Sunday, March 15, 2020

Picture Pong Riposte - Archons March On

Picture Pong is a recent community event in the OSR MINDSCAPE, in the chain-letter format of "see thing, do what thing say". People write a blogpost based on an image, and then add a different image to their post, someone else makes a post based on that image, repeat forever.

The most recent one at this point (I think), was by Archons March On, sharing the following image:

Hyperborea in Ashes

The grand city of Hyperborea stood for tens of thousands of years. Its mile-high towers rose imperious above the frozen plains.

And then they didn't.

Hyperborea was put to the torch by the armies of Man, drawn to the frozen tundra by promises of unnatural science and grand magics. The giants were killed, their towers were burned, and a new city of humanity rose from its ashes. 

But the giants survived, in a way. They rose up from the dead, with their memories of Hyperborea intact. They saw this blackened, soot-covered city, and their blood boiled. This could not go unpunished.

These liches toppled the city of Man, and rose their towers anew. Now, the giants rule Hyperborea once more, holding humanity under their eternal tyranny.

Factions of Hyperborea

Gift-Thieves: No one is born with magic in Hyperborea. The only path to it is theft - use of Hyperborean genetic editors, ancient blessings, or consuming the flesh of a lich-giant. The Gift-Thieves attempt to unite these daring few, offering clandestine (and highly illegal) magical services to the populace.

The Final Legion: Everyone remembers the armies of humanity who tore Hyperborea from the grip of the giants. Some of them survive, although they are far too old to return to the battlefield. Instead, they build their new Final Legion, preparing to break the giants once more.

Birdwatchers: The Birdwatchers are a secret society, hidden from the view of the giants. They focus on stealth, assassination, and manipulation of the strange vermin of Hyperborea. They have no interest in resisting the giants - they plan to build a shadow government woven into Hyperborea, directing it from within.

The Next Move
Here's my image for Picture Pong. Take it, let it into your MINDSCAPE, turn it into words, put the words on the internet.
Tomislav Jagnjic

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Supplement Review - Star Dogs Referee's Handbook

Disclaimer: a review copy of this game was provided for free by the author. This review is based off of a reading of the book, not a playtest.

The Star Dogs Referee's Handbook, by Michael Raston, is a supplement for his sci-fi RPG Star Dogs, which I reviewed in November.

The book is absolutely crammed full of SF-themed generators - everything from a Planet Generator to an Impressive Technology generator or Mission creator. Most of these are freely available on Michael's blog (linked above), but the Referee's Handbook gives them to you in a more searchable single package.

Early Conclusion: Star Dogs is an excellent system-neutral resource for people running soft SF games, but it suffers from some redundancy and a lack of mechanical detail for alien abilities and starship equipment. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone interested in this sort of game, no matter what system you plan to use.

If you're interested in a more in-depth review, going over each generator in detail, see below.

Reviewing Each Generator

1. Galaxy Sector Mapper and Stocker - This is a drop table that creates the map for a galactic sector, divided into separate zones you move across like a slightly melted hexcrawl. I like the way it simulates the dense areas within solar systems and the empty zones between them on a single map, and it's quite quick and easy to use.

2. Planet Generator - Like many of the generators, the Planet Generator is not a hyper-detailed system that constructs continents and civilizations. Instead, between the Planetary Landscape table (which gives you a single scene of the world, like "planet covering alien geometric ruins of super-hardened material"), Planet Atmosphere Manifestation table (which gives you a small theme, like "shrunken, small and shrivelled - rotted and wrecked" and Planet Population table (which gives you a vague concept for the dominant group, such as escaped synthoids or primitive aliens), the Planet Generator gives you a concept of a world for you to flesh out. The first 2 tables are nicely useful, especially for space-opera style single-feature worlds. The Planet Population table, however, doesn't have much of a use. It's too overly simple, without any of the evocative ideas of the others. The book also has both an NPC Group Generator and Alien Species generator, which both do this job better.

3. Outpost/Space Station Generator - This generator starts a lot like the Planet Generator, with a Key Purpose and Atmosphere. It also comes with both a road and building map generator, where you roll up small single pieces and put them together. I'm not sure how often you need this sort of mapping, and the buildings come in strange curved shapes that seem hard to put together. This piece also comes with a building stocker, with single-line building types (weapons stores, abandoned and empty, etc.)

4. NPC Generator - This is an utterly excellent NPC generator for this sort of kitchen sink space opera. A massive d100 appearances help you perpetually toss out new, strange people for your players to meet, and the Wants, Modus Operandi, and Expertise give all of them both a personality, and a reason for the players to talk to them.

5. NPC Group Generator - A very simple single table of group traits, like "group members are ever burrowing deeper and deeper underground". A few rolls would be needed to build an interesting faction, but a single table makes that pretty easy to manage. More components for this generator (Leadership, Motives, Methods) would make it much, much more useful.

6. Alien Species Generator - Monster generators are pretty common in the OSR, but few of them are built for a SF setting. It seems to be specifically built for a civilized society, but it never directly says. It's split between Form (a body type, such as Rat or Ape), a Form Manifestation (a simple modifier, like skeletal, filled with holes, shriveled and gaunt), Armor and Weapon technology levels, a Communication Method (speaking, telepathy, writing, etc.), a d100 Special Ability table (in the same ultra-simple vague idea method as much of the Planet Generator pieces), and a Culture segment partially copied from the NPC Group Generator. I don't think the idea-generating method used in the Special Ability table works well for generating a mechanic, where I'd want a more concrete system. The Culture segment probably could've been fused with the NPC Group generator without losing much, as well.

7. Tables for Roleplaying NPCs - A d12 reaction table, a second, alignment-dependent d6 reaction table, and a 2d12 faction relations table. The faction relations are helpful, but I don't think we need a pair of reaction tables - a larger, alignment-dependent d12 table would be a perfect combination of both.

8. Mission Generator - I love having mission generators in games, especially in low-setting ones like Star Dogs. This one follows a pretty normal format - verb the noun, in the location, with the danger, for the reward. Like any generator of this type, some options are difficult to put together, like "have target be eaten" and "a secret".

9. Dangerous Sector Generator - I don't think Sector was a good term to use here, given the use of Sector as a world map earlier in the book. This is actually a dungeon generator, with a map builder (much more useful here than in the city section), room stocker, and dungeon atmosphere table. Like most of these tables, you would need to roll up the dungeon before the game and fit everything together. I think the atmosphere table is the best part of this generator, giving each dungeon some interesting character and distinguishing features.

10. Impressive Technology and Advanced Combat Equipment Generator - An artifact generator, with a form, material (which also comes with a special rule, such as "Clusters of small metallic nodules. Will also make things smaller."), a power (a vague concept, like "Removes and separates."), and a power modifier (an extra issue with the device, such as "Results tend to be temporary."). Much like the Special Ability table of the Alien Species generator, I think a more mechanics-focused method of generation works better than the idea generator for this.

11. Random Space Encounter Generator - A quite complex random encounter system, rolling an Environment, Modifier, and Content. The Content roll is usually a group of things (Space Anomaly and Single Spacecraft) which direct to subtables which give you what type of Space Anomaly, Galactic Pallet, or other space object you end up with. I absolutely love more advanced random encounter rolls that give you more than just an entity - giving a location and some extra detail like this one does is absolutely excellent, and should be done far more often.

12. Spacecraft Generator - The Spacecraft Generator is one of the best parts of this book. It combines a set of small tables for fluff like Alien Spacecraft Form (done with single words like "Bee" or "Pyramid") Human Spacecraft Form, (using another grid-like visual table, similar to those used in the Dangerous Sector Generator), and Spaceship Form Manifestation (more simple descriptors, like "Large chunks of the hull are rotted away, revealing working innards") with the most detailed mechanical pieces in this book - 8 fully-statted starship classes ranging from tiny fighters to large transports. The Special Ability table could, again, use more mechanics - for example, "Extra resistant to Bull or Laz fire" could use some suggested numbers.

13. Nebula Generator - Nebulae are large-scale terrain formations in Star Dogs, covering multiple Sectors. The Nebula Generator is split into Appearance (which is both a small description, and affects the intensity of the nebula's effects), and Color (which determines the effect). This is the most specific of the generators, and the effects of each nebula seem like they could be difficult to remember, but it has its uses.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Joesky Tax #72 (Rail Screamer)

Recently, Dan released a set of blog post prompts. Since my plan of "one post per week, every week" has been going... badly, I've decided to use some just to fill space.

#72. Cryptids! Make some cryptids.

Cryptids are always attached to a location. Luckily, I live in a small Midwestern town on the edge of nowhere - the second-best location (after Oregonian forests) for cryptids. The town's built next to a pretty busy railroad, and every day I can hear trains passing.

At least, I think they're trains. I've never seen one. The rails are always empty when I look.

The Rail Screamer

A bent, gray creature covered in metallic plates, with a pair of floodlight eyes on stalks protruding from its front. The Rail Screamer crawls down train tracks, emanating long howls from the dozens of spiracles running along its back.

In all ways except for appearance, the Rail Screamer is a train. If it passes by you, a tremendous wind follows it. If it steps over you, you are crushed by its tremendous force. The Rail Screamer never stops moving, constantly turning its spotlights on everything around it like it's searching for something.

Using the Rail Screamer

The best use for the Rail Screamer is for a little self-contained mystery in a Delta Green (or similar supernatural mystery) game - someone was killed when their car was hit by a train, but the line's been closed for years. There's also the mystery of its search - what is it looking for? What happens if the Rail Screamer finds it?

You could also pull it out of its context and use it as just a monster. Perhaps their speed makes them the backbone of a nomadic people, or an important piece of modern cavalry tactics. Or, of course, their could just be one in a pit somewhere, sending its cry up into the air.


I know I namedropped Delta Green up there, but I know my audience, so these are more generic OSR-style stats.

HP: 20
AC: 16
Speed: 528 ft. (60 miles per hour)

Overrun: When the Rail Screamer moves over someone, they must make a Dex save or take 3d8 damage and be thrown 100 feet backwards as they are hit by a train. Overrun also triggers on obstacles like walls. When Overrun is triggered, the Rail Screamer cannot move on its next turn.

Mind the Gap: When the Rail Screamer moves, everyone within 30 feet is pulled along with it by extreme winds, taking 2d6 damage as they are dragged across the ground.

This is an incredibly lethal statblock, with very high damage output and utterly preposterous speed. Ranged attacks might help the players for a short time, but the sheer speed of the Rail Screamer will make that a dangerous plan.

However, as long as your players have some warning that they are fighting a train, they should be fine.


Sunless Horizon Beta 2.3 Release

Commissioned from Scrap Princess excited screeching I've been posting about  Sunless Horizon  for about a year, and after finally gettin...