Category Archives: Games

Catching up: Hercules 2014 review

Where did the time go? It seems like only yesterday that I was planning to blog about the then-current genre television season, the various books and comics I've been reading, the convention scene, and upcoming movies and tabletop RPGs.

Granted, I've been busy with work, weekly games, and seasonal festivals, but before they all blur together in memory, let me review some recent films.

On Friday, 25 July 2014, I met Jason E.R. and his son Eric for dinner at Fuddrucker's and an IMAX 3-D showing of Hercules. We enjoyed this sword-and-sandals movie, which starred Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson.

Hercules 2014

Mighty heroes

Plot: Since I had read the Radical Comics miniseries this movie was based on, I wasn't surprised that the 12 labors of Herakles weren't as prominent as in the trailers. In fact, the plot takes the tack that the labors were exaggerated tales of a non-magical band of adventurers.

In this respect, I'd compare 2014's Hercules with the 2004 King Arthur, but with more of a sense of humor. Johnson already proved a worthy successor to Conan: the Barbarian's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hercules: the Legendary Adventures/Kull the Conqueror's Kevin Sorbo in Scorpion King.

The Rock's shaky computer-animated avatar in The Mummy Returns was one of the few weak spots in that pulp adventure flick. I'd also compare Hercules favorably with the over-the-top 300: Rise of an Empire (but if you like Frank Miller, just wait for Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For). I'd even argue that Hercules was more faithful in spirit, if not in specifics, to its source material than Jason Momoa's Conan or the dour Man of Steel.

Cast: Even if Hercules' script is occasionally weak or predictable, Johnson is ably supported by Ian McShane as fatalist mystic Amphiaraus, Rufus Sewell as mercenary Autolycus, and John Hurt as aged Lord Cotys. Joseph Fiennes follows in his brother's footsteps (Ralph was Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise) as the scheming King Eurystheus.

The younger actors are also decent, including Askel Hennie as traumatized Viking Tydeus (it's fantasy, don't sweat it), Reece Ritchie as Hercules' kinsman and storyteller Iolaus, and Ingrid Bolso Berdal as the Amazonian Atalanta. The White Queen's Rebecca Ferguson is Princess Ergenia, and model Irina Shayk is Hercules' wife Megara. Some viewers will recognize character names from Greek mythology, TV's Legendary Adventures, or even the Disney animated musical, but this is a different take on most of them.

Direction/cinematography: It's too bad that years of computer-assisted effects have left us jaded to visions of monsters, large armies maneuvering on battlefields, and feats of strength and acrobatics. The action scenes in Hercules were generally well choreographed, and the movie was well paced.

I liked the glimpses of mythical beasts, the use of phalanx and archers on chariots, and even the cheesier moments of Hercules in chains. The Steve Reeves and Ray Harryhausen classics have nothing to worry about, but it's still nice to see a deconstruction that doesn't completely tear down fun, larger-than-life spectacle.

Rating: Jason, Eric, Byron V.O., and I all liked Hercules more than fellow role-player Rich C.G. I'd give Hercules a 7.5 out of 10, a solid "B," or four out of five stars. This is the sort of movie I'd classify as a "gamer flick," with an entertaining ensemble of misfits doing heroic deeds but not necessarily aspiring to subgenre greatness.

I've heard that this movie was better than the other Hercules film of earlier this year. Although Luc Besson and Scarlett Johannson's Lucy (more on that later) beat Hercules at the box office, I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel featuring Johnson and that first superhero team, Jason and the Argonauts. Now, who to cast?

"Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" Session 40.25 — Second Sogewa departure

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 40.25, which was held on Sunday, 27 July 2014:

Long ago in a distant land, spirits and men directly traded bamboo, silk, and steel. Wars to the west, twisted monsters, and power-hungry sorcerers threatened the eastern kingdoms, so the call went out for new heroes of honor and tact….

Player Character Party 40 in Gene D.’s Vanished Lands: A New Dawn” Asian-style telecom campaign, using the D20 Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game andAdvanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Ed.) Oriental Adventures, plus house rules,Skype, and an online dice roller, as of summer 2014:

  • Souji Nobuto ‘Sonny’ Yoshimitsu [Beruk A.]-male Shengtese Tian Kensai (eastern human weapon master) from a dishonored house in the Lion Clan, specializing in chain weapons; LNg, Lvl. 7
  • Toshiharu ‘Toshi’ Sembutsu [Byron V.O.]-male Shan Sao Wu Jen (eastern Halfling Wizard) with tiger companion Amaya and a destiny; NGc, Lvl. 7
  • Ember Talon [Sara F.]-female Crane Hengeyokai Wu (shapeshifting Druid), actually a young gold dragon banished from the Celestial Court; NGl, Lvl. 7
  • Soske’ Tiatoshe [Geoff C./absent]-male Shengtese Tian Shukenja (eastern human Cleric), priest of Shang-ti and animist from the Phoenix Clan, prophesied to do great things; LNg, Lvl. 7
  • Saigo Kasugi [Bruce K.]-male Bamboo Spirit Folk Samurai (eastern Sylvan Elf Cavalier) discreetly serving his daimyo; LNg, Lvl. 7
  • Moon Jung-mo [Dexter V.H.]-male Nannuattan Ninja (Msamaki, eastern Dark Elf Assassin) who has left the Shadow’s Claw clan and is posing as a River Spirit Folk Yakuza (eastern Grey Elf Rogue); LNg, Lvl. 7

“16 to 17 May 1227 B.C.E.:” The band of adventurers had escorted Lady Yun Aei-Yong, an emissary from the kingdom of Gokuri, to the city of Silado. After the mysterious arrival of Prince Zu Ji, Duke Kou Fei Seng had asked the party to investigate an army approaching the provincial capital of Tong Sheng.

The wanderers returned and reported to the duke, who was now under house arrest. Lady Yun managed to persuade Prince Zu to leave Sogewa before Lady Fu Hao can lay siege with her forces. They also let the emperor’s favored concubine know that they and the crown prince planned to head north, toward Akilu Castle.

Jung-Mo meets with Tsuji Eizo, who is actually Park Chulsoon, a fellow Nannuattan Ninja. They agree that Lady Yun has positioned herself to be the winner no matter who rules the human principality.

If the duplicitous prince raises an army and “liberates” Sogewa, Gokuri gains an ally to whom it had extended asylum. If the warrior queen captures him and/or the city, Lady Yun can claim that she helped restore Shang honor.

At Silado Palace, Sonny stays with Lady Yun and her Draconian bodyguard Oh Kum Ja. The Nannuattan diplomat writes letters to her new friends in various noble houses.

Toshi sends messages to fellow air elementalist Peng Arong and Yuen Yongyue, a priest of sea lord Ano Wasu, warning them about the potential dynastic conflict. Toshi also mentions the bulettes encountered out on the eastern Plains of Sathendo.

Ember visits a friend in the Lion Clan, followed by jealous Jung-Mo. Ember warns Kamachi Yushiro about Lady Fu’s army, and the young Samurai offers his services. Ember allows Kamachi to escort her back to her guest quarters and is bemused to notice Jung-Mo lurking in the shadows.

Saigo returns to the House of the Red Lotus, but the two geishas he had met previously are not available. Han Young-Nae brings him to a private room and serves tea. Toshi follows in bird form to try to keep his friend out of trouble.

Han Young-Nae plays some music, nearly enthralling Saigo and Toshi. Her neck stretches out to inhuman lengths, and her face twists into a frightful visage.Bamboo Spirit Folk Saigo draws his katana and slices her neck, which heals instantly.

Toshi flies in and shifts back to Shan Sao form before sliding open the door. The scary woman tries to bite Saigo, who slashes at her with his sword. Toshi castsFire Shurikens, missing Han Young-Nae but setting the room ablaze.

The creature, which Toshi identifies as a Rokurokubi, draws a pair of sai and strikes Saigo. Wu Jen Toshi invokes the wind lords and uses his Storm Gauntletsto cast Lightning Bolts, wounding the long-necked monster.

Samurai Saigo dodges the Rokurokubi’s fangs, but Toshi is drained of some blood. The eastern Halfling kills the demonic creature with more lightning, casts Wizard Mark on her corpse, and takes the sai.

Saigo quickly searches the burning room and is entangled by living shrouds around the bed. The eastern Sylvan Elf manages to cut through the Ittan-momen and hastily leaves the House of the Red Lotus with Toshi.

Back at the palace, Kamachi-san asks Ember for a token, but she declines. The Hengeyokai Wu instead asks him to defend the innocent within the city, but she doesn’t tell him about Lady Liao Qianru, who she recently discovered is an old red dragon.

Jung-Mo doesn’t trust Lady Yun, but Sonny says that allowing her to talk Prince Zu Ji into leaving Sogewa should avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Soske’ prays to ancestral spirits for guidance in containing the growing chaos in the countryside.

Toshi and Saigo hop on a water taxi to the temple of Ano Wasu. They meet Shengtese Shukenja Chang Baio and Sea Spirit Folk Sohei Sun Min, two Clerics of the sea lord. Toshi offers 100 tael (50 gold pieces) and a Fireball scroll for healing and to remove any curses Saigo may have acquired.

Saigo then takes the lead to find a gift shop near the docks. Even though it is late in the evening, he bangs on a door, awakening the proprietor. Hong Feng is deferential to the knight and court mage, and he sells Saigo a silk origami bird and a jade amulet of the city for a total of 60 tael.

Hungry Sonny and Ember take advantage of the palace kitchens before they leave, and Soske’ continues to avoid his nosy extended family. The rest of the night passes uneventfully.

The next morning, Prince Zu Ji meets Lady Yun with 50 people. Shengtese human Sonny observes four courtiers and potential spellcasters in robes among the royal guards.

Secretive Jung-Mo incapacitates a soldier and takes his fine suit of armor to infiltrate the prince’s entourage. Druid Ember shifts into crane form to scoutahead for Lady Fu Hao’s forces.

Toshi walks with his new tiger companion Amaya and Soske’ near the caravan’s rear. He also reveals an Ioun stone, which hovers and produces light (and has no other remaining magic).

The Halfling Wizard privately warns his companions that they must carefully navigate between their vows to protect the Nannuattan diplomat, and now her Shang ally, with their desire to help Sogewa and Lady Fu Hao’s army.

Saigo rides near Lady Yu’s carriage and Prince Zu. He recognizes a few of the mercenaries who had arrived with the rogue royal now dressed in uniforms with the imperial seal. The prince seems unconcerned about the army pursuing him.

Ember spots two riders in Tsucharim (Mongol-style) dress, and she lands before them. She presents the foo creature battle standard of Lady Fu Hao, and the horsemen say that some of the queen’s troops have encountered resistance. Ember asks them to let Lady Fu know that the prince has left Sogewa.

Upon flying back to the caravan, Ember signals to Sonny to get their companions to discreetly regroup. They eventually agree to hold back in the hope that they can avoid being caught between Lady Yun Aei-Yong and Prince Zu Ji on the one side and Lady Fu Hao’s army on the other….

Geoff, we missed “Soske’” and I hope you’ll be able to rejoin us this coming weekend. I’ve posted separately regarding Bruce's “PathfinderEberron/Reign of Winter” miniseries, Guardians of the Galaxy, and “JasonCon 2014 B.”

Let me know if any of you need help updating your character records on Obsidian Portal to Level 7.

"Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" Session 40.24 — Avoiding a civil war

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 40.24, which was held on Sunday, 20 July 2014:

Long ago in a distant land, spirits and men directly traded bamboo, silk, and steel. Wars to the west, twisted monsters, and power-hungry sorcerers threatened the eastern kingdoms, so the call went out for new heroes of honor and tact….

Player Character Party 40 in Gene D.’s Vanished Lands: A New Dawn” Asian-style telecom campaign, using the D20 Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Ed.) Oriental Adventures, plus house rulesSkype, and an online dice roller, as of summer 2014:

  • Souji Nobuto ‘Sonny’ Yoshimitsu [Beruk A.]-male Shengtese Tian Kensai (eastern human weapon master) from a dishonored house in the Lion Clan, specializing in chain weapons; LNg, Lvl. 6
  • Toshiharu ‘Toshi’ Sembutsu [Byron V.O./absent]-male Shan Sao Wu Jen (eastern Halfling Wizard) from the Tiger Clan with a destiny; NGc, Lvl. 6
  • Ember Talon [Sara F.]-female Crane Hengeyokai Wu (shapeshifting Druid), actually a young gold dragon banished from the Celestial Court; NGl, Lvl. 6
  • Soske’ Tiatoshe [Geoff C.]-male Shengtese Tian Shukenja (eastern human Cleric), priest of Shang-ti and animist from the Phoenix Clan, prophesied to do great things; LNg, Lvl. 6
  • Saigo Kasugi [Bruce K.]-male Bamboo Spirit Folk Samurai (eastern Sylvan Elf Cavalier) discreetly serving his daimyo; LNg, Lvl. 6
  • Moon Jung-mo [Dexter V.H.]-male Nannuattan Ninja (Msamaki, eastern Dark Elf Assassin) who has left the Shadow’s Claw clan and is posing as a River Spirit Folk Yakuza (eastern Grey Elf Rogue); LNg, Lvl. 6

“13 to 15 May 1227 B.C.E.:” The explorers narrowly evaded bulettes while riding across the steppes to scout out a large army approaching the city of Sogewa. They met Lady Fu Hao, commander of the Shang forces, and obtained a few days to return to the city before the rogue Prince Zu Ji is besieged.

After some discussion about what to do next, the team goes to the manor of Duke Kou Fei Seng, the former ruler of Tong Sheng who assigned it to investigate the army. Toshi stays at Silado Palace to watch Gokuri emissary Lady Yun Aei-Yong.

The wanderers find the duke under house arrest. Soske’ recognizes a guard as one of the mercenaries who arrived with Prince Zu Ji, now clad in imperial livery. Saigo explains that they have already reported to the prince, who gave them permission to talk to the duke.

Jung-Mo and Ember flirt to distract eavesdroppers in the garden, and Saigo quietly tells Duke Kou Fei Seng about how the emperor’s favored concubine is approaching Sogewa with about 10,000 soldiers. Sonny adds that Lady Fu Hao is not afraid to sack the city if she deems it necessary.

The duke says that their “mutual friend is also resting comfortably,” referring toGen. Wang Tung, who had sought to prevent the group from reporting to him on growing unrest in the province but is in secret custody. Sonny says that the general might yet be useful.

Kou Fei Seng agrees to tell Saigo and Jung-Mo about hidden passages into the palace, but he does not want to know the details of their plans to deal with the prince and prevent a siege of Sogewa. The travelers thank the duke for his help and discuss their options on the way back to their guest quarters.

Jung-Mo observes that although Lady Fu Hao commands a large army, a provincial capital such as Sogewa still has the advantage of numbers and defense. The “Spirit Folk merchant” also says that it’s more important to avoid bloodshed than take sides.

Sonny concurs that, given the choice between the aggressive female general and Prince Zu Ji, he’d prefer to divert their conflict from harming common folk. The Shengtese human suggests spreading misinformation to distract the duplicitous prince.

Crane Hengeyokai (recently revealed as an exiled gold dragon) Ember wonders aloud if it would be possible to evacuate Sogewa, but the others say it would be too difficult without cooperation from various clan leaders in the prince’s court.

Saigo wants to infiltrate the palace and capture the crown prince to deliver to the queen, but Sonny notes that there is a high probablility of tripping an alarm and being trapped. The Bamboo Spirit Folk considers disguising himself to pose as Zu Ji, but his men would soon see through such a ruse.

Soske’ warns that further disruptions of the principality’s leadership would feed the growing chaos, and the Shengtese human urges his companions to avoid drawing weapons for as long as possible. The adventurers eventually agree to consult Lady Yun.

They find more imperial sentries and attendants surrounding the Gokuri delegate. Draconian bodyguard Oh Kum Ja is pleased with her new scale armor. Sonny, Saigo, and Ember request a private audience, and Jung-Mo and Soske’ cautiously follow.

Ember sings to Jung-Mo to distract anyone listening in. Saigo tells Lady Yun about Prince Zu Ji’s defiance of his father, the distant Emperor Zi Zhao, and Lady Fu Hao’s army. The Nannuattan woman offers to give the prince asylum as way to get him to leave the city-state.

Sonny and Soske’ aren’t sure the prince will accept, and Jung-Mo and Ember don’t trust Lady Yun. Still, the party goes with her back to the prince. Jung-Mo and Toshi stealthily check out side passages.

Lady Yun tells Prince Zu Ji that it would be better if he visited his subjects in the countryside rather than fight in Sogewa. The sly Dark Elf says that Gokuri and Tong Sheng can both benefit from trade and closer association, and that the prince can return later as triumphant liberator. He agrees to travel with her north, toward Akilu Castle.

Prince Zu Ji says that he will be ready to leave with Lady Yun the next morning, before Lady Fu Hao’s arrival. Jung-Mo and Sonny later note that the Nannuattan now stand to gain, regardless of who takes control of the city.

Samurai Saigo writes a letter to Lady Fu Hao telling her where to intercept the prince. Ember and Toshi shift to owl form to go out to the army. Shukenja Soske’ avoids his nosy family and casts Wind Walk to accompany the Druid and Wu Jen.

Yakuza Jung-Mo watches Toshi’s tiger Amaya, and Kensai Sonny keeps a close watch on Lady Yun. Saigo heads to the House of the Red Lotus for a night’s entertainment.

As they fly over Sogewa’s tiled roofs, Ember, Toshi, and Soske’ see Wizards’ familiars, as well as Lady Liao Qianru, an ancient red-scaled dragon. They hastily change course to avoid her [Byron owes Beruk “candy”] and fly eastward over the Plains of Sathendo.

The trio sees a farmer’s cart being attacked by five large vampiric bats, but it does not pause in its task. Several li later, tents and Shang banners appear on the horizon. Soske’ signals to land inside the outer perimeter but before the bulk of the camp.

Ember presents a battle standard of a brass foo creature to gain admission to a portable pavilion. She notices a few simian Vanara among the armored humans, as well as recently captured bulettes. Soske’s True Seeing reveals a glamour and wards.

Lady Fu Hao studies maps of Sogewa with generals Zhi and Hou Gao. The scouts relay Saigo’s message and report on the unnatural bat swarms. Lady Fu orders Gen. Zhi to still go to the city but not to engage its militia.

Gen. Hou Gao takes a portion of the army to sweep north to look for Undead and potential ambushes. Axe-wielding Fu plans to apprehend Prince Zu Ji herself and bring him back to the city rather than execute him, as per the group’s recommendation.

Ember warns the emperor’s concubine about a chromatic dragon in the city, and Soske’ casts Find the Path to help Gen. Hou find the vampire nest. Meanwhile, back in Sogewa….

Byron, we missed you again at last night’s game, but I hope you’ll be able to rejoin us in the coming weeks! While the Boston-area, face-to-face group won’t meet tonight, I look forward to continuing the “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Expedition” campaign as well as Bruce’s “Eberron/Reign of Winter” miniseries.

In the meantime, remember to look at the latest character record template on Obsidian Portal as we prepare for Level 7.

"Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" Session 40.23 — Bulettes, battle axe, and back to Silado Palace

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 40.23, which was held on Sunday, 14 July 2014:

Long ago in a distant land, spirits and men directly traded bamboo, silk, and steel. Wars to the west, twisted monsters, and power-hungry sorcerers threatened the eastern kingdoms, so the call went out for new heroes of honor and tact….

Player Character Party 40 in Gene D.’s Vanished Lands: A New Dawn” Asian-style telecom campaign, using the D20 Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Ed.) Oriental Adventures, plus house rulesSkype, and an online dice roller, as of summer 2014:

  • Souji Nobuto ‘Sonny’ Yoshimitsu [Beruk A.]-male Shengtese Tian Kensai (eastern human weapon master) from a dishonored house in the Lion Clan, specializing in chain weapons; LNg, Lvl. 6
  • Toshiharu ‘Toshi’ Sembutsu [Byron V.O./absent]-male Shan Sao Wu Jen (eastern Halfling Wizard) from the Tiger Clan with a destiny; NGc, Lvl. 6
  • Ember Talon [Sara F.]-female Crane Hengeyokai Wu (shapeshifting Druid), actually a young gold dragon banished from the Celestial Court; NGl, Lvl. 6
  • Soske’ Tiatoshe [Geoff C.]-male Shengtese Tian Shukenja (eastern human Cleric), priest of Shang-ti and animist from the Phoenix Clan, prophesied to do great things; LNg, Lvl. 6
  • Saigo Kasugi [Bruce K.]-male Bamboo Spirit Folk Samurai (eastern Sylvan Elf Cavalier) discreetly serving his daimyo; LNg, Lvl. 6
  • Moon Jung-mo [Dexter V.H./absent]-male Nannuattan Ninja (Msamaki, eastern Dark Elf Assassin) who has left the Shadow’s Claw clan and is posing as a River Spirit Folk Yakuza (eastern Grey Elf Rogue); LNg, Lvl. 6

“9 to 12 May 1227 B.C.E.:” After accepting a mission to scout out an unidentified army approaching Sogewa, the capital of Tong Sheng, a band of explorers fought Ninjas and three creatures cursed for intemperate desires. The group continued across the wide Plains of Sathendo.

Sonny recommends approaching the army as a band of merchants and discreetly asking about its intentions. Saigo notes that he and Ember could pose as a Spirit Folk couple, with Shengtese humans Sonny and Soske’ as locals.

Ember wants to return to the skies to continue scouting; she had previously seen signs of large burrowing beasts. Soske’ points out that the adventuring party is too well armed and doesn’t have enough trade goods to pass as peasants.

Jung-Mo, who usually presents himself as a wealthy wanderer, stays out of sight to watch the band’s back for more foes. Toshi studies arcane spells and offers to accompany Ember in bird form.

Ember shifts into crane form and flies east over the steppes. The Hengeyokai again sees the upturned earth from bulettes, or land sharks, and she stays out of arrow range as she passes over numerous rows of armored soldiers. Ember observes a foo creature battle standard and heads back to her companions.

To cross the wilderness quickly, Saigo removes any extra gear and supplies from the horses and leaves Jung-Mo and Toshi to guard the cache. The Shan Sao Wu Jen casts Gaseous Form and Haste to help the others avoid the bulettes.

Even so, one of the land sharks leaps up and manages to take two bites out of Soske’ as he carries Sonny and Saigo across the grasslands via Wind Walk. Wu Ember leads the way to rocky ground.

Shukenja Soske’ heals himself while waiting for the army to approach. Samurai Saigo identifies the heraldry that Ember saw as that of the Shang Empire, based in distant Yin.

A high-ranking scout with a fierce steed and large bird of prey rides up to the group. Sonny warns the imperial officer about the bulettes and asks to be taken to his leader. Gen. Hou Gao personally escorts the explorers through the ranks of thousands of troops.

Most of the Shang soldiers wear banded bronze armor and carry spears and broad swords. Chariots and archers march alongside wagons of supplies. The elite troops wear scale and carry a variety of weapons. Sonny recognizes the chrysanthemum standard of the imperial house.

Shang army

Imperial army

Gen. Gao brings the newcomers before the august presence of Lady Fu Hao, who commands about 10,000 men and is a priestess as well as Emperor Zi Zhao’s favored concubine (out of 60). She wears fine armor and listens to the group’s formal introductions.

Kensai Sonny reports that Prince Zu Ji has assumed control over Sogewa, the provincial capital, and Lady Fu says that is not the will of his father, the emperor. Soske’ describes the Undead and other manifestations of growing chaos that he has encountered, and the oracle says that she has sensed similar problems.

The empress compliments Ember’s manners from the Celestial Court, and the exile uses a magical mirror to reveal her true nature as a dragon to her friends and Lady Fu. They are surprised but supportive.

Lady Fu recognizes the Saigo family name and asks about his grandfather Shinso, who the knight says is missing. Wu Ding’s concubine offers to help in any way she can, but she is determined to destroy any traitors first.

The diplomats ask the queen for time to avoid a bloody siege of Sogewa, in which many innocents would suffer. Lady Fu acknowledges that it may take her forces a few additional days to cross the lands of the bulettes, but she promises to inflict her full wrath against any who oppose the mandate of heaven.

Lady Fu leaps up, draws a battle axe from her back, and cuts the head off a standard before gracefully landing on her feet. She gives the brass piece to Ember as a token of her command.

Soske’ agrees to swear fealty to the empress, but the priest hesitates when he recognizes her axe, which he saw in a vision that indicated that the blade would change the course of history. Lady Fu offers a whistling long sword instead, and as Soske’ puts his hand on it to swear, he glimpses armies clashing on the way to his prophesied destiny.

Saigo and company depart and ride back to Sogewa, collecting Jung-Mo and Toshi on the way. Ember is upset about revealing herself as a draconic outcast, but the entire group is unwavering in respecting the Druid’s honor.

Soske’ casts Air Walk upon his horse to avoid the bulettes. Sonny, Saigo, and Jung-Mo follow at full gallop, and Ember and Toshi fly overhead. Saigo gets bitten but manages to keep running, and Sonny and Ember distract the monster with artillery.

The scouts and their exhausted horses eventually return to the rice paddies and wheat fields surrounding Sogewa. Six sentries stop them and ask for identification. Armored Saigo says that he was sent by Duke Kou Fei Seng to investigate the approaching army.

The guards decide to ride with the party into the city, and Soske’ recognizes akatar (punching dagger) of the Scorpion Clan. The travelers are wary as they are brought to the inner tiers and sprawling Silado Palace.

Flanked by aristocrats from numerous clans, Prince Zu Ji greets the team. Saigo reports on the bulettes but claims that he did not directly engage the approaching army. The crown prince orders the militia to muster more troops for the realm’s defense.

Sisters Bai Lei Qing and Dao Lei Qing again offer to bring the travelers to their quarters, but Sonny asks to speak with Lady Yun Aei-Yong first. Smiling Li Keng brings them to the Nannuattan (eastern Dark Elf) emissary of Gokuri.

Soske’ asks Lady Yun, whom the group had been assigned to escort, how she has been for the past few days. The sly delegate says that she has met more potential allies in the Crab, Crane, and Dragon clans and that Prince Zu Ji has agreed to extend trade between Gokuri and Tong Sheng.

Sonny and Saigo think that Lady Yun might be useful in helping them get closer to the prince, but Soske’ and Jung-Mo don’t trust her. Ember and Toshi warn their friends to watch out for clan politics, which could complicate opening the city to Lady Fu’s army peacefully.

After a brief rest, Saigo says that the next thing to do is to visit Duke Kou Fei Seng, the prior ruler of Sogewa, who had taken rogue Gen. Wang Tung into custody before being placed under house arrest himself….

It was great to resume our adventures, and Dexter and Byron, we missed you! Note that I’ve added recent acquisitions to my bibliography, including the retro-clone Arrows of Indrathe BRP-based Celestial Empireand the FATE-based Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade.

Speaking of which, I’ve updated my D20/FATE house rules slightly; let me know what you think. I look forward to Bruce’s “PathfinderEberron/Reign of Winter” miniseries, starting tonight, and remember to watch the scheduling threads on our message boards.

Fun and games in June and July 2014

As usual, the start of summer has been busy. On Saturday, 21 June 2014, Janice and I went to the Compleat Strategist in Boston for Free RPG Day. We then met role-players Beruk A., Rich C.G., and some of Rich's friends at Pandemonium Books & Games in Cambridge, Mass.

I picked up free fantasy supplements for Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Pathfinder, as well as quickstarters for the superhero Valiant Universe and cyberpunk/fantasy Shadowrun. Clearly, I'm still in a retro-clone, old-school Renaissance (OSR) frame of mind.

Other recent acquisitions include Arrows of Indra, Celestial Empire, and the FATE (Core) Freeport Companion, all of which should be useful for my long-running "Vanished Lands" campaign, which is currently using D20/FATE house rules.

As you may have seen by now, I ran four games in one week! After the latest Creation Star Trek convention in Boston (more on that later), I ran my usual "Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" telecom team on Sunday, June 22. The Player Characters encountered monsters while scouting an army approaching the city of Sogewa.

On Monday, June 23, the "Vanished Lands: Vistel's Expedition" face-to-face group continued its adventures. That adventuring party has traveled through time to free some slaves.

Byron V.O., an alumnus of the Boston-area groups who now lives in St. Louis and participates in "A New Dawn" via Skype, stayed with Janice and me after a business trip back east. On Friday, June 27, I ran an extra "Vistel's Expedition" session, and Byron and I were pleased at the strong turnout.

Byron V.O.'s June 2014 visit

"Vistel's Expedition," summer 2014

On Saturday, June 28, I ran "Star Trek: Restoration," and it was nice to host a smaller group for the first time since moving from Needham to Waltham, Mass. The crew of the U.S.S. Rotha was involved in a tense standoff with Romulan warbirds!

After that afternoon session, we met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. and Josh C. for a solid Italian dinner at Fiorella's in Newton. Byron, who is always a good houseguest and fun gaming companion, left on Sunday, June 29.

On Monday, June 30, Josh ran a one-shot of Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, using FATE Core (reminding me of what I like and what I'd tweak). That wuxia (Asian-style fantasy) scenario was among the one-shots and miniseries my groups have tried out each summer in between longer campaigns.

Pregenerated P.C.s for "Hammer, Don't Touch This!" — Josh C.'s Tianxia one-shot at Brian W.'s home in Newton, Mass.:

  • "Ma Wei Sheng" [Gene D.]-male eastern human, wandering nobleman, taciturn warrior determined to get out from his family's shadow and make a name for himself
  • "Smiling Ox" [Beruk A.]-male human, master of the Demon Hammer, boastful brute with large appetites and a heart of gold
  • "Sister Chuntao" [Brian W.]-female human, Bodhist nun and former thief, conscious of checkered past and seeking harmony, with monkey Sun
  • "Jasmina" [Sara F.]-female tiger, talking animal with scars and a strong sense of justice
  • "Han 'Dragon Dog' Ping" [Bruce K.]-male human, enthusiastic young adventurer and working-class hero
  • "Yee Wong" [Rich C.G.]-male human, old Daoist wizard, immortal but absent-minded and irascible alchemist
  • "Wolf-Eyed Yue" [Brian S.]-female human, wild woman and member of the secret White Widow sect devoted to helping women defend themselves

The Boston-area and telecom games took a break around the Independence Day weekend, during which Janice and I hosted one of our nieces. During the latest "JasonCon" on Monday, July 7, Jason E.R. (whose "Glassworks: the Devil's Den" superhero scenario using Icons: Great Power recently ended) graciously hosted Rich's School Daze, a narrative, rules-light game typically focusing on high school archetypes.

P.C.s for Rich C.G.'s third School Daze session, held in Reading, Mass.:

  • "Emo Wallach" [Gene D.]-male human goth, junior at Trowbridge High School specializing in art and comfortable in dank spaces; discovered a dead dog and classmate during a stormy night at Camp Crystal Lake; later a friend of "Reasonable Squid" reporter Cynthia Hoskins
  • "Chuck Taylor" [Jason E.R.]-male human jock, Trowbridge senior and friend of "Fighting Krakens" water polo Coach Bronkowski and his bullying son Murphy, helped defeat a homicidal alien with surprise tire-iron attacks; after a change of heart, became a nerd defender
  • "Brandon Shaw" [Bruce K.]-male human, shop yank and Trowbridge junior, prone to bad humor; fancies himself a ladies' man and good with an axe in a scrap
  • "Alan Morris" [Brian S.]-male human Trowbridge senior and budding filmmaker; friend of Henry Lee Jackson, an old hermit with a hook hand; recorded attack by assistant camp leader "Ms. Bellum," who was actually a mantis-like alien; dating Chuck's younger sister Tracy
  • "Feskilado 'Fesky' Mepeselph" [Erik R.]-male human Trowbridge senior, science and clank/electronics expert; snuck pet dogs and cat into camp; later found beheaded, and cat Severus was revealed as an alien guardian

I expect "A New Dawn" to resume this coming Sunday, July 13, and Bruce K. will begin his "Eberron/Pathfinder: Reign of Winter" miniseries next Monday. So many games, so little time!

In related news, the Dungeons & Dragons (5e/"Next") Basic Rules have been released. While there are no earth-shattering revelations, especially after a lengthy playtest period, I'm pleased that Wizards of the Coast released this as a free PDF.

As I've noted elsewhere, this looks closer to what I would have preferred for D&D4e, with a mix of AD&D2 style and D&D3.5/D20/4e rules. We'll still have to wait and see whether D&D5e will tempt role-players away from Pathfinder, OSR, and various indie systems.