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Monday, 3 August 2020

Art of Wuxia: Not Perfect, But I Like It

The book's cover.
Its a fact I've been on a serious Wuxia and Xianxia kick, even if Jeremy 'Deathblade' seriously trashed me and went into great details on why my assessment of Xianxia and D&D was somewhat inaccurate to put it mildly, as this post accidentally ended under his radar somehow with an in depth video response. This hasn't exactly completely knocked the wind out of my sail when it come to Wuxia and Xianxia but it has certainly made me want to further dig into the genre and better understand it at a deeper level. Granted initially I did say I would never write about Wuxia and tabletop RPG ever again. However since then I have gotten my hands on Art of Wuxia by DWD studio. This isn't a 'proper review' as I don't really do review. Just some thoughts on it:
  • The Good: While there are much more flavorful and complex systems out there Art of Wuxia is a fairly approachable primarily d100 RPG. A lot if its clean, simple and easily refluffed or modified nature makes it very much in the same vein as the more modernized OSR games I like so much while at the same time the system isn't a clone of OD&D, which would be a poor fit for this. These are simple, easy to grasp rules which can be easily thought to players and explain. The lack of a rigid class system is also good as I think for Wuxia stuff this is a net positive.
  • The Bad: There is a serious misunderstanding of Wuxia morality, which Deathblade explains further into these two video. Suffice to say, Art of Wuxia seem to prefer characters which fit more neatly into our definition of 'Good vs Evil' which doesn't accurately portray the dog-eat-dog world of Wuxia to its full, messy potential.
  • The Subjective: The game's power level is, I'd argue, fairly low. A lot of it is fairly grounded and more to a level which western fantasy fans would recognize as closer to Sword & Sorcery than High Fantasy. Truly powerful and staple Wuxia abilities, such as intensive 'wire fu' or even floating around are things far beyond the reach of a starting character, who only have a few skills and a technique to start with. On the positive, this make the power level of the game easy to manage for a GM and, just as importantly, easy to grasp for a newcomer player. The lower levels of power aren't as high flying or fantastical but this isn't a bad thing by itself as it truly give a chance to meaningfully grow a character's power as they master martial arts.
That said, the game has been added to my 'must run' list and is set to likely become a staple of this blog nonetheless.

Lands of Mihrne: A History?

A Possible History?

Art by Calvin Chua
As with everything mentioned about Mirhne, all information must be taken with a grain of salt. The people of Mirhne are well known to tell stories among themselves, with travelling artist and priests alike telling many tales. Some are nothing but children fairy tales while others are morality plays whose true meaning have been lost to time and the change in culture, leaving only lurid tales of monsters and gruesome ends. Not only that but each region of Mirhne has its own gods, its own monsters and its own creation myths. Anyone trying to glean truth from these matters is bound to go insane even without a hint of some eldritch abomination in sight.

The Lands of Mirhne has many Gods, but few truly can be said to have name and faces worth remembering. One out of universe reason for this vagueness is not every player has an identical level of desire to invest in fictional beliefs and mythologies: indeed, some players actively avoid it due to being staunch atheists (even if that's a debate for another day one I'd rather have people leave at the fucking door). Trying to understand deeply rooted theme and ideas of culture is ultimately more work than its ever worth. As such, Mirhne's deities are fairly simple to grasp and understand, with the very important caveat that unlike other settings there is little to not proof of their existence and these myths tend to hide a more bloody or alien reality. Any detail in a myth which is true is likely to lead down a path of awful revelations. That said, the Gods of Mirhne are indeed 'real' in so much as belief in them can have real, tangible benefits to human society. Of course, faith offer diminishing return the more one digs into the awful truth. Praying at altars and participating in rituals (of the non eldritch kind) can help restore sanity and offer a buffer against madness and corruption. It still has its limits, of course.

Mirhne's current era is one of rebuilding after decay, war and pestilence. The last centuries have been relatively quiet, beyond the usual wars between petty kingdoms and tribes. While the Lands of Mirhne never had a massively urbanized or advanced civilization (to anyone's knowledge, anyway) there are many large ruin sites (by the standards of the land) which show that stone and wood cities did exist in lands which have been retaken by the wilderness. These are the usual and typical dungeons one expect to find in a sandbox environment but in Mirhne each is also a mystery. Some travelling storytellers speak of a great curse and creeping hubris of the ancient kings and warlords of Mirhne who sought to extend their power, prestige and understanding of the world far beyond the limitations of what is allowed for mere mortal men and were punished for it. Others speak simply of diseases from many generations ago which reduced the population drastically while others tell that these cities are haunted and cursed by the attempts of Priest-Kings to awaken dark powers and claim them for themselves. There are those who believe that some of the subhuman haunting the further lands are descendants of those cursed and broken people.

Ultimately, Mirhne's history is somewhat irrelevant to starting characters. The key elements of a OSR-derived sandbox and implied setting are there, minus demi-human and overt magic of classes like the Cleric and Magic-User. It is a somewhat more down to Earth take on these simple, tried and true concepts and expectations with the only difference being a stronger bent toward Swords & Sorcery and pulp elements
  • The various creation myths and folklore of different regions of Mirhne form a backdrop to the game and make for easy, if mysterious, plot hooks in their own right. Trying to find out the truth about a legend can lead to some true insight (or madness and death).
  • Playing a 'priest' is possible, but one need to understand these aren't D&D Clerics and don't come with spells. Rather, Priests are generally Experts who are gifted in esoteric matters as taught by their mentors, such as herbology, medicine or writing.
  • Praying at a temple can help restore a character's sanity and/or even remove minor corruption (that aren't mutations) as the calm and centered mind can regain a small measure of control. This is less efficient the more corrupt an individual is.

Mirhne as a Kelipah

One very likely explanation for the nature of Mirhne is that it is some form of Kelipot as described in Silent Legion, a Sine Nomine game about eldritch horror and investigation from which Lands of Mirhne take its Sanity and magic system. Under this logic, Mirhne is an inherently unnatural place albeit one whose eldritch nature is quite subtle and not readily apparent. As a particularly stable and static Kelipah, Mirhne operates mostly under what we would recognize as natural laws and its people are biologically human or close enough. Even as a Static Kelipot there would be dark forces at work on Mirhne which fundamentally changes reality on a subtle level which may not be readily apparent. If Mirhne is indeed a Kelipah then it is one which may not have been visited by the 'real world' for eons.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

More Monsters(?) of Mihrne

The Lands of Mihrne have many creatures lurking in it: some mere beasts, some perhaps anomalies of nature but wholly of this material world. And some, maybe, which might be in fact unnatural creatures existing beyond the natural laws of the world. This time I've added more concise bullet points on possible setting explanation and how it could be used.

Giants

Art by Christoper Bernades.
There are many stories told across the land about giants. Some say they are an ancient race predating mankind while others state they are the offspring of Men and Gods, towering demigods who bodies are the pillar which link earthly matter and heavenly, divine essence. Giants are known to have existed for an absolute fact since, in ancient times up until the current age people have found the skeletons of giants. These skeletons vary widely in size and shape but are generally humanoid, ranging from the size of a tall man to gigantic skulls the size of two grown men standing on each others. In the older days these were crushed and used in magical reagents or incorporated into weapons and armors. Some learned individuals have speculate that, perhaps, these were not all the skeleton of giant demi-gods as some displayed traits associated with the men-like monsters known as 'apes'. Alas, these days there are few skeleton left and none are intact and giants have mostly faded to myths.

Until fairly recently.

The past few decades have seen a slow mounting of evidence of the re-emergence of giantkind in the wilderness. Hunters frequently find giant paths carved in the woodlands as something immense crash through the wounds. There are remains of dead elks and bears, in pieces, showing massive bite marks not unlike the teeth shape of humans. There are and always have been rumours and stories of men of great stature, some large and powerful while others are crippled: a disease of the flesh called, of course, 'gigantism' which even in the men of Mihrne understand to be a condition of the blood. Some claim that, in wilder lands, more children are born with this growth sickness. Some believe children conceived around mountains and other places where giant bones are buried imbues children with a portion of Giantsblood. Others still believe the Giants emerging across the land are the same creatures as those of old, having slept through the eons and awakened in modern Mirhne. Of course, perhaps it is most likely that the creatures we call 'giants' are not a unified whole and might be creatures of disparate and unique origin.
  • 'Giants' could very well be a form of alternate hominid, like the Gigantopithecus or the cryptid Sasquatch and Bigfoot which could be very real in Mirhne. The cavemen of Mirhne could be akin to a missing link of sort.
  • Giants could be indeed akin to the Nephilim found in Ezekiel. They would be the offspring of the mating between human and the Gods. Of course, the true nature of these 'Gods' would be far more Lovecraftian than some simple Ancient Aliens story. The Giants could be Mirhne's equivalent to the spawns of Shub-Niggurath.
  • 'Giants' are simply another mutation or corruption of humans run amock, this time distending the human form and expanding it with uncontrollable bone growth. In that case, such monstrous transformation could be easily coaxed to further advance and mutate through exposure to some corruption and/or through special means.
  • Some giants may not even be large humanoids at all, but rather some eldritch monstrosity which lurks in the deep wood and the mountain peaks. What form it takes might be difficult to ascertain for sure.
  • In any case, the bones of Giants is a 'magical material' in Mirhne, akin to what Mithril or Adamantium is in many settings. It is rare and stronger than bronze and is a substantial upgrade.

The Sorcerers

From Legend of Zelda
Mirhne both has a lot of magic and yet no true magic to speak of, unless one wish to delve into the darker powers of this world and brave the eldritch corruption. That said there are many things in Mirhne which blur the boundary between what we 21st century humans call science and what the people of Mirhne call 'magic': medical knowledge, chemical production and metalworking being a good example of what does work alongside more questionable practices such as trepanation, palm reading, astrology and so on. Openly magical effects as we recognize them in tabletop RPG are virtually unknown: there are no fireballs or healing spells. Even the darkest, blackest magic powered by eldritch knowledge and human sacrifice isn't so straightforward.

Except, maybe, for the Sorcerers. If the legends are true, anyway.

The Sorcerers are each unique individuals and they been woven through the history and myth of Mirhne. They are immortal and in the shape of men and women but beyond that who or what they are is unclear. They are said to possess unique powers, can speak all languages, curse the land, summon dead gods and travel all corners of the earth even beyond Mirhne. Sometimes the stories say they were the chosen servants of the Gods of old while others claim they are the last survivors of an older race of men, one closer to the powers of the gods. Others make them out to be evil and jealous individuals who have taken into themselves dark powers which no mortal should ever bear inside their flesh and soul. Some say they are all as old of Mirhne itself and were there when the land was young while others claim they are evil, foreign people with foreign magic and foreign gods to be feared and reviled by 'all good folks' (as the people of Mirhne often fear strangers from faraway lands). Their exact nature is unclear but so are their numbers, with an estimate around nine and twelve, assuming some names which pop up in myths are alternate names or conflation of different sorcerers.
  • Sorcerers, if they exist, are unique high HD npc/monsters woven deep into the history of Mirhne. They are less like the Wizards of modern D&D and more akin to figures such as Merlin, Medea, Circe or Gandalf, but adapted to the more sword & sorcery-meet-Lovecraft tone. What powers they have beyond seemingly immortal in some shape or form is ultimately unknown until it pops up.
  • Sorcerers could be indeed the rarest breed of humans: people who have indeed understood some fundamental knowledge about the world and how to warp it. Or they could very well be former slaves of ancient Gods who have broke free.
  • Alternatively, the Sorcerers aren't innately magical. Rather they are the last remaining members of some older and more advanced civilization whose 'magic' they guard and keep to themselves for reasons only known to them.
  • The Sorcerers aren't native to Mirhne and come from an alternate reality where the fundamental rules are different. Their magic is unique to how their biology function, yet they are also weakened by Mirhne. Alternatively they are aliens in the extra terrestrial sense.
  • The Sorcerers aren't remotely human and are basically like the Istari of Middle Earth, only they are not 'angels' but rather servants of some ancient cosmic power from the darkness beyond. They are the rare eldritch threat which is fully able to think and act like a human, having faked it for so long.

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Grimdark Future: 'Fluffy' Robot Legions Lists, Part 2

Death has come. We continue our look at thematic army lists for the Necrons Robot Legions for Grimdark Future. Where they were once one of the most boring and limited armies, they now possess enough unit variety to be interesting and varied.

Novohk: Murder Up Close

MAIM!KILL!BU- oh sorry, wrong faction.
Generally speaking, the Necrons are very much a 'shooty' army. They have extremely powerful guns and slow infantry after all. That said, the mechanical skeletons should never be underestimated in melee range. For one thing, they are made of regenerating living metal and secondly they do not feel pain or fear. Finally, there is the fact the more advanced Necron types retain part of their memory and knowledge, including that of dueling. The Novohk Dynasty may as well be the 'token melee sub-faction', much like the World Eaters or Blood Angels are to Chaos and Imperium respectively. Hell they are even red in color! These Necrons have an heritage of warfare and bloodshed and being robot skeletons hasn't dulled this one bit.

Tri-Scorpion Overseer [1] (230pts)

Overseer [1] (200pts)
Wrist-Mounted Laser Cannon
War Scythe

Warden [1] x2 (210pts)

Guardians [10] (330pts)
10x War Scythes

Warriors [10] x2 (570pts)
8x Gauss Rifle
1x Flame Caster
1x Fusion Caster

Flesh-Eaters [10] x2 (660pts)
8x Metal Claws
2x Electric Claws

Tri-Scorpions [3] x2 (680pts)
2x Twin Armblades
1x Heavy Armblade

Tactics: Expanding upon the units introduced in the Szarekhan list, this is a melee army to the core. Assign the Tri-Scorpion Overseer to a squad ot fellow Scorpion-bots and the regular Overseer to his Guardians. These are your elite melee units, while the Flayed Ones Flesh Eaters are your melee grunts but keep in mind these have not been upgraded with Ambush. The warriors, the standard unit of any list, exist to primarily provide cover fire. To further bolster the melee prowess of Warriors, a new hero unit (the 'Warden') is assigned to each squad. Alternatively each could be assigned to a Flesh Eater squad if that is more useful.

Nihilak: The Eternal Denial

"Its mine mine mine mine."
The Nihilak dynasty are a bunch of jealous bastards who guard their plundered wealth to the bitter end. They are as salty as any Necron can be salty and dislike giving any inch to their enemy. Initially I was unsure how to represent this in Grimdark Future but after some consideration I decided to build a disgustingly defensive list, which excel at basically not staying down. Offensively it sucks, but that doesn't matter because Nihilak are a bunch of jerks who will bitterly defend themselves. Their main mechanic is centered on using the Overwatch action but, in Grimdark Future, this is an optional and advanced rule.

Technomancer [1] x3 (480pts)
Gloom-Protocol
Regen-Protocol
2x Technoslave

Warriors [10] x3 (855pts)
8x Gauss Rifle
1x Flame Caster
1x Fusion Caster

Snipers [5] x4 (905pts)
Hunter

Tripod Robot [1] x2 (630pts)
Repair Bots (Regeneration)
Reanimator

Tactics: Assign a Technomancer to each Warrior squad, enhancing their regeneration and giving them the Fear mechanic. Your Tripod robots help enhance regeneration as well, allowing the army to keep on ticking no matter what. A set of Deathmarks Snipers wait in ambush until the time is right, at which point they can pop on the battlefield with their extremely dangerous 'Hunter' ability to vaporize priority targets. Use them to deny the enemy any location you see fit. Do keep in mind their squad size is smaller but, if need be, they can be combined to form two squads of ten instead.

Nephrek: Wings of the Deceiver

Shinycrons.
The Nephrek Dynasty is particularly gifted and well-versed in some strange metaphysical knowledge and science, as they possess some particularly impressive abilities when it come to what can be best described as teleportation. The Nephrek seek to become beings of pure light rather than return to flesh and their golden forms, especially those of their Lords, are able to teleport and flicker. Considering the Thousand Sons seek to acquire from them the secret to binding and controlling C'Tan shards and the golden hued finish of these Necrons perhaps they have acquired and jealously guard some power they have extracted from the C'Tan known as the Deceiver.

Nanobot Wraith-Shard C'Tan Shard [1] (490pts)
Psychic (3)

Technomancer [1] x3 (420pts)
Flame-Protocol
Jetpack Teleportation
Bot Master (Psychic (1))

Guardians [5] x3 (720pts)
Jetpacks Teleportation

Hover Bikes [6] x3 (765pts)
5x Twin Gauss Rifles
1x Antimatter Rifle

Doom Tank [1] x2 (550pts)

Tactics: This is another Psychic list, similar to the Szarekhan Dynasty list. The key difference is how it plays. The Szarekhan Dynasty list was akin to a brutal sledgehammer backed by powerful anti-Psychic defenses. The Nephrek list, meanwhile, is highly mobile. Assign a Technomancer to each Guardians squad as both are equipped with Jetpacks and are flying units, ignoring terrain through their bizarre golden, light-infused shapes. Meanwhile, formations of Tomb Blades Hoverbikes move around the battlefield at high speed, ignoring terrain with their Strider ability, backed by a pair of Doom Tanks.

Maynarkh Dynasty: Two-Pronged Warfare

From the Imperial Armor book
series by Forge World.
The nihilistic and destructive (even by Necron standards) Maynarkh Dynasty has grappled with the curse of the Flayer, which transform Necrons into delusional madmen. Well, more delusional than usual, anyway: Necron Flayed Ones believe themselves to be flesh and blood and long for it, which is apparently why they garb themselves in the stolen flesh of living beings. What was once believed to be some sort of grotesque shock unit of the Necrons is in fact a sickness affecting the metal race. This curse has nearly undone Maynarkh but now they are back from the brink and dedicated to the eradication of the Imperium of Man. This will not be a honorable war, no, for the lesser race does not deserve such a fate. And so yet another take on the good old murder-bots emerge from the lore.

Technomancer [1] x2 (250pts)
Flame-Protocol
Bot Master (Psychic (1))

Annihilators [3] x2 (870pts)
2x Gauss Cannon
1x Heavy Gauss Cannon

Flesh-Eaters [10] x3 (1230pts)
8x Metal Claws
2x Electric Claws
Ambush

Warriors [10] x2 (570pts)
8x Gauss Rifle
1x Flame Caster
1x Fusion Caster

Tactics: Maynarkh is a 'combined arms' type of force, combining two distinct halves of a Necron army. It make use of both extremely 'shooty' units with large, heavy weapons while its base troops are the demented Flayed Ones. This army is especially focused around using Ambush to deploy the troops where they are needed. Assign each Technomancer to a Warrior squad: these two squads are the only ones which aren't in Ambush at the start of the game.

Bone Kingdom of Drazak: Flayed Ones Harvest

Snick, snick...snick....snick...
Where Maynarkh was able to fight off the effects of the Flayer Curse, the Bone Kingdom of Drazak succumbed nearly entirely to it. Not much is known about it: not its color scheme, if the Dynasty name is Drazak or if the world is a specific one within a larger Dynasty. What is known is that the planet of Drazak is a tomb world populated by hordes of demented Flayed Ones, safe for their leader who is immune but powerless to stop the curse. When the Flayed Ones gets too hungry, they emerge from their shrouded world located in the Ghoul Stars to harvest the living.

Originally I wasn't sure how to execute a Flayed Ones-heavy army due to the unit limitations but, thanks to some refluffing and some new ideas I was able to create a list composed nearly entirely of some variation of the Flayed Ones. One idea being to model their Wraiths not as the Canoptek type but, rather, the original type of Necron Wraiths which were said to be of a similar nature to the Flayed Ones. Meanwhile, the mutated Immortals (and similar higher ranked Necrons) use the statline of the Skorphek Destroyers but re imagined as multi-jointed giants with large blades of meat cleavers for arms and feets. The Cryptek are the only guys with ranged weapons but they too are a form of Flayed One now, representing some form of mutated and devolved Necron nobility that stand above their Flayed One minions but are themselves afflicted.

Technomancer Flayed Lords [1] x3 (630pts)
Darkness-Protocol
Regen-Protocol

Flesh-Eaters [10] x3 (1230pts)
8x Metal Claws
2x Electric Claws

Robot Snakes Classic Wraiths [3] x2 (740pts)
3x Whip Coil Bladed Implements

Tri-Scorpions Greater Flayed Ones [3] (330pts)
Plasmabot (Rending)

Tactics: The goal of this army is blunt and simple.. These hordes of demented Necrons want to charge the enemy and tear off their sweet, sweet skin. Doesn't matter if its the pink or brown skin of human, the purple hue of Genestealer cultists, the green of Orks or the blue of Tau. Just head into melee and don't look back. Assign a Technomancer to each Flayed Ones Flesh Eater squad to give them Ambush (cost the same as upgrading the regular squad anyway, more or less). These Technomancers also grant enhanced Regeneration, which is good for an all-melee unit that is likely to take a lot of fire.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Lands of Mihrne: Character Creation

Art by Andreas Rocha
Some quick and simple rules for how characters would be made for a Lands of Mihrne game.

  • The campaign make use of the upcoming (currently available in its beta form) Worlds Without Numbers from Sine Nomine. The game's core mechanics, base classes, backgrounds and skills are well suited to be used as a base for a Mihrne campaign. The 'Magic' skill is not available at character creation and represent knowledge of the normally unknowable.
  • The only classes available are Warriors and Experts (or Adventurers which are a mix of the two). By itself, Mihrne has no 'magic' in the traditional D&D style. Obviously, the only choice of race is human.
  • Possible, the following Foci from the Codex of the Black Sun from Stars Without Numbers could be allowed to represent the very peak of mortal abilities without fully surrendering to corrupting, eldritch powers: Soul Shield and Witch Finder.
  • The campaign make use of the Silent Legions Madness mechanic, albeit with reduced or non-existent Madness gain from ordinary violence for characters of the Warrior class, as they are expected to be hardened to ordinary violence. Suitably gruesome butchery might still affect them, as does any serious violence involving a truly unnatural creature.
  • Spells are learned as they are in Silent Legions. There are many practices on Mihrne which are considered 'magic' by itself people but isn't: herbology, crude and early chemistry, signs reading, shamanic rituals and even more advanced forms of metallurgy. However, capital M 'Magic' is exceedingly rare and learning it exact a toll on the mind and soul. Such powers are unlikely to be made easily available.