Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Tricky Grey Apocalypse - a Bat**** Crazy Savage Worlds Campaign Starter

I actually used the outline on this for a one-shot, with some modifications. The actual campaign, should it continue, will likely deviate from the initial outline below, but I have to say I was greatly amused at the idea of a multi-pronged apocalypse that has the players guessing as to what the real cause of the end of the world is:

The Tricky Gray Apocalypse Campaign

You are all people in the near present who have found yourselves one month out from an apocalyptic event*. You were each either chosen, invited or kidnapped by the Reverend Wilhelm Sikorsky to his mountain retreat, the "Temple of the Healing Earth" located in the White Mountains east of Sedona. Traditionally Sikorsky is known as a medicine man and healer, something of a mystic, and a major believer in UFOlogy and the presence of aliens in our affairs, even if we don't know it. One day, abruptly and unexpectedly, Sikorsky invites all of his attending guests to the "cave" where he conducts his spiritual healing ceremonies with the Earth and then....you find yourself unexpectedly locked away, the cavern entrance in the mountains protected by a sealed vault door that can only be opened from the outside....

This is where your tale begins!

Suggested archetypes include: the wealthy millionaire looking for a relaxing vacation, the eccentric conspiracy UFO theorist, the healing crystal follower, the skeptic who was out to debunk Sikorsky's "Cult of the Healing Earth," the complete innocent person who was kidnapped from a local diner in the nearby town of Alpine by two of the cultists and locked in a, anachronistic, secure prison chamber in the network of tunnels behind the "healing cave," or perhaps even a halpess cultist who was just trying to help the newcomers feel comfortable and is completely oblivious to why the Reverend closed the foot-thick steel door that you had always been told was designed to keep the cave a "living" environment by preventing its internal moisture and atmosphere from evaporating. 

Equipment is limited (obviously) by what you would have reason to bring to this "cult spa and resort" but stuff you might have in your bags could be inventoried in the event you escape the cave....

Everyone can start with 10 XP (so, 2 picks). No arcane anything...no magic, weird science, anything. Zero magic world. Any profession that fits "today, or not too far from now" works.

The Apoclayptic Event:

Each of you is certain doom is nigh. The apocalyptic event you believe in is as follows (pick one, because none of you think it's the same):

1. Asteroid 2015 GL5589 has been rumored to be on close approach, passing between the orbit of the moon and the Earth. You believe (either rightly as an astronomer or wrongly as a fanatic) that there's a deadly risk it is really going to strike the earth and the government is hiding this from the populace. (FALSE)

2. You recently heard about the bizarre outbreak in South America of the mutating Small Pox Virus that is completely resistant to all vaccines and is deadly so far in 94% of those infected. The news claims the virus is quarantined and under control in Brazil, but rumors are that three cases cropped up on the border in the US...(TRUE)

3. In the wake of belligerent diplomats and politicians, a major conflagration took place in the South China Sea between the US and China. Bombastic rhetoric on both sides could be the lead in to nuclear war....or more noise...but either way you're not taking any chances. White Mountains are way off the grid....(TRUE)

4. The sudden surge in UFO sightings in the last several weeks, culminating a month ago in approximately 200 exotic ufo sightings over Mexico City, Phoenix and Denver have level heads stating it's a product of military build up due to the South China Sea conflict, but you know better....this is the culmination of a pattern that began over twenty years ago, a pattern of invasion....! (???)

5. You can't say it's the "end of the world" but a month ago you attended a conference on the American Association of Biology on the adverse risks of CRISPR technology. One scientist warned that it was already suspected that North Korea had used CRISPR technology to create a cordyceps sinensus that was extremely robust and hearty, primarily (it was suspected) to harvest a more robust form of aphrodisiac for Kim Jung Un. The results were questioned however when it was found that the fungus could infect and grow on large scale hosts outside of ants....and rumors were that North Korea had moved it to weapon testing. Disturbed by the concept, you made your way to the retreat a month later to clear your head, after an ex-GF suggested it was a great place to veg out, if you ignored the crystal stuff. (TRUE)

The Set Up
The post-apocalypse was caused by a startling convergence of events. In sequence the following events transpired in the last month which led to an unexpected apocalyptic scenario…an existential crisis for humanity at large:

Day 1
Yellowstone Erupted. The entire American continent is cast in shadow and darkness, and most of the mid-western states are essentially gone. In the White Mountains several inches of ash dust the region, but the real devastation is a winter-storm effect that blanketed the entire country. Over the course of a month the disruption to electronics and the basic infrastructure of the country is devastating.

The Sons of the Constitution arrive at the Crystal Healing Ranch to take over, having heard rumors that there’s plenty of resources hidden in the healing cave….they find the ranch abandoned, seemingly devoid of life….a pickup truck is attached to the cave door to pull it off. The noise alerts the lurkers in the woods….for it turns out that the compound survivors were all part of a unique ritual, one which Reverend Sikorsky had intended to be the “point of ascension” for his flock to join the Messengers of the Stars.

The Messengers did indeed hear them, and descended, to take possession of each of the cultists. Only those in the healing cave, ironically, were allowed a chance to live….

The new Hunters, lean and oily with black and gray skin, transformed from their human hosts, quickly make short work of the Sons of the Constitution….and the human abominations protected in the Healing Cave are next….!

Day 2-15
In the middle of this event, China abruptly makes a move, strongly and decisively moving in on the west coast under the pretense that it is providing aid and assistance initially, but rapidly taking pains to secure territory on foreign soil. Two weeks in to what started as humanitarian aid, the west coast collapses into anarchy. Nuclear weapons are abruptly engaged, though few know who made the actual call….rumors of a rogue five star general Arnold Mcallahoun usurped control from the President and made a decisive first strike against China abound, but the reality was that China quickly retaliated. The devastation to most major population centers and military installations in the US was swift and devastating….and the remainder of the country collapsed.

Day 4
Rumors of an immense creature, blackened and ruinous, veined with burning light, moving through the devastated Midwest, are largely disregarded as the ravings of PTSD survivors of the event.

Day 10-20
In Asia, North Korea uses its weaponized Cordyceps fungus as a bioweapon against China and South Korea, sparking additional local conflict and war. The cordyceps virus proves even more devastating than anticpated due to its manufactured airborn quality and the virus spreads across the Pacific and throughout Asia rapidly. By day 20, Canada, the US and Mexico are facing an unprecedented catastrophe as desperate people are turned into fungal zombies. Worse yet, the fungus behaves strangely in the “Super Small Pox Virus” which has been hitting South America during this time….people who succumb to the super pox and then are infected by the cordyceps seem to live on unnaturally past the life span of their body and mind….

Day 12 
In a crushing state of alert, stories of refugees from Idaho, both covered in ash and bombed by a Chinese attack, are compounded by stories of thousands killed while seeking escape when the immense creature that was previously sighted days ago appears and seems to “drain” the life of all around it for a mile.

Day 21-29
Desperate militia groups, civilians, rogue military and more are seeking out pockets of safety and resources throughout the country to batten down the hatches in the wake of a grotesquely overwhelming nuclear war coupled with the super volcano eruption. The teeming masses of fungal victims from the coast and the south are initially seen as one more aberration but as their numbers increase, the survivors realize that the only hope is to find a way to hide out, and wait for the devastation to past. Meanwhile, along the southern borders the first of the infected “pox” victims succumbing to the cordyceps fungus begin to attack survivors in that region.

Day 30
Acting President of the US Mcallahoun declares that the state of Emergency has moved from martial law to a need for all citizens to arm themselves and maintain defense of local interests until “such time as the United States can restore its essential governance and infrastructure.” He signs off and the national broadcast goes dead….

The Awakened “Nata’aska”
(use Enjerar stats, but they carry serrated blades)
Ancient beings reglected in Amerind folklore, the nata'aska have awakened to aid in purging the earth as the gitche manitou arises to destroy the world....

The Volcano Monster is called the Gitche Manitou….the Great Being

(Use the living god stats)
The gtiche manitou, also known to Amerind belief, has at last awakened with the eruption of Yellowstone. It's destructive path will be vast and encompassing! The gitche manitou is here to usher in the fabled era of the Fifth World. This will be brought about through a number of mechanisms, and a number of ancient mythical beings, most of which have long since been forgotten by mankind.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review: Assassin's Creed (film)

I waited a long time for this one to show up in the dollar theater. The general consensus online seemed to be that it was another "video game to film failure," and that it was otherwise a terrible movie.....barring those who said it was good for what it was, or said it seemed to be fun if you were already invested in the Assassin's Creed games. Being one of the latter I knew I needed to see this, but I didn't want to risk spending full price on a ticket. Plus...this was not the kind of film my wife wanted to see, and too violent (in a muddy gray ethical zone) for my son to watch with me, so that meant I needed to find some time on my own to view the movie.

Now having seen it I have to say I really enjoyed the movie, but completely agree it was a flawed and perhaps poorly conceived effort for various reasons. The movie does delve in to the lore of the Assassin's Creed games, but it does so in an interesting way, where the narrative of the games themselves feed the film without directly relating to it. You have a tale of two ancient orders --the assassins and templars-- feuding over lost treasure of a civilization that predates known history, for example. You have the development of the Animus, which can read DNA that contains actual memories of past lives, allowing a current subject to experience directly the ancestors of his past. This, in turn, puts the crux of the story on the modern individual subjected to the Animus by the templar-controlled Abstergo Corporation, which is using said assassin descendant Cal Lynch (Fassbender) to explore memories of a time when an ancient artifact, a so-called piece of Eden, had been found.

From there it's a movie steeped in "grimcool" which is the only term I can use to describe movies like this right now.....and interestingly it seems to me that most movies of the last few years that are excessively "grimcool" seem to be doomed to box office failure. Too much effort at making everything in this fashion appears to be an audience turn-off.

The movie also seems to sacrifice the core conceits of the film, at least stylistically, for the sake of doing something more visually enticing. The Animus machine, as an example, is basically a "plug in and tune out" experience in the game, where you lie down and the machine constructs something akin to either a virtual hallucination or a lucid dream experience. In the film it's a giant arm that grabs Cal  uncomfortably around the waste and then moves him around in conjnuction with his memory experiences, which makes for a cool cinematic effect but...well....the problems with this approach are made obvious as the film progresses, and it is clear that Abstergo's mad scientists are playing with fire and are frequently burnt.

I could go on for a long time about little technical issues like this, but the film has more pressing concerns. Here's what they are (spoilers ahead):

1. The movie suffers from being so deeply immersed in the moral grey zone that the only ethical dilemna we are allowed is whether to side with the murderers because then at least we retain free will, or side with the spooky suit and hood wearing templars, because at least they intend to stop the murderers, even if it means stripping humanity of free will in some somewhat undefined fashion using the piece of Eden.

Or put another way: there were literally no good guys in this movie. Even the video games generally allow for you to feel justified in taking sides, and paint the templars as (usually) unremittingly evil, and the assassins as driven but flawed antiheroes.

2. The movie spends a lot more time in the present than the past. We get a glimpse of a fascinating Spain in 1492, but we are not given nearly as much of it was we will realize we wanted.

3. When things finally come to pieces and the assassins break out of their controlled prison, they do it really easily. How did Abstergo think that leaving so many antique assassin weapons on display was a good idea? How did they not have better measures in place for this? If we assume that this movie is in the same continuity as the games, then hey have ample reason to believe that this sort of shit can and will happen.

4. A person watching this movie who is not a fan of the series will leave wondering why everyone was so worked up over a round ball-like thing that glows a bit. We never got to see the Apple of  Eden do its thing, as the games are prone to demonstrating. The movie also made precious little attempt to clarify exactly what the Apple of Eden was for the layman, which is a shame, since I suspect we won't see more AC movies.

5. We saw leaps of faith start, but not end. Were they just being coy about the reality of the physics of landing in piles of hay, or was there some other reason not to show this? The rest of the movie did a surprisingly good job of making the assassins look like their parkour hurt and took a lot out of them.....a welcome change from other recent movies I've watched. So why balk at showing the leap of faith landing?

6. This movie really should have started with a retelling of the original Assassin's Creed (imo) but clearly it felt like a decision was made to both progress the story where it currently is in relation to the games and also stay the hell away from Middle Eastern assassins as main protagonists. A shame. I can't fault them, but it shouldn't have to be this way.

7. If you saw this movie, can you explain to me WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED AT THE END???? So Cal just wanders in to the highly secure Templar symposium, ganks the CEO, takes the Apple of Eden, and walks away while the crowd files out as if they expected this to happen all along, without even some shot showing him being chased by pissed off Abstergo guards? WTF???? I really didn't follow the logic of this sequence.

8. Oddly, I really expected to see a five minute monologue between the assassin and his victim after each successful murder. Yes it would have been narrative madness, but too many years of AC games have taught me to expect this, I guess.

9. I wish the Spain of 1492 in this film had been presented in a game. I want to explore that madhouse that the film lets us barely glimpse.

Okay. So I did enjoy this movie but was disappointed to see the choices made in producing the first AC film (and probably only AC film) to appear on the big screen. I'd give it a solid B for being a decent effort, but I also am disappointed because I think with a better script and some reconsideration of the core particulars of what makes this franchise most interesting, it could have been an A.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Savage Worlds: Nemezis, Savage Rifts and Other Coolness

I've been pressed for time lately, and my blog count is suffering! As I've been neglecting the blog new and interesting stuff has been creeping up out of the woodwork, this time for Savage Worlds...

First off, Savage Worlds' adaption of Rifts is now in the wild and no longer in pre-order. The many tomes and PDFs are available right here. The deluxe bundle was a bit rich for me, but I did snag all the print books, dice and special bennies (the bennies Pinnacle makes are amazing, ceramic poker-chip quality with great art).

From reading the PDFs it is clear that this is the version of Rifts I have been waiting 26 odd years for. I think I'll have to spring this on my players soon. About the only thing I miss at the moment is the impressive nineties-style black and white comic-style line art of the original Palladium-System powered books. Still, I suspect those tomes will still make great resource material for Savage Rifts, with these books serving as the "conversion document."

Next up is Nemezis, the sci-fi setting from GRAmel for Savage Worlds, a setting which I like to characterize as somewhere between Warhammer 40K, Cthulhu: End Times and Mutant Chronicles (except powered by the gloriously elegant Savage Worlds system, of course.) I'm thinking about using it as the basis for my Destiny-inspired ongoing campaign madness in Savage Space, actually. Assuming they don't find a rift and end up on apocalyptic earth, that is...

Nemezis is not "new" exactly, as it was printed a few years back in a hard-to-read black-and-white format, but recently GRAmel added it to the POD lineup on rpgnow.com for a print color edition....this is a good thing, as it's a nice looking book and the original black-and-white print was really hard on the eyes.

Nemezis also has a decent expansion book out: Nemezis Galaxies, which is a compilation of three prior PDF releases. I found a print copy, which was much easier to read (this time), being designed for a black-and-white print. If you can find  a copy, get it....Nemezis is a worthy setting for your SW collection.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Savage Seas: Blackbeard's Black Plan

The final plot as I ran it worked out a bit differently than the plotline below....but if you're interested in a weird blend of Cthulhu Mythos and Pirates of the Spanish Main, read on! This plot was used in the Savage Worlds' powered Pirates of the Spanish Main, but could easily work with a Blood Tide/Call of Cthulhu cross-over, too.

Blackbeard’s Black Plan

Edward Teach has conspired to seek out immortality as part of his plan to “retire” from piracy. He has communicated at length with one “Leopold George Rakoczi of Transylvania*” regarding an artifact that Teach found in a cave off the coast of Grand Cayman near Bodden Town. The odd, pyramidical device seems to be some sort of container….and he alludes only to those around him that opening the box is very difficult; indeed, Teach performed a dark ceremony and sacrificed a dozen men to even reveal the hidden passage to prehuman ruins which contained the pyramidical container.

Teach confided in a letter to Rakoczi that he knew the box contained a unique skull made of worked crystal, and that the skull gave him a strong compulsion to seek out its rightful resting place….a place which Teach claims showed him a great road beneath the waves, which led to a submerged city of “twin gods of the sea.” Unknown to Rakoczi, Teach did not mention that with the arrival of this artifact on his flotilla of ships a weird plague befell the sailors. He grew desperate as he also contracted the strange rotting disease and sailed to Charleston, SC where he blockaded the city until medical supplies were procured to treat his crew. In the interim, Teach placed the skull back in to the pyramidical case and sealed it up….only then did the plague recede. Appalled at the black magic if the device he handed it off to Captain Pierce, on the Black Cormorant, a schooner which Teach then commands to carry the box back to Nassau.

From reading in John Dee’s tome Heptarchiae Mysticae, Rakoczi feels may be a relic of divine angels, an artifact that points to a greater power. He wrote back to Teach and told hi his suspicions, and after a second exchange they agreed to meet…..Rakoczi receiving ill-gotten funds from Teach to head to the West Indies on the HSM Enigma, once Morgan’s ship. With the Enigma was a diving bell, specially commissioned….Captain James Shaw was in command of the HMS Enigma, a royal merchantship but captained by a man loyal to Edward Teach who felt he owed his life to the pirate.
While Teach established an alliance with SC’s Governor Eden to gain a certain immunity, the Black Cormorant arrived in April of 1718 at Nassau, per instructions. There, Rakoczi and Shaw set about to waiting, but a strange man claiming to be an ally of Blackbeard named Obeah Chinonso awaits them, with his own crew of followers on the Black Cormorant (assuming the PCs take an offer…), formerly one of Blackbeard’s ships freshly arrived from South Carolina….he claims that Blackbeard’s ultimate destiny lies near, and that the pyramidical box is Rakoczi’s to bear should he so desire.

Chinonso’s goals: to get the ship(s) to Bimini, where he informs Rakoczi the box calls them to. The box, in fact, did reveal this….but only after Chinonso, who was stowed on board the Black Cormorant as a slave, opened the box in a ritual that sacrificed the entire crew of the ship. The undead crew now haunts the Enigma, and will climb aboard on the nights of a new moon to slaughter any living crew.

Chinonso believes that the box contains the means by which he can control a great Loa: the Ghede Dagon and his sister, Scylla. He has had it revealed to him that he must use a powerful bokor’s blood to power the ritual on Bimini to reveal the temple of Dagon. To do so, he is determined to sacrifice Rakoczi, which he has divined is special in a unique way, since Blackbeard remains cleverly out of reach in South Carolina (because Blackbeard’s own visions of his fate have shocked him in to abandoning his interest in the box).

Rakoczi’s Goals: the man who will become the Comte de St. Germain has not yet polymorphed into an ascended immortal but his sorcerous nature runs strong. He realizes that the relic skull in the box is of such power that being exposed to it seals any man’s fate, but he also believes it alludes to a reference in John Dee’s writings which imply that the location the skull draws one to is the source of a fallen angel’s corpse…and the wellspring of a spring of eternal life. He is not wrong….something (just not an angel) did indeed fall there, and it does provide a source of hideous, immortal unlife.
The important thing from Dee’s perspective is that the calling has been revealed to both Teach and now Chinonso. He can use Chinonso to find the wellspring of eternal life without himself being exposed to the curse of the skull. To sweeten the deal, he has convinced James Shaw and will also try to speak to the adventurers about the possibility that the wellspring of life exists at the end of this trail…and there will be plenty for all. He also alludes to the possibility that Ponce de Leon, in his search for the fountain of youth, did succeed and had he not been poisoned he would have lived without aging. Furthermore he may have left some riches concealed in the location, realizing how secure and difficult to find it was, explaining an absence of wealth recorded in old Spanish records from Puerto Rico.

James Shaw’s Goals: James Shaw intends to follow through on this, and has developed a keen trust for Rakoczi, who has confided his bastard noble heritage from Transylvania in him. The man is mad, Shaw feels, but in a way safely different from Edward Teach.

Blackbeard’s Goals: Edward Teach had a close call with the box, and it also revealed that his fate was near. After establishing his alliance with Governor Eden he grows bolder, raiding up and down the American coast constantly, before deciding it is time to resume his quest for immortality before his final doom arrives. He sails back to Nassau in time to realize that the Enigma has gone missing…and stories in Nassau of the suspicion that the ship arrived commanded by no crew, only the obeah Chinonso leave him to suspect betrayal…..he will set off to find him (and the Black Cormorant) at once, following his visions revealed by the skull to Bimini.

At Bimini

Bimini and the rest of the Bahamas was once populated by a remote tribe called the Lucayans (the Lukku-Cairi). Although the islands were all but depopulated by Spanish efforts to enslave the local peoples, there are still a handful of ancient Lucayans left….each of the lucayans who remain are immortal, having bathed in the sacred pool of the Tenu-Aiki, the “Pool of the Eternal One” in their all but dead language.

The two dozen or so who remain on the island hide well, and avoid contact with all visitors. However, they will stalk and attempt to stop any who arrive from finding any of the following three objects on the island: the The Bimini Road, the Pool of Eternal life (the Tenu-Aiki) or the crumbling remains of the temple mount entrance at the high point on the island. More on these three secrets:

The Temple Mount: on the north island is a rock formation at the high point on the island of basalt, which one who is possessed by the divination of the pyramid-case of the ancient skull can find. This will reveal an ancient entrance to a forgotten deep one temple, in which a circular structure holds a mount exactly sized for this box, as well as what appear to be slots for eleven others. Placing just one box on the altar is sufficient to create an image of the island, and show the sprawling remains of a great city and a massive road that leads north from the island to an immense temple that appears to be made entirely of gold….all now beneath the water.

The temple mount is guarded by an ancient dimensional shambler which will come when the device is activated. It will slay any who do not have deep one blood in them and seek to drive them out of the temple (it will not pursue). If it is left alone, the dimensional shamble will take the box and skull and spirit the artifacts away to a new location, possibly the very ruin in the cave Blackbeard found them in.

Still, once the image is seen by all, it will be impossible not to walk out and know just where a diving bell could be used to see an ancient ruin…

The Fountain of Youth (Tunu-Aiki):

Any who are touched by the skull know inherently where to go. Located on the south island, this area is dense with foliage and obscured from sight until stumbled upon. Once found it seems to be an anomalous fresh spring that is also a blue hole, but if the party has not dealt with the protectors of the last Lucayans they will attack….the Lucayans are more than human now, ancient but powerful, and seem resistant to harm. They have such hatred for foreigners and what has happened to their people that they are unlikely to listen to any reason. They will strike and seek to kill all who would try to find the pool.

The pool itself seems so calm and inviting, but each person must make a Spirit check, and get a +2 if they have an arcane background like voudon. The pool is deep, and at the bottom is the sense that the rest of the body of the creature that had the head in the box can be found. Voudon practitioners will realize that this is an area simultaneously blessed and cursed….blessed by Ezruli and cursed by Azagon (Baron La Croix). One who bathes will find immortality, but only because the spirit of the body is not allowed to escape death….the person who bathes becomes ageless, but his or her soul will also never escape the body, which is still vulnerable to unnatural causes of death such as wounds or poison. Trapped as ghosts (duppies) in the mortal plane, tethered to their rotting, corporeal remains, the person quickly goes mad.

Despite this, Chinonso will bathe in the water and proclaim his loyalty to Azagon. When he does, a great skeletal hand will rise up from the waters and grab him, dragging him down!
Blackbeard, should he find the pool, will also bathe….but quickly and be out of the water, even if he witnessed what happened to the Ougun. It is by this means which he may elude his later fate at the hands of Maynard, though he does not realize that even the ritual he cast to reveal the skull has cursed him for certain…

Rakoczi will first perform an invocation from Dee’s tome and drink a tonic he has crafted before entering the pool. When he emerges, refreshed, he proclaims that Rakoczi is dead, and he will hereafter be known only as Comte de Saint Germain. If players ask for the chance to do the same, he explains that he will let them read the tome….for it is now useless to him….but that the ritual is personal, and he has spent a decade perfecting it. Imbued with the essence of a fallen angel, St. Germain now believes himself an ascended immortal.

The Bimini Road and the Temple of Dagon:

Beneath the waters of the north island of Bimini are the submerged ruins of a lost Deep One city, which thrived six thousand years ago and was a major source of activity for the aquatic race. Now the ruins are a haunted graveyard, all but abandoned by the deep ones who have gone deep beneath the waters, but the awakening of Azagons’ skull in the High Mount Temple will call forth the guardian of the ruins….a special breed of Kraken. Its purposes it to destroy all who would reveal the temple. The Kraken will spawn creatures comparable to nightgaunts which it will send out to destroy those on land.

The adventurers who witnessed the “map” made in the Upper Mount Temple will know that the mysterious temple appears to have an entry and possibly air pockets in its interior…the diving bell can reach the ancient temple, filled with its lost relics of gold and crystal. Assuming they are crazy enough to do this, they will first encounter a lone deep one priest of Dagon, once a Lucayan long ago named Unaki, who still manages a few human words of warning….he is the last protector of the ancient temple.  “Dagon’s daughter waits,” he explains. “Only the gift of the twelve fallen will awaken her, to do less invites doom.”

In the heart of the temple lies a great octagonal chamber in the center of which appears to be a massive statue of a strange, many headed serpent creature made of crystal, with a beautiful, fair-skinned woman tapped in the center. Nearby lie the eleven other pyramidical coffins containing the heads of fallen sky-beings….the Azagon pyramid would be the twelfth. If all 12 are placed in their positions around the statue, the crystal flows away and the human nymph form of Scylla awakens, speaking either an ancient deep one dialect of ancient Greek, and appearing bemused at her existence. If fewer than twelve boxes are placed around the crystalline statue, the adventurers watch as her human form is subsumed and ripped apart within the crystal, which pumps red with her blood and viscera as 1D4 rounds later the statue comes to hideous life as the dire god Skylla, a protected servitor of Dagon. She will then demolish the entire temple in the process of trying to slay the PCs and everyone else nearby.

If PCs are too cautious, have Shaw, Blackbeard or someone else take the diving bell and try the stunt…it will lead to a suitably bizarre ending to the whole sordid affair!

*In later years to become Comte de St. Germain.....

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of is now out

Modiphius has released the PDF editions of Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of as well as the first scenario pack, Conan: Jeweled Thrones of the Earth.

I'm really torn, much as I was with the Kickstarter for this (which, in the end, I decided not to back). The actual final books look intriguing, but people have mixed feelings about the 2D20 mechanics of the Modiphius game system. I have three games from Modiphius on my shelves right now, and they are each ominously large tomes filled with interesting lore and mechanics that just haven't grabbed me: Mutant Chronicles (EDIT: but not Fragged Empire) is definitely 2D20 powered under the special 2D20 mechanic, but the third, Mutant Year Zero, is intriguing to me while still being hard to get in to for other odd reasons.

Honestly, I just kinda like my games to get to the point these days, especially on the mechanics. D&D might be the only exception to this rule, but if there's absolutely one thing I feel every game designer should take away from the OSR design it is that you ought to be able to expalin your game in 100 pages or less....and (again, my opinion only) those rules ought to be easy to find and up front. If you're mixing and matching mechanics and setting too heavily, it can get very annoying.

I'm not saying Modiphius necessarily does this....but given the enormous size of their tomes, it's been too difficult for me to find the time and effort to invest in exploring what they have on offer. Conan may be the first game that necessarily breaks the rule....but I am loathe to buy in to the print editions until I've really figured out if the mechanical implementation is really any good or not. I had read playtest tales that left me more than leary it was not my cup of tea.

Anyway, I may snag the PDF and possibly even just stick to PDFs on this one, if only because it would be interesting to see if I A: did like it with less immediate investment, and B: in doing so, wonder what a challenge it would be to run a game like this entirely from the PDF. Hmmm.

EDIT #2: I picked up the first two books in PDF. It's Conan....I could not resist. I'll try to read up and post details this weekend.

EDIT 3: Goddamnit by Crom I really like this. More soon.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Green Ronin and Fantasy AGE Plans in 2017

Well, as news on this year's plans trickle out we have some details on various publishers to consider. This year Green Ronin announced a number of planned releases, although not quite as exciting as last year's announcement....key among the releases is a Ashes of Valkana campaign book which would be more exciting if I was in to Titansgrave. Fantasy AGE will get its own crowd sourced "dmsguild" this year some time, which I imagine will be a way to fill out some of the much-needed absent content from the game as it currently stands. It's a shame that this appears to be the direction RPGs are going now to handle the desire for new content among gamers vs. the skeletal release rates of books these days, but I suppose when in Rome....get used to PDFs.

Blue Rose is also releasing this year, for those who are interested. I'm not really the target demographic, but I did find the original an interesting concept in the under-appreciated romantic fantasy genre.

There's also a hint of Dragon Age content to come, but mired in the license approval requirements.

So......a bit bare this year, unfortunately, and it sounds like instead of an "Advanced" rulebook for Fantasy AGE we will instead get a community content portal instead.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Review: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

This is a good week to be a Resident Evil fan. We have a new entry into the game series (RE7) that is genuinely amazing....more on that one later....and also the final movie in the "Alice's adventures in Umbrellaland" series of Resident Evil films starring Milla Jovovich.

I've had a great deal of fun with both the films and games of Resident Evil over the years, and always appreciate that the first RE game marked my foray into "modern" gaming on the Playstation 1. Prior to that, it was a wasteland of suboptimal, graphically terrifying PC games for me, and in fact the PS1 was my first machine that could run anything interesting at all, as well as my first console since my childhood Atari 2600 days. This year in 2017 marks an interesting transition for the franchise, which, like the monsters it portrays, has grown in strange and weird ways. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is no different, offering up a movie that closes out this chapter of the franchise while RE7 opens up an entirely strange and new direction for the games.

Unlike the last several Resident Evil movies, the latest film isn't nearly as campy and stupid, making it hard to poke fun at the film. In fact, if you hadn't seen any of the RE movies since maybe #1, this film could arguably stand on its own....so long as your entire focus is on enjoying a zombie apocalypse film that keeps making allusions to prior events. They give you a decent enough recap at the start, and even fill in some odd holes from the dawn of the series (the kinds of holes this series takes for granted, normally), and then dives in to the current plot. In fact it even eschews the traditional "wrap up the ending of the last film" format by cutting to the chase....we know there was a crazy battle in the ruins of Washington DC but the film starts more or less "the day after" that fight, and moves in to Alice's last trip down the rabbit hole.

I'll get this out of the way real quickly: much like with xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is actually a lot of fun and quite enjoyable, so long as your in to that sort of thing. Which thankfully I happen to be, because otherwise I'd be having a real crisis of confidence in the state of films right now if I didn't. They are both action films predicated on the glory of on-screen excess and madness that is particular to their action-film visions of the universe. They both rely on spectacle over plot, action over story, and the "doing of stuff" over character.

Alice is promised an end in this tale, a conclusion to her story, and we do get that. I am kind of hopeful that this means we might eventually see a series reboot which tries to tell a RE tale closer to the games....but then we get into that tricky gray area where we have to admit that the games have their own special world logic, pacing issues, character development failings and weird plot holes (though none quite so spectacular as the films in aggregate).

The storyline of The Final Chapter wraps up Alice's tale (more or less), brings back Claire, brings back (no surprise) Wesker (and also wraps his tale up), along with gratuitious appearances by all of the Umbrella evil gang....especially the Red Queen and Dr. Isaacs, who's been "dead" for a few movies, actually. It does not clarify what happened to Leon Kennedy or Ada Wong....but I'm not fretting, their arbitrary appearance in this franchise remains one of those "visual nods" to the games without much effort to explain their existence in the weird mirror universe of Alice.

Here are a handful of my spoilerific observations on this movie (yes, SPOILERS AHEAD):

1. For much of the initial scenery this movie looks like they took a tab from Fallout 3's style.

2. As the plot progresses and it is revealed that the entire cabal of Umbrella is cryogenically locked away for awakening after the apocalypse ends, many "motivational" plotholes get nominally filled. This is good! Also, judicious use of clones to explain motivations, appearances, and reappearances was sufficient to help clear up some old (and new) plot detritus. But some of the motivations of prior villains in other films are suddenly cast in to doubt. Why, for example, did Wesker do pretty much any of the stuff he did in prior films? Why was it necessary to wait ten years to release the anti-virus? Why--if near as I can tell that was the goal all along--did anyone left at Umbrella oppose Alice's desire to do so, if it insured they would awaken to their brave new world?

3. Who set the bombs to blow up the cryotubes? I might have not followed this properly, but I was under the impression that no one had a good opportunity to do so.

4. Wesker died like a dog in a trap. Seemed like an oddly fitting end for Movie Wesker, but entirely out of sorts with the vicious mutating Wesker that haunted the video games.

5. I thought the Isaacs clone was motivated to cast down the Umbrella elite, knowing he was a clone. But in the end he seemed genuinely surprised to meet the Real Isaacs. So what, then, was his actual motive for baiting an army of the dead right to the entrance of the installation?

6. They try to clarify that the infection of the world actually started deliberately....but it doesn't quite jive with the first couple movies. I guess it explains how a post-nuked Raccoon City wasn't the source of the infection evident by the time of "Resident Evil: Extinction" but in fact it was Umbrella Corp deliberately infecting the population.....but at the same time, the prior movies held up on their assumptions just fine without this extra layer of Machiavellian scheming.

7. Do you remember the names of anyone else in this movie other than Alice, Claire, Isaacs and Wesker? Me neither. The entire population of survivors were pretty much just there to have a "visual recognition" and then their moment of doom.

8. Wesker still died like a dog. Hah!

9. That anti-virus sure did disperse quickly. Like....insanely quick. But this is RE science so yeah. They kinda clarify it will travel on the winds in the end, but that only lampshades the whole "army of zombies fall over" scene just prior. I guess the army was downwind?

10. I am officially impressed at how many frickin' times that laser trap corridor has made an appearance in the movie now. Officially it is like a character unto itself. The laser corridor is to RE films what the Necronomicon is to Evil Dead movies.

11. Fridge Moment: even if they were evil, I bet a fair number of the Umbrella elite would have been very useful alive to help rebuild society. Then again.....I guess they did cause the apocalypse....

Okay....so this was a fun movie, slightly less stupid than the last three, and slightly more energetic than many zombie survival horror films out there. It was all about the action, the LOUD NOISES as zombies pop out and the monsters. Also, a promise I think from W.S. Anderson to his wife Milla to get her off the film sequel treadmill she's been trapped on. To that end, a solid B+, for a solid B Movie!


Monday, January 23, 2017

xXx-The Return of Xander Cage (a review; also known as "why did I see this, exactly???")

Oh yeah: Vin Diesel.

So Vin Diesel, along with Jason Statham, continues to appeal to me because he is continuing to demonstrate that bald, middle-aged men are still viable action stars. Or at least we like to think we are....!

I grabbed a 3D IMAX showing of this movie on a spare moment while on a work trip. I can't say I was "disappointed," exactly....I mean, I think I knew what I was getting when I went to see this movie. I saw the original xXx when it came out (skipped #2 though....no Vin Diesel, after all) so in one sense this was not unreasonable of me to want to see the sequel with the franchise's original character's return. Right? But on the other hand....I saw that trailer. Oh man, that trailer. The one with the jungle mountain skiing in Cuba:

Yeah, that one.

So instead of trying to comprehensively explain what this movie is, I thought I'd just point out the many, many odd issues I had with the movie. I'll preface with the caveat I did have fun with the movie......but it was kind of the same sort of fun I might have with watching a car derby, or playing a video game like Saint's Row III. You know....the "check your brain at the gates" kinda fun.

Anyway, my gripe list (kinda sorta spoilers ahead):

1. How is it that even as we watch Gibbons explode on screen I am thinking (correctly) "I bet he's not dead and he shows up at the end." This is an awful moment one minute in that I realize the entire plot I am about to see has become so formulaic that I already know the punches before they are thrown. It's a Save The Cat Script.

2. When Marke shows up (Toni Collette) I am also thinking, "I bet she's really behind this." Technically they "almost" foil this expectation by only making her turn on everyone in the end, but we kinda expected it the instant she showed up so....yeah.

3. Why doesn't Xander break his legs after jumping from the tower? Skiis don't make our ankle bones invulnerable to immense falls, and jungle foliage does not work as a perfect or even nominally ideal substitute for snow.

4. Even though it's not really referring to the actual Defcon status, how is it that superspy dude Xander Cage doesn't understand that Defcon 1 is not the one to worry about, Defcon 5 is???

5. Xander's girlfriend is young enough to be his daughter.....granddaughter, even by New Mexico (and probably Cuban) standards. Yaaaay middle-aged man action fantasies. I bet there's more of this as the movie progresses (sure enough, yes).

6. Xander has to sleep with a lot of women to get data that somehow the NSA couldn't just so he could say a funny punchline. Oiiiiiiii

7. It's nice seeing Donnie Yen in this movie. He has some serious martial arts skills, not so evident from his recent Rogue One outing.

8. I'm watching this movie in Austin, Texas, and thinking that it's demographically one of those "movies full of not-white people unless they are the villains" kind of modern trendy films (see: Rogue One) and wondering how it's selling around here. There's like 5 people in the theater on a Sunday. Look, I'm not trying to say Austin is extremely homogenous....but I come from New Mexico, and apparently I've been in NM so long now that being around this many white people in one town is making me kinda nervous. It's like Children of the Corn here. I'm back to being treated as exotic because of my Swedish name.

9.  Queue obligatory lesbian (Ruby Red). Also, obligatory nerdy tech chick (Nina Dobrev). also, since when did being able to conduct a rave turn into a superspy power? And what did the paranoid Torch bring to the table, exactly? I never did figure out what his useful talent was.

10. Hey....they never did explain how Xiang (Donnie Yen) jumped seventy feet down from across a building through three inch thick plate-glass, land, and take out a room full of spies. They even lampshaded this when Xander points exactly the figures I provided above. I was expecting some sort of tech explanation but maybe the "he's XXX" is enough reason for this film's universe?

11. Russians show up then get blown up then never return. So the Russians were savvy enough to identify the hideout of the rogue agents (something NSA could not do and Xander did by sleeping with many women) but not savvy enough to pursue them later on?

12. I don't think freefall in a plane quite works like this movie thinks it does.

13. I don't think crashing satellites will be as destructive as this movie thinks they are. Certainly not the vast majority of them.

14. I don't think computers or the internet or satellites or jamming systems work quite the way this movie thinks they do.

15. So who was on the other end of the phone instructing Marke to turn on Xander and kill him? How was Marke so incompetent as to forget the body armor that they had supplied him? Or...you know,,,,just finish the job by shooting him in the head? Head canon theory: she didn't want to turn on Xander like her boss (Mr. President?) ordered her to, so deliberately didn't shoot him in the head, instead grouping the shot on his armored tank top thingy.

16. When they catch up to the rogue director why doesn't he have a conversation with Xiang, or imply some relationship? It was strongly implied at some point they had worked together....specifically, when the rogue agents attack, it's called out that Torch doesn't react to Xiang's intrusion like he anticipated it. So either Xiang was being played unwittingly (why?) or the director was aware of his plans....and that makes sense I guess since the Pandora's Box Xiang stole was a one-use thing. But....ugh.....so little explained here beyond "director wants to cause havoc, maybe even because he is anarchically determined to destroy civilization in disgust" and "Xiang wants the box to use it, at least until the end when he has a change of heart." Oh god my brain is hurting trying to figure out everyone's actual motives here. Literally the only one who's motives "seem" pure is Serena Unger's (Deepika Padukone) who is at least consistent.

17. Say that gets me back to the early part of the film....who was the dude on the motorcycle? He seemed competent until he was kicked off of it.

18. Come to think of it, can one really fault Marke and her boss for deciding to clean up all the "xXx" agents? These guys basically appear less reliable than using actual enemy spies for your information. They gang up and kill the entire room of directors early on (and miss the one corrupt director), fake their own deaths and hide in Cuba, come back and then change sides or motives on a fickle whim, eventually ganging up en masse to take out the rest of the NSA. Now that I think about it, the only thing that was even less surprising here was that they didn't just quietly drop a satellite on the whole gang without warning. If they'd just let Xander go, instead of trying to shoot him, they could have readily taken the whole crew out.

19. In fact on that last point: if your evil plan is to blow them up with a satellite drop, then why did they send in an angry mob of mercenaries in the first place? To blow up the mercs too?

20. Good thing Xander can pilot a cargo carrier plane that looks a lot like a SHIELD plane (from season one, as far as I've gotten) so efficiently that he can intercept a satellite dropping into orbit. And then outrun it. And also survive that fall on the cargo with the 'chute that deploys like 200 feet before impact.

Oh god my brain is hurting.  I have to stop now.

Okay: without Vin Diesel this was a solid D. With Vin Diesel I make it a C-. I call this movie "watchable fun but you'll like it more if you're drunk." 

Aftermath: I had a chance to rewatch xXx the original on Google Play. Having a chance now to review the original, I have to comment that yes, the sequel is just generally goofier and makes less sense (relatively speaking) than the original. The original xXx came at a time when it was in fact defying conventions in spy genre films, a genre which had been defined by the likes of James Bond, by casting the unusual role of Xander Cage as a sports Xtreme dude turned super-spy. But compared to the latest movie, the original was kind of....tame, really. Only one distinct ankle-breaking moment that I noticed, and even then it was more "believable" than the scenes in the latest film.

Still, the new movie captures the general spirit of it all, even if it's not half as original or inspired. If you liked the original xXx, I think you'll enjoy this one, too. I mean...worst case....watch it for inspiration in your next Tropicana Savage Worlds game!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Savage Space: The Hakatic Union (Savage Worlds and White Star)

The Hakatic Union is founded by a species of intelligent coleoptera, collectively known as the hakatics, a name given to them by a species called the ethrixia, which was very nearly rendered extinct in a brutal galactic conflict with the bugs. In their own language, which is a mix of clicks, whistles and pheromone-like protein chains emitted in a fine particulate mist, the actual name of this species is unpronounceable by most humanoids with conventional speech.

The Hakatics developed primitive space travel early on but did not advance beyond simple vacuum tubes and nuclear power for centuries, as their collective hive seemed to be incapable of anticipating the value of anything more than computational power for basic calculations. This is likely due to the fact that females of the species seemed to have impeccable minds for mathematical calculation....they were, in a manner of speaking....superior to any computers they could devise.

The hive of the hakatics is constructed around a rigid, biologically enforced caste system which places the females in administrative, support and intellect roles, while the male hakatics are reserved exclusively for what outsiders call the "warrior caste," though the actual role seems to encompass leadership, exploration and defense as well as the fundamentals of combat. To most outsiders this is hard to identify, due to the inherently xenophobic nature of the Hakatics, who seem at best able to tolerate the other "caste-clans" of their society as they engage in regular warfare with other hive collectives of their own kind. The appearance of outsiders was beyond their comprehension....abominations beyond their ability to assimilate into their cultural range.

Despite being a hive collective, the hakatics are not a "hive mind." They are comprised of individuals, and can function --within limits-- away from their collective. The problem is that the hakatics are biologically locked into behavioral patterns that give them limited ability to function outside of their birth-station. There is some evidence that hakatics can transmogrify, under the rigth conditions, developing the capacity to fill another role in their hive collective when a need arises, but the phenomenon has only been inferred, not directly observed.

A recent encounter with the Hakatic Union on a intersellar "light ship" owned by a Eidolon of Cenotaph named Susuros led to a revelation that there may be a hive collective which has been influenced...possibly even uplifted....by a rogue ASI* from the center of the galaxy. This rogue ASI seems to have provided the hakatics with advanced technology, including enormously more effective fifth dimensional space slipdrive engines, as well as nanophage tech used as highly destructive weaponry. Despite these specific advancements there is no evidence the hakatics have developed advanced electronic capabilities, or at least nothing close to modern standards in computing. The threat of hakatics being manipulated by an unpredictable rogue ASI remains a troubling issue for Aegis and the Commonwealth, however.

Savage Worlds Stats:

Hakatic Warrior Caste (male)
Attributes: Agility D8, Smarts D4, Spirit D4, Strength D10, Vigor D10
Skills: Climbing D8, Fighting D8, Shooting D8, Tracking D6
Pace 6, Parry 6, Toughness 7 (15)
Racial Traits: Brawny, Claws (STR+D8), natural carapace (armor +4)
Hindrances: Vow (major) to collective; xenophobia (major); nonverbal communication 
Armor: hakatic battle gear (+4); vacuum-ready

Weapons: Typically armed with flak guns (3D6+2) or flechette guns (2D4+1)

Hakatic  Worker Caste (females)
Attributes: Agility D10, Smarts D8, Spirit D4, Strength D4, Vigor D6
Skills: Climbing D8, Knowledge (any one) D8, Repair D8, Stealth D6
Pace 6, Parry 7, Toughness 5 (7)
Racial Traits: Brawny, Claws (STR+D4), natural carapace (armor +2)
Hindrances: Vow (major) to collective; Vow (major) pacifism; nonverbal communication 
Armor: vacuum suits (harness/inflating) (no armor value)
Weapons: female caste workers only fight in last-ditch self-defense. They are also prone to following the orders --even from aliens-- if the method of order delivery is emitted as if a warrior caste member delivered the directive.

*Artificial Super Intelligence; the godlike machine intelligences that manifest, usually with a singularity that annihilates or existentially transforms/assimilates its creators when it appears.

White Star Stats:

Hakatic Warrior Caste (male)
Armor Class: 4 (15)
Hit Dice: 4
Total Hit Bonus: +4
Attacks: 1D6+2 claws; flak gun 2D6; flechette pistol 1D6-1
Saving Throw: 15
Special: hive collective mentality, xenophobic, nonverbal communication

Movement: 15
Armor: vacuum-ready (and pressurized and armored) suits designed for arthropods
HDE/XP: 4/120

Hakatic  Worker Caste (females)
Armor Class: 5 (14)
Hit Dice: 2
Total Hit Bonus: +2
Attacks: 1D6 claws
Saving Throw: 17
Special: hive collective mentality, pacifists, nonverbal communication

Movement: 16
Armor: vacuum suits (harness/inflating) (no armor value)
HDE/XP: 2/30

Notes: female caste workers only fight in last-ditch self-defense. They are also prone to following the orders --even from aliens-- if the method of order delivery is emitted as if a warrior caste member delivered the directive.

Ships of the Hakatic Union that have been seized intact reveal that the hakatics actually have no central "hive leader" in the manner humans might imagine, either. It appears to be a biologically enforced community, and the males will choose from 1-6 females as mates, and entire incubator systems run through their ships where eggs are harvested. It appears that only a handful of any egg clutch comes to fruition....possibly due to poor shielding from cosmic radiation on the ships....but the dozen or so eggs that do insure a healthy species' turnaround.