Monthly Archives: July 2011

Plot-a-Day: The Forbidden City

China was recently hit by a scandal: It turned out that the rich & powerful of the People’s Republic had a “rich man’s club” going – and used one of the most famous of China’s sites as their club house: The Forbidden City. This came to light after artifacts – on loan from Hong Kong – were stolen.

The Forbidden City used to be the palace of the Emperor of China. As such, it is one of those iconic sites with a lot of history that just lend themselves to all kinds of adventures.

Forbidden City, by Saad Akhtar
Forbidden City, by Saad Akhtar

The Club could aim to…

  • …set up a new political system in China, and the PCs are there to spy on the conspirators or to even stop them by assassinating their leader. Of course the PCs could be members of the conspiracy, too, and find out who the government infiltrator is before he signals for the start of a raid by special forces.
  • …ensure Cthulhu or another Old God rises when the stars are right. The Forbidden City is an ancient Site Of Power, so the dark rituals performed there are magnified a thousand times in potency. The PCs need to stop the ritual from being completed, which is made more difficult by the fact that all these rich guys enjoy strong government protection.
  • …enjoy themselves in all kinds of carnal and evil ways. For example, they could be doing illegal drugs and employ the services of girls kidnapped all over China – or even the World – and forced to work as prostitutes. The PCs were hired to shut the whole thing down – or at least rescue the pretty, young daughter of their patron.
  • …bring about an end to the world financial system, creating a neo-communist utopia. Only James Bond can stop them – and since he has been cancelled, that task falls on the shoulders of the PCs.
ForbiddenCity's Location in Beijing
ForbiddenCity's Location in Beijing

Naturally, no matter what you decide, China is rich in interesting locations that you could add to your adventure. Some quick ideas off the top of my head:

  • The Great Wall
  • Qingdao is an interesting mix of European and Chinese city, and its super-modern high-rise buildings are home to many rich Chinese.
  • Tibet with its monasteries
  • Xian – home of the Terracotta Army
  • The Gobi desert


Props for RPGs

I love to use props and hand-outs in my games. For my Call of Cthulhu games, I always made up one-page “newspapers” as the campaign progressed. This is a trivial matter with any decent word processor and a fancy gothic font for the newspaper logo.

Then of course that game had the use of hand-outs built-in. For other games, I created maps or documents. These are trivial to create, too – thanks to modern graphics software, cheap printers, and huge libraries of samples and clipart. You can age them by washing them with coffee or tea, rip off the edges of the paper, and perhaps even use a candle to singe them to make them look less like printer paper.

However, I’ve never really used physical props – back in the day I simply didn’t have money for that, and I never did much research into it. If I were to game again, I’d certainly change that. There’s a lot of cool stuff available, and some of it is even really cheap.

  • Tsojcanth had an excellent idea of using note-books as big collections of mini-dungeons, but the same would work really well as an adventurer’s diary or some such. The effort to create one of these is fairly large though, especially since you need to write into them by hand. Still, if you base a campaign around one of these, it might work out really, really well. It can work in all settings – notes from an adventurer about hidden treasure and dungeons; notes a star trader makes about various systems (he’s using paper because he is afraid a data file would be too easy to copy).
  • There’s websites that sell assorted “magic wands – I am not quite sure if this means there are actually people out there who believe these would let them cast spells, but I probably don’t want to know. Be that as it may, these wands, their amulets, and other items should work really well as props and some of them are quite cheap. I mean, how can you go wrong with, say, a set of runes? They also sell blank journals, which you could use for Tsojcanth’s mini-dungeon idea, but they are much more expensive than modern journals.
  • Jewelry in general is not a problem. You can just google or search on eBay or Amazon for necklaces, pendants, rings, and so on. For example, Walmart sells personalized engraved rings startung at $50 – but it seems other sites offer engraved rings for $10 or so too. Again, Google is your friend, and the possibilities are endless – For example, I imagine buying one ring with an engraving that hints at the royal family, and give it to one of the characters, who has no recollection of how he got it – but no sooner does the game start that assassins are after him because of the ring.
  • Playing cards are another awesome prop. You can buy plain cards to print on yourself, or you can even get a company to professionally print your custom cards these days. Ideas here are endless: You could create cards that together make up a treasure map; you could go the Amber route and create Tarot cards with the player characters as trumps – and the players will of course want to know why these cards exist, and what they are for! Or the cards could combine in any other way to give hints that the players need, and finding these cards would then be the objective of the first sessions of the campaign, with the final climactic episodes confronting whatever evil the cards led your players to.
  • In Curse of the Azure Bonds, the player characters awake with weird tattoos on their arms. Now, taking your players to the local tattoo parlor might be a little extreme – but you could use temporary tattoos for a similar situation in your campaign. Amazon sells a lot of different designs.
  • For a modern game, consider modern props. Dot matrix printers are out, but you can still simulate the look reasonably well with the right fonts. How about a USB flash drive? Don’t use just any plain flash drive, unless this is appropriate. These days, even a kid or teenager might store a diary or photos on a flash drive, and she might use one that is shaped like a goofy comic book character or adorable little animal. A memory card for a phone or digital camera might contain photos that give the players important clues. Of course these work best if you use PCs at your gaming table, or at least have one in your gaming room.
  • Fake business cards are easily printed, too. You should get a thin cardboard for these, though. Most office supplies shops will sell you sets of prepared business card paper that you can simply print on. In a campaign where the players are professionals, they could have business cards for their characters.

This is what I’ve come up so far. I am sure there are many more ways to add cool props to your games.

What props have you used, or do you want to use in the future?

Interstellar Probe “Dream” discovers Terrestrial Worlds – and Life!

Houston, Republic of Texas — February 21st 2173. The second of mankind’s interstellar probes has returned from Alpha Centauri, where it made a spectacular discovery: the existence of not only one, but two human-inhabitable planets in that system.

The probe emerged from Hyperspace almost exactly on target and entered a parking orbit around Mars while transmitting data back to mission control. “The data we did get back immediately showed us that our wildest dreams had been eclipsed,” Mission managers and representatives of the Colonial Authority said in a joint press conference today.

The Alpha Centauri system, of which Proxima Centauri is a distant companion, consists of two stars: Alpha Centauri A, an almost identical two to our sun, and Alpha Centauri B, which is more orange in color. Both stars possess individual star systems, with a total of 16 systems. Both of the earthlike “Garden” worlds orbit around Alpha Centauri A. Both of them, initial data suggests, support life, but in neither case has it evolved very far.

“There’s plentiful plant life on the inner of two garden worlds, and probably early land-dwelling animals. Ohe second garden world has even more primitive life; it hasn’t conquered land now.”

In addition to the large distance of the world to its sun – at 1.71 it orbits at the outer edge of the Habitable Zone – Planetologists pointed at the absence of moons orbitting the further Garden world as a likely cause: “Without large moons, conditions on Earthlike planets are more chaotic, and we suspect this may have a negative impact on the evolution of higher species.”

In detail, the composition of the Alpha Centauri A system is:

  1. Hothouse World (0.2 AU): 11000km diameter, density 0.8, Gravity 0.73. Massive atmosphere, no water, 1 moon.
  2. Desert World (0.3 AU): 4000km diameter, density 0.9, Gravity 0.3. Thin atmosphere, no water.
  3. Rock (0.42 AU): 2000 km diamteer, density 1.3, gravity 0.22. Vacuum, minor ice deposits,3 moons.
  4. Hothouse World (0.67 AU): 15000 km diameter, density 0.6, gravity 0.75. Dense atmosphere, no water, 3 moons.
  5. Garden world (1.01 AU): 11000 km diameter, density 0.8, gravity 0.73. Dense atmosphere, 60% oceans. 1 moon.
  6. Garden world (1.71 AU): 12000 km diameter, density 0.9, gravity 0.9. Dense atmosphere, 80% ice sheets.
  7. Failed Core (2.4 AU): 8000 km diameter, density 0.3, gravity 0.2. Thin atmosphere, 80% ice sheets. 1 moon.
  8. Failed Core (3.6 AU): 24000 km diameter, density 0.2, gravity 0.4. Dense atmosphere, 60% ice sheets. 2 moons.

Alpha Centauri B’s system is less promising. There are two Mars-like desert worlds in its habitable zone, both lifeless, and one hothouse slightly larger than earth. All three could be terraformed but lack significant water reserves.

  1. Rock (0.3 AU): 1000 km diameter, density 1.2, Gravity 0.1. Vacuum, minor ice deposits.
  2. Hothouse (0.48 AU): 14000 km diameter, density 0.9, gravity 1.05. Dense atmosphere, no water.
  3. Desert world (0.62 AU): 4000 km diameter, density 0.9, gravity 0.3. Thin atmosphere, minor ice deposits, 1 moon.
  4. Desert world (1 AU): 10000 km diameter, density 0.4, gravity 0.33. Standard atmosphere, minor ice deposits.
  5. Ice Ball (1.3 AU): 4000 km diameter, density 0.3, gravity 0.1. Vacuum. 60% ice sheets. 1 moon.
  6. Ice Ball (2.07 AU): 2000 km diameter, density 0.5, gravity 0.08. Vacuum. 50% ice sheets. 2 moons.

Unless Barnard’s Star holds any surprises, the discovery of two habitable planets at Alpha Centauri make the binary system the destination for mankind’s first manned interstellar expedition, which is currently bein prepared by an international team under the coordination of the Colonial Authority.

The United States, China, Europe, Russia, Brazil and Indonesia immediately announced that they intend to set up colonies on the as-yet unnamed worlds, and other nations are expected to follow soon.


During the day, the Sun is the most prominent object in the sky of Enderra, and its light drowns out all other objects. Very rarely some of the moons or even parts of the Glitter can be seen during daytime hours. During nightfall, the scenery changes: The dark sky is sprinkled with stars. Some of these, “The Wanderers”, move around: The Planets. Enderra has three moons, and one very special feature called “The Glitter”, a thick ring that surrounds the planet and dominates the night sky.

The Sun: The sun is the embodiment of the solar deity, Helion. It is identical, for all practical purposes, to Earth’s sun.

Enderra's Moons
Relative sizes of Enderra's moons in comparison to Earth's moon

Illustration 1: Relative sizes of Enderra’s moons in comparison to Earth’s moon
Dures: Dures is the largest moon. It is silvery-white, and its surface is heavily cratered. Its orbit – and thus phases – is 31 days long. The visible size of Dures in the sky is about 50% larger than Earth’s moon.

Meriel: This is the medium-sized moon, orbits in 62 days. It is colored blue-green, with many white streaks, that some astronomers say are clouds.

Neron: The smallest of the three moons, and nicknamed “blood moon” because of its red coloration. Usually, it is orange-red, but in some nights it is a dark, deep red. It orbits in 93 days.

The Glitter: The Glitter is a ring around Enderra. It is a collection of tiny asteroids and dust; it does not look as solid as Saturn’s rings look on some photographs; rather it appears as an extremely thick band of stars that crosses the sky. The Glitter is used as a navigational aid and appears in many myths and legends.

Planets: The Wanderers

All worlds in Enderra’s solar system are spherical.

Goras: Appears to be a small, yellowish and very bright planet. Goras is a desert world, scorched by the close sun. The air is too hot to breathe. It has no moons.

Sharee: A very bright, white planet. Jungle World – Jungles and swamps, complete with monsoon rains and heavy cloud cover. Dinosaurs and other reptiles are the dominant lifeforms. One moon. White coloration is due to the thick cloud cover.

Kayla: Larger than the other planets, but darker than Sharee and Goras. Yellow-brownish color. A desert world, larger and further away from the Sun than the other two, this world is much less hostile. It has one asteroid size moon.

Delora: A small planet of white and blue-green coloration. “Cold” desert World, very few plants, Tundra and Taiga. Ice caps at the poles. Dried-out canyons and oceans. There are many sites of ruined cities spread around the globe, indicating the former presence of a now extinct civilization. There are short “green” times during the spring and fall; the summers are rather hot (about like the northern Sahara desert on Earth). This planet has 3 moons; two of asteroid size and one larger moon.

Celeste: A large bright blue planet. Huge Air World with a core of liquid fire. Many smaller chunks float around the air sphere, some of them as big as small moons. Virtually all of them support some form of life. 5 Moons and a ring system.

Aeron: This world is only medium sized as far as air worlds go, but it’s still large enough to have a solid core only a little smaller than Earth. It also has many moons, some of which orbit within the atmosphere.

Aguara: Medium Sized Water World. The surface of the water freezes when the planet moves away from one of the suns in orbit 11. There are permanent ice caps at the poles.

Orec: Small air world; cold, windy, no solid bodies in the atmosphere. This world is dark and scary; rumour has it that the planet is haunted. It has 10 minor and 5 major moons as well as a thin ring system.

Mikturu: Medium-Sized water world. The water is kept from freezing because this world has a small fire-body moon. In fact, temperatures on the world are very comfortable or even tropical. Far below the surface, volcanoes heat the water.

Dakordu: Ice World; A world of eternal snow storms and glaciers. There are some ruins scattered over the surface, many of them buried beneath the snow. Four moons, two of them only of asteroid size.

Nemesis: “Ice ball” – basically a sphere of black ice, polished like a mirror, reflecting all light sources. There is no atmosphere, and the planet has no moons. Nemesis is feared by space travelers for it is said to be cursed and inhabited by the frozen souls of those who die in deep space.

Update: Diagrams of the solar system are available now too.