Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cryptworld Returns with Burial Plots

Cryptworld is the Goblinoid Games' edition of classic Chill, from the late, great Pacesetter games. If you haven't checked it out, you should! It's a slim but complete package, and is the best campy, hammer-horror inspired RPG on the market. You can run it straight (true horror) or you can run a game that leaves you convinced Bella Lugosi himself will come to haunt you along with Christopher Lee and George Romero.

Burial Plots is the third book in the line, and it was just released in both print and PDF. I was initially wondering if this would be worth getting, since I have never had an opportunity to actually run Cryptworld, but on reading the preview and immediately getting engaged with the scenario I realized I not only wanted this book, but I really need to run this game. Given that my group is now hooked on Call of Cthulhu, it may in fact be distinctly possible now to convince them to try Cryptworld out in the near future.....!

Anyway, check it out and if you're in to it, grab a copy. I'm really enjoying reading the PDF and have ordered the print edition.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Starfinder Reviews: Robots of Known Space and Starfarer's Companion

Robots of Known Space 

Produced by Nothing Ventured Games, this PDF is 18 pages containing nineteen robots across a CR 1-19 spread, from the lowly Observation Bot right on up to the terrifying CR 19 Hellreaver Automaton, forged literally in the bloody fires of hell to destroy all level 17-20 PCs in it's path. I'll be using this book quite a bit, as anyone who has picked up the Alien Archive from Paizo will notice that it is woefully short on meaningful robotic foes. The PDF is clean, follows the Starfinder stat block protocol, and has some nice black/white illustrations that get the job done. I look forward to seeing what the author, Paul Stefko, comes up with next for Starfinder. This appears to be the first Starfinder resource from Nothing Ventured Games, and hopefully they make more thematically utility-driven resources in the near future.

Starfarer's Companion

The Starfarer's Guide from Rogue Genius Games is a meaty 253 page compendium (in PDF and POD; I splurged for the print copy) of pretty much the entire rest of the kitchen sink that Starfinder did not include from Pathfinder. If you are looking at Starfinder and wondering how to de-retcon bards, the magus, wizards, paladins, rangers and clerics in to Starfinder, then this book has you covered. Missing any of twenty prior fantasy races (okay, give or take a couple unique aliens) missing from Starfinder? This book has you covered. Think Starfinder needs level 7 to 9 spells? Got it.

There's additional interesting content of wide use, too. New computer rules and equipment, feats, and some rules on companions and mounts with appropriate SF themes make for a rounded package. Seventeen new starships, built with the Rogue Genius Games setting in mind but perfectly useable in your own are also available, which will hold us over nicely until Paizo gets around to doing the Pact Worlds sourcebook with more starship designs in it.

Starfarer's Companion's greatest failing is the issue I griped about earlier: it's a trove of content, but most of it is reintroducing old Pathfinder material for use with Starfinder. This might be very useful to your campaign, but to me it feels like going backwards, not forwards. I want weird, new and most importantly unexpected strange science fantasy stuff; let the aasimar and tieflings rest on Golarion in peace. That said, you definitely get your money's worth with this tome if you need this content. You could probably even adapt some of it to a more conventional game by reskinning the racial options and classes, if you wanted. I can see definite utility in allowing a ranger type in some games, for example. For that matter, the bard class alone might be all you've desired if you ever wanted to play your own version of Ruby Rhod!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Starfinder Third Party Support

There's a fair amount of third party publisher (3PP) support for Starfinder already. It ranges from single-page add ons to large volume content such as the Starfarer's Companion. I haven't grabbed even a fraction of it (yet) but I have snagged a few interesting tid-bits worth mentioning, which I will do so over the next few blog posts.

One thing I think Starfinder 3PP need to steer away from is the low-hanging fruit of "Pathfinderizing Starfinder." Starfinder is set far in any future from the fantasy realm of Pathfinder, and the Starfinder core rules deliberately build from this future universe with new takes on old concepts to distance the SF setting from its high fantasy forebear. Solarians, technomancers and mystics are the new magic users; adding back in all the classic magic classes seems very popular with a lot of the 3PP support, but it's ultimately not really helping Starfinder to grow and become it's own beast. We don't need the witch, the loremaster or the sorcerer in Pathfinder, for example, except for fringe cases where maybe you're going to elevate an existing fantasy campaign from their backwater planet in to the big universe (certainly a good approach to introduce players to the new universe without breaking any comfort zones on character options).

What we need are newer, stranger things that build from the foundation that is set by the core rules. What weird surprises does a universe have in store for a future dominated by the solarians, mystics and technomancers? That's what Starfinder needs to expand on.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Starfinder: The Tomb Ships of the Stygian Expanse

The Legend of the Stygian Expanse and the Tomb Ships

Spacefarers speak of the Stygian Expanse like it is a defined place, but one which no star chart can show you, no drift route takes you to. The Stygian Expanse is, if anything, more of a concept…it’s the place between star systems, the area off the grid, beyond the edge of known space. It is the dark between the stars.

One of the phenomena attributed to the Stygian Expanse are the dreaded tomb ships. These immense, ancient vessels have manifested in human space over the ages, and the earliest recorded encounter with a tomb ship predates the Old Karthan Empire by nearly five thousand years. The tomb ships are usually encountered alone although in 7,791 a dozen tomb ships appeared in the Qualien system, leading to a total quarantine followed by a dedicated glassing of the entire planet by the Karthan Navy. This, unfortunately, is a distinct possibility even with one tomb ship; the arrival of such a vessel can spell almost certain doom for a planet if these horrible ships settle in to orbit.

Tomb ships are ancient vessels, often of different design or origin, and sometimes equipped with FTL drift drive and other times containing no FTL drive, or on rare occasion some other means of FTL travel, usually in the form of unknown alien technology. Many of the recorded tomb ship encounters demonstrate that human or human-like entities must have crewed the ships, while other vessels were clearly alien in origin. The smallest tomb ship recorded was a quarter mile long, and the largest was an amazing thirteen miles in length.

The mystery of the tomb ships is exaggerated by the horror of its inhabitants. All tomb ships are ultimately devoid of life, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t crewed. Some tomb ships are completely empty, containing only a hint of mystery or displaying evidence of some ancient carnage, frozen in space, suggesting the catastrophic final battle of the crew, long ago. These ships aren’t without risk, for all ships contain the necrophage virus, a virulent necrotic reanimating virus that is incredibly difficult to capture and study in any safety. In such dead ships the virus is dormant, or mutated and no longer highly virulent and transmittable.

When the necrophage is active, such tomb ships arrive in system with a horde of reanimated dead. The crew of the ship may or may not be conscious of their own undead state, but those who display consciousness are the most dangerous, capable of scheming to carry out an insane compulsion to destroy or subjugate all life, and to spread the necrophage in their wake. The incident at Qualien was such a situation, with a dozen such ships disgorging an army of millions of undead warriors on the planet.

The Karthan Imperial Research Division (KIRD) has worked closely with the Imperial Navy to find a way to capture and study a tomb ship. They have considered targeting one of the vessels that is moving at STL speeds on its transit between solar systems, out in the void where it is safely removed from living solar systems. The intent is to identify the origin of these ships, and to gain a chance to properly study their construction, crew, and origins as well as the virus itself. So far these efforts have had mixed results and more than one KIRD team has perished in the process.

Despite the difficulty, KIRD teams along with more conventional historical research have identified the following interesting pieces of information about the tomb ships:

Tomb Ship Crews

Most tomb ships tend to carry undead crew that match the dominant species of the worlds they descend upon. A vesk world visited by a tomb ship will contain undead vesk, for example. It is presumed that this means that the ships have a directive to pursue the conversion and/or destruction of the initial species of the necrophage. No one has found a ground zero example to study, however (origin of a tomb ship, and origin of its first choice of species for “crew.”)

Tomb Ship Designs

Tomb ships do not have consistent uniformity of design, but they do reflect the technological and sometimes cultural and architectural norms of the species that inhabit the ship. A tomb ship of undead vesk will look different from a tomb ship of undead humans, for example. All tomb ships seem to integrate the funerary or ritualistic elements of the culture of origin for its crew, however, often with thematic elements of ancient origin. Many tomb ships of human origin seem to glorify interment in sarcophagi, coffins, or actual tombs and crypts, for example; these serve as a maze of architectural anomalies riddled throughout the hull of the ship, writ large as if serving as a monument to the concept of death.

The Necrophage

Most species to date appear to be at risk of infection by the necrophage once exposed. The necrophage appears to have at least three states: an early, highly virulent and transmissible state in which the virus can be exposed through air or touch; a second state in which it is in the infected victim, dormant until the individual dies at which time he or she returns as an undead animated creature; and a third state in which the necrophage transmits to victims of the undead through scratches and bites. Not all undead types recorded so far transmit the necrophage, however, and no link between undead who remain intelligent and free-willed and those who appear to be mindless has been identified as of yet.

Tomb Ship Invasions

Tomb ships move through space, sometimes slower than light, sometimes using obscure and alien warp drives, and sometimes through the drift, though at least one scout vessel which tracked a tomb ship in the drift discovered that the tomb ships appear to enter a region of the drift distinctly different from the more conventional “space lanes” most normal vessels travel through. Indeed, it is suspected that there may be tomb vessels traveling indefinitely in the drift, waiting for centuries or more before dropping out in to a suitable habitable world.

When a tomb ship does target a world, it have a number of unique approaches. Some ships have been recorded to arrive and immediately fire what are known as Cenotaph Clusters, smaller drop-pod like ships carrying anywhere from one to an entire squad of undead invaders. There is no consistency here; the invaders might be armed with heavy weaponry and armor, or they might be unarmed and unarmored, set only to spread the necrophage through their bites and scratches.

Some vessels arrive in-system and take up orbit with no hostile action….until the locals poke their nose in to the ship and decide to board it, thinking they’ve stumbled on a salvage boon. Despite the reputation of these vessels, there are still thousands of systems that have never heard of the danger of tomb ships.

A few tomb ships are especially dangerous, and are equipped with active defenses as well as snub fighters and drop ships, along with devious, free-willed undead who express their intense desire to destroy or subjugate all life. The Qualien incident was headed by one such undead, a lich called Karidais the Eternal, who claimed he was the chosen priest of Death Incarnate. Unfortunately his recorded exchanges provided little detail on his origins, though the fact that he spoke the standard galactic basic of the Old Karthan Empire with just a trace of an unknown accent was telling.

Folklore of the Tomb Ships

Spacers are known to fill in the blanks when they lack information, but a few of the legends, rumors and folklore of the tomb ships tend to get repeated often enough that KIRD investigators have taken that as a sign that there may be more than a grain of truth to some of it.

One of the most famous stories is one in which a famous freighter captain, who name changes from one tale telling to the next, stumbled in to an unknown world on a drift jump failure and found a dead planet with hundreds of tomb ships in orbit around it. He escaped, but not (so the story goes) before seeing dozens of tomb ships leave to chase him. As the story goes, when this mysterious captain appears in your system, telling his story, then the tomb ships will soon arrive.

A scholar and madman named Erintos Pathaer, who is recorded as being a famous astrophysicist and xenocultural researcher back in the pre-empire days, wrote many books on the subject of the tomb ships. He claimed that the source of the tomb ships might be an actual entity from beyond the edge of the galaxy, which creates the necrophage and then utilizes its dark energy to manufacture the ships and send them in to living space specifically to subjugate and destroy entire civilizations. This entity, which he never identified the name of, had decided that it was literally “death, the destroyer or worlds,” and had chosen the necrophage as its tool.

A third popular story is that the necrophage originated with an ancient human empire, one founded at the dawn of the space age nearly eight thousand years ago, and that this lost empire rose to power but was destroyed by its enemies with the necrophage. The unintended side effect was the rise of a powerful undead army seeking to slay all life and make the universe a tomb for all beings. The planet of origin is a cenotaph world somewhere out beyond the galactic rim…or according to some stories just next door….but cloistered away by the ancient tech used by the old empire’s enemies to hide the evidence of what they had wrought on the universe.

Adventures within Tomb Ships

Adventurers who encounter tomb ships may well find one entering some region of inhabited space, perhaps threatening a local colony. The colonists may have few resources, or be located in the Vast, such as the region of the Conarium Expanse, where the hope of Imperial intervention is nonexistent. In these cases their first choice may be to hire expendable mercenaries such as the PCs to see if something can be done about the tomb ship before it becomes too late.

Escaping a tomb ship can be as simple as infiltrating the vessel and finding a way to destroy it before becoming infected to as complex as evacuating an entire colony or station to the safety of another system. If the colony is too large or has grown world-wide then this pay not be a feasible option. Direct confrontation with a tomb ship could be a viable option if it is a lesser ship with few defenses or assault capabilities, but a well-armed tomb ship could be capable of handling its own against an entire flotilla of the Karthan Navy.

Spacers could encounter tomb ships in strange locations or trajectories, too:

Chart I: Appearance of the Tomb Ship (D12)
1 – one tomb ship floating, seemingly powerless, in an asteroid field where belters are active and mining for ore (roll on chart II)
2 – one tomb ship seemingly resting, frozen, at the edge of a star system in the Kuiper Belt region
3 – on tomb ship captured on a slowly decaying orbit near a local gas giant
4 – one tomb ship drifting in a sling-shot effect around a local star, seemingly uninterested in approaching any nearby colonies
5 – one tomb ship moving through the plane of the ecliptic in a strange angle that would seem to suggest it’s heading out of the local galactic area
6 - the tomb ship sets up orbit around the local inhabited world but then proceeds to power down and take no action
7 – the tomb ship appears with a bang, plowing in to a major orbital station or L5 colony and plows in to the station, lodging itself in the process
8 – the tomb ship appears in orbit over the habitable world or in a parallel flight with the local station and immediately attacks using cenotaph drop ships.
9 – 1D3 tomb ships appear in orbit and begin an immediate invasion using shuttles, cenotaph drop ships and fighter craft
10 – A flotilla of 2D8 tomb ships appear! They begin a full scale invasion of the system
11 – a tomb ship appears, unchanging in its trajectory, and appears to be on a dangerous collison course for the nearest inhabited world
12 – a single tomb ship that has crashed on a local world, but which remains mostly intact, has been discovered; it is either buried in a desert, in a frozen sea, or possibly largely exposed on an otherwise dead world

Chart II: Contents of the Tomb Ship (D8)
1-2 – the vessel is empty, but contains the nanophage; only hardsuits will protect from exposure
3-4 – the vessel contains evidence of a massacre, many dead bodies, but no evidence it is infected with the nanophage; 25% chance the bodies in the vessel reanimate after awakening from a deep torpor after 1D6 hours
5-6 – the vessel contains an undead horde, but the horde is small (2D100 undead of various types) and sequestered away in deep holds within the ship
7 – The vessel is fully crewed by thousands of undead, and has a 40% chance that there are one or more free-willed, intelligent undead directing their actions
8 – the vessel is a worst case scenario, packed with an army of the undead, both intelligent and malign as well as mindless infectors and soldiers

Exposure to the Necrophage

Exposure to type I necrophage means that the individual comes in to physical contact with an object on which the necrophage rests (the dust on the ship’s hull, a computer console, etc) or breathes in the air after the dust has been disturbed. Exposure requires an immediate DC 15 Fortitude save which must continue every round until medical treatment can vacuum the contaminated dust out of the individual’s system (if breathed in) or decontaminate his or her skin (if touched, or both). Proper treatment can save the person from conversion to the undead.

One save failure leads to infection and a progression to the Type II virus. The person will now be at risk of spreading the virus and also will turn in to an undead (usually a zombie, but there’s a chance of a ghoul or worse) on death. If the save was critically failed then the person sickens and dies within 1D10 minutes, returning as an undead 1D6 rounds thereafter. While a living person is carrying the type II necrophage anyone who remains present around the infected has a chance per hour of becoming infected as well. If a person spends more than 10 minutes within 15 feet of an infected living they must make a Fortitude save DC 15 or also become a carrier. The moment any carrier dies, they become an undead infected with the Type III necrophage.

Exposure to Type III necrophage means being bitten or scratched by an infected undead or an infected living being with the Type II exposure who is a carrier. As above, a DC 15 Fortitude save can protect against the necrophage, but the target must make 3 successful saves in a row (one per round) to be free of risk, otherwise the necrophage enters the system. In Type III then the effect is more dramatic: the necrophage will convert the infected within 1D6 hours to undead unless the individual is killed, at which time conversion is immediate (1 round after death). Conversion is usually to a zombie or ghoul, at the GM’s discretion. Ghouls are intelligent undead. Individuals with arcane potential are much likelier to convert to more advanced forms of undead, as are more prominent and powerful individuals (of level 5 or higher).

Suggested undead denizens of the tomb ships can include skeletons, zombies, ghouls, mummies, grave knights (armed with suitably powerful solarian technology), liches, wights and even wraiths and vampires. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Grom the Enlightened

From the weird archives...a very odd Pathfinder character. I don't even remember what game this was for, or if he was a PC I was going to run or an NPC I was going to subject the party to...anyway, he might make an interesting guest appearance in a Starfinder game. Hmmm.

Grom the Enlightened
Male Awakened Gorilla  level 4 XP 9,000
STR 19 (+4)                      Alignment neutral
DEX 19 (+4)                     AC 19 (+4 hide mail; +1 natural, +4 Dex) FF 15 Touch 14
CON 20 (+5)                    HP 40                 
INT 15 (+2)                      Speed 30           HD 4D8+16
WIS 15 (+2)                     BAB +4   Melee +8 Ranged +8
CHA 8 (-1)                       
SAVESFortitude +9, Reflexes +8, Will +3

Racial Cass Abilities: 2 slams, scent, lowlight vision, dark vision 60 feet, acrobatic and climb racial bonuses

Skills: acrobatics +13, climb +19, perception +9, stealth +11

Languages: common,

Feats: power attack, simple weapon proficiency, martial weapon proficiency, medium armor proficiency

Armor:  Hide armor (+4 AP, +4 max dex)
Weapon: 2 slams (1D4+4 damage, attack +8, crit 20/X2)
Greatclub (1D10+4 damage, Attack +8, 20/X2 crit)
6 bolas (1D4+4 nonlethal damage, Attack +8, Crit 20/X2, range inc. 10 ft)

Equipment: satchel, belt, loincloth

Grom escaped from a mad wizard’s tower and has been slowly discovering his dramatically enhanced abilities ever since. Grom understands common, though he is unable to speak it with any clarity. He learned a simple form of sign language that the wizard taught him, mixed with a few symbols from thieves' cant that a thief whom the wizard had imprisoned also taught him (before the thief was transformed by the wizard). 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Starfinder Campaign Ideas Take 3: Exploring the Conarium Expanse (An expansion on the universe of Enzada)

As I continue to toy around with Starfinder I have worked out one more "starting point" for a setting. This one specifically does not require reinventing anything currently in the game, presumes that somewhere in the galaxy are the Pact Worlds, and keeps everything suitably ambiguous....there's not a lot of assumptions about this universe at this point outside of the basic outline below.

Exploring the Conarium Expanse

Premise: Current year is 8,850 years since the dawn of the era of spacetravel, roughly, but usually called the year 3,200 of the Old Karthan Empire. The Old Karthan Empire could be considered a region of space in the unexplored frontier far from the Pact Worlds (so typically base travel to this region is at least 5D6 days).

The Conarium Expanse

The Conarium Expanse is a region of space in the Frontier of the Galactic Rim (the Vast in Pact Worlds terms). Its dominant human controlled system is the Enkannu system, which was the first colonized world in this expanse.

The Conarium Expanse was first found by human scouts and settlers approximately 1,100 years ago, but little headway was made due to the dangerous nature of local uncharted space and hostile local species. Enkannu is the heart of the human center of trade and commerce, providing a support network to roughly one hundred colonies, but the expanse has over three thousand unexplored or contested worlds.

Rumor is that those who dwell too long in the Conarium Expanse develop a form of enlightenment, a “third eye,” followed by a revelation of madness. This is where the name comes from. In truth, few regard this as a risk, but claim that the closer you get to the center of the expanse, dominated by a dense cluster of suns claimed by the Dominion, the likelier you are to “go strange” while traveling in the Drift.

Long cut off from the rest of humanity save for some treacherous trade routes, few have adopted the old ways of worship. Other gods rose to prominent belief in the Conarium Expanse, and include Pegara, the old goddess of luck who was worshipped by the first explorers in the region. There is also Samathros, the god of well being, Tythor who is the god of conflict and Deremondre, the goddess of technomagic. Kayhindrel, an obscure nonhuman deity of travelers has long been adopted in this region as well. Golgothra, the Ysoki deity of wealth and abundance, is also incidentally popular among those seeking wealth.

Stories exist of even older, darker alien gods. There are five old Star Gods as well that are said to exist in the void beyond the Outer Rim, but are believed to have long ago destroyed the forgotten cradle of human civilization once called Enzada.

The Old Karthan Empire and the Orion Expanse

The Old Karthan Empire is located in the Orion Expanse, which is located some distance away. Between Conarium Expanse and the Orion Expanse is the Serpentine Nebula in the Ophidian Expanse. Here lie the star kingdoms of the Vesk, who conquered this region thirteen centuries ago, splitting the Karthan Empire in half. The part that is located in the Galactic Rim includes the Conarium Expanse.

The Drift, the mechanism of star travel is considered semi-divine, and the nature of technomancy and the solarians is a given. The origins of these powers is lost to time, but many religions and strange beliefs have risen on dozens of worlds as a result. The most noteworthy is the Church of the Techno Union, which is the official religion of the Old Karthan Empire. The Techno Union espouses the belief in the First Sun, which they consider a monotheistic deity of creation, and believe the source of all magic and power in the universe.

The Old Karthan Empire is called such because after the sundering by the Vesk, dozens of smaller regional powers grew up in single worlds, systems and clusters. Only the Conarium Expanse lacks any true central authority, due primarily to the threat of the Outer Rim races such as the Drow and the elder beings called the Deh Nohlo of the Dominion. The existence of the Nether is also strong in this region, with light-year long nebulae bleeding the abyssal nether into realspace from the Drift. Periodically an empowered noble of the Karthan Empire seeks to gain power and prestige by finding a new, safer passage to the Outer Rim and to then conquer the colonials in the region.

One such noble, Duke Kalas Atrophion has recently established a beachhead on Sorovas, the closest world in the Karapath Expanse edgeward along the Conarium Expanse. There he is now exploring the uncontrolled region to seek control, even as his private army conquers the local planets of the Karapath Expanse in the name of the empire. His eyes are set on Conarium Expanse though, and it is believed that he thinks there is hidden power there kept by the Dominion which he seeks for himself.


Some core conceits of this setting:

1. "standard" or classic fantasy race options exist, but are not really indigenous to any region discussed (Old Karthan Empire or Conarium Expanse). So they can be viable PCs but I won't have to worry about imagining ancient galactic star empires of elves, which seems to be the trigger for my anachronistic meltdowns. In fact in this universe I kind of like the idea that elves may only come from the Pact Worlds, or be a relic race that doesn't take well to technology and space so are exceedingly rare as a result. Only drow seem to thrive.

2. The Conarium Expanse is the "frontier of the frontier" and seems like a good way to put the PCs in a SF/fantasy setting with lots of potential for limited tech resources and difficulty escaping to safe planets in a pinch.

3. I'm fully embracing the idea that there are ancient star gods. I am implying this is the same galaxy that Enzada exists in, which is fine with me because A: Enzada was built from ground up to be a Pathfinder campaign originally, and B: the underyling plots of that fantasy setting strongly imply that it's been meddled with by ancient aliens, star gods and a supreme AI who is responsible for the creation of most deities. It allows for possible cross-over with a campaign setting that embraced the underlying fantasy/sci fi principles behind Pathfinder and now Starfinder, so requires no shoe-horning.

4. Why are Deh Nohlo fully statted out in Starfinder but Neh-Thagglu are only referenced? I love the brain collectors and need to convert them ASAP!

Anyway, I'm planning the next game for Starfinder to happen soon. I am also starting a "family night" of gaming using Starfinder. It will help my wife and I teach our son how to game in a tight group with the infinite patience of parents...heh....

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Music - Three Albums To Listen To - Dead Planet by Eat Static, Balle by Yullipe, and Tamoanchan by El Buho

One thing I want to do with this blog in 2018 is to explode it a bit. I can only write about games so much, but I also happen to love music, archaeology, astronomy and other stuff such as good books. I won't ever dive into politics -the blog is my happy space!- but I'd love to write about these other interests more, and how they might also bend around gaming. Music, for example, is excellent for background noise during games. Indeed, I used to do this more often on the blog a few years ago....

I'm a huge fan of Bandcamp, which is a fantastic resource for finding and supporting a bewildering variety of musicians on the world scene. Over the last couple years I've discovered some really incredible gems at Bandcamp, and thought I'd share them with you.

Fair warning: I love music, but I'm eclectic in my tastes and I'm not much of a critic, so if you want to read the almost poetic and nuanced reviews of music available elsewhere....well, head on over to elsewhere and get that! I'll just be using my plain language attempt to convey what is so cool about this stuff, while linking you to it since listening to the actual music at Bandcamp is so easy, anyway.

First up, the album I love the most and have listened to almost more than anything in the last two years or so...

Dead Planet by Eat Static:

The science fiction thematics, the electronic conveyance of lost worlds and strange stars, the general sense of the otherworldly are all embedded deep in this music.

Next up is Tamoanchan by El Buho.  his is a deep, modern take on traditional Mesoamerican themes, mixed with modern dark tones and content. It's very resonant and excellent mood music.

For something especially different and haunting try Balle by Yullipe, a Japanese artist who marks industrial music such as Nine Inch Nails as well as 90's Japanese theatrical bands (which feel a bit to me like the Japanese version of grunge from that time) as her influence....but listen to her work, it's singularly unique and haunting. An interesting article is here about her and the Japanese music scene, along with the problems of public dance spots in Japan.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Death Bat's Gaming Predictions for 2018

So, I guess I'd be remiss if I didn't make some predictions for 2018, so here they are:

1. Kult: Divinity Lost will finally come out (in PDF, at least)

It may not happen until December, but Helmgast may indeed have something "final" in time for 2018 release. This was a Kickstarter I almost backed, but thanks to my risk-aversion I refrained from actually getting involved (dodged another bullet there). Modiphius is set up to be the publisher for whenever this does arrive, and I did pre-order the PDF for when it's released on a sale for $5, so with any luck we'll see this in some form in 2018. I'm not betting on it, even though I am predicting it!

2. Still no Pathfinder 2.0 in 2018

This is reverse psychology vs. the universe (and Paizo). No Pathfinder 2.0 beta test will be announced or even hinted at in 2018! Nope, not at all. Nothing to see here.

3. Melee, Wizard and/or The Fantasy Trip will Kickstart in a Big Way

Steve Jackson has the rights back to his work on the Melee/Wizard and Into the Labyrinth portions of the original Metagaming RPG which was the precursor to GURPS. Indeed, GURPS exists because back in the day they wouldn't sell it to him for less than a million dollars and now that they are long gone he's patiently been able to win creator rights back to his works. Steve has already suggested a new release with a Kickstarter for a high quality deluxe set of Melee is a possibility, so I expect we'll see that announced and Kickstarted in 2018, with a 2019 release. This one seems like a no-brainer. With any luck we won't have to wait that long for a more generalized "no frills" release....i.e a Melee/Wizard boxed set ala the Car Wars re-release SJG did, for example.

4. A New Marvel RPG will be announced

After Margaret Weis Studios lost the rights to this it's been in limbo, but I will go out on a limb and predict that some large entity (WotC or FFG, for example...or Modiphius) announce the rights to produce a new Marvel Superheroes RPG, possibly with tie-in or visuals to the films. Long shot, but hey....let's have some fun in the predictions here.

On the video game side Marvel is, in fact, working on a new Action RPGs after they released their contract with the makers of Marvel Heroes Omega; which was a good game, at a certain point, but I understand that the publishers/devs were a problem for Marvel to work with for many reasons, and the game lost a lot of fan support after it changed the name to Marvel Heroes Omega.

5. Wizards of the Coast Ramps up Production to Four Books; and Eberron Returns

Right now WotC seems to be releasing two adventure tomes and one rules tome of some sort, and have done so for the last couple years. I predict this year they will add a fourth tome in the form of a setting book which will then tie in to at least one of the adventure books. My bet is on Eberron.

6. Not Gaming, but I Predict The Movie Apocalypse Will Actually Happen in 2018

This video talks about the issue from back in 2016, but points out that Hollywood blockbusters in 2018 will reach and exceed a saturation point. I am inclined to agree, and I think shades of this are evident in 2017's robust and excessive blockbuster release schedule. Hell, I skipped quite a few movies I would otherwise have seen simply because I only have so much free time and cash to actually catch films...and so many I would otherwise have seen had to get repurposed as "wait for Netflix releases" as a result. Anyway, I really do expect 2018 to pan out much as the video suggests, with a lot of Hollywood studios suffering due to the massive over-saturation of the market as a result. Only Disney is likely to weather the storm.

On the plus side, the tendency for theaters today to adopt luxury pre-assigned seating in theaters is a nice trend which makes me more willing to see movies with the comfort of knowing I don't have to wait in lines, so there is that! But I don't think this will save them from financial doom.

7. Video Games will Aim for Different Monetization Schemes in the Wake of EA's Loot Crate Controversy

This year is almost certainly going to see Triple-A publishers try to figure out how to avoid the controversy that EA experienced from the Star Wars: Battlefront II loot crate backlash. I will be wrong here, of course, if all of the controversy is media-driven but behind the scenes gamers continue to happily buy the loot crates, so we'll see....but I genuinely think the crowd has changed on this, and people are tired of seeing content that used to be part of the base-price being hidden behind randomized gambling-like purchases now. Bungie has been criticized for doing this in Destiny 2 (you can ignore the loot crates, but means being forever a guardian wearing dirty browns and greys), and even single player titles like Middle Earth: Shadows of War have been blasted (maybe with less vitriole, though). And of course Actiblizzard is considered the modern trend setter and devil for its Overwatch crates.

Anyway, my expectation is many Triple-A producers will either resort to the safer season pass/DLC packs which gamers seem mostly okay with, or refine the loot crate process to keep it focused on cosmetics.....but really, people still hate this, and it will only go away if that hate transcends internet opinionism and turns in to actual "speaking with my dollars" by not buying. And I have a hard time believing gamers can actually restrain themselves.

8. Still no Fantasy AGE Companion in 2018

I think Green Ronin's interests lie in other directions. I predict we'll see a revised Core rulebook before we see a Companion. We might see a Titansgrave sourcebook, though.

9. Runequest will release

Safe bet here, as it really should. I predict it will be a very cool system, people like me will continue to bitch that it is no longer generic, and we will still have to wait for 2019 or later to see what the new "powered by BRP" systems look like. Alas, Chaosium is just not on board with a good core "all in one" tome anymore.

10. Genesys Core has Legs and Will Grow...A Lot

I really think this system has a lot of potential, and it's clear and explanatory enough to get most gamers over the hump of strange dice. FFG seems to be very reliable on producing new content, and the general buzz out there is extremely positive, so I predict we'll see a lot of product love for Genesys in 2018.

11. Starfinder Will be Make or Break in 2018

People are all over the place on this, with a lot loving it, many being so-so or having issues (such as me) and a few regretting it. The Pact Worlds book will be out in 2018 for sure, and if sales continue briskly for the game, Paizo will announce at least one more hardcover and the start of a second adventure path next year.

Okay, that ought to do it for now!

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year from Camazotz in the House of Night and the rest of the underworld lords in Xibalba!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Death Bat's 2017 Year in Review and Gaming Plans for 2018

2017 In Review

Well, 2017 was a rough year for me for a lot of reasons, and I suffered from a lot of burn-out, I will admit. I have been growing tired of the standard level/class formula of D&D and it's myriad clones. I had some turmoil in gaming throughout the year which, without going in to detail, meant that fewer campaigns were completed with the consistency that I might have desired, and certain friends with whom I might otherwise have enjoyed gaming more with have fallen to the wayside for many and varied reasons. Sometimes, unfortunately, a person may be a great and interesting personality but that can also translate into deep frustration with how they function as a gamer....we'll just leave it like that.

The highlights of the year were getting much more involved with the D100/BRP systems, specifically a long running Call of Cthulhu campaign which remains ongoing, and a short stint with a Mesopotamian Adventures campaign using Mythras. Running Mythras again reminded me that in the end I prefer the simpler combat mechanics of other BRP games, but luckily I have a solution to continue that campaign in 2018: OpenQuest 2, which will be a ridiculously easy conversion thanks to it being built on the RQII OGL Mongoose put out years ago, which is the same framework from which Mythras springs.

I also ran a 13th Age campaign which also concluded in a spectacular and very satisfying manner, and in so doing convinced me very much that 13th Age will remain one of my eternal favorite systems. Ironically I did not feel class/level burnout while running 13th Age.

Also, Traveller this year was a lot of fun! Traveller has some weird limits in its implied universe and tech, and Mongoose failed to deliver on some pivotal supplements (the Companion, especially, or any alien books), but it's a robust system and with the core books out now (Rules, High Guard, Central Supply Catalog and Vehicle Handbook) I essentially have all I really need going forward.

I have, of course, run multiple D&D campaigns this year. But my drive on running these is, I admit, based more on familiarity and ease of the system than any special interest I have in the D&D-style fantasy genre right now. I just haven't felt as excited for my campaigns this year with D&D as I should be, and it's not because I lack interest in the game or worlds...it's just over-saturation, burn-out. I need to give it a break.

The weird dark horse experience of 2017 was Starfinder. By all rights I should not be bothering with this system anymore: it's full of the sort of anachronistic blend of fantasy and SF that drives me nuts, and dovetails nicely with other games such as Shadowrun and Rifts, games which I like in principle but don't run in fact because as a GM I personally have a hard time sustaining my suspension of disbelief when running them. But...damnit,  I keep thinking about Starfinder and what I can do with it. Even while being annoyed with the anachronisms and the Very Big Questions of how the frickin' universe functions while running my test games on Starfinder I was still enjoying it. Every time I finish working out a new idea for it I am reminded that I would, in fact, prefer exploring real SF....but Starfinder just has a demented, fun simplicity to it that I keep getting trapped by. Grrrrr.

Plans for 2018

So what's up for 2018? I'm going to try very hard to be more considerate of my own time and my players' by staying more focused and avoiding so much bouncing around. Some of this can be accomplished by actually....you know, playing games I have genuine interest in and not buying so many other games that end up as distractions. For 2018 this means the following:

More Call of Cthulhu

And lots of it. I want to continue the ongoing Weird Oregon Campaign, and then I want to tie that in to an old west campaign using Down Darker Trails, and maybe later in the year see if people are interested in a Cold War era campaign as well. All of them will relate to one another.

Mesopotamian Adventures powered by OpenQuest 2

I really like OQ2. It takes the strengths of the BRP/RQII systems and turns them in to a perfect package for gaming. I want to use this to continue the ancient Ubaid campaign I am running, set in Eridu around 3,100-2,900 BC which I feel has between 6-10 sessions of play left in it, and then expand from there if the group interest continues. If I find myself sufficiently enamored with OQ2 after that, then it may be the ideal solution to running my long-planned but often put off Pergerron campaign (a sort of high-fantasy ancient Mesopotamia), or maybe Sarvaelen (the dark fantasy setting).

Genesys Core 

I need to try this one out. It's a great system, very flexible, and it hits a lot of my requisite bells and whistles. Just not sure how, yet, to use it....but we will see!

More Traveller

Everyone in my group likes Traveller, and I have plenty of content ready. The only question is....where to fit it in?


Look, I am very confused about this game, but I admit I love it like I love fatty foods and sugary products that I am not allowed to eat. I don't think I'll get this monkey off my back until I actually run it with serious intent. If the group is willing, I will propose an actual Starfinder campaign, in some capacity, in 2018...probably doing a new location/universe, but one which still ties in to all the Pact World thematics to make compatibility with existing content easier.

Okay so the above all seem likely to happen right now, safe bets for sure. So how about the rest?

A New 13th Age Campaign

I'd really love to do another 10-15 session 13th Age story arc sometime this year. What world I'd set it in and other details remain up in the air, and it's sufficiently unplanned that it won't happen right away, but I think for what I need out of level/class style D&D systems right now 13th Age is it.

Less D&D

As much as I continue to love D&D, I've played it to death in it's many iterations for the last 36 years now and I think I need to give myself some sort of a break (barring 13th Age) in 2018. If I can actually stop running it entirely for a few months, it might help me to reinvigorate interest. I haven't really taken a break from running D&D weekly since like...um....1996 or so! Seriously. I think I went 3 months without a D&D game in 2005 as well. Dang, no wonder I feel burnt out.
(Three days in to the new year and it's already clear that this ain't gonna happen. D&D, I can't quit you! I just enjoy it too much.)

Cold & Dark Campaign

I am really eager to actually run this. Cold & Dark is exactly the sort of dark, horror-themed SF I love and the die-pool mechanic of the system sounds solid to me. I'll run this just as soon as I can convince my group to try it. Assuming I can find a spot to fit it in!

Wishlist: Symbaroum, Conan RPG, Adventures in Middle Earth

I'd love to play all three of the above, but finding the time to plot this out is the problem, never mind finding the time to actually play! For now I'll continue to collect and read each of these systems, but who knows, maybe inspiration will strike right when time is free in 2018. There are other games in this boat which I'd love to run, but it turns out I have a hard time "absorbing" 600-700 page rulebooks: Zweihander and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, I am looking at you! Both are "on the list" but damn, I actually think I'd have preferred if each of these tomes were broken up in to 2 or 3 volumes....the psychological impact of one massive book vs. three volumes is a terror to my brain.

That's it for now....everyone have a great New Year!