Serial Numbers Filed Off: Doctor Doom Can Assist You

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The Superhero System of Your Choice (Marvel Setting): Unheroik Jurks

My name is Nicholas Fury and I’m putting together a special team, and I need me eight superheroes. Eight American superheroes.

Now, y’all might’ve heard rumors about the S.H.I.E.L.D. counter-terrorist surge happening soon. Well, we’ll be leaving a little earlier. We’re gonna be dropped into Latveria, dressed as civilians. And once we’re in enemy territory, as a bushwhackin’ guerrilla army, we’re gonna be doin’ one thing and one thing only… killin’ Doombots.

Now, I don’t know about y’all, but I sure as hell didn’t come down from the goddamn helicarrier, cross five thousand miles of water, fight my way through half of the Secret Invasion and jump out of a fuckin’ air-o-plane to teach Victor von Doom lessons in humanity. Doom ain’t got no humanity. He’s a Richards-hatin’, mass murderin’ maniac and he needs to be dee-stroyed.

That’s why any and every every son of a bitch we find wearin’ a Doom costume, they’re gonna die. Now, I’m the direct descendant of the mountain man Jim Bridger. That means I got a little Injun in me. And our battle plan will be that of an Apache resistance. We will be cruel to the Doombots, and through our cruelty Doom will know who we are. And he will find the evidence of our cruelty in the expurgated, exploded, and executed bodies of his robots we leave behind us.

And the Doctor won’t not be able to help himself but to imagine the cruelty his Doombots endured at our hands, and our boot heels, and our powers. And Doom will be sickened by us, and Doom will talk about us, and Doom will fear us. And when Doom closes his eyes at night and he’s tortured by his subconscious for the evil he has done, it will be with thoughts of us he is tortured. Sound good?


That’s what I like to hear. But I got a word of warning for all you would-be warriors. When you join my command, you take on debit. A debit you owe me personally. Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Doombot positronic brains. And I want my robot brains. And all y’all will git me one hundred robot brains, taken from the heads of one hundred dead robots. Or you will die tryin’.

Top That!: Chargen by Raise

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A simple idea based on last Friday’s PvP strip (and, thus, probably more useful to a superhero game than anything else):

Character backstories are largely created as a group. The GM takes turn suggesting elements of character backstory, each time starting with a different player. That player describes grief related to that backstory element. Then the next player clockwise tries to top it or folds. If play comes back around, the first player must further elaborate on his or her backstory to top the current winning player or fold. Once all but one player has folded, the winning player gets bonus character points. All players keep whatever grief they pointed out, but the losers get only the flaw, not the points. The GM is the final arbitrator on whether something tops something else, and the decision will often be made based on what suggests the most plot hooks.

Players are encouraged to only slightly top the previous player, even if they have something elaborate planned, as that makes sure they aren’t the only ones with grief (and that their grief isn’t super high if the next player has an even more elaborate tale planned).

GM: Tell me about your family. Barry will start.

Barry: I have a fiancee, and our relationship was on the rocks because of my work before I became a hero.

Diana: I had to leave my entire family behind to be a hero in the modern world. But their enemies have followed me here.

Clark: I left my entire planet behind to become a hero on Earth. But I wasn’t the only one to come here, and many others come to conquer, not to defend.

Bruce: My parents were murdered in front of me as a child. I fight crime so that such a thing never happens to anyone else.

Barry: Fold.

Diana: Fold.

Clark: I had to leave my entire planet (including my parents) behind because it was about to blow up. I was an infant.

Bruce: Powergamer. Fold.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Will Working

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Minor Artifact: Ring of the Beacon

Aura strong evocation; CL 20th

Slot ring; Weight


The Beacon is one of Sigil’s oldest and most reclusive factions. Their leadership is a closely guarded secret, and their membership is highly limited. They have but one ethos: prime material planes should remain free of exploitation by planar travelers until they have developed their own spellcasters that can join the multiverse voluntarily. To that end, developing realities each have one of their members of strong moral fiber offered membership in the faction. Those that accept gain possession of one of these rings and the mandate to defend his or her plane from interlopers. Only the owner of the ring can wield its powers. Upon the death of the owner, the ring will attempt to seek out another worthy bearer; failing that, it attempts to Plane Shift back to the Beacon stronghold in the Outlands.

This ring functions as a Ring of Protection +5. Additionally, it has the following abilities:

  • The bearer can activate or deactivate Fly at will as a spell-like ability (with an unlimited duration and a caster level equal to character level)
  • The bearer can cast Plane Shift 1/day (CL equal to character level). If in any plane other than the Outlands, this power automatically goes to the Beacon stronghold. If in the Outlands, the power automatically goes to a place of the bearer’s choice on his or her home plane.
  • The bearer is immediately aware of any planar intrusion on his or her home plane, and can identify the spell cast and the approximate location (to within 100 miles divided by spell level).
  • The ring functions as a staff (with 10 charges). Unlike a normal staff, the ring regains one charge per day and can regain charges faster if the bearer has access to a charging device provided by the faction. Also unlike a staff, the bearer must succeed at a Will save to successfully activate the spell (failure consumes the charges with no result). All spells appear as colored light that matches the color of the ring. The spells available to the bearer are:
    • Light (0 charges, DC 10)
    • Shield (1 charge, DC 11)
    • Mage Armor (1 charge, DC 12)
    • Scorching Ray (2 charges, DC 13)
    • Dispel Magic (2 charges, DC 14)
    • Dimensional Anchor (2 charges, DC 15)
    • Lesser Globe of Invulnerability (3 charges, DC 16)
    • Dismissal (3 charges, DC 17)
    • Interposing Hand (3 charges, DC 18)
    • Wall of Force (4 charges, DC 19)
    • Telekinesis (4 charges, DC 20)
    • Shadow Evocation (4 charges, DC 21)
    • Greater Dispel Magic ( 5 charges, DC 22)
    • Globe of Invulnerability (5 charges, DC 23)
    • Forceful Hand (5 charges, DC 24)
    • Banishment (6 charges, DC 25)
    • Grasping Hand (6 charges, DC 26)
    • Forcecage (6 charges, DC 27)
    • Clenched Fist (7 charges, DC 28)
    • Telekinetic Sphere (7 charges, DC 29)
    • Crushing Hand (7 charges, DC 30)


Random Dungeons

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Everyone likes random dungeons! Here’s a simple system for making randomized dungeons that give you some feedback to make them feel like liveable spaces. This is effectively for making dungeons that monsters are currently using as group homes or city-based compounds that the players need to infiltrate.


The first step is to determine how many rooms your dungeon is to have. Is it a relatively simple 6 room complex or a sprawling collection of 20 or more rooms?

Once you get your room number, subtract four and choose the next highest die size (e.g., an 11 room complex gives you a d8). You can vary the size of the die if you want bigger or smaller rooms: the assumption is that smaller dungeons also have smaller rooms and bigger ones have bigger rooms.

Now make a list to fill in of all of your rooms.

If you want more variation, select the first rough 1/3 of your rooms and assign the next smallest die (e.g., a d6 if your main die is a d8) and the last rough 1/3 for the next largest die (e.g., a d10 if your main die is a d8). That way, smaller rooms will tend to be at the front of the dungeon and larger ones toward the rear.

For each room, roll two of whatever die is associated with it and keep the smaller result. Mark that number down in the list. This is the number of 10×10 foot squares the room takes up (i.e., the number times 100 square feet is the space involved). This makes your life very easy if you use Dwarven Forge stuff (which is pretty well locked to a 10 foot grid). If you do your dungeons by hand, you can decide your own meaning for the numbers. The important this is just that larger rooms tend to have more connections and more important stuff in them.

Once you have a size number next to every room, start back at the top. Roll 1d6 and add the result to the room’s size, the compare the total to the following chart to find out what’s in the room:

2 Anteroom/Storage 11 Chapel 20 Temple
3 Guardroom 12 Audience Room 21 Fortification
4 Bedroom 13 Assembly Room 22 Farm/Ranch
5 Latrine/Trash 14 Warehouse 23 Gym
6 Crafting 15 Gym 24 Throne Room
7 Gathering/Kitchen 16 Kitchens 25 Temple
8 Office/Private 17 Barracks 26 Warehouse
9 Practice/Cells 18 Prison
10 Barracks 19 Throne Room

If you wind up with the same thing a lot, feel free to reroll or pick something adjacent.

Finally, we’ll figure out the connections between rooms.

Get a two dice of your dungeon’s size (e.g., 2d8 if you used d8s for your rooms) that are different colors. Pick one to be positive and one to be negative. Roll both, subtract the negative from the positive, and add the result to the room number. Do this once for each size of the room (e.g., a size 5 room will have 5 connections). You’ll likely get duplicates that will be ignored. You can also safely ignore results equal to the room you’re in and results higher than the last room (unless you’re planning to link the dungeon to a lower level, in which case those rooms have such connections). A result of 0 or less means a connection to the entrance/outside.

Once you have all these connections created, go through and scratch out the unusable ones. Circle mutual connections (e.g., if room 4 noted a connection to 6 and room 6 noted a connection to 4): these will be your major room relationships and you’ll lay out the dungeon to try to get these rooms close together. Also note which rooms have a connection to the entrance, as these will probably cluster toward one side.

Now lay the rooms out in some way that you can start tracing out the connections and then easily move them around to simplify the relationship. Visio or any similar brainstorming/charting software is ideal, Word’s connector and text boxes are only slightly less so (note: you can right click a connector arrow and tell it to “reroute connectors” to get the simplest distance once you’ve moved boxes around), and you can use a big sheet of paper or index cards in a pinch. The major goal is something that will let you move rooms around until the connections are as simple as possible and also to move rooms around based on function.

Once you have a workable layout, draw it up on a grid. All you have to do now is figure out what the layout seems to work best for, stock it with an appropriate threat, and come up with a reason the PCs are invading. The room layout itself should give you a pretty good indication of how the villains in the place are arranged, and what they might be doing when the PCs invade.


First Example

For my first dungeon, I decide to make 10 rooms and use a d8 (which is a little high, but not much). I’ll actually roll d6s for the first 3 rooms and d10s for the last 3. My results are:

  1. 1 – Latrine/Trash – 3
  2. 4 – Practice/Cells – 4, 3, entrance, 6
  3. 2 – Bedroom – entrance, 1
  4. 2 – Bedroom – 5, 6
  5. 5 – Crafting – entrance, 1, 9, 2, self
  6. 2 – Gathering/Kitchen – 9, over max
  7. 3 – Practice/Cells – 6, over max, 10
  8. 1 – Guardroom – 9
  9. 4 – Barracks – self, over max, 8, over max
  10. 8 – Warehouse – self, self, over max, over max, over max, 4, 7, over max

First off, I lay out the rooms with boxes of relatively the right size and make the connections (Image).

Next, I drag the boxes around until they make some kind of sense (Image). I notice that I have a guardroom that connects to nothing but a barracks and a warehouse that’s on the far side of the dungeon without obvious connections to things places that might be stocked by such a room. However, there is a room that has crafting. I start to think that the entrance to the place is actually the PCs entering through a secret door or a window because the two real entrances (the front door through a guard room and a big door into the warehouse) are too secure.

Finally, I lay it all out in a grid and polish out the connections to what makes sense for my master maze tiles and what gives the maximum usable space (Image).

Looking at this, it seems very clearly to be a defended construction location of some kind. Something is made in crafting room 5 and then stored in warehouse room 10 for delivery. The front of the building is the living space for the guards, and the crafters have the bedrooms at the back. The presence of cells indicates either a small contingent of cheap (possibly slave) labor that works for the crafters or, even worse, that sacrifices of some kind are used to create the goods. There are a ton of reasons that PCs might want to invade such a place and stop its production (or just get proof for the authorities).

Second Example

For my second dungeon, I go with 14 rooms and d10s (d8s for the first 4 and d12s for the last). My results are:

  1. 1 – Kitchen – entrance
  2. 7 – Barracks – 3, entrance, entrance, self, 3, 4, 1
  3. 2 – Latrine/Trash – 5, 2
  4. 4 – Office/Private – self, 5, self, 9
  5. 4 – Barracks – 2, entrance, entrance, 8
  6. 5 – Practice/Cells – entrance, 4, 1, entrance, 12
  7. 7 – Audience Room – 10, self, 6, 4, 4, 10, entrance
  8. 2 – Bedroom – 9, 2
  9. 4 – Latrine/Trash – 6, 1, 5, over max
  10. 9 – Chapel – 12, 4, 6, 13, 4, 6, 12, 8, over max
  11. 4 – Kitchen – 3, 13, 10, 14
  12. 7 – Office/Private – over max, over max, 10, 14, over max, self, 13
  13. 3 – Practice/Cells – 11, self, over max
  14. 8 – Assembly – 12, self, self, 13, 12, over max, 8, over max

Again, I lay it out in relative-sized boxes and plot the connections (Image). This time, I make it a bit easier on myself by making the primary connections big and red and the entrance connections big and green.

I notice that there are a lot of entrance connections, so I try to arrange it so they’re all toward the front: this may be a building with several access points on the facade. I move my primary connections around to preserve the main connections, and wind up dropping several connections that just don’t fit anywhere (Image).

Finally, I go to the grid and wind up making some decisions based on what fits and to streamline the number of access points to the front. If I were running this game for my players, giving them too many ways in would add hours to dithering over how to best assault the dungeon (Image).

The presence of lots of barracks and cells initially suggests a prison of some kind, possibly devoted to a god with the centrally located temple. However, these cells might also be priest cells, and then the map seems to indicate a religious order with a wing of guards that’s attached to the main body but not really part of it. Is this some dangerous cult that’s showing a nice public face while hiding dark secrets? Should the PCs take advantage of being able to bypass the guard wing entirely while risking that they’ll be alerted and attack from behind?

Serial Numbers Filed Off 7: From Between the Stars

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Fading Suns: Holovid

The Holovid market is tough. We’re in deep to the Scravers, and they’re threatening to repossess all our tech… and the lead actress. We’ve got one week to get what we can recorded, no budget, and a filming permit in a useless section of scrubland on Hira.

At least we thought it was useless. Last night, a Hazat convoy rolled through. Got attacked by something. Exploded in a colossal wreck. It was messed up, but we filmed it all.

It was weird, though. I swear we saw some gargoyles flying out of the wreckage. You know, the old Ur statues that they put on the front of starships to keep the things in deep space away? Why’d they even need one, much less more than one? Were they just transporting artifacts… or something else?

Hazat military is crawling all over the region and the nearby towns, and strange things have started to happen. Missing people. A rash of thefts. Power outages.

Our leading man wants to investigate. Our engineer wants to bug out and make good with the Scravers later. It’s freaky out there.

But I wrote a new script last night, and I’m ready to go. There are film crews that would pay a million Firebirds for the production value that just fell into our laps.

What’s the worst that could happen?

What is Holo Tech?

Fading Suns books mention holovids as a setting thing several times, but, to the best of my knowledge, never explain them in any detail. Here’s my idea based on the standard conceit that everything in the setting is basically the Middle Ages replicated with tech.

Holovids are popular throughout the known worlds. Rich nobles can afford their own holo stages inside their homes, but most citizens go to local holo theaters. Some of these have been in use since the Second Republic, and their pictures have degraded into translucent monochrome images. Better maintained theaters (or even new ones built by Engineers that understand the tech) produce such rich images and sound that it actually looks like the actors are on stage. Most venues are set up in an amphitheater arrangement. A two dimensional image is projected onto the back wall to show the background of the current scene.

Essential to filming are holo cameras. Four such cameras are set up in the four corners of the scene, at basically the correct points for the size of the typical stage. Each camera is actually a series of lenses and gadgets to accurately capture the three dimensional details of everything in the scene and make sure of accurate positioning. Additionally, these cameras record the background of each side of the scene in 2D or less refined 3D. Some cameras maintained from the Second Republic are self-deploying staves with a head of lenses no bigger than a man’s calf. More modern cameras, particularly ones created on worlds with limited parts, might be massive devices as big as a human.

Traditionally, holovids are performed very similarly to a live stage play, given the limitations of the playback medium, but have the advantage of being able to cut instantly between scenes. Some enterprising directors try more complicated techniques to greater or lesser success: pulling the cameras further apart to generate smaller-scale vistas, moving the cameras to travel through a larger scene, and compositing and special effects.

Camarillaville, part 2

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Continued from last week…

Pathways Chart

The pathways chart for Camarillaville is here as a pdf.

The chart only goes to the Embrace (replacing the life changing event) and drops one step from the typical Smallville chart (as there’s less focus on the early teen years than in a TV show about teenagers). All increases should be similar to the Smallville values (with the notable addition of a couple more value increases to make up for using seven values instead of six).

Note that, since the chart only goes to the Embrace, you may wind up with few vampire connections and a lot of mundane connections, resulting in a game where the player characters became vampires but keep haunting their old life. This is a perfectly valid way to play, but, if you’d like to have a more Kindred-focused gameplay experience, you should encourage your players to add extras and locations that, in hindsight, turn out to have been part of the undead society that would eventually draw them in (e.g., “Mr. Stein, my father’s boss” turns out to be “Eckhardt Stein, Ventrue Elder”).

If you want to run chargen past the embrace, feel free to use the second page of the chart in Smallville verbatim or as a basis for expanded events that make sense for your game (i.e., there’s sufficient variation in Vampire chronicles post-Embrace that I couldn’t come up with a one-size-fits-all chart).

Pathway Descriptions

Note: Just like in normal Smallville, player characters should typically step directly down to the next level or to either side (wrapping at the edges), unless the GM agrees that your backstory makes sense to jump. For example, a Poor childhood may lead to a Bully’s youth and an Executive adulthood before finally receiving a Toreador embrace. Conversely, a Rich child is unlikely to become a Creative youth, a Creative youth likely won’t become a White Collar adult, and a White Collar adult isn’t often the kind to receive a Brujah’s embrace.


Childhood represents the character’s origin and early years, ending at some point in school that marks a transition in the character’s personality.

  • Rich:
    • Your character was born comfortably upper class (possibly even very wealthy and connected) and you wanted for nothing. You might not have had the most attentive parents or enduring friendships, however.
    • Suggested Distinction: Connected, Cosmopolitan, Family Reputation, Manipulative, Wealthy
  • Cherished:
    • Your family was reasonably well off, and possibly wealthy, and doted on you. Likely you were attractive, showed an early skill at athletics, or were simply an only child. You never felt unloved… but were perhaps a good bit spoiled.
    • Suggested Distinction: Athletic, Attractive, Cosmopolitan, Likeable, Manipulative
  • Gifted:
    • You showed an early talent for the arts that defined your childhood. Your family was likely middle class, but gave you the resources necessary to try to improve your gift (whether or not you were as excited as your parents…).
    • Suggested Distinction: Agile, Attractive, Clever, Connected, Daring, Military Brat, Observant
  • Bright:
    • You were always very intelligent, and/or had a family that encouraged your intellectual growth from an early age. You were very likely branded a nerd soon after starting school.
    • Suggested Distinction: Backhanded, Clever, Genius, Mastermind, Military Brat, Not Born Yesterday, Occult Knowledge (replaces Extraterrestrial Knowledge)
  • Orphan:
    • You lost or were abandoned by your parents at an early age, and either entered the system or were pawned off on relatives that couldn’t bring themselves to care for you as real parents.
    • Suggested Distinction: Backhanded, Fast Talker, Guilty, Impulsive, Observant, Savage, Sneaky, Willful
  • Poor:
    • Your family was decidedly working class and often had trouble making ends meet or getting you the best education.
    • Suggested Distinction: Athletic, Big-Hearted, Daring, Fixer, Military Brat, On a Mission, Savage, Sneaky
  • Abused:
    • Your parents or guardians were jerks who physically and/or emotionally abused you. Perhaps they were trying to force you to fulfill their own dreams, or maybe they just were bad people unprepared to have a child.
    • Suggested Distinction: Agile, Athletic, Attractive, Family Reputation, Guilty, Military Brat, Observant, Savage, Sneaky, Vicious


Youth represents much of the character’s school age, outlining the process of becoming defined more by one’s peers than one’s background.

  • Wealthy:
    • With access to resources beyond those available to other children, you became known for dressing well and throwing parties. As time passed, you may have begun to wonder whether you had any friends that liked you for more than your money.
    • Suggested Distinction: Connected, Cosmopolitan, Family Reputation, Manipulative, Mastermind, Smartass, Wealthy
  • Popular:
    • Due to some combination of good looks, athletic skills, family background, and winning personality, you managed to float to the top of the school hierarchy. Even years later there may still be peers that remember you fondly.
    • Suggested Distinction: Agile, Athletic, Attractive, Backhanded, Big-Hearted, Connected, Cosmopolitan, Likeable, Manipulative, Right Place/Right Time, Shameless Flirt, Wealthy, Vicious
  • Creative:
    • The life of an arty kid is one forever in the middle of the social hierarchy. You likely spent most of your school years hoping that your talent would be one of the ones considered cool this year.
    • Suggested Distinction: Agile, Attractive, Big Sister, Clever, Connected, Daring, Gearhead, Hacker, Martial Artist, Observant
  • Smart:
    • There are very few schools where being a nerd or a geek isn’t a social death sentence. You were one of the kids whose genius destined her for great things… after enduring years of peer rejection.
    • Suggested Distinction: Backhanded, Big Sister, Clever, Genius, Hacker, Investigator, Mastermind, Not Born Yesterday, Observant, Occult Knowledge (replaces Extraterrestrial Knowledge), Smartass
  • Outcast:
    • You found your role in school to be highly indistinct: not wealthy or sociable enough to be popular and without the proclivities to fit into one of the other cliques. You spent a lot of time as a loner.
    • Suggested Distinction: Backhanded, Fast Talker, Guilty, Gearhead, Hacker, Impulsive, Investigator, Not Born Yesterday, Observant, Savage, Smartass, Sneaky, Willful
  • Tough:
    • You were one of the kids that was tough enough not to be messed with and possibly good at sports, but you missed popularity for some reason. You were a prime candidate for shop class or JROTC.
    • Suggested Distinction: Athletic, Daring, Fixer, Gearhead, Guilty, Impulsive, Marksman, Martial Artist, On a Mission, Smartass, Soldier
  • Bully:
    • You were one of the kids that maintained your own position by keeping others down. It’s a hard, socially Darwinistic road, but you wouldn’t have had it any other way.
    • Suggested Distinction: Athletic, Backhanded, Daring, Fixer, Guilty, Impulsive, Manipulative, Martial Artist, Right Place/Right Time, Savage, Sneaky, Vicious


Adulthood represents the time between school and the Embrace (and can, obviously, be a largely variable time depending on whether you were taken right out of college or late in your career). If you were quite young when Embraced, this might represent the career you had been planning for and now may never have.

  • Executive: Your career is one where you were on the fast track to money and connections: banking, finance, law, politics, upper management, etc.
  • Artist: You found yourself in a career where you actually make money doing something creative; either you’re actually making money as an independent artist or are a skilled collaborator at a bigger company.
  • Academic: You very likely never left college once you graduated, but simply started accumulating more degrees until finding yourself in a classroom. If you aren’t a professor, you do something closely related to research and education.
  • Scientist: The counterpart to the academic, you may actually be a research scientist or may, instead, be in a highly technical field such as medicine, engineering, or computer science.
  • White Collar: Your life is one of cubicles and office chairs: middle management, clerical, support, sales, or something else that requires a bit of an education and a deep desire for a steady paycheck and benefits.
  • Blue Collar: Your life is one of labor and service: to the line, to the site, or to your city or country. You might not have a leather chair or private office, but neither do you have the spreading rear end and stress levels to match.
  • Criminal: You’ve decided that the whole system is designed to keep you from your goals, and you’re working around it. Maybe you run with a gang, maybe you have a racket just you and a partner, or maybe you quietly skim money off of a white collar bank account.


At some point a Camarilla vampire with permission to sire decided that you deserved immortality (or just that she wanted to own you forever…). Perhaps she was an old family friend that had been watching you for years. Perhaps she noticed your talent and couldn’t bear to see it fade with age. Or maybe you were just chanced into the right situation where she impulsively decided that you should live forever.

It’s assumed that the player characters will be embraced around the same time, but there may be some discrepancy if it’s necessary for certain backstories. Regardless, make sure that all relationships to other PCs are filled in at this stage, as all characters will quickly meet one another in the insular Kindred society. Whether they like one another enough to become a coterie is far less certain than in a traditional Vampire game…

Make sure to generate an interesting extra for your character’s Sire, and connect her back to other PCs or elements if at all possible: this relationship is likely to drive your early play in Camarillaville as you uncover the drives that convinced her to make you immortal and what that means for your role in the city as a whole.

Serial Numbers Filed Off 6: Inadvisable Heroing

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There’s nothing like writing a series of reviews of RPG systems you’ve played to make you realize just how much D&D you’ve been running for the last decade. I’m down to systems I’ve played but haven’t run, so I’m not completely confident about reviewing them. So the System Review column is on hiatus for a while until I can have a chance to experiment with a few more systems so I can ensure I’m not pre-judging them.

This week, in lieu of a review and by request, here’s another SNFO (taking a movie or other major pop culture story and swapping it to a different genre to make it RPG-worthy).


How come nobody’s ever tried to be an adventurer?

Well I dunno… probably because it’s fucking impossible, dipshit.

What, putting on a chain shirt and fighting orcs. How’s that impossible?

Well that’s not an adventurer, though. You said adventurer. That’s like having more spells than everybody. Turning undead and shit. That’s just, like, a warrior.

No. That’s not even a warrior, that’s just a psycho.


Hello: Robilar. He didn’t have any powers.

Yes. But he had all the magic weapon shit and doesn’t exist. I thought you meant like how come nobody does it in real life.

Yeah, Todd, that’s what I meant.

Dude. If anybody did it in real life they’d get their first level commoner ass kicked. They’d be dead in, like, a day.

A day.

Yeah, okay. I’m not saying they should do it. I just can’t figure out why nobody does. Seriously. Out of all the millions of people who love songs about adventurers, you’d think one would give it a try… St. Cuthbert’s beard, guys, does it not bug you? Why thousands of people want to be Princess Yolande and nobody wants to be Mordenkainen?

Yeah, what’s with that? She has, like, no tits at all.

Maybe it’s the rumor about her and the king of White Plume Mountain. Mord doesn’t have a sexy rumor.

You guys never heard the one about “Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure?”

Player characters all take NPC classes in a world that has lots of stories about PC-class characters and powerful magic items but no actual evidence. They try to run a dungeon. Hilarity ensues.

Camarillaville, part 1


  1. The pathways map you generate as part of character creation in the Smallville RPG looks remarkably like the old politics maps in Vampire: the Masquerade city books. Coincidence… or opportunity?
  2. Heroic values don’t map very well to a vampire game… but the original seven Camarilla clans map pretty well to the seven deadly sins…


For those that didn’t read the review linked above or my own, the Smallville RPG is one of two TV-licensed games released by Margaret Weis Productions last year (the other is Leverage). While it’s based on the show Smallville, and uses that for its examples, it’s really a game engine designed around the idea of making interpersonal (and interparty) drama the focus of the rules. Physical conflict is just one of several methods of hurting people in a numerical manner, player characters are intended to have conflicting goals (and sometimes be directly antagonistic), and the GM is mostly there to stir in threats and opportunities to give the PCs fodder for drama. Most importantly, success is less about how skilled you are and more about whether the conflict is something you care about (because it includes relationships and values that you feel strongly about). Obviously, that’s a good list of concepts for running a game that feels like a TV drama with an ensemble cast of several top-billed actors. But, with a few minor tweaks, it may also be ideal for hitting a lot of the game elements of V:tM…

Major Changes

Values (Sins)

The biggest change to the system is that the Smallville values (Duty, Glory, Justice, Love, Power, Truth) are replaced with the seven deadly sins. Player characters can be expected to have much more laudable interpretations of these values, but, in the end, you’re a parasite feeding on the neck of humanity, perpetually hiding and manipulating to preserve an existence reliant on the blood of others. No matter how you dress it up, your baser urges have a pretty dramatic say in what you’re doing.

  • Roll Envy when your motivation in the conflict is to live up to the ideals of someone you feel is better then you… or to spite someone who has something you don’t have. If no other value seems appropriate, Envy can also be used for stealth-related challenges (because Nosferatu are sneaky).
  • Roll Gluttony when your motivation in the conflict is to sate your physical needs: generally this is an urge to feed, but it also covers anything that makes you feel good physically (including getting into a fight not because you’re angry, but just because you enjoy the thrill). If no other value seems appropriate, Gluttony can also be used for athletics-related challenges (because Gangrel keep active).
  • Roll Greed when your motivation in the conflict is to gain something for yourself (typically of permanent value): this is generally something that you feel will be useful to your in the long term (if it’s just useful in the short term, it’s probably Gluttony or Lust… or Envy if you’re just taking it so someone else can’t have it). If no other value seems appropriate, Greed can also be used for academics-related challenges (because Tremere are educated).
  • Roll Lust when your motivation in the conflict is to sate your psychological needs: generally this is an urge to be loved or otherwise appreciated, but it may involve going after something that will make you feel good emotionally in the short term. If no other value seems appropriate, Lust can also be used for seduction- and impression-related challenges (because Toreador are alluring).
  • Roll Pride when your motivation in the conflict is to prove your superiority over someone else and prove that you’re the better person (or monster); since this could theoretically apply to almost anything for prideful characters, any other appropriate value should be considered as motivation first before pure pride is the dominant value. If no other value seems appropriate, Pride can also be used for diplomacy- and leadership-related challenges (because Ventrue are manipulative).
  • Roll Sloth when your motivation in the conflict is to not be involved in the conflict: you have no other agenda beyond not submitting to the opponent’s agenda or not being bothered in the first place. If no other value seems appropriate, Sloth can also be used for perception-related challenges (because Malkavians are aware).
  • Roll Wrath when your motivation in the conflict is anger: you are pissed off in general and that’s driving your behavior or you specifically hate the opponent. If no other value seems appropriate, Wrath can also be used for violence-related challenges (because Brujah are dangerous).

New Stress (Hunger)

All Vampire player characters have a new stress track: Hunger.

  • Hunger cannot drop below d4.
  • Step up Hunger each night when the character rises.
  • Step up Hunger every time the player uses Regeneration (as described below).
  • Step up Hunger if a discipline Ability was used in a contest and the die with the highest result is higher than current Hunger (e.g., if a discipline was used and the highest roll was 6 on a d8, you would step up Hunger d4 or d6 but not d8, d10, or d12).
  • Hunger cannot generally be increased by other characters.

A player may choose to Give In on any conflict to go feed, stepping down Hunger (and this will probably not have in story consequences unless the player is in an area where it’s difficult to find prey). If a scene involves an ability to feed on screen, the player may recover Hunger down to d4 at GM discretion (but this may have in story consequences, depending on who the victim was and who saw the feeding). If a character Stresses Out due to Hunger, this generally involves completely losing control and feeding in a way that will have severe in story consequences.

Note: Stressing Out in any way can often mean the character loses control to the beast within and does something really terrible.

Abilities (Disciplines)

All Vampire player characters gain the Regeneration ability at d4. As noted above, using it increases Hunger in addition to the plot point cost.

In addition, players may develop one or more of the following disciplines. It comes with a basic (always active) capability that generally does not require any kind of roll and an Ability. Some disciplines may allow you to purchase additional Abilities as well.

  • Animalism:
    • You do not cause animals nearby to freak out (most vampires get an unpleasant response from animals).
    • Gain Ability: Animal Control at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d8 or better, you may purchase Insect Control as an additional ability (starting at d4).
    • Once Insect Control is at d8 or better, you may purchase Wall Walking as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Auspex:
    • You can read auras or otherwise get a general empathic sense of the emotions of others and whether they are supernatural.
    • Gain Ability: Super-Senses at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d8 or better, you may purchase Telepathy as an additional ability (starting at d4).
    • Once Telepathy is at d8 or better, you may purchase Astral Projection as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Celerity: 
    • If the order of events in a scene is important, the character with the highest Celerity automatically goes first.
    • Gain Ability: Super-Speed at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d12, you may purchase Time Control as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Dominate:
    • If you defeat a target in a social conflict and deal stress, you may have them forget the conflict instead of dealing the stress.
    • Gain Ability: Paralysis at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d12, you may purchase Possession as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Fortitude:
    • You may endure sunlight for a few seconds (long enough to run from cover to cover) before you begin accumulating stress.
    • Gain Ability: Invulnerability at a rating equal to this discipline.
  • Obfuscate:
    • Most mortals don’t notice or consciously remember your features: they won’t notice if you’re hideous (like a Nosferatu) or be able to describe you later, but will recognize you on subsequent meetings.
    • Gain Ability: Invisibility at a rating equal to this discipline.
  • Potence:
    • You may perform feats of strength to the maximum of human capability (without increasing Hunger).
    • Gain Ability: Super Strength at a rating equal to this discipline.
  • Presence:
    • A character must have Wrath equal to or greater than your Presence or spend a Plot Point to initiate a physical conflict with you.
    • Gain Ability: Mind Control at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d10, you may purchase Dream Control as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Protean:
    • You can see in the dark and track by scent.
    • Gain Ability: Claws at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d8, you may purchase Shapeshifting (animals only) as an additional ability (starting at d4).
    • Once Shapeshifting is at d8 or better, you may purchase Body Transformation (gaseous form only) as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Thaumaturgy:
    • You can understand most magical writings. If you taste blood, you can get a general idea of the character or creature it came from.
    • Gain Ability: One *kinesis ability of your choice.
    • Once Thaumaturgy is at d8 or better, you may purchase an additional, different *kinesis ability of your choice (starting at d4).
    • Once Thaumaturgy is at d12, you may purchase another additional, different *kinesis ability of your choice (starting at d4).

Clan Flaws

Each clan has a flaw. This is generally a situation in which the GM can automatically generate complications without paying the player a Plot Point (or come up with a non-system story problem when it comes up outside of a dice roll).

  • Brujah are uncontrolled. They always generate complications when their Anger Stress is being used against them. They also generate free complications when in a situation where patience is a virtue.
  • Gangrel are animalistic. They always generate complications when rolling Wrath (generally revolving around doing something obviously bestial). Being Stressed Out from Anger leaves the character with a permanent bestial feature.
  • Malkavians are insane. They always generate complications when trying to persuade others (as their madness can be off putting and unpersuasive). Being Stressed Out generally results in a surge of the character’s particular madness.
  • Nosferatu are monstrous. They always generate complications when mortals are in the scene (Obfuscate protects against the worst of their hideousness, but something in the back of the mortal’s mind recognizes that the character is wrong).
  • Toreador are aware. They always generate complications when rolling Sloth or Greed (generally involving becoming fixated on something interesting).
  • Tremere are cloistered. They always generate complications in any Location not connected to them on the map (as they’re out of their comfort zone).
  • Ventrue are obvious. They always generate complications whenever their Hunger Stress is at d8 or higher (generally involving becoming distracted by hunger or fixated on a preferred type of prey).

Next week I’ll post the pathways chart and explanations of the steps.

System Review: Marvel Universe RPG, Conclusion


Take the Stones!

I suspect that most system nerds eventually look at their trail of extensively house-ruled games and get the thought into their heads that it’s time to make a system from whole cloth. After all, you never seem completely happy with the games others have invented, so why not work out something that will please you from the ground up? Unless you’re the truly gifted soul who makes a Forge darling out of the gate (and this is often accomplished by doing something very small and focused), you probably just invented a fantasy heartbreaker. You certainly can’t sell it, your friends probably don’t want to play it in favor of some other system, and, when you do finally playtest it, you find that there are core mechanics that looked great on paper but have unexpected flaws in practice. It turns out that even extensive house rules allowed you to build on a functional backbone, and that making a game that survives contact with the players is a dramatic undertaking. If you look deeply at any successful RPG, you’re likely to find either a steady iteration off of an established base or a gradual incorporation of tested mechanical concepts into a formerly chaotic melange. It’s a very rare RPG indeed that owes nothing to what has come before except knowledge of traps to avoid.

To be blunt, MURPG seems like an excited young aspiring designer’s early game system got released into the wild long before it was fully tested and refined*. There are really neat ideas in the system, the core of which is the aspiration of abandoning randomness completely while still retaining a relatively crunchy game. As noted, it was an early adopter of the habit of blending diverse traits into one big pool that is all the rage these days. The consistency of the use of stones throughout the system (and that three red = one white) is highly elegant. It’s not necessarily a bad system, but it needed a ton more playtesting and maybe a few admissions that dice-based systems do certain things for good reasons. Under the veneer of high-quality Marvel production values, it’s a rough draft.

This is pretty harsh to say, but seems to be supported by the actual arc of the game. Despite Marvel’s push to promote it and give it prominent place in comic/gaming stores, it still received two supplements and was cancelled. You could say this was simply a comics giant overestimating the potential return on an RPG that wasn’t d20-based, but the system was also only very briefly discussed in the places online that fixate on such things. It was discarded for Silver Age Sentinels, Mutants and Masterminds, Champions, and a whole host of smaller attempts at the elusive, perfect superhero RPG. Within a few years, it became a speedbump on the discussion: “Marvel RPG? You mean the one without dice?” “No, Marvel Superheroes, the one from the 80s.”

But there is one last bastion of support for the game. In all of the methods of play there is one that benefits hugely from the abandonment of randomness. It’s a format where rolling dice is cumbersome and potentially impossible: MURPG still has life in the sphere of play-by-email/post. A game system that’s a little awkward without a large tabletop and piles of glass beads in the physical world only requires a short text description showing the math in an online format where describing your dice roll is suspect at best. It may not be the greatest system in the world, but, of the “mainstream” ones, it’s pretty much the only game that isn’t very difficult to play without a trusted random number generator that’s visible to all players.

The MURPG needed a lot more work before it was done, but it did have a few bright ideas that could have been incorporated into later games. “Doesn’t require dice” is a design goal that gets used way less than you’d expect given the decently large group of forum gamers. They might not be able to play at scheduled times but can totally write forum posts and emails at work. There’s a market waiting to be served, and MURPG is still one of the few systems that can fill it. Something should be done!

Maybe I could go write another fantasy heartbreaker…


*Here’s my first one! It’s terrible!