Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Just a brief heads-up to inform those of my readers interested in superhero gaming that I've started up a new blog devoted to that topic: Kracalactaka!  I'm doing my OCD-related part to keep from crossing the streams.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Building an S&S Setting: Prolegomenon

This post is the first in a series of posts dedicated to the creation of a new sword and sorcery setting for use with Barbarians of Lemuria.  I'm going ahead with this project because I'm not particularly satisfied with Lemuria itself: I haven't read the Lin Carter novels that serve as the basis for that setting, and my sensibilities are more in tune with Howard's Hyborian Age than with Carter's cod-Burroughs approach to Lemuria.

There are two principles governing this process as it goes forward:

1.  Do not invalidate the players' choices for their characters.

I don't want to make my players create new characters to fit the new setting.  This means first and foremost that the plot established in the first session of the BoL campaign remains the same: the heroes are still looking for an ancient library in a fabled lost city, and they are still going to begin the next session on a ship in the midst of a raging storm.  It also means that the new setting has to respect the players' character creation choices.  In Lemuria, Irryn was a prostitute-turned-assassin from the Port of the Sea Lords.  In the new setting, she won't be from that particular location—but she will hail from a pirate-themed city.  The same for Daneel's gladiatorial background: the new setting will have to have a location that sponsors games.

2.  Keep it simple.

In my three-decade career as a gamer, my customary approach to setting creation has been to start working from the top-down (i.e., cosmologies instead of counties, epics instead of short stories). The usual result has been a game that either stalls out after character creation or never even gets started—I always find myself tinkering with the big picture "just one more time" before play begins.  So the ground rule for this session will be "one paragraph per location before play resumes."

In addition, rather than agonize about how many locations to create, I will simply use the categories included by Russell Bailey in his Pulp Civilization Random Encounter Chart as the basis for the setting.  That gives me six basic locations—enough for a start.  New locations can enter play as a result of player action or active scenario creation.

Third, I will try to recycle as many old RPG setting ideas as I can when making these six locations.  There's no reason why I can't put old ideas to new use here.

With all that in mind, here's my initial set-up:

1.  Warring Tribes: Undetermined

2.  Grimy City-States: The Seven Cities of Magic

This setting element is a new one for me: each of the fabled Seven Cities of Magic is governed by a powerful sorcerer (or cabal of wizards or arcane spirit being or . . . you get the idea).  The Seven Cities spend most of their time squabbling with each other or engaging in low-level mischief within the boundaries of the Vital Empire.

3.  Vital Empire: Undetermined

4.  Decadent Empire: The Empire of the Azure Throne

The inspiration here is Azure Orb, an old Everway Realm of my making.  I originally described it as follows: "Azure Orb is dominated by the element of Air. Its inhabitants debate one another in lamaseries clinging to the sides of mountains. The gates leading to Azure Orb from Glister and Rubyflame are marked with sapphires."  I'm going to combine this idea of a fantastic Tibetan realm with Simon Washbourne's Ceruleans from Lemuria: the giant blue people are the specially bred shock troops with which the Azure Emperor once conquered the lowlands.  Now the people of the plateau have retreated into decadent pleasures and abstruse philosophies, leaving it to the Ceruleans to maintain contact with the rest of the setting, this time as merchants instead of warriors.

5.  Monstrous Survivors: Undetermined

6.  Haunted Ruins: The Storm Lands

For this location, I'll be riffing on a recurring element from my various abortive D&D worlds: a land shattered by a mystical apocalypse, dotted with ruined cities, fell spirits, sentient storms, and bold human tribes eking out an existence.

So that's where things stand at the moment.  I need to come up with locations for Warring Tribes, Vital Empire, and Monstrous Survivors.  I suspect that the Warring Tribes will be a cross between the Caribbean pirates of history and the Iron Islands of George Martin's Game of Thrones setting: competing pirate empires with the potential to become something greater.  The other two elements are still hazy as yet; I need to come up with something alien for the Monstrous Survivors that isn't just the usual serpent-men or ape-men trope.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Marvel's Conan the Barbarian . . . SUPERS! Style


As my last post intimated, work has kept me too busy for gaming over the last month or so.  Because I suffer from a form of C.A.D.D. (Campaign Attention Deficiency Disorder), that delay has meant a transfer of momentum away from sword-and-sorcery to superheroes.  The barbarians of Lemuria will ride again, of course, but first I need to work the supers out of my system.  Luckily Simon Washbourne, creator of BoL, can help me out here.  I'm running his excellent rules-lite Supers! system this coming Sunday for the children of several of my colleagues.  But I also thought I'd honor the spirit of this blog by generating a Supers! version of the Marvel Comics Conan.

Or, rather, a Marvel Comics Conan.  Since I'm using a superhero RPG system to generate the character, it makes sense to use the version that actually interacted with superheroes: the Conan of What If #43 (February 1984).  What If is Marvel's name for its on-again, off-again series devoted to superhero counterfactuals.  (Although the series predates DC Comics's Elseworlds concept by twelve years, it almost certainly owes a conceptual debt to the "Imaginary Stories" DC ran in many of its Silver Age titles.)  I didn't buy What If on a regular basis during my childhood stint as a Marvel Zombie, but I couldn't pass up this issue: "What if Conan the Barbarian Were Stranded in the Twentieth Century?"  First of all, I was a regular reader of Marvel's various Conan titles at the time.  Second, how can anyone pass up this wonderful Bill Sienkiewicz cover?

The story in issue #43 is technically a counterfactual of a counterfactual: in What If #12 (February 1979), Conan had briefly spent time in modern-day New York before he was zapped back to the Hyborian Age by magic lightning.  Issue #43 has the NYPD wrestle Conan out of range of the lightning, leaving him stuck in the Big Apple.  Conan spends some time in the slammer, masters the New York criminal scene, dresses like a pimp, and eventually ends up fighting Captain America on two occasions.  The first fight ends with the image depicted at the start of this post (Conan slicing open Captain's left arm).  The second fight ends with Cap saving Conan from the cops and offering him a place in the Avengers.  At the end of the issue, the Watcher looks on as Conan ponders making a call to Avengers Mansion and doing something more with his life than petty crime.

As a way of playtesting the Supers! rules, I've decided to assume that Conan does pick up the phone and accept Cap's offer.  What would Conan's superhero RPG stats resemble?  Check them out beneath the fold, True Believers!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Still Here, or Why Being an Adminstrator Sucks

The blog's not dead yet--it's just waiting for the massive administrative pile-up that was the English Department's end of semester to actually end!

Stay tuned!