Tuesday 29 October 2013

Setup for a 1-Shot Horror Game(take 2)

Well, I still haven't had the chance to run this, but I hopefully should soon. In the mean-time, I decided to run it with Swashbucklers & Seamonsters, so I've re-skinned it as appropriate.


The mountain broods darkly over the little village 
You are Basque pirates, on leave for the Winter, visiting the village of Esquiule in Basque Country during the Semana de la Blusa garlic festival.

When was the last time we were all together? And in our home town of Esquiule, with all our friends and loved ones, and all the ale we could drink?

You are all childhood friends, who are on the high seas during the warmer months, seeking your fortunes in the wide world. Now, after a particularly difficult season, you are all back, starting your Winter-leave early to make the week-long Semana de la Blusa festival, held once every 8 years at the end of Summer.

Plan Drunk, Adventure Sober

Well, you were all out drinking together, dodging the throngs of garlic-string-wearing visitors, enjoying your 4th or 5th jug of local wine, when the conversation turned to less festive matters. While all of you have been moderately successful since leaving your home-town  none of you really met with the fame and fortune you had been hoping for.

After much lamenting over broken dreams and failed aspirations, an idea emerges. A plan whose persistence will not fade with the morning's hangover. Of course the local Yokels mustn't hear of it--you grew-up here, you know how superstitious people can get out here in Basque Country. You chaps, on the other hand, are much too worldly to allow such folk tales to deter you. If you can just quietly gather some of the more open-minded youths then your little expedition can slip-out unnoticed during the revelry and re-appear before the end of the festival with riches in tow...

End Condition

The adventure ends when one of the following has occurred:

  1. The expedition is declared a success and the members now have the wealth needed to pursue their dreams
  2. The party abandons the expedition or the festival ends, resigning themselves to the path of mediocrity to which they seem destined
  3. The party is unable to continue, their minds and bodies shattered by the horrors they have seen and done

Character Creation

Each Player creates 1 PC:

  • Labyrinth Lord, 3d6 in-order, roll HD, simplified saving throws, can have leather armor in place of either your Missile Weapon or your Melee Weapon
  • L3 Fighting Man
  • Give them Swashbucklers & Seamonsters Occupations, Equipment
  • All PCs should be from Esquiule
  • Character Sheets
  • Swashbucklers & Seamonsters Rules
  • Basque Names

Friday 25 October 2013

WFRP Empire Campaign: Sessions 15, 16

Continuing our journey to Nuln in hope of tracking down a not-so-wholesome sorceress by the name of Italka, the party followed-up on a lead that she has relocated to an abandoned Coal mine in the hills.

We ended up at some small-time village on the outskirts of Nuln, inundated with drunk/depressed Dwarves and townsfolk who are fed-up with them. Long story short, we ended up on a mission to save the local homesteads from the deadly raids that have been plaguing them because angry peasants+drunk dwarves+creepy necromancer = PROFIT or something like that. Basically an opportunity to murder things and not get in trouble...

Fresh Blood

I should mention, we have a new player, who has fielded a reasonably capable Cleric-type. He made some very creative use of his "create sound" spell, and should be even more effective once he has a bit more XP and can do battle magic.

Kobold Essen!

Anyway, we took the huge intellectual leap of staking-out the homestead closest to Italka's stronghold. This paid off in the form of a large force of about 60 goblins and 20 wargs attacking the place. The battle took the better part of two sessions, and when the smoke had cleared there was a bit of structural damage and one of the dwarves was a bit injured, but besides that, it didn't go too well for the goblins.

The first few waves were shot or chopped-down fairly quickly such that the real melee didn't start until the the third and largest wave. The goblins made their attack from 5 different locations and attempted to swarm the party and grapple them. Siegwart had to use a couple bombs, and our archer made a killing from the roof, and the other 5 PCs were running around trying not to get overwhelmed.

Anyway, another good session, and now the party is trying to decide whether to assault Italka's stronghold or attempt to parley.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

A Wargaming Education

So I've had a lot of secondary exposure to Wargaming. When I was a kid, an older friend created a WWII boardgame for mass battles. In our current WFRP game, I've had to look-up rules in the WFB rulebook. And in general, you hear occasional wargame discussions in RPG sites.

But when I watched this video of a WFB game the other day, I was surprised by how relatively smoothly this big 100-troop battle ran.

1. No Grid

I remember hearing that ODnD movement is in inches like a wargame, but I didn't really get what that meant until I saw this video. They actually each have a tape-measure and you can move your troops along any diagonal axis you want. That's pretty cool!  And quicker than counting a ton of grid-squares.

2. Group Movement

The movement are per group, rather than per individual unit. That's a really good way of managing a ton of troops in a lightweight fashion. There's even a little rectangle underneath each group so you can move them together easily. I have to remember to do the movement by group next time I'm DMing and I run a big battle. Maybe that way it won't take all session.

3. Group Attacks

Attacks are also a lot quicker because they roll a handful of dice for each unit's attack. For WFRP, where it's a percentage, this might be a little unwieldy, but for d20 based systems it seems very do-able.  Like when the archers fire, you can just roll a handful of d20's and then divide them up between the PCs. Or if a group charges the party's front line, then you can roll a handful of d20's and divide them up between the PCs in the front line.

So in conclusion, I think there is what to learn from wargames about running big RPG battles smoothly, and I'm excited to try this out next time I DM a fairly big action.

Monday 21 October 2013

The Journey

Here's a great little DnD-inspired video with a message.

Two scabs get hold of a map, dropped by some shiny, incredible adventurer.  They wander through wonders, and dangers, defeating monsters, and just being general murder-hobos about everything.

Finally, the passage of time shown in their long beards and heroic bearing, they come to the end of the trail.  A huge X in an empty room, and they don't get it, where's the treasure?!  Then they see it: a mirrored wall showing...their own reflections!  The journey was what was important, was what transformed them into the men they are now.

I think this video is a good metaphor for the player's experience in RPGs. The point isn't the amassed imaginary treasure or experience. The point is the journey: getting to spend a few short hours trekking across lush fantasy worlds or exploring lost planetoids or escaping dank caves full of misshapen terrors.

Thursday 10 October 2013

I Want to Run a Lovecraftian Horror Game Like This

Wow. Samsara Room is a weird game. Weird rituals, resulting in bizarre dimensional journeys with freakish self-transformations. My favourite is when you become a worm-man so that you can climb inside the guys corpse.

I'd like to run an RPG that has this sort of weirdness. Except that I think Samsara Room didn't take it far enough, ending with mere discomfort rather than cosmic horror. I'd like to see that weirdness grow into a brooding horror. Something along the lines of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, The Dreams in the Witch House, and the Silver Key stories when taken as a whole. There's something very powerful about this sort of story, the Curiosity Killed the Cat horror story. First the reader's curiosity is piqued, along with that of the protagonist with bizarre yet wonderful discoveries. Yet as the protagonist journeys deeper into the unknown, the feeling grows of a moth drawn towards the flame, until the bizarre and inhuman horrors ultimately reveal themselves.  Machen's The White People is a great example of this, with an innocent young girl whose supernatural journeys ultimately lead her to take her own life to avoid an even more horrendous fate.

This would take some good game design/DMing, so that the players' curiosity ultimately makes them want to continue further, rather than returning to their safe yet mediocre lives. I'm OK with the players chickening out, but it should be a hard decision to make. Or, if that sounds too hard, you can go the "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" approach, where the PCs are trapped and retreat is not an option.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

In Memorium: Angus McBride

For a while I've wanted to make a post of Angus McBride's artwork. McBride was a very prolific illustrator with passion for ancient military costume. Perhaps his specialty was Celtic costume, but his work has a wide range of different cultures and periods. Anyway, next time I run a D&D campaign, I definitely want to make use of his work to illustrate various tribes and peoples the party will be facing. Below I attacked a few of his works.  I think my favourite is the Persian Heavy Cavalry vs. Roman Legionaries, though the Highland Mercenaries also look very gameable...

Monday 7 October 2013

Dragon's Lair Trap & Trick Generator

Wow, Dragon's Lair--that was a nasty, unforgiving game. But it has so many trap ideas(despite all the sections repeated in reverse)! Funny how the sequel(8 years later in 1991) was less trap-based. I wonder if this represented a change in how people thought of dungeons i.e. more combat based, rather than trap-based.

Anyway, when the party enters a room, roll 1d38:
  1. Rickety wooden floor breaks, tentacle monster awaits to surprise attack
  2. Twin Portcullises slam behind you
  3. Pressure plate in floor causes room collapse
  4. Tentacle monster attacks from multiple directions(get's flanking/backstab bonus)
  5. Door Slams. Each round a Giant snake pop through hole in ceiling/walls, attacks, returns.  Pull the cord and a rope drops down for you to climb out
  6. Door slams behind you.  Fiery pit to cross, with ropes to swing on. Floor is slowly withdrawing
  7. Room full of pressure plates causing floor collapse/arrow traps. If you jump into the central pool to avoid the plates, it's full of tentacle monsters ready to surprise attack
  8. Giant Spider climbs out of recess to surprise attack
  9. Plate by door triggers quickly closing blocks-leave immediately or get trapped inside
  10. Bubbling cauldron. Explodes with hot liquid if approached
  11. Shelf of potions: one of them contains a malvolent slime which will surprise attack
  12. As you climb up through trapdoor, a goblin comes-up behind you in your blind spot, surprising you
  13. As you climb up the stairs, goblins come out of hiding and attack from both sides
  14. Room with descending stairs, pit, ascending stairs. Stairs turn into ramp except on far edge. Tentacle monster rises out of pit to surprise attack
  15. Smithy with weapons rising to attack of their own accord
  16. Magical fire. If tampered with, statue comes to life and attacks. Usually it is behind the tamperer and gets surprise
  17. Cross narrow bridge over chasm with swinging sacks which must be passed with precise timing
  18. Briars come to life and surprise attack
  19. Opening door triggers magical wind, blowing furniture and PC along hazardous tunnel--good change of getting pummelled badly
  20. Magical wall begins to form before exit. Must jump through without getting caught in it to proceed
  21. Bench covers a low crawl-space. Magical lighting begins setting room's contents on fire, preventing access to doors. PCs will die of fire/smoke if they don't move the bench and crawl out.
  22. Suit of horse barding. If mounted, it goes shooting off and you'll have to steer it to avoid crashing, riding through magical fires.
  23. Opening door sends small, magical fireball at your back
  24. Door slams shut. Magical entity at other end of room sends energy bursts at you through the floor
  25. Walking through hallway with many open doorways, crypt with coffins on either side. Swarmed by animated bones.
  26. Wooden walkway breaks away as you walk on it. At the same time, you are swarmed by vampire bats
  27. Floor detaches from walls and begins to free-fall, magically stopping for a second at each dungeon level
  28. Magical cauldron full of gold pulls all weapons to it, flies down the hall, while a giant mace-wielding Lizardman, dressed like a king, chases you. At the end, it stays in a room but continues it's attempts to evade you
  29. Table with potion and "drink me" sign is at far end of room. Pressure plate in floor triggers fireball trap. Potion is poison.
  30. Narrow passage with see-saw floor with parts that magically break away over a long drop
  31. Throne room with crystal ball on pedestal in middle. Magically pulls your weapon to it. Then floor begins to drop away till only the throne is left. As soon as throne is sat in, weapon is shot blade-first from crystal ball to head-level of throne
  32. Electric charge chases you down hallway
  33. Floor collapses, dumping you in sewer.  If you're lucky, you'll manage to get in the boat waiting there before you're swept away by the current. Must steer boat through boulders, rapids, whirlpools. Grab the chain hanging from the ceiling or be swept into the final whirlpool
  34. Boiling pools of mud and water spout out earth elementals and geysers
  35. Magic cavalry spectres charge and slice at you
  36. Trippy halfpipe with giant marbles rolling back and forth. Once you enter, a giant marble starts rolling behind you to encourage you to run through fast
  37. Magic electricity in walls/floor chases you through chomping door. Better time it right! Same for jumping over broken bridge with lava geyser in the middle.
  38. Room full of treasure. If you knock of the highly-unstable treasure over, you'll wake the dragon! You'll need the key around it's neck.  The sword of dragon slaying in the stone might help!

Sunday 6 October 2013


There's nothing quite like a horror story creeping you the hell out. There's something about it... It's like the feeling you get when you're all alone in a big empty house, except amped-up to 11 and since it's a horror story, you know something terrible is going to happen, but you're not sure what or when.

Machen's Folklore

I've been reading through Arthur Machen's "The White People and Other Weird Stories" with it's criminally misleading cover art, and he is truly a master of Creepy.  Lovecraft says of his work
the elements of hidden horror and brooding fright attain an almost incomparable substance and realistic acuteness(Supernatural Horror in Literature)

His story "The White People" has some of the the creepiest faux-folklore I've ever read. We're reading the diary of a young girl whose nanny has been secretly indoctrinating her to occult practices.  Along the way she tells us some of the tales nanny told her, hinting at what's to come...

  • The tale of the Hollow Pit
  • The tale of the White Stag
  • The story of Lady Avelin 

One of the reasons I found these tales within a tale(within yet another tale) so creepy is that their meaning is so ambiguous, and yet you know it's something terrible. What is in the pit? Who is the lady who dwells in the heart of the woods? Did Lady Avelin meet a horrible end, or was she the lucky one?


I'd really like to introduce more creepiness into the games I run. One option is to give a handout with a creepy tale in it, but I'm not sure my literary skills are up-to-par and long handouts in the middle of a session tend to be skimmed and then forgotten.

Perhaps if the characters find the remains, or hear the tale of some utterly strange ritual or experiment? Or if they hear strange tales about the place they are going, and then when they are there, the rules of nature seem to begin to break down...

Friday 4 October 2013

Reading the Hobbit with Your Kids

So, I'm reading The Hobbit to my 5 year old and she LOVES it.  OK, let's back-up a step...

The other day, my wife left one of the Harry Potter books lying on the table because she's loaning it to a friend. Anyway, my daughter was flipping through it and I was like "Hey, you like Harry Potter? Should I read it to you?" and I was surprised at the very enthusiastic YEAH! Please please please!

Then I was like "Wait, isn't that book full of high-school crushes and flirting, maybe when she's older" so I was like "How about I read you The Hobbit?" my mother read it to me when I was a kid.

The Hobbit as a Kid's Book

I remember a lecture at The Tolkien Professor where he was explaining how The Hobbit is written to entertain kids, specifically Tolkien's kids, more than to be a realistic story. The example he gave was how the Dwarves all suddenly pull out impractically large instruments, including "violes as big as themselves", and then these instruments are never heard from again.

As for my daughter, she was REALLY excited that the protagonist is an adult who is nonetheless about her height(being a hobbit). The same can be said for the Dwarves, and also she was excited about them because she just watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And the fact that there's a magician.

In any case, that really struck me, that she's excited about Bilbo because she identifies with him. She even got mixed up and told me excitedly one night "he's my age!" In that light, the story can be seen as an adult(Gandalf) who sends a kid(Bilbo) off on an exciting and important task, with minimal adult supervision, and he ultimately rises to the task.

Anyway, I'm sure we won't make it too far into the book this time around. The vocabulary is really too difficult for a 5-year-old, and you can only go so far on enthusiasm alone. Maybe I'll look for the animated movie from the 70's, although I remember finding it a little too trippy and confusing as a kid, too...

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Simple Cyberpunk Skills

So, after deciding to make the Cyberpunk adventure I'm writing DnD-compatible, I started thinking about how to do the skill system. PCs will probably want investigative skills, technological skills, etc. One option is to adapt the Stars Without Number skill system, but I'm not entirely happy with it and anyway I would have to adapt it a bit. So here's a draft of a simple, flexible, skill system for DnD-based Cyberpunk adventures.


Rather than giving a complete list of skills, I've decided to just give examples, loosely categorized. It seems to me that this gives the skills a more organic feel and greater flexibility.  In fact, there is certainly overlap between the tasks that a skill covers. There are no skill descriptions. Rather the DM should rule whether a skill applies to a specific situation.  Skills are distributed on a scale of 0-10:

  • Language Skills
    • English, Japanese...
  • Academic Skills(learned in University, private Corporate academy, etc...)
    • Architecture, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Literature, Medical Doctor, Nano-Tech, Nursing, Theology...
  • Career Skills(learned on the job)
    • Infantry Soldier, Jewellery Thief, Naval Mechanic, Police Detective...
  • Technical Skills(learned in practice)
    • Drive Automobile, Guitar, Gunsmith, Hacker, Pilot Fixed-Wing...
  • Physical Skills
    • Acrobatics, Distance Running, Swimming...
  • Martial Skills
    • Fencing, Handgun, Karate, Filipino Knife Fighting, Rifle, SMG…
  • Other Skills
    • Etiquette, Fashionable Dress, Gambling, Oratory, Interrogate, Resist Torture...

Using Skills

Skill checks are d20 based, modified by the relevant ability score bonus and and the relevant skill level. The DM should rule what ability score/skills are relevant for a given task. The roll is made vs. a target value. Rolls less than or equal to the target values are considered successful, with natural 20’s always denoting success and natural 1’s always denoting failure . Target values are generally:

  • 5 easy task.  Generally doesn't require a roll
  • 10 somewhat challenging task
  • 15 moderately challenging task
  • 20 moderately challenging skilled task
  • 25 difficult skilled task
  • 30 nearly impossible task

Example: Detective Hobbs uses is searching a crime scene for clues. The Target Value for him to find the 3 hairs under the recliner is 15. So he will need to roll 15 or more on 1d20+INT bonus+his Police Detective skill.

Example: Hacker Damien is trying to hack into a Megacorp's top secret accounts. There's tons of security, so he'll need to roll a 30 on a 1d20+INT bonus+his Hacker skill--not very likely! If he rolls a 25, then he'll get the data, but be detected. He kidnapped a corporate officer and has his passwords, so the GM ruled that this reduces the target value by 5. If he breaks-in and tries from the man's office then this will reduce them by an additional 10.

Opposed Skill Checks

Some skill checks are against another character’s skill. As such, the target value is whatever that character’s skill roll is.

Example: upon questioning a junkie who was at the scene of the crime, the man flicks out a switchblade and attempts to stab Detective Hobbs. The junkie rolls 1d20+DEX Modifier+ Knife Fighting skill vs. Hobbs’ 1d20+DEX Modifier+Karate skill(Karate being a martial art which practices weapon defence.)

Example: Detective Hobbs is interrogating the junkie he brought in for useful information. The junkie has no skill to resist interrogation, so Hobbs will roll 1d20+CHA bonus+Police Detective skill vs. the Junkie’s 1d20+CHA bonus.

Missile Attacks

Missile weapons are made against a character’s AC(using ascending AC). Note that the DEX bonus doesn't apply if a character is just standing there, unaware they are being targeted. Also note that the degree to which the character is concealed can raise AC by between 1 and 4 points.

Example: As a suspect charges him with a Monokatana, Detective Hobbs draws and fires his sidearm. He rolls 1d20+DEX bonus+Pistol skill vs AC 10+DEX bonus.