Friday, 14 October 2011

Mice With Swords

Is it just me, or is there something awesome about mice with swords? Redwall is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of animals decked out in fantasy form, but I've recently discovered the Mouse Guard RPG.

I recall seeing the Mouse Guard comics at the game store a few times and picking it up, thinking to myself, "That looks cool. Too bad I'm not into comic books."

The Mouse Guard RPG is based on the comics by David Peterson. I came upon it by pure chance but was immediately intrigued. It turns out the game uses a stripped down version of The Burning Wheel, an RPG system I had heard lots about but never played.

The thing that I like about it, besides the fact that mice with swords are awesome, is that there are actual relationships built right into the game. In character creation, you invent one friend/ally and one enemy/rival, and they become a part of the game world, people you can call on for help or people that the GM puts in your way.

You must create Beliefs and Instincts for your guardmouse. A couple examples for these: It's not what you fight, it's what you fight for (Belief), and  Always draw my sword at the first sign of trouble (Instinct). So when trouble comes up and you draw your sword, you just played your instinct and you'll get rewards at the end of the session for doing so. Players are rewarded for roleplaying their characters well.

Lastly, I very much enjoy systems that use dice pools, and this one does! There's something satisfying about rolling a handful of dice. It may be why I also enjoy Warhammer. 

There are tons of other cool and interesting features of the game that I won't get into here, mostly due to laziness. I am quite looking forward to running a game of Mouse Guard in the near future. I'll report back on how it went, with a step-by-step of the rules in case anyone is curious about how it works. I'll also leave a link below to the official site. Check it out!

Mouse Guard

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

From Whence Do Our Wizards Learn Their Magic?

It may not occur to players and referees alike that the idea of acquiring new magical abilities could potentially be role-played. It didn't occur to me until today. "You've got enough XP to level, so choose your spells and update your character sheet." Hang on a minute!

Wouldn't it be way cooler to have an opportunity arise in-game? Don't wizards need other, better wizards to teach them stuff? And don't these other, better wizards require things in return for their tutelage? There's a lot of opportunity for adventure in just learning a new spell, I'll wager!

I'm currently running Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Beta Rules for my Thursday night game, and some of the characters just got enough XP to choose a class last week.

I think for this week I'll create an NPC wizard who will offer up a few select spells to prospective wizard characters in exchange for an errand or two. Try it! Don't let them pick from a table in a book! Have your players meet real wizards in the game world and see how much more meaningful their spells will be to them.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Dark Souls: Old School in a Delightfully Dark Package

I felt it necessary to share some of my feelings on Namco Bandai Games' new title, Dark Souls. In a word, it's a megadungeon.

Yes, you begin the game by creating a character, choosing from some uncommon archetypes like wanderer, bandit and pyromancer. The game does not, by design, tell you much if anything about the way anything works. It is for the player to figure out. So choose something you think looks cool, because the one-line descriptions are quite brief indeed.

After character creation, it's off to the world of Lordran. Your character is in some kind of asylum for the undead. It seems as though undeath is common throughout the world and those who suffer from it are sent to a big complex far to the north. In any event, you escape and head off on a mission of some sort, a quest, if you will. But how does any of this relate to old school gaming? Well, let me tell you.

First off, the enemies are mean. Button mash and you'll find yourself dead at the hands of a simple skeleton, returned to the last bonfire you rested at, any souls (XP) you had gone. Killing enemies and discovering new areas gets you souls which you can spend on equipment at the very rare merchant or blacksmith you might come across, or on leveling up attributes.

You are given five healing potions which can only be replenished by resting at a bonfire, and bonfires are few and far between. Making it to a new bonfire is very challenging, as every time you die or rest at a previous bonfire, all the enemies you just spent half an hour killing re-spawn. This is something I find very much in the old school spirit. Do you turn back, rest at an old bonfire and spend the souls you've managed to gather thus far, or do you press on, your supplies dwindling, risking all of your work on the hope that a new bonfire will be round the next corner - which is guarded by a massive bull demon boss. And the bosses are tough. Tough as hell. And equally as terrifying. Massive dragons, huge demons, towering golem knights.

The world itself is a series of seamlessly connected areas. There are multiple entrances to each area, which gives it a real megadungeon feel, and after braving an area for hours, you suddenly find yourself on a cliff overlooking the area you started at, a little path you missed before leading down to it. I find that satisfying.

In general, I found myself getting all sorts of awesome roleplaying ideas for adventure settings, enemies, NPC's and traps. If you are a fan of fantasy, horror, and especially old school gaming, this may be the title you've been waiting for.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG: The Character Funnel and Stead of the Druid Sons

If you haven't tried Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, I highly recommend taking a peek. I ran Stead of the Druid Sons, a 5 room dungeon of mine, for a group last night. The party started out with 11 characters. Only 3 survived.

A little back story on the Character Funnel of DCCRPG. Characters start with -100 XP at 0-level. They have no class, but rather an occupation rolled randomly on a d% chart. Getting to 1XP is the goal of the first session, and those who do so become the party and may choose a class. Because of the general weakness and suckatude of 0-level characters, players are encouraged to create up to 4 characters when starting out.

In the party last night were a myriad of characters, all of which I decided were from the nearby village of Whitehill. There were two dwarven miners, a dwarven herder, a halfling trader and several humans - a minstrel who played a ukulele, an idiot squire, a cooper, an armorer, an animal trainer, a caravan guard and a nimble farmer girl. They all set off in a big mob complete with torch and pitchfork for the great black tree tower - The Stead of the Druid Sons.

The young maidens of Whitehill had gone missing, along with a young boy named Thern. The villagers assumed that it was some dark magic of the old druid tower and decided to storm the place. Upon arriving, they discovered a pair of silent sentinels which the idiot squire, who's player named him Twat, poked one. The sentinels burst to life and began throwing silver, leaf-like blades. Luckily I rolled low and the party was spared even a single hit before they managed to down the sentinels with their picks and pitchforks. A dancing flame led them further up the tower. One of our players had to leave, so he had his characters, the cooper, a dwarf miner and the dwarf herder, chicken out and head back to the village.

The first character to die was the nimble farm girl, who blundered carelessly ahead despite her low hp of 1. A pendulum trap swung down from the ceiling, impaled her, carried her through an open window and flung her fifty feet to the ground! The rest of the party made it safely across by making jump checks or by throwing the smaller characters. The idiot squire, Twat, took a blow to the shoulder for 2 hp. He sucked, but he had the most hp of all the characters.

Moving further, the party came upon a platform whereupon a dais stood. Upon the dais rested two identical scimitars that gleamed faintly with a white light. Inevitably, one of the characters, Flint, the armorer, decided to touch one of the blades. Sentinels immediately materialized from the walls like shadows and hurled their leaf-blades from the ramps on either side of the tower. Flint and the halfling trader, Thea, died instantly as their throats were slit simultaneously by the deadly blades. The party was panicked, but on their turn they managed to down one of the sentinels. Next round, I rolled a natural 20 for the remaining sentinel!

In the DCCRPG, rolling a 20 or a 1 means you roll on the Critical Hit chart or the Fumble chart. Rolling on the crit chart, it said the sentinel dodged a foe's attack and got a counter attack, and got an extra attack that if successful, did +1d6 damage. So two official attacks in total, but I added an extra fluff attack for flavour that wouldn't even be rolled for and would miss. Since it was a ranged situation, I made that tweak. 

0-level characters have extremely low hp, so the dwarf miner, Baelgrid, was almost assuredly going to die at this point. He fought nobly, deflecting one of the leaf blades with his mining pick, but the second found his heart, and the third buried itself into the exact same spot. I told the player that Baelgrid was dead, but he could say one final word. He yelled, "FREEDOM!" Hehe. 

The rest of the party downed the remaining sentinel without any further casualties. Moving on to the final room, they were made an offer by the sentient flame that had been guiding them through the tower. If they would let the fire engulf them, they would receive the blessing of the Witchfire of Therngost. 0-level characters are not so good at surviving fire.

Blunker, the animal trainer, went first. He didn't make his saving throw and burned to ash. He was that player's last remaining character, but she didn't mind too terribly. The minstrel, Leith, and the caravan guard, who's player named him Survivor, both succeeded on their saving throws and received a permanent +1 to-hit and damage! Twat, the idiot squire, was too much of a wimp to try.

The fire burned down a wooden belvedere in the center of the room and revealed the boy, Thern, dressed all in white and glowing softly. In a Catch-22, the Witchfire announced that their blessing would only be active if the boy was alive and near to them. He was the last of the blood of Therngost and must be protected. 

The young maidens were nowhere to be found, and it was decided that their disappearance was unrelated to that of the boy's. Perhaps the goblin tribes of the forest had taken them.

The remaining 3 villagers, Leith the minstrel, Survivor the caravan guard (irony!) and Twat, Leith's idiot squire, returned to Whitehill.

All in all, a very fun and successful run of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. I highly recommend giving it a try. The magic system is particularly interesting, with a spell check mechanic and varying degrees of casting success. Everyone had a great time and wanted to play DCCRPG again.

Here is my 5 room dungeon for 1st level characters, if you are interested. If you have played DCCRPG, leave a comment about what you thought of the game! 

Stead of the Druid Sons 
by Ben Shaw

Entrance and First Room

 A stone arch covered in twisting black vines leads into an open courtyard within the tower. Silver leaves are scattered about the stone-lined ground. Just beyond the arch, two hooded sentinels stand in strange, layered armor of a material that seems a mix of wood and leaf. They are silent and their faces are lost in shadow. In the center of the yard, a wide circular brazier sits upon a narrow wooden dais, and a fire that seems every colour at once burns within, appearing first bright blue, then cat's eye green, then crimson and back again. Tiny motes of light drift in the air.

The burning flame is the legendary Witchfire of Therngost, a sentient flame said to make pacts with mortals to allow them control over its power. The fire will communicate psychically, telling visitors they must give some of their essence if they would wield the Witchfire of Therngost. One who would make a pact must drip a bit of their own blood into the flames. The fire will then dance up into the tower, laughing.

Exits: The inner wall of the tower is ringed with a covered gallery that spirals up to the summit. The gallery is smooth and without steps, and elegant pillars hold the vaulted roof above it.


The fire dances at the upper end of the sloping gallery. Tall, narrow apertures decorate the vine-covered wall and you can see the sky behind them.

Encounter: Pendulum trap in the ceiling swings down and through the apertures. 1d8 damage, save negates.

Ring Platform 

The gallery splits off here, swirling into the center of the tower to create a platform. On another similar dais at the middle, two faintly gleaming scimitars with bone hilts rest. The fire dances around them and then bobs away to the other side of the platform. The gallery continues up and you can see a carved wooden door at the end.

The scimitars belong to the sentinels below. If they are touched, they will awaken and rush up the stairs to destroy the intruders, hurling the silver leaves like knives. If the sentinels below have already been destroyed, two more sentinels will appear from the walls like shadows. On the other side of the platform, the gallery continues up to another similarly carved door; both lead to the same chamber.

Encounter: Sentinel (2): HD 2; AC 8[11]; Atk 1 leaf blade (1d4+1 missile); Move 12; Save 16; CL/XP 3/60; Special: +1 to-hit if adjacent to its partner.

Tactics: The sentinels will attempt to keep the party on the platform, staying as far from them as possible, circling and throwing leaf blades from the gallery.

Treasure: Each of the scimitars is a +1 magic weapon. Elegant script lines the blade of both. The sentinels' armor counts as leather, but missile weapons receive a -2 to-hit against it. 

Chamber of the Pact 

This circular garret is full of cool blue light which pours through many tall, narrow windows. Vines snake along the walls and cone-shaped ceiling. An enclosed wooden belvedere stands in the center of the room, carved with strange runes. The fire floats before it.

The Witchfire will finally suggest the pact that will bind its powers to whosever wishes it. Each person must allow themselves to be engulfed by the Witchfire (1d6 damage, saving throw negates). If the person gives themselves over to the flame by removing their armor and clothing, they receive a +2 on the saving throw. All other bonuses to saving throws apply to the fire as if it were a spell. The fire gutters in a cryptic voice, "Those who face my flame without resistance will better resist its magic."

All those who survive the ritual are bonded with the Witchfire of Therngost and receive a permanent +1 to-hit and damage. There is one catch. The fire fuses itself with the soul of the slumbering druid boy, who lies within the belvedere and will awaken and emerge when the pact is complete. The bonus is only active as long as the boy is alive and within 1 mile of a pact maker. His name is Thern (Human, HD1). He has amethyst eyes, a tangle of white-blonde hair and is dressed in exquisite white and silver robes and adorned with jeweled gold and silver bracelets, armbands, rings, necklace, anklets and a silver circlet about his head. His druid powers are dormant as of now.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Musings: The Future of Fantasy

Middle-Earth is the greatest fantasy world ever created. Ever. Just like Led Zeppelin is the greatest rock band ever formed. At least a lot of people believe so. But what is it that makes them so?

Tokien's The Lord of the Rings is so rich and steeped in lore and a mythology that it seems almost real. It has had a huge impact on my life and is in fact a large part of who and what I am. I cannot imagine the world without Middle-Earth. But will there ever be anything like it again? In spirit, at least? A world that is so vast and complex and yet charming and mysterious, a world that changes the way we think about the fantasy genre and the world around us. I often wonder if the genre of fantasy is locked, with The Lord of the Rings as the key-ring bearer. With Tolkien widely considered the father of fantasy, and no one coming close to having such an impact in fifty years, I wonder if it will ever happen.

I want to live in interesting times. I wish I could have been alive and young to see Led Zeppelin in concert, to experience Middle-Earth for the first time along with everyone else. Is there a genre-breaking or creating experience coming? I wonder if people knew how incredible The Lord of the Rings and Led Zeppelin were at the time, or if they simply looked at them the way we look at certain books or bands today. And if so, is there a band or book today that will become as influential years from now?

In conclusion, I wish that I could experience the magic of something like The Lord of the Rings and Led Zeppelin first hand. Perhaps the Age of the Masterpiece is over, or perhaps one cannot recognize a masterpiece until it is well aged, like a fine wine. Here's hoping innovation and imagination are still alive and well, simply sleeping quietly, waiting for the right time to rise up and amaze the world again.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Describing the World: A Glossary of Architecture

This post is being compiled with the intent of expanding the vocabulary of the Referee in describing buildings and their features, in order that they may have a deeper pool of vivid descriptions to draw from, other than "door," "window," "floor," or "ceiling."


Aisle - subsidiary space alongside the body of a building, separated from it by columns, piers, or posts.
Apron -

  1. raised panel below a window or wall monument or tablet.
  2. open portion of a marine terminal immediately adjacent to a vessel berth, used in the direct transfer of cargo between the vessel and the terminal.
  3. concrete slab immediately outside a vehicular door or passageway used to limit the wear on asphalt paving due to repetitive turning movements.

Apse - vaulted semicircular or polygonal end of a chapel.
Arcade - passage or walkway covered over by a succession of arches or vaults supported by columns. Blind arcade or arcading: the same applied to the wall surface.
Arch - a curved structure capable of spanning a space while supporting significant weight.
Architrave - the moulded frame of a door or window.
Arris - sharp edge where two surfaces meet at an angle.
Articulation - articulation is the manner or method of jointing parts such that each part is clear and distinct in relation to the others, even though joined.
Ashlar - masonry of large blocks cut with even faces and square edges.
Atrium - (plural: atria) inner court of a house; in a multi-storey building, a toplit covered court rising through all storeys.
Attic - small top storey within a roof. The storey above the main entablature of a facade.


Bahut - a small parapet or attic wall bearing the weight of the roof of a cathedral or church.
Baluster - small moulded shaft, square or circular, in stone or wood, sometimes metal, supporting the coping of a parapet or the handrail of a staircase; a series of balusters supporting a handrail or coping.
Barrel vault - an architectural element formed by the extrusion of a single curve (or pair of curves, in the case of a pointed barrel vault) along a given distance.
Basement - lowest, subordinate storey of building often either entirely or partially below ground level.
Basilica - a large roofed hall erected for transacting business and disposing of legal matters.
Batter - upwardly receding slope of a wall or column.
Bays - internal compartments of a building; each divided from the other by subtle means such as the boundaries implied by divisions marked in the side walls (columns, pilasters, etc) or the ceiling (beams, etc). Also external divisions of a building by fenestration (windows).
Bay window - window of one or more storeys projecting from the face of a building. Canted: with a straight front and angled sides. Bow window: curved. Oriel: rests on corbels or brackets and starts above ground level; also the bay window at the dais end of a medieval great hall.
Belfry - chamber or stage in a tower where bells are hung.
Boss - roughly cut stone set in place for later carving.
Bossage - uncut stone that is laid in place in a building, projecting outward from the building, to later be carved into decorative moldings, capitals, arms, etc. Bossages are also rustic work, consisting of stones which seem to advance beyond the surface of the building, by reason of indentures, or channels left in the joinings; used chiefly in the corners of buildings, and called rustic quoins. The cavity or indenture may be round, square, chamfered, beveled, diamond-shaped, or enclosed with a cavetto or listel.
Bond - brickwork with overlapping bricks. Types of bond include stretcher, English, header, Flemish, garden wall, herringbone, basket, American, and Chinese.
Boutant - type of support. An arc-boutant, or flying buttress, serves to sustain a vault, and is self-sustained by some strong wall or massive work. A pillar boutant is a large chain or jamb of stone, made to support a wall, terrace, or vault. The word is French, and comes from the verb bouter, "to butt" or "abut".
Bracket - weight-bearing member made of wood, stone, or metal that overhangs a wall.
Brise soleil - projecting fins or canopies which shade windows from direct sunlight.
Bullseye window - small oval window, set horizontally.
Bressummer - large, horizontal beam supporting the wall above, especially in a jettied building.
Bulwark - barricade of beams and soil designed to mount artillery. On board ships the term refers to the woodwork running round the ship above the level of the deck. Figuratively it means anything serving as a defense.
Buttress - vertical member projecting from a wall to stabilize it or to resist the lateral thrust of an arch, roof, or vault. A flying buttress transmits the thrust to a heavy abutment by means of an arch or half-arch.


Cantilever - an unsupported overhang acting as a lever, like a flagpole sticking out of the side of a wall.
Casement window - window hung vertically, hinged one side, so that it swings inward or outward.
Cella - the inner chamber of a temple.
Celerestory - an upper story of a building with windows above adjacent roofs.
Chapter House - a meeting place for the chapter or governing body of a monastery or a cathedral.
Chresmographion - chamber in Greek temples where oracles were delivered.
Cincture - ring, list, or fillet at the top and bottom of a column, which divides the shaft from the capital and base.
Cippus - low pedestal, either round or rectangular, set up for various purposes such as military or milestones, boundary posts. Occasionally funeral memorials.
Circulation - describes the flow of people throughout a building.
Coffer - a coffer, in architecture, is a sunken panel in the shape of a square, rectangle, or octagon that serves as a decorative device, usually in a ceiling or vault. Also called caissons, or lacunar.
Compluvium - Latin term for the open space left in the roof of the atrium of a Roman house (domus) for lighting it and the rooms round.
Coping (architecture) - the capping or covering of a wall.
Cornice - a projecting shelf along the top of a wall often supported by brackets.
Cross springer - block from which the diagonal ribs of a vault spring or start. The top of the springer is known as the skewback.
Crypto-porticus - concealed or covered passage, generally underground, though lighted and ventilated from the open air. One of the best-known examples is the crypto-porticus under the palaces of the Caesars in Rome. In Hadrians villa in Rome they formed the principal private intercommunication between the several buildings.


Dormer - a structural element of a building that protrudes from the plane of a sloping roof surface. Dormers are used, either in original construction or as later additions, to create usable space in the roof of a building by adding headroom and usually also by enabling addition of windows.
Dosseret, or impost block - cubical block of stone above the capitals in a church, used to carry the arches and vault, the springing of which had a superficial area greatly in excess of the column which carried them.
Dromos - entrance passage or avenue leading to a building, tomb or passageway. Those leading to beehive tombs are enclosed between stone walls and sometimes in-filled between successive uses of the tomb. In ancient Egypt the dromos was a straight, paved avenue flanked by sphinxes.


Estrade - French term for a raised platform or dais.


Gable - a triangular portion of a wall between the edges of a sloping roof.
Gablets - triangular terminations to buttresses.
Gadrooning - carved or curved molding used in architecture and interior design as decorative motif, often consisting of flutes which are inverted and curved.
Gambrel - a symmetrical two-sided roof with two slopes on each side.
Gazebo - a freestanding pavilion structure often found in parks, gardens and public areas.
Geison - forms the outer edge of the roof on the sides of a structure with a sloped roof.


Hip roof - a type of roof where all sides slope downwards to the walls.
Hyphen - a structural section connecting the main portion of a building with its projecting wings.


Jamb - a vertical element of a doorway or window frame.


Keystone (architecture) - the architectural piece at the crown of a vault or arch that marks its apex, locking the other pieces into position.


Lacunar - paneled or coffered ceiling, soffit, or vault adorned with a pattern of recessed panel.
Lantern - a small circular or polygonal structure, with windows all around the base, which opens above a larger tower or dome.
Latticework - an ornamental, lattice framework consisting of a criss-crossed pattern.
Lintel (architecture) - a horizontal block that spans the space between two supports.
Loggia - a gallery formed by a colonnade open on one or more sides. The space is often located on an upper floor of a building overlooking an open court or garden.
Lozenge - a diamond shape.
Lunette - a half-moon shaped space, either masonry or void.


Mansard roof - a curb roof in which each face has two slopes, the lower one steeper than the upper.
Marriage stone - a stone lintel, usually carved, with a marriage date.
Molding - decorative finishing strip.
Mullion - vertical bar of wood, metal or stone which divides a window into two or more parts.


Narthex - a low projection at the western end of a church, like a porch.
Niche - a recess in the thickness of a wall.


Oillets - arrow slits in the walls of medieval fortifications, but more strictly applied to the round hole or circle with which the openings terminate.


Parclose - screen or railing used to enclose a chantry, tomb or chapel, in a church, and for the space thus enclosed.
Pavilion (structure) - a free standing structure near the main building or an ending structure on building wings.
Pedestal (also Plinth) - the base or support on which a statue, obelisk, or column is mounted.
Pediment - a triangular space above a window or entrance.
Pendentive - a spherical triangle which acts as a transition between a circular dome and a square base on which the dome is set
Piano nobile - the principal floor of a large house, built in the style of renaissance architecture.
Pier (architecture) - an upright support for a superstructure, such as an arch or bridge.
Pilaster - a slightly-projecting column built into or applied to the face of a wall.
Plinth - the base or platform upon which a column, pedestal, statue, monument or structure rests.
Pinnacle - a pointed termination of a spire, buttress, or other extremity of a building. Pinnacles are sometimes ornamented.
Poppy heads - finials or other ornaments which terminate the tops of bench ends, either to pews or stalls. They are sometimes small human heads, sometimes richly carved images, knots of foliage or finials, and sometimes fleurs-de-lis simply cut out of the thickness of the bench end and chamfered. The term is probably derived from the French poupee doll or puppet used also in this sense, or from the flower, from a resemblance in shape.
Porte-cochère - a porch - or portico-like structure at a main or secondary entrance to a building through which a horse and carriage can pass in order for the occupants to alight under cover, protected from the weather.
Prick post - old architectural name given sometimes to the queen posts of a roof, and sometimes to the filling in quarters in framing.
Portico - a series of columns or arches in front of a building, generally as a covered walkway.
Pteroma - the enclosed space of a portico, peristyle, or stoa, generally behind a screen of columns.


Refectory - Dining room in a monastery.
Return - receding edge of a flat face. On a flat signboard, for example, the return is the edge which makes up the board's depth.
Revolving Door - an entrance door for excluding drafts from an interior of a building. A revolving door typically consists of three or four doors that hang on a center shaft and rotate around a vertical axis within a round enclosure.
Rib - an arch of masonry, often molded, which forms part of the framework on which a vault rests. 
Rib vault - a masonry vault with a relatively thin web and set within a framework of ribs.


Scriptorium - area in a monastery where books and documents were written, copied, and illuminated. 
Socle - low projecting base for a wall or statue
Soffit - The underside of an architectural structure such as an arch or overhanging eaves.
Spandrel - the roughly triangular wall space between two adjacent arches.
Spire - an elongated, pointed structure which rises from a tower, turret, or roof.
Squinch - a piece of construction used for filling in the upper angles of a square room so as to form a proper base to receive an octagonal or spherical dome.


Transom - window or element above a door but within its vertical frame.


Voussoir - a wedge-shaped element, typically a stone used in building an arch or vault.

Monday, 18 July 2011

L&T Session Four

Through a thick mist our adventurers sail, vision limited to a few scant feet. Vara mysteriously disappears overboard, vanishing into the fog, and the rest of the party chalk it up as some suspicious witchcraft. Then something hits the front of their ship, or rather, their ship hits something. Peering over the edge, Gremond spots a man in a longboat glaring up at him, one of his oars lost in the water when the ship hit him. He is soon aboard, and reveals himself as a rune priest of the north. He carries a spear and a shield and has several curious runes at his belt.

Sturloch orders the anchor dropped while this mist holds. Edward and Sturloch interrogate this new man, Caldwell, who claims to have simply followed his runes to this place in search of four adventurers. He wonders where the fourth (Vara) has gone.

Meanwhile, Gremond lifts the anchor and the ship rockets forth in the windless mist. Edward dives for the helm, but too late. The ship crashes into the shore, snapping the prow in half. It begins to sink and Sturloch does his best to kill Gremond for his stupidity! He becomes even more hateful and the action has started him down a darker path.

The party makes it to shore (save for Vara), where a hail of snake-headed arrows flies from the mist. Sadly, one of the snakes takes Gremond in the throat, and its poison courses through his body in a matter of seconds. "Don't... forget..." He whispers, then falls to the ground -- dead.

Snake-men appear out of the mist and assault the party with bows and poison snake arrows. After a pitched skirmish, the serpents retreat into the city. Caldwell calls upon his runes to heal Edward's wounds. Merians, a race of aquatic humanoids with the lower body of a fish,  appear and beckon the party to the inner city. With them is a dwarf with a budding beard and an enormous pickaxe, who dives fearlessly at the serpent-men.

Caldwell discovers one of the merians to be a serpent-man, shapeshifted! The snake-man is cut down by the merians and they vanish into the streets. The party wanders along the main avenue. They are approached by a skittish girl who asks them to carry some precious pearls for her. Edward and the dwarf are unable to refuse, falling under the spell of their beauty. They take the pearls and the party continues on.

At length they come to a large plaza, in its center, a statue of a merian wielding a trident, its tail broken clean off. Chained to the statue is a ragged looking merian, his energy nearly drained. He warns the party of a Tzeejg sorcerer, and a snake-man with robe, cloak and scepter appears out of the mist. But the adventurers give him a deep wound and he flees into the huge basilica at the northern end of the plaza. They get the chained merian down, who speaks of the Serpent Queen and her reign over the city of Leviatha. The basilica looms before them, and the Tzeejg sorcerer lies within.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Learning From Our Mistakes: Non-Combat XP

So I was having a conversation with someone I randomly met on Minstrel Hall this morning, and they presented an interesting idea. What if characters got experience just for attempting the things their class does?

For example, every time a thief tries to use one of his skills, he will automatically get a small amount of experience, something like 7 XP. He might not succeed, but realistically he would remember why he failed, and therefore would gain a little bit of knowledge about what not to do again. This could work with many characters, such as a ranger's track ability, or even a magic-user every time they were to cast a spell. Add XP modifiers to the task attempted based on difficulty/level of the spell.

This could work well for a campaign that you don't necessarily want to be heavy on the combat end. It would actually encourage characters to behave more like their class. Of course, you would place requirements, such that the task be attempted in a legitimate situation (not just for the sake of the XP) and always have some minor consequence for failure.

It also makes monsters a hell of a lot scarier when they show up. A character that has been progressing without combat will suddenly be more reluctant to charge in blind and risk their character's life.

I'm not quite sure how to implement this yet, but I think this person may have been on to something. It might end up being a wildly different experience than your standard campaign, but it also might be quite interesting.

Additionally, I have always handed out XP for good role playing. I like to encourage that aspect of the game.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Personal Effects: Pistol Tripped

Technology in the Ruby Isles is dangerous at best. Especially to the ones using it. Best to leave such newfangled devices for the idiots foolish enough to fiddle with them.

Damage: 1d6+1
Range: 100 ft.
Rate of Fire: 1/2
Special: 1-in-6 chance to malfunction each time it is fired.
Notes: Pistols get a +1 to-hit at point-blank range. Ammunition is expensive, costing 1 gp per bullet.

Malfunction Chart (2d6)

2. Fires in random direction
3-6. Fires in 1d2 turns
7. Doesn't fire
8-11. Ball falls out (must reload)
12. Explodes (1d4 damage to wielder)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

L&T Session Three

Edward, Vara, Gremond and Sturloch decide to commandeer the abandoned galley and set sail to the south. From the crow's nest, Gremond takes one last look back at the blue tower high above the shore and see's a single flash of light from within. "The tower blinked at me."

On board, Edward shoots the lock off the hull door and the party discovers some provisions, in particular a few large casks of wine. The skies are clear and sunny, and by nightfall the ship has made good distance, passing beyond the southern point of Nefk and into the Sea of Scattered Stars. Gremond spies a great black tree on the horizon, but the four travelers elect to deal with it in the morning, dropping anchor and turning in for the night. In the wee hours of the morning, Vara, on watch, hears the flapping of great leather wings, and the group comes under attack by a flying beast with the body of a lion, the wings of a bat, a spiked tail and the face of a feral human. It peppers the deck with spikes, narrowly missing the sleeping men. Vara manages to conjure several blasts of magic against the thing despite her exhaustion, but it is Sturloch who eventually downs the beast, hurling his pike through its neck while it flies. It falters and drops dead to the deck of the ship, where Gremond unwisely tastes its blood and Edward removes its tail as a trophy.

The next day the skies are clear again, and the party decides to investigate the island with the black tree. Upon using Edward's spyglass to get a closer look at the object, Gremond sees that the bark bleeds and there are runes carved in it. Sturloch immediately voices that they should continue on, consumed by his quest to find the serpent that killed his wife and convinced that this diversion will only slow his progress. Still, the rest of the party is curious. Gremond takes the rowboat to the island and explores the tree, discovering a strange cone-shaped rock before it. After much experimentation and the involvement of the rest of the crew, the tree is discovered to be a portal leading to three other similar trees and stones. The stones are keys and all four are pressed at once, though Edward must use both of his hands to do so, sticking one arm through the portal to the untouched stone, as Sturloch refuses to have a hand in such devilry.

As the four stones are touched, the sea begins to boil and the ground shakes, and from the water an entire city of living coral rises, draining rivulets of fish-filled water down slender towers and back into the deep. Beneath the city, a colossal, whale-like creature floats, and it is clear that the coral grows from and is supported by its back. Sturloch's mood is even further darkened by this revelation, declaring his party members foolish and self destructive for tampering with such magic. And now a city stands before them on the back of a demi-god. But it is Vara who tells Sturloch that the merfolk, who are known to dwell in cities of coral, may know the location of the Ophidian Grottoes, the legendary nest of the sea serpents that he so burns to find.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Hot Elf Chick Sorceress

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Friday, 1 July 2011

Bardic Magic

I'll begin by saying that I am a huge fan of bards and once played a hobgoblin bard named Rook in a PbP game. But to me, something is missing from the bard class. How does their magic really work?

I realize that we are supposed to assume all bardic abilities related to the actual performance of music are magical, but there has always been a barrier there for me. I simply find it difficult to imagine myself fighting harder or better because someone is singing at the back of the room. What would they be singing that would spur me so? If it were real life, it would have to be a song I already knew, and one that I had a deep personal connection with. So how does the bard create music that touches every member of the party in such a way that they are all "inspired?" If anything, I would find such engaging sounds distracting.

As a professional musician myself, perhaps I over analyse these concepts about how a party gains +1 to-hit from the bard's ballad. Perhaps as part of the bard's magical ability, he can intuitively know which style of song will affect his companions, or even enemy monsters. Which brings me to another question.

If monsters are affected by a bard's music, is it because they have some crude form of music in their own society and therefore have an emotional relationship with the medium of song, or because they have never heard such sounds before and are overcome by wonder and awe? Or perhaps a bard's music has nothing to do with why listeners are affected. Perhaps it is simply the component or ritual used to channel their spells, in which case they might be considered inferior to illusionists and druids who can cast magic without producing sound at a volume that might make them vulnerable to enemy discovery.

If an enemy is deafened or some form of sound barrier is in effect, such as being underwater, are the bard's spells nullified?

What are your answers to these questions? What are bards like in your campaign? Are they simply vocal wizards, or is there an entirely different explanation for their abilities?

L&T Session Two

By dawn, the sky lightens to a dull grey and a sprinkling of mist hangs in the cool air. Edward, Sturloch, Gemond and Vara row on into the afternoon in their little boat, following the coastline. Presently, the cliffs to the north recede, forming a small curtain about twenty feet in diameter. Gremond points to a glittering object halfway up the cliff, in the mouth of a small cave. Edward and Sturloch row the party over to the foot of the cliff wall.

After a brief discussion, Gremond the scoundrel ties a rope about his waist and deftly scales the cliff, finding handholds where no normal man would have found any. At the top he discovers the object of his pursuit - a glimmering ruby the size of a man's fist, sitting atop an oddly-shaped boulder. Excitedly he moves to fasten the rope about the boulder so that his companions can join him, but suddenly it gives, shedding flakes of rock and spreading a pair of massive stone wings. From the creature's stony mouth it lets forth an ear shattering blast of sound, and Gremond is immediately deafened.

The creature leaps from the cliffs and dives at the rowboat, thirty feet below. Edward fires his pistol, striking it in the wing. As it swoops past it buffets Sturloch, but the party manages to score a few hits on the thing. From above, Gremond drops the ruby into the boat, and the creature, which the party realizes is a cliff bat, a coastal creature that hoards shiny objects, swoops around and dives for it, alighting on the edge of the rowboat. Sturloch scores a decent hit on it by launching his pike as it approaches. 

Sturloch repeatedly attempts to chuck the ruby overboard in an attempt to pacify the cliff bat, but Edward is loath to part with such treasure and desperately tries to stop him from succeeding. The serpenteer hurls the gem out over the sea, but Edward miraculously snatches it from the air just before it floats out of reach. As the cliff bat rears up for another attack, the wench Vara surprises everybody and unleashes a blast of purple magic from her hands, shattering the creature and reducing it to rubble. The pieces scatter into the sea like drops of rain.

With the ruby intact, the party weighs anchor and sets out again, following the coast southward. Sadly, Gremond still hears nothing, deafened by the cliff bat's shriek. The sky dumps sheets of rain onto the earth and the party seeks shelter for the night. Vara peels some potatoes. Edward hears a strangely pleasant wailing resounding from the cliffs during his watch. "Sirens..." By morning, Sturloch's wounds are healed and to his joy, Gremond is awoken by the sound of crying gulls. For the rest of the day and night, the rain is relentless, but the party makes the most of it and fill their waterskins with the fresh liquid. 

On the second night, they stumble upon the remains of a wrecked ship. They pause briefly to explore it, and Edward recognizes it as a merchant vessel. Sturloch and Gremond climb aboard and begin a search. The hull is flooded, and Sturloch lowers Gremond by a rope to peer into the water. He sees a massive hole in the bottom of the hull, and a large chest sitting precariously at its edge. He swims over for a closer look, but a long, dangerous shadow appears in the dark. Frantically picking the lock avails nothing, and a hammerhead shark lashes out at Gremond, who barely dodges, driving his dagger into its thick cartilage. Sturloch feels the rope twitching spasmodically and gives a great heave, pulling Gremond from the water in one powerful motion. The party reluctantly leaves the ship and its treasure behind. They have no luck finding shelter for the night. 

Mist rolls along the water the next morning. The cliffs change, growing dark and impossibly high, marred with pockmarks where some gulls nest. Rain still hammers the world, on through the afternoon and into the evening. It is during the early evening that the party hears a chorus of male voices singing. They spot a vague ship in the distance to the east, but keep silent, fearing pirates. They slip by without incident.

The next morning, the sun shows itself at last, glittering on the waves. A rocky beach opens up to the west, revealing a crumbling stone staircase cut into the cliffs that rises up and up into mist. High above the beach, a shining blue spire disappears into the clouds. On the beach they find a galley with red sails, its crew absent. A quick search identifies it as a war galley belonging to The Arm of the North. It doesn't take long for Edward and Sturloch to devise a plan that involves stealing the ship and hunting down the sea serpent that killed Sturloch's wife. But where is the crew, and what lies within the blue spire at the top of the stone stair?