Monday, March 27, 2017

Against the Frog Pirates

Campaign: The Situational Heroes (Scarabae, 5e D&D)

  • Grayson, dragonborn battle master fighter (background: mercenary). Grayson is the disgraced son of a famous family of dragonborn mercenaries.
  • Topper, human light domain cleric (background: doctor). Topper worships the sun; he's also a drunk.
  • Edmund Folderol, wood elf hunter ranger (background: outlander). Edmund Folderol says nothing about his past because he is super paranoid for reasons we don't yet understand.
  • Jester Jones, hill dwarf thief rogue (background: entertainer). Jester is a renowned juggler who can't help but steal things. Bit of a klepto, really.
  • Gabrielle Gladsword, dragonborn oath of devotion paladin (background: acolyte). Gabby's really nice. Probably too nice to be adventuring with this group of horrible, damaged miscreants.

  • The crew found themselves on Lupin Island, an isle off the coast of Scarabae. Casting about for work fit for crypt-kickers at the Salted Codpiece Tavern, they discovered that local shipping has been disrupted by the pirate crew of Bloody Jane Reed. The pirates were using a series of caves further up the coast as their hideout. The local militia had proven not up to the task of clearing them out.
  • The pirates' cave fortress was well guarded, and the pirates themselves turned out to be mostly a mix of vicious bullywugs and their slaadi overseers. Jester almost lost his life in a quicksand trap, but Grayson managed to sprint to his aid and pull him to safety.
  • Bloody Jane attempted to flee the assault on her headquarters, but the crew boarded her ship as she was preparing to set sail and put the dread pirate to the sword. Hurrah, a bounty was earned!
  • The rest of the crew surrendered after the death of their captain. They were given the option of joining the crew, or death. The party's ranks were swelled by the addition of a half-orc bard who had been frustrated by the pirates' lack of interest in drum circle-based spirituality, a storm witch with control over the trade winds, a tiefling warlock who can set things on fire with her mind, and a mysterious wizard who is always smoking a clay pipe. Grayson drowned those who refused to join the crew one by one in a barrel of pickled herring.
  • Of course, Bloody Jane's treasury was raided.

  • Grayson spent time training the local militia in the arts of war so they might better defend their island. He persuaded the militia to practice with him by bringing a cask of rum to their barracks. (He would be missing in the next adventure because his character sheet was misplaced.)
  • Gabby gathered information about the local movers and shakers. The information would be there for us next session, but Gabby would have moved on. (Her player wanted to try a different class.)
  • Topper got too drunk to continue adventuring (the player had to step out of the campaign due to a new child, congrats!).
  • Edmund caroused most of his gold away.
  • Jester made money performing at the Salted Codpiece.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

For Those Who Must Sacrifice

Click here to listen to an 8tracks mix entitled For Those Who Must Sacrifice

† King Woman - Heirophant
† Chelsea Wolfe - Iron Moon
† Windhand - Crypt Key
† Mount Salem - The Tower
† Luciferian Light Orchestra - Church of Carmel
† Jex Thoth - When the Raven Calls
† Jess and the Ancient Ones - 13th Breath of the Zodiac
† Blood Ceremony - Hymn to Pan

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bad Books for Bad People - Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis

Have you ever wanted to hear me rant and rave about vampires-as-superheroes, crybaby ancient aliens, ghosts-with-bodies, pants, space-age polymers, and nipple-sucking clones? Well, you're in luck, the new episode of my podcast with Tenebrous Kate is up!

Beginning with her smash hit debut novel, 1976's Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice has spent a career detailing the lives, loves, and melodramas of a sprawling cast of supernatural characters. In interviews where she's discussed 2016's Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, Rice promised a whole new spin on her beloved Vampire Chronicles. The concept of blending gothic vampires with new age science fiction is an appealing one, but does the author deliver on her promise? Jack and Kate dive into this latest offering from the queen of modern gothic horror.
How many of the Vampire Chronicles books have our hosts skipped? Will Kate's dreams of lots of characters she doesn't recognize meeting up with ancient aliens come true? Will we learn the vagaries of vampire science? Isn't a ghost with a body just a dude? How is Lestat doing after all these years? Find out all this and more in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
***Spoilers Abound***
Intro/Outro music: "Pictures of Betrayal" by Nosferatu.
Find us at, on Twitter @badbooksbadppl, Instagram @badbooksbadpeople and on Facebook. You can discover where to get all the books featured on Bad Books for Bad People on our reading list.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sloppy XP Equals Sloppy Design

I have a pet peeve when it comes to rpg design: I really don't like it when designers leave the XP or advancement system undercooked. If the rules for advancement or leveling up don't feel finished and if they don't offer incentives for the players to engage with what the game is about, I think you didn't finish the job of making a game.


Stars Without Number
According to the Stars Without Number core rules, the game has a particular focus: "In Stars Without Number you play the role of an interstellar adventurer. Whether a grizzled astrotech, lostworlder warrior, or gifted psychic, you dare the currents of space for the sake of riches and glory" (5). Under that given premise, the game claims to reward things like seeking riches and glory: "Characters are awarded experience points by the GM upon accomplishing certain goals, defeating meaningful enemies, or plundering insufficiently guarded wealth" (64). 

But here's where it all falls apart: 
1) Getting XP for "certain goals" is already vague, but what a proper goal looks like and how much XP it should be worth is never spelled out, as far as I can tell. 

2) None of the "meaningful enemies" in the book's Xenobestiary have an XP value for defeating them. I can't find any guidelines for giving XP for defeating enemies in the book at all. 

3) Making off with "insufficiently guarded wealth" is intended to be the old-school D&D method of 1 GP = 1 XP since Stars Without Numbers is basically D&D-in-Space, but that's tucked away in a place that's not very intuitive--about seventy pages after the XP rules are given (131). 

It's also really clunky in its implementation; characters shouldn't get XP for a big-ticket item like a space ships, and you should increase the amount of money they're getting per adventure because space ships are money pits, but that extra money you have to throw at them now shouldn't give XP because there wasn't much effort put into the mechanics of this idea: "You should not be reluctant to increase adventure rewards or offer more remunerative opportunities to players with a starship to feed, though this should not increase the XP gained" (131). 

It's worth noting that if more defined rules are buried somewhere in the book, the index will not help you find them; "Level," "XP," "Experience Points," "Advancement," etc. do not have entries in the index.

Dark Heresy 2nd Edition
Dark Heresy has not one, but two systems for awarding XP. The first is to award a set amount of XP per session: "Under the abstract method, experience points are awarded for time spent gaming, ensuring a steady and even progression for all characters. For each game session composed of multiple encounters, every PC should receive 400 xp. This would allow them to purchase a minor increase in their capabilities approximately every session, or a more significant one every few sessions. This method assumes a game session lasts approximately four hours of active play time. For longer or shorter sessions, the GM can adjust the rewards accordingly" (371). What this system doesn't do is offer an incentive for doing anything during play, and only really rewards showing up to the game. As a system, it's easy and doesn't require much book-keeping, but it also strikes me as lazily designed because it doesn't connect to the premise of what the game is about.

Surely the more detailed system picks up the slack, right? Well, no, "It is also possible to award xp in a more detailed manner, in which every reward is tied to a specific difficulty or challenge. This allows the GM to match the PCs’ progression to the progression of events more closely, or to increase the players’ sense of accomplishment. However, it requires that the GM be able to evaluate each encounter and challenge and assign an appropriate amount of xp" (371). 

This sounds like a system that was fully thought out, and there is even a chart showing you how much XP to award per character based on seven categories of encounter difficulty. Unfortunately, however, although this system does create an incentive ("win" encounters), it is ultimately incomplete because the rules offer no guidance as to what constitutes as "easy" encounter or a "very hard" encounter. The designer has absolved themselves from providing what seems like a fairly crucial part of how XP will be awarded. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Tales of Old Rus by Roman Papsuev

An idle Google image search uncovered a treasure trove of images that were clearly evoking Russian legends through a modern fantasy lens. Before I set to tracking down the artist, I wondered if these were pictures from a Russian version of Red Box-era D&D or maybe the concept art for a awesome toy line we never got in the West. A few clicks more and I learned that the art was by Roman Papsuev, who has made it a personal project to reinterpret Russian folk tales in the aesthetics of Western fantasy gaming under the title "Tales of Old Rus." 

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Seeker of Knowledge and the Destroyer of Knowledge.

Two more figures of intrigue to be wary of in night-haunted Krevborna:

Rumored to be a professor of the dark arts at the Malcovat, Doctor Ulric Montmort makes rare appearances in Krevborna. The aim of these sabbaticals is almost always in service of discovering rare books of occult lore that would aid in his unhallowed researches, which center on the connection between the nature of nightmares and other planes of existence. 

Swithun Vanderhaus is a defrocked priest who served the Church by infiltrating the criminal underground to gather information. The truths he uncovered soured him to the Church's purpose, and he seeks further knowledge hidden by the Church that he believes is inherently dangerous and must be destroyed before it can pose a further menace to mankind.