Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Perilous Adventures

I'm quite excited because I'm going to be playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay this Friday. I love WFRP to bits and it is probably my favourite fantasy rpg -- if you don't count Pendragon; if you do, then they're joint first -- but I never seem to be able to play it. I played a bit of the first edition back in my school days, and we got about a third of the way into The Enemy Within, but that was it; the second edition passed me by, and although one of the group does have the third edition with all the bells and whistles and fourteen bumpillion fiddly bits, we've not had a chance to play it.

So I'm very much looking forward to this week's game. We'll be playing the second edition, in an urban thieves' guild setting the GM has described as "The Sopranos meets Blackadder", which is just about the perfect tone for a WFRP game. I'll be playing Hammerhead Harry, a less-than-clever dwarf enforcer who's not much good at thievery but can kick a door down if you point him in the right direction. I can't wait.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Savage Eberron IV: The Caverns of the Kobold King

The session began with the players getting into a debate about what to do with the young Jenna ir'Wynarn; the half-ogre bard Jon Loger and human duellist Fibulon wanted to press on with their plan to form an underground organisation around Jenna's claim to the throne of united Galifar, while Galaxy Jones was undecided and the dwarf artificer Stones McGuffin wanted nothing to do with any of it and just wanted to go looking for adventure. As it turned out, adventure found them.

Edie Stone -- occasional player-character and their employer -- told them that she'd been contacted by Morina Wood, a Sharn resident whose father was missing. The team headed off to speak to Wood, finding her in a somewhat disreputable tavern, engaged in a drinking competition that she seemed to win with ease. Any suggestion that I lifted this scene straight from a classic adventure film would be completely unfounded, obviously.

Morina Wood explained that he and her father Roderick were archaeologists and that they often went on expeditions abroad to explore ancient ruins and bring back artefacts so that modern society could better understand its past; it was on his most recent trip, into the monster-ruled nation of Droaam, that the elder Wood made his last contact. His plan was to cross the border between the coast and the southern edge of the Greywall Mountains, and Morina was to travel later by the more traditional -- and safer -- route and meet him in Greywall itself; Morina arrived to discover that her father had indeed crossed the border, but was lost somewhere in the southern part of Droaam. She offered the player-characters three thousand gold pieces if they could bring back news of Roderick's fate.

They accepted and spent a day or so looking for clues and following leads in Sharn, running into the fixer Fennifee, who appeared to be a vampire but was revealed -- after some cajoling and threats of violence -- to be a poser. They discovered that the Woods were less into academia and more into grave robbing for cash, and also found out more about Roderick's expedition; he'd taken a group of mercenaries with him as protection, and Fennifee was also able to provide a fairly detailed plan of the expedition's route.

The team felt that they had exhausted their leads in Sharn, and hired horses and a cart for the journey into Droaam. Just before the border they were stopped by a group of Breland soldiers who inspected their paperwork, and it seemed as if there was going to be a fight -- players being players -- but the episode passed without violence, although the soldiers suggested that the team either turn back or take a safer route into Droaam.

Moving on, they crossed the border and picked up Roderick's trail, which was later crossed by another large group of tracks. The second set seemed to be newer and to be heading off to the north, while Roderick's carried on into the west, suggesting that the two groups had not met; still, there was some brief discussion over whether to follow the new trail, and Galaxy Jones took flight on his glidewing Trixie to see if he could get a better view of things from the air. He saw that the second group were still quite close and seemed to be made up of around twenty to thirty gnolls, marching at great speed northward. The team were aware that gnolls made up a large part of the military of Droaam, and so decided to stay out of their business and carry on following the Wood expedition.

They soon came across evidence of a camp, and so decided to rest for the night in the same spot. During the night they were assaulted by small robed figures wielding daggers, and despite the hard-of-hearing McGuffin's inability to wake up, the team captured or despatched their assailants. The would-be-assassins turned out to be kobolds and were no opportunistic bandits, as they claimed that they had been sent to do away with the player-characters. The team also learned that Roderick and his party had also been ambushed further along the trail, and had been taken back to the kobold lair to be fed to "the Big Big Boss"; some of the more paranoid members of the group wondered if the Big Big Boss might be a dragon, but their captive assured them that he had no wings, which didn't seem to make them feel any better.

The players did not treat their captive well, and this was one of the stranger parts of the session for me, as they were quite happy to torture the poor thing to the point of death, heal him with magic, then do it all over again. Perhaps it was fatigue, or blowing off steam at the end of a long week, but it all seemed a bit unnecessary to me. Since we're using Savage Worlds and not D&D proper, there's no alignment -- not that I'd use alignment even if I were running D&D, but that's a subject for another day -- and Eberron as a setting was designed to be far less tied to that moral framework, but even so this whole sequence struck me as a bit off and I found it quite uncomfortable.

The team managed to glean the location of the kobold lair from their captive and began to plan their assault. A quick flyover from Galaxy Jones revealed that the lair was a cave complex within a butte and that there were entrances both at ground level and on the top; despite the presence of a couple of guard stations, and the inherent difficulty of reaching the summit of the butte unseen when only when party member had the power of flight, they decided to attack from the air.

They approached with relative stealth but once again it seemed as if they were expected, and although the kobold guards retreated, the team's path into the complex was blocked by an enormous red kobold they took to be the Big Big Boss; a brief taxonomical discussion followed as the players pondered whether a really big kobold wasn't just a dragonborn, but then he started hitting them with his flaming meteor hammer and that soon stopped all talk of science.

The Big Big Boss was big -- obviously -- and strong, and also had some magical abilities, throwing up a ring of fire around the edge of the battlefield and reflecting the energy from one of Stones' inventions right back at the artificer, but even so he did not last long against a combined assault by the players. Jonark's mind-affecting magic is quite potent against even the strongest creatures and did much to soften the target for the others, aside from poor old Stones McGuffin who spent most of the fight trying to catch up with the others after a misunderstanding between myself and Stones' player regarding relative distances. Though I loathe battlemaps, I need to find a middle ground so that such confusion doesn't arise again.

As was inevitable, the Big Big Boss fell but laughed at the player-characters as they struck the final blow, something which didn't seem to faze them one bit, although this laissez faire attitude would catch up with them later. They explored the inside of the butte -- no sniggering at the back -- discovering a beaten and malnourished minotaur chained up in one cave, and a midden in another; after some discussion, they healed and freed the minotaur, and digging through the kobold refuse the party found what was left of Roderick Wood and his soldiers.

Considering their job done, the player-characters fled the cave complex and headed back to Sharn. Upon arrival, and wanting a bath and a meal even more than that three thousand gold, they discovered that their home base had been razed to the ground and that Edie and Jenna had disappeared.

Friday, 17 June 2011

It Is Better to Give Than to Whine, Moan and Fall Out With Your Friends

Everyone needs to calm down and stop getting so uptight about something which is supposed to be fun.

Here are some more monster tokens to print and cut out. These are all from my most recent Savage Eberron game, and include a dullahan, some dwarves on snowboards, a dwarf warrior, a dwarf wizard, some ogres, some city guards -- from Sharn, although they can fit in anywhere, as only their shield emblem is specific to the locale -- and of course the AVALANCHE ELEMENTAL. Also included are the alert tokens I mentioned in the session report; these can be used as action points or condition markers.

Savage Eberron III Cast of Characters (1.6mb pdf)

Also still available for download are various types and sizes of elementals:

Elementals (3.5mb pdf)

And some minor undead:

Lesser Undead (970kb pdf)

If you have any suggestions for improvements, or a wishlist of creatures to include in future releases, please do leave a comment.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Savage Eberron III: The Secret of the Forgotten Vault (Part 2 of 2)

Part one is here.

The party dipped into the savings of Stone Investigations, plc in order to buy lightning rail tickets for everyone, and made the journey in about four days; they spent the rest of the week drinking and gambling and ordering vast quantities of room service comestibles while staying in a fancy Krona Peak hotel, before dragging themselves, bleary-eyed, to the meet. There they encountered a nervous young dwarf who took them back to what seemed like an abandoned clockmaker's shop down a quiet side street.

The dwarf had not heard of any Vault 13, but suspected that the Jhorash'tar might know and arranged for the party to meet with the orcs the next day.

He took them up into the mountains, a difficult journey which ended with everyone getting a fatigue point — it was only a minor dent in their abilities, but for some reason they took it quite seriously — and found themselves surrounded by a group of orc archers. The orcs claimed that they had not destroyed Vault 13 and that in fact it still stood, and they agreed to take the party to the vault's general location, although they made it clear that they didn't trust the party enough to take them to the vault itself. On the other hand, they did give the characters a set of skis each, in case they needed to make a quick getaway. The foreshadowing was so heavy at this point, you could call them Chekov's skis.

Arriving at the vault, the party found a vast sealed stone door and a small guard hut built into the mountainside. Tossing stealth and subtlety over the edge and into the valley far below, they assaulted the hut and slaughtered the old dwarf and his blink dogs within, before moving on to the vault itself. It was of course sealed by magic, and the group remembered from the Kundarak tour that such doors could be opened only either by a dragonmarked member of House Kundarak, or a blood relative of the vault lessee; they weren't sure of the latter, and their best guess — young Jenna — was back in Sharn, so after some experimentation, they dragged the dead dwarf guard over to the door, pressed his cold dead hand against the door, and were relieved to see it open.

Beyond were stone steps heading down at a steep angle into the darkness. Jon the bard decided to ski down, only just catching himself before the stairs ended at the edge of what seemed like a bottomless void. The rest arrived — on foot and much later — to find a large stone cube suspended in the blackness, held there by some kind of magic, and in its side another door. Galaxy flew over on his glidewing Trixie and inspected the door, discovering some sliding brass panels inscribed with circles, and another panel showing the panels in a certain arrangement. This was my attempt to challenge the players not the characters, by throwing an old-school logic puzzle at them, and it worked quite well with them huddling together to throw ideas around.

After a couple of attempts they solved the puzzle and the door opened to reveal an inky, unnatural blackness.

This turned out to be a magical effect similar to a portable hole, and on the other side was the true vault, filled with sealed crates. Trixie ferried the party over one by one, and Stones and Jon detected a faint magical aura in the vault, theorising it to be some sort of stasis field. The team opened a random sample of the crates, discovering many fine works of art, all of which were either of Jenna, or included her alongside the last king of united Galifar, Jarot ir'Wynarn.

The team decided that these pictures were evidence for their theory that Jenna was indeed an unknown scion of the ir'Wynarn royal family, and furthermore, given the lack of other children in the images, and the few dates they could find, that Jenna was the oldest of Jarot's children. There followed a long and fascinating discussion between the player-characters as they decided what to do with this new evidence, and while there was no consensus on their long-term plan, they did at least agree to take some of the art with them. The team then made the long climb out of the vault, ready to return home.

Which is when I threw the ski chase at them.

They climbed out into the sunshine with Galaxy taking to the air to see if their delve had been detected, and saw a large group of dwarves armed with crossbows and snowboarding down the mountainside towards them. Galaxy remained on watch, the rest strapped on their skis and they all made a break for it.

I ran this as a chase, and it worked quite well, although it took a little time to adjust to the more abstract positioning involved in the chase rules. I threw in some obstacles and about three rounds in, some of the team heard the tell-tale rumbling of an avalanche, something they'd feared from the moment they first climbed into the mountains. Except that Galaxy, from the air, saw the tumbling wave of snow swerve around obstacles, and then they all knew I wasn't going to settle for a boring old avalanche.

So the second half of the chase involved the remaining crossbowmen, a group of increasingly battered and bruised player-characters and a dwarf wizard riding atop an AVALANCHE ELEMENTAL. Asap the half-orc did a runner and skied off into the distance just before the avalanche made its appearance, so Seb had to decide whether to remain safe or return to help his friends; he chose the latter and got bashed about by the elemental, thus revealing the character's weak spot, as Seb had put the majority of his points into offensive capabilities and a high Toughness, but struggled for a number of turns to remove a single Shaken condition due to his poor Spirit. Stones and Jon engaged in a magical duel with the wizard, while Fibulon attempted to pick him off with his crossbow and Galaxy — the only member of the team able to reach the magician — dove into mêlée with him.

In the ensuing battle, Galaxy feared he might lose another mount, and Jon took some heavy wounds; every Benny at the table was spent but the player-characters managed to get the better of the dwarves right at the end, and as the avalanche elemental disintegrated around them, the party made their escape.

Like the climactic battle in the previous adventure this fight had an epic feel, but it was much less of a grind than the tussle with the manticore. Part of this, I think, was because the team had a clear goal — to escape — and so their tactics were more focussed, and the chase structure worked well to add tension and excitement; the chase rules are going to be changed for the upcoming Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition, but I have no complaints about the existing set. After the manticore encounter my players said while they enjoyed it, they felt a bit powerless towards the end, but this time they all seemed to enjoy the big battle, and the adventure as a whole; I also had great fun, and any misgivings I had going into the second session were long forgotten by the end.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Savage Eberron III: The Secret of the Forgotten Vault (Part 1 of 2)

This scenario had been brewing for a while as I waited for a gap in our gaming schedule; as a result it went through a number of rewrites as time went on, resulting in enough material for two sessions. Dave had long since returned to the sweeping tundra of Canada by this point, but we were rejoined by Manoj and his half-ogre vuvuzela-toting bard Jon Loger. Returning from last time were Stuart with his duellist Fibulon, Ben with the dwarf artificer Stone McGuffin, and Rick with both his private detective Edie Stone and the halfling dinosaur rider Galaxy Jones. Also returning was Sebastian, although he'd generated his own character this time, a half-orc battering ram called, I think, Asap.

Last time, the team had discovered that the mysterious "Jewel of Galifar" was in fact a young girl who seemed to have been held in a magical stasis for the entire duration of the Last War, and that her name was Jenna ir'Wynarn, which would make her a member of the pre-War royal family, perhaps even the heir to the throne of a united Galifar.

Jenna could remember nothing more than her name, but this name did not appear in the historical record, nor was there any known reference to a sixth child of the ir'Wynarn dynasty. Determined to find out more, the group got in touch with an academic at Sharn's Morgrave University, who promised to research the matter if they would track down the last resting place of a notable figure from the Last War.

The session began with the player-characters having found said resting place, and discovering that the Butcher of Breland was not quite as dead as was thought. I was hoping to start the session with a bang, but Asap waded in and took out the undead monster with one swing of his blade. To be fair, while the Butcher was powerful, I didn't want to kill the party off in the first scene, so he was only an Extra; even so, I was not prepared for quite how combat-tuned the half-orc was, although this specialisation would come back to haunt him later on.

After this brief warm up, the team returned to Sharn with the remains, and in return the professor told them that while he could find no record of Jenna ir'Wynarn in any historical document, he did find a reference to the iron casket in which she was found, in the journal of a servant of the ir'Wynarn household. The journal did not go into much detail, but it did suggest that the casket was due to be taken to a "Vault 13", with the number written as a dwarven rune.

They suspected that this was a reference to one of the vaults owned by the dwarven banking guilds of the Mror Holds, in particular the dragonmarked House Kundarak.

As narrative convenience would have it, the Bank of Kundarak in Sharn was due to host a dinner party for prospective new customers, so the party pulled some strings to get on the invite list. Their plan was to see if -- with the wine flowing -- they could get some information from Kundarak's employees and if not, take advantage of the distraction of the party in order to sneak about and look for clues.

I came up with a little mini-game to handle this, based around an alert level that would rise or fall depending on how stealthy characters were, whether the party-goers managed to cover for the absence of those sneaking around, and so on. I made counters with little Metal Gear Solid exclamation points on them and everything.

It didn't work very well, in part because I had expected that only one or two of the group would leave the dinner party to skulk about, only for the whole lot of them to tramp around; Jon even blasted his vuvuzela a couple of times as "a distraction", so they were anything but stealthy. In all fairness though, the mechanics of the mini-game weren't very rigorous either, so I can't really blame the players for breaking something which didn't work in the first place.

Although it was a bit of a disaster from my perspective, the team did manage to get the information they needed, learning that Vault 13 did exist, but was emptied in the year 867. The official House Kundarak story was that the vault was destroyed by the Jhorash'tar -- an indigenous orc revolutionary group -- so the team decided to follow that lead. They found a bar for Jhorash'tar sympathisers in one of the more middle class areas of Sharn and started asking the orcs inside about the group, only to discover that the local contact was an elf. I thought this was a bit of a corny double-bluff when I wrote it, but they did all seem generally surprised.

Their discussions were interrupted by a raid by the Sharn city watch, who seemed to be looking for the mysterious elf. The group decided to help him escape, getting into a brawl with the guards and subduing them without loss of life. In return, the elf promised to put them in touch with the Jhorash'tar; he gave them an unusual blue stone and told them to go to Krona Peak in the Mror Holds in a week and look for a person holding an identical stone, who would then take them to the Jhorash'tar.

We ended the first session there, not quite on a cliffhanger, but good enough. I was quite disheartened by the first session, as it didn't seem very exciting, the players seemed distracted and the stealth sub-system crashed and burned. To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to running the second half at all.

Part two is here.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Savage Speculations

Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing system is my great love, and while Savage Worlds comes a distant second, it still dominates the pursuing pack. I've had great fun running an Eberron campaign under the rules, and I expect it to continue for a while yet, but even so I'm feeling a little stifled by all the fantasy gaming my group seems to be doing.

We've got a regular Pathfinder game on the go, there's Savage Eberron now and then, and Ben's got this big plan for a collaborative sandbox campaign again set in a fantasy realm. These are all good fun games, and I like fantasy as much as the next bespectacled geek, but sometimes I want my character to be able to lay down a burst of suppressive fire or jump off a building on a motorbike. We did have Rogue Trader for that kind of stuff, but I'm not sure that campaign's going to make a return, and anything cyberpunk is a no-go alas. So I've been thinking about more modern or scifi games I could run, using Savage Worlds as the engine.

Savage Star Wars was my first thought, a scifi-fantasy hybrid to be sure, but with enough droids and spaceships and blaster guns to provide a contrast to all the normal sword-swinging of our weekly games. The problem I always had with Star Wars as a gaming setting was that the plot had already been written and cast a long shadow across attempts to run a game; I know others have succeeded, but it was too much of a strait jacket for me.

This was long before Bioware came out with Knights of the Old Republic and in doing so introduced a proof-of-concept setting which had all the right Star Wars bits but was not as beholden to existing canon. Seeing potential here, I went online to see if I could get a second-hand copy of the Old Republic Campaign Guide, saw the price tag of £200, and then gave up on the idea.

Savage Sabre Team/Savage Counter-Strike/Tom Clancy's Savage Six
Savage Dozen/Kelly's Savages/Inglourious Saveges/Where Savages Dare
Years a go I played in a BRP-based game in which we played the parts of SAS operatives dealing with a hostage situation. It didn't last long, as the GM didn't think BRP was deadly enough as it was and doubled all weapon damage, so our team was all turned into red mist within minutes. Even so, it has always stuck with me as a viable game concept, and it's something which would work with Savage Worlds, although any such game would be more on the pulpy side, so it would perhaps be better off used to emulate those brilliant 60's and 70's WWII adventure movies.

This one could be a winner, but it does have some potential problems. There is a definite danger of it falling into a formulaic mission-based structure, which may not be a problem but might chafe for some players. There's also the possibility that it might be a bit mundane for some tastes, as I'd be keen to avoid the supernatural, although pulling in some Bond-type silliness or piles of Nazi gold might well alleviate that.

It's not something I've explored, but there's perhaps some potential in throwing this idea into the future, and running some sort of Space Marines or Starship Troopers type game.

Savage Feng Shui
I love Feng Shui as a setting, but the rules seemed to me to get in the way of the fast-and-loose feel they were trying to create. Savage Worlds has the right feel and the pace is just right, so this is one idea with which I've been toying for a while. It's another hybrid setting, but with plenty of guns and car chases to scratch that modern gaming itch, and it's broad enough for anyone to find something they like within. The only potential problem I foresee with this is that while Savage Worlds covers almost everything Feng Shui did, there's one curious omission in that it has no martial arts rules to speak of -- beyond the wonky ones from Deadlands -- so there would be some work needed to include this rather essential element.

Savage Cthulhu
As a BRP-diehard, it would feel like a betrayal on a cosmic level to run a Mythos game in anything other than Call of Cthulhu -- I had to shower for three hours after playing Trail of Cthulhu -- but I could see Masks of Nyarlathotep working quite well in a more Savage style. I'm just not sure I could live with myself afterwards.

Savage Final Fantasy
Bringing in some more technological elements into the bog-standard fantasy setting might make all the difference, but I'm not sure it's getting far enough away, so this is the least developed of my ideas. I'm also not sure it's worth emulating a video game when one can just play the video game, but that's a longer subject for a later post. This one is probably a non-starter.

So there you have it. I'd like to get away from fantasy, not out of any dislike for the genre, but just because we're already doing so much of it and I'd like some variation in my gaming. Feel free to chime in with any suggestions and while I've focussed on Savage Worlds here, I would be more than happy to have a look at any BRP-related recommendations.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Half-Term Blood Bath

Stuart at The Great Game likes to run a gaming day every so often during the half-term holidays; it's a canny way of keeping his kids entertained without him having to do all the heavy lifting, and he gets to get in some quality gaming at the same time. I tend to miss these days, as although I work in education I don't get the half-term break, but it happened to match up with a day off I already had booked, so the Stars Were Right.

The day began with a scenario from the Warhammer campaign Blood Bath at Orc's Drift, from back in the day when Warhammer had narrative campaigns, although we played it using the more modern The Lord of the Rings rules. I had no experience of these rules, as they were introduced long after I left the Games Workshop Hobby for more inexpensive pursuits, like polonium-210 trading, but the game was very easy to pick up and play and seemed to me to be a more streamlined and elegant version of the Warhammer ruleset, so I'm keen to play another episode of the campaign.

My side won the battle, slaughtering the elven garrison to a man, er, elf, aside from one pointy-eared coward who fled into the forests where my orcs could not follow. In fairness, Stuart's young son handled the opposing forces on his own, while I had both a larger force and a co-general -- although Ben surprised us all with the revelation that he'd never played a tabletop wargame in all his many years of gaming! -- and the scenario was weighted in our favour.

Oh, and we also had a giant.

After a lunch break, Stuart's son ran a bonkers freeform sandbox type of thing which -- despite using the Pathfinder rules -- felt much more old-school. We had a great deal of freedom, and the game seemed heavy on random tables and on-the-spot adjudications, all of which was a great deal of fun and felt very liberating. We did wonder later on whether it was worth using Pathfinder at all if we were going to ignore most of the rules, a subject with which I've struggled before, but the GM didn't seem to have any problem with it and ran a very fine game, so that's probably our answer.

While I enjoyed the Pathfinder game, the highlight for me was the Lord of the Warhammerings battle, which reminded me of how much I enjoyed playing tabletop wargames before I was priced out of the hobby. I'm half-tempted to buy a box of orcs, you know, just for old time's sake.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

International Horror

I ran another Savage Eberron session last week, so look out for a summary of that in the next couple of days, including some musings on what I thought worked and what crashed and burned. I'm due to run another session this Friday, so the two reports might get bundled together.

In other news, my prize-winning horror scenario has been translated into Polish by the irrepressible Robert Oglodzinski of Ancient Scroll. If you're reading this, then you're probably comfortable enough with English to run the scenario from the original text, but if you want to see what it's like in Polish -- and Robert has added some tweaks of his own to the text from what I can tell with the aid of Google Translate -- you can find the translated Horror Comes to Haddonfield here.