's a Good Question.

from Ignite Living

So...  We all "know" the majority of small-publisher RPG material is sold in PDF format for use on computers and e-readers and the like.  We also "know" that the majority of RPG books are formatted in 2-column layout because it looks more professional (and because that's the way Uncle Gary did it).  Two-column format and electronic books don't actually get along that well, but I've been laying out The King is Dead's playtest in that format because it's what I'm used to seeing and because it makes me feel like I'm writing an honest-to-goodness professional-level book.

With all that said, what do you think is the best format?  Please vote in the accompanying poll. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Princess Errant: Duel dans la grande Gallium

http://www.dowdlefolkart.com/paris-city-of-lights

A couple of days after the ball celebrating her Grand Tour, Princess Dusk and her entourage set forth for Paris via clockwork ornithopter.  The brass and glass airship (shaped like a huge dragonfly) dashes across the Albion Channel at speeds of over 25 miles per hour, reaching the airfield outside of Paris shortly after dark, just as the gaslights of Paris light up the night.

A tremendous marching band parade greets the princess’ airship, and she is formally welcomed to the country by the Dauphine Celestine (who offers Princess Dusk a 7% solution of cocaine once they’re safely ensconced in her carriage).  The dauphine, Dusk soon realizes, plays at being weary and contemptuous of the spotlight but truthfully glories in it, insisting that the travel-weary Dusk participate in a grand ball welcoming her to Gallia.  Dusk reluctantly agrees and joins the riotous assemblage of Gallian nobles after taking a brief break to freshen up and change.


Dauphine Celestine looks land acts nothing like Kill la Kill's Nui, but they're an awful lot alike anyway.
(Gallia, unlike Albion, is ruled by hereditary nobility (unlike the Albish adopted nobility); the royal house, which practices primogeniture, traces its ancestry back to the water-fairy Melusine.  Actual power was consolidated into the royal hands by the current king’s grandfather, leaving the Gallian nobility as a parasitical appendix, collecting rents from lands they no longer have any hand in administrating while not paying any taxes into the nation’s coffers.  While this aspect of them is offensive to Albish principles, the Gallian nobility is paradoxically progressive in many social issues, tolerating broader gender roles and sexual orientations than most continental regimes.  After all, the heir to the throne is a woman…)


At the welcoming ball, there is an awkward moment as the dauphine tries to (almost literally) push her teenaged brother François into dancing the welcoming dance with Dusk (Celestine being rather narrow-mindedly cisgendered), but the awkward young lad is saved by the intercession of the Marquis Tomás de Carabas, a dashing ailuromorph.  While their initial encounter impresses Princess Dusk, subsequent attempts by the cat-like Casanova to chat her up over the next few days fall flat.  She barely even takes any interest in an assassination attempt against the marquis, chalking it up to the actions of the brutal former marquis that Tomás cheated out of the title.

[This is an excellent example of why you have to be ready to improvise in a duet campaign and also why I make it all up at the gaming table.]
The Marquis was somehow my least attractive Tennant character yet.

Dusk is overall unimpressed by the Gallian nobility and longs to move out of Versailles and stay in Paris, but Dauphine Celestine insists on having a masquerade ball.  Celestine also tries to pawn Dusk off onto the innocent, fabulously rich, and unpopular young Comtesse Martine le Blanc.  Le Blanc, it turns out, has suffered a series of near-fatal accidents recently, always being rescued in the nick of time by her wolf dog Raoul.  The wolf dog piques Dusk’s curiosity by being obviously a wolf smarter than average, but she’s still on the verge of blowing off the comtesse as well when Chief Inspector Jacquard of the Sûreté arrives to announce he has received notice le Blanc will be murdered at the masquerade.

Chief Inspector Jacquard

Princess Dusk has already suspected that Martine’s would-be murderer is her uncle, Merteuil, and is only persuaded to join the investigation because of her curiosity about Raoul and Jacquard’s confession that he also resents his nation’s nobility.  Jacquard is a self-made man who has advanced in his career by almost catching the infamous and suspiciously never-seen burglar Auguste Loup on several occasions – which seems excessively suspicious to Dusk, especially when a friendly bout in the fencing salle reveals Jacquard is adept at ungentlemanly fighting arts like savate.  She decides to play along with the investigation.

It turns out that Uncle Merteuil is a crony of Dauphine Celestine, and further investigation shows that Comtesse le Blanc is wealthy enough to greatly bolster the waning royal coffers (allowing the royal family to avoid raising taxes on the resentful peasantry).  Dusk wonders why Martine is not just married off to the kindly François if Celestine is after the money, but realizes that would mean Celestine would not directly control the fortune.  She then suspects that Celestine means to aid Merteuil in murdering his niece and then marry him for the fortune, but Merteuil is… um… gross… and it doesn’t seem likely that the fashionable young dauphine would want to marry such a man.  Dusk realizes that Celestine means to murder the both of them and then the le Blanc estates will default to the crown.

Princess Dusk attends the masquerade as the Pendragon, the foundling founder of the royal “family” of Albion, in an excessively clever costume that incorporates actual armor and hides her rapier in a decorative sword; Beatrix the modiste is quite proud of her creation.  The dauphine attends in a similarly-armored costume as Melusine, de Carabas comes as a furry-chested Apollo, le Blanc is Snow White while her uncle is Robin Hood, and a mystery man (whom Dusk assumes is Auguste Loup) attends as a Wild Huntsman wearing an oddly-familiar dog wolf-skin. Dusk certainly seems to finally begin to enjoy herself in this gravel-voiced mystery man’s company.

A seemingly-drunken man in a pirate costume jostles de Carabas; Dusk notices he is armed with two pistols – very real, well-used pistols – and remembers that de Carabas’ would-be killer shot at the ailuromorph.  Noticing that le Blanc and her evil uncle are waltzing together in a false show of familial piety, Dusk concludes that the ex-Marquis is going to “accidentally” shoot Martine and Merteuil while firing on Tomás.  She and the Wild Huntsman move to intercept but are too late.  Merteuil is fatally wounded, but the Huntsman’s cloak leaps from his shoulders to become Raoul the wolf dog, who takes the bullet for his mistress… and then coughs it up, unharmed, because he is in fact a spirit animal.  Chief Inspector Jacquard reveals that he is a practicing shaman and sent the wolf to protect the maiden.

He also reveals he is, in fact, Auguste Loup (which doesn’t really surprise Princes Dusk, but she seems rather happy about the reveal).

Princess Dusk does not dress like Matoi Ryuko.

And then Princess Dusk kicks Dauphine Celestine’s ass.  A dying more-or-less confession prompted from Merteuil allows Dusk to lay the accusation of murder at Celestine’s feet; Celestine replies with a challenge to trial by combat.  Dusk invokes her power of noblesse oblige and leaps into the battle.  The duel is tense, but Celestine is hampered by her ungainly costume, while Beatrix has designed Dusk’s dress for optimum mobility.  Dusk disarms the murderess and turns her over to the King f Gallia for judgment.

The King of Gallia, obese and slow as he may be, is nevertheless a man of honor and condemns his daughter and the ex-Marquis de Carabas (the “ogre” Tomás tricked out of his title) to imprisonment in the Bastille.  Prince François is promoted to dauphin and his engagement to Martine is announced -- with a press-distracting wedding in two weeks.  Dusk will act as maid of honor.  Auguste Loup disappears.

Princess Dusk finds a nice hotel and makes plans to move out of Versailles the next day.  She finds a note under her pillow, though, and goes to it the next day.  It’s an unassuming upscale brownstone, which she swiftly learns is Loup’s secret Paris base.  He invites her to join him on a jaunt to Marseilles, and asks for her advice on his wardrobe.  “Which do you prefer?” he asks, “The red jacket or the green jacket?”

She answers red.


Lupin III as Arsène Lupin by Tojosaka666
 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Setting Sketch: Miyamoto Academy Combatters

MIYAMOTO ACADEMY COMBATTERS

Fight for your honor!
Fight for your humanity!
FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

Honnouji Academy from Kill la Kill
True Cross Academy from Blue Exorcist
Miyamoto Reformatory Academy looms on a hill above the bustling Tokyo suburb of Musashi City. A towering mishmash of Baroque, Brutalist, and Gothic architecture, it is a fortress subjugating the city below. The students and faculty of Miyamoto Academy are held in reverence and dread by the town folk, appeased and feared like rampaging gods.   Miyamoto Reformatory Academy is home to the worst delinquents and most sadistic teachers in all of Japan, the preternatural fighters known as Combatters.
Statue of Miyamoto Musashi
Fueled by the Five Elements of Power – magic, miracles, psionics, super powers, and weird science – Combatters have emerged from the youth of the world since the 1950s, increasing in number as the decades have progressed until they threaten the world with their inhuman fury and strength.  The United Nations Security Council established the Reformatory Academy program in the 1980s, creating quarantine schools where teenaged Combatters could battle amongst themselves under the watchful eyes of mature Combatters who have learned to control their powers and rage.  Now, as a new and idealistic generation of Combatters are inducted into Miyamoto Academy, the Reformatory Academy program itself faces challenges from within and without.

The new students come from all walks of life, but all are marked by the strange powers and uncontrollable fighting spirit of Combatters.  One might be an A student who has dabbled in the mystic arts to boost her grades while another might be a dropout who is the reincarnation of a Buddhist warrior monk.  The class president might be a powerful mentalist who uses his psionic powers to dominate the class.  One pair of rivals might be a second-generation superhero and a genius inventor who fight over the affections of the most innocent girl in school.  All of them, though, have been forced to attend the mysterious and terrifying Miyamoto Reformatory Academy and must discover its secrets to survive to graduation.

Who are the shadowy forces that seek to use the Reformatory Academies to their own ends?  What secrets will the new students discover about their powers?  Where will the trials of tournaments of Academy life lead their destinies? Why does the future of all mankind rest on the shoulders of these children?  How will the purity of youth defeat the compromises of age?

***

Miyamoto Academy Combatters is a tournament fighting setting for Savage Worlds inspired by such high school manga and anime as Bleach, Blue Exorcist, Cromartie High School, Great Teacher Onizuka, Kill la Kill, Project A-ko, Ranma ½, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Tenjho Tenge.

Requires: Savage Worlds Deluxe

Compatible with: Fantasy, Horror, and Sci-Fi Companions OR Super Powers Companion.

Player characters are students at the Academy who have just transferred in at the beginning of the school year.  All player characters receive an Arcane Background (Magic, Miracles, Psionics, Super Powers, or Weird Science) for free (or the Super Powers Companion version of Super Powers as per that book).  As infamous delinquents, all player characters begin at Seasoned. 

New Setting Rule: Psyche-Out

Combatters challenge their foes head-on.  Every fight begins with a Social Combat in which the Combatters may attempt to psyche each other out.  Players should role-play out the exchange of insults and boasts; for every on of their opponent’s Hindrances they manage to invoke, the players gain a bonus to their social attack roll (+2 for a Major Hindrance and +1 for a Minor Hindrance).  The winner of the Social Combat may choose to either have her opponent begin the fight Shaken or begin the fight with a Wild Attack that leaves her opponent with a reduced Parry; the winner of the Social Combat may choose the result after initiative cards are dealt.
 
Kill la Kill
 
Blue Exorcist
 
Project A-Ko