Archive for August, 2013

Implied Spaces

August 31, 2013

impliedspaces

Just wanted to point out an interesting book I just finished, Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams.  Aside from being a very entertaining read, the book contains a wealth of ideas for a super-science/fantasy RPG campaign:

  • A “magic” sword edged with a wormhole, instantly sending its victims to a pocket universe.
  • A cat that is actually a conduit to a planet-sized A.I. (wizard’s familiar, anyone?)
  • Custom made pocket-universes, designed to suit their builder’s whim’s and desires; for example, a “world” built by gamers filled with fantasy creatures, where technology can never advance beyond the medieval level.  Some pocket universes are designed purely for industrial purposes, providing essentially limitless energy and resources.
  • Don’t like your body?  No problem, just have a new one built and download your mind into it.  Want to be an amphibian?  An avian?  Some weird centaur/izard hybrid thingy?
  • Oh, and the same technology makes death a mere inconvenience.  Just backup your mind and if you die, you’ll be resurrected and your last backup downloaded into the new body.  You might loose a few days, depending on how often you backup your wetware.
  • Want to be a god, complete with a cult of perfectly brainwashed followers?  Just create a genetically engineered virus to re-wire people’s brains and then spread the virus around a major city.  Anarchy and chaos more your style?  Then create a “zombie” virus that turns people into a raving lunatics.
  • Military dropships that are essentially wormhole gates to micro-universes containing millions of invasion troops.
  • Pocket universes filled with anti-matter, fired as missiles.

A lot of neat ideas here for a transhumanist/super-science/fantasy RPG game.  What if your D&D campaign world is actually a specifically designed pocket universe?  What if, instead of visiting other planes or planets, PCs can portal to other micro-universes, each designed with a specific purpose in mind, some with their own, special physical laws even.  What if the PCs are hit by wormhole weapon, dumping them into a prison universe from which they need to escape?  Or chasing a villain who can change their appearance at will, or download their mind into another person, or create an army of genetically brainwashed cultists?  Talk about gonzo. 🙂

Cheers.

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Neverwinter Online: Fury of the Feywild

August 23, 2013

Neverwinter Online released its first content expansion (they call them ‘Modules’), Fury of the Feywild, yesterday.  This is not intended as a full review, as a proper review would require weeks of gameplay.  Rather, this is more of a mini-rant.

Mind you, it’s not that FotFw isn’t fun to play.  What little of it I’ve been able to access has been about as good as anything else in Neverwinter Online (take that as you will).  No, the main problem is that I can’t play as much of the new content as I’d like.  And the reason I (or anybody) can’t play as much as we’d like is because Perfect World imposed ridiculous lock-out timers after completing a few quests.

Here’s how it works:  you do a short solo intro adventure then plop into Sharandar.  There you get three daily quests.  After completing your three daily quests, you’re unable to advance any further for the next 13 hours, after which you can then complete another 3 daily quests and then wait another 13 hours.  Do this three times to unlock the next area of the new zone where, presumably, you’ll repeat the process all over again.  It’s basically an entire zone made up of nothing but WoW-like daily quests.

On top of the timers, accessing much of the content seems to require the expenditure of gold and/or astral diamonds, plus special currencies earned only in the Feywild (granted, I haven’t been able to progress far enough to test this yet, so I might be wrong).  One wonders why PW didn’t just cut out the clutter and charge ZEN directly to access the additional content, though perhaps that would have been a bit too transparent.

I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for this expansion.  Sure, it looks gorgeous, but frankly the whole thing feels a bit half-assed, content-wise at least.

Okay, rant over.  Maybe I’ll be able to give a better assessment in a couple of weeks, after I’ve had a chance to (glacially) progress through each area.  Cheers.

Kick Ass 2

August 16, 2013

kickass2Saw Kick Ass 2 this afternoon.  Overall impression: not quite as good as the first movie, but still worth seeing, especially if you liked the first one.

Kick Ass 2 picks up about where the first movie ended.  It hits up the comedy side of things a little more than the first movie (especially Hit Girl trying to integrate into ‘normal’ high school society), but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of gritty violence and turns a little dark towards the end (like the first movie).

I was a bit disappointed that there were not as many cool gunfights as the first movie, but there were a lot more brawls to make up for it.  Once again, Dave Lizewski spends a lot of time getting his ass kicked while Hit Girls saves his butt, though by the end of the movie he’s starting to hold his own.  In many ways it’s a coming-of-age story for Kick Ass and Hit Girl, where they try to figure out if they’re real super heroes or just regular people taking a break from reality.

If you’re a fan of the first movie, or just like action comedies, go see Kick Ass 2.

Gormek’s Orky Gunz

August 14, 2013

orkygunz

Orky guns for your science-fantasy game.

Gormeks Orky Gunz

Tarkiz – A Democratic City State of the post-Cataclysmic Wasteland

August 13, 2013

The city of New Tarkiz, built amidst the ruins of Old Tarkiz, is the largest and most sophisticated city in the post-Cataclysm world.  It boasts the only structurally sound bridge across the Great River, and a bustling river trade.  With a population in excess of 10,000, it’s the center for trade, industry, the arts, and especially politics.

Early in its foundation New Tarkiz adopted a democratic form of government, with universal enfranchisement.  However, they also adopted the concept of allowing citizens to sell their voting rights to third parties, usually for enough gold to support a person for the remainder of their lives (which are relatively short, compared to modern lifespans).  The founders quickly realized that voting rights so sold shouldn’t exist in perpetuity…after all, an actual voting citizen stops voting when they die, right?  So they ruled that when a person dies, the voting rights they sold to third parties expire as well.

Unfortunately, when the law was written, there was a huge loophole, to the effect that a person didn’t have to be alive for their voting rights to persist, just ambulatory (i.e. a zombie).  In other words, if you sold your voting rights, when you die you get turned into a zombie so that the faction that owns your vote can continue to use it.  If you’re not overly sentimental about the disposal of your remains, you can make a little extra coin selling your ‘corpse rights’ as well as your enfranchisement.  A quite sophisticated legal and commercial industry has spawned around this practice, to the point where factions even hire bounty hunters to retrieve corpses of citizens who passed away beyond the city’s jurisdiction, so that the bodies may be returned and animated for voter registration.

Over time the practice of matching a deceased’s voting rights to a specific corpse fell out of practice.  Now it is only necessary to make sure there’s at least one zombie for each vote in the faction’s voting bloc.  If the number of zombies in a faction’s stable falls short, their voting bloc is decremented the appropriate amount.  As you can imagine, this leads to a number of shady practices (rife with opportunity for risk-taking murder-hobos).

Environment__POST_APOCALYPSE_by_I_NetGraFX

The most common shady practice is ‘vote culling.’  Each faction maintains stables of zombies in areas called pens.  By law, zombie pens must be maintained on the far side of the river in the ruins of Old Tarkiz (just in case they zombies bust loose someday).  Each faction sets up an area in the ruins, usually near the river or the main road for quick and easy transportation if necessary.  The pens are always well-guarded, day and night.  Guards usually sit atop the ruined towers of Old Tarkiz, where they can keep good watch without having to mingle with the zombies (which are by no means pacified).  Zombies may be hemmed in by large nets, walls or fences, to keep them from wandering away in the night.

So, to cull votes, factions raid one another’s zombie pens, trying to kill as many ‘voters’ as possible.  Killing guards is technically murder, but you can kill as many zombies as you like.  Vote culling is treated more like a property crime, so perpetrators, if caught, face only mild jail sentences and/or the payment of compensatory fines to the injured parties.  It’s not unheard of for factions to offer large bounties to third parties for zombie heads taken from rival faction’s ‘voters.’

A far more nefarious practice is press-ganging.  Groups of thugs wander the countryside, rounding up any sentient creature that can put an X on a piece of paper, clapping them in chains and dragging them to New Tarkiz.  Once in the city, they’re sworn in as citizens of the city and then tricked into ‘selling’ their voting rights to one faction or another, and sometimes their corpse rights as well.  Usually, the poor suckers don’t even understand what’s going on.  The really shady operators then immediately corpse-ify the new citizens (very illegal practice, but difficult to enforce outside the city gates).  Many small-time companies make good money in this trade, flipping the voting  and corpse rights to the larger factions for a tidy profit.

Zombie-rustling is another criminal practice, highly discouraged by the major voting blocs.  Zombies are marked to identify which faction they’re ‘registered’ with, making rustling very difficult.  But there is opportunity when zombies are being transported, before they’ve been branded.  Officially, zombie-rustlers face public hanging if caught, but in practice they usually just ‘disappear,’ becoming zombie-voters for whichever faction they tried to rustle.

The three largest voting blocs in New Tarkiz are the Purple Scales, the Electrum Saints and the Sapphire Society.  No faction is associated with any particular agenda or ideology, other than money and power.  There are dozens of smaller voting blocs, some allied with the larger factions, others leasing their voting blocs during elections to the highest bidder (run like businesses).

A fourth significant faction is the Upright Citizens Vigilance Committee, which actually owns no votes and, indeed, opposes the entire vote selling system.  The UCVC is technically New Tarkiz’s law enforcement branch and works hard to be a pain in everyone’s ass.  When they find provable infractions of the law, they come down hard.  They only retain their position because each of the main factions find the UCVC to be somewhat useful against the other two factions.  If the UCVC were perceived to be favoring one faction over the others, the other two would immediately combine their vote blocs to remove the UCVC’s law enforcement charter.

Ambitious adventurers of questionable moral standing can find plenty of opportunity navigating New Tarkiz’s complex political field, while those who despise the system might find great satisfaction working with the Upright Citizens Vigilance Committee to smash the city’s corrupt political apparatus.

Classes That Shouldn’t Be

August 6, 2013

For a while now I’ve been nagged by the proliferation of classes in D&D and its various iterations and clones.  I know that everybody likes to try new things, including new classes, but really some of these classes just shouldn’t be.

Please allow me to explain.  The conceit of D&D, or at least early versions of D&D, is that the characters were money-grubbing murder-hobos…more or less.  They weren’t Big Damned Heroes out to save the world (again, and again, and again).  They were just looking to score a quick buck, or maybe they just didn’t have any better prospects in life (Son, you’re a lousy farmer.  You should try your luck crawling into dark holes and murdering goblins for their coppers).

Of course, over time, that basic conceit has evolved.  Now, modern iterations of ‘The Game,’ such as 4E and Pathfinder, assume that the PCs are indeed Big Damned Heroes out to save the world (again, and again, and again).  As such, I’ll allow that the proliferation of certain classes for those games makes more sense.  A Warlord isn’t out to rob a tomb, but to save the world from Evil…and then presumably carve out a kingdom where he (or she) can do Warlord-y stuff (I guess).

So, I’ll limit my critique to older versions of D&D:

The Assassin – Why in the hell would an assassin be crawling around in a dungeon in the first place?  Don’t assassins make enough money, you know, assassinating people?  I can see this class in an political/urban campaign, but even most of those games involve at least a few dungeon crawls.  You could say they might need something special, like a magic item or some ingredient for a rare poison, but then can’t they just hire normal adventurers to find it for them?  ‘Cause, you know, dungeon delving is insanely dangerous work (in old school, at least).

The Bard – I can see no valid reason for these fancy-pants to delve a dungeon.    Sure, I can see why a bunch of dirty murder-hobos would love to have a bard around: motivational music, light thieving, some spellcasting, plus having a bard around lends a veneer of respectability.  But what does the bard get out of it, aside from a quick, nasty death?  These guys (and gals) should be rockin’ taverns, feast halls and royal courts, not getting dungeon ick all over their sweet silk threads.

The Druid – I suppose you could say that killing orcs and goblins somehow protects the wilderness, or something, but casting these nature hippies as treasure-hunters doesn’t really fit.  Given their neutral and nature-lovin’ ways, druids could just as easily help the wilderness by walking into a city and murdering actual people at random (yes, I’m saying orcs and goblins aren’t ‘people’).

The Illusionist – I suppose an illusionist would have the same motivations for dungeoneering as a normal wizard, but why the necessity for an entirely separate sub-class of wizard?  I mean, if a player were hell-bent on playing an “illusionist,” couldn’t they just make a normal wizard that only casts illusion spells?  Just saying.

The Monk – Let’s see: noble scion of enlightenment seeks group of bloodthirsty cut-throats to murder/death/kill monsters and take their stuffs. Here’s a quote from Swords & Wizardry complete (because it’s what I have within easy reach): “As a monk, you are a seeker after enlightenment, a member of an ascetic religious order pursuing mental, spiritual and physical perfection.”   Sure, the monk is cool for all his martial-arts bad-assery and all that.  But, how exactly does that fit the tomb-robber mold of old D&D?  I guess there are several paths to perfection…including beating the crap out of monsters.

The Ranger – The ranger class is a borderline case.  They were added to the game because of the awesome that is Aragorn, and they’re nice to have in the wilderness, no doubt.  I can even see them delving dungeons, if only to fight Evil.  But their selflessness doesn’t really fit the classic D&D conceit of the treasure-hunting murder-hobo.  I’m thinking if a ranger wanted to make a habit of going into dungeons, maybe he’d just change professions and become a regular fighter instead?

Which I guess leads, in a round-about way, to my larger point.  Most of the above mentioned classes suggest viable vocations outside of the dungeon.  Rangers and druids patrol the wilderness; bards entertain people; monks meditate in isolated temples, seeking enlightenment and ultimate truth; and assassins skulk through city streets, paid fat stacks to kill important people.  None of them have a good reason to dungeon delve on a regular basis.

So maybe we need new classes?  Classes that specialize in various aspects of dungeoneering…

After all, everyone loves new classes.


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