Friday, September 19, 2014

F*ckin' Anarchy and Sh*t


In the distant future of 2004 the administration of the court-appointed and deeply unpopular President Shrub found itself in dire political straits (collapse of the financial sector, three quagmired wars in the Middle East, the infamous Peckerwood scandal). Wingnuts funded by the billionaire Cocke brothers make good on Operation Patriot, a series of organized destabilizations made to scare the country 'straight.' In the resulting chaos, most major cities and strategic sites are destroyed by dirty bombs, suitcase nukes, biochemical/mutagen agents, bank over-draft surcharges and suburban rioters demanding a return to convenience.

Then some even crazier shit happened for decades. And now Road Warrior.

Wasteland 2 is out today and I'm booging over...no...

Get thee behind me Satan.

There is a small mountain of writing to do for Slumbering Ursine Dunes and I am going to buckle down and finish (dammit) before I whip out that credit card. To get some of that Post-Apocalyptic gaming out of my system instead I am going to post about a start on a game that I wrote up a couple months ago to get me out from the evil spell of Fallout New Vegas.

Titled not-at-all-facetiously Anarchy--or alternately and less immaturely Fucking Anarchy and Shit. The outline of the game is a straight-up mod of Feudal Anarchy, the hardcore medievalist d100-like game that we expect the Hydra Collective to take up and finally produce in full technicolor glory after the Dunes project.

Tone-wise I imagine it laying at some impossible point between Fallout, Road Warrior, Car Wars and Kung Fu 2100. It's pitched at being tad less gritty (and fiddly) than say Aftermath or Twilight 2000 but less goofy and fantastic than Gamma World. So you know guns, karate chops, car chases and scrambling for duct tape and rusted cans of cat food in a cannibal-infested bunker.

Like Feudal Anarchy, I started outlining a heavy emphasis on a player character's background and vocations. Traveller has always been my second game and it showed in the writing of FA. There was a heap of charts guiding you from your birth station, class, and of course zig-zagging pre-adventurer careers—all of which modify your attributes, starting skills and gear.

Oh hell, I will stop jawing about it. You can download the ultra-rough draft here and see for yourself.

It's just enough (barely) to run a couple playtest sessions. When things chill out in the next month or so I will likely run a test-balloon session (or the Traveller Coupbox II depending on mood). I've decided on a sandbox area in an area I have spent a lot of time tramping up and down, the desert and mountains around Guadalupe and Carlsbad Caverns national parks. Lots of adventure in there I reckon and plus I can reskin/recycle much of my Boot Hill material.

Naturally it needs--and will get later this year or early next--a good deal of expansion. More vocations, more guns, more junk of the Pre-War to go gaga over. I'm also looking forward to knocking out some simple vehicle chase and combat rules and a few surprises.

But first the Dunes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Beast Cults of the Cantons

The Hill Cantons Complete(ish) tier of the Dunes kickstarter offers backers a large array of booklets spun off by this blog and the campaign. One of which is the Cosmology of the Cantons, a catalog of the strange religious beliefs and myths of that odd world.

When Overgod begat the Little Gods in his great and long slumber, the first of the Little Gods little resembled today's humans and beasts of the field and forest. The First Beasts (or Zvir) were magnificent creations, walking tall and massive with verve and panache in their furry steps.

The great molding hands of Overgod, never much of a details kind of god, slipped on occasion. He was quite displeased with his own sloppy efforts regarding the Beasts. Overgod fretted and worried and after slow aeons of divine navel-gazing began to reshape his imperfect efforts. Here he would grab a creature and remold its marred proportions. There he tore off and flipped away an unsightly talon, gullet, skin flap or tail.

Most of the Zvir patiently suffered the celestial makeover and remain today in the form last given. Some however resisted and even evaded his great reworking maintaining what original forms they could under the strain of the long processes of the World-Dialectic.

Racial memory holdovers in the Weird keep a dwindling number of the First Beasts and their descendants as petty gods of sort. Occasionally even worship of the so-called Beast Gods grabs an especially isolated pocket of humanity on Zem. The barbaric blueskins that prowl the Northlands above the World Canal are especially said to be prone to such lapses.

Sect Characteristics
Attributed Alignment (A): Like humans, beasts attribute a single, approximate alignment to the deity and an aspirational doctrine for followers.

Bonus Spells/Powers (B): Special bonus spells and powers granted to faithful clergy or other temporal agents beyond their normal spell range. The number in parenthesis represents what level the power is granted. All powers are useable once a day unless otherwise specified.

Priesthood Class (C): Clerics are only found in the ranks of the most supreme of humanity's gods, the Sun Lord. All other clergy are vocational posts (with special powers/spells) eligible to certain classes as per their deity. Clergy will always be drawn from the anthropomorphic animals of a race or rarely from humans.

Domain (D): What humans consider the deity's area of control. Again the actual deity may consider his or her's brief to be something wider and may share or battle another power for jurisdiction.

A Highly Abridged List of the First Beasts
Vlenosh (Angry Sloth)
Under the molding hand of Overgod Lazy Sloth willingly became shorter (and more adorable), His defiant brother, Angry Sloth, however fled to the deepest folds of the new world. There seething in his unbridled anger issues he became unhinged, demonic even in countenance. From the sullen thoughts of this banished First Beast came lesser beings bearing his like and his hatred for all of creation: the Slothrog.

A: Chaotic Evil
B: Slow (4 or Slothrogs over 40 hp)
C: Slothrogs, lazy and evil human magic users
D: Malice, Sullen Lethargy, “B-side” Animal Demons

Grandfather Tyger
It came to pass many aeons ago in the murky depths of the Anti-Cantons that the Eldish prince Xzhilhaag inherited the vast protein plantations of his house. Xzhilhaag, a being so renowned for the sublimity of his arbitrary cruelty and the depths of his sadism that even the Eld found him noxious and tiresome, found himself more and more at odds with his brothers.

Through dark magic foul—and copious applications of a food-borne contaminant--he transformed his visage into that of a demonic cat and began arming a host of his hairless ape slaves  to aid him in his coming rebellion. That act, of course, was a dismal failure leading to his mortal death and spirit-exile back in the world mundane.

What is less known in that in his cat-form years on Zem he had an illicit, ill-matched and mutually denied amorous relationship with the noble First Beast of Smilodons, Queen Zub. Their congress resulted in the oddly-named and utterly sinister Grandfather Tyger (who has had no offspring).

A: Chaotic Evil
B: Eye of the Tiger (3): +2 to hit for 1d6 rounds when in the heat of the fight
C: Assassins, Weretigers, “Eldmen” (human slaves that pretend to be of Eld descent), Tiger Wrasslers
D: Killing for Pleasure

Koza (Regimental Goat)
While the divinity and worship of most First Beasts are utterly denied in the Overkingdom and the rest of Solarity, a few atavistic remnants manage to hold on.

Nowhere is this more obvious than among the Great Nemec Company of the Black Army (the Overking's standing army) who hold--and indeed do homage--to the seemingly immortal Koza, a First Beast nursed back to fighting pride by Oldemar the company's founder two centuries ago.

Woe unto the clueless backwater Pahr who calls this creature a mascot! For not only does he hold the rank of Subaltern in perpetuity (except for a brief moment three months in which he was demoted for spewing while on a bender half-masticated star tulips over the wool gown of the Over King's most beloved of illegitimate daughters) he is offered sacrifice and devotions by the men of the company.

A: Lawful Good
B: Stubborn Pride (1): morale raised to 11 for 1d6 turns. Horns of the Goat (5): a single head-butting attack of 3d6 hitpoints damage.
C: Fighters, Goat Majors
D: Military Tradition of the Absurd, Stubbornness

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Dunes are Live

The Slumbering Ursine Dunes Kickstarter is live. One long haul finished, another just begun. Some astute feedback and constructive criticism over the weekend from the better minds of our circles has me busy busting rear on the seventh iteration, early backers will still however get the mostly-finished manuscript in their hot little hands before the sun sets on the British Empire (or before midnight Texas time whatever comes first).

Gus L of Dungeon of Signs fame has a rather nice review of the preview draft

Friday, September 12, 2014

Enlightened Self-Interest, Straits of Anian and the Dunes

Yesterday you may have seen our incredibly dumb “Burma Shave” memes floating around social media announcing that the Slumbering Ursine Dunes Kickstarter launches September 15. Count yourself lucky (or not) if you did not. It's been a long haul and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being an uneasy mix of pre-show anxiety, elation, stress and pride.

One of the tireless editors on the project that has been kicking my meandering verbiage into bootcamp fit shape (round six being done and we anticipate 1-2 more rounds after hearing feedback) is Anthony Picaro who writes the infrequent but pure gold blog Straits of Anián.

Somewhere in the middle of all those rounds of editing, Anthony started talking about a 5e conversion of the Dunes he was doing for his home group where the setting is changed to a near-real world mythical wilderness with heavy Native American influences. I absently nodded and said “that's cool”--but then I sat down and read his conversion notes. Every bullet point on that doc was evocative and richly reimagined.

An excerpted, very minor spoilerish fraction of the rough pitch to see for yourself:
“Setting changed to 1830s northern California, in the area of Fort Ross (furthest south of the Russian-American Company’s outposts – about 80 miles north of San Francisco)...Slumbering Ursine Dunes then identified as the Bodega Dunes, 18 miles south of Fort Ross.

Kugelberg becomes the Rumantiev Homestead (Zaliv Rumantiev is what the Russians called Bodega Bay), home to ship jumper Yaromir & his 4 creole sons (names also Russified). They grow beets and cabbage. Rumors abound that Yaromir is a living saint, that his seemingly unsinkable canoe contains in its construction a shard of the True Cross, that it flies through the night and will save the truly devout from drowning if they call out to Our Lord, but rational minds have no time for such claptrap.

Medved becomes Old Ben-Ben. All references to him that the party will have access to before entering the Dunes will be as a giant bear, or the Father of All Bears. Ondrj the Wereshark becomes Andrés the Were-Sea Lion. His Reavers become the Sea Wolves, a band of raiders gathered from Haida Gwaii, with a 70’ long, elaborately carved war canoe with mast.

The Eld become Lemurian warrior-spirits imprisoned beneath Mt. Shasta (Penglai) who can only influence the world through possession / “channeling”. The local groups are influencing an outcast cult of Fusangese (Chinese-descended inhabitants of NorCal /Oregon) who accept possession willingly. All the named Eld in the module are the names of Lemurian spirits (Sir Eld becomes Ramtha the Enlightened), nameless Eld are unpossessed wannabes.

... In 255 BC Qín Shǐ Huáng sends Taoist sorcerer Xú Fú to seek the Elixir of Life across the eastern sea with thousands of servants & slaves. Turns out he’s been bumming around in “Fusang” aka North America since then, as the Chinese emperor only discovered in 499 AD through the testament of Buddhist missionary Huì Shēn, long after they had gotten all weird and unknowable.”

My immediate selfish thought was “I want this fully realized and in print, so I can luxuriate in it.” Fortunately he wrote a good deal more, 11 pages about half as much as my original draft without the various appendices.

Which gets me to the enlightened-self interest part.

The Kickstarter goal is pretty modest, a low $1,500 mostly to cover the costs of David Lewis Johnson's art, editing and layout. In the event that it does overfund, we were pretty firmly set on offering real expanding stretch goal content for backers and not junky crap (cough, cough belt buckles).

If we squeeze above that double funding goal of $3,000 Anthony's reimagining becomes a whole new module as a freebie for backers. Which again totally selfishly I want. I mean who the hell doesn't want to take the role of beaver-trappers wander another weird-infected dunescape battling sasquatch toll collector and dodging Lemurian warrior-spirits?  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Back to Classic Traveller and the Coupbox

The Dunes Kickstarter is highly likely to go live before Thursday. As a mental palate cleanser I've treated myself to thinking about something other than D&D which means a return back to Classic Traveller.

Some readers might have followed the Traveller Coupbox mini-campaign that I ran around last year's holidaze. It was centered around the players being members of a mercenary cooperative (a bolo) who have been contracted launch a coup against an autocratic micro-state on a civil war-wracked moon.

The scenario was intended to be an open-ended experiment in presenting a grand-tactical situation and basically going for it. I developed some big battle rules, the players created some beautiful chaos that I could never have planned for and we worked up to a nice climax—and then promptly never finished the endgame session (thanks a lot Christmas).

The new mini-campaign, Coupbox II, will basically let me (and the players that have been bugging me about it) get some closure on that.

The Set-Up
Major “Polo” Hurloj Tousant, former leader of the internal military opposition in the Kral has consolidated control of the moon micro-state. His six-month regime has been only a shade less authoritarian than that of the deposed Autokrator and in recent months he has even begun to himself “The Demokrator.” Indeed the former Major's lack of his predecessor's batshit insanity and token efforts for the dogoid minority such as his Friday Kong Treats program have only increased the efficiency of Kral's state apparatus. There is even talk of a purchase of a Ettin IX mega-tank from an off-world tank-bolo.

On the far side of Freedonia, once again the belabored old joke “In Autocratic Kral, state reforms you” rings sadly true.

Now return ye to this desolate shithole once again as there are good credits being put up on the table for a group of desperate Travellers willing to arm, train and lead a ragtag column of dogoid and other oppositionists barely holding on in the cactus wilds of the north.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Dunes are Nigh and Other News

Labor Day always heralds the traditional end of Summer, even if someone always forgets to tell the sadistic weather gods that rule Texas. As the season winds down so does work on the Slumbering Ursine Dunes project.

With five editing iterations under its belt--and a last final one for good measure--Slumbering Ursine Dunes is pretty much done. Now unto the part where I work through my knee-jerk anti-commericalism and go into crowdfunding mode. Most all bits of the Kickstarter are in place and we just need a few more “t's” to cross, expect to see it officially launch early next week.

An update on what interested folks can expect:
1. More art and cartography from David Lewis Johnson. The drop-dead gorgeous cover is now in its final stage (that's it above) and all the black and white interior art is looking to be quite good. Our very first stretch goal at $2000 will cover packing in more of his great work.

2. Immediate gratification with the draft PDF. The artless, draft 50-page PDF will be sent to all backers, including a $2 “test drive” pledge level, shortly after the drive starts. Feedback naturally is always welcome.

3. A modest-priced top pledge tier with lots of goodies. For 25 bucks a backer will get the finalized PDF, print 50(ish) page adventure and a package of past and backer-exclusive Hill Cantons PDFs including By This Axe (medieval-fantasy minis rules), By This Poleaxe (pen-and-paper rules for running battles in Old School D&D), The Dunes Run Red (a mini-supplement with battle scenarios for the Dunes), and Hill Cantons Cosmology (a backer-exclusive run-down of gods, godlings, special clerical powers and myths).

4. Non-junky/schlocky stretch goals. Forget the belt buckles, the project stretch goals will focus on getting more content into your hot little hands. The second stretch goal will help us produce a two-page “cheat sheet”, an organized digest version of relevant room, site and monster descriptions to help cut down on having to hunt through the full version during play.

All other stretch goals will add a heap of new dungeons and adventure material--including a total re-imagine of the Dunes that puts the players into the roles of trappers in 1830s Northern California where they’ll encounter the weird inhabitants of a “mythic America.”

5. Hydra Cooperative (re)launch. The Dunes Kickstarter rings in the first product of what we expect to be many by the newly-reborn Hydra Cooperative, a revival of my idea to run a worker-owned/DIY-oriented rpg publishing outfit. (Hydra is as of last month an officially recognized “member LLC” in Texas, more about it and upcoming projects later this month.)

But now the news from the real world...

The Rada of Marlank, in an apparently arbitrary fit of borderlands pique and Pahr identity politics, has decreed that the southern cantonal city will heretofore not be referred to its Nemec exonym and may only be referred to as “Marlinko.”Official reasons remain mirky but one Rada councilmember anonymously stated that it “reminded them too much of Fritz.” Local residents continue to call the city whatever the Cold Hell they please.

Speaking of Marlan...err Marlinko, tiger-wrasslin' has come back in vogue thanks to a self-proclaimed “Master Beastmaster” newly immigrated from points south. Local characters willing to go toe to claw with a lovable furry orange killing machine should inquire with bon vivant Jarek the Nagsmen. A 500 gold sun bounty is offered for anyone who survives the match.

Travellers on the Muth trade road claim that the always mysterious Slumbering Ursine Dunes has “doubled itself.” The salt merchants bizarrely maintain that the region seems to be twice as big as the last time they passed and exactly identical in its features. The western dunes appears however to be "somewhat blurry."

That melancholy metropolis of Kezmarok has been strangely quiet the last three months. The Monarch Formerly Known as the Decade King has stated that “in one months time our year's worth of plans will come to fruition and our Great City will be restored.” With a dramatic and heroic flourish he pointed to the northeastern horizon.