Dec 17 2012

Monday Monster: Tremorwhip

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Tremorwhips are burrowing, vaguely snake-like creatures native to Coventry. The smallest specimens have deadly venom; the largest specimens have long, barbed tentacles and swordlike stingers on the end of their tails. They are attracted to vibrations in the ground, making them a perennial road hazard and a constant nuisance at industrial stations. This is a fairly typical specimen, roughly 20′ long (rising 12′ from the ground when attacking) with two tentacles.


The Worm King by ~Marauder6272 on deviantART

Tremorwhip

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6(A), Spirit d10, Strength d12+2, Vigor d10
Skills: Fighting d6, Notice d10, Stealth d10
Pace: 6/20, Parry: 5, Toughness: 12(2), Charisma: 0
Bite/Lash: d6 (Str+d6)
Burrowing 20″: Surprise on Stealth vs. Notice (+2 attack; +4 raise)
Hardy: Once Shaken, further Shaken results ignored
Large: Attackers gain +2 on attack rolls
Natural Armor +2: Natural defenses
Size +3: Adjustment to Toughness based on creature’s mass
Slam: Opposed Fighting vs. Agility for 4d6 damage
Stretch: Reach for slam attack equal to current Size
Swallow Whole: Fighting -2 to swallow target 3 sizes smaller; swallowed target is immobile and takes automatic bite damage each round; attacks from inside the tremorwhip ignore armor and size bonuses to Toughness

Text and “Coventry” setting ©2012 by John “The Gneech” Robey. Artwork ©2009-2012 by Marauder6272. Stat block created by Hero Lab® (Registered Trademarks of LWD Technology, Inc. Free download at http://www.wolflair.com). Savage Worlds is Copyright © 2004-2012 by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. All rights reserved.

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Dec 10 2012

Coventry: A Savage Worlds Campaign

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I’ve been making a few noises about this for a while now, but the Players Handbook for my new Savage Worlds campaign inspired by Borderlands is finally ready!

Coventry Players Guide for Savage Worlds, by The Gneech
(click through for PDF)

From the guide:

Coventry is a gung-ho adventure campaign somewhere between Mad Max and Cowboy Bebop, with a side of Escape From L.A. The year is 2766 and your characters all live on the quarantined prison world of Coventry, trying to make your way as best you can among the local monsters, the faction wars, the octane-sucking racing circuit, and of course the occasional insane robot. You might be a local, born and raised on Coventry, you might have been “dropped” here, or you might even have arrived here by accident due to a shipwreck or other mishap. However you came to be here, however, it’s all but impossible to leave.

The prison world of Coventry originally appeared in my Star Hero campaign in the early ’90s (Holy crap, was that really 20 years ago? O.o), and I’ve toyed with the idea of running a game there off and on many times since then, but it wasn’t until the Savage Worlds setting 50 Fathoms, combined with playing Borderlands 2, that a solid vision of how to make it work as a campaign finally gelled. By using the Savage Worlds “Plot Point” model, all I have to do is toss out a few hooks and let the players create the actual campaign, by fleshing out the ones they bite on.

Coventry as it appears here is a bit different from my initial conception in details, but much the same in spirit. I originally pictured it as a kind of “lost world” jungle setting with megafauna and people attempting to carve civilization out of it without help from the outside, but after playing Borderlands the idea of it being more like a dystopian “through the looking glass” world full to the brim with its own variety of Mad Hatters really appealed to me. This version is also in a separate continuity from my Star Hero game, not so much to avoid any clash with previous continuity (assuming any of could even remember the previous continuity), as just for stylistic reasons.

I’m thinking about trying to write up the setting for eventual publication as an officially-licensed Savage Worlds setting, but that will take time, development, and probably a Kickstarter campaign to finance some non-cribbed artwork. What I’ve got here is a draft/proof-of-concept more than anything else, but I’m pleased with it and I think the group will have fun with it.

…After we finish the current Ghostbusters scenario, of course. ¬.¬

Still! Players, start your thinkers. If all goes well, we could be playing this game on the 29th.

-The Gneech

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Nov 09 2012

Personal Deflector Shields in Savage Worlds

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So I’ve been working on an idea for a Borderlands-ish game for Savage Worlds— SF semi-apocalyptic setting, lots of crazy OTT stuff, largely tongue-in-cheek, hordes of badguys that the goodguys take out in a spray of bullets, that sort of thing. And hero durability is an important aspect of this… SW is not a system of attrition, like Pathfinder. It’s a game in which you are often fine, fine, fine, dead. So taking a cue from the game that inspired it, this homebrew of mine is looking to use personal deflector shields.

My first idea was to have a system where shields gave you a certain number of “free soaks,” negating a number of wounds as you took them. A weak shield would give you one, a great shield would give you three or four. The problem is, this felt a little too much like just putting hit points back into the game, which sorta negates the whole point of the “up, down, or off the table” structure of Savage Worlds.

A new idea have had since and like better is giving shields a rating that subtracts from incoming damage, from d4 to d12+x, just like an attribute. An average shield probably has a value of d8 or d10. Every time you take a hit, your shield’s rating goes down by a step, until it’s finally depleted after d4 and needs to recharge.

So imagine for a moment you have a d10 shield and a Toughness of 6. Someone pulls out a submachine gun and shoots you, hitting twice and rolling 2d8 each time to get totals of 9 and 10. The first hit is against your full d10 shield, so you roll and get a 6. The first hit’s damage becomes (9-6=) 3, well under your Toughness of 6, so the bullet bounces off your shield, reducing its rating to d8. The second hit, you roll your shield’s new rating of d8 and get a 3. The second hit’s damage becomes (10-3=) 7, which overcomes your Toughness of 6 and you become shaken, while your shield’s rating drops to d6.

The effect of this: well you can see in the example above that without the shield, you would have been shaken and had two wounds (shaken on the 9, wounded twice on the 10 because it got a raise over your Toughness), while with the shields, you end up just shaken. The nice thing about shields being a die rating is that you don’t really need to “track” it, just have the right size die handy. The reduction in die size with each hit both simulates the way deflector shields traditionally “go down,” as well as adding some tension to the fight. (“My shields are all the way down to d4! Run for cover!”)

The big question is, how do your shields recover? I’m thinking maybe they go up by +1 step at the beginning of your turn (up to their maximum), or fully recharge if you draw a joker for initiative.

The other question is, how do you handle allies, particularly large groups of them? I’m thinking that they probably have a “group shield value” that drops by one the first time that group is hit on a turn but only the first time. The same way allies’ ammunition levels simply drop a step after every fight, all allies in a group have the same effective rating as an aggregate of all the wild shots that have flown around in the combat. (But since large groups of allies are often being shot at by large groups of opponents, having the rating go down with every hit would deplete the shield immediately on the first turn.)

Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions? Keep in mind that the system needs to be “Fast! Furious! and Fun!” and has to scale quickly in large combats. I’d be interested to hear what other savages out there might have to say!

-The Gneech

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Sep 28 2012

Gung-Ho Gaming: Why Can’t I Make It Work?

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There is a certain style of RPG that I really enjoy when I can pull it off… but it’s very hard to pull off. For lack of a better term, I call it “Gung Ho.” It’s not a genre in and of itself, but it is a definite style: if you see Abraham Lincoln riding a bear and carrying a machine gun in each hand? That’s Gung Ho gaming.

Gamma World is sorta the archetypal (and one of if not the oldest) Gung Ho RPGs out there, and the recent 4E-ruleset reboot actually worked fairly well as far as it went. Unfortunately, once we finished the initial scenario, I just couldn’t stay interested. I thought for sure that I would, and bought all the expansions… but it didn’t happen.

There have been plenty of other attempts in our group to start and sustain Gung Ho games: Teenagers From Outer Space appears periodically in our repertoire, and my own Furry Battle Academy! was definitely in this vein. But in both cases, while the individual sessions have usually been quite fun, the campaigns have just failed to launch.

Some of it is probably sheer exhaustion. Gung Ho gaming seems to require a massive caffeine/sugar rush to get the ball rolling, and once it’s rolling, you have to keep momentum or you end up needing to start all over again. Some of it is also probably just the mix of players… as weird and creative a bunch as they are, their personalities tend to range from “rather reserved” to “painfully shy,” whereas Gung Ho gaming requires the willingness to be loud and quite often to make an idiot of yourself.

My most successful “Gung Ho” game so far has got to be the Ghostbusters game, but it’s only a bit Gung Ho. In fact, aside from the occasional silly NPC name and the tendency to do a lot of collateral damage with the proton packs, it’s hardly Gung Ho at all. Just… eccentric. Sure, they’ve battled animated modern art, been chased around the streets of D.C. by an enormous ancient Hittite dog-god, and accidentally teleported to Saturn [1] once or twice, but it’s not like they carry around guns that shoot chainsaws or anything.

[1] Actually an alternate dimension. They just call it Saturn, a la Beetlejuice.

The reason this is on my mind is because I was pondering the possibilities of a Borderlands RPG. With its over-the-top badassery and snarky sense of humor, I could easily see Borderlands being a fun beer-and-pretzels setting for a game, and the story arc of Borderlands 2 is for all intents and purposes a “Plot Point Campaign” straight out of Savage Worlds. It’s a natural fit.

And yet… I don’t think I can do it. For some reason, I just don’t seem to be able to come up with enough ideas in the Gung Ho mode. If handed an existing scenario, I can probably take it and make it work (as I did with the Gamma World starter scenario), but coming up with new ones is like voodoo to me. My brain keeps trying to make things make sense. (“Wait… this dude has shotguns grafted onto his forearms instead of hands? How does he reload? For that matter, how does he tie his shoes?”) That kind of thinking is the kiss of death for Gung Ho, but unfortunately it’s often how I come up with my scenario ideas. By thinking about the antagonists and giving them goals that make sense, I can figure out what they will do, how, and why, as well as what they might do when their plans go south (as of course, they will once the players show up).

Of course, it’s not like we need another game anyway. Two Pathfinder games (one of which has only had one session) and Ghostbusters keep our plate pretty full as it is. But whenever I find a new setting or genre that I like, my thoughts on it must eventually turn to gaming. It’s just in my blood, I guess!

-The Gneech

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Sep 24 2012

InterventionCon and Borderlands

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So this past weekend was the third (already?) InterventionCon. It’s a fun, if smallish, local con put on by an impressively small staff who nonetheless manage to give it a “big con” professional feel. The basic theme of the con is “your online life, offline,” basically giving it a “meta-geekery” vibe similar to Dragon*Con (but on a much smaller scale). There’s a bit of comics, a bit of anime, a bit of cosplay, a bit of technogeekery, even a tiny hint of furry, but no one element really jumps out. This big tent approach is good in that everyone is welcome, but it also has its downside, in that there’s no really strong pull for any group. Despite being open to everybody, InterventionCon is not a “must-go” con for anybody, at least not yet.

Granted, I see most of the con from inside the Dealer Room (or “Artist Alley/Vendor Room” as the con refers to it), which possibly colors my perceptions. On the other hand, the Dealer Room is also usually the main hub of activity. There are several breakout panel rooms which usually have a double-handful of people in them at any given time, a videogaming room, and an open gaming room, and several corridors. Although the Marriott where the con takes place has a huge and impressive restaurant/lounge area (which at a furry con would be overrun with fursuiters and artists), as far as I can tell InterventionCon doesn’t go down there. What crowds there are to find, are in the Dealer Room.

The other thing I’ve noticed about InterventionCon, is that there isn’t much of an art culture. Most people in the Vendor Hall are there as vendors, selling books or crochet ponies or what have you, not doing art at the table– and the attendees don’t seem to be expecting it, either. I was never asked to do a badge or a sketch (my primary profit-makers at most cons), even by people who seemed very taken with my work. Furthermore, those people who were offering sketches at the table, were undercutting themselves badly. One artist wanted to charge me $10 for a fully inked, elaborate sketch; another $15 for an inked and shaded pair of characters. In both cases, I shoved $20 bills at them, just to drive the lesson home.

gneech_chanWhile sitting around at the con not doing any badges or sketches (le sigh), I decided to noodle around with new persona ideas for myself, including this cute little guy, who combines the whole “dapper lion” thing with my little buddy Keroberos. Only problem is, I still can’t figure out how to get more of the sea green and similar colors I wanted into the design without becoming garish. I’m an autumn, and if the persona is to reflect me, he should totally be dressing in gold and burgundy.

Also, I think way too much about that kind of stuff.

But Enough of That Art’n’Creativity’n’Stuff. Let’s Blow Shit Up

As InterventionCon rolls up its sidewalks at 3:00 on Sunday, that left me with all of last evening to occupy myself. I could have watched that Doctor Who we’ve got on the DVR, but instead I downloaded BorderLands 2 to give it a try. Mrs. Gneech and I are forever on the lookout for brainless shooty games we can play together, and this one is about as brainless and shooty as they come. Gung Ho FPS in a quasi-post-apocalypse SF setting with a soundtrack by Escape From LA, Borderlands 2 is snarky, sarcastic, and winks at you from the other side of the 4th wall to make sure you don’t take all the explosions and bloody head-shots seriously.

Does it work? Eh… sort of. The snarky humor and Wile E. Coyote violence are basically there to punch up pretty cut-and-dried FPS gameplay… go here, kill baddies, pull lever, kill baddies, find boss, kill boss, rinse and repeat. The loot is completely randomized, which does sometimes make for strange and amusing results. I picked up a gun which does something like 70+ points of damage and has a sniper scope (as opposed to the more common ~20 points of damage on the first level), so I spent a lot of time starting a battle from far distant cover and going “Boom! Headshot.” Borderlands 2 also floats around somewhere between FPS and MMO, with quest-givers, side missions, and explorer deeds, and encourages you to hook up with other players (via Steam) and take on missions together. However, your character model is determined by your class (all the women are “sirens,” for instance, and all the sirens are women) and the character models only vary by means of three different heads and palette-swaps. So it won’t be long before every character looks exactly identical to every other character.

Correspondingly, the difficulty seems to be all over the map, too. There’s a giant set-piece battle at the end of the first section of the game where you’re in an open area fighting a giant brute of a guy who is not only on fire, but who keeps setting you on fire as well as opening up giant fire pits all over the level. If you die, you simply respawn around the corner, which is handy, but every time you do, he goes back up to full health again. This led me into a loop for the longest time where I could just get to him, nick him a little, and then run out of ammo and get killed. Over and over. I finally defeated him basically through an exploit– I left the arena all together, which lured him over to one corner that stuck out so he could shoot at me, and he got trapped there by the AI pathing. So all I had to do at that stage was peek around the corner, snipe at him, and duck back until my shield recharged, then do it again. Since he was an otherwise unbeatable boss, I didn’t feel too bad about this– I figured that if the game is gonna cheat, I’m gonna cheat right back.

On the plus side, I do like the animation-esque art style and the western-bluesey soundtrack, which give me (positive) associations with Full Throttle. And I can see how the game would be fun with a full party, although I haven’t had the chance to try it yet. However, I suspect it’s going to be real hard to find a group that isn’t made up of four sirens, just because she’s the most appealing character design. We’ll see!

-The Gneech

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Mar 06 2012

Escape From CrazyTown

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Another winner bubbled up last night from the Gneech’s Action Adventure Dream Vault. Most has been lost in the intervening time since then, but I do remember some highlights…

The whole dream takes place on a dark, wet night of course.

I was a smart-alecky wandering adventurer-type in a post-apocalyptic world somewhere between Escape From New York and Full Throttle; not exactly what you’d call badass, but capable enough and a quick thinker (with a snarky sense of humor). Circumstances unknown (or possibly forgotten) had brought me to a small town that appeared to be the remains of an amusement park, repurposed, and with suitably eccentric inhabitants. Like any good village full of post-apocalyptic degenerates, they were superstitious, fearful, and downright stupid, and prone to feeding anybody they didn’t like (which boiled down to anybody who wasn’t born and raised in the village) into a thing they called “The Cruncher.” Naturally, as a smartass, it wasn’t long before The Cruncher and I had a date, along with a handful of other people the villagers had been saving up for their periodic Cruncher-feeding ritual.

The Cruncher itself consisted of a large concrete bunker with a round main platform inside that looked more or less like the transporter room from Star Trek, and a small control room off to the side. Six to ten people would be put out onto the platform, the villager operating the controls would twiddle some switches, and a giant white ceramic thing would plunge down over them, there’d be a loud noise and some yelling, and then it would rise back up and they were gone, leaving no trace.

Naturally the villagers, being both stupid and insane, believed the victims to have been crunched out of existence (hence the name “Cruncher”). While I didn’t know what happened to the victims, I knew they hadn’t been crunched, so I was more curious than frightened when shoved onto the platform and “crunched” myself.

The Cruncher, it turned out, was actually an elevator; the white ceramic thing was a protective shield designed to keep out harmful radiation of some kind (possibly from the inevitable nuclear war that creates these post-apocalyptic settings). The yelling was the result of it being, well, a very fast elevator, that unceremoniously dumped its passengers out at the bottom of the shaft and shot back up again to reset.

Under this amusement-park-turned-village was a large underground installation, the purpose of which had been lost to time. Mall? Offices? War-proof housing for the duration? Who knows. But now it was dingy, derelict, and dangerous. As for the inhabitants, well, if the people above were degenerate, the people below were downright feral. They knew the sound of the elevator under the Cruncher meant feeding time, and they were there and ready for a free snack.

This led to the most action-oriented part of the dream, essentially a chase sequence through the tunnels and warrens of this underground installation, fleeing its deranged inhabitants and all manner of “WTF I don’t even” things that the other Crunchees and I found along the way (such as the room full of broken and disused animatronic clowns).

As we fled, various members of the would-be escapees fell to chasing degenerates or other hazards; at least one fell down an open elevator shaft as I recall. Very few of the images from that part of the dream lingered much past me waking up, but I remember that the chase ended in a pit full of junk and muck that was basically the trash compactor from Star Wars. There was a narrow metal ladder bolted into the wall, which the remaining escapees and I climbed for dear life (after the requisite wisecracks), feral tunnel-dwellers climbing up behind us using their fingernails in the cracked walls.

At the top of the ladder, for no reason other than It’s A Dream Deal With It, there was a helipad with a running and prepped helicopter. Fortunately, it was a futuristic pre-post-apocalypse helicopter, all electric engine and intuitive “drive it like a car” controls, so I could fly the thing. Unfortunately, as my fellow escapees and I got to the top of the ladder and made a run for the helicopter, the feral inhabitants of CrazyTown came surging up after us, bringing down all but myself and one other (whose identity I have since forgotten upon waking up).

The dream ended with myself and the other escapee lifting off and into the night in the helicopter, speculating on whether or not the ferals would raid the village of degenerates now that they were on the surface and trying not to think about it.

And then I woke up.

-The Gneech

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