28 June 2013

Fantasy Friday: Blueholme

Well, there's another retro-clone out there I'm waiting on: Blueholme. I'm interested in it partly because I just recently read J. Eric Holmes's novel The Maze of Peril and partly because I'm always on the lookout for a simple "D&D" rules system. While my first iteration of D&D to play was B/X Moldvey, I was vaguely familiar with the Holmes version prior to that. There was a copy or two on the games aisle of our local Kroger's grocery store, one of which was open. I could never convince my parents to buy it for me, but I leafed through as often as I could at the store. So, I remember Stone Mountain and the five alignment system graph, and the art even though I never actually played it. Personally, I was always interested in that Domed City on the 7th level and the older me wonders if it has any connection to The Maze of Peril.
Holmes D&D gets some love from a small but fanatical fanbase; GM Liz of the Save or Die! podcast comes to mind. But there are problems. First, Holmes goes no higher than 3rd level; that's really not conducive to long-term play. Second, there are some oddities that are not really found in earlier or later editions such as the aforementioned FIVE alignment system: LG, CG, LE, CE and N. Or how about the rule that a surprised PC has a chance of dropping whatever's in his hands? Initiative determined by dexterity score EVEN FOR MONSTERS! Third, there's the problem that even B/X suffered from: TSR's marketing changed more rapidly than design and publishing schedules. For example, B/X was supposed to have a Companion book. That volume was scrapped when the decision was made to produce Mentzer's BECMI.
So, why the fascination with Holmes D&D, especially if it's "incomplete?" Well, as a transitional/gateway game, it is not tied to concepts that we now take for granted. It's much more flexible. As for the level limitations, that's what the Blueholme project is supposed to address: taking that minimalist ruleset and expanding it out to 14th level. And part of it is also that the older I get, the less I care about detailed rules, much as I like games such as GURPS, Champions, and even AD&D. Let's roll some characters and sling some dice around--I've got some orcs to kill So, yes, I'm definitely looking forward to this game,
Until Monday, gentle readers!

24 June 2013

Sci-Fi Monday: Dimensional Travel & GURPS

Dimensional travel. The idea that for every choice, two or more different worlds are created. There are some who say that time travel is unfeasible, but switching dimensions could well be within the realm of possibility. It's a favorite them in sci-fi literature whether it is true dimensional travel, a "what if?" story, or a combination of the two, as in Harry Turtledove's Guns of the South. There are myriad short stories and novels that are widely read and enjoyed. With Steve Jackson's GURPS as the premiere multi-genre RPG, it was only natural that the game look into this area. Way back in third edition, the Infinite Worlds setting was one of several campaigns featured in the GURPS Time Travel book. With fourth edition, the campaign gained it's own title book.
The basic premise of the setting is that dimensional travel was discovered in the early 21st century by a pair of scientists. It is now the mid 21st century and the UN has oversight of the project. Thus far, only one other world is known to have dimensional travel technology. However, their dimension is on a different "quantum level" than ours and they cannot reach "Earth Prime" directly. However, Earth Prime frequently has conflicts with them in the "grey zones." I'm not going into a indepth discussion of the quantum levels an how they work--suffice to say that history can be altered in these other world and push them up or down in level. Thus, a world could be made unreachable to Earth Prime by a shift.
There are literally an infinite number of Earths out there. Some are relatively benign and ripe for exploitation. For instance, there are "Eden" worlds were man never developed and thus available for colonization (as in the failed television series Terra Nova) or harvesting of natural resources. There are the 'Reich worlds" where the Axis powers won WW2. Most are technologically stagnant or have even developed in to a hell world (q.v.) after Japan and Germany squared off with nuclear weapons. At least one, Reich 5, is on a par with Earth Prime in technology; they do not have dimensional travel and we hope they never do! (Not quite true; but the main Nazi hierarchy does not  have the knowledge.) Visions of a more lethal trans-dimensional Iron Sky come to mind. There are "hell worlds" where a nuclear war or some other catastrophe wipe out civilization. In my own games, I coined the term "Romero worlds" for one that have undergone a zombie apocalypse! there are literally hundreds of possible worlds!
One campaign I've always wanted to run is based not on the UN's Infinity Patrol but based instead around the U.S. government's "Worldgate Project' buried deep in Cheyenne Mountain. Sound familiar? Now, while the UN does have oversight of dimensional travel, several governments have access to conveyors. Supposedly, nothing occurs with UN oversight, but we all know how tricky governments like the U.S., Russia, Japan, and even the UK can be (Torchwood Project, anyone?). So, I have some ideas about the U.S. finding some worlds and keeping them secret from the U.N. Possibly coming into conflict with the Reich 5 Ahnenerbe plot, working to bring about civil rights on a Dixie world or two, that sort of thing. And all the while trying to keep clear of the Infinity Patrol!
Another interesting idea in the Infinite Worlds setting is that it is possible to have (alternate) figures from history recruited into the organization. And, since the worlds move at different relative speeds, it s possible to have say, Niccolo Machiavelli as an agent. This allows an out of place place, out of time character like Teal'c from Stargate: SG-1. I did start this game once, but it fell apart before the first session. I had one player create a police officer and his K-9 partner recruited from a Romero world who had survived for several months after the Rise. I was really looking forward to that characterization in play.
All-in-all, the fun comes from creating new worlds that SJG has not published yet while playing with all those tropes and changing them up.What about a world where things went badly for the U.S. in the Pacific and. while Germany is defeated, the Empire of Japan and the U.S. sign an armistice? A Dixie-world where slaves who would fight for the Confederacy were freed leading to full civil rights for blacks in the 1920's; meanwhile, in the defeated North, blacks are despised and persecuted and the U.S. embraces communism in the 1910's. Conflict galore in that one. It's all about playing with history and seeing how players react; and it's fun, creative fun.
Until next time, gentle readers, think of the possibilities!

21 June 2013

Fantasy Friday: The Deed of Pakesnarrion Book I: Sheepfarmer's Daughter

This week's installment of Fantasy Friday takes a look at Elizabeth Moon's Sheepfamer's Daughter.

I was looking around for something to read this week and decided on two books; one is The Idiot  by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and the other is Sheepfarmer's Daughter (both are re-reads). I have, naturally, read many fantasy novels over the years and have many favorites and just as many loathed titles. I've read most of the "feminist" fantasy authors and generally cannot stomach many of their underlying premises: women are better then men, men are all vicious animals, etc. etc., ad infinitum, ad nasuseam. Fortunately, Elizabeth Moon is not one of those authors.
According to Moon herself, The Deed grew out of a conversation she overheard among some D&D players about how to play a paladin. Her internal response was "That isn't how a paladin would act." And thus the idea for The Deed was born. It was, like Lord of the Rings before it, initially conceived as a single novel, but, publishers being who they are and not believing the public has the ability to read a large novel, chopped it up into a trilogy. It still works as a trilogy, but it was republished as a single volume eventually.
There is the standard fantasy trope of a humble farmchild who rises from obscurity to become a great hero, endures a fall, but rises triumphant in the end. What sets The Deed  apart from other fantasy stories with a female warrior protagonist and a female author (of the 1980's and 1990's) is that Paks acts like a real person and is also a good lens through whom to view her world. Coming from a small backwater, it's not forced or contrived whenever she comes across something that she's doesn't know or hasn't experience like dwarves or the politics of the southern city-states.
In line with being a real person, Paks does not see herself as better than anyone else, male or female. Her gender and character are not defined by her sexuality; she is neither man-hater nor Lesbian nor sex-kitten. And thank God for that! Too many authors seems to think that human sexuality is the be all and end all of character definition. Paks enjoys the simple things in life and is good friends with Saben, for example, but not bed-partners. She also possesses a certain simplicity herself: why break up perfectly good furniture looking for hidden treasure?
Paks is also quite pragmatic. She accepts things as they are. she does have that inner dream of one day leading armies or somesuch, but it does not affect her perception of the day-to-day realities of soldiering. This first novel (part?) in the story lay the groundwork for what is to come in later portions and her character never really changes. she is a sheepfarmer's daughter who is destined to become a paladin in the service of Gird. Most of Paks's character and pragmatism comes in no small part from Elizabth Moon herself, who was was an USMC officer. How much of Moon is in Paks is known only to the author herself. Sufficeth to say, Moon does capture the feel of military camaraderie quite convincingly.
One thing that is disputed is how much of D&D, and more specifically Greyhawk, with the serial numbers  filed off is present in Pak's world. St. Gird is obviously St. Cuthbert and Falk could be Hieroneous; the Webmistress is obviously Lloth. The second part, Divided Allegiance, has even more obvious parallels. while opinions may vary, there is more a case of homage than anything else. The characters and the deities and the setting all have things that set them apart from the standard D&D fare--wizards that can heal and produce healing potions, for example. The story plot itself is "the hero who rises from obscurity" plotline. What makes any story unique is the characterization of the cast and ability of the author to weave the story and make it entertaining. In that, Elizabeth Moon succeeds superbly.

19 June 2013

Warhammer (40K) Wednesday: Blood Cross Termies, Reclusiarch Stephanus Corrino, and the ETL Challenge

More Warhammer 40K this week. Over at Bolter & Chainsword, they're running the second annual E Tenebrae Lux challenge (ETL II for short).  That's Latin, gentle reader,s and means "Light from Darkness." Essentially it's a contest between Forum factions: Blood Angels, Black Templars, etc: whatever chapter has a Codex. Codex: Space Marines is subdivided into Ultramarines, Codex (Canon) Marines,  and DIY Chapters; they still count as a one group, however, since they all utilize C:SM
The challenge is simple enough. Participants vow for their faction x points worth of models to assemble and paint, to at least "tabletop ready" level. Points are determined as WYSIWYG. The participant has until 15 AUG to complete his vow. If he finishes before 15 AUG, he can vow up to 4 more times. However, if one fails to complete a subsequent vow, all previous completions DO NOT COUNT. Anyone who fails has to wear a "badge of shame" in their signature block until the end of the year. The faction that completes the most points gets bragging rights until the next challenge. Oh, and sorry, but vowing ending on 15 JUN. The main purpose of the challenge, by using point value vows, is to build up tabletop forces in blocks.
And here is my vow:
"I, Lord Kjeran, answer the call of E TENEBRAE LUX and vow to complete a Terminator Chaplain and a Terminator Squad of the Blood Cross Chapter from Codex: Space Marines of total value of 370 on or before August 15th. Success will bring eternal glory to the Blood Cross and the Liber Astartes and failure will doom me to bear the Badge of Shame until the year-end.
"(I disallowed the 5 points for the heavy flamer because no squad of 5 can have 2 heavy weapons. However, my Terminators have been hanging around since '96 or so and that's all the arms I have for rights: 3 storm bolter, 1 assault cannon, one hvy flamer--and Decius wants his flamer!)"
As noted, the points have to be codex legal, so I gave up the +5 for Decius's Heavy Flamer. As you can see from the picture below of the pieces waiting to be assembled, my termies are 5 mid-1990's models that have been sitting in a tackle box for almost 20 years waiting to get paint! And, by codex, only 1 heavy weapon per 5. No biggie. It's just 5 points. :) The squad leader is missing his banner pole, but that's not a deal breaker because I wouldn't use it if I had it. Banners do look awesome and add to presentation, but they make transport a hassle.
These models will represent my Chapter's Reclusiarch, Brother-Chaplian Stephanus Corrino in Terminator Armor and 1st Squad (Fire Team A) of 1st Company, the Death Dealers. If I complete this vow (I should) I'm going to vow either a dreadnought or a tactical squad next up. I'm a little late getting going because, since I assembled the models on Sunday, we've had thunderstorms every day here in NE Texas with humidity over 80%: not good weather to prime in.

Anyway, until next time, gentle readers.

12 June 2013

Warhammer (40K) Wednesday: The Blood Cross Chapter

EDIT: The wonderful pictures were created using Bolter and Chainsword's Space Marine Painter: www.bolterandchainsword.com/smp.php 

Our thanks to them for developing it.

Well, I am not yet ready to reveal the damned hamlet of Totentanz in the Desolation of Drakenmoor, so I will chat briefly about my DIY Space Marine chapter, the Blood Cross.

The Blood Cross was founded in the 37th Millenium just after the time of troubles dubbed "the Reign of Blood" by historians. Designed as a standing force to bolster the remote but tactically important Massilia Sector that was bordered by a small orcish "empire," the chapter established its Fortress-Monastery of Mediggo on the medieval desert world of Salusa Secundus. (Side note: The Order of the Blood Lily, one of the many Adepta Sororitas orders, was granted a convent, Stella Maris, in the planet's southern hemisphere for their aid in putting down the Jacurutu Rebellion. While they remain separate, the chapter and order assist each other in recruitment efforts and maintain a cordial, if reserved, relationship.)

A Sister of the Order of the Blood Lily.

The population of Salusa Secundus is divided between nomadic tribes of herdsmen and city-dwellers who live in urban centers carved from the basaltic rock of the hillocks and ridges that jut forth from the caramel-colored sands of the desert. There are some shallow seas on the surface of the planet, but they account for less than 8% of the planet's surface. The polar ice caps are also smaller than the norm for most habitable planets. Most of the world's oxygen is produced from various volcanic activities and the presence of a photosynthetic sand-plankton on the world's surface. Recruits are drawn from both the nomads and the city dwellers. The nomads provide a ferocious fighting spirit and the city-dwellers provider a certain academic mindset to the order's recruitment base. Both peoples revere the Emperor of Mankind as "the Father who came from the Sun to bring Light to all Mankind."

In general, the Blood Cross remains a loose hold on the people of Salusa Secundus allowing the populace to handle their own affairs as long as no alien or heretical taint takes root. A couple of millenia past, however, a chaos cult was able to subvert a group of tribesmen who managed to take a fortress city near the equator. The taint of Chaos was destroyed by a joint operation between the Chapter and the Order, and Jacururtu is a name still used to frighten young children on Salusa Secundus.

A Brother of the Blood Cross armed for battle.

The Blood Cross geneseed is that of Rogal Dorn. When the High Lords of Terra called for a new chapter to form, two space marines stepped forward to answer the call for a cadre. The two had served together in the Deathwatch. One was Sulla Corrino, a brother of the Crimson Fists, who went on to become the still-revered first Chapter Master. The other was a Black Templar/Deathwatch Chaplain by the name of Kjeran who is still present in the chapter as a Dreadnought. The two chapters followed the lead of their two sons by assisting the fledgling chapter with a training cadre and equipment drawn from both.

The heraldic colors of gules and sable obviously derive from the two chapters. Vehicles, dreadnoughts, and veteran armor retains much in the way of Templar iconography yet still maintains the utilitarian nature of the Crimson Fists. Interestingly, the chapter adheres to the Codex Astartes in most matters having only a few idiosyncrasies. For example, the 1st Company is comprised of the Veterans who use the mighty Terminator armor. However, all tactical sergeants must have served previously in 1st Company. Thus, all squad leaders are highly experienced and are occasionally seen wearing Terminator armor in the field (note: yes, this changes from edition to edition; some editions permit it, others don't). Brother veterans officially have a scarlet tabard, but generally eschew its use in the field, the helmet's red stripe of rank and red cross on the right pauldron (denoting Terminator honors) being sufficient symbols of status.

Brother captains and higher ranks are differentiated by the use of gold helmets and gold imperial eagles on their torso armor. Note also that the Chapter retains the Mark VI Corvus helmet in all models of armor. Among 1st company veterans, there are actually full suits of the Corvus design still in use.

As far as beliefs, like the Crimson Fists, the Blood Cross despises aliens in general and orcs in particular. They have taken this belief to such an extreme that causal use of cybernetics is almost seen as heresy. Replacement due to injury is acceptable, but not otherwise. In fact, the Blood Cross fields no servitors because that is seen as one of the severest of abominations.

The Blood Cross reveres the Emperor as the Suffering Servant of Mankind. He ascended his throne willingly and still shields Mankind from Chaos through millenia of agonizing suffering. One Blood Cross ritual is that of the Embrace of the Cross. The Battle Brother is tied into a pain slab and hoisted up to suffer in agony for up to three days, proving his resilience and willingness to suffer for the survival of Mankind.

And that, gentle readers, is a brief summary of my chapter. Enjoy!

10 June 2013

SciFi Monday: The Perils of Star Wars Gaming

I'm back. I'm still slightly depressed over my grandmother's death and my father's illness, but I have to go on. I can't put everything on hold forever.
That said, SciFi Monday brings you my plans for a Star Wars campaign I want to run with my family. The oldest is undecided; number two is thinking a Jedi; the boy is all for a trooper; and Beth (wife) will probably play a Wookiee scout/bounty hunter. I'm pulling one I did back in the 1990s and adapting TSR's Volturnus trilogy (for Star Frontiers) for the Star Wars Universe. However, this is set in the Old Republic era (back in the day, it was, of course, set in the Rebellion Era--options are good things!). The Sathar become the Sith Empire, monstrosities like the quickdeath are creations of Sith sorcery, the Frontier is really the Republic, Volturnus is a lost world fought over by the Sith and Jedi a millenia ago, etc., etc., ad infinitium, as nauseam.

We have a timeframe, we have a campaign, and now we have too many choices as far as systems are concerned. Let's enumerate, shall we?

WEG's Star Wars 2nd Edition Revised & Expanded is an old favorite of mine. I bought first edition when it was published and upgraded over the years. I post infrequently on the Rancor Pit Forums as Darth Kjeran and really do love this system. It is quick and fun and not overly complex. The mechanics really allow the players to attempt the type of cinematic action seen in the movies. Death can occur, but one really has to flub it up Big Time to do so. The downside is that force users are all-powerful. Although I do plan on starting the players out as experienced veterans, there is a large disparity between Jedi and EVERYONE ELSE. And I do have at least one player wanting to play a Jedi.

Our next contender is WotC's Star Wars d20 Revised. This one receives much in the way of  criticism from fans for "not feeling like Star Wars." There might be some validity to that viewpoint; however, the d20/3.5 systems works better for science-fiction than it does for fantasy. One of its most important attributes is that of balance. A 7th level Soldier/2nd level Bounty Hunter has a pretty fair shot at taking down a 6th level Jedi Consular/2 level Jedi Investigator/1st level Jedi Master. Now, there are those who still feel that Jedi should be the power gods that WEG made them. However, I read Expanded Universe fiction quite often and Jedi are NOT invincible. Order 66, anyone? Plus, that Soldier/Bounty Hunter is a 9th level character--he should have a chance to go toe-to-toe with a Jedi (or Sith). Cons? Well, as referenced above, multiclassing can get silly, but it does have the effect of recreating some of the iconic roles in the movie in a manner different from that of WEG (which proposes an almost generalist feel with the exception of Jedi characters). Some would add hit the HP mechanic, but the way Star Wars d20 handles wounds makes that a non-issue for me. Also, there is a Old Republic campaign guide that was published for the SAGA/3rd edition of the rules. Very useful.

Next up is the fan-produced Star Wars Galactic Adventures RPG that was forced off of the net. I believe it was in its 6th or 7th revision. I prefer 1.4 due to its art and layout. In mechanics, it is very similar to 0e D&D or Stars Without Number. There are 9 professions (classes) and 23 races plus the optional "race" of droid; it's also a modest 89 pages in pdf. Note that the race descriptions are only a paragraph in size (with the exception of droids who get a full page!). Combat mechanics are similar to Gamma World 1st Edition in that the to hit number is based on type of weapon versus armour type. Skills are handled by d100 rolls on tables similar to AD&D thief tables. There is a three alignment system (Good, Fair, and Evil) that actually fits the milieu nicely. It's a quick, easy game that I am leaning towards using just because of its simplicity.

The last game is also at the bottom of the list. Fantasy Flight's Star Wars Edge of Empire. It's not out yet; July supposedly. I could, of course, pick up the starter game or one of the beta rule books on Ebay. From what I have gathered by reviews, blogs, and vlogs, the game uses a dice pool mechanic (and special dice, of course!) where dice are added by the player and the GM. It looks easy, but that is never the case; it might, however, be extremely elegant. So, it should facilitate cinematic play. The other problem is that Edge of Empire deals with, well, scoundrels to put it bluntly. There are 2 other books planned in the system, one to detail Jedi/Sith and one for Empire/Rebellion (i.e., trooper/military types). There is supposed to be rudimentary Force rules in EoE, but I don't know that for certain. I do know I'll pick this up when it comes out, game whore that I am.

So, there we are. I'm leaning heavily toward SWGA, but I have a plethora of material for both WEG and d20. I just know that I want to run some star Wars; SWTOR is fun and all, but I want to be in charge of the sandbox for a change. :)

Until next time, gentle readers, may the Force be with you!