WotW: Earth – A Martian Legacy

“A couple of hundred yards out of Baker Street I heard a yelping chorus, and saw, first a dog with a piece of putrescent red meat in his jaws coming headlong towards me, and then a pack of starving mongrels in pursuit of him. He made a wide curve to avoid me, as though he feared I might prove a fresh competitor. As the yelping died away down the silent road, the wailing sound of “Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla,” reasserted itself.” – The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells.

The presence of a new type of organism upon the earth would have consequences upon the delicate ecosystem which proved so effective against the martian invaders. Even though the Martians were vulnerable to the invisible, microscopic bacteria, the effects of the Red Weed, the Black Smoke and indeed the corpses of the Martians themselves would echo upon the earth for decades.

Already we have seen the carrion birds and stray dogs feasting on the flesh of the dead Martians. The red weed is but a plant and will be subject to the same senesence of terrestrial plants. What will happen to those creates which feed upon the flesh of these alien bodies. As it was our bacteria which was the finish of them – what dark secret has their god placed in their bodies which will be th end of us?

It may cause us to look upon the earth and see new creatures upon the lands, in the sea and in the skies over which we had no dominion. As quickly as we caused species to become extinct with our own lack of care for our environment, we would see new hybrid species, twisted mockeries of our own garden Earth. Our dogs and cats, lifelong companions, now changed. The birds of the air seeing with martian eyes, tasting the air with martian tongues.

There would be a new science, one dedicated to the new zoology and botany brought by our invaders. We could not capture a martian alive but perhaps in death they may reveal more secrets. I feel we must learn and learn fast. Their revenge will be swift.

Viride: The Mercantile Tsaz

A thousand leagues to the south lies the Tsaz Citadel.

The Tsaz live by a merchant code – they trade freely with anyone who wall accept their currency or barter terms. There is no such thing as an average Tsaz – the wide but roughly hewn tunnels and caverns are home to citadel and desert folk alike and many combinations in-between.

Preferential treatment is given to those who take currency rather than goods. Each transaction is officially taxed though there are thousands of transactions occuring every day which are not seen by the Brokers.

A Broker is a Tsaz official. They are licensed by the Citadel to levy a tax on every transaction occuring within the city and a percentage of this goes into their own pockets. Corruption, of course, is rife but this has the effect that the only people who really suffer are non-Tsaz who do not find a reputable Broker with whom to conduct business.

The Broker nobility are identified by their riches and their apparent extravagance. The Tsaz havea saying that “a penny dropped at home is always to hand” meaning that they will endeavour to spend their own money at their own businesses and a close-knit community of merchants may arise.

The Tsaz operate a thriving slave market but they also have very strict laws on the ownership of slaves. Slaves, as much as anything, are a commodity and anyone treating commodities poorly is someone not to be respected. An individual in servitude is recognised as having “fallen from the rocks” while they work off some considerable debt. Anyone arriving with the requisite amount of wealth and the intention of spending it will be treated as royalty. Those without means find themselves in debt as soon as they arrive as slaves within the day as they run out of money quickly and if they try to avoid the tax by dealing without a Broker, they will quickly find themselves clapped in irons.

The Tsaz also operate a tinker trade with independent merchants setting off into the deserts, trading with the desert tribes for survival and hoping to make a kiling with trade from other citadels and the desert tribes. The arrival of a Tsaz trade tour will bring not only new toys, gems, spices and weird trinkets but also ideas, games, stories, drama and adventure!

Superhero game: The WatchTower

I used to run a game that some people thought was fun which was set in San Francisco where the players were new recruits for a Avengers-style franchise.

They were enlisted, introduced to the household staff in the complex and immediately were sent out to fight “the big bad” which ended in a middling-level disaster as a bomb was let off in a populated area. This brought home the expectations of the public to the heroes. People die if they do not do their jobs. And that sucks.

Should I post something on here telling the sordid tales of the silly things I did and the clever things my players did? I think so. Maybe Aidan can chime in with some of his opinions on the highlights and lowlights of the campaign?

Heroes, a non-spoiler review.

I watched episode 1 of Heroes last night and I was very pleasantly surprised.

There’s some discontinuity here and there but you can tell it’s of the “Lost” vein in that it leaves you with more questions than answers. The characters are interesting enough but it leaves me with a kind of a sour taste in my mouth from the “character generation” phase. One character can see the future, paint it on a canvas but only when in a drug trance. Another can teleport blindly and safely across the world. Which power would you rather have? We also see the hints of a big conspiracy….woooo

It leaves me itching to play a superhero game however. Which I’ll cover in another post.

Watch Heroes. I’m going to hve to wait til it comes out on DVD….

Mutants and Masterminds: I just don’t get it…

I’ve been called a curmudgeon before….no, really…

What is the deal with Mutants and Materminds. It reads like a completely average d20 system. It’s not special in any way and yet we find rabid M&Mers on RPG.net and elsewhere flaming anyone who might doubt that M&M can handle this, that or t’other.

It’s just like the pricks of yesteryear who used to rant on and on about how D&D could do any system, about how it was the best, yadda yadda. What is it about “that kind” of gamer that needs ot latch onto one of these systems and spend a lot of time defending it against unbelievers?

Hey, if you like it, then fine. But don’t spend an hour debating on a forum about how it CAN adequately emulate *some genre* and how my opinion is therefore somehow wrong. It’s my opinion, you atom-brain! I’m entitled to it. You’re entitled to yours too and I don’t give a flying monkeys balls that you managed to run M&M with this genre and it was great. I’m obviously not as good a GM *sorry* DM as you and I need/want a system that’s just a little more tailored.

If it was fantastic, I’d be all over it but I place it firmly in the same category as Champions. just because it has the rules to emulate the genre and you know all the rules, it doesn’t make it a good choice for the genre.

Yes, I did have a migraine earlier today and that’s why I’m grumpy. That, and having to wade through the inevitable crap about how M&M is teh l33t and everything else is teh suXor. Wankers.

PS. For “more tailored” substitute “actually really good”

Games Shops in Paris

I went to two games shops in Paris and spent a little too much on books.

I got some English language RPGs and could hve bought more – there’s heaps of dead-tree books that I’ve never heard of and I know there must be hundreds of electronic versions that I’ve just not the time to look at.

I picked up some french language RPGs as well which has proved to be eminently readable.

The Authority RPG
Tekumel RPG (and I got namechecked in it!)
Hard][Nova RPG
Te Deum RPG (French language mediaeval religions wars)
Apocryph (French language religious wars in modern day)
In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas (cos the SJG one was “Lite” or PG13)

As it happens my friend Paul, who has a career interest in history, also ordered Te Deum this week. I have an inkling his French is better than mine 🙂

Sadly I missed Salon de Jeu, a big games convention which started on Friday and ended today. If I’d known it was on I’d have made the effort.

Reviews of these games to follow….

Viride: The Shifting Sands

The sands are fine and greyish in colour. Fine enough to seep between the fibres of all but the finest threats. A human who stands still enough will slowly begin to sink and almost anything laid on the surface of the sands will disappear within the hour. There are some of the other Desert Tribes who dive beneath the sands to retrieve lost treasures for trade. The Sand Diver has to navigate in the darkness, swim deep and hard, becomes prey to deep-sand predators.

The sands are not as empty and barren as you might think. Under the surface of the sand is an ecosystem that can support life. Dig down a few inches and you may find Sandvines. These creeper-like plants store water in a sweet syrup. Unless it is harvested properly, the unwary traveller can inadvertently kill off acres of sandvine by just taking a mouthful of syrup. With care, an acre of sandvine can keep a large group of humans alive indefinitely.

Enjoying a commensal relationship with sandvines are greyfish. These eel-like predators often hunt under sandvines. They are a shoaling species and often hollow out a large underground cavern of spit-hardened sand walls and wait til they hear prey. They are attracted to small vibrations, smaller than a full-grown human and often attack unfortunate travellers who have collapsed in the sand and deadly heat. Greyfish have rasping mouthparts and their saliva is caustic. Worse still for travellers who come across a greyfish cavern and their weight is too much for the spit-hardened ceiling. Greyfish are edible if cleaned correctly and often cooked in their own saliva.

The desert traveller can also find sustenance from rock lichens and if lucky, a basking bladeshell. Rock lichens are a crusty moss-like fungus that grows on the underside of small rocks. They don’t taste nice but they are edible. Bladeshells are huge mollusks that live under the sand and feed on rock lichen and sandvines. Their shell makes them almost impossible to kill but they can be lured from it and the wily hunter may find himself with perhaps a hundred pounds of pungent rubbery meat and tasty pre-digested lichen and sandvine. Quite a catch.

WotW: Earth – When?

This was the question that struck me last night as I tried to process the jalapéno peppers in my pizza.

When is WotW: Earth set? (and for that matter, when am I going to get a better name for it?)

The way I see it, there are several options

  • 1898 – this was when the book was written. This would allow us to bring a lot of estbalished background, real and fiction alike. This was the era of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Wells himself, Jack the Ripper, Spring Heeled Jack. For fiction, we can turn to the tales of Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, Victor Von Frankenstein, Dracula and of course, Van Helsing. In a post-invasion world, would you want to meet some of these luminaries? Would Dracula ally or fight against the Martians (considering both of them are technically vampires, would Dracula want to protect his “cattle”?)
  • 1938 – the date of the Orson Welles radio broadcast. In the real world we had the beginnings of World War II, the work of Robert E Howard and H.G. Wells was still alive. Crowley was moving from latest madness to the next big fad. In fiction we had the birth of Batman, Superman was in his adolescence. We had Zorro, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers. Lots of options for heroic player characters.
  • 1953 – the year of the film which depicted them as flying swan-necked machines. Not long after Roswell, the US gripped by McCarthyism, Winston Churchill in his third cabinet – the era of Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Humphrey Bogart, the beginnings of Hammer Horror. In fiction we had the birth of James Bond in 1952.
  • Modern Day – well, wouldn’t that be easy?

At this point, I don’t know quite where to start. I have some more “martian-related” stuff to post, but I think the “When” question will decide a lot of things. My gut feeling is to go for either 1898 or 1938….

WotW: Earth – New Hope

As humanity climbs out of the ruins of their devastated society, we must now look at our future. We have seen the terrible destruction wrought by the Martian fighting machines and flying machines and the awful power of the Heat Ray as it turned all it touched to fire.

We hurry along the roads, as gusts of smoke continue to erupt into the air, fearful of attracting the baleful stare of one of the few fighting-machines left stalking the countryside. This morning, we passed two of the fighting-machines, toppled and stinking, by the roadside. A third fighting-machine appeared in the horizon and we did not tarry to investigate. The ghostly touch of the Heat Ray and the issue of the Black Smoke keeps us scuttling from crater to crater, from fox-hole to fox-hole. We can only guess what keeps these monstrous tripods moving when so many of their brethren have fallen. Some new dark surprise may await us.

There are nearly twenty of us now, holed up in a small village. We have enough food to live for a few months perhaps and we have begun to venture forth in the early morning when the fighting-machines seem less active to plant new crops and sow the seeds of our future. We can only hope that the grey skies will pass – at times I forget which season it is. The continued spread of the Red Weed frustrates our attempts to cultivate even the smallest plots but we have seen the first green shoots and with that, renewed hope.

Last night I turned my eyes skyward, looking again for the red planet and though I know it to be impossible, I could swear I saw a tell-tale green plume. I returned to our camp in the crypt of the village church and fell into a fretful, restless sleep.

WotW: Earth – Premise

“No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets. And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us.” – Narration by Bichard Burton at the beginning of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds.

You may be a fan of the book by H.G. Wells or have seen the recent film with Tom Cruise. You might remember the 1953 The War of the Worlds or have even listened to the Orson Welles radio broadcast which caused mass hysteria in 1938. All of them end the same with a bit of a damp squib. I’m sure it was entirely deliberate of Wells to depict science and the military as being utterly ineffective against the Martian war machines. In this way he reminds me of Lovecraft’s Mythos stories where the actions of humankind are ultimately ineffective.

From a RPG plot point of view, it’s not very interesting. The players can’t really get into the mix at the start as, frankly, they’d get pasted. They would have to dodge the evil Black Smoke, the insidious Red Weed, the deadly Heat Rays and the throngs of panicked humans. And after all of this, the blinking aliens are defeated by some innoculous bacterium? How deus ex machina can you get! If this were a scenario, it would indeed be one of the world’s worst.

So, we can’t play in that sort of game world. We have to think of something else. The logical thing to do is extrapolate. Here’s the things we have to consider.

The Living Martians – not all of them will be dead.

The Dead Martians – what happens to a dying Martian. Does it decompose?

The Humans – society is still in a shambles.

The Red Weed – although affected by Earth’s bacteria as well, it obviously was able to survive better than the Martians themselves.

The Black Smoke – a binary nerve agent? Very topical in todays terrorist-fearing news.

The War Machines – there’s all this alien technology just lying about….

More Martians – they wouldn’t have committed this much without ensuring a second wave for resupply. By now they would have realised the attack was a failure….

George Pál, who produced the 1953 film, conceived of a War of the Worlds TV series which was finally shot and which ran from 1988 to 1990. Their premise was the aliens had not died but had slipped into a state of “suspended animation”. There’s some vague explanations as to why the aliens now look human (ahem, budget!) but the entire series seems a little tired (and frankly too hard to obtain to give a good review).

So, we’ll begin this by writing a little prose….and covering the areas we have mentioned above…

WotW: Earth

I was reading a posting on RPG.NET about how War of the Worlds was a typical game-master railroad, total player kill and then GM fiat to save the day. I disagree.

I reckon it was just background flavour.

The game starts now. Invasion over….ish. Some Martian war machines will alive on iron rations as they hadn’t been drinking blood. They’re getting desperate as their rations run out and waiting for the resupply from Mars. New machines, new rations…they’re forewarned and forearmed.

Meanwhile on Earth, our scientists are making Earth-Mars technology hybrids – human war machines – ….they just need 2 fighter pilots, 2 field scientists and some support team members…

Powder Rods and Bayonets

Powder Rod
The Powder Rod is the long range weapon of choice for the Arbiter. They are commonly made to order, personalised for the Arbiter and are usually the same height as the owner. The rod is hollow, usually black with a matte sheen, and cool to the touch. The top of the rod has a hole, the diameter of a finger and a groove along the outside for accepting a bayonet attachment. The bottom of the rod has a screw-click device which lends weight to the rod as well as being the firing mechanism.
Powder Rods are kept unloaded but a skilled operator with a loading partner can fire a round every other second. Alone, an Arbiter will be able to fire off a round every 5 seconds. The round is a discrete unit containing munition, wadding, propellant and igniter. The munition load is commonly a single slug or a handful of flechettes though for training and “normal usage” it may aso be loaded with sand – this produces a distracting, blinding, stinging, nonfatal cloud.
Powder Rods are usually armed when they are to be used. The slugs used must be prepacked and are barrel-loaded. The slug is ignited by striking the base of the rod sharply.

Bayonet
With or without bayonet, the rod is an effective hand-to-hand combat weapon. The rod material is tensile without being fragile. This increases the versatility of the weapon considerably. The bayonet is usually worn by the Arbiter on a belt and only attached during very serious circumstances. It is a sharp stabbing or cutting weapon, balanced for throwing, made out of the same black material as the Powder Rod.

More about the Reeve

Some of the Reeve are administrators, involved in the movement and recording of infomation. Others sit in cloisters and debate the merits of the appeals presented to them.

The majority of the Reeve are involved directly in the enforcement of our laws and the judgements required. The application of Reeve law in the Citadel is challenging and it is the duty of the Arbiter to seek out and rein in lawbreakers. There are no tomes to consult when a judgement is difficult and there are times when it is you alone with the transgressors of the law. An Arbiter must be strong in mind and body, perceptive and quick witted, skilled with powder rod and bayonet and able to command a presence.

Zian will soon be accepted into the ranks of the Arbiters unless she chooses an administrative post. She will then begin training.

Viride: Outsider Castes

There are some who do not suit the untroubled life of the Artisan, the austere contemplation of the Reeve or the enduring clemency of the Consors. There are outsider castes but they are neither respectful nor respectable. They have their role in our society but we do not consider them. When they are needed, they are needed but it is a matter kept between the closest and most discreet of friends.

In some areas of the Citadel, the rule of Reeve does not apply. There are Artisans in exile who will copy any treasure. The Reeve do their best to cleanse the Citadel but there is only so much time and the tunnels are almost endless.