The Rudis Review: Alpha Omega

Book: Alpha Omega: The Beginning and The End
Length/Type: 408 pgs., Dead Tree Hardcover or PDF
System: 6-6
Author(s): David Carter, Earl Fischl
Publisher: Mindstorm Labs
Licensor/Endorser: n/a

(4.5 0f 5 rudii)

When I first got my hands on the Alpha Omega book, I opened it – I have to confess – prepared to be underwhelmed. I thought if you’ve seen one spells-and-guns-post-apocalyptic setting you’ve seen them all. Hell, what is someone going to do to improve on Shadowrun or Rifts (I refuse to mention Spelljammer in this context)? Skip improving, how about just being different? So I opened the book with my lips slightly compressed, shaking my head, ready to yawn.

And the first thing I thought? Wow! That art is gorgeous! Which was enough to get me reading, and by the second page of the setting I thought Wow! That art is gorgeous! Ok, back to the setting. Next page. Wow! That art is – you get the idea.

The art in this book is beautiful. This book is beautiful. My first time with the cover open, I stopped reading and just flipped the pages, adoring the layout, the binding, the thick glossy cover, and – did I mention the art? It’s really beautiful.

To my surprise and secret chagrin, the setting itself is original, intriguing, and designed for maximum playability. You may wonder what I mean; after all, aren’t all settings designed for playability? In truth – no.

Lots of settings think they’re designed for playability, but are really designed to show off the authors’ creative and linguistic flairs. Being designed for playability means designing with mystery. It means leaving titanic unknowns, delivering just enough but never too much, and maximizing room for the GM and the other players to be creative. Detail every last bolt and ratchet and there remains little for the gamers to do. In short, good setting design involves proper use of the literary negative space. It also means building in the maximum amount of tension, tension the players get to push past the breaking point. Colorful NPCs are always a plus, provided they are incomplete, that they need something the players can provide.

In my experience the best settings, the most fun to play, are a quivering system of conflicts – some visible and understood, many not, some you only think you understand – on the verge of detonation; but in which direction, when, how, and who’ll be hurt remains totally unpredictable. And the players will trigger the story bombs, not the colorful NPCs, who act while players stand helplessly to the side and watch.

Alpha Omega has all that.

Here’s the concept: it’s 2280. Some time past, humanity blew itself up. Apocalypse like nobody's business. We poisoned the earth past the planet’s limits of endurance and in consequence suffered every imaginable disaster mother nature – and we – could upchuck.
Here’s an excerpt, paraphrased from the setting:

Volcanoes erupted, spewing ash and fumes into the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface was torn open by massive earthquakes. Tsunamis scoured many of the world’s coasts, forcing inhabitants…inland. Storms of never-before-seen power swept the globe. Crops failed and droughts spread…terror…round the world, fueled by…doomsday cults…war erupted. Plagues spread, tearing through even the most developed countries, some the products of biological weapons…the Earth endured the ravages of nuclear and biological terror, bringing humanity to the brink of extinction.
And then, because all this wasn’t enough, meteors pounded the earth. Real wrath of God type stuff. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!

Ghost Busters quotations. Given the opportunity, I can’t help myself.

Back to the setting: well, humanity survives in small redoubts, which grow into polis. The nation state is dead, the city state reborn. Everything between the city states is devastated: a mutant filled, horror drowned, wasteland scratching out its violent, transmogrified existence on the bones of civilization’s rubble, living off the detritus of vanished cities.

In time, the city states grow in various ways. For example, they grow into arcologies of super science, or redoubts of technology and order. And so, scattered across a planet returned to nature and populated with horrors, we have enclaves of humanity re-ascendant.

The game opens with humanity living in these isolated pockets, technologically superior to anything from before the devastation, and slowly spreading out to once again master the world. Which is when the first real wrinkle pops up: it turns out that two alien species – the Seraph and the Ophanum – have used the planet Earth as their battleground every 10,000 years or so since the beginning of time. And they’re due back. So at best, humanity re-ascendant is about to host a war that might make the apocalypse look like the Green Goober ghost next to the Stay Puff Marshmellow Man. At worst, we’re all about to die.

How do we know this? Because every war has its deserters, those who stay behind to marry the locals and have children. Recently these children, half alien demi-beings with special powers (Alpha Omega’s ‘magic’ is called Wielding) and a history of secretly dominating human societies, have finally made themselves known. Often immortal, always powerful, they are very concerned about the imminent return of the parent species and the war they bring.
The best part: there are many different kinds of human/alien crosses. A line of different types following the Seraph and another following the Ophanum. And you get to play them.
I think this is some pretty cool shit.

Briefly, let’s talk mechanics. Character creation is a point buy system, and a good one. Very in-depth, broad, and extensible. There are no artificial or inherent blockages to instantiating any character concept, no matter how whacky. I tried to break the character dev system – within the context of the setting material – and couldn’t. This is good. Adventures reward people in the same currency, CDPs or Character Development Points, and I think that is also good.

Combat and skill checks are handled with a die pool approach. Mindstorm Labs and AO have their own flavor, it’s called Six-Six, and it ran smoothly - if a little bookkeeping heavy - when play tested. On the equipment side: tons of magic and tech, ginormous guns and dai-katanas. Great illustrations. What’s not to love? For my part, I just want a system that doesn’t get too much in the way of my game play and equipment that maximizes my fun – and Alpha Omega delivers.

So after all this praise, why 4.5 rudii and not 5? Two reasons. The first is blatantly unfair, totally unjust, and a mere matter of opinion. My opinion. But just like Ghost Buster’s quotations, I can’t help myself: I just don’t enjoy biblical mythology in my games. AOs take is original and deftly delivered. I still don’t like it. References to Seraphs and Nephilim make me wince. The blatant mytho-biblical cut and paste grates on me. Not that AO doesn’t serve it up fine. It does. It’s just not my cup of tea. It is however, many people’s preferred poison (Note - I’m trying to set a record for mixing metaphors in a single paragraph, bear with me), and in this sense I’m simply not Mindstorm’s target audience. Maybe they didn't intend it that way, but there you go.

The second reason for the less than perfect rating is more germane, I think, and I admit up front it’s a tiny quibble. I think the fluff is a bit overwritten. It’s well written, don’t get me wrong. Evocative and powerful, clear, but not always concise. It could have used another editorial pass in spots. On the other hand, if you love to luxuriate in setting fluff, here it is.

The bottom line: despite my quibbles, I want to play, and I expect to have fun doing it. I’ll say it again: the art is wonderful. The production values are over the top. It’s a very unique, extremely well designed spells-and-guns-post-apocalyptic setting. This is some cool shit. I’m putting it right on my shelf next to Shadowrun and Rifts, but I’m playing Alpha Omega next.

PS The game is also well supported online. Check out their cool web site at: http://www.alphaomegathegame.com/

Want to learn more about Alpha Omega? Read on... Special Offer from Atomic Array: $15 off Alpha Omega when you enter the coupon code "Atomic" during purchase. Drop by Mind Storm Labs to pick up your copy.


Road to Revolution #2: The Bloody Fix

The Bloody Fix is out! This is number 2 in the Road to Revolution adventure path, set in the 0onegame's Great City Campaign Setting. In Road to Revolution, every author who wrote a Ward of the Great City Campaign Setting writes an adventure -- part of the adventure path but also usable stand alone -- set in their own ward.

I am seriously excited! Rone (aka The Jade) and I put our hearts and souls into this little number, and I think we've got something special for you -- if nothing else, a very unusual and versatile monster you'll be able to put at the BBEG heart of any campaign. But what am I talking about, "if nothing else"? Bloody Fix holds vengeance, and vindication, poetry slams, back alley ambushes, insult contests, double crosses, manimals, harlots, murder, mayhem and blood soaked mimes. It's got torture, pimps, sacrifice, fighting pits, uncontrollable fires, hallucinogens, mutilation and slaughter -- and it slams the PCS right into the middle of it all. What's not to love? Check it - I think we won't disappoint.

I'm pretty proud of this one, and Rone and I get to write another in the series, #4, in another month or so. I truly hope you enjoy and can't wait to hear how it went for you.

- Lou


Interview with Greg Vaughan, Paizo Publishing Fan Favorite

Lou: We’re on the phone with Greg Vaughan. Now Greg, you are a fan favorite and perhaps one of Paizo’s most – if not the most – prolific author they’ve got. You’ve been writing for quite a while and writing some really great stuff. And before we get started, I want to let you know something you probably don’t know.
Greg: What’s that?
Lou: Your work, your writing, is single-handedly responsible [pause] for killing more of my characters than any other author in Paizo history.
Greg: [laughter] And all I can say is it’s all been worthwhile.
Lou: [laughter] Yeah. Yeah. So my question for you is, “Why do you hate players?”
Greg: Well it all goes back to that traumatic childhood [laughter], and mainly because of my older brother. He always played, and I always DM’d and that was my way to get back.
Lou: Ahh, interesting. So you have how many brothers and sisters?
Greg: I have one older brother and one younger sister.
Lou: Interesting. So does your sister play or just your brother?
Greg: Just my brother. My sister I tried to get her involved, but she found it too scary. She’s mad because I never let her play after that. She feels left out now. [laughter].
Lou: So you’ve been writing and publishing how long now? When I look at your biography I see some stuff going back to 2004, but I’m feeling like you were publishing before that.
Greg: Well, my first published adventure was in Dungeon #106. Which I want to say was 02 or 03, I can’t remember exactly. But my writing. Well the second thing I got published. Actually, it was ’04. January of ’04. I’m looking at it right here. But the second thing I got published was something I wrote the basics for when I was 9. So I guess I’ve kind of been writing adventures my whole life. Not necessarily publishing worthy, but I’ve been trying.
Lou: And do you have a running count in your head. Do you have an idea of how many adventures you’ve written?
Greg: Uhm. I think it’s probably, maybe, two dozen.
Lou: And it’s not just adventures, right, and its dragon magazine articles? Or?
Greg: It’s mainly adventures. I’ve done a few kind of splat book supplemental like stuff, but maybe ¾ or more is adventures. That’s my favorite. Writing adventures.
Lou: Ok. I see you’ve written for Paizo and Wizards and Necromancer. So are you working on something for Paizo right now?
Greg: Yes. I am currently hard at work on my adventure for Legacy of Fire, the adventure path to follow Second Darkness.
Lou: And can you tell us…anything about that, or is it all hush-hush, wrap wrap?
Greg: I can give you some general hints. I think some of it has been released already, as far as what’s been going on with it. The adventure is called “The Impossible Eye” which actually, Eric Mona came up with it. It’s got a very pulpy feel to it. I really like it. Me and James [Jacobs] were kind of stuck to come up with a title. And it is set entirely within the City of Brass. Efreeti City.
Lou: So this is the Impossible I? Impossible that I shall survive this? [laughter]
Greg: [laughter] Now that you mention it, yes. That’s even better!
Lou: Did you wind up doing a lot of historical research on this? Or was this a pure fantastical creation?
Greg: Well, the main thing I did was look at a bunch of old 1st edition. I love looking back at the first edition DM guide, which had that painting of the city of brass in there.
Lou: Yes!
Greg: I drew inspiration from that. I opened the adventure with – and who knows if it’ll make it past the editing or not – but with a quote from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The City of Brass”. So you know, I kind of tinkered around with it. I looked at all my old Al-Kadim stuff to get that Arabian flavor. A lot of Wikipedia research, Googling, that sort of thing. But nothing too extensive I guess. I guess I’m too lazy of that I suppose.
Lou: [laughter] Has it been more research for this one or less research than you usually do?
Greg: I think I did the most research probably for the first adventure path for pathfinder, the Spires of Xin-Shalast. And I think maybe because it just intimidated me so much, and it was so much on my plate. And I wasn’t sure what to do with it. And I wound up doing more research on that, even into mining operations and such, because it has this one little side encounter that takes place in this old miner’s cabin. Doing all kinds of research on that, but probably this is the second most.
Lou: What’s your published piece of which you’re most proud?
Greg: Of which I’m most proud? I’d have to divide that between adventures and non-adventures. Non-adventures, the brand new “Into the Darklands” by Paizo. For the Pathfinder chronicles. Their Underdark-type campaign setting, and I loved writing that with James Jacobs. It’s by far my favorite non-adventure. For adventures, it’d probably be a toss-up between the Istvin Arc that I did for Dungeon magazine—
Greg: [cackle]
Lou: That one killed FIVE of my characters.
Greg: You’re making my day. [laughter]
Lou: It’s true, man. It’s really true! [laughter]
Greg: The other, would probably be Torrents of Dread, which was the adventure where Dungeon first revisited the Isle of Dread, for the first time in…
Lou: Right. It’s classic.
Greg: Those were both a lot of fun to write I think.
Lou: Now, you get a chance to work with a lot of big names. You’ve worked with Nick Logue. I know you’ve even done stuff for his Sinister Adventures project. You’ve co-authored with Rich Pett. There’s Tim Hitchcock, Mike Kortes, Tito Leati…yeah, your peers are among the biggest and the best in our RPG industry. And you’ve collaborated with a lot of them. What do you think differentiates your work from theirs? I mean, what’s the Greg Vaughan signature move?
Greg: Probably [laughter] probably being not as good? [laughter] You call them my peers. I don’t know if they’re my peers. Those of some good names that have been great to work with, and I’m kind of in awe of most of them. Except for that Logue guy [laughter].
Lou: Oh that Logue character [laughter], I know. I know.
Greg: He’s kind of scary.
Lou: Sinister Adventures. Pffft. [laughter]
Greg: You know, my work I think is a little more on the old school side. Nick Logue, for instance, he’ll write these wonderful running encounters with just all these crazy plot twists. And I’m spending all my sweat trying to make a dungeon complex that’s really interesting to look at and has neat rooms. So it’s really kind of a different focus. I’m more the old time dungeon crawl type thing as opposed to the acrobatic theatrical kind of thing.
Lou: So you’re Greg “Classics Revisited” Vaughan?
Greg: Yeah, I guess. There you go! [laughter]
Lou: So now, Greg, you live in Oklahoma, right?
Greg: I do.
Lou: And you were born there? Or?
Greg: I was.
Lou: And if I recall properly from our GenCon conversation, you work in insurance, right?
Greg: I do. [chuckle]
Lou: And that’s commercial farm insurance or you run a group for insurance?
Greg: I work in a claims office for a personalized carrier, Farmer’s Insurance…
Lou: Ok, so that’s your day job.
Greg: Yes.
Lou: So my question is, how has being an insurance manager influenced you work? [long pause]
Lou: [hums theme from Jeopardy]
Greg: It gives me a strong desire—
Lou: [laughter] – to escape! Are you sure it just isn’t Oklahoma. You know all big and flat and you’re like oh my god, I’ve got to fill this with something?
Greg: [laughter]. Yeah. No. You know, like insurance isn’t a real intellectually stimulating job. It’s got its moments, and it can be interesting. A lot of legal stuff. But yeah. Sometimes, you just got to cut loose with the imagination. And gaming and writing, in particular, have been a good avenue for me.
Lou: So if I could be as bored as you are, then I could be the Greg Vaughan. Is that what you’re saying? [laughter]
Greg: [laughter] Yeah, I guess. Something like that.
Lou: Actually, a little more seriously. Talking to you at last Gencon, something very interesting I thought came out of one of our conversations. Somehow I was on the topic of the civil war, and I asked you, “Hey, I don’t recall. Which side of the war was Oklahoma on?” And…you looked at me and you said, “Which tribe?”
Greg: Exactly.
Lou: And that’s how I found – Oklahoma was still a territory at the time, I think? Right?
Greg: Yes it was. It was Indian territory in fact.
Lou: And that’s how I found out that you’ve got Cherokee in your background right?
Greg: Yep.
Lou: Has that influenced your work at all? Is there any resonance with modern or past issues? Being Cherokee or part Cherokee, is that anywhere in your work?
Greg: Yeah, it probably is. Just to the extent that in college I majored in Archeology with an emphasis in Native American studies, just because I have a lot of interest there. And I think that my archaeology background has probably come through in my work a lot. So I don’t know that I tackled Native American Issues or anything like that. But just the whole idea of archeology and these older societies. Uncovering clues as to their natures and stuff like. That has definitely found its way throughout my work.
Lou: So it got you going, in other words? Your personal connection to history got you going in that way?
Greg: Yeah. That’s a good way to say it.
Lou: Ok, switching tacts a little… [pause] Does Paizo owe you any money?
[awkward pause]
Greg: Er…they owe me a couple of bucks.
Lou: Yeah! Ok. Now we’re getting to it! [laughter] Seriously. Working with Paizo: that’s really what I want to ask you about. They’ve got an amazing editorial staff. They’ve got almost a legendary editorial staff at this time, if you look at the number of Ennies they’ve won. So what’s it like working with them? You like it, obviously, you keep doing it… [laughter]
Greg: Paizo is…freelancing for them is like a dream job for writing. They’re the coolest bunch of guys. They’re all really down to earth, easy to deal with. Getting to meet them at GenCon, I sparked up some decent friendships with them. I mean they’re not just faces and names, they’re actually good dudes. And they’re of course, like you said, they’re legendary editors and writers in their own right. They’re just amazing. They always take my work and make it better. They’re great.
Lou: Have you got any good editorial stories? Like where James Jacobs really came down on you, or where you told him “No! We’re going to do it my way!” or any juicy conflicts?
Greg: Well, James and I have this ongoing, low-grade cold war about me putting steam power into Golarion. [laughter]Now he’s found it and rooted it out every time, but I think I slipped a little into the Darklands. I don’t know if he noticed it or not.
Lou: Ah ha!
Greg: Bwah ha! Soon Paizo will be steam punk. [laughter] No, not steam punk. I don’t want to go steam punk. But you know, it’s that archeological side of me. The Greeks were experimenting with steam power 2,000 years ago; so, I’ve always wondered what would have happened if some dwarves and some wizards had gotten a hold of that? They would have made a go of it. You know just little things. Not the mechanized armor or stuff like that, that you see in…
Lou: Right, right. Be aware Jacobs! He’s slipping it past you.
Greg: He’s caught on now, so… [indecipherable]…taunting me about that. It’s on. That’s all I have to say.
Lou: Well what about collaborating? Do you enjoy collaborating? Are you a strictly I like to write alone kind of guy? Who have you collaborated with and what was that like?
Greg: As far as collaborating? I’ve collaborated with James. I’ve collaborated with Erik Mona on the Istvin arc a long time ago. On Paizo stuff, most of the collaboration was after the fact, after my part was done I guess. Richard Pett I’ve done some collaboration with. Some with Wizards of the Coast. The final 3rd edition adventure that they published. The first Forgotten Realms 4th edition adventure that they published I worked with Dave Noonan. And it’s ok. My problem I find is I think my creativity is much slower than most of the people that I work with. Like working with a Richard [Pett], he’ll bounce a hundred ideas off of me by the time I come up with two solid ones. So I kind of am afraid that I hinder the creative process a little bit with them. I’m the slow and steady guy, I guess.
Lou: Or maybe you’re actually short-cutting it. It takes them 30 to get their 2, and you just go “Hmm. Hmm. Two!”
Greg: Well [laughter] maybe so, but those ideas seem really good when they’re throwing them out there! You know, it’s got its advantages and it’s got its disadvantages. Depends on the project, I guess. If it’s something near and dear to my heart, and I want it to be just a certain way, then I’d probably want to do it alone. But if it’s something where I really need creative help, well, that’s what these guys are great for, and then it’s awesome. Because, like I said, I think most of them – maybe all of them – are better writers than I am. When the final truth comes out. So I really kind of get to ride their coat tails.
Lou: Did they train you to be this humble in Oklahoma? Or, is that just you?
Greg: [laughter] It’s that traumatic childhood again. [laughter] It’s all very Freudian. [more laughter]
Lou: Well, I hear something actually. I heard a rumor that shows, I think a different side of Greg Vaughan. Where you not so humble. I heard there was, last Gencon,
Greg: Uh oh.
Lou: Or maybe it was 2 Gencons ago. You wanted to like absolutely trash one of your fellow writers. You just wanted to pound him in the head. I heard that you scared the crud out of him.
Greg: What?
Lou: Yeah, yeah. I heard that this had to do with the Mwangi? Stuff.
Greg: Mwangi stuff? [pause] Oh! You’re talking about
[together] Clinton Boomer! [laughter]
Lou: Clinton Boomer! That’s who I’m talking about! [laughter] He told me that you scared the crap out of him.
Greg: Oh, I did?
Lou: Clinton Boomer of course is an RPG Superstar, what was he 4th place or something? What was he? Second? I don’t recall.
Greg: Yeah, he’s another one of those wildly creative guys. Oh crap. I didn’t even know that got back to him. [laughter]
Lou: Yeah. Well he apparently knew the whole thing when you walked up to him at a dinner, I think it was, and said, “Hey, did you say that you were taking credit for this Mwangi piece?” He already knew the whole story, so.
Greg: Oh.
Lou: Yeah, why don’t you tell that? Tell us about that a little bit. What was going on?
Greg: Oh, it wasn’t really me wanting to ‘trash’ him. I thought he was messing with me, and I was like hey – I contributed this one little itty bitty piece of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting. I got to do the ethnic write-up on the Mwangi people. And that’s my claim – you know this book has 20 big name authors on it. And then there’s me with my 2 pages. And I…but Clinton had written in it as well, and I wasn’t aware of it. And…someone had told me the he was telling people that he had written the Mwangi, and I’m like “Wait! No! That’s all I’ve got! You can’t take that away from me! Hey – he didn’t write the Mwangi, I wrote the Mwangi!” Well, it turns out, there’s the region that the Mwangi live in, which is called the Mwangi Expanse, which is what he wrote. [laughter]
Lou: Ah, so you wrote the people…
Greg: Yeah. And when they said he said he wrote the “Mwangi” they didn’t use the word “expanse.” And I’m like, “He’s stealing that from me!”[laughter] But no, I didn’t want to trash him. I just wanted…it just boggled my mind a little.
Lou: Right, right.
Greg: But I didn’t know he knew, and now I’m going to feel terrible…wow. I feel really bad. I didn’t know I had given him a hard time about that. [laughter] Sorry Clinton Boomer!
Lou: [laughter] Oh, I’m sure you can make it up to him. Ok, so here’s a question for you: is there anything you’ve written, that you’ve labored on, thrown your love into, and it isn’t published yet? Have you got something on the shelf that you’re looking around for someone to put out there?
Greg: Oh I’ve got all this steam power stuff for Golarion, and it just breaks my heart [laughter]. No, I wrote a 3 part epic adventure series for Necromancer games. It came out to literally, just shy of a ½ million words in length. And it was completed just before all the rumors about 4E started going down. And necromancer had basically put all their products on hold. So it has languished for a couple of years, unpublished, completed…I’d love to see it get into print. It’s just such a big beast, that’s what it is [laughter].
Lou: Now is that something you own the rights to it? Does Necromancer own the rights to it?
Greg: Well, they haven’t published it. I’ve never been paid; so, technically I own the rights to it. It does involve a lot of their intellectual property; so I’m really hesitant to try to farm it out because I don’t want to have to strip out all the great stuff…I kind of used it as glue for a lot of their different products. I pulled a lot of little bits and pieces from everywhere to make it a cohesive whole.
Lou: Who is the main baddy, if that’s not a secret?
Greg: Orcus.
Lou: Aw…ok wait a minute. You’re telling me there is a five hundred thousand word, epic adventure, unpublished, by Greg Vaughan that focuses on Orcus?
Greg: Uh, yeah. Pretty much that’s it. You can meet him in it too.
Lou: So only Necromancer or someone with an alliance or relationship with Necromancer. Someone like *cough*Paizo*cough* could publish it.
Greg: [laughter] I’ve mentioned it. I have. I’ve asked Paizo about that very thing, because they are partners with Necromancer. And I assumed they can deal with each others’ intellectual property. And basically, we’re all just kind of sitting to see how the revised GSL is going to come out. Because Necromancer is committed to going 4e. At this point I would like to try to keep from updating it to 4e, because it just wouldn’t be a super smooth translation. It’s doable but I just think it loses something in the translation…and so they gotta find out…can they do something in 4e and still be a part of something that’s 3.5, Pathfinder, whatever. So it’s all just kind of hung up on the GSL right now.
Lou: Ok folks, you heard it. Who wants a 3 part, 500k word, epic mega-adventure about Orcus by Greg Vaughan? If you do, the person you need to send emails to is [stage whispers] Erik Mona!
Greg: [laughter] It’s called Slumbering Tsar. Remember that. Slumbering Tsar.
Lou: [laughter]. That’s great. Alright, Greg, I think we’re going to wrap it up here. One of the things I did when I knew I was going to be interviewing you was I sent out some emails, and asked some of your fans if they had any questions for you—
Greg: Oh wow! You mean I’ve got fans? That’s cool?
Lou: Oh no, you totally have fans. But I went through the stack, and I’m just going to pick one. And this is from a fan of yours named Carlos Brown. And Carlos writes:
[reads aloud] “I played the Istvin trilogy…and if I ever see you I’m going to cock punch you. You killed most of my characters, you fuck.”
Greg: [laughter] This guy sounds really familiar.
Lou: [laughter] They use that word, cock, right? Out in Oklahoma? It doesn’t just mean rooster for you?
Greg: No--[laughter]
Lou: You know what that is, right? [laughter]
Greg: I’m familiar with the term. Well we do, or we did have cock fighting out here until recently? So that could take on a whole different connotation.
Lou: Sure. Well it’s a good thing that they shut that down.
Greg: Yes, yes it is.
Lou: Greg, thank you very much. Thank you for being interviewed. Thank you for sharing with your fans and myself, and I really appreciate it. And I’ll talk to you soon, man.
Greg: Ok, thank you. I look forward to next time we meet.
Lou: Yeah, that’ll be great. Bye!
Greg: Bye!

Questions for Greg? Or just want to punch him for killing your characters? Post your comment here!


Want to learn more about Pathfinder? Read on...

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Bodyguards for PFS#8: Slave Pits of Absalom

Paizo recently published my first Pathfinder Society adventure (PFS#8: Slave Pits of Absalom), which is very exciting for me. Some discussions on the boards, however, revealed people also have a desire to play with the adventure outside Pathfinder Society organized play; for example, in a home campaign.

I decided to post some of those ideas and elements here (instead of at Paizo), in order to avoid confusing this material with anything official. So let me be clear: NOTHING IN WHAT FOLLOWS IS AUTHORIZED, ENDORSED, OR OTHERWISE SUPPORTED BY PAIZO. AND NONE OF THESE IDEAS OR MATERIALS ARE FOR USE IN PFS OR ORGANIZED PLAY. This has nothing to do with Paizo, because I’m just a freelancer. I’m not employed by Paizo. This is just me posting up some cool stuff for people to play around with at home. Also, this post will make little sense unless you already own PFS#8: Slave Pits of Absalom.


Ok, disclaimers aside, what came up on the Paizo message boards was that Montalve wondered why Pardu Pildapush didn't have any bodyguards.

Originally, there were bodyguards, but for a variety of reasons they were removed in editing. Here is an excerpt from the pre-development submission, which includes the bodyguards (context, behavior and stat blocks). Have fun!

Word document with non PFS encounter variant.


The Rudis Review: Shadows of Cthulhu

Book: Shadows of Cthulhu
Length/Type: 130 pgs., PDF
System: True 20
Author: Russ Brown
Publisher: Reality Deviant Press
Licensor/Endorser: Chaosium Inc., Werecabbages

(5 0f 5 rudii)

Something interesting about Call of Cthulhu always strikes me when I re-read, as I periodically do, Wizards of the Coast’s 1999 study (released 2/7/2000), “Adventure Game Industry Market Research Summary.” Namely, 8% of all gamers play Call of Cthulhu. Think about it for a moment: according to some conservative estimates, at least something like 6 million people play RPGs each month, with Cthulhu players closing in on the 500,000 player per month mark1. Yet no company publishing Cthulhu products – including Chaosium -- has any RPG market share of which to speak. No company has turned Cthulhu into a product with traction.

In the world of PDF publishing, that may be changing.

‘Cause Russ Brown and RDP’s Chaosium endorsed, Shadows of Cthulhu is one helluva book, marrying the True20 system seamlessly – and I mean seamlessly – to CoC horror role-playing. I have to confess, I was skeptical. As a Werecabbage, I had an insider seat when the concept for the book first reared its head (much like Putin, only not in Alaska). I was even in on the initial design discussions, and, while graciously asked to participate, regretfully declined, as I was overbooked at the time.

Declining looks like a mistake, now. You see, my skepticism revolved around the fundamental challenge of taking a game like CoC – where characters are pretty much guaranteed to die or go insane in 10 sessions or so – and marrying it to a system built, at core, around a leveling-up mechanic. Russ tackled that problem two ways. He hit it head-on by discussing it openly and then succinctly advising narrators on style and approach. He also hit it mechanically three ways: (1) by adapting and adopting True20s Conviction point system; (2) introducing a new and similarly structured Mythos Awareness point system, and (3) eliminating CoC sanity points – without eliminating insanity. After all, what would Cthulhu be without insanity?

I particularly enjoyed Russ’ turning the question of sane/insane into a save versus a DC assigned to the mind-bending experience. Making the type of insanity suffered on a failed save into a property of the mythos creature encountered is sheer gaming goodness gravy. Yet for those who don’t care to give up their sanity points, Russ also includes an alternate sanity system, with a mental damage tracker, in the appendix.

This alternate sanity system stands as a hallmark of Brown’s approach to design. For nearly every mechanical innovation, he provides an alternate approach to help gamers retain the feel they may expect or prefer from their Cthulhu. At the very least, his clear cognizance of True20s intersection with traditional Cthulhu play style empowers gamers while harnessing True20’s unique attributes and power. For example, among the topics he addresses: how to incorporate True20’s core roles; how to integrate the True20 Companion’s previously published insanity rules; or what to do with the supernatural powers already extant in the True20 system.

However, the real power of Shadows lies in its thoroughness, its attention to detail, and the rich mythos tools it reverently places in the hands of players. Beside revisiting and tuning beloved classics from Cthulhu role-play, Russ gives us new roles, new mythos traits, new and modified skills, new and modified feats, new insanities (lovingly detailed), and new mythos powers. He and RDP deliver new and exciting ancient places, forbidden books, mythos artifacts, cults, adversaries, allies and more. He even delivers a classic mythos infested village, Dunwich – the ideal location to kick off your players’ descents into madness and horror. And he does a damn fine job of it. The topper? Every entry in the mythos bestiary comes with motivations (where the beasties are not mindless or utterly inscrutable) or an adventure hook. This book just bleeds adventure and story.

The goodness doesn’t stop there. Shadows is thoroughly researched. Impressively researched. Many of the ‘new’ mythos items and places are heavily grounded in the odd and mysterious artifacts of real world history. I was utterly gripped by Brown’s taught, streamlined 9 page summary of the 1920s: its daily life, its political and economic factions, and its technology. I’ve opined elsewhere that when a work requires good authors to summarize something that isn’t their primary topic (life in the 20s, for example) as a prerequisite for getting to their primary topic (destroying life in the 20s with ancient gods and brain-sucking tentacles, for example), the author frequently does a better job codifying than the experts (probably because experts have a tendency to step on their own dic..er…tails when expounding). Russ doesn’t disappoint, and he doesn’t slog into so much detail we drown. In all honestly, I’ll be using his clean, concise summary of the 1920s as authoritative research for a creative project on which I’m currently engaged. Thanks for saving me a ton of library time, Russ Brown!

But Brown doesn’t stop with historical research. He gives us authoritative mythos and Lovecraft research as well, delivered with veins of subtle humor and evident love for his subject. Here’s a short sample from "Chapter 3: Narrating Shadows of Cthulhu"

Horrifying Aliens
These are not the aliens of traditional science fiction. They don’t travel through space in sleek metal ships or demand to see our leaders. Many of them glide through interstellar space without ships, even crossing the folds of time and space to reach Earth. Many are already were, and were were long before the human race took its first bipedal steps and fashioned its first tools. Their alien motivations are incomprehensible. They may have outposts hidden in the hills where they mine the Earth’s rare metals. They may be the last remnants of a primordial civilization destroyed by even more terrible enemies or imprisoned by strange supernatural forces. They may be unimaginably powerful and godlike, floating mindlessly in the interstellar voids and imposing an order in the universe that appears insane to the limited human mind. Or they may just want to remove our brains.

Russ’s simple, condensed and considered breakdown of Lovecraft’s often chaotic, even inconsistent Cthulhu mythos in Chapter 3 is not to be missed.

So don’t miss it. RDPs PDF is clear and beautifully laid out. Given my druthers, I may have organized a few sub chapters differently, but production quality is very high. Like the book as a whole, Jason Walton’s illustrations are deceptively simple but marvelous. Gray scale, crisp, almost – but not quite – pure graphic novel; his choice to portray chthonic creatures of shadow and horror in clean, heavily inked lines really works. To my surprise, his design choices convey a surprising realism that somehow just perfectly captures the subtle wrongness of mind-bending, slobbering mythos creatures imposing on the real world. Simultaneously he captures the sense of adventure that thrills us at the prospect of engaging these horrors – or serving them.

Bravo, Russ. Well done, RDP.

Lovers of True20 meet Cthulhu. Lovers of Cthulhu…uhh…what are you doing with those tentacles!? Ahgh. Yugh. Aww damn – that’s just wrong.

Want to learn more about Shadows of Cthulhu? Read on...

1 http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/wotcdemo.html http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/3655627.stm http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/whatis/demographics.html


Riffing to Paizo Publishing's PFS#8 – Slave Pits of Absalom

So, Paizo recently published my first Pathfinder Society adventure (PFS#8: Slave Pits of Absalom), which is very exciting for me. Some discussions on the boards, however, revealed people also have a desire to play with the adventure – or elements in the adventure – outside Pathfinder Society organized play.

As it so happens, there were ideas that came up in the course of writing and developing the piece that really weren’t appropriate for Pathfinder Society’s organized play, but might be fun to monkey with at home. In direct response to a customer request, I decided to post some of those ideas and elements here.


This has nothing to do with Paizo, because I’m just a freelancer. I’m not employed by Paizo. This is just me posting up some cool stuff for people to play around with at home, because I love to play around with cool stuff. It’s just like any other customer posting up some homebrew ideas related to a Paizo product. In fact, most of this will make absolutely no sense unless you already own PFS#8: Slave Pits of Absalom, which you can buy here.

Ok, disclaimers aside, what came up on the message boards was Chris Mortika noticing that people might want to sneak aboard the ship instead of fight their way aboard. Here are some suggestions I think support that kind of fun:

Sneaking Aboard Changes (Spoiler Alert!)
1. Have the Puddlejumpers ambush the party at a different location on the dock. That way…
2. The crew of the ship does not notice the fight. They are inebriated and sleep through any distant noise.
3. Let’s add torches on the ship, illuminating the dock poorly and…
4. Put some of the tie lines mooring the ship outside the illumination so they become a viable “sneak ramp” into the ship.
5. Let’s turn the ship into a more fantastical 3-decker contrivance, as that allows for portholes PCs can reach from the water.
6. And to support this way of access, let the read aloud text describe all sorts of little dinghy’s and rowboats also tied to the docks. The PCs might steal one and float it in the darkness around the other side of the ship.
7. Place the PCs rescue target in the bottom level.
8. Finally, turn the fighting tower on the top deck into the captain’s quarters and have the mate sleeping down below with the slaves he punishes. This allows us to transform the ship into a system of balanced tensions whereby the worse the PCs are at sneaking:
-- The sooner they are stopped from reaching their goal, the bottom hold, and
-- The more monsters they wind up fighting at once, and
-- The worse the circumstances under which they fight

So if the PCs are good at sneaking aboard, they are rewarded with an easy entrance. If they are bad at sneaking aboard, they get punished with more difficult tactical situations of their own contrivance.

So here’s how I would implement those changes to create a fun, ‘sneak – friendly’ way to access the ship in the final encounter. Remember, try this at home but not in PFS play, as I have no say in anything Pathfinder Society or, for that matter, in anything Paizo at all.

Hand drawn map variant.
Word document with non PFS encounter variant.


Lou's Noodle #2: Historical Analogues in RPG Design

So this is just a little noodle on historical analogues in RPG design. For anyone reading their first one, these noodles are just a little stream of consciousness musing on a topic. This time around its the way specific RPGs (and most other fiction) ground themselves in specific historical time periods or cleave to historical elements to achieve verisimilitude. My wonderings include things like how necessary is it? When to draw the line between historicity and fantasy?

Here's an example to illustrate what I'm writing about: I was once commissioned to write an adventure piece for a well-known publisher that included a ship (no, its not one of the pieces whose covers are cycling about to the left). Reasonably well versed in the history of military naval architecture, I started with an historical ship. Then I researched the evolution of ships of that type, and lastly, based on that evolution through the centuries I extrapolated an over the top, three decker, fantasy version of the vessel.

Did an over the top, dragon prowed, multi-masted, tricked out, fighting towered, three-decker ship of that sort ever exist? No. Would it have been sea-worthy if it had? Maybe. Some wacky things have been put on the water throughout history. The imperial Romans, for example, created barges large enough to sport gardens and entire temples -- not that such ever crossed the Mediterranean, let alone the Atlantic. This is part of my point, though; namely that historical analogues can be a trap for the unwary. Why do I care if a fantasy ship can cross the real Atlantic or not? What if I just need a coast hugger, and a fantasy coast at that? Is it a calm coast? Has anyone decided yet? If I'm the author of the coast, and my fantasy ship is fun enough or central enough to the play experience of gamers, then guess what? It's a calm coast.

The other part of my point is that the publisher hated what I had created. They even told me I should research some boats, that ships of this type were a certain way and not my way, and get back to them with something more realistic. Now that is a publisher's prerogative. In this case, particularly, I was a guest in their world. If my editor asks for something realistic, realistic they shall have. I'd prefer to know that before I write, to save time if for no other reason, but fair enough. Not my call. Historicity delivered.

But this is a game, so I have to ask myself: you may have more realism, but do you have more fun? History can be a trap that makes us lose sight of the fun as we try to be real. This is a game; so, anything that reduces the fun for the audience is a mistake.

There are, of course, other design considerations: length, audience demographics, aesthetic and content continuity with other pieces in the series, price of the final product, word count, space for maps, etc, but I can't find it in me to insist on historicity for its own sake. To be fair, I'm sure the publisher had aesthetic continuity issues that required the more historical ship, but as a general rule where to draw the line between fantasy and history?

I think the answer lies in verisimilitude and context. Straying too far from an historical base may result in the unbelievable. Nothing inherently wrong with this, but its an acquired taste; so if the audience is expecting a certain level of verisimilitude and our piece smashes that expectation? That could be useful for fun (and sales) or not depending on the context. By context I mean, what is the audience buying this game trying to accomplish? Are they buying because they expect to experience a certain kind of fun? Or are they buying because they're hoping to have their expectations trumped and to fly on the wings of the author's imagination, no matter to what fever-dreamy land this may lead?

So I conclude that the level of historicity needed in RPGs can't be generalized, but is always a function of the publisher's goals for a specific piece. Too little and the piece may approach an abstract level out of sync with the publisher's general work and their particular audience's desires. As authors we have to be careful not to place obstacles in the way of the audience's suspension of disblief.

On the other hand, too much historicity and you have an historical game/fiction, not a fantasy. Integrating and balancing these constraints against the creative impulse of the author -- the fantastical visions whirling through the brain and heart -- sits firmly in the realm of art. In our games, however, art must serve a higher mistress, a mistress more defined by the audience than by anything else. Art must serve fun.

Personally, I find over the top, dragon prowed, multi-masted, tricked out, fighting towered, three-decker ships that never existed (but could have) to be more fun. But that's just me.


Lots of exciting new stuff!

Hey all,

Lots of exciting new stuff going on these days. I've recovered from chicken pox (ohmigod that blew) and my wife has recovered from the chicken pox she caught just after I recovered (omhigod did that suck, too!). Only our daughter Kaylie failed to contract the illness. More likely she had it briefly and gave it to her parents.

But that's all personal relief and change. Here are the exciting RPG writing events:

1. PFS#8: Slave Pits of Absalom, my first piece for Paizo ever. The final product is nothing like I originally envisioned. The editorial process at Paizo is exacting! I think the end result, though, is a rocking good slugfest for the Pathfinder Society. And no undead, something PFS has been a tad top-heavy on lately. It's a dream-fulfilled to have my work under the Paizo imprint, and I would love to hear what y'all think!

2. The Road Revolution #1: The Skullcrackers by John Ling is out! First we did the Great City Campaign Setting based on 0onegames award winning map series. Now we're doing an adventure path, taking characters from 1st to 16th (or so) within the Great City. By the end of it, the fate of the entire city will lie in your player's hands.

So the #1 is out. Rone Barton (aka The Jade) and I just submitted our manuscript to the editor, Dave Hall. So #2 is on its way to the executive editor (Tim Hitchcock) and then the publisher. I think you're all going to love it. I just not allowed to say anything more about it. Gah!!!!

Don't miss out on Hitchcock's awesome Great City introductory adventure Pound of Flesh. This is Hitchcock (The Demon Within, Carnival of Tears) in all his whacked-out, sinister glory. To top it off, Mario over at 0onegames put out an entire Great City map folio, including 3/4 3D views and poster printing options. Check it!

3. Speaking of Sinister. Logue has finally relocated his butt over the pond. He's escaped the Pett assassins. He's also getting that whole "new career" thing under control. Yadda yadda - the important thing is we'll be seeing more RPG from his nefarious pen shortly. I saw some preview art for our first Dark Horizons scifi pieces recently and nearly creamed myself. Great stuff. Can...not...wait! to share with y'all.

Well that's all for now. Have a little noodle on the use of real-world analogues in RPG design sticking to the back of my skull cavity, so look for that bit of rumination soon.


Atomic Array Interviews Great City Creators!

Atomic Array -- the hottest new gaming and all around awesome podcast show -- interviewed Tim Hitchcock, lead designer on the Great City Campaign Setting and both myself and John Ling, writers on the Great City Campaign Setting. John and I re-ignited our (previously) behind-the-scenes design argument. I, of course, was right. :^)
Seriously, I think its worth checking out. Atomic Array is always a great show. Here's what they had to say for themselves about this episode:

The Great City (Atomic Array 008)
0one Games publishes some of the BEST maps you’ll find in any gaming product, from any company, anywhere. They will, we assure you, blow your mind.
About a year ago, Mario from 0one asked Tim Hitchcock to flesh out one of those maps: ‘
The Great City‘. Tim grabbed five of the Cabbages and set to work creating a complete urban campaign setting. Rone was one of those designers, so this is a special episode for us. Listen in to hear Tim and Rone edumacate Ed about the fruits of their year-long labor.
Visit 0one Games:
0one Games.com

Ed’s Pick
The Memory of Earth, by Orson Scott Card.

Rone’s Rant
Rone’s broken -dar…

We wrap up our SECRET CODE CONTEST, during which we give away $25 gift certificates, good at Noble Knight Games, to ten lucky winners. And finally… we tell you how you can win a copy of The Great City.
* * * * *
There is a lot more to The Great City than we could fit into this one episode. Feel free to ask questions, or leave a comment on the site. You can also share Atomic Array with a friend, or contact us directly. In fact, we’d love to hear what you think about The Great City. Tell us what you like (or don’t), and what you’d like to see from 0one Games in the future.


Poking fun at the presidential race

Poking fun at the presidential race in D&D terms. Thought y'all might find this funny.


The Doldrums

I am in the doldrums these days. Or as one of my favorite old Sam's once wrote:

Day after day,
day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

And that's definitely me, sans the whole eternally cursed to undeath bit. I've no new projects launched, nothing in print, nothing to crow about. I sat down to write something keen and insightful on role playing or fiction and...nada. Ancient mariners.

On the other hand, lots of things in the works. Over at Sinister Adventures, we're waiting on art from an amazing artist (name withheld for greater, later impact). Then I'll be able to finish editing, and we'll issue Dark Horizons Indulgences -- in which you scifi fans may indulge. For those not in the know, Indulgences are short, self-contained, inexpensive PDFs that will jazz your game as they introduce you to the Sinister universe.

Also for Sinister, Nick Logue and I are still cranking away on Cold Black, and the Werecabbage powered Known Universe Gazetteer (or as we talk about it behind the curtain, the KUG) isn't far around the bend. Hang in there loyal fans. I know its been a rough ride, especially with Meister Logue translocating to UK-land, but we will deliver, and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Simultaneously, I'm also working on two adventures for 0onegames as part of of their Road to Revolution campaign arc. I'm co-writing all 50k words with illimitable Rone Barton, my fellow Werecabbage and known to those of you in Paizo land as "The Jade". With Tim Hitchcock developing and Dave Hall editing, these adventures should kick some @#$%@#%!
Here's a link.

To celebrate 0onegames has created some free, downloadable Revolutionary wall paper, here. My two faves are the Jerusalem like shot of the Great City over water and the defaced "The Goat" proclamation.

For those of you who own the Great City Campaign Setting, don't miss Tim Hitchcock's outrageous and brutal, truly masterful intro adventure A Pound of Flesh. This one is not to be missed. Hell, even if you don't own the GCCS, Pound of Flesh rocks!

OK - this one really is for those of you who own the Great City Campaign Setting, especially Paizoans. There is a head nod to Rone in my Residential Ward section. It's a pretty obvious one if you hang on the Paizo boards, but after I made the allusion, I learned that Rone really had been both of those things. Check it out, you'll get what I mean.

Other things in the pipe include a ............ for .............., that has yet to be announced. However I'm very excited about it! And last but not least, I've been entering a ............. only RPG writing contest for ............. Haven't won one yet, but I'm still striving.

Crud. Damn censors at work again.

As with many of us, RL is kicking my butt, but I'll try to keep you all better posted. And even write up those keen insights to which I alluded earlier. Just have to get this damn Albatross off my neck!


Ohmigod! It's out and its beautiful!

The Great City Campaign Setting from 0onegames is out! I'm so excited! Squee!

It's available in print and pdf, and its the first time an NPC of mine has been illustrated. Made me woozy with the happys!

Definitely, definitely looking forward to feedback and opinions; so, if you got 'em please let me know. Constructive criticism is always welcome, as there is no better way to improve. Let me know!


Lou's Noodle#1: Adventure Tropes

I'm no master of the craft, but I've picked up a trick or two by rubbing elbows with those who are, and, after all, whacking two stones together will eventually start a fire if the tinder is dry enough. Ummm...I mean, put enough monkeys on the job and Shakespeare... Gah. This is just a brief Adventure Design 101 noodle on ways to bust up tropes in D&D adventure writing that work.

What do I mean by tropes? Functionally defined, in classic Swords and Horses adventure writing, we expect swords. We expect horses. We expect monsters. Usually, we expect a BBEG or at least the metaphoric equivalent of a distressed damsel (a village to save, a morose but kindly noble to save, someone to save). We don't, for example, expect clowns.

Now I don't mean jesters, with multi-tonged hats, motley, scepters and bells. Early mentions of jesters in the west stretch back to Pliny the Elder and the Hellenistic court of Ptolemy I. In the east a jester is referenced as a member of the
Vijayanagara Empire. Jesters are almost a trope of Swords and Horses adventure in themselves.

No. I mean big-shoed, white faced, wig-wearing, red nosed, 10-fit-in-a-car, Bozo the Clown clowns. Or mimes. The Marcel Marceau type. Can you picture that guy in your next D&D adventure, facing off against the Paladin? Most of us would get laughed off the table and back home.

Yet Tim Hitchcock and Nick Logue in Paizo's recent Gamemastery module, Carnival of Tears do just that. An entire carnival of clown and circus types. So as writers/designers, how do they get it to work? They use a frame. In fiction, a frame is a way of constructing a story within a story. For example, in The Princess Bride the story of the grandfather teaching his home-from-school-with-a-cold grandson about the joy of reading is the frame story that wraps around the adventures of Wesley and Buttercup.

Hitchcock and Logue (and you'll begin to see who inspires a lot of my own writing as I repeat their names ad nauseum) use the needs of the Fey as a frame wrapped around the players' story of adventuring within the carnival. It's more than a simple justification like "it's a carnival because Fey are wacky...". I see it as a frame because there's an entire other storyline implying why its a carnival. A simple justification would lack sufficient verisimilitude and lead back to getting laughed off the table.

In my own work (warning: shameless plug), I introduce mimes to 0onegames Great City Campaign Setting (developed by Tim Hitchock). Yep. The Marcel Marceau type. I made them powerful monks and gave them an aisan-ish name, "The Monks (or Mimes) of the One Jade". On the cafe strewn, mardi-gras-esque streets of the Great City's Residential Ward they show up and begin to mimic revelers. All is fun at first until the mimic turns mean and starts revealing unpleasant secrets about the mime's victims. These mimes are feared.

Whether you like this or not, none of it is why mimes work in the piece. They work in the piece because of its context. The Great City Campaign Setting chose revolutionary France as one of its historical analogs. So of course a fantasy culture imbued with other hollywood-esque French and French revolutionary elements (open air cafes, a resistance movement, wine bread and cheese, culinary experts, chamber pots, an equivalent to absinthe, rapier wielding poets of the moon), has mimes. They just don't feel out of place.

Sometimes context isn't enough. There's a feature the Mimes of the One Jade share with one of my favorite NPCs from The Great City, a bozo-the-clown clown named Fouche. Fouche is the creation of Greg Oppedisano, and Fouche is a serial killer. A clownish serial killer. By day he desperately tries to entertain a wan, disinterested and sparse populace. At night, he kills them. A performer's ultimate revenge on an indifferent audience!

Fouche, however, is not an intrinsic feature of the party-loving Residential Ward. He's a drift over from the Docks Ward. This NPC works, I think, because of narrative contrast. Clown and Killer. Night and Day. Confused visitor and deadly murderer. Performer and reviler of the audience.

The One Jade mimes have this mirroring, too, only less so. Silent, but they speak your secrets. Wimpy appearance, but deadly martial artists. Still, they rely more on the Residential Ward context for their verisimilitude. Fouche has enough built in contrast to live and work anywhere in the Great City.

In conclusion, here are three techniques I think can help you introduce outre, out of place, trope bashing differences into your adventures without breaking the suspension of disbelief:

  1. Frame Story
  2. Context
  3. Narrative Contrast or Mirroring

EDIT: It occurs to me that a Frame Story is a shortcut technique for creating context through mirroring. Neat.


RPGAggression: My new rpg design blog

It's launched!

Shout out to Ancient Sensei for inspiring me to do this! Hope you all enjoy.

- Lou


Great City Campaign Free Preview - A Whole Ward!

Something I'm really excited about! I put a lot of heart and creativity into The Great City Campaign Setting (based on 0onegames' popular Blueprints line) -- with a ton of authors with whom I'm pleased and humbled to have co-written, truly -- and it comes out next week! The publisher put up one of the 6 wards of the city as a free PDF.

Here's the excerpt from the back of the book:
This sourcebook portrays a struggling mercantile colony ruled by the incompetent son of a brutal emperor. A city whose earliest citizens proudly trace their history back for thousands of years, but now struggle against social and political oppression; a city where a brooding underbelly of resistance fighters, and crime syndicates, and a proud but disillusioned military all wait for their lord to fail. It is a city where night cloaks the deviant works of social outcasts, mad alchemists, and corpse robbers.The Great City is rife with excitement, intrigue and adventure; dare your characters make it their home?

Ok, I've got to get back to writing one of my installments in the adventure path. I'm late. First time ever, and it stinks to be behind schedule!


I have another new gaming book out!

I'm in a new book. It's called PC Pearls and is the companion to Goodman Games, GM Gems. Like Gems, its a big Werecabbages project (http://www.werecabbages.com/). On this one, I wrote but didn't edit/develop. However, it's really exciting because I had the chance to immortalize my friend Carlos' hysterical, cynical, self-absorbed character, Lord Bedlam Havok the Invoker. With ideas contributed by all the cabbages and with big time fiction help from the pen of Clinton Boomer, we delivered Lord Havok's pearls of hysterically funny wisdom on the do's and dont's of adventure survival. Let me know if you think it's as funny as we do!


Totally Podgasmic Casting

Hilarious, outrageous, insightful, informative. If you're into gaming, these are the podcasts never to miss. Check it out!



What's Cooking?

Well, Goodman announced a project I was involved with (along with a passle of other Werecabbages -- http://www.werecabbages.com/), and I'm very excited about it. A book of advice and guidance on pimping out your PC. The book is called PC Pearls, and the link to their preview is: http://www.goodman-games.com/4372preview.html. I'm a writer on this one. Too busy with Sinister Adventures (http://www.sinisteradventures.com/) and some work for Paizo's Pathfinder Society to pitch in as a developer and editor. However, Rone Barton, Adam Daigle, Steve Greer, and Greg Oppedisano did a smash up job. My favorite for this piece was an article I had the opportunity to write with Clinton Boomer with a whole lot of input from Greg Oppedisano. We brought the infamous Bedlam Havok to life, and folks, you won't regret checking him (and his Pearls of wisdom) out.

Other things in the works I'm excited about are:

  • The Great City Campaign Setting from 0onegames (http://www.0onegames.com/) is rumored to be coming out this summer. This is just downright tasty.
  • Working on two somethings related for 0onegames that I can't talk about yet. Damn it.
  • Just turned in a piece for Paizo's Pathfinder Society (http://www.paizo.com/). Very excited about that one! Once its in print I'll tell you the name and where to get it.
  • Also working hard on the Known Universe Gazateer, Cold Black, and expect to see some Dark Horizons indulgences, hopefully in July! All at Sinister. http://www.sinisteradventures.com/
Thanks for tuning in!


SAW#12 Out on RPGNow

The last adventure in the first volume of Sidetrek Adventure Weekly hit the virtual stands. I wrote it in 3 days, with some help from Greg Oppedisano (the line manager) and the always solid, sounding-board advice of my friends/fellow authors, Tim Hitchcock and Rone Barton. Very exciting. I really enjoy the cover art. Nothing like having something you only saw in your head brought to life!

I'm particularly pleased with a chase mechanic I invented to simplify outrunning an avalanche, but given a chance, I'd make some changes. The publisher plans to re-release with them, but I just can't wait. So if I had it to do again, I'd change these entries (changes in italics):

Hit By the Bury Zone
If the bury zone hits players, they lose maneuverability until the avalanche hurtles them over the cliff. While in the bury zone they suffer its effects each minute (DMG pg90). Every other round PCs are in the Bury Zone, they may make a Climb Check (DC20) to struggle through to the slide zone, take damage and be catapulted out in front of the avalanche (+2 Chase Points). Once thrown over the cliff, the unfortunate player has two rounds to escape the falling snow and rocks or be buried beneath the avalanche, under very cold water. Being buried means the player is immobilized by 100’ of ice and snow in all directions (digging and under water spell casting are still possible). The drowning rules (DMG pg 304) apply, as do the effects of very cold water (DMG pg 304). The rapids dissipate the ice and snow of the avalanche at the rate of 20’ per round. At the top of the 6th round after being buried, the rapids carry buried players to the surface without requiring a Swim check. After surfacing, Swim checks are required for fast-moving water as normal.

Hit By the Slide Zone
We use a modified version of the avalanche rules (DMG pg90). If the Slide Zone hits a player (when, at the start of any give round, the avalanche slide zone Chase Points equal or exceed a player’s Chase Points), that player must make a Reflex Save (DC 15 for half damage) or take 3d6 bludgeoning damage from rocks and ice. They must also make a DC 7 Balance check or Wipeout (-1 Chase Points). However, unlike the rule in the DMG, a failed save does not result in burial, just the Wipeout penalty. All PCs hit by the Slide Zone are picked up and thrown forward, gaining +2 Chase Points.

If players Wipeout, they lose 1 chase point, as if spending one round recovering and resuming their pell-mell descent. After a Wipeout, players may choose any of the terrain types for their next move, regardless of which terrain type caused the Wipeout.

If anyone out there in cyber land gives this a whirl, I'd love to hear about it!


I can finally talk about the Great City Campaign Setting!

I've been dying to talk about this project, but its been under wraps. I'm one of a group of writers on a very original, intriguing and fun urban campaign setting called "The Great City" from 0onegames. It comes out the summer of 2008 and the first ads just hit Kobold Quaterly #4.

Ok, I'm biased for obvious reasons; but I really do feel this is a unique urban setting. We were given tremendous creative freedom, and I think it shows. Each of us was given a section of the city and let loose. Each writer is a Werecabbage, and we collaborated at every step of the way. Tim Hitchcock, our fearless leader, provided the center about which we all held (oblique Yeats reference intended).

On top of it all, the setting (contained in one book) is based on and accompanied by Mario Barbati's Ennie award winning maps and map systems. There is more coming down the pike, too, but I can't talk about that stuff yet (damn!).

Either way, this is the piece of fantasy RPG writing of which, to date, I am most proud.

When it's out, I hope some of you will let me know what you think!


I'm Manager of a SciFi/Horror RPG Line

Here's the press release for the new company!

Announcing Sinister Adventures, LLC: A New RPG Adventure Publisher

Fan favorite Dungeon Magazine™ and Pathfinder™ author Nicolas Logue announces Sinister Adventures, LLC, an adventure publisher dedicated to delivering the very finest RPG modules in multiple game systems.

New York, NY, April 1st, 2008. Fan favorite Dungeon Magazine™ and Pathfinder™ author Nicolas Logue announces Sinister Adventures, LLC, an adventure publisher dedicated to making the very finest RPG modules available in multiple game systems, including 3.5 OGL, True20™, Runequest™, d20 Modern™, d20 Future™, Bulldogs™, the Dawning Star™ setting and more! Nick and Sinister have tapped some of the best known adventure authors of the world’s most popular fantasy role playing game – including Wolfgang Bauer, Jason Bulmahn, Tim Hitchcock, Michael Kortes, Richard Pett, Greg A. Vaughan and others – to deliver two product lines: a fantasy line, titled Dark Vistas and a sci-fi/horror line, titled Dark Horizons. The lines will be illustrated by some of the industry’s most beloved artists, including Aaron Acevedo, Richard Clark, Andrew Hou, Wayne Reynolds and Kevin Yan.

The Sinister Adventure web site is live now and offers an entire line of inexpensive pdf products by top name authors, called Indulgences. The first four Indulgences, written by Wolfgang Baur, Nicolas Logue, Craig Shackleton and Greg A. Vaughan offer GMs everything they need to kick off a high seas adventure campaign and explore the cold reaches of the ocean’s deepest rifts.

The company’s core products will be available on the site as both PDF download and print, starting in June, 2008 with their Dark Vista flagship 130+ page mega-adventure, Razor Coast, by Nicolas Logue. Dark Horizons will follow in August of 2008 with its innovative space horror adventure Cold Black, by Nicolas Logue and Lou Agresta.

Preorders for both lines are now available. Dark Vista mega-adventures include a built-in mini-campaign setting and take players through many layers of story and adventure, but do it non-linearly! Built on a plot web, instead of the standard linear approach, Dark Vista mega-adventures yield the widest possible range of play experiences and offer an unheralded degree of fluidity of play. Moreover, when you buy any Dark Vista or Dark Horizon adventure you also get PDF versions of the full adventure in all the other game systems available.

To deliver on their plan, Nicolas Logue and Sinister Adventures will also tap the Werecabbages, a freelance RPG writer’s guild that includes rising star authors like Lou Agresta, Rone Barton, Tim and Eileen Connors, Liz Courts, Phil Larwood, James MacKenzie, Greg Oppedisano, Craig Shackleton, and Brendan Victorson. Going forward, look to the Sinister Adventures web site for more than just product.

Sinister will soon announce the Spawn of Dajobas contest. A 1,000 word 3.5 OGL open call monster design contest, the winner of which will receive $100.00 and be included in the forthcoming Dark Vista adventure Shrine of Frenzy, written by Brendan Victorson and illustrated by Kevin Yan.

Come listen to our official podcast for more news and details about Sinister Adventures.

About Nicolas Logue
Recently hired by Paizo Publishing as Organized Play Coordinator and director of the Pathfinder Society, Nick is well known for his work in Dungeon Magazine™ (Issue #150 "Quoth the Raven", Issue #135 "Chains of Blackmaw", Issue #133 "Chimes at Midnight", Issue #132 "The Library of Last Resort", Issue #131 "Campaign Workbook - The Journey: Dimension Doors", Issue #129 "Campaign Workbook - The Dungeon: Black Sheep", Issue#120 “Obsidian Eye” w/Brendan Victorson, Issue #117 “The Winding Way”, Issue #102 "Cry Wolf"); his work for Wizards of the Coast™ (Voyage of the Golden Dragon, City of Stormreach, Monster Manual V, Dragons of Eberron, Hell’s Heart); for Paizo Publishing (GameMastery Modules D1: Crown of the Kobold King, E1: Carnival of Tears, U2: Hangman’s Noose, Pathfinder#3: The Hook Mountain Massacre, Pathfinder #7: Edge of Anarchy, Pathfinder Chronicles: Classic Monsters Revisited) and his Open Design project (Blood of the Gorgon) with Wolfgang Baur.


I'm on sale!

I'm on sale! Or my first published adventure. You can check it out here: http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=54344
Let me know what you think!


Lou Agresta Bio and Bibliography

Fantasy game design crept up on Lou in 2005, when Diamondthrone accepted his first articles on true names.

Until then a writer of travelogues (AAA World Magazine), indie comics (Maelstrom Entertainment, 1996), fashion essays, and self-indulgent philosophy tracts, his more recent adventure credits include:

Paizo Publishing

PFS#8: The Slave Pits of Absalom
Pathfinder #24: The Final Wish (set piece)


The Great City Campaign Setting
(contributing author)
The Bloody Fix
(with Rone Barton)
The Punctured Vein (with Rone Barton)

Goodman Games

GM Gems
(contributing author)
PC Pearls (contributing author)

LPJ Designs

Sidetrek Adventure Weekly #1: Blood on the Waterfront

Sidetrek Adventure Weekly #2: An Uncertain Jungle Extraction
The Trodoon Gate Saga

A Special Guest at Paizocon 2009, Lou is an editor, author and developer for Sinister Adventures, and a member of the Werecabbages freelance writer's guild. He also makes guest appearances as Cthu-Lou on the Atomic Array podcast.

Magazine acquired his first adventure - written with Nicolas Logue - then canceled the magazine, leaving Lou forever haunted by the fear he is somehow responsible. Lou lives in upstate NY with his wife, daughter, a dog, and a couple of horses. While he has sometimes worn a kilt and ridden a tractor, no one has ever caught him doing both.

Current Projects
October Surprise (a Call of Cthulu Adventure)
Supergenius Games (Oct. 2009)

Dark Vistas Indulgence #9: Brace of Pistols

Sinister Adventures (forthcoming 2009)

Dark Horizons Indulgence #1: Aliens & Monsters

Sinister Adventures (forthcoming 2009)

Dark Horizons Indulgence #2: To Taste the Stars

Sinister Adventures (forthcoming 2009)

The Known Universe Gazetteer

Sinister Adventures (forthcoming 2009)

Cold Black
(w/Nicholas Logue)
Sinister Adventures (forthcoming 2010)