Friday, July 29, 2011

The Savage World of Athas part 2


Like I said, those familiar with Savage Worlds already may be a little confused by some of those ability scores you saw. That's because I'm using what I refer to as the "Heroic Array". It's what I use for Savage Worlds when I'm playing D&D style "Big Awesome Heroes" games and it seems especially appropriate for Dark Sun. So, here's how that works. 

Each character begins with a d6 in each attribute and receives 3 points they can spend to raise an attribute (each point raises an attribute by one die type). It is possible to begin play with lower attributes by taking Hindrances.

Normally a character can raise attributes up to d12+1, but this is adjusted based on the character's base attributes due to race and Hindrances. For example, Half Giants begin with a Smarts of d4 so they cannot raise their Smarts above d12 but they have a Strength of d10 so they may raise their Strength to a maximum of d12+3. Likewise a human who takes the Inferior Attribute Hindrance (Vigor) begins with a d4 Vigor and may not raise it higher than d12. 

Skills and Derived Statistics are unchanged from the normal Savage Worlds rules. 


These are edges that I've brewed up for the Dark Sun setting, or modifications to standard SW edges to function in the setting. 

Background Edges 

Arcane Background: With proper training and initiation all Arcane Background edges (except Wild Talent) may be learned after character creation, neither elemental or arcane magic is inborn, and all sentient beings possess enough psionic talent to be trained as mindbenders with time and effort. Information on the different forms of Arcane Backgrounds will be detailed further down.

Arcane Resistance: There are two forms of Arcane Resistance (and Improved Arcane Resistance) and characters must select which one when taking the Edge. Magic Resistance provides a bonus against the Powers of Templars, Elementalists and Wizards and other Powers based on magic. Psionic Resistance provides its bonus against Wild Talents and Psionicists as well as any Powers based on psionic ability.

Heat Adaption: (Vigor 1d8+)
Your hero is very adapted to the heat of the desert and is even conditioned to require less water than normal. Characters with this edge require only 2 quarts of water daily to avoid heat exhaustion and recieve a +2 on all rolls made to resist fatigue from heat exhaustion. 

Combat Edges

Armor Optimization: (Seasoned, Fighting d8+, Agility d8+)
When an opponent strikes you they automatically hit your most heavily armored location unless they get a Raise or are making a Called Shots. Called Shots to locations with less armor suffer an additional -1 penalty. If your character has several equally well-armored location then the opponent's attack is directed to the area with the lowest Called Shot penalty. 

Improved Armor Optimization (Veteran, Armor Optimization, Fighting d10+)
The armor rating of any armor you're wearing improves by 1. 

Weird Edges

Mental Armor: (Seasoned, Smarts d6+, Spirit d6+)
You have received training in resisting mental control and invasion. Against any Power (psionic or magical) that uses mind control, mind-reading or similar trappings your character receives a +3 bonus to any rolls made to resist. 

Psionic Detection (Novice, Smarts d6+, Notice d6+)
Your character can detect active psionic powers with a Notice roll at a -3 penalty. Powers that cost more than 1 power point add a bonus of +1 for each Power Point beyond the first (so detecting a Psionic Bolt that uses 6 power points would involve a Notice roll at +2). This edge works on powers used within 20 yards. It can detect powers further away at an additional -3 penalty up to a limit of 60 yards. A success alerts the character that there was a psionic power used nearby. A raise gives you a rough idea of the distance and direction. 

Professional Edges

Bardic Assassin (Novice, Smarts d8+, Knowledge (poison) d8+, Persuasion d8+, Stealth d6+)
Although many bards are simply skilled entertainers, storytellers and musicians it is a commonly accepted fact that many who adopt the title are also skilled poisoners, spys, and theives. Bardic assassin's are typically masters of poison, blackmail and stealth: they add +2 to all Stealth related skills in an urban environment, +2 to all Knowledge (poisons) rolls, and +2 to Persuasion rolls.

Gladiator (Novice,  Fighting d10+, Vigor d8+, Taunt or Intimidate at d6+)
Years of fighting in the pits have given experienced gladiators an exceptional talent for dirty fighting and psychological strategy. Gladiators recieve a +2 bonus to perform and resist combat tricks.

Veiled Wizard (Novice, AB (wizard), Preserver, Spellcasting d8+, Knowledge (Arcane) d6+, Stealth d6+)
Mages trained by the Veiled Alliance have an advantage over others even if they do not stay with the group. They are given some knowledge of the Veiled Alliance and may make Common Knowledge rolls to recall information about the group (including code words, safehouses and the like). In addition they recieve a +2 bonus on Knowledge (Arcane) and Stealth rolls made to conceal their spellcasting.

Defender of the Land (Novice, AB (elementalist), Spellcasting d8+, Survival d8+)
An elemental priest can forge a bond with the spirits of the land, claiming guardianship over a chosen stretch of land. While in their guarded lands the priest receives a +2 bonus to all Notice, Stealth, Survival and Tracking rolls and they regain Power Points twice as fast. In addition you may now learn the following Powers in addition to those from the Elementalist AB: Beast Friend, Entangle (plant-based trappings) and Shape Change (creatures found on guarded lands). You also are intuitively aware of the condition of your guarded land and sense instantly if defiling magic or similar harm comes to it. 


There's only one new Hindrance:

Inferior Attribute (Major/Minor): Your character is below average in some way but fortunately has still managed to survive. One of your Attributes is at a d4 and may not be raised above a d12. This edge may be taken once as a Major Hindrance. If it is taken again (for a different attribute) then it is considered a Minor Hindrance. 

Characters in Athas begin with 500$ (ceramics). The following rules cover how gear in Dark Sun is different from the standard Savage Worlds rules. 

Metal Equipment
Metal is exceedingly rare in Dark Sun and iron gear costs 10 times the normal price (so a metal longsword costs 3,000$). Iron weapons inflict normal damage but have AP 1 against non-iron armor. Bronze weapons cost 6 times the normal price but do not provide any AP. 
Inferior Gear
Without metal most weapons are made from bone, obsidian and flint (Dasyl is in this category as well). These weapons inflict normal damage but have a chance of breaking in combat. If a primitive weapons have a Damage Threshold and if the attacker rolls higher than their Damage Threshold with the weapon then it breaks, inflicting a -1 penalty to any Fighting rolls and dropping it's damage bonus by one die type (weapons that add a d4 damage are worthless).
   A weapon's Damage Threshold is twice the bonus to damage it provides (so a dagger has a Threshold of 8, while a Longsword has a Threshold of 16). If you are attacking an opponent wielding a metal weapon or wearing metal armor the Threshold is halved. Monsters with exceptionally tough natural armor (+4 or higher) may have a similar effect. 

Other Weapons
Weapons that are not normally made from metal (staffs, clubs, slings etc) suffer no penalty and function just like normal. Bows with metal-tipped ammunition have AP 1 against non-metal armor but otherwise function identically.

Athasian Weapons
This is the description of weapons unique to Athas. To save space I won't provide descriptions (just google "athasian weapons") and I won't include weapons that are basically slight variations on existing weapons (singing sticks and quabones are just clubs for instance).
Cahaluks: (Str +d4) This pair of weapons ignores cover bonuses and shield bonuses. It can also be used to entangle an opponent and trip them making an Agility Trick using the wielder's Throwing or Fighting skill instead of Agility. On a raise the target falls prone as well as being Shaken. (ROF 1 4/8/16). 6 lbs. 200$
Chatkcha: (Str+d6) These are triple pointed blades usually made from thri-kreen Dasyl. They can be thrown (ROF 1, 3/6/12) and if a special technique is used (-2 to Throwing) they will return if they miss their target. 1 lb. 100$
Forearm Axe: (Str+d6) It takes an action to strap these axes to your arms but once equipped they cannot be disarmed. The same stats can be used for the Wrist Razors. 4 lbs. 225$
Gythka: This weapon is effectively identical to a spear. 
Tortoise Blades: (Str+d4) It takes an action to strap on a Tortoise Blade but once on they cannot be disarmed. The small shield grants +1 to Parry. 5 lbs. 150$


The armor is slightly different from the standard SW armor. The weights are for full suits (torso, arms, legs). Partial armor is common in Athas, Torso armor is about half the standard weight. Just legs or just arms are about 25% of the standard weight alone. Boots or gloves are about 10% the standard weight. Reduce cost by the same amount. Metal shields provide an additional point of armor against missiles.

Leather: Armor +1, 15 lbs. 50$
Giant Hair: Armor +1, 9 lbs. 100$
Heavy Hide/Light Chitin: Armor +2, 25 lbs. 300$
Heavy Chitin: Armor +3, 55 lbs. 850$
Chainmail: Armor +3, 25 lbs. 4,000$
Bronze Plate: Armor +4, 50 lbs. 10,000$
Steel Plate: Armor +5, 50 lbs. 20,0000$

All that's really left is the rules for Arcane Backgrounds and Wild Talents. I'll try and post that later tonight or tomorrow.

RPG Chopshop II: The Savage World of Athas

 UPDATE: I've recently created a "second edition" of my Savage Worlds conversion, which can be found here: Savage World of Athas. Leaving these posts intact for anyone who wants to see the "original" version or just listen to me ramble.

Dark Sun is possibly my favorite campaign setting from Dungeons and Dragons. My first exposure to it was the old PC games Shattered Lands and Wake of the Ravager. I played both well before I was exposed to table-top roleplaying and looking back I'm amazed I was able to figure things out considering I had no clue what the hell THACO was supposed to be or what all these 1dsomethings were. After getting into table-top gaming I collected just about all the setting books for dark sun, from the basic core books to the ridiculous books of insane artifacts and halfling bio-engineering. Sadly, although I was a big fan of the setting I never got much chance to play or run it myself and the books mostly collected dust. 

Once third edition D+D came along I switched over and Dark Sun was sadly a casualty. Looking over the various official and unofficial conversions for the setting they all lacked some of the spark that still excites me about the original. It's hard to say exactly what caused the dissatisfaction but I think part of it was that the more rigidly defined and balanced 3e rules didn't suit the gonzo-insanity that is Dark Sun. In 2e you could have an elf as strong as a giant, a giant who could explode your head with his mind and a walking mantis who could carve you into 4 pieces and paralyzing you with its spit and still explode your head with its mind. 3e focused on making things balanced and stable which was more or less anathema to the heavy-metal-post-apocalyptic insanity that soaked through Dark Sun. 

Now 4th edition has come around and brought Dark Sun back, which is cool. I love the setting and I'm glad to see it being officially revived and 4th edition's action-heavy philosophy might be able to recapture some of that old craziness. However I don't think I'll take part. Although I liked a lot of what I saw in 4e, there were also a variety of things that just rubbed me the wrong way and seeing some of the things that are being done with the setting are even more irritating. One of the things that I always found interesting about Dark Sun was how willing it was to do things different from "standard" D&D fantasy. 4th edition Dark Sun seems to be taking the opposite route, doing it's best to cram in everything from the core setting no matter how out of place it is (namely looking at the races, like dragonborn and eladrin). Anyway, 4e Dark Sun has proved not to be my cup of tea (please don't take this as a judgement of your game, there is no such thing as badwrongfun and my rejection of the new version has more to do with nostalgia than logic). 

However, the revival of Dark Sun has renewed my interest in Athas and I've decided to give a shot at converting the setting to my favorite "action" system: Savage Worlds. I won't try to recapture the utter insanity of the original (some of that stuff was just ridiculous) but I think Savage Worlds is the right system to scratch the Athas itch for me. 

So, let's break it down. First and foremost I won't be providing rules for the "epic level" material like transformation into a dragon, sorcerer-kings, avangions, etc. That sort of material works best (in my opinion) out of the hands of PCs and so it doesn't need hard and fast rules. I'm also avoiding the bizarre halfling bio-tech. This conversion assumes you're familiar with the Savage Worlds system but if you're not the Test Drive rules should be all you need to play. To save space I won't be providing the "fluff" for Dark Sun. If you got this far without knowing anything about the setting then you can easily find that info elsewhere online. With that said, let's get started!

Character Creation

Races: The some of the Dark Sun races are pretty damn powerful (thri-kreen, I'm looking at you). To keep everything balanced I'm increasing the "default" racial bonuses to compensate and keep everyone on the same level. Some races (thri-kreen, I'm looking at you again) have been taken down a notch or two to keep things balanced.

  • Talented: Humans receive one free Edge in addition to the starting Edge everyone gets.
  • Skilled: Humans receive 2 free Skill Points that can be spent however they wish
  • Slow: Dwarves have a Pace of 5".
  • Tough: Dwarves start with a Vigor of 1d8 rather than 1d6.
  • Magic Resistant: Dwarves receive the Arcane Resistance Edge for free.
  • Intestinal Fortitude: Dwarves receive a +2 bonus to Vigor rolls to resist poison or disease. 
  • Agile: Elves start with an Agility of 1d8 rather than 1d6
  • Swift: Elves receive the Fleet Footed Edge for free.
  • Low-Light Vision: Elves ignore penalties for Dim or Dark lighting.
  • Mixed Blood: Half-elves may start with either a free Edge or Agility of 1d8 instead of 1d6.
  • Natural Talents: Half-elves may start with a d6 in one of the following skills: Guts, Survival, Streetwise or Taunt.
  • Low Light Vision: Half-elves ignore penalties for Dim or Dark lighting.
  • Mighty: Half Giants begin with a d10 in Strength rather than d6.
  • Huge: Half-Giants are Size +3.
  • Dim: Half-Giants start with Smarts of d4 rather than d6. 
  • Weak-Willed: Half-Giants start with Spirit of d4 rather than d6.
  • Out of Place: Most objects and equipment are not sized properly for half-giants. They receive a -2 penalty to related trait rolls when using inappropriately sized equipment. Properly sized equipment usually costs twice as much as normal. Half-Giants must also consume four times the amount of food and water a human needs.
  • Agile: Halflings begin with a d8 in Agility rather than a d6.
  • Focused: Halflings begin with a d8 in Spirit rather than a d6
  • Slight: Halflings begin with a Strength of d4 rather than d6.
  • Small: Halflings are Size -1
  • Athletic: Halflings start with a d6 in Climbing and Stealth. 
  • Strong: Muls begin with a d8 in Strength rather than a d6 .
  • Large: Muls are Size +1.
  • Dim: Muls start with a Smarts of d4 rather than d6. 
  • Brawny: Muls receive the Brawny Edge for free. 
  • Large: Thri-Kreen are Size +1
  • Chitin: Thri-Kreen have chitin granting them +1 armor.
  • Poisonous: Thri-Kreen possess a poisonous bite. Victims that suffer a Shaken result from the bite must make a Vigor roll or suffer a -2 penalty to any Spirit rolls made to recover from being Shaken.
  • Natural Weapons: Thri-Kreen possess powerful jaws and sharp claws inflicting Str +1d4 damage. 
  • Fast: Thri-kreen have a Pace of 10" 
  • Multi-Limbed: Thri-Kreen have 4 limbs and any multi-action penalties for attacking with a weapon held in their limbs or their natural weapons are halved (so a thri-kreen attacking with a bite and 4 claws rolls at -5 to each roll rather than -10) and there are no off hand penalties.
  • Insect Mind: Thri-kreen begin with a Smarts of d4 rather than d6. 
  • Alien Body: Thri-kreen cannot wear armor and most gear designed for humans.
  • Weird: Thri-kreen suffer a -3 penalty to Charisma when dealing with non-kreen. 

Anyone familiar with Savage Worlds will notice that the ability scores don't seem to look normal. There's a reason for that which I shall address in the next post.

EDIT: The rest of the Savage Worlds of Athas
Attributes and Edges
Wild Talents
Monsters and Powers

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

order of magnitude IV: Big Trouble In Shan Fan

So after quite a few sessions of the players running around gunning down my carefully constructed villains I start playing hardball by letting the Denarians off the reigns. They use the standard Deadlands demons as a base and adding on a few extra powers each plus many additional minions. Unfortunately things are a bit fuzzy in this area so I can't provide exact details but essentially the players make their way into the main plot. At this point several of the silver coins are in safe-keeping in the hands of the church, several are in the hands of the campaign's Big Bad and his minions. However, several are unaccounted for and the players learn the Big Bad is working to get his hands on as many as possible with the intent to forge it into a Mcguffin of Doom, essentially merging the spirits of the fallen angels in the coins into a single, uber-powered critter o' darkness.

Lasciel, Max's personal succubus, doesn't want any part of this merging so she's tentatively helping the crew (even as she works to claim max's soul for herself) and with some info from the church the posse learns that at least two of the currently unclaimed coins are far to the west, at least one is in Shan Fan. So, heading to the coast the crew have a few run ins with Guardian Angels and a few restless ghosts but not much of note.

Upon arrival in Shan Fan the PCs learn of intense in-fighting and intrigue among the gangs that rule the city, all partially under the control of a single deadly individual: The Dragon Emperor. The PCs spend some time planning, scheming and keeping an eye out for clues. However all this careful planning goes completely out the window when the Tumbler gets stolen. This leads to a wild vengeance-fueled shooting spree across Shan Fan in a quest for their steam wagon. This is cut short when they stop for drinks and they scarf down some poisoned dumplings from a double agent. They wake up, strapped to wooden wheelchairs inside a huge metal room. It's at this point it becomes clear that I'm now stealing from Big Trouble In Little China.

Shortly after they wake up an incredibly pumped-up martial artist shows up to dump them in an open pit in the center of the chamber, a huge well of twisted, tortured ghosts. After an intense fight (considering they're all completely disarmed) they toss the martial artist down the well and head off (neglecting to seal the chamber behind them. something that will become a significant issue later). They charge around through the underground facility they find themselves in, beating up martial artists and the occasional mutant and finding their equipment again. That's when they stumble their way to the silver coin and it's current host. A horribly tortured and blind man impaled on several shoots of bamboo and tied hand and foot with the coin resting against his forehead. The Dragon Emperor (wise enough not to allow the fallen angel to use him as a host) had been using the coin as a source of advice and information. The players pop a bullet in the host and take the coin but it's at this point that all the ghosts finally make their way out of the well the player's left open: pouring up through the ground and walls in vast numbers. Having no chance against this many enemies the players run for it, finally making it to the surface (they're on the island of Ghost Tears) and rushing to grab a rickety boat tied up at a makeshift harbor.

Trying to sail the boat proves hopeless as absolutely none of the PCs invested in either Boating or Swimming. They quickly are dashed against the rocks of the maze and all seems lost but they're caught in the net of a friendly Chinese fisherman who speaks not a word of english. Exhausted they fall asleep belowdecks. They wake up shortly afterwards and find the boat is moored and seems to not only be empty but much, much older and more withered than it was before (ooooooh....spooooky) and a cryptic fortune cookie left behind. They don't have time to consider this since there's the sound of explosions outside. They find themselves back in Shan Fan which is currently being shelled by the Big Bad's blimp while the Dragon Emperor's forces fight back with rockets and battle kites (think the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic).

The players are desperate to get out of town but they're still equally desperate to find the Tumbler. They rush back into town and search desperately for their wagon. Fortunately they manage to find it among the armory of the Dragon Emperor. They make some effort to rescue people as demons begin to fly down from the Big Bad's airship and slaughter the people of Shan Fan. Unfortunately this turns sour when one of their rescued refugees turns out to a Denarian in disguise who attempts to carve up the players and take their coins. They manage to drive it off and escape from the burning city, heading towards where they believe the next coin to be and approaching the campaign's climax.

Fun With Science!! (a list of Miss Hart's inventions through Mad Science and her Mcgyver Edge)
*Galvanic Umbrella (bolt)
*The Gunny-Gun (Blast)
*Reanimator Serum (Zombie)
*Healing Elixir (Heal...looks almost identical to the reanimator serum)
*Explosive Squirrel (blast with trappings to make it function as a mobile, remote detonating mine)
*Anti-Gravity Hoop Skirt (flight)
*Turbo Chargers (Speed, modified to work for the Tumbler)
*The Iron Maiden (a custom-designed Legendary Power, essentially a power suit combining several powers (armor, boost trait, Bolt) into one device, at the cost of being difficult to maintain and activate)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Order of Magnitude III: The Birth of the Tumbler

click to enlarge
This is the papercraft miniature I use for the party's vehicle, the Tumbler. Yes that is the skull of a T-rex mounted on the front. How did they get that you might ask? Well, by blowing up an undead fossil of course!

Rewinding things a bit to tell you about how the party got a hold of the Tumbler. 

Essentially the players come across a decent sized town out west being plagued by a crew of ghosts: sheet-white phantasms atop pale horses in tattered confederate uniforms. They seem to completely ignore bullets but their guns will kill a man as dead as anything. Two of the town's three banks had already been completely cleared out by these bizarre ghostly robbers. The truth was that these men were simply minions of a mad scientist who had set up shop in a nearby abandoned fort. The scientist cooks up a special brew that makes his minions nearly bulletproof but has the side-effect of chalky white skin. Taking advantage of it the "ghosts" frighten the townspeople and make off with their gold.

Well, my PCs aren't about to let an obvious plot-hook like "Undead Bank Robbers" pass them by so they wait around the bank on the night they're expecting more larcenous spirits and when they show up they open fire with everything they've got. The average cowpoke's six-shooter or shotgun doesn't have much chance of penetrating the super-science protection these ghosts have but the mixture was not nearly up to the player's enhanced firepower, Max's Hexes and Miss Hart's Galvanic Umbrella. So, in a few short round a few of the "ghosts" are dead for real and the rest are running off. Following their trail the PCs find the fort but decide to wait a bit to ensure they're in tip-top condition.

*Biscuit Interlude*
This event is a little fuzzy in my memory, so it may or may not have happened during this adventure but Killian's player would kill me if I didn't share what he considers to be a crowning moment of his character. Killian's the closest character to the classic gunslinger (profession as a lawyer aside) in the party and so I took an opportunity to try out the "High Noon" dueling rules in Deadlands. A cocky young gunslinger challenges Killian to a duel (I believe he was a trifle upset over some relative getting a well-deserved lead injection) while he's at breakfast. Killian's player makes sure to let me know that he pockets a couple of biscuits before heading out to center of town.

One thing to keep in mind is that part of the idea behind the Deadlands dueling rules is that players first make a taunt/intimidate roll in order to try and force his opponent to draw first, which actually gives them a bonus. The idea being that not only do you shake their morale but you also make sure that it's clear that you weren't the one to draw your weapon first, making it self-defense. So, when it comes time to "taunt" his opponent Killian says nothing but whips his hand towards his gun belt...and draws a biscuit. A few rolls, and some card draws back up his strategy. So, Killian whips out a biscuit, causing his opponent to draw his gun and hesitate, then killian pulls out his and shoots the fella between the eyes...then finishes his biscuit.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled story. So, since the posse is hanging around town the fleeing "ghosts" get back to their boss and tell him all about what happened. Deciding that he really wants that cash in the last bank the mad scientist gears himself and his remaining men up, loads them into their steam powered wagon and heads to town. Armed with gatling weapons and ghost-rock-super-science this crew charges into the bank while the posse is in the hotel across the street. The posse head out and reach the bank just as the bad guys bust in and yell "We are robbing this bank!" They charge in right behind and respond "And we are UNrobbing this bank!"

A firefight ensues that leaves all the bad guys on the floor. The rest of the session mostly consists of Miss Hart gluing herself to the steam-wagon, tinkering madly.


Today I completed the very rough draft of an rpg rule-book I've been working on for quite a while now. It's a martial arts sourcebook for the PDQ system, currently only titled PDQ-Fu. Essentially it'll provide a set of rules for games focused on the martial arts genre for "power levels" ranging from essentially realistic all the way up to ridiculous cosmic-scale face-punching. While I work on editing the text and working on the final layout I'll be playtesting the game over the course of a few months with my local group. I'm hoping to record these sessions and make them available online to give folks a good idea of how the system looks in actual play. 

Nearly wiped out that same group by accident today, sprung a random encounter on them that went south fast (an attack by a cluster of Lightning Elementals). A series of bad rolls left one party member hanging upside down over the side of the airship, held up only be a rope that was looped around their foot with a measly five hit points left. This was the merciful option. Fortunately the encounter was cut short before a Total Party Kill occurred without relying too heavily on DM fiat.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I Thought of it First II: Zombies vs Brainzilla

This installation of IToiF is based around an idea I've had for some time for a video game. I just know some day I'll be browsing Steam sales, I'll see this game and then I'll be forced to go on a Kill Bill style quest for revenge. But until then let me share it with you.

Zombies vs. Brainzilla is essentially a strategy game centered around the idea that there is a simultaneous zombie apocalypse and alien invasion. Brainzilla, the mightiest brain in the cosmos, lands on earth inside of his massive armored Think Tank right in the middle of an uprising of the walking dead. Possessing the largest and mightiest brain in the universe of course he's the natural target for zombies while humanity has to try and survive both.

Each faction provides interesting ideas for different strategies. Zombies are individually weak and slow but they infect anything they damage, spread through enemy populations rapidly and take a lot of damage to put down. Zombies could spawn from graveyards, hospitals or other large populated buildings in a steady stream. Missions could feature adding "upgraded" zombies (animal zombies, armored zombies, super zombies) by invading zoos, military bases or nuclear power plants. Brainzilla is a single, powerful and tough enemy that has the ability to use mind control to take control of human units (not zombies however). Brainzilla's strategy would revolve around surrounding himself with meat-shields long enough to build up his technological defenses. Humans would be forced to survive both forces without succumbing to the control of one or the other.

Anyway, that's my idea. This idea of mine.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Order of Magnitude II: Things start to get silly

So, on the last Order of Magnitude post I introduced you to my motley crew. You may have noticed that it's a pretty big group by most RPG standards. This is mostly because it's almost impossible for me to turn anyone away from a game. However, the sheer number of players combined with several very effective combat builds means that I have a heck of a time challenging these people without simply wiping them out. Eventually I hit on the proper balance of brutality and restraint to keep things interesting but for a while I settled mostly for hurting the player's hearts and minds directly by engaging in very silly plots. 

The first was started around Halloween and although it was technically tied into the main plot it certainly wandered pretty far afield. At this time the players had managed to learn a bit about the Denarians, evil fallen angels possessing humans, and their seemingly invincible leader, Nicodemus. They're heading west to try and learn more about the master plan that seems to be set in motion. However, middle of the road they are swept up by a tornado, carried for miles and deposited in Kansas (I know, not one of my greatest story hooks). The process leaves them unharmed but smashes the Tumbler (their steam wagon) which forces them to stick around while Miss Hart makes repairs. 

Shortly after their landing the players run across a blocky, bald man named Charles in a cornfield and his dog being attacked by a large group of animated evil scarecrows. Easily dispatching them the posse learns that there's evil afoot in town (predictably) and after a bit of digging they even find evidence that Nicodemus visited this place a few years back in disguise as a priest and spent several years at the local church before faking his death. They decide to visit the place, poke around and make a few disturbing discoveries behind a secret doorway. 

Heading back to their hotel they tuck in for the night and Max hares while everyone else is sleeping in another ill-advised attempt to complete the ritual with Lasciel for more evil power. However, he's interrupted when he sees a man, carrying something in a small blue blanket. Max recognizes him as Linus, a mentally handicapped man who they learned had been cared for by Nicodemus while he was in town. Linus heads up to a large tree by the hotel and buries several objects from his blanket in the ground and then hurries off. Max decides to check this out and digs up the shallow hole. 

In the hole he discovers several large black seeds with sharp-edged shells. After cutting himself accidentally the seeds burrow into the ground and the tree suddenly animates into a nightmarish horror that proceeds to try and eat the boy. Fortunately his allies respond quickly and after a furious battle they manage to put it down. 

(Do you get it yet?)

So, clearly this Linus fellow is up to something so the players track him down to his farm. They fight a few more animated scarecrows and evil, crawling squash. They discover some very bizarre botany experiments being done at Linus's farm involving huge vegetables and satanism. In addition there's a diagram of a giant pumpkin patch a few miles away grown in the shape of a pentagram. The posse heads on over, guns at the ready, and spend some time dealing with more evil vegetables and a barricade of scarecrows created by tying human corpses to posts. These aren't animated but do produce an aura of terror that makes it difficult to pass. Fortunately the posse has serious guts and manage to make it through. 

(How about now?)

So, they finally make it to the pumpkin patch as night falls where they see Linus performing a ritual with a pumpkin the size of a house. They try and snipe him before he can finish but he leaps forward and merges with the shell of the pumpkin. The pumpkin rips free of the ground and attacks with several huge vines and spawns several lesser-pumpkin beasts. The battle is suitably epic and ends with the extremely unwise use of several pounds of high explosives carried by Jethro. 

By the way, if you haven't figured it out by now then you might want to stop reading before you lose all respect for me. For some reason I was inspired to write a Peanuts-based horror adventure. So yes, I did in fact send my Deadlands players to fight both the Kite-Eating Tree and the Great Pumpkin. No, I don't really know why.

*Orphaned Scene*
 This is a scene that the players never actually stumbled upon themselves. That sort of thing happens sometimes but I'm including it here on the off chance someone might find it interesting. This was one of the deeper chambers hidden in the church that the players (wisely) decided to leave alone.

Behind a large iron door there is the sound of quiet movement and possibly a voice. The door is locked and quite tough but if it is broken or picked the players can find a large chamber that appears half science lab and half torture chamber.  The room is quite large and the player's lights only illuminate about half of the chamber. A set of heavy iron bars divide the room and the portion behind the bars is in darkness. From this area the sounds of quiet sobbing can be heard. If the PCs approach or call out then they'll hear a whispering female voice asking them to leave, begging them not to wake the others. Should the PCs approach closer their lights will reveal a huge form consisting of several human bodies apparently sewn together to form a single, horrible undead monster. The light will wake it and without it's master to restrain it the monster is more than powerful enough to rip the iron bars from the ground and attack the players. 

In the original Deadlands this was a creature called a 'Glom (a big one, 10 corpses) but in other games it could be some completely original horror.

Monday, July 18, 2011

RPG Chopshop

I'm a relentless collector of role-playing systems and settings. I've got tons of books that I know I will never be able to use but for some reason I keep getting more. This has led to some mad-science experiments in modifying systems, swapping systems and settings and merging different design elements to create super-games.

So I'll be doing some RPG Chopshop posts from time to time to share the results of some of my experiments. The first one involves the video game Costume Quest. I'm a big fan of Double Fine games in general and I loved the hell out of Costume Quest and for some reason I decided I needed to create a set of rules for playing it as a tabletop RPG.

For the core system I'm using PDQ (from the very fine Atomic Sock Monkey Press). The core rules are available for free and it's one of my favorite role-playing systems (in fact I'm working on a couple of full games for that system, I'll post more on those as I make progress). So therefore I present Costume Quest, the Tabletop edition!

Here you go

Thursday, July 14, 2011

An old comic

This is something I just found hanging around my hard drive. Not really sure how old it is or what purpose it was created for. Enjoy!

click to enlarge

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"I Thought of This First" and randomly generated content

If I'm ever feeling creative or come up with a novel idea I can always count on the internet to take me down a peg. With so many ideas and so many creative minds out there it's pretty much inevitable that someone else has not only come up with the same idea but they've probably done it bigger, better or more successfully. I even ran into this issue creating this blog. The 'zombie toast' thing is something based on a doodle I did about six years ago and it's pretty bizarre and random so I figure it'll be distinctive. As I'm setting up the blog I see someone else has taken the zombietoast domain here and a quick Google even shows that there's a website dedicated to crafting zombie-toast figurines. Heck, I'm reading through someone's blog today and I see someone has posted in the comments under the name "Orion" with an avatar icon of a piece of bread and I promptly slam my head on my desk.

The only way to keep from weeping quietly in a corner is to make peace with the fact that eventually someone will come up with that same genius idea you did and you'll probably only find out about it long after the fact. However, rather than go quietly into the dark night of the internet I've chosen to create a repository of my random ideas. These are ideas for inventions, entertainment or other general concepts that I have neither the initiative, skills nor resources to pursue myself. They're simply here so that when those same ideas inevitably show up somewhere else I can always take comfort in knowing that I thought of it first. 

The first entry: an idea for a documentary show "Kings of America". Researchers look into the hundreds of royal lines that have now gone defunct, exiled or otherwise gone extinct. They could trace the lineage of to the most eligible modern descendant (obviously there's no need for them to be in America but I think it's a neat name). Show representatives arrange to meet with them so we can see where the royal line finally ended up. Perhaps even arrange for a sightseeing trip for the "winner" to the country where their ancestors reigned. 

The second part of the post today is from something I ran across reading the gaming blog DnD with porn stars. One of the posts was a challenge: roll a 10 sided dice, consult a chart and use that as the subject of your blog post. I figured why not? 

So...rolled a 9...that means "Google up a random mini, then describe this fellow or lass as an NPC. Give us some hooks for him or her."

Okay...googling...lets look for something past the first page batman won't we go:
Obviously a cleric (especially if you play pathfinder), but let's reinterpret things a bit.

Tasha Gilder (Fighter/Rogue)
Tasha is a brazen robber and tomb-vulture. That golden symbol? That'll fetch a hefty price once she finds the right collector. Tasha's more of a dungeon-delver than a sneak-thief though (focusing on skills with locks and traps over stealth, hence the heavier armor and bright colors) and even takes a perverse delight in snatching loot from people directly rather than clambering through musty tombs herself. So adventurers would be wise to stay on guard when they emerge with their hard earned haul from deep within forgotten crypts. Tasha might be waiting with a band of expendable thugs to snatch your prize for herself.

Image is from:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Some art comparison and the first entry in the gallery of rejection

So I've been drawing Beyond Reality now (off and on obviously) for about 8 years and although the progress with the story has tended to falter I've always enjoyed seeing how my ability to draw has evolved. I know many artists are immensely critical of their own work but for some reason the art style I've cobbled together is one I've always enjoyed. Sure I can see it's full of technical flaws and I know there's lots of room for improvement but I seem to be in the rare position of actually being able to enjoy my own art. Of course that's probably just self-delusion considering I thought most of my first drawings were pretty good. Lets take a look:

Hopefully eight years from now I can look back on my current art and see that I've improved just as much. Anyway, that's the last old art I'll force on anyone here. Which brings me to my second item:

For the last several years most of my energy has been going into finding and keeping a job that can pay the bills and help me knock a few chips out of my student loans. Fortunately I've recently gotten a new position which has not only better pay but more freedom so I'm left with a lot more energy I can devote to my other interests: attaining internet fame and making a living from my writing. Along with restarting Beyond Reality and creating this blog I've resolved to get involved in more events, contests and schemes to help hone my skills and spread myself around. That way I seem less like a crazy person speaking into the cold, endless void of the internet. Yelling into an endless well of advertisements and pornography. 

As part of this I'm creating the Gallery of Rejection showcasing all of my failed attempts and rejected submissions. Please understand this isn't meant to be a place where I gripe about how "I should have won" or complain about those who rejected me. It's the internet and there are thousands and thousands of immensely talented people out there trying to do the same thing, many of them much more talented and deserving of recognition than I am. Rejection is inevitable and I can't deal with it I have no business trying in the first place. Instead this is more of a place where I, and hopefully others, can look back on what I've tried in the past without feeling angsty or discouraged. Some of these entries will be for contests or events with major stakes, others might be nothing more than friendly competitions. In the Gallery, all are equal.

The first item in the Gallery comes from a contest at Piazo publishing called RPG super-star. I entered, along with hundreds of other aspiring RPG writers. The first stage of the competition involves the creation of an original magical item, complete with stats. It's worth noting that as part of the terms of the contest this item does belong to Piazo now. My submission was the Cape of the Night Stalker.

Cape of the Night Stalker
Aura: Moderate Evocation and Transmutation; CL: 11th
Slot: Shoulders; Price: 27,000 gp; Weight: 1 lb.
This lightweight cape is fashioned from pitch-black cloth and has a clasp decorated with obsidian. The cape grants the wearer 60 foot darkvision so long as the cape is worn and also draws upon the power of darkness and shadow to enhance the wearer’s physical and mental abilities. When the wearer is in an area of dim light they receive a +2 enhancement bonus to both Strength and Charisma. In areas of darkness the bonus increases to +4. Treat these as temporary ability bonuses. 
Once per day the wearer may speak a command word that causes the cloak to dissolve into an insubstantial fog of pure shadow. This functions as a deeper darkness spell which radiates from the wearer continually until a second command word is spoken, causing the cape to reform around the wearer’s shoulders. While transformed the cloak ceases to grant any other bonuses to the wearer.
Requirements: Craft Wondrous Items, Deeper Darkness, Darkvision, Bull's Strength, Eagle's Splendor; Cost: 13,500 gp 

There you go, the first of many to come. By the way, if anyone knows of any other interesting writing or art contests, especially those related to webcomics or role-playing games feel free to let me know.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The madness of freedom

When it comes to role-playing games I'm a collector. I accumulate piles and piles of books for different systems and settings and I hold on tight and never let go. Obviously this has led to vast piles of game books that I have never played or run (and sadly I may never get to). The upside is this gives me plenty of options to choose from when I'm looking for games to scratch a specific itch. Is the group looking for straightforward, kick-in-the-door dungeon crawling? I've got a couple of editions of dungeons and dragons to choose from. Do I want high action, risky, pulp-style gameplay? I pull out Savage Worlds. Super-heroes? PDQ's Truth and Justice is the best I've ever played. Epic, over-the-top insane action? I take my Exalted books, throw out all the rules and create a mad hodge-podge abomination out of several systems to try and get the right mix. I'm still working on that.

Sometimes I play games that are more "universal". Games where just about any character concept may be appropriate. I've gone through a few different go-to systems for these sort of games. The first attempt involved GURPS...but that's a horror story I'll save for later. You'll recognize it because the title of the post will probably be "The Worst Game I've Ever Run" and I will write it while weeping. However, I've noticed that no matter what system or setting I use the players will tend to go utterly insane when it comes to character design. I don't mean "I'm a werewolf cop, hanging out with a ninja, a pair of robot twins and a technowizard." I mean characters that look like the combination of a H.R. Giger painting and a random word generator.

Other than the Game That I Will Not Speak Of (yet) my first shot at a universal game was an adaptation of Rifts. For those who don't know Rifts is a futuristic, post-apocalyptic earth setting where magic has returned, portals have opened to pretty much everywhere and the world basically resembles a heavy-metal album cover. This sounds amazing but the system itself is actually terribly antiquated, unbalanced and generally clunky. So, I replace it with the current edition of Big Eyes Small Mouth. A relatively simple (compared to say GURPS) point-based universal system. By no means is BESM an incredible system either but it's faster and simpler than the core system in Rifts while allowing pretty much the same sort of characters.

Looking through the setting there are all sorts of crazy badass character concepts: newborn dragons, giant mech pilots, cyborgs, super-psychics, cyber-knights, etc. etc. However, my players choose not to go with any of those. Instead I get three of the most bizarre characters I've ever played with. The first is Hyako, a timid young man with some fairly impressive empathic and psychic abilities who (when stressed or angry) transforms into an amazonian female swordswoman capable of cutting robots in two with her katana. Next we had a small wizard in tattered robes. Normal so far right? Underneath those robots is a sentient hive mind composed of carnivorous moths that can form into a humanoid shape or break into a swarm to devour enemies like a piranha. Finally there was mega-man. And I'm not kidding. The player created a robot in the shape of a young boy equipped with a built in arm-cannon and a laser sword named Crescendo (keep in mind that the original mega-man characters all had music-themed names. like Rock, Roll, Bass, etc). Also, the 'not-mega-man' robot boy was perhaps the most angsty and emo character I've ever seen.

Another common setting I've seen this is games I've run set in Illuminati University. That's a GURPS setting that features a cross-dimensional university which is attended by wizards, mad scientists, super-humans, demons and other insanity. By this time I wasn't enthusiastic about the GURPS system but I do love the setting. So my standard solution is to use the PDQ super-hero system Truth and Justice to allow just about any character. So what sort of insanity do I end up with. One character is essentially an alien that resembles an animated, telekinetic windchime made from crystals. Another character is a Neko-mancer, a wizard who can perform a variety of magical spells so long as they relate to cats. Another character is a 2-foot tall, one-eyed green alien with a long, prehensile tongue and a stomach that is basically a giant Bag of Holding. Finally there was 8 foot tall, morbidly obese humanoid embodiment of gluttony. Maul had a fair amount of super-human strength that only got stronger the more he ate and ate. He had a giant fanged two smaller mouths where his eyes should be...and a fourth mouth positioned on the back of his head behind his long black hair...which was prehensile and which he used to feed himself continuously from a backpack full of junk food. By the way, Maul was my girlfriend's character.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Getting Started does one start one of these? Just shouting "HELLO INTERNET!" into the wind?


  No, no that was weird. Especially since no-one but me even knows of the existence of this site at the time I'm writing this. Probably shouldn't think too hard on this. Stage fright is bad enough in real life, here on the web the audience consists of hundreds of millions of strangers who may or may not be wearing pants at the moment.

  So, assuming you didn't happen to stumble here through some random Google-trek you probably know me as the author of the webcomic Beyond Reality, which I have recently begun updating after a lengthy hiatus. The comic will be updating in batches at the start of each month. I'll even be doing some tinkering with the archives, redrawing the earlier, uglier pages one by one.

 Look closely and you may spot the subtle differences.

  So, seeing as I'll be posting new comic pages only once a month this blog will let me share my questionable genius with the internet during the long wait in between. Posts may include art I've drawn outside the normal comic, rough sketches for upcoming pages, things I find amusing, and even occasionally getting up on a soapbox (although only in regard to trivial topics that I care far too deeply about).


  No real schedule to the updates here, I'll post whenever I have something amusing and/or interesting I feel like sharing. Probably will be a fair number of posts in the first month or so as I burn through the ideas already puttering around in my head. For the first post lets go with some art. As part of Beyond Reality's newest update I changed the first page in my archive. Here's some larger versions of the art that was included in that first page.

  These were a lot of fun to draw so you may be seeing more insane critters from this mad, apocalyptic future. Finally, here's a bit of a bonus. This is the linework for a comic that was completely forgotten. It would probably have fit in right before the latest batch of updates but by the time I remembered this was something I had drawn it was too late to work it in.