Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Star Wars m20 Setting part I: Knightly Orders

Gray Marshals: The personal agents of King Maddav Bern, the Gray Marshals are famous for their devotion to the Monarchy. They operate with a great deal of independence in their role, and often can be seen on their own. Only fully trained Marshals are allowed in the field, so there’s really no good reason for an apprentice or padawan to be out on assignment, as with some other orders. While on duty, and not incognito, Marshals are famous for their black flight suits and their silver or white lightsabers.

Orthodox Jedi: The goal of the Orthodox Jedi is to recreate the old Jedi Order from before the Purge. Seeking out clues and lingering evidence of how the Order used to operate, the Orthodox Jedi are too involved in their own concerns to be overtly political, as other orders are. Orthodox Jedi usually travel in their errands by twos—a knight and a padawan together. Although not required, most Orthodox Jedi use blue lightsabers, whereas Skywalkers prefer green. But that’s merely a preference, not an absolute.

Skywalkers: Rejecting the rigid dispassion of the original Jedi Order, the Skywalkers believe that the compassionate and activist stance of Annakin and Luke is the way to balance the Force. They take their name as well as their approach from the order founded by Luke following the Battle of Endor. Closely associated with the Revanchist Republic, the Skywalkers are famous as do-gooders throughout the galaxy. They’re infamous for doing so with smugness, self-righteousness and a heavy-hand all too often, however. And a closely guarded secret of the order is the large number of Skywalkers who fall to the Dark Side…

The Cyborg Order: Knights who supplement their fighting abilities with cybernetic augmentations, as did the Chosen One himself, or so they imagine. In reality, these Knights tend to more closely resemble General Grievous than Darth Vader. They are loosely associated with the Corporate Worlds and their combat droid armies, making their resemblance to the erstwhile general even more pronounced, although not deliberate. Because of their location in the galaxy, they can more easily access yellowish lightsaber crystals, which grow naturally on Yuggoth, an icy planet in the Corporate Sector, making yellowish lightsabers more common amongst the Cyborg Order.

The Nightsisters and Nightbrothers: This insular and secretive order has grown tremendously since its days of isolation on Dathomir, where Count Dooku nearly destroyed them overnight to a galaxy-wide cult who settle in isolated enclaves and cells throughout the galaxy. Many are allied with the Sith Empire, although the Sith obviously have their own order of knights as well. Nightsisters and Nightbrothers do not typically use lightsabers, although some of them have discovered the ancient secrets of making darksabers, and more and more this antique-style weapon is showing up in the hands of Nightbrothers in particular.

Sith: After the disastrous risk to the order was revealed if the apprentice kills the Master and doesn’t ascend to his place (i.e., the death of Darth Sidious) those who have attempted to follow in the footsteps of the old Sith order have looked much further back to the ancient Sith Empire rather than the more recent age of the Rule of Two as their model. The master/apprentice dynamic is still important to the Sith, but many such pairings exist throughout the galaxy, reporting loosely to a Dread Council of Arch Heretics, and the Sith Emperor himself. The Sith are infamous, of course, for their red lightsabers, made of synthetic crystals. However, because synthetic crystals are often easier to come by than natural ones, seeing a red lightsaber is not necessarily a clue that you’re looking at a Sith Knight anymore.

Independents: In addition to these major (and many other minor) Knightly orders, there are a great many individuals who can use the Force as their ally, and who carry lightsabers or similar weapons. Some have trained with an Order, but turned their backs to its traditions, while others have sought out solitary masters or even are self-taught. Because of this, there is no way to generalize what an independent knight looks like, thinks like, or what his philosophy may be, but they are indeed varied and often strange.

Star Wars m20, part III: Equipment

Well, it took some work, but I got the Equipment stuff done for my Star Wars m20 game.  This was a bit more of a mess, and I really wasn't totally thrilled with the system in the documents I had, so it took more work for me to clean it up.

What I ended up with is perhaps a little bit more cumbersome than the spirit of m20 calls for, but it's still pretty simple, and I do like the flexibility, even if I do say so myself.

I'm not going to cross-post this to the blog, though, because it includes a bunch of tables, which won't translate well into the Blogger template.  Since I started up a new Star Wars m20 wiki (and deleted the pages from my DARK•HERITAGE wiki, which really shouldn't have had Star Wars stuff on it anyway), I decided just to link directly to the page here, rather than try and recreate it and go through a formatting nightmare.

I will, however, cross-post other material, especially the setting stuff.  Starships, the last mechanical gap to be fixed (where, again, I'll have to work with a bit of a mess on my original m20 versions, to see what looks best of the two options and sort them out) may have some tables too, and may not be cross-postable, but the setting stuff certainly all will be.

Opening crawl

Check out this cool little app!  While I hope to get the system stuff finished today, I also couldn't help but whip up my own version of the Opening Crawl for my future Star Wars game...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Star Wars m20 rules, part II: Combat, Healing and the Force


Hit points are, as mentioned earlier, your STR score + 1d6 per level. Attacks will remove hit points. When HP reaches 0, the character is unconscious and near death. Any additional damage directly reduces STR. If STR reaches 0, then the character is dead. Most NPC antagonists follow these same rules, but certain NPC antagonists are considered "mooks" (also minions, goons, spear-carriers, etc.) and are not meant to keep fighting after being hit. These characters don't have any hit points, and any successful attack in combat will automatically kill (or at least incapacitate, if you're playing a less violent game) them outright. A good example would be most stormtroopers and battle droids. They are, however, assumed to have all of the other stats as any other character. A super battle droid could be a mook who goes down with only one hit, but because he has heavy armor and a high STR, he still makes a more formidable opponent than a regular battle droid. For example.

Combat is conducted in initiative order. Roll 1d20 + DEX to determine initiative order. Everyone can do two things during a combat round, (1) move and (2) move, attack, deflect a blaster bolt (if a Knight using a lightsaber), use a skill, etc. All checks or attacks target a DC, either a skill DC for skill checks, an opposed skill check result for opposed skill checks, or the target's Armor Class (AC) for attack rolls. Although a move is considered 30 feet, I'm not interested in using a battle-mat, or overly tactical combat, so that's more of an abstraction than anything else. Remember how you used to play D&D back in the 80s without mapping out combat unless it got really excessively complicated due to lots of opponents? That's how Star Wars should feel--combat is fast and loose and swashbucklery, not static and grid-based and miniatures game like. To facilitate this, unlike in D&D or most other d20 games, it's not assumed that you must Move and then take your move equivalent action (be it an attack, using the Force, or whatever)--rather, you are assumed to do them at the same time. This means that in d20 terms, all characters are automatically assumed to have the equivalent of the Spring Attack feat. If you don't play d20, and since this isn't a tactical combat assumption anyway, that may be irrelevant.
  • Melee attacks are made as a STR + attack bonus (usually level, but for Soldiers and for Knight's using lightsabers it can be higher). Add your STR bonus to damage as well.
  • Ranged attacks are made as DEX + attack bonus. This includes both shooting a blaster (or other gun) as well as throwing something, such as a grenade.
If a natural 20 is rolled, you do not need to confirm a critical hit, you automatically do double damage (roll damage dice twice, don't just multiply the result of a single roll.)

You may also take damage from other things than simply combat attacks. Here's a few examples:
  • Falling: A character takes 1d6 damage for every ten feet fallen. You can reduce this damage by trying to land lightly by making a DEX + Physical skill check with a DC equal to the number of feet fallen. This will result in only half of the damage taken (rounded up.)  The Force Surge power can be used in a similar way.
  • Hazards: When falling into a hazard, such as spikes, or something like that, at +1 point to the falling damage for every ten feet fallen, max +10.
  • Poison: Make a STR + Physical skill check to avoid or for half, depending on the poison. The effect depends on the specific poison.
  • Extreme Heat or Cold: If not wearing suitable protection, make a STR + Physical skill check once every 10 minutes (DC 15 + 1 per previous check), taking 1d6 damage on each failed save.

Characters heal their level in HP every hour, or twice this with medical care. Once per session, a character can automatically heal themselves of half of their total HP as a "second wind."

The Force
Although all characters have a Force skill rank (except droids) only Knights can actually use Force powers. Using any Force power costs 4 HP (because it's tiring and wears you out to rely on it too much) and requires a skill check of 1d20 + Force skill + the applicable stat bonus (usually MND, but there could be a few exceptions at the GM's discretion.) Sometimes the DC that a character is trying to hit with his Force check is the equivalent of a Saving throw, and other times it might be an opposed Force check--even for Characters who cannot use Force powers themselves, they still have a Force skill rank which they can use in opposed Force checks. Other times, it's a static DC set by the GM.

For simplicity sake, there are only ten listed Force powers, which correspond to almost all of the Force action seen in the movies, tv show and video games. There may be other Force powers referred to obliquely, or in Expanded Universe material. There are no rules for them here, if so, but if desired, they can be homebrewed into the game with GM approval and involvement. Some powers listed here are traditionally considered "dark side" powers, but my interpretation of the Dark Side is that it's more of a plot device than anything else; i.e., it should be used as a roleplaying tool, not a mechanics tool--your GM will work with you on what the consequences are of using the Dark Side. Given the ability of characters in the Old Republic games to be Dark Side specific characters and still play quite successfully, there's no rule for "losing" your character to the Dark Side or anything like that. Again, that's all roleplaying.

When using the Force in combat, you must make your opposed skill check. If you lose the check, you still lose the hit points--it always costs 4 HP to use the Force, but the opponent suffers no ill effect. Some powers can be used against multiple targets. That's OK, but there is a -2 penalty to the Force skill check for each additional target beyond the first, and it costs 1 extra hit point per each additional target beyond the first. So, for example, attempting to Force Push five battle droids at once would incur a -8 penalty on the check (which must be made separately for each target) and would cost 8 HP regardless of the outcome.
  • Force Push: Force + MND check vs. Physical + STR or DEX (whichever is better) of the target. Force Push inflicts 1d4 damage per Knight level, and knocks the opponent to the ground. The opponent suffers a -4 to AC until they can use a Move action to stand back up.
  • Force Surge: Force + MND vs. static DC set by the GM. Useful for the amazing feats of speed and leaping common to Knights. Failure consequences depend on the degree of failure, i.e., if you just miss your check on a Jump, you don't reach your goal and may have to jump again. If you blow it by a larger margin, you may hurt yourself falling in the attempt. This one is very situational in terms of what the penalties for failure might be, although a good GM should use the source material as a guide and not be overly punitive.
  • Battlemind: Force + MND check. For every 10 points made, the Knight gains a +1 to attack, damage and AC for the duration of the combat. For example, if a 7th level Knight with a +2 MND bonus rolls a 10 on a d20 (for a total roll of 19) he would gain +1 to attack, AC and damage, but take 4 points of damage, as normal. If he had rolled an 11, for a total of 20, he would gain a +2 to damage, attack and AC.
  • Negate Energy: Force + MND check--DC equal amount of damage taken. By taking the standard 4 points of damage, the Knight can negate the damage from one energy source. Unlike with other Force powers, the Knight can Negate as many attacks per round as he has HP to spend on activating the power without any penalty for multiple targets. It also can be done passively when it is not the Knight's turn, but it does cost a combat action to use. If used passively in this manner, when the Knight gets his next turn, he can still move, but is considered to have already spent his other action on this Force power. Obviously, this is only desireable to do if the damage is higher than 4 points, and the Knight does not mind giving up his next action. This can also be used outside of combat to walk through fire, or an irradiated room, or something like that.
  • Force Grip: "I find your lack of faith disturbing." A Force + MND check vs. a Physical + STR check. If successful, the target suffers 1d6 damage per Knight level.
  • Force Lightning: Force + MND vs a DEX + Physical to dodge the attack, or a Force + MND to oppose, absorb or block the attack (for example, on your lightsaber blade.) The target of a successful check takes 1d6 damage per level of the attacker.
  • Stun Droid: Force + MND vs. Physical + DEX or STR (whichever is better.) Treat this Force power as if it were an ion attack; droid targets which do not make their save are shut off.
  • Mind Trick: Force + MND vs. Force + MND (even characters that cannot use Force powers, i.e., non-Knights, have a Force skill ranking that they can use to oppose Mind Tricks.) A simple opposed check in which the Knight can make a suggestion seem amazingly reasonable. The GM may impose, as with any skill check, situational modifiers may apply if the target thinks the suggestion is outrageous or over-the-top.
  • Farseeing: Often a Force + MND against a static DC set by the GM to see a person or place in the past or present, or even glimpses of possible futures.  The GM can also roll checks against this out of combat in secret to give the player clues or hints about things going on around them (such as sensing an old master or enemy nearby.)
  • Telepathy: Force + MND against a static DC set by the GM to implant a message without speaking (and possibly across great distance).  The message is usually short and fairly simple, and comes with no compulsion to act on it.  Receptive minds may grant a circumstance bonus to the check (i.e., Luke trying to contact Leia so she can pick him up before he falls off the bottom of Cloud City) while resistant or unwilling minds may cause a penalty, at the GM's discretion.
Using the Force outside of combat is a simple skill check, and since you're outside of combat, the HP cost is usually irrelevant, and therefore not applied, although NOTE: this does not mean you can use the Force without consequence on something like Battlemind right before a combat starts. Don't try to be a rules-lawyer, the GM is the final say, and I can't imagine a GM that would think that's OK. Static DCs are meant to reflect d20 standard DCs, in which a DC of 15 is a reasonably "average" task; difficult and requiring some degree of expertise, but should not be beyond even the capabilities of most lower level characters. Anything in the single digits is almost not worth rolling (unless the consequences of failure are suitably dramatic) and anything around 25 or more is a fairly epic task that only higher level characters should feel confident that they can accomplish. For example, Luke pulling his lightsaber out of the snow when hung upside down in the wampa cave probably wasn't difficult (DC 5) whereas pulling his x-wing out of the swamp was probably at least a 25 or 30 DC task--which is why Luke failed and Yoda--a much ligher level Knight--did not.

Design notes:
At the bargain price of 4 HP per power use, Knights start out somewhat weak but become more powerful as levels progress. But, because I effectively cap the game at 10th level, the real runaway force prodigies, like Yoda or Sidious, may not really be recreatable without breaking the rules and going higher level, or perhaps giving them a unique Affinity to using the Force that reduces their HP cost from 4 to 2. I don't recommend that for player characters, unless you desire a campaign in which Knights are much more dominant.

Star Wars m20 rules, part I: Chargen

I'm actually working these out on my wiki, but I may move them, since my wiki isn't really Star Wars related.  In any case, I'll cross-post stuff here.  This is mostly taken from the draft 1 Star Wars rules on the Microlite website, but I have tinkered with it a bit, so it's not exactly the same.

The second draft of rules is more detailed than I wish--I actually think the first version got it closer to right.


This Star Wars variant uses m20, an extremely flexible and rules-light approach to the d20 engine of game design. It's more or less compatible with d20, i.e., if you really wanted to, you could use d20 material with m20, although the d20 material is very rules-heavy in comparison. My description of the rules assumes a passing familiarity with both the notion of roleplaying and the d20 system specifically, at least, so it leaves a few assumptions unstated. But the core conceit of m20 vs. d20 is that m20 favors a handwavey approach to the game rather than a rigorous one, one that favors rulings over rules, and one that favors a narrative, fast approach for those who enjoy the "collaborative storytelling" aspect of RPGs much more than the tactical gameplay (which is almost entirely eliminated.) The approach is to follow the d20 engine as much as possible, but taking out all kinds of detailed information in favor of collapsing back to a much simpler approach, and multipurposing existing mechanics into a much broader array of uses.

Star Wars Character Generation

Characters in Star Wars m20 have three stats, Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), and Mind (MND.) To generate stats, simply roll 4d6 three times. Drop the lowest die from each roll to get a "high 3d6" and apply the scores as desired to the three stats. The stats are in traditional D&D format, i.e. 3-18, but what really matters is not the score, but the bonus. Each stat bonus is equal to the stat's value minus 10, and then divided by 2; rounded down. First level hit points are equal to your STR score (not STR bonus.) Your AC is equal to 10 + your DEX bonus plus any armor, race or class bonus.

A more "heroic" swashbuckling approach would be to allow the players to roll four stats, at 4d6, and ignore the worst one. This gives two levels of insulation from bad rolls, and should increase the average stat considerably. If desired, instead of rolling, you can take the standard PC array of 16, 13, and 11, but this must be decided before stats are rolled, if so. In fact, in best practice, the GM would apply that concept to all characters rather than having some characters take the standard array and others roll. NOTE: This is the standard PC array, but it also applies to "heroic" NPCs or villains. Standard NPCs have a standard NPC array of 10, 10, 10.

Characters in Star Wars m20 have access to five skills--Communication, Physical, Subterfuge, Knowledge, and Use The Force (or simply Force.) The skill rank for every character is equal to your level plus any class or race bonuses. A skill check is made by rolling a d20 and adding both your skill rank and the stat bonus applicable (your GM will tell you if it isn't very obvious) against a DC set by the GM. Saving throws are treated as skill checks, i.e., a Fort save would be (usually) a STR + Physical, a Reflex save would be DEX + Physical, a Will save against a Force power would be MND + Force. The GM, again, will tell you what applies, but those are general guidelines. Slicing a computer, to give another example, would probably be MND + Knowledge.

Only Knights can use the Force in terms of actually using Force powers. But all characters have rankings in the skill anyway, if nothing else, to use in resisting certain Force powers (which, as in d20 opposed skill checks, require both characters to make a check against each other.)

All of the skills equate to a few skills on the standard d20 skill list, but they are "collapsed" into fewer skills. So, for example, Communication is equivalent to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, etc. while Subterfuge can be used for such varied uses as Hide, Move Silently, Disguise, Forgery, etc. For the most part, it should be obvious which is the skills on this simplified list apply to any given situation, but as in all things, defer to the judgement of your GM.

There are four classes in Star Wars. All begin at level 1. There isn't really a mechanism to multiclass, so pick your concept, pick the class that best suits it, and run with it. Given how rules-lite the system is, each class is easily flexible enough to accomodate a lot of variety in concept anyway. I can't imagine ever playing a game that went higher than level 10, so for my purposes, it's an effective level cap for each class (and for the game itself.) As always, NPCs don't necessarily always follow these rules. Then again, it's not really my intention that PCs could ever really be Yoda or Palpatine equivalents, so they almost certainly break the rules by being higher level than PCs can be.

Each class provides a class ability and a skill modifier.
  • Soldier: Soldiers get Combat Bonus and +3 to their Physical skill checks. The Combat Bonus is +1 to all attack and damage rolls. This increases by an additional +1 at level 4 and level 8.
  • Scoundrel: Scoundrels get Sneak Attack and +3 to their Subterfuge skill checks. The Sneak Attack allows the Scoundrel to add their Subterfuge modifier to the damage roll against an unsuspecting foe. Usually this will require an opposed DEX + Subterfuge check first, and only applies to the first attack if it doesn't kill everyone involved in the combat right away.
  • Expert: Experts get one Affinity and +3 to their Knowledge skill. An affinity is a broad area of expertise, and any task (subject to GM approval) that falls under the heading of this affinity can be re-rolled if it fails the first time. Affinities are as follows: Piloting, Medical, Nobility, Droids, Starship repair, Galactic geography, etc. These are merely samples; you can think of others if you like. Be sure and keep them broad, but not too broad--the examples above are good samples.
  • Knight: Since Jedi are not the only Knights (see setting info) this class applies to any light-saber and Force using character type. Knights get Lightsaber training and +3 to their Force skill. Lightsaber training allows the Knight to use the Soldier's Combat Bonus ability, but only when using a lightsaber. It also allows them to add 1/2 of their character level to their AC if unarmored. In any round after being shot at with an energy weapon, the Knight can deflect a missed attack back at the attacker (treat as if the Knight made a ranged attack) but cannot take any other action (other than Move) that round. If the Knight also does not move and "fights defensively", he can also use this ability to add an additional +4 to his AC against blaster attacks only, increasing the number of attacks that he can deflect (since, of course, the higher AC should mean that more attacks will miss.)
Pick a race for your character. Because in Star Wars, all races tend (mostly) to be just people in funny suits, any characteristic can apply to any race if desired (subject to GM approval.) But feel free to try and play your race to type, or at least to construct it to type. Picking a race is an a la carte option in m20 Star Wars. Rather than picking a race and applying preset bonuses, you can decide exactly what being a member of a given race means. The system for constructing race bonus is to use two Racial Template Points (RTP) and add them to your character at creation. One RTP is equal to:
  • A +1 Stat bonus (requires taking twice to get a for sure +1 to the bonus, of course.) This could also include a +1 to AC as natural armor, even though AC isn't a "stat" per se.
  • Two skill points (i.e., +2 to one skill of your choice, or +1 to two skill bonuses of your choice.)
  • A special trait or ability (usually an affinity, as described above in Class. If a character has an affinity for both race and class, allow them to reroll twice! They clearly really want to be good in that area, and are spending character generation capital to do so at the expense of something else.)
Subject to GM approval, some races may give up the equivalent of a RTP to spend it somewhere else, but I wouldn't do much of this. Otherwise, however, players are strongly encouraged to play around with this race system to create the customized version of their character that they want.

That said, here are a few sample races that are considered "default."
  • Human: +1 to all skills (except Force.)
  • Cereans: +2 to MND
  • Duros: +1 to DEX and Pilot affinity
  • Gamorreans: +2 to STR
  • Mon Calamari: +1 to MND and Swimming affinity (can swim with as much fanfare and skill as other characters can walk)
  • Trandoshans: +1 to STR and +1 to natural AC
  • Zabrak: +1 to DEX, +1 Physical and +1 Knowledge
  • Wookie: +3 to STR, -1 to MND (NOTE: Uses the rule above that I recommended against doing much of. But a few exceptions is fine.)
Droids can also be created using the rules for RTP. Droids cannot be Knights, and have no Force skill ability. They do not recieve stat increases upon leveling as biological characters do, but in return are immune to mind-influencing powers and several physiological conditions which are problematic, if not fatal, to biological creatures (such as lack of atmosphere.) They never age or die as long as they are maintained. Here's a few sample droid types:
  • Protocol droid: +4 Knowledge
  • Combat droid: +1 to DEX and +2 to Physical
  • Astromech: +2 Knowledge and Piloting affinity
  • Super battle droid: +2 STR
  • Keep in mind that droids seen in the movies are a combination of their racial traits and the equipment that they're built with, when creating NPC droid opponents. Super battle droids would have heavy armor, while regular battle droids would not, but that's a case of their built in equipment, not their racial stats. PC droids should be allowed similar flexibility (as can PCs of other races, of course. Equipment is an important part of modifing stats in any d20-like game.)
Droids must make a Fort (or Reflex in the case of an area effect, such as a grenade) when hit with an Ion attack. If they fail, they will be shut down. To reactivate a droid, they usually just need to be switched back on. A damaged droid with access to a repair kit (and in some cases, someone else to make the repairs, but usually they can do it themselves) heals like a normal character. Another character using a repair kit treats it as if it were a medical kit on a biological character.

Level Advancement
In general, characters advance when the GM says that they do, rather than against some formula of antagonists defeated. I expect in normal play to treat advancement as happening once every 4-5 sessions, but that can be speeded up or slowed down to taste and depending on the desired length and scope of the campaign overall. As I mentioned earlier, I do not anticipate ever having a campaign go higher than 10th level, so it becomes an effective level cap on the game and on characters.

Every time a character levels, he gains the following advantages.
  • +1d6 to Hit Points (feel free to roll twice and take the better result. Getting a crocked hit point roll really sucks.)
  • +1 to all attack rolls
  • +1 to all skills
  • On levels divisible by three (3, 6, and 9) add one point to STR, DEX or MND (except for droid characters.)
  • Remember that soldiers gain an additional +1 to attack and damage at level 4 and 8.

Star Wars m20?

My Star Wars game, that I'm a player in, not GM, continues apace.  We played again this weekend, and after two sessions, have mostly "recovered the game" from our disastrous side trip to the Shining Market (which I personally don't think was disastrous at all--in fact, if anything, it was quite profitable and certainly very fun.  But I've always had a hard time with conforming too closely with pre-written campaigns anyway.  I never run them, but sadly, I seem destined to always play in them, since the GMs who run in my group all run that way.)

The announcement of Star Wars Rebels about a week or so ago, the new animated show that will premier on DisneyXD in 2014 and replace the excellent Clone Wars show on Cartoon Network, which I guess is actually now complete, and only awaiting the release of the 5th and final season on DVD to be nicely wrapped up, partly fuels my renewed interest in the franchise.  Clone Wars was one of a two-pronged approach that I'm fond of telling my fellow Star Wars fans was responsible for rehabilitating the franchise after the prequels so nihilisticly damaged them.  Clone Wars wasn't always excellent--among the main characters we have a number who are frequently quite annoying and whiny--Ahsoka is difficult to like for at least the entire first season, if not further on, for example.  And while Annakin isn't the terrible black hole of soul and charisma that he manages to be in the prequels, he's not my favorite character by a long-shot either.  But it's still a good show, contributes meaningfully to the canon while also being very enjoyable to watch, and managing to feel like Star Wars much more so than the prequels ever did.

The other prong of that rehabilitation (as well as being a prong in my renewed interest) is The Old Republic, series of games by BioWare (although one of the three games in this series is actually by Obsidian.)  I hadn't played too much of the actual Old Republic game, because I'm not much of a fan of its format as an MMO, but it's an odd MMO that plays more like the RPGs that preceded it in the series, I believe.  I've had a new graphics card for months ready to install, with the express purpose of making playing this game easier, but I haven't (still) gotten around to it.  That hasn't stopped me from starting the game back up again anyway; being a full (mostly) game in free-to-play format has made that easier than ever.  Long live the Empire!  My newish bounty hunter character has been fun, although I'm playing him mostly like a "light side" bounty hunter rather than a dark one, making him more like a Han Solo-ish scoundrel than anything else.

Between the two of those, and my kids' own interest in what I do on D&D night, which was piqued considerably more by my telling them that it's actually Star Wars, at least for now, I'm thinking of deferring my m20 DARK•HERITAGE test in favor of an m20 Star Wars test.  Luckily for me, there are already two drafts of an m20 document; a draft 1, and a draft 2 which adds more detail and more options.  Curiously, I'm interested in paring them down to a draft 3 which is even more lightweight than either.  Plus, I've been tinkering with my own take on Star Wars, a kind of "revisionist Star Wars" if you will, a la the concept of Revisionist Westerns.  Curiously, the prequels and much of the other more recent material in Star Wars is already fairly revisionist, although sadly, I don't know that it's necessarily deliberate.  My own setting conceits aren't exactly apologists for the bad guys, but they are a bit more sympathetic to them, as well as critical of both the Republic, the Rebels, and the Jedi in particular.  This is based entirely on canonical material mostly within just the movies themselves, supplemented a bit by material from the Clone Wars.  And, like the Legacy comic book (sadly for me, I had a similar idea long before they did, but then they went and published, making me look like the copycat.  Oh, well.) I moved it far enough into the future that I can feel free to do what I want to with the setting; an idea that I originally got after playing Knights of the Old Republic (which went backwards in time to do the same thing.)  Because Legacy did what I wanted to so well, in many ways, I specifically borrowed some ideas from it; the Roan Fel Empire as an evolved descendant of the Imperial Remnant, with its systematized Imperial Knights as rivals to the Jedi, is directly reflected in my Monarchy, for instance.

So, for the next little bit, in addition to my regular DARK•HERITAGE updates, as well as my updates on various other topics that I can't help but throw out here, off topic as they may be, I'll also continue the m20 series, focusing on my adaptation of the system to Star Wars, and some more noodling around with the setting as it will be in my game. 

For those who care about this sort of thing, my approach to canon is also perhaps less than rigorous.  Or, more accurately, I try to be rigorous in terms of following what I allow, but what I allow is considerably less expansive than the entire Expanded Universe, much of which I'm explicitly ignoring.  I consider canon to be the six movies, and the Clone Wars cartoon show (which, technically, includes the 7th movie, since the pilot was expanded into a full-length feature film and had a theatrical release.)  I also consider the Old Republic material (including Knights as canonical, or mostly so, although of a "junior tier" to the movies and tv show.  Any inconsistencies are chalked up to the Old Republic era being so long ago that some of the details have been lost or confused.

In reality, this isn't a big deal, though--I'm setting my Revisionist Star Wars 1,000 years after the Battle of Endor.  The actual events that led to the Jedi Purge, the otherthrow of the Old Republic, the actions of the Chosen One to bring balance to the Force, and his son Luke's re-establishing of the Jedi Order (albeit under somewhat different guidelines and principles) are all nearly legendary now.  This gives me the power to ignore anything I don't like without having to explicitly disallow it: I just claim that things have changed in the intervening 1,000 years.

Despite the fact that my Star Wars is billed as revisionist and somewhat more critical of the "good guys" and somewhat sympathetic to the "bad guys"--in reality, all that is mostly to justified all of their continued existance for all this time.  It's certainly not my intention that Revisionist Star Wars no longer feel like Star Wars, but like some kind of "anti-Star Wars".  Although I will point out, like I said, that the demythologizing of the Jedi as nearly infallible fonts of wisdom and goodness was substantially done (albeit probably mostly unintentionally) by the prequels already, so I'm not exactly going way out on a limb here after all.

Also--one thing I realized about playing Old Republic is that I really like the non-Force using classes.  Some of the source material (prequels and Clone Wars in particular) made such a big deal out of the Jedi, that they seemed to be the real movers and shakers in the galaxy, while everyone else had to play second fiddle.  I didn't get that vibe nearly as much from the original trilogy.  It is absolutely my intention that a highly capable bounty hunter or gunfighter--a Cad Bane, or Boba Fett equivalent, for example, would be completely capable of going toe-to-toe with a Jedi or Sith and expecting that they could win.  I'm not going to fall into the trap that Lucas more and more fell into of making his villains too cartoonishly incompetent.  That leads to stupid things like Obiwan thinking that it's a good plan to just jump out in the middle of a meeting of all the bad guys and saying, "Well, hello there!" and that actually being a good, workable plan because his antagonists are so incredibly stupid and bumbling, and he's so incredibly cool.  This is, of course, only good game design to make all classes potentially equal, but it stands more and more at odds (at times) with the source material, so it needs to be explicitly mentioned, I think.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

P is for the Primogenitor Vampires

I wrote this on my wiki some time ago.  It's a good starting point.
Primogenitors are truly monstrous vampires, creatures who have no humanity left in them at all. Primogenitors don't really feature in the campaign, and nobody has seen one in centuries, at least not that they've reported. The Primogenitors are the remnants of the once noble defenders who came to fight the Fallen One and contain him, and were in turn poisoned and corrupted by him. They are said to be literally the first vampires in the world.

Because of their great age, their appearance and power is completely beyond the ken of the otherwise oldest vampires in Tarush Noptii. However, for whatever reason, the Primogenitors remain in the catacombs deep beneath the city. Whether they slumber, or whether they prowl them for the unluckly lost soul who may occasionally wander his way there is unknown, but for mysterious reasons, no Primogenitor has surfaced for many hundreds of years.

According to legend there were twenty Primogenitors, and the various vampire houses are all "descendents" of one of these monsters. It is unknown if there still exist twenty Primogenitors under the city.
A few additional facts about these bad boys:
  • Tarush, the Fallen One himself, is the god of the Primogenitors, but they don't worship him; they fear him and plot against him.  In the great ritual that sealed Tarush beneath the city, they found themselves trapped with him, sealed magically and only on very occasional instances able to communicate with the world outside of the catacombs beneath the city.
  • There are persistent rumors amongst some of the nobility of Tarush Noptii that the seals are rotting, or failing, or otherwise in danger of no longer keeping Tarush and the Primogenitors sealed.  This is dismissed as persistent paranoia by most, but the rumors remain alive nonetheless.
  • It is unclear how exactly the Primogenitors were formed from the Knight Magi heroes who went to seal Tarush in the first place.  It is also unclear how they were able to transfer the curse of vampirism to others in the Tarush Noptii area, but it leads to troubling speculation that the seals are not as absolute as they appear.
  • The following are the names of the known Primogenitors: Vyrko, Dracul, Strix, Ubyr, Vetala, Nosferatu, Rusalka and Orlok.  This is obviously not even half of the twenty Primogenitors.  Some of them spawned vampire Houses which no longer exist, the rest are forgotten, but not gone.
  • The fact above that the Primogenitors are literally the first vampires may be, actually a "factoid" instead of a fact--a comforting lie spread by vampires that have no connection whatsoever with Tarush, the Primogenitors, or their descendents who rule Tarush Noptii.  Vampire really refers to any type of cannibalistic parasitism in which feeding on the blood, flesh, life-force or soul of other people is used to unnaturally prolong the life of the feeder.  According to the Nine Books of Sotetseg, an Apocryphal work banned in most civilized areas but highly sought after by researchers into the forbidden occult, Tarush himself may have been the first vampire.  Many of his disciples were formed; some were slain by either mortal heroes, or in their internecine wars between each other, but the Primogenitors are something special and unique--accidentally occuring vampires when the Knight Magi were tragically corrupted by Tarush's blasphemous touch even as they heroically sealed him away forever.
  • The Primogenitors are almost certainly insane in at least some ways, driven mad by centuries of isolation with only the horror of their cursed condition to keep them company.

Paizo and Yog-Sothothery—again

One of the things I've enjoyed about Paizo is their willingness to engage in blatant Yog-Sothothery in the same sense that Lovecraft himself imagined the term.  Their latest announcement, of a Bestiary 4 which will have a number of "high level" threats, including Cthulhu himself, is fairly recent.  I actually caught wind of it after seeing the cover art uploaded on Wayne Reynolds' facebook page.  So here it is.  Fun stuff.

Of course, the Pathfinder game itself is kinda going the exact opposite direction as me; where I like the d20 engine at its core, I want to simplify and streamline it, and make it more friendly to my preferred playstyle, which is more narrative and friendly to GM rulings and handwaveyness of sorts in regards to system, whereas Pathfinder has gotten even more enshrouded in ever more esoteric and Byzantine codification and calcification.  The Pathfinder developers (and customers, apparently) also like the d20 engine at its core, but they want it to be more complex and "complete"--more... Rolemaster, if you will.

That said, I've bought ever single Paizo Bestiary so far, and I'm sure I will this one too.  Typically, the pdfs sell for only about $10, and for that price, it's more than worth it for the art and fluff text alone, even if I completely ignore the stats. 

Which I don't have to do, because Pathfinder stats are still inherently compatible enough with d20 stats (and presumably my m20 stats) that I can use them without any real effort at conversion.

Also; those nosferatu vampires (publisher blurb seems to identify them) seem conceptually not unlike my Primogenitor vampires, who will be the topic of my next A TO Z post, when I get to it (with any luck, this weekend) which is serendipitously fortunate.  I'm still looking for a great image for them that really does what I want it to, though that I can attach to that post.

m20 conclusions

Well, other than spell lists and monsters, my little m20 ruleset is complete, believe it or not.  That's, of course, the beauty of m20--it's fully compatible with the SRD, yet almost outrageously simplified in comparison.  The only thing left to do now is to playtest it a bit and see how it works.

I'm a little bit hesitant to playtest with my regular group, as they're veterans of d20 play, and will just be mentally filling in the gaps all the time rather than really playing m20 with the "lite" approach that it begs, but my kids, who keep asking me about my "D&D night" (we still say that for simplicity sake, even though we're playing Star Wars currently) and have had a few good experiences with my running things for them here and there, might be a good group to trial it with first.  Their lack of experience will show how robustly it works, and point out where I've got holes that might need filling to get the experience I want, which is fast and loose, handwavey "rulings" favored play, but with a system that feels familiar enough to me, as a d20 veteran, that I don't have to wonder about rules questions, or how the game "should" be played, because it's either expressly not addressed and left in the GM's hands, or because it is specifically and clearly called out in the text of the m20 rules variant.

And while I enjoy the adult interactions and ability to focus on adult themes that is inherent in playing with guys my age, playing with my kids should be a rewarding enterprise in its own right too, as well as a good trial of what--if anything--my brusque restructuring of the m20 conceits need to be re-addressed.  So, in the meantime, I'm ready to let the m20 tag go a little fallow until after I've had time to playtest a bit, after which point I'll give an update and conclusions.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dark•Heritage m20, cont.

Heroism Points

Heroism points represent a character’s determination and their importance to the plans of the gods or the forces of fate (i.e., the game and the GM.) A character has a number of Heroism points equal to his or her level x 2 (or simply equal to level, for a less heroic game). Heroism points can be used to add to any attack, damage or stat + skill roll at a rate of +1 per 1 Heroism point spent. You can only spend up to your level in Heroism points on one single roll (for example, a level 10 character can only spend up to 10 Heroism points, for a +10 bonus).

Heroism points do not need to be spent all at once, but when they are completely spent, they are gone for the rest of game session. A character’s Heroism points are restored to their starting amount at the beginning of a game session. Alternately, the game master may restore 1 or more Heroism points on a die roll of 20 and/or if the character does something especially entertaining (funny, exciting, or appropriate to the character’s personality).


Magi can cast any arcane spell with aspell level equal or below 1/2 their class level, rounded up. They have access to all arcane spells in the SRD spell list. Casting a spell of any kind costs Hit Points. The cost is 1 + double the level of the spell being cast:

This loss cannot be healed normally but is recovered after 8 hours rest. There is no need to memorize spells in advance. Just because a character can cast any spell, doesn’t mean that they should. Choose spells that suit the character. Select one "signature" spell per spell level from 1st upward that they prefer to use over any other. These spells are easier to cast due to familiarity, costing 1 less HP to use.

The Difficulty Class (DC) for all spells is 10 + Caster Level + Caster's MIND bonus


Hit Points = STR Stat + 1d6/Level. If HP reach 0, unconscious and near death. Further damage directly reduces STR. If that reaches 0, death.

Roll d20 + DEX bonus for initiative order. On a combat turn, a character can take TWO actions, usually [1] move and [2] move again, make an attack, cast a spell, attempt another activity (requiring a stat + skill check), etc. Movement of 5 feet or less, drawing a weapon, speaking or similar activities are “free” and do not count as an action.

Melee attack bonus = STR bonus + Level
Missile attack bonus = DEX bonus + Level
Magic attack bonus = MIND bonus + Level

Add attack bonus to d20 roll. If higher than your opponent's Armour Class (AC), it’s a hit. Natural 20 is automatically a critical doing maximum damage.

Fighters and Rogues can use DEX bonus + Level as Melee attack bonus instead if wielding a light weapon. Fighters and Rogues can wield 2 light weapons and attack with both in a round if they take a -2 penalty on all attack rolls that round.
If the total bonus is +6 or more you gain the effects of the Spring Attack feat, i.e., you can split your movement on either side of an attack option.

Add STR bonus to Melee damage, x2 for 2-handed weapons.
Armour Class (AC) = 10 + DEX bonus + Armour bonus.

Other Hazards

Falling : 1d6 damage per 10', half damage on Phys+DEX save. DC=depth fallen in feet
Spikes : add +1 point to falling damage per 10' fallen, max +10
Poison : Phys+STR save to avoid or for half, depending on poison.
Effect varies with poison type.
Extreme Heat & Cold : If not wearing suitable protection, Phys+STR save once every 10 minutes (DC 15, +1 per previous check), taking 1d6 damage on each failed save.

Level Advancement

Leveling up comes at the GM's discretion, based on the pace that he wants the game to have.  Personally, I prefer a pace of about 1 level for every 10 play sessions.
Each level adds:
+1d6 to Hit Points
+1 to all attack rolls
+1 to all skills

If the level divides by three (i.e. level 3,6,9,etc.) add 1 point toSTR, DEX or MIND.

Fighters gain +1 to their attack and damage rolls at levels 5,10,15,etc.

Magi gain access to new spell levels at levels 3,5,7,9,etc.

m20 D•H does not really support or encourage play above 9th or 10th level at the most.

Monday, May 20, 2013

O is for Outsiders

I was looking at my list of A TO Z topics and realized that the topic I had in mind for S is one that I've already written about.  Rather than change the topic and create more work for myself, I relabled the post I already had.  Of course, this meant that I now have S done, almost immediately on the heels of N, and clearly out of order.  While this isn't exactly a problem per se, it is motivating me to get caught up to S more quickly because I don't love that situation.  So, hot on the heels of writting N and changing an existing post to be S, I figured I better throw out O, which is for Outsiders.

One of the things that I like about D&D is the presence of a wide assortment of interesting Outsiders.  Many of them are esoteric, but for the most part, they draw on the rich cultural heritage of Europe and the middle-east--demons, angels, genies and more.  And D&D itself has done some really interesting things with a lot of them; even when they're taking names from mythology or esoteric eschatology.  How can you not love the D&D lore around iconic demon lords like Orcus or Demogorgon, neither of whom is a D&D creation, but both of whom are known almost exclusively from their D&D lore rather than from the paucity of actual information from mythology or literature.

In D&D itself, the nature of Outsiders is strongly informed by their concept of alignment.  This is even further detailed in the 3.5 version of the rules, which split out Celestials into three types--each corresponding to one of the varieties of "good" that D&D allows.  But what happened in 3.5 was a minor shift towards furthering what was already part of the way things worked in D&D.  It was just more obvious with the "evil" outsiders previously--indeed, from the early monster manuals.

So, although I quite like the idea of Outsiders, and want to have them in the DARK•HERITAGE setting, some thought needs to be given to how they work in a setting that doesn't have alignment, and doesn't really have a regular pantheon, including friendly or helpful gods at all.  In fact, I've said before (somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but somewhat not) that in DARK•HERITAGE the only real difference between angels and demons is that angels are better looking and have better PR.  My vision of Outsiders heavily favors some D&D paradigms, but also equally favors a Lovecraftian intepretation of outsiders, particularly demons and other nasties--who, in true Lovecraftian fashion might actually be Insiders, at least in the sense that while they aren't "native", they could be stuck here, sleeping in sunken cities on the sea-floor a la Cthulhu or Dagon, or something.  Add to that borrowings from implications in The Black Company of gods all being insanely powerful and paranoid (and just insane) sorcerers who managed to claw their way up the divinity ladder, and from The Deepgate Codex of Heaven being shut and all gods, angels and anything else being at best Fallen angels or whatever, and you've got a general idea of where Outsiders fit into DARK•HERITAGE, and it's--well, unsurprisingly, it's a dark kinda paradigm. calls that paradigm a "crapsack world" and it applies a fair bit, given that I consider DARK•HERITAGE a Lovecraftian fantasy, and use the subgenre tag coined by Shane Magnus--SWORD & SANITY--to describe it.

How is that consistent and how does that all make sense, you may ask?  How can Outsiders be a combination of D&D (which is largely esoteric Judeo-Christian Apocrypha in its roots), Lovecraftian, the Ten Who Were Taken, and Fallen angels all at once?  Well, you're right.  It doesn't necessarily make sense.  The setting doesn't, because like the real world, it's too complex to be understood by any given mind.  It's too complex to be understood by humanity in general--the famous quote by Lovecraft from "The Call of Cthulhu" about man not being able to comprehend reality as it really is and maintain his sanity applies to DARK•HERITAGE quite well.  As with Yog-Sothothery, a lot of these elements are also better viewed as plot devices rather than a systemic description of cosmology anyway.

But this may help.  A metaphysical conceit of the setting, which I've never really described on this blog before, but which underwrites a lot of it, is that it's really more science fiction in a way than fantasy (believe it or not.)  The presence of magic and monsters and whatnot is attributable to elements of brane cosmology, which is an esoteric theory (really not even developed far enough to be considered more than a hypothesis or mathematical model) from particle physics.  How does it apply to DARK•HERITAGE?  Simply that the setting is on a brane (as is the observable universe we live in) and sorcery comes from outside the brane--either from another brane, or the environment of the bulk itself (read the wiki article for more details.  Brane is short for "membrane" which is a simplified representation of the entire universe being a sheet, or membrane, suspended in a "bulk", stacked possibly next to other branes.  Occasionally the branes brush against each other, causing things like the Big Bang and whatnot to happen.  They also can be "leaks" for power--explaining why gravity is so much weaker than the Strong force or the Weak force in particle physics, for instance.  Or, according to some models, dark energy has as its source motions and actions taken outside the brane.  The tentative "discovery" of the Higgs-boson particle may make all this more unlikely, in which case I'm either at odds with current science, or I revert to this being more exactly fantasy and don't care.)

If "magic" is really the manipulation of dark energy, which comes from Outside the known universe; either from another universe "adjacent" to this one, or from the spaces between the universes (a very Lovecraftian notion if ever there was one) then Outsiders can be inhabitants of other universes.  Or they can be inhabitants of our universe corrupted by forces from outside the universe.  Or, then can be strange and inexplicable beings or sentiences that float in the spaces between universes.  Or, they could be all of them, depending on the specific Outsider in question.

And that approach, without bothering to necessarily claim for each individual what it is, gives me room to wiggle and slip anything I want or need into the setting, while maintaining its essential SWORD & SANITY nature quite well, thankyouverymuch.

Star Wars Rebels
BAM! The series that will replace the Clone Wars.  It looks like the status of Clone Wars is a bit uncertain.  The fifth season finished broadcasting recently, and will come out on DVD presumably this October (as all the prior series have done.)  Dave Filoni has made several cryptic remarks about additional Clone Wars stuff he wants to do, or that is in development, etc. but I've got to think it unlikely that it will come out now.  If it's relatively small, maybe the rest of the material will be bonus content on the Season 5 DVDs or something.

Friday, May 17, 2013

N is for Neighborhoods of Porto Liure

Like most cities of sufficient size, Porto Liure is frequently broken up into informal chunks for easy reference.  The Watch has formalized these to some extent; each of these neighborhoods has a Watch barracks, and most Watchmen have a regular patrol that is limited to just one neighborhood.  These are the districts of Porto Liure.
  • Academy: Named for the Academy which takes up most of this area; a rather staid (for Porto Liure) university district, which strives to be taken as seriously as the Universitat in Razina, or the Grand Academie in Terrasa, but which has a long way to go still in terms of gaining prestige, longevity and funding.  Still, the Academy at Porto Liure is a popular one for wealthier students around the Mezzovian area who are more interested in the experience than necessarily their education--it's widely seen as a "party school" compared to its competitors.  Young sons of minor nobles and merchants make up the majority of the student body.  In addition to the halls of the Academy itself, this district has the dormitories of the students, staff and faculty, and a number of small shops that cater to the students, staff and faculty, and other hangers-on.
  • Castello: Named for the large "castles" that fill the district, this is a wealthy one, where the summer homes of nobility from around the area, as well as the local nobility and wealthier merchants, are found.  With private docks, opera houses, and high class accomodations and services, this is a fairly quiet and peaceful neighborhood, and the Watch's relationship with various private security forces is sometimes somewhat tense.
  • Cherskii Quarter: More broadly a middle class neighborhood, but Rue des Hamazins, which is renowned for its hamazi restaurants and small ethnic neighborhood is responsible for the name of the entire district.  Infamous as a hold-out of the Cherskii Mafia--the Watch here is suspected of being thoroughly corrupt.
  • Ciutat Veixa: Jacobo Bernat's original keep, and a great deal of the old money and old power of Porto Liure make their homes here.  In reality, few people actually "live" here, though--this is a busy quarter during the day, with the running of the business and administration of the city-state's government, but goes very quiet at night.  The Watch presence is strong and implacable, by reputation.
  • Foghorn Park: A lower-class neighborhood far from the waterfront and nestled in the arms of the foothills at the edge of town, many of the people who live here are laborers in the farms outside of town, or hunters in the mountains, or otherwise have occupations that keep them busy away from the commerce of the city.  Overland smugglers are said to thrive here, and people walk relatively carefully due to suspicion of gang activity.  Much of the changeling population of the city lives here; even so-called "urban changelings" are consumed with enough wanderlust that they feel more comfortable being able to leave the city quietly, unobtrusively, and relatively frequently.
  • Little North: Little North is actually on the south end of town, but because it gained character as a balshatoi ethnic neighborhood, it became known as Little North.  Curiously, it's not particularly settled by Northerners anymore--it's a low class laborer neighborhood, and a hotbed of gang warfare; a crossroads of various gang's territory, as it were.  The Union of the Snake headquarters are located here, near the docks.
  • Los Corts: The origin of the name is lost to history, but no Courts hold sway in this neighborhood anymore.  Both the Watch and private security don't wait for sentencing to mete out punishment to anyone who violates the peace here, as Los Corts is primarily a warehouse district, and goods worth a king's ransom move through this district almost routinely.
  • Qazmir Park: The last neighborhood named for an ethnic component, this one lives up to its name, and Rue des Sultains is famous for its al-Qazmiri architecture, signage, cuisine and more.  The neighborhood in general, though, has become a slum for all kinds of expatriates living in Porto Liure, and it could as easily be named for any of them.  Gang violence (and other violence, for that matter) is not unusual here, and the Watch seargents who work this beat are reputed to be unflappable and highly used to all kinds of terrible things.  Kaz's Crew, a gang of northerners, curiously, has much of the district in its grip, but other gangs work the area as well.
  • Sént-Vincenç: An almost "anti-ethnic" neighborhood, the residents here are proud of their Terrasan heritage and have little patience for immigrants and the troubles that seem to follow them.  The Watch is firmly in the pocket of the Castiadas crime family here, who maintain a respectable façade.
  • Soddens: The poorest slum in the city, Soddens is supposed to be nearly lawless.  In truth, the Watch keeps a strong presence here, but no matter what they do, it's insufficient.  Firmly in the grip of crime families, all of the industry of this district is illicit--smuggling, drug dens, prostitution, slave markets--if it's illegal, or even frowned upon, it happens here.  Life is cheap, and dead bodies in the street are hardly enough to spur the Watch to become concerned.  Named for the thick fogs that roll off the hills and blanket this district, it's also notorious among those who tell these kinds of tales, as a haunted district, and much of the supernatural activity that rumors and ghost-stories love to regale are centered around Black Maria's Square, where old Jacobo Bernat's daughter-in-law was supposedly executed in the early days of the city.
  • White Stones: Infamous as the headquarters of the Fuzeta da Ponte crime family, this neighborhood is named for the pale granite flagstones that make up much of its streets.  Boats slip in and out of this neighborhood at all hours, and nobody asks too many questions of their neighbors, which keeps this a relatively peaceful neighborhood most of the time; although one infamous for things happening which are not supposed to.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Vermin Lord

One of the most bizarre characters of DARK•HERITAGE is Vermin Lord, a nameless sorcerer billed as a member of the Heresiarchy.  Although he's often considered--by those few who know of him--as unconcerned with mortal affair and either above (or beneath) them, this is a dangerous affectation to hold.  A common conceit of many sorcerers, and almost certainly true of the folks who merit the label of Heresiarchy members, is that the "gods" are merely mortal sorcerers grown beyond the confines of this world, and that their time may yet come, and a new generation of "gods" may yet replace them.  Vermin Lord certainly believes this, and perhaps more than any other of the Heresiarchy, has taken action to ensure that when that time comes, he's at the forefront of the replacement of the current generation of gods.

This is not good news for humanity, since Vermin Lord has no use for them.  Vermin Lord is a scion of numerous other repugnant forms of life--rats and spiders being among his favorite.  Many have wondered at a possible link between Vermin Lord and the giant carnivorous spiders that prowl the Plateau of Leng.  But his most foul creation are the ratlings.  Large varieties of filthy rats, fed on human carrion and blasted with foul magicks, have--over generations of shepherding at Vermin Lord's hand, become vaguely anthropomorphic.  Walking on two legs and using their front paws as hands, the ratlings are as intelligent as humans, and as inventive, but they know nothing but filth, hatred, and cruelty.  Vermin Lord has clearly set them up to replace humanity when the time is right.  In the meantime, they spread in small groups from their home in Leng, feeding on carrion and rotting flesh--human when they can get it--and hiding in the sewers and midden heaps of humanities cities, poised to spread their plagues and diseases like the rats from which they were engineered by this mad sorcerer.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the ratlings, however, is the extent to which their exposure to foul magicks has made them surprising mutile, or subject to mutation.  Most of these revolting mutants are unfit for even the ghastly life that the ratlings currently live, but some are actually quite fearsome.  Gigantic, pustule-swollen rats larger than horses, long-legged "wolfrats"--capable of pack hunting over long distances, "aperats" that are much larger than a man--weighing up to 1,000 lbs. of muscle and mangy fur, with claws and teeth of hardened enamel.  Thankfully, these mutants rarely are intelligent, but their fearsome strength and constant rage can be harnessed by their more intelligent overseers.

Among the most fearsome are the ratling-spawn that are able to develop some of the features of Vermin Lords' other passion--spiders.  Dog-sized rats with eight-eyes, or ratlings who's bites are laced with venom, or who can scale walls like spiders, or even spin fetid silk are reported by the few who even know of the ratlings or their doings, and it is indeed an ominous development.

Vermin Lord himself has turned into a grotesque, post-human mockery of his previous form, which is now unremembered.  Constant exposure to unclean magical forces have mutated his bones and sloughed off his flesh--he now appears as a monstrous parody of human and ratling features that has died and rotted, yet somehow still moves.  Horns and spines jut from his exposed skull, and his teeth have been replaced by bone spurs directly in his jaw.  He truly is one of the most unsettling of the Heresiarchy to see (worthy of a SAN check, believe you me!)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Depeche Mode retrospective

So... apparently there's a strong link between gamers and metal.  I've never really listened to much metal, other than a brief flirt with Metallica in the 80s, and Anthrax and a few other guys.  I was always an electronic music guy, and really liked the European stuff in particular.  Stuff like Depeche Mode, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, etc.  Stuff that today is called synthpop.  Since my audience here tends to be gamers, there's probably a big disconnect when I talk about certain topics--hiking and music being two notable ones.

That said, this is not a monetized blog, or anything.  I'm not looking to build a DARK•HERITAGE brand or anything; this blog is just my little corner to ramble about whatever it is I feel like talking about.  So, here's another DM related post.  I've been listening to enough of Delta Machine now that I feel comfortable commenting on it, but more telling, I've been caught up in a broader DM fever, listening to all kinds of their old stuff, remixes, B-sides, older albums, video documentaries, and more.

I saw a comment from some guy on the Internet--just the commentary page for an actual review of Delta Machine somewhere that had an interesting comment in it--it was something to the effect that Depeche Mode is like the old ex-girlfriend you had from a fun time in your life.  You look back fondly and nostalgically on those times, so you can't help but checking in from time to time to see what she's up to--only to find that she's gone somewhere so different from the direction you've gone that you have nothing in common anymore.  I think he's overstating the case--or at least my relationship with Depeche Mode isn't quite that dramatic.  But he makes a good point.  There's still a lot of that vibe present in my own relationship with Depeche Mode too, and I still see all of their best stuff in the 80s--particularly the material that came out on Some Great Reward in 1984, Black Celebration in 1986 and Music for the Masses in 1987.  After which they took some time off, recorded the best live album ever (101) at the tail end of their Masses tour in 1988, and then came back with Violator in very early 1990, which largely disappointed me, even though it was much more successful financially than anything they'd done previously, and even though it has "Enjoy the Silence" which even I have to admit is gotta be their most iconic song ever.  Violator is, however, a natural enough evolution from Masses, in many ways--it wasn't until Songs of Faith and Devotion where Dave Gahan and others consciously wanted to evolve into much more of a "rock" sound that I felt Depeche Mode really lost me and never quite got me back.  Sure, I have all of their later albums (although I picked them up quite belatedly in most cases) and I still like them well enough--but I don't love their new stuff like I loved (and still love) their older material.  As I've said before, I think some of what I miss is Alan Wilder's influence.  And they've managed to replicate some of Wilder's talent with various hired on producers and session musicians, no doubt, but I still think Wilder was a genius who's talents were--as he himself said--underappreciated in many cases until after he was gone.

And one of the things I most appreciated about the band in the "good old days" was their attention to guarding their privacy.  In the mid-90s, that was no longer possible, after Dave Gahan famously nearly died (more than once) and was arrested for heroin possession (and overdosing).  Frankly, Dave's state was almost a worse crisis for the band than Alan's departure--and when he finally licked it, it's almost like he was using the curiosity of the music press as therapy sessions, talking way too much about what was going on.

I do, actually, appreciate the video documentaries that have come out since--most notably all those that came out with the 2006 remastering and reissuing of all their earlier albums.  Seeing some behind the scenes are interesting, and they've done a good job of keeping their private details private to a surprising degree, talking more about the music and the processes than about their personal lives.  After watching all of them, I'm still not completely sure why Alan left the band, even though he featured very prominantly in the interviews.  Maybe he kept things too private; I'm not 100% sure that the rest of the band really understands even now why he left either.  They seemed to speculate a little bit on that, before admitting that they were speculating and that they should probably quite while they were ahead.  Odd.  I got a better read from Vince Clark in the earliest two documentaries, when he was still around.  They couldn't help but talk about Dave's heroin addiction, since it played such a major role in what was going on during Songs and Ultra.

Now, as part of my own review, I've been hunting down remixes and b-sides that I've been missing from the "golden years"--not that there's a lot I didn't have, because I had a lot of CD singles and even vinyl 12-inches that I'd bought back in the day (and since.)  I also have spent a fair bit of time on youtube watching their old music videos.  The band is adamant that they hated doing music videos until they stumbled across Anton Corbijn who did their last Black Celebration video ("A Question of Time") and almost everything subsequent.  In fact, they're adamant that they felt taken advantage of, seen as a tool for various directors to try out whatever outrageous idea they had and make them look foolish.

Reading a little between the lines, I think what they really mean to say is that Anton was the first director that made them feel comfortable doing something that they fundamentally didn't really like doing.  If that's the case, well, I can hardly fault them for feeling that way, but honestly, most of the older videos weren't that bad (and most of the Corbijn videos weren't really that good either.)  With the exception of "Leave in Silence" and "Get the Balance Right" I actually think most of their older videos are either quite good, or at least par for the course for the period in which they were made.  I even think "It's Called a Heart" may have the best music video Depeche Mode put out (although I'm kinda with the band on the fact that the song itself wasn't anything terribly special.)

Three Brief Book Reviews

Just finished three books recently (not counting several hiking books that I also read--but which it would be silly to review on this site.)  One of them I "read" as an audiobook on CD, checked out from the library, and listened to mostly during my commute to and from work, and occasionally a bit here and there during my lunch hour or other times when I could break away to the car.

Crossed Blades

The last--so far anyway (the next book is already announced and due out this summer) book in the Fallen Blade series that I've been reading is Crossed Blades, and it's an interesting one.  McCullough continues to dazzle me by writing these fast, breezy, somewhat noirish but really more swashbucklery, light tales.  One of the things he does best is continue to add significantly to both the setting, and to the life and secret history of the main character, Aral, in each volume.  Jim Butcher does this, to some extent, as well, but Butcher is much more slow and deliberate--his Dresden Files novels tend to be much more about the villain of the week, and additions to the setting and grander "meta-story" are trickled out slowly, rather than expanded upon significantly in each volume (although the last Dresden Files book which came out late last fall did expand on the setting in very significant ways--I was impressed.)  Then again, I presume that McCullough isn't going to attempt to stretch his series out as long as Butcher.

Anyway, I don't want to get into re-treading things I've already said in earlier reviews--always a problem in series where for the most part the strengths, weaknesses and qualities in general of the books tend to be similar--so I'll probably wrap this one up quickly--but I liked Crossed Blades quite a bit.  Possibly it's my favorite of the series so far, although it's hard to tell.  Considering the short nature of the books, if there doesn't end up being too many of them, maybe they'll be omnibussed together, then I won't have to necessarily think of them as separate entities anyway.

The Ruins of Gorlan

In my last post on the Calçan rangers, I very briefly hit on a micro-review of this book.  This is part one of the Ranger's Apprentice series of YA fantasy novels, and is apparently quite a big hit.  The concept looked pretty cool to me, and since I'm always encouraging (demanding, even) that my kids have something to read, I've been trying to get my middle-schooler to read this series for a couple of years now.  He finally relented and tried to read this, but gave up over halfway into it when the next Percy Jackson book was available from the library--a series that he enjoys much more.  On a whim, I decided to pick this book up as well as a audiobook on CD and listen to it while I commuted.  I do, after all, have fond memories of some other YA fantasy series I read when I was younger, like the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, or of course, the Harry Potter series more recently.

And I can sympathize with his reluctance.  The pacing of the novel is really quite slow.  Not much happens until nearly the end of the book.  Parts of it are, in fact, quite annoying (I admit to being easily annoyed by reading accounts of characters helplessly enduring bullying of any kind--part of the reason why Dolores Umbridge made Harry Potter 5 the worst book in the series--and this book had a fairly strong helping of that.)  The characters also weren't terribly interesting, for the most part, and the plot, like I said, was a non-starter.  The setting also wasn't anything special, being basically an idealized "Merry Olde England" type setting with a YA type dark lord and his YA type orcs but even more caricaturish villains (which only make an incidental appearance, actually.)  So there's nothing yet that really stood out--cardboard characters, cardboards fantasy setting, and weak plot.

In spite of these rather crippling faults, I found myself intriguingly caught up in the book by the end, and when it finished, I almost ran off to the library to pick up the next book on audiobook.  I decided I've got better ways to spend my time, but I dunno--I still want to see what the big deal with this series is.  I may come back to it yet.  Someday.

Fade to Black

I saw this book on the New Book rack at the library and picked it up on a whim.  By Francis Knight, a first-time published author (I believe) this one also had a very noirish tint to it, as a kind of strange fantasy Coruscant type place, where traditional fantasy elements (like magic) are blended in an interesting way with elements that are more at home in noir crime novels or cyberpunk dystopias.  In fact, noir fantasy cyperpunk is a very good description of what this could be called.  A fascinating setting blend.

Sadly, of course, a setting does not a novel make.  The prose and main character(s) were interesting (for a time) but the novel kinda goes off the rails somewhere in about the last third or so.  I'm not terribly fond of making gender-related stereotypical observations, but I've noticed in several novels written by women authors for books that otherwise look like books I would quite like (Amanda Downum's Drowning City being another recentish example) that attention to plot and action kinda fades away while characters sit around emoting and "feeling" and I'm left wondering what exactly happened.  The climax of Fade to Black certainly had a resolution for the emotions of several characters, but in terms of actual events, I'm a little confused.  In fact, the plot resolution seems to be completely missing.  It happens "off-stage" and isn't even described after the fact (a la Bilbo's resolution to The Hobbit)--it just really doesn't happen at all, and I don't even know exactly what even happened.  But I know how the characters feel about it!

This is all well and good if characters and emotions are what brings you do genre fiction, but that's only part of the attraction for me, and not necessarily at the very top of the list.  In fact, this is largely a feature of romance, not fantasy, bringing further anecdotal evidence to Vox Day's assertion that fantasy has largely been completely invaded, metastasized, transformed, and in the process destroyed by romance with only a few superficial fantasy trappings.  I argued that such is not the case, but it's a little disheartening to read a book that basically followed his pattern exactly so shorty after making such an argument.  My argument is, of course, based on the fact that plenty of "good" fantasy still exists, and in fact, much more of it now than ever before.  The fact that so much material that does fit his pattern is out there doesn't invalidate all of the stuff that doesn't.  But, and I said this in other reviews and discussions as well--when you can't tell the difference until after you've already bought the darn book and read it halfway through, that can be quite disappointing.  At least I got this one at the library.

Also; the none too sutble S&M themes running through this book hardly endeared it to me.  Not coincidentally, those themes became much stronger as the book entered the last third as well.

Moving forward, I still have the Abyssal Plague series to finish, but before I do that, I picked up the long-deferred first book in the Nagash trilogy from Warhammer, so that's my current project.

Calçan Rangers

As the "lost province" of Calça undergoes a fair amount of turmoil, the rangers have increased in number and responsibility over the last few years.  For many years, an unofficial corps of volunteers who patrolled the land, the rangers have had to rapidly evolve into a much more professional outfit due to the increased incidents of bandits and refugees streaming in from (respectively) the east and the north.  Many rangers are now full-time, sponsored by wealthy patrons, or by the villages and hamlets that they represent.  Their level of skill and training have also vastly increased; former military scouts from Terrasa and elsewhere having been brought in to develop more rigorous standards.  Most importantly, the senior rangers have been taking on apprentices at a furious pace, and churning out new recruits.  The ranger corps in Calça is now relatively young, but relatively skilled and strong.  It's also offered a more advantageous and realistic outlet for the more adventurous youths than any that the region had before, and for those who can't stand the thought of a lifetime of farming or simple village craftsmanship, it's a somewhat romanticized new occupation.

Within the ranger corps (not yet with capital letters, but if it continues to grow in prominence, importance or size, it may well be soon) there are several roles or specializations that have developed.  The entire outfit is, at most, a few hundred members in size, and many of these specializations only have a dozen or so members who work on them.


These are rangers that are assigned permanently to a specific county.  For very large or troubled counties, the sherrifs might have one or more deputies to assist them in their duties.  The concern of the sherrifs and their deputies is enforcing the peace and dealing more with local issues.  By far, the majority of the rangers are sherrifs.


Bounders are not tied to a specific county for their responsibility, and are free to mobilize and move around the entirety of Calça as needed.  Usually messages are sent to bounders, who often have "day jobs" and do their ranger work as "reserves", when there is a specific need for temporary numbers to deal with a problem.  Some bounders operate beyond the borders of Calça entirely, keeping a wary eye on areas where problems may develop that will spill into the heartland.


The smallest branch of the ranger corps are the shadows, highly skilled and experienced hunters of supernatural threats which accompany the immigrants, or which linger from ancient days in the land, long before the arrival Terrasan settlers.  Disquieting and alarming to most of the populace, the shadows are seen as necessary, but nobody likes to be reminded of that fact.

The Calçan rangers are based, in part, on my long-time love of the concept of the Texas rangers, the Dunedain from Lord of the Rings, my love of the ranger class in various editions of D&D, and most recently my brush with some YA fiction that I've tried to get my son to read, The Last Apprentice series (called The Spook's Apprentice in the UK) and The Ranger's Apprentice series.  I tried to listen to both series myself as audiobooks during my commute, since my son seemed to be somewhat reluctant, even though the books seemed to be right up his alley. I had to agree that the execution of both was somewhat lacking--they're slow moving and not terribly interesting; but the idea of them both was solid.

In addition, I'd like the DARK•HERITAGE setting to be expansive enough to allow for different kinds of stories, possibly set in different regions.  Calça is already a kind of cosy, country atmosphere--kind of like the Two Rivers from the Wheel of Time series, or The Shire from the Lord of the Rings--yet one that's threatened by encroaching darkness and problems, ringed about with shadows.  Despite the fact that I want the setting to be expansive, I also want it to be consistent after all, and that means the use of plenty of horror elements lurking in the background.  The cosy backcountry areas of the DARK•HERITAGE setting (at least in Terrasan settings) tend to resemble the Eastern European countryside of Dracula, or the English moors of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and The Wolfman (either the 1941 or the 2010 one--the mood was very much the same.)  Or perhaps the French film The Brotherhood of the Wolf, which gamers seem to be really enamored of, for some reason.  At least once you dig a little bit past the cosy "Shire" take on it.

Baix Pallars is another rural area full of small hamlets and villagers, but that one is more specifically mimicking Arkham Country in fantasy drag.

Monday, May 06, 2013

m20 Dark•Heritage chargen, part 2


There are only five skills in m20.  Applications of all of the other skills in d20 are collapsed into this 5-skill system.  Skill checks are made by rolling a d20 and taking that result + the skill bonus, + the applicable Stat bonus, and comparing that to a GM set target (Difficulty Class, or DC.)  Which skills and which stats?  The GM will tell you, but in most cases it should be obvious.  Climbing, for example, would be STR + Athletics.  Dodging would be DEX + Athletics. (Those rolls would also be a stand-in for Fortitude and Reflex saving throws.)  In a few instances, your bonus would be a level check rather than a skill--for example, a Will save in m20 would be done as a MIND + level.

The character's skill bonus is equal to his level bonus + any skill bonus granted by class or race.  For example, a 4th level Human fighter would have an Athletics skill of 4 (because he's 4th level) + 1 to all skills as a human racial trait, and +3 as a Fighter class trait, or +8 total.

The five skills are Athletics, Communication, Knowledge, Subterfuge and Survival.


Characters begin with 60 + (MIND bonus x 10) Sanity points.  Whenever a disturbing  event is experienced by a character, they make a Will save (MIND + level, DC set by GM) to avoid SAN loss.  If the character fails the roll (or sometimes, even if they succeed), Sanity is lost, based on the following criteria: 1d6 SAN loss = seeing a minor monster or reading a Mythos style book. 2d6 SAN loss = seeing a significant monster or learning a powerful ritual spell. 3d6 = meeting a huge tentacle monster face‐to‐face. Any time a character loses more than 5 points of Sanity, the character must make a Will save (DC 20) check or develop a neurosis/psychosis. Characters with 0 or lower SAN are permanently insane.


Equipment lists from d20 can be used if desired for added detail, but I prefer a more "generic" equipment list, certainly when it comes to weapons, armor and the like.  Unwieldy equipment lists, and worrying about things like carrying capacity, etc. strike me more as an exercise in accounting than in gaming, and I'm not in favor of them. 

In this "generic" equipment list mileu, the following is the complete weapon list:

Weapon Type
Unarmed - cost is free, damage is 1d3
Light (daggers, rapiers, etc.) - cost is 5 gp, damage is 1d6
Medium (swords, axes, etc.) - cost is 15 gp, damage is 1d8
Heavy (greatswords, two-handed ax, etc.) - cost is 20 gp, damage is 1d10. Cannot use shield with this size weapon.
Thrown (daggers, tomahawk, etc.) - cost is 1 gp, damage is 1d4.  Range is 30 ft (no incremenets; it's either in range or not.)
Ranged (Bow and arrows, crossbow, etc.) - cost is 40 gp, damage is 1d8.  Range is 100 ft.  Assume unlimited ammunition (as per most action movies!)
Pistol - cost is 150 gp.  Damage is 2d6, range is 50 ft. Must take an entire turn to reload after firing.
Rifle - cost is 200 gp.  Damage is 2d8, range is 150 ft. Must take an entire turn to reload after firing.

Armor Type
Light (padded cloth, leather, etc.) - cost is 10 gp, Armor bonus to AC is +2.
Medium (chainmail or breastplate) - cost is 50 gp, Armor bonus to AC is +4
Heavy (full suit of plate armor) - cost is 250 gp, Armor bonus to AC is +6
Light shield (buckler or wooden shield) - cost is 10 gp, Armor bonus to AC is +1
Heavy shield (kite shield or fully metal shield) - cost is 15 gp, Armor bonus to AC is +2

Non combat equipment is not listed in m20, but should be references from the SRD.

Coming next: GMing and Combat!