Tag Archive | rpg

Into the Odd: Actual Play

I recently ran a game of Into the Odd using the scrypthouse write-up from my Mysthead 3 ‘zine (itch.io page here). It was fun. The players were repairman sent to determine why a local scrypthouse had gone silent.

Using the pathetic fallacy generator from the ‘zine, I rolled up a house that craved silence and dampened sounds. For the cause of the trouble I decided the local corps members had come into contact with a void wraith and been taken over by a bad signal. I also stuck a roaming void miasma around the station’s roof and a juvenile pig herder having an altercation with a rival adventurer nearby.

The players arrived. When they got within sight of the house they promptly heard shouting, gun shots, and the squeals of pigs. Approaching with caution, they came upon a scene of dead pigs, angry pigs, a shouting swineherd, and an old man in heavy armor standing atop a rock reloading his rifle. So the players split up. One approached the swineherd, the other approached the old man. Sadly, the pigs caught the latter repairman’s scent and attacked.

Chaos ensued. The repairmen drove the pigs away and took the swineherd hostage. The child proved belligerent and eventually escaped. The old man introduced himself and gave some backstory. He came here to meet a friend. The station’s locked. The pigs are weird. Yadda. Yadda. Time to go in.

One repairman starts work on unlocking the door while the other does a sweep of the building’s perimeter. He doesn’t get far before the miasma attacks those at the front of the house. Fortunately, they managed to get the door unlocked and get inside. Things get worse from there.

The interior’s a mess. The corps technicians are all signal-zombies. Exploration happens. One repairman gets infected with a lexical fungus (mildly amusing, but dropped after a few minutes). They reach the brazen head and find it disconnected. Before they can check it out the old man’s friend walks in and kills the old man with a belch of void static. Cut off from the front door the repairmen have no choice but to flee deeper into the station. They manage to reach the basement and activate the back-up brazen head. It gives them some suggestions, but really the repairmen are as freaked out by it as all the signal-zombie weirdness upstairs. Or downstairs now. The void wraith’s found its way into the basement.

More cat-and-mousing ensues. The repairmen manage to get back upstairs. One’s now for high-tailing it out of the station while the other wants to destroy the void-wraith. High-tailer reluctantly agrees to assist. The void-wraith shows up and the plan’s to lure it into a room full of gizmos and zap it. This works, but doesn’t kill it. High-tailer runs for the door, while the other grabs the old man’s gun.

*click*

The old man hadn’t a chance to reload the gun before getting killed. The void-wraith kills the repairman. High-tailer returns and kills the void-wraith. The corps techs return to their sense. The void miasma disappears. The surviving repairman gathers up the dead.

OVERALL
I liked it. It felt like running B/X D&D without the baggage. Combat took me a bit to get used to. And the lexical fungus proved more a spark for a few table laughs than a solid game mechanic. Now I’m thinking how to run ItO as as a Numenera-esque settlement-building game. My take is that the system’s aesthetic is fueled as much by its illustrations as by its mechanics, and it doesn’t have to be some flavor of Edwardian Paranoia.

Recent Games I’ve Played

Part of the game shelf

I’ve been playing some games. Here’s what I thought about them:

Worlds Without Number: I wasn’t a fan despite my love for Stars Without Number. We made characters and I ran a few combats. Overall, I found it too crunchy. I think Kevin Crawford is designing a very different game than one I want to play. For one, I’m drifting away from games with detailed skill lists. I’d rather it was all summed up in a word or two background/archetype. Still, the chassis fascinates me, and as always the world-building tables are brilliant.

Scum & Villainy: Space games are hard. Everyone has different expectations of how science-y they should be. Are we playing Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Dune, or what? Is there FTL? Is there FTL coms? Can I download a city map to my communicator? Etc Despite all that playing Scum & Villainy has been fun. That said FitD games aggravate my adversarial player vs GM tendency that make me an obnoxious player. I want to plan the heist away from the GM’s eyes so they can’t prepare or counter for it, which has likely made our GM frustrated (sorry). Also, FitD games use too complex terminology (position, effect, quality) that get in the way of the game. Maybe this is the result of Roll20’s pop-up window getting buried under tabs and popped out crew ship character sheets, but figuring out position always slows momentum.

The Quiet Year: We used it to develop the backstory for a horrible place in our Scum & Villainy game. Great to play in tandem with another game to flesh out some backstory as well as on its own.

Into the Odd: I ran a game using Mysthead 3. I liked it and will probably write it up in more detail. It was fun and light-weight enough that I felt like I could easily bolt more complexity to it without a problem. And contrary to the advice its designer gives elsewhere I’m fine doing stat tests to avoid outcomes. My biggest concern is what’s the typical campaign’s longevity? Could a game that meets weekly for a year be built around a single group of characters or is this better for one shots? At some point I will likely make my own bespoke setting for it.

Bedlam Hall: A PbtA game where you are the servants to a family of awful aristocrats. Great fun for a one shot or short campaign, but run it too long and you have to wonder why your servant hasn’t quit yet. Which can be its own fun. In our game the goal ended up being to survive long enough to hand in your resignation. A great game for that gamer who wishes Paranoia had a Jeeves and Wooster supplement.

Delve: a solo dwarf-hold building game. I focused more on the map-making bits than the combat/resource management game. My goal was to make something to use in a Play-by-Post game I hope to run later this year. More about that if it ever materializes and proves interesting. This game gave me a good setting and an interesting story, which was exactly what I wanted from it.

Scrypt: A Lexical Fungus

It’s been a bit. I’ve been lazy. I’ve also been working on another issue of Mysthead. I might also have started to post some game stuff to itch.io. Mostly bespoke classes for Old School Essentials and an adventure.

One thing I want to add to my game table are condition cards that impact roleplay as opposed to mechanics. One inspiration was the card game The Grizzled, but I’m sure it’s been used elsewhere. So I took that idea and mushed it with the notion of what if languages could be infected with astral lichens and, lo, scrypt was born!

Scrypt is a living language despite being millennia old.

A remnant of the wars between the proto-gods, scrypt thrives like a linguistic lichen within the fertile soil of other languages. When one reads scrypt the words remain inside the mind. This can allow an untrained person to cast spells. However, it may also allow suggestions, enchantments, and worse to take root in the minds of the unwary. More importantly, scrypt attracts aetheric parasites when not maintained properly. Using scrypt is not to be done lightly.

Beware of scrypt-skull!

After every use of a scrypt-carrying scroll, the user must make a WILL save. If they fail, consult the table below. Effects last D4 hours.

(Give a reward, XP, fortune point, whatever, to players who make a valiant effort.)

  1. Jobberknowl: All nouns must be reversed when spoken, ie “knife” becomes “efink”.
  2. Dretched: Replace the first syllable of polysyllabic word with the prefix “dretch-”
  3. Coranto: Speaker must knock twice at the start and end of every sentence.
  4. Imbrangle: The speaker must start every sentence with “Imbrangletanglemangle…”
  5. Zelant: The speaker must include at least one blasphemous phrase in every sentence.
  6. Nullfidious: The speaker can only answer questions in the negative, although they believe they are answering accurately.
  7. Grudgins: All nouns are replaced with names of prepared foods like “pickled herrings” or “sliced ham”.
  8. Javeljaum: Classic spoonerisms, swap the prominent sounds of close words.
  9. Igniferent: The speaker must discuss the flammability of every noun they mention when speaking.
  10. Stelltwire: Speaker must replace spoken nouns with words that rhyme with the intended words.
  11. Colsleck: Speaker inverts the syllables of words when speaking.
  12. Chrysopo: Speaker appends the syllable -opo to every syllable they speak.
  13. Cinqpace: All numbers are increased by one, ie “Anyone for tennis?” becomes “Anytwo five elevenis?”
  14. Xeriff: The speaker gains a fluent knowledge to a centuries outdated legal code and references it constantly.
  15. Saltimbanco: The speaker turns every conversation into a sales pitch for Saltimbanco, an invigorating health elixir.
  16. Katexoken: The speaker will only speak if addressed as royalty.
  17. Dogbolt: Speaker must add -og- before each vowel in a syllable.
  18. Nist: The speaker can not remember the exact name for any item or person.
  19. Haqueton: Speaker drops the first letter of every word.
  20. Yblent: Speaker must shift vowels one place to the right (“a” becomes “e”) while speaking.

And that’s that. My goal is to get the rest of the zine done before December, which I am on track to do. That’ll be over on my Patreon when it goes live. There’s a poll there now to determine next year’s old weird book to read.

Mysthead 2 // Who or What Is the Boss?

Hey all,

I’ve put together another issue of “Mysthead” my RPG fanzine. You can get it and the first issue by supporting me on patreon. CLICK THIS TO GO THERE. In this issue you’ll find lore about Mysthead’s elf and goblin populations, a playable gossiping spider race-class (“The Rumormonger Spider”) for Old School Essentials, and tables to generate whispering skulls, hot spider gossip, and elf-goblin political structures. So as not to make this post a complete advertisement, I’ve included the elf-goblin political structure generator below.

Take care for now!

***

Elves and goblins often have peculiar ways of governing themselves. While all manner of geases may determine what actions may or may not be taken when within either ones domain, there is usually some higher authority consulted in times of great peril or confusion. Often these have a clear criteria they follow: the most cunning, the eldest, those who achieve some renown. Other times the criteria is more obscure.

Below you will find an assortment of odd sovereigns to rule over your goblins and elves. Roll, choose, and/or mix and match:

  1. A class of astronomers who seek advice from the stars. Their wisdom is renowned.
  2. An ancient tree at the center of the Arkenwyld and served by an order of life-bound guardians.
  3. A sacred book that rewrites itself every day.
  4. A great elder abstracted with age and lingering on the brink of stupor.
  5. A young sovereign wrestling with their first bout of nostalgia.
  6. Your mom. My mom. Every body’s mom. The literal All-Mother
  7. An ancient ethernaut stranded in this world by the vortex shoals.
  8. A squabbling court of siblings intriguing against each other and eager to find allies.
  9. A council of ancients, so old they resemble cicadas. Time has no meaning to them.
  10. A singing harp, whoever can master its song rules for a decade.
  11. A council of white-coated priests who read the movements of rats in a maze.
  12. A set of bone dice kept locked in a vault. They bear no numbers or glyphs and can only be read by a trained seer.
  13. A human child, obnoxious and utterly spoiled. The child’s about eleven.
  14. Three gnomes in a trench coat. It started as a gag but now they’re in too deep.
  15. A spider of epic proportions that feeds on secrets and makes its lair in a darkness beyond reason.
  16. The movements of some infernal or divine beast like a hen or a pig. It is attended by priests and kept within a heavily guarded enclosure.
  17. The winner of an extreme athletic event done without assistance and far from sober. Not all who attempt it return.
  18. An odd stone that weeps a slurry that induces visions. It’s not from this world, nor even this reality. The hangovers are abysmal, but it works.
  19. An elf sovereign exiled from another land. They are keen to get their revenge and regain their kingdom.
  20. An intelligent monster like an ogre magi, dragon, or sphinx kept as a prisoner. They are treated with reverence but know they live in a gilded cage and long for their freedom.

What Made the Goat Go Wrong?

“The only domestic animal known to return to feral life as swiftly as the cat is the goat.”

There in the barn, biding its time, watching the villagers go about their daily business, the goat waits. Something strange has happened to the goat, and it is no longer right. Yesterday, it was as normal as any other goat in the field. Now an uncanny intelligence burns behind its horizontal pupils.

What happened to the goat? Roll below to find out:

  1. A skyrock landed in the back fields. The chromaspectral beings within changed the goat before they died.
  2. A bored fae taught the goat to read and write for a laugh.
  3. Long ago a mindlord’s ethership crashed near here. Its engines have slowly released mutagens into the soil. Fortunately, the goat ate most of it.
  4. It’s not always demons, but often it is. This is one of those times.
  5. The goat stayed out overnight, and the full moon’s light made it weird.
  6. A passing saint blessed the goat. Now the goat seeks to free other goats from demonic domination.
  7. The goat was found unconscious beside the alchemist’s garbage heap. No one knows what it ate, not even the alchemist, but the goat hasn’t been right since.
  8. A terrifying night with nature cultists scared wits into the goat.
  9. Those little red mushrooms that sprout in the cow pasture after the rain.
  10. The goat saw a goat on a passing aristocrat’s coat of arms. The goat thinks it’s royalty now.
  11. Drunk scholars kept the goat as a pet. The goat had the best manners of them all.
  12. Unknown to all, the goat’s descended from the Thunder God’s pets. A single thunderclap was all it took.
  13. The goat is the chosen one. It was supposed to be the orphan swineherd, but destiny’s arm slipped. Now only the goat can save the world.
  14. One too many head-buts with a rival goat.
  15. A passing fiddler played in the fields and the music was enough to make the goat dance.
  16. The goat is the last great project of Vinssloss Nerkutt, the legendary animal trainer.
  17. One of the goat’s parent’s was a dragon in disguise. The goat may occasionally breathe fire.
  18. A voice on the wind gave the goat a true name before disappearing.
  19. A recently deceased soul has been reborn inside the goat. The goat must finish a task the soul failed to do.
  20. It is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all. Heartbreak made the goat strange.

If you would like to see the full playable goat class for your tabletop games, it’s available for free on my patreon: THE UNCANNY GOAT.

Enjoy!

THE LOCAL CAMPAIGN // MYSTHEAD

The local region map made on Inkarnate

Recently my game group wound down our D&D campaign for a bit of a breather. I’m the GM and we’re using Beyond the Wall as our rules. I’ve run Beyond the Wall before (here’s the first post about that game), but this time I leaned into its implied YA fantasy setting. The game had a teen delinquents and their up-tight friend solve/commit crimes and fight monsters feel to it.

Some notes and revelations:

  • Magic. BtW keeps it scary and unpredictable, so much so a few times the party had beneficial items that they were too frightened to use. Also every mage the players encountered was awful or at the very least damaged in some way. A downside to this is that the spells veer towards the looser end and require negotiation between player and GM.
  • Small setting. The furthest the players traveled from the village was four days away. Most of the time they were interacting with known people and places around town. Known dungeon sites got a bit of that Zone spice, never quite cleared out, but always there spooky and weird just beyond the edge of town. It also opens the calendar and locations.
  • The Calendar. Some places are more powerful at certain times than others. Some locations only appear on nights of the full moon. The cult is having their meeting a week from now. If you hurry maybe you can get there. I wasn’t that strict with it, but I certainly made it a bigger part of the game than I’ve ever done in the past. One danger is it can become grindy as players try to divide turns down into rounds like they’re riding Zeno’s Arrow.
  • Locations. Make places magic items. Light a fire in the old temple and no fire can harm you while you remain there. Stop by the local saint’s shrine before setting out and get a bonus. This is one way to keep magic limited and add a strategy element. This location has this effect. This other location has a different effect.
  • Pesky Kids. I dug the teen detectives uncover secrets and solve crimes angle and played up the fact that except with few exceptions no adult was going to take the teens’ accusations seriously. I did this until one player asked me to stop because they found it triggering. By then they hated the home village (with its stupid adults) so much they had to be coaxed into protecting it.
  • Reputation. Small town reputations provide a lot of pressure points for characters. At one point the delinquents got kicked out of their house by their guardians (the twins did burn a building down). They ended up having to pay rent at the inn. And they hated it! But I loved saying, “Master Barrelhelm wants his gold piece for the week.”
  • Who Gave the Kid a Knife? Despite the characters being 18-year olds, the players weren’t and for some reason those with kids of their own were reluctant for their characters to give an NPC teen friend a bunch of weapons. Go figure.
  • No Hirelings. It’s hard to hire a bunch of torch-bearers and Men-At-Arms to use as meat shields when you’ll have to see their widows and orphaned kids around town. Despite this the players had a couple of NPCs they could occasionally lean on.

If you want to read more about the game, here’s a link about its inspirations.

MYSTHEAD APPENDIX N / BEYOND THE WALL

Ivan Bilibin vibes

This is for those random persons who enjoy reading about other people’s TTRPG games. Here’s a look at all the material that went into the recent game my group and I finished*. Expect a lot of links to wikipedia pages.

THE RULES USED

Beyond the Wall

We use all the Beyond the Wall material to date. Its roots are as a retroclone of D&D, but it welds on bits from AD&D (race and class) while keeping the rules loose enough. I’d love to see it overlap more with more narrative games like Dungeon World and Five Torches Deep. Also since BtW leans into YA Fantasy for its inspiration I could easily see another table mixing it up with Monster Hearts. For what it’s worth, BtW’s version of the Banshee has one of the best save or die mechanics.

The one bad thing about the rule set is that it’s scattered across multiple books. Personally, I’d love to see an omnibus “Rules Cyclopedia” edition published some day. Through Sunken Lands (the latest iteration of the rules) does this somewhat, but TSL has a different vibe. TSL is bronze age sword & sorcery, and not the high medieval YA fantasy we wanted.

OTHER GAMES & SUPPLEMENTS

  • Dolmenwood: For the vibe more than the particulars, although I did lift the Haunted Abbey from here and tweak it.
  • Harn: I’m a fan but have little time for its level of detail. Doesn’t stop me from pillaging it for names and lore, especially its pantheon.
  • B10 Night’s Dark Terror: One of the greatest D&D modules. A good story and mix of wilderness and dungeon adventures.
  • The Gazetteer Series of D&D products. Again, it’s less the details and more the names and site tags.
  • Carse and Midkemmia Press’s Cities supplement

MOVIES

Some provided plots, others only atmosphere.

  • Night of the Demon: The cursed parchment, the hypnotism scene, the congenial devil worshiper, and the arrival of some inescapable doom at a certain time.
  • The Old Dark House: Nobody scares like Brother Saul!
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Every fantasy game needs a backwoods clan of cannibals. My players rightfully called me out when I gave them southern accents.
  • Phantasm: It, like my game, is stitched together from whatever seemed weird/cool at the moment.
  • Harold & Maude: Maude’s the model for the elderly shield maiden having a fling with the party’s wizard.
  • The Mummy // Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Do you need links to these? Both do a great job blending fantasy and naturalism. Okay, The Mummy doesn’t but the action’s fun and the props are bulky. It leans gracefully into the yakety sax.
  • Rankin & Bass’s Tolkien and The Last Unicorn movies for their cute but grotty weirdness and because they’re deeply imprinted in my brain.
  • Those Passolini Trilogy of Life movies set during the Middle Ages/Renaissance did similar imprinting from a different direction.
  • Spaghetti Western // Hammer Horror // Shaw Brothers movies all mashed together and left to ferment and link mycelia. In my opinion these three genres meld very well together.

BOOKS // AUTHORS

  • The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books by way of spoof covers.
  • Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories
  • The Innkeeper’s Song by Peter Beagle
  • The Book of Goblins by Alan Garner (Yallery Brown!)
  • One Thousand and One Nights (Especially that story where Sinbad gives a piggy-back ride to an awful man.)
  • The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson
  • Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
  • The Wizard of Earthsea series by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Chaucer’s Knight by Terry Jones
  • Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli in His World by Erica Benner

OTHER STUFF

  • Early American Serial Killers and Mississippi River bandits like the Harpe Brothers.
  • Every European folklore page on Wikipedia. I would try Stargazey pie.
  • Cherry picked bits of Medieval/Early Renaissance History.
  • Cape Ann.

*It’s not done, but we reached a good pause point and I wanted to take a break and other people wanted to run games. The goal’s to come back to it before the end of the year.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Krevborna Edition

This is the write-up of the current state of my d&d game for new players. It’s been going since December and the party is now near 5th level. The game’s set in Jack Shear’s Krevborna, a Gothic Horror setting. However, the longer the game’s gone on the more apparent that I can’t do horror well.

A fact you will see if you continue reading.

Inn Keeper

Inn Keeper

THE START: THE RED STAR INN

Three strangers sheltering from a storm at the Red Star Inn wake to screams in the night. They are Caladan and Geb, a half-vampire knight and human soldier, and “Bob”, a spy who has had her name and past stolen by a wandering stranger. They discover the innkeeper and his entire family murdered. Who did it? What did it? This was an investigative adventure where all their fellow guests in the inn were suspects. Caladan was out of his element since there was no clear opponent to kill. In the end it turned out to be an intellect devourer jumping from victim to victim. I wrote it up in detail here, but you don’t need to read that. 

Hommlet

WAKEHOLLOW

After defeating the devourer, Caladan, Geb, and “Bob” escorted some of the survivors to the nearby Abbey of Saint Seska in the town of Wakehollow. At the abbey they met Landar, a foundling raised by the church who seemed to be imbued with divine power. News reached the town that a recent storm washed away the side of a hill and exposed the entrance to an ancient tomb. Landar joined the party in their exploration of the tomb, where they encountered the shade of Bjorn the Bonesinger, former minstrel in the court of the ancient Witch King. Geb died in the battle against Bjorn causing Caladan to descend into despair.

Back in town, the party recovered and made friends with a stranger named Bred, a wild magic sorcerer of shockingly cautious disposition. Bred joined the party and accompanied them west to investigate a tower suspected of serving as a base for a group of raiders.

black tower krevborna

THE TOWER

Very quickly it became apparent that the tower was not the raiders base but they were in fact inhabiting a series of nearby caves discovered by “Bob”. However, Landar believed the tower might hold some secrets and wanted to explore it further. Caladan saw this as a distraction and abandoned the group deciding to explore the caves on his own. Inside the tower, Landar, “Bob”, and Bred defeated a host of shades escaped from Hell and encountered a nothic by the name of Gibberstrike. In exchange for secrets, Gibberstrike told them about the Chaos Priest behind the raids and how a secret passage beneath the tower led into the caves. Meanwhile Caladan defeated a bunch of goblins but got taken prisoner when ogre reinforcements arrived.

caves-of-chaos-assembled-patreon

THE CAVES OF CHAOS

Caladan founds himself locked up with the survivors of a merchant caravan, a deranged gnoll, and a sullen orc named Maulglum. He befriended the orc and together they hatched an escape plan. Meanwhile, Landar, Bob, and Bred must pass through a haunted crypt to reach the secret passage Gibberstrike described. Barely surviving an attack by the crypt’s ghoul inhabitant, they reached the passage and pressed on into the caves. They arrived just in time for Caladan’s prison riot. A huge melee ensued and the party defeated the hobgoblin and bugbear prison guards (as well as the deranged gnoll).

Afterwards came a big information exchange between party members and prisoners. Landar was for using the prison block as a trap to whittle away at the raiders, while Caladan was for going after the Chaos Priest and “completing the mission”. The surviving merchants (including the shifty slave-trading one who assisted in the fighting) decided to return through the secret passage while Maulglum the Orc stayed with Caladan. Bred and “Bob” sided with Caladan and set off to slay the priest. Before leaving one of the merchants told “Bob” about a village a few days west of the tower where everyone is named “Bob”.

The party infiltrated the lair of the chaos priest by disguising themselves as acolytes. They reached the priest’s inner sanctum right in the middle of a ritual to raise a host of undead foot soldiers. Another big melee ensued with Bob and Bred lending spell support and Landar calling upon the power of the saints. The party won the day without casualties and the priest was slain.

well souls

THE WELL OF SOULS

Landar had a dream that a great evil lurks beneath the well from which the chaos priest sought to raise his army. In that dream he also glimpsed the shield of Saint Seska buried beneath a pile of bones. After the party rests Landar convinced them to climb down the well and put an end to the great evil lurking there. They agreed and climbed down to discover a bone littered cavern housing a portal to the depths of the abyss. Between the party and the portal were a host of undead and terrifying maggot creatures. The party managed (barely) to win their way onto a series of ledges that traversed much of the cavern and avoided the threats on the floor.

Halfway to the portal they each heard a voice in their head drawing them towards a side passage. Caladan was for exploring the passage but Landar was skeptical. Bred said that if anything the side passage might be more defensible than the ledges, so the party decided to explore it.

Down the passage they found an ancient shrine to the Queen of Shadows built in the era of Witch Kings. It had been profaned by the abyssal powers and the party was soon confronted by the undead occupants now lurking in the shrine. The party managed to defeat them and set about resting. The voice, however, convinced Caladan to perform a ritual, bonding his weapons to a shadow spirit. Landar doubted any good would come of this.

The party reached the portal to the abyss where they saw the shield of St. Seska embedded in a nearby tree made from human bones. They crossed over while no undead were nearby and managed to wrestle the shield free from the tree. This woke the guardian beast hidden within the tree. Battling the demon creature to a stand-off, the party led by Landar managed to retreat back to the cavern with the shield before the portal closed (although Caladan was all for battling on with the beast and “Bob” nearly got trapped on the wrong side as the portal closed).      

crossroads

THE PARTY SPLITS UP

Out of the well the party recovered in the temple. Caladan was for assisting Maulglum in leading the orcs against the rest of the caves’ inhabitants. Bob was for going west to check out this village full of Bobs. And Landar and Bred were for returning to Wakehollow. So the party split up, and this bit was played out via messenger using a very rough version of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins rules, a PBtA game.

ork-art-fentezi-voin-topor-984

ORC WAR

Caladan and Maulglum returned to the orc-held caverns and managed to impress the orc leader Strak. The orcs agreed that now that the chaos priest was dead it was time for the orcs to reclaim the caverns. They proclaimed against the hobgoblins and their allies. A series of pitched battles were fought in the canyon with Caladan lending his support to the orcs. The orcs nearly claimed the caves early on, but an ambush of fell beasts forced their lines to crumble and allowed the hobgoblins to claim the upper hand.

In the middle of the night Caladan led a raid upon the strongest of the fell beasts with the aid of a squad of orcs and three barrels of gunpowder. Drawn by all the noise a new battle ensued and Strak and the hobgoblin king managed to confront each other in battle. But at the last moment the orc’s shaman (a hobgoblin in disguise) murdered Strak. Maulglum attacked the shaman and Caladan went to do battle with the hobgoblin king. It was a close one, but in the end Caladan won. However not many orcs survived the war. Caladan set about training the remaining orcs into a fighting legion to be employed in protecting the road.

I should say I’ve made the vampires of the setting something like the Roman empire with the orcs having been a regular part of their armies. That Caladan is half-vampire gave him an in when dealing with them.

Mxyzptlk

THE BOBS OF WALLBURG

Bob traveled west staying in remote villages, earning her keep by telling stories. She eventually reached Wallburg the village of Bobs. There she found a much deserted village save for three inhabitants all named Bob. From them she learned that all the villagers lost their names and identities to a wandering stranger named Bob. Bob learned there are more inhabitants in an old building in town and discovered the rest of the villagers have all melted together into one gibbering mass of eyes and mouths. Turns out if Bob doesn’t get her name back she too will be afflicted by the same gibbering disease. Before the gibbering mouther managed to eat her, Bob’s rescued by an extradimensional frog wizard named Zasgam. They’re after the Bob for stealing Zasgam’s prized gemstone. Zasgam offers to help Bob find Bob if she and her companions will retrieve the gemstone. Bob agrees.

murkmire

MURKMIRE

Landar and Bred returned to Wakehollow where they split up because Bred wanted to go to a big city. Landar presented the shield to Mother Disaine at the Abbey and learned that a Witchfinder was in Wakehollow pursuing a heretical outlaw. Landar joined the Witchfinder and his group as they tracked the outlaw to Murkmire, a nearby seaside ruin. They found Murkmire overrun by sahugin and discovered that the outlaw hoped to awaken a great evil submerged off the coast with the help of the sahugin queen. Much bloodshed ensued and only by the Witchfinder’s sacrifice was the outlaw slain. Landar however was shaken. He returned to Wakehollow and decided it best to remain as the town’s protector than wander the roads as an adventurer.

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THE QUEEN IN LAVENDER (PART 1)

While on his own Bred wanted all the culture he could get and nothing says culture like the theater!

So he heard about several upcoming plays in nearby cities and decided to see The Exuberance of Pinfolo as performed by Wiswym Nonce & Players in the city of Creedhall. Bred hoped to audition for a part, but unfortunately when he got there he found Wiswym to be drunk and depressed because his actors had all abandoned him. It turned out that two great cosmic events were unfolding in Creedhall at that time and no one gave two shits for the theater.

First, the archfey Queen Maeve was celebrating her procession and her devotees thronged the city with their floats and parades. Second, the star Amalfi was oscillating along the chromaspectral wavelength an event of such celestial import that half the city had become amateur astronomers. Undeterred, Bred managed to convince Wiswym that the show must go on and the two hatched a plan to put on a play so sensational that all of Creedhall would be forced to notice. To this end Wiswym decided to put on a production of the infamous play The Queen in Lavender. And to avoid the play’s habit of driving its actors mad, Wiswym chose to cast inmates from the local asylum for disturbed individuals in most of the parts.

A whirlwind rehearsal ensued, and several dangerous mishaps occur. On opening night Bred started to have second thoughts. Especially after half way into the performance he noticed all the fake stage knives had been replaced with very real sacrificial daggers.

Muttering his battle cry (“One. Two. Three. Fuck it!”) he stepped onto the stage. The show must go on!

klaus nomi

THE QUEEN IN LAVENDER (PART 2)

(Around here we got back to playing D&D 5e)

A few days before Bred’s big night, Zasgam the Frog Wizard and Bob dimension doored to the tower where they met Caladan as he trained his orcs. Caladan appointed Maulglum as chief while he was gone and joined Bob and the Frog Wizard. Landar, however, decided to remain in Wakehollow as he believed the town would benefit more by his continued presence. Bob and Caladan bid him well and continue on with Zasgam to Creedhall. As they get closer Zasgam informed them that a cosmic disturbance prevented the Frog Wizard from getting close to the city and Bob and Caladan would need to go on alone.

They managed to reach the city and learned where Bred was, arriving at the stage just at the climactic sacrifice scene unfolded. The sacrifice was a success and a rift opened to where the Queen in Lavender and her star spawn horrors dwelled. Mayhem ensued. Most of the cast was slain or in league with the star spawn horrors and an audience member proved to be an archfey in disguise (Prince Vorash, Lord of Misrule) come to watch the play for the lulz. Caladan and Bob attempted to rescue Bred. Bred attempted to stay alive. Wiswym Nonce got his face eaten and Prince Vorash was so amused he decided to polymorph Caladan into a gorilla. More mayhem ensued, but in the end the star spawn and cultists all died (except one, who escaped giggling and laughing into the night…)

A day later Zasgam was able to enter Creedhall, and asked if the party was ready to retrieve the gemstone. They said yes, and so zimzamallakabam Zasgam transported them to the stone’s current location on the astral plane.

Which is where we will begin next time!

Green+Slaad

The Red Star Inn

Had the first session of a new D&D campaign. I’m running it with 5e using Jack Shear’s Krevborna setting. Like all good campaigns do, the first session started in an inn…

Inn Keeper

I pretty much rely on three opening scenarios to bring an adventuring party together: escape from jail, shipwreck, or solve a murder. Here I was using the latter. Having read some on the Gumshoe system I used the simple rule that the players will always find the clue. Their dice rolls will only determine how clear the information they learn is.

So far there’s only three players. There’s the fighter from a (vampiric) family of Lamasthu nobles who had once been the vessel for a demonic power. Another former soldier from Lamasthu who had witnessed his village destroyed. And a bard escaping the criminal underworld of the nearby city Piskaro. In the middle of the night a murder occurred. The innkeeper and his family brutally slain. The culprit? A guest in the inn. The suspects:

  • A gambler and his body guard
  • A farmer and his son
  • A much less likable farmer
  • A merchant
  • A beggar woman prone to visions
  • An old priest and a young acolyte

Most everyone had a secret. The merchant was having an affair with the innkeeper’s wife and had been seen going downstairs in the middle of the night. The unlikable farmer was a lookout for a bandit gang. The beggar woman had the serving girl’s crushed skull in her bag. The young acolyte was actually a woman in disguise on the run from her family. And there was a dead soldier in the barn.

Things happened. Unexpected things.

The gambler and his bodyguard were designed to be a bandit/thug encounter, but the party negotiated with them. Sort of. One of the fighter players came upon the pair robbing the inn’s till and instead of trying to stop them let them go. The other fighter got attacked by the devourer without knowing where it was coming from. And the bard did a decent job playing detective.

The real culprit? An intellect devourer that was using its ability to hop from skull to skull. It made an attack or two against the party without them realizing what was going on except they felt their skulls being crushed. Its goal was to get inside the priest’s skull and leave the inn. But to do that it had to leave a trail of dead bodies behind it. The merchant, the two adult farmers, and the priest all wound up getting taken over by the devourer with the requisite scenes of player character interrogating one of them only to have the suspect’s head suddenly explode as the devourer fled to another occupant.

Combat against the devourer proved rough. One fighter got knocked out and the other failed a fear check and proved less than effective.* In the end the bard’s spells proved more valuable than either fighter in fighting a creature resistant to so many attack types. Now the player’s have agreed to replace the priest as the acolyte’s escort to a nearby abbey in the marsh.

Next game scheduled for Sunday.

* Invariably the player who writes the longest backstory about what a bad ass they are will not roll above a 10 on a D20 for at least 75% of the adventure.

 

 

Blades in the Dark, but badly

I’ve run a few sessions of Blades in the Dark (BitD) now and am going to outline some of the problems I’ve encountered trying to teach D&D players a new game.  Your mileage may vary, but seeing the potholes I’m hitting might clue you in to what pitfalls to expect when leaving behind “the world’s most popular roleplaying game”.

One big problem is that my players don’t have a common language for RPGs like they do for board games.

Now I don’t think Blades is any more difficult to learn than D&D. But when I sit down to play a board game I’ve never played, my pal can employ a language I can quickly understand. She can say, “this uses a dice mechanic or an auction mechanic or a bidding mechanic” and I’ll know a good bit about how to approach the game. RPGs have less of that. And while you can suss out a board game’s mechanics over the course of a game, roleplaying games require more time and personal investment to learn, especially for inexperienced players. Yes, there’s talk about system mechanics (you use a d20, 2d6, prehensile dice), along with the more esoteric talk about Theory you need to be clued into, but when I sit down to play/learn a new RPG the ways those Theory and mechanics operate and mesh together aren’t often readily apparent. And D&D does you no favors here because its system mechanics (getting good at killing stuff) are at odds with what it claims to be about (creating stories).

One thing a friend suggested as a good way to show D&D players the wider range of game mechanics is to use either The Quiet Year or Fiasco to teach other play styles and things like narrative driven mechanics. All so’s to get away from the sword and sorcery style play. That makes sense. Next time around I’ll do that.

On to the problems. . .

Solid Crunch vs. Memory Foam

  • An example: ghost punching versus Attunement: It takes a bit to wrap your head around the agency you as a player are given in BitD. In D&D you’re a ghost hunter and get a +5 whenever you punch a ghost. In Blades you’re a Whisper and get a bonus to attunement and have a special link to the ghost field and when you’re like “Cool! What does that mean?” your GM will look at you and say, “Well, you tell me?” Some folks will have their eyes light up here. Other folks will stare blankly at the GM and gulp audibly.

Organic development vs. Mechanic development.

  • In Blades advancement triggers arise from play and not from killing monsters.
  • No builds. If you’re used to a game having the level of crunch where you can go online and find an optimized build, Blades is not that game. Even outside whether or not it’s easy, being a Cutter that rolls 5D6 take-the-highest skirmish is a lot less satisfying then optimizing a guy to do 10D8+10 damage every time he hits someone with a sword.
  • On a side note, I hate builds. Sure if the game’s super crunchy and I don’t want to deal with learning rules I’ll hop online and follow a build if that means I get to play the game comfortably. But simultaneously if I’m in a game where a player builds the best killing machine possible, I will intentionally Nerf my character. “What you’re optimizing your thief to be an elite killing machine using some tactical progression you read on an online forum? Fuck you, my barbarian’s now multiclassing as a wizard.” (This raises the question of whether I’m the problem. I can be a shit person at times.) But I hold by the notion that RPG characters should grow organically through play and not be optimized like the Terminator. I also recognize that this very optimization might be someone else’s jam, so I don’t know. Hopefully we get along, because otherwise maybe the best thing would be that we never play games together.

Adventure Design

  • Players looking around for the boss monster.
  • This is likely more about my own bad habits when it comes to adventure design and trying to get out of the habit of encounter-based adventures and more towards heists, but there needs to be a comparable change in player mind-set. If D&D fosters one kind of play style and gives you the tools to play that way, you might see all games as having the same style.
  • The heist mindset as opposed to the party exploring mindset. An example: The score is to break into the soul vault beneath the temple of the Empty Vessel and destroy the soul of a cruel factory boss. You hear the high priest has a fondness for blood sports. So PC 1 sets up as a fight promoter causing a distraction, while PC2, a sniper, finds a spot on a nearby rooftop, while PC3, the whisper, breaks into the vault. Except the Whisper PC played D&D and knows you never split the party and go off alone, so he sticks to PC1 and sits at the table checking his phone while the decoy fight goes on instead of being a daring scoundrel.

Hit points and Healing

  • Hitpoints vs. Harm-Armor-Resistance-Stress asset management. Hit points are straightforward. You have 30 hit points. It’s right there on your character sheet. The orc hit you with an arrow. It did 5 points of damage. You now have 25 hit points. When you reach 0 hit points you are dead/unconscious. This is simple. BitD does this instead: Harm-Resistance-Armor-Stress-Asset Management. You’re stabbed through the lung and take 3 Harm. Your armor can reduce that to 2 harm, cracked ribs, but you can reduce that to 1 harm, bloodied, by rolling your prowess and taking stress, which from the looks of it might mean you end up traumatized. GM says “What do you want to do?” Player says, “ Can’t I just take 5 hit points damage?”
  • I like Blades’s healing mechanics. The rolls and the de-stress mechanics, they add to the gritty, grinding feeling the setting is designed to create, but also it feels gritty and grinding, and if your players aren’t ready for that they’re not going to be happy. Especially if they’re used to short-rest/long-rest, have a healing spell/potion, start the next adventure at max HP. This means their initial reaction to Blades’s healing mechanic is not going to be a favorable one.

The Crew Game in a reactive setting

  • My players are having a hard time wrapping their head around the crew game and how that puts them in the setting. No one’s really excited about it. Partially my fault, I suggested they play as vigilantes and everyone agreed to that without having much knowledge of what that meant. But overall the crew game is viewed as an accounting chore and not as a way to generate story momentum.
  • With 5e the setting dial is very loose. How much the Forgotten Realms reacts to the characters can be dialed way down or way up without too much change to at table play. If players are used to a game style where they can stomp around a make believe land without too much push back or even organic impact, then the whole faction game is going to be alien.
  • So when the setting reacts to players in ways that should be obvious to them, and the players aren’t aware of or picking up on how they could shore against those setting reactions, it can start to look like the setting is out to get the players. If your players aren’t picking up on how reactive Duskwall is to their actions, and how they can be impacting other factions, Blades gives the impression of being out to get the PCs. This is part of its design and why I like it, but my players aren’t used to such a reactive setting and I think this leads to paralysis on their part. “We can’t do anything without pissing off somebody and I’m uncomfortable taking risks.”
  • Solution: have the players make characters but hold off crew creation until after a few sessions. For players unfamiliar with how the game operates the crew level game might be the advanced game or the goal of the entire first season. At least give the inexperienced player time to get their feet under themselves. I definitely think the Crew game is 3rd level, expert blue book kind of stuff. Once the players get a feel for the setting, they’ll be in a better space to start an enterprise.

A last point about buy-ins and touchstones

  • Your friends will lie to you. You’ll say, “It’s like Penny Dreadful meets Watchmen.” And they’ll say, “Cool.” But when you get to the table and two adventures in it’s not that they’ve never watched Penny Dreadful or read Watchmen. It’s that their default game style is Teen Titans Go! And they’re not going to change that. This is fine, I guess. My player pool is not deep. The other option is that we don’t play a game.
  • But what do you do? The players said they’re into what the game’s about, but two three sessions in you can see they’re not really onboard. Part of that is my fault. I could’ve done a better job in the early adventures showcasing the series from the start. I tried, but feel like I failed.
  • Also a bit about theme songs… no matter what ambient acoustic ethereal blues crunk you say your game’s theme song is, when you sit down you have to work hard to prevent your theme song from becoming Yakety Sax.