Showing posts from September, 2015

The King is Dead: Convention Game Planning

For those new to the blog, The King is Dead is my setting of revolution in an 18th century ruled by vampires. In less than two weeks, I’ll be running a series of The King is Dead games at GaMExpo. San Antonio’s new gaming convention. It’s been a few years since I’ve run games for strangers, so I need to psych myself up and figure out what I need to bring.
The single most important element I need to bring is pre-gen characters. I can improvise a hell of a lot, but not character sheets. Thankfully, the work I’ve completed so far on The King is Dead includes a bunch of pre-generated characters, so I really just need to assign Hindrances and think up some names and backgrounds. Right now, I’m debating with myself whether to illustrate the characters with period illustrations and portraits, or to use stills from movies. Given the Hollywood History approach I’ve taken to the setting, I feel that the movie stills might be the best bet.
(I can’t see how there would be anything unethical abou…

Races of Altellus: Sphingidae for 5e

"SPHINX: …And now, I am going to give you a demonstration. I’m going to show you what would happen in this place, Oedipus, if you were any ordinary handsome youth from Thebes, and if you hadn’t the privilege of pleasing me.” – Jean Cocteau, The Infernal Machine

Born from the very spirits of enigma, Sphingidae revel in the questions their very existence entails. Few can imagine what confluence of desire and danger could lead to such a mating of mortal and mystery; some doubt that even these humanoid descendants of the sphinxes know the truth of their origin.
Enigmatic and Alluring
Modern scholars write of the majesty and otherworldliness of sphinxes, crediting the human/lion/bird hybrids with divine origin – indeed, describing them as guardians of the gods’ secrets – but the natural historians of ages past make reference to the lustfulness of criosphinxes, the desirousness of gynosphinxes, and the frigidity of androsphinxes. While it is debatable that the gods were lewder in ages pa…

The King is Dead: Thinking Out Loud

Bear with me while I think something through by writing it down. Sometimes the low granularity of Savage Worlds drives me nuts (especially now that D&D 5e has taught me how hit points should work). The King is Dead is basically based around fighting one kind of monster – vampires – almost all the time. This is self-obviously boring (even if every vampire-slaying mission is effectively a spy movie and spy movies are awesome) so I’m trying to balance that with a variety of different types of blood-drinkers, ranging from Renfield-like human thralls to Hellsing-style insane anime monsters. The problem is that there’s only this narrow, two or three dice (plus modifiers) range to express levels of capability. As Savage Worlds players know, the attributes and skills of SW characters are rated in terms of what size die is rolled to score a success. The game uses the d4 through d12 for this scale, with scores above d12 adding a static modifier (i.e. d12+1, d12+4, d12+9, etc.). A d6 is the…

Races of Altellus: Satyridae for D&D 5e


"She stood, with mouth agape and eyes that hailed, her thick throat full of suppressed clamour. The other was the Dream now, and these!… they came down, mad and noisy and bright—Maenades, Thyades, satyrs, fauns—naked, in hides of beasts, ungirded, dishevelled, wreathed and garlanded, dancing, singing, shouting. The thudding of their hooves shook the ground, and the clash of their timbrels and the rustling of their thyrsi filled the air.” -- Oliver Onions, “Io”

Passionate and playful, unbound and untamed, satyridae are lust for life embodied.

United in Diversity
While satyrs are the sexually dimorphic male counterpart to nymphs and breed true when they mate with the feminine fey of wood and stream, satyrs’ lusts are hardly confined to their counterparts. The children of unions between humans and satyrs… or elves and satyrs… or Halflings and satyrs… or dwarves, gnomes, half-elves, tieflings, aasimar, genasi, goliaths, goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, and sundry other humanoid races a…

The King is Dead: Vargr

However much the Holy Panoptic Church may extol the transcendence of the undead state, the simple fact is that vampires are predators. They are wolves who have skinned the shepherds rather than the sheep, and now carry the shepherds’ crooks to herd their prey to slaughter.

Some wolves, however, are rabid.

Once in a blood moon, a savaged, drained body is found in some unexpected place. Perhaps a shepherdess is slain while breeding her flock home for the night; it would seem like a wolf attack, but something has drunk her blood. No local vampire or admits to the deed and all the dhampirs have alibis. The community is all aflutter for a week or two, but then everyone begins to calm down.

And there’s another murder. 

And then another. 

And now an entire family has been slain in their remote farmstead home; from the youngest child to the old grand-dam, they’ve been torn apart and their blood lapped off the floorboards. The family pets and livestock that couldn’t escape have all been sla…

Strider: A Steamscapes Adventure now available!

My first solo product is available now at DrivethruRPG!And at Studio 2 Publishing!

Strider: A Steamscapes Adventure is a multi-chapter module I donated to the Steamscapes: Asia Kickstarter. Steamscapes head honcho Eric Simon felt I really deserved to make some money off of it, so it’s been slightly reformatted and made available for public purchase a few weeks ahead of Steamscapes: Asia

Strider: A Steamscapes Adventure sees the player characters on a journey across early Meiji Japan, as they guide a geisha automaton on a secret mission to persuade the genius who built her to build a state-of-the-art weapon for Japan. There’s angry ronin, corrupt politicians, hulking iron oni, stealthy assassins, and even wild doomsday cultists to contend with as the heroes journey across the country. Secrets will be revealed and trusts betrayed! 

Strider is self-contained and does not require Steamscapes: Asia (for that matter, it doesn’t really require Steamscapes: North America if you don’t care wh…

The King is Dead: A New Approach to Thralls and Moroi

Playtesting The King is Dead gives me an opportunity to play around with the power levels of opponents. I’ve been concerned for some time that setting misses variety in its antagonists, so I need to experiment and see what options work.
After years of resistance to the idea, I’ve finally accepted the Savage Worlds dictum that opponents shouldn’t be “designed.” Building them with the same rules as player characters is a sucker’s game in an RPG system as swingy and wild as Savage Worlds. Previous versions of thralls/moroi were built around the idea of taking basic human archetypes and applying specific bonuses, but that resulted in only limited noticeable differences between normal humans and thralls. With the characters below, I’m beginning with the assumption that drinking vampire blood makes them notably stronger, faster, whatever than regular people. Thralls are human servants of vampires given enhanced physical abilities by drinking the blood of their masters.
Thrall (Brute)

Weird Anxiety Dreams

It’s hard to call them nightmares because – while they do ruin a night’s sleep and leave me feeling freaked out – they don’t really scare me. I prefer calling them “anxiety dreams” because that helps me file them away in the “weird crap my Generalized Anxiety Disorder does” which in turn helps me get over the way they freak me out. I suppose, technically, they are nightmares.

Last night’s were exceptionally weird. In order to get over some writer’s block on a Savage Insider article, I drank some coffee yesterday morning. Caffeine sets off anxiety and coffee really sets off my anxiety, but it helped me get over that hurdle and I was prepared to accept the consequences. I wasn’t quite prepared for just how weird one of those dreams would be.

(As an aside, let me just say that the biggest benefit of being diagnosed with a mental disorder is knowing you have one. You can look at your behavior objectively, say “This is my disease acting up,” and compartmentalize the real you from the bad …

Flesh for Flash

I spent last night at a screening of Flash Gordon (1980) featuring a Q&A session with Sam J. Jones (Flash himself). Jones made the mistake of asking the audience whether we wanted to do the Q&A before or after the film; we selected “after,” so Jones was stuck watching the movie with us. Given that most of his dialogue was overdubbed by another actor, it must be surreal and painful for Jones to watch Flash Gordon. Unfortunately, I’m sure most of my fellow moviegoers wanted to refresh the film in our minds before we asked questions.

I was tempted to ask Jones about the disagreements with Dino De Laurentiis that caused the actor to leave the production before the film was completed, but that felt like it would be in bad taste. Flash Gordon didn’t destroy Sam J. Jones’ career, but it must be weird when your most famous role is a flop turned into a camp classic. I didn’t want to bring down the crowd of Flash Gordon lovers by bringing up one of the more troubling aspects of the fil…

Your Story is Not Our Story


Tonight is supposed to be the character creation session for my major, in-person The King is Dead playtest campaign. My goal is to run it a bit differently from normal. I want everybody to sit on the comfy couches, share some snacks and booze, and pitch characters to each other. I want the character creation to be collaborative, but also keep a light touch. I’m going to deliberately discourage deep, involved backstories for the characters and instead encourage light, flexible character histories.

As a very improvisational GM, one of the great joys of multi-player games for me is seeing the story emerge from the actions of the players. I love being the audience for the unpredictable results that come from the players collaborating to defeat challenges and taking turns in the spotlight. Dramatic, epic, lengthy backstories for PCs screw this up. I hate them.

I don’t mind characters with motivations. I don’t mind characters with histories. I might argue that keeping the concept short a…

For Your Espionage-Laced D&D Campaigns

Armor of Bracering
Armor (any light, medium, or heavy metal armor), very rare

This armor has 4 charges. After you have donned this armor, you may use your action to expend a charge and command the armor to retract. When retracted, the armor collapses into a pair of decorous wristlets and anklets; its weight in this state is 1 lb and your Armor Class reverts to your normal unarmored AC. Another charge and action may be spent to command the armor to extend back to its original shape. The armor regains all expended charges at midnight.