The King is Dead

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Too Many Kickstarters!

I know I’m not alone in feeling this, but there are too many cool Kickstarters out there or about to be out there in the RPGsphere.

As mentioned before, Olympus, Inc. is a Savage Worlds setting of superpowered corporate espionage in a world where the Greek gods and their Titan enemies secretly run the world’s biggest mega-corporations – and the black ops fixers (i.e. the player characters) are all demigods. They recently released a brief preview piece highlighting the Satyr player character race, and you can access it here. I’m a backer, but I’m also an interested party; if they reach one of their higher stretch goals, then I’ll be writing an adventure featuring my favorite god, Dionysus.

At the same time, Pinnacle Entertainment Group just announced that they’ll be running a Kickstarter for their latest setting: Weird War I. I’ll probably skip this one despite having been a fan of the Red Baron when I was a kid. I just can’t see myself ever running a war-based campaign that isn’t about plucky rebels fighting mighty empires, whether in a galaxy far, far away or in an 18th century that never was.

Pinnacle graciously pushed back the campaign for Weird War I in order to give more time to Olympus, Inc. and the other Savage Worlds-affiliated Kickstarters going on right now: Aaron Allston’s Strike Force, Against the Axis, the Hell on Earth issue of The Folio, and High Space. High Space intrigues me because it’s about post-scarcity, transhuman space opera and Philip Sandifer’s reviews of Ian M. Banks’ Culture novels made me curious about that kind of flawed utopia. I’d love to support the Strike Force campaign to help my friends Ross Watson and Sean Patrick Fannon – and I know I’ll eventually donate something – but I just can’t see myself ever using the book. The other two, unfortunately, are just too far outside of my wheelhouse.  

On the other hand, there are some non-Savage Worlds Kickstarters that are very, very much in line with my interests, and I’m going to have to budget carefully for these. In fact, I’m probably going to forgo buying The Curse of Strahd so I can support these instead.

Somewhat at the last minute, I backed Nord Games’ Ultimate NPCs: Skullduggery campaign., choosing the D&D 5e option. As might be deduced from the title, it’s a collection of crime- and espionage-themed NPCs for the usual D&D default fantasy setting. Once my current high-level 5e game ends, I’m going to try to talk the group into doing something a little more swashbuckling, a little more earthy. Ultimate NPCs: Skullduggery would certainly help me flesh out a “Scumbags of Waterdeep” campaign.

There's more than just Europe this time.

Of course, I might be tempted to ask them to switch systems entirely, because a new version of 7th Sea is coming from John Wick. I never played the original 7th Sea – I got out of RPGs just before it came out and came back just as the line began dying – but I’ve read a lot of its material and it is definitely my kind of setting. (Newer readers should check out the blog archives from the first year; I was all swashbuckling all the time.) I just hope Wick changed one irritating thing.

The original 7th Sea suffers from one of my absolutely least favorite tropes: a secret known only to the GM that damns the players without their knowledge. One example of this is found in the original Rippers; quite a ways into the campaign, the players learn that anybody who has Rippertech has damned themselves to Hell. In the original 7th Sea, the secret was that using magic actually invited Lovecraftian outsiders into the world. I can almost forgive Rippers for that twist, but I’m totally baffled by the twist in 7th Sea – particularly since the setting as a whole fits more into the lighthearted, black-and-white morality a comrade of mine once called “the pernicious influence of The Princess Bride.”

I expect there will be quite a few changes between AEG’s releases and Wick’s; for one thing, the setting will no longer be tied to the meta-plot of a collectible card game. Wick has already mentioned changes to the setting – new nations, a fuller globe – that make me believe I’ll actually want to play in this version of the setting. I suppose, at worst, I can always house rule away the monsters behind the magic.

Speaking of monsters, the last campaign on my list of tempting Kickstarters is Mysteries of the Yōkai, a small press RPG that’s very much something I wish I’d written. It looks to have more of a Sengoku Era-style setting than the Heian Era that I prefer, but the idea of a game that’s more about negotiating the conflicts between man and monsters rather than just hacking away at them is definitely something I can get behind. And I will get behind it; I just haven’t figured out how much to contribute…

This makes me realize I seriously need to start planning the campaign for The King is Dead. I’m going to need stretch goals and backer rewards and all of that. Some thoughts I’ve had are:

Stretch Goals
  • Additional Art – I just don’t think I’m going to be able to illustrate the setting with the fake movie stills I originally planned. I just don’t have the time to write and play in Photoshop, so I’m going to need to commission art. Hell, I need to start those commissions now and then hopefully raise more money for more art.
  • Expanded Setting Information – The book as planned will provide a broad overview of the islands of Malleus with more detailed information about two settings: the capital city of Hammerstadt and the county of Thornmark. I could offer to include more information about the neighboring lands of Malleus’ version of Europe or about the equivalent of the North American colonies.
  • More Villains – I could make Dracula and Bathory stretch goals, I suppose. They’re sort of outside the main narrative anyway. Hmm… I suppose I could even reveal the location and history of Salome, the first vampire, if we hit a high enough goal.
  • Crossover Adventures – I wonder if I could talk John and Ross into an Accursed/The King is Dead crossover adventure like they have for Shaintar?

Backer Rewards
  • Create a Secret Society – Just as Accursed offered top backers the chance to create their own Witchbreeds, so I could offer backers the chance to create new secret societies. There are an odd number of societies as is, so if I want GMs to be able to randomly roll encounters with other cabals, I need to either add or subtract some societies anyway.
  • Create an Iconic CharacterThe King is Dead doesn’t have any Elminsters or Drizzts. It doesn’t have any notable NPC allies, any “higher-level “ characters the players can turn to as mentors and inspiration. I might as well let contributors create some of those.  

That’s a good place to start. It’s also a good reminder to myself that I can’t spend all the money I earn freelancing on other people’s projects. I mean, I want to support some of them just out of enlightened self-interest (if I support their games, they might support mine) but there are others that just look fun. Dang it, why are there so many cool Kickstarters these days?!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Olympus, Inc. Kickstarter is Live!

Hey there, sexy!
A shadow war lurks just out of mankind’s sight – an ancient war dating back to before the gods first shaped man out of clay. 

Banished to the edges of human consciousness by the primordial Gaia, the Olympians – the gods of Greek mythology – fight an ongoing battle against the monstrous Titans. Their soldiers are demigods, the superhuman descendants of dalliances between mortals and gods. Their battleground is the glass and steel towers, the boardrooms and development labs of the corporate world. 

The shadow war hides in plain sight behind the façade of Olympus, Inc.


Earlier today, John Dunn declared that Bone and Barrow – my part of the Accursed: World of Morden Kickstarter – was effectively funded. If you’re a backer, you can already download the working draft of my chapter. (Please do; I’d love some feedback!) With that safely completed (but please keep on contributing so we can hit all the stretch goals), I’d like to plug the next Kickstarter with which I’m involved.

Olympus, Inc. is the brainchild of Gilbert Gallo (see my interview with him about his previous Savage Worlds mythological setting, Mythos) and Charles White of Fabled Environments (makers of gaming floorplans and adventure modules). When they were drumming up support for the project a few weeks back on Facebook, I threw my hat in the ring and offered to write an adventure about Dionysus. Right now that adventure is a stretch goal at $10,500 of an $8,500 funding goal.

I honestly don’t know anything more about the setting than the rest of you. From what I’ve picked up online, Olympus, Inc. is more cyberpunk than superhero, more Shadowrun than Scion. Like in Mage: The Ascension, the Olympians and Titans must hide their war from mortal eyes, risking cosmic wrath otherwise. The monstrous Titans hide their true forms by day, while the gods operate through their proxy companies. Development artwork has shown off fancy new guns and soldiers in tactical gear, so I assume there’s a lot of corporate espionage involved.

Years and years ago, Robin and I briefly experimented with playing Exalted 1st Edition. We couldn’t wrap our heads around the setting (Creation is both too much like a normal fantasy world to evoke our sense of the mythological and too different to apply the usual FRPG tropes) but we did find the system interesting enough to attempt to hack it. For a couple of months, we played a campaign we called “Goddess Project,” in which the Japanese government funded the “cloning” of the kami and accidentally started a shadow war between semi-divine teenagers. The cyberpunk mythology theme of Olympus, Inc. feels like coming home to me. I hope I get the chance to contribute to their world.

Gilbert’s enthusiasm for classical mythology shone through in Mythos, and Fabled Environments produces highly-respected work. They’ve never failed to deliver before, so I think we can assume this Kickstarter is a safe bet. They’re already halfway to funding with most of a month to go, so please join me in joining them to make Olympus, Inc. happen!    

Friday, January 15, 2016

Accursed Update (and Something You Won't Find in the Book!)

The Accursed: World of Morden Kickstarter has hit its mid-campaign doldrums, and John Dunn and Melior Via want to give it a shot in the arm. To that end, they're knocking down the funding levels on the main stretch goals for this weekend only! As John writes:

Our goals for Accursed World of Morden are well calculated. Artwork for each book costs us about $1200. Writing and editing costs us about the same. Kickstarter takes ~10%, and we need to pay for the prints and mailing costs for backers who are getting print costs (as well as backers at premium levels). The $3000.00 figure is a pretty accurate number at the end of the day.

But, we've actually fronted a fair bit of that money already. And we really want to be able to justify creating all three of those PDFs as well as delivering the 120 page book to you (as opposed to the 60 page book we've funded so far). So, I'd like to try to incentivize things a little bit for the backers already on board as well as those considering jumping on. I think that in order to achieve those goals, we need to get some forward progress immediately.

To provide some perspective, as I write this e-mail we're at $5,069 on Friday, 1/15/2016.

So, here's the deal, I'm adding in some timed goals. I don't know if these are attainable, but let's give it a shot.
  • If the project pledge total reaches $5500.00 within the next 24 hours (Saturday 1/15, lets say noon Eastern), I'll reduce the stretch goal thresholds for the ebooks to $2750. So, we'll unlock Science and Sea at $5500, and that'll move the goal for Bone and Barrow down to $8250.00.
  • If the project pledge total hits $6000.00 within the next 48 hours (Sunday 1/16, again, noon Eastern), I'll reduce the stretch goals for the ebooks to $2500. So, we'd have already unlocked Science and Sea at $5000, and that'll move the goal for Bone and Barrow down to $7500.00.
  • If we can somehow get the project pledge level to $7500.00 by Monday noon eastern (1/17), not only will we unlock all three ebooks, we'll add in a bonus set of three new 1-sheet adventures to all backers at the $10 level and up. (One 1-sheet each tied into the ebooks funded by this project.)

These are timed goals, specifically because I really feel that for the project to be successful, we need to see some movement now. If we can't achieve them, then we'll revert to the $3000.00 tiers that remain on the front page of the project. If you think this sounds worthwhile, please help us by sharing the project with your friends as soon as possible. We have other stretch goals that we'd like to share with you, but we can't do that until we unlock the ones we've already announced.

I have no idea what these secret stretch goals are, but everything else about Accursed has been pretty danged cool so far. I have no doubt that whatever they've got planned must be good. 

In the meantime, everything's going swimmingly on my end. John has approved the approach I want to take and it looks like it should all proceed easily (providing it gets backed).

The Outlands chapter of Bone and Barrow will be divided into four sections:
  • Seaharrow: A nation of sailors and whalers -- inspired in equal parts by Melville's New England and countries of the Baltic Sea -- subjugated to the whims of cruel samurai and Nazi vikings. Features the hauntingly beautiful yuki-onna!
  • Riverspring: A broken and divided land of Vampire Hunter D-inspired vampire fiefdoms and ghost-haunted valleys (with a little bit of William Tell on the side). Features the deceptive and dangerous haunters of the hills!
  • Deepshadow: A realm of literal ghost towns and serpent-haunted tunnels, ruled by black magic and bandit kings in some unholy mashup of Robert E. Howard's Pictish and American frontier stories. Features the swift and grim shadow riders!
  • Other Outlands: A random generator to create new Outland nations, utilizing either Accursed's double poker deck or a simple eight-sided die. Complete with a sample new Outland!

If everything above sounds good to you, please back the project! My imagination is just wild for this assignment, and I've even had to cut back on some bits and pieces I wanted to add. That might actually be a good thing for this slightly tongue-in-cheek Hindrance that you will not find in the book:

Ash Sickness [Minor Hindrance]

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.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Support the ACCURSED: WORLD OF MORDEN Kickstarter!

A while back, I received an email from John Dunn (head honcho at Melior Via) asking me if I would be interested I writing for Accursed, their Savage Worlds setting of Gothic action-adventure. Given that I practically wrote a fan supplement already, I immediately and enthusiastically said "yes."

Just a day ago, Melior Via launched the Kickstarter for Accursed: World of Morden, a series of setting books to expand the tantalizingly brief world-building material found in the Accursed core book. I've already read Frost and Fang, the first book in the series, and I can tell you that the new setting material is informative without being encyclopedic, expansive without being intrusive. There's great new Edges and evocative Hindrances for players and wickedly awesome new Banes for Game Masters. The only complaint I ever had with Accursed was difficulty getting a real sense of the world, and the Accursed: World of Morden series will fix that very quickly. 

My assignment, should the Kickstarter meet its stretch goals, is to expand the Outlands, the big half-circle in the upper right-hand corner of the map. It's underdeveloped compared to the rest of the setting, and I'm humbled that Ross Watson and John Dunn trust a relatively inexperienced writer like myself to add to their world. I've been given a surprising amount of leeway and I intend to use that to make the Outlands an exciting, intriguing part of Accursed

The Kickstarter hit its basic goal within 24 hours. The first stretch goal is Science and Sea, covering the "clockpunk Italy" nation of Manreia and the pirate-haunted Discordian Sea. (Personally, that's the part of the world I'd love to play in, so I've pledged just to help make sure that gets published. Yay, pirates!) The second and final stretch goal is where Bone and Barrow -- my section of the project -- gets funded, so help a brother out and chip in! Please! I promise to make it worth your while.

(Just keep some money handy for the Olympus, Inc. Kickstarter too.)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Annual Xmas Pirate Santa Repost

It's that time of year again! Despite -- or perhaps because -- I celebrate a secular Xmas, I am a huge fan of Santa Claus in all his weird and wonderful forms, and this post remains a perennial favorite of mine. Some year when I'm less busy writing my own setting and working on mystery projects, I'll try to get that Dionysus encounter linked below written up into an adventure, or maybe create some stats for St. Nicholas and his crew. Today, though, enjoy this Xmas repeat.

An encounter for Pirates of the Spanish Main:

When the crew is in port during December, they encounter a strange figure at the tavern: 
The old man is short – barely five feet tall -- and heavy-set.  A white beard frames his fleshy face and laughing eyes twinkle above a broken nose.  His knuckles are calloused – the hands of a brawler – and a length of heavy chain wraps around his thick stomach.  Three jingling bags of coins are tied to his belt.  He raises his mug to you and smiles.
Rugged sailors and crusty pirates give the old man’s table a wide berth.  He smiles warmly at the tavern wench who brings his meal and wine and tips her generously from the gold he carries.  He says grace and tucks into his hearty meal.

Questioning the tavern staff and guests reveals the following rumors and speculation (one per success or raise on a Streetwise roll):

  1. He’s a Dutch pirate – Nikolaas van Hoorn* – wanted by the Spanish for the sacking of Vera Cruz. (False)
  2. He’s a slaver; his ship is crewed by the ugliest scum on the face of the earth.  (Almost False)
  3. He’s looking to pay some young maiden’s dowry with the gold he carries – wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say no more.  (Almost True)
  4. He’s a sorcerer; he carries the Chain of St. Peter, a holy relic capable of binding demons and spirits.  (More True Than False)
  5. He’s really a Greek named Nikolaos who escaped from a Turkish prison.  (True – from a certain point of view)
  6. He’s got a mean right hook and he’ll punch you in the face if you blaspheme in front of him. (Very True)

The old man is, of course, St. Nicholas of Myra -- also called St. Nicholas the Wonderworker – and patron saint of pirates, prostitutes, sailors, and thieves.  His identity will probably be obvious to many players and it is not recommended the GM go to any great lengths to obscure it.  Courting his favor can grant the crew several boons; earning his ire will cause them problems.

If the crew buys St. Nicholas a drink or a meal, treat anyone who chips in money as blessed with the Luck Edge until the next time they commit an infamous act (feel free to make it Great Luck if they buy him milk and cookies).  If they beseech his aid, he can break the curses of supernatural beings – but he will demand penance and good deeds in return.  St. Nicholas is one of the few supernatural beings powerful enough to contend with Dionysus or Atargatis and can free PCs from servitude to one of those pagan gods.

Player characters who assault or steal from St. Nicholas will find themselves hunted by the saint’s demonic servants – Bellzebub, Black Peter, Knecht Ruprecht, Klaubauf, Bartel, Pelzebock, and the Krampus (treat as Wild Card Ghost Pirate Captains armed with clubs).  These frightening devils will beat the characters senseless and play other cruel tricks on them before leaving them where they can be found by the authorities or taunted by rival crews.

*Nicholas van Hoorn was an infamous Dutch pirate who actually named his ship "Saint Nicholas' Day."  Seriously

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Muppets -- New Race for 5e


Some strange worlds are blessed (or cursed) with a magical mutation that causes random creatures – bears, chickens, dogs, pigs, and even humanoids – to be born fashioned of cloth and felt rather than flesh. A pair of normal, fleshy humans might give birth to a puppet-like child or a single tadpole out of a clutch of hundreds of eggs might grow up to be a sentient and floppy. These beings are known as Muppets.

(Some worlds – like the planet Thra – seem to be entirely populated by Muppets. Such worlds and the unique Muppet species that dwell there are beyond the scope of this article.)

Muppet Traits

Ability Score Increase: Your Charisma score increases by 2.

Alignment: While Muppets can be found of any alignment, their magically-infuse nature inclines most to Chaos.

Languages: You speak Common and any one language of your choice. Muppets do not have a tongue of their own, but instead use the language of whatever culture they are born into or adopts them.

Size: see below

Speed: Your walking speed is 30 feet.

Floppy: The cloth flesh of Muppets grants them resistance to bludgeoning and thunder damage.

Muppet Moppets

The vast majority of Muppets are small, essentially humanoid creatures. Many of these are anthropomorphic beasts (such as frogs, lizards, otters, and dozens of other species) while others are furry and vaguely monstrous. The majority, however, are of human extraction – though their skin tones range all across the spectrum. The physical characteristics of Muppet moppets remain the same despite their appearance.

Ability Score Increase: Your Agility and Intelligence scores increase by 1.

Size: Small

Lucky: When you roll a 1 or an ability check or saving throw, you can reroll the die but must use the new result.

Talented: You are proficient in the Performance skill and one instrument of your choice.

Muppet Monsters

Some Muppets, however, are large, bulky, frightening creatures. The heads of these Muppet monsters tend to be oversized, meaning that while their bodies are only as large as a large human, their height can be several feet taller. 

Ability Score Increase: Your Strength score increases by 2.

Size: Medium 

Siege Monster: You deal double damage to objects and structures.

Powerful Build: You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Reflections on the Changeling 20th Anniversary Kickstarter

Onyx Path started the Kickstarter for the Changeling: The Dreaming 20th Anniversary edition yesterday. I pledged $1 because I wanted to make at least a symbolic gesture of support for the project. I’m not sure if I’m going to pledge more. I’d like to get my hands on the 20th anniversary edition, but I’m not sure I want to pay $110 for it.

Changeling: The Dreaming occupies a weird place in my gaming history. It is at once the most important game I’ve ever played and also one I’ve never really played. I admire it in concept and loathe it in practice. It’s complicated.

Thinking back on my roleplaying career both before and after my marriage to Robin, I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually played a game of Changeling. I think – maybe – that I bought the original softcover release for myself, read it, and decided I didn’t like it.

For those who don’t know, Changeling is one of the five core lines in White Wolf’s original World of Darkness setting. The last one released, C:TD countered the Gothic Punk aesthetic of the previous lines (Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, and Wraith: The Oblivion) with a much more whimsical, much more colorful trade dress and art style. The actual content of the game, on the other hand…

Well, I guess it depends on who you ask.

Player characters in Changeling are half-human, half-fairy changelings. They can see and interact with a world of beauty and magic that the rest of the World of Darkness can’t even perceive. Unfortunately, the wearying banality of the regular world slowly but surely robs changelings of their connection to the fae.

When I was 22, I couldn’t help but see this inevitable loss as the most tragic, horrifying concept in any World of Darkness game. The existential dread of the workaday world grinding all of the light and joy out of life terrified me far more than a vampire’s endless life of murder or a werewolf’s doomed battle against tentacle monsters.

Changeling’s romanticizing of mental illness didn’t help; like a lot of art, it positioned mental illness as a sort of gift, a mark of genius and inner beauty. Changelings in the game, after all, saw things that weren’t “really” there and were punished by compassionless normal people with incarceration in mental asylums and invasive psychological therapy. It’s the same tired, dumbass attitude that let Byron and Lovecraft off the hook for being assholes, and made Hemingway and Howard kill themselves. Even then – in the midst of my own overweening pride in my own weirdness – I wasn’t at all interested in running players through psychotic breaks and trauma. It just didn’t seem fun.

I put the book away, wishing I knew a way to make the game work for me.

Robin played C:TD with her pre-me gaming group and apparently had some fun times as a hard-drinking satyress. A few years after we married, we were living in a new city with no friends and no way to make them. Robin pleaded with me to run an RPG with just the two of us, and I finally agreed. We chose to play Changeling.

Except we didn’t.

We didn’t play Changeling: The Dreaming. We played the game’s Asian-themed spinoff, Land of Eight Million Dreams.

Land of Eight Million Dreams is almost a completely different game. Not only are the rules dramatically different, the basic ethos of the game is practically the opposite of its parent. The player characters are the hsien, immortal nature spirits or minor gods that gently take over the bodies of the recently deceased. They subsist off of prayers and dreams, but they’re not trapped in the inevitable cycle of despair that characterizes changelings. Instead, the hsien simply worry about the malaise of constant reincarnation (#spiritworldproblems) and the fact that other monsters find them delicious.

Robin played a cat-girl and an integral part of our continued happiness was born.

Twenty years after Changeling: The Dreaming debuted – and over a decade since the duet games began – I feel like I can laugh in Changeling’s ageist, anti-psychology face. I’m 42 and I’m the most creative I’ve ever been. I’m published, damn it! And I’m in demand! I’ve learned that mental illness isn’t the price to pay for being a genius, but that it is instead a sickness just like the flu or cancer that must be treated with medication and therapy. It’s a hindrance to creativity not its price – and certainly not an aid. Twenty years later, it turns out that Changeling: The Dreaming had it all wrong.

And yet, I still feel like there’s a game I might really love hiding in there somewhere. Tony DiTerlizzi’s art remains as evocative and inviting as ever, promising a game of romance and imagination that the text betrays. I’m still grateful to Changeling: The Dreaming for producing Land of Eight Million Dreams , and the fact that the twentieth anniversary edition includes the hsien makes that book so very, very tempting. Maybe – if I actually give enough money to get a copy of the book – I can make this revised version work for me.

Or maybe I should just give a buck and wait for Blue Rose AGE and Fae Nightmares to arrive. Or put Altellus into playtesting shape. Or just use my old copy of Land of Eight Million Dreams if I really want to run it again…