The Tele-Port

We all know the drill: you cast your teleport or greater teleport spell and then: poof! You appear in your destination. Only what if that isn’t exactly how it goes? What if there is a stop on the way? A stop no one wants to, no one can, talk about?


“Please exit the circle to your left,” said a bored voice.

She blinked. She had been expecting to see bustling streets and colourful garments, to have her senses bombarded with the strong smells of spices, the murmur of thousands of people speaking in a language she couldn’t understand, and the heat of a warm sun.

Instead, she was standing in a strange room. Rows and rows of seats lined this endless expanse and she seemed to be standing in some sort of circle.

“Please exit the circle to your left,” repeated the voice. “You need to take a seat.”

Lunata blinked again and cast her eyes about for an explanation, but her feet remained firmly planted. Suddenly she realized her companions weren’t at her side. Panic began to well up inside her as she contemplated how she may have flubbed the spell. She was sure she had read the scroll verbatim, and she was sure she was capable enough to manipulate such magics now, even after that slight setback last month.  Gregor would never let her live this down, assuming he was okay.

There were a mix characters sitting in the chairs: assorted races, heights, clothing. All of them seemed bored, though a handful of them were looking at her, some with amusement, some with sympathy.

“You need to step out of the circle. Move to your left. Now.”

The voice had become impatient and she noticed a pair of strange beings made of light moving in her direction.

She looked around frantically and exited the circle, stepping to the left as the voice told her. The people made of light were almost on her now.

“Lunata Yarimania, step this way please,” said one voice. It was impossible to tell if it was male or female. It didn’t sound hostile, but it wasn’t friendly either.

“Where am I? What is this place?” She cast about once more, noting the seamless grey floor stretching as far as she could see. Circles, like the one she had arrived in, appeared intermittently in the endless expanse and rows of hard chairs, hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, filled the space between the circles. Many were empty, but it was hard to tell just how many were occupied.

“Newbies, am I right?” said the second being to the first.

Lunata thought for a moment it rolled its eyes, but neither being said anything else; they simple turned and began leading her off.

She glanced at an old man sitting in a chair. He had a long grey beard and he was intently reading an old looking tome while a small black bird sat upon his shoulder, staring intently at Lunata. A glass ball lay in the seat next to the old man, glowing with the small pale white light of the stars decorating the man’s deep blue robes.

Everyone here seemed to be sitting alone and almost no one was speaking to anyone else. The silence was broken by the occasional zing of an electrical surge or a cough.

“My friends, where are they?” she tried again, hurriedly following the creatures made of light.

The first being, she thought it was the first one, heaved a sigh.

“In your hands.”

For a moment Lunata thought it was some sort of metaphor. Zanthu was always going on about the bond they all shared, about how their fates were intertwined, about how there were few people he trusted to hold his life in their hands. It always made Gregor roll his eyes. Then she looked down.

She was so surprised she almost dropped the ball she was holding. It was like the one that had been sitting in the seat next to the old man, and she fumbled to hold onto the luminescent sphere.

“Careful there,” said the second figure, and she knew it was the second figure because she could hear its amusement.

Again, Lunata cast about. Most beings seemed to have a ball like this.

A dark skinned human man with tribal tattoos, simple clothing and a staff resting at his side was holding the ball casually in one hand while absentmindedly stroking the space between the eyes of a green lizard.

An elf with long blonde hair, a rapier tucked into his belt, sat spinning the ball on his finger. His clothing looked piratical and as she walked past him he looked right at her and winked.

Lunata looked down at her own glowing orb, squinting as she did so, and gasped. There they were, both of her companions in a miniature version of exactly how they looked just before they had departed the alley behind the tavern. Zanthu looked calm, as he always did. Gregor had his eyes shut and his muscles, tiny as they were just now, seemed to be tense, as if something bad were about to happen.

They walked past several more rows of seats, many of which were empty. Lunata started as a being appeared in a circle they were passing by.

A half-orc female stepped out of the circle, holding her own glowing ball in one hand. She was dressed in leather armor, not unlike Lunata. A shortsword and a hand crossbow were affixed to her belt. She nodded at Lunata and moved toward a chair, glancing up as she did so.

Lunata looked up for the first time. She wasn’t sure how she hadn’t noticed them before, but coloured lights made a map on the ceiling high above. They were almost like stars, but in various colours. She could see some yellow lights moving about while others remained in one spot. One of the yellow lights, which was right above her, was moving at the same speed as two bright white lights. A few other white lights were scattered about the ceiling star map, but they were off some distance away. Blue lights created circles that seemed, best as Lunata could tell, to correspond to the circles in the floor. There was a red area far off to the right, in the direction her guides seemed to be moving, and all of the yellow lights there were stagnant.

The yellow light and two white ones were approaching a blue circle. Lunata looked back ahead of her just in time. The figures had stopped and she just about run into them. The second figure sighed, as if he or she knew Lunata nearly ran them them down.

Lunata clutched her glowing orb and looked around as the two figures turned. The lights above circle spelled out a destination Lunata could not read. Suddenly the blue lights rearranged themselves into a new word, one she vaguely recalled as a place name Gregor had mentioned once.

“Well, here you are,” said the first figure. “Just a bit of paperwork to finalize first.”

“Paperwork?” Lunata almost stuttered.

The second figure smirked. She was sure of it.

“Yes, of course. Just sign here, and here,” the second figure presented Lunata with a hard board stacked with crisp white parchment unlike any the girl had ever seen.

She tried to make out the words, but there was a lot of complicated wording and very small print.

“It’s all quite standard,” said the first voice, as if that was reassuring.

“You won’t hold us responsible for any malfunctions in the circles, you understand precise destinations cannot be achieved, the level of safety, or lack of, at your destination is in no way our fault, and so on and so forth.” The second figure raised its eyebrows at her, as if challenging her, before handing her a strange hard tube she guessed she was meant to sign with.

“What is this place?” asked Lunata, still confused. She was juggling the board of paper and the glowing sphere, leaving her no hands to turn the pages on the board.

“The tele-port,” answered the first voice simply.

“There are others to tend to, so if you need more time, we can take you to the red zone. I don’t recommend that, mind you, some have been there for, I’m not even sure how long now.”

Lunata could tell this was a threat and whatever the red zone was with its stagnant yellow dots, she was sure she did not want to find out.

“I, uh, so this is standard teleportation process?” she asked dumbly, trying to flip the page.

“Indeed,” answered the first voice.

A kind-eyed halfing woman dressed in a plethora of skirts smiled warmly at Lunata. She was sitting in one of the chairs, waiting patiently by the circle Lunata had just arrived at, her own glowing orb set upon her lap with one hand gently cradling it. She nodded encouragingly at Lunata, who took a deep breath, and signed.

“Excellent. Then there, and there,” the second figure said gesturing at two additional lines on other pages. “And we’re all set.”

He snatched the board back from her and it seemed to disappear the moment it was back in his hands.

“Watch for your destination and then step into the circle,” said the first figure, turning to leave.

She glanced once more at the changing letters. She’d been there before, it wasn’t a week’s travel from her hometown.

The letters changed once more, denoting a place Lunata had never heard of and someone stepped into the circle. She wasn’t even sure where he’d come from, but suddenly he was gone.

“Don’t miss it,” said the second. “Who knows how long you’ll wait if you do.”

She glanced back hurridely at the lights by the circle which were changing once again and then, not taking her eyes off of them, for they seemed to change on a whim, she backed into a nearby chair, not far from the halfling.

“Don’t worry,” said the halfling cheerfully, “you’ll have the hang of it before you know it.”

“So, you do this all the time?” asked Lunata dumbly, still confused by what was happening.

“Oh sure, it’s how it’s done!”

“But I’ve never heard of it.”

“You wouldn’t have,” answered the halfling cheerfully.

“I can’t wait to tell the others,” Lanata said, partly to the halfling and partly to herself. She looked down at the orb she cradled in her own hands, the glass ball that contatined her friends and companions.

“Oh, you can’t do that,” said the halfling, rising. “You’ll see. Well, this is me. Take care and good luck!”

Lunata frowned as she watched the halfling in the skirts carry her orb into the circle and disappear. The writing around the circle shifted again then and it was her own destination she saw.

She jumped up, clutching the ball in a death grip as she scurried toward the circle.

What did the halfling mean she couldn’t tell the others? How could she not?

There was a brief flash of light as she entered the circle and suddenly she was standing on a cobbled street, the warm sun beating down on her. Her nostrils were bombarded by the smell of sweat and spices and cooking meat. Her companions were beside her.

“Great job, Lunata,” said Gregor clapping her on the back. “Knew you could do it.”

There was something she wanted to say to him, to both of them, but she couldn’t remember exactly what it was.  She was trying to put her finger on it but the more she thought about it, the further away whatever it was became.

”You think you can get us back when we are done here, Lunata?” asked Gregor. “Assuming we find you another scroll anyway?”

She nodded, absentmindedly.

“I think so.”

”Let’s do this then,” he said, fingering the large blade at his waist.

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!

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!

5 Ways to Be Your Character

When it comes to playing RPGs, there are lots of play styles. An online questionnaire went around awhile back and with a few clicks and taps, you could easily learn what sort of player you are. I didn’t need the quiz to tell me, though it did confirm, that I am an immersive player.

character sheetWhen I make a character I take it to the next level, channelling them during game play, and outside it. IMHO, this results in a more dynamic character. She isn’t a sheet of paper.  She comes to life, existing as more than a set of numbers that can hit something during combat. Plus I can draw inspiration from her to use in the real world. For better or worse, she is like a friend.

If you haven’t tried this before, here a few ways to get started: Continue reading 5 Ways to Be Your Character