Thursday, 24 December 2009

[Rogue Trader] Xanator Gant

Xanator Gant

Former Ordinate-General of the Adeptus Terra

Current Departmental Prelate and Sole Member of the Census and Tithing Departmento of the Koronus Expanse

The scion of a long and proud dynasty of Departmental Prefects, Xanator Gant was born to be a Administrator. Attending the elite scholariums of the Administratum in his youth, he excelled in every regard - from the history of accounting to the practice of ritual auditing. His early career in the Adeptus Terra was as full of achievements as any Gant that had come before - as an adjunct to the Munitorum, he challenged corruption in the ranks that had seen entire regiments worth of weaponry sold off to the highest bidder, as a Sanitation Ordinate he helped redesign the sewage systems of the hive world of Fecunditis, and in the dusty stacks of the Librarium Administratum, he oversaw a threefold reduction in the amount of late fines not paid. Xanator was marked for success, and so the rivals of the Gant dynasty, the ancient Vorsian administration clan, marked him for death.

The vendetta between the two great Administratum dynasties had continued for centuries. At times, it had erupted into open battle, staining the tape that held the Adeptus Terra together red with blood. This time, the Vorsians took more subtle action. Favors were called in and strings were pulled to have young Xanator re-assigned as Departmental Prelate of the Census and Tithing Departmento in the Koronus Expanse - a region that hadn't answered to Imperial rule in seven millenia. Accompanied only by a faithful servo-skull, Xanator was placed aboard an Administratum frigate bound for the waystation of Port Maw.

It turned out that he wouldn't even reach the Expanse before being struck down by those outside Imperial rule. In the Calixis Sector, the frigate Penstroke of the Emperor came under attack by pirates - paid off handsomely by the Vorsians. As they boarded and looted the heart of the Penstroke, Xanator drew on his experience as a Sanitation Ordinate to hide himself deep within the sewage units of the ship. When the pirates abandoned the ship to drift in the Oort cloud of a nearby system, he was ready to escape aboard the ship's one remaining cargo pod. The journey to the nearest habitable world would take thirteen months, during which Xanator survived mostly on lettuce he'd found growing in the Penstroke's waste units, and developed an entirely new form of inventory management for paperclips.

The nearby world of Anderlund was no civilized imperial world, ready to welcome a decorated Adminstratum ordinate with open arms. Anderlund had been lost to Imperial rule for six millenia, thanks to a cartographic error by a Navis Nobilite scribe, and was firmly stuck in a medieval morass of warfare and poverty. Xanator landed on the planet's primary continent, in the middle of a major war that had engulfed seven nations and millions of people. After nearly being eaten by a tigon, enslaved by mercenaries, and having his head cut off for heresy, he was able to integrate himself into the court of a nearby King as a "court magician", with the aid of his servo skull and court pistol. Within two years, he had introduced double-entry accounting, created the planet's first stock exchange, and built a trading and banking system that tied together three continents and two major island groups.

When the Indomitable Fury pulled into orbit a few years later, they were expecting to make a killing by trading trinkets to the natives for vast and valuable resources. What they did not expect to encounter was a planet in the throes of a desperate Industrial Renaissance, funded by the most effective financial system in the sector and managed by none other than Xanator Gant, Deparmental Prelate. In a few futile trades, they found themselves out-negotiated by bankers and industrialists who had been wielding wooden spears and wearing loincloths a decade ago. Seemingly conned out of their cargo by primitives, they prepared to lay waste to the world from orbit until Xanator himself stepped in. In a masterful negotiation, Xanator was able to save the Anderlunders from unsanctioned Exterminatus in return for his services as Seneschal to the Rogue Trader, Holt Macharius. Horrified at Macharius' woeful financial management, he set himself the challenge of returning the Macharius dynasty to profitability and to the service of the Imperium.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

I Am Not A Gamer

Roleplaying Games, Cultural Artifacts, and Self-Identity

I am not a gamer.

This may seem a strange claim to make for someone who spends a large portion of his free time on various game-based pursuits, writes a blog devoted to roleplaying games, and owns a huge collection of dice, so let me explain.

Roleplaying has built up a massive associated subculture over the years, built around shared humor, shared histories, and shared mythologies. In the public consciousness, roleplaying and gamer culture are virtually indistinguishable - the stereotypical image of a gamer is of a full-blown participant in this gamer culture, albeit an oddly twisted and negative one. It is a distinct grouping that somewhat celebrates its separation from the mainstream of society and revels in building its own traditions and social structures, has its own meeting places, and its own heroes. Knights of the Dinner Table, gamer t-shirts, The Gamers, Baby's First Dice, Penny Arcade - these are all clearly artifacts of a subculture in full and mature bloom. For many, roleplaying games are more than a fun way to spend the afternoon - they're a lifestyle.

There's nothing wrong with having a gamer subculture, and I'd hate to see anyone brutally stereotype it and dismiss it. Like any subculture, it's a diverse collection of individuals who range along a wide spectrum. It includes soldiers and doctors as well as computer programmers and comic book writers, and it's produced a massive weight of cultural material that is enjoyed by millions around the world. Gamer culture sits behind more "mainstream" cultural artifacts than most people would realize.

I question, however, the close association between gaming as a lifestyle and gaming as an activity. It seems to me that the weight of gamer culture makes roleplaying seem more intimidating, more off-kilter, and less accessible to the general public. For people who'll happily sit down for an afternoon to play Halo, chess, or Monopoly, the idea of playing a simple roleplaying game is unthinkably nerdy. Those other activities are no less complicated than roleplaying - and importantly, they all have their own subcultures associated with them. The key is, they aren't inherently seen as being associated with that subculture, and thus people can play them without feeling like they have to buy into a whole new cultural matrix. If roleplaying were more separated from its subcultural context, I believe it would be a vastly more popular activity. And why not? It's fun, creative, and exciting, and can be played in the course of a few hours. I'm truly convinced that the idea of sitting down and building a story together with friends is an immensely attractive concept to many people who wouldn't buy in to the traditional gamer mythos.

I don't consider myself to be a gamer because I don't particularly feel a close association with the artifacts and traditions of gamer culture. While I can certainly appreciate gamer comedy like Order of the Stick or Penny Arcade, it's not what I seek out and not what I enjoy most - the comedy I appreciate most tends to be more along the lines of The Office or How I Met Your Mother, which probably says a lot about my own self-identity. For me, roleplaying is not a way of life, it's just a way of having fun.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Croaking Demons of Chaos!

I bought, and truly love, Jeff Rient's Miscellaneum of Cinder, and I've always liked his idea of the Frog Gods of Chaos (and think it would make a great name for a band). Now, when I saw an off-hand reference to Croaking Demons in the Miscellaneum, I immediately thought: "Awesome, frog god minions. They need stats! But how to make them sufficiently chaotic..."

So, I made a way to make Croaking demons with just a handful of dice.

(actually, while finding the links for this article, I discovered that Croaking Demons are actually part of a hierarchy, and probably shouldn't have quite so variable or impressive stats, but I'll come back to that another day. When I do, the creatures detailed here will be considered to be the more powerful Slime Frogs or something)

Grab 2d2, 2d4, 2d6, 2d8, and 2d10. Also, get your mutation chart of choice (from any vaguely compatible product. I suggest the chart from the Miscellaneum, or from the old Polyhedron Omega World article, if you have access to those), and two of whatever kind of dice that chart needs.

  • The higher d10 result is the demon's number of hit dice.
  • The lower d10 result is how much less damage the demon takes from energy attacks and nonmagical weapons (except Cold, which croaking demons take normal damage from, and Acid, which they're immune to)
  • The higher d8 is the bonus to the demon's AC (also add half its hit dice if you're using a 3.x or later version of D&D)
  • The lower d8 is the bonus to demon's hit points (applied once for old-school games, applied per hit dice for 3.x and later games)
  • The higher d6 is the demon's strength bonus to damage rolls (if your game uses that sort of thing)
  • The lower d6 is added to the demon's hit dice to get its attack bonus (if your game uses that sort of thing)
  • The higher d4, multiplied by 2, is the maximum result of the dice rolled for the demon's secondary attacks (see below). Example: rolled a 3 x2 = 6. The demon uses 1d6 for secondary attack damage.
  • Both d4's together, multiplied by 2, is the maximum result of the dice rolled for the demon's primary attacks (see below). Example: rolled a 3 and a 2 x2 = 10. The demon uses 1d10 for primary attack damage.
  • The 2d2, added together, are how many attacks the demon gets (usually claws, bites, or tongue-whips). If it has one or two attacks, both are primary. If it has three or four attacks, one is primary, the others are secondary. (and get -5 to attack for 3.x and later games).
  • Now roll twice on that mutation chart you found for yourself, and apply both the mutations to the freshly minted croaking demon, and you're done!

Monday, 21 December 2009

'Twas the night before Axemas

'Twas the Night before Axemas,
and all through the wood
The goblins were stirring
They were up to no good.

For they knew Father Axebeard
would fly overhead
and they wanted his shinies
and a pike through his head

They'd stolen a crossbow
a big one. Five feet.
and an incendiary arrow
to roast Axebeard's meat.

They set it up on a hill,
and aimed at the sky
Ready and waiting
for their prey to come by

Then through the night,
Noise made their ears prick.
The jingle of sleigh bells,
And the space hamsters’ “squick”

They swung ‘round the crossbow
And let the bolt fly
It stuck in a runner
And started to fry

The space hamsters panicked
Axebeard was in shock
Into a hillside, the sleigh
It went “thwock”

It hit the ground hard,
Cracked open, then sank
For underneath was a dungeon
Old, dark and dank.

But as luck would have it
This debacle was seen
By some wandering heroes
Well-armed and keen

So off through the woods
they started to race
Hoping to beat
The goblins’ quick pace

If the goblins got Axebeard
They’d hack him to pieces
And there’d be no more presents
For their nephews and nieces.

Thus they entered the dungeon
Through the back of a cave
Lamps lit and swords ready
They’d an old dwarf to save...

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Old-School-Ish Random Treasure

Over the last couple of years, I've become increasingly irked by the concept of wealth by level, and treasure by challenge rating existent in 3.x and later editions of D&D. I mean, sure, it might be good game balance, but it leads to situations where the average goblin is walking around with more wealth then a dozen peasants.

Which is why, when I first saw it, I was quite enamored with the Basic/OD&D idea of giving each monster a rated treasure type, dependent on who likely it was to actually collect loot. You would look up the type on a table, and roll to see whether it had any of a variety of things. Sometimes you got nothing, sometimes you got a huge horde. Of course, this was back before you could, let alone needed to buy magic items, so a heap of coin wasn't quite as useful, and it wasn't such a huge deal if a bunch of 1st-level characters found 15,000 gold coins in a goblin den.
Of course, after a while, I started to find some drawbacks to the system - the rating was per lair of monsters, which meant getting treasure for smaller bands was fiddly, and the whole thing required tables to be looked up. I wanted something simpler.

So, here I present a compromise. It's a sort of homogenized version of all the assorted treasure types collected by most humanoid (or humanoid-ish) critters in basic D&D, and comes out pretty close on an average-value-per-hit-dice-of-monster comparison.

For every 13 hit dice (give or take) of monsters in a dungeon, roll once for each category. The % numbers are the likelyhood that type of treasure will be found. The number after that is how much/many of that treasure type will be found.

(click for larger view)

Special treasures are things that don't fall into the other categories, like expensive wines, stockpiles of armour, rare books, etc. I may do a post about my own personal special treasure tables at some point.

Draft Language Map (D&D)

The above is a little graph I whipped up to show an idea of how I might handle languages in my next D&D campaign. Tick each language you know. You can work out the general gist of a short conversation of a few passages of text of a language connected to one you know with a little time and a DC 20 Knowledge check. Languages represented by a star are weird, arcane and difficult, and require a DC 25 check to work out if you're not fluent, and a DC 15 check even if you are. The good news is, the Read Magic spell allows easy translation of writing in both Magic Script and Eldrich Tongue. Thieves' Cant and Elvish Cat are pretty obscure, so unless you actively learn them, you've got no hope to work them out.

Each character knows Common, plus their native tongue (Elvish for Elves, Dwarvish for Dwarfs, Gobble for Goblins and Orcs), plus any languages that fit their class (Magic Script for mages/illusionists, Druidic for Druids, Thieves' Cant for rogues. Possibly Imperial for good Clerics and Eldrich for evil ones), plus an additional language per point of Mind bonus.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Patriarch of Tanis

The Patriarch of Tanis

Ramses-pattern star freighter

Bow-to-Stern: 4.2 km
Abreast: 0.5 km
18 megatonnes
Commissioned: M37.560
Origin: Hephasteon IX

The Patriarch of Tanis is an ancient, timeworn star freighter. It was born as the Aphlexus in the long-lost shipyards of Hephasteon IV, a Naval cargo ship hauling bulk goods and supplies to the front of the Tathorian Crusade. At the conclusion of the hundred-year struggle, the hauler was repurposed by the Ecclesiarchy as a pilgrim vessel, and renamed after the Ecclesiarchal ruler of the shrine world of Tanis. Its massive cargo holds became home to teeming hordes of faithful for years on end as they braved the warp in search of redemption and salvation.

In this service, the Patriarch performed faithfully for many centuries. During the baleful years of the 11th Black Crusade, the Patriarch was rapidly pushed into duty as a ship of the line, outfitted with weapons batteries and a massive Tsar-pattern bombardment cannon. It participated in many of the great and desperate defense of the Tathor Sector, and conducted the Holy Exterminatus of Tol Dumath, but it did not survive the war unscathed. In the closing year of the Crusade, it was swept away by a colossal warp storm that ravaged the entire sector and nearly brought defeat to the Imperium. All hands were lost and the ship was not seen for another four hundred years.

In the 38th millenium, Captain Toran veBarro, master of the Sword-class frigate Hand of Righteousness, discovered the drifting hull of the Patriarch in the Koprulu Sector. He himself was the descendant of one of the pilgrims who had traveled aboard her, and he refused to let it be claimed by the warp beasts who infested it. Through a dangerous and deadly struggle that claimed the lives of most of his crew, he was able to defeat the demons, cleanse the vessel, and reclaim it for the Imperium. For his efforts in salvaging the vessel and preserving it for the Imperium, he was granted a Warrant of Trade by the Ecclesiarchy, the first to be granted in many centuries.

Under the command of the ve Barro clan, the Patriarch has traveled the breadth of the Segmentum. It has played host to Inquisitors and xenos princes, dueled with Squat raiders and Orkish pirates, and transported fabulously rare creatures and goods from across the Segmentum.

Key Components:

Jobe XI-Pattern Cogitator System
Machine Spirit

The Machine Spirit of the Patriarch is an ancient and demanding beast, wizened and battered by the vessel's long history. Its cognition circuits are perhaps the only remaining example of their particular pattern in the galaxy, and no living soul truly understands their workings. The spirits is sometimes rebellious, slow to accept commands, or resistant to change, but its toughened ancient cogitator system grants it great resilience under fire and in battle. It is unique in its incredible resistance to warp corruption and blasphemous machine code attacks.

The Tangle + Vitae-pattern Life Sustainer
Life Sustainer

Infesting the fore cargo hold of the Patriarch is a riotous jungle, an entire ecosystem erupting in the most unlikely of places. Accidentally birthed centuries ago by malfunctioning genesis engines, the Tangle, as it is known, regularly spills out into the more ordered regions of the ship. Most captain would never tolerate such a chaotic mess, and would have had the Tangle vented into space long ago. The veBarros, however, have integrated the Tangle into the life sustenance systems of the Patriarch, and as a result enjoys a quality of air and water known to very few Imperial vessels.

In the past three centuries, the Pakhor, a tribe of mercenary Kroot, have inhabited and commanded the Tangle. Brought aboard ship for a long forgotten engagement, they have integrated themselves into the Patriarch's command and security structure. Successive Rogue Traders have overlooked their tendency towards the consumption of human flesh, and the disappearance of the odd lower-deck crewman, due to the strength they have shown in battle again and again. Today, the Warshaper Pakhor Ruhl sits on the Officer's Council, and his advice is well heeded by the reigning captain, much to the dismay of the Void Bishop and the interest of the Ordo Xenos.

Lathe IV-pattern Plasma Drive
Plasma drive

Mark 108.r Void Auger
Void array

Command bridge and dynastic palace

The opulent castellum of the Patriarch is fortified with adamantium bulkheads, with only two entrances linking it to the rest of the ship. Within its adamant walls are the palatial quarters of the senior officers and members of the veBarro dynasty. Prominent members are commemorated with tapestries and small shrines within the broad halls of the castellum. At the heart of the castellum is the Patriarch's bridge, vast and well-equipped.

St. Lothar's Cathedral
Void cathedral and imperial war-shrine

Tanis Autodrome
Automotor track and machine-shrine

veBarro Promenade
Market and crew recreation deck

Shipboard adminstratum
and librarium

The Vats
Nutrition system


Archimedes-pattern sunlance

The Archimedes-pattern is a sunlance design that had been lost to the Adeptus Mechanicus for three millennia, before it was discovered on a drifting, half-eaten warp hulk by Cobus ve Barro in 38,750. The discovery was acclaimed by the Machine Cult as a wondrous miracle, and the original sunlance discovered on the hulk was installed into the Patriarch's prow as payment. The lance is deadly against enemy ships, ignoring armor and tearing directly into the heart of enemy ships. Unfortunately, the ancient weapon refuses to commune with the Patriarch's Machine Spirit. Firing and targeting must be undertaken manually, at the cost of much time and effort. Still, the weapon is a source of pride for the ve Barros and the ship's tech-priests.

Death of Tol Dumath
pattern bombardment cannon

The Death of Tol Dumath is a cannon the size of a small ship, designed specifically to destroy planetary population centres. It is sanctified by the Ecclesiarchy for its role in the destruction of the Chaos-tainted world of Tol Dumath during the 11th Black Crusade, and for this reason it falls not under the command of the Rogue Trader, but under the dominion of the Void Bishop, Paddeus Obachai, who represents the Ecclesiarch aboard the Patriarch of Tanis. A small monastery is built directly above the cannon, and ensures that it remains loaded and primed for firing at all times. A solitary Sister of Battle is assigned guardian duty over the Death of Tol Dumath at all times, remaining in meditation for years on end unless the cannon itself is threatened.

Main Batteries
Starboard and port

The twelve main cannon, missile, and plasma batteries of the Patriarch are each commanded by a hereditary family of cannon-masters, who oversee the weapons' loading, firing, targeting, and maintenance. The twelves families feud amongst one another for honor, standing, resources, and above all, the position of ship's Tacticus. The most prominent families are:
  • Haephont (Port branch) - Rulers of the largest port missile battery, the Haephont Port clan currently holds the position of Tacticus, in the person of Eqira Haephont, who seized it from the starboard branch through an arranged marriage to her infant cousin in the starboard Haephont branch and the suspicious death of the previous Tacticus.
  • Haephont (Starboard branch) - The starboard branch of the Haephont is no more. The death of their patriarch and Tacticus, Gullivan Haephont, has left the family's hereditary title to fall to their cousin, Eqira.
  • Kun - Rulers of the main starboard battery, the Kun have more often than not held the position of Tacticus. They have a reputation for cruelty above and beyond that which is expected of cannon-masters, often slaying entire weapon crews to provide an example to the rest of their serfs.
  • ve Zarrn - The ve Zarrns are masters of the ship's primary turret array. Shadowy and manipulative, the ve Zarrn family is known to have close ties with the Warshaper of the Pakhor Kroot tribe, who inhabit the fore cargo bay, and the criminal underworld of the ship.
(to be continued)

Metal and Gaming

Hi, Altharis, or Zorro to my friends, here.
This is my first post to the blog my friends, The Lone Amigo and Jarrah, set up; and have since been pestering me about making a contribution.

I'm not going to give you tables, game reports, or setting thoughts; just a small thought that crossed my head about why so many metalheads are gamers, and vice versa.

Being the player of Pöwër Mürdërfäcë during Jarrah's last game, which you can read about below and above, and being an ex-Dabbler in the Metal Arts (Now turned to the indie side. Sorry metal fans, but the call of the acoustic has won me over.) who thinks about games more than is healthy, I felt compelled to pop my online cherry, and blog this.

Good quality metal, the kind with intelligent fans, doesn't take itself too seriously. And, refreshingly enough, it's fans don't take it too seriously either.

Same with gaming.

At it's core, to me at least, metal is, about being awesome, over the top, realising those dark desires and releasing that negative energy in a fun and constructive way, and rocking out with friends.

So is gaming.

Hell, the best analogy I've ever heard for gaming is Ron Edwards' (I decline to comment on some of the stories surrounding this man) band analogy, where he likens gaming to jamming in a band. You all get together, and you each bring your particular style of gaming/your own instrument to the table. Sometimes you all play in harmony, sometimes one person gets a solo, but every time you play, you bring your own gaming style to the table, and try to merge it with others. A bad gaming group is like a bad band, everybody playing different, incompatible tunes, trying to block out all the others.
This entire analogy is the perfect bridge for gaming and metal, and it partially explains why so many of my gamer friends have a taste for metal.

Just a little something to think about,

Gatables - Microlite20 monster

Microlite 20 stats: HD 2d8+8 (17 hp), AC 15, Gate-touch +3 (2d12+3, phys+Str DC 14 for half)

Gatables are lanky blue humanoids with six beady eyes and no nose. Their origins are a mystery, and as a species they are very secretive, and very paranoid. They only ever fight in self defense, but their rampant paranoia means that they tend to interpret totally innocent things as a prelude to an attack. They usually retreat once either they or their opponent has taken damage, but often return to harass their enemies at a later date.

Gatables can pull open gates through the fabric of reality. Opening a gate to anywhere is a standard action. Once a Gatable has walked through the gate, it remains open until the Gatable's next turn, or until somebody else tries to jump through it. Somebody triying to jump through a gatable gate must succeed a DC 20 Phys + Dex check, or else end up flat on their face as the gate closed before he got there. Whether the character succeeded in passing through the gate or not, it then closes. Gatables can also use this power as an attack, pushing parts of a target through small gates to random places.

For Planescape buffs: no Gatable has ever been seen in Sigil. Some think that the race once worshipped Aoskar, god of portals, and thus fear the retribution of the Lady of Pain if they venture into the city, while most believe that the Gatables are just reluctant to travel anywhere their gating power won't allow them to escape from.

Bridge to Destruction – A Bridge Two Far. Part 4

After recovering slightly from their ordeal with the prismatic hallway of doom (which I really must outline the rules for in a future post), Pöwër, Macbeth, Tobi, Wifi and Vincent (momentarily) mourned their fallen comrade, Robblesteinberg, wished he hadn't been carrying the rubies they'd found in the wight's tomb, and soldiered on.

Some exploration of the forest they found themselves in quickly led them to the elven township of Broken Glade*. They met with the leader of the town, Elrond Template-Barer, who explained that he knew of their quest, and had already sent for a passenger Roc to pick them up and ferry them to Rothaven. As the Roc would take a week to arrive, the party set out to entertain themselves. Pöwër, Macbeth and Vincent used some of their loot to take advantage of Jeff Rients' awesome carousing rules. Vincent failed his save, and we determined that he had falln in love with his latest dalliance. As Wifi's played is Vincent's player's girlfriend, it seemd logical that he fall for her. Of course, the rules also technically state that there's a 75% chance that the target of the character's attraction is already married. This turned out to be the case. This gave me a fun idea for later. Macbeth rolled a 20, and we determined that he had been so awesome, there was a 10% chance from now on that any elf he met had heard about him. During this mother of all parties, they met John Lenin, communist male prostitute/fighter, who had himself been questing for Serj Tankian's Beard, and who was determined to follow them to Rothaven, just as soon as he'd been paid by the elf ladies who had hired him (thus handily replacing the Beetle-nommed Robble).

*a lame pun that none of the players spotted.

Wifi and Tobi, having been absent for the part of the adventure where there was looting going on couldn't take part in the carousing, so they asked around for any quests to get more cash. As it turned out, a mad, chaos-mutated fungus Ent had been terrorizing the forest, and had a bounty on its cap, so the two girls went looking for it. After several days searching the forest, they found nothing, and returned back to Broken Glade just in time to see the thing attacking the town tavern. Everybody quickly joined in on fighting it, some more hung over than others. Vincent and Pöwër both tried to jump on the creature and attack it, but only Vincent succeeded. Pöwër got walked on and reduced to 0 hit points. Wifi tried to trip the fungus ent with her spiked chain, but ended up thrown into a bush for her troubles, while John Lenin and Vincent pelted the it with burning oil until it exploded. Tobi repeatedly failed to hit it with her crossbow.

(a group-rendered illustration of the mushroom ent. Don't ask me why)

The next day, when the transport Roc finally arrived, Macbeth and Tobi decided to stay on in Broken Glade, and wished their companions farewell. Pöwër then spent the journey teaching to the Roc how to rock.

As they flew over Rothaven, the group discovered they were nearly too late. The armies of Chaos were besieging the city, and a horde of assorted goblinoids, and a troll were trying to batter down the gates. The Roc pilot dropped them off on the gatetower, and epic battle was joined.

Pöwër finally donned Serj Tankian's beard, which glowed with holy rock power, and granted every one of the defenders a +1 on rolls and an extra 14 hit points. This proved to be invaluable, as numerous of the infantry on the city walls would have fallen without such aid. Many glorious actions were performed, but some highlights included:
  • Vincent and Pöwër leaping from the gatetower onto the troll that was weilding a battering ram single-handed (if you don't count the 6 kobolds that were holding on to it for dear life),
  • Vincent and Pöwër then attempting to stuff the troll's mouth with flasks of burning oil and acid... Vincent rolling a 1, and allowing the troll to make a bite attack on him... the troll then rolling a 1, and thus causing maximum damage as it's head exploded, and the dwarf and half orc raking it's back as they lept to safety. the smoldering corpse then tumbled into the moat.
  • the defenders, bolstered by Serj Tankian's Beard, slaying hobgoblins left and right with volleys of crossbow bolts.
  • Wifi leaping from the tower, and slaying 3 hobgoblins in one stroke of her chain
  • John Lenin leaping from the tower... botching his roll, and landing face first between two bugbears.
  • Vincent tripping over, being attacked from all sides and never once being hit from it.
Finally, sick of his minions being shredded, the orcish chaos warlord appeared to face the heroes: the dark lord Wayne... who turned out to be Wifi's husband. All four PC took him on, and it was only with the aid of Robble's force ghost (who revived Vincent from unconsciousness and gave him a flask of oil) that they finally defeated him. The armies of chaos were routed, everybody had one last Carousing roll, and we called it a game.

Bridge to Destruction – A Bridge Two Far. Part 3

Having hacked David Bowie zombie apart, fished Robble out of the sewers, looted the treasure chest that they found in the corner, and used some more oil to cremate all the ex-zombies, the party decided they needed to settle down and sleep for the night. After a long rest and some regained hit points, they heard noises from the sewer tunnels that led off from the chamber. Fearing more monsters, they were pleasantly surprised to encounter two lady adventurers who had been exploring the sewers: Tobi the elf druid, and Wifi the Half-orc Rogue. They were just through introducing themselves when there was a weird ripping sound and two lanky, blue, six-eyed humanoids pulled holes in the fabric of reality, and stepped into the chamber. Pöwër rolled high on his knowledge check, and correctly identified them as Gatables, highly paranoid beings from the outer planes that wander the worlds (see my next post for stats and some further background). The Gatables, automatically assuming that anybody in such a secluded spot was there to ambush them, attacked, but the fight only lasted one round before Pöwër charmed them with the awesomeness of his rock music.

There was some further negotiation with the now charmed Gatables, until they agreed to open a gate to where Serj Tankian's Beard was hidden. The Gatables explained that they wouldn't be able to open a gate back out again, but the party said they could get themselves out with no trouble. Thus, hands were shaken, and the Gatables sent the group on their way.

The gate delivered the party into a small chamber with a single metal door (which features lots of holes for some reason), vast piles of gold coins, and the most holy Beard floating in a glass case in the center. Angels could be heard singing and throwing the horns as Pöwër reverently threw the case aside and the party stood in awe.

Except Macbeth, who was kind of curious as to why he could hear the coins shifting ever so slightly. Turns out they were, in fact, small vicious flesh eating beetles that just happened to look like coins. As they took flight and began savaging Macbeth and Robble, Pöwër grabbed the Beard, and the whole party fled through the doors.

The hallway beyond stretched off out of sight around a bend, and featured beams of prismatic energy flashing across it in a complex sequence. Thus starts one of the most climactic scenes of the whole game, with the party fleeing down the hallway, chased by the horde beetle swarm, desperately trying to avoid being set on fire, poisoned, confused, slowed, or any of the other effects that the prismatic beams could deal out.

(an actual photo of the game, featuring the hallway, the party's meeples, Robble's character sheet, and the dog Robble's player made out of my kneedable eraser. Eraser Dog now has his own facebook page)

Tobi and Wifi got out nearly unscathed, but the boys had no such luck. Robble was overtaken by the beetles and slowly eaten alive, and Pöwër, Vincent and Macbeth constantly had to pull each other along as them got slowed or confused. The three, a mere 15 feet ahead of the beetles who were rapidly catching up, were down to less than 4 hit points each when they flung themselves through the door at the end of the prismatic corridor and Tobi and Wifi slammed it shut. The sound of thousands of horde beetles angrily but futility slamming against the door reverberated through the secluded forest valley they found themselves in as they collapsed and passed out.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Bridge to Destruction – A Bridge Two Far. Part 2

Exploring the corridor the grate had led to, the party found the source of the skeletons: a tomb. Most of the stone coffins within were empty, their contents having been butchered, burnt and blasted to hell and back along with the cellar. For this reason, the party was rather surprised by the Wight that they discovered as they proceeded to loot the place (Macbeth inquired whether, being somewhat dead himself, grave robbery was less bad for him. Nobody could decide). Robblesteinberg promptly took shelter in another coffin after he rolled a 1 and the Wight took his battleaxe. Macbeth failed to hit it with his crossbow at point blank range, and Vincent waited to see whether he would need to expend one of his turn undead uses.

Pöwër Mürdërfäcë lived up to his name and sliced it in half with his greatxe/bass guitar.

The group then returned to their looting, finding a large pile of coins under the wight, and a pair of rubies in the coffin that Robble had taken shelter in.

the group broke up for the night, and I began planning the next few rooms with Zorro's help. I carefully drew them out and got the meeples we use for miniatures ready.

When they came back the next day, they continued to explore. The next room was a vast chamber, featuring a number of balconies, a stream feeding out of the sewers and a bridge. Oh, and a horde of zombies: ten brown meeples and a red meeple to represent the obligatory Micheal Jackson reference.
The party used quite impressive tactics to fight the zombies, placing burning oil in their paths of approach, and making sure they rarely had the opportunity to even make an attack on the group, thanks to their slow movement. Well, mostly, anyway. Vincent got himself bailed up in a corner and was taken down to 2 hit points before he could heal himself and hurriedly scramble up onto a balcony above, and Robble's primary contribution to the fight (before he tried and failed to jump over the sewer, and spent the rest of the fight trying to climb out) was to use his illusion magic to mask himself and then turn Micheal Jackson zombie into David Bowie zombie.

Bridge to Destruction – A Bridge Two Far. Part 1

Every year, myself and some friend go to place called Lake Jubilee, hire some cabins there, and hang out for 4 days. In that time, we usually do quite a bit of gaming. Last year we played Microlite20, with me running an adventure I made up as we went. It was a train-wreck of a game, but we all had great fun. You can find (somewhat misspelled) write-ups of that game here and here.

So, this year, we played the sequel.

Three players returned from last year. I’d long since misplaced their old character sheets, so we re-built their characters – Vincent the Dwarven cleric of Urinor, Robble Steinberg the Halfling Illusionist, and Macbeth the elf rogue. In the process of re-rolling everybody’s stats, Macbeth ended up with a far lower Mind score than last year, and a far higher Strength. As he’d ended the last game on the gallows for grand arson, we decided he had in fact been hung, and later brought back as a semi-zombie thing. Brains.

The first of the new players (my good friend Zorro, who often goes by the handle Altharis) to join in rolled up a Bard with low Dexterity and high Strength. As a result, he decided to be Pöwër Mürdërfäcë*, the half-orc bass player.

*it actually had more umlauts in it, on some of the consonants as well, but there aren’t symbols for that.

The game proper began in a inn called the Bridge and Chasm, which just happened to be next to a bridge over a chasm. The high wizard Gandelmindorlin had called the four heroes here (or in Macbeth’s case, reanimated and dragged him here) to tell them of a prophesy they must fulfil. I went around the table to ask for suggestions for this epic quest. Many ideas were given, but only one was truly worthy – that the adventurers must seek out Serj Tankian’s Beard, and use it to help defeat the armies laying siege to the city of Rothaven.

The group enthusiastically agreed (as if they had a choice. It was a prophesy after all), and Gandelmindorlin cast a teleportation spell on them, to send them where they needed to go.

…apparently where they needed to go was a small alley next to the Death of Rats Tavern in Rothaven. I described Rothaven as a hive of scum and villainy, and everybody hummed the requisite bit of Bith Jazz. Pöwër then determined to assault the jazz-playing busker that must be the source of the Jazz. Having done so, and stolen the hapless saxophonist’s hat full of coins, the party was approached by the barman from the tavern. He congratulated them on seeing off the annoying busker, and asked if they could deal with some monsters in his basement.

“Oh gods, giant rats” groans half the party.

“Mountain lions” laughs the other half, who’ve all played Oblivion.

“Actually, skeletons” says me, just to prove the rat-claimers wrong.
The party agreed to rid the Death of Rats tavern of skeletons in exchange for all they could drink. They quickly advanced into the tavern’s cellar, and meet the skeletons in battle.

The battle would have been a lot easier if Robblestienberg hadn’t set light to half the cellar with a mis-placed flask of burning oil. Realizing the cinematically-explosive alcohol in the burning barrels would soon be the end of them, and the barman would probably take a dim view of their actions even if he survived, the party quickly jumped down the grating in the floor that the skeletons had presumable entered through.

Robblestienberg, of course, waited to the very last second, so that he could be backlit by the explosion as he jumped.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Ultramarine 50,000: Adventures in the Fifty First Millenium

In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only rubble.

For a hundred centuries the empire of Man has been ravaged by its foes. A million worlds lie burnt in the wake of the myriad enemies of man. The Emperor of Man has been torn from his Golden Throne, and the Astronomicon no longer guides battle fleets through the daemon-infested miasma that is the Warp. Throughout the galaxy, a new and lasting dark age has fallen.

To be a man in such times is to be amongst untold millions. It is to live under the cruelest and most savage of alien lords and daemonic princes. It is to toil and slave at the behest of inhuman masters, craven in their desires and their wills. Whether they be ethereal Tau or bitter Eldar, sallow Orks or daemonic sorcerers, all are in some way twisted by the Warp and its miasmic embrace

On a ravaged world far from the centres of galactic power, a few still cling to their faith in the Emperor and the dying ways of a distant era. They are the last of an ancient order of noble and faithful warriors, fabled for their might and righteousness. Bearing sword and bolter, the last Space Marines roam wide and far across the galaxy, sowing hope amonst the children of the Emperor and fear amonst his murderers.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Arty Farty Ramble

I've always liked this picture by Larry Elmore. I love that it not only shows you what dwarves, halflings and elves are like all in one go, but it shows you a glimpse at the emotional dynamic in their little adventuring party.

I always imagine the halfling pointing out that the dwarf has a crush on the elf. The dwarf denies it while blushing, and the elf is amused if somewhat flabbergasted. But that might just be me.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Corpse Star

The world is dying. As the Corpse Star rises in the black and hopeless sky, no sane creature can truly avoid knowing that the fate of the world is to be pulled into its gaping maw. The gods have long ago averted their gaze, children are born without souls, and corpses lie restless in their shallow graves.

Behold, the dark funeral crypts of the elves, prepared aeons ago to prepare for the prophesy of a dying world. Within their walls, the immortal ones wait, entombed in stone, for their final deaths.

Behold, the noisy feasting halls of the dwarves, gouging themselves to death in a centuries-long wake for the entire world. Hidden in chambers deep beneath the earth, they ignore the madness-inducing sky in favour of the endless feast.

Behold, the great silent horde of the orcs, carving a path across the star-ravaged plains to the very end of the world. Their lips sewn shut, they slaughter and destroy all they encounter in complete silence, to better hear the death throes of the spirits of the world.

Behold, the many empty vales of the halflings, long ago vanished into myth and legend. No man knows to whence they have gone, the only clue being the mad scrawls carved deep into each and every door, speaking of the croatoan.

Behold, the last desperate empire of man, its stepped temples stretching into the sky, a thousand hearts offered into the sky each day in a cruel parody of sacrifice. They hope to appease the maw and stay the death of the world, but their bloody works are all in vain.

The air is stale. Crops rot in the fields and fish float upon the surface of the stinking sea. Each and every sigil and omen and portent and sign points to a single thing: death, to all and everything that will ever be upon this world.

Some few still struggle to avert this terrible fate, but what hope can be held beneath the gaze of a hungry star?

Monday, 23 November 2009

Rolling Stones

Modernity has come to drag the sleepy hills of rain-soaked Llamedos into the Century of the Fruitbat.

Microlithics. It's the word that half the Disc is quickly learning to pronounce - the half that isn't still working on the fine art of pounding stones into each other's heads. In the heady atmosphere of Llamedos's Granite Valley, it seems like anyone can strike it rich. And that's exactly what Nap-y-Styr, druid, clacker, and sometime musician, planned to do.

If only someone had explained to him the finer points of guild law.

Now, he's on the lam from a pack of rabid lawyers, bounty hunters, and worse yet, musicians. He's falling in with entirely the wrong kind of pirate, falling in love with a girl who doesn't really exist, and unless he gets his act together, most likely soon falling down a few very steep flights of stairs.

Can Nap escape the Musician's Guild and keep his body intact? Will the "Musyc Box" destroy the Disc's creative industry? Can a stone circle find love? Who calls themselves Captain Torrent and expects to be taken seriously, anyway? Is there really no such thing as a free lunch?

Monday, 2 November 2009

[Campaign Ammo] Valefarer's Rest

The Valefarer's Rest is a famed tea-house and rest-stop, located deep within the Western Vale. It caters to wayfarers of all shapes and sizes, from the gentle giantkin to the mechanical globons. Run by an old and mysterious wizard, it often reshapes itself to meet the needs of its residents.

The Western Vale is home to dozens of small communities, from Gooseberry Patch to Treetop Village. Each lives in harmony with the forests and with each other. All races work and live in harmony, halflings alongside lizardkin, globons alongside bearkin.

But in recent months, strange and worrying events have started to take place in the Vale. The gooseberry harvest has failed, scouts and wayfarers from Treetop Village have disappeared in the wilderness, and strange black clouds have obscured the horizon to the east.

At the Valefarer's Rest, the traveller's sleep is disrupted by a red ent, a normally peaceful tree-folk, stumbling out of the woods and launching a violent and psychotic attack against the tea-house.

Three of the Rest's regular denizens manage to subdue and slay the mad ent, and discover that the ent's body is burned and covered with strange black soot. Embeddd in its bark is a strange, curved axe - carved with runes from an ancient language not seen in a thousand years: Inglisc.

The three travellers are behooved by the Valefarer himself to travel far into the East and discover the source of the black smoke.

they are:
*- Ssawk, a Saurian hunter from the Southern Village, on the edge of the Open Plains. He is a gruff veteran, suprised by little - and probably the closest thing to a warrior in the Vale.

- Clank Shaft, a young Globot on a vision-quest to find his path in life. He has never ventured beyond his home commune of Radiator Springs before, and is deeply curious about the world around him. He has learned to talk to nature spirits through an ancient device called a "Sylphone".

- Trixy Minx, a drifting Halfling trickster, exiled from her community for one too many cruel pranks and skipped days of labour. She's cleverer than most and quicker than a slippery fish, or at least when she's not smoking riverwort.

Inspirational Images:
Hillcomber Giant
Fantasy Hotel
The Valefarers

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Token Non-Humans and how Basic D&D got it right

In most fantasy and scifi TV shows and movies, the band of heroes who are the protagonists tend to be almost all human. In fact, it's rare that there is more than one non-human (or at least visibly non-human) individual in the main cast. I'm not complaining about this, mind you. I know why this is: it's either to highlight the what we consider to be human traits, often because they lack them, or it's often to give the character a set of powers or behavioral traits that wouldn't be believable or acceptable in a human character.

Aaand my point is?

Well, in most RPGs, this isn't the case. If there is more than one race available to play, the party tends to end up a hodge-podge of every available species. That's wonderful for multiculturalism, but it doesn't stick with the source material.

Except for old-school, basic D&D. Where Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling are classes. With this set-up, you're guaranteed that most of the party will be human, and there is unlikely to be more than two member of a non-human race in the group. Also, due to the fact that each class (except maybe Dwarf) had its own special shtick that the humans couldn't replicate, it made them a little bit more than "just another fighter with pointy ears".

I have no idea what to do with their observation, but I felt the need to observe it.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

My Darn Ex-Wife

(distinctly inspired by this)

Space is big.

Duke County, Alabama, where the lot of you have spent the majority of your short Earth lives, is considerably smaller. However, y'all are about to see a hella lot more of the former. Y'all remember TJ's good-for-nothing ex, Linda-Lee? The chain-smoking one in the trailer park? Well, turns out her new beau, Greg, is actually Gregorix IV, Heir to the Radiant Throne of the Tauron Imperium. No shit. And she's decided that this gives her the right to take little Connor and Maddi-Sue off all by herself. In clear violation of the joint custody agreement, mind you.

Now, that just ain't right. And us all is going to do something about it.

My Darn Ex-Wife

I've been toying with the idea of a rednecks-in-space game based on the FTL Y'all concept for a long time. When I stumbled upon John Harper's magnificent Lady Blackbird, it didn't take me long to conclude that it would be a perfect rule-set for the sort of light, gonzo, character-driven action-adventure I had envisaged. It took me until this past weekend to actually act on the concept, when I was able to toss together a few friends and run a short game of My Darn Ex-Wife. The game was unfortunately cut short by time limitations, but we did manage to have a few enjoyable moments, starting from TJ and Auntie Mae searching Linda-Lee's trailer, and ending with Our Heroes departing for Quadrants Unknown in TJ's hastily hyper-converted pickup truck, with Squid Head Bill tied down in the back end.

The core structure of the game seemed to work well; the characters engaged with one another and drew life from their Traits and Keys. However, I feel like the initial opening situation needs to be more aggressive and have more bite. Lady Blackbird's opening situation pushes the characters to act, immediately. By contrast, after discovering the scorch marks on Linda-Lee's lawn, the posse spent a fair amount of time trying to call on legal aid, first from the police and then from the lawyers. Instead of framing the game at the start of the story, I need to find an exciting situation to toss the characters into immediately. I toyed with the idea of stealing Lady Blackbird's opening whole-heartedly, but it seemed too derivative. In any case, with their navigation-free warp jump at the end of the first session, I have plenty of rope to hang them with at the start of the next session.

It did turn out to be absolutely hilarious in play... for one, the hideously terrible southern accents put on by a group of Australian gamers made everyone's day, and Jarrah's portrayl of Squid Head Bill as a tentacled Bill Bailey was brilliant.

Comments, criticism, and open insults are welcome.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Lady Blackbird II: Flight from Sorrow's Clutch

I ran a game of Lady Blackbird today for my three younger cousins, having played it once before (link), and it was an amazing blast, as well as their first real exposure to the world outside of D&D. Of the five main characters, the three selected were the dashing captain Cyrus Vance, the sneaky mechanic Kale Akram, and the loyal bodyguard Naomi Bishop.

The game started, as these things often do, with the protagonists suspending in a series of hanging cages above an electrified floor in the Hand of Sorrow's needlessly elaborate brig, while a quartet of guards played poker outside the door. A plan was quickly hatched by Vance to take out the guards: Kale would pick the locks on his cage and swing across to the guard's platform, while Vance teleported himself over and helped Kale take out the guards. The plan was executed almost without failure, except for the whole "taking-out-the-guards" part. One of the guards successfully evaded both Kale's blade and Vance's fists, sprinting towards the klaxon lever.

Seeing the unfolding disaster, Naomi simplified the situation by tearing one of the bars off her cage and hurling it at the guard from across the room, knocking him clean off the platform and onto the electrified floor below. While the other characters stared in amazement at the dead guard, she leapt down to the door, tore it off, and led the others into the corridor.

As most escapees from the Sorrow seem to conclude, the key to a successful escape was determined to be disabling the engines in some fashion while releasing the Owl from its internment in the fighter bay. The gang split in twain, with Kale taking Snargle to disable the boilers, and the rest heading off to secure and refuel the Owl.

At this point, I introduced the concept of refreshment scenes. You could see the inner D&D munchkin leaping in their eyes at the idea of being able to get back all their spent pool dice "just by talking!". Over the course of three flashbacks, we discovered that Naomi had been driven to rebellion by a pit fight in which she slew her only friend, that Vance was a man of honor who had first befriended Kale by protecting him from mistreatment in a ship's brig after he had tried to steal a ship's flux capacitor, and that Kale hailed from the dusty war-torn world of Kavernis, where had learned of machinery working in the mines.

Having shown a few glimpses of their past, the characters gingerly tested out the Hand of Sorrow's state-of-the-art Pneumatic Personnel & Mail Delivery System, which sent them hurtling through the ship in a hail of papercuts and chaos. Kale and Snargle were roughly deposited in Boiler Room No. 2, where they attempted to talk the Imperial engineers into leaving the room. When that plan failed, they took the more expedient route of taking out the engineers, freeing the five goblin slaves, and disabling the boiler.

Meanwhile, Vance, Naomi, and Lady Blackbird headed up to the hanger deck. After surveying the array of Imperials arranged aboard the deck, they decided that brute force would probably be ineffectual at this point (despite Naomi's longing look). Instead, Vance drew on his skilsl at forgery to forge Hollas' signature on a document releasing the Owl from the Hand of Sorrow. Amazingly, it worked; they simply walked to the ship while the auto-fueler refilled the Owl's tanks.

Back in the aft of the ship, Kale decided that disabling one out of the ship's five boilers simply wasn't enough - they had to put the ship's etheric flux bar out of commision as well. They quickly popped up to the main flux core, where a single dimwitted guard protected the most important component on the ship: its flux capacitor. Unfortunately, successfully this particular dimwitted guard turned to be beyond their capacity. Before he was knocked out, he managed to activate the alarm klaxon. Kale quickly removed the flux capacitor (replacing it with a look-a-like dud pulled together from spare parts) just as a horde of Imperial marines descended on the flux core. Thinking quickly, Snargle pushed Kale into the nearest pneumatic tube.

It was at this point that Captain Hollas finally finished running the Owl's registry over the wireless, and alarm klaxons sounded throughout the ship. The escape suddenly started to look a lot less like a walkover. Just as Vance was about to step aboard the Owl, a nasty-looking imperial officer (and clearly another Stormblood) ascended from the decks like an avenging angel, lightning crackling from his two swords. The officer was Sky Colonel Carter, Vance's former commanding officer, as well as a former owner of Naomi's pit on Ilysium. In short, he was no-one to mess with. It was probably a good thing, then, that Naomi jumped on him from the Owl, breaking her fall with his neck.

Much chaos ensued, as Vance, Kale, and Naomi engaged in a riotous firefight with marines and fighter pilots, while Snargle attempted to open the bay doors. At various points, Cyrus, Lady Blackbird, Naomi, and Kale were all placed in mortal danger. Dramatic rescues were made. At one point, Naomi and Vance were knocked onto the bay doors, which promptly started to swing open. Vance was saved by Kale's Jump spell, but Naomi had to claw her way up after clingy desperately to a sword plunged into the door. In due time, the Owl escaped from the desperate chaos of the fighter bay, soaring off into the open Blue.

Another series of flashbacks revealed new facts about the characters. Kale had served with Snargle on an Imperial mission against the Lizard-men of Cadeus, where the Empire drained their swampland homes to destroy their resistance to Imperial rule. The two of them had crashed into the swamps, where Snargle saved Kale's life and learned to appreciate the culture of the Lizard-men, who were later completely wiped out. Naomi told us how she had been given a choice by Lady Blackbird's father between death for her crimes in rebelling against the empire, and swearing a mystic oath to become his daughter's guardian. Vance discovered how Lady Blackbird had fallen in love with Uriah Flint as a young woman on Haven attending a masquerade ball, and how Count Carlowe was a greedy pig who loved gambling and whores.

The game was pulled back to the present by Snargle, who alerted them to four incoming sonar pings. Three Dragonfly fighters emerged from the clouds, followed by a massive hammer-like fighter-bomber, custom designed by Vance's former classmate at the academy... Captain Pickett. Taunts were exchanged by wireless as the three Dragonflies buzzed across the Sorrow's bow, forcing Snargle and Kale to toss a Crazy Ivan. One was blown apart by withering fire from the Owl's turret, but the other two quickly whipped around for another pass.

As Pickett's Skyhammer and its four massive cannons closed on the tail of the Owl, Kale dumped pyrotic spirits into the thrust coils, loosing a massive blast of flame that forced Pickett off course. At this point, the two Dragonflies buzzed across on their second pass, peppering the Owl with bullets. One was torn apart by turret fire; the second was less fortunate. Naomi chose this point to leap from the Owl onto the passing Dragonfly and tear apart its cockpit. The shear insanity of this manuever suprised everyone, including the pilot, who forgot to deploy his paraloon and fell screaming into the roiling Depths.

Seeing this, Vance decided to join the fun. He teleported himself onto the Skyhammer, shooting Pickett in the head and leaping into the pilot's seat. With ridiculous luck, he managed to seize the controls and pull the Skyhammer out of a collison course with the Owl. He piloted the Skyhammer under Naomi's suddenly disintegrating Dragonfly, allowing her to leap to safety.

Pausing briefly to collect and detain the remaining Imperial pilot who hung helpless in the sky from his paraloon, the two ships flew off into the wild blue yonder.

The game worked amazingly well for my cousins. It took them a while to grasp the idea that Key were there for them to hit, not for me to pass out experience point to them, but once they did they grasped them with gusto. Kale had even bought a new Key (Key of the Tinkerer) by the end of the session. Conflicts were dramatic, characters were played with vigor, and much fun was had by all.

TLDR: Brigs were escaped from. Imperials were killed. Ships were jumped onto. Things exploded. Keys were hit. Fun was had by all.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Lady Blackbird Actual play - Escape from Sorrow

If you haven't heard of Lady Blackbird yet, well... click the link. It's an awesome little indie game/scenario that is designed to play out differently with every group of players, and just generally rocks my socks off. I may be blogging quite a bit about this gem in future.

Starting with how our particular team of intrepid players handled it

Session 1: The Escape from Sorrow

This first session was a while ago, so I'm a tad hazy on some things.

We start, as per usual, in the Brig of the Hand of Sorrow. The Brig is, in the case of our game, a large room with cages suspended from the ceiling and a single bored guard doing sudoku in the corner. Whispered plans are thrown back and forth until Captain Vance finally gets sick of it all, grabs Naomi's arm, and teleports the both of them behind the guard. Vance motions to knock him out. Naomi snaps his neck, and gets herself the first XP of the game (we used red poker chips to track XP and white ones for pool dice). Vance starts ordering Kale to do things. Kale does them. This nets them both XP. Everybody finds this highly amusing.

The party decide that the only way they can escape is to shut down the auxiliary power couplings in the engine room, and thus prevent the ship from steering, deploying fighters, or tracking its guns. Vance don's the deceased guard's uniform, and pretends to be assorting the prisoners to the aft brig. The few troopers they bump into on the way fall for it completely.

Once the group reaches the engineering section, they split up. Vance now pretends to be showing Captain Hollas' sister (as played by Lady Blackbird) around the engine room, and Snargle and Kale sneak off to to engineer's locker room to get some disguises. This is temporarily hampered by a huge Samoan-looking engineer who just got out of the showers, and greets them asking why he hasn't seen them before. Kale thinks quickly, and shacking the engineer's hand, explains that he's been in the infirmary since the last port.

"Oh, you know how it is. Port town girls. Contagious diseases. That sort of thing"

While the Samoan engineer quickly goes off to wash his hands, Snargle and Kale help themselves to some engineers' uniforms and go mingle in the engine room.

Seeing them signal to her, Lady Blackbird creates a diversion. Putting on her hautiest noble voice, she loudly berates the goblin chief engineer for the "Deplorably filthy" state of the engines, the engineers, and his own outlandishly huge mustache. As the chief engineer and his mustache wither under her scorn, Kale sets about magically shattering a few essential parts for the auxiliary power couplings. Alarms sound, and as the engineers stop watching Lady Blackbird with a mixture of terror and amused fascination, our heroes make this exit.

They make it most of the way to the forward docking bays when them bump into trouble... specifically, Captain Hollas and his two robot bodyguards. They give chase until Lady Blackbird unleashes a mailstorme of magical power, frying the robots and blowing Hollas down the corridor and out of sight. As the alarms pick up a notch, the group hurry into the docking bay.

Now, the bay is like a big hanger. Most of the ship's fighter compliment is stowed here, as is the Owl. All of them are stowed by being attached by chains and pulleys to the roof, and are accessed by a series of suspended walkways. The actual entrance to the bay is in the form of large, round hatches under each docking clamp. When a fighter (or other ship) deploys, it literally drops straight down. Or it would... if the doors were open. They're closed. And the auxiliary power, which is neede to open them, has just been shut off. There is a backup local generator, but it's on the bay floor, a dozen meters below.

Oh, and the fighter pilots who were having a tea break here just noticed Our Heroes. They draw their electrical swords and advance.

Naomi gets stuck in, Vance grabs a lightning sword and faces off against the wing leader, Commander Crane... who, we learn in a flashback scene, was a constant pain in the butt for both Vance and Kale when they were in the imperial navy, years ago.

Snargle hooks up a fuel line to the Owl, and starts doing pre-flight checks, whileKale starts clambering down the stairs towards the backup generator... Lady Blackbird decides to take a faster route and user her new Fly spell. She fails miserably and crashes to the deck below, badly hurting her leg. Snargle and Kale catch up with her, and together the three of them start the generator, and jam it in the on position, just as a group of imperial marines burst in at the other end of the bay, and start firing. The two retreat back up the stairs, as the marines advance and try to stop the generator.

Vance and Crane has fought each other to standstill. At which point Naomi, having finishes with Crane's buddies, walks up behind him and snaps his neck. Vance is a bit peeved about this, but has other things to worry about... the marines are charging up the stairs towards lady blackbird! He slices througha hydraulic cable and swings onto the stairway, placing himself in the path of the marines and two experience points.

Performing a gallant fighting retreat, the group reach the top of the stairwell, and Naomi breaks the supports, sending the marines falling... through the now mostly-open docking bay doors, below. Everybody piles into the ship, and Snargle releases the clamps as the other marines stop the generator. The Owl plummets out of the Hand of Sorrow, only marginally damaging the port side engine, and leaving Captain Hollas furiously waving his fist out a veiwport as they fly off into the Blue.

Session 2 write-up coming soon...

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Left 1d4 Dead

I love the zombie apocalypse survival horror computer game Left 4 Dead. Which is a bit weird, considering zombies as a whole scare the snot out of me, and I avoid horror movies like the plague.

But Left 4 Dead has such awesome gameplay. Particularly the way it forces the players to work together and help each other out. For those who don't know, in Left 4 Dead, various things can incapacitate you: being mobbed by normal infected, the special attacks of most of the special infected, falling off a ledge, that sort of thing. The only way to cease being incapacitated is for one of your teammates to help you up, or do some similar action. Actually dying in L4D takes, well, a lot of effort, but can happen if the party is stupid and doesn't help each other out.

I love this feature. So, here's a suggestion for how to incorporate it into D&D, or some other game that uses hit points (ans assuming HP represent, in part, luck and ability to dodge, not just structural integrity):

When a character is down to 0 hp, he is incapcitated, and can't do anything. Additionally, he must make a save (vs. Death Ray, or DC 20 Fortitude, or whatever fits the edition) or suffer an ongoing detrimental condition (-2 on all rolls, or perhaps a Negative Level), until the character can rest and get some decent medical attention (takes at least 2 hours and a DC 20 Heal/Treat Injury check, or a Heal spell. Cure spells won't cut it). The effects stack if the character is incapacitated multiple times. Optionally, the third time the effect is applied, the character dies.

If another character gives the incapacitated character a hand up (an attack action), the incapacitated character regains half his lost hit points, although any ongoing conditions remain. Characters cannot be given a hand up in this way until they have been down to 0 hp.

This means that a party can work without a dedicated healer character, but benefits from having one, as the healer can help stave off incapacitation, and thus saves to avoid bad effects, and can help reverse those effects when they occur. Meanwhile, non-dedicated healers will have to, occasionally, help their fellows out.

Similar systems could be applied to paralysis, hypnotism, being chucked off ledges, and suchlike, making each easily fixed by a fellow party member, but forcing a save against some on-going detrimental effect.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Petrol Powered Fantasy

If I remember rightly, it was the Dungeonomicon that pointed out that most D&D worlds have no oil deposits. Most such worlds have huge networks of caves, the Underdark, stretching across continents, holding vast underground seas, and home to a myriad of evil civilizations. There's no room for oil down there.

So what if all those caverns once held oil? What if some ancient god or wizard decided to open a hole in the world, far down in the deeps, and drain it all away?

And what if somebody went and turned the valve the other way?

The world changes forever, and probably not for the better. The surface kingdoms suddenly have access to a fuel source more powerfully combustible than wood, and undergo something of an industrial revolution, thanks to the invention of the petrol engine. Cities become nosier, more polluted, and more crowded and dangerous, thanks to the influx of refugees from the underdark. The countryside, always a haven for bandits and monsters, is now roamed by the less social underdark escapees, who prey on travellers not riding in the safety of the new armoured, petrol-powered coach services. The dwarf holds are a warzone, as they are the largest territory that is above the oil level while still being underground, making them a valuable prize for many displaced underdarkers.

The elves, fey, and other nature-aligned folks don't approve of the situation. Eco-terrorist druids direct crazed, polluted elementals (oilementals?) to cause even more havoc in civilized areas, and bemoan the invention of the chainsaw.

What will the PCs do? Normal dungeon crawling, but with new tools, and a good reason why every underground area is chock full of evil creatures? Perhaps get involved in the crime and vice of the underdarker slums? Guard against monster attack on the new highways? Or perhaps seek a way to drain away the cursed oil once again.

(incidentally, this would be a perfect excuse to break out the d20 Modern rules, possibly along with the d20 Past and d20 Apocalypse books)

Sunday, 2 August 2009

[AP Round] Lady Blackbird

-Swinging cage

-Vance: Teleport, knock out guard, first key hit with command

-Work out plan using kinematographic ship chart

-Travelator, Lady Blackbird charms guards

-Engine room, pretend to have surprise inspection, Kale and Snargle sabotage primary boiler

-Refresh scene identifies Captain Hollis as former comrade of Cyrus Vance

-Run into Captain Hollis and his clockwork terminators, lady blackbird smashes them with magic!

-Enter hanger bay, ships hang from ceiling, bridges are in various states of redress, door in floor.

-Fight with noble-blooded pilots, including Chief Pilot Corvallis (electric swordfight)

-Kale and Snargle activate fueling mechanism

-Lady Blackbird injures herself trying to activate generator (first attempt to use Fly spell)

Keys worked well, players enjoyed them, etc.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Less Fill, More Force

I talked with theLoneAmigo about my previous post. He articulated a niggling feeling I'd had all the way through writing it.

It's filler.

Or, more specifically, most of the results it produces are bland, generic, and not really something you actually need a random table for. You have random tables to give you results that are either too complex or gonzo to quickly come up with yourself (if, like me, you have imagination lapses), to give you results that you wouldn't have thought of yourself, or else to give you a result when you can't make a choice between a variety of options because they're all cool.

The first two uses for tables are what I personally call Idea Forcers. They give you a bunch of data which you can, and hopefully will, turn into a cool concept with just a little interpretation. Unlike Filler, they make you be creative, rather than take the need to be creative away.

So, having been a bit nebulous with my definition of an Idea Forcer, I'll give you a few examples:

Essentially, each of the above Forcers features either fully-fledged ideas which require interpretation to integrate with a game or each other, or a wide assortment of small nuggets of information which you need to weld into a cohesive whole.

Now, jumping back to an earlier paragraph, remember where I said the other purpose of tables is to “give you a result when you can't make a choice between a variety of options because they're all cool.”? Well, that's what Jeff's Miscellanium is, as an example. Each table features an assortment of gonzo ideas, none of which are boring. He shows the unspoken wisdom that, just as you shouldn't roll to see if the characters succeed if failure will ruin the game, you shouldn't roll on a random table if it will give you results that are boring.

May the Force be with you.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Beware the... uh... what did you say those goblins were called?

I had hoped to start off with something a bit more meaty, but nothing meaty has sprung to mind the last few days.

Mmmm... bacon...


Anyway, inspired by the myriad awesome random tables that can be found on Jeff's Gameblog, and his cool Miscellanium of Cinder, I present:

The Mildly Amusing Random Goblinoid Tribe Name Generator:

Tribe names are usually in the form of "The [Creature/Body Part] [Action]ers", or "the tribe of the [Colour/State][Creature/Body Part]", but other combinations are possible.

A - Colour (d10)
  1. Red
  2. Crimson
  3. Green
  4. Blue
  5. Brown
  6. Purple
  7. Black
  8. Gray
  9. White
  10. Pick an obcurely-named or embarassing colour. Examples: Chartreuse, Asparagus.
B - State (d12)
  1. Bloody
  2. Bitten
  3. Chewed
  4. Dead
  5. Moldy
  6. Screaming
  7. Slavering
  8. Hunting
  9. Broken
  10. Splintered
  11. Angry
  12. Pick your favourite culinary term. I'm partial to "Marinaded", myself.
C - Creature (d20)
  1. Dragon
  2. Wolf
  3. Wyvern
  4. Spider
  5. Crow
  6. Squid
  7. Demon
  8. Dwarf
  9. Elf
  10. Halfling
  11. Mimic
  12. Bat
  13. Ogre
  14. Orc
  15. Rat
  16. Ooze
  17. Flumph
  18. Pick a farm animal
  19. pick an entertaining bird name. Examples: Lesser Bitterns, Penduline Tits, Russet Mud Warblers.
  20. Flick to a random page of your favourite monster book, and use that monster
D - Body Part (d20)
  1. Eye
  2. Ear
  3. Nose
  4. Knuckle
  5. Fist
  6. Hand
  7. Knee
  8. Spleen
  9. Elbow
  10. Tooth
  11. Toe
  12. Foot
  13. Buttock
  14. Spleen
  15. Kidney
  16. Liver
  17. Gut
  18. Finger
  19. Lip
  20. Pick a specific bone or muscle. The more medical it sounds, the better.

E - Action (d20)
  1. Slay
  2. Bite
  3. Kick
  4. Chew
  5. Rip
  6. Kill
  7. Bruise
  8. Bash
  9. Spit
  10. Trick
  11. Eat
  12. Mug
  13. Zap
  14. Lick
  15. Cook
  16. Knee
  17. Poke
  18. Chop
  19. Wrestle
  20. Grope

What can I say? I was bored on the train.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

A little intro

Hello. I'm Jarrah. Myself, TheLoneAmigo, and Altharis are three young(ish) gamers, who all constantly have ideas for RPGs. These ideas usually get mulled over and developed for several hours, often get shared with the others of our triumverate, and then mostly get squirrelled away in our memory banks, never to see the light of day again.

Bit a shame, really. I like to think some of those ideas have at least a nugget of promise in them.

So, TheLoneAmigo made us this blog, so that we can leave our ideas out in the open, for the whole internet to view, judge and use, as seems appropriate.

That's why we're here.

Rock the Underdark

The crowd is a shrieking, moaning, roaring mass of flesh and bone. It roils like an angry sea beneath the cavernous roof of the Pit, orcs jostling with gnolls for shoulder room, goblins climbing and scuttling everywhere. The troll bouncers make no attempt to control the crowd as it turns upon itself in anticipation. In the midst of the chaos, a single beam of light streams down, illuminating a circle on the stage.

A single dark elf steps out into the light, clutching an instrument that mixes a bass guitar with a dying baby. His hand is poised to strike.

A black, unearthly wail echoes out from the stage.

The crowd goes silent.

The band has begun to play.

Spark of Genius

I've been punting the idea of a game about a rock band since Guitar Hero first hit my living room. It's a simple formula - nearly everyone feels the desire to be a famous musician at some point in their life. Yet it never quite clicked for me, until I stumbled upon a children's book by Graeme Bass, The Worst Band In The Universe. Somewhere among the images of weird aliens wailing away on bizarre, impossible instruments I found the seed of an idea: monsters in a rock band.

And where better to find monsters than the Underdark?

The question is, where do I go from here?
I can't quite find a game that lets me tell the stories I want to tell in this world.
I want a game that emphasizes the way that the flaws of the characters drive the power of their music, and the difficult struggles within a band made up of orcs, elves, and ghouls. Traditional games are right out, and I can't quite find the indy game that hacks in the way I want it to. I may have to build one myself.


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