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Topic: [Sen-Zar] My Favorite Bad RPG, Oh yes, I went there.< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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Lord_Z Search for posts by this member.
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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 10 2010,14:53  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

What is SenZar? It's a fantasy RPG from the nineties with some sci-fi elements, clear preference towards power gaming, and a strong hatred from reviewers. SenZar has never received a good review anywhere. If it did, it just wouldn't be SenZar anymore.

Considering my recent recommendation of Shooting the Moon, it might be surprising to see me declaring my love for this very traditionally structured game. There is only one GM. Players still roll a D20 to hit something. It has classes. It even has hit points. The thing about SenZar is that it's a blantant celebration of traditional RPGs. Players even get an XP bonus for rolling a natural 20.

The good:  The setting is more distinctive and memorable than most. The alignment system is brilliant. Character creation is a ton of fun. It uses a combination of point-buy and class based systems which is surprisingly balanced so long as the Freak Classes are not used (which are designed to be unbalanced). My top three most memorable PCs all developed out of SenZar's creation system.

The books: There are two SenZar novels. The first, Saga of the Seven Stars, is simply the best fantasy novel I have ever read. It's about a group of friends in contemporary Earth who learn they are reincarnated from SenZar heroes. They seek to reclaim their destinies, but they've changed from heroes to anti-heroes in the meantime. It's skillfully structured, well casted, brilliantly paced, and full of gamer logic. Oh, course I sleep with a katana and a .45 under my pillow, doesn't everyone? The second novel, Voidspawn, is crud.

I've got more to write, but I wanted to start this thread before I forgot.


Edited by Lord_Z
Reason for Edit: "corrected spelling errors & typos"
on Jul. 06 2016,23:37


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 10 2010,15:09 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I can't wait to hear the bad. :p

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 10 2010,15:14 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Any chance of you posting the alignment system and character class examples?

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 10 2010,15:50 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Yes, yes, & yes.

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 13 2010,13:27 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Re: Alignment System

Since I was specifically asked about this, I will summarize. First, I need to explain how karmic flaws work. Flaws, as they work in Storyteller games, grant building points (called karma points) if taken during char creation. SenZar's flaws are better organized and more smoothly intwined. Flaws grow out of seven categories such as Sanity, Fear, Luck, Greed, etc., My favorite karmic flaw is Hoard! (A manifestation of Greed, always spelled with the exclamation point) which compels the character to collect a specific type of item, perhaps postage stamps or maybe the skulls of ones enemies.

Unused Karma Points become Fate Points after char creation. Fate Points can be used to build up stats or used as tokens to edit bad dice rolls. Fate Points represent a real thing in the SenZar world. They represent a character's level of connection to the Dragon (the creator spirit).

The player chooses the flaw (or flaws) and how strong each flaw is, on a scale of 1 to 20. That severity serves two functions, first it is the number of karma points gained. Second, if the character needs to act in opposition to a karmic flaw, this number is also the saving throw target (must roll better than the flaw's severity on a D20). Crippling flaws can always be bought down to manageable levels later.

Alignments are called codes. A may get some extra karma points by choosing a code to live by and a level of dedication to it (1 to 20). In order to perform an action in violation of ones code, that same saving throw must be made. There are four flaws in the book, but there is no reason why a gamer can't create others. There four codes are as follows: The Code (pro-justice good), The Anti-Life (might makes right, the weak desserve to die bad), The Good Earth (churchy, hippy, pro-Dragon good), and The Dark Earth (churchy, bad). It is possible for a character to take more than one code, like The Code + Good Earth, but that would be very restrictive. Codes may also be bought down later.

If a character fails a saving throw but still chooses to act in violation of her code, the GM claims a Fate Point as payment. If the character is out of Fate Points, the GM starts assigning more karmic flaws in trade.


Edited by Lord_Z
Reason for Edit: None given by member
on Jul. 06 2016,23:40


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 14 2010,09:35 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

The alignment system actually sounds pretty fun.  I think I'd actually like to try the system based on that alone.

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 14 2010,13:25 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Character class are divided into three categories: racial templates, profession templates, & freak templates. Characters are built by picking and stacking combinations. Each template includes skills, special powers (like gloomsight, regeneration, access to a specific spell discipline, etc.), and any unique powers to that class which are unlocked as the character advances.

First, a racial template is chosen. Most of the classics are here but often with new names and setting-specific backgrounds. A few are new.  My current favorite are the Khalamari (similar to Mind Flayers) who have the unique racial ability of using any mystic spell (a.k.a. psychic powers) as a first tier spell (instant casting time). Race templates also each come with 100 karma points for building attributes and any extra special powers not offered in the templates.

Profession templates have attribute requirements. These attributes must be bought with building points from the racial template plus any extras from karmic flaws and codes. Profession templates come in three types: Pro-Combat, Pro-Magic, and Semipro-Magic (a fighter-magician). If the same skill appears on the picked racial & profession templates, that skill gets a bonus modifier when rolled. Most magic classes have their own spell lists. Some professions also offer access to martial art powers; there are four styles. Dual classed characters are made by picking up a second profession template. A few templates have a sci-fi angle to them, like the Sorcerer who practices magic with scientific principles & casts spells like Plasma Bolt.

An example of a profession would be the Witch. Witches are a pro-magic class with their own unique spell list, different spells becoming available at each power tier (more or less at each XP level). In SenZar, the universe itself has a consciousness called the Dragon, and witches are its servant. Most people believe the Dragon to be good, but it is actually a neutral entity. If a witch finds herself in an evil setting, she will do good. If he is in a good setting, he will do evil. This seeming anarchistic streak has lead to many societies distrusting witches, and thus the profession template of the Witch Hunter. The great thing about being a Witch is that the witchcraft spells feature no natural defense -- in other words, no saving throws versus witchcraft.

Freak templates are optional. If you want a character who is a Vampire or Mutant, there is a freak template for that. Some freaks like the Shape Shifter and the True Artificer don't do much until higher levels but then get incredible. My current favorite is the Runecaster. Runecasters can learn any spell that they see cast. Runecasters perceive spells as patterns of energy, and by drawing these patterns in the air as a rune, can copy them with that near-instant casting time.

There is a fourth type of template, but it isn't  available until the character reaches twentieth experience level. At that point, the character gets to choose which type of god she wants to become. Diefic gods are immaterial spirits who advance by gathering worshipers. Material gods are flesh & bloody immortals, a little like Highlander. They advance by killing other gods. Eternals are insane gods who play Calvin Ball with reality. They advance by gambling.


Edited by Lord_Z
Reason for Edit: None given by member
on Jul. 06 2016,23:45


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 14 2010,13:32 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(Lord_Z @ Jun. 14 2010,18:25)
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My current favorite are the Khalamari (similar to Mind Flayers) who have the unique racial ability of using any mystic spell (a.k.a. psychic powers) as a first tier spell (instant casting time).

Really?  {* shakes head *}  They do sound interesting though.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 14 2010,18:41 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

LOL  Call me crazy, but this all actually sounds like it could be fun to play.

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 15 2010,01:49 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

The Bad Reviews: There is a legitimate downside to this game, but it has nothing to do with the painful reviews it has taken on the chin. Those reviews were mostly made in the nineties. That turned out to be very important. The artwork in Sen-Zar is, well, greatly inspired by the art of Heavy Metal Magazine. Yeah, there is a lot of pin-up style artwork. Politically correct reviewers flipped through the main book and took an instant dislike to it. Partial readings revealed that it was a game partly intended for powergamers. Flaming games for sexist artwork and/or munchkism was practically a favorite past time, and Sen-Zar had both. It held the title of Worst RPG for years on multiple sites. Because, you know, nineties...

The Bad:  There are a few problems. The printing quality of the main book is questionable. It uses that bad glue that Kenzerco also uses, so pages are prone to fall out. Also, there is a lack of media consistency. I know that term I just used is unclear, but this really is a unique situation. The main rule book and first sourcebook are paperbacks. The second sourcebook and both novels are CDs containing .pdf files. The third sourcebook is a CD containing a website, yeah, a series of .html files. None of these books are available in multiple formats.

Here is the big problem with this game and a potential deal breaker for me. There is no support. I don't simply mean that the publisher stopped putting out sourcebooks. I mean that the publisher actually took down the forum site which fans were using for discussions. The webstore is still there, but the forums vanished shortly before I got involved with this game. I mean, dude!


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PostIcon Posted on: Jul. 08 2010,16:43 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Okay, the Kalamari didn't go over so well. Here are some other choices we might like better.

Shidhe:  These are the fey of the SenZar world. Shidhe are living creatures of magic and nature energies. As the planet's original inhabitants, they were once ethereal energy creatures. A Shidhe named Nammo became the first immortal by discovering the nine foci points of the universe and linking each to his own soul. He then reshaped planet as he wished, creating physical life and binding all subsequent shidhe to bodies of flesh. An unexpected side effect of the Nammo's linking was the development of a consciousness by the universe itself, a consciousness since known as the Dragon. Shidhe are immune to aging and the best natural mages in terms of pure power for a starting character, but the wicked cool part about being a shidhe is that you get to choose your own bodily manifestation at character creation. Shidhe aren't always shapechangers (there is a freak template for that), but neither did Nammo dictate which form they must take. Shidhe characters can be any humanoid form from one foot tall to seven feet tall. A shidhe could be a fake-demon, a doubleganger of the high priest of Rel, a doll, a scarecrow, or whatever it chooses to be (only choose once, no take-backs).


Edited by Lord_Z
Reason for Edit: None given by member
on Jul. 06 2016,23:48


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PostIcon Posted on: Jul. 08 2010,21:20 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

OMG  I just went to the site to check it out and my effin' eyes melted.  Whoever designed that page needs to be murderfied.

Edit:  I tried navigating even more and I simply couldn't bear it any more.  This page violates EVERY rule of web design.  I'm not talking a few, I'm talking ALL of them.  There is not one redeeming quality of the site.  Make it stop!


Edited by Doublenix
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on Jul. 08 2010,21:24


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PostIcon Posted on: Jul. 09 2010,19:01 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Bwa-ha-ha!  Another bad review!

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PostIcon Posted on: Jul. 10 2010,08:51 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Well, yes, for the site.  However, the game actually sounds pretty cool.

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 13 2011,15:43 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Now is an appropriate time to update this thread. Last winter, the creators of SenZar made the decision for formally close the business of Nova Eth Publishing. The website was taken down about the same time.

Last night, I was was stuck at work and arrived two hours late to our neighborhood game session. I was expecting to jump into the new D&D4 post-apocolyptic game that our youngest GM started running a couple of weeks ago. There was an outside chance that I would be asked to run a short Star Wars D6 game since the last three sessions went over well. No, they wanted me to run SenZar. So, we spent the next two hours finding old character sheets, updating those sheets for level increases from the final session of the old game, resolving downtime between campaigns, and going over the two new characters.

For the next hour, I ran the shortest single session of RPG that I have ever run. I admit that it wasn't my best game by far. I had a concept for the next SenZar campaign, but I did not have the prep work done to implement that concept. Oh well...

My challenge is to give the PCs a challenge which will be tough for the three 16th level characters who are making their shot at divinity and still be inclusive for the two 1st level characters with more 1st levels to follow. Here is how I am doing it. I am ripping off Dumas. This entire campaign is a ripoff of the Count of Monte Cristo. I've seen three versions of this tale -- the 1990s Hollywood version by the same name, Gankatsuo (a Japanese anime version), and Old Boys (a low budget Korean indy movie version). All three were excellent.

So the first session was me railroading the players into getting captured and put into prison. There prison is in an old asteroid in a part of the SenZar solar system called The Zone of Destruction. Due to its metaphysical properties, all magic and freak powers within the ZoD are pulsed (meaning they do not work). Of course, their gear will also be confiscated. I intend to fast forward events inside the prison so that a long period of time passes. Whereas I am usually generous as a GM, I intend to be a little mean and make the PCs. Really suffer so that they will hopefully bond and develop a genuine anger towards the traitor who put them there.

I am taking a big chance here. I am purposefully breaking several rules of good GMs. I am railroading the PCs to get them back together again. I am giving them nice stuff only to take it away. I am greatly restricting their options which will cause frustration and a sense of loss of control of their own characters. I offered to let them decide how they were captured, but no one went for it. Lastly, I am dealing with the players one on one instead of together which pushes most players to the sidelines for most of the game. I didn't have much choice in the last part because they all went in different directions during their downtime.

I have a conspirator who was a former party member, I have a prison warden and a prison capable of holding these characters for a time.

Here is what I do not yet have. I do not have a treasure of Monte Cristo. I do not have a way for them to get off the asteroid when they have escaped their cells. Any suggestions?


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 21 2011,16:09 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

We continued the game on Tuesday night. Each PC individually had similar experiences in a series of short scenes. The PCs were a high level martial artist-null, a high level necromancer-vampire, a high level alchenmist-soul thief, a 1st level warrior-voidspawn, and a 1st level astromancer-runecaster.

They were each stripped of their possessions and moved to a permanent cell (which I would have already resolved had I been better prepared for the last game), then they were visited by the warden, then they each received a different visitor a week later. In some cases, the visitor was an NPC they knew like the minor demon who the party's necromancer had binded to his service, now free from the PC's power and taunting him.

Then after a full month, they were each visited again by the warden who tortured them in individual ways. The warden told each that he would return to continue the torture one day each year. The tortures would stop when each solved his riddle -- no one solved it yet. In each scene, I dropped clues about who was behind the entire conspiracy, but we will see later who was paying attention.

Then a couple of the PCs were visited in their cells by wild pit rats (a low level monster from the SenZar monster book). The astromancer was bitten, but she had purchased at character creation, a special power called immunity to disease which served her well. Finally, they were all visited by trained pit rats who came bearing notes from a fellow prisoner named Charles the rat tamer. In addition to losing two months, three also gained permanent sanity issues..

As I expected, the PCs took none of this laying down. They fought at every chance. To their credit, they used their improvised resources well, like the necromancer who spent his time practicing the use of nails from his cot as thrown weapons and then managed to blind one eye of the minor demon during its visit. The biggest accomplishment was by the alchemist who during her first day of incarceration broke out of her holding cell with a skeleton key, destroyed three guards with an alchemical grenade, wounded another three, and almost freed another prisoner before the warden caught her and knocked her out. That skeleton key was retrieved by the party voidspawn who wisely hid it for use later.

As soon as the the voidspawn made contact with Charles, she decided to try sneaking out. She found the necromancer (these two characters had not met before), and together they destroyed one of the guards in unarmed combat. Before they found any other prisoners, I ended the game session.


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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 14 2014,15:12 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

A new campaign has begun. Link of Ages

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 14 2014,17:32 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Is this our invite?

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 16 2014,16:33 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

No, let me more clear. That new campaign is being played by my face-to-face hometown gaming group.

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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 16 2014,17:01 Skip to the previous post in this topic.  Ignore posts   QUOTE

Ya, I kinda figured from related posts.  :p

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