Tuesday, September 17, 2013

[Q&A] John Berry (Arcana Rising)

[19:04] <+J_Arcane> My name is John Berry and I'm the founder of Bedroom Wall Press, a maker of fine roleplaying games of a vaguely old-school character, the latest of which is to be Arcana Rising.
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[19:05] <+J_Arcane> Arcana Rising is an urban fantasy roleplaying game powered by the system from our well-received Hulks and Horrors, expanded and revised and brought into the modern day with a dose of folklore-inspired fantasy of the Dresden/Buffy vein.
[19:06] <~Dan> (Howdy, Ettin!)
[19:06] <+J_Arcane> The game essentially aims to provide a core fantasy experience with a twist, using the H&H mechanics expanded to a full range of levels up to 12, an insane number of monsters, 6 levels each of spells for both divine and arcane magic, magical loot, and other fun stuff.
[19:07] <+J_Arcane> The easier slugline is: D&D meets Dresden Files, with a splash of Indy Jones.
[19:10] <+J_Arcane> (done)
[19:10] <+Abstruse> For those of us unfamiliar with the Hulks & Horrors system, can you give us a rundown of how it works?
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[19:11] <+Kei> heya folks
[19:12] <~Dan> (Howdy, Kei! Q&A in progress! :) )
[19:12] <+J_Arcane> Abstruse: It is essentially B/X-inspired D&D, with one key wrinkle: the die roll has been flipped. The entire system is now a roll-under. this way the game maintains the old-school descending AC while making slightly more sense mathematically, and the combat rolls now more closely resemble the stat checks of old.
[19:12] <+J_Arcane> H&H's main goal was to take the D&D mechanics and apply them to a fun gonzo space opera/SF world.
[19:13] <+Abstruse> So I want to roll a 1 rather than a 20?
[19:13] <+J_Arcane> AR's goal was to provide a more traditional fantasy baseline, because I liked the H&H system but didn't have a fantasy equivalent yet, but didn't want to write another generic fantasy game.
[19:13] <+J_Arcane> Abstruse: Yeah. Both combat rolls and stat checks are roll-under.
[19:14] <+J_Arcane> Roll under stat to succeed, or roll under 5+To-hit+AC to hit in combat.
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[19:14] <+J_Arcane> (done)
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[19:15] <~Dan> You mentioned Indiana Jones. Do you see the game as being high-octane, over-the-top adventure, and if so, how does the system support that?
[19:15] <+Abstruse> Do you have a game world and fiction set up, or is it more generic so it can be applied to anything urban fantasy?
[19:15] <~Dan> (Howdy, Squide!)
[19:16] <+J_Arcane> Dan: The Indiana Jones inspiration comes in largely in the form of the sense of secret archaeology and tomb raiding. The primary source of magical artifacts is rediscovered Atlantean and Alliance ruins from before the fall of magic.
[19:17] <~Dan> Alliance?
[19:17] <+J_Arcane> There is a ruine/dungeon generation system, geared to generate very death-trap riddled ruins like something from the Indy films or a Tomb Raider game.
[19:18] <+J_Arcane> Dan: The Alliance was basically the assembled free peoples of Greece, Anatolia, and Sumeria who fought the Atlantean Empire in the old times.
[19:19] <+J_Arcane> Abstruse: There is a default setting of sorts, written in broad strokes, and there is a lot of implied setting history in the monster descriptions especially.
[19:19] <~Dan> What caused the fall and resurgence of magic?
[19:19] <+Abstruse> Can you tell us a bit about the setting?
[19:19] <+Abstruse> Starting with Dan's question :p
[19:20] <+J_Arcane> Basically, magic used to be real, back in the days of Atlantis. But the Atlanteans grew powerful and corrupt, binding all magic to a single source that they controlled. Such oppression didn't go unpunished, however, and the Alliance formed against them and eventually drove them back to their island, where by means not entirely certain, the wards on Atlantis backfired and released the whole...
[19:20] <+J_Arcane> ...of the wellspring's energy across the planet, destroying the island of Atlantis and requiring a great ritual that sealed all magic into a new Wellspring beneath Antarctica.
[19:21] <~Dan> So you're saying the whole plan went south.
[19:21] <+J_Arcane> That Wellspring, is Lake Vostok. And that seal got broken when Russian scientists finally broke the ice, so now magic works again, and more and more supernatural critters are returning from the outer planes.
[19:22] <+J_Arcane> The PCs are the assorted heroes who get to deal with that.
[19:23] <~Dan> Speaking of the PCs, how do they differ from standard D&D characters?
[19:24] <+J_Arcane> Well, the classes are by and large the D&D standards, with some twists.
[19:24] <+J_Arcane> The main addition here is a skill system, and the day jobs that provide them.
[19:24] <~Dan> How does that work (pardon the pun)?
[19:25] <+J_Arcane> The default system is one in which your character's monster-stabbing talents are supplemented by a regular job, because stabbing monsters doesn't always pay the bills, especialyl if you're not off raiding tombs and such.
[19:26] <+J_Arcane> Characters at chargen roll for education, and that provides them with a choice of various day jobs, which provide a skill package as well as their regular expendable income, balanced somewhat by the Demand of the job, an abstract stat that roughly measures how easy it is to get away with taking time off to plunder Atlantean ruins in south America.
[19:28] <+J_Arcane> The classes contain some obvious D&D standards, rogue, cleric, wizard, as well as some tweaked ones, fighter is split into gunfighter and gladiator, paladin becomes champion and loses the crummy spells, and the druid is replaced by the more shamanistic forestwalker.
[19:29] <+J_Arcane> (done)
[19:29] <+Bigby> Are there people who "treasure hunt" for a living like those that look for wrecks to dive for and salvage in real life?
[19:30] <+Bigby> And would that be an acceptable career?
[19:30] <+J_Arcane> Bigby: There is actually an 'explorer' job that is pretty much exactly that.
[19:31] <~Dan> If magic has just returned, how are clerics and wizards learning their crafts?
[19:32] <+J_Arcane> Dan: In wizards' case, there's still knowledge around that's been passed down, enough that a few folks with the talent have managed to learn a few real spells from old tomes and such.
[19:32] <+J_Arcane> In the cleric's case, their powers are granted by the divine, which seems to seek to balance the power of mortal wizards with its own displays of power, so basically it's just started handing out more of the actual miracles now that there are real wizards again.
[19:33] <~Dan> But if a spell says, "Do this, and you'll make a fireball," and for centuries nothing happens when you "do this," why would people have kept doing it?
[19:34] <+J_Arcane> Dan: I'd imagine that's a question you'd have to ask some modern occultists. ;) But seriously though, it's basically a matter of people re-evaluating the stuff they thought didn't work, combined with new knowledge trickling forth from scrolls and such found in the old Atlantean ruins that've started popping up.
[19:35] * ~Dan nods
[19:35] <~Dan> "If that's working now, maybe this will, too"?
[19:35] <+Bigby> So is magic pretty much completely open in this world?  No one trying to hide it like in Buffy/Dresden?
[19:35] <+J_Arcane> Basic cantrips are something that any wizard can sort of learn to do on their own, and have almost always sort of worked for the most talented, and once some of those talented folks started playing around with the old spells and started finding those worked, then they got more and more bold with the experimentation.
[19:36] <+J_Arcane> Bigby: I've kind of left that decision up to the players. In general, I've kind of written on the assumption of the Dresden Files excuse: namely that this stuff is real and always has been, but it's rare enough and easily dismissed enough that most people don't really believe in it and have ready excuses for the things they do see.
[19:37] <+J_Arcane> There's a section in the DM chapter though, about some common approaches to the problem of public knowledge.
[19:38] <+J_Arcane> (done)
[19:39] <~Dan> Is there an assumption that magic will become public knowledge during the course of play?
[19:39] <+J_Arcane> Dan: I think, personally, that it's probably likely in the future of the setting, especially as more and more people get more and more powerful as wizards, and bigger, nastier things show up.
[19:40] <+J_Arcane> Neuro City, the cyberpunk follow-up, basically goes with this assumption (paired with some high profile events)
[19:42] <+J_Arcane> (done)
[19:43] <~Dan> Are all of the usual D&D monster suspects at play, and if so, how do some of the... less subtle ones... stay secret?
[19:44] <+J_Arcane> I've generally got a quite thorough list. By and large, the monsters stay secret because most of them don't live in the mortal world, they dwell in the outer planes. Almost all monsters and supernatural creatures hail from one of the outer planes of the astral, elemental, divine, or infernal varieties.
[19:45] <~Dan> Even humanoids like goblins and orcs?
[19:45] <+J_Arcane> Yup.
[19:45] <~Dan> So there aren't Armies of Evil(TM) rampaging across the countryside?
[19:46] <+J_Arcane> There are some factions who've covertly begun establishing themselves in the cities, but by and large they all live Out There, and only show up when someone or something brings them here to start trouble.
[19:46] <+J_Arcane> Dan: There are armies of evil, but they're mostly stuck in the outer planes, for the moment.
[19:47] <+J_Arcane> The Elves and Dwarves are both mighty power hungry, and the Salamanders and Lizardfolk of the Fire plane are also quite vicious foes who could potentially cause problems of that scale.
[19:47] <+J_Arcane> Right now though, their intrusions are more on the scale of like, Buffy/Angel than full-scale supernatural invasion.
[19:48] <~Dan> Is there a supernatural underground as in Angel?
[19:50] <+Abstruse> Or are all the orks thrown in the slums like in Shadowrun?
[19:50] <+J_Arcane> Generally, yeah. The city generator picks from about 20 possible supernatural factions, plus the possibility of organized wizard or cleric factions, and a number of the key locations and city history elements directly hint at or openly suggest the presence of organized supernatural activity, like the Black Bazaar.
[19:50] <+J_Arcane> Abstruse: Well, Orcs are sort of part Warcraft, part William Blake in AR, and a significant power of the plane of Fire. In Neuro City, they were actually one of mankind's chief allies during the Elven War.
[19:51] <~Dan> Elves are evil in AR?
[19:52] <+J_Arcane> Dan: They're not very nice. Their default motivation is Power. Basically, the Elves finally defeated the jotunns on their own, and that plus the waning mortal influence of the Asgard has put them on a considerable rise to power in the plane of Air, and they've been looking for more and more of it.
[19:52] <+J_Arcane> They're not like, full blown evil like demons and other Unholy things are, but they're pretty power-hungry sorts these days.
[19:53] <~Dan> Amoral, maybe?
[19:54] <+Abstruse> Sorry to keep going back to Shadowrun, but sort of like the elves of Tir Tairngire?
[19:54] <+J_Arcane> Possibly. It's suggested that morality as humans define it doesn't necessarily mean much to many of the supernatural creatures.
[19:55] <+J_Arcane> the Seelie Sidhe may be 'nicer' compared to the Unseelie, for instance, but they still mostly see humans as play things and their ideas of morality likely to be alien to any mortal.
[19:55] <~Dan> On a related note, do you use alignments, and if not, how morally ambiguous is the setting as a whole?
[19:55] <+J_Arcane> Abstruse: I'm afraid I'm not up enough on the nitty gritty of SR's setting to answer that.
[19:56] <+J_Arcane> Dan: There are no alignments. There are six motivations possible for the monsters, Power, Wealth, Hunger, Chaos, Knowledge, and Peace, and some monsters explicitly hail from the Holy or Unholy planes with all that that entails.
[19:56] <+Abstruse> J_Arcane: Tir Tairngire elves are basically big on politics and subtle maneuvering with a focus on the long view. They spent about 30 years after magic returned working a plan to get back their old kingdom from 8000ish years before.
[19:57] <+J_Arcane> Abstruse: Ahh. I see the Alfar of AR as more overtly martial than that. They did go toe-to-toe with the jotunns and win, after all.
[19:57] <+J_Arcane> They're still sharp as a tack and talented with magic, but they also know which end of the sword is pointy.
[19:58] <~Dan> Jotunns = giants?
[19:58] <+J_Arcane> Dan: Jotunns are exactly that, the jotunns of Norse legend, whose descendants became the various types of elemental giants that now exist.
[19:59] <+J_Arcane> As for moral ambiguity, all of the 6 motivations are made clear to potentially have less than savory reasons behind them, even Peace (because you can, after all, achieve Peace by simply violently putting down those who threaten it).
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[20:01] <~Dan> What's the nature of gods in AR?
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[20:01] <+J_Arcane> Dan: They probably exist. :P
[20:02] <+J_Arcane> There are no actual named gods in the book, only the concept of the 'divine will' and the existence of the unholy realms.
[20:03] <+J_Arcane> It's alluded to that there is a single unifying force for the divine in the world, but it manifests in ways mortal kind doesn't understand fully yet, but there are also actual gods and god-like figures, most of whom live i nthe Holy plane.
[20:03] <+J_Arcane> Asgard and Olympus are both real places, but they've fallen in influence and now dwell somewhere in the plane of Air.
[20:04] <+J_Arcane> The gods of the various mortal religions currently practiced do seem to either exist in the divine plane, or at least be manifestations of the single divine will, depending on your interpretation. Basically the goal was for people to be able to make a Cleric of any religion and have it work, roughly. It's not perfect, but the goal is inclusiveness and generality.
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[20:04] * ~Dan nods
[20:06] <~Dan> I take it that this is a humans-only game?
[20:06] <+Abstruse> Sorry if this has been covered, but I'm starting to wonder...how exactly does the pantheon/cosmos of this system work?
[20:07] <+J_Arcane> Yes. there are rules for monsters as PCs in the monster chapter, but the default assumption is PCs are humans.
[20:08] <+J_Arcane> Abstruse: There's a specific theological term that escapes me for how I've written it, but in a weird way its sort of vaguely monotheistic.
[20:09] <~Dan> Sounds a bit like CJ Carella's WitchCraft in that regard.
[20:09] <~Dan> Insofar as there's a Creator, but the pagan "gods" exist as well.
[20:10] <+J_Arcane> Or at least, henotheistic. Basically, so far as the wizards can tell, there is a single divine will, and many servants and aspects of it, including the various angels and figures known as gods of the various faiths of the world.
[20:10] <+J_Arcane> But the divine plane is kind of 'off limits' to anyone not invited, so no one really knows for certain.
[20:11] <+J_Arcane> Clerics only know that their belief in their personal faith is enough that their god responds by gifting them the knowledge of miraculous prayer.
[20:14] <+J_Arcane> The 'divine will' itself might not even be an actual thing with a mind, just a force of the universe. It's a concept that exists to allow for multiple interpretations and character concepts to work and be true within the setting.
[20:14] <+J_Arcane> (done)
[20:15] <~Dan> In setting terms, what's kept a wizard from getting on national TV and saying, "Hey, y'all! Watch THIS..."
[20:18] <+J_Arcane> Depends on the DM's individual interpretation. Basically, in-setting, things haven't quite progressed that far. You could have some kind of conspiracy that makes sure that you disappear and the tape never shows up again or gets 'proved a hoax', or have most people assume it is one and science bloggers writing about how it was clearly  just special effects, or just go, well, I guess the world...
[20:18] <+J_Arcane> ...knows there are wizards now.
[20:18] * ~Dan chuckles
[20:18] <~Dan> Fair enough.
[20:18] <~Dan> What about taggin' and baggin' supernatural critters?
[20:19] <+J_Arcane> There IS a slowly growing field in xenotherology, so even if the general public doesn't know about this stuff, it's likely there's some corners of academia studying it anyway.
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[20:20] <+J_Arcane> If your city has a Paranormal Studies Dept.  or a Xenotherology lab, you might even get them interested in a specimen or two.
[20:20] <+GenoFoxx> the Secret Saturdays...on with more magic?
[20:21] <~Dan> To what degree are the authorities in the know?
[20:22] <+J_Arcane> Dan: Depends on your setting, but there's a general stat the city generator spits out that provides a bonus or penalty to checks involving supernatural investigations.
[20:22] <+J_Arcane> There's also the possibility that the city has a Special Investigations unit, like the one in Dresden, or Mulder and Scully type folks.
[20:24] <~Dan> Yeah, that's what I was thinking.
[20:24] <+Abstruse> Patterson's Guide to Paranromal Creatures :p
[20:24] <~Dan> GenoFoxx: What's Secret Saturdays?
[20:24] <+BlasterKyubey210> Old CN Show
[20:25] <+GenoFoxx> someone watched other than me
[20:25] <+GenoFoxx> yay
[20:25] <+BlasterKyubey210> THe Saturdays investigate the Unidentified Monsters using high tech and UMAs of their own
[20:26] <+GenoFoxx> think Jonny
[20:26] <+GenoFoxx> Quest only focusing on UMA's
[20:26] <~Dan> Huh. Cool.
[20:27] <~Dan> Oh, that brings up another issue: How do magic and technology interact in AR?
[20:27] <+J_Arcane> Any given group's take on the game is intended and expected to vary, with a lot of it getting defined by the city they're based in really.
[20:27] <+J_Arcane> Dan: Mostly, they don't. Electronics are fairly precise things, magically speaking, so magic is mostly only good for making it not work.
[20:28] <+J_Arcane> (Air and Earth are the main elements at play, and both ground each other, while in the latter case taking a lot of power to even do crude manipulations let alone something as finite as, say, a computer, or even a cordless phone.)
[20:30] <~Dan> So there's no enchanting firearms, for example?
[20:30] <+J_Arcane> Pretty much, yeah.
[20:30] <~Dan> Awwww... :)
[20:31] <+J_Arcane> Clerics and champions can do a few things with them though. :)
[20:31] <+J_Arcane> A champion gets a chosen weapon that becomes magically imbued, which could include a firearm ...
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[20:32] <~Dan> Are gunslingers out of luck?
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[20:33] <+J_Arcane> Gunslingers have their own means of squeezing some serious damage out of their firearmss.
[20:33] <+J_Arcane> Think John Woo style.
[20:33] <~Dan> Right, but I'm guessing that there are lots of things that are only vulnerable to magic and magic weapons?
[20:33] <+Abstruse> Cold Iron-jacketed silver hollow-point rounds filled with holy water must be popular.
[20:34] <+J_Arcane> There are things that resist non-magical damage, yeah, and in that, having someone around with magic is handy, yes.
[20:35] <+J_Arcane> Resistance rarely exceeds a few points of damage reduction though, so guns'll still hurt, just not as much. Only ghosts and a couple other truly incorporeal things are completely immune.
[20:36] <~Dan> Ah, gotcha.
[20:37] <+J_Arcane> Guns also do more damage on average than blades, so it evens out some there too.
[20:37] <+GenoFoxx> so no Caster guns ala 'Outlaw Star'?
[20:37] <+J_Arcane> also, wizards can carry guns, of course.
[20:37] <+J_Arcane> but that's more for when the will runs out to cast more spells.
[20:39] <~Dan> When the will runs out... Does that mean that magic isn't Vancian?
[20:39] <+J_Arcane> Yeah.
[20:39] <+J_Arcane> It's spell check + will points.
[20:40] <~Dan> I'm not sure I follow you there. Can you give an example?
[20:41] <+J_Arcane> Basically, to cast a spell, you need to spend Will points equal to the spell level, then make a check, INT + Arcana for wizards, WIS + Religion for clerics. Success means your spell worked.
[20:42] <+Abstruse> How do I determine how many Will Points I get?
[20:42] <+J_Arcane> Abstruse: class level, plus a bonus from high WIS.
[20:42] <+Abstruse> Not Int for wizards?
[20:43] <+J_Arcane> Naw, caster stats are spread out more in AR.
[20:43] <+J_Arcane> INT is your check stat for wizards and determines spell save penalty, WIS is check stat for clerics and determins Will/Faith, and CHA gives bonus to damage/healing.
[20:44] <+Abstruse> So Wisdom isn't the dump stat for my wizard?
[20:44] <+J_Arcane> Naw.
[20:44] <+J_Arcane> I never liked how casters in, say, 3e, pretty much only had to have the one stat and bugger all else, so I didn't do that.
[20:44] <+J_Arcane> I figure if fighters need three stats to be effective, so should casters.
[20:45] <+J_Arcane> (I should probably be getting to bed soon, maybe 15 minutes tops?)
[20:45] <~Dan> That being the case, is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like to mention?
[20:46] <+J_Arcane> That is the one question I never know the answer to. XD
[20:46] <+J_Arcane> I suppose I should mention that Welcome To Neuro City is coming up next after AR, and will be a cyberpunk sourcebook for the game.
[20:46] <+J_Arcane> Small thing, and cheap, but should be fun I hope.
[20:47] <+J_Arcane> Teaser logo: (Link: http://imgur.com/w0GcQ15)http://imgur.com/w0GcQ15
[20:49] <+J_Arcane> Essentially it still follows on from the AR default setting, but going in a cyberpunk future direction, with neural implants, undead cops, the growing threat of sidhe terrorism, and a gang of vampires who pattern after Alex's droogs.
[20:49] <+J_Arcane> Also hacking and cyberware will be in there.
[20:49] <~Dan> So the Blood Bath rather than the Milk Bath? :)
[20:50] <+J_Arcane> Potentially. :D
[20:51] <~Dan> So I'm guessing you're about to flatline on us here... Does anyone have any further questions, or shall we let JA get to sleep? :)
[20:52] <+J_Arcane> Anyway, I'll be signing off for sleep now, have a great night!
[20:52] <~Dan> (Abstruse: PM me to let me know when whatever's happening's done there.)
[20:52] <~Dan> Thanks, JA! I'll have the log posted shortly!

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