Thursday, February 10, 2011

Horror is a matter of tone

Quick question.  Which movie is scarier, The Shining or Mary Poppins?
Have an answer?
Are you sure?

Watch these movie trailers then and come back.  You may already seen these.

Mary Poppins

Horror games are like that.

There is a theory out there on the net (I think I first read it at Krell Laboratories)  that if you take the final girl of horror films and turn her into an ass kicking male then you have an action film. The converse is also true.  Take an ass kicking hero and depower him, or put him is a situation he can't control then you have the start of horror.

The recent trend in books has been the Modern/Urban Fantasy.  You take the tropes of horror and make them into a fantasy story.  Vampires are not hideous monsters, they are different now. Same with witches, werewolves and all sorts of beings that just a few of decades ago were creatures of horror.  We can't blame the Twilight crowd for this, this dates back to even long before Anne Rice and Lestat.  Dracula, was still a monster, but a sexualized one.  Movie Dracula even more so.

What does this mean for games?

Nearly any game can be horror.

D&D has always had a strong undercurrent of horror. Fantasy and Horror have always shared a link.    So often times you can turn a fantasy game into a horror game with something as subtle as the presentation.

The Ravenloft setting had a great example of this.  In D&D you if you go up against a kobold it is described as a sort of reptilian humanoid.  In a horror game it is some foul combination of human, reptile and dog the size of a child, but with murder in it's eyes and blood on it's lips.

I think it is this tone that attracts me most to horror.  I like the tropes, but take the same tropes and given the hero a lot of guns and well there is the action flick again.  "Underworld" is action adventure, "Silence of the Lambs" is horror.

I try to do this in my games as much as possible, but I try not to over do it.  Even the scariest horrors become yawn worthy after to many repeated occurrences.

Some of my favorite books that helped me the most as a GM and author are Nightmares of Mine, Chill, Vampire the Masquerade (oWoD, for personal horror), and Call of Cthulhu.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

D6 or not?

D6 from West End Games has always been one of those systems I have known about, toyed around with but never actually played.

DriveThruRPG has the most recent collection of D6 games for free.
I had Hercules & Xena for a while and still have a copy of DC Universe.

I get the basic system (and even better now after talking to Jason Vey).

Is there anything I am missing by not playing/knowing D6?
Is it a system I should investigate further?

I am not a huge fan of dice pool games and I have enough games to keep me busy for the next 10 years to be honest.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

February DriveThru Specials

It's time for some new DrivethruRPG codes!  Just my way of saying thanks for being loyal readers and visitors here.

This code is good until March 8th.
The basic discount code is:


It's good for 20% off the following products:

Weird War II Player's Guide [Pinnacle Entertainment]
Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade [Third Eye Games]
The Echoes of Heaven Bestiary/The Tainted Tears (OGL Version) [Final Redoubt Press]
USHER Dossiers (ICONS) [Vigilance Press]
The Floating Vagabond BarFly Bundle [Reality Cheque]

I also have one code for someone to receive all the above products for FREE.

But I don't have a good contest/give away idea in mind.  In fact this post has been sitting my computer all day.

So here is the deal.  In the comments section below please post an idea on how I should give away this code. It can be a trivia contest, or a link sharing idea, something.  Whomever has the best idea wins the free code for all the PDFs above AND that idea will be used next month for the March free code.

So let me know!  I'll let it run for the next couple of days or until I get a winning entry!

Orcs of Mystoerth

I have been wanting to write more on the creatures that inhabit my game-world of Mystoerth.  I thought maybe I'd go with the classic nemesis, the Orc.

I have talked about the Desert Orcs of the Zakhara Desert and their allies the Desert Elves.  I also plan to use Harvard's more bestial Orcs of Blackmoor for my Blackmoor area (north pole).

Sure my Orcs have a lot in common with Tolkien's Orcs, but I also borrow a lot from Shadowrun, Orkworld and other games.  I also like to think of orcs as some sort of human predecessor/off-shot. Almost like the gods were trying to make humans (or maybe the elves were) and the orcs were their disastrous first draft.  That would put more emphasis on the human-orc wars than the orc-elven ones. Unless there are some good reasons for the elves to be involved.

My write-up on Goblins can be read here, in case you were curious.

History of the Orcs

Orcs began as one of the first experiments of creating life by the elves.  It is said that the greatest sin is that of hubris. In this hubris, feeling they were equal to the gods that had made them, the first elves, nearly immortal beings of great power, created the first orc through their magic.  They wished to instill the sturdiness of the dwarves (a race created at the same time as the elves), the tenacity of the goblins and the adaptability of this new race known as human.  Though to their horror what they created were the Orcs; a word that means "horror" in the elf tongue.  The elves did not know what to do with there creations, so they hid them away in dark mountains, and underground and anywhere where the clime was harsh hoping that nature could do what they could not, kill their creations.  But nature didn't instead she took iron of the Orcs and tempered it into steel.  The orcs flourished and when the other races discovered what had been done it was too late to stop the orcs.

The hatred of the orcs and elves comes from this point.  Orcs see elves and are reminded of what they are not, elves see orcs and are reminded of the failures of their own race.  Even if the true knowledge of the elves and orcs has been lost to all but the most learned scholars, the racial memory runs deep.

If orcs just fundamentally hate elves, their hatred of dwarves is more pragmatic.  Dwarves and orcs are often found in the same locales fighting over the same resources.  So far the only race orcs have seen as worth enough to be considered equal foes are humans.


All orcs have a number of qualities in common.  They are typically much stronger than humans and elves, have bestial or "primitive" features.  Orcs will cross-bred with anything, but favor goblins, hobgoblins, humans, and ogres.  Orcs have interbred with trolls and some hill giants in the past which has re introduced some randomness into their genetic makeup.  Though it should be stated that orcs do not prefer this.  Orcs are extremely proud of their heritage and consider themselves to be the best of all species as they are the only species to live in every part of the world.  Though they are dimly aware that their success is due in part of their adaptability and ability to interbred with others.

Orcs give birth to 1-2 young at a time.  The gestation period for an Orc is 4 months.  A feamle orc can produce as many as 4 to 6 young per year, but only half will survive their first year. Orcs grow fast, with babies able to walk within months and eat meats by 1 year old.  Orcs also reach sexual maturity at age 10 and are considered adults soon after.  Female orcs choose mates based on their physical size and their ability to gain meat for the family unit.  Males must show prowess in battle and kill any rivals for the female's attention.   All orcs have a sense of honor, but it only applies to other orcs.  Though they have been known to extend the same code to humans; a race they see as a worthy adversary.

Some orcs do enjoy the taste of human flesh, but they typically only eat human (or demi-human) flesh as a means to strike fear into foes or as part of a shamanistic ritual.  Orcs are omnivores, though most prefer only meat.  Elk, caribou and reindeer are the chief staples of their diet (depending on territory).   No matter what though orcs will not eat the flesh of another orc.  That is one taboo they will not break.

Grey Orcs - these are the common orcs of the "Oerth" part of my world.  These are the brutish, violent orcs of most D&D worlds. They are found through out the Flanaess. These orcs extend far to the north where they are the original stock of the Blackmoor Orcs.  Some scholars believe that these are orcs are the offspring of the Uruks and generations of interbreeding with goblinoids.  These orcs are fond of raiding human villages for food and supplies.  Some of these orcs have skin tone that is almost pinkish in hue, but they are still called Grey orcs.  The largest concentration of Grey orcs are located in the Pomarj region. Here the Empire of Turrosh Mak still reigns as it has since CY 584 (the current CY in my game is CY915).  The line of Turrosh Mak greatly favors the Uruk ancestry found in the Grey Orc line. The current orc emperor is Turrosh Bane XIV who came to power after murdering his father and brothers.  Bane is devious, intelligent and violent in the extreme.

Green Orcs - The common orc of the "Msytara" side of my world. Like the greys these orcs are violent and brutish.  These orcs though also have an bit higher intelligence than their grey cousins and are bit better organized, they constantly fall prey to clan fighting among lesser Green Orc chieftains. Unlike the Greys and the Uruk there is no one leader to try to unite these orcs.   These orcs are common to much of the Empire of Thyatis and can also be found in the deep southern jungles of of Pelatan.  The largest collection of Green orcs can be found in the Broken Lands outside Glantri.

White Orcs - These are green orcs that have adapted to the frozen wastes north of Hyborea and Norwold.
In the Northwest corner of Brun there is Hyborea and here the White Orcs have interbred with the Animalistic Orcs of Blackmoor to produce a breed of orc that is both strong, violent and smart. These orcs though seldom organize enough to become more of a threat outside of a raiding party.  Due to the inherent adaptability of the orcs, these orcs have skin that is bone white.  Better to hide in the frozen wastes they call home.

Blackmoor Orcs - These orcs are much more bestial in appearance and manner.  Their sizes vary considerably and many have pronounced horns, claws, fur and other "animalistic" features. It is believed these orcs have been the results of the the strange experiments that were common to Blackmoor before the great explosion.  These orcs have also interbred so much with goblins and bugbears that within Blackmoor it is nearly impossible to tell the two races apart.

Uruks - Also known as High Orcs or even Black Orcs, these orcs consider themselves to be the pinnacle of the orc race.  Their skin is dark and they stand nearly a head taller than men.  They are thickly muscled, often with pronounced tusks in their lower jaw and they are fiercely intelligent.  While, maybe not more so than humans, but they have a cunning that makes them a horror in battle.  Their mortality rate is very high so that they never produce great numbers.  Their society is ordered, militaristic and violent.  They have a single leader, currently a charismatic chieftain, that can control thousands of these orcs.  If the Uruks ever decide to go to war with humanity then it will be a war that engulfs the world.

Desert Orcs - an off-shoot of the Greens.  They live in a land where they are at peace with the elves.  In fact Desert orcs and desert elves consider each other to be brothers.  This relationship was forged thousands of years ago when the rose up together to fight of the evil of the Necromancer Kings.  Living under the harsh desert sun has turned the orcs complexion to more of a brown color.
More detail has been posted here, Desert Elves and Orcs.

Half-Orcs - Most times when an orc inter-breeds with another species the result is an orc. The orc may have certain qualities that are similar to their non-orc parent (Goblin-Orcs are smaller, Ogre-Orcs are larger).  Though there are often times individuals that seem to posses the better qualities of both parents.  These half-orcs can often find a place for themselves in the human lands or the orcs.  Half-orcs are more common among the Green and Grey orcs, though all orc sub-species have produced a half-orc one time or another.

Monday, February 7, 2011

D&D Fortune Cards for non-4e D&D

So I picked up a couple of packs of D&D fortune cards the other day.

So far I fail to see what the big deal is.  It adds another random element to play that can be fun.  They are really not all that different than say playing with Drama points, except that you don't get choose the effect they have when you use them.

Basically you start with a deck say of 30, 40 or 50 and then you shuffle them and draw a card each round.  You can hold or play your card.  Some have conditions that need to be met (you or an ally make a skill check) or when something happens to you (you are moved or teleported) or in combat.
Some negate some bad effect, other add a +2 to a roll or even say you can have 1/2 damage or extra damage depending on another roll.

So far I have seen a single card that I would say is a balance or game breaker.  There are some that might give a character an undo advantage, but I also see it as a way to help make combats interesting and constantly changing.

I also didn't see a thing in them that screamed "this is for 4e only".  In fact outside of some minor terminology I could see these working in any version of D&D you care to play.  Sure some would need to be tweaked, shifting has a particular meaning in 4e and saving throws mean something different.  But others would be perfectly fine to use in your favorite retro clone.

There have been some images of cards posted by Wizards, so lets look at them.
Here are two.

Get a Grip - Every version of D&D has a Saving Throw.  They might mean something different, but they have them and making them is good, not making them is bad.  If an ally fails their save, then play this card and they get a second chance.  Yeah-yeah you "save or you die" types are squealing, but frankly these cards were never for you to start with.

Grim Determination needs more definition, but not so much if you just say "bloodied mean half your hit points are gone".

While I may never use these cards in my 4e game, I am going to make a point of trying them out in at least one old-school game sometime soon just to see if they work out.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I'm having fun, how about you?

A bunch of posts this past week and weekend about the supposed creative dearth in modern RPGs.

If you have not seen them, here are some round ups.

And a few analyses.

I am sure there is more.

Now Long and Sheppard have earned their stripes with Hero Games and White Wolf respectively and RPGPundit has...what exactly has he done anyway?  Anyway, they are not some RPG noobs or someone on "teh internets" with a half-baked opinion.  But I think they are missing a very important point.

RPGs are supposed to be fun first.

Sure creative, well manufactured RPGs that take advantage of the medium they are in is a great thing.  But sometimes what is great for me is not great for you or some other group.  There are a lot of designers out there doing really cool things, but some of those "really cool things" would bug the shit out of me as a player.

D&D still works for me now for the same reason it worked for me in 1981; it is fun.

I think that is what games should be about.

Wikipedia, Wikia and D&D

Once upon a time I a was a huge contributor to Wikipedia.  I'd edit articles, save them from deletion and generally improve them.  I spent a lot of time researching material and I even helped get a few articles to Good and Featured status.

The trouble is it is an uphill battle against the deletionists; people that want to remove anything from Wikipedia that didn't fit with their often narrow view of what should be in an encyclopedia.  I have locked horns with people on personal crusades (often self admitted) to remove content of a certain type.  There are the anti-porn crusaders that want to delete all articles regarding porn actresses and I have lost a few battles with them.  There was also the guy that took it upon himself to delete all articles on D&D because, well, we were never really clear on that, but he had a single mindedness of it that spoke of some personal hatred (as someone that has a  psych degree and spent a few years working as professional psychologist I am comfortable to make that claim).  He was ultimately banned from Wikipedia because he was a dick.

But now the deletionists are at it again.  I lost an article I spent a lot of time on last month and now another one is up.  Frankly I don't have the desire to fight them anymore.

The article in question is the one on Glasya,

So instead I am looking for other places for D&D related articles.  Wikipedia was a great resource for pop culture but it's effectiveness is soon going to ground to a halt by factions within the site itself.

There are a few other D&D-related Wikis out there.  Here are the ones I know off and have contributed to in the past.
I am sure there are more.  It would be nice to have a couple places to go for research.

In the mean-time as D&D articles get deleted I'll try to find new homes for them elsewhere.