Tuesday, December 27, 2016

This Just In: Rogue One Is AWESOME!

So, I'm sitting here basking in the afterglow of seeing Rogue One. My wife, who went with a friend to see it earlier in the week, had told me that there was a surprise at the end, but didn't tell me what it was (and no, I didn't ask, either). Prior to seeing this movie, I diligently avoided the clickbait spoiler rumors and all the other Gawker squawk. The only things I "spoiled" for myself were some minor easter eggs.

At any rate, here's what I have to say about it - no spoilers, no whining, no "critique" as a lot of my fellow fans have already done. Rogue One is awesome. It's different from the other Star Wars movies - not just including its more responsible use of CGI technology - and that's what makes it good. The ending was indeed a surprise - but then again, the entire story was a surprise to me in how it played out.

If you're a dedicated Star Wars fan who hasn't seen this movie yet, I ask that you keep an open mind as you watch it. Keep in mind that everything that happens in this movie is necessary for the story of the original trilogy (as well as the survival of the Rebellion).

To those who have "problems" with Rogue One, who continue to claim that George Lucas, and now Disney, is "raping" their childhood, all I have to say is this: Bite me. It was never your sandbox - or mine - to begin with.

In celebration of this movie, as well as Carrie Fisher's progress/, here's a Rogue One-inspired D6 Star Wars character template, the Guardian of the Whills and the blank character template as well. Enjoy!

These were designed with a number of motifs in mind - namely some of the decor of the d20 sheets as well as the nostalgia of the old Star Wars action figure cards. Yes, a form-fillable version will be forthcoming.

SAD UPDATE: This morning (12/27/16) I read with a heavy heart the news that Carrie Fisher passed away. My heart goes out to my fellow fans as well as the rest of the Star Wars cast for the loss of everybody's princess.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Project Jasper: Hope for Carrie Edition

So, today my wife went out with a friend to see Star Wars: Rogue One while I spent the day studying the backs of my eyelids (I work the overnight shift at an emergency shelter for troubled youth, for the record, so I had to take one for the team). While I was sleeping, 2016 decided it wanted to continue being a dick and I awoke to the troubling news about actress Carrie Fisher. Having already remarked on how nasty the year has been, I had thought about giving this post an especially nasty title. Fortunately, the more rational parts of my mind and heart teamed up and beat down my inner cynic.

As a continuation of my remembrance of Benoist Poire's canine friend Jasper, my latest entry combines my love for dogs and Star Wars with hope and prayers for Carrie Fisher's full recovery. Here I present Jhaspar Gnarr.

Jhaspar Gnarr, Jedi Padawan (22 BBY)
Artwork from The New Essential Guide To Alien Species; Del Rey; 2006
Male Shistavanen

Blaster 3D+1
Lightsaber 4D
Melee 4D
Melee Parry 4D

Survival 3D

Astrogation 2D+1
Starfighter Piloting 2D+1
Starship Gunnery 2D+1


Stamina 3D+2

Lightsaber Repair 3D

Move 10/13

Special Abilities
Night Vision:
Shistavanens have excellent night vision and can see in darkness with no penalty

Force Skills
       Control 2D
       Sense 1D

Powers: Remain Conscious (C), Lightsaber Combat (C/S)

Force Points: 2, Character Points: 5, Dark Side Points: 0

Equipment: Two lightsabers (5D dmg. ea.), Jedi battle armor, Jedi robes, commlink, blaster pistol (4D dmg)

A Quote: "Squad Aurek will move around the hills to the southwest. Squad Besh will flank from the east. Master Taresh and I will lead the charge down the center with squads Cresh and Dorn. Hopefully we can convince General Sanguinus of the error of her ways."

SAD UPDATE: This morning (12/27/16) I read with a heavy heart the news that Carrie Fisher passed away. My heart goes out to my fellow fans as well as the rest of the Star Wars cast for the loss of everybody's princess. This post is still a work-in-progress, and I will post a background and Rebellion Era stats for Jhaspar after an appropriate bit of time.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Project Jasper: Ayla Buckburr and Jasper

Artwork ©2016 Kraken-Steelklaw
For my first entry in Project Jasper, I thought I'd go with one of my favorite fantasy games, Beyond the Wall. I present to you, Ayla Buckburr and Jasper!

For generations the Buckburr family was renowned for breeding dogs long sought by hunters across the kingdom. Like her father, her brothers, and all her cousins, Ayla, the sole daughter of her father's family, was a budding kennelmaster. Were it not for a chance meeting with Jasper during their shared youth, she most likely would never have seen the lands beyond her home village.

During her 20th summer, Ayla was wandering the woods when she came across a big-pawed, floppy-eared pup of a dog drinking from the stream. Mutually surprised, the two eyed each other suspiciously for a moment before Ayla took the first step.

Calling to the dog, she knelt down and offered a piece of beef jerky to him. Jasper, as Ayla came to call her new friend, wolfed the offering down and licked Ayla's face in appreciation. Ayla quickly offered up her entire lunch, which Jasper made short work of. The two sat by the stream for some time and formed the foundations of a bond through which Jasper told his story as best he could. Sensing her new friend's feelings of loss, Ayla invited Jasper to live with her and the rest of the Buckburr clan.

As Jasper waited outside, Ayla began to work her charms on her parents and older brothers. Bringing the pup into the house, she quickly introduced him to her family. Bartleby, her father, was reluctant to simply adopt Jasper, citing the fact that they already had a breeding pair and their large litter to feed. Ayla won them over however, and spent the rest of the summer tending to her chores and playing with Jasper in her free time. Despite his misgivings, Bartleby quickly came to see that Jasper was something special, for he was brighter than his new kennelmates. Ayla's bond with Jasper grew over the next two seasons. Sadly, that did not last long as Ayla's father sold Jasper to a hunter who turned out to be cruel and abusive. Before long, Jasper escaped and made his way back home, much to Ayla's delight, her father's surprise, and the hunter's anger.

Ayla's father sent Jasper back with his would-be master, but the pup soon found his way back again. This time, however, Ayla hid him away. The hunter, incensed at the dog's defiance, returned to the Buckburr farm with eyes afire. Bartleby tried to convince his daughter to give Jasper back, but she refused to give him up. Frustrated with his daughter's refusal to do what he thought was the right thing, Bartleby gave the hunter his money back. Sadly, it wasn't enough. The hunter, still demanding he receive a dog, took the family's prize dam as he left.

Fearing his business ruined, Bartleby was furious. In a fit of rage, he threw Ayla out of the house and banished her from the family farm. Now homeless, Ayla and Jasper made their way to human lands. Along the way, Jasper taught Ayla what he knew of survival in the wilderness and protected her from wild animals.

The two soon found themselves in a large human village at the edge of the woods. Being the only halfling in town made life hard for Ayla, but Jasper provided her with companionship and protection. At first the pair tried to raise money for food by doing acrobatic and riding tricks in the town square. Sadly, what little they raised was barely enough to feed the two once a day. However, their act had caught the eye of the captain of the guard, who suggested they join the militia.

When the captain of the guard introduced Ayla and Jasper as the newest recruits, the other militia members practically fell out of formation in laughter. Undeterred, Ayla refused to be laughed out of room and board. For the first month, she and Jasper seemed to be nothing more than mascots for the militia. "Small but mighty" they fancied themselves. Ayla, however, was out to prove herself, and Jasper was equally determined.

Ayla fixed up a makeshift saddle and tack for Jasper. At first he didn't care for it, but he soon got the hang of having a rider. The two quickly became able to read each other's body language and improved their synergy as rider and steed. The young halfling also took up archery and found she was most proficient with the bow. Being a halfling, a human-sized shortbow worked well as a halfling-sized longbow. Before long, the two began putting on "performances" for the militiamen, demonstrating Ayla's skill as a mounted archer and Jasper's agility as her steed.

As autumn set in, Jasper and Ayla's bond grew more powerful and soon Jasper was able to communicate with Ayla as well as any other person. On the last full moon of the harvest, Jasper demonstrated another unusual talent of his faerie upbringing. The night of All Saints' Eve, the ghost of a long-forgotten murder victim haunted the village square. Fearing the ghost was an ill omen, the townsfolk began locking their doors and staying in when it was normally a festive time of year. Unafraid of the ghost, Jasper, who had a keen sense for the presence of spirits, aided Ayla in leading the ghost to its final rest in the village graveyard.

During the winter, when goblins began attacking nearby farms in search of food, Ayla and Jasper volunteered to act as scouts. The two quickly learned the best ways to track and avoid the foul creatures and led a band of militia soldiers right to their cave. In the end, the goblins were driven from the region and the pair were hailed as heroes, being made true members of the local militia.

Ayla Buckburr, Halfling Outrider
Class: Warrior-Rogue       Level: 1       Title: Observer      Alignment: Lawful
DEX: 15 (+1)      STR: 10 (+0)        CON: 12 (+0)        INT: 12 (+0)        WIS: 10 (+0)        CHA: 8 (-1)
Hit Dice: d10
Hit Points: 10
Armor Class: 13 (leather armor); 14 (leather armor + wooden shield)
Initiative Bonus: +2           Initiative (DEX bonus + Initiative Bonus + Level): 4
Base Attack Bonus: +1      Total Attack Bonus: +3 (Weapon Specialization + DEX Bonus + BAB)

Skills: Animal Lore, Direction Sense, Stealth
Knack: Weapon Specialization (Bow): +1 to hit, +2 to damage
Special Abilities
     - Fortune's Favor (p.11, BtW)
     - Halfling Spirit (p. 31, BtW) 
     - Small Stature (p.31, BtW) 

Saving Throws
Poison 14 
Breath Weapon 17 
Polymorph 15 
Spell 17 
Magic Item 16

Fortune Points: 5

Equipment: A dagger, a very fine saddle, bags filled with food and rations, leather armor (+2 AC), a wooden shield (+1 AC), bow, quiver with 12 arrows, and 12 silvers

Jasper, Loyal Outrider Cohort
Class: Warrior-Rogue       Level: 1       Title: Observer Cohort      Alignment: Lawful
DEX: 9 (+0)      STR: 16 (+2)        CON: 17 (+2)        INT: 12 (+0)        WIS: 13 (+1)        CHA: 7 (-1)
Hit Dice: d10
Hit Points: 10
Armor Class: 13 (leather armor); 14 (leather armor + wooden shield)
Initiative Bonus: +2           Initiative (DEX bonus + Knack + Initiative Bonus + Level): 4
Base Attack Bonus: +1      Total Attack Bonus: +2

Skills: Animal Ken, Survival
Knack: Fleet (+1 Initiative)
Special Abilities
     - Fortune's Favor (p.11, BtW)
     - I'm A Dog: Dogs have a base AC of 12, receive a +1 bonus to bite (1d4 damage), and have no hands.

Saving Throws
Poison 14 
Breath Weapon 17 
Polymorph 15 
Spell 17 
Magic Item 16

Fortune Points: 5

Equipment: Specially made leather barding/armor (AC+2) 

Design Notes: While Beyond the Wall does have the Village Bear playbook, it doesn't really have anything with regard to playing other intelligent animals in the vein of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia or even anthropomorphic animals along the lines of Brian Jacques' Redwall series. This is something I intend to write on at a later date, but with this particular project in mind, I went through the Village Bear playbook and basically modified it for a dog by substituting the dog stats from the rulebook bestiary for the bear stats given in the playbook.

Oddly, the Village Bear playbook initially gives the character the Warrior-Rogue class, but later talks about the character's class being Village Bear. In light of the synergy I wanted to establish between Ayla and Jasper, I stuck with the Warrior-Rogue class. At the same time, I thought it better to give Jasper the Animal Ken skill, which I better defined for my games here. In short, Animal Ken is the better choice as it gives Jasper the ability to speak with other animals.

In order to get the pair's backgrounds, skills, and abilities to have the right synergy, I built both characters by hand, picking entries from the tables as I saw fit, trying to keep in mind the fact that the only restriction Ayla faces as a halfling is a maximum STR score of 10. The Halfling Outrider playbook can be found in the free Dwarves, Elves and Halflings supplement or Heroes Young and Old. Ayla's title of "Observer" comes from the article "Scouting for More Options" by Kim Eastland, which appeared in Dragon #161. The full table of titles for the scout class (or in this case the halfling outrider) is as follows:

Level - Title
  1 - Observer
  2 - Spotter
  3 - Pointman
  4 - Outrider
  5 - Vanguard
  6 - Forerunner
  7 - Huntsman
  8 - Spy
  9 - Scout

10 - Master Scout

The stats for the Black Boar can be found on page 3 of The Village. If you want stats for Jasper's would-be master, the cruel hunter, use the stats for the Wicked Hunter on page 2 of Beyond the Cave.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016: The Year of 大象爆炸式的拉肚子

Oh, 2016, I'm going to end you... in 30 more days... You've been warned.

As my NaNoWriMo 2016 trainwreck ends, I can only look back and shake my head. Honestly, I don't know if I should laugh or cry. Maybe I'll do both; the question then is which to do first. I started the month so pumped that I was going to dive in and start the hardcore work on Project Frying Pan. Then November 8 turned around and whacked me upside the head with said Frying Pan.

With the exception of my early days of battling depression, I have never before experienced such a poisonous month. Depression and anxiety basically dug a hole, threw me in, and then did their business on me. Fortunately, I've had the support and love of my wife, friends, and family to buoy me and I'm going for a medication check up in mid-December.

This past month we also saw a number of people try to turn the gaming hobby and industry into their personal bully pulpits, pushing their agendas through misguided (and futile) petitions and creating "orangelists" of people who offend them. This has further fueled my exile from local fandom and gaming, which started earlier this year. During this time I've done some thinking; I've come to the conclusion that the situation is not entirely one person or group's fault. In a sense, I gave a group of narrow-minded, petty individuals what they wanted by leaving the convention scene. I'm sure my initial griping about the matter was just the icing on the cake for them, and I've spent the past two months - November in particular as things have built up - keeping silent on the matter while trying to get the bile and poison out of my system.

I was personally torn as to whether or not I should address those subjects here in more livid detail. Instead, I sat on my hands and looked at both situations as lessons on why you shouldn't engage monkeys in shit-flinging contests.

Oh, and then, to cap off the gloom of the month, we lost our favorite Shepherd, Ron Glass, and the Grandmaster of the Kai Lords, Joe Dever.

It's December now. I want very much to look at and experience the last month of this year as a season of light in the darkness of winter. I'm entering the month with multiple objectives I intend to complete most or all of before the year is out, in no particular order:
  • Complete Project Jasper as I promised Benoist Poire.
  • Complete revision work on my GM's reference pack for Beyond the Wall.
  • Work with a co-worker and fellow gamer on a project to engage, entertain, and maybe even educate our shelter clients through RPGs.
  • Further define the universe and characters of Project Frying Pan via a mix of the Cepheus Engine, Traveller, and  D6 systems.
  • Complete the necessary research for Project Frying Pan's plotline.
  • Make more friends - gaming and non-gaming - and have more fun.
  • Pursue River City Shadows in particular and gaming in general with renewed vigor.

In case anybody is wondering, 大象爆炸式的拉肚子 is Mandarin for "the explosive diarrhea of an elephant". Oh, 2016, you're so ironic...

Saturday, November 5, 2016

For Jasper

While I hadn't planned to write a blog entry until later this weekend (as I'm taking a brief break from NaNoWriMo tonight and possibly tomorrow), an item in my Facebook stream caught my eye. The main item was from a friend expressing frustration over how some gamers can be so inhuman... That in itself is a story and discussion in itself. What caught my eye was a response from one of his fellow designers expressing anger and disgust over an incident which hit close to home:
"A couple of days ago, Jasper, my neighbor's dog, one of my best friends with my boys... was roped by a man, dragged away and shot dead because he was deemed an annoyance. I just learned about it this morning.
"(Update: The RCMP was contacted and though there were witnesses to Jasper's roping, there were none for his shooting. No witnesses, no arrest. Sigh. But read on.)
"You've seen me post about Oafy the Chaos Muppet before. I'm brainstorming about a way to make Jasper a staple, a recurring aid or NPC, to the HSD and the Marmoreal Tomb. An icon along with Oafy, something that is awesome for the game, and respectful of who this awesome dog was in life.

"I also call on whoever would be inspired by this to go ahead and post stuff about Jasper, use his memory as a way to channel your love of all our furry friends, and create awesome stuff for the game. Go ahead.

"Stay tuned. For Jasper."
It's no secret to my friends and family that I'm an animal lover. I grew up on a farm with a dog and countless farm cats over the years, and, despite my allergies, will not hesitate to play with a person's pet if they allow it. My wife, who is also allergic to animal dander, is just as much an animal lover as I. Both of us have a burning hatred of animal abusers.

I never knew Jasper, nor do I personally know the person who posted this sad news. At the same time, I have no connection to or experience with the Hobby Shop Dungeon (HSD) or the poster's project. However, I have known the love of several loyal dogs, all of whom I know would have laid down their lives for me. Despite batting 1 for 3 in that respect, I'm going to write some things in the vein suggested by the poster this weekend for one or more systems under the banner of Project Jasper.

Whether or not you know the poster personally; whether or not you have adventured in the Hobby Shop Dungeon or have contributed to the Kickstarter; if you love animals, I encourage you to spread the word and post something for Jasper on your favorite forum or your own blog. If you can spare the money, buy and donate supplies and toys to an animal shelter or humane society near you. Better yet, if you can spare the time, volunteer there. Both you and the animals will be glad you did. I'm sure Jasper would be glad too.

Friday, November 4, 2016

In the Beginning...

"The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
― Douglas Adams, "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe"

I have just spent the better part of my Thursday overnight shift breathing life into a series bible for Project Frying Pan. If there's one thing I have learned thus far in the process, it's this: Creating a universe from scratch is a lot of hard work, even if it's been percolating in the back of your brain for over a year. The sheer act of organizing, clarifying, defining, and just plain expressing it is daunting, exhilarating, and exhausting all at the same time. I have drawn upon my favorite aspects of various authors' universes as well as some of my own unpublished writing to find interesting bits to add.

No worries! I'm not dead yet!

While I will be taking a brief rest from the Project Frying Pan creative process this weekend, it is far from over. While the series bible (Did I forget to mention Project Frying Pan is the first in a series?) stands at an ephemeral eight pages in length, there is more to come and more to develop. The Frying Pan-verse (there will be a better name for it, I promise you), is in its infancy not only in the present, but also in its past and future.

Research will continue apace as I delve into the worlds of astronomy and con artistry. Project Frying Pan may be a science fiction book, but it's still got to have some basis in reality, after all. Of course, that's just a small part of the bigger picture. Historical research as well as some further reading in the genre is needed as well, all of which I look forward to.

Another part of the process is going to be resolving how to set parameters for the development of characters, technology, and all that other fun stuff. Being a tabletop gamer, I've got what I consider a number of useful tools at my disposal for defining things. The big decision is what system (and edition) to use. No system is perfect and part of my brain is itching to pair Project Frying Pan with another ongoing project on this blog.

What's ironic is that this fits Douglas Adams' opening quote to "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" perfectly. I have no doubt that someone, somewhere is now foaming at the mouth, fingers feverishly poking at their keyboard in an effort to "educate" me on how "wrong" I am to use an RPG as a tool to define my characters and the universe they live in. In fact, that subsection of my aspiring authorial peers is doubtlessly a speck compared to the massive hipster horde pounding away at their keyboards about how whatever system I choose is wrong and how my use of tropes and aspects of other authors' universes is so "derivative" and "unimaginative".

As a writer, I readily acknowledge that there's nothing new under the sun - it's just a matter of what you do with it. That's where the real challenge lies. While I look forward to that challenge, I realize that failure is a possibility, and at the same time, it's a learning experience. No plan survives first contact with reality, let alone "the enemy". A slight change has already been made to one character and I'm sure more changes will be made to Project Frying Pan before all is said and done. The main thing to remember above all is this: "Don't panic!"

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

And so it begins...

So, it's been no secret that I'm a writer or that I write game material and some fiction. However, most of the time I keep what I write secret until it's done or at least until I know nobody is going to steal my ideas. At any rate, I'm throwing my hat into the ring for NaNoWriMo 2016 with a book I'm writing. We'll call it Project Frying Pan. Why? Because in the tradition of George Lucas, I don't want things getting out before it's time. Only two or three other people know the true nature of the project, and I know they'll keep it.

While I have the general idea of the project's plotline set up, have capsule descriptions of the characters, and actually have a head start on chapter one, there's a lot of work to be done on research so I can get things right. These last two months are going to be precariously balanced between my job, home life, my writing, getting some design work done for Beyond the Wall, and a Shadowrun campaign I'm running. I may not get Project Frying Pan done in one month, but I intend to put a good sized dent in it before the year is through.

But enough talk. It's time to act. I've got research and writing to do.