Thursday, February 24, 2011

Usagi Yojimbo: Grey Shadows- The Courtesan

One of the things I didn't get around to, is the later part of the book where Usagi becomes involved with a courtesan. Now low wage bar wench, this is a high class professional who even lords see. There are some similarities in western European, but I cannot think of the name of the infamous madame now. Nontheless, it's still a profession today that can have its own 'clout' if you will, but only for the very best who service the highest paid as United States senators and other politicians can attest to.

1. Foreshadowing: Lady Maple, the courtesan in question, is mentioned prior to this in terms of her beauty. This is a good way to showcase an aspect of an upcoming event or character. If speaking of some monsters, have the character meet survivors of the last raid of those attacks. Let them learn second hand what they will be prepared to deal with.

2. Self-Character Involvement: Usagi, as always, is sticking his nose into other people's troubles. Because of his good nature, Usagi doesn't immediately go for the financial or the other rewards that might come from defending a high end courtesan. Know your players. If that angle won't work for them, perhaps those in the higher ends will still have use for such a character and can be paid out in the standard methods of adventurerers or as Skull from PvP would say, "Ales and Whores."

3. Character Motivations and Secrets: I was reading an old issue of Dragon during the 3.5 reign that featured Vecna in his new status of godhood. One of the things it mentions is his desire for secrets. The courtesan here has a hell of a secret. The players could be working for such a lady as body guards but not know her secret. Her motivation, keep the secret and keep what that secret is, proteced. Due to her kind nature and apperance, those around her have motivation to serve and protect her. Give a moment to thinking about the character's around the player's and what their motivations are.

This motivation goes in the opposite direction as well. Those seeking to end the life of Maple's son, aren't doing it because they are random baby killers. They are doing it for political motivation, for the right to be free from what they fear will happen should the child grow into his own ends and power. These motivations are at ends. Usagi in and of himself is just someone in the way, despite the fact they want him dead for interferring.

4. No World Wide Web Yet: Depending on the setting and access to magic use and the size of the location the players are at, they may become involved in huge events that have massive ramifications, such as the murder of a noble or a lord. Yet not everyone has a camera on their phone in these RPGs we favor. There are no eye in the sky close up shots. There may not even be a pony express! This can be vital for keeping the characters viable for player in a setting if things go wrong in one corner of the setting. Mind you Usagi has some help of his own through the inspector, but the point of non-instant identification should resonnate with those playing in lower magic, lower end sword and sorcery style settings.

Remember the limitations of the setting and run with them. The players will get theirs one way or another sooner or latter if that's the end goal.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Usagi Yojimbo: Grey Shadows

Usagi Yojimbo Grey Shadows is the thirteenth volume in the Stan Sakai collection of Usagi Yojimbo's adventurers. The book starts almost immediately after the previous one leaves off and does so with a bit of a twist.

You see, in the last volume, Usagi and the demon spear man Jei had another epic confrontation and although Usagi won, both he and his friend Gen, were injured. And that weapon of Jei's doesn't just pierce the flesh, it drains the soul.

This gets me to something that's hard to pull off in 'balanced' roleplaying games. The injuries that last. In my experience with GURPS, if I'm recalling correctly, you can get points for a handicapping injury when you first make the character, but anything after that is a GM freebie. Hero isn't quite like that depending on the GM. Previous editions of D&D weren't quite like that either in that if you lost a hand, very difficult to do outside of GM fiat or certain traps, it was a quest to restore it, until you hit X level and then it was pretty much asking the cleric to heal you.

You can bring the spirit of such elements to the game though with reinforcement of what the wound is supposed to represent. In Gen's case, it's almost a meloncoly mood of depression and despair. The seriousness isn't carried too far, but Gen's wound does have repurcussions down the line.

Another element Stan uses here is the friend of a friend when he introduces the readers to inspector Ishida. The law of Usagi's time have a distinctive weapon, the jitte, it's almost like a sai and serves as their symbol. Here though, Usagi is told of the inspector by his priest ally Shanshobo. This helps move Usagi along the way and proides him with a new encounter and one that is potentially an ally off the bat since this is coming from a friend.

While it can seem heavy handed if done too often, networking is something that happens every day. If you know someone who has skill with something you need done, and you have friends who know someone, you'd ask right? If your friends need someone that they trust, they might ask you if you know someone. Once the initial meeting is made though, then the characters have to move on their own and interact as their natures dictate.

In introducing the inspector, Stan pulls a little trick that's often seen in comics and anime. He showcases Ishida fighting two samurai and casually besting them to illustrate that the inspector is no soft politician or fool. In anime and comics, it's often done to showcase what a menace that the heroes are up against. If done in a game, you want to just make it a quick illustration of the NPC's abilities because you're not there to hog up the game with demonstrations of NPC power.

While Stan manages to hit some of the historical notes of his period piece, he also continues to sprinkle language through the series.

Copper Zeni: Small coin
Hour of the Ox: 2-4 Am
Obake: Haunts
Torihada: Goosebumbs
Hanya: Female Demon

This list goes on for quite a bit and there's numerous bits and pieces that make sense in the context of the story they're told in. It makes for some diversity that's often lacking in most standard fantasy unless it tries to go the way of the Planescape setting and make up a lot of its own dialect.

Usagi Yojimbo continues to showcase adventure seeds that don't necessarily have to take place in the dungeon.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter

Usagi Yojimbo continues its trail of one rabbit samurai wandering the countryside as a ronin who keeps a circle of friends close while the world about him continues to come together in ways that are not always seen by the main character, but that the audience sees as ties that bind.

Below I'll be discussing some of the bits from Grasscutter, previewed here, the twelfth volume graphic novel collection of Usagi Yojimbo published by Dark Horse comics. Spoilers will follow so beware!

Mythology: Either Stan does a fantastic job of researching the history of Japan and presenting it to the reader or he does it in such a way that it's fun to read and doesn't negatively impact the story. In many cultures, there are magical weapons but too often the origin or founding point of these weapons are left to the readers imagination. There's nothing wrong with that. Was the infamous sword Blackrazor better before it gained excessive background or worse? Readers will be divided on that issue. Here, we are introduced to Grasscutter through both myth and historical events as to how it was lost to Usagi's Japan.

Nemesis: Ah, the dreaded tale of the nemesis. I've hit on this several times but well, here it hits again. Jei, the demonic warrior that Usagi has 'killed' several times prior to this returns in this novel. He showcases his powers against several entities that may have even been kin in their own way to him, but the path Jei walks is one that he walks unopposed. This can be an important thing to showcase with the villains in your setting.

In some setting such as the Forgotten Realms, there are so many high level villain and heroic organizations that it's often difficult to imagine the setting not resembling Gamma World more than a pseudo fantasy setting but those organizations dont' tend to ally with each other and even with 'good', may have their own ideas on how certain things, like artifacts and knowledge, should be shared, putting them at odds with one another. Have the party stumble upon a group of dead orcs and hobgoblins to showcase that just because they all hate the players, doesn't mean they love each other.

The Villain's Weakness: Most of the time when Jei and Usagi fight, Usagi doesn't do to well and generally is saved either by circumstance or luck. This volume is no different but it showcases a different side of Jei in that he leaves himselve open protecting 'his innocent'. This is essentially a follower of Jei who doesn't understand or care about what Jei is, only that he protected her at a dark period in her life and looks out for her. Usagi doesn't deliberately use her against him, but events conspire to put her in danger and Jei can choose to either end Usagi or save the 'innocent'. He saves the innocent.

Foreshadowing: Stan does this with a saint's patience. While probably not as noticeable in the individual issues that make up the series, the graphic novels allow the reader to see Stan setting up events so that they fall like domino's. Could you guess the events that will happen? Possibly. Do they make sense in the context of the story and keep the story moving forward?

Yes. In this instance, Inazuma, introduced only last volume, is hunted by Gen for the large bounty on her head. the two fight, Gen barely escapes with his life but ironically, due to an accident, it's Inazuma that's badly injured and passes out in front of Jei who at the bidding of his follower, leaves Inazuma, suffering from delusions and hallucinations, at a temple to heal. When Jei is 'killed', his spirit finds a new host in Inazuma, whose storyline will come back into play way down the line in volume 24.

Grasscutter: Grasscutter exhibits some interesting bits to it but doesn't shine through as something like Excalibur or Strombringer in terms of raw sword power. Rather, it's something that is a unique cultural artifact that could upset the political power of Japan and send the whole of it into further warfare. The thing is, Usagi is generally a 'good' individual and has no desire for political power. Don't put the gun in the room unless you're ready for the players to use it. I can easily envision a scenario where the players are supposed to pass an object to another individual but hey, when is this opportunity going to come along again? Always be ready for the players to take the path not offered and be ready for the consequences of it.

In my opinion, if you don't want to deal with the players potentially getting their hands on such an object and using it as players instead of as story element, it's better to not put it into the game rather than having some highly unlikely series of events conspire to steal the item from the players.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Order Update 2!

The Mongoose order has arrived.

Conan 2nd edition, Cimmeria,  Lankhmar Unleashed, Magic of the Young Kingdoms, Dream Realms and Secrets of Tragic Europe are in my grubby paws. Now to brood of a crossover where those of Melnibone use the Dream Realms to explore Lankhmar and then the caves there to voyage to Cimmeria and wind up lost in Traig Europe...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Follow Up On Sale

Just an FYI, but my paints and other goods from Miniature Market have already arrived. Great price, great service.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Old School Sales at Mongoose and Paints at Miniature Market

It's rare that I mention actual gaming books, but I happened to notice that Mongoose still has on sale several Conan 2nd edition books, various Hawkmoon Runequest books, Elric/Stormbring Runequest book, and the Nehwon setting book via Lankhmar Unleashed. It don't get much more old school than the twain there. Dragon Warriors and other bits are also on sale.

In addition, I paint miniatures. Over at Miniature Market, they've got a deal on the Panzer Aces set of 48 vallejo paints for $62. Hell of a deal considering those are usually over $3 each.

Good spending!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Religion: Now Some GM Notes

Below I'll be pulling some quotes out of the Religion and talking about how they make me think about various bits in a campaign from the GM side of things. If you're looking to avoid spoilers, read no further.


"If Sicily as a whole was uncongenial to those of nonconformist temper, Messina, which through millennial had known conquerors by the dozen, was open to foreigners, rogues, and entrepreneurs of every stripe. It was an independent republic, as populous as Rome, and paid the latest- Spanish- invaders presently stripping the island to the bone as little mind as it had paid the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, and all the rest. It was turbulent and rich, and with the sanctuary of Calabria only two miles across the straits, it harbored the lawless high and low in enormous numbers. The governor looted more for the Spanish Crown in a single year than the rest of the island yielded up in five. on the Church's part, the Holy Inquisition formed a veritable legion of kidnappers, killers, and thieves, and numbered in its ranks knights, barons, merchants, artisans, criminals of every kind, and it went without saying, the bulk of the civil police force. As a place for a man such as Tannhauser to make his fortune, it had no equal." (pg. 51)

Now Tim Willocks didn't have to go into this description. After all,most of the story here doesn't actualy take place on Messina, but rather, on Malta. But he does. The above description showcases the attitude, the nature, the essence of the location where Tannhauser starts.

By providing these quick insights into the nature of the setting, the players will get a taste for it. Now if the GM doesn't follow up on these descriptions with actual events or locations or personalities that fit it, or deliberately don't fit it, then it's a stroke. However, if you're with long term players and their characters are well seasoned, you can save a lot of time and description by telling them that their current location is like X. But if you say its like X and it turns out it's nothing like X? Yeah, the player trust in your ability to describe things honestly is going to suffer there.


Ludovico Ludovici is introduced fairly early in the book as a man who Tannhauser owes a personal grudge to. Ludovico's nature as an agent of the Church, an inquisitor for the church, provides him some social protection.

His ties to Carla, Tannhauser's patron, provide him with more links to Tannhauser. His relationship to Carl's son, provides still more links to Tannhauser.

While Tannhauser is on Malta, and he fights a huge number of foes, and prior to that even engages in combat with Ludovico's hirelings, there is a world of difference between an standard, generic, faceless foe man, and one that the player's character has some direct tie to.

In this case, the author manages to provide Ludovico with layers of protection through a few clever plot shields. The first is social. By being a high ranking member of an organization that wields much power, were Mattias to attack him in the open, even were he to be victorious, there would be consequences that might haunt him for the rest of his days.

The second shield is the henchmen. By having Ludovico have his own hired killers seeking out Tannhauser in the dark and trying to be clever and stealthy about it themselves, it opens the door for conflict with them, but not out in the open, and not against the foe that Mattias wishes to kill.

The third shield is timing. Ludovico arrives at Malta and quickly makes a name for himself and proves himself to the religious fanatics of the island with his own piousness and sword skill.

A good nemesis should have relation to the character through some manner. The nemesis should reflect something of the character either in exaggerated features of it or through being its opposite. For example, in Marvel Comics, Reed Richards is a brilliant scientists as is Dr. Doom. But Doom goes far beyond Reed in terms of his levels of mastery in various fields such as alchemy or sorcerery. Lex Luthor is merely a human, yet he is one of Superman's greatest foes.

Risk and Consequences

Sabato looked at Tannhauser. his eyes were haunted. "I've never lost everything before."

"The Oracle?" said Tannhauser. "They've but broken a chain around our ankle." (pg. 116)

I'm not the oldest player nor have I played the earliest editions of Dungeons and Dragons. However, playing since 1st edition and various basic (expert, companion, master, immortal!) sets and editions, in previous editions, there were many opportunities to gain castles and other property. Sometimes this could bog down a game. Sometimes the micromanagement of running these side businesses would take precedence over actual dungeon crawling. Madness!

For those games that focus on the crawl, that focus on exploration, that focus on the adventure aspect as opposed to the other potential bits in the game, it might prove necessary to move the party forward every now and again with some harsh prodding. the trick is to insure that there are boundless opportunities for whatever you're pushing them towards.

In this case, Tannhauser and his friends will have opportunity to make vast riches on the island selling various things ranging from Opium and foodstuffs, to engaging in the dark rituals of combat that Bors wanted to do in the first place. This doesn't count that Tannhauser is being hired by Carla to leave the Oracle in the first place and go to Malta.  Even better, as the following line illustrates;

"Most of our coin and credit is lodged in Venice. When we join it, we'll be well beyond the reach of the Spanish Crown."

So even though there has been a loss, the characters have not been so well and truly set back that they not only can't recover from it, but have immediate opportunities to do so.

In terms of mood and theme, Tim does a solid job of bringing another attitude to life. It's one where life is cheap and the reality of the situation is generally taken with a nod by those in it. It's nothing to kill a man and then eat a heaping dinner and burn your possessions to the ground on the road to the next adventure for these men. Keep the adventure high and keep the campaign moving forward.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Religion: The Player Side of Things

Below I'll be taking a few points that happen early in the book and discussing how it might be useful from the player's point of view. This will include some spoilers so if you're looking to avoid such details, read no further.

"Bors," he said, "you're my oldest and most steadfast companion. But we three contracted to become rich men together and such we are becoming and so we have done. Whether we rise or fall, it's battle of a different sort we're engaged in now. Remember the motto you coined for us, Usque ad finem. Until the End. Until the very end."

When the party is first being generated, there may be some concerns or issues with the variety of materials that are allowed in the campaign and the inherent opposing natures of some of the classes. If the players can agree to work with each other, then regardless of their core believes and alignments, outside of actual restrictions in game, such as older editions where paladin's couldn't associated with known evil individuals, then the game should be able to proceed with few difficulties.

The real meat of the above quote is that despite their different backgrounds, Bors, Tannhauser, and Sabato, are associates, allies, and more; to the end. Players need to realize, at the start of the campaign, that acting in character is one thing, but causing so much distruption with other players that it effects the game itself? That behavior, in my opinion, needs to be booted out.

I'm not saying all of the characters have to love each other. After all, Bors and Sabato are not 'friendly despite their alliance to one another. Verbal sparring and one upping another against their foes should be the pick of the day.

In terms of character motivation, sometimes when making a character, the motivation comes through deeds. Most fantasy role playing games are set in a time when if one has the will and ambition, the world is literally theirs for the taking. In such a world, just getting by, or even doing well in your own business, might not be the standard or enough.

"They will harrow Hell on that island- and you and I are not among them to test our mettle." He clenched a barrel-shaped fist in anguish. "It's a violation of the natural order."

Here, Bors, a man whose blunt actions and thirst for violence are crouched behind the Church and the desire to test himself, sound like it comes straight out of Dragonball Z or some other anime show where the very act of testing your strength against a worthy opponent is the point of conflict in the first place.

This isn't that strange though. Think of wandering ronin who would demand to test their blades against other wanderining samurai. Think of the fame or notority to be gained by testing your own skills against anothers. Think of putting those skills to use for the greater good of a larger body then yourself such as a church, a guild, or in the case of Bors, his comrades.

By having motivations that the Game Master can understand at the ready, the players help the Game Master not only get an idea of what makes the characters tick, but how to add those opportunities to the game itself.

The Religion has many a fine character moment and players looking for ideas to inspire them could do far worse then reading through it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Religion by Tim Willocks

Another novel recommended to me by fellow online players and readers of historical fiction, The Religion is a powerful novel that has a lot of elements going for it that would not only make a fantastic movie, but provide a ton of fodder for a role playing game.

Looking at the very begining for instance, in which young Mattias life is changed forever but has some historical basis.

"Thus, in the year of 1540, Mattias the blacksmith's son became a devshirme: a Christian boy gathered in the Gathering and drafted  for the Slaves of the Gate."

The young man in turn becomes a janissary, one of the elite soldiers. In and of themselves these might be minor things, but the weaving of the historical with the fiction with fine action sequences brings the book to life in its own way and provides a lot of depth that many settings are lacking.

On the other hand, the book doesn't focus extensively on this period of the main character's life. While those introduced here will play roles again, it doesn't go through each  and every year that he endured his initial training. When next we see him, he's a grown man with his own allies and enemies.

In its own way, this is espoused by many. Let the character develop through game play. In some instances I've seen, it's more like the novel here in that there are things hinted at in his background that eventually come to light in the book, but they are not needed at the start of the book and indeed, a new character may have a germ of an idea for his background, but unless it's going to directly effect how the campaign runs, don't be afraid to hold back some of the rare gems of events that happened prior to play and see if the GM can work them into the campaign.

Tim Willock's book is one with a lot of elements going for it and I'll be hitting it with a few more footnotes for at least a few more entries.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Solomon Kane: The Castle of The Devil

I tend to read a lot of comics. Well, not as much as I used to, but nontheless, I still managed to dip my toe into the illustrated word. Part of this is simply that I'm a visual person. I like seeing things illustrated.

For Solomon Kane, I've been aware of the character for decades. I've read many a tale of the pilgrim but didn't recall this one by Dark Horse Comics. I picked it up a while ago and have enjoyed it's tale.

So after seeing a blog on it by Phil Reed, whose done some great d20 work back in the day, I decided I too would blog on it. After all, it's been a few days since my last blog post, I'm still reading The Religion, still reading The Monks of War, and have a few other bits and pieces.

First, the writer gets Solomon Kane. He truly comes across as a man not only out of time, but one who takes his various duties with all of the seriousness of an avenging angel.

"I am Solomon Kane-- a wanderer on the face of the Earth with no destination."

"It has fallen upon me, now and again in my sojourns through the world, to ease various evil men of their lives."

And when others inquire of Kane?

"No, not Kane. he is what he seems to be- an honest man."

"He offered you the book? He must knot have know you at all, Solomon Kane. Not at all."

The things that works for Kane in this story, is that he gets to bounce around a little. In terms of 'adventure' if you will we have some of the following:

An oppressive forest. Setting is important in a story at all times. It can help convey the tone and the atmosphere more than the monsters and weapons when given the right description.

Bandits. Every game needs its fall guys. If you're playing something like Warhammer Fantasy, while you have a wide plethora of villains to use, good old human bandits still have a special place in this pantheon. After all, with all that's going on in the world, man still turns on man and in and of itself, that's part of the 'evil' if you will of a setting like Warhammer.

An omnimus castle with its own history and its an old one. This ties into the forest. The age and depth and scope of the castle make it more than just some petty lords dwelling place.

Religious overtones and supernatural entities. Kane is a man of God. He has dealt death to many a fiend in his travels. But his faith remains unshaken. Playing such characters can be enjoyable in that often they tend to be the rock of the party in terms of what they must do. However, if it's not a vanilla alignment based system, don't be surprised if sometimes they do something that a lawful good paladin wouldn't do.

Friends who have their own motives. Here we meet Silent John, a man who quickly takes to Kane. In some ways he's like the roguish henchmen, more concerned with the worldly loot than the main hero. His virtue isn't as pure, but in some ways, that makes him more interesting because you really don't know what he'll do at any one time. In many ways, a good model for using henchemen in an OSR game or even using the modern rules for 4th ed.

Enemies trying to use those friends for those own motives in turn. Actions have consequences. More importantly, your friends have their own minds and wills. Just because you're all travelling along the same path doesn't mean you'll all take the same way there. This can create conflict, and in a role playing game, conflict is good. Just try to keep it from spilling out into actual combat.

Guards that do as their lord commands. Much like the bandits, human guards are always a nice change of pace. After all, some of them are probably only doing their duty. Others may be trying to advance their position with their lord. Others may be waiting for the right moment to forward their own goals. When using guards, having a list of names or attributes to give them quick visuals and quirks to help them stand out in the players mind will go a long way.

An encounter with a ghost for clarification of ancient events. Getting information to the players without having to always rely on the roll of the dice in terms of intimidate or bluff or gather information checks is a nice thing. Having an event in the game that relays information can be a useful tool in the hands of the Game Master. This doesn't necessarily always have to be a ghost. Dreams are another method that can be used.

The minion of that supernatural horror that in its own way is more threatening, more visceral and teresterial in its menace. Sometimes when you see a villain and his own minions, the minions make things more interesting by having their own apperance, methods of attack, and personality. Orcs have various ranks, but some fear the fanatics among the goblins or the giants, who may not rule, but can just as surely crush you.

The interior art by Mario Guevara is colored in subtle tones that have a lot of color, but aren't too bright and done so in a fashion that fits the story by Dave Stewart. Many of the images, especially in the sketchbook, would make for great visual aids for a Warhammer fantasy game which has a Witch Hunter styling to it as well as the guns and castles and other elements of horror.

The Castle of the Devil does a nice job of telling a tell that's based on a mere fragment from Robert E. Howard and has a ton of inspiring material to it that game masters should be able to use for at least several encounters.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Brunner The Bounty Hunter by C. L. Werner

I know I'm bouncing all over the place with books. At the start of The Monks of War, deep in The Religion, and finished the first short story in Brunner, not to mention whatever RPG books I'm messing with as well as various digital comics through Marvel.

But I love me some bounty hunters. One of the first times I remember them in AD&D was a Non-Player Class in Dragon. They loved to pull that. Here's a class so awesome and overpowered, but so limited in scope, that it makes a great NPC but should never be used as a player class. My other reference to them is from The Complete Adventurer, a book from Bard Games, the people who did the Atlantis trilogy, by the guy who later went on to do Talislantia. I owned at least two different printings of the game, one with a green outline, and one with the solid green border as seen here at Troll And Toad.

Bounty Hunters, like Mercenaries, to me, make perfect sense as a default for an adventuring party. The initial goals are already there. The targets of said goals allow the GM to pull an enemy of the week deal and allow the players to go where ever they need to in order to find and capture their foes.

In terms of Brunner, the opening sequence has one part that makes sense in a setting where so much relies on having a skilled operative.

"I agree the Tileans would certainly discover an armed force sometime before they themselves were in peril. But a single man? One man could discdover their hiding place, infiltrate it and recover the child."

And there's one perfectly valid reason why sometimes a small group of adventurers may be better than sending in an army. And of course the other reason? Unlike a standing army you may need in a few weeks that you could suffer serious losses on should you attack the goblin caves, the mercenaries are 100% disposable! It's a double win.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Escape From The Eighth City: Immortal Iron Fist

Outside of a terrible chest cold and 'Snowmagedon' here in Chicago, I've been catching up on my reading. In between The Monks of War and a fiction book called the Religion (which will have many of its own postings), I've also taken some time to dip into the digital pool of Marvel Comics onilne offering again as I'm a subscriber to the yearly bit.

Iron Fist was one of my favorites as a kid who enjoyed all things martial arts growing up in the 70's and 80's although more by proxy in the early 80's as I was only born in '71. Still, it's some good stuff between Iron Fist, Shang Chi, White Tiger, Sons of the Tiger, and other bits that Marvel did in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.

Anyway, the Immortal Iron Fist went into a new storyline in #22, "Escape From The Eighth City." The mystical city of mystical cities had been mentioned before, but now we find out what it really is. Turns out it's a prison city. "It has been constructed to house the monsters, demons, and criminals that plagued K'un-Lun thousands of years ago."

Well, that's interesting but it's not really unique. Even Dungeons and Dragons has hit the prison scene a few times, once even with Eberron. But there's a nice bit of honesty here.

"Unfortunatley it has been... abused over the centuries. The former leaders used this feature (one way stop) to cleanse K'un-Lun of her enemies. Enemies being a very loose term."

This is pretty much a easy switch to a martial art based campaign, a super hero based campaign, a science fiction campaign, or a fantasy campaign. A hidden prision has been used for years to hold people illegally and someone specific, or something specific is needed from there. Even though no one else before you has ever escaped, we need you to go?

Oh, and by the way, arena fighting with various hordes of monsters is the standard form of entertainment. Don't forget to write!

The Monks of War by Desmond Seward

Amazon had this puppy on sale a while ago and I picked it up. I'm not deep into it yet but some of the writing already strikes me as 'RPG' style.

"Those who stayed in Palestine were adventurers, mainly French, with nothing to go back to, and the state they created reflected the feudalism of their own land." (pg. 24).

"When the first king of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, died in 118 the land was still in wretched disorder, infested with criminals; with some justice Latin Syria has been compared to a medieval Botany Bay. Many Franks had been sent on the crusade as penance for atrocious offenses such as rape and murder, and they reverted to their unpleasant habitis." (pg 29)

"Huges de Payens was no mere adventuerer but lord of the castle of Martigny in Burgundy...Hugues arrived in Syria in 115, and by 118 had become a self-appointed protector of pilgrims...This ragged eccentric persuaded seven knights, also from northern France, to help him, all taking a solemn oath before the patriarch to protect pilgrims and observe poverty, chasity and obedience.... (pg 30).

Right here I see a few scenarios playing out as it may apply to RPGs.

The first is that adventurers in and of themselves may not be the most loved individuals in any setting. They are bringers of chaos where they go. After all, they are wanderers. They are roaming the land gods above knowing exactly what it is they seek. Several adventures, like Death Frost Doom, have dire consequences if the party fails at what their doing. In many home campaigns, I've used an ancient unearthed evil bit a time or two myself where the party has to put the genie back into the bottle.

Next, there are potentially two types of campaigns at the root here. The one is a glorious age of evil and neutral characters running around the countryside taking what they will and abusing the lands as their wont.

The second is a group of characters who take it upon themselves to cure this plague ridden land of these foul vermin that infest it. So that the common folk may move about more freely.

Depending on the group and the efforts involved and how into one scenario over the other the Game Master is in, either one could be entertaining.

With the bandit angle, the real problem is going to be the long term legs of things. In level based games, merely performing hit and run tactics on groups of peasants, the occassional knight errant, and fighting for living space with the other inhabitants of whatever bad lands the players inhabit, won't cut it at the higher levels of the campaign.

But if the players want to take root and possess power, it shouldn't. I'm not hard core old school or anything, but in older editions, hiting namel evel and constructing your castle gave players the things that adventurers tend not to have; roots. Now they have to go out and hunt bandits. Now they have to scourge the countryside just to protect their own men and loyal factions.

It's something that no matter how awesome and powerful latter foes in an epic campaign may be, is a failure of 3rd and 4th edition on some level.  It's not that you can't do these things in either edition. It's not even that there aren't ways of providing rules for it. It's just so not the focus of the game. I don't know if that makes sense but I'm sure with a good GM and a good group, it's not going to be a problem, even for a long term game that makes it to higher levels.

Perhaps being on the frontier, these adventurers new castle attracts all the worst sort of attention starting with giants and moving it's way up the food chain to dragons and demons? Maybe they built their castle right on something like the Hellmouth from Buffy the Vampire Slayer? While 3rd and 4th ed scale to various degrees upward, the problem to me is that they don't scale 'downward' in terms of what the players can do and what they're expected to do.

Anyway, Monks of War is written in an easy to read manner and brings out all sorts of campaign suggestions right ouf of the box.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Swords From The East by Harold Lamb

One of the nice things about Bison Books publishing efforts with the works of Harold Lamb is that they've brought back a lot of material that hasn't seen print for years. This volume in particular, Swords From The East, has a nice focus that escapes most of the standards of 'European' style historical adventure stories.

One of the things I enjoy is some of the characters that get historical footnotes.  Take this one in particular from page 427.

The Rajputs were the most warlike of the races of India. They were chivalrous warriors, and experienced, if impeuous soldiers. Rana Sanga was old in years and wisdom, with fifty sword and lance scars on his body, blind in one eye, with am arm cut off and one leg crippled. Seven Rajas and a hundred chieftains, eighty thousand horse, and five hundred elephants were at his back. He was in all things a foeman to delight Babar.

Now that's a foeman with some character there. If you can make the enemies of the players as interest as those history is litered with, you're on the right path.