Monday, 13 November 2017

Gear and loot in the hell jungle

My players - voluntarily - chose to be crashlanded in the middle of Xen'drik, continent of wonders and adventure. Also murderous Drow. Giants. Giant-sized temples covered in gems and gold. Giant-sized traps. But I digress.

The setup

The privately-owned airship Peryton just crashed on a mountainside during its epic adventure to discover the mythic southern coast of Xen'drik. While pondering exactly how the fire elemental got loose from the propulsion ring, a couple of survivors are scavenging the wreck.

You are...X here. Good luck.

The survivors

  • Indiana Gnoll - male Gnoll ranger. Whip. Deranged laugh. [player: Robert]
  • Woody the Warforged Wizard - fucking guess [player: Bas]
  • Drake - male human healer [NPC]
  • Eorie - female human rogue [NPC]
  • Santash - male kalashtar psion who fell off the Peryton but managed to shove his mind into his psicrystal [NPC]
  • Emalyse Hargo - female crewgnome who fled the Peryton before the crash on an unknown elemental-powered contraption

The dead

  • Captain Orsken Maine - male Half-Orc professor at Morgrave University
  • Enzo Biscotti d'Sivis - male Gnome communications expert, House Sivis
  • ...and 22 other NPCs to be detailed later


You just crashed your airship on a volcano slope in Xen'drik, a year away by foot from your civilisation's nearest outpost, and this is what you could scavenge from the wreck*

* In my day job, I decode academic papers into press releases. This title would be considered overly short and on the nose for a science paper. More on that whenever I get my other blog on nuclear propulsion off the ground.


Available for free
(Although it will add to your inventory and encumbrance)
  • Ring of petrification (turns wearer into statue until removed)
  • Sending stone, cracked (for long range communication) - 1/2 inventory slot
  • House Sivis sending log, encoded - 1/2 inventory slot
  • Navigator's kit & logbook (sextant, rough maps, points of interest) - 1 inventory slot
  • Ship's compass - 1 inventory slot
Equipment you can salvage
NPC henchmen: 400 gp worth of gear (includes weapons, armor)
PCs: 9400 gp worth of gear (again, includes weapons and armor)

You can of course pool resources. No single item with a cost over 8000 gp though. Note that any spare coinage will probably be worth jack in the jungle. Best invest in some trade goods. (Post with horrible stuff to lug around to follow!)


Just so you guys don't have to look it up:
Masterwork armor +150 gp (armor check penalty 1 lower, can be enchanted)
Masterwork weapon +300 gp (attack roll 1 higher, can be enchanted)

In case you want to loot the ship mage's book
Spellbook: 15gp
Adding spells to spellbook:
  • cantrip 10 gp
  • 1st level 20 gp
  • 2nd level 80 gp
  • 3rd level 180 gp (max. 2 spells)
  • 4th level 320 gp (max. 1 spell)

This stuff might be useful, or not - feel free to buy
  • Bedroll 1 sp - 1 inventory slot
  • Rations/day 5 sp - see Usage dice (d4-d6-d8 1 slot; d10-d12-d20 2 slots)
  • Waterskin 1 gp - see Usage dice (d4-d6-d8 1 slot; d10-d12-d20 2 slots)
  • Flint & steel 1 gp - small item (5/inventory slot)
  • Rope (50ft) 1 or 10 gp (hemp/silk) (d4-d6 1 slot; d8-d10 2 slots; d12-d20 3 slots)
  • Tent 10 gp - 1 inventory slot
  • Hammock 3 gp - 1 inventory slot
  • Everburning torch 110 gp - small item (5/inventory slot)
  • Antitoxin 50 gp - small item (5/inventory slot)
  • Healer's kit 50 gp - 1 inventory slot
  • Wand of Cure Light Wounds (1d8+1, 50 charges) 750 gp - small item (5/inventory slot)

Sunday, 12 November 2017

The long haul - encumbrance and inventory

Last session saw a slight case of total party wipe-out. We're now setting up a completely new campaign: a jungle adventure on Eberron's continent of Xen'drik. And when I say "jungle adventure", feel free to read "exhausting slog through vicious wet murder-forest with increasingly deranged inhabitants". Sort of like Dark Sun with more plants. For this campaign, I want to track carrying capacity, inventory management and foraging in a bit more detail than usual.

The system of choice for this campaign will be Pathfinder, because of its many options and fiddly bits for players. I'm drawing the line at using the standard D&D/Pathfinder per-gram inventory system. There's much sleeker stuff to be found in the OSR-blogs.

Sources: Raging Owlbear, Goblin Punch, Games with Others, the Black Hack (usage die).


What you can carry

  • You have an amount of inventory slots equal to your strength. Most items (shields, one-handed weapons, a crowbar or lantern) take up 1 slot. This is more a function of unwieldiness than basic weight.
  • Two-handed weapons and medium armor take up two slots, heavy armors take up four.
  • Sets of up to 5 smaller items (pitons, potions, arrows, coinage) can be bundled in packs that take up 1 inventory slot. See below under Usage die.
  • Of your [strength] inventory slots, dexterity/2 (round down) are quick-access slots. Use these for items you need to find at a moment's notice, such as weapons or potions. These are easy to access (free as part of a move or standard action) but are also vulnerable.
  • All other items are assumed to be in containers, bundles or your backpack. They are stored more safely but take d6 x 10 movement to dig out (half if you just spill everything on the ground).

Light encumbrance.

Bundles of small items

  • Jewelry and other ultra-light materials don't need to be tracked via inventory slots.
  • Coins and gems run to 300 per inventory slot. 250 gold pieces + 300 copper pieces = 2 inventory slots. And if you find gems big enough to break this rule, rejoice. Also, run from the inevitable horde of cultists whose temple you just robbed.
  • Some items are small and light enough that it takes 5 of them to fill up an inventory slot: for example, daggers, vials and flasks, scroll cases, pens and signal whistles.

Encumbrance

  • Not encumbered: carrying up to [strength] inventory slots worth of items. Use only the armor check penalty from your armor or shield.
  • Encumbered: carrying up to 5 more items. Movement speed -10. Dex and strength based skills take a -5 penalty. Maximum dex bonus to AC is 3. (Use this or your armor check penalty, whichever is worse).
  • Heavily encumbered: carrying up to 10 more items than your strength. Movement speed becomes 5. Maximum dex bonus to AC is 0. Penalty to dex and strength skills becomes -10. (Use this or your armor check penalty, whichever is worse).

 

Consumable items

Many small items are perishables or consumeables. Examples: ammunition, rations, ink, oil, paper, parchment, pitons, rope (50ft), wax, soap (for gods sake stock up on soap), torches.

Rather than track each arrow and drop of ink, or foot of rope, we'll borrow the usage die from the Black Hack. This goes from d20-d12-d10-d8-d6-d4-gone. After intensive use (for instance writing for ink; exploring with torches; rope climbing; shooting arrows; eating), roll the usage die and on a result of 1-2, decrease the die to the next lower step. A roll of 1-2 on 1d4 means your resource is gone. Usage dice d4, and d8 take up 1 slot. Usage dice d10 and d12; d20 takes up 3 slots.
Cost per die size: d4 - regular price; every step thereafter: price x2.
Quiver of arrows / case of crossbow bolts: regular price buys you usage die d12.


Gruesomely expensive items such as magic potions or magic arrows are tracked per item. What, keeping track of how many +5 godbothering arrows you have is too much work? 
 

Extra inventory slots

  • A traveling backpack adds 2 inventory slots without triggering encumbrance (below). A fancy bandolier or belt with pouches and straps adds 1 quick-access slot. Does not add to the total inventory slots. You can use either a backpack or a bandolier/belt, not both.
  • A Bag of Holding takes up 1-4 inventory slots and has internal space for 5/10/20/30 slots. And it will cost you a fortune to get one. Put a Bag of Holding in a quick access slot to have all its contents available as quick access items.

 

Damaging stuff

(You can thank Goblin Punch.)
If you fail a save and get crushed by rocks, torched by a dragon, sprayed with acid or other unconventional forms of greeting in Xen'drik, the DM rolls 2d8:
  • doubles: count this number upwards from the bottom of the backpack (and continue into quick access slots). This item gets damaged (a multiple-slot items such as a medium armor counts as one).
    Roll 2,2: damage the second-lowest item in the backpack.
     
  • different numbers: take the lowest of the two, count down this many slots from your topmost quick access slot (continuing into the backpack) and this item gets damaged.
    Roll 5,7: damage the 5th item down on your list.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

That's a first: total party kill

Just when they have me resigned to the fact that even over-challenge-rating monsters cannot bring down even one of them, a couple of lowly Ettercaps bring down my entire group of regular players. May actually be the first time I wiped out the entire party - and I had to fight my instinct to have the monsters spare a couple of players all the way. New game: still Eberron, different continent.

From. Also I need this on a shirt.


No but seriously tell us about the party kill

First the group decides to go into a ready-to-collapse underground medical horror show (courtesy some wayward Halfling healers). They already know there's a rapidly regenerating troll down there. Rogue sneaks off and finds the troll at half hit point maximum and raiding the kitchen to restock calories after regenerating from a cubic inch of meat. Of course, he tries to one-shot the thing with three flaming arrows.

He's going to hunt down
their next characters.
Source: Caio Monteiro / DeviantArt


This, to put it mildly, does not go according to plan. The pretty wounded troll ducks into cover (darting out to grab a tasty chicken leg) and waits for regeneration to kick in. The rogue decides to walk up and stab him with a flaming arrow. The troll, not being stupid (actually a kidnapped envoy from very nice people would not say a bad thing about them lovely folks the three of them), is holding a readied action to clawclawbite the fuck out of anything that shows its face. And it shows its face and said face is ripped off and that's pretty much it for the rogue. Rest of the party rolls up and using judicious amounts of magic, mauls and firewood to kill the troll. Rogue miraculously does not die but is save via divine intervention, Blood of Vol style. Party cleric/wizard feels pretty good about those 1d4+2 hit points he tosses around the room into his body. Entire dungeon collapsed via explosive runes-based safety system. Suspicions of troll quietly regenerating below.

Travel actually was the safest part of the adventure

Players then decide to take a trip cross country to the Whisper Woods, where someone named the Seven dispenses prophecy. Run into a nice random encounter during a storm with a messed up Dwarf building a tower which is so unstable it will float up to heaven. Dwarf hireling is staring wide-eyed at the mad masonry while making "let's take our chances with the lightning storm" sounds.

No violence erupted. Was saving up for more violence later.

Hex map: Whisper Forest

Players roll up to Whisper Forest, which I've remade from the standard book, dumped pretty much everythin already written about it, and turned it into "three evil fairy sisters inhabit these woods with their minions". Crazy coincidence: I've only taken the concept of "dangerous forest with prophetic witch" from the Eberron book, haven't looked at the map for months but somehow generated a forest pretty much the same shape as in the official map. Huh.

Source: layout mine, ideas all over the place, map Hexographer


Party unwinds in local inn, where their necromancer picks up a nice countryman hireling who is totally not Ein Member of ze Emerald Claw, ach mein Herrgot nein! But secretly is.

Then into the woods it is, with first careful exploration of a densely webbed forest edge, then a run to a vacated shack where they get ambushed by 3 Ettercaps. They chose a pretty easy approach - there were wereboars and basilisks and Dryads and a shitload of Mephits and dark fairy-themed hexes in there. Somehow I get the idea the party did not see this encounter as easy, with them getting eated and all.

The wailing, the gnashing of teeth,
the warm fuzzy feeling I got.
From Illuminerdy - the Joy of the TPK


I should mention that one Ettercap is listed as a level 2 monster, the party consists of 2 PCs at level 4 and 3 hirelings at level 2. They get surprised, stuck to the walls of the shack with webs, then poisoned and clawed and poisoned so more. They never regain the initiative, some pop up after getting healed again and are then taken down hard, and in couple of rounds the party is dead - long live the party.

Ettercaps: these fuckers. (bilingual bonus:
in Dutch, "etter"means both "pus" and "dipshit")
Found at Ettercap Evolution / Bogleech.com

Want to go back?

We break for dinner (goooood peanut soup) and a short scene where the players think they wake up in the desolate afterlife...only to discover they're back in a creepy Ravenlofty demiplane (like this but with a train station on the side of an ever-growing pit and a city hanging off of chains above it) and if they just make this tiny deal with the realm's Dark Lord...

New adventures forthcoming. Follow the hapless survivors of the Peryton Expedition!

In the end we decide to stick with Eberron, ditch 5th Edition for Pathfinder (more options for the players, more headache for the DM ;) and roll up new characters who are the only survivors of an airship crash in mysterious jungle/dark elf/giant-filled Xen'Drik.

Jungle trip! C'mon, it'll be fun.
Source: Igor Chakal / DeviantArt.


Where to find the new characters? Their airship The Peryton went down - possibly sabotaged - "right below the D", as the players spout out before checking the scale of the map. That's fine by me. Now they have to walk 2500 miles of hell-jungle to the outpost of Stormreach. Their posessions: a cracked sending stone which can maybe pass messages, a psion sage who fell of the airship but managed to cram part of his mind into his psicrystal, and a ring that turns the wearer into stone until it is removed somehow.

Happy camping.

So a Warforged Wizard, Indiana Gnoll and two hirelings
are stranded right below the D and have to make their
way back to civilisation. Or any kind of safety, really.



Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Intro game: after action report

Over the summer I agreed to run an intro session to roleplaying games for friends of long-time gaming buddy R. Last Wednesday we finally rolled dice: a nice little session with lots of roleplaying, headscratching and cries of "what the hell is wrong with this swamp?" Good times!

I went into this game thinking I would be introducing Warhammer players to their first game of Dungeons & Dragons, so I planned to do a post mortem and see what worked and what didn't. As surprise number one, it turned out all the guys had played D&D in one form or another before, two even showed up with 5th edition D&D at the ready. No problem, this meant I could run through my "so imagine a world" speech and dive right into character creation and the game itself.

My resolutions and what came out of them

Have a starting situation ask for immediate in-character choices. 
I think this worked. The players started out as veterans owning a barge (inspiration) financed by a loan from vicious Gnome maffia. In other words, a great reason to find a job and pay off their debts. The hook came in the form of a sailor who wanted to send a package up river to the town of Angelspit (stolen wholesale from Goblin Punch's Frogstar Peninsula) Immediately, haggling broke out, especially when a mute monk showed up carrying a vow of silence and the wish to go to Angelspit. In the end the group took the job. Turns out the sailor's package is medical stuff to fight the plague ("the what now?") and the monk is a secret cultist shipping the skull of a demonologist to Angelspit (apparently there is a cult, which is cool and awesome - they had plans and personality and a backstory and everything so The Wicked City can suck it)

The DM sets the stage, the players decide what their goal is.
I had planned to skip the first few days of travel, but the party was hell-bent on investigating forests and not-so abandoned towers on the river bank. This led to an encounter with war refugees, who were harrassed by bandits - themselves quickly dispatched by the PCs.

Players need to hear that they can try do much more than what it says on the character sheet; if they can imagine the character doing it, it has a chance of working.
I'm not sure this came across. Interaction with NPCs went fine, but there was little improv going on. Mostly it was questions on how to gain cover or flanking or the like. I think the best event was when the barge - damaged after an ambush in a trio of huge locks - was saved by the cleric who declared water to be anathema so it couldn't flood the boat. Or perhaps when he used that spell to drive a magical disease from a fellow player (but had to haggle with the spell not to blast said unbeliever from the face of the earth entirely. "Why no burn entire heretic and be done with plague and unbeliever in one go?")

I will need simplified game rules and character sheets. For buy-in, I'll let players make their own characters.
Character generation with a pared down version of AD&D/5th ed/Goblin Punch spellcasting was done in under an hour, but afterwards the players said they'd have prefered to dive right in with pre-generated characters. This makes sense in hindsight - they'd played D&D before, so character generation was not unknown to them. I think one of them sneaked a fake roll of 18 on strength past me (he had come up with the same stat in a rolled-at-home character), but hey - it was only a oneshot. His character ended up with a magical plague which gave him a frog's tongue, so that felt fair and balanced.

I want to avoid long-winded shopping for inventory and starting spells, so I'll prep starting packs of gear and spells. Include stuff that needs a bit of creativity to use properly.
Skipped this, used basic equipment packs from D&D 5th edition with the option to buy stuff in the store. Like roleplayers everywhere, they loved the chance to go shopping. I'm happy that I calculated their starting funds to be too low to get the really optimal armors and weapons and other gear. This meant they had to compromise right away and were happy to loot gear off some bandits. I did not hand out OSR-style items like unbreakable knots, because I just plain forgot.

While the basic rules need to be simple, there need to be enough weird, moving parts to characters and the environment to encourage out of the box thinking.
So-so. The spells were intentionally weird and required a bit of creativity to use. The spirits behind the spells could also be consulted to answer questions on topics in their field, which was used nicely. I did try to avoid skill checks and just go by characters' backgrounds, but the question "roll for it - we'll see" is pretty standard to me. Could've fleshed out proficiency system some more to see what happens when you don't have a proficiency and want to give something a go anyway.

Other things I tried out

Normally I prep a starting scene and plant leads to follow-up scenes. In addition, flesh out NPCs who are driving their own plans forward and have it all run wild and free. The effect is sort of like Zak's Hunter/Hunted, but less formalised. (In other words, I decide on the spot what would be a good reaction by The Enemy when the PCs are stalling out.)

This time I went with a proper hex map, random encounters, a whole bunch of NPCs with secrets and desires, and - to be honest - no clear idea up until game day who of them was behind the whole Magical Plague thing. The hex map only really started to work when the players wandered into the swamp around cursed Angelspit, looking for witches or bog folk or anything that was causing the plague.



Take something from them to get insta-hatred. The big beef the players had at the end of the session? Not the cult behind the magical plague. Or the apothecary with her magic potions who had caused a religious schism and bloodbath by letting a love potion get in the wrong hands. No, it was the initial sailor who hired them to deliver a package (to a plague-infested town, as they discovered on arrival) - and pocketed half the sum he was supposed to give them. Currently declared abomination and arch-heretic, I think I could spin a campaign out of the PCs trying to hunt down this guy for 100 pieces of silver.

In summary

A nice day of gaming; I wouldn't mind rolling dice with this group again. Story didn't really get closure - or could be spun out into a larger campaign pretty easily.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

d12 victims of petrification

Totally not in preparation for the upcoming session, here is a couple of tables on petrified people and critters. Happy stonemasonry!

Basilisk. Cockatrice?
Found here.

Petrification victims. This is a: (d12)

  1. Potter, took a wrong turn
  2. bard looking for original stories
  3. surprised hunter
  4. army deserter
  5. wizard who lost a duel by a split second. Is in mid-casting of horrible eldritch doom.
  6. questing knight unburdened by common sense
  7. spy/cultist/assassin/brigand (reroll with 1d6 to determine cover)
  8. prisoner smuggled out of Dreadhold
  9. gargoyle (unpetrified, playing along)
  10. animal - (d20): ape, bear, boar, cat, deer, dog, eagle, giant crab, giant toad, goat, horse, lizard, monkey, mule, owl, rat, raven, snake, weasel, wolf
  11. monster - (d10): basilisk (near reflective surface) carrion crawler, displacer beast, fire beetle, gibbering mouther, owlbear, phase spider, rust monster, unicorn, young dragon
  12. humanoid - (d10): angel (with covered face), ghoul, gith, harpy, imp, nothic, pixie, satyr, wereboar, yuan-ti



Turned to stone and still filled with love. (Don't blink.)
Weeping Angel (Dr. Who) - found here.


Petrified (d6):

  1. 1d4 weeks ago
  2. 1 year ago
  3. 10 years ago
  4. 50 years ago
  5. 100 years ago
  6. 2d6 x 100 years ago

Gnome village caught by wandering basilisk.
Found here.


How you find them (d10):

  1. in pristine shape
  2. encased in rapid-growing tree. 25% inhabited by love-smitten Dryad.
  3. wedged in a hole
  4. covered in mud or moss#
  5. at the bottom of a pond, stream or waterfall
  6. weathered by the elements, features softened
  7. graffitied with blood, paint or mud#
  8. used as scratching post - claw marks; 2hp/hit die*
  9. covered in carvings or claw marks; 4hp/hit die*
  10. bashed up - extremities missing*
* will need immediate medical attention
# will need immediate bath


Weathered by the elements. Also petrified.
Nope, not playing possum at all.
Weeping Angel (Dr. Who) - found here.

How to unpetrify your statue (d10):

  1. use poultice made from basilisk tongue#
  2. cover in cockatrice egg yolk#
  3. perfume with gorgon musk gland extract#
  4. rub with medusa skin#
  5. inject with troll blood#
  6. have victim mindmeld with a mimic in perfect darkness%,#
  7. have gargoyle sit on victim until it hatches like an egg#
  8. soften for 3d4 days in gelatinous cube*,#
  9. simultaneously encase in fire, wind and water*,#
  10. pay extravagant amount of money to have a wizard do it - you boring sod.
* Caution: transition from stone to flesh is sudden and without warning. Do not overexpose.
# May cause side effects. 
% Will share memories and shapeshifting abilities during the meld. Original person will walk out. No-one knows whether the mass of tortured stone left behind is the mimic stuck in a new shape, or - but let's not dwell on that. 
This is what they look like if you cut
them open, YOU MONSTER.
Petrified forest - found here.



First reaction will be... (d4):

  1. scream and attack
  2. scream and flee
  3. stand in confusion - screaming optional
  4. scream, puke, convulse, or be otherwise of no use*
* while screaming through clenched teeth

 THE HORROR

Long-term side effects of having being petrified (d6):

(In addition to missing extremities, permanent scars etc., see above.)
  1. mind slowed but active while petrified. Sensory deprivation. Will save dc 10 + number of months or gain insanity (fear of enclosed places/darkness/restraints/sudden movement/things behind you/rocks and elementals)
  2. all hair on body permanently removed
  3. skin, hair, eye color permanently drained
  4. skin cracked like a piece of glass
  5. came back wrong - hard time to distinguish names, faces, genders, races. Good eye for different types of stone though.
  6. sit still for too long and your joints start to repetrify. 1 hour: joints pop. 1-3 hours: 1d4 damage to start moving again. 8+hours: disadvantage on rolls until you've had a nice run to loosen up. Days: strength check vs 10+days restrained to start moving again. After three failures you've turned to stone again.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Another Silly Experiment

Ooh, a bandwagon to jump on! +Jeff Rients  googled basic descriptions of basic classes in the BX version of D&D and came up with this. So I ran my players through google, to find:

Elf Rogue

Ok, I guess. I don't see the Elf part and this could just as likely be a ranger. (Perhaps he's *winkwink* in disguise.)

Human necromancer cleric wizard

After four search terms, I get something generic like this. Looks far too handsome and healthy if you ask me - this particular character keels over in a stiff breeze. Lucky him, his soul has a safety net.

Henchdwarf: female dwarf cleric

Left image I got via google, right image via pinterest. She's a follower of the Devourer. The paladin look with the gold is probably much-needed camouflage. I imagine righty is Sara's look when she's not afraid of witnesses.

Incidentally, the search for "Dwarf cleric devourer" went in a completely different direction. And I now have all the prep I need for next session.

Henchman: Igor human fighter

The manservant of our necromancer above. Has all the strength, constitution and charisma that his master is so sorely lacking.


In summary

The henchpersons look way cooler than their employers. But that's no surprise.

Monday, 23 October 2017

You can Blame my Wife

I love these little moments when she supports my hobby and makes life a living hell for my players :) My wonderful wife just uploaded this to our shared dropbox. Shared for your enjoyment and inspiration.

Source: Costume Craze

https://www.costumecraze.com/r/mythical-creatures-from-around-the-world

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Iceland inspiration 2: start your own blood feud

More roleplaying inspiration from our honeymoon to Iceland. An hour and a half north of Reykjavik is the village of Borgarnes. It's a fine base to explore the western interior or Snæfellsnes peninsula, but while you're there, definitely visit the Settlement Center. Try their top-notch lunch and dinner menu (the buffet is top notch) and gird yourself for the two excellent exhibitions on the settlement era and Egils Saga.

Egil Skallagrímsson (c. 904 – c. 995[1]),
a Viking-Age poet, warrior and farmer. Also the
protagonist of the eponymous Egil's Saga.
Image: U.Chicago Library
Egils Saga? Some dusty old story from the Dark Ages? The sagas may be a bit rough for our modern sense of storytelling, but did these guys ever rock the murderhobo vibe. Find an academic treatise here. For the rest of you, check out these highlights.

Heads caved in, people stoned just for asking the master not to murder his child? Killing people in their sleep after they broke their backs trying to prove themselves worthy of your daughter? Generations of blood feud over a gift axe which was just not shiny enough? Dude. Have a feud play in your setting's background, spice up random encounters with it, or involve a player directly by having them inherit the family feud.

Here, then, a guide to creating your own blood feud for your game. Some of these results seem to end the game early, when you manage to kill your enemy in a single stroke. Naturally, their offspring and banner-men now take up the blood feud.

Why Bob and his entire family need to die

A good feud starts with a first slight. All stolen from actual sagas or reflavored tales we picked up around Iceland. If this doesn't seem to add up (who forgives and forgets a couple of murder sprees after getting married to their worst enemy's daughter?), well, that's a look into the dark ages for you.

Things Bob should not have done. Roll d12 for the original grievance:

  1. Cheated you in a game when you were seven year-olds.
  2. Had your twice-removed niece burned alive.
  3. Had his herd graze on your land.
  4. Mocked your lack of a beard.
  5. Gifted you a piece of silk.
  6. Cheated on his wife, your kinswoman, and kept the dowry after the divorce.
  7. Kidnapped your daughter after you refused her hand in marriage.
  8. Accidentally wounded you in a legal dispute.
  9. Tried to kill you after you collected the king's tribute.
  10. Carelessly destroyed a worthy gift and sent the remains back to you.
  11. Challenged two of his daughter's suitors to drive a road through a lava field in one day. Killed the exhausted berserkers.
  12. Had his tax collectors claim the property of someone you had killed. To the victor the spoils, not to the IRS!

After which you were honor-bound to... Roll d10 for your fitting response:

  1. Have them proclaimed an outlaw, to be killed freely by anyone who wants to.
  2. Take 80 of your warriors and browbeat the law-givers into granting you all your enemy's lands.
  3. Kill a couple of their kinsmen or servants.
  4. Ruin his reputation with a mocking verse (don't mess with bards).
  5. Cut off his beard and take his right eye.
  6. Mount a horse's head on a pole to curse your stolen property so that the thief will not profit from it.
  7. Tell the drunkard that there's a bear attacking the livestock, then ambush them.
  8. Pull out a sword during a drinking game, in a temple where no weapons were allowed.
  9. Set fire to their hall and butcher the fleeing scoundrels.
  10. Challenge them to a duel, wreck both your weapons and tear out their throat.

However, the cowardly... Roll d12 for stinging insults:

  1. Miser
  2. Law-breaker
  3. Brother-killer
  4. Thorn-foot
  5. Brooch-wearer
  6. Grave-breaker
  7. Truth-blaster 
  8. Wolf-eater
  9. Pale-face
  10. God-feaster
  11. Juggler of justice
  12. Gift-lord of jackals

Manages to... Roll d12 fiendish ploys:

  1. Tangle up the legal debate until the sun sets on assembly, rendering void your claim.
  2. Burn everything of value on their farm to prevent it from being confiscated: house, livestock, and even household. Then flees the country.
  3. Engage the support of the queen, who curses you with restlessness.
  4. Have murderers hunt you and your siblings to distract you.
  5. Build up a stockade so you cannot massacre them and the town they hide in.
  6. Look in amazement when you get yourself captured on an unrelated raiding trip to far, far away.
  7. Ambush you after you are weakened from your berserker rage
  8. Take their entire family and their belongings into hiding on some gods-forsaken island.
  9. Trick you into making your case to the king, who you insult with your limited oratory skills.
  10. Convince the king you are keeping rightful tribute from him.
  11. Whip up a flattering poem to claim protection from the king that would have their head.
  12. Bury their money in secret before dying upright in a chair.

However, you get the last laugh as you... Roll d12 for your endgame:

  1. Marry your opponent's kinswoman to seal peace between you.
  2. Gift a headland rich with fish and game to your enemy's servants to indebt them to you.
  3. Steal a fancy ship to bribe the king's son with.
  4. Pose as the rightful heir to riches that should go to your enemy.
  5. Ram the coward's ship and slaughter them and all aboard.
  6. Cause the holy rope which encircles the judges of your case to be erected around your henchmen.
  7. Win the king's heart with a powerful poem so he gifts you with gold and lands.
  8. Cut a bloody swath in a foreign war and come home showered with riches.
  9. Swim a mile of frigid water to evade the party coming to your island-hideaway, then soak in a hot pool.
  10. Use your own blood to paint runes on your drinking horn, causing it to shatter and spill the poison intended for you.
  11. Tell your family you intend to throw all your silver in the air to incite a general brawl at the country's highest law meeting. Instead, have two slaves bury your two chests of silver and kill them to keep the treasure a secret.
  12. Vomit in their face and they vomit in yours, after which "all was equal".

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Iceland inspiration: 1d12 divine waterfalls

Our honeymoon to Iceland was awesome. Dramatic landscapes; welcoming, fun people; great stories. We even saw the Northern Lights, alone on the rim of a crater. (Fifty meters from the main road and the hotel, before it starts to sound too epic ;) And I brought home tons of roleplaying inspiration! Here's the first catch.

Goðafoss: Waterfall of the Gods

The twelve meter high waterfall Goðafoss is an imposing sight. "You need to cross...this" is food for at least a half hour of players flailing about. But there's more to the 'waterfall of the gods'.

Dig this sweet legend from the information board at the site:

"History tells us that in the year 1000, Þorgeir, Lawspeaker of the Althing [1] was entrusted with the momentous task of deciding whether Icelanders should accept the Christian faith. When his decision was formally accepted, he went home and threw his statues of the pagan gods into the waterfall."

[1] Great no nonsense title. The Althing was the Icelandic parliament. I imagine this huge barbarian rolling up to sort out crap that the politicians won't touch, and flat out refusing to be called something weak like prime minister.

Þorgeir was a follower or priest of the old gods, according to Wikipedia-Which-Is-Truth. He decides that to solve rising religious disputes, come morning there's a new god in town, heads home, and sends Thor and Odin and the rest of his Viking gods into the beyond. Balls of steel, especially for someone named after Thor's own lightning. Did he trust in the christian god to protect him? Or did he know something we don't?

Twelve divine waterfalls

  1. Waters of forgetfulness. Anything you throw in will be forgotten by any living thing as long as it remains at the bottom of the falls.
  2. Swept into history. What goes down the waterfall is forever seen as a quaint relic of former days. Interesting, but not of any relevance to the present.
  3. Washed of sin. The waters cleanse any act in the eyes of the gods - even denouncing them. Popular spot for murders, but beware the angry spirits who come out under the light of the new moon. The gods may forgive, but the dead don't.
  4. Dilution. Objects thrown into the waterfall have their power washed away. Good place to wreck a cursed item. Just don't go in with spells memorized - unless you don't mind losing them forever.
  5. Elemental static. The strong link to the plane of water disrupts divine senses. Gods, angels and demons (because what is the difference?) cannot make out what happens there. Great place to meet for clandestine deals with the Other Side.
  6. Soul sink. The waterfall destroys away the soul of anything falling into it. A way to end a recurring undead (which is nothing but a stubborn soul puppeteering dumb matter) or an angel/demon. Also a great way to make anyone surviving the trip into a soulless sociopath.
  7. Chrysalis. Falling down the falls frees you to make the next evolutionary step and drift off into the void as a creature of pure energy, unconcerned with mortal affairs. Of course your body still gets smashed on the rocks.
  8. Nihilism. All came from the endless dark sea, and to the sea it will return. Being submerged under the waterfall reminds you that everything in between is meaningless. Best to ignore it all and wait for oblivion.
  9. Elemental baptism. Throwing a precious sacrifice into the waters blesses you with a powerful ward against magic.
  10. Life. Anything broken by the water becomes part of its chaotic hivemind, washed to the ocean.
  11. Binding. The waters imprison anything as long as they keep running. Damming the river will stir up seriously pissed-off critters dumped into the falls in ages past.
  12. Fuck all. Waters actually do nothing. Reroll (ignoring this result) to get the prevailing legend. Gods are paying close attention to shenanigans happening here and will visit disproportionate retribution at a time of their choosing.

Bonus waterfall!

Forty-four meter high Dettifoss, of Prometheus fame, is a few hours' drive east of Goðafoss. It is scary and intimidating. You can walk right up to the river and the top of the falls without any fence getting in the way - thunder filling your ears, spray in your face, bits of mutating Engineer getting friendly with your boots. (I exaggerate. Take the eastern gravel road 864 instead of the paved western road 862 to the falls. Not only can you get as close as you want to the water instead of staring down across a canyon, you find that the spray blows right to the observation platform on the other side. You're on your own vis-a-vis mutating goop.)

Dettifoss bears the title of most powerful waterfall in Europe: not the highest or widest, but in terms of water flow and falling height, it does involve the most energy per second. Erosion of the underlying rock makes the fall move up-river at a pace of half a meter every year.

Wouldn't it be great if the waters uncovered a long-hidden underground lair? Now the players have a choice - go in with the water pounding down and beat other explorers, or wait until the waters move back and it's safer.

(I'm pretty sure I've seen this concept either in a book or on a blog, with a huge system of waterfalls slowly uncovering a City of the Ancients. Can't for the life of me remember any details.)

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

First session ingredient list

Slight case of DM panic these last few weeks. Traveling through Iceland gave me lots of ideas to use in-game - if only that game were Dark Sun, or Night's Black Agents, or Werewolf, not our ongoing Eberron game. On top of that, I sort-of-promised rpg blog legend Jeff Rients a post on introducing new people to roleplaying.

Introduction to roleplaying, Step One:
Classifications of Polearms
Not only do I need to prep someone's first session and have it be awesome enough that they want to step into this hobby, I also have to write a coherent piece of text about it. It's turning out to be embarassingly hard, for someone who writes popular science for a living. Let's get this done so I can start posting fucked up ideas I got from the land of ice and fire.

The sitch - someone's first RPG session

In a bit, I'll have the pleasure of introduging a bunch of people to RPGs. How do I set up an intro game so that they come back for more? Lucky me, there were two recent blogposts just about intro games. Paul reported on a game for new players he set up at his local library. RPG blogging legend Jeff Rients just ran nine (!) new people through his megadungeon Vyzor. He was even kind enough to write up extra advice when asked - in only a few hours' time, I might add!


But I'm not jealous.

They're almost roleplayers

Roleplaying buddy R. plays Warhammer with a bunch of colleagues and he suggested we run them an intro D&D game. The task before me: to introduce a group of Warhammerers to D&D (or my approximation thereof). These folks are almost roleplayers: they know tactical games way better than I do (frankly, not my favourite part of DMing), they know about imagined worlds full of weird and complex backstories. They have experience going through lists of character options and building an effective machine to tackle a challenge; maybe they even have in-character narration going on while they shoot the crap out of each other's minis.

But do they know roleplaying - what's so different and how to highlight it?

Jeff's advice is to stay away from the tabletop battles with minis and keep everything in the mind's eye. Simplify the rules because they should be playing asap, not reading attack of opportunity diagrams or grappling charts. Sold, with thanks!
What else?

Speaking for myself, my game - any game I play - ideally has that weird mix of acting out a part in a shared story, bullshitting your buddy because lol, he botched *again* and now the basilisk petrified his left ass cheek, bitching about the random number god messing up your game, and knowing when to crack open the rule book, go by what the DM can be arsed to remember, or just make an on the spot ruling. This goes way beyond RPGs.

Sidebar: Cargo Noir


Case in point: half a year ago we had a couple of my wife's fellow PhD students over for a game of Cargo Noir. Outbid each other for contraband, grow your shipping fleet, buy status symbols such as night clubs, yachts or politicians, and may she who has the most impressive bling win. Two rounds in, one of the more rules-oriented players has more contraband than he can store. Rules say: discard the rest. Fellow player says: I'll store it - for a price. "Can we do that?" Instead of breaking out the rulebook, we spin a little tale of how player A just got an Offer He Cannot Refuse from player B - and a turn later, they're trading options on future gains and scamming each other like they work on Wall Street. It's not in the rules; in fact, it seems forbidden. But damn if that didn't make the afternoon switch from game theory to gaming with friends.

Distance

Of course, clearer minds (or maybe "more interesting heads") than mine have already written about this.

If I read Zak S right, his essence of roleplaying is the sum of hanging out with friends, playing a game and acting out a role - in a constant back and forth of how serious you take it all. He calls this fourth ingredient distance. I translate that as taking it all with a pinch of salt and going with what makes for a fun couple of hours with friends.


"Fun" doesn't mean the DM softballs everything so that the players can have a win each time. A hard challenge can be very rewarding. It does mean I tend to prep lightly and make up half the session at the table to match the way the game is flowing. It means sometimes I let myself get roped into the latest crazy idea the players have, rather than always force them to live down a "realistic" turn of events. Or to get them to the "right" outcome. Not that I have any kind of track record in predicting what players will do. They tend to go off the rails two lines into my prep, and not notice (or mind) me ad-libbing until the end of the session.

Baaa-a-a-a-by, you can tell me
what's really going on


In the end, I want to be surprised and have players be surprised by all the ideas flying around the table. Even if those ideas are of the "the ranger will romance the sheep so she tells us if the farmer is really a necromancer" variety.

What I need to do in that first session

Thanks again to Paul and Jeff, here's my list of resolutions for the intro game:
  • Explain how every player will run one character in an imaginary world. The referee or Dungeon Master sets a scene, players ask info and describe what they try to do, then the DM describes how that works out. Rinse the halfling remains off the cave wall, repeat.
  • Have the starting situation ask for immediate in-character choices. And doesn't need a huge explanation of the setting before the players can make meaningful choices. The gambling den is on fire - get out safe, grab the money or nab the guy who might know about the kidnapping?
  • While the DM sets the stage, the players decide what their goal is - or what their goals are. Perhaps coach them a bit on antagonism to avoid player-vs-player stuff, but definitely let them decide for themselves what they want to achieve. 
  • Players need to hear that they can try do much more than what it says on the character sheet; if they can imagine the character doing it, it has a chance of working. If the rules don't spell out how to resolve a situation, the DM makes a ruling in the spirit of the game.
  • To get started quickly, I will need simplified game rules and character sheets. For buy-in, I'll let players make their own characters. At the table of course, to have that first rush of rolling the best (or worst) stats and so that they can get riff off each other's ideas. Make little bags with the dice they'll need.
  • I want to avoid long-winded shopping for inventory and starting spells, so I'll prep starting packs of gear and spells. Include stuff that needs a bit of creativity to use properly. Look at Into the Odd-equipment for inspiration, or Goblin Punch's on situations and tools. Maybe write the starter packs on index cards so that players can quickly compare what to take. Need to find a way to determine who has first pick of the starting packs. Get them thinking on why they have certain spells or equipment, then get into the actual game.
  • Finally, while the basic rules need to be simple, there need to be enough weird, moving parts to characters and the environment to encourage out of the box thinking. Win condition: having players suggest that the environment contains something they can use. Even if it's the old "is there a stream nearby that we can divert into the Goblin den?" (Of course you should never get your Goblins wet after dinner. One in twenty might turn into a Jenny Green Teeth.)

Is that it? I'll just have to see. Any thoughts and suggestions welcome. More to come when this intro game gets planned, prepped and played!

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Eberron s1e4 - jewelry heist

Roll call

  • Falco, Human wizard 3/cleric 1 of the Blood of Vol out of Karrnath, former acolyte of the Church of Vol, looking to become a freelancer of the Finder's Guild. Ultimately in search of immortality. The right feat choice means he finally has more hit points than the henchmen.
  • Lhorsan, High Elf rogue 4; Elf out of the Eldeen Reaches with a haunted past. Previously encumbered with a life-sucking cursed item. Got rid of it and took sweet revenge on the organization behind it.
  • Igor, henchman fighter 1 in the employment of Falco. Main duties: hauling stuff, pouring healing potions down Falco's throat.
  • Sara, henchman cleric 1 of the Devourer. Lucky carousing roll means she works for free the first month. 

Happily Retired

  • Rathan, Stout Halfling ranger 2 out of the Talenta Plains.

Dearly departed

  • Hedrak, human drop-out from Morgrave university; the party's original employer. Died in the session's second Lightning Rail crash.
  • Redeker, human member of House Orien, purser on the Lightning Rail out of Gatherhold. Died channeling the escaped lighting elemental back into the train's engine.




Sara: This internship is turning out to be AWESOME.

Igor: Totally.

Sara: Like, I had my doubts when the history teacher at Arcanix said that he had the perfect mentor for me. I mean, a wussy Elf that looks like a stiff wind can blow him over?

Igor: I feel your pain. My new employer ran away from a stray cat, screaming "1d4 damage, if it crits I'm dead!" Swear to god.

Sara: They travel light though.

Igor: They have to. Carrying capacity of a gnat, the both of them.

[laughter]

Sara: It's like they saved all the 18s for our stats and took the crappy rolls for themselves.

Igor: Gotta respect that.

Sara: Do we?

Igor: Nah, just messing. Anyways. At first it didn't seem like the best of career choices. Playing henchman to a Karrnathi cleric/wizard who is trying to sell a Hobgoblin artifact at the Wayfinder auction...

Sara: ...snore. Likewise with the Elf and his constant crying over a sharp edge on his bracelet.

Igor: I think that was actually the thing trying to suck out his soul or something. Anyway, things definitely picked up when they played the Hobgoblin lady and the scary Gnome chick against each other and made off with a couple thou' more than the highest bid in the auction.

Sara: Pfah, money...when the Storm comes, no-one cares about your coins.

Igor: It does buy pretty armor and healing potions.

Sara: ...which they need.

Igor: ...desparately!

[both laugh]

Sara: I still wasn't too sure of our new "mentors" when we set out to ask an old guy about a piece of jewelry.

Igor: Hey, don't diss your boss' armband! It's not just a pretty piece of glitter, it's [waggles fingers] CURSED TO SEND HIS LIFE FORCE TO A MYSTERIOUS MASTER AMULET!

Sara: I pity whoever has to live off of Lhorsan's hit points.

Igor: Still twice the amount Falco has!

[laughter again, and lewd jokes, and more laughter]

Igor: I have a feeling we'll be laughing for a while longer with these two in charge.

Sara: That's a bit harsh - they did track down the dude who originally found these bloodsucking bracelets in Xen'Drik.

Igor: Confession: I spaced out on shrooms during all that exposition.

Sara: Thank the Devourer for eating my memory of that story. Something about a nobleman who decided to stop adventuring and go back to help build up Merylsward?

Igor: Fucking Merylsward.

Sara: Ass end of nowhere, and in the Eldeen Reaches that is REALLY saying something.

Igor: That pimple on the ass of the continent DID have a swanky medical horror dungeon underneath Baron Meryl's mansion.

Sara: Did you notice the old guy was a vampire?

Igor: Pull the other one, it's got bells on.

Sara: I'm not fucking around! Ninety years old human, spry as fuck, can read in the dark, doesn't come out during the daytime, loads of zombies around the place?

Both: [in chorus] FUCK ZOMBIES.

Igor: Be glad it was just zombies. Did you see when the piece of meat that Lhorsan took out of the acid vat started to grow back into a troll??

Sara: Happy he dunked it back in time. But it would have been a nice change of pace from the zombies.

Igor: If I never have to put a patch-job reanimation to rest again, I will die happy.

Sara: Endless. Hacking. Of. Zombies. Most boring night time infiltration job ever.

Igor: Until one got to the alarm button.

Sara: Ok, that was fun.

Igor: If you call an ogre zombie to the face fun.

Sara: Ow. Talk about stamina...

Igor: My personal highlight of the soiree was when master ...

Sara: MASTER?

Igor: [blushing furiously] ...fuck you and your stepladder, Dwarf.

Sara: With a smell like yours, the stepladder is the only one you stand a chance with.

Igor: Still better odds than our heroic mentors. 

[both laugh]

Igor: ANYWAY: my highlight is when Lhorsan's sleep spell took down the level 5 wizard and his 15 hit points before he could rain arcane pestilence upon us.

Sara: I glanced at his spellbook. Sleep, Web, Suggestion...guy was a creep. Posing as the count's servant, blackmailing him into allowing a medical dungeon on the estate...

Igor: Lucky us that Lhorsan whipped out Sleep. Falco and his Melf's Acid Arrow, I dunno. That thing gave an unimpressive performance.

Sara: [snickering] That's what she said.

Igor: I was not looking forward to dude getting back up again. But that wasn't going to happen. Not after he got a 40 hit point crit in the throat.

Sara: That was sweet arrow shooting by the Elf.

Igor: Word. It was pretty much over at that point.

Sara: The healer halflings that ran the whole place were still around.

Igor: Sure, but their heart wasn't really in it. First we robbed their precious life draining / healing items without them noticing. And when they woke up it was still clownsville. Trying to set off the self-destruct and failing...

Sara: Trying to gate in reinforcements...

Igor: ...too late...

Sara: ...and being turned blind...

Igor: ...and finally carried away by your own guards through your precious gate...

Sara: Sad, really.

Igor: [stretching] We can't all be awesome muscle-bound masters of mayhem.

Sara: Aw, that last part rhymed.

Igor: Alliterated, actually.

Sara: You're so awesome, you should multiclass into Bard.

Igor: Job's already taken babe. Why do you think our two employers suck so hard that they had to hire the two of us?

Sara: Shush, they might hear you.

Interviewer: Actually, I took a level in Bard. Learned to play the flute and everything. But right now I'm writing this report for the Wayfinder magazine.

Igor: ...

Sara: WHY did we agree to this interview again?

Interviewer: Your master suggested that it would be nice to hear about the past days from your point of view...?

Igor: I'm thinking it's best that this conversation stays private.

Interviewer: You can't silence the press man!

[bludgeoning ensues, followed by brief interaction with a Lhazaar pirate captain looking for new crew]