Archive for June, 2008

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5 Blades of Bahamut: Airships

June 28, 2008

The Look

Airships are large, generally boxy with sleek edges added. I’m thinking along the lines of Panzer Dragoon, without getting stupid massive- instead, probably about the sizes of real world boats.

Airship Technology

It’s said that airships were given to humanity by the Goddess Avandra and that the first 12, the Zodiac ships, were crafted by her hands directly.

At the heart of each airship is a piece of a fallen star, which gives it the power of flight. The wind is channelled through a series of pipes to the fragment (the “core”) which produces tones and songs which remind it of the sky it once called home. Longing for home, it rises and sings in return.

Once awakened thus, a fallen star piece cannot ever rest again, and airships are incapable of dropping below 50 feet height, unless the core is breached – the star piece bursts forth, a bright light shooting to the sky… while the airship comes crashing to the ground. Never a good thing!

Air Trade

Airships are the heart of human civilization. They allow the various settlements to trade specialized exports, without taking the dangerous journeys of traveling by land. Around the world, one can find several sky temples to Avandra- tall temples with sky docks built in for the airships to land, and deliver or receive cargo.

Each temple becomes a lifeline for the area around it. Well placed junctures along air routes and towns with rare or valuable exports do well and are visited often, while some areas might have a ramshackle sky dock of rotting lumber that receives a ship once or twice a year.

Most trade is locked in by the various nobles and their clans. They often have long standing and complex treaties and agreements which span generations giving them sole rights to trade at certain places or with certain cargos. The clans typically have a clan house at each major trade port and also have built long standing reputations for their methods and styles of shipping- (“The Mandar use special cellar ships – some even swear the wine tastes better after shipping!”)

The secondary trade of smaller cargos, less valuable, or for new businesses is taken up by the Guilds. Lacking the old money or the advantage of monopolizing the best trade deals, the Guilds are unable to match the Clans in ships or speed. Just the same, they make good business on smaller deals and charge less. Smaller businesses and people who can afford to travel utilize the Guilds to do so.

At the bottom of the air trade is the sole proprietorships of individuals or families who have but a single ship to their name. Their ships are small, often run down, and they usually specialize in flying along a single route or small area. They take catch-as-can jobs and hope to scrape up enough money to get a second airship.

Crew

Airships require a bare minimum of 4 crew members.

The Navigator charts the route and also keeps her eyes out for immediate concerns- including other airships. The Navigator often will call out small adjustments or corrections to the Propulsionist or the Wing Engineer to assure a safe flight. The Navigator is second only to the Captain.

The Propulsionist controls the windpipes which controls the core. This often appears as a classic organ style instrument, though older airships sport sets of levers and similarly crude instrumentation. The Propulsionist causes the airship to rise, sink, speed up or slow down. The core can “get tired”, and expert players are able to get more out of it through a combination of good music and careful husbandry.

The Wing Engineer controls the actual turning of the ship by controlling the various wings and rudders that direct the ship. The Wing Engineer may also assist the ascent or descent of the ship, as well as braking through these means. The Wing Engineer’s controls are a series of levers and chains which must be pulled and locked into position constantly, leading to some rather burly crewmembers.

And finally, the Captain. The Captain’s role is the same as that of a naval vessel- to make decisions for the ship as a whole and supervise the crew. The Captain often is also the person making strategic decisions about which routes to take, how much cargo to buy/sell, when and where rest is needed, and whether to brave a storm or lay low amongst the trees and wait it out.

Though, obviously, even the smallest ship usually has a dozen crew at least. The biggest need is for extra hands to load/unload cargo, do small maintainence or as relief to the primary bridge crew.

Getting a ship of your own

Buying an airship is tough. New ships are rare as few folks are able to find fallen stars and brave the wild to get there and back. Such finds are worth a lot of money, and mostly get sold to Clans who can afford to pay the highest for new fallen stars. Old ships are rarely sold- even beatup ones represent income which could span generations. Typically an old ship is only sold when some family decides to settle down for some extremely profitable business or someone is in deep, deep debts.

More commonly, old ships are sold when they’re stolen.

Piracy and air warfare

Piracy isn’t as common as one might think. It’s a high risk affair, and often you can make more money just grinding out trade.

But there’s always folks who either are that desperate or that daring. Guilds which have been driven out of business, or a couple of smaller dispossessed clans might choose instead to turn to piracy. The problem is you really need an airship to attack others to begin with.

The towns that see the most trade are often the best protected. Some pirates raid only the outlying areas, which almost always is a threadbare existence to begin with. More pirates, instead, aim to take the cargo and ships of other airships, which pays much better. Such pirates often thrive near borders between nations, as they do best pirating in one and selling in the other. When they capture a ship, they sell it quickly and often cheaply, usually to some family that desperately wants to get into the airtrade. Ironically, it is these same small, unexperienced families in rinky-dink ships that make the best targets for pirates.

Such piracy continues to exist if only because the smallest Guilds and sole proprietors are targeted- those with enough power to wipe it out aren’t effected enough to care, and actually, it works in their favor as it keeps the bottom competition from climbing up.

Airships are not equipped with proper weapons for air to air combat. Generally speaking, any ranged fighting is a matter of crossbows, though it is ultimately a matter of boarding. Pirates will use grapples and ropes, though better equipped ones will use bamboo hang gliders to move from one ship to another. The only “weapon” most ships are equipped with is a battering ram, though that is usually a foolhardy choice- it’s dangerous, and only the most desperate want to take the chance of destroying something as valuable as an airship.

Instead, what most people do is attempt to sideswipe another ship or force it into trees, tall obstacles or other wise damage the wings and rudders- which limit manueverability as well as slow the ship down. So crippled, you can either fly away to safety or after subduing the crew, tow it back as spoils of war.

Rules stuff

Skills

There are 4 new skills: Navigation (INT), Propulsionist (CHA), Wing Engineer (CON), and Captain (WIS). Each PC starts with 2 of these as trained, on top of whatever their normal skill selection is. (This is assuming that the party will generally be flying around in an airship).

Speed

Airships fly no faster than dragons, for the simple reason that airships vs. dragon fights are awesome.

Falling… to your DOOM!

As per normal rules, folks get save to avoid going over.

Player characters who fail? They fall off and either catch on to some protrusion half way down the ship or fall into something which does not kill them (choose depending on what works for your scene and situation). Unrealistic? Sure, but I want players to have fun on airships at the Heroic Tier. Fearing -insta-death is not fun.

NPCs who fail can get one more save to catch on something on the side or bottom of the airship. Give this save only to NPCs who you think would make fun recurring characters. Otherwise, they fall to their doom.

Hang Gliders

Players can opt to use Acrobatics or Athletics (their choice) to operate Hang Gliders. Acrobatics is mostly used for fancy manuevers, dodging things, or skirting between obstacles. Athletics is mostly used for fighting strong winds or bad weather, flying in straight lines, or endurance flights. Using the “wrong skill” is a -2 penalty.

Attempting to bull rush someone while landing receives a +5 bonus. Attempting to drop kick as part of a landing, or let go of the glider and let it crash into someone should be treated as a stunt combat action, probably with light limited damage.

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The title alone told me so.

June 26, 2008

This is why gamers aren’t allowed to talk about race.

Now sure, the thread starts talking about history and culture. But of course, it’s really interesting how quickly people are willing to jump in and offer definitions of things which maybe they know, maybe they don’t know about.

Ultimately, though, such discussions demand a willingness to look at the greater context- and you quickly hit BINGO, since, you know, the typical gamer fandom SOP is to shift whose voices and statements get to “count” based on the listener’s discomfort.

Or, “Whether it hurts you or not as a human being is less important than me getting my squee.”

Additionally:

Leave it to rpg.net, to give you more. D&D’s issues of race to alignment have always been troublesome, though, it’s not an accident that image representation also springs up in this thread, though it’s clear no real dialogue will come of it.

Sadly, I doubt we could expect any better from a discussion in the L5R circles or Glorantha, despite each group’s “focus” on culture.

Enworld joins the game…

Sigh.

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Sky Doll

June 26, 2008

This has been one of the best surprise finds for me in the last couple of months.  Sky Doll is a space opera comic written and drawn by Barbara Canepa and Alessandro Barbucci, originally from Soleil, a French publisher, translated and brought over by… Marvel?!?

At first glance, you might infer from the cartoony art that it’s going to be simply a silly comic with lots of cheesecake.  After all, the title, “Sky Doll” refers to sex androids.  But then it veers sharply from the played out land of Heavy Metal adolescent fantasy and drops straight into some neat stuff regarding religion and gender.

First, the two major protagonists- Popess Lodovique and Skydoll Noa, are just that- protagonists.

Lodovique is a woman with ambition, and kinda hardcore- she’s seeking to completely control the galaxy by spreading her religion.  She’s also sexually assertive- she basically has all the traits that are normally praised in male protagonists.  I’m loving her as a character and hoping they don’t “punish” her for being a female character with too much power, like so many stories do.

Noa breaks out of the expectations you’d have for a comic book character who is a sex android-  she avoids both the nympho or the abused sex worker archetypes, and instead is an assertive protagonist trying to find her own identity – and ends up on a spiritual quest!  She doesn’t exist secondary to the male characters, and it is they, instead, who are the supporting cast to her journey

Add in some really appealing artwork reminscient of animation, and some cracktastic bits, and I’m pretty much in love.  So far I’ve read 2 of the 3 issues, and I’m just hoping the last issue continues rocking and doesn’t screw it up.

(Also, reading the comic and thinking of the various motivations of the characters?  It’s really like a sci-fi version of In a Wicked Age.  I’m loving it.)

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Five Blades of Bahamut: Quest Seeds

June 26, 2008

Major Quest Seeds

Quest Seeds are basically example ideas for cool and nifty quests for players to take. It’s some good examples for my friends who get stuck for ideas and/or haven’t played a lot of games with flag mechanics. Plus it gives me a chance to give a little more detail and ideas for my setting. (You may want to tailor them to your setting as appropriate).

Wayward Skies

Someone close to you, perhaps a sibling, perhaps a lover, has become an air pirate. Why did they give up their place in society? Were they driven out? Your quest is to get them out of this dangerous occupation, one way or another.

No Child of Mine!

Your family has expectations of who you were supposed to be. Maybe you were supposed to marry someone, maybe you were to a wizard like your brother, but you couldn’t cut it. You chose a different path, for whatever reason. Your quest is to either earn their respect despite their expectations, or to prove to yourself and the world that your path is just as legitimate and what they think doesn’t matter.

Soulbound

Someone close to you committed to a soul contract with one of the clerics of Asmodeus. And now they can’t fulfill the contract- but you can. By taking up the contract, both of your souls are at stake, but what else can you do? You love them. Your quest is to fulfill the obligations of the contract and save both of your souls.

Star-crossed Lovers

The one you love is kept from you due to social expectations. Maybe you’re both supposed to marry others, or maybe there’s disapproval by one or both families. Your quest is to create a situation where you can live together without conflict from without. (What’s considered unacceptable in the setting? Mostly class differences, folks from different cultures/ethnicities/species, hetero relations with married folks that you’re not married to, and large age differences. Homosexual relations are a-ok as long as they don’t get in the way of hetero marriages and heirs being produced.)

Disgraced!

You’ve been disowned by your family for a crime or misdeed you committed (or at least everyone thinks you did). They think you are dead or exiled. Or maybe they just found out that you’re working for the Queen now, and they’re hoping to find some quiet way of having you removed. Your quest is either to clear your name, redeem yourself, or at least take power over your clan.

Dispossessed

They took your family’s lands. Maybe it was during the corrupt reign of the last Queen. Maybe it was through trickery and guile or at least political manuevering with Queen Rajani. Maybe they destroyed your family’s name, or had most of them killed or imprisoned. You see the lands now, and cannot forget their crime. Your quest is that you will make them pay, and get back everything that belongs to you and yours.

Diasporado

No one really knows who you are or where you came from. Maybe you have some clues- a unique eye color from some foreign land, strange tattoos, or a bracelet of exquisite detail. Who are your people? What is your history? And why are you here? Where is your family now? Your quest is to answer all of these questions, and reveal your past.

Outsider

They don’t trust you. They don’t think much of you. It has little to do with who you actually are, and everything to do with the fact that your people are not their people. Maybe there’s a history, such as if you’re descended from the Warlords of the West who devastated the land 100 years ago, maybe there’s no history at all, and it just happens to be that you’re a halfling. Your quest is to make a place for your people amongst the general populace as equal citizens- respected, not feared, not distrusted.

Giving Back

You were born and raised in some backwater dink of a town, with a ramshackle wooden wall and muddy wells. The airships would fly by and you dreamt of how things would be different if your home had a real temple, a school, or even someday a skydock of it’s own. Your quest is to fix up your hometown with something they desperately need.

Strange Ambitions

You have always heard it said, that there is nothing more wonderous and terrible and life changing than hearing a dragon sing it’s history.

Nothing, at least, other than a duet of two dragons.

You quest is to hear this wonderous thing in your lifetime.

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4E: Logistics of Play

June 26, 2008

So, the other thing that occurred to me during Saturday’s game is how far apart I sit from the expected tradition of play.

That is:

a) We’ll be playing bi-weekly, or even monthly
b) With sessions no more than 4 hours, and probably 2 encounters

When you think of it that way, it means I’ll hit 2-4 encounters a month. Which also means leveling up for players will take about 3-5 months. Now mind you, I -CAN- come up with interesting variations for 1st level encounters, but…

My preferred style of D&D like a good mix of pasta and sauce- a portion is tactical stuff, a portion is adventure-y/fantasy non-crunchy stuff. If the players aren’t even going to level and play with more tactical stuff by the time we move on, we might as well play another rpg.

Also, if a dungeon has 8-10 encounters, pretty much all of our campaign will be eaten up by a single dungeon! I’d rather spend that time having airship fights, pirate negotiations, etc. So I’m thinking that any given “arc” of play would probably encompass an average of 3 encounters, and not more than 6, meaning we’re going to be changing situations every session or every other session, which also gives a lot more room for picking up and resolving Quests.

So with that in mind, the two changes I would make from the expected standard of play:

1) Double XP rate
2) The DMG suggests giving limited XP from Quests/level. I’m thinking that I’d want Quests and Skill challenges to make up the XP per level.

It will be interesting to see how this goes…

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4E: Tactics pt. 1

June 24, 2008

After the game on Saturday, it gave me a good look at tactics in the game, and the key shift from thinking about your choices in build and moving towards looking at your choices in play.

Damage In, Damage Out

The core abstract strategy of just about all hitpoint based combat games is minimizing damage in, and maximizing damage out. This is best done by eliminating sources of damage (opponents) as quickly as possible.

It’s always better to have one foe completely down than to half damage 3 others, since one foe down means it’s not going to be dishing damage the next round. Because of this, you want to concentrate attacks to lay out the foes who dish the most damage first.

Prioritize Targets

In 4E, this is mostly going to be strikers and artillery monsters you want to go after first. This is because they usually can’t take a lot of hits and generally dish out a lot of damage. Artillery may not dish out a lot of damage in comparison, but they often have the ability to choose between 2 or 3 viable targets and can choose to go for the weakest, which makes them dangerous for that. (I watched over the course of a couple of encounters as the ranged guys just kept racking up damage because no one put them down).

Ah, but what about minions? You can pop minions in one hit, but they do very little damage and never pull out really nasty encounter or recharge abilities. Generally, unless you have some fat area attack power, or need one out of the way for maneuvering, or have nothing else to do, they’re actually low on the list of priority targets. Of course, generally minions have some kind of synergy with strikers and other monsters, giving bonuses to hit, extra damage, etc. and then it might be worthwhile if you can drop the synergy in a round or two.

Wait for it…

Probably the biggest change from earlier editions of D&D is how much round to round combat relies on teamwork. I watched players fire off lots of encounter or daily powers, without even lining up for combat advantage first, or waiting for the Warlord to buff their attacks. This is what you don’t want to do.

Get every damn bonus you can, then use your encounter/daily powers, especially if they can be lost from a missed attack. You’re going to want to delay for certain characters in order to maximize your advantage. If you’re playing a support character, like the Cleric or Warlord, spend time buffing other folks attacks, and if you’re going to attack, spend it on minions or foes you can meaningfully hurt and put down.

Hardcore 3E players wonder what’s the value of knocking folks prone if it doesn’t score opportunity attacks? It’s because it gives an advantage to your allies to hit the target until it stands up.

Environment!

If it can be used to hurt the enemy, do it! Some things in an encounter are clearly there for combat purposes- a pit with spikes in it is both a threat to you and your opponents if you can push, pull or slide them into it. Some things require a little creativity- “I throw the hot pot of stew into it’s eyes when it gets close!”, “I push the library shelf over onto him!” etc.

Because these are likely to be limited, one time damage expressions in the scene, you can get more damage than you’re likely to get from your normal attacks, and can probably target something other than AC to hit.

That’s easy enough. Then comes really tricky stuff. Like what happens when one PC grapples a foe, shoves his head underwater? What happens when the party wizard then casts Freezing Ray on the foe? Maybe it just does damage, maybe the GM rewards you with an extra effect. Mechanics and fictional positioning can work hadn in hand.

Conserving Power Use

First, don’t save your Encounter powers if you’ve got a good chance of hitting (combat advantage, buffs from Cleric or Warlord, etc.) The sooner the target is down, that’s that much less damage you’re eating every round. If you slap it with a condition while you’re at it, maybe it doesn’t hit as often, or maybe someone else can hit it easier, or maybe it’s taking damage.

If you have to choose between an environmental damage effect (shoving someone in a pit) or doing an encounter power, go for the environmental effect first- not only because the encounter power is portable, while the environmental effect is tied to a situation and location on the map, but also because it gives you a head’s up on how hard you can expect that effect to hit and you can plan accordingly.

The tricky thing is figuring out when and where to use Daily powers. Some give effects that last the whole encounter, and you probably want to use those early in order to get the benefit throughout the entire encounter. But here’s something else- don’t expect a single hit from a daily to lay down anyone who you especially need to go- if it’s worth a daily, it’s probably worth having 3 or more team members beating it down as well. (It’s probably also worth having flanking and buffs, as mentioned before…) I watched a few players pull out the daily in one on one fights, which really didn’t do much except leave a lot of foes half dead, instead of fully dead.

This is the obvious stuff that struck me running the game. Maybe with some more play experience, I’ll have modifications to this, but it seems to be basic tactics for this game.

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Talking about Fantasy

June 24, 2008

Just recently read The Arrival and started re-reading The Orphan’s Tales, which got me to thinking about fantasy as a genre.

There’s something powerful about being able to write stories which are cut away from our historical associations. The ability to distill ideas and symbols without having to navigate the loaded complexities of history and culture but instead write the story on your own terms. (Which is not to say that fantasy, or any genre can exist completely outside of the context of our world, there is the matter of the writer and the interpretation by readers, but you get the idea.)

Of course, this is where we see fantasy’s big split.

What passes for fantasy these days, is mostly action-adventure stories dressed up with swords and dragons. There is no symbolism- the history of the world, the gods, the monsters, the magic, all of it is explained for you. It is all literal and has a single definition, problems are understood and so is how you solve them. Even if the heroes are in danger, you’re completely safe in knowing what’s going on with the story. (The publishers also get to feel safe too, but for different reasons…)

Classic fantasy, like myths, like fairytales, like the books I linked above? Those aren’t safe. They’re about things we don’t understand, with fuzzy interpretations and while some kinds of evil are easy to identify, what you do to deal with it is not. It’s about violating boundaries- you come home and you find a wolf in a bloody nightgown trying to impersonate your grandmother.

It’s about dealing with the unknown and because it’s unknown, the mind grasps at straws for associations, interpretations, anything to get a bead on it. No wonder fantasy is aimed at children- navigating the unknown, dealing with the irrationality of human nature, these are the cliff notes kids need.

The genre’s ability to speak deeply on human nature and life is also why there’s a lot of violent protest over who gets to define what fantasy is, and who it serves. You’d imagine that something even more fictional than typical fiction would have more room for more people, but, as I said to begin with- even fantasy doesn’t get to exist outside of real world context.