Friday, 23 December 2011

[To Coin a World] Magic Weapons of the Friendly Sea

What follows are descriptions of the ten magic weapons known to be in use by various adventurers, both active and retired, around the Friendly sea.


Believed to be one of the many malfuctioning magic items left over from the Mage Wars, this sword seems to possess a rudimentary, animalistic personality, and a burning hatred of wizards of all stripes, seeking their deaths above all other things.

The Revenant Dirk
The origins of the Dirk are unclear, but the work of a Necromancer would not be far-fetched as an assumption. So long as the blade remains lodged in a dead body, that body will be animated and attempt to kill all living beings nearby.

Bitter Frost
Forged by the frost giants as a peace offering to the dwarven king in ages past, Bitter Frost bears the numbing cold of the wastes where it was forged, freezing any water that it contacts. It is also said to speak, and lament its own existence as a weapon of war.

The Twin Flails of Chastity
Quenched in the blood of a rabid unicorn, these two light flails are specially effective against those who could be considered loose with their affections.

Found in the dungeons under the ruins of Xylarthen's Tower, this greenish hilt-less sword is said to be able to speak directly to the mind of the wielder, and sense the hostile intent of those nearby. It seeks new experiences, and if bored, may sabotage the current wielder so that it may be looted by somebody more interesting.

The Four Orcish Pirate Axes:
given as a gift by some dark and unpleasant god to the (now deceased) mutant leader of the orcish pirates known as the Bloody Axes of Powerful Killing, they appear similar in design, but each bears a different power.

The Axe of Power
This axe is able to strike with incredible force, quite out of proportion to the strength of the wielder, but is draining to use.

The Axe of Blood
Victims of this axe find their wounds bleed more freely than would be expected, and are difficult to heal.

The Axe of Killing
This axe can sense when a being is near death, and unerringly seeks to deal the final blow.

The Axe of Axes
When swung, this axe creates duplicates of itself, allowing it to be tossed at enemies as many times as the wielder wishes. The duplicates vanish after a short time.

Friday, 9 December 2011

[To Coin a World] Our Dragons are... diffferent?

Inspired by the wonderful series over at Lurking Rythmically, I thought I'd type out a few words about dragons on the Coin. They're not hugely different from "standard" D&D style dragons, except where they are...

Dragons breath fire.

Of course, there's quite a bit of variation as to how they do it. Some create a high-pressure gout of flame a hundred meters long, some spit fireballs that explode, some squirt flaming liquid, and some exhale clouds of smog that they then ignite with an electrical discharge. So, while fireproof armour will be invaluable against any dragon, the fire delivery method it has can change other tactical decisions.

Occasionally something will go wrong with the internal furnace of a dragon, usually while it's growing up, causing it to exhale toxic sludge or blasts of lightning. Other dragons consider such creatures hideous degenerates and try to kill them wherever possible.

Dragons are NOT immune to fire.
Dragonhide is very tough, turning aside most weapons, and it is also magic-resistant, turning away a fair number of spells. But, while it is quite resistant to heat, it is not totally fireproof, so a dragon can wade through a burning building, but will still be hurt by the breath of a fellow dragon. Or a large pile of explosives.

Most Dragons LOATH water.
Possibly this might have something to do with the fact they're creatures of fire. Or possibly they just don't like getting water under their scales. Either way, they avoid getting wet whenever they can. This is, in fact, why most dragons have their lairs in caves or dungeons rather than places open to the sky - while being able to fly straight up would be a huge tactical advantage, no dragon is going to sleep somewhere he might get rained on.

Having said that, they're not allergic to it or anything. In fact, if a dragon can overcome it's dislike of the substance, their sleek shape, huge lungs, and vast strength make them excellent swimmers.

Their life-cycle is very uneven.
It takes a dragon only a month or two to grow from a two-foot-long hatchling to a small-house-sized monstrosity, a period during which they are constantly hungry, and will eat literally anything in their immediate vicinity that they can chew (which, considering how hard their teeth are, is basically anything at all). However, once they reach that size, they grow very slowly. As they age, they get bigger, smarter, and lazier. Thankfully for the people of the Coin, once they reach a certain size, the dragon's internal systems seem to become self-sustaining, and they refuse to actually wake up for anything less than a direct attack on their person.

They're Magical, but can't do magic
Dragons are very magical. That's why they can fly despite their weight, can breath fire, can grow scales as hard as steel, and so on. It's also why they have such a huge variation in physical construction within the one species. But, like most inherently magical species, they can't actually cast spells like a human wizard (in fact, it might actually be humanity's lack of inherent magic that lets them do that, but that's a theory for another day). They certainly cannot change shape at will.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Arrows of Dragonslaying

Dragons are hard to kill. This really shouldn't surprise anybody. I mean, they're giant armoured flying lizards. Clearly any prospective dragon-slayer, or for that matter, any king with a large treasury and a smidgeon of healthy paranoia, will want something to use as an equalizer in a prospective battle.

Setting aside converted siege weapons, asbestos-coated armour and the rare wizard both powerful enough to battle a dragon and crazy enough to try, the best equalizer are magically prepared arrows of dragonslaying.

Admittedly, the name is a bit of a misnomer, as they can't actually kill a dragon except by a truly lucky shot, but unlike normal arrows they entirely ignore the dragon's ridiculously tough hide, and cause debilitating pain quite out of proportion to the amount of damage they inflict. These features are what they're sought for. Being able to hit a dragon's armour and still cause it to fall out of the sky from sheer shock is a big help.

Perhaps ironically, they're quite rare due to the fact they're made out of dragon parts.

Before the magic spell that imbues the arrows with their power can be cast, the heads of the arrows have to be made from dragon claws (in case you were wondering, a given dragon has from six to twenty-two claws, depending on its physical layout).

The next stage, once the heads have been made and affixed to a suitable shaft is to soak the arrows in the still-warm blood of a recently killed dragon.

Because the claws are even harder than the dragon's hide and filing them down to the proper shape can take days, and the blood cannot be more than half an hour old, for every quiver of arrows, two dragons have to slain.

Which explains why they're so amazingly expensive.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Blackpowder on the Coin

Gunpowder, more commonly known as blackpowder, does exist on the Coin, although it's use is as yet not widespread. It gets used for all the various things it got used for in our own history, such as guns, cannons, bombs, fireworks, and the Xingian Flamethrower.... but it is also used by trolls as a hard drug, typically inhaled through the nose. The rocky consistency of the trollish metabolism can occasionally cause sparks, which is turn means that troll blackpowder addicts run the risk of spontaneous cranial explosion. This explains why they are often referred to as "crackheads".

Friday, 18 November 2011

Other food and drink of the Coin

in our previous post the dwarven taste for rat was mentioned. A few other items of food and drink are noteworthy as well...

Gruznuk, or Orcish Death Spirit
Orcs are horrible cannibalistic creatures, and love alcohol, so it's probably no surprise that their most famous beverage is actually made from fermented internal organs, usually the livers of the brewer's enemies. The stuff is horrific, almost undrinkable to any non-orc, and even for orcs it can occasionally be lethal. The orcs see this as a plus, though. If a drinker is slain by a bottle of gruznuk, his internal organs are removed, fermented, and then poured back into the bottle, and the defeated orc's name is added to the label. Besting a bottle that has defeated all prior drinkers is considered a heroic feat by the murderous greenskins.

Dematerialized Food
An attempt by wizards to make light and easily portable rations for long journeys, this was once normal food that has had its very physical existence removed, making it a good deal lighter. In fact, it typically appears to be a completely empty paper bag. It is made edible by adding any kind of solid material to the bag, which turns into the specified kind of food.

...Usually. Live frogs are still technically food, right?

Monday, 7 November 2011

[To Coin a World] Giant Rats

In dwarven cuisine the staple meat is rat.

The giant rats that can be found infesting anywhere liable to be explored by low-level adventurers are the result of a dwarven attempt to breed something big enough to supply a decent steak...

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Icebone Wand of Arng-Duvool

(this item came about thanks to my ruminating on One-Ring-Like artefacts in D&D-like campaigns, and how one has to make sure they're more dangerous in the hands of the bad guy than they are useful in the hands of the PCs, otherwise the whole dynamic shifts a heap, and you're dealing with a different kind of scenario)

Believed to have been crafted from the thighbone of a god or demigod, killed to free the world from the last ice age, the Icebone Wand of Arng-Duvool holds vast magical power, far beyond that of most mortal mages, and can be wielded by any being who possesses the will to do so, even if they are not themselves a mage or wizard. It would be the ultimate weapon, did it not possess a severe flaw: when its power is used, it saps heat from the user. Even a small manifestation of its magic can leave a wielder shivering and in desperate need of a warm fire, and any serious spellwork will cause frostbite and hypothermia, or even death by flash-freezing.

But for a lich, an undead abomination composed of only a skeleton, unable to feel winter's chill, the wand would be the ultimate prize...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

To Coin a World: Genie Servants

Most adventurers know of Genies, how they are magical beings from another plane, and that they can be bound to serve mortals, even granting wishes.

Fact is, most adventurers outside Aratha have no idea how the nitty-gritty of all that works. They assume that genies are just like demons.

They're not. While a demon can be bound by magical circles, and compelled to perform services, either for free or in exchange for sacrificies, depending on the power of the binding wizard, genies cannot be bound by wizards at all. They can be summoned, but are under no compulsion to obey the summoner.

However, genies have rituals known only to themselves that can bind other genies, forcing them to serve whoever possesses a specified binding object, usually a lamp, amulet or ring. Genie lords often trade these indentured slaves to wealthy Sultans or powerful sorcerers on the mortal plane, in exchange for goods or magic that can't be found on the genie's home dimension.

Occasionally a noble genie will be bound to grant wishes. This is reserved for only the most hated enemies of those doing the binding. Wishes can only be granted on the mortal plane, and each wish granted tears away a third of the genie's very essence, with the third wish either killing the genie, or leaving it a withered husk. Understandably, these genies are bitter, and will twist the wording of wishes to cause as much pain and sorrow on the wisher as they can.

Friday, 21 October 2011

[To Coin a World] The Brotherhood of Sin Eaters

yet another order of mountain-dwelling holy men, the Brotherhood of Sin Eaters believe it is there holy mission to cleanse supplicants of sin, by taking the sin onto themselves an digesting it, using gluttony to fight its sibling sins. To have one's sins eaten, a supplicant must journey to their monastery, convince them of both the unique flavour of his sins and his willingness to have them expunged, and then be anointed in holy sauces and walk across hot coals, a process overseen by the order's Head Friar. Once this is complete, the Brothers will set to work with their Soul Knives, Forks and Spoons. The supplicant will leave cleansed of his darkest inclinations, and feeling strangely peckish.

Due to their diet, the Brothers are universally gluttonous, and after a meal, will often suffer the dark urges the latest supplicant. At least until they partake of a holy digestive wafer.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A thought about local linguistics

Recently I've been studying the Late Middle Ages/Renaissance, in particular in Italy. It's become increasingly apparent that 1: it's a great time and place for gaming, and 2: I already knew that, sort of, because how I've always imagined Pyresburg and various other bits of the coastal area near the Friendly Sea sort of matches up with what I'm learning.

Except for the names. The few locations I've actually given names that my players are aware of (the few-ness being a problem I need to fix...) sound like what they are: compound words, or purely made-up stuff. In both cases, chosen by somebody who can only speak English, and horrifically anglicizes any foreign words he comes across. What they don't sound like is Italian.

But maybe there's a (hastily ass-pulled) reason for this: they're "translated" to make them sound like they originated in the player's native tongue, much like in the game-world they originated in the character's native tongue and don't sound like they're "foreign".

Would you buy this explanation as a player? Have you used similar explanations before? Have I adequately explained my thoughts?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Tooth fairies

They collect teeth because they have none of their own. Their mouths expand to incorporate new teeth as they find them. The older ones have grins that even sharks would find unnerving.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

My Return to Minis: Part 3 - Fluffy Captains and Big Dwarfs

Today, I cover a few things: the continuing search for a captain model for my "human" mercenary warband, and further ruminations on putting together a dwarf warband from the models I already own.

I love fluff in games. In fact, I've always been more interested in the fluff of warhammer than the playing of it. So as I was browsing through the miniatures looking for warriors, I was already entertaining some vague ideas about background for my group. Half the warband is half-orcs or other half-breeds, so that would suggest a group of outcasts, the dregs of society forced into mercenary work through a combination of an aptitude for violence, and a lack of other options. They'd probably be lead by a human, if I can find one (see below), as he'd be the one who would talk to employers.

Some warhammer nuts in the audience (assuming we have any) might point out that warhammer doesn't have half-orcs. Of course, those pointing that out obviously weren't around for 1st-edition Warhammer Fantasy Role-play, which did. Along with Gods of Law, the one-eyed-mist-exuding Fimir, Khorne being shown to be a god of valour, Halfling Wizards, and all kinds of other stuff I find quite entertaining, and miss. So nyah.

Oh Captain, My Captain...

The Mordheim rulebook makes a bit of a point about the captain of your warband being, in a way, a representation of the warband's player. So really, you have to pick a model you really like. Which is making that selection a bit hard for me. I like all the models I've outlined for my warband so far, but none of them really look like leader material. Sure, most of the half-orcs look big and imposing, but this isn't an orc group, the leader isn't the guy who can beat everybody else into submission. He's the guy who has a plan. Being able to wallop those who aren't cooperative is helpful, but the plan is the main thing, so the model has to look somewhat imposing, and possibly a bit older than everybody else, to show he's a cunning old veteran.

Finding a model to those sort of specs isn't easy. Most of Reaper's range is either individual adventuring heroes, grunts, or grand generals. Or wizards. If I were allowed to have a wizard as my warband leader, I'd be set. But no such luck.

In the end, I've got a short list of models:

First, this guy is a "northern hero". On the plus side, he'd big and imposing, and seriously-looking. On the con side, he looks like the Arnie rendition of Conan, except with some actual clothing on. Cool, but more a crusher-of-empires than a leader-of-men. Looks a bit too young and in his prime, too. But I could model on some facial hair, maybe a cloak.

This chap is a bandit, according to reaper. That's a big pro to start with. He looks suitably rugged and bulky for the part. And check out that mustache. Cons: hair looks a bit... meh. but that can be fixed, made more wild with green stuff. Also, he's got a shield, which isn't the best investment in mordheim. Not a deal-breaker, but something to keep in mind.

A Pathfinder model, a fighter. He's not as bulky as either of the other selections, but he's far better equipped. Again, he looks a bit young, but some added facial hair can easily fix that.

I had a look at some other miniature producers, but nothing jumped out at me as a serious option.

But this guy (from Hassle-Free miniatures) makes for a great non-serious option. Maybe I should get a scrawny wizard to go with him and the carnivorous treasure chest, to amuse my inner Discworld fan.

These two (from Privateer Press) would make nice henchmen to match the sword-and-crossbow weilding half-orcs.

And a blunderbuss-wielding marksman (again from Hassle-free miniatures) wouldn't go astray, either...

Making Do with Tall Dwarfs
I also had a serious look at the models I have which I could use to make other warbands with as few additional purchases as possible. Turns out I have so many plastic warhammer orcs, I could probably make three whole warbands without breaking a sweat. So long as I like my orcs wielding swords, bows abd more swords, that is. But I do, so that's fine.

On the dwarf front, again, I have a passable number of models. Only problem is, they're from three different ranges, and as a result, are wildly different in their style and proportioning. For all that all dwarves act pretty much alike, they sure do manage to vary a lot.

The models I have are from three different sources:

First, a single reaper dwarf hero I got at a convention. He's got a "viking" style horned helmet and a shield with a complex squiggly celt-y type pattern on it. His eye-level is about up to the shoulder of most human models.

Second, four dwarves from WotC's attempt to revamp the Chainmail miniatures battle game. They've got Gimli-from-the-LotR-Movie style helmets, mostly, and their eye-level is about the upper chest of the human models, but they're noticably smaller in stature than the reaper model. They also have terrible posture.

Third, six dwarves from game's warshop's Marauder line.... so, quite some time ago, relatively speaking. Their eye-level is belt-level for a human, and they're the most disproportionate of the lot. In fact, they seem to match the shape and size of a current warhammer halfling to a tee, including the bulbous noses, even if the hair is in different places. They're also wearing Renaissance-style garb, exactly like warhammer Empire models do.

Now I could make a warband out of those models. But it would look ridiculous. Each of the dwarves looks just fine among its fellows and among human models, but when mixed together they just look weird. I can't convert them to match... it would be too much work. And if I'm going to buy models to make up the warband.... that presents problems. It's easy to get matching size/style models for the reaper dwarf, but that would mean I'd only have one model to start with, making the expense bigger. The chainmail dwarves got discontinued ages ago, and anyway, they don't look very nice. While the Marauder dwarves also got discontinued, I found one man on the internet who sells compatibly sized and styles dwarf models, at a fairly reasonably price, too. But while they're wonderfully characterful and distinctive, they're not wonderfully characterful of my personal image of dwarves...

Maybe I'm being too picky.

Friday, 26 August 2011

My Return to Minis: part 2

So I find myself making a Mordhiem warband. Hopefully without having to spend and arm and a leg to get it.

First priority is reviewing what models I have from when I gave up years ago: a pretty fair collection, as it turns out. Enough to make an orc and goblin warband out of plastic models (backed up by some squigs), and a dwarf treasure-hunter warband out of a few chainmail dwarves, some really old warhammer dwarves, and a reaper dwarf I picked up at a convention a few years ago. Plus an ogre and a Halfling hired sword.

Problem is, I don’t actually like any of those models very much. I don’t really like most of GW’s stuff, except their plastic gnoblars and river trolls, both of which are sold in minimum quantities far larger than I could ever need, and so are off the table. I’m still going to build and paint those orcs and dwarves, but just so my non-collecting friends can have something to use on occasion.

This leads me to decide that I’ll make a warband out of minis from other companies. A quick trip to the local gaming store reminded me that Reaper Miniatures makes the official Pathfinder minis, and I’ve always loved the character illustrations in Pathfinder. So the Reaper online store is my first stop.

Wow. They sure have a big range, don’t they?

After several hours of trawling through the catalog, I worked out the models I could get for a mercenary warband, or for a dwarf warband that I actually like the look of. I spent some time trying to decide which to go for, but in the end I picked the human mercenaries. I’ll only really be playing one warband, and I’m not sure I’d like how slow dwarves are.

Actually, calling my theoretical warband “human” might be a bit of a misnomer. Reaper’s copious catalog includes a fair number of half-orcs, and I love half-orcs, so they’ll be forming the backbone of my warband. They’ll count as a Middenheimer group, for the increased strength scores on the champions and captain.

A quick run-through of the models I’m planning on buying:

Henchmen with two-handed weapons. Some of the models have bows, so I’ll probably add bows to the rest as well. It might not be the best combination of weapons, tactically... I guess I’ll just have to see how it goes.

Henchmen with swords, daggers and crossbows. At least once I give the second one a crossbow. I’m thinking of having them as Swordsmen, for the extra bonus in combat... but again, swordsmen with crossbows might be a bit of a waste.

Two youngbloods. I was originally going to have one of the youngbloods be human, but I just love how gangly and weird that half-elf model looks.

One of the champions. I’m still tossing up whether that weird-looking sword should be a sword, or a two-handed weapon, rules-wise.

The other champion. Obviously some kind of mutant, I mean, just look at those huge great... horns. She’s going to be the one and only model in the warband with any kind of armour save, thanks to that shield. Seriously, armour in Mordheim is just uneconomical.

Annoyingly, I couldn’t find any models I liked for a captain. I’ll have to look further afield.

I picked out some hired swords, too: A warlock (who is excellent, but really needs a pointy hat if you ask me), Halfling, elf, and ogre.

And two different options for a dwarf trollslayer. One the one hand, the lady looked suitably angry to be a trollslayer, but on the other, the guy is really rocking the Tolkein dwarf-wearing-a-hooded-cloak look. Either way, I’ve have to convert them to be holding two axes, even the guy. What is that, a can-opener?

And lastly, I just love this thing, so I might buy it and use it as a wardog.

Due to reaper’s (comparatively) cheap prices, all the above models should only cost me about $160, approximately. Possibly plus postage, depending on how much it would cost to order them through my local gaming store, as opposed to ordering them directly from Reaper.

Next: searching for a captain.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

My Return to Minis (Part 1)

many years ago, I was into Warhammer 40,000. While I still find the works of games workshop interesting, and their settings ripe for darkly humourous role-play, I haven't bought anything of theirs in a long time, nor played either of their two big games.

My reasons for quitting were several-fold:
  1. Games Workshop miniatures became too damned expensive.
  2. I grew to hate painting dozens of models.
  3. I sucked at strategy, which was exacerbated by the fact that 40k strategy seems to mostly be army list selection - and I could only field the small selection of models I had.
  4. the friend I would play with lost interest, and while I could probably have found people to game against, I like to have a circle of friends, some of whom I game with, not a circle of gamers, some of whom are my friends. Hmm, this sounds liek a topic for a future blog post...
Then last year, The Lone Amigo dragged me into playing battlefleet Gothic with him. It was excellent. While the official GW BFG models are even more stupidly expensive than the rest of their range, we used lego or meeples blu-tacked together for our ships. Movement and prioritizing of actions is a very important part of the strategy, not just getting the right models to counter the other army. I really enjoyed it, but it wasn't going to cause me to actually go out and buy any models. The meeples worked far too well.

Then, in the last few months I've made friends with a fellow nerd named Matt in my liberal arts classes who is really into miniatures. I went around to his house and we played a game of malafaux using stuff from his copious minis collection. I, again, enjoyed it. It's a good game, and I recommend it to anybody reading this. Skirmish games involve rather different strategy than huge 40k slug-fests, and that's strategy I can actually handle. I find myself momentarily feeling the urge to rush out and buy some minis for the game, which are quite reasonably priced. But I don't. Matt is pretty much the only guy I would play against, and he owns a copy of essentially every Malafaux model ever made, so there is no need. Besides, the models are cool, but they don't appeal as much as some other stuff I've seen out there. I vaguely consider buying other models and having them "count as" but that seems a bit pointless when I can just use the "normal" models that Matt has, particularly as steampunk minis are a little harder to find than some other genres.

Then Matt mentions that his gaming group is really into Mordhiem.

I tried to get into Mordhiem back in the day. Heck, it solved my issue about heaps of minis. But the problem was, I didn't actually LIKE any of the minis they released for Mordhiem. I got some Orc and Goblin minis to use for it, but I never actually acquired the rulebook, and so never actually played.

So suddenly I realize all the barriers to me collecting tiny metal and plastic men have been lifted. There are so many competitors to Games Workshop that sell miniatures I like more for far cheaper prices that getting together a dozen or so models won't be hard. I have glasses now, so painting won't be an issue. I have access to people to game with. And the rulebook for the game is free.

Looks like I'm back into miniatures.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

[Troubles & Treasures] Class Acts: The Archer


Prime Requisite: Dexterity
Key Skill: Physical, Subterfuge

At a moment's notice, the arrow is loosed from its string, flying true into the heart of its target. Another follows soon after, decorating the monster with protruding shafts. Before the beast has even had a chance to realise what's happening, it collapses like an overblown pincushion. The bowman moves swiftly through the clearing, vanishing back into the shadows.

This is the way of the archer. To strike swiftly from a distance, to blend with the shadows, to be on the enemy before they can even respond.

Play an archer if you want to...
  • Be one with your bow, not this namby-pamby nature shit.
  • Strike from the shadows, hit where it hurts, and pepper your foes with arrows.
  • Keep your distance from the enemy.

Class Features:

Sniper's Aim
When you spend a round aiming, roll a Dexterity attack against your target. If you hit, either they must move away from you, or your next attack against them is automatically a critical.

Rapid Volley
When you draw on your inner reserves of strength, you can fire a truly ridiculous amount of arrows. You can spend a healing surge to make an attack against every target in a 10ft radius.

Quick Draw
If your bow is nearby, you can have it in your hands with an arrow notched at a moment's notice.

Archer's Alarcity
Take +3 to Subterfuge or Physical, your choice.

Class Feats

Mounted Archer
When you fire arrows from horseback, take +1 to your attack roll if your mount is moving at full speed.

Two Birds
When you fire two arrows at one target, it counts as one attack at a -2 penalty, but you do double damage on a hit.

Weighty Pull
Add your Strength bonus to your bow's damage.

Shoot the Horizon
When you have a bow, you can shoot anything you can see with no range penalty.

Friday, 22 July 2011

[Troubles & Treasures] Class Acts: The Hoplite


Prime Requisite: Strength
Key Skill: Physical

Armed with spear, javelin, and sword, the hoplites of the Mynacean city-states contribute some of the most feared armies in the civilised world. With their heavy armor and shields, they can shrug off nearly any barrage, and be ready to strike back in force with javelins. Hoplites traditionally fight together, in a phalanx of free men, but some use their freedom to take up the life of a travelling adventurer, battling madness and hubris wherever it may arise.

Play a hoplite if you want to...
  • Defend your allies and your city with shield and spear.
  • Live as a free and honorable citizen-soldier of the Mynacean city-states.
  • Be equally dangerous in hand-to-hand and ranged combat.
Class Features

Phalanx Protector
When wielding a shield, you and any adjacent allies gain a +1 bonus to AC.

Javelin Hurler
When you hurl a javelin or spear, add both your Strength and Dexterity bonus to the attack and damage rolls.

You are not just a solider; you are a hero of Mynacea; perhaps an athlete, a philosopher, or an orator. Add +3 to one of Physical, Knowledge, or Communication, and +1 to the others.

Class Feats

We Will Fight In The Shade
When wielding a shield, you add an additional +1 to AC against ranged attacks, on top of your Phalanx Protector bonus.

Defenders of the Polis
When you stand in solemn defense of a city, town, or village, you will not die or collapse until you have suffered damage equal to twice your hit points.

Agon and Tragordia
When you challenge a foe to single combat and lose, you get experience points as if you had defeated them.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

[To Coin a World] The Tax Monks

One of the many orders of holy men that inhabit monasteries throughout the mountains of spindlewick, "The Tax Monks" is the name used by the populace to describe the Holy Order of the Civil Servants of the Universal Bureaucracy, a group dating back to when the Xing Empire ruled Spindlewick thousands of years ago. Civil service is a holy work to these high-trained monks, and they go on pilgrimages, pledging themselves to aid in maintaining some aspect of high civilization, often the delivery of letters, or the collection of taxes. Their Aetheric Auditor fighting style and iron sense of duty make them rightly feared by bandits and corrupt taxmen alike.

[To Coin a World] Orgosh Khal

Orgosh Khal

The very name strikes fear into the hearts of many a soldier or mercenary who has tried to scale its terrible walls. It strikes considerably less fear into the hearts of a considerably larger number of soldiers, who, having died trying to scale its walls, have considerably less to fear.

Great Orghosh Pass, in the Blackstone Mountains, is the only true gateway from the Worse Lands into Cisrhania and the wider Neuremanshreik. For centuries, it has been held shut against every army the Caesars of Waldorf have sent against it, guarded by the terrible black fortress of Orghosh Khal. It has ever been the weeping sore on the Imperium's fringe, leaking raiders, barbarians, and bandits into hubwards Cisrhania like pus.

The fortress itself is without equal in the near Spindlewick, with its black stone walls rising a hundred feet above the barren soil, guarded by spiked crenelations and a thousand murder holes. An immense wrought-iron gate holds the pass shut against men and beasts alike, only opening to disgorge horrors. From the outside, it betrays no weakness, no easy vulnerabilities. And yet it would have fallen a thousand times over were it not for the steeled might of its black-armored commander.

In the ancient Blackstone tongue, he called by the name Rekh Ardor Kin, the Man Without God. The men of the Empire know of him as the Antipaladin, he whom no god may touch. Beneath his gaze, no divine spark flutters; clerics call helplessly on their gods for aid as they are slaughtered by the dark armies at his command. Where some heinous villains are called soulless, the Antipaladin is something even worse. He transcends the demonic and the celestial; where the gods are the Alpha, he is the Omega.

It is not known from which dark void he sprang, or what terrible horrors lie in his past. All that is known is that a man clad in deep-black armour commands the gutterspawned legion of cursed mercenaries, black-hearted bandits, and manlike beasts that hold Orghosh Pass shut. For a century they have merely held open the pass at Orghosh Khal, allowing raiders and hordes from the Worse Lands to pour into civilized country while holding the pass tight against the Imperial Army when they seek retribution.

And yet now they are gathering strength for some unknown purpose. Beneath the steely gaze of the Antipaladin, a war-host is gathering on the Accursed Fields. From across the Worse Lands they come, gnolls and ogres and ratlings and rhinokin and a thousand other kinds of beast. The Imperial Reman League seems impossibly unprepared for an assault, as their princes and barons play at the game of crowns. If the Antipaladin's forces surge forth from Orgosh Path, all Spindlewick can hope for is a few brave heroes.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Sucker Punched: Violence is Boring

The other day I finally got around to watching Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder's latest theatrical action extravaganza, and it was awful. This might not come as a shock to you, but it somewhat surprised me. Certainly, it was full of turgid dialogue, made for questionable gender politics, and had a paper-thin plot, but all these qualities were expected going in. It fails on a much more important level: it fails as an action movie, because it forgets that action isn't about violence, it's about adversity and conflict.

The explosive, genre-tastic, mook-filled action sequences at the heart of Sucker Punch left me bored shitless. It's not that I can't appreciate a good fight on screen; I'm a devoted fan of action and genre movies. To my eyes, a well-choreographed action sequence or battle scene can have all the expressiveness of a classical ballet. If a movie trailer is laced with giant robots battling dragons and explosions followed by cars crashing through plate glass, it's almost guaranteed to get my attention. Despite a budget sufficient to refloat the economy of a small Mediterranean nation, Sucker Punch entirely failed to win me over.

Fundamentally, the phantasmagorical action of the film fails because it is filled with violence while being utterly devoid of adversity. Over the course of four epic scenes, we see the female heroines battling an assortment of random mooks from the Hollywood genre archives, slicing into robots, orks, and clockwork zombies with equal enthusiasm. Yet we never once feel like they are threatened or in any real danger until they return to the grimy real world. There is no John McClane pulling glass shards out of his feet, or Biggs Darklighter getting blown out of the sky in the Death Star trench run, just wave after wave of easily dispatched enemies.

Not only do they fail to show any sort of danger, the action sequences also seem completely inconsequential to the film's main plot. One could strip them from the film and leave a no less coherent narrative. All stories are built from conflicts, internal or external, and each scene should contribute to the contextualisation, escalation or resolution of these conflicts. The turgid computer-generated battles don't serve any of these purposes; they merely serve to exhibit the skill of the cinematographers. You can't fault Snyder's CGI work or his choreography to explain why the scenes fall flat, because they fail on a much deeper level: they fail as scenes in a narrative. The director forgets that violence is boring; conflict and adversity drive stories.

To bring this back to gaming, I think this issue explains why many combat sequences in roleplaying games like D&D can seem lackluster. When there's no serious adversity or danger in the scene, it's hard for any sort of engagement to arise, even from a tactical level. Worse yet, scenes can fall flat when they don't serve to escalate or resolve conflicts. If the characters have nothing to win by defeating their opponents other than mechanical rewards like XP, the game becomes nothing more than a tactical murder simulator. This works only when the game's tactical situation is sufficiently interesting. If instead the characters have a real stake in the fight, if they must overcome adversity to achieve their goals, then the combat can become a real conflict.

Monday, 18 July 2011

[To Coin a World] The Disenchanted Forest

Spindlewick, the major hub-continent of the Coin, is covered in forests. Most of them are enchanted, and are positively lousy with fairies, unicorns, and other obnoxious and highly-magical beings. Against this magical backdrop, one region stands out - The Disenchanted Forest. The area is completely devoid of magic. Spells do not work under its eves, enchanted items are useless, and magical beings lose any magical powers and properties until they leave the wood.

Encounters in the Disenchanted Forest:
  • A completely normal, non-talking, non-mutated animal.
  • A rather confused lycanthrope that has become a completely normal man, at least temporarily. Probably looking for some clothes.
  • A group of wizards doing research on the area. Their spells don't work, so they're carying ridiculous amounts of armour and weaponry to compensate. They're very jumpy, because they can hear off in the distance...
  • A tyrannosaurus rex. It used to be a dragon. Now it's very stupid, and very angry.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

[To Coin a World] A Brief History of the Grand Reman League

The Fall of the Reman Empire

Reme at its height, 1559AUC

A thousand years ago, the known world, from Aratha to Soleille to Zwuyala, was ruled from the great city of Reme. From humble beginning as a city founded by twin orphans, Reme grew to become the largest city on the coin, its streets thronging with the press of a million citizens. Its legions and tribunes enforced a long era of peace and prosperity. Elven princes paid tribute to the Reman emperors, the first human rulers to be acknowledged on a more-or-less equal basis, and fought together with them in the War of the Lunar Frog and other great conflicts against evil. It seemed that, within the reach of Reme, the Coin's centennial cycle of great kingdoms rising only to be smashed by barbarians and black-hearted sorcerers had come to an end.

It was instead perhaps an interregnum. As peace reigned across Spindlewick, the Reman elites grew decadent and perverse, delving into the pursuit of obscene luxury. Taxes raised from the provinces that once paid the salary of the legionnaires now went straight to the banquet tables of senators and patricians. Border forts crumbled, the provinces went undefended, and the famous Reman roads fell into disrepair. Over the years, the Palace of the Ceasars was given over to a series of terrible Emperors, who alternated between mad, bad, and merely extremely corrupt. In 1889AUC, the Imperial family gave up on the whole game and decided to sell the entire Empire at open auction to the highest bidder.

This turned out to be not a very good idea.

The Not Very Light Ages

It was a bit shit all around, to be honest

In the chaos following the Leveraged Sell-Out, the remnants of the Empire collapsed as waves of barbarian invaders swarmed across the frontiers. Amongst them were the Bellagoths, a clan of female vampire-worshippers who would go on to establish the Republic of Orzovia, and the Ostremos, whose chieftain famously stopped at the gates of ruined Reme itself and declared it wasn't worth the effort of conquering. The elves retreated into their forests, the dwarves into their mountain halls. Spindlewick was plunged into an age of terror, decay, and barbarity.

In most of the former empire, this lead to several hundred years of petty kings, bandit chieftain, feudal squabbles, and general abuse of the peasantry. One remote province of the Empire, Cisrhania, was particularly devastated after the fall. As the Reman rule over the monstrous tribes of the Worse Lands collapsed, the dark sorcerer Morevac the Merciless gathered them together into an immense horde. In 1939AUC, his dark forces surged across the Rhâne river, and set the province alight from end to end. From his black tower of Rhâner Khal, Morevac consolidated his rule, condemning the province to oppression and darkness.

And thus it was, for more than five hundred years; enough time for the people of Spindlewick to forget the glories of the Reman Empire, and become accustomed to poverty, deprivation, and a general lack of joy. It would only be in the late 2400s, when a humble merchant from the tiny village of Waldorf-on-the-Rhâne fought off a tribe of goblin bandits in the Disenchanted Forest. Examining the corpses, the merchant, Astrid Kratzburg, was startled to discover that the straggly goblin bandits carried an immense amount of Reman jewelry, much marked with the paisley wreath of the Ceasars. When she followed the trail back to their makeshift camp, she was startled to discover that the original bearer bond granting dominion over the Reman Empire had been held within the hands of goblin bandits for the past three hundred years.

The Merchant Empress Rises

Astrid von Kratzburg, first Kaiserina of the Reunited Imperium

The young merchant had been a minor participant for some time in the underground resistance to Morevac's rule, and with this document, she saw the key to defeating him. With perhaps dubious legal grounding, but the best of intentions, she declared herself Empress of the Reman Empire, and set to gathering together a base of support. Her allies within the Cisrhanian underground were easy to convince; with the sale of much of the Reman crown jewels, she was even able to hire a reasonable number of mercenaries. A small army began to gather under her auspices on the outskirts of the Disenchanted Forest, but it would never be enough to defeat Morevac with his sorcerous supremacy and his monstrous allies. For that, she would need allies.

A plan was hatched. Years as a only somewhat honest merchant had given Astrid a keen eye for the credulous, and when Prince Relathio of the Dawnwind Elves came to her attention, she was ready for him. Relathio was a fine specimen of Elvish nobility; graceful, gallant, and about as gullible as a guppy. Using her newfound imperiousness, she convinced Relathio of the existence of an ancient treaty between the Reman Emperors and the Dawnwind Elves, promising martial assistance in times of need. Relathio and the Dawnwind Elves, who had in any case not particularly noticed the fall of the Reman Empire in the first place, gracefully acceded to assist.

With the support of the Dawnwind Elves guaranteed, nearby baronies flocked quickly to Astrid's banner. Haggling over the price of salted eels and spoiled eggs had given the new Empress better training in diplomacy than most noble academies, and she easily won the petty barons to her side with promises of autonomy within a new Imperial League. Even the burghers of Pyresburg were won to her side with trading concessions and fiery oratory. With her hard-won allies, the Empress was ready to free Cisrhania from the rule of Morevac.

A bickering collection of mercenaries, elven nobles, and petty militia would have been no match for the orcs, ogres, goblins, and monsters that made up Morevac's guards, let alone his mystic power. However, a Reman legion, led personally into battle by its Empress, turned out to be more than a match for the Shadow Over Cisrhania. In pitched battle upon the grassy fields before Waldorf-on-the-Rhâne, the League's forces shattered the armies of Morevac. Auxiliaries stormed his fortress of Rhâner Khal, freeing his tormented captives and destroying his obscene experiments. As he fled Cisrhania for Orghosh Pass and the Blackstone Mountains, Morevac himself was hunted down and captured by elven windrunners.

As Morevac hung from his noose in Waldorf's town square, Astrid Kratzburg, proclaimed the rebirth of the glorious Reman Empire; or to be more accurate, the birth of a new Imperium, more league than empire, more Cisrhanian than Reman, built not to service the needs of a single city but to protect the freedom of the many. And Waldorf-on-the-Rhâne, her home, the village held so long under the shadow of sorcerous rule, would be its new capital.

An Imperial Renaissance

The Rhânebridge at Waldorf

Under the rule of Empress Astrid, Waldorf would grow from a tiny thorp to a bustling burg, and her reborn Imperium would expand at a similar pace. Astrid established a framework that made it simple for baronies and petty kingdoms to join the league, without sacrificing any of their power. Kingdoms would become grand duchies within the league, with the right to send Electors to the Imperial College in Waldorf and choose the new Kaiser upon the death of the old. In return, they would gain trade concessions, open their borders to the elves, and membership in a pact of mutual protection. It was an appealing recipe, and it brought kingdoms into the new empire like seagulls to a picnic.

A new age of prosperity dawned in central Spindlewick. Merchants and pilgrims could freely travel the breadth of the Empire without concern for borders and tariffs. The elven forests were opened once more, and the dwarven holds reestablished their trade missions missions in the lowlands. Imperial levies held the dark tribes of the Worse Lands at bay, and even the raiders and pirates of the Friendly Sea kept to their hidden ports. A brief period of uncertainty reigned upon the death of Empress Astrid, but the confirmation as Kaiser of her son, Ulrich Remulus von Kratzburg, stilled any movements of discontent.

Ulrich proved just as capable a leader as his mother. In his reign, the wizarding academy of Phagemorts would be established to give the Imperium a sound source of sorcerous talent, and the first of many wars against against the Kingdom of Soleille would be fought and won. Later successors would establish a network of Imperial roads and canals, extend the reach of the Reman league to colonies in Zwuyala, Yonda, and further afield, and fight glorious wars against the enemies of the Grand Reman League.

Modernity and the Grand Reman League

A street-level view of modern Waldorf

Four hundred years after the death of the Empress Astrid, the empire she founded has lost none of its diversity and vibrancy, but perhaps it has lost most of the unity it once had. According to a commonly held saying, the Grand Reman League "is neither particularly grand, nor does it include the city of Reme within its borders, and is only a league in the sense of a grudgeball league, in that it is an excuse for its members to dress up in funny colours and beat the stuffing out of one another".

Its last real exhibition of unity was during the war against Soleille a hundred years ago, fought over the absorption of the crescent city of Languille as an Imperial electorate. The only wars that have been fought lately have been between duchies, not beyond the Empire's borders, and the current Emperor, Otto Herbert Kratzburg Franz von Sumpfkastell, also known as Otto the Useless, owes his election as much to the mutual hatred of the other candidates as it does to his delicate political marriage. Within the borders of the league, bandit chieftains and goblin tribes are becoming bolder than even before, attacking larger caravans and even small villages and baronies.

Still, the Grand Reman League is still the dynamic heart of Spindlewick; its workshops export manufactured goods to the entire continent, its finest sorcerers could match spells with any the Coin have to offer, its trading companies reach across oceans, and its distant colonies still pay heed and tribute to the motherland. As the Coin flips into a new age, it remains to be seen whether the future lies with the Ceasars of Waldorf, but it is almost certain that the pieces that make up the Reman League have important parts to play.

[To Coin a World] The Elves of Yonda and the Downunderdark

As mentioned in my previous post, wizards are a repressed minority in elvish society. But as John asked in the comments, why didn't they just rise up and overthrow their magically-powerless subjugators and declare the elf kingdoms and magocracy?

Well, a few generations ago (which, considering the elvish lifespan, means quite a long time by most standards) that's exactly what the wizards tried. At the time, there were even more elvish wizards than there are now... but they still failed. Elves are actually rather bad at wizardry, taking decades to master arcane arts that the rarer human wizard can master in a few years.

While the elf wizards could do a whole slew of things that the warriors they battled could not, they in turn could not do a few things that the warriors could. Like wear armour. Or fight with a sword when they ran out of power. Or jog up some steps without getting winded. Ultimately, the wizards lost.

The survivors of the attempted rebellion were rounded up, and banished to the mainland of Yonda. While Yendys is a tropical paradise, Yonda is a sun-blasted, high-background-magic wasteland, infested with spiders and snakes and all manner of other poisonous monsters. Many of the exiles died, and those that didn't were warped and twisted. Their pasty complexions, the result of years spent studying indoors were burnt, their hair bleached, their eyes constantly irradiated by the arid climate and harsh sunlight. The magic of the land coupled with the peculiar biology of the elvish people meant that their descendants have obsidian-black skin, white hair, and sinister red eyes to this day. The survivors, after the first few years, got so sick of their prison continent that they took the desperate measure of burrowing and escape tunnel. Under the ocean. While this utterly insane idea was probably the result of extended sunstroke, it actually worked. The crust of the Coin is shot through with vast carven networks stretching from the Hublands all the way out to the Rim, and the "Dark" elf rebels took to these caverns, and mostly haven't returned to the surface since, so strong is their loathing of sunlight. They now have vast underground kingdoms, ruled by the best wizards among them, and have a long-standing hatred of their surface kin.

So, in short... the dark elves of the Coin are Australian Convict Wizards.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

[To Coin a World] Wizards in Elvish Society

The Elves of the Coin have a peculiarly lopsided society. Most elves live in settlements hidden deep in the woods, or in the elvish city of Yendys, on its idyllic island off the coast of the hellish continent of Yonda. Apart from a few who act as scouts and rangers, patrolling the elvish borders and promising a swift and arrow-studded death to intruders, the vast majority of elves live relaxed lives that most human nobles would be envious of.

Which is a bit strange, considering that these elvish nobles have no peasant class to support this lifestyle. There are no farmers, goat-herds, bakers, plumbers, or carpenters among the elves (excepting certain individuals who take up such lives as hobbies or artforms). So how does elvish civilization function?

A wizard did it.

Or more accurately, a whole bunch of wizards do it every day with a host of spells designed to do away with the underclass workforce. As a result elvish wizards are in fact treated as an underclass themselves. In a society comprised of beautiful socialites and athletes, the bookish magi are shunned and ignored, unless some spell has failed and needs replacing.

Understandably, some elf wizards are less than happy about this, and leave. Many elvish adventurers are wizards primarily because of this. They might be considered ugly and "common" by elf standards, but to a human, any elf is beautiful, and wizards are people to be given respect (if you don't want to end up as some type of amphibian). To a lowly elf plumber-mage, the adventuring life is like a dream come true.

[OuterZone] Krazon Traditions & Superstitions

Spiritual Traditions

Muragh osh ku muragh dakh.
To strike first is to strike last.

A number of spiritual and philosophical traditions have arisen upon the Krazon homeworld of Nokhan in its five thousand years of civilised history, but only a few continue to capture adherence within the modern Empire. Perhaps most prominent are the spiritual teachings of Oblakh, the Sixfold Path. This was the faith of the Emperors who unified Nokhan, and continues to be the dominate spiritual tradition even now during the Korugh Regency.

The Sixfold Heart

Kraz kor ku durab, maz kraz hekh ku madish.
A brave heart is a strong one, but a sixfold heart is invulnerable

The name Krazon comes not from their word for people, or for world, or from the name of some ancient dynasty. It comes from the word krazonku, meaning one of the heart. In the Oblakh tradition, to be Krazon is to listen to the six spirits that dwell within the heart's ventricles.
  • Bokh, the spirit of duty and honour. Associations: Dirt, the colour red, the number one.
  • Kora, the spirit of bravery and strength. Associations: Stone, the colour orange, the number two.
  • Pazh, the spirit of ingenuity and wisdom. Associations: Wind, the colour yellow, the number three.
  • Mozha, the spirit of kindness and mercy. Associations: Water, the colour green, the number four.
  • Hoba, the spirit of friendship and humour. Associations: Ice, the colour cyan, the number five.
  • Mabh, the spirit of trickery and selfishness. Associations: Lightning, the colour blue, the number six.
It is common, although theologically incorrect, for Krazon to speak of the spirits as if they were personified individuals. "By Bokh's beard!" and "By Mabh's mace!" are colloquial expressions that express surprise or anger, invoking the names of the spirits or krazald.

The Sixfold Heart is also reflected in the six castes of ancient Krazon society:
  • The Bokhan, the farmers and workers.
  • The Koroz, the warriors and nobles.
  • The Pazhan, the priests and holy men.
  • The Mozhon, the healers and servants.
  • The Hoban, the merchants and innkeepers.
  • The Mabhan, the unclean and criminals. Foreigners, non-followers of Oblakh, and non-Krazon are traditionally included in this caste.
In modern Krazon society, caste is more a cultural marker than one of occupation. Indeed, nowadays the majority of Krazon merchants and industrialists belong to the Pazhan caste. Since the abolition of the Warrior's Privilege under the current Regency, caste is officially meaningless, but still carries vast weight in society. Impoverished Mabhan can still expect oppression and disdain from high-caste Krazon.

Blood Quest

Lokh tar ogar, kraz muragha durgad.
Through blood and storm, a warrior's heart is forged.

Where other societies might see fit to challenge their youth with a dangerous ritual at the transition to adulthood, Krazon culture demands sacrifice at every turn. It is traditional for any Krazon who achieves a major milestone to undertake a lokh saba, or blood quest; one equal in difficulty to the challenges they are expected to face in their new life.

A blood quest may take many forms, depending on the milestone to be achieved. All, however, involve blood, violence, and suffering. A few examples:
  • To prove their worthiness for motherhood, pregnant Krazon females must hunt and kill a mother kroggar by hand before their child is born. If they fail, both they and the child will be declared Mabhan.
  • In preparation for marriage, a Krazon groom must first defend himself against the sequential murder attempts of his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, and finally his bride-to-be, before embarking on a vision quest into the deep desert to seek wisdom and patience.
  • To join the Imperial admiralty, a Krazon war-captain is expected to wrestle a sea monster known as the Orxan; a fierce, many-tentacled creature that lurks in the deep crevasses of Nokhan.
  • A Krazon male is not considered of age until he can best his oldest male relative in single combat.
Since the installation of the Korugh Regency, many of these traditional blood quests have been abolished or even banned. Positions in the Imperial bureaucracy no longer demand ritual combat; instead, a simple competitive examination suffices to prove one's competence. Still, cultural change is slow, and the Krazon military continues to unofficially maintain its traditions.

Common Superstitions

Muragha morvad tar glash.
A warrior dies with his blade.
Kroggar hekh ku kraz, zed darvad mudh.
Six kroggar make a heart, seven destroy a world.
Dobru kara taron lronad lokh ku aksar darv.
To cross water without spilling blood is to invite disaster.
Ruad murkurad ku zalt Mabh, ruad daklarad glash Bokh.
A whispered promise is Mabh's mace, a bellowed oath is Bokh's blade.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

[Apocalypse World] Honeytown and the Space Wasps

So, despite having run and designed a bunch of Apocalypse World hacks up to this point, I'd never actually busted out the original eleven herbs and spices up to today, when my friends and I ventured into the psychic maelstrom for the first time.

Taking a leaf out of Fabricated Realities' book, I made sure the play space was as apocalyptic as possible, scattering images of the apocalypse all over the table and the walls and keeping light to a minimum, with a message of despair scrawled across the whiteboard. This is the first time we'd really done anything like this, and I think it helped build a better play experience, creating a discontinuity between the game play and the outside world.

We settled on an island-based Apocalypse World; I printed out a Russian-language map of the Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal to serve as the baseline map. Foreign-language maps work great for creating distance between the location and the players. The one piece of knowledge about the apocalypse that we established early in play was that all the bees - all insects in fact - were dead, and Honeytown was (as a result of the Savvyhead's work) the only place known to grow fruit rather than scavenge tinned fruit from the remains of the Golden Age.

The players arrived slowly and snapped up playbooks somewhat haphazardly; one player (Colonel) arrived about twenty minutes into character creation. We had:

Truth the Hocus was a Greek-style philosopher-teacher who preached an almost Nietzchean dogma of extreme self-reliance. From his traditional pulpit in the town square of Honeytown, he declaimed that the apocalypse had been a liberating event, freeing the Human Will to Power from the shackles of societal strength.

Josie the Quarantine washed up on the shipwreck beaches east of Honeytown a few weeks ago in a strange lifepod, where she was rescued by Truth. She had sort of settled into his little entourage for the time being, despite her strong dislike of his philosophy; it reminded her of the Nietzchean philosophies of her superiors.

Whitmont the Savvyhead had been a child when the apocalypse had struck, fascinated with insects. He remembered fleeing devastation on a plane with his mother, but little about the contents of the apocalypse - the psychic maelstrom had evidently erected a strong barrier around people's memories from the Before. His childhood fascination with insects would become Honeytown's salvation when he used his weird technical skills and a shipload of dead Africanised bees to create a hive of cyber-zombie bees that pollinated the orchards around Honeytown.

Colonel the Hardholder was a soldier from the Before who remembered Josie's face from a youth spent in uniform. Using his military equipment and knowledge, he ruled Honeytown with a gentle fist, turning it into the market centre for the island chain. He held to some extent with Truth's philosophy, though in an apparent paradox, also supported an infirmary for those who suffered the cancerous wrath of the angry sun.

The 1st Session

We start the game with the lights going out all over Honeytown.

Okay, we actually start the game with the start-of-session moves; Colonel misses his wealth roll and thus Honeytown is set on the verge of starvation; the last fruit harvest failed with disease running rampant amongst the fruit-pickers and his gang gorging themselves on the remaining supplies in the Tiki Bar.

Then we see the lights go out, from the Ferris wheel look-out to Whitmont's apiary-lab, and it's not a good sign. The power's supplied by overland cable from Vasiligrad on the other side of the island, where an old Soviet nuclear submarine is beached in a bay. Cannibal tribes that run the interior jungle tend not to fuck with it since Colonel and Captain Vasili joined forces to burn out their villages last time they did. If they're fucking with the cable, it's a sign they're losing respect for the strength of Honeytown.

The sudden power cut freaks out the loiterers in the Tiki Bar, which lounges beneath the Ferris wheel in the old fairground that serves as Honeytown's market. The loiterers include Truth and Josie, who are watching idly by as Colonel's number-two, Parson, has the shit kicked out of him by another gang member over a woman. Colonel comes out of his hut and isn't having any of this shit; he threatens Pierre, the gang member, with dismemberment if he doesn't let the fuck go of Parson (go aggro, 7-9). Pierre backs off slowly, hands in the open, and drags the woman, Chazza, away with him. Parson, who's completely wasted, blearily turns to Colonel and then collapses to puke his guts up.

Whitmont's working in his lab, trying to get to the bottom of this bee shit, when the power cuts out. He swears, and kicks the backup generator into gear. It splutters and halts - out of fuel. He swears again. Trying to work out what's going on, he taps into the psychic maelstrom (augury, 7-9) using his psychic antenna - his zombie bee hives. Reaching out to look at the power cable, he sees it's been severed deep in the jungle, in a place surrounded by anger, engines, and trees.

Driving into town in his customised Humvee, he relays this information to Colonel, who tries to scare up his gang; they are, however, too busy listening to Truth, who's speaking the truth (7-9) about how the cable represents reliance, and how the cannibal gangs have struck a blow in a war against Honeytown, and how they must be destroyed. After the mob disperses off to seek vengeance (orgy of violence), Truth and Josie decide to join Colonel and Whitmont on their drive into the deep jungles of the island.

Cue generate badness, and the gang runs into an old bridge over a ravine, covered in corpses. As Whitmont and Colonel move in to investigate, they recognise the facial tattoos of some of the more intact corpses - they're from the cannibal tribes of the interior. It's at this point they start to realise there's more to this situation than just a couple of savages severing the cable. Colonel steps out onto the bridge to test its strength and see if it will hold the Humvee. It won't - as soon as he gets to the centre of the bridge, it explodes, showering everyone nearby in pieces of concrete and fleshy chunks of Colonel.

(Colonel's player, at this point, had to leave to another appointment. We didn't necessarily know whether he'd be able to join us for another session, so he suggested that Colonel die explosively. Why not?)

A small gang of quad bikes come roaring out of the jungle at this point, accompanied by the chatter of gunfire. We have no idea who these pasty tattooed fuckers in brown jumpsuits are, so Truth reads the situation (10+), identifying the leader of the bikers as being a small guy driving a giant ATV with a mounted .50cal. He goes aggro (7-9) with a hunting rifle, trying to get the leader to scatter or flee; they choose instead to bunker down behind cover.

Whitmont, his ears ringing from the explosion, leaps back behind the wheel of the Humvee and throws it in reverse as Josie provides covering fire with her assault rifle from the top hatch. Unfortunately, he reverses at high speed into a tree, tearing off the side of the Humvee, throwing Truth to the ground, and knocking himself out on the steering wheel. Thinking fast, Josie grabs the wheel, hits the gas, and speeds out of the ambush towards Honeytown, leaving Truth behind for dead.

Driving through the jungle near Honeytown, Josie can't help but notice that it's on fire. Truth's followers have seemingly run riot (in an orgy of violence), setting fire to the nearby jungle, Honeytown's precious orchards, and the old resort building. It's evident some kind of pitched battle is taking place near the Ferris wheel; someone is firing a sniper rifle from the top perch. Josie flashes back to the Before; remembering a rioting crowd in Hong Kong surging against the barricades her unit was guarding, the whole city on fire. She chooses to bypass Honeytown's emerging unrest, and speeds straight to Whitmont's lab to apply some emergency first aid.

Remembering her training, she realises that the bruising to Whitmont's head probably indicates some sort of swelling in the brain. She'll have to drill a hole in his skull to relieve the pressure, and there's no time to waste. Acting under pressure (10+), she coolly and smoothly uses Whitmont's power drill to stabilise Whitmont. We decide this counts as opening your brain, and further more, suffering psi-harm. Whitmont nails the roll to open your brain; the ghosts of dead bees show him a vision of wasps descending from space to ransack the islands, destroying everything he has built. On the other hand, he also hits psi-harm with a 10+, meaning I seize control of his character and have him unleash the swarm of cyber-bees on Honeytown.

Meanwhile, Truth wakes up in a clean, white chamber with a medical-looking type babbling at him in Ukrainian. He's strapped to a surgical table, with his wounds stitched up. Realising that Truth doesn't speak a word of Ukrainian, the doctor calls over the short old guy who lead the ATV bikers, Orlaf. He reveals that his men have captured Vasiligrad and besieged K-19, the nuclear submarine that powers most of the island. For some reason, he keeps referring to the islands as "weak humans", despite his apparent appearance as 100% human. Orlaf demands that Truth help them capture K-19 intact; in exchange, he will grant Truth a quick and painless death as opposed to a long and torturous existence.

Truth manipulates (7-9) Orlaf into agreeing instead to set him free if he can help them take out K-19. To provide concrete assurance, he calls up Captain Vasili on the radio and gets agreement that he will be let on board, and then allows Orlaf to fit him with a remote explosives vest. He discovers that the Ukrainians are aboard some sort of huge plane that has landed on the west side of the island, and that they're all dressed in brown space suits with red flag patches on the side. They lead him to the beach between their lines and K-19, and he walks out, hands in the air.

That's where we end the first session, with a nuclear-armed submarine on the verge of launching its cargo, Ukrainians from space on a rampaging warpath, and Honeytown tearing itself apart.

Post-game wrap

What worked well:

Basically, the session was great, and all the players enjoyed it immensely. The playbooks and character generation phase worked brilliantly to generate an initial situation, full of weirdness and apocalyptica. At all times, the rules helped drive play forward, giving PCs something to do at all times. Go aggro and act under fire worked really well to create an exciting action scene with the Motherfucking Space Ukrainians; we didn't use seize by force throughout the whole session.

The players, especially, were great, leaping forward with named NPCs and setting details, barfing forth apocalyptica as good as they got. Every time I asked a question, I got a useful answer that helped make apocalypse world seem real. Truth's player brought an apocalypse playlist filled with moody, dark, and pounding music that matched the mood to a T. Whitmont's player really helped set the tone of the apocalypse by defining various facets of the psychic maelstrom, and by having his crazy swarm of cyber-zombie bees. Josie's player contributed a whole lot of kicking ass, and brought to light some interesting aspects of the Before. Colonel's player, during his brief appearance, really ran the session, taking charge, kicking his gang into gear, and pushing the other players forwards; I can't imagine Honeytown will do too well without Colonel's gentle fist guiding it.

What could have been better:

I can't fault anything about Apocalypse World, or any of the players, and the game overall was a success. Still, I do feel like my MCing wasn't necessarily up to scratch; I feel like missed a couple of notes that would have turned the game from a success into a dramatic success:

  • Look at NPCs through crosshairs: Reviewing the session, it seems more like I was looking at NPCs through a bombsight rather than crosshairs. They were blown away like there's no tomorrow, leaving only a few established NPCs alive at the end of the session.
  • Leaping forward with named, human NPCs: I'm not sure I brought forth enough named, human NPCs this session; the sheet only has a couple of names on it, and half of them or more were dead by the end of the session.
  • Make Apocalypse World seem real: Mainly this happened, but I think I fell short of the ideal. For example, on the read a situation moves, where I just delivered the information straight to the player rather than filtering it through the character's senses - "Your best escape route is the ravine." vs. "They've got you and Josie surrounded from the north, but the ravine lies open and gaping like a gash in the earth. If you jumped down there, you could follow the flow of the river back to Honeytown faster than they can get there on the ATVs."
  • Springboard off character creation: The main threat that arose in the course of the session - the motherfucking space Ukrainians - basically came out of nowhere, when I was pushed to come up with a reason for why they were under attack. The threats from Truth's followers, Colonel's holding, Whitmont's lab, Josie's superiors back in Stasis - all of these became secondary to the space wasps. I feel it could have been a more powerful game if I'd spent more time building more localised threats that arose more from the world as established at the start of the game.
  • Going too big, too early: At the end of the first session, the player's home holding is in ruins, crazy tattooed spacemen are invading, and the islands are on the verge of vanishing in atomic fire. At this point, it's impossible to follow Vincent's advice for crafting your first front on a small, human scale; the threats that face the PCs are nothing less than the total destruction of their entire local universe. I imagine it's going to be more difficult to bring things back to that smaller scale in the future.