Saturday, January 30, 2010

Torchwood Online Game: Mission # 2

The second mission for the Torchwood online game begins with you (the "freelance operative") being informed that Conrad Fischer's date, Natalie Blacke, was actually a private investigator and has just been found burned to death. She was last seen leaving New Eden, and the way to progress to the next mission is to identify who the last person was to contact her by hacking into her voicemail. The following docs are provided:

* A singed business card belonging to Natalie, with a phone number: 180137.

* Natalie's police service record, which shows she was a promising officer before being dismissed for having a congential heart defect (or as I like to say, "a bum ticker").

* Owen's autopsy report, which confirms that the body is Natalie's because the heart defect is recognized.

* The police incident report filed when Natalie's body was found. An important detail here, which is easy to miss, is that her next of kin is listed as Naomi Blacke, Sister.

* A sheet listing dialing codes for UK (Cardiff: 02920)

* A brief clip of Tosh saying she thinks Natalie was originally from London before moving to Cardiff.

* Another clip from the Dark Talk radio show, which is apparently taking place around the time of the Season Two episode Sleeper, as a caller reports explosions, phones out, and seeing a guy with a "sword for an arm." Another caller thinks his wife is a vampire and there's an ad for the Venus Clinic. The actress who plays the radio host does a nice job of sounding bemused but not dismissed of the calls.

To solve the mystery, you simply go to the phone hacking tool and put in the city code for Cardiff and the number found on the burnt business card. This gets you Natalie's voicemail, which has the following messages:

* PC Andy calling to say he found Natalie's cat, Argyle.
* John Winters of New Eden asking for an update, since it's "been two weeks since we've heard from you."
* Conrad Fischer calling to say that he has to see Natalie, because Winters "has been lying to you" (apparently Winters told Natalie she was investigating a case of industrial espionage) and that Fischer knows about a whistleblower inside New Eden.
* Natalie's sister calling about "our" birthday (I'm thinking they might be twins and share the congenital heart defect, so the body found may not actually be Natalie). Anyway, from the police report we know Natalie's sister is named Naomi, and that's the clue to get to the next mission.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 33

This was one of the most momentous sessions of the entire campaign, and the decisions made here by the players had (and continue to have) a major impact on subsequent story-arcs. A few examples:

* Daal's decision to simply charge in and attack the Plaguewomb resulted in his being hit by the Plague Kiss (a special attack with an extraordinarily gross description) that gave him an incurable form of esophegeal cancer and a slow march to death (in current sessions, he's growing weaker but insists "he has a plan"). I had prepared a range of options for how the PCs might try to deal with the Plaguewomb (both combat-wise and non-combat wise), but Daal's attack made everything very simple.

* A'tel's decision to, first, take up the strange lightsaber and then, in a shocking move, give it to Jocasta. This mysterious artifact has been the driving force behind the actions of a lot of NPCs, and it ending up being given to a major campaign antagonist was (from a director's perspective) a beautiful moment that could not have been scripted better. (it almost didn't happen, as the rock fall in the cavern knocked A'tel to -9 hit points, in a system where death occurs at -10).

* The group's decision to go along with the Sun Runners and Stefan Cassadine instead of fighting. Daal was originally the hold-out here, and to spare the player's feelings the recap glosses over his confrontation with Jocasta. Basically, Daal was alone aboard a freighter, staring out the cockpit canopy as Jocasta stood on the ground, insisting that Daal owed her a debt that could only be paid through service in her employ. Daal came out with a great sounding line: "What's to keep me from blowing you away right now?" Jocasta's reply made everyone snicker and Daal's player so embarassed he gave in without further resistance: "Because that freighter only has turret-mounted weapons, and you're standing in the cockpit."

The timeline jump was done for a couple of reasons: (1) It made for some really interesting story possibilities, as a lot had happened in the galaxy while very little time had passed for the PCs and (2) It allows Order 66 and other major developments in the Clone Wars to happen on the correct canonical dates (that's why I keep close track of what day it is and how long everything takes). A few short stories tell some of what happened during the "gap."

The name "Necromonger" was stolen (I think) from a villain in the Chronicles of Riddick, while the name "Plaguewomb" I came up myself, after a great deal of pondering. I always imagine her a little like the character Pestilence from the Fall of the Mutants storyline.

I was both quite proud of the fact that Jocasta's agent, Ailsa, succeeded in her mission (as my players have grown extraordinarily cautious) but in a somewhat bittersweet way, as it's hard enough to get them to care about NPCs they meet in the course of the campaign and one of the few times they do she turns out to be a turncoat, which only increases their paranoia.

Update (July 24, 2012):  Added some previously secret information about A'tel's communication with the spirit of Veris Saak, which is actually some fairly important backstory to the strange lightsaber and the anomaly.


Shortly after the Clone Wars began, a young student in the Jedi Order, one repeatedly dismissed as being too weak in the force to deserve an apprenticeship, mysteriously received his first assignment off-world. Tarn Tamarand’s life has never been the same since that fateful day, but now, just months after finally achieving his dream of becoming a Padawan learner, he has mysteriously abandoned the Order and travelled across the galaxy into an ancient and crumbling temple. Ahead of him lies the cosmic vessel known as the anomaly. Behind him are companions from days of adventure past. But next to him stands the Plaguewomb – powerful and unholy member of the Forgotten Sith. A crossroads has been reached, one that may reveal the final fate of Tarn Tamarand, for once and for all.

For Atel Por'Ten, time stands still for the final time.  He feels himself floating through the massive chamber and into the small alcove that lies past the bronze doors.  There, he sees the figure from his previous visions--Veris Saak--standing next to the seemingly-frozen bodies of Daal Mordo, Tarn Tamarand, and the Plaguewomb.  "You've managed to come far, young Jedi" Veris says, "but you are weakening.  Without my help, this crumbling temple to the Uncreated will be your final resting place."  Suddenly, Atel finds himself looking at this chamber from high overhead.  He sees images of himself and his companions in battle against the Plaguewomb, but she unleashes crackling tendrils of green energy from her fingertips and Atel is the first to fall; he sees images of him and his companions, victorious over the Plaguewomb and trying to escape over the crumbling stone staircase, but Atel slips and plunges over the side and is lost in darkness; another vision, him and his companions avoid a fight with the Plaguewomb but decide the strange lightsaber at Tarn's feet must be returned to the anomaly--Arresta stuns Atel from behind, slips the lightsaber into his belt, and together the group tosses him into the portal; and finally, a last vision:  Atel reaches out with the Force, the lightsaber jumps into his hand, he strikes down the Plaguewomb and finds a secret escape tunnel from the crumbling temple and emerges a hero of the adventure.  With the aid of the lightsaber, Atel becomes a famed general in the Clone Wars, his brother apologies for his misdeeds, and the Order places him on the Council.  As fast as the visions passed before his eyes, Atel is back in the chamber with Veris Saak.  "I can sense your thoughts, young Jedi.  That I am evil, that I have come to tempt you.  But the truth is I seek only freedom from the accursed prison you call the anomaly.  Years ago, I was a young Jedi, like yourself.  Drawn by visions and dreams sent by the Oracle, I gathered strange artifacts and prophecies, and travelled to the anomaly to await the coming of those who would finally set her free.  Your companions are among those who accomplished her ends, but my role fulfilled, I fell by the wayside.  My body destroyed, my essence trapped in this blade of light.  All I ask is that you take me with you.  In return, I offer survival and a chance to become a Jedi out of legend . . ."

With the fall of the massive Necromonger still echoing through the temple, Daal bursts through the bronze doors to see the horrific Plaguewomb standing over the kneeling Padawan Tarn Tamarand. Behind them, the open-faced room (carved into the cliff-side) looks out over the massive trench the group had seen while flying over the ruins; but now, the gigantic silver cylinder known as the anomaly fills the sky as it slowly approaches, a small blinking light on its outer rim beginning to line up with the chamber.

Seizing on the momentum of Doxen's success against the Necromonger, Daal immediately opens fire on the Plaguewomb. Like a snake, she writhes her way around the blasts, her eyes full of fury and fixated on the interloper. "This warrior has come of his own will to return what he took, to redeem himself by weakening the barrier. In exchange for my protection through the Waiting Place, he has pledged himself to me as the new Sentinel. And you won't take him from me!" The Plaguewomb unleashes a blast of sickly green tendrils from her fingertips, coursing with energy, and they catch Daal full in the chest. The stunned Duros tries to return fire, but again the Plaguewomb sidesteps his blasts and then it's too late. In a horrific embrace, the Plaguewomb kisses Daal and a flood of toxic, cancerous bile pours down his throat. He slides to the ground, barely moving.

Seconds later, Atel, Arresta, and Doxen arrive. Again the Plaguewomb unleashes an onslaught of arcing tendrils of energy, and Atel falls. "Tamarand is mine!" the Plaguewomb cackles, as she walks towards Arresta and prepares to attack again. But Arresta stands firm. The Princess of Mongui swings her vibrorapier with all her might and the head of the Plaguewomb tumbles to the ground with a sickening thud. Looking down at the body of the fallen Sith, the Princess smiles in satisfaction. “Get in line, bitch.”

Arresta hurries to Tarn’s side, but Doxen arrives first. Finding him completely unresponsive and realizing that something – presumably the anomaly – is getting closer, they hog-tie the Jedi and carry him out. Having roused himself, Atel stumbles closer to the oddly-shaped lightsaber hilt that is laying on the ground. He reaches out a hand, and the weapon seems to almost leap into the air. The moment he touches the handle, Atel feels infused with new strength. Daal tries to dissuade him from bringing the lightsaber along, but has no luck. Turning his attention to the approaching anomaly, Daal is tempted to take his own journey back inside, but Atel convinces him to walk away.

Returning to the large, crumbling chamber once presided over by the Necromonger, Atel runs toward the fountain in the centre of the room, claiming he knows another way out. Investigation reveals he is correct, as a water pipe just large enough to squeeze through can be accessed at the bottom of the pool. With a combination of aqua-breathers and oxygen tanks, the group slowly make its way through the tunnel, emerging in an underground cavern.

This large cavern has no apparent exits, but an almost mummified corpse is sprawled over an ancient wooden cask filled with hollow metal cylinders, each covered with unusual symbols. Daal decides to sample the tempest spice that he obtained from Mika the Hutt, pockets one of the cylinders from the cask, and then helps Doxen search the cavern for a way out. Meanwhile, her steady stream of recriminatory muttering belied by her gentle touch, Arresta cares for Tarn, placing him on the repulsor-lift stretcher from her medical kit. At Arresta’s request, Atel attempts to communicate with Tarn through the Force. Atel is able to discern that Tarn has placed himself in an extraordinarily deep trance intended to help him survive in the temple until the anomaly arrived; and as far as Atel can tell, a return to the anomaly will awaken the entranced Padawan, but other methods may exist as well.

Daal and Doxen complete their search of the cavern and find a possible way out: a tiny fissure in the cavern's ceiling lets in a ray of light. Daal prepares several impromptu explosives and persuades Atel to levitate them toward the fissure. Although safely out of the blast range of the homebrewed grenades, a cascade of falling rock pours over the Jedi and deaths' door is within reach. Fortunately, Daal rushes over and manages to stabilize Atel. The Duros strips Atel of the new lightsaber and then helps the others haul the two fallen Jedi through the hole in the ceiling.

[A.G. 867]

On the surface, the area around the ruined temple is vastly changed. The weather is cooler, the sands have darkened to black, the massive trench is partially filled from rockslides, and what looks like a small pre-fab mining building has been erected nearby. Daal constructs a small droid jammer to take over a mining droid while Doxen scouts the perimeter of the new building. Although curious about the new facility, the group decides it's too dangerous to explore. Instead, they decide to head straight for the freighter which they left in a narrow valley several kilometers away.

[A.G. 868]

The next day, when they arrive back at the borrowed freighter, they find it covered by large boulders from another rock slide. While the Princess watches over Tarn, the others use a combination of lightsaber, blasters, and explosives to pulverise the explosives. Daal hides the strange lightsaber he took from Atel behind an access panel in the engine room.

[A.G. 870]

After a couple of days work to patch up the hull, Daal flies the ship to the last known location of Mika the Hutt, but finds him long gone. Without Poparra's son to provide voice prints for the locked hyperdrive, the group appears to be stranded on Endregaad. Daal investigates the ship's security system and finds two sophisticated self-destruct systems to deter tampering; with the right equipment and some able hacking, he thinks he might be able to unlock the nav-computer and hyperdrive. Atel and Doxen take the cargo hauler and head to Tel Bollin, hoping to find the equipment Daal needs. They find the city changed – even more run-down then before. The CSA has abandoned their checkpoints and those in the city speak of the plague as an event long past. The news is shocking: it seems more than a year and a half has passed since they entered the subterranean temple--and in their absence, the galaxy has moved on. The Separatists have scored several major victories on planets like Jabiim, Duros, Humbarine, and Merson. Only the recent destruction of the Separatist "Bulwark" fleet by Captain Dodonna at the Battle of Anaxes has kept the Core Worlds safely in Republic hands. Atel and Doxen meet a purported down-on-her-luck mechanic named Ailsa who offers to join the crew in exchange for passage off Endregaad. They are sympathetic, but cautious – afraid that sharing too much information will create a mob demanding to be taken off-planet. They decide to have Daal meet with her the next day to assess her usefulness.

While the others develop plans to bypass the booby traps that threaten the nav computer and the hyper drive, Arresta cleans Tarn up and sits with him, sadly placing his hand on her pregnant belly to feel the baby kick – with no response from the unknowing father-to-be. The Padawan will walk, sleep or eat – but “he” isn’t there.

[A.G. 871]

Daal and Doxen travel to Tel Bollin. Daal meets the mechanic and finds her skills to be only moderate, but he takes pity on her and asks her to show him to a junk pile where he and Doxen salvage various parts. They set her the task of repairing several swoop bikes and tell her they will contact her later.
While alone on the ship with Arresta and Tarn, Atel's tinkering with the ship makes the Princess suspicious. She contacts Daal and informs him that she believes Atel might be looking for the lightsaber. Despite this, she asks the Jedi Knight to try again to awaken Tarn, but although A'tel tries his best, he realizes that awakening the entranced Jedi is simply outside of his ability.

Reunited, the team makes a quick trip to orbit to confirm that no other ships are presently in orbit of the planet. Deciding that they must risk removing the booby traps, they determine that due to Arresta’s pregnancy, it would be safer to have the new mechanic, Ailsa, help Daal than it would be to have the Princess assist in trying to bypass the computers.

Atel searches the ship and eventually finds the strange lightsaber hidden behind an access panel in the engine room; using spare parts and other equipment found on the ship, he fashions a fake lightsaber to hide behind the panel. 

[A.G. 872]

The next day, Doxen picks Ailsa up from Tel Bollin and brings her back to the ship along with a partially-repaired swoop bike. The group decides that only Daal and Ailsa should be on board the ship in case there's a catastrophic malfunction during the hacking attempt. The others agree to wait at a safe distance, but Arresta becomes nervous about this plan. Leaving Ailsa in the engine room to get started, Daal exits the ship to talk things over with the rest of the group. When he returns, he finds the door to the engine room is locked! He quickly bypasses the door controls and is shocked to see that Ailsa has attempted to sabotage the ship by ripping wires and circuit panels from the sublight drive. Daal draws his blaster, but Ailsa throws her hands up and shouts "If you hurt me, Jocasta will kill you! She'll be here any minute now." She says that Jocasta hired her for a rotating shift to wait in Tel Bollin and watch for the group to return, and that sensors hidden in mining equipment around the ruins picked up their escape from the subterranean temple days ago . . .

As Daal frantically tries to jury-rig the engines, the others arrive. Doxen conducts a thorough search on the tied-up saboteur and finds a tracking device. Desperate to get it away from the ship, he pockets the tracker and leaps onto the repaired swoop and into the desert. As he rides away from his friends, he sees a ship coming nearer in the distance. Arresta suggests that in the past, Jocasta has been open to negotiation. Atel says he'll handle the negotiation some distance away from the ship in case they track his comlink. He powers up the cargo hauler and drives away.

Doxen makes it to a rocky outcrop and hides just as the strange, crescent moon shaped freighter lands. The gangway comes down and Stefan Cassadine emerges, followed by his Aqualish bodyguard Xam. A few seconds later, Jocasta and two of her crew descend. They see Doxen's abandoned swoop and the tracking device, but the furry sniper has managed to hide himself in a pile of rocks. While the sniper listens from his place of concealment, Jocasta receives a call on her comlink from Atel. The corsair says she's not interested in a fight, but that she needs three things to happen before she leaves: Daal Mordo delivered to her custody, the head of 8P-MD-4 in her hands, and Arresta Cassadine reunited with her husband. Listening in on their conversation, Arresta gasps in dismay. She tells Stefan that she and the baby are okay, but then tries to stall for time.

Meanwhile, Stefan loses what little patience he has left. He blasts the swoop bike into a smoldering pile and begins shouting for its hidden pilot to reveal himself now or face the consequences. With the search party closing in, Doxen decides to reveal himself and negotiates transport for himself, Tarn, and Atel in exchange for Jocasta and Stefan getting what they want. Via comlink, the Princess tells the others that they have to give in – at least as far she and the delivery of the head are concerned. She assures her friends that “If Stefan finds Tarn, he’ll kill him.” Taken aback, they suggest a ruse with 8P’s head. Arresta says that there is no time and that it is too big a risk. Atel tries and fails to trade himself for Daal--Jocasta is very specific on who she needs. She makes it clear, however, that she's not planning on killing Daal: instead, he'll be leading a "research team" under her direction.  Atel realizes that the lightsaber he took from the crumbling temple yearns to be with someone as powerful as Jocasta.

Atel returns to the ship and speaks with Arresta. She asks him to please protect Tarn. “If he wakes up, please do not tell him what took place on this mission – or anything else that you might suspect about me, or my baby. If he is somehow alright, he should just go and be a Jedi and I’ll take care of the messes I made for myself…” Atel promises her that he will do as she asks and Arresta leaves in the cargo hauler. When she is gone, Atel conceals Tarn and then contacts Jocasta again to negotiate a side deal with her. He will provide her with the strange lightsaber found in the anomaly, if she agrees to provide protection for Arresta and her baby from Stefan's wrath. Jocasta expresses surprise at the news that Arresta is pregnant, and some scepticism that Arresta requires protection from Stefan, but she agrees.

When the Princess arrives at the specified co-ordinates she turns over the head and is reunited with her husband. They head onboard Jocasta’s ship and pass by Siege Commander Korg, whose personality has been uploaded to a massive war droid. Once they are alone in his cabin, Stefan shows his temper, angrily confronting Arresta for her actions. She tries to explain what she describes as her compulsion to follow this mission and apologizes for worrying him. Desperately, Arresta spins a tale of having received a vision while inside the ruins, one that showed her that Tarn is necessary for the safety of the baby. She reveals that Tarn is harmless and unresponsive in his trance and is on the ship with Daal. Stefan appears to believe her and agrees not to take his anger out on Tarn…for now…but he does suggest to his wife that she convince her friend Daal to turn himself in to Jocasta because the corsair is not someone to be trifled with. He reveals that he murdered Twitch on Alderaan during his search for her, and that Tarn's master in the Jedi Order has been arrested and exiled from the Temple.

Arresta tries to convince Daal to give himself up, as does Atel. Doing so will mean safe passage for the others and a period of indentured servitude for Daal, but he'll at least have a life to look forward to. Eventually, Daal completes the repairs and lands the borrowed freighter near Jocasta's ship. Atel disembarks, bringing Tarn with him. Daal clearly doesn't want to turn himself over, but with a ship incapable of jumping to hyperspace and his companions aboard Jocasta's ship, he doesn't have many options. He tries to bluff and threaten Jocasta, but she's determined and merciless. After a tense stand-off, a seemingly-defeated Daal gives himself up.

Jocasta's ship lifts off and quickly leaves Endregaad behind for the journey into hyperspace, carrying a strange collection of souls: a pirate and her motley crew, including the newest, reluctant member; a sniper and a Jedi Knight, returning successfully from a mission that took more from them than they expected; and a pregnant Princess, her vengeful husband and her incapacitated ex-lover. All loosely connected, all on the same ship – and all unsure what will be waiting for them next….

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Reunion

Buffy the Vampire: Reunion, a 2002 one-shot, is actually one of the best of the pre-Season Eight Buffy comics (which on the whole are rather mediocre). The issue is written by Jane Espenson, who wrote a lot of the episodes, and is something in the nature of a "lost tale": during the show, there's a point early in Season Six where we see Buffy leave to tell Angel that she's back from the dead--and when we see her again, she's returned from the meeting and never explains what happened. This issue is all about Buffy's friends speculating about what took place when she saw Angel again. Xander thinks they met up at the big Hollywood sign where they were attacked by a giant flaming demon; Dawn thinks they had a romantic moonlight stroll on the beach before being attacked by a giant flaming demon; and Anya thinks they met up a Denny's, had a "juicy burger", and were then attacked by a demonic rabbit and . . . a giant flaming demon. Notice the pattern? There's actually a clever explanation for it that brings everything full circle. There's a lot of good humor in the issue and a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, which I always think is something the show was much better at than the comics. Anyway, Reunion is definitely one of the best of the bunch.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: Zero & Natany

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Zero and Natany were two short-lived but quite memorable characters in our Clone Wars campaign. My wife and I always tend to speak of them together, because they both appeared at about the same time (Session 15/16), they spent most of their in-time game together as roguish buddies, and they both left at the same time (after Session 22). I never did find out why their players dropped out of the campaign, which is one of those things that makes directors doubt themselves (did they hate the last session? should I have put more scoundrel-y side quests and loot? too plot focussed?).

Zero was a Rodian scoundrel. He joined the team as a hired investigator looking for exculpatory evidence during the big Trial story-arc when they were accused of war crimes. Zero and Natany weren't a lot of help in the beginning, but then they got their act together and recovered a surprising array of useful information for the defense.

A couple of the funniest things I remember about Zero is that before his first appearance, he purchased a quite expensive and elaborate blaster pistol that had like three different functions (I think it fired darts, grenades, and something else)--of course, in his first session he rolled a critical fumble and on the chart, it read "weapon destroyed." Although he got the gun repaired, he never did use any of the special settings. The other thing I remember is that, when Arresta purchased a ship, she hired Zero as the pilot. The first time space combat came around, he took that little freighter on a crazy charge right towards a massive Trade Federation battleship, much to the frantic dismay of his colleagues. They lived to tell the tale, but that was actually Zero's last appearance in the game.

Natany was a Ryn, an obscure species in Star Wars that is known for (a) having a tail, (b) a lack of hygiene, and (c) the ability to play their noses like a flute. I'm not sure why, but the player who ran Natany never seemed to like it when people brought these things up during the game. Natany's biggest claim to fame took place when the group travelled to a salvage yard to question a crotchety old man about the whereabouts of a Separatist base. As these things are wont to do, several droidekas attacked and, before being destroyed, set fire to the old man's hut. Natany pulled the thankless old man out of the fire and the group left. After they had travelled several kilometers away, Natany returned to the salvage yard to confront the old man about his lack of gratitude. It was enormously funny at the time, and one of the few things that gave the character some personality (his player was rather quiet, and Natany usually stayed in the background).

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Twilight Streets

The Twilight Streets features Torchwood Season One's only recurring villain, the mysterious Bilis Manger. The plot starts out centering on a mysterious neighborhood in Cardiff called Tretarri, that makes Captain Jack physically ill to enter (and has done ever since Jack arrived in Great Britain in the late 1800s). The rest of the plot is hard to explain as it's rather complicated, but basically we learn that the God/Demon/Alien entity named Abaddon (destroyed by Torchwood in the big climactic episode of Season One) was a necessary force to keep in check a rival God/Demon/Alien entity named Pwccm.

Bilis Manger, it seems, was the "Seconder" (helper?) for Abaddon, while Bilis' twin/doppelganger/relative (?) named Cafard Manger was the Seconder for Pwccm. Anyway, Abaddon's destruction upended the balance between Light and Dark, so the balance has to be put right and the details of exactly how that works is quite fuzzy in my head, but it involves kidnapping Torchwood, holding a big street party, and all kinds of other weird stuff. I think there's time-travel and metaphysics involved too, and how any of this relates to a consistent Torchwood mythos I have no idea.

If the balance isn't put right, a possible alternate future is shown where the Dark (or the Light?) will possess Tosh and Owen and lead them to create the "Torchwood Empire" which has almost unlimited power by harnessing the power of Jack's ability repeatedly rise from the dead. These scenes are interesting, much like the original X-Men Days of Future Past storyline.

Plot gymnastics aside, there are some other interesting things in the book.

* We get a look at World War II Torchwood, as Jack ferries a captured alien from Torchwood One (London) to Torchwood Three (Cardiff). Torchwood Three, at that time, seems to be made up of a woman named Llinos King, a very hard-nosed woman boss named Tilda Brennan, and a guy Jack has a big crush on named Greg Bishop.

*In the modern day, we meet an interesting new character named Idris Hopper, who works in the Mayor's office and is immune to Ret-Con pills (at least the first version, which only 1/80,000 people are immune too; Jack says they've developed a new version that works on all but 1/800,000). UPDATE: Wikipedia informs me that this is a character from the Doctor Who episode "Boom Town." Yay continuity!

*We learn that Torchwood Two (Glasgow) is helmed by a strange old man named Archie, who isn't very technologically proficient (touched on briefly in the Torchwood Magazine # 14's comic strip "The Selkie").

* There's a brief but well-written discussion between Gwen and Ianto on the latter's bisexuality.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Alexious the Self-Decapitating Bard

If you've been in role-playing for a while, you may have noticed this phenomenon: when a new player makes their first character, the character is likely to be a bit of a conceptual mess mechanics-wise. The player, never having played in the system before, has only the foggiest notion of what abilities are going to be useful in the situations that one encounters most often (combat in most games, diplomacy in others). Such characters are almost lovable in their innocence and mechanical mediocrity.

However, you may have also noticed that some players very quickly learn how the system works and when they create subsequent characters, they min-max them to the fullest, often creating characters that are ridiculously one-note. (Hopefully, they game long enough to make it through this stage and return full-circle, to creating interesting and well-rounded characters). Most of the gamers I've met, either as director or as a fellow player, have fit this pattern.

I certainly did.

My first character when I was introduced to 2nd edition D&D, whom I'll post more about another time, was a Paladin. I wanted my second character to be a Bard (I think because I really liked the gleeman Thom from the Wheel of Time series). However, I didn't want an ordinary Bard who was just good at deciphering runes or doing a little pick-pocketing while entertaining in an tavern. I wanted a killing machine Bard. To that end, I gave this Bard (named Alexious) his highest ability scores in Strength and Dexterity, and his lowest ability score in Charisma. Furthermore, I, for some god-knows reason, outfitted him with katanas (the Japanese samurai sword--this, in a standard medieval D&D world). Not just one katana, mind you. I made him into a two-weapon fighting expert, and he wore both swords on his back in scabbards, like some sort of action hero. He also wore chain mail armor, which messed up a couple of his bardic abilities.

(Before telling of Alexious' tragic end, I'll note that I think the two-sword thing was the best way we could think of, mechanically, to make a low-level character more powerful; my friend who got into gaming at the same time as me made for his second character an "Animal Master" character who also carried around two swords and was basically just a Fighter with no specific abilities related to training animals).

So it's the second or third session, and Alexious is in a tavern. As often happens in these places, a drunken lout spills some ale on our "hero." An ordinary bard might have laughed it off and then fleeced the lout for everything he had, but not Alexious, the veritable Harvester of Souls. Alexious challenges the lout to a fight right there in the tavern. The lout puts up his dukes, but Alexious wins initiative, draws both of his katanas, and slashes to kill before the lout can even throw a punch . . .

I roll a natural 1 and we go to the critical fumble table. On the d100, I roll a 100.

Alexious decapitates himself, and is buried behind the tavern in an unmarked grave (after his companions loot his corpse).

It was a nice lesson in humility, and I'm a better gamer because of it :)


Level 4 Bard, Half-Elf, "Neutral Indifferent"

Black Hair, Red Eyes, 5'8, 165 lbs.

AC: 2
Hit Points: 24

Ability Scores
Strength: 18
Dexterity: 17
Constitution: 16
Intelligence: 16
Wisdom: 17
Charisma: 15

Saving Throws

PPD: 13
RSW: 14
PP: 12
BW: 16
Spell: 15

+3 if mental, +3 if dodgeable


Katanas (+1), d. 1d10+2
Darts (+3), d. 1d3+2
Knife (-2), d. 1d3+2

Weapon Proficiencies

Two-Weapon Style

Nonweapon Proficiencies

Singing: 15
Musical Instrument: 16
Reading/Writing: -
Local History: 15
Disguise: 15
Acting: 15
Forgery: 16
Juggling: 9
Cantrip (4+1/level): 14



Bardic Abilities

Pick Pockets: 20% (0% Chainmail)
Detect Noise: 20%
Climb Walls: 50% (25% Chainmail)
Read Languages: 60%
Legend Lore: 20%

Half-Elven Abilities

30% Resistant to sleep & charm
60 ft. infravision
Secret Doors

Kit Abilities
Influence Reactions (crowd save vs. PPD)
Rally Allies (+1 attack, 1 round/level)
Counter Song (save vs. spell)



Tales of Mystery and Imagination

The fourth book in my collection of Worth Literary Classics is Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Unlike the previous Poe book I read (Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque), this one is packed with all of his classics: "The Fall of the House of Usher", "The Tell-Tale Heart", "The Cask of Amontillado", "The Pit and the Pendulum", "The Masque of the Red Death", "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", and more. The first five of those are famous thrillers that I may have come across in general collections years ago but only vaguely remembered. They hold up well in re-reading, though they're much shorter than you might think given how well-known they are ("The Tell-Tale Heart", for example, is only five pages long).

What I found most interesting in the collection was "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and its two sequels, "The Mystery of Marie Roget" and "The Purloined Letter". These three stories each feature what literary historians say is the first detective in fiction: Auguste Dupin. Dupin is very much an armchair detective--through his sheer power of "ratiocination" he is able to solve terrible crimes simply by hearing and seeing all the available evidence. He's aided in these endeavours by a colleague who is always impressed by Dupin's intellectual powers, and who provides a convenient excuse for Dupin to explain how his deductive processes work. The influence on Doyle's creation of Sherlock Holmes and Watson are very clear.

Along with these well-known stories, there are some that were far more famous in Poe's day than they are now: "The Gold Bug" (a curious sort of treasure hunt story) and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" (having to do with what happens if someone dies while being hypnotized). Both are quite good. The collection doesn't have any of Poe's poetry, but I'm more than okay with that (poetry: an artform I've never managed to gain an interest in--just say what you mean, damn it!).

The book also has three essays by modern Poe scholars. Kevin Hayes' Introduction provides a brief and readable account of Poe's life and some of his literary devices, while Scott Peeples writes a really interesting essay on Poe's reputation both before and after his death. Louis Renza writes an essay on "Poe and Identity", but it was full of academic jargon and unconvincing.

Next: Jane Austen's Emma

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Urtavius Belerophon

Urtavius Belerophon was a character I created for a short-lived Ravenloft campaign and one I would like to port over to another setting sometime. Ravenloft has a lot of classic Dungeons & Dragons elements (in that, at heart, it's fantasy sword and sorcery), but with a classic horror bent--vampires, werewolves, and the supernatural plays a big part of the game. I wanted a character that fit a darker sort of game, even one that could, if possible, unnerve the other players (and/or their characters).

Urtavius was meant to be, or at least to seem, downright mad. He was bombastic--variously giving himself grand, contradictory titles like "Grand Admiral," "Marshall-General", and "Divine Emperor". He was paranoid--often seeing conspiracies where there were none, speaking as if he knew more about what people were up to then they did themselves. Last, he was disconcerting--an older, wiry man, mostly bald with tufts of bright red hair, carrying a strange spiked chain that glowed with a sickly green aura. He wasn't afraid of doing a little necromancy and conjuring either, and often brought forth skeletal warriors (each of whom he called "Father") and a shadowy steed as a mount. The picture (which comes from a really interesting, little known comic called The Victorian) captures the sort of strangeness I associate with Urtavius.

The Ravenloft campaign, alas, only lasted five sessions, but according to my notes it was action packed: we burned down a town, escaped from an asylum, and encountered the Carrion King. To my mind, Urtavius fit the game perfectly, and he was definitely a lot of fun to play. Since crossing dimensional walls often causes symptoms akin to madness, perhaps he'll turn up again someday in a strange new world?



Human, Chaotic Neutral, Age 50, Height 6'3, Weight 190 lbs, Eyes Amber, Skin Pale

Str: 10

Dex: 16 (+3)

Con: 13 (+1)

Int: 10

Wis: 12 (+1)

Cha: 14 (+2)

Hit Points: 25

Armor Class: 18

Initiative: +3

Fortitude: +4

Reflex: +5

Will: +3

Base Attack Bonus: +2

Spiked Chain +1: +6 attack, damage 2d4+1, Crit x2

Skill Ranks

Decipher Script: 1

Escape Artist: 1

Intimidate: 3

Jump: 1

Knowledge (Arcana): 1

Knowledge (Domains): 1

Move Silently: 1

Perform (Dance): 1

Ride: 3

Spellcraft: 1

Swim: 1

Tumble: 2

Use Rope: 1



Weapon Finesse

Redhead: Mists

Exotic Weapon Proficiency

Combat Reflexes

Dirty Fighting

Sneak Attack


Special Abilities

* Mount/1 day

* Burning Eyes



Detect Magic


Acid Splash

Summon Undead





Mithril Shirt

Spiked Chain + 1

Spell Components Pouch


Barbed Katar

Trail Rations

Bronze Ring (5 gp)

Magic Amulet +1

Greymalkin Queen Goo

Bracers of Awareness

Ring of Fire Protection + 2

Decaying Hand

364 gold pieces

12 silver pieces

My Shortest Job

At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I needed to find a part-time job. I had just moved away from from a fast food job I loved (detailed here), so I naively tried to recreate that experience by applying at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I left after two days.

This was well before I became a vegetarian (now vegan), but there was just something kinda gross about all the dead chickens that had to be cut into quarters, halves, etc. I think I spent most of an evening trying to scrub the thick grease off of a single pan--"clean" to KFC and "clean" to me were two very different things (admittedly, I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to dishes--about a third of what I pull out of a dishwasher goes back in for another go). It was one of those jobs where time moves agonizingly slowly, you come home smelling like grease and chicken fat, and it's hard to work up the drive to go back.

Fortunately, I didn't have to. I called in some powerful favors (okay, my Dad) and landed a sweet gig I'll tell you about some other time . . .

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 32

I was quite proud of how this session turned out. It continued expanding the campaign's main storyline in an exciting and (I think) interesting way, and I was also happy with the atmosphere I created when describing the sudden desert sandstorms, decomposing monstrosities, etc.

Every year, for Christmas, I give each of the players a red poker chip. They can use the red chip to accomplish or avoid something in the campaign--whatever they can think of that seems within the realm of possibility to me. In this session, which was soon after Christmas, the players for Daal and A'tel used up their red chips for the year to avoid falling off the staircase, a somewhat undramatic though perhaps worthwhile use. The person playing Doxen used his to kill the Necromonger--an NPC I thought was pretty cool, though he didn't actually get to do much violence.

Daal's rushing out among hundreds of plague-dead zombies continues his legendary habit of launching into dangerous situations saying he "has a plan" but demonstrating no such thing.

Updated (July 23, 2012):  Added in previously secret information about A'tel's communication with Veris Saak, the Jedi whose spirit was trapped in the strange lightsaber.


A storm is brewing on the planet Endregaad. The skies darken; sand storms block out the sky, the temperature cools and strange electricity seems to hang in the air. In the city of Tel Bollin, victims of the recent pandemic huddle in shelters that seem helpless to resist the wind, while soldiers of the Corporate Sector Alliance call off the search for a Jedi spy and his accomplice. And, as the storm gathers even more strength and begins to head towards the desert, twilight falls on the City of Sand.

In the center of the ancient ruins, time suddenly seems to stand still for Jedi Knight Atel Por'Ten.  A figure wearing a long brown coat with an arm made of strange gleaming crystal emerges from the stairway.  His face is lined, his eyes are piercing, and he says in a throaty rasp "Your journey here has made you stronger, perhaps enough to survive what lies below.  Yet you travel under a strange banner.  Creen uses you for his own ends.  Your allies mistrust and will betray you.  But if you heed my word and stay silent, I will see you through.  When the shadows come, cold steel will suffice.  Should you survive, I'll help you through the Necromonger."  The figure promptly disappears, and everything around Atel returns to normal.

At the remains of his crashed ship, standing amidst even further destruction, Mika the Hutt thanks Daal for his part in saving him from a gang of marauding swoop bikers. Mika informs the Duros that he was suitably impressed – enough that he will refrain from complaining to his father about Daal’s friends delaying their departure for what he presumes is a grave-robbing expedition. In return, Mika asks that Daal keep to himself anything strange he might have noticed about the spice that Mika is shipping. Daal agrees, but does obtain some “free samples.” With the storm picking up in fury, Daal takes one of the remaining swoops and heads into the desert in search of the abandoned landspeeder. Despite the punishing wind and sand, Daal soon locates the landspeeder and switches to a safer means of transport for his journey into the center of the ruins.

Meanwhile, Princess Arresta Cassadine hesitates on the steps down into the ruins. She turns to her companions, the Jedi Knight Atel and the sniper Doxen and asks whether they still wish to continue on this dangerous path. Both assure her that they have no plans to turn back. But before they can continue, Doxen peers into the night and realizes a strange storm is moving towards them quickly. Swirling gray clouds obscure the sky, while fierce winds begin to hurl sand and loose rock everywhere. Seconds later, rumbling comes from below and then a writhing black swarm of beetles floods out of the mouth of the staircase and over the startled travellers, chewing at their flesh. The swarm soon passes into the darkness around them, but the punishing storm continues, filling the air with a crackling electricity. The group decide to head down the steps just far enough to seek shelter and await their companion Daal.

Flying through the shifting sands, Daal comes across a seemingly abandoned mining trawler. He makes note of it, but decides it would be too dangerous to stop. Continuing on, Daal sees that the desert has now revealed a strange archway covered in unknown symbols. He pauses just long enough to record an image of this strange sight and then continues on. Doxen uses his lantern to provide a beacon for Daal, and the Duros soon arrives at the stairway. Despite his friends' pleas, Daal insists on braving the stinging sand long enough to transport several pieces of equipment from the landspeeder into the ruins.

After allocating the equipment, the team begins a perilous descent into almost pure darkness, following a stairway made of a slippery black stone. They begin to realize they are not alone as strange whispers dance around them in the darkness. Distracted, they are forced to dodge sudden falls of rock, which almost knock Daal and Atel from the stairway and into the unseen depths below. The two just barely manage to hang on and the team continues, eventually coming across a strange sight: the body of the medical droid 8P-MD-4, with his head rejoined to his body, albeit inexpertly. Even more curious, the droid’s unmoving body has two desiccated hands clutching its ankles. Unable to reactivate 8P-MD-4, Daal removes its head and brings it along. Along the way, Doxen employs his scouting skills and locates a strip from a ration pack – a possible sign that their quarry, the missing Padawan Tarn Tamarand, has passed this way.

Eventually, they reach a chasm torn into the stairway by falling rock. With skilful use of an ascension gun, Arresta and Atel swing over together. Before their companions can follow, however, the young Jedi Knight is suddenly swarmed by shadowy, oily tendrils. The Jedi tries to fight back with his dagger, but is soon almost brought to his knees as the tendrils drain the warmth from his body. Ycram's vision has become reality.

The weak and shivering Atel manages to shout that only ‘cold steel’ will harm the shadows. Hearing that, Arresta unsheathes her vibrorapier and manages to wound several of the creatures, spraying oily fluid everywhere. Seconds later, Daal and Doxen make it across the chasm and join the battle. After a long struggle, the shadowy tendrils are vanquished--but not without a cost, as Atel's afflictions fail to respond to medical treatment. Doxen angrily confronts Atel about how he knew what was needed to fight these creatures. Atel claims that the knowledge came to him only recently. Daal and Arresta try to mollify Doxen by explaining to him that during their last visit to the anomaly, Tarn claimed that he heard voices which told him how to survive.

The group continues walking further down into the darkness. Time seems to pass slowly, but after untold hours the staircase finally ends at the base of a room with an arched doorway. Although the room seems to have no other exit, the group notices nine bricks inscribed with various symbols lying in receptacles in the centre of the floor. Quickly realizing that this must be some kind of puzzle, Doxen, Atel and Arresta begin to work on solving it, only to realize seconds later that failure means the ceiling will collapse on everyone! Meanwhile, Daal examines the room and comes up with a possible escape plan involving explosives. Fortunately, the others manage to solve the puzzle using the picture Daal took of the archway on the surface. With the bricks now in the correct formation, a hidden door slowly slides open.

The group now finds itself in a large cavernous room ringed by alcoves containing religious paraphernalia, all in amazingly good condition. The centrepiece of the room however, is a stepped pyramid with a flat top. Surrounding it are four statues which are clearly meant to represent Arresta, the pirate Jocasta, 8P-MD-4 and a Duros that Daal and Arresta both recognize. Below each statue is a set of handprints embedded in the stone, along with undecipherable runic writing. Doxen does a quick comparison and confirms that it appears that the markings below Arresta’s statue appear to match her handprints exactly. He searches the room but can find no sign of Tarn. The group discusses whether a single person can activate the altar, or whether all four will be needed. Daal decides to take the risk and places his hands on the stone. A flickering holographic image, with slightly out-of-sync audio, appears above the altar. It is the face of the Oracle, but as a young girl.

In my mind’s eye, by the time you watch this we will have already met, though such a fate seems to lie so far ahead I begin to doubt even myself. In time, even this city dedicated to the Uncreated will begin to fade and be swallowed by the sand. When such a day comes, this place will be the waiting place, the in-between time separating what lies outside from what lies ahead. Here the Uncreated will return time and time again, until finally even this remnant crumbles into dust. Your presence means such a time is now at hand. Now, prepare yourself. The Sixth of the Nine, the Necromonger, comes to take what is his. Beyond him, lies the Fifth, the Plaguewomb, guarding that which you seek. May we meet again, in this life or another. 

She also has a message for the one called the Stranger.

Stranger, I see you in my dreams, different faces and different names. Always the first to use the Automaton to understand the way of the Uncreated, its danger and its potential undoing at the End of Days.

Eager for any insights contained in her own message, Arresta places her hands on the altar and the Oracle appears:

A Queen reluctant to take her throne, torn by love for two Kings. Love has brought you where you should not go and may prove your undoing. Should you survive to the End of Days a final choice must be made to determine the destiny of that which you protect.

At she listens to the message, the team begins to hear a distant pounding. Suddenly, tremors rock the temple, the floor begins to crack open, and decomposing unlife crawls out of the ground. The abominations break sharp shards of bone from their own ribcages to use as spears and then attack. Doxen tries to hide in an alcove, but the unlife smell his flesh and are undeterred. Daal and Atel join in the gruesome battle, but Arresta remains transfixed on the holographic image and suffers several wounds before the others manage to destroy the unliving attackers.

Once again, time seems to stand still for Atel, as the mysterious figure warns him that the way to defeat the Necromonger is to separate it from its creations.  The figure gives his name as Veris Saak, and says that Atel must learn to trust him if the Jedi intends to survive and escape the in-between place.

The pounding noise continues in the distance. Daal is firmly in favour of retrieving the hands of 8P-MD-4 in order to hear its portion of the message. Daal and Doxen suggest retreating to the puzzle room to wait for him, but Arresta is unwilling to retreat. “Tarn must have gone forward, so that’s where I’m going.” Daal heads back anyway, barely surviving his attempt to retrieve the hands and return to the group. While he is gone, the others set up a defensible position. Atel confronts Doxen about his condescending attitude. Reluctantly, Doxen agrees and further suggesst to Arresta that the team will function better if they work together. Upon Daal’s return they are able to listen to the message intended for 8P-MD-4.

I see the man of metal falling for time unseen, it’s misfortune brought by a sad twist of fate. Yet, through failure you will gain the key to understanding the way of the Uncreated, its danger and its potential undoing at the End of Days.

Finally ready to proceed, the group leaves the altar behind and continues on. In time, they reach yet another stairway descending into the darkness below. The stairway quickly leads them into something out of nightmare. A massive chamber, lit by flickering braziers, is teeming from wall to wall with bloated, pus-filled, decomposing human remains that have somehow been animated into grotesque caricatures of life. At the far end of the chamber, beyond the sea of advancing monstrosities, lie a massive pair of bronze doors. But a single figure dominates the room and draws all eyes in its direction: the Necromonger, the Sixth of the Nine Forgotten Sith Lords, the grotesque and terrifying result of centuries of Sith alchemy and mutation.

The plague-dead unlife slowly advances up the stairway towards the stunned group. Atel tells his companions that he knows that victory over the Necromonger can be won only through separating it from its creations. The others listen skeptically, but soon the time for conversation is over as the Necromonger’s very breath raises plague-dead that surround the weary explorers. Doxen, Atel, and Arresta remain on the stairway to keep from being surrounded, but Daal has a different idea. The Duros rappels down the side of the staircase and tries to run across the chamber towards the Necromonger, insisting that he has a plan. Daal finds himself surrounded by plague-dead, but manages to survive thanks to supporting fire from his allies on the staircase.

Still, the tide is turning. Although the plague-dead are slow, their pus-filled bodies explode at the slightest harm, showering their attackers with virulent toxins. Arresta is struck with illness, Atel is still weak from the shadows, and Daal seems lost in a veritable sea of enemies. Finally, Doxen can stand no more. Letting all of the chaos of the chamber slide away, he peers through the sight of his rifle and reduces the world to just one thing: the head of the Necromonger. The sound of the shot can barely be heard in the din of battle, but the results are clear enough: the Necromonger is thrown backward and collapses through the bronze doors, stone dead from the miraculous shot. The dead abomination’s creations begin to smoke and shrivel into nothingness.

Barely pausing to take in the victory, Daal darts forward and makes his way through the bronze doors. The end of a quest that began on Coruscant weeks ago is almost over, but one obstacle remains. The Plaguewomb, Fifth of the Nine, radiates a sickening glow of power. A shroud the color of vomit adorns her shoulders and her face is drawn like a famine victim. She places her hand on the shoulder of the kneeling Tarn Tamarand and says coldly to the intruder: “You don’t belong here. Tarn Tamarand has pledged himself to me.” Behind them, the entrance to the anomaly beckons.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Torchwood Remade for the U.S.?

Dark Horizons has a story about plans to remake Torchwood for an American audience. A joint venture between Fox and the BBC, Russell T. Davies (the showrunner behind Torchwood and Doctor Who in England) would helm the remake. They either may cast entirely new actors or keep John Barrowman in the role of Captain Jack (who's American, after all) and cast a new supporting cast while keeping the show in continuity with the original (since only Gwen, and to a lesser extent, Rhys, are all that's left of the original cast, that's not a big deal).

Having 22 episodes of Torchwood every year would be awesome, but (as the post notes), Fox would likely severely tone down the show and even omnisexual Captain Jack would probably just be turned into a straight, ladies' man type. If the show has to be an American production, I'd rather see it on HBO or Showtime . . .

Monday, January 18, 2010

Torchwood: Random Shoes (S1,E9)

"I don't want to find out what happened . . . I don't want this to end."

Random Shoes (Season 1, Episode 9)

"When Eugene wakes to find himself (a) dead and (b) invisible, he knows only Gwen Cooper can help him."

What I Liked

* The flashback scenes to Eugene as a child--well-written and well-acted. It's hard to make viewers care about a character they're seeing for just one episode, but I think the creators pulled it off here.

* The video store owner and his cheesy/sleazy come-ons.

* The pop music used, especially David Bowie's "Starman". It fit perfectly the mood they were trying to set up.

What I Didn't Like

* The end. Eugene rising into the sky was just a bit too . . . conventional. And what are his friends and family to think seeing him alive for just a few minutes and then having him disappear like that?

What I'm Not Sure About

* Eugene taking pictures of his friends' shoes. Yes, they were basically trying to steal the eye from, but what did he think pictures of the shoes would accomplish? It's pretty slim evidence in some sort of future (hypothetical) court case and seems like a weird thing to think up in the middle of an argument.


By: Richard Stokes (Producer), James Erskine (Director), and Paul Chequer ("Eugene")

Tone: Comfortable if a bit bland, gets funner in the second half

Interesting Bits:

* This ep was shot simultaneously with # 12, which is why Gwen is heavily featured in this one and hardly at all in the other one.

* They used a working telemarketing floor for the shots of Eugene's job, and real calls in the background sometimes made it hard to hear the actors.

* A funny little story about location scouts knocking on people's doors to try to get them to turn over their houses for five days so the BBC could shoot there.

* The schedule got so tight that they had to shoot one of the scenes behind the production office, against what was basically a bare wall.

Torchwood Declassified: "Dead Man Walking"

* Discussion of Eugene as an ordinary guy smitten with Torchwood

* Discussion (pretty standard stuff) of the some of the challenges of filming a "ghost"

* Feature on filming Eugene's collision with the car

* Discussion of Eugene as a "geek" in a positive way

Deleted Scenes

* Gwen interviews Eugene's boss. He's a bit pervy like the video clerk, and Eugene is able to make him spill coffee on himself.

The Colossus of Destiny

The Colossus of Destiny is the fourth in Dark Horse Comics' series of Clone Wars quarterly digests. This one is very Mace Windu focussed and tells of the Jedi's return to a planet (named Simcodia) he helped liberate in his younger days. This time out, the planet is trapped between the Republic and the Separatists because it's one of the few places to obtain a rare mineral (not super original, there). One of the planet's political leaders, a young Prince, decides to awaken an ancient, legendary weapon called the Ardana Shadex. Basically, a giant Sentinel-style robot. There's lots of jumping around and fighting, though the comic tries to make us feel for the supposed moral dilemmas that Mace is put through as a warrior during the Clone Wars.
Verdict: average example of the line.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Saga Edition House Rules [Clone Wars Campaign]

Here are the current house rules for the Clone Wars campaign I direct. They're quite long, which I partially attribute to the fact that the campaign has gone on for a long time so I've noticed a lot of stuff, and partially because I'm in law and I like tinkering with rules.

AIMING & COVER Instead of completely negating the benefit of Cover or Improved Cover, aiming cuts the defensive bonus in half (from +5 to +2 for Cover and from +10 to +5 for Improved Cover). Rationale: Characters have little incentive to seek cover and take advantage of terrain if aiming negates any benefit, which results in characters standing in the open and trading shots with each other.

ALTERNATE CHARACTER Every player should have a back-up character ready to play each session. For story reasons, you may choose at any time to play this secondary character and transfer any experience earned to your primary character. Rationale: If your main character gets killed, captured, or frozen in carbonite early in a session, you can still keep playing instead of spending the whole time rolling up a new character.

ASCENSION GUNS In order to get the grapple to “stick”, a character using an ascension gun has to make a Climb check equal to the DC of the surface. This represents the character’s skill and training with climbing devices. If the check fails, one retry is permitted by that character. If the check fails by ten or more, the grapple is damaged and must be repaired (DC 20 Mechanics check w/ tool kit). Rationale: Ascension guns can make an entire skill (Climb) completely useless and can take away some of the drama of scaling heights. They’re still useful, however, as there’s no risk of falling and characters can ascend with them faster than with normal climbing.

ASTROGATION Travel time is calculated according to the books, but with a modifier based on how “far” a trip it is (see galaxy map).

ATHLETICS If a PC is trained in one of the following skills, he or she is automatically trained in a second one as a bonus (as long as the second one is a class skill): Climb, Jump, Ride, Swim. Rationale: Saga combined a lot of skills that used to be separate, and these skills on their own aren't used very often.

BLASTER POWER PACKS We won't keep track of these. Rationale: Saves bookkeeping.

CINEMATIC BONUS I'll give a +2 bonus to an attack or defence roll for a creative, exciting, or cinematic description of what your character (or my NPC) is doing. Rationale: Star Wars combat should be dramatic and fast-moving, not just two sides standing still and trading blaster fire.

CRITICAL FUMBLES On a natural attack roll of 1, a critical fumble will occur as described on the d100 critical fumble table. If a starship rolls a natural 1, we’ll roll on the Vehicle Mishaps table from Scum & Villainy.

DAMAGE REDUCTION 10 (Force Talent) This power lasts for 1d6 rounds. Rationale: Allowing it to last for a full minute means high-level characters will be able to keep it on for the duration of most battles.

DIAGONAL MOVEMENT I won't apply the double cost for moving diagonally described in the book.

DEFENCE ROLLS When attacked, every character will roll a d20 and add modifiers to their defence bonus (this replaces the fixed +10 bonus). Rationale: Makes combat a little more random and gives a better sense of controlling a character’s destiny; also allows Force points to be used defensively.

DODGE FEAT The Dodge feat provides a +1 reflex defence bonus versus multiple opponents instead of just a single opponent in a round. Rationale: Saves time and bookkeeping during combat.

EARNINGS & COSTS Jedi & Soldiers earn 300 credits a month from the Republic (the earnings of characters employed by other organizations will be decided as necessary). Every character has to pay monthly “upkeep” according to their standard of living (Luxury: 10,000 Credits; Wealthy: 5,000 Credits; Comfortable: 2,000 Credits; Average: 1,000 Credits; Struggling: 500 Credits; Impoverished: 200 Credits; Self-Sufficient: 100 Credits). A character’s upkeep level may provide a small bonus when dealing with persons of the same class and a small negative when dealing with members of other classes (Luxury +/- 2, Wealthy +/-1, Impoverished: +/-1, Self-Sufficient: +/-2). Character who can’t even afford “self-sufficient” upkeep need to actively role-play stealing food, hunting, or some other explanation of how they survive.

EDUCATED (Noble talent) This talent provides a +3 bonus to all Knowledge checks. Rationale: Since we have another house rule allowing all Knowledge checks to be made untrainted, this talent requires a new role.

EQUILIBRIUM (Force talent) Removing a persistent condition requires a Use the Force check that exceeds the DC of the condition. The Fortified Body talent provides a +5 bonus on this check. Rationale: Otherwise, characters with this talent are effectively immune to all poisons, diseases, radiation, etc.

EQUIPMENT Keep a careful list of your equipment. If it's not written down, you don't have it.

EVASION & IMPROVED EVASION Characters with the Evasion feat take half damage if hit by an area attack and ¼ damage if the area attack misses. A new Scout talent for the “Survivor Talent Tree”, Improved Evasion (Evasion required as a prerequisite) reduces the damage to 1/8 if an area attack misses. Rationale: Evasion can lead to some ridiculous results, makes it difficult to harm characters with high Reflex defences, and is very easy to get by “dipping” into the Scout class for just one level. Remember that, as per the Core rules, characters with Cover or Improved Cover take no damage from area attacks that miss.

EXPERIENCE POINTS Experience points will be awarded based on role-playing: giving your character a unique personality, paying attention to their motivations and background, and (most importantly) staying in character except for rules questions or other necessary exceptions. Experience point awards will be based on the total needed for a character of your level to reach the next level: Each session I'll award each player 15% for average role-playing, 20% for good role-playing, and 25% for great role-playing. Being on-time is worth a 5% bonus and occasional combat bonuses will be awarded to the group for notable/significant/surprising victories (equal to a 5 to 10% bonus). Ways to get bonus experience points and flesh our your character include writing up a background, detailing an ally or enemy I can use as an NPC, finding a picture of your character, etc.

FORCE FORTIFICATION (Jedi Talent) This talent can only be used once per day. Rationale The ability to negate critical hits is incredibly powerful.

GRAPPLING CHARACTERS A character who is Pinning or Crushing another character loses his Dexterity bonus to Reflex defense and is considered flat-footed to attacks from enemies who are not grappled. The grappling character also loses the ability to threaten adjacent squares. Rationale: A character who is locked in a wrestling match with another character is going to be unable to defend himself as effectively from the attacks of third-parties because he has his attention focused on the enemy he is grappling with.

HIT POINTS We'll going to be using the negative hit point rules roughly similar to D&D 3rd edition. That is, if you are knocked to exactly 0 hit points, you are knocked prone, fall to -10 on the Condition Track, may take move actions (at 1/2 speed), and may take a standard action but you immediately lose a hit point and fall unconscious. If you are knocked to -1 to -9 hit points, you are unconscious and bleeding. Each round, you lose 1 hit point unless you are bandaged (DC 15 Treat Injury) or make a DC 20 Fortitude roll and became stable. If you are knocked to -10 hit points, you die (the Revivify rules from Treat Injury still apply). The Condition Track rules continue to work normally. Rationale: I want to return a real risk of dying to the game, instead of the current situation wherein if you have a Force Point left it is impossible to die unless someone does a coup de grace.

IMPROVISED TRIP & THROW Anyone can make a trip attack or a throw attack, but at -5 on the initial grab and opposed grapple checks to succeed. (the normal rule is that only characters with the Trip and Throw feats can do these things—under this rule, characters with those feats wouldn’t take the -5 penalty). Rationale: The ability to trip or throw someone isn’t so specialized that characters should be flatly barred from even trying.

MARTIAL ARTS FEATS The Reflex bonus provided by Martial Arts I, Martial Arts II, and Martial Arts III apply only when the character is fighting unarmed. Rationale: The text of the feats are ambiguous on this point, but they constantly reference unarmed combat and common sense seems to indicate they’re intended to help those characters who choose to forego the benefits of using weapons. Allowing the Reflex bonus to apply all the time makes these feats far more powerful than most others and leads to over-inflation of Reflex defenses.

MIND TRICK The target receives a modifier to their Will Defense based on their attitude towards you (as per the Persuasion skill). Rationale: Mind Trick can be immensely power if misused.

MOVE OBJECT We'll use the optional rule on p. 24 of the Jedi Academy Training Manual--the damage done by a hurled object depends on the size of the object hurled, not the result of the Use the Force check. Rationale: Prevents tiny objects from doing massive amounts of damage.

NATURAL 1 AND NATURAL 20 RULES FOR SKILL CHECKS A natural 1 is an automatic failure on a skill check and means something bad happens, while a natural 20 is an automatic success and, if applicable, will work even better than normal (though is still has to be within the realm of reality—even a natural 20 on a Jump check won’t allow you to leap on top of the Empire State Building). Rationale: Adds a little bit of drama to skill rolls even for characters who have incredibly high (or incredibly low) bonuses.

PULLING A BLOW/WINGING A TARGET If you wish to hurt an opponent without risking killing them, you may attack at a -5 penalty and do 1/2 damage. If that damage still exceeds the target's damage threshold, the target is maimed instead of killed.

STARSHIP SYSTEMS (CALLED SHOTS) During space combat, gunners can target the particular systems of enemy ships: communications, hyperdrive, ion engines, weapons (specify), sensors, or shields. The attack roll is made at a -5. If the cumulative damage done to a single system exceeds the ship's damage threshold, that system is temporarily disabled and it takes 1 minute and a DC 20 Mechanics check to repair (5 rounds with a DC 30 Mechanics check). If the cumulative damage done to a single system is more than twice the ship's damage threshold, the system is disabled and repairs take 1 hour and a DC 25 Mechanics check (10 minutes with a DC 35 Mechanics check).

TEMPTATION (Sith Lord Feature) The target adds a DSP or goes down the track if it makes an attack against you—not just if it uses a Force Point. Rationale: Otherwise, this is far less scary and very easy to avoid.

TUMBLING Using the Tumbling skill to avoid an attack of opportunity or tumble through a square occupied by an opponent is opposed by the target's Initiative skill roll; failure means the opponent gets to take an attack of opportunity or manages to block the tumbler from passing through the occupied square. Rationale: It's simply too easy to make the DC 15 check as currently required in the rules, and the addition of the Acrobatic Strike feat exacerbates the problem.

VEHICULAR COMBAT This Feat works normally the first time used during an encounter, but subsequent uses receive a -5 (cumulative) penalty to the Pilot check to avoid damage. Rationale: The possibility of negating one hit per round makes the feat too powerful, as a character’s Pilot checks will usually be drastically higher than the attack rolls of most stock ships, thereby prolonging combat. The Juke talent of the Ace Pilot prestige class allows you to use it twice per encounter before receiving penalties (see errata).

VITAL TRANSFER The DC for Vital Transfer raises by 5 (cumulative) for second and subsequent uses in the same day. Rationale: Keeps this power in line with other methods of healing and negates the “two Jedi healing each other” problem.

WEAPON RANGES Ranges for all ranged weapons will be cut in half. Rationale: The ranges in the Core book are simply too great to accurately represent on a tactical map and make closing the distance into melee much harder. In addition, they are much, much greater than the ranges given for the same weapons in the previous edition of the Star Wars RPG.

NEW USES FOR KNOWLEDGE SKILLS You no longer have to be Trained in order to make a DC 15 or higher Knowledge check.

Knowledge: Bureaucracy
(1) Identify local laws and regulations, including those pertaining to weaponry—DC 20-25 depending on obscurity

Knowledge: Galactic Lore
(1) Identify a species and what planet they hail from: DC 10-20 depending on obscurity--+5 DC to identify their strengths and weaknesses
(2) Know the location of a useful person, planet, city, or building where a particular service can be obtained: DC 20-30 depending on obscurity
(3) Know the history, prejudices, and customs of a people DC 15-25 depending on obscurity

Knowledge: Life Sciences
(1) Make poisons. Takes 1 day per dose and requires available materials (herbal or chemical). DC depends on strength. Examples (Core Rules p. 255): Knockout Drops: DC 20; Paralytic Poison: DC 25
(2) Make Healing Salve (functions as medpac). Takes 1 day per dose and requires available materials—medical or wilderness. DC 20

Knowledge: Physical Sciences
(1) Estimate the hit points and damage resistance of wall, a door, binder cuffs, etc. DC 20-25 depending on obscurity
(2) Create acids and gases. Takes 1 day per dose and requires available chemicals. DC depends on strength. Examples (Core Rules pp.252-255): Mild Acid: DC 15; Toxic Gas: DC 20; Dioxin Gas: DC 25)
(3) Run DNA, fingerprint, or other tests. DC 25.
(4) Identify the likely destination of a ship that has recently jumped into hyperspace through its tachyon emissions: DC 25 + 5 per 12 hours delay

Knowledge: Social Sciences
(1) Predict the reaction of an organization or other large group of people to a given stimuli: DC 20-25 depending on rarity
(2) Identify a character’s psychological motivation and personality traits: DC is opposed by Will Defense and bonus or penalty given based on degree of interaction (roll is done secretly, as mistaken impressions are likely).

Knowledge: Tactics
(1) Estimate an opponents hit point total or reflex defense: DC 25 or opposed disguise check (roll is done secretly as mistaken impressions are likely).

Knowledge: Technology
(1) Identify a droid, starship, or other piece of technology: DC 15-25 depending on rarity--+5 DC to identify its average speed, durability, firepower, etc.

RANDOM STUFF Remember there’s a bunch of new ways to use old skills—I sent out a list a while back. Remember when multi-classing you can only pick one starting feat and you get the best of the bonuses to defence, you don’t combine them. A character can only spend one force point per round. Force Focus only works 1/encounter as per errata. I’ll be interpreting the word “encounter” for the Force Point Recovery technique broadly so it doesn’t become too powerful. When setting explosives, every time you double the number you add +2 dice of damage (Core p. 130). A breath mask provides 1 hour of breathable atmosphere before the oxygen canister needs to be replaced. Grab attacks are at -5 (Core p. 152). If you ready an action, and the triggering circumstance doesn’t happen until the next round, you still only get that one action in the round (not the readied action and a normal action) (Core p. 162).

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Clone Wars Campaign

This page provides information about the long-running (3 years plus) Clone Wars role-playing campaign that I directed. Below, you'll find links to session recaps (which get more detailed as the campaign progresses) and profiles of major PCs and NPCs.

House Rules

Critical Fumble Table


8P-MD-4, Medical Droid

Arresta D'Avilos Cassadine, Love-Torn Princess

A'tel Por'Ten, Jedi Poet

Array, Null ARC

Doxen, Undetectable Sniper

Emily Prentiss, Corporate Troubleshooter

Jasper Falen, Romantic Pilot

Kassa, Gungan Jedi

Korriban Adi, Adventurer-Archaeologist

Krevlax Mex, Anx Streetfighter

Lee, Jedi Soldier

Lucif Sen Diablo, Martial Arts Master

Marpa Zalon/Daal Mordo, Zen Techno-Master

Naught, Droid Liberationist

Tarn Tamarand, Jedi Idealist

Ycram Notwal, Befuddled Force Adept

Zee, Dedicated Bodyguard

Zero & Natany, Scoundrels


Corinne D'avilos, Regent of Mongui

Forgotten Sith, Nine Ancient Sith Lords

Greesh Leedo, Cybernetic Assassin

Horellius Creen, Jedi Iconoclast

Ignatius D'avilos, Skyhook Operator

Jocasta, Mysterious Corsair

Kylo-Vas, Small-Group Dynamacist

Lt. Jaarza, Mongui Security Chief

Purity First, Xenophobic Paramilitary Group

Rycar Ryjerd, Swashbuckling Pirate

Siege Commander Korg, War-Droid

Stefan Cassadine, Urbane Crimelord

The Accelerated, Advanced Mentalists

The Altered, Genetically-Altered Technologists

Twitch, Rodian Duelist

Xam, Aqualish Bodyguard

Yossa the Brick, Gungan Swoop Gang Leader


Episode 2.1: The Shadow Rising

Session # 1

Session # 2

Session # 3

Session # 4

Session # 5

Episode 2.2: The Ominous Silence

Session # 6

Session # 7

Session # 8

Session # 9

Session # 10

Episode 2.3: Into the Abyss

Sessions # 11-12

Session # 13

Session # 14

Episode 2.4: Capital Offenses

Session # 15

Coruscant Holonews # 1 (extra)

Session # 16

Coruscant Holonews # 2 (extra)

Session # 17

Coruscant Holonews # 3 (extra)

Session # 18

Episode 2.5: Fragments

Session # 19

Session # 20

Teacher's Pet (short story)

Session # 21

Episode 2.6: The Secret War

Session # 22

Session # 23

Session # 24

Session # 25

Episode 2.7: Journey to Dramos V

Session # 26

Session # 27

Session # 28

Episode 2.8: The City of Sand

Session # 29

Session # 30

The Slow Fuse (short story)

Session 31

The Patient Man (short story)

Still in the Holster (short story)

Session # 32

Session # 33

Last Voyage of the Sun Runner (short story)

Purity and Danger (short story)

Repercussions (short story)

Episode 2.9: Hostile Takeover

Session # 34

Birthday & Stefan's Turn (short stories)

Session # 35

Session # 36

Session # 37

Stefan's Seven (short story)

Homecoming (short story)

Episode 2.10: The Altered State

Episode 2.11: More Human Than Human

Episode 2.12: End of Days