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