Jan 022014
 

The title of this blog – welcome back after the holidays by the way – is a small bit of an introductory paragraph to a game idea I’ve had rattling around in the old noggin for the past couple of weeks. I’ll go into detail about it a bit further down, but for now there’s going to be a bit of a catch up, and some ideas about where the blog’s going.

This was originally going to be a New Year’s Revolutions style of post, as I have a few ideas about things I want to do over the next few months. Sadly though, even though for the next month or so I’m expecting life to return to normal, there’s still a whole lot going on that’s outside of my control. After that I will hopefully be busier than I’ve ever been, and will be playing the whole writing thing by ear.

There’s a couple of things I won’t be doing though. Firstly, I won’t making any promises on when I’ll be posting on here. I’ll be continuing my Orbis RPG game write ups as my weekly post – the game starts again next Tuesday, and I can’t wait – but other than that, I have other things to concentrate on. Because of more important things, I’m also not going be able to review games. It’s not as if I get sent a butt-load of them to begin with, but the time it takes to read the entire rule book, and the struggle to get people together to play it, just makes it unfeasible at present.

One of the things that I will be working on though is my Steampunk robot RPG, Rise of the Automata. It got put on the back burner a few months before the holidays as work was getting crazy and I had other things on my plate too. I never stopped thinking about the game though, and have a few ideas about setting and narration that I want to get down, plus some fun new bits that should allow players to have more of a say in character development and making shiny gadgets.

This is obviously going to be a big project, writing wise, and means that my other cool idea may have to sit gestating a while longer before I get round to fleshing it out. What’s odd is that when I started the blog, I found myself worrying that I would run out of ideas and things to talk about, and was amazed when I would read other people’s blogs and see how they struggled to find the time and mental energy to keep up with everything that they wanted to concentrate on.

And here I find myself without the time to get going on a pretty cool idea. Actually, it’s not so much the lack of time, it’s the fact that I really want to see the Steampunk game finished. I had to put a fairly long term hold on the card game I was working on, simply because of the problems that come along with producing and play testing  game that requires so many physical components. I still lack the finds to create a working prototype and take myself along with it to gaming and Steampunk conventions.

I have a dear friend who has lamented that I have never finished the game as he’s a keen Steampunk creator and really liked it, but life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. An RPG has far fewer necessary components that are required to enjoy it. That’s kind of the reason why I decided to to try and create one, along with having a pretty nifty idea for a base system mechanic, that works really well with a Steampunk setting.

The new game though, I have approached slightly differently. I have no system in mind at all, and only a very vague idea about how the game would work. Depending on how much I want to get it done, it could very well end up being a setting for a modular system like Savage Worlds. I hope not, as designing the system for Rise… has been a damned fine experience.

This game – so far without a name – came about because I have been thinking about running a horror game again. Regular readers will know that I’m a bit of fan of the genre, and I always like to inject a little horror into games I run; so long as it doesn’t detract from the base theme and genre. What I have never done though, although I’m a huge fan, is run something Lovecraftian.

I love the Mythos, but have never been a huge fan of any of the systems. Call of Cthulhu does a good job of handling investigations, but I would prefer a more involved combat system, and Trail of Cthulhu doesn’t appeal at all I’m afraid. Not only that, but I’ve had it my mind for a while now that there’s scope out there for role playing in a world that has seen the investigators to have already lost to the cultists.

In the final month of the year 2013, the rituals were performed, at the right time in the right places. There was nothing that those who worked against the Elder Ones and their minions could do. Strange lights were seen in the skies, and the world awoke to find harbingers of the ancient and unspeakable evils that had lain dormant for so very long.

That was two hundred and thirty-seven years ago, and still the evil has not fully returned to our world. After all, what are mere centuries to beings from beyond time and space? Their cultists stalk to halls of power, sacrifices are made in their honour, fed to the other-worldly  creatures that are said to herald their arrival.

The world hasn’t stood still though, and for most people, their lives continued much as before, but with all permeating dread and fear as constant companions. Technology has marched on, both in the hands of those praying daily for the arrival of the Gods, and also those who use to try and thwart the will of these deluded fools.

The Gods are coming. Can they be stopped?

Sep 162013
 

That line is totally stolen from Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks… but I really liked it as it reminds me of a very simple trick from Unhallowed Metropolis that I have used in the past and that can work in several games. It’s basically a great opportunity for GMs, and something for players to be weary of. In its simplest usage, it works great for any game that has a form of animate dead, be they walkers, shambling corpses, zombies or animates.

550px-Grinning-ZombieA victim goes down in the middle of a combat from what should have been a fatal wound, but is forgotten about in the clean-up. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve declared someone out of the combat due to a severe wound that rendered them immobile but not dead, and then forgotten about them myself. The players do it almost as much. This leaves you with a fairly regular stock of soon to be zombies that will look very familiar to the characters, and will probably stop them from being so blasé about what they leave behind.

This works just as well for BBEGs too, and we don’t have to stretch out memories too far for a great example. Professor Moriarty and Holmes were both seen going down a waterfall together after a fight, but no bodies were ever found. This has given countless writers and film & TV producers all the excuse they needed to write their own stories about the World’s Greatest Detective (sorry Batman).

It would be easy to do this for your own bad guys, but I would advise caution and restraint. If you make the vanishing of the antagonist a little bit too obvious, the players will not rest until they figure out what’s happened. I’ve been a player just as much as I have a GM and I know what we’re like when we have a thread to pull on; the whole damned sweater will unravel before we’re through. As a GM, this kind of thing can be frustrating, especially if it doesn’t lead anywhere and will just involve double the effort on your part for little pay off for the players.

Handle it well though, with a natural seeming disappearance of the body, and hopefully you should be able to have some fun. When it comes to it, my favourite tactic is to have the BBEG seem like he was little more than a capable lieutenant. When he’s dealt with there should be a trail of evidence leading elsewhere, to a bigger badder threat that needs to be dealt with. These days – after a hugely successful caped crusader film (I still love you Batman) – it’s best described as pulling a Ra’s Al Ghul, so you should still be weary of your players spotting this one coming.

Players should also be free to play around this one, again trying hard to not push their luck or be accused of power gaming. If you;re unlucky enough to have a character die, then see if you can arrange it so that none of the other players get a chance to examine the body. Either it gets left behind in a hurry, or vanished from sight in a ruck, and the rest of the group have to flee before something equally bad happens to them. If you have a very generous GM, who has a flair for the dramatic, then you might just be able to turn up, battered and bruised with interesting scars, in a later scene.

If you manage to convince your GM to let this one go, you’d better make the story of your survival pretty darned interesting!

Aug 122013
 

So, anyone want to take a guess as to which movie me and the missus curled up in bed with last night? That’s right, I was on a bit of a nostalgia kick, and Big Trouble in Little China was one of the first movies I ever owned. Roughly working it out, I think in fact I was about 9 years old. One could argue that I was a bit young to be watching this flick, but it I think I turned out OK. Having seen it more times than I could easily recall, there’s always been one line that has stayed with me, and this is the title of the article. Although I’ve spent most of my research time at the moment looking into Japanese things – both for a future post here, and an article over at Stuffer Shack – I decided after watching the film one more time to see just how many hells there are in Chinese mythology.

As with all things involving mythology, there is no correct answer to this question, and a lot of answers that are out there openly contradict each other. If you have enough interest in this subject yourself, there’s plenty of writing out there, and I invite to start with our old friend Wikipedia. Since this is not an academic paper on the subject though, instead being a place that I hope some of you come to for inspiration, I will be dealing in broad brush strokes with a few ideas that come across like they could be useful in a role playing game. If you’ve ever played Feng Shui, you’ll know just what I mean.

The Hell of the Upside down Sinner. In the movie this was an underwater scene with rotting corpses chained upside down beneath the surface. A truly terrifying place to come to after any adventure that required swimming through a tunnel to escape from.

The Hell of being cut to pieces. Since the body cannot die in Hell, this one is all kinds of unpleasant. For the still living an abattoir comes to mind, the floor slick with blood that has yet to make its way to the channels cut into the floor. Discarded digits getting crushed underfoot, and rusty blades hanging from blackened chains.

The Hell of the Razor Cliff. A sheer rock face, seemingly without end. The sinners have no choice but to climb though, and every place they could put there fingers or toes conceals a razor edged blade. It could  be the cliff, it could be a mountain; it could simple be every wall of a an open topped cell that contains your enemies.

The Hell of boiling in Oil. Chambers full of  metal cauldrons, filled to the brim with boiling oil. Sinners in cages that rise and fall in random patterns, submerging them in the oil as they scream in pain. The smell of cracked and burning flesh in here wold be beyond description, only the wailing of the victims outdoing it for shear awfulness. Would you try and help anyone, or just get the hell away before you were dragged into a cage of your own.

The Hell of being fed into relentless machines. The grinder has a beginning, and each soul is fed into it kicking and screaming, but no one has yet found the end. An eternity being spent moving slowly through grinding gears and hammering pistons, the body wrecked beyond mortal endurance but still feeling everything. What mind could conceive of such a contraption, and what is their final goal?

The Hell of the Frozen Sinners. An entire world of ice, where the hatred the sinners feel for themselves has extinguished all the fires of hell, leaving a desolate frozen wasteland. Each Sinner suffers frostbite, with blackened limbs giving way to oozing puss. The closest thing to respite is to throw themselves into the icy lake where there bodies will flash freeze and shatter at the merest touch. Could there be any escape from this place, or have the sinners made it themselves?

The Hell of being torn about by animals. For every sinner in this hell, there lives 50 animals, hungry and angry, red in tooth and claw. The larger beasts run uncontrollably, hooves crushing those unfortunate to have fallen, while horns and antlers rip and rend anyone still on their feet. Snakes and scorpions bite and sting at any exposed flesh, with carrion birds hovering above, looking to peck at anyone to feeble to fight back. 

As I said above, this is just a few examples, of the tens of thousands of hells that exist in Chinese in Buddhist mythology, so please feel free to add your own. There is one very particular place I haven’t mentioned though. All those listed above, act more as a Purgatory for sinners, with the length of time spent in a particular hell the result of the nature and severity of the sin. For the most unforgivable sins there is Avīci. This is a place of continual suffering, and much closer to what westerners might think of as hell eternal. And after all that misery, the least I can do is implore to you to go and check out the inspiration for today’s post, Big trouble in Little China.

May 092013
 

This is my first real post for one of the new menus I’ve fitted to my home page. After this, each time I put something out that has my brand on it, I’ll post about it here, with links so anyone who is interested can quickly and easily find what they’re after. The aim is to put out a two page adventure seed once a week. Sadly that’s not always going to happen, as with this week. A long Bank Holiday weekend with my beautiful girlfriend, needing to put some finishing touches to my card game so it can hopefully get another play test this evening, and working some odd shifts has set me back a couple of days. Hopefully though, normal service will be resumed next week.

For now, I offer a rundown of what is available so far on DriveThruRPG, all crafted at Shortymonster Industries.

System Neutral NPCs. This one pretty much says it all in the title, but the back story is fun, so I’m going to share it with you. When I hit my first big mile stone on the blog, I wanted to thank everyone who had taken the time to head on over and check me out, so I offered to write up one NPC of their choice. Just prose, and based off as little information as they wanted to give. This ranged from “pirate character” to “Star Wars universe trader on a space station”. All of them were fun, and special mention has to go to the father who had me write up his son as a kick ass fighter in a fantasy game. While it is true that you can grab all of these for free by trawling through the comments section on the original post, I just figured that it’d be easier to collate them all together, and correct a few niggling bits of bad grammar and spelling so that they looked good, and package them up for anyone who needed a bunch of ideas in one bundle.

Death at a Funeral. This one has a slightly bigger price tag than all the other stuff, but it took a hell of a lot more work to get it ready. It is a larger adventure, with non player characters sketched out, and even includes maps. And if you’ve been following some of my other posts, you’ll know I suck at maps, and really don’t like drawing them. The adventure is inspired by a tournament game I ran a few years back using the Unhallowed Metropolis system, but since I have no working relationship with the fine folks at Atomic Overmind (yet) a lot of the specifics had to removed, and turned into a generic game of alternate Victorian horror. I think I managed it quite well, and since it has been played about a dozen times in the writing of it, and the tournament, I know the game works. If you fancy the idea of playing Victorian ladies and gentlemen on the hunt for an underground and unknown foe, as you struggle through undead creatures and humanity at its worst, then this might be just what you’re looking for.

The Midnight Priesthood. I can’t actually take 100% credit for this one, as the original idea was a game my girlfriend ran. I liked the basic concept, but thought it would play better in a standard fantasy setting though. The idea itself is of an organisation who effectively take a monthly tax of one child. The settlement it all happens in is happily complicit in this arrangement, and the players take on the role of adventurers knowing nothing of the reasons behind this barbaric practice. There is a reason for the madness, but even the people of the town have no inkling as to the actual dark and terrifying truth.

Murder Incorporated. This one is based on actual historical fact, but massively altered by the addition of some elder gods and Lovecraftian horror. It started with watching an episode of the West Wing, when we discover that one of the main characters’ Father was an hit man for the Jewish mob. I just loved that idea, and it stayed squirreled away just waiting for inspiration to hit. As I started reading more and more Lovecraft, I realised that it was a very good match, and would significantly alter the dynamic of the investigators if they were constantly questioning whether what they were doing was morally acceptable, or even if the methods they were using justified the end result. Possibly the most fun thing to have written so far, but there will be more to follow as I move forward.

Speaking of which, I have two other little bits on the go at present, that should be making a DriveThru appearance in the near future. Another long form adventure, this time in a Cyberpunk world, and a short horror adventure seed set down an old abandoned mine. For regular updates, email subscribe to the blog, or head on over and hit the Facebook ‘Like’ button.

May 012013
 

Until I can get some more play testing done on Excitement and Adventure, there’s not much else I can do with that particular idea. Sadly it’s hard to convince people to take the time and money required to print and cut out an entire card game just so they can offer feedback to a blogger looking to make his first game. So it may surprise some of you to learn that for my next game design project, I’m still trying to get a card game idea off the ground.

The reason for this is simple: it’s the kind of game I love to play, and still massively easier than doing a whole board game that I’d need people to create and test out for me. And the benefit of a card game is that once I have a version of the second iteration that I’m happy with, I can make a proof of concept for a considerably cheaper than a board game. Also, as anyone who has checked out my DriveThruRPG offerings will know, I do not have a flair for graphic design.

undertakeranimateThe new idea is actually taking the basic system for the first card game, and with a few tweaks to fit the setting changes, reinventing it as a more short term combative game of land grabbing. The inspiration for it comes from an RPG campaign I ran a while back about reclaiming lost areas in a post apocalyptic Neo-Victorian England. For people unaware of it, the game took place in the world of Unhallowed Metropolis. In the game I ran the players were outside of London on a specific contract to reclaim a family estate that had been lost to not only a powerful spiritual entity, but also a horde of the undead.

For the card game though, the players would be staying within London, each taking on the role of a private Reclamation firm. The goal would be to travel to the various lost districts of London and destroy the various foul abominations that reside there. These include not only the Animate dead that are the prevalent threat in most ares of the city, but also Ghouls that dwell in the London Below, Vampires that haunt high society at night and nest in rookeries during the day. genetically enhanced super soldiers gone crazy and wolf like are also at large, along with Prometheans and other aberrations that occur when science and the supernatural collide.

The payers will have various tools at their disposal, such as hired goons and the latest in Aethric weaponry, along with spiritual aid in the form of mediums and ghostly containment devices. They will be limited on just how much they can take on any one job, so will need to plan carefully, but what can’t really be taken into account is the other players. They will have cards designed to slow down their opponents, with either random phenomena or targeted attacks when their rivals are at their weakest.

The only problem with this plan is that I will need the permission of  Atomic Overmind to actually make this game in any format other than a freebie fan made affair. Although this would be great for a lot of people, the only way it would work would be for the gamers who want to play it to print off their own cards, and as mentioned above, this is easier said than done. And if Atomic Overmind aren’t in the market for a kick ass card game based on a massively popular property they own – and if they take a look at just how well the Lovecraftian spin off games are doing for Fantasy Flight Games, they really should at least consider it – then I can always design my own world, and try again to get the play testing done and put the game out with DriveThruCards. Which at the moment is the what I expect to do once I have the first game ready to be launched upon the public.

So there you have it, a pitch that isn’t really a pitch, but I would be interested to know what people thought about the basic idea.

Apr 042013
 

Just a little bit of news for all of the blog fans out there. The first of my complete system neutral adventures is now available from DriveThroughRPG. This is considerably later than I would have liked, as it turns out I’m rubbish at maps. Sure, I could have asked for some help, but since I found out yesterday that the store I work for is closing this Christmas eve, I couldn’t really justify offering anyone any money to take that job away from me.

I do owe some thanks though, Namely to the blogger known as Cirsova, who offered some tips and proof reading for me, along with my good friend Mr. White who did similar. I also want to thank a whole bunch of people who helped out by playing the game in the first place. It went from a sprawling 6 week adventure to a seven hour game ran in two halves at the Student nationals, and changed every step of the way. I’m sorry that your characters never got used chaps and chapesses, but I hope you can see where I got the inspiration from.

So, head on over and check it out, and keep heading back as I take a Cyberpunk trip for the next one. Hopefully, I won’t leave you waiting quite so long, as the next one should have less maps…

Mar 262013
 

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopy1-227x300Kobalt Enterprises are hosting this months RPG blog carnival, and I’ve been wracking my brain to think of something suitably epic to qualify. True, there have been some excellent moments in games I’ve been in, and I don’t want any GMs to feel bad for not being the one who got a personal mention. That is why I have made a very self referential decision and decided to show off about one of my moments of epic GMing.

I know this is going to sound big headed, but please, bear with me. As I wrote recently, I was not the easiest gamer to get along with back in the day. I thank all of my current friends for sticking with me as long as they did, giving me the time to grow into the capable and socially aware gamer/GM I am today. The reason than I’m picking a moment of my own GMing for consideration is that it came during this rather bloody awkward phase of my life. I had bought my first full RPG system, the original Deadlands game, and had been running it for a few months with mostly positive results. I then decided to try something a bit different, and if it had gone wrong, it could have been catastrophic. What I did was simple in its way. I invited the players to tell me stories instead of having me tell them one for the night. It was a bit more involved in than that, and if you want the full details, and maybe even to try it out for yourself, then head on over to Stuffer Shack where I wrote about it as part of my weekly column.

It went superbly, and I can’t thank the players enough for joining in. It might seem like quite a bit of extra effort, but trust me, the pay off is worth it. So there you have it, a moment of GMing epicness, and it came from a rather annoying young man who had only just discovered the thrill of being a GM. Take from that hope, all new GMs, that when you have a crazy idea about doing something that seems totally off kilter, it could just end up being something that people still talk about for years to come.

Mar 192013
 

As promised, I’m back at looking at Necropunk, a new Pathfinder setting currently raining money on Kickstarter. As mentioned in my first brief glimpse at the preview material, I’m not actually that bothered about the pathfinder rules set. I’ve had some fun playing D&D 3 and 3.5, so I understand the basics, but I’ve played them with people for whom any deviance from a D20 based traditional fantasy setting is just something that would not even be considered. They were tactical players mostly, and whenever combat broke out, the game slowed to a crawl, with those of us there for the role playing, pretty much being told what we should do in the fight to garner the greatest positive modifier for the whole group.

I’m sure that there’s a lot of people out there who have fun with that play style, but I am not one of them. So there were a few things that I needed to know before I fully jumped on the Necropunk bandwagon, first being how important combat was going to be. Luckily, they have no problem playing things the way I like them. Although they refer to this mainly in terms of full interplanetary war, it’s an attitude that I bring to almost all of my games when the fighting starts; the fear of mutually assured destruction.

Unless you are a god like being of immense power, the last thing you should want – unless mentally unhinged – is to get into a fight. There is no real way to be certain you’ll walk away from it, and odds are that even if you do, you’ll have the scars and lasting injuries as reminders to be more careful in the future. There’s not a game I’ve run (that wasn’t Feng Shui) that hasn’t had this attitude. And after the first fight, I enjoy watching my players come up with great reasons to avoid getting into scrapes. And if they cannot be avoided, they plan so well for any advantage they can get, that they will have a much higher chance of walking away from it intact.

If/when I get the chance the run a game of Necropunk  that’s what I’ll be looking for. All my players will have to know that it isn’t a normal game of Pathfinder, and that instead of rushing into fights to solve problems, they should be seeking a more indirect form of conflict resolution. So far so good then, and then we get to another thing that I’m looking forward to; equipment lists.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, to be sure, but for me, I like the feeling that you should be able to equip your character in a way that fits in with the world, rather than just generic items and weapons. Plus, the more choice available, the less likely you’re going to find players all going for the same load out of weapons and gear, and adding to the personalisation factor of the character creation process.Add this to the aesthetic that they are going for, and I think I’m in for a treat.

Anything with ‘punk’ on the end is my kind of game. I like the low-fi feel the word brings, even if the technology is of such an advanced level as to be almost indistinguishable from magic. So we have huge interstellar space craft, that are actually alive, and will look as such. the weapons and cyberware are all living tissue, and the thought of blades glistening with ichor as they flash through the air sounds great! The images that are available for the way the game will look are still thin on the ground, but the writers do a damned fine job indeed of painting a picture with words. Still, I can’t wait to take a look at what they have to offer.

I’ll be back later with a more in depth look at characters with the next part of the review, but of what you’ve read so far has piqued your interest, you should head over to their Kickstarter page and pony up a bit of dough to help them out.

Mar 122013
 

Once more I am beginning a series of reviews with some thoughts on general feel and concept, as I think this goes a long way towards grabbing attention of people who might not want to delve too deeply into a new system or setting that they don’t know enough about. It’s also a good idea in this case, as the preview pack I’ve been sent for Necropunk is just that; a preview of basic ideas and concepts over about 40 pages.

These 40 pages did impress me though. Right off the bat I was liking what I saw, with attention placed on the kinds of areas that I look for in a game, and taken away from the kind of gaming that has, in the past, stopped me from caring too much about Pathfinder. They waste no time in making sure that the game that will be played is one of intrigue and honour, rather initiative and hack & slash. True, there is still combat involved, and they do spend some time talking about it, but even without their assurances I would look at this setting as one that involved more social challenges than physical.

There are other things I like too. The aesthetic they are going for sounds like it will be right up my alley. I really wish I had some images for you, and as soon as I have anything to share I will. There are a couple of pictures, but I don’t think they yet do justice to the bone-laced science fiction art work that I’m looking forward to feasting my eyes on. The simple fact that this is called anything-punk was enough to get me interested in the visuals. See my Kuro reviews, and general love of all things Steampunk to get proof of that.

The idea of magic and technology being combined/intertwined is far from a new one, but it is still fairly unusual, and I think will add a lot to this setting. the idea of cyberware like technology created by necromancers is just too delightfully twisted for me not to love it. Just the simple phrase ‘Bone Suit’ gives me a total geek-gasm. It is also nice to know, that although the technology and general feel, both lend themselves well to a horror game, that the designers are focused more on the subtle than the shocking.

I’m not too sure how massive interplanetary living space ships built by necromancers could be subtle, but if that doesn’t have your mind just swimming with possibilities, then you may need to seek help.

So far, this has definitely piqued my interest, and I’m looking forward to getting more under the skin of this one. I’ll have a more in depth look at it by the end of the week, and will hopefully be updating you as more refined versions of the rules become available to reviewers. For now though, I will once again direct you to the Kickstarter page, and ask you very nicely to give up a small amount of your hard earned cash to ensure this book makes it onto the shelves.

Mar 062013
 

I saw this the other day, and the image has just stayed with with me. This isn’t going to be a regular feature or anything, but something about just makes me think about adding something that looks this sinister to a role playing game.

demotivation.us_MOST-ANIMALS-GET-FUNNIER-WHEN-YOU-SHAVE-THEM-Not-bears.-Bears-get-even-more-terrifying_136128773390