Showing posts with label Savage Worlds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Savage Worlds. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Christmas Adventure for Savage Worlds

Cthulhu Claus image by Jody Lindke

I originally posted this adventure on my Savage Worlds Character a Day blog...a blog with a far too ambitious name.

The adventure takes place in the Savage Worlds Necessary Evil setting and requires either that rulebook or the Super Powers Companion.

Operation Toybreaker -- A Christmas Themed Necessary Evil Savage Tale


The V'sori have successfully conquered the Earth. Very few are powerful enough to oppose their occupying forces to free humanity. Many of the world's villains have been gathered by Dr. Destruction to resist the occupation and inspire others to join the fight against the alien overlords.

Up until last year, most people had completely lost hope and have become "good citizens" of the V'sori empire. Few noticed that their neighbors were disappearing, while the numbers of drones grew. Few realized that the Earth wasn't merely being conquered, its residents were being "altered." No one was fighting back. It's hard to be inspired by news of Dr. Destruction's recent terrorist assault against the local television network.

That all changed last year on Christmas morning. Children across the world received Christmas presents for the first time since the V'sori invasion. The V'sori had come to expect a few underground Christmas celebrants, but they were not prepared when all the world's children received that included cards reading "Merry Christmas to All! S. Claus."

As news spread of the magical gift giving -- gift giving that had evaded V'sori surveillance, many of the people of the world began to experience a new emotion. They began to Hope. Here was someone, or potentially someone, who could evade/outsmart the V'sori who hadn't historically been bent on global domination.

The V'sori had to stop this S. Claus at all costs. And so began Operation Toybreaker. If the V'sori could capture this Claus, and transform him into a Super Drone, they could ensure that the toys delivered from here on out contained appropriate "citizen conditioning messages." They could take this figure of hope and transform him into a figure of domination.

Two weeks ago, while battling Omegans at a site where the frozen bodies of WWII heroes had been located, V'sori radar picked up an odd signature -- it appeared to be a flying reindeer. They followed the signature to its final destination and the location of Santa's Village had become revealed. It took the V'sori seven days to overcome Santa's defenses and capture this bastion of hope. It took another five days to convert all of his remaining elves into drones and to reprogram Santa's Toy Soldier Defense Androids. It will take two days for the V'sori to convert Santa into a complicit drone.

The Adventure:

Dr. Destruction has intercepted a broadcast outlining the V'sori's capture of S. Claus and their plans to convert him into a Drone. Dr. Destruction desperately wants to use Omegans to rescue the figure of hope as Santa would make an amazing gun runner for the Omegan underground, but he knows that Omegans are unlikely to rescue this saccharine sweet icon without some deception.

His plan is simple. Convey to an Omegan cell that the V'sori have captured the worlds "Last Figure of Hope" a person capable of supplying the criminal underground with a steady supply of weapons. The person has technology that can evade V'sori communications satellites and can make large simultaneous deliveries.

(At this point, most players will get what's going on, but their villain PCs should remain clueless).

The villains are sent to rescue this individual who is being held in a specially built temporary prison facility on Baffin Island in Nunavut, Canada. Once at the location the PCs will face 2 encounters.

The first encounter is an outdoor battle against the converted remnants of Claus's cohorts. The PCs should face 1 Toy Soldier and 2 Elves per PC.

After the PCs finish this battle, they will wander through what remains of Santa's Village. Don't hold back on the description. There should be dead elves everywhere, as well as dead snowmen, and the carcasses of Santa's Reindeer. Play up the V'sori cruelty. Feel free to have another small skirmish here, or roleplay moments where the PCs find Santa's list only to find out that they were indeed supposed to receive that Atari 2600 for their 10th birthday...or some other humorous moment.

Upon completing the visit to Santa's village the PCs will approach a specially designed prison containing 1 K'tharen Warrior per 2 PCs and 2 Drones per PC, as well as the unconscious body of Claus. Claus's body is encased in a DuraSilicon Container (Toughness 15) where robotic devices are slowly converting him into a Super Drone.

Once the PCs arrive at the prison, they will have 15 rounds to defeat everyone and free Claus before he is converted. Use the Toughness statistics in the initial Jail Break for the Claus prison, but modify the map to contain only one cell.

If the PCs rescue Claus, they save Christmas and have recruited the world's most efficient weapons smuggler to the resistance.

Mind-Controlled Elf

Race: Elf

Agility: d8 Smarts: d6 Spirit: d6

Strength: d6 Vigor: d6 (d12+2 on drugs)

Pace: 8 (d10 to run) Parry: 5

Toughness: 6 (11 on drugs) (2)

Charisma: 0


Fighting d6 Repair d10 Notice d8 Stealth d8 Shooting d8

Throwing d6


+2 to ranged attack if Elf does not move.


If the elves have eaten their cookies or egg-nog, they fight fearlessly (+2 vs. fear checks) and feel no pain (+2 to recover from shaken, and can take two wounds instead of one before going down). Because of the unsafe levels of drugs in the cookies, the elves must make vigor checks at -6 when the drugs wear off 1d4 minutes after consuming. They take 6 levels of fatigue (death) on a failed roll.


Gay Apparel Kevlar Vest (+4 armor vs. bullets, negates 4 AP, covers torso)
Candy Cane-shaped Vibro-Knife Damage: Str+d6 Heavy Weapon, AP 2

Pop-Gun (Disguised .50 Cal Rifle) Range: 30/60/120 Damage: 2d10
RoF: 1, Ammo: 7 (Hero-killer Rounds), AP 2

3 Presents (Disguised Grenades) Range: 5/10/20
Damage: 3d6 Medium Burst Template

Notes: The V’sori have given the elves Christmas Cookies and Egg-Nog laced with vigor-enhancing combat drugs, un-safe levels of pain killers and other mind-altering substances. Since they V’sori don’t care if the elves die, they have put near-lethal dosages into the cookies, and instructed the elves to eat the cookies if they are attacked.

Life-Sized Toy Soldier

Race: Robot

Agility: d4 Smarts: d4 Spirit: d4

Strength: d10 Vigor: d10

Pace: 4 Parry: 5 Toughness: 13 (6, Heavy Armor)

Charisma: 0


Fighting d6 Notice d4 Shooting d6

Size +2

Toy soldiers are very large, about 7 feet tall.


These toy soldiers are robots and therefore get +2 to recover from shaken, immune to disease and poison. Arrows, bullets and other piercing attacks do half damage, and they do not suffer from called shots. Constructs do not heal wounds normally, and cannot recover wounds from the Healing skill or power. Repair is used instead. Each Repair roll requires tools and spare parts (-2 modifier without tools, another -2 without spare parts) and 1d6 hours work.


As robots, these soldiers are immune to fear effects.


These toy soldiers have infrared sensors that can see in the dark.


Plasma Rifle (A Toy Soldier’s Fusion Reactor regenerates 1 shot every 2 turns)

Range: 12/24/48 Damage: 3d10 RoF: 1, Ammo: 12, Heavy Weapon, AP 2

Vibro-Bayonet Damage: Str+d10 Heavy Weapon, AP 2

Notes: Made of heavy iron plating, these robot soldiers are super-tough, but very slow-moving. They are powered by large internal fusion reactors, which also power their plasma rifles.

Friday, November 04, 2016

An RPG of Rifles and Magic: Brian McClellan's Powder Mage RPG is Coming Soon.


The best way to describe Brian McClellan's Powder Mage stories is by saying that they are an entertaining combination of Sharpe's Rifles and Full Metal Alchemist and The Scarlet Pimpernel. The novels, and short stories, fall within the noble genre of Military Fantasy fiction which has seen a resurgence since the publication of Temeraire by Naomi Novik. Like the best fiction in the genre, McClellan's Powder Mage tales evoke a world in which large struggles are taking place, and where one man can make a difference, but without the need for the "dark lord" trope that dominates much of Epic Fantasy.

Promise of Blood, the first book in the series, tells the story of Field Marshal Tamas who engages in a coup against his king and sends corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine. McClellan's imagery here is a combination of the French Revolution and Napoleon's French Consolate. It's a world where magic exists, but it doesn't exist around every corner. It's a world where old gods awaken. It's a world of intrigue and politics, but it is a world at war.

The books have sold over 250,000 copies and are enjoyable reads, but now fans of the series can bring Powder Mage adventures to their kitchen tables with the recently announced Powder Mage Roleplaying Game. The game is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign and I had the honor to do a brief interview with Alan Bahr the game designer working with Brian McClellan on the upcoming RPG. Below is our brief exchange.

Brian McClellan's POWDER MAGE trilogy seems a perfect IP for a role playing game. How did you get attached to the project?
 - A mutual friend (who happens to be an author and my best friend, Steve Diamond) introduced us at GenCon 2014 after it'd been announced I'd be doing Planet Mercenary for the Schlock Mercenary team. I pitched Brian, and walked him through what such a project would look like, and we just sorta...went from there.
When adapting an IP to a role playing game, one of the biggest challenges a designer faces is translating the setting. How are you addressing this challenge? Are you reading the books 100 times, working with Brian (who's an avid gamer), or a mix of both?
- Heh. Well I have read all the books a few times now (enough that I'm actually pretty jumbled!), but I think the biggest thing that will help us do that, is Brian himself will be writing most of the setting/fluff pieces in the book. My job is to just write the rules that need to be written, and only those.

Usually game worlds are by necessity bigger than the glimpses we get in stories, what strategy will you and Brian be using to fill the gaps or encourage GMs to make their own versions of Adro and the neighboring states?
 - Honestly, just trusting the GMs and players to the story they want to tell. Not everyone will tell the same story, so we just make an effort to provide them all the options and some of the cool setting nuggets Brian hasn't disclosed yet in order to let their imaginations run wild. I think any RPG, especially an established setting, just has to give that trust to the group using it.

What was it about the Savage Worlds game system that you think makes it the best fit for the Powder Mage Trilogy?
- How it plays. We actually wrote two custom systems for the game, and while they worked, it quickly became apparent that it wasn't quite working perfectly. But we also tested a few systems we could license for it, and after a few months, it was pretty clear that Savage Worlds was the one everyone responded to the most, and turned out the best on the table. It was the flexibility of the magic system that really allowed us to grab the feel of Powder Mage in the rules.
I know that you are working on the writing side, and you've hired a stable of artists, is there anyone else working on the project?
- Well, Brian is writing most of the world fluff, and I wrote most of the rules. We'll be putting the game through layout (by Robert Denton), and editing (we haven't chosen an editor yet, we'll probably use two), but the primary writing will be Brian and myself at this point in the project.

One of the common features of Savage Worlds books, both official and licensed, is the use of Plot Point Campaigns and Campaign Generators? Will the POWDER MAGE role playing game be featuring GM Friendly options like these?
 - We definitely have plans to include adventures and adventure generators. Exactly how much we include is determined by how high we fund!

You mentioned the flexibility of the Magic System being one of the things that you thought was a way that Savage Worlds captured the feel of the Powder Mage Trilogy? Could you expand on that?
- The way the magic systems work in Savage Worlds fits the idea of Powder Mage very well. There's a lot of flexibility, and the ability to use magic in a lot of different ways, but have similar effects really fits Powder Mage and the style of stories it evokes. Honestly, the only "new" magic we had to create was how to depict the effects of the titular Powder Mages.

While not mentioned in the interview, one of the things that makes the Savage Worlds system ideal for Powder Mage gaming and Military Fantasy gaming in general, is the speed with which combats are resolved by the game's mechanics. While Savage Worlds is a robust roleplaying game, it has its origins in skirmish miniatures gaming and this foundation allows the game to handle large combats in less time than it takes other game systems to emulate. This is one of the reason's I'm very excited about this game and about Savage Worlds related games in general.

[Cross Posted at Geekerati Media]

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Savage Things (Part 3) -- A Super Heroic Second Take on Stranger Things' Eleven/Elle

Image Source -- Thorin Thompson


Welcome to the third entry in a series of posts that translates the hit Netflix television Stranger Things into material useful for the Savage Worlds role playing game. Following the final entry in this series, there will be posts featuring statistics in Mentzer B/E Dungeons & Dragons, Fantasy Flight Games' Grimm role playing game, Hero Kids, Shadow of the Demon Lord, and other games as I am inspired to create the statistics.

Posts in Savage Things Series:
Part 1 -- The Setting and the Kids
Part 2 -- The Heroic Teens

Eleven/Elle Revisited (A Superheroic Look)

In the first entry in the Savage Things series, I presented statistics for Eleven/Elle that relied solely on the Savage Worlds Core Rulebook. This version of the character fits with a Firestarter or Scanners inspired campaign, but it doesn't capture the character for campaigns that want to take advantage of a more X-Men style of play. One of Stranger Things many influences, and one stated outright in the show, is issue #134 of The Uncanny X-Men. That issue marked the first appearance of "Dark Phoenix" and hinted to viewers who were familiar with the comics that psychic powers might be coming into play. My own take on the character is that she is also inspired by Rachel Summers, first seen in The Uncanny X-Men issue #141. The shaved head and manipulation of the character by scientists fits more with Rachel Summers, than with Jean Grey. With these thoughts in mind, I present to you an updated version of Eleven/Elle that uses the Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion which provides a more powerful version of the character. In order to balance this character, two versions of the Demogorgon/Monster will also be presented in the adversaries post.

  Eleven/Elle (Millie Bobby Brown) was kidnapped by Dr. Martin Brenner when she was born. Eleven's mother was one of Dr. Brenner's subjects in his experiments at the University of Indiana. While the show hints that she is the 11th child/subject Dr. Brenner has worked with, no other subjects are shown in the series. When Eleven runs away, she befriends a local diner owner named Benny and eventually encounters Mike Wheeler. Even though Eleven is quiet and largely clueless to the mundane world around her, she and Mike become very close friends. Eleven has abilities beyond her "experience" level and is an extremely powerful young woman. She hopes to find a way to rescue Will Byers and free herself from the influence of Dr. Brenner.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d10, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Faith d4, Notice d6, Psionics d12, Shooting d4, Survival d6, Tracking d4
Charisma: 0; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: All Thumbs, Clueless, Loyal, Exhausting Powers -- Powers Cause 1 Level of Fatigue When Used Can Knockout, but not Kill, Eleven.
Edges: Arcane Background (Superpowers), Brave, Danger Sense
Powers: Attack Ranged (Heavy Weapon, 4d6) 7 Points, Broadcast (One Channel at a Time, Contingent) 1 Point, Mind Reading (Slow to Activate, Increased Range to 1 mile, Complete Concentration) 5 Points, Increased Range on Mind Reading to Anywhere on Earth (Device: Requires Sensory Deprivation Chamber and Complete Concentration) 5 Points, Ensnare 3 Points, Mind Control (Slow to Activate, Very Limited Actions) 3 Points, Telekinesis (d12+1) 6 Points.  Power Points: 30 (Street Fighters)
Quirk: Loves Eggo Waffles.

It should be noted that this version of Eleven/Elle is significantly more powerful than the one from the first entry in the series, but that the character should still be used as a Player Character in order to not have the players feel railroaded by the Game Master.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Savage Things (Part 2): The Heroic Teens of Stranger Things

This is the second post in a series of posts presenting the people and places portrayed in the Netflix Original Series Stranger Things. You can find more information about the series, characters, and places in Part One. This entry focuses on what I call "Team Nancy." These are the teenage characters who are central to the story and who are centered around their relationship to Nancy Wheeler.

Posts in Savage Things Series:
Part 1 -- The Setting and the Kids
Part 2 -- The Heroic Teens
Part 3 -- A Super Heroic Second Take on Eleven/Elle

The Heroic Teens (Team Nancy)

Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) is Joyce Byers' oldest son and the brother of Will Byers. He has a quiet and introverted personality that has led him to be considered an outsider by his classmates at Hawkins High School. Jonathan is developing talent as a photographer and hopes to someday attend NYU to study cinematography and become a film maker. His character is similar in personality to John Bender in The Breakfast Club or Michael Fitzsimmons in Peggy Sue Got Married. Jonathan loves his family, but is worried that Will's disappearance has caused his mother to have another psychiatric episode.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6,
Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d4, Fighting d6, Investigation d6, Knowledge (Photography) d6, Notice d6, Shooting d4, Streetwise d4, Survival d4, Swimming d6, Tracking d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 5;
: 0
Hindrances: Curious, Doubting Thomas, Outsider
Edges: Alertness, Brave
Gear: Car, Camera, .38 Pistol, Bear Trap, 5 Gallons of Gasoline, Lighter

Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) is a young woman caught between two social worlds. She is Mike Wheeler's older sister and used to have a very close relationship to her "D&D geek" brother, but that changed when she started dating Steve Harrington who hangs with a more popular crowd. Nancy's conflict extends to more than her family though. In her desire to "fit in" with Steve and his friends, Nancy has recently begun to rebel against her family and her own instincts. Her friend Barbara sees this conflict and tries to point it out to Nancy, but Nancy doesn't quite see how much Steve genuinely cares for Nancy. Nancy Wheeler's character is a combination of Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Andie (Molly Ringwald) in Pretty in Pink.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d4, Fighting d4, Investigation d6, Knowledge (Chemistry) d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Shooting d6, Stealth d4, Streetwise d6
Charisma: 2; Pace: 6; Parry: 4; Toughness: 4; Academics: 1
Hindrances: Loyal, Overprotective Parents, Small
Edges: Attractive, Brave, Test Taker

Steve Harrington (Joe Kerry) – Steve is Nancy’s boyfriend and is at a point in his life where he is going to have to choose what kind of man he will become. He comes from a relatively wealthy family and is one of the cooler kids in school. His character is a combination of Blane in Pretty in Pink and Stefen Djordjevic in All the Right Moves. His story arc through the first season of Stranger Things parallels that of Djordjevic in that he could be a good guy, and when push comes to shove comes back to being one, but he’s so caught up in being “cool” that his instincts lead him to initially make bad choices. In the end though, he will do whatever he can to keep Nancy safe.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Driving d6, Fighting d6, Intimidation d6, Investigation d4, Notice d4, Persuasion d4, Shooting d4, Streetwise d4, Swimming d6, Taunt d8
Charisma: 2; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 6;
Hindrances: Arrogant, Party Animal, Stubborn
Edges: Attractive, Fast Healer, Nerves of Steel
Gear: $500
Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser) -- Barbara has been Nancy Wheeler's best friend since Elementary School. She doesn't quite understand what Nancy sees in Steve Harrington, but knows deep down that she and Nancy will always be friends. Barbara is an excellent student, but she is viewed as a bit of an outsider because of her lack of "fashion sense" and her focus on school work. Barbara knows what's important in life and it's succeeding in school so you can get out of Hawkins and being loyal to those who deserve your loyalty and Nancy Wheeler deserves her loyalty.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d4, Driving d6, Investigation d4, Knowledge (Biology) d6, Knowledge (Chemistry) d6, Knowledge (History) d6, Notice d6, Stealth d4, Survival d4, Swimming d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 2
Hindrances: Bad Eyes (Minor), Bad Luck, Outsider
Edges: Alertness, Be a Zebra, Test Taker
Gear: Car

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Savage Things (Part 1): Savage Worlds Adventures in the World of Stranger Things

Stranger Things is a Netflix Original Series that was released on the streaming network on July 15, 2016. The show focuses on mysterious events which occur in the fictional city of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983 that are related to experiments at the Hawkins National Laboratory. The Laboratory receives its funding through the U.S. Department of Energy and is run by Dr. Martin Brenner who uses the Laboratory to engage in experiments similar to those of the CIA's Stargate Project.

Many have described the series as a love-song to the 80s due not only to the fact that the show takes place in 1983, but also due to the number of references to 80s pop culture the show contains and the number of homages to 80s pop culture which served to influence the show. These influences include the horror of Stephen King, Sam Raimi, and John Carpenter, alternative music from the early 80s, Dungeons & Dragons, and the films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. For example, the music during the opening credit sequence references score composed by John Carpenter and the opening shot of Episode 8 is a direct reference to the Imperial Base on Endor in Return of the Jedi.  A complete list of Easter Eggs and influences is beyond the scope of this blog post, but much has been written about the show at The Hollywood Reporter and elsewhere.

Given the supernatural elements of the show, and the fact that it falls into the Spielberg tradition of Tween/Teen Adventures, Stranger Things makes for the perfect setting for a role playing game campaign. To this end, I've put together some basic background material and statistics for important Player Characters/Non-Player Characters for you to use at your own gaming tables. The statistics in this initial blog post are for the Savage Worlds Roleplaying game using the core rulebook and the East Texas University setting book. The Savage Worlds system is particularly good at emulating the kinds of "kids using luck to survive dangerous situations" stories within the Tweenventure genre and the East Texas University setting of Pinebox, TX provides a nice analog for Hawkins, IN.  Future updates will include statistics for BubbleGumshoe, Hero Kids, and other popular role playing games.

Posts in Savage Things Series:
Part 1 -- The Setting and the Kids
Part 2 -- The Heroic Teens
Part 3 -- A Super Heroic Second Take on Eleven/Elle

Hawkins, Indiana (Population 4,936) – Hawkins, Indiana is a fictional city created as a setting for tales in the Stranger Things-verse. The show uses the city of Jackson, Georgia as a proxy for Hawkins and thus all estimations of population and city services are done using real world data for Jackson. 

Hawkins PD – Hawkins law enforcement is overseen by the Chief of Police Jim Hopper manages the City Jail and a staff of 17. This staff includes 13 sworn police officers and 4 communications officers. The Hawkins City Jail has 16 beds for use in housing inmates and provides service 24-hours a day.

Hawkins Library – The Hawkins Library is the central library for the County and thus has a large selection of books and access to all major newspapers dating from 1910 are available on microfiche. In addition to its extensive collection of normal books, the Hawkins Library is also home to a private collection of books about mysterious incidents and the occult (this information is not included in the show, but was added due to The Monster using the Library as a nest in the Upside-Down). The library hours are as follows:

Monday – Thursday: 9:00 am – 8:00 pm
Friday: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Saturday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Hawkins Middle School -- As one of the larger cities in the county, Hawkins Middle School (Home of the Tigers) serves as the home of the County School District's Middle and High Schools. These schools serve students from the neighboring cities. Hawkins Middle School has a population of 1,000 students in grades 7 and 8. It has an advanced science program for a school in the 1980s. This is as much due to the enthusiasm of Mr. Clarke as it is to grants and donations from Hawkins National Laboratory. The school district has an annual science competition and Will Byers' D&D group have won their grade level almost every year.

Hawkins High School -- Like the Middle School, Hawkins High School provides services for county residents who do not live in Hawkins proper. Unlike the Middle School, which only serves neighboring communities, the High School serves the entire County. This give Hawkins High School a population of 4,000 students. The High School receives support from the Hawkins National Laboratory and has a history of academic focus over athletics. The Football team typically has a .500 season and the same is true for the Baseball team. The school has a competitive Softball team and both men's a women's basketball have a history of success that exceed expectations from such a small county.

Hawkins National Laboratory -- The Hawkins National Laboratory was built in 1979 as part of a Department of Energy program seeking to research new forms of energy production. A good deal of the research at the Laboratory deals with the creation of more efficient solar energy cells. Given the variations in weather, Hawkins makes an ideal location for study of a solar panel that can operate productively in less sunny climates. Unknown to the public is that the majority of the Hawkins National Laboratory's funding comes from the CIA's Stargate Project. This project investigates whether humans are capable of manifesting psychic and psychokinetic powers. To advance their efforts they recruited Dr. Martin Brenner whose earlier research on the use of LSD and sensory deprivation at the University of Indiana led to early insights into psychic phenomenon. While the CIA initially selected the Stargate title for the project as a means of obfuscating the actual research going on, recent events at the Laboratory have led to the creation of a Portal between our dimension and a Shadow Dimension which parallels our own.

The Upside Down/Vale of Shadows – A dark reflection or echo of the material plane, a place of decay and death. It is a plane out of phase and filled with monsters. It is right next to you and you don’t even see it and it is governed by necrotic and shadow magic. The Upside-Down appears to be a dark and cold version of our world with necrotic growths and no living creatures other than The Monster and possibly its offspring.

There are only two ways to pass into the Upside-Down. The first is through the semi-permanent portal created by Elle/Eleven. This portal is on a lower level of Hawkins National Laboratory and has begun to warp the world around it. Inside the Laboratory these effects can be seen in necrotic outgrowths, a lower temperature, and constant light snowfall. In an area of around 2 miles in diameter around the Laboratory, the effects can be detected through instability in the electromagnetic field. When you are within the diameter, compasses no longer point North. They point to the Portal instead. The other means of passing into the Upside-Down is to use a temporary portal created by The Monster. These portals are created by The Monster as it enters and exits our world, but quickly close due to the amount of energy needed to produce them. They can last as long as 5 minutes. Of course, using them without The Monster noticing is no small feat.

The creators of the show have a 30 page bible dedicated to the Upside-Down, hinting at future adventures in upcoming seasons.

Negative Environmental Effects
Poisonous Atmosphere: anyone non-native caught in the Upside-Down must make a Stamina check once per day or suffer one level of Fatigue. This damage cannot cause the death of a Wildcard.
Cold: Unless wearing warm clothing, a person must make a Stamina check once per day or suffer one level of Fatigue. This damage cannot cause the death of a Wildcard.

Cast of Characters 

The Kids 

Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) – Will Byers' is close friends with Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, and Lucas Sinclair. When the group is playing Dungeons & Dragons, Will tends to play the character Will the Wise and when given the choice between taking risks and playing it safe, he will often choose to cast Fireball instead of Protection spells. He is a good kid, but his current home life is very unstable. His mother Joyce is viewed as unstable by the town and Will is viewed as the easiest kid to bully at Hawkins Middle School.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d4, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d6, Notice d6, Stealth d6, Survival d6, Shooting d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Loyal, Outsider, Young Edges: Alertness, Be a Zebra, Luck

Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) – Mike Wheeler is 12 years old and is one of the "point of view" characters in Stranger Things. He is the Dungeon Master for the D&D gang and frequently runs 10 hour sessions on the weekends which end with a climactic battle against a powerful villain. In the first episode, his adventure includes a stressful encounter with Demogorgon. Little did he know that this adventure would shape the perceptions of his friends as they encountered The Monster from the Upside-Down. He is the son of Karen Wheeler and brother to Nancy Wheeler. He was once very close to his sister emotionally, but her recent relationship with Steve and his obsession with D&D have come in the way of their friendship. He is a good student with developing observational skills.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d6, Investigation d6, Notice d6, Stealth d4, Streetwise d4, Tracking d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Outsider, Overprotective Parents, Young
Edges: Alertness, Brave, Multitasker
Gear: Binoculars, Walkie Talkie, Bicycle, Compass, RPG supplies
Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) is one of Mike Wheeler's oldest friends and a part of the D&D group. He is not native to Hawkins and likely moved here from California (he wears a T-Shirt advertising the Castroville Artichoke Festival).  While all the kids in the D&D group are smart, scientific, and tech savvy, Dustin truly excels in these areas. His permanent teeth have not come in yet due to cleidocranial dysplasia.While Mike is the group's Dungeon Master, and the "hub" around which the group is centered, Dustin is the group's "leader." When push comes to shove, it is Dustin who gets the other kids to reconcile and who is able to rally the troops when the going gets tough. He is skeptical of certain kinds of authority and tends to view the challenges the gang faces through the lens of Star Wars and D&D.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d6, Investigation d4, Persuasion d6, Repair d6, Streetwise d6
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Outsider, Quirk, Young
Edges: Command, Connections (Mr. Clarke), Multitasker
Gear: Bicycle, Compass, Walkie Talkie, Head Set

Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) Lucas is Mike's oldest friend and a key member of the D&D crew. He is smart and adventurous, but he often lacks patience and is not quick to trust anyone. He distrusts Eleven/Elle and wants to take action as quickly as possible to rescue Will. He is a man of action and not waiting.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d4, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d8, Investigation d6, Notice d4, Shooting d6, Stealth d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 8; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Loyal, Outsider, Young
Edges: Alertness, Be a Zebra, Fleet-Footed
Gear: Binoculars (Typical 10×25 binoculars), Bicycle, Walkie Talkie, Compass, Wrist Rocket (d8 2/4/6). 
Eleven/Elle (Millie Bobby Brown) was kidnapped by Dr. Martin Brenner when she was born. Eleven's mother was one of Dr. Brenner's subjects in his experiments at the University of Indiana. While the show hints that she is the 11th child/subject Dr. Brenner has worked with, no other subjects are shown in the series. When Eleven runs away, she befriends a local diner owner named Benny and eventually encounters Mike Wheeler. Even though Eleven is quiet and largely clueless to the mundane world around her, she and Mike become very close friends. Eleven has abilities beyond her "experience" level and is an extremely powerful young woman. She hopes to find a way to rescue Will Byers and free herself from the influence of Dr. Brenner.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d10, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Faith d4, Notice d6, Psionics d12, Shooting d4, Survival d6, Tracking d4
Charisma: 0; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: All Thumbs, Clueless, Loyal
Edges: Arcane Background (Psionics), Brave, Danger Sense
Powers: Bolt, boost/lower trait, entangle, mind reading, telekinesis; Power Points: 10
Quirk: Loves Eggo Waffles.

To Be Continued...
Later in the week, there will be posts discussing the Teens, Parents, Supporting Cast, and Antagonists of Stranger Things.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord is Frighteningly Good [The Review]

Over the past couple of months, and I apologize for the slow blog pace, I've written a couple of articles that have referred to Robert J Schwalb's new role playing game Shadow of the Demon Lord. In the first article, I discussed how it was ironic that Robert's parents were so afraid of D&D's satanic material that he was "forced" to play Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. This is essentially the same as being upset that your kid is listening to Def Leppard and pointing the kid to Venom as a replacement. As was discussed in the comments to that, the whole "satanic panic" phenomenon was overblown, but I still find it funny that Rob fled Glasya to the open arms of Slaanesh.

This journey into the darker artistic and game mechanic influences of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay are readily apparent in Shadow of the Demon Lord. The baseline setting of Rob's game is one of a world that is desperately in need of heroes, any heroes. When the world is about to be destroyed by a malevolent cosmic force, even blackguards, madmen, and murderers can be the world's saviors. The game is as grim and dark as any Games Workshop setting, but there is something that sets Shadow apart from other games in the GrimDark tradition. Where other games in this genre are nihilistic, where even the heroes are often corrupt and doomed to fail, Shadow's setting holds within it the glimmer of hope. It is just possible that these heroes, flawed as they may be, might save the world from the cosmic destroyer that has descended upon the world.

As grim as Shadow of the Demon Lord appears to be, it is at its core a heroic role playing game.

Let that sink in for a moment. This is a game where the spark of hope might bring light to the world. It is entirely possible that the heroes will fail, but it is also possible that they will succeed in saving it. Even if they don't end up making the world a better place.

It is this basic heroic theme, and game mechanics that support heroic play, that are why I think that Shadow of the Demon Lord is one of the best role playing games to come out in years and that it is one of the best introductory roleplaying games for young gamers ever to be published. In future posts, I hope to write about several campaign setting ideas I have for this rules set. Before that happens though, I'd like to discuss how Shadow of the Demon Lord's mechanics encourage a heroic style of play and how these mechanics set it apart from other role playing games on the market.

Attribute Scores are Low, but Meaningful

At first glance, the attributes that Shadow of the Demon Lord uses to describe player character capabilities appear to be identical to those of a typical d20 game and one might be forgiven for assuming that they represent scores from 3 (poor) to 18 (excellent). Such an assumption would be wrong. In Shadow of the Demon Lord, any attribute above 10 provides a modifier to die rolls equal to the attribute score -10. So a character with a Strength of 13 in Shadow of the Demon Lord has a +3 modifier, the equivalent modifier of a 16 in 3rd Edition D&D.  Beyond that, a character with a 13 Strength in Shadow of the Demon Lord can lift 250lbs with little effort and 500lbs if the character makes a successful "challenge roll." Player characters will rarely see attributes higher than 15 in the game, but since this provides a +5 modifier to any affiliated roll that is a significant bonus indeed.

Challenge Rolls Never Explode to High Values

One of the key mechanics to Shadow of the Demon Lord is the "Challenge Roll." Any time a Game Master believes that there is a "significant" possibility that the average person would fail at a task, the Game Master asks the player to make a successful challenge roll. For example, if a character wants to climb a wall the Game Master might ask the player to make a Strength or Agility Challenge Roll to see if the character was successful. All Challenge Rolls are made against a Difficulty of 10. That's right, every task has a base chance of success of 55% for a character with an attribute of 10. This default "ease" of success reflects the default heroism of the campaign and the fact that the player characters are something special. The roll against this value can be modified with bonuses and penalties or by boons and banes. Bonuses and penalties are directly added or subtracted from the roll and are typically determined by a character's attributes. On the rare occasion that there is a penalty, it is usually no more than -2 to a roll. The only times you usually see a penalty worse than -2 is due to a character's attribute score or because the penalty is affecting the Health score (Hit Points in other games). Circumstances don't tend to apply penalties to rolls, rather they tend to apply "banes." A bane is a variable roll which results in a negative number from -1 to -6 being applied to a roll (more on this in a moment).  The point here is that the base chance of success is 55% and rarely gets worse than 25% for non-combat actions.

Boons and Banes

In the discussion of Challenge Rolls, I briefly mentioned that the largest modifiers to success or failure are due to mechanics called "boons" and "banes." Quite simply, these are the bread and butter of the benefit/penalty effects of the game. Straight bonuses and penalties are typically the result of a character's attributes, but boons and banes are the product of circumstances. Is a wall slippery? Add one or two banes to the roll. What is a bane? A bane is a 1d6 roll that provides a penalty to a Challenge Roll from -1 to -6. This makes it sound as if a 2 bane penalty could be pretty severe, which would detract from my assertion that this is a heroic game, but it isn't as severe as it might seem at first glance. A 2 bane Challenge Roll rolls a d20 + Attribute Bonus against a Difficulty of 10 as normal, but applies a penalty of -1 to -6 based on the highest result of 2 six sided die. So for example, if a character was climbing a slippery wall and had a Strength of 13 that character would roll d20 + 3 as normal. To determine the effect that the banes have, the player would then roll 2d6. Let's say the player rolled a 2 and a 3. This would mean that the total penalty to the roll would be -3 and not -5 as one might imagine. The most a character will be penalized by banes in Shadow of the Demon Lord is -6. The inverse is true of boons. The highest benefit any number of boons can provide you is +6. This provides a nice range of possibilities, and a real possibility of failure, without every leaving the realm of "heroic."

Professions Matter, not Skills

In a move that runs against the trend of many modern role playing game systems, with the exception of "story games," player characters in Shadow of the Demon Lord do not have clearly delineated skills with a set bonus. What Shadow of the Demon Lord characters do have are "professions." Professions are broadly defined as "occupations, pursuits, and areas of knowledge" that can be used by players to justify gaining benefits (boons) on actions or the ability to succeed at a task automatically if it makes sense. Player characters start with two professions, even before they choose a character class, and how useful they are is limited by the imagination of the players and the restrictiveness of the Game Master. While I cannot see inside the mind of the game designer, the mechanic seems to be a combination of the Professions from Barbarians of Lemuria, Secondary Careers from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and the Areas of Knowledge mechanic from the classic James Bond 007 role playing game by Victory Games.

The use of the profession mechanic gives Game Masters a dial they can use to determine how heroic they want their game to be. Let's say that a player has the "Soldier" profession. In a free-wheeling and highly heroic campaign, a Game Master could allow this profession to add a boon to the following actions: attacks when fighting in coordination with others, detecting ambushes, concealment in an outdoor setting, and a host of others. In a less heroic campaign, the Game Master could allow for only some of those uses or even none. The key to a good game is to be consistent and to encourage your players to use professions in an active manner. A key question which might help determine the utility of the profession might include "what kind of soldier was your character?"

Classes are Like Careers

Robert J. Schwalb acknowledged the influence that Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay had on him and on the design of Shadow of the Demon Lord. While that influence abounds in the artistic style of the game, there is no place where the influence shows up more than in the game's use of character classes or "paths" as they are called in the game. There are four tiers of character in Shadow of the Demon Lord (Starting, Novice, Expert, and Master). Starting characters have experience in a prior profession, but have yet to choose any heroic paths. Once the characters complete their first adventure they are free to choose their first Novice path from the obligatory Magician, Priest, Rogue, and Warrior archetypes.

At each level, the character will either gain a path benefit or make a new path selection. Additional novice benefits are gained at 2nd, 5th, and 8th level. At 3rd level a character chooses an Expert path. These paths are more narrowly defined than Novice paths and include things like Artificer, Assassin, Berserker, and Paladin. The only prerequisite to choosing an Expert path is that it makes sense for your character. You can be a Warrior Artificer or Warrior Paladin. One of these paths may be more beneficial from a "min/max" perspective, but neither is forbidden. Unlike in Warhammer where you can only leave a career after completing all the advances and are limited to exit careers (unless you pay an experience point penalty), in Shadow of the Demon Lord you are free to choose any combination you like. This also applies at 7th Level when a character chooses a Master path. These paths are more powerful than those prior, and even more narrow. The Master level is also where you find the Bard option in this game.

The Highest Difficulty in Combat is 25

Given how flexible and "recommendation" toned so much of the game is, I found it interesting that the rule for Defense (the game's version of AC) was rigid. The book states, "A creature's Defense cannot exceed 25, even if weapons, armor, and other effects would increase it beyond that number." What this does is set a "cap" on difficulties and highlights the fact that the characters are already amazingly capable. Between the 25 cap and the 10 baseline, you have variation of difficulty but one that fits within a reasonable range. A character with a +1 bonus from Strength and a boon might just be able to hit that Dragon in combat. Given that characters will rarely have an attribute above 15, this highlights the system's intended focus on maximizing boons in play.

Heroes Always Go First

Shadow of the Demon Lord has an interesting initiative system for combat. Players can choose to use "fast" actions or "slow" actions. If the player chooses to use a "fast" action, then his or her characters can either move or use an action/attack. If the player chooses the "slow" option, the character can move and act. The round is divided into the Fast component and the Slow component with player characters acting first in their respective phases. This allows players tactical options while minimizing the number of die rolls needed in the game. Opponents could technically go first in a round, but if they do their actions may be less efficient. The same goes for players. It's an elegant system that highlights the heroic underpinnings of the game.

System Can Be Used for Multiple Genres, But is Generic Not Universal

Shane Hensley is fond of describing his Savage Worlds role playing game with the phrase, "generic, not universal." What Shane means by this is that Savage Worlds can handle any genre you want, but that characters made for a Superhero game won't necessarily be convertible to a Fantasy setting. This is because the "range of probabilities" for both games are the same, but the effects that that range emulates are different. For example, in the core Savage Worlds rulebook a d12+3 Strength can lift a certain amount of weight, but in a Superhero setting that same score can lift more than in another setting. Similarly, the foundational mechanics of Shadow of the Demon Lord are elegant enough to emulate a wide variety of genres. You could use the mechanics, almost unchanged, to run a Superhero game, a Modern Espionage game, or a Martial Arts Chambara/Wuxia action fest. In each setting the characters would have similar statistics, but they would not be transferable because a 14 Strength in an Espionage game isn't the same as a 14 Strength in a Superhero game. Given the underlying base ranges of Difficulty (10 to 25), a Game Master should keep in mind what level of challenge these describe in the milieu being emulated. In a Superhero game, the Hulk holding up the mountain is a level 25 challenge which a Game Master might even limit to certain paths. In an Espionage game, that same level might be what it takes to lift a car off of a person trapped underneath it.

Final Thoughts

Shadow of the Demon Lord is a very well designed game. Whether you want to use it with its core setting, or hack it to fit your own preferences it can provide years of entertainment.

In the coming weeks I plan on posting several short conversions of the game to other genres...yes, more family friendly ones at that.

The list includes:
1) Shadow of the Avatar
2) Shadows over the Galactic Empire
3) Shadow of Professor Destruction
4) Big Shadow over Little China

Friday, April 08, 2016

Fantasy Film Friday: HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)

For gamers of a certain age, Hawk the Slayer inspired the imagination as much as Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. The film's story is staid, predictable, and pretty forgettable, but the overt sternness of "Crow," the over acting of Jack Palance, and the "Sword of Mind" made it all worth it. I cannot overstate how many times I watched this film as a wee lad, but I will say that my love of this film does a lot to explain why I'm less critical of films like Seventh Son. All I care about is whether the cast is having a good time.

There are several reviews of the film on the internet, if you want to read a review, but this being a gaming blog (supposedly) I will be providing Savage Worlds statistics for Crow...the Elf for Savage Worlds and Shadow of the Demon Lord.

Name: Crow  (Savage Worlds)

Race: Elf

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6

 Fighting d6, Intimidation d8, Notice d8, Riding d6, Shooting d12, Stealth d8, Survival d8, 
Throwing d6, Tracking d8

Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 6 (1)

Hindrances: All Thumbs, Code of Honor, Loyal, Outsider

Edges: Marksman, Quick, Rock and Roll!

Gear: Bow (Range 12/24/48, 2d6), Dagger (Str+d4), Leather (+1, Covers torso, arms, legs)

Special Abilities:
  • Low Light Vision: Ignores penalties for Dim and Dark lighting.
  • Rock-n-Roll! edge gives Crow an RoF of 2 with his bow instead of normal bonus.
While Savage Worlds has been my "go to" system for quickly stating things up for gaming, because of it's Fast, Furious, and Fun nature, I've decided to provide statistics for Crow using Robert Schwalb's excellent Shadow of the Demon Lord system. Partly because of the easy to use and learn system that allows for a lot of customization, and partly because the background of Hawk the Slayer includes the intrusion of a Demon Lord into the world of our heros.

Name: Crow (Shadow of the Demon Lord)

Ancestry: Elf                      Level: 7
Classes: Warrior (Novice), Fighter (Expert), Nightstalker (Master)*
Professions: Tracker, Artisan (Bowyer), Exile, Highwayman, Hunter

*Class featured in Terrible Beauty expansion.

Strength: 11 (+1)      Agility: 14 (+4)      Intellect: 10 (+0)      Will: 12 (+2)

Size: 1                        Speed: 12               Perception: 11          Defense: 15
Health: 42                 Healing Rate: 12

Corruption: 0           Insanity: 1

Talents: Shadowsight, Spell Defense, Bewitching Presence, Iron Vulnerability, Catch Your Breath, Weapon Training (longbow), Combat Prowess, Forceful Strike, Swift Shot, Combat Expertise, Durable, Darksight, Shadowblend, Silent Moves.

Special Abilities: Immune to damage from disease; charm, and disease.

Equipment: Adventurer's Pack, Longbow, 40 Arrows, Dagger
I think that each system brings out some of the intricacies that made Crow an entertaining character. If you are interested in playing either Savage Worlds or Shadow of the Demon Lord, you can purchase them by clicking on the hyperlinks.