More AD&D Gaming Thoughts from Daniel J. Davis

The episode of Geek Gab that Jeffro Johnson and I were on talking about the implied setting of AD&D has sparked some incredibly thought-provoking posts from author Daniel J. Davis on his Brain Leakage blog.

http://www.brainleakage.com/home/between-appendix-n-and-pink-slime

http://www.brainleakage.com/home/the-implied-apocalypse-of-dungeons-dragons

This is seriously good stuff, and you ought to start paying attention to this guy.

Also, don’t forget, there’s only 5 days left to back Wild Stars, which is also being adapted into a setting for Amazing Adventures 5e!

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From Pulp to the Gaming Table: Running Short Fiction as RPG

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

“The Third Reich has fallen, but one of its chief scientists, a Dr. Karl von Mark, has been on the run. He was tracked down to somewhere in Africa where he left Earth on a rocket ship. A crack team (you guys) has been sent to pursue him in its own craft. The team followed him to the far side of the moon, where another body, a second moon hidden in a synchronous orbit behind the moon we can see, appears to be his destination. As you close in on the Dr’s ship, he fires a weapon at your ship, causing critical damage; you’re forced to make a crash landing in the jungle of the hidden moon.”

In the past, I’ve made the dangerous claim that good short fiction, like the kind you read in the pulps or in Appendix N, poses a threat to a product-driven OSR whose focus has moved away from systems and into settings materials and modules. My reasoning is that a short story is far easier to digest and build a game around than your typical Gazetteer-style setting product with its oodles of townships, kingdoms, persons of personage, blah blah blah. There are many reasons behind this—a big one is that a good short story only contains details that drive the action. A party may never meet or care about Sir Guy of Thistledown Barrow in the Valley of Dalemorrow, Pop: 1513, Econ: 2, Env: Temperate, but if you read a story about Sir Guy wrecking some three-armed monster in the nearby swamp, all you have to do is swap out Sir Guy with your players’ characters, give the monster a stat bloc and you’re good to go!

As I said, though, this was a dangerous claim, and one I needed to see if I could test. My DM wanted to take a break to work on his game; he offered me a chance to fill in with a one-shot, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. When I reviewed Basil Wells’ Raiders of the Second Moon, I included sample stats for the cultists of Uzdon and the attributes of their magic garb. I even showed how the Temple of the Skull could be used as a gateway to the Holmes Skull Mountain megadungeon. I already had the groundwork in place to run Raiders of the Second Moon.

The whole thing only took a few hours prep spread over three days. I showed a lot of my work here, but I didn’t realize until after I’d run it that I had accidentally created a fully functional rules-lite World War II RPG.

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Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius Review

Recently an online friend who knew I enjoyed wargames and weeb shit recommended Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius to me.

It’s an interesting hybrid of Visual Novel waifu game and turn-based tactical. It’s space opera with mechs, except your mech pilots are basically a growing harem.

Funnily enough, the wargame portion of Sunrider is brutally hard. Mechanically, it’s ultra-lite compared to a game like Power Dolls, though it uses the similar combination of action points that are used to move and perform attacks. Each mech has its strengths and weaknesses and utility which will determine how you should use them in your strategy.

Since all missions are in space, with the exception of a mission where sharing a hex with an asteroid reduces your chance of being hit, there’s no effect of the map on strategies. Variances in the missions are more based on when and where enemy reinforcement come from. Early missions with fewer mechs and enemy “bosses” may be a bit more interesting and flexible than the later large fleet battles. The later fights often tend to be “pick a flank, try to crush it, sweep up or down on the other side, then deal with reinforcements as they come.”

The cutscenes of the attacks get old fast, and it would have been nice to be able to disable them more easily; turning on “skip mode” does it, but it can only be toggled in the battle if a character has a line of story dialogue come up during the fight. Still, it’s fun and scratches an itch for turn-based mech space combat.

The Visual Novel portion of the game is a mixed bag. On the face of it, I actually really like the story, but Sunrider uses post-Eva and 21st century waifu tropes for most its characters; I would definitely prefer the “tough dames” of the older real-robot mech genre or at least the mil-sf aesthetic that Power DOLLS went for. But it’s personal taste…

Unfortunately, Sunrider is an episodic game, and Mask of Arcadius only contains the first two episodes. While Liberation Day updates the actual gameplay of the battles in a pretty satisfactory way, it makes the VN aspect of Mask of Arcadius something of a shaggy dog story. [You fill out a questionnaire of your choices when you start LD; which is nice that you can do that, at least, since my End-of-Game save file wouldn’t import correctly].

I’ve found a doc with the under-the-hood effect that your choices make, but they don’t appear to have much bearing on how things actually play out story-wise in Mask of Arcadius. None of the character paths had been set yet, and one character path ends up being fixed for story purposes in Liberation Day [to the groaning of many fans].

Now, because this is a waifu game, it’s only fair that I rank the characters from dumpster to Best Girl.

Claude280px-Claude_character_LD
Claude is a trash tier waifu, who’s “UwU command me captain” shtick is old from the moment it shows up. She’s the worst the game has to offer in this regard, unless you’re really into that sort of thing.

Her utility mech has a few nice features, such as the gravity gun, which is good if you can use it to draw an enemy mech between Asaga and Icari. The deflector shield projection is useful, of course, and the shotgun is helpful to finish off any enemies your better combat units have left near dead, but it’s not enough to make me not hate Claude.

ChigaraChigaramech
The Shinobu. Chigara’s Asaga’s best friend and one of the first pilots you get. She’s supposed to be a brilliant mechanic, and from a gameplay standpoint, this bears out nicely, as she’s the one actually doing the upgrades to your units that you purchase. Except she’s a loli with crippling self-doubt always hoping for validation from the main character, which makes her pretty obnoxious. But miles ahead of Claude.

She’s a forced romance route for story reasons in Liberation Day, which many fans grumble about.

Her mech is a support mech. One of the first mechs you get, its repair capabilities, disable attack, and deflector shield generation make it invaluable.

300px-Cosette_Cosmos

Cosette

Cosette is a yandere loli space pirate.

Toxic chemicals from the mining colony she’s from stunted her growth and, combined with her horrible and traumatic childhood and adolescence, made her completely crazy.

Not my thing at all, but she makes for an interesting villain.

Giving all of the characters numbered flight suits is pretty spoilerific, so I’m assuming you can get Cosette at some point.

[update: you can get Cosette in Liberation Day, but I opted to just kill her instead.]

Asaga
The genki girl. Also, the Mario. Asaga is the first pilot you get along with Chigara. She’s bubbly and funny. She’s a major driver of the story [spoilers: she is actually a runaway space princess]. Like her mech, she could be a lot worse, but she could also be better.

Liberation Day makes her a bit more complex [maybe even somewhat villainous? Dunno, I haven’t finished it.] She literally starts going insane with jealousy over Chigara as the romance-on-rails between Chi and the captain plays out.

Asaga-1

Black Jack is an all-purpose mech. Battleship grade laser cannon, pulse beams, and assault rifle. As more Pact enemies get deflector shields mid-game (or when those damned Pact support mechs show up), Black Jack loses a lot of its punch and gets reduced to drawing fire and trying to pick off nearby targets that have had their armor weakened by stronger units

Sola300px-Sola_portrait
Teh Rei. Not an archetype I generally like, but somehow they make it work here.

She’s found in cryo-stasis in a ghost-fleet and supposedly was a mech pilot for an ancient space empire thousands of years ago.

She’s a royal bastard (literally), whose mother was tragically betrayed and forced into exile by a noble of the imperial court, making her very distantly related to Asaga.

Unfortunately, her mech is kind of boring. The Seraphim’s cannon takes up all [or almost all, if you’ve upgraded it] of the mech’s energy points to use. Still, it’s nice having one reliable big-damage, good accuracy, long range attack per turn.

Icari
IcarimechThe tsundere. Icari’s a mercenary you start out at odds with but who becomes your third pilot. She’s a bit of a ‘by any means necessary’ type, which puts her on your bad side on a fairly difficult early escort mission [by her logic, if a bunch of innocents get killed, it’ll accelerate one faction’s entry into the war and bring about a quicker resolution].

Icari ranks high because I like her design and her mech is actually really fun to use [provided it doesn’t get killed on the first enemy turn]. The Phoenix is a fast close-combat mech with a special ability to avoid attacks of opportunity when moving adjacent to enemy units. Its melee attack can make short work of enemy mechs, and her machine guns are good at finishing off damaged enemies, but the Phoenix has very low armor and is generally poor against ships. Phoenix is good for reducing enemy economy of action on turn one, but has a bad habit of getting shot down. The Phoenix is a big reason why I rank her over Sola.

Ava300px-Ava_portrait
The Sunrider’s first officer and the protagonist’s childhood friend. She’s up there for awhile as Best Girl [at least until Kryska shows up], because she’s one of the few characters who acts like she has some common sense and professionalism.

Her character could easily transplant to a more serious SF story [or maybe it’s just that the bottom ranked characters feel out of place in what actually is a more or less serious SF story].

Kryska barely takes the lead because Ava’s air of professionalism sometimes dips into the mopey as she tries to be the “one sane person” in a crew of obnoxious VN tropes. Spoilers: If I factor in Liberation Day, where she has an eye-patch and Kryska gets turned into a grabass, she may reclaim top-slot.

Kryska
KryskamechI was initially disinclined to like Kryska because it’s made painfully obvious up front that she’s a spy planted by the Alliance to gather data on your ship and your crew. But she has her shit together, is a professional pilot, and her mech shows up really right when you need it. She has kind of a blue-oni/red-oni thing going on with Icari, who gives her crap for being up-tight and unfeminine. Kryska and Ava are in a class of their own, though. [Liberation Day looks like it may play her up as a lesbian stereotype, unfortunately.]

Kryska’s mech is a heavy fire support mech [the Guncannon/Guntank]. At a time where Asaga’s mech is becoming much less effective against everything, it’s nice to have an extra heavy cannon to punch through capital ships’ armor. Downside is that it’s very slow, but that big damage is everything mid-to-late-game.

Overall, Sunrider is pretty niche… I think it really requires the right combination of patient-but-desperate-for-new-content wargamer and weeb to enjoy. Wargamers might find the wargame aspect weak and the VN portion cringey, while VN fans might find the wargame aspect too difficult and frustrating.

More than anything, it made me wish that it was better, either mechanically or aesthetically, but it also made me thankful that someone out there was at least trying. Still, I liked it enough to pick up Liberation Day to see how it all pans out between the Alliance and the PACT.

Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius is free on Steam and Gog.

Wild Stars: B/X D&D Stats for Griefs

Wild Stars is great adventure fodder for your tabletop RPG. So much so that there may be an Amazing Adventure 5e supplement created for it by Troll Lord Games in the not so distant future.

But you guys know me. I’m a B/X person, myself, and so are a lot of our readers. So to whet your appetite for the new 35th Anniversary Edition of Michael Tierney’s Wild Stars, I’ve statted up the three species of Griefs for use in your Moldvay/Cook or [God help your players] your Holmes Basic D&D game!

For when regular dinosaurs aren’t bad enough and you want space dinosaurs, including ones that can use magic items…

[Boxed text is from The Wild Stars Navigational Chart: the Multiversal Guide appendix included in Wild Stars IV: Wild Star Rising.]

Wild Stars 3 Cover Tim Lim Version

Left: One-Eye, the Red Grief about to eat the Space Pirate Queen, Mark Wheatley. Right: Bully Bravo and Tall Trees Wolf attacked by a pack of Saurocats, Timothy Lim

Brown Grief: The largest of the three tyrannosaurid species native to Miri/Magus IV/Akara’s World. Mostly a scavenger because of their hulking size and slow movement, ugly is the word most often used to describe their appearance.
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 20
Move: 60′ (20′)
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 6d6
No. Appearing: 1d2
Save As: Fighter: 10
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: Nil
Alignment: Neutral

 

Red Grief: A pack predator, red griefs are one of the three tyrannosaurid species on Miri/Magus IV/Akara’s World. Standing at the shoulder twice the height of a man, they look like a cross between a tyrannosaurus and a raptor and are only half the size of a brown grief. With a large, rounded blunt horn on the tip of their snout, the heads of red griefs are longer than a brown grief, and they have spinal armor plates all along their backs, tipped with long red needles that from a distance look like a crest of blood red feathers. They employ a pack strategy of noisy interaction amongst themselves, which is intended to make the herds they prey on accustomed to their presence and lower their guard.

Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 10
Move: 150’ (50’)
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 3-18
No. Appearing: 1-7 (2d4-1)
Save As: Fighter: 7
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: Nil
Alignment: Neutral

Red Grief packs of 4 or more will have a “leader”, usually a female. These “queens” are 10HD + 4. When present, the Red Griefs will have Morale 10. If the queen is eliminated, the rest of the pack will have Morale 8.

DireGriefFace

Dire Grief, by Armando Gil from Wild Stars II: Force Majeure

Dire Griefs: These are the smallest of the three types of tyrannosaurid griefs native to Miri/Magus IV/Akara’s World, but by far the most dangerous. Usually solitary, ambush predators, they are unique from the other griefs because of their telepathic skills that are responsible for their other name, Vampire Dragons. They also have the ability of optical camouflage and can hide in plain sight if they wish. After they gained possession of a Marzanti trident, dire griefs also became known as Dragon Kings.

Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 7***
Move: 150’ (50’)
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 3-18
No. Appearing: 1
Save As: Fighter: 7
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: Special*
Alignment: Neutral

Special Abilities: May use Clairvoyance, ESP, Invisibility as at-will abilities.

Dire Griefs surprise on a roll of 1-5 on 1d6.

*:Sometimes Dire Griefs may come into possession of magic items, particularly staffs. If a Dire Grief is in a populated or trafficked area [lair is not all-wilderness adjacent or roads pass through hex], there is 25% chance of the Dire Grief having 1d4 magical items in their lair [at least one will be a staff-type item]. There is an additional 10% chance that the Dire Grief will have the staff in its possession. Dire Griefs are intelligent and able to use magic items with an 80% chance of success.

[These stat entries are unofficial and not directly affiliated with Troll Lord Games, their upcoming Amazing Adventures 5e system, or their upcoming Wild Stars RPG setting supplement for said system.]

Wild Stars Launches Tomorrow + Wild Stars RPG

Tomorrow, we begin taking pre-orders for the Wild Stars IV: Wild Star Rising and the rest of the 35th Anniversary goodies, but I wanted to bring everyone’s attention to this other crowdfund from Chenault & Grey / Troll Lord Games.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/676918054/amazing-adventures-5e-rpg?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=amazing%20adventures

C&G / Troll Lord is a local Little Rock-based publisher, best known for Castles & Crusades. Last year, they also published Michael Tierney’s Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology.

The Amazing Adventures RPG crowdfund on Kickstarter includes a $50,000 stretch goal for a Wild Stars RPG supplement.

While admittedly, 5e does not feel very D&D-like to me, I’ve noted frequently in the past that it would be a good system for super-hero teams. And Wild Stars features all sorts of crazy aliens and monsters and immortal space warriors, so a system like Amazing Adventures could be perfect for it! If you want to see a Wild Stars RPG setting, you have 5 days to back and put them over that $50k stretch-goal.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that our upcoming edition of Wild Stars IV: Wild Star Rising contains an extensive bio-glossary appendix, Wild Stars Navigational Chart: The Multiversal Guide, effectively making this fall release one of the first supplements, valuable to old fans and new.

We’ll be launching our own crowdfund tomorrow morning around 9-10 CST.

Finally, on top of everything else, tomorrow our illustrated edition of Leigh Brackett’s Black Amazon of Mars drops! So if you haven’t pre-ordered it, be sure to do so!

Black Amazon of Mars Front Only

Quick Update on Some News & Things

Lot of stuff going on, and we’ve had so little time to talk about it!

First up, I was recently on a podcast with Mr. E and a couple other folks talking about comics & stuff. Lots of fun. You can listen to it here; mid-way through, though, I was dealing some stuff that came up in meatspace, so I only managed to get in two “controversial opinions”.

This Friday, we’ve got two huge things going on:

Black Amazon of Mars drops, and we’ll be launching our IndieGoGo for Wild Stars.

This saturday, if everything goes according to plan, we’ll be on with Daddy Warpig & Dorrinal for the newest episode of Geek Gab.

Then, on the 6th, we’ll be live on location with Michael Tierney and Shane Stacks for the Shane Plays radio show on 101.1 FM The Answer.

We’ll have more news on that as we’re able to push it live.

On the side, been playing a lot of Ogre with my dad; I got him the Designer Edition for his birthday, and we’ve been getting a lot of use out of it [my dad’s already having us use more boards than scenarios call for and doubling the piece counts and such].

Also, I’ve been playing Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius on the recommendation of a friend. And good lord, that game is brutal for a mech pilot waifus in space tactical VN hybrid. In some ways, it reminds me of Power DOLLS. PD is a better wargame despite all of its issues and clunkiness, and frankly I like its overall aesthetic better, but the cheesy space opera story of Sunrider’s VN is fun [even if the waifus are trash] and does a good enough job of breaking up the incredibly difficult battles. [I’ll note that the difficulty curve between Captain [default 4/6] and Ensign [3/6] is astronomical–what took me days to get to on Captain only took a few hours to replay on Ensign when I restarted; but once I got back to where I’d stalled out on Captain, it’s been slower going even on the lower difficulty].

If I get time, I’ll do a more thorough review of it, with a ranking list of best girls and best mechs.

Short Reviews – Raiders of the Second Moon by Basil Wells (as Gene Ellerman)

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Raiders of the Second Moon by Basil Wells (as Gene Ellerman) appeared in the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories.

Of all the short stories I’ve read over the last year, Raiders of the Second Moon is by far one of my favorites.  I would go so far as to say it’s a perfect sword and planet pulp piece.  In its meagre ten pages, Raiders gives us an alien jungle world, a square-jawed American spaceman turned jungle barbarian, talking ape men, a devastatingly hot jungle huntress, a giant skull temple, blood for the blood god, and a Nazi mad scientist.  Even better, like Fritz Leiber’s Jewels in the Forest, Raiders of the Second Moon could easily be run as a tabletop adventure with just a couple of stat blocks.*

Captain Stephen Dietrich has crash-landed on Sekk, a secret jungle moon hidden in orbit on the far side of the moon we know, in pursuit of the evil Dr. Karl Von Mark.  The crash left Dietrich with amnesia, however.  He became friend to both the human-like Zurans and the ape-like Vasads, to whom he is known as Noork, a corruption of his first words after the crash: New York.

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