Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Actual Play: Somewhere North, session 7

Previously: our heroes Kulk and Joonas (Patrick and David W) took their merry band of retainers and hangers-on to a Dwarven tower (a silo effectively) and battled through a minor Pug warband and avoided undead threats, before escaping with the head of a Shiner (mechanical? man made by Dwarves) and treasure.

They head off with the artifacts that they have found, and despite finding themselves adrift in a blizzard they make it back to the Hentunen nomads. They make a trade of hotstones for a large covered sled, and the following day head off on a new quest. They have heard of the Palace of the Perfect Moon, a minor Dwarven base that has fallen into disrepair; it lies to the north-west and may contain more artifacts, maybe even the materials necessary to repair PeMem, the Shiner head that is acting as their guide to all things Dwarven.

Finding the Ahtisaari nomads, who speak a bizarre language, they are eventually able to communicate their need. Given directions, they set off the next day with a new friend, the massive Magnusson Monsterslayer, the favourite son of the Ahtisaari (however, he does not easily pick up words, and communication problems ensue...). On their journey they avoid a Hate Bear, which by reputation they have not gone near.

Arriving at the Palace of the Perfect Moon, which legend says was magically built in a single night. Entering carefully they scout around and find rooms that are smashed up, odds and ends of silver but nothing much really. Until they find strange gold Z marks that emanate a faint heat. After Kulk sets off an explosive runes trap with the same marking, and has his hands branded for the effort (with a gold Z across them) they start to come around to the idea that Zinternik, the toymaker, must have been here once before. Indeed, when encountering skeletons or giant mechanical spiders they notice clues that point to him having been in the palace, possibly delving and researching years before.

The group are strong, and in each encounter they don't seem to be in danger. After all there are a lot of them. In reserve by their sleds are two academics who have travelled with them, a cleric and two halflings; their dungeon-crawling force comprises the two PCs (a fighter and a specialist), three regular cannon-fodder fighter-types, Magnusson and the head of PeMem (strapped to Joonas' back "like C-3PO on Chewbacca").

Kulk is temporarily blinded by a magicked corridor, but that only knocks him off front line duty for a couple of hours. The party are kicking in doors in the seemingly abandoned palace, fighting off the occasional skeletons and metal spiders, but being cautious all the same. They know that part of the palace contains a Muurahainen nest, and while they have not seen a Muurahainen swarm they have heard enough to be worried. With half of the main level mapped and a clear route through the magicked corridors, they now intend to head down into the lower levels...

Too much XP: Seven sessions in, and I'm trying to get the balance between possibilities for earning XP and the likelihood that PCs will find stuff that is XP-worthy. In the last two sessions they've picked up way too much stuff that has given them a boost. In this session they earned over 5000XP each; although, if the XP were split between more people, this wouldn't be as big an issue. Something to think on.
More danger needed: Maybe. I was chuffed that Kulk got blinded by the corridor. There was a table of possible effects (some of which were far more permanent than temporary blindness). The physical threats have appeared and been less than severe - perhaps there are just too many in the party for anything other than a seriously big creature or a massive horde to be much of a threat? I don't know. The deeper levels of the palace are more dangerous, and from what they've heard a nest of Muurahainen could be pretty lethal if not approached carefully.
XP Watch: Joonas jumps to level 3 (hello Fighter combat bonus) and Kulk continues his journey to level 6.
Magnusson: I have a table for generating nomadic families who live out on the snow and ice. These are large groups of around 100 people, and mostly subsist off what they hunt and fish. I have some subcharts for flavouring them, so for example, a particular quirk or detail of the clan, and a detail particular to their favourite son. I rolled up half a dozen before play, and last night rolled the Ahtisaari as the group that the PCs would meet. The bizarre language presented a nice bit of role-playing as the players tried to communicate. And the favourite son being a monster-slayer added an intriguing possibility - especially with the language factor. A 6'8" muscle-bound killer with a giant club and an eight word vocabulary. A joy to play.
Sharing Stats: I'm hoping that the PCs do meet some of the residents of the palace (Muurahainen, the contents of the menagerie) in the next session, as then I'll be able to share them here without fear of spoilers!

Friday, 25 January 2013

In Other News

I'm a bestselling author!

On sale for two days and hit the number one spot in paid ebooks in the Kindle Store's College & University Education chart for Amazon UK.

Today: Amazon. Tomorrow: THE WORLD!!!

(we now return you to ideas for role-playing games set in a frozen northern setting...)

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A Chance of Snow

Every day in the frozen north brings a chance for snow. By leaving the relative safety of Rovaniemi and the surrounding villages behind, Külk and Joonas are taking a chance on the weather and the terrain. The wilds are not to be travelled without careful thought...

I had been fast and loose with the environment and weather up until now. I had always assumed that the PCs had some kind of provisions, and that they were wrapping up warm. I kept dropping hints that the weather was going to get worse though, and that heading north would lead to severe snowfall. Precautions must be taken etc.

However, I didn't want to railroad any blizzards or consequences. I wanted the weather to be unpredictable. So before the session on Tuesday I thrashed out a kind of probability-based "Fibonacci-like weather generator". A Fibonacci sequence is dependent on the numbers that came before. So the third number is dependent on the second and first numbers, the fourth number is dependent on the third and second and so on. I decided that a simple way to include this was to say that "today's weather is dependent on the previous two days, with some randomness."

Actual Play: Somewhere North, session 6

Previously: Külk (Patrick) and his party (two fighters, a reformed bandit, a cleric and two halflings) flee the region around the town of Rovaniemi, having annoyed large numbers of people. After seeking guidance from a retired hero they head north and stop at the last village for a long time, Sirkka. There they thwart the schemes of a group of slavers, slaughtering them all.

The next morning: Külk has found a new ally in the form of Joonas (David W, rejoining the group after a seasonal absence!) - a fighter who was captured by the slavers. He agrees to join them on their journey north, and they connect up with a couple of academics from the northern city of Zelman. Safety in numbers. They leave the town with what supplies they can get (not many) and hope that they will reach one of the nomad families that live on the snowy, frozen plains.

Monday, 21 January 2013


In a G+ post yesterday Zak asked "What do you know about an NPC before they come up in your game?" - a question that I think is really interesting. I think that over the last year, which is as long as I have run games, my approach has changed a little.

The first game that I GMed was In A Wicked Age - by design, I knew nothing about any of the characters before we played. NPCs were revealed as players asked questions, and were sketched from stick figures into something resembling real people over the course of the first scene that they were in.

Dogs in the Vineyard, which I ran as my first short campaign, was more interesting. As NPC stats are descriptive by nature, this plants seeds in my mind about what the people look like. How they walk and talk maybe. For some of the characters they look like people that I know or have seen on the TV. Some - typically the people who are props perhaps - are less fleshed out. As the campaign wore on the potential for some NPCs changed a lot.

The hedge-witch/trader that the Dogs were tailing turned up dead, badly mutilated. Now, originally this was going to be the work of the mad-with-grief Dog-turned-Steward in the town. But... As they investigated this didn't sit right. And so the dabbling-with-demons brother and sister became the "oh King of Life make it stop, they morph into Resident Evil style monsters and they just keep coming" finale bosses. And their grandfather was supposed to be dead, but good things come in threes...

In LotFP/Somewhere North I have used a few generators just to generate details about people. I have stats and nothing else, or a one-liner (a retired hero lives there; a war criminal is in hiding) and this becomes the basis for something else. Names are good. I can't put my finger on what it is about the names that lead to descriptions, but they do something. Randomly rolling Ungrall the Unctuous instantly put the person in my head, with all but one detail missing.

A detail that is always missing for me until the NPC appears on-stage. The voice. I never know what a NPC will sound like until they say something. Never. Zinternik's elves and halflings are all cockney. Ungrall the Unctuous speaks with a pronounced lisp due to tongue boils. Robin, the head guard of Overtornea is incredibly officious and bored. Marco the magic-user is incredibly excited and casts spells like he is throwing Pokeballs.

But until they open their mouth for the first time, even I have no idea what they will sound like.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Actual Play: Somewhere North, session 5

I was so busy just now scrabbling some notes down for the next session of Somewhere North that it has taken me this evening to realise that I haven't written anything about the last session!

So: previously Külk and Esa-Pekka have ticked off a lot of people - cursing a wealthy village to silence, refusing to sell a magical tome to a probably evil man - it was only a matter of time before there would be consequences. A week or so has passed since they fled Rovaniemi, and in that time they saved some cheesemakers from a big wolf, and then delved into Oddli's Tomb.

Now: Külk (Patrick) leads the band on, as Esa-Pekka has taken his dog and his magic and escaped in the night (noisms has moved! So the game ultimately might migrate to G+). Külk takes a rag-tag group of fighters and halflings across the cold wilderness. They meet some fellow adventurers who are headed for Oddli's Tomb. They seem friendly enough, and mention that there is uproar throughout the region: the cursed village is emptying the treasury to send mercenaries after "those bastards who cursed them to silence." Of course, Külk plays it cool and pretends that he is someone else, and the groups go on their separate ways.

Things are tough though. Meeting with some friendly reindeer herders they are acquainted with fills them in on the big picture: there are groups of people looking for them on all the roads, and after killing a pack of banshee wolves that attack in the night they set off for a mountain pass to try and head out of the region, and head... NORTH!

But first: the mountain pass is guarded by a competent group of adventurers looking for Esa-Pekka and the book that he wouldn't sell to Ungrall the Unctuous. After they realise that he is not there, and that their leader is homicidal, the other group accept a bribe to turn a blind eye. The next day, Külk and company head on to Harjuusma, a village known for enchanted hot springs. After getting some advice from a retired hero, Külk tries the springs, and comes away feeling stronger and more nimble. He meets a new friend, Hugo the Cleric, who joins the party.

Their course is north, but first they decide to stop at the last village before the long road, Sirkka. There are rumours of slavers operating in Sirkka, pressganging travellers into service. Külk and company, disguised as the family of a cheese merchant, turn in for the night in Sirkka - and then kill the slavers in a long combat taking place in a hotel hallway. Things are touch and go, but once again, they pull through...

Wanted! I found it interesting that Külk was determined to escape to the far north. Things might be tricky, but surely things aren't that bleak? Especially as I've mentioned that the north contains monsters, long-abandoned Dwarven fortresses, cities of bad people - oh, and the true winter is supposed to come soon. Day after day of snow and ice...
One Down... Külk has discovered some of the powers of one of the hammers that was found in Oddli's Tomb. The nicknamed "Runehammer" deals d6, but if a 4, 5 or 6 is hit then the hammer deal an extra d4 damage AND the victim must make a save versus paralysis or be flung to the floor or 10 feet away (wielder's choice). It's a magical item in an LotFP game though, so there's got to be some downside to it... It's not been found yet though. (heh)
...One To Go: The much bigger hammer found in Oddli's Tomb has just been carried around in the last session. I wonder what it might do, other than drive back Dwarven undead monsters?
Treasure: The party spent a lot. Mostly in bribes. Cheese was given away, thousands of silver pieces, an ancient Dwarven ceremonial rod - how are they going to pay their way from now on?
Hugo: Favourite NPC of the night. I have no idea where the voice came from, but Hugo is a cross between Bill and Ted and a warrior-monk. Hugo serves Iiola, the spirit of better days, a spirit that wants the world to be a better place. "Wooah, dude, like, slavery is haaarsh!"

Next time: it seems like Patrick is going to press on with north. So: new random encounter tables, notes on new places, new people, and also need to think about what happens when snow really starts to fall. Will have to do something about provisions and shelter: if inches or feet of snow are falling each day, and there is nowhere to rest, the party will not last long. I'm confident that Patrick will think of something - and we might have someone else joining as well.

All is well, Somewhere North...

Monday, 7 January 2013

Good Folk, Bad Guys

So far my approach with Somewhere North has been to plan for some possibilities (dungeon exploration, different towns that people might visit), but not really to focus on other people. I'm not talking about the incidentals, like shop owners and so on - in fact, some great NPCs so far have come about purely through table interactions.

But I realised that one of the big differences between how I had run Dogs in the Vineyard and how I was running LotFP, is that in the former everything was built on thinking about the people in the towns first, whereas in the latter I was thinking about the world and what was in it. Is one or the other "better"? I'll leave that for another time - or perhaps your comments.

Four sessions in, and with everything that the players have been doing - stealing money from mean village leaders, cursing an entire village to indefinite silence, heading out of town with intentions to delve into an ancient Dwarven tomb - these are actions that get you noticed. There is only so long that you can stay under the radar. If you curse an entire village to silence, then pour scorn on that (fairly wealthy) place, aren't they going to send people after you? If you insult a bookshop owner who offers to buy something from you (while being probably evil and up to no good), isn't he going to try and get that book from you somehow?

And these things are not about the world but the people in it. Who gets sent after someone? What kind of groups are out there looking? What is in it for them? Could they be persuaded to do otherwise? What would help them to do that? What haven't people seen in the world yet?

I love questions.

I spent part of my weekend thinking about NPCs and bad guys in particular, or at the least, if not bad guys then people we might loosely term "rivals". If an NPC needs a job doing in a role-playing game, they turn to the players to ask. But if that job involves stopping/killing/apprehending the players, who do you call?

That's the question I answered this weekend.

(insert mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha and moustache-twiddling here)

Friday, 4 January 2013

Actual Play: Somewhere North, session 4

Last night was the fourth session of the campaign. Ideas of stealth largely went out of the window, as Esa-Pekka (noisms) shouted "Halloooo!" at the probable bandits he saw on the hillside surrounding Oddli's Tomb. Külk (Patrick) was able to stealth up the hillside a little, and when the inevitable fighting broke out he was able to provide some sneaky covering fire before he was spotted.

After a brief but hard-fought combat, the party (two PCs and four retainers present) had massacred the bandits. The kill-toll was 11 to 1; while they had defeated the bandits and their leader Mad Aamos, they had lost their companion Eerik to a lucky hit from one of the criminals. He died in Esa-Pekka's arms, revealing that he was indeed a Dwarf and passing on some clues about Oddli's Tomb...

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Hate Bear

The Hate Bear is a monstrous white bear that grows to three metres in length. It is the only known species of bear-mutant to not have a typical head. The Hate Bear's fur thins out near the top of the chest, revealing a great muscular maw, surrounded by spiky tentacles that seek to grasp, ensnare and then swallow prey.

The tentacles of the Hate Bear move and seem to track prey without any visible eyes. They respond to sound and can elongate to the length of the Hate Bear. A deep bass growl echoes up from the pit of the stomach. Encountering humans and other sentient species, the Hate Bear tends to only attack if surprised, otherwise it will snarl, growl and posture to intimidate. If weakness is shown too quickly, the Hate Bear will attack. If a bear is encountered with a cub it will fight to the death to protect the little one.

The fur of Hate Bears is extremely flammable; the shoulder blade and chest bones of bears are quite valuable, as they can be fashioned (by a skilled armourer) into a flexible armour that is as tough as chainmail but as light as leather armour.

Hate Bear (originally designed for play in LotFP)
Found "Somewhere North"; icy, snowy conditions. Lives in caves.
AC16 (equivalent to chainmail)
Can swipe big paws twice (2 attacks) for d8 damage each but at -2 to hit. After a successful swipe and if close can try to grapple with tentacles at +2 to hit. No damage, but restrains successfully trapped prey; will not attack but will attempt to swallow on next turn. Very difficult to escape. Swallowed victims will take d4 crushing damage and d2 acid damage (damages armour first).

A Hate Bear cub has AC12 (no armour), 2HD and only one swiping attack that does d4 damage. It's too small to grasp and swallow, but has tentacles. All Hate Bears have 2d4 spiky tentacles.

TL;DR - a huge polar bear with the pre-Special-Edition-Sarlacc's maw instead of a head! 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Last Year's Games

Games Played
Cyberpunk 2020
In A Wicked Age
Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Dogs in the Vineyard
Blood & Honor
Murderous Ghosts

Games Run
In A Wicked Age
Dogs in the Vineyard
Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Games/Stuff Bought
Lamentations of the Flame Princess - and Vornheim, Isle of the Unknown
Bought in to the Seclusium of Orphone and No Security settings on Indiegogo/Kickstarter

Games I Still Want To Run But Haven't Had Time/Players Yet
A zombie game, possibly using Dogs in the Vineyard's mechanics
Apocalypse World (most likely will start this in the next few months for nephew and friends, aka, The Teens)
A time travel game (no idea how, but the idea intrigues me)

Least Fun
Being away for work at various points limited gaming options; that's likely to continue this year. Diaspora had great collaborative setting and character generation, but seemed a bit cumbersome to play. I am convinced that with a different roll/resolution mechanic our group would have loved it.

Most Fun
Cyberpunk 2020 was great. Playing a futuristic game in an alternate near-past of where we live was brilliant. I think that we players really hit our stride a few sessions in, and after that we explored so many different directions and ideas in "Soviet Cyberpool 2011" that I wondered each week where we could possibly go next. The GM (noisms) had a great handle on everything, and it faded to black following a terrific gun battle and blowing up a dodgy drug-dealing church.
I've enjoyed GMing a lot! (a few one-shots and now my second campaign)

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Retainers


In the Somewhere North campaign, the two current PCs, Esa-Pekka and Kolk, have strengths of 5 and 6 respectively. Their only companions were a couple of halflings, Mumble and Crumble, who seem moderately competent (about half of the time). In the long term, this might not bode well for them. So in a previous session they paid the owner of The Knife & Cousin tavern to put the word out that they were looking for some muscle. In the town of Rovaniemi the adventurers' guild are very choosy and only allow "the right sort" in. And the fees are pretty steep. So the people that Oskar the tavern owner found were people who for one reason or another could not be part of the highly competent guild. They are, however, enthusiastic. For the most part.

Magnus is a young fighter, possibly even younger than Kolk (who is only 17). He is tall and Scrappy-Doo-esque in his enthusiasm for battle. He has only a short sword and shield. He dealt the killing blow to the enormous wolf that was plaguing the cheesemaking hamlet of Hakala, and was hence named Magnus Wolfsbane!

Mid-to-late thirties. Tuukka has had many jobs that have required a bit of muscle, but has never really progressed in any of them. Think of a guy who tried out for the police force, didn't get in, and then spent twenty years doing a series of security guard gigs that didn't pay very well and which he didn't find very stimulating. That's Tuukka. He is actually quite knowledgeable about the region, and pretty even-tempered. He wears leather armour and carries a great two-handed axe.

In her mid-twenties with long black hair, Sanelma makes constant references to restoring family honour. Her equipment is all inherited and and awkwardly worn or carried, but she is sincere in her attitude and desire to win honour. Dressed in chainmail, carrying a shield and short sword.

A short man with a tamed beard, Eerik speaks in short sentences with a strange twang to his words. Claims that his family told him all about Oddli's Tomb and is rather insistent that the party go there. Struggles in chain mail, but carries a two-handed axe like he was born with it.

Of course, after a few quick words, the players (noisms and Patrick) hired them all.