This prompt actually had me stumped for a couple of weeks. I worked around this posting because, well, I just couldn’t think of anything profound — or even interesting — to say. I’m not certain that has changed. Here we go anyway with Small

I usually find myself looking at games from the GM perspective. It’s the role I get stuck with, and honestly prefer, now, so I’ll start with that. Thinking about storytelling (even the collaborative type like RPGs), I realized that while big extravaganzas and denouements are fun and spectacular, they’re not always a better route to go when trying to rope in the players or engaging with the characters. A good example of what I mean would be Captain America: Civil War — which along with Winter Soldier are probably the best of the Marvel movies for character and story, respectively. Civil War may feature tons of characters, old and new, and they all get their beats in the spotlight, but ultimately, this is a story about the history, motivations, and conflict between Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, and Tony Stark. The movie has a spectacular action set piece, but it’s in the middle of the movie; the ending is small — these three characters, with the antagonist separate from them, in a tight, enclosed space. There’s no room for flash, and the physical closeness places the action on the emotions and motivations of the three characters: Steve wants to redeem his friend, Bucky just wants to survive but is also guilty over his past, and Tony who is driven by a need to be a better person at the start of the movie, who has been rebuffed and battered by his conflict (physical and emotional) with Cap, has that warped into anger and a lust for revenge. Zemo, the man who orchestrates much of the conflict, isn’t even really the antagonist here; he’s a catalyst. These three men are each other’s antagonists.

It’s a beautiful use of character to drive the story, and because of that — despite the global implications of the Sokovia Accords — it’s a small story. Similarly, Winter Soldier for all its grappling with the security state and loss of freedom, is a small story: once Cap knows who the Winter Soldier is, mis motivation is more about saving his friend than saving the world (as evidenced by the agonizingly long fight sequence/talking about our feelings scene between the two in the middle of a major battle.)

Sometimes, smaller is better. Instead of the massive fight scene and conspiracy, sometimes a small story over a session or two that has a personal impact on the characters is more engaging for the players and characters than a major action piece with maps and minis. It can also be more challenging, not just for roleplaying, but for problem solving; instead of punching your way through the problem, you’ve got to gut it out, reason it out, or what have you. (In our Battlestar Galactica campaign, we used to call these “talking about our feelings” episodes. For more on this, see ever damned episode of Star Trek: Discovery — seriously…you’ve got two minutes to save the universe, now is not the time for a heart-felt conversation with your brother.)

As a sometime game writer and connoisseur of RPGs, I would suggest that smaller is often better for game systems and setting guides. Case in point: One of my daughter’s favorite new systems is Broken Compass, a very lightweight system for pulp-style games. (See my review here.) The rules are incredibly terse, and this is a good thing. Like early FATE, BC keeps the mechanics out of the way until they are needed, and this makes for fast, fun play. FATE, likewise, is best when small. There are plenty of games that try to do more “crunch” with FATE, and usually not well, I find. One of my favorite systems to date is the original Cortex by Jamies Chambers — the rules are tight and fast, but with enough variability to characters to make it interesting.

Then there’s the other end. We’ve been playing 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, and combat, magic use, everything has a bloody rule for it. There’s two 300+ page books just to play the game. As the current president might say, “Come on, man!” FATE has an excellent setting, Mindjammer, which is lovely, but I can’t come to grips with how much stuff in the universe there is to do. That has always been the case with The Jovian Chronicles, which has dozens of art books, sourcebooks, rules books. It’s a gorgeous, well-fleshed out universe that I find impossible to grab onto for a campaign. When I started running the new Alien RPG, this was another issue. The core book is in the mid-300 page range and there were lots of hooks; now there’s the gigantic Colonial Marines Operations Guide to complement it. I knew I didn’t want to do the eponymous creature, so what? I settled on a series of small adventures built around corporate espionage and the synthetic question (the latter seems to be much more in Ridley Scott’s interest, as well, judging from the latter movies). Small missions with low stakes built to bigger missions with bigger stakes, and allowed us to approach the setting a bite at a time. I suspect this would be the best way to approach the gigantic Coriolis setting, as well: start with some family politicking or survival level characters on a single planet and grow from there.

Sometimes, small and simple is better.

Flavor, or tone, is an important part of storytelling. Shifts in flavor of a story can improve or destroy the intent of a narrative. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always found horror a difficult thing to capture in an RPG; you’re in a comfortable room with friends, having fun, booze may be involved, and some of those friends not the most serious of folks…exactly the opposite set up for a good horror game. You can describe, you can have soundtracks and noises on a laptop or what not, but ultimately, it’s very difficult to get the flavor of horror for me, so it’s weird that when I started running Dungeons & Dragons from time to time over the last four years I chose not to do the typical high-fantasy D&D tone. (In many ways, D&D is now its own genre of fantasy.) Instead, lookin g over the books for 5 ed., I realized that the happy-go-lucky, seat-of-your-pants atmosphere of D&D was all wrong for what I wanted to do — an alternate Roman campaign to rope in two players that were fans of the old empire. Low magic — we used the magic-less ranger and fighter classes — assured less resorting to the magical equivalent of a bazooka, travel and healing were slowed a bit to make combat more risky, and most importantly…you’re dealing with monsters! In many ways, Dungeons & Dragons should be a horror game, or at least use a lot of the tricks and tropes of the same. More Wisdom or Charisma saves gave some mechanical bite to fear that the players, honestly, aren’t going to feel. (This is one of the reasons I like the stress/panic mechanic of Alien, although it doesn’t well handle characters who might be more resistant to the terrors of space.)

That beg the question of whether flavor can be enhanced by the mechanics of a game, which I think is fairly evident — it can. A good example is the Roman setting I quickly sketched. D&D really doesn’t push the dirty, poor, and low magic world that I wanted to put forward, and in fact, every campaign since the original has seen magic more prevalent, the flavor more high-fantasy. You can play elves and dwarves and other fantasy races. The hit point and rest mechanics create fairly low risk combats for characters that are higher in level, and they bounce right back into action with a nap. Wizards and clerics can throw the magical equivalent of magic bullets or explosives; they can heal incredible damage with wiggle of their fingers, and maybe a few bits of material for those stickler GMs. It’s light, fiun, but the system is a poor fit for the tone I wanted to create. The “Spaghetti Fantasy” campaign book Brancalonia created a 5e setting for Dungeons & Dragons that pushes a Renaissance-period faux Italy in which you aren’t hacking & slashing or killing monsters/stealing their treasures, but bumbling your way about the countryside fighting bad public officials, other gangs, or otherwise being lay-abouts with hearts of gold. To achieve the flavor, they had to spice up the rules with “brawling” rules that allowed for bar fights that weren’t murder sprees; the rules are bolted onto 5e and specifically draw a line between a friendly matter of honor (brawling) and drawing weapons (normal combat rules.) Intent is important, as is flavor.

Contrast that with Lex Arcana, a game set in a fairly similar setting to what I envisioned — in fact, I originally bought the game to use as resource material for the D&D campaign. You’re human. Most folks are dirt poor. Travel takes a while and is arduous. Disease is more prevalent. The system is much more dangerous in combat, with levels of success that can blow up a sword hit from a minor injury to instant death. No magic healing — the first aid or herbal medicines can heal a few points, but real healing takes days or weeks. Fights are something you want to be more careful with. And fighting monsters? They’re incredibly dangerous — just the thrall of a nosferatu left our party pretty mashed up, and that was four on one. No magic missiles and healing spells, just interpreting dreams and omens, maybe scrying for future events, or propitiating the gods for a nice deus ex machina moment when you’re really screwed. It’s a darker world filled with off-screen threats.

Flavor can mean an espionage game is a serious affair of investigations, lies, and a lot of social action, but little shoot ’em ups of LeCarre, or you can go for a James Bond spy-fi — an action movie with a tip of the hat to the world of espionage. Or you can go campy, like Man from U.N.C.L.E. or the Franco-Belgian comics that inform the new The Troubleshooters.

When putting together a campaign or a character for one, it’s important to understand not just the world you are playing in, but the tone — you don’t want to add too much sugar in a spaghetti sauce or you’ll ruin it. The characters should mesh with the game universe.

It’s day five of this year’s RPG a Day, and the prompt was Throne. I looked at it and the others for a day or two, trying to figure out which I wanted to tackle, and whether I had anything worthwhile to say about them. (Assuming, of course, that other prompts have rendered something worthwhile…)

A throne or symbolic seat of power. The sometimes goal of a fantasy campaign character, and certainly the outcome of some of the more famous literary barbarians and space royalty. Conan, Gor, Paul Atreides — to name a few. I’m sure there are plenty of game campaigns out there where the player or character’s goal was attaining or destroying some kind of seat of power — getting promoted to the captain’s chair in a Star Trek game, fighting for the rule of a kingdom; or toppling of an evil empire, a crazed god, or an evil corporation looking to rule over the people. A throne doesn’t have to be a throne, per se; it can be any kind of symbol of power.

In a recent D&D game, one of the characters is a scion of Ishtar — a paladin who is part oread/part god — who has been played with excellent (and annoyingly to the other characters) focus on his mission. He’s been founding temple/brothels to her honor, slaying creatures, fathering bastards around the Euxine Sea with enthusiasm. (As you might be able to tell, this is a Roman Empire-period alternate Earth with heavy Mesopotamian and Greek influence.) His goal has been to procreate with his mother and also find his way to apotheosis. (Don’t “ew!”, read those old myths sometime!) A throne isn’t enough; he wants godhood!

In another D&D campaign tangentially related to that one, we have a group of adventurers in Arthurian Scotland. One of the characters is a cousin of the righ (the king) of the Caledonii who was raised by one of the few chieftainesses of the country. In the adventures with the other players, she has killed the Saxon king invading the Briton’s lands and the king of the Circind tribe in Eastern Scotland, she’s bested a dragon (with a lot of help), fought a bunch of Celtic ghouls, and recently aided in the rescue of Merlin from one of the many women he’s pissed off. Along the way, she’s caused great concern for the righ, who sees her as rising in popularity and power too quickly, and her being a regicidal opportunist. To buy her off and settle her down, he’s made her a chief of what will later be Dundee.

Our Alien RPG sees a group of folks banding together — a former marine, a techie type, a doctor with a drinking problem and tragic past, and a pilot looking for adventure — with an android and a formerly rich corporate scientist to stop Weyland-Yutani and Lasalle Bionational from getting a hold of the black goo from Prometheus, or worse. They’ve been trying to stay ahead of hit squads, legal woes, poverty, and nasty bioweapons not to become wealthy or famous, or powerful…but to stop those that would use the ancient alien technology to do so. However, the lure of power and money is dangled in front of them the entire time.

One thing about a throne: it’s also a trap. Howard’s Conan discovers this when he finally rules his own kingdom “under a heavy brow.” Thrones bring responsibility, bureaucracy (however large or small), challenges to your rule, limitations to what you can do and stay legitimate. The throne might be the end of a campaign, or the start of a new one, with challenges you can’t just solve with a sword and a plucky attitude.

I liked two of the prompts for today, so I’m going to start with the alternate one: reward.

Why are your players on this mission/adventure/quest? Reward of some sort. For the basic D&D game, sometimes that’s kill the monster/get the treasure — be it gold, magic items, or weapons. Adventuring is acquisition (with a healthy dose of murder). You go out hoping for more and better stuff. Reward, however, can be much more than a magical sword, and some rewards can be much more satisfying.

Rewards can be personal: I’m adventuring to find my lost sibling/parent/lover. Saving said person is the reward. Less specifically, maybe you’ve been chasing a knowledge for a long time, and the opportunity to confirm a theory, find a lost city, find an ancient relic that everyone says is myth but you know better…these are personal to the character. Some can also be professional. Finding that lost city is a sure shot at tenure at a university, and maybe fame and fortune, as well. But it could also be knowledge — in Prometheus, Elizabeth Shaw discovers the link between mankind and the Engineers. It’s a massive professional and personal success. Her boyfriend, Holloway — even knowing the import of the discovery, is wrecked because there were no Engineers left. To him, the reward was talking to them, learning from them. And when it was taken away, it crushed him. That failure is a risk that can used to make the adventures more real and emotional for character and player, and can be used to motive them. Maybe there are no Engineers here…but what about our there?

Professional rewards might include money, a job, or social advancement. If you’re a soldier in Her Majesty’s army in the 1800s, showing bravery in some dusty colony could earn you promotion or medal, maybe a title if you’re an officer. If you’re a cleric in a D&D world, maybe you gain your own temple (it’s a pretty lucrative gig, that!) You kill the evil king of a country…now you’re the (hopefully not) evil king. A scientist or academic of any stripe is usually looking for that secure gig at a university or prior to universities in a king’s court as an advisor. Tenure, for many, is the reward; for that philosopher academic getting a cushy position sucking up to the king and setting policies for the proles is the reward.

Reward isn’t always money, or swords, or other loot.

Speaking of weapons…

There are a few character that their weapons help define them. James Bond’s Walther PPK (so iconic they went back to the much less powerful pistol from the P99 of the Brosnan era and Casino Royale.) Captain America’s shield. Indiana Jones’ bullwhip. Rick Deckard’s blaster in Blade Runner or Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon (it’s not just a means of transport, it’s a weapon when in space combat.) Sonny Crockett’s Bren Ten (he would use a Smith & Wesson auto for three of the five seasons, but ask any gun bunny what his weapon was — you’ll get Bren Ten.) Ghost in the Shell‘s Togusa and his Mateba revolver. Darth Maul’s dual lightsaber.

Weapons can give you a quick thumbnail of the character, what they’re about, and what they can do. Maul’s double lightsaber hints at his more wu shu style of fighting. Togusa’s Mateba shows him to be a bit of a traditionalist and sentimentalist. There was even a quote by Silvester Stallone way back when he did Tango & Cash along the lines of “you can tell a lot about a character by the gun they use…” I think that’s way overstating it, but totemic gear is something that many fictional characters and RPG charaters have in common.

We had a character in a Hollow Earth Expedition game who’s weapons were a Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum (#3) and a Winchester lever action in .357 magnum. The game was set in 1936, so this was an experimental cartridge that only hunters or “men of action” might have. (Gen. Patton had one of the original Registered Magnums, as well.) He was an expert with these weapons and gained extra die when using them. When he lost them for a time, that was his personal goal — get them back. (See reward above.) But the type of weapons also showed he was serious about his hardware for the time, and had the money to meet that need.

A D&D character in a recent campaign had a warpick made from a dragon’s tooth. She had helped kill the beast, so her armor and warpick were made from the creature. The craftsmanship to do this meant it was one-of-a-kind stuff. when she lost the pick, it was a real blow to the character, who had a much better sword, but she tended to always use the pick. It was her weapon.

Other totemic items might be a vehicle or armor. Thomas Magnum’s Ferarri 308. James Bond’s Aston-Martin DB5. Mad Max’s V8 Interceptor (otherwise known at the Ford Falcom XB.) Starbuck’s Viper Mk II (also a weapon…) Jake Cutter’s Grumman Goose. That cyberpunk hacker in a Shadowrun game’s deck. There are all sorts of totemic items that can define the character. We had a character in our Hollow Earth Expedition game that only drove Delage — one a hopped up, blacked out, stripped down racer that he used for his nighttime crimes. Gaining these totemic weapons — like the dragon tooth warpick — can be an adventure to itself, or an unexpected reward. (“Hey, can get get some one to skin the dragon and use the hide and scales as armor..?”)

I decided to use one of the alternative prompts for the third day: risk. One of the main points of drama in any story is risk. It doesn’t have to be life threatening. Not every story has to involve saving the world (hello, DC movies), and not all need to have physical risk. Especially as the players get attached to their characters and the NPCs of the world you are all building together, risk can be something as mundane as losing a friendly NPC in an argument. There are other risks that come with adventuring that will make the experience more enjoyable, but also give them real threats to manage.

During a recent Dungeons & Dragons adventure, a player had repeated botches on attack rolls. In one instance, they dropped their weapon and lost it in a fast running stream. They had become attached to this particular sword and its loss was a real blow to the player. In the same campaign, several long-running, well-established NPCs have died in fights. The players (and hence the characters)miss them, but it also highlights how dangerous their quests are.

In a long-running Space:1889 game, one pair of characters’ relationship, had it become common knowledge, would have scandalized their families and jeopardized their social and political standing — or put them in jail. Keeping a lid on that was a constant concern and was also their main motivation for getting out into the less-traveled portions of the world where they could be what they wanted to be. Social standing isn’t something we tend to think about these days, but prior to, honestly, about the 1970s — you didn’t want people knowing too much about your peculiarities, and exposure of taboo behavior could ruin you quickly. Hell, a word out of place in the court of the local lord could find you jailed for something (or nothing, even), accused of witchcraft, or simply murdered on your way home. Being ostracized — the old school “cancel culture” — was very popular for much of time. Pissed off a lord? You’re cast out of the city. Doing things that scandalize the locals? They might not trade, talk, or aid you when you need it. Speak an unpleasant truth about someone in power… you get the picture.

A good example of a social risk would be a character in my wife and daughter’s D&D campaign set in Arthurian Scotland. The characters have made a name for themselves hunting monsters, including beating a dragon. She’s also a “king killer”, having aided Arther’s people in stopping the Saxon “king” in Britain, wasting the Circind king who was in league with unseelie. They’ve been active in England as spies for the Caledonii righ and agents of Merlin’s machinations. This has made them more famed and popular than the righ, who is uncle to one of the PCs. This warrior lady is worrying the king — she’s popular, apparently unbeatable in a fight (so far), and has powerful allies… To keep her on his side for now and to tether her to the throne, he’s made her a chieftainess in the former Circind lands (in the Dundee area.) She’s now got new risks — if she continues adventuring, who runs the place? What happens if they like running the place and don’t want to give it up when she comes home? What if the king thinks she looking at his throne? None of these are immediate threats, but they are risks to be managed. What about the people she now rules because she whacked their king? They’re none too friendly. What is the crops don’t come in? What if there’s an invasion from Norse? What about simple law-keeping and feeding people. That’s all on her now.

Changing the types of risk is important, as well. It can’t always be a bigger, badder monster. It can’t always be courtly intrigue. Change it up. This is where players having a good idea of their character’s backstory, weaknesses, and motivations is important. You don’t have to have the person’s whole life documented in a journal somewhere (you know who you are!) but having enough of an idea of what constitutes a personal risk is important.

Today’s prompt was map. There’s the obvious way to go with this: do you use maps in your games? but I think I’m going to combine this word with one of the alternate prompts — plan.

For a long time, and I suspect like many young GMs in the brightly colored, British New Wave and rockabilly infused, “crap, nuclear war could kill us any day” past of the 1980s, my adventures were mostly one offs. Kill the monster, get the treasure. We ran a lot of James Bond: 007, so I ran them like movies, each discrete, with a bit of character growth accounted for between them, but little overlap. Characters were much the same — archetypes like D&D and Top Secret would give you: fighter, ranger, assassin, analyst, or whatever. Characters defined by their cool car or gun, and maybe a flaw thrown in to make them interesting. You weren’t think about character arcs, and much of the time you weren’t filling backstory. Hell, most of the movies of the period the backstory was something like “I’m a cop from New York who got invited to the party by mistake”, or “obtainer of rare antiquities”.

For me, the move into serial stories came about five or six years into gaming, and was mostly influenced (I suspect) by a move away from episodic TV toward shows that might be mostly stand-alone episodes, but stanrted to experiment with ongiong story arcs. (The first I really remember for this was Hill Street Blues…) I got into comics about that time, and similarly there were ongoing storylines mixed with one-offs. This was the period of Miller/Mazzuccelli’s Davedevil, Claremont on X-Men, and good indie stuff like Grendel. (It’s no coincidence that most of the stuff cribbed for the Marvel and DC movies pulls from this period — the film makers are of a similar age, but also it was a damned good period for comics and storytelling.) I still mostly made stuff up as i went, but would sort of organically grow toward an end point.

The first time I mapped out a campaign was for The Babylon Project campaign i was running in the late ’90s. the game group was into Babylon 5 and I built the campaign to be a side campaign of the Shadow War. The characters were rarely directly involved in the events of the show, but I strung their adventures around it, filling in the spaces between the main events. It ran well and gave the characters the chance to be real heroes whose actions made those of the TV show characters possible. This point also coincided with the writing of my first two novels, so the skills developed in one endeavor crossed over to the other. Characters started getting backstories that might be vague and open to tweaking, but some were quite detailed.

After that, I went back to my old build stand-alone adventures and string them together in long stories on the fly. However, I got talked into running a five-year long Star Trek game. I watched all the TNG/DS9 period stuff (save Voyager, which just did not hook me) then decided on mapping out a campaign with the main themes (post-war politics, the issues of an economy where no one had to work, artificial intelligence) and started building key moments/episodes that would have to happen. I was much more intrigued by the Deep Space 9 series than Next Generation, and liked the story arc approach they used. For the first time, I built the stories as “seasons” — with a mid-season and finale “mission” that would push the story and work on the character’s motivations. Characters, this time, were more fleshed out with more detailed backstories — things that are often left out like family members, best friends, hobbies, etc. The game ran well and progressed mostly in the directions i hoped it would go. In the end, the campaign finally fizzled out after five good years and an interest in other games coming out.

The next major game to get planned out was Battlestar Galactica (noting a trend here…), and I used all of the tricks i learned from the Trek game — seasons, mid-season and finales, story arcs that were a season long, and having a finish to the whole thing. There were certain major points on the way — the Cylon attack, Kobol, I used the thrown out “the Blaze” idea from the Kobol episodes for a bad guy, finding not a map on Kobol but one of the Lords to help them, a final battle with the blaze, finding Earth. The game gained and lost quite a few players over that period, but after many deviation and turns in the narrative, in the end, it finished the way I had hoped.

Characters are another element of the story that can be hand-waved — no one really had much of a backstory for James Kirk, or Indiana Jones, or Thomas Magnum; just a few tossed off lines. Or you can build a character obsessively (I find the aspiring actors and writers in a game group do this most often.) down to their favorite foods and what they were doing last week. These maps give you the character’s past and maybe their present self, but having an idea of their goals, weaknesses, and aspirations can give players a map to not just how they might react, but what kind of adventures they might seek out. Discussing this with the GM gives them material to plan encounters to help you explore those elements of the character. The more you plan out the character and their hoped for future, the less wiggle room you have to tailor the character as they grow, and also there’s the possibility of not seeing your character go in the direction you expected — after all, there are other players pursuing their agendas, and there’s the GM, who has planning out this great scenario for you that — in all likelihood — you and the others will destroy on your way to the end of the game night.

I realized that most of the time, when I’m doing the RPG a Day blog, I tend to focus on GMing. It’s the role I’m thrust into most of the time — I can whip together adventures pretty quickly, so I usually wind up being the Johnny on the Spot. I’m goign to try and apply some of these posts more to playing this year.

It’s that time again! Time to celebrate our hobby with a bunch of vlogs, blogs, and other media. I’m not much on the vlogging, so here we go. The first prompt was SCENARIO. I decided to go literal with this prompt, so let’s talk about scenarios — adventures, modules, scenarios, whatever you want to call them.

Adventure “modules” have been around since the early days of D&D. A lot of folks don’t have the time to work up their own adventures, so having a packaged story with bad guys and maps, etc. is a great help. It’s also how my company, Black Campbell Entertainment, got started. I had a ton of stuff I had written up for my Hollow Earth Expedition game, and with Jeff Combos’ blessing, we started throwing out modules…scenarios…for people to use.

It’s funny, in some ways, that adventure modules (even in our city sourcebooks for the 1930s have them) have become part of my side gig. I never use them. That’s not true; I never used to use them, but lately, the quality and length of the adventures for some of the new games have allowed me to save time jumping people into a new game without me having to do all the foundational work. Even when I use them, they’re rarely in the form they were published. The GM has to adapt the adventure’s plot line, the timing and beats of the scenes, and the characters to suit his or her game group’s personalities and interests.

So here’s a few I did use recently. The group has been playing Alien by Free League out of Sweden, and Lex Arcana by Quality out of Italy. Both were games that i had a few ideas of where i wanted to go, but no clue of how I wanted to launch. As a result, I wound up using Andrew Gaska’s excellent Chariots of the Gods scenario, but with some tweaking. Mostly, this consisted of dropping the Montero subplot, and sticking much more tightly to an exploration/ rescue vibe. The players knew they were playing in an Alien game so they were much more cautious than some might be, which let to reduced change of infection from the Engineers’ “black goo” on the hulk, Cronus, which they were investigating. Once things finally went awry, they worked well together, and managed to keep the death toll down to one particular character vs. the monster; the rest died after the scenario ended when the sleeper android offed them — but they weren’t told that. Satisfied with the first run, the group was wiling to give it another go, so I went with a short campaign in which another ship is sent out to recover Cronus for Lasalle Bionational, which was jumped the Weyland-Yutani sponsored mission from the published scenario. The McGuffin — Cronus — had landed on a nearby world due to damage from the published adventure and decades of floating through space. I used the published adventure as a pilot, to jump start a new campaign with characters designed for or by the players.

I didn’t do this for Lex Arcana. We have been playing a D&D campaign set in an alternate Roman Empire that was originally low magic but has been increasingly more classic fantasy as the “old gods” return. I was more interested in Lex Arcana as a resource for that campaign, but reading the rules, I was intrigued. One of my players is a fan of Roman military history and the other I met while we were doing our graduate work — he in late antiquity, the period the game takes place in. instead of using a module to jumpstart the Lex Arcana game, I banged up a short mystery about a haunting in a small Raetian town to get the characters together, then used the published scenario Beyond the Limes to move them into a place where they could face the enemies of the empire.

Another scenario I used was The Minoan Affair quickstart for the game The Troubleshooters — a new RPG that Kickstarted last year, is currently being distributed by Modiphius, and which should have the physical books showing up soon. This game was based on the 1960/70s Franco-Belgian adventure comics, like Tintin and the like. I backed it on a whim, but i tried it out with the wife and daughter, and they loved it. It was a spur of the moment “Let’s game!” moment and I needed something fast — the perfect thing for using a module.

There are other scenarios I’ve bought over the years, but more to mine them for ideas — Odyssey of the Dragonlords for D&D 5e (and excellent Greek-styled campaign!), Ghosts of the Saltmarsh, for Tales from the Loop the Our Friends the Machines and Out of Time compilations. I’ve got everything published for Space: 1889 — but again, I never used these modules for the scenario, but for the material they had that could be cribbed for my own ideas.

This time, I’m going to try and get my blog posts for RPGaDay knocked out before August. Inevitably, work at the school and college overtakes me and I don’t get all of the post out that i want, so I’m going to use some of the downtime in the summer to knock this stuff out. Here’s the subjects for this year’s event. I like that they purposefully gave us related alternate prompts this year. Sometimes, it’s hard to come up with something off a single word.

This is the latest report on the ongoing work on my 2021 Royal Enfield Interceptor. I had traded my 2017 Triumph Street Cup with the new water-cooled 900 motor for the new Interceptor following an unscientific drag race with a friend. The Triumph got off to a good start, but once we hit third gear, the Enfield took off and smoked the supposedly more powerful, more refined Triumph. After a few weeks, and learning that my local Triumph dealer, New Mexico Motopia, picked up the Enfield line, I made the switch. I went with the “Mr. Clean” because the badge on the tank is so much better than the lettering on the Continental GT. Here she is on the floor…

I had them tear the awful plastic fender extensions off and install S&S pipes with baffles, and the flyscreen. I added a K&{N air filter and DNA airbox removal next. Stock, these bikes are supposed to make about 47hp and 34ish ft/lbs of torque at sea level, but the gearing overcomes a lot of the supposed anemic power. She certainly was capable of taking on the Triumph. the first few weeks of playing with it, we found she would reliably hit the ton, but just barely, and occasionally could squeak out a titch more. But there was more there, so in a moment of insanity or COVID-restriction induced insanity, i decided to do something I don’t do: we did engine modifications.

The dealer had never done this, of course; they were new to RE and the S&S guys haven’t really thrown a lot into advertising or explaining these modifications. Point of fact, it seems very much like they’re insinuating some of this stuff is plug & play. I bought a 650cc bike and I didn’t want to bore it out. If i wanted an 865cc, I’d have gone and gotten an old air-cooled Triumph Thruxton. So we installed the high power cams and high-compression piston kits. Allegedly, we would be looking at a 14-18% increase in power. Right off the bat, she was torquier, but I was getting serious lean knock on the motor. The dealer had a look and adjusted the timing, which was off almost 4ยบ from the stock. Once corrected, she seemed better, until I really thrashed it on the local mountain road — a 12 mile stretch with 120 turns and an elevation change of over 4000′. That’s a lot of altitude change, and the bike was detonating like crazy! Fuel booster didn’t help. A booster plug to fool the bike into thinking it was cooler to get more fuel didn’t help.

We turned to the folks at Speedin’ up in Farmington, New Mexico — the only guys with a decent dyno setup. Motopia installed a Power Commander V and took her up to Farmington to get dyno’d. This was also not as easy as you might expect. The probes for the 02 sensors were getting a lot of interference and the guys were suprised by the amount they had to enrich the fuel map (upwards of 60% in some places.) The welded in bungs to get the sensors away from the headers and get a cleaner read. Nope — still needed a massive push in some places, but by the time they were done, they had a serious improvement. Here’s the dyno chart from the final run:

That’s a hell of a torque “curve” — a flat line at 42-43 ft/lbs. from 3500 to redline, with a max power of 49.25hp. Now that doesn’t sound like much of an increase ’til you factor in the altitude. Farmington sits at 5,220′ in elevation; about the same as Albuquerque, where I live. Figuring the (altitude in feet/1000)x 0.03 xHP gets you a rough horsepower of 39.7hp for the stock motor. So the jump to 49hp is about 18.5% increase in power! On return, Scott at Motopia took her for a ride and declared in an unqualified success. I was a bit dubious after five months of messing with the bike…but he was right.

The first run up the Crest road had no knock or detonation, although since then I’ve gotten it to mildly knock by whacking the throttle open hard in sixth gear or higher on the highway. Torque and throttle response is fantastic, and she’s a solid match for many of the 600cc sportbikes. Fuel mileage, of course, has been impacted, but nowhere near as much as I feared. I went from high 60mpg (and as high as 72mpg) to the mid-50mpg range…about a 18-20% decrease in fuel mileage. That seems a fair tradeoff for the performance increase.

So was it worth it? The bike was nearly a straight trade for my Triumph, with $600 for the pipes, $100 for the filter/airbox, $1500 for the cams and pistons plus install, and $750 for the PCV and dyno. That’s a total price of around $9000 compared to similar performance out of Triumph’s 900 classics, which are another $2000 or so out the door. Yes, it’s worth it.

If you choose to do this particular set-up, you’ll find that no one else seems to have done it. Big bore kits, sure; not the heavy-piston and cam kit for the 650. You will want to get a PCV for the Royal Enfield, and you will need a tune. DynoJet doesn’t have it, but you can get my map from the guys at Motopia (see link above.)

I also did the usual cosmetic mods expected of people with this sort of bike to “make it my own”: a chrome fneder to match the tank, bar-end mirrors and shorty levers, the proper Interceptor side plate, not the US “INT-650” (up yours, Honda!) and a side panel bag for hat and sunglasses, and the flyscreen.

I wanted to use a few more of the bells and whistles (not that there are many) in Broken Compass in the next adventure I ran for my daughter. In this second scenario, her character, Ellie Calhoun, the 18 year old Texan pilot who left her home under a cloudy past, is helping her boss “Cleopatra” Lythgoe, the Bahama Queen with her last rum run from Nassau to Alice Town in Bimini on her schooner. It’s all legal and above board in the Bahamas, but rumors have been flying about the Americans putting pressure on the Bahamian government to hand her over.

In the first scene, she learns from another pilot that Avi Loenstein — the Brooklyn gangster that has recently relocated to Ft. Lauderdale, has been talking a lot of guff about moving in on Cleo. She related the story to the boss over a few hands a baccarat, at which point she stated that the “jinx” had caught up with her. She was wealthy enough and it was time to pack it in before the mob or the feds finally got her.

Later, at her hotel, Ellie was approached by Moses — one of Avi’s goons — who tried to convince her to sell Cleo out by giving the course and time of the run. He left her his hotel room on a matchbox so she could give him her answer. Instead, she let Cleo know and was sent with one of the other henchmen of the Bahama Queen, “Jimmie”, a local man, to set him straight. This led directly to a fight scene, which allowed us to run our first fight with a privileged henchmen. He was rated a critical danger and required three successes to drop him. The fight was quick, and while she didn’t knock him out, other basic successes led to Ellie and Jimmie being able to secure him. They rolled him up in the bedcovers, snuck him out to the waiting Cadillac and took him to the boat for questioning.

While he was tied up in the fiorelocker of the boat, Moses was able to cut his binds with a knife they had missed and he was able to throw himself overboard and disappear into the night. Cleo decided to get the schooner moving and head out.

The next major scene involved navigating to Alice Town, driving the boat, and spotting a seaplane approaching. Avi’s people had found them! There was a trio of dangers to overcome at this point — avoiding the strafing run by the passenger in the plane, who opened up on the boat with a BAR .30. i rated this a critical danger and Ellie scored two basic successes. She used one to push Cleo below, took off a point of the three luck points from the attack, and took a “bleeding” feeling. The second test was to outrun the speedboat that had been led in by the plane, another critical due to the difference in speeds. The last was to avoid the speedboat coming alongside and grappling. Both rolls were failed and the bad guys — two goons I rated a critical threat, and Moses — boarded the schooner.

Ellie handled the initial threat with a burst from her Chicago Typewriter and scored a extreme success; they got mowed down and her Tommy was dry! Moses attacked her with a hatchet, but she rolled a critical success, blasting off her 1911 .38 Super but he had managed to catch her hand and the shot missed (but took one of his luck points and I gave him a disadvantage for his ruptured eardrum.) They wrestled at the rail of the boat and he got another critical success with an added basic. She fired the gun again but missed, however, she plented her knee in his groin and disarmed him. On the next test, she got a critical and basic success again. She decided to throw him over the side of the boat where he was quickly left behind in the open ocean. She and the crew cut the speedboat loose and left if and the dead bodies, as well.

They got to Alice Town, where they offloaded the goods. While cleaning up in her hotel room, Ellie was interrupted by Avi Loenstein and a couple of mooks. She was able to scare them off with her .38 Super, rolling four of a kind. She then complained to the hotel owner and local big-wig, Sir James Guthrie, of the assault and he had them thrown out. Later, she was pulled aside by Guthrie — Cleo has set her up with a few of his friends so that she is out of the line of the feds and mob, with a 2nd class ticket to Gibraltar, and the Fairchild 71 she’s been flying for Cleo as a goodbye present.

We wrapped up with her heading to Gibraltar to link up with a buddy of Gthrie’s from the Great War, a member of the Foreign Volunteer Force, a group of mercenaries known as the “Sky Rats”. (For more on the Sky Rats, see Black Campbell’s Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean. )