Tuesday, 25 July 2017


One of our games has rotated recently due to the fact that our new kid on the block, GM Max, has kindly agreed to step in and run his Warhammer Fantasy. Whilst the free form D&D has been shelved for now, as fun as it was, it was also a stop gap kindly volunteered by GM Mike but as Max was raring to go who are we to stop someone with Viking speakers and medieval shopping music? I sort of forgot the ambiance that a good tune can bring to an RPG as its been a few years since I was in a home game but these details lend themselves very well to atmospheric play.

In a nod to GM Jules it sort of brings part of the club full circle as one of the first blogs I posted was regarding the destruction of a dagger possessed by Demons in his Warhammer a few years ago; so in the new technical era of self affirmation do find my link below

I remember appreciating the Warhammer at the time and as accustomed as I am to percentile systems, I did find the character sheets a little poorly laid our but as I had previous experience, my eyes did seem to find the right sections when required.

Nevertheless, I manged to pick up the magnificent Friar Duck for the session and what better title for a gregarious over fed lady of the cloth - presumably the cloth in question being a table napkin  The adventure is currently involving the transport of a bandit ringleader who appears to be slowly running out of life; our party bounty hunting methods currently not falling entirely within the health and safety best practice.

Rolling around in his own excrement in the back of our cart, the accused to be had sustained a nasty infection to his leg which I had wholly failed to tend by way of a critical failure; jamming large clumps of mud into the gash did nothing to raise the poor chaps spirits but thankfully Jo stepped in with his character. Lacking any basic health skills he did however have the stab speciality, so after a spirited thrusting with his knife to the inflamed area we were suddenly in triage whilst our victim bled out. Professionally panicking we decided to quickly cauterise the entire leg and whilst he will never walk again, we feel confident that we can still make a bounty claim on partially damaged goods.

Moving on to an intermediate town where we hoped to rest, the remaining outlaws managed to ambush us by way of disguising themselves as the perimeter guard. Standing our ground with our assassin sniping from the shadows, we took them down in short order but trading a few blows and shots in the process. The particular star of that event was Lees's character that seemed to accumulate a rather impressive set of bonuses by charging in berserker fashion. All very well and good but in my experience such encounters are just a calibration exercise by the GM but for now we shall be drinking in the bar by sunrise and leaving our worries at the door.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017


Last Monday saw the quarterly meet of the Brighton role playing club that operates out of the Craft Beer Co pub in Upper North Street. I have declared myself a regular to these meetings now and I get a kindly nod from Simon Appleton who co-ordinates the meeting through the on-line meetups groups. As always people were in high spirits and very welcoming and it seems that the hotter the weather then the smaller the crowd, though in this case rather than a packed venue like the Winter meet, there were just over a dozen people there. Oddly its sort of the same for us at the railway club - seems like people like to get out and about when the weather is warm and crawl in from the cold in the darker months. For my part I live underground hobbit style and have to do a risk assessment when wearing shorts but despite the heat, several GMs offered their games for prospective players and when I left there were a few late arrivals looking for a game.

At the Railway club meet we have considered and re-considered various organisational approaches to running a club and the Meetups site approach is a definite possibility - the issue I have with this approach is that there is actually no guarantee that a player will get a game - there appear to be a lot of players on the meetups waiting list but I actually suspect they are off the radar. We try and run a venue based system rather than an events based system. This has the advantage of pretty much ensuring that a newcomer gets into a game straight away and sets a low barrier to the hobby by providing a drop in or drive through service. On balance I prefer our approach although it does cause a natural volatility as many players cant make it all the time. Whilst we try and rotate games on a regular basis, opinions vary, some initiatives extend due to GM availability and also content is not always available on time where play tests are concerned. Some GMs are very passionate and insist on running with certain players or a certain number of session, others are happy to finish their games in less than the usual time frame. Herding cats comes to mind but by the same token its often just best to let cats be cats.

I don't think there is a magic bullet here though - In my mind as long as people can kick back, have a chat and get a game then its a win. In as much as you can win at roleplaying..

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The simple things in life

The third and final tome will soon be in my possession and at last I shall wield the power of Gods. Actually it was a bit of a debate as whether or not to invest in a Monster Manual as basically, like a lot of things in life, its just possible to make stuff up, but the book has a lineage and of course is considered a core reference. Besides, they can still be found for circa £25 on Wordery which is not so bad before Brexit hits rpg import prices and I dont expect to be buying one every few weeks.

Whilst some of the entities in it are, to be frank, a bit cheesy, once can appreciate it as a nod to the original Monster Manual, but more to the point it provides a very good reference for getting a precise grip on entity stats even when making up your own monsters. Its also nice to see a cross section of NPCs at the back of the book which is something they didn't actually have to include but it does make you feel like you are getting quality. I also like the affliction rules that you can add to a PC should they get bitten for example by something more furry - the inclusion of a lycanthropy section does get a GMs mind wandering...can you have a gelatinous werecube I wonder.. ?

Also in considering 5e encounters as a newcomer I have worried about where to place NPCs so as to challenge a party but not overwhelm them but there is the new challenge rating for monsters to give  you an indication - here is a graph of challenge rating vs the number of monsters as calculated by the escapist magazine....might get through a few PCs first though before I get this right. The challenge number is based on a presumption of 4 players so a CR3 NPC should be fine for a group of four level 3 players without having to dig out  your resurrection mushrooms. All in all I appreciate its precision and simplicity.

On another spam I note that a new Pathfinder is completing its kickstarter within 14 hours, tho as I have jumped from Ad&D 2nd ed to 5e I skipped all of that drama.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Mission I: The Harvest

I have returned to my roots, by which I mean I have once more sat down to run a game.

This time it was Phoenix: Dawn Command, which in its theme harkens back to many years ago when I was heavily involved in running Exalted Second Edition campaigns.

Phoenix: Dawn Command is a fantasy game with a setting reminiscent of the Ancient Rome Empire, at least, that's the feeling I get from looking at the art alone. The game itself can accommodate up to four players so I thought it would be a good fit for a third club game, since that usually gets only a handful of players.

While the game's website offers a set of pre-made characters, I thought that giving only four for players to pick from wouldn't be enough of a choice and some might feel like they're picking a leftover character. Instead of going with those, I sat down and created six characters, trying very hard not to have duplicate Traits between them. Additionally, I presented the players with a choice of basic supernatural powers to choose from to further customise their chosen character.

In the end, we ended up with a Durant, Forceful, Elemental and Shrouded.

Mission One: The Harvest

The first mission finds the group of Phoenixes, called a Wing, in the seat of Dawn Command's power when an urgent message is received. The Wing is approached by Cinder, a powerful Elemental who serves as one of their commanding officers. At this point, the scenario suggests asking the players to describe Cinder. It seemed an odd idea when I read it. You don't normally ask players to provide detail on the surroundings but I thought I'd give it a try nonetheless. Only one player provided some description of Cinder, which is more than I expected, so I picked some other elements from the provided ones that struck my fancy in particular.

We ended up with an old, bald man with sunburnt skin and an aura of heat surrounding him. He wields a tall charred staff. He has a long white beard that sometimes catches on fire and it is said that when he gets mad, people explode.

He gave them simple instructions: Enter the Imperial Flame (which acts as a gateway between their current location and Dawn Command's outposts throughout the Empire), Investigate and Survive. He also warned them that since whoever contacted them is not responding, they're most likely going straight into battle.

Exactly as predicted, the first Phoenix through, the Durant, stepped out of the flame and into a chamber of carved solid black marble where what appeared to be a gruesome undead knight was menacing an adept. They exchanged blows once before the Shrouded came through and promptly disappeared out of sight only to reappear behind the knight, stab him in the back and swirl its cape around his person so that when it fell, he was once again out of sight.
Unfortunately, the Dreadknight consumed the adept's fear as a mass of black cloud exited his orifices and flew into the horrendous being. A shockwave emanated from his person, injuring all who were nearby. When the Elemental came through, it seemed as if his Wingmates did nothing all this time!

The fight continued, the Elemental reached into the Imperial Flame and threw fire at the knight while the Durant took the Imperial Banner he found in the chamber and charged the undead creature with a fierce battle cry. The Forceful fought with lightning speed while the Shrouded, going by the name Tome, convinced the adept that he will be safe provided he flees from the violence. With the adept gone, the Dreadknight was left without his power source and was quickly defeated by the Wing's combined efforts.

After that scene concluded, I realised I made a mistake. Normally in a roleplaying game you have some system to define Initiative Order, the order of when all characters involved in a fight get to act. In Phoenix, however, you've got what's called a Torch. It's a card defining elements of the environment but it also functions as a marker of who gets to act. Whoever holds the Torch is the active player and may perform an action. Who's going next is entirely up to the active player as he passes the Torch to a fellow player.

As previously mentioned, it has a list of elements that are part of the scene. Players can interact with them to gain special benefits. In this case, they used them to improve their attacks. What I forgot about is that using an Environmental Element also allows a player to draw a card.

Thus we get to the point that drove me to getting this game. Instead of using dice as a form of action resolution, Phoenix uses special cards that you play in order to overcome a numerical difficulty. For instance, the Dreadknight they fought had a Defence of 4 so while performing their attack, a player must have had to play cards up to at least a total value of 4 for the attack to connect. Of course, there are limitations to what you can play and good roleplaying allows you to add onto the value of what you've played but I must sadly say that by forgetting about this rule, I've put the players at a disadvantage. I'll rectify this error in future fight scenes.

Since it was the first session and I spent a good chunk of time explaining the basic rules and setting information, by the time the fight concluded the pub was about to close. The Forceful managed to find the adept out in the corridor, which was strangely covered by a mist that gave him the creeps, and brought him back into the chamber. Said adept was having some form of panic attack but got progressively better the closer he got to the Imperial Flame from which the Phoenixes entered the stronghold. Talking to him they've learned that they're under attack by some masked lord with a cloak composed of shadowy faces and several of these knights in his entourage. They burst through the gates, stuff happened and the adept ran to call for help.

As the adept gave his panicked and rather lacking in detail description of the event that unfolded, Tome realised he had heard this place was once the stronghold of The Harvester of Fear, a powerful figure in local folklore called a Fallen One, that the Phoenixes banished from this world a long time ago. After which they repurposed the stronghold into one of their own.

Armed with this knowledge, they were resolute to stop The Harvester from reclaiming his power. The following session found the The Wing venturing out into the Aerie's corridors.

As they moved through the waist high mist, they noticed odd shapes within. Black shadows the size of insects were writhing through it. After studying them for a moment, Tome, the Shrouded, came to the conclusion that these things were a type of spirit, tiny manifestations of fear. Whenever one grazed a Phoenix, they experienced visions of their first death.
At this point, the scenario suggested the players perform a Skill Spread. They had to aim for a value of 15 at a minimum or die instantly, consumed by their fears. Of course, the rules allow players to add 1 to their value for each Spark they are willing to spend. Sparks are a special resource used by players to activate their characters' supernatural abilities.

As a Game Master, I object to having players forced into such situations. I eased the consequences so that anyone unable to reach 15 would be given an Exposed Condition instead. This represented their character being in the grip of fear and gave them negative modifiers in a fight, putting them at a disadvantage later on. As written, this would have occurred provided a player didn't reach 20.

While they managed to shake off this fear effect, the Aerie's mortal staff was not as fortunate. First they encountered a soldier throwing around his sword wildly, seemingly fighting off unseen assailants. The Phoenixes unarmed and grabbed him but were unable to reason with the soldier through his screams of terror. After a moment he collapsed in Ram's, the Durant, arms. They found a chamber to leave him in and continued to the main gate.

At one point during their trek, Tome was reminded of a tale of the Fallen called The Harvester of Fear. It spoke of a Skavi warlord who made a bargain with The Harvester to get himself rid of a clan encroaching on his land. The Harvester gave material shape to the warlord's enemies' fears which slaughtered the clan. Unfortunately, the fears then turned on the warlord and ravaged his lands. This is most certainly who, or what, they were dealing with here.

Normally, going through a structure erected by an inhuman will would be difficult for someone who has never walked these halls before but the Wing knew exactly which path to take thanks to Tome's Astonishing Luck, a special Trait the character possesses. It turned out he remembered being in this very Aerie during his mortal days when he had to navigate his way through the twisting corridors blindfolded. While at the time he didn't encounter people lying on the floor in a catatonic state, screaming their throats out or seeing the bodies of people who tried desperately to claw their way out through solid stone, he nonetheless brought the Wing to the entrance.

As they inspected it, they noticed there was no forced entry. The gate must have simply swung open, allowing the Fallen to enter unmolested. This made sense considering this Aerie was once The Harvester's stronghold in this part of Skavia. As they pondered their next move, they heard screams coming from a lower level. Gale, the Forceful, dashed forward towards the sound. The Wing followed suit.

Gale ran down the stairs leading to the lower floors with astonishing speed. He was the first to reach a large chamber that once must have been the great hall of this palace. Within it stood a statue of an enormous ebony tree to which the Aerie's staff and local villagers were strung. An ominous figure wearing an ivory mask, wielding a sceptre and clad in a black cloak on which one could see faces writhing in agony moved around it. It was cutting symbols into a villager while assuring him that the longer he were to scream, the longer he would live.

The rest of the Wing joined Gale shortly after he witnessed a black mass bleeding out of the villager's wounds and being sucked up into a sphere atop the tree. Although the hall was additionally guarded by a Dreadknight similar to the one they fought earlier, they wasted no time before charging in.

Armed with knowledge as to what to expect of the creature, they defeated the knight with extreme prejudice before going after The Harvester. Unfortunately, the moment its knight fell, it called out to the knight's essence, creating a psychic shockwave that plunged each Phoenix into their personal nightmares. Some were able to shake off the effect while others suffered fear-induced hallucinations

Willow, the Elemental, slung fire at the Fallen One while Ram used his inhuman strength to drive a fist into it. That temporarily disabled The Harvester and it had great difficulties landing a blow. Meanwhile, Gale shot arrows at it while running towards and onto the tree. Tome proceeded with his surgical strikes from the shadows.

The entire Wing was certain they could take this creature down until The Harvester sucked out a portion of their power. It then turned to Gale as he released a rain of arrows onto it. It reached out into the fear that gripped Gale's heart and death was nearly upon him until Ram stood in the way of the tendrils shooting out towards his Wingmate. When they pierced through him, he noticed they had no effect on him personally as his heart was pure. This moment of confusion was all that Tome needed. He jumped out of his concealment and with all his supernal might drove a spear into The Harvester. The exertion costed him dearly as his body could not withstand the might of his personal Flame, he turned to ash as the Fallen lay defeated.

Since Phoenix: Dawn Command relies on playing cards as a form of resolving actions, rather than the typical dice rolling mechanics, it took some getting used to for the players last session. I was extremely happy to see how, in this second combat encounter, they worked together as a team, relying on their abilities to strengthen their Wingmates. The Elemental burned his Health so others could recover Sparks, while the Durant used a card to redirect The Harvester's attack. When the Shrouded decided to go for the killing blow, the rest of the Wing played cards that added to his result. I was worried that due to their extreme teamwork, they didn't get a sense of how powerful an opponent they were facing but I managed to land at least one blow that nearly killed a character... the look on the players' faces was truly priceless when they heard Gale would lose all but one Health Token if the attack were to connect.

Unlike during last session where I had to use a piece of paper for the Torch, due to the template that came with the game proving to be especially resistant to pencils, I managed to find a file on the game's website that had a print out of all the Torches for the published scenarios. Our main issue was explaining the Initiative Order which the game technically lacks.

When The Harvester had its Speed reduced by 1 after getting Stunned, the players seemed confused why when their Initiative Order reset itself, it went before them. Surely, the Fallen One should have gone after them but rather than moving a character up or down on an initiative track, Phoenix Dawn Command allows each player to take an action in whatever order they decide. The only restriction is that each of them has to act before the cycle resets. This ensures that each player has a chance to act. Non-player characters, however, act after a number of Phoenixes equal to their Speed have acted. This caused some confusion for players who are used to every participant acting once before the entire cycle begins anew. I have to admit, keeping track of active participants is somewhat tricky but overall, the fight went well and we finally had a heroic death!

Which means Tome will get an upgrade when he is reborn for the next mission.

As Tome's body turned to ash, so did The Harvester's physical form slowly dissolve. It lay on the marble floor, slowly turning to nothingness, but before it dissipated completely, he left the Phoenixes with a warning. It said that they may have won this battle but they shan't defeat... Ram violently stomped on its mask. I didn't expect Ram, the Durant, to try to silence the Fallen One in such a grievous manner.

Fortunately, his words were telepathic, seemingly whispered into their ears, so despite its shattered face, it continued to speak of how it will return so long as there is fear in the hearts of the Aerie's staff.

With his body returned to the Dusk, their culture's version of the underworld, the Phoenixes heard glass cracking. They all turned towards the top of the tree where the black mass within the sphere writhed ferociously. It began to crack.

Gale, the Forceful, continued his climb, grabbed the sphere and released the Flamekeeper they came to rescue. With Tome, the Shrouded, being a smouldering pile of ash, their expert warlock was unavailable for comment. They all turned to Willow, the Elemental.

Willow took the sphere into his hands and examined it closely. More cracks appeared on its surface. He managed to get a rather impressive score on his Skill Spread so I provided him with some useful information. It appeared that the sphere contained all the fear of the people tortured by The Harvester and without the Fallen One to stabilise it, it was breaking apart. Left unattended, it would soon explode and ravage the surrounding land, making it uninhabitable.

They had two choices at this point, other than allowing it to lay waste to the Aerie. They might attempt a ritual that would bind the sphere to their Wing and, with any luck, stabilise it long enough to bring it back to the Grand Aerie where the Marshals can deal with it. The other option was to wait for it to explode. It would instantly destroy whoever held it but a Phoenix could then bind the escaping fears to their Flame and drag them with him to the Dusk. Of course, Willow left out that said Phoenix would have to then face each fear in his Crucible, their personal underworld, and defeat each and every one before his rebirth.

As a group they decided to let Willow do his thing as neither of the other characters actually understood the situation they were in. I had to point out that although both their characters are Strength-based that did not mean they were stupid but, as it turned out, they were simply roleplaying ignorance. As Ram is a soldier and Gale a hunter, neither of them was wise in the mystical ways of spirits. As it made sense, I rewarded Willow with a bonus to his Skill Spread to bind the sphere.

Willow was a shaman's apprentice in his first life so he did exceptionally well on his Skill Spread, allowing him to stabilise the sphere and hinder it from exploding for the time being. Meanwhile, The Harvester's victims slowly began to wake. Although they appeared mostly healthy, it quickly became apparent that whatever wounds were inflicted upon them were deeper than flesh. When asked, the Flamekeeper spoke of being taken by the Dreadknight and abandoned in a vast forest with untold horrors lurking around until he saw Gale and he was back in the Aerie.

The Wing did not dare to leave the mortals with fear hanging above them. Ram walked amid the people and reassured them they were under their care. For was it not true that the Phoenixes came the moment they were in danger? One could not anticipate all that is to come but they may rest soundly knowing that whatever comes for them, will have to go through the Phoenixes' Flame first. And their flame burns brighter than darkness can consume.

The mood in the Aerie was lifted and the Wing got a sense that The Harvester won't be able to return for at least a couple of months. With that in mind, they bid the Aerie's staff farewell and began their march back to the Grand Aerie.

At this point the scenario proposes an interlude to give characters who didn't die an opportunity to do just that but as none of the three remaining characters cared to make a sacrifice after the battle with The Harvester, I decided to go straight into the epilogue for this mission.

Upon their safe return, the Wing gave the sphere to Cinder who congratulated them on a job well done and took it away for further study. The Wing found Tome chilling with a glass of wine in the hall. He told them he decided to come back as a noble this time around hence why he was wearing a toga. While previously his Wingmates were unable to tell his gender due to his tendency to change his clothing on a semi-regular basis. Now that half his chest was bare, they were fairly certain he was a man.