Sunday, October 27, 2013

Kickstarter: Pre-November Edition

So how do things look eh?

Tectonic Craft noting money is tight. Well, business may be a failure then. Blew through your initial stretch goals, have been selling on the internet despite not providing materials to backers and selling at conventions. Not too many avenues to go except the idiotic idea of doing a kickstarter to finish a kickstarter eh?

Dwimmermount continues to languish. I think it'll see print one day but it's on my WGAF list at the moment.

Steampunk Musha has joined it. While I was down for a lot of the stretch goals, that AFAIC, we'll never see, I know other people put 'REAL' money down on it and they are well and truly boned.

28mm Demons and Devils A package was packed on September 29th and well, it's October 28th. Either that package is lost or you know, it hasn't been mailed, which makes the mentioning of when it was packed... USELESS to the backers. No point in telling me when something is ready if you know, you're not actually going to ship it. More annoyed than anything at this point as again, I know the miniatures exist and have seen them up close and personal and I know the big Frog I bought separately at Gen Con exists as again, I have seen him, but the late shipping is not doing Center Stage Miniatures ANY favors at this point.

Imbrian Arts Miniatures is one getting so long in the tooth I've actually forgotten what is supposed to be due for those who did the miniatures for a year. I'll have to put together an Excel sheet just to see what I'm supposed to be getting.

Assimilation Alien Host: M'eh? This and Cthuhu are tied into the same publisher and dude has problems with his kids health care. You know what's coming first, but if you weren't late to begin with it would've already been done and won't be impacted. This is why I tell people stuff has a snowballing effect. "Oh, I'm only a month late because it was more work than I though. Crap, I have to move. Crap I have a chronic disease which is impacting my ability to work. Crap my car is dead." Once it starts pilling on you are well and truly boned.

Relic Knights: Now it'll be shipped, maybe, in December. How nice of them. If the quality is not outstanding I'll probably ship it back. I put up with that subpart crap on Sedition Wars and I won't do it again from Coolminiornot.

Cthulhu Mythos Foundry Style: Guy was talking about shipping out the resin models last month. Yeah, that apparently hasn't happened. Dude is talking about being out of sculpting clay? Oh... the time to know that was like, FOUR MONTHS AGO. Not now as you continue to push the project further and further back.

Drake the Dragon Wargame: Another one that's stayed on my m'eh list.

Fractured Dimensions: Supposedly in... January I want to say? Maybe February depending on how the sculpting for the KS exclusives go.

Project Name Due Date Date Late Days Late Months
Tectonic Craft Studios 6/1/2012 11/1/2013 -518 -17
Dwimmermount 8/1/2012 11/1/2013 -457 -15
Steampunk Musha 10/1/2012 11/1/2013 -396 -13
28mm Demons & Devils 3/1/2013 11/1/2013 -245 -8
Imbrian Arts Miniatures 3/1/2013 11/1/2013 -245 -8
Assimilation Alien Host 5/1/2013 11/1/2013 -184 -6
Relic Knights 5/1/2013 11/1/2013 -184 -6
Cthulhu Mythos Foundy Style 7/1/2013 11/1/2013 -123 -4
Drake The Dragon Wargame 7/1/2013 11/1/2013 -123 -4
Fractured Dimensions 8/1/2013 11/1/2013 -92 -3

My Kickstarter purchases have gone way down. Too many late projects. Multiple ones hitting the "hey, we can celebrate a year late and are working on that two year late point." Some companies, like Stonehaven, I'm still supporting, while others like Anti-Matter Games are also getting my dollars.

RPG companies? Unless it's by a company I know? No. At this point, I consider them too unreliable. I don't care what your system mastery of game X is or who you think you've got working for you. The industry is too small and incestuous with too many bonus features overdue already attached to some of these names for me to take it seriously. "Oh yes, we have writer X!" Hey, isn't writer X on project Z? And project Z is overdue? The excuses are starting to hit on some of those now as people are going "Well, it's nice that you're doing X, but why isn't Y done already?"

That is going to start hitting the miniature phase too as with all the access to people via public media, it's not easy going, "Well, I'm waiting on Sculptor A to finish that" and you as a buyer see Sculptor A doing a ton of stuff for other companies.

Anyway, that's my ranting about Kickstarter for the month of November. How's everyone else lists doing?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Tainted Blood by Nathan Long: The Blackhearts Omnibus book 3

Nathan Long brings the conclusion to the Blackhearts trilogy with all the flavor you'd come to expect from a good popcorn read. We have dark elves, skaven, and other vile creatures doing their best to take out the anti-heroes known as the Blackhearts whose interest isn't necessarily in saving the Empire so much as in saving their own skin.

It has a good flow for the most part and is an easy read and brings the series to a nice conclusion while at the same time leaving it open for future volumes. This novel even has the appearance of a certain high elf mage from the pages of the Warhammer tabletop version which is always a nice touch. If you're a fan of the Warhammer setting, this will be a nice novel to read over while prepping to wipe out your players.

Onward to spoilers!

One of the things I've mentioned before, is that if you're using a specific setting that has its own things that are famous and familiar to those who enjoy the setting either through video games, board games, or table top games, is that you should check the waters and see if the players enjoy it when you bring in those iconic elements.

Tainted Blood not only has the character meet the Skaven again, but learn of their lust for the dreaded Warpstone and that they are willing to try and 'fix' things when it is to their advantage. We have multiple groups of chaos worshippers trying to trust one another but due to their intrinsic nature, are easy to manipulate into fighting one another. We have Telcis, one of the most powerful magic users of the setting here.

The good news is that since this isn't a book about Telcis, but rather, one about the Blackhearts, the author does what any good author should and takes that character out of the action immediately. This allows the Blackhearts to have to strive even harder because hey, if this guy could take out that guy, what's he going to do to us?

The solution is great though in that it's one the author set up earlier in the novel with one of the thieves/assassins talking about a set up he performed where it looked like he murdered his target, but rather just had the appearance of murder and not actual death. This comes back in later and allows the characters to have a friendly ace in the hole later on and works quite well. It goes back to my thing of if the players have a great idea, let them run with it. Let their inventiveness provide success when possible. It'll make them know that you're rewarding them for it.

The other big thing? The Blackhearts are freed of their service. This does have the odd thing of "what now" though as at the end, the character don't necessarily know what their going to do with their lives and wonder if they can go back to their old profession but without the coercion this time. It's an important thing to have an end game in mind if the characters are starting out with some type of limitation.

I'm not saying the campaign has to end or anything like that mind you. But if the whole campaign revolves around killing X, if the players kill X, what then? It can be as easy as kill Y or as complex as moving onto a new campaign with new characters and new genres. Try to have an end game in mind when you start if you're putting those things in place at the start of the campaign.

Blackhearts is a nice omnibus and I haven't mentioned the two short stories included in the book which augments it's value and provides more insights into the characters and the dire situation they find themselves in as agents of the Empire. If you want to run a Dirty Dozen or Inglorious Bastards style campaign, Blackhearts by Nathan Long provides a lot of fodder for the fire.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Broken Lance by Nathan Long

The Blackhearts Omnibus by Nathan Long contains a few short stories as well as three full length novels. The second novel in the series is The Broken Lance. Here we see the Suicide Squad of the Warhammer setting given a new mission. With this new mission comes new comrades to replace those that have fallen as well as to keep an eye on the soldiers. After all, these Blackhearts are not the standard soldiers. They are bound by magic to their lord to do his bidding all in the name of the Empire mind you.

The Broken Lance features a lot of the setting bits. This can be important in keeping the reader entertained. If you're reading a book in the Warhammer setting, there are certain expectations. For instance, you'd want to see the forces of Chaos, as were present last book. You'd want to see the failings of humanity in the form of say, bandits, which while not ever present, are here and there though the series. You'd also want to feature one of the other more iconic creatures in the series, and that would be Skaven which Nathan Long brings us in droves in this volume.

In short, the Broken Lance brings good writing and an entertaining story to the reader that fans of the Warhammer world will especially enjoy.

But what about gaming purposes?

More specific spoilers follow so for those who don't want more than an overlook, read no further.

One of the things I find interesting about the whole idea of the Blackhearts, is that due to their nature, that of a Thunderbolts or Dirty Dozen group, that some of them will die. Some of them will try to betray the group. Some of these betrayals aren't even intended to be specific to the idea of treachery, just that the group is saddled with psychopaths who aren't necessarily interested in killing the group, it's just they have no self control.

On one hand, this could be an excellent way to test out new players. You have the group have a collection of characters that are used for such suicide runs. These characters aren't the main characters but rather, characters that get broken out when a new player joins the group. This way you can see how the new players interacts with the characters. If it's a good fit, the group that never could gets another mission done successfully.

If the player is a flake? If the player doesn't work well with the others? If it's a play style that is obviously going to cause friction within the group? The potential for a good game is there but the penalty of having long term characters and possibly entire campaigns thrown off the tracks is minimized.

Now mind you that only works if the longer term players understand that this secondary group of characters is there specifically for this reason and could get snuffed at any time. Heck, they might play in ways and manners that they don't normally do.

In addition, because characters are going to die by the nature of the set up, it allows the GM to set up some spectacular death scenes. For instance, there is a mercenary here who hates the Skaven. His parents and indeed, his village was devoured by them. This is hard to get across to men of the Empire who "know" that there are no Skaven. Mind you that whole concept is entirely stupid and hard to believe even in the slightest now due to their  various interactions with numerous characters and events but anyway....

This character, Giano, sacrifices his life to set up an explosion. It kills a lot of the enemy and it makes sense for his character to do. In some game systems he may have had to do it if the restrictions or pulls on his character were strong enough. In a role playing session where say, you know player X is going to be leaving next week? Getting a new job or moving? It allows you to talk to the player before hand and find out how he would like his character to go. It allows you to set up a specific death scene that plays up the character's strengths and provide some resolution to that long running background element. In Giano's case, it's the desire to kill Skaven which he gets to fulfill.

If you can bring together the iconic elements of a campaign and do so in a manner that encourages the players to make bits and pieces of those elements part of their own background, you've got a magic formula for a solid game.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

After having finished the Shining, also by Stephen King, it wasn't going to be long before I picked up and read Doctor Sleep. This sequel is like thirty years in the making. The short review? It's good but... The long review will be following and will have a few spoilers but I'll try not to get into any specifics yet.

The 'problem' if you will, with Doctor Sleep, is the same that many people had with Riddick. In it, we have characters that are powerful, competent, and able to plan against enemies that while fearsome looking, really aren't that terrible in terms of their overall abilities. In a joking way, it's like Dragon Ball Z. "Hey guys, remember how powerful Goku was when he was a kid? Look! His son is even more powerful!"

This is the difference when contrasting the Shining to Doctor Sleep. The former is terror. The later? Not quite Buffy the psychic vampire slayer but...

The good news though is that it's still an entertaining, and a fast read. I was only slightly annoyed at how modern the book reads in that there are references not only to A Game of Thrones, but also to Harry Potter. Way to hit all the pop notes there. There are a few surprises here and there and a lot of nods to the Shining as well as several parallels in it.

In short, it's a good novel, just not necessarily a good horror novel eh?

In terms of RPG notes, I'll be pointing out the obvious use here and that's the enemy, the True Knot. Some spoilers of a more specific nature coming so read no further if you want to avoid that type of thing.

The True Knot are psychic vampires. They generally stick with children and woman because I guess they struggle less? Anyway, they go after those that have, what they call 'steam' or what Danny boy calls 'The Shining'. In doing so they are not quite immortal, but watch the years melt away.

In a RPG, they could make a good change of pace from the standard vampires. The real problem though, is depending on the genre of the RPG, they might not be that unusual. For example, in a fantasy RPG, one that has actual vampires, ghosts, and other horrors that are long lived, or even long lived races like elves, would anyone look twice at them?

Mind you, their feeding habits might bring them to the character's attention but... and this is the strange thing to say, in some genres, like say Cyber Punk, their utility might even be more useful to the corporations. Who wouldn't want to have some specials on hand that they can keep in line by feeding some 'death' to? See, not only do they feed on 'steam' from high powered individuals, they can feed if it's a high casualty rate.  In most post modern cyber games, death would be common enough that it shouldn't be a problem to keep them feed.

The problem, again in my opinion, is that they don't really have the traditional invulnerabilities of the things they emulate. They have some psychic gifts. Not many as a matter of fact and invulnerability to anything, like say, getting shot, beaten, or falling off a roof are not among them. This makes them kind of boring compared to the horrors of the Overlook or those things in a RPG that may be more standard fare.

The good news though, is like many good characters, if the GM is willing to invest background and detail into them, as Stephen King does here, they can make excellent antagonist. They would be loathe to combat players directly and have many middlemen. Players might not know who their foes were for a long time. In a D&D game for example, especially one that uses psionics or say, incarnum, something might be hunting such characters down but the signs are slow in their maturation.

When looking to add foes to the campaign, it doesn't always require the GM to reinvent the wheel. Taking the idea of the True Knot and how they hunt and what they hunt, may be something the GM does with existing creatures like Vampires in a campaign.

Doctor Sleep should provide some inspiration and if not for the GM, then for the characters that might challenge such monsters.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Shining by Stephen King

My mom has owned the Shining for decades. Yesterday I finally got around to reading it. Mind you I've seen the movie adaptation with Jack Nicolas and parts of the television version but never read the book.

Recently Stephen King decided to write a sequel to this book, a new novel called Doctor Sleep. That prompted my mom to get the Kindle edition while it was on sale and I figured I'd get the Kindle version of the Shining while it was on sale.

Wow. What a great book. I'll would say I'm throwing spoilers out left and right but there wasn't that much I'd take from the novel to a game in terms of the characters. There are some bits that are fantastic, but really it's the strength of King's writing to get us inside the heads of the characters, in a very small cast, that carries the novel forward. Now I'll be very curious to see how the sequel is. When we write things decades apart, they may not have the same flow, tone, or 'voice'. I'll be curious to see how Danny compares now to how Stephen first wrote him.

But there are some things I like about the novel that would make for great bits.

For example, how about the hedge monsters? In the hotel, there are several hedge animals, lions, dogs, and others, that at times seem to move, to encircle the watcher, to advance only when they are not watched. At the end of the novel, they are definitely on the attack and there is no assumption that the character in question is hallucinating.

The Overlook, the hotel that in and of itself is a character in the Shining, has a few parts that make great role playing tools or at least the inspiration for them.

For example, the hotel feeds on psychic energy. For most people, it's just a normal hotel. But when Danny, a powerful psychic enters it, the hotel comes to life and does things its never done before. This can be anything from say, having a user of arcane magic enter the hotel, to any type of energy, like a psionic or a divine spell user enter it.

The GM could also just pull a Castle Amber or the Vanishing Tower, where the Overlook only comes into contact with the real world at certain points and certain times and that those who enter rarely leave.

In addition, the hotel is able to pull things from the entirety of its history. It does this without problem with Jack is losing his mind and does so in such a powerful way, that Wendy and Danny are aware of what's happening. These ghosts are even able to influence the real world such as freeing Jack from the temporary location his wife has placed him.

Imagine that the characters need a clue, a bit of information from another time. They've spoken with the elves, dwarves, and other long lived races but the bit they need is said to be known only to a particular sadist who died in your version of the Overlook. Imagine that there are those who might have their own agendas that may wish to escape from the Overlook and offer assistance to the players in exchange for such assistance?

The GM may have to determine if these are just ghosts, echoes of the real people or if they are actually able to escape. Or perhaps there is a mix? Previous adventurers who have become trapped in the overlook, some of them gone mad and others desperate to escape from the insanity?

The Shining was well written. It allowed the reader to delve deep into the characters heads. If your players give you enough back ground information that you can tweak them, give them 'alternative' versions of the history they wrote down, things seen as they might be from a twisted point of view, you'll be able to get them shaking their fist at the evil GM in no time.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Valnir's Bane by Nathan Long

The idea of the people on the wrong side of the law doing good things because they're forced into it, is not a new concept. The group I'm most familiar with in this regard is the Suicide Squad.That group of super villains, often C listers or not very important characters, are used in death defying missions that allow the writers to occasionally kill off a member or two. The Thunderbolts by Marvel did something similar for a while although I'm not sure of their current status. My first encounter with such a concept though, goes way back into my child hood with the movie, The Dirty Dozen and other similar concepts have crept into modern cinema with say Quentin Tarantino  doing the movie Inglorious Bastards.

Here the characters are a group of military men who for various reasons are sentenced to death and given a brand of 'The Hammer', a visual signifier to anyone in 'The Empire' that these are men sentenced to death. Most have their own story and in a short story included in the omnibus Blackhearts, Nathan Long provides a more detailed account of the leader, Reiner Hetzau's fall from grace.

Valnir's Bane could very easily be a standard adventure. It hits many bits and Nathan Long isn't short on the action. Because of the nature of the group, Nathan doesn't provide complete script immunity to the cast an author might in a more standard fantasy setting.

If you're looking for a good pulpy fantasy read, Valnir's Bane has you covered. Below I'll be discussing some specifics of the book, spoilers, and how I might snag something out of the novel for my own games.

In any game, why would convicted felons help out those who've damned them to die?

In war scenarios, it might be for patriotism. A thief or a murderer may still have a great deal of patriotism for their home country. They may not be able to stand the whole idea of another race, alien or monstrous, invading their country. This works pretty well in any setting that has multiple factions to it. Even Chaos may have its champions for a particular faction as opposed to unified.

Another problem may be loved ones held hostage to insure good behavior. This one only works if the players are going to work with you though. If the players are all 'lone wolf' types who care nothing for no one and no body, then this method is doomed to failure.

Branded. Depending on the level of technology, the characters may be branded and can't find social acceptance anywhere that civilization, or at least civilization that supports their home, is found. Only in certain confined spaces, perhaps with others of their ilk, can they enjoy all of the comforts of home.

They Like the new work. In some instances, it may simply be a matter that in their prior life, they were not putting their skills to the uses they would have enjoyed. A swordsman who starts brawls to collect money from another man for killing someone else may find that he enjoys the ability to cut lose on certain enemies of the stage.

An honest repentance. Even rarer, there may come a time when some characters decide that they've been doing the wrong thing prior to this point and that its time to turn over a new leaf. This one can be tied into other elements such as patriotism or love of someone else or just deciding to make the best of a terrible situation.

The honest spy. What if not everyone in the group is actually working under a death threat? What if one, or more of the individuals there, are there honestly and there to keep tabs on the others? In some cases this person may be known to everyone at the start. It could be a commanding leader who is well known and gives the characters some legitimacy among other factions.

The death trap. In high fantasy, super hero, cyber punk, or other advanced technology games, the characters are implanted or branded or geased or quested so that they must serve. There may be terms that allow them some freedom in terms of how they provide this service but overall? They must serve and do so again and again until the curse is broken.

The idea of running a Suicide Squad type of set up is one that can be applied to almost any genre depending on the set up and can provide some different assumptions about the characters. It can allow some odd 'evil' style characters to be played while still directing that style of game play against something other than the party.

Anyone ever run a game like that? How'd it go?