#RPGaDay2015 18: Favorite SF RPG

RPG-a-day-2015Extraterrestrials Sourcebook cover art for Conspiracy X 2.0.Conspiracy X isn’t your typical science fiction. It combines the weird pre-millennial “is there an apocalypse coming?” zeitgeist of the 1990s with the UFO lore of the 20th century and paranoia about government overreach, packaging it all in a familiar but legally distinct wrapper of federal agents investigating weird phenomena.

The game enjoyed a brief renaissance thanks to Kickstarter, as Eden Studios pushed out a number of supplements stuck in the pipeline after publishing a second edition of the core book, but it seems to have petered out in the years since. One of the stretch goals of the final fundraising campaign was to publish a long-rumored sequel game, Extinction, advancing the timeline one hundred years to an era when the various races are locked in all-out war for their own survival. No word on that front, and Eden’s efforts seem to be going into All Flesh Must Be Eaten and a new kid-friendly game, Adventure Maximus.

#RPGaDAY 30: Rarest RPG Owned

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US soldiers on a flying carpet fight a dragon and lightning-throwing mage.GURPS Technomancer might be one of the rarest role-playing books I own. At the time I was interested in reading it, I certainly recall the general consensus was “This book is out of print, not common in the second hand market and tends to be marked up when it appears.” If that was true then, it’s even funnier that I got a copy through Paperbackswap for the low, low cost of sending someone else a novel. I didn’t expect to get the book. I just put in an automated request and some way down the line, someone granted it. Easy, right?

Technomancer lives in that weird intersection of the modern world and magic, as Oppenheimer’s reported remark “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” uttered at the detonation of the Trinity device, concluded an unconscious magical ritual that unleashed a hellacious manastorm on the American southwest, and raised the world’s ambient magic levels enough that it became a going concern again. And it being the 20th century, the great scientific minds of corporate R&D offices turn their attention to systematizing and codifying magic so it can become part of modern manufacturing.

Technomancer put me off in two regards. One, the complexity of magic interfacing with technology, such as calculating the number of joules a spell generates, or are required for a magical industrial process. Two, the depth of changes in the world, as Technomancer posits that the modern age embraces magic and combines it ingeniously with existing technology and society, so much so that it’s really hard to envision what that world would look like. The world chapter of your typical 128 page GURPS book just isn’t long enough to paint a picture detailed enough for my druthers. Add on the 15 years of change since Technomancer published, and who knows what that world would look like now.

Honorary Mention

Continuum RPG cover art.Continuum is another game I get the sense is hard for some people to find — even harder since it’s not likely to get a PDF release, unlike ongoing companies who are bringing their back catalogs into the digital marketplace. At least, I occasionally see posters lamenting their inability to find the book for sale on forums. They never take me up on buying mine, though. It really does belong in the hands of someone who would get some use out of it.

#RPGaDAY 21: Favorite Licensed RPG

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The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

The Day After Ragnarok cover. A muscled man wielding an automatic firearm and knife poses aggressively in front of a rearing serpent.We’ve gone over the prime candidates for favorite RPG license in previous #RPGaDAY posts: Ghostbusters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Allow me, then, to split hairs and introduce The Day After Ragnarok, HERO edition. Yes, it’s an original setting by Kenneth Hite licensed to use the HERO system in this particular printing. Systemistas can also find it in savage and fated flavors.

When the Nazis summoned the world-spanning Midgard Serpent and it began devouring Atlantic convoys whole, President Truman ordered the Trinity device flown into the serpent’s maw. The colossal thing died, crashing across Europe. The far-reaching consequences of Serpentfall wrought havoc with the global climate, atmosphere and more.

Basically, it’s post-apocalyptic fantasy in 1948, and the apocalypse is only a few years behind. America and Europe have been trashed. There are holdouts of western society trying to keep on as before, but the infrastructure just isn’t there anymore. Sorcery is on the rise, as well as ultra-weird science as the adventurous mine the Midgard Serpent for unearthly materials with bizarre properties.

Regardless of your rules preferences, Day After Ragnarok is a very cool setting for mixing up the modern day with sword and sorcery fantasy. I talked more about the game with my friend Joe on Carnagecast.

#RPGaDAY 6: Favorite RPG Never Get to Play

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The cheap answer is “all of them.” Yes, I get to play often enough and yes, I enjoy playing those games with my friends. But I don’t think it will surprise anyone that Pathfinder is not my favorite role-playing game.

Mage: the Ascension's cycle of creation and destruction, as rendered by Rungok.

Mage: the Ascension’s cycle of creation and destruction, as rendered by Rungok.

It is, of course, Mage: the Ascension. The odd sibling out of White Wolf’s core three role-playing games, Mage benefited from having such a broad scope — “You play wizards who can do things by wanting it really hard!” — that an amazing breadth and depth of points of view clustered under the eaves of its luditorium to play. So unlike Vampire and Werewolfin the original World of Darkness, Mage could be about street punk mages sticking it to the man of the wizardly establishment, science heroes duking it out over the moons of Jupiter or the archetypal struggle against the monolithic Technocracy. When your players’ characters can do anything within the scope of their mystical paradigms, the prospect of engaging all of them at once is more than a little daunting.

I ran Mage for a while, in Quarterstaff Games’ play area as an open game. You can read the session notes, if you like. As it was only the second campaign I’d ever run — after a brief, wildly uneven Mutants & Mastermindsgame — you can’t fault my audacity. But that was running, not playing. The only time I’ve ever gotten to play Mage was in college, and that was such a wash-out on my part as a player and a person, we will never speak of it again.

Maybe someday, though. I just need to meet an industrious GMing type who loves Mage, but cannot abide crossovers. They must be out there.

July 20th, 1969: The Magic Came Back

Greyhawk Grognard reminded us of the anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16th. In turn, I am reminded that Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon on July 20th, 1969 — though my memory is fuzzy whether it was Neil’s first step, or the landing of the lunar module itself, as apparently there was a six hour difference between the two — that generated enough Glamour from the millions watching to allow a gate from Arcadia to open and let the exiled sidhe stream through, kicking off the modern era of Changeling: the Dreaming.

Prior to that, the kith living on Earth eked out an existence, surviving primarily by dint of developing the changeling way ritual, which allowed a fae spirit to graft itself onto a mortal form. No one asked the mortal form if they cared to partake in this. The inspiration of seeing humans land on the moon generated enough creative energy, in comparison to the drought of the centuries since the Sundering, to allow a gate from Arcade to open. And out poured streams of sidhe, exiled from Arcadia and thoroughly expecting to be in charge of whatever common rabble was left.

Whatever I always wondered was: what were the circumstances behind that gate opening? Was it pure coincidence? Destiny? Did the rulers of Arcadia kick those sidhe out, and the far end of the gate automatically latched on to an energy source strong enough to sustain it?

We’ll never know, because that iteration of Changeling was discontinued by virtue of not publishing anymore books long ago, and heaven knows if there will be a 20th anniversary edition of White Wolf’s wayward step child of a supplemental game line. At the very least, there ought to have been a story line where the “common” kith decide to have words with the faceless individuals who keep dumping houses of entitled sidhe on their doorstep.

Ham-Fisted Bun Vendors of the Occult

Carl Kolchak fends off a vampire with two crossed pieces of metal.

Kolchak does the best with what he has.

Carl Kolchak’s solutions were so haphazard. Manufactured, non-canonical examples include:

  • A mallet he cadged from the janitor and a splintered chair leg to fight a vampire.
  • Herbs that a book he bought at the five and dime claimed would protect from witchcraft.
  • Tinfoil folded in proportions cited in sacred architecture as defending against psychic intrusion.

In short, there must have been any number of times that Kolchak’s spit and baling wire efforts didn’t pan out. But the man in the seersucker suit lived to report another day, so there must have been some resolution to the supernatural threats that didn’t include a hibernation or migratory component.

Reminds me of the set-up for Eternal Lies, the Trail of Cthulhu campaign where the player characters are drawn into the consequences of a ritual that another group of investigators failed to prevent some years prior.


N.B. I would be remiss in not acknowledging “ham-fisted bun vendor” as first being uttered by Jon Pertwee in the Doctor Who serial “Terror of the Autons.” So possibly Robert Holmes’ creation, Terrence Dicks’, or Pertwee’s own.

 

The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook for Conspiracy X 2.0

Extraterrestrials Sourcebook cover art for Conspiracy X 2.0.The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook collects previously published information about the alien races at large in the Conspiracy X role-playing game, and then brings their activities up to date with the new oughties timeframe. That said, the book is very rooted in the past. Each of the three chapters goes deep into the history of its species. “Way back, before you were born”-deep,[1] to the origins of each species. Which is great for the long view. Midway through the Saurians chapter, I started asking myself, “Is this all we’re going to know about what they’re doing now on Earth?” Atlanteans, Greys and Saurians do all have a section on what they’re up to at the moment, but it’s so tantalizingly brief and vague compared to the full, detailed histories of the three species.

A lot of that must come from the original remit of The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook: condense material written for supplements of the first edition of Conspiracy X into one volume for the current line and move the timeline up by fifteen years. In light of that, each chapter does a remarkable job covering history and culture of three distinct species.

The name of the podcast escapes me, but I remember hearing the designer of Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, Chad Underkoffler — I think? It’s been a long time since I heard the episode in question — describe his realization that long histories of how Sir Buffington defeated Lord Nemesis, and so on, can and ought to be elided into “Epic stuff happened leading us to this tipping point. Now you guys need to do something.” I’ve taken that to heart, and any time I run across supplemental material that is basically a long timeline of events that sound very cool, but are of limited utility to informing the present situation — unless you decide all those points on the timeline are covert plot seeds to bring forward to your game’s time frame — I do look askance, and wonder if this space could have been given to something a little more relevant to the contemporary status quo, and how it’s about to fall apart.

That said, I did appreciate the look into the culture and mentality of the extraterrestrials, different and varied as they may be. The Greys are the closest to monolithic, since they’re so deeply interconnected by telepathy. But even they have differences and internal division — especially, interestingly, between those on Earth and those on Greyworld. Greys on Earth are quarantined from the rest of the species because of concern about psychic contamination. The Saurians, it turns out, are divided into many factions, unlike their representation in the corebook, which is really just one faction that is most visible to AEGIS. And the Atlanteans wind up a race of radical individualists, as everyone strikes out on their own.

The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook is an interesting peek into the alien races interested in Earth. I’m dubious, though, how much use the information is here to 80% of the Conspiracy X games out there, as it seems unlikely most of them are going to go that deep into interaction with any one species, let alone all three. I’d rather have much more information about what they’re doing on Earth right now, and examples of how AEGIS cells and Black Book agents interact with them.[2]


[1] “Do you know how you got that dent, in your top lip? Way back, before you were born, I told you a secret, then I put my finger there and I said ‘Shhhhh!'”

[2] Acknowledging that any throwaway mention of what an AEGIS cell did or reported is really a coded plot seed for the GM’s own campaign, either to kick it off or provide a template of what the players might get embroiled in.

The Acme of Research Laboratories

CoastConFan Blog shows us the elements you might expect to find in your modern 1920s investigator’s lab and attached facilities. The first four pictures are of Harry Price‘s own lab. Price was an actual psychic investigator active during the 20s, so everything you see in those photos is in-period and accessible to someone in that line of endeavor.

CoastConFan goes on to suggest some other resources your hardy group of investigators would find handy: a reference library, examining/consultation room for doctors and analysts, storage and a garage.

That may seem like a lot for amateur investigators to pull together and it is. CoastConFan presents those resources as “for a full blow[n] investigators lab that is fully funded and should be consider the absolute acme of a mid-20s lab and headquarters.” So this is a great resource for someone working for the Gilchrist Trust, a magical researcher of Cabal at Martense College, one of the Rosicrucians’ scientifically-minded Parmenideans in that era of WitchCraft, and so on. That vague itch to dig out Angel‘s organization rules has resurfaced. I could see where the acme of research labs falls in spending points.

[Link via Propnomicon.]