Friday, February 27, 2015

In Memory of Leonard Nimoy, a Mini-Review of Damnation Decade

So with with the news and mourning of Leonard Nimoy's death (RIP) and remembrance of his life, I thought I'd share a review of something vaguely related. First of all, did you know Leonard Nimoy (or rather, a facsimile of him) has appeared in RPGs? And NOT in his Spock identity?
Some background: yes Leonard Nimoy did other stuff besides Star Trek (shocking!)- such as hosting the paranormal investigation show In Search Of... for a time.

In Green Ronin's Damnation Decade  setting book for d20 Modern, an expy of Nimoy named Herman Purvis exists as a host of the show Beyond the Barrier (p.9). He is just one denizen of a world where all the paranoid fantasies of 70s movies have come true. Elvis Presley, Mao Zedong, Charlie Manson, Richard Nixon, and more also have (in some cases, very rough) equivalents in the book too.

The setting has very brief and self-contained rules for drugs, bionics, psychic powers, and even a hyper-brutal sport Omegaball. The psychic powers avoid the "measured in feet" approximations that so many other psi- systems use, and the psi-powers also tend to be risky- it's one of those roll or fail systems. Unfortunately, the consequences of failure tend to be mostly boring/incapacitating but nothing else- stunned or disorientation for a few rounds. The advanced classes are a bit hit and miss for me, but they cover all the basics you'd expect from such a setting (trucker, Omegaball player, groover, urban cowboy, parapsychologist, psychic, fightin' preacher, etc.)

Fluff/World Content
Setting aside the mechanics, the real gold here is the world content- lots of ways you can go with stuff. Although it's bogged down by having alternate names for pretty much every proper name in the real world, the characters and places are interestingly exaggerated and twisted. (And in some cases,  multiple real life figures were rolled into one character- so there's not always a one to one analogue.) Everything that we thought or imagine that could go wrong has- hostile aliens, the equivalent of California has sunk into the ocean, oil prices are skyrocketing, nature has gone wild, and President Nixon's still in office. See below for a more detailed look.

In the book, there's almost 10 factions that have several ways to effectively ruin the world or at least life as we know it (as indicated in their "Current Plans" write-ups). For example, Humboldt Suede (the equivalent to Hugh Hefner) is the son of the Devil and plans to corrupt and damn Americo. Stanton Spobeck (the equivalent of Nixon) serves a gigantic, A.R.C.H.I.E.-esque brain in a jar. And there are no less than two cryptid-esque hostile alien races.

Final Analysis
I'm not the best at rating things, but I'd say 3.5/5 stars.  Lots of horrific hijinks to mine if you're doing a '70s game. However, the alternate naming thing can make it hard to match up the in game figures with their real world equivalents, and the mechanics sometimes have a bit to be desired.  

Leonard Nimoy, R.I.P.  Thank you for your logical portrayal of Spock character, but also thank you for your weirdness you’ve given us over the years (Bilbo Baggins music video, anyone?).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Not So Familiar: Unnatural Alternatives for the Nature of your Familiar

I like how Find Familiar works in the 5e PHB, with a celestial, fey, or fiendish nature according to the nature of the mage who summons the familiar. However, I’d like to vary things up a little bit more, so here are some not-so-familiar alternatives to how to “skin” your familiar. Like with the familiar options in the books, the appearance doesn’t change your familiar’s abilities or traits; it just gives them a different flavor.

1.       Abstract- the familiar is an abstract entity, either appearing as a drawing or a living sentence or equation of such complexity forms the creature.

2.       Blood creature- the familiar is summoned through perverse blood sacrifice; it continually dribbles blood to the ground. The caster must slice open his own flesh (doing no damage) to call the familiar.

3.       Construct- The familiar seems to have an obvious artificial or mechanical nature. Clockwork familiars are a favored design here. Another favored alternative is for the familiar to be made of paper, much as the shikigami.

4.       Corpse creature- either skeletal, zombie, or ghoulish. The spellcaster doesn’t conjure the familiar so much as pull its festering form from the ground. 

5.       Diseased- the familiar seems unnaturally diseased. It may be pox-ridden, twitch unnaturally, molt uncontrollably, etc.

6.       Elemental- Pick one or a combination of the elements that the familiar is made of.

7.       Fleshwarped- the familiar’s body has become warped or mutated in some fashion.

8.       Gaunt or Obese- the creature seems either unnaturally gaunt and frail or unnaturally bloated and obese.

9.       Gelatinous- the familiar is made of ooze, slime, or jelly.

10.   Ghostly- the familiar gives off an eerie glow and appears almost insubstantial or translucent.

11.   Obnoxious Hat- The familiar appears normal but wears a gaudy, obnoxious, and/or unsightly hat. (Roll on an appropriate table or just come up with the most obnoxious thing you can think of.)

12.   Personal Avatar- the familiar bears an unnatural resemblance to the spellcaster, going up to having a tiny freakish human(oid) head instead of a normal animal head for its species.

13.   Plantform- the familiar is not so much an animal but a mass of plant or fungal life emulating an animal.

14.   Pirate- the familiar appears quite pirate like. It might have a bandana, an eye-patch, or even a peg-leg. Regardless, it seems pretty rough and tumble. Other variant “costumes” might be possible, such as ninja, cowboy, Viking, etc.

15.   Pseudonatural- a hideous, tentacled, slathering mockery of life marked as one of the Far Realms, the Dungeon Dimensions, or other dimensions better left forgotten.

16.   Runecarved- glowing, magical sigils or tattoos have been etched into the creature’s flesh, fur, scales, or feathers.

17.   Shadowform- ripped from the spellcaster’s own shadow, the familiar appears to be made of the umbral substance that makes up the Plane of Shadow. The familiar may even appear flat/2-D like a true shadow.

18.   Swarmform- The familiar is not made of a single creature but of many tinier creatures that form a single solid creature. These could be miniature examples of the base familiar, or of smaller creatures such as bugs, worms, maggots, etc.

19.   Tumor- the creature is not so much a separate creature but a tumorous growth taken from the caster’s own body. Each time the familiar is dismissed or recalled, it joins or splits off of the caster’s body.

20.   Uncanny Valley- the familiar appears more or less normal, but there’s just something quite noticeably off. Perhaps it’s the way it gazes at things or it moves totally unlike a living thing should. It needn’t be obviously malicious to qualify- perhaps it’s too sweet or cute to be natural…