Thursday, October 26, 2017

Forest of Fiends: Temples on the Frontier

Okay, so I've been developing my jungle sandbox campaign setting a bit more.  Because the effort on the coast of the ancient continent is led by contingents from the temples of several major deities I need to sketch in some basic information on them.  In the beginning the temples of The Radiant Triad (Torm, Tyr, and Ilmater) provided priests, paladins, soldiers, servants, and pilgrims for the holy crusade and the faithful of did not stint in providing support of all kinds.  Alas, their first fleet was wrecked on the coast in an ouragan storm and only a few survivors escaped in a small boat to tell the tale.  Two smaller expeditions explored the coast more cautiously and eventually discovered the island they named Light of Fortune.  After establishing a base in the abandoned town of Tahala and bringing reinforcements they quelled the ire of the local tiefling savages and pacified them by teaching proper worship of the True Gods.  With the help of tiefling laborers from the newly-pacified clans the Temple of Jannath cleared jungle and built a small village named Lady of Bounty dedicated to the goddess.  Unfortunately, not long afterwards the village was ravaged and mostly burned by evil fey marauders.  The rebuilding is mostly complete but more settlers are needed.

Temple of Torm (God of duty, loyalty, and obedience [LG])

Our here on the frontier the clerics of dauntless Torm are led by the dashing but vain Paladin-Captain Rynaldo Lyma <male/human>, about whom the songs are many.  The majority of the representatives of this temple out here are paladins but there are still many clerics and others.  Paladins are always stationed at the docks to determine the quality of the souls of new arrivals.  Those found wanting are sentenced to paid positions under "supervised service", mostly as oarsmen on two small triremes (the Tidecutter and Ocean of Faith) which patrol near the island, up the river, and along the coast; others work with hammer and chisel to level the rock at the island's highest point to prepare for a planned temple.

Temple of Tyr (God of justice and war [LG])

Judge-General Chessanta Turindei Urbaville <female/dwarf>  is first among the clerics of incorruptible Tyr.  The temple operates the only court of law out here on the edge of the world.  The temple of Tyr is represented mostly by judge-priests here, but there are a few paladins.  The judges work with the paladins of Torm to find fair employment for those arrivals whose souls are found to be clouded.  The temple also has a contingent of mercenaries, half halberdiers and half crossbowmen, led by two Priest-Captain clerics of the temple.  These defend the island, Lady of Bounty, and serve as marines on the two patrol galleys.

Temple of Ilmater: God of martyrdom and patience [LG])

The priests and priestesses of Ilmater currently have no one preeminent among them.  They operate a small hospital on the island, providing healing to all who enter without prejudice or fee.  Most of his clerics, however, are currently onshore ministering to  the pacified tielfing clans and the colonists at Lady of Bounty.  They sooth fears, heal wounds, and teach forebearance.  Many have willingly gone forth into the jungle to proselytize more tieflings and more than a few subsequently gladly accepted martyrdom in his service.

Temple of Chauntea, called by some Bhalla or Jannath (Goddess of agriculture, farmers, gardeners, summer [NG])

The center of activity for the Grain Goddess is the struggling colony of Lady of Bounty.  The chief priestess Henrielta Lurical <female/human> is determined to tame the savage jungle and replace it with proper, decent fields of grain and orchards for fruit.  The village is well-located, with fairly good soil, a river along one side, and a spring for fresh water; it is also protected by a log stockade.  However the fey of the jungle seem to hate the place and they harass it constantly.  About two weeks ago it was attacked by an unusually large band of raiders who burned over half the buildings and some of the stockade.  The inhabitants are mostly "volunteer homesteaders" transported from the Holy Realms and thus not fit material for farming or fighting.  They are instead a mix of half-orcs, half-elves, petty criminals, beggars and vagrants, ransomed debtors, and some political exiles.

Temple of Tymora (Goddess of Luck, Adventure, Travel  [CG])

Tymora is the only deity with a fully consecrated temple out here.  It is led by Luck-Chanter Sanchetta Lurical <female/human>--free-spirited older sister of the chief priestess of Chauntea at Lady of Bounty.  In fact Sanchetta eagerly came out here as a way to tease her stuffy (but much loved) little sister.  The other temples currently make due with small portable shrines in temporary housing, which causes some resentment.  The House of Tymora, however, is not a simple temple but a thriving bar, casino, and (so persistent rumors have it) brothel.  The goddess is a natural focus for worship under the circumstances and her casino temple is the only major location in Tahala for fun.  The clerics of the Radiant Triad are not amused by this den of iniquity but shutting it down would destroy morale and likely lead to rioting.  They content themselves with stiff watch patrols in its vicinity.

Friday, October 13, 2017

There's Only One Condition (Simple Condition Rules for Old School Hack)

So, yes I am still chugging along with my hack of the very fun Old School Hack, thanks for asking.  Being a very old school game, it does not waste any space on rules for "conditions", such as dazed or nauseated.  I wanted to add some condition rules, but they had to be very simple.  An excellent example for me of the approach NOT to take is Pathfinder.  Pathfinder has 36 (!) conditions.  Several have names which are way too similar in meaning, such as Frightened and Panicked, and many apply such slight modifiers that they aren't really worth bothering with: Oh, no, I have a -1 to attack rolls for 3 rounds!? Pfffftt, whatever.

Thinking over a quick and easy way to do conditions I decided that really there are three basic states for a creature: 1) fine (no impairments), 2) suffering a condition which partially impairs (such as blindness or nausea), and 3) suffering a condition which totally impairs (such as being paralyzed or unconscious).  Fine is fine and totally impaired is totally impaired, so we really only have to tackle conditions which partially impair.  I decided up front that there should be a single, easy-to-remember  mechanic for all impairing conditions (as opposed to a massive list with finicky micro-rules).  In the end I went with the advantage/disadvantage mechanic from D&D 5th Edition.

So when a character is suffering a condition which partially impairs and they need to roll for some action, the GM rolls a d12 against them which is the condition die.  If the condition die beats  the character's roll, either the 1d12 roll for an attribute check or the both of the d10s (individually) for an attack roll, then the character action fails.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Doing Initiative Like a (Dungeon) Boss!

Okay, so I've been playing this fun RPG batttle game on my mobile phone called Dungeon Boss.  You acquire heroes, run dungeons, level up, etc.  The initiative is based on classing each hero or monster as fast, normal, or slow.  Fast characters/monsters go first, then normals, then slows.  I'm interested in adapting this for regular RPG games.  I don't quite like the old school "party initiative" because it lumps everyone together regardless of dexterity, encumbrance, etc. and I'm tired of slogging through the stilted 3E/Pathfinder individual initiative (even though I generally treat the party's opponents as one group to speed things up).

So the Dungeon Boss initiative model looked like an interesting alternative.  The first step is to sort your classes into the three speed categories:

Old School Classes
Thief = fast
Halfling = fast
Fighter =normal
Elf = normal
Magic-User = slow
Cleric = slow
Dwarf = slow

D&D 3E/Pathfinder Classes

If one side has more fast heroes than the other then that side automatically gets the initiative.  Otherwise, you roll 1d6 for each side as though you were doing party style initiative and the higher scoring side gets the initiative  The winning initiative side acts with all fast heroes then the other side acts with all its fast heroes.  Next all the normal speed heroes on the winning side act, etc.  The overall sequence will look like this:
  1. Winning side fast heroes
  2. Other side fast heroes
  3. Winning side normal heroes
  4. Other side normal heroes
  5. Winning side slow heroes
  6. Other side slow heroes
This method has its own quirks but I'm looking for something with more granularity than old school initiative but without the tedious fiddly bits in 3E initiative.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Zophiel'sTale: Meeting the Strikers, Then Demons

 This post is a guest appearance by my buddy Kirk.  I'm currently running a campaign based on the Shackled City adventure path by Paizo.  This is the story of how his character, Zophiel, meets the rest of the group and heads off with them on their latest foray.  They have dubbed themselves The Last Strikers and are slowly becoming known around the city of Cauldron.  The Strikers, minus the human mage Abraham, have just raided the Cathedral of Nethys in Cauldron in search of clues about the insidious Cagewrights and their vile plans.  Zophiel comes upon the party and Abraham unexpectedly as she visits the cathedral to inquire about learning some arcane lore.

The City of Cauldron (from the AP boo)

Zophiel in the Wilds, Again

After a brief introduction, I watch the Strikers.  Trenzen does most of the talking.  He leads us through the town to visit an old mage, the library, the captain of the guard, but only after a great inspiring speech in the front of the crowd gathered outside of the Temple of Nethys.  The same crowd that had gathered and I was a part of.  But first, let me continue my story of how I met them.

So, as I was standing in the crowd, I see a man dressed in robes coming to the temple.  From his description, I am guessing it is Abraham, one of the Strikers and a great wizard.  This sends me back to my days of my youth, when I was just 25 or 26, and I saw the Elven wizards so common in my homeland.  I'm a little nervous when I introduce myself and I use what humans call me, Sophie.  I mention to Abraham that I saw one of the Strikers peek out then head back in again.  It is just natural that we can follow and slip into the temple through same side door, unseen.

The inside of the temple is deserted, yet I know they are in here, and most of the others are gone, for I saw two giants, half-orc guards and many gnomes wearing the clothing of their temple running away.  I call out “Is anyone in here?” 

“We are back here!” A half orc’s voice returns.  From the descriptions I got in the bath house, this must be Trenzen, the half orc archer-paladin.  The half orc is busy questioning two clerics of this temple.  I keep silent as he probes them while they prepare a corpse for burial.  I find out that the body is one of the famous Stormblades.  Trenzen handles this like a mystery.  Admiration for his inquisitiveness is worthy to give him, for a half orc.  That is my upbringing talking, for being in the goddess forsaken place I have learned that many are much better than they seem, while others, deep down, are very superficial.  I ask about magic regents and don't get any help.

Soon we are on our way to the captain of the guard and introductions are given to me.  So many names but for me, it is to put names to faces.  I tell them, seeing how they are a ‘just’ force coming to power, I want to ally myself to them.  I'll want tell of my past but not today, as Trenzen is so interested in what I could do.  I tell him of my translation work, and tracking, both humans and animals, and being a scout.  He asks me if I weave magic.  I state that I do and he presses me for if I use books or not.  And well, sometimes I do, but mostly I don't.  Then he asks if I perform. I do not.  I tell him again, what I have done in the past and how I can help.  Apparently, we go in circles.  And finally he asks if I can teach him some magic.  We finally agree that what I know, he doesn't know and has little chance of learning.  I can only surmise, that the orc in him is speaking. 

We arrive at the house of the captain of the guard and Trenzen proclaims the group’s innocence.  When he speaks, it's hard to follow, but in the end, he is very convincing, this is not the orc speaking this time.  The logic doesn't actually confirms his original statements, though.  Since it is to our benefit, I'll let it slide.

Next, Trenzen wants to warn the rest of the Stormblades.  We find one of them in the Cusp of Sunrise.  She tells of how the head of the temple of Nethys wanted them to go underground beneath the city to fight something called the Cagewrights.  Instead it was an ambush and one of them died, which explains the death. 

For the evening, they offer to let me stay with them. 

The next day, we are up early. Trenzen asks if I need a horse, but I decline.  I summon my spirit horse.  All the day long it is with me.  We, the summon horse and I, move as fast uphill as down and more than once I had to wait for the others with their slower animals.  The hooves from the horse are barely seen, for one can almost see through them.  And after a day’s trip, we arrive at Red Gorge.  My horse vanishes when I dismiss it.  But the Strikers take this in stride, that is, magic they are accustomed to, and so, it's a common thing for me to weave the elven song.  We stay at the Redhead Miners Inn and I meet Kaylee, another Striker, and I compliment her on the bathhouse.  I tell her the employees spoke very highly of her and of the rest.  They told me of many tales of their adventures in colorful washes of finely spoken words, while I lay naked in the pool, with a mist rising around.  Not the same mists of the jungle.  The jungle holds mists filled with creatures and plants, magnificent beautiful and dangerously deadly.

That evening, we debate how to proceed.  In the end, we decide to hire boat paddlers to take us down the Seave River to the camping spot with an idol.  The paddlers sleep under the canoes and we rest around a campfire, located on a sandy beach, midway from the river to the jungle tree line.  It's a short distance of no more than 50 or so feet.  I set my backpack down and pull out my bedroll.  I fall into a comfortable meditation quickly under the stars, for I know I am with good company.  They agree to wake me for a third watch.

Shouts, orders, painful shrieks I see and hear in my non awake mind.  I know I must be dreaming, but then I open my eyes and am all too well aware that I wasn't dreaming.  We are being attacked!  A wall of blue and purple flames encircled around us, forcing us close.  There is a reason I can guess and is confirmed not a few more seconds later, when a fireball comes down from the sky and explodes right on our campfire, engulfing us.  The Strikers do their thing, and I stretch my mind for a jungle creature that does this.  But to the Strikers, I appear confused and panicky consider jumping over the fire, or over the ice storm that appears to possibly put out the fire circle.  Or, to jump in the water to swim under the fire.  Then I feel a sudden urge of goodness.  That's my cue to shoot wildly at the creature that is raining fire down upon us.  It will force it to dodge more arrows and disrupt its casting another fireball. I see that an arrow, one of mine hit Toni, the Striker's heavily armored warrior.  I run to her and using my magic, I close some of her wounds.  And I apologize profusely for having one of my arrows hit her.  It's over almost as fast as it begins, with arrows and magic bolts, the creature falls from the sky.  At this point, I can clearly see it is not a jungle creature at all, but a creature not from this world and some of the Strikers conjecture it was sent by a newly made adversary, the high clerics of the Temple of Nethys from the city of Cauldron.

Since the entire night hadn't passed yet, we return to our sleep, a bit more watchful of the sky and of the jungle treeline, searching for whatever could be lurking in the distance.  I finally drift off to my meditation while others discuss if that creature was sent by the clerics of Nethys, something I concluded already.

The next day, I'll be on point.  I summon the Elven magic to give me a clear view of the jungle and the most safe direct route to the Demon Scar.  We don't want to fight anything we can avoid.  A vision comes to me and I recognize the places where natural beasts would lay in wait, catching their next meal.  These areas I avoid.

About mid afternoon, after the usual rains, the jungle give way to a vast desolate circular bowl void of plant life: the Demon Scar opens with a view.  Down below, we see demons and fire giants roaming freely.  I suggest that we can go around the rim.  Before setting out, I call a small woodland spirit.  It looks like a pink semi translucent bird.  Definitely it is not a real bird.  I ask it to scout the rim and to look for large animals or creatures and report back.  When it returns it tells me that there aren't any large animals or creatures on the rim, and it also says that it found ruins where an entrance has been dug out recently. 

When we get there, Jax the "adventurer" and I scout around.  We make too much noise and I realize the day at the bath has softened me some.  We find tracks of three of four people that have passed this way.  It's too difficult to tell if they came or left.  On the way back, Jax and I are much more quiet.

We decide that everyone should go into the building for they think it will be safer inside than out here.  I'm not running this group, but I'd advise against it, if asked.  I call a bat to fly down into the ruins and it returns to tell us of two empty of life rooms below and a collapsed tower with a watery stream running in a tunnel, below.  We move inside and rest in the big room.  I conjure a magic hut so we rest in comfort from the jungle humidity.  That is one thing I haven't gotten use to after a hundred and some years here - the wet heat.  The night passes without incident.

At the end of my watch, I prepare a breakfast for the Strikers...

Friday, August 25, 2017

Pathfinder Themed Gestalt (draft)

As I mentioned in a recent post I'm looking to break out of my gaming group's usual Pathfinder comfort zone and do something different--either a little different or a lot different.  More specifically I'd like to do things we've never done before.  So if we stick with Pathfinder that may be tough because we've played most of the usual classes, archetypes, races, prestige classes etc.  I see two good alternatives; well, easy alternatives.  One is to use the new hybrid classes--just the hybrid classes.  I haven't seen anyone play one of these in our games.  However, I'm not super excited about them and, apparently, neither is the rest of my group.  The other path is gestalt multi-classing, probably with just the core classes because they seem the best balanced.

Okay, but how about taking that a step farther and doing what I'll call "themed gestalt" play.  In themed gestalt all players will share one class (or a choice from a limited group of at most three classes) and add another to that one to individualize.  The shared class(es) creates the theme and provides a background tying the group together.  I played with this idea earlier as a basis for a fantasy oriental game "Righteous Cloud Temple" where all the characters are monk+something dual classed.

So here is a set of themed gestalt ideas using the core classes as a base.

⦁    Barbarian Based - a dream-quest called you all here to meet your ultimate fate as a hero; the druid and/or ranger could be alternate bases

⦁    Bard Based - Hey, Hey it's the Monkees!/Josie and the Pussycats/This is Spinal Tap; came out here to play to the adventurers--hopefully as the only act in town--and wacky hijinks ensue; the sorcerer (with maestro bloodline) could be an alternative base

⦁    Cleric Based - clerics of one deity or small set of compatible deities; could have the paladin as alternate base if that works for the particular deity

⦁    Druid Based - members of a druidic circle are drawn to commune with and heal the tainted wilderness; could have the ranger as alternate base

⦁    Fighter Based - former military or mercenary comrades-in-arms carve out a kingdom for glory and riches

⦁    Monk Based - members of the same temple or --better--all rival temples, seeking the fabled First Temple where the noble study of the martial arts first began

⦁    Paladin Based - paladins of a Lawful Good deity; the paladin theme class could have the cleric, of the same deity or any compatible deity, as alternate base

⦁    Ranger Based - drawn to explore and investigate the tainted wilderness; the ranger theme class here could have the druid and/or barbarian as alternates

⦁    Rogue Based - a gang of "explorers" or  "archaeologists" seek the biggest heist ever

⦁    Sorcerer Based - your inner natures called you together, and now you must find out why

⦁    Wizard Based - find ancient spells and magic to bring back with power and knowledge; the wizard theme class could have the sorceror and/or bard as alternates

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Forest of Fiends: Simple Jungle Weather Tables

I did an earlier post with simple weather tables for a generally temperate climate.  Now, for the new sandbox campaign idea I'm developing, I need jungle weather.

Monsoon Season (November ~ February)
1~4 = Hot; constant torrential rains sweeping in from the sea; overcast; flash-flooding
5~8 = Hot; frequent thunderstorms sweeping in from the sea
9~10 = Hot; frequent light showers
11~12 = Hot; clear

Summer Season (March ~ July)
1~2 = Brutally hot; thunderstorms
3~6 = Brutally hot; clear and sunny
7~10 = Hot; clear and sunny
11~12 = Hot; occasional light showers

Harmattan Season (August ~ October)
1~4 = Hot; blustery winds from the interior
5~8 = Warm; blustery, bringing thin clouds of chaotic fey pollen from the interior
9~12 = Warm; blustery, bringing heavy clouds of chaotic fey pollen from the interior

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Campaign Idea - Forest of Fiends

Okay, so I'm still playing around with ideas for my campaign after this one.  I'd like to do something different.  Different not only from what I've done before but also what my gaming group comrades have run for us.  One type we haven't done is the classic sandbox: the GM draws up a map, populates it with locations and encounters, and unleashes the players on it.

A little while back I read a great sandbox idea over at The Wandering Gamist meant to be done in the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS).  It's a take on the idea of a "lost continent" ripe for exploration.  I liked that general concept so I'm doing some prototyping with ideas to see if I can make something come together.  The rules set is as yet undecided, partly so as to not limit my thinking, but also because I'd like to offer the players a couple options and let them choose.  I'm generally thinking "not Pathfinder"--because that's our go-to set and this campaign is meant to be a break from the usual--but I'll leave it up to them.  I'm grabbing the deities from the old Forgotten Realms setting because I've always liked them and because I'm not motivated to do an entire pantheon from scratch.  The working title is "Forest of Fiends" because it will feature a lot of chaos, demons, and jungle.


A thousand years ago the Empire of Pra-Kryush ruled a mighty continent and made war to conquer lands far across the sea.  Their power rested on a blood-soaked alliance with the vile Marilith Queens.  With the aid of demon generals and titanic warbeasts supplied by the queens, the armies of the empire conquered lands far and wide. There they built temples to the Queens where the blood of victims filled the sacrificial basins and all knelt before the abyss.

But there came a time when the Queens' lust for conquest and blood could not be sated and they turned on their allies in Pra-Kryush.  Ravenous demonic things poured from the temples and the empire fell into chaos and fire.  The conquered lands seized the opportunity and  rose up with the help of their True Gods and threw off the yoke of the empire. These liberated lands renamed themselves the Holy Realms.  But the heartland of Pra-Kryush, across the wide ocean, was declared anathema: travel there was forbidden and any who delved into knowledge of summonings, demonology, necromancy, and other hell-arts were burnt at the stake.

Seven years ago Warpriest Chazan, the greatest priest of the god Torm, proclaimed a vision from his god: that the time had come to cleanse Pra-Kryush and establish the light of the True Gods there.  The temples of Tyr and Ilmater, the other two members of The Radiant Triad, joined their ally immediately.  The kings and queens of the Holy Realms quickly responded, both from religious fervor and an unparalleled opportunity to acquire land and treasure.  The kingdoms and temples sent various expeditions but almost all failed for one reason or another.  Pra-Kryush is still a place of doom.

The adventure begins in the town of Tymoris on the riverine island of Light of Fortune, where a sprawling temple-casino of Tymora anchors a ramshackle boomtown awash in fortune-seekers of every stripe.  Crusaders, exiles, colonists, pilgrims, pirates, and desperados all rub elbows in the streets and taverns.   Light of Fortune is located in the delta of a massive river dubbed the Hellflow.  All manner of fiendish creatures swim in it, just waiting for prey.  Rumors say the waters boil up from a cave in a fire-mountain, bringing the creatures up from the depths.  Luckily they generally avoid salt water so ships from the Holy Realms can usually get to and from the seaward side of the island unmolested.

 A forgotten people built a town on the island which scholars claim was called Tymoris.  The island is rocky, with only scrubby grass and stunted trees on the upper surfaces.   Fortunately, the original inhabitants built a reservoir and equipped it with a magical fountain to provide drinking water.  Channels and piping, now restored, carry water to several other small fountains throughout the town.  Despite the inflow of colonists and fortune seekers there are still a number of empty houses on the island, although all buildings legally belong to the Council of the Triad who act on behalf of the monarchs of the Holy Realms.   The days are warm and sunny with occasional light showers sweeping in from the sea, but in a few weeks the monsoon rains will arrive.

The game begins as the ship on which the party took passage approaches the town docks.  The captain of the Brightwave, an elder human named Tio Manzzada, has made the long passage seven times already and regaled the characters during the trip with rumors and stories--some of which may actually be true.

Features of the Campaign

The adventures will include much adventuring in the wild jungles, but also many "dungeon" type locations.  Encounters with demonic creatures, fey abominations, and natural creatures of the jungle will be frequent.  There will be significant political interactions with factions from the Holy Realms, particularly the temples.  There may be some travel by sea along the coast (this is a sandbox type campaign).  Travel back to the Holy Lands is not expected as the focus will be on exploration of Pra-Kryush--and dying a lot.

Pra-Kryush is a tropical jungle land.  Few maps remain from the old days, as most were burnt with their heretic owners to protect the faithful.  Even now there are only partial maps and navigators logs providing any information and even them mostly only what lies on the coast.  Old songs tell of a grand Cloud Plateau far inland, homeland of the inscrutable fey, who are as evil as the demons who presumably still prowl the lowland jungles.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Getting Started with Campaign Cartographer 3+

I've dabbled a bit with hand drawn style already for dungeon maps, as posted a few times here on the blog.  But there are a lot of great maps out there done with art programs or specialized mapping programs.  After looking around a bit I decided to try Campaign Cartographer by ProFantasy Software, now up to version 3+.  This is a very complex program but luckily there are some great tutorials on YouTube to get started.  On a recent Sunday afternoon I went through some of the tutorial videos on the Crawford Cartography channel.  I'm very much a visual learner so watching someone use the program while they discuss what they're doing is extremely helpful for me.  I basically just followed along and came up with this map, done with the Mike Schley style library of objects.  The sizing and placement of things is a bit clunky but I'm pleased with it as a first effort.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Review: Beyond the Wall

Herewith a review, or at least a set of impressions, on Beyond the Wall by Flatland Games.  So I dropped in at my FLGS a little while back and picked up a copy of this rather nice little game.  I had read a couple reviews and it sounded worth checking out as another approach to Old School Revival gaming.

First off, this game has a definite setting.  Beyond the Wall (BtW) is low magic, and set in a fantasy version of early middle ages Britain, with definite Celtic and "northmen" bits.  So, no kung-fu monks or ninjas here.  Also, the only player races are humans and elves.  Dwarves, gnomes, and hobbits appear in expansion material.  (On the publisher's web site there is also a fun free download for intelligent bear characters.)  The monsters/creatures in the short bestiary are also European themed and scoped mostly to traditional types.  No weird aboleths, cloakers, etc. to spoil your afternoon fantasy medieval jaunt.  You could also drop it into a Tolkienesque Middle Earth--Bree would make a great starting village, for instance.  The implied setting reminded me a lot of the one for the historically-based fantasy rules I started with: Chivalry & Sorcery.  Like C&S it is also an all-in-one book which allows you to play without assembling a small library first (although there are several supplements).  And at $7.99 for the pdf (I bought the dead-tree version for slightly more), it's easy on the budget.

Now for the core of the rules.  For comparison with OSR games:
  • you have the classic six attributes but rolled on 4d6 and drop the lowest
  • there are three basic classes: warrior, rogue, and mage (plus an optional warrior-mage, the Elven Highborn)
  • there are the classic five saving throws
  • you get Fortune Points 
  • initiative is done according to set initiative scores, no rolling needed
  • magic is a bit different, with cantrips which require an attribute check and can go wrong, spells which are cast much the same as in D&D, and rituals which take hours to cast and may also go wrong; also, compared with AD&D and later editions there are very few spells here, which is in keeping with the low-magic setting.
After rolling up the characters as you would in any D&D game, the next step is to build the village.  BtW features collaborative world building to create the characters' home village.  The GM and players take turns adding features to a map which starts with only the village inn at the center.  Everyone gets to add locations and NPCs.  Additional locations and NPC are added during use of the Character Playbooks (see below).

What makes BtW different from most OSR rules sets is the Character Playbooks.  These are tables which the players use to build the background story for their characters and also to link those characters to those of the other players.  The playbooks have names like "The Self-Taught Mage" and "The Village Hero".  They have tables on topics like "How did you earn your name" and "What first caused the witch to choose you".  You roll randomly  and get a bit of background with stat and/or skill bonuses--and other characters can also get a bonus with a shared story.  One example is: "For years you worked for her [the witch] calmly and patiently, and never questioned her wisdom or authority.  The friend to your right often calmed you when you grew frustrated with your lot, and gains +1WIS" and the character gains +2 WIS and the spell "Sanctuary of Peace".  I liked these playbooks because they help bind the group together with a shared history.  They also make building a character background easy for those who aren't into it or aren't good at it.

The book finishes up with two scenario playbooks.  I liked these a lot because they have a core concept which you detail with random roll tables.  The tables make for good replay value, allowing you to re-skin them for re-use later.

Bottom Line: This is a great little book, packing rules, world building, a bestiary, and scenarios into an easy to read, easy to use package.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

"Shut up and take my money" (Reaper Bones 4 Kickstarter)

Alas, now that I have drunk from the enchanted well of gaming miniatures goodness that is Reaper Miniatures' "Bones" kickstarters I can't actually stop any time I want to.  So, yes, I'm in for this one too.  Bones 4 is still happily unlocking away and will probably hit ridiculously high levels of funding due to the hordes of fanatics (hi!) who are already descending on the Kickstarter site.   I'm a little worried because I'm in very early this time, before the core unlocks are all revealed.  But the minis already unlocked are very cool so how bad can it be.  Just as long as they don't throw in any superhero minis...

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Slumbering Ursine Dunes

Okay, so decided to take the plunge and buy some game products I've been eyeing for a while now.  One of them was Slumbering Ursine Dunes by Chris Kutalik. This is a fun point crawl adventure for Labyrinth Lord (but usable with most any old school D&D rules) set in Chris' Hill Cantons campaign world. I wasn't sure whether I'd enjoy it, given that a lot of OSR stuff comes across to me as rather cheesy, but this is a really fun adventure.
(image from DriveThruRPG)

Actually, I was surprised that it felt a lot like the games I first ran back in high school.  I didn't start with D&D as such and had absolutely no campaign books so I totally made up my own game world and added in a lot of my own monsters.  Chris' game world is not your classic high fantasy D&D world: there are bear-people and elves from outer space (well, another dimension, but you see what I mean).  In this adventure you point-crawl across a small area of the world warped a bit by chaos, as various areas are, encountering unusual places and things.  There are also two small "dungeon" locations with their own bits of oddness.  The area could be attached to an existing campaign world as a side adventure or you could use it as an introduction to Chris' larger world.

There is also a cool Chaos Index.  As explained in the rules it's "a dynamic events system for modeling the mythic weirdness of the Dunes. Actions of the players in the sandbox will escalate or de-escalate the levels of events
from blood-rain thunderstorms to an aerial invasion of magictech bubble cars."  I've always used the PC's actions to create ripple effects that come back to them.  This book adds a specific mechanic to help you out.  I'm planning to adapt this idea for my next campaign.

Bottom Line: I really like this book.  It's very imaginative, links to other books (if you so desire), and is reasonable priced.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Necropolis - Quick Random Generation

I love the idea of not just a single ancient tomb, but an entire necropolis of dangerous adventures.  I also would like to have quite a few of them in my new campaign setting.  So I came up with some quick random generation tables.  These are easily customized for other settings and are good for hex crawl type adventures.

The Imperial homeland has many resting places for the dead.  Most common is the official Imperial Necropolis but the New Faiths have their pyramids as well.  Each necropolis is a sprawling complex of tombs, statuary, archives, temples, funerary vaults, workshops, shrines, and pilgrimage hosting.  Each one has a famous dominant spirit who gives the place its character.  Some spirits are hostile, insane, or malicious, others are more mellow and even helpful on occasion.

A necropolis is a big place and will have quite a few important features.  The mix of features varies from place to place and so here is a method to help do a quick build:

Step 1: Presence (two 1d6 rolls)

Notoriety (roll 1d6)
1 = Lost & Forgotten (-4 to find)
2-3 = Obscure (-2 to find)
4 = Minor (no find modifier)
5 = Well Known (+1 to find)
6 = Famous (+2 to find)

Size (roll 1d6)
1 = Small (-1 to all Feature die rolls below)
2-4 = Medium (no modifier)
5-6 = Big (+1 to all Feature die rolls below)

Step 2: Features (1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, and 1d12)

Character (1d4)
1    Deeply Spiritual
2    Creepily Spooky
3    Relentlessly Insidious
4    Viciously Malicious

Temples (1d6; once for how many, again for what type is each)
1-4    Imperial Ancestor Cult
5-6    New Faiths deity, typically Anubis but sometimes Bastet, Mayet, or Thoth

Gardens/Plazas (1d8; once for how many, again for each one to determine the prominent feature around which it is centered)
1 - statue of a deceased emperor
2 - statue of a New Faith god
3 - cenote/moon pool
4 - fountain
5 - ancient obelisk or primitive menhir
6 - Yin-Yang tablet array
7 - eternal "flame"/illusionary display
8 - mysterious divine or arcane gate thing

Archives & Workshops (1d10)
1 - Mummification
2 - Incense refining
3 - Alchemy lab
4 - Scriptorium
5 - Library
6 - Archive
7 - Woodworking (coffins)
8 - Weaving (shrouds, banners, curtains, biographical tapestries)
9 - Metalworking (iron and bronze fixtures and furnishings)
10 - Distillery (ceremonial wines and alcoholic spirits)

Graveyards, Catacombs & Crypts
(1d12 for how many; d6 for type of each)
1-2    Catacombs (underground passages)
3-4    Graveyard (surface graves)
5-6    Crypts (aboveground structures; 1-in-6 chance of New Gods pyramid)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Simple Unpredictable Magic for OSR Gaming

 Okay, so I sort of lied there in the title.  You could use this with almost any game with fantasy magic in it.  I made up these tables to go with Old School Hack/Neo School Hack but then realized you could apply them to plenty of other rules sets. 

One complaint I have always had with D&D, and D&D based games, is the predictability of magic casting.  Sure, there are a few spells where a random roll is involved, but usually the spell is cast and the effect occurs without needing a roll.  This never felt right to me.  Also, certain magic items should become less of a sure thing over time.  Those potions are magical but after centuries or even millennia sitting in a chest in some tomb they might well go bad.

So here are some simple d12 based tables for potions, scrolls, and spellcasting to keep everyone on their toes.

Potions (roll 1d12)
1: Toxic!  No magical effect, but drinker suffers one wound
2: Flat!  No magical effect happens
3 - 11: Shazam! It worked!
12: Mana Rush!  Magical effect works and drinker gains 1 Awesome Point

Magic Scrolls (roll 1d12)
Anyone can read a magic scroll if they know the language it's written in.  In the case of a holy or unholy scroll, the reader must also at least partially share the same alignment as the deity to whom the scroll is dedicated.
1: Rebuke!/Backlash!  No magical effect, scroll crumbles into dust, and reader suffers one wound
2: Mis-read! No magical effect happens but you can try reading the scroll again later
3 - 11: Praise and Glory!/Shazam! It worked!
12: Mana Rush!  Magical effect works and reader  gains 1 Awesome Point

Magic Casting (roll 1d12)
1: Rebuke!/Backlash!  Casting fails, the spell is expended, and caster suffers one wound
2: Botched! Casting fails, but the spell is not expended and you may cast it again later
3 - 11: Praise and Glory!/Shazam! It worked!
12: Mana Rush!  Magical effect works and caster gains 1 Awesome Point

Conversion to typical D&D values:
  • for the damage, use 1d4 points of damage per level of the spell
  • for the Mana Rush either: add Awesome Points (or Hero Points, etc.) to your game, have the person gain 1d6 temporary hit points, or allow the scroll or spell to be cast normally.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: Legacy--Life Among the Ruins...and more.

Okay, so I haven't been posting very actively lately.  I'm going to blame it on...let's see...too much gaming on Roll20, a welcome uptick in in-person gaming, and Netflix.  Also, I purchased several more gaming books which I'm slowly working my way through.

One of my latest acquisitions is Legacy--Life Among the Ruins by James Iles.  I came across this game while browsing all the games I could find at which use the Apocalypse Engine.  I bought another game "Powered by the Apocalyse" a little while ago (Dungeon World, see my review here) and was intrigued by the mechanics and its fresh approach to gaming.  I've been wanting to run some sort of sci-fi game to balance all the fantasy and superhero gaming my group does and so I bought Legacy and the two expansions: Legacy--Echoes of the Fall and Legacy--Mirrors in the Ruins.  I got all three pdfs for under US$20 so that's less than one typical print book for the whole set.

Legacy is set in a not-too-far future after civilization has collapsed.  The game does not lay out any specific timeline or even a specific location on earth.  There is mention of stories passed down by grandparents and great grandparents.  It could be that the very oldest people around (90+) still remember the pre-fall world, or maybe it's a generation or two beyond that, depending on what suits the GM's concept best.  But it's not so far back that everything old has crumbled.  There are still a few working vehicles, weapons, tools, and machines around.

Players play both a single character, as one expects in an RPG, but also that character's family.  There are eight character classes and five types of families.  Because this is a PbtA game, there are Moves which represent what you can do.  Each class has a set of unique Moves it can perform but so does each family.  Characters have four stats but families have three: Reach, Grasp, and Mood.  Reach is the family's influence in the wider world; Grasp is the family's ability hold onto what it has; and Mood is the family's overall well-being.  A family also has points of Tech which can be hoarded or spent.  An average family is posited to be 20-30 able-bodied adults.  Interacting with other families in your area is intended to be a feature of any campaign.

Another feature of Legacy is "Ages".  Ages allow you to move the game time forward, apparently by a couple generations.  There is a move for this called The Age Turns, the roll for which is modified by your family's Mood.  This feature may not appeal to all groups but it is a nice addition to the PbtA system overall and could easily be adapted for making other campaigns multi-generational.

As noted above I also bought the two expansions, Legacy--Echoes of the Fall and Legacy--Mirrors in the Ruins.  Echoes of the Fall adds two new family types and one more PC class.  Mirrors in the Ruins adds four very science-fictiony families and a new PC class to go with each.  While the main rules and Echoes are about humans in a near future Mirrors goes much farther into the realm of science fiction and I would definitely use it in a Legacy game to spice things up.

Friday, January 13, 2017

I Hate Keeping Track of Stuff in RPGs

As I peruse various articles on old school gaming I come across a certain thread from time to time.  Old school dungeon crawling and hex crawling campaign rules had a definite resource management side of them.  Players and DM alike were supposed to carefully account for every potion, torch, ration, arrow, coil of rope, etc. acquired and expended.  This, allegedly, provided a challenging mini-game within the larger game.

Frankly, I hate having to keep track of stuff whether as player or GM.  It's just a annoying, boring distraction from the fun stuff.

I prefer games which either hand-wave resource management or build it smoothly into the rules.  For instance, in Dungeon World you have the option of losing one "ammo" if you fail a shooting roll.  Outside of that you just assume the character is being careful shooting and scavenging arrows along the way.  The character does need to possess at least one notional "ammo load", but that's it.  Delightfully simple.

This also goes for keeping track of various conditions or effects, particularly spell effects.  In a lot of games when battle is joined you will likely have multiple spells functioning at one time to either buff the PCs or hinder their opposition.  Each spell has a different duration, may allow/require saves each turn, etc.  That's just more crap to have to keep track of--and who really wants to waste mental energy on that?  I'm thinking it would be much better to frame durations in a way which eliminates that sort of micro-managing.  A suggested set of duration frames, which I'm using in my Neo School Hack rules, is:

- Instantaneous (same round as initiated)
- One round (lasts into the round after the round initiated)
- Until end of action scene (some GM judgement on when to call it off)
- Set number of hours/days/weeks/etc. (okay a bit of tracking, but low granularity)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

So I made this Kraken...

My buddy Steve is running a great campaign for us.  In our last session our intrepid heroes boarded a surprisingly small ship and headed across the big ocean to the undead-infested mainland on a quest.  I figured that at some point while we sailed around we'd get attacked by a kraken.  I didn't have a kraken figure so I decided to make one.  I needed something big but something I could do pretty quickly.  I decided to go with foam core poster boards and soft foam sheets, plus some styrofoam balls.

Made several small scale models using stiff card to test out shapes before cutting the posterboard.

Cut a foamcore sheet to make the two sides and positioned on a base sheet.

Messed about with the positioning til I was happy with it.

Used tape to keep the boards in place while I used the hot glue gun.

Cut the styrofoam balls in half for eyes and warty bumps; also grabbed a conical piece left over from a previous project.

Clued on horn, eyes, and small warty bumps.

Decided I needed a tail (or fin) sticking up for dramatic effect, so I sketched one on a foam sheet and cut two pieces.

Tail glued on!

Proper kraken have spiky bits down the back.

Must have scary teeth: soft foam teeth on top, foam core on bottom.  Deliberately made teeth slightly different sizes and added notches and chips for "ooglyness" (yes, that's a word).

Proper monsters are green.

Painted eyes yellow for contrast.  Decided to add appropriately weird tongue; sparkly purple seemed like a good color choice at the time.

Black spray paint on inside of kraken, darkest at the back but light near the mouth for blending later.

Just add water.

Added some watery effect squiggles with markers.  Also carved out horn and eyes to add small wooded button pupils.

Decided the eyes needed edge rings, partly to pop better and partly to hide the gap.  Burgundy goes well with golden yellow. Noticed the base warped due to the dampness of the paint; used books to form back flat. (Knew I'd get some use out of those 4E books some day!)

Tongue shaded with black at back and glued in; red pupils glued in place.

Eye rims glued on and final paint touch-ups.