Thursday, May 29, 2014

The King is Dead: Trials and Punishments

So... Player's Guide information or GM Guide?  I'm leaning toward GM Guide, but I'd like players to know how risky the life of a revolutionary can be...

COMMON AND CANON LAW
The people of Malleus have been cowed into submission by centuries of brutal oppression by a corrupt and malignant State and Church.  While the system breeds resentment like a festering corpse breeds flies, it takes the truly brave to openly defy it.  Most who fly in the face of it are swatted down.

Trials and Judgment
The depraved legal system of Greater Malleus is essentially divided into the common law enforced by the king’s magistrates and the canon law enforced by the Holy Panoptic Church of Sathaniel.  Emperor Etzel cunningly balanced devotion to the Church with cultivating his own power, resulting in a “separate but equal” doctrine of Church and State that has been copied by his client kings (like King Wilhelm) and which persists to this day.  Crimes of the body are punished by the State while crimes of the soul are punished by the Church – and crimes of body and soul are punished by both. 

Mallean courtrooms feature a judge’s bench against the north wall (symbolic of the long night of winter) and a predicant’s [priest’s] pulpit against the east wall (symbolic of Sathanielism’s rise from the east); there is no jury (though the judge may entertain suggestions for punishment from the audience in an atavistic leftover of the Gothic tradition of trial by peers).  The proceedings begin with a prayer from the predicant, followed by presentation of evidence by the accuser and defendant, examination of witnesses, and pronouncement by the judge.  Professional lawyers can be hired to represent both accusers and defendants, but are provided by the state for neither side (leading to abundant bribery throughout the process).  If the crime incorporates violation of canon law, the predicant will also make a judgment; if not, then the predicant will simply close with a prayer.
Punishment

Capital punishment is relatively rare in Greater Malleus; a dead human, after all, pumps no blood.  It is usually only practiced in cases of vampiricide. Depending on the enormity of the crime, a convicted vampire killer may be publicly devoured by the vampire’s kin, hanged, or burned alive.  Fatal exsanguination is the most common judgment, as it allows the vampire’s kin to enjoy their vengeance personally.  Hanging is sometimes pronounced when the vampiricide’s blood is “not worth drinking;” such humiliation can result in the killer’s family being ostracized (as per the Outsider Hindrance).  Burning is usually pronounced when the vampire is also clergy; it is equally a ritual of excommunication as well as execution.
Other forms of punishment are more common because they do not waste blood:

  • Confinement is rare, as it could potentially be costly to the state; it is usually only applied to the wealthy as a way of siphoning off their assets.  Prisoners are expected to pay for their own food and amenities, quickly draining the coffers of all but the wealthiest.         
  • Enslavement is usually euphemized as “bonded labor” with sentences being set until a certain amount is repaid or until the end of a certain span of years; it is very common for bond owners to pay the bound so little that they spend the rest of their lives enslaved, or to work them so hard they do not live out their sentence.  Enslavement is often combined with transportation to the Colonies to work their under-manned plantations.     
  • Exsanguination is usually performed when a crime is committed directly against a blood-drinker, usually by the vampire or dhampyre offended; they rarely stop until the criminal is Incapacitated.  Exsanguinations are usually conducted privately to preserve the blood-drinker’s dignity; in practice, this means that they often involve greater indignities being heaped on criminal than mere blood-letting.  Mortal and undead sadists often pay for the pleasure of viewing exsanguinations.
  • Fines are very common and are often charged in conjunction with other sentences.  There is no uniform code for fines, but they are rarely less than a month’s wages.  It is often more economical to bribe a guardsman to avoid arrest than to pay a fine.
  • Humiliation is more often applied in cases of spiritual offenses than physical ones.  Stocks and pillories stand in every village common and town square, and humans of both sexes might be sentenced to them for adultery, drunkenness, shirking work, and other moral lapses. [Etc.]






Friday, May 23, 2014

The King is Dead: Revised Introduction

Work on the playtest package for The King is Dead proceeds apace.  Here's the revised and expanded new introduction to the setting.  Feedback, as ever, is welcome.

 

THE KING IS DEAD

Revolution in a Gothic 18th Century That Never Was...

INTRODUCTION


The king is dead!

These are words that cannot be denied. What is a vampire but an animate corpse? What are the undead but dead that walk? What is our king but a vampire?

A rotting corpse sits on the throne of Malleus – a rotting corpse to whom we bow and scrape! We have allowed the dictates of King Wilhelm and his vampire children to dominate the lives of living men and women for centuries. We have allowed him to make not mere slaves of us, but cattle. We have allowed our so-called nobility to feed on the lifeblood of our sons and daughters for far too long.

In signing this declaration, we commit ourselves to the fight against injustice and tyranny. We commit ourselves to the overthrow of the vampire King Wilhelm and all his brood. We commit ourselves to raising a new government by the living, for the living.

from The Declaration of the Illuminated,
May 1st, 1776

 

A LAND IN NEED OF REVOLUTION


The island nation of Greater Malleus is in the throes of revolution. An artistic revolution flowers as the people embrace periwigs and hoop skirts, symphonies and comic operas. An economic revolution looms as the steam engine changes industry and the wealth from the colonies invigorates the middle class. An intellectual revolution boils as scholars study science and philosophy, galvanism and the social contract. And a political revolution threatens as the people of Malleus conspire to take their nation back from the bloodsucking ruling class that treats them like cattle.

Throughout Greater Malleus, revolutionaries are at work. In the dark forests that line the king’s roads, highwaymen in masks and greatcoats ambush nobles’ coaches and plunder their wealth. In the streets of the capital city Hammerstadt, radicals risk their lives to spread the call to rebellion amongst the people. In secret rooms, conspirators gather to destroy the old government and forge a new one. And in the palaces of the vampires, libertines in lace and silk become assassins and strike the first blows for freedom.

But that is not all. On mountain heights, scientists harness the lightning to create weapons capable of incinerating the dead. Amongst standing stones and cromlechs, fae-touched freedom fighters learn the uses of their second sight. In towns and villages across Malleus, a generation born with strange powers hides their gifts. Amid the libraries and hidden work rooms of lawyers and merchants, would-be sorcerers seek the secrets of alchemy. In the bedrooms of the vampires’ mansions, disenfranchised wives and daughters pray to foreign goddesses for strength and wisdom. And by native campfires and in the fencing halls of Hammerstadt, martial artists hone their bodies and souls into weapons.

The King is Dead is a setting of revolution in a Gothic 18th century that never was. 
 

A GOTHIC 18TH CENTURY


The 18th century was a time of adventure and a time of change. It encompassed the Golden Age of Piracy and the French and Indian Wars. Science and rationality flourished through the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution began. America and France threw off the shackles of their monarchies. Casanova wooed his ladies, Benjamin Franklin flew his kite, Mozart wrote his operas, and Horace Walpole rejected the didactic realism of contemporary literature and invented the Gothic novel.

The Castle of Otranto, Walpole’s revolutionary Gothic novel, combined the fanciful supernatural elements of the medieval romance (such as the tales of King Arthur or Charlemagne’s Peers) with the psychological verisimilitude of the novel (exemplified by Cervantes’ anti-romantic Don Quixote and contemporaries of Walpole like Daniel Defoe). The Gothic novel embraced the fantastical and horrific even as the Enlightenment discredited them and paved the way for modern horror and fantasy fiction. The King is Dead embraces the Gothic tradition begun in the 18th century and marries it to the sophistication and style of the 18th century itself.

In the world of The King is Dead, humankind has been subjugated for over 1700 years by an incestuous, cruel, bloodsucking nobility.  The common folk are expected to give their blood on demand to satisfy their masters’ thirsts, and their bodies to breed the half-vampire dhampyres that do the nobles’ dirty work. The only hopes the vampires hold out – the temptation that sways so many to their cause – is the inhuman vitality gained by drinking a vampire’s blood and the rare, rare gift of becoming a vampire too. 

The world of The King is Dead is a Gothic world. A common trope of Gothic fiction is a debauched and weak-willed clergy, and so the predominant religion of Greater Malleus is the Holy Panoptic Church of Sathaniel, dedicated to the dark deity who gave the gift of undeath to the first vampire. Gothic fiction is set in sublime and terrifying landscapes, and so Greater Malleus is covered with dark forests and craggy mountains.  Lightless castles and manor houses dominate every town and village.   Most people simply spend their lives praying their masters take no notice of them, but some have begun to fight for a better world.

With the law of the land against them, those who would defend humanity become outlaws. Like the American Sons of Liberty or the Bavarian Illuminati, revolutionaries gather in secret societies to plot the overthrow of the ruling order. Secrecy and subtlety are the best weapons against a corrupt state inimical to equality and freedom; toppling the government and literally burning it to the ground is the only answer to a world run by monstrous predators.
 
Greater Malleus is caught up in the revolutions of its own 18th century. Even ageless undead cannot resist the march of history, and so the world of The King is Dead is also one of scientific and philosophic progress. It is an unfettered blending of the best and worst that man might dream of.
 

A WORLD THAT NEVER WAS


The 21st century has seen a flurry of stories that mix the elegance and freedom of the 18th century with horror and magic. Brotherhood of the Wolf combines a period piece monster movie with high-flying martial arts action. The Pirates of the Caribbean series combines swashbuckling with the undead and the Lovecraftian. The anime Le Chavlier D’Eon combines the courtly intrigues of Versailles with magic and mysticism.  Choosing to use the Savage Worlds role-playing game system offered an intriguing possibility. Contained within the slim and inexpensive core rulebook are rules for not only cinematic action-adventure and horror, but also magic, psionics, and super powers. Why not create a setting that takes advantage of that?

And so The King is Dead is a mad mash-up setting where you can put a tricorne hat on almost whatever character concept you want to play and it will fit. Miracle workers, psionicists, superhuman, weird scientists, and wizards conspire together to bring down an unholy, undead monarchy and free humankind from centuries of oppression.
 

What society will you join? What path will you take to freedom?

 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Godzilla (2014): Brody and the Hero



It’s ironic that one of the few criticisms leveled at Godzilla (2014) is that human deuteragonist Lt. Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is viewed by many as wooden and uninteresting, because he’s actually one of the most realistic military characters I’ve ever seen. 

I have a healthy skepticism of the military.  My mother was basically a hippie who spent most of my youth going through a profound rebellion against her WWII veteran father, to the point of implying to me that my Vietnam vet father died from illness caused by exposure to Agent Orange (he didn’t).  The Iran-Contra affair and George H. W. Bush’s ties to Manuel Noriega – and the amusingly cynical portrayal of politics in Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – combined to give me a jaded view of war that certainly wasn’t helped by George W. Bush’s adventurism.  I even wrote a really angry poem in high school taking soldiers to task for allowing themselves to be used as chess pieces.

San Antonio, TX is, however, a city with a heavy military presence, and I found myself working at a military service company many years ago.  I’ve spent most of the Iraq War dealing with soldiers and their families, and it has opened my eyes to the better side of servicemen.  I haven’t lost my skepticism, but I know that there really are soldiers like Lt. Ford Brody.

He’s a man of quiet competence.  He’s a an Explosive Ordnance Disposal expert – that means he’s a hero who volunteered to save people by disarming bombs instead of shooting guns.  He’s a young guy without a lot of money whose wife has to work a really demanding job so they can have just a little bit of comfort.  He’s a man who just spent 14 months away from his family and just wants to get home; he hasn’t seen his child in over a year.

(He’s also the son of a single parent who drives him crazy and likes to drink red wine from stemless glasses, but let’s not get into how he reminds me of myself.) 

Lt. Ford Brody is noble and humble – just like a lot of real-life veterans – and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s understated performance really captures that.

Of course, you might have noticed I used the word “deuteragonist” up at the top there.  That’s a fancy word for “second lead” and there’s no question who the protagonist – the real main character – is in Godzilla (2014).

(SPOILERS AFTER THE CUT)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Godzilla (early Showa Era) for Savage Worlds

And here's the King of the monsters after the events of Godzilla (1954), Godzilla Raids Again (AKA Gigantis, the Fire Monster), and King Kong vs Godzilla as he stands on the brink of transforming from villain to anti-hero.  He just has one last foe to face as a villain, a foe that will teach him to use his rage in the service of the Earth, a foe named Mothra.


Godzilla (early Showa Era) for Mecha Kaiju Sensō Tai!!! 
Saurian Kaiju
Rank: Seasoned
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d8 (G), Vigor d8 (G)
Skills: Burst d12, Climbing d4, Fighting d8, Intimidation d6, Notice d4, Stealth d4, Swimming d6.
Charisma: -2  Pace: 6 (G)  Parry: 7  Toughness: 6 (G)
Hindrances:  Arrogant, Enemy (minor), Wanted (minor).
Edges: AB: Super Powers (Burst), Aquatic, Fast Healer, Nerves of Steel.
Special Abilities
  • Gargantuan Armor: Kaiju and mecha on the Gargantuan scale may only be Shaken by Heavy Weapons; their attacks count as Heavy Weapons for the purposes of bypassing Heavy Armor..  They may only be wounded by G-scale weapons such as the weaponry of other G-scale creatures and weapons of mass destruction.     
  • Gargantuan Damage: Kaiju and mecha on the Gargantuan scale are considered to be Size +20 for purposes of interaction with human-size targets; they add +20 to all damage rolls made against non-Gargantuan targets.
  • Gargantuan Size: G-scale kaiju and mecha suffer the attack penalty for being Huge; man-sized creatures are at +4 to attack rolls to hit G-scale creatures (including attacks by Heavy Weapons).
  • Gargantuan Stride: 1" in distance for G-scale kaiju and mecha equates to 5" of human-scale distance; this applies to movement and ranged weapons.
  • Kaiju: As semi-sentient giant monsters who are unable to buy equipmeny, Kaiju do not get any starting funds;they instead get an extra skill point.
  •  Natural Weapons: The tails, claws, and teeth of saurian allow them to tail slap, claw, or bite in combat for Str+d4 damage.
  • Outsider: Most races distrust the unblinking saurians . Their habit of eating their meat still squirming is also less than appetizing. They suffer a –2 Charisma penalty.
  • Power Points: 20
  • Saurian Senses: Saurians’ lizard tongues can “taste” the air, giving them +2 to Notice rolls. They are always considered active guards for Stealth checks.
  • Warm Natured: Though not truly cold-blooded, saurians are not comfortable in cold environments. They suffer a –4 penalty to resist cold environmental effects.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla (1954) for Savage Worlds

Instead of the spoiler-filled analysis of Godzilla (2014) that I want to write, I'm going to content myself with some stats.  The following uses my house rules for the setting sketch Mecha Kaiju Sensō Tai!!!


Godzilla (1954) for Mecha Kaiju Sensō Tai!!! 
Saurian Kaiju
Rank: Novice
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d8 (G), Vigor d6 (G)
Skills: Burst d12, Climbing d4, Fighting d8, Intimidation d6, Notice d4, Stealth d4, Swimming d6.
Charisma: -2  Pace: 6 (G)  Parry:Toughness: 5 (G)
Hindrances:  Arrogant, Enemy (minor), Wanted (minor).
Edges: AB: Super Powers (Burst), Aquatic.
Special Abilities
  • Gargantuan Armor: Kaiju and mecha on the Gargantuan scale may only be Shaken by Heavy Weapons; their attacks count as Heavy Weapons for the purposes of bypassing Heavy Armor..  They may only be wounded by G-scale weapons such as the weaponry of other G-scale creatures and weapons of mass destruction.     
  • Gargantuan Damage: Kaiju and mecha on the Gargantuan scale are considered to be Size +20 for purposes of interaction with human-size targets; they add +20 to all damage rolls made against non-Gargantuan targets.
  • Gargantuan Size: G-scale kaiju and mecha suffer the attack penalty for being Huge; man-sized creatures are at +4 to attack rolls to hit G-scale creatures (including attacks by Heavy Weapons).
  • Gargantuan Stride: 1" in distance for G-scale kaiju and mecha equates to 5" of human-scale distance; this applies to movement and ranged weapons.
  • Kaiju: As semi-sentient giant monsters who are unable to buy equipmeny, Kaiju do not get any starting funds;they instead get an extra skill point.
  •  Natural Weapons: The tails, claws, and teeth of saurian allow them to tail slap, claw, or bite in combat for Str+d4 damage.
  • Outsider: Most races distrust the unblinking saurians . Their habit of eating their meat still squirming is also less than appetizing. They suffer a –2 Charisma penalty.
  • Power Points: 20
  • Saurian Senses: Saurians’ lizard tongues can “taste” the air, giving them +2 to Notice rolls. They are always considered active guards for Stealth checks.
  • Warm Natured: Though not truly cold-blooded, saurians are not comfortable in cold environments. They suffer a –4 penalty to resist cold environmental effects.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Uhrr...?

Not last night's weather, but close enough.
I definitely need to add some stuff about weather to the Gothic landscape section in The King is Dead's GM advice.  I am Fatigued and suffering a -1 to all actions...
 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dreams of Avarice

It's a weird, misty Monday morning here in San Antonio and I feel caught in a strange, dreamy haze.  I find myself caught up in fantasies of wealth, dreams of avarice...

WHen I fantasize about finally getting The King is Dead published, there are two artists I dream about using for the cover and interiors.  The one more familiar to the gaming public is the ubiquitous Wayne Reynolds, pernnial Paizo cover artist.  It's not just that he's popular and getting a cover by him would kind of scream "This is a real RPG!," I genuinely like his art.  It's got this chunk, kinetic, over-the-top-but-lived-in quality -- plus he's got some experience with both Gothic settings and tricorne hats through his contributions to Magic: The Gathering's Innistrad and Green Ronin's Freeport lines.

And he already has practice with multi-shot crossbows...
The other artists I dream about is hard-working comic book artist Francesco Francavilla.   Sometimes I'm not sure if I really love his art or if I just really love his appreciation of the pulps, but there's something about his sketchy yet dynamic work that just pulls me in.  I would assume that somebody working for DC and Marvel would be way out of my price range, but he recently began advertising an original art sale on his Tumblr and the prices are only in the hundreds... Hm...

And Francesco actually has direct experience with tricorne-wearing heroes!
If you were my art director, what would you choose? 


In other mad dreams of wealth, it turns out that Geek Chic, makers of the infamous Sultan gaming table, now offer coffee tables and other smaller items too!

Robin and I spend most of our time gaming at the coffee table on the couch rather than sitting at the dining room table or a dedicated game table.  It would be pretty sweet to have a table like the Rift (pictured to the right) that could hold the gaming goods in a nice, out-of-the-way location and also function as an attractive piece of furniture.  I mean, our currect coffee table can technically do that, but her cat likes to pop open the drawers and sneak inside and the storage space is just kinda messy and under-attractive.  Of course, these are Geek Chic custome pieces, so they are WAY out of my price range.

The same goes for the Keep, one of the most awesome-looking display cases I have ever seen.  I have this vague but persistent dream of replacing all of my bookshelves and knickknack shelves with cases with glass doors.  I don't know if that would actually cut down on the dust or not, but it seems like it would.  Man, I'd love to fill a Keep with Lupin III merchandise...

Unfortunately, I think the only piece I'll be able to afford from Geek Chic for a long time is the Deck Carrier -- and even that cost $90!  Of course, if I had such a nice playing card container, then I'd need to get some nicer playing cards.  One official Savage Worlds action/adventure deck just wouldn't be enough...





Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The King is Dead: An Illuminated Example

So, here's an example secret society write-up from the upcoming playtest packet.  What do you think?

The Illuminated 

Freethinkers and cabalists
“The goal of alchemy is to change lead into gold – to change the dross of a dark and hopeless world into freedom and progress.”
The Illuminated are a society of philosophers and occult scholars dedicated not only to the overthrow of the vampires, but also the reformation of society.  They preach the values of freedom, equality, and brotherhood (but what exactly those values mean is a topic of debate in the society).  Membership is theoretically open to anyone of any race or gender who accepts their ideals, but the majority of Illuminated are middle-class Mallean men.  They have members amongst the planters of the Colonies and gentry of the Pale, the merchants and professionals of the towns and cities, and the adventurers of Hammerstadt.

The Illuminated are skeptics, challenging the accepted wisdom of nearly two millennia of tradition.  The Illuminated are scholars, unearthing and researching the science and learning of the ancient Remulan Empire and other humanist societies.  The Illuminated are occultists, dabbling in the Cabala and alchemy in order to better understand the world.

They oppose the Panoptic Church and the divine right of vampires, but they also reject prejudice against race, sex, and social class.  In a time of outrageous disparity between rulers and their subjects, the Illuminated believe in the equality of all humankind.  Unfortunately, many elder statesmen of the society believe in gradually reforming society once the vampires are defeated.  Their refusal to demand immediate equal rights for women or immediately end slavery estranges the Illuminated from their natural allies among the Sorority of Belquis and the Bloodstained Blade.  There are female and non-Mallean members of the Illuminated, but they are rarer than they should be.

No member of the Illuminated would be so foolish as to deny the very practical, real effects of the supernatural in the world, but they do believe that Sathaniel and his vampire minions are merely the victors of a war – not the favored children of the Creator.  They point to the centuries-long reign of the Remulans and the continuing power of the Ostermann Empire as proof of this philosophy.  They argue that magic – the control of supernatural forces through the mind and will – provides humankind with the tools to take back the world from the vampires.

Benefits of Membership 
Membership in the Illuminated provides access to a loose network of lodges that stretches across Malleus, Lochland, and the Colonies (but with few locations in Clavus).  Members communicate through coded letters; all members are taught the ciphers and may successfully code a message with a Common Knowledge roll.  Many members also publish pseudonymous pamphlets and tracts that are read and debated throughout society. Illuminated receive the following bonuses skills and Edge:
+1d4 Knowledge (Occult)
+1d4 Persuasion
Connections (Illuminated) Edge.  Since most members are members of the prosperous middle class, a successful Connections roll may provide the player character with access to an alchemical laboratory, an irreproachable false alibi, or other financial or legal aid befitting the help of a pillar of the community.

Inspiration
The Illuminated are inspired by the progressive ideals of the lluminati and the occult mystery of the Freemasons.  Many influential thinkers of the Enlightenment and heroes of the century’s revolutions belonged to one or the other order.  While modern conspiracy theorists paint them as the villains of a New World Order, it should be remembered that the new order they wanted to create was one of freedom and equality.
Historical examples: Giacomo Casanova, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, Comte Saint-Germaine, Madame Roland, Voltaire.
Fictional examples: Francesca Bruni (2005 Casanova film), Ichabod Crane (2013 Sleepy Hollow TV series), Anton Hoffer (Twins of Evil), Jack Stiles (Jack of All Trades).

Example Characters

Occult Scholar (Novice)
A typical member of the Illuminated, this scholar of the classical world has studied the battles of the Remulan armies and the mysticism of ancient Tsion.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6.
Skills: Fighting d4, Gambling d4, Investigation d6, Knowledge (Battle) d8, Knowledge (Occult) d8, Notice d4, Persuasion d4, Riding d4, Spellcasting d8, Stealth d4.
Charisma: +0  Pace: 6  Parry: 5  Toughness: 5
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor. 
Edges: AB: Magic, Scholar.
Gear:  half-finished treatise, grimoire, accounts of classical warfare in their original languages, rapier (Str+1d4, +1 Parry).
Power Points: 10.
Powers: 3 novice powers.

Adventurer (Novice)
In the eighteenth century of The King is Dead, “adventurer” refers to those who seek to better their social standing through their wits and charm, such as the historical Casanova. 
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6.
Skills: Fighting d4, Gambling d4, Intimidation d6, Knowledge (Occult) d4, Notice d6, Persuasion d8, Shooting d4, Riding d4, Stealth d4, Streetwise d6, Taunt d6.
Charisma: +2  Pace: 6  Parry: 5  Toughness: 5
Hindrances: One Major, two Minor. 
Edges: Attractive, Strong Willed.
Gear:  second-hand fine clothes, rapier (Str+1d4, +1 Parry), enough money to stake a wager but too little to pay his debts.



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

It's all Fast And Furious -- Until It's Not

The inverse ninja law in action figure form
Over on Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque today, Jack Shear has tips on how to build your own escalation die for use in the RPG of your choice.  The escalation die, for those who don't know, is a mechanic from 13th Age in which (basically) the players get escalating bonuses to their combat rolls if a fight starts dragging on too long.  Jack suggests its use with Savage Worlds, and I have to admit that I have experienced a few combats where it would have been a good thing.

I like Savage Worlds combat overall, but occasionally the dice just don't want to cooperate and something that should be fast, furious, and fun becomes a slog through a bog.  The most infamous example I can think of from my own experience was a ninja ambush during a short-lived pulp campaign I ran about four years ago.  It should have been pretty simple -- four seasoned Wild Cards against eight ninja extras -- but (in a hilarious example of the inverse ninja law) once seven of the ninja had been eliminated, the players just couldn't hit the last one.  I tried to make him escape, but they naturally kept chasing after him (what player is going to let some damned mook that showed him up escape?) and they unnaturally kept missing their rolls. 

I could have fudged a roll, I suppose, but that would require me to roll behind a screen.  I roll in the open; you kind of have to if one of the players is your wife and you don't want the other players thinking you're cheating in her favor. 

In any case, they finally caught him and slaughtered him, but that was a half-hour wasted chasing one worthless ninja that could have been spent doing something, anything else.  Just a little bonus to somebody's roll could have nailed that ninja a little sooner.  I hope to get a The King is Dead campaign going by the end of the month or the middle of June, so maybe I'll give the escalation die a try in it.  The rule would be that Wild Cards get a cumulative +1 to hit every round after the first up to +6. 

Of course, "Wild Cards" covers NPC vampires too...
 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Fiasco at the SA Sci-Fi/Fantasy RPG Gaming Guild



We played Fiasco -- Bully Pulpit Games' meta-RPG about powerful ambition and poor impulse control -- at the San Antonio Sci-Fi/Fantasy RPG Gaming Guild's monthly meet'n'greet last Friday.  It was fun, but I have to admit that it took me a little bit to warm up.  I'm so used to being the GM that it was a little intimidating to concede narrative control to my fellow players (especially since it was my first time playing the system) but I had fun and look forward to playing it again.

We played the Guy Ritchie-inspired Gangster London playset, so I got to use one of my British accents and one of my Russian accents too (for the same character, oddly, as it turned out my pig farm owner Clive was actually a Russian immigrant).  I managed to stay one step ahead of getting killed by all the PCs with reason to hate me, but my proudest moment was while filling in as an NPC.  I had no idea that I could do a decent Hermes Conrad impression until it came out of my mouth.

"Sacred Boa of Samoa!  It's a fucking katana!"

Friday, May 2, 2014

The King is Dead: A Gothic 18th Century that Never Was


 
I’ve spent some time this week working on the introduction for the player’s playtest packet.  I’m actually surprised at myself for working so hard to get an introduction right, but it really is important.  It’s part manifesto, part sales pitch, and part summary. The introduction draws the reader in and sets the tone of the whole work. 

One thing I realized while working on the introduction is that the old “A Land in Need of Revolution” section from the early The King is Dead material only tells half the story.  It embraces the Gothic vampire slaying and the 18th century conspiracy-and-criminals angle, but it doesn’t acknowledge the gonzo kitchen-sink part of the setting.  Admittedly, the actual games I’ve played with Robin haven’t really involved that part either, but I really do want The King is Dead to be a setting that embraces all of what Savage Worlds offers.

Writing the new introduction has forced me to reexamine my focus, to fine-tune my vision.  The films and television programs with the biggest influence on the setting were always crazy mash-ups, and I need to push those influences to the forefront.  It also made me switch the tagline to “Revolution in a Gothic 18th century that never was” instead of “Gothic revolution in an 18th century that never was.” 

That change in word order is significant (to me, at least).  “Gothic revolution” honestly doesn’t make sense as a phrase anyway (what? The revolutionaries all wear black and listen to industrial music?), but emphasizing the setting as a “Gothic 18th century” underlines that The King is Dead is about an alternate reality, a stranger reality.  It also, subtly, increases the importance of “that never was.”  The world of The King is Dead isn’t just a world where the Golden Age of Piracy (early 1700s) and the French Revolution (1780s) are happening at the same time, it’s also a world with wizards, witches, and maybe even werewolves. 

(I’m totally going to have to include a section in the GM’s guide called “Dark Bargains” wherein I detail several supernatural power groups that are willing to lend their aid to the revolutionaries at the price of making humankind prey to more than vampires.  The werewolves are lurking in the deep, dark forests and the fairies are waiting in their graves.)

In any case, work proceeds slowly.  I need to figure out a schedule that gives me time to devote to my wife while also giving me more than three hours a week of real writing time.  I can crank out a short blog post in half an hour after my morning coffee, but I can’t warm up to real work in that time.

 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Penny Dreadful (2014 TV series)


So much Eva Green...
Penny Dreadful commits the annoying sin of making Frankenstein (published 1818) contemporary with Dracula (published 1897), but otherwise it seems likely to be a lurid guilty pleasure – rather like the sensational pulp magazines from which it takes its name. 

It feels like it started as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fan-fiction (or maybe a pitch for a series based on the movie version).  In the first episode, we’re introduced to a spooky beauty (Eva Green) that easily could have started as Mina Murray, an old African explorer (Timothy Dalton) with more than a little of Alan Quatermain about him, a brash young American (Josh Hartnett) who reminds me of the LXG version of Tom Sawyer, and a medical man (Harry Teadaway) with a monstrous side (Rory Kinnear) that could easily slip into the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde role.  They’re not the same characters, of course.   Most of the cast are original characters created for the series… which actually disappoints me in a weird way; if you’re going to use Dorian Gray and a handful of other literary characters, why not commit to it and go whole hog?  There’s lots of lesser-known Victorian characters you could use without duplicating Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s work.  Just crack open a copy of Jess Nevins’ Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana!   

In any case, the show seems like it could be fun.  The first episode has sex, violence, and weird mysteries in good proportions.  It’s not enough to make me subscribe to cable again just to get Showtime, but I look forward to the home video release.

P.S. That’s a weird definition of “demimonde,” guys.  Did you even look up what the word means?

P.P.S.  Between Penny Dreadful, 300: Rise of an Empire, and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, we are getting so much Eva Green this year that I think we must accept we are living in the best of all possible worlds.

Review: Anno Dracula—One Thousand Monsters

Well, that was weird. I jest, but Anno Dracula—One Thousand Monsters is not the book I was expecting, presenting strange and twist...