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The Series ‘Heroes’ Is Back

February 23, 2014

This from USA Today:

NBC’s sci-fi series Heroes is being revived as a 13-episode limited series, with creator Tim Kring back at the helm but a new cast of characters and a self-contained storyline that’s “shrouded in secrecy.”

The series, which aired from 2006-2010, will return in 2015 as Heroes Reborn, NBC Entertainmentpresident Jennifer Salke announced Saturday, adding that some former cast members might “pop” back in for cameos. The characters and plots will be introduced in a digital series that will precede the TV premiere.

Interesting. The first season of Heroes was awesome, but the second season was shortened and somewhat incoherent partially because of a writer’s strike. The third season was an absolute mess and I only managed to watch a couple of episodes before I gave up on it.

I’ll certainly give the new series a try. I like the  idea of a ‘limited series’ though if the series is popular I’m sure the word ‘limited’ will disappear.

The Forbidden Wood, Part I

February 21, 2014

Thought I better do a recap from our last adventure since we haven’t met in 3 months(!?). This winter has definitely sucked. Let me know if you have any questions, or if you think my memory is ‘faulty’ – always a possibility.

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Characters were in the town of Westcrown, the date was Harvestide the 22nd (late summer). It had been two months since they had killed the Horned King, burned his fortress, and scattered his band.

Their dwarven companion, Degno, had left the company. The reason the dwarf gave was that he did not like living the life of a town dweller, though Grimstad and Fearghus also knew that Degno was not fond of the priest, Konal, especially after the ‘poison incident’.

The Raven Company

The companions have become rather well known in both Westcrown and the Thissel Valley and people have started calling their party the ‘Raven Company’. Some say it’s because they are a dark brooding group, others that they bring death and dark tidings to those the companions declare their enemies. Konal heard the story that the uncle of Kester Taskerton (whose remains they discovered and delivered for a reward) claimed they were like a band of ravens, unsmiling and bringers of ill-news.

Frankly, the Raven Company is at something of a crossroads. The clerics association with the group is tentative, the wizard spends most of his time either studying his books or looking for weird ingredients for his spells, while Grimstad and Fearghus are ready to roam.

At the Red Gryphon

Once a week the companions normally get together for a weekly feast to talk about the news and their past adventures. So it was that the company was sitting in the Red Gryphon enjoying their weekly dinner when an elf walked into the inn. Three of the companions immediately recognized the elf as Nardulain, the elf ranger who joined the Company when they investigated the Haunted Citadel. When last seen, the elf had been gravely injured, but he now seemed hale and in good health.

He greeted you and after some catching up and idle talk he got to the matter of why he was at the Red Gryphon. He had been asked to employ their services. The reward would be 1,800 gold stars (elven coins) each – a handsome sum

The Companions expressed immediate interest; in reply, Nardulain requested a private meeting room from the proprietor. Once everyone moved to the room, he stated his business:

“I have been tasked by representatives of the High King in Tol Aereth to employ your services.” – as he talked he rolled out a map – “you have heard of the forest known as the Mournsong Woods. (You are familiar with tales of the wood and its somewhat sinister reputation.) In its interior is a ruined town which few mortals know of. That town was once known as Nenya Talivar. The Mage King Alkelereth, King of Valdu Dorien, held court there for over 1200 years. His rule was wise and just and the elves that chose him as their king prospered. But 500 years ago the King married an immortal Shee named Guivane, a creature with a façade of light over a heart of darkness. Over time, Guivane lured three of the King’s daughters to her side and with their help, slew the King. She declared herself queen but the fourth daughter, named Ninuviel, knew the truth and exposed Guivane and her sisters to the entire court. Guivane slew Ninuviel with black magic and thereby revealed her true nature, Guivane was a Dark Shee and her allegiance was with the powers of Darkness and Shadow. The High King of Tol Aereth came to the aid of the elves of Valdu Dorien but Guivane had her own allies. Calling herself the Queen of Thorns, Guivane gathered about her dark fey from the Twilight Realm, svart alfar from under the hills, members of the Unseelie Court, and even creatures from the Abyss. War raged for 3 years until Guivane was defeated by three war wizards from the Tower of the Sundrake. Dozens saw her obliterated and destroyed, or so it was assumed. After the death of Guivane, Valdu Dorien was abandoned by those elves who survived. The lands were ceded to the mortal king of Brennland and Valdu Dorien was no more.”

Here Nardulain paused:

“That was 200 hundred years ago. Somehow Guivane has returned. Her dark spirit survived or so it is believed. Portents have been seen, and her ghostly presence has been felt even in Tol Aereth. In the Twilight Realm there are rumors of an army gathering to follow her, and army of shadows and nightmares. The High King again gathers his forces for war, though in two centuries the elves have barely recovered from the last war.

We need your help. Early in the war the Queen of Thorns abandoned Nenya Talivar, as it was not made for war. Soon after elves and fey on both sides of the conflict who approached Nenya Talivar stopped returning. Something dwells there that is inimical to our kind. Elven mages who scry the ruined court see only shadows, though some report a presence and the feeling that they are being watched from the other side. Mortals can approach the cursed place and have done so – though some have not returned. Those that do talk of strange music and overwhelming feelings of dread and sadness, they state they can approach the palace’s ruined portal where the bones of elves lay upon the steps. The portal itself remains closed and none that we know have had the courage to open the doors.

Beyond that portal lies the tomb of Alkelereth the last king of Valdu Dorien. In his tomb – on his breast – lies the heartstone of his treacherous wife Guivane the Thorn Queen, given to him on their wedding day. While the stone meant little to the Queen when she was alive – now that she’s a dark spirit the stone makes her vulnerable. We believe she does not know this or, if she does, believes no one can get to the stone.

We need the Raven Company to retrieve that stone.

This quest is not without risks. Not only do we not know what you will face at the palace, but the Queen of Thorns holds sway over much of the Mournsong Forest and has made her presence known there. Still the Lios Alfar (DM Note: Elves of Light) still have allies in the forest. They may be able to provide aid.”

After some pointed questions and negotiation, the Company agreed. Early the next morning, the group headed north escorted by 6 elven warriors and Nardulain. On the second day of their journey they reached the forest.

The characters were then introduced to a bearded man named Dalrin Ostfeld. Dalrin was a former Kings Forester who had spent time in the Mournsong Woods and had been hired by the elves to guide the party through the forest.

The next morning, Nardulain gave characters elven cloaks and that bore the sigil of High King of Tol Aereth on the left breast – a stylized hawk woven in gold and silver thread. The elves bid them goodbye and the Raven Company entered the Mournsong.

The Mournsong Woods

The Mournsong Woods were an eerie, misty forest, badly illuminated due to the dark, dense trees. The party saw no creatures, but could hear birds calling in the distance.

Dalrin took you along a deer path deeper into the forest.

You were in the forest for about an hour when you were attacked. Your first hint of trouble was when Dalrin pointed out that the trees seemed to be moving. You looked behind you and saw that the path you had just traversed had disappeared.

Suddenly, arrows starting flying at the party. Fearghus glimpsed a figure, vaguely female but made seemingly of wood and leaf standing next to a tree before the creature disappears into the tree itself. Dalric identified the creatures as Dryads. The wizard caused one to burn, the others dispatched two that got to close. The party then found itself attacked from the direction it was going. Charging forward, the characters found themselves in a glade with a large, ancient dolmen in the middle. On the other side of the glen Grimstad noticed shapes in the forest. The party then found itself in combat with minions of the Thorn Queen. Charging forward was a Red Cap named Iron Shod Nick (Konal had encountered him in the past), beside him was large wolf-like canine, at least double the size of the redcap. Its face was almost humanoid, with snake like eyes and black teeth, its fur was a dark shade of green – Arkath identified the creature as a Barghest.

In addition, there was a svart elf with alabaster skin and black hair, his arms and face covered in sigils and runes of purple, red, and black. On its face was a wicked smile; its eyes were completely white. He wore a black breast plate upon which has been painted a skull with butterfly wings.

The elf and Arkath had essentially a mage duel (DM Note: I liked how this went, btw) while the rest of the party battled Iron Shod Nick, the remaining dryads and the barghest. It was a brutal contest, with the Raven Company emerging bloodied but victorious.

After the battle, the characters heard the howl of wolves…

Woman in Armor

February 2, 2014

I normally don’t just post pictures to my blog, but I had to post the picture below. The band Blondie is embarking on their 40th anniversary tour this year. In response, Vanity Fair produced an homage to their lead singer, Deborah Harry. As part of that homage well known photographer Annie Leibovitz created the picture below.

I just think this picture is awesome. I’ve been listening to Blondie since I was 13. Ms. Harry is now 68 years young (God that make me feel old) and still very attractive – especially in plate armor holding a sword!

Debbie Harry in Plate

Design Review: Random Aspects for D20 Players

January 28, 2014

(Cross posted from the Kickstarter)

While playtesting Aspects of Fantasy, one issue we ran into was getting D20 players to come up with aspects for their characters. In Aspects of Fantasy, your player starts out with 3 aspects. Players unfamiliar with Fate usually came up with one aspect, but often struggled with the last two. For this reason, we came up with the ‘Random Aspect Table’. This table has 100 aspects listed, players simply roll a D100 to see what aspect they come up with. Oftentimes players would roll multiple times to get an aspect they liked – which was okay. We even had veteran players roll on the table and take an aspect for the fun of it.

This table is included in the game. Some of the aspects are even written up to show how they can be invoked and compelled. The table is shown below:

Random_Aspects

 

Design Review: Looking over the Nightgaunt

January 22, 2014

The monster below is a Nightgaunt, a fiendish horror from the Cthulhu Mythos, and its write-up is taken from the creature section in Aspects of Fantasy. There are a couple items on this page that may be of some interest:

  • Like characters, creatures have Primary and Secondary Attributes. Primary attributes are generally a creature’s level + requisite modifier, secondary attributes are 1/2 a creature’s level + requisite modifier. Attributes are used for saving throws, as well as for certain combat derived abilities and opposed attribute contests.
  • Creatures have a default set of aspects, though the GM is encouraged to come up with his own to make a creature more unique.
  • Like player characters, the GM gets fate points to invoke aspects and power certain traits.
  • Player characters can also compel a creature’s aspects to their benefit if they so desire. They can do this if: they are familiar with the creature in some way, they are willing to spend a fate point, and the GM agrees to the compel.
  • Movement is in Areas. So, a nightgaunt can move 2 Areas on the ground during a round or 4 Areas while flyimg.

Invoking and compelling creature aspects and using special traits – all of which is limited and controlled through fate points – makes creature interaction and D20 combat very dynamic.

Nightgaunt_Page

Rules Review: Fate, D20 and Barbarian Rage

January 18, 2014

One example of how we are streamlining D20 with Fate is to look at the Barbarian Rage ability.

On its surface, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of a rage or frenzy power being a barbarian ability. The rage ability is based, at least in part, on Celt and Norse berserkers. In fantasy literature, Howard has Conan going into a battle frenzy seemingly once per story, and I’m pretty sure Leiber has Fafhrd occasionally going berserk. However, here’s the Barbarian’s Rage ability from the D20 SRD:

RAGE

A barbarian can fly into a rage a certain number of times per day. In a rage, a barbarian temporarily gains a +4 bonus to Strength, a +4 bonus to Constitution, and a +2 morale bonus on Will saves, but he takes a -2 penalty to Armor Class. The increase in Constitution increases the barbarian’s hit points by 2 points per level, but these hit points go away at the end of the rage when his Constitution score drops back to normal. (These extra hit points are not lost first the way temporary hit points are.)

While raging, a barbarian cannot use any Charisma-, Dexterity-, or Intelligence-based skills (except for Balance, Escape Artist, Intimidate, and Ride), the Concentration skill, or any abilities that require patience or concentration, nor can he cast spells or activate magic items that require a command word, a spell trigger (such as a wand), or spell completion (such as a scroll) to function.

He can use any feat he has except Combat Expertise, item creation feats, and metamagic feats. A fit of rage lasts for a number of rounds equal to 3 + the character’s (newly improved) Constitution modifier. A barbarian may prematurely end his rage.

At the end of the rage, the barbarian loses the rage modifiers and restrictions and becomes fatigued (-2 penalty to Strength, -2 penalty to Dexterity, can’t charge or run) for the duration of the current encounter (unless he is a 17th-level barbarian, at which point this limitation no longer applies).

A barbarian can fly into a rage only once per encounter. At 1st level he can use his rage ability once per day. At 4th level and every four levels thereafter, he can use it one additional time per day (to a maximum of six times per day at 20th level). Entering a rage takes no time itself, but a barbarian can do it only during his action, not in response to someone else’s action.

I find it all to be a bit…overwhelming. Fiddly, cascading bonuses to requisites? Check. Fiddly bonuses to particular saving throws? Check. You get a penalty to AC but you also get a bunch of temporary hit points (based on your temporary Con bonus). So you are more likely to be hit, but it really doesn’t matter because you have more hit points; both adjustments basically cancel each other out. Once the rage is over, you now have fiddly penalties.

There are 3 limits on when the ability can be used, two of which have to be tracked: once per encounter, a number of rounds per instance, and a number of times per day.

Everything is spelled out what a barbarian can and can’t do while raging. This is a matter of taste. I think just stating “skills or abilities cannot be used if they require patience, concentration, or would simply be inappropriate for someone basically in a frenzy.” would be sufficient.

This is exactly the sort of D20 rule that we want to streamline by bringing in Fate. Here is the (Battle) Rage trait from Aspects of Fantasy:

BATTLE RAGE

For the cost of a fate point, you go into a rage that provides the following benefit:

Roll two dice when making a melee combat roll and take the best result.

While raging, skills or abilities cannot be used if they require patience, concentration, or would simply be inappropriate for someone basically in a frenzy. Aspects can be invoked if they are appropriate.

Combat related traits and maneuvers can be used in conjunction with Battle Rage unless noted otherwise.

A fit of rage lasts for an encounter; however, you can only go into a rage once per scene. You may prematurely end your rage if desired. Entering a rage is a free action.

Once you are done raging you have a temporary aspect called Weary that lasts for the rest of the scene. This can be compelled by the GM when trying to do anything strenuous, like breaking down a door, climbing up a wall, etc.

Like the D20 Rage ability, the AoF Battle Rage trait provides a very nice combat benefit, but with some limitations and negative after-effects. You get essentially the same overall affect (barbarian gets nice combat ability) without all of the text and math.

One other thing, in AoF Battle Rage is only a background trait for two Barbarian backgrounds, Berserk and Tribesman. Other backgrounds can choose the Battle Rage trait if they so desire, but they don’t have it by default. So if a barbarian player wants a disciplined but merciless ‘Mongol-type’ steppe raider he doesn’t have to have Battle Rage if he doesn’t want it.

The Orgar – Designing a Race

January 17, 2014

On the character sheet below, you’ll note that the race chosen is an ‘orgar’. Orgars are one of several races that can be played in Aspects of Fantasy. These races are: clurichaun (kilt wearing, whiskey drinking fey), dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling, orgar, and witchblood (humans tainted by dark magic).

Orgars are essentially half-ogres, here’s their description from the game:

Long ago, certain Tauton barbarians would prove their valor and manhood by attempting to seduce and mate with an ogress. The seducing part was easy; surviving the coupling was something of a challenge. The children that sometimes resulted from these unions were known as ‘ogre bloods’, or orgar. Overtime, these orgar bred amongst themselves and became a true and distinct race. These days orgar live in extended clans usually some distance from any human or ogre settlement. However, it is quite common for lone orgars to set out for civilized lands to prove their mettle. They hire themselves out as mercenaries, bodyguards, pigskin players, and other occupations that can utilize their great strength while not taxing their sometimes limited intellects.”

I’ve always been a fan of an ogre-type race as a character race, ever since I read the humorous description of ogres in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st Edition). As ogres are a bit powerful to have as a character race, I turned to half-ogres which were featured in Dragon magazine as a character race for AD&D. I remember using the half-ogre back in the 80′s. But I was always a bit uncomfortable with half-ogres and, by extension half-orcs. Why? Ogres and orcs are loathsome races (as portrayed in D&D anyway) and no human woman would willing mate with such a creature; hence, the implication is that half-ogres and half-orcs are conceived through an act of rape. Of course, I could gloss over this, it certainly was glossed over in D&D back in the day. But since my game uses aspects and aspects can often involve family relationships I felt it would be a good idea to explain the origins of a half-ogre race in a way that did not somehow involve violence against woman, even if such violence was in the distant past.

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