Friday, September 26, 2014

Let Me Tell You About My Character's Mom (Sort Of)

I've been busier than usual at work this week, and had kind of a dud session of D&D on Sunday, so I haven't had much time to think up a topic for a blog post.

So, um... maybe you're wondering what one of the characters mentioned in this post looks like. Well, wonder no more:

Artha Parkinson by K-Bonifield

This is Artha Parkinson (née Serris), a tough-as-nails woman who happens to be a powerful psychic (and also happens to be my Rifts PC's mother), drawn by my good friend Kent Bonifield (who happens to be the GM of our Rifts campaign). He nailed it. I love the strange mashup of "fantasy world" and "high fashion" that Artha is rocking -- particularly the purse.

I imagine that requesting artwork of your character's mom has to be pretty high up on the "RPG mental illness warning signs" list, but to hell with it. You can't argue with the results.

So yeah, no real gaming content for you, once again! Next week's will be a meatier post, I swear.

Friday, September 19, 2014

More Mercenary Teams

We Are Mercenary by madspartan013
Here, have some more (mostly antagonistic) mercenary teams for Rifts. Many of these are a bit tongue-in-cheek, which I suppose might not work for some people. I had a little help from people in my Google+ circles in coming up with several of these. Some were heavily reworked by me, but I've given credit where it's due, regardless.

Wild Hurricane. In many ways a typical Juicer mercenary company, Wild Hurricane are worthy of mention due to their membership (over 130 members at last count) as well as their reputation as completely amoral adrenaline junkies. Wild Hurricane have no qualms about accepting virtually any job from any employer, as long as they are allowed to execute it in their trademarked fashion (which typically involves flying in on jetbikes equipped with colored smoke exhaust, blasting pre-Rifts stadium rock and jock jams at maximum volume). All members use outlandish monikers like "Duke Raiden", "Blacules", "Velocity Maxx", "Slam Atoms", etcetera (exemplified by the current leader of the organization, "Chief Administrator Golgo Superior") and tend to wear brightly patterned workout clothing. Now based in Puerto Rico, the Wild Hurricane organization's membership is constantly shifting, thanks to combat casualties and Last Call, but they have surprisingly consistent success in attracting new recruits. Company legends say that Wild Hurricane's founder was once a member of a rival Juicer outfit called Happy Jo's Funtime Adventure Club, who supposedly "doctored their prescription" to create a more relaxed, "blissed-out" state of awareness -- something that is seen as an abomination by Wild Hurricane. (It has been speculated that Wild Hurricane uses a similarly variant combat drug cocktail or injection rig that produces tenser, more violent Juicers.) It is unclear whether the Funtime Adventure Club ever actually existed, but mercenaries in southern North America sometimes speak of a strange group of Juicers that traveled in a rainbow-colored APC called "the Bus". Wild Hurricane members are known to deride those deemed "not extreme enough", including more well-adjusted Juicers or those that detox before Last Call, as "Happy Jos" or "Funtimers". (Some example Wild Hurricane member names by Cole Long and John Carr. Happy Jo's Funtime Adventure Club concept by Benjamin Baugh.)

The Great Volunteers are a highly professional and competent group of soldiers of fortune that operates primarily in the Magic Zone and its surrounding regions. They were so named by their benefactors because they arrive unexpectedly and volunteer their services to anyone who requires them, particularly if they are having some form of conflict or disagreement with the expansive forces of the Coalition States. The Great Volunteers' commander, Dana Roskos, assures the prospective client that a long-term payment plan can be arranged afterwards. If the clients decline -- which they often will, if they are familiar with the company's reputation -- the mercenaries simply leave. If they accept, the Volunteers engage (and drive off) the enemy, then exact their payment under threat of force. The Great Volunteers are backed by the sorcerers of the Federation of Magic, and their masters expect to be paid in human slaves (who are usually later sacrificed in their black rites). The mercenaries return repeatedly, over a period of many years, to collect their dues. The majority of the rank and file of the Great Volunteers do not necessarily relish this duty, but much like their sworn Coalition enemies, they are hardened soldiers who regard their activities as a necessary evil. (Concept by me.)

Providence Express Protection is a mercenary company led by a clairvoyant psychic known only as "Melgren", who directs his compatriots to pre-emptively eliminate major threats he detects with his precognitive abilities. His predictions are almost never incorrect, but the issue of securing payment for PEP's services is often a sticky one. Fortunately, none of them are above extorting their fee from those they insist that they saved from a terrible fate. (Concept by Cole Long.)

Pascal's Rascals. A wildly unpredictable, but mostly heroic mercenary team that debuted recently, Pascal's Rascals have met with a rate of success disproportionate to their small size (five members), poor equipment and unorthodox fees. Many of their clients suspect that something strange is going on with Pascal and his compatriots, though none have yet realized that they are, in fact, a clutch of hatchling Thunder Lizard dragons that have taken up the mercenary life (and human form) as a lark. (Concept by me.)

The Scabs are a fairly large and well-equipped mercenary team that has a wide operating range covering much of North America. "The Scabs" is, obviously, not the official name of the company -- they have been known to operate under many names, including Axon Syndicated, Elegant Assistance LLC, Kotter's Marauders, and Falcon Standard -- but they are known as such by their peers in the mercenary business. Scab troops move into a known conflict hotspot, find the most vulnerable settlements, and then undercut the prices of whatever companies are currently in operation there, driving them out forcibly if necessary. The Scabs then gradually raise prices to exorbitant rates. When the communities that employ them are unable to afford the Scabs' services any longer, the mercenaries typically ransack them, usually leaving them to the mercy of whatever it was that threatened them in the first place. The natures of the Scabs' operations prevent the formation of a strict chain of command, but a Manistique woman named Camilla Gold is believed to ultimately be in charge, and likely in league with some arm of one or another of the Black Market criminal organizations. (Loosely based on a concept by Benjamin Baugh.)

Zach & Suns are a group of vampire hunters active in the upper parts of the Southwest that are gaining notoriety for the flashy, sun-emblazoned, full-environmental golden body armor they always wear, and for their tireless crusade against the wild vampires that prey upon the rural communities of the region. "Father Zach", the group's leader, is secretly a master vampire named Armand Zacharias, who claims to have walked the Earth since before the coming of the Rifts. The other members are his secondary vampire "children", and the wild vampires they create are the predators they hunt down and "rescue" their clients from (though they rarely actually destroy them). Every community Zach & Suns "aids", regrettably, loses several members to the vampire attacks, and yet the mercenary company's ranks continue to slowly grow... (Based on concepts by Chris F. and Benjamin Baugh.)

Captain Jack's Daisies. Jacinta Hayson -- the "Jack" mentioned in the outfit's name -- is a rough-looking, tobacco-chewing, horse-riding, no-nonsense woman who looks every bit a part of the real Old West. She could not be more different from the dandily dressed, robo-steed-riding group of men that make up the rest of her group. Despite her employees' appearance, Jack's company is well-known for their skill, resilience, and professionalism. Their focus is on bodyguarding and long-range protection, expertly escorting clients across the entirety of the North American continent. "Famous last stands a specialty." (Concept by Matthew Adams.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rifts Misadventures: Session 6

That cape from the ending scene... by kawacy
Our third session using Fate to run Rifts was a relatively short one, though you might not be able to tell from reading this recap. Our GM hadn't had much time to prepare, and so we ended up spending a decent chunk of the session just catching up and shooting the breeze. Good times either way.

The Roster (with Fate "high concept" aspects, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis SolsticeRadiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Max ParkinsonRunaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie CainAmazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Session Recap
The inhabitants of Red Moon Water Village flee in the face of an aerial assault, with our heroes bravely bringing up the rear, protecting them from the neuron beast's minions. Several valiant (but hopelessly outgunned) warriors from the village attempt to engage the enemy, but Max and Arisis convince them that while their valor is admirable, their people would be better served if they ensured that they reached the cave alive. As they make a run for it, Valerie draws the fire of the flying bandits, nimbly dodging their attacks, but the group faces several challenges from the ground.

Max finds himself under mental assault from a slimy, serpentine psychic presence. He wards off the attack, but nearly stumbles and falls in the process. Arisis helps him to recover, but an elite squad of soldiers loyal to the neuron beast -- including an earth Warlock, a super-powered merc with gravity-manipulating abilities (presumably from the Heroes Unlimited reality), a supernaturally strong D-Bee, and a flower-sniffing bishounen samurai (!!) -- attempt to stop Arisis in her tracks. Briefly, it seems as though they will succeed, as the super-merc traps Arisis in a gravity well while his allies rush in to finish her off. But the titan knight draws on her memories of her father, the legendary Atlas (in Fate terms, invoking her Weight of the World aspect) and shrugs off the attack, knocking the boulder the Warlock magically hurls at her into the super-merc with an uprooted tree she wrests from the D-Bee's grasp. The samurai attempts to trip her up with his sword, but Arisis is unaffected, and soon sends the group scattering into the jungle.

As our heroes near the cave, Max notices that a hill they are passing is, in fact, alive -- a rocky, plant-covered beast that is preparing to pounce on the fleeing villagers. The young Mystic overpowers the creature's will before it can act, commanding it to sleep, and soon he, his friends, and the inhabitants of Red Moon Water Village are inside the cave tunnels, safe for the time being.

The village's shaman, Osorio, leads them to the communications array he had earlier spoken of -- in reality, little more than a ham radio set up in a grotto with a vertical "chimney" fissure that opens to the sky, with a tall, makeshift antenna reaching all the way to the surface opening. A neo-Taíno operator starts to activate the equipment. Valerie, mentally exhausted from the bandits' attack and frantic chase, seems to "check out" for a moment as she takes in the cool, lush splendor of the cavern. Max notices that she seems distracted and gently reminds her (in a Zen koan sort of way) to stay on her toes. He lets his own guard down in the process, though Arisis spots the shadow-caster Max faced back at Red Moon Water Village, partially cloaked by a Chameleon spell and calmly walking down the passage as if its surface were horizontal.

Arisis alerts her allies and leaps upward, delivering a glancing blow to the mage with the Sword of Baragor. Max, still in his techno-wizardry-powered armor, summons his Psi-Sword and soars up the shaft. As Max flies past his opponent, he lances him with his Psi-Sword, wounding the shadow mage, but not badly enough to stop him from slicing the radio antenna with his own dark energy blade. The radio operator cries out that he has lost power, but Max reassures the neo-Taínos, saying that he has other ways of contacting Havana. Arisis, who has been leap-climbing back up the tunnel, now tries to grapple the enemy spellcaster, but finds herself tackling a straw effigy instead. The mage has escaped, again.

Having discovered the opening, the neuron beast's air forces initiate another attack. Val tears out of the cavern on her Cyclone in motorcycle mode, zipping past the walkers and picking off the weaker, less heavily armored soldiers. Max finds a corner of the cavern and begins to enter a meditative trance, guarded by the vigilant Arisis. The young Mystic projects his consciousness into the astral plane, and Arisis uses her own psychic sensitivity to accompany him, as do the warrior villagers the pair had reassured earlier.

With the tribesmen and the titan piggybacking on his jaunt, Max's astral form swoops out of the cavern and high into the sky, a thin silver cord connecting him back to his unconscious body. As an artifact of techno-wizardry, Max's armor is still usable in the astral plane. From his vantage point, Max sees several of the jury-rigged walker mecha similar to the one he and his friends fought at the village, as well as the astral forms of the neuron thrall Arisis had bested earlier and the demon-serpent that had psychically assaulted Max on the way to the cave.

Max telepathically contacts Valerie, warning her of the incoming mecha. He also relays the locations of the neuron thrall and demon's physical forms, since they too are bound to their bodies by astral silver cords. Seeing that the serpent-thing is preparing to lunge at Max from below, Arisis slashes at its slithering tentacles with her Psi-Sword, but does not dissuade the demonic creature from attacking. Its tendrils lash out at Max, intent on violating his psyche, but they are blocked by Max's mental shielding. The neuron thrall moves to intercept the Mystic, but bolstered by the psychic presence of Arisis and the neo-Taíno warriors, Max blasts it with bolts of astral fire, destroying its silver cord and sending its consciousness hurtling into the sky, out of control.

Valerie reaches the slime-encased body of the serpent demon, but before she can slay it with the vibro-blades of her mecha, Max uses the psychic capabilities of his armor to encase the demon's astral self in a crystalline shell, which he then shatters with the force of his will. The demon's soul, or whatever black thing serves as one in its place, is obliterated, and the foul being is slain.

 Arisis' mind returns to the physical world as Max's astral form speeds toward Havana at the speed of sound. She and Valerie defend the cavern while Max contacts Governor Milan's shaman, informing him of the attack on the village and requesting Havanan aid. The young mystic's consciousness returns to his body, and along with the scout Calvo and a ghostly cadre of fallen Cubano warriors from throughout history (summoned by the shaman Osorio), the group manages to hold off the neuron beast's forces until Milan's reinforcements arrive two hours later. Eventually, the attackers are defeated when Havanan forces -- a mix of conventional troops and techno-wizards in flying machines -- join our heroes and drive off the enemy.

The Havanan troops escort the neo-Taínos back to Red Moon Water Village, set up camp, and recover the power armor that had been stolen from La Fantasma. Though Osorio offers his sincere thanks to the team for rescuing his people, our battle-worn heroes realize that his village is now effectively under the control of Governor Milan, and Max silently wonders if he and his friends have been manipulated.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Down, Down to 5E Town

Although my last attempt at running Dungeons & Dragons was ultimately unsatisfying, I can't stay away from D&D for long. I've picked up every official edition of the game since the arrival of AD&D 2nd Edition, and the latest iteration is no exception. One of the two local gaming groups I play with, being well-acquainted with my love-hate relationship with D&D, started to bug me about running it as soon as the 5E Starter Set was released, and I quickly caved to their demands. Although the angst of the defunct Demon Verge campaign that I ran via Google Hangouts still weighed heavily on me, I comforted myself knowing that I was only committed to running an introductory scenario, after which a rotating cast of friends would be occupying the Dungeon Master's chair, with the option for me to return if I wished.

I ended up purchasing the Starter Set because it was ridiculously cheap, despite being leery of running a published module. After all, the Demon Verge campaign had taught me that modules and I aren't always the best of friends. Besides, what I had heard about the introductory adventure, which bore the unpromising title of Lost Mine of Phandelver, didn't exactly set me on fire: it sounded like the standard "small town in trouble / goblins in the caves" setup. As much as I like D&D, I've been down, down to goblin town more times than I care to admit. As it turned out, that description does apply to Lost Mine in practically every meaningful way. It also turned out not to matter, because I and my players had a great deal of fun playing our first session of D&D 5E with it last weekend.

The Good:

  • Combat moves fairly quickly again. I found 3E combat very slow, and 4E combat murderously, unbearably slow, so this is a huge improvement.
  • I like the advantage/disadvantage mechanics, supposed mathematical problems be damned. Likewise the proficiency bonus stuff, which I think is really slick, elegant design.
  • I like traits, bonds, and flaws, and handing out inspiration for showing them off in play. My recent experience with games like Fate Core has given me an appreciation for touchy-feely mechanics that reward people for playing in character even when it's not tactically sound.
  • Backgrounds are fun, even when multiple players take the same one. (There are no less than three nobles in the PC party.)
  • Speaking of which, nearly all of the player characters seem to be at least a little shady, if not downright smarmy. This makes a boilerplate scenario like Lost Mine much more interesting. I'm usually very much in favor of shiny heroic characters in fantasy stuff, but I love that many of these heroes also happen to be jerks.


The Stuff I'm Not So Sure About:

  • Characters still felt fairly fragile despite their inflated HP totals, but I'm not sure if this version is lethal enough for me. It seems like it's relatively easy for characters to be knocked out of a fight, but unlikely that they will die. They're probably not as unkillable as 4E ones, in my experience, but I'm used to death coming a bit more easily in D&D.
  • In 5E, if you can cast spells, you've almost definitely got a magic zap attack power that never runs out. I didn't find these "zonks", as one friend called them, to be overly powerful, but the image of magicians tearing into enemies with at-will magic beam attacks all day, every day has never really sat well with me. It's purely a matter of personal taste; I'm well aware that being the zapper is what many people expect out of spellcasters. I'm probably just out of touch on this.

So, when you total it all up, I'm pretty happy with the way things are going with this game. Honestly, any session in which I get an opportunity to act out a speak with animals spell cast on a couple of hungry, semi-tamed wolves is going to be a good time for me. For the first time in a while, I felt like I had as much (or more) fun than the players did, and I am legitimately looking forward to running the next session.