Thursday, 30 December 2010

What's in a Name?

Presenting, for your enjoyment or utility or both, one hundred words pulled from Blogger's comment verification system. If you're ever stuck for a name for a corrupt wizard, a decadent city or an exotic island, just roll a d100 on the the table and you're done. It's a bare bones file, with no fancy formatting, but one day I might tart it up a bit or even expand it to a d1000 table.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Blood Bowl (Nintendo DS)

Games Workshop's Warhammer is a juggernaut of a franchise. Its runaway success has changed the company from a single hobby shop in Hammersmith to an international corporation, and the game has expanded beyond the tabletop into board games, role-playing games, video games, MMORPGs, novels, comics, and even, in the latter stages of 2010, a straight-to-dvd film, although reviews haven't been too good on that last one.

Warhammer is the company's core product, but there's also a horde of lesser games, lost to the mists of time and commanding high prices on eBay, stuff like Chainsaw Warrior and Lost Patrol. Somewhere in between is a middle tier of games that have never been huge money-spinners, but have remained popular enough to remain in production, on and off, throughout the company's life. Blood Bowl is one of these, a Warhammer-ised version of American football, with orcs and goblins beating seven shades out of dwarves and elves, and with maybe a touchdown or two thrown in. In the game, players take it in turns to advance their teams up the pitch, seize the ball, and through applied brutality, agile footwork, or dead-eye accuracy, attempt to get the ball into the end zone to score. Their chances of doing so are modified by their teams' skills and statistics as well as a significant amount of luck, as generated by the rolling of dice.

In 2009, Blood Bowl was released to a number of video game platforms, including this DS version. It lacks the 3D environment of the PC and console releases, opting for a isometric viewpoint; while some may view this as a negative, and it does at first glance seem like a retrograde move back to the 16-bit era and a waste of the DS' capabilities, the viewpoint works in the game's favour, allowing for a wider field -- pun intended -- of vision, as befits what is, after all, a game of strategy.

Similarly, the lack of a real-time mode turns out to be a missing feature which is not missed, as the end result is something which is more or less a straight translation of the board game into electronic form. The original board game is strong enough that 3D graphics and arcade-style gameplay are not improvements but unnecessary distractions, and for whatever reason they were removed from the DS edition, it has resulted in a better game. The fidelity to the source material also means that those players who want a quick game of Blood Bowl, but can't find an opponent or don't have the space to set up the board, can instead whip out the DS and indulge. There is also a rudimentary local multiplayer option, as well as a "hot seat" mode, which may be a misnomer on a portable system.

All that said, some features are indeed missed, such as the wilder players and options some of the teams bring along with them, and while eight types of team are included it is disappointing that evocative races such as the dark elves and undead have been overlooked. It is possible however that only those familiar with the original game will miss these bells and whistles, as the core gameplay offers plenty of complexity to keep strategic thinkers happy. On the other hand, those same strategic thinkers may not be quite as happy with the difficulty of the game; while the single-player mode will prove a challenge due to an aggressive CPU, the AI does on occasion seem to engage in some wild and hare-brained schemes, such as sending players to the far corners of the pitch to await passes which are never likely to come, or withdrawing strong blockers from the front lines, and so on.

The game benefits from good graphics, with good designs and smooth animation, although it would have been nice to have some variation in how the players moved. There are some neat cut scenes during the game, with the referee stepping in to conduct the opening coin toss and adjudicate fouls, and so on, and there are is a brief appearance from the game's commentators, familiar to those who have played the board game. Perhaps the most important cut scene of all is that which plays when a touchdown is scored, and alas this is the most disappointing, with dodgy-looking cheerleaders and no variation in the animation at all; it would have been a neat touch to have included burly orc cheerleaders, ethereal elven cheerleaders, bearded dwarven cheerleaders, and so on. The game also lacks much in the way of music, with only one or two tunes in evidence, although perhaps a wise move to shun in-game music, which could have become annoying with individual matches taking up to an hour to play.

This lack of polish can sometimes be an annoyance, but the game survives. There are some glitches in the code that may prove to be a more fatal issue. Outside a match, the game can sometimes take a long time to move between screens, which could be put down to loading times were it not for the simple fact that Blood Bowl is a cartridge-based title. At times, the game can lock up during these pauses, necessitating a restart and the subsequent loss of data, most annoying during a league game where a team has built up money and experience over a season. Other editions have been fixed by updates, and a new version of the game was released in 2010, but neither have made it to the DS alas.

All in all, Blood Bowl on the DS is a very basic game, and the lack of features and polish can be a bit disappointing at times. That said, the core gameplay is strong, a faithful adaptation of a great board game and at the end of the day, it's the gameplay that matters most.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

What a Carrion

Last night, we wrapped up the Pathfinder one-off we started last week, with the player-characters successful in rooting out the cult activities in Carrion Hill and defeating the eldritch abomination the cult had summoned.

As I mentioned before, I found the Pathfinder ruleset to be far less intimidating to run than I had anticipated, but even so I think it's too bitty -- in the sense that it has a lot of working parts -- for my liking, and if I were to run a D&D variant again in the future, I think it is likely to be something a bit more loose and interpretative like Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord. The move in D&D3 -- and thus Pathfinder -- to codify everything has I think led to a situation where exploitation of the rules has become more possible, rather than less; a good example of this is the idea of an optimum character build, something which is almost unknown in earlier editions. I don't begrudge the playing of the system in this way -- indeed my monk in Ben's game is an example, with his five attacks a round and his inability to be hit -- but I do wonder if the game as a whole is unbalanced in loading all this on the players' side. Much as I hate to admit it, but the Unmentionable Edition is perhaps more robust in this regard.

I'm sure it is possible to head off the exploits and level the playing field, but I suspect it takes a familiarity with the game that I am never likely to have, and that it would be easier to achieve in a simpler system. We shall see, as I have already been asked to run something under Swords & Wizardry.

I also wonder if these issues would have been as prevalent if the adventure had been better. I was quite impressed by Carrion Hill as I read through it, as it has a clever time-sensitive element as well as a neat modular structure reminiscent -- perhaps deliberately -- of the classic Masks of Nyarlathotep. The players are thrown into a situation, but can tackle the next sections in any order they please, which in turn can affect the climax of the scenario. The problems arose in the details, and these only became apparent in play.

The adventure suffers from a lot of glaring bottlenecks in the plotting. For example, the vital clue which lets the players know what to do next and unlocks that modular structure is written in Aklo, a language most characters are unlikely to have, and which is not even represented among the included pre-generated characters; the party got around this by having the cleric spam Comprehend Languages for a whole day, but that led to them falling afoul -- if only a little -- of the time limit. On a similar note, there are far too many sections where high skill values in Knowledge (Arcana) and Disable Device are required to progress, which can end the scenario right there and then unless the GM fudges things. The scenario more or less demands that a wizard and a rogue are in the party, but nowhere is this mentioned, and again the pre-generated characters don't measure up and are unlikely to hit the numbers required.

Furthermore, nonsensical situations abound and only exacerbate the bottlenecks. A building with an epic-level lock on the front door is bad enough, but for the same building to be made of thick stone, to have no windows and for the doors to be made of the same thick stone stretches credibility. Is this a fortress, perhaps? Or a gold depository? No, it's a brick factory. The whole adventure seems to be designed in this negative, passive-aggressive fashion, where everything is there to hinder the players, as if this were not a game, as the whole point of it was not for people to have fun. That said, some faults lean in the players' favour, such as the villain who occupies a room too small for the whole party to enter, which would be fine if he were a close-quarters fighter rather than a magician. Or the big final monster of the scenario, which is so big that by the rules as written it should not be able to get out of the first location, let alone get close enough to the player-characters to menace them at the climax.

I have bought two of Paizo's adventures. One was so awful that I knew it from a read through, but Carrion Hill surprised me. If I am to use their scenario materials again, it will be as a source of ideas rather than something to be run as is, as the convenience of a pre-written adventure is outweighed by the poor writing.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Found

With our regular Pathfinder campaign paused in order to give GM Ben a bit of time to recharge, we've been taking the opportunity to try some new games. Last week Stuart blessed us with another excellent Cold City scenario -- it remains a brilliant game -- and last night I picked up the baton and ran a one-off Pathfinder scenario, as Ben had mentioned that he was keen on seeing what it was like to play the game from the other side of the GM screen. I picked Paizo's Carrion Hill, as all my games seem to turn into Call of Cthulhu at some point, and this gave me an excuse.

I think I ended up running the thing by default, as no one else was in a position to volunteer, and I have to admit I was a bit concerned. My tastes in game design are for more simple rulesets, not the five hundred page monster that is the Pathfinder rpg, but I think it turned out okay. While the game does seem to have a rule for everything, in most cases you can get away with picking a target number, and getting the players to roll a d20 and add the result to whatever ability you just decided on a fraction of a second before.

One might think that having a prepared scenario helped, but I've discovered that Carrion Hill, which seemed so strong on a read through, has some real problems. I won't go into them now, as we're only half way through and I don't want to spoil anything for next week, but suffice to say that it has some serious design flaws, some of which a half decent editor should have spotted.

All that said, my first attempt at running the game didn't seem to be as huge a disaster as I'd imagined it would be, but I'm still not sure it gave Ben the experience he wanted! He has been nudging me into running Swords and Wizardry or Runequest though, both of which are much more my kind of thing, so we'll see what, if anything, happens on that front.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Ministry of Blades : The Madness of Angels, episode 2

Dr Pleasant is introduced; Prentiss chases a burglar.

Played

18th November 2010.

Dramatis Personae

Lady Antonia deVore - a Heavily-armed Aristocrat.
Captain Benson Curruthers - a Military Policeman.
Doctor Zephaniah Pleasant - a Sinister Surgeon.
Miss April Sharpe - a Self-taught Inventor.
Jack Prentiss - a Dodgy Pedestrian.
The Chief Verger of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Foreman of Burland’s Contractors.
Mrs Geffey, a Worried Wife.
Mrs Bodie, an Unconcerned Wife.
The Very Reverend Greenfield's Valet.

Plot

The team descended to the central area under the dome, where they found a tall, dark figure waiting somewhat impatiently. Introducing himself as Dr Zephaniah Pleasant, another Ministry agent, he demanded to know why he had been dragged out of bed at such an ungodly hour. While Marsh ducked out into the streets to pursue some leads of his own, Curruthers brought him up to date on the mystery and their discoveries so far. Pleasant requested access to the body and proceeded to carry out a more thorough examination; although he was able to learn little new, he was able to confirm the others’ suspicions.

The team decided it would be helpful to examine the Dean’s office. Taken upstairs to the west wing of the building, they found a smart but somewhat sterile room. A detailed examination of the furniture and window frames and a search for secret panels discovered little of interest. Musing that he would have kept anything of interest at home, Curruthers realised that the key in the pocket book was for the front door of a house. Deciding to investigate this later, they asked the Chief Verger about the works in the roof.

The Verger took them to the Records Office, situated in the Chapterhouse nearby, where he pulled out a ledger and tracked down the works order for the job. As the office of the contractor was close by, they headed there first. Upon arriving, they found the foreman looking rather annoyed: it seemed three of his workmen had failed to report in this morning, and while he expected this kind of behaviour from Bill and Charlie Bodie, he thought better of the senior mason, Martin Geffey. It didn’t take long for the team, posing as a Metropolitan Police investigative team, to discover that these were the workers from the Cathedral project and to obtain their addresses. They moved on to Geffey’s address, a decent, if small, terraced house in the East End, where they found his wife beside herself with worry: he had failed to return home last night and she was worried something had happened to him. Asked if he ever stayed late at the pub, she told them that he was not a heavy drinker and was devoted to his family. Mrs Bodie, meanwhile, wife of Charlie and daughter-in-law of William, was completely unworried; while both men had failed to come home, this was hardly unusual and she was much happier when they weren't cluttering the place up.

The team decided to move on and investigate the victim’s private residence in Islington. Once more presenting themselves as members of the Met, they were admitted by his valet, who they questioned with care, discovering that the staff were very upset by the news. He agreed to let them examine the Dean’s study, leaving them to take their time. Carrying out a thorough search of the room, they turned up a bundle of personal letters, a series of personal journals, a collection of reference works on the study of the angelic hierarchies (from several different traditions) and a pair of hefty looking tomes in Hebrew. Miss Sharpe tried her Detecteronatron again, detecting a faint aura around the Hebrew works, which Dr Pleasant now took an interest in.

After they had searched for half an hour or so, several of them heard noises from upstairs, not unlike furniture being moved. Curruthers reacted immediately, heading out and up the stairs at the double. He found the door to the room above closed and knocked, listening for a response. He heard the sound of footfalls, moving away from the door, and tried to open the door, planning to give chase. Unfortunately, the door was locked but Prentiss, currently standing idle, was looking out of the window and saw a pair of boots descending from above. Wrenching the window open as their owner dropped past him, he sprang out to give chase…

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Savage Eberron: Bards

In my Savage Eberron game earlier this year, Manoj played a half-ogre bard. At the time I did not have access to any official rules for bards in Savage Worlds, so I made some up; since then I've got hold of the Fantasy Companion, which has the Troubadour Professional Edge, but I prefer my version, as it's a bit simpler.

Bards are arcane spellcasters, and follow all standard rules for Arcane Background (Magic), with the following exceptions:
  • A bard's arcane skill is Perform (Spirit), and this skill may also be used for mundane performances. A bard's Charisma modifier may be added to skill rolls for both mundane and arcane purposes.
  • A bard may only cast spells through the playing of a musical instrument, singing a song, orating an epic poem, performing a dance, and so on. If the bard cannot perform this action, they cannot cast the spell.
  • All spells are available to the bard, as long as they could plausibly be cast through one of the above methods. For example, an inspiring song might have the same effect as Boost/Lower Trait, but it is more difficult to explain how dancing could generate a Barrier. Common sense and GM discretion apply.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Absolutely Nothing!

Yesterday Stuart posted some musings about wargaming, and it got me thinking about the fine art of pushing little tin lead white metal soldiers about a table.

As a teenager I did a fair bit of wargaming, although it was all of the Games Workshop variety, aside from one afternoon playing The War Machine mass combat rules from the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. I have a poor head for tactics, one that borders on the comedic -- some of my opponents might say moronic -- so I was never much good at these games; I won my first game of Warhammer Fantasy Battle with a bold undead cavalry charge and thrashed a GW staff member at a display game of the then-new Epic 40,000, but aside from a long unbeaten run at Warhammer 40,000 -- because Genestealers were very, very broken in the first two editions -- that was the extent of my success as a general. Even so I still had great fun playing, before rising costs and rules changes -- in the case of 40K a combination of both, with the increase in the basic army size in the third edition -- pushed me out of the hobby.

Also, if I'm honest, I'm rubbish at the painting. I have a smidegeon of artistic talent, but I can't transfer that to the painting of figures to save my life. My neon pink Genestealer Cult is an embarrassment to this day.

So that's why I don't play these games any more, despite there being a sizeable community of tabletop wargamers here in Brighton. I'd love to play, but I can't afford an army and even if I could, it would look like a four-year-old painted it. A blind four-year-old. With no hands.

Even so, Stuart's post woke my long-dormant love of wargames, and so I did some poking around. Even after being out of the hobby for over a decade, I knew enough to know that Warmachine is a popular alternative to the Nottingham hegemony, and I've seen some of the models in use in our various role-playing game campaigns, so I know that they're well designed bits of kit. The game is based around small warbands -- just like the Warhammers back in the day -- which might make the painting a bit less painful for me, and the game's emphasis on the mechanised warjacks with infantry as support reminded me of the Workshop's Space Marine, my favourite of all their wargames, despite being no more successful at it than anything else.

Then I saw the cost of the models, comparable to GW's pricing but for even less stuff, and that killed my interest in Warmachine. Maybe if I win the lottery. In the meantime, the world is spared my neon pink Cygnar warjacks.

So that was that, but then for some reason the Dreaded and Unmentionable D&D4 popped into my head, perhaps because it's often criticised as a wargame masquerading as an rpg. I don't think that's entirely fair, as it's more that the strong emphasis on the combat system makes it very easy to ignore everything else, but it did get me wondering about what could happen if one embraced that criticism and played D&D4 as a wargame.

The first step would be to create an interesting battlefield, with lots of environmental features to add some tactical flexibility to the game. Pits, areas of difficult terrain, things to climb on, and so on, nothing too unfamiliar to the average wargamer. After that's done, there seem to be two options:

  • Classic Mode in which one -- or more -- player creates a party of heroes and pits them against a monstrous force. This would be D&D4 as written, more or less, only there'd be no plot or role-playing, as the emphasis would be on the battle, which has the handy side-effect of heading off the problem of the fight taking up the entire session, as so often used to happen.
  • Total War in which the players decide on an XP budget as described in the DMG, then buy monsters -- which need not be actual bug-eyed beasties -- and set them against each other. This version would feel much more like a traditional wargame.
I don't know how exciting it would be, or if D&D4's mechanics are too involved and complex for a wargame, but based on my experience of it, I don't see why it shouldn't work. This is more or less what the Dungeon Delves book does, after all, it's just less honest about it.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Musings & thinking ahead to the next campaign!

Setting search
I am wondering what setting I’d at some point like to run some non-generic fantasy in. As much as I am enjoying Kingmaker, it is a generic-quasi-Greyhawk setting (magical Europe)…. And in that respect it feels limited/ limiting… and even non-magical…. (no worries to those playing it - it is still a blast - I am just aware that I need to also slowly plan ahead - it is How I Am ;)
But what next (as in in 2+ years time)…. Various settings interest me:


  • Shattered world concept – SW have a setting for it ‘sundered skies’ – but it is not quite what I am after (don’t like linear paths to start with)

  • Swords and Sorcery concept – ala Conan/ Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, with low magic (Iron Heroes perhaps?)

Post-apocalyptic world – taking some of the ideas from Dark Sun – but in a different political setup.


  • Steampunk – early age – ala Defoe (the comic) meets New Crobuzon from Mieville’s work (but I am aware an rpg is apparently been made for this). Iron Kingdoms d20 has some classes and gear which could be nicked for this purpose.








1600s Europeala Solomon Kane (but not a replica of that) – Gothicblack powder weapons, clockwork, think Sleepy Hollow.

Party concept
I also have another conundrum –what kind of adventuring party concept? I like to set up a game, in liaison with the Team, as to what kind of party angle they would like a stab at, as well as what kind of game….. Having made the guys I game with play good pcs, and with Stuart chomping at the bit to play more of a ‘grey’ moral pc, (ala the anti-heroes of old, as well as Conan/ Fafhrd being heroes who were also pursuing self interest)… I am keen to have a party set up which captures those possibilities…..

Thus possible party structures:
  1. Mercenaries - like Conan was for part of his career - in the sense they are members of a merc group, have a code of honour, are not evil, but neither are they good - but certainly would be united against the hordes of chaos etc. Could be any pc classes & pure sandbox - although they could seek out missions (for money), as well as developing their own ways of making hard cash - works in low magic S&S/gothic/planar settings OR
  2. Thieves Guild - they could start off as lowly scum in the city's Thieves' Guild - and the first arc is them rising to mediocrity in the ranks: rogue, fighter, ranger, wizard/ sorcerer - play it out like GTA - with missions, as well as with sandbox - think the Sopranos meets Fafhrd & Grey Mouser here - works in an urban adventure setting - and events could see them having to leave it for a while.....(eg falling out with their bosses).... works in gothic/ S&S/ planar settings OR
  3. Witch Hunters – they could be members of a religious order & hangers on: inquisitor, paladin, cleric/cavalier, wizard and rogue/ranger - again like GTA - a mix of sandbox and missions from your bosses. Think Van Helsing & Solomon Kane here - works in the gothic/ planar setting
Obviously some party concepts may work better in a certain campaign. Here's one example:


Witch-hunter setting/ campaign - fleshing it out a little
Reasons for joining the witch hunters: personal gain, joy in hunting, with one party member possibly playing the role of a believer in the cause, but also believing in using whatever tools (eg other pcs despite their greed), and methods they can (since they can rationalise anything in their warped ethical code)

Style of game....thus you have a party moving through the countryside, like in The Witchfinder General, hunting down trouble - for gain (honour, gold, power, women's favour, fear of locals, etc). It could also be part urban - Gothing up Ptolus for example - its backdrop of the Spire, and all the undead in the graveyards is a perfect backdrop for a Gothic witch hunter game for d20.

Development. Of course - as pcs progress, the game could explore how the pcs develop - or otherwise - a broader perspective - eg morality etc - but initially - for 5 levels or so – the game could encourage them to act it out as immoral basterds doing pursuing self interest in the name of their gawd.


Technology levels: I am thinking the backdrop would be airships, guns, etc - but these would add flavour initially - rather than being the centre of attention, eg the party could have either a pc or maybe better npc arcane mechanik in their mercenary band who helps upgrade gear - so long as the pcs get them the resources they need to do the work on their portable workshop inside their steam-wagon. Defoe is of interest here - with the zombie-apocalypse as the backdrop, and the famous scientists of the day pressing fast-forward on the tech levels as they try to create better guns and tech to beat the zombie hordes - applying ideas from Deadlands to 1669 England.

System: either
Pathfinder – with classes such as the new ones from the APG: inquisitor, alchemist, cavalier (?)… as well as old ones: paladin, cleric, rogue – with tech levels – I prefer those of 1600AD-ish for this ..
OR

WFRP
could be the other setting/ system for this game of course. 3e or 2e this is the question!!

Plenty of loose ends here - assuming I stick with this concept:
  • what system? WFRP (2e/3e) or Pathfinder (I know there are others - but these will do for me)
  • tech levels: Solomon Kane of 1600 - black powder only; or the more souped up stuff from Defoe, or even New Crobuzon, with trains..... Renaissance/ just pre-industrialisation/ industrialisation - all of these choices have profound consequences!!what world? Do I modify/ modernise an existing one - what would happen to it if.... (advantages - people may be familiar with it, eg WFRP - but in an industrial age, so some things would be strange), or start from stratch? (won't upset people, but involves more work!) This partly depends on 'what system'.
  • What world? Do I want to modify/modernise a familiar world - what would it look like with these new technologies/ if a zombie-apocalypse happened etc or create a new one from scratch? Each has stengths and weaknesses.
  • Is this the game I want to run? (ie I still need to explore the other ideas as well!

More musings another time. Time to bust a groove now and do some work!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

How to game on little energy

I am now ‘progressing’ into my mid-40s, and somehow, thanks to having tolerant gamers in my gaming group, am still able to game!! Admittedly, folks have been very flexible to help me (and Stuart) out in this regard….. Insane amounts of work (I teach social sciences and thus have tons of marking, and an ever shifting teaching / knowledge domain) coupled with commuting 2 hours a day....

And also wanting to enjoy Brighton and go to the occasional gig, stay in touch with non-gaming friends, see a film, play some boardgames..….

How has the show been kept on the road (for me at least)?

Flexible & nice bunch of fellow gamers
(and their wives) – who agreed (well - their wives did) to let me and Stuart shift the game to Friday so we are able to get more than 2 hours of gamage in an evening… and sometimes, somehow, from 7.30 to 12.30+...

Playing games which are more cathartic/ cinematic…. Like D&D / Pathfinder more and less heavy on the investigative games we all played when we had more energy (like Kelvin still does!!)….. (I do feel very guilty on Kelvin’s behalf – how he copes hanging around with a bunch of old fogies is beyond me. ;) If I am not jumping up and down, shouting and throwing dice I tend to fall asleep (yeah – like Father Jack – urg – is that me??!! Don’t answer that!)

Pathfinder too has helped…. I remember creating a pc for a 3.5 Eberron ‘campaign’ (it only lasted 2 sessions when the GM got distracted by Red Hand of Doom, and scrapped the campaign to run that, again for another 2 sessions or so, before quitting the DM’s shield!!)…. But to create a 3.5 edition D&D pc I was using 4 books: the Players Handbook, The Complete Adventurer’s Handbook, Eberron Core Rulebook, and Warriors of Might (I seem to remember) – Stuart used 5 since he was playing a Shifter, found in the Races of Eberron book…. MADNESS!! With Pathfinder, all you need (currently) are the Pathfinder RPG and - MAYBE the Advanced Players Guide……. And maybe the Bestiary if you are being a fussy b*gger and want to play a talking crow. ;) BUT for most folks, all you need is one book. PHEW!

Other things that help speed up play, and save on DM time:
Get tons of preprinted cardstock dungeon tiles. WotC are bringing out boxed sets now.


A battle mat – such as the Chessex one Leisure Games sell (see right)




Prepainted minis – invaluable – it is taking me ages to find time to paint my metal ones. These can include ones from eBay – as in children’s toys – which you can get on the cheap. Stuart has just got some after the last insane session where our mage, Grameer (aka Manoj) summonsed about 4 rhinos to take down ‘Owlzilla’, a giant Owlbear in mail barding, along with the other creatures in the party which included a Griffon.



Play games for which there is plenty of online support. Pathfinder Adventure Paths offer this – in the form of free pdfs of the scenarios if you subscribe; forums with tips and resources from other GMs; software tools such as ‘Free PDF Image Extractor’ – freeware – which enables you to strip a map from a pdf down to its image without any text/ labelling so you can copy and paste it into word, blow it up into a bigger size and print it off to game on.

Healthy eating! Well - sometimes - but we try! Diabetic Fridays has calmed down a little!!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Ministry of Blades : The Madness of Angels, episode 1

Marsh follows his nose; Miss Sharpe tries out her new toy.

Played

4th November 2010.

Dramatis Personae

Lady Antonia deVore - a Heavily-armed Aristocrat.
Captain Benson Curruthers - a Military Policeman.
Miss April Sharpe - a Self-taught Inventor.
Jack Prentiss - a Dodgy Pedestrian.
Rodney Marsh - a Partially-reformed Thief.
Mr Erasmus Rooke - the Boss.
The Chief Verger of St Paul’s Cathedral.
A number of Industrious Cleaners.

Plot

Shaftesbury Avenue, October 1888.

Returning from Highgate Cemetery with the corpses of the werewolves stowed in the Ministry’s own hansom cab, the group were asked to produce their reports as soon as possible. Once this was completed, they were asked to come into Mr Rooke’s office.

Their superior informed them that he had just heard about the apparent suicide of the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Very Reverend Reginald Green. As the Dean was a good friend of his, he wanted to send his best team to investigate; unfortunately, they were occupied with the Ripper case at the moment, so he was having to send Captain Curruthers’ team instead. Rooke did not believe it was a suicide, so they were to take special care to confirm that this was a murder and find the culprit - starting immediately.

Picking up Marsh outside the Quartermaster’s Office, the team headed for the City. Entering the Cathedral, they were introduced to the hassled-looking Chief Verger, who said he had been expecting them, immediately raising some suspicions given the lack of Police on the scene. The Chief Verger was somewhat surprised when Lady Antonia and Captain Curruthers complained about the removal of the body to the Crypt and subsequent cleaning of the floor. He explained that early services would be starting soon and that this couldn’t be allowed to disturb the congregation.

Curruthers dismissed the cleaners while they attempted to divine what they could from the blood stains between the tiles. The body had landed almost directly beneath the open central occular of the dome: either the Dean had made a prodigious leap from the Whispering Gallery or he had fallen from the walkway around the occular Inspecting the body, they confirmed that he had indeed fallen from a great height (and rather messily). The Dean had been a very tall, thin gentleman in his sixties, bald, with a fringe of white hair. His face appeared to be locked in an expression of extreme fear and there was a fresh, horizontal wound across his forehead, such as might be inflicted by a club.

Proceeding upstairs, they investigated the Whispering Gallery, confirming that there was no evidence of him jumping from there. Curruthers spotted a staff doorway leading to a spiral staircase up into the dome, so they made this their next destination, discovering a five foot wide walkway around the occular at the top of the dome. It was little-used and covered by a thin layer of dust, showing up footprints clearly, and they found a scuff of the right size on the ballustrade, which seemed to indicate he had jumped. Miss Sharpe, meanwhile, decided that this was an ideal opportunity to test her new device, Sharpe’s Detecteronatron, designed to detect spirits and other magical emanations; she did not detect anything, other than an odd glow from Marsh, indicating a need for further tinkering, perhaps? Taking a copy of the footprint, they located more prints on the stairs, indicating someone running up them, a prodigious feat for an elderly minister. Marsh remained on the walkway, planning to shapeshift into his rat form and sniff around. Distracted by a strong smell of cheese and nearly killed by a powerful rat trap, he abandoned this approach rather quickly.

The remainder of the team followed the footprints back out onto one of the walkways above the false ceiling of the Church, winding in and out of a series of low beams and rafters. Locating a bloodstain on one of them, indicating that he may have hit his head, the found that the trail ended at a fenced off area at the far end of the roof. Some maintenance work had been taking place here and stonemason’s tools were scattered around an opening in the facing of the wall, which revealed the rubble infill. They determined that something (a block about 18 inches square) was missing from the infill, but were unable to locate it. Miss Sharpe tried her gadget again and, momentarily, thought she saw a screaming face in the mists inside, but was unable to get it to come back. Shaken, she switched the device off, turning to see Lady Antonia and Marsh extracting what appeared to be a pocket book, complete with a key ring, from under the eaves.

Pathfinder's Kingmaker

Hiya folks, if you have been following Kelvin’s blogs of the Kingmaker story, eg ‘Living in a Box’, and likewise by Stuart on his blog, The Great Game, eg: ‘A Short Cut to Mushroom (soup)’, you may be aware there are a bunch of us playing Paizo’s Kingmaker Campaign using the Pathfinder rules. Having completed books – or as I call them – ‘Acts’ / or Story Arcs 1 and 2, I thought I’d offer up a little commentary and some thoughts on them.

Well – we decided to go ‘retro’ and return to an older edition of D&D having given 4e a go (I ran Paizo’s Rise of the Runelords for Acts 1 and 2, and Ric had run some of Open Designs ‘Wrath of the River King’ slotted into his homebrew setting). We were after a more open, sandbox game – our interest sparked by Kelvin’s Rogue Trader game that was VERY open. ;) & we were also after that retro feel where we had more options than simply killing everything, and only using powers…. A return to skills and a more open game-play. Paizo had produced the sandbox campaign Kingmaker, and with its ruleset Pathfinder, we decided to give it a go, and see where it took us!

Why I’d recommend Kingmaker (using Pathfinder):

It is a sandbox game,
in which players can affect the story, and is not driven by a linear plot development. (Yes – players are limited to a certain size of the map – via their charter from Brevoy, their noble sponsors – but what they do, who they kill, who they ally themselves with in the realm is up to them)

The Pathfinder rules – they are better, IMHO, than 3.5 D&D, more like a souped up version of D&D (influence of Iron Heroes here?), and the tweeks from 3.5, although making it a little fiddly for those of us who are familiar with 3.5 and thus have to declutter our brains from 3.5 gobble-di-gook, the tweeks and changes are welcome ones, and make game play better! Stuart has written a few words here about 4e v Pathfinder – in a fair way IMHO. :)

Pathfinder rpg is well supported – with the Pazio prd, as well as a fansite pfsrd.

Paizo’s Adventure Paths are also well supported – via fan postings on the message boards. I was able to mine these posts from folks who were ahead of me in running the game, and learn from their problems, their ideas on bring some parts of the game to life, and reflecting on how to foreshadow future issues and so on and so forth. Ideas about climate, culture, names, working out some tricky points in the game, how to make sure the players have a background that will advantage them/ link them into the setting etc. Really useful to have a community of other GMs to converse with about the materials, rather than do it all on your own. This is a key advantage of any Pathfinder Adventure Path.

We have really enjoyed it. And players have responded. We have 2 bestiaries now – one for the players for their companions and summonsed creatures stats; 3 copies of the Advanced Players Guides, I have pre-ordered Bestiary 2… and we are looking forward to the new Magic book in April 2011….. None of us have played at this level before in D&D (bar me – level 9 was my limit in a game I ran – The Night Below for 2nd ed way back in 1995-1997)

I am looking forward to playing in Kelvin’s ‘Carrion Hill’ scenario for Pathfinder level 5 and our Winter BenCon all day gaming sometime over xmas – where we get together and play games (rpg one shots/ board games) all day! I am also looking forward to recharging my GMing brain, and having time to paint some minis before I get back into the hot seat! Kelvin’s turn first! Carrion Hill - & Rogue Trader?

Saturday, 13 November 2010

On the Boil

I can't recall ever having so many gaming projects on the go at once. Back in my wayward youth, I'd concentrate on one game or setting for months, before moving on to the next game and doing the same, all of which often came to naught as the group decided to play something else anyway. I'm sure this is not uncommon within our hobby.

I am working on three unrelated projects at the moment, but on the plus side, much of the work is already done for two of them:

  • Our Pathfinder GM has expressed a desire to experience the game as a player for once. In fairness, this situation has arisen because he's always so full of enthusiasm for running his latest idea for a D&D-variant game, so we let him get on with it. Even so, I've volunteered to run a scenario so he can try the game from the other side of the screen; I have chosen Paizo's Carrion Hill, which is rather appropriate, as whenever I run something it seems to end up as Call of Cthulhu, and now I have an excuse.
  • In the summer, I finally got a chance to run an Eberron game, albeit using Savage Worlds as the ruleset. At some point in December, I'll be running the sequel to that: Savage Eberron II: The Jewel of Galifar. Most of the work is done, but I've taken Stephen King's advice and have put the scenario away so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes in a few weeks. My plan is to run these once or twice a year, as a series of linked adventures, but not quite a campaign.
  • Most recently, I've been brainstorming ideas for a return to my Rogue Trader game. I now have a good outline for the plot of the next chunk of the campaign, which will be a bit more linear before returning to the sandbox of the first "season". Players being the special snowflakes that they are, I expect it to be nowhere as direct a journey as the word "linear" implies.

In other news, we hit seventh level in our ongoing Pathfinder campaign last night, although since I've been blessed by Nurgle I decided to stay away and play via Skype. Which was fine until the camera cut out at their end and the microphone cut out at mine -- so I could only hear them and they could only see me -- and communication consisted of me attempting to figure out what was going on from their discussion and holding up handwritten notes to the camera in response.



From what I could tell things got a bit hairy, with at least two characters into critical condition -- perhaps Stuart can provide a more detailed synopsis -- but the party emerged from the troll caverns victorious and with a sizeable haul of treasure, including a +2 thundering great sword for Stuart's barbarian Artemisia, further nudging her towards the Weapon of Mass Destruction prestige class.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Ministry of Blades: The Werewolves of Highgate

Curruthers scores a bullseye; Antonia takes the charge.

Played

21st October 2010.

Dramatis Personae

Lady Antonia deVore - a Heavily-armed Aristocrat.
Captain Benson Curruthers - a Military Policeman.
Jack Prentiss - a Dodgy Pedestrian.
Miss April Sharpe - a Self-taught Inventor.
A Bloodthirsty Werewolf.
An Unfortunate Wolfman.

Plot

As the leaves began to fall in the autumn of 1888, London was gripped by the lurid tales of the exploits of Jack the Ripper. The Ministry, suspecting a supernatural involvement, assigned its best agents to the case.

Captain Curruthers's team meanwhile, was assigned to investigate an apparently unrelated series of attacks in North London. Taking place on the nights around the full moon in late August, the assaults had been bloody but not yet fatal. They were centered on Highgate Cemetery and were reportedly carried out by a “large man-like beast”. Judging that a lycanthrope was involved, the team, excluding Marsh, who was suffering from an unknown malady, and Miss Spit, currently assigned to work with the REG's Psychical Research Team, went loaded for wolf.

Arriving at the South Gate of the cemetery not long after nightfall, Currruthers and Lady Antonia began scouring the mud for unusual tracks, while Prentiss warmed up for a fight and Miss Sharpe fiddled with her latest equipment. Curruthers discovered the fresh prints of a large dog leading into the cemetery and, on further investigation, noticed that there were no front paw prints - the creature walked upright like a man! Now convinced that their target was a werewolf, the team ensured their weapons were loaded with silver bullets and pressed on into the dark graveyard.

Despite the fog, the tracks were easy to follow and led straight to the far corner of the enclosure, as yet unused for burials. As the silver fog snaked between the bushes, they spotted a powerfully-built humanoid figure ahead of them. As it raised its muzzle to sniff the air, it became obvious it was not human, and Curruthers fired a single bullet. The figure fell and, as they drew closer to the body expecting it to rise and attack them, it became clear that he had pulled off an amazing shot, hitting it between the eyes with a single shot from thirty paces - in the dark.

Unfortunately, they did not have long to congratulate each other on their immediate success, as a snarling sound preceded a rushing attack from the bushes to one side. Lady Antonia was clawed from behind and stumbled, saved from a mortal wound only by her heavy coat, as the attacker rushed on towards Curruthers. More shots were fired, and shrugged off, before they were able to surround it. Miss Sharpe finally got her Orgonator working and opened fire, catching the beast in a crossfire with Curruthers and Lady Antonia. It continued to fight, finally going down only when Curruthers hit it in the back of the head from near point-blank range with his pistol.

Both werewolves had reverted to human form upon death and, while one of them was naked in the traditional manner, the second wore a wolfskin as a headdress. The team decided to take both corpses back for further examination.

Notes

As before, this arc began with a simple fight unrelated to the rest of the story. In part, this was necessitated by the award and expenditure of experience at the beginning of the evening and it also provided an opportunity for us all to refamiliarise ourselves with the rules before we got in with the main plot.

There were two kinds of beasts involved here: the first was a wolfman, the victim of a werewolf attack, while the second was an actual werewolf, a human that actively seeks to become a wolf using magic. Rippers often provides different levels of monster like this, and it's handy when you want to have a boss and one or more minions.

Curruthers’ perfect shot was the result of an excessively high damage role - the lesson of this being that you should never get to attached to a villain in this game. Both sides spent large numbers of bennies to aid their survival during the fight and, for the first time, I finally felt able to try and actively kill the characters (and that I didn't have to pull my punches).

Super Dungeon Explore

I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't approve of such things, as role-playing games are a Serious Business, and things like this make our hobby look silly and immature, but I don't care. I ran a D&D4 cleric using a Lego Indiana Jones as my miniature -- both characters had hats, which was enough for me -- so that should tell you where I stand on such matters.


On a more serious note, the Japanese console rpg is a big part of gaming culture now, and is likely more influential than the tabletop hobby, so it's only fitting that the visual style of the former should cross over into the latter. I'm only surprised that it's taken so long. The miniatures come from Sodapop, and are part of their upcoming Super Dungeon Explore board-role-playing-hybrid game, but will be available separately.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

One Page Horror

Here's a little something to celebrate my favourite holiday:

When the village of Haddonfield discovered that the wizard Langenkamp was engaged in dark magic, they raised a mob and burned down the old windmill in which he dwelled. With his dying words, Langenkamp laid a curse on the villagers who sought his doom, a curse which would have come to nothing had Cropsy, a young farm labourer, not sneaked into the mill for a nap and been caught in the conflagration. The death of an innocent provided the mystic fuel for the curse, and now the people of Haddonfield are trapped with no hope of rescue.

It's a short piece, based on the One Page Dungeon concept, so should be easy to slip into an existing game or to run as a one-shot for Halloween. It lacks system-specific rules, but there should be enough information to make generating appropriate statistics easy enough. The scenario is more or less setting neutral too, although a general mediaeval fantasy feel is implied -- and easily changed if desired. It's also packed full of shameful puns and references, as is usual for me.

You can download Horror Comes to Haddonfield here. If you do run it, let me know how it goes!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Savage Eberron: Half-Giants

My infrequent Savage Eberron game borrows the character generation rules outlined here, which give starting heroes the equivalent of two free Edges. This makes them more powerful than standard Savage Worlds characters, but I think that's in keeping with the tone of the setting. With that said, I present a new race, the half-giant.

Half-Giant
  • Strong: Half-giants are not as strong as their brobdinagian forebears, but are nonetheless mightier than most other humanoids. Half-giants begin with a d6 in Strength.
  • Tough: With increased strength comes increased durability. Half-giants have thick leathery skin and a high pain threshold, reflected in a starting Vigour of d6.
  • Big: Half-giants stand somewhere between seven and eight feet in height, and can be almost as broad. They start with a +1 to Size.
  • Low Light Vision: A half-giant retains their ancestors' ability to see in darkened conditions. Half-giants ignore penalties for Dim and Dark lighting.
  • Outsider: The giants of Xen'drik are considered primitive savages, the pathetic remnants of a once-proud empire, and their half-breed offspring are often seen as little better. Half-giants subtract 2 from their Charisma when around the more "civilised" races.
  • Clumsy: Half-giants are big and strong, but they have little in the way of natural grace. Each Agility increase during character generation requires an expenditure of two points rather than one.


Half-giants were introduced to Eberron in Secrets of Xen'drik, which lifted the mechanics straight from the Expanded Psionics Handbook. This is in keeping with the stated design goal of the setting that "if it exists in D&D, then it has a place in Eberron", but since the half-giant in the EPH is itself lifted wholesale from the Dark Sun setting, complete with psionic abilities and a partial immunity to the desert heat, it's a bit of an odd fit. In all fairness, the designers make an attempt to fit the race into the setting, positioning them as an engineered species, constructed by the Inspired from the giants of Xen'drik, then returned there to act as heavy labour in the Inspired's projects on the continent. Even so, it's a bit of a glaring fudge if you ask me, so I've decided to go for something much simpler and have them be the result of unions between humanoids and the native giants of Xen'drik.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Urban Arcana

I played a lot of Shadowrun in my teens, and most of our games were set in a futuristic Seattle, so I'm no stranger to urban role-playing games. I've never played in an urban setting in a fantasy game, though, and that's an itch I'd like to scratch one day, perhaps by visiting one of the following fine destinations:

Port Blacksand: Long before Freeport, there was the City of Thieves. After the ancient coastal city of Carsepolis was destroyed in the wars against Chaos, it was abandoned for decades, until pirates and thieves started taking refuge in the ruins, and things developed -- some might say worsened -- from there. The settlement passed through many hands over the centuries, until a bold pirate named Azzur sailed into port, conquered the city and installed himself as ruler. Now Blacksand is a chaotic place, with a single ruler but untold numbers of factions, great and small, vying for power. It is ostensibly a civilised human settlement, but ogres and trolls wander the streets wearing the uniform of the city watch. Lord Azzur himself is rarely seen, and may no longer even be in charge. A grizzled hermit lives in a shack under one of the city's bridges, a man claimed by some to be one of the world's most powerful mages, but if so, why is he there? And below the busy, grubby streets of Blacksand lie the ruined, haunted streets of Old Carsepolis, complete with forgotten temples to strange gods of the sea...

Honourable mention goes to that other great city of the Fighting Fantasy setting, Kharé. A Lankhmar-esque place that is easy to enter, but difficult to leave, Kharé may not be a city at all, but rather a prison in disguise.

Irilian: Published in White Dwarf #42 to #47 -- before it became a miniatures catalogue, etc, etc -- as an ambitious and elaborate attempt to map and detail a complete fantasy city, something they would later try again with Marienburg for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. What makes Irilian interesting is that it is no list of locations and NPCs, an approach which could quickly become dry and dull. Rather it is presented as a small campaign, with the players being introduced to various parts of the city as they progress through a series of linked adventures, so one scenario might occur in the merchant district, while the next would happen in and around the temple district, and so on. It's a fascinating and effective approach, the city as a sandbox, and one which makes it easier to absorb the sheer volume of information presented in thirty-ish pages of the Dwarf's then-characteristic 6pt text. My only criticism is the insistence on inventing a local language for the city that is the same as English, just with annoying alternative spellings -- "Commandere Aef Hors" for the city's cavalry leader -- that will have the GM reaching for the glossary every five minutes during the game.

Sigil: The ultimate port city, sitting as it does at the heart of the multiverse. The interesting thing about Planescape for me is not the dimension-hopping crossover aspect, as I tend to think that Spelljammer does this in a more evocative manner. Rather the point of interest is the central hub of Sigil itself, a place literally at the crossroads of everything. I see no reason to jump about the many planes of the D&D cosmology when there's such a rich, thriving and unpredictable setting right there in what could so easily be discarded as a mere base of operations. One gets the feeling that anything could happen in Blacksand, but in Sigil the safeties are off, and "anything could happen" takes on a whole new meaning in a city in which gangs of street thugs go to war with each other over matters of epistemology and metaphysics.

Those are my favourites. What about yours?

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

What's On Your Game Table?

Al asks, I answer.

Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition and Eberron Campaign Setting (3.5e version), because I'm putting the final touches to a Savage Eberron game I'm hoping to run this winter, the follow-up to a one-shot I ran earlier this year.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, because I've never read it, and I feel I probably should. I haven't had time to read it in the couple of months since I bought it, but I live in hope.

Aside from various sketches in various degrees of completion for Fight On! -- tenth issue out now, by the way -- that's the lot. Since most of my gaming stuff is in storage in another town, my gaming table -- which is a couple of shelves and a pile on the edge of the sofa, really -- isn't exactly groaning under the weight of stuff.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Kingmaker: DING!

Yesterday's Pathfinder game saw the party members getting to sixth level, after a rather cynical -- on our part -- bit of wandering about the map, fishing for experience points. A common criticism of Pathfinder's rival D&D4 is that its mechanics make it feel like a video game, but I think it's fair to say that our tactics last night were more than a little inspired by the grinding of many a computerised rpg. Which is not to say it wasn't fun!

Last week, the party investigated a series of ruined elven towers deep in the woods in the western part of our realm, but we ran out of time before we could tackle the large central tower. Picking up from where we left off, the party entered the building and discovered a rather obvious floor trap, which the changeling rogue Olban disarmed with ease, allowing the group to ascend the stairs to the upper level.

There things started to get strange, as the party entered what seemed to be a wooded glade under a sky lit by alien stars, and yet it was still a room within a tower, with windows looking out onto the courtyard in which the party had fought the quickling not a few minutes before. As if this was not disorienting enough, the room/clearing also contained a beautiful elven woman -- a baobhan sith -- who began a seductive dance as the party approached.

Alas for her, the only target she managed to entrance was the party's faithful warhound Cujo, and while the poor beast panted happily for her attention the rest of the team moved in for the kill. Sensing danger, the maiden unleashed an entangle spell, which was quite successful in slowing down the majority of the party, but only delayed the inevitable. A short scuffle later, and the strange thing was killed, fading away into nothingness as it died, and restoring the room to normal.

Having come out of the experience with fewer bumps and bruises than expected, the party decided to take the opportunity to explore the surrounding area, having been prevented from doing so beforehand by matters of state. Along the way a trio of grizzly bears were discovered, but the elven druid Cassie used her secret knowledge to calm the creatures, and the party managed to pass without a fight. Later, the heroes came across the lair of some kind of huge burrowing animal and were almost caught out as the occupants -- some kind of chthonic variant of the ankylosaurus -- returned home from an afternoon's foraging. These beasts managed to split the party but were unable to take advantage of the situation, and were brought down, albeit not with ease. Despite having rested, the ongoing fighting and exploration was taking its toll on the party.

The group decided to make one last push before heading back home, and ran into a pair of shambling plant things, each a mass of mud, vegetable matter and animated roots. The tengu monk Wu Ya found his effectiveness diminished as the extra little kick -- no pun intended -- gained from his amulet of shocking fists seemed to heal the creatures so he was forced to resort to basic attacks.

(Stuart has commented on Wu Ya's increased damage output of late, but I think it's easy to forget how much of it comes from enhancements. The amulet gives the monk an extra 1d6 damage per hit, but stripped of that, he was only doing 1d8+3 with each attack, and the plant-things weren't vulnerable to his stunning fist ability either.

On a more positive note, this week Stuart's character Artemisia dragged herself out of her low damage slump of the past few sessions. It's a recurring joke that Stuart does better when someone else rolls his dice for him -- his son exemplifies this best, rolling strings of 20's while Stuart himself barely rolls above a 4 when he picks up the dice -- and it proved to be the case this session, as he was absent this week, but his character was more potent in combat than she has been when he's been driving.)

Perhaps sensing weakness, one of the plant creatures grabbed the monk and began crushing him to death -- 42 hit points to 12 in one round! -- but all the while Artemisia the barbarian was hacking away with her greatsword and Olban was darting back and forth, stabbing away with his twin rapiers, and the creature did not live long enough to crush poor Wu Ya. As it was, the barbarian's warhorse dealt the final blow, crushing the thing to so much mulch beneath its mighty hooves. Battered and bleeding, the party decided to head home, but each of them felt stronger and wiser from the experience.

Level six! There was a bit of grumbling about this at the table, to the effect that sixth level holds little of interest for the other classes. The monk, however, seems to have something funky going on at each level -- Rick observed that the reason that Pathfinder monks don't get easy access to the game's prestige classes may be because the monk is already a prestige class -- so I have no complaints. It's a long haul to the next level though, as we've got to earn around 12,000xp. Each!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Doxy #1

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Imagining D&D

This post over at Grognardia seems to have spawned a meme, as a number of gaming bloggers have posted their responses. Here's mine.

This is the cover image that, more than any other, makes me think of Dungeons & Dragons:


This image was plastered over the comics of my youth, so before I even had the slightest idea of what a roleplaying game was, I was aware of D&D. As such, this image has a lot of nostalgic pull for me, although not enough to make me pick up the the new edition of D&D4 masquerading under this image.

Still, even this isn't the image that defines D&D for me. That image isn't a cover at all, and it's arguable if it's even an image as such:


To this day, I have a preference for landscape character sheets in D&D, purely because of this one document.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Return to the Campaigns of Elemental Evil

Not counting the Savage Eberron one-shot I ran back in the summer, it's been a while since I sat behind the GM screen, and even though I'm enjoying playing in a regular game, I've started to get that itch. I want to run Savage Eberron again at some point, perhaps some kind of loose sequel to the earlier game, so I'm throwing together some ideas for that, but most of my thinking of late has been on two possibilities: a continuation of my Rogue Trader campaign, and a return to Call of Cthulhu. The latter would be something brand new, not connected to my previous effort, and I'm thinking about a short - three or four episode - and self-contained site-based campaign, either set in the modern day or the gaslight period, and using some ideas I've pinched from a couple of indie games. I may end up running neither, or even both. We shall see.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

My D&D

I have no plans to run any D&D any time soon, but if I did, there are some tweaks I think I'd include, most of which would alleviate the problems I have with the original game.

One of the things which struck me most about Dragonlance: Fifth Age was the abstract experience system. Instead of totting up points, a player would get a single "Quests" statistic, which would increase by one with every adventure completed; Quests also determined a player's hand size, and since the game had a card-based resolution mechanic, the more experienced a character, the more options they'd have when attempting tasks. The grey area, of course, is in defining an adventure, but that's easy enough to figure out. I'd use something similar in my D&D, which would alleviate a lot of my pedantic gripes with the old system.

I'd use JB's alternate combat system, not because I have any real problems with the existing mechanic, but simply because I like the ideas behind JB's streamlined approach. I'd tweak it to use ascending armour class, because I've never understood the descending type.

I would also borrow the thief skill mechanic from James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess rpg because it's neat and clever, and not a million miles away from my own thoughts on the matter. I'd probably also use his "only fighters get better at fighting" rule, although I haven't given much thought to how that would gibe with the above combat system.

I quite like the way that Pathinder clerics heal and turn undead using the same power, so I'd use something similar, although I'd consider simplifying it a little. I might also borrow an idea from the Final Fantasy games and have any healing magic cause damage to undead creatures.

There are probably some other minor bits I'd fiddle with (I like the elegance of Swords and Wizardry's single saving throw), but those would be the major rules changes I'd make for my D&D. Would it still be D&D? Well, that's a question for another day.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Ahead of the Game

I find myself in an interesting situation. The Pathfinder campaign, sorry, "Adventure Path", is going well; we're almost to the end of the first book, and the inevitable confrontation with the mysterious Stag Lord. This fellow is the mastermind behind the local bandit problem, and is the main obstacle to the settling of the area by civilised folk.

The thing is, I think I know who he is. This isn't through having seen spoilers, or even worse, cheating, but rather that the authors of the first adventure book have laid a number of, to my eye obvious, clues. Which wouldn't be a problem, except I think I know, based on those same clues, how the entire campaign, sorry, "Adventure Path", will turn out.

So that's the interesting situation. It's almost as if I've played the scenario before, so I'm going to remain quiet about what I think I know, in part to not spoil things for everyone else, and in part because my character, the tengu monk, is unlikely to have figured it out. And yet it's not quite like having read the scenario, because it's very possible that I've misread the signs, and the whole thing will go in a very different direction. There's almost another game going on here, a bit of narrative cat-and-mouse, as I find myself trying to out-think the authors.

We should meet (and very quickly eviscerate, if our barbarian continues to prove as effective as she has done so far) the Stag Lord in this week's game, and his unmasking will tell me a lot about the accuracy of my predictions. I can't wait!

Monday, 2 August 2010

Team Benny

One of the things I liked about Shadowrun was the Karma mechanic. It was a combination of experience points and an ahead-of-its-time action point system, so you could spend it between adventures to improve your character, or use it within a scenario to add dice to an action. The best bit about it, and the bit that was really ahead of its time, was the Team Karma concept. This was a pool of points which was used to boost actions, much like individual Karma, except that it was donated from the personal stashes of the player-characters, and could be used by any member of the team. Not only did it have an effect on game mechanics, but it also tied the group together.

On Saturday, I finally ran an Eberron game, using the Savage Worlds rules; I might post a summary of that game later, but there's something else I want to discuss first. Savage Worlds also has an action point mechanism, called "Bennies" in the game's terminology, and these Bennies have multiple uses. There are no hard and fast rules for awarding these points, and they're more of a general award for good play.

Each player starts with around three Bennies, depending on the setting, and can pick up more through the session, while the GM gets one for each of the players, plus two for each main villain. The interesting thing here is that the first set of GM Bennies are kept in a pool which can be used by any NPC, while the latter set can only be used by the NPC to which they're attached.

So what happens if you use a similar system for the players? The three Bennies with which they start the game are theirs to use alone, but any Bennies awarded during the session go into a Team Bennies pool, which can be tapped by any player. Furthermore, any player can donate any of their personal Bennies to the pool should they so wish.

Note that this does cross over somewhat with the Common Bond Edge, although that can be used on any Wild Card, whereas this rule only applies to player-characters. Next time I run Savage Eberron, I'm going to give this a go.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Undying Sorcerer

This is my contribution to Zak's Secret Arneson Gift Exchange. If you want to see what it's all about, click on the link, but essentially it's celebrating the lives of the creators of Dungeons & Dragons by creating something new for the game.

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Aeons ago, when the continents had different shapes and long before mankind climbed down from the trees, the land was ruled by a proud and mighty reptilian empire, of which the lizardfolk of today are but the atavistic descendants. Their religion taught of a glorious afterlife, in which the dead would live again, and in the case of the nobility, complete with all their possessions, including their slaves.

This was a lie. The dead found a vast, featureless grey wasteland, where everyone was on an equal footing, and the riches gathered in their material lives would have been of no use, even if they had transferred over as expected.

One priest-lord decided to escape, and turning all its mystical learning to the problem, found a way back to the material plane, only to discover that millennia had passed, its beloved serpent empire had long passed into ruin, and its body had become a dry, withered mummy. Further long stretches of time passed, the priest-lord trapped in its old body, itself trapped in its tomb, surrounded by useless treasures.

But then the humans, inquisitive as ever, broke into its tomb and began looting the priest-lord's belongings. One of them opened its sarcophagus and reached in to pilfer its burial jewellery, brushing against the mummy's arid flesh, and the ancient creature sensed an opening, a connection.

And jumped.
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The Undying Sorcerer is the soul of an ancient magician occupying the physical form of some humanoid being. It has spent untold millennia trapped in a sterile afterlife and having returned to the material plane, wants nothing more than to enjoy life in the most hedonistic way possible. Having awoken in a tomb surrounded by wealth appropriate to a member of the nobility, it has found that it has lots of money to spend on the most exquisite depravities, and that modern human society is only too keen to participate; the Sorcerer is most often found not in some dusty tomb, but in high society, throwing decadent parties for the aristocracy.

Having seen, and performed, all kinds of horrors in its time, and having been trapped in a hell without sensation, life and colour, the Undying Sorcerer fears nothing but a return to that joyless afterlife, and will fight with ferocity to prevent such a fate.

(Game statistics are in Labyrinth Lord format, but should be easy enough to convert to other fantasy games of Arneson/Gygax descent.)

No. Enc.: 1
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120 (40)
Armor Class: By armour (varies)
Hit Dice: 9
Attacks: By weapon (varies) or Spell
Damage: By weapon (varies)
Save: C9
Morale: 11
Hoard Class: XVII

The Undying Sorcerer is usually equipped with the best armour and weaponry money can buy, but will try to avoid direct combat. It will be accompanied by 2d4 humanoid or trained animal bodyguards, each of at least 2HD, and 2d12 concubines, around half of which will be humanoid. Once per day, the Sorcerer can also summon up to two animal-headed demons (treat as gargoyles) to fight on its behalf; these return to their home plane by the following sunrise or sunset, or if killed. The Undying Sorcerer avoids lizardfolk, as it is disgusted by their decline.

The Undying Sorcerer casts spells as a fifteenth-level cleric. If druid spells are available, then the Sorcerer also has access to these, at the same level of ability.

As a form of undead, the Undying Sorcerer is immune to Charm, Feeblemind, Hold, Polymorph, Sleep, and Death spells (such as Power Word: Kill or Ray of Death). These immunities are mystical in nature, and apply to both its original and host bodies. It can be turned; a success forces its soul back into the original, mummified body.

The Undying Sorcerer's most potent ability is that of transferring its soul to a new body. It can transfer at will, and over any distance, to its original body, or to a nearby mindless vessel, such as a golem, but otherwise must touch or be touched by its target, then the target must make a save versus spells in order to resist the transfer. A living victim's soul may be simply overpowered, or it may be forced out of the body to another location, at the GM's discretion. The Undying Sorcerer has access to all innate abilities of its host body, but not spells or other learned abilities.

If the host body is killed or destroyed, the Undying Sorcerer will attempt to transfer to its killer, or a nearby vessel, but if not will return to its original body. Should this original body be destroyed, then the creature is flung back to the afterlife, even if occupying a different body at the time. The mummy is guarded at all times to prevent such a fate, and the Sorcerer keeps prisoners at close hand for a quick transfer if forced back.

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My brief for this was "A monster midway between a vampire and a lich in power. It should have spellcasting powers and other abilities that would place it at the peak of Expert-level challenge (14th level). An Egyptian theme is a plus."

I'm not that familiar with the mechanics of D&D, so I decided instead to focus on the fluff side of things and make the monster interesting and different enough that the rules didn't matter. I had a look at a lich and a vampire and went for something that was roughly between the two. Then I got to working on the fluff, which was much more fun. The Egyptian theme was easy enough to incorporate, but since it's a fantasy game, I decided to go further back than a mere human civilisation, and a serpent empire seemed suitably pulpy. One thing I noted about the higher-level undead was that they were all bog-standard evil masterminds, and I wanted to do something different there too, so I had a think about what else might motivate the Undying Sorcerer. I liked the idea of a being who had come back from the dead out of a genuine love of life, but to maintain enough of an edge to make it possible for the being to an antagonist, I settled on the idea of the ultimate hedonist, someone who wanted to live life to the fullest, because it had already seen, and rejected, what death had to offer.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Living in a Box

Back in my youthful gaming days, I remember a collaborative game of Dungeoneer in which we'd take turns to GM the thing as the rest of the group wandered about a world map. Dungeoneer is a very broken game, but we had fun with the aimless format, perhaps because everything else we were playing at the time was quite plot-focused.

With the rise in interest in such sandbox gaming sweeping the gaming blogs over the past couple of years (which has even led to both Paizo and Wizards of the Coast releasing sandbox scenarios), I've been itching to have a go at such a freeform game again. I made an attempt to run something of the sort in Call of Cthulhu, but the players resisted it, with good reason I think, and so it didn't work out. Later, I had another go with Rogue Trader, and this was much more successful, as the game is much more suited to exploration and poking around at the corners of the map to see what's there.

That campaign's taking a break (oh, and such plans I have!), but I obviously did something right, as we moved straight into another sandbox game, this time using Paizo's Pathfinder rules. I think the plan may have been to use D&D4 at first, but we've had a good go with that ruleset, and I'm not sure it's to our tastes as a group; this suits me, as I was out of gaming for the entirety of D&D3's lifespan, so Pathfinder gives me a chance to see what the game is like.

I was a bit concerned, as I've seen and heard many horror stories about the pernicious crunchiness of D&D3, but we're about four sessions in, and it seems no more fiddly than D&D2 was, and is much less of a hassle to play than the overly tactical (to my mind) D&D4. It does strike me that something like Swords and Wizardry would be a more appropriate to a hex crawl game, but we've invested too much money and effort to switch now!

We're playing through the Kingmaker series of books (how Paizo's Adventure Path format translates to a freeform game, I don't know, so I'm keen to have a look at the books once we're done), and so far it's been great fun; we've got a proper old-school hex map, and we're wandering around the wilderness, investigating points of interest, fighting wandering monsters, and all that great retro goodness.