Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Swag

Here is the Christmas Swag countdown so far for 2013:

GURPS for Dummies.  
Actually, it looks to be a pretty cool book for GURPS 4th edition. 

GURPS Vikings
It's for 3rd edition, but GURPS sourcebooks transcend time and space.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Art of the Animated Series
Completely awesome art book!

Fairytale Fantasies Calandar
I'm a big fan of both artists.

Doctor Who T-Shirt
'Nuff Said! 

Homemade Miniature Zen Garden
Very cool and portable.  AUM. 

A House
That's right.  We bought a house in another city and moved last week.
Packing sucks, Moving sucks, unpacking sucks, but new house - cool!

There are some other really cool presents - but they are still packed and I have no idea which boxes they are in.

- Ark

Friday, December 13, 2013

Holy Dyvers, Batman

The one that got away?
I think most of the RPG Blogoverse - at least the OSRish types - have heard about this, but just in case . . .

Charles Akins over at the Dyvers blog has been assembling a big-ass gaming blog list called the The Great Blog Roll Call.  It's great for people, like me, who are miserable failures at keeping up with their own blog rolls.  He's got nifty little blurbs about each blog and links. Okay, these blurbs are actually good sized and indicate he's actually read the blogs in question.

FYI, 'Dyvers' appears to refer to some city near Nyr Dyv (if you remember that little pond,) and not any particular DIO albums.  But who knows.  It could refer to both!

So yeah, anyway, go over there and browse.  There some good stuff you probably have not heard of - or forgot about long ago and shouldn't have.

- Ark

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Little Star Catalog

Is the French Arm giving the American Arm the finger?
I remember really digging the original Traveller's subsector maps until I got to the Solomani supplement.  It became all too obvious that Traveller's space was two dimensional and just horribly, horrible wrong.  Of course, players never cared, but it bugged the heck out of me.

Star Frontiers wasn't any better, so I remapped THAT universe into 3D - just because.

Then Traveller: 2300 came out, containing a glorious map of the REAL local space.  Besides the map, it came with a distilled version of Gliese Near Star Catalog - version 2 - in a nifty little booklet.  I sat and mapped stars for days with that booklet, a pencil, and graph paper.  I loved it, and that booklet stayed with me much longer than the game ever did.

In the 90s, I found digitized versions of the Gliese Catalog and others - including the Yale Bright Star Catalog.  There was a very nifty BBS in North Texas back then run by amateur astronomers - and it was glorious.  There was a simple spreadsheet program in the Microsoft Works package, and I set about trying to map the galaxy.

Hipparchos parallax - accurate to ONLY 1600 light years.
Running the numbers, I realized Douglas Adams was right.  Space is fucking huge.  Light travels at a snail's pace.  And, for all their nifty telescopes and sciency shit, astronomers are just guessing at the distances of the stars.  BIG guesses.  Most of the stars that we can see are very, very local - in galactic terms.

A much more comprehensive survey came out - the Hipparcos Catalog.  It was so big my computer couldn't grok it.  I sighed and stepped away from star mapping for a while.

By the time I had regained my interest and could afford a faster computer, I ran into Winchell Chung's web page.  Beside's defining the look and feel of Steve Jackson's OGRE back in the mid 1970s, Winchell Chung is also a star mapping freak of the highest caliber. He's got so much about star mapping on his site - it boggles the mind.  Because of his work in this field, he remains one of my favorite people in the universe - even though I've never communicated with him.  Talk about stalky. :)

So much of the work was already done for me on the site that, well, I got lazy.  Any time I'd want to know information - distances - whatnot - I'd just hit the site.  But this year - after delving back into GURPS, I got hungry for star mapping again - BIG star mapping.  It dawned on me that I have been doing database work as a career for almost 20 years now, slicing and dicing huge wads of data in the blink of an eye.  The stellar data, by comparison to bank transactions, is relatively small.  So I pulled in the data and it was glorious fun.

I present to you, without further ado, the Arkhein Derived Catalog (Simplified.)  Please note, this data is not accurate enough for astrogation purposes.  Black holes are not charted.  Your mileage may vary.

ArkheinDerivedCatalogSimplified.csv contains 18,729 star systems within a 135 parsec cube centered on Sol.  It is derived from The HYG Database (a dataset derived from Hipparcos, Yale, and Gliese,) the HabCat Dataset (from Jill Tarter and Margaret Turnbull - a list of systems that might contain a habitable planet) and data from the NASA Exoplanet Archive as of September 22, 2013.

This simplified version I'm putting out for public comsumption is rather slim - with the following columns:

ADCID Arkhein Catalog Derived ID # for my own tracking.
HIP The Hipparcos Catalog Number.
CommonName Of all the names of the system, my own, personal favorite.
Distance In parsecs from Sol.
AbsMag A sciencey brightness thingy.
Spectrum The Hertzsprung-Russell classification.
ColorIndex A sceincey color thingy.
Xg Cartesian coordinates based on a Galactic orientation.
Yg Cartesian coordinates based on a Galactic orientation.
Zg Cartesian coordinates based on a Galactic orientation.
HAB SETI watch candidae per Tarter/Turnbull.
pl_hostname System name per NASA Exoplanet Archive.
pl_pnum Number of verified exoplanets, per NASA.

Part of the reasoning behind the cubic shape of the data is to organize the stars into cubes.  Though not in the simplified dataset, I have everything in this 135 parsec wide cube sliced up, identified, and named.  I may publicize this later, as I tried to make it as neutral as possible, naming each unit after the brightest star in the area.

The hierarchy is as follows:

Width (parsecs) Cubic Parsecs Comprised of . . .
Subsector 5 125
Sector 15 3375 27 Subsectors
Region 45 91125 27 Sectors

Thus, the 135 parsec area is made up of 27 Regions, 729 Sectors, and 19,683 Subsectors.  A huge amount of space, yes, but easily slice and diced with a database.

The naming convention of the areas results in Sol being located in . . .

Subsector: Sirius
Sector: Vega
Region: Aldebaran

. . . which seems pretty neat to me.

I've got some ad hoc calculations to randomly (but logically) determine human habitable systems from all of this data.  I get about 520 planets with complex life on them out of the entire area.  A lot more planets with single cell life, but those are far less interesting. :)

So there it is - my life's work.  Yay.  It will all go toward a GURPS: Space campaign one day.  Please let me know if you have any questions or are interested in seeing any of the additional data.

- Ark

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gods - Not Officers, Cash, nor Tom

Due to the winter storm that turned North Texas into an skating rink, I had some time to work on a piece for Gorgonmilk's Petty Gods project.  Everybody - this is Galishma.  Galishma - this is everybody.  Galishma is the goddess of the darkness under bridges and the disposing of murdered bodies, so I hear.  And maybe ice cream.

I've been drawing a lot for the last few months - but nothing for public consumption.  Lots of work on structure.  A lot less fun than churning out goddesses, but really, really needed.  A site called Pencil Kings has a great month long (free) figure drawing course by an artist called Sycra, and I recommend it highly.

Since I've been working in pencil and paper exclusively, I was a bit nervous to jump back into digital - but I needed to since I don't ink in the real universe yet.  I think the dread was more about Photoshop than anything else, so on a whim, I tried out Autodesk Sketchbook Pro.  I like it a lot.

Sketchbook makes it very clear why Photoshop is named Photoshop - it's for photos first, not for drawing.  Sketchbook is for sketching (duh) and drawing.  Painting too.  The image above is the first picture I've drawn with the program - and I'm pretty impressed.  The brushes are all easy to use and flow smoothly.  I can draw straight lines and shapes without a lot of clicking and button holding.  Everything related to drawing is just a heck of a lot easier.

I still prefer Photoshop's canvas rotating - it's much more smooth than Sketchbook's.  And Sketchbook seems to chew up a lot more memory than I think it should - but still nothing compared to Photoshop.  And, of course, all your fancy filters are not available.  But you can save files in *.PSD format to do Photoshop fiddling with your layers intact.

So maybe over Christmas break I can finish Galishma, and that will be drawing #6 for the book.  Yay!

- Ark

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Succubus Climax

THE Mata Hari.
The GURPS horror game is going along well.  Last night, we finished the second chapter - The Haunting of Pamphelgoat Manor - and arrived at an unexpected ending.

Expected endings are so passé, don't you think?

Our intrepid group of monster hunters found themselves in an abandoned orphanage/tuberculosis sanatorium in the highlands of Scotland, trying to find the evil cultists who were performing a ritual to crack the boundary between the world of the living and the dead and raise and army of spectral minions to disrupt Lord Fortescue-Smyth's daughter's debutante ball and masquerade party.  Long story, I know.

So, the evil cultists were on the roof performing the ceremony in their nefarious black robes, all chanting around their magic circle.  The players were having a heck of a time getting up to the roof from the fourth floor.  Suddenly, the party's resident matahari, a Brazilian femme fatale named Esmeralda Cabala, found a dumb waiter that lead up to the roof, and hoisted herself up - after splitting herself from the rest of the party, of course.

The rest of the party was either busy trying to get up on the roof or draining the blood from evil cultists.  That would be the resident vampire, Lilith, who had spent most of the adventure exsanguinating various chauffeurs, maids, and a large Cleavland Bay horse used for fox-hunts.  I'm not sure why so many of the players want to be monsters themselves - but they do.

So, anyway, Miss Esmeralda saw that The Boy's character, Louis Feng, had gotten up to the roof and was kung-fuing some of the cultist guards, but not getting very far.  Esmerelda then decided that it was up to her to stop the evil ritual - despite her complete lack of combat ability.

Instead, her plan was to strip butt-nekkid, sneak into the middle of the magic circle, convince the cultists that she was a succubus from hell, and distract them with her feminine wiles.  Okay, yeah, sounds crazy.  However, her attractiveness rating is through the roof, so it didn't seem completely impossible.  Well, until she COMPLETELY blew her rolls.

One of the cultists drew a wicked knife to dispatch poor, nekkid Esmerelda.  She whipped out her knife.  Don't ask were she was keeping it.  She attacked the cultist and . . . CRITICALLY FAILED the attack.


So, she, inside of a highly charged magic circle, drew her OWN blood.  Even a muggle could figure out nothing good would come out of that.

The party's magic user, who had fought off the onslaught of a group of mind-controlling ghosts, decided to toss an exploding fireball into the fray.  Now, there are two things to keep in mind . . .

  1. The magic user is actually the half-demon son of LORD IBLIS.
  2. The magic user, who was out of fatigue points, had to burn his own hit points to pull the spell off.

Yeah.  Demon blood magic going off near a corrupted, blood-tainted magic circle.

So the exploding fireball hit the center of the magic circle PERFECTLY, blasting Esmerelda unconscious and frying the chanting cultists into lifeless husks.  It took me a few seconds to piece together what would happen.

Just before the fireball exploded, the Detective character got up to the roof and shot the Evil High Priest dead with a gun.  What he saw was an bright explosion centered on the magic circle - followed by the after-image of something huge - giant - winged - horned - stepping out of some sort of fissure.  Then it was gone.

Running to the fallen form of Miss Esmeralda, they found her alive, but somewhat red, with vestigial bumps on her forehead, tiny wings on her back, and the beginning of what only could be a barbed tail near her rear end.  I mean, after all, her desire upon entering the circle had been to be perceived as a sexy demon lady - so it only made sense that the ritual followed her desire.

Of course, I left it up to the PC, but yeah, she decided to go ahead and have Esmerelda become a succubus.She actually seemed excited about the prospect. :)

The next game session should be quite interesting, indeed.  So, we've got a vampire, and now a succubus.  Oh, the half-demon's player got bored with his character and is making a werewolf.  The party better invest in some flea dip.

- Ark

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Haunting of Pamphelgoat Manor

Yesterday we started on the second chapter of the Directorate of Esoteric Affairs campaign.  The Limehouse Chinatown chapter was all urban, foggy, and wet.  The Haunting of Pamphelgoat Manor, as a contrast, takes place on the Scottish moors in the middle of a December snowstorm.

First off - I have no idea what a Pamphelgoat is.  While perusing Scotland in Google Earth, I stumbled across Pamphelgoat Wood and fell in love with the name.  Research into the word came up with nothing, but my first instinct was something to do with evil, Satanic rituals.  Of course.  So I went with it and the adventure just kind of wrote itself.

(Now watch as some blog poster lets me know that Pamphelgoat is some Gaelic name for the Christ-child's talking animal friend at the Nativity, completely messing up the adventure.)

Anyway, the players, and their characters, are nervously researching Baphomet now.   They don't seem thrilled with the idea of meeting old Baphy. :)

On a mechanics note, I am still quite happy with the performance of GURPS Fourth Edition.  Yeah, staring the big book in the eye can be intimidating, but once you nail down a genre, a tech level, and some campaign boundaries, it's easy.  The players are only four session into GURPS, and they are working away on their characters like old pros.  Heck, the biggest problem for the players seems to be figuring out how to do research in 1935 without the Internet. :)

I'm using the Bear Wood Mansion in Berkshire as a model for Pamphelgoat Manor.  The thing is huge.  Take a gander at the floor plans down there.  It's a college nowadays.

- Ark

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Limehouse Notes

(This is a little exercise in game planning archaeology.  Below in black are the notes, verbatim, that I wrote out for myself before the three session adventure started.  Things that I clarified, added, or changed during the adventure are in red.  See the previous post, A Limehouse Tale: GURPS Horror Noir in London's Chinatown, for an intro.)

A Limehouse Tale

Dramatis Personae

Beornsson, Captain Jan – the captain and owner of the steamer Loki, a tramp steamer that frequents the Baltic, North Sea and English Channel area. (Who I ended up describing as a Swedish Captain Okita with a sing-songy voice.)
Carlise, Constable Clarence – a foot constable in the Metropolitan Police who works in the Limehouse district. (This poor man was forced to be the PCs lackey and was shanghaied into cleaning up all of the PCs' messes inside Limehouse.  The PCs rewarded Constable Carlise by getting him reassigned to the Directorate of Esoteric Affairs so he could continue to be their lackey.  It was almost impossible to NOT call him Constable Clitoris, but somehow I avoided it.)
Feng, Doctor Cornelius – Father of Maximumus and owner of the Golden Lotus Health Clinic.  (This unassuming, kind man was the leader of the local tong, and single-handedly stopped the gang war that erupted while the PCs were busy fighting the undead.)
Feng, Maximus – Dr. Cornelius Feng’s son and assistant at the Golden Lotus Health Clinic. (Maximus was the boyfriend of the murder victim, Mei Ling, and later assassinated her uncle Henry Ling after she was found murderer, initiating the gang war.)
Jewel, Billy – Foreman of the Limehouse London Underground construction crews.  He’s staying at the Rasmussen Hotel. (A wee, Irish, red haired Leprechaun of a man.  I got SERIOUSLY called out on his name.)
Ling, Henry – Owner of the Green Plummage Tiger Nightclub and head of the Broken Dog Triad in Limehouse.  He’s a fat man who likes cigars. (The PCs never got around talking to him before he was murdered.  Some of them did hang out at his nightclub and saw him, though)
Ling, Jiang – Mother of Mei Ling.  She sells trinkets at the Ling Butcher shop. (The true villain of the story, I eventually came up with the nickname 'The Dragonlady' for her to obscure who she actually was from the PCs for a s long as possible.)
Ling, Mei – A sixteen year old Chinese girl living in the Limehouse district of London.  She had an affinity for the French and Christianity.  (Poor girl - murdered by a Chinese Zombie controlled by her mother before the story even started.)
Ling, Zane – Father of Mei Ling and owner of the Ling Butcher Shop.  ('THE BUTCHER OF LIMEHOUSE' was, or course, innocent of any crime.)
Rasmussen, Ingrid – wife of the owner of the Rasmussen Hotel, a run-down inn near the edge of Limehouse Chinatown.  (This prime and proper old lady turned out to be a complete klepto, stealing anything from her customers that she could get her hands on, and even going so far as to steal evidence off a dead teenage girl.)
Salisbury, Margaret – Commander Watson’s secretary and chief contact for the player characters. (The group communicated to her only by TARDIS, er, I mean, big blue police box.)
Wang, Rufus – A Chinese monk who runs the Ashen Lion temple. (Rufus turned out to be the only Chinatown native that the PCs trusted, which was good, because he was a wealth of information on spooky things.)
Watson, Commander Quentin – the player character’s handler and an administrator in the Directorate of Esoteric Affairs.  (Completely absent from the game - just a name, really.)

Introduction – Gun Lane Traffic
The characters get an assignment to investigate a murder in Limehouse from Commander Quentin Watson.  Traffic holds up the characters, who have to get out of the paddy wagon and walk a block, seeing the sights.  It is a drizzly day, full of fog and smog, with stalled traffic due to noisy construction of a new London Underground line.  Nearby they see a blue police box, and beyond that, the Rasmussen Hotel.  Constable Clarence Carlisle of the Metropolitan Police is there to meet them, believing they are with the Special Branch. (Again, the poor constable had no idea what he was getting into.)

First Stop - Rasmussen Hotel on Limehouse Corner
·        The front of the hotel is blocked off due to construction, so the group must enter from the alley.  Constable Clarence Carlisle shows them to the room and explains what he knows.
·        Inside room 114, Mei Ling, a 16 year old Chinese girl is in bed, dead, with a horrified look on her face and a green, decaying hand clenched around her throat.  Rigor Mortis has set in, and the top part of her body is pale.
·        The constable indicates Ingrid Rasmussen, the wife of the owner, as a witness.  Ingrid heard strange noises around 5:00 am that morning in the hall, but did not see anything when she investigated.  Mei Lei was not discovered until it was time to check out, at 11:30 am. (This is a partial lie.  Ingrid investigated around 5:15 am, found Mei dead, and stole her jade necklace.)
·        None of the rooms around 114 were rented, as few are staying at the Hotel Rasmussen while all of the construction is happening.  (In fact, only the upper floors are really occupied, and they are occupied by longer term tenants, which are all Underground workers.)
·        There is mushy, cooked rice around the doorway and on the floor near the window.  A lot of it has been walked on and tracked around.  There is a paperboard oyster pail of cold white rice on the nightstand.  On the Box is written ‘The Happy Eel.’    The Constable knows that it’s a restaurant on Ropemaker’s Field Street.  (Mei asked Maximus for rice to protect her against her mother's evil magic, and he picked up some stemaed rice, not knowing it needed to be uncooked.)
·        On the nightstand is a Gideon’s Bible.  Two tickets mark a page, and a passage, Zechariah 14:12, is underlined: ‘This will be the plague the Lord strikes all people with who warred against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.’  (This freaked out the players more then anything else.)
·        The two tickets are for passage on the Swedish steamer Loki, departing that evening.  The Loki is at the Lime-Kiln Dock, off of Lime House Corner Street and South of the Fore Street. (Rufus bought the tickets for the kids.)
·        An ashtray on a table has two different cigarettes – the French Gauloises with lipstick stains, and the luxury cigarette Dunhill without.  Near the ashtray is a pack of matches with an endorsement for the Green Plumage Tiger Nightclub on Fore Street.  (Mei was a Francophile, despite her mother's objections and desires for her to be a proper Chinese lady.)
·        Three suitcases are under the bed, filled with clothes, cosmetics, French books, and two packs of Gauloises, money to the value of about 100 dollars, and a passport for Mei Ling, listing her address on Fore Street.  The books (by Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Gaston Leroux) are stamped with the King George Book Shop inside each cover.  There is a duffle bag with men’s clothes as well.  (These were pulled out by Ingrid and she had started to go through them, but she didn't get very far as other guests were beginning to wake up.)

Follow-Up Locations
1.     The Happy Eel – a Chinese restaurant of Ropermaker’s Street.  Lady at the Happy Eels says that a man came in an ordered the rice.  She knows him as Maximus Feng, Dr. Cornelius Feng’s son.  He bought the rice around 9:00pm.  (The party never made it here.)
2.     The Loki – a Swedish steamer located at the Lime-Kiln dock.  The Captain, Jan Beornsson, sold the tickets 3 days ago to a man known as Rufus Wang and has his address listed in the records.  While not spelled out on the tickets, they are for passage to the port of Calais, France.  (The party also met Erik Eriksson here, the first mate and keeper of THE BOOK OF RECORDS.)
3.     The Green Plumage Tiger Nightclub – a Chinese nightclub servicing sailors down of Fore Street.  Mei Ling works as a waitress there, and Maximus Feng used to visit her there.  The place is owned by Mei’s uncle Henry Ling, head of the Broken Dog Triad in Limehouse.  He knows that the two had been seeing each other, and he ran Maximus off from her with triad violence.  Mei did not show up for work last night, and Henry is upset with her.  (Only a few party members showed up here, and no real investigation happened.  They did meet a flirtatious opium addict here named Eddie Chan.  One of the women in the party lifted his wallet, and used his ID to latter frame Eddie for numerous crimes.)
4.     King George Book Shop – This is a dusty old used book store on Ropemaker’s Street.  The proprietress, and French woman, has known Mei Ling since she was a little girl and helped her procure many books in French.  (The party never came here.)
5.     Mei Ling’s Address – Mei lives with her parents at the Ling Butcher Shop in a small alley off of Fore Street.  Her father is Zane Ling, and her mother is Jiang Ling.  Zane does not know that Mei is dead , but knows from his brother that she had been seeing Maximus.  (The party never actually went inside of this place, being distracted by the crumbling old opera house next door.)

Tertiary Locations
1.     Golden Lotus Health Clinic –  A nice, clean health clinic along Ropemaker’s Street.  It’s run by Dr. Cornelius Feng and his son Maximus.  Dr. Cornelius went to medical school in Edinborough, but is also well versed in traditional Chinese medicine.  He has made an agreement with Billy Jewel to collect any Chinese coffins discovered during the excavations, lock them up in a safe place, and let the Doctor and Mr Rufus Wang know so he can arrange their transport back to China.  He knows that Maximus had been seeing Mei Ling, but forbade the relationship as the Ling family was mixed up in organized crime and black magic.  Maximus acts as assistant and secretary at the clinic.  Maximus is there and he has the remnants of a black eye, around a week old.  (Actually, the players arrived here somewhat late, so they never got to see Maximus - who had left for the Loki after work.  They did talk to Cornelius and two party members were treated by him for wounds they received in an alley by Triad Blue Lanterns, but Cornelius didn't like the group very much and they did little to warm him up to them.)
2.     Ashen Lion Temple – a small temple on Ropemaker’s Street run by Mr. Rufus Wang.  Mr. Wang mixes Buddhism, traditional Tao philosophies, and Christianity in his teachings.  He bought the tickets to Calais for Maximus and Mei, as he thinks that Mei’s parents are dangerous to her and supports and elopement.  He is a good friend of Dr. Cornelius, but feels that helping the kids is the right thing to do.  He also has been working with Dr. Cornelius and Billy Jewel to prepare and transport Chinese corpses back to the homeland so that they can rest in peace.  He has coffins in the back of the temple.  He knows some magic and can create paper scroll spells to stop Jiangshi from moving.  (The players really liked Rufus and were respectful of the temple, and in turn he was very kind and eventually spilled the beans about everything.  He allowed them access to his library and made a scroll for them - but only one - since it took two hours to produce.)
3.     London Underground Construction Site – The main entrance to this site is near the Rasmussen Hotel.  Billy Jewel, the Foreman, is staying at the hotel, but has some underground work areas as well.  He shows the PCs to a room where he has been storing dead Chinese bodies, but the bodies are gone and the locks have been broken. (The players made it here with Billy and found a Qin dynasty burial hat in the foot of water that had been accumulating in the tunnels.)
4.     Ancient Catacombs – these old tunnels are underneath the Ling Butcher Shop, and can be gotten through the trap door underneath Jiang Ling’s Trinket stand.  The tunnels lead all the way to Hotel Rasmussen and the construction site.  Jiang Ling stole several old Chinese corpses from the construction site to create her Jiangshi, in order to kill her daughter who she knew was about to embarrass the family.  (The Ancient Catacombs never went into play - mainly because I decided early on to avoid a D&D dungeon crawl feel, and instead have the grande finale elsewhere - namely the Limehouse Opera House.)
5.     The Limehouse Opera House – I decided early on that I wanted a bigger ending, so whipped up the old, decaying, boarded-up Limehouse Opera House right next to the Ling Butcher Shop.  Jiang Ling and some of her Triad Lackeys had set up shop there, keeping their five Jiangshi in a freshly dug out pit - dug out in the old orchestra pit.  This set up enabled them to release the Jiangshi through the underground tunnels to kill people that upset the Dragonlady - namely her daughter.  The final showdown happened here, with the PCs killing of the Jiangshi and the Triad members, and capturing the Dragonlady, Jiang Ling.  I named her Jiang as it sounded just like part of the zombie name, Jiangshi.  The boy actually noticed and commented on that - which made me proud.  

In the end, the party didn't piece together the real motive, which was that the Dragonlady hated her brother-in-law, so she killed her own daughter, convinced Maximus that Henry had done it, and then convinced Maximus to kill Henry in revenge.  The story did eventually come out in post-game interrogations of Jiang and Maximus.  But they got very close and solved the crime and destroyed the evil by burning down the Opera House.  Yay fire!

Dangerous Things

Blue Lanterns
"Blue Lanterns" are uninitiated members of a Triad, equivalent to Mafia associates and, as such; do not have a designation in the Triad numbering system.  They are also known as “Blue Paper Lanterns.”
30 points.
ST 10; DX 10; IQ 10; HT 10.
Damage 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lbs.; HP 10; Will 10; Per 10; FP 10.
Basic Speed 5.00; Basic Move 5; Dodge 8.
Cultural Familiarity: Chinatown (Native) [0].
Language: Mandarin (Native) [0]; English (Accented) [4].
Wealth: Poor [-15].
Advantages: No Other.
Disadvantages: No Other.
Area Knowledge (London)-12 [3]; Brawling-12 [4]; Carousing-10 [1];
Filch-10 [2]; Holdout-10 [2]; Intimidation-12 [8];
Melee Weapon (Knife)-12 [4]; Melee Weapon (Shortsword)-12 [8]; Running-10 [2]; Stealth-10 [2]; Streetwise-10 [2];
Thrown Weapon (Knife)-10 [1]; Urban Survival-10 [2].
DR 0.
Brawling 9 (6 vs weapons other than thrusting);
Melee Weapon (Large Knife) 8;
Melee Weapon (Baton) 9.
Brawling (Punch) 12/1d-2 cr;
Brawling (Kick) 10/1d-1 cr;
Melee Weapon (Large Knife Swinging) 12/1d-1 cut;
Melee Weapon (Baton Swinging) 12/1d cr;
Melee Weapon (Baton Swinging) 12/1d cr;
Thrown Weapon (Dagger) 10/1d-3 imp.

A "49er" is a soldier or rank-and-file member in a Triad.  These soldiers have sworn an oath to protect the triad and its members with their lives.
50 points.
ST 10; DX 11 [20]; IQ 10; HT 10.
Damage 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lbs.; HP 10; Will 10; Per 10; FP 10.
Basic Speed 5.25; Basic Move 5; Dodge 8.
Cultural Familiarity: Chinatown (Native) [0].
Language: Mandarin (Native) [0]; English (Accented) [4].
Wealth: Struggling [-10].
Advantages: No Other.
Code of Honor (36 Oaths) [-5]; Social Stigma (Criminal Record) [-5];
Quirks [-5].
Area Knowledge (London)-12 [3]; Carousing-10 [1];
Driving/TL6 (Automobile)-10 [1]; Fast-Talk-10 [1]; Filch-10 [1];
Holdout-10 [2]; Intimidation-12 [8]; Karate-13 [8];
Melee Weapon (Knife)-12 [2]; Melee Weapon (Shortsword)-13 [8]; Observation-10 [2]; Running-10 [2]; Shadowing-10 [2]; Stealth-11 [2]; Streetwise-11 [4]; Thrown Weapon.(Knife)-12 [2]; Urban Survival-10 [2].
DR 1 (cloth/leather, except head).
Karate 9;
Melee Weapon (Large Knife) 8;
Melee Weapon (Baton) 9.
Karate Punch 13/1d cr;
Karate Kick 11/1d+1 cr;
Melee Weapon (Large Knife Swinging) 12/1d-1 cut;
Melee Weapon (Baton Swinging) 13/1d cr;

Thrown Weapon (Dagger) 12/1d-3 imp.

Red Pole
"426" refers to an enforcer or military commander in a Triad, also known as a "Red Pole.”  They are charged with overseeing defensive and offensive operations that Blue lanterns and 49ers carry out.
88 points.
ST 11 [10]; DX 11 [20]; IQ 11 [20]; HT 11 [10].
Damage 1d-1/1d+1; BL 24 lbs.; HP 14 [6]; Will 11; Per 12 [5]; FP 11.
Basic Speed 5.50; Basic Move 5; Dodge 8.
Cultural Familiarity: Chinatown (Native) [0].
Language: Mandarin (Native) [0]; English (Accented) [4].
Wealth: Average [0].
Advantages: No Other.
Code of Honor (36 Oaths) [-5]; Social Stigma (Criminal Record) [-5];
Enemy (Police, Watcher, Fairly Often) [-5]; Other Disadvantages [-29].
Area Knowledge (London)-12 [1]; Carousing-11 [1];
Driving/TL6 (Automobile)-11 [2]; Fast-Draw (Pistol)-11 [1]; Fast-Talk-12 [4]; Guns/TL6 (Pistol)-13 [4]; Interrogation-12 [4]; Intimidation-13 [8];
Karate-13 [12]; Leadership-11 [2]; Melee Weapon (Knife)-12 [2];
Melee Weapon (Shortsword)-13 [8]; Running-14 [2]; Stealth-11 [2]; Streetwise-12 [4].
DR 1 (cloth/leather, except head).
Karate 9;
Melee Weapon (Large Knife) 8;
Melee Weapon (Baton) 9.
Karate Punch 13/1d+1 cr;
Karate Kick 11/1d+2 cr;
Guns/TL6 (Revolver, .38) 13/2d-1 pi Rcl 2;
Melee Weapon (Large Knife Swinging) 12/1d cut;
Melee Weapon (Baton Swinging) 13/1d+1 cr.

Limehouse Jiangshi
A hopping vampire or zombie of Chinese folklore.
99 points.
ST 20 [100]; DX 10 [0]; IQ 10 [0]; HT 10 [0].
Damage 2d-1/3d+2; BL 80 lbs.; HP 14 [8]; Will 10; Per 13 [15]; FP 10.
Basic Speed 5; Basic Move 4 [-5]; Dodge 8.
Cultural Familiarity: Chinatown (Native) [0].
Language: Mandarin (Native) [0]; English (Accented) [4].
Wealth: Average [0]
Claws (Talons) [8];  Detect (Breath) [10]; Doesn’t Breathe [20];
Extra Arms (Tongue, Extra-Flexible) [15];
Immunity to Metabolic Hazards [30];
Injury Tolerance (Unliving) [20] pg 380;
Night Vision 5 [5]; Unaging [15];
Unkillable 2 (Achilles’ Heel: Fire and Virgin Male Urine, -50%) [50];
Vampiric Bite [30].
Compulsive Behavior (6) (Count small objects) [-10],
Dependency (Coffin with soil of homeland; Daily) [-60];
Draining (Human Chi; Illegal) [-5];
Dread (Consecrated Incense) [-5]; Dread (Salt) [-5];
Nocturnal [-20]; Social Stigma (Monster) [-15];
Supernatural Features (No Body Heat*, Pallor*) [-10];
Uncontrollable Appetite (12) (Human Blood) [-15];
Unhealing (Partial) [-20];
Unnatural Features (Greenish-white hair; Long fingernails) [-2];
Weakness (Sunlight; 1d/minute) [-60].
Skills: Brawling-10 [1].
DR 0.
Parry: Brawling 8
Attack: Brawling Claw 10/2d-1 cut/imp.

Jiangshi Lore

(The players discovered the following information in Rufus' library, although some of it is inaccurate to the actual jiangshi that they encountered.)

Lore: Like Western folklore of vampires, Jiang Shi can arise when a person dies from suicide or through a violent death, such as murder. Also, if the proper burial rituals aren't performed then the deceased may arise as a Jiang Shi as well.

A Jiang Shi hunts by hopping with its arms outstretched due to the stiffness of being dead. Because of such, Jiang Shi have been given the nickname of 'hopping corpses'.

The longer a Jiang Shi lives, the more powerful it becomes. The Jiang Shi also goes through a form of metamorphoses in which in its final form appears covered in white hair, gains the powers of flight and shape-shifting, and has incredible strength.

Powers: Jiang Shi possess supernatural strength, virtual immortality, and in its final metamorphoses can fly and shape-shift.

Defense Against Jiang Shi: Jiang Shi are blind and track their prey by their breath. Holding one's breath may provide protection from a Jiang Shi. Also, Jiang Shi cannot cross running water. Since Jiang Shi are nocturnal creatures, travel by night is best avoided. Garlic and salt repel the creature. Sprinkling magnetic sand, rice, or red beans will prevent a barrier in which they cannot cross. A broom can also be used to drive the monster away. The urine of a male virgin will burn the vampire as if it was acid, much akin to the Western use of holy water to repel vampires. Taoist & Buddhist priests can also provide protection by the creation of talismans which will prevent a Jiang Shi from entering a home as well performing exorcism rituals to destroy the vampire. Jiang Shi can be killed by a nearby clap of thunder, by shooting them with a gun, or by burning the corpse.

(Final notes: The jiangshi were attracted to certain amulets and items that the Dragonlady had cursed and given to her intended victims.  The players bought some from a vendor in the employ of the Dragonlady, which attracted the undead creatures.  Also, the players loaded up shotgun shells with salt and virgin male urine to use against the jiangshi - which actually worked quite well.  Whodathunkit?)

- Ark

A Limehouse Tale: GURPS Horror Noir in London's Chinatown

The gaming group's first foray into GURPS went quite well.  They are playing as agents for the Directorate for Esoteric Affairs, a paranormal intelligence branch of the British government in 1933.  Their first mission was to solve the murder of a 16 year old girl in Chinatown - a bizarre strangulation that left a putrid green disembodied hand wrapped around her throat.

The mystery led them through a tale of star-crossed lovers, gang warfare, construction of the London Underground, ancient Chinese mortuary rites, snazzy nightclubs, opium dens, a rotting opera house, a dragon lady, and a one-handed, hopping, undead, chi-stealer.  What else does a story need?  While I intended for it to last only one game session - I clearly don't know where to trim - so the adventure took three times as long.  It turned out to be very fun.  Well, at least I enjoyed it. :)

The adventure focused a lot on the investigation of the murder and the piecing together of what happened, and whodunit, by the players.  I don't know that I've ever done so much planning for this type of game.  There were only two combats during the three sessions.  Well, there was a third, but it was over in a second (really - ONE SECOND) with two punches to the face.  GURPS can get nasty like that.

I found an old map from the 1700's of a section of the Limehouse district, studied it, compared it with the Google maps of the same area, and did some extrapolations of how the area might have looked like in 1933.  Then I did some downright 'making shit up' by deciding that Ropemakers' Field Street would be a more middle class area controlled by the local tong, and The Fore Street would be a more lower-class dock area controlled by the up-and-coming Hong Kong controlled triad.  The whole rival gang thing screamed 'Montague and Capulet' to me, so I had to add in a pair of unfortunate lovers, and the story just kind of wrote itself.  Well, that and discovering that the whole area was being dug up for expansion of the London Underground that year.  Improperly handled Chinese corpses have a nasty tendency of causing havoc, doncha know.

I'm going to be posting some of my notes on the game - notes I wrote before I started, as well as annotations about where my ideas changed as the game progressed.  So stay tuned!

- Ark

Thursday, October 31, 2013

GURPS Renaissance

No, I'm not talking about a GURPS splat book set in 14th century Florence.  I'm talking about my renewed interest in GURPS.  Steve Jackson's rpg isn't exactly old school, first appearing 12 years after D&D reared its little head., but I still count it in the first wave of role playing games.  It's not exactly OSR, so I'll just call it GURPS Renaissance in a category all by itself.

I first picked up GURPS in a boxed set at the comic book store while I was still in high school  I loved the whole generic universal slant on gaming, and liked the gritty combat, but really - I had no idea what to do with it.  It wasn't until third edition GURPS came out that a bell went off in my head and I could see playing something beyond "Caravan to Ein Arris" style fantasy games.  The 90s saw me flexing my GURPS muscle, and it turned out to be the rpg that I would spend more time GMing that any other one - ever.  But eventually, I  abandoned GURPS to go chase simpler, more 'pure' games.

Okay, yeah, well I'm back.  I made the mistake of saying I'd never play GURPS again - which my players basically consider a dare to get me interested in playing something again.  In two months I've amassed, through a well timed birthday and some horse trading at the FLGS, eleven GURPS books (GURPS Horror is not in the picture above, but instead, sitting beside me as I type.)

I like the new 4th edition.  Honestly, I don't know which is better - 3rd or 4th - all I can really say is that 4th isn't so different that I can actually remember what has been changed, and nothing about it bugs me so far.  What I am sure is the same is its effect on me.  It's superbly written and researched.  I can read just about any random paragraph and it sets my mind off is a creative fugue of immense proportions.  You know, some rpgs spark off an idea for a campaign idea or two - but GURPS gets me going something crazy.

I think the important thing for me is that core philosophy to have the rules approach a playable realism.  Some games have really cool mechanics and knobs and whistles.  GURPS has always been somewhat of a bland toolkit.  But I approach the game with an armload of imagination, it soaks that stuff up like a sponge.  It doesn't impose it's mechanics on my ideas, but rather, I impose my vision on the mechanics.

Perhaps every rpg works that way, but for me, GURPS has been the best example of a 'sponge game.'  I mean, I'd never would have picked up and run a horror noir style game, but in sitting around with my players and asking them what they were interested in, I whipped up the Limehouse Chinatown GURPS game we are playing right now.  

So, yeah, I'm jazzed. :)

I guess my biggest issue is that two of the 4th edition books that I would really like to have, High-Tech and Ultra-Tech, are out of print and are only available for a pretty penny.  If anyone out there is hanging on to a 4th edition High-Tech and Ultra-Tech that they are no interested in - drop me a line and maybe we can do some horse trading or arrange a trade. :)

Happy Gaming!

- Ark

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I'm a Super Star!

Okay, well, not exactly a super star.  Or a star.  Or even a brown dwarf.  But I did get a drawing assignment critiqued over on the Proko channel.  Stan Prokopenko posts shortened versions of his drawing lectures over on Youtube.  I've been enjoying them.

Recently he's been doing critiques on the assignments with another instructor named Marshall Vandruff.  The critiques are awesome - watching them really helps to address problems and frustrations.  Last week they picked one of mine. It was cool - and very odd to hear them saying 'Ark.'  I don't normally hear that nickname out loud.  Well, except at Cons. :)

So here is the critique.  You are probably not interested - but that's okay.  I am. :)

- Ark

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Limehouse Blues

I stumbled upon a movie set in the same place and time as our upcoming GURPS noir horror game - Limehoume Chinatown, London, circa 1933.  The movie was called Limehouse Blues, but renamed East End Chant.  Yay for the Internet Archive!

The film has introduced me to the lovely Anna May Wong, who apparently was the first Chinese-American movie star.  Judging from the way that Hollywood treated any non-white person at the time, that was some accomplishment.  Go look her up. She's got a fascinating biography.

On the RPG front, I'm really proud of the gang.  They've really come up with some interesting characters.  I worried everyone would end up being . . . well, I'm not sure.  Boring.  But no - they come up with some great stuff.  So, we've got one a British detective that knows all of the detective stuff and a Chinese policeman from Hong Kong who doesn't know how to police, but knows how to Kung Fu the bad guys.  We've also got an Arab-American demon hunter who might be the son of Iblis.  We've also got a Mata Hari type secret agent seductress from Brazil, and daughter of a South African rancher who hunts monsters for science.  And it looks like we will have a film actress who plays a vampire in the movies, and actually happens to be one in real life - or at least she will when she finally gets bitten.

So it looks like great fun.  I hope they all don't die right away. :)

- Ark

Limehouse Chinatown

Our upcoming GURPS noir horror game - The Directorate of Esoteric Affairs - will kick off in 1933 in London's old Chinatown.  The first installment will be 50 point characters, followed by 100 point characters two years later in 1935.  Then, the characters will move to 150 pointers in 1937, where we will progress at a more normal time/xp flow.  I'm trying to ease the characters into GURPS, and give them a tour of the possibilities.

London’s original Chinatown was located in the East End, in an area known as Limehouse near the River Thames.  Primarily inhabited by Chinese sailors and those who serviced them, records indicate that there were never more than several hundred inhabitants at any given time.  Despite that, legend populated Chinatown with an ocean of Yellow Peril, wall-to-wall opium dens, and the nefarious Dr. Fu Manchu - bent on world domination.  

My Limehouse Chinatown is a mix of both - a real neighborhood full of hard working immigrants - plus a dark underbelly of unknown terrors.  And heck, yeah, some Big Trouble in Little China too.  

But I'm ditching the whole Yellow Peril thing.  Besides, I'm sure the Directorate of Esoteric Affairs will have a lot more trouble on their hands, what with werewolf invasions, Aleister Crowley, and Cthullu's return to deal with. 

Below are some period images to help set the mood . . .

- Ark

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I'm Like A Million Years Old Today

Erin Palette was razzing me about not posting in like, forever.  So in an effort to make her wrong, here is a post!

The above was taken during my 44th birthday dinner tonight at Saltgrass Steakhouse.  I kilt a cow and eated it.  But before that, I got presentses, my precious.  Whatever could that be, clutched in my hand?  No, wrong hand.  That is The Boy.  Other hand.  Yes.  Could be . . . an RPG book?


I'm not a big fan of bloggers posting apologies for not keeping up with blogging, so no apologies here.  It will happen when it happens.  Meanwhile, I've been drawing up a storm, I'm running a Kids Star Wars bounty hunter campaign, I'm playing a psychotic assassin the Tephra steampunk game, and I just wrapped up an epic Big Kids Star Wars game that went on for almost half a year where they murdered the hell out of Darth Vader yesterday, minutes before the credits rolled.

So what's it's got in its grubby little hands, precious?  Well, yet another GURPS book.  Yup.  I'm about to run a mega epic campaign called Esoteric Affairs - which I see as something like Men In Black, but done in the black and white London of the 1930s with monsters replacing aliens.  A Noir Horror Mystery Thriller kinda thing.

Should be fun.

Now please excuse me as I waddle to a place I can lie down on and moan for a while.  Eating a whole cow can be painful . . .

- Ark

Friday, September 20, 2013

Art Improvement Meme

Here is an old art improvement meme that I finally decided to fill out . . .


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Barbarella - Queen of the Galaxy

Okay - the colors are done.  Funny - for months now I've been almost exclusively working on figure drawing fundamentals - and somehow my coloring seems to have gotten better.  Odd. I'll never figure out this art thing. :)

- Ark

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fear Her, Doctor Durand Durand

Now I just need to color her.  Barbarella, Barbarella with her hair all colored yella. :)

- Ark

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Accidental Art

I still am confused as to why most of the things I intend to draw end up as beg nasty meses, while the mindless sketches I make tend to be the ones I like.  Probably says something aboout my psychological make-up. :)

- Ark

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cartographic Question

This map for my Star Wars players brought up a question from one of them.  Where is the land and where is the water?

So, what do you see?

- Ark

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Edge of the Empire Dark Side Slide Mechanics

In last night's Star Wars game, the PCs woke up and ancient Sith Lord who handed them their asses and walked over their bloody, crumpled  bodies as if they didn't exist.  (This wasn't the kids game - it's the, um, BIG kids game.)  Anyway, three of the PC's decided that they needed some force powers of their own and that reviving an ancient Sith Lord and having him suck the life out of you and then chop off your limbs and gouge out your eyes was the perfect 'trigger' for your latent force abilities to show up.

So they all bought themselves some force abilities.  Now the force abilities in Edge of the Empire are very pedestrian - convincing some strormtroopers that those are not the droids they are looking, tossing someone across the room, and reading someone's surface thought.  No 50 meter leaps or force lightning.  This is a Han/Boba style game.  The Force book won't be out for a long, long while.

But still - the game has a mechanic for dark and light sides, and using them.  Basically, you roll and could get some dark or light points to use, or some of both, for whatever power you are activating.  You can spend light and dark with little issue.  But Edge of the Empire is vague about the whole good/bad thing - except to day that maybe the GM should do something about it if he or she feels like it.

I felt like doing something about it.  In my opinion, the dark side is nothing to treat lightly - even if you are a murder hobo.  So I drew up a rough draft:
Characters may convert a number of dark side results into force points each session with no harm.  This number is equal to their Willpower + Discipline (between 1 and 12 with an average of 2.)  Past that, the character runs the risk of loosing control for a period of time, if not permanently.  This loss of control is up to the GM, but will involve the dark side emotions of fear, anger and hate.

When converting force points above their limit, characters must pass a Discipline check to stay in control of themselves.  If they fail, they loose control to the Dark Side (and GM) for 1 round plus another round for each Threat in the dice pool.  Times outside of combat would be minutes, not rounds.

A despair results hands over control to the DM for the rest of the combat (or encounter.)

Each failure PERMANENTLY increases the difficulty of the roll, from Simple, Easy, Average, etc. - thus adding another difficulty die to the Discipline check.  Past Formidable (five dice) there is the Impossible Task level, which also has five dice, but requires spending a Destiny point to attempt.  Failure of this Impossible Level Task makes the character an NPC for the GM to control permanently.

This mechanic is designed to allow the players to flirt with the dark side a bit. They can even train themselves to be able to dip into it more. But if the character goes beyond 'recreational use' and becomes a dark side addict, then some horrible things will happen. Not just to the character, but everyone around them.

Jedi Temple Younglings anyone?

- Ark