Monday, 28 February 2011

Savage Eberron: Dragonmarks (Part 1)

Ever since I got it in my head to run the Eberron setting using Savage Worlds I knew I had to one day try to fit dragonmarks into the game. It was fortunate that none of the players requested a dragonmarked character, which has allowed me some extra time to come up with the following rules. These are the general guidelines for using dragonmarks in Savage Eberron; specific rules for the individual marks will appear later.

Dragonmarks are purchased as Edges, per the usual Savage Worlds rules, and there are four varieties: Least, Lesser, Greater and Aberrant. A character selecting an aberrant mark cannot ever choose another type of mark, nor can a bearer of a standard mark ever pick the aberrant mark.
Similarly, those with a standard mark chooses from one of the twelve dragonmark families and can never change or choose a second mark at a later date. While dragonmarks work like Arcane Backgrounds in some ways, there is no such thing as the Arcane Background: Dragonmark Edge, and the bearer of a mark may also choose an Arcane Background as normal.

Each of the standard marks provides a bonus to a Trait roll, as well as a magical ability which can usually be used at least once a day; aberrant marks lack the Trait bonus, but do bestow a magical ability. In both cases, this ability costs no power points, uses no components and operates as if the minimum number of power points had been spent; for example, the Mark of Handling bestows the Beast Friend ability as if 3 power points had been expended. Dragonmark abilities use their own skill and have no linked attribute, just like superpowers; this skill starts at 1d4 and can only be increased by upgrading the dragonmark itself.

Bearers of the standard dragonmarks are almost always members of one of the great dragonmarked houses, but receive no special treatment unless they also have Edges like Noble or Connections. On the other hand, it is possible to have Connections within a dragonmarked house without yourself manifesting a mark.

Requirements: Novice; Human, dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, halfling, half-orc.
Choose one of the twelve available dragonmarks; you gain the bonus associated with the mark, and may also use the mark's spell-like ability once per day.

Requirements: Least Dragonmark; Seasoned.
Your mark is more powerful than normal. You may choose one of the following effects:
  • You may use your dragonmark ability once more per day.
  • You may increase your dragonmark skill by one die type, up to d12.
  • Your ability is enhanced; increase the duration or effect as if one extra power point were spent.

Requirements: Lesser Dragonmark; Veteran.
Your mark is among the most powerful known. The effects of this Edge are identical to, and stack with, those of the Lesser Dragonmark Edge, above.

Requirements: Novice; Human, dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, halfling, half-orc.
Your mark is strange and unusual and resembles none of the standard twelve dragonmarks. Your mark mimics one of the following powers (roll 1d6):
  1. Armour (Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition)
  2. Detect/Conceal Secret Doors (SWEX; as Detect/Conceal Arcana, bar the obvious difference)
  3. Elemental Manipulation (SWEX)
  4. Fear (SWEX)
  5. Light (SWEX)
  6. Wall Walker (Fantasy Companion Explorer's Edition)

It's not all good though; here's a Hindrance to go with the Edges:

For some reason, your connections with your dragonmarked house have been severed. You may have been thrown out for some indiscretion, or perhaps they are simply not aware of your existence. You cannot call in any favours from the family, but other houses will still see you at best as a rival and at worst as a spy, so you cannot go to them either. When interacting with the dragonmarked houses, you operate as if you have the Outsider Hindrance.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Brain Eater

My primary artistic influence has always been comics. I devoured them as a child, reading them cover to cover then grabbing a pencil or pen and drawing my own stories on any bit of paper I could find. It's fair to say, however, that I was also influenced and inspired, in no small part, by the imagery of fantasy gaming. Now, since I was a bit of a solitary sort, this meant that I spent a lot of time reading issues of White Dwarf with no real understanding of what the articles were about, as I wasn't playing the games. For kids like me, there was also Fighting Fantasy, which allowed us to pretend we were playing Dungeons & Dragons, even if we had no mates. The books also had some great art -- and let's be honest, the art was often much better than the story/game in the text -- and because the British game industry was a bit isolated and incestuous back then, you'd see the same artists popping up in different publications from different companies. As a result, British gaming products of the time developed a unique look, quite distinct from the visual style of the American gaming culture.

So while the Americans would be getting this:

We'd be getting this:

No contest.

One of my favourite artists from that time was Russ Nicholson, whose work combined an eye for fine detail with a talent for making the fantasy seem eldritch and strange. His style wasn't all that similar to that of John Blanche or Ian Miller, but they all shared a proper evocation of the weird that you just didn't see in American fantasy art.

I was pleased to discover that Nicholson was not only still working, but had started a blog, and when he ran a competition to win a piece of original art, I jumped at the chance.

I won:

I've never been one for chasing original art, and I'm not sure why, as it's great to have a piece by one of my favourite artists. Thanks Russ!

Friday, 11 February 2011

The Ministry of Blades : The Madness of Angels, episode 4

April spies a spirit; Dr Pleasant meets an eccentric.


27th January 2011.

Dramatis Personae

Lady Antonia deVore - a Heavily-armed Aristocrat.
Captain Benson Curruthers - a Military Policeman.
Doctor Zephaniah Pleasant - a Sinister Surgeon.
Miss April Sharpe - a Self-taught Inventor.
Jack Prentiss - a Dodgy Pedestrian.
Mr Erasmus Rooke - the Boss.
Sir Colin Mortimer - an Eccentric Architect.
Henderson - a Dedicated Cryptologist.
Lord Abergavenny - an Irritable Noble.
William Body - a Timid Workman.
Charlie Body - another Timid Workman.
The Chief Verger of St Paul's Cathedral.
The Distraught Vicar of St Ninian's Church.
Several Members of Staff at the Capitoline Club.
Lewis - an Unsuccessful Burglar.
The Corpse of Martin Geffey.
A Young Constable.
Two Athletic Bobbies.


Following the examination of Martin Geffey’s body, the heroes reassembled at the Ministry. It was late, but before turning in for the night, Curruthers wrote out his report of the day’s events, while Lady Antonia and Dr Pleasant both made attempts to decipher some of the Dean’s books.

The following morning, Curruthers led the charge to the breakfast table where news was spreading of the sudden collapses of St Ninian’s and St Colstan’s churches in North and South East London, respectively. Rumours were also circulating of paranormal events at the Cathedral. Accordingly, they decided to pay a visit to St Paul’s, pausing to deliver Greenfield’s enciphered diary to Mr Henderson, a somewhat unusual, but very talented, individual.

Arriving, they found the building empty, with staff, worshippers and onlookers surrounding it in a big circle. They were hailed by the Chief Verger, who explained about strange figures in the aisles, mysterious shrieks and whispering in the galleries and odd lights under the dome. They decided to enter and, despite their efforts to avoid notice, were cheered on by the crowds.

As they entered, they became aware that the building was much darker than it should have been. It was also cold and, as they left the porch, the main door shut with a loud bang. Prentiss and Miss Sharpe were somewhat shaken by this, but decided to press on. They were greeted by odd noises, but were unable to trace the source and, advancing to the space under the dome, they caught a glimpse of a faint figure just beyond the range of their torchlight. Miss Sharpe turned on her Detecteronatron and saw a demonic face screaming in the smoke, bearing a similarity to the face she had seen the morning before in the roof. They became aware of a shaking in the floor and dust began to fall from the arches. A brief attempt to investigate the upper levels was thwarted by the sudden appearance of a huge crack across the floor and they decided discretion was the greater part of valour, resisting the urge to flee outright as a sudden cackling emanated from the air around them.

As they emerged from the South Door, they were hailed by the Chief Verger, who immediately introduced them to the Bodys. The workmen had finally emerged from hiding and were desperate to relate their tale of uncovering a stone block bearing a carving of a Green Man. Not long afterwards, a number of odd events had occurred, culminating in the appearance of a ghostly figure in the cavity within the wall. They had fled, although Geffey had attempted to face down the entity before chasing after them. They had seen him collapse in the alley behind them and had assumed he’d been attacked and killed, hence their hiding.

Returning to the Ministry, Curruthers sought out Mr Rooke, asking him about the Capitoline Club. Rooke expanded a little on the establishment, explaining its status as a gentleman’s club, and told him that his Ministry status wouldn’t get him in. Curruthers and Prentiss decided to try anyway and, after briefly calling in on Henderson and getting the impression he did not want to be disturbed, they headed for Kensington. They were invited into the lobby and were shown to a side room, where they were met by the President of the Club, a curmudgeonly noble known as Lord Abergavenny. He flatly refused to help them, so they left, circling around to the rear of the building, where they debated forcing an entry.

The other three heroes opted for library research. After a brief and unsuccessful investigation of possible rituals that might prevent the collapse of St Paul’s, Pleasant joined Miss Sharpe in examining the history of Green Man carvings. They discovered that they were common in medieval churches and were apparently placed by professional masons. Theories connected them to a pagan underground and they may have had some ritual purpose: either protecting the building from vengeful local spirits or possibly binding the church with the power of those same spirits. Interestingly, they discovered that Christopher Wren flatly refused to include such carvings in any of his buildings, regarding them as pagan abominations (a not uncommon opinion in the aftermath of the Commonwealth). Lady Antonia investigated Wren’s career and the building of the cathedral, unearthing his connections to Isaac Newton and to a more mystical intellectual tradition.

Miss Sharpe and Pleasant then visited the site of the collapse of St Ninian’s, one of Wren’s other London churches. Talking to the vicar, they found out that the building had no history of instability, but were then approached by a somewhat crazed individual who informed them that Wren had been up to no good, using “occult practices” to shore up impractical designs. Despite his introducing himself as Sir Colin Mortimer of the Imperial Institute of Architects, Pleasant dismissed him as “odd”.


This game was a lot of fun from my point of view, despite the lack of actual action. For some reason, I was finally able to over-emphasise the peculiarities of some of the NPC’s (Mortimer and Henderson especially), which seemed to go down well. I intend to try this more often, it’s frequently offered as a way to make sessions more memorable.

On the downside I didn’t get as far through the investigation as I would have liked. This led to some compromises in the effort to finish the story the next week.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Sun, Sea and Cyberware

Well, I wasn't intending for this to be Shadowrun Week at the blog, but what the heck.

When Tim went off to university and took his Shadowrun campaign off with him, I attempted to fill the gap. We played a few generic, disjointed sessions, but in the end we moved on to different games, and my custom setting never saw the light of day. The notes are long lost now, but I can put together the basic elements from memory.

Since I was barely out of my teens, all vim and swaggering arrogance, I decided I wanted to subvert the usual gloomy trappings of the cyberpunk genre, and as such swapped the dirty alleyways and torrential rain of the urban sprawl for the sub-tropical splendour of Bermuda.

Perhaps taking the infamous Triangle as inspiration -- which strikes me today as being quite clever, although I'm not sure I intended the metaphor back then -- I set up a three-way power struggle. Before the Awakening, the Bermuda Triangle was known as one of the world's hotspots of the weird, but with the return of magic to the world in 2011 (!), the weird became manifest. Storms of unnatural strength and size battered the islands and cut them off from the outside world, while strange things fell from the clouds and crawled from the sea.

Prior to 2011 (!) Bermuda was an important offshore financial centre for many corporations, a result of its favourable taxation system. As such they were quite keen to get back in touch with their offices there, and when the eldritch storms finally subsided, the mega-corporations raced each other -- and the British government, as Bermuda was still a British territory -- to the islands, only to find them wild and lawless, and ruled -- if that is the right word -- by a cadre of newly-empowered and quite militant shark shamans.

Today, Bermuda is officially under British rule once more, although stable government is confined to a few key locations, most notably the northern islands of St George's and St David's, with much of the rest of the land a wild zone full of wandering Awakened creatures and independent settlements. The capital -- and all that valuable financial data -- is in the hands of the shark shamans, and negotiations continue between the shamans -- who demand an independent magical state like those seen elsewhere in the Awakened world -- and the British, with the mega-corporations waiting on the sidelines, their impatience growing by the day.

There you have it, as best as I remember, anyway. There's potential for the traditional Shadowrun political and corporate intrigue, with a number of factions jockeying for position, but with all sorts of weird stuff slithering in from the Bermuda Triangle, there's also a chance for a good old-fashioned monster hunt. There's even room for some D&D-eque ruin exploration, as those abandoned corporate facilities are bound to be full of the kind of stuff that would command a high price on the shadow markets.

And of course, there's always room for speedboat chases.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Maybe That Dragonlance Movie Wasn't So Bad After All

After watching this, why wouldn't you want to play Shadowrun?

If only so that you could do it better.

Thanks to sirlarkins for the link!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Running From the Past

I blame the internet.

Stuart started it in his review of Interface Zero; a casual mention of Shadowrun got me thinking about the game again, but it wasn't until JB started a series of posts on the game that I caught the bug and dug out my copy of the second edition.

Shadowrun was my first proper role-playing game. I'd played a bit of the multiplayer Fighting Fantasy, and I was aware of the hobby, but I was more interested in Games Workshop wargames at the time. My main gaming buddy at the time introduced me to Tim, who showed us this box of miniatures he had; they were fantasy types, orcs, dwarves and the like, but they had sunglasses and machine guns. Tim told us that they were from a game called Shadowrun, and invited us to play. From that point, we played Shadowrun for about three years, although oddly enough, I don't think we ever used the miniatures.

Through Shadowrun and Tim, I discovered more games, including my first -- and until a couple of years ago, only -- encounter with D&D, and a disastrous dalliance with Traveller: The New Era. Somewhere in there, I fell in love with Call of Cthulhu, but Shadowrun was always a constant, and it was only really Tim's departure for university that ended our time with the game. I played a bit of the third edition when it came to be my turn to enter higher education, but it didn't click with me and I left it behind. Up until a couple of days ago, that was the last time I looked at a Shadowrun book.

Looking at it now, I'm surprised at how much of the system we didn't use. It's what would be called "crunchy" nowadays, in that it does not attempt to have a rule for everything, but goes into great -- and likely unnecessary -- detail on the situations it does cover. Given my tastes of late I'm almost certain that if I ran it today, I would not make use of this detail, but that's not to say that I wouldn't run it at all, as there's still a lot to like.

The central mechanic is elegant and quick, one result of which is an unobtrusive close combat system which does its job without fuss. The drain mechanic -- the downside to spellcasting, in which casters risk taking damage from their own powers -- is a great idea, and is perhaps my favourite part of the entire system. The second edition also contains almost -- there's no adventure included, which is a shame -- everything you need to play, and all in a book about the same size as a D&D player's handbook; now Shadowrun was also the first time I encountered power creep, and Tim had a stack of supplements about a metre high, each of which gave one type of character an edge over the others, but none of them were necessary, and the game runs just as well from the core rules alone.

Except for decking. The computer hacking system in the second edition rules is a mess and while it was improved by subsequent sourcebooks, it never quite worked, and I can see why so many GMs just dumped the entire aspect of the game. It's a shame, as it's one of the key topoi of the cyberpunk genre, but the game is perhaps better off without it.

One other criticism of the game, in particular the older editions, is that it's dated, and it is true that there's a definite 1980's feel to the setting, but to me that is part of the charm.

It's more a product of its time than an accurate prediction of the future, but that doesn't make it of any less value as a setting, just as the outdated notions of the 1930's and 50's don't make a rockets-and-rayguns setting any less fun today. Any game which lets you play a grenade-launcher-wielding elven rock star or a motorcycle-riding ork wizard is just fine by me.