Friday, October 17, 2014

Roguelike Lessons

Over at Kill Ten Rats, there is a somewhat deprecating response to Roguelike games.

As for myself, I simply LOVE Roguelikes, especially this Nethack in which you'll find many of my ghosts littered about. The biggest criticism KTR makes is that Roguelikes have no balance in terms of scaling encounters, and he uses the term ‘difficulty cliff’ to differentiate from the ‘difficulty curve’ of games like Destiny or RPGs like D&D 4E.

I think he has misunderstood the appeal of Roguelikes, at any rate ones like the one I play. There is no difficulty curve, nor is there a cliff. There is just pure chaos. You are just as likely to find a Wand of Death as to run into a goblin holding one. You WILL die at some point. I am not a ‘get off my lawn’ grognard, nor a masochist. I just don’t have time for a difficulty curve that strings me along forever – I WANT the game to end badly.

The idea of a difficulty curve is anathema to me. If you like having the game adjust for you, which I found both boring and somewhat patronizing in the few 4E games I played, then have at it. Some people play Monopoly, others obscure Teutonic boardgames, others poker, none is better, each suits a different taste or lifestyle.

Playing Roguelikes suits my life right now, but they also have valuable lessons for tabletop DMing.

1 Dungeons Should Be Breakable – Although there was a lot of posts about Jacquaying dungeons a few years back, i.e. allowing multiple entrance and egress points and thus avoiding topographic railroads, Roguelikes blow this out of the water. In Nethack, pick up a pick axe or mattock and you can make your own damn entrances and exits, even between levels. Or dig a pit, stand on the far side and let monsters tumble in, slay them and take their stuff. The pick axe is the ultimate tool of agency. However, the time and energy spent digging also tires the character and draws attention, which brings us to the next lesson…

2 You should know what you’re getting into – Anyone complaining about dying in a game of D&D, unless they are dealing with a dick DM and their complaint is about them and not the game, seems to have misunderstood the game and its setting. You are a murder hobo in a world red in tooth and claw and out to get you. Dying is not a question of ‘if’ it is a matter of ‘when’ unless you retire the character or switch to another game. Which brings us to….

3 If you don’t like it, there are other games – This sounds so trollish on the interwebs, but make no mistake I am not trying to troll KTR. If Roguelikes seem broken or unfun to you, find something that does work and is fun for you. I cannot stand poker – it just bores and confuses me. Everyone at my workplace loves it and has poker nights, which I skip. Unfriendly? Maybe, but better than me starting to resent some wonderful coworkers just because our tastes differ. And speaking of social effects of gaming…

4 Alignment should have social effects – Alignment in D&D is often a stick to keep character’s actions in line with some ideal. Too often there is little ‘carrot’ to balance this out. In Nethack, creatures of a similar alignment do not attack one another automatically. You may want to strip a pick axe off a dwarf in the mine level, but if you’re a lawful Valkyrie, you’ll have to find a store selling one. If you decide to ignore your alignment and kill a dwarf, you’ll be asked if you really want to, and your dwarficide will worsen relations with your god, who can uncurse objects and may even bestow legendary items on you if you sacrifice to them. This is a wonderful mechanic, and one that I would add to my own D&D games. Speaking of house rules…

5 Games should be hackable – Like Dwarf Fortress but on a smaller scale, Nethack allows players to use the elements of the system and setting in ways that have unforeseen consequences. If you plan on stealing from a shop, digging a circle of pits around the shopkeeper will keep them from chasing you (but you’ll have to sneak your pick axe into the store in a sack first or be denied entrance). If you cast a spell while drunk or confused, it may have altered effects, and I have inadvertently created rustproof armor and weapons this way. Tabletop RPGs should allow for even more unforeseen flexibility than Nethack with its limited programmed elements, and a DM not taking advantage (or letting players take advantage) of this flexibility is missing out on the greatest feature of the game itself.

So, go out there and play a Roguelike today. You may not like the overall experience, but you will learn something, whether to do or to avoid, that will improve your DMing and make your game suit your style and needs more.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Other, OTHER Monster Manual & Whatever Happened to Tedankhamen?

Found another great monster manual tonight, Eric Carle’s Dragons Dragons. That’s right, Eric Carle, the author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, wrote a monster guidebook. I don’t know for certain whether Carle ever played RPGs, but the title certainly evokes the old Tunnels & Trolls book Monsters Monsters.

If you have kids (what, gamers procreate?!?), this book is a must tool of indoctrination for future polyhedral rollers. It was a big hit with my one year old munchkin.

The book is a beautiful hardcover with Carle’s characteristically colorful paintings of monsters drawn from the familiar Eurocentric myths but also some outliers from South America, Africa and Japan. Each image is accompanied by a poem, mostly from authors I’d never heard of except biggies like William Blake. The book ends with a neat little section explaining the mythical origins of the creatures featured.

The list of monsters has interesting implications for a gameworld based on it. They are as follows:

Dragon (fire breathing green on the cover)
Drake (inside cover)
The Yeti
White Buffalo Woman
Rainbow Crow
The Phoenix
The Griffin
The Unicorn
The Centaurs
Chinese Dragon (big pull out splash centerpage)

Ganesha, Ganesh

The Hippocamp
Anansi the Spider
Okolo the Leopard Warrior
The Manticore

Any fantasy campaign run with this book as its monster manual would feature a lack of lootable evil demihumans and a load of heavy hitting monsters and demigods, thus would probably feel like Shadow of Colossus, with PCs running from most encounters or trembling in abject terror. The book’s selection makes it more of a mix of Monster Manual and Deities & Demigods than straightforward monster book.

Anyway, great mind and eye candy for little ones of all ages.

As to where I have been, the answer is trapped under the burning timbers of my phd thesis. My plan back in September of providing an antidote to the tsunami of D&D 5E posts fell through, but on the good side I have one chapter deadline to go this month, a final edit next month, then freedom.

Wish me luck, and expect posts infrequently until December when I’ll be diving into blog and gaming therapy for my stress and exhaustion.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Guest Post - Star Wars Session Recap

WHO PLAYED WHO Joseph playing the game master.
Ryan playing a human Force sensitive con artist/medic Max.
Gio playing force using Twilek (jedi?), Nami.
Christopher playing human engineer Jia.
Tedankhamen playing Trandoshan bounty hunter Peebles.

Session 11 Recap: (written by Ryan Jason Kishida

As Jia, Max, and Nami wait for their daring mission for the Rebellion to start, Nami decides to try and look up some information covertly. She tries to get access to a terminal without anyone knowing, but she spots a rebel member always tailing her. Eventually Nami decides that tail isn’t being too obnoxious about it and checks the coordinates she memorized. They turn out to be for the planet Wayland. She finds surprisingly little data, almost as if the data has been deliberately obscured. She also tries to look up information about the planet Despayre but is similarly frustrated. Jia wants to improve the cyber-feet she created for Max. However, the base doesn’t have adequate medical/cybernetic facilities for the job. Apparently, a ship, the Raptor, will be arriving soon and it should have the resources needed.

The group is called to a meeting with Mon Mothma. She says that the Empire has hit one of the Rebellion’s supply depots and the stock of Tibana gas has been heavily reduced. She says that it will take 1 to 2 months for them to get the gas the group needs. While the group eventually agrees to wait, Max is able to get some generous concessions from the Rebellion. As negotiations are concluding, Kyle Katarn bursts in and says that he doesn’t want any outside help on his mission. The group stays out of the argument and Mon Mothma is eventually able to get Katarn to agree with her idea.

As the meeting is finally wrapping up, a message come through the base comm system. Imperial forces have exited hyperspace above the planet! A security force rushes in to evacuate the Rebel leader. The comm system advises all base personnel to prepare for evacuation and combat. The group wants to try and help but they are being led to their quarters. Nami uses the Force to persuade the guard to lead them to their weapons. Unfortunately, her use of the Dark Side implants the idea that she and the guard will duel once she is armed.
Fortunately, alarm klaxons go off at this point and the guard snaps out of the trance. He tells the group to get on a shuttle, presses the key for the weapons into Nami’s hand, and then races off. The group recovers their weapons and then heads to the hangar bay.

Focus on a ship traveling through hyperspace. The ship is a system patrol craft designed for combat and built for speed. However, this is not a military craft. No unit markings are on this ship. No military insignia identify it. It is decidedly somewhat scruffy looking. This is a bounty hunter’s ship. Said bounty hunter is in the cockpit returning from his latest job. Unlike most bounty hunters, this Trandoshan, Peebles by name, works mainly for the Rebel Alliance. He hunts down high-value Imperial targets and captures them. His latest quarry, an Imperial Navy lieutenant, is unconscious in the holding cells. Peebles is somewhat worried. He owes the Rebellion. While he has been helping, has he been doing enough? At what point can he say the debt has been paid off? If he keeps capturing Imperial targets, at what point will the Empire cancel his license? These questions weigh heavily on his mind as he prepares to exit hyperspace.

He is completely unready for what greets him above Kothliss. An Imperial Naval force is in orbit above the planet. At first Peebles wonders if they are waiting for him, but the force is too large to send after one bounty hunter. The Imps are doubtless here to wipe out the previously secret rebel base on planet. The base where he has to deliver his prisoner. The Imps open fire without hailing and Peebles’ ship takes heavy damage. It barely manages to survive the trip through the planet’s atmosphere. Peebles directs the craft toward the Rebel base, but he cannot control the ship and it crashes practically into the base causing alarms to blare throughout the base.

As Peebles exits his ship, he grabs his equipment and his prisoner. At the entrance to the base, he identifies himself and is directed to the hangar bay for evacuation. In the corridor he meets Jia, Max, and Nami. While the group cannot help but notice the large Trandoshan with an Imperial office slung over his shoulder, they avoid comment until they are on the shuttle.
On board, everyone introduces themselves. Max also checks the officer and says the Imp should be out for a while. While the officer might have a concussion, there is nothing life threatening about his condition. Jia, Max, and Nami notice Peebles agitation at this point, and it begins to affect them also. The tension everyone feels it not helped by the shuttle ride. At several points the group contemplates offering help. However by the time they finally decide to offer, the shuttle docks with the Raptor.

The Raptor waits for a few more shuttles to dock and then rapidly retreats into hyperspace. The group asks to meet with the ship’s captain so they can check on the status of their mission. The Raptor is going to Port Tuuga to deliver droids to the Rebellion. And it turns out the ship isn’t directly part of the Rebellion and the group is sent to a liaison officer. The officer turns out to be the guard from the base, Pash Cracken. While Pash is quite cheerful at seeing the group again, Peebles reveals his impatient side. The Trandoshan wants payment for his bounty and picks up Pash by the neck until he cooperates. Pash then informs the group that their mission has probably been canceled since Katarn can’t wait for the group to rendezvous. However, Pash promises to check after the ship exits hyperspace. The group heads to the medbay, so that Jia can work on Max’s feet and Peebles can have his prisoner checked on.

At the medbay, Jia has the equipment and facilities to work on Max’s feet. She does an incredible job getting rid of the previous defect and improving the overall performance of the attachment giving Max increased agility. Peebles drops off his quarry, the medical officers say there is nothing they can do right now but monitor his condition. They also ask if it would be ok to put the officer into the brig after he recovers consciousness. Peebles doesn’t really care anymore since he has delivered the target, and gives permission.
Before anyone can exit the medbay, a shudder rocks the ship. There can only be one explanation, the ship has exited hyperspace. However, they should not have reached their destination yet. Max fearing interception by an Imperial blockade or a navigational error contacts the bridge and mutters something about having a bad feeling. The captain replies saying that droids have taken over the ship and disabled it. He also reports that the droids are trying to break into the bridge. As if the situation was not bad enough, the captain also says that the ship is slowly being dragged into a black hole and unless control of the ship can be regained quickly the ship will be sucked in.

The doors in the medbay have been locked down and sealed, but Nami is quickly able to slice the doors open. Max loans his ion blaster to Nami since she is the best shot in the group. Since the ion blaster was designed to quickly disable droids, Nami should be able to make short work of any droids they encounter. The group decides to secure the bridge and heads in that direction. However, they soon meet a group of patrolling protocol droids. As the group readies themselves for combat, they begin to labor for breath. The droids must have shut down life support!

Nami moves into range and lets loose with the ion blaster. She is able to shut down one droid and badly damage another. The droids return fire targeting Nami and one shorts out due to a malfunction. Max, rather surprisingly, activates his lightsaber and tries to attack. The droids are able to evade his attacks but the close proximity to the lightsaber’s energy field ionizes their weapons temporarily disabling them. Peebles unloads a withering volley of bolts from his heavy blaster rifle and downs 3 of the droids. Jia shoots her ion blaster but isn’t able to connect. The remaining droids try to shoot Nami but miss.

Nami shoots again with the ion blaster and shuts down one droid and temporarily disables another. The droids reveal hidden flame projectors and roast Peebles. Jia is also hit and scorched. Max is barely able to sidestep in time to avoid the gouts of flame that erupt from the droids. Peebles is enraged and charges the droids with his vibro-ax. However, he only flails ineffectively. The shock and pain of being burned prevent him from landing any serious blows. Max, however, is able to take down the last 3 droids with his lightsaber. The group pauses to try and regain their breath but the flame projectors consumed quite a bit of the oxygen in the corridor.

Nami tries to activate the turbolift system, but she can’t get around the security the droids have put in place. Gravity however fails at this point. Max ties everyone together using some of the rope from the climbing gear he carries and suggest that they can quickly glide down the turbolift shaft to their destination.

Though it is somewhat awkward for the group to move in zero g, they manage to make their way to the bridge corridor. There they confront the droids that are trying to break into the bridge. Nami throws a frag grenade at the droids hoping that the blast will catch them. However, the grenade doesn’t quite go in the right direction because of zero g. The explosion from the grenade catches one droid but no serious damage is done to the other droids. Peebles shoots and heavily damages one of the astromechs. The droids open fire at Peebles. They miss but Peebles is put into a disorienting spin as he tries to avoid the bolts. Jia shoots the damaged astromech droid with her ion blaster and shuts it down. More droids try shoot Nami but miss. Another astromech droid ejected a couple of anti-personnel mines that floated slowly toward the group. Max tried to Force push the mines away but he could only grab one and push it toward the droids.

Nami shoots one of the astromech droids disabling it however inertia still carried the droid on its collision course with Max. Max tried to Force push the droid away but the stress and confusion of the battle prevent from focusing enough and he has to maneuver out of the droids way. The droids shoot one of the mines and the explosion catches Jia. Peebles following the droids example shoots the mine close to them destroying the last of the protocol droids. The remaining astromechs flee up the turbolift shaft.

Not knowing what to expect on the bridge, the group prepares weapons and charges in. They find the bridge crew, strapped in at their stations either weakly gasping for breath or unconscious. They find the captain in his ready room. He labors as he explains all the tasks that can help the ship and gives the group a datapad with the information. As Jia and Nami encrypt the ship’s navicore which contains data and coordinates related to the Rebellion, Peebles secures the bridge. Max has had an idea at the back of his head trying to work its way forward, and when Peebles moves past a large cabinet, he suddenly remembers what it is. Most large starships have emergency breathers stowed on the bridge in case of a sudden loss of atmosphere. Since the bridge crew was trying to react to their sudden exit from hyperspace, they didn’t notice the slowly decreasing oxygen levels. By the time they noticed, they couldn’t undo the restraints quickly enough to reach the equipment. Max opens the cabinet and passes the breathers to the group. With everyone breathing easily, they are able to put aside their fears of suffocation. There are also enough breathers for the captain and the bridge crew to share. Max gives the extras to the captain so he can sort that out. Though the fear of asphyxiation is gone, now the proximity to the black hole is a cause for terror.

Against conventional wisdom, the group decides to split up. With time running out and a huge number of critical systems to restore and situations to respond to, it seems the wisest course. Max and Nami will stay at the front of the ship. They will first re-activate life support and then head up to the primary and secondary communications stations. Nami’s computer skills should be critical in these areas and Max will try and keep the droids busy long enough for Nami to do what she needs. Jia and Peebles will secure the fore and aft hangars and then most importantly reactivate the ship’s engines. Jia’s engineering skills will save everyone and Peebles’ combat prowess will keep Jia safe.

Nami and Max race to life support. They find a couple of deactivated droids (an astromech and medical droid) and several unconscious humans. Nami decides to activate the medical droid to help re-activate the systems. Max fearing that all droids have been subverted prepares to cut the droid down if needed. Max’s fears are confirmed as the droid tries to attack Nami once it is done powering up. He quickly cuts the droid in two. Nami is quickly able to reactivate life support however there are some atmosphere scrubbers that need to be taken care of for full system functionality. Max wakes up one of the techs and gives his breather to him so the techs can start the process. Max and Nami will have to share a breather from this point.

Jia and Peebles make their way to the fore hangar bay. The doors are sealed but Jia opens them slowly. Once they are open enough for him to squeeze through, Peebles quietly enters the hangar. There are lots of droids in the hangar bay. Some are trying to gain access to shuttles, others are guarding a door, and others are disabling starfighters. Jia tries to activate the fire control system to provide a distraction for Peebles but she can’t gain access. Instead she is able to shut off the lights in the hangar bay. Peebles sneaks his way to a pilot who appears to still be conscious, though barely. Peebles learns that there are Rebel soldiers in the pilots’ ready room and they have breathers. As Peebles moves into position, Jia contacts the soldiers and tells them to prepare to exit the room. After checking that Jia is ready, Peebles opens fire on the guards. He misses them but one of hit bolts hits a gantry which falls and crushes several of the droids guarding the door. Shortly after Peebles opens fire, Jia opens the doors to the ready room and the soldiers come out blasters blazing. As Jia and Peebles climb into one of the Y-wings, the pilot tells them the activation code. Peebles gets into the gunners station and activates the weapons systems. He tries to blast some of the droids with the ion cannon, but it is difficult to target man-sized droids with systems designed to shoot at other spacecraft. Jia gets into the pilot seat, powers up the craft, tells the bridge the fore hangar is secure, and she needs them to activate the hangar doors. The Raptor shudders as the gravity of the black hole tugs at the ship. Jia and Peebles have to overcome their fear that they will be consumed the black hole. Jia maintains her composure, but Peebles starts to shake a little from the terror. As the Y-wing exits the hangar, the Rebel soldier mop up the last of the remaining droids.

Max and Nami dash up to the primary communications array. They need to stop the droids there from calling for Imperial reinforcements or failing that call in for Rebel reinforcements. On the way, they stop by a small intelligence section the Rebellion has temporarily set up on the ship. According to the captain’s notes, there should be intelligence operatives there who can help restore the ship. There are droids here trying to access the data and keep the operatives under wraps. Nami is able to shock the astromech droids trying to access the computers and open the door holding the operatives. Max tries to use the Force to throw his lightsaber and cut some of the droids down before they can react to the operatives. While he is able to use the Force to control his throw, his lightsaber shuts off mid-flight and harmlessly hits one of the droids in the back of the head with a loud “thunk.” The droids turn to react but before then can do anything, the operatives blast them from behind. Nami snorts at Max’s prowess with a lightsaber. Max gives the operatives a copy of the objectives list and tells them to hurry before he and Nami dash off to primary communications.

As the Y-wing exits the hangar, Jia and Peebles are confronted with the Black Hole and its terrifying proximity. They are briefly tempted to just get the hell away from it but Jia’s loyalty prompts her to keep on task. As they near the aft hangar bay, they can see two Victory class Star Destroyers exiting hyperspace and moving close to the Raptor. As the Y-wing enters the hangar, Jia and Peebles see a chaotic scene. Rebel soldiers are fighting droids for control of the hangar bay. Some of the droids are trying to gain access to the shuttles in an attempt to escape the ship. Peebles fire the ion cannons the shuttles and disables most of them. One of the load/lifter droids charges the Y-wing as Jia brings it in to land and severs the left engine from the ship. Jia barely manages to keep control of the craft and safely bringing the craft to a stop though the craft does crash into several droids. As Jia pops the cockpit, she shouts for the Rebels to follow her to engineering. Some Rebels do follow her but some droids pursue as well.

In the primary communications array, Max and Jia find that the droids have control. Some droids are guarding the communications personnel, a couple of astromech droids are accessing the computers, and a medical droid is interrogating an officer strapped to a chair. Nami stealthily accesses one of the computers and shocks the astromech droids. As she does that, Max tries to free the personnel and charges the droids swinging his ligthsaber. Max’s wild swings actually result in him flinging his lightsaber away. In an uncanny stroke of luck, the lightsaber impales the medical droid. With the guards distracted by Max, the communications personnel rise against their captors quickly disabling the droids. Max and Nami rally the personnel and everyone charges to the secondary communications array quickly securing it. Once both stations are secure, they send a message to the Alliance for reinforcements. Nami makes a withering comment about Max really needing to learn how to use a lightsaber. Max is unable to disagree with the assessment.

In engineering, Jia, Peebles, and their Rebel reinforcements must confront the tactical droid that has been masterminding this operation. The tac droid shoots Jia scoring a solid hit. Peebles shoots back in response blasting away at the droid doing serious damage. A rebel trooper also follow suit and fires his blaster rifle at the tac droid. He does some damage to the already weakened droid. The droids that chased the Rebels fire at Jia assuming her to be the leader. They score several devastating hits and Jia is overwhelmed and knocked unconscious. A rebel engineer tries to re-activate the engines but the stress of combat proves too much and he can’t remember the correct sequence. The remaining droids shoot at Peebles scoring some minor hits on the tough Trandoshan.

With only seconds left until the Raptor enters the event horizon of the black hole, the ship shudders yet again and everyone can feel the tug of the black hole’s gravity on them. The stress proves too much for Peebles and he falls unconscious. The tactical droid flees engineering trying to find a way off the ship before it enters the black hole. The rebel engineer makes one last desperate attempt to restart the engines and performs the reactivation sequence perfectly. In fact, he does so well that he manages to hot start the ship’s engines giving them full power virtually instantly. The soldier pulls the other activation switch and the engineer comms the bridge telling them to get the ship the hell away from the black hole. As both Rebels slump down with relief, they realize that because of their heroic actions today they will probably be promoted and might even become named NPCs as a result of their heroics.

What awaits our intrepid adventurers next?
Will they help Katarn steal the plans for the Death Star?
Will they seek their missing navicore?
How will they get the tibana gas they need?
Will Nami teach Max how to use a lightsaber?
Will Peebles stick around this competent yet crazy bunch?
Will Max remain a danger to himself in combat?
Will Jia take a greater leadership role or has she learned her lesson?
Will those heroic NPCs get names and become recurring characters?

All this and more in our next exciting episode!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Cure for 5e

Hey all!

I am back and mostly intact from a hellish semester and personal life insanity. I still have three deadlines to meet till November, so don’t expect regular posting just yet. That said, I needs to write, so I will try to trickle out a few interesting things.

Anyway, during my absence from blogging it seems D&D 5e dropped like a bomb on the scene and still continues to burn up the blogosphere. Like most people I cut my teeth on Ye Olde Game and have probably played more D&D than any other system. That said, I am far too busy and disconnected to enter the fray about 5e, and so for the foreseeable future I will be offering an alternative to D&D and fantasy gaming in general. I plan to write mainly about science fiction gaming, so if that sounds good to you, watch this spot and enjoy!

REVIEW – Star Wars Edge of Empire + Age of Rebellion

After the semester a friend kindly invited my family to his cabin on Mount Rokko, the verdant mountain that overlooks the city of Kobe. It was a great chance to unwind, let my little son interact with their baby daughter as well as different adults, and generally rehumanize myself and my partner.

While this main objective was met in spades, the host also got me into a game of the latest Star Wars RPG with a few of his friends. I haven’t gamed in over a year, and the last Star Wars I played was in the 90s, so of course I was overjoyed.

Overall, I had a blast. Although a marathon 6 hour session in an unfamiliar system is admittedly tiring, I was entertained and impressed and so I offer a review.


The two rulebooks are GORGEOUS, there is no other way of saying it. Remember the wonky art of the old comic book adaptations of Star Wars, how Yoda looked like Grover, Leia like a generic supermodel, and Luke her sister? The art in these rulebooks are the total antitheses of those old comics. The cover picture of Luke IS a portrait of Mark Hamill circa 1979, while the aliens and tech inside are reverse-engineered from the movies back to the palette of Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art. Even if you unfortunately never play the game, it makes your gaming shelf shine with its beauty.


The character sheet is sufficiently old school, with boxes for attributes, skills, special abilities, and equipment. Chargen itself is new school, with point-buy all the way. Although it wasn’t anywhere near as execrable as 4e’s point buy, I kind of miss random chargen and having to roll with the punches. If that doesn’t bother you, chargen is fast and relatively painless. I made a Trandoshan bounty hunter – not terribly original, but fun for a guy dropping into someone else’s game for a session. My fellow players and the GM advised me, and with the point-buy I was encouraged to buy off all the racial weakness of my character. Although normally I would have balked against this filling in of the character’s holes, it was good enough for a one shot appearance.


The mechanics are streamlined and easy to pick up – to resolve an action, grab a handful of dice equal to the higher of an apprpriate attribute or skill, then get a bonus from the lower of the two. Add in some difficulty dice, roll the whole whack of polyhedrals, then cancel out successes and failures to find your ultimate level of achievement. Dice are special d6s, d8s and d12s with symbols instead of numbers, which affect play in ways that take some getting used to. However, the amalgamation of player dice and difficulty dice is a wonderful innovation that makes rolling go fast and gives a great feeling of satisfaction to the roller.


Play was overall not much different from any other rpg I’ve played, with the aforementioned dice rolling making things run very smoothly. If there is one thing that hinders play, it is getting used to the dice. Dice in Star Wars have success, triumph, and advantage symbols versus failure, despair and threat symbols on their sides. What this means is that you can succeed in an action but end up threatened, or fail yet gain some advantage. This system offers much more possibility than the binary succeed-fail mechanic of traditional dice, which encourages improvisational storytelling and really suits Star Wars. The initial effort needed to memorize the dice meanings and get used to the resolution mechanic is well worth it for the storied gameplay you’ll have.


Regardless of how good a system is, a good GM really brings a game to life. My friend the game master is a former astronomy student and highly technical-minded man, which showed in the intricacy and breadth of his descriptions. We really felt immersed in the Star Wars universe, especially the tech and cultures. I am more of a fast and loose GM myself, and felt that although my friend ran a great game his way, I could do one my way with as much success.

In the session, my character delivered an imperial prisoner to the rebels and met the PCs, a human medic, a hacker-type, and a Twilek con woman. Suddenly the imperials arrive and start bombarding the rebel outpost, so I deliver my prisoner and hitch a ride on a transport with the player characters, which rendez-vous with a waiting cruiser. While in hyperspace, the shipment of droids the cruiser carried comes to life and begin sabotaging the ship, so of course it was up to us to save the day.

The flurry of action included hacking the ship’s system to lock out the evil droids and turn the air back on; missing a shot but taking out the enemy with a falling gantry; crashing a Y-wing into the aft landing bay; and turning the hyperspace engine back on minutes away from getting sucked into a blackhole.

In other words, it was Star Wars through and through.


You like Star Wars? You like rpgs? This game is chocolate and peanut butter, and boy do they go together. It is probably the best realization of an IP in a roleplaying game I have ever seen, so pick it up and enjoy. My friend also has a huge collection of the Star Wars miniature game and uses it to resolve space battle scenes, so this can add a whole new dimension to the game. Yes, in space no one can hear you nerdgasm.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Is this game for real?

Procrastinating one hour before (ok, after) my thesis deadline.

I thought Spawn of Fashan/Encounter Critical were unplayable gag rpgs.

Take a gander at Audacity.

Seems like there is a market for gonzo.

But somehow playing an Amazonite  Ultra-Anarchist seems appealing.

On the to-review list when I return to life...

Monday, August 4, 2014

To All New Bloggers Doing A Blog Challenge

Good on you! Even though I've been there and done that, I appreciate your enthusiasm and your posts. You're finding who you are and why you care enough to blog - don't let the naysayers like those who pished and toshed the blog challenge I ran last year get you down.

The truth is, being an OSR blogger is a bit like the movie mythology of the jedi. We follow "the old religion" whose "light is gone from the universe" - we love musty old games in an era of smartphone apps and FPS shooters. Like Padwans we each have to make our own lightsaber to cut through the darkness of everyday life, of the gaming industry and the gaming egos. It doesn't matter that people have done it before - it matters that YOU do it NOW.

Jeff Rients once quipped that a grognard making a retroclone is like a jedi making his own weapon. I think for bloggers these challenges serve much the same function.

As for me, my blogging X-wing is buried deep, deep down in the swamp of RL for the next little while. When free I get, see you in the blogosphere I will!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Japanese Treasures – Omikuji fortunes

 It has been a month straight from hell. Making and giving semester-end tests, now grading, with a PhD deadline looming over my head in 10 days and smouldering homefires. I expect to crank out a few more posts and (gasp!) actually get out to a game soonish, so hopefully that will take the pressure off.

Here's a little bauble to get me back in the groove and shake up your Japan-themed game.


Every shrine and temple in Japan sells ‘omikuji’, fortunes or predictions written on pieces of sacred paper. You go to the temple wicket, pay a coin, then a monk hands you a carved wood cylinder with a pinhole at the top. You give the cylinder a good shake, then turn it upside down until one metal rod of the many inside slides out of the pinhole. The rod has markings on it, which the monk inspects, then he turns to a great cabinet of boxes behind him, opens the appropriate drawer, and hands you the rolled up omikuji. After reading your omikuji, tie it to a tree or line strung between trees on the temple grounds and pray that it either comes true if good, or that it doesn’t affect you too much if bad.

The omikuji first explains your general luck, with each level giving a different effect for the remainder of the day, session, or adventure as the DM sees fit. The following are suggestions, and DMs should feel free to tailor the bonuses or penalties to match the game as they run it.


3 大吉 - Daikichi - Excellent luck (Immediately go gamble and buy lottery tickets)
The character rolls two dice for all rolls and takes the best result. The character can also have one Save vs. Death against a normally unavoidable misfortune. Alternately, one ‘lucky’ thing may happen to further the plot of the adventure.

4 - Kichi - Good luck
The character rolls two dice for all rolls and takes the best result.

3 中吉 - Chukichi - Fair luck
The character gets + 1 to all rolls.

4 小吉 - Syokichi - A little luck
The character gets + 1d4 to one roll type of his choice. Examples include attack, damage, saves, or skill rolls.

5-6 半吉 - Hankichi - Semi-good luck
The character gets + 1 to a roll of her choice. Examples include an attack, one weapon damage, one type of save, OR a certain skill roll.

7-8 末吉 - Suekichi - Uncertain luck
The character can reroll one failure, but does not have to take the new roll.

9-10 末小吉 - Suekokichi - Uncertain but a little luck
The character can reroll one failure, but has to take the new roll.

11-12 - Kyou - Bad luck (Misfortune)
The character gets – 1d4 to a roll chosen randomly. Examples include an attack, one weapon damage, one type of save, OR a certain skill roll.

13-14 小凶 - Syokyou - A little misfortune
The character gets – 1 to a roll of the DM’s choice.

15-16 半凶 - Hankyou - semi-misfortunate
The character gets – 1 to all rolls.

17 末凶 - Suekyou - Uncertain misfortune
The character rolls two dice for any rolls and takes the worst result.

18 大凶 - Daikyou - Certain disaster (consider buying a karmic life insurance policy)
The character rolls two dice for any rolls and takes the worst result. The character must also make one Save vs. Death to avoid one random dangerous or deadly event. Alternately, one ‘jinxed’ thing may happen to obstruct or derail the plot of the adventure.


Besides general luck, an omikuji also gives you a specific detail of your fortune. Note that good effects apply only to the owner of a good omikuji, while bad apply to the ENTIRE party in addition to the owner. This will result in the character being called a厄病神Yakubyoukami (jinx or literally Plague God) and sometimes shunned or chased from the group until their luck turns.

1 方角 - Hougaku – Direction
If good, the character may never be lost. If bad, they move in a random direction until the omikuji wears off.

2 失物 - Shitsubutsu - Lost Things (いでがたし)
If good, the character may find an item they need at just the right moment. If bad, they will lose an important item exactly when they need it most.

3 緑談 – Endan -  Love  Marriage
If good, the character will encounter someone who would be a good mate or spouse for them. If bad, they will be the focus of attention for an obsessive and annoying suitor.

4 旅立 - Tabidashi - Starting a trip
If good, the character may arrive at their destination without random encounters or other traveling misfortune. If bad, they will have such encounters and detours at every opportunity.

5 商売 - Shobai - Business
If good, the character will have a bonus when selling items and a discount buying them, plus have access to just about anything they want. If bad, they will find what little items available either at insane prices or far beyond their means.

6 待人 - Machihito - Waiting for person
If good, the character will meet an NPC who can help them achieve their goal. If bad, they will either be unable to meet the person they seek or encounter a scoundrel who keeps them from their objective.

7 病気 - Byouki - Illness
If good, the character will have a bonus to resist the effects of disease, including those that usually do not offer saves. If bad, they inevitably catch whatever is going around.

8 建家 - Tateya - Building
If good, the character will have a bonus to find architectural secrets, or avoid traps. If bad, they will not find the former and inevitably trip the latter.

9 勝負事 - Shoubugoto - Gambling Luck (Gonna lose)
If good, the character may gamble with no or little chance of losing. If bad, they will certainly lose, and to a large degree.

10 学習 – Gakushu – Study.
If good, the character may get a bonus to experience or skill improvement rolls. If bad, they get a penalty.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Old School OSR

Remember the OSR when it started?
When it was nameless?
When you copied and pasted every cool idea or table because you’d be afraid it’d all disappear?
When there were a few cobbled together D&D hacks but no true retro-clones yet?
When the Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope or Chogwiz were your daily reads?
Before anybody had made a dime off the thing?
When people who disliked 4e were considered lame or behind the times?
When was still readable?
Before Pathfinder existed?
When Gary and Dave were still alive?
When people wrote as much about Traveler or Stormbringer or GURPS as they did about D&D?
When people fretted about the OGL and what WotC would do?
Not saying anything is better or worse, just remembering a time, like an old fragrance that is lost.
Is it too early to be nostalgic about a movement based on nostalgia?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Obligatory 5e Thoughts

Downloaded it, haven’t read it. May never considering my lifestyle, or may get to it when degree ends/new job is found/child goes to college/7e comes out. It joins the untouched treasures on  my hard drive. This post is merely for traffic and contains little news, just some late night mumblings followed by futon crash for a few hours before 6am Japanese train rush hour.

Lots of internet stink about this thing. Goes both ways:

The big corporate gaming monster listened to the OSR and dialed back from 4e, then gave it out free!

The big corporate gaming monster has mesmerized the OSR with its own tricks, and the ‘game’ is incomplete. (I know about the updates, just stating current events)

WotC put in an ohmyglob actual reference to LGBT gamers and ushered in an era of explicit gender issue acceptance in gaming. Having seen LGBT friends go through the shitty wringer our society puts them through, this makes me more interested in 5e than I would have been otherwise.

Homophobe trolls are beating collective chest about ‘gayed up’ game (see response to AiCN’s review for typical example), which essentially amounts to a choice that gaming groups have been making for 40 years. Anonymous douchenozzle bigots are getting far more attention than they deserve.

Some internet meanies have taken the opportunity to beat up on Zak S, who consulted on 5e, and has the very LA habit of speaking his mind in the most confrontational/condescending way possible.

Half the OSR has rushed to his defense, ironic for a pundit who doesn’t particularly need it.

Hopefully the impending success of 5e will breathe life into some other old games the deserve a major revival.

Fat chance.

Oyasumi nasai.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Holmes, Nessie and Cthulhu

Just finished watching The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). Great film for expanding the mythology of Holmes into Victorian political life, also great inspiration for random events in a Cthulhu session set in Scotland.

1.        The sound of demon bagpipes resonating in the hills with no discernible source of origin.
2.        Trappist monks with vows of silence and obscure plans
3.        A French demoiselle in distress who is actually a Prussian spy with designs
4.        Historical preservation societies who don’t know much about history
5.        A letter from the foe telling you to drop the investigation
6.        Foggy nights on a loch in a rowboat
7.        A fake monster built to take attention away from the real abomination
8.        The appearance of the Queen and retinue
9.        A disappeared scientific expert you must find
10.    Silent folk with physical oddities masquerading as other than they are
11.    Locals always with a story of what truly happened that only muddy the waters further
12.    A silent clansman in kilt who scares you off with two growling mastiffs on chains
13.    A Scotsman with a loaded pistol in his sporran
14.    Children who throw rocks
15.    Dead or deranged animals who tip you off to what is really happening
16.    Cycling around the countryside
17.    A London secret society who offers you membership on success of your mission
18.    A London secret society who tries to thwart your mission.
19.    A British government agent following you.
20.    A hotel staff member who surprises you by knowing all about your mission.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The 8 Dirtiest and Most Dangerous Jobs in Space

Now there are dirty jobs out there in the universe - garbage scow, xeno-coroner, warp engine lube technician. Likewise, any soldier or space merchant faces his share of danger. But there are also jobs that are both insanely dirty AND dangerous, and which only get done because of the small chance of a large payoff they offer. Here are the most notorious ‘Double D’ jobs in space:

Ordinance Recovery

When local pisspot baronies start an interplanetary shootout, there are those who see it is a chance to turn a profit. Missiles or rockets fail in a number of ways – software glitch, fuel leak, chaff or jamming. Unexploded ordinance such as missiles are worth a nice bit on the black market, but are also highly illegal to resell. Some scavengers go in ‘hot’ and sweep in while the battle rages, clamp onto a juicy piece of ordinance and jet out before they become a target themselves, fingers crossed that their cargo doesn’t go supernova. Others go in ‘cold’, picking through debris after the war is won, carefully defusing and disassembling the rockets and their payload before safely storing them and moving on. Either way has an equal chance of making you rich or dead.


Space is so unimaginably huge that anyone not looking to be found can easily and effectively do so if they stay on the move. Cops are usually limited to peace keeping and beating down the locals, while mobile criminals cross jurisdictional lines and make things messy for the law. That is why most places either sign on to the bounty hunter treaty or else turn a blind eye to their activities. The big problem is the restriction against lethal force unless fired upon, which means that you better either get the drop on your prize with whatever netgun or stunner you’re using, or else hope they miss once before you gun them down. It doesn’t make it any easier that the most dangerous and most rewarding bounties are wanted alive.


There are all kinds of treaties protecting indigenous life, but for an unscrupulous corporation or a desperate group of refugees looking for a new home, extermination of local flora and fauna might be the only option. The sounds good on paper, but life has a way of carrying on, or at least taking a lot of other lives with it into oblivion. Then there’s the advanced life that can send killers right back at their employers…

Wildlife Transport

As hard as it is just killing off alien life, imagine the challenges of capturing and carrying it somewhere. That tame-looking spacecat you’ve lured into your hold doesn’t seem so cute when it grows tentacles then starts teleporting around the ship eating crew like ruffled potato chips. Add to that your violation of numerous space treaties and local laws in transporting or delivering the critter and you’ve got a galaxy strength headache to deal with.

Test Piloting

As dangerous as test piloting was back in the day of simple aeronautics, with the reality-warping engines used nowadays, things get a whole lot weirder. Pilots can return before their departure, or come back mad from an eternity in the warp lanes, or else sound crazy claiming that the world is the same except for one detail like the color of the skies or that people don’t have forked tongues like they used to. Maybe the ones that just disappear are luckier.

Rat Catching

Imagine an abandoned spaceport the size of a moon needing to be cleared out in two weeks. Now imagine the number of hiding places in such a structure. The rats in the walls could be any number of things, from disgruntled employees, to squatters, activists for some cause, alien critters, rogue AI, or even ghosts. Since most of these jobs are on a timetable, your chance of going home empty handed are higher than those of going home in a box – but not by much.

Artifact Transport

Just like the Fermi Paradox told us, other intelligences rose and fell long before humanity spread out into the cosmos, and from time to time we find their relics, and even their junk. The problem is that we’re still in diapers in terms of technology, and can’t tell if we’ve picked up the cure for cancer or a loaded gun. Artifact transporters are subject to spontaneous mutations, space-time distortions, and whatever malevolent designs the defunct creators of the artifact set in motion. Add to this that on the off-chance you do get a useful artifact AND figure out how to use it, every space pirate, scavenger, and spacy frigate you encounter will be aiming to take it from you.

Space Anomaly Survey Team

Space is just plain weird at times, filled with anomalies that don’t follow any of the laws of physics, and thumb their nose at reality. Shrinking black holes, anti-matter planetoids, heavy midget planets, and gas or liquid mega-giants without the gravity they’d need to exist are all out there for the finding. They can make your hull disappear, crush you like a tin can, or have you reliving moments from your childhood. Figuring out what makes these anomalies tick, or better yet finding a way to use them for profit, can make the effort and risk pay off in spades.

If you and your crew are in need of a quick payoff or a huge push towards the good life, these jobs are for you. Just remember that they won’t be easy, clean or safe. You were warned.