Friday, January 13, 2017

Conan's Life as Nostalgic Neil Young Song

Neil Young's classic song Old Man is a song I associate with many of my favorite childhood memories. Harvest, the album featuring the song, played on our home's stereo with great frequency and is a part of the soundtrack that plays in the back of my mind from time to time. One might think that a parody of this classic rock ballad that mixes sorrowful nostalgia with John Milius' vision of Conan the Barbarian would come across as silly. It doesn't. Nat Kramer's parody music video "Conan Look at My Life" works because it adheres to the first rule of parody songs, above all things make sure that your song is good.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Shadow of the Krampus? -- A Winter Themed Adventure for Shadow of the Demon Lord

I am a big fan of running seasonal adventures for my regular gaming group. Though my group hasn't played as regularly this year as they have in the past, I was inspired by Robert J. Schwalb's dark fantasy roleplaying game Shadow of the Demon Lord to write an adventure for this season. For the past few years, I've written and reshared adventures featuring Cthulhu Claus (based on my wife Jody Lindke's illustrations for an old Kickstarter) or the V'sori (evil aliens in the Necessary Evil setting for Savage Worlds), but this year I decided to feature Krampus -- that most devilish of Santa's helpers. While Krampus might be a bit played out for some, having gained mainstream notoriety, I'm still a big fan of the character and I have the pleasure of knowing an artist who has been participating in Krampuslaufen long before it was trendy to do so and Bill Rude's Krampus costume is amazing as is the fact that he can get even small children to pose with his horrifying costume.


Bill Rude is a talented artist and you can look at a variety of his projects over at his 7 Hells: The Retro Art of Bill Rude website.

Illustration Copyright Jody Lindke 2016
In this mini-adventure, the PCs are passing through the town of Nesbitt-Hill during one of their other adventures. You can use the map below to represent the portion of the foothills of the Iron Peaks immediately south of the Zauberspitz with Nesbitt-Hill being the northern-most community on the map and Tower number 3 representing the once great Beacon Fortress.



Shadow of the Krampus is a Novice (though not a "just now Novice") adventure for Shadow of the Demon Lord with a post-Christmas theme. 

The town of Nesbitt-Hill is a vital stop for wanderers and miners who brave the dangers of the Iron Peaks in search of adventure or riches. For years the town has been a peaceful refuge, seemingly immune from the spread of the Demon Lord's Shadow. For even as the Shadow has spread, the town of Nesbitt-Hill remains a spark of light an happiness in an otherwise dark and desperate world.

But that changed last night. Historically, the Winter Solstice has been a time of celebration when the townsfolk of Nesbitt-Hill memorialize the the Solstice King and his champion Krampus. For it is this duo who has protected the town since the Battle of Zauberspitz where the Solstice King and Krampus defeated a horde of the Demon Lord's servants, or at least that is what the stories say. The stories also say that Krampus steals children who misbehave and returns them at the Spring Equinox after the darkness has been purged from the children's souls. If it is true that Krampus takes children and eventually brings them back, why is it that Krampus has taken no children for twenty years? Why does Mistress Oetzel swear she saw Krampus take adults this Winter Solstice? And why were these adults among the most generous citizens of Nesbitt-Hill? Has Krampus returned, but as a servant of the Demon Lord? Or is something else afoot?

https://www.dropbox.com/s/rxemivrin1vvt34/Shadow%20of%20the%20Krampus.pdf?dl=0



With the exception of the map depicting the area of the Iron Peaks I refer to as the Gronwald, an area that lies in the shadow of the Zauberspitz, all of the maps were drawn by Dyson Logos and were taken from his Commercial Maps webpage. According to the page, Dyson has released these images under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. If I have used any images that are not covered by this license, I will be happy to remove them.

The cover image of "Shadow of the Krampus?" was illustrated by Bill Rude, who was kind enough to give me permission to use it. Please visit his website and consider purchasing some of his art.

The other image is the "survival map" from Robert J Schwalb's playing aids page for Shadow of the Demon Lord. I am using it with the intention of it being fair use, but if Mr. Schwalb deems my use inappropriate I will be happy to remove it. This adventure requires the use of the Shadow of the Demon Lord rule book since all monster statistics, with the exception of Krampus, are located within the pages of that "vile" tome. Krampus was designed using rules from the Of Monstrous Mien supplement. It is highly recommended that you also own Hunger in the Void and Terrible Beauty to add details around the edges of this adventure.

The cartoon illustrations in the module are the work of my talented wife Jody Lindke. I included "rpg humor" cartoons because they remind me of the cartoons in the old AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

I hope you enjoy the adventure.

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

Background:

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 gifts...gifts 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


Skills

Fighting d6 Repair d10 Notice d8 Stealth d8 Shooting d8

Throwing d6


Marksman

+2 to ranged attack if Elf does not move.


Pain-Killers

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.


Gear

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


Skills

Fighting d6 Notice d4 Shooting d6

Size +2

Toy soldiers are very large, about 7 feet tall.


Construct

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.


Fearless

As robots, these soldiers are immune to fear effects.


Darkvision

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


Gear

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, December 16, 2016

Goobles and Goblins - A Gaming for Kids Review of an RPG Heartbreaker



Like many gamers and gaming fans, I have increasing become a consumer of streaming live play and game review channels. Among my favorite channels is the Saving Throw Show channel on Twitch. I started following the channel because I'm a fan of Tom Lommel's Dungeon Bastard series and both Lommel and Amy Vorpahl make appearances in Saving Throw Show content. Eventually, I became a Patreon backer of the channel and following this year's Extra Live 24 hour gaming marathon have become a more active participant in chats during the live streaming of events.

One of the things I like about Saving Throw Show is that it puts a spotlight on a couple of the overlooked aspects of Hollywood culture, its nerdiness and its rigorous work ethic. That's right, I've just described an industry that most people think of as filled with popular rich people who have too much spare time as an industry that is actually filled with extremely hard-working nerds. Because the real secret of Hollywood is that its engines are fueled by the work and imaginations of some very hard-working people who have a love of Dungeons & Dragons, Comic Books, and Pop Culture.  The Saving Throw Show is populated with a lot of these wonderful people and is a product of their hard work and this work includes streaming live play rpg sessions, interviews with game designers like John Wick, how to play videos, music videos, and comedy sketches. Watching content from the Saving Throw Show is a lot of fun and I imagine reflects what a lot of our gaming groups would be doing if we had the technical know how and courage to create content that others could review/criticize.

Recently, I was thinking about the theoretical section of my Ph.D. prospectus (read...procrastinating) and decided to watch their "Couple's Therapy" show on Twitch to pass the time. "Couple's Therapy" is a let's play show featuring Jordan and Meghan Caves-Callarman who are two Saving Throw Show regulars. During the episode, Jordan mentioned that he had created a Kid Friendly role playing game entitled Goobles and Goblins. So I logged onto Amazon and quickly ordered a copy of the game for analysis and am now ready to give you a quick review of the game.

TL:DR so far? You should watch Saving Throw Show and it introduced me to a new Kid Friendly RPG.




What is Goobles & Goblins?

 

Goobles & Goblins is an entry level role playing game designed to be played with younger players and to introduce those younger players to the larger hobby of role playing games. The game was created by Jordan Callarman (now Jordan Caves-Callarman) and its print version was funded through a small Kickstarter campaign back in 2015. The project had 84 backers and is in a similar Kickstarter success category as Jody and my Cthulhu Claus project was in 2012. The game was once supported by a webpage at www.gooblesandgoblins.com, but the site has since expired (hence no link).

Adventures in Goobles & Goblins take place in the magic filled Land of Glythe, but most of the details about the Land of Glythe have to be extracted from the text via complex hermeneutics. What information about Glythe there is within the pages of Goobles & Goblins is pretty wonderful, but it is as sparse as information about Fillory in the first episode of The Magicians. Jordan manages to drop little gems (the official currency of Glythe) to spark the imagination, but also leaves readers wanting a lot more.

How Does Goobles & Goblins Play?

 

Jordan discusses Goobles & Goblins at WonderCon. Image from WonderCon.

Goobles & Goblins features a very simple game engine, so simple that if I go into too much detail here it would serve as a replacement for buying the book. I want Jordan to sell copies, so I'll only touch upon the minimum necessary. Like most role playing games, Goobles & Goblins uses numerical characteristics to represent the effectiveness of characters with regard to specific tasks. In Goobles & Goblins these characteristics are Smarts, Speed, Strength, and Hits. These characteristics are rated on a scale of 1 to 3 (with Hits having possibly more points) based upon the adventuring degree the character attained from one of Lord Maxwell Armstrong's Academy of the Combative Arts, the Underground Rogue's Guild, or the Endless Tower. 

These characteristics are used as modifiers to opposed rolls where the player and GM roll a die and compare final results of die + modifier. It's a simple system that is very good for the age range it is aimed at. I will have some comments below about how I think this could improved in an introductory game, one of Jordan's stated goals is to have resolution of actions be fast and fun and opposed rolls can slow things down.

Key Innovation in Goobles & Goblins.

 

There is one really inspired innovation in Goobles and Goblins and that's its magic system. Many role playing games attempt to either imitate D&D's magic system, create an abstract system like Mage, or to emulate the magic of an existing fantasy world. That's not what Jordan did with Goobles & Goblins magic system. Jordan may not even realize this, but he has invented a magic system that hints at a wonderful and mysterious world of magic and adventure. The magic system of Goobles & Goblins is very simple. Wizards have the ability to summon a fighting companion using a magic artifact called an Animal Totem and they have access to a Magic Bag that contains three different randomly determined magic items each day. Wizards don't have spells. Instead, they are more capable of using the magic items that can be found throughout the world and have access to some additional items from their Magic Bag.

This suggests a couple of things. The first thing this suggests is that the Land of Glythe is in a world where magic was once common place, but where it is now largely relegated to those who possess items of power. For most people these items can be used only a limited number of times, but Wizards are more adept at using these items and might be able to use artifacts for many sessions. Since anyone can use Magic Items, anyone can use the items in the Wizard's Magic Bag, but only the Wizard might be able to use those more than once. There are a host of ideas to explore narratively regarding the Magic Items of Glythe and by having magic be item based Jordan has simultaneously created a system with some game balance elements and added some narrative mystery.

 

Areas for Improvement

 

I like Goobles & Goblins and I think it offers a lot of great ideas that can be incorporated into my own gaming with History and Mystery (my 8 year old twins). It does have several areas for improvement though.

First, I'm not fond of opposed rolls in games in general and especially in games with kids. The key to gaming with kids is to make sure that the focus is on the "play" and not on "rolling" and every time someone picks up a die it increases the time that it takes to resolve conflicts. My recommendation is to have the players make all die rolls. The kids should be rolling to hit, to dodge, and to use skills to overcome challenges against a fixed number. This fixed number should be the average roll (rounded down) plus challenge rating for the obstacle. For example, if a Monster has a Strength of 2 then the difficulty number should be the average roll of a die (rounded down) +2. You can round up the base difficulty for elite monsters. This halves the number of rolls being made on the table and gives a sense of agency to the kids playing.

Second, I think that the art needs an upgrade. While I think the art is whimsical and fun, I think that a more polished cartoony style might have increased the sales of the book. I'm not just saying this because I think that my wife Jody's artwork would work well for Glythe (though it would). I'm saying this because Kid Friendly games are becoming more common and that competition is pretty high. It includes games like Hero Kids and No Thank You, Evil! and I think that Goobles & Goblins has a skeleton that could be competitive with those games.

Third, the book needs work on the layout and content. Jordan Callarman gives us glimpses of Glythe, and they are wonderful glimpses, but I want more. I would like to see some more detail in the setting. This is something that could truly make the game competitive in the Kid Friendly market. I know the market isn't fully developed yet, but Goobles & Goblins has potential and "heart" that could secure a segment of the niche. Certainly a larger segment than the 84 people who backed it on Kickstarter. It most certainly deserves more support than that!

 

A Final Wonderful Touch

 

Look very carefully at that picture of Jordan at WonderCon promoting the game. It shows me a couple of things. The first is that Jordan is proud, rightly so, of his project. More importantly, look at those pictures behind him. Do you know what those are? Those are Goobles. Those are Goobles created by kids who stopped by Jordan's booth. That shows that Jordan "gets it." He knows what this game is about and he wrote a section of the book that displays this too. His "what is a Gooble" section is a delight and it needs to be expanded upon and moved forward. Goobles need to enter our lexicon. They are the monsters/creatures, friend or foe, who populate the imaginations of children. That's what a Gooble is and they are there for the discovering.

Why "Heartbreaker"?

 

My post title calls Goobles & Goblins an RPG Heartbreaker. One might wonder why I would use a pejorative to describe a game I think is very good. I'm not using the term Heartbreaker in the dismissive way that so many use the term today when talking about "Fantasy Heartbreakers." I'm using it in the original sense. When Ron Edwards coined the term "Fantasy Heartbreaker" he stated that they were "truly impressive in terms of the drive, commitment, and personal joy that's evident in both their existence and in their details." The Fantasy Heartbreakers were heartbreaking because we want them to be perfect, but they fall short in some way. For many of the games Edwards was writing about that failing was a lack of real innovation. That's not the case here. There is enough innovation in Goobles & Goblins to provoke a desire to play the game, but there is also "just enough" that it leaves me wanting so much more and I know I'm not going to get that so much more any time soon.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that Jordan does a second edition which streamlines a couple of things, expands upon some others, and goes into great detail about the Land of Glythe with wonderful cartoony art and dynamic layout. The foundation is strong here, just as it was with the Little Brown Books of D&D.

Check out Goobles & Goblins and give it a play at your table.