Category Archives: Appendix O

Modes for Wayward, a Potential Setting for AGE Creator’s Alliance

Some more thoughts about the Wayward campaign setting I hope to eventually release (as a private individual) for Modern AGE through the AGE Creator’s Alliance.

So, one of the core conceits of Wayward is that there are “modes,” which represent adjacent realities to the (mostly) normal world, or Ecumene, where PCs call home. Things from other modes can influence, or even partially leak into the Ecumene, causing trouble and pain, but cannot be permanently destroyed except in their native mode.

Luckily, there are the Wayward, people native to the Ecumene who can travel to other modes to deal with things found there. Most modes are twisted parallels of the Ecumene, familiar in some respects and terribly (sometimes horrifically) different on others. Modes are all dangerous, even deadly, but just as things from other Modes (I’ll need a name for “things from other modes” at some point) can’t be permanently destroyed while in the Ecumene, PCs native to the Ecumene cannot be permanently destroyed while corporeally in another mode. However, that doesn’t mean being Put Down in another mode does hurt… and leave scars that stick with you whatever Mode you are in.

I’m using the term “Mode” so far, because I want to treat these alternate realities in roughly the same way Modern Age treats its different Modes of Play (gritty, pulpy, cinematic). So while the Ecumene itself is gritty, the laws of reality on others may be pulpy or cinematic, AND have other local rules changes to represent their altered rules of reality. That might not be a good enough reason to stick with “Mode” in the final term (‘demesne” comes to mind as having the right feel, for example), but it’s definitely good enough as a placeholder name for a in-progress game concept for a campaign using a working title.

Since there are likely going to be options that work differently in different modes [like having a Fiery heart talent might just give you a bonus to Willpower (Confidence) checks in the Ecumene, but allow you to actually summon fire magic within the Otherworld Mode), the rules are going to assume there are a finite number of “core” modes. A GM building a new mode should either make it an offshoot of one of the core modes (perhaps in addition to Otherworld, there is a very Nordic Helvangr which has different creatures and powers and appearance, but follows the same game mechanical rules as Otherworld.

That of course means the core modes I include in the campaign setting are important to the overall success of the setting, and need to be diverse, iconic, compelling, and fun.

So, no pressure.

I already foresee having at least two, which I’ll discuss tomorrow.

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Quick Notes for the potential “Wayward” Setting for AGE Creator’s Alliance

So I am planning, as a private individual (rather than as a developer for Green Ronin or the publisher of Rogue Genius Games) to release an AGE Creator’s Alliance product… eventually. Not at that program’s launch, but hopefully within a year or so.

For what seem like obvious reasons I originally thought that would be a Fantasy AGE product… but now my opinion is shifting. I have had an idea for a Modern AGE setting I might prefer to release though the Creator’s Alliance, and that might not only be a great way to divide what I am doing as a GR dev and a private citizen but also help me have a more baseline feel for the Creator’s Alliance experience.

Now, this is far from a done deal. I could discover there are good reasons not to do this setting, or change my mind about the best rules set for it or venue to offer it in. I could find something I like better as a first offering, I could just lose interest. Who knows?

But since part of what I wanted to do was showcase my own journey through the Creator’s Alliance, I wanted to offer up the short notes I jotted down at 5am for this setting idea.

Product/Product Line Title: Wayward
This idea began as I was driving on errands, listening to a song used as a theme for one of my favorite TV series. So, yes, I’m wearing one of the inspirations on the sleeve of this concept. Like anything that might change as the product moves forward, but working titles are useful.

Product Type: Campaign Setting and Adventure Line
As I currently envision it, Wayward is a campaign setting for Modern AGE which comes with built-in adventure support. each Wayward product would have a chunk of setting material, a smattering of new rule options, and an adventure designed to highlight both.
For example, the first product would be Wayward, which would also serve as the name for the whole setting, and be the in-world title of a certain kind of person most PCs are expected to be – the “Wayward,” people who operate outside the expectations and even the reality of common society. The Wayward operate in a shadowy world with creatures and abilities that are literally set apart from most of existence. This Wayward World normally isn’t “real” enough to impact most people, but there are rare exceptions, which Wayward Heroes need to deal with.
So in this first product there would be rules for what makes people Wayward, and an adventure for 1st level characters just discovering the existence of the Wayward World around them and dealing with something leaking out of it.

Inspirations
Wayward is clearly in big part inspired by specific modern media, but I don’t plan for it to be a pure pastiche of one thing. Instead my inspirations include Diana Tregarde Investigates (novels by Mercedes lackey), MAGE (the comic, especially The Hero Discovered and The Hero Defined), the Maxx (animated series especially, but also the comics), Sin City (just the first movie), Supernatural (TV show and it’s literally tie-ins)… and especially the trailer for the Max Payne movie (Yes, really just the trailer. not the movie itself, not the games–just that one trailer) and the trailer for Dark City (yep, again, JUST the trailer).
And I really mean “inspiration.” Wayward is an idea that grows out of thoughts I had when exposed to those sources (and many, many more), rather than an effort to duplicate them. It’s very much a thing I wish existed and had movies and comics and games, but doesn’t quite. Not a wholly original idea of course–just my take on a slice of the zeitgeek.

Kernel: Modes of Reality
The core kernel of an idea for wayward is that there are modes of reality that overlap slightly. Most people live only in the Ecumene, the “normal” world we all know and that (roughly) follows the real world rules of physics and history. But there are other modes, where twisted, dark, and blindingly bright things dwell. Sometimes you can glimpse those things when you sleep, or are in an altered chemical or emotional state. And, sometimes, those things can glimpse you. The most powerful things from other modes can sometimes visit or influence the Ecumene. But no Ecumene dweller can go into other modes to deal with the root of those problems.
Well, none but the Wayward…

And that’s as far as the idea has gone so far. 🙂

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Big Bones, a Betting Die Game

Big Bones is a WEIRD betting dice game I mused over for a long time, and never felt was ready for playtest or something I had a real use for. Essentially my current concern is that it works, but there’s no sense to me that it would be fun or easy to play.

But it’s a game you can use a d13 in, or not, so

Big Bones

Each player picks a die, which can be anything from a d6 to a d20. If you have weird dice, like d13s, they are fair game.

This die is placed in a die cup and covered in front of each player, so no one knows what die size you picked.

Everyone antes 5. (5 gp, 5 poker chips, 5 dollars, 5 betting units each of which are worth $4,16, it doesn’t matter.)

Everyone reveals what die they are rolling.

Starting with the lowest die size (or the youngest player among the lowest die size if there are multiple), each player must stand, raise, meet, or drop.

If you are at the current bet, you can stand or raise.

>If you stand, play passes to the player to your right.

>If you raise, you put in another 5, increasing the current bet by 5. Play then passes to the player on your right.

If you are not at the current bet, you can match, or drop.

>If you match, you put in the different between how much you have invested and the current bet. Once you have done this you meet the current bet, and can stand or raise.

>If you drop, you remove yourself from further play. However, your bet money stays in, and you may owe even more than that (see tallying the winning pot, below).

Once every player has gone at least once, and all remaining players stood or dropped on their last turn, the your resolve the game.

Everyone rolls their revealed die.

The lowest die result wins. In case of ties, the highest die size among the lowest rolls wins.

The winning pot is tallied for its full value. That value is then divided by the number of players, and multiplied by the number of sides of the winning die. If this total is less than the pot, the winner gets the full pot. If the total is more than the pot, all players who anted must pay the winner funds calculated as (difference in winning pot)/number of players who anted. If this takes all their remaining funds, they are out (but do not owe money past what they had on the table).

The round is over, and every decides whether of not to ante for a new round.

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More Bennenite Staff Mastery Feats for PF1

I’ve dipped into my old campaign files to post lore about the holy warriors known as Bennenites, and converted some of their concepts from previous game editions to PF1, including Staff Mastery feats.

So, here are more.

Defensive Bennenite Training
You are as good at defending with an attack as you are attacking.
Prerequisites: Bennenite Training, base attack bonus +1 or 1 rank Knowledge (religion)
Benefit: When equipped with a quarterstaff, as part of any other action that is not any kind of attack, you can choose rather than treating it as a quarterstaff or longsword and shortsword, to treat it as a longsword and a light wooden shield, or a longsword and a heavy wooden shield. You can stop treating it as a longsword and shield at the beginning of your turn, or as part of any standard action, move action, or full action.

Holy Staff
You can channel the grace of St. Bennen through a staff.
Prerequisites: Bennenite Training, good alignment, base attack bonus +1 or 1 rank Knowledge (religion)
Benefit: When using a quarterstaff, your attacks bypass any DR that has “good” as one of the elements to bypass it. For example, you could bypass “DR 5/good and cold iron,” even if your staff was not cold iron. (The exception to this is if an attack normally also has to be mythic to bypass the DR, in which case you only bypass it if you are 15th level or higher.) Against targets with the evil descriptor, you gain a +4 bonus to staff attack rolls made to confirm a critical threat.
Additionally, you can use a staff as a holy symbol, and fullfil somatic spell components with a hand holding a staff.

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Expanding Fantasy Worldbuilding With Research: Clans of the Reisende

Too often, fantasy worldbuilding seems to be designed primarily to fill in the pre-existing name slots on some universal chart of what already commonly exists in fantasy literature. Obviously this is far from universal, and I’m not trying to claim I am the first (or best, or most important) person suggesting bucking this trend. But when I see worlds with a dwarven mountain nation, and an elven forest nation, and human kingdoms mostly ruled by monarchies with one example each of exceptions that have recognizable modern governments, I often wonder if the creator’s research began and ended with names and style. There have, in the real world, been SO many other forms of community organization, government, family, relationship, kinship, identity, association, rulership, authority,

These notes grew out of research I was doing for two different projects that never happened. The first was to update two “Viking-like northerners” kingdoms from my longest-running campaign, the Sovereign Kingdoms to 3.5 d20 rules. The second was the Runepeaks, a setting I was creating for a project to update a 3pp’s company (not one I have ever ended up working or writing for) from 3.5 to Pathfinder. (That was going to be an ongoing project hand-in-hand with that publisher, and it fell apart for various reasons). At about the same time I was exploring the history of some of my own Norden heritage. I found a lot of information abut clan structures, various Nordic mythologies, fylgja, Nordic fauna, and so on.

I got inspired to lean into some of the more interesting elements of that material to create something more interesting to me than just “Kinda-not-Vikings-have runes-and-axes.” While I never finished the write-up of that area, I did pull together a “first draft” with some key ideas I wanted to build on if I ever got to really explore these ideas in a fantasy setting.

Below is a slightly-cleaned-up version of notes for that fictional culture, the Reisende.

The Reisende

The Reisende are also called Northfolk, because they live further north than the biggest land-trade empires (which are generally the ones with the maps that include the most countries, and who thus have their names for everything used by many other nations). The Reisende themselves consider themselves “Travelers,” rather than “Northerners,” with a strong tradition of naval trade and exploration and of spending winter months gathered in roving bands of explorers, but who also sometimes act as merchants, couriers, raiders, or hired mercenaries.

Reisende culture is heavily influenced by their belief that each of their souls is created by one of the Ancestor Beasts, the original godlike examples of specific animal species. Reisende form clans based on which Ancestral Animal they are descended from, and these clans are cross-regional societies more important than territoriality, feudal allegiance, or even religious affiliation. The most powerful or well respected member of a clan generally settles intraclan disputes near them, and is often called to serve as an advocate for members of their clan with disputes with members of other clans. Local Jarls are landowning military and spiritual leaders who directly own enough land to make them self-sufficient, and generally serve as protectors of outlaying towns overseen by borgers–senior members of same clan as the jarl who convey the clan’s wishes and concerns to other town members. While a borger of a different clan might make an alliance with a powerful jarl if no strong leader of their own clan is close enough, it’s much less common.

Nearly all significant matters are handled through clan channels. Each clan has a reputation to maintain, and no matter what else they may be seen as by their neighbors (strong, or fierce, or crafty, or sly, or even cowardly), it is important to ever clan to be seen as honest and competent. There is no formal policing or court system–a person who commits a crime is rebuffed and if necessary punished by other members of their clan to ensure the clan’s own reputation is not ruined. If others are not satisfied with the can’s handling of their own members, complaints are elevated to senior clan members, borgers, and jarls.

Within any settlement, the more members of a clan there are the more strongly that clan’s behavior is considered to be enforced. A settlement overseen by a Seal Clan borger will certainly have more Seal clan members than any other, and often half or more of the population will belong to that clan. When only a very small percentage of people in a settlement belong to a clan, they often must depend on either the reputation of the nearest major member of their clan (even if that is weeks of travel away), or a strong alliance with local members in a clan with more influence nearby.

While it is often the case that a child is of the same Clan as one of more parent, it is not always so. The Ancestral Animals are divinities, of a sort, after all. If two Bear Clan parents give birth to a Sea Eagle Clan child, well, that’s Ancestral Animals for you. However, everyone has some ties to the clans of their parents, though it is not as strong as their tie to their own clan. Even so, if a Seal Clan daughter of Bear Clan parents was in a warband that took up arms against the Bear Clan, the warband would not expect her to join in the fight. Much rarer, some Reisende are strongly tied to two clans all their own, a state often known as “having an ancestor on each shoulder.”

Indeed, such cross-clan connections are often the way major issues are settled. If a town under a Reindeer Clan jarl has a territorial dispute with hunters under the banner of a Forest Cat jeger, someone with strong ties to both clans (even if not as strong as someone with an ancestor on each shoulder) is most likely to be the mediator that both sides trust.

(Being Northfolk, such issues are often formally settled by a Nærkamp–a ceremonial fight between two small groups of combatants the two sides agree are equal to one another, whether that’s three warrior to a side, or one mighty warlock for one side, against twenty farmers on the other. In some cases, other challenges settle disputes, such as drinking competitions, pig-wrestling, races, swimming contests, thread-spinning matches, butter-churning events, and so on).

Clan membership is not restricted by heredity. While most Northfolk are dwarf, elf, goblin, grendel, human, orc, or ulvemann, each of those is equally likely to belong to any given clan. A Bjornung dwarf and Bjornung orc are likely to be much closer to one another than a Bjornung dwarf and a Havorning dwarf. And if a gnome, or cyclops, or half-dragon centaur shows up and is recognized as descended of the bear (perhaps bya clan member in communication with their fylgiur–a kind of divine prophetic animal guide who likely appears in dreams), they are a beloved member of the Bjornung as well. Clan-kinship can also be extended by members of a clan who are willing to be responsible for the actions of the person they bring into the clan. Spouses, shield-mates, and hearth-bonded groups of any size often include members of numerous clans, and the most respected member of that joining (who is usually a woman, who are considered to be wiser on matters of family, but less often may be a man, especially in families of choice that do not have women as members) can petition the most respected local sage or wise-one of their own clan (also most often a woman) to accept all the members of the family-of-choice as clan-kin.

Of course just as people of the same nation or same family may feud in other lands, two members of the same clan may dislike, mistrust, or work against one another. But such animus is the exception, rather than the rule, and is almost never allowed to go so far as to damage the clan as a whole. If someone within a clan is considered to have committed crimes not great enough to deserve death, but too great for the clan to ever vouch for them, then are generally branded with a severed-head sigil indicating they have been cast out of the clan. It is difficult for such outcasts to be find a home anywhere but with brigands or in lands far from the Reisende, though it does occasionally happen (usually as the result of performing some legendary act of heroism, kindness, or crafting), and the tales of Ulfathe Thrice-Branded proves even someone outcast more than once can earn their way into a new clan.

There are dozens of clans, and the prestige, reach, power, and size of each varies as the fortunes of their notable members rise and fall. The following are the most powerful, well-known, widespread, and respected of the clans.

Bjornung (The Descendants of the Bear)
Hafgufang (The Descendants of the Leviathan)
Havenselung (The Descendants of the Seal)
Havorning (The Descendants of the Sea Eagle)
Lintormeng (The Descendants of the Dragon)
Moskusing (The Descendants of the Musk Ox)
Ratatosring (The Descendants of the Squirrel)
Reinsdyrung (The Descendants of the Reindeer)
Reving (The Descendants of the Winter Fox)
Skoggkattung (The Descendants of the Forest Cat)

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Saint Bennen, and Paladins, in the Sovereign Kingdoms

My mention of the Bennenites–staff-wielding warrior-priests from my old Sovereign Kingdoms fantasy campaign–in an article about Staff Mastery Feats has apparently raised some interest in the worldbuilding about the order. (More than in the feats they inspired, in any case 🙂 ).

Most of my notes about that more-than-20-year-old-game are scrawled in pencil in a few different notebooks and one big red 3-ring binder. Having moved 11 times in that two decades they aren’t all in one place, and many are in boxes in storage (though I have laid eyes on most of them on the past 18 months). But I have dug some up, and can

In the Sovereign Kingdoms the major religion was the Apostolic Church, which worshiped a supreme deity who had 4 specially blessed demigods who oversaw interactions with mortals. Three of those rebelled (essentially taking the role of three differently-themed antichrist/lucifer figures), and the fourth, YSRIES, began teaching various mortals directly. Those mortals who followed his teachings to a state of high enlightenment were granted tiny motes of his divine power, becoming saints.

Sainthood was essentially treated as a mega-paladin template in that campaign, making every paladin essentially a potential saint in training. Paladins were considered to have been given a mote of divine power they were trusted to use appropriately, with only those dedicated to the concepts of benevolence and morality even giver that power. There are paladins of other faiths (though they were rarer, and included the singular Green Knight of the druidic faith, the Proctors of the Gnostic faith, and the Salt Warriors of the eastern Apostolic Church).

The power of a paladin was sometimes granted temporarily for a good, faithful follower in particularly desperate straits (as happened to a PC at least once during the campaign). However, the ability to draw on the mote of divinity required a level of dedication and purity. If a mortal failed to live up to that standard, the connection literally became metaphysically impossible. It was not that divine powers withdrew their assistance, but that mortals too far out of balance with the essence of the divinity couldn’t access it.

(As an aside, while the power of a paladin came from outside themselves, actually drawing on the power of a mote of divinity was a skill that could apply to different power sources. If a paladin fell far enough from grace, one of the three fallen demigods could grant a fiendish power source which, if accepted, turned the bearer into an anti-paladin. Anti-paladins tended to have powers diametrically opposed to paladins because they were using the same training manuals to manipulate the aligned planar energy within them.)

Within the Apostolic Church, saints were arranged in three tiers of reverence–the Apostles (taught directly by YSRIES), the ArchSaints (taught by one or more of the Apostles, usually after YSRIES left the mortal plane), and the Canon Saints (recognized as saints by the authority of the Ecclesiarch of the Apostolic Church).

Saint Bennen was the first of the Canon Saints, a farmer-turned-mercenary-turned-priest who had decided to dedicate his life to the protection of the oppressed. Most famously, during a war against devilish cultists, Bennen-as-mercenary refused to leave a town of innocents when local defenders pulled out, as the defenders believing any fight to save it doomed to total defeat. Because the retreat had to be performed swiftly, the sick, wounded, young, and old were all left behind. When Bennen refused to leave, his commander stripped him of his spear, sword, and dagger. Thus when Bennen stood at the edge of town to defend it from oncoming attackers, he did so armed with only a staff.

The half-fiend commander of the attacking forces was so amused, it decided to destroy Bennen personally before overrunning the town, so as to sow fear, misery, and despair among the townsfolk. However, as the fight began, Bennen was granted the power of paladinhood, and was joined by a Bagwyn* companion as a steed. Bennen defeated the half-fiend, the devilish cult army fled in fear, and the town was saved. Due to a wound sufferend in the battle, Bennen forevermore moved with a severe limp. In thanks for the divine aid, Bennen turned to religious studies, and became a priest, and in time a Arch-Prelate (the third-highest rank within the Apostolic Church).

*A bagwyn is a heraldic creature of mythology with the body of an antelope, mighty backwards-curling horns, and the fetlocks and tail of a horse. In the Sovereign Kingdoms, bagwyns were basically unicornlike creatures that served any good-aligned mystic forces, while unicorns were specifically angelic.

I haven’t yet found the list of who Bennen was the patron saint of, but if memory serves it included farmers, mercenaries, defenders, wood-gatherers, woodwrights, the ill, the infirm, the lame, bagwyns, and lost causes. While most Apostolic Orders were extremely suspicious of druids, Bennenites often formed aliances with them, and when a Green Knight arose, Bennenite priests would see to their training.

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Bennenite Staff Mastery Feats for PF1

In my longest-running fantasy RPG group campaign, The Sovereign Kingdoms, there was a famous religious order who revered Saint Bennen. Known as “Bennenites,” they were warrior-priests who were considered masters of quarterstaff fighting. They were a popular piece of lore for the world, and anytime a character was described as wearing heavy armor and carrying a wooden staff, shod in cold iron at one end and silver at the other, players knew to take them seriously because they obviously had received Bennenite training.

Bennenites were one of the major Good Guy organizations, and included clerics, fighters, priests, and “Kirks” (which were a form of religious order given roughly the same authority and respect as Knights, but only where that religion was acknowledged). However, Bennenite training was made available to anyone not known to be of foul character, and young peasants, squires, mercenaries, and craftsmen often trained at Bennenite Chapterhouses. If those trainees later turned evil, that did not somehow take away the benefits of their training. (One major villain was a mage with Bennenite Training, and a magic staff).

I had begun to work on Bennenite training feats for 3.0 and 3.5 fantasy RPG rules, but never finished them. Here is a new take on the ideas, at least to start, for Pathfinder 1st edition.

Bennenite Training
You have been trained in the fighting style of St. Bennen, who said “Let none who can pick up a stick see themselves as unarmed against adversity.”
Prerequisite: Proficiency with quarterstaff, base attack bonus +1 or 1 rank Knowledge (religion)
Benefit: When equipped with a quarterstaff, you can use it as if it was a longsword, shortsword, or one of each, except the weapon damage type is bludgeoning. You are still considered proficient with the weapons when you use the quarterstaff as a longsword and shortsword, even if you aren’t proficient with longsword and/or shortsword. You can use this as proficiency for feats (such as Weapon Focus: Longsword), but if you only meet the proficiency as a result of Bennenite Training you can only use those feats with a quarterstaff. Any feat, ability, or action you have access to you can apply to a quarterstaff you can continue to use even when treating the quarterstaff as a longsword, short sword, or both. You cannot gain the same benefit twice by using one version for quarterstaff and one for another weapons (for example if you have Weapon Focus with both longsword and quarterstaff, you cannot apply both to the same attack).

If you take an action that normally requires two weapons (such as attacking with two weapons), you must treat the two ends of your quarterstaff as the two weapons.

If you are proficient with quarterstaff, longsword, and short sword, this feat acts as Weapon Focus for any attack you make with a quarterstaff.

Bennenite Training Specialization
You have learned advanced teachings of St. Bennen.
Prerequisites: Bennenite Training, base attack bonus +4 or 4 ranks Knowledge (religion).
Benefit: When you make an attack with a quarterstaff, regardless of what weapon you treat it as, you gain a +2 bonus to damage dealt. This counts as Weapon Specialization, and does not stack with other forms of Weapon Specialization.

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Off-The-Cuff Campaign Ideas, Part 3

Just like my two previous entries, these are off-the-cuff campaign ideas I have done no prep or pre-planning for. They may all suck… or might spark a good idea for other people.

Surveyors: Ecealhstede is a god, but not a sapient or humanoid one. Ecealhstede is the Eternal City, the Home Before All, and the Foundation of Divinity. It is literally an eternal divinity in the form of a city, which has a center, and an outer wall, but no limit to how big it is, or how many denizens it can support. It is a mix of all architecture styles, all cultural influences, and all building types. It has a sea port, and a river port, and a desert caravan gate, and a forested merchant’s gate, and one long wall of nothing but sharpened stakes that keep out something living just beyond, in the eternally fog-shrouded bog beyond.

Ecealhstede has at least one door to every other city in existence, and it’s aqueducts, and sewers, and culverts, and roads, and alleys are similarly linked.

Many more creatures pass through Ecealhstede without noticing than ever realize they are within, and many more glimpse it briefly than spend any notable time within its walls, moats, barricades, and squares.

But Ecealhstede has chosen you, and your allies, to fulfill the role of surveyors. Because every settlement and structure everywhere is part of Ecealhstede, any threat to any of them can, in rare circumstances, become a threat to Ecealhstede. If a warehouse fire is going to spread through reality-spanning streets into the Eternal City’s thatched quarter, or siege engineers are going to breach a fortified wall that is harmonically linked to one of Ecealhstede’s walls, or if a flood is going to poor through dimensional cracks to flood Ecealhstede’s cisterns, the god-city draws you in to the base of operations it provides you and your allies, and then all doors out lead to the problem.

Of course, being a god’s champion, even one made of boulevards and bridges, has its advantages. With each threat to Ecealhstede you solve, your wealth, prestige, and personal power grow. Though there is also a god of ransacking, and soon you may draw ITS attention…

Brand New Season: Probably, no one should have exposed the Aelder Things to the concept of television. But they did, and now the Apocalypse Prevention Bureau (APB) has to come up with exciting entertainment for those nameless, formless entities to enjoy. You are an expert from a modern, technologically-advanced world. And you have been recruited for the Brand New Season.

The APB puts you in a group of diverse, often edgy allies. Then they send you to go deal with some specific moment, in some fantasy world. Those threats are always discrete, focused, and generally can be solved with properly applied violence. And they are always JUST within your ability to overcome them. You certainly CAN take guns instead of crossbows, and jeeps, and CB headsets… but if any of those things makes the adventure significantly easier, SOMETHING always comes along to even the odds.

And if you make it back, you get to rest, make some merchandizing deals, heal up, train… and then go back out for a new adventure that’s just a bit tougher than the last one.

Otherwise, it wouldn’t be entertaining enough…

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My Early Animation Fandoms

I find it fascinating when I talk to other game creators, about what they do and don’t consider strongly influential to their love of speculative fiction and their foundational fandoms. For me, fandom and animation have always gone hand-in-hand, and while there are numerous fandoms I am part of that are primarily consumed in other formats, I can trace easy throughlines from the earliest animation I consumed to a lot of my current preferences. I’m especially bemused when I mentions something I think of as iconic and core to the geek zeitgeist, and discover some of the people I am talking to have never heard of it.

Like a lot of Gen x-ers, I grew up with cartoons that were strongly tied to toy lines — G.I. Joe, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, and so on. But before those, I got exposed to a lot of content that drew from varied sources and traditions. It’s impossible to understand my creative influences and impulses without knowing where it started, which had two primary sources — pulp novels, and animated tv shows. I’ll look at pulps later, so for today it’s a quick rundown of some of my earliest animation fandoms.

Astro Boy: My first anime, in the super-early 1970s. I can’t remember any specific episode from that time, and I vaguely recall it was broadcast locally at like 6am weekday mornings.

Battle of the Planets: I encountered this before Star Blazers, and as a youth was a huge fan (though even a a child I knew there was something odd about the animation quality difference in the 7-Zark-7 sequences). As I grew, this fandom did not grow with me. I have seen the original Gatchaman and later iterations of it, and despite how much I loved many of the elements as a child, it just doesn’t speak to me anymore.

Fat Albert: This fandom did not last, and in fact became painful for me. But my conceptual love of protagonists working out of junkyards starts here. I was always obese, even as a pre-teen child, and Fat Albert was the only obese hero on TV who was shown as part of a powerful physicality rather than Nero Wolfe-like sitting genius, and was never mocked or belittled for his size, which he could use to his advantage.

The Herculoids: I think this is my earliest science-fantasy fandom — before Thundaar the Barbarian or He-Man, there were the Herculoids. I didn’t get to see them on first run, and their syndication schedule wasn’t something I ever managed to sync up with, but whenever I caught an episode, I was enrapt. This, of course, is another example of me loving pulp concepts in multiple formats.

Johnny Quest: Did I mention I love pulps?! Well, the original 1960s series is a big part of why. And while the show absolutely has flaws worthy of criticism, it was also formative in my love of action adventurers who face a weird world of hidden threats without superpowers, and while trying to make the world a better place. Also, dinosaurs and hurky robots.

Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies: Originally shorts shown before movies, these classic Bugs Bunny et al cartoons were staples on TV as I grew up… and were my introduction to classical music. The run from 1944 to 1969 still amuses me when i see them today, and I was enrapt when they came on TV in the 1970s and early 80s. I very much never had the same reaction to similar cartoons of the era, such as Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, Yogi Bear, Droopy, or Mickey Mouse (though I would watch them when nothing else was on).

The Marvel Super Heroes: This was the first TV show based on Marvel comics characters, made in the 1960s. In a series of 7-minute segments, it told stories about Captain America, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Mighty Thor, and the Sub-Mariner. My love of powered armor, which was bolstered by the Lensman and Starship Troopers novels, was absolutely influenced by the Iron Man segments of this show. At the time I also dug Thor and Hulk super-hard, but those faded as a grew to be more in keeping with my generic like of superheroes. For whatever reason, the Sub-Mariner never interested me. While I would watch the better-known SuperFriends later in life, it never held the same appeal for me.

Popeye: As a child, the B&W Popeye cartoons were something I looked forward to every afternoon, after school. Popeye felt like a modern Aladdin to me, and a pulp adventurer who could stand next to Tarzan, Thuvia, and Sherlock Holmes. I grew out of this fandom, with the 1980 live-action movie (which I did enjoy) pretty much serving as the capstone on my interest in the character, though i do still have a fondness for the squinty hero.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?: This is the original Scooby-Doo, in 1969 and 1970, and then in reruns forever. My first procedural fandom. Despite having a talking dog, there mystery in this was never, ever supernatural. This show literally taught me to be skeptical, and also got me interested in horror concepts (though it was not itself truly a horror show). It also taught me that the villain is often driven by pure greed, and evil can be pretty unimpressive, while trying to build its own reputation. these lessons have remained relevant my entire life.

Speed Racer: My first vehicle crush was the Mach 5, and I was watching this basically as soon as I could turn on the TV by myself. My love of Speed Racer lead directly to my love for the Car Wars line of games, and while I adored the US live-action movie, and have a huge nostalgia for the original anime, it’s not an active fandom for me these days.

Star Blazers: I watched this in the early 1980s, and was exposed to it just before I encountered ttRPGs. I became, and remain, a lifelong fan of nearly all versions of this. The Yamato/Argo was an obsession of mine for much of my life, and I can still be made to cry by watching some sequences from any of its iterations. More than Star Trek, more than Star Wars, equaled only by my Lensman fandom, this was my biggest early scifi mania.

Star Trek: The Animated Series: I watched these, either first-run or super-early syndication. I remember liking them better than TOS, which was in reruns, which is likely because I was stunningly young, and they were shorter–but maybe also because they could do more visually odd characters and creatures.

Thundaar the Barbarian: My first post-apocalypse fandom, and one of my earliest science-fantasy fandoms. I watched these first-run, and loved them. Yes, it’s a pretty obvious mash-up of Conan and Star Wars with nonsensical backgrounds of a ruined civilization, but what’s wrong with that? Thundarr is why I got into Gamma World, and it remains something I would love to see a good reboot of (and would hate to see a bad reboot of…). You can trace and interesting line from Thundaar to Blackstar to He-Man… and I liked each of those a bit less than the one before it. 😛

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Two More Off-The-Cuff Campaign Ideas

I didn’t expect to write more of these… but I guess that’s what makes them off-the-cuff. I envision both of these as likely Starfinder campaigns, but you could mold them to work however you like.

Armageddon Helix: While there are numerous theories about its creation, no one is sure what caused the Armageddon Helix, a 525-mile wide strip of alternate reality running in a spiral from pole to pole of the Earth. Within the Helix, technology became unpredictable, magic and psychic powers bloomed, monsters arose, aline ruins and mythic buildings burst up from the land itself, and destruction was wrought. Magic does not function outside the Helix, but many strange technologies do. However, those technologies require materials that only exist within the Helix.
Those within the Helix changed as well, becoming unable to survive outside of it, and becoming ill if the come within a few miles of its edge. Similarly, those from outside the Helix cannot live near or survive within the Helix. Of course, this makes travel much more difficult–going from Seattle to Boise is simple enough, as they are within the same Safeland strip, but the center of the country is within the Helix, and travel to the East coast requires travel up to the north pole, around the end of the Helix, and back down toward North America.
The exception to this are extremely rare Apocalypse Riders, 0.01% of the population who can move freely between the Safeland and the Apocalypse Helix. Apocalypse Riders are heavily recruited, to take emergency supplies and news into the Helix, to bring valuable HelixTech materials out, to hunt down criminal riders who operate on the borer where few can seek them out, and to explore ever-changing Helix Ruins in the hopes of understanding what brought about the Helix, and if it can be reversed or controlled. Between missions, Apocalypse Riders can live in relative comfort in the Safelands, going to restaurants, seeing movies, and sleeping in soft beds. But within the Helix, danger lurks around every corner.

Gjallarbrú Guard: There are many names for the river that separates the lands of the living from the lands of the dead. Regardless of its name, that river is crossed by an infinite number of massive bridges, each bridge a city wherein the work of the afterlife is carried out. One of these is Gjallarbrú, the Golden Hall.
Souls dwell here. Mostly those who expect to reach a Norse afterlife, but others two. Some know how they got here. Many don’t. A few don’t even believe they are dead.
In most cases, those souls eventually move on. Once they pay their obolgild, or finish their limbo-punishment, or clear up some paperwork. Some don’t ever go on to the afterlife. Others can’t. And a lot just need to work to earn the obolgild to do so… or steal it.
There are rules, too. Cosmic, immutable laws. And fiends and elder alien reality-warpers and astrally projected living necromancers and sleepwalking psychics and Miskatonic university professors keep stirring up trouble. And sometimes, a dead soul even gets killed.
You are one of the souls that can’t, or won’t, move on. And you are part of the city Guard. It’s your job to keep the peace. The Peace of the Already Dead.
Sometimes Guards come from Chinvat, the bridge-city upstream from Gjallarbrú, chasing escapees who floated down the Infinite River. Less often someone must go downriver to Hardos, the broken bridge city, for similar reasons. Rumors claim that Guards are sometimes sent more than one bridge away up or down the river, but if that’s true, you’ve never spoken to such people.

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