Tuesday, December 13, 2011

TUESDAY TANGENT: Skyrim and the Illusion of Freedom

Contrary to the activity of my blog, I am not, in fact, dead. Truth be told, I am in the year-end crunch that most people experience at their jobs. Between that and planning for my vacation I've been swamped. And when you add to that the release of a new video game (Skyrim), well...lets just say the blog got put on the back burner, hm? In any case, I am finally taking some time to discuss something game related- though not at all Star Wars related (thus the tangent).

My introduction to the Elder Scrolls series (of which Skyrim is the 5th chapter) was with its predecessor, ES-IV: Oblivion. I purchased this game shortly after playing Star Wars, Knights of the Old Republic. I was looking for something to give me that same 'fix' of awesome, free-ranging roleplay. I played Oblivion for...oh, about two hours before I sadly discovered that it was nowhere near the experience I had hoped it would be. Many people would consider this an unfair comparison, and it is to an extent. But only to an extent. I think the exact moment I quit Oblivion is when I entered into 'conversation' with a random NPC and found myself in a bizarre mini-game involving different 'moods' and colors and... yeah. After the friendships I'd formed in Knights of the Old Republic (for example the awesome dialogue with Jolee Bindo), I found the whole thing to be very flat.

Even so, years later, when I saw the ads for Skyrim I thought that it looked pretty cool. So I took the plunge and hours and hours later, I finished the main storylines of the game. My initial reaction to the game was one of awe. The world was HUGE and beautiful, and I could go wherever I wanted. Okay, so maybe the NPCs were shallow, the combat was fun, as was the exploration. The sheer number of things to do was staggering. There were all kinds of dungeons and ruins and towns to explore. Okay, so maybe the big set-piece battles of the game were a little uh.. low key. Not epic, but still fun and playable. I was certain, though, that as things built towards a climax with the civil war AND the dragon invasion that there would be those big MOMENTS. I was sure that some of the characters (the main ones) would prove to be more than your typical NPCs... that they would have deeper stories to tell and have personalities that come out through association with them and... well, when I 'finished' the game, I was still waiting for this to happen. Don't get me wrong. I think Skyrim is a good game. I had (and am having) a lot of fun with it. But for all it's vast scope, it is not a very 'deep' game. And that is probably the reason why I am not nearly as enthusiastic about it as I was about other games.

Now, before I keep rambling, I want to get to the point of this blog entry- namely that Freedom in any video game is an Illusion. And to me, a well done illusion of freedom is a lot better than a game that offers freedom but seemingly without dramatic impact. I will explore this by comparing Skyrim to a couple contemporary games: The Dragon Age series and even Mass Effect. Now again, some folks might call the comparisons unfair- that Skyrim is going after another kind of role playing experience. But I am talking personal preference here-which is all anyone can really do, since there is no great 'universal truth' to making a game 'fun'.

First of all, I'd like to describe what I mean by 'Freedom' within a game. Ultimately what I'm talking about here is being able to make MAJOR choices that affect either the world or the story being told-which, in effect, allow me to steer the course of the story (and in effect the 'game world') in the way I want it to go. In games like Skyrim (and Dragon Age), this kind of freedom is achieved in three major ways- through the setting, the characters and the 'setpiece' events and storylines.

As far as setting goes, Skyrim achieves the illusion of freedom by allowing the player to go wherever he/she wants. The only 'invisible walls' are the borders of the huge realm of Skyrim. Other than that, if you want to get there, odds are you can find a way to do so-be in the peak of a towering mountain or the depths of an icy lake. The size of Skyrim makes this very impressive indeed. You aren't confined to one set of corridors or a single path that takes you through a forest. If you're on a road that goes east and west, you can make a right angle turn and go north or south and STILL find adventure. That is impressive. Especially when you compare it to something like the Dragon Age series, where travel through the world is achieved through menu screens and only 'encounter areas' are actually open for exploration.

Where this Freedom of travel/setting thing begins to break down, however, is in the scope of human habitation in Skyrim. Miles of tractless wilderness are one thing, but when you reach a large town or city, the 'illusion of reality' begins to falter. Yes, you're able to go ANYWHERE within that city map, but the city itself is small-maybe a couple dozen or so buildings all-told. And while, at first glance, it gives the impression of being larger than it actually is, the more you visit and explore a location, the smaller you realize it is. In games like Dragon Age (or even the Fable Series), there are 'snippets' of large cities present to explore, but beyond those are hints at the larger scope of the setting- buildings leading off into the distance. Even if I can't physically break into and rob each of those houses, the fact they are there creates the 'Illusion' of an epic scale to a story. A city LOOKS like a city, not just a collection of a few buildings. I would point to Mass Effect 2 for an almost perfect illustration of my point. One planet, Ilium, is a vast metropolis, a la Coruscant or Blade Runner- and yet the part you can explore is (in comparison) almost laughably small. Even so, when you look off of a balcony and see the miles and miles of cityscape stretching out... well, you get feeling- the illusion- that you're in a vast world. And yes, again I realize (and have heard) arguments that Skyrim's cities are supposed to be small, but seriously, 'real' medieval cities were a LOT larger than Skyrim's.

But more than just the setting itself, the characters (people and beasts) who populate it really help bring a world (and a game) to life. In Skyrim there are hundreds (if not thousands) of NPCs scattered across various cities, towns and even farms and remote cabins. Most of them can be interacted with in some manner. And then there is the wild life. Walking through the mountainous tundra, you can find everything from tiny butterflies to elk, to mammoths. And you're able to interact with ALL of them. Nothing here is 'just for show'. Are you really in the mood for some delicious mammoth snout sandwiches? Well, go ahead. Attack one of the beasts (I wouldn't recommend it though). Do you need butterfly wings for one of your potions? Go ahead, send your heavily armored dragon-slaying warrior skipping around the fields of flowers to catch one. It is all possible.

More to the point that most gamers seem to bring up, if you feel like killing some random villager for casting a disparaging remark in your direction (which, for some reason, they seem to do with frequency), you can do that. You can slaughter to your heart's content. Well, except for children. Because that would be bad. Oh, and except for shop-keepers or folks who are important to the storyline in certain quests and...hmmmm. So maybe my freedom is somewhat limited after all.

I normally play a good guy, so this 'unkillable NPC syndrome' doesn't usually bother me-I don't fancy random slaughter of children or anything else for that matter. But I ran into a situation in my own game that irked me. In one town, there is a crooked noblewoman- Maven Black-Briar. She basically runs the Thieves' Guild in her city. In fact, several NPCs tell you this outright. She is also thoroughly unpleasant to boot. So, after the tenth time of her making some snide remark as she walked past me, I decided enough was enough. I'd take her out, and the Guild with her. It would be one of those 'justified killings' (at least in my mind) for the greater good (the greater good!). Imagine my annoyance when I found out that she was unkillable. So much for freedom of choice. And honestly, in my play through I saw NO reason at all why she would be immortal. I didn't participate in any of the Thieves' Guild stuff, so her life (or death) were of no consequence to me or the main storyline as a whole. But in the end, it just serves to illustrate my point. As much as Skyrim may tout its 'you can do anything' selling point, there are a lot of exceptions to that rule.

In other games, such as Dragon Age, there were characters who I (or rather my character) would have very much liked to kill. But within the confines of that game, you knew up front that you couldn't do so unless it was 'scripted'. There was never any option to 'go berserk and kill everyone'. Therefore, such situations didn't really bother me. In games that tout 'freedom of action', however, anything that curtails that freedom really does become an issue. Once again, the Illusion of Freedom is broken- and if I had my druthers, I'd prefer to know up front (out of character) that some annoying people are just untouchable.

Another point regarding characters in Skyrim is the fact that all of them-even the lowliest farmer in his field or woodcutter plying his trade-have something to say. Most of them are able to interact with your character in some way. Some just have a few lines of dialogue, others have quests and still others turn out to be elements of various larger stories or adventures. Each town has its own rogue's gallery of denizens, each of them going about their daily lives. At first glance, this serves to make the world seem 'alive'- to make those cities (however small) seem to be bustling. But the fortieth time you return to your hometown and have the SAME NPCs spout the same lines at you that they have for the entire game. Well...it gets old. And I'm not sure if I have a good 'solution' to this one. In fact, Dragon Age and Mass Effect kind of do the same things, though they do have a lot fewer NPCs with lines.. and well, I don't mind that, actually. While I feel it is rewarding to talk to NPCs in a video game, I tend to only do so when that NPC has something interesting to say-and I don't just mean a fetch quest. I mean the ability to carry on some kind of conversation that teaches me about the world or the NPC. So while at first glance 'chatty' NPCs may seem like a good way to liven up a world, it tends (for me at least) to get old fast. Perhaps the whole 'less is more' thing is preferable. You can have a city populated by NPCs, but maybe only have a few of them speak and/or interact. And those that do should hopefully have some 'reason' for being interacted with- be it a quest, some general information or even just a laugh.

The last character-related issue I want to discuss is the depth of personality of specific, plot-important NPCs and companions. In Skyrim, unfortunately, this depth is lacking. Even the most important people in the game-the Greybeards, General Tullius and Ulfric Stormcloak, do not develop much through play. Nor do you ever feel like you are creating a 'relationship' with any of them. About the only nods to this are the bits of dialogue prior to them handing out quests. If you've been doing good for them, they'll comment on it, but that's about it. And for me at least, the Villains (or rather, the enemies I chose to label as such), didn't seem to react to me at all. I mean, I had helped the Empire capture two forts and was able to just walk into the capital of the Stormcloak rebels without any fuss except a guard commenting. "Hey, how come you're not wearing our kind of armor?"

As far as actual adventuring companions go, they might as well have just named them all 'meatshield' and/or 'walking inventory space'. None of them have any personality- at least not while they are with you. Oh sure, some of them might have a bit of a backstory (the Companions, for example), but once they begin traveling with you, they robotically adhere to the behavior (and even dialogue) of all other companion characters. Yes, Lydia, that does look like a cave. Yes, Erik the Slayer, that does look like a cave. Yes, Aela the Huntress, I too wonder if we should explore that cave. It is perhaps unfair to compare Bioware games and their very well developed NPCs to those of Skyrim, but... well, if you're going to include the option of recruiting people to join you, shouldn't there be SOME kind of reason for them to do so outside of helping in combat and carrying all your excess loot? In the end, I found companions to be more of a nuisance than anything else. And when that happens, you lose a wonderful way of helping players connect to the world and the story.

Finally, we come to the 'story' aspect of a game: how your choices affect the way things work out. In most modern computer roleplaying games, the player character is central to the resolution of whatever conflict is going on in the game world. Skyrim is no different in that regard- save for the fact that there are two ‘main’ quest lines running through the game. The first is the civil war between the Empire and the Stormcloak rebels. In truth, both sides are portrayed as rather ‘grey’, so whichever one you wind up choosing (if either) become the ‘good guys’ of your story. The second major storyline is the return of Dragons to Skyrim from their centuries-long slumber. In this case, you have a more definite ‘enemy’ in the big-bad dragon, “Alduin the World Eater”, who is destined to bring about the end of the world and the birth of a new one. So, unless you LIKE the idea of dieing to make room for a new world, odds are you’re going to try and fight Alduin.

The resolution of the Alduin storyline is pretty straightforward— find the tools necessary to defeat him and then go do it. The civil war is a lot more open ended—and how it ends depends entirely upon who you side with. There are also dozens of smaller quest-lines that can be picked up or ignored. You can become the Archmage of the College of Magic. You can join and take over the thieves’ guild, you can become an assassin in the Dark Brotherhood. On the surface, at least, it appears as though the sky is the limit (no pun intended). In practice, however, very little seems to change. The 'major earthshaking events' of the story don't seem to amount to much. The only things that really seem to change are the color of the city guards' uniforms and a few of their random bits of dialogue. In fact, even after I had defeated the 'main villain' of the piece, Ulfric Stormcloak (well, he was the villain in MY particular story), the various rulers of the different towns didn't even seem to recognize that he was gone. All the same (previously exhausted) bits of dialogue were still there, including questions as to why they chose this or that side in the war. And the responses I got were the same AFTER the war as they were while it was going on. Disappointing. For all the importance placed on my character, the world itself didn't change outwardly at all.

The same can be said of a lot of the other quest lines. I became Arch Mage of the college of magic. But apart from the snazzy new apartment and some robes, it didn’t mean anything. Only the Mages in the college ever referred to me by my title, nobody else in the world seemed to care. The same could be said for me becoming the leader of the Companions (Warrior Guild). No reactions at all, for the most part. So while you’re free to choose to do whatever you want, not a lot comes of it. There don’t SEEM to be any consequences or effect on the larger world.

Then again, when I look at a game like Mass Effect, it isn’t as though a whole lot changes based on your decisions- at least not within a single game. But when I played ME2 AFTER ME1, I really DID have the illusion that my choices had an impact. The dialogue of quite a few NPCs depended entirely upon what I decided to do in the last game- as did the tone of various encounters- and with the game continuing into its third installment, I can see how my game might be VERY different from someone else’s. Perhaps something like this will happen in Skyrim- either with DLC or the next game, but to me, the open-ended nature of the game seems to work only because you CAN’T change the setting that much. And that makes me feel less impactful as a hero.

Another aspect of story is ‘drama’- and by placing almost the entirety of Skyrim’s ‘camera work’ in the hands of the player, you can really miss out on a lot of drama. There were entire scenes and interactions between NPCs that I missed entirely because I ran past them by accident, then returned only to find the conversation over. Likewise, some big villain might be making his big entrance onto the battlefield, but I missed it because I was looting a corpse elsewhere. While this can be attributed to my own bad timing, it does contribute to an overall lessening of the ‘drama’. While I am not a huge fan of cut-scenes, I do feel that they can really enhance an encounter- even if only to momentarily focus your adventurer on some momentous happening.

And finally, there is something to be said for a sense of scale. In Dragon Age, the opening big battle of the game is preceded by an awesome cut scene of thousands of monsters and men doing battle. When you cut back to your character, you find yourself in a much smaller scale battle, but it FEELS like it is part of something larger. In Skyrim, the big assault on the enemy fortress seems to be conducted by me and twelve other guys, against a couple dozen bad guys, who come in waves. It was distinctly underwhelming. And I’d wager that in both games, there were probably the same number of enemies, the difference was the illusion of scale and scope present in Dragon Age and absent in Skyrim.

Anyway, that’s just what I wanted to ramble off the top of my head. And remember, despite everything I have said, I DO enjoy Skyrim for its own merits. I just can’t help but wonder if there will ever be a marriage of concepts. A game as BIG as Skyrim, and as Deep as Dragon Age. If it ever came to be, it would rank as one of the best games of all time, I think.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

TUESDAY TANGENT: Mass Effect and Difficulty

My favorite kind of video game is the ‘role playing’ type. Just what constitutes an RPG is open to debate— but to me, it is something that allows me to play the role of a character- to make decisions that impact the world around them and shape the story of the game. However, I am also a fan shooters (first or third person). It should come as no surprise, then, that the Mass Effect game series is one of my favorites. These games combine incredibly well-done storytelling with increasingly more ‘visceral’ gunfighting combat. But if I were forced to choose one or the other, the RPG aspect would definitely come first.

This attitude and the desire to experience the story of these games often causes me to do my initial run-through on very low difficulty settings. In fact, most of my subsequent run-throughs are on the ‘casual’ or ‘average’ settings. This allows me to focus more on the story and worry less about the combat (which is, in my opinion, ultimately peripheral).

That being said, once I have completed the game (usually several times over), I have made a point of going back through on the most difficult setting available- or at least I have done so with both Mass Effect games thus far. I have recently finished doing so with Mass Effect 2 and discovered something quite interesting along the way— a sense of real accomplishment and a whole new appreciation for a game that I have played literally dozens of times.

Oddly enough, instead of detracting from the RP elements, the incredibly difficult combats often made me much more ‘involved’ than I normally am. A case in point is the whole last act of Mass Effect 2- the final confrontation with the villains. The fights were incredibly difficult, requiring me to really make use of ALL the ‘bells and whistles’ of the combat system. I had to think tactically, ordering my companions into advantageous positions. I had to make use of the variety of special abilities that I and my companions had- I couldn’t just shoot bullets into every problem to solve it. I had to always be mindful of my ammo and medical supplies. And in the end, this playthrough really made me feel as though I were part of a ‘unit’ rather than a lone gunman.

For example, there was a part of the game where zombie-like beasts were swarming my small group. We had to keep falling back, until at last we were cornered. Things were looking pretty grim. Then one of my companions- Grunt the Krogan (big brick lizard dude) does his battle cry. “I. AM. KROGAN!” and suddenly charges forward, trampling down and destroying most of the zombie horde. I had heard him use that cry dozens times before. I’d even seen his charge before. But in that desperate situation I actually cheered out loud.

There were plenty of other situations like that throughout the playthrough. More than once, my companions saved my butt (or vice versa) by a well-timed shot or Biotic body slam. And in the midst of actual adrenaline filled combat, those actions had a lot more impact. The climactic string of battles were especially intense- most notably those events that were time dependent. No way I was going to let Tali die in those ventilation shafts!

In short (too late), it was almost like playing a brand new game.

It also got me thinking about my table-top gaming and some of the ‘best fights’ we’ve ever had there. In my Star Wars group, in particular, we have had a LOT of fights. But the ones we really remember were the most hard-fought- where the players really had to pull out all the stops in order to just survive. So yeah. Next time we play, I might crank up the difficulty setting a few notches and see what happens.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Star Wars, Realism and Ion Drives

As always, I tend to overthink things related to the Star Wars movies. One of these things is the ‘reality’ of space travel- or rather, the dangers involved in it. It is one of the things glossed over in almost all Sci Fi films, but which is a huge threat in real-life space travel- namely: Collisions. I’m not talking about ships hitting other ships or even meteors or asteroids, but the idea of micro-meteors and other tiny bits of matter that could be traveling at incredible speeds. Just one hit by one of these fragments could seriously damage even a large ship. And when you think of a spacefaring culture like the one shown in Star Wars, there would likely be all KINDS of space junk floating around. How is it, then, that ships in the Star Wars universe aren’t just torn to shreds on a regular basis- to say nothing of trying to navigate a battlefield with all kinds of debris flying around.

One could say that the whole issue is simply avoided by ships having ‘shields’ and that these shields deflect any such incoming matter. That's fine. I’m good with that. But what about all those ships out there that don’t have shields. Like TIE fighters, for instance- though there are several other examples (at least in expanded universe continuity). How is it that TIE fighters and other unshielded ships can fly through battle-zones likely FILLED with deadly particles and not get destroyed.

Well, I have a theory- entirely made up, of course, and no doubt riddled with scientific impossibilities, but a theory nonetheless. I am also borrowing bits of pseudo science from Star Trek (and likely other sources I don’t know about).

In any case, Starships in the Star Wars universe are described as having ‘Ion Drives’ as their primary means of sublight propulsion. Like most Star Wars tech, the exact functioning of such devices is purposely vague.

Well, what if these Ion Drives weren’t simply thrusters that propelled a ship, but ‘generators’ as well- something that created an ‘ionized bubble’ around a starship (a-la the ‘warp field’ utilized in the Trek universe). In effect they surround a ship with a field of energy that ‘streamlines’ the ship from bow to stern, perhaps even functioning like a ‘slip-stream’- both pulling and pushing the ship through space. This ion-bubble would divert micro-meteors and other small space debris- instead of hitting the ship, they would just ‘flow around’ it. To me, at least, this is a tidy little way to talk around at least one of the real life hazards of space travel.

It might also explain why some vessels (like the X-Wing) seem to have forward facing ‘intakes’ to their engines. Perhaps these are not intakes, but rather the forward ‘projectors’ of the Ion Drive. I don’t know, but again, it works for me.

And on a slight tangent, I am of the opinion that the ‘solar panels’ on the TIE fighter are NOT solar panels at all, rather they ARE the ‘Twin Ion Engines’ of the craft (not those two little red dots on the back of the cockpit pod). Instead of conventional ‘thrusters’, these engine panels use an ionic charge to both draw and push the fighter through space. The large size of these ‘engine panels’ would certainly help explain the speed of the craft relative to its size.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Interesting Star Wars Quote

I was recently going back through some old Star Wars DVDs I had- a 'home made' collection of the various Star Wars TV specials that have aired over the years. I wound up watching one that must have come out in the era between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. This particular behind the scenes special was narrated by Mark Hamill. During the show, he made a couple comments (scripted or not) that I found interesting. The first was regarding the Force:

"More people ask me about the Force than anything else. And I don't like to be too specific when I answer. Everyone has their own ideas about it. And if none of them is exactly right, none of them is necessarily wrong. Ultimately, the Force is what YOU make of it."

Wow. If only they'd continued with that outlook in the prequels. I mean, of all the things that did NOT need more explaining, the origin and nature of the Force was one of them.

Another, more telling, statement came in the closing moments of the special:

"Special effects are the purest form of movie making. With them, we can create visions that owe nothing to any other form of artistic expression—and which no other art can possibly duplicate. We now possess a technology that places anything man can imagine within reach of the camera. There's no place, past, present or future it cannot go.

But if we possess this new technology, we mustn't allow it to possess us-as so many of this century's great inventions have come to do. For in the end, a special effect is just a special effect. If it isn't surrounded by people we care about- if it doesn't serve a story that moves and involves us- and if (above all) it doesn't help us to grasp some larger imaginative vision, then it is just a trick- a gimmick."

When I look at the special effect-laden prequel trilogy, I find this whole statement rather ironic. The prequels were gorgeous to look at, without a doubt, but with 'wooden' acting and writing they (to me at least) lack the impact of the original movies. Anyway, I just thought it was interesting.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I am by no means a designer of video games. But I would consider myself a fairly experienced player of video games—at least of the RPG variety. Admittedly, most of my experience in this area comes from Bioware games—starting with Knights of the Old Republic. But I feel that this actually adds to my ‘credibility’ in what I am about to talk about.

I would like to start by saying that I think Bioware is an excellent company. They’ve given me hours of fun- hell.. days and weeks of fun, even. But they aren’t perfect. One needs to look no further than Dragon Age 2 to see that. As much as I would defend the game to others, I have also come to realize that the ‘little faults’ of the game have finally added up to an overall disappointment for me.

I mean, I didn’t mind the recycled environments or the ever-present ‘second wave’ of enemies spawning in after every fight, or the fact that the kinds of enemies you fought started to become very repetitive by the end of the game (wow. More demons. Really?). Taken individually, these things can be forgiven (by me) if there is a good story to tell. And for the most part, there was. But that’s the problem- it was just a ‘good’ story, not a GREAT one. That’s the problem for a company like Bioware. If ‘excellent’ is the norm, then anything ‘average’ stands out like a sore thumb. And compared to most every other game they have produced, Dragon Age 2 was just ‘average’ for me.

Now, I do NOT have a lot of the problems with it that other folks do. I liked the faster-paced combat. I liked the streamlined inventory and skill system. I didn’t care that my companions dressed themselves and chose their own unique fighting styles. In fact, I liked that. Overall, I didn’t ‘have a problem’ with the story, either- except that it was less focused than Dragon Age: Origins. But when you combine that with the aforementioned ‘little’ problems, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. For me, DA2 fell apart not from some single game-breaking item, but rather a collection of little things “I wished they’d done differently”.

And that trend seems to have continued (for me at least) in one of their Downloadable Content packages- namely the “Legacy” add on. Overall, it was a fun-enough sideline. I especially enjoyed the fact that you get to know your character’s father- and it was nice that if you brought your sibling along, they were impacted by it as well. In fact, I was really LOVING the content right up until the final act.

Here, you have to face an incredibly powerful enemy who makes you run through an increasingly lethal maze in order to finally confront him. Essentially, you’re running in circles, constantly destroying ‘power sources’ that your enemy is using, all the while dodging spawned in creatures and a maze of obstacles. It is a very difficult fight- and it seemed to me to be set up especially for PC gamers- in that in order to successfully get through the maze, you had to constantly tell your NPC companions EXACTLY where to go in order to keep them from being destroyed by the wall of fire that was constantly chasing you through the maze. Now, on the PC you can ‘zoom out’ from the action more than you can in the console. Likewise, you can select your team as a group and have them all move together. On the console, neither of these options seemed to be available (if they were, I sure as heck couldn’t find them). This meant that I had to try and run this gauntlet by constantly pausing the game, switching from one character to the next and telling them where to go. I literally played this battle for HOURS and finally had to RAGE QUIT for a while to calm down- Because every time you died in this final fight, you had to start all the way from the beginning- including a cut scene and the SAME dialogue over and over.

That marks the first time I have EVER had to RAGE QUIT a Bioware game. Ever. And that says something.

To me, this end battle was just a huge FU by whoever designed it. The game gave me helpful hints like “If you’re having a hard time, switch to a lower difficulty level”. Unfortunately, I had already SWITCHED to the lowest difficulty setting and still, after hours of playing, could not get through it. Things were made worse by the fact that without direction, your NPC companions would die within five seconds.

Ultimately, I beat the battle by buffing my main character and allowing all my companions to die (within five seconds). I was just BARELY able to beat the main bad guy. For this, I got the Achievement ‘Conductor’. Evidently a joke on the fact that in order to beat this particular battle, you have to be able to ‘conduct’ (orchestrate) your entire team. Well, if that was the goal, I failed horribly. And when I was done with this DLC I was in the strange position of NEVER wanting to play it again. Sure, the story line was interesting enough, but the thought of having to go through that battle again just makes me ill.

Yes, you could make fun of me for not being as good a gamer as most folks- and I don’t claim to be. But the end result was, that even on the lowest difficulty, I was having no fun. And that is the worst result you can get from any game design choice.

In the end, this really tainted my view of DA2 overall. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This failing was made all the more noticeable by the fact that I was simultaneously playing Mass Effect 2 and its downloadable content. I am currently in the process of trying to beat that game on its highest difficulty level (Insanity). It is tough. Very tough. Very challenging. It is occasionally frustrating and sometimes scares the crap out of me (i.e. the ‘threats’ presented really are that). But the design is such that I have (so far) not had to quit the game in a rage because of a design choice. The challenges are VERY hard, but I can find my own way through them- apply tactics and strategies that work for me in that particular situation. I am not simply a rat running through a maze in the ONE particular way that the designer intended or I will die.

In short, I feel that ME2 was much better designed than DA2. And that seems to be a function of time- in that DA2 felt rushed- which is really a shame.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Star Wars Plot Holes

As much as I love the original trilogy (minus all its recent 'improvements'), there are still a few things about these Star Wars movies that have never sat quite well with me- from a purely 'logical' sense, that is. The one I'm going to focus on (briefly) in this post is the whole Mission to Endor at the end of Return of the Jedi.

I am perfectly alright with the whole concept of the Rebel attack on the Death Star. Yes, it is all a bit 'shooting from the hip', but then the Rebels know they are taking a risk here. They just feel that the risk is worth the possible reward. I'm even cool with the whole plan of sneaking people onto Endor using a stolen shuttle and codes. Where that falls apart (for me at least) is after the shuttle has passed through the Imperial blockade. They reported that they are a 'parts and technical crew for the forest moon'. That makes sense, but then they land the shuttle, apparently, in the middle of the forest- a couple days march from the ONLY Imperial installation (that we know of) on the planet. Considering how tight security MUST have been in the system (especially with the Emperor there), you would think that SOMEONE would have noticed this shuttle going off course and heading for the boonies. I mean, they probably had limited approach vectors and ALL that stuff.

Now, you COULD explain this all away by saying that the Empire 'allowed' them to land, since Vader had already sensed Luke and knew there were shenanigans in the works. But that wouldn't explain why the Rebels would have thought this was a good plan. So, yeah. There we are a pretty big plot hole if you ask me. And quite honestly, I don't have a way to 'fix' this. Perhaps there WERE other Imperial installations on the planet and they 'pretended' to land at one, but instead diverted to the forest. But again, you'd think someone would check on this and follow up- especially when you have an entire day (at least) to notice the discrepancy.

So, ummmm... nope. I'm drawin' a blank here. If anyone else has any bright ideas as to what might close this plot hole, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday Tangent: Humanoids


This is another D&D related post- though it applies to pretty much any fantasy setting. In these kind of worlds, one of the things I enjoy are a variety of beasts and beings, both magical and mundane. But on the other hand, I like a little ‘realism’ to my fantasy (other Old School gamers have termed that ‘Gygaxian Naturalism). In short, I like to have my beasties make some kind of ‘sense’- even if it is a convoluted sense I have made up. What I didn’t like about the line of monster books produced for the D&D game was the abandonment of ‘classic’ monsters in favor of the ‘flavor of the week’ new monsters. To me, this was very prevalent in the introduction of various humanoid races in the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II.

This explosion of humanoid races seems all the more strange when you consider how ‘sub-races’ of Elves and Dwarves and the like were handled- not as their own distinct species- but rather as a variation of a ‘stock’ species, with different cultures and perhaps some minor physical differences.

For my own fantasy world, I would go down this road when handling humanoid creatures. Below are some examples of this:

The Goblin Family.

I see goblins as the ‘basic’ D&D villain, especially for low-level beginner groups. They are dangerous enough in numbers, but weak individually- thus, they make a good ‘cowardly villain’ type. There would be variations of these humanoids mostly based upon what environment they have adapted to:

Stone Goblins: These represent the ‘typical’ goblins, evolved to live in caves located in hilly or mountainous regions. They partner with Worgs and survive by raiding other tribes or settlements nearby. They are short but wirey and deceptively strong for their size.

Forest Goblins: These are lankier versions of the typical goblin- evolved to living in the deepest, darkest parts of forests. Though many tribes continue to ally themselves with Worgs, some groups actually form partnerships with giant spiders, even riding them into battle.

Dark Goblins: These pale-skinned creatures visually resemble the ‘Dark Creeper’ monster of Fiend Folio fame. They are very sensitive to light and typically live in dark caves deep underground. They are masters of stealth- even moreso than your typical goblins. Where possible, groups in large cave systems partner with Giant bats to use in battle and raiding. Some groups who live closer to the surface use these bats as well, riding them out for raids on moonless nights.

Jungle Goblins: These are based off the Tasloi, from the Monster Manual II. They are skinny goblins evolved to living in Jungle canopies. They typically partner with giant insects such as wasps or other jungle types.

Swamp Goblins: These are based off the Bulluwugs from the Fiend Folio. Instead of actually being ‘Frog Men’, they would be bug-eyed, lanky swamp dwellers adept at swimming and jumping. They would also utilize giant frogs as guard and attack beasts.

Gibberlings: Typically found only in the remotest wilderness or caverns, Gibberlings represent Goblins pushed beyond sanity by their desperate situations. They are mad, gibbering things who think only of eating. They would be without the sharp swords specified in the Fiend Folio, however. That never did make much sense to me. In appearance, they would be like ‘normal’ Goblins, only crazed, unkempt and naked.

Hobgoblins: These represent an evolved ‘high’ species of Goblins, larger and more intelligent than their bretheren. They tend to construct their own villages or cave system/fortresses. Depending on the terrain in which they live, they might still ally themselves with any of the ‘beast companions’ the lesser tribes do- such as Worgs or Giant Spiders, etc.

Bugbears: These are huge versions of standard goblins- they are barbarians by nature, taking what they want from any ‘lesser’ (i.e. smaller) species. Again, they might have racial traits and animal companions similar to any of the base goblin tribes.

The Orc Family

There is a bit less variety here as Orcs seem to me to be more ubiquitous than goblins- just as humans are among the ‘good’ races of the surface. Your typical orc is beast-faced (with squinty eyes, protruding brows, blunt noses and pronounced fangs). Their bodies are powerfully built but typically hunched, with long arms and stocky legs.

Grimlocks: This is a variety of Orc adapted to living deep underground. They are albino in nature and blind. They make up for this by having acute senses of hearing and smell.

Orog: These are large orcs- said to be a hybrid between Orcs and Ogres. While not much more intelligent than the base variety, they are quite a bit more powerful.

Beast Men

These represent humanoids that display the distinct traits of various beasts. In most cases, these races were brought about by dark magics and the twisting of humanoid species into unholy ‘man-beast’ hybrids. They are not related to eachother except for this origin. Beast-man tribes include:

Gnolls: Hyena men of desert/arid regions (similar to Northern Africa)- however, they could have spread beyond this to colder regions in search of food. They are fierce fighters, but (like their Hyena stock) are opportunists- preferring the easiest route to prey. They sometimes partner with actual Hyenas.

Ratlings: Rat/Man hybrids, they dwell in swamps or sewers or other places where they can live off the resfuse of others. I see them based somewhat on the Skaven from Warhammer.

Wolfen: Wolf men- essentially like Gnolls, only more prevalent in temperate regions. I see them as being more beastial than the wolfen presented in the Palladium RPG.

Anyway, its time to get back to work. These are just a few ideas I had and wanted to get down in writing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Emperor was (and is) awesome

I've commented before on how much I enjoyed the expanded role the Emperor played in the Star Wars Prequels. In fact, I would say this was the high-point in these three movies. And the more I think about his plan and rise to power, the more respect I have for him as a villain. What got me thinking about this again was a conversation I had with a co-worker regarding the Clone Wars cartoon. My work buddy asked (since I am the resident Star Wars guru at work): "If the Darth Sidious is in charge of the Republic AND the Separatists, why can't he simply 'hand' the victory to the Separatists?" To which I replied. "Because he doesn't want them to win. He doesn't want EITHER side to win until the time is right and his goals are accomplished."

And that is what is so freaking awesome about his plan. By fabricating a war and essentially running both sides of it, Palpatine created an environment where he can accomplish ALL the things necessary for him to rise to power. These are as follows:

1) By giving the Republic an external threat Palpatine forces them to create (or rather 'accept') a huge military force where none existed before. So desperate is the Republic in the early days that it completely overlooks the shady origins of the Clone forces entirely.

2) Palpatine creates a crisis whereby people give him emergency powers that will only last 'for the duration of the crisis'. By prolonging the crisis, people get 'used to' him having that power. They begin not to question it.

3) People don't question that power because Palpatine can, whenever he needs to, set up an instance where only HIS foresight and action prevented a major military failure. Thus, he is regarded as a hero- becoming a 'father figure' to his people who would look to him for 'stability' during the war.

4) Palpatine weakens his enemies- and not just the Jedi. Yes, he makes sure THOSE people are at the front of the conflict and are actually being whittled down, but the Separatists themselves would likely oppose Palpatine's bid to 'unite' the galaxy. By spurring them into a war, he grinds THEM down as well. In short, he allows all his potential enemies to destroy each other. Awesome. It is even MORE awesome when you realize that almost all the people on BOTH sides of the conflict do not realize they are being used. I think that, perhaps, Count Dooku knew the plan, but I doubt anyone else did (Grievous, for instance, probably didn't).

5) Palpatine creates a permanent enemy/threat that furthers his anti-alien stance. It is uncertain (to me at least) if Palpatine really hated aliens or if he simply saw them as a way to consolidate his power. Either way, by conspiring to have the Separatists lead by non-humans, he creates a situation where other (perhaps troublesome) non-humans can be cast in a doubtful light if he so requires.

6) Palpatine sets the Jedi up. I've spoken about this before, so won't go into detail. But suffice it to say that he really worked them over. Palpatine got a bunch of them killed in combat and had the others spread out and unwittingly placed in front of the guns of troops who were programmed to be loyal to him. And when he defeated those who knew his true nature, he could spin any story he wanted about the Jedi- namely that they were trying to seize power for themselves- something which would gain a lot of traction based upon the trust the people had for him and the seeming isolation the Jedi had from the rest of the galactic public.

Seriously, that is an awesome plan. And what is more awesome is that it WORKED. For over twenty years, it worked. That's not something MOST movie villains can boast. I mean, your typical Bond villain never lives to see the fruition of their evil plans. The Emperor, in this instance, does NOT follow the 'Evil Overlord' rules set. And that is what makes him (in my book) one of the best movie villains of all time. And you know what? It is the prequels that were responsible for telling this awesome story. Say what you will about other aspects of those films, but this is one thing they really got right.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday Tangent: D&D

While I may currently hide behind the ultra-cool label of "Star Wars Geek" currently, I must also admit to the fact that as a younger geek I also indulged in a certain role playing game by the name of Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, D&D was my introduction to the world of 'gaming' and the focus of a lot of my creative energies in Jr. High and High School. Alas, my relationship with D&D mostly came to an end when I discovered my 'true love'—the Star Wars D6 RPG.

I've spoken before as to why I like the D6 system so much more than any other, so I won't go into that again. But even saying all of that, there is something compelling about the D&D system, even after all of these years. I have run fantasy adventures and even a few campaigns using the D6 system, but strangely enough, they never felt quite...right? I suppose a lot of that has to do with nostalgia for the D&D system. It is what I 'cut my teeth' on, and what I came to so closely associate with that particular genre. When I see knights and dragons, I think of 'classes', 'levels', 'hit points', etc.. It just seems natural. For whatever the reason, that genre and those rules seem to fit. It is just the same with Star Wars and D6- it doesn't feel right with '10th Level Jedi Guardians' and 'hit points'.

So I am forced to admit that as much as I LOVE the D6 system, and still feel that it can be used in ANY genre, there are times where I 'yearn' for a good 'old fashioned' D&D campaign. But whenever I get to thinking about doing that, I always run into the same old blocks that turned me off of the system in the first place. Advanced D&D, for instance, just doesn't have the 'symmetry' to it that I like. It is, for lack of a better word, 'quirky'.

D&D is a product of its upbringing- i.e. it was not developed from the 'top down', but rather, during play- with all manner of house rules being gradually incorporated into its canon. Thus, you have bizarre things like the percentile differentiation for strength, but straight numbers for all other stats. Likewise, skills and abilities (thief 'hiding in shadows' and elven 'detect secret doors' for instance) are sometimes governed by percentile dice, other times by d6. I guess that is one of the things that DID appeal to me about D&D 3rd edition- the more consistent approach to things like this.

So where does all of this rambling lead me? To another 'project' of course!- a revamping of the D&D system. Yes, I know. So many others have done this already. And no, I don't intend to 'publish' this or anything of the sort. Its just something I'd like to do so I can run my own D&D campaign at some point- without all the complications and annoyances I found in the other published editions. If I had to describe what I have come up with so far, I would say it is a 'mash up' of the old B/X (Basic/Expert) D&D, with a healthy dose of 3rd (or 3.5) edition- with a little of 2.5 thrown in.

I won't go into a lot of detail here, but a few aspects of what I'm thinking are as follows:

1) There are only five main attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.

As per the '2.5' edition rules, these can each be broken up into two 'sub-attributes' (though this is purely optional). For example, Strength is broken into Muscle and Constitution- which can vary slightly from the base stat. For example, a character is generated with a 16 STR. They could split this up into a 17 Muscle and 15 Constitution (favoring Muscle over health) or a 14 Muscle and 18 Constitution (not overly musclebound, but very healthy). As with the 2.5 edition rules, you can't vary more than 4 points between the sub attributes (thus, the 14/18 split above is as far as you can go). To me, this makes sense, especially with strength. I never liked the idea that it was possible for someone to have an 18 Strength and a Constitution of 3. Yes, you can make all kinds of arguments as to how this would be possible, but to me, it was never PLAUSIBLE. Plus, I like the idea of being able to 'fine tune' your character if you want. I also like the idea that you can just ignore this rule if you'd like. If you roll a 16 for strength, you just keep a 16 in Muscle and Constitution. Easy peasy.

2) There are only 3 classes. Fighter, Mage, Rogue.

There are also multi-class combinations of the above- which allow you to progress in two (or even all three) classes simultaneously. I never liked the D20 system of being able to multi-class each level- mainly because it forced EVERYONE to be single class at first level, no matter what. You're an elf who was raised by a great warrior and a wizard? Well, too bad. You can either have NO fighting abilities or NO magic abilities until you're second level. Bleh.

What I did like from the D20 system was the fact that all classes use the same level advancement scheme- i.e. no matter what class, it costs the same amount of XP to advance a level. For multi-class characters in my system, it would mean that folks with 2 classes pay twice the XP to go up a level and a Fight/Mage/Rogue would pay three-times the XP. Again, simple.

Depending upon what skills/spells a character chooses, these three classes can incorporate a variety of different 'sub-classes' that people are used to in their D&D. For instance, a Fighter who has wilderness skills could be termed a 'ranger'.

2a) Why no Priests/Clerics?
I suppose it is a personal thing with me. I never much cared for the 'religious' system implicit in most D&D settings. I never liked the idea of 'gods' just being ultra-powerful, extra-planar beings (complete with stats and hit points). Likewise, I always disliked the idea of player characters being raised to the status of gods. I'm not saying it is 'wrong' or that my 'christian beliefs' don't allow it or whatever (hey, its just a fantasy game). I just personally don't care for it. I also feel that having a more 'ambiguous' faith- one that does NOT have such 'tangible' evidence as a god coming down to say howdy to his followers- is more dramatic. Oh, I would still include all the 'Gods' of ancient beliefs (Olympians, Asgardians, etc.). They would still be powerful extra-planar beings (with stats and hit points), but they would not, in fact, be the 'creator spirit' of the universe. So, yes, maybe there is some christian influence in there. But that's just my particular preference.

For those wondering, most cleric spells would be just another 'school' of magic spells, available to any mage who studied them (i.e. Mages could be healers, etc.). The exception to this would be spells of a truly 'divine' nature- things like 'Bless' and Holy Word and even the ability to turn/control undead. 'Divine' spells like this would be available to mages ONLY if they chose a special ability I call "True Faith". In the game world, these 'divine' spells would be of somewhat ambiguous origin. For those of 'true faith', they would be a sign of 'God's' power, focused through them, the faithful. For atheists, they would be simply another school of spells- albeit one that seems to require a particular belief that they do not possess. Also, even Non-Mages can take this 'true faith' ability- allowing them to utilize holy symbols to turn undead. To me, this hearkens back to the old adage that it is not a cross that turns a Vampire, but the faith of the person using it. True faith would come with a price, however- requiring an individual to live by a code of ethics, etc.

3) Hit points and healing would be handled just a bit differently.

I didn't like the fact that as player levels increased, the effectiveness of cure spells dropped off. A cure light wounds cast on a first level fighter with 1 hit point left out of 8 could, conceivably, heal him from the brink of death to perfect health. Now take a high level fighter who has lost 40 of his 80 hit points. It would take at BARE MINIMUM 5 cure light wounds spells to bring him back to full. When you consider that loss of hit points represent a wearing away of 'luck' as well as actual physical injury, this makes no sense at all. So, what I propose is this (some of which is taken from D&D 2.5).

The 'wound level' of an individual is determined by the percentage of hit points he has left.

A person with 75% to 99% of their hit points are just a little, bruised or Superficially Wounded, with no real injuries. A character suffers no ill effects at this wound level and their health will not deteriorate further unless they are injured again.

A person with 50% to 74% of their hit points are considered Lightly Wounded. A Lightly wounded character suffers no ill effects from their wound, but must bind or heal the wound within a short while after combat (within 1 turn- requiring an 'easy' Healing skill roll) or they may become moderately wounded.

A person with 25% to 49% of their hit points are considered Moderately Wounded. A moderately wounded character suffers a penalty of -1 to all attacks, defenses and skill rolls. The wound must be bound or healed within a short while of combat (within 1 turn- requiring a 'moderate' Healing skill roll) or the character will become severely wounded.

A person with 1 to 24% of their hit points are considered Severely Wounded. A severely wounded character suffers a penalty of -2 to all attacks, defenses and skill rolls. The wound must be bound or healed within a short while of combat (within 1 turn- requiring a 'difficult' Healing skill roll) or the character will become critically wounded.

A person with negative hit points are considered Critically Wounded. A critically wounded character must be bound or healed within a short while of combat (within 1 turn- requiring a 'very difficult' healing skill roll) or the character will die.

A superficially wounded character is 'healed' with a few minutes (1 turn) rest. i.e. after 1 Turn, a person would be restored to 100% of their hit points.

Light Wounds are healed with a cure light wounds spell. i.e. someone injured down to 50% of their hit points could be restored to full health with this spell. If no spell is available the wound may be 'bound', requiring an easy healing skill roll. This keeps the wound from becoming more serious, but does not give back any hit points.

Moderate Wounds are healed with a cure moderate wounds spell which will restore the character to full health. A cure light wounds spell will automatically 'stabilize' the wound- keeping it from getting any worse, but will not give back any hit points. Likewise, a successful (moderate) healing skill check allows a moderate wound to be 'bound'- but does not return any hit points.

Severe Wounds are healed with a cure severe wounds spell. Which will restore the character to full health. A cure moderate wounds spell will automatically stabilize the wound- keeping it from getting any worse, but will not give back any hit points. A Cure Light Wounds spell has a 50% chance of stabilizing the wound as above, but likewise will not return any hit points. Likewise, a successful (difficult) healing skill check allows a severe wound to be 'bound'- but does not return any hit points.

Critical Wounds are healed with a cure critical wounds spell. Which will restore the character to full health. A cure Severe wounds spell will automatically stabilize the wound- keeping it from getting any worse, but will not give back any hit points. A Cure Moderate Wounds spell has a 50% chance of stabilizing the wound as above, but will not return any hit points. A Cure Light Wounds spell has a 25% chance of stabilizing the wound as above, but will not return any hit points. Likewise, a successful (very difficult) healing skill check allows a critical wound to be 'bound'- but does not return any hit points.

So, yeah, this is quite a bit different than your usual D&D. Though it hasn't been playtested, I imagine this is going to have the effect of giving characters a bit more 'longevity' during a dungeon crawl. They will likely be able to replenish their hit points after a battle a lot more easily than a 'standard' party would, especially if they are only 'superficially' or 'lightly wounded' in a confrontation. I personally like this idea, as it prevents the group from having to withdraw from the adventuring locale as often as they might otherwise.

I also like the idea of giving wounds 'weight'. In D&D, folks function at 100% effectiveness even if they're down to their last HP- that never sat well with me, either.

Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts for the system- and enough for my tangent today.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Adventure Conversion: The Mummy - Part 4



The heroes (and a rival group of treasure hunters), begin to explore the ruins of Hamunaptra. Here, they find a variety of dangers- from ancient traps to flesh-eating beetles. Here also they begin to uncover the story behind the curse on this place. Unfortunately for everyone involved, all this activity has drawn the attention of the spirit of Imhotep. This dark lord waits only for the a mistake that will rouse him from his slumber...

As the groups of explorers reach the outskirts of the ruins, a tremor seems to run beneath the sands, as if something stirs there- but always just out of sight of any of these new arrivals. And as the group reaches the sand-swept central plaza a great, mournful moan seems to sound from the various open cave entrances as a wind suddenly sweeps through the area...then settles.


Now that they've reached the ruins, the heroes no doubt wish to proceed inside and find the treasure (or, for more altruistic groups, seek to preserve the treasures within?). There are a number of different passages into the ruins- all of which seem to lead into the tunnels below (with all the surface buildings having long since been obliterated by erosion).

Beni's group will immediately 'claim' one of the tunnel entrances and set up camp around it. Evelyn doesn't seem to think that entrance is any more promising than the others, so she is content to let them have it. This could, however, spark a confrontation between the groups. Beni's group is stubborn and will, if pressed, fight to protect their claim- but they won't start a fight. In fact, they are much more likely to strike up a friendly rivalry with the heroes team- taking bets on who will reach the treasure first. They will begin to explore their tunnel entrance immediately, bringing their hired laborers in with them and leaving a few outside to keep watch. Beni, while anxious to find the treasure, will be more than a little 'jumpy' due to the dark presence at the site. In general, however, the group will not work directly WITH the heroes.

The heroes are free to do their own exploration now. Evelyn and Jonathan are quite eager to get going (though the latter seems just a little spooked). If the Imperial Magistrate (Gad Hassan) is with the heroes, he too will be quite eager to get started.


The tunnels themselves form an immense maze beneath the sands. Many tunnels lead to dead ends- either by design or due to collapses. Within these tunnels, the GM can have the heroes encounter a variety of dangers and oddities, including:

1) Cave in. A section of the tunnel gives way as the heroes pass- forcing them to dodge the collapse and possibly cutting them off from their original route back. The GM should use this to re-direct the players, though- not to trap them in an inescapable location (unless they have the means to dig themselves out).

2) Ancient Traps. This could be anything from a pit filled with spikes to crushing walls to darts firing out of holes in the wall. The GM is encouraged to have the players run into a variety of traps to help show how dangerous this location is. In or near some of these traps, the heroes may find the remains of previous treasure hunters. Considering the age of this place, this could be anything from 'ancient' Jedi or Sith to explorers from the Old Republic to completely alien and unknown beings. If he feels like it, the GM might even place some salvageable artifacts on these remains.

3) Odd sounds/sights. These are mood setters- designed to keep the party off balance as they explore. It could be anything from the faint skittering of insects (hinting at the deadly scarab beetles) to seeming movements in the shadows (a trick of the light or perhaps even supernatural phenomena)

4) Old Tombs. These tunnels are home to more than just Imhotep's remains. Here and there can be found the bodies of other ancients. Most would be laid to rest in modest cubicles, carved into the walls. Others are held in sarcophagi found in small side chambers and a few might even have a full blown tomb with antechambers and the like (usually protected by a hidden door and several traps). The GM may include some treasure with these finds, but should keep the reward in line with the difficulty of recovering it. Also note that this IS a grave site, and that stealing from the dead isn't necessarily a 'good' thing to do. If the heroes go about this callously- stripping dead bodies of their valuables, the GM may wish to utilize a 'bad karma' rule- penalizing all their further skill rolls by 1 or 2 pips or otherwise facing them with 'bad luck'. If, however, the players are at least somewhat respectful in their handling of the dead, they may be able to recover these treasures without incurring penalty.

5) Hieroglyphs. These are found throughout the tombs. Most simply reflect the daily lives of the ancient Aegyptian empire. This will be a great find archaeologically speaking (Evelyn will certainly be interested), but for the most part they have no bearing on the adventure). Some hieroglyphs, however, will offer clues as to the story behind Imhotep- showing his rise to power, his Dark Side corruption, his treachery and his downfall. Astute characters might notice a few things of interest- one being the symbol of the Medjai- one they may have seen on the 'nomads' that attacked the sail barge during their trip here. Others may also notice an uncanny resemblance between Evelyn Carnahan and the pictographs of the Queen Ank-Su-Namun. Still others might notice the repeated depiction of a book, constantly associated with a forbidding, dog-headed deity.

6) The other guys. The heroes encounter Beni and his employers while exploring the tunnels. This can hopefully be played for a 'jump scare' as the two nervous groups suddenly come face to face around a corner. Though played mostly for atmosphere, it is possible this could spark a fight (depending on how the heroes react).

7) The scarab beetles. The heroes will come upon yet another wall covered with hieroglyphs, only this one seems to have some small iridescent stones inlaid into it. They appear to be of only moderate worth, but some in the group might attempt to pry them free (Gad Hassan certainly will). The stones do appear to be just that- though upon a very close inspection (or run beneath a scanning device), their true nature will be discovered. These 'stones' are actually a kind of silicon based 'beetle'- evidently gone dormant. The GM should have any of these 'stones' attack when it is least expected. If Gad Hassan steals a few then they might suddenly come alive and burrow into his flesh- killing him mysteriously. If one of the heroes unknowingly takes a scarab, it might come alive and attack him as well. If the heroes discover the true nature of the beetles, the one they are examining might suddenly come to life as well.


Also keep in mind the actions of the various NPCs during this initial exploration. Each will behave differently and may have an impact on how things play out.

Evelyn will be extremely excited and energetic in her exploration of the tombs- for her, this is a dream come true. She is clearly much more interested in the archaeological value of the site than she is any treasure. Though a smart young woman, Evelyn isn't as cautious as she perhaps should be and might wander into a trap that could require her to be helped by the heroes.

He is nearly as excited as his sister, though for the exact opposite reason. He's interested in finding the treasure- and is impatient even in that regard. This may lead him to take risks a more cautious person wouldn't when in pursuit of those riches. He may likely wander into trouble and require rescuing. Even so, his greed isn't necessarily a selfish one- i.e. he won't 'backstab' his companions to get ahead.

Gad Hassan
The magistrate is motivated solely by greed. He wants treasure and he wants it right away. In much the same way as Jonathan, this will lead to him taking risks he shouldn't. Unlike Jonathan, however, he is keen on taking what he can even at the expense of others. If the GM feels it appropriate, this Greed could lead Hassan to an untimely death during the scarab beetle encounter (see above).

Beni is much like Hassan- eager to get wealthy and willing to cheat anyone else to do so. He is growing especially desperate now, though- since his main usefulness to his employers (Burne, Henders and Danis)- namely his knowledge of how to reach the ruins- is now no longer necessary. He may wander off in search of his own riches or even attempt to steal from or sabotage the heroes. Likewise, he might get into trouble in one of the traps- giving the players a choice of whether or not to save this thoroughly despicable character.

Burne, Henders and Danis
The three treasure hunters are keen on getting the treasure- and in that pursuit they reveal a degree of ruthlessness in driving their workers hard. Danis will even go to the point of using them to spring any traps the group suspects but cannot find. While not openly hostile to the heroes, they might well engage in some 'friendly' pranks or even sabotage (of a non lethal variety) if the opportunity presents itself.

The Workers
These are a group of local laborers who signed on in the hopes of riches but who are now regretting that decision due to the dark nature of the ruins. They are unhappy with their lot, but unwilling to risk the wrath of their employers.


After several encounters (and perhaps a day or two of searching), the GM should move events forward with one of the major happenings of the adventure. These are:

1) The discovery of Imhotep's tomb. This will actually be accomplished by the Burne, Henders and Danis- who will stumble upon it in their explorations near dusk on the first day of the 'dig'. Unfortunately, this tomb was trapped- resulting in the deaths of several of the group's native workers. Though they didn't find any treasure hordes, they did find several gold trappings of the former priest- including a scepter, a necklace and a diadem. Needless to say, the three will be keen to show off their hard won treasures that evening as both groups camp. They will also try to collect on any bets as to who finds 'the treasure' first (though technically, they didn't find THE treasure, just SOME treasure). The three will be rather callous in regards to the death of their laborers.

Though a bit disappointed at having been beaten to the find, Evelyn isn't particularly upset. In fact, she suspects (due to her knowledge of Ancient Aegyptian building practices) that there may be further treasures in the vaults on the levels directly BELOW where Imhotep's tomb was found. And it is here that she will wish to go the next day. That night, Evelyn will have strange and unsettling dreams- as may others in the group, especially Force sensitive types. Also, anyone on watch might (with rather difficult search skill rolls) notice what appears to be a nomad rider off in the distance across the desert- though he will quickly disappear.

In any case, the explorations continue the next day and this leads to...

2) The discovery of the Book of the Dead. This ancient tome contains many Dark secrets- including methods to raise the dead. It is a Dark Side artifact, of course, and will radiate an uneasy cold to any in its presence. This will be located in a side tomb deep within the tunnels- lying in a secret compartment under the statue of a dog-headed deity (something hinted at in any hieroglyphs the heroes may have examined). It was once one of the sources of Imhotep's power and remains a key 'anchor' for his spirit. Indeed, it is set on top of the sarcophagus that holds Imhotep’s mortal remains. Opening the Sarcophagus reveals a horrific body within- evidently one who had been entombed alive. Heroes may wish to destroy the body- and can be allowed to. It is just a husk now in any case- Imhotep exists as a disembodied spirit.

Evelyn will be keen to study the book- despite the protests of any PCs who might sense its 'evil'. She will relent if hard pressed, though. A few other trinkets may be found in the area, but nothing of extreme value. The group may continue their searching, but eventually, night will fall and people will return to camp to rest.

3) The Medjai pay a visit. The guardians of the city had hoped that the adventurers would be driven off or slain by the traps of the tombs. Meanwhile, they were forced to wait until they could gather strength again (calling in patrols from the far desert). As the heroes emerge from their day’s explorations (with the Book of the Dead in hand), riders will suddenly sweep in from the desert to encircle the camps. They are dressed in the same robes as the men who attacked the group on sail barge in the previous episode. They will impress upon the heroes (and the other adventurer group) their superior numbers. And indeed, they have a fair number of blasters among them as well (even if they are of an antiquated variety). This may very well turn into a battle if the heroes are trigger happy- but that is not the intention of the leader of the Medjai, Ardeth Bey. He will implore the heroes to give up their search and leave now- stating that there is a great evil here. Beni and the other adventurers will be skeptical and even insulting- and have no intention of leaving. Bey says that the group will have until sundown the next day to be on their way- or the Medjai will be forced to attack. With that, the nomads ride back out into the desert.

If shooting DOES break out, the Medjai will fight back. There are perhaps three dozen riders in all. You should let the fight play out as it will. If the heroes gain the upper hand, the Medjai will flee (heading back out to the desert to regroup and draw on reinforcements). If the Medjai gain the upper hand, they will stop short of slaughtering everyone- and will give them the same option of leaving by sundown the next day. If a fight does break out, Beni and the others will retreat into the tunnels- to a better defensive position- essentially abandoning any surviving workers to the nomads.

4) The resurrection of Imhotep. This could go a number of different ways.

a) The heroes open the Book of the Dead or allow Evelyn to. At first, all will be fine. They can examine the writings within, though only Evelyn will be able to decipher them- well, some of them, anyway. They seem to be a mix of ancient Aegyptian and an unknown language (actually a form of ancient Sith). As this happens, the reader may fall under the sway of the spirit of Imhotep- who wants to use them to read a phrase from the book that will release him- or rather 'bring him back' from the dead. This takes the form of a battle of wills- with the reader rolling his or her Willpower or Control skill vs. Imhotep's Alter skill. If Evelyn is doing the examination, she will automatically fail at this. A hero might have a better chance to beat this roll (especially if they use a Force point)- but if they do, Imhotep will use one, himself to counter. The most likely result is that the reader will fall under the spell of Imhotep (he is, afterall, an extremely powerful Force user. If the hero somehow defeats Imhotep (no small feat), then one of the contingencies below might happen.

b) If not allowed to examine the book, Evelyn (or even Jonathan or Gad Hassan) may attempt to steal it during the night and do so. This results in the same battle of wills described above- a battle the NPCs will automatically lose. If the book is under guard by the Heroes, Imhotep may attempt to mind control one of its guards as well (again following the rules above).

c) Beni, or even one of the other explorers (Burne, Henders or Danis) might attempt to steal the book and be bound by the will within to open it.

NOTE: In any of the above instances, the person ‘compelled’ to open the book will be released from the control of Imhotep after doing so. The mummy must focus his energies on his re-incarnation. If the book was stolen by one of the others or an NPC, that person will quickly abandon it after being released from control- wanting nothing to do with it (and allowing it to come back into the possession of the heroes).

d) The heroes may attempt to destroy the book. Unfortunately, it is constructed entirely of metal and, bound as it is, nearly impervious to destruction (at least by any hand-weapons or explosives the party may have on hand). Worse still, any attempt to destroy the book by violent means will- through the act of this violence- release Imhotep.

Assuming one of these things happens and Imhotep is released, stormclouds with gather over the city and the sand itself will begin to roil as if alive. The sand will soon die down. A moaning wind will suddenly burst forth from the tunnel entrances and the ground will tremble. Then everything will grow still. Uneasily still.

5) Should we stay or should we go? Everyone will seem to realize that something BAD has just happened. And on top of that, they know that a large force of Nomads is gathering and preparing to wipe them out. Most sane parties will attempt to flee at this point. Evelyn is shocked and horrified by what has happened (especially if SHE caused it), but will recover quickly and come up with a plan. Though it is a great find, Eve realizes that the book is somehow ‘evil’- she will hope to find some way of destroying it or perhaps some passage within it that will ‘set right’ what happened. In either case, she is at a loss here- but feels that with research in the libraries of Cairos, she may be able to find something that will help.

Beni and his greedy companions plan on fleeing- however, they intend to spend the night in the tunnels hoping to find some last minute loot before setting out in the morning. Some heroes may wish to do this as well- however, doing so will prove to be quite dangerous. Even if the players DO avoid the temptation, Jonathan Carnahan will not. He will slip off (if at all possible) and venture into the tunnels on his own last-minute treasure hunt. Evelyn will, of course, wish to go after him.

6) Mummy on the loose. With Imhotep now ‘freed’ of his hidden tomb- His spirit takes corporeal form- in this case, possessing the mummified remains of someone within the temple complex (there are thousands of bodies here suitable to his needs- including (possibly) his own (assuming the heroes did not destroy it earlier). In an effort to possibly find MORE treasure, Beni’s group splits up. Burne and Beni go one way, Henders and Danis another. Unfortunately for them, Imhotep finds Burne and Beni. The latter flees, terrified, into the tunnels, leaving Burne alone. As luck would have it, any Heroes in the tunnels will be nearby during this attack. They will hear hear screams (Beni’s), then blaster shots (Burne’s), then a horrible strangled cry (Burne’s). Assuming they go to check, the Heroes will be able to interfere with the attack- They will see a horrible, dead form grappling a helpless Burne and seeming to draw ‘energy’ from his body, causing him to wither and shrivel. At this point, Imhotep is relaviely weak (at least versus an entire party) and so they will likely be able to drive him off- and possibly even destroy his body ‘shell’ (at which point, his spirit will flee- being only eerily visible as he streaks off into the darkness to find another host.

If Evelyn is present during this fight, Imhotep may become distracted- either as his material (Mummy) form or as a spirit when that form is destroyed or driven off. In either case he will call out the name “Anck-Su-Namun”- as he recognizes her as such.

If the heroes do NOT help, but investigate anyway, they will find only Burne’s dessicated corpse, seemingly drained of.. well, everything.

Henders and Danis will race to the scene, though too late to affect the attack. They will find either Burne dead or in horrible condition- evidently at the hands of the Heroes. Some quick talking should be able to prevent a fight, however- and the adventurers will have finally had enough- they’re packing up and leaving- and don’t care that Beni is evidently missing.

The sounds of all of this will attract Jonathan as well (assuming the heroes have not already found him) and Evelyn will then urge that everyone flee- since she has no idea how to defeat a ‘spirit’. Their only hope now is to try and get to Cairos and the library there, where maybe here is information on how to do so.

And so everyone decides to flee, abandoning Beni to his fate in the tunnels as they pack up their mounts and ride off into the desert. It is a simple and relatively uneventful trek back to the Canal- and from there, the heroes should be able to hop another Barge back to Cairos. All the NPCs are no doubt a bit twitchy and frightened at this point. If Burne is still alive, he will be in bad condition, lingering on in a shriveled form. Henders and Danis hope that medical treatment in the city will be able to help.


Considering the open nature of this episode, there are a lot of different possibilities of what can happen. I have tried to deal with many of those in the above outline. As anyone reading this will note, there seem to be a lot of ‘pre-ordained’ things in this particular episode. And that’s true. It is one of the difficult things about adapting a movie (with a linear plot) to an adventure where the heroes determine the outcome. But even with this ‘railroading’, there are a lot of options for the heroes to take. Most of those options DO lead to failure of one sort or another, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, sometimes there are ‘no win’ situations (no matter what Captain Kirk says).

The release of Imhotep is vital to the plot of this adventure. And so it is that there are a LOT of different ways this can come about. Ideally, this should happen organically, based upon what the heroes do- and any precautious they take. It is possible that a particularly wary and paranoid group of heroes might thwart any attempt of the mummy escaping. In this case…well, more power to them, but the adventure as written will probably not work. It could work in some other way, however. Say the heroes bury or otherwise hide the book again. In this case, Imhotep’s spirit will ‘call’ to one of the NPCs- and lead them to find it. Which may very well put things ‘back on track’. If the heroes manage to get the book back to Cairos without somehow releasing Imhotep, then it is STILL possible they may do so once they get there. They will miss having the first encounter with the mummy at the tomb, but Imhotep will come to seek them out eventually- he may well even follow them off planet. In these far-ranging cases, the GM is on his own as to what happens next, but It could be a lot of ‘fun’ having an undead Darkside Force user chasing after you, right?

And finally, what if the heroes are particularly stubborn and decide to stay in Hamunaptra and fight the mummy right then and there. Any who do this are going to have a very difficult time. Imhotep can continue to chip away at them, possessing as many corpses as necessary to press the attack. And the heroes will have no real way of fighting him in his spirit form. They also have to worry about their supplies- and the fact that the Medjai will likely come in and try to kill them as well. It is hoped that even such a stubborn group will see the futility of this effort and return to Cairos to seek knowledge.

Friday, September 2, 2011


So, I'm hoping it is all a rumor. But if you're reading this blog, odds are you've heard the latest about the release of the Star Wars movies on Blue Ray. The 'rumor' (which has, according to some folks been 'confirmed' by Lucasfilm) is that they're 'enhancing' Return of the Jedi. How you might ask? During the finale of the movie, there is a scene where the Emperor is frying Luke with Force lightning. In the original film, Vader looks on in stoic silence before suddenly lunging and attacking the Emperor. He hoists him over his head and throws him down a reactor shaft.

Well, now Vader isn't quite so 'stoic'. Evidently Vader now shouts. "No. NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" while doing all of this.

So. Right. Is Lucas actually TRYING to piss off his fans now? I mean, I can understand creative ownership and doing what you want to with 'your' product. I mean, when Vader did that in the Prequel trilogies, I'm sure Lucas thought it was a good and dramatic moment. I saw that movie on opening night- with a room full of hundreds of Star Wars fans all psyched to see the movie. That 'dramatic' scene drew laughs. Out loud laughs from the whole theater. NOT the reaction George was looking for. And I doubt seriously if my particular theater was in the minority on this point. Even so, I can chalk that up to "oh well, guess that didn't work".

But then to take that scene- the one that fans LAUGHED at- and duplicate it in a previous film...well, that just seems stupid. Stubborn even. I mean, was the thought behind it: "Well, they didn't like it before, but this time, for sure!".


Again, I have to say that I still do admire Lucas for a LOT of reasons. Heck, I even have a grudging admiration for him holding his ground AGAINST a lot of fan feedback. But I have to wonder at the reasoning behind things like this.

In any case, its a small thing in my book. I can remember the movies how they were- and I've been 'mentally editing' his stuff for decades now. Here's hoping that this is just a rumor, but even if it isn't- Meh. I'll cope.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday Tangent: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - 1970s Style

I had so much fun putting together the 1980s League, I decided to do the same with the 70s.. the era of really, really bad fashion and disco music. I should point out that there are a few rules I am applying to the selection of these members:

1) The characters can't be a big/regular part of an established comic book universe- otherwise, I could just pick the Justice League and be done with it. The same is not necessarily true for characters from older comic strips. Nor does it apply to properties that were later turned into comic books.

2) I reserve the right to alter the background of such characters a little to fit my particular 'shared' universe or in order to 'resurrect' them from a scripted death.

Those 'ground rules' having been laid, on with the matter at hand. Here they are, then, your League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, 1970s.

Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors)

A pilot and former astronaut, Steve was gravely injured in the test flight of an experimental space plane. He was rebuilt by the government using experimental bionic components and was subsequently employed by a shadowy agency to right various wrongs around the globe. This 'bionic man', would serve as the leader of this team due to his military and command experience. His enhanced abilities would be a great asset in League field operations.

Lee (played by Bruce Lee)

A martial arts master and monk from China, Lee is one of the most capable fighters in the world. In addition, he is a philosopher and scholar of many ancient secrets of his order which may very well have applications in supernatural operations. Only his rather solitary and introspective nature prevent Lee from being chosen as team leader. Even so, he would work well as an advisor and second in command.

Foxy Brown (played by Pam Greer)

A nurse turned private investigator (after the death of her boyfriend at the hands of ruthless vice lords). Foxy single-handedly brought down an entire syndicate and in the process became a capable and fearless investigator and combatant. She is particularly skilled at undercover work (no pun or entendre intended) and would make an excellent information gatherer for her team in the field. Though smart and independent, Foxy has developed a rather ruthless streak when it comes to dealing with 'bad people'- a streak that could put her at odds with more idealistic team members.

Carl Kolchak (played by Darren McGavin)

A seemingly odd choice at first, this freelance reporter has lately come to specialize in occult cases- the most notable of which saw him tracking down and destroying a Vampire 'serial killer'. Though he is at best a 'passable' combatant, Kolchak's investigative abilities and first-hand experience with various paranormal incidents would make him a valuable member of the team. Carl is likely to be a reluctant team member, seeing himself as 'just a reporter'- however, his steadfast courage and calm in the face of true horror is a rarity- and a great asset.

Mark Harris aka "The Man from Atlantis" (played by Patrick Duffy)

The origins of this mysterious individual are unknown- though some theorize that he is the last surviving member of an extinct aquatic species- perhaps descendents of the Atlanteans of legend. Apart from his ability to breathe underwater, he is incredibly strong and resilient, capable of operating at great depths and swimming at incredible speeds with webbed fingers and toes. Suffering from amnesia, Mark (his adopted name) is something of a blank slate, learning all he can about a world he is completely unfamiliar with. Though he must return to water at regular intervals, Mark's exceptional abilities would make him an asset on just about any League mission.

Backup Members

The following individuals were considered for recruitment, but were passed over for one reason or another (typically that their area of expertise overlapped another member's).

Father Merrin (played by Max Von Sydow)

An aging, but incredibly dedicated catholic priest. Father Merrin is one of the Church's premier experts in the field of the occult in general and exorcism in particular. His age and failing health were the primary reason Father Merrin was not chosen for the team. He is to be considered as an information asset, however- though he is currently engaged in a mission in Washington, DC...

Jaime Sommers (played by Lindsay Wagner)

A 'bionic woman', rebuilt by the same organization as Steve Austin. Ms. Sommers is currently engaged in missions for that organization, but could be called upon if the team found itself in need. Her powers easily match those of Col. Austin.

John Shaft (played by Richard Roundtree)

A former police officer turned private investigator. Shaft currently works in New York City, and has become something of a legend there for standing up to various underworld figures as well as corrupt city politicians and police officials. His independent nature and distaste for authority (and even teamwork) was the primary reason he was excluded from recruitment.

Harry Calahan (played by Clint Eastwood)

An infamous police detective operating out of San Francisco. "Dirty" Harry Calahan has made a reputation for a particularly 'direct' form of police work that often makes use of his signature .44 magnum handgun. As with others on the 'standby' list, Harry was excluded from recruitment mainly due to his dislike of working with others.

Gator McKlusky (played by Burt Reynolds)

A moonshiner and smuggler operating out of the south (from Texas to Florida). Gator is an expert driver and capable boat-handler. He is also something of a show-off and has a distinct lack of regard for the law. While not a 'ruthless criminal' by any means, his nature prevented him from making it onto the recruitment list. He could still be considered for individual operations where skilled road or aquatic travel is required.

James Rockford (played by James Garner)

A hardbitten private detective operating out of Los Angeles. Rockford is a highly capable investigator and even hand-to-hand combatant- but he often finds himself battered and bruised in the course of his work. Indeed, he does seem to have a kind of 'hard luck' that some occultists theorize may actually have supernatural origins. Needless to say, 'bad luck' is not something a field team needs.

Tertiary Possibilities

These are other names that came up, but were disregarded for various reasons:

Jill Munroe, Sabrina Duncan, Kelly Garrett (played by Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith) - Aka "Charlies Angels"

Leann "Pepper" Anderson (played by Angie Dickinson) - Aka Police Woman

Theo Kojak (played by Telly Savalas)

Columbo (played by Peter Falk)

Dr. Quincy (played by Jack Klugman) - Aka Quincy, M.E.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Adventure Conversion: The Mummy - Part 3



The expedition begins with a Sail Barge ride across the desert. Onboard, the heroes will meet the other adventurers in search of the lost city. Unfortunately for everyone, the journey is interrupted by an attack by Medjai extremists bent on stopping the explorers in any way possible.


The sail barge makes its way along the banks of the canal, leaving civilization behind as it heads off across the desert towards another distant settlement. From a rise in the distant desert, a group of mounted nomads watch the vessel make its slow but steady progress. The leader of the group suddenly urges his mount into motion, calling to his fellows. “Come, we will deal with these dogs after the sun has gone down..” Another nomad replies. “But Ardeth Bey told us only to follow-“ “And allow these infidels to defile our sacred trust? I think not. Now, ride!” The nomads slip off behind the desert ridge, shadowing the course of the barge as it heads towards the sunset.


The barge is a large, commercial vehicle that serves as both cargo and passenger transport between cities. Though equipped with repulsorlift technology, it relies mainly upon its sails for propulsion (a cost saving measure- and one that doesn’t really hamper the lumbering vessel’s speed very much). The lower decks of the barge are filled with various cargos as well as the mounts of both the party and the rival party of adventurers. The middle decks are filled with cramped passenger staterooms as well as a few ‘dormitories’ for poorer travelers. The upper and outside decks house the vessel’s limited galley and ‘recreational’ facilities- which consist of a few deckchairs and tables. In fact, the upper deck is also used as auxiliary storage, with all manner of cargo strapped to it- somewhat restricting movement. A luxury barge, this is not. Finally, there is a small ‘bridge’ located at the aft of the barge, from which the captain and a small crew guide its journey.

The barge travels along the route of an old canal that carries water between the major cities of the planet. In places, the barge will cruise along the banks of the canal, in others, it will actually venture out over the water- depending upon the terrain. There will be small farms and settlements along the banks, but these will get more sparse the further away from the city the vessel gets. If the players follow Evelyn and Jonathan’s advice, they will be planning on getting off the barge at a small stop far away from the city- a place where it is hoped they won’t be noticed much save for a few onboard the barge- and even then, they could pretend to be visiting one of the known archaeological dig sites in the area.

It is assumed that the heroes will have one or two staterooms reserved for themselves as well as space in the hold below for any mounts or larger supplies. Once they’re settled in, they can spend their time onboard in whatever manner they wish. Jonathan quickly looks for (and finds) the only bar-like place onboard- the ‘galley’ on the upper deck. Evelyn spends a fair amount of time reading on a deck chair or looking out over the surrounding desert. Gad Hassan (assuming the Imperial is along for the ride), will likewise gravitate to the bar and otherwise spend a deal of time planning what he’s going to do with his share of the loot- and planning how he might cheat the others out of theirs.

An exploration of the ship will quickly discover that apart from the normal local ‘worker’ types traveling from one city to the next, the ship is also carrying a decidedly uncommon group: Beni Gabor and his three ‘Partners’, Burne, Henders, Danis. Jonathan will, of course, recognize Beni and be suitably (though not physically) hostile. Beni will respond in kind. Burne, Henders and Danis are QUITE interested to find they may have competition, and will do their best to figure out just what the heroes are up to and how much of a threat they might be. The three will not be openly hostile. They won’t even start a fight. In fact, they’re much more likely to strike up a friendly ‘rivalry’ with the heroes. They will also be at least a little cautious in talking about their final goal- they don’t want anyone else to overhear any more than the heroes do. Beni will likewise try to ferret out any information from his rivals and may even attempt to sabotage their gear in some way (if he thinks he can get away with it- i.e., he won’t take any real risks to do so).

Give the players some time to roleplay amongst themselves and with the various NPCs. Talking with Jonathan or Evelyn could easily result in friendship or even romance (though the latter is liable to jump into anything too quickly- the former certainly is). Wait for things to naturally ‘wind down’ before proceeding to the next section- which will take place after sundown of that first day.

As the barge drifts lazily in the still-cooling night air, a band of dark-robed nomads (actually Medjai extremists) ride their pad-footed mounts out of the desert and quietly beneath the vessel. There, they fire silenced grapnels into its underbelly and ascend their lines up onto the barge- some stealing into open portholes, others climbing over the rail. They will first seek to eliminate any on watch. From there, some of the Medjai will head for the bridge with the intention of taking out the crew and heading the barge into the desert. Others will head below decks to find and eliminate the PCs and their rival adventuring group. Still others will prepare jury-rigged explosives to set the barge on fire. The plan of this group is take the barge off course, eliminate everyone onboard (because they aren’t sure exactly WHO knows the location of Hamunaptra), and then destroy the ship to make it look like a typical nomad raid (or at least destroy most of the evidence).

How this attack plays out depends a lot on the actions of the Heroes. Those who set watch may very well find out what’s going on before things get too out of hand. Once their cover is blown, the Medjai will attack in earnest- and with fanatical zeal. If it looks as though they are losing, they will set off their charges and set the whole barge on fire, even with their own people onboard.

During the attack, the normal passengers and crew will do their best to survive, but they are no match for the Medjai. Some may try to flee overboard, but many will be cut down in the fighting.

Beni will seek a place to hide during the fighting- or perhaps just cower behind his three ‘partners’- Burne, Henders and Danis. These latter three will meet the attack head on, taking cover behind the cargo on deck and gleefully pouring blaster fire into the fanatics.

Evelyn and Jonathan aren’t really soldiers, but they’re capable enough and will certainly help the heroes in whatever plan they develop. Gad Hassan, however, will seek only his own preservation- which may likely result in him hiding behind the PCs.

If the heroes pause to examine their attackers, they will find that under the robes, each of these men have tattoos with a strange Aegyptian symbol. Evelyn will be able to identify it as the mark of an ancient Pharoah- thus placing these men as part of his household guard- known as the Medjai. This particular group of Medjai is not acting upon orders from the leader of their sect, however, and will fight brutally and fanatically to the death.

The battle could be resolved in a number of ways, but a couple of the most likely are:

1. The heroes stop the Medjai attack cold and regain control of the Barge.
In this case, the players can continue on to their original point of disembarkation without further trouble.

2. The heroes thwart the attack, but the barge is destroyed. In this case, survivors of the passengers and crew will flee to the canal to wait rescue. Beni and his group will struggle to get their mounts out of the hold and continue ‘on foot’ to the ruins. Evelyn and Jonathan will urge the players to do likewise. In this eventuality, the GM may rule that some of the PCs gear is destroyed and lost in the evacuation.

3. The heroes barely escape with their lives. The barge is destroyed- along with most of their mounts and gear. In this case, the players are really in a tough spot. It is likely that Beni and his group escaped in a similar condition. His partners might suggest a temporary ‘truce’ in order to survive the situation. The group can pool together their meager resources to continue- perhaps scavenging the wreck of the Barge or even attacking any surviving Medjai to replenish their gear.

In any case, the heroes (and Beni’s group) will then have to continue on to Hamunaptra on foot. This will take them through the desert sands and (if the GM feels the players have had too easy of a time) might include encounters with some dangerous wildlife (sand worms, anyone?) or natural hazards (sandstorms? Quicksand?), etc.

Beni’s group will likely shadow the course of the players (provided they aren’t traveling directly with the heroes). This group includes not only Beni and the three offworld adventurers, but also a half-dozen or so local workers (and perhaps even a couple beat-up labor droids) hired to help with the excavations.

After several days travel across the shifting sands (led by Jonathan’s sense of direction), the group actually WILL find Hamunaptra- seeming to appear before them from the heat haze in the distance.

Any Force sensitive players may very well get a sense of foreboding from these sand-swept ruins, though at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a precise ‘source’ to these feelings. Likewise, both Beni and Jonathan will seem to be a bit nervous and even jumpy- though they won’t easily reveal why.


The main contingencies in this episode have mostly been discussed above and deal largely with how the players react and ‘weather’ the Medjai attack on the barge. There is also the possibility that the heroes might form a true enmity with their rival expedition (i.e. Beni and the others). The GM should work hard to prevent this. Burne, Henders and Danis aren’t looking for a fight. In fact, they realize that with the dangers they are facing, they might need help from the PCs. They certainly won’t start any trouble. But likewise they won’t be bullied or dissuaded by aggressive PCs. If the heroes go as far as to attack and kill their rivals on their own initiative, well… then they deserve what is likely to happen to them in the upcoming episodes…and it isn’t good.