Saturday, December 24, 2011

Review: A Dirty World

A few months ago, I had a few extra dollars burning a hole in my pocket, and RPG Now's featured product on their front page was Arc Dream Publishing's One Roll Engine game, A Dirty World.

On a lark, I picked it up for the sale price of $10, and I have had a couple of occasions to run it in recent months. While I'm certain there's a print-on-demand version of it, and as with most Arc Dream titles, it could probably be had via Indie Press Revolution, this review will be based on the PDF.

A Dirty World
Author: Greg Stolze
Pages: 70
Mechanic: One Roll Engine
Implied Setting: Noir novels, films, plays.


Bear in mind that I have the PDF, not print version of this book. For all I know, this may be printed on slick glossy paper with a beautiful set of color cover illustrations in the print version. I wouldn't know. The cover of the PDF is black and white, and most of the interior illustrations appear to be black and white photographs of crime scenes, people in period dress, etc. The internal illustrations certainly fit the genre, which is a plus.

The volume is a slim volume, laid out in two-column format, with a simple clean font. Simple, elegant, but not exactly inspired.

I give it a 4 out of 5, mainly on the strength of the illustrations evoking such a specific mood.


A Dirty World has no defined setting. It's effectively a set of rules for running games inspired by film noir, and the novels and stories that inspired film noir. Basically, if you enjoy Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, or the many films (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, etc.) and plays and authors their works have inspired, this is right up your alley.

For those unfamiliar with the basics of noir, they usually center around some form of a detective story. It may involve the recovery of a stolen item, blackmail, adultery, incest (Chinatown is a good example of neo-noir for these purposes), a rape, a murder, or sometimes, a witches brew of any or all of these elements.

What turns what might otherwise be a plain vanilla detective setting into noir is the characters themselves. The heroes are not necessarily the guys in the white hats, and the villains may very well have somewhat compelling motivations for what they've done. Everybody has a secret, everybody has a graveyard full of skeletons in their closet, and by the time the story is over, all of these things will come out, usually to damage our opinion of the hero, and have at least a little empathy (if not sympathy) for the villain.

The implied setting is evoked by a pair of short stories, which effectively begin and end the book. Both are good at evoking the mood of noir. However, I think it would have been a good idea for the book to take a little more time explaining some of the tropes of noir than it did. A Dirty World is likely to leave a novice to film noir wondering exactly what they are supposed to do with the admittedly good rules set.

I score it 3 out of 5.


A Dirty World uses a greatly modified version of Arc Dream's in-house RPG engine, the One Roll Engine, the same base mechanic used in Wild Talents, Godlike (both are supers games), Reign (Sword & Board Fantasy), Nemesis (Survival Horror, and a freebie). Basically, it's a d10 dice pool. You roll so many d10s, and what you are looking for are numbers that match. The one roll engine name comes from the fact that the roll of these dice determines your initiative, attack, and damage, all in one roll.

The speed of your attacks or skill checks is measured by how many dice you roll that have the same number of, while the effectiveness or power of the roll is measured by the number on the matching dice themselves. So a roll of three 2's (3 x 2 in game parlance) will act faster than a roll of two 2's (2 x 2). Still, while it may be faster, that roll of 3 x 2 will not be powerful as a roll of two 8's (2 x 8).

There are a few other factors involved, but that's the essence of the mechanic.

A Dirty World differs from some one-roll engine games in that the player can alter his qualities (think of these as skills from most other games), and other players, as well as NPCs can alter the player's identities (think of these as character attributes) during the course of play, through either social situations or combat. Note that social encounters are resolved in the exact same manner as combat. It is possible to not only beat an opponent to a pulp, but argue her to the point where she becomes a quivering mass of jello bawling her eyes out in the corner without ever laying a hand on her.

The game also gives some pretty good examples of the mechanics in action, and the list of identity/quality pairs to form the dice pool needed to do specific things. The chapter on the mechanics is clearly written, and forms the vast meat of the book.

The mechanics fit the genre so well, it's hard to imagine a better set of rules for running a noir-themed game. As with the rest of the one-roll engine games, the simplicity of the mechanics make it ideal for a one-shot with a new group, or in a convention setting.

I score it 5 out of 5.

Character Generation:

Ironically, this is probably the shorteest chapter in the book, and comes after the mechanics and combat system. It's a point buy system, and an easily done one. Character generation is a snap, the chapter is thorough despite its brevity, and the character generation process so simple that it would take less than 10 minute to get even a total neophyte up to speed with complete character in hand.

5 of 5.

GM Resources:

This section is very slim. Again, if I'm a GM unfamiliar with noir films, plays, and fiction, I just don't have much to go on, as I won't find enough here to make up the difference. One very valuable resource available for a GM stumped for plot ideas, or staring at the clock, realizing she has players arriving in an hour, and hasn't got a clue what to run is the Appendix: One Roll Legal Problems. In essence, this is a very thorough, far more useful than normal, random scenario generator. I've personally used it to run the game I'm running now, as well as one I'm writing for the convention in February.

Still, it's not much to go on for a GM new to the genre.

3 of 5, basically on the strength of the short stories and the Appendix.

Overall Value:

Again, bear in mind that I'm working off the PDF copy. This is a thin volume. Retail price via RPG Now is supposedly $17.95...but I've never seen it priced for more than $10 there since I bought it. For the size of the volume, it's packed with all of the mechanics you'd need to run a film noir is a complete game. That said, I'd be less satisfied with it at $17.95. However, at $10, it's fairly priced.

4 of 5.


There is no game I've encountered that does a better job of capturing the feel of the Noir genre. If it has a downside, it's my sense that a bit more could have been devoted to defining the Noir genre for a green GM (which I am not) without adding too much to the page count. Still, for $10, it's a bargain, particularly when the game's mechanics knock the ball out of the park in terms of capturing the feel of the genre without sacrificing the ease of use that is the hallmark of the One Roll Engine

I give it a 4 of 5 simply for the mechanics, marked down slightly by the limited resources available to a new GM.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What I'm working on...

Have a dinner party scenario to run for the next session of Masks of Nyarlathotep, so I'm detailing a few NPCs to give it some life.

I'm also putting the finishing details on the current chapter of the Star Wars Saga Edition campaign I've been running (I tend to run this campaign in episodic form, short campaigns of 10-15 sessions, and we're close to wrapping one of them up).

I'm currently writing a pulp one-shot for a convention in February. The game will use d20 Modern, mostly because I know it like the back of my hand, and I'm a big fan of Adamant Entertainment's Thrilling Tales line of pulp adventure stuff (also available for Savage Worlds).

The latter game will likely include as many of the following as I can fit in a four hour session: flying boats, hostile natives, dinosaurs, giant ant swarms, quicksand and other natural hazards, a secret Japanese base (and lots of Japanese baddies) and possibly some mutated half-men, half-animals as a result of super-soldier experiment gone awry. About the only pulp cliche I've omitted is Pulp Nazis.

More on the scenario as I develop it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

D&D 4E dying?

OK, let me set some expectations here. This isn't a value judgment. I'm not interested in an OGL 3.5/Pathfinder vs. 4E edition war. When I run D&D, which is not often, I run 3.5. I like Pathfinder, but haven't taken the plunge yet. I've looked at 4E, and while I think it's a dramatic departure from 3.5, I'd suggest it's actually less of a departure than 3.0 was from AD&D2. Still, in my mind, it's a perfectly serviceable, if complex, system for running a Heroic Fantasy RPG. If I were just starting out, I'd probably pick Pathfinder, but I have no strong feelings against 4E.

We all know about the WotC layoffs. I'm not sure that alone they tell me much about where WotC is going, other than we're in tough economic times, and that WotC is going further down the road of a freelance model than they have in the past (and as just about every other RPG publisher already has for some time).

What I'm really surprised by is what I discovered yesterday. To back up a bit, when it comes to print RPG books, I'm a bargain hunter. While I do buy things from an FLGS, for every new print title I buy, I'm liable to buy a lot of PDFs via RPGNow or others (the iPad makes reading a PDF about as easy to deal with, if not easier, than a printed book), and if its an older system, I'll often buy used. To wit, I often will troll the shelves at Bookmans, a great Arizona-based chain of used bookstores that beats Half Price Books all to hell.

Yesterday, I breezed in for a few minutes, not with the idea of purchasing anything specific, but just to see what might have been turned into them in the intervening few weeks since I've been there.

Bookmans has about 16-20' foot of typical bookstore shelving devoted to used RPG books. You can find some great bargains, particularly if you happen to hit it on the right day. I've amassed a solid collection of 3.5 stuff I missed the first time around that way in recent years. The mix of stuff that their shelf traditionally has had in recent ventures can be summed up by a lot of D&D 3.0 stuff, a lot of Old World of Darkness, some old GURPS 3rd Edition stuff, a lot of older White Dwarf and Dragon issues, some really old Champions/Hero System books (all 4th Edition or older), way too much RIFTS stuff, much of which looks like nobody's ever cracked the spine, and a smattering of odds and ends (old Traveller stuff, odds and end sourcebooks for Spycraft, Shadowrun, third party OGL 3.0/3.5 stuff, OCR/RCR Star Wars sourcebooks, even a few of the old d6 Star Wars). That was until yesterday. Typically, the WotC/TSR published D&D stuff takes up about 4 feet of shelf space. In the past, it's been about two-thirds 3.0/3.5 D&D (more 3.0 than 3.5, as the 3.5 stuff tends to fly out about as quick as it comes in), maybe the occasional d20 Modern book (those don't last long either), and about 1/3 older editions of D&D (mostly AD&D 2nd Edition stuff that will probably be there years from now, by the looks of things). I've never seen a Pathfinder book there. Star Wars Saga Edition books wind up there once in a while, but those fly off the shelves pretty quickly as well.

That was, until yesterday. The 3.0/3.5 stuff had shrunk down to about half of what it normally was (not surprising, as I've noticed the stuff getting thinner in recent months already). There was still a sprinkling of 2nd Ed AD&D (that stuff's been slowly selling down, and most of what's left likely won't sell anyway until they cut the price further), and there was an entire shelf of 4th Edition D&D books. Four copies of the Players Handbook. Four copies of the Players Handbook 2. Three copies of the Monster Manual I. Five copies of the Dungeon Masters Guide. A large sprinkling of other books. All of them used, all of them formerly belonging to different people.

I also used to shop a whole lot of Used music stores. There are some great ones in the Phoenix area. Back when I was doing a lot more CD buying back in the 1980's and 1990's (iTunes and Amazon has pretty much killed my desire to do record hunting that way anymore), I noticed a phenomenon I call the Used Record Store Review. It works like this. If a new album from a popular or semi-popular act comes out, and you visit the local Zia Record Exchange a week or two later, only to notice a dozen used copies of the CD or LP sitting in the used racks, you know the general verdict amongst people who bought the CD is that it was terrible. I found it be a lot more reliable indicator of what I might think of a CD I was on the fence about buying than any music critic.

Again, I haven't played 4E, and haven't looked at the game beyond thumbing through it on the shelves of the FLGS. I can't comment and won't try to comment first hand on its qualities or lack thereof. But it's a very bad sign in a used bookstore where getting your hands on a core rulebook of any edition of D&D is challenge (they don't last long), and where I've never seen a Pathfinder book of any stripe, that I can lay my hands on enough used copies of the 4E Players Handbook to outfit my whole gaming group.

My question, to those who have played 4E in the past, is are you still playing it? Are you thinking about giving it up, or have you given it up? If you have given it up, what has pushed you to this point? I'm curious to know if this admittedly anecdotal evidence is backed up by anything more.

Canon Nazis Must Die or Oh My God!, Darth Maul Just Killed Obi Wan!

First, I'll come clean. I'm a Star Wars junkie. I've read and collected virtually all the novels, and some of the Dark Horse comics stuff. I've got the Star Wars films in three different formats. I've been collecting the Clone Wars series on Blu Ray as it has been coming out. I bought the 3 volume Star Wars Encyclopedia at a store closing sale from Borders a few months ago. So I've got a stronger sense of Star Wars canon than any player I've ever had.

Still, I could care less about the continuity of any of that when I'm running a Star Wars RPG session. I see so many GMs who walk on eggs in fear of whether players will be upset with them for messing up canon, or worst still, GMs destroying their own game because they are afraid of destroying canon that I've got to say, take canon, put it in front of the Death Star's laser, and fire the laser on full power.

There are some things players of ANY RPG based on a licensed property, or even just an extensively published original RPG setting (cough. cough. Greyhawk. Eberron. Forgotten Realms. cough. cough.) need to understand if they really want to get the best out of their games.


I'll come clean. I hate playing or running in the canonical Rebellion Era. What makes for a great pulp-space cinematic story in the Original Trilogy (a handful of determined, talented, doggedly loyal to each other friends taking down a Galactic Empire) makes for a terrible RPG setting. A canonical Rebellion Era dooms the PCs to being a B plot. Think about it. Luke destroys Death Star I. Luke becomes the first (and only during the Original Trilogy) new Jedi. Han and Leia lead a group of rebel troopers (and Ewoks) to destroy the shield generator on Endor. Lando and Wedge destroy Death Star II.

None of those characters are PCs. So what do your players get to do? Maybe they get to be Rebel Trooper #111 on Endor. Maybe they are Rebel Pilot 26 in a snowspeeder trying to delay the Imperial invasion of Hoth. Then again, maybe their actions are off-screen entirely. The one time I ran a canonical Rebellion era game, the climax had the players lead a diversionary action elsewhere while Luke, Han, Lando, Leia, Wedge, R2D2, C3PO, Chewbacca, et al. were destroying a Death Star. B plot. Strictly B plot. It was easily the least satisfying campaign I ever ran.

To make your game more satisfying, play fast and loose with canon. Lucasfilm certainly has over the years (mitichlorians, Leia knew then couldn't have known her mother, retconning Obi Wan's knowledge of Luke's father being Vader, various Expanded Universe gaffes). Feel free to have Wedge catch a case of food poisoning the day of the Death Star battle over Endor so a PC can have a chance to save the world. What does it matter? It's not like somebody is going to reshoot Episode VI to make it match what happens in your game.


The other big problem with canon, particularly with a canon heavily developed along a timeline with an overarching metaplot (Star Wars, Dresden Files, Star Trek, anything publishing using the Cortex System) is that the players have a good sense of what is coming. In Star Wars, we even name the various eras in the timeline, and each of them has a very different feel (Rebellion Era, Prequel Era, Dark Times, Old Republic Era, New Jedi Order, etc.).

Even though players may not know the details of your campaign, they do have a pretty good sense of the general feel of the era, particularly if the game adheres to canon. For example, in a Dark Times game, your players go in knowing the Emperor has been triumphant, the Jedi are gone, force-users everywhere are hunted, repression is everywhere (particularly for non-humans), and eventually the seeds of a rebellion will coalesce.

Feel free to mess with the feel of the eras. Let ideas and concepts from other eras bleed into the era you've set their game in at least a bit.

An example of this is the campaign I'm running right now. It's set in the Prequel Era (moving towards the Clone Wars era, but between the first two films). The party is centered around a young Jedi Padawan who becomes a Knight, a young noblewoman who is a distant cousin of Padme Amidala, and a wise cracking Dug pilot/mechanic. In the early stages, younger Jedi just keep disappearing without a trace. The players are employed by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, and so far he's been more than accommodating to every request made, interfering little with their missions once assigned.

Now, the players are beginning to run into all sorts of red lightsaber wielding dark siders? Are they Sith apprentices? Or are they Dark Jedi who defected from the order as part of the disappearing Jedi and stumbled across the wrong sort of knowledge? Is the Rule of Two still operative? Is Chancellor Palpatine really the one-dimensional villain he is made out to be in the movies?

Even though outwardly, the campaign looks an awful lot like the Republic from the Prequel Era, there are just enough oddities to create a sense of cognitive dissonance...a sense that maybe things aren't quite what they seem to be on the surface. Even if running a campaign in an era with a well-established canon and generally planning to adhere to that canon, I encourage GMs to create this sense of not knowing for sure how things are going to work out. Make the tactics of some members of the Rebellion morally questionable from time to time. Let your players run into honorable Imperial officers and soldiers. Create that sense of verisimilitude by changing things up a bit.


There's an unwritten rule that I've always adhered to when designing or running campaigns. Never put an NPC into the game if you aren't prepared to have them killed the first time the players meet them.

A classic example of this was when I ran the WotC campaign for Star Wars Saga Edition, Dawn of Defiance. It's a pretty solid series of linked adventures set during the Dark Times Era. Without giving too much away, the true Big Bad Evil Guy of the campaign is a recurring villain. By the end of the adventure, everything imaginable happens to this character. In the final battle, he basically winds up looking like Darth Vader without the really cool black helmet he's been wounded so much he's lost so many limbs and organs.

That's, of course, if the characters don't kill him outright the first time they encountered him by blowing a boatload of Force Points and Destiny Points. Which happened. In my game. My players were rolling exceptionally well, I rolled exceptionally poorly, and before I knew it, the recurring villain was being skewered on the business end of a lightsaber. Ouch. The campaign pretty much died with him.

My point is that in an RPG, no character should be more precious or sacred than any other, particularly NPCs. It's a slight spoiler here, but a decade old, so I'm going to give it away. Chewbacca's death in Vector Prime (New Jedi Order series of novels) was handled ridiculously by the fans. The unfortunate author, R A Salvatore, received death threats...yeah, that's right, real death threats because he killed off a fictional character in a novel.

Once you got through dealing with the shock though, the story made sense, both from a literary point of view (how do you write a character that doesn't speak in a recognizable language?), and from a dramatic point of view (nothing says "shit just got real" quite like the death of a beloved character). To me, it was written well (he dies saving others), and served to let people know in a way that every previous Star Wars novel had failed to, that the galaxy was dangerous, that the antagonists were utterly ruthless, and that all of a sudden you feared for the rest of the heroes of the story. Whatever you may think of the New Jedi Order series of novels (and opinions are decidedly mixed), that moment, to me, was one of the most dramatic moments of the novels. Mission accomplished.

In the most recent session of my campaign, I killed Padme Amidala. It happened off screen, so the characters learned about it by being contacted by the Chancellor's Office. As a character, she no longer served a story function, she was in the way of making one of my characters the star of the story (See Rule 1 above), and it just felt like the right time. My wife, who plays her cousin, a noble diplomat, actually teared up a bit upon hearing the news (I basically rewrote things to let the bomb on the landing pad seen at the beginning of Episode II actually kill her and the rest of her delegation). Her death served a dramatic function, it increased the sense of danger, and even advanced the campaign's metaplot. The handling of the news, the roleplaying that came out of it, and the story that will come out of it took to the game to a level I've rarely ever achieved running a game, and have never seen playing in a game.


All of this thinking led me to my current campaign, which has been entitled Anakin Takes a Bullet. To understand the thinking behind the campaign, I'm inclined to believe in a blend of the Great Man Theory, combined with a more social evolutionary approach.

To put this in Star Wars terms, Anakin Skywalker and the Emperor were the men, more than any others, who helped to bring down the Republic, but the state of the late Republic (endemic government corruption, rising internal disorder, economic decline, political conflict between the Outer and Inner Worlds, ossification of the Jedi Order) created the conditions under which they were able to destroy it.

I envisioned a multi-generational campaign, where the players would take a few sets of characters through the events of the Rise of the Empire, through the Dark Times, the Rebellion Era, and at least in to the early stages of the New Republic.

My first, and foremost goal was Rule 1, making the players the stars of the story. If you want to make the players the stars of the story during the time period covered by the six films, one of the easiest ways to do this is to remove the A plot, that being the Skywalkers story. How do you do this? The simplest way is to kill the Skywalkers.

In Episode I, during the podrace, there are several scenes in which we see Tusken Raiders, on one part of the course, taking potshots at racers using a slugthrower rifle. In one scene, we see Anakin's racer get grazed by a bullet. This is the point of divergence.

In Anakin Takes a Bullet, this shot instead hits Anakin in the brain. Even if he had a chance to survive the gunshot wound, The resulting trauma injury from the crash of the podracer finishes him. And in a stroke, no Anakin, no Luke, no Leia.

With ObiWan, QuiGon, and Padme now trapped on Tatooine (their ship now the property of Watto), Darth Maul can now deal with them at his leisure. Instead of the lightsaber battle on Naboo, the Sith Lord confronts the Jedi on the streets of Mos Espa. To create this battle, I actually statted up Episode I era versions of the three characters and let them duel it out. Ironically, as happened in the film, Qui Gon dies, but weakens Darth Maul enough that young Obi Wan, with the profligate expenditure of Destiny Points, kills Darth Maul in turn.

Enter the players. Their job is to pick up the paces of the failed mission on Tatooine. After retrieving Padme, Obi Wan, the rest of the group, and the body of Qui Gon Jinn, the group returns to Naboo, and the rest of the story from Episode I (alliance with the Gungans, battle with the Trade Federation Droid Army, destruction of the Droid Control Ship (with one of the PCs firing the shot that destroys it) proceeds from there.

But with this one death, Anakin's, a thousand ripples have spread. The Jedi must keep searching for their Chosen One. The PC Jedi becomes newly promoted Jedi Knight Obi Wan's apprentice instead of Anakin. The PC Noblewoman gets promoted from Handmaiden to diplomat for the Queen of Naboo, Padme. The Chancellor will need to find a new fallen Jedi through which to engineer the fall of the Republic, and other concerns are beginning to crop up. All because of one bullet.


One of the biggest challenges of a game like Star Wars or any other game with an extensively developed setting is selling your players on variations on a theme. I've been very fortunate in that my main RPG group, my family, have played together long enough, that we've developed a rapport, and they know, regardless of how experimental I get, that their characters will be treated fairly, that their characters will experience interesting stories and situations, and that together we'll make it a good game.

For those less fortunate, I encourage you to talk with your players. Seek their views on canon. See if they would be open to such a game. Emphasize that the changes you make are intended to give their players the opportunities to be the stars of the show, rather than a sidekick. And most of all, never let canon get in the way of a good game.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Are You? What the hell happened, man...

Since my last post, the flat panel display on my notebook died (since replaced). I also got sick. And I'm still fighting a very balky router, whose replacement is now on order. Posting anything of length was out of the question, and still is of a sort, which is why the historical gaming series was put on hold.

Still, here's what I've been doing lately, since I've been incommunicado for a few weeks.

What I've been reading:

After finishing A Dance With Dragons (Book Five, of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin), I've been reading the three books of S M Stirling's Nantucket Trilogy. The gist of it is that Nantucket Island, circa 1998, finds itself transported (along with the immediately surrounding waters), dropped back to the Bronze Age. It's an interesting example of what happens when you drop a very small slice of a modern society back into a different epoch, and leads to some very interesting and believable results. Worth the read.

What I've been watching:

Picked up a couple of movies on Blu Ray: The Magnificent Seven, The Adjustment Bureau (a great adaptation of yet another short story by Hollywood's go-to guy for near-future science fiction, Philip K Dick), and I'm ocntinuing to work my way slowly, with the family, through several seasons of Supernatural, Buffy, and X-Files with the family).

What I've been gaming:

Not much with the computer down.

Now that it's back up, I'm working on some more ship designs/conversions for the oft-delayed New Jedi Order Sourcebook for SWSE. I've finished the Shieldship, the Jade Sabre (Mara Jade Skywalker's ship), and the Ralroost (Bothan Assault Cruiser, pretty much saw every battle of the Yuuzhan Vong War).

I'm making preparations (read as reading the 200+ pages of the book) to run the classic campaign for Call of Cthulhu, Masks of Nyarlathotep via Skype once the new router gets up and running.

I'm also continuing to run the Alternate Timeline Star Wars "Anakin Takes a Bullet" campaign (which I promise to post about in length at a later date).

I've also been fiddling around with the Dresden Files RPG, but I'm not ready to run it yet. I scooped up a bunch of Green Ronin's Mythic Vistas Settings for 3.5 and have been reading through them. One of these days I'll get Eternal Rome on the table.

Finally, I'm getting ready to run Arc Dream Publishing's One Roll Engine film noir game, A Dirty World. It has a fascinating game mechanic and I'm rapidly becoming fond of the simplicity of running and teaching the One Roll Engine. Picked it up on RPG Now for $10 a couple of months ago, and can't wait to give it a whirl.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Role Playing History Part I (An Introduction)

When it comes to games, I'm something of a grognard. Oh, I'm not a crotchety old geezer who still insists that RPGs went into a state of decline around the time AD&D 2nd Ed came out. In fact, I don't run any system, outside of Call of Cthulhu, that is older than the last decade. I've tinkered with One Roll Engine (A Dirty World), 3.0/3.5 D&D (including a lot of 3rd Party stuff. I've run d20 Modern, all d20 versions of Star Wars, Savage Worlds, Mutants & Masterminds, FATE (Spirit of the Century/Dresden Files), and World of Darkness/Vampire (more new than old).

I'm meaning that my entry into the hobby, like a lot of gamers in the 1960's and 1970's came from board wargames, not RPGs. My first wargame was Avalon Hill's The Russian Campaign. From there I moved into a lot of games at a time when Avalon Hill and Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI) were still going strong.

My first purchase of an RPG was the Black Box, three Little Black Book Traveller set. I didn't really know what I was getting into when I bought it. I'd heard of, and even played a little D&D, but SciFi was more up my alley at the time. I'd already devoured a lot of Heinlein, Asimov, H Beam Piper, etc., and Traveller was right up that alley. From Traveller, I moved on to AD&D, and then from there into a bit of GURPS, gave up the hobby for a while, moved back into games in the late 1990's, and have basically never left.

But my first love, and fondest memories were of laying out a card table, and playing games of Panzerblitz, Squad Leader, Russian Campaign, and other board wargames, and reading history.

What I'm hoping to do with this series, is point out, from a very amateur historian's point of view, a few settings, and system suggestions for running games based at least loosely on historical topics that I've come to know, and why such a game would be cool. I'll have a post up next time when we discover the ancient world, specifically speaking, RPGs in the Stone Age to early Bronze Age (from the rise of Egypt and Sumeria, circa 4000-3500 BCE up to roughly 1500-1000 BCE).

Feel free to comment out there if there's anything I've missed, or if you have other ideas.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


This is a particularly nasty beast that I developed for the Anakin Takes a Bullet Campaign. I'm still dicey on the CL, but I thought it stretched the boundaries of beast building for SWSE.

Terna, Carnivorous Insect

Description: The Terna is a particularly feared and nasty creature that resides in the grasslands and swamps of Kitos V. It's tiny size belies its great danger. A stealthy, 12 legged creature that resembles an oversized beetle, this medium to dark brown creature lives underground in small burrowed nests during the day, and hunts its prey at night.

Each bite of the Terna implants eggs into its unfortunate victim. These eggs will mature into living Ternae, killing the host in the process. Because of the pervasiveness of these creatures, particularly in unsettled areas of the planet, a treatment has been developed in New Home, while various folk remedies have been developed among the native Qaplans that achieve the same effect.

Terna, Carnivorus Insect
Diminutive Beast 8 CL 10
Init +7; Senses: Darkvision, Perception +15
Defenses: Ref 20 (flat-footed 15), Fort 12, Will 11
HP 52; Threshold 12
Speed: 4 squares
Melee: bite +6 (1d2) or
bite +4 (2d2) w/ rapid strike and
2 claws +6 (1) or
2 claws +4 (2) w/ rapid strike
Fighting Space 1x1; Reach 1 square
Base Attack +6; Grp +12
Special Actions: Egg-Laying, Darkvision
Abilities: Str 10, Dex 21, Con 14, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 7
Feats: Rapid Strike, Skill Training (Stealth), Skill Focus (Perception)
Skills: Initiative +7, Perception +15, Stealth +24

Egg-Laying: The Terna has an unusual means of reproduction. After fertilization, the Terna implants its eggs in a living host through its saliva. When a Terna bites a living being, 1d2 eggs will immediately be injected into the victim's bloodstream. Each egg will make an immediate +10 attack roll vs. the target's Fortitude Defense. Failure means the egg dies in incubation. Success has no immediate effect, other than the egg is successfully implanted.

Each hour after the egg is implanted, the same +10 attack roll vs. Fortitude is made. Failure has no effect. On success, the victim suffers a -1 persistent step on the Condition track. If this step results in the character falling unconscious, the same +10 attack roll vs. Fortitude is made again. If this attack succeeds, the character dies instead, and the egg successfully hatches, giving birth to a new Terna.

Terna eggs can be removed any time before the victim takes their first persistent step down the Condition Track with simple medical treatment (DC 19 Treat Injury check (+5 modifier to the roll if the player possesses the antidote)).

After the egg has forced the victim to take their first step down the Condition Track, the larva is considered too large to be successfully treated with drugs (short of applying a dose that would also kill the patient). A Perform Surgery application of the Treat Injury skill (DC 24) will be required to remove the immature larva. One hour is required (as per the standard rules) to remove one larva, which means that multiple surgeries may be required to completely remove all larvae from the victim.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Qaplan Species

This is the write up on a new species for a Saga adventure I'm writing for the Anakin Takes a Bullet Campaign. The species is modeled a bit after the Aslan species from Traveller, though I've taken a few liberties.

Qaplans (Azerbaijani for panther). Taller, lither than human standard (2m avg height for males, 1.9m for females). Definite feline features. Covered with fur, ranging from tan to dark brown in color (most will be lighter shades. Males have fuller faces.

Culturally, their political organizations are clan-oriented, with shifting alliances being the norm when operating outside of clans. Qaplan wrestle with their more bestial natures. When they fight, the fights tend to be short, sharp and vicious, with no rules of conflict as such, though such fights are normally not to the death (usually decided when one opponent effectively has the other rendered helpless). Outside of combat, they show a forced politeness, which should not be mistaken for kindness (a Qaplan will betray you with a bow and a smile). Qaplans are lither and more agile than humans, but not as worldly wise or self-aware.

Most Qaplans have never been offworld, and have had little to no contact with outsiders. These Qaplans will expect other species to adjust to their cultural norms.

Qaplan Species Traits:
Abilities: +4 Dex, -2 Wis

Medium Size: As medium-sized creatures, Qaplans gain no special benefits, or suffer no penalties, due to size.

Speed: Qaplan base speed is 6 squares.

Primitive: Qaplans do not gain Weapon Proficiency (lightsabers, pistols, rifles, or heavy weapons) as starting feats at first level, even if their class normally grants them.

Conditional Bonus Feat: A Qaplan trained in the Ride skill receives the Skill Focus (Ride) feat for free.

Expert Riders: A Qaplan may choose to reroll any Ride check, but the result of the reroll must be accepted, even if it is worse. In addition, a Qaplan may choose to take 10 on Ride checks, even when distracted or threatened.

Low-Light Vision: Qaplans ignore concealment (but not total concealment) from darkness.

Languages: Qaplan.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What I've Been Doing, Week of June 15, 2011 Edition

What I've Been Playing:
None on the RPG front, though I'm beginning plans to run a Skype Call of Cthulhu game...probably Delta Green, but that's to be determined.

Working to revive a long-dormant Skull & Bones game that started as a one-shot, but will probably become a campaign. Also prepping another Star Wars adventure and possibly a Call of Cthulhu one-shot for the two week vacation coming up.

Still working on A Feast of Crows. I've been doing so much game prep that it's been put on the back burner, though I am about a third of the way through it.

Finished up True Blood, Season 3.
Currently watching Season 2 of Supernatural.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Games I'm Running, Part II: Midnight: Dawn Breaks

I've talked about this one on Facebook from time to time, but I'm running a D&D/OGL 3.5 Campaign using Fantasy Flight Games' excellent Midnight setting.

For those unfamiliar with Midnight, the mythology of the setting posits a dark god, severed from the planar home of the Gods, who falls to Earth (Aryth, in the setting) but in the process, severs the world from the rest of the Gods. This means that the only divine magic on the world is that of the priests (called Legates) of Izrador.

The fallen god, Izrador, then begins to gather the forces of darkness, to enslave the peoples of Aryth so that he can accumulate the power to return to the immaterial planes. His intentions are basically to take the life and magic of Aryth, chug it down, and then toss the world over his shoulder like an empty beer can.

Through the course of millenia, he launched three such invasions. In the first two, he was resisted and thrown back to the frozen North of the world in a desperate and bloody fight by a coalition of elves, dwarves, and humans. The third time, however, in a fight marked by the betrayal of several key allies, Izrador wins. Imagine a Middle Earth where Sauron wins, but only after much of the Fellowship betrays its own races, and you get the idea.

Midnight picks up 100 years later. The human lands have been conquered, subjugated, and humanity enslaved. Minions of Izrador ruthlessly crush opposition. Merely forging a weapon is a capital offense. Magic items are destroyed when found. Arcane magic users are hunted down and executed if too dangerous, reeducated to serve Izrador if still useful. Elves and dwarves are ruthlessly exterminated where found.

Still, some resistance remains. In the West, guarded and buttressed by the enchanted forests of Erethor, the Elves still resist, slowly losing a battle of attrition against the forces of the Dark God. In the East, the dwarves have gone underground, and still resist in places against the orcs and other foul creatures.

In the human lands, restlessness has led some to resist, forming raiding parties, offering passive resistance in the cities and towns, and more active resistance where possible.

This is where the players begin. After recovering an important artifact from dwarven lands, they have linked up with the elves. In the process of the long journey, they come upon a woman who claims to be the widow of a descendant of the last King of Central Erenland. They have escorted her to safety, and in the process, befriended her. It is here that they have begun to gather followers to coalesce into a resistance group in the shadow of the great forest of Erethor.

Against the backdrop of the next great invasion of the Elven lands, they must fight to preserve the forest, and their hard won freedom.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Games I'm Running, Part I: Star Wars Saga Edition, Anakin Takes a Bullet

I was pulled into the Star Wars RPG by the video game Knights of the Old Republic, a wonderful RPG by BioWare. Frankly, I consider it to be the best bit of fiction to hit the Star Wars Universe since The Empire Strikes Back. A strong story, with deep characters, and so replayable that you really don't do the game justice until you play it as both male and female characters, as well as dark and light.

As a result, I got into Wizard of the Coast's (WotC's) d20 Star Wars RPG right about the time of the transition from Original Core Rulebook (OCR, built on a modified version of WotC's D&D 3.0), to the Revised Core Rulebook (RCR, built on a modified version of WotC's D&D 3.5). I ran a lot of games with RCR, but liked when Saga Edition came out even more. It was simple, and the character classes a lot more customizable.

One of the things that has always dogged me about running Star Wars games set in the time period around the six movies is what to do about breaking canon, and what to do about the main characters and villains of the film. There's a wide variety of opinions on the best way to handle canon.

Some GMs quietly herd players away from the big events and characters of the films. As a player, I wouldn't personally find that to be satisfying. Having the players making diversionary raids in another system while Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, Lando and Wedge are blowing up the Second Death Star in orbit around Endor just didn't seem fun to me.

Of course, other GMs will let their players run into movie, novel, comics, and TV series characters, which sometimes will lead to the GM going into shock when the players kill Darth Vader in the First Act...or worst still, giving him an implausible escape rather than let him die in the First Act.

I decided to avoid all these dilemmas, and throw the A-Plot of most of the films out. I thought the way I did it was rather clever. For those of you who remember Episode I: Too Much Jar Jar, not enough Jedi, er, The Phantom Menace, one of the big scenes is Anakin's podrace on Tatooine. There's a great sequence where a group of Tusken Raiders (Sandpeople) are standing on a bluff well above the course, and taking potshots at the racers as they pass the location. One of those shots grazes Anakin's podracer, but he manages to keep it under control...and this is where I blow things up.

In the immediate prologue, I described a sequence to the players where that bullet instead strikes Anakin through the right temple. While the shot might or might not have been fatal with Star Wars Medical Technology, the resulting rather fiery crash when Anakin loses consciousness and control of his vehicle is.

Needless to say, Anakin loses the race (as well as his life), Qui-Gon loses his bet to Watto, and therefore, the group's only means of escaping Tatooine, which now gives Darth Maul plenty of time to hunt down the Jedi there before they can ever return to Naboo. Maul fights a desperate lightsaber battle with Qui-Gon Jinn and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. I actually statted up the characters and ran the battle as a combat. In the simulated combat, pretty much the same thing happens. Maul goes after Jinn, burning hit points, and killing the aging Jedi Master, while Obi-Wan blows a load of Force Points, and takes down Darth Maul.

That's where the players begin. Their job is to rescue Padme Amidala, Obi-Wan, and the rest of the Queen's retinue before the Trade Federation can send a boatload of droids to kill them.

More importantly though, Anakin is dead, which means there will be no more Skywalkers. The Sith are still there. Some of the supporting characters are still there (Obi-Wan is the Master to a young Jedi apprentice that is one of the players). The players can take center stage.

This is the game I've wanted to run, and have been running off and on for a couple of years.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What I've Been Doing, Week of June 8, 2011 Edition

Nothing this week.

Working On:
Picked up some used RPG books for the birthday, most notably Delta Green and Delta Green: Countdown for Call of Cthulhu, as well as a few of Green Ronin's Mythic Vistas line of campaign settings for D&D/OGL 3.5. Needless to say, I've been reading a lot of RPG books.

A Feast For Crows, Book 4 of the A Song of Ice and Fire Trilogy by George R R Martin. I just finished Storm of Swords over the weekend.

True Blood, Season 3, on Blue Ray
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Seasons 1 & 2, on Blu Ray

We've got a road trip coming up, so I'm working on a couple of one-shot games, and am hoping to finish running Super Genius Games' The Doom From Below (a 1920's Call of Cthulhu adventure).

The Obligatory Autobiographical First Post

My story begins with a 1979 trip to the local hobby shop. In those days, in addition to the stuff you might find in one now (HO/N Gauge Trains, models and supplies, craft stuff, etc.) my local one carried board wargames (mostly Avalon Hill and SPI titles...with a little bit of GDW and other stuff thrown in). I was a board wargamer in those days (had been since picking up Avalon Hill's The Russian Campaign at the ripe old age of 12.

I had a little bit of lawnmowing money, and I went ostensibly to purchase another wargame, but stumbled upon the First Edition, Little Black Book Traveller boxed set. Like every other burgeoning 14 year old sci-fi geek, I'd read Asimov, some H Beam Piper, a bit of Poul Anderson, Harry Harrison, Heinlein, Herbert, etc. and so the idea of running SciFi games sounded fun, and on a lark, I bought it.

Yes, I was one of the rare late-70's gamers whose first game WASN'T Dungeons and Dragons, though that deficiency was rectified later that year, when my mom and dad hooked me up with the old red box D&D Basic Set for Christmas, followed by my own purchase of the AD&D Core Books (DMG, PHB, MM (the early version, with the Cthulhu Mythos stats that something of a collector's item these days, since Chaosium got medieval on TSR's a** about including Cthulhu Mythos creatures without permission.

Like everybody else, I recruited some of my high school friends, we rolled up characters, and a ran terrible SciFi games, and fantasy games. Other games I flirted with in the early years included TSR's Gamma World (First Edition), a GDW Age of Musketeers game called "En Garde", SPI's DragonQuest and Universe (I keep meaning to convert the setting from the latter to d20 Modern or maybe Savage Worlds some day), and a lot of First Edition AD&D.

Still, at the end of the day, the game that kept me coming back was Traveller. I collected a lot of Classic Traveller, everything published for the second edition of the game MegaTraveller, Traveller the New Era (which I never played, but did convert a lot of it back to MegaTraveller). I keep meaning to pick up the new Mongoose version, but never have.

The game was grim and gritty, the published setting was strong and intriguing to me, mixing feudal elements with megacorps and space travel in a unique blend. Eventually, in the late 1990's, I was given the opportunity to work on the ill-fated Fourth Edition of the game, writing for the first setting book, Milieu 0, and co-authoring with a variety of folks the new material for the hardcover version of Milieu 0, Psionics Institutes (still the go to source for Traveller Psionics), Pocket Empires (which effectively converted the old Classic Traveller board game Fifth Frontier War into an open ended system that could create a strategic wargame out of any Traveller setting), an Alien volume, and an unpublished Adventure.

That was pretty much me until the 1990s. I'd just about got out of the hobby, until the early part of the last decade, when I began searching for something to play with my own kids. Enter the video game Knights of the Old Republic. Built on a modified version of the first version of the d20 Star Wars system (Original Core Rulebook or OCR), it seemed like a fairly elegant system. Just as I hadn't started with D&D back in the 70's, my first entree into the world of OGL (Open Gaming License) wasn't with D&D either.

I never actually ran OCR, but I did pick up and run RCR, and later Star Wars Saga Edition. From there, I branched into 3.0/3.5 Dungeons and Dragons, d20 Modern, and more broadly into d20. I also scooped up Mutants & Masterminds, Savage Worlds, and most recently, Call of Cthulhu.

These days, I run a D&D 3.5 third-party Setting (Fantasy Flight Games' Midnight setting), a third-party d20 Modern post-apocalyptic setting, Darwin's World (currently on hiatus), a Star Wars Saga Edition variant campaign, along with the occasional Call of Cthulhu and Pulp-era one shot. I'm also working on creating stats for an unofficial Yuuzhan Vong-era Star Wars Saga Edition supplement as I have time and devotion.

I'm married to a loving gamer woman, with two children who also double as my primary gaming group. I may talk about gaming with family some from time to time. I may post character designs, adventure seeds, reviews, etc. as I see fit, as well as After Action Reports, if I see fit.