Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Dragon of the Void

The astrologers gaze up at the heavens and say that the world is a pebble in a vast sea, that it and other pebbles circle the Sun, and that all that is and all that is yet to come is etched upon this vast firmament.

Al-Biruni on phases of the moon

The wizards peruse their divinations of arrows and cracked bones, and pronounce that this world is as a single door in a vast multitude, and that the heavens above are merely a shadow of the true heavens which yawn above this multitude: the Void.

"Blue Oyster Cult," Bill Gawlick

The theologians say that the world is suspended between four realms - the Fire, where the serpent Falak reigns, the Water, where the leviathan Bahamut presides, the Air, demesne of the Queen of Birds, the Simurgh, and the Earth, ruled by Lord Kujata, Paragon of Bulls -- and though these four dispute between themselves, they are all obedient to their Lord, Ar-Rahman.

Zal and the Simurgh
From the Topkapi Palace collection.
 And while the fools may dispute as to which of these is the truth, the wise know that all of these things are true together. They know this through the unity of Jawzahr, the Dragon.

Jawzahr, the Dragon, was once a monarch equal in dignity to Bahamut and Kujata, Simurgh and Falak. And Jawzahr made his abode in the Void, and it was equal to the realms, as Jawzahr was to the other monarchs. Yet in his pride he rebelled against his Lord, Ar-Rahman. And in consequence Jawzahr was cast down from his lofty place, and the Void was made no longer there adjacent to the other realms and to the world, but was instead beyond. Yet Ar-Rahman allowed the Void to remain tangent to the world, so that the world and those upon it were not unmade, for Ar-Rahman loves and is merciful to his creations.

Mortar and Pestle depicting Jawzahr (Iran), from here
Part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection
And the Lord of the Void Jawzahr was sent amongst the pebbles of the sky, tangent to the Void as the Void was tangent to the world, touching and yet not touching, for without its ruler the Void itself would cease. This is why Jawzahr is entombed in a shadow of the Void, while the Void is become as a shadow of the Realms Elemental, that the world be not unmade.

So the learned know while the fools dispute. For Ar-Rahman is mighty, wise.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Started listening to the Dead Games Society podcast. Their latest episode deals with early Battletech and MechWarrior, a subject near and dear to my heart.
WHM on the move.

Like Warhammer 40k, BattleTech has changed in tone from its initial presentation. It's gone from feudal knights riding slowly disintegrating metal steeds in a dark age to a bunch of combined-arms "modern" stellar nations duking it out with militaries that seem far more contemporary in org structure and tactical capabilities.

In the first iterations of BattleTech, a MechWarrior* losing their 'mech meant that they became Dispossessed, losing the traditional rights and privileges of a MechWarrior until they somehow clawed their way back into another 'mech or died trying. By the time of the Clan invasion, it just meant you picked another off the factory floor.

But I digress into boring shit.

After a friend gifted me with some Battletech expansions in law school, I've wanted to run a full operation scenario, charting the course of a raid or incursion from initial landing to hitting the objectives to exfiltration. As I was listening to the podcast, I realized how I might want to do this: a pointcrawl map, using double-blind movement for both players.

Ah, Space Bavaria!

The scenario would work something like this. Two Leopard dropships (total of 8 mechs) are sent to attack a world in a commando raid. The first battle is getting the dropships through the planet's space defenses; can the defender get lucky and take out one (or both) dropships?

Next step is landing and a cat-and-mouse game. Both sides are given a pointcrawl map with a few nodes. Some of these are the invaders' objectives (factories, bridges, etc.): others are useful areas to hold (satellite uplink - whoever last tapped this can see certain types of movement, etc), and others are just empty nodes.

Leopard-class Dropship
The attacker can land their ships on lines between two nodes on the pointcrawl, and then send their 'mechs out, divided up as they please. Meanwhile, the defender has designated where their 'mech forces are to be located (in nodes), and their abstracted planetary militia. Militia would occupy lines between two nodes (like the dropships); if enemy mechs moved through the area, then the militia forces basically get a free shot at the moving mechs, while the 'mechs get a chance to eliminate the militia unit. Quick abstracted resolution that has the 'mechs arriving on battlefields somewhat beaten up. Oh, and presence of a light mech would allow for a saving throw to avoid the ambush altogether (yay scouts!).

Both sides would be engaging in maneuver here: the attacker to try and take out their objectives (and possibly additional side goals), and the defender to intercept them. If 'mech forces wind up occupying the same node, then you resolve as per a traditional Battletech game. (The aerospace fighters used in the initial portion of the battle somehow fail to show up for the cat-and-mouse component, since aint' nobody wants to deal with aerospace integration in a B-tech game, it's already cumbersome enough as is.)

Each of the special function nodes would have to be clearly denoted beforehand so that it's possible for folks to figure out where the crucial areas and chokepoints are going to be.

 Neither side would have any repair capability (or maybe capacity for minimal field repairs - armor is fixable, internals less so), so commanders have an incentive to play conservatively with their tonnage and withdraw .


*Something never explained in BTech: the inexplicable fondness for every damn thing to be named in CamelCase. BattleMech, AgriMech, MechWarrior, ComStar...

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Complete Character Campaign 01: NGR

Blogging has fallen off here at Legacy of the Bieth. (Was it ever on?) But it's for the best of reasons.

Firstly -- I'm continuing to work with the Hydra Cooperative; earlier this month we released Misty Isles of the Eld, something I completely failed to mention here.

Mini-sandbox exploring a planar incursion launched by Lawful Evil Space Elves with a taste for bizarre bureaucracy, biomancy, and Bowie. You know you want to check this out.

Secondly -- my day job has picked up and that's been eating a lot of my time. I haven't had a chance to run Legacy of the Bieth, or any other game, for quite some time.

But honestly I need to get into the habit of writing more, for both Hydra and my day job. I'm figuring that some regular content here might not go amiss.

So: a Bold Plan. I'm going to create characters for every damn one of the RPG core books I have on my bookshelf. I'm going to try for once a week. And I'm going to try to finish up some of the other dangling threads around here (like those Mark of Amber review tidbits from a few years ago.)

First game on the list: Zzarchov Kowolski's Neoclassical Geek Revival

NGR operates under the Schrodinger's Character principle - much of the character's info and abilities are developed during the course of the first adventure played - so I'm only going to create the basics as listed.

Stats are either point-buy or dice-rolls plus a few discretionary points. I strongly prefer random char-gen or else all my fantasy PCs look like elven fighter-mages, so dice rolls it is.

Strength: 10 (d6)
Agility: 13 (+1, d8)
Health: 13 (+1, d8)
Awareness: 12 (+1, d6)
Intelligence: 10 (d6)
Social: 9 (-1, d6)
Luck: 16 (+2, d10)
Spirit: 9 (-1, d6)

Discretionary points were dumped into Strength and Intelligence, bringing those to average from abysmal.

Characters in NGR get to use 3 pie pieces to select their character focus, split amongst the Warrior, Wizard, Rogue, Bard, and Priest pie plates. Since this PC has great luck and good agility, but not particularly great intelligence or social, I'm thinking a hapless thief -- all 3 pieces in rogue, 

Rogue Powers:
1) Specialist (specialty TBD)
2) Parkour!
3) Detect Traps
4) Expert
5) Jack of All Trades

Characters get up to 2 traits; I'm just selecting one -- Arrogant, to reflect this PC's belief in their charmed life.

Arrogant (+2 Influence on successful appeal, epic failure in social conflict = -d10 repeating influence)
Skills: 10 unfilled skill slots, TBD in gameplay.
Equipment: Explorer's Pack (rope, grapnel, light armor, backpack w/ 2 weeks food, wineskin, map, 2 militia weapons and a dagger).
Lucky Number: 13

Combat Modifier: +1
Spellpower: 0
Stealth: +2
Presence: -1
Faith: -1

Luck Points: 10

Obliviously arrogant rogue, always in over their head but doesn't know it...I'm thinking Jackie Chan in Drunken Master.

PS: NGR and two of its supplements, Rampaging Monsters and Hark! A Wizard! are all PWYW until Canada Day - July 1, 2016! So if you like what you see, now's a good time.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Reader Questions: How To Dark Heresy

I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like, so I put out a call for questions.

"The Lady"
Nicolas R. Giacondino
Evan asked me "How do I get into Dark Heresy stuff if I normally find 40k impenetrable?"

Well, the short answer is to go read some Dan Abnett - the Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies. Yes, that's a big chunk of text - but they're good reads. Not just "good licensed fiction reads," but actually good reads in their own right. And if you're like me, you'll read them and instantly go "Crap! I really want to be playing in a Dark Heresy game right now!" (#121). Hell, just reading the Ravenor prologue does that for me.

But that's a mediocre response.

Here's my take on Dark Heresy: it's 40k, but it's not about 40k. Just like Warhammer Fantasy takes the Warhammer tabletop minis game and diverges into its own universe, so does Dark Heresy diverge from the 40k tabletop game. Frankly, I suspect the less chance there is for a single damn Space Marine to show up the better your Dark Heresy game is going to be. (Also note that this is all my take on the concept of Dark Heresy, not necessarily one that's borne out by the actual rulebooks or published background or whatever.)

Warhammer Fantasy has an implicit setup of "average folks making their way in a crapsack world while dealing with the hidden spectre of Chaos creeping out to gnaw at the roots of society, Ratatosk-like" Obviously individual campaigns can diverge from this, but it is an assumed backdrop. Dark Heresy isn't too far off - except instead of average folks, the assumption is that you're playing agents of the Inquisition, and the assumption is somewhat less sandboxy than WFRP can be.

The existing games that I think are most valuable for getting into the Dark Heresy frame of mind are Delta Green and Night's Black Agents.

"Pronunciatur Hereticus"

In both DG and NBA, players are tasked with uncovering what's really going on. They're games with a high focus on tradecraft, investigation, and ambiguity. Sure you have the ooky monsters who are the baddies (Mi-Go and other Mythos creatures, vampires) but dealing with the mundane threats of exposure, corruption, betrayal, and secrets form a major component as well. Dark Heresy fits the same paradigm - you're working your way through layers of conspiracy and skullduggery, trying to trace these things back to their source, while attempting to avoid being found out by the opposition or burned by your bosses.

In all of these games, the players have access to a great deal of power, with a catch involved. In Delta Green, the PCs (usually) have the apparent weight of the federal government...counterbalanced by the fact that they're operating rogue, without actual federal auspices, and therefore have to remain covert. In NBA, players are frickin' movie superspies with all that entails, but AFAIK don't necessarily have official backing (and/or have a strong likelihood that the official backing is actually compromised by vampires).

I tend to see Dark Heresy as taking the option that's most advantageous for the PCs from both of these, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The PCs are pitched as being strongly competent agents - perhaps not the superspies of NBA but not too far removed from them either. And unlike the doomed agents of Delta Green, Dark Heresy PCs usually do have the full weight of the Inquisition behind them, assuming that their relationship with their Inquisitor isn't frayed, or that their Inquisitor isn't actually involved in one of the conspiracies themselves...

Does this large throw weight decrease the interesting options for the players? I don't think so. As the scope of player power expands in Dark Heresy, so does the scope of both the threats and the universe. The conspiracies they're fighting, both supernatural and mundane, have their tendrils in just about everything. And again, these tendrils can be of either the supernatural or the mundane sort.

"Get Yer Kicks J-7"
Also worth reading when thinking about Dark Heresy: Zak S's "Zero Dark 29, 28, 27...", which discusses the difference in paradigms between Night's Black Agents and Call of Cthulhu. Check out the bit about revelations and showdowns, reading (in part):
Games relying mostly on Showdowns want the world to feel connected and, ultimately, knowable--everything is about you and your big fight coming up. Games relying on Revelation want the world to feel abstract and unknowable--everything beyond you is a mystery in the great beyond.
In the revelation story, the players are small and the world is large. In the showdown story, the players are large and the threat is large and the world is a backdrop.
Dark Heresy is mostly focused on showdowns, with the focus being on hostile conspiracies, but I believe that those showdowns work best when leading to a revelation - that sort of peeling back the curtain and seeing that despite all their power and influence and clout the PCs are still just tiny smidges against the unknowable.

Other must-reads for Dark Heresy play are Chris's series on constructing sandbox networks (here, here, here) Robert's discussion of a campaign frame for Marvel '78 (here), and Evan's own related Superheroes Year One work - obviously you'll have to do some tweaking here to get something appropriate for Dark Heresy rather than superheroes. I view those last two as the "main phase" of a Dark Heresy campaign, after an initial startup seed -- the main focus of play is trying to strike a balance between thwarting the hostile actions of conspiracies within a bounded area (planet? subsector?) and conducting the investigations to root them out.

"Pontifex Maximus"
John Blanche

So why the hell would you want to play Dark Heresy?

You want to play this if you're looking to strike a middle ground, gameplay-wise and tonally, between Delta Green and WFRP. Both NBA and Delta Green take a strong focus on the psychological well-being of the agents and seeing how they spiral into depression and sadness and lose their bonds with their family members and stuff. That's all well and good, but it's not what I want from my general gaming. Sometimes you want to be able to fearlessly blast beings of Chaos with a plasma pistol (and have a minuscule chance of taking them down), instead of your character heading straight to PTSD-ville.

(As a side note: Dark Heresy and the wide-open nature of the 40k setting means that you can do things like going from a big ol' Blade Runner/Coruscant cityscape to a Mad Max planet to basically anything that you might see in Traveller, and it'll all fit just fine. Plus mutants, zombies, and the undead, which I suspect might be a selling point to anyone who might write about a Galaxy of Fear.)

Dark Heresy provides you a venue for playing through and unraveling fantastic espionage and conspiracy in a high-powered environment (allowing for genre shifts when you want a change of pace). Depending on how high you want to ramp up some of the 40k elements, it can have paranoia, PARANOIA, or both.

So how to get into Dark Heresy? Well, you could read Eisenhorn or Ravenor. You could stick Traveller, PARANOIA, WFRP, Delta Green and Night's Black Agents into a blender. You could look at a bunch of John Blanche art, read Dune and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and 2000 AD, watch Dredd...

The list stretches on.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Lands of the Asbari Caliphate


The "new" capital, only a hundred years old or so; the central citadel, hewn out of the rock underneath an impenetrable azure dome of Bieth manufacture; divided into the Round City and the Cinnabar Flats by a moat of quicksilver; .
Sound: Thomas Bergersen - Empire of Angels
Taste: Judhaab - Chicken on top of an apricot pudding. The dish of kings (or at least of Caliphas).
Clark Ashton Smith Story: The Ghoul

Great Mosque of Cordoba


The heart of culture, refinement, taste; cities tottering into decrepitude; ancient dynasties of nobility stretching into the sands of time; the most fearsome heavy cavalry in the world; lamia matriarchs – peers in the nobility – engaged in shadow wars of intrigue.
Sound: Azam Ali - Endless Reverie
Taste: Pomegranate over roast duck
Clark Ashton Smith Story: Morthylla 

Alexandr Kosteckij, title unknown

The Twelve Gates of Manden

Ancient coalition of city-states brought into the Caliphate; tercios of spears and matchlocks; mud-brick buildings; home of gold, copper, salt, and powder; the bones of the giant Zulkarn forming the basis for the engineering academy of his name.
Sound: Bear McReary - Black Market
Taste: Salted beef atop a bed of millet
Clark Ashton Smith Story: The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles

Steve LeCouilliard, Una the Blade

Dolün Steppes

A thousand tribes, wandering and warring; light cavalry honed from time immemorial; shamanic battles bringing down elemental fury for miles around; a continuing web of blood feuds and debts of honor; rituals to meld rider and steed into centaur.
Sound:  Tengger Cavalry - Wolf Ritual
Taste: Kebabs skewered on daggers
Clark Ashton Smith Story: None! Try an El Borak story by Robert Howard instead.

Eugene Delacroix, Arabs Skirmishing in the Mountains


Heavy cavalry to rival Turan, but quilted armor rather than steel cuirasses; contains the Well of Souls, where the dead can be heard awaiting the Day of Judgment; politically on the rise after the Calipha's marriage to Prince Bey Ajidda; rolling savanna and light forest; home of the Verdant Order, devoted to following the example of the Man of Green, servant of ar-Rahman.
Sound: Skinflint - Iron Pierced King
Taste: Fura da nono - boiled millet balls in sour milk
Clark Ashton Smith Story: The Weaver in the Vault

Hasani Claxton, "Knights of the Savanna"


The extent of the Caliphate's control on the frontier, built atop the ruins of a Bieth underground complex; dedication to quick money, easy profits, and wild schemes; criminal fixers called "crows" organizing expeditions to delve beneath the surface or into the borderlands; the Steel Hand, vigilantes sworn to prevent Bieth relics from endangering the city; home to the exiled, the charlatan, the unwanted, the fortuneseeker. 
Sound: Caladan Brood - To Walk the Ashes of Dead Empires
Taste: Unidentifiable fried street meat
Clark Ashton Smith Story: The Tomb-Spawn

Donglu Yu, Into The Desert

The Borderlands

The back end of the Caliphate; heretics and priests of the Many exiled to wander in the desert (or the Zone); metal lions stalking the wastes; ever-smoking ruined war machines; dry hopelessness or grim fatalism; warlords vying for control of five ancient fortresses, horrid mutated beasts crawling forth from the badlands.
Sound: Judas Priest - Nightcrawler
Taste: Dried dates and journeybread
Clark Ashton Smith Story: The Abominations of Yondo

Alexandr Kosteckij, title unknown
Shams Al-Awsat
Urbane urban centers now falling into genteel disarray; former capital of the Caliphate; rolling farmland; rumored schools of dark sorcery; perennial uprisings of the Creed Sanguine; assassin-poet societies; sleeping in the tombs of your ancestors to gain sacred dreams and guidance.
Sound: Nu.Clear.Dawn - Falcon and Crow
Taste: Thick coffee
Clark Ashton Smith Story: The Black Abbot of Puthuum (note: racism present in-story not representative of Shams al-Awsat)

Edwin Weeks, Entering the Mosque

Mur N'Akush

Without a veil or facemask, you may as well be naked; salt-marshes and salt-witches; unbreakable infantry of iron who ritually dance to prepare for battle; home of the nusr war-lizards, used as light cavalry.
Sound: Andaz Uzzal
Taste: Lamb and mint
Clark Ashton Smith Story: The Charnel God

Keith Parkinson, Eandroth Rider


An allied city-state that houses the Caliphate navy; ruled by the ritually-blinded Fortunate Sheikh; each season a new expedition is launched to open trade routes and explore new lands - they (usually) return home in good order.
Sound: Iron Maiden - Ghost of the Navigator or Myrath - Braving the Seas
Taste: Saffron and chili
Clark Ashton Smith Story:  Quest of the Gazolba

Wayne Barlow

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Jogging Through The Shadows At A Decent Clip

SR: Dragonfall
So after playing through Shadowrun: Dragonfall last year, I started to get the hankering to get some tabletop Shadowrun in. This year, I've begun running a campaign for a "home group" over G+, using the Sixth World ruleset. I'm not particularly thrilled with Sixth World, but a) the group likes playing Dungeon World, b) I'm not going to try teaching a new system over Hangouts, and c) I'd rather get some play in now, instead of taking the time to do a home conversion from another system I like better. Also d) no way I'm trying to learn any edition of Shadowrun on my own, much less teach it to others.

(To Do: check out SWN's Polychrome and figure out some way of quickly converting existing Shadowrun gear and magic into the SWN system. Running in SWN or Traveller would be ideal, but in a world where I've got limited time to do campaign prep and have other projects to work on)

Elmore's cover, the image that started it all
Why Shadowrun?

There's always been something about Shadowrun's ridiculous alternative future that's intrigued me. The combination of ridiculously high technology combined with absurd limitations as holdovers from the '80s (floppy disks, megabytes, and no wi-fi...but riggers and the Matrix) is just delightful. I suppose that's part of my enjoyment of Traveller's starships with multi-ton computers, to draw on another example.

There's also the bonus of it having elves with guns. It's no secret that I'm a fan of those pointy-eared gits; having a setting where they mix with technology and sidestepping the "elves are CHILDREN OF NATURE" vibe definitely appeals to my interests. (You have the ridiculously obnoxious elven nations, but they're not the only elves around - you've got your regular folks just trying to get by included in the mix as well.)

Tim Bradstreet, for Shadowrun
I think Shadowrun hits the conceptual spot for me that White Wolf did for many other players of my generation - a setting that grabbed onto us with big claims about a punk/outsider nature, a game dynamic placing strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships and connections, and a bunch of cool Bradstreet art. Where it diverges from White Wolf is in the very defined heist nature that a shadowrun takes on, in contrast to the open-ended/nebulous campaign structure of a White Wolf game.

Campaign Setup

 My current setup is a hook-driven sandbox campaign. Each session, the PCs will generally be given three or more opportunities for runs that their fixer has lined up, or requests for aid from contacts, or what have you. As these runs go by, changes in the world will be taking place - from the runs the PCs take, the runs they don't take, and outside events.

This presentation is of course very inspired by the campaign setup of the Hill Cantons, where I've been playing for several years now (thanks Chris!).

Current Major Campaign Resources:
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Hong Kong (in my top 5 CRPGs - convey the setting, engaging squad members, and the right mix of open-ended and fast-moving)
  • Diego Gambetta's Codes of the Underworld (examining communication methods and strategies between criminals, fascinating reading with a ton of anecdotes and examples)
  • The Arcology Podcast (GM and player tips, plus Actual Play that's actually fun to listen to)
  • The Neo-Anarchist Podcast (IC summaries of the Shadowrun setting)
  • Our Thing Podcast (organized crime - check out the Quebec Biker War episodes)
  • Vornheim (y'all know this one)
  • Mike Evans's Shadowrun City Kit (builds off of Vornheim in specifically SR related directions)
  • Fever-Dreaming Marlinko (urban Chaos Index implementation, providing characterization to specific districts)
  • Norbert Matausch's Pink Mohawk (just found this, looks to be a plausible alternative to Sixth World that might be more my speed while still palatable to my players)
I still need to go through Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah (examining the Camorra's corrosive influence  on the Campania region of Italy), and yes, watch The Wire.

SR: Hong Kong

Finally, and back in D&D-land - get hyped for Misty Isles! We're almost done and it's looking great. Not to mention all the other cool products the Hydra Cooperative has lined up for this year...
Bureaucracy, biomancy...
...and Bowie.