Monday, 30 July 2012

We Are Facing Technical Difficulties...

... in that my notebook is currently refusing to display Blogger.


I'm working on it as we speak, but I'll be mainly updating from work over the next few days. Things might be a little choppy...

In other news, the Retaking of Hallowfort adventure is coming on swimmingly, and I have some preview sketches and artwork to upload when I get everything sorted...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Adepts of Mechanus - a Planescape Sect

On the Planes, many people find their personal philosophies align with those of a particular group or Plane. Or perhaps, that the Planes align with them. Such chicken-and-egg pedantry is practically Sigil's national past time, after all.

The Cult of the Machine are no different - their desire for pure unfettered Law links them strongly to the Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus, the Plane of Law and home to the Modrons.

They are generally thought to be an offshoot of the Guvnors, another Lawful Faction within Sigil. Where the Guvnors attempt to codify the Multiverse, however, the Adepts attempt to codify themselves - masters of anatomy and biology, as well as clockworking and machinery, they believe that to know is to control - and they are voracious in their devouring of sacred knowledges. Many worship Primus, The First Modron, as their patron Power. Primus seems nonplussed by this behaviour, at best.

Their true philosophy is one of transcendence - past flesh and into pure Law. There are many paths to this, according to their teachings - from replacing their flesh with machinery, to gaining knowledge of the inner workings of the body, to understand how it works in the hope of improving it. They hope to reach a state of purity within their own lifetime, but many will settle with passing on their knowledge to others with similar beliefs.

They are identifiable through their code of dress and appearance - many wear bright red robes, and bear stylised cogs and gears as part of their get-up. They are also fond of adapting their bodies using bizarre alchemical methods - while some treat themselves with unguents and potions to improve their bodies and minds, some use clockwork and machinery to improve their "base flesh". These transhumans (and demi-humans) are still a rare sight outside of Mechanus itself, but some will enter Sigil to spread the good word, and to buy reagents and materials for superior constructions.

There are rumours, however, that not all of their members are as kindly as you might expect - even that they have been hunting Rogue Modrons, so as to harvest their parts, ritually consecrate them back to Law, and use them to upgrade themselves.

Their current leader is Dar Anis (F/Planar/Zenthyri/MU8), a woman who has replaced both her arms and one of her legs with strange, clockwork prosthetics. She has been pushing for the Sect to set up a large presence in Sigil, but the current level of membership is a little too small to think about branching too far from Mechanus.

Should you ever want to improve yourself, or replace a missing limb, hunt down these Machine Cultists - you won't regret it! Unless you're a Rogue Modron, in which case - skip out!

Choice, Consequence, and Mass Effect 3

I am something of a video gamer, to complement my love of tabletop gaming. And, I've just started Mass Effect 2 after a long time playing Fallout: New Vegas.

My girlfriend's flatmate, however, just finished ME3.

*SPOILERS AHOY!* I'll even put in a jump break for this one...

Rogue Trader: One-on-One: Part Fourteen: You Weren't Expecting US

The crew set their sights on this brave new world - Claudia was already planning investments as she travelled. However, during a brief re-entry into the Materium, she received an encoded vox/pict message.

A plain black screen.

"Lord-Captain Black - we will be with you shortly. Prepare yourself."

The voice sounded old, almost grandfatherly in tone. As soon as it was done, an image flashed onto the screen for a few seconds before the message ended.
The Universal Symbol For "You're Fucked"
The Lord-Captain's only response was, and I quote:


Much running around ensued, trying to hide anything that might be construed as heresy (from the Xenos artifacts the Lord-Captain had acquired, to those she planned to sell on, right up to the "warded" servitor-AIs onboard the Champagne Room).

Eventually, a small ship appeared - clearly not Warp-capable (or only marginally so), pure black against the Void. It docked with the ship, and Claudia ensured she was first in line to welcome the Inquisitor when he entered.

The man who came down the ramp wasn't quite what she was expecting. He looked to be in his sixties, possibly seventies - his thinning white hair was plastered onto his head in a slight comb-over. He limped heavily, supported by an ornate cane (which the Lord-Captain identified as being Wraithbone, the psychic building blocks of most Eldar technology).

He smiled when he saw her, and greeted her warmly. He explained that he had worked alongside her mother on several occasions, and was amazed to see how much she'd grown since he last saw her. He introduced himself as Inquisitor Thaddeus Lethe, of the Ordo Xenos. He had come to pay his respects to Claudia's mother.

Behind him, another figure left the vessel. This one was tall, almost inhumanly thin, and moved with a practised grace that was almost unearthly. He wore simple armour, definitely Xenos in origin, and carried a sword of the finest craftsmanship.

Lethe introduced the figure as Ulthir, his "companion". The Lord-Captain knew that Ulthir was most definitely an Eldar, but he seemed to lack... something. Her newly-found psychic senses did not tingle the same way as they did when faced with the other Eldar. Lethe explained that Ulthir was a rarity amongst his kind - his natural psychic ability did not function, a "Blank" in human terms. Such Eldar are almost unheard of, and Ulthir was cast out from his Craftworld when he came of age. Lethe had found him plying his services as a mercenary, and eventually convinced him to travel with him, doing service for The Imperium.

Claudia had ensured that Inquisitor Lethe's stay would be as comfortable as possible - right through to a tour of the ship, to see how things had changed since her mother's death. He eventually broached the subject of her search for The Pearl - several of the other Rogue Traders who had managed to return empty-handed to Port Wander and Footfall suspected that Claudia was doing far better than themselves.

Reluctantly, she showed Lethe and Ulthir the Star Map - Lethe was fascinated, having never seen a working example of such closely-guarded Eldar tech. Ulthir, however, seemed a little edgy, and eventually excused himself after an argument in Eldar with Lethe. Turns out, he wasn't keen on humans interfering with his people's secrets - though it turned out he couldn't care less about the fate of the people that had abandoned him, but he did care about why the starmap had been broken and cast into the Warp. After some persuasion, he did help Claudia to analyse the starmap further, and to gain some knowledge into its workings, though he maintained a superior air throughout the length of his stay.

Lthe also asked questions of The Champagne Room, and even requested a small tour. He was most fascinated with it, but knew he would need to leave it in her hands - as a Human relic, it was somewhat outside his scope as a member of the Ordo Xenos. Claudia's insistence that she would return it to the Adeptus Mechanicus for study further cemented his trust in the new Scion of the Black Dynasty.

Claudia had began to tire of the Inquisitor's methods and secrecy, and decided on a decisive change of course - to the Halo Stars, just outside true Imperial Space. While she knew that the Inquisition held the highest power inside the Imperium's borders, outside she was the God-Emperor's Hand - and even Lethe could be held to her account.

In theory, at least. Warrants of Trade and Inquisitorial Rosettes are something akin to unstoppable forces and immovable objects - who knows what would happen when one tried to push against the other.

Forgoing her previous etiquette, she took Lethe aside and chewed him out - asking exactly why he was here. Lethe smiled, and told Claudia of all the ways she reminded him of her mother, her temper was the biggest.

He explained that both of them were in highly privileged positions - the Lords of Mankind, held above account to all but the God-Emperor himself. And, with that, there were certain temptations that might spring from answering to no-one. He simply arrived to quell his own personal concerns for the daughter of an old friend, and to ensure that she was still on the straight and narrow path of humanity's Manifest Destiny.

Claudia was unconvinced, but at least she believed his concerns - she simply knew he had other motives for his sudden appearance. Whether it was the Pearl, the Star Map itself, or to simply court her into the service of the Inquisition, she couldn't tell - but, she would find out. Soon enough.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Retaking of Hallowfort: An Adventure for 1st Level PCs (A Primer)

So, a little primer on what I'm currently writing:

The Retaking of Hallowfort is an OSR adventure for 1st-level PCs. The action revolves around the ancient, abandoned Dwarfhall of Hallowfort - once a proud defensive structure, leading to a Dwarven settlement and mine, now a broken shell of its former self - the Dwarves have long gone, forced out by tribes of humanoid raiders, and repurposed as a hovel for monstrous humanoids of all types.

However, they're not the only ones interested in reclaiming it - a settlement of Humans and Elves in a neighbouring city wants a stake in it, for the natural resources it might contain; the Dwarves want to reclaim it as their heritage, and for the religious artifacts contained within; and a group of Kobolds scout it out for reasons unknown, but many suspect the involvement of a Dragon.

The adventure can be dropped into any existing campaign setting (and edited to suit, with tips to help it fit somewhat better), and while the stats will be OSR-compatible, I'll maybe include a note on using Microlite20 (what I'm playtesting it with now).

While the bulk of the adventure revolves around the dungeon of Hallowfort, the adventure will contain information on the surrounding area and influential NPCs from all 4 sides of the story.

As you might be able to read, I had wanted diplomacy to be a strong option in every aspect of the adventure - so, each NPC will have a list of dispositions, accepted bribes, and other such information for those players who don't want to be risking life and limb for the entire adventure (and, with the numbers that will be present on all four sides, and all-out battle would most certainly end badly).

Monday, 23 July 2012


So, according to my stats, I've managed to hit 11,000 views since the blog started - although the vast majority of them have been in the last year or so.

So, I wanted to say a big Thank You to everyone who follows the blog, who occasionally views it, and to the 700 or so people who accidentally followed a Google Image Search to find the origin of that awesome picture in my A to Z post about Zombies.

I thank you all!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Gentleman's Guide to Being a Bard

So, I sat down to watch Comedy Central's How To Be A Gentleman, and realised after about ten minutes that I could have spent the time used far better, by ripping my testicles off and feeding them to passing stray animals.

(Which is a shame, because it has Murray from Flight Of The Conchords in it. Poor, poor Murray)

Instead, I thought I would purge the psychic garbage acquired by that god-awful excuse for a TV show, and write up this handy guide!

Being a bard is more than trying to have as many half-human offspring as you can. (I've lost count of how many players have "excused" their Half-Elf character by having a Bard as one (or both!) parents).Playing a Bard is about being the party "Face", about talking your way out of any situation, lying through your teeth, and, most importantly, trying to have sex with one of everything.
Step One: Know Your Audience
This applies to all Bards - if you want to be a smooth-talking mofo, you need to learn your campaign setting, inside and out. When you're flattering the Orcish Warrior-Tribesmen of Kurst, you'll need a different tact than when you want to con the Royal Treasurer of Chantry-Post out of an extra 10% of your fee.

Different cultures have different standards of beauty, taste and decency, and you need to know them - involving yourself in politics and social conflict is just as dangerous as physical battle - while, by the rules, D&D punishes being bad at fighting far worse than being bad with people, in the right campaign, it's a death sentence. Like anything involving the complicated politics, backstabbing and double crossing of the Drow - one wrong word, and all your family will be poisoned. Stick to what you know - or, better still, learn about them. Ask the DM for as much info as he will give, or steep yourself in the lore of a setting to get an idea how a character from there would react in such a situation - though be careful not to get yourself into metagaming territory.

A high Charisma score can only get so far - as a somewhat strict GM, if I knew that a Bard character was dressed like a foppish noble, the Orcs would kick the shit out of him before they'd listen to him, regardless of how good a speech he can give with rolls. Should he (somehow) manage to roleplay it out convincingly... well, that's another matter.

Step Two: Dress To Impress
You'd be amazed at what a decent set of duds can do for you. For a start, should you roll up to a noble's party wearing your leather armour (with the dried-in Kobold blood and the edging frayed due to Gelatinous Cube damage), don't expect a warm welcome.

A goodly part of your cash income should be set aside for clothing - everything from a beggar's cloak to a nobleman's robes. And, if you're hob-nobbing in high society, I might also advise making hygiene a strong point - soaps, razors, and perfumes should always make an appearance on your shopping lists.

I would be inclined to provide a small bonus to a player who spent some time ensuring his character was appropriately dressed, for certain situations. Say, an extra +1 to Reaction bonuses, or Diplomacy checks. This might rise to +2 if they have spent time grooming and otherwise preparing themselves (or if they spent a lot of money on their clothes and scents).

Remember as well - many Bards are played as very attractive, so possibly consider adding an extra bonus when dealing with those who are of the right orientation!

Step Three: Specialisation Is For Insects
You're not as good in a straight up fight as the Fighter. Your spell selection isn't as good as the Magic-User, and you're not as talented as the Thief.

This is fine, because you're none of those things. You're all of them.

When the Magic-User would be crawling back from a physical fight, you whip out your sword and go to town. When the Thief gets stuck with a trap, or caught in a lie, you have spells to help you out. And, when the Fighter would be trying to kick down every door and person in your way, your social skills and Thieving abilities come into play.

You are naturally a multi-role support specialist, so try and stick with options that allow you to do a little bit more. Filling in for any other character in a pinch will make you very popular amongst your group.

In old-school games, your high Charisma also allows you to hire a wider variety of Hirelings - so you can ensure that not only are you prepared for every eventuality, but you have a team to fill out any roles you might not be able to!
Step Four: Never Fight Fair
At least, if you can get away with it. Use trickery and misdirection, throw sand in their eyes, use Bluff to feint at an enemy, use Diplomacy to finish a fight before it starts, have a spring-loaded knife in your shoe - do whatever it takes. While you can fight, you're not a front-line Fighter, and you should use every trick in the book to level the playing field.

Your weapon selection is somewhat limited, but you might want to ensure you have both a melee and ranged option. Small hand-crossbows make for great covert weapons, but a bow can be used as part of a disguise - whether as a hunter, archer, mercenary, or (with a bit of luck), an Elf.

For close-up work, daggers lack a decent punch. Take a short sword, or preferably a rapier. Carry a few spare daggers just in case you need a backup, an improvised ranged weapon, or cutlery.

For 3.5, you want to look through the equipment books for anything that might give you the upper hand - hidden blades, disguised weapons, items that enhance your Sleight-of-Hand, Bluff, and Diplomacy skills, extra sneaky spells, whatever you can!

Step Five: Don't Spend All Your Time Whoring
Now, whoring is important - but, when the party are in the local tavern, you have a job to do. You're the Social Character, so go and be social! Whether it's chatting to the locals about goings-on in town, getting rumours and hints, buying drinks to ensure loyalty to you and yours, or hiring Henchmen, the tavern is your playground - make the most of it.

And yes, when you're done, then you can go whoring.

Step Six: Go Big or Go Home
How many Bards have you heard tales about who stuck to the back of the group, never really said anything, and made themselves as inconspicuous as possible? Very few, I'm betting.

Take chances. Make your name known. Take risks that will make your character known in gaming groups for years to come, as "The Bard who rugby tackled the Evil Overlord off a bridge mid-speech" or "The Bard who seduced a GOD", or "The Bard with a high enough Charisma, Diplomacy and Bluff to let him get away with digging up the Pope and putting him on trial for his sins."
Yes, this really happened.

Bards are not just heroes - they're Heroes, capital H. Use every little trick in the book to go down in history, and drag the bastards kicking and screaming with you.

Required Reading
For D&D 3.5 - Complete Scoundrel. The equipment list is both exhaustive and awesome, full of lots of little fun tricks. The character options (including Skill Tricks) can add an extra layer of versatility to your character (always a good thing for Bards!), and, rather unusually, it provides information for making a scoundrel as any Class - from Paladins to Wizards, so long as they're cheeky and awesome.

Friday, 20 July 2012

New Microlite20 Races!

One of the joys of Microlite20 is how easy it is to make new races and classes. There are so few options, and it's easy to convert stuff over from 3.5, it'd be a shame to stick with what's in the PDF...

The general advice for making your own:
  • All races have a total +2 bonus to stats. This can come as a bonus or a malus - Dwarves are +2 STR, Half-Orcs are +4 STR, -2 MIND. So long as it balances out to +2, it's all good.
  • Humans are a special case - they get +1 to all skills. This means, as a rule of thumb, those four points are roughly equivalent to the two points of stat bonuses. Thus, a +1 to two skills (or +2 to one skill) is worth +1 to a stat.
  • Certain abilities can be substituted for +1 point, and stronger ones would cost you the +2 - add some negatives to balance out more powerful options!
So, without further ado...

+3 DEX, -2 STR, +2 Subterfuge

+1 DEX, +2 Physical

+1 DEX, roll on the Tiefling Abilities Table twice, and the Appearance table three times.

+1 MIND (or CHA, if you're using it), roll on the Aasimar Abilities Table twice and the Appearance table three times.

+1 MIND, +1 DEX

+1 MIND (or CHA, if you're using it), Minor Shapechange (change appearance at-will, unable to copy a specific person grants +5 to SUBT for the purposes of Disguise)

+2 STR, +2 DEX, -2 MIND
 +3 STR, -2MIND, +2 Subt

+1 STR, +1 MIND

+2 Str, -1 MIND, +2 Survival (even non-Rangers and Druids)

This is just a small sample of the races you can make with Microlite20 - go check out the Rules for free!

Rogue Trader: One-on-One: Part Thirteen: FINALLY

So, Lord-Captain Claudia Black finally had the three pieces of the starmap she had sought so long - the Pearl was finally within her grasp!

Her "dreams" had been getting more and more vivid, and more and more frequently, she had been catching glimpses of her "other self" in reflective surfaces and by somewhat controlling the actions of the figure. She was almost certainly an Eldar - the armour she wore, the weapons she carried, and the long, almost asexual and totally alien reflection she saw confirmed it to her mind. The land she strode through also became clearer - the diamond-coated beaches of pure, white sand, the sweltering jungle environs, and that huge mountain, a sense of foreboding and yet hope when she saw it...

She had been taking enough carefully-balanced stimulants to keep her awake for almost a week at a time. Once she hit the "critical" level of sleep deprivation, she would take a few nights sleep using an obscura-derivative, for a deep, dreamless coma-like sleep. The crew had began to worry about her behaviour, and she continued to confide her worries with Allesaunder.

When the Medicae declared her fit to return to full duties, she began attempting to piece the starmap together. While the pieces seemed to fit together perfectly, they did nothing. They ended up resembling a large, two-tone coin - an outer ring, with the smaller disc nestled inside. Allesaunder detected residual amounts of psychic energy in the stones - moreso than when they were seperate.

Claudia called upon the skills of Blind Mag, her Chief Astropath, who in turn brought the full force of the ships' Astropathic Choir to try and activate the device. It took a lot of effort, but, finally, the wispy, delicate runes scratched into the surface of the strange, bone-like tablet began to glow, and the disc began to levitate, the two components spinning at different speeds and directions, like some twisted mockery of a gyroscope.

Allesaunder tried to read the energies given off by the tablet, but could not - he required the Lord-Captain's knowledge, implanted by the Witches, to fully access the information.

Again, she plunged herself into the Warp with Allesaunder, felt the force of raw emotion all around her, the laughter of thirsting Gods pulling at her mind, only banished by the tiny, twinkling light of the Astronomicon - The God-Emperor himself, watching over her.

Deep within the depths, like a submerged diamond, she caught sight of her prize - The Pearl! The Eldar's map guided her feet, letting her flow through the waters like she was water herself, until she could see the diamond beaches, the beautiful plantlife...

And the mountain. Burning red fire leaked from every inch of it, a hateful pyre against the darkness. She felt the rage of eons pressing in on her mind, pushing her until she could feel her soul about to crumble...

And she was out. She hit the floor, hard, and began vomiting. The experience had taken a lot out of her, but, before she was taken again to the Medicae, Allesaunder showed her the massive holo-projector of their star charts, with a new addition - floating in one area of peace amidst a roiling Warp storm.

They had a new heading - the Pearl.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Microlite20 Binder: Impressions and Changes To Be Made

So, now that I've posted up the Binder class for Microlite20, I can already spot a few probelms.

First, it's way too complicated. M20 is meant to strip back the more complicated aspects of 3.X, leaving the bare bones of each class. There's just a little bit too much going on there.

Second, my layout is pretty shitty.

Third, it's not generic enough - M20 is meant to be adaptable, and while you can add your own Vestiges or abilities, it's still kinda tied to those particular archetypes.

So, for the next iteration, I propose the following:

  • Fix the damn layout!
  • Maybe set the class so each DC gives a selection of abilities, instead of set archetypes, like so:
DC10 - gain one of the following abilities:
  • a +3 bonus to a Skill
  • a +1 bonus to a Stat
  • a +1 bonus to your Melee, Ranged or Magic Attack Value
  • the ability to wear Light Armour with no penalty
  • A single 0-level Spell, cast as a Signature Spell
DC15 - gain two DC10 abilities, or:
  • a +5 bonus to a Skill
  • an ability from another Class (like the Fighter's bonus to-hit, the Thief's Backstab, or the Ranger's Dual-Wielding), aside from full Spellcasting. These are used as a first-level member of that class
  • A single 1st-level Spell as a Signature Spell
  • Two 0-level Spells as Signature Spells
...and so on. Then, I'd maybe make specific Vestiges using these rules (so an Ancient Lich, which grants a suite of abilities, at the appropriate DC), with drawbacks to scale more powerful ones out (like a vulnerability to Healing Energy, or a berserk rage, or something such). I'd keep those separate - as a Campaign Option (either use the "pick and play" or the set Vestiges, but it's one or the other).

Monday, 16 July 2012


DiesIrae's legendary tale, Into The Maw: or, How I Became Incredibly Wealthy, has restarted over on!

This, ladies and gents, is made me want to play Rogue Trader. It's writtn as the memoirs of one Laertes Geneso Olivares, Rogue Trader, Captain of the Imperial Cruiser His Invincible Will, Admiral of the First Conquering Fleet, Saviour of Idumea, Krakenslayer, Plunderer of Heaven, Untemptable, Commander of the Conventicle of the Expanse, God-Slayer, Bane of the Necrontyr, Tomb-Killer.

The name alone should give you an idea of the heroics involved! If you have a spare while, go an read it, and be enlightened.


Microlite20: The Binder Class: First Draft

I always thought Binders were a really cool, underused addition to the D&D universe - casters who bound the spirits of Gods and other powerful entities into themselves, and used their power in exchange for them getting to live again, to experience the world once more. They had a cool Loa-style feel to them, and I want to try and capture that here - while ensuring they are simple enough to keep within the M20 framework.

Due to their nature, however, they are a little bit more complicated than the average M20 class. Hopefully, it's not too off-putting. This will be the first draft - I'll playtest it soon, and maybe pop up a few extra vestiges at some point too..

The Vestiges presented are left intentionally vague, so as to fit into multiple campaign settings. Suggested names and behaviours are also presented, but not required - change them to fit your game!

Binders are Arcane casters who wear no armour. First level Binders gain a +3 bonus to Knowledge.

A binder can use an Action (instead of attacking or moving) to bind a Vestige to himself. This requires a MIND+Knowledge check, with the DC varying by vestige. Failing this roll means the Vestige isn't listening, and won't bind to you. Rolling a natural 1 means the Vestige possesses you for the duration of the Binding, and the PC falls under the GM's control (doing its best to spread its agenda or do what it did in life).

To dispel it, the Binder must succeed a MIND test (it's harder to get rid of an entity than it is to call it into yourself). A Binder may bind a number of Vestiges equal to his MIND bonus per day. Each Vestige bound grants certain abilities, for MIND Bonus+ half-Level rounds. After this, the Vestige is automatically dispelled, and cannot be called again until the next encounter (or after a rest).

Each Vestige carries a Tell - a sign that they are with the Binder. This can manifest any number of ways, listed with each Vestige. Anyone with knowledge of Vestiges can make a MIND+Knowledge check against the Vestige's DC to read these Tells in another, and guess what type of Vestige they are using at that time.

Optional: If you are using the Charisma stat in your game, Binders use it in place of their MIND stat.


Warrior (DC10): the Binder gains +2 to their Melee Attack Bonus or Ranged Attack Bonus, as well as a +3 bonus to their Physical Skill. They can also wear any armour with no penalty.
Tells: Loud, brash demeanour, a smell of blood, dirty appearance

Magician (DC10): the Binder gains access to the Arcane spell Prestidigitation as a Signature spell.
Tells: Slight magical aura, wizened appearance

Silver Tongued Devil (DC10): the Binder gains a +3 bonus to their Communication skill.
Tells: Smile that's too wide, semi-reptilian features (or other slight demonic tell)

Mage (DC15): the Binder gains the ability to use three Mage spells (2 0th-level, 1 1st-level, randomly determined), as though they were Signature Spells. If the Binder scores over 20 on the check, they can choose the spells himself from the Arcane Spell List.
Tells: Magical aura, the scent of arcane oils and reagents,a studious nature

Trickster (DC 15): the Binder gains the Backstab ability, and a +5 bonus to their Subterfuge Skill.
Tells: Cheeky smile, swift hands, a roguish demeanour

Holy Warrior (DC15): the Binder gains +2 to their Melee Attack Bonus, as well as the ability to Smite Evil.
Tells: Strong aura of Good, occasional flashes of holy fire, determined attitude, swears oaths to a certain God or Pantheon.

Tempter (DC20): the Binder gains the ability to use Charm as a spell-like ability, and gains a +5 bonus to their Communication skill.
Tells: Elongated, serpentine features, a whiff of brimstone, features considered attractive by a wide variety of races.

Nature Spirit (DC20): the Binder can Speak With Animals and Wildshape into the form of a Medium animal, with Hit Dice equal to their level.
Tells: Animalistic features, neutral outlook, traits of a specific animal (whether ill-tempered, stoic, stubborn, etc).

Great Warrior (DC20): the Binder gains a +4 bonus to their Melee Attack Bonus or their Ranged Attack Bonus, as well as a +5 bonus to their Physical skill.
Tells: Same as Warrior, though far more pronounced - rippling physique, a smell of battle, etc.

Lich (DC 30): the Binder gains the ability to use 6 Mage Spells (one of each spell level, or multiple lower level spells, randomly determined) as though they were Signature Spells, as well as the abilty to use Paralysing Touch as a spell-like ability.
Tells: Gaunt, almost skeletal appearance, raspy, hissing voice, bouts of maniacal laughter, perceptible aura of magic (a glow of unearthly energies, a chill in the air, etc.)

Vestiges and Your Campaign
The Vestiges above are presented as incredibly generic, to allow them to fit into multiple types of campaign. Say your Binder relies on the spirits of his ancestors to help him - he would call upon K'Tchalk, the finest warrior his tribe had produced, during a pitched battle, or Teles the Shaman for magical assistance.
By the same token, perhaps another Binder might specify that they are channelling the essence of the Gods themselves - calling on Mystara, Kord, or anyone from within the massive D&D pantheon for their tricks.

Next time: a few more Vestiges and Tells, playtest revisions, and some more alternate takes on the Binder!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Rogue Trader One-on-One: Part Twelve: There's Always a Plan B

So we left our intrepid Captain about to begin a game of Regicide, with an incredibly heretical board, with a Necron Lord.

Yes, I went a bit gonzo - but we're both loving it.

The Necrontyr proposed a stake, to make the game more interesting - if she won, she could take any item she wished from his collection. If he won, he got to keep one of her crew as a trophy, held eternally like the other "live" samples he had collected. Harry the Tech-Priest, to be exact. While Harry (being a massive coward) was none too keen on the idea, the thought that she might attain the final starmap piece without resorting to violence against this god-like creature was one that appealed to her greatly.

The Captain had a lot of experience with Regicide - at the Military Academy, she had used it as a way to both relax and hone her tactical skills, and could reliably beat most comers.

But not the Necrontyr.

He was pulling manuvers that would put Deep Blue to shame, with feints, set-ups, and bizarre choices that seemed to show he could read her every move, and somehow stay at least 5 moves ahead. She struggled her way through the game, until calling for a small break as he plotted his next move. Ever gracious, the Necron allowed her to speak to Jayne for a moment as he plotted. She dropped Jayne the verbal clue that everything had went to shit, and it was time for Plan B.

With Jayne, Plan B is always explosives.

She pulled something off of her belt, and tipped the Captain back out of her "chair", practically slinging her over her shoulder to carry her away as a great flash of blue light erupted behind her. Turns out Harry had "liberated" some fine technology from the Champagne Room, and was in the process of categorising and testing it when Jayne happened upon one of these beauties. He "gifted" it to her, for no small expense, for her personal collection.

Looking back, Claudia saw the Necrotyr frozen, his expression still what she assumed to be one of deep thought and planning - surrounded by a familiar blue glow. The Stasis Grenade would hold him in the frozen state for somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes, so they had to act fast. Asking Harry what the field did, he explained it was just like the ones on the ship - but much smaller, if just as effective. He was worried that the Necrotyr might not be affected, his technology far outstripping their own - but, as Claudia surmised, their lower-tech solution still had him stumped.

The crew ran into the back room, swiping up whatever loose items they could - most things which weren't once living were simply carefully placed, not held by arcane technologies. She also noted that the starmap piece, a disk the size of her torso, was floating free of the field - perhaps it only worked on living beings? She would need to make some notes when she got out...

If she got out. The crew, having grabbed everything they could, huddled around the massive set of golden armour, and she cried for a wide-range beam-up via the Teleportarium. The other Necrontyr had started to twig that something was wrong, and began pursuing the crew - swarms of scarabs and skeletal Warriors, somewhat lost without the Necron Lord's guidance, began firing wide shots at the crew. While travelling through the Warp is never a pleasant experience, teleporting out of the fields generated on the Necron ship nearly tore the crew apart.

It was a good few hours before the Captain awoke, safe in one of the Medicae bays, but she still held onto her prize - the final piece of her starmap.

So, You Shot The Commisar...

40K is a very, very serious setting. I mean, look at all the blood, gore, nudity, adult themes, the... uh... football-hooligan aliens, Sylvester Sly Rambo Marbo...

Okay, it's not. At all. But many people take it very seriously. However, peering through the origins of the setting (the original Rogue Trader book), you can see that the whole thing is a parody - the seriousness is there to make it even more ridiculous.

So, some of the best opportunities for gleaning humour from the setting come from taking potentially very serious situation and milking them into broad, farcical comedy. One of my personal favourites is playing Guardsmen. As the ultra-disposable front-line soldiers of the Imperium, you are expected to die - either at the hands of the enemy (and they are legion - Ork, Necrons, Chaos, Eldar, Tau, everything wants to kill you), or at the hands of your superiors - the Commissariat.

Trained to keep men's morale when any sane man would break down in tears, they go by the simple maxim - "To make men face something terrifying, make sure there's something even worse behind them". You might survive an encounter with Orks, through superior firepower and tactical planning - death is not guaranteed on the battlefield. But if you even think about breaking the line, the Commissar will kill you. No doubts, no maybes - you're a dead man.

But, picture the scene.

Commissar Dan was in a terrible mood. His men had been underperforming on the field, regardless of how many of them he shot. At least they had stopped trying to run back from the front-line - now he just had to catch them sneaking off at the sides.

And, to make matters worse, he had received an Astropathic transmission the night before - the psyker had fallen into a trance, and began drawing, scribbling wildly without looking at the page. Within half an hour, the automatic writing was complete - a huge, stylised letter "I", with the sigil of the Aquila, and the words "EXPECT US".

With the Inquisition breathing down his neck, he needed to get the men on top form. He began hollering at the top of his lungs, to be better heard over the constant rattle of the live-fire exercise his men performed.


Private Lanacea heard the Commissar's shouts cut short, and felt an odd, cold splatter against the back of his helmet. He spun around, and spied two very concerning things.

First was Commissar Dan - lying on the sand, leaking blood and brain matter. His hat had been rather forcibly separated from his head by the force of the gunshot that removed part of his skull.

Behind him, surrounded by men gawping at him, was Private Vannis. The only words he could mouth was "ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit".

As they stood, gawping at the mistake that had been made, the vox blared to life.

++This is Inquisitor Leambas. We will be making planetfall within the hour++

This could be a great setup for a Black Crusade game, exploring the dark side of men desperate to avoid punishment, and the lengths they might go to to avoid certain death.

On the other hand, play it with Risus, have one of the PCs dress up like the Commissar, invite the Inquisitor to dinner while accidentally killing off more of the NPCs, and generally make a general comedy of errors of the whole thing!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012


So, while watching Skyline recently, I got thinking about motivations - and how the ones in the movie just don't make sense.


Trust me, you won't care. This was a big-budget, low-quality blockbuster a few summers ago. It's pretty rotten, has a cast all plucked from a variety of mediocre TV shows, and has a lack of coherent direction that would make McG proud.
It revolves around the story of a group of people trapped in a high-rise as aliens attack, and begin sucking people up into their ships like great big Dysons. As it turns out they're biomechanical/organic aliens, who use human brains to run their drones and war machines. They steal them straight out of people's heads.


You're trying to tell me that, despite having organic technology far in advance of ours, (presumably) some form of faster-than-light tech, and a whole different, you know, DNA structure, these guys can just plug-and-play human brains into their stuff? And they can't find a better source of brains (like cloning) or, better yet, build a computer that can do the job a thousand times better, faster, and more reliably than a human brain can?

Now, if this was a campy, fun sci-fi movie, I wouldn't have asked. I can accept a lot of suspension of disbelief when a film is knowingly being silly. But a lot of effort is made to make the aliens seem threatening and alien, to show the real horror of an alien invasion, and to ratchet up the freaky factor wherever it can. So when it asks us to swallow something so dumb, it jars pretty hard.

The Matrix movies had a bad case of this type of plot hole - using humans as thermal batteries. So, you feed the human 1kg of food, and it makes X amount of heat. As we're not a perfect machine, some of that heat is lost. Wouldn't it be easier for the machines to burn the food, gaining a far better ratio of energy in:energy out, than have to have those pesky humans all over the place? They shit, they breathe, they can only survive certain temperatures... you're far easier just keeping a stock of fuel than using humans for it.

These motivations make little sense, from an outsider's point of view. So, when running a game, make sure your villains (and other NPCs) have understandable motivations.

Take the Necromancer - a classic Bad Guy. Why would a Necromancer hire living minions when he is shown to be able to make far tougher, more impressive, threatening, and useful minions from their corpses? Many would think he's wasting money, and it shows a lack of forethought.

So, give him a reason - perhaps he can only control so many Undead before his power is too stretched out. Maybe he values their ability to think independently. Maybe it is cheaper to hire mercs than make zombies (and, when they die, you take their money back and turn them into zombies! PROFIT). Maybe he just likes them as people, and gives them the chance to join him instead of killing them.

Or the Big Bad Overlord - why does he concern himself with the activities of a bunch of low-level adventurers? Maybe hes paranoid, maybe his advisor is an Oracle, maybe he has a soft spot for one of the PCs. Maybe he's the father of one of them!

Why doesn't the city send the guards or militia to clear out dungeons, instead of hiring mercenary adventurers? My favourite answer for this: taxation. If the Duke were to use his Duchy's resources (technically, the King's resources), any treasure and magic items they found would be taxed (on the King's special Dungeon Tax of 35%, no less). However, if the adventurers went and found gold, then came back and spent it in town, increasing the flow of cash, and only being charged standard tax! It's a win-win!

Whatever you do, make sure he has a reason for doing it. Even if it's based on information that is wrong, it has to make sense to the person doing it - otherwise you end up feeding people too much and then trying to plug their brain into your laptop.