Category: Role Playing Games

News at Eleven

Suki Greenberg opens the elevator sliding grate and steps out into the common room of the Katsura Kojo safe house for Haruna Biolabs Special Research Division. “What a load of crap,” she thinks to herself. “More like Special Research Delinquents.” The overwhelming stench of cannabis and stale Sapporo assaults her nose. Bags and wrappers from Bubble Wrap and Meatstick lay strewn under the furniture. The simstim news broadcast blares in the background while Toshiro sits on the couch wearing a VR rig and interacting with some kind of battle simulation. He is screaming bloody murder and has the sound of the game turned up full blast. The virtual reports of gunfire and explosions rattle the windows in the old factory.

“Hi Suki! You’re just in time to see Goro’s epic fail,” screams Bobby Datsun over the din.

Goro is standing in the center of the long room with a throwing knife in each hand. At one end of the room stands Sureji, wearing a ballistic vest and holding a melon. Kozo is similarly arrayed at the other end of the room. Just as Suki grasps the situation and is about to step in…

“Count of three!” shouts Goro. “One, two!” while staring straight ahead at Suki, he simultaneously flicks both arms and whips the knives at opposite ends of the room. One knife protrudes from the melon held by Sureji. The other knife is embedded in Kozo’s shoulder.

“What the fuck, man! You only counted to two! Ow, mother fucker that hurts!” Yells Kozo.

Bobby, Sureji and Goro fall about the room laughing hysterically.

After she patches up Kozo and dopes him up with ‘dorph, she yells “Toshiro, turn that shit down! I’m trying to listen to…”

“Suki give me some of that ‘painless’ too!” says Goro, “I think I kinda threw my arm out. You know, just now, when I hucked a knife into Kozo.” All three start falling over laughing again.

“Shut up I want to hear this!” she yells and rips the VR rig off Toshiro and chucks it into the kitchen. The simstim news broadcasts continues.

“…the number of dead unknown at this time, but believed to be at least 40 or 50, judging by the body bags removed from the main entrance so far. The first responders at the scene of the abandoned Skytree Mall reported a lot of gunfire from within the structure, and the police initially reacted as if a gang war scenario were taking place, by securing the exits, assisting those who were fleeing the fighting with medical attention, by making sure the fighting did not spill out onto the busy pedestrian street, and by making sure no additional gang reinforcements could join in the fighting.

“After about 90 minutes, after the scene had been quiet for several minutes, the police went into the building. The first squad deployed inside, quickly fled back out onto the street firing their weapons behind them as they retreated. One officer was seen with severe wounds to his face and arms, bleeding profusely and was evacuated from the scene in a hover-lance. The police then deployed a tactical armed and armored group that appear to have secured the scene and routed the gang gunmen.

“Let’s go now to an eyewitness who was inside the Mall and witnessed the incident firsthand. Sir, please describe what you saw today…hey you can’t do that!….I have every right to talk to this man….give me the goddamn recorder!”

The camera jerkily pans to two black suited and sun-glassed men who have just stepped out from a black hover car, and they are seen picking the homeless man up and wrestling him kicking into the back of the vehicle. Another grabs the journalist by the face and shoves her hard into the building slamming her head against the masonry, while a fourth grabs the camera and throws it on the ground. The image goes black. The broadcast resumes with the anchors back in the studio.

“…I’m being told by our producers that the situation has been called ‘resolved’ by the police on hand, and that the traffic on Oshiage Boulevard, having been blocked, will soon reopen. Lets’ go back to our story on how one trooper on Tau Ceti is getting a taste of home with a special Hello Kitty backpack sent from her mother…”

“That’s the biggest load of shit I’ve ever heard,” says Suki.

“I know, like how’re you gonna send a Hello Kitty backpack all the way to TC. You know how much that would cost?” says Toshiro.

“Bullshit, it’s not that expensive you dumbass!” says Goro.

“Will both of you shut the fuck up? Somebody find out what really happened down there. Maybe that new guy will know somebody who was down there. The ex-cop. What’s his name again? And where is he?” mutters Suki.

The team all look at each other and shrug. A chorus of “Who? I dunno, What cop? Fuck me if I know,” is heard.

Suki sits back on the sofa, lights a long slim cigarette, strokes the long hair on her cheek and shakes her head.


Retroactive Effort in the Cypher System

I’m looking forward to the new version of Numenera. While I’m not obsessively following the developments of the game, I do read the news at the MCG website about once a week. I like the way the new version is shaping up.

One thing that hasn’t changed (as far as I can tell) is Effort. I’ve never cared for the implementation of Effort. The cost of three for the first level and two for each subsequent level isn’t elegant. Players rarely used it at first tier. You’ll only have an edge of one at that tier, so getting that +3 bonus for the cost of two stat points is pretty pricey. You also need to declare it before you use it so when you blow your die roll, you are doubly disappointed.

When I ran The Strange, I house ruled that Effort cost a flat 2 per level. The players tended to use it a lot more at first tier. By the time they hit second tier, and raised Edge, they could perform one kind of action with a +3 bonus “for free”. I always wondered if this rule would encourage players to “branch out” and take Edge for one of their other stats. We stopped the game around tier 3 so I guess I’ll never know.

I’ve been thinking about the “I add two levels of Effort and roll a 2” problem. What if Effort was retroactive? You declare that you use it after the dice are rolled. This can take a narrow miss and turn it into a success. You can also make sure you punch through the 6 armor points on that raging automaton you just shot and do some real damage to it.

I may have to dust off the old The Strange game and give this a go.

A letter, handwritten, on a sheet of Haruna Biolabs stationery

My Dearest Daisuke, 25-2- 2225

(I’m putting this ink on paper via snail mail, so there will be no digital record of this letter when you receive it at your perfect little cottage up on Wawanosh Lake. You’ll no doubt be going up there soon to ice fish and get away as usual…)

I know, I know, it’s been so long since we’ve spoken and that is completely my fault. I promise we will meet soon, maybe for macchiato at Terra Libri in Princeton, like the old days? It seems like so long ago, and I so wish I could be back there with you, just to remember what it was like to be so carefree. You could praise my latest performance art piece (where I end up nude covered in chocolate sauce), we could sit close together with our decks open and pretend to study for our Gross Anatomy exam…it would be heaven!

But, here we are.

I’m back at Haruna, where I swore I would never get sucked in again. The major difference is now it’s not open warfare with Makita, more like a silent black night in the trenches, waiting for the shells to rain down. I find myself stuck with a new platoon of soldiers. I had no say in their draft; you could say they picked me. “Raw” would be the word that comes to mind for them, and I sense I don’t have much time to mold them into a useful tool. Hopefully not too many of them will die before the onslaught begins. Seijun (remember him? I told you not to be very jealous of him, now I’m back working with for him…perhaps you should be jealous?) says one or two of my team members are sociopaths. He’s probably right, but to be honest I am so much more afraid of the sociopaths in the board rooms than of these overgrown children.

Speaking of boardrooms, a new Makita XVP called Nobuda appears to be orchestrating the offense. His attack on my NDM Bank teams was reckless and impulsive, to say the least. He seems to think himself above the rules of engagement, maybe even above his CEO. If you ever hear whispers about him or his portfolio through your Parkfield Labs contacts, please discretely send it my way, for old times sake. Help me stay alive and I’ll make it worth your while the next time we meet, I promise (think chocolate sauce…).

Please give a respectful, if slightly chilly kiss on the cheek to your beautiful Rosalie, and tell your boys their auntie Suki sends all her love. Don’t work too hard and take time to enjoy your family for crying out loud!

All my love,


written on the reverse, as if forgotten

To do list:

  • destroy Nobuda
  • get CED implants for Goro and Toshiro
  • destroy NDM Bank
  • pick up dry cleaning

Zaibatsu 3: Scenic Kantai & The Accountancy Department

A big party shake up last game. One of our usual players (Bobby) was out sick last week. His son had played Kozo during Zai-brat-su week. The GM brought his son along to play Yenny again. Now Yenny and Sureji’s characters cover a lot of the same ground (similar skills and same retrogenics), so Sureji’s player decided to use his backup character Kitsune. We also had Kaito join the group. His player was on vacation when we started the game.

A man and a woman stand in the antechamber outside an interrogation room deep inside the Haruna Biolabs Special Acquisitions department. They are looking through the one-way glass at Suko Goro. He’s leaning back in his chair and smoking a cigarette.

“That guy creeps me out Greenberg.” The man says. “Look at his eyes…”

“That’s just the retrogenics.” Suki replies. “He can focus on two things at once. Makes him…”

“It’s not the fucking upgrades!” He snaps, cutting her off. “Look at him. He’s a sociopath. Your whole team is a bunch of soulless killers. Can you control these guys?”

“I can… I can direct them, sir.” She pauses for a moment. “Toshiro and Suko are the loose cannons. Sureji, Bobby, Kitsune and Yenny seem pretty with it. I don’t know enough about that new guy, Kaito. He used to be a cop, right?”

“Kicked off the squad for excessive use of force. He seemed to fit nicely with your little group of psychopaths. Watch these bastards Greenberg. I’m thinking of recommending a C. E.D. for Toshiro and Suko; implant one the next time they go in for a retrogenics upgrade. Having the option to blow their heads off if they go rogue is very appealing to me.” The man exits the antechamber. Suki takes a moment to compose herself and then enters the room with Goro.


“What’s up Suki? Another of these fucking debriefs, huh? Want a smoke?”

“Not now, thanks.”

“Suit yourself.”

“Get started.”

“Well, let me see… That ex-cop, Kaito showed up. He’s a fucking piece of work. Knows how to handle himself in a fight at least. Then there’s that Kitsune guy you brought on. What kind of a fucking name is that anyhow? ‘I’m the fox-spirit that brings meth-9 to all the good little junkies.’ Shit. I don’t know where that Kozo kid got to. Probably back to fucking grade school or something. Bobby and Sureji were taking turns clogging up the shitter after their last trip to MeatStick. I had to use the shower to take a fucking leak…”

“Uh…” She interrupts. “Start with the whole Otsu thing.”

“Right. So you found out one of your old software jockeys, that Otsu fuck, went to ground in Kantai. Dude must have been scared shitless to hide out in that fucking floating hellhole. I mean, I’d take my fucking chances with the nerve gas; just as likely to survive and probably less likely to get a fucking tumor. Anyhow, we take the tube down to the Tatsumi Wharf and I look up my old friend Mamma Chang. That old Chinese cunt sells fish on the docks and tends to know about a lot of shit what goes down around there. She tells us to look up ‘The Brothers’, Jimmy and Xiang A couple of Chinese douchebags that run a gang out in floating shantytown. Anyhow, they agree to look around and ferry our asses out for some cash.

“Instead of looking for your boy, they grab a bunch of their buddies and come back to beat us senseless. Fuckwads thought they’d try and roll the city slickers. You can guess how that went down, since I’m sitting here telling you a fucking story instead of being fish food for Mamma Chang’s next catch. Anyhow, we kept one of the fuckwits alive and got him to take us to where Otsu was hiding out. Your boy seemed pretty happy to hear you sent us. Honestly, he’d probably have been just as glad if Makita had showed up. He was in living in the bottom of an old tug boat. Thing must have been a hundred fucking years old and it was a shithole. He still got that cough?

“So while we was out in fucking Tokyo Bay, you were back at the flat combing through data; looking for pissed-off, former Makita employees. You fingered some ex-security fuckwit named Buta and told us to go pick him up. He lived over in Asakusa, right above a ‘Punch You in the Eye™’ fight club. Class joint that. Toshiro starts pressing doorbells and some dumb fuck buzzes us in. We hoof it up the combination stairwell/urinal and Yenny hacks his lock. Buta is passed out drunk, so Toshiro wakes him up with a gentle nudge and a grenade dangling in front of his face. The bastard gets with the program pretty quick and agrees to come and see you about a job.

“You explain it all once we get back. Otsu figured he could get some dirt on Nobuda if we could start work directly inside one of Makita’s buildings. Hack in from a desk terminal and he doesn’t need to cut through the ice protecting Makita’s whole network or some shit like that. We lucked out. This guy used to run physical security for Makita Accountancy Core over in Marunouchi. I always wondered what was in that that big fucking dome under the elevated rails – a fuck ton of rice counters apparently. Bastard left some backdoors in the security protocols in case he ever wanted to sell it to some fuckers like us.

“We head on over there with Buta and Otsu in tow. Sneak in pretty as you please and make it down to the accountancy level. Find Otsu a nice place to camp out and stand around while he gets to work. Dude seems to know his shit. Skates in past the initial ice nice and quiet, but then the building AI smells something funny and starts fucking with him. He starts pissing and moaning and tells us he’s in way over his head. Wants us to take out the AI so he can get at the files he needs. Server room is on the lowest level – figures – so we get down there.

“Buta is mumbling about how hard it’ll be to crack the vault, but when he enters his passcode it pops right open. Stupid fucks at Makita probably forget to deactivate his account or something. When the door opens we hear some mechanical voice warning us that we are in a restricted area. No shit. Thing’s got some kind of defenses and these robotic arms start waving around. Stupid fucking Toshiro’s reaching for a grenade when Kitsune reminds him that we can’t blow up the fucking mainframe before Otsu gets his files. ‘Fuck this.’ I think. We all pull blades and hack those robot arms to scrap while Kitsune pulls the plug on the AI.

“A couple rent-a-goons come clomping down the stairs to investigate, but we ambush them for a change. Poor bastards didn’t see it coming. We hike back up to Otsu, who’s just packing up his deck. ‘Got what I need.’ He says. No sense hanging around to admire the fucking scenery, so we beat ass out of there.

“Thought we’d made a clean getaway when these two fucking robots come rumbling through the lobby after us. We all take off running. Well, all except Toshiro who’s been itching to throw a grenade at something for days now. Stupid fucker hucks a couple at these robots and they blast at him with some sort of rapid-fire dart guns. Kitsune goes running for the car, while everybody else opens up on those robots. We spent a lot of lead, but didn’t hit much. Toshiro comes barreling through the door with one of those darts sticking out of his neck. Collapses right in front of me. I thought hard about leaving the fuckwit behind, but figured he’d probably sell me out, so I scoop him up while Kaito and Yenny cover our retreat. Took a while, but they knocked them robots out. Then it was into the car and back home.

“Anything else, or can I go get a beer?”

“Nope. If the offer’s till open, I’ll take that smoke now.”

“Sure thing. Be sure to brush your mole hair out of the way while a spark it up. Wouldn’t want your beauty mark to catch fire.”

After lighting her cigarette, Suko Goro exits the room. Suki sighs, leans back in her chair and takes a long drag from the cigarette. “That guy is such an asshole.” She mutters to herself. “A Cortical Explosive Device sounds pretty appealing to me as well…”

Review: A Ghastly Potpourri

TL/DR: Buy it.

A Ghastly Potpourri is a supplement for the A Ghastly Affair role-playing game. Written by Daniel James Hanley, it contains a collection of material that will be useful for any game set in the late 18th century. It also holds a short story by William Rutter, author of Hunter’s Song. I picked up the printed version, a 6″ by 9″ perfect-bound book.

Please bear with me, because I’m going to veer off course and talk about the title for a minute. It puzzled me. A “potpourri” is a mix of herbs and flower petals. Was it a veiled reference to personal hygiene of the 18th century? This book offers a mix of random material that all blended nicely together. Was this the reason for the title? I hopped out to Wikipedia and took a look at the definition and I saw this gem: “[…] the word pourri means rotten”. Hmmm… So like the stories told in the world of A Ghastly Affair. Dig below the surface and you will find the rot. Maybe that’s closer to the mark?

The contents of the book are certainly not rotten! Much of the material in this collection has appeared on the author’s excellent blog The Engine of Oracles. I haven’t done a side by side comparison of the content, but if you’re a cheapskate, you can probably get all the gaming material for free. I love having it all edited and collected in one place. You’ll also miss out on the short story if you pass this by!

The book starts with several character options. The chapter begins with a short section on “Bildungsroman” character creation. It’s an interesting concept, but there are no real “rules” for how to do this. An example of play would help convey this concept a little better. Next, there are suggestions on how to tweak character classes to better suit the player’s concept. It also has extensive entries for historical, literary, and movie/television inspirations for each class. Scattered throughout the chapter are interesting “sidebars” related to the various professions. As a former archaeologist, I enjoyed the “Mummy Manufacturing” one a lot.

The second chapter is all about magic. The new spells look very interesting. I’m a big fan of how the author has handled OSR magic in his game. He also discusses a couple new magic items. The chapter left me wanting more. I hope will see a Ghastly Grimoire in the future!

Chapters three and four are the monsters. There are a variety of very interesting creatures you can use to bedevil your players. I really enjoyed the “Incarnations”. You could create an intriguing, opium-laced scenario around Kubla Khan. My favorite is Saint “Punch you in the Face” Nicholas.

Chapter five collects various random tables that have appeared on The Engine of Oracles blog. These are really designed for “sandbox” adventuring or to inspire a scenario when your imagination is flagging. “Twenty Dubious Statements by Questionable Occultists” is the hands-down winner here.

The book concludes with a short story by William Rutter. Our heroine, Lila Davenport from Hunter’s Song, is taking the waters at Cheltenham spa when murder most foul ensues. Is it a jealous wife, or is there something more sinister at hand? I’m very pleased to read more about Miss Davenport’s adventures and do hope her chronicler will oblige is with more of her exploits in the future.

I highly recommend this one!

A Ghastly Potpourri is available in print and PDF at RPGNow.

Zaibatsu 2: Buntawara’s Buzz

A couple of the guys in my group brought their sons last game, so each of them ran a character. It was hard to role play a hardened gangster with a 10 year-old at the table! I made up for the lack of swearing in the synopsis below.

The video starts with a blurred image of Suko Goro rocking back and forth in a chair, taking a swig of beer.

“Quit moving around Goro.” A woman’s voice from off-camera says. “I’m having trouble with this damn camera. I’m not sending Haruna any amateur vid. “There it is.” She says, as the image comes into focus. “Start talking.”

“Ok, so we come back to your place in Kabukicho with this disc your hacker buddy Shinzo had recorded all his shit on. Now, none of us know dick about computers, so you call up this software jockey, Kozo Kanzaki, to crack the fucker for us. Anyhow, this guy shows up and he looks like he’s ten years old or something, but he undoes the encryption pretty as you please and we figure out what Shinzo was actually doing. Turns out he was researching NDM’s competitors and stumbled onto some money laundering shit. The trail starts at Makita Genetics to Wu-Ketai Industries to Norsk Cargo Lines and onto Stern Weapons Technologies.

“Now when we hear all this, we start seeing some of this shit falling into place. ‘Nobuda’ is the name we got from that hitman at The Monkey Temple. Well, it just so happens that one of the VPs at Makita Genetics is named Nobuda. I remember him on the vids from a year or so ok trying to smooth over a scandal about faulty cloned retinal transplants. Caused like 200 people to go blind or some shit. Can’t be a fucking coincidence.

“That nerve gas we found traces of in your old safe house is called Delta-8 and it was manufactured by Stern. You remember the pictures of those Chinese guerrillas what got gassed on Tau Ceti like a dozen years or so ago? Freaked the shit out of me when I was a kid. Shit’s totally illegal, but I know a guy that can get a hold of it if you need to kill someone, and his family, and his pets and all the fucking roaches in his house.

“You start making calls and land us a job at Haruna Biolabs. They’ll be pretty pleased if we can take Makita down a peg or two. They send over this suit named Yenny to act as our handler, I guess.

“Anyhow, you’re thinking that some of your old crew might have made it out of that Delta-8 deathtrap alive. You’ve got a PO box setup where they’d drop off a letter if they were still breathing. We decide to go down there and stake it out. We hire this bum to go up and open the mailbox while we watch. That Kozo kid is pretty fucking with it. He spies some douche take off while the rest of us are standing around with thumbs planted firmly in asses. No way we can catch the fuck, but Kozo figures the security cam from the Meatstick joint nearby had got his image. After a significant amount of fucking around – apparently Meatstick’s got some serious ice running – he finally scores a good picture of the runner hopping into a Kamikaze Cab.

“Meanwhile, we read the letter from the PO box and it’s a fucking ransom note for Toritaka, your old techie. Some bastard’s got him and he wants a lot of money. Said he’d offered him to Makita too, the douche.

“Toshiro’s buddy works at Kamikaze, so after Kozo tries to hack their system and fails we decide to head down and see if we can figure out where that fair got to. Fuckwit the cabby ain’t too happy to see us, but he’s happy enough to take a bribe and find out who was in the cab. Turns out the same bastard we saw on the Meatstick vid works at Kamikaze! And he comes strolling out of the shitter while we’re paying off fuckwit! He spies us and bolts, but we run the bastard down and catch him in a nearby warehouse.

“After a proper beat down, the little shit, whose name is Buntawara, tells us he’s got Toritaka back at his apartment. Guy’s a fucking amateur. Keeps going on about how he’s an investigative journalist or some shit and this is his big break. Stupid fuck is in way over his head. His flat is only a couple blocks away, so we hoof it over and head on up. Buntawara’s passed out because of his wounds by the time we get there, so Toshiro grabs him by the shirt collar and props him in front of the door while I open it with his keycard. Soon as the door opens, somebody hucks a fucking grenade right at us. Luckily, Toshiro spots it, drops the little shit right on top of it, then jumps into the room blazing away with his shotgun.

“Turns out it was Toritaka what pitched the grenade at us! It was only a flash-bang, but fuck, you see a grenade you shoot, no? Now stupid fucking Toritaka is bleeding out on the floor of Buntawara’s flat. What a clusterfuck. But whatever. Guy got what was coming to him if you ask me. Buntawara got what he deserved too. Turns out being a human shield on that stun grenade was enough to make him give up the ghost.

“We start tearing Buntawara’s flat apart, looking for anything useful, when another fucking grenade comes rolling through the door! Dumb fuck Toshiro runs over to try and kick it out into the hall and it blows up right in front of him. Guy doesn’t take a scratch! Can you fucking believe it? The gods must hate me! I catch a chunk of shrapnel and then I’m in the hall carving some ninja up. Toshiro makes sure of the job with his shotgun.

“That bastard looked like he was on his own. We decide to hang around until the cops show up to see if they’ll spill anything on the son of a bitch. All we get is he was working for Makita. No shit.

“Meanwhile, Kozo spends the time breaking into Buntawara’s computer. Turns out the guy runs a blog called Buntawara’s Buzz. Haven’t heard of it? Not surprising, I think only Filbanto Stew has fewer followers. Anyhow, this cock-knocker has got files of vid with your buddy Toritaka spilling everything he knows about Makita. Looks like Buntawara was giving him Atropine or something in exchange for all the dirt. Fucking humanitarian.

“Anyhow, we’ve probably just scratched the surface and the whole thing smells like shit. We know fuck-all about this money laundering or where your buddy Shinzo is at. We kept Haruna from paying out any ransom for that Toritaka fuck, and Makita from grabbing him so I’m calling it a win.

“Hey Freckles. Why am I doing this debrief shit? I know Toshiro is a fucking moron and you’ve got that ugly-ass mole and shit, but Sureji or Bobby could pull their own weight once in a fucking while.”

“Would you stop whining? And quit calling me Freckles.”

“Getting under your skin?”

“You’re a real asshole Goro…”

Zaibatsu 1: Who Doesn’t Bring a Frag Grenade to Dinner?

We started our Zaibatsu game last week. It was pretty awesome despite some terrible die rolling from the players. We’ve added a few house rules to our game. A major departure is armor is a lot better in our game. If you play RAW, expect to write up a new character often!

Fair warning for any of my 3 followers… If you’re concerned with foul language you might want to give this one a pass. I don’t think I quite got the F-bomb into every sentence, but it wasn’t for lack of trying!

The camera wobbles. For a moment, you catch a blurry glimpse of a woman’s hand covered in rings and then it comes into focus. The image is of a young man; maybe twenty. He looks bored, slouching in a kitchen chair. His bullet-shaped head is shaved bald, his eyes are a little too far apart and there is a gang tattoo visible on his neck. He’s big. His forearms are corded with muscle and if you know what you’re looking for you can see traces of steroid and growth hormone abuse.

“That thing on?” He asks gesturing.

“Yes.” A disembodied woman’s voice replies.

“I swear Suki, if you use this against me I am going to fucking gut you.” He snarls.

“Just get going, ok Goro?” She replies. “Take it from Takano’s…”

“Right. See we’d just finished our orientation bullshit for those fuckwads at Ellis-Itami. Toshiro’s been begging Bobby, Sureji and me to go there and telling us that his uncle owns the fucking place – seriously, fucking Takano’s! Everybody knows the Yakuza run that place. Anyhow, we’d just ordered and got some beer and shit when Sureji comes in with our first paychecks, only they ain’t paychecks. Some shit about unpaid administrative leave. Bastards laid us off, they did.

“So, Takano’s if hopping, like always, and I’m thinking, ‘How the fuck am I going to afford these fucking noodles?’ I mean I’m laying out a month’s rent for dinner and shit here. So I scope the place out looking for some easy marks. I see you and your rent-a-goons at the table next to us, this douche rockerboy and his squeeze, in a fucking poodle skirt, a bunch of day laborers and finally, these drunk corps. So I’m thinking about rolling those corp-fucks later when everybody – and I mean fucking everybody – pulls guns and opens up on you and your crew.

“We flip over our table and suddenly you’re hiding there with us. I bust a couple caps into one of those corps then take a round myself. Bobby’s spraying fucking bullets everywhere and screaming that he’s hit. Sureji’s gun gets stuck on auto and he’s blazing away at the fucking ceiling. Suddenly, Toshiro yells ‘grenade’ and hucks one into the middle of those corp goons. Stupid fuck forgets to pull the pin!

“Anyhow, everybody kind of froze for a second and I’m like, ‘Fuck this!’ I pull my katanas and me and Toshiro tear out into the room to carve some of those fuckers up. Meanwhile, Sureji picks up you and, using the fucking table for a shield, makes a run for the door with Bobby not far behind. Toshiro and I fall back too and then that dumb shit flings another grenade into the place. They ain’t gonna serve any noodles at Takano’s for a fucking long time! At least I don’t need to worry about paying for dinner…

“Hey, can I get a fucking beer or something here?”

“Ok, sheesh. You’ve had like four already. Keep going, I’ll get one.”

“So, I can hear the sirens getting near and you’re all like, ‘I’ll hire you guys to protect me, I work for NDM Bank and shit’. So we figure we’d better get moving. You say you’ve got a safe house somewhere in Kabukicho where we can hole up and Toshiro says he knows a cab driver at Kamikaze Cabs that can get us there. Turns out the fuckwit cabby is halfway across town so we started hoofing it towards the old Skytree Mall to meet him. I know a shortcut through this punk bar called The Smell. The bouncer starts giving us a hard time and I’m just about ready to bounce his fucking head against the concrete when you sweet talk him into letting us in.

“Seriously Suki, have you ever thought of getting that fucking mole taken off your face? You’d be kind of hot without that hairy-ass thing…”

A woman’s hand places a bottle of Red Dragon in front of the man. “Here’s your goddamn beer. Keep going.”

“Sure thing freckles. Anyhow, we come out by the mall and the taxi picks us up and takes us to your safe house in Kabukicho. You patch us up and we get a little shuteye. Next day, you tell us you don’t work for NDM Bank anymore and you want to figure out who’s trying to kill you and you’ll pay us and shit. Said you want to go back to your old digs in Harajuku and see if any of your crew is around or if you can find anything that may shed some light on this shit storm. Sureji is thinking that is exactly the right place to get ourselves ambushed, so we’d better be fucking careful.

“Apparently, Sureji ain’t fucking careful. We come to your old pad. Your fucking elevator opens to the kitchen of ‘The Monkey Temple’ (an Indian restaurant) for some stupid ass reason. Anyhow, we come walking in and half the cooks bolt as these two bastards pull katanas and start swinging. Don’t bring a sword to a swordfight with me fuckface! I hacked into both those assholes. Took one out and opened the other to a sucker punch from Sureji. We tied that guy up and then boarded the elevator.

“Now we all figured there’d be gunmen waiting in your apartment, so we took the lift up to the roof level. Sureji found a firehose and let it down the side of the building so we could climb on down to your balcony. When he tried to sneak open the door, those fuckwads open up on us. Luckily, we got us some armor off the assholes in the kitchen, so Toshiro and I charge in with blades while Sureji and Bobby lay down some covering fire. Didn’t take too long to take those fucks out.

“So your place had been pretty well ransacked. We all started looking around and you figured they’d gassed your old crew with some kind of nerve agent or something. That’s pretty hardcore. Looks like your hacker may have been grabbed. He was definitely doing some crazy shit… Had some recording device plugged into his deck and we found his download disk squirreled away in his fucking sock drawer. We need someone who knows tech to crack that fucker.

“Anyhow, we woke up that puke who ambushed us in the kitchen. I dangled him over your balcony until he talked, but he didn’t tell us nothing useful. Just some douche named Nobudo hired him to whack anybody who came to your pad. Since we told him we’d let him go once he talked, I obliged. The owner of that Hyundai is gonna be fucking pissed when he sees his car.

“Grab me another beer freckles?”

“Fuck you Goro, get your own damn beer. We’re done.”

Review: The Experiments

TL/DR: meh

“The Experiments” is a “one-shot” scenario for Traveller by Felbrigg Herriot. I stumbled across it on while looking for adventures that might go well with Zozer Games “Hostile“. It was described as a horror-survival scenario, so I figured it would fit the bill. My copy is a 24-page saddle-stapled book (6.5″ by 8.5”) that reminded me of the old “LBB” version of Traveller.

The premise of the scenario is the player characters have volunteered to help colonize a planet, but instead wake up in an underground facility that is rapidly flooding and crawling with monsters. It’s a cool idea, but as presented the adventure looks like a “reverse dungeon crawl”. The characters start at the bottom level of an underground facility and must fight their way to the top.

Now, I like a good dungeon crawl as well as the next goblin, but “The Experiments” doesn’t deliver one. The facility is boring – it’s basically a box full of rooms. It’s flooding, but I couldn’t find any rules or suggestions for how fast the water rises. There’s nothing preventing the characters from checking out all the rooms. There are no cool gadgets or anything that makes me think this is a high-tech complex. There is nothing gory or scary at all.

What this adventure really needs is for the author sit down and watch “The Poseidon Adventure” and then turn all the dials up to eleven. Underground complex? Screw that, this is an ocean floor facility. Is it flooding? Hell, yeah. There are also fires burning out of control, visibility is only a few meters, and the whole structure is groaning audibly under the weight of a mile of water pressing down on it. Are there monsters? Oh yes! Nasty SOBs that don’t seem to have any trouble ambushing you. There are no guns down here, you need to improvise weapons. You need to swim through a flooded chamber full of xeno-piranhas to get to the escape pods. Oh, fuck! There are no escape pods, the rat bastards who brought you down here took them all. How the heck do you get to the surface??? Did the AI just announce that the reactor is melting down?

It’s hard to pull off a survival adventure. I’ve never done it successfully myself. There’s a lot of pacing involved. As soon as the players are about to solve one problem, they should be confronted with something worse. If your group is swearing at you and threatening to play a board game next week, you are probably do it right. I do have some ideas for how I’d change this one. I may need to write this up when we play Hostile.

The Experiments is available at

Zaibatsu – The Thug List

We’re gearing up to play a little Zaibatsu in the near future. I’ll try to do a proper review after we get a game or two under our belts, but to save you time: BUY IT!!!

The player characters are below. We tweaked character generation a bit – players were given 45 points to allocate for the UPP. This makes them slightly tougher (on average) than random rolls. We also decided to play by the Cepheus rules where your stat bonus will impact the die rolls.

(TBD)     399C66 – Hustler
Skills: Broker 1, Bujutsu 0, Ground Vehicle 0, Gun Combat 0, Jujutsu 0, Karate 0, Recon 1, Streetwise 1, Urban Survival 1
Retrogenics: Inner Ear, Subdermal Pouch, Super Legs

Bobby Datsun     9C9663 – Ex-Commando, 30 years old
Skills: Bujutsu 1, Ground Vehicle 0, Gun Combat 1, Heavy Weapons 1, Jujutsu 0, Karate 0, Take Aim 1
Retrogenics: High Pain Threshold, Super Arms

Kozo Kanzaki     49CC62 – Software Jockey
Skills: Bujutsu 0, Comms 1, Computer 1, Electronics 1, Ground Vehicle 0, Gun Combat 1, Jujutsu 0, Karate 0
Retrogenics: Eidetic Memory, Micro Vision, Parabolic Hearing, Waking Sleep

Dopinder     879696 – Driver, 21 years old
Skills: Bujutsu 1, Ground Vehicle 1, Gun Combat 0, Hover Car 1, Jujutsu 1, Karate 0, Urban Survival 1
Retrogenics: Cat Eyes, Mimicry, Waking Sleep

Suki Greenberg     4569C9 – Street Surgeon, 24 years old
Skills: Broker 1, Bujutsu 0, Ground Vehicle 0, Gun Combat 0, Investigate 1, Jujutsu 0, Karate 0, Leader 1, Medicine 1, Streetwise 1
Retrogenics: Eidetic Memory, Micro Vision, Poison Fangs

Suko Goro     C9A563 – Burakumin, 20 years old
Skills: Bujutsu 1, Ground Vehicle 0, Gun Combat 1, Jujutsu 0, Karate 0, Streetwise 1, Urban Survival 1
Retrogenics: Ambidexterity, Bug Eyes

Sureji Tsuchi     99C663 – Samurai, 26 years old
Skills: Bujutsu 0, Ground Vehicle 0, Gun Combat 1, Jujutsu 0, Karate 1, Recon 1, Security 1
Retrogenics: Super Arms, Vat Grown Eyes, Wakeful Sleep

Toshiro Musashi     9CA662 – Ex-Commando, 27 years old
Skills: Bujutsu 1, Demolitions 1, Ground Vehicle 0, Gun Combat 1, Jujutsu 0, Karate 0, Take Aim 1
Retrogenics: Subdermal Armor

Review: Dust, Fog & Glowing Embers

TL/DR: Looks fascinating, but I can’t grok it.

“Dust, Fog & Glowing Embers” is a roleplaying game written by Slade Stolar and published by Scablands Press. The game was kickstarted about a year ago. I didn’t participate in the Kickstarter, but it was one of those games that I found hard to resist. The art really drew me in. The style said: “This is some pretty screwed up shit, you’ll want to give it a read.” When it became available on RPGNow, I picked up the softcover B&W version.

The basic game system is pretty easy to grasp. When a player wants to perform a task, he rolls two different colored D6. The light-colored die is the difficulty of the task. The dark-colored die is how well the character performed the task. There are modifiers thrown in as well.

Ok, now we get to the confusing part… Depending on which die comes out on top, the GM or the player gets to add a “detail” to the scene. There are hard details, soft details, and scene details. The number and type you get to add depends upon the difference between the die results. There’s a little table you’ll need to refer to in order to figure this out (I’m too old to memorize stuff like this). So what are the details? There are examples, they provide bonuses or penalties, but I just can’t wrap my head around it… My feeling is this is a game that you need to sit down and play with someone who is already familiar with the rules in order to really understand it. Alternately, I’m just reading way too much into it… As a GM, I make stuff like this up on the fly when characters fail their rolls. Maybe it is the codification of the success or failure into these various “levels” that I can’t grok?

The character creation rules are dead simple. You pick an archetype and that determines your attributes. The attributes are Tough (strength), Precise (dexterity) and Clever (intelligence). Characters are assumed to come from the bottom rung of society. The only way to advance is to find a rich and powerful patron who employs you to do his dirty work, so once the players have created their characters, they work out the manner of patron they serve. There is a lot of player agency here. You’ll need a creative bunch to get this to work.

Next, come rules for alchemy or the “Spagyric Arts“. Your patron will provide your character with various concoctions that allow them to defy the laws of physics. These potions really “buff” your character and it is assumed that you can squirrel away a few to use when pursuing your own goals. There is also a chapter on the humors and how they relate to your character. I’m a total sucker for any game that includes humorism and enjoyed seeing how this quackery is incorporated into the rules.

After this, are chapters on the game world (it strikes me as a late Georgian or early Victorian era) and the city of Stome where adventures will take place. The districts of Stome are sketched out and there are random encounter tables for each. A chapter on the foes your characters may run into follows. There are some very cool takes on traditional monsters, like the Vampire, and how they fit into this world.

Next, we have what I’ll call “chapters on random stuff” – a couple noble houses are described, Systems of Thought (which appear to be a real “loosey goosey” magic system) and an entirely new Spagyric Art.  I think that these were authored by people who kickstarted the game. They are not incorporated into the main rules and feel more like a bunch of notes that were “tacked on”.

The game ends with a chapter on GM guidance and a scripted example of play. This helps you understand a bit more on how to use the various “details”, but it didn’t bring me full enlightenment on how it all works. I think a scene with some combat would have helped me a lot.

Honestly, “Dust, Fog & Glowing Embers” doesn’t feel like a polished roleplaying game, as much as the author’s notes or rough draft. Those “random stuff” chapters should either be incorporated into the game as a whole or excised completely. I’d like more discussion on how to use the system – what the “details” are, what is hard versus soft versus scene (and why do we even need “scene” details?). What the heck are “scars”? Finally, I would have loved to have a sample adventure. Even if I don’t use it “as is”, it’d sure help me figure out what kinds of things characters should be doing in this world.

Overall, I’m glad I picked it up. It exudes atmosphere and I will mine it for ideas for other games. I don’t understand the system well enough to run it and I don’t think it’d go over well with my game group.

“Dust, Fog & Glowing Embers” is available at RPGNow.