Reminder that Frogs are Creepy and Spoopy and Turn Bogs into a Nightmare

Was walking my border collie last night by the boglands near the river. It was a horror-show of sounds with cheeps and peeps and under it all, cackling laughter. A menacing “HA HA Ha Ha ha…” from the murky dark behind the trees and tall grasses…

At one point, the trail goes straight into the bogs, and my border collie flipped out, all “nope nope nope, not gonna do it, evil goblins that way, let’s leave!”

Take a listen to some of these frog sounds, particularly the Coastal Plains Leopard Frog.

http://www.herpsofarkansas.com/?n=Frog.HomePage

File this post under “D&D inspiration”.

Maze of Nuromen, Breaking the Speed of Light, and 2020 Advertisements

Maze of Nuromen at Arkansas RPG Con

Over the weekend, I ran the Blueholme introductory module, Maze of Nuromen. It’s called The Necropolis of Nuromen now, but I’m Old SchoolTM.

Michael Thomas of Dreamscape Design was kind enough to not only send us some player guides, he also sent a copy of the updated module [which turned out to be a lot of help]. I made sure to let everyone there know that DD had sponsored the game and gave out the Prentice rulebooks as gifts to my players.

We ran the module DCC style, with each player having 3 characters. I gave everyone a Fighting Man and let them pick two other classes; these two other classes were where their “goals” came from:

  • Elves and Dwarves looking to retrieve the Elven Crown
  • Magic Users looking to find the Book of Power
  • Thieves looking to find the chest of the Master Thief
  • Halflings looking for the body of a long-ago halfling adventurer [which I made Yolo Swaggins from my B/X B4 game]
  • Clerics looking to find and destroy an unholy bible of the ape god

Fighters were hired muscles to act as the “front row”.

This is the first time I haven’t used minis for a Basic game, but this setup made it easy to do things Final Fantasy style–unless there was a “boss” or unique circumstances, fighters get hit, then folks in back as characters go down. Worked out nicely, actually.

My players made surprisingly good progress on it for a con module that lasted roughly 3 and a half hours. If I didn’t have to go run some errands and could’ve stuck around another hour, they might have even finished it.

So quick rundown:

They got into the Maze without any real problems; for some reason, I always forget about the goblins in the first room, so I just handwaived that they’d hidden behind rocks when they heard nearly two-dozen adventurers gathering around the tower entrance. The party crossed the stream and wisely ignored the bottomless pit. Surprisingly, the character they sent to secure the rope across the stream only had dex 7 but he made the check.

Some elves in the main hall told them that they’d seen a boatload of goblins in the dungeon, so they’d been hiding and waiting for a moment to make a run for it.

The party got hit pretty hard with the Harpies’ charm person in the dining hall–the PCs that made their saves managed to pull everyone out, but at least one MU got nabbed and torn to shreds.

They explored the prison corner to little avail [it’s a trolly dead-end with almost no loot and just some encounter bait].

The barracks proved a bit more of a challenge, but some lucky rolls and good choices helped them survive it. A shrieker attracted a gelatinous cube, but they wisely didn’t mess with it–unless you’re determined to get yourself killed by a jelly cube, they’re pretty easy to avoid. The skelies didn’t prove much of a problem, either.

While the party was pretty uninterested in the pantry and kitchen, they smartly guessed that they could use the wax for the candles to plug their ears so they wouldn’t be affected by the harpies’ song. Sated on mageflesh and fairly outnumbered, the harpies were content to leave them be as they skulked out of the dining hall.

A fighter got green slimed near the savage garden, but since he was wearing plate and helmet and it was a VERY SMALL green slime [ended up like 1hp], the fighter took more damage from having it burned off his armor than from the slime itself. The party didn’t poke around the vegetation, and the dwarf kept everyone from tripping up the water features, so fire beetles kept to themselves.

The party raided Nuromen’s apartment, found the keyword to open the door to his lab and made their way there. They messed with EVERYTHING.

At least two characters got blown up by the alchemy lab trap, someone got hurt by the frog, they found Yolo’s stuff, and the trap doors.

With all the magic users dead, no one achieved a “goal” from the Tome of Power, but an elf got permanently infused with Detect Magic. One of the clerics thought the Tome of Power was the evil book they were trying to destroy. It wasn’t, but it unleashed a chain reaction that permanently enchanted their mace with light. If any MUs had been alive, they would’ve lost their mind over it, but elf didn’t really care.

Party dropped down the trapdoor to the temple of the ape god and found the back-way into Nuromen’s ancestral tomb. While the party made pretty short work of the three zombies, Nuromen himself killed 3 party members with Magic Missile and level drains. They managed to drive him off by, of all things, hitting him repeatedly by throwing the silver puppet at him and then dousing him with holy water.

That’s where we called things.

Funny thing, for how many goblins were crawling around the Maze, they never actually encountered any because they never found the room where they were camping out and goblins never came up on the Random Encounter table.

Great part was DMing for old school guys [including Shane Stacks from Shane Plays] who were demanding more blood and more PC death, even saying that it would be great for things to end in a TPK [because Con Game]. It was a blast.

Wild Stars: Breaking the Speed of Light 

This comes via Wild Stars author, Michael Tierney:

When I wrote my first Wild Stars novels back in the 1970s, three of concepts that drive the mechanics the Wild Stars universe challenged the accepted views of our reality. One was that mankind made our first migration into space and colonized planets circling the brightest stars in the night sky some 75,000 years ago. Then, around the year 2000, geneticists cracked the human genome and discovered that the human population crashed to only a few thousand people alive on Earth around 75,000 years ago (the Wild Stars explains where the rest went). The other two were the often mocked concepts of time travel and starships that can travel faster than the speed of light. A couple of weeks ago, this story was released:

https://www.thescienceandspace.com/2019/10/breaking-researchers-at-cern-break.html?fbclid=IwAR1kOX72AAKnHrp_U6wdY86MNRGAOkpMMFSSrRlEjnA9KLKz_sYQcwYT_aQ

Also, Michael’s shared the following tidbit about author sales rankings:

For anyone who ever wondered how the rankings work on Amazon, here is today’s snapshot of my sales in Science Fiction, superimposed with new works released at the time. Amazon recalculates hourly, who what might be an upwards spike in the morning could end up as a rankings dip by the end of the day.

michael's sales rank

2020 Advertising

We’re opening up advertising for 2020 a little bit early so we’ll have enough money to buy stories for next year. John E. Boyle has already claimed the back cover slot for the Spring Issue [#3], but there is plenty of interior space.

Details on ads are here: https://cirsova.wordpress.com/cirsova-magazine/advertising/

Why are we trying to get our hands on as much capital as quickly as possible?

I need at least another $3k monies to buy all of the stuff that we’re wanting buy for 2020 and still be able to replace the ductwork in my house. I’d rather not have to take out a loan; I mean, I’m probably going to have to take out a loan anyway, but I’d rather it only be for a few thou than

ductwork quote.png

 

Maze of Nuromen

This saturday at 1PM, I’ll be running Maze of Nuromen at Arkansas RPG Con.

If you’re in central Arkansas, be sure to register and drop by!

https://tabletop.events/conventions/arkansas-rpg-con

Our good buddy Shane Stacks of Shane Plays will be there hanging out, as will DM Crafty [who makes the most amazing props and sets for his B/X games].

Also, Michael at Dreamscape Designs was so incredibly generous that when he found out we were running Blueholme at a con, he sent us some extra Prentice player guides so there would be plenty to go around!

Sunrider: Liberation Day Review

Okay, I’m finally getting around to my review of Sunrider: Liberation Day!

Sunrider did a weird episodic-gaming thing, where episodes 1 & 2 were included in Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius and then they scraped and rebuilt the entire engine for episode 3.

Some [most] of the changes were justified and for the better, but the shift leaves Mask of Arcadius something of a shaggy dog.

The good: Getting rid of the cutscenes for every attack was great, and makes the tactical portion of the game much more playable.

The change to how command points are handled allows for some interesting strategies and flexibility—something that is needed to make the large fleet battles in this game more varied.

The bad: A total reset on all mech and ship specs and improvements. You’re given a default set of improvements to your Ryders and the Sunrider, so if you heavily favored one unit or one particular strategy in the previous episodes, it might take some work to get back there.

For what the system is doing, it should not be so juddery running on a potato. Mask of Arcadius had some minor hiccups, but not like Liberation Day. And considering that we’re talking more or less Panzer General II level graphic, it’s probably more to do with inefficient code/language [I’ve heard that RenPy has some issues on Windows 10].

Okay, this is not really bad, but the decision to have the game fully voice-acted in Japanese was an odd choice, given that it was originally partially voice-acted in English.

The shocking: It’s mindblowing how little effect the Visual Novel portion of Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius has on… well, anything!

None of the character relationship points or leadership axis point have any effect on Liberation Day beyond one upgrade for Icari’s mech, one optional side mission, and whether or not you have to use the Wishall to get Cossette. Nothing carries over storywise except for how you won the fine battle [Legion Destroyed/Ava has an eyepatch | Legion not Destroyed/Ava doesn’t have an eyepatch]. And Liberation Day’s story is on rails; the branching endings are all in an epilogue that’s divorced from the game itself.

Liberation Day allows you to import the end-game save file from Mask, but it didn’t work, probably because I never finished the “side” [finger quotes] mission where you get the Wishall which creates an import exception. But you can just tell the game what choices you made…

 

While Mask of Arcadius starts out with very small piece counts and eventually ramps up to fleet battles, Liberation Day starts you right out with some pretty big fights that keep getting bigger. You can easily end up with fights where you have ~20 units on your side against a huge enemy force. The light battle cruisers, merc destroyers, and drone fighters not only fill out your ranks, they provide some very particular tactical advantages—the fun is in trying to figure out how to best use all the tools at your disposal to quickly par down any enemy forces and get the economy of action in your favor as quickly as possible.

The abundance of carriers and enemy support mechs is always a first consideration, since they are constantly pushing the economy of action in favor of the enemy. The trick is to use a combination of your command abilities and your normal units to knock these guys out in a way that won’t leave your flagship exposed.

Typical strategy I liked was picking a flank and putting the Sunrider there, offering a strong center with Kryska and some mid-sized ships with some other units holding the far flank—from there, try to crush the enemy flank [a Vanguard blast with requisite warps in and then out, if you can work out the command point numbers just right, can readily handle a large number of capital ships before they can get their first volleys off]. From there, try to push upward or downward, then regroup before enemy reinforcements [there are ALWAYS reinforcements] can get behind your lines.

Overall, I think that the battles in Liberation Day are a bit easier than Mask of Arcadius, but they’re a lot of fun and still pretty rewarding. Even if the VN portion of the game was railroaded until the epilogue, it was still pretty good all around.

Finally, onto the re-ranking of the characters! Spoilers for the playable VN epilogue within:

Chigara

Wow, they managed to make me hate Chigara more than Claude! That took some doing. For story purposes, they railroad the protagonist’s relationship with the Shinobu. So, not only is she kind of a cringy, eye-roll inducing trope, she turns out to be the traitor/villain/sleeper agent hinted at at the end of the first game. Apparently, there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the fandom that the hero was forced to hook up with worst-girl to move the story forward. While I didn’t think she was worst-girl in the original game, she was pretty close, and given that she turns out to be one of the main villains, she firmly and deeply entrenches herself in the worst girl slot.

Cossette

The game at least let me kill Cossette, so for that alone, she ranks above Chigara. I don’t know if she gets any worthwhile development if you don’t kill her, but she doesn’t have an epilogue path.

Kryska

This is a shocking and precipitous fall for Kryska! She becomes more of a background character in Liberation Day, and doesn’t get any characterization beyond being a hammy, dykey lesbian that’s bros with Icari. She doesn’t even feel like the same character from the previous game. One of the best moments in Mask of Arcadius was when she was trying to show the captain the humanitarian work that the Alliance was doing to convince him that even in the most cynical light, the Alliance was doing good and that good was what she personally believed in [then they had to fight their way out of a space pirate ambush]. Kryska gets nothing like that in Liberation Day, and there’s no path for her in the epilogue.

Note: her mech is solid as it ever was and usually the “center tackle” of any formation.

Icari

This is another surprising fall, but like Kryska, she loses out on a lot of development in this game. While she started out as this alluring and mysterious beauty, she ends up falling into the Tsundere trope something bad. To the point of being almost ironic/self-aware. Her mystique gets traded in for a lot of “not like I like you or anything,” and while it’s hinted that someday her depths will be revealed in a sequel, no one is holding their breath. Unlike Kryska, Icari has an epilogue path. It’s pretty “oh no bro”.

Her Phoenix is still probably one of my favorite mechs.

Claude

Claude is rescued from the scrappy heap in this game, not because she’s that much better, but because other girls cratered. Still, making the dumb big-booby ‘let me UwU you!’ character turn out to be Q was certainly an interesting twist.

With far more units with flak guns, her mech’s gravity gun attack is killer.

Ava

I still really like Ava and feel like she deserves better than what she gets [she’s really out of place in the Sunrider universe]. She could’ve held her top slot if she were not so emotionally non-committal in the epilogue. The appeal of a character like Ava is when they eventually open up; she never really does to the point where it would complete her arc, and when she does open up a bit, she close right up again. Maybe the epilogue does her dirty? The regular ending left me feeling a bit better about her than her epilogue ending.

Asaga

Asaga benefits the most after Claude, I think, from the drop-offs of the other characters, but her characterization also improves so it’s not static–she moves up while the others move down. Part of the main storyline is that as the Captain and Chigara go down their romance route, she starts going crazy due to a combination of her jealousy, combat fatigue, and repeated “awakenings” that are fracturing her mind. Her best friend has betrayed her [both in her crazy mind and in the very real sense that she’s a sleeper agent]. Asaga stops being the Genki Girl and becomes a much more complex and conflicted character.

Black Jack stays a workhorse mech, but some upgrades you get make it a bit better against capital ships than it has been in the past. One of the hardest missions is when you have to keep shooting down Black Jack over and over again when Asaga breaks in battle and tries to kill Chigara.

And the winner for best girl is…

Sola

300px-Sola_portraitA surprising dark-horse contender takes the title! Somehow, Sola manages to transcend being “teh Rei.” She’s kind of in the thick of things, with Asaga turning to her while she’s in her descent into madness. She’s the sympathetic and grounded friend who’s putting those around her above her own issues—and she’s got issues, but loyalty isn’t one of them. Her circumstance are probably as crazy or crazier than everyone else around her, but she manages to keep it together and be the one actual constant and reliable person in the crew.

Of all the pairings, Sola and the captain feels “right”. The main game ends with Sola and the captain spending time hunkered down together while the fallout of the Liberation Day Massacre gets sorted out; there’s a hook-up path in the epilogue for Sola, but the epilogue that loops more or less back to the regular game’s ending but with the Captain and Sola having spent a bit more time together and grown a bit closer and now looking forward to spending a month or so together alone in hiding feels like a “canon” ending… a “best” ending.

Why does it feel “right”? While Icari’s a tsundere for the captain, she’s also a tsundere for Kryska, and probably a tsundere for everybody; the characters never establish a real connection for each other. Ava’s the “old flame”, but she uses being “too professional” to mask being non-committal to where she’d only rekindle things with the captain when knowing the universe is going to collapse and there will be no consequences for reliving that romance one more time. Asaga works, too, because yeah, rescuing the princess, but the ending kind of snatches it away with the looming social/political gap between the characters. With Sola, there’s not that conflict of position but there is a shared commitment to those around them—there’s a sympathetic bond between two people who have both, as they say, “seen some shit”. Of all the pairings, this is the one where the writing actually reinforces the idea of a workable bond between two people who love each other, understand each other, and would do anything for the other. Sola feels like a writer-favorite, even if it’s a stealth favorite—she’s not supposed to be OTP, but ends up that way. It doesn’t hurt that most of her competition is terrible.

Like Sola herself, her mech needs some TLC. If you spend enough on the Seraphim to where it can shoot and move in the same turn, or even shoot twice in one turn, it can be a big damage monster. Generally, I keep it middle center, with a few light/medium ships between her and Kryska’s Paladin.

 

Free to Use B/X D&D Character Sheet

There are a lot of good character sheets out there for B/X, and a lot of them are free for private use. But I needed something for potential commercial use, and I didn’t feel like digging through the internet for one that had a commercial use license. So I made one of my own. It’s not all purpose [it’s for fighter/thief only right now], but my gift to the OSR is that it is free for commercial use without permission.

[Character Sheet Template]

Character Sheet Template.png

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!

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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