Monday, September 30, 2013

Catching Up With Mykal Lakim

Well, it's been a few months and I figured it was time for us to see what's new at Dark Phoenix Publishing.

What is that? They're actually still operating? The answer to that is a resounding "Yes!", and they have a lot of exciting things going on.

First, there is the wonderful news that Dark Phoenix Publishing has expanded! Yes, that's right...they're doing so well that they were able to start up a media arm, called Dark Phoenix Entertainment. This new company will be producing "feature films, television series and music videos." In fact, they have already completed a script for the first episode of Blood Legacies, are in talks with a television network, have all of their characters named and a listing on IMDb! And lest I forget, we have an action-packed trailer:

Be sure to check out their other high quality videos on their YouTube channel.

But that's not all! This burgeoning multi-media empire, flush with the success of Vampire: Undeath is getting new sourcebooks. We already have the Bucoli sourcebook, and the Makers book (which is reviewed here). But next up is the Deluxe Bucoli sourcebook. It's been described as sickening and having more options than any other vampire rpg. What's even better, other sourcebooks such as the Lyhin book are also still in the works.

Please give me a minute while I go clean myself up...I just got a little too excited there.

Unfortunately for us, we have to wait until 2015 to be blown away by Blood Legacies. I'm not sure that I can wait that long.

I mean with names like Axl, Diesel and Toxic you know this is good stuff!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Club Metro retrospective

This was a response to an article that the Inland Empire Weekly ran on a nightclub reunion that I organized last year. I want to preserve it outside of Facebook, so I'm reposting it here as one of my fairly rare non-gaming posts. Even so, I think that for many people in my gaming circles this post will be somewhat relevant.

Treasure, what is it good for?

I've seen a couple of discussions about dealing with treasure in Fate Core, particularly in terms of D&D-style hacks.

I remember when I was a kid playing Basic D&D and later AD&D, by the time our characters reached 10th level they would have mountains of treasure. This isn't including magic items or other artifacts - I'm just talking about a tally of gp, sp, cp, etc. on the character sheet. We never actually really spent any of it on much of anything. I mean, sure, there was potential expenditures of hirelings, buying new equipment and maybe later on building a castle or something. Regardless, it amounted to mounds of treasure.

Which got me thinking:

What is all of this treasure actually used for, anyway?

So what do you actually use treasure for? How much is too much treasure? How much is too little (from a player's perspective)? How do you handle the massive economic collapse that happens when adventurers come back from looting sites of historical cultural importance with more wealth than most villages will see in their entire lifetime? Am I just some kind of dirty story gamer for not seeing the appeal in having a huge haul of gold?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Blue Planet Fate: Biomods and Augmentations

+Jacob Poss has taken up the challenge of adapting Blue Planet to Fate Core and asked for some input on how to handle biotech and cybernetics.

There are basically two routes to go with this. The first is to just have the biotech represented by aspects and, when not appropriate stunts. Characters might lose some granularity of picking through a shopping list of mods, particularly the minor ones - they are mostly flavor using this method. The aspects would serve as permissions for doing things covered by the modifications.

The second route is what is seen in Nova Praxis, where essentially each modification does it's own thing. They aren't stunts per se, but as Extras each with their own specific effects. Given the nature of Blue Planet, this is the route that I'd go for. Since modifications are so ubiquitous in Blue Planet, I'd give each character a number of modification slots above and beyond the normal freebie stunt slots or refresh. 3 is probably a good starting number. At its most basic, each modification takes a slot. More potent augmentations can cost more than one slot. Additionally, certain biomods (such as Transhumans or Shock Troopers) might lose slots to required modifications.

The Full Monty here is to lift Nova Praxis' augmentation system wholesale (and possibly the underlying method for how sleeves work, as least with biomods). This requires assessing an Augmentation Value for each modification from Blue Planet (a number of the existing ones in Nova Praxis would probably work just fine). Characters could start with 3 augmentations, and would use Physique x 2 as the maximum number of augmentations that the character can support.

Whichever method used (straight aspects versus more developed Extras with their own guidelines) depends on the depth that you want the game to have with regards to modifications.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Non-Gaming Household

It seems like a lot of people in my social media circles have spouses, kids, family members, etc. that are also into all manner of gaming and nerdery. I really enjoy reading their posts, seeing the pictures of the cool things their kids do, and generally basking in the glow of gaming goodness.

My own situation isn't quite that way. Now, I'm not writing about it in any kind of  "Woe is me" way, or to bemoan how I want it to be different, or invite any kind of criticism or advice on how to change it. I just want to discuss the factors involved and the reality it creates, because I know not every gamer out there has the perfect geek significant other or kids who like to play rpgs.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Vampire: Undeath Makers Review

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” - James Baldwin


Dark Phoenix Publishing Entertainment actually included the above quote in their new sourcebook, the Wastelands of Damnation Makers A Sourcebook Expansion For Vampire: Undeath. It may be the highest point of irony. Ever.

As I sit down to write this review, I’m asking myself (and I’m sure others are asking this too): “Why am I even bothering to do this?”. It’s not like I expect that it’s going to be a wonderful turn-around from the fiasco that was Vampire Undeath. We’re also certainly beyond the point where anyone is going to be disappointed if they accidentally pick up the book thinking it’s a new Onyx Path offering.

The reasoning was just to see the gyrations Mykal Lakim Michael Owens goes through to ignore all of the advice he’s been given. And I forgot Jon Stewart had returned to The Daily Show, so I thought I needed to fill some time amusing myself.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the previous review, you can read it on RPG.Net.


The Wastelands of Damnation Makers A Sourcebook Expansion For Vampire: Undeath is a sourcebook for Dark Phoenix Publishing’s Vampire[:] Undeath LARP/Tabletop/G.A.M.E./L.I.F.E. system. It is only $2 on Scribd, and contains rules for high level vampires.

It does this - barely. Clocking in at 80 pages, the amount of new material might, might, fill out ten pages. The rest is filler - six pages of an introduction to roleplaying - or largely reprinted material from Vampire: Undeath. There’s 30 pages of character creation and then another 12 pages on running games that are pretty much copy-pasted from the main rulebook. Even if the rehashed content is not 100% identical, it’s at least 95%. There’s also filler in the form of multi-page chapter separators and several full page ads. And coupons. That you can redeem. Called Redemption. I totally killed the joke, didn't I?

Can I get a coupon for my time? 

On the subject of ads, about the only artwork from the book is for the Daemoni sourcebook preview, which has already been known to have been lifted from a Halloween costume website. See, anyone can write like Mykal Lakim! 

Though the skull might be an improvement over the Selena Gomez lookalike
He’s apparently now so gunshy about art he’s even left out illustrations that are referenced in the book: 

“Anytime you need to talk or do something Out of Character, raise your arm at your side, as you see here (to the right). This indicates that you are Out of Character.”

I think these would fit right in

Aside from the reprinted material and recycled costume website art, we get a handful of “advanced skills”, like Administration (“Your character is able to use their leadership in such a way that they can convince someone of something with managerial force emphasis mine), Intimacy, and Seduction - you know, things you need to be really old to know how to do. There’s a few “new” Edges that are mostly expansions of existing ones. Never mind that Greater Blush of Health is pretty much spot on for the Merit Blush of Health from Vampire: The Masquerade. That’s merely a coincidence. Then there’s the Stutter Step Edge, which is particularly useful if you’re playing tennis. There’s also some very brief and non substantive information on a smattering of subjects like Houses and how Makers interact with their progeny. Apparently it looks like a game of 20 questions:

Elder: “Who are you?”
Liberi: “John.”
Elder: “John? Who do you belong to, John?”
Liberi: “I belong to Markus.”
Elder: “What is your House?”
Liberi: “House Eligiere, Sir.”
Elder: “What is the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?”
Liberi: “African or European, sir?”

We do get some expanded rules or descriptions on powers geriatric vampires can possess. Such as Hybernate (because we need to randomly put more “y’s” in thyngs). Or Discord, which makes things around vampires get crappier as time goes on (like this game line). Or how Makers feel what their children feel and know where they are. I can already do this by checking my kids' Facebook and turning the GPS tracking on their cell phones on. We get an expanded chart for “blood scrying” (or blood walking, or Obdukemoria which is a completely made-up word that sounds like something Gandalf would say). Delirium is given a full description of its effects, which amounts to various levels of mortals not remembering what they've seen. This is, of course, not inspired by Werewolf: the Apocalypse’s Delirium because it’s obviously for vampires and not werewolves. High level vampire blood is more potent than low level vampire blood. But that’s not like the World of Darkness, because Vampire: Undeath has levels and Vampire has gen…aw, crap. Look, it’s exactly the same thing.

The Main Event

There are so many things Mykal Lakim doesn’t seem to quite get, and all of them are concentrated into this one book. It’s like cargo cult game design - if you ape how other companies set up their books, it’s guaranteed to succeed! Granted, he's not the only one to have fallen into that trap. It's just everyone else did more than a decade ago.

The writing has improved slightly - but not much - and is just awkward in many places. He still likes to define words that pretty much everyone has a grasp on:
By definition, a Skill is “the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, ect. [sic], to do something well, or a competent excellence in performance; expertness.”
It did make for a very anemic Mangling The English Language with Mykal Lakim section for this review, so I apologize in advance. If it makes it any better, read them all in the voice of Morgan Freeman, at least that’s a little funny.

"The skies over their mountain-home a permanent cloudy day almost enabling the monsters who dwell there the ability to walk about regardless of the time without fear of the sun." - I ran this through Google translate a few times and it didn't really make it any worse: "Sky, what they are in the mountain on a cloudy day, almost permanently on the monsters that dwell there is the ability to walk, regardless of the time without the fear of the sun"
"the smell of potent blood perks up most elder ears" - Someone might have a case of synesthesia. “I can hear dandelions! And the salt of the waves!”
"elders are able to keep fighting and injuring themselves while ignoring their wounds" - I...I’ll just leave this one alone.
"As the characters walk down the long corridor, they notice the modern conveniences like red-brick stop after about ten feet and older cement and at long last, carved stone can be seen." - I can still remember a time before we invented brick. And cement. It was a simpler time.
Then there’s his tenuous grasp of copyright law:
Snapshot taken from the PDF. Suck it, fair use FTW. 
Beyond not knowing what a supplement should be or do, and having about as strong of a grasp on copyright law as a limp noodle (or is that a lymp noodle?), we also have Lakim’s biting criticism on the state of roleplaying games circa 1995:

“Vampire: Undeath is not a storytelling game. It is not meant to be played sitting around a table as if the players and Director were having a discussion.“
Of course, he has the perfect solution for improving rpgs so people don't have to have these “discussions” between the players and the Director:

“When in narrator-mode, a Director simply describes imaginary elements or ensures that all players understand the imaginary elements [...]”
So, look, we get it. It’s supposed to be a LARP and you feel the need to try to make Rock-Paper-Scissors seem revolutionary and cool and better than tabletop roleplaying, because otherwise the stream of 17-year old goth girls coming out to the park for the game (or G.A.M.E. or whatever) will dry up.


Makers is an uninventive sourcebook with an identity crisis and a lot of filler material. Even the elements like Obdubukkakemoria have their novelty value spread extremely thin with nothing mechanically unique to anchor them to the game. You could recreate the ability in, say, Fate Core in about five minutes (well, you can recreate anything in Fate Core in five minutes but that’s beside the point). While specifics of some abilities like Discord or how Makers can sense their children might be different from other games (like in the World of Darkness), overall the implementation is just as derivative, bland and uninspired as Vampire Undeath.

Bundle of Holding is pay what you want, and changes frequently. You can get great games, for a reasonable price. Drop your $2 on that instead (I’d suggest a hell of a lot more) and skip Makers. Especially for vampires.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Milestone Worksheet

First things first, I cooked up a milestone worksheet to go along with my milestone fractal post. You can grab it from Google Docs. Also, I had a couple of comments after finding a great discussion on fractal adventure design on ENWorld.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Milestone Fractal Example

Someone mentioned that they do a lot better grokking these kind of things with examples, so I thought I'd try to cook one up.

First, I have some slight refinements of what I posted yesterday (I swear I'm not trying to copy how +Ryan M. Danks posted his adventure fractal, I'm really not).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Milestone Fractal

I was originally going to write about adventure planning in the same spirit as what +Ryan M. Danks posted about Adventure Fractals. Instead it's taken a turn toward campaigns and not just adventures. I've actually written previously about this subject on Dreams of Flesh and Spirit, and some of those concepts are going to be making a reappearance.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Locations, Fate Core Style: Part II

In my last post I went over some of the guidelines I use when creating a location for a game. Today I'm going to step through the process with an actual location that fits in with Fate of Vimary: the desecrated Shrine of C'nawa.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Locations, Fate Core Style: Part I

If one were to ask me what things are critical to bringing an rpg "to life", I'd say: characters and locations. Nearly everything else is secondary, including the greater world. You need the characters to have roles to play, and the locations to interact with.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Campaign Preparation

I was originally going to make a blog carnival post on campaign creation but instead got sidetracked by campaign preparation (and ran out of, well, August).