Mandarins of Manchukuo – the Supernatural Allies

The pulp A Team of Losers campaign on which my Ottawa group has embarked is going to be a kind of The Losers/A-Team by way of Raiders of the Lost Ark/Supernatural. Maybe a weird melange, but it turned out well enough for the group to vote for it over Starship Commandos and a planned Borderlands/Guardians of the Galaxy homebrew.

In the first adventure, the group encountered a few creatures – some by way of myth, others by way of mass media. The adventure was in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation – 1936 Manchukuo – and I was using the working title of “Mandarins of Manchukuo.”

The group encountered a bake-danuki – a supernatural raccoon dog – in the guise of a Japanese officer who seemed to appear wherever the group found themselves. He didn’t follow them, because he was always there first. In the final battle, he made himself known, providing the PCs with an advantage against their adversaries.

Alongside the bake-danuki, the PCs encountered a kitsune – a supernatural fox – in the guise of a Japanese woman. She was not as interested in the PCs as the bake-danuki, but she was the one the PCs identified first, mostly through meta-game knowledge. That’s not a bad thing. In a lot of monster movies and spooky TV dramas, the viewers are way ahead of the characters in identifying the creature.

These were the “allies.” There were some “villains” as well. Stay tuned!

You can read the Wikipedia entry for the bake-danuki here.

You can read the Wikipedia entry for the kitsune here.

You can read more about A Team of Losers here.

You can read more about Starship Commandos here.

A Team of Losers uses a modified version of the Untitled Game System.

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Getting Pulped

It’s official. My Ottawa group has voted for the pulp adventure version of A Team of Losers. They completed the first adventure, part of what is planned as a world-spanning search for mystical artifacts which will intersect with (poorly researched) local myth and lore.

“Pulp Mystery” by estivador on deviantart.

The team right now includes Dr. Nicholas Hollows, eminent archaeologist with a fixation on the myth of Pandora’s Box; Johnny Cargen, mystic martial artist; Gertrude Blaze, carnival trick-shot artist and all around showbiz person; Dr. Hans Zarkov (of the Brazillian Zarkovs), scientist of questionable sanity; Zantar, lord of the jungle; and Lenny Something, non-descript comic relief who somehow ends up regularly shooting people in the face.

Their last adventure was in Japanese dominated Manchuria (inspired by equal parts Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Good, the Bad, the Weird). We shall see where their next adventure takes them. After each adventure, I’ll share information I’ve used on interesting mythical lore and stuff I’ve totally made up.

Next post, demon snakes, raccoon dogs, and red foxes (rather than Redd Foxx).

You can find more information on A Team of Losers here.

A Team of Losers is based on the Untitled Game System.

You can read about Raiders of the Lost Ark at Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read about the Good, the Bad, the Weird at Wikipedia or IMDB.


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Paying for Savage Zanzibar

Playing in the Victorian-era, even alt-history, one needs to deal with the money question. Not only is the value of money different, the names and interchange of money is also different. I did only cursory research, given that money was not the heart of the game, but here’s what I deduced for Savage Zanzibar.

Most of the explorers and merchants of Savage Zanzibar were still British. Although in that alt-history, Germany had unified earlier and got into the colony game, Britannia still ruled the waves.

The exchange for British vs. Zanzibar was as follows:
penny/pence = pfenig
shilling (12 pence) = groschen (12 pfenig)
pound (20 shilling) = 2/3s stadthaler (thal) or 20 groschen

The other British currency was as follows:
guinea = 21 shillings, gold
2 guinea = 42 shillings, gold
5 guinea = 105 shillings, gold
crowns = 5 shillings, silver
half crown = 2 shillings 6
six pence, silver
three pence, silver
two pence, silver
penny, silver.
Farthings = 1/4 pence, copper
halfpence, copper.
Notes in £5, £10 and £15, known as quids

I had started work on costing out items at the turn of the century in British currency, but this is as far as I got before the project closed. A pence is signified by a d, shilling by an s, and a pound by a £. 3d 5 means three and a half pence – there were both quarter and half pence coins.

Prices Posh / Resp / Poor
Beer    3d5 / 2d / 1d5
Light   2s / 1s / 2d
Heavy 10s / 4s / 10d
Gourmet £1 / 13s / n/a

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Having A Drink in Savage Zanzibar

Originally, for Savage Zanzibar, it was going to be a European-style city in Africa, kind of like Macau was a Mediterranean city in Asia. That changed during the development, but before it became a German colony, I had completed some preparatory work. Specifically, I made a selection of pub names and descriptions that could be used whenever the PCs found such an establishment. I was going to do the same for all kinds of different artisans and merchants. That fell by the wayside as the project developed, but it might be useful for those running Victorian or Enlightenment games in a UK-style setting.

I printed out the table below, the cells for which were sized to fit on cue cards, which I could then re-use in various campaigns and similar settings. I have done the same with NPCs for True20 – since I generally run human-only campaigns, a mook from a fantasy can easily be ported into a modern or steampunk game.

Here is the data for pub names and descriptions. Excuse formatting issues – table formatting doesn’t port well from Word to WordPress.

Tavern Names
Cider Cellars
Coal Hole
Black Horse
The Swan with Two Necks
the Ram
Saracen’s Head
Belle Sauvage
Judge and Jury
Coach And Horses
Two Brewers
Three Compasses

Pub Descriptions
These pubs are categorized as “posh” (or expensive, upper class establishments), “respectable” (for artisans, white collar workers, and servants), and “poor” (for the lower classes, itinerants, and criminals)

Situated on the corner of a terrace of smart cream painted houses, this pub has clear glazed windows with painted flowery patterns bordering them.

A single bar dominates the back wall, and behind it is a mirror with a brightly coloured, intricate fleur-de-lys pattern around it. A clock tops the mirror, and its resonant ticking can be heard in quieter moments. surrounds.

The wood of the interior has a rich, deep cherry colour. There are stone fireplaces at opposite ends of the bar, burning wood rather than coal.

Entry to this pub is through a solid oak door. There is no sign or other notice of the purpose of this space. Once inside, a young lady offers to take your coat and hat, and a large man in a fair facsimile of fashionable clothing watches you warily.

Beyond this entry foyer is a large open space with three levels, each level encircling one lower. Tables of black and silver fill the levels and patrons sit at cushioned chairs with metal frames. Some women are in evidence, though very few.

(With the theatres now closed, the tables are filled with fast young “swells” of the Banks. They flash smiles and straighten their fashionable suits while smoothing down moustaches waxed to perfection.)

The interior is genuine high style Victorian with impressive plaster cast ceilings. The long bar is sectioned by ornate glass partitions that twinkle and catch the light. Some of the sections are private, i.e. they are served exclusively by the bartender.

The furniture is all ornate, with tables of the same wood as the bar on the walls. The chairs are cushioned and with ornamental carvings on them.

You notice there are no women in this establishment.

On the bottom floor of a two-story building, this pub is accessed by two different doors, one for the dining room and one for the saloon. The family pub is separated from the mens saloon by a wood divider with occasional panels of frosted glass.

The saloon is noisy and smoky, filled with men in respectable if worn suits and hats. A single bar curves around the back wall, serving both the saloon and pub, and allowing the smoke and noise to drift between.

The dining room, on the other hand, is quieter, with men and women, and some families, sharing meals and sedate conversation. Here, the clothing is less worn and may be their Sunday best.

The stairs from the street lead down a metre below street level then through a gateway. This leads to an open court area with many tables and chairs. Stairs lead up to landings that encircle the court, with what appear to be bed-chambers or possibly private rooms. The court is open to the air.

Specific Pubs
The Cedar Tree – Respectable
The wood and brass of the doorway into this public house is spotless, as is the dark suit of the local welcoming people.

Upon entering, there are three doors through which one could pass. To your left is a saloon and the lettering on the door indicates no locals. Before you is the door to the dining room, which also indicates no locals. Finally, to your right, is the public room. The lettering on this door indicates no women.

Dining Room: The dark wood, while worn and marked in some places, glistens. Care is obviously taken in the maintenance of this establishment. The furniture has nothing

Coal Horse – Respectable (beerhouse)
Wandsworth Road in Smithal (tail of the Reach)
Its brown brick facade looks as much factory as drinking establishment, but the interior is cosy enough. The saloon, where the meet with Aidan is to take place, has serviceable tables and chairs, and there are a couple of local women serving.

The tap room has a multitude of casks behind the bar, but none of them are tapped. Behind the bar are a set of faucets with pumps on their sides. There are no tables, though stools line the walls and the few wood and frosted glass dividers.

The Black Friar – Poor (tavern and gambling hall)
New Fountain Road in Newington, the Warrens
This is a place of worn and scarred wood, where the choking smoke is welcome as it hides the mouldy odour. Behind the bar is a wall of casks and bottles, jugs and jars. Anything that can make a man comatose and can be served in a cup is there for purchase.

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Lives in Savage Zanzibar

Ewart Scott Grogan, explorer circa 1900

As part of Savage Zanzibar (a name I’m using now but did not use when I was working on the project), I created a selection of pre-generated characters. This was not due to the intrinsic linking of the characters to the plot (my usual reason for pre-gens in home game) but due to ease of use for the players (my usual reason for pre-gens at a con).

Here are the basics for those pre-gens. Be forewarned, I am by no means an expert with Savage Worlds, so there may be errors.

Experience: 20 Seasoned
Agility: d8; Smarts: d6; Spirit: d4; Strength: d6; Vigour: d6
Skills: Fighting d8; Guts d6; Notice d4; Shooting d8; Survival d8; Tracking d6
Pace: 2m; Parry: d8; Toughness: d6; Charisma -1
Hindrance: All Thumbs; Habit (choose 1 minor); Self-Image (choose)
Edge: Ambidextrous; Danger Sense; Two-Fisted
Equipment: Wilkins Navy Revolver (4/8/16, 2d6+2, 5 shots); Wilkins Percussion Revolver (4/8/16, 2d6-1, 5 shots); Springfield .52 Breechloading Rifle (5/10/20, 2d8, 1 shot); Bowie knife (Str+2); sundry other equipment
Resource: Royal Geographic Society – the character is well-known to the members and those interested in the Royal Geographic Society and can request information or minor assistance

Experience: 20 Seasoned
Agility: d6; Smarts: d8; Spirit: d6; Strength: d4; Vigour: d6
Skills: Fighting d8; Gambling d10; Persuasion d8+2; Riding d6; Shooting d4; Taunt d8+2
Pace: 2m; Parry: d8+1; Toughness: d6
Hindrance: Clueless; Disowned; Greedy (minor)
Edge: Block; Boxing; Fight Dirty; Witty
Equipment: Able & Sons Percussion Dueling Pistols (pair, 4/7/13, 2d6+2, 1 shot); silver and metal-shod walking stick with sword (Str+2); sundry other equipment
Resource: High Society – the character has contacts in the upper class and can request information or minor assistance
Note: when unarmed, Fighting d8, Parry d8+1, damage d4+4

Experience: 20 Seasoned
Agility: d6; Smarts: d8; Spirit: d6; Strength: d4; Vigour: d6
Skills: Fighting d6; Guts d6; Investigation d8+2; Notice d8+4; Persuasion d6; Shooting d4+2; Stealth d4; Streetwise d8+2
Pace: 2m; Parry: d6; Toughness: d6
Hindrance: Heroic
Edge: Alertness; Investigator; Keen Eyes
Equipment: Charleston & Co. Percussion Pepperbox (3/6/12, 2d6-1, 5 shots); baton (Str+2); notebook and pencil; sundry other equipment
Resource: Police Contact – the character has a contact within the police and can request minor assistance

Military Doctor
Experience: 20 Seasoned
Agility: d6; Smarts: d10; Spirit: d6; Strength: d4; Vigour: d6
Skills: Fighting d8; Gambling d8; Healing d10+4; Knowledge (medicine) d8+2; Persuasion d6; Shooting d6
Pace: 1.5m; Parry: d8; Toughness: d6
Hindrance: Lame; Loyal; Pacifist (minor)
Edge: Healer; Level-Headed; Skilled (Healing, Knowledge [medicine])
Equipment: Barnes Percussion Pistol (concealable, 3/6/12, 2d6+1, 1 shot); metal-headed walking stick (Str+3); medical kit in a doctor’s bag; sundry other equipment
Resource: Medical Licence – the character can legally practise medicine and has access to other medical practitioners with which to consult or refer

Experience: 20 Seasoned
Agility: d4; Smarts: d8; Spirit: d10; Strength: d4; Vigour: d6
Skills: Fighting d4; Guts d10; Investigation d6+2; Knowledge (occult) d8; Notice d8; Persuasion d10+2
Pace: 2m; Parry: d8; Toughness: d6
Hindrance: Anemic; Cautious; Curious
Edge: Inquisitive; Luck; Smart Defence
Equipment: Barnes Percussion Pistol (concealable, 3/6/12, 2d6+1, 1 shot); walking stick (Str+2); sundry other equipment
Resource: Occult Contacts – the character is well known within occult circles and can request information or minor assistance

Experience: 20 Seasoned
Agility: d10; Smarts: d4; Spirit: d4; Strength: d6; Vigour: d8
Skills: Boating d8; Climbing d6+2; Fighting d6; Gambling d6; Intimidation d6; Shooting d6; Swimming d6+2; Throwing d6
Pace: 2m; Parry: d6+1; Toughness: d8
Hindrance: Big Mouth; Loyal
Edge: Acrobat, Athletic
Equipment: Barnes Horseman’s Pistol (4/8/16, 2d6+2, 1 shot); long knife (damage d6+2); sundry other equipment
Resource: Merchant Guild – the character has contacts in the among the merchants and independent captains and can request information or minor assistance

Experience: 20 Seasoned
Agility: d8; Smarts: d4; Spirit: d8; Strength: d6; Vigour: d6
Skills: Boating d8; Climbing d6; Fighting d8; Guts d6; Intimidation d8; Swimming d8; Shooting d6-2
Pace: 2m; Parry: d6; Toughness: d6+1
Hindrance: One Eye; Illiterate;
Edge: Brawny, Deceitful
Equipment: Barnes Percussion Pistol (concealable, 3/6/12, 2d6+1, 1 shot); long knife (damage d6+2); patch over eye; sundry other equipment
Resource: The Docks – the character has contacts in the among the sailors and dockside merchants and can request information or minor assistance

Soldier of Fortune
Experience: 20 Seasoned
Agility: d10; Smarts: d4; Spirit: d6; Strength: d6; Vigour: d6
Skills Fighting d10; Guts d6; Intimidation d6; Notice d4; Shooting d12
Pace: 2m; Parry: d10; Toughness: d6
Hindrance: Code of Honour, Doubting Thomas, Quirk (choose one minor quirk)
Edge: Marksman, Quick, Quick Draw, Trademark Weapon (Wilkins Navy Revolver)
Equipment: Wilkins Navy Revolver (+1 Shooting, 4/8/16, 2d6+2, 5 shots); Springfield .52 Breechloading Rifle (5/10/20, 2d8, 1 shot); Bowie knife (Str+2); sundry other equipment
Resource: Armoury – per session, d8 to have a specific weapon or armament; can make a shooting check to negotiate over prices of armaments

Experience: 20 Seasoned
Agility: d8; Smarts: d6; Spirit: d6; Strength: d6; Vigour: d6
Skills: Climb d6+2; Fighting d6; Lockpick d8+2; Notice d6+2; Shooting d6; Stealth d8+2; Streetwise d6
Pace: 2m; Parry: d6; Toughness: d6
Hindrance: Enemy (minor-who?); Vengeance (minor); Wanted (major – where and why?)
Edge: Alertness; Light Fingers; Quick; Thief
Equipment: Barnes Percussion Pistol (concealable, 3/6/12, 2d6+1, 1 shot); flick knife (Str+1); lockpicks; sundry other equipment
Resource: Underworld – the character has contacts in the criminal underworld and can request information or minor assistance

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Savage Zanzibar

Let’s take a break about talking about Pandora Excess. Going through my old work getting nostalgic for some projects for other publishers that turned into total clusterfucks and led to nothing, I found a folder for a Savage Worlds Victorian alt-history/steampunk (I guess any steampunk is alt-history . . .) set in a Zanzibar colonized and administered by the Germans (due to an accelerated German colonization effort kicked off due to German Unification happening at the time of the German Confederation).

The reason I had chosen Zanzibar was due to its connections with the exploration of East Africa, and the work coincided with my reading Sir Richard Francis Burton’s First Footsteps in East Africa. I chose to have it run by the Germans as a very strong signal that this was not the history we know. While some might be aware of Germany’s late entry into the colonization of Africa, the mention of Prussian Zanzibar did the trick of shocking my players into a recognition that this place was very different™.

The plan was to have a couple of adventures immersing the PCs in a supernatural plot in Zanzibar, which would lead them onto the continent and get them involved in the exploration of East Africa. Two inspirations for the atmospherics for this part of the game would be the movies Mountains of the Moon and the Ghost and the Darkness.

This never happened. The playtest ran for two sessions, introducing the players to alt-Zanzibar and got them involved in the Zanzibar underworld and had a single encounter with something that was very wrong.

Very, very wrong.

I’m going to post some of the resources I was using, including the pre-generated characters, in the coming days. That will give you a nice break from my Borderlands obsession.

You can find more information on the amazing Sir Richard Francis Burton at Wikipedia.

You can find find his book First Footsteps in East Africa at Project Gutenberg.

You can find more information on Mountains of the Moon at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can find more information on the Ghost and the Darkness at Wikipedia and IMDB.

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Pandora Lacks Strength

I am a fan of having basic attributes like the six stats of D&D as part of characters in my games. For me, it provides a way of accessing some fundamental image of the character, showing the character’s capabilities divorced of all skills, background, training, etc. It has served my games well, in my opinion.

It doesn’t seem to have a place in Pandora Excess.

Look at Borderlands – the inspiration for this game. There are no base aspects, no stats for strength or intelligence. Given that Borderlands is all about combat, this makes sense. Differentiating characters based on intelligence or personality has no role in the game.

But for a tabletop game that is something more than just combat, differentiating who can figure out the code or who is best to talk to the new employer has a purpose. It impacts on character niches.

However, I don’t believe stats – let’s call them that – are necessary for Pandora Excess. Like in the computer game, the measure of capability can be through the skills. You don’t have ranks in that skill? You have no talent that helps? Then you roll 2d10 unmodified and hope for the best.

It makes things smoother, fewer numbers, fewer modifiers, and less math. This is important because I want combat to be fast and fluid, but robust games generally slow down in combat due to choices and modifiers and the math entailed in those.

The plan for Pandora Excess is to have any Test (roll of 2d10) modified by skill, talent and advantage or disadvantage – and only one of each can be applied in the hopes of keeping things streamlined.

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