Thursday, August 30, 2012

LACUNA PART I: the creation of the mystery and the girl from BLUE CITY (an rpg)

this past july i was at DEXCON in NJ. we were selling our miniature terrain and otherwise doing our thing when i discovered a booth in the back selling indie roleplaying games (the booth was MODERN MYTHS - a pretty kickass store).  i wound up buying a copy of 3:16- CARNAGE AMONGST THE STARS...and two games by a guy named jared sorenson...LACUNA and INSPECTRES.  you may know him as the guy who created ACTION CASTLE and the other PARSELY games.

both games have interesting concepts and they're both short - which is what attracted me to them. that, and the owner of MODERN MYTHS talking them both up.  i like both games a lot - with LACUNA slightly edging out INSPECTRES as my favorite. plus, i had the chance to run my friends through a LACUNA scenario - so i feel like i can speak on that game a little better than INSPECTRES.

ok, to summarize the concept of the game: it's the near future and mankind has basically wiped out crime (more on how in a minute).  we've also figured out a way to enter an alternate dimension - which also happens to be the place our minds go when we dream.  this is accomplished by placing someone under the influence of various drugs, which then allows their conscious mind to materialize in this alternate dimension. while under the influence of these drugs, people are able to control their "dream bodies" as well as bend the "rules" to manipulate the environment. this dimension/dream state manifests itself to us as an old city, so we've come to call it BLUE CITY.  there are other denizens there that aren't dreaming - they're native to the place, and they may not want us there.

THE COMPANY has discovered a way to remove the violent aspects of one's personality...and they've harnessed this power into something called a LACUNA DEVICE. it looks like a pin with a question mark on it.  these devices are given to Agents that work for the Company. that's you.

your job is helping to keep crime in the real world under control.  in this future, whenever someone commits a violent offense they are investigated by the police and FBI - just like they would be in "our world".  after their arrest and conviction they are brought to the Company - who put them under with those drugs and send their personalities into Blue City.  since they're going in unwillingly, once they're put under the Company loses track of exactly WHERE in the Blue City they are.  so, it's your job to enter the dream state/alternate dimension/Blue City, locate the hostile personality and use your LACUNA DEVICE to permanently remove their violent ways.  this is done by sticking them with the device and turning it to the left.  of course, once in Blue City both you and the hostile personalities have some crazy powers, with hostile personalities often manifesting themselves in horrific, monstrous ways.  completing your mission won't be easy - there are some residents of Blue City whose goals and motivations remain unknown to the Company. there are also other Agents on different well as rogue agents.  if your mission is successful, the violent offender will awaken in the real world changed permanently. they'll no longer be violent and they can be assimilated back into society as productive individuals.

think of the game as a cross between INCEPTION, the MATRIX and MANHUNT.

it's important to remember that your Agents are not physically in the Blue City during a game session. their physical bodies are lying on "the Slab", hooked up to drug dispensers and medical equipment.  their conscious minds are in Blue City.

while you're in Blue City you're in contact with Control (the GM) and you can request aid or equipment to help you with your mission.  as you interact with the city two things begin to happen: 1) the heart rate in your physical body increases and 2) your connection with Control begins to degrade...and Blue City begins to react to your presence.  this is represented by Static. let's say some Agents begin to argue with each other or they disobey the Lead Agent - well, this triggers Static.  maybe the Agents fail a check or start a firefight - more Static.  as Static builds events are triggered that the Agents must deal with.

Agents have 3 stats - Force, Instinct and Access. these characteristics are what you use to interact with Blue City.  want to punch someone in the face? jump off a building? run up a wall or fire a gun? make a Force check.  want to get a Personality to give you information? make an Instinct check.  you want Control to help you? need a machine gun? need to eject from Blue City before you have a heart attack? make an Access check.  the lowest a stat can be is a 2 and the highest is a 4.

these numbers represent the amount of d6's you roll when you need to make a check. if you have a Force of 2 you would roll 2d6.  you need to get an 11 or higher.  if you fail a check in a risky situation (like combat) you lose a die off your score.  so, a Force of 2 would become a 1.  when either Force or Instinct hits zero your Agent is in trouble - you'll need to make an Access check to eject your consciousness from the Blue City - if you fail you either have a heart attack and die or go insane.

now, this is where the system really shines: whenever you make a check, you total the dice together and add the number to your HEART RATE score.  most characters start with a heart rate around 70 or so.  heart rate values differ depending on the Agent's age. once you get your heart rate up into your TARGET HEART RATE, you can reroll failed checks until you pass.  however, each roll adds to your heart rate, with risky checks removing a die if you fail.  eventually you'll hit your MAXIMUM HEART RATE, which means ANY check is risky (failure means losing a die) and you lose the ability to reroll checks.

there's also some cool character building tools during Agent creation - you have to determine your age, determine your Mentor (who will teach you certain Techniques), choose a Talent and determine your name (all Agents are given random names).

i've purposely left out a lot of setting-specific stuff, as the book assumes that only Control (the GM) will have all the information that the book presents. so, if you want to know about the Nasrudin Institute, the Spidermen, the Conflict, the Lacuna Rift or the Girl you're going to have to grab the book.  don't worry - the setting is very open to your interpretation.  in fact, the whole game is vague and open-ended intentionally - you basically fill in the gaps based on your play style.

one thing that piqued my curiosity that i WILL mention: where the heck is Agent Miner?  Agents generate specific Mentors during chargen - you get a little background on them and all of them are either alive or dead...except Miner.  he's listed as MIA - missing in action.  how the hell can that be? Agents are physically present on Company premises for missions - and they're unconscious! how did he vanish DURING a dive into Blue City? 

you can actually run into Miner as your Static builds during a mission.  now, if his body is no longer in Company hands then he's obviously set up shop somewhere else - AND has access to drugs, medical equipment, and monitors - what the heck is he up to? or, perhaps the Company still has his body and they can't eject him from the City? if that's teh case, why haven't they just killed him?  this is a good example of the open-ended nature of the game - what do you want Miner to be up to? make a choice and roll with it.

overall, the game is very interesting and fun. it's rules-light and moves fast - with cool gameplay mechanics that are new and interesting.  i'd highly recommend it - a print copy is only 15 bucks - so go buy one.

in the next few days i'll post a write-up of our game ruled.    

Monday, August 27, 2012

trip to the ol' FLGS

i just got back from a trip to my's called BROTHERS GRIM.  if you live on long island, chances are you know gil - the guy who runs the place.  good dude.  every single time i go down there i wind up walking out with something.  it's also a place that ALWAYS has some rare, hard to find gems laying around.

take, for example, today.  i went down there with my friend chris. i wanted to grab some old TOP SECRET/S.I. books (as i've had the urge to run that lately) and chris wanted to grab either some old TRAVELLER books or some old PARANOIA stuff. we chatted with gil and michael curtis for a bit (over the weekend chris, mike, and a few other people helped me playtest a simple minis skirmish game i'm developing...more on that in future posts) before perusing the wares.

after hitting the shelves, we decided to dig around in the piles of stuff near the back.  as you can see, we unearthed a TRAVELLER boxed set - the 1981 version. inside we found books 1-3, supplement 4: CITIZENS OF THE IMPERIUM (all in near mint condition), a photocopy of HIGH GUARD, and a ton of character sheets. sadly, it was missing the top lid.  i still bought it for 30 bucks.  we also found a copy of the GREYHAWK supplement for OD&D that was in very, very good condition. next, we discovered the original TOP SECRET rpg box. inside, it had all the original rulebooks, the gm screen and mini-adventure, and the modules OPERATION: FASTPASS, LADY IN DISTRESS, and OPERATION: RAPIDSTRIKE. all in crazy-good condition. i have to admit that i was VERY tempted by this...but i held off. i dislike the original system for TOP SECRET, but man, it was nice looking at all that willingham and dee art.

meanwhile, chris managed to find the second edition of PARANOIA boxed set in excellent condition (which he bought for $20) and a softcover copy of the TRAVELLER book (which he also grabbed for $20).

all in all - a good day for rpg shopping!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


so you'll have to forgive me for neglecting the COMPLETE B/X ADVENTURER for so long. it's been kind of hectic around here with all the vacation, gaming, and con-going that's been happening (i'm a teacher, so i have the summer off...and since i'm not married and i don't have any kids i can kind of live it up a bit).

with that being said, however - i will now FINISH my review of this very fine gaming product.

ok, so last time i gushed about the random charts at the beginning of the book.  if you want to check that out, head here.

the rest of the book is made up of the things you're probably most interested in: new classes and new spells.  there are 17 new classes...most of which are human classes. don't worry - for everyone that likes to play demihumans (like myself) there are a few cool options like the centaur, the gnome, and the ogre-kin.  some of the stand-out human classes (as far as i'm concerned) are the acrobat, the barbarian, the summoner, and the mystic.

now, don't get me wrong here...all the classes are very well done.  i'm just going to focus on the ones that really grabbed my eye as i read through.  things are kept very simple (in the B/X tradition) while also offering cool options that don't exist in the standard rules.  several of the classes are spellcasting classes, and they mercifully DO NOT use the vancian/fire & forget method.  i'll detail two of those classes below.

here's a brief overview of the classes that struck my fancy:

ACROBAT: acrobats can't can't wear armor or use shields, which makes sense.  they're limited to just the staff. they do gain a bonus to AC based on their level (+2 AC at 2nd level, etc). they can climb walls like thieves and can't really be knocked off their feet.  they have a percentile based skill called PROWESS which allows them to perform crazy stunts (with the DM being the final judge on just what is feasible in any given situation), and another skill called EVASION which allows them to disengage from combat without being attacked.  very interesting.

BARBARIAN:  this is a simplified version of the barbarian class from UNEARTHED ARCANA. barbarians have a ton of HP (d10) and are pretty good trackers. due to their ferocity they gain a +1 to all melee attacks, though they have limited gold at first level to reflect their uncivilized ways.  they can HEAR NOISE and CLIMB WALLS like thieves and can also pull the "halfling vanishing act" while outdoors.  at higher levels they can SUMMON a HORDE of other barbarians.

CENTAUR: the centaur gains 2 hit dice at first level but they are capped at 7th level.  they can use any weapon but are limited to horse barding for armor (though they gain a bonus to their natural AC). they also have 2 hoof attacks that they can use in place of a weapon - until they gain some levels and then they can attack with both hooves and weapon in the same turn.  centaurs can flat out MOVE - they have a 60' combat movement rate...which makes sense since they're half horse.  they can also carry a ton, so if you're playing  the centaur prepare to be coat-racked.  they can also track much like the, or the ranger. which doesn't exist in BX D&D. anyway.

MYSTIC: these guys are loners who have given up on society and turned their focus inward to attune their connection with the physical world.  they don't wear armor and they don't really carry weapons. heck, they don't even really EAT.  they can heal minor wounds though, so that's cool.  they can also detect evil and magic AT WILL (don't have a heart attack, grognards...the game won't break).  and guess what? they are a spellcasting class and they don't use the vancian magic system.  thank goodness.  here's how it works: you can cast an amount of spells per day equal to your level OR your CON score - whichever is lower.  you don't need to memorize anything, either...spells are known innately.  every time you gain a level you choose a new spell off of the mystic spell list (it's a new list with new spells).  they have spells like CURE WOUNDS, INNER STRENGTH (which raises their STR to 18), OMEN (allows a yes/no question for the DM), WATER WALK, and ENLIGHTENMENT (which allows the mystic to choose an object like a sword or a house and know EVERYTHING about it).  overall, a very awesome class and i think i'll be rolling one of these guys up in the near future.

SUMMONER:  obviously, these guys summon allies from "elsewhere". when you create the character you choose 1 of 6 possible specilaizations of summoning - there are demonologists, elementalists, spiritualists, naturalists, necromancers and faerie.  basically, your character makes a pact or bargain with these entities in exchange for power. as they gain levels they can strike new bargains and gain access to other specialty areas, provided they are willing to spend the gold and time required to do so.  summoners can wear any armor and wield any weapons...though they only have d4 hit points. summoners are also a spellcasting class...and here's how it works: they have a number of FAVOR POINTS per day equal to their level. to cast a spell they must expend the spell's level in points. so, a 1st level summoner would have 1 favor point...and since their spell list only has 1 spell per level, they could cast that spell once.  at 2nd level, they'd have 2 FP and could cast a 2nd level spell once or the 1st level spell twice. see how that works? pretty cool.  the spells are also pretty rad - they have stuff like DEMON ARMAMENTS (summon random magic weapons or armor rolled on the treasure chart; summoners of levels 1-3 use the basic book; 4-14 use the expert book; 15+ uses the B/X COMPANION...the weapons radiate evil and magic and to keep them longer than a day you have to spend 2 FP and bathe the weapons in blood).  that's a 2nd level spell. pretty good stuff, eh?

every spellcasting class has a different way of using magic. i'm not going to detail all of them - but  these two classes are a good barometer for the other ones.

the interior art is pretty good - with the stuff by kelvin green really standing out.  the pics of the witch hunter, the summoner and the acrobat are all great.  the other art is good also, but i just really dig his style.  my only complaint about the book is the binding - it's perfect-bound, unlike the original B/X books and the B/X COMPANION.  keeping this bad boy open while i reviewed was a pain in the buttocks...but that's really nitpicking.

overall...well, this is a great product.  you really need to pick it up if you play any amount of B/X D&D, LABYRINTH LORD, SWORDS & WIZARDRY or any of the other 78 clones out there.  here's hoping JB puts out his B/X based cyberpunk/shadowrun game...i know i'd grab it (hint hint).

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


well, i'm back on long island. GENCON was a blast - just as i expected. this is only the 2nd time i've been there (last year being the 1st) and so i figured maybe there would be a letdown or something...i'm glad i was wrong.  i went with 6 of my friends (who also happen to be business partners) and we had a booth for our stuff - we're LEGENDARY REALMS TERRAIN and we were right across from POST HUMAN STUDIOS (the people who make ECLIPSE PHASE) and next to ERFWORLD on one side and NIGEL SADE the pirate artist on the other side.  don't laugh - his stuff is sick.

everyone is always so amped up on "news from gencon" and this year i felt  like nothing HUGE was announced.  last year i believe the 5E cat was let out of the bag at GENCON...and my friends and i correctly surmised that WoTC would re-release some of the older editions of D&D.  this year -'s what i noticed (it isn't much):

-FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES had a beta-test rulebook for their new STAR WARS rpg. it was $30.  that struck me as weird - paizo AND WoTC released their betas for free...yet you have to pay for a STAR WARS beta? nah, bro. i'll stick to the WEG d6 STAR WARS, thanks.

- PAIZO announced PATHFINDER MUNCHKIN.  hmmmm. i guess the original munchkin wasn't doing a good enough job of mocking 3rd edition powergamers...?

-i think i'm feeling monte cook's new NUMENERA rpg.  rules-lite science fantasy? yes, please.  i just hope it STAYS rules-lite. 

that's about it in terms of "news" as far as i heard.  i'm not really big into board games and i really, really don't like card games so if there was news on that front i'm not your man. plus, i was pretty busy all con and i never had the chance to get my ear to the ground.  i was either wandering the vendor room buying stuff, manning our booth selling stuff, or running sessions of LABYRINTH LORD in the super-ginormo gaming "room". no joke - the area set aside for gaming was bigger than the javits center in NYC.  and that was JUST for games.

ok, onto the swag.  GENCON is crazy - most other cons have booths that i can just ignore - but here i feel like every booth potentially has something that i want...which has proven fatal to my wallet both years i've gone...

this year i picked up:
-TIMBER PEAK: that's the new board game/expansion for the LAST NIGHT ON EARTH franchise from FLYING FROG GAMES.  i debated picking up FORTUNE AND GLORY but i held off.

-TRAVELLER: i grabbed up some of the CLASSIC TRAVELLER books...some of the alien modules, a library supplement and the one LBB that i didn't already have. i also snapped up a reprint of books 1-3.

-INTO THE COSMOS: this is a source book for the COSMIC PATROL rpg which we've been playing a lot lately.

-MONGOOSE TRAVELLER pocket rulebook: while this is waaaaaaaay too fiddly for my tastes, there are some cool charts, gear and the whatnot that can be used with the original CLASSIC TRAVELLER.  plus, it was on sale.

-MONSTERS AND OTHER CHILDISH THINGS rpg: this is a game where you play a kid who has a pet monster. the monster has to be constantly reminded that it's bad to eat people...seems cool so far.

-IN FLAMES rpg: a sci fi game that uses the old WEST END GAMES d6 system.  basically, you were once a god-like posthuman entity...but you've been banished into a normal body and are seeking to return to your godlike status.  i like what i've read so far.

-ATOMIC HIGHWAY rpg: this is a very simple post-apocalyptic game. i haven't really had a chance to dive in yet, but it could be the answer to post-apoc that i've been looking for. we'll see.

-JULIUS: this is a comic by ANTONY JOHNSTON (who also writes WASTELAND - a great post apocalypyic comic series). it's a crime story set in england's west end and the plot is based off shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR.  haven't read it yet - but it looks promising.

-MINIS: many of the booths at GENCON have minis for super-cheap...and oh boy did i take advantage. i grabbed a ton of old STAR WARS minis, some old HERO CLIX and a few others. i don't actually play mini-games, though...we use generic looking minis for rpgs like TOP SECRET, X-PLORERS, TRAVELLER, MSH, i'm always on the lookout for cool looking generic sci-fi/modern minis.

MAPS: i grabbed a few full color battle-maps...a few sci-fi ones and some modern ones for a TOP SECRET idea that's been brewing in my head for a while now...

i may have grabbed one or two more things...i'll look and post a swag-pic tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


i know, i know...i haven't finished the COMPLETE B/X ADVENTURER review and i still haven't talked about the LACUNA rpg. i will...i promise.

as for the next few days...well, i'm at GENCON. we just got here a few hours ago... we're going to grab some sleep and then go nuts. more updates as cool stuff happens.    

Thursday, August 2, 2012


so, i'm functioning on 2 hours of sleep. i'm going to start this review tonight and finish it up over the next day or two...i just wanted to get started and i figured it would be easier to break the review into 2 parts - since the NEW CLASSES and SPELLS chapters will require a bit more reading on my part.

ok, so the COMPLETE B/X ADVENTURER is an rpg book designed to be used (obviously) with the Basic/eXpert D&D rules from 1981 (and also the core LABYRINTH LORD book). with some minor tweeks it would work with most other games from/inspired by that era of gaming.  it was written by jonathan becker, whose excellent blog can be found here.

the book has 5 main parts which i'll talk about individually: random tables, exceptional traits, firearms, new classes, and new spells.  all of the new spellcasting classes shy away from vancian casting...which is a good thing, in my opinion. i HATE vancian casting and we've pretty much dumped it out of our game and it hasn't been missed.

tonight i'm just going to focus on the random tables and the exceptional traits. i'll touch on the firearms rules and then call it a night.

the book starts off with a nifty chart where you can roll for the type of headgear/helmet your character has. this may seem silly and unnecessary - but i think it's a pretty awesome way to add some depth to both your character and the game.  i had the chance to be a part of the "friends and family playtest" for 5E (or whatever it's called) and there was a cool little table in that playtest that allowed you to randomly roll the appearance of magic items.  i kept that table (and tossed the rest of the playtest) and started using it in the games i was running.  i discovered that simple equipment descriptions open all kinds of roleplaying avenues.  instead of saying "yeah, it's a sword and it looks well crafted" because you can't think of anything else...a simple roll on that table led to "you see a's small, elegant, and seems to have a motif of spiderwebs along the blade. the hilt looks vaguely demonic" i had players not wanting to touch it, others who wanted it badly, others who wanted to name it, and still some others who wanted to keep it so that they could trade it back to its makers in a pinch.  anyway, enough about 5E - my point is that tables like this are cool. watch, i'll give the table a random spin and see what i get.  my halfling WORTHINGTON needs a new hat, anyway.  let's see what he winds up with:  helm; masked and adorned; skull face and tusks.  damn, that's badass!

the other table is titled 100 FINE REASONS CHARACTERS TRAVEL TOGETHER.  i had downloaded this a while back and we've been using it whenever we generate new characters.  everyone in our group loves it and we've broken it out and used it during other games as well.  it's a way to give new characters life and the randomness of the chart allows for some awesomely unexpected twists that have really added quite a bit of depth to our sessions.  quite simply - you roll percentile dice and consult the chart.  we usually roll to see how we know the person sitting to our right.  a few sample results:  "met on a ship - shanghied from the same bar while drunk"; "are lovers"; "met in school, hate each other and are plotting each other's demise"; "are from the same small town".  you get the idea.  very fun and very useful.

i'll give you an example of this chart and what it can add to a game from one of our sessions: the last time we made new characters, i decided to make a VAT-SPAWN (a class from the SECRET SANTICORE). one of his abilities was PLEASURE SLAVE (basically, his sweat is an aphrodisiac). we rolled on the chart to see how my character (named ARCHIBALD) knew rich's character. i got "met in prison - busted out by a mutual friend who died in the escape attempt".  we decided that a local official's wife had been, um...using my "services".  he found out and had me thrown in jail. rich's character knew the woman as well, and had been jailed for trying to help her get me out.  eventually, she was able to bribe some of the guards to smuggle us out together, but the husband found out and had her "eliminated".  as we were coming up with this story, i could see that our DM (chris) had developed an evil look in his if this cool origin we had just concocted was going to come back to haunt us...

one of the ideas i liked in 3/4E was that characters could do cool things that they weren't allowed to do in earlier editions. i never liked the implementation of feats, skills, or powers though. that's where EXCEPTIONAL TRAITS come in...they're like feats or abilities that don't suck, but also don't unhinge the game.  basically, when you make a 1st level character you roll on a table to see what your trait is - each class has 12 options. elves can roll on the fighter table or the magic user table.  dwarves and halflings roll on the fighter table.  at the DM's option, characters can learn new traits as they gain levels.  here are some examples:  if you're a cleric, maybe you can wield a sword or automatically communicate with any creature. if you're a fighter, elf, dwarf or halfling, maybe you have a magic item that's a family heirloom or you have a loyal, kickass pet.  if you're a thief, maybe you're a skilled musician that can earn some gold while playing (and maybe work some magic as well) or you're adept at flipping into position for a backstab attempt.  if you're a magic user or an elf maybe you radiate magic or can cast silent spells.  all of the options are pretty neat. what i really like is that the standard human classes have traits like "elf bastard" or "dwarf exile" that allow you to play a standard class as a demihuman race with some cool benefits - and also some drawbacks. for example, the dwarf outcast (a thief trait) is a dwarven thief...they roll d6 hp instead of d4, take a hefty minus to most of their thieving skills, gain infravision and languages but WILL BE OSTRACIZED BY OTHER DWARVES.  that's just cool.

ok, i'm about to pass out on my keyboard.  as you can see, i like the book quite a bit and we're not even into the classes yet!  i did notice one thing, though - in the firearms section there are no damage dice listed. i guess that's not a problem if you're using the old "everything does d6" damage rule...but i think guns should generally do more damage than a d6. out of curiosity, i looked back on JB's blog and in the original entry he says that firearms should deal d8.  i'm not seeing that anywhere in the book, though. maybe i'm just exhausted.

ok, more later.