Saturday, December 31, 2016

Father/Daughter Bestiary - Four Leaf Loather

A Monstrous New Year

Every year I've done some kind of special year end/year beginning blog post.  This year, to celebrate all of the delightful gaming that I've shared with my friends and family, I wanted to kick off a new project:  the Father/Daughter bestiary!  My eldest kiddo +Carina W. has been sharing her art on G+, and even has a few commissioned pieces under her belt or in the works.  What better way to merge her love of art and my love of tabletop role-playing than to come up with a joint project.

We actually made a game of the creation.  

I gave Carrie the idea for a new creature called a Four Leaf Loather.  Essentially, I wanted some kind of plant that grew out of the body of an especially unlucky soul in Dungeon Crawl Classics.  Each face needed to be somewhat different.  Carrie has been playing around with some "random" coloring, creating drawings with three different types of writing utensils chosen by someone else calling out numbers.  To change things up, we assigned three different dice to the writing utensils

  • D8:  Micron Pens
  • D10:  Metallic Markers 
  • D24:  Brush Pens

For this exercise, each head of the Four Leaf Loather would be drawn with a different set of utensils, randomly determined.  That horrific monstrosity at the top of this page is the wickedly weird result!  

Although native to DCCRPG, they should work for just about any OSR game or D&D with a little tweaking.  

Here are the stats.  

Four Leaf Loather:  Init +4; Atk bites +3 melee (1d6); AC 12; HD 8d6; MV none, it's a plant... duh; Act 1d20 for 1 bite or 4d16 for 4 bites; SP random mouth affect (see below); SV Fort +5, Ref -2, Will +0; AL C.

Four Leaf Loathers are the result of four particularly unlucky souls falling victim to some calamity at the same time [when a player loses all four 0-level characters at once.]  If this event happens to occur outdoors, and if the right amount of blood is spilled on a patch of grass, there is a chance that some of the regular clovers on the ground will soak up all that unluckiness, and infest the corpses.  At some point 1d5 months after this event, a full-grown, 4 to 6 foot tall Four Leaf Loather takes form.

The Four Leaf Loather can attack in one of two ways.  They can bite adjacent creatures with all four mouths at once, or one of the heads can spew random liquid in a 30 foot long stream.  Anyone standing in the way must make a DC 15 Reflex save or suffer one of the following effects:

[Roll on a d4]
  1. Acidic vomit:  3d6 damage.
  2. Slippery saliva:  fall prone, requiring a DC 18 Agility check to get back up.
  3. Revolting sludge:  lose one's cookies at the stench, becoming stunned for 1d3 rounds.  All onlookers must make a DC 12 Will save or suffer the same effect.  Just gross.  
  4. Unlucky spittle:  lose 1d3 points of luck.

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We hope that you've had a wonderful New Year and that you have lots of tabletop gaming scheduled in 2017.  Perhaps we'll see you at one of our tables!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Adventure Review - The Last Parsec: Pranac Pursuit

A Bit of Everything

The Last Parsec is not only on my short list of favorite Savage Worlds settings, but of all the settings I own.  As a proud Kickstarter backer of The Last Parsec I received a hefty bounty of rewards.  My shelves and hard drive are full of sourcebooks, adventures, pre-gens, figure flats, and deck plans, all just begging to be played.  As of this past week, after reading Scientorium, I've officially read through each and every TLP product. 
So... what's to love?  For me it's the openness and modularity that The Last Parsec provides.  Other campaign settings may offer more detailed backgrounds and complicated backstories.  Dip into familiar space opera games, such as those based on Star Wars, Firefly, or Star Trek, and game masters face seemingly insurmountable volumes of canon material.  While I sometimes enjoy dipping into these sources, I prefer settings that leave me room to play.  
This is exactly what The Last Parsec does so incredibly right.  Each of the three initial sourcebooks, Eris Beta V, Scientorium, and Leviathan, provide a single place of interest that can be plopped down in just about any ongoing Savage Worlds sci-fi campaign.  If you have all three, you get a bit of everything.  A star system, an ancient space station, a "dinosaur" planet. The Last Parsec: Core provides material and inspiration to aid GM's in building ongoing campaigns outside of the original settings sourcebooks, while leaving wide open spaces for their own original material. 
With all that said, Pranac Pursuit, a complete twenty-three page adventure by Sterling Hershey, just happens to encapsulate everything I adore about The Last Parsec in one single adventure.  It's a bit of everything, with plenty of room to insert your own plots, concepts, and complications. 
Last night I had the opportunity to play Pranac Pursuit with some of my friends.  Here are my thoughts...

Using the "Aces & Eights" deckplan from the Serenity RPG

Away Team

SPOILER WARNING!  If you have even an inkling that your GM is going to run this adventure for you, it's best that you don't read ahead. 
Adventure Overview
In Pranac Pursuit the player characters work for an interstellar exploratory organization known as JumpCorp.  After a fellow crew and their vessel (the Distant Light) go missing in the Pranac system, the PC's are sent on a search and rescue mission.   They discover the missing JumpCorp craft in an unstable orbit around the planet Pranac IV, suffering from a bizarre power-flux that threatened the life support of the craft.  This forced the crew to abandon ship and crash land on the planet.
The missing JumpCorp team are found to be assisting a primitive alien race with their own dilemma.  The native villagers, known as the "Jalur", practically worship a piece of alien technology (a probe), that had been damaged during a raid by a competing tribe.  But when the probe senses the technology of the approaching PC's, it takes off, dragging the missing crew into the sky and towards a nearby mother ship. 
The PC's may then explore the local region, discover other pieces of technology as clues, encounter other Jalur tribes, and find clues that will lead back to the alien mother ship.  Once found, the PC's must either disable or destroy the rogue AI keeping the missing JumpCorp team hostage. 
As a final added complication, once everyone is off Pranac IV and the missing crew is back on the Distant Light, the PC's must deal with the fact that the "power-flux" affecting the vessel is a sentient electrical organism that seeks freedom. 
For groups that may not typically play science fiction games, Pranac Pursuit allows a GM and their players to experience several common tropes all in one adventure.  A search and rescue mission requiring starship piloting and space walking.  First contact with a neutral yet primitive alien species.  Exploration of a strange new world.  Combating an advanced alien artificial intelligence.  Such a terrific variety of possible scenes. 
I should point out that Pranac Pursuit feels a lot like a good Star Trek episode.  The overall theme is one of exploration and discovery.  While there are opportunities for physical conflict, they are rare and often unnecessary.  Conceivably, the entire adventure can be completed without the PC's firing  even a single shot.  It's important to point this out, because this adventure may not be for everyone.  If your group of players prefer to shoot first and ask questions later, this may not be their kind of mission. 
That said, it wouldn't be hard to reconfigure the adventure for the latter kind of group.  Making the Jalur more militaristic and armed, or adding terrible natural defenses could completely change the tone for the "rescue".  Page 18 of the adventure offers Encounters in the Rulwan that take place while exploring the planet's surface.  Should your group lean towards fight over flight, refrain from choosing these at random.  Playing up the Molil raiders (rival Jalur) as villains could sate your friends' bloodlust.
Adventure Length
I tried running this adventure in a four hour period, that was somewhat crunched by everyone eating dinner for the first hour while picking characters from amongst The Last Parsec Archetypes pre-gens.  Until we experienced our TPK (total party kill... we'll get to that later), I was figuring that we'd have to skip the entire sequence where the PC's explore the region.  We would've jumped straight to the mother ship.  Pranac Pursuit allows for this kind of flexibility.
On the other hand, Pranac Pursuit could easily turn into a three or four session long mini-campaign, especially if the GM expounds on the exploration of the planet Pranac IV. Other probes could be tossed in, some potentially dangerous, as well as tribal politics could make for some interesting storytelling. 
Parting Thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this adventure, and thinking about all the opportunities provided within.  In less than four hours we barely scratched the surface and the experience felt a bit rushed, albeit with an abrupt ending when the game went off the rails during the interaction at the Jalur village.  When I run this adventure again (which is inevitable, because it deserves a full play through) I'll be aiming for an eight hour window. Perhaps run the game over two or three sessions.
Now that I've covered how this all should've played out, let's chat about how it actually turned out at the table...

Poorly drawn GM diagrams


A Brief Recap

Our team of JumpCorp operatives consisted of the following:
  • Farrah Shipkicker, the Human Teamleader, played by my wife Jen
  • Jody Moonstar, the Serran Psychic, played by Frank
  • Cubb, the Human Scout, played by Jeremy
  • Chuklani-Gan, the Aurax Security Officer, played by Andy
  • Earwin Wigg, the Deader Science Officer, played by Emily
  • Kiff, the Kalian Pilot, played by Robert
For the first part of the adventure everything was going well.  The team found the Distant Light disabled, but managed to tow it into a higher orbit and learn about the whereabouts of the missing JumpCorp team.  They flew down to the surface of Pranac IV, did some investigation, and eventually discovered the Jalur village of Craa.

This is where things went terribly wrong.
When the alien probe took off, dragging one of the missing crewmembers (Janet) with it, Kiff borrowed Chuklani-Gan's gyro-jet rifle and took a shot.  Both of Robert's attack and damage rolls exploded, and there was no way that the probe was still flying.  So it crashed, killing Janet. 
The Jalur were pretty mad about this, as was Captain Wu, Janet's teammate.  The Jalur wanted their metal sage back, and the PC's decided to find another one.  Frank had to leave the game early, so he had his character Jody Moonstar stay behind as a hostage while the team went looking for another alien probe. 
Jeremy got the idea of using a portable 3D printer to create another version of the alien probe, but the team would have to get a closer look at the crash site for this to work.  When they arrived, they found Janet's body crushed. 
With Frank, the group's "voice of reason" gone, the entire party started shifting towards the bloodlust of our new player Robert.  A D&D player who loves barbarians, anti-bards (???) and chaotic evil paladins (is that possible nowadays), Robert may have been a bad example.  My wife Jen's character, Farrah, started taunting Captain Wu, making fun of the fact that his teammate was dead.  This may have been the red wine talking.
Eventually Captain Wu began to fear the PC's, so he ran back towards the village.  So the PC's chased him down and killed him.  Of course this all happened about five-hundred feet from the Jalur village, so they sent all of their warriors (about 100 or so, armed with lances and crossbows), into battle. 
I didn't even let the PC's make any rolls, as there was no chance they could survive.  I announced their deaths, and the failure of their JumpCorp mission.
Better luck next time? 
*     *     *
So... what went wrong?
It definitely wasn't the adventure.  Pranac Pursuit is superbly written, well plotted out, with plenty of room for GM's to add their own thoughts and ideas.  Going into the adventure, I let my players know that we were going to playing an adventure based on discovery and exploration, rather than killing and looting.  I made the assumption that everyone was on board with this plan.  Even when Robert announced that the only other RPG he had played was "D&D", I didn't take that as he wanted to play The Last Parsec like it was D&D. 
The other aspect that set us off course was the time.  We had less than an hour left in our game when the team arrived in the village.  There was a lot of time spent dealing with the ships in space and at the crash site.  By trying to rush the game at the end the players stopped asking clarifying questions about what was happening in the game.  My fault.
But in the end, we all had a great time, and that's really all that matters.  So many memories from such a crazy evening... perhaps more than we would've had with a more successful mission.  

Jen's character complete with super high boots

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Numenera - The Devil's Spine - Session 2

The Devil's Spine Campaign Log

Welcome to our group's campaign log for The Devil's Spine, a mega-adventure by +Monte Cook for the Numenera campaign setting.  

Originally this was going to be a pure and simple campaign log.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Just a record for me and my friends to keep track of what was going on in the game.  But I've decided that, as we progress through the adventure, I'd do some commentary and/or reviews on different parts of the adventure.  So... SPOILERS!

The Path to Devola

This week I thought I'd discuss The Path to Devola, a part of the adventure on pages 13 through 15.  After the PC's have their encounter with the Nagaina egg pit and the Lily, they have the opportunity to go off galavanting in the tunnels and caves beneath Uxphon.  Rather than map out all of these areas, Monte gives the GM a "Progress Chart" that features randomly generated aspects of these ancient pathways.  

To traverse the tunnels the GM rolls on d100 chart, with results listed from 01-151+.  Some of the results are more simple passages, Strange Features, Creatures, and other events.  Getting to Devola's lair requires the 151+, which could be impossible if not for the additional 10 points added for each hour of travel.  With an average roll between 40-60%, getting to the Matron Devola may mean 8-10 encounters.  

For GM's who like to improvise, this may be too many, especially if you are trying to get through this sequence in around an hour to ninety minutes.  My suggestion would be to add "20" points to each roll, and not 10.  This would bring the Matron around sooner.  Of course results may vary!

Our group rolled four total events: three Strange Features and one Collapse.  

The first Strange Feature was supposed to be glass with a flickering light.  I made this into a miniature star system that was situated between two enormous panes of quarter-inch thick glass.  Shattering the glass would destroy the star system, potentially destroying a marvelous civilization.  Idea stolen from Men in Black of course.  

The second Strange Feature was a working, but mysterious machine.  Summoning my inner Love and Sex in the Ninth World, I made this into an insect mating power generator.  The machine was filled with metallic flies that were in a constant state of arousal.  As they copulated, the heat of the metal created fire.  Thirty tiny gemstone oddities perpetuated the arousal and the copulation.  So when the PC's started removing the gemstones, they themselves felt... frisky.  Nothing that forced them to do anything (and I would certainly not suggest that for your table), but enough to give a clue as to what was happening in the engine.  At last I thought it would.  The PC's opened the door to the machine, and the flies started to swarm everyone carrying a gemstone oddity.  I treated each swarm as follows:

  •  Level 3, 9 Health, but unaffected by weapons.
  • On the first round the PC's swarmed by the metal flies need to make a Difficulty 4 Might Defense Roll or take 4 points of Might Damage.  On the second round the flies start to ignite as they engage in their "activities", and the damage the PC's take (still 4) is not blocked by armor.

The third Strange Feature was another functioning machine, so I made this into a pair of gears attacked to a large stone.  The PC's searched it for cyphers, and found a nice and healthy dollop of friction reducing gel.  It was just that kind of night.  

Eventually the night was getting late and I had to rush to the end of the spelunking, but I enjoyed the scenes created by the chart.  If you are not an improvisational GM I'd suggest rolling up ten of these events ahead of time, and maybe doing some planning.  When you tell a Numenera player that they've found something "weird" typically they are going to want to play with it.  So give them something to play with!


  • Belmodan, a Resourceful Seeker who Wields a Whip, played by +andrew lyon 
  • Keane, a Rebellious Glaive who Likes to Break Things, played by +Craig McCullough 
  • Nero, a Mad Nano who Travels Through Time, played by +David Howard 
  • PL4T0, an Artificially Intelligent Jack who Resides in Silicon, played by +Marc Plourde
  • Ruun, an Exiled Glaive who Gazes into the Abyss, played by +William Keller 

Previously on The Devil's Spine

Session 2: Giving the Pinky

Day 1

The would-be burglars stood at the bottom of a purple-egg filled pit.  In front of them was a blue-goo covered talking statue, and above was a lady demanding that they stay put.  Three of the numenera hunters were now hosts to insectoid parasites on their backs.  Brief interaction with the statue (known as "The Lily") led to some knowledge about the eggs and the parasites:

  • The Lily referred to the entire scene as just a sequence of "Life."
  • The "Defenders" on the backs of the PC's would eventually turn them into guardians of the Life.
  • The only one who may know a way to remove the Defenders would be the Matron, who lived deeper within the tunnels and passages below Uxphon.

Not wanting to wait around for the noble woman above, PL4T0 led the team into the tunnels on a journey beneath Uxphon.  Along the way they discovered a miniature star system imbedded between two panes of glass, and a steam engine filled (and powered) with copulating metallic flies, a set of ancient gears atop a long dead machine.  

When they reached a stone dog-dragon, covered in a similar goo to the Lily, the team asked it to show them the way to the Matron.  The dog-dragon became their guide.  

The Matron, named Devola, turned out to be a seventy foot long, wormlike, demi-godlike entity.  She explained that her kind was called the Nagaina, and that she was a scientist of sorts.  The team inquired about the removal of the "Defenders" from their backs, but Devola did not seem interested.  

[If I remember correctly, Andy's character stated that he wanted the Defender cut off because it didn't belong.  I had Devola ask Andy's character Belmodan if he had eaten breakfast in the morning.  Belmodan said that he had eggs.  So Devola asked if the eggs "belonged" in Belmodan's belly.  Devola just wanted to point out that the PC's were a part of another organism's life cycle.  I love role-playing Devola!]  

The party tried threatening Devola, but she quickly responded that she could crush them all very quickly if they tried anything silly.  

Eventually the characters asked if they could do anything in return for removing the Defenders.  So the Matron gave them a task.  If they could thwart the plans of the Insidious Choir, a collective viral intelligence located in the Black Riage, she would remove the Defenders.  Of course [since this is a 96 page adventure] the surgery would require two items that Devola did not have in her possession: the Impossible Blade and a substance known as Gharolan.  

Since they didn't have any choice, the characters agreed to Devola's mission, and were led to a path that would take them to the Catena: a long dormant, subterranean rail system.


David - "I'm gonna give him the Ninth World version of 'the finger!'" 
Jim - [Raises pinky finger, shows it to the camera]
Andy - "That's canon now!" 

"Is that an oddity in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" - Craig referring to the arousal gems.

"There has to be some way to get these off.  I've met Monte." - Craig figured that the Nagaina spines weren't permanent, otherwise there wouldn't be the need for all that adventure.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Goodbye Pop Pop

Harry J. Walls

October 26, 1932 - December 13, 2016

If I ever wanted to blame someone for all my geeky tendencies, I would probably need to start with my grandfather Harry.  We called him Pop Pop.  My very first memories of playing video games were by his side. 

I was just 4 or 5 years old at the time. Not 100% sure of when, but I know exactly where: Wildwood, New Jersey.  And we're not talking some vague memories, but rather something very specific.  Pop Pop would take me into one of the arcades on the boardwalk to play two games: Star Wars and Punch Out.  I can't remember which arcade exactly, but there was one of them where the two machines were right next to each other, just near the front. 

The Star Wars game was that old one where it was all vector graphics.  I'd hold the weird flight yoke and would shoot lasers at sparkling blaster bolts fired by the TIE Fighters.  I couldn't reach, so he'd have to pull up a step stool for me to stand on.  He'd just watch, quietly giving tips, until it was his turn to play. 

Then we'd move over to Punch Out.

Pop Pop was the Punch Out MASTER! If you remember that game, it was the original, where you played as a see-through, green guy. I loved watching him play, and I can't imagine how much money he'd sink in quarters into that game.  Pop Pop's arch nemesis in the game was Bald Bull.  I remember Bald Bull from Mike Tyson's Punchout on the NES, but there was a Bald Bull in the arcade version as well.  I can't remember how far Pop Pop got past Bald Bull, if at all, but he was quite the topic of conversation. 

Some time, probably the same summer, we were out in the ocean.  It was deep... well, deep for me... and I couldn't reach the bottom.  I also couldn't swim, but Pop Pop had me.  Well, the waves were hitting us pretty hard, and I remember one of them getting us, dunking my head under water.  I had some water up my nose, and I think I started to cry and that was when Pop Pop made the perfect video game reference.

"That was a 'Bald Bull' wave!" my grandfather laughed.   

That image in my mind, of my grandfather holding me safe while cracking a joke is pretty much exactly how he lived his entire life. A steadfast guardian and confidant with an incredibly sharp sense of humor that lasted to the very end. 

*     *     *

Here are a few of my other favorite stories about Pop Pop:

  • When I was eleven or twelve my brother and I got permission from my grandfather to go down in the creek behind his house and go exploring. He would've never let us do this when he was awake, so we decided to ask him when he was half asleep and still in bed. He gave us a weak "uh huh" and we were off to play in the mud. He was not very happy when we returned. 
  • I remember my grandfather giving me a lesson about "value" while at a Roy Rogers. After getting our burgers, he proceeded to make a salad at the Fixin's Bar. He told me this was a great deal. I think he even made dressing by mixing the mayo and ketchup. He ate this alongside his sandwich. I declined.
  • Speaking of fast food, Pop Pop (and Mom Mom for that matter) also really enjoyed Wendy's Super Bar. It was always a huge treat to go out to Wendy's for a Friday night dinner if we were visiting. 
  • My grandfather had this super heavy metal fan without a cover, that he'd leave running in his house. To this day, I don't know how one of us Walls kids didn't end up missing a hand.
  • Back in the early '90's I kept doing the "You Lika Da Juice" sketch from Saturday Night Live in front of Pop Pop. In the sketch, the actors were in a greek gyro restaurant asking customers if they wanted more juice. I continuously asked him "You lika da juice, uh? Da juice is good, uh?" It may have been the only time I got under Pop Pop's skin, because he eventually told me that I had to stop. Pop Pop would then continue to ask ME "You lika da juice?" for the next 23 years. 
  • Pop Pop used to drive around in an old microvan (Nissan?) with a back seat full of bricks and a baseball bat. The bricks were for keeping flower arrangements (my grandmother was a florist) upright. The bat was for... well... I don't know. I guess that was for those times when the shit was going to go down. 
  • My grandfather liked watching a good fight. My dad would throw me and my brother in his old Toyota pickup to drive to Pop Pop's house to watch Ultimate Fighting Championship videos. This was way-back in the days where these were really "no holds barred". I remember Pop Pop just crying out "eww... eww!" as Joe Son (master of Josondo) got his nuts punched repeatedly by Keith Hackney in UFC 3. Good times.

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To see the full obituary for my grandfather, you can follow this link