Saturday, 27 August 2011

Borrowed Dungeons

In my other guise as a writer for the website Comics Bulletin, I wrote a review of the new Studio Ghibli film Arrietty. I mention it here because the opening twenty minutes or so consist of an exploration of the nooks and crannies of a family home, but the diminutive size of the explorers gives the sequence a sense of epic scale.

It occurred to me that if one were to put aside the fact that a ladder was made out of nails and so on, that these sequences were great inspiration for adding little bits of flavour to a dungeon crawl. Why have the characters walk down a corridor when you can instead have them slide across a narrow ledge, or have to hop across a gap here and there? I don't think it's even necessary to attach dice rolls to these moments -- unless of course there's a gang of hobgoblins chasing them -- but they'll add a bit of flavour to the explorations.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

It's All My Fort

Here's a map of a ruined hilltop fortification. I drew it for an upcoming game, but I don't think I'll be using it now, so I release it into the wild. Use it as you will, and if you do use it, let me know how it went!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

King Not Included

Mantic Games has a reputation in these parts for sticking one finger up at Games Workshop whenever the opportunity arises. Their main product line at the moment is the Warhammer-baiting tabletop wargame Kings of War, but they also have a boxed board game called Dwarf King's Hold, which is not at all like a fantasy version of Space Hulk.

Oh. Okay.

I had some spare cash lying about, so I decided to get the dwarves-versus-undead version of the game -- there's another with orcs against elves -- figuring that even if the game was rubbish I'd still get a box of decent miniatures.

The undead miniatures are very good indeed. They have lots of detail and despite being multi-part kits it is not at all difficult to assemble them, although I could imagine putting an entire army together would soon become tiresome. The dwarves are simple two-part kits but they are, by ironic contrast, a right pain in the oubliette. They look like they should clip together just like the Space Marines and Orcs in the first boxed edition of Warhammer 40,000, but the pieces don't line up together well at all, with quite a bit of chopping and filing required. Even then the resulting model will have lots of gaps, although they tend to be on the underside of the figure or behind detail, so it could be worse. It's also something of a shame that Mantic didn't include proper bases for the figures as while they are quite stable in most cases, there are a couple with unbalanced poses.

The dungeon tiles are nice and thick -- although not as chunky as the current Space Hulk board pieces -- and the art is good. It would be nice if there was a way to lock the pieces together, but untethered tiles allow for more flexible dungeon layouts and they don't move around too much in play.

The game itself is good fun, playing a little like Space Hulk. It plays quite fast, and we ran through the first two missions, swapping sides each time, in a couple of hours. The rules are simple but have plenty of room for tactical options, and the game as a whole seems much more balanced than Space Hulk ever was. My only criticism at this early stage is that the game only supports two players, although I suppose you could split the models amongst multiple people.

Even if Dwarf King's Hold: Dead Rising were no good, at least it would still be a box of qood quality dungeon tiles and miniatures that my group could use in other games. As it happens, it's a fun, lightweight game that just so happens to also be a box of useful stuff; I don't think I'll ever delve into Mantic's wargames, but if they continue to produce small, self-contained games like this, then I'll be interested.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Listen Not To Ian, For He Is Mad

One final bit from Ian Livingstone's 1982 book Dicing With Dragons, this time from his discussion of Dungeons and Dragons itself:
The Magic User may only wear leather armour or no armour at all, and is restricted to the use of staffs and daggers as weapons.

As far as I am aware, the bit about leather armour has never been the case in D&D, so where is Livingstone getting this idea from?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Musings on Ian & the use of pre-written materials.

Kelvin's neat little article on Ian Livingstone on his soapbox got me thinking this morning.... and being on my summer holidays, with a brief window of TIME, I put fingers to the keyboard and got typing!  Here are some follow up thoughts from a busy GM!

The question was - do prewritten adventures aide in the roleplaying experience or hold people back?
Me at work ;)
As someone who is normally up to their eyeballs in work/ doing stuff....... my general view has always been to laugh at the 'snobbery' of the 'purist'..... but I have never been a diceless rpg-man/ LARPer or desired to be on stage as an actor...... and whereas in the past I loved intricate plots, red/dead herrings and spending hours on a backstory etc (running Masks of Nyarlathotep every week for over 2 years).... that was WAY BACK THEN when I was obviously insane, had tons of energy.... now I am knackered most of the time and need a decent bit of killing in a session to stay conscious! But I digress.  ;)

Prewritten modules, if well chosen (afterall there are plenty of duffers out there - so I am careful), and appropriately adapted in advance (thank you paizo message boards for kingmaker!!), IMHO, can help a busy GM!!! Without using such things, I sometimes would have run nothing...for ages!  Pathfinder is a stat heavy game and thus it has been great to have that side of things handled in the Adventure Paths Paizo churn out.  Moreover their stories, NPCs, flavour etc in the APs are top-notch.

Eg: The Carrion Crown Adventure Path.

I have been slowly amassing resources to run this at some point in in the not too distant future. Each scenario has advice on music - which I have gone and bought various cds.... as well as the appropriate map tiles....minis.... The message boards, like for Kingmaker, are chock-full of advice on problems in enounter design, or on motivational issues etc...  I really liked the ideas of the path - and having read the whole thing and have a solid overview of where this thing is going helps you, as a ref, set up the game from the beginning with pc and party design... There is still tons of work to do to bring the games to life - to breathe life into npcs, to make sure there are options for pcs so they can achieve/ fail at things and there are consequences for that.... and in the case of Carrion Crown, to reflect on, with the players, the horror mechanics and sanity loss in the game and other 'touches'..... especially since Carrion Crown will be a big change from the current sandbox style of play we are liking in my current WFRP Marienburg game El Kel has flagged up on this blog, in his Tales of the Jolly Butchers.  ;)

But I am prepared to admit that pre-written adventures can get in the way of a good game.

I played in a brief game of a game that will not be mentioned by name or genre....but some of you may have fond memories! It quickly became apparent that the GM not only had no understanding of the rules system (only one player did since it was new), but that they had not read the massive 100 + page adventure!! The gang quickly got bored, started sand boxing  away from the attempts to show horn us into a fixed path, and eventually destroyed the 'set', ending the game. Classic!!  I don't to say any more since I don't want to bruise any egos :S

Having believed for ages that I didn't have the mental space to create my own stuff, with work being insane, I realise now that I have used published materials as a prop... And that I have let this prop at times ' wag the dog', do to speak.... In that by relying on them, I was limiting my roleplaying possibilities and experiences.

I have always been aware of this...but the complexity of some systems always put me off writing my own material....

Take Deadlands. Great ideas. First edition Deadlands was a nightmare system...manageable if you were a player - but an act of love and dedication to make work as a GM.... But I loved it still... But the scenarios were utter garbage!!! So we never managed to play more than a mini series of games before time to stat up and create stuff ran out!

Same for Fading Suns: I loved the setting, the writing, the art..... like Deadlands it is a fantastic game - BUT-  for me, their in-house Victory Point system sucked!! & thus was tricky to create material for

All of these games have encouraged me to run pre made stuff.......

HOWEVER....more recently running Pathfinder at 12th level.... Nightmare!!!! So much prep for the poorly designed encounters in Kingmaker (loved the idea of Kingmaker- it falls apart in books 3-5)...... plus...interestingly... we have been having this debate about how Pathfinders Kingmaker was not a real sandbox, my gang got talking about creating our own (which started and then stopped)...although we couldn't agree on a the meantime, I got worn out by the poor design of the high level scenarios in pathfinder's Kingmaker (which were not designed with the powers of pcs of that level in mind!!), as well as the general intensity of rules at that level and stuff you have to know in your head (eg all the spells of witches, mages and clerics to level 7, & what all the short hand terms in the bestiaries mean!!)...involving tons of prep every week..... I thought s#d this....I need a rest!!

& somehow, by chance, I thought let's try my bonkers "GTA meets the Sopranos" game and set it in WFRP (since I love the game, as I realised the others did - and for some reason we hadn't played any together!!) and Marienburg it play a proper sandbox, not Kingmaker's faux sandbox - thus there was to be no over-arching metaplot.... And, without any premade material, other than the Marienburg book from which I have used a rough map and some names.... It has been my own work needing minimal prep because the system is so much easier than pathfinder! Thus the stories and adventures of the Jolly Butchers was born! & born in a busy time for me... despite the madness of life, I found the energy and joy to create and run stuff for it.....

Admittedly I now need to do some more homework on the sandbox and flesh out the next possible npcs, locations of interest, and random tables and stat them. But I am loving it. But also, having said that, I look forward to running Carrion Crown in late 2011, if there are enough players in my gang, and if I can tear them away from the Mean Streets of Marienburg ;)  Especially since I intend to run a seperate sandbox in the same city, with new pcs as detectives.... possibly ones with 'the gift', as in spellcasters, rooting out deviltry, occult, and all things chaos to keep the streets and canals of Marienburg safe (or probably make them less safe after they have accidentally opened up a chaos gate and sucked the city through it!  ;)
Oh dear..... where did Marienburg go? Can I re-roll?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

More From Ian

A section of the hobby has put forward the argument that ready-made scenarios are actually harmful to "true" roleplaying. They claim that this leads to stereotyped play, with referees reading descriptions from a booklet, and relieving them of the need to think on their feet. Adventures are thus "spoon fed" to the players, and things become less exciting than watching a soap opera on TV. Proponents of the use of published adventures maintain that this is the fault of the referee: his attitude is one of relief at avoiding all that work and one of trust in the written word. A published adventure should be treated as an aid, not the divine gospel. Whether on the matter of published adventures or any other aspect of refereeing, once the referee ceases to think about the material, he is dead.

From Ian Livingstone's Dicing With Dragons.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Presented Without Comment

Three official versions or rules collections exist for D&D: the Basic Set and its companion extension, the Expert Set; the Original or Collectors Edition; and the Advanced D&D series. This makes matters rather confusing to newcomers, as the various supplements and playing aids apply to different versions of the game. In practice, however, the Original edition is obsolete, and only of interest to veteran players and collectors. Players generally familiarize themselves with the Basic Set and then progress to the Expert Set (though the Expert Set is often by-passed), eventually moving to Advanced D&D, where the full scope of the game is realized.

I'm reading Ian Livingstone's 1982 introduction to roleplaying games, Dicing With Dragons, in my lunch breaks at work and the above passage jumped out at me for some reason. The Americanised spelling and missing apostrophe are Livingstone's doing.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Three Sheet Firefight

There's a new version of Small But Vicious Dog out, and it's even better than the last. I spent the morning reading it, and it's clear that something in it inspired me, as I then went off to write a very quick and dirty skirmish wargame.

It's very basic, and it has a fair bit of Nottinghamshire DNA in it, albeit more from Blood Bowl and Epic than either of the Warhammers. It's intended for quick games with whatever figures are available, and it's more than likely full of all sorts of holes and problems; since I haven't yet played it, I can't predict what they'll be, but the turn order might be a bit wobbly. Still, if you fancy it you can download it here, and if you do, please let me know how you get on.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Two Jolly Butchers, a Necromancer and a Drunk

Englebert the cat burglar has been tasked with restoring his family's control over the Doodkanal district of Marienburg; with him he has brought two slabs of muscle, the Norse berserker Steiner Eriksen and the dwarf Hammerhead Harry, and the smuggler Gisbert Lufthansa. Together, they are the Jolly Butchers!

Accompanied by the witch hunter Kurtz and his manservant Percy, Englebert and Harry descended into the tunnels below the city, intent on catching the necromancer Heinz Gerber before he completed whatever task had led him into the damp, dark labyrinth. The Jolly Butchers had Gerber's journal, and a rough map of the tunnels, both of which gave them some confidence; the recognition of Percy's thousand-yard stare and the realisation that Kurtz was blind drunk did not.

Harry was rather in his element underground and his sense of direction helped make sense of the incomplete map, while Englebert's keen eyes kept the party safe from traps; Kurtz and Harry had blundered into a pit trap early on in the expedition, but after that, the burglar took the lead and steered them clear. Soon enough, and with a suspicious lack of interruption from the undead things they knew were lurking all around them, the party reached an open chamber lined with statues. Because this was WFRP and not D&D, the statues did not come to life and attack, and the party passed through to the bronze doors beyond. Intricate carvings -- some form of writing -- covered the doors but none in the party recognised it, although it was clear it was ancient.

Nudging the doors open, the part entered a large mausoleum, at the far end of which stood their quarry, the necromancer Gerber, engaged in some kind of ritual. As Gerber chanted and waved his hands in eldritch patterns over a stone sarcophagus, the party attempted to creep forward, only for the whole plan to be blown by Kurtz bellowing a challenge to the wizard.

It was at this point that the party was ambushed by skeletons. At first Englebert was the only one not frozen by fear, but the group made short work of the undead, only to be assaulted by a second wave almost as soon as they'd put down the first. Meanwhile Kurtz was screaming at the Jolly Butchers, ordering them to take the battle to the wizard; Harry was busy stomping about with reanimated corpses hanging off him, scratching at his armour with all the force and fury of  light drizzle, and Englebert wasn't about to go on a lone charge, so they ignored the witch hunter's ravings.

As it turned out, the fates -- or WFRP's treacherous magic system -- did the party's work for them, as Gerber's ritual backfired and he started to be thrown about by invisible sorcerous energies. Harry and Englebert smashed aside the last of the lesser undead, while Kurtz and Percy reloaded their pistols -- which up until now had been rather useless as anything other than loud and expensive clubs -- and all looked up as Gerber underwent a change, ripping, expanding and twisting into a new form. From the necromancer's desperate cries of anguish, the party guessed that the transformation was not voluntary.

Gerber had become a blasphemous, stinking thing, with multiple heads, sharp horns and a bloated belly, all surrounded by a cloud of buzzing, unnatural and mutated flies. Worst of all, his shape was still in flux and he was floating a few feet off the ground. As the thing bobbed at a leisurely pace through the air towards them, Englebert let off an arrow and retreated back to the tunnels, while Harry sidestepped into a better position and readied his warhammer. Kurtz had by this time reloaded, but Percy fumbled with his shot and powder and would not be ready in time for the creature's assault. It belched and spewed forth a stream of vile, maggot-strewn vomit at the dwarf and the burglar, but missed, the slick yellow filth hissing and bubbling as it slid down the stone wall of the tomb.

With a sound like a crack of thunder, Kurtz fired both of his pistols at the thing, spattering gore and ichor across the entire party -- an Ulric's Fury result caused twenty-two wounds on the second hit, more than making up for the ineffectual shooting earlier on-- but even this did not seem enough to slow the creature, until it started shimmering and flickering, before collapsing into a tiny point of light that disappeared with a pop as whatever sorcery tying it to this plane failed at last.

Kurtz and Percy set about purifying the tomb of Gerber's necromantic influence, and Englebert and Harry set about liberating it of any treasure, finding a bag of ancient gold in the sarcophagus, as well as what they took to be the bones of Bigby; Harry crushed these to bits, just in case. The two Jolly Butchers would have liked to have looted explored further, but ominous howls and scratchings from the tunnels behind them suggested that time was short, so they fled the tomb and returned to the surface.

Now satisfied that the barman Jorn was not also the necromancer Gerber, Kurtz released the Jolly Butchers' employee into their care, and offered to treat them all to a slap up meal; while it was clear that the man was deranged, Harry was not about to pass up a free meal and agreed on everyone's behalf. Soon after, Kurtz and Percy left Marienberg and the Jolly Butchers settled back to discuss their plans to expand their modest holdings, at which point they discovered that one of the old captains of the gang -- from before Englebert's appointment as leader -- had escaped from the prison on Rijker's Isle and was on his way to the Doodkanal.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Show Me Your DIce

We're all dice fetishists to an extent, a tendency Tim over at Gothridge Manor has identified and decided to celebrate. So without further ado:

These are the contents of the bag I take to our regular games. There are a couple of full seven-dice sets in there, a d30, a d16, a bunch of two-tone d10s, a handful of d8s, a couple of twenty-sided d10s and some twelve-sided d4s. There's also a tape measure in case of wargame-type activity, a decent rubber because the ones you get at the end of pencils always smudge the character sheet, and a plastic tengu from the D&D miniatures line; this is Wu Ya, my character in Ben's Kingmaker game. He's a monk with the potential to bust out seven attacks a round, so I have quite a few d20s in the pile; there's one for each colour of the rainbow, in case order of attack is important, and a few extra just in case.

This is everything else. It may not look much bigger than the other lot, but this is a pile that's a couple of inches high in the middle. The bulk of it is made up of a Chessex Pound o' Dice bought by a sympathetic relative one Chrimble, but you've also got a few seven-dice sets -- including one still in its case for no apparent reason -- and then a fair number of odd dice. There's a Zocchihedron, an inkless precision d20, a set of FUDGE dice, some of those funky third edition WFRP dice, a set of HeroQuest dice and a spare set of Blood Bowl blocking dice acquired from the NAF. Most of these dice go unused -- we haven't played WFRP3 yet and a Zocchihedron is to be admired, not rolled -- but I doubt I'm the only one with such a reserves pile. There's something satisfying about tipping them all out then putting them back in their box, akin to when I did the same with my Lego as a child.