Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nikolaos the Wonderworker

St. Nicholas of Myra
Instead of presenting my usual Xmas rerun, I thought I'd present some possible stats for that character.
Nikolaos the Wonderworker

An Encounter for Historical Settings

The being known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker may be encountered any time between the late 4th century CE to the 18th century CE. After that point, he transforms into the modern Santa Claus. He is an appropriate encounter for Weird Wars Rome, Pirates of the Spanish Main, The Savage World of Solomon Kane and even 50 Fathoms.

Nikolaos the Wonderworker is the transcendent form of the man known in life as St. Nicholas of Myra. An exceptionally devout and generous thaumaturgist in life, St. Nicholas was transformed at his death into a beneficent undead known as a transcendent being. Literally given new life and new purpose by his faith, Nikolaos the Wonderworker wanders the world, battling demons and bestowing boons.

By the 1600s, Nikolaos’ long centuries of undeath and absorption of the ambient Power Points of thousands of faithful from dozens of cultures has begun to wear on his mind. He has begun to transcend even beyond his initial rebirth, becoming a cross-cultural embodiment of midwinter generosity. Folk beliefs descended from Nordic myths and other cultures have begun to permeate his mind; soon he will be Father Christmas, and soon after that, he will be Santa Claus – and the memory of whom he was in life will be gone.
Legendary Transcendent Human Wild Card

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d12+2, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d6, Driving d6, Faith d12+2, Fighting d8, Intimidation d6, Notice d10, Persuasion d8, Riding d6, Stealth d8, Streetwise d6, Taunt d6, Throwing d6
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Sanity: 9; Toughness: 8
Hindrances: Heroic, Loyal, Stubborn
Edges: Alertness, AB: Faith, Brawler, Brave, Champion, Charismatic, Elan, Expert (x 2; Faith, Spirit), Great Luck, Holy Warior, Improved Extraction, Improved Level Headed, Improved Tough as Nails, Linguist, Master (x 2; Faith, Spirit), New Power (x 15), Power Points (x 5), Soul Drain, Transcendent
Gear: robes, Chains of St. Peter (Str+1d6, bind spirit, 20 Power Points), seemingly limitless gold
Special Abilities 
  • Power Points: 35
  • Powers: banish, bind spirit, bless/curse, boost/lower trait, detect/conceal arcane, dispel, fear, greater healing, healing, mind reading, quickness, sanctify, speak language, succor, summon spirit, teleport, wall walker
  • Transcendent Being (see below): +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; no additional damage from Called Shots; immune to disease and poison; does not suffer wound penalties.
New Edge
Legendary, Spirit d12+2, Faith d12+2, Heroic and/or Vow [Major], AB: Miracles, Soul Drain
A hero who dedicates herself to a selfless life serving the tenets of her faith may transcend her mortal existence and take her place amongst the gods, becoming an immortal being that exists to literally embody her faith. While the most obvious examples of such transcendent beings are Buddhist bodhisattvas and Christian saints, transcendents may arise amongst any faith or species.*
Transcendent effectively become beneficent undead, gaining many of the benefits of undeath while avoiding the more pernicious detriments of that condition. Most importantly, transcendent beings “feed” on Power Points rather than blood or flesh.
Transcendents must consume 5 Power Points a day to maintain their undead state. Transcendents are usually able to subsist on the ambient Power Points present in “unawakened” beings and natural phenomena (what is often referred to a chi, qi, or Vril energy); by first learning to tap into their own soul’s reserves through Soul Drain, and then experiencing transcendent enlightenment, transcendent learn to essentially Soul Drain the environment in a non-intrusive manner. Rituals may be conducted by a transcendent being’s followers or cultists to feed them (see Savage Worlds Horror Companion, specifically the rules for accumulating Power Points in rituals), but this is unnecessary if the transcendent makes their home at or near a conjunction of ley lines or similar mystical site (such as the North Pole or Stonehenge).
Transcendent beings cut off from ambient Power Points (perhaps by being trapped inside a ritual circle, on a lifeless planet, or in a void dimension) are forced to consume their own stored Power Points (supplementing this with uses of Soul Drain as needed). A transcendent that reaches 0 power Points falls into a coma from which it may be awakened only with a ritual infusion of Power Points.
Transcendent beings receive the following benefits:
  • +2 Toughness
  • +2 to recover from being Shaken
  • No additional damage from called shots
  • Immune to aging, disease, and poison.
  • Does not suffer wound penalties.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hobbit 3: Rise of Legolas


I went to a matinee showing of The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies yesterday, and I have opinions (after the cut)!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Terrible Idea

Elminster knows what I'm talking about.
I sometimes get ideas stuck in my brain, ideas that demand I write about them even when it interrupts the flow of other work I should be doing. I should be writing The King is Dead and then a bunch of mecha/kaiju ideas pop into my brain, or I should be working on the Japan section for Steamscapes: Asia and all I can think about is wuxia instead. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve really, really wanted to write some kind of holiday post (some Rankin-Bass-inspired stats, or a Peter Pan-inspired adventure) but all I can think about is sex.

You see, I’ve got this really terrible idea.

I’ve decided to expand the scope of Wine and Savages to include D&D 5E. My intention, after all, wasn’t to use this blog as only a Savage Worlds fansite, but to use it as a platform to launch a professional writing career. It only makes sense that I try to learn to write for the most popular RPG out there.

That’s not the terrible idea.

As I’ve candidly admitted in the past, Dungeons & Dragons (specifically the AD&D Monster Manual) had a big, weird impact on my sexual development. I’ve got some hang-ups and fetishes that can be traced directly back to fantasy role-playing. I could easily write scores of posts about that stuff.

That’s the terrible idea.

The terrible, terrible idea is to start a second blog, a blog I would call The Blog of Erotic Fantasy or The Erotic Dungeon Master (if either name isn’t taken). I’d write it under a pseudonym (probably “The Erotic DM”) and use it to explore the seamy side of D&D. I’d do a multi-part dissection/review of The Book of Erotic Fantasy and update its contents for D&D 5E. I’d do a pastiche of the Volo’s Guides and delve into more detail about the festhalls of the Forgotten Realms. I’d highlight sexy fantasy art. I’d write terribly personal, soul-baring essays about my mixed-up youth. And I’d probably tackle some actual socio-political issues because I wouldn’t be able to help myself.

It would be a terrible mess.

It would be a terrible, terrible time sink. It would be controversial and polarizing (in no small part because of my sex-positive feminist views). It would probably get me in trouble with Wizards of the Coast (I’d have to declare it a parody site and have a big, ol’ link to the Hustler Magazine v. Falwell stuff). It would undoubtedly get exposed in the end and I’d wind up some marginalized weirdo.

(I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a terrible idea.)

Obviously, I’m not going to do it. For one thing, I wouldn’t be writing a post about a secret pseudonymous project if I was serious about committing to it. For another, I just don’t have the time. It’s tempting, though.

Terribly, terribly tempting…

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

May I Interest You in a Wuxia Character and Some House Rules?

Hero (2002)

Budding Legend
Legendary Human Wild Card (80 XP)

Attributes:  Agility d10, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d8,* Vigor d8
Skills: Fighting d10, Intimidation d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Riding d6, Streetwise d6,** Subterfuge d6,*** Survival d6,** Tao d8 (see below), Taunt d6
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 7; Toughness: 7(1)
Hindrances: Curious, Heroic, Quirk (attracted to scoundrels), Vengeful [Minor]****
Edges: AB: Taoist Internal Alchemy, Martial Artist, Power Points (x 4), Taoist Adept, Youxia (Gift of Water - Mind and Body)
Gear: jian (long sword; Str+d8; $300), many-layered silk robes (Armor +1; $200).
Special Abilities
  • Power Points: 30
  • Powers: boost/lower trait (Adept), healing, qinggong (Adept)

*Setting Rule: Substitute for Climbing and Swimming rolls
** Setting Rule: Substitute for Tracking rolls in appropriate terrain
*** Setting Rule: Replaces Lockpicking and Stealth
**** Setting Rule: Storm of Passions – Wuxia characters live tempestuous, passionate lives. They may take an additional Major Hindrance at character creation. [As Super Karma from Super Powers Companion.]

New Edges

Arcane Background (Taoist Internal Alchemy)
Arcane Skill: Tao (Spirit)
Starting Power Points: 10
Starting Powers: 3

Taoist Internal Alchemy is the mystical art of balancing one’s chi. It is a difficult and demanding study that requires supreme self-knowledge and respect for the natural world. By attuning their minds and bodies, Taoists may attain incredible abilities and even immortality.

Imbalance: When an internal alchemist rolls a 1 on her Tao die (regardless of her Wild Die), she is automatically Shaken. This can cause a wound.

Taoist Adept
Requirements: Novice, Arcane Background (Taoist Internal Alchemy), Fighting d8+, Tao d8+

As Adept, but substituting Taoist Internal Alchemy for Miracles. In a Chinese wuxia setting, the standard Adept Edge may be considered to reflect the Buddhist martial arts tradition of Shaolin while Taoist Adept emulates the Wudang Sect (also known as the Wu-Tang Sect or Wu-Tang Clan).

Game Masters may either substitute the new power qinggong for speed in the list of powers Adepts and Taoist Adepts may activate as free actions, or simply add it addition to the powers listed in Savage Worlds Deluxe.

Requirements: Novice, Spirit d6+, Fighting d8+, Code of Honor, Martial Artist

Youxia are the wandering heroes of wuxia fiction and legend. Youxia have forsaken the communal ties of Confucian Chinese society to instead seek personal enlightenment and perfection. They travel the land training in their martial arts and Arcane Backgrounds, seeking to become Masters.

Forsaking society, the youxia instead adopts the Code of Xia, a set of principles shared by all of the martial artists that brave the outlaw life. This outlaw world of martial artists is known as the jianghu or wulin; it is both a source of friendship and rivalry for all who dare to live by its code. The Code of Xia is both harsh and empowering; it demands a hero live by the following principles:
Benevolence: Youxia should defend the weak; heroic youxia believe this requires serving the humble, while villainous youxia believe it means controlling them.
Courage: Youxia are brave in the face of danger; this doesn’t mean they have to be foolhardy, but many are.
Glory: A youxia may not necessarily seek worldly fame, but she does seek the respect of her peers; like an Old West gunfighter, the youxia cannot back down from a challenge.
Individualism: The youxia must follow her own code first and foremost; lord and family come second. This emphasis on the self places the Code of Xia at odds with societal norms.
Justice: Heroes pursue justice against those who prey on the weak, while villains see this principle as an excuse to avenge crimes against themselves. Youxia of all stripes are compelled to address slights to their honor.
Loyalty: While loyalty to the emperor, lord, and family is unimportant to many youxia, loyalty to one’s friends, master, and students is a core of their beliefs.
Poverty: A youxia needn’t turn her back on material wealth, but it must never be her overriding motivation. Many youxia lead lives as landless wanderers, owning nothing more than their clothes and weapons.
Truthfulness: Heroes equate truthfulness with honesty and fairness in their dealings with others, but villains only see the value of truthfulness as being true to themselves.

Because of their reputation as protectors of the weak (and as fearsome martial artists), youxia gain a +2 to Charisma. They may also choose one of the following benefits:
Gift of Metal - Heirloom Weapon: The youxia possesses a named weapon of astonishing strength (similar to the Green Destiny from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). She gains a weapon that is +1 to damage and to hit.
Gift of Water - Mind and Body: The youxia has trained her mind or body to exceptional levels. She gains +1 die in a single Attribute.
Gift of Wood - Well-Trained: The youxia has studied with a master of incredible skill. She gains a single Combat Edge of Seasoned Rank (for which she must qualify normally).
Gift of Fire - Reputation: The youxia is well-known in the world of martial arts. She gains the Connections (jianghu) Edge.
Gift of Earth - Well-Equipped: The youxia has accumulated more gear in her travels than most of her fellows. She starts with three times the normal starting funds

New Power

Rank: Novice
Power Points: 2
Range: Touch
Duration: 3 (1/round)
Trappings: Chi mastery, wire-fu, the Matrix

Qinggong allows a character to run up sheer surfaces and make impossible leaps. Heroes can run across the tops of bamboo forests, the sides of buildings, and even water.

With a success, the recipient may move up to her normal Pace either vertically or horizontally, as long as she ends the round on a horizontal surface that she would normally be able to stand on. A character may run while practicing qinggong to increase this distance, suffering the usual -2 running penalty to other actions. On a raise, running is a free action and incurs no penalty.

A character may also use qinggong to pounce on an opponent. By sacrificing 2” of movement, the character leaps higher to gain momentum. This adds +4 to the character’s attack roll and damage, but the character’s Parry is reduced by -2 until her next action.

Another Crappy Map

Zhàndòu, City of Warriors
That map post I put up last week was surprisingly popular, so I thought I'd post another map for the hell of it. This is Zhàndòu, a wuxia-themed setting I created for Savage Insider. I expect that when the "Taking Action" issue is printed, there will be a much prettier version of the map in it; I gave permission to Vickey Beaver to have someone else redraw it because I suck.

I mean, look at that river! Rivers don't have up-and-down waves! What the hell was I thinking?! And why didn't I draw it all the way down the map? Why didn't I label it with its name?

I'm not going to go into any detail about it because that would give away the article. One thing I am specifically  proud of though is that I don't actually describe all of the locations in the article. I deliberately left the tofu shop and ruined temple as mysteries for the GM to fill in, which I think is an awesome, punk rock, DIY thing to do.

(Or not.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The King is Dead: I Do Not Claim to be a Mapmaker

I've never really drawn a lot of maps in my GMing career, but I find myself in need of one for the The King is Dead playtest campaign I'm running these days.

This is Hammershire (almost called Thornshire, again), the new base of operations for the heroes.  It is a wealthy, vital county that is nevertheless basically a backwater because it's way up in the hills and just a bit too rustic for vampire tastes. Any resemblance to the Texas Hill Country is completely deliberate.

The majestic River Hammer begins here in the lofty Gianthalls Mountains before it winds its way into the lowlands and the sea; one could take a boat all the way from Thornburg to the nation's capital of Hammerstadt. The county is otherwise dominated by the broad, low hills of the Dimmsmoor, the pine forest of the Dammerungenwald, oak forests (the Feywald, Buckwald, and briar-infested Thornholt), the deep and cold Grostlake, and the ragged granite Broken Hills. The misnamed Boggan Stream (it's more of a river) marks the border of the shire.

The area was a key holding of the resistance during King Wilhelm's conquest, so an excess of vampire families were awarded lands in Hammershire in order to help put the rebels down. Senior branches of the Borgoff, Durward, and Stenzgard lines hold castles, while junior branches of the Elbourne and Karnstein families have manors. As is typical of the nobles of Malleus, most of the actual vampires spend their time attending the king in Hammerstadt, leaving their dhampyres and thralls to run the estates. When they do visit, the vampires prefer society in the town of Thornburg to the seclusion of their estates. Only Duke Lothar Eligos von Stenzgard remains at his castle year-round, and he became quite the hermit when he entered his sixth century of unlife.

Since this is a really, really informal post, here's a bullet list of bullet-points on the locations:

  • Thornburg: Not quite a city, this large town is the first/last place riverboats can safely navigate the Hammer, and has built its wealth on the river trade. It is home to the local bishopric and has a large castle. Important products are lumber, gold, and wool.
  • Lesser Thornburg: Is technically a newer, different settlement from the town, but it all just kind of blends together.
  • Dimmsdale, Woldham, Duncote, and Aldfield: Small farming and/or shepherding villages.
  • Richstead: A town that serves as a base for gold miners exploring the Gianthalls. It is also becoming a tourist spot as the inhabitants of Malleus begin to embrace the new fashion for mountain climbing.
  • Maldon: The second-largest town. Produces iron and wool (the gold in the mine is largely played out).
  • Mittelham and Rammston: Market towns in the midst of the shire's largest concentration of farms.
  • Bogganford: The ford itself has always been chancy, and the town has never grown to its full potential. Most of the traffic -- even from neighboring Rothenshire just across the Boggan Stream -- usually takes the King's Road through Bendingham instead.
  • Bendingham: The gateway to Hammershire is an unremarkable place.  Its attempts to remake itself as a picturesque spa town have been unsuccessful. 
  • Laketon: Home to a thriving fishing community and a minor logging industry.
  • Oddsglen: More logging camp than town, the community is considered a mite uncanny by the rest of Hammershire.
Crap, I just realized I forgot to put a key on the map.  The weird domed buildings are churches and the crosshatch-looking marks are farmland.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The King is Dead: Fencing/Martial Arts Schools

Fencing Lessons
Despite being an unathletic nerd, I’ve never been much into wizards. I vastly prefer swords to sorcery, and I’m a little disappointed that the majority of the players in my current The King is Dead test campaign chose to play magic-users.  I can’t blame them, though; taking an Arcane Background is basically getting several more Edges for free, and the only penalty is that you have to use a special Skill to utilize those Edges.

Which gives me an idea for fencing/martial arts schools…

What if each school used a special, separate-from-Fighting Skill and gave access to an increased number of Combat Edges?  Something like this:

Turner School of Fencing*
Skill: Turner Fencing
Starting Edges: 3
Available Edges: Block/Improved Block, Counterattack/Improved Counterattack, Elan, First Strike/Improved First Strike, Quick.
Allowed Weapons: Rapier, Saber (short sword)

In order to utilize the bonus Edges from the school, the hero would have to use the specialized skill (not Fighting). When she took additional Combat Edges, she could choose from the allowed Edges for the school and use those with the specialty skill, or take them as “generic Combat Edges” and utilize them with Fighting. Perhaps the starting Edges wouldn’t require meeting the usual requirements, too…


In any case, it’s a thought.  I’ll have to put a bit more thought into it before I utilize it as a rule for The King is Dead (or write a Savage Insider article), but I think it has potential.
*Hilariously, there actually was an 18th century fencing school led by a Will Turner -- in New York City!  Weird…


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Steamscapes: Asia -- Strider

Strider has been published! If you're a Steamscapes: Asia backer, you should have an e-mail waiting for you with a link to download the PDF.

This is my first time writing a long-form adventure, but I think I did a pretty good job. (I certainly hope I've picked up something after 25 years of gaming.)  I'd love to hear your feedback, though, so please feel free to comment here or on Google+. Send me an e-mail if you like!

Steamscapes head honcho Eric Simon tells me he's pretty pleased with the whole thing.  I'm happy to hear that, given that I kinda tweaked things more in the wacky, weird direction mind brain goes...  

Eric kindly calls it a mini-campiagn, but I'd say it's more just an old TSR-style adventure. In either case, it's 27 pages of NPCs, new equipment, plots, and random encounter tables that should hopefully add up to a month's worth of gaming sessions.

It's a cross-country quest and a murder mystery rolled into one.  There's a robot geisha, a steam-powered mecha, and chanbara-style wandering swordsmen to be found within.  There's gratuitous Seven Samurai and Godzilla Easter eggs. Some of the weirdest figures in Meiji Japan make appearances -- including Saitō effin' Hajime.

As part of the whole sales pitch, I promised that I would also convert it to Deadlands and other Savage Worlds steampunk settings.  That will probably just take the form of blog entries providing converted NPC stats and (minor) setting tweaks.  I really need a break after busting my butt to get this written over the last three weeks, so expect those to start in December. In the meantime, if you're the publisher or writer of a Savage Worlds steampunk setting, please consider the cross-promotional benefits of providing me with a copy of your setting book. :)  The only ones I've actually got are Deadlands Reloaded and Gaslight 1st Edition.

Eric says he plans on publishing it commercially after the backers have had a chance to enjoy it for a bit. We're happy to take any feedback you want to give on it to make it better. I implore you to leave comments!  How will I ever learn otherwise?


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Deadline accomplished!

No, it doesn't actually have anything to do with Strider Hiryu.

Okay, it took a little longer than I wanted it to, but I got sick and it couldn't be helped.

Strider -- the adventure module I promised backers of Steamscapes: Asia -- is finished. I just e-mailed it to Eric Simon, so that gives him a week to get it formatted. I certainly hope he's not trying to do anything too fancy with it...

This now means that I have to start working on completing the Japan section of the book, but I should be able to work at a more relaxed pace. Which will be good for my health... And the blog... And The King is Dead.


(And, yeah, module.  It's like 11,000 words.)

Monday, November 17, 2014


A Savage Worlds Setting Sketch
Yesterday on Google+, I wished that somebody else would write a Super Powers Companion-compatible science-fantasy sword and sorcery setting in the vein of Blackstar, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Crystar the Crystal Warrior, etc. Response was enthusiastic and – of course – my stupid brain immediately began churning out ideas.

Anyway, here’s some notes toward an SFS&S setting…


World of Wonders
A wondrous world
 Worlds have risen and worlds have died many times since the Cosmos was born. Now – one the far reaches of the Cosmos – a new world is in its birth pangs. Eden3 has been seeded by far-traveled, long-lost civilizations and now its barbarous inhabitants struggle to master the strange wonders their forebears left behind.
Though the orbiting supercomputer DeusMAX and its cadre of ARC-Angels were set in place to defend Eden3 from extraplanetary interference, a serpent has still come to this wondrous garden…

Probes from the Blight, a malevolent techno-organic empire, have breached DeusMAX’s defenses above the eastern continent of Sylvania, where they convert land and people into drones…
Blighted lands
Emissaries from the Blight – representing themselves as humanoid ambassadors of a foreign power, rather than the soulless constructs of an evil machine – have sown discord in the other lands of Eden3.
 They have sown the seeds of civil war amongst the Siliconoids of the Ringing Mountains…

And amidst the Thunder-Tamers of the southern continent of Primordia...
They have awakened an ancient evil in the northern lands of Feralia…
And uncovered hidden magic on the western continent of Millennia...
DeusMAX has responded by alerting the world’s natives through signs and portents, sending ARC-Angels as its messengers, and awakening heroes.
The fate of Eden3 is in the balance. Will you champion Good or Evil?
Design Notes
No Ersatz Good Guys
A pet peeve I have with a lot of settings inspired by unlicensed properties is that they stick in NPCs that take all the good parts. In every damned superhero setting, there’s always some NPC who’s already Superman, who’s already Batman, who’s already Wonder Woman. Cartoon Action Hour has its own pseudo-Masters of the Universe setting, but then ruins it by inserting its own version of He-Man.  Screw that. The players of the campaign should get to take those roles (if they want them). It might be helpful to include some character builds as examples, but they’ll be really, really generic examples like “World’s Strongest Man” or “Felinoid Noble.”
Bad guys, on the other hand, are fair game. I’m already thinking “Nekronomikus” for the Skeletor knock-off.
Race Build Packages
I figure a good way to help save time on building characters would be to put together some “races” as packages of powers. I can’t remember how many points Four-Color Heroes get, but I’d say take about a third of those to go to standardized races – Siliconoids, Felinoids, Weaponeers, etc. – and then the rest can be customized for individual characters. This might mean breaking some of the power-buying rules, but who really cares? I don’t.
(“Weaponeers” is my half-formed thought as to how to characterize She-Ra, He-Man, Blackstar, Thundarr, and most of their human friends. Most of them seem to have some kind of gimmick related to a weapon or piece of armor – like all of the above’s swords or Fisto’s big honkin’ glove – hence “Weaponeers.”)
Savage, Not Silly
As much as Eden3 may be inspired by a bunch of goofy toys, this wouldn’t be a saccharine-sweet setting. In this world, the heroes get to actually hit people with their magical swords and mighty fists. There would be peril and death and competent villains. You could – I suppose – run it as a kid-friendly setting, but that’s not how I would run it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gentleman Thief
Gentleman Thief

The gentleman thief (also “lady thief” or “phantom thief”) is a cunning and charismatic cat burglar. He is as adept in social settings as he is in picking locks and scaling heights. The gentleman thief is generally averse to physical violence, and prefers to use his cunning to confound his foes. Gentleman thieves usually work alone or with small bands of allies, but have been known to become leaders of criminal syndicates.

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d4, Investigation d4, Lockpicking d6, Notice d4, Persuasion d4, Stealth d8, Streetwise d4, Taunt d4, +2 skill points
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 4; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: One Major (Arrogant, Code of Honor, Curious, or Overconfident) and two Minor (Cautious, Death Wish, Greedy, Loyal, Pacifist, Quirk, Vengeful, or Wanted)  
Edges: Thief and either Noble (for genuinely aristocratic gentlemen thieves) or Attractive (for those who are merely social climbers)
Gear: formal clothes ($200), lockpicks ($200), $1100 (if Noble) or $100 (if Attractive). Suggested items include a backpack, camera, crowbar, flashlight or lantern, grappling hook, lantern, handcuffs, and rope.

Suggested Advances:
·         Acrobat
·         Alertness
·         Block/Improved Block
·         Charismatic
·         Combat Reflexes
·         Connections
·         Danger Sense
·         Elan
·         Extraction/Improved Extraction
·         Fleet-Footed
·         Followers
·         Improvisational Fighter
·         Investigator
·         Jack-of-All-Trades
·         Level Headed/Improved Level Headed
·         Luck/Great Luck
·         Martial Artist
·         McGyver
·         Quick
·         Quick Draw
·         Scavenger
·         Sidekick
·         Strong Willed

Example Characters:
·         Arsène Lupin
·         A. J. Raffles
·         Selina Kyle AKA “Catwoman” (Batman (1966 TV series) and Batman: The Animated Series; the character is not necessarily a lady thief in all incarnations)
·         Sir Charles Lytton AKA “The Phantom” (The Pink Panther (1963) and The Return of the Pink Panther)
·         Carmen Sandiego
·         Robert “Mac” MacDougal (Entrapment)

AKA “Nabeshima Toyoko,” “Princess of Hizen”

Legendary Wild Card (80 XP)
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d10, Fighting d8, Investigation d6, Lockpicking d10, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Stealth d10, Streetwise d6, Taunt d6
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Arrogant, Greedy [Minor], Quirk [Maneater]
Edges: Attractive, Danger Sense, Improved Extraction, Improvisational Fighter, Level Headed, Martial Artist, Strong Willed, Thief
Gear: beautiful formal kimono with various pieces of equipment hidden in garments and ornaments (lockpick hairpins, obi is 100’ silk rope, smoke bomb netsuke, weighted sleeves act as improvised truncheons, etc.)

In the upheavals of the Meiji Restoration, one woman has risen from poverty to triumph. The former guttersnipe who now calls herself “Nabeshima Toyoko” or “the Princess of Hizen” frequents the grand hotels and embassies of the newly-christened Tokyo in her self-claimed guise as a woman of wealth and power. There she steals from Japanese ministers and foreign dignitaries alike, adding to her wealth while embarking on a grand scheme to be the queen of Japan’s underworld.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Edo Era Samurai

The following are stock NPC archetypes for a Savage Worlds chanbara setting. They represent typical samurai that might be encountered in the tense, uneasy “peace” of the Tokugawa Shogunate rather than the martial valor of the Sengoku era.  

New Background Edge
Requirements: Novice
While the samurai are often thought of as Japanese nobility, this isn’t quite true. The samurai of the Sengoku and Edo eras were a much larger, much more varied caste than European nobility. They ran the gamut from impoverished farmer samurai to the wealthy retainers of the shogun. They were united by a common background as the warriors or servants of their lords, but otherwise varied greatly.
            The defining aspect of the samurai was the exclusive right to own and wield the daishō – the matched pair of katana and wakizashi – and so any character with the Samurai Edge begins play with those weapons. As the only authorized wielders of swords, even the poorest samurai also had the right of life and death over peasants and so gains a +2 to Charisma to reflect the persuasive power of a sharp sword.
            [Game Masters enforcing historical gender roles in their campaign may wish to grant a naginata and tanto to female samurai rather than the daishō.]

Samurai, Typical
A Typical Samurai might be the retainer of a daimyo or a minor official in the shogunate. This samurai is going to be called on more often for her intellectual skills than for her fighting abilities, but she still trains regularly in case she’s deployed to quell a peasant rebellion or needs to defend her lord. Samurai acting as police or assassins will have a higher Fighting skill and additional combat edges.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d4, Fighting d8, Gambling d4, Intimidation d6, Investigation d6, Knowledge d6 (Battle, Law, Medicine, or Science), Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Streetwise d6, Taunt d6
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Code of Honor, Loyal, Vow [Minor]
Edges: Connections (shogunate or local domain), Samurai, and one of the following: Counterattack, First Strike, or Quick Draw
Gear: formal clothes, katana (Str+d6+2, AP 2), wakizashi (as short sword; Str+d6); can access a full suit of armor in the unlikelihood of formal battle.

Samurai, Poor
A Poor Samurai will be a lesser retainer to the daimyo of a poor domain or one who that has lost political favor.  During the Tokugawa Shogunate, the daimyo were divided between the shinpan and fudai daimyo (relatives of the Tokugawa and early allies of the clan respectively) and the tozama daimyo who allied with the Tokugawa after the wars were over. The shogunate often tried to deliberately bankrupt these untrustworthy vassals, and the retainers of the tozama lords sometimes found themselves laboring as builders and farmers.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d6, Gambling d6, Intimidation d6, Investigation d4, Knowledge d4 (Battle, Law, Medicine, or Science), Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Riding d4, Shooting d6, Streetwise d6, Taunt d8
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 6
Hindrances: Code of Honor, Loyal, Poverty
Edges: Combat Reflexes, Samurai, and one of the following: Counterattack, First Strike, or Quick Draw
Gear: katana (Str+d6+2, AP 2), normal clothes, wakizashi (as short sword; Str+d6).

Samurai, Wealthy
A Wealthy Samurai might be a daimyo or an important official in the shogunate. This samurai is a political and social threat more than a physical one; this samurai is connected and can wield his or her retainers against the player characters or call in favors with his or her superiors.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d10, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d4, Fighting d6, Gambling d4, Intimidation d8, Investigation d6, Knowledge d6 (Battle, Law, Medicine, or Science), Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Streetwise d8, Taunt d8
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Code of Honor, Loyal, Vengeful [Minor]
Edges: Followers, Command, Connections (shogunate or local domain), Rich or Filthy Rich, Samurai, Strong Willed
Gear: formal clothes, katana (Str+d6+2, AP 2), wakizashi (as short sword; Str+d6); can access a full suit of armor in the unlikelihood of formal battle.

Samurai, Ronin
            A ronin is a samurai without a master and therefore outside of the social order. Most desperately work to be accepted by a new clan, but some descend into banditry and lawlessness. These statistics represent the latter; ronin trying to go straight would be Typical or Poor Samurai with the Outsider Hindrance.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d8, Gambling d6, Intimidation d8, Knowledge (Battle) d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Streetwise d8, Taunt d8
Charisma: +0; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 6
Hindrances: Code of Honor, Outsider, Poverty
Edges: Samurai, Strong Willed and two of the following: Counterattack, First Strike, or Quick Draw
Gear: formal clothes, katana (Str+d6+2, AP 2), wakizashi (as short sword; Str+d6).

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How Much Backstory is Enough?

I am not a fan of overly-detailed character backgrounds. Playing an RPG is not the same as writing a novel nor is it the same as acting for the stage or screen. Player characters need to be flexible and open enough that players can always find a way to justify their characters participating in the game at hand. “My character wouldn’t do that” is the stupidest, most selfish thing a roleplayer can say at the gaming table, and far too many gamers of my acquaintance use detailed character backgrounds as an excuse to be jerks to their fellow players (and those fellow players include the GM).

That said, when you’re writing an adventure (as opposed to a dungeon) or a setting for others to GM and play, you obviously need to provide some background on the NPCs. Action comes from motivation, and motivation comes from background. How much background do you need to include to provide motivation?

I’ve got three articles coming up in the next Savage Insider. One is an Auspicious Archetypes article in which I provide a build and new Edges for an archetype called “the Badass” – a charismatic fighter in the vein of John Shaft and James Bond.  The next is a character spotlight article focusing on a Zorro-like heroine called La Pantera and her associated cast of NPCs. The third is a detailed location, a pseudo-Chinese, pseudo-Silk Road city intended as a setting for wuxia adventures. 

While only the last article is technically about the setting, they’re really all kind of mini-settings. The Badass article contains a short Savage Tale – a ‘70s grindhouse adventure called “Frisco Freakout” – and the La Pantera article contains the aforementioned cast of characters and a few short adventure seeds.  The setting article, of course, contains a map and a breakdown of local factions and important NPCs.

The thing is, though, that none of these NPCs receives more than a single paragraph of description.

Do you really need any more than that?  For me, at least, it’s really, really easy to extrapolate characterization in Savage Worlds from a few lines of backstory and a character’s Hindrances and Edges.

Hindrances are penalties that players give their characters in order to earn points they can spend for additional cool stuff during character creation.  Many of these Hindrances are psychological – Bloodthirsty, Greedy, Heroic – and even the purely mechanical Hindrances – Blind, One Arm, Young – have implied backstory to them.

While Edges – the special abilities and powers you can buy with those points – are largely mechanical, the particular Edges chosen can really inform character too.  A Quick character redraws initiative cards of 5 or less; a Level Headed character, on the other hand, draws two initiative cards and uses the best. The former implies greater raw speed and the latter implies a greater ability to react to changing circumstances. 

For example, here’s an NPC from “Zhàndòu: City of Warriors:”

The most prominent caravanserai is the House of Xiang. It is a large complex close to the fortress, and contains a guǎn (training hall), living quarters, stables, and storage buildings. Master Xiang Kairan is not only a commercial power in the city, but also the wulin mengzhu – the acknowledged leader of the local martial artists. He is a master of the Tiger Fist style and teaches that to his employees. The Tigers of Xiang are widely acknowledged as the true force of order and justice in Zhàndòu City – riding out to fight the bandits when the garrison abandons caravans to their fate – but this has led to them becoming arrogant and boastful. Xiang Kairan is not a young man, and, while he increasingly turns his thoughts to the afterlife, his students are getting out of control. It may soon be time for a new wulin mengzhu.

Xiang Kairen

Wild Card

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d8, Vigor d8

Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d12, Notice d8, Persuasion d6, Riding d6, Stealth d6, Streetwise d8, Taunt d8, Throwing d8

Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 8; Toughness: 6

Hindrances: Code of Honor, Bad Eyes, Hard of Hearing

Edges: Brawler, Bruiser, Charismatic, Command, Connections (jianghu), Fervor, Improved First Strike, Improved Frenzy, Improved Martial Artist, Rich

Gear: Rich but not ostentatious formal robes; the master of the Tiger Fist style prefers to fight unarmed, but will wield a ji or jian when fighting bandits.

That paragraph of backstory tells us that Master Xiang is a rich kung fu master and entrepreneur.  He’s basically head of the local adventurer’s guild, but he’s getting on in years.  His students are honorable but full of themselves, and tend to push others around.  That’s all I really need to run an NPC, but what more do his stats tell us?

·         Attributes: His Attributes are all d8; d6 is the human average, so we know Master Xiang is above-average in everything.  He’s faster, smarter, and stronger than your average Joe, but not superhuman.

·         Skills: D12 is the highest skill die available – but the true master of a skill can get up to a+2 bonus by taking extra Edges; Xiang is a great fighter, but not the best. Have his skills deteriorated in old age, or did he just never push himself to that extra level? As a GM, that’s the kind of ambiguity I like in an NPC to allow me to make the character my own.  That he’s better at Taunt than Persuasion indicates he’s not the most diplomatic of leaders, but his rank in Streetwise shows he knows the right people to get things from.

·         Hindrances: Code of Honor tells us he’s a man of his word, but – as the expanded information on the wuxia code of honor contains in the article explains – that also means he won’t turn the other cheek when insulted.  There’s an actual Hindrance called Elderly that imposes serious physical restrictions; since he doesn’t have it, that implies he’s not that old. His eyesight is going and he’s going to tend to shout and ask “What did you say?” a lot, but he’s still hale and hearty.

·         Edges: Brawler, Bruiser, and Improved Martial Artist all add raw damage to a character’s unarmed attacks; Improved First Strike says that he’ll try to hit you first rather than react to your maneuver, while Improved Frenzy means he’s gets extra attacks. In other words, his Tiger Fist style is about sheer power.  He’s only got a couple of Leadership Edges, so he’s never invested all that much energy in being a leader (no wonder his students are out of control).  His Connections are within the jianghu – the martial arts community – instead of civil authority or the military; between those Connections, his Charisma, and his Streetwise, he’s obviously pretty capable at getting things done despite his limited interest in leadership.     

Tough and charismatic with a vicious fighting style, it seems like there’s a couple of ways to interpret his personality.  One would be a Good Old Boy – a guy who knows everyone and keeps it homey and “real.”  Another would be as a Man’s Man – and aging Clint Eastwood of a martial artist, less a leader than just the toughest guy on the block.  Another would be the Angry Old Man – a former tough guy who’s losing his edge and is pretty pissed about it.  Even though I wrote this character, I swear that I have no definitive interpretation of how to play him.  As a GM, I prefer that flexibility, but I know that isn’t true for everyone.

Since I’m now writing professionally, is this enough for me to provide?  Do I need to give GMs multi-page backgrounds for important NPCs?  How much detail is enough?  I know that every circumstance will be unique – there’s some mysteries in the adventure I’m writing for Steamscapes: Asia, and I know I’ll have to provide more background than I usually do on some of the characters – but is it better to err on the side of verbosity or brevity?

How much backstory is enough?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween 2014: The King is Dead Collection

I really wanted to produce some awesome Halloween content this year, but writing for Savage Insider, running a new The King is Dead campaign, promoting Steamscapes: Asia, and drinking my way through Texas Wine Month have kind of gotten in the way.  In lieu of new material, I present the following annotated list from the Wine and Savages archives. 

The King is Dead
My longest-running project here is The King is Dead, a gonzo Gothic 18th century revolutionary setting where the aristocrats are vampires so you don’t have to feel guilty about slaughtering them all.  As much as there is on the blog, there’s even more unpublished.  It will – eventually – get published, but paying writing work is too tempting to resist right now.

The original post that started it all is a fictitious quote from another world’s Declaration of Independence.
The King is Dead: What does that mean?
An explanation of the setting concepts and themes.
A new version of the introduction that brings it more up to date with ongoing development.

The King is Dead: A Vampire History
The vampire history of the world.
The King is Dead: I Never Drink… Wine
Being a “wineaux,” I like to work wine into every setting.  I spun Bela Lugosi’s famous line into a whole wacky mechanic (that I have since redacted).
The King is Dead: I Have Changed My Mind About Vampire Boners
On dhampyres (herein called “dunpeals” because I thought that was funny).
The King is Dead: The Blood is the Life (Revised)
Ghouls, thralls, Renfields…
Vampire mechanics and bloodlines.
The King is Dead: Thank you, Hellsing.
Thoughts on toning down minor vampires and powering up the important ones.

The game is set in Malleus, an island nation with elements of 18th century Britain, France, and Germany.  Admittedly, it tends to be more Britain than anything else.
The King is Dead: This Grim, Unpleasant Land
The eastern coast and the capital of Hammerstadt.
The King is Dead: This Grim, Unpleasant Land Part 2
The wider reach of the “England” part of the island.
The King is Dead: There May (or May Not) Be Monsters in the Lochs
The “Scotland” section of the setting.
The King is Dead: A Glorious Thing To Be the Scarecrow King
“Cornwall,” smugglers, and a redacted secret society.
The King is Dead: The Colonies
As in “America.”
The brutality of the Mallean "justice" system.

The King is Dead: Hollywood History
The King is Dead: Son of Hollywood History
An inspirational filmography; it’s funny to realize that this is already out of date.  I really need to watch Outlander and Turn.
The King is Dead: Assassin's Creed III
Inspirational art.  I have never played an Assassin’s Creed game.  Seriously.  I suck at video games.
Things I Need to Own: Le Scorpion
I still haven’t bought this.  I am so dumb.
The King is Dead: Need Some Figure Flats?
A bunch of Assassin's Creed pictures that would make awesome paper minis.

The King is Dead: Give Me Gonzo or Give Me Death
Thoughts on Arcane Backgrounds; includes example characters.
The King is Dead: Savage Worlds Character Creation
Includes the skill bonuses attached to each secret society.
The King is Dead: Some Edges
I forgot that I used to think it was important to have no body odor in this setting…
The King is Dead: Names in Malleus
How to name your character.
The King is Dead: New Trapping -- Vehicle
A new Weird Science trapping!

NPC Archetypes
The King is Dead: Mallean Ladies of Good Breeding
The King is Dead: Gentlemen of Malleus
The King is Dead: Churchmen of Malleus
The King is Dead: Some Dunpeals
A quartet of generic stat block entries.
The King is Dead: Bestiary - Lady's Maid
An experiment in less generic stats.
The King is Dead: The Neo-Gothic Society
The King is Dead: The Rest of the Neo-Gothic Society
A secret society of discontented vampires (who are still bad guys).
Creepy Housekeeper (Gothic Tropes NPC)
This did not work out as intended.

Secret Societies
The King is Dead: Plotters and Rebels
Introducing the secret societies that form the core of the setting.
The King is Dead: Libertines and Liberated
Wow.  I just realized this entry is almost completely apocryphal now.  I originally thought that I’d portray vampires as anti-sex because I’m a sex-positive feminist, but then I realized no man would choose eternal life over his penis.  Then I realized that making a good guy secret society in the vein of the Hellfire Club was just wrong-headed.
The King is Dead: Secrets of the Bloodstained Blade
Dumb puns inform the history of the setting’s “Christians.”
The King is Dead: The Benevolent Association
The "thieves' guild."
The King is Dead: An Illuminated Example
Expanded information on the setting's "Freemasons."
Update on the Manis and Hawkeyes.
Revising the feminist society.
Correcting a horrible error on my part.

The King is Dead: Questions? Comments?
I have no idea why this post is in my top ten most popular.  Is it the picture?
The King is Dead: What I have learned from actual play
I have learned I can’t stop making puns.
The King is Dead: I'm Stumped
I was stumped.
The King is Dead: What Lurks in the Shadows?
Considering whether there should be other monsters in the setting besides vampires.
The King is Dead: Taking it seriously
In which I remember to not take things too seriously.
The King is Dead: Recent Revelations from Actual Play
Vampires have secret societies too!
The King is Dead: This Will Not Be In The Book
The sci-fi at the setting’s secret heart.
The King is Dead: Plot "Points"
Theorizing a way to tie player character advancement directly into achievements for their secret societies.  It sounds like The Rise of Tiamat actually has something like this. 
The King is Dead: A Gothic 18th Century that Never Was
The deliberate use of anachronism in the setting.
The King is Dead: Progress Update
The King is Dead: Progress!
I am so far behind...
The King is Dead: Angels and Demons
Vampires have great PR,

Fast and “Fury”-ous

Evil Beagle recently provided me promotional copies of Leonard Pimentel’s Magnum Fury and Six-Gun Fury . No expectation of a review wa...