Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A sense of wonder and putting Orcs in a custom setting

So I am running another two group campaign  (Similar to how in Xan Than Du I had two competing play groups racing through a Victorian setting) and that means building something new and trying to keep the info-dump as small as possible.

One thing that is hard to replicate from your own personal early days of gaming is the sense of wonder and the unknown.  The first time players ever encounter any particular monster or trap is a very different feel than a similar encounter twenty years of gaming later.  The character's may never have encountered a beholder before but the players know what it is.

When people see this as a bug rather than a feature, in that they want to recapture that feeling rather than use its replacement "familiarity" as a tool for enjoyment, one of the more common bits of advice I see is to create novelty.   Don't use goblins, orcs, elves, and dwarves but have whole new paradigms of reptoids, sentient insect swarms, and robots (or whatever fits the flavour of the campaign setting). That works for people, but I see a few problems for my own style. 

First, as the years of play grow longer the game has to get more and more bizarre and removed to keep that feeling of novelty which removes much of the "real world" grounding where you can fathom how the world works outside of the adventure (and yes, with skill and effort that can be minimized). 

Secondly it makes it harder to have rumours and background assumptions without providing an info dump.  You don't have any real idea before running into them that sentient insect swarms are a thing nor any idea what they might be about if they do exist. You could give players some rumours and have some of them be false, but that always feels off.  In the real world you aren't sat down and told "Here are four facts, some of them are false",  and if you don't flat out state "these are rumours and may be false" it can be interpreted as if it were information that is known first hand. If I say "Goblins are Blue Skinned" as an info dump fact,  it could be interpreted as if that is known because the character had seen them directly before.  If I say "You have heard Goblins are Blue Skinned",  then its an immediate red flag when the words "you have heard" are spoken.  This isn't to say this doesn't work (and it is better than nothing), its just not as smooth and organic as I'd like. 

So,  instead I say flat out  "People say there are Orcs over there",  its obvious its a rumour.  Players will ask "What are orcs like?", and I will state that they have competing rumours,  pretty much in line with what you as a player envision orcs to be like.  There are a scatter-shot of rumours, all second hand but probably have core truths.    World of Warcraft Orcs,  Warhammer Orks, Lord of the Rings Orcs (and Uruk-hai), and AD&D Pigman Orcs are all possibilities and they know the truth of what Orcs are belong somewhere in the Venn diagram of those examples.

I also never name monsters until the players do.  I will never say "You have encountered an Orc raiding party",  I will describe exactly what they see and let the players declare them to be Orcs or not without ever being sure if those are the legendary Orcs they heard of.

In my current game,  the two parties have between them encountered three different groups that might fit into that Venn diagram that they suggested could be orcs, and, delightfully, both of the groups are leaning towards different choices of what they declare to be Orcs.

A common example of where this technique is used in games are "Vampires".   Vampires have so many variations of their powers and weaknesses (right up there with Golden Age Superman) that groups often have a sense of wonder when they first encounter them in a custom setting as to what EXACTLY they are..

They definitely drink blood... but may also drink other things or just drink blood as a medium to steal life force.

They probably are affected by sunlight and are usually killed by it (but maybe not, Dracula didn't die)

They probably suffer from holy symbols

They may be able to turn into a bat, or a wolf or two tailed cat

They may die from a stake to the heart

They could have problems crossing running water

They might need to count things, like spilled rice

Hypnosis is a possibility, as is turning into mist.

The blood of dead people may poison them

And so with all of those in mind, there is a palpable sense of exploration when first encountering a vampire.   If you never actually call it a vampire before the players do, that adds to the sense of exploration.  What if this ISN'T a vampire, but some sort of ghoul or revenant and the REAL vampire is somewhere else?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Age of Myth: An Iron Age Campaign

This is largely a placeholder to serve as a reference for campaign information in my new Iron Age campaign, set in the mythic land of Cromspoint.

 The game is set at the dawn of the iron age among "The People".

Both the home group and the online group are all be members of the elite class of one of the clans (each group is a different clan), out to forge a proper kingdom out of scattered tribes. KoDP is a big influence.

The most prominent god of the region is Crom, and as such no priestly magic is granted. Lesser gods often try to interfere in the affairs of mortals but that is frowned upon and considered dishonourable, unlike sorcery which is a craft one must hone and thus is a source of pride.

The main unit of currency that you would deal with is the reindeer, as domesticated reindeer herds are the primary source of wealth.  Longhaired goats are also kept,  but there are no dogs in the region only domesticated foxes.   Chariots exist, but riding an animal directly is considered unclean and perverse. Wars are mostly duels and ceremony, consequently you will have an entourage of freedmen who in theory will fight with you but mostly just jeer your opponents and maybe throw things at extreme range.

Some clans have iron,  most still use bronze.   Each group secretly picks their clan specialty.

Clan specialties:

Iron Working (Access to Iron weapons)
Wainwrights  (Access to Chariots)
Bowyers (Access to Longbows)
Runes (Better access to spells, and other literacy advantages)
Animals (Access to a domesticated guard animal, similar role to dogs)
Fisherman (Access to simple sailboats)
Traders (Access to canoes and currency)
Raiders (Bonus thralls to your entourage)
Armourer (Bronze Armour is available).
Masons (Stone fort, which will prevent loss of wealth to raids while you adventure)

Allying with other clans with other specialties will then let you gain more options as you try to form a cohesive nation.

For equipment,  only valuable items are kept between sessions (treasured items).  Simple items can simply be picked up at will at the start of a game session (which represents a season). They are simply taken from peasants as needed.

Valuable Equipment

1 D - Bronze Knife/ Javelin/ 6 Arrows
2 D - Bronze Spear/ Hatchet
4 D - Bronze Battle Axe
2 D - Longbow
8 D - Bronze Seax / Great Axe

4 D - Bronze Helmet
8 D - Bronze Great Helmet
12 D - Bronze Shield
16 D - Bronze Scale

1 D - Currach
2 D - Birch Bark Canoe
4 D - Catamaran
4 D - Chariot

1 D - Bronze Leatherworking tools
1 D - Large Skin of Maple Wine
4 D - Bronze Pot
12 D - Velvet Cape

Iron is 1/4 the price of bronze and items under 1D are not treasure.

Simple Equipment

Sling (Short or Long)
Large Wicker Shield
Leatherbound Medium Shield
Solid Wood Buckler
Stone Hand Axe
Stone Spear
Stone Arrows
Bone Javelin
Bone Knife
Hunting Bow (Small)
Leather Armour
Leather Cap
Wood and Antler Splint Armour (Medium Crude Mail)
Quivers, Backpacks, Pouches, and the like
Dark Cloak
Raiding Sash
Peace Sash
Pouch of Corn Flour
Wicker Backpack
Leather Pouch or Sack
Clay Pot

The Gods

Crom - The Smith, the high god who cares not for mortal concerns
Glaa - The Crone, goddess of caves, necromancy, and unwanted children
Moff - The Arbiter, god of reason, punishment, and salt
Vix - The Maiden-Mother,  goddess of royalty, fertility, and bears
Zer - The Eternal Child, godling of fire, raiding, and briars
Zuul - The Gatekeeper, goddess of the veil between worlds, revenge, and disease
Vel - The Singer, goddess of storms, trade, and reindeer
Bal - The Stalker, god of forests, hunting, and shields
Ancestor Spirits - Some clans also know how to appeal to the ghosts of their dead relatives to inconspicuously tilt the odds in their favour.

Key insults to provoke a fight:

Moss Farmer -  You are of unimportant social status
Beggar Friend - You are a recipient of charity
Beast Rider - You are a pervert
Lichen Eater - You are poor

Living Expenses and Downtime Activities between seasons

Working alongside your clan
Cost: No charge
Effect: Nothing

Training a new skill
Cost: 1D of food
Effect: You may attempt to learn a new skill

Cost: 1D of food
Effect: You heal 2d6 stress and gain +2 on any backlogged healing checks.

Warrior Training
Cost: 1D of food and 1D of goods as gifts
Effect: Learn all the basic combat tricks of a clan's warriors

Conspicuous Generosity
Cost: 2D of goods
Effect: Gain Charisma die of Piety/Honour

Thralls take 1D of food each season to live but can also work to provide value.

Entourage: Follow the party around
Planting: Spring only, plant one field (10 fields per clan meadow)
Harvest: Fall only,  harvest one field for 1d6D of Food.
Hunter/Gatherer:  Feeds self in spring, summer, or fall. Max 3 per clan forest hex.
Worker:  Produce 1D worth of goods
Fisher: As H/G. Requires boat, max 5 per water hex.

You may construct the following structures for each character.

Pasture:  Free (starting),  holds 10 Deer. (limit 1 per player)
Barn: 8D (1D of goods yearly), holds 20 deer
Stockade: 10D (1D of goods yearly), reduces deer raid losses (-1)
Watchtower: 4D (1D of goods, 1D of food yearly), reduces deer raid losses (-1)
Boar Pit: 4D (1D of food yearly), produces 1d4-1 D of food each spring.
Granary: 12D (2D of goods yearly) can store 20D of food
Shed: 1D (1D of goods yearly) cab store up to 5D of goods.
Loom: 4D. A thrall worker produces 2D of goods with a loom (1 per thrall. 10 max in clan).
Shrine: 8D (1D of goods yearly). 1 Honour each winter. (limit 1 per understood god).


*note that rivers are not straight lines, those are how the locals would represent them in terms of point to point transportation.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Buystarter: Down in Yon Forest

Hello everyone,

The holiday season is here and I am overwhelmed with one of the spirits of the seasons:  crass commercialization of traditions.  It is time for another buystarter campaign:

 Ho Ho Ho!

Up this time is "Down in Yon Forest" , a holiday adventure about a town dealing with the overbearing threat of Krampus stealing all of their children due to a freak wassail related accident.  Unlike previous month long buystarters this project will only be available for 12 days (until the 25th) at which point I will take it down until next year.  Much like Egg Nog, its glory is too much for the world to handle year round.   The price goes up by $0.50 a day so buy early.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

That's a wrap! (The Expedition to Xan Than Du)

After almost a year and a half with two different groups of players running competing expeditions,  the campaign has ended with the home group victorious over the online group in a narrow finish (the online group found the Eye of Set first but was repulsed in their attempts to secure it for two games).

The massive hex-crawl had lots of notable moments and adventures.  I created the campaign by using a randomly generated map and trying to stock with home grown things from the source material, but also specifically content from other authors tailored to fit the game.

Here are some things I noted:

1.) Multiple competing groups really added to the excitement and planning of both groups, knowing that another group of actual humans was actively racing them really changed the dynamic.  I had tested this previously with a sci-fi dungeoncrawl  and it was even more pronounced this time.

2.) Seed tables are indeed great even with massively sustained play and when built correctly add a deep flavour to regions.

3.) Time Limits on the game session (like physical real person time) add a very different mindset to encounters,  the need to "win" every encounter is drastically lowered as players quickly identify time spent dealing with things as a lost resource.  This really added to the feeling of a harried expedition and made it feel much less like a murder-crawl. Unless the party got actually infuriated they were more than willing to let enemies who took a few pot shots just escape, it also meant they were way more likely to pay bridge tolls from bandits. They COULD easily win any fight and cross for free, but that would take like 20 to 30 minutes of real time and paying a toll is like 1 minute in real time.  Haggling over prices was also reduced for anything but truly major purchases.   It made adventure pacing a player problem and they self solved it.

4.) Analysis Paralysis becomes huge with a big expedition.  I ended up "solving" this by randomly rolling one player each week to be the expedition leader if the group hadn't decided in 15 minutes. They set course and direction and goals for the week and that seemed to work out well.

5.) Setting a campaign goal as the GM made the campaign much easier run.  Players could still have whatever sub-goals they wanted, but putting the up front caveat that the campaign was about characters trying to get into an explorer's society back in London by retrieving the Eye of Set meant that every character started with at least one goal in unison.  As an expedition game where players would have a stable of characters (as characters could take weeks or months to recover from some ailments) this meant I could be very clear that if a character's primary motivation stopped being to help the party retrieve the eye of set they stopped being a PC,  use a different character from your stable and/or make a new one.  That wouldn't be ideal for every game, but if it is used it really does cement a party identify quickly.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The dog people in elven courts

In the early days when elves first began to write their history, forge silver and summon forth magics to construct their first towers and cities they also began to domesticate wild creatures that wandered out of the mountains.

At first these creatures simply lurked outside the Elven hearths to steal scraps and root through the garbage,  but over generations through happenstance and random chance, the Elves began taking in their babies and domesticating them.  They kept them first for work, but then more and more as companions.

The bloodline of these offshoots diverged greatly from their elf-avoiding kin. Neoteny gave these people lifelong juvenile features compared to their wild counterparts.  They also evolved to be naturally empathetic to Elven emotions and display vastly reduced aggression.  That isn't to say they were not capable of violence.  The Elves frequently bred stocks to act as guards, or even for helping hunt down their wild cousins.  As time went on, more and more were bred simply for companions.  Their comparatively rapid breeding and life-cycle meant most were spayed or neutered.

Despite the occasional cross-breeding with wild stock, they had become a separate species over roughly two dozen millennia.  As the technology of their still undomesticated wild cousins has advanced,   many have become feral with the destruction of their Elven master's cities.  Their wild human counterparts refer to them as "Half-Elves" due to their comparatively juvenile and lithe appearance, but their Elven masters refer to them as "Dog People", compared to the "Wolf People" of  the Empires of Mankind. 

"He's only been around 10 passes of the mystic comet, but that is like 70 passes in Human years"

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Roots of Bitterness - A very limited window of opportunity

Just a heads up that The Lamentations Bundle of Holding now has "The Roots of Bitterness" available in it.  If you missed it as a Kickstarter reward this will be your last and only chance to buy an electronic copy legally.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Foreign Legion Encampment

The Quartermaster at the Foreign Legion Encampment has the following surplus items available:

Combat Gear

Inline image 1

80 silver
large, armour piercing, long range, complicated, loud*, accurate**


5 silver for 100 charges in a flask

Rifle Bullets

1 copper a bullet


15 silver 
medium, slashing, versatile, defensive


3 silver 
large, pole, piercing

Image result for foreign legion kepi 19th century
1 silver
counts as leather cap

Exploration Gear


2 silver for 1 days water

Image result for 19th century compass
75 silver

Light Tools (Spade, Machete, Hatchet etc)
Image result for 19th century military spade

2 silver


Sack of Rice
Image result for sack of rice

15 copper for 14 days.
Requires extra unit of water.
4 dots.



200 silver

Pack Mule

30 silver