Sunday, March 30, 2014

Steamscapes: Asia Development Log -- Sakura Taisen

Look at the steam!

Back on February 24th, I revealed that I’ve been contracted to write the Japan chapter for the upcoming  Asian expansion of the Steamscapes setting from Four-in-Hand Games.  Around that same time, I took on a new project at work that’s given me less time to write, and I’ve been trying to figure out the right way to balance my commitment to Steamscapes: Asia with development of The King is Dead.  What I’ve concluded is that I’m going to have to alternate work on both settings, so April is going to be dedicated to Steamscapes.  I’m winding down the latest playtest of The King is Dead anyway, so perhaps Robin and I will try our hand at exploring (a very tentative and completely unofficial version of) Steamscapes’ Japan and see what we discover.  Posting will continue to be light, but maybe I can manage more brief posts rather than fewer long posts; I can’t share the material I’m writing for +Eric Simon, but I can share some of my musings on my research and inspirations. 

I don’t usually think of myself as a fan of steampunk, but that’s demonstrably false when I just stop and think about it for ten seconds.  I may not have drunk the steampunk Kool-Aid – I don’t own a begoggled top hat or a pneumatic corset -- but there’s quite a bit I enjoy that belongs to the steampunk über-genre.    More importantly, I admire what Eric Simon and his team are trying to build: an inclusive setting that confronts real-life issues but still has plenty of room for uncomplicated fun.

The main steampunk franchise I enjoy is Sakura Taisen (AKA Sakura Wars), the story of an elite unit of mecha pilots in an anachronistic steampunk Taishō era Japan (1912 – 1926) who also happen to be a musical theater troupe in the mold of the Takarazuka Revue.  Beginning as a video game that was part dating simulator and part action-adventure, Sakura Taisen expanded out across all media in Japan before it lost its bloom; there were anime, concerts, manga, toys, and even a café dedicated to the series.  The various anime series were the only part of the phenomenon that made an impact stateside; I own all the American releases of the anime, a few soundtrack albums, and a handful of chibi figurines.  Eric has confided in me that Sakura Taisen is also what kicked off his interest in steampunk.   

It makes for an interesting contrast with Steamscapes.  Despite the fact that it is a series about a primarily female cast and features frequent musical theater performances, it’s definitely aimed at a straight male audience.  The Teikoku Kagekidan (Imperial Assault Force) are a team of cute girls – seriously, seriously cute girls -- designed by Kōsuke Fujishima (creator of the seminal harem comedy Oh My Goddess!) who are literally romanced into fighting trim by the player’s avatar, the only man capable of piloting one of the series’ soul-powered demon-fighting mecha.  Yeah, demon-fighting; the purpose of the Teikoku Kagekidan is to defend the Imperial Capital from an invasion of winged xenomorph clones.  Oh, and the girls are only capable of piloting the mecha until their maidenly spirit energy fades and they are forced to retire in their early 20s. 

We love you, Sumire!

So it’s kinda exploitative and undeniably a steampunk mash-up.  Admittedly, in practice, the anime passes the Bechdel test with plotlines about intra-troupe friendships and rivalries that have nothing to do with the one guy in the room, but the franchise did begin as a quasi-dating sim.  Meanwhile, the mystical side of things is prominent and prevalent.

Steamscapes, on the other hand, is social science fiction set in the past.  Steam-powered carriages and airships have brought rapid transportation to a rapidly-changing world.  The Babbage Engine has led to advanced automatons (the closest the setting gets to outright fantasy) while the alternate history of the United States of America has led to a fractured North America where the Plains Indians still resist westward expansion.    The setting has more than a little bit of Fix Fic to it – see Dev Notes 3 – Alternative History as Social Justice – but I think we can all agree that the writer of a setting about re-enacting the revolutions of the 18th century through the lens of gothic horror isn’t likely to complain about social justice in a campaign setting.

As Eric points out in Dev Notes 1 – Another Steampunk Game?, the whole point of Steamscapes is to do a straight steampunk setting: a world where steam-powered advances in technology have caused an alternate history.  It is not Sundered Skies, mixing skyships and firearms with a fantasy setting (and why does DrivethruRPG label Sundered Skies as steampunk anyway?).  It is not RunePunk, with its combination of pseudo-Victorian squalor and low fantasy, or Clockwork Dreams, with its gears-and-fairies vibe .  It is not Space 1889: Red Sands, the closest thing to straightforward steampunk previously published for Savage Worlds, but which still mixes in planetary romance.  Steamscapes offers players the weirdest, best-developed, most unbelievable game setting – the real world – with the twist of steampunk.

It’s still the 19th century, after all, and that was an astonishingly tumultuous time; all the RPG murderhobo tropes actually come from 19th century social dynamism rather than the familiar medieval gloss.  Japan changes from an isolated feudal state with Renaissance-level technology to a modernized, mechanized nation capable of competing with the Western powers.  The nation’s whole way of life is thrown into chaos and the people must struggle to find a new identity.  Hokkaido is opened for exploration for the first time (and that leads into competition with Russia), while the dispossessed samurai turn to crime and attempted revolution.  Yojimbo, the second most-famous samurai movie in the history of filmmaking, is set in 1860!

Look!  The bad guy has a pistol!  It's totally steampunk!

But all that is kind of the opposite of a 20th century set steampunk/urban fantasy mashup, isn’t it?  We’re even trying to steer clear of mecha (this isn’t Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin).  There isn’t much I can lift from Sakura Taisen, except for the vibrant, omnipresent steamtech (which is mainly present in the background) and the Shinto belief that everything has a soul.  That’s OK, though, because sometimes what you need is an example of what not to do.

I want grit, not gloss.  I want confrontation, not titillation.  I want automatons, not mecha.


Hmm…  The campaign idea that pops into my head is a wandering samurai’s widow, forced to make her living as a gambler and bodyguard, guarded only by her shamisen-playing automaton and her secret sword skills.  It looks like Yojimbo should be my next topic of discussion.    

Monday, March 24, 2014

March Madness Bloghop Thingy


I'm always torn about bloghops and that sort of thing.  On the one hand, I want the attention; on the other hand, I really only have time for my own content.  Sometimes, though, blogs you like sponsor the darned things and you just feel like chipping in somehow.  As a cheat, then, here are short answers to Tomb of Tedankhamen's Non-D&D March Madness Blogging Challenge:

1 What was the first roleplaying game other than D&D you played? Was it before or after you had played D&D?


Stormbringer, maybe?  Or Call of Cthulhu?  It was definitely one of those two and it was after D&D.

2 What was the first character you played in an RPG other than D&D? How was playing it different from playing a D&D character?

That would be a Garou ragabash in an aborted campaign of Werewolf: The Apocalypse (and one of the literally handful of times that I’ve been the player and not the GM).  The biggest difference was that instead of being self-motivated to go get rich by fighting monsters, we were instead hazed by our clan elders for a session.  I’ve never understood the weird, hierarchical structure of the Old World of Darkness.

3 Which game had the least or most enjoyable character generation?

I don’t think I’ve ever found character creation enjoyable in itself.  As a perennial GM, I guess Savage Worlds’ “just assign stats and don’t worry about it” approach to NPCs is my favorite, while D&D 3.5’s fiddly-ass, fair and balanced character creation is the absolute worst.  No wonder Paizo prints whole books worth of NPCs.

4 What other roleplaying author besides Gygax impressed you with their writing?

I have a serious soft spot for Ed Greenwood’s style, but I like his actual game writing much better than his fiction.

5 What other old school game should have become as big as D&D but didn’t? Why do you think so?

D&D really created an entire hobby, didn’t it?  I can’t really imagine anything else even possibly having that kind of effect.  Call of Cthulhu, maybe?  It was the first major horror game and everybody loves horror, so…  (Actually, I suspect Lovecraft’s popular success today is a side-effect of CoC so it kind did get the big breakout.)

6 What non-D&D monster do you think is as iconic as D&D ones like hook horrors or flumphs, and why do you think so?

Cthulhu?

7 What fantasy RPG other than D&D have you enjoyed most? Why?

King Arthur Pendragon because I love the source material and Savage Worlds because it’s actually the only other game system with which I’ve spent serious time playing fantasy settings.  (Shrugs.)

8 What spy RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

I’ve never played any dedicated spy RPGs, but I did hack Cinematic Unisystem for a campaign using the setting fluff from the Spycraft ‘60s book.  Speed Racer, Batman and Talia, and James Bond all made cameos.

9 What superhero RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

I’ve never played any dedicated superhero RPGs, so Savage Worlds wins by default. 

10 What science fiction RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

WEG’s d6 Star Wars is a fantastic game that has influenced many since.  They turned the Skywalker saga into a universe where anyone could have wild adventures and established a brilliant example of unified design.

11 What post-apocalyptic RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

I loathe post-apocalyptic settings.

12 What humorous RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

I tried playing Toon and Tales from the Floating Vagabond, but was never really able to get into either.  My favorite humorous RPG is actually D&D.  Seriously, has anyone ever played a “serious” game of D&D?

13 What horror RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

Rippers for Savage Worlds because Van Helsing by way of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is too cool for school.

14 What historical or cultural RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

Does Pirates of the Spanish Main for Savage Worlds count?

15 What pseudo or alternate history RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?


16 Which RPG besides D&D has the best magic system? Give details.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer actually has a great system that captures the feel of magic on the show (which also feels much more like “real-world” magic than anything else I’ve ever played) but which also manages to stay pretty flexible and simple.

17 Which RPG has the best high tech rules? Why?

Star Wars d6 again. 

18 What is the crunchiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?

Gary Gygax’s Dangerous Journeys and “no.”

19 What is the fluffiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?

Werewolf: The Apocalypse and “yes.”  OK, I guess I enjoy reading the setting books more than I enjoyed playing that one single session, but the answer still stands.

20 Which setting have you enjoyed most? Why?

Meaning “which setting besides the Forgotten Realms,” right?  I guess Pirates of the Spanish Main?

21 What is the narrowest genre RPG you have ever played? How was it?

Does anything get narrower than King Arthur Pendragon?

22 What is the most gonzo kitchen sink RPG you ever played? How was it?


23 What is the most broken game that you tried and were unable to play?

I really, really wanted to like Exalted 1st Edition, but I could never wrap my brain around either the setting or mechanics.

24 What is the most broken game that you tried and loved to play, warts and all?

I have the complete line of Kindred of the East supplements, but have never actually played it.  KotE has the most ridiculously complicated mana-tracking and powers system that I’ve ever seen; they basically combined the mechanics for Vampire: The Masquerade and Wraith: The Oblivion into one game.  Nevertheless, my fascination with the subject matter still ranks it as my favorite “broken” game.  (Funny enough, it basically inspired Exalted.)

25 Which game has the sleekest, most modern engine?

Umm…  FATE Accelerated Edition?

26 What RPG based on an IP did you enjoy most? Give details.

That’s a coin toss between Star Wars d6 and Pirates of the Spanish Main.  They both have freewheeling, anti-authoritarian sandbox settings and swordfights.  What’s not to love about that?

27 What IP (=Intellectual Property, be it book, movie or comic) that doesn’t have an RPG deserves it? Why?

Godzilla?  I mean, it’s one of the world’s best-known movie franchises, loved by millions, and homages pop up in practically every game I can think of (I own books with versions for CoC, Savage Worlds, and WtA, while Pathfinder recently introduced rules for kaiju) and yet I don’t think there’s ever been an official English-language Godzilla RPG.

28 What free RPG or what non-English RPG did you enjoy most? Give details.

Mazes and Minotaurs is awesome.

29 What OSR product have you enjoyed most? Explain why.

I’ve enjoyed the creativity of the OSR blogosphere as a whole more than any one specific product.  I LOVE BLOGS!

30 Which non-D&D supplemental product should everyone know about? Give details.


Secrets of Japan for Call of Cthulhu has an awesome backstory for Japanese kami that I have shamelessly repeatedly stolen for my campaigns, CoC stats for Godzilla, and also evil Buddha.  Somebody go buy it and give me some affiliate points.

31 What out-of-print RPG would you most like to see back in publication? Why?

I don't think anything I like is out of print.  I'm lucky that way.

Well, I guess there's Star Wars d6, but that ain't getting reprinted in my lifetime.

The King is Dead: The Rest of the Neo-Gothic Society

Sir Samael Cain Wolfgang von Rickard


A brutal soldier who distinguished himself in the Colonial Wars of the last few decades, Sir Kane exhibits a demeanor far more typical of his bloodline than the foppish Count Ranulf.  Sir Kane despises the count as a weakling and resents his presence in the inner council; to Sir Kane’s mind, the council should contain one of each bloodline and no more (and certainly no bastards like Gilliam Blutig).  Needless to say, this inflexibility is contrary to Schreiber’s intent and so he uses Sir Kane as an assassin for now, waiting for the day the reckless brute gets himself killed.   

Young Vampire Brute
Motivation: Revel in his brute strength.
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d12, Vigor d10
Skills: Fighting d12, Gambling d6, Intimidation d10, Knowledge (Battle) d4, Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Riding d10, Shooting d8, Stealth d4, Streetwise d6, Taunt 10, Throwing d6.
Charisma: -4 Pace: 6 Parry: 8  Toughness: 10
Hindrances: Bloodthirsty,  Overconfident, Vengeful (Major).
Edges: Berserk, Brawny, Command, Frenzy.
Equipment: d100 reichsmarks in coins and jewelry, cavalry saber (Str+1d6), uniform.
Special Abilities:
  • Claws: Str+d4.
  • Fangs: Str+d6.  Target must be grappled or immobile.
  • Gift of the Blood: Vampires of Prince Rickard’s bloodline gain the Berserk Edge for free.
  • Invulnerability: Vampires can only be harmed by their Weaknesses. They may be Shaken by other attacks, but never wounded.
  • Low Light Vision: Ignores penalties for Dim and Dark lighting.
  • Quick: Vampires discard initiative cards of 5 or less.
  • Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; no additional damage from Called Shots; immune to disease and poison unless ingested through blood.
  • Weakness (Beheading, Stake Through the Heart): A vampire hit with a beheading stroke from a cutting weapon or stabbed through the heart (-4) must make a Vigor roll versus the damage.  If successful, it takes damage normally.  If it fails, it becomes an inanimate corpse until its head is reattached or the stake is removed.  It may be destroyed by conventional means while in this state.
  • Weakness (Garlic): Vampires suffer a –2 penalty to Fighting attacks against anyone who carries garlic (or has eaten so much of it that the odor exudes from their skin).  It should also be noted that they cannot cross a threshold or windowsill warded with garlic.
  • Weakness (Sunlight): Vampires catch fire if any part of their skin is exposed to sunlight. After that they suffer 2d10 damage per round. Armor does not protect.
  • Weakness (Unwelcome Guest): Vampires cannot enter a home unless invited or the dwelling is owned by another undead.



Grafin Clarimond Erzebeta Russell von Rot


There are only perhaps two score female vampires in all of Malleus and Grafin Clarimond is one of the dozen or so given the gift in the last century.  While she took her baptismal name from the famed exile Countess Erzebet Battory just as so many other of the silly, pretty things men have raised up to immortality in the last few decades, Grafin Clarimond is possibly unique in having won her immortality by her own hand.  While merely a human woman, she dedicated herself to studying the art of sorcery until she was able to master her own vampire husband's will.  She arranged for his will to be changed in her favor, was given the Gift by his own hand, and then "persuaded" him to stay out too late one night.  She distrusts Schreiber and despises the two von Rickards, but she is flattered by Blutig's attentions.   

Young Vampire Sorceress
Motivation: Wreak vengeance on the world.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d10, Spirit d10, Strength d10, Vigor d10
Skills: Fighting d4, Gambling d6, Intimidation d10, Investigation d8, Knowledge (Occult) d10, Notice d8, Persuasion d10, Riding d4, Spellcasting d10, Stealth d8, Streetwise d6, Taunt 10.
Charisma: +3 (+7) Pace: 6 Parry: 4  Toughness: 9
Hindrances:  Mean, Outsider, Vengeful (Major).
Edges: AB: Magic, Noble, Strong Willed, Tower of Will, Very Attractive.
Equipment: 2d1000 reichsmarks in jewelry, bejeweled quizzing glass (+2 Intimidate), bejeweled dagger (Str+d4), exquisite clothes (+1 Charisma).
Special Abilities:

  • AB: Magic: Power points – 10; powers – boost/lower trait, mind reading, puppet.
  • Claws: Str+d4.
  • Fangs: Str+d6.  Target must be grappled or immobile.
  • Gift of the Blood: Vampires of Prince Wilhelm’s bloodline gain the Attractive Edge for free.
  • Invulnerability: Vampires can only be harmed by their Weaknesses. They may be Shaken by other attacks, but never wounded.
  • Low Light Vision: Ignores penalties for Dim and Dark lighting.
  • Quick: Vampires discard initiative cards of 5 or less.
  • Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; no additional damage from Called Shots; immune to disease and poison unless ingested through blood.
  • Weakness (Beheading, Stake Through the Heart): A vampire hit with a beheading stroke from a cutting weapon or stabbed through the heart (-4) must make a Vigor roll versus the damage.  If successful, it takes damage normally.  If it fails, it becomes an inanimate corpse until its head is reattached or the stake is removed.  It may be destroyed by conventional means while in this state.
  • Weakness (Garlic): Vampires suffer a –2 penalty to Fighting attacks against anyone who carries garlic (or has eaten so much of it that the odor exudes from their skin).  It should also be noted that they cannot cross a threshold or windowsill warded with garlic.
  • Weakness (Sunlight): Vampires catch fire if any part of their skin is exposed to sunlight. After that they suffer 2d10 damage per round. Armor does not protect.
  • Weakness (Unwelcome Guest): Vampires cannot enter a home unless invited or the dwelling is owned by another undead.


Gilliam Blutig, bastard von Ruprecht


Once upon a time, there was a young firebrand who preached equality and love and beauty, who then he caught the eye of a debauched vampire, was given the Gift of Sathaniel during a drunken orgy, and promptly forgot his humanistic ideals in favor of a more practical creed of self-advancement.  Gilliam Blutig still believes in beauty, but it's the beauty of the moon not the sun.  He still believes in love, but it's the love of the swordsman for his blade.  He still believes in equality, but only for those who seize it.  He now acts as the Society's poet laureate and writes their Old Gothic-infused screeds.  He idolizes Schreiber and Grafin Calrimond, fears Sir Samael, and has a begrudging admiration for Count Ranulf's education and taste.

Young Vampire Poet
Motivation: Set the world on fire with his words.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d10, Strength d10, Vigor d10
Skills: Gambling d4, Intimidation d6, Investigation d10, Knowledge (Occult) d8, Knowledge (Profession - Poet) d12, Notice d6, Persuasion d10, Riding d4, Stealth d6, Streetwise d8, Taunt d6, Throwing d4.
Charisma: +2 (+4)  Pace: 6  Parry: 2  Toughness: 9
Hindrances:  Clueless, Outsider, Vengeful (Major).
Edges: Alertness, Attractive, Charismatic.
Equipment: 2d12 reichsmarks, ink, paper, quills.
Special Abilities:
  • Change in the Blood (Flight): Bastard vampires from outside of proper bloodlines often develop unusual powers.  Gilliam has grow black-feathered wings and fly at a Pace of 12 with a Climb of 2.
  • Claws: Str+d4.
  • Fangs: Str+d6.  Target must be grappled or immobile.
  • Gift of the Blood: Vampires of Prince Ruprecht’s bloodline gain the Alertness Edge for free.
  • Invulnerability: Vampires can only be harmed by their Weaknesses. They may be Shaken by other attacks, but never wounded.
  • Low Light Vision: Ignores penalties for Dim and Dark lighting.
  • Quick: Vampires discard initiative cards of 5 or less.
  • Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; no additional damage from Called Shots; immune to disease and poison unless ingested through blood.
  • Weakness (Beheading, Stake Through the Heart): A vampire hit with a beheading stroke from a cutting weapon or stabbed through the heart (-4) must make a Vigor roll versus the damage.  If successful, it takes damage normally.  If it fails, it becomes an inanimate corpse until its head is reattached or the stake is removed.  It may be destroyed by conventional means while in this state.
  • Weakness (Garlic): Vampires suffer a –2 penalty to Fighting attacks against anyone who carries garlic (or has eaten so much of it that the odor exudes from their skin).  It should also be noted that they cannot cross a threshold or windowsill warded with garlic.
  • Weakness (Sunlight): Vampires catch fire if any part of their skin is exposed to sunlight. After that they suffer 2d10 damage per round. Armor does not protect.
  • Weakness (Unwelcome Guest): Vampires cannot enter a home unless invited or the dwelling is owned by another undead.




Count Ranulf Barbatos Neuerwald von Rickard


Feckless, spendthrift, and vain, Count Ranulf would never have gotten entry into the inner circle of the Neo-Gothic Society if it wasn’t for two things: he has a title (and all that goes with it) and he got that title by murdering his brothers and father after being passed over for the Gift until much later in life than most dampyres.  As much as Schreiber hates to admit it, this dissipated fop with the middle-aged face has actually lived by the code of savage nobility the Society advocates.  Unfortunately for their long-term plans (but luckily for everyone else), Count Ranulf is far more interested in debauchery than politics.

Young Vampire Rake
Motivation: Enjoy the immortality he was denied so long, but preserve his secret.
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d12
Skills: Fighting d6, Gambling d10, Intimidation d6, Notice d8, Persuasion d10, Riding d8, Shooting d6, Stealth d10, Streetwise d10, Taunt d8, Throwing d4.
Charisma: +3 Pace: 6 Parry: 5 (6 with smallsword) Toughness: 10
Hindrances: Habit (Minor, sex addict), Vengeful (Major).
Edges: Berserk, Charismatic, Noble.
Equipment: 2d100 reichsmarks in jewelry, 2d1000 reichsmarks in assorted coins and IOUs, bejeweled quizzing glass (+2 Intimidate), bejeweled smallsword (Str+d4, +1 Parry), fine clothes OR naked with a whip (Str+d4-2, +2 to hit).
Special Abilities:
  • Claws: Str+d4.
  • Fangs: Str+d6.  Target must be grappled or immobile.
  • Gift of the Blood: Vampires of Prince Rickard’s bloodline gain the Berserk Edge for free.
  • Invulnerability: Vampires can only be harmed by their Weaknesses. They may be Shaken by other attacks, but never wounded.
  • Low Light Vision: Ignores penalties for Dim and Dark lighting.
  • Quick: Vampires discard initiative cards of 5 or less.
  • Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; no additional damage from Called Shots; immune to disease and poison unless ingested through blood.
  • Weakness (Beheading, Stake Through the Heart): A vampire hit with a beheading stroke from a cutting weapon or stabbed through the heart (-4) must make a Vigor roll versus the damage.  If successful, it takes damage normally.  If it fails, it becomes an inanimate corpse until its head is reattached or the stake is removed.  It may be destroyed by conventional means while in this state.
  • Weakness (Garlic): Vampires suffer a –2 penalty to Fighting attacks against anyone who carries garlic (or has eaten so much of it that the odor exudes from their skin).  It should also be noted that they cannot cross a threshold or windowsill warded with garlic.
  • Weakness (Sunlight): Vampires catch fire if any part of their skin is exposed to sunlight. After that they suffer 2d10 damage per round. Armor does not protect.
  • Weakness (Unwelcome Guest): Vampires cannot enter a home unless invited or the dwelling is owned by another undead.

Whip

A flexible length of braided cloth, knotted rope, or leather, the whip is primarily an instrument of intimidation rather than an effective weapon; only the cat o' nine tails used to flog sailors is really notable for inflicting injuries.  Using a whip is effectively a touch attack and so all whips grant a +2 bonus to hit.  The addition of metal barbs or beads to the end of a whip can transform it into a deadly weapon, but even so most have great difficulty cutting anything except flesh.  Whips have a negative armor-piercing rating reflecting the fact that even the flimsiest of armor is highly effective against their stings.

  • Small Whip (riding crop, silk lash):  Str+d4-2, cost $25 - $100, weight 1 lb, +2 to hit, +1 to Intimidation & Riding, AP -2.   
  • Large Whip (bullwhip, coachwhip): Str+d4, cost $25, weight 1 lb, +2 to hit, +1 to Driving & Intimidation, AP -2.   
  • Military Cat O'Nine Tails: Str+d4+2, cost N/A (assembled on site by the sailor or soldier who will be punished by it), weight 1lb, +2 to hit, +2 to Intimidation, AP -2.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The King is Dead: The Neo-Gothic Society

As previously noted, I’ve decided to scale back the powers of vampires in The King is Dead because staging a revolution against hundreds of flying, mist-dissipating, rat- and wolf-controlling, shape-changing immortals who can only be killed by ash wood would be really, really effin’ hard without involving a bunch of magic weapons and supernatural intervention and crap.  While the vampire rulers at the top are going to be superhuman freaks in the vein of Hellsing and Anno Dracula, the vamps at the bottom are more in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer range.   Consider this entry an experiment in that direction, and remember that it is not in continuity with previous posts about vampires in Malleus.

Also, I've decided to drop that zu thing in the names.

The Neo-Gothic Society


When Wilhelm the Everlasting conquered Malleus in 1066, he faced a nation of heathens amongst whom were few vampires and fewer Sathanielists.  It behooved him to give the Gift to those who would follow his banner and appoint his own men as dukes and barons on those provinces that would not surrender to him.  The Westergoths and Kimmerians who shared Malleus both practiced limited monarchies where the king was expected to take advice from and heed the will of his nobles.  This resulted in the establishment of the Diet and centuries of semi-parliamentary rule – which in turn ended with the treachery of Rodlant Belphegor zu Crommweald von Ruprecht, Count of Esgoth, and the bloody Mallean Civil War.  Wilhelm established himself as absolute ruler of Malleus and sequestered himself in Sownfields Palace, deliberately outside the social sphere of Hammerstadt.  The Diet was reduced in power to the point where it can only send petitions to the king; all lawmaking and enforcement duties lie with the king and his appointed ministers alone.

The extermination of dozens of rebellious vampire lords should have opened up opportunities for younger vampires, but the king’s new policy of absolutism has made the nobility practically redundant.  The Old Guard has retired to Sownfields to toady an increasingly mad and monstrous king, the middle generations dicker and sport in Hammerstadt while they wait years at a time for an audience with a prince or the king, and the young vampires of Malleus grow restless.  They tear at the social fabric like bored children pulling at loose strings; soon they might unravel it all.

The Neo-Gothic society looks forward to it.

The New Society for the Study and Reclamation of Gothic History and Culture, or Neo-Gothic Society is a malodorous onion.  The public face of the society is that of a scholarly society dedicated to preserving the use of Old Gothic in modern Malleus; members write poems in the Old Tongue and scathing letters to newspapers demanding they use the letter thorn (Þ, þ) in their typeface.  Everyone knows this is just a front for a den of debauchery; it’s an open secret that the young vampires of the club actually spend their time dueling, fornicating, and gambling.  Unfortunately, the truth is that the debauchery is actually just another front; the Neo-Gothic Society is a cabal of ruthless young vampires who would like to see the world restored to its ancient state of savage anarchy, a dog-eats-dog world where they would reign supreme.

Their philosophy is a perverse reaction to The Leviathan, a work of political philosophy by the Sathanielist priest Hobbs Melmoth, who argued that before Sathaniel sent Azazel to teach men the arts of civilization mankind had lived in a state of nature where life was “nasty, brutish, and short” and only strength set one man over another – a kind of savage aristocracy or nobility.  Melmoth stated that the reign of a divinely-ordained king was the ultimate expression of godliness and The Leviathan was used as a guiding principle of the new absolutist state (and its author was given the Gift of Sathaniel).  The Neo-Gothic Society has instead latched onto the “savage noble” concept and expanded it into a philosophy opposed to the Church and the king. 

They argue that the destruction of King Hordos by Emperor Etzel, the first Gothic vampire, was not a divinely-inspired punishment, but instead a naked bid for power.  They blithely ignore the historical example of Gothic limited monarchy and claim that the Gothic hordes were exemplars of the nobility of the savage -- that barbarism is the true state of mankind – and they intend to do what they can to plunge the world back into a state of anarchy where they can run amok.  They believe in a uniquely vicious, vampiric atheism that yearns for an age of monsters and darkness.  When the time comes, they will exsanguinate their elders, steal their powers, and rampage across the world. 

Of course, they’re not idiots.  They know that while their blood beats faster and more furiously than a millennia-old elder’s, the elders have a stronger connection to the Blood of Sathaniel and therefore are capable of stranger feats of magic.  Most of the Neo-Goths haven’t even inherited titles yet and have no independent incomes or estates.  The Neo-Gothic Society therefore plots and plans and waits; they curry favor with the Old Guard by learning the ancient tongue, ingratiate themselves with the middle generation by inviting them to their orgies, and seduce the young with their hidden plan.  It’s only in their dealings with the Church that they have difficulty hiding their motives, and the Grand Coven of Inquisitors has grown suspicious of the club. 



Albert Hveþrung Schreiber von Heinrich


The unofficial leader of the New Society for the Study and Reclamation of Gothic History and Culture is the younger son of a northern baron who was expelled from Oxbridge for his impiety.  Handsome and charismatic, he might have made a good member of the Glorious Revolt if he wasn’t a vampire.  His brutal atheism gives him an unbiased perspective on class and sex that has led him to recruit women and commoners to the inner circle of the Neo-Goths; he believes in strength and only strength.

Young Vampire Agitator
Motivation: Tear down society and rule as king of the monsters.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d10, Vigor d10
Skills: Fighting d8, Gambling d6, Intimidation d10, Investigation d4, Knowledge (Occult) d4, Notice d8, Persuasion d10, Riding d4, Shooting d4, Stealth d6, Streetwise d8, Taunt 10, Throwing d4.
Charisma: + Pace: 8 Parry: 6 (7 with smallsword) Toughness: 9
Hindrances: Arrogant, Overconfident, Vengeful (Major).
Edges: Charismatic, Command, Fanaticism, Strong Willed, Tower of Will, Very Attractive.
Equipment: 2d100 marks reichsmarks in jewelry, bejeweled smallsword (Str+d4, +1 Parry), fine clothes, hidden stake in a spring-loaded sheath (Str+d4, sheath grants the Quick Draw Edge, d8 Weird Science roll, see below), a pretty boy or ravishing woman on his arm.
Special Abilities:
  • Claws: Str+d4.
  • Fangs: Str+d6.  Target must be grappled or immobile.
  • Gift of the Blood: Vampires of Prince Heinrich's bloodline inherit the Fleet-Footed Edge (+2 Pace, d10 running die).
  • Invulnerability: Vampires can only be harmed by their Weaknesses. They may be Shaken by other attacks, but never wounded.
  • Low Light Vision: Ignores penalties for Dim and Dark lighting.
  • Quick: Vampires discard initiative cards of 5 or less.
  • Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; no additional damage from Called Shots; immune to disease and poison unless ingested through blood.
  • Weakness (Beheading, Stake Through the Heart): A vampire hit with a beheading stroke from a cutting weapon or stabbed through the heart (-4) must make a Vigor roll versus the damage.  If successful, it takes damage normally.  If it fails, it becomes an inanimate corpse until its head is reattached or the stake is removed.  It may be destroyed by conventional means while in this state.
  • Weakness (Garlic): Vampires suffer a –2 penalty to Fighting attacks against anyone who carries garlic (or has eaten so much of it that the odor exudes from their skin).  It should also be noted that they cannot cross a threshold or windowsill warded with garlic.
  • Weakness (Sunlight): Vampires catch fire if any part of their skin is exposed to sunlight. After that they suffer 2d10 damage per round. Armor does not protect.
  • Weakness (Unwelcome Guest): Vampires cannot enter a home unless invited or the dwelling is owned by another undead.

Weird Science Device: Spring-Loaded Sheath


A complex mechanism made of hand-forged gears and painfully-crafted springs, the spring-loaded sheath grants one use of the Quick Draw Edge for every 4 power points before needing to be rewound (a time-consuming process that should be assigned to a servant).  Spring-loaded sheaths capable of holding more than two knives or a single pistol will be rather bulky and difficult to conceal.  When the device is used, roll the artificer's Weird Science skill to make sure it works properly.   
  • Cost: 100RM per power point (usually 4) + 500RM per skill point of the artificer (usually d6) 
  • Power: warrior's gift (Quick Draw only)
  • Power Points: 4+
  • Range: Touch
  • Duration: Instant

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stop Teasing Me, Swashbucklers!

The BBC's new Musketeers
Back when I first started this blog, my concentration was on swashbuckling adventure of the Zorro and pirates variety.  The King is Dead has gotten to be more of an espionage setting than a sword-swinging one and my heart yearns for some uncomplicated derring-do even though I should really be concentrating on TKID and Steamscapes: Asia.  If the presence of the BBC's new Musketeers wasn't enough to distract me, recent RPG activity on the internets isn't helping at all. 

The Queen's Cavaliers: A Baroque, Clockpunk Swashbuckling Adventure Game.

Back before he sailed off to ports unknown, the always-awesome Mike of Really Bad Eggs did an interview with Caoimhe Ora Snow about her upcoming swashbuckling setting: The Queen’s Cavaliers.  Snow has recently launched a design blog for the setting in preparation for its inevitable Kickstarter, and I have to admit I’m pretty intrigued.

The Queen's Cavaliers uses an overtly inclusive, progressive alternate history as its antidote to the fact that the French aristocracy were assholes (as opposed to my take in turning them into literal vampires to be hunted down and destroyed) and so allows players to adventure in a world of romance and high adventure without feeling bad about supporting a parasitical ruling class. 

I wish I'd been in on the playtests for this one.

 
Speaking of Mike, he's returned for a brief post complaining about the metafictive conceits of FATE Core.  I try not to be an old codger, but I have to admit that I'm sympathetic to Mike's position.  The metafictive structure of story games like FATE and the Powered by the Apocalypse engine just doesn't work with duet games; they rely too much on leveraging the extra-diagetic social dynamics of the playing group and are useless for one player and one GM.  I bought Monsterhearts during the GM's Day sale and was disappointed to realize that a game with "Sex Moves" for the characters couldn't actually be played by a consenting couple.  That is just plain bad design, people!

 
Meanwhile, even Jack Shear -- professor of Gothic Gothiness -- has gotten a hankering for happy, fun swashbuckling over at Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque and cooked up a quick setting sketch for Pulau-Pulau from the Bruce Campbell-starring TV series Jack of All Trades.  Not fair, dude!

 
Finally, the Bundle of Holding for the next three days includes the swashbuckling games Honor + Intrigue and Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies.  I wouldn't know about it if they hadn't quoted my review of Honor + Intrigue.  Grr...  I just blew my gaming budget for the month on Monsterhearts and Monster of the Week; I don't have $16 to get Swashbucklers... and Hellas and a couple of cool-looking sword-and-sorcery games...
 
Speaking of Honor + Intrigue, I think I've come up with a patch to fix the high percentage of failed rolls: lower the base difficulty to 6 and keep the super-success threshold at 12.  That way, success is pretty easy on its 2d6+modifier system but the GM doesn't need to knock himself out thinking up unique twists for super-successes all the damned time (plus "6 on 2d6" just plain sounds intuitive and easy to remember).
 
 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The King is Dead: This Will Not Be In The Book


I wrote something I considered pretty minor in my post yesterday, but it's actually sparked some impassioned responses.

  • Theological questions have been resolved!  There’s no denying that vampires are supernatural beings – their powers are just too weird to be pseudo-scientific despite what the Blade franchise might think – but unless I want to trap the PCs in the grimness of a Lovecraftian universe, then supernatural evil presupposes the existence of supernatural good.  So where has all the good gone?  My once-pagan, now-atheistic leanings can’t embrace accepting a Judeo-Christian worldview, so that means that the ancient pagan gods were real.  Where did they go?  They got killed; Sathaniel allied himself with the evil deities of the old religions and they overthrew the good gods.  Now Eris, Hecate, the Krampus, etc. are worshiped as saints in the Church of Sathaniel. 

Back when I started The King is Dead, I committed to the idea of using ALL of the Arcane Backgrounds available in Savage Worlds because I am insane and the thought of a gonzo kitchen-sink setting cracked me up.  (I have just recently realized Deadlands Reloaded is such a setting, but at the time I hadn't read my copy very closely.)  That commitment has been a driving force behind the setting's design.

Honestly, it would make a LOT more sense from a thematic "Enlightenment overthrows vampires" sense to make Weird Science the only available Arcane Background (and maybe Psionics).  After all, as Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey wants to show us, the antidote to superstition and darkness is science and curiosity. Doing so, though, would not only contradict the whole kitchen-sink idea, but also mean restricting vampires to scientifically-plausible abilities -- and who doesn't want vampires changing into bats and wolves and mist and crap (even if that is going to be rarer than I originally envisioned)?  

So here's the big, crazy secret metaphysical basis for the world of The King is Dead:

Everybody's right and everybody's wrong.

Humankind's ability to perceive and think affects reality on a quantum level.  Energy cannot be created nor can it be destroyed.  The energy -- the electricity -- that fuels humanity's minds and nerves lingers on after death, and sometimes carries the engrams of memories with it.  There are no gods, only ghosts.

But the quantum entanglement of human perception can bind those engrams, can influence and empower those ghosts.  And so as more people worship and propitiate a ghost, it becomes a god and then can directly influence the world.  Thoughts, ideals, fears can become thoughtforms (aka tulpas) and take their place among the gods.  They're all "godforms," if you like.

So all the gods are real, and they're all deluded and/or liars.  A beneficent great goddess like Hecate can become a demonic witch as perceptions about her change.  A sky-father like Jove can grow weak and be destroyed as beliefs change and people turn to other religions.  A clever Bharatastani vetala can seduce a Tsionist princess by claiming the identity of a minor trickster spirit and then go on to found a world-conquering religion.  

Magic and miracles are just ritualized applications of this quantum will; one is channeled through the collective will of fellow magicians and the other through a godform.  Psionics are a pure but misunderstood and dangerous expression of the quantum will while super powers are a stunted mutation of it.  Weird science is science, which is weird enough.  (Did you know you can make white phosphorous from human urine and that real-world science discovered this in 1669?)

I get to have my cake and eat it too.  I get an inclusive, progressive setting about the triumph of human intellect AND I get vampires and werewolves and fairies and demons who are angels and angels who are demons and goddess-fueled feminism and occult-infused Freemasonry and holy warriors and... and... It's a fantasy world where technically the atheists are right.

But that's all stuff in my head and it doesn't need to be in the book.  Other people who want to play in this universe can interpret things their own way.  It's not the like the player characters are ever going to know; it's the 18th century on Earth-TKID and people are a long ways off from discovering quantum physics.

Huh, I guess The King is Dead is actually a science-fiction setting instead.  Who knew?


Monday, March 10, 2014

The King is Dead: Recent Revelations from Actual Play


The first The King is Dead duet campaign with Robin was about a half-Cruthin (Native American) Hawkeye-type going all Assassin's Creed on invading redcoats before taking the fight to Hammerstadt.  The current campaign is about a human aristocrat caught between the temptation of vampirism and the abuse of her gender.  Some recent discoveries about the world include:

A Neo-Gothic poseur.  (Actually, I love Oldman's Dracula.)
  • Vampires have secret societies too!  The Neo-Gothic Society is a gentlemen’s club in Hammerstadt’s equivalent of St. James that fronts itself as a literary society of young vampires obsessed with ages past.  They write poetry extolling the virtues of the early Gothic vampire leaders like Emperor Etzel and Karlo the Great, wear their hair long and unpowdered, and sport unfashionable beards and moustaches.  In truth, they’re a bunch of viciously ambitious junior heirs who worship Etzel because he had the balls to cut off King Hordos’ head and stop taking orders from his sire.  Their goal is to return the world to a proper “state of nature” where only the strong survive and life for humans is nasty, brutish, and short.
  • The Church of Sathaniel has an Inquisition that would rather see political power in the hands of vampire priests than vampire nobles.
  • I already knew Dracula was lurking around Hammerstadt as a king in exile, but Elizabeth Bathory is there too (but she might actually be Salome – the true first vampire – in disguise).
  • Theological questions have been resolved!  There’s no denying that vampires are supernatural beings – their powers are just too weird to be pseudo-scientific despite what the Blade franchise might think – but unless I want to trap the PCs in the grimness of a Lovecraftian universe, then supernatural evil presupposes the existence of supernatural good.  So where has all the good gone?  My once-pagan, now-atheistic leanings can’t embrace accepting a Judeo-Christian worldview, so that means that the ancient pagan gods were real.  Where did they go?  They got killed; Sathaniel allied himself with the evil deities of the old religions and they overthrew the good gods.  Now Eris, Hecate, the Krampus, etc. are worshipped as saints in the Church of Sathaniel. 
  • The existence of such a cornucopia of gods also means that the Sorority of Belquis has a mystical side that worships the female incarnations of wisdom in a sort-of feminist Gnosticism.  Also, they run Malleus’ equivalent of the Gothic novel publisher Minerva Press, where they disseminate feminist propaganda through the guise of supposedly moral tales of horror and rebellion.
  • I don’t have the book handy, but isn’t there a Power that allows for multiple turns in a round?  Quickness?  Yeah, a repeating crossbow is a Weird Science invention with that power.  A rifled musket has the aim Power.  Garlic-enhanced perfume has the confusion power (but only affects vampires).  Man, I’d rather let the players invent the cool gadgets than just have them on a shopping list (even if they just use the examples in the Powers section of the book-that-will-be).  Regular science is Weird Science in The King is Dead.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mecha vs Kaiju shout-out

So we all know I like mecha and kaiju (not in that order, actually), but my own ambitions toward writing such a setting mean I've tried to avoid the only existing RPG I know of in that genre: the aptly-named Mecha vs Kaiju.

Unfortunately, the creator has a Kickstarter going for a new FATE-based version of the setting, and I'd feel like a real jerk if I didn't support it, so here's the link:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1171175182/mecha-vs-kaiju-a-sci-fi-anime-rpg-for-fate-core



Saturday, March 1, 2014

The King is Dead: Bestiary - Lady's Maid

What do you think of this format for a bestiary entry?

from the “Servants” section

Lady’s Maid

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d4, Strength d6, Vigor d6.
Skills: Gambling d4, Healing d4, Intimidation d4, Investigation d4, Knowledge (Profession) d8, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Stealth d6, Streetwise d4, Taunt d4.
Charisma: +0 (+2)  Pace:Parry:Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Anemic, Outsider
Edges: Attractive
Equipment: Her mistress’ cast-off clothes, sewing kit, Sathanic Bible or popular novel.

Lady’s maids occupy an unusual and awkward position in the household.  They clean their ladies’ rooms, mend their dresses, and help to dress them and do their hair.  Lady’s maids are outside of the hierarchy of household servants and are accorded much free time when not performing their duties; however, they must be prepared to assist their ladies at any time of the day or night and so must keep late hours (especially when in the city).  Like butlers and valets, lady's maids are referred to by their last names.  Lady’s maids are often rewarded with their ladies’ cast-off clothes; they are allowed to wear the plainer ones and may sell or donate the rest.  Ladies’ maids are often assumed to be their mistresses’ confidants, but the truth is that most aristocrats see them as being as disposable as any servant.  Due to her access to a lady’s chamber and separation from the rest of the household staff, having a lady’s maid as your ally can prove very advantageous when arranging a rendezvous, burglary, or assassination.


Greta Harkness
Seasoned
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6.
Skills: Gambling d4, Healing d4, Intimidation d6, Investigation d4, Knowledge (Profession) d8, Notice d8, Persuasion d6, Stealth d6, Streetwise d6, Taunt d6.
Charisma: +0 (+2)  Pace: 6  Parry: 2  Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Cautious, Code of Honor, Outsider
Edges: Attractive
Equipment: Her mistress’ cast-off clothes, sewing kit, Sathanic Bible or popular novel.
Motivation: Escape this life of drudgery and despair.

Harkness is the lady's maid to Grafin Millarca zu Wolfenbach von Rickard, a minor noblewoman whose husband prefers hunting on his estates and leaves her to spend her life enjoying society in Hammerstadt.  Grafin Millarca is callous and whimsical; she alternates between treating Harkness as a cherished pet and beating her like a dog.  Harkness has recently begun reading the scandalous "thrilling novels" published by the Sorority of Belquis' Minerva Press; their tales of vampire-slaying madwomen and charismatic anarchists have sparked a simmering fire of resentment in Harkness' mind.

Plot Seeds
  • Grafin Millarca has started an affair with a vampire officer or politician that the player characters are pursuing; befriending Harkness may allow them access to assassinate or poison the vampire.
  • Harkness has submitted a manuscript to Minerva Press; the work is a thinly-veiled roman à clef about her employer's affairs. Publishing the novel may provoke an advantageous scandal, but it may also expose the lady's maid to danger.


I Want Edopunk

I didn’t back 7 th Sea: Khitai for three reasons: 1) I honestly haven’t gotten much use out of my 7 th Sea 2 nd Edition books so far...