Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ghost Recon: Predator

I admit, I've spent a lot of time playing Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands, thinking about how the engine for this game is really amazing, and hoping like hell that the bonus costume, the "wasteland warrior" suit, isn't just a fun oddity, but a suggestion that Ubisoft realizes that their "terrorize Bolivia" simulator would be even cooler as a post-apocalypse simulator, or a zombie survival sim, or even....wait for it....a Predator sim:

Well, looks like I got one of the three! Looking forward to trying this new mode out.....Wildlands was made to be a Predator sim.

The Temple of Camelsast and the Journey to Dis - a scenario (Dungeons & Dragons 5E, Lingusia in the Age of Strife)

Notes from a Recent Campaign

--DM's notes presented unedited, for your amusement:

The Temple of Camelsast

--Camelsast is a demonic gnoll-like beast, sometimes depicted as a sand dragon, which is a chaotic demon that was cast into the mortal realm long ago. In his true form he has the body of a camel spider, the torso and upper arms of a gnoll, the head of a goat and the side tentacles of a froghemoth. Lazy DM uses modified Balor stats if somehow it comes to blows with him (but see more below).

--The Temple was once a fortress dedicated to a lost order called the Adonari. The Knights of this order were killed twenty-five hundred years ago when Camelsast took control of the temple. The old knighthood was a dedicated order which served the enigmatic deity called Bashtron.

--About a century ago, shortly after the fall of the Dark Pharaoh, the devils of Avernus, following their general Razzadien, invaded the temple and slew its priests, then fought with Camelsast and drug him to the Nine Hells where he was imprisoned in the City of Dis. Razzadien was slain in the battle and his remains rest at the center of a powerful planar anomaly that permanently binds the temple to the plane of Avernus, first layer of Hell.

--Camelsast has a ring of ancient keys which he keeps. Some of these keys bind the dark chains of the fallen angels which were bound to the Dark Pharaoh Xauraun 150 years earlier . These keys are hung around his neck in a deep, burning pit in the city of Dis. (side note: these were the plot goal of the group entering the temple)

--The body of Razzadien is located in the main hall of the old temple, a moldering mass that is covered in crystalline black blood. Any who enter the circle around the body, or touch the crystalline blood are transported to Avernus.  The body is haunted by a specter of Razzadien, who will inform the PCs that they must journey to Dis if they seek the keys of Camelsast. He offers to take them there for a price….his price is that they must promise to take his crystallized heart and present it to Dispater himself. He’s lying (a bit) though; any who touch the crystalline bones will seem to be transported to Avernus anyway.

--The interior temple has the following guardians:

o   Undead specters of the lost knights who once inhabited this fortress and worshipped Bashtron

o   A lone Nabassu (adult) named Grath which has taken Camelsast’s name and claims to be the demon lord so that the gnolls will worship him. He even has his own unholy amulet and ring of false keys! The keys are actual gate keys, one each to: Acheron, Mechanus, Dis, Arborea and the Material Plane.

o   A horde of hooked horrors occupy the darkest corners of the temple

o   A gang of derro led by the antipaladin derro Crucix occupy the lower regions of the temple as well, studying the phenomenon of an Abyssal tomb ruptured by an Infernal invasion. They are sworn to seek a way to restore Razzadien to life that they may remove his lawful evil corruption from the temple, but prior efforts to take his heart to Dis have proven fatal to those who tried….and each time the heart reappears 13 days later in the corpse’s chest.

o   A Nonaton modron and his small army arrive in search of a group of rogue modrons. The Nonaton is named Cherish-223-00067. He won’t take no for an answer. (In the actual game the group had the three rogue modrons with them).

Journey to Avernus and dis
--Avernus is the first layer of the Nine Hells, and the point of entry for most all creatures. Bypassing Avernus is very difficult.

--The anomaly on this side is a great claw rising from the earth in which the adventurers appear when they interact with the dead Razzadien. A pair of spinagons watch it, waiting patiently for evidence of use. The spinagons are Kratus and Strakos, and they will try to flee if approached to bring word to the nearby fortress of scars and the salt devil Ruukalos that there are invaders.

--A crude path winds through the rocky, devasted countryside of the land, littered with volcanic glass and shards. Cracks filled with boiling water and swimming pools of mewling, worm-like lemurs can be seen.

--The Fortress of Scars is ruled by the salt devil Ruukalos, who will send forth an army of Legion Devils to investigate the new arrivals. He is advised by a petitioner named Ruvan Mool, a Galvonarian vizier hanged for treason last year by the Caliph, now working hard to become a lesser devil.

--“Safe Spots” in this region include the Blade’s Cut, a scar in Avernus where a portal to Acheron can be found. A legion of bladelings led by General Crossika stand guard, waiting for the next great war between Acheron and the Hells. They will show antipathy to the humans, but will aid them if the adventurers promise to return with intel on Dis or other major fortresses of hell.

--Another “safe spot” is the Tower of Mugalin, a lone sorcerer of ancient power who dwells on this plane studying the movement of Tiamat in her ancient prison. His many telescopes allow him to study that land at a safe distance. He explains that Tiamat’s Hellish form is a vessel, an aspect, and that the spirit of the goddess roams the multiverse seeking reincarnation. He speaks with an accent and explains he is from a kingdom called Pellucid (Chirak, four centuries old). If the PCs stay overnight, in the morning the tower is gone, turned to ruins and dust. Beneath the tower is a passage to the legendary Dungeon of a Thousand Gates, an ancient demiplane created by Mugalin after he went mad some centuries ago. Foolish adventurers may brave the dungeon and find a gate to Dis....if they have a key.

And on to Dis
--The Riven Path is the passage along the cliffs leading to the second layer, the hot and untenable land of Dis. Armies of the dead march along this path seeking deeper passage into the Nine Hells, driven by legion devils and spinagons. Masquerading as the shroud-covered lemurs is the only way to pass in disguise.

--Alternatively, a wild ride down the River Styx, including a terrible waterfall, is another way, but bathing in or drinking the water instantly destroys all memories of who and what the person is. Passage by Charonic ferryman is possible, but he charges a steep sum to escort the living…a solid diamond worth 10,000 GP. The only diamond of such value in the area is in the diadem of Ruvan Mool, at the Fortress of Scars!

--Once at Dis, the winding, cutting, burning canyons open up to the iron city, which glows with an eerie burning light. Passage in the city is difficult, and it is filled with all manner of infernal beings.

--Asking around draws attention but reveals that the “former” demon Camelsast is serving his life sentence in the Asking Pits. This information is known to most, but a fallen deva named Cryosine offers to help the PCs. She is remorseful in her ways, and if it is revealed they seek to restore a fallen seraph see will see this as a chance at redemption.

--The deepest, largest pit contains the fallen demon lord, whose exposure to this land has changed him forever to a lawful evil fiend. As a bound pit fiend he still seeks escape and will bargain with the PCs to cough up his chain of keys if they free him, but that they will suffer a terrible curse if they don’t fulfill their portion of the bargain.

--The pit guardian of the Asking Pits is a Pit Fiend named Rugose, who serves Dispater directly. He is also one way the group could ask to see Dis, especially if they bring Razzadien’s heart. If they mention this task to Cryosine, she will warn them that Razzadien sets them up….he owes 1,001 souls to Dispater and they will be given to fulfill his obligation, slain immediately and raised as lemurs.

--No matter what, Camelsast cannot escape until he can answer the question of the Asking Pit, which is “Name the form of your disgrace.” The answer is: Camelsast himself, but he can never see this through his own hubris. If an adventurer answers, then they free him (in error or by design). He will cause havoc and attack the pit fiend Rugose, giving them accidental time to escape. Cryosine, if allying with them, can take them to a portal which leads them back to the material plane, though she is not sure 100% where. The portal opens to a dark cave in a mountainscape of the DM's choice. (Note: in the campaign the group actually took Razzadien's heart to Camelsast and gave it to him; I ruled that this actually freed him, after which he attacked Rugose.)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Call of Cthulhu - The "Weird Oregon" Campaign

For the first time in over two decades I've run a Call of Cthulhu campaign that has now lasted more than twelve consecutive game sessions. Most CoC games I've run usually make it as far as 6-7 session before an accumulation of events finally hit that climatic endgame and the surviving investigators abruptly retire and retreat to the areas of the world they mistakenly think are safe. Last year my campaign ended after about eight sessions with an abrupt and highly revelatory conclusion that also left roughly 60% of the party dead, including at least one second new character introduced after the first expired messily. Eight sessions felt like a lot. I've run CoC games in ages past that made it to at least 12-15 sessions, but those haven't been since the nineties. I've played in only one CoC game that survived 12 sessions, but in fair disclosure those were sessions back in the late nineties/early 2000's that ran the entire day, so the had the quality of a younger man's marathon run.

Needless to say, for a long time now CoC has been my go-to game for very specific short campaigns with definite conclusions, usually lasting from 1-6 sessions. I have never been the sort of CoC GM to really grokk how to run (and sustain) megacampaigns like the Antarktos Cycle or Orient Express.

The new campaign I'm hip deep in was built around some interesting premises, and was inspired heavily by David Lynch's conceptual basis for Twin Peaks: The Return. I still plan to write more on that show soon, but suffice to say that it is the only creatively interesting film or TV I've seen in many years, and I'm on my third viewing now that the Blu Ray edition has been released. It was so interesting, in fact, that the initial game I ran was originally intended to be a 1-2 session CoC campaign with a zombie apocalypse inspired by Herbert West's Reanimator tales, but I almost immediately cancelled that and turned it around in to an ongoing story arc that simply began what looked like a narrowly averted zombie apocalypse.

The idea for the revamped CoC campaign was a sort of "Oregon sure is weird, and a lot of stuff happens here," kind of approach. I took the actual town of Coos Bay, as well as other locales such as North Bend, Astoria, even the Ape Cave region in Washington, on down to Mt. Shasta just on the California side and worked out what effectively amounts to about a dozen Call of Cthulhu scenarios' worth of modern day adventuring, all starting just a month or so before the eclipse earlier this year. Each scenario was tied to one or more of the others by virtue of specific characters, or plots, or artifacts, or the schemes of certain factions of mythos monsters that have a presence in the region. All of it ties in to a couple "super plots" which provide much of the driving background impetus.

The game is still going strong so I can't provide details, unfortunately....wouldn't want spoilers for the players!...but I plan to eventually try to outline the whole thing in a coherent format. One of my players actually built an amazing spreadsheet to try and track all of the goings' on and figure out the relationships of the various associated parties, events, people and places they had's almost a work of art in its own right.

The Twin Peaks influence comes in like this, using these steps:

#1. Have lots of separate stories, all possibly related somehow, going on at the same time.
#2. Give each PC a connection and motivation to resolve one or more of those stories, with a few showing evident overlap.
#3. Keep recurring villains going for as long as feasible, but let them go out in style when the opportunity presents.
#4. Don't be afraid of longer or more quiet moments. These are great for setting mood or resolving obscure plot bits....or creating new ones.
#5. Have some basic underlying ties to everything that are, from an endgame perspective, fairly simple. The idea is to "make it look convoluted and maddeningly complicated at the start, but in the end make it look simple and resolvable toward the end," but then, in true Lynchian fashion pull the rug out from under them just when it looks like closure and simplicity is in reach.
#6. Death as an end goal...even not a primary means of player death though such possibilities lurk. The group so far has only had one actual player death and one retirement/replacement. But all of them are ready with backup characters because the risk of actual death has been insanely high.
#7. Play out weird and unpleasant relationships with the mythos wherever possible. Also, not all mythos encounters are necessarily bad....some might oppose the actions of others and may be indirect allies! This isn't giving much away....but the Esoteric Order of Dagon in fictional Coos Bay is, in fact, the closest thing to an ally the players have right now. Chiefly because things going on in the region do not benefit the order in any way, but hey.....beggars can't be choosers.....

Anyway, those are some of the driving components of this ongoing campaign. If I have my way, and it looks like everyone is sufficiently invested that this will come to pass, but maybe this will be a campaign setting that runs for another 12-15 sessions, making it the longest CoC story arc I've ever run. Factor in that one of the PCs in this game survived last year's 8 session campaign and that means at least one of these characters has already hit an impressive 20 session survival rate, with more to come!

Anyway.....back to working out details on next week's session!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Better Late than Never Review: Watch Dogs 2

Continuing a series on games over the last year for people who have busy lives and can't keep up:

Watch Dogs 2 (PS4 version)

I just keep playing and playing this game. I finished Watch Dogs (at last) before I dived in to Watch Dogs 2, and while you certainly don't need to have played the first to enjoy (or understand) the second, it is helpful to really shine a light on why the original Watch Dogs was lacking in many ways that Watch Dogs 2 not only fixes, but excels at in every way.

Visiting virtual San Francisco and the bay area with the DedSec gang is a blast, no matter how you choose to approach it. The game has a robust storyline that I am still not finished with (according to an FAQ I looked at I am about 60% of the way through the storyline) but when I do take a moment to run story missions I am always rewarded with a thoughtful, entertaining push forward in the tale of hackers, corporate sleazeballs, well intended anarchists and all of the gun toting maniacs in between.

The lead character is hacker Marcus Holloway, a well-intended hacktivist that serves as the glue that binds DedSec. Unlike the prior game's vigilante Aiden Pearce, Marcus is not a madman with an arsenal seeking revenge at any cost, but instead an idealist who wants to make right in the world by humbling the Blume Corporation and others behind the utter annihilation of privacy and decency driven by big data out of control. Sure, you can play Marcus like a gun toting madman if you want, but the game does not require this. As a result, as the storyline progresses I've had far fewer "hmmm, that ain't right" moments  than I did in the first game. Moments such as Aiden pondereing the evil of the guy who he seeks to kill for the murder of his niece, even though he just mowed down a thousand other guys who all had nieces and kids too, you know? Just to get to the one crime lord of Chicago.

Nope, Marcus is represented throughout the game as a guy who prefers to taze an enemy, even if that enemy is shooting at him with lethal force. In fact in my play through the game, with the co-op and multiplayer missions being the only exception, I continue to play Marcus as a nice softy who only uses stunning weapons to get through missions. It's really quite cool.....I'm almost always able to solve most events in the game through non-violence, or worst case the liberal application of electricity.

Anyway, the reason I've played this game so long (I play it at least once a week on average for a couple hours when I have time) is because it's so full of stuff to do. So many distractions. From racing games to the impressive multiplayer, to the enormous number of side missions, photo bombs, stunts, just finding name it, this game is packed with stuff to do. It is very easy to play for hours, feel good about it, and have gotten exactly nowhere on the main storyline.

The multiplayer is also shockingly good. You have players drop in and out of your own phantoms in the night, a player will suddenly be in your area and a chance to either team up or take him down presents itself. The hacker missions are the most fun, where you must spot him, tag him, then steal his data while he tries to find you are some of the best. One of my most successful hacks was one I'll remember as a "Kodak moment" forever, when I crawled in the back of the pickup truck the guy jumped in to try and get out of the area or look for me....I am not sure what he was going for....and he drove all over the place without realizing I was in the back of his truck. My assumption is he was playing in FPS perspective....foolish! Hack from the back of the truck successful.

I once teamed up with a kid who was eager to show me that he had unlocked literally everything in the game. Hours of mayhem ensued, as a showcase of destruction engulfed San Francisco in a manner simply impossible in the more rigorous, set-piece controlled multiplayer of other games. The freedom to cause mayhem in Watch Dogs 2's multiplayer goes way beyond any equivalent experience in other FPS MP or even most MMOs. It's almost intoxicating, although you can sometimes get paired with a jerk, or a guy who has no clue what's going on and proceeds to drive off a cliff or something. But those WTF moments were outshined by the "holy crap this is amazing" moments of the multiplayer experience. The only other game of this scope and design I know of is GTAV....and honestly, Watch Dogs 2 is just a nicer, cleaner experience (even with in-game strip bars).

Verdict: this game is the ultimate sandbox, it gets multiplayer right in a way I didn't realize could be done, and it provides spontaneous gameplay experiences that are unique and exciting. The fact that I can choose to play through most of it as a peacenick pacifist who won't even harm the well-armed gun toting biker gangs is just icing on the cake. A+++

Long after I've deleted Gears of War 4, Halo 5, Titanfall 2, and many others....I suspect I'll still be playing Watch Dogs 2.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Planescape is...Juvenile? (Not Bad Necessarily, just.....Juvenile?)

I've been using some Planescape content in my D&D game recently, a 5E campaign set in my own world (Lingusia, Age of Strife) but with some planar crossovers going on.

As I was running a mixup of the ongoing plot with some Planescape material related to Avernus, the first layer of hell, and the sundry beings you can encounter on said well as certain travellers at a known gate town, I had this weird realization that Planescape is essentially a Juvenile fantasy tressed up in just enough rough clothes to feel "edgy" from a juvenile fiction point of view. It takes concepts such as the layers of Hell and the Abyss and makes them just clean enough to be serviceable....just friendly enough for low level berks to survive even if it's a helluva ride on the way through....and it ascribes a lot of intensely ordinary, human emotions to everything in the planes, even if it does so with a sort of satirical panache.

I've run plenty of Planescape in the past am definitely surprised that I really "felt" this tonal shift in terms of how I interpret it now than I used to. It's not that it wasn't there....nope, it totally's that I, as a gamer in 2017 with decades under my belt, am no longer quite as excited at that tonal feel, that essential "simplification" of the underlying lore, than I once was.

I suspect a lot of this had to do with how TSR handled D&D in the nineties, as a product aimed at kid (and mom) friendly, with as much excision of risky elements as possible. It was a kinder, genlter and more naive era. Today.....not so much. I like a bit more Dante Alligheri in my Hell, maybe (bad analogy; I ran a D&D game in the mid nineties using Role Aid's actual adaptation of Dante's Hell). Maybe what I mean is....I like more depth. More complexity. And a Lot More Horror.

Or put another tastes on how to interpret the planes appear to be leaning darker and more gruesome.

Anyway, game tonight! Will see how that affects the group's foray into the Nine Hells....

POST SCRIPT: So after some thought I decided it was ironic and amusing to suggest Planescape was juvenile when, in many respects, the totality of D&D can be regarded as such. The question is not "is this juvenile?" but rather "What are you going to do with it?"

Tonight's game was a lot of fun, not juvenile, and still rooted in Planescape. Maybe juvenile isn't the right word.....maybe Planescape's default presentation is just more whimsical and light hearted than may be typical of the represenation of such in a modern gaming era where Shadows of the Demon Lord is a Thing, you know?

Either way tonight went exactly as I wanted.

Better Late than Never Review: Titanfall 2

Titanfall 2

Disclaimer: I have barely played any of the Titanfall 2 multiplayer, so my main takeaway from this game has been the single player campaign (played on PC).

So in short: this was the best of the FPS campaigns released last year. Titanfall 2 was good enough that I played through twice, once on PC and again on PS4. The campaign adds a story, a sense of coherence, and a point of existence to the Titanfall franchise that was lacking in the first multiplayer-only game.

The Titanfall 2 game casts you as a soldier aspiring to be a pilot. The pilots are the jockeys who pair up with their sentient robot buddies and kick ass. Presented as technologically savvy and well-equipped super soldiers (sort of) the pilots are a bit like the Spartans of Halo, but not in an augmented way.....they are just very, very good at what they do and use their suit, helm and robot to kick serious ass. Inevitably your soldier is thrust into a scenario forcing him to take on the mantle of pilot, and you get your first robot, BT. BT quickly steals the show as the best robot sidekick, ever.

The storyline involves a world in dispute, a range of suitable badguys for you to take down, and far and away some of the best run and gun gameplay mixed with giant robots that you can get. In fact, this entire package is's heads and shoulders above what Call of Duty coughed up in Infinite Warfare, and honestly the next Halo game needs to pay attention to what Titanfall 2 did because it's doing the SF FPS genre better than everyone else.

Sadly I simply felt little to no motivation to get involved in the online multiplayer experience this time around. The single player campaign was so good I played through it twice, but every time I jumped in to the online component I'd play a few rounds and just feel, "m'eh." Maybe I'm getting too old to care or something.

Verdict: Solid A+ for the single player alone. I won't bother to review multiplayer other than to say that it "looked and felt competent, but lacked whatever it is I need to feel motivated to keep playing." Though that said, with my current annoyance at CoD WWII and Star Wars Battlefron II, I might reload Titanfall 2 and give the MP another go. Hmmmm.

Like most games from last year you ought to be able to find this one for $20 or less and at that price it's a steal. I wouldn't bother with the deluxe edition unless you plan on going full multiplayer and like lots of cosmetics and new mechs, though.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Better Late than Never Review: Gears of War 4

Time for some late final reviews! For old guys and dads everywhere who can no longer keep up with the shiniest, latest, greatest:

Gears of War 4

I finished Gears of War 4's single player campaign a couple months ago, after a long period of procrastination. At some point I settled down for a solid weekend with a determination to play through it. The overall campaign experience was....decent. But it was a smaller story of a new generation of future gears (sort of), with a passing of the torch (sort of) from the old guard. In the end, it was a fun ride but left me with an odd feeling that Gears of War is maybe....a bit overplayed? Formulaic and tired? It was a more coherent tale, and the new developers in charge of the game really wanted to tell a thoughtful, more consistent story than prior GoW games have, but it was also less dramatic. This is the first tale in the Gears universe where the existential threat is there, but it doesn't feel all that threatening, for some reason. At the end of the day, the villains are back to where future installments need them to be, the obligatory "shocking loss" moment is played through with far less drama than prior series went for, and not much happened beyond that. was a good game, it just lacked that little bit of incoherent crazy that marks your prior entries into the franchise as being so distinct. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know it was overall a less engaging experience for me than Gears 1-3 were as a result.

The multiplayer component of GoW 4 remains the bread and butter of the title, but I also found this to be less than stellar, with little motive to keep with it. At least it has split-screen and offline modes, which means my son and I can play. But you know what? Even then he's not asking to play this at all, vs. his constant love of CoD and Star Wars Battlefront titles. Hmmm.

So overall I feel like the game deserves a B+ for attempting to make a more thoughtful storyline, even as it failed to make that storyline engaging; and a B for more of the same old multiplayer gameplay, but hey, I'll say an A for continuing to support splitscreen and offline gameplay, even if  it, too, felt very "m'eh." So overall rating a B.

On the plus side you should be able to find this for $20 or less now, and at that price the campaign is well worth a play through. Here's hoping that this prologue of future games to come gets more exciting with the next installment.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Major Gamer Family Milestone!

Last night my son actually sat at the table (for the most part) and participated in a Savage Worlds SF Game I ran (more on that later). This turned out to work out quite. Well. I mean...he's 6....but he listened to GM dad, and responded with coherent choices that showed he was trying hard to understand where he was at. There was only one moment where he got derailed from "what is going on" vs. "what he thought was going on," and the group got him on track. Also, thanks to my regulars for putting up with this experiment =)

So the fun narrative of Ensign "Tattletail" (gotta work with him on names)! A Intersec Colonial Security driver who got to pilot the APC the group took to a remote colony under alien attack! Ensign Tattletail got to, among other things, run over some aliens, get the group into the colony biome and to the security building, backed out of the security building parking garage when it was revealed to be full of aliens, escaped a trap where the aliens dug a hole under the road so the vehicle would be disabled, and then tried targeting the satellite dish where the mad scientist was using the broadcaster to try and summon the evil alien god. Then he helped escort the colonists they saved in their convoy.

Anyway, for those who are also gamer dads contemplating this experience, some advice....

Savage Worlds is a really good system to introduce kids to, as long as you supervise them. The dice mechanic was easy for him to pick up, and I conveniently made him a character that all the key skills were "D8+wild die" which meant he could roll the same dice consistently.

In considering this, I think White Box for Swords & Wizardry is also a good system to introduce a new player. That son's spark of interest started with Starfinder, which is a needlessly complex system for adults let alone kids, but Starfinder is slavishly illustrated with amazing art, which immediately piqued my son's interest. Savage Worlds luckily also fits that bill, but I used Starfinder to help illustrate characters for my son while using the SW rules for actual play.

I've actually tried Basic D&D (classic 1981 edition) with my son earlier this year. It was interesting because he was still a bit disconnected from the rules vs. what the play approach was, but he conceptually was there from the imagination angle. Six months later, after last night's session, I think it's time to revisit the D&D experience, using either Basic D&D or White Box, because he was totally on target last night.

That said: we gave him permission to hang out with his tablet or friends (other kids who come to the game store) while other player events unfolded, because a normal adult group of six players = a lot of content the kid is not interested in. I realized that a smaller group of maybe 2-4 would work really well to help foster focus and cooperation, but it needs the right kinds of players (I am thinking 2-3 friends of my son, and my wife as the co-wrangler). A game designed for a kid's attention span, understanding and pacing would be an interesting experience, and fun to pull off, so I am eager to try this out soon.

Friday, December 1, 2017

D&D 5E - World of Sarvaelen - The Emoniae, Ancient Descendants of Elemental Sorcerers

Continuing the Sarvaelen "Watchers of the Sullen Vigil" adaptation to D&D 5E:

The People of Emon

Also known as the Emoniae, the people of this distant land exist far in the west, beyond the ruined expanse of the wastelands of Camrinal. Emon was the greatest independent threat to Camrinal in its era of rule, and the Emoniae were a culture of sorcerers much like the Empire. When the Final War erupted, their lands were devastated, and the Empire sought to exterminate their greatest rivals as quickly as possible. When the conflict ended with the destruction of Camrinal, most of Emon’s warriors were caught in the destruction, and destroyed. Still, there were plenty of survivors back home, now mostly dwelling in ancient, deep enclaves within the vast Adasatrak Mountains where they stood guard against the outside world.

Today the Emoniae are still driven by magic as a way of life and such arts find a greater acceptance within their mountain fortresses than anywhere else. The Emoniae remain isolated and tend to mistrust the young eastern kingdoms that have arisen from the ashes of the Final War. It is also the only land where the study and worship of the Old Gods is still permitted.

The Emoniae (singular Emon) as Characters
Many emoniae have a talent for magic, and are most commonly mages by class. Emoniae are, like pureblooded of Camrinal, prone to attracting the attention and interest of demons, spirits, elementals, old gods and other beings from the Elemental Realms. Elves have an abnormal fascination for them, and as a result it is more common to run into half-elves of mixed elvish and emon blood than any other combination. Emoniae are a special type of human, with the following racial traits:

·         Emoniae gain +1 in intelligence or +1 in Dexterity or Strength

·         Emoniae start with the Magic Initiate feat.

·         Emoniae start with proficiency in either Arcana or Insight.

·         Emoniae learn the common (Aeronostic) tongue as well as Emonish, their cultural language.

·         Elemental Affinity: Emoniae revere the elemental old gods, and still worship them. There is a chance on a DC 20 Wisdom check that an emon has some elemental heritage in her or her bloodline. The immediate effect is an innate basic understanding of the elemental language and an affinity for that element, which means that they tend to be regarded favorably by elementals of like type that they meet (+2 reaction modifier on Charisma checks).

·         Elemental Taint: Emoniae may gain the elemental taint feat at 4th level (GMs may require this automatically). It is advised that each time an emon reached a feat/attribute gain by level, a save against the spellcaster’s primary stat vs. DC 8+total character level must be made. Failure requires the emon to take this feat!

Racial Feat: Emoniae Elemental Taint
Prerequisite: Emon heritage, spell-caster level 4 or higher
When a magic-using emon with elemental taint reaches 4th level in any spell casting class (wizard, sorcerer, paladin, ranger, warlock, cleric or druid) he or she begins to manifest a sign of elemental corruption, usually in the form of a glow or emission from the skin, and a slow but certain "change" on the skin that seems to be a manifestation of that emon's elemental taint (stone-like skin, persistent water running from pores, smoke, or a misty fog following the emon). This first manifestation is cosmetic and can be suppressed with concentration taking one full round.

An emon with this feat must choose one elemental type to exhibit going forward: fire, cold, air, earth, necrotic, radiant. This becomes the primary elemental affinity, which is dominant. If the emon has elemental affinity, this first elemental type must match the one chosen for affinity. An emon who did not have elemental affinity before (see racial traits) gains it with this feat.

Emoniae may have more than one connection to the elements, but each subsequent elemental type exhibits as secondary to the primary elemental affinity. For example, an emon with cold as primary may appear to have icy skin. If he later adds elemental earth affinity, he may display gravel or rocks floating in the ice of his skin. If he later adds fire, his eyes may blaze with hot light as water runs down his flesh.

This feat may be taken multiple times. Each time the feat is taken, a new elemental trait is manifested, rolled for on the table below.

Subsequent taints are harder to suppress, requiring a saving throw (same as above) to quell the effect for one day. When the emon sleeps or is unconscious it reappears. Roll each time the feat is taken to see what manifests:

D12 – Elemental Change
1-4 - a new cosmetic trait related to the source of elemental taint manifests (fire hair, frozen skin, stone skin, levitates slightly off ground). This effect grants resistance to the elemental type. If you roll this again, gain a new trait and a new resistance.

 5-6 – Choose one elemental type (fire, cold, air, water, earth, radiant, necrotic); you may add this elemental type to the damage or effect of a spell you cast as a bonus action.

7-8 – Gain the ability to Conjure Elemental as the spell once per day as if you used a level 6 spell slot. The second time you roll this you treat it as if the spell slot were level 7, and so forth up to level 9. Alternatively, on subsequent rolls you may increase use to twice per day.

9-10 – You gain resistance to one elemental type (as in 1-4 above), unless you already have resistance, in which case you gain immunity to that elemental damage type.

11-12 - gain permanent emission of elemental type: stone skin (gain natural AC 15), fire erupts from flesh (immune to damage from fire but deals 1D6 fire damage to all on touch), air (gains levitate at will), or water (emits water permanently at the rate of 1 liter/hour, gains water breathing). These traits are very difficult to disguise and require a save against the caster attribute at DC 8+level of caster with disadvantage to suppress the trait for 1 hour.

The second time on this chart you roll a 12 your character gains the elemental type (extraplanar) for purposes of classification. He or she is now considered an elemental. The form changes noticeably to be "more" of the elemental type and the emon's humanity becomes suppressed. Breathing is no longer necessary.

The third time you roll a 12 the Emon gains the ability to plane shift to his elemental plane of appropriate type once per day.

The fourth time the emon rolls 12 on this chart he becomes a true elemental and departs the material plane, becoming an NPC at the GM's discretion.

Five Facts About the Emoniae:

1.       The Emon city-states in the Adasatrak Mountains are each said to have been built over an elemental portal which leads to each of the elemental realms. Interestingly there is the seventh portal beneath the city Kalimdar, which is said to open into the Twisting Nether.

2.       Some emoniae claim that a spy and patriot named Eredatha, who was a consort to the old Emperor of Camrinal, was responsible for sabotaging the plans of the mad Emperor, leading to the destruction of the kingdom. This is officially decried as apocryphal, but a secret order of spies and assassins called the Dedicates of Eredatha believe it to be true.

3.       In an emon house finding a member who manifests true elemental affinity is considered a house blessing and automatically elevates the house to the affinity caste, giving them special social privileges. Someone of low caste who develops affinity is usually adopted by a willing house, given title and land privileges.

4.       Emon is not very welcome to outsiders, but the gateway cities of Kerenesk and Rathor serve as the safe harbors for outsider merchants and traders. From these two cities the goods of the outside world are imported to the city-states of the inner kingdoms which otherwise allow no outsiders of non-emoniae blood in their walls.

5.       Most emoniae are of sallow, almost albino complexion, but the emoniae of the coast are dark of skin and prone to elemental earth and fire affinity. The coastal emoniae call themselves the Eredenei, and claim to have migrated from across the ocean long ago, coming from a sunken continent called Dakarast.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Starfinder - the New Working Campaign Premise: Stranded 500,000,000 LY from Home - the Mayall's Galaxies Campaign

So after the last blog here's the late evening inspiration I got up to:

1. I'd let everyone start at level 3. Use the default point buy method in the book (no rolling!)
2. Start with 6,000 credits instead of the measly 1,000 cr. -- this is a bit higher than the book advises
3. Core classes and races only. Ignore chapters "Setting" and "Pathfinder Legacy." They don't exist. If any do, I'll mention it. Some suitable exotic racial options from the Starfarers Companion  might be suitable. All the core races (page 40) are fine. Most of the racial options in Alien Archive may be fine UNLESS they are obviously a fantasy race. Nuar are an uplifted species in this universe, genetically modified animals which were bred on Fringe Worlds in human space as cheap labor to bypass slavery laws. 
4. Equipment is whatever you can afford. I'll think about level limits for purposes of the game, but for buying equipment, assume if you can afford it you can get it.

Setting: (Note, edited a couple times because I seem to have copied a draft and not a final....gah)

Setting starts with the near future. Earth is a distant memory, lost to time...but it wasn't only about a century and a half earlier. The region of space everyone functions in today is known as Mayall's Galaxies, a special galactic location of two galaxies in collision. 

In 2095 Earth discovered a warpgate located in the solar system's Kuiper Belt, and another one at Alpha Centauri by 2250. The solar warpgate was the first they learned to activate, and scouting expeditions reported a vast galactic expanse in an unknown location eventually identified as Mayall's Object, a two-galaxy collision occurring in distant space. Redubbed Mayall's Galaxies, this became the center of a colonization effort. The first decade led to dozens of colonies, a major space-station, and hundreds of thousands of eager immigrants to a new galaxy, literally. 

About two decades after the colonization The Drift was discovered when humanity collided with the  Kasathas, who introduced them to Driftspace drives and also the power known as the Weave, which humans equate with some sort of quasi-magical higher dimensional psionics. The Solarian orders started with the Kasathas and other races, and humans adopted them.

When first contact with Mayall's Galaxies' Kasatha happened, something else caused a problem....the warpgate shut off, and the gate parked in the Kuiper Belt of the Solar System appeared to detonate in an anti-matter backlash. The colonies in Mayall's Galaxies were cut off from Earth!

The first colonies was hard, and few worlds were precisely ready for human colonization without terraforming, but the colony ships with their terraforming resources did most of the work. Over the next hundred years other races were encountered, but a curious pattern emerged: many, many worlds in Mayall's Galaxies show signs of ancient colonization or the development of native species, but all of these native aliens appeared to have died out, gone extinct, or disappeared. Most of the species in this galaxy (of which there are cataloged dozens) are all natives from other galaxies just like humanity, who arrived by one-way jumpgates, were kidnapped by reptoids or grays, or got here by misfortune. Only a handful of actual native species still exist, including the Kasathas, shobad, formians and a few others (see below). 

In this setting there is no other magic than what is defined in the core, and only practiced by the Mystics, Solarians and Technomancers. The optional class/spell stuff in 3PP Starfarers Companion is assumed to be nonexistent until I can review.

The Drift is still a way in to a weird other-dimensional space. That may accidentally bridge on other universes, with suitably terrifying Event Horizon-esque horrors. 

The fact that most species in Mayall's Galaxy are imported means that you as the player can assume any history or background in Starfinder is acceptable, but it's all ancient history to the species, which usually follows up with a paragraph along the lines of , "And then this colony ship used the Stargate discovered at Point X and found themselves trapped in Mayall's Galaxy."

Species of Mayall's Galaxies:

Species of this region fall into three categories: trapped species (colonists, explorers and visitors who were lured here by warpgate or other means and then cut off from home), native species (aliens that seem to have developed here as natives, or have been here so long it is hard to determine if they started as visitors from elsewhere), and Special exceptions. This breaks down as follows:

Trapped Species Brought here with Humanity's Arrival: 
humans, androids, ysoki (may be uplifted species brought her by humanity?), Nuar (also an uplifted species), 

Trapped Species of other Origin: 
Lashunta, Shirren, Vesk, Contemplatives, Draeliks, Haan, Maraquoi, Lashunta, Ryphorians, Sarcesians, Dragonkin (see below), Skittermander, Verthani, Wrikreechee

Native Species:
Kasathas, Barathus, Formians, Ikeshti, Kalo, Shobhad, Urog, Wytchwyrd


Grays: Grays, interestingly, are from the Milky Way and traveled here much as humans did. The Gray colonists arrived ten thousand years before humans did, and are distantly related to the Grays which plagued humanity's pre stellar years

Reptoids: Reptoids are native to Mayall's Galaxy, but they may have created the vast warpgates that led humanity and other species to this galaxy....possibly as traps. 

Dragonkin: Dragonkin are certainly dragonlike and exist, but are either A: coincidentally dragonlike or B: an uplifted or engineered species. They call themselves the Athokar and appear not to have a recollection of their true heritage. 

Drow (Hirrin): Drow are nonexistent, but have an analog of some sort called the Hirin. Their nature is a mystery, but their threat is evident.

Space Goblins (Harkoniath): Space Goblins call themselves the Harkoniath but humans call them space goblins because of how they look and act. Harkoniath live in junk flotillas and survive on piracy and salvage, having long ago stripped mined their home system. They are also a stranded race, though likely they had little to care about at whatever strip mined system they left behind.

Spacefarer's Companion Options that are okay to use:
Native Acceptable Species in Mayall's Galaxy: none
Human Uplifted/Created Species: catfolk and mechanoi are acceptable.
Species that may have arrived by Stargate and became trapped in Mayall's Galaxy: Deoxyians, Suli, Vishkanya, and Wayang may all be permissable.

Themes of this proposed campaign:

1. displacement; with few excpetions, most species are visitors and colonists, unwitting trapped in this galaxy
2. Mysteries....thousands of worlds with evidence of collapsed civilizations; why, and how? Does the convergence of two galaxies have anything to do with it? 
3. Resource problems: many worlds, few still able to support life; the pressure of dozens of species to compete over the last thousand years for precious resources pushes many into necessary but unwelcome conflict

4. Isolation - humanity has been here two centuries and is barely holding on to a dozen colony worlds while aggressive species like Vesk and Shobad seek to take that from them and subjugate the new arrivals.

Fun Fact: Mayall's Galaxy is a real Galaxy about 500,000,000 LY from the Milky Way, which is called Mayall's Object. It's two galaxies colliding at interesecting angles with each other: