Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Review Round-up: Blood and Guts Modern Dispatches

So lately I have been doing a series of adventures set in Iraq for the Modern Dispatch. Two so far, Operation: Dry County (Modern Dispatch Issue #15) and Leads and Complexities (Modern Dispatch Issue #35).

Part 3 is my next contribution to the dispatch and will see the light of day in the next issue, a mere 6 days away.

In the meantime enjoy these comments from RPGnow about the dispatches in question.

Something that might be of interest to those reading comment #1, Operation: Dry County is indeed a quirky adventure. In the wake of the fall of Baghdad, a booming business in liquor sales has sprung up that is vehemently resented by some of the city's residents. The PCs have been asked to protect the liquor stores from terrorist attack.

For those wondering where I got this bizarre idea... the news! Gotta love Voice of America news broadcasts ;)

Modern Dispatch Issue #15: Operation Dry County

This scenario presents a quirky situation, to say the least, for typical RPG special ops concept characters. The bad guys use some tactical ability and the scenario will reward thinking and planning over random action. Good local detail and the organisation of the operation seems reasonable, if unlikely.

Modern Dispatch #35: Leads and Complexities

This is the second Iraq-based Dispatch module from this company and much closer to a familiar military mission than 'Dry Country'. The initial encounter, though balanced and survivable, is well calculated to strike fear into players who value their characters' survival. The second part, cornering an insurgent group, has some complexities along with straight-up combat.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Review Round Up: Legends of the Samurai Mystic Handbook

Legends of the Samurai: The Mystic Arts

Reviewed by: Wayne Tonjes

Legends of the Samurai: The Mystic Arts v1.0 by RPGObjects is a new d20 supplement of their Legends line. At present, this product is only available as an electronic PDF file through RPGNow.com or the company directly. It comes with a choice of formats, although RPGNow only provides the on-screen, landscape version. As such, acquisition of the alternative, print version requires a visit to the main product site.

This volume is the second of three designed to create a semi-historic setting of feudal Japan for the d20 System. This installment addresses the various magic options for this particular setting.

The first volume, The Bushido Handbook, provided the more martial classes, along with numerous underlying aspects key to recreating a relatively realistic Japan. The third book will subsequently provide game master information for a campaign.

The general setting concept is quoted here from the product websites: “Travel to a world of blood, loyalty, and honor with the second installment of RPGObjects’ Legends line of d20 fantasy supplements. This d20 sourcebook features new classes and mechanics to bring the world of medieval Japan to life in your game and blends our popular spell point, nobility, fate, and martial rules to create an Oriental game experience like no other.”This summary provides some hints to the mechanics that will be offered in all three volumes, and this one handles the spell point and fate systems while the first handed the martial rules and nobility details needed to reenact traditional Japan.

The book contains just two chapters, starting with the four main magic wielding classes. These classes provide the major sources of magic items with the exception of the arms and armor, which are the sole province of the shokunin class given in The Bushido Handbook. These new classes are evenly split between arcane and divine spell casters. The arcanists consist of the kensa, true masters of the elements, and the more subtle mahoutsukai, despised masters of illusion and enchantment. The senkensha and shukke are the available divine casters, with the first gaining assorted divination talents and the latter monastic training benefits. All of these classes have some dependence on mechanics presented in the first volume, particularly the Bloodline, Honor, and Allegiance systems. As such, this volume cannot be used simply as a standalone product without a fair bit of creative modification. To get the most out of this volume requires it be used as it was intended as the second part of the Legends of the Samurai trilogy.
The second chapter could readily be divided into three or more chapters, with a minimum of one each on basic mechanics and information, spell lists and descriptions, and mystic items. The latter two divisions of spells and magic items are fairly standard for a d20 sourcebook and can be easily summarized. There are only three new spell domains, fifty-two new spells, and six new weapon or armor qualities. All other entries are merely modified to account for the new creation rules or the altered selection of spell casting classes. Unfortunately, there are some slips, like one magic item that still uses its core rule spell requirements for creation despite those spells being excluded from the setting or the Importune Kami spells that aim for flavor but fail to give any real benefit. Overall, these are a fair selection, although the basic details of mystic item creation are somewhat obscure.

The first part of the chapter is far more varied, with the new magic rules, skills, feats, Japanese religions, and fate and destiny mechanic. It starts with the magic system, which switches from the daily spell slot system to a more flexible, constantly renewing spell point system. This is the same system as was presented in Legends of Excalibur, although there is slightly less emphasis placed on beneficial locales in this setting. Spells are assigned a spell level based spell point cost that gradually decreases as the caster rises in level. This is a tested system that works.

Unfortunately, how high ability scores add spell points is unfortunately not provided, leaving it to assumption that the normal skill modifier is simply added to the caster's total.

The other basic mechanics include six subskills, nine revised metamagic feats, six new feats, religions and deities of historic Japan, and the fate system. The skills are rather abbreviated, to the point that a seventh subskill was accidentally excluded and it was never stated explicitly that the craft subskills replace the core d20 magic item creation rules with the standard craft rules. This shift has some impact on the availability of magic items, as player characters are less likely to have the time to invest in their creation. While the requirement to take specific feats and spend experience points to make magic items is removed, the corresponding greatly increased creation time and rather hefty number of requisite skill check rolls may be more than many players care to play.

The revised feats are more thorough, despite nine of them only offering a slight modification from the core rule definitions. If there is anything lacking from this section, it is a table of all the feats instead of just the eleven metamagic feats. The new options mostly offer enhancements to spell point totals, either in their recovery, alternate sources, or metamagic alterations to reduce spell casting costs. The distinct new feat, Ancestral Weapon/Armor, is more general, required by any class to simply harness the powers of a specific magical weapon or armor. This feat, more than anything, imposes the limited magic of the setting, as a character requires a separate investment of this feat to acquire any bonus from each magic weapon or armor owned.

Furthermore, it requires, in essence, another possessor of the feat to just hand off one owned magic armament for a better one. As such, any magic weapon or armor is typically going to have been a specially ordered, unique piece, enhanced to the best of the owners' ability. Simple +1 weapons are going to be created only as a temporary step towards greater items.

The listing of religious details and the fate system are both good. The religious review includes overviews of Buddhism, Christianity, and Shinto. Of these, only Shinto has a selection of individualized deities with unique domains. Fourteen of the Shinto gods are provided. The fate system is a somewhat optional system that allows a character to spend fate points to modify assorted checks in the pursuit of some important goal. In exchange for these positive modifiers, the character accumulates destiny points, which can be used by the game master against the character at appropriately dramatic junctures. It is a nice mechanic for adding both the undefeatable resolve and inevitable, epic destinies typical of Japanese legendary heroes.

The volume layout and art are in the same style as the first book of the series, with a good use of color for text highlight and a decent collection of ink style portraits and small action scenes. The product, as mentioned, currently only comes in an electronic form, with separately downloaded format options with a landscape layout for onscreen viewing and portrait print friendly version.

The print version makes less use of background color, although it still uses enough to keep the titles and labels distinct. The volume is still using a version number, suggesting an intention to update. As RPGObjects traditionally welcomes feedback on their products and have already revised The Bushido Handbook to version 1.1, this is an opportunity for readers wanting some particular aspect of historic Japan developed to put in their two cents.

The Mystic Arts v1.0 presents the basic magic classes and system needed for a Japanese based campaign, but it needs a bit more work. In general, there is a mixed approach to the level of magic within the setting. Parts of it, particularly the historic nature, crafting rules, and feat requirement for fully using magic arms and armor, indicate a low magic level. However, the fact that spellcasters can still wield fireballs and lightning bolts, and even do so more flexibly than the core rule wizard, is more of a high magic feature. Similarly, the attempt to make magic item creation more limited by the shift to class or skill requirements really just shifts the cost around a bit without making it particularly harder. Hopefully, the next revision might address the disparity by making the aims of the magic system a little more explicit along with catching the assorted lapses. Take a look now and see where the magic of historic Japan, really is.

For more details on RPGObjects and their new d20 supplement, Legends of the Samurai: The Mystic Arts v1.0, check them out at their website http://www.rpgobjects.com and at RPGNow.com.

The original review can be found here:

http://www.gamingreport.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=Reviews&file=index&req=showcontent&id=1585

Monday, May 23, 2005

By request: BNS II Starship Construction sneak peek

Example of Starship Creation

Shell Therrin, a 6th level character (Smart 3/Starship Designer 3) decides to build a new class of heavy fighter to aid the Sons of Jove in the their conflict against the United Earth Government. She has informs the game master that she has begun to draw up the plans for this vehicle in preparation of the building of a prototype.

Shell has 9 ranks in the Craft (Structural) and Craft (mechanical) skills.

Starship Hull

First Shell designs the hull. Since this is a fighter she decides the craft will be an ultralight starship, which has a base purchase DC of 16 and a base invention point cost of 160. Since Shell wants these fighters to be tough and survivable as the main attack craft of the rebellion she ups their hit dice from the base of 4d20 to 10d20. Adding 6 HD increases the wealth cost by +9 and the invention point cost by +90, resulting in a final purchase price of 25 and a final invention point cost of 250. Shell decides to take 10 on all her Craft checks, meaning the prototype will take 13 days to construct.

Shell decides to purchase the fighter’s engines and defensive systems on the black market, leaving her more time to design a unique weapon for the craft.

Starship Weapons

Since the craft will operate in the rock-filled surrounding of the Jovian moons, Shell designs a new weapon that will capture small micro-meteors and then fire them at high speed at enemy vessels.
Since her fighters are small to more easily hide from UEG military vessels, she makes the number of dice for her starship weapon 6, the maximum that can be installed on a Huge hull. This has a base purchase DC of 18 and a base invention point cost of 180. Because of the extreme speeds generated by these weapons (and because her fighters will often have to engage much larger vessels) Shell makes the attack die of the weapon d12, increasing the purchase cost by +8 and the invention point cost +80. The costs for the weapon being a direct fire weapon and inflicting physical damage cancel out, leaving the purchase price of the prototype at 26 and the invention point cost 260. Taking 10 on all her Craft (mechanical) checks means that Shell can complete the weapon in 14 days.

SOJ-Fighter (PL 6)
This fighter designed by Shell Therrin, technical wizard behind many of the craft and weapons used by the terrorists (or freedom-fighters) the Sons of Jove is the size of a small shuttle, but is incredibly tough and durable.
Type: Ultralight
Size: Huge (–2 size)
Subtype: SOJ Fighter
Tactical Speed: 3,500 ft. (7 sq.)
Defense: 13
Length: 24 feet
Flat-footed Defense: 11
Weight: 24,000 lb.
Autopilot Defense: 9
Targeting System Bonus: +1
Hardness: 20
Crew: 1 (trained +4)
Hit Dice: 10d20 (200 hp)
Passenger Capacity: 4
Initiative Modifier: +2
Cargo Capacity: 2,400 lb.
Pilot’s Class Bonus: +3
Grapple Modifier: +8
Pilot’s Dex Modifier: +2
Base Purchase DC: 62
Gunner’s Attack Bonus: +2
Restriction: Illegal (+4)

Attack: 3 Slingshot Mass Drivers +1 ranged (6d12)
Attack of Opportunity: None

Standard PL 6 Design Specs:
Engines: Ion engine, thrusters
Armor: Polymeric
Defense Systems: Autopilot system
Sensors: Class II sensor array, targeting system
Communications: Laser transceiver, radio transceiver
Weapons: 3 Slingshot Mass DriversGrappling Systems: None

Friday, May 13, 2005

Orders of Succession

The large man stepped into view, a shadow separating himself from other shadows. Despite his bulk he made no sound as he walked through the church. His eyes swept the expansive structure, his ears searching the near darkness for any sign that he was not alone. Quickly he approached the altar and knelt to one knee, crossing himself and uttering a silent prayer.

As he was beginning to rise he felt the cold steel against the side of his neck causing him to hold still, his muscles twitching with repressed rage like a tiger pacing in its pen, “Put that away you blasphemous lout. I wouldn’t have expected such irreverence even from you.”

When he no longer felt the cold steel against his neck, Vitali rose, quickly turning. The fact that he towered over a small, almost elfin woman gave him pause, until he noticed the sneer she wore like a mask of impertinence, “Yes, your kind would never draw a weapon in here… unless you outnumbered an unarmed priest five to one and needed to curry favor with King Henry at least.”

Vitali growled low in his throat, unable to bear the insinuation, reaching for the blade concealed inside his priestly garments with murderous intent, “If I had known it was you who invited me here, foul Templar you can rest assured I would have brought four friends with me to help you live out your paranoid…”

“She didn’t invite you here, brother. I did.”

Turning, they both realized with some alarm that the man in the shadows had been there all along, that they had walked right past him and not noted his presence. Stepping from the shadows, they could see that he dressed simply in a Friar’s raiment and carried no weapon, his face radiating calm serenity.

Vitali had to strongly resist the urge to reach for his weapon again, but the large Russian restrained himself. He had endured a childhood in a Godless state that persecuted all those who believed and he now prided himself on his ability to endure anything if needed.
Even, it seemed, the company of a Templar Knight and a Torquemada Friar.

“I think I prefer the company of the Templar. At least she acts out of ignorance, while you, in full knowledge of the evils wrought by your zealotry.”

Now an edge of steel tinged the serenity, but the old friar merely smiled, his eyes twinkling with a dark light, “Yes, that is to be expected of one such as you. When you land on an uncharted continent and find it dominated by savages sacrificing women and children by the thousands on blood-soaked altars to bring about the end of the world, you beg for Cortez to deliver you. When Spain is overrun with the Caeder the Holy Father himself cries out for Torquemada to bring darkness from the light. But when you do not think you need my kind you apologize to the people we have saved for the salvation we have given them, when you do not need us we are zealots.”

The twinkle in the old man’s eye vanished, replacing mirth with cold, calculating rage as the huge Russian’s booming laughter filled the enormous cathedral, “My but you love the sound of your voice, old man.”

Though it would seem impossible, Vitali’s laughter only increased in volume when the small woman at his side clapped him on the back, joining him in his mirth, “I think he’s saying we have no need for your brand of ‘faith’ old man.”

Now the friar smiled again, but it was a smile incapable of warming the cold glint in his eyes, “Oh but you do need me. The Pope is gravely ill. And someone is killing those most worthy to succeed him, one by one.”

And as the church fell silent it was the old man’s turn to laugh. A perverse laugh, without a hint of mirth.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Backdraft: or writer fights scorched Earth battle against burnout

It sounds so much more dramatic that way doesn't it?

For those of you wondering why I haven't updated this blog at the rate I did when it first appeared, or for that matter those of you wondering when my next book will hit the net (hi Chris! thanks for not firing me!) I would like to announce that my long Russian Winter-like battle against the Legends of the Samurai Campaign Guide has finally come to an end.

In the final analysis April wasn't all THAT bad of a month for me, the CG will clock in at a respectable page count and things are progressing much more smoothly on my next book (the long promised Blood and Space II Starship Construction book) but still, I have to say this is the worst bout of burnout I have ever experienced.

And it sucked.

New Adventure for AZ on the Way

So, Adventure Locale #1: White Star Trailer Park is coming soon! It's a location based adventure for my zombie apocalypse game, AZ: Afte...