Sunday, 25 August 2019

Kickstarter: Downtime and Vermillion

I'd like to direct your attention to two ongoing Kickstarter campaigns (and something else):

  1. On Downtime & Demesnes is Courtney Campbell's next book. It contains great advice and procedures for handling downtime activities, as well as multiple ways for PCs to spend their hard-earned cash (which, in most OSR games, is often thousands of gold pieces): arena fights, theft and assassination, orgies and philanthropy, sages, hirelings, mercenaries, spell research, magic item creation, purchasing land, building castles and strongholds, crossbreeding magical creatures and more, with separate releases for B/X and 5E. Disclaimer: I'm a paid copy-editor on the project.
  2. The City of Vermilion is a mega adventure cooked in the magical kitchen of The Merciless Merchants. It describes a sword & sorcery city ripe with adventure potential with multiple locations in, around, under, and above the streets of Vermilion. Disclaimer: I have received a review copy of a different module from the Merchants earlier this year.
  3. Back when their project was on Kickstarter, I was contacted by Knight Owl Games to help promote their Kickstarter for Worm Witch: The Life and Death of Belinda Blood - which I totally meant to talk about here, but then I completely forgot about it... Fortunately, they gathered the necessary funds to make this book a reality, so the least I can do is review it once it hits the virtual shelves of DriveThruRPG.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Review: Vigilante City (Chargen Examples)

I did everything in the order the book explained: (1) rolled and assigned attributes, (2) determined hit points and saving throws, (3) rolled twice on the background table, (4) chose a class, (5) determined starting possessions, (6) wrote down combat stats (here I made a single deviation: by the book, attack bonuses are noted before equipment is finalised).

Thursday, 1 August 2019

M&M Session #1 - Isle of the Red Minotaur

"Lanike, the only daughter of King Neokles, has suddenly fallen into a deep magical slumber. Youguys, brave and foolhardy and expendable heroes, have been tasked with finding Xenon the Sage, currently imprisoned on the Isle of the Red Minotaur out of divine punishment. Captain Boros and his crew of thirteen are ordered to take you to the island, wait until your return, and sail towards wherever the magical cure is according to Xenon." - my verbatim introduction to the players

The party:
  • Kitipos son of Karipos, Noble 1
  • Orion, Spearman 1

Arriving at the rocky island, the party wagered 20sp each against a total of 100 of the crew that they would bring back the Red Minotaur's horns.

Following a trail inland they heard a melancholy tune. Orion decided to play harmony, and soon they met the source of the music: a childlike spirit of fortune and prosperity. He shared a lot of information about the island, and tasked the adventurers with retrieving his cornucopia from a pair of mischievous lemures.

The duo advanced forth, literally cutting their way in the forest, when suddenly vines of malicious intent grabbed Kitipos. The plant-creature was quickly dispatched, and the adventurers marched on.

They arrived at a log, inside from which they heard laughter. With their fierce looks and powerful words they pressed the lemures into handing over the cornucopia, which they then returned to the good spirit, who gave them a flask of oil that would protect them from the Red Minotaur. They feasted and rested, and in the morning they headed towards the Ursid village.

The bearmen were skeptical of the adventurers' plan to rid them of both the minotaur and the griffin, but nonetheless they gave them two goats, and the old Murbo concocted a sleeping drought.

The duo applied the sleeping potion to the goats' skin and headed towards the minotaur's cave. On their way they discovered a scorched grove of trees, one of them, beneath a thick layer of ash, appearing calcified.

They lured the minotaur's pet bicephalous dogs out, who quickly fell asleep as they ate from the poisoned goats. With but a thrust the adventurers executed the slumbering creatures.

Soon the minotaur became agitated as its dogs weren't responding. The adventurers barely had enough time to apply the oil to their bodies and dress themselves in armour - the minotaur came charging. Its fiery breath indeed proved ineffective against the ointed skin of Kitipos and Orion, and withing a minute they decapitated the Red Minotaur.

They took its Girdle of Strength and Bridle of Taming, skinned the dogs, and cut the minotaur's horns. When they returned, the Ursids rejoiced.

Then Kitipos put on a goat's skin to lure the hunting griffin close enough to Orion to put force on the bridle. The griffin did show up, Kitipos escaped its claws, but Orion only managed to jump on its back. With both adventurers hanging onto the creature, the griffin flew away, trying to run poor Kitipos into a cliff or treetop. Fortunately Orion was soon able to put on the bridle.

Once they both climbed on its back, they flew towards the tower where Xenon was kept prisoner. The landed on a balcony and entered. They saw broken mirrors and an emaciated man of unkempt hair and with empty eye sockets.

Xenon regaled his tale of tragic love: the dryad he fell in love with now dead because she chose a mortal, and himself imprisoned and unable to die or leave. Upon mentioning the calcified remains of the woman-shaped tree, Xenon realised there still might be a chance.

The adventurers were directed towards an island where the Temple of Doom is built on top of many springs where waters from the Underworld enter the mortal realms. In exchange for a flask of such water, Xenon would tell them about the cure to wake the sleeping Lanike.

And so, they set the fast Okeai's sail towards the Temple of Doom - with a bridled griffin on board, nonetheless!

Referee's note: A session of three hours, including character generation and a generous amount of joking around. I slightly tweaked the number of enemies (as I was originally expecting four players), but even starting characters are fairly strong anyways. Healing is very slow, however, so the lack of a magician (and thus access to curative or area-of-effect spells) might become a problem later.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Excellence from the Blogosphere (May-June)

Below you may find a list of greatness that the blogosphere (particularly of the OSR side) has produced lately (chiefly in May and June). It is nowhere near complete - I'm definitely going monthly with this, otherwise I won't be able to keep up.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

News from Khromarium #1

I'm terribly sorry for the lack of posts; first I was preoccupied with moving, and now I'm gearing up for our summer gaming getaway with my friends (and, having already finished the new Peru chapter, the start of Masks of Nyarlathotep proper). Nevertheless, I'm more than halfway through with compiling the next post in the "excellence from the blogosphere" series.

But to make sure there's something of value in this post as well, I present to you a list of news I shared with my players in my AS&SH game (inspired by Chris Kutalik's news posts over at Hill Cantons).

  • The rise of Phlianos the Cruel among the city-state's oligarchs is a grim portent, aver many sages. The sorcerer, formerly known as Phlianos the Glum, has miraculously recovered from a severe case of saturnine fever (an affliction associated with prolonged exposure to arcane metals), and has already made a number of drastic propositions, including the forbiddance of vermilion and carmine (except for the highest social stratum) and the reinstatement of the archaic punishment of skeletal calcification.
  • The Order of the Flaming Yak has declared Arkadios the Silver-Tongued, former advisor to Chancellor Moebius, persona non grata. The advisor was revealed to have played a crucial role in losing exclusive privileges regarding a handful of theurgic tomes penned by Saur the Spectral, kept in the private collection of the eccentric Vilkina Uttrem.
  • A delegation from Erikssgard recently arrived with intentions to clarify their position on unsanctioned raids orchestrated by the Sons of Green. They are reputedly staying in the Tower of Serenity, a private club dedicated to humble delights.
  • The Lapidaries' Guild has voiced their concern regarding the increased taxation of gem imports. They immediately formed an alliance with the Jewellers' Guild. Rumour has it that their leadership may even attempt a formal merger of the two guilds, much to the chagrin of the Jale Triarchy.
  • Only two weeks from now, Hrabnab's Tongue, a constellation associated with adroitness and savoir faire, will become visible to the naked eye for three consecutive nights. The festive events include gladiatorial combat between man and beast (thanks to the generosity of Euthymios and his collection of foreign creatures), archery contests, and midnight theatre (this year's programme features the celebrated plays The Sordid Hero, By Xathoqqua's Tentacle!, and The Mermaiden).

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Actual Play Musing: A recent semi-TPK

Last night I killed two player characters. Well, I technically didn't kill them: one of them was left behind, polymorphed into a frog, while the other accepted the anger of their wizardly patron.

It was a campaign that originally began as repeated explorations into the city's necropolis (I reskinned parts of Barrowmaze for it). We had four player characters, but two of them (an assassin and a barbarian) only showed up infrequently: the other two (a monk and a berserker) sat firmly in the driver's seat.

For the last two sessions we've been taking a break from the undead-infested necropolis and participated in some good old urban investigation. A slave escaped from an eccentric noble's palace and kidnapped his daughter. The players quickly realised that the daughter and the slave were lovers, and through some colourful interactions found them hiding in the Lunar Garden. Before confronting them, though, they returned a diamond ring to the noble (which the couple stole and sold to cover their expenses).

The initial "I'm giving you this quest" scene and this one surely have communicated that Phlianos wasn't a simple noble: he was hiding in a completely covered sedan chair carried by 8 bald servants with visible incision marks on their craniums. Also, the spokesperson conversed with the lord, not willing to show his visage, through a serpentine thread (like a thin plastic tube or something) that entered his brain through the ear. At any rate, they were paid for a job well done - apparently, the diamond ring was of greater importance than the daughter or the slave.

Still, the party learned that the noble-sorcerer would use the gem as a phylactery to achieve immortality: something they thought they should stop. So they learned of a rival sorceress, contacted her, and told her of the news. The sorcereress told them to steal it for her, and gave them an amulet ("When you have the gem, think of this place, and call my name out loud").

The players went back to the sorcerer with a terrible excuse to sniff around. A terrible reaction roll followed, and the players - instead of chancing an escape (which, for the matter, would totally have been possible) - went for an all-out assault. Sadly, the opposition won initiative, and the berserker failed his saving throw: he was instantly transformed into a frog. The monk threw a flask of oil, but it had little effect. In the next round, he decided to call out the sorcerer's name - so he was instantly teleported back to a safe place, leaving the polymorphed berserker behind (it was apparent that the player actually wanted to grab the frog immediately after activating the amulet; its power wasn't known, after all).

Since polymorph lasts indefinitely and the polymorphed creature assumes the behaviour and mannerisms of the new form, the berserker was assumed dead, unless a rescue mission would be attempted with haste. The sorceress was also greatly displeased. I informed the player that grovelling would surely convince her to spare his life, but he refused and accepted an off-screen death.

I don't think my portrayal of the sorcerer patron/villain was insufficient: the servants and especially the wire-tube were surely enough that it wasn't normal. Also, if a wizard is about to achieve immortality, one can assume it isn't some lucky novice but one with levels and items to back it up.

My players might have misinterpreted the poor reaction roll (result 2). The spokesperson was just yelling a solid get-the-fuck-out (had they complied, they would've let them leave the premises unharmed, although followed by watchful eyes), but of course they had to reach for the flasks of incendiary oil. I even gave the enemy a surprise check (I figured the spokesperson was furious enough to miss subtle movements), but they made it, and... the rest you already know.

The last bit I wanted to mention (truth be told, it was the first thing I wanted to, but I needed some context) is that after the monk's player accepted an off-screen punishment of his character, he offered an alternative ending: one in which the monk didn't use the amulet, and instead he was also polymorphed into a frog - and so the two frogs lived happily ever after in the sorcerer's garden of fountains.

Even though it totally could've happened (had the player not activated the amulet, the sorcerer would definitely have used his wand another time), the important thing is it didn't. Even though I am totally into negotiating fitting epilogues, I am firmly against changing events, even those of little consequence, that have already been established.

As I have already said it, we aren't crafting a story together: we are recognising a story as we look back at the events that unfolded.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Review: Vigilante City (Core Rules)

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Vigilante City is a superhero game inspired by the many animated series of the 90s. It uses the same basic system as Dark Places & Demogorgons, the publisher's previous game. This is going to be a rare 3-part review. First, I'm taking a look at the Core Rules; in the second part I'll create a few sample characters to showcase the versatility of the system; finally, I'll review the Villain's Guide, the game's GM's book.