Sunday, July 29, 2012

Meeting Jakob Bauer, Witch Hunter

Yesterday, we played another installment in our ongoing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition campaign. Not really much did happen. The group continued to explore the Morr temple, the graveyard and a small crypt. The heroes found out that something called a dream orb had been stolen by Verne Henrick and that the missing orb was causing nightmares in the area. The priests of the temple had been gruesomely murdered, and at night all of the heroes had nightmares. Athela, Finubaryel and Lutz dreamt of being part of a zombie army attacking some castle. Volcifar received another offer by the Weaver of Fates, apparently a lieutenant of Tzeentch, to lead his armies. Volcifar flat out denied that request.

Upon returning to the Green Glade Inn, the group was told a mysterious messenger was waiting for them. The messenger turned out to be Jakob Bauer, a witch hunter from Altdorf. Apparently, anonymous source had informed him about the happenings at Grunwald Lodge. But he was a bit misinformed as to the heroes' involvement. So they correct his version of events by telling him what really happened. Volcifar even tried to turn over the chaotic book on the nature of demons, but somehow ended up with it again - only now it's warded by the inquisition. At least the group convinced him of their sincerity, so instead of travelling directly to Altdorf, the witch hunter leads the group to Bogenhaven.

The session was mostly taken up by rather unsuccessful exploration and rather successful negotiation, so newly discovered information was at a minimum and the plot also didn't develop very far.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

GM Merit Badges

I just discovered the GM Merit Badges. Mine would be:

Some were a hard decision. For example, I've tinkered a lot with the rules of the Vampire: The Requiem game I am running for eight years now. Other games, like Dungeon World, Fate or Savage Worlds I run by the book. The third category includes LotFP, where I am house-ruling some minor things. For RuneQuest 6 I am planning on hand-waving a couple of things to reduce complexity in combat. I usually like to tell my players up front which changes I made, so I am not a rule-zero guy. On the other hand, I don't like rules discussions during the game. Well, better to leave off the Tinkering and the Rule Zero badge.

As to the last badge: "Players should better run when the odds are against them" - I really wish my regular players would after all these years finally learn to back down when the odds are against them!

Things I have considered and left off:

  • Beer & Pretzels-style gaming: While I carter to casual gamers, my games take themselves seriously.
  • Drama: While interesting characters and relationships do pop-up in my game, the games focus on the stories of the player characters.
  • Frequent character death: I very briefly considered that. But it's just not true. It's a consequence of not backing down against superior odds. Also, I give the players usually multiple opportunities to escape death outside of combat.
  • Non-combat: Just not true. The amount of combat is rather genre- and player-dependent.
  • Player skill: I don't understand that debate... at all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What I learned from Indie Gaming

For the most part I think that Indie games (with some noteable exceptions) are an effort in focused game design not neccessarily intended nor useful for campaign gaming. But Indie gaming teaches us some valuable lessons, nonetheless.

1. One roll stands for success or failure

There are many games and gamemasters out there who let players roll several times for extended tasks like sneaking or opening doors. As Burning Wheel teaches us that actually reduces the chances of success of the player. Therefore, I only let the players try once at a task until the circumstances change significantly. No retries without an in-game justification beyond "it didn't work the first time". I'd rather give a modifier, if the character takes his time instead of allowing multiple rolls.

2. Social stats/skills/abilities are not to be ignored

All too often the social attributes, skills and abilities don't figure into the game at all. Players have spend their points on those stats, but they don't matter because they are never rolled. The players just play their characters convincingly and persuasively, even if their stats don't reflect that. Back in the 70ies when no social abilities beyond Charisma existed that was fine. But nowadays skills frequently model the social aspects of a character as well. I usually give a bonus to the social roll based on roleplaying, but I let people roll nonetheless.

A correlary to this rule is: gaming a social conflict like a combat encounter generates as much excitement and involvement as the combat encounter. But it should be reserved to the really important social conflicts.

3. Re-thinking failure

All too often we are in the habit of thinking of a failed roll that the character just wasn't good enough to succeed. But failure can have other dimensions. Apocalypse World/Monsterhearts/Dungeon World encourage the gamemaster to think about failure in different terms. Narratively, a failure means that the flow of the story doesn't move into the direction desired by the player. Instead it moves into the direction that the gamemaster desires. Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space applies that principle by dividing results into a "yes and...", "yes", "yes, but...", "no, but...", "no" and "no and..." spectrum. Burning Wheel states "if you can't think of an interesting outcome based on failure, don't roll". Apocalypse World gives you tools to think of interesting outcomes.

I am going to apply that principle to all games in the future. Failure just moves the story in a different direction, but doesn't stop the story. Moreover, failure doesn't necessarily mean that the character failed in their tasks, but maybe just that success did have unintended consequences and side-effects.

Example from "In the Service of the Black King": Durgar tried to use the silver sword to destroy the Tome of the Forgotten and missed his move. The action was still a success, but both items were destroyed. If the roll had been a hit, the sword would not have been destroyed.



 So, what did Indie gaming teach you?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Something Rotten in Blackmoore

This is the actual play report for a Dungeon World one-shot based on the Blackmoore Adventure Starter by watergoesred. The starter contains some interesting images and a city with a fantastic landmark: towers build on the stump of a giantic tree.

 1. Prep

Next to none. I read the starter and gave some thoughts to it.

2. Character Creation

This time around the players were a bit more decisive. One had a concept for a falconer and thus took the ranger. The next one rolled randomly and got the bard. Then the third player decided to take the wizard (the other alternative would have been the thief):
  • Cassandreius, the chaotic human bard with the stolen horn
  • Pyreios, the good human ranger with an owl companion
  • Morgan, the good human wizard
Then they answered the questions from the adventure starter. We ended up with Orthias van Morley ridiculing the ducal prefect of Blackmoore in the street side shows. Therefore he had been sentenced to death. He had already been executed twice and survived, therefore he was now sentenced to be hanged until dead.

Note: Most of us were very tired. The weather over here has been acting up. Warm one day, cold the next. Everyone is feeling it by now. Therefore we took our time getting started. And almost didn't.

3. Actual Play

The heroes arrived in Blackmoore on the day when Orthias was to be executed. First, they ended up in a halfling tavern, the "Clover and the Lounge". They were served by Brenna the Knee-High, a halfling with stunted growth. When they got into an argument with a tavern regular, a dwarf, a strangely burned boy stole Morgan's anti-toxins. Morgan and Pyreios tried to catch the cut-purse, but fail miserably. Morgan landed in horse dung and searched for a well for cleaning her clothes. All she found was the Goblin Well, where she dragged rotten meat from the bottom. She went back inside the tavern re-joining the others. When they heard about an execution taking place, they hurriedly left the tavern and promptly forgot to pay their tab. Well, they didn't possess any money anyway.

Outside, a ragged and mad prophet pointed at Cassandreius and told him that he would bring doom to the city. Talk that amounted to nothing more than empty threats and hysteria.

On the marketplace, Morgan was picked by priestess of Tittivilla to give the final kiss to the condemned criminal Orthias van Morley as is custom in Blackmoore. Morgan had misgivings about that, but obeyed the command of the priestess. Well, when Orthias and she kissed, he switched bodies with her. Morgan in Othias' body went "Oh! Oh!". Pyreios realized something was wrong and took a called shot at the rope in exactly the same moment when the executioner opened the trapdoor underneath the gallows. Morgan in Othias' body hit the ground below the gallows, Pyreios was seized by the angry mob, and Cassandreius persued the fleeing Orthias in Morgan's body.

Cassandreius followed Orthias in Morgan's body into a strangely empty street where all the houses had been padlocked. There, he was almost disintegrated by Orthias and was pulled through the window into a house when he dodged a hold person spell. Inside the house he was surrounded by zombies.

Morgan in Orthias' body turned herself invisible below the gallows, then went up and released Pyreios who was about to be executed instead of Orthias. Pyreios then jumped into the market well and Morgan in Orthias' body searched for her own body. She saw her body escaping down the street with the padlocked houses and had to save Cassandreius the bard from the zombies closing in on him. She succeeded, but only after Cassandreius had been bitten. The wizard and the bard went to the temple of Tittivilla to get Cassandreius healed. Three priestesses in almost transparent red veils led the bard into the inner sanctum. The invisible Morgan in Orthias' body couldn't follow. She left the temple and went to the lower bronze to lay low for the evening and get some rest and healing.

Meanwhile, Pyreios had some misadventures with an iron ooze and the lair of the night wyvern. But in the end he escaped with his life into an underground river.

On the next day, the heroes re-united. Kira, the owl companion, was very helpful in this. Then, Pyreios sent his owl on the look-out for Orthias in Morgan's body. After a short search, they found him entering a gnomish jeweler. They followed him inside. There a battle ensued. The heroes were trying to capture Morgan's body without doing any harm. That allowed Orthias to switch bodies multiple times. But in the end, Morgan shot him with a magic missile as she lost patience. Then Cassandreius persuaded him to switch bodies until everyone was back in their own body.

Note: The combat with the body switching was fun. First, Orthias jumped from Morgan into Cassandreius, then into Pyreios, after that back into Morgan - leaving Cassandreius trapped inside Pyreios' body and vice versa.

Then Orthias took an amulet of square topazes, put it on and vanished. But not before thanking the heroes for letting him go. He gave the Lamento Memento to Pyreios. The ranger briefly thought about looting the jeweler's store while the owner still slept. He had tried to cast a sleep spell on the battling strangers, but because of Cassandreius' quick thinking had ended up as victim of his own sleep spell. Morgan woke the gnome, he thanked the group and gave everyone some coins.

The heroes left the store and afterwards the city rather quickly. They thought this city is just too odd and too dirty for them.

4. Feedback

Not much to report here on Dungeon World itself. The adventure starter contains some very nice and neat ideas, but I think they don't mesh that well. Also, the introductory questions leave too much scattered all over the places. I would suggest to watergoesred to tighten the focus of the introductory questions, maybe leading up to the execution of Orthias or something. Also, interrelating the other stuff would probably serve to make the starter even more useful. I think, if the starter wouldn't bother too much with the surrounding lands and instead focus more on the city, it would also help. I hope I am not being too critical here.

Things I really liked about the starter where the tables with locations, ongoing events in crowded streets, the general awesomeness of the tree stump, the custom moves (even though I only used one of them), and the iron ooze and night wyvern.

I am probably going to use those location/going-ons tables in my own starters in the future. The idea is just plain brilliant!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

BDQ3: In the Service of the Black King

This is the thrid installment in the module series BDQ The Barrow of the Dwarven Queen. The series follows a group of heroes trying to bring down the spectre of a derro dwarven queen.

1. Prep

Absolutely none. I had planned on introducing love letters, but playing Diablo 3 kept me from doing so. So I relied on previous prep.

Also, everyone was pretty exhausted and had a difficult time getting into the mood. But in the end, the story was quite satisfying.

2. Character Creation

None. Grimdrig the dwarven fighter, Durgar the dwarven cleric and Lucius the human paladin were good to go.

3. Actual Play

At the end of the last session our heroes had entered the service of Ragnar, warlord of Svarturvigi and hater of elves. Grimdrig had been drinking and sharing stories with the other dwarves. He had learned that Ragnar had a well hidden armory and an equally well hidden torture chamber for elves. Durgar had spent some quality time with the female kitchen staff, and Lucius was more or less keeping watch on Ragnar.

Grimdrig and Durgar ventured into the city looking for a mage that could identify the properties of Grimdrigs magical armor. They found a strange tower marked by the sign of a blue lightning cloud. The owner, a beautiful woman of indetermined heritage, invited them in offering tea. She lived in the tower with her daughter who left as the fighter and the cleric entered the tower. While drinking tea, she displayed a great knowledge about the characters and even told them about an impending gnoll uprising in the Skogurhörmulegur. Apparently, adventurers had slain an important priest of the gnolls (back in BDQ1). Also, she seemed worried about Ragnar, but had no knowledge about the black wedding and the spectre queen. When Grimdrig asked about his armor, she offered to analyze it. But she would have to have some time alone with the armor. Grimdrig refused, because he believed that for now he would need his armor.

Meanwhile, Ragnar asked Lucius to fetch him dinner, since his manservant Ivar was nowhere to be found. Lucius went to the kitchen to get the dinner. There, a dwarven maid by the name of Swenja asked him about Durgar. She had to tell him something very important. Lucius kind of suspected what, but couldn't obtain definite proof. He then took the dinner plate and went back to Ragnar's quarters.

Durgar went to the temple of Gurun, the secretive dwarven god of medicine, to talk to Sturla the Acolyte. When asking for the history of Adalfridjur, Sturla excused himself to get the Librarian. Then came back dressed as the Librarian. But he didn't have much news to add to the knowledge of Durgar. When Durgar prayed, Sturla switched into the role of choir master. Later, he offered Durgar to stay as a priest in the temple. Durgar refused citing his desire to be alone.

Back at the black fortress, Lucius brought Ragnar his dinner. In the chambers of the warlord he saw the terrifying dwarf writing something in a book, but couldn't discern what. After setting down the plate, Ragnar ordered him to find Ivar. Durgar and Grimdrig met Lucius while he searched for Ivar.

They went to Ragnar's room, but when they knocked no one was answering and the door was locked. Grimdrig lifted the door right out of it's angles. Then they went inside. The room was a mess, the food almost untouched, only the wine had been drunken. There was no sign of Ragnar. Durgar inspected the bed and found a secret door leading down into the dungeons of the black fortress. Grimdrig sniffed the wine and drank the rest of it. He was suddenly transported to a cemetary in the north of Svarturvigi.

Durgar and Lucius went down into the dungeons. There, they discovered the secret armory of Ragnar. Quick thinking on Durgar's part disabled the spear trap guarding the door. Inside, Durgar donned the black armor sitting on a rack there and stole a big opal. But then realized that he couldn't remove the armor anymore because it was cursed.

At the cemetary, Grimdrig did his best to disrupt the black wedding. Ragnar was bound to a tombstone and Adalfridjur was reciting the ritual from the Tome of the Forgotten. Grimdrig destroyed the tome, thereby slowing down the ritual considerably. In her wrath, the spectre queen sent him back to the chambers of the blackened warlord. There he went down the stairs into the dungeon to meet Durgar and Lucius.

Lucius triggered a trap. The whole armory began to sink deeper into the ground. Lucius and Grimdrig got out in time. But Durgar was trapped. Grimdrig drove a hole into the floor, while Durgar was meditating on the proper course of action. Gurun showed him that he should turn to the left. Lucius used the spears from the disarmed trap to secure a rope from his adventurer kit. Then, Durgar could climb out of the sunken room.

Using a door to the left, they found the hidden torture chamber. Grimdrig knocked out the dwarven torturer, Lucius took his keys and Durgar lowered the cages with the malnurished and tortured elves to the ground. One of them was a half-elven mage. They told him about the tower and the woman, who he identified as his wife Rhiannon. He offered to help Durgar with his cursed armor. Then, Lucius and Grimdrig told him about the black wedding and the cemetary to the north. The mage offered to use his remaining power to teleport the heroes. They agreed and together with the elves, the half-elven mage sent them on their way.

The battle at the cemetary didn't go very well. Adalfridjur slew Grimdrig, scared off Durgar and almost bested Lucius. But the paladin got hold of the obsidian dagger that the spectre queen was planning on using to tear out Ragnar's heart. Also Durgar and Lucius protected Ragnar. In the end, Adalfridjur fled the battlefield grievously injured and bereft of her ritual dagger.

Durgar took the silver sword and rammed it into the Tome of the Forgotten. Both items of power annihilated each other. Without the sword, Adalfridjur is pretty much invulnerable. They freed Ragnar who honored the sacrifice of Grimdrig by carrying him back to the citadel himself.

Durgar slipped away unnoticed and went to the mages' tower. Rowena offered a cup of tea, time for reflection and tried to break the curse on the stolen armor. But without success. Durgar resolved to go to the black fortress and resurrect Grimdrig. He arrived right in the middle of the wake for the fallen fighter. After resurrecting him, Ragnar went for Durgar. He commanded his stolen black armor to fall off, then hit the cleric and demanded that he remained in his service until Durgar had saved his life again. Durgar accepted and Lucius healed him with a laying on hands.

Durgar and Grimdrig knew that the resurrection isn't permanent until Adalfridjur has died. But for the next two weeks, Grimdrig could walk among the living once more. Unknown to Lucius and Durgar, Grimdrig has turned to evil as a result of his resurrection.

Later at night, Lucius was alone in his room. He examined the dagger and saw that it had been made from hell obisidian. Obsidian literally from Hell. Suddenly, Adalfridjur appeared and asked for his hospitality because she had been gravely wounded. If Lucius refuses her, his blessing for his quest to slay Adalfridjur will be revoked, leaving him vulnerable to her touch attack again.

4. Feedback

  • The player of Durgar thinks I am too hard on her character. I offered her to point this out to me immediately in the next session, so that we can avoid this. She was also annoyed that the dwarven queen got away again. I had her flee when she was down to 4 HP. I think she wouldn't risk her existence in a hopeless fight. And without the obsidian hell dagger she was unable to complete the black wedding.
  • The player of Grimdrig was a bit dissatisfied that I allowed Grimdrig's resurrection. Also, he still doesn't grog the system. So in the end, I will probably end this Dungeon World series after Adalfridjur has been defeated.
  • The player of Lucius still thinks the Defy Danger move to harsh. But overall he liked the system and the development of the story. He thinks it's fitting that the spectre queen fled.
  • I am unsure about the wording of resurrection. Can it be used on a character who has failed his last breath move and already passed beyond the Black Gate? The wording isn't very clear on that. Also, given the wording, I think the spell could resurrect the undead. They still have not fully passed from Dungeon World... Clarification would be appreciated!

Probably in August we will play the final installment of the BDQ series: BDQ4 "Revenge of the Black Queen". After that, it doesn't look very likely that the adventures of Durgar and Grimdrig continue. Something which I find a bit sad. The paladin Lucius will probably join the ADE Series beginning with ADE2 "Into Dolor's Gap". Geography-wise that means the highlands of the ADE Series are situated right on the east bank of the as-of-yet unnamed river that flows into the Byrjotasund.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Through the Fens of the Fallen

This is the actual play report of the first session of "Against the Deep Elves" campaign. The current module names are:

ADE1 "Through the Fens of the Fallen" (described below)
ADE2 "Into Dolor's Gap" (will be played in the middle of August)

As for all beta playtest reports, I am going to split the AP into sections.

1. Prep

The preparation is outlined in the previous post. As Alexander Davis pointed out in the comments, the Peryton move "Deflect from a weapon" was a bit ill-conceived. I finished the peryton description while the players were socializing. I added it as a reminder that perytons cannot be harmed by ordinary weapons. Probably it should be a special quality instead.

2. Character Creation

I felt that character creation dragged a bit unnecessarily, because everyone was doing the playbook selection based on an elimination process. I think that it was partially done to avoid stepping on anyone's toes. So everyone kept stating what they didn't want to play, but nobody stated what she wanted to play. But in the end, it came down to this:
  • Elohiir, good elven fighter with a sharp sword
  • Silka, neutral human thief
  • Isolde, good human wizard
  • Ethanwé, neutral elven druid of the towering mountains

When creating characters the biggest hurdle always seems to be playbook selection. As soon as one player says what he really wants to play, everyone else suddenly decides too.

As final part of the character creation, I asked the players my prepared questions. Then they assigned bonds. After that we ended up with the following backstory.

The characters were in the service of Laird Emrys ap Glindwr. Elohiir because she suspected one of his captains to have murdered her cousin. Silka because she thinks the laird still has buns of steel. Isolde was his ward and therefore loyal to him. Ethanwé swore allegiance because he was forced to. Laird Emrys is an adherent of the old religion, but had a falling out with his son Morcant after he proposed to Isolde and was turned down by her (she actually spit in his face). Morcant allied with an enemy clan and wanted to take Morwenstone and oust his father as laird. The heroes were sent to battle Morcant. At Oakridge they lost. An unknown sickness of magical quality intensified gangrene and the surviving forces died of the infection. The sickness is spread by rats. Therefore Elohiir christened the sickness "rat rot". The heroes seem to be immune to the disease.


3. Actual Play

As the game started, the heroes had just finished burrying the last victims of the rat rot. They had to decide what to do. They weren't sure were the enemy army was and had to warn the laird. After a short discussion they decided to hike through the Fens of the Fallen to overtake the enemy army and warn Laird Emrys in time.

Silka took over duty as quartermaster, Ethanwé acted as trailblazer and Elohiir did the scouting. In the shape of an eagle, Ethanwé managed to find many shortcuts and shortening the journey to two days. Silka stretched the rations to last longer than usual (taking one less ration), and Elohiir was ever vigilante.

After the first day in the fens, the group was fast asleep while Elohiir kept watched. She heard oh so quiet steps in the dark, woke Ethanwé and went to look for the intruder. Ethanwé took the shape of a mountain lion and slinked off into the darkness. Elohiir found herself facing three deep elven swordmasters, while their leader, a priestess of the spider godess thought to trap the sleeping Isolde and Silka. A rather long and deadly battle followed. In the end, the priestess and one of the swordmasters was dead, and the other two had taken Elohiir captive and dragged her away. Meanwhile, Ethanwé had drawn his last breath for the first time. The small girl with red hair, a girl called "Death", had sent him back on the condition that he married Elohiir. Now, the druid was eager to pursue the deep elves that had dragged her away.

Note: The combat was really deadly due to a lot of missed rolls and minimal damage rolled by the players. The swordmaster with their +2 piercing swords (2d8*b+2) turned out to be extremly difficult opponents. They hardly had any hit points left, but they grieviously injured several members of the group. Ethanwé saw death three times during the extended battle, and Elohiir nearly died twice.

Ethanwé was leaping ahead in mountain lion shape, while Silka and Isolde were following carefully. They kept the torch low to the ground to avoid falling into any sinkholes (something that had already happened to Elohiir while she was on the look-out for the deep elves). Silka's torch set of a small explosion of swamp gas. Ethanwé used that "distraction" to attack the two deep elves. Isolde and Silka joined the battle. Eventually, the heroes were successful, but Isolde had fallen into a sinkhole. When Silka rescued her, she ended up in the sinkhole as well. It was Elohiir who came to rescue the thief.

After the second part of the battle, the group was in a sorry state. Elohiir and Ethanwé had been grieviously injured. Also, Ethanwé had been cursed by the dying deep elven priestess. She told him that she would be reborn through him. And the little girl called Death wanted to him to have children with Elohiir. They settled down for the rest of the night. Elohiir told them that they had faced "drow" who were in no way elves!

In the morning, Isolde prepared her spells, and Ethanwé used the time to propose to Elohiir who was quite surprised by that and turned him down. He vowed to win her affection. Elhoiir didn't seem that impressed. Silka and Isolde insistend on continuing the journey. Ethanwé turned into an eagle to look for suitable trails again.

As they reached the northern edge of the fen and saw Morwenstone already looming in the distance, the heroes were attacked by perytons that saw the eagle-shaped Ethanwé as an intruder. Isolde and Elohiir were pivotal in defeating the perytons. Ethanwé searched for their nest, destroyed the egg he found and took a small ring with an emerald as loot. He was planning on using the ring for his second proposal to Elohiir.

When they reached the keep, Silka left the group to take care of some "busines", Ethanwé went to an herbalist to buy much-needed healing potions and poultices & herbs, and Isolde and Elohirr went straight to the great hall of Laird Emrys. There, they informed him about the defeat of his army and told him that Morcant was advancing on Morwenstone. Pryderi, the captain that might have killed Elohiir's cousing, suggested that the heroes had betrayed them to Morcant's forces. Elohirr immediately began to suspect Pryderi of treachery himself. As Ethanwé joined Isolde and Elohiir, the laird decided to send out Pryderi with a small force to stop the advance of Morcant's forces. Pryderi decided to take Elohiir and Ethanwé with him. He wanted to start marching in the evening, something that no one could disuade him off.

Isolde went to her room to reflect on her experiences and prepare her spells, before disguising herself as a common soldier to join Pryderi's troops.

Ethanwé sought an audience with the laird. He tried to counsel him on the treachery of Pryderi, but couldn't provide any hard evidence to support his claim. The laird told him to never speak again of this matter. Then he asked him to come back, when the battle was lost in order to save his adopted daughter Isolde from harm.

Elohiir went to the same herbalist that Ethanwé had visited and bought his remaining stock of healing potions. Afterwards she went to Pryderi. They got into an argument where Pryderi as much as admitted to having slain Elohiir's cousin. But he taunted her about the child she had had with her and the lost brother of Elohiir. Previously, Elohiir hadn't known about her niece, and coldly furious she decided to slay Pryderi in the field.

At sundown, Pryderi's troops began to march, while the captain rode a pony. Ethanwé quickly began to suspect that the whole marching, camping and taking turns at guard duty was designed to tire the troops before battle. Isolde used the camp to find a loyal man-at-arms (Ieuan: protector 1, men-at-Arms 1, loyalty 3).

On the second day of the march, it became clear that Pryderi was taking the troops to Dolor's Gap to meet the enemy. Elohiir marched faster to get to the head of the column and there was joined by a disguised Isolde. She told Elohiir who she was. The elven fighter stopped the patrol and told Pryderi about Isolde. He decided that Ethanwé should take her back to Morwenstone.

On her way back, Isolde suddenly decided to take a secret path to Dolor's Gap. Ethanwé wanted to stop her, but Ieuan stood by the side of Isolde. So the trio went to Dolor's Gap in hopes of spotting any ambush in time. At Dolor's Gap they discovered ancient ruins in a fissure at the eastern side of the gap. Isolde decided to climb down to investigate and Ethanwé followed her in the shape of a mountain lion. The wizardress turned herself invisible before climbing down. Ethanwé simply followed in animal shape. Everything went well, until Isolde broke through the roof of a large house and landed in the middle of four sleeping deep elves. She fled into the ruined courtyard, pondered if she should hide in the well, and then fled down into a corridor. At the end, she opened a door and still invisible came upon four deep elves playing cards around a table and a captive tied to the wall.

Here we decided to stop because everyone was getting tired. The captive was first described as an elven maid, but should another player join us that will be his character.

4. Feedback

This time around the feedback was very positive. Statistical distribution of rolls were a non-issue. The players liked the easy rules and even the player of Isolde who was initially sceptic about playing a traditional fantasy game said she liked it and would like to play again.

One comment from Elohiir's player about the character sheet again: Please make the box for current HP bigger!

Now I need to construct a front "Against the Deep Elves".

Coming soon at Beyond the Drowning Woods: the steading "Morwenstone" and a new campaign starter for next Saturday, when I'll have a completely different group of players over...

Against the Deep Elves

Yesterday, I've started a new group of players on Dungeon World. This was kind of an experiment, since some of the players weren't sure, if they would enjoy calssic fantasy gaming. This post contains my prep for the first session. Actual play report and a small map will be forthcoming in the next few days.

Questions

  • Do you follow the ancient religion of the earth, the trees and sky?
  • Why did you swear allegiance to Laird Emrys ap Glyndwr?
  • Is he a worshipper of the Iron God or Ancient Religion?
  • What is his clan hold Morwenstone known for?
  • What was the Lairds greatest feat?
  • Who did you fight at the battle of Oakridge?
  • Why were you the only survivors?
  • Did Laird Emrys fight and die at Oakridge?

Impressions

  • Starkly beautiful and lonely highlands
  • Cold lakes
  • Small stands of evergreens
  • Mist shrouded valleys
  • Dark and dank bogs surrounded by ancient trees
  • Round huts with thatched roofs
  • Rain turns the roads to mud
  • Howling winds
  • Square stone towers surrounded by wooden palisades
  • Shepherds tending to large herds of sheep
  • Black dogs that are almost wolf-like in appearance
  • Druidic priests eying strangers suspiciously
  • Red-clad priests of the Iron God wearing iron masks are preaching to the people
  • The Cathedral of the Burning Sword stretches its bleak and grey towers into the sky like a blight on the land
  • In the clan moot, traditional lairds argue against lairds aligning with the Church of the Iron God

Things

THE BURNING SWORD
Close, +1 damage, ignores armor, dangerous, 2 weight
An iron long sword sheathed in writhing flames hangs in mid-air above the altar to the Iron God. The sword allegedly was forged by the god himself and is a sign of his blessing. It cuts through anything and can set any wooden object on fire. If you grab the sword, you roll +WIS. If you don’t worship the Iron God take a -2 on the roll. If you are a druid, take a -3 instead. On a 10+ you take the sword and ignore the dangerous tag while wielding it. On a 7-9 you take the sword and chose one:
  • You may ignore the dangerous tag while wielding the sword
  • Do not take 2d6 fire damage each time you draw the sword
On a miss, you take 2d6 points of fire damage and the sword won’t budge.

THE SKULL TREE
A dead tree decorated by bleached skulls of all kinds of creatures: humans, animals, fantastic beasts, elves, dwarves and humanoids. The bark oozes greenish sap and a chorus of moaning voices can be heard around the tree.

Custom Moves

HOSPITALITY
When you are asking for hospitality at a clan hold, you roll +CHA. On a 10+ you can stay for up to three days as an honored guest and take +1 forward to your next steading move. On a 7-9 chose two:
You may only stay one night
You have to make yourself useful
You are regarded with suspicion
You impress one of the young adults
On a miss you are turned away.

Monsters

Lizard Men, Trolls, Centaurs, Eagle Lords, Elvish Warriors, Elvish High Arcanist, Griffins, Ogres, Hill Giants, Razor Boars, Worgs, Manticore, Owlbears, Deep Elf Assassin, Deep Elf Swordmaster, Deep Elf Priestess, Dragon, Minotaur.

PERYTON
(Small groups, small, intelligent)
Attack: d8*b (antlers)
HP: 6   
Armor: 1 (thick hide)
Special Qualities: Close, +1 Piercing, Winged
Bizarre, savage creatures, perytons combine the features of ominous birds of prey, mighty stags, and ravenous wolves. Stealing the features of a lean buck for its body, forelegs, and jagged antlers, a peryton’s wings, hindquarters, and razor-sharp talons are those of some mighty avian predator. Below eyes burning with endless hunger sprouts a wolf ’s muzzle, filled with shearing, bloody teeth, stained by gory evidence of the beast’s insatiable appetite for warm hearts. Strangest, though, is the creature’s shadow, which light reveals to be not that of a winged quadruped, but a humanoid silhouette.
Instinct: To tear out a victim’s heart and mate.
  • Shred armor
  • Deflect a blow from a weapon

Names

Aeronwy, Alis, Andras, Bedwyr, Betrys, Branwen, Cadfan, Caradoc, Carys, Dafydd, Delwyn, Drystan, Eiluned, Emrys, Enid, Glyndwr, Gruffydd, Gwawr, Heddwyn, Hefina, Hywel, Idris, Ieuan, Iorwerth, Llew, Llewelyn, Lowri, Madog, Maredudd, Morcant, Nerys, Nesta, Nia, Olwen, Owain, Owena, Padrig, Pedr, Pryderi, Rhianu, Rhiannon, Rhys, Seren, Sioned, Sior, Taffy.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

At the Inn of the Green Glade

And now for another installment of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition actual plays:

Our heroes Finubaryel, the high elven bounty hunter, Athela, the wild elven blade dancer, Lutz, the Reiklander smuggler, and Volcifar, the Reiklander wizard's apprentice of the Grey Order have spent a night at the Green Glade Inn, run by a halfling and his two daughters. They had been escorting Lord Rickard Aschaffenberg from the burnt remains of Grunwald Lodge to Bogenhaven. During the night, Volcifar had been attacked by a Skaven, but he chased it of and went back to sleep.

In the morning, a scream awakes everyone. Going down into the taproom, the heroes see the corpse of Astrid. She was one of the guards of Lord Aschaffenberg. Apparently, she had stabbed herself to death with her sword. At least the sword was still stuck in her neck. Athela carried the corpse into the stable in order to search it for any signs of poisoning. Volcifar did a quick magical examination and found out that Astrid had been influenced by magic.

Meanwhile, Lutz talked to Mona, the innkeeper's daughter. She told him about bad dreams she had been having, a strange figure with the heads of two vultures trying to talk to her. She also said, that Morr wasn't guarding her dreams anymore. After talking to Mona, Lutz found strange footsteps leading from the forest to the inn. Apparently, some beastman had walked to the inn and climbed the wall leading to Volcifar's room.

Volcifar was taken aside by Lord Aschaffenberg who wanted to know about the suicide of Astrid. He assured him that it was not a suicide and that they would try to solve the mystery surrounding her death. Also, finally he took the time to negotiated a proper payment for saving his lordship and escorting him savely to Bogenhaven.

The party of adventurers (actually swords for hire) met in Volcifar's room and exchanged information. Well, actually Volcifar was doing most of the talking. He told the group about his strange vision of Tzeentch, that he hadn't burned the book on the nature of demons, and that he had chased away a Skaven. Finubaryel, Athela and Volcifar decided to finally burn the book. Lutz choose to look around the room and the inn some more.

Lutz didn't find any trail of a wounded Skaven leading away from the inn. So he suspects that it might be hiding on the roof or in the cellar. But his search didn't turn up anything. In the room he found a strange sigil carved on the underside of the table. It seemed to be related to dreams and nightmares but neither Finubaryel nor Volcifar could make sense of it.

Volcifar and Athela tried to the burn the book and failed. Drowning it in water also failed. Therefore, Finubaryel tied knots around the book and sealed them with wax. Then Volcifar hid the book again.

Earlier, Lutz had given him the message that the wizard's apprentice had found on the body of the dead witch hunter at Grunwald Lodge. Volcifar took the time to decode the message after having a flash of insight about the code (well, the player had been doing some research). But Volcifar didn't have time yet to tell the other characters what he had deciphered.

Finubaryel talked to the innkeeper. He told her that Astrid's death was already the second suicide at the inn. The other one immolated himself. It all seemed related to the visit of a stranger that looked suspiciously like Vern Hendrick, the manservant of Lord Aschaffenberg. Before the lodge was attacked, Finubaryel told Vern to save himself and leave the lodge. Apparently, Vern wasn't as innocent as he seemed.

Everything found at the inn seemed to bear some relation to Morr, the god of death and sleep. Mona told them there was a small temple nearby. They decided to take Astrid's corpse to the temple in order to have her burried and ask the priests of Morr some questions about the strange sigil.

Arriving at the temple after a short hike of about three hours, the heroes found the cemetary to be overrun by strange diseased rats, ravens perched on the temple roof, and blood smeared inside. Finubaryel talked to a raven who gave her short answers. Apparently, they had to search for some stone that covers an entrance to the crypts.

While trying to reach the temple again, they were attacked by a swarm of rats. But managed to defeat them without sustaining any injuries. After the battle, they discovered a tombstone belonging to a certain Vern Hendrick...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Defeating Adalfridjur

I am a bit worried about the final confrontation with Adalfridjur, the spectre queen. If I am going to stat her, the group will probably be able to slay her with a couple of blows. The fighter has a magic weapon spell on his axe, the cleric has an empowered magic weapon spell on his staff, and Lucius possesses the silver sword that the cleric stole from the sarcophagus of Adalfridjur. All weapons have proven to be effective against incorporeal undead. But so far, the spectre queen hasn't slowed down when Grimdrig hit her with his axe.
Okay, Adalfridjur is a lord of the undead arcane ememy. She is intelligent. She knows that Durgar can easily turn her shadows. So, thinking off-screen, what can she do to get to Rafnar? She can summon more shadows (about 6 seem right). Then she can recruit a follower or toady. Someone whose loyalty can be bought. Someone who can't be turned and who has access to more bodily threats. Overwhelm the heroes with numbers to get to Rafnar. Not strictly one of her moves, but something I could snowball.

Also, I hesitate to let simple "magical weapon" spells be the end of her. I think she can only be harmed by the silver sword. It was designed to bind her and to slay her.

So, finally her stats:

Adalfridjur, spectre queen of the derro dwarves
(intelligent, solitary, terrifying)
Attack: 1d10*b (withering touch)
HP: 20
Armor:0 (permanent magical protection, can only be harmed by the silver sword)
Special Qualities: insubstantial, ignores armor
Adalfridjur was the very first queen of the first-dwarves. It was she who devised the methods for becoming undead and eventually transforming into demon queens. Her legacy was passed to the warrior queens of the derro dwarves in form of the Tome of the Forgotten, detailing the final descent into hell and back. Now she is loosened on the world, seeking to be again the first to complete the transformation and free her sister-queens, daughters and granddaughters from their barrow-prisons in the Skogurhörmulegur.
Instinct: To seek true immortality.
  • Turn their haunt against a creature
  • Bring the environment to life

Notes: To start with, Adalfridjur gets all the abilities of spectre as established by the fiction. Her instinct is taken from her status as arcane enemy of the lord of the undead variety.  She gains the two spectre moves. Then I go the the monster questions. In addition to the spectre stats I give her permanent magical protection as defense (but this is not raising her armor; instead the spectre queen can only be harmed by a very specific weapon: the silver sword she was burried with), she is known for her skill in offense and her uncanny endurance. Her magic mostly derives from the GM moves for arcane enemies. She is as smart as a human, and Adalfidjur is kept alive by something more than biology, and she is terrifying to behold in her ragged undead state. I am going to add her stats to the front.

Adalfridjur is one step away from invoking the impending doom of her danger. If she does, I'll move her to the campaign front and update her status to planar force: demon prince danger. Dungeon World will change for the worse.

If she is defeated, the heroes will be celebrated, but have the dubious distinction of helping Rafnar survive. This triggers the next stage of the dwarven-elven skirmishes.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Three players or four?


First, is three a group of three players really the sweet spot? Nimea thinks so. I don't quite agree. Three is an ideal number if there are no frictions between the characters and everyone is basically getting along. If one player has a different agenda for her character or the players don't get along so well, three is toxic. In the end it will tear the group apart.

If I can't go with three, I am going with four players. That is the sweet spot in my opinion. Still, everyone's turn approaches fast enough. If there is some friction, it usually isn't with all players. If one player really has a different agenda, the group is not critically weakened.

So I think,  my response is to go with three players, when everyone is getting along in and out of character. Four it is when there players and/or characters don't get along very smoothly or a completely new player joins a group.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A new danger for my Dungeon World game

So far, the dwarves from Svarturvigi are skirmishing with the elves of the Aelfrick Forest or as the elves call, it the Airgiodach Forest. The elves have retaliated against Friarsbridge, not knowing about the allegiances of the human town. What will happen next? I can see the grim portents of the next impending doom.

  1. Friarsbridge calls for help in Solacebury.
  2. Militia from Solacebury attacks an elven village.
  3. The elven druids awaken the soul of the Airgiodach.
Impending Doom: Pestilence. The Aelfrick Forest turns into a cursed land.

The question I can't quite solve: should I let those events happen off-screen and simply start to treat the Aelfrick Forest as a new danger? Or should I involve the players? Then I would have to decide what the danger is that causes the Aelfrick Forest to turn into a danger itself? Is it an ambitious organization: The Solacebury militia or the Druids of the Airgiodach? Is it a horde: the Solacebury militia or the Elves of the Aelfrick forest?

The aggressor seems to be the militia. Maybe seizing an opportunity for capturing the elven lands. On the other hand, the elves are retaliating against the aggressions of the dwarves. Yes, that seems right. Solacebury is trying to capitalize on the opportunity, and never realize what danger they are actually unleashing.

And again, the heroes will be the ones to trigger events. When (if) they get to Friarsbridge, the mayor will ask them to go to Solacebury to ask for assistance. If they don't, word gets send with Sorrenson's caravan.

Depending on how the fronts play out, things could get very messy in that corner of Dungeon World. This front will be titled: "The Darkening of the Airgiodach" (module series DA). Now, I am of to writing a new adventure front.

RPGs and Kickstarter

This is the post I never wanted to write, but an email by Marc Miller I received from the Citizens of Imperium list today kind of provoked me into finally publishing  a post about Kickstarter and RPGs. Basically, Marc Miller's email was a "thank you" for the Traveller 5 Kickstarter  (a Kickstarter I did not participate in, by the way.) What caught my attention was that last paragraph:

"This chronicle of Kickstarter Print RPG records may be incomplete or mildly inaccurate:
Far West set the record at $49,324 August 28, 2011.
Deadlands Noir set the record at $117,648 June 14, 2012.
Rappan Athuk set an interim record of $117,649 June 15, 2012.
Traveller5 grabbed the record title around June 20, and has held it since. As of Midnight June 30, the number stands at $272,463, 1941 Backers."
Not only is the number for the Rappan Athuk kickstarter wildly inaccurate (it has currently gathered almost $250,000), but it shows that apparently the bottom line seems to be the most important thing.

I will not be going into the whole argument that I think that Kickstarter should be primarily used by independent publishers to get their RPGs out. I realize it's an exercise in futility. Also, when looking at White Wolf, their fans seem to have learned their lesson after plediging 50 bucks for an 80 page product in the V20 Companion kickstarter. "Children of the Revolution" got only about half as many backers and barely funded.

Since the bottom line seems to be the most important thing for Rappan Athuk and Traveller 5, I would like to take a look at some other figures. Namely, percentage funded and number of backers. In my opinion this  tells a bit more about a project than the amount of money you're generating.

Of course, percentage funded depends on your initial goal. But it seems to be, that Kickstarters asking for less than $10,000 in the first place consistently do better than Kickstarters that ask for amounts close to $10,000 or even in excess of $10,000. The other fact seems to be the price for a hardcover option. But that is consistently around $50. With the noteable exception of Traveller 5.

I've ranked a couple of project according to their percentage funded. The selection is completely subjective based on the projects mentioned in the email from Marc Miller and those projects I was interested in. Projects marked with an asterisk are ongoing as I write this post. Numbers may change.


Kickstarter
Funding level
Dungeon World
2,071%
Appendix N Adventure Toolkit*
1,683%
Deadlands Noir
1,470%
Traveller 5*
1,167%
Far West
986%
Technoir
970%
Rappan Athuk*
924%
Myth & Magic PHB
481%
V20 Companion
192%
Children of the Revolution
110%

Traveller 5 is ranked 4th in this. Deadlands Noir, Appendix N Adventure Toolbox and Dungeon World all did better. Compared to Traveller 5 they all had pretty modest goals around $5,000 (or in the case of Appendix N Adventure Toolbox even $1,000). Still, raising 1,167% of a $24,000 goal is no mean feat! Also the Big Black Book is pretty expensive. As you can see, V20 Companion and Children of the Revolution, both by White Wolf, didn't do nearly as well. Their goal was set to $50,000, though.

Now, the number of backers are even more interesting. Because I believe backers actually equal the reach of your game. If we assume that a rulebook or a supplement is primarily bought by the game master, and that an average gaming group has around 4 players, then each book equals 5 people reached. Also, backers active on the internet spread the word and show their active support.

Again, the same list of projects sorted according to backers and thus reach:



Kickstarter
Backers
Dungeon World
2,455
Traveller 5*
1,983
Deadlands Noir
1,140
V20 Companion
1,134
Rappan Athuk*
867
Far West
717
Technoir
622
Children of the Revolution
589
Appendix N Adventure Toolkit*
504
Myth & Magic PHB
402

Traveller 5 is ranked second in this list. For a game that is approximately 25 years old that is no mean feat. Appendix N Adventure Toolkit ranks next to last, putting its numbers a bit more into perspective. Deadlands Noir and V20 Companion are doing equally well, showing a strong support. Dungeon World again is on top of the list, exceeding Traveller 5 by almost 500 backers. That is a very impressive feat for an indie game that is essentially a rules hack of Apocalypse World and thus no two years old. White Wolf experienced a sharp drop in backers between their V20 Companion project and the Children of the Revolution project.

Backers will in the end determine the success or failure of a kickstarter project. They determine the amount of money you make of this project and any follow-ups. So the key here is, building a strong community even before you start the kickstarter. Something Traveller 5 and Dungeon World have clearly succeeded in. In conclusion it might be a good idea to consider stretch goals based on the number of backers, in addition to those based on the amount of money raised.

So all that remains is to congratulate all project initiators on their successfully funded projects!


P.S. Does anyone know of a Kickstarter for an RPG rulebook or supplement that has funded higher than 2,000%? Or has more than 2500 backers? Then leave a comment, please.

P.P.S. The next factor one could consider is the time difference between estimated delivery and actual delivery of the finished product. I am looking at you Far West (estimated delivery: Dec 2011, actual delivery: not yet as of July 1, 2012)!