Player-Generated Handouts

Oh, hi!

Don't worry, I didn't forget this blog. It's just that I came back from Gen Con with a pile o' work to tend to. Also, unfortunately, I've joined the ranks of people with "family health problems" storming into my life and providing yet more distraction from things like writing fun little blog posts.

In light of August's unremitting intensity, then, I'm thinking a schedule of one post a week is more realistic for the foreseeable future. So that's my new resolution. Thursdays seem as good a day as any, so Thursdays it is. No more dilly-dallying, then...

The wife and I have been playing a lot of Vampire: the Masquerade (20th Anniversary Edition) lately. She's fairly obsessed, to be honest. There's no doubt in my mind that, had she been into gaming as a teenager back in the 90s, she would have been one of the countless thousands of young ladies for whom Vampire was everything. Eh. Vuh. Ree. Thing. We've even joked that she might've ended up in some sort of real-life blood cult or something. So it's probably best she didn't know about it at the time.


For our most recent session, Desiree actually wrote up a nine-page script for a "play within a play" that her vampire/actor character was planning to put on with his infamous sire, attempting to clear her name with the larger Kindred community. She spent a whole Saturday afternoon writing this thing up, chuckling to herself intermittently at how silly the whole thing was but pushing ahead regardless.

Needless to say, I couldn't be more pleased. Is there any experience more rewarding for a GM than seeing your player(s) get just as invested in a game as you are? When players come to the table with character sketches, background narratives, or supplementary handouts--ah! What a joy.

What are some of your favorite and/or most memorable moments when players went the extra mile with investing themselves in the game in between sessions?

Off to Gen Con!

Just a quick update today and nothing substantive for Thursday this week either, I'm afraid. I've got a good reason, though: tomorrow I board a plane for Indianapolis to experience gaming's own Grand Guignol--Gen Con.

Last year was my first time going, so I feel a bit more prepared this time around. I'll be doing a lot more gaming than last year, including running a session of Pendragon (my first time out as a convention GM!). The game booked up fast--shockingly fast, if I'm being honest--but if you're planning on attending the con, have nothing going on between 1:00-5:00 on Friday, and want to be on the stand-by list, drop me a line here or on the sosh medes and I'll keep you in the loop!

Otherwise, if you're reading this and you'll also be there, I'll be one of the guys wearing an Esoteric Order of Roleplayers shirt. (Hot tip: Spreadshirt has a 15%-off sale coming up from the 4th to the 9th...) I accept friendly hellos and small monetary donations with equal grace, I can assure you.

As much as I'm looking forward to the trip, I'm also fairly itching to get going on my Uresia Hack project, so I hope to have some material on that next week (if I manage to dodge the dreaded Con Crud). I mean, I pretty much have to now, don't I?

Kickstarter Alert: Prince Valiant

Full Disclosure: I have done work for Nocturnal Media in the past and have a couple projects for them in the pipeline. However, I am not involved in any way with this project apart from being an enthusiastic booster and backer.

ETA: This has since changed; see my later post for more details.

Take  that , you Saxon scum!

Take that, you Saxon scum!

I'm a total geek for Arthurian RPGs. In addition to my extensive collection of King Arthur Pendragon RPG materials, I also own the original and recently re-released editions of Hidden Kingdom (which I hope to actually play one day...). But one feather remains missing from my cap: Greg Stafford's other Arthurian RPG, Prince Valiant, long out-of-print and very spendy on the secondary market.

You can imagine my delight, then, when the announcement went out that a new edition is Kickstarter-ing. Not only that, but it will be packed full to the crenelations with gorgeous full-color Hal Foster art.

The Kickstarter is off to a great start, with stretch goals unlocking additional content (penned by a variety of veteran game writers) opening up even as I type.

Lots more details on the system and philosophies behind Prince Valiant, a game way ahead of its time, can be found at Greg Stafford's site.

The Uresia Hack?

Long-time readers of my internet ramblings will know that S. John Ross's world of Uresia is my metaphorical Great White Whale of fantasy settings. Originally developed and published for the Big Eyes, Small Mouth anime RPG and now available as a systemless guidebook, I've run games set in the world of Uresia using BESM, the Rules Cyclopedia, and Pathfinder. All attempts were, in their own ways, successful, yet none really did it for me. In the case of BESM and Pathfinder, it was simply me not caring for the system itself (finding both to be too crunchy for my tastes); in the case of the Rules Cyclopedia, it was too many modifications required to properly capture in the mechanics Uresia's blend of 8-bit JRPGs, anime, classic fantasy tropes, and Ross's patented brand of big-hearted whimsy.

From time to time, as a sort of idle larf, I've taken a look at a variety of other possible systems over the years: everything from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy to Ross's Risus RPG to Dungeon World. GURPS ultimately proved too rooted in "believability" in its mechanical approaches, while Risus was just a bit too rules-lite for my tastes. Dungeon World looked to be the best bet, particularly with the release of the excellent Class Warfare supplement and its details on creating new and custom playbooks. But there remained some lingering doubts on my part that prevented me from diving in to a full-throated conversion project.

Enter The Black Hack.

This stripped-down mod of D&D, blending old and new mechanics, has been getting a lot of attention lately, and rightfully so. It hits a nice sweet spot between simplicity and crunch, and--most importantly--is eminently mod-able. So much so that the Internet has been downright flooded with hacks of the Hack, as it were.

One that particularly caught my eye is The Anime Hack--in particular, its suggestion that "[t]he Black Hack is not required, but it is awesome and would add a lot to your experience...". Hm! Interesting!

This then got me thinking: using a combined Anime/Black Hack to power a Uresia campaign...

[Savage Rifts] Expanded M.A.R.S. Fortune & Glory Table

Savage RIFTS, like all good and decent gaming products, comes packed with tons of tables for players and GMs alike. The Mercenary, Adventurers, Rogues, and Scholars (M.A.R.S.) Iconic Framework gets a table all its own, the "Fortune & Glory" table. M.A.R.S. characters, thanks to not being the total powerhouses represented by other Iconic Frameworks, get to roll several times on said table.

But, as it's just a d12 table, the range of options may soon seem limited, particularly if you've got a group with a propensity for playing M.A.R.S. characters (or are intentionally doing an all-M.A.R.S. campaign, such as a game centering around City Rats in the 'Burbs of Chi-Town).

I'm not the only one who has marked this out as a potential issue, and recently regular reader Reese Flory sent me his expanded Fortune & Glory Table. With his kind permission, I am reproducing it here.

Expanded M.A.R.S. Fortune & Glory Table
1 Up Close and Personal: Add one die type to the Fighting skill. Your hero may choose any single weapon from the Close Combat —Personal sections. You may gain the Trademark Weapon Edge for one of your starting melee weapons instead of the weapon.
2 Reach Out and Touch Someone: Add one die type to the Shooting skill. Your hero may choose any single weapon from the Ranged Weapons—Personal section. You may gain the Trademark Weapon Edge for one of your starting ranged weapons instead of the weapon.
3 A Strong Suit of Armor: Your hero may choose any one suit of Body Armor and add two of the modifiers listed under Body Armor in the Hero’s Journey section. They must be two different modifiers, not the same one twice.
4 A Way to Get Around: Your hero begins with a d6 in either Driving or Piloting. She also starts with any one vehicle of her choice.
5 Agile and Dexterous: Your hero adds one die type to Agility and begins with either the Ambidextrous or Quick Edge.
6 Smart and Learned: Your hero adds one die type to Smarts and begins with a d6 in any three Smarts-linked skills.
7 Spiritual and Determined: Your hero adds one type to Spirit and begins with the Strong Willed Edge.
8 Strong and Powerful: Your hero adds one die type to Strength and begins with the Brawny Edge.
9 Vigorous and Tough: You hero adds one die type to Vigor and begins with the Nerves of Steel Edge.
10 Wealthy and Connected: You hero begins with the Rich Edge and the Connections Edge with two factions.
11 Charming and Well-Traveled: Your hero begins with the Charismatic and I Know a Guy Edges.
12 Fortune Favors the Bold: Your hero begins with the Brave Edge. He also begins each session with one additional Benny.
13 Dabbler in the Arcane: Your hero has somehow picked up spellcasting along the way, adding the Arcane Background (Magic) Edge and a d6 in Spellcasting. They select three powers as limited by the Ley Line Walker. Otherwise, your character may roll a total of two times on the Enchanted Items & Mystic Gadgets and/or Magic & Mysticism tables.
14 Latent Psychic: Your hero has unlocked their psionic potential over the course of their experiences, adding the Arcane Background (Psychic) Edge and a d6 in Psionics. They select three powers as limited by the Mind Melter. Otherwise, your character may roll a total of two times on the Enchanted Items & Mystic Gadgets and/or Psionics tables.
15 Four-Legged Friends: Your hero has developed an incredible affinity with animals, gaining the Beast Bond and Beast Master Edges and two trained Earthly animal companions, or one trained interdimensional creature of animal intelligence.
16 My Young Apprentice: You hero has inspired a follower, gaining the Sidekick Edge. The sidekick is a standard Savage Worlds Novice character (no Iconic Framework to start), but roll once on Experience & Wisdom, Training, or Underworld & Black Ops table; your hero and sidekick both gain the result, reflecting a shared experience.
17 A Bard's Tale: Your hero has devoted a great deal of time to one of the rare pastimes on Rifts Earth: entertainment. Add the Attractive and Talented* Edges, begin with a Perform specialization at d6, and start with a high-quality musical intrument or other such medium. Your hero may perform at venues for pay.
18 Follow Me: Your hero has proven himself as a combat leader, earning the Command and Team Leader** Edges, and a Knowledge (Battle) skill at d6.
19 I'm a Survivor: Your hero regularly survives encounters that would break tougher adventurers. Add the Hard to Kill and Brave Edges.
20 Choose Your Fate: Select any other result on this table, or gain two rolls on any two Hero’s Journey tables of your choice.
*See Deadlands Noir
**See Supers Companion

[Letters from Heian-kyo] The Ushi no Koku Mairi Ritual

This is the first entry in what will be an irregular series of posts on myth and folk lore from classical Japan. Any game mechanics referenced in the post are for a modified version of the King Arthur Pendragon RPG I've been working on for Nocturnal (publishing date still TBD), but the details should be easily adapted to any system of your choice.

During the reign of Emperor Saga, a scorned wife journeyed to the Kibune Shrine on the northern outskirts of the great capital of Heian-kyo. There, during the Hour of the Ox (1:00-3:00 AM) when the boundary between the material and spirit worlds is thinnest, she prayed to the gods of the shrine, beseeching them for vengeance upon the man who had left her. She returned at the same time every night, seven nights in total.

The gods heard her prayer and directed her to don lit candles upon her head, cover herself in poisonous cinnabar, and lay down in the Uji River. The woman did as instructed, and after 21 days she became something more than human, a vengeful spirit called Hashihime ("Maiden of the Bridge").

Despite the fact that Hashihime was ultimately foiled in her attempts to kill her husband thanks to the intercession of the great wizard Abe no Seimei, her legend inspired scores of other jilted lovers to follow her lead.

The Ushi no Koku Mairi Ritual

This is perhaps Nihon's most notorious black magic ritual. To enact the ritual, gather a bundle of straw and shape it into a roughly humanoid form. Don a white kimono, cover your face with white paint or powder, then hang a mirror around your neck. Wash your hair and place the tri-pronged stand of a gotuku (iron brazier) atop your head. Stick a candle on each prong and light the wicks. Slip on a pair of geta (wooden sandals). Clench a comb in your mouth.

Taking a mallet and some iron nails with you, run from your residence to the nearest shrine that accepts curses. (In Heian-kyo, this is usually the Kifune or Jishu-jinja Shrine.) Find a tree on the property of the shrine and wait until the Hour of the Ox. Nail the straw doll to the tree while uttering salty curses against the target of your ire.

Repeat this ritual for six more nights. By the final night, the doll will have seven nails in it. Placement of the nails will determine what sort of ailments the target will develop: nails in the arm might indicate a broken humerus bone, a sprained wrist, a burn in that location, and so forth. A nail driven into the head of the doll will cause death!

If anyone sees you enacting the ritual and lives to tell the tale, the curse will rebound onto you, so make sure your nighttime visits go undetected, or else be prepared to use that dagger you thoughtfully tucked up into the sleeve of your kimono…

In order to undertake this ritual, you must possess a Kirai (Hate) passion directed at the target of the ritual. At the end of the seven-day period, roll against Kirai. With a critical success, your intended injuries affect the target. The most minor injury will occur 1D6 days after the ritual concludes; each successive injury occurs 1D6 days after the preceding wound. Wounds should cause a progressive amount of damage: 1D6 Hit Points for the first, all the way up to 7D6 for the final.

Characters may be driven to try this ritual due to madness caused by a fumbled passion roll. More usually, of course, player characters will find themselves targets of the Ushi no Koku Mairi ritual! At the Gamemaster's discretion, it may be possible to halt the progression of injuries caused by the ritual by consulting a powerful yamabushi or tengu and beseeching them to lift the curse before it is too late.

[Savage Rifts] Mapping Dinosaur Swamp: Georgia

As I wrote about last week, I'll be running my inaugural Savage RIFTS campaign in the Dinosaur Swamp region, specifically in and around the former state of Georgia.

As I'm entering final preparations for the campaign, I figured I should probably put together a regional map, both because I find the maps in the Dinosaur Swamp sourcebook sorely lacking and because, with the 100-meter sea level rise I apply to "my" version of RiftsWorld, the coastline is substantially changed from canon.

I spent a couple hours noodling around in Photoshop yesterday, and here's what I came up with:

I might have gotten a little carried away...

I put in the old state boundaries mostly just for my own reference--they'd be meaningless to anyone other than a Rogue Scholar or such in-game. I didn't worry too much about reproducing the course of rivers exactly, as the Cataclysm would have certainly reshaped riverbeds.

I should probably brighten up the hexes just a bit for better readability, but in all honesty I'm not even sure how much utility they'll be in actual play. I mean, a 5-mile hex doesn't mean much if you can fly right through it! They're there mostly to give me a sense of scale. On the other hand, I'm thinking about using the old "Random Ruins and Relics" table from the Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set to generate, well, ruins and relics in the swamp, so there might actually be some room for hex-crawling in this campaign!

At the end of the day, this map may not be of much utility at all, but it's certainly evocative to me at least, and I think my players will dig it too.

Next up on the cartographical agenda is a rough map of the ruins of Atlanta. If I produce something other than random scribbles, I'll be sure to post it here.

[Savage Rifts] Chiang-Ku Dragon Hatchling

I met with my mid-week group to discuss Savage RIFTS. We’re all on board with it, and I took them through the three frameworks I worked up a few weeks back.

The “Top Gun Manistique” idea held much appeal, but we decided to put that one on hold—it’s been ages since we played RIFTS, and the consensus was that a more generalized framework would work better for our inaugural outing.

So we decided on a campaign of Atlantean freedom fighters and their allies operating out of the MARTA tunnels under the ruins of Atlanta, plotting the downfall of the Splugorth. One of my players had already pitched a concept of a runaway Blind Warrior Woman who underwent Juicer modification to better help her in her quest to kill her former Slaver and liberate her sisters from bondage, and that concept fits in perfectly with this framework.

My other player, who is far less well-versed in RiftsLore, went through several different ideas before settling on a Dragon Hatchling. Considering the campaign is going to be heavy on Atlantean and Splugorthian themes, I suggested he consider a Chiang-Ku as his species, to which he agreed wholeheartedly.

Which means it's time to do another conversion. In the process, I'm going to rewrite the Chiang-Ku backstory ever so slightly. As with my previous effort, this went pretty smoothly, and I think I'm in the ballpark as far as balancing with a more "normal" dragon like the Flame Wind.

Chiang-Ku Dragon Hatchling

The creatures called Chiang-Ku Dragons first came to Earth over 10,000 years ago. Experienced dimensional travelers, they took a liking to this little backwater and its single sentient species. Disguised as humans or operating openly in their full serpentine glory, the Chiang-Ku taught the people of Africa, Atlantis, East Asia, and Mesoamerica the secrets of stone magic and geomancy, kickstarting human civilization in the process.

The fall of Atlantis marked the end of serious Chiang-ku presence on Earth. Untold numbers of dragons died alongside their Atlantean allies as the continent vanished from the planet’s surface, and many more fled through dimensional portals as magic began draining from the atmosphere. Those very few that remained, by choice or otherwise, went into hiding and, by the time of the Great Cataclysm, all had met their doom one way or another.

Atlantis’ end also marked the beginning of the end for the Chiang-Ku on a broader scale. Masters of the esoteric arts of tattoo magic and alchemy, their knowledge was much sought-after by the Splugorth Empire, who hunted the dragons to the brink of extinction. In the process, the Splugorth stole the Chiang-Ku’s arcane powers and turned them to evil. The Chiang-Ku are now widely believed by most Atlanteans and Splugorth alike to be extinct.

They very nearly are. In the whole of the Multiverse, only a few score Chiang-Ku yet live. Of that tiny number, two dozen are on Earth even now, pursuing various ends both noble and nefarious. Many, like the inscrutable lord of the Phoenix Empire, are wholly turned to evil and ally openly with those who once drove their kind to the brink of oblivion. Meanwhile, the Chiang-Ku who wish to further the noble deeds of their forebears must operate in secret, usually assuming some form of disguise so that their true nature is not discovered.

To say the least, Chiang-Ku hatchlings are very few and far between. Such creatures, should they be discovered, find themselves the immediate target of the Splugorth, the Coalition, and evil Chiang-Ku, all of whom will wish to turn the young dragon to their own will and agenda or else destroy it. To be a Chiang-Ku is to be hunted, but also to possess great powers and abilities, perhaps moreso than any other dragon on Earth.

Appearance: Chiang-Ku are long and lithe, sporting three pairs of legs, each ending in prehensile five-toed claws. Their triangular scales are always some shade of green, usually emerald. The tail portion of their body is somewhat shorter and stubbier than a typical dragon’s, but their mouths are filled with razor-sharp fangs, giving them a mighty bite. Whiskers grow around their mouths, and a horned crest rings their head.

Due to their shape-shifting abilities, few ever see the Chiang-Ku in this form, however. Although they can assume practically any shape, most develop a “go-to” look for their human guise so that they may be recognized by allies and enemies alike.

Abilities & Bonuses

  • Major Psionic: Chiang-Ku are born with an inherent mastery of psionics. They begin play with the Arcane Background: Psionics Edge and four powers, as well as the Major Psionic Edge. They have 15 ISP and a d6 Psionics skill, and may choose their powers from the Mind Melter’s list.
  • Alchemy: The Chiang-Ku are unequaled potion masters. At Seasoned level or any point thereafter, a Chiang-Ku Hatchling may take the Arcane Background: Alchemy Edge (see Shaintar: Legends Arise for details). A Chiang-Ku with this background may concoct the legendary Elixir of Power and Deceit (subject of a future conversion post…).
  • Tattoo Magic: The Chiang-Ku invented tattoo magic and remain masters of the form, such that all Chiang-Ku hatchlings are born already magically imprinted with the Marks of Heritage (see below). At Veteran level, a Chiang-Ku Hatchling may take the Arcane Background: T-Man Edge.
  • Armored Hide: As if in compensation for their dwindling numbers, Chiang-Ku are able to take titanic levels of punishment—the Hatchling has M.D.C. armor of +12.
  • Claws/Bite: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Fast Regeneration: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Fear: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Infravision: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Inherently Magical: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Low-Light Vision: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Marks of Heritage: All Chiang-Ku are born already mystically-imbued with two magic tattoos (the “Marks of Heritage”), one on each for their forelegs.
    • The Eye of Knowledge: Grants the ability to understand, speak, read, and write any language, as per the speak language power (see Super Powers Companion). Use of this ability requires activation and lasts for one hour at a time.
    • The Flaming Sword: Activating this tattoo conjures a glowing, flame-wreathed sword out of thin air (Str+2d6 damage, AP 2, Mega-Damage). The sword lasts for one hour before dissipating.
  • Metamorphosis: Chiang-Ku lack many of the abilities of their draconic brethren (flight, teleportation, breath attacks), but are unparalleled in their ability to shapeshift. Chiang-Ku Hatchlings needn’t wait for Veteran level to attain unlimited metamorphic powers; they begin play with the full metamorphisis ability as described in The Tomorrow Legion Player’s Guide (p. 45). In addition to the guidelines given there, Chiang-Ku may assume a mist form. (See the intangibility power in the Super Powers Companion for guidelines on how this works.)
  • Mighty: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Nigh-Immortality: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Resistance: All forms of cold- and fire-based damaged are resisted at +4 Toughness/+4 to opposed rolls, as appropriate.
  • Size +6: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Size Increase: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Slow Regeneration: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.


  • Cybernetics: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Enemies: As detailed above, the Chiang-Ku are a hunted species. Hunted by the Splugorth, they are also targeted by the Coalition States (who hate all dragons on principle) and other evil Chiang-Ku and sorcerers.
  • Large: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Outsider: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Untested: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Very Young: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.

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All art is copyright its respective artist.

"Second-Chance" Games

My recent return to RIFTS via Savage Worlds has got me thinking about other games of the past that I left behind in my youth--and whether I should go back and revisit them now.

Anyone who has been gaming for a few years or more probably has at least one system that retains a certain level of infamy or wistful nostalgia; a system that promised much but, for whatever reason, failed to deliver, and was either angrily consigned to the dustbin or sadly traded away for store credit at NobleKnight (too specific an example?).

For a long time, RIFTS was one of these games. As a teenager I played the hell out of it, far more than even D&D. Then I stopped. When I tried to go back to it, I found the system no longer to my liking.

My Rifts:2112 project was actually born of an attempt to give RIFTS a "second chance.". Back in 2008, I ran two or three sessions using the rules as written before I had to bail and start looking at other systems. Up until this year, the prospect of actually running RIFTS remained pretty abstract, though. Now I'm fairly giddy as I plan to return to RIFTS in what I feel is going to be a rewarding and familiar way, and this has me thinking of other games left behind long ago.

Around the same time I was experimenting with giving RIFTS a second chance, I wrote a blog post about Gary Gygax's post-TSR RPG, Dangerous Journeys: Mythus. (Hey, the game was published in the 90s, when every RPG by law had to have two titles separated by a colon.) Even eight years on, it continues to generate the occasional comment. Notably, a significant minority of the comments take a neutral or even conciliatory stance towards the game.

This strikes me as notable because one usually sees Mythus getting dragged online (when it's mentioned at all), most notably in Chris Hogan's epic "Let's Read: Mythus" series (sadly unfinished, as the task of reading through Mythus seems to have completely killed off Hogan's will to blog). You'd think stuff like that would be enough to put me off the game entirely, yet there remains something ineffable about its attraction. I almost feel like this is something I need to return to and conquer. Plus, you can't argue with the awesome Janet Aulisio artwork...

So yeah, Mythus is my Great White Whale and will probably drag me down beneath the waves should I ever try and engage with it again. (Spoiler alert for Moby Dick!) There's another game from my callow youth that I think might actually prove downright rewarding, though: Underground.

Styled Ray Winninger's Underground on the cover (again, the 90s saw some very strange naming conventions for games), I picked this baby up in 1993, the year it came out, meaning I would have been about 15 years old at the time. I was simultaneously enthralled and scandalized by the game's contents. It was the first "mature themes" RPG I'd ever read; it was glossy and colorful and featured all sorts of crazy-ass art.

Unfortunately, I completely missed the point of the game. I had zero familiarity with the game's sources of inspiration. Martial Law? Never heard of it. Aeon Flux? Yeah, I saw, like, half an episode back in junior high. DC Heroes? Never played it. I honestly thought I was buying a cyberpunk game, and was startled when a review in Dragon magazine identified the game as belonging to the supers genre? Supers? But...where are the capes?

Character creation with my group took three hours. Then everyone died during the first encounter of the first session. We immediately declared the game broken (because it couldn't possibly be us!) and "Underground" became a byword for "lame, broken game" for years afterward.

Nowadays I'm not so sure. Even after that initial debacle, the setting remained (and remains) my all-time favorite dystopian RPG future history. The Parameter Rules strike me as a fascinating stab at systematizing social change with a "lesser of two evils" approach that seems like it would be lots of fun to run. I'm much more familiar with the game's sources of inspiration now.

It wouldn't be anytime soon, but I could see giving Underground another serious go. I'd make an attempt to use the adapted DC Heroes system that powers the game as-written, but if that doesn't work there's always ICONS or FASERIP or similar.

At any rate, I felt sufficiently motivated to cash in some of my Noble Knight store credit to pick up a copy of the rulebook. The cosmic ballet...goes on.

Faith in Savage Rifts

Last week fellow prodigal RIFTS fan Paul V. did whatever the Google Plus equivalent is of a live-tweeting/unboxing of The Tomorrow Legion Player's Guide as he read through the PDF

Paul is new to Savage Worlds, and so had a keen eye for places where the system intersected with the setting in novel ways. One of the things that really caught his attention was the presence of the Arcane Background: Miracles edge and its associated skills and edges (Faith, Adept, Crusader, Holy Warrior).

For those of you less familiar with the world of RIFTS, the inclusion of AB: Miracles is notable because, traditionally, the game never really addressed matters of faith or religion. Certainly there were gods and demi-gods in the setting (hell, they even had whole sourcebooks devoted to them!), but they were always presented as powerful potential foes or allies and very little ink was ever spilled on the topic of the cults or religions that might surround such beings. Out of the dozens and dozens of character classes in the game, only the smallest handful were the equivalent of D&D's "divine" classes.

(Attention RIFTS-heads: I may be way off-base here; I haven't read every single sourcebook out there, not by a long shot.)

Certainly there have been books released that seem to offer a greater focus on the spiritual side of things: Spirit WestMystic Russia, the recent books on the Minion Wars that highlight the dimensions of Hades and Dyval. But, again, these seem to constitute a small amount of information compared to the reams of paper devoted to new gear, monsters, and political entities.

One thing that RIFTS (as far as I know) completely dances around is the state of pre-rifts "Western" religions in the post-rifts world. What became of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam? The books are strangely silent, in spite of the fact that it's established canon that vampires are still repelled by crucifixes. The reason for this is never given, as far as I know.

(Buddhism does get some treatment in RIFTS Japan, and, judging from the sub-titles of the two books, I imagine the RIFTS China volumes touch on Taoism and Confucianism. But, you know, those are "foreign" religions, so it's okay to talk about them, I guess?)

Now let's get back to AB: Miracles. This edge, along with the re-imagined Mystic archetype (now much more explicitly an extension of a Greater Power's will rather than simply an esoteric seeker of knowledge in the Dr. Strange mold), constitutes what is perhaps for the first time in the history of RIFTS a definitive statement on the cosmology of the world: gods and spirits not only exist, but faith in them grants power to the faithful.

Although this might have been an aspect of the setting all along, it is now pushed to the fore and made explicit, which in turn creates some interesting knock-on implications. Although we still don't get any information about the status of organized cults or religions in the world, the existence of capital-F Faith and its beneficiaries would imply that religion must be a powerful force in the world of RIFTS.

Here are some ideas I've had on how to reflect this fact. I'd love to hear more from the readership, if you care to share.

  • Pre-rifts religions probably still exist, but in a much more syncretic fashion. Some have whole-heartedly embraced the new reality of gods and demons, while others cling dogmatically to the old teachings and are every bit as intolerant and human-centric as the Coalition. Lots of room here for interesting post-apocalyptic evolution (the Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Rift) alongside sects that have managed to remain unchanged over the centuries thanks to their strong sense of insular community. The Fallout series' treatment of pre-apocalypse religions would be a good guide here, I think. 
    • (And yes, I realize this is a total minefield and understand why it gets played down in the official books. But hell, Deadlands has Faithful and it's set in a variant of our own 19th century, so there is precedent here for AB: Miracles working for real-world religions.)
    • Greater emphasis would be placed on direct experience with the numinous; priests/rabbis/imams/mullahs gain their station through their ability to demonstrate miracles to their flocks.
    • Perhaps vampires are repelled not by crucifixes but by the Faith of those who wield them? Thus, the crucifix (or any other proffered holy symbol) is merely a "Dumbo's magic feather" for the wielder? This could prove a nasty surprise for anyone without AB: Miracles who tries to repel a vampire with a holy symbol!
  • Speaking of the Fallout series and other such properties, there would of course be plenty of new cults and even whole religions based on resurgent worship of the Old Gods as well as other assorted ultra-powerful beings (dragon cults, cargo cults centered around advanced beings, cults devoted to worshipping a bioroid clone of Elvis, the Splugorth, etc.). Which of these would grant access to Miracles is something I'd largely leave up to players to determine for their own characters and otherwise develop on a case-by-case basis.
  • Interestingly, the core setting's biggest cult is the cult of personality surrounding Emperor Prosek. This leads to an interesting line of thought: does Prosek have a cadre of faithful templars who draw power from his eminence? If this is so, it puts a very interesting gloss on the AB: Miracles edge; since Prosek is not a psychic power beacon or godling or whatever, it would imply that the power of AB: Miracles comes from the faithful, and not the object of worship itself. In effect, it becomes an extremely powerful form of mind over matter. I'll have to think this through some more.
  • Regardless, I also see AB: Miracles as representing access to the spirit world. It's fair to say that the world of RIFTS is a fully animistic world, with spirits inhabiting and personifying trees, rocks, animals, mountains, rivers, etc., etc., in the old shamanistic tradition. A character taking AB: Miracles would have to state at the outset whether their power derived from this spirit world or from their faith in an outside power. This is mostly just a cosmetic trapping, but might have some concrete effects in play.
    • I think it's a reasonable assumption about the setting that the most widely-practiced form of spirituality is shamanic animism. With the great splintering of communication and loss of accumulated knowledge, organized faiths can only project their influence so far, whereas the spirit world is all around at all times, and thus easily accessed, acknowledged, and worshipped.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the clown show has been put on hiatus for retooling.

No sooner had I pronounced that I needed to find something to fill the gap until Pinnacle started releasing Savage Rifts PDFs, Pinnacle started releasing Savage Rifts PDFs.

I have to admit, I've learned to set my bar pretty low when it comes to anticipating releases in the wake of a Kickstarter. Pinnacle have not just cleared that bar, they've sailed high overhead.

This means my planned Thrilling Tales campaign is likely to go on the back burner after all. I'm going to take the weekend to read through the Tomorrow Legion Player's Guide and will be back next week with more RIFTSthoughts...

::steps into ley line and winkles out of existence::

Building a Campaign: Thrilling Tales

I've been lucky enough to be a member of two weekly gaming groups for the last few years. There's my Sunday group, which is face-to-face (and recorded and disseminated to the rest of the world...); then there's my Wednesday "group," which is an online affair and consists of me and my two close friends from high school--the guys with whom I originally got into this whole gaming thing.

Because of the smaller group size and our nearly quarter-century of personal history, the Wednesday group tends to be a bit more loose and informal than the Sunday group in terms of how we approach gaming. This is both good and bad. The good is that the bar is much lower than with my Sunday group, which makes Wednesdays more like a relaxed hang-out. The bad is that we tend to flit from system to system and campaign to campaign and tend not to go on epic runs like I do with my Sunday group.

Recently, we decided to conduct a little experiment in correcting this oft-frustrating tendency: rotating GM slots. For 16 weeks at a time, one person takes the helm to run games. Furthermore, they will run only one system. There may be multiple games contained within this four-month period--for example, two eight-week campaigns, or maybe a 12-week campaign and a couple one-shots--but they all have to use the same system. A TPK doesn't mean the end of the GM's tenure, either. You keep running until your time is up.

Our first iteration of this plan was with D&D 5e and it went really well. I got to be a player (a rare treat in and of itself) and we weathered three restarts successfully. (In the past, after the first iteration of Alex's game fell apart that would've meant it was time for someone else--i.e. me--to run something.) We ended up with an all-magic-user group, with me playing an emo Tiefling Warlock and Tim playing an amoral Human Necromancer. It was lots of fun, and recalled our anarchic high school games. We got up to about 3rd level before Alex's time ran out. When it's his turn again, we're planning to pick up the campaign again right where we left off, sort of like a new TV show's season premiere.

We timed things nicely so that Alex's turn as GM ended right before he headed off to the UK for a month-long vacation (how's that for luxury?), which left me, the next designated GM, to cogitate about what I'm going to run.

I know the system will be Savage Worlds. At first, I thought I'd be able to run Savage RIFTS right out of the gate, but with the expanded PDFs now not due to drop until mid-July, I figured I should run something else in the interim.

After exchanging some emails and talking about options prior to Alex's departure, I settled on Thrilling Tales. We're all big fans of the "pulp" genre (as it's understood in RPG circles, at least), and Thrilling Tales was actually the first Savage Worlds product I ever bought after picking up the core book.

Alex is particularly excited about playing Thrilling Tales, and so I asked him what sort of characters he's thinking about. Here's his reply:

I was leaning towards a Man of Mystery, Captain Satan-type character.  Either that or a Mesmerist (basically a pulp version of Phloyd [a Gnome Illusionist from an AD&D campaign I ran a couple years ago]).  Actually if Tim and I did a combo Man of Mystery + Mesmerist I think that would be pretty cool.  Doctor Karma and his crime-fighting associate Floyd the Unfathomable. 

So in other words, he wants to do low-powered pulp supers, which I can totally get behind. In Thrilling Tales terms, this falls under the "Crimefighting" genre framework.

Clearly, then, I'll need to develop a city in which to set our crimefighting adventures. In my next post, I'll outline the process of narrowing down the location and beginning the process of turning it into a pulp campaign location.

It's T-Shirt Season

(Here in the Northern Hemisphere at least.)

I know I said I was going to start posting about my upcoming Thrilling Tales campaign today, but I'm still mulling over some stuff and have decided to put things off to next week. In the meantime, please stay tuned for the following commercial message:

Spreadshirt inform me they are running a sale on t-shirts from the 15th to the 21st of this month. So if you've been holding off on buying a swanky Esoteric Order of Roleplayers t-shirt (or have been thinking about buying another one), put your orders in now and save 15 percent! Woo!

To claim your savings, just enter the discount code TSHIRT16 at checkout.

A Rifts Miscellany

With the recent preview of the Savage RIFTS tables of contents released to Kickstarter backers, we got our first glimpse of the structure of the GM's and player's books. The GM's Guide preview was particularly welcome; I had a pretty good general idea of what was in the Player's Guide, but up until now the GM's Guide had remained something of a mystery.

And let me just say that it was simultaneously surprising and gratifying to see such a big chunk of the book devoted to just the sort of thing I've been rambling about in recent posts: namely, the process of setting up a RIFTS campaign--something that RIFTS GMs have, in the past, largely been left to figure out on their own.

(I also appreciated the chapter headings for the book's first section, which nicely reflect the fact that RIFTS as well as all Palladium games are at their best, in my opinion, when they reflect a certain late-Cold-War aesthetic.)

At any rate, seeing that preview, combined with the fact that I've got the broad strokes filled in on my own version of North America and have a couple pretty exciting campaign frameworks in the hopper, convinced me to put any further prep work on hold until I've had a chance to read through the Savage RIFTS PDFs, which we'll hopefully be seeing in about a month or so.

Before I press the Pause button, though, a few final loose ends need tying up...


I'll be interested to see how Savage RIFTS addresses one of my personal setting bugbears, the Universal Credit system. Canonically, the economy in RIFTS revolves around a digitized money system called Universal Credits (not unlike futuristic Bitcoin, I suppose)--a fairly standard sci-fi trope, but one that's fairly ludicrous given the setting's other base assumptions. Universal Credits make sense for citizens of the Coalition and other major settlements like Tolkeen and Lazlo, but even then I imagine each would have its own "universal" system that wouldn't necessarily mesh with the other. There's a fine line between verisimilitude and ease of play, though, and I don't want to get too far down into the weeds with constructing a credible post-post-apocalyptic economy. All other things being equal, here's how I plan to address the cash economy in my campaigns:

  • "Credsticks" and Universal Credits are a privilege of citizenship for CS residents and tend to be found among the upper echelons of Lazlo and Tolkeen residents. Credsticks only work in outlets that are wired into a central grid, meaning that usually you're only going to be able to use them inside city limits and at military bases. Using a credstick from one state's grid to pay on another state's grid may cause issues--sometimes there is a 10-20 percent "conversion fee," while other times (say, rolling a 1 on 1d12 whenever a transaction is attempted) the system simply doesn't work at all. Credits can still be transferred directly between sticks, and there are brokers and pawn shops that will exchange credits for precious metals and gems for a 10 percent fee.
  • Speaking of precious items, outside of the cities the most common method of trade is, of course, bartering. The most valuable items are also the most useful: e-clips and other ammunition, canned food, potable water. After that come pre-rifts artifacts (which may be more valuable than even food or ammo to the right person). Then come metals and gems, including strange, heretofore-unknown minerals from other dimensions. An arbitrary "credit" value may be assigned to these items (or taken from the item's description, if it has a write-up), but ultimately the transaction comes down to an opposed Persuasion roll (modified appropriately for situational variables).
  • Finally, some areas have developed abstract cash economies of their own. The Pecos Empire, for example, does not use Universal Credits, but does have a cash economy based on bullets, with one 7.62mm round equalling one-tenth of a Universal Credit. These local economies will be fleshed out on an as-needed basis.


In my last Savage RIFTS post, I wondered about new hovercycles in the two Northern Gun books. Well, friends, I'm here to tell you that those books have got new hovercyles in spades. Particularly Northern Gun II, which gives us multiple new hovercycle designs and even a variety of "racer" armor for hovercycle jockeys! Lots of fun.

Having said all that, if I do end up going with my "Manistique Air Force" idea, I think I'll have my guys mounted in Sky Kings for the most part.

Rifts & Morty

Lastly, a bit of fluff.

If you're at all a RIFTS fan and you haven't checked out Rick & Morty, you really owe it to yourself to do so. The show does an amazing job of constructing a multiverse that's about as close to what you find in RIFTS as anything I've yet seen. Rick even uses a sort of portable "rift generator" which would make a pretty cool item in a RIFTS campaign.

There's no magic or psionics, per se, but there's plenty of super-science, weird tech, and alien monsters; the show is a never-ending source of D-bee inspiration. In fact, every time I watch the show I can't help but think about stuff to steal from Rick & Morty for my RIFTS games, starting with the dynamic between the titular characters themselves, which makes me think irresistibly of the dynamic between a Temporal Raider and his Temporal Warrior or Wizard disciple: a blend of contempt, cynical manipulation, gradual corruption, and maybe just a little bit of affection and loyalty.

Then there's Krombopulous Michael, a model for all Juicer assassins from now until the end of time...

So that's about it for now. Until Savage RIFTS drops, I'll be workshopping some ideas for a Thrilling Tales campaign that I'll be running this summer, starting with a new entry in the Digital Shoebox on Thursday. Until then!

How to Subscribe

Soon after I launched this blog, I had a couple readers of my old blog ask how they could subscribe to this one.

As much as I'm enjoying this new blogging platform, I will admit that it doesn't make subscriptions very intuitive. But it's easier than it first appears.

According to the admin FAQ, there should be an RSS feed embedded automatically in this blog's URL ( Simply copy that URL and paste it into your reader of choice. Here are a couple examples:

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If, for whatever reason, the blog's URL isn't working with your reader of choice, you can always try pasting in the RSS feed directly:


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Thanks for reading--and thanks for following!

[Savage RIFTS] Musings on North America, Pt. II

After tackling the Big Three last week, I'd intended to write a few words each on the other major polities of North America for this week's entry. But, as I reviewed the 1990 rulebook as well as a couple other sourcebooks, I realized that I'm mostly content at this point to leave things for now largely as they are described in the books.

This doesn't mean I won't be changing elements down the road, or fleshing out some other areas myself. But, unlike with the states in last week's entry, there's nothing left that I want to make drastic thematic or material changes to; modifications to a given area will likely emerge through play, and only as needed. I don't want to get into the weeds of re-inventing the proverbial wheel just for the sake of saying I did it.

Instead, what I've been thinking about is which part of North America to set my inaugural Savage RIFTS campaign in, along with themes or plot structures that I want to explore. Here's my short list:

  • My go-to (and still most likely candidate for first campaign) is something set around the fringes between the Coalition state of Lone Star, the Pecos Empire, and the Vampire Kingdoms. Specific frameworks might include mutant animal refugees from the Lone Star complex, piracy on the Gulf of Mexico, city-rat action in Juarez, exploring pre-rifts ruins in New Mexico (specifically the old government bases/labs at White Sands, Sandia, Los Alamos, and Dulce), or community-building/homesteading in the forests of east Texas.
    • A "proper" vampire-hunting campaign, either based out of Arzno (and with a professional vampire-hunter vibe), or more picaresque "monster of the week" style, ranging between El Paso and Monterrey initially. (Dare I use "Mr. Drak's Traveling Circus" as the tentpole framework for the latter?)
  • A "north country" campaign centered on the Manistique Imperium and ranging between Tolkeen and Lazlo. Player-characters could be mercenaries in the classic mold, arms dealers, wizards, or diplomats. This could be your classic "mercs and mages" framework, but could also easily accommodate political intrigue and alliance-building, corporate or sorcerous espionage, smuggling, etc.
    • A variation on this framework would be a Top Gun homage, with the PCs serving as hot-shot members of the Imperium's air force flying patrols over the lakes and along the borders of Xiticix territory. There'd be a lot of emphasis on intra-organizational rivalries (and homoerotic sexual tension) between the quaffed aces wearing leather jackets and aviator shades, mixed up with bug hunts against the, well, Bugs and tense standoffs with Coalition Sky Cycle patrols. I'd have to get the Northern Gun sourcebooks to find the right sort of aircraft to place with our 'jocks--aside from the venerable Sky King, do the NG books feature a Sky Cycle knockoff?
  • I picked up Dinosaur Swamp recently and was really taken with the opportunities presented in the write-up on the ruins of Atlanta. I particularly liked the Elytherian Atlantean faction, and now kind of want to run a Splugorth-facing, all-Atlantean freedom-fighter/insurgent campaign centered on Atlanta and the southeast.
  • Lastly, I would absolutely love to run something in Paul V.'s North Cascades Combine. He did a fantastic job of taking a blank section of the map and turning it into an interesting little corner of the RIFTS world. Lots of fun factions, including mutant beavers, sasquatch, feudalistic city-states, and weirdo aliens. I'm reserving this one for a nice "change of pace" outing after running some stuff in the "classic" regions of North America.

I'd love to hear about other folks' ideas for North American campaign frameworks, if you care to share. After all, one can never have too many ideas!

[Call of Cthulhu] Jacob Ruppert

It's time for another installment of Digital Shoebox, the series where I post a complete, usable character, both for my own archives and so that you, dear reader, might take it and make of it what you will.

Past entries have featured characters intended for use by players, but this week's entry is presented instead as a resource for game masters. Specifically Keepers, as we venture into the realms of Call of Cthulhu with a most unusual potential patron...

Our man is Jacob Ruppert, the real-life owner of the New York Yankees from 1915 to 1939. (Technically, he was co-owner of the team from 1915 to 1922 with the intriguingly-named Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston.) 

Baseball aficionados will know that Ruppert is one of the most significant owners in the game's professional history, taking a marginal also-ran team and building it into an unstoppable franchise, inaugurating a tradition of excellence that continues to this day. It was Ruppert who acquired Babe Ruth for the team, who built Yankees Stadium, who oversaw the developments of the "Murderer's Row" and "Bronx Bombers" lineups.

What people may not be aware of are Ruppert's singular personal eccentricities.

Born in 1867, Ruppert was the grandson of German immigrants. In spite of the fact that he was raised in New York City, Ruppert spoke with a thick German accent his entire life. (It is often remarked that pronounced Babe Ruth's name as "Root," for example--he addressed everyone by their last names.) His father ran the massive Ruppert Brewery, located in Manhattan's Upper East Side and sprawling over three city blocks, from which Ruppert inherited his millions. He served in the National Guard, eventually rising to the rank of Colonel, and was elected by the Tammany Hall machine as a Democratic Congressman for four terms (1899-1907), but otherwise devoted his life to beer and baseball.

A great collector of ephemera and exotica, the unmarried Ruppert filled his massive mansion with books and art, particularly jade carvings, as well as animals: dogs, horses, and what was called "America's finest collection of small monkeys," in the words of Harvey Frommer.

Ruppert maintained a second home, a 400-acre estate, in Garrison, New York (on the Hudson across from West Point). Within the stony walls of that stately home, Ruppert set up a room--a shrine, really--devoted to his dear, departed Mutti, Anna, after she died in 1924. The room was kept stocked with everything Anna Ruppert would need in the event she came back to life.

So there's that.

Also of note is Ruppert's deep interest in exploration. He helped bankroll Richard Byrd's 1933 Antarctic expedition, providing one of the steamships (modestly christened the Jacob Ruppert) that took the expedition to the chilly shores of that icy continent.

Ruppert has obvious utility as a patron for player-characters interested in expeditions to foreign lands; in particular, he will be interested in acquiring rare and valuable jade relics. He may be inserted as a direct or associated sponsor for any published campaign expedition (including the infamous Carlisle Expedition), or as an interested party.

Then there is the matter of his maternal shrine in Garrison. What books sit lowering in the darker recesses of Ruppert's library? Perhaps works on necromancy and re-animation of the dead? Or is the shrine merely the sign of a lonely man isolated by his wealth and perennial bachelorhood? Ruppert could equally make for an unlikely sorcerous villain for New York-based campaigns or a fun, innocently eccentric red herring for any baseball fans in your group.

And, lastly, just what on Earth did Ruppert need all those small monkeys for?


JACOB RUPPERT, Eccentric Millionaire

STR 55 CON 60 SIZ 75 DEX 40 INT 85
APP 40 POW 80 EDU 73 SAN 80* HP 13

* Lower if Ruppert is indeed a sorcerer.

Damage bonus +1D4 Build 1 Move 4

Fighting (Brawl) 45%, damage 1D3+1D4
Firearms (Rifle/Shotgun) 60%
Firearms (Handgun) 50%
Dodge 40%
Armor: None.

Skills: Accounting 65%, Animal Handling 40%, Appraise 50%, Archaeology 20%, Credit Rating 95%, Fast Talk 25%, History 30%, Intimidate 35%, Language (English) 35%, Language (German) 70%, Law 30%, Library Use 30%, Mechanical Repair 20%, Natural World 35%, Occult 25%, Persuade 80%, Psychology 55%, Ride 40%, Spot Hidden 50%.

  • Keepers who so wish could make room on Ruppert's library shelves for one or two books of Mythos or occult lore. Suitable choices include The Emerald TabletThe Golden Bough, The Key of SolomonMalleus MaleficarumThaumaturgical Prodigies in the New-England CanonTrue Magick, and Unaussprechlichen Kulten.
  • If Ruppert is a necromancer, he should also own a copy of Cultes des Goules, although he will not keep it in a publicly-accessible place. He will also be limited by his lack of proficiency with the French language. Presumably, the book sits near a French-German or French-English dictionary and a dog-eared notebook. Keepers should feel free to give him as many or as few spells from that dark tome as they feel is reasonable for his years of diligent translation.