Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Top 5 Cartoon Vixens and Villainesses

You know them and love them, or at least love to see them defeat some meddling do-gooders. Eye-candy? No sir! Let that tongue loll out and they'll take it, staple it to the wall and play darts with what remains as a target. These are those downright evil, or at least maniacal women of animation fame, the ones that you cheer on, despite knowing that after 25 minutes of success, the heroes of the show will pull something off through sheer luck and turn it all around, much to your dismay. Anyways, here are my 5 top favorite vixens and villainesses of cartoons(anime deserves its own category, and is a bit too vast to address here).


5. Harley Quinn


"Face it, Harl, this stinks - yer a certified nutso wanted by the law in over a dozen states - and hopelessly in love with a murderous,psychopathic clown"

Originally appearing in Batman: The Animated Series before crossing over into the comic books, Dr. Harleen Quinzel was a psychiatrist at Arkham before falling in love with the one and only Joker. Deeply devoted despite disastrous and sometimes deadly abuses to her "puddin'" and wielding her psychoses like a weapon, she's that dangerous dame that you can't resist, the moll to the diabolical and dastardly Clown Prince of Crime.....okay, okay, enough alliteration. In addition to her abusive codependent relationship with the Joker, she's got a near legendary relationship with Ivy, or "Red" which not only titillates, but brings out the soft spot in viewers and readers. Harley is the puppy dog that won't go away after being kicked, and whether her true love is the Joker or Red, you hate to see her trounced by the Bats, week after week. Either way, we give Harley some mad love!

4. Azula


"Maybe you should worry less about the tides, who've already made up their mind about killing you, and worry more about me, who's still mulling it over... "

The newcomer on the scene. What can you say, but EVIL. EVIL! Delighting in fear, retribution, and long walks on the beach while her enemies burn, she's one of the prime antagonists in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sister to Zuko, she's demonstrated time and again that she's one of the best firebenders(save perhaps her father), and actually has beaten the protagonists most of the time that they meet head to head. She's the girl that pushed you around on the playground and laughed about it, the one who ripped heads off of dolls, and then set them on fire. Cruel, sadistic, and downright mean, but with a surprising insecurity as revealed in a recent episode. She realizes her own social ineptitude, and in the end, scathing and malevolent are all she knows. It makes you want to hug her....if you enjoy hugging electric eels that is. But in the end, Azula is evil incarnate, and doesn't give a damn if you don't like it, her ambition is set to burn anything in her path, and we're okay with that.

3. Shego


"I am EVIL! Have I made myself clear?"

She's green, she's evil, she's snarky, she's Shego. But for all that, she's still rational, something we haven't seen yet. Evil is a job for her, but when your hands sprout green plasma fires, it's also a calling. Shego started out as a hero, but by the time we see her on Kim Possible, she'd already taken up as henchman(or henchwoman) for Dr. Drakken. Along with kickass moves and snarky comments, this dark counterpart to Kim Possible's action girl is definitely genre savvy. And is probably the most well adjusted of all of these, she just enjoys villainy. Despite the bad hours, inept boss, and crazy schemes, she knows her job and does it well, despite her bumbling boss. Shego is an equal at hand to hand combat with the heroine, and can hold her own against the best of them. In fact, in the alternate dystopian future episode, not only has evil won over good, but she's the one that pulled it off and rules as Empress.

2. Baroness


"All's fair in love and war!"

Slinky black leather catsuit, glasses, evil, she's every nerd's wet dream. Well, perhaps not the evil part(or perhaps so, you never know), but anyways, anyone who's ever seen a GI Joe comic or cartoon will be able to recall the Baroness. COBRA Commander and Destro may have been in command, but you knew it was the Baroness who was getting things done. EEEVVVILLL things, like impersonating Joes, or torturing Joes, or shooting Joes, or...well, you get the picture. Not only that, but despite being evil, her loyalty and devotion to Destro are legendary. Head of COBRA Intelligence and Second in Command, she knew how to kick arse and take names(usually ones associated with the character's specialty). While she was originally motivated by vengeance for her brother's death, we know the truth, she's evil and proud of it.









1. Carmen Sandiego


"It's not whether you win or lose the game, Player, but how much fun you can make it for me while we play."

Is it the red trench coat and fedora? Is it the legion of punning minions she employs? Is it her encyclopedic knowledge of history, geography, and art? Is it the air of mystery? Is it the fact that she's unattainable(literally)? She first appeared in the series of educational games bearing her name, and did more to teach me about history than years of grade school, if only because of my burning need to FIND HER! This master thief is desired, and knows it, she pounded into our little kiddie brains that smart is sexy, and you don't have to strip down to a skintight suit to be sought after...Just steal a national monument. And by the clues she leaves behind for you, it's clear that not only does she love the chase, but that she knows that she's the best. Though I have to say, it was the TV show version that brought out the wow factor. Self-confident, mysterious, and brilliant, what more could you ask for?(Aside from perhaps, not being a kleptomaniac, which is part of the charm) Not to mention of course, being one of the very few that can claim leading lady status. No position of sidekick, henchwoman, or ensemble villainess for this lady in red, she was the primary antagonist, and that gets her extra credit all around.


Either way, this bad girl of the screen tops our list of Cartoon vixens, showing you that evil pays!

Do you have a different opinion? A favorite evil dame from your childhood Saturday mornings? Well go ahead and post it up in the comment section, I'll be glad to hear from you.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Savage Archaeology

So, inspired by articles like this:
What Real-Life Dungeon Exploration Might Look Like, Graduate Students in Tow
And this
Back From Yet Another Globetrotting Adventure, Indiana Jones checks his mail and discovers that his bid for tenure has been denied

I wanted to do a lighthearted subversion of the typical dungeon crawl. I'm using the Savage Worlds system, which is by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. I've mentioned it before in my reviews of Solomon Kane and Rippers, but it really is a fast system that you won't feel that you're bogged down with, and if you don't have it, they've got a free Test Drive with most of the basic rules to play. The only exception for this little adventure is the Big Events, but there's a list of monsters so just use something similar if possible.

Anyways, opinions are needed, this was scrapped together in a few hours of manic inspiration, also if you want to try a playtest for this minigame, lol. But really this is more or less an amusing diversion as a solo dungeon crawl turned on its head.

Savage Archaeology

Congratulations Professor! You have just received funding to excavate an underground site suspected to be the ruins of an ancient civilization. To this end we have laid in an adequate supply of index cards and graduate students to carefully complete an initial survey and mapping of the site. The University is expecting great things, and respectfully reminds you that you have not published recently. In order to remain of the highest standards, regular publication in a peer reviewed journal is expected, and we hope that this trip will offer you the opportunity which you have been lobbying the finance department for, to gather field data .

Armed with notebooks, index cards, pencils, and a variety of small brushes you and your sad lot of graduate students arrive in a foreign land. Record and map the culturally significant features of the site, preferably without destroying the contextual evidence of the site matrix.

Each grad student must spend 2 turns studying the object of their specialty to record it, passing an appropriate Knowledge check. The Professor may do the same, but is not limited to any one type of item. (If the Knowledge check is failed then another with the appropriate skill can attempt to identify it)
Anyone who enters a previously unknown room must make a notice roll, those that fail are subject to any traps in the room(roll randomly to see who the trap targets), and on a natural 1 has a 50% chance of ruining the artifact(stepping on, breaking, using as a rest stop, or in the case of living creatures, insulting their ancestry through their actions). After the turn a room is entered it is assumed to be "discovered."
Traps may be disarmed, though in doing so they are no longer valuable to fulfill the Engineer's requirement. Or simply bypassed by an agility roll.
If an object is removed from the site matrix or damaged, it cannot count towards the items recorded. For biologicals, they must be studied while still alive.
If indigenous peoples are encountered(not from the big events table) then one can make a persuasion roll for them not to attack. A raise means that they offer to trade(likely a spear, bow and arrows, or sling for one of your grad student's shiny digital watch and a few candy bars).
After 10 rooms have been mapped then roll on the Big Events table as well.

Professor – Wild Card
Agility D4, Strength D4, Smarts D10, Spirit D10, Vigor D6
Skills: Guts D8, Investigation D8, Notice D8, Knowledge D8 in Engineering, Anthropology, Linguistics, and Zoology/Botany
Hindrances: Bad Eyes(minor), Curious(major)
Edges: Command, Inspire, Scholar(your choice)


Grad Student Types
Agility D6, Strength D6, Smarts D8, Spirit D6, Vigor D6
Skills: Fighting D4, Guts D8, Knowledge(Appropriate D8), Notice D6, Driving D4, Taunt D6
Engineer – Lockpicking D6, can be used to disarm traps
Anthropologist – Persuasion D6
Biologist – Survival D8, Tracking D6
Linguist – Can translate and identify writing,
Med Student – Healing D8, Healer


Roll 1d4 to choose hindrance/edge for any Slacker/Thug/Jock
Doubting Thomas, Greedy(may make an attempt at stealing artifacts if possible), Brawny, Clueless

Slacker – Notice D8, Persuasion D4, Guts D4, Lockpicking D4
Thug – Fighting D8, Shooting D6, Intimidation D6, Streetwise D6, Guts D6. Comes with knife
Jock – Throwing D8, Fighting D6, Climb D6, Intimidation D6, Guts D6. Comes with 6pack of empty bottles

(Beer Bottles – 3/6/12, Str+D4, -1 to attack, after a hit it shatters and becomes unusable)

Native Beaters/Guides(Does not wish to enter into the site at this time, but will provide protection for any researchers who escape from the site)
Agility D8, Smarts D6, Spirit D6, Strength D6, Vigor D6
Skills: Fighting D8, Guts D4, Notice D8, Shooting D8, Stealth D8, Survival D6, Tracking D6

Map Creation

Room Creation(Note, if you already have a dungeon generated, feel free to use that, and overlay it with the room features and events)
D10
1-3 Continues on after this room
4-5 – Turns Left
6-7 – Turns Right
8 – Tunnel Up
9- Tunnel Down
10 – Roll again twice

D20
Room Features (A=Anthropologist, E=Engineer, B=Biologist, L=Linguist)
1 An underground river flows through it
2 This room is mostly empty
3 Dust, and more dust
4 Lava pit

5 Old potsherds litter the floor(A)
6 A statue of an unknown god or goddess dominates the room(A)
7 Old burial jars and human remains litter the floor(A)
8 Simple tools and stone artifacts are evident(roll on weapons table). (A)

9 Ancient writing covers one of the walls(L)
10 Hieroglyphics depict the dangers of the next room (L)
11 Ancient clay tablets rest upon an alter, possibly describing 10 suggestions(L)

12 A rare species of insect thrives here(B)
13 A luminescent fungus is growing throughout the room(B)
14 This room is filled with bats(B)
15 Fossils of prehistoric beasts litter the floor(B)

16 An exquisitely arched ceiling with a hole in it (E)
17 A Natural underground cavern has been integrated into the structure(E)
18 Evidence of pipes and plumbing systems(E)

19 – Empty room
20 - Roll twice


Events D20
1 - A pit trap(one time use)
2 - A swinging blade trap(first person into the room is effected)
3 - A poisoned dart trap(line from one side of room to the other)
4 - A boulder trap(comes rolling down next hallway if applicable, or in line with previous hallway)(one time use)
5 - Encounter with a wild dog
6 - A big cat has made this site its home
7 - A hunting party of indigenous peoples
8 - A silver dagger rests upon a sacrificial alter
9 - Strange chanting can be heard
10 - Holy man or hermit lives here
11 - Unstable foundations give way(treat as pit trap)
12 – 19 No event
20 Roll twice

Big Events D12
1- Crocodiles, 1d3 of them
2- Pygmy Cannibals, 1d6 per turn
3- Morlocks, 1d4 per turn
4- Minotaur
5- Zombies! 1d4 per turn
6- MacGuffin! Grab it and Run
7- Rumble, Rumble, the site begins to collapse, 1 room per turn starting at outermost areas
8-12 Nothing so far


Scoring
First, make up a suitable name for your paper, some examples being, "Pre-Sauron Architecture in Subterranean Mordor." "Hyborian Hieroglyphics in Stygian Burial Mounds." "Early Paleolithic Trap Making of the Cannibalistic Shoggoth Worshippers" or something along that vein, make it snappy!

Each item recorded : 200
Recorded at least 2 of each: 200
Recorded less than 2 of each: -200
MacGuffin recovered : 400 (Though you get a stern talking to about inappropriate recovery methods by your head of department)
Each Grad Student Killed : -100
Each artifact/site/trap damaged or removed : -50
Each indigenous creature/plant harmed: -25
Each sentient native killed : -75
Each Turn taken : -10

Scores under 1000, unable to acquire funding(or willing grad students) for next year's trip. Tenure revoked!
Scores over 1000, translate into cash for the next trip. Survivors are assumed to return next year. For 200 you can get a student of your choice, for 100 you get to roll randomly among the slackers, thugs, and jocks. It can also go towards buying supplies. Two notes of supplies, 1. It's hard to justify guns as an expense(for some reason the dean doesn't think they're necessary), though you can get them on the black market for 2x listed price. And 2. If you have a video camera along, the student equipped only needs to take 1 turn to record their find.

Friday, April 11, 2008

BSG: Six of One

BSG: "Six of One"
Wow....just, wow. Also, danger, danger, spoilers ahead!







You still here?
Okay, great.

First off, Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, by the gods, that's just some amazing acting, they've really made those roles their own.
"You can stay in the room...Get out of my head."
They really are just at the end of their patience with each other, and I have to say that was one of the most powerful scenes I've seen in a long time. They have the chemistry down pat, tired, strung out, and cranky. Lol.

Apollo is going goodbye...at least from the pilots. And apparently the Strip Pyramids games? Now that's a sacrifice! The stripping pilot looks familiar by the way, but I didn't get a good look, does anyone know? Is that Seelix? Anyways, I feel sorry for Dee, she got the short stick all around.


Of course, then we have the Cylons.
"Centurians can't vote Six." "Oh, they're not here to vote Cavil."
So on one side we have the Sixes, the Sharons(sans Boomer), and the Leobens(interesting), along with any of the modded Centurians, versus the Cavil faction with however many Raiders they've managed to upgrade. I think this is an interesting carryover from the previous episode when the Six with the fleet mentions that the Significant Seven are programmed "Not to think about" the final five and now Cavil mentions that it's outright forbidden. Do the Raiders not have that stipulation in their programming? Are the Raiders actually the true inheritors of the PLAN? Either way, we have Cylon civil war on our hands...and isn't it just delicious!
"I'll pray for you. I'll pray HARD." What a way to deliver a threat.
And you know what else is delicious? More topless Sharons doing tai-chi.

And then we have Baltar....and HEAD BALTAR! So, what do you think? Spiritual Guide or Supreme Egoism? It seems that he is well aware of the danger of the cult, but seems reluctant to end something that he has more or less converted to. Of course, none of this stops him from being the supreme charismatic leader who gets to bed everyone.
Baltar: "Well, she's a sexy lady."
Head Baltar: "You slay me, you really do Gaius." "She's more than she's things, she's....fragile."
Baltar: "Fragile, oh yes I sense that too, you're very observant."
Head Baltar: "Handle with care."
Baltar: "Oh, I'd love to."
Even when he's talking with his head self he can't stop complimenting himself!

Also, poor Tory..."You're crying!" "It's just something I do during sex." Not to mention Baltar's harem staring daggers at her. Meeeooowww! Of course, one is tempted to blame Tigh for putting the suggestion forward, but so it goes.

Anyways, I figure I'll end this with what I heard from the hybrid's speech.
"The excited state decays by vibrational relaxation
Into the first excited symptom state
Yes, yes and merrily we go
Reduce atmospheric nitrogen by 0.03%
It is not much consolation that society will pick up the bits
Leaving us at 8 modern is punishment interdiction is paramount
Please, cut the fuse
They will not harm their own, end of line
Limiting diffusions to two dimensions increases the number of evolutionary jumps within the species
Rise and measure the temple of the five
Transformation is the goal
They will not harm their own....."
Anyone want to take a guess at what this means? Other than that four of the 12 are going to go extinct perhaps?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rippers

"Those who fight monsters should take care that they never become one.
For when you stand and look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you."
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Rippers is a Savage Setting of Victorian Horror for the Savage Worlds gaming system. Imagine every myth and folklore of mad science and playing god, every boogie man that kept you up at night, imagine, all the myths are true. Mix one part Van Helsing, one part Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and add a dash of your favorite mad science story, from Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Moreau, and you might end up with something like this. Where Abraham Van Helsing leads a clandestine organization devoted to, what else, fighting monsters, opposing him is the brilliant and sadistic Jack the Ripper. And you, my friend, have just entered into this covert horror war.

I purchased the PDF version, so I can't tell you how the print version is put together, but the PDF is quite nice. There was only 1 page that was rather hard to read, but out of 146 pages, that's not bad at all. And it's very well organized, with both a detailed table of contents and an index, having these always scores points with me because of the functionality I demand from my RPG books.

There are main three setting specific changes that Rippers makes from the standard Savage Worlds model, introducing Reason and Reputation, which are derived characteristics. Reason, in a world of monsters and monstrous deeds, might be a bit fleeting, akin to Sanity or other similar measures of a character's ability to deal with the supernatural. However it's not quite a one way slide into oblivion and madness, Rippers also provides the appropriate edges for recovering reason, whether through therapy or a bout in a mental institution(which will unfortunately leave you with a whole new set of mental scars, but at least you're not babbling incomprehensibly). Either way it's a very powerful thematic tool.

Reputation in a Victorian world is of course quite important. However this more so than reason seems to be a slide towards the bottom, with plenty of opportunities for losing it(e.g. staying at a lodge that doesn't have enough influence), and very few for gaining it. While I understand the reasoning behind this, I think that I would like modify it a bit before GMing for Rippers. While some may enjoy roleplaying this aspect more fully, when you're fighting monsters I don't think it needs to take a front seat. However if one were to just take this mechanic and rip it into simply a Victorian oriented campaign where roleplaying status was key, then that would make an suiting combination I believe.

In addition you have the standard equipment list, supplemented by your cinematic monster hunting gear. Including a Gatling pistol and various exploding/trick/silver/grappling ammunition for your trusty crossbow. Which I felt was an especially nice touch.

The other options included are Rippertech, essentially grafting monster parts onto your characters, and Lodges. Now I have to say that the possibilities granted by these two are really neat, and having a base of operations for the players is always a powerful adventure tool. Especially when combined with the very comprehensive random adventure creator included. And when I say comprehensive, I mean it, you can create a pretty convincing scenario with just a few rolls. However it is mostly oriented towards the Rippers setting specifically, so keep that in mind. Also I have some problems with the aspects related to the strategic missions for the upkeep of the lodge that one assumes that you're sending your NPC buddies out on. The more and better your people that you send out, the more cards you draw, and yet success is based simply on whether you've got more red or black cards, and if there are face cards it's a big time success or failure. Now the two jokers give a little bit of skewed odds towards more cards being a good thing, but I think I'd tweak it a bit to let you actually discard a card with more or more experienced people.

But the meat of the book is definitely the plot point campaign and savage tales. There are about 30 adventures set around the world with opportunities to meet everyone from Sherlock Holmes(deliciously subverted as he wastes away in the grips of cocaine addiction) to Dr. Frankenstein. Not to mention encounters with cryptids such as the Jersey Devil and of course your standard beasties from Werewolves to Vampires. I'm keeping it short as not to spoil too much, but there are quite a few plot twists and subversions that will keep you entertained.

While there is some overlap with the Savage World of Solomon Kane, there is very definitely a different atmosphere evoked. In Rippers, one is no wandering hero, but a part of an organized force battling a sometimes losing war against monsters. Rippers also leans more towards steampunk sensibilities than Solomon Kane, if that interests you, though I think that there is enough that sets them apart that warrants getting Rippers if your players are interested in the time periods, or even if they were at least excited about something like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Five Fists of Science(one could easily see Tesla and Edison set as agents or enemies for instance). Actually one with delusions of grandeur might imagine a massive cross generational campaign spanning time periods and, errr...well, one gets ahead of themselves.

All in all, a solid product, even though at times it seems to be confused whether it wants to focus on being a Victorian, a Horror, or a Monster Hunting setting, it does manage meld them together in an enjoyable way. If you're not interested so much in the supernatural horror involved, then perhaps this isn't for you, but frankly, I think most people will be getting it exactly for that reason. And the rules contained will adapt pretty well to any Victorian or Steampunk oriented game. While it doesn't qualify as best value/purchase of the year, to me it's easily worth the $20 bucks or so that I paid for it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

BSG: Season 4 Premiere

"He That Believeth in Me" or, Gaius Baltar: Messiah at Large. Or, What Would Gaius Baltar Do? Or, No Asking for Directions!

Danger, Danger, spoilers ahead!





Okay
Season 4, the premiere episode, what can I saw but....wow. Just....wow.

The revealed final 4, let's talk about that first. We've had some time to let it sink in about them being Cylons. But damn does Saul Tigh lay down the law, even though he spends much of the episode with a horrified look on his face. Will be interesting to see how the writers resolve his presence in the first Colonial war, before there were actual skinjobs walking around. Poor Anders, he's just not getting a break there, not only is his wife hugging and kissing Apollo, but the Cylon raider recognized him(One of us! One of us!). Big foreboding moment, I wish we could have seen what was going on with the Cylon side of things.

Starbuck. I don't even know where to begin with that. It's not hard to see that things are going to be tough for her. Not that she was totally sane to begin with, but I've a feeling she'll lose it completely.

Apollo....no flying for baby Adama? Okay, so no Apollo flying, no Starbuck flying, who do we have on the roster left? Athena, Seelix, and Anders(who has problems performing *cough cough*)?

Helo, it's good to see him on the c-in-c. Interesting that he's not flying though, didn't all the other CAGs tend to fly? Or maybe Adama knows he needs someone who isn't going to flake out on him in the command center.

Gaius Baltar.....has suddenly become the messiah....to a cult of nubile young women. I couldn't help but laugh at the part where one of them asks "Can you feel God's presence?" then puts his hands on her breasts. "Yes, yes I believe I do!" Squish squish! Of course, later on we see what could very well be the redemption of Gaius Baltar.
Photobucket
Yes? No? Maybe?

Anyways, the most interesting part to me is the teaser for next week. Cylon Civil War? D'Anna returns(or is that a version of 6)?

And since everyone has a theory on the final five...Here's mine. In the beginning, the Cylons discovered that there was vast disagreement on how to approach the human problem. The Significant Seven seeing the humans as parental figures that must be surpassed and destroyed for them to come into their own. The final five on the other hand perhaps wanting to protect humanity, or at least understand it so that they could go back and inform the rest of the Cylons on what makes us tick and why we should be saved, or even because they were made TOO human and empathized with us. Whatever the reason, in order to prevent a Civil War(or because they'd lose if they tried to fight), they leave the main Cylon population and erase as much of the evidence that they were there as possible.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The World of Broadsword


Since we last reviewed Broadsword, I felt that now would be a good time to look at the new add-on, The World of Broadsword in which Mejia which expands on the original product, continuing the barbarous rampage across an entire world, ripe for the picking. It includes a section on new advantages, a bestiary, an overview of the major cities and features, and a new adventure. Compared to the original Broadsword, the writing is more sober, factual, informative....as such I see no need to invite my barbarian guest commenter's back(they left after they found out that I had no wenches).

The advantages are fully in the spirit of the cinematic sword swingers, there are six new ones for your players to chew upon. I personally would have liked a few more, perhaps by cutting a picture or two from the bestiary section they could have squeezed some more in. That leads us to the Bestiary. It's not inspired but you do get all the stereotypical monsters, animals, and creatures that one is expected to encounter, along with a blurb on their special abilities if necessary. One thing that I have a love hate relationship with in it is that what it tells you is essentially, how hard it hits, and how hard it is to kill. On the one hand it means that if your PCs want to interact beyond "I see it....I SMASH IT IN DA HEAD!" you'll have to make up those extra stats. On the other hand, if your players are going for the whole barbarian ethos; chain mail bikini wearing, over-sized musclebound, or swearing by Crom, then 9 times out of 10 it is going to be "I see it....I SMASH IT IN DA HEAD!" There's some black and white art here for the various monsters(though animals and common enemies such as skeletons don't rate having an illustration, and I don't blame them for that decision, everyone should know what those look like without needing it sketched out) with varying levels of quality, but it gets the job done. Anyways, it's a pretty necessary and well done portion if you're going to be playing Broadsword with the 1pg rules(will definitely cut down on prep time), but nothing spectacular.

On to the world section. Now this is where the product really shines. Each major city gets an overview, and then a SWOT analysis(strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). As a GM, one of the things that has always bothered me is where to draw the line on how much the PC's should know as 'common knowledge' versus what they need to ask around for. Give them too little, and all they do is head to the tavern to wait for something to happen, too much and there's no incentive for them to ask around. This covers that nicely, the overview gives enough that you won't have befuddled PC's wandering around aimlessly if you let them have that much info, and the SWOT gives you plenty of things to tell them about if only they dig a little bit deeper. Not to mention that it essentially gives you 4 or 5 plot hooks for every city. Heck, even if you just hold up the map, close your eyes, and point, you'll have half a dozen adventures that you can delve into at the nearest city. The location section is a little bit sparser, but still gives plenty of mysteries and adventures that your PC's can stick their noses into. Though personally there are some locations that I would have preferred to be treated almost like the cities in their descriptions(e.g. The Moors of the Witch-Queen? The Tribes of the Sikkar Plains? I could definitely see a page worth of info on each). There's also a small section on the gods, which is nice, but personally if I were to GM a game in the Broadsword world, I'd just as soon drop in a pantheon that has a little more detail than what's given.

The River Pirates of the Belsa is the new adventure. And I have to say that Mejia really knows the tropes, we have all the ingredients to put this firmly in the sword and sorcery genre. The witchy woman with her leopard right out of a Frazetta painting, the dashing rogue, trials by fire, treachery and backstabbing, and to top it all off, an ALLIGATOR PIT! Campy and cheesy, perhaps, but does it set the tone of the adventure nicely? You bet. The other thing that I especially liked about it was that there was a section devoted to the major characters that the PCs would be interacting with, I thought it a nice touch and something that I wouldn't mind for other RPGs to adopt(since many just give you a stat block and make you infer their motives by their actions).

At $4, this is another beer and chips money purchase. But in fact, I think this will appeal to a larger audience than the core Broadsword ruleset can. Just drop in your favored system and viola, instant game world. Forgive me, but I think the best analogy is that it's like cooking semi-homemade. With the World of Broadsword you're getting the bare bones(well, actually you get bones and major organs) of a setting that you can fill in without having to search out the relevant passage. You don't have to devote hours and hours trying to draw out and create your own world, or else spend a bundle of cash to buy a setting book(which you'll then need hours to read through), in order to have a coherent and consistent world for your players to explore. And I think that's a very valuable thing, gamers are looking for ways to keep the time needed to have fun low, that's why I feel that systems like 1pg games and Savage Worlds are becoming more popular, we've got busy lives and being able to run a pick-up game with a few friends on 10 minutes or so of prep time is great.

The key here, is recognizing what you're getting and what you expect from it. Don't expect a work of art or minutiae filled tome of knowledge, do expect a pre-made world with enough detail in the SWOT analysis of the major players to let you jump in headfirst and not have to overly worry about inconsistency. Which is something that I think both GM's and players will appreciate highly. All in all, if you need a world, and don't want to spend the big bucks or long prep time, maybe it's a one shot game or you just don't have the free hours, then the World of Broadsword is the way to go.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Broadsword


For all the works of cultured man
Must fare and fade and fall.
I am the Dark Barbarian
That towers over all.
-Robert E. Howard, "A Word
from the Outer Dark"

Broadsword, by Mejia, Stubbs, and Downing is campy barbarian goodness in its purest form. Reading it I couldn't help but feel like I had Robert E. Howard and David Gemmell peering over my shoulder with comments. And every time I started to stray, my inner gamer wanting technicalities and minutiae, I could hear them behind me, laughing, telling me that such things are for soft, civilized folk. Well, it ended up in an uneasy truce between the two sides of my inner heart, so that's why I think I need some special guests to help me do this review. I'm sure you'll recognize some of them, and they'll be chiming in throughout with their opinions.

First off, you can tell that the writers had fun making this. They knew the trope in and out, "Ride, fight, wench and kill! The walls of the Jeweled Cities of the south will tremble as you crush them beneath your heels!" announces the introduction, setting the tone for what's to come. Whatever the medium you encountered the barbarian of legend, be it old movies, pulp fantasy, or blood stained comic pages, you'll know that they tend to be a heroic reaction to the encroaching of civilization and the gluttony of those that reside in cities.

Conan: Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing. Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.

Well, Broadsword promises plenty of skull splitting action, the faster and simpler the better. Using the 1pg system, it promises that you could cleave your way through a bunch of temple guards of cultists with a beer buzz and a head wound, and it very nearly seems that way. Rolling for stats and skills is simple and well explained, although has a significant random element that I worry might leave a player a bit less than heroic if their luck has deserted them. Or the gods have taking an interest in them. It makes for powerful roleplaying, if you have a good group for a pick-up game, though as mentioned in the introduction to rules of play, Broadsword is meant for gamers with some experience. And of course it helps not to get too attached, characters are living a dangerous life, and somewhat expendable.

Druss: What are 40 years of life if you cannot say that you lived well, compared to 40 minutes where you can say that you stood against the darkness? Remember the code,
Never violate a woman, nor harm a child.
Do not lie , cheat or steal. These are things for lesser men.
Protect the weak against the evil strong.
And never allow thoughts of gain lead you into the pursuit of evil.
If you follow it, live and die by it, then none shall hold you as less than a hero.

Overall the character creation rules are quick and solid. You're not going to be mulling over decisions of minutiae(because they aren't there), and this isn't an in depth character that you're making. The one thing that I feel is a bit weak is that there are no real examples of what your stats translate out as. For example, I would have liked to know would a reputation of 1 would make you a local village brute, as opposed to a reputation of 5 making one Khan of Khans. Rep is something very important to the barbarian genre.

Demid: That is the Cossack's road. No other can follow it. To live by the sword and die not otherwise, to endure torture, to make new paths into the wilderness. What is the reward? The minstrels will sing our names, the grandfathers in the villages will speak of our deeds, and children yet unborn will gather quietly to listen to the hero-tales. And that, my brothers, is Cossack glory!

As for the Advantages, they're fun and lighthearted. Including things such as the classic Chainmail Bikini(providing an armor bonus that goes away if your hero puts on more than a loincloth or the aforementioned bikini), and Summon Horde(also known as heading to the tavern to recruit drunks with promises of...well, you know), the one complaint is that there aren't more of them. Though I'm sure that one can convert such from another system that has a similar feature(i.e. feats or edges).

However, it feels like there were quite a few places where the designers were more ambitious than the result. We have a mechanic for rolling up money, as well as a background that increases starting cash, and yet, no prices for anything! Equipment other than weapons doesn't even show up, and as for the weapons, as I mentioned, no prices listed. Of course, survey says, as a barbarian your weapon is either A. Taken from someone who didn't need it anymore(of course they didn't, you killed them) or B. A family heirloom renowned in song and story. But it dos bother me that there isn't at least a list of common equipment and prices. The other thing is the hit location chart, telling you to take the armor value from any damage to that hit location, but there's nothing in the rules on fighting that tells you how to use it, or how to make a called shot.

The other place where you're essentially told to handwave it, is magic. What are presented are guidelines, and it'll take a pretty sharp GM to incorporate magic without having it unbalance the system. Of course, being barbarian fantasy, most of the heroes should be discouraged from using magic in the first place, leaving it to the evil sorcerers or inscrutable druids.

Bran: I am no fool to twist empty words and incantations. Now I need no spells, simply the allegiance of three hundred fickle Norsemen who are the only warriors among us who may stand the charge of legions on foot!

The scenarios provided are in some ways, the best part to capture that heroic sword and sorcery feel that the movies and comics have pounded into us. Though I wonder about the decision to have most of them belong to a single linked campaign when the entire feel of the product is short adventures with a relatively high turnover rate. But the plot lines and locations will be familiar to anyone who's encountered the genre, and they hit all the major themes. Actually the Captain's Daughter, the first of the scenarios is a particular favorite to set the tone, we have the price of honor, the evil mystic, the beautiful damsel, and above all, the debauched nature of civilization. And even if you decide not to use the 1pg rules, then it's as easy as swapping out a few stat blocks to convert it over to something else.

The artwork....Well, there's the pretty front cover illustration, and that's about it. My barbarian commenters are rather mute on this issue, art isn't something that they understand, or can fight, screw, or ride. And they also mention that it makes poor loot unless it's dipped in gold or gem studded, then it's just treasure.

I have to say however, that Broadsword isn't for everyone. It's a bare bones ruleset with 1 dimensional characters and some strange omissions. But for about $4, that's less than a sandwich and fries at a fast food place, it's chips and beer money, it's something you can easily convince yourself into paying. And if you play it even once and enjoy it, then you're more or less getting your money's worth. I think the moral here is not to expect more out of it than it is. This is not likely to replace your regular game system or long running campaign, but it does have its uses.

Kull: There comes, even to kings, the time of great weariness. Then the gold of the throne is brass, the silk of the palace becomes drab. The gems in the diadem sparkle drearily like the ice of the white seas; the speech of men is as the empty rattle of a jester’s bell and the feel comes of things unreal; even the sun is copper in the sky, and the breath of the green ocean is no longer fresh.

What it does make is a refreshing break from a long campaign. Or if you are suddenly short a plot important member. Actually one use that I think it might be especially good for is breaking in a new GM, one that has experience as a player but not much as GM. Heck, you can hand out the third page and roll up your characters while they study the rules(which shouldn't take more than 10 minutes or so). Or if you've just watched the latest sword and sorcery movie and feel a need to raze and pillage some civilized states. By the time the new batch of popcorn is done or people finish arriving you should be familiarized with the rules and ready to get into the action, something that you won't see with other systems.

If you want intricate rules and details, you won't find it here, but if you want some quick sword swinging, blood spattering, wench stealing action, then this can provide it, at a very reasonable cost. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to learn how to untie knots and escape these ropes before my guest commenters finish with the pillaging and start with the burning.

Conan, Demid, Druss, and Kull are not owned by me, and belong to their respective copywrite holders, they were just visiting...oh Crom I hope they're just visiting. They've already drunk all the ale, I just hope they get tired and try and find some wenches soon, my feet are getting numb.