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.