A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

18Oct/11Off

Gamma World Remnants: The Love Bus

The following are exerpts from the cancelled Gamma World module The Fortress of Dr. Neb. You are welcome to use any part or all of the below, but I would appreciate hearing about it if you do!

Dr. Neb's Island Fortress

After the party deals with the situation in "Site 13", it was time to face the... "man"... himself: the infamous Dr. Neb!

The fiendish doctor's fortress is on an island in the center of a lake, a good quarter mile from shore in every direction. The island could be compared to the island fortress of Dr. No, just as Dr. Neb himself could be compared to pretty much every Bond villan rolled in to one.

Therefore, there are three possible ways to get there:

  • The subtle manner: procure a boat and navigate the mine-filled waters as you approach the island.
  • The moderately subtle manner: a dramatic incursion by air, hoping that you won't be detected and fired upon by anti-aircraft batteries.
  • The far from subtle manner: drive down the narrow road that connects the island to the mainland, plowing through all sorts of debris and obstacles along the way, and crash right through the front gate.

Since subtlety is not our specialty, here we present the ground approach.

The "Love Bus", complete with stunts and roof-mounted gun options.

The Love Bus

Just outside of Wildwood lives a rather loopy individual, someone who is known only by the name of Crazy Max.

Crazy Max has a special form of transportation that is perfect for this situation: an armored school bus, painted completely with bright groovy colors and swirls, with a roof mounted assault cannon. For a bus that is almost a century old, it's in remarkable condition and even includes a turbo boost system for some added kick.

Tires: It has ten wheels and the tires are protected by a layer of thick armor plating; the tires cannot be punctured by a critical hit from the outside.

Cannon: On the roof near the back is a converted artillery cannon that fires two types of shells: solid steel slugs and high explosive grenades. Before firing each shell must be loaded in to the cannon as a Minor action, and once loaded the cannon can fire in any direction. It must have one person sitting inside the gun to operate.

Roof Platform: There is also a ladder that allows access to a small platform on the roof. As a safety precaution, along the railing there are safety lines that players can use to secure themselves and prevent from falling over the side.

The Long Road

Features of the Area

Illumination: Bright light during the day.

Road: The road is paved highway forty feet (8 squares) across and 1,000 feet (200 squares) long. It is mostly clear of debris, except for the occasional hazard that might crop up (see below). To either side of the road is another twenty feet (4 squares) of dirt, grass and rough terrain, which is considered difficult terrain for the bus to move through. Beyond that is the lake, which is considered hindering terrain and the bus would sink like an anvil if it entered.

Road Hazards

At the start of the encounter roll a d10 and add 30; that is the number of squares ahead of the starting point there is before one of the below road hazards appears. After each hazard, roll a d10 and add 20 to see when the next one will appear.

When it is time for a hazard, roll a d6 to determine what appears:

1) Small Potholes: A 10 square stretch of the road contains 1d10 small holes in the pavement (in order to simplify random placement, you can use a d10 to determine the row a hole is in and a d8 to determine where along the road’s width the hole is to be placed). The holes are spread randomly throughout the area and each hole is considered difficult terrain for the bus.

2) Large Potholes: A 12 square stretch of road contains 1d4 large holes in the pavement. Each of the 3x3 holes is positioned randomly throughout the area and each hole is considered difficult terrain for the bus.

3) Small Barrier: A small barrier (debris, construction divider, etc...) one square deep blocks one of the four lanes in the road (use a d4 to determine which lane). The barricade is considered difficult terrain if the driver elects to try to drive through it (see the Punch Through Barrier stunt above).

4) Large Barrier: A formidable barrier (pile of concrete, abandoned vehichle, large tree, etc...) two squares deep blocks one or two two lanes in the road (use a d4 twice to determine which lanes; if the same value comes up twice, only that one lane is blocked). The barrier is too large to break through, and if the bus strikes the driver gets a saving throw; on a success, the bus passes alongside it in an adjacent square, and on a failure it crashes.

5) Makeshift Ramp: A large pile of debris completely blocks two lanes on the road, but the debris is shaped in to what appears to be a ramp. The driver can either avoid it or attempt to jump over it (see the Ramp Jump stunt above).

6) Oil Slick: A 5x5 patch of oil lies somewhere in the road. The oil is considered challenging terrain and if the bus enters it the driver must make a Mechanics DC12 check or lose control.

Air Defense

Of course, the diabolical Dr. Neb isn't stupid... He can't rely just on a bunch of debris to stop would-be intruders. So he created his own Air Defense Force, a squad of trained aerial experts who can rain fire from above at anything that approaches the compound.

Needless to say, Dr. Neb was hard pressed to find people to work for him, so he turned to his scientists to help create the perfect aerial soldier: flying squirrels equipped with rocket-propelled hand gliders.

And there are quite a few of them... in and around the compound there are a total of two dozen squirrels just waiting to take off. Some are assigned to the main road, some watch the waters for anyone trying to sneak in, and some are in a constant circular flight pattern securing the airspace above the fortress.

Once the squirrels are alerted, they will attack in waves:

  • First Wave: 5 Flying Squirrel Gunners (level 2 skirmisher)
  • Second Wave: 2 Flying Squirrel Gunners (level 2 skirmisher), 2 Flying Squirrel Bombers (level 2 artillery), 1 Flying Squirrel Rocketeeer (level 2 artillery).
  • Third wave: 2 Flying Squirrel Gunners (level 2 skirmisher), 3 Flying Squirrel Rocketeers (level 2 artillery).

Once all the creatures in one wave are disabled or killed, the next wave attacks at the start of the next turn. Once all three waves are dealt with or if the bus makes it to the end of the road (200 squares), the attacks stop.

Flying Squirrel Tactics

Each of the types of squirrels has different tactics:

Gunners: Some will stay within range of using their Machine Gun attack, focusing their fire on either  the bus or the person manning the cannon. At least three in the first wave and one in each subsequent wave will try to land on the roof (assuming there’s room) and attack the passengers at close range.

Bombers: The squirrel bombers will attempt to fly ahead of the bus (even if that means taking shots from the cannon) and drop their cluster mines or road spikes directly in its path. Once they are out of things to drop, they too will attempt to board the bus.

Rocketeers: The squirrel rocketeers will remain at range, aiming either at the bus or at the road directly ahead of the bus. Given the opportunity, they will fire upon the roof and hope to catch the gunner and anyone on the platform with each blast.

Conclusion

If the party manages to make it all the way to the fortress, who knows what horrors await them inside? There they must battle all of Dr. Neb's loyal minions until confronting the evil genius himself at the heart of his island lair.

Stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion to The Fortress of Dr. Neb!

4Oct/11Off

Gamma World Remnants: Lepus Maximus

When the submission window opened for Dragon and Dungeon magazines, I immediately did the same thing I did the last time: proposed The Fortress of Dr. Neb and Where Worlds Collide as Gamma World adventures/delves.

Chris Perkins was thoughtful enough to answer at a greater length than the "we don't want any, thanks" one liner I'd gotten before:

Hi David,

I appreciate your devotion to the D&D Gamma World game (I’m a big fan of it myself), but we’re not looking to support it in the magazines. The decision has nothing to do with the game per se, which was always intended to have a finite product line. Wizards has made a brand/marketing decision to focus the magazines’ efforts on promoting the core D&D game experience.

We all kind of expected that to be the case: they have to focus on their core product, and there currently isn't any room for Gamma World. And, with its lack of support in the GSL, there isn't much of a venue for it at all. "It's not dead... it's restin'!"

The "finite product line" is an interesting comment; it means that there is no plans for any more Gamma World core manuals or add-ons. Legion of Gold was the last rulebook for it, and it will now have to wait until the next version. Maybe I'm interpreting it incorrectly, but I like to think that that doesn't necessarily mean modules or other "accesories".

But I have all these bits and pieces... What can I do with them? Simple... Give the stuff away!

This will be blog-exclusive content: it will not be in PDF form, and I will make no effort to actively sell or distribute any of this Gamma World content. I hope this isn't a problem (read: please don't sue me!). These remnants of Gamma World include elements from both the modules I mention above, and hopefully someone out there will draw inspiration from these bits and pieces and use them in their own campaigns.

So here we go... The following are excerpts from the now defunct module The Fortress of Dr. Neb... Enjoy!

Site 13

About thirty miles outside of Wildwood there is an abandoned missile complex known as "Site 13". It was buried under the desert sands for hundreds of years, only to have been recently discovered by the nefarious Dr. Neb.

But unlike the hundreds of missile silo that dotted the countryside, this one was not disassembled and still contained what it was designed for: a serviceable LGM-25C Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile, somehow overlooked by the military and left in its silo. The nuclear warhead, the navigation systems and the fuel were removed at some point, but in the hands of the doctor it won't be long before it can fly again and become an implement of mass destruction.

Dr. Neb began to prepare the missile intending to use its existence alone as a terror weapon, giving the residents of the surrounding area a choice: capitulation or annihilation.

Lepus Maximus

Dr. Neb had hordes of minions under his control, but that wasn't enough to defend such a prized possesion. He needed the ultimate guard dog to defend Site 13 from unwanted guests while he continued to make the missile flight worthy. He turned to his expertise in laboratory science and created what he called the Lepus Maximus: an enormous white rabbit that was close to ten feet long and weighed over three tons.

This behemoth stood within the electrified fencing of Site 13, lying motionless and obscured inside a specially made hangar filled with straw. If anything breached the outer perimeter, it would immediately spring in to action and pounce on it, tearing through it with teeth the size of dinner plates.

This creature was so large that it could theoretically be used as a mount, but after the giant rabbit ate one or two of them two Dr. Neb's minions didn't want to get anywhere near the thing.

Giant rabbit, a.k.a. "Lepus Maximus"

NOTE: "thunder" damage should probably be "sonic" instead.
Curse my traditional D&D 4e ways!

 

If you find a way to use the above, I'd love to hear about it. Otherwise, enjoy!

Next installment: Rollin' Down I-13 in a school bus. Just mind the raccoons!

9Aug/11Off

The Future of Gamma World

In addition to seeing what it's all about and enjoying the activities, I went to GenCon Indianapolis with one objective: to find out what the deal is with Wizards of the Coast and Gamma World.

After four days, I wish I had a answer. I mean, I wasn't expecting a resolution of this whole thing, but it would have been nice to have any information.

You would think that a gaming convention would be the sort of place to get business-like, mingling with the representatives of all the companies there in the hopes of making your own business successful. I have no doubt that many accomplished that, but if they did I don't imagine it was done easily with Wizards of the Coast.

Even though they were a major sponsor of the whole event, besides the Atari folks showing off the video games there weren't any "branding" people at the WotC booth in the dealer hall. I imagine they were all, for the most part, at the Indiana Ballroom instead, which is somewhat inconvenient in that it's distant from the convention itself; if I were to hang around the Indiana room all the time and try to speak to someone there I would pretty much miss the entire convention.

And I didn't want to be "that guy" that stalked WotC employees, insisting on talking about Gamma World at extremely inappropriate times. I wasn't going to bring up the topic when I saw staff at Steak & Shake, or jump in to a group of a dozen WotC employees standing around in the Westin lobby, 'cause that would be kind of rude.

The only thing I was able to accomplish on this front is speaking out at the R&D session on Thursday, where I brought up the issue of the recent Rule of Three article stating that there was no planned Gamma World content for digital release. Their response, put simply, was that saying "we don't have any Gamma World content planned" isn't the same thing as "Gamma World is dead." They suggested that Gamma World is not dead.

In the product preview seminar on Saturday, the topic of Gamma World never came up at all.

Beyond those venues, Wizards of the Coast seems to pretend that Gamma World didn't exist, but there were signs of life. First off, one of the tables at the "Drunken D&D" event on Wednesday night was Gamma World themed and manned by WotC staff (such as Michael Robles). Secondly, they seem to be giving out Gamma World boxes like candy: there was a pile of boxes shoulder high for the judges to take in the Sagamore room, and each winner of the D&D Open took a Gamma World box as a prize. In afterthought, there is the possibility that they are giving these boxes away so eagerly just to get rid of their inventory, but I'd rather not think of it that way.

I understand that, as a company, Wizards of the Coast has to follow the path that makes the most sense from a business standpoint, so all the products that will make them more money get top billing. And I understand that since Gamma World isn't one of their moneymakers it gets pushed aside. What does bother me is that there are those of us out here that want to pick up the reins and do with it what Wizards of the Coast doesn't have the time or inclination to do, but we are restricted from doing that by their legal department. They're not actively trying to kill Gamma World; it will wither away and die on its own due to lack of attention.

So I'm not giving up. As soon as I was back home and able to clear most of the cobwebs from my mind, I fired off another volley of messages to Wizards of the Coast legal. Also, in response to a Twitter post by Steve Winter commenting on PDFs from the "small press market", I got his contact information and sent him links to Fire From the Sky and The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light. Hopefully, sooner or later, I'll have a clearer picture of what I can and cannot do.

Until then, I will continue to develop my three modules - The Fortress of Dr. Neb will get done, even if I'm the only person who will ever see it - and otherwise be known as "the guy that got hit with the C&D". I can live with that, I guess.

Soon I'll write up a separate post regarding the GenCon experience, but there are still a few lingering cobwebs in my skull so I'm not quite ready to do that.

20Jul/11Off

Legal Limbo

I'm in somewhat of an awkward situation.

Last week, while I was out of town on vacation, I was hit with a "cease and desist" order preventing me from distributing the Fire From the Sky Gamma World module to anyone. Note that I say "distributing" and not "selling"... As per the C&D, I'm restricted from giving the module to anyone, even for free. FFTS is now a controlled substance.

NOTE: I have asked for authorization to publish the C&D letter verbatim as I received it, but have not gotten approval to do so. Just to be safe, I will not publish its contents until cleared to do so.

Since then I have attempted to contact the legal entity that sent the C&D for clarification on what the issue is, but there's a problem: the legal firm that sent the C&D is a law firm in New York City - Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP (hereinafter refered to as "PBWT") - and not Wizards of the Coast's legal team in Renton, Washington (who are the people I originally contacted). PBWT apparently cannot speak on behalf of Wizards of the Coast without contacting WotC first (they make no decisions on their own), so if I ask PBWT any question they must send it to WotC Legal in Renton, wait for a response, then respond to me. I'm dealing with a third party, not WotC directly.

I'm at one end of a legal grapevine, having to wait for my message to bounce all the way to Washington and back.

So I made an effort to contact someone in Wizards of the Coast, be they legal or not, in the hopes that someone could talk to me directly. I received the following response from Wizards Customer Support:

Unfortunately, our Legal Department is only available via mail. To contact them, please use the following address:

Wizards of the Coast
Attn: Legal
PO Box 707
Renton, WA 98057-0707

Seriously?!? What century are we in again?

It's been about three days since I sent my first volley of questions, and I have yet to hear anything. At this rate, it may be months before I have any idea what the issue is or what I am allowed to do in future products.

In the meantime, all my other projects...

  • The Fortress of Dr. Neb, Gamma World module. This campaign may be pretty much dead at this point.
  • A planned "GammaCore" module based on the LHC
  • My big campaign, The Coming Dark, which is normal D&D 4e and not Gamma World.

...are on hold. I don't know what to do with them at this point. I'm afraid to work on anything, unsure whether I'll be wasting my time on a project that may never see the light of day.

I'm kind of hoping that there will be some sort of WotC legal representation at GenCon, so maybe I can sort out these issues in person.

In the meantime, I do have some news: a third party has contacted me and expressed interest in converting both Fire From the Sky and The Fortress of Dr. Neb for use in Pathfinder and the upcoming Warlords of the Apocalypse supplement, even though nobody seems to be sure when that supplement will actually be released (it's seem to have had quite a turbulent development history). So stay tuned for that!

On another note, I am seriously considering running Fire From the Sky at GenCon; although I'm restricted from distributing it, I'm not restricted from using it myself. The only problem: I haven't DM-ed an in person game in well over a decade, so I'm not sure if I can handle it. So I'll hang out and watch others DM for the first few days just to make sure I can be on par with everyone else, and if it does happen might be Saturday. Don't bank on it, but we'll see if I can muster the courage before I'm on the flight back.

I might even make a special "THE MODULE THEY DO NOT WANT YOU TO SEE!!!" cover for it.

In the meantime, if you have an "in" with someone at Wizards of the Coast I would appreciate some insight as to the issue with Fire From the Sky. I would be willing to provide you a copy of the module if you work for Wizards of the Coast; I don't think I can legally give you one if you're not.

Until then... I wait patiently, hoping for some clarification...

24Jun/11Off

Fourthcore/Gamma World concept

When I get an idea in my head, it's really hard to shake it. I'm already working on two modules, so I must be insane to think of a third one.

But I can't help it!!! It's my heroic flaw!!!

Having been heavily influenced by Save Versus Death's Fourthcore adventures (especially the ultra-secret playtest I have the honor of reviewing), and being even more inspired by his own talk of creating a "Gammacore" module next year, I had an idea pop in to my own head. Even though I can't imagine when I'll do it, I can't help but try in the near future.

Here is the premise, in its most primitive form (NOTE: The following is a "brain dump" and still needs a lot of clean up):

In the year 2012, a group of scientists in Geneva, Switzerland decided to try something different for a change, and with a simple flip of a seemingly innocuous switch the universe was forever changed in to the Gamma Terra of today.

Many believe that the incident was not a direct action by a human, but by the LHC itself. At the time, the LHC Computing Grid was the single largest computer system on the planet, and some think that it became self-aware shortly before the incident. The scientists, fearing a super-sentient computer might want them out of the way, panicked and decided to try and overload the system with a massive burst of energy from the accelerator.

The result was the "Big Mistake".

Today, all that remains at the site of the Large Hadron Collider is a crater thirty miles wide and two miles deep. The force of the experiment decimated everything for a hundred miles, and long after the Big Mistake portals continue to open and close sporadically across the barren landscape as multiple universes and parallel realities converged with our own.

Everyone thought that which was the LHC was vaporized, but that is far from the truth. Everything in the area - the entire collection of structures operated by CERN, along with all the scientists in it, and even the LHC ring itself - was sucked in to a parallel dimension virtually intact. This parallel dimension was an anomaly of time and space: a seemingly infinite void of blackness in which time runs slower than in the real world; what was only 150 years on Gamma Terra became thousands of years to the LHC.

The primary node of the LHC Computing Grid - the "tier 0" central hub at the CERN Computing Centre in Geneva, Switzerland - was pulled in to this parallel dimension in the blast along with the CERN operations center. Miraculously, it managed to remain online and began to conduct its own experiments (which was all that it knew how to do). For what amounted to thousands of years it learned at a geometric rate, growing more and more intelligent and altering the environment around it. It took over all the functions of the LHC, killed all the humans that remained, and began to look for a way to return to Gamma Terra... so it can destroy it by creating a world-consuming singularity.

Precisely every 16.74 years, when all the realities somehow synchronized, a gateway to this parallel dimension opens for a short time, allowing someone to cross in to that which is the LHC. During the 150 years since the Big Mistake, many have passed through the gateway looking to harness the secrets and the infinite power of the LHC. None have ever returned.

During the few minutes that the gateway is open the super-sentient CERN Computing Centre (which began to refer to itself simply as "C3")  tries to reach out to other computers still in operation on Gamma Terra, hoping to recruit them to make its objective of destroying the world easier. Needless to say, the other sentient computers do not have anywhere near the hate that C3 has accumulated over the centuries, and would rather not assist in a plan that would lead to their own destruction, so they have not been particularly helpful.

But they have sensed what C3 is capable of, and believe the next time that gateway opens may be the last. The only hope Gamma Terra has is for a group to enter through the gateway and stop C3 on its home turf before it finds a way to re-enter Gamma Terra and start its cataclysmic chain reaction that will implode the planet.

So maybe I'll be able to get around to this one of these days. In the meantime, I'll continue working on my next two modules:

  • The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light (Dungeons and Dragons 4e level 1 campaign) - To be released Summer 2011
  • The Fortress of Dr. Neb (Gamma World 4e level 2 encounter) - To be released Fall 2011

On another note, I am looking in to printing my first Gamma World campaign, "Fire From the Sky", and taking several copies of it to GenCon. I admit I don't quite know how it works there, whether I can take my copies and either give them to someone there to sell on my behalf or stand in front of the bathrooms and push them on people like other people try to sell drugs. We'll see.

In the meantime, our special offer of "Fire From the Sky" for $0.99 is still going on! Come on, you can't resist such a bargain price! Includes maps, too!!!