Thursday, 7 November 2013

Games Night: Otherpool, Session 1

Patrick has already done a great job of summarising what happened in last night's game. So really all I want to add are a couple of thoughts about playing Marvel FASERIP and then I thought it might be interesting to share my character's stats.

There are, I think, three things that jump out at me about the system. First of all, the random character generation really works. It might be spread out over a number of pages, and a lot of them are text heavy, but it is nicely directed. There is a good flow to it. I'd be interested to know what influenced some of the weightings with the random tables (particularly in the initial character class). Since this blog was initially set up with at least half an eye on the maths of tabletop RPGs, I'd also be curious to know just how many possible heroes one could roll up - or what the likelihood, say, of a person rolling the stats for Thor or Wolverine is.

Secondly, I found the dice rolling refreshing. Don't get me wrong: especially after this year of so much OSR and retroclone goodness I am a fan of d20s and having a gaggle of various Platonic solids in front of me each with their own place and time. But there was something neat about just using two d10s to get everything. And while the big table on the back of the book looks complex at first, in reality it isn't. It just works. Roll d100, compare the roll (row) with your ability level (column) and the colour in the box tells you how well you succeeded. Maybe look at another little table to tell you whether or not there is anything special. Done. Fast. Great.

Finally: I like the way little things about the system really support it being "comic book-y". Health is recovered, in general, very quickly. The class benefits and disadvantages are simple, but really strongly support the character types that you're trying to be (for example, mutants always increase one power by one rank, but they have to start with popularity of 0). Karma is a great way of steering things, and declaring the minimum spend required to use it works too - no abusing the system.

I've said a lot about the system there, and virtually nothing about the setting. We're planning to play on G+ next week, so assuming Patrick summarises the second session in a style similar to his first (please please please), I'll write something about the setting next week.

But after the jump... Sergeant Shoxx!

Monday, 4 November 2013

RPG Person Profile

So this is me when it comes to games... (and my first post in a looong time because of fatherhood!)
I'm currently running (at home): Nothing, but up until recently I was running a campaign set in and around the city of Wetham. We were playing using LotFP, had used a few settings, and intend to carry on at some point. I've also ran Dogs in the Vineyard, In A Wicked Age and several standalone games - in particular I love GHOST/ECHO.

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (at home) include: None. This makes me sad. Having a young baby at home makes this tricky for now.

I'm currently running (online): Nothing. Sigh. See above. However, I'm hoping to get the old gang back together sooner or later!

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (online) include: I've only played in one game online so far, but want to play more! I played a couple of sessions of Pendragon of Mars, which was awesome. (noisms ran that)

I would especially like to play/run: Cyberpunk 2020 but hacked away from the basic setting a little. I think the basic rules and mechanics would support loads of games in different genres. I have wanted to run or play Apocalypse World ever since I last played it (almost two years ago now).

...but would also try: Nearly anything OSRish/D&D-y. I'm interested in interesting mechanics that reflect some aspect of the game that is unfolding. And I have a stack of pdfs from various Bundles of Holding and other places that I want to try.

I live in: Liverpool, England - or rather that's the nearest city. I've been fortunate to game with some excellent people who introduced me to tabletop RPGs.

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like: Vornheim is a go-to book for me. It's compact, it's hardback, it feels good in your hands and in your backpack. It's damn useful too. And all of this before saying that it looks amazing too. I got one of the final copies from the publisher. Dogs in the Vineyard feels like it came from another world. It presents an interesting setting, with core ideas that could be hacked into a million and one different settings. The Town Creation stuff does something wonderful in helping a GM to establish a series of people and problems in a logical way - so then they can get out of the way while the Dogs do their thing.

2 or 3 novels I like: I Am Legend by the late Richard Matheson. I've re-read this at least once a year for the last fifteen years. In the last few years I've really grown to love the Poirot novels. So far my favourite would be a tie between The ABC Murders and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

2 or 3 movies I like: The Richard Donner Superman. Back To The Future. Four Weddings And A Funeral.

Best place to find me on-line: On this blog or on Google+.

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's: Interesting. I look over posts about "offending"/"offended" people and who said what and what it means and so on - but it's only titillation. I want to see interesting ideas for games, neat thoughts on where games might go or what kinds of games might be played.

I really do not want to hear about: How something is bad if you've not played it, or no-one you know has played it. OK? Ask questions - even ask questions because you're skeptical about "how X would work" - but don't flat out deny or hate something you or a trusted friend have no experience of.

Free RPG Content I made: Is all over this blog at the moment I guess; tables and ideas and bits and bobs. I'm working on getting some bits and pieces I think are neat into a pdf or something.

You can buy RPG stuff I made: Nowhere right now, but somewhere eventually!

If you know anything about intuitive software for fomatting and layout it'd help me with a project I'm working on: Actually it would help me with pretty much every project I am working on. So if you can give me some pointers or point me in the right direction I would be very grateful!

I talk about RPGs on G+ under the name +Nathan Ryder.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Imminent Fatherhood

There are a million and one things that I want to write about. The last few sessions of the Wetham campaign, thoughts about using dominoes in games, recent purchases, ideas for other sessions, monsters, items and settings.

However, at some point in the next few weeks I am due to become a father!

As a result, over the last few weeks so many things that I have tried to do have seemed to just fall by the wayside...

I'm very excited, and when I have a moment I'll come back and write some more about role-playing games. I have some big plans - I just have to find a way to make them happen...

Monday, 8 July 2013

Generating Pugs

(this is a post written in haste and ignorance and contains thoughts that have not necessarily been taken to any kind of logical conclusion; so who knows if there is anything of value here, or anything that can be taken to a valuable conclusion. Perhaps you will take a chance?)

The other day I was thinking about generating large numbers of Pugs. Pugs are a goblin-y kind of creature that I wrote about when I was DMing the Somewhere North campaign earlier this year. They start as 2/3HD creatures (clerics and chiefs have more 4HD) and are found in various group sizes, from two person scout groups all the way up to 150 strong warbands. And you would not want to look in the old Dwarven Fortresses under the northern hills. Thousands and thousands of them in there.

So. You have two Pugs running from a party. Quickly you roll four d8s and there we go, you can get their HP and know what's what.

But: the Party is ambushed by a Medium group. (dice rolled as I write to illustrate point). They've been lying in wait and are prepared. (6+3d6 leads to 19 Pugs, 6 of them are 3HD, roll for 50% check and one is a 4HD Pug Warlord's Son) So the Medium group is comprised of a 4HD leader, six 3HD Pugs (two of which are Clerics) and twelve 2HD Pugs. That's a lot of dice to roll to stat them up. You can do it, but it seems like a little chore.

Thus: I started thinking, can a reasonable generator be made? Say, roll 2d20 and consult a table that will give Pug numbers, HP values, what they are armed with and so on. Of course, the original conception of the Pug is something that I have put together. There must be a million and one similarly created opponent humanoids.

Here's the interesting thing that was occuring to me as I was sat in Costa: there is something beautifully mathematical about all of this. You create a system to model some kind of objects. It's totally valid to create the objects and move from there too. But in some respects the model is quite complicated in some ways (i.e., if you want to generate a lot of Pugs at once). So can a different model be created (a different means of generating large numbers of opponents) that means fewer dice are rolled, but the result is representative of the larger model?

As I said at the start, none of this is thought through particularly well. I'm just curious.

(and say you had A.N. Other opponent that has 2HD and appears in large groups; if there was a 2d20 table, or something indexed with two d20s or something like it - the result from the d20 rolls in terms of HP would be valid as well potentially, i.e., a group of 2HD zombies might have other features but their HP values could be generated similarly)

(all of this floating around in my head, and partially prompted by Zak S's post about Elegance, which made a connection with the idea of mathematical beauty...)

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Monster: Spellbook Golems

Some tomes in magical and rare libraries are cursed. The unfortunate reader, if not properly prepared, may go blind from reading the title page. A careless peruser may go mad from touching a hellish travelogue. An unwary thief may find that they are trapped within the pages of a magically charged Who's Who.

None of these fates compare to coming face-to-face with a secret library's secret guardian. No, not a Kamikaze Librarian (thought for later: run a game where people can only choose from extraordinary classes created in that style). A golem made of magical texts...

You run your fingers along the wrong shelf. You open a locked cabinet. You don't pay your fine. Any one of these might trigger a cascade of leather bound books of all shapes and sizes, spilling on to the floor and forming into a humanoid shape - or perhaps into a vaguely houndlike body. If it has been activated it is because you are not supposed to be there, or because you have taken something it is bound to protect. A Spellbook Golem will follow you, attack you, attempt to restrain you - but usually it will not try to kill you. The Librarian who finds you afterwards will do that...

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Where does the time go?

I like noisms' "generalised lament" about the amount of time that he has to run/play games (and write about them as well) - obviously not the fact of the matter, but the situation resonates with me a lot. I wonder about how things are going to change when I become a dad in a few months time. Will I be able to play in a weekly game? (nevermind run one) At the moment I am barely able to run a LotFP campaign once a week; in principle I am taking part in noisms' excellent Pendragon of Mars campaign, but in reality I'm either away or busy. I've taken part in two sessions.

Ah well! I can sit here and weep for my lack of time or I can start to think, like noisms about the five games I would want to run or play:
  • Chatting after games night yesterday I realised that I would love to play some more Cyberpunk; I really enjoyed the game that we played about eighteen months ago in alternate Soviet Cyberpool.
  • Apocalypse World. I'd love to play it, I'd particularly love to run it (I was hoping to run it for my nephew and his friends this summer, but think I will be too short on time).
  • I've read a lot about Monsterhearts in the last few months and it really intrigues me... I might have to pick it up soon...
  • Avarice Industries is an RPG that I supported on Kickstarter. It's a bit Cyberpunk-y with the twist that the big corporations (one of which the players work for) have technology that creates anything. You can ride a dinosaur to work or have a bag with dimensional pockets. Big Problem: it was due in April 2012, and it's still (as of July 2013) not here. I've had bits and pieces of pdfs but nothing playable... AP stuff that was shared looks really interesting.
  • Homebrew Dogs In The Vineyard in modern day setting with zombies. I bloody loved running Dogs, we played about five sessions and it was a joy to prepare for and play. While playing it I was struck with the idea of the Dogs being able to do what they do because they have the final say about what is right and wrong (by virtue of being Followers of the King of Life). I think this kind of theme could transfer well in a zombie game; people acting as they will because there are no courts or authorities to say otherwise. I act, therefore I'm right. Started making some notes about this some time ago and tagged them with "zombies".
It's Camp Nanowrimo month and so I'm spending time writing 31,000 words about games and game resources. So hopefully, like noisms, I will find my 30 minutes a day to connect with a hobby...

Somewhere South: The Plots Thicken

Previously: Patrick and David's characters hired some new staff for their bar, The Grotesque Cudgel, and spotted someone tailing them. Gorble of Corg, who is also blackmailing them, says he needs them for a job, and that he will be in touch. Orchard the magic-user kills a man in the street, but the party evade consequences by turning the dead body into gingerbread and distributing it to people... Later, they magically disguise Rowntree the Elf as a gingerbread man and sneak him into the house of a rich immortal. Destroying the painting that keeps the man eternally young, they then throw him out of a window with a fake suicide note in his hand, and "rescue" a former guest at their inn.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Somewhere South: Two Uses for Gingerbread Curse

Previously: the party (Patrick and David) killed Arvik Bleeve, the thorn in their side, and dumped his body in the river. Bleeve's relative attacked others in the party, but were then killed themselves. A retainer of the party ended up dead, and so they held a great wake in her honour. Towards the end of the street party an urchin approaches one of the party with a note from someone who saw the party dump Arvik Bleeve's body into the Weth...

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Writing Camp

I make notes of things all the time. Half-thoughts, stray notions and little "I wonder..." moments go in to journals, on to scraps of paper, and more often now get captured by Google Keep. I keep saying that I will make time to develop these further, but always find reasons/excuses not to.

So in July I am going to use the framework of Camp NaNoWriMo to make something of these ideas. I've set a goal of 31,000 words of material: 1,000 words per day. I'm not sure if I will be able to write that every day, but averaged across the month I hope to produce some (at least) half-polished pieces.

My aim at the moment is to create/polish:
  • A series of useful/interesting random tables, encounters, creatures and items for old school style games.
  • At least two nano-games that I have been sketching ideas for while I was on holiday recently; these have the working titles "Crash Land" and "Blood Bank Heist".
  • "Die Hard in a Wizard's Tower" - taking it from the notes that I have at the moment to a scenario.
I might also ask people on G+ for challenges! My goal with all of this is to try and develop a writing habit again. I have that more or less when it comes to the professional writing that I do, but want to do more in RPG writing. Maybe this will help.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Somewhere South: Living, Dying and Mourning in Wetham

The last few months have been quite patchy for gaming; fortunately I have only one week coming up when I won't be around to run/play something - until I become a father in September, and who knows how that will effect things then. But 'til then, let's see what sort of things have been happening recently in Wetham, shall we?

Patrick and David went to sleep after their trip to the warren of the Dread Rabbit, and woke to find themselves in a strange sugar-coated nightmare world - Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess. Despite the machinations of evil stuffed toys and dastardly cherubs they were able to escape, bringing back some items with them that would probably prove useful...

Friday, 24 May 2013


Ugh. This month has just turned into one long work day.

Every now and then I have the odd hour to think about games - and thankfully I got to play a few weeks ago, but then didn't have time to write about it. Perhaps this weekend - as it is a three day weekend in the UK - I will have time to write up running Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess with Patrick and David W, which was interesting and fun and gross to describe in places.

We also played What is a Roleplaying Game? by Epidiah Ravachol, which was a really interesting example of diceless play. Very provocative and has me thinking about nano-games as a starting point for making and completing something, releasing/sharing something. I need to write about the game and about nano-games too.

I have nothing even resembling mechanics, but I do have ideas for Game Chef 2013, which of course I found out was running the day I went away earlier this week for work... Parallel universes, robots with crystal brains shifting through continua to escape from The Man while trying not to lose each other. Something like that.

And then, while playing GHOST/ECHO again I had a few ideas crystallise for a time travel game that has been running around in the background for ages called (for now) SPACE/TIME. Despite the title, it runs on the Apocalypse! So lots to do and lots to write.

At the start of the year I made a commitment to myself to blog a minimum of seven times a month. It's the 24th of May, and this is the first time I've blogged this month. So I'd best get cracking...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Setting Idea: Yippee-ki-yay!

On Sunday I saw Olympus Has Fallen, which was good in a pulpy, ridiculous sort of way. Good actors making the most of an overblown plot. It has been described as "Die Hard in the White House" which is a description that totally fits.

Last night I was watching an episode of Lost (don't worry, if you've never seen it I won't spoil anything) and there came a point where a character was crawling through a ventilation shaft. Something connected back with Olympus Has Fallen and the "Die Hard in the..." summary. Which in turn lead me to write "Game/Setting Idea: Die Hard in an abandoned castle/wizard's tower" over on G+.


Sunday, 21 April 2013

Monster: Weaves

Art sometimes get a bad rep. On our world people look at graffiti and wonder if it has merit. They look quizzically at a shark in a tank of formaldehyde. And they just don't get why Picasso couldn't get perspective right.

In other places, people look at a bizarre statue: a creature supported by a dozen piglegs, stitched to a cow's body, the head of a gargoyle, creepers growing out of all of the orifices and tree limb arms ending in scythes. "How is that art?" they ask. Then they run screaming as it stirs into life and chases them.

They didn't hear the story about the adventurers excavating under the hill of the Dread Rabbit who found a similar composite creature: a tripod of metal, stone and flesh (a bent broadsword, a three-foot stone column, the leg of a grotesquely fat person) carries a great dead horse head, mouth held shut by nailed bands of metal. A sword spike juts out of the top of the head, tentacles that sprout rosebuds spill out of the eye sockets and nostrils. As the adventurers walked past it shuddered into movement and pursued the group.

These are descriptions of Weaves.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Games Night: Of Mechs & Men

Last night I joined in my second session of Pendragon of Mars (noisms' homebrew mash-up of Pendragon and Mekton on Mars) on G+. We had a lot of fun, particularly when we got out into the Martian wilderness and were hunting down a fugitive knight

The story picked up a few months after the winter phase of the previous session, at the Easter Festival. Earl Roderick tasked the noble knights - Owain (me), Xyre (Zak) and Wiglaf (Patrick) to hunt down Sir Michael, a knight who had lost his honour when he slept with another man's wife. The other man is a rival lord from the south, and if Michael is not presented to him soon he may start a war with the Pendragons as he seeks justice. Not good.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Games Night: Veins of the Earth

So last night I rolled up a couple of characters to take through a dungeon based on Patrick's Veins of the Earth setting/sourcebook. This was kind of a playtest I guess - I don't know if I'm the first person to encounter some of these creatures and situations in the wild - but it was all new and different and weird to me.

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Man and his Mechs

Sir Owain the Red's family are fourth generation Mars-worshippers. As a child he listened to the stories of when the planet was lifeless and red; he heard the legends and absorbed all the myths. Mars is much changed from those old days, but Owain thinks he remembers them... Before he came of age he took a tattoo of the old, red planet on his back, an artwork that spans his torso. It shows ley-lines that are talked of in the ancient stories, the old passages of rivers and streams. It is on his back but Owain can trace it from memory.

Sir Owain is the master of his household now, and the controls to the family's mechs have been passed to him. All but one of them has been in the family for a very long time; he has read the family history of them, as well as his great-grandfather's more fanciful tales from when the family converted to Mars-worship. He likes both accounts.

The greatest of the mechs is Dyn Gleddyf Mawr; this colossal metal man has been in the family since before there was a family. It is the champion, the power. The family have poured love and care into its upkeep. A bipedal armoured man, criss-crossing patterns of artwork covering the skin. Mawr has many ranged weapons systems, and a phased plasma blade which Owain delights in using.

There is a strong design similarity between Mawr and Ryfel Bychan, which is much smaller but carries a heavy arsenal. Owain's grandfather told him that Ryfel Bychan was Dyn Gleddyf Mawr's baby brother. As a child he believed him. Ryfel Bychan is small but strong. The family has not tested it in battle for many seasons. There is some hope that it could hold it's own, but in Owain's life he has never seen the red eyes alight.

Marchog Deircoes was added to the family's mech arsenal only in the last fifty years. It was a wedding present given on the occasion of Owain's father's first marriage. Deircoes carries traits and markings from several different elder design schools. Almost impossibly it seems as if it were put together more recently than the old times. Which must be impossible. But how else to explain the three legs that it walks on, coupled with the radically different torso and head? No matter, it has weapons and moves, and that is to be valued.

Poor little Cofamhir... He is so small compared to the other mechs and now used only to carry things around the estate. But as grandfather used to say to Owain, "Cofamhir is old, so very old. He did great and mighty things in the past - look at where his left arm should be, eh? Yes, so old... But he must have seen so much..."

And then: it was the winter of Owain's 22nd year, a week or so after his birthday. Judgement had been carried out on the case of the farmer and the tradesmen. Owain hoped that it had been wise. Would father have done the same? Father was dead. A knock at the study door. So sorry to intrude. So sorry to disturb. In cataloguing your father's possessions we found this...

A small chest. A control crystal. A letter. A location. Of another family mech. Stored in secret, twenty feet underground, out under the old stables. His birthright. Owain called for his horse, changed his mind and asked that Cofamhir be brought to him. A new sight perhaps, for the little mech's old eyes...

Sunday, 14 April 2013

AP: Pendragon of Mars

It's been a crazy topsy-turvy sort of week, but I couldn't let it end without talking about one of the highlights for me: my first chance to join noisms' game, Pendragon of Mars, which was also my first time playing anything over a G+ Hangout.

I'll talk about my character, Sir Owain the Red, and his mechs in another post, I just want to focus on what happened and what it was like playing with noisms, Patrick (Sir Wiglaf), David W (Sir Elias) and Zak (Sir Xyre).

The other guys had already had a couple of sessions to get used to things; I'd done most of the statting up beforehand, but there were a few things I didn't know about my character. As ever, as soon as the questions started flowing - What does he look like? What sort of family is he from? - the few details I had already brought together started mating like crazy.

A lot and a little happened in the session. So far, Pendragon of Mars is really unlike anything else I've played in the last two years: we spent ninety minutes playing through the events of a formal-ish ball, full of court intrigue, flirting with the Ladies of the court, being knighted, passing initiations and sometimes making asses of ourselves as we tried to impress women with knife skills or back tattoos (both techniques I tried, both of which failed). Finally we were formally knighted by the Earl (including being punched in the face and jumping over a sword to mount our steeds; that's how we roll on Mars).

And then the night of our knighting over noisms said "OK, so now it is winter and you are back at home. Here is what happens..." and each of us had some scenes back at our manors for the winter (passing judgement on commoner disputes, finding out what happened with our families, and just generally getting older).

Where things really got fun was seeing what the other players' characters were like, and how they interacted.We weren't trying to tag team fighting Martians or performing some mission. We were trying to help each other out at court. Brothers in arms!

The experience of playing over G+ Hangout was interesting. It was a lot of fun to be playing from home, and playing with people not just in different parts of the UK but different parts of the world. It also made me wonder about playing ViewScream, a game which I've read about and intrigues me...

Anyway! Lots of fun, and looking forward to this week's session. I have to stat up another mech! One final part of the character gen was rolling for an important family belonging. I got another charger, which in Pendragon of Mars means designing another 150 construction point mech under the Mekton Zeta rules...

Roll on Wednesday.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Creature: Wilizards

Someone from another universe, perhaps a universe like ours, would see a saurian-like creature such as the Wilizard and think "that's a chubby sort of little velociraptor without the sharp claws; a bit fatter like a T-Rex but definitely a smaller dinosaur." As the Wilizard is not native to these parts, and is more readily found in the lands around Wetham, the chances of you seeing one are slim.

And probably just as well.

People who study such things don't know what has happened; a few hundred years ago Wilizards were simple pack predators, hunting, sometimes scavenging. They were nowhere near the top of the food chain, but at around four feet in height, with sharp teeth and a tail to help them balance running on two legs they were at least on the middle rungs of the ladder.

No longer.

Recently Wilizards have been showing greater levels of intelligence than simple pack-hunting animals. They track prey and wait until nightfall before striking. They pretend to play dead so that others investigate. They - somehow - construct crude pit traps and lie in wait for the unwary to fall in. Not all of these tactics are well executed, but more often than not they allow the opportunity for a Wilizard to bring something down, be it a man or beast. Scholars are trying to determine from old museum artifacts whether they have always had opposable claws...

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Large Chess

The people of Wetham appreciate board games - if they are played on very large boards. While Flaming Chess has been popular for hundreds of years, a variant known as Large Chess has become popular much more recently. Pieces are represented by people, and they move according to the regular chess rules but for one difference: moving on to an opponent's square does not indicate capture, merely combat - a fight to the death or surrender for the two pieces involved.

There are unarmed Large Chess leagues where teams compete regularly: pawns are boxers, rooks are wrestlers, knights fight according to the styles of faraway lands and so on. However, in recent years those with the means to organise such things have taken to invoking Large Chess to settle civil disputes and outstanding debts. Writs are served specifying dates and times for people to pay up or settle by the rules of the game, with both sides bound to abide by the result.

Most choose to pay.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Somewhere South: The Warren of the Dread Rabbit!

Previously: Orve, Vaskin, Orchard (all Patrick) and Rowntree (David W) set out from the city of Wetham to investigate rumours of a Dread Rabbit, a big demonic creature that rises every thirteen years from slumber to wreak havoc. After a few encounters with a small Grogan, psychic rats and giant mucus worms, they retreat to the nearby town of Bilge...

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Creature: Devil Cats

No bigger than ordinary house cats, these annoying little pack predators are mostly feline - except for the eight legs on their bodies and four horns on their heads. Devil cats meow and hiss constantly, even while asleep. They attack by mobbing their prey, and if encountered in a group will generally herd their young away while attacking whatever they have come across.

They are feared in spite of their small size due to a venom they can inject through their bite. The venom is not poisonous as such, but triggers pain sensations in victims. Although they look bizarre, and despite their name, devil cats are not actually demonic.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Creature: Grimhook Jays

They are not natural, that much is clear. Someone made these - possibly for "a laugh" - "oh, what would happen if..." - and then when they got pecked to death by them they got their answer. Maybe they were made in a wizard's lab, maybe a demon pushed malevolence into a predatory bird - who cares? They're here and they are mean.

Three-feet tall, mostly bird-like, skin-wings that unfold and unfurl and allow gliding. They run on double-jointed emu legs, and have have claws at their wingtips that help them to climb and grasp. Their head has simian and avian qualities, forward-facing eyes, short plumage that covers their torso as well.

And the grimhook. Damn. An eighteen inch razor beak ending in a four-inch downward hook overbite. Nestling between a two-inch double underbite. When it bites it tears flesh, the over- and under-bites scissoring together, the beak edge cutting. It's not just a predator, it's a killer.

When a Grimhook Jay steps out from bushes or glides down from tree-tops, a mocking "HAW HAW!" call echoing, you will flinch, but you will think you can take it. It's not that big. And it's just a bird with a sharp beak really. When a half dozen follow it, you will run. That's the only thing you probably can do.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Monster: The Grogan

A stone-jointed granite monster. Many were made hundreds of years ago, but they are now rare, often found in abandoned tombs and ruined wizard lairs. They were fashionable as magical guards before most sorcerers realised that they were more trouble than they were worth.

The Grogan is quadrupedal, an up-turned metre-wide demi-sphere sitting on four equally spaced metre long legs. Eight triple jointed stone blades lie on the compass points around the top of the flat surface. In the centre of the body is a small pedestal, upon which sits a great stone eye with a black diamond pupil.

The Grogan is constantly in motion, and every movement sounds like nails down a blackboard. It dodges attacks and resists damage. The great and powerful stopped creating them when, inevitably, a Grogan would start attacking the master it was supposed to protect.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Flaming Chess

In the last session in the city of Wetham, the party wanted to do some gambling or gaming, and found themselves at The Cup & Beaver - a gambling den where high-born nobles play Flaming Chess. Looking for money and information they agreed to play a game of doubles Flaming Chess with Tyrnus Von Vrogle and Nena Bleeve. At stake: the party's traitorous magic sword and Tyrnus' jewelled chainmail.

"But Nathan," I hear you say, "How does one play Flaming Chess?"

I'm so glad you asked...

Somewhere South: Wetham Days

GMing felt great last night - it had been far too long between games nights. Will have to think about that in the next few months, as there are still times when I'm going to be away. But anyway! On to the AP. I did a oneshot for Patrick a while back that started off in Tales of the Scarecrow and ended up in the city of Wetham. Last night continued the adventure...

Monday, 25 March 2013

Creature: TU-Rats

Two foot high ratlings, humanoid, dressed in simple leather and cloth garments and carrying needle knives (sometimes poisoned) and tiny bows and slings. They are primitive by some measures, but civilised, living (typically) in large nest communities. Teams of TU-Rats have been known to ride pack-horses and other large domesticated animals. Unlike other rats and ratlings they have long outgrown scavenging as a way of life.

Oh, and TU stands for Telepathically United.

The cranium of a TU-Rat is slightly larger than might be expected for a bipedal rat of their overall size. They create an open psychic field to other TU-Rats. They are individuals but share and coordinate via a groupthink as situations require. A TU-Rat is always aware of every other TU-Rat within 50 feet, and can transmit to TU-Rats much further away by a mental relay effect: messages are passed on but are not instantaneous.

TU-Rats trade with other intelligent races sometimes. They are not aggressive generally, but can be territorial. A TU-Rat by itself will not be a great challenge for a party of adventurers if they have to kill it. Problems occur when dealing with large groups of TU-Rats that attack en masse and which can overcome even the most hardy of warriors. The TU-Rat psychic field can have an effect on humans and other races.

Monster: The P'Lacki

A monstrous purple and black demon squid that crawls on land. It comes from somewhere beyond, and cannot be reasoned with in any way, although it has at least average human intelligence.

The P'Lacki wants to challenge the strong, and will instinctively move to attack an opponent with high STR. It has a body three metres long and over two metres high, but seems much bigger as it drags itself along on a combination of fleshy rear paddles and two sets of tree-trunk thick tentacles. Despite its massive form it can move quickly.

The P'Lacki's body is a purple and black segmented armour that conceals vital and sensory organs. It generally does not reveal its terrible demonic maw, which is a weak spot. A dozen rune-shaped eyes ring the 472 teeth at the heart of the fleshy death-hole.

Some say the P'Lacki is a unique creature in the world. Some say it seeks death on this plane to return to the demon realms. All who survive and have run away agree that it is a deeply unsettling creature.

The P'Lacki
AC: Platemail; 9HD, 50HP
Attacks: The P'Lacki has up to four attacks depending on how many are in melee with it. Most attacks will be simple tentacle swipes (+2 to hit, 1+d6 damage, 30% chance to knock down on unsuccessful save versus paralysis). Whoever in the group has the highest STR (currently) will be targeted for a different kind of attack. A thin needle will skewer out from a fore-tentacle and attempt to stab this person in the arm for d2 attacks. Attacks are at +1 to hit and do 1+d3 damage. The victim loses 1 STR point immediately and must make a save versus magical effect to avoid losing one more. On a critical fail the victim loses a third STR point and d2 CON points. Every STR/CON point the P'Lacki takes instantly gives it another hit die - and corresponding hit points - but confers no other attack bonuses.

If a victim is killed or reduced to 2 hit points or less, the P'Lacki will attempt to eat them. The bulb like body will split open in a stream of purple slime revealing the eyes and teeth. If the creature does this it will make one attack at +4 to bite. If successful it will attempt to swallow the victim (takes one round). In either of these (potential) rounds, any successful attacks that are specified against the mouth/eye areas will deal triple damage. Despite having concealed eyes, the P'Lacki suffers no sensory penalties and can see in perfect/magical darkness.

Any STR or CON points lost in combat to the P'Lacki will take d3 weeks per point to recover. The total number of weeks is halved if the P'Lacki is killed, and halved if the person rests - no active adventuring.


Back from holidays, back from workshops in places with no mobile signal, back online after moving house - and back to playing games and writing about them.

It's been too long.

First up, am writing up some monsters that I statted up on holiday last month. First one should go up soon, followed by creatures inspired by the names of some friends...

More to follow.

Thursday, 7 March 2013


I'm moving house. This is the second time in my life I've had to do this. The first was moving in when we got married. Now we've bought somewhere; it's taken over seven months to get it sorted, and now things have just suddenly come together and we have a week to pack the house up and find things which we need for the new place.

I've still had time to do some writing about game-related stuff, but just not had time to get it on here. Hopefully over the weekend I'll have the capacity to share some things. I've been enjoying:
  • making monsters out of my friends - now with a picture!
  • statting up mechs and a knight for noisms forthcoming Pendragons of Mars campaign that we're going to try over G+ - really intrigued by this, especially since an almost throwaway question about mech games suddenly added giant robots to an Arthurian knights game...
  • letting my brain relax from running a campaign - but now thinking that I want to get back to it before the summer comes and I try to run Apocalypse World for my nephew and his friends... I have seriously been bitten by the world-building bug with Somewhere North and now Somewhere South... It's like a permanent itch that needs scratching.
So posts to follow soon anyway, probably stats of monsters first, with horrendous ink sketches for some.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Mech RPGs

Yesterday afternoon I watched the second Evangelion Rebuild movie (micro-review: I liked it, I didn't understand all of it necessarily, but I liked it) and it got me wondering over on G+ - "are there any good giant mech defending the world RPGs?"

By this morning there were nearly 70 comments and it seems that noisms is going to hack his G+ Pendragon campaign to feature giant robots in a star-spanning feudal future. Yay for asking simple questions.

Meanwhile, I'm still thinking about giant robots saving the world. I have a couple of days of holiday this week, and in between enjoying cafes, reading some fiction and going on a couple of long walks, I think I want to noodle out some giant mech thoughts. Because why not, eh?

Mechanics light on the crunch, hopefully not too heavy on the teenage moping (I'm looking at you again Evangelion). One thought that did come to mind would be to use something of the Dogs in the Vineyard style and attach dice to character traits and mech ability... But that's just a first thought. I don't want 800 different options for mech heads combined with 2000 more different kinds of light railgun. We'll see.

CthulhuTech was suggested to me so I'm checking it out!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Actual Play: Somewhere South

Last night Patrick and I were the only ones available for games night. After a quick discussion we decided to play something as a bit of a oneshot, and so I used Tales of the Scarecrow as a starting point for an evening's adventure...

Patrick quickly rolled up a party for himself; while he generated four sets of stats, I used Vornheim NPC tables to create some people to populate the world, and pulled some names out of the air ("Usher Beak, who is a herbalist, has asked you to take a chest to a friend of his in the nearby city of Wetham; you've been on the road a day..."). Patrick used Vornheim to name all of his characters - including pulling the detail that Vaskin, his fighter, was in fact two goblins standing on shoulders. Awesome.

But I'll try to keep as many details out as possible.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Future Spending Spree

Some day soon, the stars will align. On that day I won't have to think about saving for house-moving, or be immediately wondering about how to fund some crazy work idea. On that day I will be free to go wild and buy games! And when I do, these are the ones at the top of my list...

Hot War (link)
This looks interesting. An alternate 1960s, the cold war has gone nuclear - and then things went bad... I love the vibe of the description, and the illustration and design in the preview. Something sinister in 1960s London gives me a hundred ideas all at once for setting and plot hooks.

3:16 (link)
The reviews at DriveThruRPG say it all really. After playing Diaspora a little, I would love to play a sci-fi game, and 3:16 looks like it would comfortably fit the bill. David W, one of the players in our group, has mentioned running something sci-fi, possibly Traveller. Maybe once we reach a suitable pause point with Somewhere North we will head for the stars...

Weird New World (link)
I've only read the description, but from that it sounds like this might give me some neat ideas for what lies beyond the mountains in Somewhere North. The hidden valley of the halflings is not simply going to be ten miles past the mountains. There are Drazils to be sure, but what else is there? Maybe Weird New World can help to fill in some of the blanks.

Tower of the Stargazer (link)
Several things attract me to this pdf; first there is the price, you can't go wrong for a couple of euros. Second is that it is more LotFP goodness, and I'm quite hooked on that at the moment. More importantly, there is the inclusion of the following phrase in the description: "Tower of the Stargazer is a specially designed introductory module with material specifically for beginning Referees, with notes detailing not only what is included in the adventure, but why." I'm really enjoying writing stuff at the moment for the campaign I'm running, but am also wondering if the stuff that I am writing is only usable by me (because I know my own shorthand, I know what I might do with a prompt - would someone else? etc). Seeing some discussion on that might be helpful - especially if I decide to do something with these materials later.

Death Frost Doom (link)
I've read lots of bits and pieces about this, and everything I've read about it leads me to think that it's near a small village, about fifty miles from the city of Zelman in Somewhere North, on the road between the Bridge and the city. I think that on the long road between the Bridge and the city the players might find cause to stop there and to wonder whether they have what it takes to go near the church in search of treasure...

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Somewhere North: Shaggy Pigs

Shaggy Pigs are huge wild boar-like creatures that roam the northern winterlands. An adult can grow to seven feet in length, has great tusks and thick carpets of hair covering it. The most distinctive feature of the Shaggy Pig are the two sets of hind legs that it has, which allow it to run at quick speeds over icy and snowy terrain; it runs with an unusual gait and can keep a pace for many miles.

In the wild they run in packs and are omnivorous, instinctively burrowing for exotic, nourishing tubers and then chasing down wild deer – and whatever else they can find. Shaggy Pigs have been semi-domesticated by Pugs. They use them to pull their sleds, and are known to be used as battle-mounts by pairs of Pugs, who will ride with slings and short swords.

Shaggy Pig
AC as leather armour and shield, 4HD. They attack anything that looks tasty by running in and trying to gore it to death with long tusks (d8 damage). In the wild they run in packs of 4+d6 pigs; young swine are not normally found in the wild, as they are kept in a sty by the pack. Shaggy Pigs are fiercely territorial and belligerent.

If tracked to a regular feeding area, adventurers might be able to find some of the strange tubers that they dig for. Shaggy Pigs uproot them for sustenance, however they have a strange effect on non-pigs...

If eating a tuber found by a Shaggy Pig, roll 2d6:

2-3: Makes the eater appear two years younger (takes 5 minutes; permanent effect). 8: Eaten raw, mild poison; cooked CON +1.
4: As Cure Light Wounds. Mild poison if eaten more than three times (CON check or lose 2 CON for 2d8 days; if make check, 1 CON penalty for d4 days). 9: Nose grows an inch. Improved Bushcraft by 1.
5: Causes ESP effects for 8d6 hours. After a day, save vs magic every hour or collapse until effects wear off. 10: Skin emits a foul odour for d8 weeks. Soap and perfume won't cover it.
6: Resist Cold for a week. 11: Gives excellent nightvision.
7: Save vs poison. Fail and canine teeth grow d2 inches. (permanent) 12: The next time the eater sleeps they age 10 years (permanent effect).

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Somewhere North: A Guardian

The now-extinct northern Dwarves were not natural magic users, but they were very capable in crafting magical effects from various rare ores. This extended to giving life to various pseudo-mechanical creatures and beings, and even to giving life to assemblies of flesh. An unhealthy competition arose between various lords as to who could create the most dangerous guardian for their palace or home. One of the most feared, by legend, was the Guardian of the Palace of the Perfect Moon.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Actual Play: Somewhere North, session 8

Previously: Kulk and Joonas arrived at the Palace of the Perfect Moon, a minor underground castle of the Dwarven Lord Strangeli. They investigated a few areas, finding magical darkness (that temporarily blinded Kulk), skeletons and giant mechanical spiders. They sustained a few injuries, but mostly did will with just finding treasure. Resolving to delve deeper into the lower levels, they venture into the palace again...

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Somewhere North: Pugs

Pugs are curious things. They are like twisted up halflings, typically short but with proportional limbs. Their faces are difficult to read, as they seem to be permanently screwed-up into disgusted expressions. A pug has floppy dog/rabbit ears jutting out from the sides of its head. Pugs wear furs and skins to keep warm and are moderately intelligent. They construct wooden buildings and are great, natural carpenters.

However they much prefer to take what they can find.

Pugs will settle in any building that they can find to ward against the cold. Out of the mountains and in the south they roam around in small bands and try to stay hidden, sneaking into villages and taking animals – even small children – for food. These small groups are outliers. Further north they teem through the mountains, whole warbands serving under Pug Warlords. Their spiritual leaders sacrifice the impure and the un-pug to draw life and power for greater and more terrible actions. It is rumoured that some of them worship Drazils and Greater Drazils, and make offerings to bring the Final Winter.

Pugs hate halflings and Dwarves. They have never been as far north as the halfling valleys (no-one has, the way is hidden) but they have taken control of some Dwarven buildings and former outposts. It is rumoured that they have found their way in to the Kingdom, but who can say for sure? It is so long since anyone has been to the Kingdom...

They are fearful of the Bridge, and will only cross it under duress or threat from a Warlord.

Around 10% of Pugs can understand human speech.

2/3HD. No armour or leather armour. Will be armed with one of the following: short sword, sling, dagger, club.

Pug Cleric
2/3HD. Leather armour and wielding a carved staff. The staff is a little awkward and big for combat (-1 to hit). A typical cleric will have two 1st level spells.

Pug Warlord
4/5HD. Warlords and their sons are big for Pugs, and can be anything up to four-and-a-half feet in height. They wear inherited chainmail and will usually wield two-handed axes or clubs to show their troops that they are tough. They are often pissed off about something.

Encounters with Pugs
When encountering Pugs in the wild, roll d6:

1-2: Small group.
There are 2d4 pugs, a third of them have 3HD. There will be no particular leader, whichever one has the most hit points will be deemed most fit to lead. Barring strange circumstances they'll have 2d20 silver between them.

3-4. Medium group.
There are 6+3d6 pugs, a third have 3HD. One person in the group will be a cleric. 50% of the time there will be a particularly big pug with 4HD, however it will be wearing leather armour and won't be the son of a warlord. A medium group will have 20+d100 silver.

5. Large group.
20+3d10 pugs in the group. A quarter of them have 3HD, including two clerics. The leader of the group will be a warlord's son, 4HD, wearing chainmail and desperate to prove himself. About a quarter in total will be willing to ride shaggy pigs in to battle, trying to sling enemies. In their booty they will be carrying 4d100 silver and 2d6 gold.

6. Warband.
Potentially, a force to be reckoned with. 50+d100 pugs, a quarter with 3HD. There will be a cleric for every twenty pugs (rounded down). The materials and possessions of the band will be carried on carts/sleds pulled by shaggy pigs. Pugs will ride pigs into a fight. The Pug Warlord in charge will have 5HD and will have two sons with him who have 4HD. A pug warband take their spoils with them in chests: 600+2d100 silver and 3d20 gold.

(Pugs have been met several times in my Somewhere North campaign)

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Making Things Up

Just bringing together some thoughts on where the setting for Somewhere North is coming from...

It all started with wanting to run something using Lamentations of the Flame Princess. And since it was nearly Christmas, I offered to do a one-shot. I made up an "evil Santa's house" and saw what happened when noisms and Patrick went there. After that they seemed to be enjoying things, so we kept playing. A campaign was born.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Somewhere North: The Vaeltaja

The Vaeltaja are nomads on the snowy plains. They wander on the snow and ice, and settle in their groups for the true winter. Where else is there to go? To the city of Zelman? Ha! They care not for the cities, nor for the towns. If pressed and in need they will go to a village or hamlet to trade, but even these are strange places for some of them.

They know where to fish, where to hunt, where to hide - and they know WHEN to do all of these things too. They travel in large groups, deer and ice ponies pulling great covered sleds - caravans of men, women and children - hunters and fishers, makers and leaders, warriors and mystics. Each large group is one great extended family. Groups meet and trade (resources, rumours) from time to time. Some of them are open to travellers stopping with them, especially if they would brave the snow in true winter.

Nomad Family
There are 10d20 people in a group. Each group will have a patriarch and matriarch and this "first family" has 2+d6 members.
For every 10 people rounded up, one will be a hunter (leather armour, dagger, sword, shield, bow) and will have some responsibility for finding meat. In two-thirds of Vaeltaja families they will have people adept at fishing, and the group will have made camp around a water source. In these cases there will be one fisherman for every 15 people in the family.
There are 2d4 spiritual/clerical people in a group. They will worship either the spirit of the open plain or a particular family spirit.
Many others in the family will be craftsmen, makers, food-gatherers, bards, ostlers and armourers. They share responsibility for the community and while they do have large extended families the "family" is more of a collective than one bonded truly by blood.
Everyone over the age of 4 will carry a weapon of some kind.

What determines the family's outlook? Roll a d12.

1. Family are wary of outsiders. 7. Family speak a bizarre language.
2. Family worship an ancient spirit. 8. Family are well-armed and warriors.
3. Family possess a Dwarven treasure. 9. Family are wealthy.
4. Family rob travellers. 10. Family are keeping a monster.
5. Family have a rivalry with another group. 11. Family are poor scavengers.
6. Family recently suffered an attack on them. 12. Family are at war with a band of pugs.

How is the favourite son of the family known? Roll a d20.

1. Great Axe 6. Pathfinder 11. Firstborn 16. Knifeman
2. Singer 7. Mead-drinker 12. The Runt 17. Spirit-friend
3. Pug-slayer 8. Bastard sword 13. Mutant 18. Monster-slayer
4. One-arm 9. Farseer 14. Wolf-slayer 19. The Fast
5. Fisherman 10. Future-sight 15. Goatherd 20. The Mute

There are 111 people in the Hentunen family, a group known for being well-skilled as warriors. Arto and Liisi are the head people in the group, and they have two young daughters. An organised band of twelve hunters keeps the family in wild deer and shaggy pig flesh, and a small but skilled group of fishermen bore holes in the ice over lakes to find prized fish. Half a dozen clerics worship Kalevi, the protector of travellers. Kimi the Mead-drinker is the favourite son of the clan, known for his exploits in drinking contests.

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.