Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Campaign Setting: The World of Cain Anuun (from The Last God) - Review

The World of Cain Anuun is a fantasy world with elements of horror, and I wrote about it a little bit before. It's actually from a comic book from DC's "Black Label" imprint (for mature readers) and DC recently published a 5E compatible RPG sourcebook for the world, complete with maps, nation descriptions, and stats for new monsters, player character races, subclasses, and magic items.

Today is Wednesday and that means it's New Comic Book Day, although given the uncertain times we're living in now with the pandemic, that's taken on a new, different meaning. For several weeks back in March and April, most comic publishers stopped publishing their books, and the main (almost sole) distributor, Diamond, announced that it would not be shipping books anyway. Things have slowly started to pick back up, but the two main publishers, Marvel and DC, are not publishing consistently (Marvel was doing every other week for a while) and DC has begun to distribute its new books on Tuesdays instead of Wednesdays, and has canceled their long arrangement with Diamond in favor of new, less proven distributors. This week, for example, neither Marvel nor DC published any new comics. Given that combined they account for about 70% of comic sales market share, this is a huge blow to comic shop retailers that are trying to stay afloat. I'll be visiting my local shop today to show my support, buy some independent comics, and take advantage of "Buy 3, Get 1 Free" sale they are having on in-stock Marvel & DC titles as a way to try to drive in more customers on a slow week.

Today's review is for a comic I picked up last week, The Last God: Tales from the Book of Ages, but while it's in comic book format, it's really an RPG supplement (it even includes an OGL statement at the back), so it's a perfect entry for someone who is interested in expanding their campaign setting collections or looking to borrow ideas for an existing campaign, with a much lower price point then most published setting books. It also might get you excited about reading the comics series The Last God. The short premise is that, a generation ago, the heroes of the age traveled "beyond the boundaries of creation" and killed all the gods, then ended up establishing themselves as the rulers of their own nations. However, their descendants are now faced with a quandary, as the legions of the so-called Last God are once again on the march, destroying everything in their path. The so-called heroes of the past may not actually be what they claimed to be, leaving a new group of unlikely champions to finally accomplish what their ancestors failed (or refused) to do, and kill the Last God. The story is clearly based on a D&D or other fantasy RPG campaign, and even the maps included in the monthly comic book are drawn by D&D cartographer Jared Blando.

(Note that I frequently review non-RPG products from the standpoint of using them as inspirations for role-playing games, as I find that sometimes it's a good idea to be inspired by sources that are different from yet another RPG sourcebook. At the end of this review, I'll provide links to all of the independent publisher comics I've reviewed here on the blog over the years, with the hope that maybe you'll seek them out, especially today, to help out your local comics shop).

WHAT IT IS
The Last God: Tales from the Book of Ages, is a 40 page, full-color comic book format that provides some background of the world of Cain Anuun, covering history of the Age of Gods, then getting into descriptions of the various lands and cultures of the world. This information takes up about 1/3 of the book. The remaining pages are devoted to providing 5th Edition mechanics for new monsters, the magic system of the world, three new player character races, a few new subclasses, and new magic items.

Readers of the comic who don't even play role-playing games will find the first part of this comic invaluable in understanding the background of the world and the Age of Gods, which provides information on the original gods and goddesses such as Mol Anwe, goddess of light and music; Mol Uvanya, goddess of that which grows; Mol Kalakto, god of the forge and of the thing made; Mol Rangma, god of the hunt and of conquest; the mysterious and little known Mol Choresh, god of knowledge and of riddles; and the forgotten god of the void, Mol Uhltep.

This whole section provides the history of how the gods interacted with each other and created most of the world as it is now known, and it sets up the central conflict while still leaving enough things left unexplained for readers to wonder about, or for game masters to add their own ideas.  This is a richly detailed background that provides plenty of ideas to spark the imagination and to use as a starting point for crafting your own campaign world's mythology.

The second chapter, "Of the Land" describes the different nations of the world, starting with the Western Reach and the Hinterlands, Land of the Un-Men, Sholtua, and Vogren's Teeth. Each area is only given a short paragraph or two, just enough to provides ideas and a rough sketch of the area, but not enough to overwhelm readers and gamers with obsessive and unnecessary detail (a failure of many campaign setting descriptions).

This section goes on to describe other places in the world, such as the Greylands, the Riverlands, the Southern Continent, Tyrgolad (along with a city map and a short sidebar describing its currency), the Dragonsmoor, the Council of Stones, the Pinnacle (including a great side-view map), the Karkarok Mountains, The Fells, Dragonspyre, the Godforge, and the Black Stair. Readers of the comic will love the additional details they learn about these areas, but there is enough information provided that non-readers can make use of these areas in their RPG campaigns.

Chapter 3, "Of Beasts" is fun and includes drawings of 18 new monsters, including Barrowfiends, Drakes, Ebonsnares, the Flowering Dead (Drones, Creeping Death, and Wall of the Dead), Crownwraiths, Endwraiths, Gallows Imps, Gryndels, Gyrehawks, Harlots o' the Gale, Harpies (different than the standard D&D harpy), Hearteaters, Maertrolls, Rimefoots, Ursulons, and Water Dragons. I have to confess that I am not all that well-versed in 5th Edition mechanics, so I can't speak to whether the stats of these new monsters are correct or "balanced," and they do not include challenge ratings, if you're into that sort of thing. However, in reviewing them, I think many of the ideas could be used in a variety of different role-playing games, including more rules-light old-school type games. The ideas are creative and help with the world building. Nearly half of the monsters are undead, but they are different than the standard types seen in most D&D campaigns, and in particular, the flowering dead and their "powers of the plague" are quite creepy, and the idea of the last god speaking through certain special undead servants (the crownwraiths), while somewhat reminiscent of the Nazgul from Tolkien, is still a neat idea.

Chapter 4, "Of Magic" talks about how magic works in the world of Cain Anuun. The section explains that magic was once the life's blood of the gods. Now that the gods are dead, magic still remains in Cain Anuun within the flesh of the god's descendants, in the devices of their creation, and in devices made by others from the flesh of the dead gods. In this way, I was reminded of an old 3rd Edition book written by Monte Cook, Requiem for a God, which dealt with this very idea of a god having died and the repercussions on magic, including using the essence of the dead god to fuel spells and create new magic items.

In Cain Anuun, magic comes in the form of Fey Magic (the oldest in the world), Aelvan Magic (related mostly to magic of nature and fueled by the wind, rain, rivers, soil, the sun, and the moon), Djorruk Magic (mostly focused on power over stone, fire, and the dynamic forces below the earth), Dragon Magic (although there are no known living dragons at the time of the story, dragonhewn weapons and relics still exist), and Guild Magic (magic not passed down by gods, but created by humankind). There's also a section on "Of Music and Magic," noting that creatures that are not "godborn" (such as Fey, Aelva, Djorruks, and Dragons) can still control fey magic if they can figure out the melody and execute it in the proper way. From reading this section, it seems like a way to distinguish between the innate magic of bards and sorcerers versus how wizards need to study and memorize their spells (as described in the Guild Magic section).

This chapter also includes some new magic items, such as Bloodglass, the Claymore of the Eldritch, God's Requiem (an artifact axe, with a name that again references the Monte Cook supplement I mentioned earlier), Guildsman's Bracelet and Guildsman's Gauntlet.

Chapter 5 is for "Creating Adventurers" and it includes three new races: The Dwarrow (sort of chaotic, greedy dwarves with no aptitude for magic), the Djorruk (gentle, graceful, short beings), and the Aelva (the Cain Anuun version of elves). There are also some new subclasses for use in 5th Edition games, including one for the Guild Eldritch (which has 7 different "rings," each of which is pretty much a subclass in itself), a new Paladin Oath (Oath of the Guardian), and a new Ranger archetype, the Ferryman (with three subclasses, Ferrymen of the Long Shadow, who are more like rogue assassins; Speakers of the Dead, who focus more on magic; and Voices of the Stone Ferrymen, who are warrior priests).

The book ends with the OGL printed on the inside back cover.

COOL BITS
There's a ton of great inspirational material in these short 40 pages, along with some great illustrations and maps. While the game mechanics are mostly useful for players of 5th Edition games, the concepts can easily be translated to other game systems with little difficulty.

The world-building bits show how a DM can take some of the inherent mechanics from D&D throughout its history (such as the old pre-3E prohibition on dwarves using arcane magic, the different types of magic, who can access magic, and the role of gods in the campaign) and use those mechanical things to world-build and create in-game reasons for why things work the way they do, all built into the mythology of the world. People have been doing this kind of thing since the game was invented, but it always helps, especially for newer gamers, to have examples of how to explain these kinds of things.

I also like the idea that the "heroes" of the world are really, when it comes down to it, frauds. This is set up very early in the first issue of the comic book series, but the world has been living under the idea that 30 years ago, the people who are now their leaders went on a quest to rid the world of the gods, and that they succeeded, but it becomes obvious that they have been lying, as the Last God is sending his legions forward to destroy everything and there's little chance of survival at this point. This was a pretty clever idea and one that goes against most heroic fantasy D&D tropes.

PROS AND CONS
There's a lot to like here, and given the short, concise descriptions, great art, and low price point, there's little bad to say about this. It's a great introduction to the world of the Last God that could hopefully inspire you to start reading the comic book series, and it also can show you how you can take inspiration from other forms of media aside from just another standard RPG sourcebook as a way to spruce up your RPG campaigns.

The monsters not having challenge ratings could be a small issue for 5th Edition gamers, and the stats are a of course a little "bloated" for players of old-school games, but that shouldn't stop dedicated players and DMs from doing some minor modifications to make things work.

THE LAST GOD: TALES FROM THE BOOK OF AGES

  • Format: 40-page full-color comic book, with a glossy cover
  • Where to Buy: Please if at all possible, buy this at a physical comic book store near you. You can use the Comic Shop Locator to find one. Many of them offer curbside pick-up. If you absolutely can't visit a local comics shop, you can order physical copies from a variety of comic shops online, such as Forbidden Planet in New York or South Side Comics in Pittsburgh. Lastly, you can buy digital copies from Comixology
  • Price: $4.99 (print or digital)
  • System: Designed for 5th Edition, but easily converted 
  • Rated: The comics in this series are part of DC's Black Label and rated Ages 17+, but for this particular sourcebook, I didn't see anything that deserved that rating (the main comic on which this is based does have a lot of violence and other situations that are not appropriate for young readers)
  • More Information: The official page on DC Comics is here, but there's really no information other than a list of the issues that have been published to date; click on each issue cover will give a short synopsis of that issue. There's no Wikipedia page yet, so your best bet is to just check out the issues to learn more for yourself. There are only five issues so far, plus the campaign sourcebook, so it wouldn't be that difficult to catch up.  


OTHER COMIC BOOK INSPIRATIONS & REVIEWS FROM MY BLOG

In looking at these, certain patterns in the types of comics I like to read emerged. This list includes only independent comics, so my inspirational reviews for DC and Marvel comics are not included below, but you can find them by looking through the DC or Marvel tags.

I grouped the comics below into rough categories based on genre, but many of them are cross-genre:

FANTASY

  • High Fantasy with Court Intrigue & Shaman Magic: Isola
    • A female captain of the guard protects, and looks for a cure for, her queen, who has been cursed by someone from her court and turned into a tiger (who can't speak)
  • "Post-Magic" Apocalyptic Fantasy Wasteland: Coda
    • The main character is a bard who is telling the story of how magic was destroyed in the world, and carries around the severed head of an elf, which holds some of the last magic in the world (and which also sarcastically complains to the bard constantly)
  • American Westward Expansion Fantasy Horror: Manifest Destiny
    • Lewis and Clark set out on a mission from Jefferson to explore, map, and "claim" the west for the fledgling United States government, but also, secretly, to remove or destroy the horrific, fantastical creatures that live there so as not to scare potential settlers
  • Fantasy Adventurer's Guilds & Mercenaries (with humor): Rat Queens
    • Four female mercenaries (a human cleric, an elf wizard, a dwarf warrior, and a halfling rogue) team up to become the top Adventurers for Hire but are constantly having to compete with, and prove themselves to, other groups such as the Four Daves, Brother Ponies (all with pony tails), Peaches, and the Obsidian Darkness (pasty-white dark elves). The Rat Queens typically win when it comes to carousing, drinking, and general hell-raising. 
  • Samurai and Pirate Vampires: Bushido
    • It has samurai and pirate vampires. What more do I need to say? 
SCIENCE FANTASY
  • Mash-Up "Gonzo" Campaign with Time Travel, Zombies, Intelligent Apes, 70's Kung Fu, and Barbarians: Bronze Age Boogie
    • I think the title says it all. There's also a Gogo boot-wearing Golem, an ape scientist in a wheelchair, and a 70's Blaxploitation female kick-ass character
SCIENCE FICTION
  • Reality-Bending Space Travel: Black Science
    • A so-called "Anarchic League of Scientists" create a device that punches through the barriers of reality, but they leave too soon and the machine is sabotaged. It's out of control and keeps bouncing to different realities. 
POST-APOCALYPTIC & NEAR FUTURE
  • Family as Government in the Near Future: Lazarus
    • Powerful families divided up the world among themselves after governments collapsed in an economic crisis, and now run the world in a feudal system, with families as the top 0.000001% or less, with Serfs as their vassals and skilled tradespeople, and "Waste" being the remaining 99.9999%. Each family also has a champion, known as a Lazarus, who fights for them to settle disputes in trial-by-combat.  
  • Post-Apocalyptic World Building: The First Kingdom Volume I: The Birth of Tundran
    • A dense book that covers the destruction of the civilized world and then spends multiples pages covering the aftermath and the different types of societies that arose in the wake of the apocalypse before getting to the main story and its characters. It's a great example of the various stages of "civilization" that might arise in a post-apocalyptic world. 
  • Near-Future Xenophobic United States: Undiscovered Country
    • The United States is shrouded in mystery after walling itself off 30 years ago and cutting off all communication with the outside world. A team of specialists from outside sneak across the border in an attempt to find the cure for a global pandemic, but quickly find that the United States is no longer what people remember. 
HORROR
  • Modern Horror: Wytches
    • Moody and atmospheric, with witches, cursed families, sacrifices, scary forests, and more. 
PULP ADVENTURE
  • Pulp Era Supers & Adventurers: King's Watch
    • Jungle adventures, wild and fantastic nightmare creatures, supernatural phenomena, magic, science-fiction, futuristic technology, galaxy-hopping dictators, aliens, cults...
  • Pulp-Era Vigilantes: Black Beetle
    •  A character created by artist Francesco Francavilla, with pulp adventures, crime stories, and art deco aesthetics
  • Another Pulp-Era Vigilantes Book: Masks
    • This title mixes together a bunch of old pulp-era heroes such as Green Hornet and Kato, the Shadow, the Spider and Ram Singh, Zorro, Miss Fury, and Black Bat and teams them together in 1930's New York against a criminal empire. 
WORLD WAR TWO
  • World War Two Weird Nazi Science: Half-Past Danger
    • It's got a mysterious island, pulp-era weird science, a team of Allied soldiers fighting Nazis, a ninja, a femme fatale... oh, yeah, and Dinosaurs. 
  • Fighting Nazi Super Soldiers: Uber
    • In the waning days of World War II, Nazi scientists are finally able to perfect their version of a super soldier serum, and create three super-powered terrors who are ordered to destroy as much land and villages as they can, to make Germany a wasteland before the Allies can win the war. Little by little, they are able to push the Allies back, causing the Allies to send spies to learn the secrets of the super soldier serum for themselves. 
  • The True Story of the Golem & World War II Adventures: Breath of Bones
    • Pretty much what it says - this is an historical fantasy fiction tale that tells of where the idea of "golems" comes from, and then tells and beautiful and heart-wrenching story about a Jewish village being attacks by Nazis in World War II
  • World War II Supers: Captain Midnight
    • A perfect way to model a 1940's era World War II superhero game, with ideas for gadgets, characters, locales,and adventure seeds
VICTORIAN-ERA
  • Victorian-Era Pulp Science & Literary Characters: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
    • Please, if your only knowledge of this is from the movie, forget about that and read the comic by Alan Moore, the same guy who created the WatchmenV for Vendetta, and From Hell, among others
MODERN FANTASY
  • 1970's Cthulhu Noir: Abbott
    • A black, female reporter in 1970's Detroit follows up on a story involving a mysterious murder. I love this story for so many reasons, but one is that it doesn't shy away from difficult questions on both race relations and gender issues that still impact us today.  
  • Twisted Young Adult Fairy Tale: Mae
    • Sort of a reverse "Alice in Wonderland" - the story focuses on what happens in the real world after one of the main characters is transported to a twisted, weird fairy-tale world
  • Hard-Boiled Detective Supernatural Thriller: Ten Grand
    • Joe Fitzgerald is a former hit-man who was killed while doing "one last job" before retiring, and he now works for the powers above to perform jobs for them. In return, if he dies while performing a righteous act, he is allowed to spend one night in Heaven with the spirit of his dead wife, before being resurrected to continue working. 
HISTORICAL
  • The True Tale of the 47 Ronin & Japanese History: 47 Ronin
    • The real story of these historical Japanese warriors is better than any fictionalized film
CRIME
  • 1950's Crime Noir and the Red Scare: The Fade Out (also here)
    • A gorgeously illustrated murder mystery story about a screenwriter who witnesses the murder of blonde bombshell star and struggles through alcoholism and writer's block to find the murderer - perfect for games set in this time period


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Sweater Weather" by the Neighbourhood, from the album "I Love You."


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

RPG Reviews: Neon Lords of the Toxic Wasteland (Playtest Version)

This is a review for a post-apocalyptic tabletop role-playing game. I cover what's included in the game, the gaming style, some cool bits that help it stand out, and pros-and-cons.

BACKGROUND
I know a lot of people dislike Facebook, and there are valid reasons why. On a personal level, I mainly use it for sharing photos of my daughter with a select group of friends and family, and also posting my (not quite) night "cocktail and vinyl" photos. My blog also has a Facebook page. I have noticed, in post Google+ world we live in, that I get a lot more engagement and comments on my RPG Facebook posts than I get on Twitter (which is almost nothing) or MeWe (although that community does seem to be much more focused on old-school RPGs, but it also has a much larger contingent of gamers with viewpoints with whom I fundamentally disagree).

While on Facebook a few months ago, I came across some posts from a self-publisher about a new post-apocalyptic game called Neon Lords of the Toxic Wasteland. I'm a huge fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, as long-term followers of my blog know. The creator asked for opinions on the game he was putting together, and I offered to look it over. It's been so long since he asked for comments, so I decided rather than just write a short paragraph in a Facebook comment, I'd dedicated a more in-depth review here on the blog.

WHAT IT IS
Note that at the time of this review, I am reviewing a PDF playtest copy of the rules, which runs 64 pages long including the OGL. The book is "three color" - mainly black and white, but with two accent colors of a bright neon green and a neon pink.

This is a rulebook with some light setting information for running a post-apocalyptic style game in a "gonzo" (to use a term favored by old-school gamers) futuristic world called Neo-Terraxx. The introductory page indicates that "The Earth [sic] is a desolate wasteland full of Toxic [sic] radiation from a long forgotten war. Now there is nothing but DARKNESS and SLAVERY for Mankind [sic]."

Just to get this first part out of the way, there are typos, random capitalization (as seen in the above quote), and some grammatical errors that do have an impact on reading the text. I mentioned to the author, Brian Shutter, that he could use an editor to give the text a good once-over to correct these errors, and he agreed. I know he's publishing this himself and most likely doesn't have a huge budget, and he does seem to have caught quite a few errors between the initial version of the rules he sent me and this new playtest version, so he's going in the right direction. Note that to avoid the constant use of [sic] to indicate errors, from herein in this review, when quoting from the book, I will replicate the errors contained therein but not acknowledging them.

The premise of the setting indicates that the "Neon Wars" happened in 1992, followed by the first inter-dimensional contact with alien beings (the "Dwarflings") and others in 2000. These were then followed by demonic incursions that introduced magic into the world. In the game's default setting, these event occurred 10 million years ago.

A better explanation of the world, to me, is in the Preface in "Part I Players Section," in which Shutter notes that:

"Neon Lords of the Toxic Wasteland" can be summed up as HE-MAN escaping from New York in a post-apocalyptic vehicle blasting heavy metal while his wizard pal spews the most unholy evil spells out the passenger side window at a horde of mutants. Ultra-violent and style matters rpg set in the far future, after the neon wars of 1992. Half Medieval Fantasy half Sci-Fi, all Gonzo.
 "Neon Lords of the Toxic Wasteland" stemmed out of my love for 80's and 90's action, horror, Sci-Fi, and pop culture. It's a pen and paper rpg mix-tape of all the radness that came out of those decades.  

After that short introduction, the book's contents are revealed, including sections for a basic primer of role-playing games for those new to this type of gaming, character creation, then character options (which are listed separately instead of grouped together under a section on classes), hiring mercenaries, spells (it seems only 1st level spells are included, but that could just be because this is a playtest version), and a few sections on things like fumble tables and "to the max" tables (more on that later).

The second half of the book is devoted to referees (called a "Neon Lord" for this game), including monster and treasure descriptions, a quick reference sheet, a short introductory adventure, and some optional rules.

GAME STYLE
Neon Lords of the Toxic Wasteland is an old-school style game, but it is not a retro-clone and not seeking to emulate or recreate any past games. Characters are created by rolling 3d6 for each ability, in order. The abilities roughly map to the standard old-school D&D style abilities, but they are renamed as Burliness, Prowess, Endurance, Attitude, Brains, and Sleaze. The game interestingly divides Attitude ("...how cool a PC is") versus Sleaze ("...measures your overall like-ability and credibility."). The rules go on to explain that someone with a high attitude and slow sleaze would be trusted in most humanoid civilizations, but not well-liked in the Wastelands, and the opposite would be true for someone with low attitude and high sleaze. I see what Shutter was trying to go for here, but the nuances do get a little muddied, and having two scores that basically measure the same thing gets confusing. It might have been better to simply have a single score with modifiers based on background.

Another character trait that immediately follows these six ability scores is Fortune, but it works differently from the other six ability scores and at first I was confused as to whether it was rolled the same way (it is, I learned afterwards). Each different character class has different things it can do with its fortune points, noted in the class descriptions. In general, this leads me to another item that could be improved in future editions of the book, which is the layout. Again, I understand Shutter is self-publishing and most likely does not have the help of a layout person or designer, but a simple statement upfront of what different traits make up a character and listing those before getting into the details would be helpful, as would be nothing that there are seven ability scores, etc. Given that this is a playtest copy, I would encourage Shutter to look at some other similar style games to get ideas for layout and organization that will help in future editions of Neon Lords.

The game mentions nine classes: Death Bringer (melee combat masters), War Wizard (whose spells are fueled by a demon lord), Night Stalker (a rogue-type), Star Spawn (psychic aliens), Dwarfling (alien immigrants from a destroyed planet), Holy Smiter (a paladin-like class), Cosmic Barbarian (a post-apocalyptic take on the fantasy favorite), Cyberskin (cybernetic characters), and Skull Jammer (hackers of cybernetics). In this playtest version, the section for the Star Spawn says "coming soon" and there are no listings or descriptions or details for the Night Stalker, or Cyberskin classes. The Skull Jammer class is also listed as "coming soon" but for some reason it is listed out of order, following the sections on Equipment, Hirelings, and Mercenaries, instead of with the other classes.

For the classes that are described, they span 10 levels, and include different class-based powers. One of the unique aspects of Neon Lords is that each class has different "class-based ability scores" that they can spend on different actions. Death bringers spend theirs on fury (adding to attack rolls and damage) while war wizards spend theirs on chaos to ensure their spells reach the intended target. Once again, these abilities are rolled using 3d6, but that is only explained in a short side-bar that I almost missed.

The game is a mix of both old and new-school concepts, although it does adhere mainly to an old-school aesthetic by including concepts like hirelings, XP for gold (but the game also includes XP for monster-slaying), rolling attributes in order with a standard 3d6 array, and use of random tables for a wide variety of concepts. Other times, new-school concepts are included, such as ascending AC and noting that class-based ability scores are recovered after a "long rest" (a 5th Edition concept).

Other concepts are new, or are tweaks on mechanics borrowed from a variety of sources, such as the "Neon Blast Roll" which is just a renaming of the exploding dice concept from Savage Worlds (used for damage dice only). There are fumble and critical outcomes on attack rolls. Critical successes are referred to as "To the Max!" and in a fun concept, the game includes a different "To the Max!" table for each character class, so critical hits don't just do additional damage, but instead different effects determined randomly by character class. 

COOL BITS
The art by Mustafa Bekir is fun and evocative of the setting, and his style reminds me a bit of the Russ Nicholson illustrations from the 1st Edition AD&D Fiend Folio. The style is pen-and-ink and is loose and sketch-like, which works perfectly for this type of setting. The art is relatively sparse, being relegated mostly to the section on classes with illustrations for most of the different character classes, with a few other small illustrations in the monsters section.

A lot of the creativity in this book comes from the random tables and in how they are used. It's self-described as a "gonzo" setting, so everything gets "turned up to 11" to showcase that style. The game includes a lot of random tables to determine everything from hairstyle to class-based abilities. One of my favorites is the hairstyle table, just because it is so specific and illustrative of the setting - styles include mullet, skull cap, mushroom cloud, Mohawk, Flock of Seagulls, Ice Ice, and more; the table is set up to simply pick your style, but could easily be made into a random table, which I would encourage for future editions.

The class-based ability tables are also quite descriptive and evocative. They come into play when a character has spent below a certain amount of class-based ability points to modify certain rolls during combat. As an example, Death Bringers have an ability called Fury that they can spend to modify combat-related rolls. However, if their fury drops below 5 before they are able to take a long rest, they need to roll on their Fury Class Points Table for the consequences. The die roll depends on how many points they have left (1d4 for 5 points, 1d6 for 4 points, 1d10 for 3 points, 1d12 for 2 points, 1d20 for 1 point, or 2d20 for 0 points). The consequences range from a minor inconvenience such as -2 on the next roll, to more serious effects such as higher penalties on the next roll, going into shock, or committing suicide at the most extreme. Each class has a very different able of effects, and different actions that trigger needing to roll on their class ability table for consequences. The War Wizard's most extreme consequence is also death, but it comes in the form of its demon lord "wanting payment" and sucking the war wizard's soul away, leaving in its wake a "Neon Death" (a monster) to fight the remaining party members.

There's also a spell misfire table with effects that include effects such as triggering a mutation (determined by, yes, rolling on a random table), toxic fumes engulfing the caster, hitting a random target, or opening a temporal rift, gating in an otherworldly spawn that attacks everyone in sight.

The random table for fumbles in combat applies to every character and includes concepts such as losing fortune points, damaging your weapon, penalties to AC, or having your opponent call reinforcements.

The "To the Max!" tables for critical hits are more creative and descriptive, as each one is tailored specifically to each class. Death Bringers might turn an enemy's weapon to dust, deal additional damage, stun foes, or trigger foes to make a death save. One of the effects calls "Lord Randy" aka "The Savage One" (one of the gods of the setting) to reveal himself and pass judgment on the foe. War Wizards instead might see cold or lightning effects added to their spell's damage, or might gain HP when their foes are damaged. These tables are fun and add a random element to combat, and also help to detail the type of gonzo setting Shutter is striving for in "Neon Lords." In another fun addition, each monster also has its own "To the Max!" table, but with only two different effects (having 20 would be too much for every single monster, so I understand why this choice was made).

Other random tables include Fear Effects, Drug Effects, Looting Bodies, Minor Mutations and an optional rule for Maiming and Dismemberment.

PROS AND CONS
This is a fun book with some really great concepts and a lot of creativity in character descriptions, and a big focus on combat and death effects. The illustrations are quite good for a self-published book of this type, and there are a lot of ideas in here that can easily be taken and modified or included in a variety of post-apocalyptic type games. The random tables, particularly the critical hit "To the Max!" tables, are ripe for borrowing, modifying, or inspiring referees to create similar tables if they're looking for a higher level of lethality in their games, or have players who prefer to focus on combat versus adventuring.

The book is also free in its playtest format right now for download on DriveThruRPG, and has a good social media presence on Facebook providing updates on upcoming releases.

On the downside, this is not a complete game (yet). Several of the classes that are mentioned in the opening chapters aren't included, and the spell descriptions only cover 1st level spells. There is only very light information with regard to running the game or designing scenarios, and only a short list of monsters and treasure. It's clear that more will be added in the future, and a group could start with the information included to run a one-off game (such as the short scenario included in the playtest book), but long-term campaigning isn't really supported yet.

There's also the aforementioned typographical errors, particularly the random capitalization of words, and quite a few incomplete sentences or improper use of punctuation. This does impact the ability to read and comprehend the material, and ideally something that would be improved upon in future editions as more material is completed.

The layout is serviceable, but there are areas for improvement, such as being more consistent with typefaces and style. Some headers are done in color, but others are not, so there's no consistency to know where section breaks are. The tables use all-caps, which is not always the best choice for legibility. In one section, an entire paragraph is written in bold type, which was most likely an accident. In the short adventure that's included, the type faces and sizes vary throughout, making it difficult to read. All of this could be fixed with a standardized layout or a designer to help.

Lastly, there are some organizational issues, such as not having place-holders for the missing classes (I kept searching for them in the book before realizing that they simply were not yet included), or have the Skull Jammer class listed after the Equipment and Hirelings section instead of with the rest of the classes. While this was obviously an unintentional mistake, it did make reading the rules a bit difficult. Some section headers, and ideally more attention paid to simple two-page layouts that don't spill over to the next page, would help a lot in terms of comprehension of the rules.

All that said, those are all issues that could easily be addressed by some tighter editing and layout, and including the missing pieces of the rules which are most likely still in development and will help to fill in the missing pieces.

NEON LORDS OF THE TOXIC WASTELAND

  • Format: 64-page black-and-white with two accent colors PDF
  • Where to Buy: DriveThruRPG
  • Price: Free
  • System: This is an original system; mainly an old-school D&D clone with additional modern rules tacked-on. 
    • This is a relatively rules-light system (no skills or feats) that should be grasped pretty easily by anyone familiar with Original/Basic/1st Edition D&D/AD&D, as well as 3E/3.5/Pathfinder, or 5th Edition. 
  • More Information: There does not appear to be a dedicated website or blog for this product, but the author updates the game's Facebook page pretty regularly. 


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Dust Bowl Confused Therapist - No Appointment Necessary Imperial India Pale Ale
Listening: "How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?" by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings




Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Open Game Content: D12 Sword & Planet Subclasses for B/X or Old School Essentials Games

Love Romances Publishing /
Allen Anderson / Public domain
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
File:Planet_stories_1950fal.jpg
After a long delay due to continuing editing work on Long Sword by Fantasy Heartbreaker Games as well as helping my daughter finish up her last month of online distance learning for her school in addition to work and helping out my dad, I'm back with another set of D12 Subclasses for B/X or Old School Essentials games. As a reminder, the genesis of these subclasses were inspired by the original D12 subclasses created by Dyson Logos.

For other subclasses in the series, you can go to the subclasses tag for the full list, which includes Experts/Specialists, Wilderness, City-Based/Urban, Naval/Sea-Based, Horror, and Fairy Tales, as well as D12 Sorcerer Bloodlines I created for a B/X-Old School Essentials Sorcerer class I developed.

As I mentioned in my last post, based on comments and requests I've received on Facebook and MeWe, I'm working on tightening these up and getting some new layout and some art done so I can publish these as PDFs for sale. I'll be writing a more official announcement on that soon.

HOW THE SUBCLASSES WORK
If you're read this section before, you can just skip down to the DESIGNER NOTES.

For those are haven't seen my previous posts or Dyson's original D12 subclasses, the idea with these is that every character in the game would take a subclass to keep things balanced, as the subclasses are slightly more powerful than standard B/X classes. If a player opts not to take a subclass and prefers to use the standard B/X classes, the referee should award that player's character an extra +10% to earned XP.

These subclasses are intended to be short, quick modifications to allow for a bit of customization without creating an entirely new class, so while there may be a whole host of additional abilities you could think of to add to each subclass, they would most likely make it too overpowered or would warrant creating a new class instead of modifying an existing one. Each class adds one or two new abilities, and often removes something as well as a balancing feature.

SOME DESIGNER NOTES
This group of subclasses was by far the most difficult to create, both in terms of coming up with 12 distinct, but broadly defined, roles that could depict the genre, as well as figuring out which standard class would make the best option to modify to create the subclasses. The sword and planet genre is quite fascinating in that it has it roots in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series and the related pastiches that came after, but also encompasses newspaper comic strip and early movie serial characters like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Some 1980's animated series such as Blackstar, the Pirates of Dark Water, and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe are also often considered part of the genre, and some would argue that popular works such as Dune and Star Wars are also at least tangentially related.

I tried to pick subclasses archetypes that were common among a wide of array of sword and planet source materials, while also adding some of my own ideas that fit the genre, such as the tech priest. The list started with the "Plucky Princess," inspired by Dejah Thoris, which is why I didn't also include a princess subclass in my Fairy Tale list (instead renaming her a "clever girl" for that list). Since I had added the "plucky" adjective to the name, I decided to keep that naming convention throughout this list.

One of the biggest sword and planet genre conventions is that characters typically wear little or no armor or clothing (in some cases, they might be completely naked or dressed only in a sheer gown or a cape and nothing else), so you'll notice a lot of the abilities are based on adding to the character's armor class if they are wearing little or no armor.

Another thing I struggled with a bit for this list was how to utilize dwarves, elves, and halflings. In the end, I just turned them into aliens, with the idea that I was basing the subclasses on the mechanics of the base class, but that the appearance and culture would be left up to the referee and players to determine. "Animal-men" are a frequent character archetype in this genre, which is where the birdman and catman came from. I had a longer list that also included a reptile-man but I removed it to make room for some of the other subclasses. 

You'll notice that there's a "red alien" but no others for green, yellow, white, black, etc. The "noble savage" subclass would be used to replicate a "green martian" from Barsoom, but for the most part, most of the other martians in that series are relatively human-like for the most part, other than their skin color and long life, so ultimately I decided to just use the "red alien" as an example. I encourage people who want different color martians/aliens to use these subclasses as inspirations to create your own new ones.

The heroic outlander is intended to be used to create characters like John Carter, Jonathan Dark (aka "Jandor") from the Callisto series, or Buck Rogers. For this subclass as well as the plucky princess, I got inspiration from some articles that James Maliszewski wrote about way back in 2009 on his Grognardia blog. 

The inspiration for the merciless ruler should be pretty obvious, and the cunning mentalist is another character type that appears frequently in this genre. The sky pirate seemed like a natural fit for the thief class.

This is a genre that's really ripe for experimentation and creativity, to add things like ray guns, air ships, scores of different aliens, and weird scientific gadgets. More on that will be coming soon.

In the meantime, here are the subclasses. As always, I very much welcome your comments, inputs, suggestions, and critiques.




Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Open Game Content: D12 Fairy Tale Subclasses for B/X or Old School Essentials Games

This presents another list of subclasses for B/X or Old School Essentials games, as always inspired by the original D12 Subclasses created by Dyson Logos.

For other subclasses in my series, you can check out the subclasses tag, or go directly to the ones that sound interesting to you: Experts/Specialists, Wilderness, City-Based/Urban, Naval/Sea-Based, and Horror. I also created "D12 Sorcerer Bloodlines" for my B/X-Old School Essentials Sorcerer Class.

Also, see below for a short announcement about me publishing these in a more user-friendly format.

HOW THE SUBCLASSES WORK
If you've read this section before, you can just skip directly down to the DESIGNER NOTES.

As a reminder for those who haven't seen my previous posts, or who haven't read Dyson's posts on the matter, the idea is that every character in a game like this would take a subclass. If a player opts to play a standard version of a character class instead, the referee should award that player's character +10% to earned XP to account for having fewer class features and abilities.

These subclasses are intended to be short, quick modifications to allow for a bit of customization without creating an entire new class, so while there may be a whole host of additional abilities you could think of to add to each subclass, they could end up making it too over-powered, or could instead have enough changes to warrant the creation of an entire new class in its own right. Instead, I'm taking the standard classes from the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X edition of D&D (or from Old School Essentials) and adding one or two new abilities based on the theme of the list. In some cases, I also remove some abilities for balance and flavor.

SOME DESIGNER NOTES
This is an interesting list that actually started out as "Feudal-Noble-Aristocratic" subclasses, but I was having trouble filling in some of the roles. At the same time, I had a "Fairy Tale" list of subclasses, and eventually realized that I was overlapping the lists when I put a "Faerie Queen" subclass under the Elf class on the Feudal-Noble-Aristocratic list. At that point, it just made sense to merge the lists, but ultimately the Fairy Tale inspired subclasses took precedence. These ones are a little more whimsical in their descriptions than my other subclasses, and include notes on personality traits, appearance, and naming conventions. 

The Friar subclass for the cleric is obviously inspired by Friar Tuck from tales of Robin Hood. There are many different versions of the character throughout his literary history, but I tried to settle on the most recognizable characteristics. This one has a bit of influence from Michael McShane's version from the Kevin Costner Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves movie. (Yes, I know it's not a great movie, but that version of Friar Tuck was the one that popped into my head while working on this). 

 The dwarf subclass of the Ring Crafter is a nod to the character of Alberich from the Ring of the Nibelung saga. I had two different dwarf concepts I was toying with, but I'm saving the other one for a different project I'm working on. 

The elf Faerie Queen subclass was one of the first on my list to create, but the mechanics came toward the end. I did a lot of reading about faerie queens from literature dating back to the original The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser from 1590. The queen herself never really appears in the stories, so trying to assign traits to the subclass was more difficult than I'd originally thought. 

The fighter subclasses were some of the most fun to create. I originally had subclasses like Crusader, Knight, and Steward, when I was focusing on more feudal type subclasses, but I knew that the Knight had already been created for Old School Essentials' Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules. I therefore decided to add in some more fairy-tale or literary type concepts. I realize that the "Clever Girl" could be called a "Princess," but when I originally envisioned her, I was thinking of characters like Little Red Riding Hood. I'm also saving the term "princess" for another project on which I'm working. Given that, "Clever Girl" seemed appropriate. The Boy King subclass is obviously a nod to King Arthur, including acknowledging that he often makes bad decisions even when given wise counsel. I added the Knight Errant and Giant Killer much later, after doing a bit of research on different archetypes from the medieval literary period. 

As an aside, one thing I've noticed that's difficult about writing in the Old School Essentials style is the lack of pronouns like "he" and "she" or "his" and "hers." I've gone through the rules several times, and nothing is ever written in a manner such as "When fighting a foe directly related to a quest he has accepted..."  That's why a lot of times, I feel that my writing and descriptions get a little clunky, as it necessitates repeating the subclass title instead of saying "he" or "she." 

The Squire was also originally on my list, assigned as a subclass to halfling. By the time I got to working out the mechanics, I'd used a lot of the ideas across the Boy King, Knight Errant, and Picaro subclasses. As it is now, I'm not sure that the Squire stands out enough, but I couldn't think of another fairy-tale appropriate concept for halflings. 

Both of the magic-user subclasses came to mind early on in the process, and the Evil Queen was actually pretty easy to design, because there's a lot to work with in literature and fairy tales. I'm not typically a fan of evil PCs, but played properly, I think an Evil Queen could work, or perhaps just be used as an NPC. The Wizened Mentor idea was also pretty easy, concept-wise, but creating the mechanics for "giving advice" took some doing. The idea is that the Wizened Mentor usually has good ideas, but might have such a quirky personality that people don't always accept his advice, and it gets them into trouble. The Wizened Mentor works best in a party that also has a Boy King and a Trusting Fool who might constantly ask for the Wizened Mentor's advice. 

The Picaro was one of the first thief ideas I came up with when I was transitioning my list from standard Feudal subclasses to incorporate more Fairy Tale type ideas. This was be the Sancho Panza to a Knight Errant's Don Quixote. One of my inspirations for this was actually old Looney Tunes cartoons when Porky Pig acts as Daffy Duck's sidekick, particularly from Robin Hood Daffy and Rocket Squad.

The Trusting Fool was a very late addition to my list, which I discovered while researching different fairy tale archetypes. Interestingly, combining the Trusting Fool with the Giant Killer gets you Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack the Giant Killer was a separate English fairy tale that seems to date to 1711, and which takes place in Arthurian times with Jack being an extremely strong and clever lad who kills giants, whereas the character from Jack and the Beanstalk gets into trouble because he is duped into trading the family cow for magic beans, but that mistake ends up benefiting him in the end. He outwits the giant, but doesn't go out of his way to kill or hunt them. As I was researching these concepts, I learned a lot about these early fairy tales and the history of the Jack character, an archetypal Cornish and English hero, often portrayed as lazy or foolish, but emerging triumphant through the use of cleverness and tricks. It had actually never occurred to me that the characters of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack Be Nimble, Jack Frost, Little Jack Horner, Jack & Jill, Jack Sprat, and others, were all based on the same Cornish archetype. 

There was one other fairy tale subclass archetype for the thief class that I didn't use because I'm saving it or another project, but I can tell you that it was based on a classic animated film. 

With that background, below is a table of the subclasses. As always, I very much much welcome your comments, input, suggestions, and critiques. 

A few people have asked me if I'm planning to publish these anywhere, and after having been asked that a few times, I can tell you that I am working on it. My goal for these would be to refine and tighten up the subclasses based on peoples' comments, and then to add in a few additional pages for each "theme" so that you'd be getting new content beyond just the tables of subclasses. I've started working on the Experts/Specialists list, and incorporating a few other classes that I created here, including some detailed revisions of the Alchemist Apprentice (which is just a standard Alchemist now), the Demolitionist (revised and improved), and the Inventor (working on revising this one right now). That might be a separate book, as it's a bit of a niche product, and then I'll gather the Wilderness, City/Urban, Naval/Sea, Horror, and Fairy Tale subclasses into a separate books. These would be short PDFs with some art, and available on DriveThruRPG. 




Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "Watermelon Man" by Fred Wesley and the J.B.'s from "The Lost Album"



   

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Suggested Reading for National Superhero Day April 28th

Today, as I learned on my Alexa device this morning, is "National Superhero Day," celebrated every year on April 28th to honor superheroes, both real and fictional.

While superheroes like Batman, the Flash, Superman, and Captain America are fictional, as I've mentioned here before on my blog, they are also symbols of hope and role-models, inspiring people to be and act better. They are really just part of America's mythology of shared stories, similar to how stories of the Greek myths of antiquity were used as morality tales.

How can you celebrate National Superhero Day? For starters, something extremely meaningful you can do is recognize and thank all of the healthcare workers and others, like grocery store employees, who are putting themselves on the front lines of COVID-19 to provide treatment to those who are sick, and food and supplies for the rest of us. Those are some true real-life superheroes.

After that, you might be looking for something new to read. A recent study by a huge advertising agency conglomerate  indicated that "...nearly half (46%) of American consumers say they've already run out of media content to watch, read, or listen to." First off, that's just ridiculous. There is so much content out there in all three media (video, books, and music) and one could never "run out" in their lifetime. As I've been discussing with my friend, this is really just a case of people running out of what they're comfortable with reading/watching/listening to, and they're not using this as a chance to expand their media consumption to try something new, like listening to a different genre of music, or watching a documentary instead of another reality show or sitcom, or reading, say, a comic book instead of a romance novel.

Today I'm providing some recommendations of three different superhero stories of which I'm a big fan, but that have somewhat flown under the radar and don't often make the trendy lists of "best comics" alongside titles such as The Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Marvel's Civil War, of the Infinity Gauntlet. The three comics I feature below have something for everyone - one is an age appropriate title that will especially appeal to tween/teen girls, one has an intriguing story involving villains realizing that superheroes don't do enough to help and deciding to use their powers to make things better for the world, with some fantastic art, and one story has some fun comedic moments and some fantasy elements, and is written by a famous fantasy book author.   

DIAL H FOR HERO
This is based on a concept developed in the mid-1960's involving a magical rotary-dial telephone that is found by a young boy, who dials "H" and is transformed into a new, unique superhero for a short time. Every time he dials, he turns into someone else, with a different variety of powers and without knowing which hero he's going to turn into.

It's a fun concept, made even more so by a revised version of the story, recreated in 2012 by fantasy author China Miéville (of Perdido Street Station fame). In this version, the hero of the story is an out-of-shape and unemployed guy in his late 20's and already recovering from a heart attack, Nelson Jent, who accesses the powers of the H-dial via a phone booth. Interestingly, in his town, there is another dial user, and elderly woman named Manteau, who becomes a type of mentor to Nelson. The two of them begin working together to find other dial users as well as someone called Ex Nihilo, a "nullomancer." Along the way, each time Nelson uses the H-dial, he turns into unpredictable heroes like Boy Chimney, Captain Lachrymose, the Iron Snail, Baroness Resin, Shamanticore, Rancid Ninja, and Cock-a-Hoop. As you can tell by the hero names, there is a lot of humor in this story, but underlying everything is a darkness that adds to the creepy fantasy elements. There's also a theme involve Nelson, who wants to be a better person and become a hero, realizing that he is losing his own self-identify every time he uses the H-dial to gain the powers of a different superhero.

There are two trade paperbacks of the 2012/2013 Dial H series, which you can order from your local comic book shop if they are still open (I highly encourage this, as they need all the help they can get right now and it's worth spending a few extra dollars to help them stay on their feet versus ordering them from a big online merchandiser).

The series was once again resurrected just last year as part of an all-ages imprint of DC Comics, called Wonder Comics, spear-headed by superstar comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, whom DC Comics wooed over from a very long stint at Marvel Comics recently. The new Dial H for Hero series is written by one of my favorite comics writers, Sam Humphries, and it just concluded a few months ago - it was a 12-issue maxi-series that tells of the new founder of the H-dial, Miguel Montez. Miguel meets a runaway girl named Summer Pickles, and the two of them accidentally stumble across an H-dial and then become embroiled in a battle with the sinister Mr. Thunderbolt, and his Thunderbolt Club, who are trying to find all four dials (in this version of the story, there are four different colored dials - Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black), and the identify of Mr. Thunderbolt, as well as a benefactor named the Operator, were a huge, but fun shock. Both Miguel and Summer end up using the H-dial and become different heroes including Jobu the Zonkey King, Bluebird of Happiness, Iron Deadhead, Lo-Lo Kick You, Chimp Change, Alien Ice Cream Man, and Li'l Miguelito. Once again, the heroes are intended to be humorous, and each time a new hero is called up, the story takes a detour to tell the origin of that particular hero, who will most likely never be seen again. It's a fun homage to old-school Silver Age comics, while still being up-to-date enough to suit modern tastes.

This story is also told in two trade paperbacks. Volume 1 is available right now, whereas Volume 2 will be released in June 2020.

JUSTICE

This was a 12-issue limited series, published bi-monthly from 2005 to 2007, written by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger, with art by Alex Ross and Doug Braithwaite. Alex Ross is known for his photo-realistic style of art. He uses models for almost every single shot, to ensure that the musculature is in the correct position, and he bases many of his figures on famous actors (most notably, he uses Fred MacMurray as his basis for Captain Marvel/SHAZAM and Bruce Willis for his version of an elderly Captain America in the Earth-X story).

Justice tells the story of how earth's super-villains all have a shared dream or vision involving a nuclear Armageddon of Earth, which the Justice League fails to prevent. Believing that overconfidence on the part of the Justice League is to blame for the impending disaster, the villains decide to use their powers to destroy the Justice League by first improving the lives of the citizens of the world. They improve crops and food growing capabilities of third world countries, provide medical resources to combat disease, and fix other problems, earning them the respect and admiration of the general public, who begin to turn their backs on the Justice League.

Meanwhile, the leader of the super-villains, Lex Luthor, engineers a plan to remove the Justice League from the equation by utilizing stolen contingency plans Batman has created in the event that any member of the Justice League went rogue and needed to be stopped. One by one, the members of the League are brought down by Luthor and his cohorts, as a well to prevent them from then making the mistakes that cause the nuclear destruction of the Earth.

Of course, not everything is what it seems, but this is a great story that specifically causes the reader to consider how far heroes should go to interfere in the lives of others, even if it's for good or noble causes. Should Superman stop people from fighting, or should Wonder Woman interfere to stop a war just because she has the power to do so?

As a story that involves dozens of heroes and villains, this is a great way to get introduced to DC's huge library of characters if you're not familiar with them, and this story arc is non-continuity, meaning that it has specific ending point and it's not related to anything else that was happening in DC Comics at the time of its publication, so you don't need to read anything else for this story to make sense.

On top of all that, you have the gorgeous artwork to appreciate.

SUPERGIRL: BEING SUPER

This short four-issue story is my favorite Supergirl story in recent memory. Written by Mariko Tamaki with art by Joelle Jones, Sandu Florea, and Kelly Fitzpatrick, this is a new retelling of Supergirl's origins, which takes inspiration from the first telling of her origin, but updating it to tell a coming-of-age story of a young 16 year-old girl. Yes, she's Kara Zor-El, an alien with incredible powers. But, she's also a girl trying to navigate all of the things that a typical teenager has to deal with: friendships, relationships, school, and more. In this case, Kara's powers don't really manifest until her teenage years, so not only is she dealing with figuring out what's happening to her and wondering if it's part of normal puberty problems, she's also trying to hide what's happening from her friends.

I loved this story and highly recommend it, especially to parents of tween or teen girls. The entire series is available in one trade collection, and, as with Justice, it's "non-continuity," so it's self-contained and doesn't require any additional reading for context. In this case, it's also an origin story, making it a great introduction to the character for new readers.



As mentioned, your local comic book shop should be able to order these for delivery to you. If you're not sure if you have shop nearby, check out the Comic Shop Locator and just enter your ZIP Code to find your closest shop.

And lastly, a little treat - if you've also out of things to listen to, you can check out a playlist of Superhero themes I made on Spotify. These aren't all of the themes on there, but they're some of my favorites.

What are some of your favorite superhero stories? Share them below in the comments or on my social media channels.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: CalifornIPA by The Dudes Brewing Company
Listening: "Robin's Theme" by Dan and Dale, Sun Ra & the Blues Project, from the album "The Music of DC Comics: Volume 2"



Monday, April 20, 2020

Open Game Content: D12 Horror Subclasses for B/X or Old School Essentials Games

This represents the fifth (or sixth, if you count the first table I came up with for my revised B/X-OSE Sorcerer class) table of subclasses for B/X and/or Old School Essentials games, this time for games with a stronger horror undercurrent. The idea of creating B/X style subclasses was inspired by the original D12 Subclasses by Dyson Logos on his blog.

HOW THE SUBCLASSES WORK
As a reminder for those who haven't seen my previous posts, or who haven't read Dyson's posts on the matter, the idea is that every character in a game like this would take a subclass. If a player opts to play a standard version of a character class instead, the referee should award that player's character +10% to earned XP to account for having fewer class features and abilities.

These subclasses are intended to be short, quick modifications to allow for a bit of customization without creating an entire new class, so while there may be a whole host of additional abilities you could think of to add to each subclass, they could end up making it too over-powered, or could instead have enough changes to warrant the creation of an entire new class in its own right. Instead, I'm taking the standard classes from the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X edition of D&D (or from Old School Essentials) and adding one or two new abilities based on the theme of the list. In some cases, I also remove some abilities for balance and flavor.

SOME DESIGNER NOTES
This is the first list of subclasses I've created that didn't have anything to do with the initial work I did on Expert characters. While converting some of the character concepts, multi-class concepts, and prestige classes I created for my discarded proposal for the Quintessential Expert over to B/X style subclasses, I kept a running list, and many of the leftover ideas that didn't make my list of D12 Expert/Specialist Subclasses I eventually used as inspirations to create lists for Wilderness, City/Urban, and Naval/Sea-Based Subclasses. As I was working on those themed lists, I started to think of other genres that could make sense for a table of subclasses, and horror was the first new genre that came to mind.

Several of the concepts on this list came to mind right away, including all three cleric subclasses of Exorcists, Occultists, and Spiritualists, as well as the Fortune Teller for elves (I changed the name of this one several times), the Necromancer for magic-users, and the Grave Robber for thieves. While I had the ideas for the titles of the subclasses, the actual abilities didn't come until much later. In fact, the Grave Robber subclass was the most difficult of all of this initial group to write, and I almost ended up discarding it completely because I couldn't figure out how to give it the right set of abilities that would be useful to an adventuring group but still make sense thematically.

Other concepts were much more difficult to create, which is one of the reason that it's been about a week since I made my last subclass post.

The dwarf concept was, by far, the most difficult one to create for this list, primarily because I couldn't think of an appropriate archetype that made sense for dwarves in a horror setting. Initially I was going to make them a version of demon slayer, but it wasn't quite fitting the aesthetic I was going for with this list, and the problems were compounded by the issue that demons and devils aren't part of the "official" rules for B/X D&D or Old School Essentials. I've spent the better part of two or more weeks trying to come up with a different archetype, at points considering some kind of angry, lost and forgotten underground version, or making them close to the derro from 1E Advanced D&D. At one point, I even considered how to make a dwarf subclass that emulated an Igor type lab assistant character. It wasn't until this morning, actually, that I came up with the idea of using Rumpelstiltskin as an archetype idea, but rather than using the proper name, I called him a Dark One, or an Imp. The abilities for this one are kind of fun, but I do wonder about the ability to create ("spin") gold out of mundane materials. It's only once a day, and the character can't keep the gold, so I figured it wouldn't be too powerful. It's mostly there for flavor purposes.

The Afflicted subclass of fighters was another semi-late addition to the list. Originally I was trying to work out a concept that would apply to a character bitten or infected by a lycanthrope or a vampire, and then I split it into two different subclasses, and ultimately discarded the vampire idea to concentrate on the lycanthrope idea, as I felt it was more flavorful. The Afflicted isn't intended to be a full lycanthrope, but rather a character that is fighting against its nature and holding his humanity intact. The d6 roll to determine the "animal affinity" was the first random roll idea I had for these subclassses, and then I extended that idea to the elf Fortune Teller and the magic-user Mad Scholar.

For the halfling subclass, the Jinx, I originally was going to go for a lighter touch and have them be a "good luck charm" type of character, but changed later to instead focus on bringing bad luck to opponents instead of good luck to comrades.

On the magic-user side, I struggled a bit with creating another subclass. I initially had a Golem Maker subclass that I envisioned as a Dr. Frankenstein type, and a Mad Scientist that was the classic crazy character that dabbles into things man was not meant to know. After doing some digging, I recalled that creating golems was a task for much higher level characters than B/X or Old School Essentials handle, and after initially discarding the entire idea, I realized that Dr. Frankenstein was a bigger concept than being limited to just golems, and I ended up merging the two different archetypes into the Mad Scholar. I like the d4 table to explain why they have a reaction roll penalty.

Lastly, having recently finished playing a years-long on-again, off-again campaign of the Masks of Nyarlothotep, playing an Investigator, I really wanted to use that as an archetype upon which to base a subclass. While that was one of the first subclasses I put on my list, it was toward the end of the ones that I fleshed out with different abilities.

As always, I'd really appreciate any comments, suggestions, and improvements you all have - comments from the community are one of the huge benefits of playing and developing content for the OSR RPGs.



Hanging: Home office (laptop), dining room table (laptop), and living room couch (Moleskine notebook)
Drinking: Oban Distillery's Edition 2012 Scotch Whisky
Listening: "The Grunt" by the J.B.'s, from the album "Food for Thought"




Monday, April 13, 2020

Open Game Content: D12 Naval/Sea Adventures Subclasses for B/X or Old School Essentials Games

Continuing with my series on "D12 Subclasses" for B/X and Old School Essentials games (inspired, as always, but the fun and creative work done by Dyson Logos), here are 12 subclasses for games set in waterborne environments.

HOW THE SUBCLASSES WORK
As a reminder for those who haven't seen my previous posts, or who haven't read Dyson's posts on the matter, the idea is that every character in a game like this would take a subclass. If a player opts to play a standard version of a character, the referee should award that player's character +10% to earned XP to account for having fewer class features and abilities.

These subclasses are intended to be short, quick modifications to allow for a bit of customization without creating an entire new class, so while there may be a whole host of additional abilities you could think of to add to each subclass, they could end up making it too over-powered, or could instead have enough changes to warrant the creation of an entire new class in its own right. Instead, I'm taking the standard classes from the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X edition of D&D (or from Old School Essentials) and adding one or two new abilities based on the theme of the list. In some cases, I also remove some abilities as a balancing factor.

SOME DESIGNER NOTES
As with many of these lists so far, the idea for this particular theme came from looking over a few of the concepts I'd considered for my discarded Quintessential Expert proposal I was developing back in 2004/2005 for the 3.5 Edition of D&D. Specifically, I'd created a Sailor "character concept" (like a background, essentially), and a Ship's Captain prestige class. As I looked over the list, I figured I had two sea-based adventuring types that could be subclasses, so I just needed to figure out 10 more.

For this list, I was originally only going to create subclasses for the four human classes (cleric, fighter, magic-user, and thief). But, at the last minute, I snuck in an aquatic elf, because I remember liking those ever since encountering an NPC aquatic elf named (un-creatively) "Oceanus" in the classic AD&D adventure U1: The Secret of Saltmarsh, which was one of the first AD&D modules I played through as a kid. I recall that Oceanus was a Fighter/Thief, and this was a big deal to me as a very young, inexperienced player, because up until that point, I hadn't considered that elves other than High Elves could have class levels.

Once I created the aquatic elf subclass, it stuck out on my list because I didn't have anything for dwarves or halflings. As a result, I decided to create the dwarf "Sea Dog" and the halfling "Shantyman."

The dwarf Sea Dog subclass is intended to emulate the sort of old, experienced, but gruff and hard-drinking type of sea adventurer, who adds a bit of good luck to an expedition just by virtue of being aboard ship.

The halfling Shantyman (I'll confess I'm not ecstatic about the name, but it's a real word) was my idea of a hafling type bard who could also add a bit of good fortune to a ship's crew, as opposed to some of the more world-weary type subclasses on the list.

Giving credit where credit is due, the "Deep One Disciple" cleric subclass owes its inspiration to the Deep One Hybrid from the very creative Against the Wicked City blog. There are a lot of very creative and non-standard B/X style classes on that blog for you to check out.

I avoided using term "Swashbuckler" as a subclass, since that was already included on Dyson's lists, and instead went with "Buccaneer" for fighters. This subclass uses a unique "two-weapon fighting" mechanic that is different from that presented in the Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules (page 25), so you may want to just pick one or the other.

I also did a unique parry type rule for the Corsair thief subclass (originally this was a Pirate, then a Buccaneer, but I ended up using Buccaneer for a fighter subclass, and I wasn't thrilled with "Pirate" because it was a bit too dull). There are more detailed parry rules in the Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules, so if you use those, you might want to change this Corsair ability to something else (perhaps letting them use their dexterity bonus to melee attacks instead of their strength bonus).

For the smuggler, the idea with spending gp to get a reaction bonus is the equivalent of a bribe. I considered making it 10 gp per number of HD of the person being bribed, but the description got too wordy and fiddly. But, it's something I'm considering for any revisions I do of the list. I tried to envision the smuggler as a Han Solo type, which is where using the idea of them being able to use their thief skill to hide contraband cargo came from, as well as the idea of increasing their ability to evade pursuit.

The remaining subclasses I think are pretty self-explanatory in terms of the archetypes that inspired them.

As with all my subclasses and any other Open Game Content I have here on the blog, I welcome your comments and suggestions. 












Hanging: Home office (laptop) and living room (moleskin notebook)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Van Horn - Beatsumishi Remix" by Saint Motel (remixed by Van Horn) from the album "Van Horn (Beatsumishi Remix)"


Thursday, April 9, 2020

Open Game Content: D12 City or Urban Subclasses for B/X or Old School Essentials Games

This continues my short series on creating some subclasses for various different themes of B/X D&D Games (compatible with Old School Essentials), with some city/urban subclasses.

The idea of creating subclasses came from a series of posts on Dyson Logos' blog (I keep pointing that out each time because I want to make sure Dyson gets credit for the idea!).  As a reminder, from the system that Dyson created, the idea is that every character would take a subclass; if the player chooses not to, then the standard character would earn +10% XP to account for not having the additional abilities afforded by the subclass.

The idea of creating some more city-based subclasses sprang from the D12 Expert-Specialist subclasses I put together. When I was working on this, I ended up with a few more than 12, and I also got some input from a few folks on social media to add some different abilities to one of the subclasses, which then ended up becoming a separate subclass in its own right. I began to see that I could put the subclasses into thematic "buckets" like Wilderness or City. I've got two more lists pretty much ready to go, and then some very loose notes on about three or four other genres. If there's anything you'd like to see, drop a comment below to let me know, or better yet, take a stab at creating some yourself! Just make sure to link your creations here so I'll see them.

From this list of city/urban subclasses below, a few of them had their origins in the proposal I was writing back in 2004/2005 for a 3.5 edition book about the Expert NPC class, namely the engineer, appraiser, cartographer, courtesan, and forger. From there, I just expanded the list and tried to include at least one for each of the four main classes (this time, I didn't create any for the three demi-human races).

For clerics, I've gone back and forth on the chirurgeon as to whether it's too powerful or not. Given that the chirurgeon can only give a dead character a one-time saving throw versus death to try to recover, and can only do it on the round immediately after the character has died, I don't think it's too game-breaking. The scholar is essentially the same as the sage subclass of magic-users from my D12 Experts-Specialist Subclasses list.

For fighters, I originally had a "constable" but ultimately ended up changing that to the city watch. For the engineer, I tried to make it different enough to stand out from the siege engineer and artillerist from the D12 Experts-Specialists Subclasses, but also not have it involved in the actual building or crafting of structures, since that's not really something exciting for an adventurer to worry about.

The magic-user subclass for this list was a bit difficult. I originally had a "guild mage" on my list, but decided that wasn't all that different from the standard magic-user. In my head when putting together these city/urban subclasses, I envisioned a slightly higher technology level in a later time period that the standard medieval environment of most games, and the idea of a character specializing in hypnotism and mesmerism seemed like a good fit for a city campaign. The idea is that the mesmerist uses hypnotism to put someone "at ease" and make it easier for them to be subject to other spells.

The thief class got the most subclasses on this list. The courtesan class was inspired by the "doxy" character concept that I was asked to write for my Quintessential Expert proposal. I liked the term courtesan better, as it referred mainly to someone who uses dignified etiquette to attract wealth, powerful, or influential clients. Originally the word came from the term courtier and wasn't necessarily sexual in nature. You could call it an escort as well. For the spymaster, I originally just called it a spy, but I'm trying to avoid repeating names that Dyson Logos used for his subclasses, and he had a spy as one of his. I changed it to infiltrator for a bit, but ultimately settled on spymaster.

Similar to the D12 Wilderness subclasses I posted earlier this week, I think that a DM who tells players that they can pick a subclass from this list also immediately helps with world-building - it signals to the players that they'll be participating in a different kind of adventure than a standard dungeon crawl, but one full of intrigue, social interactions, and perhaps law-and-order.

As with all of my subclasses (and any of my other Open Game Content) here on the blog, I always welcome your comments, suggestions, and yes, even criticisms (as long as they are backed with reasons).



Hanging: Home office (laptop) and living room (hand-written notes on a notebook)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Wristband" by Paul Simon, from the album "Stranger to Stranger"

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