Friday, July 27, 2012

What Could of Been: The Otherverse Engine

Like many gamers, I’ve toyed with the idea of publishing my own house system. While I was in the Navy, I did a ton of work on a unique Otherverse America engine, the last work on which I did back in 2000 or 2001. I let my Otherverse Engine fall by the wayside after D20 Modern (and especially First Edition Mutants & Masterminds) came out, because the Otherverse Engine was actually pretty similar to the published D20 Modern ruleset. However, where my game was kinda bloated, D20 Modern and its successors, were sleek and streamlined.

I don’t think, outside of home playtesters, the Otherverse Engine has ever seen light, so I thought I’d share some details here. Basically, the OE was a sort of hybrid of D20 Modern and GURPS- it used a unified D20 based resolution method for everything and had a long list of point based advantages and disadvantages.

The OE had all the stats you’d expect- the typical D&D Six Attributes- plus a few extras, though I combined Strength and Constitution into a general “Physique” stat. A character’s melee attack and ranged attack were statistics, not tied to a central Base Attack Bonus. I wanted to include more social interaction in my game, given the importance that Otherverse America places on politicking, manipulation and propaganda, so rather than one Charisma stat, I broke Leadership, Seduction and Intimidation, the three main methods of social interaction, out into their own stats.

I added a Creativity stat, which was important for psionic characters, as it determined the effectiveness of their psi-attacks and defenses, and was important to characters when power stunting. More creative characters could think up new uses for their powers, while less creative characters were limited to basic applications. Creativity was also important to non-superpowered artists and politicians. All told, I really liked the idea of a Creativity stat, and played with it a lot.

Stats were ranked from 1-20, which makes sense given Otherverse America’s WIDE power level differences- from ordinary humans, to borgs, to star-gods like Artemis. Using Physique (and Marvel Comics) as an example……
1-     A weak or sickly human.
2-     You and me. Ordinary humans.
5-   Peak Human. Olympic Athletes, Navy SEALS, and Captain America.
8-10.   Better than human. Light cyborgs, guys like Spiderman. 
10-15- Obviously superhuman. Most cyborgs, Colossus, The Thing, ect.
15-20- Godlike. Superman, the Incredible Hulk.

            The other attributes shook out similarly. The task resolution method was attribute plus skill plus D20 versus a target number or opposed check. Skills topped out at 10 ranks, which makes you one of the best in the world at that skill. Target numbers tended to be a little bit higher than D20 Modern, since I was using a full attribute, not an ability score modifier, but otherwise worked identically.

            Combat, as I recall, was pretty nasty. Rather than a single HP pool, the characters had hit locations with individual HP based on a multiple or fraction of their Physique score. In addition to major areas like Head, Torso, Abdomen, and the four extremities, players could take a major attack penalty to attack a smaller or more vulnerable target- hands, feet, neck or groin. The Neck and Groin had low HP totals, and as small targets were hard to hit but taking those areas out would either one shot kill or cripple (respectively) the victim. Missed called shots could still strike the Torso or Abdomen (which were the default hit locations, unless the attacker called another target).

            I wanted an emphasis on fast, brutal combat, and wanted characters to require cyber-replacement or surgery after a battle. I keyed weapon damage so that even a peak human or light cyborg would be shredded after one or two shots from a handgun, and vaporized by a direct hit from military hardware or superpowers. Otherverse America, in its D20 Modern format, is far less deadly than I originally envisioned the world.

            The main reason I abandoned Otherverse Engine was also the engine’s strength. It had a HUGE and comprehensive list of crunchy disadvantages and advantages, probably even more comprehensive than GURPS list. That was the problem…. Had I ever published OE, it would have been a 500 page monster, 350+ pages of which would have been the advantage/disadvantage system alone. It was certainly a deep, crunchy system with tons of depth, but OE was cumbersome as all hell.

            Anyway, it’s interesting to think of what might have been. I’ve been toying with the idea of converting Otherverse America to a 3rd Edition Mutants and Mastermind compatible product, and maybe I’ll revisit some of these ideas, using a more streamlined rule system than my Otherverse Engine as a base. After all, it would be fairly easy to implement a Creativity stat in M&M3 and tie its function into the existing power stunt and alternate power rules. It would also be fairly easy to convert M&M3’s damage save system into a Hit Location system.

Talk to you later,

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Incredibly Well Illustrated Free20 PDFS.....

I just found some interesting new resources- PostHuman Studios is releasing virtually all the art for their Eclipse Phase RPG line as 'Hack Packs'- stock art packs released under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial license. I just picked up a couple- the "non-commercial" aspect means that I unfortunately can't use these excellent pieces in my for profit PDFs, but I can certainly use these images to illustrate various free and promotional products, and will use them A LOT in this capacity.

Anyway, it's a fun new resource I thought I'd share with you.

(By the way- that image over on the right, imagine it plugged into my upcoming Solomon Station sourcebook.) 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Zero Issue is Up, Frontlines of Choice Will Be Soon!

Okay, Zero Issue just went on sale, and I finished up Frontlines of Choice last night. FOC weighs in at 100 pages of awesome Choicer cultural details, new options for Clinic Defenders and Midwives, the clinic management sim, Choicer NPCs and pre-gen characters, and alot more. It should be a lot of fun, and is a good thematic book end to Ghosts & Promises: The Kodiak Island Sourcebook.

Ghosts & Promises is a Lifer army book, and Frontlines of Choice is a great look at one facet of the Choicer army.

Now, I'm going to put out a short racebook expanding the Shiftsteel Symbionts from Psi-Watch, because I really enjoy that race, and have some great art from John that I didn't use in Zero Issue.

After that, expect some Galaxy Command goodies, on par with what Zero Issue did for Psi-Watch campaigns.

Farther in the future, I want to do a faction splat for the Otherverse' Asatru Choicers. I touched on them in Frontlines and they'll be fun to expand into a full culture book. Basically they're Norse-flavored transhumanists, deliberately twisting the old myths to be inclusive, combat happy, cybered up, butch as hell BIG DAMN HEROES. They'll be fun to write and have as much a unique factional identity as the Bastians do. Plus, the art for 'em will be kick ass.

Anyway, enjoy the new books.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Psi-Watch Zero Issue

I just sent Psi-Watch Zero Issue off to Mark to post. It should be on sale by Wednesday or Thursday. Zero issue is pretty much a combination players guide/GM's guide for Psi-Watch. From the sale text of the book:

Psi-Watch: Zero Issue! is a player’s supplement for the Psi-Watch Campaign Setting. Back during the 1990s, zero issues of a comic book focused on the origin of the titular heroes or teams, and this Zero Issue! is no different. Zero Issue! includes tons of new character creation options. From American Indian superheroes to space-faring mercenary units, from ordinary people imbued with alien superpowers to Vatican black operatives, Zero Issue! will let you build impressive new Psi-Watch heroes.

            This sourcebook also includes tons of random character creation charts and plot hooks, to bring life to a Psi-Watch Campaign. Zero Issue! also includes:

  • Three new player races that expand the definition of Human,
  • Two new orders for the Fursona freeform character builder, and one new design scheme for Synthetic Heroes,
  • Four new Enhancement Protocols for Powered Heroes unique to the Psi-Watch campaign setting,
  • Dozens of new starting talents, allowing you to create even more diverse heroes- everything from grizzled Vietnam vets, mystical Native Americans, celebrity superheroes, Mutant Freaks, extraterrestrial Elves and much more.
  • 100 Psi-Watch specific adventure hooks finish Zero Issue off right.
The book's art is mostly by John Picot, with a few stock pieces to round out the illustrations. Over on the right is an illustration John did- it was one of the two potential covers. I ended up going with a different cover image (because T&A seems to sell, and certainly isn't out of bounds in a superhero RPG inspired by Image Comics), but used this piece as a full page illustration. As you can see, John was riffing on one of Rob Liefeld's coolest covers.

I should get the last art for Frontlines of Choice tomorrow, and should have it laid out by Thursday or Friday. After that, I'm going to do some Galaxy Command, as well as additional Psi-Watch content (how's a 'monster manual' in the vein of the Otherverse America Strikefiles grab you?), and get serious about Black Tokyo revised and Masters of Endara.

Blessed Be,

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Wild Cards Novels

I’ve just started reading the Wild Cards novel series.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up the Green Ronin M&M Wild Cards sourcebook- it was at the Hastings bookstore in my town, used for 5 bucks. So I picked it up, and it was a decent intro to the world. Intrigued enough to try some of the books themselves, I found Book 1, and several later books. So far, in addition to the sourcebook- which is an overview of the Wild Cards series until the end of the “Card Sharks” arc, I’ve read through Book 1, Aces Aboard (book 4, the world tour arc, and the best of the books so far) and Ace in the Hole (book 6, the 1988 presidential primary story), and I’d just started on Card Sharks, which I think is book 15 or 16 in the series.

Anyway, George RR Martin’s Wild Card shared universe is a lot like what I’m doing with Otherverse America- this intricate and authentic alternate world with hardcore political satire mixed in among its action. I’m enjoying the series, so far. As I mentioned above, Aces Abroad was possibly the best single book, though after I finished the first book, I read Ace in the Hole first. I’m a huge fan of Hartman and really enjoyed seeing the end of his arc. (Yes, I’m reading the books out of order- since my ‘collection’ has such huge gaps, and I’ve already gotten spoilers from the RPG, I’m just reading through the books in the order they catch my eye.)

The strength of the series is the shared world aspect and the multiplicity of characters. Having so many people involved in the series, each writing a few signature characters over the course of a dozen or more novels, gives Wild Cards a real unpredictability. Each character in the series (Tachyon, Hartman, Gimli, and all the other players) reacts differently, offering greater diversity of personalities than you’d get even from the most skilled single writer. In a way, the Wild Cards series is like a very long running RPG campaign, which is appropriate because it apparently had its genesis in an old Superworld RPG that Martin ran back during the 70s and 80s.

I’m also somewhat puzzled by the differences between the licensed RPG and the world as presented in the novels. First, the RPG’s introductory editorial was a bit pretentious- “Oh this isn’t comics. We’re doing alternate history, our plots are so much more plausible and mature and serious than comics. Comics are for kids!” Horseshit, Wild Cards is well written and well thought out, but it’s an interlaced superhero universe, with as much backstory, and as many if not more crossovers than Marvel or DC. Wild Cards was obviously influenced by mainstream comics- Claremont’s X-Men had a role in the series’ creation, I’m sure. Wild Cards also seems to be VERY influential in mainstream comics, and I didn’t quite realize how much until I started reading the novels.

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, which introduced mutants with weird deformities and no appreciable powers, like Beak, seems a straight lift from the ‘jokers’ of the Wild Cards novels. Marvel’s Mutant Town in NYC is an almost perfect duplicate of Joker Town. Over in Astro City, Kurt Bruisek lifted Jube the Walrus (a newsvendor and spy for an alien empire), changed his appearance slightly and inserted him an issue of Astro City. Which, I suppose, is another good reason to dislike Bruisek, aside from his patronizing writing style and rampant hardon for Silver Age nostalgia. Lots of the flavor of Wild Cards found itself into Warren Ellis’ excellent Transmetropolotian, but I can’t think of any exact lifts, save for one. Ellis’ Smiler (a corrupt sociopath successfully masquerading as a compassionate politician) looks FUCKING EXACTLY like the Tim Truman art on the cover of Ace in the Hole, which features a close up of Senator Gregg Hartman. I don’t know if Ellis himself read any Wild Cards stuff (I’d guess yes, because he seems like a pretty well read dude), but judging by the visual similarities, I’d bet Derrick Robertson is.

Anyway, the real strength of the series, as I said before, are the characters themselves. My thoughts on some of my favorites (and least favorites).

Senator Gregg Hartman- far and away, my favorite character in the novels to date. Hartman is such a miserable, manipulative little rat-fuck, you can’t help be fascinated by him. He’s one of the most selfish and malicious villain protagonists I’ve ever read and is just so hilariously EVIL he comes off as almost epic. I find myself wandering which came first, Wild Cards I (which introduced Hartman) or Stephen King’s The Dead Zone? Whichever it is, maybe since we get to see him scheme over the course of 6 books before he gets his karmic due in Ace in the Hole, Hartman seems like a more intriguing villain than the bad guy in Dead Zone.

Dr. Tachyon- this guy is so hilariously useless. Reading through the RPG sourcebook, I got the impression that Tachyon is this grand schemer, manipulating the world. In the novels, by contrast, he seems mostly reactive- despite his royal pretensions, this guy isn’t much of a leader. To me, he seems a mix of serious figure (25%) and unintentional comic relief (75%)- he’s this overly demonstrative, metrosexual mad scientist who dresses like a Ren-Faire pirate with anime hair who occasionally gets great lines (his sarcastic dismissal of the Soviets in Aces Abroad is amazingly cool). Another change from the RPG- his telepathic abilities seem impressive in M&M terms, but are pretty minor in the books- plus, Tachyon is too much of a scmuck to ever use his telepathy intelligently.

Xavier Desmond- I seriously hate this moron. From the RPG summary (and his name I suppose), I figured him to be the setting’s Xavier figure- a moderate voice for Jokers’ rights. Seriously, I’ve got very low tolerance for moderate, non-violent advocates for the rights of oppressed minorities. Talking comics, I prefer Magneto’s philosophy over Xavier’s, and in real life, I think the world needs a lot more Malcolm Xes than it does Martin Luther Kings. Plus, the character does absolutely nothing, accomplishes absolutely nothing, and his journals, which form the framing story for Book 4: Aces Abroad, are incredibly whiny and self serving. I’m kind of shocked how little the ‘mayor of Jokertown’ actually matters to the story. By contrast, I fucking love Gimli- hardassed, temperamental little bastard that he was. Finally, the art in the RPG oddly depicted Desmond as a brawny, athletic figure….while in the book he’s a 70 year old man, dying rapidly of cancer.

Crystalis- I like her a lot, mostly because of her visually awesome mutation. While I was glad we lost Desmond in book 4, I was sorry to see her die so early in the series. I want to find book 5, which focuses on her death and final days in depth, even though I know it’s going to be a Brendan centric book (ugh). Since part of her back story is that she’s a girl from Ohio that affects a British accent, I keep hearing Madonna’s voice in my head when I read her lines. (You’ll be pleased to know I hear Dr. Zoidberg’s voice reading Father Squid’s lines. Woop-woop-woop.)

Mackie Messer: another fucking awesome villain. He’s equal parts pathetic and vile. Half the time you’re reading his story, you just want to give the little twerp a hug. I know Wild Cards and Watchmen came out near simultaneously, and I find it interesting how psychologically similar Messer is to Rorschach. He’s also got one of the most awesome combat powers in the series- I find myself making a little buzz saw noise under my breath every time he kills somebody in Book 6….and this fucker kills A LOT of people. I saw online (in the linked article below) that a key scene with Messer is described as the most terrifying blowjob ever written, and yes, that description is very accurate. You’ll notice my favorite characters in the books- Hartman, Messer, Gimli- are the bad guys, which is because many of the heroes in Wild Cards are either assholes or schmucks. Even Crystalis is more of a neutral info-broker and blackmailer than a hero. It’s kind of a pessimistic world.

Of the heroes, I’m not a fan of many of the series big names. Tachyon is a shockingly inept little prick, Jack Braun screws up pretty much everything he’s ever attempted, though his continued efforts at redemption are both endearing and cool. Plus his obvious PTSD and the fact he's dealing with it (mostly) makes him one of fiction's cooler veterans. Of the big heroes, I do like the pragmatic and blue collar Turtle the best. Harlem Hammer is awesome- taciturn, cranky and pissed as hell. I was gratified there was a scene in Aces Abroad showing him recovering after taking several full clips from multiple AK-47s and having a van fall on him. That guy is too cool to die, and I was surprised at how emotional I got when I thought this relatively minor character had been killed.  

I like most of the Jokers- they make the Wild Cards setting so unique, and are more vital to the story, collectively, then the Aces, which are more like typical superheroes. Most of the minor aces sorta bore me, but I’m fascinated by the minor Jokers by contrast. How do they live, what kind of weird medical needs and anatomical quirks do they have? Crystalis, Angelface, the Joker family Demise meets in Atlanta, Doughboy, Succubus, Chuck and the 50s-era jokers in Til I Kissed Her, and a bunch more are these super imaginative body horror creations that you have to love these freaks. Not many of them have powers in the comic book sense, but most of ‘em are so original it’s not a lack.

Hiram Worchester is also surprisingly likeable even if he’s possessed/addicted as of book 6. In the RPG, he seemed like a fat fuck with a minor gravity control power. In the books, he’s actually really good with his power- he pulls of Star Boy style gravity stunts and is entertainingly brutal….another reason I want to get ahold of Book Five.

Loved the Living Gods (book 4), but as a modern worshipper of Bast who has also had great success lately in invoking Ma’at, what’d you expect? I just finished up Dr. Finn’s story in Card Sharks, and despite his conspicuous wealth, I like the guy, perhaps because his chapter held the viscerally nastiest Card Sharks conspiracy to date in the novel.

My least favorite character so far isn’t an Ace or a Joker- it’s the human archer Brendan/Yeoman. Brendan is this horrible action movie cliché storm tossed into an otherwise interesting fictional world. He’s a badass Vietnam vet slash ninja who swore vengeance on the Vietnamese crimelord who killed his wife and kid. Seriously, there’s not one fucking thing about Brendan that’s original. If Wild Cards were a movie, he’d be played by Steven Segal. Maybe my opinion of the guy will change if I get my hands on Book Five, but I doubt it. I haven’t warmed to Mark Meadows yet either. In the first book, I skipped the Transfigurations chapter, which intro’ed him. I just couldn’t get into it, mostly because Meadows seems like such a one dimensional character- the stereotypical hippy. I kinda want to read the Free Vietnam storyline and see him in action, but right now, Mark’s not even on my radar.

One thing I didn’t expect is that two of the best written stories so far have focused on abortion. I know that I shouldn’t be shocked, given that Wild Cards plays with every other aspect of human life, but I kinda am. Down By The Nile (which is an amusing coincidence, as I didn’t read the story until a few days ago, and I named the Bastian kids show in Otherverse America several years ago) and Til I Kissed Her both had abortion as a key plot element. In Down By the Nile, Tachyon is pressuring Peregrine to have an abortion, as her kid will probably end up a deformed Joker, and Til I Kissed Her features a pre-Roe abortion (and I wonder if the duck-billed joker Doc is a speculatum joke?). Both felt authentic and well written, and the events in Til I Kissed Her spin Fluer’s words and actions in Book 6 in a totally new light. Also, and I hope this is answered in another book, given Tachyon’s feelings about joker births and his medical skill, I wonder if his Blythe Van Resseler Memorial clinic is set up to perform abortions? Hell, if I ever get asked to join the Wild Cards mosaic (small chance of that, right), that’d be the first story I’d write.

Anyway, speaking of unintentional similarities between my writing and Wild Cards, Fortunato is totally a Black Tokyo PC. Seriously, if you read his story in Book I, you’ll see what I mean. I don’t want to spoil it for you…..

Blessed Be,

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What I'm Working On: July 2012

Okay, here's an update on what I've been working on over the last couple of weeks, and a preview of some of my favorite new artwork. Up top we have sketch and finalized versions of the 14 year old Cassie Feneris, by Amanda Webb. This illo, and a sequence of other illustrations, all in the same black, white and crimson style, will illustrate the opening fiction of Frontlines of Choice. Cassie was one of the two heroines from the "Pro-Choice Wheel of the Year" novella from the Otherverse America Game Master's Guide, and the fiction in Frontlines expands on her origins a bit.

That book will be out soon. I'm waiting on 3 final pieces of artwork, and then it'll go to press. Frontlines of Choice had an interesting genesis- I started thinking of working on it while I was writing Trade Routes for Louis Porter Jr. That one turned out to be one of his better recent sellers, and as I expanded the caravan rules from Paizo's Jade Regent adventure path, I hit on the idea of using a similar rule set to create the clinic management simulation that forms the first chapter of Frontlines of Choice.

Next up, I've got an Alex Garcia piece, illustrating a Stonecutter merchant. this will be the racial illustration for the revised Guide to the Known Galaxy. That book keeps getting pushed back, because it will require so much original art I'm buying pieces here & there. Most of the creatures in GTKG are so unique and visually specific I can't get by with stock art. It'll be out sooner or later, though.

Finally, we have a John Picot illustration of an Image Comics-esque supersoldier. This illo will find its way into Psi-Watch Zero Issue. Zero Issue will be a huge support for Psi-Watch. I'm aiming for 75-10 pages... this book will include tons of new character builder options, new starting talents, campaign models and other crunchy goodness. Zero Issue also includes several Psi-Watch specific Enhancement Protocols for Powered Heroes, new Orders and Design Schemes for Fursona and Synthetic Heroes specific to the genre and the campaign setting. Zero Issue will also serve as the Psi-Watch Game Master's Guide, and like the Otherverse GMG, it will include about 20 rules modifications to tweak the campaign to simulate different kinds of stories, and 100 Psi-Watch specific plot hooks.

I'll preview some of the content here soon. Zero Issue should be out shortly after Frontlines of Choice- I like mixing my political releases with apolitical action-adventure content. It keeps the readers on their toes.

After that, what's up?
Well, I'm in a revise and revamp mood.

Sooner or later I'm going to put out an Unlimited Edition for Galaxy Command, probally starting with a Species of Galaxy Command sourcebook. Species of Otherverse America is one of my favorite recent books, and I want to give the GC races the same treatment, pull the best races from the various Galaxy Command releases, trim the dead wood and add some new races that fit other pulp/sci-fi/space opera niches. Expect a revised Galaxy Command Corebook sometime after the Species book hits.

I'll likewise be revising Black Tokyo, as I talked about last month.

On the new releases front, I'll be putting out sourcebooks focusing on Otherverse America's near Earth space. I'll start with a 50-70 page sourcebook on Solomon Station- the independent Lifer station out in Jupiter orbit. After that, expect looks at the Lunar nation, Diana, and the Muslim-dominanted Asteroid Belt region. I'll also put out a few more Psi-Watch sourcebooks, as working on Zero Issue has inspired me to do more stuff with the setting.

Should be a good summer.
Blessed Be,