Magical Soda

I haven't been keeping up with Magic: The Gathering much lately. I wasn't all that impressed with Magic 2010, nor have I been playing in tournaments. However, this did catch my eye as I glossed over MTG Soda?!?!

Now, I have to admit that this is pretty cool. However, the price tag on a twelve pack of these is insane.

$18.99 plus S&H for a twelve pack!

Mini Painting... Steadily Improving...

Well, my painting has improved, but I'm still no expert. This is a soldier that will be on the field fighting for the BCM (Boston Conventional Military) in the Spectrum Shock campaign. He's also an eldar guardian from Warhammer 40K, for those in the know. In any case, here's some pics:

This is with just a base coat of gray and nothing else.
This is after painting the upper torso, helmet, and knee pads with light blue. There's also a wash of black over the legs, arms, and lower torso, but you can't see it because the sun had gone down more and the lighting is worse.
Finally, this shot is after touching up some of the blue and adding yellow to the gemstones.

Obviously, this is no masterpiece... but it will work. I still haven't decided what to do with the gun. Right now, there is nothing on it except the base coat. I'm thinking about painting it gloss black or a gun metal type of color. Any suggestions?

A Simple Experience System

This is the new (and simple) experience system that I'm using for Spectrum Shock. It combines elements of the challenge rating system with the Rifts experience system, and could be used for any D20 Modern or D&D 3.X game.

Using this system, characters can gain experience from:
  • Successfully Using a Skill (25 xp, doesn't count for DM prompted Listen/Spot checks)
  • Good Idea (100 xp)
  • Avoiding Unnecessary Violence (200 xp)
  • Thinking Outside-the-Box Idea (500 xp)
  • Defeating an Opponent (CR x100 xp)

So I haven't completely gotten away from opponents having xp values based on their challenge rating, but this system is much easier to calculate. Also, this system encourages players to think outside of the box instead of just asking, "Is it close enough for me to shoot it?"

Skylar, Psionic Cyberwarrior

This was one of those characters that just kind of hit me and had to be made as soon as I realized how easy it would be to make a character like this for Spectrum Shock. This is significantly shorter than my last NPC spotlight because I really haven't decided exactly how this character is going to play a role in the campaign yet. However, I intend to make sure that he at least makes an appearance. He might be a good candidate for exploring the moral ambiguity that I wanted to touch on in this campaign. This guy opposes the arguably racist society he was raised in, but retains some of that racism himself.

Skylar was once a Washington DC special agent, but his experiences in the field and the constant political turmoil surrounding the question of his humanity have prompted an early retirement and self-imposed exile. Now, he travels the wilds in search of a place to call home. However, he still carries the anti-supernatural prejudices of his people, and although he doesn't wish any ill towards nonhumans, he certainly won't go out of his way to help them either.

Skylar (Soulknife 4 / Cyberwarrior 4): CR 8; Medium humanoid (human); HD 4d8+8 plus 4d10+8 plus 3 (toughness); hp 63; Mas 14; Init +1; Spd 6; Defense 21 (+2 class, +1 Dex, +8 natural armor), touch 13, flat-footed 20; BAB +7; Grap +10; Atk +14 melee (1d6+6, mind blade) or +10 ranged (1d6+6, thrown mind blade) or +8 ranged (3d8, laser sniper rifle); Full Atk +14/+9 melee (1d6+6, mind blade) or +10/+5 ranged (1d6+6, thrown mind blade) or +8/+3 ranged (3d8, laser sniper rifle); SQ none; AL NG; Fort +7, Ref +6, Will +6; AP 4; Str 20, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 11, Wis 13, Cha 10
Occupation: Military (Knowledge [Tactics], Survival, Personal Firearms Proficiency)
Skills: Concentration +9, Knowledge (Tactics) +7, Listen +8, Spot +8, Survival +8
Feats: Cyborg (x2), Implant Awareness, Light Armor Proficiency, Mind Blade Weapon Proficiency, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Toughness, Weapon Focus (Mind Blade), Wild Talent
Class Features (Soulknife): +1 Mind Blade, Psychic Strike +1d8, Throw Mind Blade
Cybernetics: Advanced Prosthetic Arms (2), Anti-Shock Implant, Artificial Muscle Fiber (+4), Internal Weapon Mount, Subcutaneous Body Armor (Heavy)
Possessions (Wealth +4): carries very little equipment because he tends to rely on his psionics and cybernetics

Books used: D20 Cyberscape, D20 Future, Expanded Psionics Handbook

Eldar Color Scheme

Instead of working on the Spectrum Shock campaign (which is fun) or preparing for the coming school year (not all that fun), I've spent the last few evenings absorbing Warhammer 40K rules (an investment for future fun). Yes, I said that learning Warhammer 40K rules is an investment. It really isn't all that fun right now, but I can't wait to start pushing little Eldar models across huge tables and rolling giant handfuls of dice.

Side Note: Wow, I don't think I've ever written or typed "handfuls" before, and it looks really goofy without a double "L" at the end. Merriam-Webster Dictionary is telling me that goofy is correct, though. Oh well.

Speaking of Eldar, I want to come up with a cool color scheme for them that is uncommon if not original. As far as the pictures I've seen online, most Eldar are painted pretty much the same way they are pictured. Most guardians are red-based, most dire avengers are blue-based, most striking scorpions are green-based, etc. I want my army to have a more coherent color scheme.

As of right now, I plan on using black, dark gray, and Carolina blue as my primary colors, and using traditional aspect warrior colors only for their details. I'm sure it will be fine with guardians, dire avengers, farseers, warlocks, and other fairly generic troops, but it might look kind of dumb for my blue/black fire dragons to have red/yellow details. We shall see.

For now, I'm planning to use a color scheme similar to this one for my guardians:

The trick here is to make sure that the guardians look cool as Eldar and also match my ideas for the Boston Conventional Military, as I'll be using Eldar to represent BCM soldiers in my Spectrum Shock campaign. Hmmmm....

Aron Illarion, Gun for Hire

Aron Illarion was a troubled teen in DC who often found himself with the wrong friends and on the wrong side of the law. From an early age, he had problems with authority figures, but his parents assumed that military life would straighten him out. To their dismay, he fled from home the day before his enlistment and never returned. Unable to stay in the city for fear of punishment for dodging his mandatory military service, he set out into the untamed wilderness with only a pair of (recently stolen) pistols and his wits. He surprised himself with how easily he took to living in the wilds, and as soon as he was able to make contact with some traders who didn't care about his past, he was able to make a meager living by hunting and trading skins for ammunition.

Aron Illarion (Fast Hero 1 / Ranger 1): CR 2; Medium humanoid (human); HD 2d8+4; hp 16; Mas 14; Init +3; Spd 6; Defense 18 (+3 class, +3 Dex, +1 armor, +1 Dodge), touch 17, flat-footed 14; BAB +1; Grap +1; Atk +1 melee (1d4, pistol whip) or +5 ranged (2d6, Glock 17); SQ none; AL CN; Fort +4, Ref +6, Will +0; AP 1; Str 10, Dex 16, Con 14, Int 13, Wis 11, Cha 10.
Occupation: Criminal (Hide, Move Silently, Personal Firearms Proficiency)
Skills: Escape Artist +7, Hide +9, Knowledge (Nature) +3, Knowledge (streetwise) +5, Move Silently +9, Sleight of Hand +7, Survival +3, Tumble +7 
Feats: Archaic Weapon Proficiency, Dodge, Light Armor Proficiency, Point Blank Shot, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Track
Class Features (Ranger): Favored Enemy +2 (DC Defense Forces), Wild Empathy +1
Talents (Fast Hero): Evasion
Possessions (Wealth +2): two glock 17's, 34 rounds of 9mm ammo, leather jacket, casual clothes (two sets), backpack, duct tape, flashlight, map (Washington DC +50 mile radius), sleeping bag

A life of subsistence in the wilderness would not satisfy Aron for long, however. He eventually grew tired of having so little contact with civilization. As his business with the traders who cared little for his past progressed from trading simple deer skins to dealing in the exotic skins of otherworldly creatures ("How much will you give me for this displacer beast hide?"), his reputation grew and he eventually started getting offers from mysterious patrons who needed a certain caravan protected or a certain person intimidated (or killed). This shift in his lifestyle increased both his reputation and his buying power exponentially, and he found that as a mercenary, he could work for a few weeks for a hefty paycheck and then spend the next month or two living the good life with the small fortune he had earned. This was the life he had wanted all along.

Aron Illarion (Fast Hero 2 / Ranger 2 / Gunslinger 5): CR 9; Medium humanoid (human); HD 4d8+8 plus 5d10+10; hp 63; Mas 14; Init +8; Spd 6; Defense 24 (+7 class, +3 Dex, +3 armor, +1 Dodge), touch 21, flat-footed 20; BAB +6; Grap +6; Atk +12 ranged (3d6, Glock 17); Full Atk +12/+7 ranged (3d6, Glock 17) or +10/+10/+5/+5 ranged (3d6, Glock 17, two weapons) or +8/+8/+8/+3/+3 ranged (2d6, Glock 17, two weapons plus Lightning Shot); SQ none; AL CN; Fort +6, Ref +12, Will +3; AP 3; Str 10, Dex 18, Con 14, Int 13, Wis 11, Cha 10.

Occupation: Criminal (Hide, Move Silently, Personal Firearms Proficiency)
Skills: Escape Artist +9, Hide +14, Intimidate +6, Knowledge (Nature) +6, Knowledge (streetwise) +5, Move Silently +16, Sleight of Hand +12, Spot +6, Survival +11, Tumble +12
Feats: Archaic Weapon Proficiency, Dodge, Far Shot, Improved Initiative, Improved Two Weapon Fighting, Light Armor Proficiency, Point Blank Shot, Quick Reload, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Stealthy, Track, Weapon Focus (Glock 17)
Class Features (Gunslinger): Close Combat Shot, Defensive Position, Lightning Shot
Class Features (Ranger): Combat Style (Two Weapon Fighting), Favored Enemy +2 (DC Defense Forces), Wild Empathy +1
Talents (Fast Hero): Evasion
Possessions (Wealth +13): two glock 17's (with improved stopping power gadget), 68 rounds of 9mm ammo, light combat armor (segmented gadget x2), casual clothes (two sets), backpack, duct tape, flashlight, PDA, sleeping bag, autodyn hoverbike

Books Used: D20 Modern Core Rulebook, D20 Future, D20 Future Tech, 3.5 Player's Handbook

Finally, My D20 Modern Superhero Dreams Come True

I've been searching for quite some time for a super hero supplement for D20 Modern. I wanted the system to be compatible with D20 Modern, so Mutants & Masterminds was out of the question. I also wanted characters created with the supplement to be at least somewhat balanced with characters made without it (which sounds odd for super heroes, but it's what I wanted).

After going through a ton of reviews of games like Four-Color to Fantasy and reading over free supplements like Phoenix, I finally settled on Supers20 by RPG Objects. Although this is a supplement for Modern20 (an alternate version of the D20 Modern rules), there is very little in the pdf that can't just be dropped into a standard D20 Modern game without alteration. I'm a bit mystified with the perks, but I might just ignore them... the feat-based power progression is simple (and cool) enough that I'll probably just use the parts I understand (about 95%) and ignore the rest.

Spectrum Shock: Campaign Log #3 (with pics)

Now, I'm finally catching up on campaign logs. This stuff actually happened this week!

Setting out in search of the missing hunting party once again, our heroes stumbled upon another battle in which they weren't immediately involved. This time, a power armored soldier and a robed figure wielding a strange staff that shot bursts of energy faced off from opposite sides of the battlefield. Instead of wading into the fray, the PCs sat this one out and waited for the battle to play its course. The power armored soldier won, and then turned to the PCs, demanding that they identify themselves.

After some explanations and identifications, the party learned the following:
  • This soldier was from Washington DC, on a reconaissance mission to investigate increased ork activity in the region
  • The robed figure was from Boston
  • People in DC consider the Bostonians traitors to humanity
  • They also consider much of the Bostonian equipment to be corrupted and tainted by evil
  • DC has plenty of doctors and is the most civilized place in the world
  • The closest ork base is actually not directly north, but northwest, in what remains of Oswego
After some negotiations, the party even convinced the soldier to accompany them... or was it that they convinced the soldier to let them accompany him? Either way, the three headed for Oswego. On the way, they came across a small ork outpost.
Alex (Eric's character) approached the outpost hoping to communicate, but realized that there was a language barrier that prevented any but the most rudimentary communication. When the PCs finally realized that the orks were motioning for Alex to toss his weapons aside and surrender, they opened fire, and the orks went down without too much of a fight.
Aside from the usual loot (ammo), the party found a crude map in the outpost, which I will post here before our next session.
Next Time: Will they manage to finally find the prisoners? Will the map lead them there? Will they figure out that getting DC doctors to help an elf might be more difficult than they thought?

Spectrum Shock: Campaign Log #2 (with pics)

I've been putting this off for over two weeks now, but I need to get it down before I forget everything, so here goes...

After a short rest, the hunt for the ork kidnappers was underway once again. This time, the party pushed even further into ork territory in search of the missing hunting party. Instead of the hunting party, they stumbled upon an interesting scene... a group of orks surrounding the nest of a nasty-looking flying beast.

The characters entered the fight instead of remaining on the outskirts of the battle and a three-way combat ensued. A trio of the orks turned to attack the PCs while the wyvern made short work of their comrades, and as the battle neared its end, only Korbynn and the wyvern remained. Korbynn won the day, and hauled his unconscious friend Alex back to New Syracuse for healing.

Unfortunately, due to the complexity of the battle and the brevity of a mid-week week game night, little else was accomplished. However, before I cut this post short, I should show off the newly painted PC miniatures:

They certainly aren't professional jobs, but they look much better than the plain gray minis we used on the first night.

Next Time: The hunt for the missing (ork-captured) hunters continues!

Magic Online Collection

Okay, I've never posted a table on here before, so if this pops up on anybody's RSS reader and then disappears (several times perhaps), it is because I'm trying to get my formatting correct and I'm not 100% sure how to do it. I apologize ahead of time.

That said, I'm listing this here in an attempt to sell some items on eBay. This is my whole collection, even the cards that I won't be selling individually. I'm leaving the "best offer" option open, so maybe some of these commons and uncommons can become bargaining chips.

Adding Magic to Spectrum Shock... Working Out Some Kinks

I mentioned recently that I was inspired by Kevin Sembieda to ignore system balance and focus on GM balance. Since letting my players know that the floodgates have been opened and all of the 3E/3.5 D&D material we have is free to use in Spectrum Shock, I have been brainstorming ways that I can mix and match elements from the two games to create interesting opponents for the PCs. Immediately, I found some interesting questions I needed to answer...

  • Can Rapid Shot be used with guns? It must have been deemed too strong to be included in the D20 Modern books even though Precise Shot, Shot on the Run, and other similar feats are present. Conclusion: Of course it can! It makes no sense for an archer to fire more arrows in a round than even a novice with a pistol (accuracy will make all the difference, though). Besides, we're throwing system balance out the window!
  • Are the Mage, Acolyte, and Techno Mage now obsolete? With D&D rules, you can be a wizard or cleric starting at first level. Conclusion: No, but they do need a little push to make them attractive choices. We'll go with this house rule: If a character takes one of these classes and already has the appropriate type of spellcasting ability, each level of these classes grants "+1 level of existing class."
  • What about action points? D&D classes don't come with those. Conclusion: You get action points if you're taking a class from a D20 Modern book. Otherwise, you don't. Compared to D20 Modern classes, D&D classes come with a ton of class features and better saving throws. Action points can balance this out a bit. (Okay, maybe I'm not completely disregarding balance.)

If nothing else, adding everything from D&D to my D20 Modern campaign has at least given me more interesting tools with which to get creative in NPC building. My players haven't taken the bait yet, but I have a feeling that they will whenever we have a PC death. They might experiment even sooner, as my brother just gained the Leadership feat (which isn't technically D20 Modern, but see our house rules) and will be creating his cohort sometime before our next session.

Spectrum Shock: Rift Activity (Short Fiction)

"Pay attention, son," he whispered. "This might save your life someday."

The youth nodded, but his father's instruction was unnecessary. He was mesmerized. The two were perched in a tree hundreds of yards away, both watching the spectacle in the valley below through binoculars. If they were spotted, they would be hard pressed to make it back to the relative safety of New Syracuse.

In a clearing, dozens of green skinned humanoids gathered around an orb of pulsating white light. Most stood in a circle around the orb, but one was closer... dangerously close, as the boy's father had described. He was gesturing wildly, and occasionally it looked as if the orb reached out to him with an arm of pure white light to touch his waving arms.

"Portal, rift, gate, whatever you want to call it... he's opening one," the father whispered. He knew that he was far enough away that there was no way they could hear him, but the high powered binoculars made him feel as if he was much closer and he kept his voice low anyway. Even if the orks couldn't hear, there was no telling what else might be lurking in the shadows nearby.

"Why?" the son asked. He knew the stories of how monsters had flooded into the world through dimensional tears very similar to the one he was observing. "Won't he be killed?"

"Watch how the energy gathers," his father replied, not really paying attention to specific questions. He didn't know the answers, but he wanted his son to see firsthand what to avoid. "He's encouraging it, but it happens without encouragement sometimes. If you ever see energy gathering like this, turn and run as fast as you can."

Suddenly, the orb of light pulsed brilliantly and the orks threw up their arms to shield their eyes. Similarly, the father and son gasped in unison and pulled the binoculars from their faces as quickly as they could. It took a few moments before their eyes readjusted and they returned their gaze to the ork gathering. The orb was much bigger now, but only glowed dimly. A giant blue humanoid with long spindly arms hanging out of bulky black robes now towered over the orks.

Several bound humanoids were brought toward the blue giant, who looked to be appraising each prisoner before gesturing for the orks to lead it into the portal. Once all of the prisoners had disappeared, the orks who led them in returned. Each ork returned bearing a crate, and when all had returned, the blue giant strode through the portal. Almost instantly, it winked out of existence and the orks gathered so closely around the crates that neither of the two onlookers could determine their contents.

"We must leave, son. Their gathering will end soon and we want to be long gone before they scatter." The boy followed his father's direction and climbed down to follow him home, but he couldn't help but wonder if his father might be wrong about the portals.

If an ork can control the portals, I bet I can too...

... And the Kitchen Sink

In my last post, I mentioned wanting to highlight the multigenre aspects of my Spectrum Shock setting. After reading the interview with Kevin Sembieda on RPG Blog II (and a conversation with Eric that he probably won't even remember), I think I've finally put my finger on at least one key aspect of Rifts that made it so enjoyable: not knowing whether a given opponent would be too much for the group to handle. Because of this, I've decided to go ahead and toss in everything produced by Wizards of the Coast from the 3E-3.5 era and not worry about balance anymore.

In order to implement this, first I'm going to revisit the advice I gave my players at the beginning of our last Rifts campaign. To summarize:
"This system is inherently unbalanced and I'm not fudging dice rolls. Play accordingly."
Basically, this was a way to let my players know that making combats balanced would be a guessing game at best, so I wasn't even going to try and they would need to rely on their wits to stay alive. If it looks too tough, don't shoot it unless you're feeling lucky.

Second, I need to let them know that all of the classes, prestige classes, feats, spells, etc. from all of the books we have are now fair game. This might cause my players to want to recreate their characters, and some revision is fine with me. As long as they stick to the same general concept, I'm okay with it. And, of course, if a character should die, the player can create a new one from the ground up.

Game night is tonight... so we'll see how the first game with the new additions works out!

Campaign Revisions (Rules and Focus)

I've been keeping my neice and nephew for the last two weeks and haven't had the chance to write or game much. However, during this break from gaming, I've been spending some time thinking about how the Spectrum Shock campaign is developing and I think I need to make some changes.

  • First of all, combat encounters have dominated the game so far and while that isn't all that unusual for my group, I want the players interact with the world outside of gunfights a little more. This is entirely my own fault. I have been so caught up on the miniatures and terrain that I've been fast forwarding through some situations that could turn out to be interesting roleplaying opportunities just to get to use the new battle mat. Although the miniature wargaming elements definitely have the cool factor, I'd like my players to get more involved in the setting. In order to do that, I need to slow down and let them get involved instead of pushing toward the fights.
  • Secondly, I would like to introduce the multigenre aspects of the setting. As of right now, the PCs rely strictly on technology and aside from the occasional monster, all of their opponents have relied on technology as well. I intend to add some magic and/or psionic opponents soon. Unfortunately, especially at low levels, magic is insanely weak compared to technology. Why bother doing 1d4+1 with a magic missile when you could be blasting with a sniper rifle for 2d12? And the worst part is that you might be able to purchase a sniper rifle at first level, but in D20 Modern you can't cast that magic missile until 4th. I might need to convert some actual D&D classes in order to even the playing field a bit. I just need to make sure I don't tip the scales too much and make magic too appealing.
  • Third, the party is progressing much more quickly than I intended. In standard D&D/D20 Modern rules, progression generally slows down a bit after 4th level anyway, but I think I'm going to switch to something similar to the Rifts experience rules. They'll save me some time (no more fiddling around with xp based on CR and EL), and they'll also reward good ideas and skill usage outside of combat.
  • Last, I want to increase the number of combatants in each fight without lengthening them. I think I'll borrow a bit from 4E and experiment with some minion-like rules.

And those are my goals for the next week or two. Check back to see how I've implemented each of these updates.

Magic 2010 = Bust

Okay, so I haven't been paying much attention to Magic: The Gathering lately because the money I might normally spend on cards has been spent on Warhammer 40K and paints. In my time off, I managed to miss out on the majority of the Magic 2010 previews... and now the whole set is spoiled on the official website.

Now, I have to say that I was pretty excited when I heard about Magic 2010. I am extremely excited about the return of Duress and the Planeswalkers. I even like the new cycle of rare lands despite my love of painlands (how morbid does that sound?).

However, I still can't get past the idea that this set isn't worth my money. Half of the set is reprinted, and Wizards apparently still couldn't resist the urge to include functional reprints as well (you know, the cards that have a different name and maybe a different creature type, but otherwise do exactly the same thing as another card that's already been printed). Seriously, do these really count as new?

That said, I'm sure I'll hit eBay for a playset of black bordered Lightning Bolts and maybe the Priest of Titania lord, but I can't see myself actually buying packs to draft with this.

Do Single Parents Game?

I have to tip my hat to the parents out there who still find time to play RPGs. I'm not actually a parent myself, but after keeping my niece and nephew for two weeks, I've found that any gaming activity I was doing pretty much ground to a halt aside from the occasional board game or video game.

I can see how a gamer with a significant other can shuffle responsibilities around enough to find time for a game session here and there, but without my wife with me to help out, I didn't get anything accomplished other than entertain and/or supervise preteens for two straight weeks. How in the world do single parent gamers find time to play?

Maybe someone out there can enlighten me. I'm sure single parent gamers are out there somewhere. I just can't figure out... how do they do it?!

Best Rifts Site I Thought I Couldn't Read

Sometimes I discover something and I find that I'm so excited about it that I just have to write about it. Usually, it is a new game or a new website that I have discovered and feel that I have to share. 

Today, I want to point out one of the most interesting and consistently updated Rifts blogs on the net. I've had some contact with the author and I occasionally checked the site for images (mainly maps), but it wasn't in English so I largely ignored the actual content... until now. I don't know if it is a recent addition or if it has been there all along and I've just been too blind to see, but there is a "Translate It" button at the top of the sidebar!

SIDE NOTE: Feel free to leave comments such as... 
  • "DUH!"
  • "Dummy, you're late. We discovered the coolness on Escamot Featherfall years ago."
  • "American monolingualism loses again!"

As the blog started back in 2007, now I have about 2 years of Rifts-related reading to catch up on. Needless to say, I'm excited, and I would encourage other Rifts fans to check it out as well.

Quim, thanks for all of the work you put into your blog and for all of the feedback you've given me on my own Rifts games.

Also, while I'm talking about Rifts, I should mention that RPG Blog II will have a full week of Palladium content from July 6th to July 11th. I don't know exactly what that might entail, but I'm excited to see what he has in store for us!
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