A month or so ago, I took my Royal Enfield Interceptor in for routine maintenance. The shop was a bit back up and I had appointments that meant I couldn’t get back to pick it up until the following afternoon. The boys at Motopia New Mexico loaned me the shop’s Supernova Blue two-tone Meteor 350 for a couple of days. I’d ridden it before when in for tires, and at one of their events to introduce the bike, but this was my first opportunity to really put it through its paces.

Let’s do the motorcycle review stuff first: this is a 2021 Meteor 350 in Supernova Blue. It comes with the backrest for the passenger seat, which is nice for the pillion and gets in the way of my leg as I swing it over the bike. It is equipped with Royal Enfield’s proprietary Tripper navigation system that takes instruction from your cellphone using the Tripper application. No one at the shop had bothered with trying the Tripper to that point, so I downloaded the app and set about seeing how it would work over the course of the day. The chassis of the Meteor was a new design that year, and the bike feels light and nimble when you’re riding it. Also new for Enfield is the 350cc single that powers the motorcycle. It produces a lazy 20hp and 20 ft-lbs. of torque that runs through a five speed gearbox — this isn’t a speed demon of a bike, but the gearing is nice a linear and the Meteor runs up the speedometer at a relaxed, but not slow, rate. The bike is governed at 75mph, but supposedly there is a different ECU for the folks in South America that is pushing these into the 90mph range. The tank is 3.96 gallons (advertised) and with the 80ish miles per gallon I was getting at between a mile and 10,000′ in elevation, the Meteor could easily do a 250 mile trip on a tank. The footpegs are forward, in the cruiser style, and there’s a heel/toe shifter. Mileage, fuel level, and gear indicator are in an LED centered in the speedometer, which goes up to a wildly optimistic 120. The Meteor has ABS standard. Fit and finish are equal to anything on the market right now, and a step up from the Interceptor/Continental lines, which are pretty well built, as well. There’s a lot of little touches that you miss at first and grow on you over time.

So with that out of the way, how does it ride? The Meteor is probably as far from what I want in a bike as you can get shy of a Ducati Panagale or similar sportbike. That said — it’s a lot of fun. There’s zero intimidation factor, it turns well for the claimed 420 lbs. (You could shave off another 10-15 if you wanted to pull the center stand.) The bike does not feel heavy and with 30″ seat with a bit of suspension squish is low enough for the height challenged to put their feet down. Popping around town from light to light, was a pleasant and easy experience, even in the death trap traffic of Albuquerque. Out on the highway — I took it out on Interstate 40 for a run out of town to the East Mountains — the Meteor held 70mph and frequently crept up to 75. At one point, downhill and throttle opened wide, she hit 77, then started banging against the governor and got a bit jerky. I believe these things have another 5-10mph in them, with the right tune. The Meteor seems happiest at about 55-60mph and doesn’t feel stressed at all even up to 65.

I took her out to one of the biker coffeeshops in the Cedar Crest, Cabra Coffee, then took it up the Sandia Crest — a twisty mountain road that goes from 6000′ to 10,660′ with 120 turns, from nice sweepers to tricky switchbacks. The Meteor didn’t set any records, but it was able to do the climb with little loss of power. Handling was solid, there were no laggy bits in the fueling, and the brakes were adequate to the task of stopping before I hit a couple of deer in the middle of the road.

I found that the saddle that had been comfortable for a 20-30 minute pop around town starts to get you in the tailbone after an hour or so. The Meteor requires you to sit up straight. The heel/toe shifter that I was unimpressed with wound up being very useful changing gears quick during acceleration through the mountain twisties. By the end of my time with the Meteor, I was starting to really like it. Vibration on the 350 mill is very slight and mostly felt in the footpegs when you’re really pushing it.

The Tripper navigation system worked better than I expected — on par with Google Maps or Apple Maps. The app is powered by Google, so it’s up to date. The directions are simple on a smaller gauge off to the right of the speedometer. You get a yellow arrow and distance to the turn, if you miss your turn it has to recalibrate and you get a red/black arrow to show you that you screwed up. The only glitch was that when you arrive at a destination and reset Tripper for a new one within a few minutes, it takes time for the app to let go of your previous trip and can throw the red arrow trying to get you back to where you just left. After a few blocks, it relented and gave me directions to the new place I was going.

Who is this bike for? Beginners, sure, but I have a friend who’s been riding since the dawn of time and used to be a racer — he loves this thing and rides “his wife’s” bike more than his Interceptor. A lot of younger riders will outgrow the Meteor after a year or two of riding, but it’s a great commuter bike — small, agile, and fantastic on fuel. There’s more than enough oomph for the town or city, then a quick highway run to the next town over, especially in places where the speed limit isn’t 75mph like here in the Southwest (and most folks are well over that.) The price is also easy on the credit impaired — the Meteor range is about $5000 out the door, give or take a $100 for whichever model you choose. It comes with a three year warranty, and so far my dealer tells me they’ve been really easy to work with, which means getting your repairs done in a timely manner.

This was totally an impulse buy. The price was good, I’ve had good experience with Kel-Tec’s P32 and P3AT pistols, and they are nothing if unafraid to innovate. I had been intrigued by their KSG shotgun when it first came out, but the price is way too high for a guy who maybe takes his scattergun out once a year to make sure it still works. I’ve got a Benelli pump-gun that works beautifully and does a good job of moderating the recoil of 12 gauge, but it’s long and heavy; not a great combo for clearing a house in the middle of the night after your wife wakes you up because she “heard something”. The KS7 is anything but that.

The KS7 is a bullpup 12 gauge shotgun with a 7+1 tube that can take 3″ shells. The looks seems to be a love it/hate it scenario; I like it — it looks like I should be fighting aliens or Cylons or something. It’s short: 26″ from stem to stern and light: 6 lbs empty. This translates into a tight package that is perfect for indoor engagements. It’s easy to run the pump action, maneuver through doorways and intersections in hallways, etc. The green fiber-optic sight is triangular and really visible, and sits in a gutter in the carry handle, which I found caught the eye and made target acquisition quick and painless. Would that shooting it were painless…the low weight mitigates none of the recoil. The KS7 is teeth-rattlingly mean to fire.

The barrel, tube, and guts are made of good steel, but the carry handle, pump, handle/firing group, and the buttstock are plastic. It doesn’t feel as cheap as it should; the action is smooth and locks up tight. The trigger is a little long, but isn’t awful; for a bullpup, it’s excellent. The controls are simple: crossbolt safety, action release at the top of the trigger guard which is handy for clearing the weapon. Loading the KS7 is a bit of a pain. There’s a metal catch that is just slightly in the way when pushing shells into the tube and you can catch you finger on it. I’ve found holding the weapon with the firing hand nearly upside down to push shells in is the best way to go. You’re not going to be doing John Wick combat reloads with the KS7.

Takedown is simple. Push the two pins holding the control group out (there’s a nice pair of holes at the top of the grip to stow them if you’re out in the field), and pull the assembly down and off. Remove the butt, then move the action back and take out the bolt assembly. Simple. You’re rarely going to have to take it down further than that. Putting it back together is the reverse, though getting the bolt to sit properly to allow you to close the action requires you to do a bit a finagling.

So how did it do on the range? I put five through it the day I got it at an indoor range since I had read some things about issues with failures to eject or feed — the action needed to be really wracked hard. I suspect these folks did what I did: ran it dry out of the box. I had two fails to fire and eject. Not happy. I took it home and cleaned and oiled it up at the friction points. that weekend, I took it out to the desert to see how it would do.

First, it’s brutal to shoot. The Estate 2 3/4″ buckshot went through fine, and the Winchester likewise, but the PMC Bernecke slugs gave us two failures to fire from hard primers (we think). The Winchester rifled slug went through without issue. Accuracy out to about 30 yards was solid, with hits on 2 liter bottles with the green triangle centered on target. When shooting, the action unlocks and moves aft like it’s trying to help you cycle it. My friend described it as “like a Winchester 1300”. Shells eject downward, so it’s an ambidextrous shotgun. I was pleased to see that ejecting shells didn’t leave residue all over my jacket, something my FN P-90 was fond of doing. Of the rounds fired, we had two primer issues, but otherwise the weapon functioned flawlessly. (So, clean and lube the thing before you go play.)

I talked with a friend in Arkansas that has one of these. He’s former a former SP for the Air Force, and has been running Aguila minishells through his without and adapter and without issue. These might be a good compromise for those who want to use this thing as a home defense gun. (Although under stress, I doubt you’re going to notice the recoil so much.) Also, the carry handle/aiming rail seems to a point of contention for some folks. You can apparently swap it with the KSG rail. There’s a bunch of M-LOK holes all over the thing for riging a sling, laser, light, or whatever.

So is it worth the MSRP of about $550? A few years ago, when pandemic gun buying frenzies and the following Bidenflation wasn’t an issue, I’d have said it was too high. My Benelli Nova ran me $300 out the door, and a $50 tube extender got her up to the same 7+1. Now? It’s worth the price. This would be an excellent house or truck gun. Hell, you could backpack this thing without much issue and still have a goodly number of shells to handle wildlife.

One of the more popular vehicles produced by the Weyland Corporation and produced by Weyland-Yutani top present day, the RT is a large cargo and personnel transporter for use on colony and hostile worlds. The massive (5.7m wheelbase!) vehicle could, in personnel configuration, carry up to 20 passengers and their equipment, and was driven by a ceramic gas turbine engine up to speeds of 142kph. Cargo versions featured an open cargo flatbed with a closed passenger compartment that can carry the driver and co-driver, and four passengers, and was capable of carrying a pair of Weyland ATVs in the bed. The RTs utilized a shape-memory alloy for the wheels that could deform to obstacles on the ground and retain grip, as well as resist extremes of temperature.

RT Series Transporter: Pass: 20 Crew: 2 Man: 0 Spd: 3 Hull: 8 Armor: 4 Cost: 200,000

This is a new pistol from Armscor in the Philippines. While built for the competition shooter market, many of the features make it an excellent service or law enforcement pistol. It features a slide cut for weight reduction, speeding function and reducing recoil, an aluminum frame with Glock-style trigger and striker to fire, and even utilizes Glock 17 magazines. The pistol is chambered for 9mm.


PM: +1 S/R: 3 AMMO: 17 DC: F CLOS: 0-7 LONG: 12-20 CON: 0 JAM: 99+ DRAW: 0 COST: $550

GM INFORMATION: The STK100 can utilize the Glock 17’s 17-round magazines, and any extended magazines for the Glock (25 or 33 round).

When I first started shooting, I was drawn to the new hotness of the time. I slavered over the Bren Ten, the Desert Eagle .357, the Glock 17’s polymer predecessor, the execrable H&K VP70Z, and then the prefect combo of gun-goodness, the Glock 20. The G20 was my first semi-auto pistol, but i found the grip angle awful. Glocks always shoot high for my natural point of aim and cranking my wrist down just doesn’t feel natural. So it was I fell down the rabbit hole of H&K USPs, Tanfoglio Witnesses (the closest you can really get to a Bren without spending beaucoup bucks), and the polymer Walthers. But a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st Century, I started really liking more traditional stuff. The Walther PPK over the polymer Kel-Tec P32 and P3ATs that I had carried, the CZ-85 over the P99, the 1911 and Tanfoglio in 10mm instead of the Glock. Metal guns.

I will admit, I still like a hammer, but striker-fired pistols have gotten pretty good at their triggers not sucking. The P99 was pretty good, the PPQ and PDP are pretty much the gold standard of striker pistols, with the CZ P10 series and the H&K VP9 coming in a very close second. The Walthers are also near perfection for ergonomics (again with the VP9 right up there.) They all do ambi controls, something Glock and other manufacturers just can’t seem to get into their skulls: a third of your customers are lefties.

So while I was at my local gun store last week (the excellent Right to Bear Arms here in Albuquerque, NM) the owner was showing me one of my old dream guns (that was before I had actually handled one and found it truly, unforgivably, awful), the VP70Z. There were a couple of the not-a-Glock Glocks that fix the grip angle issue that you either have or don’t. I think it’s pretty fair to say if you’re a Glock guy, that’s probably it; if doesn’t fit you, it’s like a sad marriage that you might stay in, but regularly dream of “going out for cigarettes” and never coming back. Then there was the Rock Island Armory STK-100 9mm pistol by Armscor. I vaguely remembered this thing being announced before the planet went nuts and shut down, but this was the first time I had actually seen one. Here’s an advertisement shot:

It looks better in person, really!

So what was this thing? It’s a striker-fired 9mm that can use G17 magazines, has a grip angle like the 1911 on a receiver made of aluminum — not polymer, and looks to have been crafted for the competition market. No surprise there; RIA is big on competition shooting. First impression on picking it up? It’s a bit fat in the grip and the sides are — in a move away from the sculpted curves of the PDP, Q4, and VP9 — pretty slab-like. If that sounds bad, it’s not. It drops into the hand with the grip being naturally high up against the beavertail. The cross-cut panels for grip and understated lines in the front and back don’t bite. It was cut for an optic and the rear sight is metal and part of the plate. The front sight is also metal and pinned it. The slide is cut for speed — something I’m a bit leery of: getting dirt in the mechanism isn’t a great thing. The slide cycled easily enough my wife, who has mild arthritis, was able to work it (unlike my PPQ). The trigger was excellent, with a short take up to a hard wall, then a crisp break at about 4-5 pounds. Oh, it’s got the usual trigger tab safety from every polymer gun out there. It pointed very naturally for my 1911/PPK/CZ-75 grip.

So I bought it. Price was about $550.

One of my long-time gun-buddy friends and I dragged this and the Kel-Tec KS7 out for a test run in the desert (I’m have a review of the KS7 later). That necessitated a take down and cleaning before the trip which leads to my first negative for the pistol. It takes down like nearly all striker pistol. pull the trigger (hate!), pull the slide just a fraction and pull down on a lever/tab/whatever. In this case it’s a Glock-style tab. The Walther does this much better. In fact, I suspect the tab, front sight, and a lot of the parts are damn close to compatible (or are) with the Glock. It has a slick black finish on the receiver that’s quite nice, but the slide is Parkerized, a finish I’ve never been overly impressed with. In this case, just three weeks of getting the slide racked had developed some wear in the finish on the top of the breech block and the slide, as well as the usual wear you would see from being fired on the barrel. Not a good look, RIA.

Out in sand, we took turns putting rounds down range. Nothing extreme — about 150 rounds total. I took the Walther PPQ out to compare, my friend his Glock 19s (plural.) Second complaint: not ambi on the slide stop. I’ve gotten good at hitting the mag release and slide stop with my trigger finger over the last three decades of shooting, so it’s not really an issue…but a third of the damned planet, guys. Also, it’s really wee. If I were in a hurry (or a panic), I can see running the slide as a better option. Ponz, our resident Glock fanboi, had no issues with it.

We ran it slow for accuracy and quick for recoil management and to see if we could bind it up. No malfunctions with Blazer Brass in 115 and 124 grain.. Accuracy was excellent — we were shooting at cans and bottles at distances from ten to thirty yards, and I was able to chase a coffee can rolling down the with five hits in rapid succession from about 15 yards. Point of arm was natural (note wrist position below), and the white dot front sight did it’s job well, if not spectacularly. My buddy suggested fiber-optic or Glock night sight would probably spruce that up. In comparison to the PPQ, I found it slightly more accurate; my companion shooter thought it on par with his tuned Glock 19.

Glock fanboi is uncertain…
Yes, I know the finger on the rail thing is weird, but I find I get fast target acquisition doing it.

Recoil management is, in a word, superb. Ponz described it as “almost like shooting a .22”, but I think that’s a touch much. Compared to the G19 and the PPQ, however, it was simply better. The PPQ doesn’t have a much in the way of muzzle flip, but there was none in the STK100. I found the recoil well mitigated by the lighter slide and aluminum frame, which makes the STK100 a few ounces heavier than a G17. I ran a string of five at the afore-mentioned rolling can and never seemed to have come off target. Photographic evidence disagrees:

We tried a bunch of different G17 magazines, including some old ones. The STK100 only works with the metal lined Glock mags, the old Gen 1 stuff need not apply. This included the 33 and 25 round extended magazines, which functioned flawlessly. The beveled mag well allows for fast and easy reloads. The STK100 kicks the spent brass over your arm and not very far. One shell wound up in my jacket pocket. So having shot the thing, my first impression is very positive: the Rock Glock is a superb weapon. It was most definitely designed with competition shooting in mind, and would be an excellent out-of-the-box race gun; it was more manageable than my tricked out Witness. As a self-defense pistol, the great grip angle makes it easy to get on target fast, and the low recoil keeps you there. Still not sure about having all those damned cuts, though, when it comes to dirt and sand in the action. (I wasn’t willing to drop it in the sand and see, I’ll admit…)

Ponz’ response was positive, as well. Other than the comment about the rear sights being part of the optic cover plate, he found it an excellent shooter with no real recoil. Did it win him over from the House of Gaston? If the PPQ couldn’t do it, probably not. We’ll see.

Afterward, I cleaned and checked the pistol. There were some wear on the finish along the friction points on the receiver where it met the slide. Again — not a great look for an out of the box pistol, but who knows what issues they faced just getting this thing out of the factory door and across the Pacific during the COVID hysteria? (Yes, it is made in the Philippines.) So…do I think it was worth the cash? Absolutely. Would I feel comfortable carrying it? Yes. Might that finish need to be addressed in the future? Money and time will tell.

It’s telling, I think, that my first thought to Stream was to address streaming online of people playing RPGs. There seemed, for a while, to be a lot of vlogs or websites or whatever where people could watch people playing. There’s the jokey Mann Shorts and the not-as-racey-as-you’d-think I Hit It With My Axe, where pornstars play D&D. There’s unboxing videos, which seems the height of time wasting to me, and playthroughs to learn a system — which for those who can’t sit and read would be handy. But I really can’t say too much about these things because I’m far too busy with raising a kid, teaching, writing, and publishing the Black Campbell stuff to spend much time on them.

I suspect there’s a few that are out there worth having a look. Maybe people could comment and suggest a few.

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..?”)