Posts Tagged ‘Gamma World’

Toronto After Dark: Just the Crunchy Bits

February 16, 2012

Wow.  Eighteen films, 34 000 words, and about two months longer than I thought it would take to write it all up – and that’s without even mentioning the great short films that played before the screenings or the cool people I spent a week in line with.  I had fully planned for the posts to be quick and dirty, but the films were just too damn interesting for me not to overdo it.  Based on the amount of ‘crunchy’ material the films of the festival inspired in me, I hope my fellow gamers are encouraged to check some of the movies out for themselves and be inspired in their own games.
But it wasn’t all just the movies.  I’m very proud of that crunch, so to give it its proper moment in the spotlight, I’ve created this catalogue that organizes the After Dark posts by game material instead of by film.

Dungeons and Dragons

Skill Challenge: The Great Race
Ward Characters
Falling Barbed Cage Trap
The Mother of Toads
Haemophage Disease
Random Fey-Pact Events
Adventure Outline: Castaways of the Sargasso Prison
Power Sources and Monster Traits
Alignment Complications
Haunted Location Trap

Gamma World

Frankenstein’s Monster
Romero Zombie
The Zed Virus
Romero Zombie Template
‘Borg Template

It Came from Toronto After Dark: Manborg

January 26, 2012

These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different.  As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival.  So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen.  The second difference is that these are going to be short.  I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.


In this comedic love-letter to eighties b-movies, the world has been conquered by Draculon and his demonic armies.  The nations of earth have fallen, and only a rag-tag group of freedom fighters stands between Draculon and absolute, eternal power.  Just when things are at their bleakest, a new hero rises to aid the freedom fighters and save the human race – enter Manborg!

More Wacky Retro-sploitation from Astron-6

I’ll admit up front that without the festival pass, I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see Manborg, and even with the pass I almost skipped it.  I figured it would be a laugh, but I’ve seen enough real bad movies that I’m not that keen on fake bad movies.  I won’t say that Manborg completely converted me, but I had a good time watching it; and what more can you ask for?
Director Steven Kostanski prefaced the screening with “Do you guys like crappy VHS movies from the eighties?  If you do, I think you’ll like this.”  I can’t think of a better statement to prepare viewers for the madness that is Manborg.  When I was a kid looking for affordable Christmas presents for my brothers, I discovered the bargain VHS bin at K-Mart (yes VHS and K-Mart, I am old).  Out of this treasure trove of schlock I picked out an obscure title featuring a very young Jackie Chan called Fantasy Mission Force.  It featured sub-par acting, abysmal effects, awkward slap-stick humor, the craziest, most random storyline I have ever witnessed – and my brothers and I watched it a dozen times.  Manborg is the spiritual inheritor of Fantasy Mission Force; it’s a tribute to the movies we watched as kids, which ignited our imaginations before we realized a lot of those films were pretty bad (Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone also comes to mind).  Kostanski plucks his characters directly from that childhood repository.  You’ve got your martial arts master (“only a ninja can stop a ninja”), your angry Australian (remember Jacko?), your badass future chick (like Melanie Griffith from Cherry 2000), and of course the manborg himself (if it didn’t have ninja’s in it, you can be guaranteed a b-movie from this era had a cyborg).
The visuals are appropriate, with lasers and digital effects circa Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, but after the laughter and nostalgia wears off, are pretty difficult to watch.  On the other hand, most of the monsters were created using some very nice stop-motion animation, which helped to sustain my interest throughout the film.  There are some brief uses of this technique in Father’s Day (for which Kostanski did the effects), but seeing it used throughout Manborg reminded me why I love stop-motion so much and why films like Clash of the Titans still hold up to modern viewing.
Manborg’s greatest strength, and what sets it apart from other spoofs, is that you never get the impression Kostanski is on the outside looking down at his subject, but is right in the thick of it, reveling in every cheesy, glorious minute.  You could almost call this self-depreciating humor, since the laughs are generated by a love of the subject matter and a knowing wink between Kostanski and the audience that we’ve been caught enjoying a guilty pleasure.
At the end of the day though, I’m not sure if the joke can sustain a film for even Manborg’s shortened sixty minutes (not matter how nostalgia-laced those minutes are).  I think the movie would have been better in a more condensed form, with the weaker material cut out, leaving it thirty minutes of concentrated mayhem.  Given that I’m not exactly the target audience of Manborg, this might not be a fair assessment – I am sure there were those at the screening who wished the film was a full ninety minutes or more.
Manborg is recommended for diehard fans of schlock cinema – this is pretty much as perfect a tribute as you can make to 80’s b-grade sci-fi films.  For everyone else, the stop-motion animation is fantastic, and the movie is genuinely fun to watch, I’m just not sure you’ll be able to endure how true Manborg is to the source material from start to finish.

RPG Goodness

Manborg had me thinking about (what else?) cyborg characters in rpgs.  The setting of the film, taken at face value and removed from its retro-cheese,  is about as close as we are ever going to get to seeing Rifts on the big screen (given that Palladium books has been trying to make it happen since the nineties, the forecast doesn’t look promising).  You’ve got the world overrun with demons, high technology, and a group of heroes that seem picked at random from the Palladium megaverse: a Ninjas and Superspies chi master, a gunslinger, a special-ops mercenary, and of course a full-conversion ‘borg.
I always thought that bionics and ‘borg characters in Rifts games were missing something.  The game has a great modular bionics building system, but is missing a key element in the place cybernetics would hold in the game world.  There are a whole lot of rules for replacing lost limbs and organs, but there are no mechanics in the game to inflict that kind of damage on the PCs.  Other than just wanting to chop off your arm to get one with a gun attached, there is very little reason to become a cyborg unless you start the game as one.
The problem with characters beginning the campaign as a cyborg is that in most of the popular culture cybernetic heroes are reborn as a ‘borg.  The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Robocop, and Manborg, all feature cybernetics as a technology that either saves the main character’s life, or resurrects them.  This bothered me when I ran Rifts, so I used a house rule that mega-damage in excess of a character’s armor, blew off a limb rather than completely atomizing them (it also helped to mitigate the problems of the mega-damage system in general).
Of course Rifts isn’t the only game that is guilty of missing a great story opportunity for cyborg PCs.  Gamma World is my preferred post-apocalyptic rules system (see my articles on Gamma Rifts), and it also features PCs who start as cyborgs from day one.  Given that Gamma World tends to be more deadly than regular D&D (because of the lack of consistently available healing), and since the game has no method of bringing dead PCs back to life (unlike D&D’s raise dead) a post character creation cybernetic option seems like a perfect fit.
Here’s how it would work.  When a PC dies, give the player the option of resurrecting the character as a cyborg.  Perhaps the rest of the party finds a hidden Ancient medical facility whose cybernetic repair bays can be jury rigged with some cannibalized Omega Tech to rebuild their fallen comrade (a perfect opportunity for a Skill Challenge); or maybe the PC’s corpse was discovered by a mysterious cryptic alliance who transforms the PC as a part of their own shadowy agenda (which is why the PC now unwittingly carries a tracking device).  A cyborg PC removes their secondary origin, as well as any traits, powers or critical effects tied to that origin.  The PCs’ new secondary origin becomes Android (or AI if you are using Famine in Fargo).  Add any traits, powers and critical effects a character of the PC’s level is entitled to.  Changing a character’s secondary origin may also result in new ability scores (as a result of the character’s new mechanical components).  If the ability score associate with your old secondary origin is different from your cyborg origin, roll 3d6 and assign the total to that ability score.  Change the ability score associated with your cyborg origin to 16, unless it is the same ability as your primary origin, in which case it is raised to 20.  Resurrected PCs should also lose any Omega Tech cards they are carrying and draw a new card.
There is no reason that PCs should be the only ones to benefit from bionic technology.   Cyborgs make great Gamma World opponents, and the ‘Borg template allows you to create cybernetic versions of Gamma World’s already deadly list of monsters (as well as modifying the library of traditional D&D monsters – imagine alien cyborg beholders invading the earth retro flying saucer style!).  The rules for using templates in Gamma World can be found at the end of my review for War of the Dead.

‘Borg Template

“It can’t be bargained with.  It can’t be reasoned with.  It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear.  And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”

Apply this template to a creature that has been transformed into a cybernetic killing machine through the use of Ancient or alien technology.  ‘Borgs fight using the same weapons and abilities they possessed before the change, only they are tougher, faster, and their machine minds possess a level of emotionless, single minded focus most organic beings find frightening.
Some ‘borgs show occasional flashes of their former personalities, haunting the crumbling buildings they once called home, searching for something they can’t quite remember, before resuming their program of systematic extermination.
“’Borg” is a template that can be added to any humanoid or beast.  It works best when added to a creature with a strong melee attack, like a brute, skirmisher, or solider.  This template represents the most common type of cyborg encountered across the wastelands of Gamma Terra; it is doubtless that other versions exist.
Prerequisite: Humanoid or beast; level 5.


I cribbed some of the ‘borg template’s powers from the cyborg monsters in Legion of Gold (and since that adventure is all about cyborg marauders on an aggressive campaign of ‘recruitment’ they really should have been given the template option there), but I prefer a Steve Austin style bionic leap to a jet-powered one.  I also wanted the ‘borg to have the single-minded focus of the terminator, so I gave it a power similar to the fighter class’ ability to mark in D&D (but couldn’t use it exactly since there is no marking in Gamma World).

It Came from Toronto After Dark: War of the Dead

December 10, 2011

These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different.  As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival.  So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen.  The second difference is that these are going to be short.  I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.

War of the Dead

Deep in the forest between Finland and Russia, scientists at a Nazi research facility subject the locals to horrific ‘anti-death’ experiments.  Instead of creating an unstoppable super soldier, the process creates living-dead monsters, and the facility is abandoned.
The film picks up a few years later, in 1941, during the conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland (called the Continuation War). At the height of the hostilities a mixed Finnish and American group of Commandoes presses against the Russians to reclaim lost territory, only to find the dead rising to fight anew.

So Disappointing…

For the finale of zombie appreciation night, Toronto After Dark screened the world premiere of War of the Dead.  Of all the undead themed movies at this year’s festival, War of the Dead was the one I was most looking forward to, so my own anticipation (and expectations) may be partly to blame for why I didn’t like it.  Added to this, the film was advertised as a ‘Nazi zombie’ flick and truth be told, it really isn’t.  There are some Nazis in the prologue, but most of the movie is spent fighting Russian zombies.  That might be nitpicking, but when you’re pumped up to see some Nazi zombies meet brutal justice at the end of a submachine gun, Russian zombies just won’t do.
I was looking for Weird War Tales, or at least the Howling Commandoes meet Dawn of the Dead.  What I got was a mess of bad direction and bad writing that had the audience laughing (myself included) at inappropriate moments (the kiss of death for serious irony-free horror – an approach I was all set to embrace, had it been good).
In much of the movie, the lighting is too dark to see anything.  That might work in a thriller or suspense film, but for an action movie like War of the Dead you need to be able to see what’s going on to get excited about it.  In other films I would point to the overly dark scenes as a dead giveaway the director was trying to cover the imperfections of a low budget, but it was obvious from the few bits that were visible (lots of explosions, pyro, and great zombie makeup) that the money was there – and apparently wasted.
In spite of the straightforward plot (I’ll give a rare kudos to director Marko Makilaakso in this critique for keeping it moving at an exciting pace), there are some nagging inconsistencies that left me feeling like parts of the film were missing.  Over and over again, our attention is drawn to a certain mysterious MacGuffin, whose ultimate function is way too mundane for the focus it was given (plus, it doesn’t make that much sense).  I’m convinced there was more to it and the big reveal was either left on the cutting room floor or is being saved for a sequel.
Even with all these problems, the film could have been redeemed with some bloody zombie action and spectacular kills, but War of the Dead also failed to deliver on this front.  After the first twenty minutes, during which time the platoon is winnowed down to the ‘main characters’, the zombies conveniently stop biting people and start punching them instead.  I can forgive not including a shot of the zombie horde tearing into and chowing down on a freshly made corpse (yes it’s in almost every zombie movie, yes it’s still a classic).  I cannot forgive a ten minute long fight with the ‘boss’ zombie where the monster doesn’t even try to gnaw on the hero once (I’d use the word blasphemy if it didn’t seem so inappropriate in reference to the absence of cannibalism).  By the end of the film I felt as though the zombie in Monster Brawl – a wrestling movie – did more biting.
War of the Dead is not recommended.  Completists and those who have been waiting since 2008 for this film (its release was plagued by delays and recuts) are probably going to see it anyway.  To them all I can say is I warned you (and maybe you can better explain the MacGuffin to me).

RGP Goodness

In spite of what I thought about the film’s execution, there is still quite a lot of role playing ideas to take away from War of the Dead (which shouldn’t be surprising as that’s one of the points of the It Came From… series).
One of the elements of the film’s plot (don’t worry it’s not really a spoiler since it takes place in the first ten minutes) that I think adapts very well to rpg games is how War of the Dead introduces zombies into the action.  The main characters are already involved in a war, when suddenly something supernatural shows up and becomes the real focus of the plot.  This format works great for introducing ‘normal’ PCs to elements of weirdness in games like Call of Cthulhu, D20 Modern, Beyond the Supernatural and Nightbane.  The best part is (if anything good can be said of war), that there’s always a war going on somewhere, so no matter what time period your game is set in, you still have a memorable and smooth way to start the campaign.  I can vividly picture a game that takes place in modern day Afghanistan, where the PCs are a small squad of U.N. soldiers (which gives a lot of PC flexibility as it can include non-military characters like journalists and civilian engineers) fighting insurgents in the mountains when suddenly the zombies/aliens/chthonians show up and everything goes to hell.
You can also use this approach in fantasy rpgs, but since most fantasy settings have supernatural elements as de rigueur, it takes something special for the weirdness to have an impact.  If you wanted to do some genre bending and add some sci-fi into your campaign this could work (the mechanical invasion of the sheen from the pages of 2e era Dragon and the Tales of the Comet boxed set come to mind).  I can imagine starting a campaign with a re-creation of the battle of Emridy Meadows (a historical battle site in the Temple of Elemental Evil module in the Greyhawk setting) and having a massive alien spacecraft crash smack in the middle and start spewing out killer robots that annihilate friend and foe alike.
For all my ‘punching zombie’ hating, the interesting thing about the film’s undead is that they retained enough of their former lives that soldiers turned into zombies were more of a threat than your average villager turned shambler.  In game terms, that’s a great example of the application of a monster template, which I think is a far better way to simulate a PC’s transformation into a zombie than simply replacing the character with a generic ‘undead spawn’.  The new monster will have familiar powers, which really drives home the disturbing nature of fighting a former ally.  To that end I present the Romero zombie template (even though the zombies in War of the Dead were fast zombies) for Gamma World (though it works just fine with 4e D&D too).
For a more generic zombie for the PCs to fight (and get bitten by) check out the Romero zombie in my review of Exit Humanity.  For the details of the zed virus that can turn a PC into a zombie see my review of Deadheads.

Romero Zombie Template

Adding Templates to Monsters in Gamma World

A template is a guideline for transforming one creature into another.  This can be used to simulate a creature’s actual physical transformation (such as being turned into a zombie or a cyborg), or to represent a tougher variant of the base monster (such as the chieftain of a badder tribe or the mother of all soul beshes).
A template lists changes to a monster’s statistics and grants it some new powers and abilities.  In general, if a template does not alter a certain statistic, that entry does not appear on the list.  A template’s listed hit points are added to (and do not replace) the base creature’s hit points.
Each template lists any prerequisites for adding it to a monster.  The modified monster retains all its normal powers and abilities except those that overlap or conflict with those bestowed by the template.
Since a template adds powers rather than substitute them, the new monster is more powerful and is considered an elite opponent worth twice as much experience as the base creature.

Romero Zombie

“She’s not your mother anymore”

Apply this template to a monster or PC that succumbs to the zed virus.  These creatures rise from the dead as animalistic, barely sentient, shadows of their former selves.  Although the zed virus reanimates enough of the brain to preserve the base creature’s attack powers, all the creature’s goals and personality are subsumed by the desire to consume flesh and spread the virus.  Romero zombies rely on their bite attack, but will use other powers in the pursuit of food, especially if they immobilize or move their prey into melee range.
“Romero zombie” is a template you can add to any humanoid creature.  Optionally, the zed virus can also affect animals and beasts.  Rumors persist that the zed virus affects creatures with the extradimensional and extraterrestrial origin in bizarre and unpredictable ways.
Although this template alters a creature’s ability scores, don’t recalculate the Romero zombie’s defenses, initiative or attack bonuses.
Prerequisite: Humanoid

It Came from Toronto After Dark: Deadheads

December 2, 2011

These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different.  As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival.  So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen.  The second difference is that these are going to be short.  I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.


Deadheads mashes together the unlikely genres of zombie, comedy, and road-trip movies to tell the story of Mike and Brent, two strangers that awake one day to find that they have become sentient zombies in the middle of a mindless zombie outbreak.
The two team up and set out on a cross country trek to find Mike’s girlfriend and carry out the marriage proposal he was planning before he died.  Along the way the duo tries to cope with undead life and is pursued relentlessly by the shadowy organization that created them.

The Zom-Com With Heart

Toronto After Dark kicked off ‘zombie appreciation night’ (discounted tickets were available for those in costume – a great bit of cross promotion with the Toronto Zombie Walk) with Deadheads.  The preview I had seen was pretty funny, but I was wary, as comedy is one of those things that can easily land way off the mark.  Co-writer and director Brett Pierce was in attendance and introduced the film as a ‘zombie movie with a lot of heart’, and after seeing it, I have to agree.
There’s so much to like about Deadheads that it makes me want to overlook the film’s rougher patches, which, if you ask me, is the hallmark of something special.  The low budget meant that some of the effects weren’t that great (I’m thinking of the digital fire in particular), but the zombie make-up was excellent (a sign that the Pierce brothers knew what was important to spend their limited budget on).  Similarly, there were a few slow moments in the middle of the film, but there are enough laughs in the intro and finale to make up for it.
The immediate comparison will be with Shaun of the Dead, which is appropriate since Deadheads works for many of the same reasons its predecessor does (it even uses a similar font for its movie poster).  Both films make excellent use of their romantic comedy trappings, poke fun at sometimes ridiculous horror conventions, and feature a hero who must find direction and evolve beyond a life as a directionless loser in the catalyst of an apocalyptic crisis (that last one carries a lot of traction with guys like me).
But what sets Deadheads apart is what it does differently.  With the protagonists being zombies instead of fighting them, it’s sort of an inverse version of Shaun of the Dead (and if Romero-esque zombies are code for our consumerist society, finding a way to exist as a conscious zombie might ultimately be a more hopeful message).  Also, while Shaun slips its romantic comedy into a survival horror plot, Deadheads uses the road trip movie as its primary plot device… which got me thinking about another Simon Pegg film, Paul.
Now Paul isn’t very good, but its shortcomings highlight what made me like Deadheads so much, and nothing demonstrates the difference between these movies more than a comparison of their respective sidekicks.  While the self-titled alien of Paul is hard to look at, irritating and lacks any emotional depth (I’m being a little strong here, but I’m, trying to make a point), Cheese in Deadheads (a regular zombie Mike and Brent bring along in an attempt to train him to stop eating people) instantly connects with the audience with nothing more than a few grunts and facial expressions and has you rooting for the monster from the moment he appears on the screen.  Seriously, if a film is able to make me care about the well-being of a mindless flesh eating zombie it’s doing something right.
Deadheads is recommended, and is a must-see for fans of Shaun of the Dead.  It isn’t highbrow stuff, but it isn’t supposed to be, and it accomplishes what a good romantic comedy should – it gives the audience what they want and leaves them feeling uplifted.

RPG Goodness

The inversion between protagonist and monster that Deadheads plays with is not new territory for role-players.  From early in D&D’s history, players have wanted to use nonstandard races and monsters as PCs (a style of play fully embraced by D&D 3.5’s Monster Manual).  It could be that rpgs in general attract people that are a little on the margins themselves, who identify more with the monsters of film and literature than with the heroes.  Or it could be that monster PCs just look cool and get a bunch of neat powers to play with.  I don’t exclude myself from these observations, as my long running Minotaur gladiator (from 2e D&D) and piano playing vampire (from Rifts) can attest to.
Deadheads is a great example for role-players of the friction between living as a monster and dealing with everyday problems.  Deadheads plays this for laughs, and truth be told that’s how these difficulties will probably manifest on most tabletops with monstrous PCs – that is when the party isn’t running from a disgruntled militia or a bunch of angry peasants with torches and pitchforks.
In spite of the popularity of monstrous PCs, the transformation into an NPC monster via infection (through lycanthropy or level drain for example) is still something every player avoids like the plague (zombie plague anyone?).  I think the real in-game horror of such transformations has nothing to do with who is a monster and who isn’t, and everything to do with loss of control and agency in the game world.  In that spirit I present disease rules modified from 4e for the Gamma World game and the Zed virus (also compatible for D&D games).  For the carrier of this plague, the Romero zombie, see my review of Exit Humanity.

The Zed Virus

Disease in Gamma Terra

The laboratories of the ancients are a breeding ground for a cornucopia of genetically engineered super viruses, every bit as dangerous as the radiation and mutant horrors of the wastes.
When a creature is exposed to a disease – whether through a spray bottle of weaponized anthrax or the bite of an infected zombie – they risk contracting the disease.  The transmission and effects of a disease follow three steps: exposure, infection and progression.


A creature that is exposed to a disease risks contracting it.  A creature is typically exposed to a disease through a monster attack (such as the bite of a Romero zombie), or environmental exposure (such as an ancient CDC lab).  Unless the disease inducing attack or environmental description states otherwise, an exposed creature makes a saving throw at the end of the encounter to determine if exposure leads to infection.  If the saving throw fails, the creature is infected.
If a creature is exposed to the same disease multiple times in the same encounter, it makes a single saving throw at the end of the encounter to determine if the exposure leads to infection.


Each disease has stages of increasing severity along a track.  The effect that exposes a creature to a disease specifies the stage of the disease that applies when a creature is infected (if no stage is specified start with the initial stage).  As soon as a creature contracts the disease, the creature is subjected to that stage’s effects.
Unless the disease is removed from the creature (through an origin power or Omega Tech), the disease might progress at the end of the creature’s next extended rest.


Until the disease ends, unless the description states otherwise, the creature must make a Fortitude check at the end of each extended rest to determine if the disease’s stage changes or stays the same.  To make a Fortitude check, roll 1d20 and add your Fortitude score minus 10.  A disease typically specifies two DCs.  A check result that equals or exceeds the higher DC means the disease is getting better (and moves 1 stage left on the track).  If the check result equals the lower DC, or is between the two numbers, the disease remains at its current stage.  A lower check result means the disease is getting worse (and moves 1 stage right on the track).
An ally can attempt to care for a diseased patient (using ancient pharmaceuticals, alien nano-tech and whatever else they can scrounge together), substituting their own Science check in place of the patient’s Fortitude check.
When a creature reaches a new stage of the disease, it is subject to the effects of that stage right away.  Unless the description states otherwise, the effects of the new stage replace the effects of the old one.
When a creature reaches the final stage of the disease, it stops making checks against the disease.  The effects of the final stage are permanent, although a cure might be found in an ancient computer databank, a crashed alien mothership, or growing in one of the seedpods of the sentient mega plant Columbia.


First I have to give props to Erik Fry, whose blog Dear God What Have We Wrought?! got me thinking about the mechanics of a zombie plague in Gamma World.  I went in quite a different direction than he did, but it’s worth checking out if you want a ‘second opinion’ (does this thing look infected?).
While combing through the Gamma World books for mention of disease, I noticed that a few of the character origins (Plaguebearer and Reanimated) have immunity to disease as a character trait.  Either designers Richard Baker and Bruce Cordell assumed Gamma World referees would hack the 4e disease rules, or the expansions Famine in Fargo and Legion of Gold were originally intended to have rules for disease.  Either way, it makes it a lot easier to introduce disease into the game since the designers already paved the way by giving it consideration.

It Came from Toronto After Dark: Exit Humanity

October 25, 2011

These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different.  As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival.  So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen.  The second difference is that these are going to be short.  I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.

Exit Humanity

The first of several zombie films in the festival, Exit Humanity follows the trials of Civil War veteran Edward Young as he deals with a horrifying zombie outbreak that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.  The movie is framed as the chronicle of Edward’s Journal, the action interspersed with narration and small animated vignettes.

Slow Burn, Character Driven, Horror

With all the zombie action at After Dark this year, Exit Humanity was the movie I expected the least from, and I was very pleasantly proven wrong.  I wasn’t sure how the animated segments would mesh with the rest of the picture and I was worried it would ruin the immersion.  It didn’t.  In fact, combined with the excellent, gravelly voice over of Brian Cox narrating, the journal sequences really helped to pull the movie together and keep it moving forward.
The most surprising element of the film though, was the lead, newcomer Mark Gibson.  Genre movies and zombie movies in particular, are not exactly known for their displays of acting talent, so a zombie film that’s a character driven narrative with a slow emotional build seems doomed to failure from the start, but Gibson carries the weight.  Yes there are a few Anakin-shout-at-the-heavens moments, but Gibson honestly delivers a depth of emotion almost unseen in movies of this budget.
The score was also excellent.  Creepy, slow banjos transport you to the period and are absolutely perfect for the lonely tracts of wilderness, devoid of human life, where the story takes place.
For all my praise, I do think Exit Humanity was longer than it should have been.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the time it took on screen for the characters to develop their relationships (it lent the events more emotional weight), but there were parts that really dragged.  There is action and excitement, but if you’re looking for a high-octane, zombie splatter fest, this is not it.
Exit Humanity is recommended, especially for fans of character driven horror, like The Walking Dead (the ties to this series are even more direct – the zombies in the film are even called ‘walking dead’), or for fans of Westerns (plenty of zombie and six-shooter action).  In fact the film is a great gateway for fans of one genre to test the other.  I can see an awesome viewing party where Exit Humanity is presented between The Walking Dead and the recent remake of True Grit.

RPG Goodness

If you play or are interested in the Deadlands rpg, then Exit Humanity is practically required viewing.  It’s not a perfect match, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better film to get new players in the mood for the setting.
Without giving away any spoilers, Exit Humanity, like many zombie movies, focuses on the mechanics of the infection and transmission of the zombie plague as a plot point.  In spite of 4e D&D’s embrace of some elements of Romero style zombies (the ‘shot to the head’ in the form of the zombie weakness trait), the game has yet to introduce a zombie with a plague spreading bite (there are some good 3e examples – my favourite is from the 3e Dark Sun adventure in Dungeon magazine 110).  To correct this, I present the Romero zombie (in Gamma World format, since that’s what I’m playing lately).
The description of the zed virus and Romero zombie template isn’t missing (well, not by accident), it will just have to wait until later in the week.  There are at least two more zombie films in the festival and I need to save some crunchy material for them.

Romero Zombie

“Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them.  It gets up and kills!  The people it kills get up and kill!”

Named after the creator of a series of documentary videos scavenged from the cities of the ancients that chronicle first-hand accounts of the monsters’ attacks, Romero zombies are carriers of the highly virulent zed virus that wiped out their own worldline.  Ironically, it is the predations of killer robots, malevolent extraterrestrials, mutant plants and radioactive monsters from other apocalyptic worldlines that keeps the virus from overwhelming this reality.

It Came from Toronto After Dark: Monster Brawl

October 22, 2011

These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different.  As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival.  So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen.  The second difference is that these are going to be short.  I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.

I had planned to post a Monsters of the Hyborian Age article before doing another It Came from the DVR, but as is usual, life got in the way and I ran out of time before Toronto After Dark crept up on me.  I’m working on Queen of the Black Coast, easily one of the best written Conan tales, and I want to do it justice.

Monster Brawl

Can there be a better pairing than Ménage à Monster and a festival that opens with a movie called Monster Brawl?  The plot is simple.  A lonely wrestling ring, set up in the middle of an abandoned hilltop cemetery, is host to the world’s first pay-per-view monster brawl; an extravaganza that brings together monsters from across the globe to fight one another in no-holds barred death matches in the name of glory and entertainment (complete with WWF style smack talk between the matches).
The matches are divided into two conferences, the undead (featuring the Mummy, Lady Vampire, Zombie Man, and Frankenstein) and the creatures (featuring Cyclops, Witch Bitch, Swamp Gut, and Werewolf), with the heavyweight champion of each conference facing off in a final match for the title belt.

An Unabashed, Fun B-Movie

Monster Brawl isn’t for everyone, but I have a feeling that if you’re reading this blog then it might just be for you.  It embraces its b-movie nature and runs with it, not wasting anyone’s time with a lot of exposition explaining why the monster brawl is taking place or adding some kind of narrative that pushes the viewer into rooting for one monster over another (they are all given fairly equal screen time – though the Mummy, Frankenstein and Swamp Gut were clear crowd favorites at the festival).  Director Jesse Cook knows exactly who his audience is, classic monster lovers who’ve ever wondered if a zombie or the gill-man would win in a fight, and he delivers.
Like many of us who grew up in the eighties, I was a huge wrestling fan, so it was nice to see Jimmy ‘the mouth of the south’ Hart (who was at the screening and absolutely hilarious in person) in the picture.  Monster Brawl manages to capture the feel of those old WWF days, before wrestling began to take itself too seriously, by using larger than life (if 2 dimensional) characters, plenty of humor, and over the top action.
There’s also more than a little bit of Darkstalkers in the DNA of this movie.  Not only is the set-up similar to the popular series of fighting games, Lance Henrikson’s disembodied voice provides videogame-esque commentary throughout the matches (“magnificent combo!”) – I half expected to hear him shout “finish him!”  – but I guess that would have caused some problems with the Mortal Combat people.
The makeup and effects were decent, which is surprising considering the film’s budget, with really only the Cyclops’ big unblinking eye looking a little crap.  Still, I’ll take imperfect practical effects and traditional makeup over the kind of on the cheap CGI that other low budget studios spit out any day of the week (I’m looking at you Asylum Megashark vs. Crocasaurus was unwatchable).
In order to keep costs low, Director Jesse Cook edited Monster Brawl himself, but the editing could have been tighter, especially in the first half of the film, where the shots seemed to hang on for a few seconds longer than they should have.  It might not annoy others like it annoyed me, but I’m a firm believer that editing is one of those things you should never notice in a movie when it’s done right.
I was also a little disappointed that the monsters displayed fewer supernatural powers than I expected.  It would have been great to see the witch cast a spell or the vampire summon a swarm of bats.  Again, I suspect it was budgetary concerns that kept that kind of thing to a minimum, but it makes you wonder why the filmmakers included a witch among the monster lineup in the first place.
Ultimately, Monster Brawl is best enjoyed in a party atmosphere, with lots of cheering and jeering, just like a live wrestling match.  The Toronto audience was great (we Torontonians have a reputation for being a high energy, engaged audience at things like After Dark and the TIFF’s Midnight Madness screenings), but I worry the film would lose a lot of its fun if viewed at home alone.
Monster Brawl is recommended, especially if you can rustle up some friends and beer to enjoy it with.

RPG Goodness

Most DMs in a D&D campaign might balk at adding in such a recognizable ‘named’ monster as Frankenstein into their game (even though everyone knows Adam and Strahd from the Ravenloft setting are Dracula and Frankenstein).  However, on Gamma Terra I think that a fight against Frankenstein’s monster would make a great encounter – especially if the GM wanted to incorporate themes from Frankenstein Unbound (and since the whole reality collapsing in on itself is what happened in Gamma World it’s entirely appropriate).  Here are the Gamma World stats for your very own monster brawl (created by modifying the stat block for the flesh golem).

Frankenstein’s Monster

“Yes, if you want to be a jerk about it, it’s technically just called ‘the monster’.  Try telling that to it when you’re being pounded into the ground like a tent peg.”

In countless world-lines crazed scientists searching for the secrets of life have created, re-created, and re-animated this misunderstood homicidal construct.  In return, it protects the one who breathed life into its collection of parts, whom it affectionately calls father (regardless of the individual’s actual gender).  Some believe the monster kills so its ‘father’ can use the raw material to construct it a bride.  Whether or not such abominations could create offspring is a question best left unspoken.

It Came From the DVR: Vampires vs. Zombies

October 9, 2011

When I was younger, I used to love nothing more than staying up all night in the cathode ray glow of the television with a bottle of caffeinated beverage by my side, watching such late night fare as Incredible Hulk reruns, badly dubbed kung fu flicks, and rubber suited monster movies.  They were hardly Shakespeare, but I’ve found inspiration for writing and gaming in even the darkest dregs of cable television (not everything is redeemable – Charles in Charge comes to mind).
Now that I’m older and (slightly) more responsible, my DVR stays up all night for me, recording a smorgasbord of visual junk food.  In this series, I boil that junk down and extract the interesting bits – campaign ideas, adventure locales, encounter set pieces, and of course, monsters.
Spoiler Alert! Yes, spoilers are going to abound.  When dissecting a movie or television show to find the hidden awesomeness, you’re bound to reveal things about the plot.

Deadliest Warrior

I am a big fan of Deadliest Warrior.  Each episode they use a computer simulation to pit two of history’s greatest warriors against one another, collecting data about weapons, armour and fighting techniques along the way.  Yes it’s cheesy, it’s arbitrary and the Americans always win (which is even easier to ensure this season, with the addition of highly subjective ‘x-factors’ to the criteria), but I am a sucker for any show with gratuitous slow motion shots of pig carcasses and ballistics gel torsos being hacked to pieces (I also love Mythbusters).  Plus, the trash talk between experts is hilarious.
From a gamer’s perspective, it’s a little like watching Gygax’s fetish for arms and armour come to life, albeit with a few less pole arms.  After spending years with some of these weapons on paper, it’s nice to see them in action.  Of course, if you’re reading this blog, the odds are you’ve already seen the show.  There’s a lot of overlap in the Venn diagram describing people who are gamers and people who wonder if a ninja would win in a fight with a pirate.  And if you haven’t seen the show yet, it’s definitely worth checking out for that alone – but I want to talk about the finale.

Vampires vs. Zombies

Now, normally the show deals with real historical figures and martial traditions, but for the season three finale the producers decided to take a sidestep into folklore and pit two iconic undead monsters against one another (depicted here in a mash-up of Clyde Caldwell’s cover of Ravenloft and Jeff Easley’s cover for The Magister).  To give their professional opinion and help with the testing, Steve Niles (author of 30 Days of Night, representing the vampires), and Max Brooks (author of World War Z, representing the zombies) were brought in as experts.  As would be expected, both by the type of tests they run on the show, and by the version of the undead presented in both Niles and Brooks’ work, the show assumed biological versions of vampires and zombies instead of supernatural ones (so no flying or transmutation for the vamps, and no magically animated body parts attacking on their own for the zombies).
The episode was a lot of fun, and even more gruesome than usual.  I heartily approve of using dog and crocodile bites as analogs for the impact of zombie and vampire bites.  Once the data was collected, Deadliest Warrior moved on to the real highlight – a hydraulically powered biting machine they used to chew apart a couple of ballistics gel torsos made up to look like a vampire and a zombie to measure the damage the monsters could inflict on one another.  The vampire stand-in even had a pumping jugular so they could time how long it would take the creature to bleed out if a zombie got a lucky hit (like I said, they went for the more biological version of the vampire – so they needed blood to survive).  I also have to congratulate Max Brooks for taking the smack talk to a whole different level.  I easily could have watched a half hour of him bad mouthing vampires and it still would have been entertaining (but then I would have missed out on the biting machine, which would have been a crime).
Not surprisingly, even with the advantage of overwhelming numbers on their side, the zombies lost.  Which, as big a fan of zombies as I am, is at it should be.  Zombies are mindless, and really only have one strategy, while vampires are at least as smart as mortal humans.  They also had the vampires fighting with their teeth and claws, when they could have easily used any of the human weapons featured on the show from the past three seasons.  Zombie movies are great, and I think they make a better metaphor for our consumer capitalist society than vampires do, but in an actual fight – vampires win.  But really, why would vampires and zombies fight at all?  Wouldn’t vampires simply avoid an approaching zombie horde since they don’t have anything to gain by destroying them?
My partner and I usually like to bet on Deadliest Warrior, and in our ‘post-game’ debate these questions came up, which got me thinking (yes we will argue with each other about anything, which should be obvious by how seriously I am taking such a ridiculous show).  In combat it’s true that vampires would mop the floor with zombies (as the dramatized portion of the show demonstrated), but when two predators compete with one another in an environment, that’s rarely the factor that determines survival.  If it were, the world would be swarming with smilodons and megalodons.  Predators compete with one another by stealing the other’s food source.
The problem for vampires is this: both vampires and zombies have the potential to infect others and create spawn, but vampire spawn compete for food (living blood) with their creators so it’s not in the vampires’ best interest to create too many, while zombies just keep making more zombies (since they are mindless and exist only to spread their virus anyway).  So while vampires may win the proverbial battle, they will most likely lose the war, as the zombie plague spreads like wildfire amongst their food supply and the vampires are left to die of starvation on a dead planet filled with wandering corpses.  It would also put vampires in the strange position of having to risk their ‘lives’ to shield humanity …  a scenario rife with possibilities for role playing games.

The Planet of the Dead Campaign

This campaign works best with any post-apocalyptic rpg: Rifts, Gamma World (Gamma Rifts even!), D20 Apocalypse, Mutant Future… but it could also easily work with D&D (especially if you wanted to use the world ending arrival of Atropus from Elder Evils), or even a dark take on Mutants and Masterminds (think Marvel Zombies and the Midnight Sons).  Hell, you could probably even use something like Palladium’s Invid Invasion for the Robotech rpg (imagine riding a red and black, vampire built cyclone through the wastelands, fighting giant, gestalt mega-undead formed from the lashed together bodies of hundreds of zombies).
Here is a breakdown of the campaign arc such a game might take.


This short adventure makes a great prequel to the campaign and sets up both the relationships of the PCs as well as setting the tone for adventures to come.
Hours before the global outbreak of the ‘zed virus’, the characters are investigating a series of murders on their home turf.  The victims have been drained of blood and suffered horrible neck injuries (which should raise a lot of flags amongst the players).  As the deceased are all from vulnerable populations (homeless and sex trade workers), the authorities (police, city watch, etc.) have shown little interest in finding the perpetrator, so it falls to the PC’s to get to the bottom of things (perhaps they were even contacted/hired by the family of one of the victims).
The reality is that a powerful clan of vampires, known as ‘the family’ is using their influence to cover for the indiscretions of one of their more reckless members (you can’t do an end of the world game without at least one nod to The Omega Man).  The family is important in the campaign, but doesn’t appear again until the late stages of the game.
The PCs can follow the clues left by the careless vampire to an old tenement building it has been using as a lair (its behaviour has estranged it from the rest of its brethren), but the clock is ticking.  Outside, the zed virus is spreading faster than in can be contained, and a shambling horde of the undead is headed the PCs’ way.  The vampire seems like the least of the party’s worries when the zombies show up.
An interesting climax to the adventure could be an encounter that transforms from and invasion of the vampire’s lair to a defense of it (perhaps making a temporary truce with the vampire, or maybe a gory three way battle).


Fast forward six months (or a year) and the world has not fared well.  Society has crumbled, the government no longer exists, and the organized war against the zombies has been lost.  The battle for survival begins.
The PCs can be wandering nomads, foraging for equipment and supplies, or they can be holed up behind makeshift barricades, venturing out on short treks for food and medicine.  This kind of format makes this portion of the campaign perfect for short, goal-oriented adventures (find food, rescue loved ones, etc.), that emphasize the demoralizing hellscape of the post zombie apocalypse.
Dangers abound, not just from zombies, but from other more predatory survivors, the environment and starvation.  Encounters with zombies should be varied – the Resident Evil series of games did a great job of making a wide range of monsters to fight by having the t-virus constantly mutating and infecting different animals in different ways (and if the game system already has all kinds of strange creatures you can really go to town when introducing the zed virus).
Getting an infectious zombie bite should always be a threat, but in an rpg it can’t be as virulent as it is in the movies (unless you’re running a Call of Cthulhu game I guess).  Players generally expect a higher degree of survivability for their characters than you get in the average horror movie.  If you need an in-game reason the PCs get a saving throw, or (if you are using a 4e-style disease) can get better from the virus, perhaps they already have some in-built resistance to the plague that the average person doesn’t benefit from (in a fantasy campaign maybe they have been blessed by the gods, or drank water from a magical fountain).
Pepper these short adventures with rumours of a zombie-free colony of survivors that’s been founded some distance from town (however far it needs to be to make the travel dangerous and memorable).   The worse things get where the characters are, the more likely they are to take the hook (and if they were already nomads, getting to this sanctuary may have been their goal all along).


Hungry and ragged from the journey, the PCs arrive at the colony, a self-contained complex of hi-tech buildings, complete with armoured greenhouses and its own nuclear power plant (or an impenetrable, walled city with its own self-contained vineyards and orchards in a fantasy game).  Amazingly, the colony is as zombie free as advertised and welcomes the PCs with open arms.  The place is floor to ceiling gleaming white tile and chrome, bright fluorescent lighting, and most importantly, fully equipped with clean, running water (in a fantasy game the colony would be a neo-classical daydream of the Acropolis, filled with white marble and mathematically precise colonnades).  In exchange for residency, given the PCs’ skills, all they need to do is volunteer for the colony’s defense force.
At this point in the game an easy, by the numbers adventure will lull the players into accepting the colony at face value (or not, most rpg players are a pretty suspicious lot – but that’s OK too, the game doesn’t hinge on them being trusting).  Under orders from the defence force, a daytime raid against a group of uninfected bandits, or a simple seek and destroy mission to clear a group of undead from a nearby roadway would be good fits.
Once they have begun to settle into their new life, throw the occasional clue about the colony’s true purpose the party’s way: in spite of the steady trickle of survivors coming in, the colony never seems to run out of room or resources; the PCs have never met or seen any of the people who defend the colony through the night; the colony’s leaders are constantly shifting people from one living area to another – every week it seems the PCs have new roommates and neighbours; there is no crime in the colony, yet the PCs haven’t seen any internal police.  It won’t take much for the PCs to want to investigate further.

The Bloody Truth

Eventually the PCs will use whatever means they have (force, guile or subterfuge), to get to the bottom of who really runs the colony – a group of vampires called the family (possibly including the vampire they fought at the beginning of the campaign, if it escaped), protecting a small pocket of humanity from the zed virus to preserve their food supply.
The PCs might stumble onto direct evidence of the family (using whatever means of vampire detection are suitable to the game and type of vampires it features), or they may break into the core of the family’s secret activities in the colony – a cavernous, refrigerated vault underneath the colony’s reactor that houses a living blood bank.  Hundreds of comatose humans, hooked into a web-like network of intravenous tubes, some providing just enough sustenance to keep these poor souls alive, while the blood they produce is slowly leached away by others (a fantastic image courtesy of the film Daybreakers).
As more and more survivors make their way to the colony, the family adds more bodies to the blood bank, always making sure to keep enough free humans to supply a healthy breeding stock.  Preference is given to those humans with highly trained skills, powerful defenders (like the PCs), and pregnant women.  Criminals, agitators, and dissidents are all prime candidates to be taken to the blood bank.


The endgame of the campaign is completely dependent on the actions of the PCs (which goes without saying for any part of the campaign, but here especially so).  As distasteful as it is, the party might decide to maintain the status quo.  Sacrificing a portion of the population might be deemed a worthwhile price for the vampires’ protection against the zed virus and the continuance of humanity.  The challenge for a party that takes this road is in convincing the family that they will keep the vampires’ secret.  Doubtless the family will arrange for tests of loyalty which might be as dangerous as fighting the vampires themselves (and since the family’s opinion might not be unanimous, this is a great opportunity for high stakes political intrigue and espionage).
Most rpgs are action oriented, and many of the players I know would want to take the other road, overthrow the family and free the enslaved humans.  The challenge here is obvious and could be played out as a climactic Helm’s Deep type battle between the vampires, their minions and whatever freedom fighters the PCs can muster together (you could even throw in an ill-timed zombie attack for good measure), or as a series of guerrilla attacks between the PCs and the vampires (in between which they must once again fare for themselves in the zombie infested wasteland).
There is also the possibility that some PCs will want to side with the family, while others will want to destroy the vampires.  You should definitely be prepared for some inter party conflict here.  Emotions can run high in these situations and it might be a good idea to call a session before the PCs decide what they are going to do (think about the fate of Rorschach in Watchmen – some players might be cool with that, while it could ruin the campaign for others).

Vampires as PCs

Many of the game systems mentioned feature the option of playing as a vampire.  At first glance it might seem a bad idea to include these character options, but they can add an interesting twist to the whole campaign.  The vampire PC might already be a member of the family (and should be prepared for some of the previously mentioned conflict at the end of the campaign), or might be a member of a different group of vampires just as ignorant of the colony as the other PCs (and might be equally horrified by the activities there).  A vampire PC won’t automatically side with the family any more than other PCs will automatically want to fight them.

Random Encounters: The Steading of Cyberworks 7

July 29, 2011

As I promised in my last post, I present my conversion notes for running the Gamma World boxed set’s introductory adventure, Steading of the Iron King, in the world of Rifts. This covers the entire adventure, so the post is a little long.
Spoiler Alert!  If you haven’t played through Steading of the Iron King, and plan to (or if you are one of my players – there’s a ton of spoilers in here about the campaign!) my commentary and walkthrough of the adventure is going to spoil it.  Not that there’s any world shattering secrets in the adventure, but still, spoilers.  You have been warned.


Reading through the adventure when I first picked up the boxed set is one of the things that helped convince me that Gamma World was a suitable rule set for the Rifts setting.  The final encounter with the Iron King immediately brought to mind the cover of the Rifts Sourcebook, with Hagan Lonovich sitting on a cybernetic throne, stroking a bottweiler and wearing A.R.C.H.I.E’s interface helmet.  Also, for the campaign I am running, I wanted the tone to be a little more serious than the ‘stupendico’ installation evoked, and the mixture of insane A.I. and Wizard of Oz that is Cyberworks in Rifts seemed a perfect fit (deadly serious and ridiculous at the same time).
I moved the action to a pre-rifts Cyberworks facility in the tech heavy area of Mississauga, just outside of Toronto, now the magic rich city of Lazlo (as a Torontonian, Lazlo’s prominence in the world of Rifts is one of the features that attracted me to the setting in the first place).  In Rifts canon, A.R.C.H.I.E. 3 and Cyberworks are located underneath the Aberdeen proving ground in the state of Maryland.  I try not to break canon when I use an official setting, but I do like to bend it (there’s nothing wrong with breaking canon, but I find working within it a useful tool to the thought exercise of building a campaign), so in my game, A.R.C.H.I.E. 3 is only the most successful of Cyberworks’ experiments in artificial intelligence.  Scattered across North America are other facilities with less developed A.I.s, including A.R.C.H.I.E. 7 in Mississauga.


Once the players had developed their own backstories, laying out their motivations for joining a mercenary company working for Lazlo (‘the Misfits’ mentioned in the previous post), I used the following vignette to set up the adventure:

Against all odds, for the past two weeks, life has been sweet.  Sitting in you bunker atop the bombed out shell of an old hotel, the most dangerous obstacle you’ve had to face was boredom.  The ruins of the lonely highway, the highway for one, over which you have been keeping watch, has lived up to its name.  Two days ago you even had the fortune of unearthing a pre-rifts mini-bar with its contents intact!  Some of it was even fit to drink.
The recent war between the Coalition and Tolkeen has everyone on edge.  That was the reason the city of Lazlo hired you in the first place.  With more troops than they could spare reinforcing their allies to the west, Lazlo’s generals were concentrating what little strength they had, back behind the city walls.  That meant they needed mercenaries like you to act as scouts and sentries (early warning systems and cannon fodder), along Lazlo’s most accessible entry routes.  But hey, what did you have to complain about?  You haven’t heard a peep out of the Detroit and Windsor rifts, and it sure beat dodging dog packs and Xiticix on your own.
Life has been sweet… until yesterday.  You were deep in contemplation that it probably wasn’t a good idea to drink anything out of a pre-rifts bottle, even if the seal was intact, when the perimeter microwave fence was tripped.  After you pulled your head out of the latrine, you and your team sprang into action.  It turned out to be a decrepit robot, waving its limbs threateningly and trying to speak with a busted, crackling loudspeaker.  Then, without warning, it caught fire and exploded.  Odd, but considering what was walking around the wastelands of North America, not completely out of the ordinary.
Then the same thing happened today.  Only this time the robot managed to fire off a small missile into the building next door before it expired.   It also gave you a message: “Run program 1!  All enemies of the Iron King must be destroyed!”  It was a small sample size, but you didn’t like the pattern that was developing.  It was time to earn your pay.

Note: Anyone not from southern Ontario probably isn’t going to get the ‘highway for one’ play on words.

The Real Story

The Iron King (his assumed name) and his cronies were once a part of the Bloody Cavaliers, a gang of bandits raiding the area between Lazlo, Iron Heart and Free Quebec.  They were sent to the Cyberworks facility by Captain ‘cross-eyes’ Zora, the gang’s infamous leader (nicknamed for her habit of putting iron spikes through the eyes of those foolish enough to stare at her disfigurement), to use Cyberworks’ robot stockpile to create a diversion and distract Lazlo’s defenders.
Instead, the Iron King found A.R.C.H.I.E. 7’s cybernetic control helm and began tinkering with one of Cyberworks’ failed experiments.  Unlike the fully sentient A.R.C.H.I.E. 3, this machine intelligence can only communicate empathically and is vaguely self-aware.  Mastering control of the facility’s manufacturing capabilities is a long process of trial and error, and unfortunately for the Iron King, exposes the human mind to dangerous levels of psychic feedback.  It wasn’t long before such mental damage caused the Iron King to descend into all absorbing megalomania.  Cutting off communication with Captain Zora and the rest of the Bloody Cavaliers, the Iron King has taken the first small steps to creating his own robotic fiefdom.
Clues that the adventurers find here might put them on the trail of the Bloody Cavaliers, which is good, since Captain Zora has been busy in Lazlo…

The Handouts

Click on the picture below to download the 2 page PDF.  I apologize for the general monochromatic tone; I have a black and white printer, so I make most of my play aids in grayscale.
If you’ve ever played Portal 2, you’ll notice I cribbed most of Cyberworks’ warning signs from that game.  I’ve never actually played the game myself (or its precursor), but I found Aperture Laboratories’ signs while Googling ‘insane A.I.’ and I thought they were hilarious.


Encounter S1: Tower Defense

The old trail you discovered while backtracking the robots’ trail skirts a glowing crater.  It ends at the base of an ancient, sunken, office tower, where wastelanders carrying crossbows stand watch, supported by porcine humanoids carrying flails.

For the adventure, I re-skinned the badder steading guards as wasteland vagabonds, which I described as looking like central casting punks out of The Road Warrior (which worked nicely since the armour, weapons, and powers fit perfectly).  The porkers I kept as is, but described as looking like the gamorrean guards from Return of the Jedi.

Encounter S2: Tower Interior

Two interior cornices have been converted to guard platforms, where wastelanders wait with crossbows.  In the far corner an aerie is heaped with bones and carrion, the roost for a dragon-like creature with iridescent yellow scales.  An old carpet, embroidered with runes lies on the floor near the doors.

For this encounter, I made the planter of grab grass into a magically sticky carpet of adhesion, with the same effects.  I re-skinned the yexil as a winged dragonsaurus (from the Atlantis book), with the power of acidic spittle, instead of laser eyes (does acid instead of laser damage, but is otherwise the same).
The wastelanders’ barracks room is an old ‘executive quiet room’ complete with scavenged pre-rifts ergonomic cots.

Encounter S3: Warren Entry

A pair of wastelanders are taking cover behind a boardroom table, pushed on its side at the bottom of the stairs.  Strange, dust covered statues line the corridor, depicting what looks like an android holding the Cyberworks logo triumphantly in the air.

I re-skinned the badder slave drivers as momma’s boys – wastelanders with pop can sized M.O.M. implants sticking out of their skulls wielding crowbars.  I exchanged their flails for crowbars and renamed crippling fail as leg breaker (with the same effect).  Fear wave and control pain work fine as is, psychic powers granted by the implants.
Since the human slaves in the cage are effectively brain-dead, I made the destruction of the machine (the AR-06 Psychotron) end their lives and put them out of their misery.  It was a little too early in the game for the kind of moral quandary that rescuing vegetative captives presents.  Other GMs may feel differently.

Encounter S4: Moth Infestation

The chamber is dimly lit by patches of blue moss that glow with the same radiance as a ley line.  An earthen ramp spirals down into an enormous pit in the center of the cavern.  Scattered amidst the luxurious clumps of moss are half a dozen humanoid skeletons.

I kept the black blaashes as they were, since radiation shooting, giant moths are perfect for Gamma World and Rifts.  I know that radiation was the theme tying the two monsters together, but the blood birds weren’t insectoid enough for me to be teamed up with the blaashes, so I re-skinned them as radioactive stirges (from D&D, not Rifts).  All that was needed was to rename radioactive plumage to radioactive aura and beak to proboscis (no mechanical changes).
Since this is an encounter with lurkers and artillery, instead of having the monsters flying around in the open when the encounter began, as in the original text, I had them hiding in the cover of the deep moss, waiting to ambush anything that entered the chamber  (such as adventurers lured in to investigate the skeletons).
I also wanted to add a bit more exploration to the session and mitigate the feeling of ‘next room, next combat’ that this adventure is prone to, so when my players decided to scout the chamber’s adjoining tunnels I added the following encounters in.

The walls of the first cave are festooned with strange leathery sacks, stuck to the stone with some kind of secreted resin.

A moderate (DC 13) Nature check reveals the sacks to be blaash egg cases (as well as the danger of destroying them).  Like their parents, destroying a blaash egg sack releases an explosion of radioactive goo (close burst 1, +6 vs. Fortitude, 1d6+3 radiation damage).  Note: I use Nature for monster knowledge checks about creatures with the terrestrial origin, Science for the extraterrestrial origin, and Arcana for the extradimensional origin.

The secondary tunnel twists back and forth for about 40 ft. and then stops at a dead end.  There is a small tracked robot here, similar in design to the one whose trail led the party to this base, trapped in the corner, grinding away its motor in an effort to get out.  Judging by the rut in the ground it’s created, you think it’s been here for a few days at least.

Stuck in a failed program, the robot is oblivious to anything the party does, but its volatile construction makes tampering with the machine potentially dangerous.  I made this encounter a complexity 1 skill challenge (4 successes before 3 failures), that begins with an easy (DC 9) Mechanics check (opening up the control panel on the robot without damaging it), and ends with a hard (DC 17) Science check (reprogramming the robot to obey the party instead of the Iron King).  In between are moderate (DC 13) skill checks that reflect the idea of repairing, reprogramming, and using Kirk-esque cajoling to get the robot to do what the players want (my players used Mechanics, Science, and Interaction respectively).
Success at the skill challenge means the party has reprogrammed the robot and can use it in combat (the robot has 1 Hit Point, a movement of 3, 13 in all defenses; as a standard action an ally can command it to fire its missile which destroys the robot and has the following attack: burst 1 in 10, +7 vs. Reflex, 2d6+7 fire and physical damage, half-damage on a miss).
Failure means that the party has accidentally triggered the robot’s missile, destroying it and damaging themselves (close burst 1, +7 vs. Reflex, 2d6+7 fire and physical damage, half-damage on a miss).
Outside of combat characters can try and get information from the robot with hard (DC 17) skill checks (I allowed a hard Science check to access the robots memory files, which gave the party a glimpse of the map as well as an image recognition file for the Iron King).

S5: Cyberworks Factory Exterior
This encounter is appropriate for Rifts without modification.

S6:  Cyberworks Showroom

Light panels on the ceiling flicker intermittently, casting sinister shadows in this stunningly clean chamber of steel and ceramic.  Strange machines, labelled AR-72 action inverters, hum and blink in the center of the room.  Alcoves line some of the walls, proudly displaying their wares – a veritable legion of robots in various states of decay.  The sounds of hydraulic lifts whoosh form adjoining chambers.

The only changes I made to this encounter was to re-skin the soldierbots as A-63 all-purpose heavy bots, with no changes to their powers (the robots seen flanking the throne on the cover of the Rifts Sourcebook, sans rifles).

S7:  Cyberworks Restricted Area

Except for a space near the doors, the floor here slopes toward a central trench that is filled, floor to ceiling, with flickering beams of red light.  A pair of partial conversion ‘borgs stand on the other side, flanked by two tracked robots that look like the perfected versions of the machine that attacked your bunker at the hotel.  Near them is a panel of flickering lights.

I re-skinned the hoop sharpshooters as wasteland head-hunters, armed with JA-11 sniper rifles.  I renamed axe hack as bionic wrist claws, and hop as bionic leap (no mechanical change to either).  Since I wanted the rocketbots to fit thematically with the opening of the adventure and the robot found in area S4, I got rid of their fly speed, upped their land speed to 5 and gave them the treaded trait (rocketbots ignore difficult terrain).

S8:  Cyberworks Factory Floor

A huge mechanized arm hangs from the 30-foot-high ceiling.  Machines and dynamos hum along the chamber’s periphery.  Two massive vats swirl with scintillating colors; the fluid appears to move on its own.  On a 10-foot-high platform at the rear of the room stands a full conversion cyborg with a crazed look in his eyes, wearing a large, almost spherical helmet, connected to the machines by endlessly coiling spools of wires.  Standing between you and the ‘borg are a pair of robotic hounds and two scowling juicers.  One of the juicers has decorated her light plate armour with the cartoon logo of a bear, the other with the cartoon logo of a frog.

I re-skinned the laserbots as bottweilers (they shoot their lasers from a concealed cannon in their mouths), got rid of their fly speed, increased their land speed to 6, and replaced electrojolt with bite (physical instead of electricity damage).  I re-skinned the hoop warriors as the sugar twins, a pair of deadly juicers wielding vibro-swords, replaced axe slash with vibro slash, big hop with steroid jump, and transmuting touch with sundering strike (no mechanical changes to any of the powers).  The Iron King kept his name but I re-skinned him as a full conversion cyborg, added the robot keyword, and replaced katana with bionic wrist claws (no mechanical change).
Once the battle is over, characters can try and use the cybernetic control helm.  Each use inflicts 2d6+7 psychic damage on the operator (optionally, rather than killing the operator, a character reduced to 0 Hit Points by this can develop an insanity adjudicated by the GM or by rolling on the insanity tables in the Rifts rpg).  Characters using the helm can do one of the following: an easy (DC 9) Science or Interaction check reveals what A.R.C.H.I.E. stands for (Artificial Robot Cerebellum Housing Intellect Experiment); a moderate (DC 13) Science or Nature check reveals the location of two other A.R.C.H.I.E. experiments, one in London Towne (pre-rifts London Ontario), and one in the Hammer (pre-rifts Hamilton Ontario); a hard (DC 17) Science or Arcana check (depending on what the character is trying to create) allows the operator to use the mechanized arm and wild nano vats to create an Omega Tech item (draw two cards as a reward and choose one);  a successful complexity 1 skill challenge allows the operator to create a bottweiler minion with 1 Hit Point that follows the commands (a standard action) of the operator (this option is guaranteed to kill or drive the operator insane so use with caution).

Field Report: Gamma Rifts

July 24, 2011

I’ve written a lot about my love/hate relationship with Rifts, so I won’t beat that horse anymore, suffice to say I’m one of the legions who love the setting and hate the system.  Currently, I am using the latest edition of the Gamma World game to run a campaign set in the world of Rifts (the basic modifications to the rules are here, and a set 30 of Rifts flavoured Omega Tech cards are here).  That campaign is well underway, and I thought I would share some of the tabletop experiences as an example of how a Gamma Rifts game can work.
After a couple of sessions we’ve played through ninety percent of a Rifts modified version of the introductory adventure, Steading of the Iron King (my next post will cover the modifications I made to the adventure as well as some of the handouts I used for it).

The Good

I’m very pleased with the game so far.  The looser, more streamlined rules have been fun.  While the abstract nature of the rules governing weapons and armour might be off-putting to Rifts purists (a baseball bat with a nail in it does the same damage as a vibro-knife), I haven’t missed a dozen books worth of guns or keeping track of all that ammunition (another aspect of Gamma World that has been taken to the abstract level).  In fact, freed from the restrictions of a highly detailed equipment list, everyone had a ball making up their own weapons and armour during the character creation process (more on that later).  It might be a less realistic approach to weapon damage, but it does a far better job than Rifts ever did of allowing for the broad range of character types drawn from the multitude of sources that inspire a kitchen sink science fantasy game (and have them still be useful to the party and fun to play that is).
The Rifts set of Omega Tech cards printed up beautifully (better than I thought they would actually), for the price of less than 2 WOTC booster packs at Kinkos, and mesh nicely with the cards contained in the boxed set.  The mix of the Gamma World and my own splugorth, techno-wizard and magic items did a good job of reinforcing the nature and feel of the setting.
Most importantly, the feel of the game at the table captured the best elements of Rifts – quirky, bizarre characters having madcap adventures in a dangerous and deadly serious world that is often contradictorily ridiculous and funny.

The Bad

While Gamma World does a great job of recreating what I call the ‘street level’ of Rifts (city rats, cyborgs, juicers, ley-line walkers and mind melters), it isn’t that great at emulating the epic side of Palladium’s signature game (mega damage, pistols that can put a hole in a mountain, easy access to long range nuclear missiles, and characters that can fly at Mach 2 at first level).  This wasn’t a big deal for me, as those were aspects of the game I never really felt were integral to the setting, but others may feel differently (I had long toyed with the idea of running Rifts using the notes in the Rifts Conversion Book to convert everything to SDC as a way of dealing with the game’s problems – so that gives you an idea of where I’m coming from).
Finally, if you hate 4e D&D (which provides the core ‘engine’ of Gamma World), you’re going to hate using Gamma World in any setting.  The abstract level of many of the rules (equipment, ammunition, healing outside of combat, and the Alpha and Omega cards) can be a turn-off to players with a more simulationist bent.

The Party

The best way to demonstrate how a Gamma Rifts game actually plays out is to take a look at the party of adventurers my players put together for our campaign (check out their portraits at the end of the post).  Character creation in Gamma World is fun, and the addition of figuring out how the two origins worked with the character’s power source (tech, magic or mutant), only added to the process.
My players rolled their origins but chose their power source based on suggestions from me and the other players of how such a character might be envisioned (for example he Wheeled origin and the tech power source might produce a tracked cyborg like the ones in the Russia worldbook, while the mutant or magic power source with the same origin could be interpreted as some kind of centaur creature).  Often, the ideas that were generated during character creation were also informed by the random skill bonus each Gamma World character receives.
We are still getting used to interpreting the Alpha cards according to power source and not just as a mutation (spells for magic, and gadgets for tech characters), but I think that will get easier with a little nudging from me and the inclusion of more game elements that are affected by power source differently (things like gamma terrain, hazards, and monster powers).
Once the rolling was finished, I asked each of my players to describe themselves, their armour and weapons, and come up with a reason why they were members of a band of mercenaries working for the city of Lazlo (the set-up of the first adventure that I’ll detail next post).  It wasn’t far into the first session that my friends dubbed their party ‘the Misfits’, and besides being an unforeseen Jem reference (which is cool in itself), describes them pretty well.

Lazarus Project Subject E (Laz-E to his friends, for his slow movement rate), is a dead man with no memory of his former life, resurrected and powered by a large graviton reactor in his chest.  He wears armour made from the cast off junk he found in the destroyed lab where he was ‘born’ and wields an old parking meter in combat that occasionally spits out strange coins.  He joined up with the Misfits by accident, hoping one day to uncover the mystery of his origin.  [Re-animated/Gravity Controller with the Tech power source wearing heavy armour and using a heavy 2-handed melee weapon]

Willow is the spirit of a Dryad who survived the destruction of her bonded tree, constantly weeping a slow trickle of tear-sap from haunted eyes.  She wears the bark of her former home as armour and wields a greatclub made from the tree’s thickest branch.  She joined the Misfits as part of her crusade against the Coalition, whose engines of war destroyed her grove.  [Yeti/Ectoplasmic with the Magic power source wearing heavy armour and using a heavy 2-handed melee weapon – there was already an actual Yeti in the party so the Yeti origin’s bonus to Nature, combined with another bonus to Nature through the random skill bonus roll, led to the interpretation of the character as a nature spirit, the Yeti’s claws becoming thorny branches]

Big Claw is a Yeti fire warlock.  She wears armour made from cast off metal scraps, uses a manhole cover as a shield, and wields a magic sword made from the unmeltable ice of the North Pole.  She joined the Misfits to aid in her search of the southlands for a piece of ‘hairless ape magic’ (technology) that can reunite her with her northern tribe, and bypass her enemies in the Coalition state of Iron Heart.  [Yeti/Pyrokinetic with the Magic power source wearing heavy armour, shield, and using a heavy 1-handed melee weapon]

The Master looks human, but insists he is a ‘time lord’, and constantly reminds others of their species’ inferior status.  He wears a personal force field projector on his back and wields a handheld disruptor.  He joined the Misfits hoping the techno-wizards of Lazlo would aid him in repairing his destroyed transport, which he calls a TARDIS (and the Misfits keep him around because he’s a mechanical genius).  [Electrokinetic/Temporal with the Tech power source wearing heavy armour and using a light 1-handed gun – the Master’s personality is the direct result of his abysmal Charisma score]

Paranoia is a risk averse Mind Melter whose psychokinetic abilities are so strong she can rip other versions of herself from parallel dimensions into her own reality (usually to die horribly in her place).  She wears a jacket of red dragon scales as armour, uses a large dragon scale as a shield, and wields a baseball bat with a nail though it.  She was born in Lazlo, so helping with the war effort comes naturally… joining the Misfits means she doesn’t have to follow orders or stick around if the Coalition war machine comes calling.  [Telekinetic/Doppelganger with the Mutant power source wearing light armour, shield, and using a light 1-handed melee weapon]


Just a quick note about the illustration.  This is how I picture the Misfits in my mind when we play – I’m sure my players see themselves differently in the game world (after all I’m only working with a brief description – they’ve got the whole mental picture), but I tried my best …  Finding good reference material for a female yeti is very difficult (in the end I went with Marvel’s Snowbird in Sasquatch form).
Back in high school, when my friends and I ended our epic 2e Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, we commissioned an artist at Toronto’s Pandemonium convention to sketch a portrait of our party.  I can’t remember the name of the artist (and I don’t have a copy of the picture), but I have newfound respect for his talents – even more so that he was able to get it right.

Random Encounters: Ilya Ivanov, real life Dr. Moreau

June 10, 2011

I’ve always thought the RPG Blog Carnival was a cool idea – a group of writers coming together just for the fun of exploring an interesting theme (like a digital flash mob); but the topics covered so far have been outside of the focus of this site.  Fortunately, this month’s host for the carnival, Dungeon’s Master, have set a theme I can really sink my teeth into: RPG characters based on real life people (using no less awesome an example than Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer).
Growing up, my father, an electrical engineer, taught me a healthy respect for alternating current, so naturally my first choice was Nikola Tesla, but Greg at Lungfishopolis beat me to the punch.  So I decided to move on to another, lesser known eastern European ‘mad scientist’, Ilya Ivanov.
Ilya Ivanov was a Russian biologist who worked from the turn of the century until the early 1930’s.  He pioneered revolutionary artificial insemination techniques and used the technology to create a wide variety of hybrids, including zebra-donkey, antelope-cow, and rabbit-guinea pig mixes (hello owlbear!).  As if that wasn’t enough RPG fodder, Ivanov is most infamous for his efforts to create a human-ape hybrid.  His first attempts using apes impregnated with human sperm failed.  Logically then, the next step was to impregnate human females with ape sperm.  In spite of actually having a volunteer willing to carry the hybrid, Ilya Ivanov was arrested in one of Stalin’s shakedowns of the Russian scientific community before he could get the experiment underway.  As far as I know, Stalin had no moral objection to human-ape crossbreeds, and the arrest was a purely political one.  Ivanov never got a chance to return to his mad work, dying in exile in Kazakhstan in 1932.
Not surprisingly, since then Ivanov pops up regularly in conspiracy theories, fringe science, and pop culture every few years (or the shadow of his ideas do).  The forbidden and frightening act of creating a human hybrid, mixed with the sinister exoticism of Stalinist Russia is a brew too powerful to resist.  Seriously, we’re talking about an army of cold war, soviet, super apes!  That’s pure gold.
The legacy of Ilya Ivanov can be felt in the classic Fantastic Four villain Red Ghost (and his super apes), in DC’s Gorilla Grodd, and in the Planet of the Apes movies (including the soon to be released reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes).
Taking my cue from Seth Grahame-Smith, I’m going to use a similar over the top approach; one that posits Ivanov succeeding where history tells us he failed.  And I can think of no better RPG suited to house Ilya Ivanov than one already filled with mutant animals, a blatant disregard for the laws of nature and bucket loads of cold war sensibility: Gamma World.
I present, for use with the current edition of Gamma World (as well as Dungeons and Dragons), Ilya Ivanov and his super apes.

United Soviet Simian Republic

“Species of the world, unite! (Literally)”

Ilya Ivanov was a soviet scientist who worked to create the first human-ape hybrid.  In most realities he failed and was arrested by Stalin, but in a few, the mad visionary was able to escape imprisonment and create an army of super apes.  With his hybrid commandoes, Ivanov quickly overthrew Stalin and carved out a new Soviet empire.  Ivanov, in his role as dictator, ushered in an age of undreamed scientific progress untainted by political ideology, and unfettered by morality or ethics.
By the time of the Big Mistake, Ivanov had ‘outgrown’ his old, perishing body and had transferred his brain to a series of simian hosts.

Doktor Ivanov

“You know how I know that monkey is smart?  I can see its brain.”

Doktor Ivanov lost the last shreds of his empathy when he abandoned his human body and put his brain in a jar.  Now he views everything through the cold, detached lens of a science experiment.  In combat Ivanov uses his bestial strength to rip raw hunks of meat out of his opponents, analyze their genetic imprints, and absorb any beneficial mutations found for further study.  Should his host body become damaged in his pursuit of test subjects, Doktor Ivanov doesn’t hesitate to transfer his brain to one of his humanzee ‘children’.  That the process decapitates the host doesn’t seem to bother either Ivanov or his creations.

Humanzee Shock Trooper

“To err is human, to ape divine.”

Humanzees combine humanity’s capacity for war and violence with the strength and agility of an ape.  They are the perfect soldiers, and obey strong commanders without question so long as there is war to wage.  Even on Gamma Terra, there is little more horrifying than seeing the raw hatred and naked brutality of a swarm of boiler suited humanzees washing over their foes like a crimson tidal wave.

LoreAlthough he built his empire with the savage power of human-ape hybrids (and they remain his most successful creation), Doktor Ivanov experimented with many other human –animal combinations.  With the proliferation of creatures such as badders, hoops, dabbers, fen, and porkers wandering the wastes one has to wonder if prevailing origin theories are wrong and these beasts are actually the orphaned offspring of Ivanov’s abandoned experiments.


I did it.  I made another ape monster even though I promised I would keep them to a minimum.  I really did want to stat-up Tesla, and when I was looking around for other real life mad scientists to replace him Ivanov just jumped out at me.  I’m glad I broke my promise though, I really like how everything came together (there were a few Gamma World monsters that affected the use of Alpha and Omega cards but nothing that took advantage of the card mechanic itself, so I wanted to incorporate that into the design).  Plus, I really wasn’t happy with how the picture for Thak turned out, and I wanted another shot at drawing a primate before the next instalment of Monsters of the Hyborian Age.
Incidentally, the brain in a jar aspect of the monster was inspired by another Russian, a contemporary named Sergei Bryukhonenko, who invented a heart and lung machine that could keep a dog’s head alive and responsive detached from its body.  I’m sure Ivanov would have had access to that technology during his soviet renaissance of scientific research.