Saturday, August 29, 2015

For That Guy That Can't Spell "Heirloom"

I think this is some sort of Game of Thrones joke.
I don't watch the show, so I'm not sure.

Air Loom Sword
Weapon (any sword), rare (requires attunement)

This magic weapon has 3 charges. By expending a charge and making a successful attack roll, you may weave a suit of clothing into existence from thin air. The charge is lost if the attack fails. The sword regains 1d3 charges daily at dawn.

The Armor Class you must hit with your attack roll depends on the complexity and expense of the item you weave:

  • Clothes, common or robes = AC 10
  • Clothes, traveler's = AC 15
  • Clothes, costume = AC 20
  • Clothes, fine = AC 25

Friday, August 28, 2015

Notes Toward a Van Helsing/Doctor Who Class for D&D 5e

The original cleric didn't cast spells.
In case you didn’t know, EN World has an open call going on for Halloween-themed submissions for EN5ider. I’ve submitted a proposal for the adventure article (“’Manos:’ The Hands of Fate as a D&D adventure”) but I sincerely doubt it will be chosen. I’ve also been kicking around ideas for one of the 2,000 word articles and I keep coming back to the concept of a non-spellcasting, Van Helsing-like “cleric.”

The natural reaction for most of you readers is probably “Why would you want a cleric who can’t cast spells?” but I’ve got this theory that D&D 5e could very easily be used to run a low- or no-magic quasi-historical game. Doing so, though, would limit player classes to almost exclusively fighters and rogues, and I’d like to have something more intellectually-based, hence my need for some kind of non-caster cleric.

We all know that the cleric class was invented as a “vampire hunter” class to nerf a player’s vampire PC, and that Peter Cushing’s particular incarnation of Van Helsing was a direct inspiration. While Van Helsing has the “turn undead” ability that’s defined the cleric for so long, he can only be said to have spellcasting if you stretch the definition well beyond D&D’s usual parameters. On the other hand, he is a medical doctor and so has some kind of healing ability. An “occult doctor” or “scholar” class should incorporate those aspects.

You know who else has a “turn undead”-like ability? The Doctor. As in Doctor Who. As in the dude who frequently scares off invading aliens by reminding them that he’s the scary badass who keeps defeating them, by saying things like this:
Could you all just stay still a minute because I AM TALKING.
Now, the question for the hour is: "Who's got the Pandorica?" Answer: I do. Next question: "Who's coming to take it from me?" Come on, look at me! No plan, no backup, no weapons worth a damn, oh, and something else I don't have: anything to lose. So, if you're sitting up there in your silly little space ships with all your silly little guns, and you've got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who's standing in your way. Remember every black day I ever stopped you, and then, and THEN do the smart thing:
Let somebody else try first.
Despite starting with Peter Davison, the 11th Doctor is my Doctor.
Ok, I admit that could easily be modeled with a really awesome Charisma (Intimidation) check, but what if it was a class ability? What if this hypothetical class could select chosen enemies like a ranger but turn them like a cleric? It’s not that far off from the 5e paladin subclasses, and Daleks are obviously aberrations.
Admittedly, a hypothetical “scholar” or “doctor” or “stern lecturer” class that had an occult detective subclass and a Time Lord subclass would be a little unbalanced, but Doctor Who is directly inspired by the Victorian adventure fiction that gave us H. G. Wells’ Time Traveler and Doyle’s Professor Challenger. A logical extension of this – and something that would allow such a character to grow to become a Time Lord – would be an “inventor” subclass. This might even help find a way to tie the class into normal D&D worlds as artificers of steampunk fantasy weapons.
Bullet Points
  • I really wish “sage” wasn’t already a character background. That would have made a great class name.
  • I’m thinking d8s for hit dice. Anybody who has watched Cushing and Lee’s fight scene from Dracula (1958) knows that a Van Helsing needs to be at least as tough as a cleric or monk.
  • Non-magical healing is definitely a core class feature. Van Helsing and the Doctor both know a thing or two about medicine.
  • Gnomes would like this class.
  • Intelligence would be the primary ability for class features...

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Zatoichi meets Yojimbo (Savage Worlds Martial Artists Aren't All the Same)

Wild Card
Attributes: Agility d12+2, Smarts d8, Spirit d10, Strength d8, Vigor d10
Skills: Fighting d12+2, Gambling d12, Healing d8, Intimidation d6, Notice d12, Persuasion d6, Shooting d12, Stealth d8, Streetwise d8, Taunt d6, Throwing d12 
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 13; Toughness: 7
Hindrances: Blind, Heroic, Loyal, Poverty
Edges: Alertness, Charismatic, Combat Reflexes, Danger Sense, Improved Block, Improved Counterattack, Improved Dodge, Improved Extraction, Improved First Strike, Improved Frenzy, Improved Level Headed, Improved Trademark Weapon, Martial Artist, Master [Fighting], Master of Arms, Quick, Quick Draw
Gear: shikomi-zue (cane sword; Str+d8).
  • Note that while wielding his shikomi-zue, Ichi’s Improved Trademark Weapon and Master [Fighting] Edges reduce his penalty for Blind to -2.
Wild Card
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d10, Spirit d10, Strength d8, Vigor d12+2
Skills: Fighting d12, Gambling d6, Intimidation d8, Notice d8, Persuasion d8, Stealth d8, Streetwise d8, Taunt d8, Throwing d10
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 8; Toughness: 12
Hindrances: Curious, Heroic, Poverty, Stubborn
Edges: Alertness, Brawny, Charismatic, Combat Reflexes, Fast Healer, Harder to Kill, Improved First Strike, Improved Frenzy, Improved Nerves of Steel, Improved Tough as Nails, Martial Artist, Master [Vigor], Quick, Quick Draw, Strong Willed
Gear: katana (Str+d6+2), wakizashi (Str+d6).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Thank you, Internet!

Due in no small part to Merric Blackman including it on his humongous list of Dungeons & Dragons 5e Adventures by Level, HONOR AND DEATH has leaped to the #1 most read post on Wine and Savages in just over a month! The previous leader was Regency/Gothic 1d: Pride and Prejudice Character Stats; while I’m proud of the way that post proved Savage Worlds can pretty much do anything, I know the main reason that post gets so many hits is because of the pictures of Keira Knightley and Colin Firth. I’m very happy to have a post rise to #1 based on its gaming merits, rather than accompanying pictures.

In celebration – and because this post ironically kicks HONOR AND DEATH off of the front page – I have now added a dedicated page for HONOR AND DEATH accessible from the “Pages” links on the left sidebar. At the moment, it’s the same exact material as on the original blog post; I might add some additional public domain illustrations at some point, but there’s no specific plans for any revisions.

Y’know, I’ve never gotten any constructive feedback on that adventure.


Elsewhere on the Internet, I’ve recently begun following Run a Game. I really like the analytical, rather scholarly approach taken there; I’ve learned quite a bit in just a few weeks of reading it. My favorite post I’ve read so far is The Horror-Hunter Ladder, a tool to help define an RPG group’s expectations of a game’s tone and themes along an axis from Horror (you’re all going to die) to Hunter (as in “monster hunter,” as in “slaughtering every monster you meet is acceptable”). One of the problems that killed my recent D&D 5e multiplayer campaign is that I like to play and GM at the Leiberesque “Gritty” style and some of the players were expecting the Hunter model. I’ll implement a discussion of tone based on this model in all future multiplayer games I run.


Could someone do me a favor and stat up the Monster Girl races from Monster Musume (AKA Monsutā Musume no Iru Nichijō) as D&D 5e races? I’m never going to have time for it. The end cards for the anime episodes have breakdowns of the various subraces; that should be enough to extrapolate game stats if you're familiar with the anime or manga.

Thanks in advance, Internet!

Lamia (translated version here)

Harpy (translated version here)

Centaur (translated version here)

Slime (translated version here)

Mermaid (translated version here)

Arachne (translated version here; NSFW link)

Cyclops (translated version here; NSFW link)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Had I but world enough, and time…

Rune Soldier

Man, there are times I wish I was enough of a gambler to quit my day job and write all day – but I’m not, so I guess I’ll just have to post a hodgepodge of things I wish I had the time to turn into full posts of their own.


Titansgrave Episode 9 features a really controversial bit of GMing. Basically, the entire episode is a series of dream sequences that Wheaton narrates to the players, allowing them only occasional (and largely binary) choices. My first reaction was that this was terrible GMing, but maybe it isn’t. Dreams, after all, have very weird logic and we have very little control of them. I dreamed I was Jackie Chan last night, but what began as an action romp ended with nightmares of broken glass in my mouth. I know I’d never be able to get my players to pay attention to half-an-hour of other people’s dream sequences, but such lack of player agency perfectly captures dream logic.

(Also, Wil acknowledged on his Tumblr that it was a controversial choice and largely done for the TV audience. He said that he’d rarely resort to such techniques in a normal game.)


Wine and Savages has ranged far and wide over the years, but it began with a much tighter focus on swashbuckling genres. Nate Christen at D20 Pirates has been blogging longer than me, and has somehow managed to keep his focus firmly on piratical RPGs. I don’t know how he does it, but I admire it greatly.


I’d love to write a series of articles on anime for RPG fans, but I just don’t have the time. My impression is that most gamers aren’t anime fans – though, given the presence of anime at Gen Con, I might be completely wrong. If I am right, then this is weird because there’s tons of anime based on fantasy RPG tropes inherited from D&D. I could easily write a ten-post series recommending various anime to gamers while statting up the protagonists in D&D 5e or Savage Worlds stats (Natsu Dragneel is obviously a dragonborn dragon-blooded sorcerer, even if he looks like a human). I’d love to count down from Fairy Tail (fun but least relevant) to the most D&D-ish anime ever made (and based on an actual RPG campaign): Rune Soldier, a sex comedy set in the same universe as Record of Lodoss War, but telling the story of an idiot wizard who would rather solve things with his fists than his spells.
(Also, I could write about Monster Musume, another sex comedy – but this time about a modern college student who finds himself with a harem of demi-humans that includes a lamia, a harpy, a centaur, and someone who looks an awful lot like a drider.)

I remember that Tribality asked for guest post submissions a few weeks ago. This would be such a perfect fit for that.

HONOR AND DEATH is on its way to become my most popular post. It’s only a few hundred hits behind my most popular post – and that one (Regency/Gothic 1d: Pride and Prejudice Character Stats) is from 2012! Man, if I wasn’t waiting on Charles Akins to compile the Week of Vengeance posts, I’d be darned tempted to post HONOR AND DEATH as a PDF with a bigger version of the map...


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Gen Con 2015 Highlights

Updated with some cameraphone pictures I forgot to include the first time.

Gen Con swag and cat

Hey! You know that Kindred of the East chronicle I was so excited about starting? Yeah… It’s not happening.

The reason for this is because I really, really need to buckle down and get back to work on The King is Dead! During Gen Con 2015, +Eric Simon agreed to publish the setting through Four-in-Hand Games. It’s a win-win scenario for both of us; Eric gets to grow his stable of books, and I get to avoid dealing with a bunch of bookkeeping. Given Eric’s incredible generosity and grace on Steamscapes: Asia, I know I can trust him with The King is Dead. We’ll have more to announce as soon as it’s ready (and I get the logo back from Aaron Acevedo).

Gen Con 2015 was huge for me as a writer. Even though my wife and I primarily attended as a 15th anniversary vacation, we both managed to make some great professional connections too. It continually astonishes me how down-to-earth, how popular (in the political sense) the RPG hobby/industry is. I can't get anywhere near an executive in my day job, but at Gen Con I walked right up to +Chris Pramas and asked him if there's going to be an AGE System license. (The answer is yes.) I'll get used to it someday.

In other writing news, +Vickey Beaver of +Obatron Productions  has commissioned several new articles by me for +Savage Insider. One’s going to be about “domain-level play,” another will be an article co-written by +Robin English-Bircher about games and wine, and the third is an official supplement to Steamscapes: Asia spotlighting Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district. I’m looking forward to the Yoshiwara article a lot – it’s practically going to be a setting book in its own right, akin to Waterdeep and the North – but the wine article might be even more fun. The Wine and Savages blog was originally meant to be a joint venture between Robin and I, so it’s a joy to finally be working with my wife again. 

I hounded +John Dunn and +Ross Watson a bit about writing for +Accursed RPG – I'd love to help expand that world – and attended the Onyx Path freelancing panel. Honestly, it felt as if I tried hard enough I could be writing the inevitable Kindred of the East 20th Anniversary edition in a few years. Now I just need to persuade +Pinnacle Entertainment Group that Robin and I are the perfect writers for the new Flash Gordon setting…

Unfortunately, the need to get writing again means I won't be posting any multi-post breakdowns of Gen Con. I'll just have to be content with a list of highlights instead.

The Indianapolis Zoo is not nearly as big as the map makes it look, but it was nice to see a polar bear again for the first time in 30 years.

It also has this underwater dome in the dolphin exhibit where you can watch them swim over you.

The Glitter Guild burlesque show (which did not allow photos) was amusing, but I think Robin enjoyed it more than me. I was somewhat disappointed that no one did any directly RPG-related routines, and a bit baffled by all the crossplaying female performers. Yes, the woman performing as Rufio from Hook was sexy, but why Rufio?

My panel was nearly packed

Robin and I both volunteered at the last minute to join Vickey Beaver on some panels. I improvised my way through a panel on "GMing on the Fly" and Robin used her educational expertise to discuss communication theory at "Women at the Gaming Table" (at which there was no actual table). It says something awesome about how permeable the division between professionals and fans is that two first-time con goers were on panels.

He wasn't even scheduled for this panel

I met TRACE BEAULIEU of MST3K at a a panel on "That State of Puppetry Today." He's every bit as friendly and funny in person as you  might hope.

Front freakin' row at TitansGrave

If +Geek & Sundry posts the TitansGrave panel, then I'd like to point out that Robin and I were the weirdos who applauded for eating at Harry & Izzy's. It's just kind of cool to know that people you admire worked out their own business deals in the same restaurant you used. After the panel, we gave +Wil Wheaton a bottle of wine we've owed him for two years and gave another to Laura Bailey. Laura voiced the lead character in Fruits Basket – the first anime Robin and I discovered as a couple – so it was a real pleasure to brighten up her day. Also, she hugged Robin.

Easley Winery in downtown Indianapolis was incredibly welcoming. I have to admit that their wine is generally too sweet for my super-dry, face-punching taste, but it's always fun to learn about a new wine region regardless. The Indiana-grown Chambourcin was great (and I got the impression the winemakers would rather make dry reds, too).

Given the heat, New Day Craft Mead & Cider was a very welcome (if out of the way) stop. I wish it wasn't an hour's walk from the convention center, because it is a great hangout for those of us with Celiac disease. That whole area – Indianapolis' Fountain Square district – is kinda awesome. I had a rum and ginger ale cocktail named after the pirate Jack Rackham at one of the pubs.

We are FAIRY TAIL!!!

Saturday was mainly seminars and cosplayers. We didn't even try to play any games the whole time; we both love seminars and we don't enjoy all the noise at con games. The trip ended with our second stop at Tastings, a swanky wine bar a block from our hotel. We tipped the bartender with a bottle of Texas wine...

And then we flew back early on Sunday so we could spend Sunday night at a wine mixer hosted by Stephen Amell. Irritatingly, you're not allowed to take pictures with Stephen at those parties – which was all the more irritating to us, because we kept winding up standing two feet from him. Seriously, we'd walk away so we could escape the crowds and five minutes later he brought the crowds with him. It wasn't even like we talked; it was just some weird gravitational effect. And because Robin is an actual professional wine writer, we couldn't break the NDA like all of those jerks snapping pictures with their cell phones.

Anyway, I'm still feeling kind of drained  – but excited at the same time. Our lives have taken a giddy and surreal turn, and the best is yet to come.

Now back to working on my "day for night" photo technique.

The King is Dead is coming!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My Apologies to My Fan

The Savage Worlds Licensee seminar on ended with ahuge surprise for me: somebody I didn't know actually shook my hand and pronounced himself a fan of The King is Dead and this blog.
Frankly, I'm still not used to thinking of myself as a professional writer and I was really unprepared for an actual, real-life fan. I blathered out some thanks but really screwed up on some basic courtesy -- like catching this fan's name.
To my fan, please forgive me. It was my first time at GenCon and the first time I received recognition from someone who wasn't another blogger already known to me or was an industry professional I already knew by sight or reputation.
Also, your badge had flipped around and I was too shy to ask your name. I can be an idiot like that.
Meeting somebody who likes my work and whom I am either not pursuing employment from or is seeking to employ me is so far a unique experience. It was a perfect apertif to a fantastic weekend. My apologies again.
Thank you tremendously.
Oh, and if I get to call Wil Wheaton and Chris Pramas "Wil" and "Chris," then please -- please -- just call me Sean.

Wine and Savages Team Now Co-Lead Developers for Savage Rifts®

While most interested parties already know this, Robin English-Bircher and I have combined forces with Sean Roberson as Lead Developers...