Monday, July 26, 2010

Gaming Kingmaker

We've completed a year of nation-building in our Kingmaker campaign and have learned a few things about gaming the system. I will outline some basics and then suggest a house rule to make the building process more rational.

1.Build a Shrine early. It is the cheapest building unit in the game that makes items. A DC 20 Economy roll and you have 2 BP. A Shrine will pay for itself faster than anything else.
2.Pedal to the metal on Economy and Stability, Loyalty can wait. Your early goal is to make Economy rolls, so you want to up the Economy modifier with cheap units that give Economy bonuses, such as Smith, Tannery and Mill. These units also have the virtue of providing Stability bonuses as well. Missing Stability checks isn't quite as dire as missing Economy checks, but they do cause Unrest which penalizes your Economy rolls. If you start to get a few Unrest points, build some House units. You don't want to fall into an Unrest death spiral.
3.Don't expand too fast and keep your consumption at zero. Farmland reduces consumption. Claim and farm just enough hexes to keep your consumption at zero. Adding hexes makes your Control DC go up and makes it more likely you will fail your Economy rolls. You should always keep your Economy modifier close to your Control DC. I can't stress this enough, missing Economy checks sucks.
4.Take advantage of cost savings offered by big buildings. After you have a nice comfortable little barony, with Economy and Stability modifiers in the low 20s, take a few months to build your treasury and then build something big. It will save a fortune in future building costs. Also, plan ahead. Don't build a Market, then build a Waterfront. Hold off and build that Waterfront. The Market will be much cheaper.

We built our city with the intention of maximizing economic output and with little regard for logic or the wishes of the citizenry and the rules do not penalize us for it. For example, our town has a tannery, a smithy and a mill, but no shops, inns or taverns. The reason for this is because craftsmen tend to contribute to Economy and Stability, while services tend to contribute to Economy and Loyalty. Stability is more important than Loyalty, at least at the beginning, so the service sector gets neglected and the town's business profile becomes unbalanced. I think there is a simple and logical solution to this dilemma. Since the Stability of any nation depends, to some extent, on the general happiness of the people, make it a rule that the kingdom's Stability modifier can never be more than 5 points above the Loyalty modifier.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Rippin' on D&D, again

I was more of an AD&D guy myself, so I really know very little about BECMI D&D modules. For that reason, I can't say if B8 Journey to the Rock is a classic or not. Still, Zack and Steve show it their usual level of respect.

Journey to the Rock


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kingmaker report #3

As our initial stipend from the swordlords of Restov begins to dwindle, building projects become less ambitious. In the fourth month since the founding of the Barony of Drekmore, we decide to switch our efforts to our borders. We accept the offer from Chief Sootscale to join our fief. A mutual defense pact is signed and part of the kobold cave complex is made available to us in times of national emergency. We also build roads into the kobold territory and stake out some nearby farmland. Beckwitt is none too happy to be working road construction in kobold territory, but what can you do?

Satan! That no good, lowdown, sneaky, smelly bastard. Never trust a sorceror, especially if he's a tiefling. I go drinking with him for one night and he talks me into volunteering to build a road for a month. Do you know how much work that is? Oh and on off-days we will just help clearing the farm fields. Next time he wants to go for a drink, I'll throw him in the lake.

Those kobolds give me the willies, but they can work when they want to. It would have taken much longer to clear that land without their help. Still, I wouldn't want them in Dunwin. The Baron seems to have a handle on them. He has them sticking close to the caverns and they have laid up some supplies and fortified the place a little. The local farmers have been told they could go there in case of trouble.

In the fifth month, we attract a tanner to our growing town. Craftsmen are the lifeblood of any town and the addition of a tannery is most welcome news. We had set our edicts to include one festival this year. Since it is harvest time, this is a good time to let the people have some fun. Once again, we hear from Beckwitt:

I had a good month, work in Dunwin was slack with just some housing and the tannery going up. Out on the farms, the first harvest is coming in. The weather has been so good, the Baron thinks we will fit in another crop before winter. The harvest has been bigger than thought and most folks are happy.

Satan must have realised he pushed me too far last month. He has been real nice and even paid for a night at the Aphrodisia House, when I got back from working in the boonies. He can be a real nice guy. We have even started playing cards again, of course, only when we are playing on a team against someone else.

Tomorrow is the big harvest festival and the Baron promises it will be a great time. I'm not sure Erastil knows how to party, but I sure do. There will be some free drinks and a nice meal. I helped start the pig roast this afternoon.

A half year has past and our grand diplomat has been recalled to Dunwin. Batholomew Hester, besides being our eyes and ears in the courts of Brevoy, is also a paladin of Erastil. The Baron, the High Priest and the Grand Diplomat, all holy men in the service of Erastil, have gathered together to consecrate the first holy shrine in Dunwin. Though not all the town's inhabitants are adherents, most are and the service is well-attended. Father Jhod and his acolytes begin work immediately, producing healing potions and other items for the greater good of Drekmore. The following month, we expand our borders a little further north, before the cold winter months settle in. Anything to add, Beckwitt:

When you're busy, time sure does fly. We are celebrating our six months of existence and things are going well. None of my debts seem to have followed me from Brevoy, the boom times continue here and everyone seems happy. The crazy pace of the first few months has slowed a little.

I have a new job, and I get to hang out with Satan most days. He hired me on in the treasury department even though I don't know much about it, he says he 'll watch out for me. I know my letters and numbers and mostly I copy stuff from one book to another. There's only five of us working in the treasury, so I feel mighty important.

We built a Shrine to Erastil a month back and it has generated some economic benefits, or that's what Satan tells me. Just in the last two weeks we claimed some more land to the north and have started some roads and farms in the area. The Kobolds made a big deal of going up there and burning down some tree. Crazy buggers.

We will take a few months to consolidate or territory and build our treasury. We have an ambitious plan to build up our waterfront next year. Piers, drydocks and warehouses will hopefully attract merchants and shipbuilders, allowing Drekmore to become Brevoy's doorway to the south.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kingmaker report #2

Progress is being made on the expansion of Drekmore. To keep us updated, I have asked Beckwitt, sometime friend and drinking buddy of Satan, to offer his views from the point of view of a commoner on the streets of Dunwin.

Founding a kingdom is damn hard work and don't ever let anyone tell ya different. Bloody Satan the Sorceror with his silver tongue, he convinced me to join up and come out here to the middle of nowhere. I had a nice house and I could have paid my debts eventually.

This first month has gone well, I think. The castle looks like a castle, if you don't look too hard. The layout for more buildings is ready and hopefully we can build some real houses soon and get out of these damn tents.

Satan and I had a drink last night and he mentioned that the treasury is a little better off than expected. Something about all the fish in the lake and the natural radish patches. It was nice that things were so quiet. From all the stories you would think there was a bandit behind every tree, but this month has been peaceful. We have done well and our reward will probably be to work harder.

In the second month, we decided to begin expanding. We need farmland and we have to get going on the road northward. We also need to start building our economy, so we built a smithy and enticed a blacksmith to immigrate. We also received an emissary from Chief Sootscale, the leader of a nearby band of kobolds. We had encountered the kobolds during our initial clearances and had developed a friendly relationship. The emissaries expressed the Chief's desire to join our growing barony. More from Beckwitt:

Second month and all I got is more blisters. A blacksmith shows up and we gotta build him a workshop, while I live in a tent? Sure I know his job is important but come on, I just want a roof that don't leak.

Besides me it seems most of the people here are happy, they probably didn't have Satan Snaketongue convince them to come. Baron Dakros has done a fine job, he works hard and don't spend too much time talking at us. I guess we all see winter a few months ahead and want to be ready.

We started some farms to the north along the river, I still can't remember all the names. I guess those crazy kobolds to the northeast asked to join the kingdom, don't know what the kings will say about that. Seems they like our style and see our human ways as superior.

Had beers with Satan last night and lost at cards to that shark. Don't know why we play, I should just hand over my money right away. Seems we are a happy crew and that has made us more efficient. That has carried over to the treasury in general, sounds like boom times.

By the third month, we have begun to attract some attention from the wider world. First off, Lady Helibet and her retinue arrived to offer their services to our growing number of labourers. While the Baron and the High Priest do not endorse such activities, both are wordly men and are willing to overlook the appearance of a new brothel in town.

Secondly, Dunwin has attracted its first celebrity visitor, the famed bard, Kvothe Lightfinger. The castle was made available for the distinguished guest and several prominent (and somewhat adventurous) patrons from Restov came to meet him.

We also addressed our growing housing shortage, by building several permanent homes for our earliest immigrants. What say you, Beckwitt:

Woohoo, what a month! A house, a brothel and entertainment in the same month. Poor Satan, I found a better way to lose my money than playing cards with him. The Aphrodisia House is the best.

Things have been chaotic around here all month. Some of the new people were grumbling about how us first settlers got the best spots, but what did they think? We was going to choose to live in swampland? Anyway, the Baron talked to some of them and they seemed to accept his explanation.

Well, right after we got going on the houses our first official visitor showed up. One of the most famous bards in all the land showed up on the Baron's doorstep. Kvothe Lightfinger, master of six strings came to Dunwin! Well you can't say no to him when he asks to stay. So, he stayed the whole month. We had people from all over come to town to hear him play music and tell stories. I tell you, we barely got half the work done this month as we done in the last two. Everyone was cutting out early to see what Kvothe was doing.

Satan says he actually came to hear about the exploration of these lands. I figure Satan's just jealous. He seems just a small man beside Kvothe. Anyways, we are still waiting to hear if the Sootscales are going to join, seems like the Baron is stalling a little, but he did mention they have some nice land with a good river that you could travel on.


Thanks to Tayloritos for his commentaries from Beckwitt.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kingmaker report #1

The Stag Lord and his bandits have been destroyed and it is now time for our group to build our fief. Dakros, priest of Erastil, has assumed the throne of the newly-founded Barony of Drekmore and has established his capital city (ok, town...ok, small gathering of tents surrounding a ruin) of Dunwin on the site of the Stag Lord's fort. Satan, the mysterious southerner with a faint aroma of brimstone, has taken over the treasury. The witch, Rahasia has assumed responsibility for magical and scholarly affairs. Halak, our stout ranger and woodsman, has been tasked with defense of the hinterland, while the warrior, Lung, will command the city guard and ensure the rule of law is maintained within the realm. Several other courtiers have also been appointed to deal with internal security, foreign affairs and the spiritual and worldly well-being of the people.

Our first task is the repair and expansion of the Stag Lord's stronghold such that it may serve as a suitable seat of power. With a generous stipend from the swordlords of Restov, construction has begun and should be completed within a month. We have also brought in labourers to clear the land around the castle so that construction of the town may proceed and begin the efforts to build a road north to Oleg's trading post to provide a vital connection to Brevoy. Assuming all goes well, we will then begin our expansion northward, building the road, opening up farmland and attracting craftsmen to Dunwin.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Interesting WEG news

Zachary at RPG Blog II has the latest (and very likely last) bit of news to come out of the sad story of West End Games. With Septimus returned to Bill Coffin and TORG already sold off to a German publisher, the last remaining IPs were sold to Precis Intermedia. I can't say I know much about Bloodshadows or Masterbook. Truth be told, I thought they were part of TORG. I would be interested in seeing a revival of Shatterzone, however.

Shatterzone is an edgy, space-based campaign setting featuring corrupt megacorporations, nihilistic cults, a great alliance of three races (including humans) that excludes all others and a malevolent and powerful alien empire. The title of the game refers to a region of space that separates the Consortium of Worlds from the Armagon Empire. It is a zone of disturbed space with asteroid fields and dark matter making travel very hazardous. Many adventurers still risk it though, for there are great riches to be found. I think with some dedicated support behind it, the setting could be a real winner. I checked out the website of Precis Intermedia. It appears their plans for Shatterzone do not include the Open d6 license. Too bad, but I remain cautiously optimistic.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Predators - it's not crap!

I went to see Predators last night. It has been savaged by both critics and fanboys alike, so my expectations were low. But you know what, it wasn't that bad. It was clearly an homage to the original, although the characters were somewhat less heroic than Dutch and his crew. [minor spoiler alert] A cutthroat band of mercs and murderers is paradropped on an alien planet, still carrying the weapons they had on them when they were beamed off Earth by the Predators (sucks to be the deathrow inmate, armed only with a small knife). Let the bloodshed begin. The major innovation to the Predator canon in this movie is the addition of a second type of Predator, bigger and stronger than the original. They hunt both humans and the smaller Predators.

There were a couple of minor plot holes. For example, the token female in the cast, an Israeli sniper who serves as the conscience for the group, turns out to know a lot about the original mission which encountered the first Predator. Considering this was highly-classified information about a US military/CIA operation, it's not clear how an IDF soldier would have that intel. Also, the dreaded alien sky trope was displayed in all its glory as a sky full of planets, so close together they would tear each other apart if the laws of gravity were being enforced, suddenly appeared to inform the cast of the enormity of their plight.

Minor aggravations aside, the action was tight, the acting was satisfactory and there were a few easter eggs for fans of the original (as well as the Alien franchise, the convict starts channelling Private Hudson at one point). Worth the price of admission, especially if you are already a fan of the series.


Update: I should add, some firearm aficionados may be underwhelmed by the obligatory minigun scenes in this movie. While just as incapable of killing anything in Predators as it was in Predator, it also seems to have lost its ability to defoliate huge swaths of forest as well.

X-Wing or Y-Wing?

I've always had the sense that my sci-fi inspirations were outside of the mainstream. A good example would be my love for the largely unloved Y-Wing fighter. In that final assault on the Death Star, as a small squadron of rebel pilots flew out to meet their destinies, it was obvious the X-Wings were the stars of the show, and why not? Just look at it:

The very personification of cool, a hunter, fast and deadly. It looks like a modern fighter jet with just enough stylistic changes (like lack of tail) to make it look futuristic. But it doesn't look like a spaceship to me. Spacecraft don't need wings. Yes, I know they are actually X-foils, but they look like wings and that makes it look like an airplane to me. Contrast that with the rugged and unsexy Y-Wing:

Instead of wings, it has nacelles. Also, there is very little effort at aerodynamics. Real spaceships don't need aerodynamics, except when lifting off from a planet. In a couple hundred years, when starfighters battle for supremacy in the skies over Mars (it will happen and it will be awesome), I think we will see a lot more Y and a lot less X in their designs (insert Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus joke here).


Monday, July 12, 2010

Traffic report

Now that I have run my traffic counter for a few days, I'd say my initial excitement has worn off. We do get a lot of views from all over the world, but the average viewing time for the majority of these is only a couple of seconds, not long enough to even read a single post. It makes me wonder if most of these are not even real people, but just automated spambots. Not surprisingly, our biggest source of traffic is us. Roughly a third of our traffic comes from Calgary and it is generated from 15 unique visitors. Since most of us view the blog from multiple locations (home, work, mobile), it's possible most of those unique visitors are still us (and our friend from Citadel). In a way, it's reassuring since it appears nothing I write here will come back to haunt me if I decide to enter politics.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kingmaker - game design by committee

So, we finished the initial part of the Kingmaker adventure path involving the exploration and mapping of part of a region known as the Stolen Lands and have now been given a charter to set up a fief in the territory. We have had a chance to examine the new rules for creating and ruling our new lands. Any hopes that these new rules would compare favourably to my beloved Birthright Campaign Setting have been dashed. There are nearly a dozen rulership positions that need to be filled in order for the newly-established barony to function effectively. Certainly, every lordship needs a Treasurer and a High Priest, but many of these jobs seem to be the same thing with a slightly different focus. For example, the Warden administers to the defense of the realm, but the General leads the army and the Marshal organizes patrols and administers justice in rural areas. I guess if we were comparing this situation to a modern nation state like Canada, the Warden would be Minister of National Defense, the General would be Chief of Defense Staff and the Marshal would be Minister of Public Safety. It seems like a lot of redundancy for a small medieval fiefdom, however.

Even stranger, the occupant of each position appears to be qualified based solely on his or her ability scores. Our tiefling sorcerer with the Cha 20 would make a more effective High Priest than our actual priest of Erastil who only has Wis 18, because class and level seem to be completely meaningless as far as ruling our fledgling state is concerned. In any case, despite being a monarchy, we are given the option of swapping places after each turn. Each turn is a month, so if the Ruler wants to see how his ministers live, he can switch places with a different one each month. Maybe he'll try out Spymaster next month, then take a turn as Grand Diplomat after that. I don't know if this was inspired by reality TV, but even post-war Italy didn't turn over governments that quickly.

I hope more detailed rules will be revealed in future issues of the Kingmaker AP, because what we have right now seems bizarre to me.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

Build a better poison

Apparently, the brain trust at Paizo reads this blog, or maybe it's just a case of great minds thinking alike, but back a few months ago when I first started looking at the new Alchemist class, I suggested that the rules governing the use of poison would have to be changed to make them worth it to play an alchemist. Well, the second preview of the Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide has been posted and I direct your attention to this:

Concentrate Poison: The alchemist can combine two doses of the same poison to increase their effects. This requires two doses of the poison and 1 minute of concentration. When completed, the alchemist has one dose of poison. The poison's frequency is extended by 50% and the save DC increases by +2.

I think poisons are still too expensive, but options like this certainly make them a lot more attractive. Maybe, my next character will be another alchemist.


Another look at Weird War II

Aside from the corebook, Weird Wars: Blood on the Rhine, the Weird War II line includes sourcebooks for North Africa (Afrika Korpse), the Pacific theatre (Land of the Rising Dead), the air war (Dead from Above) and a bestiary (Horrors of Weird War Two). I really like Weird Wars: Afrika Korpse with its promise of ancient horrors buried in the sands of Egypt, but to really capture the Weird War II mood, I think the best supplement is Weird Wars: Hell Freezes Over - The Russian Front. It was in the east that the Nazis committed their greatest atrocities. The death camps, the einsatzgruppen, the seige of Leningrad, the battle of Stalingrad and the relentless brutality of the Russian winter, even the mundane horrors of the Eastern Front were almost too terrible to imagine. Throw in Nazi sorcery and weird science, as well as fiends from Russian folklore awakened by the anguished screams of millions of victims, and you have quite a potent mix.

Weird Wars: Hell Freezes Over - The Russian Front was one of the last supoplements published for Weird War II. It introduced three new base classes, the Cavalryman, the Commissar and the Siberian Shaman. The last of these is the first base class with supernatural abilities. Of course, the Grunt, Officer, Scout and Resistance Fighter base classes also have equivalents on the Eastern Front. There is one new prestige class, the Guardsman. The Red Army has no equivalent to the Commando (although Russian partisans may take that PC), so the Guardsman fills the role. However, the Guardsman is more of an elite fighter than an infiltrator. The Soviet version of the ISO, called SOPA, has its own versions of the OSI Adept, OSI Operative and OSI Chaplain (although the SOPA Chaplain is very rare due to the hostility of the Communist Party to the Russian Orthodox Church).

As with the corebook, this book contains a history of the war (obviously in this case, concentrating on the Eastern Front) and a good accounting of arms and equipment not previously detailed in other books. There are many new feats, including weird feats, a concept first introduced in Afrika Korpse. These are feats which provide some supernatural ability, but come with a disadvantage. For example, Below Zero Resistance gives a character unnatural tolerance for cold temperatures. On the other hand, such a character finds more temperate conditions uncomfortable, even dangerous.

There is a sizable selection of new monsters as well as a section on vampires. In Weird War II, the Nazis have an obsession with vampires. Senior Nazis, including Hitler, seek the gift (or curse) of immortality offered by vampirism, so as to ensure the 1000-year reign of the Third Reich. Much of the efforts of the SS blood mages in Eastern Europe are directed toward acquiring this power.


Rippin' on White Plume Mountain

Zack and Steve at have decided to abandon their exploration of Marvel Super Heroes and have returned to the one what brung 'em, D&D. Their latest target, the classic module, White Plume Mountain.

White Plume Mountain


Is there anybody out there?

It turns out, the answer is yes. I was playing around with Google Analytics yesterday and installed a traffic tracker on this site. In the one day it has been active, we have had 21 unique visitors from seven countries including Brazil, Australia and Israel. Now I'm sure some of you more tech-savvy readers will probably yawn at this revelation (no doubt, our resident computer guru, Obiri, will chuckle at the old greybeard), but I actually find this pretty darn cool. We don't really do this to attract a following (although we certainly cherish every one of our regulars), but it's nice to know someone is actually reading some of our stuff.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

What excites me in 2010?

This year has so far been a bit of a bust for me as far as cool new releases go. Paizo has just released the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: GameMastery Guide, the first core rulebook of 2010 and as far as what I look for in a rulebook, this offers nothing. On top of that, the problems over at Catalyst Game Labs have done a real number on the release schedule for Eclipse Phase. Posthuman Studios, the creator of Eclipse Phase, is back on track with a new publisher, but the release date of Sunward: The Inner System is still something of a mystery (fingers crossed for GenCon).

Fortunately, the second half of 2010 looks a lot more promising. These are the upcoming releases I am particularly excited about:

Chthonian Stars - Wildfire and Mongoose Publishing (expected release: Oct., 2010)

It is a good time to be alive. The nations of the world still exist, but they have become more civilized. Countries resolve their disputes through the forum of the United World Council. Colonies of mutual cooperation exist throughout the solar system. We have stretched to the edge of our known world.

But, alas, it is not to be our time.

Something approaches, a thing on an orbit from far away. Seemingly a large shard of dark matter, this object is known in obscure prophecy as the Chthonian Star. It is a thing that has been traveling through the universe on its oblique trajectory for millions, if not billions, of years. It is a part of the natural cycle of things, on its eon-long orbit. The Chthonian Star is the thing that caused the end of the dinosaurs, among other things. Now, again, it is awakening things long thought lost or dead, things that have slumbered awaiting its return.

Created by WildFire, the team behind the award-winning CthulhuTech, Chthnonian Stars is an original setting for Traveller. It brings a Lovecraftian flair to the Traveller family of products, in a near future setting where mankind has expanded out into our solar system, where old things are beginning to awaken.

This is the core setting book, with everything a new players needs (other than the Traveller Core Rulebook). It includes robust setting material, including a look at the planets and colonies of our solar system, new technology and starships, and a peek behind the curtain at the occult history of our part of the galaxy. It also includes new optional rules for character generation, including point allocation and half-terms, and new rules for psychology and combat.

Traveller Book:9 Robot - Mongoose Publishing (expected release: Oct.,2010)

From the characterful and sophisticated droids of film to simple drones, this book will allow players to construct and play a variety of robots covering all Traveller universes. From the Third Imperium to Judge Dredd, robots rapidly become ubiquitous items on high technology worlds, and this book will allow you to construct, outfit and modify robots of any type with a simple to use yet comprehensive system.

And of course:

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Advanced Player's Guide - Paizo Publishing (expected release: Aug., 2010)

Explore new and uncharted depths of roleplaying with the Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player’s Guide! Empower your existing characters with expanded rules for all 11 Pathfinder Roleplaying Game core classes and seven core races, or build a new one from the ground up with one of six brand-new, 20-level base classes. Whether you’re designing your own monstrous helpers as an enigmatic summoner, brewing up trouble with a grimy urban alchemist, or simply teaching an old rogue a new trick, this book has everything you need to make your heroes more heroic.

The Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player’s Guide is a must-have companion volume to the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. This imaginative tabletop game builds upon more than 10 years of system development and an Open Playtest featuring more than 50,000 gamers to create a cutting-edge RPG experience that brings the all-time best-selling set of fantasy rules into the new millennium.

The 336-page Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player’s Guide includes:
Six new base classes: the monster-hunting inquisitor, the explosive alchemist, the noble cavalier, the prophecy-haunted oracle, the monster-crafting summoner, and the hex-weaving witch

More than a hundred innovative new feats and combat abilities for characters of all classes, including Steal, Point-Blank Master, and Bouncing Spell

Variant class abilities, rules subsystems, and thematic archetypes for all 11 core classes, such as the antipaladin, the hungry ghost monk, and the urban ranger

Hundreds of new spells and magic items, from phantasmal revenge to the Storm King’s Cloud Castle

A wealth of fantastic equipment, such as fireblast rods and fortune-tellers’ cards

New prestige classes like the Master Chymist and the Battle Herald



Update: Another title which interests me is The Chronicles of Future Earth from Chaosium, but alas, this seems to be another game supplement with a migratory publication date. Maybe another GenCon release...

A look at Weird War II

There has been some recent interest from members of our gaming group for a World War II campaign following an apparently awesome game at PaizoCon with a similar theme. For this reason, I have decided to take a look at my Weird War II game materials. I will start with the first book, Weird Wars: Blood on the Rhine.

Weird Wars: Blood on the Rhine is a d20 OGL publication by Pinnacle Entertainment Group set in World War II. It can be played as a straight WWII rpg, but personally, I don't think the d20 system is well-equipped to capture the gritty realism such subject matter should possess. However, the Weird Wars series is not intended to be historical anyway. All manner of fantastical, occult and weird science elements have been included from Nazi blood mages and Waffen-SS wehrwolves to haunted tanks and the shadowy Allied espionage unit known simply as the OSI. The book starts out pretty mundane. The first five chapters include a brief history of WWII, a description of important organizations (i.e. the Gestapo, the SS, the Resistance) and individuals (i.e. Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Rommel), character generation, equipment and combat. All characters are assumed to be Allied military personnel or members of the Resistance and none start with supernatural knowledge or ability. The base classes are Grunt, Officer, Medic/Nurse, Resistance Fighter and Scout. There are several new feats and skills, although only the Prayer skill has any supernatural application. The equipment lists are quite extensive, including American, British and German arms and vehicles. Combat is somewhat more deadly than in D&D 3.5. Most rifles do 2d8 pts. of damage, mines and grenades do even more, armour classes are quite low (AC 14 or 15 being typical at low to mid-levels) and healing is far less effective.

The weird stuff starts to make an appearance in Ch. 6 with the introduction of prestige classes. The Commando and Sniper prestige classes are still mundane, but the OSI Chaplain, the OSI Adept and the OSI Operative have supernatural abilities. The OSI Chaplain can invoke miracles by using the Prayer skill, the OSI Adept can cast spells using any runes he knows and the OSI Operative eventually gains the ability to employ magic items. After that is a chapter describing magic in the Weird War II setting. It is less powerful than in D&D 3.5, but still potent. Divine magic requires a successful Prayer skill check and any successful casting causes some non-lethal damage to the caster in the form of fatigue. Arcane spells are cast using runes. Adepts learn new runes as they gain levels and may cast any spells that are based on those runes. Again, spellcasting is very fatiguing and adepts suffer non-lethal damage every time they cast. The next chapter deals with haunted vehicles, followed by a GM's section that includes background information on the OSI and the SS blood mages, as well as a bestiary. Finally, there is a short starting adventure entitled "Dogs of War". Given that the cover art for Weird Wars: Blood on the Rhine features a werewolf in a Waffen-SS uniform, it's not hard to imagine what the title of the starting adventure refers to.

Next time, I will take a look at Weird Wars: Hell Freezes Over - The Russian Front. After all, the horrors of the western front pale in comparison to those in the east.


Monday, July 05, 2010

A look back at Space Opera, pt.3

Part 3 - the Setting

Space Opera has a default setting, much like Traveller although it is much less developed. Much of the setting detail is revealed in the miniatures game Space Marines which serves as a companion game to Space Opera. It is in Space Marines that we learn about the various races that are described in generic terms in Space Opera. Humans/humanoids comprise several star nations which fill the various space stereotypes; Terran Union ("The Federation"), Azuriach Imperium ("Space Nazis"), Galactic People's Republic ("Space Commies"), Mercantile League ("Space Capitalists"), Ranan Horde ("Space Mongols") and IRSOL Confederacy ("Space Elves"). Beyond these, things really start to get cheesy. You have two feline races, the sensuous, hunter race called the Avatars and the technophile MekPurrs. The democratic, but militant canines are called the Rauwoofs, the traditionalist, monarchist bear-people are the Blarads, the flightless, egg-worshipping bird-people are the Whistlers and the fecund, expansionist lizardfolk are called Hisss'ist.

While hostility between the races is common, the Azuriach Imperium and the Hisss'ist seem particularly prone to aggression, they are still considered to be player races. There are, however, several truly alien races which are considered to be NPC races only. These are the Bugs, the Klackons and the Mertuns. The Bugs are pulled right out of "Starship Troopers" (the book, not the movie). They have workers, warriors and brain bugs, they use advanced technology (though primitive by human standards) and the communicate by telepathy. Individual bugs (not brain bugs) are fairly unintelligent, but not mindless. They are capable of some independent action, though tactics and coordination are limited. As such, they tend to utilize swarm tactics, sacrificing individual warriors the way humans would spend ammo. Klackons are large, intelligent crabs. They are more sophisticated than the Bugs and may engage in trade with other races. However, they are just as likely to eat foreign emmissaries as parley with them, so caution is always warranted. Finally, the Mertuns are technologically-advanced octopoids who are always seen in personal tripod units when encountered by other races. They are not so much evil as simply alien. They have little interest in other races except when they have something the Mertuns want.

Part 4 - final thoughts

Although for the most part, Space Opera is not a game I can recommend, there are some parts I quite like. Two things in particular, come to mind, space combat and worldbuilding. In the case of the former, it is not so much the mechanics of space combat I find appealing (they are, in fact, just as complicated as the personal combat rules). Rather, it is the basic assumptions I like. Ship-to-ship combat in Space Opera takes place at ranges of tens or hundreds of light-seconds. None of this "don't-shoot-till-you-see-the-whites-of-their-eyes" Star Trek space combat. Considering that naval combat today typically takes place at ranges beyond the horizon, it's hard to understand why spaceships would have to be bow-to-bow before opening up on each other. Of course, when you are firing at a ship that is 300 LS away, if you use conventional EM-based weapons and sensors, you're never going to hit a darn thing. After all, what you are seeing is the location of the enemy vessel five minutes ago. So Space Opera ship weapons and sensors utilize tachyon technology. Also, there isn't the variety of spaceship weapons that you find in some space games. I've never been all that impressed with massive catalogues of weapon technologies, many of which seem to be variations on a theme, like lasers, blasters, masers, grasers, phasars, proton beams, etc. In Space Opera, you have nova guns (a type of tachyon particle beam), megabolt torpedoes (a pulsed nova gun) and startorps (a powerful guided missile), that's it. Nova guns are based on "Precursor" technology, so there is no issue with more advanced weapons coming into the campaign.

As mentioned above, the other thing I really like in Space Opera is worldbuilding. Anyone who has ever played the game or even read the rules can't help but be inspired by reading the descriptions of increasingly more hostile planet types and the sorts of effects they have on characters and creatures inhabiting those worlds. Section 15.5 is my personal favourite, going into detail on how the combination of axial tilt, orbital eccentricity and location relative to the stellar ecosphere affects climate. The thought of getting stranded on a type 12 planet (extreme orbital eccentricity leading to the planet passing right through the stellar ecosphere) and facing whatever local fauna is tough enough to survive such conditions, is the stuff of nightmares. There are loads of good stuff in there for GMs running space-based rpgs to mine.