Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Balance Finds A Way

Yes, this essay purposefully matches that line from Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way."  And there's a reason for that.

The following idea came out of a discussion about racial balance in RPGs like D&D.  My thesis is this: Balancing elements of the game (not to be confused with game balance) is extremely important; however, one shouldn't rely on game mechanics in order to balance things out.

It's as simple as every cloud has a silver lining and every silver lining has a cloud.  Precious little is always best, always the right way, always superior to its competition.  And when that does happen, it becomes the rule, the way things are.  Now, let me stray from the point a bit...

There are rules (later, I'm going to refer to this as the Rule of Life), exceptions to rules, and arguments.  Here's are examples of each.

  • You don't kill people without a good reason, and on a sunny day the sky is blue.  Those are rules.
  • Thieves are not honorable, and it's more advantageous to be a citizen of the Roman Empire than a poverty-stricken villager somewhere in Africa.  By and large, those generally true.  However, there are notable exceptions to these rules.
  • Green is one of the best colors.  You shouldn't kill an enemy when he's unarmed.  Those are arguments waiting to happen.

When it comes to things like balance between fantasy races, even when it's clearly a better choice due to bonuses and whatnot, there are surely non-mechanical downsides to playing an elf.  If elves have certain advantages that aren't offset by disadvantages, there's going to be something in the game world that we can put in the "con" side.

Maybe elves are naturally arrogant?  Arrogance can lead to laziness or overconfidence and it can also make other races dislike you.  Perhaps elf culture has developed a disdain for heavy armor or anything other than "light" weapons?  Maybe, because they're adept with magic, they always radiate magic and can easily be detected by wizards and tracked by certain aberrations?

Now, just because negatives exist that doesn't mean they affect the PCs.  A potential downside might not be apparent, it might not trip them up right away, or it might not be a problem at all for them (water-breathing races can't stay on dry land for more than an hour at a time, but Galiant has a mysterious aquatic ring that erases that drawback).

Life creates its own balance sheet with debits and credits. They don't have to arise from pluses and minuses to Strength or Dexterity.  They don't have to be artificially restricted to a certain level in order to make things fair. I'm not saying everything eventually evens out - one side will usually be greater than the other, but some kind of balance eventually works its way in.

Going back to the Rule of Life, if a choice is clearly and objectively better than other choices, for instance playing a humanoid is superior to playing a squirrel, then it's not a matter of finding an opposing argument for squirrel PCs.  Just play a humanoid and focus on the millions of possible exceptions to rules and arguments in more contested areas!

Actually, playing a squirrel might be cool - which is in itself an upside.  That just goes to show the Rule of Life gets assaulted by arguments all the time and occasionally it breaks with time, pressure, and creativity.

In conclusion, there are always reasons to do something or not do something.  Virtually, everything in existence has good and bad, positive and negative qualities.  Potentially, at least.  That's a universal law worth contemplating.  All you have to do in your game world is figure out where the balancing factors are hiding.

Henceforth, hidden balance factors will be called shadow balance.  Because it sounds cool.


p.s. My Kickstarter Battle Star Trilogy: Trek Wars has only 3 days left to fund, so please check it out and back these sleazy Alpha Blue scenarios!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

LBGTQ in Alpha Blue

LBGTQ stuff happens all the time in Alpha Blue.  As the creator and frequent Bold Dungeon Space Master of the game, I know what goes on in that universe.  Gay stuff, bi-sexual stuff, transgender and non-binary stuff, even stuff there isn't a name for yet.  I've taken part in lots of homosexual encounters (men, women, and other) within the game.  Doesn't bother me.

Including all that stuff and creating a setting/RPG that demands such things, I can hardly be called a "homophobe."  And yet, here we are in 2018.  I bring up something unpleasant, impolite, potentially offensive, or unfair in a game's galaxy and the outrage brigade thinks all this is happening in real life.

I was recently informed that +Christopher Helton started a Facebook thread on his wall (scroll down to where he talks about Venger's old school gaming blog).

I like to think of myself as a neo-progressive.  I treat people the same.  Until I've actually interacted with them or experienced something they've created, all human beings are blank slates... some are white, black, gray, gay, straight, male, female.  I'm aware of stereotypes, biases, statistics, my own personal history, etc. But at the end of the day, everyone is at a zero-point, unless I know them or know something about them... at which point they go up or down in my "cool book."

That means I rip/bust on people for all sorts of reasons.  If there's a substantive difference in someone, I might call it out.  Just as I might mention a redhead being a redhead.  Doesn't mean I have some underlying hatred or fear of any group of people. 

Bad things sometimes happen in RPGs.  Good guys die, corrupt bureaucracies thrive, some vaginas have thorns... the point is that as a writer/designer/creative, I describe all sorts of things.  I don't condone all the things that happen in the games I make, the adventures I GM, etc. 

Was I really going to have gamers call each other "faggot" in one of the Battle Star Trilogy: Trek Wars scenarios?  Fuck no!  That part was just to get a rise out of SJWs and the Ctrl-Left that dominate a certain segment of our hobby/industry. 

However, am I still running with Snadq'ua: The Penis Showing Game?  Fuck yes!  The universe of Alpha Blue is a lot like our universe.  It's full of prejudice, virtue, vice, assholes, cool dudes/chicks, diverse cultures, and all sorts of individuals doing their own thing. 

As a spectator, you won't always high-five every aspect of the game.  Nor should you.  The Federation certainly doesn't deserve it, just as the haters in this universe can suck my balls every day of the week (and twice on S'yakwenz).

If it was up to them, I'm sure they'd try to ban Waiting..., Still Waiting..., The Police Academy movies, and pretty much anything awesome to ever come out of the 70's and 80's. 


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Dead God Excavation

I very recently re-watched one of my favorite weird scifi-horror... things.  Quatermass and The Pit (duh duh duh duh duuuuuhhhhhh!)

It was originally broadcast in the late 50's as a six-part miniseries, each episode being around 45 minutes.  So, it plays like a really long movie if you watch it all at once.  Quatermass and The Pit is as close to a televised H.P. Lovecraft story as you'll ever find.  Except, HPL didn't write it.  His Cthulhu Mythos only influenced Quatermass and The Pit.

Long story short, Quatermass and The Pit influenced Dead God Excavation.  What if a medieval sword and sorcery type world discovered an immense tomb long buried underneath them.  Suppose that baleful sepulcher contained the remains of a monstrous, alien, Devil-God...?

You'll have to run or play the adventure to find out what happens.  The PDF is right over here!  It could be a "session zero" introduction for new beginnings, a quick convention game or one-shot, maybe even the apocalyptic end to a short-lived campaign.

It's O5R compatible, easily convertible to Dungeon Crawl Classics, Swords & Wizardry, Astonishing Swords & Sorcery of Hyperborea, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Labyrinth Lord, Adventurer Conqueror King, OSRIC, Basic D&D, AD&D, 5e, etc.

As always, thanks to the artists like +MonkeyBlood Design (Glynn Seal) and Zarono for their unique vision.  Thanks to the texture artist Sirius-SDZ for making his wild insanity free for creative use.  And a big tentacled thank you to +Martin Teply for not only proofing the manuscript, but providing valuable insight, as well.


Monday, January 22, 2018

The Penis Showing Game

At first, I was just going to post this on Draconic Magazine straight-up (you should excuse the expression) because that's where I post all my free/bonus content.

However, this may be a subject that's too touchy even for me... and Alpha Blue.  That's why I'm opening it up for discussion.  Not just to those who play the game and back my Kickstarters (such as Battle Star Trilogy: Trek Wars), but gamers from all walks of life.

Re-watching the raunchy comedy Waiting... last night, it dawned on me that Alpha Blue, or at least one of its many scenarios, could use something like The Penis Showing Game to keep things interesting.

Basically, you try to catch others unawares, making them inadvertently look at your junk.  Then you ridicule them for being a homosexual and get to kick them in the ass (the number of times depends on how complicated the "exposure move" is).

Instead of free ass-kicks, characters would get something else.  Maybe temporary Health or a chance to Steal the Spotlight or something completely different.  I'll need to work on the details and playtest it before putting it one of the Battle Star Trilogy: Trek Wars adventures.

Perhaps, this is a popular game on a particular planet.  Maybe this is something the Federation has instituted in order to keep up morale or distract from lackluster policies?  In the end, the reason doesn't really matter.  Fun is the most important thing - and the dumb, inappropriate, gross-out humor of The Game is what will generate this particular fun... one hopes.

I'm 43 years old, so old school comes naturally for me.  I like things vintage, for the most part, and the discrepancy between what's acceptable today and some bygone era fascinates me.  Now, you wouldn't normally think of a 2005 movie as old fashioned or out-of-date, but that's probably how it looks to us in 2018.

Yes, terms like fag, faggot, meat gazer, etc. are potentially offensive and frowned-upon in our over-sensitive and politically correct world.  I don't have anything against any sexual proclivity or lifestyle choice that happens between consenting adults.  Neither do I have anything against ripping on people for liking a certain thing or being a certain way.

I don't want to offend anyone.  I don't go out of my way to offend anyone, either.  However, sometimes I say or do things that are "offensive."  People don't have a right protecting them from potential offense, and yet, in this day and age, claiming a state of offendedness can be politically expedient. Victims seem to have more power at the moment, but I'm sure the pendulum will swing the other way sooner or later.

Can't please everybody. That's part of our world, part of being human.  It's a catch-22 wrapped in a mobius strip that flows like a snake we ride through the velvet goldmine.

In any case, if you have a comment to make, I'm listening!


Monday, January 15, 2018

Alpha Blue session report - Ta'andor Rising

I ran another one-shot (actually part 1 of 3) of Alpha Blue last Friday night.  This was a playtest session for my current Kickstarter campaign Battle Star Trilogy: Trek Wars.

We started things off with character creation, but unlike every other session... things went a little differently.

Five players, three hours, and fast times at Ta'andor galaxy...

  • Alpha Blue has its own "what's going on?" info-crawl at the bottom of every display screen (including ships refueling in the space station brothel's hangar), allowing patrons to hear about events, news, promotions, specials, sales, and hooker availability at a moment's notice.
  • The crew of The Stargazer decided to crash the Miss Ta'andor Bikini Contest.  Bribing the humanoid shark doorman.
  • On the way, drugs were purchased, imbibed, and bought in bulk!  Also, spare starship parts were ordered.
  • After choosing three teal-colored women (who were all half-sisters to each other), their pimp required extra payment.  He was poisoned and the PCs got out of there quick - but not before grabbing the pimp's room key.
  • They robbed the pimp's room and grabbed a blu-ber that was waiting for them.  Two lifeforms were having sex in the backseat.  Hung-Solo joined in.  He wanted to "wash of this stank."  Luckily, there's an app for that.  The blu-ber's driver hosed his mega-penis off before they stopped at a checkpoint.
  • They bribed the security officer to let them into the hangar, even though they looked just like the suspects' descriptions.
  • The pimp had a cache of supplies and information on Ta'andor Prime - a planet at the center of the galaxy that was rich in blue crystal.  Many factions poised to exploit the planet, but so many that it's turned into a deadly competition.
  • The PCs were allowed to enter the Pleasure Seekers of Ta'andor faction and hired to collect arms from the Mutant Death Squad faction and bring it back to them.
  • I learned what "ruggedized" means... as in, that pleasure droid should be ruggedized if she's going to hold up on a deep space voyage with these spacers.
  • They set off for a planet in that sector of the galaxy, but had to get through Krylon space first - and they were attacked by two Krylon raiders.  The PCs evaded the enemy ships instead of being destroyed.
  • After the arms deal, they landed on Ta'andor Prime and grabbed the dead pimp's loot.  

While this session was low on sexual activity (Samuel Jones had some off-camera stuff with the teal "ship's entertainment" who had nice hands) and non-starship laser battles were noticeably absent (I'm pretty sure that's never happened before), it was awesome. 

I got to break out the new map of Ta'andor galaxy!  Oh yes, and my wife bought me LED candles for Christmas, so I got to use those.  About a dozen different colors to choose from and they work on remote control.  I used them during the session, but could have used them more... pink for when the sex happens and red during ship-to-ship combat.

Session #2 won't happen for another month.  Though, I'm interested in running some quick demo games on Roll20...


Friday, January 12, 2018

Ta'andor Galaxy

I've got +MonkeyBlood Design (Glynn Seal)'s map(s) in hand!

A laminated one for me (my players spill a lot of soda and the occasional cocktail or beer) and three vinyl "outdoor banner" maps (that can be easily rolled up and shipped) for Kickstarter backers.

Yes, Battle Star Trilogy: Trek Wars is ongoing... support your local independent space opera smut-peddler!

The maps are 44" x 34" and represent the greater part of the Ta'andor galaxy.  There's humor, well-worn sci-fi cliches and homages, as well as, good old fashioned sleaze.  This hex-map will be accompanied by pages of random tables.  The Bold Dungeon Space Master (BDSM for short) can whip up an entire night's gaming - or even a campaign - with nothing but the map and a few rolls.

The adventures will be equally awesome!  Now that we're nearing another stretch goal, there will be 4 short scenarios - each an engaging and wild ride through contested Ta'andor.  Why is it so valuable?  What makes Ta'andor Prime the most precious and dangerous planet in this quadrant of the universe?  Together, all this forms a unique setting.  Apart, these scenarios and random tables are great for idea mining, one-shots, convention games, or stringing loose sessions together just to see what happens next... sandbox style.

Alpha Blue doesn't get the mainstream press like a lot of other sci-fi RPGs.  That's ok.  I'm well acquainted with the dark alleys and gutters, the red-lit flop houses and dens of iniquity.

I ask you, my fellow libertine gamer, to help spread the word.  Our sleazy shadow is growing.  Soon, you'll be joining us in the space champagne room.  A couple bounty hunters and a pleasure droid assassin are playing pink-pong over in the corner.  I'm talking to a scaly stripper who knows an ace pilot down on his luck.

Party's just getting started, spacer.  Bring a friend or two.  Normally, it's 10 credits at the door... but the first time's always free.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

It's Kort'thalis Publishing Day!

Not only is 111 my favorite number (for a variety of reasons), but Kort'thalis Publishing was founded on 1/11 about 5 years ago. 

As many of you already know, it's not easy being an independent publisher in the tabletop RPG market.  And yet, I feel enormously successful and gratified that we have so many awesome fans eagerly awaiting MOAR CONTENT!!!

So, all this weekend we're celebrating with some outrageous sales...

The Outer Presence is 50% off!

Blood Dark Thirst is 50% off!

Crimson Dragon Slayer is 50% off!

Also, don't forget about the Kickstarter currently funded and trying to reach those lofty stretch goals.  Check out and please share Battle Star Trilogy: Trek Wars.  I would love to see new gamers back my project!



Monday, January 8, 2018

Kort'thalis Publishing Testimonial

[First, a quick reminder that my latest Kickstarter Battle Star Trilogy: Trek Wars is still going.]

It's always nice to hear that you've made a positive impact on someone's gaming life. 

The following was posted by +Brian Courtemanche on the Kort'thalis Publishing g+ community (please join us!)...

I am fast becoming a fan of Kort’thalis Publishing. It started a couple of weeks ago with my purchase of The Outer Presence rpg and then having a great time running/playing it with friends this weekend. I’ve just now downloaded the Crimson Dragon Slayer bundle (CDS, Candy Crypts, and No Escape from New York) from DriveThruRPG.

The combination of simple, playable rules plus utterly gonzo situations is glorious. I’ve been on the rpg scene a long time (started with AD&D a loooong time ago) and this stuff is a breath of pure FUN. I’d sorta forgotten about fun. Somewhere down that line I became more concerned with rules systems, simulationist vs. narrative play styles, balanced encounters, and a whole bunch of Not Fun stuff that somehow crept into my skull. And in the midst of all that, I’ve spent a ton of money on crappy games (or games that used to be cool but have ‘upgraded’ to crappier editions), and wasted a lot of time. And must have had a blind spot to Kort’thalis Publishing somewhere in the middle of all that. Well I’m correcting all that now...rather like a blind man learning to see again. More like finding the FUN again!

Venger, man, thanks. Really, thanks. Your stuff rocks. I took a look at CDS 1.11 - the whole less gonzo, more dark science-sorcery stuff - and went ‘ugh! No! I want my crazy!’ And promptly purchased/downloaded the original CDS (bundled with Candy Crypts and No Escape from New York). I’ll buy a few more of the modules and such when my credit card has had a few weeks to lick its wounds.

Venger - speaking as a customer and consumer of the glorious products of your fevered imagination - I implore you to please keep these two things as your guiding stars as you forge more material:

1. Keep the rules simple. Please, please, please. I’ll take a simple, well-wrought system that handles the basics cleanly and leaves room for GM and player ingenuity any day over the plethora of overly-complex, pain-in-the-butt, multi-chapter mega-tomes that take forever to learn and shoehorn one’s gameplay to fit within a matrix of Byzantine rules. The simplicity and robustness of your game rules are a huge breath of fresh air, Venger. When we played The Outer Presence this weekend, explaining the rules to the players was a snap and we just got on with it. That ease of play and level of comfort with simple, robust rules that let us just get on with things can not be undervalued or overstated.

2. Keep it gonzo! When running The Outer Presence this weekend, my group had a blast partly because it was so ‘oh wow. Huh.’ Meepie atrocities, Dr. Steiner’s whole attitude, the weird thing floating thing flitting about the mountain (don’t want to get too specific and give anything away). One of my players rolled randomly for his background and got that he was an, um, ‘body double’ (say no more) for 1970s adult films. Well he took that and ran with it for the entire session. It was great. And now I’m skimming Crimson Dragon Slayer (just bought it, must now eagerly give it a proper read) and there’s the gonzo...well written gonzo! To me, the new, more somber approach of CDS 1.11 feels...meh.

Give me adventures that feel like a 1980s Conan rip-off made in the back half of a Spencer’s gift shop! Adventures that feel like a 1970s black velvet fluorescent poster lit by black light. I can get ‘somber, serious’ (aka: more muted and dull) stuff in a pile of other rpg offerings. Your stuff pops off the page because: a) it’s gonzo and b) you write it very well. A lot of people try for gonzo but they really don’t have the imagination and wordsmithing skills to pull it off. It just comes off as cheap and immature. But your stuff - well you hit the mark!

The potent combination of simple, rugged rules and unchained, un-politically-correct, refreshingly original craziness has made me a fan. Keep up the great work, man! Thanks, Venger! - Brian C.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Battle Star Trilogy: Trek Wars

I've got a new Kickstarter.  Here's the link!

Basically, I'm trying to fund three Alpha Blue adventures.  Each will focus on a slightly different aspect of the game - sleaze, laser sword-wielding action/adventure, and deep space exploration.

To go along with these scenarios, +MonkeyBlood Design (Glynn Seal) and I are working on a galactic map full of territories/factions, planets, stars, and all kinds of craziness.  The map will correspond to a plethora of random tables revealing what's going on in each sector of the Ta'andor galaxy.

I'm excited about this project, and I hope you'll help make Battle Star Trilogy: Trek Wars a reality!  ;)

Thanks for climbing aboard,