Friday, May 29, 2015

Cult of Undeath template, part I

In order to both decide what needs to be included in my bowdlerized version of the Ustalav setting, and how to modify the modules to be what I want them to, I need to go back through them and keep less unwieldy summary handy.  For this post SPOILERS ALERT I'm going to summarize the modules, both for my own benefit, so I have a template on which to work, and a guideline for where this campaign will go.  It also gives me a guide as to what locations I need to include in my homebrewed up reflection of Ustalav, so I can go on a hunt for names.

Keep in mind SPOILER ALERT that I'm writing this from the perspective of a GM running this thing.  If that's not you, and especially if you're possible to play this adventure path, you should avoid this post.

Enough SPOILER ALERTS yet?  Don't read if you might play the Carrion Crown.

First, The Haunting of Harrowstone is the module that kicks this whole thing off.  It starts off in a small rural town (Ialomita) that is infamous as the site of the worst prison in the entire realm (the Hellstone).  However, about fifty years ago, the prison was destroyed in a fire during a prison riot, and the prisoners, warden and many of the guards were all killed.  As you can imagine, the place is haunted and no small part of the adventure includes an exploration of the Hellstone and the putting down of five infamous serial killers who are now ghosts.  There are no other locations necessary for this adventure, but it makes reference to the larger city with a major Academy that's also in the Realm somewhere (Mittermarkt.)  It also introduces, via shadowy hints and clues, that there's a sinister force, the cult of the great Necromancer (Naggazz) also known as the Dweomer Lich, that's running around causing trouble, although at this point, little of their goals or even their presence will be detectable.  The PCs show up for the funeral of a friend, which involves them, via a somewhat contrived railroad, to stay in town for a month, and have to deal with the failing of the barriers that keep the ghosts of the prisoners confined to the ruins of the Hellstone.  They'll almost certainly also pick up on clues as the nature of the death of the friend--who was murdered by the cult of Naggazz--and they're also obligated as a stipulation of the will, to return some sensitive books to the Academy mentioned above.

So to kick all of this off, I merely need to name two places; the village in which they start, and the city in which the Academy is located.  I also need to decide if I'm going to stick with Naggazz as the name of my Great Necromancer, and give some kind of name to his cult (which I think I'll keep simple and just go with the Black Path.)  I discovered, or at least guessed, that Nagash is an alternate spelling for Najash or Nahash (or Nachash) is the Hebrew word for snake, and is thus the word used to describe the serpent in the Garden of Eden.  It seems most likely to me that the good folks at Games Workshop meant for Nagash to be a subtle reference to the Devil himself.  That makes me like the name even more, of course, although I won't necessarily stick with the Naggazz corruption.  I also don't want to be obviously doing the exact same thing as Warhammer, though.  Melek Taus, the name of the devil to the devil-worshiping Yezidi is another option with a real world origin.

Because I'll be setting the tone for the entire Realm, I'll also need to just establish some minor backstory.  I've called it a county already, and the reason for that is that I want to emphasize that it's a small, Ruritanian-style realm.  The ruler is an Elector Count, and the character of the country should be like that of the eastern Austro-Hungarian Empire; a combination of rural eastern Europeans (i.e., I'll re-use my Romanian name list) combined with German names as well.

The second module, Trial of the Beast, will require more work on my part.  It only takes place in and around the city above with the Academy; Mittermarkt, called Lepidstadt in the original.  It's basically Frankenstein's monster who is captured and due to a quirk of someone's idea of justice, rather than simply being put to the torch, it's put on trial.  The twist in the plot here is that the beast is innocent--at least of these specific murders for which it's being put on trial--and its secret creator is the real monster, although he's supposed to be sympathetic too, because he's sad about his family or something.  Yeah, yeah, yeah--I've read Mary Shelley and I know that's kind of the point (at least to some degree) but the whole thing feels a little too White Wolf: The Impotent Whining to me.  I don't want to run a module where the PCs are running around trying to keep a monster from being framed for murders.  I mean, I guess I could go all Primal Fear on them and keep it interesting, but I'd rather just rework the entire thing.

From a meta-perspective, the point of the module is that the Black Path has come after the creator of the beast in their standard "collect enough McGuffins" quest, which is where the PCs get their next clue which is meant to lead them into the next module.

For Broken Moon, the PCs, now actually directly trying to track down the cult, find themselves stuck in a wild forest where the assassination (by the Black Path) of the most powerful werewolf in the region has thrown the entire werewolf community into disarray.  Here the PCs must negotiate politics between evil demon werewolves and... slightly less evil regular werewolves, or something.  Again; lots of fighting of werewolves, but there's a kind of sympathetic ring to at least some of the "misunderstood monsters" that doesn't ring like it belongs in any kind of horror story.  This may need some reworking too.

Of course, they also get sent out to an old battlefield where the cultists are digging up bodies to reanimate them to have an army ready for the Dweomer Lich.  Here they fight undead/necromancers and get the next clue.  For locations, I need a reasonably large, dark Mirkwood-like forest (again; let's keep it simple (the Bitterwood), and a haunted area that was once the site of a great slaughter and which has now been salted and cursed into complete uselessness (the abandoned and deserted village of Dragomiresti.)  This one may require some rather significant rework as well.

Next time; the next three modules.  This post is longer to write than I expected because I have to skim through all of the modules to summarize them, so I'll split it into two.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cult of Undeath System (complete!)

https://sites.google.com/site/cultofundeath/home/system

That was almost trivially easy, but there you have it.  I adapted my existing DARK•HERITAGE m20 rules to this new setting by copying and pasting, mostly, the rules, editing out any specific references to the setting, putting it on fewer pages, and mixing up the races a bit.  In fact, I used the race rules for my Star Wars m20 game, but renamed some of the races to be more in common with what you see in fantasy; i.e.,  humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs and cursed (by which you can assume that I mean tieflings, basically.  Tiefling as a word is product identity for Wizards of the Coast, so I have to make do with the concept without using the word.  The concept is, of course, as old as the hills and therefore public domain; Merlin himself is said to have been a changeling, for instance.)

As in D&D, humans are the most versatile, with a bonus to all skills.  Halflings are stealthy and dexterous, orcs are strong, elves are learned, and dwarves are hardy.  The cursed are a bit more nuanced, with a few minor bonuses, including to their DEX score, their Physical skill, and their Knowledge skill, to represent intuition that is their heritage from a fiendish ancestor.  Although arguably, their stats look more like what you'd expect from a d20 elf than a d20 tiefling.  Oh, well.

Because I'm using the Star Wars race system, of course, you can tweak any of the stats to your taste, or even create any racial profile (from a mechanics perspective, at least) that you wish.  I don't really recommend that you do so, and even less do I recommend that you people your PC groups with odd and bizarre races that you've created that don't have any place in the setting.  However... well, everyone likes options, even if you don't plan on necessarily using most of them.

EDIT: I'd also like to add the Shadow Sword class to the line-up, now that I think of it.  It seems entirely appropriate for this setting.  Plus, here's a picture of what could be a Cursed Shadow Sword.  Who wouldn't want to play this guy?

EDIT 2: I noticed, as I was going through the spells, that I have already named my Tar-Baphon after all; or at least I have a spell specifically named after what is meant to be the most iconic, legendary necromancer in the history of everything.  However, I deliberately hearkened back to Nagash with my 5th level spell, Command of Naggazz.  I could always edit the name of the spell, but most likely I'll use that.  I've always thought Nagash was a great name.  I don't want to tread too heavily on it, but I'm happier more or less mimicking it than many other options, honestly.

Next up for CULT OF UNDEATH is to start developing the setting.  That won't be trivially easy, and I can't just cut and paste it with a few minor edits, so that will almost certainly be a slower-going process.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cult of Undeath Introduction

https://sites.google.com/site/cultofundeath/

Welcome to the Cult of Undeath!  This is an experiment by yours truly; I'm adapting a number of elements, specifically an existing RPG rules set, a version of Microlite, or m20, and the general idea, tone, theme, and some of the specific events and details of the Carrion Crown Adventure Path.  In my experience, Paizo Adventure Paths tend to turn into a sloggish Death March before they're done, with all kinds of sprawling tangents, red herrings, and way, way too many dungeon crawls for my liking (to be fair; I don't like any at all, really.)  Because I'm going to be so heavily modifying, redacting, compressing, and changing the adventure path that I'm going to have to rewrite it almost from scratch, I thought I'd document my efforts here.

While I was at it, I ended up deciding to simplify and rewrite the portion of the setting in which the adventure path takes place as well, creating--essentially--my own slightly more generic version of Gothic horror themed sword & sorcery.  So not only do I need to document an adventure path, but also a mini-setting.  And because I want to use m20, but I'm not really prepared to endorse any specific iteration of the rules as written--partly because of my own idiosyncratic tastes, I'm even having to document my rules.  The end result of the Cult of Undeath is going to be a truly complete role-playing game: rules, setting and adventures all in one convenient package.  If I'm happy with the result, I may turn to other Adventure Paths and attempt to shoehorn them into the same schema.  But first, let me describe briefly each of those three elements, what they are, what they're like, and what I'm attempting to do with them.

Microlite (m20)
The Microlite, or m20 system (which is what I'll call it from now on out) is a dramatic restructuring of the famous d20 System, which is the backbone of 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the evolved version of this same game, Pathfinder.  In the case of m20, however, the design goals were dramatically different than either.  Whereas both d20 and Pathfinder are very robust, rulesy systems, with volumes of rules to play with, m20 is only a few pages long.  It hearkens back to the way rules used to be back in the 70s, when we had the OD&D set, which was three little booklets of less than a dozen pages each.  Even ignoring the trajectory of AD&D, which is the one that d20 followed, the more rules-lite versions, such as the later BD&D (various versions) expanded on this small and humble beginning, following the paradigm that more is more rather than less is more when it comes to rules.

m20, then reverses that trend back to the OD&D levels--if not even further, perhaps--but does so not with arbitrary and arcane rules, but with rules that have the harmonic integrity and consistency of d20--but without most of the detail and subsystems and exceptions, etc.  I've used m20 before as the Recommended Rules set for settings I've developed, and I've got a grand total of only 27 pages for a complete set of rules.  And even that is overstating it; if you don't count the title page, the table of contents, a few pages of discussion and introduction, the OGL, a character sheet, etc. all it really takes to play m20 is ten pages of rules and another ten pages of spell-lists and monsters.

In part this is doable by interpreting the rules in the same spirit of "rulings, not rules" of OD&D, as highlighted by several OSR-themed personalities over the last few years.  In part, it's doable because the d20 system which makes up its basic chassis is consistent enough that it can be pared down sensibly moreso than the original rules were able to be.  And in part, it's been done by a ruthless adherence to simplicity and rules-liteness as a design goal.  All m20 games should be avoided by players who really enjoy most the "games within the game" of resource management or tactical combat.  m20 supports those who are interested in collaborative story-telling, fast pacing, and adventure.  I'm almost hesitant to say that, due to the ridiculousness of game design theorists who have tarnished the notion of "story-games" but m20 is not some high-brow, self-righteous and smug artisan rules-set.  It's just simple, no nonsense, base minimum rules for gamers who don't really care for rules.

Prezov County
This is the setting, which will show some similarities to the Pathfinder setting area of Ustalav.  The gist of it is that it is a region meant invoke Gothic horror themes and tone into sword & sorcery fantasy gaming.  In other words, if Bram Stoker's Dracula were brought into a D&D setting, Ustalav would be the result.  Prezov County therefore has the same theme and tone; it's Gothic horror in fantasy.  My only reasons for not using Ustalav are aesthetic: I want to prune and simplify the setting.  I also want it to be more generic; I don't want to "copy" the setting of Ustalav too closely.  I've always enjoyed tinkering with settings, and I struggle, quite honestly, with utilizing pre-written settings as is without making significant modifications to them.  Making it "my own" means I don't have to trample on potential Paizo Publishing I/P, as well as giving me the opportunity to make any changes I want to to better fit the tone and themes that I want to fit.

Prezov County isn't just Transylvania and Dracula, however.  Pretty much any kind of Gothic or even many versions of modern horror are welcome here and meant to fit.  Vampires are an important element.  So are ghosts and hauntings, werewolves, Frankenstein-style monsters, and there's even a city that's obviously meant to be Lovecraft's Innsmouth, complete with Deep Ones at the bottom of a vast lake.

The history of the nation is forged in conflict; the world's greatest necromancer is from Prezov County, and he ruled it with an iron fist for generations.  Although now defeated, the legacy of this brutal occupation by undead casts an indelible pall over the entire region.  This is also reflected in the title of this Google Site: Cult of Undeath, which foreshadows the main antagonist that players are meant to face off against through the course of the adventure path.

The Cult of Undeath
While of course the Cult of Undeath is the main antagonist of the adventure path, it's not quite so simple, and various other tangents get us there.  It is, of course, my goal to greatly simplify and pare down the adventure path as written, but I'm going to at a very high level hit the same beats.  There are six segments to the adventure path, and each has its own focus, with a "metastory" of the Cult of Undeath weaving its way through all of them.  They will be, more or less, as follows--and I say this, of course, without having had the chance to do any of the work of redacting and modifying the adventure path, so I don't yet know what the finished product will look like:

  • A haunted prison, with some of Prezov County's worst villains needing to be put to rest a second time.
  • Frankenstein's monster runs amok in a city famous for its academy.
  • A plague of werewolves and their conflicts and wars spill out of the dark forest and into the streets.
  • A decrepit Lovecraftian Innsmouth analog allies with the Cult of Undeath.
  • A serial killer... but of vampires.  Why are we trying to stop this guy again?
  • The Cult of Undeath races to restore the Dark Lord; the PCs race to stop him.  Classic stuff, here.

Conclusion
As this site evolves, all three of those basic pillars will be developed.  The rules will come first, because I'm mostly cutting and pasting from my earlier iteration of the m20 system.  Setting will follow, and the reworking of the adventure path will most likely be the last to be completed.

The Near Term Prospect of Gaming

After months of inactivity, I poked my old RPG group, and it looks like it's positive for us getting back together again soon.  I don't know if our Star Wars game will pick back up, or if it's faltered to the point where it's effectively dead.  Personally, I suspect we'll end up coming to the conclusion that the latter is true; I think the enthusiasm for the game is way down, and most importantly, I think the GM's enthusiasm seems to be way down.  He's had other things to worry about; just moved, etc., but I think we'll most likely decide that the game has stalled sufficiently that it would be difficult to defib it back to life.  Of course, my projection there may be wrong; it may turn out that everyone is really gung-ho to get it moving again, and that it comes back together.  But based on my prior experience; I doubt it.

So, that opens up the question: what do we play next, then?  I've tossed out there the concept of playing some shorter, old-school retro games; something between a one-shot and a mini-campaign, based on various older modules: B2 Keep on the Borderlands, N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God or U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.  Possibly, if we're still up to it, to be followed by X1 The Isle of Dread.  I might even play using the B/X rules, but probably not, because I don't remember them very well and I'm not very interested in figuring out how to play them again, honestly.  We're all very familiar with d20, and it seems to be the group's favorite, so most likely it would be via that system, were we to play this.

On the other hand, that doesn't get us very far, even if that is what we play, and most likely folks will be in the mood to start talking about campaigns again.  There was a thought many months ago that a Horror on the Orient Express campaign.  Two guys in the group contributed to the kickstarter, and although I haven't heard that it actually delivered or not, it's something that we had at one point all agreed to play, at least.

And finally, if old-fashioned D&D is our goal, I'll offer to run a modified and truncated or redacted version of The Carrion Crown; the early Gothic horror themed adventure path from Paizo.  Mostly, I'd want to make the whole thing shorter and eliminate almost everything that looks even remotely like a dungeoncrawl.

In fact, ideally, although I don't know if I can convince the guys to ditch their beloved d20, I'd run an abbreviated Carrion Crown, with the serial numbers filed off, using my own version of m20.  There's no reason I couldn't go ahead and use the corner of Golarion that these modules were originally meant to be played in, and there's no reason why I couldn't simply play it using locations and cultures from my own DARK•HERITAGE setting, but I'd actually want to do neither; I'd prefer to take the basics of Ustalav, at least the parts necessary for this series of modules, and rename to file the serial numbers off of them, rearrange them with a new map, etc.  Just basically simplify and genericize the modules even more than they already are.  And make them shorter, as well--my experience with Paizo adventure paths is that they turn into a Death March long before you're done with them, and I want it to be fast-paced and fun.

I created a new tag, CULT OF UNDEATH in which I'll actually go through the process here on my blog.  The end result of all of the posts with the tag will be:
  • A generic mini setting element that I could use anywhere, which is not connected to nor meant to interface with my main setting, but which is meant to be a more generic sword & sorcery vaguely D&D-like setting.
  • A slightly modified version of my m20 rules, but probably without the setting specific races, and with a few more "standard" generic fantasy races added in instead.
  • A framework for each of the modules in the adventure path on how exactly I'd modify, truncate and redact them into an experience that is, at most, half the length of the original.
And because I like to recycle artwork that I find here and there on the internet, I'll tag this post with a picture of Nagash from the recent End Times event in Warhammer, who will stand in for whatever I end up calling my "genericized" version of Tar-Baphon, the Whispering Tyrant.  Hey, maybe I'll even borrow Corey's Barsoom version of the same concept and call him the Tyrant's Shade?  Or maybe I'll go more classic and call him the Witch-King?  I dunno.  Plenty of time to figure that kind of stuff out later.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

List of Kings

While I'm not actually a fan of the notion that you should develop long histories for your fantasy settings, I have to admit, that I like a good map and chronology as much as the next guy.  While trawling some other blogs, I saw the idea of a d12 table for determining what happened to the rule of kings that allows one to create, without the effort really, a chronology not unlike the Appendix A to The Lord of the Rings.  I've decided to bulk up the chart with a few more ideas and make it a d20 table, and make it more fitted to my setting.

The following isn't meant to be canonical, but I decided to use the system to generate a quick and dirty list of kings for Baal Hamazi, starting at year 1 of the A.S. through year 522--45 years before the present time, when the Empire fell into its current state of Balkanized city-states.

How long do rulers rule?  According to the list of Windsor Kings, the longest reigns were 63 years, but most were much shorter.  I've whipped up yet another quick and dirty chart (keep in mind; although a fantasy setting, I don't have any long-lived races like elves or dwarves to contend with.)

Roll Result
1 d100 weeks
2 d4 years
3 d6+2 years
4 d6+4 years
5 d6+8 years
6 d10+10 years
7 d10+15 years
8 d10+20 years
9 d10+25 years
10 d10+30 years

The cumulative of all of the reigns of all of the rulers I generate needs to add up to 522, so it may require some manual adjustment on at least one or two of the entries (I'm thinking both the first and second will be manual; the rest will be randomly generated.)

The next thing I need is a list of names--Bingo, I've already got one for the Hamazin language, with almost 140 entries on it.  Ideally I'd pick names randomly too, but I'm not going to, just because I don't want to mess around with figuring out a new way to do that with the resources I already have.

And finally, my bulked out "events" table, to give each ruler's reign just a bit of personality:

Roll Result
1 Ruler is the founder of a new dynasty.
2 Ruler has the same name as a previous ruler.
3 Ruler's reign is marked by political turmoil that itself has been given a name.
4 Ruler was converted to a new religion and made his conversion official for the entire kingdom.
5 Ruler supervised a fundamentalist religious revival.
6 Ruler is known as a political or military reformer.
7 Reign ended with the assassination of the ruler.
8 Ruler founded a cadet branch (or more) via his many children of potential future claimants to the throne.
9 Ruler married into another dynasty, growing the realm via dynastic union.
10 Reign ends in scandal.
11 Reign ends in abdication.
12 Ruler supervised significant growth via conquest or other means of the realm.
13 Ruler supervised significant decline and contraction of the realm.
14 Ruler's reign split by a Usurper or Pretender to the throne.
15 Ruler's reign marked by prolonged warfare.
16 Ruler known by an epithet.
17 Rule was notable for a series of natural (or supernatural) disasters.
18 Ruler was revealed to have been an imposter.
19 Ruler spent the majority of his reign ruling in exile.
20 On ruler's death, the realm was split into multiple kingdoms.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Space races

In the setting of AD ASTRA, as in most space-opera comic book settings, the science fiction isn't meant to be rigorous, and to a purist, it isn't even science fiction at all.  Alien species in particular, are more notable assuming that they are interesting antagonists to fight rather than interesting alien societies to explore via fictional ethnography.

So, to explore this space a bit, I'm going to go through some of the major space-based Marvel alien races and what they are and why they're either important or interesting.  I'm using a very loose definition of "space" in this regard: the Negative Zone would count as well, since it provides a number of characters and races that are pretty much indistinguishable from aliens from regular space.  And for the heck of it, why not add the Microverse into the mix as well?

  • The Badoon: a sexually segregated reptilian race that has often been seen as the butt of many jokes by other cosmic races.  Despite this, the Badoon control a large percentage of the Milky Way Galaxy, and are frequent antagonists for various superhero teams.  Major Victory, the original leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy team (which doesn't very closely resemble the more familiar Guardians of the Galaxy team in the movie) is a time-traveling character who warns us that the Badoon should be taken more seriously as they will end up being the major military threat in the galaxy in the future.
  • The Brood: from X-Men comics, this race is basically wise-cracking Aliens; they look like aliens and they reproduce parasitically, like Aliens.  They fly around in space in giant starsharks; bio-engineered sharks that fly through space and have Aliens living in them (yes, you actually read that right.)  Like other Alien-inspired races (such as Warhammer 40k's Tyrannids) they have weird, gigantic heads, chitinous bodies, and are vaguely insectile.
  • The Celestials: gigantic and inscrutible robots(?) from the stars that show up--sometimes--on planets and judge their inhabitants.  If they are found wanting, they are exterminated.  The run-up to Thor #400 (back in early 1988) was one of the first places that I really read much about them (although I was vaguely familiar with them from some earlier Eternals and What If? comics) and show clearly that they are pretty far beyond the ken of even the mightiest superheroes.  They have an interesting Erich von Daniken like vibe to them, especially in their role as medlers in the DNA of the Eternals and Deviants.
  • The Dire Wraiths are an offshoot of the Skrulls, apparently, but that doesn't matter much because they are really kind of their own thing for the most part.  As the primary antagonists of Rom the Space-Knight (I actually had some of these back in the early to mid-80s) they'd have been pretty obscure, but they've also managed to make appearances in X-Men and the Avengers from time to time, and even Dr. Strange has tangled with them.  They are weird shape-shifting sorcerous aliens; in their natural form, red-clawed and beaked creatures with a long, barbed tongue.
  • The Eternals are supposedly Celestial-made experiments with Earth DNA; basically, humans turned into gods, with superhero like powers and long-life.  While the Titanians and Uranians were originally unrelated, it was later decided--and they were retconned as such--that they were also Eternals.  The Eternals was an odd creation by Jack Kirby, who was experimenting (he did the same thing with New Gods by DC, which is basically the same idea) with van Daniken style science fiction with comic book superheroes and mythology.  As an aside, the Eternal character, identified much later as such, that has probably made the most rounds in the Marvel universe is Hyperion, who as originally created as a ersatz Superman.  This gives some idea of the level of power that the Eternals are meant to wield; if they were more mainstream, they'd be among the most powerful superheroes we'd see.
  • The Inhumans actually have a very similar back-story to the Eternals, except the Kree rather than the Celestials are behind their genetic tampering.  This is the result of the Eternals originally having been meant to be independent rather than a canonical part of the Marvel Universe.  Now that they both are in it, they kind of overlap conceptually.  The Inhumans are often given the short end of various deals throughout their history.  Finally, when it's revealed that their king Black Bolt (Blackagar Boltagon is his real name.  I wish I were kidding about that, but I'm not) was replaced by a shape-shifting skrull spy, they decide that they've had enough, they take their entire civilization into space to the Kree homeworld, where they conquer the Kree Empire, and Black Bolt becomes the king of the Kree.  He later appears to be killed while fighting Emperor Vulcan, who is Emperor of the Shi'ar at the time, but since the only comic book character who reliably stays dead is Uncle Ben, of course he eventually comes back.  They also tussle with Thanos, which destroys their home city, but as a side effect of which, the Terrigenisis Bomb turns all kinds of sleeper half-inhumans on earth into either monsters or superheroes.  There's a movie coming out in 2019 about these guys, and the second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuts them officially in the Cinematic Universe.
  • The Kree: originally debuted in the Fantastic Four (it's a real shame; these aren't really the most interesting characters in the Marvel universe, but they always seem to have the best villains).  Nominally blue-skinned, although regular human-looking Kree are also shown; the Kree are technologically advanced, super-strong and super-fast, making them basic shock-troops for superheroes to face, and with "name level" characters are leaders, captains, etc.  Some notable Kree characters include Captain Marvel, Marvel Boy, and Ronan the Accuser, the last well-known from the recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie, although of course he was already well-known in comics prior to that.  They are usually ruled by the Supreme Intelligence, a kind of post-humous conglomeration of the greatest minds of Kree society all turned into a hive-mind like entity.  A notable element of Kree appearances is their constant attempts to jump-start their evolution, which has supposedly been stagnant for millions of years, thanks to a curse by the Crystal of Ultimate Vision.  Hey, I told you that this isn't real science fiction, right?
  • The Phalanx is another parasitic race; a hivemind of those infected with the transmode virus, which basically makes them into weird robotic/cybernetic creatures, who turn organic material into technology (whatever exactly that means) and then drain it of energy in order to feed.  In this, they are actually mimicking their "fathers" the Technarchs, who are--unlike the Phalanx--strictly and fiercely individualistic.  Phalanx can also shape-shift and quickly regenerate damage via absorbing techno-organic life force and then converting that into new techno-organic "tissue."
  • The Shi'ar are one of the three superpowers of Marvel Intersteller, being a human-like race (with feathers instead of hair) with a war-like culture who have managed to put together a multi-ethnic empire of largely conquered peoples.  They feature prominently in X-Men stories, and have had a major impact on the Summers family in particular, since they kidnapped Ma and Pa Summers (Pa Summers became Corsair, the leader of the Starjammers until that role was taken by his son Alex Summers, also known as Havoc) and the Empire was even ruled briefly by Alex's younger brother Gabriel Summers, the "Omega level" mutant Vulcan.  Marvel editor Ed Brubacker specifically likened the Shi'ar to the Romulans; mean, war-like, and aggressive.  As an interesting aside, the champions and royal bodyguard of the Emperor D'Ken is the Imperial Guard, a bunch of non-Shi'ar citizens of the Empire who are transparently modeled on rival DC's Legion of Superheroes, including Gladiator, a kind of purple-skinned mohawk sporting Superman.
  • The Skrulls are another Fantastic Four antagonist, which have since gone far beyond that in terms of scope.  A reptilian shape-shifter race, they were one of three superpowers in space--along with the Shi'ar and the Kree--for many years.  This has changed in recent years, their fleet and homeworld were destroyed by Galactus.  The balkanized remnants of the Empire were easy pickings for Shi'ar and Kree forces alike.  The Inhumans annihilate what's left of the Skrull Armada.  The Annihilation Wave destroys much of what is left of the Skrull inhabited planets.  Queen-Prophetess Veranke leads the Secret Invasion in a desperate attempt to reclaim Skrull power by taking over the Earth (not sure if that's really ever explained) which fails, putting the Skrulls even further behind.  While they're still guys who show up a fair bit in the comics, we're clearly meant to infer that their days as a intergalactic superpower are over.
  • Xandar and the Nova Corps are a kind of answer to the Green Lantern Corps of DC, although their powers are much more modest.  Poor Xander, which is threatened with being blown up in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie was actually blown up no fewer than three times in the comic books.  Xandarians appear to be human physically, but since most of the ones we meet are members of the Nova Corps or are heralds of Galactus, empowered with the Power Cosmic, we never seem to meet one that isn't a powerful superhero of some sort or another.
Anyway, I could go through a similar exercise with DC or Wildstorm or any other imprint (although I admit to not being nearly as familiar with them as I am with Marvel) but from the above, you get the idea of what I'm looking for.  There isn't (in my experience) any reason to go beyond the Milky Way and maybe it's satellites within the Local Group, but when you do so, and you want basically aliens that are aggressive, sometimes monstrous, but often anthropomorphic to various degrees, including fully human appearing, and with high techno-babble equipment and often with superpowers that make them more than a match for regular folks, but peers with your average superheroes.
A collection of many of the space-themed characters of the Marvel Universe.  If you don't recognize Thanos and Galactus, at the very least, you simply can't call yourself a comic book fan, in my opinion.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ad Astra

http://www.mediafire.com/file/sqhla8ekwaek3re/Microlite20-RPG-Collection-2012-Volume-I.pdf

Keep that link in the back of your head for a minute.  We'll come back to it.  I've long been a fan of space opera.  And honestly, besides Star Wars, some of the best space opera in the last few decades has been in the comics.  I'm thinking specifically about the cosmic Marvel stuff; the Starjammers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Inhumans, etc.  Thanos.  Galactus.  The Shi'ar Empire.  The Skrulls.  The Kree.  Silver Freaking Surfer, even.  In fact, after watching Age of Ultron on opening Friday, my parents blew through town.  They mentioned that they had not ever seen the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.  I whipped it out on blu-ray and we watched it right then and there.

So, I'm feeling it again.  Time to dust one of my incipient setting designs off the shelf and see what life I can prompt into it.

My setting design goals are really more like the old Polyhedron mini-games; not really fully fledged games, but seeds that someone motivated enough to do so could take and turn into a fun game.  Not meant to be fleshed out enough to be publishable either; more like an executive summary of a game that a creative person can use, however.

(Seriously, check out those Polyhedron mini-games.  They were really quite brilliant.  I'll include a list and brief summary as an appendix to this post.)

I've decided that my Microlite minigame is going to be space opera, but comic book style, so its basically superheroes in space.

The link above is to the Microlite system, which is now at least, apparently only available as a big collection.  You'll have to browse through the Table of Contents, but here's a teaser--starting on page 741 through pages 751 you'll have the rules for Superlite; an m20 superhero system that is sufficiently light and handwavey to meet my needs and yet flexible and powerful enough to do pretty much anything.  Go ahead, and read (or at least skim) through the rules--they're only 11 pages after all, and one of those is an entire page of an easy chart.  I'll wait right here.

Got it?  Now, assuming that you've read it, I'm going to make some allusions to those rules, so if you haven't, you might want to go back and do it now.

Let's make some adjustments to the ranks.  I don't see the need for having any superpowers with 0 or below ranks.  If that's what you have, then you effectively don't have any superpowers.  So Feeble, Poor, and Typical are completely excised.  I'm also going to eliminate any ranks above Unearthly as simply too far beyond what I'm interested in to be available.  Also, I'm going to rename the ranks, because frankly the ranks as listed, with their cute little two-letter abbreviations don't mean anything to me.  They're too esoteric or vague to be useful.  Here's the new list of Beginning Ranks, as modified by me for this application.  (I imagine I'll eventually refit the entire rule set into what I need, rewriting and/or reprinting under the OGL so it's all in one place, combined with some setting info, as I've done for Star Wars.  Until then, this is just a note.)

Original Rank New Rank Bonus Examples
Typical None 0 Normal characters with no powers
Good Pulp +5 Dick Tracy, Rocketeer, Flash Gordon
Excellent Street +10 Daredevil, Rorschach
Remarkable Sidekick +15 Robin, Bucky, Speedy
Incredible Typical +20 Spider-man, Iron Fist, Flash
Amazing Advanced +25 Batman, Captain America
Monstrous Superior +30 Thor, Iron Man
Unearthly Godlike +35 Superman, Green Lantern, Thanos
Various ranks Supervillainous NPCs +40+ Galactus, the Celestials

Note 1: The first rank isn't really meant to be used.  If you're going to do that, stick with a system that doesn't have superheroes, because that's the rank for non-superhero NPCs.

Note 2: The final rank is also not meant to be used; it's a catch-all for anything more powerful than the starting level of Godlike, and would really only apply to threats that are meant to be faced by a full team, or even a team-up of multiple teams; kind of like how the Avengers and the Fantastic Four have to team up to take on Galactus or something like that.

Note 3: My examples aren't necessarily space-based superheroes, but rather commonly known and recognized superheroes.  Frankly, this system isn't necessarily geared towards reproducing space-based superheroes specifically; it's geared towards simplifying and constraining the superhero rules already in place in SuperLite.  If you want to use them with another setting, it'd be easy to do so.  I'm developing them sepcifically for use with my AD ASTRA setting, however, and I won't be presenting any other alternatives.  At least... not at this time.

Note 4: The rules don't include any provision for space ships, which is unfortunate, since I'll definitely need them.  Luckily, I've already got them available via my Star Wars m20 rules.  I'll just borrow them exactly as written there and apply them here.  All the more reason to create my all in one reorganization and collating of the rules at some point.  But first, let's design this thing, then we can make it pretty.

GMs playing an AD ASTRA game can pick the starting power level that they wish to, but clearly "Typical" is meant to be... well, "Typical" and probably the default.  Characters can, of course, advance over the course of their careers into more powerful characters.  I'd also redo the characterization of the teams as such:

Justice League: one broad power at Godlike, and 2 broad powers at Superior would be typical for a team member.

Avengers: slightly lower than Justice League; Godlike powers would be extremely rare and only for advanced characters; starting characters would most likely have one broad Superior power or two broad powers at Advanced.

X-Men: slightly lower yet; very rare Superior or higher characters, perhaps limited to NPC mentor roles (as in Professor X), while typical starting characters would have a broad power at Advanced with two broad powers at Typical.

Heroes for Hire: And slightly lower yet; starting characters would have two typical powers, or one typical power and two sidekick powers.

Power Pack: Sure, the game would work at even lower levels, but this is as far down as I'll go in describing; in the real world these guys would be amazing, but in a world of superheroes, these guys are rank beginners and not necessarily very impressive.  A broad sidekick level power, or two broader street level powers.

Characters can then use the rules for Buying Powers to tweak the characters; sometimes its fun to have characters that have more powers, even at a lower level.  I would suggest that the "default" mode for AD ASTRA would be X-men level, but that that could be tweaked to taste.

Next, we'll get started on the setting itself!

Appendix: As promised, here are the minigames and a brief summary of what each was about.

  • Pulp Heroes; as expected, it is Doc Savage and Raiders of the Lost Ark kinda stuff.
  • Shadow Chasers; Buffy the Vampire Slayer for d20 Modern.  This was later adapted into a campaign element for d20 Modern officially.
  • Spelljammer - an adaptation of the old 2e AD&D setting.
  • Thunderball Rallly - Every Which Way But Loose and Cannonball Run and The Dukes of Hazard.
  • Omega World - a riff on the Gamma World game by TSR, which wasn't in print at the time.
  • Mecha Crusade - Japanese anime giant robot pilots stuff. 
  • GeneTech - the "lost" d20 Modern campaign element; a kind of near-future Island of Dr. Moreau with spies and stuff.
  • V for Victory - WW2
  • Hi-Jinx - 70s teenage kids; Josie and the Pussycats, Scooby and the Gang, etc.
  • Knights of the Lich-Queen - a mini-setting that is modular and integratable into a D&D game.  Properly belongs in Greyhawk/Planescape, though.
  • Iron Lords of Jupiter - planetary Romance, not unlike the various Barsoom ripoffs that spread through pulp novels in waves in the 20s and 30s and then again in the 60s.
  • Pulp Heroes - an update of the earlier version.
Lots of fun in there, but as you'll see if you look at them, they're not really fully fledged campaigns.  For one thing, few of them are more than about twenty pages or so long.  They've got a few house-rules, a high concept, and some description of how to bring that high concept to ground.  That's what I've done so far with ODD D&D and what I'll do with AD ASTRA as well.

Year of the RPG

To show how out of touch with the hobby mainstream I have been, it literally never occurred to me throughout the entirety of 2014 that it was the 40th anniversary of D&D and therefore of the hobby itself.  D'oh!  And this as I had a friend named Dave who always signed off internet posts, on hobby related topics, with a tagline proclaiming that OD&D (1974) is the One True Game.  All others are a pale imitation.  For years, I saw that, and yet it still never occurred to me that naturally 2014-1974 is 40 years.  Man.  Facepalm, and all that.

However, considering that my attachment to D&D specifically is rather tenuous--I'm playing, on the very rare occasions when we do play (I think it's well over six months since a session has been held) a home-brewed d20 Star Wars, and my own efforts in design and general tom-foolery with RPGs have been focused on Microlite for some time now--maybe it's not terribly surprising that the whole year came and went without me thinking about it.

That said, even I'm not immune from the occasional trip into sentimentality and nostalgia.  I've had a lot of fun with D&D over the years, and would not at all be averse to playing it again with a good group, especially if it's one of the rulesets that's either flexible or light or both.  Which ones would I be willing to play?  Interesting question.
  • Some time ago, I proposed to my gaming group a one-shot--or at least few-shots game of B/X D&D--the original Basic/Expert Moldvay series from 1981, which was based on the earlier Holmes Basic set.  The Holmes set was meant to be a revision and clean-up of the original OD&D rules, while the Moldvay set reflected a schism at TSR over the direction of D&D as a whole; the Basic set, while substantially revised and changed by Moldvay meant to emulate the original "spirit" of the game, if you will, while Gygax himself went on to AD&D which was an increasingly arcane and complicated ruleset with a much greater preponderance of rules to follow.  I have no interest in playing AD&D (1st or 2nd edition) but I could go for some B/X D&D.  Especially if we played the original modules that came with the game--B2 Keep on the Borderlands and X1 Isle of Dread as a prelude to doing something original.  Actually, come to think of it, I'd probably prefer this ruleset to be used almost exclusively to be used in a retrospective of classic modules.
  • I'd still play some Third Edition.  Or more likely, 3.5.  It's more rules than I want anymore, but I know the system well, and I know how to get the experience I want out of it.  I've had tons of fun playing this, and am sure that I could do so again.  It's not my first choice anymore, since discovering Microlite, but I wouldn't complain if this is what ended up in front of me.  If I were to run it myself, I'd incorporate a few houserules, many of which I've talked about ad nauseum  on this blog already, a few of which are from Pathfinder, but in general I think Pathfinder took the parts of 3rd Edition that weren't good an amplified them rather than fixing them.  I'd much rather play 3rd Edition than Pathfinder.  If I were running, I'd even consider a pared down and heavily edited (and somewhat redacted) Pathfinder Adventure Path.
  • Although I have no interest whatsoever in 4th edition, 5th Edition seems to be a well-designed game that purports to play more like what I want D&D to play like.  Does it really?  I have no idea!  I've never played it; I've never even read it.  But I'd be willing to give it a go.
  • Although not technically D&D per se, I'd be willing--surprise, surprise--to play one of the Microlite games that's specifically set up to play like D&D, such as regular ole original Microlite, or some variation on the Microlite74 family.
Any version of AD&D is right out; not interested, and the same is true for 4th Edition.  I got bronchitis, ain't nobody got time for dat. Now get me a cold pop!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

An eclectic mix of books

Just some random thoughts... I brought in three books I'm reading today to the office, because I'm not sure which of the three I'm going to feel like cracking open during lunch.  Actually, considering that I'm also reading two on my Kindle app on my phone, I'm actually reading five... and I might pick up any of the five.  I also have jury duty tomorrow, so I'll most likely read plenty of... something... tomorrow too.

Sabertooth: My love of paleontology can't be a mystery to any readers of my blog.  I even have another blog dedicated specifically to paleontology--although I admit that I don't update it very often.  Sabertooths--specifically Smilodon fatalis, the North American sabertooth cat famous from Rancho La Brea tar pits, is probably my favorite animal over the entire range of life on earth (although big carnosaurs and tyrannosaurids have to give it a run for its money in that regard.)  It ranged all over the North American continent south of the glacial advance, throughout Central America and in the northwesternmost corner of South America north and west of the Andes.  On the other side of the Andes was its larger cousin, Smilodon populator, which is honestly a more impressive animal, but because it's part of a weirder and (in my opinion) less impressive faunal assemblage overall, I prefer the North American species.  Plus--cooler name.  And it's a local, homegrown animal.  Mauricio Antón, the author of this book, is actually an artist, who is self-taught about the systematics and biology of sabertooths, and is now probably the world's leading expert, for whatever that's worth.

The book doesn't just talk about felid sabertooths, though--it talks about the entire gamut of mammalian or even proto-mammalian terrestrial sabertoothed carnivores.  This includes felid sabertooths, dirk-tooths, scimitar-tooths, etc. of course, but it also delves into the barbourofelids and nimravids, completely different (and extinct) carnivoran families, as well as creodonts and even gorgonopsids--that last of which may seem like an odd addition, but hey, why not?

The South Was Right:  I've also come to really question the received wisdom of my formal education, having found that much of it is actually quite literally cultural Marxist indoctrination.  Because I am open-minded, however, instead of locked into accepting what I've been taught without thought, I've long struggled with some narratives that didn't quite make sense.  And, of course, growing up in the South, I struggled with the concept of how the ancestors of these people, who's cultural heritage still lingers strongly in the area, could be the terrible people that Northern propaganda has taught us that they are.

This book isn't terribly academically written, and it occasionally struggles from very open bias and a kind of wide-eyed outrage that most readers will struggle to identify with, even me as a sympathetic one.  However, it is a fairly nice and thorough treatise on, among other things, 1) the true economic causes of the war (hint; the North actually had no intention of freeing the slaves, it was a by-product of the war, and the North didn't even free the slaves that lived in it's own territory with the Emancipation Proclamation; that came afterwards with the Amendment to the Constitution several years after the war was over), 2) racial attitudes in the South and the North (hint; in the South, racial harmony and integration was commonplace in spite of the limited practice of race-based slavery, while in the north hostile racism was commonplace), 3) northern war crimes against the Southerners, and much more.

It's important to continue the process of deprogramming the indoctrination that we've been given.  I've got a small list that is a good place to start on my What I'm Reading tab.  This book may or may not make the cut, but even if it doesn't, it's an interesting read.

The Eye of the Chained God: I still read a fair bit of tie-in fiction, even though my experience with it is sometimes painful.  In the world of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® tie-in fiction (like that?  WotC likes to print it that way) Don Bassingthwaite is one of the better authors that they've got who regularly writes for them.  Plus, this is a trilogy; this is actually the third and final act, and the series as a whole is named The Abyssal Plague.  It's a little old now, although I bought it while new, but since I've read the first two in the series and they weren't actively bad, and I actually bought them, I figured it was worth it to finish it off.  This will probably be what I spend most of my time doing tomorrow when not having to actively listen to a bunch of boring attorneys going through jury selection procedures.  I've really only barely cracked it open so far.

I doubt that I'll keep this series once I finish it (or the earlier Bassingthwaite series on the hobgoblin empire that I bought and read.)  I think I'll make some room on my bookshelf by donating all six of those books from two trilogies to the public library.  Still, I don't regret the money or time spent.  They weren't bad at all.

After I finish this one, I'll probably continue tie-in fiction reading.  I've only read, so far, the first of three in a series about the rise of Nagash, the Supreme Lord of the Undead in the Warhammer world.  I want to read this "historical" series and the two later yet still "ancient history" novels about the Undead before reading The Return of Nagash, which I also have, which is the first book in the End Times series where Games Workshop decided--somewhat inexplicably, in my opinion--to blow up their established setting.

Reassessing the Presidency: a much more scholarly book that will probably make my permanent "deprogramming" reading list.  Published as a series of essays by several authors by the Von Mises Institute as a Kindle book, the subtitle is The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom, and that's an accurate assessment of the conclusions reached and the evidence to suggest why it happened.  After reading books like that, it really changes your perspective on voting in America, especially when Presidential candidates start to talk.  It's amazing to me what Presidential candidates say now that causes me to cringe, when only a few years ago I would have not batted an eye.

Understanding what has happened to spoil the party that the Founding Fathers started, and if possible even reverse the decline and degeneration, is crucial to the very survival of our country.  I've become rather pessimistic in the last few years about our chances, since the will of the electorate is gone; we resemble far to much late stage Roman Empire, or even the sad world of Brave New World where voters are bribed and drugged with ease--bread and circuses style.  But not entirely pessimistic.  We may yet have a chance to halt the rot, excise the cancer, and stand tall--ready to welcome the Savior as free men when he returns with open arms.  Likely?  No.  Impossible?  Also no.  We do what we can.  And the first step is to properly educate ourselves, which means undoing much of the damage that the education industry in America has inflicted on us and on the truth.

This book is one of several helpful tools in that regard.

The Complete Works of H. P. Lovecraft:  Despite the title, this isn't actually quite complete.  The compiler was just a little hesitant about the legal status of his ghost-written and "co-authored" works, so they are not included.  However, literally everything written under his own name is public domain, and collated into this handy little Kindle file (which isn't little at all) sorted chronologically.  This is a bit challenging in its own right, actually--sorting it that way means that you have to read his earlier stuff first, and he had a lot of duds early in his career.  I've been plodding my way methodically through this for months now, though, and I'm somewhat near the end (granted; most of what remains are longish novellas, however.)  Currently I'm about ¾ of the way through "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"--truly one of the classics in his oeuvre, although oddly hearkening back in many ways to some of his earlier work, since it reads more like a Cthulhu-esque horror story than like a science fiction story, where much of his later work treads.  Of course, the overlap in genre in his work is notable, which is why "Weird Tale" is often used specifically to describe Lovecraftian horror/scifi hybrids, and they really don't quite resemble anything other than themselves.

Many of these stories, especially all of the "important" ones I've read before, often multiple time, of course.  But many of the poorer and smaller works actually were new to me as I went through them.  Of what remains in the ebook are mostly his more classic stories, but there are two works that I haven't ever read before, "The Evil Clergyman" and "The Book", both from 1933.  After I finish this, I'll still need to open up my hard-copy of his ghost-written and co-authored stories collected in The Horror in the Museum omnibus, republished by Del Rey, before I can truly say that I've read all of Lovecraft's work.  Once I've done so... I dunno.  I may find that being able to make that claim is of dubious value, since I'd already read most of what was actually worth reading long ago.

What I'd like to continue doing, however, is finding good collections of authors who have written Lovecraftian stories and expanded the Yog-Sothothery concept in new and interesting ways.  Always more to do, right?

Monday, May 04, 2015

Evolving the setting

Sorry, Brandon Sanderson!  After having the first Mistborn novel on my "What I'm Reading" list for months, I gave up.  200+ pages in, and I still just couldn't get into the book at all.  I give up and quit trying.  I donated the book to the public library's second hand book shop.  I'm still on the look-out from among my collection of what to read next.  Because I have a lot of tie-in fiction, I'm almost certainly going to go that way.  In fact, what I probably most want to do is finish off the Abyssal Plague series (and then probably donate the entire series to the library again; I doubt I'll enjoy it so much that I'll want to keep it and dust it off to read again anytime soon.)  I also want to finish the Nagash trilogy that I started; I've only read the first of three novels there.  I also want to keep going on the Arkham Horror tie-in novels; I've read two of three novels in the Lord of Nightmares trilogy and one of three in the Dark Waters trilogy.  I actually only own the first two of each trilogy, because that's all that was out when I bought them, so I also need to buy book three in both trilogies in order to proceed--with the exception of the one book, Bones of the Yopasi, which I own but haven't read yet.  And of course, I also have many other options in print.  And my Kindle book list is almost as long as my print book list, although it contains a lot of first books in series (because they were free) and I'm also less picky about giving up and moving on from Kindle books.  I still haven't mentally made the jump of equating physical and Kindle books as equals.

Sigh.

One trend in the Black Library of Warhammer fiction that I'm watching with a little bit of curiosity is the End Times series.  Shared universe tie-in fiction usually has one important caveat; status quo.  Changes to the setting are limited to very local or even the personal level, so that the "sandbox" is reset to the same status quo at the end of it.  This policy has ruled in Warhammer for pretty much forever, and it is widely applicable across franchises as well.  Series like Forgotten Realms don't always do that, but fans tend to dislike the tendency to "blow up" the Realms, for instance.  And yet, that is exactly what is happening to the Warhammer world.  I'm a little curious to see how it turns out.  I've had pretty good luck with Black Library fiction in general--I tend to like it as well as I like most other fiction in the genre, unlike the situation with Dungeons & Dragons fiction where I've only liked the very best of what's on offer and have found most of the rest of it to be mediocre at best--and often quite a bit worse.

I've got a similar situation brewing in my own setting, which isn't a shared world, of course, so I can adopt whatever process I feel like.  With Hutran Kutir, the Hex-King, recently raised and poised to start reconquering the fractured Baal Hamazi empire that was his legacy (assuming of course that the Hex-King truly is Hutran Kutir) the status quo of my setting could change quite a bit.

That is... once I start doing something with it.

Sigh again.

Gaming and fiction writing still tend to be pursuits that elude me, as I find my time very constrained and when I could make time, I find my energy and enthusiasm to be missing.  My earlier ventures in fiction writing in the setting have been completely abandoned; I'm not sure, at least right now, what outline I would follow for a potential novel, or even what characters I would use.  I'm completely back to the drawing board.  My gaming potential has pretty much dried up; I could probably recruit some of my old gaming buddies back into the fold, but to do so, I'd have to put myself in competition with the game that we're currently nominally playing--although which we haven't actually played much of in months.

With any luck, the advent of the summer will win me some potential free time in the evenings.  If I can devote half an hour a day, at least four days a week to writing, I could bang out a draft in a single season of a novel.  Then I could allow myself some time to clean it up, attach some sort of cover image on it, convert it into a .mobi file and sell it on Amazon.  We'll see.  That's what I'd like to do, anyway.