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Apr 21, 2010

I'll have you know, foxes have the finest call in nature


Part XI: The City, and Happenings Therein

DX has a lot to say about its setting and NPCs, but not so much about specific locations. The only thing we get is a tiny chapter about a sample city. I've got to say, however, that it is quite nice. They basically went over the city and asked, "what here is a good location for a game?" and just wrote a little bit about each place.

City N is a generic Japanese city. There's not much going for it besides having a railroad station and being on the way to Tokyo, so many workers go through the city every day. There's a shopping mall near the station, and a downtown area that's kind of dirty and has many cheap stores and tenement buildings. To the west of the station, there's a public park with a lake. And sakura trees, of course. Right next to the park there is an amusement park with attractions like an ice rink, a pool, and cinemas. People tend to go to these locations for leisure and to enjoy their free time with friends.

To the east of the station, there's a rough neighbourhood of abandoned buildings where you can go to make shady deals and meet shady people. To the south of that there's an old industrial park that was built a long time ago but nobody uses anymore, so it's here if you want the classic factory setpiece.

City N has got public middle and high schools, as well as a private university that's also a middle and high school. The university is funded by the UGN and is equipped with dorms... you see where this is going. There's also a univeristy hospital if when you get injured.

And that's mostly it for City N. There's not a lot about it, but everything that is there is a cool setpiece location.

Now we get to the sample Scenarios. DX has not one, not two, but three sample adventures in its core book. It's a nice change of pace. Here is how they're structured:

A stupidly corny Trailer for the GM to read aloud to the players in a dramatic voice before the game, and Scenario handouts for each player. A handout consists of a character template: a high concept, Work and Cover, a Lois, and which Quick Start character to pick if you go that route. The handouts in these sample Scenarios are more restrictive than regular handouts; these Scenarios are intended to get people playing quickly and the character concepts are mostly pre-defined. Each offers 5 handouts for up to 5 PCs; you're supposed to pick them in order. So, if you have three players, you should get the first three handouts (called PC1, PC2, and PC3). The last two are less important to the Scenario.

The Scenario itself is divided in scenes, and each scene gets a set-up, description, setting, etc. Again, these sample Scenarios are supposed to be more restrictive than what you'd come up with in your own prep. What happens in each scene is pretty much pre-defined.

Also, there's dialogue to read aloud. Actually, how would I say this? It's not that there's a set script the GM has to go through with the players, but rather... DX gives a bunch of one-liners to its NPCs, for the GM to drop off when they're appropriate. Needless to say, they're all perfectly corny. For instance, for the very first scene of the very first Scenario, we've got this selection of lines for the main female NPC:


"It seems like my timing's been off all day. First I had this endless club meeting, plus my teacher wanted me to help her, too, and first thing you know I'm like totally late getting home. Was your day like that too, PC1? I guess we're both just unlucky."


"Mind if I sit with you? Look how crowded it's getting."


"Uhm, gosh, is it okay for me to ask this? I head a rumour there's a girl in our class you really like. Is that, like... true?"

Crumbling Days

Our first sample Scenario, a pretty standard adventure to rescue a kidnapped innocent.

You know how sometimes in high school this guy will, out of nowhere, become completely obsessed with a girl who doesn't even know him? It happens. Only the guy is usually not an Overed member of False Hearts. So what does he decide to do? Ah, he waits for her to board a bus home and then overturns the bus and makes it explode. You know, in case she awakens as an Overed and they can live happily ever after as a terrorist superhuman couple.

The plan backfires (who would've thought) when the girl doesn't awaken, but a random guy sitting next to her does. This guy is one of the girl's classmates, and as a newly awakened Overed he protects her from the accident. This guys is our PC1 for the Scenario. PC2 is a UGN child, PC3 is the chief of UGN's City N branch, PC4 is just a UGN agent and PC5 is a freelance detective – see how they get less vital to the story as you increase the number of players?

What follows is pretty standard. PC1 is approached by the UGN in the form of PC2 arriving as a transfer student at his school. He gets approached by a senior False Hearts agent and asked to join them, which you're supposed to refuse and a battle ensues. The PCs have to find out who the instigator of the bus accident was, and they discover that it was the FH kid in their class. The kid comes up with another amazing plan (maybe if I kidnap this girl she'll like me and ask to become an Overed!). It's up to the PCs to search for the City N False Hearts headquarters and rescue their classmate, fighting both the obsessed kid and the senior agent in the process.

Oh...! You guys need to see more of the suggested dialogue. It's great. Here's some from the villains in the climactic battle of this Scenario:


"If I kill you in front of her eyes, maybe Ayase will wake up to her own powers." (Begins combat)


"If I win, I'm taking Ayase for False Hearts. She'll be one with me!"


(Falls in battle) "...No! Nooooooo!"
Oh, Double Cross! :haw:

Armaggedon Youths

This one is really, really cool. I like it a lot.

So you have UGN children, right? The Overed kids that the UGN takes in and trains as agents from early age. Only the UGN isn't that humane, and those kids often go though some rough poo poo. It turns out one of them, Kouya Messenger, gets sick and tired of this life, fakes his own death, and runs away. He takes with him a bunch of other UGN children who think the same way, and they form the rebel group called the Liberators.

They plan to stop child abuse by the UGN and decide that the best way to do this is by revealing the existence of the Renegade to the world. They get the help of Daisuke Yogi, the UGN instructor who trains all those UGN children – he is very guilty about participating in this and offers the kids his help. They come up with a plan: threaten the government with some goddamn missiles into publicly revealing everything about the Renegade. How would they get some military missiles? They're Overeds. Also, they've got a girl with them who's practically a medium and gets the access codes to the missiles.

The plan backfires™ when Yogi realises Kouya's plan is not to use the missiles as a bluff, but to load them up with Renegade virus, launch them for real, and infect the entirety of City N. Who gives him the idea is Professor Cauldwell, the founder of the UGN turned False Hearts. Yogi protests and gets killed. So now the PCs have to hurry to stop the rebel kids from launching those missiles.

There are some interesting characters here. PC2 is also a UGN child, and they know Kouya, having been trained together. PC1 is either an illegal (an Overed who cooperates with the UGN but isn't a proper agent) or a newly joined UGN agent (the game suggests using the same character as PC1 in Crumbling Days), and they join the Liberators as an undercover agent. The Liberators, the faction of kids pissed off at being treated like objects by the UGN is drat cool. The guilty UGN instructor is nice as well.

The climax battle is a cool battle set-up where the Liberators will try to get the missiles to a specific point and the PCs have to stop them before they get there.

Truth or Fiction

Some time ago, a UGN agent went rogue and detroyed a research facility before going to join up with False Hearts. In the process, he killed Subaru, the daughter of one of the researchers. Said researcher goes bonkers and obsessed, and starts looking for a way to ressurrect his daughter.

The Scenario starts when the researcher is killed by "Bandersnatch", a FH agent. The PCs, working for the UGN, discover that he actually succeded in his quest and his daughter is back. But Bandersnatch is after her, too, and now it's up to them to protect her. It gets interesting because PC1 is a UGN child who knew Subaru personally, before she was killed, and PC2 is an agent who knew the researcher himself.

The PCs will soon discover that Bandersnatch is the same guy who went berserk and killed Subaru the first time. But they'll also discover that the researcher wasn't as succesful as it seems: he never ressurrected his daughter. What he did was create a Renegade Being capable of copying both the appearance and the memories of Subaru, so she really thinks she is the deceased man's daughter. What Bandersnatch wants is Subaru for the False Hearts, because her mimicking powers are just too good to ignore. It doesn't matter whether she's a Gjaum or not, it turns out.

When confronted with the fact that she is a walking lie, the poor girl becomes so torn she goes on the brink of becoming a Gjaum. It's up to the PCs to protect Subaru, stop her from being a Gjaum, and accepting her a human being, all while having to fight Bandersnatch as well.

And that's it for the Scenarios presented in DX. There's also two Scenario ideas that are just the ideas, not being fleshed out: one about a school that's an undercover False Hearts experiment to awaken more Overeds, and one about a conspiracy with an undercover FH agent infiltrating the UGN and a little girl who is supposed to be a Gjaum but isn't.

Disclaimer: I wish I could go through the Scenarios in better detail, preferrably devoting one update for each, to look for interesting mechanical or plot quirks. Alas, I leave the state tomorrow and didn't want to leave you guys hanging until January. If anyone wants to do a more in-depth analysis of the Scenarios, feel free.

The very last thing in Double Cross is an appendix with powers listed alphabetically and the page they appear in. A very handy resource for a book that isn't available in electronic format.

This concludes the core rulebook of Double Cross! However, we still have one update left before we can say this write-up is finished: the last Syndrome Dossier. It should go up later today.


Ego Trip
Aug 28, 2012

A tenacious little mouse!

Barudak posted:

Yeah I think thats the big problem. When your game setting goes up against Thundarr the Barbarian and comes up wanting you've really done goofed.

Then again Thundarr has an episode where the ape people of are using left over animitronic King Kong parts and dark magic to build their God a mortal body so they can conquer what is presently the San Fernando Valley.

Most things compare poorly to Thundarr. :colbert:

Humbug Scoolbus
Apr 25, 2008

The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers, stern and wild ones, and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.
Clapping Larry

Cyphoderus posted:

This concludes the core rulebook of Double Cross! However, we still have one update left before we can say this write-up is finished: the last Syndrome Dossier. It should go up later today.

And that last dossier is great.

Jun 5, 2011

I mean, if you're a successful actress and you go out of the house in a skirt and without underwear, knowing that paparazzi are just waiting for opportunities like this and that it has happened many times before, then there's really nobody you can blame for it but yourself.

Cyphoderus posted:

Also, there's dialogue to read aloud. Actually, how would I say this? It's not that there's a set script the GM has to go through with the players, but rather... DX gives a bunch of one-liners to its NPCs, for the GM to drop off when they're appropriate. Needless to say, they're all perfectly corny. For instance, for the very first scene of the very first Scenario, we've got this selection of lines for the main female NPC:


Oh...! You guys need to see more of the suggested dialogue. It's great. Here's some from the villains in the climactic battle of this Scenario:

Oh, Double Cross! :haw:
Those are just wonderful. This game has the kind wry self-awareness that other anime RPGs just wish they had.

Mar 18, 2007

Good, bad. I'm the one with the power of Shu, Heru, Amon, Zehuti, Aton, and Mehen.
College Slice

Barudak posted:

Then again Thundarr has an episode where the ape people of are using left over animitronic King Kong parts and dark magic to build their God a mortal body so they can conquer what is presently the San Fernando Valley.

I will never be able to dream up a post-apocalypse adventure as awesome as this.

Oct 23, 2013


Barudak posted:

I think the worst whiplash I've gotten is any page with Double Cross and Numenara on it. Its really hard to go from "everything in here sounds cool and has passion and is modern even if the math is a little more complex than I like" to "D&D but the chainmail is plastic and Wizards are ever more supreme"

Double Cross is a surprisingly dry read. A lot of it is a couple of sentences of fairly non-specific flavor and then (LV+1)x2 damage or whatever. It's really cool when you start thinking about what you can do and what the powers look like in the game world, but there's not a lot of super-whiz-bang writing in the book itself.

ibntumart posted:

I'm pretty sure Cook is thinking of Zulfikar (also more accurately transliterated as Dhu 'l-Fiqar), a sword famous in Islamic tradition as belonging to 'Ali. The name means "bifurcated" and is usually depicted as a sword that starts as one blade and winds up with two blades (often curved outward) at the end.

Huh, that could be it. I was imagining a sword with two parallel thin blades or a normal sword with two horns coming out of it or I don't know what. I should probably do a Numenera art wrap-up at some point, there's a lot to talk about.

Ego Trip posted:

Most things compare poorly to Thundarr. :colbert:

There really needs to be a '70s-'80s cartoon game (AW seems like it would work). Scooby-Doo, Thundarr, Papa Smurf, and the Harlem Globetrotters team up to fight Skeletor.

It would be amazing.

May 7, 2007

ibntumart posted:

I will never be able to dream up a post-apocalypse adventure as awesome as this.

Thats Jack Kirby for you.

Seriously, every episode of Thundarr is a magical trip to a world where lizardmen at the behest of a wizard use a potent drug to keep humans slaves as they mine in the ruins of the Alomogordo Military Base to find plutonium from the Atom bombs so I think, and heres where it gets fuzzy, the wizard can gain the acceptance of the Council of Wizards or maybe use it to fight the Vampires from beyond the Stars.

Mar 18, 2007

Good, bad. I'm the one with the power of Shu, Heru, Amon, Zehuti, Aton, and Mehen.
College Slice

Barudak posted:

Thats Jack Kirby for you.

Seriously, every episode of Thundarr is a magical trip to a world where lizardmen at the behest of a wizard use a potent drug to keep humans slaves as they mine in the ruins of the Alomogordo Military Base to find plutonium from the Atom bombs so I think, and heres where it gets fuzzy, the wizard can gain the acceptance of the Council of Wizards or maybe use it to fight the Vampires from beyond the Stars.

Thing is this was my favorite cartoon as a kid and it didn't even register how ridiculously surreal the situations were. I just knew they were awesome. Basically a Jedi without the quasi-monk pacifism BS and a cooler looking light saber, a powerful sorceress that frankly Thundarr needed more than her needing his help, and a Wookiee, gallivanting through a hosed-up USA (including San Antonio) equaled required Saturday morning viewing.

Now I wish someone would run a Dungeon World or FATE Thundarr campaign.

Apr 21, 2010

I'll have you know, foxes have the finest call in nature


Syndrome Dossier, Part H: Enemy Powers

Enemy powers indeed! These powers are exclusive to enemies, and players don't have access to them. Soon it will become clear why that is.

We start with Common Enemy Powers. Like the regular Common Powers, any enemy can take these, regardless of Syndrome.

You know how everyone just eyeballs enemy stats and gives them unique abilities based on necessity? DX's philosophy is that it would be easier for everyone involved if you just built an enemy like a PC, and then added individual powers to represent this eyeballing. These are what the Enemy Common Powers are like. They are the kinds of stuff you give important enemies without second thought because they should be able to do that. In other games, these would be a collection of houserules for enemies. Here, it's just enemy powers.

Case in point. The very first one is a power that gives an enemy a fixed Dodge score; instead of making up a Dodge skill and rolling it every time the enemy wants to dodge, like a PC would, they've got a fixed score and the PC just has to beat that. The second option is a power that gives the enemy a free action in the beginning of the round: the kind of thing you want to give your solo NPC boss fights to counterbalance the fact that they're one and the PCs are many, as we learned with D&D 4th edition. Other things include being able to flee a battle without going through the hoops the PCs have to, increased HP, armour-piercing attacks, resistance to a specific bad status, instant revival, access to 80% or 100% Encroachment Rate powers for Tri-Breeds... you get the picture. Functional stuff to make your NPCs bypass some of the restrictions put upon PCs. If you've ever played around in RPG Maker, you probably remember those special options you could give enemies to make them more flavourful. These powers feel exactly like that.

There's a few powers here for having subordinate minions: summoning them, and increasing their power. Like a commander calling in reinforcements. There's also a very interesting power called Anti-Warding Factor, which does precisely what you think it does: it makes a non-Overed immune to Warding. With that power, and a bit of reflavouring of other powers, DX wholly suports mundane foes. Guess it'll be a bit of a surprise for your players when that rugged dude with a scar for an eye completely fails to fall to their Warding and starts taking the assault rifle out...

Then we have Syndrome Enemy Powers. Each Syndrome gets 3 powers that are exclusive to enemies. Some of them are boring: powerful attacks out of reach for PCs. Some of them... well. Some of them are entire setpieces waiting to happen, some serve as inspiration for an entire plotline, some are an entire enemy concept just on their own. These enemy powers are the best thing in the whole Double Cross book, in my opinion. It's one of those rare things in RPG books where you read through it and at the end you want to play the game really badly and your head is swarming with ideas.

Look, I'm not one to talk about every single power individually, but this time I'm going to, because there's only 3 per Syndrome and they all deserve it. Let's get to them.

Angel Halo

Flash Eye: an undodgeable attack from Stealth. The famous "dick move".

Midnight Cinema: make any illusion, anywhere in the scene, and it lasts as long as the scene does. Perfect for showing the PCs the villain's plans coming to fruition elsewhere. Hah! We're just the loving decoys, man.

Third Eye: Angel Halo are so good at enhancing their senses they can get virtually claiwvoyant. Know everything that happened in a scene, without needing to be there. Oh, yeah. Had a fight with your girlfriend? Made an infallible plan with the branch chief at a top secret UGN meeting? Bought an illegal stash of stuff from an underground fence? The big boss villain knows about it. Good luck sleeping tonight.


Gravity Area:: increase gravity for a dice debuff that affects everyone other than the user themselves. Useful for solo bosses or for showing how that enemy is so evil they don't care about their own allies.

Space-Time Rip: the enemy has a pocket dimension to themselves and complete control regarding what can enter and what cannot. The GM decides how it can be destroyed, and there's a clause that when it is destroyed, all its contents get spilled onto a specific place of the GM's choosing. DX supports the Room of Renunciation, and really, there are hundreds of Scenarios that can be built just around this power.

Sky Castle: raise a building into the sky. When the enemy dies, the building falls. It seems simple, but it's one hell of a piece of game design, this power. It is perfectly villainous. Give your villain this power and the climax of your Scenario writes its drat self. "That time when the shopping mall took to the sky". Castlevania. The classic Pandemonium from Saint Seiya's Lucifer (who even remembers this). Go nuts with it. Perhaps my favourite power in Double Cross. :swoon:

Black Dog

Lightning of Fate: combo this power into anything and it can't be blocked, and Cover (remember, Cover is protecting other allies) doesn't work as well. It's the dramatic lightning attack, the one where the sad music starts playing and the character we've grown to love starts slowly being burnt alive. It's the Emperor's lightning at Darth Vader.

Communication Control: the enemy gains complete control over all the communication devices in the scene. People may only use the devices the user allows. The user dies, the effects of the power end with them. Another amazingly villainous power, though trickier to write into a climax than Sky Castle. Still, you can get awesome story mileage out of this one.

Domination: the enemy gains complete control of the security system of a single building. You know the image of the hacker overlord, sitting in his tiny dark room, manipulating every single turret and laser and doorlock in the building? That's it. Perfect for setting up a dungeoncrawl where the players have to get through an assortment of traps and reach the top level (or the lowest basement) of a building within a set time limit, only it's modern.

Bram Stoker

Aging: the enemy turns either themselves or a non-Overed older or younger, though their physical appearance doesn't change. Great for immortal characters (Raz Al'Ghul, anyone?) and for screwing with the player's loved ones (you know your sister? She's 90 now, good luck saving her!).

Sacrifice: when the enemy gets Incapacitated, they can ressurrect if they have a Servant out. The Servant is consumed in the process. Two possibilities here: either the villain can dramatically consume their Servants to regain health and freak out everyone at the table, or (and I like this interpretation better) the villain really dies and the Servant becomes the new version of the villain. Freak out everyone even worse with this one.

Servant's Awakening: the villain makes a Servant who has self-awareness. Man, I can't even begin to list all the story possibilities of this one. How about a kind-hearted Servant forced to serve a villainous master, fated to eventually help the players and die dramatically for it? Maybe an excessively intelligent, creepy right-hand man for the villain?


Titan Therianthropy: if you were wondering where the hell the "become giant-sized" power was in Double Cross, look no further. The enemy will morph into a battle form like any good Chimera; the catch is that the battle form is 20m high – that's... 60 feet, I believe, for the metrically-impaired. When you stop and think about it, all those Power Rangers monsters were actually Chimera, so it adds up!

Instant Adaptation: the enemy survives any hostile environment. Any. Great power to give your villain the second time they appear, after the players have already tried throwing them into an active volcano or out of a spaceship. Ta-da, I'm back!

Proof of the Feral Beast: the villain is so goddamn scary and wild that non-Overeds simply cannot move or take action near them. It's a bit like Warding, in which you take non-Overeds out of the picture, but this time it's more evil. They're scared out of their mind. Good for setting up the scene for a climactic battle.

Exile villains with these powers are the most punchable characters you'll ever meet. Which means they make great villains!

Repulsive Dinner Table: the enemy can assimilate into their body any organic matter, including corpses, but not living people. It isn't said so outright, but from the name and specific mention of corpses in the description, this is totally a cannibalism power. PC Exiles are already :stonk:... villain Exiles are worse.

Elusiveness: the villain can squeeze through any crack so well they can appear in any scene, at any spot, at any time. Having a romantic evening with your boyfriend on a ferris wheel? The villain shows up sitting between you two. Having that secret UGN meeting? You swivel your chair out of boredom and notice the villain calmly sitting there at the end of the table. But you're inside an underground bunker.

Mental Invastion: yeah, that. Take control of another's mind and manipulate their actions. The catch here is that the target is conscient throughout the whole thing, but can't do a drat thing. And it lasts until the end of the Scenario, not scene. The imperius curse opens up hundreds of thousands of story possibilities (the game is called "Double Cross", after all).


Storm Tower: negate Flight of all characters in the scene other than the user. Great for setting the flavour of a battle setpiece: what's a climactic confrontation without strong winds, black clouds, and crackling thunder?

Wall of Silence: make one non-Overed target deaf. Many enemy powers are designed to create victims in distress for the PCs to save, and this is one of them. What's interesting here is that the enemy can make the target deaf only to certain things. So suddenly you find you can't tell a person the one significant piece of information they needed, or something like that.

Whirlwind: move to any place within the scene, instantly and without hassle. Yo, look behind you!


Bond Break: break anything down into sand. Anything. Well, except for Stocked items. Other than that, the enemy can effectively destroy any item or object. Another one of those shock-value powers that's meant to establish the villain as a force to be reckoned with.

Element Transformation: turn anything into anything, provided you know the molecular structure of the thing. Lead into gold, water into steel, wood into tungsten, paper into plutonium. Just begging for a scenario where the players have to stop a Morpheus from getting their hands on the research notes for something... a super-powerful radioactive element, or maybe even the Renegade vaccine.

Kingdom: the enemy makes buildings and structures. As many as they like. Have you ever wondered how come that necropolis of ominous black steel buildings just happened to grow from the middle of downtown? Like Sky Castle, an power with amazing atmosphetic potential. Instead of confronting the big boss in an abandoned warehouse, you have to go to their own personal Taj Mahal of steely death. Combine with Sky Castle and make that thing Dr. Manhattan does on Mars.


Untouchable: targets either the user or a non-Overed, and erases all their traces from society. Effectively zero-out one person. It's cool because if the user does it, it's a dangerous thing and you can't get information about them; but if they use it on someone, it's like an attack on the person's life and the PCs will have to step in to save the poor erased person from social oblivion.

Paranoia: the villain plays mind-tricks with the target so hard, they break down and stop trusting anyone else. The mechanical effect is that the target can't use connection-type items (remember? Like "rumour-mongering friend"), but I like its fictional implication more. Another one of those "create-a-victim" enemy powers.

Organizational Breakdown: yeah, the Neumann is so smart they shake the internal structure of society to the core. The mechanical effect is no one can make Procure checks for the entire goddamn Scenario. Forget that thing about Neumann being the best battle commanders. These guys can make the economy crash with their thinking skills. The user dies, the effects end... possibly the best power for a campaign finale, honestly. It's like what Bane does in Dark Knight Returns. The players fighting a desperate struggle against a villain who has just turned society upside down? Yes, please.


Brain Hijack: another mind-control power. Not much to say here; another "make-a-victim" power. The villain controls the target's actions completely until the end of the Scenario.

Lost Neighbor: the villain makes a target forget someone. You get home to your wife and kids, they look at you blankly and go "who the hell is this dude". Properly villainous thing to do. Again, if the user dies, the effects end: many of these powers lead naturally to a final, physical confrontration against the villain, which is thematic and appropriate as hell. Leading naturally to thematic situations: good game design. Props to DX.

Unseen Road: another Orcus power that's just like an Exile one. The enemy can create a path in their Domain that leads anywhere. Thus, they can appear in any scene, at any time, in any spot. You're chilling at home, when suddenly the door to the pantry opens and out walks the big boss villain. Suitably appropriate for some tense, middle-of-the-game talks.


Burst Break: a ridiculous, free bost to the damage of one attack per Scenario. Not much for flavour except it's a really loving devastating attack (damage +5d).

Flaming Disaster: burn down a building. That's it. Having a building suddenly go up in flames can serve surprisingly large amounts of story purposes, really. What's more traditional than a climax inside a burning building?

Weather Manipulation: another one in the family of "setting up the scene for a climactic confrontation" powers. The enemy can turn the weather into anything they like. One thing is defending the school from Gjaums, another one is doing so while The Day After Tomorrow rages on outside the window.


Furious Heart: makes the target develop mindless hatred for another person. There's a mechanical effect, because the bad status "Hatred" does exist, but it's best used as another one of those "make a victim" powers.

Undermining Voice: releases chemicals that make the target really agreeable to the user. Can only affect Extra-type NPCs – a restriction that, curiously, neither of the two previous mind-control powers had. This is the classical fake way to make a friend; good for making an ally of the PCs change sides suddenly and sincerely, confusing everyone in the process.

Untreatable Disease: and you thought you'd leave Double Cross without coming across the old Japanese trope of the mysterious, nondescript, but definitely lethal disease? No way. The enemy Solaris can do this to a non-Overed target. There's a chance that the target awakens as a Overed because of the experience, but what's more likely is that they simply die of mysterious causes. Another one for the "make a victim" train!

Renegade Beings

Ageless Body: the user doesn't become old or sick, at all. Note that DX explicitly says the body can mature as normal, so being the "old soul living in a 10-year old's body" isn't mandatory (you can be living in a 20-year old body, or a 60-year old instead). The user can still die; it's only that they know no such thing as aging.

Immortality: this time, the user can't die. More precisely, they can come back from death as if nothing happened, only not in the same scene as they died. The GM can come up with a way to permanently kill the user. In short: liches are too good of a concept to pass, so DX has its own. Or something even more exotic, maybe. Perhaps the villain can only be killed if their name is said backwards.

Fall Down: the user makes the Renegade stop working. Yep. For this scene, there are no powers. Overeds become mundanes. Every one of them, including the user. The GM may decide there's a special way to end the effects of the power. Another classic story trope, where the characters, who have come to rely too much on their superhuman powers, get taken down a peg for a little while and have to solve problems with their own skills.

And those are the enemy powers. Phew! Understand now why I said they're the best? They're the best.

Concluding Remarks

This concludes for real the Fatal & Friends writeup of Double Cross.

Here's the thing with DX: it is succinct, and dry. It is full of great inspiration and awesome ideas, but they're hidden behind obtuse power descriptions, dry sentences, and non-obvious mechanical interactions. With this writeup, my intention was to cut through all that and present to you all the distilled awesome stuck behind DX's poor presentation of itself. I used a conversational style and let my own voice, my own interpretation of some things in DX, come through. When reading DX, you have to read between the lines and pay a lot of attention at all times, to catch what the game is really about and how great it can be. I hope I have succeeded in showing off the great things about this game for everyone. I'd guess that I did, at least a little bit, seeing how many people have posted about wanting to get and really getting the book after I drew attention to it with the writeup.

That's the end, folks! Hope you enjoyed all the Double Cross! :)

Cyphoderus fucked around with this message at 23:52 on Dec 11, 2013

Sep 10, 2003

peed on;

Tulul posted:

There really needs to be a '70s-'80s cartoon game (AW seems like it would work). Scooby-Doo, Thundarr, Papa Smurf, and the Harlem Globetrotters team up to fight Skeletor.
Cartoon Action Hour was created specifically to be an RPG for 70s-80s action cartoons. Not sure if it's any good.

Toph Bei Fong
Feb 29, 2008

ibntumart posted:

I'm pretty sure Cook is thinking of Zulfikar (also more accurately transliterated as Dhu 'l-Fiqar), a sword famous in Islamic tradition as belonging to 'Ali. The name means "bifurcated" and is usually depicted as a sword that starts as one blade and winds up with two blades (often curved outward) at the end.

Pretty cool looking sword. Would be much easier to describe as "A scimitar with a forked end" though.

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 5, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!

Tulul posted:

Double Cross is a surprisingly dry read. A lot of it is a couple of sentences of fairly non-specific flavor and then (LV+1)x2 damage or whatever. It's really cool when you start thinking about what you can do and what the powers look like in the game world, but there's not a lot of super-whiz-bang writing in the book itself.

From what I've heard, it's a pretty literal adaptation rather than trying to adapt the language to English, which gives it a stilted feel compared to a translation like Golden Sky Stories or Tenra Bansho Zero.

Nov 5, 2010

Warning, Internet
may prove lethal.

Cyphoderus posted:

Here's the thing with DX: it is succinct, and dry. It is full of great inspiration and awesome ideas, but they're hidden behind obtuse power descriptions, dry sentences, and non-obvious mechanical interactions. With this writeup, my intention was to cut through all that and present to you all the distilled awesome stuck behind DX's poor presentation of itself. I used a conversational style and let my own voice, my own interpretation of some things in DX, come through. When reading DX, you have to read between the lines and pay a lot of attention at all times, to catch what the game is really about and how great it can be. I hope I have succeeded in showing off the great things about this game for everyone. I'd guess that I did, at least a little bit, seeing how many people have posted about wanting to get and really getting the book after I drew attention to it with the writeup.

That's the end, folks! Hope you enjoyed all the Double Cross! :)

Hell I loved it enough to go an pick up a copy. Your write up has been amazing, I fell in love with the concept of this game from your descriptions, especally the powers. It'll probably take me some time to work my head around the mechanics. But when I do, oh god the things I will do with this game.

Nov 7, 2011

My other car is an asteroid

Cyphoderus posted:


Going to chime in with my appreciation for bring us such an interesting and fun looking game. Cheers Cyphoderus!

Dec 27, 2011

Do the Enemy Powers have rules that you can play tactically with as GM and the other PCs can work around? They sound a lot like suggestions of cool fluff descriptions with a pretension of rules behind them. I'm all for encouraging genre conventions into game mechanics but they come across as "things the bad guys can do and you can't really do anything about." which is basically formalized GM fiat.

Because if the rules are actually good and not just inspiration fuel I'm going to have to order a physical copy, and I don't even do physical RPG books.

Transient People
Dec 22, 2011

"When a man thinketh on anything whatsoever, his next thought after is not altogether so casual as it seems to be. Not every thought to every thought succeeds indifferently."
- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

TK-31 posted:

Do the Enemy Powers have rules that you can play tactically with as GM and the other PCs can work around? They sound a lot like suggestions of cool fluff descriptions with a pretension of rules behind them. I'm all for encouraging genre conventions into game mechanics but they come across as "things the bad guys can do and you can't really do anything about." which is basically formalized GM fiat.

Because if the rules are actually good and not just inspiration fuel I'm going to have to order a physical copy, and I don't even do physical RPG books.

Depending on the power effect, yes (some would be ridiculous to represent at the battlemat level). To take the Neumann powers which basically are 'Evil Geniuses: The Powers' as an example, Untouchable has a uses-per-scenario limitation but is otherwise a flat denial of info, Paranoia has very clear mechanical effects (you have to be in a scene with the target - at the end of the scene, activate Paranoia and he can no longer use Connections because you've broken his trust in people), and Organizational Breakdown, which is easily the coolest of the bunch like Cyphoderus implied, prevents players from accessing their fortunes and resources by denying them the ability to use the get-an-item skill. For another example, absolutely nothing prevents an Orcus enemy from using Brain Hijack to force a duel of wills with a PC, and if he wins, to enlist him into his ranks until the scenario ends or one of them dies by controlling his actions. They are really, really cool powers.

Transient People fucked around with this message at 00:16 on Dec 12, 2013

Dec 27, 2011

That sounds good enough. Now I wish I didn't live in a country that hated importing things.

Humbug Scoolbus
Apr 25, 2008

The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers, stern and wild ones, and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.
Clapping Larry

Combat in 1st edition V&V.

At first it doesn't sound toooo bad.

You have a choice of one of six actions you can perform in a fifteen second combat turn. Initiative is determined by a d10 +your Dex score simple enough.
The six actions are
A) Move only. Movement is a number of 'inches' that are off of the Dexterity score table. Interestingly it never says how far an 'inch' actually is. We always assumed it was 10' so whatever...
B) Move and perform Hand to Hand attack. Charge!!!!
C) Hand to Hand Attack only.
D) Make us(sic) of a Super-Power, Device, or any powered or firing weapon. Only one attack may be made per turn.
E) Attempt to disengage from Melee. This is automatic if you have fly or increased dex, speed, what have you and the opponent doesn't. It doesn't say what happens if both do though.
F) Go Evasive. Subtract 1+Dex from every attack that is coming in at you.
G) Attempt two of the above actions. This requires a Dex roll or less on a d20.

Compared to Original D&D this is amazingly detailed. Compared to now however...

Facing is important. If somebody hits you from the flank or the rear that get a +20%/+40% bonus to hit. To change facing when it's not your turn requires you to spend 2 Power Points.

Yes this is a percentile based to hit system.

Have a complete list of modifiers...

Yeah aside from the facing which isn't there, that's pretty much all of them. Incidentally FGU games usually came with tipped in cardstock sheets like this. They would have Photocopyable Character Sheets, Campaign Worksheets, and Combat Tables. Gm cheat sheets were really handy for some of them (Space Opera, Daredevils, Aftermath <cough>).
So far, it looks a little clunky but not insane. So what do you need to roll to hit you ask?

Now it gets insane...

Just look at that glorious grog!

Okay, how it works...
The attacker looks along the top row and finds what power they're using say Power Weapon...then you cross-reference five of the powers that the Defender has (Defender's choice which if they have more than five) and add up the corresponding numbers. Say the Defender has Heightened Defense (13), Adaptation (18), and Power Weapon (10) and yes your attacks can factor into your defences which actually is a pretty cool idea come to think of it. That's only three Defences though and you need five. See the Number (18) After Power Weapon in the Attacks row? Well you add that number to the total enough times (2 in this case) to bring the number of Defences up to five so (36). That means the base chance to hit is 13 + 18 + 10 + 18 +18 or 77% before modifiers of course...

Now remember you have to do this for every attack launched by every hero, villain, or mook on the battlefield...

I really can't go on. The flashbacks...the flashbacks....:psyboom:

Evil Mastermind
Apr 28, 2008

ibntumart posted:

Now I wish someone would run a Dungeon World or FATE Thundarr campaign.

Dungeon World already has Adventures on Dungeon Planet for that kind of thing.

Apr 28, 2007

Veteran, Bermuda Triangle Expeditionary Force, 1993-1952

ibntumart posted:

I will never be able to dream up a post-apocalypse adventure as awesome as this.

Did someone mention Jack Kirby ?

These are both begging to be used for RPGs.

Humbug Scoolbus
Apr 25, 2008

The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers, stern and wild ones, and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.
Clapping Larry
The back story with OMAC is worth it's own RPG.

Oct 9, 2012

Anyone who doesn't think RPGs in general can improve by including more orangutan surfing civilisations is entirely wrong.

Jul 19, 2012

RIP Lutri: 5/19/20-4/2/20
I want to go visit the Strange Fire Area, I'm sure it's nice this time of year.

I love how the British are bulldogs, the Germans and Greeks are gorillas, the Spanish are baboons, and the Italians are all wolves who've apparently split themselves up between Garibaldic and Napoleonic viewpoints.

But the Norwegians?

Snow Wizards.

Count Chocula
Dec 25, 2011

Numenera reminded me a bit of Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, at least until the game turned out to be boring.

Aug 6, 2009

Count Chocula posted:

Numenera reminded me a bit of Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, at least until the game turned out to be boring.

That's the thing: Numenera should have been like Book of the New Sun, which contains a lot of genuinely original/weird stuff that can't quite be explained because it's a post-apoc scifi setting where most people use knives, spears and swords but the rich have laser guns and howitzers. There's alien and genetically-modified flora and fauna around that was imported to Earth in the distant past, there's tons of unexplainable "magic" stuff (that may be the narrator not knowing better, or may be alien tech no one could understand). The setting is medieval fantasy, but it's distinctly built on and in the bones of our future.

Sadly, Numenera is just D&D with certain jargon terms swapped.

Jun 5, 2012

"Kanga Rat Murder Society" :allears:

Also, chalk me up as another person who has been pulled into Double Cross. The whole thing just sounds fantastic.

Mar 18, 2007

Good, bad. I'm the one with the power of Shu, Heru, Amon, Zehuti, Aton, and Mehen.
College Slice

mllaneza posted:

Did someone mention Jack Kirby ?

These are both begging to be used for RPGs.

There is no part of those maps that isn't perfect.

Nov 4, 2010

mllaneza posted:

Did someone mention Jack Kirby ?

These are both begging to be used for RPGs.

It is incredibly sad, yet not terribly surprising, that the game system that would be the best fit for those maps straight out of the box is Palladium. It's basically After The Bomb with a bit of Rifts thrown in. Shame the system is a trainwreck.

Spiderfist Island
Feb 19, 2011

Geburan posted:

It is incredibly sad, yet not terribly surprising, that the game system that would be the best fit for those maps straight out of the box is Palladium. It's basically After The Bomb with a bit of Rifts thrown in. Shame the system is a trainwreck.

The system and setting you should be thinking of instead is 4E Gamma World, which doesn't take itself seriously at all and is pretty much a streamlined version of 4th Edition D&D with a lot of randomized elements.

Jul 5, 2013

Whadda ya MEAN ya never heard of Dan Brereton?

Cyphoderus posted:


I just starting catching up on this thread after a lot of delays caused by almost everyone I know having some sort of birthday, anniversary, meltdown, etc, right in the middle of December. I'll probably get back to my Naruto d20 and Dungeons: the Dragoning write-ups after Christmas.

Since DX seems to be done though, I'd like to ask, did you cover playing as a Renegade Being and if so, when? Because I don't remember you talking about how I would go about playing as Foo Fighters.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
Okay, some good news and some bad news. Bad news first.

My main computer mysteriously broke down, with all my FATAL & Friends material inside (stupid of me not to use external backups). Fortunately I can retrieve the files with a tech guy given time, but for now I'm stuck with an inferior computer. The Dragonlance reviews will have to be put on hiatus until I get things working again.

The good news is that I have some other entertaining reviews already written up that I'm sure you guys will enjoy.

Let's start with Vornheim, an acclaimed Old School Sourcebook for urban campaigns:

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit

Vornheim is part of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess line of work. Difference is that it's not written by James Raggi and it's system-neutral. The author is Zak Sabbath, an alternative porn star and artist who blogs a lot about tabletop RPGs (notably old school D&D). One of his home campaigns took place in a dark fantasy metropolis of the same name as this book, and he compiled a lot of notes not just on treasures, tables, and characters, but also accumulated advice for how to run a city-based campaign. And he decided to publish it as a book.


Vast is Vornheim, The Grey Maze, its towered alleys sprawling through the winds of the polar plain like a long-spined insect frozen in time… but I’m not here to bore you with that. This book is not about Vornheim, it’s about running Vornheim – or any other city – in a fantastic Medieval setting. And about running it with a minimum of hassle, so you and your players can get to the good stuff. Too often, I find, city supplements start by inspiring you and finish by exhausting you – every time the characters need a hatpin or a halberd, you have to go scurrying back to the map or the index to find out where the appropriate merchant’s set up shop.

So while I hope you’ll walk away from this book remembering that the Palace Massive and Eminent Cathedral erupt from the apex of a wracked and rigid skyline like a pair of great claws seeking the moon, what I hope even more is that you’ll walk away with some useful ideas about what to do with a Palace Massive or Eminent Cathedral, or a Randomly Generated Cheese Shop. To this end, this supplement is less about floorplans, major NPCs, and conspiracies that threaten to annihilate all the civilized nations of the earth and more about ways to quickly and easily generate floorplans, major NPCs, and conspiracies that threaten to annihilate all the civilized nations of the earth in the middle of a session while the players are breathing down your neck waiting for you to tell them what’s going on. That’s why we called it a ‘Kit’ – you can use it to build your own city, even in the middle of a game. Give somebody a floorplan and they’ll GM for a day – show them how to make 30 floorplans in 30 seconds and they’ll GM forever.

That said, anyone hoping they bought a book containing The Real Vornheim That The D&D With Pornstars Girls Play In has got it. These are our rules and tables and monsters and places. I wouldn’t want to spend all this time writing a book I couldn’t use. Feel free to fill in any gaps as you see fit. Any detail of the rules or setting left unexplained has been left that way because it's not important to the character of the setting, and the GM should interpret it however he/she feels will distribute maximum fun.

Where’s the prison? If I wrote it down, then you’d have to look it up, and Vornheim is still Vornheim no matter where you put the prison, so I didn’t (I did make a map with some places you could put it, though). Is this NPC more than just a cackling fiend? It’s more fun to decide than to remember. How much damage does slicing the dog out of a victim of a Vile Hound spell do? It’s up to you. Knock yourself out.

This book does contain some material that’s been published elsewhere – often for free. Due to the scope of this project, it’s sort of unavoidable – without things like the “Urbancrawl Rules”, this could hardly be called a “complete city kit”. wanted this volume to include everything need to run a city adventure and that, unfortunately, includes things some of you may have seen before. If so, write to me and ask for any tables, rules, or setting details you wish were included instead of the old material and I’ll think something up and send it to you if I get a minute.

Zak S

No, don't worry, Zak's blog contains nothing graphic despite the mature content warning. Edit: Nope, turns out it does contain nudity in parts as of the original posting! Tread with caution if at work!

His piecemeal, minimalist approach is surprisingly unorthodox. Many city-based products either provide an existing locale with everything already made (like Monte Cook's Ptolus or Sharn: City of Towers), or some splatbook full of the typical feats/spells/monsters with minimal city-building tips. Zak goes halfway, using elements of his own Vornheim, but the stuff in the book is not welded to the setting, so to speak.

Immediately we have a map of Vornheim's environs:

A short sidebar accompanies it, briefly detailing the lettered areas. The locales veer on the side of macabre, from the city of Ballat Osc, populated by throngs of the insane with an interior district presided over by a lich (F); to a plain of battle where two invincible frozen armies are locked in battle to be awakened once more at an unknown time (E). The elves of the region (B) are alternatively cultured or decadent, but always cold, and ruled by a pair of frost giant queens. The goblins have their own city, Gaxen Kane, and little is known except that they speak backwards and walk on the ceilings of houses (D).

The campaign setting beyond Vornheim is left relatively undetailed, and the DM is free to further fill in the histories and specifics.

In Vornheim

The following section details the relative basics of the city, from its customs and culture to some people and places (who Zak reminds us are not centrally important to the city, but rather inserted piece by piece in his homebrewed setting). The features are split into short separate paragraphs, rarely more than two or three sentences.

In general, Vornheim is a mostly human city, although the elves of the north are its largest minority, followed by dwarves. Travel to and from the place is mostly on land, with miles of underground river tunnels by boat. Snow is present throughout all seasons, and stone is the most common building material. The city is encircled by two walls, and its numerous tall towers are linked via a network of bridges so that many travelers do not even have to touch the ground on their daily errands. Open magic is rare, but there is a thriving underground occult community; it is not illegal per se, but it's not used like commonplace technology.

The Palace Massive is home to a series of administrators and regents, as the current Lord left the city for parts unknown. One of the chambers has 7 magic mirrors which present 7 different sides of a person. Rulers of Vornheim traditionally used them to consult various alternatives. The current Duke Regent holding power is Voscolous Eeben, who compromises a lot and has little interest in running the city.

Two deities commonly worshiped in Vornheim include Vorn, the Grim Gaunt God of Iron, Rust, and Rain. His church is the Eminent Cathedral. The priesthood Tittivilla, the Mother of all Flesh, used to hold their temples in long extinct colossal living beasts, but now hold small shrines in houses all over the continent.

Oddities of Vornheim

Up next is a detail of local traditions of Vornheim and some of its more monstrous inhabitants.

Theater in the city is quite unique, mostly improvised and involving ritual combat. The most popular ones are cultural holdovers from the long-lost Reptile Men, and are often used in civil and criminal trials to settle disputes. A recent fad among nobles is the use of slow pets, animals which take an inordinately long amount of time to move around; walking such animals in public is a way to show that the owner has a great amount of leisure time. The most popular pets are strange, like turtles with artificially-sculpted shells, lobsters, and various sorts of mutant snails.


It is known to some scholars that the skins of all snakes can be read like books. Those who speak the serpent language know that these creatures continuously hiss their titles. As they grow, the animals revise and expand themselves, shedding old knowledge for new. The most common and convenient method of reading a snake (among human ophidobibliologists) is to have it slither through an ivory serpent-reader – a sphere with ornately carved orifices and channels. Common snakes are usually fairly uninteresting works – garter snakes tend to be cookbooks, corn snakes are generally works of adventure fiction with cliche characters
or too-convenient endings. Rarer breeds – 100’ anacondas, albino cobras – often contain long-forgotten secrets or comprise unique works of poetry or philosophy.

Giant snakes are typically encyclopedias or great multi-volume sagas representing the myths and theogonies of entire cultures. Nagas are linguistic texts, translating from the languages of snakes to the languages of humans. The snakes growing from the heads of medusae are generally reference works and the medusae themselves are often cataloguers – tending private libraries containing nothing but caged snakes, selectively breeding exotic and daring new works. The Librarians – also known as serpent men – also catalogue and breed books, though in a far less dilettantish and casual fashion – they believe that careful control of crossspecies breeding can and will one day unveil a Great Glistening Book containing all the secrets of creation.

This isn't really specific to Vornheim, but it's one of the more unique and cool things to come out of this book. It gives even otherwise mundane and ordinary things a new twist. In addition to musty tomes and towers of bookshelves, librarians send adventures off on quests to find rare snakes and the knowledge of reptilian monsters contained within their skin.

The next section moves on to the monsters of Vornheim.

The Wyvern of the Well lairs at the bottom of a well between the Palace Massive and the Eminent Cathedral. For reasons unknown, every citizen has the right to ask the Wyvern one question in their lifetime if they pay him 700 gold. The answer is always correct, and in return the Wyvern asks a question of them, which is always of a personal nature. Nobody knows of the Wyvern's origins, or what he does with the accumulated gold and answers, and so far nobody's willing to waste their one question to find out.

The Chain are a pair of homonculi contract killers who burrow into people's skulls and control the body like a puppet. They are known to pursue targets for decades.

Three witches live in Vornheim, Thorn, Dread, and Frost. They plot to overthrow humankind by summoning demonic horrors into the world.

The Church of Vorn keeps a catalogue of known demons, which have no names but have strange hybrid forms such as a bipedal goat with a giant maw in place of a stomach and a crow-faced man wielding hooked blades.

There are also natural, non-unique creatures known to sages around Vornheim. Hollow Brides are undead creatures which have the heads and hands of human women connected by a floating mass of organs and entrails. They disguise themselves under a white dress and desperately crave to live among mortals.

Thornchilds are plantlike creatures with the head of an elven child. They move about via tendrils, and can be summoned by witches and druids.

Eyes of Fate are undead creations of northern witches who use them as scrying devices. They are made from the dismembered hand of a thief and the eyeball of a blind person or madman. Gazing into its eye can afflict a person with blindness or insanity.

Maggot Nagas have the bloated bodies of grubs and the faces of beautiful women. They live in the digestive tracts of the largest dragons, and their wisdom is sought after by many nobles for they're known to be experts in the art of governance.

The last section of the chapter gives a list of common superstitions in Vornheim, with varying degrees of truth. The city's long history of influence and pacts by demons, deities, and magicians resulted in a complex structure of taboos and cultural rituals. A few of the more interesting ones include Clerics of Vorn being forbidden from using sharp weapons (it's a sign of hypocrisy), not planting a tree where one has died (shadows of dead trees persist for months in Vornheim), and natives sacrificing a stag before setting sail on a ship (the gods of the sea hate Vornheim).

Thoughts so far: The opening parts were less "Kit for City-Building" so much as "Vornheim the City." Regardless, it's only 12 out of 75 pages, and Zak S does a great job of setting up the setting's mood and feel. The culture, surrounding region, and monsters, all give life to a dark fantasy locale distinct from many published settings. I really like it.

Next time, House Rules and DM Shortcuts!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 00:13 on Dec 14, 2013

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
Urbancrawl Rules, floorplan shortcuts, and other sub-systems

Remember when I said that I'd be covering the House of the Medusa? Well, I figured to go out of chronological order and show off Zak S' house rules before further exploring Vornheim. Otherwise we'd cover the House, the Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng, and the Library of Zorlac (all 3 of them dungeons) before delving into the kit-building stuff.

We start off with player commentary from Zak's players (using their porn stage names in the entries) on various Vornheim icons, from the Church of Vorn, and various NPCs. They're mostly nothing special, except for two entries I liked:


Kimberly Kane: Killing the ghoul with the medusa’s daughter’s head was one of my most ingenious killing sprees.

Satine Phoenix: We actually spent way more time worrying about the medusa than fighting her. This is the magic of RPGs. This is the magic of an adventure. The reality is that the villain is just an idea with stats, but the fun part is that we can scare ourselves and make the idea of the villain bigger and more exciting than it really is; over-villainizing the villain. Thinking of all the possible ways she could attack us, sneak up on us, etc. makes the game more exciting and gives us a reason to be more creative and clever. The more intensely we imagine her the more intensely we imagine defending ourselves. Collectively we all knew the myth of Medusa and this previous knowledge got us excited and thinking of ways to face her and ultimately defeat her so we could use her head as a weapon.

Connie: I don’t think i was really concerned. I just decided I wasn’t gonna look at her. I think I… didn’t I strap a mirror to my forehead or something? Yeah. I figured then she’ll turn herself to stone, then she’ll know how it feels.


SP: Surviving in Vornheim. Rule #1, 3, 32 & 59: Do not get drunk, tipsy, trip on drugs, or alter your perception in any way. You could be assaulted at any time by anything. Also, avoid speaking to anyone if you do find yourself drunk, tipsy, tripping on drugs or altering your perception in any way.

Navigation Shortcuts for Busy GMs

Zak intended for Vornheim to be like a dungeon the GM develops along the way like he did. Aside from a palace, cathedral, and well at the center of town, the rest is deliberately left vague. Nothing's fixed in place until the PCs explore it. In his view, going into detail on city streets, neighborhoods, landmarks, and history just bog down the GM with more things to memorize in order to feel comfortable with the setting.

He provides a quick and easy way to create winding city streets and major thoroughfares by writing the words of numbers onto a sheet of paper in random intervals and overlapping, like so:

Each word represents a different neighborhood. The GM can decide to develop the neighborhood's feel with die tables on the inside cover: building tables cover the most prominent landmark, rolling again to see the most prominent kind of businesses, a d4 for wealth level (1 is poor, 2-3 medium, 4 rich), and d20 to see what percentage is non-human.

It's certainly unorthodox, but the whole number-word thing feels a little silly to me.

The next part of the rules are "city crawls," or when the PCs have to navigate through a neighborhood under duress (chase scene, searching for a person/place, being lost, or other sense of uneasiness/urgency). "Crawling" from neighborhood to neighborhood just creates a random encounter for each boundary they cross. Asking for directions or getting help from bystanders is done via successful Charisma check.

Crawling within a neighborhood is done by rolling 2d10 on the table. The position of one die represents the PC's location, the other their destination. The number on the PC's die is shaped within the confines of the die. For example, a 1 on the die:

PCs who wander off the edge of the map come onto another numbered street, which is shaped like the result of another d10:

Basing the results of where the dice fall on the map is a system Zak made called the "drop die" method, which manifests in another ways. I'll cover the other examples later when they show up.

I do like this rule for its ability to make labyrinthine streets.

Floorplan Shortcut

One of Vornheim's claims is that it has a quick and easy floor generation method: "30 floors in 30 seconds." While it sounds ludicrous, it is technically possible... if you toss a shitload of d4s onto your game table all at once.

Basically it's intended for improvisation when the PCs enter an unmapped typical residence/floor (not alien architecture, secret rooms, etc). You draw a square/rectangular shape on the map and toss several d4s inside. The result on the die determines the number of lines you draw away from it. For example:

I like this one as well. I can't see myself using it often, but it's a clean and elegant way of drawing out floors.

The Law

In addition to more common-sense laws, the legalities of Vornheim are a confusing and arcane series of treaties and edicts, oral and cultural traditions, and differing standards of what the authorities can and can't do (during some holidays relevant churches are granted legal powers). Zak developed a subsystem and table for legal trials. His reasoning is that the PCs will eventually break the law in city adventures, actual medieval laws were used as examples and were very strange and weird (they actually put animals on trial in some villages!), and to represent the insane and arbitrary whims of the city's elite.

The trial in question is determined by a d20. I'll list some of the more entertaining trials:


7. Trial by drama: all involved must play themselves in a pair of improvised dramas re-enacting the events of the day/night
in question in one of Vornheim’s great theaters before a jury/audience of thousands. Each depicts one side’s version of
events. Most convincing play wins, audience decides by applause.

11. Trial by swine: The people of Vornheim believe pigs to be the only honest animals. 7 pigs are tied to the defendant by 10’
ropes and the defendant must go about his or her business in this way for 12 days. If the defendant cuts the ropes, leaves
the city, or goes mad s/he is guilty.

13. Trial by pie: The defendant and prosecutor have 24 hours to prepare as many pies (1 foot diameter) as possible. The accuser
then consumes any one of his/her pies as quickly as possible. The defendant must then consume any one of his/her own
pies as fast or faster. The accuser then must eat any one of the defendant’s pies as fast as that or faster, and then vice versa
and then the sequence starts over until one party or the other is unable to finish a pie in time (and therefore loses) or runs
out of pies (and therefore loses). The winner is entitled to any and all remaining pies.

19. Anti – trial: Some friend of the defendant is legally bound to masquerade as his lawyer and attempt to persuade an
unknowing jury that the defendant is guilty while the accuser must attempt to prove the defendant innocent. If the verdict
is guilty, the defendant is considered innocent and vice versa. This practice is believed to increase sympathy for those with
opposing points of view.

Libertad approves.

Optional Rules for Chase Scenes


If two parties moving ostensibly at the same speed are in a chase situation, both roll d10 and add their Dexterity (if running across uneven or obstacle – laden ground like a marketplace or a building) or Strength (if over open, flat ground). Whoever rolls lowest
loses a number of table top inches equal to the difference in the rolls or a number of feet equal to 6 x the number rolled. Do this every round until one party gives up or the parties meet. If both parties roll the same number at the same time, roll an encounter. If either
party rolls a “1” at any time, then an obstacle – applecart, overweight vicar, etc. – has fallen in the way and the party must make additional rolls to avoid it.

I've heard of the "opposed ability check" system before, but Zak adds some new features to it. I do like the simplicity of it.

Next few rules are Item Cost Shortcut, which is a quick generation for item prices. They're separated into Penny, Nickel, Dime, Quarter and Dollar. Their price is determined by the number of syllables in the item's name x the number of cents in the category. Penny items are common, everyday stuff, Nickel is adventure/camping gear, dime is specialist items, quarter is luxury, and dollar are dangerous items all by themselves.

It might be unrealistic, but more specialized items (warhorse as opposed to horse) will be more expensive as a result.

Eh, I'm not feeling it. The equipment tables in many D&D Editions and retroclones are broad enough to help a DM.

The next optional rule is for Library Research, which determines what kind of books they can find in a library with several hours of research. The number of books found depends on the PCs' literacy (illiterate characters automatically fail), whether they're multi-lingual, and taking 20 minutes or more. Sample book subjects can be determined on an accompanying table, and PCs who consult a book before undertaking a task gain a +1 or +2 bonus on relevant rolls. Zak also provides an optional rule for book usefulness, rolling a d10 to determine the number of uses a book has before its information is exhausted (d10 questions answered, d10 re-rolls on knowledge checks, or +1d10 to the next knowledge check, for example).

I enjoy this rule, for it makes PCs treat individual books in the setting as rare and valuable storehouses of knowledge. When the party comes across "The Celestial Arts of the Nonem Astrologers," role-player thespian types and min-maxers alike will be joshing for its use.

Some Notes on City Adventures

Zak provides three pieces of information for DMs running games in metropolitan settings:


1. In a wilderness or dungeon, the party’s adventure during any given session is defined by where they are geographically– in a volcano, in the southwest corner of a maze, at the bottom of a pit, etc. In a city, this is less important, movement is freer, easier and more certain than in a dungeon and distances are shorter than in a wilderness. In a city, the party’s adventure is defined by where they are in a chain of consequences. What’s most important, after a session, is not figuring our where the PCs left off, but who they pissed off getting there. The next session’s adventure can often be built from the consequences of what the PCs did during the last session.

2. If the city becomes too dangerous for too little reward, PCs will just leave. The city must have rewards and details that interest the players if it is to become a re-usable location.
3. Always give players as much information as you think they can handle at one time about things going on in the city. This allows them to make real choices about what to do and what resources to marshal, rather than just agreeing or not agreeing to investigate
whatever the GM puts in front of them that day. A mass email could work for some groups, a large map with notes or a calendar pinned on the wall in the room where the game is played might work best for another.

Overall, some good stuff, especially Number 2.

God's Chess

The last house rule is intended for abstracting the political machinations of the city's power players, be they official rulers, crime lords, the leader of the sewer's wererats, and likewise. Basically the PCs and DM play a game of chess between ordinary gaming sessions, representing relevant factions, and the city's map is copied into an 8-by-8 grid which aligns with the chess board. The end of the game determines results based upon the remaining pieces and what square they're in. A bishop represents a cleric sympathetic to that chess player's faction in that section of city, queen the same but for a noble, knight but for fighters, pawn commoner, and rook the faction controls a building in that area. A king means nothing (wasted potential there, Zak).

I'm not as fond of this, and not just because I don't play chess. It feels more like an add-on with vague rewards.

Thoughts so far: I really like these house rules overall. Designed for "on the fly" playing, they're quick and varied enough to spawn plenty of interesting adventures for gaming sessions. My favorite ones are the Library Research and Book houserules, and Vornheim's Laws.

Next time, the die tables!


A significant section of the book (pages 44-62) are full of tables. Zak explains that the tables of not meant to be probability-based; they simulate chances of things happening on an interesting day or adventure as opposed to regular or mundane occurrences. Basically, for when the DM needs to quickly generate an important NPC or event. The first page explains details on the tables and when they should be used.

The first table is a d% with 6 columns for Aristocrats. The first column is a personal name, second surname or honorific (quite a lot of "Von ___" in here), third column personality and background traits for adventure fodder (is a polymorphed goblin, was in love with someone the PCs killed), fourth column their occupation and position within the city, and the fifth column personality traits and dress/appearance. Sixth column determines their relationship to another generated NPC on the table. Lots of the traits make for good adventure fodder:


Commits adulterous acts on a frozen lake as an offering to the moon goddess.

Obsessed with acquiring the perfect shoes - will seek out the skins and bones of obscure
creatures to create them

Enslaved to a tentacled creature from the Isle of Oth hidden in his palatial home

Let's see what we get with these 6 rolls: 34, 85, 06, 17, 22, 65:

Baron Vorgus (34) The Decapacitor (85) is a noble who creates wax sculptures of dead loved ones and dresses them like servants (06) and runs brothels all over the city (17). He's proud, pitiless, and blue-eyed (22), and annoys (65):

Cordelia (91) Von Claw (3), a reclusive countess who only derives pleasure from others' fear (41). She controls much of the illicit substance trade in the city (54), and is limp, opulent, and carried around everywhere in a palanquin (30).

Sounds like two very interesting NPCs!

Next table is a d% for Books, separated into 13 broad subjects (magic, literature, religion, the arts), which are further subdivided into specialized works (poetry for literature, transmutation for magic, Gor the god of law for religion, etc). Results 1-12 are books in foreign languages, from the typical fantasy races to more exotic ones (serpent folk, goblin, unknown). It's meant to be used with the Library House Rules, and covers a wide variety of subjects.

City NPCs is not meant to be an exhaustive list of medieval professions, but a quick way for busy DMs to help generate characters with variety and depth. He recommends crossing already done rolls off the list and replace them with something new to prevent repetition. First column's name, second column surname or title, third column occupation, fourth column personality and backgrounds traits. What do we get with these rolls? 76, 18, 44, 59.

Greel (76) Ash (18), a bowyer (44) who is nervous because she knows secret weakness of important monster, but is probably too suspicious to tell anyone. (59)

Some other traits I like in the fourth column:


18. Radical democrat. Constantly trying to draw PCs into various regicidal schemes.

31. Is nicknamed “The Hyena.” The reason for this is, thus far, unclear...

36. Has bizarre fungus colony growing in stomach. Knows it, and sings/recites poetry
to it each night before going to bed. If slain, the colony will escape.

62. Idealistically committed to racial harmony. Calls humans, elves, dwarves, etc. “demiorcs.”
Has a wooden eye.

City Shopkeepers is a much smaller d20 table, and Zak mentions that you can pick from the list yourself instead of rolling (I suppose you can do that with any of the tables). Hope Zak won't mind if I reproduce it here:

The NPC flowchart is a d6 table which can be used for newly generated or existing characters. It's pretty nifty:

The central rectangle is used to show the relationships of NPCs 1 to 4 and the relationship of 2 to 3.

Next table is Random Encounters. Zak picked scenarios which the PCs cannot easily avoid without consequences (otherwise they'd pass on by if they have no incentive to get involved), and supernatural monsters are largely excluded (such encountrs are more interesting if rare and not a regular hazard of city life). Nevertheless, the table is d% and pretty cool. Here's some of the more interesting ones:


15-16. d10 escaped Face Rats – rats specially bred by envious courtiers to destroy the beautiful. They will attack eyes, noses,
ears, etc. Alchemical element in their saliva prevents facial wounds from fully healing. The hp damage can be healed but the disfiguring effects can only be cured by Remove Curse or similar magic.

37-38. City enters Enigmatic Phase due to rare astrological conditions. Distances distort, effects precede causes, strange alleys and streets leading to hitherto unknown parts of city appear. All things subtly dreamlike for two hours. Longtime residents have been through this before.

43-44. Lunar eclipse. Citizens become nervous, superstitious, and paranoid until next morning.

55. Troupe of viciously persistent street clowns demand some form of social justice. Exhort PCs to join their cause – they will follow the PCs, juggling and performing small magic tricks until driven away by force.

00. Devoted servant mistakes PC for his long-absent master. Is overjoyed to see PC. Will bring him/her to a massive, lavish towertop residence and give him/her the key. (This does not count as treasure for the purpose of XP, though any subsequent money made by perpetuating this ruse does).

The next table indicates Fortunes. Nearly every known form of fortune-telling is practiced in Vornheim, from tarot cards to throwing dice to examining the death throes of animal and human sacrifices. It's a d% table which even comes with its own house rule:


Once a fortune is delivered to a PC, both GM and player make a note of it. Either one may announce that the fortune has come true any time the conditions implied by the premise of the fortune occur. For example: fortune #81 cannot come to pass until the player falls or is put to sleep during the ordinary conditions of the game and #99 can
only happen at night, but #96 could occur in any inhabited area. Whether a PC in a lava prison in a dimension of fire demons could trigger #88 and suddenly a bearded woman would appear at the bars of the cell is a GM’s call. Once the GM or player announces a fortune is being used it happens and it cannot be triggered again. Players may wish to trigger bad fortunes early, before the GM does it in more dangerous circumstances.

If a prediction has more than one part (such as #74), the parts do not necessarily have to both happen immediately and either party may trigger any part of it, so long as the time order (if any) implied in the prediction is respected.

More powerful forms of divination tend to be more dangerous and produce more than one fortune.

After a result has been used, cross it out and write your own.

I like it. They're all good for adventure fodder, and can be used by canny PCs to their advantage. Almost all of the results are interesting, but I'll list a few:


18. An axe will land in the throat next to yours.

29. A horse and a fat man will appear simultaneously.

45. You will win a race by losing a meal.

78. You will enter a fortress hidden in a carpet.

97. A hideous creature will stumble on a bucket.

"I Search the Body" is rolled for when a player declares this action. It's assumed that all NPCs have 1d6 gp, house keys, a knife, and tools necessary for their work. Once again, cross out the result and write your own in after a roll.

A significant portion of the table (d%) is gold results (8-57 is that much gp), and quite a few are mundane objects (small mirror, pair of dice, stale piece of bread) but the later options are in keeping with Vornheim's flavor a lot of loot is unique items in their own right:


61. Draft of a new law forbidding beer, dancing, and/or public-speaking among the lower classes throughout Vornheim, not yet

81. Ceremonial silver knife with a Bishop of Vorn carved into the pierced blade. Specifically consecrated for an assassination
attempt on the bishop by a mysterious cult.

92. Coin that eats other coins in the dark. This causes the coin to grow, but not large enough to compensate for the value of the lost

Results 4-5 grants a random book from the Book table.

Magic Effect Table is used when the DM needs to improvise the results of a magic curse, trap, or spell-like ability. Duration, range, and saving throw can be tailored to the situation, and can be developed into full-fledged spells later on if the DM so desires. It's a d% table with very random effects:


13-14. Small wolves’ head appears on object or on caster’s hand, capable of vicious bite (as wolf).

37-38. One of caster’s eyes emerges from his/her eye socket on spider-like legs as the caster flees. Eyespider has 1 HD but can cast spells as if it were the wizard. (If effect is not from a caster, a 1 HD spellcasting eye simply emerges.)

55-56. Small dog appears inside target’s body. d12 damage per round until it is removed.

61-62. Caster spits a small black toad into the air, which lands on a target within 15’. Toad attacks (in the same round) as a 5 HD monster, if successful, the toad bites the target for d8hp and target will vomit up another toad (still in the same round) which will leap at the next available target (within 15’) and attack in the same way and with the same consequences. The process continues until one of the toad’s attacks is unsuccessful. Toads dissolve into an inky black goo at the end of the round.

89-90. Alternating spellplague: target affected by Irresistible Dance spell, closest intelligent lifeform within 10 feet of dancer is affected by Uncontrollable Laughter spell, next closest intelligent lifeform within 10’ of laugher affected by Irresistible Dance spell, etc.

Finally, the last table is for Taverns and Games. It's a d20 table with 4 columns. First 2 columns are words which combine to form the name (the Icy Orb, the Tainted Bone, etc), 3rd column determines the game of choice played by patrons, and the 4th column details other notes. These notes are ones which give the tavern flavor (extremely exclusive, wizards can be seen mumbling in the corner, frequented by poets and anarchists, countertops made of zinc, etc).

For Games, there are more mundane ones (eating/drinking contests, darts, billiards, etc), but Zak S developed his own tavern games for Vornheim. My favorites include Basilisk Fight (blind man puts 2 iguana-sized basilisks in closet, whichever one is not in petrified pieces is the winner), Pin the Serpent (player's hands are tied and he needs to stab and kill a serpent on the table with a dagger in his mouth), and Toss (two players toss a dagger/axe/dart to each other across the tavern length. Game ends when it hits a wall, floor, or bystander, and whoever held it last loses).

There are also a Master Table on the book's front and back cover, utilizing the drop die mechanic. Gnome Stew demonstrates it with a picture on his blog.

Basically the front cover can be used for characters and creatures, locations, or attacks. You roll a d4 and see where it lands. You check the number above, below, to the left, or right to see the result.

For example, let's say I need to determine stuff about an inn. I roll a d4, get a 2 which lands in the lower left corner (7 to the left, 7 below, 13 above, and 4 right). The left number is gp per night (7 gp), the right number is number of beers for a gp (4 gp), and the d4 result represents the number of employees (2).

A clever mechanic.

The back cover's the same, but for hit locations on the body. The left, top, and bottom sides have numbers, while the right represents the body part. The left part represents to-hit roll (d20), top is damage if d6, bottom damage if d8. Naturally the higher the d20 roll the more sensitive the body part (20 and head being aligned).

Inside the back cover is a drop die method for building generation ( table with the names of buildings in differently-sized squares), and a d% generation as well. The d% table, as usual, has some insightful commentary on Vornheim life:


5. Art dealer: A thriving trade. Artists are believed to be possessed by supernatural forces. Rare dealers may be willing to buy stolen art.

27. Clockmaker: Vornheim uses mazeclocks: a steel ball rolls through a maze on a seesaw--then a spring action clicks it back & the ball runs back. One circuit=one minute.

57. Locksmith: No single locksmith stays long in Vornheim--no-one wants anyone around who can pick their lock. Lock designs vary widely.

84-85. Tailor Measurements of powerful ladies are jealously guarded. Tailors may steal them in order to impress a prospective client with a dress that fits like a glove.

Thoughts so far: I really like these tables! They're well-suited towards developing the life of an urban setting and even reading the results give you plenty of adventure ideas.

Next time, the House of the Medusa for real!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 06:38 on Dec 14, 2013

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
The Dungeons of Vornheim

*Note: These are not the only possible dungeons in Vornheim, and they don't have a set location in the city. They're what Zak S used in his games.

The House of the Medusa

The House of the Medusa is suitable for 1-4 level characters with no major magical items.

In ages long past, demons and other monstrous creations were the masters of the world. 12 sisters, who were the original Medusa, changed the demon kings to stone and forged the earth from their bodies (according to legend). The sisters still live to this day, feared and respected as powerful and enigmatic figures. One of them, Eshrigal, lives in a mansion in the city of Vornheim. She's a wealthy pillar of the community and a remorseless schemer. Her plots are undefined, for the DM to better suit his home games. The dungeon is an adventure site for when and if the PCs choose to infiltrate her manor.

Zak's dungeon maps are one of the weak points of the book IMO. They're definitely eye-catching, but less suitable than the typical grid-map.

The manor has magic permeating the complex, with impenetrable doors and windows (which are made from demons turned to glass). The PCs could enter by knocking on the front door, provided that it's daytime and they're not visibly armed. Eshrigal, disguised as a human woman and snakes concealed, entertains guests at social functions and has blind albino slave butlers.

The mansion is mostly normal, and bereft of monsters (aside from the medusa). I'll detail the significant rooms below:

Room C is where Eshrigal keeps her petrified victims in a secret room. Room M is a statue room of petrified thieves who attempted to break in.

Eshrigal has a daughter who lives in a bedroom in room D with animated toys (which act as an alarm system, too). Eshrigal's bedroom is in room F, behind a secret door.

In room N, the parlor, there is a cage of a plasmic ghoul, a bloblike monster which patrols the manor if it senses intruders via vibrations. Its body is gel-like, but with a solid human head moving about. It has 5 hit dice, 8 or 12 AC, is immune to non-magical attacks, and its touch attack deals 1d10 damage and removes a like amount of AC bonus from worn armor and shields. Pretty drat nasty for low-level PCs. It can't stand the sound of music and won't enter the room with the piano (J) if someone's playing it.

There are no mirrors anywhere in the house, as Eshrigal is vulnerable to her own gaze. There is quite a bit of loot to be made, as a lot of typical noble stuff (artwork, jewelry, elegant furniture, etc) is present throughout the mansion, although any honest merchant in Vornheim will recognize its owner (Eshrigal buys very distinctive things).

By the way, in addition to the minimalist vaguely old school stat blocks, there are 4th Edition stats for all the monsters on the last page of the book. As that Edition is not my strong suit, I can't really comment on them.

Eshrigal herself is an 8 hit die medusa with a poisoned dagger and gaze attack. Petrified victims turn normal upon her death; if the legends are true 1/12th of all the stone in the world will turn to flesh (effectively 1/12th of the planet). The effects of this are up to the DM. The 8 snakes in her hair can be read like books, and each contain a scroll of an 8th-level spell. They're illegible if she is petrified.

She too is quite powerful for PCs. I definitely wouldn't put 1st-3rd level groups against her. 4th level, maybe.

In addition to the map, there's a picture of the Plasmic Ghoul and Eshrigal herself, face concealed behind a mask.

Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng

Centuries ago, the traveler Ping Feng settled in Vornheim with a wondrous zoo of strange and exotic creatures. No trace of it remains, seemingly lost to time. But some citizens swear that it's still around somewhere, forgotten or boarded up or otherwise concealed.

And they are right. It turns out that the zoo's magic not only conceals it, it keeps the animals within immortal. One of the animals, a nightingale, escaped its cage and ate the mind of Gudge, the current caretaker. Due to the way the magic works, the "ownership" of the zoo transferred over to the now-intelligent nightingale. The bird occasionally exits into the city for errands with Gudge and to collect shiny objects.

The Zoo itself can be placed whenever and however the DM wants into a campaign. It is for PCs of 4th-7th level with few magic items. It's design is a cat and mouse game, as the nightingale is determined to protect the zoo from intruders, and unlocks the cages of dangerous animals to do so, sometimes even when the PCs are already engaged in combat or otherwise trapped. Amid all this it will try to present itself as a normal bird and stay out of the way. Once the PCs enter, a sliding gate impervious to most magic will slide up and trap them inside.

The cool part about this dungeon is that each animal (both dangerous and docile) is unique; no multiple fights of the same creature. And if the PCs capture any of them alive, they get experience equal to double their gold value once they sell them off! I won't cover them all, just the most interesting ones.

Room C contains a mutant snail which only eats printed words starting with "s." It is tiny and harmless but worth 500 gp.

Room D has Parnival, the vampire monkey hungry for blood! It's a weak monster, but has all the vampire advantages.

Room E is home to the Xortoise, a giant four-headed hostile tortoise. It's thrashing about has a chance to collapse the ceiling, and its shell has markings of great use to spellcasters (studying it for a month gains an automatic level).

Room F has a Narcissus Peacock, who uses its hypnotic feathers to transfix prey and then eat them (including PCs).

Room G has an unsettling toad which blinds any who look at it. It sings with the voice of a young girl.

Room M is home to Ozwich the griffon, an intelligent and studious creature who knows all about the nightingale and its plans. The nightingale has Gudge feed him tea spiked with alcohol to keep him drunk and docile. In his present state Ozwick will be of little use to the PCs until they sober him up.

Room S is home to Thrace the Nagadusa, sister of Eshrigal. Killing her as well has the possibility of turning 1/12th of the Earth's stone into flesh.

Room W has arguably the best monster in the zoo: the flailceratops!

Created as a cruel alchemical experiment, it's spiked ball can be used as a weapon to swing around.

The nightingale itself is a 1 HD creature with 18 Intelligence, triple normal human speed when flying, and can cast Suggestion at will as a 10th level spellcaster. It won't start trouble until the PCs are well into the zoo itself (unless they start breaking and killing stuff immediately), and the front gates open only when it is near.

I forgot, there's a unique magic item in the House of the Medusa: the Cursed Dictionary. It appears as a normal manual of psychological ailments, but in reality it's a cursed book which bestows a random mental illness on the reader (1d10), which last 10 minutes. Effects include kleptomania, viewing the nearest PC as an enemy, paralyzed with indecision, etc.

Speaking of books...

The Library of Zorlac

Zorlac is an excessive bibliophile whose five-story home contains the largest library in Vornheim. Unknown to most is that he employs a dozen thieves to find (and even steal) books of all sorts across the land. He is highly paranoid about this; to minimize betrayal he made them all swear a magical oath never to work together (or even acknowledge or recognize one another), he uses a network of secret passageways in lieu of keys, and he kills minions every few years to prevent them from becoming too knowledgeable about the workings of the library. They double as librarians, overlooking different rooms of the library which are divided by topic (philosophy, art, etc).

This is not a conventional dungeon, in that it can double as a resource for the PCs in addition to an adventure location. Treating it as a dungeon, Zak recommends it for PCs levels 4-7. Possible story hooks include Zorlac's thieves stealing a book from the PCs, him being in possession of a rare tome, or hear legends about the Oblung Rug (a magic item in Zorlac's possession).

The secret doors link to other rooms, and are hidden behind gargoyle statues on the outside walls. The thieves can scale the walls easily enough to and from the library. They can't be opened even if discovered; certain triggers must be activated in the rooms. Some are conventional, such as finding an eye-shaped key in the fake purse of a mermaid statue and placing in the socket of a stuffed lizard, while others are nearly impossible to activate without interrogating the thief-librarian:


The west door is poorly constructed and a standard check for secret doors will reveal an irregularity in the bookcases. It can be pried open. Sliding the top stone on the ivory abacus back and forth 12 times will also activate the door.

Like all major libraries in the Zakverse, Zorlac also has a room with a living chained hydra three tenders take care of to read its skin. It helps them keep up on scientific developments and current events.

Each library is massive, with the walls covered floor to ceiling in full bookshelves. Each room has (74 + d20) x 1,000 books inside, each weighing d4 pounds. There's also some setting touches in room descriptions, such as the map/cartography library having a model cube-shaped globe of Vornheim's world, and the Philosophy library has marble busts of great thinkers such as Scurrilious Korp and Zorreal the Interpreter.

When it comes to the NPC pseudo-stats is where I question the appropriate adventure level. Each librarian has 8 levels in thief, and Zorlac himself is a 10th level arcane caster with unique spells like Forget (everyone within 12 squares must succeed on a saving throw or forget the last round permanently) and Discharge (target must succeed on a save or be forced to cast a spell they prepared in a manner of Zorlac's choosing).

The Oblung Rug is the dungeon's unique magic item. Zorlac can shed blood on it to summon up to 4 demons which become free-willed if not dismissed within 24 hours. If someone sheds his blood unwillingly, it summons a humanoid Dividing Demon split in 2 vertical halves; it can merge with foes and gain their abilities.


Seemingly ordinary black and white rug containing an intricate pattern. Anyone examining it carefully must make three consecutive Wisdom rolls. If any fail, the observer gains a permanent insanity. If they all succeed, the observer gains a point of Wisdom or a vital insight into the nature of a mystery of the campaign (GM’s choice). Looking a second time results in gaining an insanity.

Looking a third time will unlock the rug’s true and transcendent metaphysical secrets – which allow him or her some thoroughgoing grasp of some vast and bizarre phenomenon underlying the entire campaign, such as: Mount Vrothgeist is the shape it is because creatures from the stars sculpted it with energy from the sun. (No one will know if this “insight” is actual real campaign information or if it’s just a delusion the PC now believes to be true.)

Continued examination of the rug after that will result in a rupture in space/time with catastrophically bizarre consequences, causing thorough and permanent alterations to the character and campaign. (GM should decide what these are, since s/he will likely have to deal with them for many sessions to come.)

It's a pretty cool "reward" of sorts if the PCs are aware of its power.

The last part of the library is descriptions of each of the library's 12 scholar-thieves. The most interesting ones are Krask of the Alien Cultures library (he's tattooed two words in an ancient language on his arms, which grant him two spell-like abilities), Zoth Catchaphract of the Mathematics Library (research into extradimensional geometry caused a demon to possess him, which can suck the bones out of targets), Azima Azaloth of the Religion Library (possesses a seemingly ordinary black stone which grants concealment from the gods and immunity to divine magic), and the Maxilla Sorrn of the Philosophy Library (she has a twin sister who masquerades as her and did not take the oath, allowing her to learn of the other librarians).

Overall I think that this dungeon's too lethal for Zak's suggested level, but it's tied with the Immortal Zoo for cool adventure potential. Combined with the in-game benefits of the Book houserule, the Library on its own can be enough to get PCs involved in its use

Final Thoughts: I really love Vornheim, and I think that you will, too. I highly recommend buying it, either a physical copy (so you can use the drop die tables) or as a PDF on Drive-Thru RPG. Its solid house rules, unorthodox setting, and adventure ideas make it one of the best 3rd Party Products I've had the pleasure of reading in recent years.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
I'll just post one more for the night so you all can catch up.


A Word from the Author
Video games have become what most people think of when “gaming” is mentioned. Even role-playing games have largely become the province of video games in the public mind. And while tabletop role-playing will never be totally eclipsed by digital gaming, there are still many interesting things in video games that can be brought to the table. Here then are magic items inspired by some of the most popular video games of all time. After years of video games drawing on tabletop RPGs for inspiration, isn’t it time they gave something to your game?

-Shane O’Connor

Video Game Magic Items, written by Drive-Thru RPG staff member Shane O'Connor, draws upon inspiration from popular video game franchises such as Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda. Lots of these magic items you might recognize from these classics and others: the 1-Up Mushroom on the cover makes an appearance here as well. Naturally a lot of their names have been changed to avoid copyright lawsuits, but we all know what they're talking about.

Without further ado, let's begin!

The BaBomb is a simple construct designed to follow a simple set of commands such as "keep walking until you hit something and explode." As monsters they are Tiny CR 3 Constructs which self-destruct akin to a 5th level fireball spell.

I like this item as a dungeon monster, but it's too expensive and time-consuming to build for PC use.

The Blue Shell Armor is based off of the Blue Shell from the New Super Mario Bros. It's a life-sized turtle shell which functions as a +3 Breastplate. It grants deflection bonuses to AC when in full defensive by pulling into the shell, and allows you to make an Improved Overrun attempt on all opponents within a straight line of movement when in this state just like a Koopa!

I think this one's nifty, although overrun maneuvers are of limited use in a conventional D20 game.

The Bow of Light is based off of Pitt's signature weapon from Kid Icarus. It's a +2 Holy Burst Shortbow (like flaming burst, but holy damage) which materializes a string and bow, both made of of light, when wielded. It can also be detached to form into two +1 holy short swords.

Also pretty cool, a neat gift for archers.

Cape of the Hero is based off of the flying cape from Super Mario World. It was made by clerics of an air deity, and grants flight speed at average maneuverability equal to twice base land speed and feather fall when falling. Additionally, it can cause an effect similar to an Earthquake spell when the user slams into the ground, and can be used as a weapon in combat and grants Whirlwind Attack for these purposes.

It comes in at a rather pricey cost (200,000 gp), although the constant flight and AoE are pretty good.

The Cloud of Flying is based off of the Lakitu Cloud from Super Mario Bros. It can hold up to 250 lbs. and has a fly speed (good maneuverability) of 40 feet. Users who duck into the cloud gain a +10 bonus on Hide checks when in the air to appear as a normal cloud.

The text does not specify if ducking in the cloud grants cover; an open blue sky doesn't sound like it'd grant much cover for the Hide skill to work.

The Club of the Smash Brothers is based off of the Baseball Bat from Super Smash Bros. It's a +2 Greatclub said to be wielded by a famous adventuring party known as the Smash Brothers, and grants Awesome Blow as a bonus feat even if the wielder does not meet the prerequisites. It can be used on corporeal opponents one size category larger than the user's size.

Uh, Shane, you're cutting it reallly close to a lawsuit with this one, I think.

The Final Sword is based off of various blades wielded by Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy 7. It is actually a set of 6 interlocking swords which can be changed out depending upon the situation, each with a different name and set of enhancement bonuses and qualities. Crusader is the base sword, Punisher specializes against golems and constructs, Pitiless against devils, Revenger against demons, etc.

It also presents the Interlocking quality as a new non-magical descriptor to add to weapons. In exchange for a +8 to the Craft DC and 500 gp to the highest weapon cost per additional weapon, two or more weapons can be combined into one interlocking set of parts which can be switched around as a free action.

We also get a new feat, Sure Grasp, which effectively functions as Monkey Grip (because Cloud wielded his Buster Sword one-handed).

The feat is superfluous (although I guess they couldn't reference Monkey Grip outright), but the Final Sword is something I'd put into my games if given the opportunity.

The Fiery Flower is based off of the Fire Flower from Super Mario Bros. It is a minor consumable wondrous item which grants the user the ability to throw fire equivalent to the Produce Flame spell when eaten. The user's clothes turn red and white for the duration of the spell.

At 250 gp, it's sort of overpriced, but can be useful if the party arcanist combines it with Pyrotechnics.

The Gi of Heaven is based off of the gi worn by Akuma in the Street Fighter Series. It is an unholy gi, granting any non-good monk wearer the Enraged Demon Technique. Once per day, the technique can be used on an opponent as a touch attack, dealing Wisdom damage equal to the Monk's level on a failed Will Save. Opponents reduced to 0 Wisdom die instantly.

The Gi's reputation as an instant death attack falls short mechanics-wise, as the Monk would need to be really high level to take out most (Wis 10+) creatures.

Thoughts so far: I really like a lot of these items. A few I find rather unimaginative and situational, but overall they're quite cool.

Next time, more magic items!

The Glove of Power is a +2 Gauntlet which cannot be disarmed from a wearer, and you do not provoke Attacks of Opportunity when fighting with it. It also grants Mage Hand and Spectral Hand at will, and Bigby's Interposing Hand and Grasping Hand spells twice per day.

It's too expensive (112,952 gp) for its utility. But Spectral Hand at will is great for spellcasters with touch spells.

Leaf of the Raccoon is based off of the Raccoon Suit from Super Mario Bros. 3. It was designed by a cabal of druids and is a one-use edible item. It transforms the user into an anthropomorphic raccoon for 10 minutes, with a natural tail weapon (with Whirlwind Attack); the user can wag the tail to fly at double base land speed (average maneuver) or feather fall.

Kind of like a one-use Cape of the Hero. It's still way too expensive (11,000 gp) to be practical.

Aw yeah, we're on the Masamune, baby! This legendary blade was wielded by Sephiroth, one of the most memorable villains in the Final Fantasy series, and it's game stats do not disappoint. It's a Large +7 keen greatsword of speed which can be wielded by Medium characters without penalty. It overcomes the hardness of all objects, and grants a BAB equal to the user's HD when wielded (if they already have this, they automatically confirm all critical hits).

Mirrors of Restoration are based off of save points from the Final Fantasy series, and are known as such in D&D settings with them as well. When a user peers into it, it makes a near-replica "save" of his or her current condition, including hit points, level, experience, equipment, etc. The mirror can be deliberately smashed to restore the user to their current condition, and "saves" can be erased in case they want to create a more up-to-date replica.

It's one of the few items worth the price, of 60,000 gp. Crafting it requires the Wish spell.

I love the idea, but the item is open to some extreme abuse.

The Mushroom of Growth is... oh come on, you all should know what this is from! It's a one-use item which grants enlarge person (Caster Level 5th) on those who eat it.

Scorpion's Sting is a +2 Spiked Chain/Whip (variable use) based off of Scorpion's harpoon from the Mortal Kombat series. As a standard action, the wielder can use a special attack where an opponent within range is pulled adjacent to them and stunned for one round on a failed Strength check. Squares the opponent passes through provokes attacks of opportunity from creatures within range.

This is an awesome weapon for AoO and Spiked Chain Fighter builds.

The Star of Invincibility is a one-use item which bestows a Prismatic Cloak spell on the user for 6 rounds.

Prismatic Cloak is a new 7th level Sorcerer/Wizard spell in this book. Basically it wreathes the target in a shimmering array of rainbow colors. Each of the 7 colors protects the user from a certain harmful effect, and each color can only be negated by a specific spell. For example, Red stops non-magical ranged weapons and is negated by Cone of Cold, Yellow stops poison, gas, and petrification and is negated by disintegrate, and indigo stops all spells except daylight (which negates it). The spell can even function in anti-magic fields and is not affected, and dispel magic can only negate the Indigo color (which blocks all objects and effects).

Since it lasts 1 round per level, this spell literally makes you invincible for the duration, more than enough time to take care of the opposition. A really overpowered spell which I would never allow in any game. The Invincibility Star, maybe.

The Suit of the Raccoon is made by the same cabal of druids responsible for the Leaf of the Raccoon, and is a wooden carving which transforms into a suit via mental command. It has all the powers of its leaf counterpart except for a +5 natural armor bonus and the ability to use the Statue spell on the user for 13 rounds per day.

Since it's not one-use, it's a lot more expensive (200,000 gp). I'd personally favor it over Cape of the Hero due to its defensive capabilities.

Summoning Spheres are based off of the Pokeballs from Pokemon. Once per day it can be thrown at a monster to capture it if empty, with user rolling a d20 + character level + ball strength, which becomes the Will Save DC for the monster to resist. If successfully captured, the monster can be summoned as per a Summon Monster spell of a level keyed to the ball's strength with a command word (usually "I choose you!"). Balls come in different levels of magnitude, which provide greater bonuses on roll (the normal sphere is +0 and replicates Summon Monster 3, while the Master sphere grants +12 and replicates Summon Monster IX).

This is my favorite item in the whole book.

The Vegetable of Might is derived from the vegetables of Super Mario Bros 2.


The original vegetables of might were grown by the same druids who created the leaf of the raccoon, adding further evidence that they must have been smoking some of the more exotic forest plants when they were dreaming up new magic items to create.


When eaten, it heals 1d8+5 hit points of damage, and can be used as a thrown weapon dealing 1d8+Str modifier points of bludgeoning damage with a 20 foot range increment. It leaves behind 1d4 seeds which grow into more Vegetables of Might in 1d4 months.

I really like this spell's theme, but it takes too long to grow and is too expensive (500 gp) to be worth it. Perhaps reduce the price to 50 gp, and then we might have something.

Thoughts so far: I'm pleasantly surprised by how accurately these items map to the d20 rules set. Unfortunately a lot of them are overpriced, meaning that per RAW they're more useful as found items than bought or created.

Next time, the final section, the Artifacts!

The Keysword is based off of Sora's Keyblade from Kingdom Hearts. It's a minor artifact and key-shaped +4 longsword which grants wielders the ability to cast Knock and Arcane Lock at will. It is designed to fight creatures with no souls, and ignores damage reduction of all undead and constructs. It's said to be the key to unlocking a "kingdom hearts" where all souls-to-be lie.

Sort of underwhelming for an artifact, but it can be a good primary weapon for a heroic sort of PC (like in the aforementioned game).

The Mushroom of Extra Life is the quintessential 1-Up Mushroom seen in all those Mario games. To outward non-magical detection it appears as a Mushroom Growth, but anybody who eats it will have True Resurrection cast upon them if they die within the hour. If they survive beyond that the Mushroom has no effect.

Overall it's worse than the Mirror of Restoration: its nature can't be easily discerned, its duration is limited, and it can't be 'updated.' I wouldn't put it on artifact-level status.

The Ribbon of Protection is named after the Ribbon equipment from the Final Fantasy series. When worn as a bracelet, it provides immunity to all forms of poison and disease, petrification, mind-affecting and death effects, ability damage and drain, and unwilling polymorph effects. Just like the video game one.

I don't know if I'd make it an artifact, but few pieces of equipment in other sourcebooks provide this much protection.

The Seven Gems of Chaos derive from the Chaos Emeralds of the Sonic the Hedgehog series. They were created by an unknown deity of Chaos long ago, and the full extent of their power is accessible only when all of them are together (left to the DM).

Individually, a Gem of Chaos grants a wielder command over time and space, with the haste, slow, dimension door, and time stop a limited number of times per day with the command word "Chaos Controlled!" Spellcasters can apply the Quicken Metamagic feat to spells 3/day without increasing their level or casting time.

Additionally, a Gem can be embedded (removable) into a magic item with charges, effectively granting it infinite uses due to the seemingly limitless power of raw Chaos.

Finally, a magic item worthy of the title artifact!

The Thriforce is a major artifact based off of the Triforce from the Legend of Zelda series. It's imbued with the power of three creator goddesses, of Wisdom, Courage, and Power. Each individual Thriforce can meld with wielders who represent virtues closest to them, manifesting as a mark on the back of their left hand.

Each Thriforce grants the wielder +20 bonus to 2 ability scores (Str and Con for Power, Dex and Cha for Courage, Int and Wis for Wisdom), and makes all saves as Fort/Ref/Will saves (Power/Courage/Wisdom respectively), among other things.

The Thriforce of Power represents strength. It grants proficiency with EVERYTHING, DR 20/epic, and can act normally at -1 to -9 hit points. Surprisingly the least versatile and powerful of the three.

The Thriforce of Courage represents skill and hope, and is traditionally wielded by history's greatest heroes. It grants a +10 bonus on all skill checks, immunity to mind-affecting effects, Spell Resistance 20 + HD, and improved evasion and improved uncanny dodge. Better than Power, but not as good as Wisdom.

The Thriforce of Wisdom is a spellcaster's dream come true. They can automatically use all magical devices and artifacts successfully, can cast spells in anti-magic fields, +10 to concentration and 0% arcane spell failure, and 3 bonus spells per day per spell level (including any granted from the ability score increase). If the wielder is not a spellcaster, they cast spells as a sorcerer equal to their HD, but substitute Wisdom for Charisma as their key spellcasting ability score. This blows the other Thriforces out of the water.

If united, the Thriforce's abilities are unknown but said to be great.

Overall I like the Thriforces, but Shane forgot to add in the most iconic ability. If anybody can unite all three together, they gain one wish. But if one with an evil heart has his wish granted, the world will fall into ruin. Of course this never manifested in the game series, though.

Yenova's Corpse is based off of the monster Jenova from Final Fantasy Seven (three items from the series, somebody's a big fan!). A minor artifact, Yenova was an evil entity from beyond the stars which sought to absorb all the magic from the world before a band of heroes slayed her. Even as a corpse her body appears freshly dead. Any spell cast on her corpse is automatically absorbed, and anyone who attempts to attack her is afflicted with a random stored spell (there's millennia worth of spells inside her). Its real power is that anybody who touches the body gains the Heir of Yenova template. Heirs are beings with immense magical powers but in telepathic contact with Yenova, which erodes their sense of will over time until they become a slave to her.

We are provided with the template. In short, they gain a bunch of spell-like abilities which increase in number and power with Hit Dice, Spell Resistance, ability to ignore magical forms of protection with a special application to attack rolls, and turn Neutral Evil and serve Yenova on a failed Will Save, which is rolled whenever they advance in hit die or level.

The entry contains two pictures, which I don't see as related to Yenova or her minions at hand:

I really love the mechanics and flavor of Yenova. It provides a great long-term enemy for campaigns.

Final Thoughts: Overall I like Video Game Magic Items. Most of their entries are faithful replications of their original appearances, and the selection is varied and interesting enough to fit well in most campaigns to override the "silliness factor" of some of them.

I'd recommend this as a purchase.

Aug 23, 2009

The Glove of Power should be Evil-Alignment restricted.

Because it's so bad.

Young Freud
Nov 26, 2006

Libertad! posted:

The Glove of Power is a +2 Gauntlet which cannot be disarmed from a wearer, and you do not provoke Attacks of Opportunity when fighting with it. It also grants Mage Hand and Spectral Hand at will, and Bigby's Interposing Hand and Grasping Hand spells twice per day.

It's too expensive (112,952 gp) for its utility. But Spectral Hand at will is great for spellcasters with touch spells.

He missed an opportunity here to allow the Glove of Power to change the alignment of its wearer to Evil, because it's so bad that it affects it user.


Young Freud fucked around with this message at 12:05 on Dec 14, 2013

Dec 27, 2011

More d20 supplements should be like this. Just, you know, less broken.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

TK-31 posted:

More d20 supplements should be like this. Just, you know, less broken.

Well, 3rd Edition is pretty much the least balanced one out there, on account of being Caster Supremacy on steroids.

In the meantime, have another review as a late night present, Goons. This was part of something I did called Courtroom Reviews, where I took a D20 Product and judged its contents based on the promises it made. "A balanced yet versatile magic system, evil adventures done right," et cetera.

In this one, John Wick designed alternate humans for his campaign setting, advertising them as a fresh take on a bland and relatively featureless race.

Courtroom Reviews

No Gods, Only Man[

Ah, good ol’ humans. Aside from their versatility, short lifespans, and lack of a monoculture, they don’t really have any signifying traits which make them stand out in fantasy gaming. In a way, this is to be expected. Humans are a baseline species in Dungeons & Dragons defined more by their particular civilization or nation than their race as a whole. Attempts to make and define humanity in sourcebooks usually end up with vague characteristics which sound empty, usually some variation of “humans are too varied to make any sort of generalization, but they do have ambition.”

Additionally, players’ familiarity with humanity serves as a form of measuring stick to provide contrast to the more exotic civilizations. Many gamers feel that standard humans are bland, not possessing any distinct characteristics. John Wick is one of these people. As part of his “Wicked Fantasy” series where classic races are reinvented, the Reign of Men re-imagines humankind as an ancient and prosperous civilization which draws heavy inspiration from ancient Athens and Imperial Rome. Humans are the oldest race, and their cities are centers of learning and home to the oldest civilizations, and they have a fierce love for democracy.

Part One

The book opens up with a mantra espousing the values of the Reign of Men. It paints a picture of a glorious land, where people are free to choose their own destinies without lords or gods and the ability to succeed and fail upon their own merits.

Among the elves, dwarves, and others, humans are known as the Old Race, because they have existed for as long as they can remember. The ancient kingdom of humanity (now known as the Reign of Men) was once ruled by warlords and autocratic noble families with sharply drawn class distinctions. Within the last 500 years it underwent drastic social change as learned scholars and philosophers argued for greater autonomy and that the citizens should choose for themselves how to be ruled. The newly-crowned monarch, derisively called the “Philosopher-King” by critics, was inspired by this movement and chose to enact laws granting citizens the right to elect their leaders. And thus democracy was born.

Human culture hews closely to the ideals of individualist autonomy. Humans should not beholden themselves to gods, and have the right to elect new leaders who fail to represent their interests. Humans believe that latent potential comes from within, and external sources of empowerment are ultimately empty paths. Through training, education, and sheer willpower, a human can become more than they are and achieve their greatest dreams. Although this unlocked ‘potential’ commonly takes on traits which can only be described as magical, humans insist that it’s not supernatural but a form of power believed to be held within every member of their race. Human Clerics and Paladins (known as Philosophers and Palatines) draw their magic from this inner strength. The text contradicts itself in saying that Palatines are granted their special powers by the Senate (the Reign’s governing body), which would effectively make it an external power source.

Interestingly, the text tells us that to be human means to be part of something larger than oneself. Humans are expected serve the Reign, and that what’s good for the Reign is good for all because it provides them the happiness and freedom they so desire. This stands at odds with the individualist rhetoric of earlier, although the flavor text does not acknowledge this and says that too many humans today are selfish and have lost sight of this ideal. Honestly I don’t mind cultural contradictions, but it feels that the author is unaware of this.

What then follows is a brief overview of an average human’s life in the Reign. Every town has a local university to ensure that all its citizens are well-read. Most parents train their children to be either be a scholar, soldier, or tradesman, and the child is pretty much locked into learning the trade for 10-12 years. Scholars attend prestigious universities of the ten cities and spend years studying about various sorts of academic lore. Unfortunately, all but the wealthiest families can hope to afford a scholarship. Adults usually live with their parents in family homes which are passed from one generation to the next. The elderly are expected to leave home and join universities in order teach new generations, especially if their family cannot provide for them any longer. Universities often double as poor houses, hospitals, and nursing homes given the lack of churches in the Reign.

Care for senior citizens (or the lack of it) is a huge problem. Although earlier the text mentioned that the elderly are "taken care of in the most humane way possible" by universities, most of them do not have the resources to care for them and are overcrowded as a result, leaving many of the old and infirm to die in the streets (perhaps the author meant "most humane way possible given the limited resources"). Senators who propose increased funding are shouted down by the militarists who would much rather use the money to guard against supposed hostile foreign powers (even though the nation is enduring a time of peace and lacks significant foreign threats).

Afterwards we get a rundown on the government. The Senate is comprised of elected representatives from the ten major cities running on 10-year terms. The city-states are supposedly independent but must obey all laws passed by the Senate. Each of the ten cities also elect their own Governors on 6-year terms; in addition to maintenance of their cities, Governors have the power to recall Senators with a 50% popular vote. The Senate also controls the military and elects a General on a lifetime position. The Reign also has a King who is elected by a 10-year term (which makes me wonder why they still use the title), and he can veto Senate laws (which is overturned by a 3/5ths vote) and introduce laws to them, much like the role of a US President. The King also has the power to form his own knightly orders (which are not part of the military). Also, humans don't like it when the other races call their nation a Kingdom.

We get a brief run-down on some local currency, holidays, and the city’s guilds, which are corrupt as hell (pulling on the purse strings of elected officials and intimidating voters).

Initial Thoughts: So far I find this revision of humans interesting, if a little contradictory in several areas. I find the idea of them being beholden to no deities interesting, a possible reason for why there’s no “God of humans” in most settings. The talk of ‘human potential’ initially came off as sort of the generic ill-defined ‘humans are special’ tripe, but making it a unique magical power source which leaves the other races in confusion is something I like a lot (we'll be getting into the game mechanics of this later).

Upon further review, the write-up does have a bit of Special Snowflake-itis, and I have to wonder if the civilization of the Reign is meant as some kind of Author Tract. The societal flaws and contradictions make me think otherwise, but it's possible.

Next Time: the City-States!

Minor Things:

Wick's humans come off like Arrogant "Enlightened Elves" in places. What makes them different than the "Our Elves Are Better" trope is that their society has some genuine flaws (guilds can influence elections, no social safety net for the elderly, etc).

Food for thought: John Wick (the author) is a Libertarian, and from what I've heard his works tend to have that political strain emerge at times. I can see this popping up in his human write-up, and I haven't read the whole thing yet. I can't tell if he's trying to make them idealized political clones or not (the nationalist collectivist angle of 'serving the Reign' throws that theory for a loop).

Some other minor things: I think that the human arrogance might be intentional. They don't like it when other races refer to the Reign as a Kingdom, and yet they elect a King (the text mentions that the term is "both accurate and misleading"). And their divine magic is obviously supernatural (still counts as spells by the game mechanics), yet they deny it.

Part Two

In addition to the many small villages and towns, there are 10 major Cities in the Reign of Men. Each city has its own dialect, history, and customs. "To be human is also to be from a City," the text says. "Just as men are proud of their heritage, they are doubly proud of their native City."

Except that many humans live outside these cities. What about them? Do they not count?

Apparently not. Only the cities have the power to elect governors and senators, and the Senate laws do not extend to the towns.

Each city has two related Skills which represent the ideals and character of the city. For example, the merchant city of Tomkin has Handle Animal and Profession (Merchant). Humans who have an aptitude with these skills get in-game bonuses (which we'll discuss in the next chapter).

Nevernare is the capital of the Reign and home to the Senate. The bureaucracy is choked with paperwork, and legal morass and government incompetence leads to loopholes, corruption, and urban decay. Most Senators are greedy politicians, which only adds to the problem.

Ajun is the Reign's center of learning, a cosmopolitan town with students traveling in from all corners. As a tradition, every weekend the teachers leave the universities to debate no-holds-barred "real philosophy" in the city's taverns, hoping to be challenged as equals outside the dry academic context of the classroom. This is probably the most complicated and roundabout excuse I've ever heard of getting smashed.

Ashcolm is nick-named the City of Shadows for its numerous assassinations and sinister sorcerer families.

Shavay is located in the Reign's geographic center and is little more than a glorified post office, as the city is used as a commerce hub and waypoint for messengers.

Wave hello to the Invisible Hand of the Free Market when stopping by in Tomkin! Trade is managed all by women called "Aunties," and the woman in charge of them is also the city's governor. Governor Rose ran on a platform of getting rid of laws she saw as useless and over-regulatory until there was only one remaining: "protect each other." She won the election.

So Tomkin is supposedly a Libertarian paradise where people aren't overburdened by those dumb legal restrictions and home to happy merchants plying their trades! It's also the most free of all the cities. And yet the person in charge of the government is also in charge of the market, technically making it...

Socialism! AAHHH!!!

The "one law" idea is dumb on so many levels. What does "protect each other" mean? Does it apply to everyone within the city, or just its residents? If the former, does that mean that you forsake this right upon setting foot outside? If the latter, are people who are not citizens free pickings for the criminal element?

In contrast to the opening mantra and the incompetent government at the capital, I'm definitely seeing a pro-Libertarian bias crop its head up.

Vanta is a martial northern City where only soldiers are allowed to vote (everyone's required to be a soldier), and frequently fend off orcs, trolls, and other such "lesser races" across the border. They look down upon their southern neighbors for pursuing art and culture, and always elect the most hawkish officials. Wait a second, the text mentioned earlier that the Reign is largely peaceful and doesn't have to worry about hostile foreign neighbors!

Tamerclimb is a spartan mountain City where all the Palatines are trained. The place is also home to a race of sapient horses known as the Uffred, who choose riders worthy enough to carry them (in other words, Paladin Mounts). The text mentions that the city is not suited to visitors, with "no elegant taverns for travelers, no theaters, and no brothels."

When I think of swinging tourist hot spots, I don't think about the destination's overall safety, its entertainment, or its climate; the prostitutes are where it's at.

Most of Millford stands in ruins, ravaged by the horrors of the wastes. Many citizens sought to reclaim it, and they're a hardy, tough lot.

Vinnick is renowned for its fine wines and wizard's colleges. Most of the city's economy revolves around servicing arcane spellcasters and their needs, from magic item shops to apprenticeship training.

Jinix is a city of thieves, where organized crime syndicates run the show. The Governor's a figurehead, and it makes most of its money exporting drugs and illegal goods.

There is still a noble class in the traditional sense (rule by bloodline), but they have no real power beyond the small villages and hamlets they still control. Most humans who live outside the cities are pretty much living on their land, and they don't get to vote for representatives or who rules them. So much for its claims at liberty and democracy; "to be human is to belong to a city," indeed.

Thoughts so far: Arguably the weakest part of the book. The Reign's vaulted ideals fall short in this part, and there's potential conflict in disenfranchisement of non-City dwellers. The antiquated nobility is a sharp contrast from democratic values, but is sadly underutilized here. This could be played straight as examples of flawed ideals, but the text does not come off that way. The town of Tomkin also left a bad taste in my mouth, too.

Next Time: Open Content, and a new, revised Human race!


Open Content: All material starting on page 22 to the end of the book is Open Content. All other material is ©2012 by John Wick. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission from the author. All characters and situations presented in this work are fictional. Except for John, Jess and Jill. They are as real as you. Aaron and Mauro, however, are entirely fictional and should be treated as such.

Now this is where we get into the real meat of game mechanics. From what I hear, it's typical in the Wicked Fantasy series to give the races a mechanical makeover with more distinctive advantages, such as Cleave as a bonus feat (as opposed to a "+1 to Diplomacy").

Here it is, the Wick-ified Human!


Human Racial Traits
• +2 to Strength, Constitution or Dexterity and +2 Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma
• Medium: Humans have no special bonuses or penalties due to their size.
• Movement: Base speed of 30ft.
• The Will of Men: Gain +1 racial bonus to all Will Saves. At 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th character level, gain an additional +1 bonus. Men are creatures of will; their will carries them through a harsh world of politics and physical dangers.
• Improved Teamwork: Humans count every member of their party as having the same Teamwork Feats they have. No matter size of the group, humans know how to work with others, even if they aren’t human.
• Rally: Whenever a human threatens a critical on an attack roll they can make a Charisma Check DC 10 + CR of target. If successful, all allies within 30ft gain a +1 rally bonus to attack and damage for the next round. For every consecutive threatened critical during the same combat, add +1 to the bonus. Humans can drive others to new heights of determination through shouts of inspiration and encouragement.
• Skillful: Choose one skill that permanently counts as a class skill. Additionally, gain a +2 racial bonus to that skill. The bonus gains an additional +1 every four character levels. Humans pursue a wide range of careers and live in a multitude of conditions, and as a result learn to excel in many different skills.
• Hometown: Humans pick one city in the Reign to be their hometown. Each hometown has two “city skills.” If a human has a bonus of at least +4 in one city skill, they gain one bonus feat. If they have a bonus of at least +4 in both city skills, they gain two bonus feats. Check sidebar for which skills are related to cities. Every city in the Reign is known for producing a certain kind of person. When a human matches up with the ideals of their hometown they start with a leg up.
• Hometown Advantage: When humans are in the city they were born in they gain a +2 racial bonus to all Social rolls. Additionally humans gain +2 Favored Terrain (Hometown). Humans know their hometown like the back of their hand. Every street, every common merchant and all of the people are easily recalled from days of childhood. Language: Humans begin play speaking Common and Human
(Hometown Dialect). Humans with high Intelligence scores can choose any languages they want (except secre languages, such as Druidic).
• Hometown : Humans pick one city in the Reign to be their hometown. Each hometown has two “city skills." (see pg. 15)

The standard Pathfinder Human has +2 to one ability score of the player's choice, an additional skill point at each level, and a bonus feat at 1st level. Wick-ified Humans get a net +4 to ability scores, an extra class skill which can get up a +7 racial bonus, and two potential bonus feats (which can be taken at any point and not just 1st level) for as little as a 2 skill point tax!

The Rally trait is way too weak to be worth it. Not only must you threaten a critical hit (30% at most with a specialized build and weapon), but you must roll a successful Charisma check (which you won't make against higher CR enemies unless you pump up the ability). And then the bonus lasts for only one round. An optimized character built around it can probably stack up bonuses in combat, but there are easier ways to make an "inspiring" character build.

In comparison to the Pathfinder Core races, this Human is powerful, really powerful. Overpowered, even.

Now for the feats:


Human Knowledge Feats

Love of Knowledge
You pursue philosophia, the love of knowledge.
Prerequisites: Human, any Knowledge skills 4 ranks total.
Benefit: You may make untrained Knowledge skill checks, even if you do not have any ranks in the Knowledge skill, regardless of the DC of the skill check. Once per day per four character levels (minimum of once per day), you may ruminate on a subject for 2 minutes in order to take 20 on a Knowledge skill check. As usual, you may only take 20 if you are not under stress or threat and have uninterrupted time to consider the question.
Normal: You may only make untrained Knowledge skill checks if the DC is 10 or less. You may not take 20 on Knowledge skill checks.

Flavorfull feat, but the Bard's class features make this ability superfluous.


Human Teamwork Feats

Human Tactics
Humans know how to fight well with others, and in time, they can teach others to fight well with them.
Prerequisites: Human, Profession (Solider) 5 Ranks
Benefit: As a standard action, you can grant one teamwork feat to all allies within 30 feet who can see and hear you. Allies retain the use of this bonus feat for 3 rounds plus 1 round for every two character levels you possess. Allies do not need to meet the prerequisites of this bonus feat. You can do this a number of times a day equal to you Wisdom Bonus.

This is the only teamwork feat listed, but if there are others it would still be useless. Because Improved Teamwork effectively grants the character's teamwork feats as bonus feats to other party members. Human Tactics does the same thing, but on a limited duration. Maybe it's meant to be used for people not part of the party, although "party" is really broadly defined.

Edit: I misinterpreted the text.


The way teamwork feats work is you get a bonus if you fulfill a criteria with a person who also has the feat. The human racial trait just lets you act like your entire party has the feat, it doesn't actually give it to them.

On that note, I'm not experienced enough with said feats to give an accurate assessment.


Human Rally Feats

Saving Rally
Some humans can inspire more than just inspire a better attack.
Prerequisites: Human, Diplomacy 6 Ranks or Intimidate 6 Ranks
Benefit: When you threaten a critical hit, instead of using the Rally ability you can use the Saving Rally ability. Saving Rally affects an ally who has failed a Will saving throw during the encounter and is still under the effects of the failure. Make either a Diplomacy or an Intimidate Check; the result counts as a new saving throw result for the ally against one effect; your choice of which effect to attempt the save against. This cannot be used on yourself.

Extended Rally
The more intense your words the further they can reach.
Prerequisites: Human, Saving Rally, Base
Attack Bonus +10, Diplomacy 10 Ranks or Intimidate 10 Ranks
Benefit: You can extend the range of the Rally ability to 60ft. If you use the Saving Rally ability instead you can affect a number of extra targets equal to your Charisma Bonus.

Sorcerer’s Rally
Hearing the right words can help the magically gifted to new heights.
Prerequisites: Human, Extended Rally, Spellcraft 5 Ranks, Diplomacy 13 Ranks or Intimidate 13 Ranks
Benefit: When you threaten a critical hit, instead of using the Rally ability, you can use the Sorcerer’s Rally ability. Sorcerer’s Rally allows you to select one ally with caster levels and make a Spellcraft Check DC 10 + their Caster Level. If successful, add your current Rally Bonus * 2 to their caster level for the next round.

Inspirational Rally
With the right words, people can be called to act.
Prerequisites: Human, Sorcerer’s Rally, Diplomacy 17 Ranks
Benefit: When you threaten a critical hit instead of using the Rally ability you can use the Inspirational Rally ability. Inspirational Rally allows you select one ally and one enemy they can attack without moving within 60ft of yourself. Make a Diplomacy Check DC 10 + CR of the selected enemy, if successful the ally makes an attack against the enemy. They gain a moral bonus to attack and damage equal to your current Rally Bonus * 3 for the attack. Melee, Ranged, Touch and Ranged Touch attacks can be used with the power.

Menacing Rally
The terror you can inspire in your enemies is frightful.
Prerequisites: Human, Sorcerer’s Rally, Intimidate 17 Ranks
Benefit: When you threaten a critical hit instead of using the Rally ability you can use the Menacing Rally ability. Menacing Rally allows you to make a Intimidation Check DC 10 + CR of your target, if successful all enemies within 60ft take a penalty to all attack and damage equal to your current Rally Bonus * 3 for the next round. Penalties from Menacing Rally do not stack; only use the highest current penalty.

The Triumph of Men
Men are Exceptional and do Exceptional Deeds.
Prerequisites: Human, Inspirational Rally or Menacing Rally, Diplomacy 20 Ranks or Intimidate 20 Ranks
Benefit: When you threaten a critical hit instead of using the Rally ability you can use The Triumph of Men ability. The Triumph of Men allows all humans, including yourself, who are allies to regain ¼ of their maximum hit points + your current Rally Bonus * 4 and removed any conditions that they wish to remove. This can only be used once per day.

The Sorcerer's Rally is potentially abuseable with its increased Caster Level, and Inspirational Rally can apply for some action economy shenanigans; the whole 'threaten a critical' makes the usage of Rally feats unreliable.


Human Hometown Feats

Home Away From Home
While a human may have been born in one city, it’s possible they grew up or have lived a long time in a different city.
Prerequisites: Human, Knowledge (Chosen City) 7 Ranks, own home in the Chosen City
Benefit: You gain the benefits of Hometown Advantage in the Chosen City. This feat can be taken multiple times but only Cities in the Reign of Man can be your Chosen City.

Not impressed.

Next we get the alternate Cleric and Paladins.

Philosphers are like Clerics, only better. They have 5 skill points per level, and instead of using a holy symbol or radiating an alignment aura, they have an object of sentimental value known as a focus which grants +1 to DC of all spells cast as long as it's on their person.

Cleric loses holy symbol, can't cast spells. Philosopher loses Focus, and his +1 DC bonus to spells. Fair trade, I think not.

Philosophers can also select any two domains of their choice regardless of alignment restrictions. They also get two new domains, Humanity and Philosophy, which grant a bonus Orison per day per domain chosen.

Also, Philosophers and Palatines don't call their magic "spells;" they're "meditations," with Orisons being "Insights."

Palatines are focused on justice and honor and crusade against evil, yet they can be of any alignment. They also get two Knowledge skills not in Pathfinder (Law, and Senate), which sound way too specialized and can easily fall under Knowledge (Nobility & Royalty). They're pretty much the same as normal Paladins, albeit their heavy horse mounts (not warhorses) are treated as a Druid's animal companion, and their Divine Grace applies only to Will but affects allies close by as well. Divine Health is renamed Man's Vigor, they channel positive energy like a cleric instead of laying on hands, and their capstone ability grants bonuses to allies instead of banishing evil outsiders.

Our product ends with a list of approved classes for humans. They can be any class in the Core Rulebook except Cleric and Paladins (because they don't worship gods) or the Monk. I'm confused about this last ban, as the class is all about self-improvement and discipline. They can't be any of the Advanced Player's Guide classes except for the Cavalier. There are no explanations for these restrictions, either.

The verdict, for realsies: Not guilty. The book does deliver on a reinvented human race, providing them with an overarching culture and unique traits and abilities. Unfortunately, its execution leaves much to be desired: the society feels too idealistic, and what flaws there are are either unintentional or played down. The hidden potential within all humanity is merely just class-based divine spellcasting, and it feels like a waste that only two of the classes can obtain it; I would've made it a series of human-only feats. It's also too connected to a specific setting and history, minimizing its applicability to other settings (although I guess this is to be expected when hyper-focusing humans).

In short, great idea, poor execution. It could have been a lot more.

Edit: Just realized until now that I'm not using 'acquitted' in its proper legal term. It's now "not guilty." Because it doesn't necessary imply innocence.

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 19:20 on Dec 14, 2013

claw game handjob
Mar 27, 2007

pinch pinch scrape pinch
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i'm bleeding


Dec 13, 2011
Hahahahaha. John Wick writes fantasy 'MURIKA! but fucks it up because he doesn't keep notes. Why not base it off of a non-European culture and get some research in? Maybe have the culture focus on familial fidelity and the inherent selfishness of adventuring.

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