Monday, April 25, 2011

T. rex and Indiana Jones

I couldn't resist linking to this picture. It's just really, really awesome.

Too bad it's just a sketch, though. I'd love to see it properly inked and colored.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dark•Heritage session #1, part 2

It turns out that the crowd of approaching riders--about twenty in all--were not hostile. They were Untash, but they hailed the one guy who had unsuccessfully attempted to hide himself, whom they assumed was there alone. Ironically, perhaps, it was the ninja.

After talking for a bit, the rest of the group revealed themselves one or two at a time, not unlike the dwarves filing into Beorn's house in The Hobbit. These Untash confirmed that there was a band of really bad tribesmen (the Gitani) further ahead, hidden in the hills over there on the horizon. Very "bad medicine" and not of the Bon Jovi variety. They got some intel on the lay of the land over thataway, including the knowledge that there was a village in the thick woods that surrounded a river valley. On a tall promontory island in the river was the sacrifice stones where the prisoners would no doubt meet their end very shortly.

These more friendly Untash wouldn't follow the group on into the Gitani lands, seeing it as a suicide mission. But Grimace the sailor, who was feeling woefully unprepared for an adventure in what was basically the Old West managed to talk them into giving him a rifle. It was kind of the opposite of masterwork--apprenticework, maybe?--so on a roll of a natural 1, well... things could get interesting with it. Otherwise, it was a nice add-on to his equipment. The group was also able to talk the Untash into giving them some horses (I'm not quite sure how, but... eh) so they had a chance of getting there before tomorrow morning. I also rolled randomly and determined that it was a full moon, so off the guys went into the sunset. Well, technically, they were riding north, not west, but the sun was setting.

The hellspawn scout decided to, well, scout ahead when they got close. He checked out the village and the lay of the land, and it was much as described. He also had his scent picked up by a number of freakishly large and bizarre animals; some kind of daemonic dogs or something--four eyed, gaunt and twisted limbs, naked hides, with protruding gums and enormous teeth. They rushed him, and he fled (again) bringing a party of three demon dogs (no relation to Thundarr), two archers and a junior witch doctor on the party, who returned the favor by ambushing the group. The dogs turned out to be really nasty; in addition to being obviously lean, mean, toothy killing machines, they could vomit a plague of maggot-like little toothy parasites on their foes, which proceeded to attempt to bore into the flesh of anyone they attacked. The witch doctor struggled at first to get his nasty spells off the ground, but after he caused Grimace to go insane and then start suffering a heart attack, he got a little more respect. Rags went (again) into negative hit points, which possibly explains his reputation as the guy who runs away from every fight he gets in, but the medic that the party pressed into following along managed to keep him from being in any immediate danger of dying.

It was a toughish fight, but it was really just an appetizer, and they managed to handle the group relatively quickly.

And then we ended the session.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dark•Heritage session #1, part 1

Last night five somewhat intrepidish characters hooked up on the Untash frontier, united by a contract they had with the Margrave Bartomeo Baltazar i Morales to capture a live saber-tooth that he could show off in his menagerie to his more cosmopolitan colleagues down south. The characters were Soren, a human ranger, Grimace a jann pirate (fighter/rogue), Drizgohl, a vucari fighter/barbarian, Jekunzo, the cursed human ninja and "Rags" (short for Ragshamion, or something like that) a hellspawn scout. All characters were level 2.

A pre-game character exercise established some shared background between the characters. Grimace believed that Soren was his best friend, for example (although Soren thought he was annoying nuisance that he somehow seemed unable to get rid of.) Grimace had also fleeced Jekunzo in a prior gambling game, leaving him impoverished and having to work for his passage on a ship. Drizgohl had twice witnessed Rags fleeing an engagement, and was convinced that he was a worthless coward, while simultaneously being a bit more impressed with the agile fighting style of Jekunzo. There was more, but I don't remember all the details. It didn't lead to any really amazing revelations, but there was a bit of in-game banter as a result of the background exercise.

While Drizgohl, Soren and Rags were all sorta "wilderness literate" it was really only Soren who was best suited to find a sabertooth (the only one with Track.) After getting caught in a bison stampede, the managed to corner two hunting cats--one of which they brought down with a few wounds and a sharp blow to the head with a sap, of all things. The more city-folk types of characters then went in after the other cat, and nearly got killed for their efforts. Happily for them, it was more interested in chasing them away from the bison it had just killed than in killing them, so when they retreated, it let them be.

They loaded the heavy cat into a cage on a wagon, after tying it up first. At that point they saw smoke on the horizon. After a discussion on what their "mandate" was, they decided to go check it out. It looked like a small caravan had been attacked; a wagon was burning and several others were left nearby ransacked. The ground was littered with bodies, most of them Terrasan, but one was an Untash brave. After hearing a groan, the found one fellow that was still alive. He claimed that he was part of a party that was an invited guest of the Margrave, but they had made a wrong turn and wandered too far into the lands that the Untash claimed. They were set upon, and many of the group were killed, but the lord and lady and their daughter were carried off captive... along with all the treasure they could grab. See, the lord was fleeing domestic trouble at home, and he ransacked as much of his manor as he could before running away.

After a moment of thought, the group agreed that the wounded man could join the porters and the wagon and head back to the margrave's villa, while they went in pursuit of the Untash tribesmen, along with the field medic that had been provided for them. The trail was easy to follow, although on foot they had little hope of catching the mounted warriors quickly. They headed off anyway... and before long wandered across the path of a hunting short-faced bear. The Untash savannas are not to be traveled lightly.

Short-faced bears are monstrous hairy creatures, nearly six feet tall at the shoulder, and capable of standing nearly twenty feet tall on their hind limbs, with paws that can rip a person to shreds almost casually. Our group was cautious and tried to hide from the creature, but the ranger, of all people, made a clumsy move and gave them all away.

Rags was pretty thoroughly mauled, although not killed, and the rest of the group took a beating as well, but after Grimace threw some alchemists fire on the bear and Drizgohl mauled it back in return with his razor-sharp claws (he's not the brightest warrior in the bunch; going against a giant bear in claw-to-claw combat) the bear had had enough and retreated. While the medic was patching the crew up again and giving Rags CPR, they spotted another hazard on the horizon... the dust cloud of a mounted group of warriors heading their way...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sierra Club vs. Wyoming Rancher

Another totally random thought; as all my blogging energy is instead being funnelled into last minute updates and polishings of my material for tomorrow's game. Got this via email recently from a friend. I have no idea if it really happened, or if it's just a joke that's being passed off as something somebody really said or not.

The Sierra Club and the U.S. Forest Service were presenting an alternative to the Wyoming ranchers for controlling the coyote population. It seems that after years of the ranchers using the tried and true method of shooting... or trapping the predators, the Sierra Club had a "more humane" solution to this issue.

What they were proposing was for the animals to be captured alive. The males would then be castrated and let loose again. This was ACTUALLY proposed by the Sierra Club and by the U.S. Forest Service.

All of the ranchers thought about this amazing idea for a couple of minutes.

Finally, an old rancher in the back of the conference room stood up, tipped his hat back and said; "Son, I don't think you understand our problem here...... these coyotes ain't screwin' our sheep... they're eatin' 'em!"

The meeting never really got back to order. . .

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Classic movies that I somehow missed

I'm not feeling particularly motivated at the moment to add any setting details today, so for today's useless off-topic update, I'm going to make a partial list of classic movies that I somehow never saw, feel kind of embarrassed that I missed, and will be making an effort through Netflix to get caught up.

  1. The Godfather

  2. Lawrence of Arabia

  3. Doctor Zhivago

  4. Breakfast at Tiffany's

  5. The Searchers

  6. Rosemary's Baby

  7. American Grafitti

  8. South Pacific (I have seen the play of this, though, actually)

  9. Exodus

  10. Cool Hand Luke

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Heinrich Kemmler

I haven't kept my "what I'm reading" slots up to date over there on the side. Until I just removed it a few minutes ago, I was showing Death Masks as something I was reading, when in actuality, I'd finished that a little while ago, already blasted through Blood Rites (the next book in the same series) and am mostly finished with Dead Beat, the next one after that. I'll almost certainly finish it today. I've talked before about how Dead Beat is one of my favorite books in the series, so I won't get into it again today.

Rather, I'm going to talk about one of the more curious details of that book. A major non-appearing, historical character who nonetheless plays a major role, is Heinrich Kemmler, a major, monster, master necromancer, who's accused of being the direct proximal cause of both World War I and II, as well as being seen as so dangerous that the entire might of the White Council was marshalled against him alone, as if he were a major supernatural "nation" like the Red Court--and in fact, he was killed at least three times by the White Council, first in the 1800s, at the end of WW2, and most recently in 1961. Is he gone for good? No telling. Good villains are hard to keep down, and he's one of the best--perhaps up there with Nicodemus himself.

Curiously, Heinrich Kemmler is also the name of a major, monster, master necromancer from the history of the Warhammer world as well. Since Jim Butcher is generally pretty clued into geek culture, and since Warhammer is reportedly his favorite roleplaying game (and since Heinrich Kemmler, the lichmaster, features prominantly in several of the old and famous Warhammer modules from back in the day) it seems very unlikely that the names are the same is a coincidence. Heck, it even seems very unlikely that it was accidental, even. More likely it was a deliberate homage.

In fact, when couched in those terms, the use of Heinrich Kemmler as an uber-necromancer from history who's legacy still causes tons of trouble for people in the present day comes across as an example of Yog-Sothothery--the taking of names and details from one story and integrating them into another to give a sense of familiarity. Heck; by now the name Kemmler just sounds like a necromancer's name--because I've heard it used twice as such. So, now--I want a Heinrich Kemmler in my setting. Still trying to figure out where he'll fit in, and I don't have time this week to work it up, but after that, I'm going to actually integrate the idea of Heinrich Kemmler, the master necromancer, into DARK•HERITAGE too, and continue the tradition.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


I've said in my module outline that I'm going to have a "Sith lord" as an antagonist, with "Sith lord" in quotes because it's obviously not exactly the same thing. In fact, the originally idea was that it be a soulknife from the Expanded Psionics Handbook. The soulknife is, in my opinion, very obviously inspired by Betsy Braddock, i.e. Psylocke, of the X-men, who was a kick-butt martial artist who materialized psychic blades that she fought with.

I always liked the idea for my fantasy settings; it's a flashy magical effect, which in many ways I eschew, but at the same time, it's more of a martial artist, Zen kind of thing, not the stereotypical wizard with his flash-bang spells. I'd long had the soulknife as an optional class available in the DARK•HERITAGE setting, and in fact one of the main protagonist characters in my very slowly progressing novel is based around that idea too.

Perhaps it's somewhat curious, then, that I'm now leaning towards using another class altogether to represent it: the Jedi Guardian from d20 Star Wars Revised. In fact, in most respects, this is actually a more complete class; ready to plug and play without any more work, than the soulknife is. True; the Jedi focus is around using a lightsaber, but converting the lightsaber into a mindblade is mostly just cosmetic, and almost everything else is ready to go. I've already got a Defense bonus. The whole Force powers thing is quite a bit more involved (and useful) than the soulknife's very minor access to psionic powers. In fact, in most respects, the jedi guardian is a slightly more powerful version of the soulknife. Since the soulknife is widely considered to be underpowered, needing (at least) the adoption of a Fighter BAB progression to hold its own with other classes, I don't see this as problematic. Although my own playtest experience is fairly slight, in general, the jedi guardian is not considered overpowered relative to the other Star Wars classes, some of which are almost word for word identical to their D&D analogs (fighter vs. combat specialist, for example.)

Of course, one of the most important flavor points about the jedi and the Force is the whole light side and dark side dichotomy. I'm interested in having my first NPC who will feature this class be a "Sith lord", so I intend to use plenty of dark side powers, but in general, I don't want to get into this dichotomy for my campaign. I want to use the mechanics, but make them morality neutral (after all, one of the most notorious dark side powers is Force choke; and Luke uses that on Gamorrean guards in Return of the Jedi.) So, although it's been a little while, I'll need to re-read the jedi and Force powers rules again in more detail, and probably modify them somewhat to make them more value neutral without such a strong good and evil component. And I'll also need to think a little bit about the mindblade; if having it always accessible (instead of being something that can be lost or taken away) makes them potentially a bit overpowered, and if so, should I weaken the damage it does slightly or something.

Anyway, when complete, I believe I'll post my revised rules for using mindblades, more based on the jedi guardian class than on the soulknife class, on my mechanics wiki.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Early character signs

Well, since we didn't end up playing, a few of the guys are starting to rethink their character options. They've got two weeks to figure it all out, after all. Although this is pretty preliminary, it looks like I'm getting a mix of swashbucklers and outdoorsmen. The reports I have so far of intended characters include a jann fighter/rogue, another roguish type of some kind, a human ranger, a hellspawn scout, and a vucari barbarian. Nobody has access to magic--yet--but I anticipate that they will have the opportunity to learn some incantations and possibly some other, nastier things in the near future (certainly at the end of the first "module" when, assuming that they're successful, they'll end up with a copy of The Book of the Black Prince.)

One thing that I'm considering, since I now have the time to do so, is coming up with a soundtrack specifically for this campaign. I've spent the better part of the last few years collecting movie score soundtracks, in part because I think that they're great to play in the background while gaming (but also while reading, while writing, and while doing all kinds of other things, and I even move movie scores out of the background and listen to them for their own sake as good music.) I don't worry too much about matching particular tracks to particular sequences in the game; rather, I prefer to simply look for songs that have the appropriate mood and feel for the campaign as a whole.

With that, I'm trying to decide exactly which soundtracks best approximate the DARK•HERITAGE tone, and heavily use those, editing out a few tracks that don't really fit, perhaps, and filling in with a bunch of other songs from other soundtracks that might possibly add to the mix, even if the rest of the soundtrack they come from isn't really what I'm looking for. That said, I think a dark, almost horror-like feel is definately where I want to start. I described the campaign to my players as kind of "fantasy X-files", and while that's kinda sorta true, that's an oversimplification too. Right now, and actually for a quite a while, my favorite pseudo-horror soundtracks include Danny Elfman's The Wolfman soundtrack, and the collaborative soundtracks by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard for the two most recent Batman movies. Mixing in a fair number of tracks--if not most of the entire CDs--from the three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, a few of the Harry Potter soundtrack tracks, some songs from The Mummy and maybe even Raiders of the Lost Ark, Sherlock Holmes and Prince of Persia and/or the new Clash of the Titans gives me just a bit of an exotic, Arabian Nights-esque action adventure vibe to mix in with the horror and dark fantasy--about perfect, right? We'll see.

We'll see how much room I have, actually--ideally, I'd create a "mix" CD (of mp3 files, so I can get a lot of tracks on it) that I can use as my portable soundtrack for the campaign. That'll be about 9-10 CDs worth of music. So, for all of the soundtracks, I'll have to make sure that I edit it to just the exact tracks I want; I won't have room to pad it out with too much repetitition, or tracks that bring in a different mood.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Scheduling woes

Well, at the last minute I'm not going to be running DARK•HERITAGE tonight after all. One guy was already going to be unavailable as of a couple days ago. Suddenly another one had an unexpected commitment pop into his lap that he can't get out of, and another guy is sick! With three players down that would leave me with... two players. A bit on the light side. A bit too much on the light side (I actually prefer 3-4 players ideally, but scheduling games with adults with careers and families means that we can at least 50% of the time count on being one player down--having a pool of five works out great.) Next weekend I'm not available, so that has us looking at the weekend two weeks from now; probably Saturday the 16th. Blegh.

To at least find the silver lining here; I can polish off my plans a bit, and I can polish off the material that I've given the players so far too; make it a little bit more coherent and organized, and give them a bit more of it while I'm at it. And heck; maybe I can bust my hump to get my big poster map finished and painted before then so I can show them where they are while I'm at it. I can actually stat out some of my villains, make better plans for the various encounters, maybe photocopy the pages from the monster books that I need (so I don't have to actually take the books with me--even if it's just coming downstairs at my own house) and otherwise be a bit better prepared than I am now. It also gives me the opportunity to print off some images that will make the session more evocative.

All in all, I'm going to force myself to see this as a positive and come up with an even better session than I otherwise would have when we get together next!