Saturday, 30 July 2011
Jorn's arrest was deemed to be less of a headache to investigate than a full-blown prison riot, and they discovered that the doorman had been identified by a witch hunter named Kurtz as being the necromancer Heinz Gerber, and that he was to be given a trial in seven days, at which point he would be burned alive. This would not do, so the dwarf and the burglar went to the guard house in which Jorn was incarcerated in an attempt to get him freed. The guards proved unhelpful, and Kurtz more so, but Harry and Englebert nipped around the back and managed to talk to their employee through the window of his cell. Once they were happy that Jorn was not in fact a dangerous necromancer and that he was being treated well enough, the pair planned their next move.
The Jolly Butchers decided to put the word out that they had found an artefact belonging to this Bigby and, sensing that there was something a bit off about it, were eager to sell it as soon as possible and for a low price. After a day or two, an urchin arrived on behalf of an "old man" to look at the artefact -- an ornate box stolen from the tomb in the first session -- and having done so, headed off to report his -- or her, urchins are dirty and difficult to identify with certainty -- findings; Englebert made excellent use of his stealth abilities to follow the child back to a house across from the very graveyard from which the box was stolen -- and which they'd been searching for the creature which had been bothering the rat catchers -- and right next door to Skinner's funeral parlour, one of the Jolly Butchers' front businesses.
Popping in to speak to Alf Skinner, they found him nervous and shifty and he explained that some bodies had gone missing. He seemed less bothered by the theft itself and more that the Butchers would be angry that he'd been filling the empty coffins with junk to cover the absence of the rightful contents; as it happened, neither of them cared. They told old Alf to lock and bar his storage room in the basement, and they went next door with four Jolly Butchers as backup.
The gang members were reluctant to enter the house, which was run down and exuded the sickly smell of decay, and so took up covering positions with their crossbows, leaving Harry to venture inside alone, with Englebert just behind. He was attacked by three stinking, flabby pale things with poisonous claws, but Harry proved resistant to their venom, and with the aid of supporting fire from Englebert's short bow, the dwarf smashed his opponents. They threw the bodies into the streets to be burned and sent a message to Kurtz to tell him that the necromancer was still quite active and that he should perhaps come down to the house to see for himself, but a reply came a while later suggesting that the creatures they'd killed were just remnants and that the danger had passed now that Gerber was in custody.
With a sigh, Harry and Englebert went back into the house to investigate, finding nothing of interest except steps leading down into an ominous cellar. Harry went first, to find a crude laboratory inhabited by some misshapen patchwork creature.
At first, even Harry's stout dwarven mettle wasn't enough and he was frozen in fear as the thing swung at him, but he was lucky to avoid injury and snapped out of his paralysis in time to fight back. It was a tough battle, with the creature able to absorb a great deal of damage and not even Harry's mighty hammer was enough to bring it down; two massive strikes to Harry's head put great dents in his helmet and left the dwarf unconscious on the cellar stairs.
The creature bawled "FOOD!" from a slack and ill-fitting jaw and Englebert ran for it; at the time it was unclear if he was just saving his own skin or if he was trying to distract the thing from eating Harry, but it did indeed follow the thief up the stairs. Englebert climbed the outside of the house and on to the roof, thinking the thing couldn't follow, but it proved more agile than it looked and thus ensued a rooftop chase that ended when Englebert's nimble footwork had him ducking out of the creature's overextended grasp, causing it to fall into the vat of a conveniently located tannery.
Harry rested and healed, while a search of Gerber's house went on -- with an eye to a possible future career as a physician, Harry pocketed the necromancer's surgical tools -- and the Jolly Butchers found a trapdoor leading into a warren of tunnels under the city. When he was fit to move, the dwarf ventured in and identified the passages as belonging to some old necropolis, perhaps forgotten by the people of the city. Their henchmen refused to go into the tunnels, but did continue the search of the house, turning up what seemed to be Heinz Gerber's journal. The mad ravings of the necromancer were difficult to decipher, but the Butchers did find a partial map of the tunnels below their feet, as well as a number of entries concerning Bigby's tomb, dated after Jorn was captured.
They took this clear evidence of Jorn's innocence to the witch hunter and the belligerent sod did not release the doorman, but declared that the matter was worth investigating, and so agreed to go with the Jolly Butchers as they pursued Gerber into the tunnels below the city.
Sunday, 24 July 2011
Following the events of the previous session, the Jolly Butchers decided to stake out the headquarters of their rivals, the Red Hand Gang; setting up shop in a, um, shop across the street, the Butchers watched and waited. The mansion was fortified with a strong gate for the outer wall, and the windows on the ground floor had been converted into arrow slits, but there were only a handful of guards visible. After some time, a cart came out of the front gates, accompanied by four gang members, and the Jolly Butchers decided to see where they were going and if possible pick them off, so reducing the opposition within the mansion itself.
Harry and Steiner followed the cart, while Englebert went to send a message to the rest of the Jolly Butchers and have them meet the core group; Gisbert was still busy with some smuggling activities down on the docks. The Red Hand Gangers took the cart -- Harry noticed from the way it was moving that its cargo was heavy -- to a warehouse where they were met by two other ruffians, and together the six of them entered the building. Englebert had returned by this time, and sneaked up on to the roof of the warehouse to peek through a window; inside he saw the enemy loading crates on to a waiting barge at the back of the building, and so he returned to the rest of the Butchers.
Four other Jolly Butchers had arrived -- Kaspar, Waldred, Grimwold and Hamlyn -- and with only one way out for the gangers and their cart, an ambush was arranged. Englebert took up a sniping position on a nearby rooftop, while Harry and Steiner took two men each and hid on either side of the narrow alleyway leading off from the warehouse.
The Jolly Butchers launched their ambush, the Red Hand launched a counter-ambush, and the little street was soon awash with gore. Through strength of numbers and the uncanny bloodlust of Steiner's unusual elven blade -- pilfered from the tomb in the first session -- the Butchers prevailed with nary a scratch, and while most of the Red Hand Gangers were left dying in the muck, there were a couple of survivors. They told the Butchers that only three men, plus the halfling Steevil and his lieutenant Catspaw, remained in the mansion, but more were supposed to be on their way from out of town. Harry -- with an eye on the interrogator career -- also found out that the gang had a secret knock with which to identify themselves at the front gate, and a plan was formed.
The Butchers pulled up their hoods and took the cart and one of the survivors back to the mansion. With the rest of the gang hanging back, the survivor went up to the front gate to request entrance, while Harry -- tall for a dwarf but still just small enough to hide below the gate's viewing grille -- kept a tight grip on the survivor's, ahem, crown jewels.
The group was let in, Harry pushed the survivor to the ground and rushed into combat with the guard, with the rest of the Butchers following up. The guard managed to let out a few shouts but soon he too was dead; not soon enough though, as crossbow bolts started whistling through the air towards the Jolly Butchers. Harry rushed over to the arrow slits, while Englebert scaled the house itself, and Kaspar, Waldred, Grimwold and Hamlyn ran for the mansion's front entrance, which was in an alcove and would provide some cover from the crossbowmen.
Meanwhile, Englebert was on the roof, removing tiles in an attempt to get into the space below, and Kaspar, Waldred, Grimwold and Hamlyn found the front door of the mansion locked and barred, and the alcove not as safe as they had thought, as the pernicious halfling Steevil had installed murder holes above them. Poor Kaspar was shot twice in the head -- "Now he's a ghost!" said the GM -- and the rest of the thugs ran back to the relative safety of the cart.
In the stables, Harry and Steiner did indeed find a back door, through which they heard frantic voices and "the sound of pumping", a description which provoked a long round of laughter at the table, although I can't think why as we're all sensible adults. Honest. The two meatheads took a round or two to smash down the door and into the mansion's kitchen, by which time the, um, pumpers had returned to put out the fire. Steiner went into a berserk charge, Harry tried to keep up, and the pair burst through into a large room; the two Red Hand Gangers inside then faced the difficult choice of putting out the fire or fighting the two slabs of muscle pounding towards them.
At this point, Steevil -- robbed of easy prey -- made his way downstairs, and buoyed up by his presence, the two thugs chose the latter option, which in hindsight would prove to be their last mistake. Upstairs, Englebert poked his head in through the gap in the roof and got a crossbow bolt in the face from Catspaw for his trouble; this knocked him off the roof and into a handy hay cart in the street below, where he lay unconscious for the rest of the fight.
As a result of all of that messy business, the Jolly Butchers have taken up residence in the mansion, and have taken control of the Red Hand Gang's assets. Next up is the exploration of the mansion itself and of its gardens, which are reputed to be haunted. When that will happen I'm not sure, as Stuart has a busy calendar over the summer, and Manoj is expecting a baby very soon. It's been great fun playing a bit of WFRP though, and a pleasant change from the heaviness of Pathfiner; the big fight at the end was very smooth and quite quick, for example, even with about twelve combatants. Ben's trying to get me to run something in the same setting, and I have some ideas on that front, but I'm also really enjoying playing.
Sunday, 17 July 2011
You'd be forgiven for not spotting the dwarves in this picture, as there are only about eleven of them, whereas the orcs brought this lot along:
Saturday, 16 July 2011
Last time, the Jolly Butchers were scouring the local graveyard for evidence of some kind of beast that had been bothering the local ratcatchers, and causing them to go on strike until it was dealt with. Although we'd done a bit of grave-robbing and earned some cash as a result, we were no closer to finding this mysterious creature, and so made the decision to put aside the ratcatchers' strike for now and focus on other issues.
We had only just arrived in town and our control over the Doodkanal was still almost non-existent, so there were a number of roaming thugs causing trouble in the area. Furthermore, a bigger and more organised gang -- the Red Hand Gang -- had taken over half of the district, although had not yet allied with the Marienburg thieves' guild, so could technically still be ousted without political repercussions.
We chose to go after the lesser thugs first, and soon ran into a group causing trouble at the fish market. As planned we roughed them up, a task which took much longer than it should due to Harry's inability to hit anything with his not-so-trusty hammer. Only one survivor remained -- covered in the blood and bone fragments of his fellows as a result of WFRP's lethal combat system -- and he was persuaded to join the Jolly Butchers, bringing the number of enforcers up to eight. Harry took the survivor off to get his gang tattoo, while Steiner and Englebert -- Lufthansa had been called to the docks on business matters -- set about displaying the corpses in public as a warning to other opportunistic ruffians.
Next up was the Red Hand Gang. They had taken up residence in an abandoned mansion in the eastern part of the Doodkanal, and were under new leadership, a halfling poisoner called Steevil. That part of the Doodkanal bordered on the Little Moot, a halfling district, so we got in touch with the halfling boss Rudolf Ingo Pickles, who was also the head of the bakers' guild of Marienburg.
The Jolly Butchers were too few and too disorganised to make a frontal assault on a dozen career criminals holed up in a fortified building, so we decided to pick off as much of the gang as we could while they were out and about on their business.
Englebert had rigged the door to spring shut behind the last of the Red Hand thugs, trapping them in the shop with an angry dwarf, a bored Norse warrior and a bloodthirsty cat burglar. Once again Harry missed with pretty much every strike of his mighty hammer -- despite a Weapon Skill of 51 and two attacks per round -- giving his foes a chance to whittle away at his stockpile of Wounds with little in the way of a retort. By the end of the fight, Harry was battered and bruised, but the Red Hand Gang members were all dead or unconscious, largely at the hands of Englebert and Steiner.
Once again, there was a lone survivor, Wolfgang:
"Tell us what you know about the Red Hand hideout!"
"I don't know anything!"
"Then you're no longer useful to us."
"I might know something!"
The Red Hand often met in a tavern not far from the mansion, called The Sea Hag, so we decided to press our advantage and attack them there before they could withdraw to their fortified headquarters. Harry was too injured to go straight into another fight however, and was forced to rest for a day or two, a delay which may yet prove disastrous for the Butchers.
We went to the tavern and attempted to pick up some gossip from the locals -- this is where Harry did shine in the session; despite not having the Gossip skill, and so defaulting to a modified Fellowship of just 11, he succeeded with each and every attempt he made -- but were unable to learn anything helpful, although they did make the acquaintance of a boat captain who went by the name of "The Captain". As Harry chatted to his new friend The -- being a dwarf, Harry either didn't understand or didn't care about the difference between a name and a title -- Steiner's sixth sense warned him that trouble of some sort was on the way.
The Butchers left the tavern, and detected they were being followed. Suspecting the Red Hand, Steiner and Englebert dropped back to set up an ambush, while Harry provided the bait; a short fight ensued between the Butchers and a pair of suspiciously skilful swordsmen -- we suspect that the GM was cheating a bit here, as he is wont to do on occasion -- which ended with Englebert once more turning on the charm and negotiating a truce. The two flashing blades wandered off into the night, and the Butchers made a quick retreat back to base to plan their next move against the Red Hand Gang.
Thursday, 14 July 2011
The print version is available here and the PDF is available here.
If you buy by the end of the day TOMORROW (July 15), you can save even more on all of these – lulu is offering a site-wide discount of 20% off everything with the coupon BIG (BIG305AU, BIG305UK for some foreign readers), making this one of the best times to check us out for the first time or check back in if you’ve missed a few issues! While you’re at it, check out some other lulu gaming products – there is a ton of good stuff on there from all kinds of producers.
Thanks for your interest, and whether you pick up an issue or not, keep fighting on!
Table of Contents
Champions of ZED (Daniel Boggs) 3
Fast Company II – Nonhumans (Schroeder & Shieh) 11
It’s All in the Cards (Michael Curtis) 12
The Tomb of Kaman-Doh Rey’d (David Coleman) 17
The Apen (Andrew “The Venomous Pao” Trent) 20
Geologians (Tim “Sniderman” Snider) 22
The Witch Doctor (Scott Moberly) 24
Knights & Knaves (Barber, Green, Rients, & Cal) 25
Grognard’s Grimoire (Erin “Taichara” Bisson) 27
The City State of Dusal Dagodli (Gabor Lux) 28
The Darkness Beneath (Heron Prior & David Bowman) 32
Education of a Magic User (Douglas Cox) 44
Doxy, Urgent Care Cleric (J. Linneman & K. Green) 45
Sir Tendeth (Tim “Sniderman” Snider) 46
Creepies & Crawlies (T. Snider and Jeffrey P. Talanian) 60
Monstrous Ecology (Ron Edwards) 63
Random’s Assortment (Peter Jensen & Random) 64
Curses Gone Wild! (John Laviolette) 65
Artifacts, Adjuncts, & Oddments (Jason Sholtis) 67
Treasure Types (Simon Bull) 68
Dungeon Modules: The Rondo Rooms (Jeff Rients) 69
Pigdivot! (Chris Robert) 72
Where the Action Is (Zak S.) 80
Merlyn’s Mystical Mirror (Gabor Lux & Jo Kreil) 84
Notes from a Master (James M. Ward & Tim Kask) 86
(I should mention that I have some art and a comic in this issue, so this post has a hint of self-promotion to it.)
Sunday, 10 July 2011
I've organised to run a "Discover Dungeons and Dragons" day at my local games shop, BattleQuest Games, here in Horsham on Saturday July 23 from 9:30am until 5:00pm.
The aim is to hopefully introduce people who've never played before to the hobby of roleplaying games as well as hopefully raising awareness locally that there is some roleplaying being organised.
We're hoping that BattleQuest Games will be able to take part in the forthcoming Worldwide D&D Game Day (Saturday August 6) and a future season of D&D Encounters.
If you are in the area, maybe consider dropping by and checking out what's going on.
Saturday, 9 July 2011
It's in a similar vein to Wizards of the Coast's Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon in that it's a tile-based exploration game intended to emulate, at least partially, a tabletop rpg. In this case, the emulated game is Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu; Fantasy Flight already produce Arkham Horror, which is in the same milieu -- and indeed Mansions is part of the same line, although the games seem to be incompatible - but Arkham Horror is at the summer blockbuster special effects end of the scale, while the newer game is more of a low-key horror movie type affair.
In the game, players are sent into one of the titular buildings to track down some MacGuffin, along the way encountering various gribbly beasties -- axe-wielding maniacs seemed to be popular in our game -- and sanity-shredding shocks. While the D&D games mentioned above feel like stripped down and simplified versions of the parent system, Mansions is very much its own thing, emulating a Call of Cthulhu investigation but not attempting to replace Chaosium's original game; for one thing, mysteries seem to be quite linear, which isn't an issue in the board game, but would kill the rpg equivalent stone dead.
There are some neat mechanics -- there were some grumblings about the card-based combat system, but I quite liked it, and am already thinking about ways to import it into an rpg -- and there's an interesting balance of play between the investigators and the Keeper -- the player who runs the Mansion's monsters and effects -- with a larger party giving the Keeper more options for mischief, but also enabling the group to search more thoroughly, for example. There's also a fun time limit mechanic, which came into play in our game last night, as we rushed to the finale with one turn left and had to kill an undead creature; the gangster fired two bursts from his Tommy gun -- missing with the second -- and the detective did the same, leaving the hobo to wrestle with the thing -- having dropped his axe in an earlier fight with no time to recover it -- and needing to roll a 7 or less on a d10. It would all come down -- literally -- to the last throw of the die.
The die came up as a 9.
A tense ending then, but still good fun, and I'd be very keen to play again. The system enables the same mystery to be explored up to three times, with differing paths through the plot, and I'm interested to see how that works out in play. All in all, it's a good fun game, and in many ways I prefer it to Arkham Horror, not least because it's much faster in play.
I'm not sure I would ever buy it though, as I don't think it offers good value in its current form. It's an expensive game, but I wonder how much of the cost comes from the thirty included plastic miniatures. The designs are rather uninspiring, and the miniatures themselves are completely superfluous; each has a slot in the base into which is inserted a little token, much like the ones from Arkham Horror, on which is a picture of the monster -- or rather a picture of the grey, unpainted miniature, which strikes me as a bit cheap -- as well as all its game statistics. As such, all the miniatures seem to add to the game is price; I'd have much preferred to see the game use the tokens alone, and the extra cost either dropped or used to provide more monster or layout options. After all, Arkham Horror does just fine without plastic figures.
That is my only criticism of the game -- admittedly based on only one evening of play -- but it's a significant one, and one that prevents me from recommending the game to others, let alone buying it for myself. That said, now that the group has it, I'm keen to play again, and I'm quite interested in taking a turn as the Keeper.
Based on gameplay alone, I'd give Mansions of Madness four out of five, but the pointless miniatures bump it down to .
Sunday, 3 July 2011
Well, to tell the truth, I am both pleased and annoyed. Pleased because it's already a great piece of work, with solid mechanics and hilarious writing -- WFRP is supposed to be funny, and Chris understands this -- and annoyed because my group has just started a WFRP campaign, and I don't know how I'm going to get them to playtest it.
Still, that shouldn't stop you from downloading it and having a go, even if it does end with your player-characters all dying of trench rot in an alleyway while mutant rats gnaw on their faces.
Saturday, 2 July 2011
Marienburg, a prosperous but independent trading port that is a little bit Amsterdam, a little bit New Amsterdam, and a little bit Bristol. Apparently. Local crime boss Smiles Vanderveel had fallen ill with a mysterious malady, and with his withdrawal from the day-to-day running of his turf, his men had either deserted or been picked off by other gangs moving into the area to take advantage of his perceived weakness. As such, Vanderveel's boss, "Uncle" Smalls decided to send in some heavies to see if anything could be salvaged from the situation.
So on Angestag the ninth of Brauzeit, four unsavoury sorts got off a leaking boat at the rotting docks in the Doodkanaal district of Marienburg. I played Hammerhead Harry, a dwarven slab of muscle with a hammer, Stuart played Steiner Eriksen, a berserker from Norsca, and Stuart's son Sebastian played a boatman-turned-smuggler named Gisbert Lufthansa.
Rounding out the party was Manoj's cat burglar Englebert, who was one of Smalls' "nephews" and as such was supposed to be in charge. Our gang headquarters was in the back room of a butcher's shop called, er, The Jolly Butcher, so after some initial missteps -- "You can call us... The Dicks!" -- we took our gang's name from the shop.
Our GM Ben had set the game up as a sandbox seeded with clues and rumours, so we were free to roam and restore the gang's fortunes in any way we saw fit. In our initial forays we discovered another group -- the Black Dogs -- selling narcotics in one of our pubs -- the Moby Dick, hence our first, failed, attempt at a gang name -- so we found their hideout, roughed them up -- which, due to WFRP's brutal combat system, ended with two of their men bleeding to death in a cellar -- and forced them to join the Jolly Butchers.
We also rounded up all the protection money that had gone uncollected during Smiles Vanderveel's absence, and gathered enough to hire a physician from one of the posher parts of town to come and attend to the boss. The doctor suggested that although Smiles seemed to be suffering from a tropical disease, it was more likely that he was under the effect of a magical curse, and that we could either find the original magician and kill them, or find another magician to dispel the enchantment. We decided to look for a necromancer who was reported to be causing trouble in the Boneyard, a nearby cemetery; it was possible that this necromancer had cast the original curse, and even if not, he might be able to undo it. Furthermore, the local rat catchers' union -- who were supposed to be under our thumb -- were on strike following the killing of two of their number by some sort of beast, also in the Boneyard, so we saw this as an efficient way to deal with a couple of problems at once.
Returning to the Boneyard, Englebert decided to do some grave robbing of his own, but was paralysed with fear when he ran into a bunch of animated skeletons. Harry remained stoic and waded in with his warhammer, until the rest of the group shook off their fear and finished off the undead. Steiner was quite annoyed with the burglar for taking the group on such a pointless and dangerous digression, but the discovery of a cache of gems changed his demeanour somewhat.
That's more or less it for the session. What perhaps doesn't come across above is how funny it all was, with fluffed rolls and comedy accents aplenty, and the decision to mark all our gang members with a tattoo of a smiling pig, even those who had "joined" the gang while unconscious. We had a couple of very tired players at the table, but even so everyone was enthused, and I haven't seen so much laughing in a game in a long time. It was a brilliant three-or-so hours, and I'm looking forward to more of the same next week.
Friday, 1 July 2011
I realised that I was after something with the energy of the first film and the old Marvel comics, and then the solution to my problem became apparent.
So Star Wars Plus then. The general idea is that only the first film is canon, and then everything else is fair game. So Darth Vader killed Luke Skywalker's father, Luke and Leia needn't feel bad about liking each other in that way, and Han shot first. I have not yet decided if Jabba the Hutt is a fat bloke in a fur coat.
This approach should eliminate a lot of the setting's accumulated cruft while retaining an essential familiarity, allowing for a bit more freedom of play while still being Star Wars; if the players kill Luke Skywalker -- accidentally of otherwise -- it's not going to affect the events on Cloud City or Endor, because those events may not necessarily happen.
So that's the idea. I'm still a long way off having this ready for play -- I don't even have a system for it yet, although Savage Worlds is a frontrunner -- but at least I now have a solid core idea from which to work.