Friday, October 21, 2016


It's in the wild! The Kickstarter to produce the hardcover 2nd edition of this amazing pseudo-retro-clone is now available. If you're wondering what it is, AS&SH is a rule set derived from AD&D 1E, with some interesting rules modifications for clarity and efficiency similar to the way Swords & Wizardry tweaked OD&D, making for an experience both familiar and new. It's core conceit is a "What if Gygax had based AD&D on all the non-Tolkien fantasy in the Appendix N" sort of approach, and the result is a great rule system with an elegant core setting in Hyperborea that is easy for GMs to flesh out. The modules for this game have all been great as well, and the entire game fits my own style of gaming really well.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


My wife is back and out of the hospital, with follow-ups planned. No surgery done, but they couldn't satisfactorily resolve an answer to what caused her collapse, either. She was recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease, for example....and that was postulated as a possible cause, but so was appendix and several other internal body parts, and they were concerned about blood clots as well. Two days before the collapse she'd had an endoscopy, and I still suspect that the endoscopy and accompanying biopsy could have cause an infection.

Given that we were told repeatedly the primary symptoms that she experienced were indicative of hear attack or blood clots, if it's something less scary we'll be happy.

Either way, she's back now and we're all happy, albeit keeping a close eye on her. Thanks everyone for the well-wishing, we really appreciate it!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Crazy Weekend

My wife unexpectedly collapsed last Friday and has been in the hospital ever since. She's doing better today, but as of right now the doctors still can't agree on what her ailment is....they can all agree however something is very wrong. They ruled out appendix on Saturday but apparently it's now back on the table. Compared to some of the other proposed issues they had looked at and eliminated, appendix at this point is the least scary issue.

Anyway, blog will return to normal as soon as my family does!

(FYI nothing more entertaining than having a long talk with the billing department at the hospital while your spouse is still there, waiting for three doctors to agree on what to do. After that I panicked and cancelled some sundry upcoming charges, though have since looked more closely and realized we're probably not horribly off, as it turns out we're hitting all our out of pocket maximums for the year. Which, you may notice, is a clear sign of a tough year when it comes to medical costs and visits....)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Remembering the Transformers

Yousef Tanha recently interviewed me for his blog and he just posted it (located here), about an ancient tether I have to the Transformers comic, a letter I wrote as a young teen back in the 80's. Back then, Transformers ranked #2 on my list of interests, right behind D&D, and when Yousef contacted me it was like a floodgate of ancient memories I had long ago forgotten came rushing back to me. Anyway, check out the interview for a side of me you don't hear about on the ROC blog!

I'm referring to these guys, of course

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

New Stuff: Mythic Rome, Tools of the World Shapers and Ultramodern5

While I've been gallivanting about on work-related stuff several things have popped up worth mentioning.

First off, and most exciting, is the new Mythic Rome book for Mythras stealthily rolled out. It's available in pre-order on The Design Mechanism's site, with PDF available for immediate download. The PDF on first read-through strikes me as a consolidated, cleaned-up version of BRP Rome, which is absolutely a good thing. This looks like a very comprehensive, focused sourcebook for gaming in Ancient Rome and sets a great precedent for Mythras, one which was already given a high benchmark by the high-quality Mythic Britain sourcebook last year.

Next up is Tools of the World Shapers, a White Star sourcebook from DYS Games, which have also produced other great sourcebooks for WS, including Between Star & Void, the indispensable tome on star knights. After an initial read-through I can say it's a meaty addition to any campaign where the GM wants more tools and features to mod out your campaign with. Notable sections include a copious number of cybernetics, equipment design rules, and "gifts" which provide a way of introducing weird powers in a non star knight framework.

Third, but hardly least, is Ultramodern5, a 5th edition toolkit for D&D which lets you overlay rules, classes and other mechanics to allow for futuristic, modern and other contemporary game settings. It is very much a toolkit, so in theory you could run straight modern or near future SF with no issues, or mix and match to create weird science fantasy or other campaigns as desired. The book looks very useful and I will provide a proper review soon.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Total Conversion to the Ebook

Well, not books, comics, coffee table art books and graphic novels still remain superior in print form. But for everything else, from the history and science book to the tried-and-true novel? Yeah, I am officially giving up on print.

From prior blogs you might have assumed this was a done deal, or close to it....but I've still been buying periodic print books to supplement my electronic plunder. What has happened, however, is something along these lines:

1. See cool print book in shop, buy book, convinced I will read it ASAP.

2. Book sits at home, where I lament having poor reading light.

3. Buy very nice reading light, book light, and break out the reading glasses.

4. Realize that a significant chunk of my reading is now done in the dark on a tablet while sitting on the patio.

5. Lament lack of ability to read in the dark on the patio with print books.

6. Take a trip. Read several ebooks while ignoring the print books I also brought along. Think about that one print book I really wanted to read that I left at home. Buy copy in ebook format and finish it on the trip.

7.  Finally have a moment to read a real book in perfect lighting with my reading glasses, but now I can't find the book in question. Buy ebook and solve problem.

...etc. etc.

So: I'm giving up on print books. Unless it's an artsy book like I mentioned before (and even then...graphic novels look pretty slick on my Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 10 inch screen....just sayin') it's pretty much a guarantee at this time that I will engage in tsundoku electronically going biblioholism may be never ending, but I can at least hide it all inside the walls of my tablet!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Swords & Wizardry 3rd Printing Kickstarter

The Swords & Wizardry 3rd printing (EDITED! Not a new edition) Kickstarter is officially live! The Kickstarter link shares examples of the art that will go in to this edition (same text, different art) as well as the new cover design:

The "news" is that the art design and layout is headed by an all-woman team led by the prolific community driven leader Stacy Dellorfano, and the goal is to make an edition of Swords & Wizardry that breaks out of its current appeal to forty-and-older something men who are recalling the good old days, and show that OSR mechanics align quite well with more millennial ideals. Laudable stuff, and I am eager to see what the new edition looks like so I can put it next to my Otus cover 2nd printing.

Some have criticized the cover....and I admit, I am not sure I like it all that much, if only because I sort of have no clue at all as to what is going on in that picture. It looks neat....but beyond that it looks to me like some sort of decoration a druid might hang on his or her wall? I really can't tell what it is. But it does look neat in an abstract way.

The interior art is really cool, and given that a fair portion of S&WC's prior art has been long established as part of royalty-free clip art packages, some original art is welcome. Here's one of my favorite examples so far from the KS page, samples of the monster art to come:

The Kickstarter is also including two new modules as add-ons, and some classics as well.

Anyway......I think this will be a nice addition to my already cluttered S&W OSR bookshelf, and I'll probably snag a second copy once it's out for my wife. Looking forward to it!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Savage Worlds: The Tricky Gray Apocalypse

For your entertainment....the introduction to the next Savage Worlds game I just sent out to my players. Note that this is pitched, technically, as the beginning of a post-apocalyptic tale....

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 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 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.

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...

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....

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.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Giving Tom Clancy's The Division the Savage Worlds Treatment (Part I)

I've played a lot of Tom Clancy's The Division in the last few months, a game I had intially been skeptical of but ultimately not only warmed up to, but have found it a great periodic "go to" game in a way that I wish Fallout 4 had been for me. It's premise is simple: a viral outbreak of an engineered small pox virus is unleashed during Black Friday in New York, and in the space of a month kills off most of the human population of the United States (and maybe the world). The government tries to hold itself together but is just as devastated, resources drawn too thin. Clandestine operatives belonging to a deep cover black ops program called the Division are awakened and sent in to Manhattan specifically to try and restore law and order while also figuring out who created the virus and whether there's further threat. Amidst all this, groups such as the Cleaners are part of extreme right "solutions" to the problem, using death and flame to purge infected survivors while establishing their own new rule of law.

It's a pretty compelling near-future apocalypse, and the game runs through a variety of primary missions in which your Division agent (and allies, of you roll that way) work to solve the mysteries of the plague while restoring order. Along the way are tons of side missions and events, as well as the brutal Dark Zone where all bets are off, and pvp reigns supreme....there you can become a rogue agent and basically grief the hell out of your fellow humans playing  the game. While this is fun in a video game, it's not so easy to translate into paper and pencil unless you as GM want to cede the game over to warring players...

Anyway, one thing that The Division does really well is show how you can take a perfectly ordinary environment....bereft of pretty much everything "weird" other than some sophisticated computer tech and a super-virus, and make a great game out of it. The environment in The Division would translate well with the right sort of focus into the scenario style of Savage Worlds, for example....and Savage Worlds is honestly one of the best game experiences I've had to date for modern firearms combat, with an excellent blend of tense "die at any moment" events combine with a measure of heroic player agency with the bennies.

I think a Division agent would start off at least seasoned, although one could argue that they may even qualify for more experience. That said, here's a suggested Division Agent archetype for Savage Worlds. Division agents are well-rounded....from the start they have decent stats across the board, and after advancing a bit focus on whichever specific area most benefits them.

Division Sleeper Agent Aerchetype
Attributes: Agility D6 Smarts D6 Strength D6 Vigor D6 Spirit D6
Skills: Climbing D4, Fighting D4, Investigation D6, Knowledge (electronics) D6, Notice D6, Repair D6, Shooting D6, Survival D6, Throwing D4
Charisma -- Pace 6 Parry 4 Toughness 5 (9 or 13 vs. bullets)
Edge: pick two from Danger Sense, Command, Combat Reflexes, Brave, Alertness or Luck. Default is Danger Sense and Combat Reflexes.
Hindrances: Vow (major) to The Division Imperative (alternative: Wanted (major) Rogue Agent)
Equipment: Kevlar Vest w/Inserts (negates 4 AP, +8 vs. bullets), .357 Magnum (2D6+1, ROF 1), M16 assault rifle (2D8, ROF 3); 3 extra clips for each weapon, Personal computer smartwatch with Augmented Reality features (using glasses or implant, presumably)...see stats below.

Division Smartwatch Statistics
The smartwatch is a sophisticated near-future limited AI personal computer worn on the wrist. It projects imagery called ECHOS (Evidence Correlation Holographic Overlays) constructed from other data sources, such as phone recordings, cell data, surveillance cameras and forensic evidence to recreate images showing specific events in sequence. These events are (presumably) projected via augmented reality overlay onto the retina of the agent via chip or relay for viewing (or you can be generous and assume they are actual holograms).

Smartwatches grant a +2 modifier to investigation rolls, tracking rolls and knowledge (electronics) rolls. They also provide encrypted communication abilities within a 50 mile radius. While the ECHO effect is active however they reduce Notice rolls by -2.

Here's the rationale for this design...

Attributes: agents are well-rounded to start, needing to be equally good at everything. You can start differentiating as you advance in experience.

Skills: agents do not intimidate (except by pointing their gun), they shoot. They do not talk much, so no persuasion skills. They are not all that familiar with things, but do know how to flip a switch or fix a machine, thus repair and knowledge (electronics). No cars in New York seem to work anymore, so no driving skill needed, though the agent probably has some driving experience. Investigation is a big deal....they do a lot of that in the game, and use their augmented connection to their personal computer to witness events in the form of ECHOS.

Edges: these seem like the most applicable edges for a starting agent, but if you want something else, go for it!

Hindrances: the agents come off as quiet, dedicated and very persistent. They definitely adhere to their vows to the US Government as Division sleeper agents, and the only way this could be a problem is if you choose to eschew this hindrance in favor of the Wanted (major): Rogue Agent option and be a sleeper agent gone bad, but such a choice would put your character at odds with everyone else, pretty much.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Six Reasons your Sci Fi Setting Might Require Cold Sleep During FTL Travel

We've seen and read it countless times: our protagonists, be they Ellen Ripley or Richard Riddick, need to go in to some sort of deep sleep, either by means of stasis, cryosleep or "other" until they arrive at their remote destination light years away. Sometimes it's a rather formal process and lots of wires, diodes and catheters are involved. Other times it involves being frozen in some substance or even locked in to some sort of "between time" state. Or maybe it just involves a wrist-attached device pumping you full of stasis-inducing fluids. Who knows!

The question though is....why?

Sure, space is ridiculously big, and it is often the case that SF writers realize this enough to decide that concepts like cryosleep make sense when your implied universe requires a journey lasting months or decades. Maybe the ship needs to keep its resources to a minimum, and hauling ten months' of supplies for a live crew is precious weight that the ship can do without, so locking everyone into a dreamless sleep where they don't wake up, die, or even age is a good idea from the point of view of the bean counters. But.....maybe there's some other, possibly more unusual, even sinister explanation....

Here's six I can think of:

1. Hyperspace Warps the Brain

When you tavel at FTL speeds the human mind can't take it. The technology for FTL travel might put you into another higher dimensional space, or maybe it cuts corners through a neighboring universe. Either way, the implication is that humans can't handle the trip awake, and maybe not even physicially. Something bad would happen to them if even one of the human woke up in the middle of hyperspace....

2. FTL Travel would Cripple or Crush You out of Stasis

Advancing faster and faster to travel into FTL space could take time. Maybe the actual "journey" from point A to point B takes mere minutes, but it's the first light year out and the last light year in where the steady acceleration and sudden deceleration are most taxing. Once you're in hyperspace it's nearly instant....but the before and after would leave a person not in stasis a smear on the wall.

3. The Hyperspace Parasites Will Get You

Long ago space travelers figured out that the dominion of Hyperspace, wherever it is, is rife with mysterious alien parasites that latch on to wakened human minds and ride back in to "normal space" to start zombie apocalypses, wars, or just become serial killers. To solve this issue, everyone has to be locked in stasis for the duration of the journey.

4. Event Horizon and Doom were Right

It turns out there is a parallel dimensional space that makes FTL travel fast...but bad news! It's the dimension which has lent our collective memories to the concept of hell, and hideous entities exist over there which seek to infiltrate our minds (sort of like the parasites, but demons) and ride back to normal space to start the End Times. Your friendly Megacorporation realizes this is not in their profit margin, so they figured out that a dreamless passenger in stasis does not attract the attention of the demons in hell. Usually. Don't worry, they've got specialist cleaners for the "special exceptions."

5. Actual FTL travel Leads to Quantum Displacement

Actual FTL travel in this case is a bit like quantum teleportation....where you "destroy" the entity in one region and remake it in an exact duplicate somewhere else. Hyperspace is just the "journey" through which the quantum process takes effect. No one like experiencing utter destruction and reconstitution, so stasis is the only solution. That, and even moving around slightly during this process can lead to you're particulate matter being stretched out over a few light years' distance so everything, passengers included, has to be locked down for the ride.

6. FTL Travel really does Take a Long Time

Turns out your universe's FTL travel still takes enormously long times. Moving at twice the speed of light might let you imagine ways that relativity is ignored or bypassed, but 2Xc. is still a 2+ year journey to our nearest neighbor star, Alpha Centauri. In a case like this, it may just be that the resources for such a journey are at a premium, and stasis is far preferable to an aging crew arriving years later.

Alternative Concept: The Bioformation Process

It's been suggested that realistic space travel, especially at STL speeds, would need to be conducted over decades or centuries. Even in a matter of years, it might make sense for a future transhumanist society to send out AI-controlled ships with the digital recordings of human explorers ready to upload into freshly grown bodies on the other end, tailored specifically for the environment they will soon be facing. And when those explorers are done? They can retire those bodies (or leave them to their fate), and move on to the next destination, with uploads in the next new bodies....