Monday, September 29, 2014

Stuff for novice PCs to know and do

When I was 10 or so, I'd gotten my hands on a Spider-man text adventure game that I could run on my Commodore 64. By then games had far outpaced the ol' texties, but I still wanted to play--this being my first of the kind. The game came with no manual, and therefore no entry point by which to understand what the frak was going on.

I remember not getting past the first screen for a LONG time because everything I typed into the computer was met with the same unblinking response from the computer: I DON'T KNOW WHAT ______ MEANS. Fun times! Ah, time to switch to playing Archon...

Anyway, it wasn't until many years later that I'd blundered into an online forum that laid out the options. I was stunned! You mean the game wasn't broken?

I imagine that's how my novice players might be feeling when we're in the thick of things. They've found themselves somewhere between not wanting to make a mistake (and get their character killed) and just plain, not knowing what should come next.

Mostly, they let me take the lead, but I've tried many times to encourage them to just start exploring.

The problem is, some of them don't get what that means.

So in the interest providing them a players' aid, I've started a list of things they can do. Now this sounds...stupid. I get that. And these are not uncreative people, by any means. In fact, they are enthusiastic, but usually just nonregular gamers. So this can be for novices and those players long out of practice.

I've posted and earlier list of things players need to investigate when they're learning about the campaign setting. This is different. This is literally a (not nearly exhaustive) list of tasks and tactics.
  1. GOLDEN RULE: Ask the GM questions and try stuff. Have fun!
  2. Talk to each other, you're a team so get to know your teammates.
  3. Look around at your surroundings, try to be aware at all times.
  4. Listen - this means both you as a player and your PC in game.
  5. Learn about your abilities, see Golden Rule.
  6. Look in your gear bag, learn about your stuff, see Golden Rule.
  7. Check for traps - decide if they should they be disarmed or sidestepped? Left for enemies to run into?
  8. Always be searching for clues, information is as valuable as treasure!
  9. Record any clues you find or hints you might suspect are being dropped.
  10. Learn about your enemies, keep a record in case you run into more.
  11. In combat - look for cover and take up key positions when possible.
  12. After combat - loot the bodies, see #7, and see #8.
  13. Remember to get paid, collect treasure, and then convert it to liquid currency if needed. You earn XP for spending your income.
  14. Return to HQ/town/etc. and get information on what you've found. Refer to previous clues discovered.
  15. Heal yourself and other teammates whenever possible (this includes rest and nourishment).
A few other, general pieces of advice.
  • Besides sticking to your class and/or race attributes, determine who's doing what on the team --(e.g., is one of you the group's "leader"? Who looks after team-owned gear, etc.).
  • Learn about basic tactics in combat (flanking, etc.)
  • When in doubt, ask the locals. Brush up on bribing, interviewing, and intimidating NPCs. Even if encounters appear to yield nothing, there could be a clue in their temperament or mood. What aren't they saying?
  • Try to determine who might find value in the treasure or information you've discovered.
  • Always review your character sheet -- look for ways of improving yourself. How will you spend your XP?
I want to add much more, so feel free to add to this list (or suggest any links) in the comments. I'm thinking I'll post a "final" list on the Rad Astra players companion blog. Thanks!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Zod is not the villain of Man of Steel

Yeah, this is a movie from 2013. Yeah, I should be writing other stuff, but the movie is on and the future of the JLA in movies has been on my mind of late, so....

For the most part, I enjoyed the Man of Steel when I first saw it, in the theater. But, there were of course some problems with the film. And let's not pretend that I think all movies should be perfect--enjoy a great many films on a relative spectrum of quality that can be described as "terrible-to-middling-and-beyond".

Still, there are issues that are difficult for me to reconcile. Here's a few. Oh, and--SPOILERS:

TRAILER: Jupiter Ascending finally takes off!

The Wachowski's next film, Jupiter Ascending has had some okay and steadily improving trailers. Now it finally looks like it went from "see on DVD" to "see in the theater".

With the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, I'm wondering if anything has been altered to help (what appeared to be) sort of a muddled storyline. It'd be great if the GotG effect has proved to be a positive influence on studios making space opera sagas.

Enough talk--check out the latest trailer:

Gelatinous Cubes: Let's review!

I was pleasantly surprised by the interest and nice comments about the Cosmic Dungeon Project! While I've done a fair amount of research on the topic of gelatinous cubes, it always helps to do a review.

Let's dive into the cube!

As expected, the entry for g. cubes has changed though the years, through various manuals, and under various editors. It's primary function has always been the same--to clean and clear dungeons of "living" matter. A quick excerpt from the Gospel of Gygax (Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, 1979, p. 43):
The gelatinous cube is one of the scavengers not uncommon in dungeons. Its cubic form is ideal for cleaning all living organisms, as well as carrion from the floor and walls of underground passageways. Certain very large cubes are taller so as to be able to garner masses and the like from ceilings as well.  
Gelatinous cubes are nearly transparent and are difficult to see (thus surprise on 1-3). As these monsters travel about they sweep up metallic and other items which are "indigestible" to them.
If a gelatinous cube touches (hits) an opponent, a saving throw verses paralyzation must be made, or the creature touches is anesthetize for 5-20 melee rounds. The cube then surrounds the victim, secretes digestive fluids, and digests a meal. Damage caused to opponents is due to the digestive secretions. 
It goes on to say that while they can be hit with all forms of weapons, fire is really your best bet. Cold has no effect (except failing a saving throw, which only serves to slow them down). Several other energy and magical attacks have no effect, including electricity, fear, holds, paralyzation, polymorph spells and attempts to put it to sleep. I would think that a giant specimen in space would need to be much hardier to survive radiation and extreme temperature swings.

Page 178 of the Dungeons & Dragons Game Rules Cyclopedia (1991) states that a cube is in fact, "10' x 10' x 10' and surprises 1-4 on a d6." So it became quite the crafty, ninja cube in the ensuing years. The Cyclopedia gives a few other particulars, but says that it "...will continue attacking creatures until it dies or they do..." making special note of it's blind ruthlessness. 

This entry is also notable in that it mentions how a cube reproduces:
The lair of these strange monsters may contain 1d4 cubes (each with treasure type V, but usually no additional treasure). The lair will not have any "young" gelatinous cubes; adults split into two fully grown cubes. 
The notion that gelatinous cubes reproduced asexually has been around for years. Somehow though I'd had the misconception that they sloughed off material that became an independent entity. When I began work on this project, I'd decided that the Giant Gelatinous Space Cube should calve--like an arctic ice shelf, shedding icebergs. 

But the official explanation of the entire individual cube cleaving--much like a single celled organism--is quite evocative. If that's to be the case, then I'd like to think that the stuff inside swirls around a bit before it divides. Whatever the visual might be, the end result is two separate fresh cubes, not just one parent and one offspring. 

A likely side effect would be that any previous map of a giant space cube that was charted while trapped inside, would be rendered worthless. Contents would change position. Not sure if that's something I'll incorporate or not, time will tell. Maybe there can be more than one variety with different properties? Hmmm....

And then there's the not-so-small matter of what substances can and cannot be digested. You better believe that's going to be a dial that gets played with. Organics get digested first, but certain organisms might be resistant. Metals and rock would of course take longer, but some might be mostly immune aside from some corrosive effects.

Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself! ;-)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Cosmic Dungeon Project - Introduction

The adventurers wake aboard their spaceship. Interior illumination winks and flickers. Then, outboard lights.The stale waft of century old air hangs for a moment before the life support system comes fully online. A greasy blur obscures the windows of the spaceship, veiling all vistas of the starfield outside.

Soon, the crew is fully revived. The ship's command module is unable to interpret sensor readings. Without star positioning data, the navigation computer cannot calculate a current location. Worse, the ship is completely immobile. Thrusters fail to pitch the ship forward--or in any direction. Instead a terrible shimmy rocks all aboard. A rumbling warble of steal echos.

It's not going anywhere for a long, long time.

Sensors finally begin to pick up shapes in fixed positions around the vessel. Some nearby, some many kilometers away. None of them exhibit the usual "drift" that derelict vessels or debris would indicate. If the ship is unmovable, then perhaps they can make their way to one of the many abandoned craft? Or...the thousands of satellites both natural and constructed ("That's odd," the captain thinks), or...ancient ruins?

Some sort of temple from a forgotten time seems to have been plucked from the ground--while still embedded in it's earthen bed. A massive kaiju skeleton lies wrought in opisthotonus. The silvery head of a massive Celestial One stares vacantly, still helmet clad. Space junk from every era of humanity's time amidst the stars, surrounds the assemblage of strange objects. The sensors can't be right--can they?

It's up to our heroes to find out. They embark on a daring escape, taking only what they--and a few robot companions--can carry, unaware of the perils to come or the danger that fills the space around them.

The party could spend months traveling from one stop to the next, oblivious that the volume that they, and the other detected objects occupy... are already consumed. They were prey while they slept in suspension aboard their spaceship.

Outside that oddly blurred window, the spread of debris in this particular patch of inky black night fits neatly into a 300 by 300 by 300 kilometer behemoth. A monster of unfathomably cosmic indifference and perpetually unsated appetite. It roams space on an endless quest for no other purpose but to feed. It is all at once a wandering monster and migratory megadungeon.

Eons old, it is the most feared predator in any galaxy, it is the...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Destiny trailer looks pretty darn good

My video game portfolio, of late, has been quite thin to say the least. Right now most (if any) video games I play are on my Android phone or (gulp!) our plucky first-gen Wii. That said, this new game by Destiny looks really amazing to me--at least visually.
There's a live-action trailer out now, which looks like Elysium (nee: HALO) meets Appleseed in a Star Wars universe--set to a Guardians of the Galaxy-like soundtrack. And for good measure, it was directed by Neill Blomkamp (the same dude who did Elysium). Design-wise, it's very modern, but for all it's scifi trappings, (as I understand it) the game features some sharp looking space magic! I'm really interested to learn the narrative behind how magic works in the game.

Anyway, let's have a look at that trailer, shall we?

And here's the official game trailer with plenty of actual gameplay:

I'm pretty sure I heard Tyrion himself, Peter Dinklage as the "Bit" hoverdroid in the first video. Sounds like Kevin Spacey is in the actual game.

Here's a few more visuals* to feast upon:


I've not read any reviews, but based on the visuals alone I can definitely see enough inspiration for a tabletop campaign. Thoughts?

*Images:Bungie Studios

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Con of the North event submitted!

Well I'm all paid up for my third visit to Con of the North, come February. I decided this time around I'd like to focus on playing games rather than running a bunch. I got sick of missing out on so many awesome games. In light of that I did submit one event for X-plorers. Here's the description:
RAD ASTRA: Gonzo, Space Adventure!
Pack your ray blaster, charge your laser sword and take off on a far-out, interstellar adventure! Get set for a rules-light, mash-up of sci-fi B-movies, 70s space opera TV, and Bronze Age comics. You're the galaxy's last hope on a do-or-die mission against a horde of savage space vikings, alien astrosassins, and sinister space wizards! Your swashbuckling, Saturday night space opera is here baby!   
I left the plot details out but sprinkled in some of the elements that will hopefully attract sci-fi fans. Maybe I should have put the words "space," "opera," and "adventure" in there a few more times? Aw well. In any case,  I have just over five months to procrastinate until I get my shit together the week before--so exciting! 

Con of the North 2015 is February 13-15 at the Crowne Plaza Minneapolis West.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


Starblazer Adventures uses the FATE rules system. 

I was able to grab a copy of the enormous Starblazer Adventures RPG manual off eBay recently. It's actually something of a small miracle, since it's been out of print for a few years now and it was already pretty expensive to begin with.

Looking forward to diving in to this 630 page mammoth "Rock and Roll Space Opera!"