Friday, March 29, 2013

MAJUS Draft Now Available to All Funders

This just in from Dan Proctor courtesy of the Goblinoid Games blog:
Starting today all backers have access to the draft of MAJUS prior to final layout with art. This is provided as a thank you to all supporters, and so that you can get right into enjoying the game before the final version is finished. Current backers please check today's update (for backers only) with download instructions. Future backers, once pledged, can read Update 2 from the Kickstarter page to find instructions.

Have a great weekend!
Whether you've pledged $1.00 or $100.00, here's your chance to get the magic of MAJUS started right away. Go make a pledge at the Kickstarter page and checkout Update #2 for details on how to get your copy of the art-free draft version of the game.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

More About MAJUS

There have been a few questions floating around about Goblinoid Games’ new Pacesetter System game, MAJUS. Since I’m extremely well-qualified to answer them and because playing coy doesn’t help the game get funded, I’ve put together this handy primer on what to expect while you’re expecting MAJUS to fund. Hopefully, it’ll also help those of you currently on the fence to make the plunge and throw some money at the project to get us across the finish line.

What’s the Kickstarter for?

Primarily, the Kickstarter campaign is to raise money to pay for the art and final layout of the book. The rules are 100% written and play tested, so there’s no waiting on the actual game itself to be completed. The art for MAJUS is being done by Mark Allen, whose work appears in numerous other gaming supplements (including Realms of Crawling Chaos by Goblinoid Games). You can check out his website here if you’re unacquainted with Mark’s work.

What time period is MAJUS set in?

By default, MAJUS is set in the modern world, but the CM is not limited to the 21st century when creating the campaign. Although MAJUS is billed as a “magic noir” game, implying it takes place during the 1940s and 1950s, the heyday of film noir, it’d be more accurate to call it a “neo-noir” setting. However, since “neo-noir” is less recognizable than “noir” amongst the general population, I billed the game as “magic noir.” Also, you could roughly translate “magic noir” as “black magic,” which isn’t a bad way to sell an urban fantasy RPG featuring sorcerers with questionable moral compasses.

Despite the modern setting, there’s nothing preventing you from running MAJUS in any time period of your liking. The Old Game between Maji has been ongoing since the days of ancient Sumeria and the game rules contain mechanics for an array of skills and weapons ranging from the archaic to the futuristic. Additionally, powerful Maji are able to project themselves backwards in time to previous incarnations, allowing for both one-off and ongoing adventures in distant epochs. If you want to rub shoulders with Da Vinci or fight Nazi magicians in the ruins of WWII Berlin, MAJUS allows you to do so.

MAJUS is a game about magicians, so how does magic work?

I had a heck of a good time researching “real world” magic systems and school when writing MAJUS. Borders Books and Music was shutting its doors during the design period and I helped clear out my local store’s New Age and Occult section of reference material.

In MAJUS, there are a number of magical paths known as “adits” and each is a three-tiered system of spells. At the lowest level, minor effects are possible, but with study, greater and more impressive results occur. There are twelve adits to choose from in MAJUS, ranging from “animagic” (the power to influence animals via mystical means) to “weather control,” with adits such as “blessing,” “hexing,” “glamour,” “counterspelling,” “summoning” and “warding” in between.

Magic is powerful, but low-key in MAJUS, and you won’t find a lot of fireballs or flying Maji around. Spell casting takes a bit of time, requires props and tools, and you’ll find variables like knowing your target’s true name or possessing something important to him helps the spell casting process. However, Maji are able to “hang” spells, allowing them to begin the mystical process prior to events that might benefit from magical assistance and then complete the spell when needed to produce nearly instantaneous results. The number of hanging spells a Maji can have ready at one time is dependent on his level of magical training and experience.

Besides the magical adits, Maji also walk strange paths, some of which seem preordained. A Maji can tap into the power of Synchronicity, enabling the magician to be at the right place at the right time or pick up hints the magical Skein might be strewing in the Maji’s path.

Since a player can cherry-pick which adits his PC knows, this allows for the creation of nearly any type of magician. If you want to play a sorcerer steeped in the Celtic druidic tradition, a New Age earth mother with potent healing (and hexing) powers, or a Hermitic magician well-versed in summoning angels and devils to do his bidding, you can build such a character in MAJUS.

That all you got?

Nope. Since the line between magic and psychic phenomenon is blurry (and some would argue non-existent), MAJUS contains rules for psychic talents and most Maji have one or two of them as well. These “paranormal talents” (PTs) cover a lot of ground and include aura reading, distance viewing, dowsing, dream walking, mesmerism, psychometry, and pyrokinesis, just to name a few. All total, there are thirteen different PTs to choose from, some of which will be familiar to those acquainted with other Pacesetter games, while others a brand new.

How are Maji organized?

In general, most Maji associate themselves with like-minded individuals and these groups are known as “towers” after the traditional sanctums of magicians. Towers vary in size from a half-dozen magicians to a few hundred, based on their goals, training, and ability to get along. MAJUS includes nine suggested towers, some of which are suitable for PC membership, while others are out-and-out “bad guys.” The nine towers included in MAJUS are:

  • Abraxas: A group of magical families who enhance their power by consuming demons and other supernatural entities.
  •  The Circle of Saturn: Aging Maji who are searching for immortality—by any means necessary.
  • Prima Materia: Alchemists who seek not to change lead into gold, but perfect their mortal bodies into near-indestructible killing machines.
  • The Projecteers: Maji who walk the halls of government, using military funding to engage in their own private wars to win the Old Game.
  • The Quiet: Magical police (or are they assassins?) working for the enigmatic Veiled Masters who might be pulling all the strings in the Mehen.
  • Schwarze Sonne: A tower of Maji birthed in Nazi Germany that still has access to the strange occult experiments enacted during that time.
  • Sodality of Thoth Eternal: Maji on an archeological quest that travels the world, collecting artifacts and grimoires.
  • The Thessalians: Witches with the power to draw down the moon and harness its energies against their enemies.
  • The Witchfinders: Outlaw bikers who have no interest in the Old Game and serve as a (relatively) safe haven for those of similar thinking.
In addition to the towers, there’s a new breed of Maji in the Old Game, one that came out of the Age of Aquarius and the increased interest in magic during the 1960s. Known as “erratics,” these Maji are independent agents who might be the key to winning control of the Skein or disposable pawns easily manipulated by the towers.

You’ve got Maji, but urban fantasy is rife with other supernatural creatures. Any in MAJUS?

A dozen of them, not counting rules for creating your own astral entities like angels, nature spirits, devils, and demons. As with the magic of MAJUS, I drew on real world folklore to populate the supernatural ecological niches of the game, but gave each a different twist. From magic viruses that turn the infected in bloodthirsty maniacs, to indestructible ogres created by twisted French nobles, to psychic vampires, to aquatic bogeymen who keep the souls of drowned victims in bottles, there’s a lot of nastiness in the shadows of MAJUS. You might never look at a neon “LIVE NUDE GIRLS” sign the same.

I’m not that familiar with the other Pacesetter games. How compatible is MAJUS with other games?

The good news is that MAJUS is a complete game and you don’t need the other Pacesetter games available from Goblinoid to play. Hopefully, once you read the rules, you’ll use them as written and launch a MAJUS campaign with the rulebook alone. Plus, as an Action Table system game, MAJUS is fully compatible with TIMEMASTER and ROTWORLD, allowing you to throw in magic-wielding foes or new monsters in those game campaigns.

However, even if you decide not to use the Action Table system, the MAJUS setting is detailed enough (but not overly detailed) to easily be used with other RPGs. You can adapt the background material, towers, default setting, and other aspects of the game to build an exciting campaign using your rule system of choice. Plus, MAJUS features a short primer on “noir” campaigns, which is extremely helpful to the novice game master looking to incorporate those elements into other games.

Hopefully this clears up some of the questions surrounding MAJUS and gets you all excited to play. If so, please consider helping fund the game by visiting the Kickstarter page and pledging. If you have further questions, feel free to ask them hear or comment over at the Kickstarter page. Either Dan Proctor or I will address them whenever possible.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Kickstart the Magic of MAJUS

Readers with long memories will recall that back in April, Goblinoid Games and myself announced I’d penned a new game for them using the Action Table System. The Kickstarter for that game is now live.

So, before you decide to plunk down your hard-earned scratch, you might justifiably ask, “What is MAJUS?” I’m here to help.

MAJUS is an urban fantasy/film noir RPG that casts the players in the roles of sorcerers descended from the Sumerian priest-kings of antiquity. From the dawn of time, these magicians, known as Maji, have been embroiled in a struggle called the Mehen. The goal of this millennia-long conflict is to control the mysterious Skein and thereby dominate the sorcerous underworld. Standing in the way of the players’ victory are numerous cabals of rival Maji, strange cultists, and supernatural entities that might not be quite what folklore makes them out to be. Expect pitched gun battles amidst ancient Mayan ruins, seedy dealings with South African freighter captains down at the docks, double-crosses by trusted friends, and, of course, Nazis.

One of the strengths of MAJUS is that there is no concrete setting or metaplot, and the CM (Cabal Master) is encouraged to utilize the various elements of the game to create a campaign that best suits his or her and the players’ expectations and desires. With a copy of MAJUS in hand, any and all of the following is possible:

* Battle the evil of the Abraxas, a cabal of demonphages endeavoring to consume the power of the Skein to enhance their own brand of fell magic.

* Seek out ancient, forgotten sites of power known as “labyrinths” and defeat the “minotaurs” that guard them.

* Become embroiled in the schemes of the Projecteers, who plot deep in the halls of government, augmented by black budget funding.

* Search for immortality with the Circle of Saturn—or stop them from achieving their eternal aims.

* Ride with the Witchfinders, an outlaw motorcycle club determined to retain their neutrality in the Mehen.

* Double-cross the Sodality of Thoth Eternal to steal John Dee’s Other Mirror.

* Curse your enemies with a well-placed shot from the Hex Rifle.

* Avoid getting lost in the Slumber and the House of Infinite Rooms.

From two-fisted Saturday afternoon serials a la Indiana Jones to Lovecraftian horror, MAJUS fits a number of play styles. The Skein, the central goal of the Mehen, can be custom tailored to each CM’s desire and a number of different options are provided to help inspire campaign creation. Even the origins of the Maji and the Veiled Masters who might be pulling their strings, are left open to interpretation, giving the game master a wide variety of choices when constructing adventures. You’ll find no metaplot in MAJUS!

MAJUS owes a debt of gratitude to a number of literary, film, and musical sources. If you’re a fan of Hellblazer, Cast a Deadly Spell, Clive Barker, Millennium, Harry Dresden, Carnacki the Ghost Finder, The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, Blue Oyster Cult and other eclectic entertainments, you’ll find some familiar territory in the game.

MAJUS was a hell of a trip to write and I hope you have at least half as much fun playing the game as I did writing it. I took a long, scenic drive through Bat Country when researching the game and I think that mental journey pays off in the originality of MAJUS. I’m very excited to see this game come to fruition. It’s complete and ready to roll, and just needs the Kickstarter for layout and to pay for the awesome artwork of Mark Allen, who I believe is tackling the project from cover to cover.

If you’re a fan of my work, the Action Table System Games (TIMEMASTER, ROTWORLD, and others), and/or Goblinoid Games’ excellent products, please consider kicking some bucks into the can and make MAJUS happen!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Fans Strike Back

Once upon a time, a company released a game that was unlike other games. It was complex, sometimes convoluted, but drew inspiration from novels and movies that inspired and excited generations of youngsters with dreams of experiencing those tales firsthand. The game delivered that in spades. But after awhile, the company decided that they might increase the popularity of the game by changing it, making it so it was no longer the unique, challenging game it was, but instead an poor imitation other popular pastimes they saw themselves competing with. They revamped the game, in many cases making it nearly unrecognizable from the one that the original players enjoyed. With those changes, the players who loved the original version, those who enjoyed its challenges and complexities, and the thinking those challenges required, drifted away. But a small group decided that, even though the game the loved was dead, there was no reason to stop playing it. Using a legal loophole, they recreated the original game and found that there were others of the same mind who jumped at the chance to play it once again. A small, but vibrant, community resulted, one that’s still growing and regularly revisiting the old game they have a fond affection for.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, that story sounds pretty familiar, but here’s the rub: The company and game I’m referring to isn’t WotC and D&D, but Sony Online Entertainment and Star Wars Galaxies.

Those of you who follow me on Goggle+ or talked with me at Gary Con know I’m on a Star Wars kick right now, spurred on by the fact my oldest nephew is just discovering the Star Wars universe for the first time. His four year-old excitement is pretty contagious and I’ve found myself looking back on a franchise that, like many forty-somethings, I have a love/hate relationship with. I still have a fondness for the classic films despite the disappointments I’ve experience in the last two decades with Star Wars. I imprinted early on Han Solo and never quite outgrew my love for scoundrels with hearts of gold. So when the Star War Galaxies MMO went live on June 26, 2003, I was there for the launch, with dreams of smuggling and blasting Stormtroopers. This was during my dry period of roleplaying, the era when I had almost completely fallen away from the hobby, but still enjoyed the vicarious experience of playing someone else in an imaginary world. I met a lot of good people playing SWG, some of whom became a second family who’d occasionally meet at the Slaughtered Lamb Pub in Manhattan to share drinks, swap stories, and provide real-life camaraderie and support.

"I think this blaster's not shooting straight."

I played SWG through two revisions of the original game. The first was a minor series of fixes called the “Combat Upgrade” which corrected a few exploits. The second was the infamous “New Game Experience” which completely altered the game and removed what I and others considered its strongest elements to appease those players that wanted a simpler, more Jedi-heavy experience. The NGE basically turned the game into a poorly enacted, first-person shooter and implemented level-based class advancement. Previously, a player could swap professions without penalty, allowing them to master different occupations and, when they wanted to try something different, could do so. The NGE locked you into a profession and if you wanted to change professions and thereby your game experience, you had to create a new character from scratch. It also removed a lot of the “fiddly bits” that required planning, study, and creativity to master.

Sony Online Entertainment finally pulled the plug on SWG on December 25, 2011, a causality of dwindling numbers and, quite frankly, poor management. After all, how bad do you have to mismanage something to ruin Star Wars, one of the best known brands in the history of popular entertainment? (That’s a rhetorical question, folks. I know it can be done.)

Back when I was still playing, I heard rumors of a fan-based initiative dedicated to creating an emulator that allowed those who loved the pre-NGE version of the game to play the original game on private servers. At that time, I figured such a project had a wampa’s chance on Tatooine of surviving. Sony Online Entertainment or Lucasfilm was bound to come down on these “pirate” servers like an AT-AT on a crashed snowspeeder. But recently, with my interest in things Star Wars waxing, I decided to see if anything ever became of those projects.

I was delighted to find that, while there had been a few false starts by a number of different groups, at least two have come to fruition. There’s the SWGEmu, which is the classic, pre-CU version of the game (the one I loved the most) and Project SWG, whose aim is to allow those who enjoyed the NGE to continue to do so after the game closed. Both are quite a ways down the road to resurrecting the game and players can revisit the version they loved with varying degrees of success. Intrigued by this, I did a little digging into why these emulators are still up and running and haven’t been taken down by SOE or Lucasfilm. What I discovered seems very familiar.

The emulator projects survive using a legal means to allow those who love the game to play their own, purchased versions of SWG on a private server. From what I understand (and correct me if I’m wrong and you know better), MMOs operate sort of as a web-browser. The copy of the game you buy contains all the software, graphics, commands, etc. needed to play the game. When you connect to a server using your copy, the server merely parses the commands you send when playing the game using server-side programming to interpret and respond to your actions.

What the emulators do is reconstruct the server-side code from scratch, meaning its non-proprietary and therefore doesn’t impinge on the intellectual property of SOE. This code is written by the fans working on the project for free, and the servers and other miscellaneous expenses are covered by donations, ensuring the emulators aren’t a profit-making endeavor. It’s simply fans recreating the means to play the game they love from the ground up and treading carefully to not step across any legal boundaries. That’s something that sound awfully damned familiar!

The only caveat is that you must own a copy of SWG to play. Because of the possibility of legal prosecution if that gray area suddenly turns black with pirated software, the emulators are very heavy-handed on cracking down on people playing with illicit copies of the game. Any version other than the trial will get you going. Just install it and visit one of the links above for the launcher to update you installed copy to work with the emulators. The upside is that you can pick up a copy of SWG pretty cheap on eBay these day, since the “official” severs are all closed.

The emulators are still working out some bugs, but I’ve been playing on SWEmu for the last two days and only encountered one glitched mission, which was easily deleted and replaced. Unfortunately, the game is still lacking the space expansion, “Jump to Lightspeed,” as the goal is to get the basic, ground-based game running bug-free before the emulators make the next step. There’s still plenty to do on the ground though.

I’ve often said that gamers are predominately a creative and intelligent breed, and it’s nice to see that this inclination extends beyond those of us who throw dice on a tabletop. I fully support these hard-working fans who volunteer their time and talent to allow other fans a means to revisit a game they love. Since I’m no programmer, I figured I use my modicum of fame and influence to help spread the word.

"Help me OSR! You're my only hope (of not getting eaten by womp rats)!"
If you remember the good old days of SWG and still have your disks stashed somewhere, I implore you to give the emulators a try, no matter what flavor you enjoyed. SWGEmu is my emulator of choice and you can find me on the Basilisk server. Just look for “Maximillian Haze” hanging out in the cantina on Mos Eisley, recovering from battle fatigue or wandering the desert, skinning womp rats. Send me /tell and say “Hi!” I’m always looking for people to group up with (those womp rats are kicking my ass!).

And, as a somewhat private aside, if you’re reading this and you’re a former member of the Coalition of Lost Smugglers, drop me an email at the addy listed over there to the right. This is LT Zweigg reporting in. I miss you guys. The first batch of Neutron Pixie’s on me.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Two Escapes, No Waiting

Despite American Airlines' best efforts, I escaped successfully back to the East Coast. Actually, "escape" is the wrong word for leaving a great time with good folks in Lake Geneva. There were plenty of escapades (Gamma World, a quest, the slaying incapacitating of Tim Kask's Jeep), some of which are destined to become legends in the memories of those who witnessed and/or survived them.

And just when I thought the con couldn't be any better, this arrived for me at the front desk of the hotel:

It should be in stores in 2-3 weeks depending on the distribution chain. As the warning sign at the amusement park says, "You Will Get Wet on this Ride!"

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Off to the Gaming Motherland

If the gods of travel continue to favor me, at this time tomorrow I'll be nestled in the loving bosom of "The Lodge at Geneva Ridge" for Gary Con V. This is the last stop on this leg of the convention tour and one of the few cons I look forward to with boyish glee. Last year was my first trip to Gary Con and it truly felt like coming home.

I've got a pretty full schedule for the weekend and, if you're in any of the following events, you'll be certain to see me:

Wednesday Night (tentative)

Open and informal game of Gamma World (2nd Edition): somewhere, sometime. Look for the group of players giggling and groaning, and a 2nd edition Gamma World Referee Screen propped up on a table.


4 PM--Aliens: The Reactor: I finally fulfill my promise to let Allan Grohe eat a few of my Colonial Marines on his excellent game board. I've never played before, but xenomorphs give me the willies, so I expect to have a terrifyingly good time.

8 PM--In the Court of Chaos (DCC RPG run by me): A playtest of yet another upcoming Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure I penned. It's a tad different from your standard dungeon fare and I'm eager to see what happens in actual play.


8 AM--The Curse of the Weaver Queen: I do my best to keep Tim Kask from racking up another TPK for a few hours. I give us a 25% chance of making it out alive. It'd be 50% if it wasn't 8 o'clock in the morning.

2 PM--Return to Ram's Horn Castle (OD&D with Michael Mornard): You can't go to Lake Geneva and not play OD&D, especially with the likes of Mike Mornard. I have no idea what we'll face, but it should be a hell of an experience.

8 PM--Frozen in Time (DCC RPG run by me): One of my new favorites for DCC, I channel my inner Jim Ward on this one. This will be a zero-level funnel, which is always a blast no matter what adventure you're running.


10 AM--The Croaking Fane (DCC RPG run by me): A sneak-peak at the forthcoming adventure from Goodman Games. I've run this a couple of times now and have scared the heck out of a few players doing so. Hwah-hah-hah!

4 PM--A Night on the Town (DCC RPG run by me): The adventure that's become my preferred way to end my judging duties at a convention, ANotT throws the PCs on to the street of Oolvanvar and lets them pick their own destination in search of sanctuary on the night the Dead walk the streets. Will they make the same choice the others have or break new ground?

I'll also have my Shiverwhen stuff with me if the opportunity and desire is there for people to playtest my new game. Talk to me if you want to run through "The Perils of the Book Trade" intro adventure.

As always, if you see me, please stop me and say "Hi!" I'm always willing to sign a book or take a few moments to talk about what's coming down the line or gaming in general. Gygax Magazine #1 should be available at the con and I'll gleefully deface your copy if you'd like me to.

To those attending, I'll see you soon. Everyone else have a great weekend!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

An Interview with Grognard Games

I'm back from CincyCon and getting caught up on projects and prepping for Gary Con (in just nine days!). While in Ohio, I had the opportunity to sit down alongside Tim Kask and participate in an interview with Grognard Games for their YouTube channel. You can see the results below. WARNING: contains gratuitous self-promotion!