Friday, December 31, 2010

Usagi Yojimbo: Ghosts and other Supernatural

In Seasons, two of the stores, A Promise in the Snow and The Obakeneko of the Geishu Clan bring forth the supernatural elements to the forefront of the Usagi setting.

In A Promise in the Snow, Usagi is doing his standard wanderings and comes across a merchant that has been attacked and is near the point of dying. From out of nowhere the merchant's daughter comes and collects a promise from Usagi that the wandering ronin will not let her father die.

This is one of the first times I remember going, "She's a ghost."  the tip off is when Usagi tells the father, who is stumbling in and out of consciousness, that the merchant's daughter will lead the way and he replies, "F-fum-chant? But... " Right there, perhaps because I've read so much Usagi recently, I knew it was going to involve the supernatural.

But it makes an interesting turn of things for a role playing perspective. The ghost doesn't do any harm to Usagi. She leads him to safety. She doesn't really help him, but she does guard her father. Too often in fantasy RPGs, the focus on the ghost is fighting the ghost and somehow putting it to rest, ususally doing something that involves further adventure. But what if the ghost has a specific short set mission and doesn't even know it's a ghost? The more subtle elements of the supernatural can be played up on that don't involve direct conflict to give the players a greater appreciation of the beyond.

In the Obakeneko, Usagi, Gen, and Tomoe are invited out of the cold weather only to be attacked by a supernatural entity. The three are victorious of course and latter learn the tale of the owner of the house. the thing I thought interesting, was the illusions of the house as being new and stately. There were little insights that might make one suspect something was wrong, like a lack of servants, but the idea of a stately manor being whole and sound...

When the entity is defeated, the illusion is dropped. This allows the GM to prsent a magnificent encounter local that is actually shambles. This can be overused though and the GM should try and keep track of how many times he does it.

Usagi continues to provide both character elements and moments of 'cool' that can easily be swapped for most fantasy role playing based games.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Usagi Yojimbo Seasons

Usagi Yojimbo Seasons is the last of the Usagi books that I did not own. I managed to snag it from Things From Another World, a web site vendor that actually sold it for less than the cover price at Interestingly enough, all of the other sellers were selling it for massive amounts over the cover price. My order arrived in two days. Good deal all around.

Seasons has some points in it I'd consider weak. The use and reuse of certain elements, especially in fields of the supernatural, comes across a little too obvious. Good stuff for those who've never read the material before.

Before I ramble on too much, let's see what's inside eh?

The Withered Field: Stan does a fantastic job of introducing new characters. Here we are meet with Nakamura Koji. He is a master of the sword and a wanderer like Usagi himself. He was once a man who would teach the art of the sword but was soundly bested and went on the road to improve his skills. He's an important character for a few reasons.

One, he actually beats Usagi in a duel. While it's not cool to continuously shove the players face into the dirt, it doesn't hurt to remind them that there are still giants in the earth and that their power, as great as it is, may have equals or superiors out there.

Two, its a set up for a latter duel with Usagi's mentor. This doesn't happen until volume seventeen. Stan is able to build up different expectations in the in-between sequences and does a lot to promote things between Nakamura, Usagi, and Katsuichi.

Three, it gives the GM a chance to make Usagi look cool. You see, while Nakamura is out challenging schools, those schools don't like it necessarily and send out students to kill him. These are effectively minions and Usagi and Nakamura cut through them like butter. This allows the player to still showcase how powerful they are.

Four, it serves as a showcase of something beyond alignments. Nakamura accepted Usagi's help in a fight and then challenges him to a duel. What's up with that? It's Nakamura's motivation you see. He's not concerned necessarily with the good or evil of an action. He's concerned with being the best swordsman he can be. That motivation in and of itself is one that's used time and time again. Even with the manga character Guts from Berserk, before his battle against the supernatural, his main motivation was to become a great swordsman. Hell, it's the motivation of most players I know, to be the best in their field.

But are they really striving to be the best? Are they willing to give up creature comforts? To challenge friends? To issue challenges against anyone, regardless of their social status and ability? To take it on the road so to speak?

There are other bits of Seasons I'll get back to, but the idea of being the best, of having the motivation to throw away a past live, it strikes a powerful chord and is another useful thing to discuss with players. What is your motivation and what are you willing to do for it?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Witch Hunters

While I was at Half Priced books in Niles, I came across a Warhammer omnibus about a Witch Hunter. Now Warhammer is known for its portral of the Witch Hunter. They are religious zealots that will not suffer the abuse of magic or sorcerer and hunt down those things which use them.

Robert E. Howard was probably one of the first times I was introduced to such a concept through his character, Solomen Kane. Hell, there's even a Savage Worlds game in full color with a few supplements on him.

In short, the character concept is old and while it is often tied to Puritan views, its very existance in Warhammer tied to the man god Sigmar shows that the manner of transporting such an archetype is solid.

But what does that mean for an RPG? Well, outside of serving as an inspiration for a martial character that fights evil sorcery, consider the following:

The character is or at least practices some form of faith and often in a very narrow manner. This may lead to conflict with other party memebers. Such things are as classic as the half-orc assassin trying to adventure with the paladin who may not travel with known evil fellows from first edition though, so its not that much of a hurdle to overcome.

The character, being a member or at least knowing about the religion, may have ties to the church. The church is a massive organizaiton that generally has many small branches thoughout the land. And if Warhammer and history in general has shown us anything, it is that when the cat is away the mice will paly. Those places that are on the edge of empire or well nestled within full corruption may not actually appreciate the good work that such a witch hunter may do and actively seek to oppose him, to shield those the witch hunter would seek out. After all, what does a little necromancy matter if those who practice it still attend to the church and still donate most generously? Let these little things slide.

The character, being a hunter, is a known element and like any known element, may have his own detractors. Has the character ever killed the wrong person? Have any relatives sought to bring the character to their own version of justice? And of course, if the character has crossed paths with any of the more powerful forces, such as chaos or the undead, well, they might want to preemptive strike him so that he doesn't come after them.

The Witch Hunter is an interesting concept and I'm looking forward to digging into this Omnibus and looking over some of my Dark Horse Solomen Kane comics for further inspiration.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Usagi Yojimbo: The Brink of Life and Death

Let me hit some of the points here:

Kaiso: Usagi encounters a village of seaweed farmers but there is something odd going on with the other nearby village. Here Usagi is able, as an outside, to see where the true conflict lies. In addition, the author, Stan, is once again able to take something that seems small, seaweed farming, and make a story out of it. Not only that, but he does so in a way that's informative without being boring. If you can bring your setting to life in little ways like this, you're doing it right. Then again, it helps if the players are like Usagi and are willing to learn and explore the world about them.

A Meeting of Strangers: Usagi is always meeting 'the most interesting people' so to speak. In this case, he meets a woman swordmaster who showcases her skills by killing several bounty hunters. During that time though, a 'snitch' spots her and Usagi, who has made his own share of enemies. The stranger comes through and even saves Usagi's life. Intorducing NPCs into the game that the players want to learn more about can be tricky in that you don't want them to outshine the players in their fields but at the same time, if those NPCs don't stick around, they can make the players want to learn more about them.

Black Soul: Jei makes another apperance here. This would be considered an 'interlude' in some novels or comics in that it doesn't touch the main body of the story but at the same time, Jei has a huge role to play in upcoming events and by giving Jei his own 'sidekick', the author makes him more than just a mad killing machine. By giving the players a glimpse into what else is going on in the setting, the GM can set up anticipation for future encounters and events.

Noodles: This one has several factors going for it. A meeting with an old friend, a corrupt police officer who gets the wrong man for the wrong reason but that man is still a criminal. The use of irony in man-man karma and other bits. This is writing work at its strong points. Stan is able to weave continuity together with new elements and make the reader want to know what happens next. By having the problem be theft and having Usagi meet his old friend, the thief Kitsune, the reader automatically assumes that the rash of thef is caused by here.

Further reading however, shows that it's the corrupt official who winds up using Kitsune's accomplace, Noodles, as the fall guy. By doing this, the author switches the expectations around and sets up the officer for his own Karma based fall. Truly Stan must be a fan of such series as My Name is Earl.

Wrath of the Tangled Skein brings more of the supernatural to the forefront. Usagi fights a nue, a monster with the head of a monkey, a bager's body, tiger's legs, and a snake for a taile. Now mind you, the thing is about as big as a horse, not a badger. Usagi also battles a tanuki, a raccoon-like dog that is a shape changer trickster. These two monsters alone provide a suitible encounter with the nue acting as a 'brute' and the tanuki acting as a controler of sorts.

Usagi also meets Sanshobo, a priest that was a former warrior. Another character that will come to be more important as the series progresses. Despite being a former warrior however, Sanshobo doesn't cross over with Usagi's skill set in terms of swordskill or motivation. He's a priest that tends to specialize in fighting off possession.

Bats, The Cat, and the Rabbit brings more ninja warfare to Usagi. He meets another ally and fights against the bat ninja. It's another instance of trouble running into Usagi. It's important for me to keep these events in my mind because they are effectively random encounters that go beyond the single encounter. The chance meeting is the start of the actual adventure as opposed to just a onetime battle.

The Chrysanthemum Pass showcases Usagi as the do-gooder again. He happens to meet an older individual who is a disguised assassin. The use of disguise here is solid in that it allows the assassin to get in close to its target. The use of the mole ninjas however, allows the surprise to take a more dangerous form. These can make good encounter elements where the party is lead to an ambush point by what they take to be a friendly face only to find out that it is not.

Lightning Strikes Twice is the last story here and brings Usagi face to face with the female swordswoman who we learn calls herself Inazuma or lightning flash, for her speed with the blade. She is telling her tale almost as a warning to Usagi and her backstory, of being hunted for murdering a crime boss's son, comes into play as she continues to fight off disguised assassins and bounty hunters as well as where he travelling takes her.

Stan is able to use his visual style and storytelling skills to bring the setting to life. He is able to put Usagi against enemies that take a wide variety and prevent the sword scenes from being boring.  Stan brings forth new characters and uses older ones to keep the action moving forward. By expanding the setting, Stan keeps Usagi from becoming stale and keeps the setting fresh. When you think you're out of ideas, look at something mundane and ordinary and bring some opposition to it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Usagi Yojimbo: Daisho

Usagi Yojimbo continues to make his presence known with this, the next reprint of the sold out volume nine.

For gaming purposes, let me consider the following:

1. Random Encounters that aren't hostile. While its always a good thing to keep the wandering random encounters packed to the gills with the dreaded and dangerous, sometimes you want to feed the players some of the setting and give them some more connection to the setting.

Here, Usagi meets a Komuso "monk of emptiness" that wears a tengai, a woven basket over his head and plays a shakuhachi, bamboo flute. The meeting between the two goes well and the reader is rewarded with a real feel for the character, caste, and style of the komuso.

2. If there is no body... I've mentioned it before, but Stan, the author of Usagi, is notorious in that if there is no body, the villain will be back. Here, one of the members of the 'Shi' group from the previous collection who was buried alive, makes his return. When the players overcome their foes, is there a way that would make it more entertaining for the game if that  villain's death wasn't so obvious and there was a chance of him coming back? If so, take it. If it'll feel like a cheap shortcut, ignore it.

3. Travel is tough. When the players are out and about, remind them of the simple pleasures of the towns. Things like being in an enclosed space, having people around, having water, heat, and a variety of food. Every time that Usagi comes to a town, even if its small and nameless, he's greatful because it means a chance to sleep inside on a bed.

4. Karma. Stan is a master of using karma to settle the score even when the Samurai rabbit isn't able to do so. These examples range from bully swordsmen making the mistake of challenging Usagi directly, to brothers backstabbing each other to make a gold claim. If you run a campaign and want the palyers to follow a certain style of gaming with a gentle hand, showcasing what happens to others in the setting can be a clear example of how the setting works moreso than just having a wandering paladin kill the drow assassin.

5. Slavery and Theft: I'll admit, that some things are easier to read about then to implement in a game. For example, making the players slaves. Usagi in his wanderings suffers the loss of his blades and his freedom from time to time but players, in my experience, generally don't take such loss well. Part of this might be the increasing complexity of game systems where everything from statistics and background abilities are designed to mesh into magic items and feats but part of it may just be the lack of freedom in a game about doing what you want. When using either slavery or outright theft, try to gauage how the players will handle it and if necessary use outside elements to end them if it goes against the grain of the group.

6. Not Everything Is As It Seems: Usagi gets to meet Stray Dog, another Ronin and another bounty hunter like his friend Gen. Stray Dog seems even more of an outlaw and rogue than Gen but when you look past that and see where he goes after the fighting is done, he doesnt' spend his winnings on himself, but rather on an orphanage. Something that may come along later to haunt the Stray Dog but in the meanwhile it acts as contrast to his stone cold killer bounty hunter persona.

7. Social Status: The society that Usagi comes from is very rigid in some of its aspects. Samurai are not peasants but that doesn't necessarily make them royalty. In today's politically correct world where everyone can be anything, the idea of social mobility is fairly ingrained despite the realities that most often people don't switch social classes. When allowing players to design their characters, see where their coming from, what they're trying to do.

There is no point in making a half-orc female paladin that strives against the social order and against stigma associated with half orcs, women, or half orc women being knights if none of those things are an issue. It doesn't mean mechanically the idea is unsound, but if the role playing reasons for selecting a certain combination don't apply, either have the character come from a reigion where they did apply or inform the player of the campaign's freedoms which ironically act as another type of character restriction.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Usagi Yojimbo: Shades of Death

The samurai rabbit has gone through some interesting times not only in his series, but in his publishing history. These stories collected by Dark Horse, originally appeared by another publisher which is a different publisher than the first seven volumes.

Regardless though, I'm here to touch on some of the story telling techniques that I try to remind myself of here.

1. Bring the conflict to the characters. Usagi and Gen are walking down the road and bam! Attacked by dreaded ninajs and they have to figure out what's going on.

2. Don't be afraid to use the popular stuff. It's popular for a reason. During this time period, Usagi teams up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It's something that's happend a few times and I believe even happened on the carton. The point though for a game? If the players love to hate drow, use them. If they love to hate the undead, use them. Find out what the players want to see in the game and bring it out.

3. Throw the history or feel of the setting into the small things. One of the short stories is about Jizo, a road side statue that has its own history and feel to it. In the brief pages that the author gives it, you get the geist of what the purpose is for but the author also provides you with some notes at the end of the book in case you want more information. Bringing details to the players through third parties is an old stand by, but don't be afraid to give a specific player information and ask them to share it. This lessens the load on the GM and allows the other players to take part of the world building activity.

4. Make the Villains Cool. Usagi fights a group of four named Shi that spell their name with the death character. They come off as very bad ass with unique styles and attitudes but Usagi being the star here, kills them in variosu ways.  The more powerful, legendary, and overall awesome your monsters and villains are, the greater the heroes the players are when they overcome them.

Shades of Death has some flash back sequences and some other bits, such as the use of the language to illustrate the setting, but overall, the above four things are what I'll be thinking of when trying to crib notes from how and why Usagi Yojimbo has worked for decades.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays aka Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

My first day off in some odd two weeks. I've got a few things that I've got almost ready for posting. Some bits on good old Usagi Yojimb, as I managed to snag volumes eight and nine, as well as some thoughts on various short stories from a Mammoth Book of Sorcerers Tales.

But for today, it's another guys birthday and where I'm at, we tend to celebrate it and wish warm thoughts and good health and life on those around us.

Enjoy your holidays!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Replacement Killers aka the New PCs

This one is directly inspired by the posting over at Comics in Crisis. See, I'm a big fan of Super Hero comics. I've read many and owned many and even started a little subscription to Marvel's online thing to see how it handles. I figure if WoTC could suck out some money for years before leaving me in the dust with their terrible online offering, I'd see how another online offering that wasn't game related went.

Before I drift too far off the point though, replacement characters in mid campaign can be somewhat problematic. How do you easily slide in new players with a minimum impact to the current game? Depending the style of game you run, it may be as simple as, "Bam, you're there. Let's get gaming." That works well for games where the actual gaming is the main thing everyone is there for. But for other games... Let me talk about some of the ways I've seen it done.

1. Prisoner: The cheap and easy way to add a member to a party that's in mid-dungeon crawl. I've done it myself and while I'd hate to say it is a classic method, it is one that I've seen used several times. The thing is though, and perhaps I'm just fortunate, that at no time did the other players mess with the prisoner. You've got this guy, supposedly about the same level as you, with no gear or equipment, and you've got him at your mercy. Most gamers will go, "Hey dude, we just lost X. Glad to have you above. Here's your gear." For those groups that may not though...

2. Survivor: This fellow isn't some down and out hero that needs rescuring. He's been exploring the dungeon as well but his whole group bit the bucket and he managed to escape. It is indeed a shame that the fireball or collapsing cavern destroyed all of the items of his team mates, but not only is he ready to go and in top spirits and form needing only some stout allies to assist him, he doesn't necessarily have to rely on the other players to 'save' him from his situation.

3. Enemy Mine: The new player is actually one of the enemy! In 3rd ed and 4th ed and other games, such as Hero or GURPS, the lure of playing something odd may be strong. In a situation that allows for it, such as when the players are fighting drow, lizard men, or other humanoid entities that can easily be swaped into the party, especially the half-breeds that may have something against their betters like the half-orcs, this can be an easy time to throw in a character that may or may not have the party's best interest at heart. Like with the escaped slave scenario though, it relies on the players not to abusre each other over such things. After all, the empire of monsters have more treasure than a single monster right?

4. NPC Promotion: In this case, the players have brought along with them a wide variety of henchmen and hirelings to take the brunt, I mean, explore from the front. These characters may with the GM's permission move from the low level rankings of NPCs to full fledged player character. Sure, the character may experience a power growth and may be slightly different, but unless it is really going to effect the game, what's the point of worrying about it?

When replacing a character in mid stream, try to work not only with the GM, but with the current situation to allow the fit to be one that's as seemless as possible and one that allows the dungeon exploration to continue.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Good Thief Part 2

The main character of the book, Ren, meets a wide variety of interesting characters. Let me peg some role playing thoughts at them as I would see them aimed at making them friendly to new players looking for some archetypes.

Ren: Raised in an orphanage, his young age makes Ren seem a bit naive but he quickly picks up on the reality of a situation and often can read the underlaying currents around him in the faces, muscles, and attitudes of those he greets. With a friendly outlook and a wild imagination, despite his limitation, Ren quickly befriends those about him.

Tom: A former teacher whose current profession is nothing that he would like it to be, Tom tries to drown out the voices of the past, of his mistakes of his shame, with alcohol. His only interest in gathering funds is to provide enough food, shelter, and most importantly, alcohol for as long as possible.

Benjamin: The con man, the lair, the thief, the rogue, the scoundrel. Yet he also has a friendly face and also goes out of his way to make those about him feel good. While some would say he's too cynical and cold hearted, he prefers to think of himself as a realist and while he may be forced away from his friends for a time, he always comes back. Even when he's physically outmaneuvered, its rare for him to be intellectually outmaneuvered and more than one person has caught themselves unaware at his schemes.

Dolly: A murderer whose honest about his profession and takes pride in his skill with it. While he's not out to harm those who are just going about their day to day living, his thick arms and powerful build ensure that those he does seek to finish, rarely have a chance to defend themselves. A man of such prestigious strength that snapping necks is no bother and of such vitality, that rising from being strangled days latter is no more taxing to him than taking a long nap. Despite these seemingly horrific feats of physical strength and endurance and the nonchalant manner of dealing death and accepting it, once he calls you friend he'll lay down his life to ensure you have yours.

The Dwarf: A man out of place among his own people, the dwarf's strange looks and short stature insure that few take him seriously. At least those few who even know of his existence. His friendship is not easily won but once given, is as solid and long lasting as the toys he carves for his sister in exchange for her preparation of foodstuffs.

The Good Thief provides a lot of entertainment in a slim volume and is a book worth adding to your read list.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

Half Priced Books is a twisting and changing labyrnith of books that refreshes itself every time one enters it. Upon my last visit, I saw The Good Thief. I'd heard good things about the book so decided to pick up in trade for less than I could in paperback.

The writting is brief and to the point making it a quick read. While I haven't gotten very far in it yet (shakes first at 56+ hour work weeks), I have enjoyed what I have read. With that in mind, beware the spoilers!

Ren: The main character is missing his left hand. This in and of itself is a distinctive feature. Not only that but a limitation. While he does his fair share of work, it often takes him longer. In addition, it's a social stigma. Players generally love to have distinctive features ranging from hourglass eyes and albino skin to unique wounds or markings that make them stand out.

Ren is from an orphanage. The orphanage is Cahtolic in a Protestant land. They build up walls to protec themselves from being burned down. They didn't seek out children, but children were 'gifted' to them. Those children that don't find a family are adopted into the military life. In and of itself, this serves as a simple methodology for players who don't want a lot of family ties or background.

HOWEVER, and this is key, while Ren is taken out of Saint Anthony's Orphanage for boys by his 'brother', he does have a whole cast of characters that we are introduced to, if only briefly, including various brothers who have different personalities as well as other orphans. A pair of these being twins, apparently a bad omen in those dark times where the latter born was often killed as a changeling.

My point here is that just because you've set yourself up with the loner background by default doesn't mean that it must be that way. There were people at the church. There were friends at the church. Perhaps the blankets were too thin, but you knew what the schedule was every day and they provided food, shelter, and education. The routine of daily life, a secure daily life, might beat the 'adventure' one could find outside the walls.

I'm looking forward to reading more in the Good Thief because Ren quickly grows on the reader and provides some interesting observations in a setting that thus far, isn't that different than many fantasy settings.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Weapons of India

I take no credit for the below. On the Reaper miniature forums, people were discussing what types of miniatures they'd like to see. One poster broght up the wealth of unique weapons that India has.

Some of them I've seen before in manga like Berserk, which has a wide variety of inspiration behind it. Others I've used in my home brew editions back in the 80's and early 90's, inspired in part by Palladium books various weapon and armor compendiums.

So without further rambling, some links to some cool looking weapons that will make characters, both players and NPCs, stand out from the crowd.

Urumi : I've seen this whip/cat-o-nine tails used in the Berserk manga. Good stuff.

Katara: The Wilderlands had a demon banishing version of this weapon in one of those various small booklets I had when I was a young man.

Pata: I could be getting really senile here, but I'm 99.9% certain that Willo's Mad Martigan wielded one of thoese for a brief period of time.

There are a ton of unique weapons out there if you're fortunate enough to stumble over them as I was today. The real trick comes in making the cool magic items and heroes who yielded them to make the players stumble over each other in their desire to get them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Japanese Warrior Monks AD 949-1603

"There are three things that are beyond my control: the rapids of the Kamo river, the dice at gambling, and the monks of the mountain." ex-emperor Go Shirakawa-In.

I'm a fan of Legend of the Five Rings. I'm a fan of the old Oriental Adventurers 1st edition and the attempts to bring it up to date in various methods. In terms of history though, I don't know a lot about the various cultures that make up the far east in terms of Japan and China even though some of the timelines and events are somewhat known to me.

And the book is illustrated by Wayne Reynolds. You see, while I'm afraid some of his fantasy art is a little overplayed for me, between his numerous works for Wizards of the Coast and Paizo, and his shortening of the forearms in some of his illustrations, I do find his work in this book solid.

Anyway, the first thing I'd note is that the forces in Japan here, despite being monks, their initial battles and fights are not religion based. Rather, they are based on the world of politics. Various appointments are made that the monks don't agree with and they march!

To me, this is yet another powerful indicator that despite the 'secular' nature of religion, and most religions at their root tend to be of the do onto others bits, we find time and time again that in order to advance the cause if you will, that the religion must engage itself with the corporal. That the etheral ideas must be planted firmly in reality.

These politics go a long way in many of the early examples here, and they are not only all about the monks, but rather how those around the monks use politics to get there way, or how those who fall out of favor of the current politics have to watch their step or also fall out themselves.

When looking at the religious forces in the setting, how do they interact with the other parts of the setting? In campaigns like Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms, those questions are semi-answered. Some of the more militant gods have churches. Some of the arcane gods have spellcasters as worshippers. Some of the shadier gods have rogues and assassins.

But the types of worshippers don't necessarily bring out what those forces actually do. The Japanese Warrior Monks, in many ways, are a standing army and served as such in several battles. While priest of Tempus are of the war god, do they have a standing army that is at the beck and call of whatever city they are in or is it an independent unit that is beholden only to the church? Do worshippers of Kord has a massive monestary they go to in order to train and learn their craft while preparing to showcase their strength and prowess?

The warrior monks also have a very distinctive weapon; the naginata. The naginata, as shown here, is a pole arm weapon with a massive blade that had a lot of variety. Wayne illustrates three of them in the book including a wide bladed one, a shobuzuri where the blade and shaft are almost of equal length, and a short bladed style with a heavy iron butt end.

The utility though, in a role playing game, would be the recognition that a whole unit or a whole style of enemy using a specific weapon brings. Some foes are known for their chaotic choice of weapons, others for their orderly methodology. By giving an army a specific weapon and a specific style, you give it definition and provide the players easy latch points.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell

One of the comments in the old blog mentioned a trilogy of books by Bernard Cornwell that I would be well advised to seek out. Alas, Half Price books did not possess this Arthurian trilogy, but they did have a few other books by the author. I'm always out to see how different authors handle different things so I was eager to see how Bernard Cornwell wrote, even if it wasn't the choosen titles recommended to me.

Stonehenge as is, would be a great source of material for any game master that was going to add a 'lost world' style elements to his campaign. The author does a good job of making the reader feel the lack of technology, even 'Dark Ages' technology where weapons of bronze and enginnering tasks are vastly more difficult than they'd be today.

In addition, there is a whole pantheon of deities, war, solar, moon, and others, that the GM can easily add to the game.

In terms of broad themes, the use of family is powerful here. The main 'cast' of characters involves three brothers and their father and the relationship between them and how things change as each goes his own way and how these brothers and their influence over others works between not only each other, but the various tribes in the setting.

Superstition and prophecy are also used to good effect. Even when some of the propehcy is specific, it tends to come true, even when its influenced by those actually making the propehcy. The importance of superstition on the other hand, allows one man, even when he is not the epitome of physical perfection, even when he is not the best hunter, superiority over those who would kill him.

Parts of this superstition come in through the reading of omens. Of looking about at the world around and interpeting the events, often trying to do so in a method that's favorable to the omen reader. The fall of a leave, the flight of a bird, the degree in which winter falls. All of these things can possibly be considered signs. For a really heavy handed version of this, watch the movie Signs. Everything can possibly be fitted into a pattern if you have a big enough net.

Nemesis: One of the brothers, Lengar, creates a nemesis out of his younger brother's wife. The next brother, Camaban, continues that nemesis theme, making of Saban's wife a further nemesis. But what does that mean for a role playing game? When 'named' characters are given the shaft without killing them, there are consequences. In a super hero game, this may result in the creation of a new super villain. In a fantasy game, the results can be all over the place.

Is the slighted NPC one that has allies and friends in other places? Are those allies powerful? Even without going to war, those allies of the enemy can make things difficult for the players. This could result in a loss of trade, restrictions from those of the player's allies going through that territory, to outright war against the players and their allies. The theme of actions have consqeuences is powerful here and most of those within the novel get what they deserve.

On the other hand, Saban, the 'hero' if you will, is not a good role model for most player characters, or at least the situations he finds himself in, are not situations that players would endure in his manner. You see, while Saban has a few moments of brilliance, especially when bluffing his mad brother in terms of Saban's skill set, most players would go straight for the throat.

This gets back to knowing the players. In the novel, years pass. This is because of the low levels of technology and the sheer time needed to move stone, smooth stone, and arrange stone. Most players in 3rd and 4th edition, aren't going to want to wait for such events. I mention those editions specifically because older editions tended to have rules and a focus on higher level players having land and construction was often slow, even when assisted by magic items.

Still, the point, know your players and what they want out of the game, is important. If they are anxious and eager to fight and join battle with the primordials and as a GM you keep having them sit around for years running a kingdom, well, there is a clash of taste here. GM's shouldn't give up what they want to run, but if the player's arent' into it, then how long will the GM have players at all?

I have two more books by Bernard Cornwell to go through and while Half Price did not have the Arthurian trilogy, they did have a few more, especially in the Sharpe's series....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Angus McBride's Art of Byzantine Armies

Angus Mcbride has a huge swath of material to work for here. Not only does this book cover a large period of time, but as I've posted previously, the Byzantine armies are often made up not of natives, but of mercenaries that range far and wide.

The cover, the first color plate on the interior, is of a cavalryma, a man-at-arms, and an infantryman. The cover however, loses the awesome background which has stone spires reaching up behind the figures, giving them a very real sense of presence and exploration.

The next one, shows three mercenaries, almughavar, Cuman, and Alan, in some thin woods having brought down a bird with some solid bowmanship.

The next one showsBuzamtome sp;doers beomg waoted pm bu a servamt in front of a castle.

The fifrth one shows a Cuman mercenary on horse, in a stream, next to an Albanian mercenary who rests a spear on a shoulder with one foot in the stream and the other on a rock outcropping and an Italian mercenary creeping along the rocks out of the river. This picture could almost be a group of adventurers exploring as the Albanian mercenary, with one hand raised and his spear which almost resembles a staff, could easily pass for a wizard with his rounded cap.

There are other illustrations, but I consider those 'pose' shots, solid artwork that is the characters essentially standing around so that McBride can showcase what these various individuals might have looked like. The ones I picked out have more going on wither its exploring, hunting, or day to day activities.

Angus McBride's art is solid and could easly make for some quick visual referens in any role playing game.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Byzantine Armies AD 1118-1461

When talking about this book previously, I mentioned the high cost of mercenaries. The book, when speaking about the armies, further list out the nationalities of the soldiers that were often in these mercenary armies.

In using these forces, the empire found it easier to control them in small waves. It also made it easier to pay them. The soldiers were often paid once every three months, but that payment was also late in coming. For some forces, the promise of land and ownership was enough. For others, even though there was no pay, they were allowed to keep what they plundered. For some, there was no actual use by the Byzantine empire, but rather, much pillage in that time under those colors.

For example, in 1354, we have some 10-20 thousand soldiers sieze Gallipoli for their own plunder. Pretty good numbers and a sizable take for themselves.

I'm going to list out some of those that fought for the Byzantine here. It's surprising from where they come from. This is more interesting to me as a fan of the historical information simply because even in today's society of easy to get around places, people don't tend to move around a lot with notable exceptions. Anyway, onto the list;

Alans or Massagetoi: Christian Turks from the Caucasus, Albanians, Armenians, Bulgarians, Burgundians,
Catalans, Cretans, Cumans, Englishmen, Georgians, Hungarians, Latains: Italians, Germans, Spaniards and the majoirty being Frenchmen., Mongols, Patzinaks or Turkic Pechenegs, Russians, Scandinavians, Serbs,
Turks, Uzes, Vlachs

Seriously, is there anyone there no covered? Of course the times nad terms of service for these different nationalities differed and some of these nationalities fought among themselves, further weakning the empire itself, but overall, this list represents an amazing reach and an amazing potential.

For role playing games that is. It is often wondered, how do adventurers meet? Well, if you're working for the Byzantine armies, apparently, it doesn't matter if you from England or from Russia, chances are you'll wind up working together or at least having the potential to work together. Having a large empire like this, even one in decline, like Byzantine is, allows the GM to have a very open and 'real' reason for characters of different races and professions to join together if only as a starting point.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Warrior's Way

I don't get out to the theaters too often to see the movies. I generally wait until it hits DVD/Blu Ray or Netflix. Less crowds and if you're not catching a cheap show, generally the same price. However, my group was made of fail today and only one other gamer outside of the GM showed up. So we decided to head on out and see The Warrior's Way.

Now I'm so unhip that I didn't even know what it was about. For those who don't want to know or don't wany any spoilers, cease your reading now. Cease it I say!

The Warrior's Way, much like Ninja Assassin, focuses on the badest of the bad, a ninja warrior swordsman who is just so damn awesome, he turns against his clan and of course they're not going to take that lying down so they come after him. In this case, after defeating all of the enemy clan's finest warriors, our hero only has an infant girl to slay. Being an unahppy bastard because he is only a killing machine, he takes her to America instead.

The ninjas follow after and as they do so, our hero has gotten involved with a town of circus folks out in the badlands in the 'Old West' including an old gunslinger and a woman with a past.

So what inspired me that I'd mentioned it on the old blog?

Costumes: I know it may sound strange, but art, heck, visual pull, can be a huge influence on people. Despite their shrinking popularity, comics are still iconic and are still being used as the birth place of movies and television. Visuals play a huge part in my mind. The visuals here are fantastic.

Scenery: Similiar to the costumes. The wide open vistas of the badlands lend themselves well to the action sequences here. The worn down dusty town also works wonders as a backdrop.

Villains: There are two main villains here. The first one, perhaps less important, is 'The Colonel.' Apparently some former member of the army with his own band of villains. His henchmen look like something more out of a wild west apocalypse style movie than one of the actual old west. Still, he's quite the character with his own sense of humor and some great lines and a unique look thanks to a Phantom of the Opera style mask. It makes him quickly identifiable and allows the audience to tie in to him quick. The second baddie is almost generic in that it's the hero's old mentor. He has a solid look but few lines outside of some training bits for his pupil.

Action sequences: I've mentioned this before, but one huge lure of the movies is watching the heroes and villains look cool. There's a sequence where a knife fighting woman is battling the Colonel and one of her daggers is stuck in the wall above her reach. When her foe goes to make a stab at her, she uses his sword, stuck in the wall momentarily, to act as a springboard and leap up and grab her weapon. Allow the players to look cool.

In terms of actual characters, sometimes the GM can get in the way of things if tryhing to establish a certain mood and tone that doesn't fit the game. I imagine that if everyone who saw this wanted to make rogues, assassins, avengers, and other lightly armored strikers and the Game Master wants to run a game of Chilvary and Knighthood, he's going to have some issues. Tailor the game around the themes.

One thing that might be possible is combinging them into new methods. Take the whole concept of the assassins, make them work directly for King Arthur and have them dress up like Assassin's Brotherhood or Assassin's Creed. It's not the most realistic thing, but in a setting where elves and now dragonborn are the standard player races, you have to go with what works.

The non-game mechancis: The clan the hero is from is known as the Sad Flutes. They are called this because when the throat is slashed, the last sound or gurgle sounds like a sad flute. In Lone Wolf and Cub, there is a sword strike Ito delivers that sounds like the Flute of the Fallent Tiger. Names can have all sorts of origins. Play with them and see how they work for you.

In terms of the hero, he cannot be found by his enemies at first. He's sealed his sword you see and in doing so, silenced the thousands of souls of those who cry out from it. It's not a magical weapon, but it the theme of it ties into his background and when he does unleash it, it does lure his foes to him. Magic or plot device? How much will your players take? If you don't abuse it and give them something in exchange, probably enough t okeep the game interesting.

The Warrior's Way isn't high art or anything, but it combines the whole sword and gun thing, the East and the West, in a nice mix with some strong visuals and action sequences and makes me want to roll the dice.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Algrim Durarr: An Essentials Cleric

Well, the standard game I'm in on Friday's has wound down ast he GM has found himself a job! Congrats on him in that field.

This left our group puzzled for a few moments. The two... dare I say it, 'good' GMs, not counting the current one, are working fifty plus hours a week and while we can make it to play, GMing is a whole different thing. So our 'standard' GM picks up the pace. This guy also works, and he GMs a fair even game, but he sometimes lacks the pizzaz that others bring.

But when it comes to running the game like clock work? He's on top of it so I'll take the old slow and steady versus spectacular burn out.

However, this left me in a bit of a pickle. Wizards of the Coast decided that too many people were stealing the old Character Builder and decided to just charge people for the beta online version they have. As a long time customer, I personally felt lied to about the updates and had a few days to play with the online version and yeah, it's a beta. So I dropped my subscription. Perhaps I'll pick it up again in the future when things are ironed out and its no longer beta.

In the meanwhile, that meant I had to... gasp... read my book. I like dwarves. One of my old friends, GM, and player at times, Mike Quon, ran a hell of a game and dwarves were a huge feature in it. He had several named characters, various clans, famous artifacts and other goods. Besides, the other players were already running heavy on the strikers and defenders so I figured I'm either going to run with the cleric or run with the wizazrd.

I went with the dwarf clerci.

Let me tell you old timers, those playing 4e today don't realize how good they have it. Your primary stat as a cleric, Wisdom, is used for all sorts of things. It's not like 1st, 2nd, or 3rd edition D&D where it's always better to have several high scores. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't hurt in 4e either, but your primary attacks are almost all based off of that one stat. You don't have to worry about having a high strength to hit, or a high con for those hit points.

Mind you, the bonuses in 3rd and 4th come a lot sooner than the did in previous editions anyway, and they're equal across the board. No more having that high strength and constitution but it being useless because you were not a fighter class.

Anyway, I already have a figure picked out, but not yet painted for this storm cleric who I've named Algrim Durarr;