Wednesday, August 25, 2021

New Home!

This is just a quick post to let everyone know that I'll no longer be updating on this blog primarily due to all the spambots that plague this platform. Instead I'll be posting on my ko-fi account—which, in my opinion offers a way better platform for bloggers than blogspot ever has. I realize that it's a site primarily for paying creators, but; if you don't want to pay you don't have to. All of my posts will be open everyone (or they should at least) regardless if they donate or not. Thanks for reading this blog; and I hope you'll continue to read my mad ramblings in the future!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Legends of the Five Ring Beginner Box Remix

In two days I will run my first game of Legends of the Five Rings rpg, using the beginner box. The adventure within is your standard introductory adventure affair; but, I want to take this opportunity to add to it my own home improvements and my own personal spins. 

Scene 1: The Cart and the Peasant

The intention of this scene is to give the PCs someone to talk to in order for them to slide into their characters. With that said, I find it odd that the developers chose an old man that appears nowhere else in the adventure. Instead of an old man and his cart, the PCs come across the following:

As you travel the road, you can hear the sounds of violence coming from around the next bend. Soon after you come upon a scene of two future samurai fending off the attacks of two honorless ronin. Before you can act, the future samurai deliver their finishing blows, sending the ronin running in the direction of Tsuma village.

Pick two of the contestants participating in the Topaz championship to be the future samurai, except for Hitoshi. The future samurai (here on, contestants) will call out to the PCs, asking if they're friend or foe. The contestants are friendly but on edge after their fight.

They claim they met on the road and decided to travel together. They were traveling with an additional contestant (Hitoshi) but they'll claim he parted ways with them after they had an argument. (In fact the contestants were making fun of Hitoshi for being from a Minor Clan and he stormed off in anger.)

As for the ronin, the contestants claim they found them on the road teasing and jeering at a old peasant man who had turned over his cart. After the contestants helped the old man, the ronin continued their insult, but turned their ire towards the contestants. Having enough, the contestants challenged the ronin to a duel, the result of which the PCs witnessed.

The contestants offer to combine their traveling bands and continue the rest of the way to Tsuma village.

Scene 2: Honored Guests.

This scene is when the PCs are first introduced to Hitoshi and make their first checks to (de)escalate his argument with the Innkeeper. This scene is fine as is, but I want to add one additional change. Whether or not Hitoshi has an outburst, Kakita Toshimoko should make an appearance either way. 

The head of the dueling academy is here to size up the contestants and throws a layer of contempt on top of his fatherly mentoring when he speaks to Hitoshi. He is indifferent towards the other contestants, except for Kakita Riku whom he harbors high expectations of. He always carries with him an expensive-looking cup filled with high-class sake which an ever-present attendant is always refilling.

Scene 3: Midnight Tea

This scene is fine as is. It presents the dramatic question of the adventure to the PCs. Will the PCs help Hitoshi?

Scene 4: The Competition

Instead of the competition being a mish-mash of physical and mental challenges, the first day is all physical challenges while the second day is all mental challenges. The third day encompasses the dueling tournament.

Day 1: sumai, athletics, horseback riding, weaponry, archery, and hunting

Day 2: heraldry, conduct, poetry, knowledge of Law, and Go

Day 3: The Dueling Tournament

The PCs and contestants are lead out of Tsuma village into the surrounding forest. There they are guided to a clearing where they can see a number of ancient clay pots circling a wooden board. There is a number of clay pots equal to half the number of contestants. On the wooden board is a map of the surrounding forest detailing six other clearings, each labelled with the event being held there.

Here is where the PCs will meet Kitsuki Yuikimi, the current Topaz Champion and Bayushi Sugai, last year's runner-up. Kakita Toshimoko is presiding over the events.

Yuikimi will explain to the contestants that they must navigate the forest to each event, where a judge will be waiting, and will earn points in the form of clay tokens after testing themselves. The first contestants to gain four tokens, navigate back to the clearing, put all eight of their tokens in a pot, and raise their clan's flag will proceed to Day 2. Half of the contestants will be eliminated.

Hitoshi raises his bow into the air saying, "The archery competition is mine!" before dashing in that direction. Hitoshi will proceed to the second day of competition without the PCs involvement. PCs will notice, however, that Crane Clan judges appear to be judging Hitoshi unfairly.

Run the competition normally, allowing PCs to spend bonus successes to gain extra points where they would normally beat the fore-runner. It should take anywhere between 2—4 events for a PC to proceed.

Scene 5: High Spirits

Run as is


The rest of the adventure is solid as written. The only change I would make is to the competition on day two. That is allowing PCs to choose their preferred events and earning physical points that they must redeem to proceed to the third day.   

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Revisitng Elsai

It's been awhile since I touched base with Elsai, my homebrew setting that I talk about the most on this blog. I really want to revisit Elsai and really think about it; figuring out what lands and what flops, what to keep and what to drop.

I believe the best approach would be to start with some kind of elevator pitch and go about it from the top down.

So here's the pitch:

Elsai is the love child of Conan and Mad Max, born of a romance as described by Terry Pratchett.

That's a lot to unpack. I'm going to start with the ConanxMad Max thing. Elsai is a gonzo setting at its heart. It's a disparate mishmash of several genres; but, sword and sorcery and post-apocalyptic, represented by Conan and Max, are the number 1 and 2 spots on that list.

Elsai is a broken world (the apocalyptic) ruled by cruel liches only concerned with sacrificial gain (the sorcery) where the inhabitants have to fight for their way of life (the sword). 

With that said, Elsai seems like a pretty grimdark setting, but that's where Mr. Pratchett comes in. Yes, Elsai is grim and dark; but, it's presented in a humorous and/or satirical light.

An example will explain what that means easier.

Take the lich kings for example. They bill themselves as all-powerful god-kings invulnerable to anyone and anything. Make no mistake, they are powerful, but they are just as lost and confused when it comes to the cosmos as we are. They know next to nothing about the galactic civilization beyond their planet, other than that they use Elsai as a junkyard. They could drop a 200 ton nuclear bomb, annihilating Elsai off the face of the solar system without the liches even knowing. And that fact terrifies them. They talk like Death from Discworld too, IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, or an equally silly formatting.

Elsai is a dire world, yes; but, it's also a silly world. Its melting pot of genres make it hard to take seriously, in addition to its weirdness and dialing things to eleven. Also I don't want to drop players into a hopeless meat grinder or beat them over the head with morale lessons more suited for a show like the Walking Dead.

Ok, now that that is out of the way, I'll start by going through the elements one by one and determining if they fit my pitch.

Let's start with the races, the people of Elsai.

I'm not stringent enough to omit any races from a homebrewed setting (except maybe halflings). Chances are if a race exists in D&D, it exists on Elsai. Whether or not it has lore is a different question. Of the races that inhabit Elsai here's a small list and their accompanying lore. (Races will get their own posts later.)

-Humans. Every D&D setting has humans and Elsai is no different. However, I've tried to make them more interesting than just being the default. Humans live in the eight great cities. They're the only race that can learn color magic. They have physical oddities based off what city they're from. For example, humans from Change have subdermal plates on their foreheads, making them look a lot like Klingons.

-Dwarves. The oldest race, dwarves are made from the stone and metal that they work with. They live in factory hiveminds and it's assumed that they were created by the ancient forerunners and built the eight great cities.

-Elves. Being an elf is a curse. They are born of humans infected by the nature plague that originates from the terradomes shattering. Elves are manic, always on the verge of laughing, and over-positive.

-Lizardmen. The ancient colonizers of Elsai now reduced to tribal wanderers. Though some tribes still possess ancient artifacts from their glory days. The race is all male, surviving by asexual reproduction and regeneration.

Those four seem like a good base for now, and they match the usual four races you find in most OSR products.

Moving on to history. Again, this deserves its own post, but I'll summarize briefly here with bullet points:

-A collection of beings inhabited Elsai, creating the dwarves who created the eight great cities. Then they either left or died out. Evidence of their presence only exists in secret chambers accessible only by the lich kings.

-space-faring lizardmen find Elsai and decide to colonize it. They build terradomes to terraform the planet and construct the space station that would become the Broken Ring that encircles Elsai.

-Humans as a civilization are born when the lizardmen's apeman slaves escape confinement and make their way into the eight great cities. The Lizardmen pay them no mind at first because they're brainless monkeys and they're more concerned with elves and the nature plague. The cities have an effect on the humans similar to the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Humans gain sentience and magic.

-There's a human-lizardman war. This war would lead to the Explocalypse, destroying everything except the eight great cities, leaving countless ruins and destroying the ring space station. Gathox appears in the Red Barren Wastes.

-Elsai is reclassified as a junk planet by the Galactic Civilization and they begin dumping the junk of various subsectors on the planet. Native Elsains scavenge the mountain-sized piles.

That's probably enough to get to the state I want most Elsai campaigns to be in. If any more history comes to mind, it'll get a seperate post. 

What else is there? There's culture and tech level, but those are deserving of their own posts, along with specific locations. This post is more about the big picture. 

Speaking of big picture, now it's time to get to the real reason I made this post.

I commissioned this map of Elsai from Luka Rejec what feels like forever ago, and I haven't had the chance to use it yet. I gave some rough details and a few key locations and let Luka fill in the rest. 

The only thing to say about this map, other than that it's beautiful, is that most of my effort will go towards keying this map when it comes to expanding Elsai.

Monday, October 26, 2020

GLOG Class: Hoplite, a Bronze Age Warrior for Greek Fantasy Games

Starting Equipment: bronze-tipped spear, bronze breastplate, shield, sun-bleached sandals

A: Phalanx Tactics, Pile In
B: Stubborn Sandals, Heroic Advance
C: Shield Brothers, +2 Attack stat
D: Ruthless Cadence

You gain +1 Movement for each Hoplite template you possess

A: Phalanx Tactics

After you make a charge attack, you and allies within 5' gain +1 Defense. If you're equipped with a shield, you and allies within 5' instead gain +2 Defense. A character can only gain this benefit from one Hoplite at a time.

A: Pile In

Once per combat round, after an ally within 20'+Movement is attacked, you can make a free charge attack.

B: Stubborn Sandals

As long as you're wearing sandals, you are immune to effects that knock you prone or knock you back and allies within 5' gain +2 to Save against such effects.

B: Heroic Advance

When you make a charge attack, you can instead call for a heroic advance. When you call for a heroic advance, you and allies within 5' can move 50'+your Movement towards an enemy. Allies have to end their movement within 5' of you.

C: Shield Brothers

When an ally within 5' misses with an attack, they gain +2 to their next attack.

D: Ruthless Cadence

Any hit you score against a creature that has all of their hit points is a critical hit. When you score a critical hit in this way, add your level to the damage dealt.

Shields up, spears out, heels set, hearts firm.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Boneclaw, the Lich That Gets Hands-On

I put my Eberron campaign on hold until the holidays are over. In the meantime I offered my players a casual, no strings attached, campaign of epic fantasy set in Theros. Last week they encountered their first villain, a boneclaw named Polocho.

Polocho made his debut when his master, his former apprentice, blew up the PCs with a glyph of fireball. While they were tying up the kid, Polocho walked his bone claws out of a window of the adjacent building and grabbed the cleric and wizard. Then he shadow jumped to the building across the street, giving the wizard several new holes. By the time the party reached him, Polocho just dropped the wizard off the building, teleported again, and ran off, daintily picking up his master along the way.

My players, being the masochists that they are, loved this. Now they are torn between giving a fruitless chase, investigate the burning mage's house, or cheese it since the guards are on the way.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Through the Spyglass

The purpose of this blog has always been a mystery—other than being a depository for my general rpg musings. Awhile ago I had the idea to take this blog in a different direction, but describing that direction with words escaped me until now. I think the best way to explain it would be to unpack the new blog title.

Through the Spyglass. The reference is two-part.

The first part is Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass.In the sequel to Alice's Adventure in Wonderland we see the titular character return to a fantastical land and experience her most popular adventures. What I want to draw attention to with this new title is how Alice enters this new world. She steps through a mirror; and, the world beyond is like a reflection of the real world. This act of entering a fantasy world by stepping through a mirror is symbolic of sitting down to play rpgs.

In sitting down at the table, getting on discord, or logging in to Roll20 we take that conscientious step into a world that is a fantastical reflection of our own and we embark on adventures that we will remember long after the game has ended.

Another curious thing I want to draw attention to by making this allusion is the mirror. The fantasy worlds we explore through rpgs are reflections of our own world, but mirrors can be two-way. Just as life has many lessons to offer, I believe that rpgs have lessons to offer as well. A part of the new direction I want to take this blog in is exploring those lessons.

The second part is a reference to a classic D&Dism. The spyglass has been in D&D since the early days of 2nd edition and was no doubt added as a joke when players complained about being unable to see distant threats. 

I say joke because the spyglass costs 1,000gp and mechanically does nothing. It is, as the 2e phb says, "more of an oddity than a useful item." Perhaps it's a joke or perhaps there's some deeper meaning at play that the designers intended, but the truth of the spyglass' origin eludes me.

Since all D&D blogs must have names with puns, I chose spyglass because it played well with the first reference. But perhaps the spyglass will function as the lens of understanding as I move onward with this blog. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

My First Impressions of Cyberpunk 2020

I finished playing through my first ever module of Cyberpunk2020 tonight.

My edgerunner was a Techie cyborg named Cal Vera who was a member of a nomad clan. I say was because one day they put him down like robocop. But, like robocop, Cal survived and his soul became ever chained to a corporation. Cal was fine with that as long as they kept modding him the fuck out with the cybernetics that he needed to get revenge on his former family.

My companions were a Solo named Wynston and a Nomad named James.

The session started with this koolkat approaching us in the club, telling us someone called his cell asking for us. Whoever was on the other line had perfect English—too perfect. But he had a job for us and we accepted with hesitation.

We asked around the club just in case we were walking into a trap but we learned nothing. Without any leads we headed to the rendezvous, some warehouse down by the docks. 

There we met Wilbur, an old edgerunner apparently hired for the same job we were, and there we watched as our mysterious employer revealed himself and a hand cannon that quickly took Wilbur's head off. We shrugged our shoulders and followed our employer. That's life in Night City: you make mistakes; you suffer the consequences.

Our employer took us to the real rendezvous point, a different warehouse, where his boss gave us the details. We were to track down a courier named Wells Fargo and bring him in. That's it. It was a simple tag and bag with a 12,000 eddies payout. We had to say yes.

Our employer gave us what little information they had, a list of this Fargo fella's associates: a corporate agent named Caitlin, some ice junkie named Mistushiko, and an assassin named Lorenzo. We had nothing on the latter two but we had Caitlin's address and we decided to try talking to her.

What followed was a noir-style city crawl as we drove from place to place in Jame's beat up Toyo-Chrysler Omega collecting clues that led to more clues that led to more clues. Eventually we put the picture together.

This Wells Fargo guy—who lost his head in a trash heap of a club in the combat zone—was trying to smuggle some kind of genetic data mule into Night City. The mule was actually a horse—a white stallion to be exact. It also turned out that Mistushiko and Lorenzo were in on it. The former was never a problem, considering she lost her head in a Rock Museum near the Elvis display. Lorenzo though would prove to be one hell of a headache.

All of our sleuthing lead us to the Night City Customs Dock where we saw Lorenzo and company unload the stallion onto a box truck. The truck took off and Lorenzo followed in a sportscar. James realized we were in for a showdown and called in a few favors from his nomad family. What followed was a grueling, exhausting fight on the highway.

No matter what we did our weapons just bounced off of Lorenzo's skinweave as he gunned us down. James and Wynston crashed and burned and Cal never saw them alive again. Afterwards Cal managed to get control of the truck with Lorenzo in hot pursuit. His hold out submachine gun just bounced right off the cyborg assassin and his ripper did jack shit. Lady luck was on Cal's side, however, as he found a hand cannon loaded with armor piercing rounds in the glove-box of the truck. With Lorenzo hanging off the side of the truck, Cal put the barrel to the assassin's head and pulled the trigger. That's when Lorenzo lost his head on the highway.

After clearing the scene and pulling to the side of the road, Cal and the two nomads that survived checked on the goods, but not before gunning down one last goon. The stallion was beat up and injured but he'd live. It was the data that he carried that was valuable anyway.

Heading back to the warehouse, Cal dropped off the horse and took his 12,000 eddies.

6 months later, Cal stood outside some seedy bar in El Paso. He kicked down the door and saw his old family sitting there. "Hey familia! Remember me!" he said as he unfolded his cybernetic arms, revealing two mini-guns, James and Wynston each engraved on their sides. "Mi muchachos would like to have a word with you!" And that's where Cal's story ended—in a blaze of bullets and glory.


I want to make one thing clear. This entire scenario was awesome. I had a blast playing a discount terminator with a revenge plot and a death wish and the other players' characters added so much style to the experience. Digging through Night City was amazing as the place is part warzone, part metropolis, and part gated corporate community.

My only gripe about Cyberpunk2020 is that the system for doing all this cool shit is intricate. It really takes awhile to get a grip on all the different intricacies that make the system shine. I would say that Cyberpunk2020 is like D&D 3.5 in that regard. For example, Lorenzo was such a problem for our group because we were noobs that failed to realize the value of armor piercing ammunition. That's why our bullets bounced right off of him. For a less patient new player this could be a big deal breaker. But if you're the kind of player that enjoys a trial by fire and don't mind a sudden and violent end for your choomba, then I can safely say I highly recommend playing Cyberpunk2020.