Roleplaying Games


We picked up our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign right where we left off: the characters had returned from Mars through the ancient Atlantean gate in Moreus Das, the City of the Dead, arriving in the underground headquarters of the Boston Project of the Office of Scientific Investigations. They came through the gate, pursued by the ancient God-King Morteus, and Veitch — their resident man with Atlantean blood — only just managed to close the portal in time. However, a strange energy surge blasted out of the gate, knocking everyone down. But they were home, and had to quickly move to protect the Martian, an elosi named “Silent Watcher” who they had brought with them, from the antsy marines guarding the place.

Quickly, they report the situation to Director (former Admiral) Byrd: the marines they had been trapped on Mars are still there and need rescuing, but the other gate opens onto a city where some ancient force is keeping people from dying, and electrical technology doesn’t work. He’s been putting together a force, commanded by Colonel Trevor Adams, for just that purpose. They even have another man that can operate the Atlantean technology, a doctor named Gould. His brother was stuck on the other side of the Hollow Earth when “the incident” happened, causing the inner world to turn inside out and emerge from the Earth. It now follows Earth in its orbit, close enough to be seen easily with the naked eye, but far enough it has not disturbed Earth’s path. While the marines are preparing their mortars, machineguns, flamethrowers, and other equipment, Byrd gives them the low-down on the situation on Earth.

Their message from Mars has set off a firestorm throughout the world. Every amateur astronomer, ham radio man, and military in the world picked up the signal, and some even identified it as American. The cat’s out of the bag and the space race is on! They have to get their men back, but after that there are a bunch of fires to put out!

With another rifle company of marines, Veitch opens the Eye of Shambala to Mars and they rush through to secure the place. The body of Morteus is gone, and the Martians that have been kept alive by whatever force ruled here are dying — some were held on the edge of expiry for centuries and simply stopped, others are still hale enough to be a problem…but not one marines with .50 calibers, flamethrowers, and mortars can’t handle. While they are securing the perimeter, Zelansky realizes the healing effect is gone…might the effect preventing electric equipment be, as well? He tries the marines’ radio, calling the Dogfish minifighters on the Martian cloudship Warm Winds, which they can see is in the sky a few miles away, tacking to the north as it abandoned the city. It works! They manage to call back the ship, and while the marines hold a perimeter, recover their men, the three Dogfish, and they are able to convince Princess Priya, who had come on the mission to “establish relations with the Earth”, as well as the pair of gorilla-like Grodh that serve Cointreau, to join them in returning to Earth.

With this successful mission to another world under their belt, the characters were given checkups and medical treatment, while their Martian friends were taken care of. The massive Earth gravity is almost too much even for the powerful Grodh! Zelansky is taken aside by Byrd: The next matter is that of the world-wide story of life on Mars, and that it might have been Americans. Other nations know the messages were US coded and have speculated about it. The president wanted to keep it quiet, but with the arrival of the Martian guests, Roosevelt has decided to meet the problem head-on (and also shine some light on American ingenuity) by giving a press briefing right here in Los Angeles on the situation. He has requested the leader of the expedition, Zelansky, be present, and they want to do a dog-and-pony show at the news conference with the aliens.

FDR and Eleanor are on a campaign tour and are making their stop in Los Angeles. Aliens! Americans on Mars! And Alf Langdon’s not really doing much in the way of campaigning! The president has his reelection in the bag, despite the issues the New Deal is having with the courts. They put the aliens up at the Biltmore, on the same floor the president has set aside for him retinue, and the party finds themselves invited to a presidential function. Following the spectacle of Zelansky’s briefing, and the introduction of Priya, Silent Watcher, and the Grodh, the characters are pulled aside by Byrd.

OSI is riding high on this one, and the president has already assured him of all the support they need. Which brings him to the next matter: there’s one unsecured portal on Earth. Shambala, in Tibet. The Russians and Germans both know about it, and somehow their old nemesis, Obersturmfuhrer Werner, has managed to escape from Chinese justice by buying the Nationalists off. The Germans are offering planes and men to train the Chinese Air Force in exchange for dropping the charges against Werner and allowing expeditions into the deep interior of the country. They will have to move fast, but this is dangerous territory  — the United States can’t just invade another sovereign country, especially an ally. They have to make certain that no one knows they are there.

He knows most of Zelansky’s party aren’t Americans, and have no real skin in the game …but are they in? The State Department already has a reward for O’Bannon — an Irish passport, and the dropping of all charges against him for his part in the Irish Civil War by both the British and Irish governments. Byrd can offer Veitch a place with Boston or Columbus Project: both are in need of a man with his talents. OSI would set him up with a lab to work on their reverse engineering of the Atlantean flying saucers, or some of the other projects with Nikola Tesla in New York. Cointreau and Pin-Li have provided invaluable service to the United States, and as a result, they’ve got that nice stipend, but he’s wrangled a work visa for them both, should they wish to return to the US to work in Hollywood. Or, they’ll be going home in style on the Pan Am  Philippine Clipper from San Fran via Hawaii and Yokohama, then a first class ticket to Shanghai. It’s an open ticket.

Erha wants to know about her father (who was captured in the last campaign by Morana, a powerful psychic or sorceress…they don’t know which); when are they going to rescue him? First, Byrd says they need to secure the gate and prevent any outside influences from engaging with Morana. The Russians and she have a rich and sordid past, and the Nazis — who knows what Hitler would do with a few more flying saucers. Their intelligence says some of their diesel-powered ones have actually flown. They need to secure the gates to Earth, find out more about Morana and her connection to Atlantis, up there on the “Second Earth”, so they can figure out how to save her father.

All of the characters decided to join up for the fight…

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I haven’t updated some of the game play posts since the big push to get Airships of the Pulp Era and Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean out this summer. The not-D&D campaign set in end of Roman/pre-Arthurian Britain had trucked along to a satisfactory breaking point but here’s the recap of about six sessions of play.

The party had discovered that Magnus Maximus, the de facto ruler of Britain under Emperor Gratian, had been sending creatures to kill of Aiden macQuint, the unwitting son of the Eastern Emperor, Marcellus. They had discovered the reason — that Magnus was moving against Gratian, who had put Marcellus on the path to become the Eastern Emperor, and who back ed him over Theodosius — Magnus’ kinsman. Worried about having an imperial heir on his flank, Magnus is looking to take him out of play. The Roman general has already put out his call for every able bodied Briton to join him in his invasion of Gaul, but Aiden and his group are moving to take on Magnus.

They pulled together a coalition of leaders of British tribes after an encounter with a hag that had convinced many Aiden was protected by the gods. But to seal the deal, he has been convinced by Myrrdin Caledoniensis (Merlin) that he needs the approval of Cymru, the great red dragon that is the symbol of the land, slumbering under Dinas Ffaraon, the hill near the Segontium, the city of Octavius (or Outham Senis to the Britons), the slef-proclaimed “King of the Britons” who has been backing Magnus — to the point he’s married his daughter to him, and send his best son Conan Meridoc to fight with him. The party takes a swift route overland to get to Dinas Ffaraon, while their single legion, the II Augustus, and the massing armies of Britons follows at their best speed. They have a headstart thanks to Myrrdin’s calling in favors from the gods to create a massive storm in the center of Britain that is making Magnus’ army or two legions and a small force of Britons slower.

They came through a town, Trowford, to find the people were highly suspicious of them. To pass, they had to speak to their “Father” — a devout priest of God, they were told. The characters quickly picked up on the strange vibe of the town; they were both grateful to and scared silly of the priest, whose church was next to the bridge they needed to pass through. The church was enormous and appeared to be a repurposed mill, but inside the place was beautiful — full of dramatic but crude paintings and lots of silver and gold fittings. And their man of God turned out to be a troll! This was a nice call-back to the original Germanic campaign, as the troll, Dufex, was the one who had repeatedly been trouble for the party until one of the characters, a warrior monk, had convinced him to turn to God…or at least not steal and eat people.

The priest of Trowford is a pious man with a uniquely incorrect view of the Ten Commandments. The characters had to tip-toe around his explosive anger, especially where false witness was involved, and they had to give generously to the church, which owns the bridge and charges usurious rates to cross. The characters very nearly manage to get on Dufex’s bad side, but wound up repairing relations, and perhaps even having earned a grudging ally.

Their next encounter was with a group of Irish elves — the same tribe that had wiped out the tribe of siblings Fianna and Faolin. This was one of several invading groups of the “children of the gods”. While stopped, Faolin was lured into the woods by a white stag, which turned out to be the “green man”, Cernunos, who intercepted them to teach Faolin and Myrrdin how to wake Cymru without leading to the destruction of the towns and people near his nest. He warned the two that once they woke him, they would also wake all the dragons of the world, as they share a special bond. He then taught them how to sing the song that would wake Cymru safely…after that, they would have to convince the dragon to lend them his approval of Aiden as king of Briton. If they mess it up, they’ll probably be eaten.

While they were doing this, Aiden was having a hard time convincing Fianna and her now-husband Sigmon not to start a war between a local Brythonic town and the Irish interlopers. He wins out by taking his Roman escort on a scouting mission that leaves Fianna with no troops to train and egg on the villagers.

Finally, with Myrrdin and Faolin prepared, they travel the last leg to Dinas Ffaraon, but before they can locate the dragon’s cave, they are intercepted by a force led by the sons of Octavius, Gadeon and Gurthien. They are escorted to Segontium, and brought before the King of the Britons (the man whose job Aiden is looking to take) and they had a tense meeting in which they manage to sell the king on aiding them against Magnus, with the understanding they were looking to secure the old man as the King of the Britons. They then slipped out of town to the dragon’s lair.

After a typical small dungeon crawl through the caverns under the hill, they arrive in the lair of the dragon. The gigantic creature has been sleeping for centuries, and centuries of offering from the henge on top of the hill are scattered around the place. They sing the song, almost screw it up, but wake Cymru without a paroxysm of violence. They then have to convince him to support, at least symbolically, Aiden’s coronation. Aiden, aided by Myrrdin and Faolin with spells to make him more charismatic and brave, still almost scotches the whole affair when the dragon demands a sacrifice — one village must be given to the dragon to show he is ready to do the hard work of a king. Aiden waffles and just as the dragon is ready to incinerate the whole lot of them, they realize they have just the town — the Irish elves!

Cyrmu bursts through the henge overhead and takes to the sky, and when the characters return to Segontium, they have the support of a friggin’ dragon, which collapses support for the old man. Aiden is king. And shortly after that his army of Britons and Romans arrives to seal the deal. However, they are only a few days ahead of Magnus. A plan is cobbled together to defend the city, but Faolin suggests slipping into his camp and simply assassinating him, thus avoiding bloodshed between the legions. His sister Fianna takes this as carte blanche to attack immediately. There was some arguing back and forth — it is a roleplaying game with people trying to “plan” — and they prepared a morning attack on Magnus. Myrrdin would work his magic to keep the Roman general’s pet demi-angel busy, and Fianna and Faolin would attempt the assassination.

It promptly goes to pot. Myrrdin creates a hell of a show using crows and insects to create a ghostly face and intimidate the troops. He brings in thunderclouds and lightning. Fianna’s arrow almost catches Magnus while he is out rallying his troops, but is stopped by his aasimar (or barukhim, in our game) magician. The jig is up and Magnus’ cavalry starts chasing Aiden’s small force that was positioned to take advantage of the chaos, should she have succeeded. The barukhim and Myrrdin engage in some serious magical combat involving lightning, angelic light and fire, and it ends with Myrrdin blasting Magnus and most of his command staff with a bolt of lightning which has called down with an entreaty to the gods. While gloating over his victory, he is run through by his magical nemesis and almost dies. But before he can be taken by Pluto, another intervenes and he hovers on the edge of death.

Aiden and the rest of the crew are locked into combat with the cavalry chasing them, and Sigmon goes proto-Viking on them, murdering his way through a host of the enemy, while Fianna and Aiden sort quite a few with their bows. But toward the end, most of them are nealry out of arrows, they are injured, and the Romans have just kept coming. Then Faolin breaks the Romans advance, having called in his version of the cavalry. Faolin turned to wolf form and has called all the dogs and wolves he can to his side, including the massive guard dogs the Magnus’ camp employed. They, along with the Saxon Murder Machine (Sigmon) — who has a spectacular battle with the leader of the troops that were chasing them — rout the enemy and that is right about the time Myrrdin blasts Magnus and his staff to ash.

They have won the day, but they have a seriously injured Myrrdin and Aiden to contend with. Faolin worked his Druidic magic and managed to save the both of them, while Sigmon found out the man he’d battled and cut an arm from was Conan Meriadoc. Octavius will not be pleased — he’s lost his throne to an upstart kid, and his favorite son is injured.

They returned to the safety of the II Augustus camp outside of the city where they could heal, while Aiden’s tribune set out to find and rally the broken forces of Magnus’ army to his side. And while healing, they are visited by a beautiful young man in Roman armor, but definitely not one of them. They were victorious! He’s really surprised! Now it’s time for them to get better — at which point, using the caduceus he is carrying, they are all healed — because they’ve made some very bad moves. There’s not just one, but many dragons loose around the world, and they have to be sorted. Cymru is their responsibility, but they can’t kill the creature…it is tied to the land. If it dies, this land dies.

We broke at that point to take up some Hollow Earth Expedition, and to give me time to think about what was next for them.

I’ve been doing teaching certification, teaching at the local community college, keeping the seven year busy, and engrossed in pushing two books out the door for Black Campbell Entertainment (Airships of the Pulp Era and Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean), so I’ve been remiss in doing some stuff for various games, and posting play sessions.

We’ve finished this portion of the late Roman/early Arthurian Britain campaign, and have rolled back onto Hollow Earth Expedition — which has seen some fun moments — so I’m hoping to drop a couple of play reports soon.

At long last we’ve got the proofs back for the print version of Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean and the book looks great! So as of August 30, our new pulp setting Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean is now available on DriveThruRPG and RPG Now in PRINT and as a PDF. The setting is available for the Ubiquity role playing engine and for FATE. The ebook is $9.99, and the print version is $19.99.

The Ubiquity version runs 144 pages long, the FATE version 148 pages. Included is an alternate history of the interwar Mediterranean, profiles on the various gangs and their leaders, new planes and airships to use, and new Dogfight and “Hop Up” rules for whichever system-specific book bought.

Simple: To get my daughter into the hobby. She’s already fond of adult-level board games, and she loves sitting in to roll dice for me on game night. She wants to play the Star Wars campaign upcoming, and wants to be a death trooper. So there’s that.

 

I’m assuming they mean what game released or that I noticed this year has “had an impact” on what I want to play, or has had bits ripped off to cram into the systems we’re using right now.

If the first — Tales From the Loop. I’m an early ’80s kid and the movies it’s evoking were the movies I was watching in high school. I love the art, although its art book quality was why I was initially put off until I thumbed through the dead simple rules one day at the local game store. They’re so good, I bought the Bundle of Holding on Mutant Zero, which is where the mechanics evolved from. I’m liking what I’m seeing in MZ, although the nuclear wasteland mutant theme isn’t really my cup of tea, there’s a lot to like there. So Mutant Zero would be another.

I wanted to like the 2d20 system powering Star Trek and Conan, and John Carter and which we were on the initial playtesting. We found the mechanics were overly complex and the writing to describe them so unbearably bad as to be nearly incomprehensible. When you can’t quite figure out the basic resolution mechanic, there’s a problem.

Funnily, all of these examples are out of the Mödiphiüs stable.

As for RPGs that have influenced actual play, it’s the return of d6 Star Wars, which was rereleased by Fantasy Flight Games (whose new SW game has the same annoying proprietary dice thing a lot of games are doing these days, and whose half dozen “core books” are a blatant rip-job on their customers.) I cribbing Hollow Earth Expedition‘s take the average mechanic for the massive dice pools that come with starship combat, rather than buying a gross of d6s and a wheelbarrow.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll probably guess my answer on this one.

This question depends on what kind of recognition. I think James Bond: 007 was one of the best examples of innovative game design for the introduction of Hero Points, for a relatively realistic combat damage system, and especially for capturing the flavor of the source material.

If we’re talking about a RPG system that didn’t get enough recognition and was unceremoniously dumped for essentially a better version of Fate, I’d have to say Cortex. It’s one of the few systems that can flex well for almost any setting, yet keep a certain level of crunch that Fate and Apocalypse World don’t have. The math of the system is solid, character creation is excellent.

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