Wednesday, July 1, 2015

D&D - The Cartoon (Part 1: Nostalgia)

I find it hard to believe that in all my ramblings and nostalgic tangents, I've never blogged about the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon...but search as I might, I find no mention of it. On the other hand, per Wikipedia, the DVD release (which I own) was only published between 2006 and 2008 and I started this blog in 2009...the box set was probably gathering dust on a shelf long before I ever started blogging about games.

Besides, I've tried to make the content here a bit less about nostalgia (really!). And the D&D cartoon (certainly my reasons for buying the DVD) falls squarely in the middle of that soup. Ah, well...if nostalgia's not your thang, you might want to skip this post.

Somewhere on a shelf in Seattle.
The D&D cartoon (I realize folks these days refer to it as "The Animated Series" or "TAS" but, whatever) was probably my favorite cartoon series of all time. That is to say, I'm thinking about that at this moment (about 1am my time...just put the baby back to sleep by rocking her to Free Bird, so maybe my brain's on tilt), and I'm hard pressed to think of any other show that might be in the running. Certainly Thundarr the Barbarian is neck-and-neck for the top spot. But I can distinctly remember setting my alarm clock to make sure I got up in time to watch Dungeons & Dragons (as the network kept moving it to earlier timeslots...7:30 I think?)...what kid sets an alarm clock to get up on a Saturday morning just to make sure he catches his favorite cartoon?

The show ran from 1983 to 1985 (again, per wikipedia), but most of the episodes from Season 3 are unfamiliar to me, whereas I can clearly remember all of the first two seasons. It's quite possible that in the fall of '85 (when Season 3 was airing) I was busy with extracurricular activities (I was playing a lot of soccer round about that time) and that might account for missing shows certainly I would have remembered the Fairie Dragon episode...fairie dragons having made a semi-prominent appearance in our AD&D campaign by then (though our DM had drawn them from Dragon Magazine, not the later MM2 entry). Anyway, I loved it at the time, and it certainly filled the hole in my Saturday Morning melancholy caused by the cancellation of Thundarr in 1982.

[to be clear, my love of action/adventure RPGs may stem from my love of action/adventure cartoons as much as anything. I liked Loony Tunes, certainly, but would easily switch the channel for Thundarr or Blackstar or Tarzan, Zorro, and the Lone Ranger. I stopped watching action/adventure cartoons when they started A) being used as a vehicle for marketing toys, and B) started including heavy-handed morality messages tacked on as epilogues. Shows like He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Transformers may hold a soft spot in the hearts of many Old School Nerds but for me those shows are the reason I stopped watching cartoons altogether. Sorry...I've got better things to do than be lectured by a shill for toy company]

Not that shows like Dungeons & Dragons didn't have morality messages encoded into them as part of the plot...but give me some credit for being able to figure out there was a lesson to be learned about teamwork or whatever. After Dungeons & Dragons ended, I stopped watching cartoons with a couple exceptions: the after-school series Galaxy Rangers (which featured cyborg protagonists and a cool theme song) and, of course, The Simpsons which was mandatory primetime viewing for high school kids (which I was) when it came out.

But I digress.

I picked up the DVD box set for Dungeons & Dragons a few years back, but lack of free time (and lack of interest from the significant other) precluded me from getting through all the disks before the thing went on the shelf. While it didn't have the catchy theme song common to most cartoons of the mid-80s, it certainly had plenty of "D&Dish" action, animation, and themes. No there was no murder-hobo bloodletting and corpse-looting (which, in a way, makes it fairly opposite most D&D campaigns...especially the ones I was running or playing in during the early 80s), but it was definitely populated with the weird and whimsical, the danger and fantasy that is (for me) at least as important as getting to getting my imaginary stab on fighting orcs and dragons and whatnot.

The show served as a source of inspiration on occasion, though  perhaps not as often as you'd expect. I designed a fairly extensive labyrinthine dungeon with a super-beholder at the heart of it based (in part) on the premise of a particular episode, and one of the long-running PCs in our campaign was a cleric whose magic shield was (more-or-less) a direct 'porting of Eric the Cavalier's totem. Also thief-acrobats with extendable magic quarterstaves were fairly ubiquitous later on (though on second thought, this was probably due to the publishing of Unearthed Arcana in 1985). But that's about it. Venger never made an appearance in our tabletop games (nor Tiamat, though we started using the Monster Manual with our B/X games circa 1982). No one had a bow that shot lightning bolts or a club that worked like a horn of blasting. Of course, until 1985 (and the entry of UA into the "Gygax canon") the only place folks would have heard of the character classes "cavalier," "barbarian," and "acrobat" would have been long out-o-print copies of Dragon. Bullywugs and purple worms? Sure. But even as a 10 year old I wasn't setting up encounters with Lolth at the local tavern.

ANYway...the reason for this post was NOT to stroll down Memory Lane, but rather to mine some things out of the cartoon for gaming purpose. Yes, really. But as I've meandered overlong, mired in nostalgia, I'll save that for tomorrow's post. It's 2:30 and really past my bedtime.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Nearly Back

Which is to say: jet lag is a bitch.

Got back into Paraguay...what? Sunday? No...Saturday night. Took me a couple days to get acclimated to the environment, but I'm still having a hard time getting to sleep at night (with the three hour time difference). And since the kids are having the same difficulty, well, it's made for some rough nights for the wife and me. Mostly the wife (she had to get back to work, after all). Coffee helps. Lots of coffee.

I say "acclimated to the environment" but I'm not talking about the climate. No, I'm talking about settling down once again in this third world hell hole. Okay, yeah, that's an exaggeration...there are plenty of worse places to live (even on this continent). But the contrast between home and here is so great, the initial splash-shock of arrival is pretty extreme. We were not looking forward to leaving Seattle for Asuncion. As we drove to our house from the airport (I in a separate vehicle from my family because of the amount of luggage...we'll be here till November at least), I found myself sinking into a kind of depression as the realization of the situation sunk in. It ain't no Kansas, Toto.

Thankfully, that depression was (mostly) dissipated after 24 or 48 hours. There's a trick to living here: you forget the things you might miss as you adapt to the environment. The "lack of conveniences" fade into the back of the memory and "life as usual" takes over and you stop pining-whining. Besides my mother-in-law is with us and she brought a shit-ton of good eats/ingredients from Mexico with her...the cooking the last couple days has truly been exemplary stuff.

And there are other perks to life here: if you're a fan of association football ("soccer," as we call it in the States), and there's any kind of big tournament in which you've got an interest (like, say, the Women's World Cup or the Copa America...both going on right now), you couldn't do much better with television coverage than Paraguay. Futbol is a passion of most Paraguayans, and from the live TVs above the checkout lines in stores and supermarkets, to the general enthusiasm of the people (you should have heard the screams and fireworks when the national team beat Brazil to advance to the semi-finals)...well, that's a lot of fun. Plus, if you like the occasional slab of steak served to you on an iron skillet, Asuncion is probably only a little behind Buenos Aires in that department.

[tonight is Argentina versus Paraguay in the semi-finals by the way. Considering the Pope (who is Argentine) will be visiting Asuncion in the next couple weeks, the game could be said to have religious implications for the country...ha!]

ANYway...I'm back, more or less. Sorry to the folks who were worried or thought I was dead (and thank you for the concerned emails). No, nothing bad happened to me...I was simply, selfishly, enjoying my vacation. God, I was enjoying it. It was so good to be back in Seattle. Other than my daughter taking a little time to get used to it (she's spent eleven of her first fourteen months in South America, after all), the whole family had a helluva' good time. Gosh...family friendly brew-houses? Baseball and (real) pizza? On Demand cable TV? Self-serve checkout machines at the grocery? Paved streets? Customer service?! Oh, my! Not to mention my very own bed in which I slept like a baby every night.

[I strongly recommend anyone invest in a Tempurpedic mattress. I know they're expensive, but your back will sooooo thank you in the long run. The wife and I first got one close to eight years ago and...oh, man, do I miss having one down here. They just don't have shit like that here!]

Just good living. And it was an absolute pleasure to be able to spend time with family. My crazy brother is a little less crazy when I'm around, my mother a little less stressed and a lot happier with the grandkids toddling about her house. Hard to believe that in 24 hours, one can be more than a quarter the Earth's circumference away from the place you grew up.

*sigh*

Anyway: blogging stuff. Lots to get to. I spent much of my relaxation time reading and researching super-hero RPGs and comics and the genre in general. That will be an upcoming post. Continuation of the Kloane War Knights series, of course...though I'm not sure anyone missed it (in reading back over the blog role for the last couple weeks, it appears the whole "space gaming craze" brought about by White Star may have cooled somewhat, at least with regard to posting. Not sure what that means). I'm tempted to get back to Crowns of Blood as well (had the chance to catch up on my Game of Thrones watching, and I've some thoughts on that). A couple of SciFi related things are on my mind (conversations with Steve-O and my older child's current fascination with the old Star Blazers cartoon is responsible for this).

[just as an aside, my Frontier Space micro game has been downloaded nearly 500 times since it went up. Reading over it again, I find that I really, really like it, especially the combat system. I kind of want to develop this into something, or at least play test it. Also, after re-reading Knight Hawks I find I'm not terribly interested in converting KH in any way, shape, or form...which means the starship skills in FS probably need to be re-written. Yet another "something to do" on the list]

Finally, my most recent obsession of the last couple days (besides watching soccer) has been the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon and some ideas/concepts the thing has given me. I want to blog about that this week as well.

But all that's going to have to wait a bit: it's market day (only comes one day a week here) and my suegra is finally awake and coffee'd up (she's got the jet lag, too). More later!
: )

Monday, June 8, 2015

KLOANE WAR KNIGHTS - C.5 P.2

SECRETS OF THE STAR KNIGHTS

The information in the first four chapters provides all the information necessary for a starting PC Star Knight. Referees can reveal the following “secrets” to PCs as their characters grow in power and ability.

Psychic Sensing

Having developed a connection to the Star Force, all psychics have a greater awareness of things around them. When they are calm and at peace (in other words, not in the middle of combat, or a chase sequence, or some other hairy adventure moment), the Referee can use this ability to reveal useful information and clues to the players. Some things a psychic’s intuition should naturally detect include the presence of life (and life forms), psychics, corrupt psychics (i.e. Shadow Lords), and old relations (including family, friends, and former foes). The range of a psychic’s senses is determined by the character’s tier:

Tier 1: City-wide (or ship-wide if on a large vessel)
Tier 2: Planet-wide
Tier 3: System-wide (possibly extending into nearby systems)

A 10th level psychic of the third tier are so attuned to the Star Force that they can detect things on a galaxy-wide scale, but this ability will probably only be exhibited by NPCs in most games.

The presence of multiple “detectable” items can make it difficult to pinpoint a specific item (for example, locating a single, specific person in a city of people may be impossible unless in the same small building or room), so the Referee can feel free to limit psychic sensing to a “feeling” of someone’s “presence.” Also, use of the psychic talent mask presence can disguise a character’s personal “Star Force signature,” reducing the range of a psychic tracker’s senses by a number of range bands equal to the disguised character’s tier (for example, a second tier psychic using mask presence would reduce a third tier psychic’s sensing to “city-wide”). If the mask would reduce a psychic’s tier to zero the character could still be detected in the same building or room; if reduced below zero the masked psychic cannot be detected at all.

Mentors

Each PC Star Knight is presumed to have a mentor responsible for their training; however, the PCs' demonstration of exceptional ability (and the strains brought on by the war with the Kloanes) means they are not shepherded as closely as they may have otherwise been in more peaceful times. Some PCs’ mentors may no longer be available at all.  For each PC, roll on the following chart:

ROLL 1D8
MENTOR IS…
1 to 2
Deceased
3
Alive, but too old or crippled to adventure.
4 to 7
Alive, though usually unavailable
8
Alive, but fallen to Shadow

Roll D6 to determine the tier of living mentors: 1-3 Adept, 4-6 Master. Starting (first tier) Star Knights will usually receive their missions from a mentor, and mentors may be a source of additional information or aid to the PCs (at the Referee’s discretion); however, they are far too busy with adventures of their own to accompany the PCs. At the end of every mission, the Referee can roll D6 for each active PC mentor: on a roll of “1” the mentor is no longer available in any capacity (having died or fallen to Shadow).

‘Razor Construction

All Star Knights begin the game with a beamrazor and are expected to care for it with their lives; as with the ancient samurai’s katana sword, the ‘razor is considered both a tool and a symbol of the Star Knight’s honor and mission of galactic justice. It is presumed that each character received her beamrazor as a gift from her teacher, the mentor with whom she first apprenticed.

Purchasing a new beamrazor is generally outside the financial means of most PCs (credit code D). This is because they are not manufactured, but hand-crafted by a skilled Star Knight. Any Star Knight (or fallen Star Knight) of the second or third tier have the ability to construct a beamrazor; doing so requires a special credit check against credit code B. Characters add both their PRE adjustment AND their tier (+2 or +3) to the roll, but no other adjustments. Usually, Star Knights will only craft a beamrazor to replace one that has been lost to misadventure, or to gift to a new apprentice; they do not “sell them on the open market” (those available for sale have generally been stolen or taken from dead Star Knights).

A Star Knight using a beamrazor of her own construction receives a +1 bonus to attack rolls made while using the weapon.

Tiers and Trials

In order to advance in tier, characters must exemplify the honor and conscience of a dedicated Star Knight (generally, the “heroic ideal”) and pass the trials set down by tradition: the Trial of Fire and the Trial of Legacy. Each trial is described below:

Trial of Fire: character must survive single combat (i.e. “one-on-one”) with an opponent of equal or greater stature, usually defined as a beamrazor-wielding psychic of at least equal level. “Survival” means fighting until one combatant is incapacitated by wounds; the apprentice does not need to win the fight to succeed at the Trial of Fire, but it certainly reflects better on her if she does (not to mention Shadow Lords aren’t known for leaving defeated foes alive).

In the current age of the Kloane Wars, most apprentice Star Knights will eventually encounter a ‘razor-wielding opponent or two; the issue for the Referee is when and to provide such an opportunity.  Certainly, if PCs are seeking out such encounters the Referee shouldn’t withhold them; the Kloanes are just as interested in slaughtering Star Knights as they are in galactic conquest. But Shadow Lords are difficult opponents, and faced too early can result in dead PCs.

Star Knights who have achieved 4th level but who are still only apprentices are sometimes offered the chance at a Trial of Fire with another Star Knight; this was the usual method of advancement before the Kloane Wars. The Star Knight will be pitted against a fellow PC or against an NPC Star Knight of equal level in a combat arranged by a mentor; such a combat is still fought in earnest until one opponent is reduced to 0 hit points, disarmed, or otherwise rendered helpless. Such combats seldom result in death (Star Knights instead choosing to grievously wound their opponents), but it has occurred on rare occasions, usually when one Knight bears a grudge against the other (but remember that a Star Knight always earns a corruption point for killing an “agent of the Star Force”).

Trial of Legacy: character must train a new apprentice to adept status. To train an apprentice the character must be an adept or master, and must actively search out and recruit a likely subject (if a suitable NPC is not already available the character may make a PRE check to find one, receiving one such check per game session). Such “found” apprentices are generated randomly:

ROLL 1D8
APPRENTICE CLASS IS…
1
High-Born*
2 to 3
Scientist
4 to 5
Scout
6 to 7
Technician
8
Soldier*
*High-born are less common than other character classes, while soldiers are less likely to be good candidates due to their violent nature.

The apprentice begins as a 1st level Star Knight, and can either be “cut loose” immediately or allowed to accompany the mentor on missions. If the apprentice stays with the mentor, all XP earned by the mentor on adventures is divided evenly between the two (half and half).

NPC apprentices are controlled by the Referee, though they will generally follow the directions of their PC mentor. NPC apprentices do not acquire corruption points the same way as PC Star Knights; at the end of every mission, the PC mentor attempts a PRE save (add +1 if the mentor is a third tier master). Failure indicates the apprentice earned D4 corruption points during the adventure and must check for “falling to Shadow” (as described in Chapter 1).

Apprentices that are sent off on their own are handled differently. After a mission, the Referee awards the NPC XP equal to one-half what the PC mentor earned (though the mentor’s earned XP is not reduced), and then makes a PRE save for the NPC apprentice (again adding +1 if the PC mentor is a master) to see if corruption points are acquired. Because it is the lower level NPC making the PRE save (instead of the mentor), solo apprentices are much more likely to fall to Shadow than those who accompany their mentors.

To pass the Trial of Legacy, the apprentice must complete a Trial by Fire (see above). This might occur during a mission (if the NPC is accompanying the PC), or else can occur randomly (for solo NPCs). To determine random Trials, roll D6 every time the solo NPC achieves a level of experience: if the roll is less than the NPC’s new level, the apprentice has succeeded and both mentor and student are promoted to the next tier. However, if the D6 roll comes up a “6” the apprentice has been killed, and the Trial of Legacy failed.

A Star Knight may never mentor more than one apprentice at a time, regardless of whether the apprentice is accompanying the mentor or undertaking solo missions.


[to be continued

[Kloane War Knights is copyright 2013 by Jonathan Becker and Running Beagle Games. The X-Plorers rpg is copyright 2009, Dave Bezio & Grey Area Games. The X-Plorers trademark is used under the X-Plorers Trademark License]

Friday, June 5, 2015

KLOANE WAR KNIGHTS - C.5 P.1

CHAPTER 5: REFEREE’S GUIDE

THE REFEREE’S RESPONSIBILITIES

In addition to the responsibilities described in the X-Plorers rules, the Referee has a number of additional responsibilities associated with the KWN setting, especially with regard to player character development (both getting better and worse).

Handling PCs: Corruption

The corruption point mechanic is present for several reasons: it acts as an incentive to promote right (i.e. “heroic”) action, it adds a consequence to the irresponsible use of power, it provides justification for the existence of powerful antagonists equal to the PCs (“the Shadow Lords”), and it provides the potential for adventure stories of falling from grace and (hopefully) subsequent redemption.

That being said, not all players will be happy at the prospect of their characters falling to Shadow (and becoming NPCs). Especially with new players, the Referee should always point out when an action would gain a corruption point for the PC. Give the player a chance to reflect: Do you really want to do that? Even though players might act cavalier in their attitude as “do-gooders,” it’s important to remember that their characters have been trained to act and behave in a certain fashion; when a Referee informs players of the consequence of their actions he is simply acting as the voice of the character’s conscience and training.

Characters that “go over” to the Shadow side should generally become NPCs at the end of the game session. If the players are all interested in playing a game of psychically corrupt Shadow Lords fighting against the Galactic Republic, the Referee may decide to run the campaign in that way (pay special attention to the Damage & Death section of this book, as the PCs will be hunted by ‘razor-wielding Star Knights!).

It may seem odd that Corruption is considered a milestone, since such a character becomes an NPC under Referee control. However, Referees will no doubt wish to bring these tragic figures back as antagonists in future game sessions and the extra experience level ensures the NPC will be a tough challenge for the PCs that remain. Also, it’s always possible the PCs will find a way to redeem the character, or somehow convince the character to give up her evil ways. If that somehow happens (and the corrupted character survives the process), she will be even more powerful, having earned the milestone of Redemption.

A redeemed character retains a number of corruption points equal to her level of experience minus 1D4; if she ever goes over to Shadow again, her mind will be irretrievably shattered (the character becomes utterly psychotic or simply commits suicide) and cannot be recovered a second time. Such a character must walk a very narrow line, having almost no margin for error.

Remember: every time a character achieves a level of experience she can remove 1D4 corruption points from her character. Corruption can never be reduced below zero.

Handling PCs: Death of a Player Character

Given the war-torn background of the KWN setting, it is inevitable that some Star Knights will fall in battle. While this should usually be a somber moment for the group (remember Star Knights’ reverence for life, including their own!), it is important the Referee not lose sight that KWN is a game…and that a player with a dead character needs to be brought back into the game as quickly as possible! A player can take over an existing support character if one is available (NPC apprentices are the best for this), otherwise a new Star Knight can be created and dispatched to join the mission. Rather than requiring the player to begin play as a 1st level character, the Referee may allow the new Star Knight to begin with XP equal to one-half that of the deceased character.

Characters that possess the ascension psychic talent, need not disappear entirely upon dying (as explained in the description of the talent), but ascended masters usually become NPCs under the control of the Referee, especially when the character’s former player is controlling a new (living and breathing) Star Knight.

Handling PCs: Milestones

Milestones are included for several reasons. They give players goals to achieve besides simple “fight the enemy, do the mission.” They allow players to better define their characters (and the campaign) over time by pursuing milestone objectives. They provide incentives for role-playing. They model the real world effect that such achievements usually grant to people. And they also provide a quicker method of advancement that rewards invested play…something vitally important to the melodrama of the space opera genre.

To some Referees, it may appear that the milestones are too easily met, or vulnerable to exploitation by over-ambitious players. For example, there’s nothing to prevent a player from saying “my dream has always been to leave my home world aboard a starship, and now that dream has been fulfilled…in the first session!” While some would object to such an “auto-level-up,” keep in mind that part of the purpose of milestones is to allow faster advancement at higher levels than would normally occur simply by fighting mooks. Players who use milestones at the early stages of their career will have slower advancement at latter stages. ALSO, many psychic talents (all of which are earned by level advancement) are unavailable to characters of low tier and characters that advance quickly through the lower levels without developing tier first may end up short-changing themselves.

In the end, however, milestones are present to provide incentive for players to become involved in subplots. The “grand romance” is a staple of the space opera genre; and yet without milestones there is no in-game benefit or reason to seek it out…despite the real life human condition of wanting companionship. Without milestones, why would any player want to take on the role of an elected dignitary or military general? The danger and responsibilities that come with the role certainly outweigh the benefits! And yet, people do seek positions of power and are changed by them, becoming more confident of their abilities as they grow in their office.

Milestones reward players for exploring other avenues of game play and are true to the genre of space opera. Players who choose to ignore them will take a long road to the heights of power; players who embrace them will reap the benefit while simultaneously helping enrich the campaign through their choices.

Handling PCs: Non-Star Knights

As stated in Chapter 1, it’s possible that players may want to play characters that are not Star Knights; alternatively, some Referees may want to use Star Knight characters in an otherwise “standard” game of X-Plorers (using either the KWN setting or a different one). Non-psychics are created in the standard fashion (and can use the High-Born class and/or the Alien rules found in this book); in place of a beamrazor, the PC can choose any one non-beamrazor weapon found in the equipment list (soldiers may choose TWO weapons). High-Born PCs may choose to start the game with a starship of Class 1 to 3, though they will still need to hire a crew for the ship.

XP gained should be adjusted when a group contains both Star Knights and non-Star Knights. If the Star Knights outnumber the non-Star Knights, all non-psychic PCs earn +10% XP for the mission; if the Star Knights are outnumbered by the “normal” PCs, the Star Knights receive a -10% penalty to earned XP.

It is possible that a non-psychic character will want to be trained by a Star Knight (who must be adept or master status). Undergoing psychic training takes a number of weeks equal to the non-psychics current level of experience, after which time the character must make a successful PRE save. Success indicates the character is now an apprentice (Tier 1) Star Knight (receiving two talents, a beamrazor, and a new beamrazor form). Such training counts as a milestone (the character goes up in level), and the PC becomes subject to all Star Knight rules, including psychic sensing (see below) and the acquisition of corruption points. Prior levels are not lost, but such a character will never be able to achieve the same level of power as a character that began their career as a Star Knight at 1st level.


[to be continued]


[Kloane War Knights is copyright 2013 by Jonathan Becker and Running Beagle Games. The X-Plorers rpg is copyright 2009, Dave Bezio & Grey Area Games. The X-Plorers trademark is used under the X-Plorers Trademark License]