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Game Design: First Thing on a Blank Page (Cultsmasher RPG)

So, I’m having trouble focusing on my tasks today. This idea for an entire RPG that would look a lot like a weird hybrid of Starfinder, AGE, PF2, 5e, 4e, and… like… Fudge beginning to form in my head.

It wants out, and I do NOT have time today. 😛

Historically, my best bet is to write down just enough of the idea that it feels like I won’t lose it over time, and I can convince my muse/subconscious it’s safe to move on. So, you get a peak behind the curtain at some of my design musings.

Often the hardest part for starting a whole new RPG, or a new subsystem, or even just something like a class, is to get the very first thing down on the blank page. I can expand, and build, and riff, and iterate MUCH more easily than I can craft from a starting point of absolutely nothing.

So, just to have a textual jumping-off point, I often create concept pieces that I know may have nothing to do with final text. These are visualizations of how rule interactions might be described eventually, starting life along–hanging in midair with no surrounding game infrastructure to connect to. But I have to start SOMEWHERE, and writing a new-ish idea as if it was final text linked to a whole game often helps spark potential opportunities, pitfalls, and complications in my head, often in real time as I write down the tiny seed of thought I started with.

So, here’s a game mechanic, currently with nothing else tied to it.

Focus: Your character’s focus represents making a concentrated effort. Doing so is physically, mentally, and even spiritually taxing. As a result, your character has a limited number of Focus Points, which fuel Focus Abilities. If a Focus Ability is tied to an Attribute which is a Primary Attribute for your character, using it costs 1 Focus Point. If it has no Attribute, using it costs 2 Focus Points. If it is tied to a Secondary Attribute, using it costs 3 points.

Every character begins with the Reroll power. If you fail an Attribute roll, you may expend Focus Points to reroll it. This decision must be made immediately after seeing the result of the roll. When you reroll, rather than roll 2d10 and add your bonuses, you roll 1d10 + 10, and add your bonuses.

Characters gain Focus Powers from their Descriptor Paths. Any character may take any Focus Power they qualify for, but some Focus Powers are more effective for certain types of characters. For example, a character with the Fighter path can take Mighty Blow, and since it is tied to Might, a Primary Attribute for the Fighter, it costs him only 1 Focus Point to use. A character with the Occultist path could also gain access to Mighty Blow, but since Might is a Secondary Attribute for that path, the Occultist would have to expend 3 Focus Points to use that power.

A character regains all their Focus Points when they Recuperate.”

(Art by 9’63 Creation)

I mean no, that’s not anything like a whole mechanic, it it already assumes this that very well might not be how any final game came together. But it’s a good verbal description of this vague IDEA I had in my head.

I also like to label these things as if they were part of an existing RPG framework. Again, these are placeholders, and mental tags to let me organize snippets and file them where I can find them again. So, and just for now, I’ll decide this is part of the CULTSMASHER RPG.

Now, maybe I can get back to working on today’s deadlines.

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More Models for my Hobby-Only ’49 Setting

I have been working on a “White Tsar” diesel pulp armored vehicle for nearly 5 years now. It’s a major kitbash, using some pretty advanced models beyond my actual skill level, and it’s stalled out more than once.

But our new housemate (a friend of decades) is an avid modeler, and wanted to help. The fact each wheel has more than 100 individual parts (I love pedrails, but they were not simple tech) phased him not a bit. And thus, this monstrosity has finally finished the construction stage, so I can show it off prior to beginning painting.

Comparing it to the original Tsar tank:

More than 20 feet tall? Check.
Triwheel design? Check
Giant weapon sponsons and a turret? Check

Here’s a quick recap of its fictional origin.

“In the ’49 setting, the Crimea remains under the control of the White Russians, loyalists to the Russian monarchy despite losing most of their territory to the Soviet Union. The White Russians are commanded by Anastasia the Great, also known as the “Black Duchess,” the last surviving child of Czar Nicholas II. Anastacia is a military genius with a reputation for ambushes and nasty surprises, a lifetime of conflict, and a cabal of loyal psychic stranniks with mysterious ties to the legendary Rasputin.

One of the things that has allowed the Black Duchess is hold on to ‘Czarist Crimea’ as the last gasp of the Russian Empire is that rather than build walkers (which her tiny empire simply lacks the resources to design or maintain), she depends primarily on the mighty White Tsar rolling heavy armor units. Faster and cheaper than walkers and more reliable than the legendarily finicky tracked vehicles, the White Tsar remains the only wheeled heavy armor unit in the war. Though the original Tsar wheeled armor unit was too heavy to move, by using what Martian-derived technology is available to her on a revised wheeled design for a huge mobile cannon platform, the Black Duchess has created a mobile heavy armor unit that performs very well, and which traditional anti-walker tactics don’t work well against.”

Now, I can turn my attention to the Black Duchess’s primary Romanian Fascist foes.

Pics with Eight-Ball, one of Rosie’s Rebels, for scale.

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’49, Wüstendrachen

As the German Wüstendrachen had little impact on the war anywhere but in Africa, Allied planners tended to dismiss them as either a stunt designed to show the impressive reach of the Reich, or a poorly-conceived plan to create a new form of wonder-soldier to compete (in general, poorly) with powered-armor equipped heavy infantry.

In fact, neither of those was the strategic purpose of the Wüstendrachen, which was in general never realized.

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By the time the Reich had determined victory had to mean conquering North and South America, the reality of logistics just invading the Soviet Union and Czarist Crimea had become clear. While invasions of the Americas wouldn’t have to deal with Russian Winter, the need to import the needed war materiel across one or more oceans was seen as a major problem. Even if jet bombers and saucers could destroy most of the continent’s opposing forces from the air, truly controlling such territory would require troops on the ground.

This is where the drachen were seen as part of the solution. The beasts were capable of outrunning and outlasting horses, camels, and even jeeps, could allow expert troops to carry significant materiel and even anti-tank weapons, and while they could not compete with walkers or heavy infantry, they were more than capable of handling light infantry or militias.

And they could breed.

The idea was that a well-blooded, well-trained Wüstendrachen could expand exponentially once established on a foreign continent. A single female could lay 4-5 eggs a week, and hatchlings were born nearly self-sufficient. They would imprint upon birth with a pack handler, could be used as guard animals within a week, and could become mounts within 3 months.

Rather than have to build factories, import or process fuel, maintain supply lines of tires and spare parts, the plan was for elite Wüstendrachen to establish bases of operations, feed their mounts on fallen foes and wild game, and recruit, train, and educate local whites to become volkwüstendrachen, creating a self-sustaining, replicating, self-sufficient scouting and patrol force that could spread across any continent with little support from Germany.

Though the project only took root in any strength under Rommel in Africa, its success there for years suggests it would have at least had some impact on an invasion of the Americas, if the Reich had ever managed great enough success to attempt such a thing.

#DieselPulp

Pulp Powers: Prechometry

Exploring a concept of a psychic power I’ve never seen anyone use in  story or game before.

“Prechometry”

The ability to touch an object and gain impressions of noteworthy things that are going to happen to it in the future.

Especially useful variant is “image prechometry,” which allows you to touch a detailed picture of an object (such as a blueprint), and determine what major things would happen to it if actually existed.

In my “Diesel Pulp” just-for-fun setting, the Black Duchess of Crimea has a number of prechometrist stranniks, who allow her military to troubleshoot new designs without ever actually building or testing them. While this system is not perfect, it saves so much time and money as to give the Black Duchess a huge advantage.

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Campaign Elements: The Wolf’s Head

Sometimes a campaign really needs a mastermind criminal with a vast organization at his disposal. Preferably someone with extensive resources, but who also prefer to keep a low profile. Such crime bosses may serve as foils, contacts, patrons, nemesis, or just background elements the GM and players can work off of as stories develop.

Of course, it helps if such master criminals and crime groups are cool and enigmatic.

So this is an idea of one option to fill that element. It focuses on the master criminal, the Wolf’s Head, and touches lightly on the organization, the Crime Guild. These descriptions are kept intentionally broad. A GM should be able to easily adapt the Wolf’s Head and Crime Guild to any genre, any game system, and any world or time frame. They can be pastiches for Lex Luthor and LexCrop, Moriarty and his Network, the Godfather and the Five Families, or Jabba the Hutt and his scum and villainy. Alternatively, a GM can use this as a starting point to build a whole new kind of organized crime group.

The Wolf’s Head

The Wolf’s Head is a mastermind villain and organizer of all forms of outlawry. He or she holds the highest position in the Crime Guild, a combination of organized crime cartel and training-ground for talented individuals. Each Wolf’s Head carries the position’s official scepter of office, a long cane with a silver wolf’s head and the words caput gerat lupinum (“may his be a wolf’s head” in Latin) engraved around the base of the head of the cane.

The Wolf’s Head traces its origin back to writ’s of outlawry in early English common law (or any older nation in worlds lacking England). An outlaw was literally being “cast out of the law,” no longer subject to the protections a person received from the law and thus able to be treated as a wolf. The write included the words caput gerat lupinum, and in many cases was considered the most serious possible sentence.

According to Crime Guild history, one of the earliest people declared an outlaw under this system build a vast network of outlaws, and took the first Wolf’s Head title. Over the centuries that organization has come in contact with, and absorbed, the thousands of organized crime groups from every continent, nation, and ethnicity, forming the massive, worldwide Crime Guild. While the goals of the Crime Guild vary somewhat, they tend to remain institutional – focused on earning and protecting money, influence, and power and building a large cadre of loyal agents. Many guilders are important members of other groups, ranging from crime families to law enforcement agencies, but some few work directly for the Crime Guild. These generally answer directly to the Wolf’s Head, and through them the Wolf’s Head is free to pursue any goals he or she desires, as long as the Crime Guild on the whole continues to grow and prosper.

The holder of the Wolf’s Head title changes periodically, and apparently at random to outside observers. Each Wolf’s Head must nominate one Alder of Crime every 3 years (though killed alders need not be replaced). Each Alder is able to secretly vote to “retire” the current Wolf’s Head (though they can change this vote at any time). Such votes are kept with several ArchNumbers (Numbers being living cogitators who keep all the Crime Guild’s records, and ArchNumbers being senior examples). The Wolf’s Head also ranks the alders, from best to worst, and gives that information only to the ArchNumbers (and can change the rankings at any time).

If at any point 2/3 or more of the current Alders have voted to retire the current leader, the Numbers inform the entire Crime Guild. At that point all Alders try to kill the Wolf’s Head. If they succeed within 30 days (also known as the Hunter’s Moon, as the alders hunt the ultimate wolf), then whichever alder still alive that was highest ranked by the previous Wolf’s Head becomes the new Wolf’s Head. If not, the current Wolf’s Head retains the position, and the ArchNumbers ensure every alder that voted to retire him is killed (to cull those who mistakenly thought it was time to change leaders).

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Diesel Pulp: Fordlandia and the Argentinian Reich

Fordlandia and the Argentinian Reich

In my Diesel Pulp setting, Henry Ford is a full-on Nazi. Given his strongly antisemitic views, the damage he did spreading those views, and his company’s willingness to use slave labor in Germany, I don’t feel bad about this at all.

I also have Fordlandia being both hugely successful, and being in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in far-southern Brazil. With so much technological effort being put toward compression gears, Cavorite, and other Martian-inspired technology, synthetic rubber does not develop, and rubber trees remain crucial right through the end of the Global War. With the British controlling most European-owned rubber plantations, and Japan being too far away for its holdings to make a good supplier for Germany, Fordlandia in southern Brazil is a crucial supply for the Nazi.

So, my setting assumed a Nazi-backed military coup takes control of Argentina early in the Global War, likely 1939, and quickly pressures Chile and Paraguay to join the South American “Argentinian Reich.” German-backed forces then strike into Brazil to cut off Rio Grande do Sul, taking both Fordlandia and Porto Alegre (the state’s capital and a major port). I feel a little bad about having these nations become Nazi allies… but given how long Argentina stayed neutral and that I am creating a new government backed by Nazis, I don’t feel too bad. And, any real-world historical group or figure in Argentina at the time that doesn’t deserve to be tarred with the broad brush can be added to the South American Resistance that pops up to oppose the Nazi-supported government.

This results in Brazilian and Mexican forces (with the aid of the US, economically at first with Lend-Lease, and then military assistance after 1941) fighting in South America against Argentinian Reich through the Global War. All other South and Central American Nations support the Allies against the Axis, at the minimum sending aid and in many cases (especially Bolivia, Peru, and Uruguay) troops.

I suspect this means no Brazilian Expeditionary Force, but since those troops are literally defending, and ultimately taking back, their homeland I don’t think that’s selling short Brazil’s contribution to the war. Similarly the Mexican Aztec Eagles and Fuerza Aerea Mexicana operations are going to stay closer to the continent, but remain heroically involved. The Pan-American Highway remains a high priority for the US and the Allies, and also gets pushed much closer to completion, though the route changes to more greatly favor Brazil.

A lot of this is, of course, ridiculous. But I like my Global War having actual fighting on every continent (sorry Australia), and like the idea of turning Fordlandia into a corporate-fascist autocratic city-state, as a place and idea for stories and events. And in a setting that assumes the War of the Worlds inspired walkers to be the main Diesel Age military technology and masked “irregulars” becoming common as military assets, I don’t mind some ridiculous alterations.

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Diesel Pulp Australian Units

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Working on more minis for my Diesel Pulp setting. These are three “Kelly Heavies,” from Australia’s legendary Armored Rangers. While medium and heavy infantry doctrine varies from country to country, and many ended up simply slapping what heavy infantry they could scrounge into heavy weapon platoons, only Australia built custom-purpose advanced scouting units that combined light, medium, and heavy infantry (generally known as Bushrangers, Kellies, and Kelly Heavies, respectively).

The idea behind armor scout units was to operate far from the front lines, make detailed reports about conditions, and engage in targeted strikes where a small force could potentially make a large difference. Bridges, passes, pillboxes, observation posts, field airports, and headquarters were favorite targets. Bushrangers would move as far ahead as possible, with one Kelly each in support if they ran into a small enemy unit (generally infantry or cavalry). Only if a viable target was found would Kelly Heavies be employed, each directed to an advantageous firing position by a Bushranger, where the Kelly Heavy could employ their Australian-built Owen Gun Shields, with their machine carbine and integral HEAT launchers.

Armored Scouts were consistently the most effective units including heavy infantry throughout the Global War, their tactics honed in part due to Australia’s much longer history with armored infantry, dating back to the 1890s Bush Battles against the Martian tripods in and around Victoria. Kelly Heavies, in particular, were designed with much heavier armor in front, especially on the head and chest, and lighter armor over the rest of the infantry fighter. Because they generally engaged in battle supported by more mobile units, Kelly Heavies could reliably face the source of the heaviest enemy fire and depend on support to alert them from threats outside their narrow field of vision. While no heavy infantry could survive direct hits from anti-materiel weapons, Kelly Heavies could take glancing blows to the heaviest section of their armor, and hold up to direct hits from most anti-personnel weapons. As a result, “damaged” Kelly Heavies were much more common than other heavy infantry units (which generally didn’t survive being hit by anything heavy enough to do significant damage).

I’m making an effort to make these miniatures more dinged-up than I normally try for, but they are otherwise fairly stock.

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Genre Emulation Feats – Noir, Fatale

Genre Emulation Feats are an idea I noodled with while running an Anachronistc Advenures campaign called “The Travellers,” where my players bravely agreed to make mundane modern day characters using the AnacrAdv rules knowing I was going to do SOMETHING with the game, but not what.

“What” turned out to be a series of world-hopping adventures that took them to different realities (Alterniverses) where different genres held sway, within which each PCs got a template giving them abilities appropriate to their role within that Alterniverse. Several of those had Genre Emulation Feats, which were designed to enforce specific tropes with that reality. GEF were more powerful than normal feats, but you only got a few, only to fit one role, and only within that Alterniverse.

each character never filled more than one role. If your roll changed, you could swap your old genre feats for new ones. I generally gave out a bonus GEF at 1st level, 3rd level, and every 3rd level after that.

These are examples of the ones the Fatale role could pick up, which certainly were not gender-specific.

A Paramour in Every Port
Prerequisites: Fatale role
Benefits: Each time you enter a settlement, you get a number of followers as if you had taken the Leadership feat (but no cohorts… ever). Your Leadership level for this is equal to your Charisma bonus, plus the bonuses you gain from Bluff or Diplomacy from feats (you add only the bonuses to one of those two skills, whichever are highest), plus the higher of the settlement’s Corruption or Society rating. For Leadership scores of Your effective Leadership has a minimum of 6 to 9, you still receive followers (1 follower for a 6, 2 for a 7, and so on). Your total followers in a given settlement never exceed your character level.
Your followers are Friendly, and their roles within the town are random. Their alignment is also random, but you know their alignment within one step (your GM tells you, and the answer will be correct or within one step). You do not need to pay for these followers gear or upkeep unless you give them full-time (40 hour/week) tasks.
Losing a follower lowers your leadership score in the same settlement by 1 until you gain your next level. each time you gain a level, you can recalculate your total followers (replacing lost ones and gaining new ones if needed).

Bushwack
Prerequisites: Fatale role
Benefits: When you lure a target into a secluded area where the target cannot see or hear any of its allies, any nonlethal damage the takes in a surprise round before the target acts is quadrupled. This only functions if you convince the target to move from the location where you encounter it. If any of these conditions end you cannot use this feat again on the same target until you have gotten an attitude or friendly with the target, or if the target does not realize you are the same person when you next lure it into seclusion.

Quid Pro Quo
Prerequisites: Fatale role
Benefits: You can make a Diplomacy check to ask favors of creatures that are not hostile to you, in return for you doing a favor of the same level of danger and/or cost for them first. The DC for this is 10 + x1.5 the CR of the target. This otherwise functions as a normal Diplomacy check asking for a favor.
Obviously you’d want more feats and different roles…

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More Diesel Pulp

Most of my “Diesel Pulp” figures and models are part of a specific setting I worldbuild purely as a hobby. I work on them in my (limited) spare time as something connected to many of the things I love about my hobby, without being something I plan to actually ever turn into a product. And, of course, a lot of it is left half-done…

47-frei-corps

In the background two Maginot Field Turrets (each topped by an Irregular — Sister Sanguine and Tommy Atkins), in the foreground several more Irregulars including Father Pentacaust, Buring Skull, Mister Mythic, Captain St. Louis, The Haze, Torch Singer, the Marshal , Kilroy, Pirate Jack, and Black Hood. to the far right, three members of the Iron Raptors.

Diesel Pulp Allied Troops

Diesel Pulp Allied Infantry
Top, Left to Right: US Light Infantry medic, three US Medium Infantry (anti-armor, close combat, flamethrower, all in unpowered armor), two US  Heavy Infantry (combat support, flamethrower, in powered armor), and one US “Rough House” AT2 Gun Carrier (walker equivalent of an armed jeep)
Bottom, Left to Right: two Allied Special Unit Light Infantry (Pacific Theater, the Yelling Yahoos; one with captured Japanese Death Ray rifle and one with an experimental Power Arm, both with captured Tokubetsu Kōgekitai swords), one Free Corps mercenary (European Theater, the Minuteman Militia) and two Irregulars (All-American Girl, with her Boom Gun and Tomastic Sword; and Sky King with his Jetpack, SpectraGoggles, and Colt 1911a .45).

diesel-pulp-troops

These are for my ’49 setting I play around with as a hobby. I have shots of kitbashed walkers here and here, and talk more about the technology of the fictional setting here. and have a history of some of that tech here.

The Light Infantry medic is a rebased HeroClix
The Medium Infantry are Dust Tactics troops
The Heavy Infantry are Grindhouse Games APE suits for their Incursion game.
The Gun Carrier is a West Wind Productions Commanche battle suit
The Yahoos are rebased Heroscape.
The Free Corps is a repaint HorrorClix.
All-American Girl is a Heroclix Liberty Belle, with a modded-in gun and sword (and she’ll eventually have a US flag on her chest instead of a bell)
Sky King is a modified Lobster Johnson IndyClix (with the lobster claw removed from his chest, and Jango Fett’s jetpack from WotC’s Star Wars line)