Thursday 31 January 2013

New Tilia: Session 2

Session 2 was a bit unusual in that a) we couldn't get together in-person the last few weeks since Session 1 so we ran-it on Google+ and b) one of the players joined the session late and the other two left early.  This still managed to work since there was no combat, due to some great sandbox investigation and the DM's complete inability to make a random encounter check until the end of the session.

The Roster

  • Sir Blathers A Lot- Elf Noble
  • Elf Gamekeeper
  • Maria- Dwarf Mercenary
  • Dwarf Pharmacist
  • Frizband the Fabulous- Wizard's Apprentice
  • Grim- Dwarf Pit Fighter

Krueckel Homestead

The party started where they left-off last time, at a homestead in the now on-fire scrub plains.  As the fire raged around them they spoke to Anna Kruekel, a widow, mother of 6.  A number of potential adventure hooks came out of this conversation:

  • Prospectors are generally in the hills to the NW
  • Stay away from the Volcano to the West
  • The Guardian occasionally left dead greenskins and "metal men"

With the Guardian dead, Anna implored the party to go back to Nuova Trantio and beg The Boss to start regular patrols in the area.  The party agreed.

The Boss

After a day and a half of resting, the party returned to Nuovo Trantio and The Boss' sprawling headquarters.  They charmed his secretary Viola Carmelengo into admitting them before the other petitioners.

The Boss, Antonio Calabrese, is a savy Tilean ex-mercenary.  He was concerned that the Northern border of his realm was in Jeopardy and agreed to start a patrol there.  He offered the party several missions:

  • Patrol the Northern Border for 1 SS per week each.
  • Assassinate Neualtdorf Nobility- 200GC for The Viscontess' head and 100GC for one of his nobles
  • Smuggle wine from Neualtdorf for New Tilian troops for 20GC
  • Kill dangerous creatures for bounty money

They were most interested in bounties.

Carousing Around Town

The party decided to look for leads around town.  Maria found Messershmidt the Dwarven Gunsmith's assistant, who she had previously stood-up and let him buy her a drink.  He also threw-in a couple free incendiaries.  He described, in glowing terms, the strange metals scavengers occasionally bring him from the Badlands.

Frizband showed Angelica Albert, the pretty Barmaid his dagger and found himself thrown roughly out of the bar.  He then met Lieutenant Leonardo Grande, a New Tilian Noble and commander of the New Tilian army.  Upon hearing the party was heading North he requested any intelligence the party should gain about the Greenskins in the hills.

He also bought a drink for an already inebriated Lennart Korbinian, Bounty Hunter.  Lennart told him about the Northern frontier.  He mentioned a Hostel in the Badlands where the party could stay, but warned him not to trust the owner.

Happenings in the Badlands

The next morning, the party headed for the badlands.  They encountered a large male Elk wandering aimlessly.  The Gamekeeper got the Elk to allow him to approach and determined that the Elk had been poisoned.  He put it out of it's misery and even managed to avoid the thrashing antlers.  He then skinned it and took the skin and antlers.
The party continued on until they met a strange sight.  A large Spider, made of a bluish metal, with a body the size of a sheep and 12 long legs approached them quickly.  Frizband cast a speak languages spell and addressed the creature in what sounded to the others like complete gibberish.

The robot identified itself as Scientific Agent 2389693 and stated that it's mission was to collect interesting specimens.  It identified Grim the Pit Fighter as an interesting specimen and requested permission to collect him, which was granted on condition that the party could come with it to it's base.  It agreed, but said it could not guarantee their entry to the base.  It then produced a long metal tentacle and Grim allowed himself to be carried.

The party spent the rest of the day following the robot Eastwards until reaching a large house with a tower and parapets like a castle.  They decided to attack the robot before it could abscond with their Pit Fighter, and the session was ended there so that the other players could participate in the combat.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Fair Traps

You got Gygax-ed!
DoS's recent post brought up an issue I've been thinking about lately.  I'm not crazy about his approach there, but I do agree with his basic assumption that traps, if done poorly, can hurt player agency.

DoS's example of this are Gygax's published traps which could be quite vicious, often only being avoidable by dumb luck or perhaps telepathy on the player's part. This perhaps fits with a more Simulationist-approach to game design, the real world often throws us unlooked-for hazards, but it doesn't necessarily make for the most fun game-play experience.

So the general solution seems to be to make sure players play an active role in attempting to avoid/disarm traps.  But the practical question still remains of how to do this?

1. Fair Warning

So, players should have a chance of avoiding the trap.  That means fair warning.  DoS already gave his version of this, saying:
I want traps that are so obviously traps that the player can't say "didn't see that coming" unless they were asleep.
That's one way of doing Fair Warning.  On the other end of the spectrum, one could claim that those Gygax traps give fair warning, since players knew, upon entering the dungeon, that they would need a 10 foot pole, a scout, and all their ingenuity to avoid the traps.

I personally prefer something in the middle, between these two extremes, fair warning, but more subtle.  If there's a pressure-plate trap in the floor, the DM should at least describe the floor tiles in his description of the corridor.  Some hook to give the players a chance to say "Hey, maybe we should pay attention to that".  And if the characters open a chest or secret door without checking for traps, that's their problem.

2. Setting Appropriate Traps

This one's a little more subtle, but I think it goes a long way towards giving the players a chance to anticipate the traps they will encounter.  For this, the DM has to ask himself questions about the traps in the dungeon:

  • Who set the traps?
  • When were the traps set?
  • What resources/technology did they have at their disposal?

These questions will limit the types of traps the DM can use and will help limit the the players to anticipate what types of traps to be on the lookout for.

For instance, if the traps were set by the Tomb's builders, thousands of years ago, then they probably won't have any metal parts which would rust away, and some may have already been sprung by previous tomb robbers(thus giving players an example of what to look out for).

If they were set recently by mischievous Hobgoblins, then they will be more primitive in nature: tripwires, nets, concealed bear traps.

If they were set by a Wizard, guarding his tower from intruders, so they will generally be magical in nature.

And if they were set by an insane genius inventor, then they might include some of Grimtooth's entries.

Friday 18 January 2013

New Tilia: Session 1

The party, consisting of an Elf noble, an Elf woodsman, a Female Dwarf warrior, a Female Dwarf healer, a Dwarf Pit-Fighter, a Wizard's Apprentice, and a Female Mercenary, took a boat to New Tilia.  They decided to disembark in the more established principality of New Tilia rather than Neualtdorf.


They arrived by boat at the seaside village of Lebensmittelgeschäft, where they were interviewed by a Sergeant before disembarking from the boat, and managed to blather out answers to his questions without giving him any real information.  They then spent a couple hours digging-up rumours.  The two rumours they managed to dig up were:

  • Past the Northern Frontier, high in the hills, lies an ancient race, far advanced beyond our own.  They were instructed to seek out the New Tilian capital of Nuovo Trantio and head North.
  • To the West beyond the grassy plains, dwelling on the seashore, a couple days' march away, lies a village.  The inhabitants are the descendants of the early settlers of this land.  They are a strange bunch, but harmless, being culturally different from the many new immigrants from the Empire.
The party proceeded to the village market, checking out the wares and also hearing that The Boss pays bounties for Greenskins and monsters slain.  They were told that the best place to find nasty creatures to win bounties on would be near either the Northern or Western borders of New Tilia.

They also dug up rumours of a local scandal involving a local farmer and a prospector's wife.  The prospector's claim is in the hills on the Norther Frontier.

With several leads to the north, they decided to head for Nuovo Trantio and from there to the hilly Northern Frontier to collect bounties and investigate the first rumour.

Bear Hunters of Krakenheim

The party headed North-East to the village of Krakenheim, where they chose to stay the night.  They were awoken by the town watchman yelling that bears had breached the perimeter and were attempting to enter a house.  Most of the party went out to hunt the bears, which they did successfully, with only one injured character(much to the DM's disappointment--I thought this would be a difficult battle!).  They then met the village's furrier who paid them well for their efforts and stayed an extra day for the healer to tend to the injured Elf's wounds.

A Holy Rivalry

The party continued North, arriving in the village of Heiligenkreig.  The village is dominated by two competing monasteries.  The party first encountered a monk of the Order of the Lowly Cabbage, presided over by The Immaculate Father Sergius who preaches asceticism and self-flagellation. After chasing him away, they then observed the relatively lavish quarters of the Order of the Silver Ladle, who follow the teachings of Grand Master Pinnochio Unicornio and who seek redemption through excessive consumption.  After some antics and many many OOC jokes, the party reluctantly continued North(A: "But I still have more jokes to make!"), resolving to return to loot the Order of the Silver Ladle's facilities at a later date.

Scamming in Neuvo Tratio

The party arrived uneventfully at the outskirts of the Town of Neuvo Tratio, immediately going to inspect the Silver mine on the outskirts of the town.  They convinced a miner that they were working for The Boss and that he should give them a tour of the facility.  The Dwarves in the party were quite surprised to see such rich silver deposits in such high geologic layers, under a flat grassy plain.  They determined that this site must have been effected by some unnatural upheaval long ago, in the time of who knows what ancient race.  In addition to this information, they managed to scam some silver ore samples.

Continuing into town the party noticed:
  • The fortifications
  • The abundance of beautiful women
  • The gunsmith
  • The Boss' sprawling HQ
The female characters in the party decided to flirt with and distract the gunsmith and his Dwarven assistant so that someone could steal a firearm.  The assistant was smitten, but the Gunsmith shooed the girls away.  One of the Dwarven women wouldn't go until she had bought an incendiary, which proved a providential purchase later-on.

Fight Fire with Fire

The party continued North, passing an occasional homestead.  They left the rich grasslands and entered the dry scrub lands, looking for a homestead said to be nearby.  Suddenly, towards evening, they noticed a large tree that seemed to be moving furtively in their direction.  Deciding to shoot first, ask questions later, one of the Elves sent a flaming arrow it's way.  The tree swung it's branch, easily extinguishing the arrow and charged the party.  This could easily have turned out badly.  The Treeman is a very powerful opponent, and even if it wasn't mad at the party to begin with, their quick use of fire and a wood-chopper's axe quickly angered the house-size monster.  If it weren't for the just purchased incendiary, there would almost certainly have been PC deaths.  

With the monster burned and the scrub-land quickly igniting, the party made double-time towards the next homestead, being guided by it's light in the night.  They found the family already working to clear any and all dry brush from around their dwelling.  The party helped them, then answered the family's queries about the cause of the fire by mentioning that they "Saw this tree-creature die by fire and start the blaze."  To this the family replied "The guardian is dead!?  Who will protect us now from the creatures to the North!"  Oops!  That's where the session ended.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Punk my DnD

I was reading through Stars Without Numbers, a recent DnD based Sci-Fi game.  I like it.  But part of me longs for that good old CyberPunk 2020 combat.  Despite the Sci-Fi weaponry, SWON's combat still feels more like Star-Trek's phaser fights(which look more like clicking a remote control, by the way), than a fast-paced gun-battle.

Some computer games have this vibe.  XCOM has it.  Hotline Miami has it.  And as Firaxis's designers have suggested "there’s a bit of a renaissance with challenge and permanent death games".

So I was thinking about what sort of house-rules could give a DnD-based Sci-Fi game the same quick, deadly feel.


The first thing I would do is make Hitpoints more or less static.  CP2020 gives you 12 HP until you start entering Mortal Wounds territory.  So I think I would give starting characters 12HP, modified by CON bonus.  Maybe you could add 1HP per level--have to think about that one.

I'd give two AC values, one vs. guns and one vs. melee.  The one vs. melee could be improved with experience, but the one vs. guns can't be improved at all.

When a character drops to 0 or less HP, they start rolling on a Death and Dismemberment table for bleeding, limb loss, shock, and death.  And, of course, you have to think about rules for cyber-limbs, etc.


Since HP are fixed, we need to design damage-reducing armour.  You could basically just take stats similar to CP2020.  Stuff like:  

  • Heavy Leather Jacket
  • Kevlar Vest
  • Helmet
  • Powersuit


There also have to be lots of awesome guns.  Again, you can borrow range, damage, ROF from CP2020.  This includes:

  • Pistols
  • SMGs
  • Shotguns
  • Assault Rifles
  • Flamethrowers
  • Anti-Personel Grenades
  • C4, Missiles
  • Hand Weapons

Automatic Weapons Rules

Automatic weapons need to do more damage, not just give a better chance to hit as in SWON.  I'd give 4 options: Single Shot, Burst, Full Auto, Full Auto Spray


Fires 3 rounds with a quick tap of the trigger.
  • +2 to hit
  • If you roll the to-hit value 1 bullet hits
  • Roll 2 over the to-hit value 2 bullets hit
  • Roll 4 over the to hit value 3 bullets hit

Full Auto:

Hold down the trigger at one target.
  • Point Blank/Close range only
  • Uses gun's ROF # of bullets
  • +1 to hit for each 5 bullets
  • for each number you get over the to-hit value, a bullet hits

Full Auto Spray:

Hold down the trigger at a group of targets, standing more or less next to one another
  • Point Blank/Close range only
  • Uses gun's ROF # of bullets
  • +1 to hit for each 5 bullets
  • -1 for each target
  • make attack roll against each target
  • for each number you get over the to-hit value, a bullet hits

Other Considerations

Besides that, you need to think about what Skill System to use, what Class System to use, etc.  I like Stars Without Numbers' skill system.  As far as classes, CP2020 has much cooler ones(Rockerboy, Solo, Netrunner, Media, Cop, Corporate, Fixer, Nomad) but maybe that could be handled in the character description, rather than as a game mechanic.

Also, monster/alien stats need to be made taking the new HP/Armor system into account.

And of course Cyberware needs to be stat-ed up.

Anyway, I suppose this has mostly been an intellectual exercise.  These are pretty fundamental changes to DnD and one could argue that compatibility has been broken to the point where you might as well just use CP2020.  But we have identified the factors which make CP2020 combat feel so different from DnD.  In any case, one might theoretically use this system to run Time Raiders, XCOM as an RPG, or any other campaign set in a Cyberpunk world.

Monday 14 January 2013

How YouTube Ruined the Zoo for Me or Why I'm Terrified of Big Cats

Y'know.  When I was a kid I used to go to the zoo, walk by the lion and tiger cages, and it was like "Yeah, they're like cats.  But bigger.  And they move less."  Now, thanks to YouTube's ample supply of killer cat videos, I know that those big furry balls of murder are only resting, hoping to catch me off guard.

Anyway, so New Tilia has Siberian Tigers.  Also, Aurochs, and Razorbills(from WFRP Core Rules).

Siberian Tiger

M:8 WS:55 I/Agil:60 A:3(5) W:16 SB:4,1,1 TB:4
If the tiger hits with both paws, then it is assumed to be mounted on it's opponent and it gets two more paw attacks.


M:6 WS:33 I/Agil:15 A:2 W:18 SB:5 TB:5

Sunday 13 January 2013

Welcome to New Tilia

I've just been putting the finishing touches on the WFRP Border Princes sandbox I've been working on (Renegate Crowns really IS the Rolls Royce of Sandbox Generator products).  Our group just wrapped up our latest adventure and it looks like I'll be running the next one.

New Tilia's recent history started only a score of years ago, after reports reached the Empire of settlers there finding gold.  The Gold didn't last, but Silver and Copper have been found in abundance.  Since then there has been a steady influx of prospectors, as well as tradesmen, farmers, mercenaries, and petty criminals, all wanting a piece of the action.  Most of them don't strike it rich, but the stories of the few that do keep the immigrants coming.

Like many of the Border Princes, New Tilia is a dangerous area.  Besides the desperate people, wild animals, and the strange shapes seen prowling the unexplored ruins, there have been numerous problems with roving bands of mutants.  Antonio Calabrese, a Tilian Mercenary, quickly gained dominance among the various gangs offering protection to the locals.  Pretty soon, his was the only gang in town and he founded the Principality of New Tilia, appointing himself "The Boss".

With the competition gone, The Boss got apathetic and  trouble began in New Tilia's somewhat isolated Western province a couple years ago, an area known as Neualtdorf.  A cross-dressing Bandit and his gang began giving the locals a lot of trouble and even collecting protection money.  When The Boss caught wind of this and sent over his men to take care of the upstart, they were ambushed and the bandit declared himself "Viscontess of Neualtdorf".  Since then, the two Principalities have officially been in a state of war, occasionally sending raiding parties on attempts to assassinate one another's leadership.

Besides 21 Towns, Villages, and Interesting Homesteads, the Ruins and Adventuring Locales in and around New Tilia include:
  • The Volcano of the Damned
  • The Locked House
  • The Ghost Village
  • City of the Dead
  • Dwellers by the Sea
  • The Tomb that Must Not be Opened
  • In the Halls of the Goblin King

Friday 11 January 2013

Rudolfo's Crystal Menagerie

To say that Rudolfo liked glass is like saying that the Jabberwock liked knights who with weapons other than a Vorpal sword.

The Wizard Rudolfo was an avid collector of glasswares.  His lair is filled with glass items, most of them worthless souvenirs from his many travels.  There are also treasures wrought from fine crystal.  I'm going to tell you about a few of the more interesting items.

Bird with the Crystal Plumage (snagged from TotGaD)

These birds can be found abundantly, flying in and around Rudolfo's lair.  They are made from crystal  filled with a possibly colored liquid.  Their needle-like adamentine beak can find the cracks in any armour, doing no significant damage, but injecting a dose of the liquid into the victim.  Once they have successfully injected a victim, they will generally fly away. It struck, they are immediately destroyed.

M:6 WS:35 I/Ag:45 A:1

The Effect of the Injected Liquid

  1. Healing Draught
  2. Immunity to Fear/Success on all Cool checks for 1 hour
  3. Poison: Toughness Test or die in TBx2 rounds
  4. Light Warpstone Solution: gain mutations, insanity points
  5. Acid 1d(6 or 10)+4 damage if injected.  If the bird is smashed and the smasher is splashed, roll a d6/d10 for damage, damages any armour it touches.
  6. Cure Poison

Glass Gremlins

These living statues of glass in the shape of a horrible gremlin, filled with a clear liquid, can be found all-over Rudolpho's lair.  Upon encountering interlopers  they will creepily hobble after them all the while baring their sharp steel teeth and flexing their steel claws.  After 5 minutes they will return to their post. They will not attack, but neither will they dodge.  Any attempt to strike the gremlin will cause it to shatter.  The liquid is nitroglycerine.  If struck, they will explode as a shrapnel bomb.

Bomb Damage: 1d10+6 for 10yd radius

Glass Gargoyle

A living statue of glass in an iron frame with numerous sharp edges, it gets many attacks.

M: 3 WS: 35 I/Ag: 55 A: 4 W: 12 SB: 0 TB: 4

The Glass Ceiling

The ceiling, floor, or wall of this room is glass.  Strange and horrible creatures peer down at you, make faces, bang on the glass.  There's a lot you can do with this one:

  1. It's just an illusion
  2. It's actually a mirror, with your reflections modified by an illusion
  3. It's actually just a view of another place/dimension.  Attacking the surface will break the glass screen.
  4. It's real.  The monsters will break the ceiling/floor and you'll all take 1d6+1/1d10+1 glass/falling damage
  5. It's real.  The monsters now know where you are.  They race-off to look for you.
  6. It's real.  The monsters are only able to bang and howl in vain.

Oubliette of Experimentation

These pergola-shaped structures, made from sheets of iron-hard glass-like material, can be found in various parts of the magician's lair.  When sealed and activated, they release experimental gasses to be inhaled by the creatures within.

Types of Triggers:

  • Traps
    • Pressure sensor on floor
    • Heat sensor
    • Optical sensor
  • Experimental
    • Door is fastened from outside
    • Control Panel
    • Big red button

Types of Gas:

  1. Mutant-triggers random mutations
  2. Poison- Toughness-10% Test or die in TB rounds
  3. Gestating Horror- Females will show signs of advance stage pregancy within a few days.  After a month, will appear fully pregnant, vomit regularly, xenomorph, etc. will burst out
  4. Mind Altering- gain insanity points
  5. Chaos Patron contacts you
  6. Drug effect
  7. Superman- your starting strength and toughness are increased to 10% more than the maximum for your race
  8. Monstrous Mutation- character is changed into a random monster type

Wednesday 9 January 2013

The Sandbox Rumor Meta-Generator

So we already have a random sandbox mission generator for urban adventures.  That's where you already have a long list of NPCs and you want to create a mission relating to them.

This sort of generator is less well-suited for Exploratory Adventuring where the players are facing an unmapped frontier they are looking to explore.  In that case, the hooks are less interactions between two parties and more rumours of what can be found in the Great Unknown and where.

That said, here's my procedure for generating rumours for the upcoming sandbox, in the Border Princes, I'm hoping to run.

1. Ask the player what sort of rumours they are fishing for.  

For each character who is seeking rumours, get an idea of what they are looking for.  This actually gives the player some say in the sort of adventure they would like.

Responses may look like:

  • We're mercenaries looking for work in town
  • Looking to hear about valuable items to steal
  • We're explorers looking for uncharted areas to explore

2. Determine Rumour Type to Generate

This might be clear from the previous step, or you can roll randomly.

  • Patron- someone wants to hire you to do something.
  • Urban Adventure- seeking something interesting in the city.  It might be something to steal, it might be where to buy drugs or illegal weapons.
    • Choose a nearby settlement at random
  • Exploration- seeking adventure locales in unknown.
    • Roll up (X,Y) coordinates at random on your map.  The rumor will be near there

3. Determine Rumour Accuracy

Roll a d10 where 1 is completely untrue and 10 is completely true.  You can add a bonus to the roll if it's something more likely for an average yokel to know:

  • Looking for something worth stealing around town: +2
  • Looking for what lies beyond the pale of human settlement: no bonus

4. Make-Up a Rumour

You now have all the info you need: make up a rumour.


The party splits-up to go hunt down rumours.
  • Patsy the Elf wants to find evil monsters to fight
    • (Exploration,(17,14), accuracy 9)
    • "In the forests near Krakenheim the trees themselves will kill you"
  • Stickyfingers the Thief wants to find something to steal in the nearby settlements
    • (Urban Adventure, settlement 6, accuracy 2)
    • "The village Lebensmittelgeschäft has the area's only market, so there are always valuables coming in and out of town.  A large ivory statue with ruby eyes was recently found by a farmer and he is bringing it to market to sell."
  • Gor the Barbarian wants to find mercenary work in the area
    • (Patron- Mission Generator, accuracy 8)
    • "The local vintner has been forbidden from selling to the principality of New Tilia since this principality is currently at war with them.  He's looking for someone to discreetly and safely bring his wines to another merchant there."
  • Rasputin the mage wants to find powerful magicks
    • (Exploration,(20,12), accuracy 3)
    • "North of the town of Nuovo Trantio lies a mage's tower.  Strange lights can be seen flashing from it at night"
Now the characters can fight over which of these rumours to follow-up on first.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Observations on Applied Gamemastering

So a recent game session I played in was a bit disappointing.  Not only that, but I also got the impression that the players were disappointed in a recent session I ran.  So here are a few of my own thoughts on how a DM can improve his game.

1. Preparation

I tend to agree with Zak's recent comment that "speed of response might just be the most important thing".

The DM sets the pace of the game.  I learned this when I ran my first PBP game, but it's also true for in-person sessions.  The game won't start until the DM is set-up and gives his introduction.  Until then, people will just chat and catch-up almost indefinitely.  And during the game, if the DM is constantly taking breaks to flip though a book, then you know he didn't prepare properly.  As a teenager maybe you can get away with this, but when your game session starts at 9pm and you need to get up for work the next morning, this can really eat into adventuring time.

When preparing to run a session, one of your main goals should be, bringing down your response-time.  Think about what monster stats, what charts, what non-combat mechanics you are most likely to need during the session, and bookmark them, or photocopy them or whatever.  For mechanics you have never used before, now might be the time to run a little solo demo to make sure you understand the rules.  At the very least, read through them before the session.

2. The Lull

This recent session I played in was a WFRP adventure which seemed, for the most part, to be scripted.  The party starts out in town with a certain number of things they can do, and no jobs appear until they have wandered the town sufficiently(or something like that--I didn't actually read the adventure).  Well, after about an hour of wandering, with all our attempts to look for adventure hooks answered in the negative, us players were starting to get pretty antsy.  Finally the DM got the clue and jumped to the scripted adventure hook.

Now I'm not going to say this was a flaw with the module.  The first part did build-up some background that came-out later in the session.  But, on the other hand, this module was probably designed for a full-day session, not a 2 hour one like our group usually plays.  Bottom line, we went an entire session without combat, and with only a bit of dungeon-delving towards the end.

Something similar happened in the recent sandbox session I ran.  The players chose a more investigative route.  I didn't see any problem with this, because they made the choice.  But by the end of the session, they were also getting bored with no combats, while at the same time refusing to abandon their investigation.

So game sessions with no or sparse combat are boring, at least to my gaming group.  What do I, as a DM, do about it?

One option is to prepare a fall-back encounter.  Something where, if the game goes a half-hour without any combat, the DM pulls this one out of his pocket.  This could be a pre-prepared combat.  It could be a random encounter.  Just something to liven things up when they get too slow.

In any case, as DM, keep your eye on the clock and your finger on the pulse of player interest.  And be ready to abandon the script or abandon the sandbox tables and just throw something interesting when it's necessary.

3. Individual Player Interests

One more observation.  Different players want different things out of the game.

For one player in my group, character advancement is very important.  I have trouble relating to that.  Personally, I'm more experiential--if we pulled-off a bunch of crazy stuff during the session, then who cares about XP.  This player is the opposite.  He's OK with grinding through completely dull encounters as long as he gets to mark advancement on his character sheet at the end of the session.

Now I'm not saying that the DM has to run-around trying to everyone individual want and needs.  But it is a good idea to keep in mind what makes your various players happy, ESPECIALLY if their tastes differ widely from your own.

Monday 7 January 2013

Meet Sigyn

Having survived the adventure included in WFRP1e, our DM informed us that a party of 3 characters won't survive what he's got in store for us.  So we all are creating a second PC(I'm apparently the only one who prefers hirelings to multiple PCs).  As such, meet Sigyn:

Seigwart meets-up with the party accompanied by a sturdily-built young woman, dressed as an independent mercenary, in a helmet and breastplate.

Signyn is the daughter of a retainer for a petty lord.  Having no sons, her father raised her in the martial arts, ignoring her desire to become a singer and entertainer.  She ran away from home, hoping to become a legendary bard.  She is looking for adventure so that she might have tales to sing about.  Seigwart convinced her that joining his party could help her find worthy adventures and that his connections could help her in finding a venue to sing in.  Realistically, he probably has unwholesome plans for the young lady, though if she finds out, he may end up taking a thrashing.

Name: Sigyn
Race: Human
Gender: F
Alignment: N
Age: 26
Height: 5"4
Fate Points: 4
Career Class: Warrior
Current Career: Mercenary
Career Exits: Artillerist, Gunner, Mercenary Captain, Outlaw Chief, Slaver, Tunnel Fighter


  • Starting Profile:
    • M: 4
    • WS: 38
    • BS: 32
    • S: 4
    • T: 3
    • W: 7
    • I: 25
    • A: 1
    • Dex: 37
    • Ld: 30
    • Int: 30
    • Cl: 34
    • WP: 29
    • Fel: 39
  • Advanced Scheme(Mercenary)
    • WS:10
    • BS:10
    • S:1
    • W:2
    • I:10
    • A:1
    • LD:10
    • CL:10
  • Current Profile:
    • A:2


Disarm, Dodge Blow, Strike Mighty Blow, Strike to Stun,
Night Vision, Very Strong, Sing, Drive Cart, Animal Care
Languages: Old Worlder, Battle Tongue


Sturdy Clothing, Boots, Metal Breastplate, Helmet
Sling Bag, Pewter Tankard, Cutlery, Tinderbox, Blanket
Knife, Sword, Normal Bow, Quiver, 10 arrows

Sunday 6 January 2013

Skill System Survey

While thinking about what sort of skill system to use for a pirate game, I read through a lot of different games and their skill systems.  There are a lot of different systems, but I divided them into 5 categories, which I'm listing more or less from simplest to most complex.  This list is by no means exhaustive, but I think it gives a good idea what's out there:

1. No Skills

Searchers of the Unknown is an example of this.  There is no codified mechanic for determining if a character successfully performs a particular skilled action.  That said, the DM and players can still improvise a method: "Well you said your character used to be a blacksmith, so you have a 40% chance of crafting a magic sword that shoots laser beams."

2. Class

Classic DnD uses class to determine the training characters have.  So a magic user could be considered  skilled at making potions, etc. There is also the possibility of using the same approach as in the "No Skills" system above for activities not covered by character class.

DCC, puts an interesting twist on this.  In addition to an Adventuring Class, characters have an Occupation(basically a non-adventuring class) which they practised before they began adventuring.  As such, the character is considered skilled in any skill that the occupation would cover.  Skill checks for a character with a relevant Occupation are made as a 1d20+Ability Bonus(-3...+3) vs. the DC, a number reflecting the difficulty of the activity.  Characters without the relevant Occupation may also try, rolling a d10 in place of a d20.

3. Skill Level

DnD 3.5 allowed characters to acquire skills, independent of any class or ability score.   Skill checks are rolled as a 1d20 + Skill Level(maximum 3+class level) versus the skill difficulty.

4. Ability + Skill Level

WFRP 1st Edition does this.  Basically skills can give a bonus on your ability check.  The downside is that each skill has it's own rules for doing this, which means a lot of page-flipping/memorization.

Stars Without Number allows you to become trained in skill with a level of between 0 and 4.  The skill check is then performed as 2d6+Skill(0-4)+ability modifier(-2..+2) vs. a difficulty number of about 6-13.  Except combat which is d20-based.

Cyberpunk 2020 has something similar.  Ability scores are between 1 and 10, as are skill levels.  So a skill check is made as 1d10+ Skill+Ability vs. a difficulty number between 1 and 30.  Of course, CP2020 takes the skill system a step further, making it the unified mechanic for all actions including combat, rather than a secondary system to the main combat mechanic as in DnD and WFRP.

The System for You

Anyway, so what system to pick for your game?  Well, skill systems add a complexity to character creation and the game in general.  So my personal preference is to have the simplest skill system I can get away with.  For medieval technology-level games, I don't think a skill system adds much.  For my Pirate game, that's DCC Occupations.  For a modern or futuristic game, I'm more likely to prefer some variant of Ability + Skill Level.

Friday 4 January 2013

Thursday 3 January 2013

Pirate Experience

XP Systems

So, games can help shape character goals by their Experience System.  Many players are keen on getting their characters to level-up and experience is the achieve that goal.  Experience for monsters defeated and treasure won, is encouraging characters to hack and slash their way to glory, at the exclusion of other potential goals.

A different twist on "Monsters Defeated" is to define victory more expansively.  This can encourage more thoughtful play.  For instance, if rather than killing the entire goblin tribe, we simply convince them to attack a different village, rather than the one we're defending, that might be counted as defeating them for XP award purposes.

Dungeon Crawl Classics encourages much more furtive play, by awarding XP for "Encounters Survived".  So even if the party encounters enemies they could beat, it might be worth it for them to come to a non-violent understanding, so as not to deplete their resources.

Similarly, there is the twist on "Treasure Won".  Some DMs only award for Treasure Spent.  This in-turn, encourages adventures to live large and spend their gold like scoundrels.

Finally there are systems which award XP based on roleplaying.  Like giving double awards for a knight who jousts and opponent, or a thief who steals things.

Pirate XP

So this raises the question: How should XP be awarded for a Pirate Sandbox game?

My answer: XP is only awarded on a boat!

That's right.  Going to explore a dungeon?  Combats will only gain you 1/2 XP while you're not on a boat.  Similarly, treasure XP will only be counted once you haul it back to your ship.

This should encourage PCs to play as mariners, rather than reverting to a bunch of landlubbers with occasional boat-rides.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Saltbox Example

So here's an example of a saltbox created from the toolkit.  The map to the right shows numbered islands on a 36-mile grid, as well as the path of the trade route in dark.  Far to the North the route continues to the New World, while to the south it eventually arrives in the Old World.  PCs can eventually reach those locales, but they will need a big enough ship, as well as a solution to their fugitive status.

The Native Islanders

The PCs start-off in a rowboat, just East of Island 17(19,27 towards the center of the map).  The nearest settlement there is the Toowakoka Family homestead.  Being on the trade-route, the homestead is a prosperous one and it hosts an irregularly active market.  Here, colonist ships stop to trade weapons and tools for precious metals, animal hides, foodstuffs, and oddities.

To a day's travel to the southeast, on the Western shore of the island is the village of Poodita, from where the Island's chief, Rolla Dolla, rules.  The village is fortified with a tall stockade.  There is a power struggle going on between Chief Rolla Dolla and the village conjurer Zarziban.  Zarziban leads a cell of cultists who would secretly like to summon unholy powers so that he might rule over all the islands.

Poodita's main rivals are on Island 8, a fortified village of islanders under Chief Kowampa who have made a horrible pact with the Mackrelmen.  This tribe also has a homestead on Island 15.  The Mackrelmen's city and main lair is underwater between islands 11 and 12.  The ruin of their ancient fortress is on Island 12, why they no longer go there is a horrible mystery in itself.  Kowampa's people never go on island 10 with it's ruins of an ancient of a settlement founded by Inhuman Things from Another Dimension, now inhabited by a tribe of degenerate islanders.

There are a few other scattered settlements of islanders around.

The Colonists

The Colonist Town of New Madrid is on Island 25(26,8 along the trade route).  The town is quite large, but has begun to deteriorate as the Leaders have made a secret pact with the Mackrelmen, and there is a gang of colonists who have reverted to cannibalism that wanders the streets at night.  There is a very good quality brewry in town, which doesn't help matters.  The town is led by a retired sea captain with a Napolean complex who goes by the title "Master Commander".  Under his influence are two Naval Outposts, a large one on the same island, and a smaller outpost on isle 28 which protects the other branch of the trade-route.  Also, he controls a village on Isle 20.

Reverend Birch saw the moral deterioration of the colony, and founded a break-off settlement on Island 24 to the South.  The village is flourishing there, thanks to a lucrative gold mine and and passing ships do more business there than in the main colony, resulting in both a goldsmith and a market.  The colonists are just finding out that their settlement is not as safe as they had hoped, the island is populated by dinosaurs, including a few very large carnivores.  At the peak of the island is an ancient fortress, built by space aliens.

Other Settlements

Island 22 to the South East has a secret settlement of escaped slaves, who took over their ship and beached it on the island.  The village is fortified but primitive due to lack of trade.  They do, however, have a skilled armorer who makes wonders from leather, animal hides, and tortoise shells.

Island 16 is the lair of Captain Ivan the Black and his pirates.  Except Ivan is the only one left.  Perhaps it's due to the Ancient Space Alien settlement on the island and it's horrendous curse.

Other Adventuring Locales

Besides the things mentioned above, there are a couple other significant locations.

  • Island 6 is inhabited by vindictive Harpies, who patrol the area, looking to inflict pain on any unfortunate passers-by
  • Island 13 has another cursed ruin of an alien settlement