Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Raid on the Shrine of the Many Legged God

The PCs are currently based in the city of Karn, taking room and board at the Broken Ram. The landlord steered them in the direction of a mysterious woman known as the Information Broker, who operates at the rear of a slaughterhouse. Trading what little they knew, and some silver, they acquired directions to a recently reoccupied shrine out in the wasteland. After all, where there is religion, there is cash. Also they questioned her about the tattoos some of them had been given when drugged and captured by slavers.

They hired a spearman, Rolv, to accompany them for three days and set off into the wilderness.

A quick roll on the omens table gave "a found object," which I decided was a shiny copper penny. Pocketed by the former wasteland marauder stating " a lucky penny...."

Out in the wilderness they encountered a weird covered bridge that didn't actually span anything. It was just lying there. It was clearly built by the ancients but how it came to be there was anyone's guess.

They carried out the raid at night, figuring anyone in the shrine would be asleep or at a mass or some sort of ritual. The door held the ominous engraving "The House of the Many Legged God."

The raid itself was the guys finding the Champion of The Lord of One Hundred Things. Stripped to the waist and bearing a hundred centipede tattoos, in addition to his hugely ornate flail. After some challenges and tactical manoeuvring the fighter mage lunged in with his longsword and delivered a mighty one point of damage. The Champion retaliated by flailing him between the eyes for a solid eight hit points and a trip to the afterlife of his choice. Undeterred the marauder and Rolv the spearman leapt into the fray. Rolv's second spear thrust did the trick, piercing the Champion's chest for max damage and putting him down. They were so excited to loot their former comrade's body they nearly forgot to steal the ex-Champion's flail and silver centipede arm ring.

Inspecting a statue of a twenty foot long centipede the cowardly mage greedily attempted to pry out its gemstone eyes only to have its stone forcipules close on his arm for three points. Now even more cowardly, he temporarily forgot his greed and wished to flee the shrine entirely. The surviving marauder reluctantly agreed while the fighter mage's player started rolling up his new character.

Hiding outside the shrine they saw signs of pursuit so the greedy mage used his sleep spell, in a most cowardly fashion, to put them down. They then applied the customary throat cuttings and stole their pursuers silver centipede holy symbols.

They re-entered the shrine, explored a bit and fought some giant centipedes that attacked from the ceiling. They also found a captured paladin in a holding cell, awaiting his doom, who was all too keen to be freed so he could join up and complete his goal of cleansing the place of these vile centipede cultists.

Finally, they interrupted a ritual where one cultist was restraining another on an altar while the high priest was holding a giant centipede to his chest for the purposes of it biting him. The bitten cultist rushed the PCs, while the second cultist ran for a portcullis that if opened would unleash a centauripede. Rolv's thrown spear took him in the back before he could free it, and earned him the name Rolv Spearslayer, as the cultist fell to another max damage roll from the hireling. The bitten cultist quickly fell to the blades of the marauder and the paladin, centipede poison not exactly falling into the category of performance enhancing drugs. The high priest proved to be more of a problem but largely because he levitated twenty feet in the air and the party nearly ran out of things to throw at him. His darkness spells, magic missiles and thrown centipedes not really cutting the mustard against these determined warriors.

They looted some silver coins from under the altar (naturally) and made off with the high priests ornate centipede necklace, which was the  most valuable treasure in the place. They eyed up the large opal around the neck of the centauripede but thought better of setting it free because it simply looked too dangerous.

Then it was back to Karn for fencing jewellery, dividing the spoils and calculating experience. Quite a few of the silver coins were stamped with a centipede design, let's hope that there are no cultists in the city who might take umbrage with the sack of their god's shrine....

Player's map

My map

Friday, 7 November 2014

d100 Legs, or the Cult of the Centipede!

A lot of love is given to giant spiders and serpents in the sword and sorcery world. They're classic foes it would seem and play on those primeval fears. Everything from Conan to Lord of the Rings has them in the literature, they're even in Harry Potter. I fully intend to use them in my post magical apocalypse setting (which clearly needs a snappier name) but also I want something a bit different too.

Centipedes. Yes that's right, centipedes are the new spiders. Sort of.

Aaaargh! Run for your lives!
Having recently read Rafael Chandler's excellent Obscene Serpent Religion (which I recommend wholeheartedly) I hit on the idea of a centipede cult. The cult of the Many Legged God, or The Lord of One Hundred Things, as he is known.

One of the themes of the setting is that there are no "True Gods" necessarily. There are an almost limitless number of gods worshipped, some are real beings or creatures and others simply idols or fictional ideas. Either way, there is not much in the way of confirmation, only faith. However, I digress slightly.

Cultists of the Centipede God would carry out blasphemous rites using the four listed types of giant centipede in the S&W monsters chapter; cast centipede related spells; be obsessed with the number 100 and look with awe upon the blessed sons of their god, the centauripedes.


Basically a hybrid with the torso of a man and but the head and segmented body of a centipede. Characterised by ferocity and  terrifying speed, the centauripede is a dangerous foe similar to an ogre in strength but with a poisonous "bite" from its forcipules. It usually causes d10 weapon damage by whatever it's wielding in its human arms due to the swiftness and power of its strikes.

Hit Dice: 4+1
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Attacks: Weapon (d10), Bite (d8+poison)
Saving Throw: 13
Special: Lethal poison, +4 save
Move: 18
Alignment: Chaos
Challenge Level/XP: 6/400
Like this but carrying a poleaxe
Perhaps they are at odds with the Praying Mantis Cult....

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Change is afoot

I'm in the midst of developing a new setting for a whole new group of players. It's going to be a post magical apocalypse world complete with insane magical constructs; flesh crafted hybrids of beast and man; ancient, powerful magics and tons of forgotten secrets; loads of bizarre ruins; the last surviving human fortress citadels; walled peasant villages; the evils of slavery; the glories and questionable morality of gladiatorial combat; no non-human player characters; dinosaurs(!);  reptile folk; a weird blue skinned, black eyed, HR Giger armour wearing telepathic, man flesh eating, hive minded race; another weird armoured, eyeless race with strange weapons and bizarre, roving fortresses; winged carnivorous apes; the fabulous treasures of the ancients; dragons; mutants; all that good stuff. As Zak S. is fond of saying, there is D&D in every direction. Or Swords and Wizardry in this case, as if that was not the same thing.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Some Weird Occurrences: A Random Table

This primarily relates to my Grim North setting, particularly urban adventures in Nox Aeterna but hey...

Roll 1d20 in town for something strange:

1 The dark cowled figure whose face is the skull of a crow.

2 A drowned woman who speaks inscrutable dooms.

3 The moth like figure who flits between the dark spires and whose prophecies leave the recipient catatonic and irredeemably insane.

4 A pale, bald, fat (Kingpin fat) man with needle teeth and four arms. He wears a bloody apron and carries two cleavers and a pair of carving knives.

5 A dark haired woman who is seen to be washing your bloody clothes in a stream.

6 A man who dissolves into a hundred ravens or rooks

7 A large black dog with green eyes

8 A pot breaks. Then they all break.

9 A face is reflected in a mirror or pool. It has no eyes.

10 The shadows form a horned, fanged face. It speaks your name. It is gone.

11 You tip back your drinking vessel and snakes pour forth. Or worms. Or millipedes. As you prefer.

12 You see a person you are sure you know but they deny you three times.

13 A little girl whose eyes have been recently gouged out beckons to you but when you look back she is no longer there.

14 There is a well. It is dark beyond black. From within you can hear the echoes of gentle sobbing.

15 There is an urgent knocking at the door. There is no one there. When you close it, it starts again.

16 An old man falls in the street. He wails. If anyone touches him, he turns to ash.

17 A weasel crosses your path and stops to stare at you with malevolent eyes. If approached it becomes a snakes and vanishes into the nearest hole.

18 An old woman is selling lucky heather. She sees you, stops for a moment as if struck dumb and then approaches. She pins it on you with no charge and says "Where you are going, you will need this."

19 A beggar freaks out as you walk by. He throws his meagre takings in copper pieces at you saying "Take it, take it, just don't look at me."

20 You see cats. They're in alleys. On rooftops. In the windows of shops. They're watching you.

The d20 Polygraph Test

I hate Sense Motive and similar skills. The ability to detect lies is not a given even for the people who do it for a living. Investigators, journalists, lawyers etc are frequently had over by liars in their day to day business.

If you're a PC in my game then I expect you to make your own judgement about whether an NPC is giving you the run around. If you make an effort to find out then you'll have more to go on. If you just want to roll your d20, well you're going to miss out and quite frankly you deserve to because it's lazy gaming in my opinion.

So, get out and about. Find out where this NPC hangs around, ask questions, buy drinks, threaten people, look stuff up, put the word out, check out what they tell you or reference it with someone else who might also know. Yes, this takes time. It might not be as much fun as smacking the heads off random goblins but how far are you prepared to trust these people. I mean, I just made them up. They're hardly going to be on the straight and narrow, surely?

Are you ever going to get a concrete answer? No. You cast Know Alignment and nothing happens because it's a stupid spell that has no effective meaning in any way other than a meta game concept of behavioural codes that does not exist outside of the DMG.

Play the game well and you will be rewarded, rely too much on the rules and you will be reviled. Don't believe me? Sense my Motive...

Monday, 25 August 2014

Some Witches in the Grim North

 Just some ideas I had about witches while on the train today and yesterday. These will end up in the appropriate random encounter tables for the Grim North.

Random encounter? Oh, go on then

The Frost Witch
White gowned a pale skinned with blue hair lips and eyes. Has a wand that turns folk to ice. Can call a snowstorm and travel through it unhindered or quicker, also appears through the panes of mirrors or reflective surfaces such as ice. Casts charm person, sleep, cone of cold, wall of ice, that sort of thing. Servants are a malignant blue skinned dwarf armed with a whip, two black worgs and a fur clad ogre.

The Owl Witch

Wears a cloak of owl feathers. Can transform into a snowy, tawny, barn or giant owl dependent on the colours of her cloak. Casts owl related spells, wall of feathers, fly (sprouts wings), avian missile, etc. Servants are all owls, they whisper secrets in her ear.

The Night Witch

Hooded and cloaked in black. She carries a noose with her at all times. Blends into and travels through shadows. Noose can attack telekinetically. Has a black cat, may enlarge and fight as a panther. Uses stick figurines to enact sympathetic magic.

The Fen Witch

Bent and ugly. Her name is Daisy. Wears green and brown. Eats frogs and eels. Has a cauldron in which she can see the present but not the past or future. Carries a staff crafted from a crooked, lightning struck branch. Is served by an intelligent serpent that can spit venom, flocks of starlings and an old brown bear.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Things Encountered on the Road to Nox Aeterna

There are things in the woods. They hate you.
Things encountered on the road to Nox Aeterna (in note form):

Beastmen, Satyr, they might look like steroid using goat barbarians but they're flesh eaters and you look like a Sunday roast for the whole warherd.

The Teeth of Beoric, the Green Pearl of Vaxos, the Ivory and Iron Crown, the Skeleton Puppet, finding any of these things can only lead to grief and woe.

Peasants in trouble, faeries have stolen their wagon, an ogre has eaten their children, goblins have soured their milk cow or whatever.

Nothing, they get to the city without incident. Hahaha. As if.

A wizard hunter.

Flying things, pelgrane? Harpies? Dragon? Vores? Moths? Goblins riding moths? The actual Mothman?

Visions, a snow leopard that talks, the Horned Lord and his wolves, any of the other weird faerie-ish gods, a fat man towing a wagon on which sits a huge cauldron of porridge, a black dog with green eyes, a faerie cat, nine dead men hung from the branches of an ash tree.

Witch/witches, inhabiting abandoned huts, weaving or threading beads or sewing or being openly hostile, reading fortunes for silver.

A birchman, or colony thereof 4hd AC 5 (14) dmg 1d8, immune to blunt and piercing weapons, vulnerable to fire.

A rabbit hole, a rabbit hole is like a wormhole but a fantasy one. It leads to the otherworld or at least a pocket of it. It is small but everyone can fit in it.

A dead or wounded patrician.

A gold prospector. Guess what? He's mad. I did not see that coming...

A bridge. Not just an ordinary bridge. It depends on how you cross it. Or who built it. Or who lives under it. Or who disputes your right to pass over it. Or all of these things.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Games I would like to play but probably never will


Not just a multicoloured elf

Love the setting, love the fourth edition rules. The character archetypes give a real flavour for the world, the mechanics are simple and effective. Every single resource printed for the game, across all editions, is available online for free here.

No elves. That solves the all elf party conundrum.

No humans either, although there are a LOT of races. That makes it a bit unrelatable for total novices.

There's a new version in the works too. Hope it takes off.


All Troll Slayer party anyone?

Everyone knows Warhammer. The grim, dark world descending into the inevitable grasp of Chaos and corruption. I have the second edition rules and the magic mechanics are so apt to the setting they may be the best ever. As much as I monkey around with things for my Swords and Wizardry game, I'd run this with tropes and cliches intact. Largely because they're done well and are therefore fun.

The setting is so richly developed with all the novels and so forth there is a lot of scope for different campaign styles, as long as you don't mind your characters retiring maimed, insane or mutated beyond all recognition. Or most likely all three.


Roll 3d6 in order? No chance.

I just love the idea you can apply it to any setting. I totally hate the Herculean labour that is character creation though.

I'm just messing with myself by even thinking like this. I'm struggling with players for a regular game of Swords and Wizardry as it is.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Wight is the new Black

The Wight. This is where the undead start to get interesting. Skeletons and zombies are classic foes obviously (with the latter being a pop culture obsession in the last decade,) and ghouls are good, paralysis is a great threat for the average PC. The wight however is a truly deadly opponent, that level drain is a total bitch, especially for your low level PCs who are staring death in the face with no saving throw.

Barrow Wight by verraux on deviantart

The Swords and Wizardry Complete rules has this to say about Wights:

"Wights live in tombs, graveyards, and burial mounds (barrows). They are undead, and thus not affected by sleep or charm spells. Wights are immune to all non-magical weapons, with the exception of silver weapons. Any human killed or completely drained of levels by a wight becomes a wight. "

Mentzer Basic D&D says this:

"A wight is an undead spirit living in the body of a dead human or demi-human. It can only be hit by silvered or magical weapons. Wights are greatly feared, as they drain life energy when striking a victim. "

Wikipedia says:

"In its original usage the word wight described a living human being.[3] More recently, the word has been used within the fantasy genre of literature to describe undead or wraith-like creatures: corpses with a part of their decayed soul still in residence, often draining life from their victims."

Dragon Warriors says this:

"Wights are ancient undead, greatly feared because of their passionless evil and strange magical powers. They are the shamans and wizard-kings of a bygone age, and dwell in the bowels of their lonely burial-mounds. Transformed and sustained by their own necromantic magic, Wights appear sallow and desiccated, sunken eyes glittering with an eldritch light."

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay defines Wights thusly:

"Wights are the remains of mortal heroes, animated beyond death by their own evil wills, and by strong magic woven ivy those who interred them in their grave-mounds many centuries earlier. Wights are almost always arrayed in full armour but their pale faces are visible beneath the helm, the spectral remnants of their long-decayed bodies."
This guy.

For my Grim North setting wights are going to be more along the lines of the undead remains of sorcerer kings, the witch lords of a bygone age. Vulnerability to magic weapons only is an issue given the rarity of such items in the setting but let's say all non silver weapons do half damage. The touch of a wight will be ennervating but with some temporary attribute draining touch something like save vs 2d6 strength loss, rather than the dreaded level drain, although any victim not slain will soon recover if brought out into sunlight. In addition they will have some spells and unique powers (in addition to its spell casting DW allows a wight a poisonous breath weapon, the ability to raise fog, and cast illusions that cause paralysis through terror, all once per day.) The wight will be armed and armoured with its burial finery so there's scope for some serious treasure, given its status when alive, with the additional possibility as afforded in WFRP that when wielded by its unded owner a wight's blade takes on some of the creature's dark, unholy power.

I'm going to have to work on the stats, although I'm leaning towards making each one unique in some way.

Monday, 23 June 2014

What I Learned From Last Night's Game

I had two players, both girls in their early thirties with no previous RPG experience. They got into the swing of things fairly early although explaining the character classes was a bit difficult ("So if a cleric is a holy warrior and a paladin is a holy warrior isn't it all a bit religious?") Having just read some Brent Weeks "Eloise"'s player was straight in there with the assassin ("she's called "The Shadow" but that's not her real name, you can call her "Eloise" but that's not her real name either...") After some deliberation Geoff the Cleric ("Geoff is hands but he has high charisma so it come off as charming") was born but his deity was not named except that he was "lawful but a bit smitey."

For NPCs I picked a barbarian fighter, randomly generating the name Blithref from my overly complex table of Saxon pre- and suffixes, and a magic user called ("Quick, what's the first boy's name you can think of?"  "Geoff?" "Not Geoff." "Peter Rabbit?" The beloved children's book being under the table) PeterRabbit. Blithref being a typical slow witted barbarian, a Rekkar of the randomly generated Star Elk tribe. ("How is Blithref so stupid if his intelligence is 15?" "He's not book clever, more that he has a high natural cunning. Like a weasel.") PeterRabbit being a bit posh and slightly impressed with himself, dripping in false modesty.

The swords and wizardry rules worked really well and I was able to run pretty much the whole game off the top of my head. I only checked the books for the grappling rules (for the attempted rugby tackles towards the end) and for the damage a giant spider bite inflicts. We used ascending armour class, which was intuitive for the girls. I had to constantly convert from descending in my head but it wasn't a problem. Although the single saving throw looked weird to me when I first read the rules, it worked beautifully in play and is an elegant simplification of the original system.

They earned about 1350 XP each, not enough to level but still a good chunk, and walked away with a third each of approx 2000sp in loot (which is the equivalent of gp in the rules, I just can't get on with gold as standard currency and silver better fits the slightly gothic tone of my setting) the majority of it in hack silver.

I particularly enjoyed role playing the goblins as a bit mental, bickering amongst themselves while negotiating with the PCs and after asking what they could give them, fixating on the idea that the PCs had Absolutely Nothing and that they wanted it and weren't going to share.

My map, skull and crossbones showing where Blithref and Geoff the Cleric died

The players' map, showing the giant spider, the pit trap and some bats. Plus a pizza related stain. X marks where Geoff fell.

Actual Play in the Grim North: A Dark Road

The characters were all part of the same caravan that stopped at a coaching inn on their way to Nox Aeterna to find their fortunes. Whilst carousing in the taproom they were approached by a finely attired, if somewhat worn looking, fellow named Tarhan. He presented the win-win opportunity of looking for a missing tax collector he had been drinking with not a few days ago citing the inside info that he had directed him on an alternate route to the next coaching inn to avoid the local overly aggressive bandits. The PCs, Geoff the Cleric and Eloise (The Shadow) the Assassin, were accompanied by PeterRabbit the posh Mage and the barbarian warrior Blithref (Blithref punch things and take their silver"), and guided by Erdik the peasant, as they set off for the caves where Tarhan believed the tax collector had probably gone missing. They figured either he needed rescuing and there would be a reward or he was dead and the taxes he had collected were going begging.

Erdik guided them up into the woods where they randomly encountered a group of goblins. These goblins were almost totally enveloped in their fur cloaks and armed with short swords fashioned from shards of ice. A favourable reaction roll meant the goblins negotiated with the PCs who refused to give the goblins Anything but settled for giving them Absolutely Nothing, which the lead goblin accepted with glee and refused to share with his fellows.

Once they found the caves they wasted no time in posting the peasant guide as a guard at the entrance and entering with Blithref in the lead ("Blithref not scared of cave. Blithref punch cave in face and take its silver") and PeterRabbit the posh Mage holding the lantern. They found an old battered helmet in one cavern and faced with multiple options chose to always turn right where possible. They met and defeated three Darklings, five feet tall, black skinned humanoids with no neck and a mane of black hair all the way down their backs. They attacked twice with their d3 claws but Blithreth skewered two with his spear and Geoff, who's consistently good rolls for surprise and initiative kept the PCs in the game, took out the third with his flail.

Finding a three way fork in the tunnel, they took the right hand path and Blithreth blundered into a big web. He was bitten by the giant spider that inevitably lived in it and succumbed to its poison, dying almost instantly. Geoff bashed it with his flail and "Eloise" (a pseudonym, she hasn't decided what her real name is yet but also has "The Shadow" as a second pseudonym) finished it off with her sword. They found a desiccated body in the web that appeared to be a cleric. He was carrying two potions and a scroll that was a deed for a house in a place called Grimmsgate...

Further exploration revealed a cavern containing partially eaten bodies and the noise involved in all the fighting drew Erdik the peasant into the cave as he was scared outside on his own. They then tangled with three more Darklings, despite Geoff's best efforts he went down. I allow PCs a saving throw if they reach 0 hit points to avoid death but alas Geoff was a goner, off to join his deity who we didn't really get around to naming, "Something or Other, the Smiter." PeterRabbit used his posh magic to put the Darklings to sleep but not before "Eloise" took a beating.

Eloise walked into a Malayan tiger gate and was so injured she dared to try a potion, which fortunately for her restored her to full hit points. They then crossed a rope bridge through a cave full of bats and found some sleeping Darklings, which they tip toed around. In the next cavern, some sort of Darkling larder, they found an uneaten bloke chained to the wall amongst his less fortunate companions. Freeing him was noisy but he turned out to be a ranger who had set off in search of the same missing tax collector some days earlier. Suspicions were aroused. As were the two sleeping Darklings from the other cavern. They slew Erdik the peasant after his protestations of "knowing nothing about no double cross" and the ranger Gunthorr, now played by Geoff's player  ("what, like Gunther from Friends? No Gun as in gun and Thor as in Thor, you know Thorrrr...") destroyed them as he and Eloise rolled natural twenties to save the day. Eloise was battered though and retired to the middle of the battle order with her crossbow loaded.

Gunthorr (apparently pronounced like Mordor in the first Lord of the Rings film) valiantly led from the front with his 16 hit points but was struck a glancing blow by a deadfall trap and rolled a good save to avoid falling into a pit of spikes.

They circled around, Eloise cut the throats of the magically slumbering Darklings from earlier and they found three more Darklings worshipping at the shore of an underground lake, with some sort of bizarre edifice barely visible on an island at its centre. Terrible rolls saw a spear vanish into the water and Eloise snap the string on her crossbow. The Darklings attacked and mauled the PCs with Eloise going down and PeterRabbit getting his staff stuck in the lakeshore mud (natural 1 is a bitch.) Fortunately Gunthorr's vast reserve of hit points meant he could absorb crits from the Darklings and still slay them all despite PeterRabbit also going down to a well placed claw. Eloise failed her save against death but Gunthorr poured the last healing potion down her throat to avert it and PeterRabbit made his save. Turns out his posh tobacco tin stopped the claws penetrating all the way to his heart.

Watching the PCs scared to do anything on the islands where a statue of the Darklings eyeless god was situated, despite the pile of hack silver right in front of it, was one of the joys of games mastering (knowing there was absolutely no danger at all.) As was their relief when they rowed away from the island with the silver and without the statue animating to attack them.

High tailing it out of there with the loot they put some distance between themselves and the caves before camping out for the night. Gunthorr read their tracks back to the road as they were now sans guide. They glimpsed a horned centaur at the forest's edge but hurried away from it, battered and bruised as they were. A debate ensued about whether to return the coaching inn and confront Tarhan or to press on towards Nox Aeterna and forget the whole thing. Gunthorr being lawful was concerned that other innocents might be sent to their deaths by Tarhan, he had seen his friends get eaten after all, but Eloise was more concerned about getting away with the silver and finding a way to bank it.

Faced with the possibility of a night out in the open if they pressed on, they returned to the coaching inn and fronted out Tarhan in a fairly friendly manner. He tried to talk his way out of it but as it wasn't working ran for the door. Failed rugby tackles left Eloise stunned and Gunthorr lagging behind. Too posh to rugby tackle anyone, PeterRabbit also gave chase. Eventually, once out of plain sight he was prepared to use his, by his own admission, "awesome" powers to sleep Tarhan and the horse he was about to ride away on.

Tarhan was duly tied up and water boarded by Eloise in the horses drinking trough until he admitted setting the PCs up to be eaten by the Darklings in return for silver, having fallen in with some dark characters following his failed merchant ventures. In a display of Lawful Ignorance Gunthorr returned to the taproom with PeterRabbit to finish their mutton and ale while Eloise surreptitiously cut Tarhan's throat, tied him to his horse and set it on its way with a hearty slap, telling everyone that he "got away..."

Saturday, 21 June 2014

It's all about to kick off in the Grim North

Tomorrow I'm running my first game of Swords and Wizardry set in the Grim North. My players are all first timers so I've run up some pre generated characters for them (at their request) and have outlined a fairly straight forward dungeon bash to introduce them to the game. I'm concerned that it might be a bit too straight forward and therefore not that interesting. However I've gone with a couple of plot twists and should hopefully get some decent NPC interaction in regardless.

I've not run a game in probably sixteen years so I expect to be a bit rusty but I'm looking forward to it. The most difficult part I've encountered so far was cross hatching the outlines on the caves on my map. Ha.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

XP for Goals not Gold (ok some for gold but mostly not)

 Maybe because I started RPGs with the likes of Dragon Warriors and Marvel Superheroes before getting to D&D, I've never been an XP for GP enthusiast. For starters I hate gold as the standard currency, it's silver in all of my games. The devaluation of gold as standard tender serves no one. Gold should be rare and desirable. Those greedy dwarves covet it for a reason. Ok and don't get me started on 10gp to the pound (lb)... In the Grim North silver pieces or the hack silver equivalent are 40 to the pound, which makes them roughly the size of a UK £2 coin (and it's a big coin.)

Not this
 But I digress... I see the justifications for XP for gold and mostly they support mega dungeon play, of course hugely popular in the OSR. I don't or won't run a mega dungeon. I get the advantages and I like dungeon bashing as much as the next murder hobo but I prefer my games to be more open, with more scope for NPC interaction, conflict and conspiracy. It's more satisfying for me to run and no doubt plays to my strengths as a GM. Devising traps and dungeon cartography do not find me at my peak creativity wise. Dungeon ecology often just bites into my suspension of disbelief a bit too. Why do the orcs live near the gelatinous cube? That thing is bloody dangerous. Are orcs just meant to be that stupid? Why don't they move to some less hostile real estate? Surely there are parts of the generic fantasy kingdom not populated by practically invisible, freakish, flesh dissolving novelty shots.

Aaargh! The Horror!

Back to the point... So XP for killing stuff only tends to lead to PCs laboriously searching out monsters to off and turns them into perpetual motion machines of death and destruction. Also not desirable. "Hello! Dungeon extermination service, you're through to Conan, how may I help you?"
So, how does this XP stuff get doled out then? Well, for killing/defeating stuff; there is some for treasure but it's a tenth of treasure in XP; and of course goal completion and good role play. Now lots of people don't like the last one because it is a bit arbitrary. Deal with it. It is the GM's role to arbitrate. Obviously how well stated the PC's goals are and how successful they are at achieving them is going to influence the amount of XP they get for that sort of thing. If they plan to rob a wizard's tower of a certain spell book, preferably without drawing too much attention to themselves from either the wizard or the authorities then getting in and out ninja style is going to be worth way more than slaughtering the wizard and stealing the book amidst Godzilla movie level carnage.

XP for Subtlety: Zero
 This has to spelled out to the players before they start the game though. I don't want anyone to be disappointed by their character progression because they didn't understand the mechanics. What I do expect is audacious planning and grand exploits to be greatly rewarded and wandering around randomly murdering things and nicking their stuff to be less productive. Fulfilling your character's responsibilities should also be rewarded. Marvel adventures often had side jobs like buying flowers for the hero's girlfriend or checking on his sick aunt that gave Karma awards if completed but were penalised if they got blown off. It helped to flesh out the non heroic aspects of the character's life. After all, no doubt as satisfying as Peter Parker found punching Doc Ock in the face I bet he was much more concerned with banging MJ at the end of a hard day's web slinging. Best to keep her on side then.

Being bitten by a radioactive spider has its perks

"You Changed Your Name to Vanguard Crackhammer?" Or why I'm keeping Dwarves Old School and the Rule Of Awesome

Although everyone (or maybe it's just me) likes to put a unique spin on non human races for their personal setting there's just no improving on the cheesy, stereotypical dwarf. He drinks a lot, dislikes elves because they're a bit girly, he's made of sterner stuff, gets into lots of fights and is generally gruff and uncompromising. I mean that's pretty much every dwarf who's ever been role played and for good reason. Cheesy dwarves are fun. They have stupid, comical names like Garm Ironbeard. They are exclusively armed with axes and war hammers ("My dwarf draws his short sword." GM "He absolutely does not," *under breath* "-5xp for bad role playing...") or crossbows, if they're NPC guards or something.

Cheesy dwarves are awesome and When Something is Awesome it has to Stand. That's the rule. It's a highly flexible rule, don't get me wrong, and suffers from conservation of energy -like diminishing returns. If in a tavern brawl you dive head first over the bar to deliver a superman punch to the nut sack of the half ogre, then that is Awesome and the rule applies. Take your d20 and roll for spectacular success, or dramatic and highly problematic failure. However, if every time you're having a quiet pint in the local you bust out the same fastball special, it becomes mundane and the rule no longer applies. It's not one for the rules lawyers or those who have sleepless nights about game balance.

It should be a case of "Remember the time I swung off the chandelier and chopped that goblin in half in midair?" As opposed to "Oh yeah, I swing off the chandelier again so I can get max damage on my attack or whatever."

Gotrek Gurnisson, Binwin Bronzebottom, even Gimli son of Gloin, they're all cheesy dwarves and exactly the kind I expect at the gaming table. Because, ...awesomeness.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Hobgoblin: More than just 1HD+1.

The archetype
The hobgoblin. He's no bigger, no more militaristic or orange than his goblin brethren. He's simply a goblin, steeped in cunning and evil sorcery, with strange faerie weapons and a greater penchant for mischief and chaos. The other goblins fear him and reluctantly do his bidding. They named a beer after him.

Good out of bottles

I like him already.

In D&D the hobgoblin just forms part of the fairly mundane Kobold/Goblin/Orc/Hobgoblin/Gnoll/Bugbear chain of humanoid foe progression. In Warhammer the hobgoblin is a Mongolian steppe tribesman analogue enslaved by chaos dwarfs, which is a bit of an improvement. In Dragon Warriors the hobgoblin is a dark, sorcerous faerie who throws poisonous puffballs, have unique spells and a net made of spider silk.

Clearly I prefer the latter version. In The Grim North faerie creatures are mysterious and dangerous. They behave in unpredictable ways. They have nets made of spider silk and their motivations are weird and unfathomable.
So what we're saying is: Not these guys

Goblins have a society (of sorts). They have a city, it's called Terrax Ur. They have gods, kind of. There's a Goblin King, although he's not the fat guy from the Hobbit movie. Hobgoblins exist outside of that. They're like independent nobles of the goblin court. They're wanderers, magicians and bringers of disorder.  They're folkloric creations, more than just a stat block in the Monster Manual. Although really, they're just a meaner version of a goblin. I guess I'm just doing that differently to adding a bit to their HD and AC.

At the moment this is just an idea storm. I'm going to get something in writing about my ideas for goblins and their general insanity fairly shortly. Plus I need to draw up some adventures for my new players.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Fast and Dirty Review of the Teratic Tome

Looks familiar no? Good cover.

This is a bestiary of unusual creatures for your OSR games. It's stated for OSRIC but that just means minimal or no conversion to the OSR rule set of your choice.

Included are a variety of nasties, many of which are unique individuals but they're all a bit left of field compared to the straight up Monster Manual. I particularly like the Pontiff, which are a race of Alien-like religious zealots and the Audience which are blind but a floating mass of mouths on stalks that speak various spell effects. Not unlike a certain tyrannical floating sphere with a lot of eyes...

The art is excellent throughout, especially if you like female monsters that are half spider, half naked chick. In fact there are a lot of topless terrors depicted in this book, and the horror themes of a lot of these beasties means it might not be suitable for younger players. However if naked girl demons with razor sharp teeth and tentacles where their genitals should be is your bag, then crack on.

I like it, it's different, the monsters are creative and unusual but still useable, and at pay what you want on DriveThruRPG you can't argue with the price.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Dragon Warriors: British Fantasy from the Dark Ages (well, the Eighties...)

Not Fighting Fantasy

Back in the Eighties Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson wrote the classic British RPG Dragon Warriors. For those of you who have never played it, well you missed out, but it's a rules light fantasy game with a great setting. The world of Legend is an analogue of Dark/Early Middle Ages Europe. The only difference being that the beliefs of folklore are mostly true. Milks gone sour? Goblins. Crofter goes missing on the moors? Trolls. Someone stole your baby? Elves.

This is the first RPG I played. Mostly because I bought it by accident. Book One was cunningly disguised as a choose your own adventure style game book. Or so it appeared to me. I was glad to be surprised. It was a very different type of game book. I still have all the original books. More than I can say about anything D&D related.

The problem with it is that the rules do not fit the setting. This is a dark, low fantasy world but the system supports high fantasy. Of seven character Professions, four are spell casters. The authors played the setting with GURPS rules in their own games, which although Dave Morris has made some references to them on his blog, there is scant information about (what exactly was Tim Harford's Iron Men Campaign?) Largely, I suppose, because the reboot of Dragon Warriors by Magnum Opus was not a financial success, Dave doesn't blog about the game that much anymore. Dragon Warriors now rests in the hands of Serpent king Games but those guys are doing it in their spare time and for not much reward. There is a Player's Book in the works but it's been a long time coming.

No orcs or clerics here
I'd love to play DW again. I'd probably mess with the magic system a bit. For my thinking, magic in Legend (or in any FRPG) should be mysterious and weird. The magic items in the Lore of Legend chapter of Book Six ("The Lands of Legend") are so much more evocative than the Swords +1 in Book Two ("The Way of Wizardry"). For example, the entry for the Hand of Glory states it is fashioned from the severed and dried left hand of a suicide. A candle is then placed in the fingers and bound with human hair. It gives off a wan light that only the user can see and if taken inside a house or castle will prevent any sleeping unranked character from waking up. It can only be extinguished with milk, blood or holy water. Needless to say your 1st Rank Knight isn't going to be finding that under a big pile of gold next to a sleeping dragon. Although if he did, he should probably find a way destroy it.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Fast and Dirty Review of The Dungeon Dozen (PDF)

Shiny, unused d12? The solution: The Dungeon Dozen.

The premise is simple, over 200 system agnostic tables for fantasy role playing games using d12. On first viewing this PDF looks excellent. There's tons of artwork. Content wise there's tons of creativity, both useful and mental ideas (Features of the Pleistocene Island: #7 Giant Cave Halflings) but nothing dull.

Is it essential to running your game? No. Is it a pleasure to read? Yes. Will it see use at the gaming table? Absolutely.

No longer

Goat Legged Freaks: If you go down to the woods today...

Fauns and Satyr

In the Grim North these faerie creatures are somewhat divergent from the classical myth and therefore the Monster Manual.
In the shadowy forests they lurk, hoof and horn, twisted hybrids of beast and man, for this is not the friendly Mr Tumnus faun nor even the chaotic Pan satyr. These are the dark manifestations of the forest itself, they are malign faeries, revelling in disorder and bloodshed. And wine, because all fey creatures love wine.

Their banquets take place in the deepest woodland glades where they drink themselves into insensate rage and feast on human flesh. Their dances are preludes to slaughter and they do not play the pipes but instead march to the sound of harsh, braying horns cut from the bodies of their fallen brethren. When sufficiently drunk and worked up into a frenzy, they spill forth from the trees to lay waste to the villages of man.

In game terms a Faun is a 1HD monster with damage as weapon, probably a spear. They stand about five feet tall, manlike but with goat's legs and small straight horns. Their faces are a mix of bestial and human looking and they typically sport very long, straight hair.

A Satyr is generally greater than six feet tall, 2-3HD on average, and very strong weapon +1 damage. They have the shaggy goat's legs but the torso of a heavily built man. They often sport heads that are truly bestial shaped like that of a goat, ram or deer. Their horns are large, often curving like a ram's or antlers like a deer. They favour axes and spiked maces and do not use missile weapons except those that can be thrown.

They often consort in mixed war bands frequently including other dark faeries such as Centaurs and the odd Minotaur. They hold a deep hatred for mankind and all other non bestial faerie creatures, especially (gasp,surely not) elves.

Surely the rumours that they keep Owl Bears as pets and war beasts are exaggerated. I mean come on, Owl Bears?


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Class War

D&D character classes are dull.

Magic User. There is no way to take something that should be strange and wondrous and make it sound any more mundane. I hate "Fighter" as well. Nothing has ever sounded so boring, no wonder no one wants to play one. One thing I did like about 2e was the character kits. So you had your basic classes but how you played them made a difference. A fighter could be a knight or a barbarian or an archer or a gladiator or whatever really. This is good. None of these things need to be a new character class, another pet hate, but with a few skills and some flavour you have a character that has an identity.

Cleric grips my shit too but the reasons are different. It's a basic class but very prescriptive. I preferred the customisable priests, even if it was more work.

The only one that works for me is the Thief. He/she is a rogue, a tear away, someone with unusual skills. There's a bit of flavour there before you even begin. That's good too.

You can start banging on about Paladins and Rangers and Druids but let's not, they already have a great deal of fluff built into them as character classes. Plus they're generally the only reason anyone plays a human. Getting off topic.

So what makes Joe the Fighter different from Fred the Fighter?

Well Joe is a Rekkar tribal warrior, a carl sworn to the Jarl of his people. So I'm renaming him using my random Rekkari name generator, a handful of dice tell me he's called Rendred. A roll on my Rekkari tribal generator tells me he's from the Snow Spear tribe.

Fred I've decided is an ex pit fighter who fought his way to freedom in the Battle Pits of Nox Aeterna. Sent there for a crime he didn't commit (obviously) he took on beasts and men in blood drenched combat for the amusement of patricians and commoners alike, until skill and chance granted him freedom. Still branded and tattooed as a slave, he is now free to pursue his fortune and probably the conspirators that sent him to the battle pits in the first place.

I terms of game mechanics though, what are the differences between these two characters? Well Rendred is a weapons specialist in the battle axe, plus he will have wilderness related skills like tracking and survival. Fred will get half penalties for fighting with dual weapons due to his flashy entertainment based fighting style. Both will experience social stigma in the city as a barbarian or freed slave.

There we go. Two fighters, hopefully very different. Rekkar warrior and Pit Fighter is what I'd be writing on their character sheets.

Now, about those clerics...

Monday, 12 May 2014

Grab Your Fishing Rod and Toadstool! Today We Talk Gnomes.

Gnomes, who needs them? I don't even know why they're a PC race. They're just dwarfs but shit. I'm not sure their supposed love of mining and illusions are mutually compatible predilections. After all, mines are inherently dangerous places. They collapse, get filled with poisonous gases, go too far and too deep thereby uncovering things that are best left uncovered. Generally not the sort of place you want to introduce reality blurring magic to, I would suggest.

I liked the cracked gnomes in the most maligned, railroady setting of all time: Dragonlance. They are probably the best thing about it, except if you count the legions of people who took up the game because they loved the books. Everyone else stands back, well back, while your gnome tinker attempts to fire miniature barrels of flaming oil from his specially adapted, hand portable trebuchet. Good times. After all, once you realise setting your beard on fire only does 1d8 per round, half if you save, the world is your needlessly complex clockwork oyster.

The annals of sword and sorcery fiction are not exactly filled with great examples of gnomish heroes and heroines either. In fact off the the top of my head I can think of approximately... None. About as close as I can get is Pratchett's use of "lawn ornament" as a dwarfish insult.

I mean if the gnomes were worth it then maybe the Sword would have written a metal classic called "How Heavy This Steam Driven Piston Based Repeating Crossbow" but they didn't and fortunately I didn't then have to name this blog after it.

Yes, gnomes are not really doing it for me in a dark fantasy type of setting like the Grim North. Much less the crazy, technology loving type. Despite them clearly conforming to the rule of awesome, I just can't get along with "inventions" in the gritty world I wish to create. Despite all this I'm leaving the pointed hatted little freaks in there none the less. Why? Charm, and not as in the spell. I can't help but go for it when someone says "I've rolled up a 1st level gnome illusionist." I just love it and what you love is not a choice.

XP bonus for role playing if he carries his adventuring equipment around in a wheelbarrow.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Pointy Ears and Smugness, some stuff about elves

You're a Red Elf, so called because you are a follower of Cathriel, Battle Harpist and Singer of the Songs of Blood. The Red Elves are mercenaries who honour the Bloodsong by taking lives in battle in exchange for silver. Living by the blade, calling no place home, they are lured constantly onward by the distant, empty strains of a half remembered melody that calls them to bloodshed and war.  They don't wear a uniform but their hair is always bright blood red, whether from a weird genetic quirk or obsessive use of dye.

Red Elves don't form large companies but work in small war parties of up to six individuals. The skills of a war party are generally mixed, stealth, main force and supernatural means are all employed in battle. They will work independently or as part of a larger force and accept contracts from just about anyone for just about any task, although they do not act as assassins.

The decadent Grey Elves look on their Red cousins as bloodthirsty, harsh and all together too serious. Of course the viewpoint of the Reds is that the Grey Elves are itinerant, drug addicted wasters with no sense of purpose or their place in the world.

On a slightly different note, the Grim North has it's first players. Exciting times.

Friday, 2 May 2014

We Dress Up as Stormtroopers

Essentially this was our number one infiltration tactic in the d6 Star Wars games we played in our school days. Hey, it was good enough for Luke and Han.

Space. 70's style.

Of course it used to drive our GM mental. "Oh you dress as Stormtroopers yet again. I suppose you're going to ask one of the others to check down your blaster barrel for dirt and shoot him in the face? Again..."

Yeah, I did that. It was cool.

Part of the problem though was we played Rebels, a smuggler, a Wookie and a bounty hunter, who were constantly tasked with infiltrating Imperial bases. So faced with the same problem all the time, we opted for the same solution. Partly it was the GM's fault, he hated us dressing up as Stormtroopers but always gave us adventures where it was a viable tactic. If we'd been dealing with some Jabba style space gangsters then we would've had to try something else (like dressing up in Mandalorian combat armour...) Or an alien student of the Force gone to the Dark Side, where dressing up wouldn't have made a blind bit of difference in the face of telekinetic strangulation and force lightning.

Your dressing up powers will not work on me boy...

However, despite (or because of) being a very intelligent bloke he couldn't get over his obsession with the technical stuff. He loved designing bases and star ships. He loved complex tactical battles, preferably ship to ship. He was good at that stuff as as well, I mean he now designs missiles and military aircraft for a living, but we were players who liked to use ingenuity and bluff to solve our problems. We would sneak around and backstab rather than shoot it out with the numerically superior, although tactically inept, Imperial NPCs. Once we escaped a particular base, lovingly and spectacularly designed as always, in a stolen AT-AT. The other AT-ATs in the dock were scuttled by maintenance droids we reprogrammed to carry thermal detonators on board and blow them up before they could give chase. Afterwards the GM showed us the maps he had prepared, in detail, showing the countryside outside the base. There were woods, defiles, spires of rock for cover, streams and rivers to ford, canyons to set ambushes. All stuff he'd included for a climactic AT-AT battle, which never happened. Although he begrudgingly praised our droid bomb idea, and we were suitably rewarded for our planning, we could tell he was disappointed we didn't share his love of that side of the game. We had great fun playing in his Star Wars game, I just hope he enjoyed it too.

Dressing up powers: Working

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Die, Frodo Die...

I hate halflings in D&D. Hobbits, too. Whatever. Kender, I freaking loved them when I was twelve but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. I read Tolkien and it was fine. I watched the films and it was fine (barring the stupid, clunky love triangle in the last one, although not halfling related.) In my first ever game of D&D, my mate Ste played a halfling (who had a dire wolf as a pet, George RR Martin is basically fanfic of my 1988 Karameikos campaign) and it was fine. Now however I'm just not okay with it. Little, fat people with hairy feet who like staying at home and eating pies fourteen times a day should do exactly that. Don't bring your short swords and your pipe weed to the Grim North because you will die.

Essentially, and it's been discussed everywhere, halfling are a literary device or they represent the common man or Tolkien's experience of WW1 squaddies or whatever but essentially they're his. Unless you're running The One Ring or something similar should you be using them? I mean comedy value, yes...The Hobbit's Armpit was the name of a tavern I shamelessly stole from a Thrud the Barbarian strip at the back of the only issue of White Dwarf I ever owned. The bar staff were all interchangeable stereotypical halflings with rhyming names: Bob, Hob, Nob, Job etc. My player's loved it and wouldn't drink anywhere else.

Playing a halfling straight though is just too limiting. Of all fantasy tropes they're too specific and trying to mess with them, such as the cannibal halflings of Dark Sun, just ends up being ridiculous and causes a failure in suspension of disbelief.

GM: The halflings grimace at you and draw their tiny yet artfully named blades...
Player1: I sprinkle bacon the ground to distract them and then use my torch to ignite their thick, luscious foot hair.
Player2: Then I effortlessly murder them all because they are tiny, fat and weak.
GM: So... Trolls...

Monday, 28 April 2014

Your Gilded Houses Will Give No Shelter

Who built Nox Aeterna? This is a question I have asked myself many times. The Grim North is based on my own homeland in the North East of England with a thousand fantasy influences from Norse and Celtic mythology, Howard, Lovecraft, Gemmell, George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, and everyone else who wrote a cold, bleak Northern setting where life was tough and the inhabitants were too. So where does this dark, many spired metropolis of strange cults and high intrigue fit into the landscape of dark faerie beasts and warring barbarians? It's hardly a medieval analogue of Middlesbrough or Newcastle. Although each represents about the same chance of getting glassed in a tavern.

So the image of this hideously deranged mass of towers poking out of the snow covered moors, looking for all intents and purposes like it was the architectural brain child of Tim Burton and Euronymous while both were cracked off their tits on acid and pure evil, is one born out of Lankhmar, Gotham, Dark City, and Zak S's Vornheim. This place was built by a mysterious race of dread, godlike beings known to the state religion who worship them as the City Fathers, the Builders, the Hidden Masters, the Unbidden Creators or any of a hundred different names. They are cast as tall, emaciated and pale skinned, hairless and robed in black. Some say they are immortal and still live, hidden within the city itself. Others claim that they live on only through sinister necromantic rites and exist as liches or vampires. Of course openly touting such beliefs will likely see a man dragged off to the battle pits to have the heresy chewed out of him by a pack of wolves.

If the City Fathers do remain in some sort of immortal slumber or foul unlife, then it is beneath the sewers, beneath even the crypts and mausoleums of the Dead City, somewhere in the deep ruins that they rest, waiting, until the fulfilment of whatever forgotten prophesies will presage their return. After so many thousand years who can say what would happen if such ancient and terrible beings should they arise? Except, of course, that no good will come of it..

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Grim North Awaits

It is the Age of Samhain: The countless black spires of Nox Aeterna,
City of Eternal Night, rest upon the crypts of a thousand forgotten 
civilisations. Insane patricians, bizarre cults and shadowy, 
eldritch forces all vie for power. Outside the walls barbaric tribes
war constantly with each other and the unforgiving winter. In dark, 
cobwebbed forests and haunted ruins stalk malign beasts who want you
dead, and hordes of weird goblins steeped in slaughter and madness. 

Fighters, Clerics, Magic Users and Thieves required. This is old
school D&D,where great dangers yield great rewards and a glorious
death or an ignominious demise, penniless, bleeding out on the snow.