Friday, May 29, 2015

Five Monarchs Campaign: Character Sheet

After much discussion (two positive votes and a sentiment that it is far more descriptive), Five Monarchs Campaign it is.

If I have one major complaint of RPGs as a whole, it has to be the Character Sheet. Off the top of my head, I really only like two that were supplied by the game itself: the 1e AD&D goldenrod sheets and 1e Champions. Even I wonder if both of these have more to do with nostalgia than functionality or appearance (although the 1e Champions CS was really functional).

It seems that the best Character Sheets are almost always a blank sheet of paper that is slowly built into a character sheet, or those created by folks who have played the game and know how to organize the information necessary for handy use.

This doesn't stop me from wanting or wishing for truly inspired Character Sheets. Even when that blank sheet of paper evolves into a record of a really interesting character and campaign, there is part of me that always wants a character to graduate to an "official" Character Sheet worthy of the character it records.

I mention this because FASERIP is particularly egregious in the category of ugly Character Sheet design and because I plan on playing this campaign with my kids. Part of the attraction and nostalgia I have for those goldenrod and 1e Champions Character Sheets is that they are part of my education on how to play those games and RPGs in general.

Therefore, I am keen on having a cool and informative Character Sheet to give to my kids when we play. I am hoping this fits the bill:

Monday, May 25, 2015

FASERIP: The Five Monarchs

I now have a couple of working titles for this campaign, but neither has really charmed me yet:

  • The Five Monarchs Campaign
  • Chasura City Campaign

Let me know in the comments which one you like better.

So, originally I was going to have the five monarchs based on the five colors of the rainbow (as originally postulated by Isaac Newton) with a mix of Eastern and Western elements to color the special effects of campaign powers. I was reminded, however, by Svafa of wu xing. I quickly realized that this elemental model was a much more useful than the one I had come up with. Not only does each element have more special effects, but there are far more implied relationships between the elements.

What follows is a summary of each Monarch, their organizations, goals, relationships and special effects of the powers their vassals exhibit when using their powers.

Red Monarch

Element: Fire

Sp. Effects: Light, Fire, Radiation

Likes Working With: Wood

Rivals: Water, Metal

Cover: UTU (United Trade Unions)

Goals: The Red Monarch wants to return to normal time and space by any means possible, short of destroying the city or its people. The UTU is a loose confederation of workers with ties to criminal gangs and politicians. They are not afraid to use violence, terror and crime to further their agenda; however, murder is not deemed as an acceptable method of coercion. Murderers are hunted down and turned over to the CCPD. UTU works closely with the CCPD, especially through its political influences because despite wishing to return home, the status quo is better than trying to push Chasura City into some other kind of space or time.

Yellow Monarch

Element: Earth

Sp. Effects: Gravity, Rock, Sand

Likes Working With: Fire

Rivals: Wood, Water

Cover: GeoTech (does much of the construction/infrastructure found in Chasura City)

Goals: The Yellow Monarch is obsessed with researching the space and time in-between in order to find a guaranteed safe way of moving Chasura City back to normal space and time. Going into a different space and time is deemed too dangerous for Chasura City and its people. GeoTech works closely with UTU because of similar goals and as a means of keeping the more dangerous impulses of UTU in check.

Green Monarch

Element: Wood

Sp. Effects: Wind, Sound, Mind

Likes Working With: Water

Rivals: Earth, Metal

Cover: CCPD (Chasura City Police Department)

Goals: The Green Monarch wants to protect the status quo and keep the city safe. It is more dangerous to try to remove Chasura City from its current state in-between time and space than remaining in its current state. The CCPD keeps very close ties with CCE in order to monitor their actives and minimize the effects of their radical efforts. CCPD has used CCE to shut down various experiments by other factions simply by denying them access to CCE’s power utilities.

Blue Monarch

Element: Water

Sp. Effects: Electricity, Fluids, Shadow

Likes Working With: Metal

Rivals: Fire, Earth

Cover: CCE (Chasura City Energy)

Goals: Ever since Chasura City shifted into its current state in-between time and space, the Blue Monarch has discovered a variety of potential power sources unknown in regular time and space. The Blue Monarch believes that these power sources indicate a space-time that has far more to offer humanity than does regular time and space. Using CCE and several secret underwater research facilities, the Blue Monarch wishes to push humanity forward into this new reality by any means possible, short of destroying Chasura City or its people. CCE works closely with AESTech due to their similar goals.

Purple Monarch

Element: Metal

Sp. Effects: Iron, Ice, Ether

Likes Working With: Earth

Rivals: Fire, Wood

Cover: AESTech (produces much of the hi-tech/electronic devices found in Chasura City)

Goals: The Purple Monarch is obsessed with researching the space and time in-between in order to find a guaranteed safe way to move Chasura City into a new space and time, because to go back would be too dangerous for those in normal space and time. AESTech works closely with GeoTech because, despite having different goals, both are dedicated to safe research. The more they know about their current state the safer it will be to move beyond it.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Michael the Confessor

Today is the Feast of St. Michael the Confessor who was from Synnada in Phrygia in what is now modern day central Turkey. From a young age he wanted to become a monk, so he travelled to Constantinople. There he met another young man seeking the monastic life who would eventually become St. Theophylact (celebrated on March 8). The two received the blessing by Patriarch Tarasius and entered a monastery on the Black Sea, where both men distinguished themselves.

All of this happened during the era of iconoclasm. Patriarch Tarasius had convened the Seventh Ecumenical Council in defense of icons and was in need of iconodule bishops. Both Michael and Theophylact were persuaded to become such bishops. Michael went back home to become the Bishop of Synnada and Theophylact became the bishop of Nicomedia.

In A.D. 813 Emperor Leo V the Armenian came to power. Seeing recent defeats against both the Bulgars and the Arabs as a sign that the iconodules were wrong, Leo V adopted iconoclastic policies and began to persecute iconodules including both Sts. Michael and Theophylact. Both were exiled. Michael died while in exile about the year A.D. 821.

Given the fact that St. Michael was at a monastery on the Black Sea and his friend St. Theophylact became the bishop of Nicomedia, it seems that it is time for me to expand upon the Sea of Marmara campaign setting. The life of St. Michael seems to suggest a few interesting wrinkles to the immediate history of the campaign.

Leo V the Armenian came to power primarily because he was a good general. Being an iconoclast was as much of a political move as it was a theological one — it placated the iconoclastic Arab Muslims long enough for him to push back and make peace with the Bulgars. Although he seemed to be a good administrator and skilled on the battlefield, he was not as skilled in politics because he was brutally assassinated on Christmas day A.D. 820 by his own generals.

This suggests that the heresy being supported by the Lawful powers that be is a second wave of the heresy and that those powers have been very successful at protecting their territory from outside threats. In past posts, I’ve postulated that Nicomedia and Byzantium are two different political entities. The life and time of St. Michael suggest that one is actually pagan or humanoid. Given its relative isolation to other significant locations on the map, Byzantium seems to fit the pagan/humanoid bill better than Nicomedia. Thus, the Lawful ruler of Nicomedia, although a heretic, is tolerated by the average citizen because he has brought a relative peace and stability to the area.

The persecution of iconodules under Leo V was aimed primarily at monasteries, therefore this fits very nicely into the idea that the Mountain of Skulls was ransacked by the Lawful ruler of Nicomedia, making the evil being guarded there free to wreck havoc. Part of the background noise could very well be a plot to assassinate the ruler by his closest allies to either cover up or in retribution for the mistake of ransacking the monastery.

Finally, since St. Michael’s friend St. Theophylact was deposed as the bishop of Nicomedia by Leo V, it follows that the rebel monks who are fighting against the Lawful ruler of Nicomedia are led by the former bishop of Nicomedia who also happens to be a monk.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Meditating on OSR Innovation

Another bandwagon I am compelled to hop onto is this meme about innovation in the OSR: rules or settings? First, let me get this out of the way: when hasn’t the OSR been innovative? Seriously. I will grant that we can look like a bunch of reactionary grey bearded curmudgeons, but from the get go we have been pushing rules written at various times in the 70s and 80s in all kinds of interesting directions. Why are people looking for the next Tékumel or Blackmoor when there are literally as many astounding worlds as there are bloggers?

For example: part of the “complaint” about innovation is getting beyond 2000 cp in a dusty room…a reference to all the whinging about the Dwimmermount experience. How wasn’t Dwimmermount innovative? I said this before and I will say it again — James Maliszewski pushed us all to deal with, understand and chew on the concept of the megadungeon. Regardless of what you think about how his Kickstarter was handled or whether or not you care for the final product, the whole experience has made the hobby better.

For myself, I was never much influenced by Tékumel or Blackmoor. I hold no special place in my heart for either of these products, nor do I have any real interest in investing much time on either product. The same can be said of most setting products. Those who read this blog know that I have never played a single game in either Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. The guys I play with have always been DIY when it comes to world building.

On the other hand, new systems don’t really float my boat either. Look at me, my favorite system was written back in 1981 and, when push comes to shove, I’d be happy playing nothing but B/X for the rest of my life.

What do I really want in a product? I want to be able to use it at the table. This either means that I can easily plug and play with an adventure or have a product that gives me awesome ideas that are easily applied to my games. This is the best way to be innovative, because there are so many products out there that are not very easy to use. Let me give you a couple or three examples of what I believe are innovative products:

Demonspore by Matt Finch
This is one of the best adventure modules ever produced by the OSR simply because it is designed to be plugged into an existing dungeon. It doesn’t have to be, but it can and I did and it was brilliantly easy to do.

Realms of Crawling Chaos and Starships & Spacemen 2e both by Goblinoid Games
Both of these products are plug and play tool kits for Labyrinth Lord (though S&S 2e can function as a stand-alone game). Frankly, anything in the Labyrinth Lord line is designed to be modular so that if I want to do a Star Trek/Flash Gordon/Horror/Mutant Apocalypse mash-up without house ruling everything, I can. Indeed, I have yet to fully take advantage of all of the modular goodness provided in RCC and S&S 2e.

This whole discussion began with JB of B/X Blackrazor and his problems with the game White Star by James Spahn. Personally, I really appreciated JB’s perspective. I was pining over the game because of the excitement generated around this section of the internet, but my gaming budget is still Free. JB let me realize that I would have had buyers remorse if I’d scraped together the cash to buy it.

Like JB, I worked on my own version of a Flash Gordon-esque version of BX/0e but abounded it because it wasn’t a game I really ever wanted to play. Now, before I get accused to being bitter about Spahn’s success in the same way JB did, I have already shared what fruits came out of that whole experiment.

Way back when, I did a series of posts stripping the 0e spell list of special effects in order to create a system to build new spells based on 0e assumptions. I shared it as Ye Auld Skool Spell Creator. What may not be obvious is that this whole project began as an attempt to create a tool kit for creating Jedi-like powers for a sci-fi version of BX/0e so that my version of a Star Knight (or whatever else you want to call it) wouldn’t have to have Bless or Purify Food and Drink on their spell list.

Speaking for myself, this is not the best thing I’ve ever shared with this community; however, I do believe that it is the closest thing that I have ever produced that demonstrates what I want in terms of the Rules vs. Setting discussion. It is innovative in the way I want my OSR products to be innovative: I can use it at my table to create my vision of a sci-fi campaign or add cool new spells to my 0e-inspired games.

In other words, I don't need publishers to give the new Tékumel or Blackmoor, I want them to give me cool tools to help me make it myself.

I Love Lawful Stupid

I am going to hop on the bandwagon and throw my two cents worth at the alignment question asked over at Tenkar’s Tavern. It should be obvious to anyone who has read this blog over the years that alignment is an important part of the game to me, since I have spilt so much digital ink on the subject; however, I am not going to re-tread over that ground. Rather, I’d like to spend some time with the phrases, “Lawful Stupid” and “Chaotic Selfish.”

As a player and as a GM/Referee/DM/whatever I love “Lawful Stupid” characters and I find “Chaotic Selfish” characters to be utterly boring. It is much more challenging as a player to bring a Lawful Stupid character to life in a meaningful way. The choices they make and the reasons they make them are often alien to even to my own predilections. As such, they push me as a player — especially if I want this Lawful Stupid character to find a way to survive holding the bridge from a small army of goblins as the party gets away with the prisoners we’ve just rescued. That is fun to me — finding that creative balance between fulfilling the Lawful Stupid role and finding a way to accomplish some of the primary goals of the typical player — survive, get enough treasure to level up, etc.

Just going around a world being chaotically selfish is neither challenging nor particularly very fun. From a player POV, it is so easy to do and I’ve done it so many times that I am not really interested anymore.

From the perspective of a GM/Referee/DM/whatever, my favorite aspect of the game is seeing how my worlds interact with player action. Lawful Stupid characters are the ones most likely to have the greatest impact — even in death. Think about how many Lawful Stupid people the world lionizes verses the billions of Chaotic Selfish people that we bump into every day. My worlds evolve and become living things when Lawful Stupid characters do their thing — most especially when they are creative about it. All Chaotic Selfish characters do is allow the status quo to be the status quo.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


If there is one main feature that sets FASERIP apart from Marvel Superheroes and other renditions of the system is its use of a Campaign Rank. This is a rather simple concept which standardizes the power range of all of the characters in the game. For example, a standard comic book-style campaign would have a Campaign Rank of World Class (Wc30). Thus, all of the character’s ability scores and powers would be based off of a rank of Wc 30. While some abilities and powers might be significantly lower or higher than the Campaign Rank, every PC in the campaign is going to be around the same in terms of power.

I love this, not only from the perspective of ensuring that every player is going to have the mechanical ability to contribute to the game, but it also allows the mechanics to be tailored to a specific campaign concept. For example, in my K-inspired FASERIP campaign, I want the power levels to be on the low side, where an average PC will have powers around the rank of Average (Av 6) to Decent (Dc 10). It also allows me to have what might otherwise be considered a rather low-level or average powered NPC actually be quite powerful given the Campaign Rank. All in all, it is a rather elegant addition to the system.

To that end, here is an example of one of the most powerful NPCs my players might encounter during a typical session of this K-inspired campaign (which really needs a better name):

The Whistler

AKA Allen Green

Fighting: World Class (Wc 30)
Agility: World Class (Wc 30)
Strength: Great (Gt 20)
Endurance: Fantastic (Fa 40)
Reason: Great (Gt 20)
Intuition: World Class (Wc 30)
Psyche: Astounding (As 50)
Health: 120
Karma: 100
Wealth: Average
Fame: 0

Superspeed (Gt 20)
Vibration Control (Gt 20)
Force Field (Gt 20)
Emotion Control (Wc 30)


Allen Green is a vassal of the Green Monarch. He is the leader of a specialized police force that is charged with keeping the peace between the vassals of the Five Monarchs. He is more commonly known as the Whistler because all of the powers he exhibits are based on the control of sounds and vibrations. Besides using the vibrations that result from striking the ground with a cane, the most common way he manifests his powers is by whistling. The is particularly true when he uses his Emotion Control powers to help calm volatile situations or when he is using his superspeed (which manifests itself as an ability to “draft” behind sound waves).
For those interested, this NPC was created using the Character Creation rules in FASERIP.

Monday, May 18, 2015

FASERIP: A Campaign World

I have to make a confession. My kids want to play RPGs with me, but I have traditionally struggled with creating a campaign suitable for them and what they expect from a game with dad. As you might expect from a guy who has a quote from HPL over on the sidebar, my default position (especially when it comes to fantasy) is rather dark. Even when I specifically set out to create a world in which I expect my kids to play, inevitably my creativity takes me down a dark ally out of which I can’t remove myself or my train of though, especially given that mechanically old-school D&D is pretty deadly.

One of the reasons I am so enthused about FASERIP is that it is an opportunity to play a game as written that is lighter and less gritty than my usual RPG fare. As such, I plan to rip off an idea I was originally toying with for a game with my kids that seems to fit really well with a ‘K’-inspired FASERIP campaign.

One of the themes found in ‘K’ is that the power that the Kings are able to wield is significantly greater than any of their vassals. This power is of such magnitude that a misuse of it in the past changed the geography of Japan. In FASERIP terms, the Monarchs are Shift 1 + in terms of their power; however, they will not use it unless absolutely necessary. Thus, all of them operate through their vassals who are incapable of wielding the kind of power the Monarchs can bring to bear.

One way in which I want to play this up is by placing the city in which the campaign takes place in a fairly precarious situation. As in the series ‘K,’ there will have been a major disaster which to the people outside the city resulted in the complete disintegration of that city. In reality, the city and its immediate environs were not destroyed, but rather “shifted” in-between time and space. The Monarchs all suspect that this event took place as a consequence of their use of their power. Thus, all of them fear what might happen if they do so again.

This “shifted” reality allows me to have dream-like elements to the campaign such as buildings, doors or other such anomalies that can show up inside that city and then disappear. These places can contain beasts and devices and things of all kinds of genre-bending goodness.

The conflict that occurs between the Monarchs all comes out of how each wants to solve the problem of the “shifted” existence of the city and the anomalies that occur as a result. Some want to return to the time and space from whence they came. Others fear further harming the world they came from. Still others want to explore the possibility of pushing the “shift” into another dimension or parallel world.

Thus, when a mysterious door shows up on Main Street, the vassals of all the Monarchs come out of the woodwork. Some want to find out what is on the other side of the door, some want to destroy the door and yet other will try to prevent either from happening.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Musa

Today is the Feast of St. Musa. Rather than have me summarize her life, I am simply going to quote St. Gregory the Dialogist and his account of her life:
Neither must that be forgotten, which the servant of God before mentioned, called Probus, used to tell of a little sister which he had, called Musa: for he said that one night our blessed Lady appeared unto her in vision, shewing her sundry young maids of her own years, clothed all in white: whose company she much desiring, but yet not presuming to go amongst them, the Blessed Virgin asked her whether she had any mind to remain with them, and to live in her service: to whom she answered that willingly she would. Then our blessed Lady gave her in charge, not to behave herself lightly, nor to live any more like a girl, to abstain also from laughing and pastime, telling her that after thirty days she should, amongst those virgins which she then saw, be admitted to her service.

After this vision, the young maid forsook all her former behaviour: and with great gravity reformed the levity of her childish years: which thing her parents perceiving, and demanding from whence that change proceeded, she told them what the blessed Mother of God had given her in commandment, and upon what day she was to go unto her service. Five and twenty days after, she fell sick of an ague; and upon the thirtieth day, when the hour of her departure was come, she' beheld our blessed Lady, accompanied with those virgins which before in vision she saw to come unto her, and being called to come away, she answered with her eyes modestly cast downward, and very distinctly spake in this manner: "Behold, blessed Lady, I come, behold, blessed Lady, I come": in speaking of which words she gave up the ghost, and her soul departed her virgin's body, to dwell for ever with the holy virgins in heaven.
St. Gregory is a very interesting person. He spent many years in Constantinople as a papal legate, returned to Rome to become bishop, is credited with one of the liturgies that the Orthodox Church uses to this day and, using Byzantine Chant as a basis, created what is now called Gregorian Chant. The above quote comes from one of his many writings, most of which were written in the literary form of the dialogue (thus his title).

St. Gregory the Dialogist

It reminds me that dialogue plays a critical role in the history of this hobby. For me, at least, the most useful and formative texts found in the various editions of RPGs still are the examples of play, which take the form of the dialogue.

These introduced me to the idea, not only of how to play the various games we play, but that the creative process can be a collaborative experience. Indeed, I must confess that as much as I enjoy writing, drawing, painting, etc. all of these pale in comparison to those moments when my own creativity collides, conflicts and cooperates with someone else’s creativity.

RPGs are, in a way, a singular form of creative expression. I have spent many hours of my life creating worlds with their own rules, characters, histories, etc. I have, however, never really been interested in producing novels, novellas or short stories about any of them. As much fun as it is to create them, they never become alive to me with out the interaction with other people via an RPG.

Life is full of surprises and it is only when one of my worlds collides with the manic force of other people’s creative personalities that my worlds truly surprise me and become living things. This is especially true when dialogue happens at the table when NPCs and PCs interact. When it comes to the most important and critical moments in any campaign I have ever run, all of them are because of a relationship the PCs formed with a monster and/or NPC.

The wonder that I hold for that moment, when a world breathes for the first time because someone else’s creative spirit collides with my own is why I have played RPGs most of my life. This moment in time cannot be found in writing novels, plays, or movies. It cannot be found in playing or writing computer games. It cannot be found watching great TV or movies. It can only be found at the gaming table. It is why when (as now) I have not been in places, times or situations where I can play, I pine for the moment when I can. I expect to feel this way for the rest of my life.

Friday, May 15, 2015

FASERIP: Inspirations

I would not call myself an anime fan. Giant robots and demons bore me and these seem to be the focus of much of the genre. There are, however, a fair number of exceptions that I do enjoy, so I occasionally poke around to see if anything piques my interest. The most recent of these finds was the series K.

I really enjoyed this, because it is a meditation on what it means to be a king and what it means to be a good king. In the end, the person the series declares to be the best king is rather unexpected and, frankly, quite moving.

I mention this, because it has got me itching to poach a bunch of ideas from the series in order to make a rather non-traditional superhero campaign using FASERIP. Therefore, a little background about the world of K:

Back in WWII there was a German scientist working in conjunction with the Japanese to create a super soldier. There is a McGuffin that endows an individual with superpowers that they are then able to impart in limited form to people who choose to be their vassals. In the end, the McGuffin creates seven “kings.” These kings are categorized by color, of which six are referenced in the show:

First King: Silver
Second King: Gold
Third King: Red
Fourth King: Blue
Seventh King: Colorless
Green is mentioned in passing.

The people endowed with powers by their kings are called Clans, differentiated by color — Red Clan, Blue Clan, etc. Conflict does occur between the clans, although the kings all seem to be on relatively good terms even if their own personal goals seem to differ. The powers of each clan manifest in the color of their clan and seem to have similar special effects, even if each individual might be more effective than another at pulling interesting maneuvers with the power. For example, the Red Clan uses fire and the Blue Clan uses katana as a focus for their powers.

All of this takes place in an alternate, high-tech version of Tokyo. The average citizen seems to be rather oblivious to the existence of the Seven Kings and the Clans. Indeed, only members of the clans refer to each other as clans. Outside of their small world, they are referred to by a public name. The Red Clan is called Homra and the Blue Clan is called Scepter 4.

The general public are under the impression that the Prime Minister is the most powerful person in Japan, when in reality he is answerable to the Kings. When conflict between the clans results in widespread damage, it is generally reported as gang activity or even terrorism. There is also a precedent for “normals” forgetting specifics about clan members.

Interestingly, members of the various clans seem to be friends, despite being rivals. There are several of these relationships that are highlighted throughout the series.

In addition, there are beings called Strains, which are able to tap into the McGuffin without directly becoming a vassal to one of the kings, although these seem to be rare and strictly controlled by the clans.

This all suggests a really interesting superhero world that lends itself to a lot of adventure possibilities. The source of all superpowers are the Monarchs, of which their are five: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue and Violet. All of the Monarchs and their vassals operate within a modern setting, but slightly out phase, where the average citizen will perceive all their activities from a perspective that explains away all that they see as “rational.”

Each Monarch has the best interest of the normal population in mind, but how that best interest is defined can differ greatly from Monarch to Monarch. Red and Violet are two ends of a spectrum and those two clans are not only arch-rivals, but largely operate outside of what might be considered civilized. The Green Monarch represents the status quo and the Green Clan largely plays the role of peacekeepers.

The X-factor in the campaign would be the existence of Strains — beings that have powers, but are not vassals to the Monarchs. This could be the main source of a lot of adventures, where Strain(s) show up and each Monarch wants to take advantage in order to fulfill their end-goal. Thus, clans could ally with each other depending upon the threat/use of the Strain and how it manifests.

Thus, characters would be low ranking clan members who are sent on missions to further the goals of their Monarchs. In a very basic version of the campaign, all PCs would be from the same clan; however, if I ever had the time and the right group I could see PCs being friends from different clans who try to balance their allegiances throughout the campaign.

The thing I love about FASERIP, is that its character creation system would easily support this campaign concept. All the characters would be of similar level and players would have a basis for how to describe the special effects of the powers they roll up for their characters.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


While there seems to be a general buzz over the release of the new Swords & Wizardry White Box compatible sci-fi RPG White Star by James M. Spahn, I find myself far more excited about another old-school retroclone that has recently been made available: FASERIP by Gratis Games.

Some background: in terms of hours playing RPGs, superhero games come a close second to fantasy in my life. Of the various systems, my favorite historically is Villains & Vigilantes for two reasons: I love the character generation system and the longest running and most successful superhero campaign I ever ran used this ruleset. The most hours logged, however, belongs to Champions. While I am a huge fan of random character generation, most folks who play superhero games generally have a very good idea of what they want to play and Champions does one of the best jobs of giving players that kind of control over character generation.

The most fun I have ever had playing a superhero game, however, is with Marvel Superheroes. It terms of actual system mechanics, this is by far my favorite system for playing a superhero-type of game. It does an awesome job of making me feel like I am playing a character straight out of a comic book.

Historically, however, I have never liked the character generation system nor the idea that campaigns took place inside the Marvel Universe. PCs varied in power so dramatically that it was often impossible to sustain a campaign because players would feel left out and powerless to make any impact on the game. I have never been a fan of parading around in someone else’s universe, let alone my least favorite comic book universe.

FASERIP solves both of these problems. It obviously has to divorce itself from Marvel, as does any ruleset that seeks to emulate the system. The real strength of FASERIP, however, is its character generation system. While still maintaining a random generation system, it ensures that all PCs will be of a similar power range. It also empowers the player to customize what has been handed them via a random dice roll.

Another really interesting touch that I appreciate is a section on non-traditional campaigns and how to handle them using the FASERIP system. Included are a Shadowrun-type setting, a fantasy-type setting and a sci-fi alien taking over the world-type setting. This has got my non-playing Gamer ADD revving up. Expect some FASERIP meditations coming soon.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saintly Saturday: The Prophet Isaiah

Today is the Feast of the Prophet Isaiah. The book attributed to him is one of the longest in Scripture at 66 chapters and over 25,000 words. Given how much life is demanding my time these days, I am not going to spend a lot of that time on that text. Rather, I will focus on the historical context and share some of the extra-biblical stories attributed to Isaiah.

The prophet was of royal lineage. He was the nephew King Amaziah of Judah (796-767 B.C.). His name means “The salvation of God.” He married a prophetess and had a son named Jashub. He prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Joatham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh. This places him in a very turbulent time.

After the reign of King Solomon, the kingdom was torn in two. Sometimes the two are referred to as the Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom. They are also called Israel and Judah. During Isaiah’s lifetime, the Assyrians were busy conquering kingdoms all over the area, including the Northern Kingdom. Isaiah criticized both kings and the people for turning away from God and declared that the various military defeats suffered by Judah were a consequence of this disobedience.

Isaiah influenced Hezekiah to turn back to God and re-instate the liturgical practices specified in the Law. When Assyria came before the gates of Jerusalem, they were turned back through the prayers of Hezekiah and Isaiah.

Isaiah was killed by King Manasseh. Though not specifically named, his execution is mentioned in Hebrews 11:37 where a prophet is said to have been sawn in two. According to tradition this was Isaiah and it was a wooden saw.

Another interesting attribution to Isaiah is the Pool of Siloam. During a siege, Jerusalem’s water supply was becoming exhausted. Isaiah prayed and water started to flow from beneath Mount Sion. It is the same pool in which Christ has the blind man wash his eyes in order to restore his sight (John 9).

The Pool of Siloam had an interesting liturgical role during the Festival of Tents during the Temple era. There would be a procession from the Temple to the pool where water was drawn using a golden pitcher. This water was then processed back to the Temple with the sound of the shophar (trumpet) and around the altar while the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) were chanted. The men would wave fruits, palms, myrtle and willow to various verses in the Psalms. The water would then be offered along with the drink offering made at the altar.

In context of FRPGs, this is an excellent example of the kinds of little details that make exploring a dungeon really interesting. As I have noted before,  I like to have three basic eras that a dungeon exists through: Ancient, Old and Present.

In this case, we can understand the Ancient source of the Pool to be Isaiah’s prayer during the siege. The Old era would be the temple worship and the Present as the ruins of Jerusalem after its destruction in A.D. 70.

These kinds of detail really give a dungeon a sense of place and history. Personally, discovering these details while my PCs explore dungeons or revealing them to players as they explore are some of my favorite moments while playing RPGs.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Athanasius the Great

Today is one of the Feasts of St. Athanasius the Great, who is also celebrated on January 18 with St. Cyril of Alexandria.

Let me get this out of the way: I love this man. As one might expect from someone who has written blog posts entitled Saintly Saturdays I have relationships with many of the saints, and many of them are special, formative and important to who I am; however, if there is one saint who has had more influence on who I am, how I think about God and how I read Scripture, the one that comes to mind is St. Athanasius.

One of the central players in the Christological controversies of the 4th century, Athanasius was only a deacon when he attended the First Ecumenical Council as an aid to the Patriarch of Alexandria. This did not stop him from influencing and convincing that Council to adopt what would become known as the Nicean Creed (which is an inaccurate translation historically, conceptually and linguistically — it should be known as the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith).

He would go on to not only become the Patriarch of Alexandria but THE defender of the First Ecumenical Council. At times, he stood alone against the world, spending seventeen of his fifty-seven years as bishop in various exiles. Several times he escaped the clutches of imperial soldiers intent on placing him jail or even executing him. One of my favorite of these escapades sounds much like a story told of an RPG party getting out of a tight spot.

During the reign of Julian the Apostate, soldiers seeking his execution were in pursuit of him as he fled down the Nile on a boat. When Athanasius realized he was being chased, he had the boat turn around and calmly head down the river towards his pursuers. When they caught up with him, none realized who he was and when questioned as to the whereabouts of Athanasius, he responded, “He is near.” This caused the soldiers to rush away past the bishop in hot pursuit of what was nothing.

At the center of the controversy was (is) two seemingly contradictory experiences of God. One is best summarized by St. John Chrysostom in his Anaphora:
You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same
The other is described by St. Peter in his Second Catholic Epistle:
He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature (1:4).
All of the various heresies throughout the history of the church have tried to explain this apparent contradiction away by minimizing or ignoring one of these experiences. The Orthodox Church has always insisted on both.

St. Athanasius was one the first in a long line of Church Fathers to wrestle with how the Church has always experienced God as both intangible, etc. and tangible, etc. He did so by differentiating between the being of God (which is ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same) and the activities of God (in which we can partake of His divine nature).

To this end, he scoured Scripture to find what he called παραδείγματα (paradeigmata) which is the root word for the English word paradigm. He found that whenever there was a simile or metaphor that referred to God, it would do so in a consistent manner for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

For example, the Father is fountain (Jer. 2:13), the Son a river (Ps 65:10) and we are said to drink of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 1:13). His point is that the Trinity is one in being, but distinct in the activities of the three persons. The Father cannot be a fountain if there is no running water (the Son) or if we cannot drink of it (the Holy Spirit). Remove any one of the Trinity from this paradigm and you are no longer referring to the same God that is found in Scripture.

I find this use of paradigms to be extremely useful in terms of inserting a Christian/Church-analogue into an FRPG setting. One can cast the Trinity in terms of paradigm:
Father = source of the metaphor
Son = the embodiment of the metaphor
Holy Spirit = the means humanity participates in the metaphor
So, to use the example above, a fountain is the source (Father); the river the embodiment of a fountain (Son); and we participate in the fountain by drinking of it (Holy Spirit).

Thus, it is possible to insert a Trinitarian understanding of God in a simple way that is not only interesting, but also feels just alien and familiar enough to fit in even the most Sword & Sorcery-influenced settings. For example, I use these Trinitarian paradigms with the Christianity analogue in my Lost Colonies Campaign.

The source (Father) of the metaphor is Law. The embodiment (Son) of Law is Crown or King. The means by which humanity participates (Holy Spirit) is Citizenship or Righteousness. Thus, the three persons of the Istenite Trinity are as follows:
Nomos (which roughly translates as Law)
Isten (which roughly translates as Crown or King)
Thikeosyni (which roughly translates as Citizenship or Righteousness)

In the Istenite’s understanding of their trinitarian god, the second person of that god, Isten (the embodied Crown or King), became incarnate in order to serve and protect his people rather than seek power. In this way Isten is an ideal king and therefore embodies the first person of god, Nomos (Law). Istenites participate in Isten through the third person of god, Thikeosyni (Citizenship or Righteousness). In doing so, Istenites become embodiments of Nomos as well.

All one has to do is choose what concept or title of God you want to emphasize in your campaign and then plug in the source, embodiment and means of participation and you have a taylor-made trinitarian analogue that adheres very closely to the way St. Athanasius argued for the Orthodox understanding of God.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Doodled Maps

This has been an incredibly busy month for me, which is one of the reasons I haven't been posting all that often. One thing that has taken up much of that time are meetings. I am a big fan of meeting with individuals or small groups, having conversations and taking care of business that way; however, my brain does not do well with large meetings where one person stands at the front of a room with a microphone and blathers on about various administrative issues pertaining to whatever is the hot topic of the hour.

Fortunately, my life involves a lot more of the former than the latter, but that latter are seemingly unavoidable. In defense, I doodle. Normally, I do cartoons or bugs or just random patterns. During this last spate, I wasn't much inspired to survive with normal fare. Thus, I started doodling maps, but I wanted something that looked as much like a pattern as it did a map.

I liked the results enough to share:

The boxes in between rooms and corridors are doors. I imagine them to be made of stone and are rolled/slid into a space in the wall to open them. These are a little sloppier than my normal maps because I usually start with pencil and then ink the finished product after cleaning it up. For these, I had to go with a blue ball point from the get go. Thus, I chose to go with the old Reflex Blue look on these when I brought them into the computer.

I have absolutely no idea what these dungeons are, what purpose they have, who built them or who lives there now. I am curious if they inspire any interesting ideas for answering those questions. Let me know.