Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rethinking "The West"

For the long time readers of this blog, you know what the West is and what I mean when I say that.

For me I can't say the same anymore.

The West is my home grown fantasy RPG setting.  It has seen use in D&D (all sorts, but started with Labyrinth Lord), BareBones Fantasy, Arrowflight, Savage Worlds and my own homegrown MSH Fantasy hack called "Monsters, Heroes & Sorcery!"

The West has changed and changed again over the years and I recently realized that some of what I wanted works better as a novel than it does as an RPG setting.

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The oldest map I have of the setting that would be the West is from just before 2000.  It was me bringing a lot of ideas I had had for various campaigns together for the first time.  I called it "the World of Dragonskull" and set about telling exciting tales of adventure and excitement within its lands!

Alas it didn't last, but certain seeds were planted that would sprout in the fertile gardens of the West later.

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A number of campaign maps would spring up, but none of them stuck.  Though each one provided some useful thing that would be part of making the West later.  For now it was all trial and error and map, after map, after map.

Slowly I was building something and names of nations or places began to take hold.  These were becoming the iconic parts of my world.

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I was obsessed with doing an entire globe for a long time there and that may or may not have played a role in my world slowly turning into a mirror-image of our own.  This provided me with endless amounts of self loathing and hatred.

Should I be doing something new?  Something ground breaking?  Vanilla is bad right?  That's what all the forums and "cool kids" on the internet were saying.  All the au-current settings had barbarian halflings and clockwork elves and steampunk dwarves and all sorts of things.

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I tried, I really did, but those things just weren't of any interest to me or my design style.  I attempted to make a world that went West to East, but it wasn't right for me.  It wasn't what I wanted.  The truth was there waiting for me to discover it.

I really like vanilla settings.

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There is something heartwarming and homey about them.  I like knowing that is my France and these guys are my Spain, etc...  It gives me touch stones to work from, accents for NPCs and easy reference points for my players.  These types of settings, right down to the elves, dwarves and dragons of colour allows us to have a common point of understanding.  That is an amazingly valuable thing to have when creating a campaign and asking for player buy-in.

Now don't get me wrong, some of these maps look neat to me now, but it is apparent how little skill I had as a map maker then (or really now to be honest) but they are charming in their own ways and I wouldn't get rid of them for anything!

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The first official map of the West is this one.  It was created by Anthony Green, based on notes I gave him using Europe and fantasy maps of Europe as the base.  It is without a doubt one of my all-time favourite maps of the West, but it looked just too damn much like the Warhammer Fantasy map that I pursued changes.

In this map we can start to see parts of the West that will really take hold.  The mountains that run from the North to the South isolating the West from the rest of the world make their first appearance here.

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This aspect provided some some powerful story hooks for me to use and in the next incarnation of the map I really took that idea to heart and expanded the world.  Not everything worked mind you and ultimately it would get redone so many times I will just show you the one version of this phase that I think worked best.

By this point though the world was taking shape.  I was starting to know who lived where, why they were there and how they got along with everyone else.  Blackfish bay shows up and that provides a nice flavour point about people from the northern parts of the West over those from the southern parts.  These little touches are very very important to me as they help define the world and make it come alive.

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Not happy with the map, I continued to tweak, twist and twiddle and up next was one major change to how the lay-of-the-land would be.

This map is starting to be the most iconic of the West maps.  This is the one the players know best and the one I have the most affection for in the end.  It isn't perfect by a longshot and would get mutated further, but the West as it stood really takes its shape here.

Now I was making headway and the help of my buddy Coyotemax at the Cartographer's Guild was immeasurably valuable.  Though as with all things I wasn't happy.  Something wasn't right and it was bothering me.  I could place my finger on it and it was starting to annoy ever me.

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I got permission to use a landscape from another member of the guild and modified it to be the West, but this time as a isolated island.  I liked parts of this but it destroyed my whole Blackfish Bay, Adaire, Aquilar, Turon aspects of the setting, which left me less than happy.  This map too would have multiple versions and none of them would make me happy.  This map was also the first to open the West to contact with other parts of the world, no longer cut off in isolation but just difficult to get too.  The near-east was begining to take shape and it was shaping up to be a "Crusdaes era Middle-East" type of place.  Of course that gave me fits of self-hatred and frustration.

Trust me, it got my my nerves as well.

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This map didn't last too long, I was back to the other landscape and sure as hell I had placed my near-east on the far south like a North Africa.  This didn't last for long but it did show me that maybe I was thinking of a larger world that was more than just European analogs and that was a good thing.  Still I was married the term "The West" as it really worked well and resonated for the players.

Sidenote I have tried 4 times to run a campaign that deals with the exploration and settlement of the area known as Sothshire.  Hopefully this current one will get the job done, because I am starting to think it is cursed.

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So dropping the Mediterranean
look from the bottom of the map this became the West for a longer time than any other map I had made.  It wasn't setting perfectly for me, but it was close enough that I could live with it.

Other campaigns came up and I moved on from the West after almost 5 years of play, on-and-off, but it never left the back of my mind.  It stayed there nagging away at me like an echo on an unfinished task.

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Eventually I would return my attention to the West and I tried something a bit different and still the same.  I thought, that period where I had the West as an isolated landmass/island was the best idea, but the world around it was still too complicated.  What is it was less exposed to the world, but still had minor, and unpleasant contact with that world?

This map would be a very dramatic departure from where I had been and for the most part I was liking it, but it wasn't perfectly meeting what I wanted from it, so naturally I continued to tinker.

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First up was the vertical orientation.  I tried flipping it and then went from there.  This next map I like a lot in how it looks effects-wise but for the life of me I cannot remember how I got these effects, which is a shame as I am not happy with the rest of the map.

Still it was a learning experience.

It also showed me some interesting takes on placement, and ideas like having Elise not be part of the West but instead an invader from across the narrow waters.  That started to make me rethink a lot of the history and it went from there.

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The next map, the current one, took all of these ideas and combined them into what I am "mostly" happy with, but to be honest I don't think I could ever be completely happy with this map/setting.

It has a lot of the things I want without being too crowded.  It reminds me of the original West map by Anthony (above) without being exactly that.  Overall I could live with this map, but that is just not who I am as a person.

Remember the title of this post?

There are a great many things I like about the West, but I couldn't be less than happy with it in its current state.

The religious situation is very odd and Middle-Ages European, there are no clerics and the world is rather grim.  I suspect I may have been a bit too dark when I created it.

Oddly I have rejected a number of good ideas that didn't fit my dark world but I now realize I am not trying to create a grim setting.  I don't want to do that, that was just George RR Martin being in my mind as I was reading "Game of Thrones" when I first made the West.

So what do I want?  I have no idea.  I really don't.  I love aspects of the West.  I love the Kalinites, the Duchy of Adaire, the Eye of Astara, the Solani Wastes, etc...  but there is something that just isn't sitting right with me and it is driving me insane.

I had hoped that by the time I was done writing this post I would have clarity and insight, but alas they are not presenting themselves.

Perhaps it is time to start fresh, new landscape, cherry pick the stuff I like and move on with the rest.

I just don't know.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Lady America - MSH

So I've decided that I will post the occasional member of the Zenith Universe fir my Mighty Super Heroes hack of Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP).  The reason I am doing this is because first I make (very little) money by selling heroes and villains for other systems and secondly because I cannot sell characters for MSH legally but I REALLY want to share these characters with you!

Note these characters will be build using my House Rules which you might want to take a look at them to understand the differences.

So without further ado, let's get down to business!

Let's start with the character sheet.

Art by Oliver Castaneda
Name: Lady America
Secret Identity: Amanda Reese

F: Am(50) A: In(40)    S: Ex(20)   E: Rm(30)
R: Gd(10)  I: Rm(30)  P: Ex(20)

Popularity: Uy(80) Resources: Ex(20)
Health: 140 Karma: 60 Initiative: +7 (+12 in Melee)

Powers & Equipment
Armour Cloth Suit – Ex(20) protection vs. FORCE and Ty(06) vs. ENERGY

Martial Arts A – Slam & Stun regardless of comparative STR/END
Martial Arts B – +1CS Fighting Unarmed
Martial Arts C – +1CS STR for Grappling & Escaping, +1CS Agility for Dodging
Martial Arts D – Ignore Body Armor for Slam & Stun
Martial Arts E – +1 to Initiative
Martial Arts F – +1CS damage, HTH can be Edged
Martial Arts G – +1CS Dodge, -1CS Damage
Martial Arts H – +1 Attack after 1 Round
Martial Arts I – +1CS to Recovery FEATs and +1CS vs. Slam & Stun
Martial Arts J – +1CS to Evasion FEATs
Martial Arts K – +1CS to Blocking and vs. Slams & Stuns
Master of the Martial Arts
Quick Striking  +1CS on Multiple Action FEATs and +1 Initiative
Thrown Objects
Thrown Weapons

Positive Quirks                 Negative Quirks
Benefactor                         Attitude: Hard Ass
Fame                                  Duty
Fighting Logistics              Enemy: Überfrau
Reputation                         Nightmares
Static                                  Personal Code: No Man Left Behind
Quick Learning                  Zealot: America

So there she is, in all her glory, though there are a few things that need to be explained as well.

She has a Negative Quirk called Nightmares (which I made up) and it requires her to make a Psyche FEAT, Yellow result or better, with a -2CS each night.  If she fails this roll, she does not sleep well and suffers a blanket -1CS to everything the next day.

Her Duty is to the Government of the United States of America and specifically to the Oval Office from where she takes her marching orders.

Her enemy is Überfrau, whom she has sworn to one day bring before the courts to be held accountable for her atrocities.

This ties into her No Man Left Behind code, which requires her to make a Psyche FEAT to leave an injured ally on the field of battle.

Lastly she is a Zealot for the ideal of America and American values.  She is no fan of corporations and bankers, but she would require a Psyche FEAT to go against the orders of the President.

Roleplaying Lady America is essentially 1 part John Rambo, 1 part Ellen Ripley and 1 part John Wayne.  She is not a hokey icon like Captain America is so often portrayed.  Unlike him she lived through the years and changed with the times.

She is a relentless hard-ass who treats everyone like they are in the military primarily because she has been for over 70 years, but she is loyal as hell and will never give up on an ally.

Well there she is, maybe next time I'll bust out a piece about the one time she had powers.  In the meantime please let me know what you think in the comment section below.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Whimsy Cards and Mighty Super Heroes!

Okay I refuse to let the only writing I do today be that self-indulgence from earlier, so here is something I have been working on since last week and wanted to get done.

As recent readers know I am going to run a heavily house ruled version of Marvel Super Heroes from TSR that I have rebranded Might Super Heroes, because I am oh-so clever and MSH.

On top of creating my own Colour Chart for use in the game, since I changed the ranks a wee bit and use the Blue Result after years of resisting it, I wanted to add in something that has been a staple of my gaming for years.

Whimsy Cards.

I first encountered Whimsy Cards in TORG, a game I loathed, but the cards really sang to me.  Years later I saw an article in an RPG APA I was part of on how to adapt these cards to WEG's Star Wars game (remember how much I love D6?).  Well that just showed me that I could adapt them to MSH easily as well.

So I did.

Over the decades (literally) these cards have mutated and changed.  I've added, removed and adjusted cards until I got the set I now use for MSH, though I've made them for almost every system I have ever run.

Without further ado here is how they work.

  • Each player has a hand of 5 cards.
  • Only 1 card per player can be played per round.
  • Instead of playing a card into action, the player can choose to play it into their pool.
  • Pool cards can be played at one time, breaking the 1 card per 1 round rule.
  • Cards are only replenished at the beginning of a new scene, though do not replenish unplayed cards in a pool, they count towards the player's hand.

Pretty simple right?

The cards themselves are an eclectic mix of adding bonuses here and there, giving a karma boost or the all-powerful subplot cards that allow for very specific in game effects.

Without going into too much detail, the cards are pretty much self explanatory, though there are a couple of Subplot Cards that have a * on them which means there is more than what is written on the card, due to space limits.

The Mano-A-Mano card says; "You and a single foe gain +2CS vs. each other until the end of the fight." but more so there are 2 more rules that you can choose to add.  The first is that if anyone attacks either of you, other than each other, the bonus ends, breaking the one-on-one dynamic.  The other rule is that if the opponent you've played this card on also happens to be your Nemesis (from the Quirks) the bonus is raised to +3CS.

The Master Plan card says; "Pick up the last card played." but a more practical rule is to limit the Rally card from being allowed to be picked up.  The Rally card lets the players discard as many cards as they want and draw new hands.  I have seen Master Plan, Rally, Master Plan, Rally events happen and it is a tad abusive.  Your mileage may vary.
The Self-Sacrifice card says; "Your hero dies so your allies can escape." which is great, but I also give that player's next character 200 bonus starting Karma, just 'cause.

Again the rest of the cards are pretty self-explanatory so I encourage you to give them a read.

I have put a zip file of them here in sheet form for your usage, with a card back that has my custom colour chart values, but these cards can be used as is with rules-as-written MSH, so no worries there.


Writing, Life & AARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!

So let me say first things first, I am not going to proofread or spellcheck this post.  I just want to get it all out and be done with it.

Everyone with me so far?  Good.

Writing is not as easy as most think.  Writers, especially in the comic book world, get a lot less respect than the artists do and that is because most of us can't draw, well can't draw well.  Anyone can doodle, but I digress.

The thing is most people think that writing is easy, because they write something every day.  Emails, to-do lists, obnoxious comments on YouTUBE videos, etc...

The thing is that if they ever actually sat down and tried to write, they would find it isn't as easy as they think.

I saw this a lot when I was an actor as well.  Most everyone thinks that acting is easy, just get up there and make a fool out of yourself.  Yet most people when placed in front of a camera or even more so a live audience, find that acting isn't as easy as they thought, let alone acting well.

This brings me back to writing.  Apparently, if I believe what others tell me, I am a decent writer.  I dunno, I think they are just being nice to me because no one likes telling a friend they suck at something they seem to really want to do.  Strangers are more like to be honest, but they can often be really mean since they have no need to worry about emotional filters, and some are just trolls looking to be assholes.

The worst are the frustrated writers who, much like frustrated actors, tend to poo-poo everything they haven't had a hand in.

Still, much like acting, I continue to strive towards being a writer.  I will tell you now, it was a lot easier being an actor.  Writing is hard work.

My current way of paying the rent is as a trainer for a customer service 3rd party call centre.  Oh what heights I have hit.  To be honest I love training classes of new hires and getting them ready to do their job, if I didn't I would have quit.

Between those classes though, we do what is colourfully called "ongoing training" which is ongoing but isn't training.  It means running around, trying to get agents to do computer modules and read articles and take surveys and do side-by-sides listening to their calls, etc...  I fill out far to many excel trackers in my day.  Just sayin'.

This procedure means I am always getting another email demanding some results about x or y or adding a and b to my plate.  It never ends.

For fun I got an app that tracks how far I walk in a day and have discovered I cover between 3.5 and 5k at work, every day.  My knees are done, my right ankle is throbbing and my energy is almost gone.

What does all this have to do with writing?  Well this, when I get home and sit down to write, I am not only overwhelmed by the amount of stories, projects and ideas I want to write, but also devastated by a crippling lack of brain-power or energy left to do it.

Where do I start?

Do I write another issue of HEROIC?

Do I get more work done on SKULL?

Create another instalment of VILLAINOUS?

What about that story I have kicking around about the LARPers who are transported to a fantasy world where they become their characters?  (Yes I loved the Sleeping Dragon books, the Realm comic and the movie Knights of Badassdom)... and wouldn't it work better as a webcomic?  Where do I find an artist will to work for free?  Le sigh...

But wait, there's more!

And that's the problem.  I am not running out of ideas, far from it, I am just so bloody exhausted both mentally and physically all I want to do is flake out in front of the computer.  Watch videos on YouTUBE, eat bad-for-me-food and go to sleep only to get up and do it all again tomorrow.

What about the weekends you say?  Well those are reserved for laundry, groceries and if I am lucky a session of one of the games I run with friends.  The best is when I get to go see a movie too.  These weekends are all I have and they recharge my soul... for another fucking week of my soul crushing job.

Yes I am whining.

Yes I am complaining.

Yes I am fucking tired and feeling like my wheels are spinning.

So after all this bitching and complaining is their light at the end of the tunnel?

Yes, there is, because every couple of weeks I get to do a spurt of writing, good or bad.  This job can't last forever, or suck forever, and that will help too.  Maybe I'll get laid off and be on unemployment for 6 months, giving me lots of time to write.  Or maybe, just maybe, HEROIC will finally take off and Hollywood will come knocking for the movie rights because Charlize Theron read it and wants to play Lady America!

Hey, I can dream can't I?

So with my mind cleared now and spoken to you all I can hopefully reduce a bit of this stress.  Who knows, maybe this was one of those "things you do" that helps.

I can't say.

Only time will tell.

A nickel saved is a nickel earned.

A bird in hand... you get the idea.

I will keep writing though.  That goes without saying.

I will keep plugging away because at least one of these crazy ideas that I have will take root and turn into something lucrative enough to get me out of the rat race.

Or maybe it won't.  Who knows.

I think those LARPers I mentioned earlier should work in a call centre.  Yeah, so let's add a little Office Space to those inspirations.


P.S.  I am not kidding, if there is an artist out there looking to work with a great writer and make a webcomic, get in touch with me.  I pay nothing, but will share all the glory with you... stop laughing... okay yeah... go ahead... laughing is still free after all.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Mighty Super Heroes A.K.A. FASERIP or MSH

Well mid-summer is upon us and as happens every year to my gaming group we lose players every session due to live, trips, work and vacations.

As such I find it is best to run a campaign where folks can drop in and out between sessions and not disrupt the storyline/plot.

Superheroic roleplaying to the rescue!

When it comes to superheroes there is only one game that all my players can agree on and that is Marvel Super Heroes Roleplaying Game from TSR, a.k.a. FASERIP, though we just called it MSH.

This is in no way a slight against any other game, especially SUPERS! of which I am a part owner, it is just that I game with people mostly my age and they know MSH well and more importantly they don't want to learn a new system most of the time.

So with that in mind I have begun work on a new campaign for them, which has kept me creative and excited!  More on that campaign in a future post (and I will try to cross-stat it for SUPERS! as well).

Go here for full size!
The first thing I had to do was gather my House Rules, that is the easiest as some I have used for the past almost 30 years of playing MSH and some I grab off the internet.

Then I make a colour chart to include said house rules, it looks something like this.  I am rather proud of that myself.

Go here for full size!
Next I make the astounding (amazing? remarkable?) Unipage!  This is a one
page sheet that provides some important stuff for players to have for the games.

Lastly I have my Whimsy Cards, of which I am very proud!

With that I await the first session and updating you with not only excitement and drama, but some stats as well!


Saturday, August 2, 2014

And We're Back!

What a year it has been!

Oh my goodness I can't even begin to describe the rollercoaster ride this has been for me, so I won't, except of course to say that the stories will creep in.

I am not writing nearly enough of late, so I am going to try and do more of that moving forward.

Renamed the blog, which is the same name of my podcast and is also the name of the actual comic themed cafe I hope to own one day.

Okay, onwards and upwards, more to come.