Wednesday 29 January 2014

That Cyberpunk Je Ne Sais Quoi

I was reading through the latest draft of "Kill, Cyborgs! Kill!" the Cyberpunk adventure I'm working on, and there is something missing, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Mechanically, I'm happy with the system, the overall structure, and the story are pretty good.  So what's missing?

Then my long overdue Amazon order came in, including William Gibson's "Neuromancer". A few chapter's in it hit me. KCK doesn't have that Cyberpunk bite.

The Horror genre plays with your emotions, eliciting uneasiness, foreboding, and fear. Good Cyberpunk stories do something similar. It's not quite techno-horror. It's something more subtle, pushing just beyond what we consider to be a healthy relationship with Technology, presenting portraits that leave a gurgling uneasiness in the pit of our bellies:

  • A tough Street Samurai with surgically implanted mirrorshades, ostensibly so that she can see in the dark, but more importantly, they keep anyone from looking into her eyes. Because if anyone did look into her eyes, if they saw what she feels in the depths of her soul, it would all be over...
  • An ex-hacker, more at home in cyberspace than in reality, but chemically neutered so that he can no longer log in, leaving him in permanent exile.
  • A small-time shoplifter who finds meaning in life though competitive video games and through love. Ultimately he chooses the former over the latter and ends up with nothing.
  • A dolphin, made hyper-intelligent and fixed up with hi-tech scanning gear for the war. Now that it's over, he sits in dirty tank, doing illegal scanning work to pay for his drug habit.
  • Gang of street kids whose tech-worship to more and more bizarre, inhuman body modifications, pushing them more and more to the edge of society.
  • A mysterious criminal, apparently ex-special forces, one of the few survivors of a well known suicide mission. Now he is anonymous, his face a mask of generic plastic surgery, his intentions inscrutable.
  • A teenage girl, obsessed with becoming the next reality star, she'll sink to any depth to earn the credits for the tech she'll need to realize that dream. But the deeper she sinks, the greater the chance she'll be lost forever... 
  • A man who has himself cloned as a female. He raises her as a daughter, then they become lovers. Nuff said. 
  • A crime lord well over 200 years old. Preserved by technology, but neutered by age. Inhumanly cunning, inhumanly uncaring for anything except well tailored vintage replica suits.

Such Pathos, such Unease, such borderline plausibility, such Truth! I frickin' love Cyberpunk! Now, back to the writing table...

Sunday 19 January 2014

Child-Brain Vampire

So I just finished reading through Bram Stoker's Dracula. I was surprised what a fun, easy read it was, considering the 1897 publication date. There's a lot there to talk about: the book is part Horror, part Mystery, and part Adventure Novel. For now, let's focus on Dracula himself and gameability...

The Child-Brain

Anyway, at a few points, Professor Van Helsing, in his broken English, goes on about how Dracula is actually a relatively immature and therefore weak Vampire. For example:

“He has all along, since his coming, been trying his power, slowly but surely; that big child-brain of his is working. Well for us, it is, as yet, a child-brain; for had he dared, at the first, to attempt certain things he would long ago have been beyond our power...

An Amalgamated Mythos

I'd assumed that vampires are like zombies: different books mention different powers and weaknesses and so you essentially have different types with different "rules". Not so. At one point the professor exposes a whopping 22 different powers and weaknesses that apply to the Count which he gathered from various legends and folklore. On one hand, they are quite varied and lack a common aesthetic. On the other hand, it makes the Vampire that much more mysterious, that we can't make sense of his bizarre and inexplicably varied abilities. There's a delicious illogic to the whole thing.

No DnD Vampires, Thank You Very Much!

So, bottom line, Dracula has many weaknesses in addition to his many powers. And I rather prefer Bram Stoker's vampire to DnD's. Rather than being a 7-9HD monstrosity, Dracula can be killed by a single well-placed knife blow(during the day time, anyway). Much of the novel is about the party trying to catch the Vampire when he is weak, while he, in turn, wriggles around their defences and evades them except when he is strong. Ultimately, the result is an intelligent cat & mouse game, rather than a full-on combat.

So let's stat him up. And ultimately, the DM needs to play this guy smartly for him to provide the challenge that he should, for the PCs:

HD: 1 per century
Save: as Thief of same level
MV: 12 or as bat/wolf when transformed
AC: 10 or as bat/wolf when transformed
Attacks: per weapon. Has Hill Giant Strength at night
  • Sustenance
    • The vampire live on, and cannot die by mere passing of the time;
    • he can flourish when that he can fatten on the blood of the living. 
    • Even more, we have seen amongst us that he can even grow younger; that his vital faculties grow strenuous, and seem as though they refresh themselves when his special pabulum is plenty. 
  • Physical Powers:
    • He throws no shadow; 
    • he make in the mirror no reflect, as again Jonathan observe. 
    • He has the strength of many of his hand—witness again Jonathan when he shut the door against the wolfs, and when he help him from the diligence too. 
    • He can see in the dark—no small power this, in a world which is one half shut from the light. 
    • He can hypnotize his victims either with fear or seduction
  • Command
    • Command wolves
    • Command rats
  • Transmutation:
    • He can transform himself to wolf(sorry, no werewolves vs. vampires in this universe)
    • he can be as bat
    • He can come in mist which he create—that noble ship’s captain proved him of this; but, from what we know, the distance he can make this mist is limited, and it can only be round himself. 
    • He come on moonlight rays as elemental dust—as again Jonathan saw those sisters in the castle of Dracula. 
    • He become so small—we ourselves saw Miss Lucy, ere she was at peace, slip through a hairbreadth space at the tomb door. He can, when once he find his way, come out from anything or into anything, no matter how close it be bound or even fused up with fire—solder you call it. 
  • Infectious
    • Victim killed by having blood drained becomes vampire too
    • Victim made to drink Vampire's blood is existentially linked to Vampire. Can read victim's thoughts(and vice versa) and command them. If victim dies, they will become a vampire.
  • Weaknesses:
    • He may not enter anywhere at the first, unless there be some one of the household who bid him to come; though afterwards he can come as he please. 
    • His power ceases, as does that of all evil things, at the coming of the day. Only at certain times can he have limited freedom. 
    • If he be not at the place whither he is bound, he can only change himself at noon or at exact sunrise or sunset. These things are we told, and in this record of ours we have proof by inference. Thus, whereas he can do as he will within his limit, when he have his earth-home, his coffin-home, his hell-home, the place unhallowed, as we saw when he went to the grave of the suicide at Whitby; still at other time he can only change when the time come(his powers are only from sunset to sunrise, noon, or in his unhallowed place)
    • It is said, too, that he can only pass running water at the slack or the flood of the tide. 
    • Then there are things which so afflict him that he has no power, as the garlic that we know of; 
    • and as for things sacred, as this symbol, my crucifix, that was amongst us even now when we resolve, to them he is nothing, but in their presence he take his place far off and silent with respect. There are others, too, which I shall tell you of, lest in our seeking we may need them.
    • The branch of wild rose on his coffin keep him that he move not from it; 
    • a sacred bullet fired into the coffin kill him so that he be true dead; 
    • and as for the stake through him, we know already of its peace; 
    • or the cut-off head that giveth rest. We have seen it with our eyes.
  • Any other characteristics the Players are able to bring a source for in the form of authentic folklore(not pop-culture)

Thursday 16 January 2014

Unarmed Combat for "Kill, Cyborgs! Kill!"

Okay, let's tackle this little topic.  I need an unarmed combat system for Kill, Cyborgs Kill!, the cyber-horror adventure I'm working on. Here are some of the desired attributes of said system:


There are several unarmed combat techniques characters can use:
  • Punch: 1d4 damage
  • Kick: 1d6 damage
  • Grapple: hold your opponent, restraining him from using large weapons, moving.
  • Escape Grapple: escape a grapple
  • Throw(only from grapple): 1d8 damage, opponent is prone, still grappled
  • Choke Hold(only from grapple): puts opponent to sleep. Each additional round the choke is held, must save or die
  • Joint Lock(only from grapple): 1d8 dmg
  • Neck Lock(only from grapple): paralyzed. Fort save or die.
  • Eye Gouge: blindness till end of combat. Fort save or permanent.
  • Groin Shot: stunned till end of combat. Fort save or permanent damage.


The skill check is done as an Opposed Skill Check(see Skills section), with the attacker and his opponent each rolling and comparing their rolls.

Example: The ninja attempts to punch Detective Hobbs. The ninja rolls 1d20+DEX bonus+Ninjitsu skill vs. the Detective’s 1d20+DEX+Brawling skill.

Example: Detective Hobbs attempts to grapple a junkie, who has no relevant skill. The Detective rolls 1d20+DEX bonus+Brawling skill vs. the Junkie’s 1d20+DEX.

Death & Dismemberment Chart for Unarmed Combat

This is a different chart for non-lethal damage such as from punches, kicks, throws, and joint locks(if a PC punches with brass-knuckles, throws an opponent's onto a concrete floor, or curb-stomps a prone opponent’s head then that is normal armed damage and should use the normal chart.) Upon taking unarmed damage which leaves a character with 0 or fewer HP, roll 1d10 + the number of negative hitpoints the character has.

  • 1-6 Lightly Stunned: character misses next turn
  • 7-14 Stunned: character is not killed, but is useless for the rest of the combat
  • 15+ Killed: blunt force trauma, internal bleeding, etc.

Monday 13 January 2014

Arik Sharon's Victories

Former Israeli General and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon passed away a couple days ago. Like many, I have mixed feelings about the man's legacy. More than just a brilliant strategist, Sharon was known for his strong-will and over a long military and political career, he managed to piss-off just about everyone at one point or another.

I've never played any proper wargames, like WFB, WH40K, etc. But I did spend many an hour at classic RTS computer games like Dune 2, Command & Conquer, and Warcraft, not to mention many sessions of my friend's simplified version of Axis & Allies, and of course way too much XCOM. So I do very much like strategy. In any case, I wanted to present his part in the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Egypt, Syria, and Israel(though he also played significant roles in the wars in 1947, 1956, 1967, 1982).

Sharon's Part in the Yom Kippur War

Sharon with head injury after the operation
The war began with Egypt's surprise attempt at re-capturing the Sinai peninsula, while at the same time Syria attacked Israel from the North, hoping to re-capture the Golan Heights. Things started-off well for the Egyptians: they crossed the Suez Canal, routed the defenders, neutralized Israeli air support, and repelled a counter-attack by Israeli armour, inflicting heavy casualties all the way. The tide turned as Egyptian troops advanced into the peninsula, taking heavy casualties from fortified Israeli armour. The Egyptian forces withdrew to more fortified positions, hanging on to the captured East side of the Suez Canal and it looked like the bloody beginning to what would be a violent and protracted conflict.

Zoomable Map of Operation
Knowing that time was against them, the Israeli generals decided on a desperate surprise move. A single armoured division would punch through the weak spot in the Egyptian lines between the Second and Third Armies. They would race to the Suez Canal and have to build a bridge over night, under heavy fire. This bridge would allow two other armoured divisions to cross-over into Egypt proper, flanking the Third Army and giving Israel the leverage to force a cease-fire. Needless to say, the Israeli armoured division building the bridge would probably take heavy casualties and if the Egyptians reacted quickly, would be sandwiched between the oncoming Second and Third Armies and probably destroyed entirely.

And the Tank Commander leading that Division was, of course, Arik Sharon. The man definitely had guts.

Anyway, here's a pretty decent program describing the Egyptian front in the Yom Kippur War:

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Winning isn't All That

So, why did I come home last night with a bloody mouth and a big dumb smile that I couldn't wipe-off my face?

No, let's start over...

There are some DMs who think their job is to set-up encounters just difficult enough to provide the party a bit of a challenge, but not, heaven forbid, to put them in any real danger. They may even apologise to you if a particular combat starts going against the party. And if things really go South, they will start fudging dice rolls or having the monsters make intentional tactical mistakes.

Their reason for doing this is that they don't want to ruin people's fun by having them lose, but, ironically, their combats aren't fun, since there is no incentive to think too hard, try anything new or novel. Just roll your dice everybody, round after round after round until the inevitable...

Compare this with the DM who doesn't pull any punches. When the party finds themselves in a crunch, they've played with this DM a while and they know it's do or die. Suddenly the creative juices start flowing! Tactics, strategy, dirty tricks, religion checks for divine intervention. A PC sacrifices himself so that the others can escape!

Now that's fun! That's engaging! The players push themselves to their limits. In this way, a lost battle can be more fun than a hum-drum victory.

OK, so back to last night...

Last night was Jiu Jitsu practice. Now, I started out training with several guys who have only been training for a year or two: enough to give me a hard time, but not that hard a time. I got to try out a few new techniques, as well as apply some old favourites. Good times.

And then I had a match with J. Now I never really stood a chance with J. He's been training various martial arts since he was a kid, and BJJ several years more than me. He's younger, stronger, and he also fights a bit dirty when he's frustrated. So I had to use all my resources in the match: my most solid techniques, a few fake-outs, and also ultimately pain tolerance when he did manage to pin me in a bad position. Ultimately the match ended in a draw. But that hard-won draw was infinitely more fun than all of the night's textbook victories.

Friday 3 January 2014

Meet Cuthwulf the Larger

I haven't made many posts for the past month because I've been going to a lot of job interviews, making-up work hours, and just generally mentally holding my breath from anything that isn't computer programming. Having now happily given 30 day notice before my new job in Ramat Gan, I can hopefully get back into the stride of blogging. So, let's start-off nice and easy...

We are playing Pendragon! Meet Cuthwulf the Larger, a Saxon squire from Cumbria. Though 15 years of age, he often plays himself off as being older due to his huge build, huge beard, and worldly mannerisms. Daddy has money, so he's well equipped, his his best horse being a charger named Framgar and an attendant Octa. Cuthwulf is an Arbitrary and chaotic person, who loves gambling, gaming, and the great axe.

Well for the first session, Cuthwulf and his two companions participated in a provincial tournament. The training session, where Cuthwulf got knocked-off his horse by a sandbag, set the tone for the event. Cuthy lost a horse race and was eliminated first from the jousting tournament. That said, he's looking forward to showing his valour in the quest to slay a man-eating critter(possibly a squirrel) that has been terrorizing the local farmers. Perhaps then he will achieve renown and win the hearts of all the ladies in the court...