Sunday, July 23, 2023

5E Kamigawa NEO by /u/letterephesus is incredible

In thinking about the little project I'm working(?) on over at PermaDeath.Net, one of the commercial game settings I'm undoubtedly drawing on as I imagine the Asciiverse is the world presented in last year's MTG set Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.  I have very fond memories of the original Kamigawa Block; it came at one of the highest points of my involvement in organized MTG, and in some ways it shows the early stages of the designers' approach to worldbuilding in which they take a theme and work out what an MTG world - that is, somewhat fantasy based with a nod to the color pie that defines MTG's ethics and magic - based upon that theme would look like.

In this case, the focus was Japanese mythology, history, and religion, and I really dug the flavor.  I've no doubt there are some Orientalist overtones...or at least undertones...but it was still a series of three sets (an old MTG block) with a setting that I enjoyed and hoped to go back to.  When the return to the plane was announced, and I realized that it was getting a cyberpunk update, I knew we were probably in for something pretty cool.

Now that I'm pondering a setting that shares some of the same thematic DNA, I'm even more drawn to some of the imagery from the set that hints at its fantasy + cyberpunk roots.  So, I figured I'd take a quick look and see what's out there as far as 5E interpretations of Kamigawa in the NEO era.

And...well, holy cow, I don't know that I need to look any farther than the first one that popped up for me.  Gabe Rodriguez, aka /u/letterephesus on Reddit, has shared his take on Neon Dynasty, and it's awesome.  The book he put together could be used to run a spectacular campaign in this techno-fantasy realm and is a lot of fun to just jump around and read through.

The direct GMBinder link is HERE, and I hope that if you follow it, you also take a moment to look at some of Gabe's other work either via the Reddit thread where this book was shared or his Patreon.  (And if anyone thinks I shouldn't link directly from here, please just let me know and I'll correct it.)  Turns out he's covered a number of MTG settings that haven't (yet?) gotten the official treatment from WotC with his patron supported effort Planeshifted...from what I can see, there could be hours of entertainment just browsing through the work he's done.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Journey with me into the Asciiverse!


When you have one oft-neglected geek blog, what's the best way to build up momentum?  Why, start working on a completely different blog, of course!

With quite a bit of outside help, I'm finally taking some time to detail the "retrocyberdungeonpunk" setting I wrote a little about way back when.  There's just a tiny "team" plugging away at it, but the first few posts have gone up quickly, and it's been a lot of fun to think about and work on.

The high concept/cliché is a world Inside a Computer System, obviously influenced by TRON, but also taking cues from classic ASCII-based roguelike games and fantasy gaming in general (e.g., of course, D&D).  I know the premise isn't too far from the old Fantasy Flight d20 game Virtual, but I hope there's enough ground to cover that the repeated elements can simply be seen as a tribute to that game (which is very cool and which I recommend checking out, btw).

At any rate, please head over to PermaDeath.Net if you'd like to see what's being built.  Hope to keep adding more on the regular...!

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Average Joes #1: Joel Embiid

A somewhat random thought that struck me lately:  We, as humans in an ostensibly civilized society, sure spend a lot of time and energy trying to determine if we're normal...and if we're not, if we fall into a band of abnormality that's deemed "good" or at the very least "not bad."

Those of us who spend more time than we probably should thinking about RPG stats often encounter the question of what "normal" really means.  What are normal stats for a human?  Is normal the same as average?  Where do we want our PCs to fall on the spectrum of normality, and how do the rules support that implication?

I have become a fan of the notion that, in class-based RPGs like D&D, most regular/normal/average folks can be described without class levels.  Gaining levels in a class is something reserved for the outstanding among us...or for those who satisfy a more metaphysical measure of ability to drive the narrative of the universe.  The difference between a human with class levels and one without can become a very subjective distinction, not based on intrinsic capability but on importance to the story currently being told.

Now, this is the part of the blog post where I start the pivot into just talking about one of my toys.

Okay, so the NBA season ended just a couple of weeks ago, with the Denver Nuggets taking their first-ever title after defeating the Miami Heat at home.  Now, sports in general, and perhaps basketball in particular, lend themselves to assessments of good/better/best.  There's a lot of talk right now about how Finals MVP Nikola Jokic stacks up against the best to ever play the game.  And during the regular season, there was a lot of talk about how Jokic stacks up against the other "best" players currently in the league, specifically Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid (whose likeness is pictured above).

Jokic was the league's regular-season MVP the past two seasons.  The two years before that, it was Giannis.  And this year, it was Embiid.  Some pundits seemed to believe that Joel took the title this year just because it was his "turn," and that he wasn't necessarily better than Jokic or Giannis.  And really, it kinda seemed like it could be any of those three players, and no one could argue too much.

BUT...everyone loves to talk about how the MVP is a regular-season award, and most basketball fans look to the postseason for that extra factor that separates the great from the very good.  Jokic absolutely killed it this postseason.  And Embiid, while he had his moments, ultimately didn't demonstrate next-level greatness in the minds of most fans.  As someone who has slowly, and somewhat inadvertently, found myself becoming more and more of a Philadelphia sports fan (the 76ers especially) now that I live in Jersey, I disliked this for multiple reasons.  I wanted the Sixers to win, for one.  And Embiid has become one of my favorite players, so I especially didn't enjoy the immediate dismissal of his abilities by so many people when the team was eliminated by the Celtics.

Now...for an RPG, is Joel Embiid a normal human?  I mean...clearly he is not normal physically.  He's seven feet tall and extremely gifted athletically.  And clearly his presence and actions are more notable to the world at large than they are for most of us regular folks.  If he stepped into a D&D world, would he need class levels to highlight how awesome he is?  Or can he just be a guy with a Background, like you and me...but with some pretty impressive STR and DEX, no doubt.

Seriously, I'm getting to the toy part...

A little while back, spurred in part by my recently renewed interest in 3 3/4" action figures, I couldn't resist picking up this Joel Embiid ReAction Figure from Super7.

I had heard that these figures were intended to be properly sized for the scale they're in...and since the 3 3/4" scale typically defaults to 1:18 - but those don't really match up perfectly - I wanted to see how tall they made a seven foot dude.

First, a note...the figure unfortunately came with one leg a bit longer than the other, which I'm pretty sure isn't a reflection of Joel's actual anatomy.  I am definitely a ReAction figure apologist when it comes to folks' complaints about their limited articulation in a world where we often expect much more.  BUT...these things are at a price point where I would hope QC issues like this would be minimal.  Anyway, I'm not complaining (too much), but definitely noting it.

From the bottom of the sole of his right shoe (on the longer leg) to the point where I think the top of his head would be, he's about 4 3/16".  If I go with an even 7' for his height, that puts the scale of the figure at about 1:20.  FWIW, at this scale, a 3.75" figure would be about 6'3", which probably isn't too far off for some of the physically imposing characters that have been turned into figures at this standard scale...and in some cases may be a bit low (I'm looking at you, Roadblock).  And at the very least, it's as good as calling the scale 1:18, which would put a 3.75" guy at under 5'8"...for most characters, not ridiculous but not particularly close either.

In the end, I suppose the best case scenario may have been just to have always had this classic action figure scale at "true" 1:18, with 4"=5' and no worrying about "close enough."  Thanks to some combination of Micronauts, Adventure People, Star Wars, and maybe a few others, though, that just isn't the way history was written, and action figure scales are a bit quirkier and maybe even more fun because of it.

Oh what about all that talk about what it means to be average...?  Well, obviously I've gotta stat Joel out for gaming, but I'm not sure if it's fair to just make him a regular guy.  I know his recent detractors would agree with that decision after his less-than-transcendent playoff run. least one former NBA MVP has gone on to superheroic adventures...and truly, Embiid is a unicorn of physical maybe it's selling him short to stop at a Background.

For now, I'm going to let Mr. Embiid be the first step in what I hope will be a number of small explorations of being average...or normal...or a D&D-statted world.  I've seen that it actually works in gaming...and would like to try rolling with regular folks in 5E-based pickup games more often.

One thing, though...if I use the Elite Athlete Background I posted on here a while back (and of course I'm going to!), I think I've gotta give him at least one extra proficiency just to make sure he's covered as far as communications go.  Apparently he's fluent in 3-5 different languages...!

Joel Embiid

Human, Elite Athlete (Basketball)

STR        DEX        CON       INT         WIS        CHA
18(+4)    16(+3)    15(+2)    15(+2)     12(+1)     12(+1)
HP 7 (1d8+2)    Move 30 ft. (6 units)
Attack Bonuses (with proficiency)  +6 melee, +5 ranged
Skills:  Athletics, Perception
Tools:  Weights, Basketball Equipment
Languages: Basaa, French, English, plus a couple more...?
Saves:  None
Weapons:  None
Armor:  None

(This is who Joel's looking at up there, btw...)

(Not gonna turn down that chance to show off my vintage Crimson Guard figure...)

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Cobra Trooper Week Part III - Hat Trick!

Finally rounding out the Cobra fireteam that I displayed about a week and a half ago, here's a tough guy from north of the border...

Hat Trick

Cobra Trooper 

Carter Fitzpatrick
Code Name:  Hat Trick
Primary Military Specialty:  Infantry
Secondary Military Specialties:  Sabotage, Self-Defense Instructor
Birthplace:  Blainville, Quebec, Canada

Class:  Soldier 1
Background:  Elite Athlete (Ice Hockey)
STR        DEX        CON       INT         WIS        CHA
14(+2)    10(--)     14(+2)     8(-1)       8(-1)      9(-1)
HP 10 (1d10+2)    Move 30 ft. (6 units)
Attack Bonuses (with proficiency)  +4 melee, +2 ranged
Skills:  Athletics, Intimidation, Demolitions, Insight
Tools:  Weights, Hockey Equipment, Land Vehicles
Languages: English, French
Saves:  Strength, Constitution
Weapons:  Simple weapons, handguns, two-handed small arms, heavy weapons, super heavy weapons
Armor:  All armor, shields

Legend in This Town:  Has achieved some fame as an athlete and can sometimes leverage this to his advantage.

Infantry Training:  Treats effects of exhaustion as if they were one level lower.

Hat Trick has always loved one thing more than anything else in the world: fighting.  Hockey is second.  Beer is third.  He's pretty good at all of them.

On the ice, Hat Trick consistently showed enough skill to garner the attention of pro scouts and was signed to a minor league contract.  Most of his time as a professional, however, was spent as an enforcer, and his fists got a lot more use than his stick.

While playing for a team in Manitoba, Hat Trick had an exceptionally good offensive performance one night, scoring three goals in a road game vs. the Springfield Blades.  Just behind the team's bench, three Dreadnoks happened to be in attendance, cursing his every move on the ice as it worked against the big money they had bet on the Blades.

When they confronted him after the game, Hat Trick made short work of all three of them.  A Cobra recruiter accompanying them was both entertained and impressed enough to convince Hat Trick to join his team for a chance at a real payday.  So far, he has worked to train other Cobra recruits in his scrapping style.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Cobra Trooper Week Part II - Apostle!

Part of my first Cobra fireteam with Blast Beat, Apostle is an original '83/'84 swivel-arm Cobra soldier that ended up in my collection as a kid.  I word it this way because I really don't remember getting it...I had an original '82 straight-arm version, and then somehow over the course of my G.I. Joe playing career, this guy ended up among the rest of my figures.  Maybe it was given to me?  A friend's figure that got mixed up with mine, and then was never requested back because it's such a minor character?  Maybe I traded for it?  A sign of my age, I suppose...I truly don't recall.  But I could probably be convinced that I remember any of those scenarios.

As a true old-school trooper, this seemed like a great figure to take on the Acolyte background from 5E.  As the only background put into the original 5E SRD (meant to serve as an example for others' work), I think it's also the only one that made it into the rules that Wizards of the Coast released this year under a Creative Commons license.  It just felt like a good match with an original figure.


Cobra Trooper 

Josiah Bell
Code Name:  Apostle
Primary Military Specialty:  Infantry
Secondary Military Specialty:  Sabotage
Birthplace:  Scottsboro, Alabama
Class:  Soldier 2
Background:  Acolyte
STR        DEX        CON       INT         WIS        CHA
11(--)    10(--)     16(+3)     11(--)     10(--)     17(+3)
HP 16 (2d10+6)    Move 30 ft. (6 units)
Attack Bonuses (with proficiency)  +2 melee, +2 ranged
Skills:  Insight, Religion, Animal Handling, Demolitions
Tools:  Land Vehicles
Languages: English, Spanish, Hebrew, Aramaic
Saves:  Strength, Constitution

Weapons:  Simple weapons, handguns, two-handed small arms (expertise), heavy weapons, super heavy weapons
Armor:  All armor, shields

Shelter of the Faithful:  May receive assistance from those who share his faith.

Infantry Training:  Treats effects of exhaustion as if they were one level lower.

Specialty:  Two-Handed Small Arms

Apostle grew up attending a snake-handling church in the rural American South.  Upon being introduced to the more esoteric teachings of Golobulus and the Cobra-La, he began to syncretize the two belief systems and ultimately found his way to Cobra as a religiously devoted recruit.

While not the most skilled of warriors, Apostle's belief that his work for Cobra is in service to a higher cause makes him a most formidable enemy.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

It's Cobra Trooper Week! Here's Blast Beat...

I guess it's a little lame to "start" Cobra Trooper Week on a Wednesday evening...but better late than never...?

Anyway, this guy's from the G.I. Joe Retro Collection Cobra Officer & Cobra Trooper 2-Pack.  I am pleased with the purchase, but I'm not the most discerning action figure fan.  If you're interested, I'd say check out some of the reviews out there, like THIS excellent one from the forums.

Blast Beat

Cobra Trooper 

Bjørn Thorsen
Code Name:  Blast Beat
Primary Military Specialty:  Infantry
Secondary Military Specialties:  Sabotage, Heavy Weapons
Birthplace:  Strømmen, Norway
Class:  Soldier 2
Background:  Musician
STR        DEX        CON       INT         WIS        CHA
12(+1)    18(+4)     10(--)     14(+2)     7(-2)     15(+2)
HP 11 (2d10)    Move 30 ft. (6 units)
Attack Bonuses (with proficiency)  +3 melee, +6 ranged
Skills:  Performance, Intimidation, Demolitions, History
Tools:  Drums, Bass Guitar, Land Vehicles
Languages: Norwegian, English
Saves:  Strength, Dexterity
Weapons:  Simple weapons, handguns, two-handed small arms, heavy weapons (expertise), super heavy weapons
Armor:  All armor, shields

Always on Tour:  Can usually secure food and lodging in exchange for performing.  Sometimes recognized by fans who are willing to provide more assistance in his efforts.

Infantry Training:  Treats effects of exhaustion as if they were one level lower.

Specialty:  Heavy Weapons

Blast Beat spent his youth taking every opportunity he could to travel into Oslo to check out the music scene, being especially attracted to the most extreme metal acts he could find.  In high school, he began drumming with friends in the band Nuclear Funeral.  They were a death metal band.  Or maybe a black metal band.  They weren't really into labels.  Or Satan.  But they did love loud sounds, explosive rhythms, and controlled chaos.

While Nuclear Funeral never achieved much fame outside of the local metal scene, Blast Beat's skill behind the drumkit was unmatched by most other musicians.  One night after a show, he was approached by a Cobra recruiter who felt that there had to be a use for the exceptional dexterity, hand speed, rhythm, and muscle memory demonstrated by Blast Beat.  With the promise of a steady income and the chance to blow a lot of shit up, he was soon on the Cobra payroll.

Blast Beat still likes to drum (and play bass!) whenever he gets the chance and occasionally considers returning to the life of a musician.  His dream is to one day share a stage with Cold Slither, the Misfits, and the Misfits.


(I used the Metal Band Name Generator found HERE, btw, to decide on "Nuclear Funeral"...)

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Coming up: Cobra Trooper Week!

The momentum of attention on the internet is a really interesting phenomenon...all those little incidental details and quirks that cause one idea to fall by the wayside while another goes viral.  I've drifted in and out of Reddit participation over the past few years, and I see things all the time that just make me...wonder.  I'll dig a little deeper into a subreddit and find a great post that leaves me thinking, "Wait, why am I just the third person to upvote this?"  And then some stuff, for whatever reason, just takes off.

"Takes off" would be a bit of an overstatement for what I'm transitioning into talking about, but the sentiment applies here.  The G.I. Joe subreddit is one of the main ones I visit these days, and I've posted a couple of things there.  I recently started what is almost certainly one of the lowest-effort threads I've ever initiated on Reddit - some pictures of my Cobra Trooper action figures with their code names - and it probably got the biggest reaction of anything I've posted.  I mean, I had definitely noticed that the denizens of the sub (a very friendly place, btw!) often just like to see pictures of toys.  Which is understandable.  It's a sub about toys.  But still...I was surprised.  The most groundbreaking aspect of the post is that one of the guys is holding a hockey stick.  So...not groundbreaking.

Blast Beat, Apostle, and Hat Trick

At any rate, I certainly ain't complaining, and it's inspired me to try and make this upcoming week officially Cobra Trooper Week here at Monstrous Matters.  I need to get some character backstories and game stats down on digital paper, and this is a great chance to do it!

I hope you'll join me.