Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Age We Live In

WARNING: Spoilers for the Flash

  1978 was a great year. I turned 11 in the Summer. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons the year before and had finally started my own group. A friend of mine was running a great Traveller campaign. Wonder Woman was on TV and Channel Four had Science Fiction Theater and Sammy Terry. I was mowing lawns and earning enough money with that and my allowance to have 12 comic book subscriptions and enough left over to buy more on my own. The older brother of a friend had given me a reprint of Batman #232 (if you don't know why that is a big deal, shame on you). Black Lightning and  Green Lantern were my favorites. And in the Spring I added Firestorm to that list.
  Firestorm caught my eye the day it hit the stands. I read the first issue and immediately wrote to get a subscription. I made sure Tom at the comics shop knew I wanted them and he would stash a copy behind the counter for me. I liked the character a great deal and was disappointed by the DC Implosion taking it out not too much alter.

  Last night I was watching Flash with the wife and kids. My kids love watching superhero related stuff with me because my heavy reading of comics in youth means I usually spot most, if not all, the details. But in the most recent episode they covered the origin of Firestorm and were fairly close to the comics. At the end of the episode, then Firestorm flies away on a jet of flame, I was the most excited in the room.
  Today I was talking with my wife and we were talking about our plans to watch certain movies this year. I pointed out to her:

  -We watch the Flash on TV and it has Weather Wizard, Firestorm, Multiplex, etc.
  -We watch Arrow on TV with Captain Boomerang, Deathstroke, Professor Ivo, etc.
  -We watch Agents of SHIELD on TV with Hydra, the Inhumans, etc.
  -We are eagerly awaiting seeing the Avengers fight Ultron in cinemas this year.
  -The soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy, one of my favorite obscure comics, is a hit because the movie was popular (what's next, the Starjammers?)
  -There are new Godzilla movies!

  That's when I realized: the modern world's entertainment is starting to look like what 12 year old me wished for!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Quick Take: Fame


  Here's a question - how famous are your characters? If they ride into a village do the peasants know who they are? If the villain is making his plans for conquering the kingdom, does he make special arrangements to deal with the party's paladin?
  I'll talk a bout a more detailed system another day, but here is a simple one:

Fame: If the character is within a day's travel of where he usually lives, travels, etc. or within a day's travel of a major adventure his fame is [character level ^2]. For multi-class or dual class characters it is {[(highest class level) + (second highest level/2) + (third highest level/2)]^2}.
  If you are using my NPC-only classes from Far Realms, their Fame score is 1/2 normal.
  For each full day beyond this 'core area' fame is reduced 5.

  Example One: Jerczy is a 4th level barbarian, Willia the Fair is a 2nd/2nd level fighter/magic-user, and Brother Ormond is a 4th level cleric. Jerczy's fame is 16 (4 squared), Willia's fame is 9 (2+1, total squared), and Br. Ormond's fame is also 16.

  To determine if a character is 'recognized' roll percentage dice; if the result is equal to or below their fame score, they are recognized. The lower the roll the more (public knowledge) about the character is remembered. I tend to roll once per NPC, but you could roll once per NPC per character.

  Example Two: Mournglow is a 9th level magic-user, Doomsman is an 11th level fighter, and Darkwalk is a 7th/7th magic-user/cleric. Darkwalk's henchman, Starwing, is a 4th/4th magic-user/cleric and Doomsman's lieutenant, Bearkiller, is an 8th level Man-at-Arms (NPC only class). The group has travelled to meet with the famous sage Bartolomas in the city of High Morath, a full 5 days from their homes.
  Mournglow's fame is 81, reduced to 56 because of distance. Doomsman's is 121, reduced to 96; Darkwalk's is 100, reduced to 75; Starwing's is 36, reduced to 11; and Bearkiller's is 32 (8 squared, then halved), reduced to 7.
  The party finally meets Bartolomas. The DM rolls percentage dice for Bartolomas and gets a 52. The DM decides that Bartolomas has no idea who Bearkiller or Starwing are, has heard Mournglow's name, suspects that Darkwalk is a mage/priest, and knows that Doomsman is one of the greatest swordsmen in the world as well as lord of a frontier barony.

  Short, sweet, simple.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Flashback Friday: Remington Steele

  The Wife and I are undoubtably Children of the 80's. While that era is long ago, Netflix and Hulu are forever, so we are adding a new occasional entry to Don't Split the Party - Flashback Friday. This is where we discuss TV, movies, etc. from the past.

  One of the first stories my mother-in-law told me of my wife was about her obsession with Remington Steele. The main anecdote goes something like this;

  "J was almost a professional musician by the time she was 14 and she had a lot of commitments. She had missed the first run of a particular episode of Remington Steele, back before VCRs, and an important concert was going to end no more than 30 minutes before the re-run. In those days, of course, if you missed both showings that was it - you would never see it.
  "The concert ended with only 25 minutes to the beginning. She refused to change and hustled us to the car. Her dad sped pretty egregiously the entire time, but she was still frantic. We arrived home, she rushed in and turned on the TV, and she had only missed the intro dialog. Her life was saved!"

  I was fond of the TV show at the time, especially when it was using knowledge of classic films to solve crimes. Unlike the Wife I missed a lot of episodes (and the entire last season). I was aware that the hastily ordered last season had quite the impact on movies: Pierce Brosnan had been scheduled to be Bond in The Living Daylights and Stephanie Zimbalist was to be Anne Lewis in Robocop but the last minute contract triggers forced both to pull out giving the roles to Dalton and Allen, instead.

  Sidenote: someday I will write an alternate history story based on Harrison Ford never being a movie star.

  Over the past week the Wife and I have watched the first few episodes of Remington Steele.

Aging - Good: The show has aged surprisingly well. Pierce Brosnan's character tends to be dressed in a sort of retro-neo-classical stle, like a modern guy trying to dress like Jimmy Cagney playing a mobster. Stepahnie Zimbalist's character was trying to set her own style, which ends up being quirly enough to be appealing and almost timeless.

Aging - Bad: But the timelessness isn't everywhere. The computer game developers are developing - arcade consoles. The supporting cast of women have Really Big Hair. Some of the language is dated, too.

The Stories: One of the great things about detective shows is the plots are literally timeless. The stuff that worked for Poe and Doyle in the 19th Century work just fine now. There are nice twists, good hooks, and snappy dialog. Overall the writing and stories are solid

The Bad: Remington Steele was only in the top 25 of ratings for part of its third season. It didn't have a big budget, it didn't have a lot of love in the front office. While it is obvious they did their best things like cinematography, wardrobe, etc. are all workmanlike. Also, trying to strike a balance between serious, romantic, and comedic sometimes slipped into silly. The cast shakeups after season one are understandable, but changed the tone quite a bit, too.

The Good: The acting. It is obvious why Brosnan went on to be Bond. Zimbalist is more than solid, too. Many of the quest stars are top-notch, as well, and the writers took advantage of that. This show also effectively invented the "will they/won't they" dynamic between the male and female leads that was so critical to following shows from Moonlighting to the contemporary Arrow. And arguably with the good writing, the acting of Zimbalist and Brosnan, and their excellent chemistry they did it best.

Can It Help Your Game?: Certainly. The relationships between the leads, the puzzles and crimes they solve, and the twists are all great preparation for contemporary settings. With very minor tweaks they can be agent/spy stories and with a touch more work street level supers or Gangbuster-style capers.

Overall: A great deal of fun and still fun to watch over 30 years later.

Our Rating: 4 out of 4

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Another Magical Sword

  Another weapon invented by my oldest.

  Sunflash: This broadsword is of impeccable craftsmanship, perfect balance, and great beauty. The shining steel weapon is always slightly warm to the touch (although this is never uncomfortable). It normally sheds light out to 10' and is +2 to hit and damage.
  If undead are within 120' the intensity of Sunflash's radiance increases by +10' per HD of the largest hit dice undead to a maximum of 60' radius (for example, if a skeleton is 90' away Sunflash's light will extend 20'; if 8 zombies are 100' away it will shed light out to 30', a ghast and 12 skeletons 40' away would cause Sunflash to shine out to 50', etc.). Against skeletons, zombies, and other 'unintelligent' undead Sunflash is +3 to hit and damage. Against ghouls, vampires, and other 'intelligent' undead Sunflash is +3 to hit and +6 to damage.
  If Sunflash strikes the killing blow against any undead of 3HD or greater it emits a flash of sunlight (actually energy from the Positive Material Plane) that Turns Undead as a 6th level cleric on all undead within 60' at the time of the blow. Additionally, vampires, spectres, and ghosts within 60' of the Sunflash take 3d4 points of damage.

Note: Image courtesy of this interesting page.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Magic Item of the Week: The Sword of Sharp (Plus - My Own Chart for Swords of Sharpness)

  After a discussion of metaphysics, Platonic Ideals, and Plato's Cave with my oldest son
  [don't judge us]
  he came up with the Sword of Sharp.

  The Sword of Sharp: This weapon is a simple, unadorned longsword. It is immune to acid, rust (including magical effects), fire, electricity, and cold. It also makes all item saving throws at +4. It is +1 to hit only.
  In many ways the Sword of Sharp behaves as a Sword of Sharpness; on a natural 19 or 20 attack roll that results in a hit consult the following chart'

Roll (d12)   Effect 
 1 – 3           The blow is particularly deep; +2 damage
 4 – 5           The cut 'shaves off' a part of the target; +4 damage
 6 – 7           The blow severs the target's off hand (1-4) or trailing foot (5-6), +2 damage
 8 – 9           The blow severs the target's primary hand (1-4) or lead foot (5-6), +4 damage
 10               The blow severs an entire arm or leg (roll randomly), +6 damage
 11               The attack cuts off both legs (1-3) or both arms (4), +8 damage
 12               The target is decapitated, cut in twain, etc., target dead (unless undead, etc.)

  Although similar to a Sword of Sharpness the Sword of Sharp is 'more closely aligned' with the metaphysical concept of 'being sharp'. When drawn from its scabbard all foes of the wielder within 10' take a point of damage from the sharpness of the weapon. In melee every foe of the wielder within 10' takes a point of damage per round from being so close to the edge of the blade.
  If the wielder has the sword in hand and is performing a full parry there is a 20% chance that any spell, spell-like effect, or other magical attack targeted on the wielder will fail as it is 'cut apart' by the blade. Also, if the sword is swung around another person (as if cutting away items jutting from the person) for a full round there is a 20% chance that any enchantments or charms affecting the target are 'cut away'.

  Only one Sword of Sharp is known to exist.