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.

  • 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!