doorway to another time

Way of the Worlds – A Design Journal

Last week I detailed my thoughts about Paizo’s new Starfinder Roleplaying Game. While the game itself is competent, if uninspiring to me, Kelly and I decided to use it to run a new campaign, partly in order to test the game out and see how well some ideas we have for products might fit. It may not be my favourite game, but hey, if you want to earn a few credits, you sell material for the systems that people will buy products for, right?

Here we go again…

Instead of taking the easy road and running straight from pre-existing material, Kelly suggested running a game inspired by a show she’s devoured on Netflix: Outlander. This is nothing new; Kelly works from home and occasionally the television is on in the background while she goes about her business.

If you aren’t aware of the premise, Outlander is about a young, married nurse who travels from 1945 Scotland to 1743 Scotland where she meets and falls in love with another man. The show is beautifully filmed, and is full of drama, intrigue, brief bouts of vicious brutality, and, of course, romance. It is well worth watching, if you are looking for something in the vein of A Game of Thrones with 100% more men in kilts and 80% fewer naked young women standing/writhing/being… seductive(?), during expository scenes.

But wait, there’s more!

While Outlander is a great place to start, I don’t want the game to primarily take place in the past with only framing sequences and flashbacks in the present. So looking at other stranger in a strange land tropes, I have taken inspiration from the DC Comics character Adam Strange, particularly the Adam Strange: Planet Heist miniseries by Andy Diggle and Pascual Ferry as well as, to a lesser extent, the Adam Strange: Man of Two Worlds (which I believe is just called Adam Strange in its original mini-series release) story by Richard Bruning and the Kubert brothers. Adam Strange also led back to his sword and planet forebears, John Carter (of Mars!) and Carson (Napier) of Venus, both created by Edgar Rice Burroughs of course. As an aside, I’ve always preferred Carson to John Carter.

What do we do now?

So, now we have our premise of a young, affianced diplomat (yes, she is an envoy; our frustrations with this class are pretty well tested) who randomly travels from 317AG to 4717AD Korvosa on Golarion where she will meet another appealing young man who is completely different in temperament from her fiancé. Plenty here to create romance and drama, right? But what will the characters do? Where’s the adventure?

Here I look to pre-published material. While the first Starfinder adventure path is far from complete, I can look to the description of the adventures that comprise it, and adapt from those plot to literally collapse the Pact System via a weapon of mass destruction (called the Stellar Degenerator in the AP, but which I have renamed the Maw of Rovagug for… reasons). From here I have sketched out a solar system spanning series of events, full of action and tense negotiations.

starfarer's companion coverWhile in Korvosa, I am adapting the mostly fantastic Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path to the Starfinder system (with a little help from the Starfarer’s Companion by Rogue Genius Games). There’s a lot of drama already baked into this adventure path, and set in a pre-Victorian England and France inspired Korvosa, with sharp divides between social classes and plenty of unrest, it is already proving to be exciting! Having the two adventures running concurrently also allows me to move the action from one setting to the other when Curse of the Crimson Throne hits a portion Kelly is less likely to enjoy (namely anything involving a dungeon), or when there is extended travel through the Pact System.

What’s your inspiration?

I really enjoy adapting material that I enjoy into game material, and the rewards thus far have been immense. This has been a great campaign so far, with a lot of drama, and possibly some hard choices looming. It feels a lot like Outlander by way of Battlestar Galactica.

Does it sound appealing to you?

What material have you adapted for gaming, successfully or not?

What material do you think is ripe for adaptation?

Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

broken car

Help, I’m Alive! – Deadworld Design Journal 1

As with so many things, this all started with Kelly telling me she had watched something she really enjoyed. In this instance it was Van Helsing, a television series that details the activities of a mysteriously badass woman who kills vampires in a post-apocalyptic world. She then had me watch it as we worked in the evenings after the rugrats had nested for the night. I liked it well enough. As Kelly suspected, it gave me a few ideas I could translate into RPGs.

She then started watching Z Nation, which she really got excited about, so, once again, I started watching it with her (she kindly allowed me to start at the beginning). I was leary at first.

I’ve watched The Walking Dead to the end of the seventh season. I read the first hundred issues of the comic book. I stopped both because I found them wearying. Their relentless bleakness made me wonder why any of the principal characters wanted to survive aside from sheer masochism. I liked Z Nation more than TWD (or Van Helsing for that matter). It was cheesy, had some bad acting and questionable production values, but its bones were good. And the scenarios and ideas in play seemed like someone had translated their zombie apocalypse gaming sessions into an awesome series of short B movies. In short, its makers remembered that sometimes its okay to be fun or silly, even in the midst of death.

Shortly after I started watching Z Nation, Kelly asked if I wanted to change campaigns while we were on vacation; switch from our Supernatural inspired modern occult investigation campaign to one set in the zombie apocalypse. Sure, I said, thinking that this would be a short term thing. I should have known better….

Location Matters

I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, so I lightly sketched out zombified North America. The best zombie entertainment, in my opinion, begin in the aftermath of whatever apocalyptic event brought the world to its knees, so I decided to set our game four years after Z-Day. Our game would start in Virginia, at the University of Virginia per Kelly’s character’s background. A portion of the University has been turned into a secure compound under a chauvinistically tyrannical thumb. The rest of the campus is kept free of the dead and other riffraff by the compound’s soldiers, who also make scavenging forays into other less friendly territories. Women, children, and the elderly take care of the compound itself, ensuring that it runs smoothly and that the soldiers are comfortable.

Beyond the compound’s environs, the US is a patchwork of disparate factions vying for limited resources. The larger a community was, the harder it was hit on Z-Day, so there is marginally more safety from the dead in the less populated regions of the country.  Much of Kansas is controlled by a charismatic clergyman and his chosen Redeemers. There is a roughly triangular region anchored by Chicago, Springfield, and Indianapolis where the sun no longer rises. Locals of this area have taken to calling it Neverlight, outsiders merely say that it is Always Dark and avoid the area. It is rumored that there are… things… in the dark. Texas is reputed to be free of the dead and is ruthlessly controlled by four Oil Barons. The waters have reclaimed southern Louisiana; New Orleans is now generally known as The Sunken City. There are points of light as well: the southern tip of Vancouver Island has been walled off and is free of the dead, if rumours are true, though one must endure eight weeks of solitary quarantine if they are to join Utopia, as it is called by the desperate. There are other safe zones out there, somewhere.

Alert Status Red

Being set in the zombie post-apocalypse, zombies will of course be well represented. Regular, lurching zombies, fast zombies, plague spewing zombies… they’re all in there. People with their myriad array of abilities and allegiances of course will likely pose the biggest threat, ultimately. But there needs to be more… Taking a page from Resident Evil and Resident Evil 3, tyrant and nemesis-like undead menaces will present themselves from time to time.

The dead are comprised of more than just zombies as well. As described above, there is a region that never sees daylight. What kind of undead creatures could thrive in such a place? I can think of one or two.. or perhaps more. And… and this is my favourite part… there are ghouls. Yes. Ghouls. What is terrifying to people inured to the horror of the zombie apocalypse? Dead things that are social, intelligent, and ever-hungry for living flesh are. The ghouls, and their queen, have plans. And while they would love to see the population of humans increase, it would certainly be to the detriment of the general quality of life…

The End is Here

I think that is enough to chew on for the time being. Next time, I will discuss the system, resources used, and some house rules that have been implemented to better simulate the system’s implementation of the theme.

Comment below!

What have I missed? What kind of things would you like to see in your zombie apocalypse? Sound off in the comments.

z nation

Z Nation: Was it Written by Gamers?

After enjoying Van Helsing so much I wrote a post about how it was inspirational for gaming, I decided to check out Z Nation.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

It helps that I love discovering an established show with more episodes in the bank than I can shake a stick at, but even more than that, I think Z Nation must have a team of gamers behind it: the strange mix of party members given an impossible quest that keeps them together; the alignments that obviously butt heads from time to time; the way the party can stumble on people and places that have been surviving for some time, only to be destroyed because trouble follows our band of “heroes”…. let’s take a closer look.

Weapons

z whacker

Addy Carver’s weapon is one of my favourites in this show.  We see her pick up the “Z Whacker” in the first episode from a travelling duo who explain its virtues as she tries it out.  Essentially a morning star, this aluminium baseball bat with reinforced spikes (long enough to penetrate the brain, but not so long they get stuck in there, leaving you wrestling your weapon out of a zombie head) is her weapon of choice throughout the show; (spoiler alert) later in the show, her weapon gets upgraded to deliver an electrical charge. Shocking morning star, anyone?

 

Guns abound, of course, but they make noise, which attracts more Z’s.  For that reason, we’ve got blades aplenty.  And the stealthy 10K can make miracles happen with a slingshot and whatever bits and bobs he can find.

 

Basically, there is no one weapon everyone uses, because in RPGs, every character has their preferred weapon, and it isn’t often someone outfits a whole group with the same thing.

That Guy

I don’t want to give away any of the awesome plot developments, but I will say this – you know that party member who does whatever he wants? No matter the cost? The person who thinks whatever he wants is his for the taking? And you kind of want to just off them a few times over, but you can’t because in real life they are your friend and they’d be furious with you for killing their character? Plus you want to keep hanging out with your friends and enjoying game night? What happens when that character is the one that holds salvation for the human race? What happens when good people have to die to keep him safe? (Don’t you hate when your GM does that to you?)

Feats and Skills

All the characters have their own natural abilities – various skills, feats, etc. Some of these are more obvious, like Addy and Mac and their teamwork feats.  And sometimes you wonder why someone doesn’t just max out Profession (mechanic) or Craft (mechanics) when they level up (how many vehicles have they gone through?).

Character and Classes

Some of the characters in this show are easy to see as a particular class, others require a bit more finessing or a third party class.  They can also provide great inspiration for a character build. Plus they show how a kickass character sheet is awesome, but you have to have some personality as well.  I love what 10K can do; I think he’s awesome, but he’s got the personality of a paper clip. Meanwhile, Murphy (love him or hate him) has more personality and quirks than any one companion will ever want to deal with.  He’ll drive you crazy, but he’s the mission. (Side note: I’m also sure he’s a sorcerer in a world without magic.)

The Quest

z nationEvery time these guys take a step forward, they take several back.  This isn’t atypical of a TV show, but seriously – they are always trying to save someone only to leave destruction in their wake, or having their journey disrupted to land them in a heap of trouble on a side quest. Seriously, these guys often seem to happen upon a place where people are largely getting by, eking out a modest existence, and then it’s chaos.

And they don’t really care.  Characters in shows in Walking Dead take everything so seriously, but in Z Nation, it’s like this band of would-be-heroes knows it’s all just about them.   The show even takes it so far as to give over the top monologues, and have people mention off hand how trouble follows these guys and how they are easy to follow based on the trail they leave.

These guys believe they are heroes, just like every group of gamers. But it doesn’t always justify their actions, even if they want it to.

So Bring on The Game!

Z Nation was so easy to see as an RPG, in fact, that we have temporarily sidelined our other game in favor of one that takes place in a dead world.  Zombies run rampant, and with a little imagination and some reskinning, Pathfinder’s collection of undead is doing a great job of providing a variety of zombies to tangle with.

It’s easy to take snippets from the show and use them to inspire a session, a scenario, or the whole darn world.

We are now several sessions into this post-apoloyptic zombie campaign, and I cannot wait to see what comes our way.

Comment Below!

Have you seen Z Nation? Does it remind you of an RPG? Have you encountered zombies in your games? Ever played a zombie focused game?

Van Helsing: A TV Show Worth Watching

A post apocalyptic world where vampires rein and mankind is little more than feed bags, Van Helsing is inspired by Zenescope Entertainment‘s graphic novel series Helsing and originally premiered on Syfy, but was picked up by NetFlix in December 2016. I checked it on a whim last week as I often enjoy some background noise while I work, and I was hooked.

Van Helsing Promo PosterIt reminds me of The Walking Dead – in a really good way. Like so many people I find TWD to be depressing now (yes, now – it used to be more intriguing). There is no hope. No chance. It’s a matter of filling time, scraping by, and watching everyone you know die until you eventually bite the bullet as well.

I have heard Z-Nation is a more enjoyable approach with a character whose very existence could be a game changer, and I think that makes it more comparable to Van Helsing, but I have not yet checked it out.

Van Helsing Promo PosterWhat I am enjoying about Van Helsing is how easy it is to see as an RPG adventure. Vanessa, or Sleeping Beauty, as she is known in the first few episodes, suddenly awakens from a coma and finds herself in an unfamiliar world with strangers. She has her own mission – to find her daughter – but the people and the world need her for something much bigger. She is immune to the poison of a vampire bite and cannot be turned. What’s more, she may hold the secret to turning vampires back into humans. (That’s a lot of pressure!)

As the show progresses, the assortment of people around her have skills as varying as you would expect to find in a party. From a coroner with limited medical knowledge, to a capable solider with a decent ability to set traps (and vows to protect Sleeping Beauty), to the kind and understanding deaf man almost everyone trusts, to a newcomer who has the tag name “Flesh” – go ahead and guess why.

With a good deal of action, compelling plot lines (including trouble among the group and between other surviving parties, plus some peeks into the BBEG’s world), and character development, this show has a little something for everyone, and while Vanessa herself is far from sexed up, Rebecca (the sexy vampire with her own plans) fits the bill for those needing that role filled.

Note: Those who like iZombie will notice a familiar face.  Aleks Paunovic plays a capable vampire lackey in Van Helsing and a simliar, but more zombie-like role in iZombie.

For the sake of honesty, I have only watched Season One. Like many shows, it could take a serious downturn, but for now, I whole heartily recommend that any GMs looking for a little post-apocalyptic inspiration, or some good old fashioned vampire storylines, check out this mother sucking tv show.

Don’t just take my world for it though: the series’ pilot episode received 4.5 stars from Den of Geek last September.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to anxiously await Season Two’s arrival on NetFlix…

Comment below

Have you seen it? What did you think?
Did you draw any inspiration for your own gaming sessions?
Ever played a character like one of the ones on this show?

3 Things for Young Gamers to Read

My love of roleplaying games was ignited when I received the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set (Mentzer/BECMI) for my eighth birthday. I imagine my mum picked it out for me because she knew how much I had enjoyed reading The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia the previous year. The truth is, while I truly had enjoyed these newly discovered (by me) fantasy classics, I was not a fussy consumer of the written word. I could, and did, read almost everything I could get my mitts on, from Greek myths, to The Great Brain, to the Babysitter’s Club, I read it all. And once I was introduced to D&D, all of it informed the kinds of games and characters I wanted to play.

Our eldest rugrat is approaching the age I was when that iconic red box with the Larry Elmore painting was seared into my psyche, and he is as voracious a reader as I was. We have played a few, mostly successful, sessions of Pathfinder RPG, and I am eager to keep him enthusiastic between adventures. The following is the first in a series of musings about stories that are universally excellent, and will appeal to both kids and their RPG loving parents – in my opinion at least.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizards of Oz coverLong before Narnia, Middle Earth, Prydain, or Hogwarts, were committed to paper, Lyman Frank Baum introduced the world to the land of Oz. Bordered on all sides by desert that will reduce anyone who sets foot upon it to dust, Oz is a kitchen sink land wherein Baum mashed together fairy tales and fables with a healthy dollop of imagination and a pinch of good, old-fashioned psychedelia.

I’m not going to write at length about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; you likely already know the story (or at least the classic film’s version of it). It makes my list because it is the first of a fourteen book series Baum wrote about the setting. That’s right. Fourteen. (Not including the dozens written by other authors after Baum’s death.) Each of which is better than this first one (in my opinion, of course), and all but one of which have numerous beautiful illustrations by John R. Neill.

It is also worth noting that, for a series written in the last years of the 19th and first years of the 20th centuries, the Oz books are remarkably progressive with regard to gender equality. There are numerous female protagonists, among them Dorothy, Ozma, the Patchwork Girl, and Betsy Bobbin, all of whom are the equal of any of the males in the series. In the interest of full disclosure, however, the human characters are largely, though not entirely, white and there are a few troubling ethnic stereotypes evident (which have been stripped out, along with those gorgeous illustrations in many modern editions of the books).

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the series that followed, offers young readers hours of reading that will ignite their imaginations and give them plenty of fodder to fuel their roleplaying adventures.

Bone

Jeff Smith

Bone cover imageJeff Smith’s Bone is a marvel from its hilarious beginning to its heartbreaking conclusion. The series begins with the titular protagonist, Phone Bone, travelling through a wasteland with his cousins, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, after being run out of their hometown due to Phoney’s most recent scheme. The Bone cousins soon find themselves driven into the Valley by a massive locust swarm, where they meet one of the best casts of characters ever evidenced in a comic book, and get drawn into a tale of legacy and destiny.

Bone introduces its plots very deftly, drawing the reader in with humour and appealing artwork, but peppering the trail with questions and mystery. Who is the Lord of Locusts? Why is he obsessed with Phoney Bone? Why is the Great Red Dragon watching over Phone Bone? Where did the rest of the dragons go? Why does that one rat creature love quiche so much? How did Kingdok get so BIG?

Further, from the perspective of a role player, the protagonists model the general dysfunction of every single party of PCs I’ve ever experienced. Phone Bone (neutral good) wants to help Thorn (neutral good) and Gran’ma Ben (lawful neutral) but scheming Phoney Bone (neutral evil) ropes Smiley Bone (chaotic neutral) into his capers and inevitably leads everyone into danger.

I have no criticisms of Bone. It is one of the few comic series’ that I have purchased as individual issues, collected black and white trade paperbacks, the massive black and white one volume edition, and the colour Graphix/Scholastic trade paperbacks. I don’t have the colour hardcover collections, but there is still time – don’t test me. Better yet, go get them for your kids (and read them yourself if you haven’t already).

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

Carolyn Keene (pseudonym for various authors)

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories coverYou could replace this with Hardy Boys Mysteries if you wish, but I always preferred Nancy Drew. She was the gateway for my lifelong love of girl detectives (shout out to Veronica Mars and Liv Moore). Like many of the books I read in my childhood, I stumbled upon my first Nancy Drew mystery, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher in my grandparents’ pool (as in billiards) room. Nancy was talented, intuitive, and sassy; it was love at first read. In my first exposure to her, Nancy solves a number of mysteries, via means that would likely be considered quaint, if not antiquated, by modern standards, that eventually lead her to the Nazca Lines in Peru.

The story kept me captivated throughout, and had me scouring my grandparents’ bookshelves for other Nancy Drew Mystery Stories… of which there were several, along with mysteries featuring those aforementioned Hardy Boys. Nancy has been solving crimes since 1930, so there are hundreds of novels featuring her just waiting to be placed in your kids’ hands. I was recently perusing the shelves at a local used book store when I noticed they had a massive collection of Nancy Drew mysteries; it may be time for me to go pick some of them up.

How about you?

So there there it is, the tip of the iceberg. What material do you recommend for kid gamers? And were any of the above favorites on your childhood bookshelf? Sound off in the comments below!

book shelves

5 Comic Book Storylines to Steal

When I am running adventures, I steal shamelessly from all kinds of sources. Characters, themes, storylines, names, places… nothing is safe from pillaging. One of the formats I love using as an idea mine are comic books. Those would be graphic novels if you’d rather use the name given to legitimize the form in recent years. While I will undoubtedly cover some of the specifics of what I’ve used and how I’ve twisted it to my own ends, I’ll start today by going over five series’ or storylines that are ripe for adaptation to the game table.

  1. Y, the Last Man – Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka, and others (DC/Vertigo)

This is one of my favourite series’ probably of all time, but I may be biased as the post-apocalypse is among my most beloved sub-genres. In this series, following an event in the first issue, Yorick Brown (and his pet monkey, Ampersand), become the last male creatures on Earth. We then follow Yorick and a small retinue as he attempts to travel from where he is in the US to meet his girlfriend, who is in Australia when the extinction event occurs. The series explores themes that a lot of good post-apocalyptic material does, such as the cost and value of humanity. Its set up however, with billions of women still alive after the disaster, also handles the topic of gender roles and gender inequalities without being exploitative.

  1. Planetary – Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (DC/Wildstorm… or maybe DC/Vertigo now… or possibly just DC Comics…)

This one is an easy setup for any game that employs hopping from location to location and investigating what Monte Cook would call “The Weird.” Simply put, the series focuses on archaeologists of the unknown looking into strange phenomena while dealing with their personal demons. Many of the issues of the series could be easily adapted as adventures for GMs running a Planescape type campaign or who are playing The Strange or Numenera.

  1. Preacher – Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, and others (DC/Vertigo)

Preacher has a setup that isn’t atypical for a roleplaying game campaign: Jesse Custer, a minister who has accidentally been granted immense power, is traveling across the US with an ex-girlfriend and an Irish vampire on a search for God. Along the way, they encounter numerous challenges both celestial and fiendish in nature, as well as dealing with Jesse’s family. While the setup is a fairly classic hero’s journey, the execution is phenomenal and will leave any GMing reader with a ton of ideas that will challenge their PCs skills as well as their morals.

  1. DMZ – Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, and others (DC/Vertigo)

Set on Manhattan in the near future, during the second American civil war, DMZ follows reporter Matty Roth as he navigates the treacherous morass of factions active on the island in order to get at “the truth.” The series’ plot is winding, and effectively shows that good and evil are fictions; all of the many interest groups present in the series take horrific actions at different times, and the reader often feels that they are justified in doing so. Yes, I prefer shades of gray to the black and white storytelling we are often subjected to, and the games I run often reflect this.

  1. Morning Glories – Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma (Image Comics)

Hey, a comic series that wasn’t published by a DC Comics imprint! Morning Glories is set at the eponymous academy, where a lot of weirdness is going on. This series has it all: murder, torture, occult phenomena, secret twins, flashbacks… and it all works. From the time that Casey’s father tells her he doesn’t have a daughter to <redacted> your mind will be filled with enough twists and turns to last several campaigns… and your players will love and hate you for it!

What comics have you read that have inspired your campaigns, or even your characters? Sound off in the comments below!

Fairy Door

5 Inspirational Doors

Door (noun):  a hinged, sliding, or revolving barrier at the entrance to a building, room, or vehicle, or in the framework of a cupboard.

Doors are something so mundane, so typical, that we often don’t give them a lot of thought.  Sure, we might notice that bright red door on the house down the street, or the elaborately carved wooden doors on the church down the way, but how much time do we spend thinking about doors?

How much time do you spend using them as inspiration for a game session?

I hope the following pictures I have collected will bring a little inspiration to your next game session.

Bunker door

Castle door

Boy standing at door

Car peaking out from old shed door

Door with intricate details

Not loving any of these doors? Try a quick google search, or check out this fantastic front door blog which includes a hobbit-inspired rounded door, an amazing work of stained glass, and a few others.

Then, come on back and tell us how you used a door as inspiration in your game session!