Mr. Fancy Pants!

A Guy This Fancy, You Call Mister

Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart has been sent to layout and my crew in Ottawa has settled in to A Team of Losers Pulp Edition, so I have no more pressing design issues. There is work to be done on Nefertiti Overdrive since I want it to be 90-100% complete before the Kickstarter (trying not to contemplate what happens if it fails to fund again), but this is not really what I consider design work, although it is explaining a process (creating adventures and campaigns).

My work on the need-a-new-name RPG based on the Borderlands computer game series has stalled because it is not something I’m ready to pursue right now. The concepts are laid out, but the work required to realize it as a game is daunting, especially since I see no opportunity to playtest or market it. It was and remains a thought experiment, and it was a lot of fun. This was an exercise in disassembling a game in another medium and reassembling it as an RPG. Perhaps in the future this is something I will pick up, but a modified version of Nefertiti Overdrive or the UGS would work for me running a Borderlands-style game with my crew (should that happen after the pulp campaign).

That’s Right, Fancy-Pants

Or I might use Fancy-Pants the RPG (working title).

Every time I’ve gone to Gen Con, I’ve gamed with JJ Lanza (formerly of Fist Full of Comics and Games). The last two times have been with JJ and his two sons. I’ve decided I’m going to Gen Con 2015, and part of my excitement is to run a game for the Lanza crew yet again. This time, I promised something even more over-the-top than Nefertiti Overdrive, and so I have created the basic framework for a game of even more insane action, which I’m calling Fancy-Pants for absolutely no reason whatshowever. The design goal is for a game that is fast, easy, and promoting crazy action.

I have no idea if the concept I’ve laid down will do this, but I have a little under a year to prepare.

I have come to the realization that my games tend to focus on cool people punching bad people in the face with outlandish style, and I am very okay with that.

The pictures of fancy-pants action are Chow Yun-Fat, the Killer himself.


My latest thing, as anyone who follows this blog will know, is Borderlands. It’s not the first and it won’t be the last bright, shiny object. The world is so full of inspiration – especially in the entertainment media – I can’t help but constantly consider adapting an idea or property to RPGs.

For me, it all started with the Lord of the Rings (the novels). I was into LotR before I even started RPGs, so when I played D&D, setting a campaign in Middle Earth seemed a no-brainer. Star Wars, also, served as the setting for untold SF games in university, using a homebrew SF system.

Other than those two that probably everyone used, my top three sources of inspiration have been:

The Long Ships: While the 13th Warrior strongly inspired Kiss My Axe: Thirteen Warriors and an Angel of Death, the Viking campaign which birthed it started as a True20 game and that was based on a section of Frans G. Bengtsson’s the Long Ships. I’ve read this novel four or five times, and each time I’ve come away with something different. It’s packed with ideas for adventuring and dark ages brutality, but the search for the Bulgar Gold led to a campaign in which the PCs search for exactly that.

Planetary: It should come as no surprise that Warren Ellis has provided inspiration for my gaming. While I would love to take a crack at a NextWAVE: Agents of HATE game, I honestly don’t think I could pull that off. For Planetary, though, I had a whole plan to use popular media as the basis for a secret history. Originally, we used True20 – a system with which I was familiar and comfortable. However, the campaign became much more about explosive fight scenes, like the Authority, than Planetary‘s secret history, and so we decided to try the Esoterrorists.

Although it is not as focused on the ass-kicking as the Authority, Planetary has plenty of action and fight scenes. The Esoterrorists version of Gumshoe wasn’t so strong on face-punching, so the crew returned to Sword Noir the next session. I was going use my ideas in a series of products, and tested the waters with Operation Nearscape: an Osiris File, but the response to that was lukewarm at best.

Black Hawk Down: The origins of Sword’s Edge Publishing came with Black Hawk Down. It was the movie that got me into the book and the book that got me interested in running modern military games. I had known about the SAS for some time, having both read Andy McNab’s Bravo Two Zero and watching the Final Option, a not so great 1980s SAS movie. Black Hawk Down, though, introduced me to Delta Force, and the research for a spec ops campaign led me down a lot of winding trails. It led both to the Albenistan series of adventures, and the entire Spec Ops line of SEP product. This was all using d20 Modern.

Wikipedia’s got you covered for more information on the Long Ships, the 13th Warrior, Planetary, NextWAVE: Agents of HATE, the Authority, Black Hawk Down movie and book, Bravo Two Zero, and the Final Option.

You can hear some of the Viking campaign at Adventures of the Ottawa Warband.

When I had a stab at re-starting an spec ops campaign with my Ottawa group, I published some of my work here under the tag Direct Action.

Pandora Quirk

Okay, first off, I need a better title for the game than Pandora Excess. Just doesn’t do it for me.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about (the game that will soon not be called) Pandora Excess.

In most of my published games, I’ve used Pivots or something similar as a way to provide advancement, to improve characters. Borderlands has an experience point system not unlike the most famous role-playing game in the world (which is now in its fifth or so incarnation). There’s no need for two improvement mechanics, and plenty of reasons not to complicate an already complex system, so advancement will be based on experience points.

However, I think there is still a place for something similar to Pivots. Let’s call it Quirk. I’ll go through the thesaurus and find something better later. This is a part of Borderlands as well, with the characters uttering certain catchphrases when scoring critical hits, for example.

I’m not sure exactly if Quirks should have a mechanical benefit, but my initial thinking is that if worked into the game seamlessly, a Quirk can earn a character experience. This way, something like a character regularly wondering about coffee, spouting one-liners, or always eating could add dimension to a character, as well as levity to the game.

It’s also a nice way to provide personality to a character that might otherwise become a bunch of numbers.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.

Mandarins of Manchukuo – the Supernatural Opponents

A supernatural adventure is no good without supernatural opponents. The PCs encountered a few of these in “Mandarins of Manchukuo,” but rather than being based on actual mythic lore, these were based on mass media adaptations.

The first of these, and the one that the PCs heard the most about before encountering, were the White Water Witches. These twins – Susu and Qingqing – were based on the Sorcerer and the White Snake, a movie starring Jet Li, itself based on the legend of the White Snake (not the hair metal band, though that joke did appear during the game). I mistakenly claimed the legend for Guangdong when it rightly belongs to Zhejiang. Mea culpa.

The group also encountered a group called the Priests of Thoth, my own little twist on the the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the Medjai from 1999’s the Mummy. Other than assassin-warriors with a lip tattoo of the hieroglyph for the Greek god Hermes, the PCs know little of these guys. I’m going to leave it that way. The PCs did figure out that while the Priests of Thoth attacked them three times during the adventure, the Priests weren’t bad guys, per se.

The big bad who showed up at the end was a rendition of the Mummy from both its 1932 incarnation and the 1999 version. The big bad appeared as Boris Karloff from 1932, but had many of the powers of the 1999 Mummy. He wasn’t as tough as either, but that’s not to say that he was the boss fight, or – if he was – that he has been destroyed completely.

The PCs might find the truth later, or they might never learn the truth.

You can read about the Sorcerer and the White Snake at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can read the Wikipedia page on the legend of the White Snake here.

You can read about the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword on the Wikipedia page for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

You can read about the 1932 Mummy on Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read about the Medjai on the Wikipedia page for 1999’s the Mummy.

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.

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.


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

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.

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