Tuesday 11 October 2016

Snippets from Grim Tales Combat Rules

In dramatic situations, such as combat, the sequence of events becomes increasingly important, so determining who may act after whom is necessary. Participants (PCs and NPCs alike) roll 1d20 + Wits (+other bonuses if any) to determine their initiative score, based upon which they are placed in the Combat Queue in decreasing order. Equal scores favour PCs, and further ties are broken by negotiation between the players.

The first character in the Queue takes two actions (either two Minor actions, or a combination of a Major and a Minor action), then they are placed to the bottom of the Queue, and the next person takes their turn, and so forth. Characters may have a Reaction even when it is not their turn to act. That, however, puts them on the defensive, and they are placed right below the participant whose action they attempt to counter, thus delaying their own turn.

Major actions include melee and ranged attacks, charges, and most actions aimed at significantly altering the opponent's state. Minor actions include readying a weapon, reloading a crossbow, or traversing the battlefield (distances are handled in abstract Zones). Reactions are the likes of parrying an attack, rolling behind cover, etc.

If an attack hits, roll two six-siders called Red and Black. Damage depends on the weapon wielded (light weapons deal the lowest of them, heavy the highest, and medium equal to Red). If Black is a 6, it also triggers the weapon’s special effect.

Damage is deducted from the target's hit points. When someone loses all of their hit points, they become Incapacitated. When an Incapacitated character takes Damage, they receive an Injury, that applies one of the following three conditions to the character: (1) scarred, (2) maimed, or (3) dead. Each can only be opted for only once.

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Grim Tales Hexcrawling

This post sums up the streamlined hexcrawling procedures I developed for Grim Tales. This lacks the tables referenced in the rules (except for the master level "Event Table"). I'd like to thank Gavin Norman, whose recent blog posts really inspired me.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Zweihänder Rules Summary

Originally made for my players, here is a rules summary of Zweihänder, a grim and perilous fantasy role-playing game.

Saturday 3 September 2016

Zweihänder - Session #0

Dramatis Personae
  • Ozir the Stump
    Elderly, Corpulent Ogre Hedgewise
    Scholastic Lowborn
    Drawback: Veteran's Foot
  • Ray "Walking Stick" Reddington
    Elderly, Slender Human Pugilist
    Reverent Lowborn
    Drawback: Cursed
  • Sir Fergus Witherwaddle
    Middle-Aged, Frail Human Slayer
    Villainous Aristocrat
    Drawback: Black Cataract
Events, Thoughts, Etc.
  • Character creation was pretty smooth. Everyone rolled twice for Racial Trait and Profession. Otherwise, everything (except the choice of Human/Demihuman, Archetype, sex, and starting weapon) was determined randomly.
  • Everyone opted for a Drawback to gain a second Fate Point. Ultimately, we ended up with a crew of elder adventurer wannabes. Cue in Silver Horde jokes by the dozen.
  • Didn't prepare much in terms of setting and plot, so it was mostly about making sure the players were familiar with the system (a Skill Test or two, a straightforward combat, stopping some Bleeding, that sort of stuff).
  • Party encountered a pair of wolves attacking a trio of small children. Put down the wolves. Took children to the village (one of them was severely injured). Went to look for their father, the lumberjack.
  • Another player will probably join, too. I expect an other handicapped elder, so... more Silver Horde jokes. Maybe Expendables, too. Won't lie, I'll enjoy hurting them. Unfortunately, so will they.

Monday 22 August 2016

Comprehensive List of OSR Games

I present to you a comprehensive list of OSR/D&D-esque games. Only those games qualified that are either (1) retroclones (presenting an older system with or without modification; e.g. Kazamaták és Kompániák and AS&SH), (2) belong to the OSR by consensus (games building off of D&D's mechanics in innovative ways; e.g. Mazes & Minotaurs and Ghastly Affair), or (3) old-school in gameplay (having the same or very, very similar gameplay to D&D but with a different system; e.g. Torchbearer and Dragon Age).

Mind you the list includes games that had to do with 3E and 4E as well, so it is not strictly pre-3E D&D, and even some edge cases are on the list, such as Zweihänder and OpenQuest, which are clones of WFRP and Runequest, respectively (but the gameplay patterns are notably still D&D-esque, and they fit the spirit of the DIY OSR community). I fancy the term broad OSR (because some people would argue Wayfarers or Radiance disqualifies), but that might as well be as inaccurate as narrow D&D-esque (but then where's Infernum and Warcraft d20, one might ask).

Saturday 20 August 2016

Thematic OSR Games

This is a taxonomic post; its goal is to establish a term referring to a subset of OSR products. Using the Pundit's terminology, these are a subset of third-wave OSR products, while in Dan Proctor's terms they fit the broader category of neo-retro games. Alternatively, you may just want to read further to find some cool games.

The OSR has many wonderful things to offer from straight-up clones (e.g. OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord) to neo-clones with refined mechanics (e.g. ACKS and AS&SH), from fantastic adventures (e.g. Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Deep Carbon Observatory) to innovative supplements (e.g. Red Tide and Vornheim). But one of the many kinds of products - one that I might enjoy the most - seems to attract less appreciation: thematic games.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Grim Tales, Playtest 1

We had our first playtest of Grim Tales (well, more like a proof of concept session), this dark fantasy thing I have been thinking about lately. It has been on my mind for quite some time, but reading Blood & Bronze (a fantastic sword & sorcery game) was the catalyst I needed to start fleshing out my ideas.

The basic concept behind Grim Tales was to give players certain unique tools, abilities that don't just enhance something they can already do but provide them opportunities they otherwise wouldn't have (possibly mitigating risks in some endeavours, thus rewarding pro-activity). This was done by introducing a list of unique backgrounds (a sampling of which can be found here).

Characters present:
  • Melvina Shabriri, a Cambion Witch
  • Wolfgang Tranquility, a Shadowtorn Warrior
  • N/A, a Nameless Scoundrel
  • Balthasar Corvus, a Skinthief Scoundrel
Highlights and stuff I've taken away from this session:
  • I didn't prep a proper adventure, just a bunch of loosely connected personalities, their goals, and the general environment, much like with my previous Vikings & Valkyries campaign. We started the session with a bogus mission of sorts (find the lost brother of some mayor), but ultimately the players found enough toys to play with instead of completing the quest.
  • The resolution system works fine (roll [Attribute] six-siders; count 5s and 6s; the more the better), although I'm not sure if it adds to the game (I might end up playtesting certain things used as an overlay onto B/X).
  • The players really liked their special abilities, although now I think the Backgrounds might be too exciting compared to the Classes. I think I want to keep the mostly mundane aspect of Classes, though, so I might just add more varied and flavourful items to their equipment lists.
  • The players got themselves involved in a religious conflict going on in the shadows. The village's priest had an artefact (a grail that grants sacrifical wine ale special properties) that he had hidden, and apparently some people (the priest's right hand man included) were conspiring to acquire it.
  • There was another artefact in the village: a small scythe's blade that when attached to the sacred (and, as it turns out, purely ornamental) scythe's handle, became a magical object (its capabilities yet unknown to the players).
  • The players, as they were trying to figure out who is against whom, switched sides a couple of times, basically ending up with most major participants dead. Except they know the priest tried to contact allies in the nearby town.
  • They went deep in the forest and witnessed a horrific ritual that bore demons into the world. Despite the session's generally jovial nature (and that's a huge understatement), this scene managed to invoke feelings of uneasiness, so not all was lost.
  • As it stands now, the Skinthief poses as the former under-priest. They claimed the forest people killed the priest, so they basically run the village now (although some elders might not like what they are doing).
  • The Nameless, although really flavourful as a concept, probably shouldn't work in a party if we take the ability to its logical conclusions. I think I can sacrifice immersion for the party's sake for now.
  • The Skinthief is really fun to watch in the hands of a creative and proactive player. Need to turn up the ability's cast time, though. Regardless, his ability alone can make so many shenanigans possible, it definitely stays.
  • The Shadowtorn is pretty sweet as is, but I'll keep a close eye on him to make sure its restrictions are clear but not overly limiting.
  • The Cambion mostly shined in providing moral dilemmas for the player (whether they should give in their darker self; it helped that as a witch she had opportunities to gain power in exchange for terrible things). It is certainly something the player was happy to play with, and had she chosen otherwise, the Background wouldn't have provided much in terms of gameplay, so I might need to rectify that.

Monday 1 August 2016

Review: Perdition

Disclaimer: I was an editor of the product, so I'll try to keep it brief.

Perdition is a game whose release I have been waiting for quite some time. It is an OSR game with a very specific setting in mind. The player characters are built of roughly the same mechanical widgets as in other D&D-esque games (attributes, skills, classes, levels, hit points, and armour class), and they will do very similar things (exploring wildernesses, looting dungeons, etc.). The setting is a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy in a sense: the devils have conquered the material plane and become its rulers. Instead of barons and kings, it's now devil lords people owe fealty to.

What really sets Perdition apart from other D&D-esque games is its idea of introducing the setting through mechanics alone. Even though it is not entirely a new concept (cf. Bliss Stage, Rookvale, or Ghost Lines), it is certainly something no published OSR rules set has attempted (I mean, there is literally no setting description in Perdition; most thematic OSR games do include at least a page or two devoted to describing the setting).

Mechanically speaking, there are a couple of new things introduced, such as the following:
  • Hit points are split into physical and mental pools with matching armour classes. Thus, aside from charging and standard melee/missile attacks, taunting and intimidating an enemy are pre-defined actions.
  • Social situations are handled with a system similar to but much more simple than what On the Non-player Character has introduced (although it is trivial to use with Perdition).
  • Skills are handled with The Middle Road system.
  • There are detailed rules for summoning hellish entities and signing contracts with devils.
  • Magic uses an elegant dice pool mechanic instead of simple fire-and-forget.
  • Characters gain special abilities as they level up; they can be chosen from class-specific lists.
  • Characters also gain character points that can be spent to improve numerical stats (such as attack bonuses, hit points, skills, etc.).
  • Despite all the different mechanical bits, creating a character is very straightforward (the number of choices made at this stage is intentionally kept low).
  • Stats for unique creatures sorcerers can summon.
  • Devil patrons warlocks (or other foolish characters) can make a pact with.
  • Critical hit tables.
  • A variation of Brendan's overloaded encounter die.
It would be a fool's errand to go further into the mechanical bits and pieces Perdition offers, especially since devil's in the details (my bad). Suffice to say, if this has got your attention, you might want to check it out to see for yourself.


Monday 18 July 2016

Backgrounds (Early Design)

Instead of race, characters have backgrounds that provide unique abilities and drawbacks, as well as provide possible hooks and connections in order to make them part of the setting. Here is six of the possible backgrounds that I have considered. They are not final by any means (even these may lack either flavour text or mechanical widgets), but they showcase the general atmosphere of what I'm going for with this game.

Saturday 16 July 2016

Huge Name List

Below is a list of 216 female and male given names and surnames appropriate for my next campaign (tentatively called "Grim Tales") set in a dark, twisted country area inspired by fairy tales and the countless haunting pictures of gloomy forests on the web.

I will talk more about the campaign pretty soon; for now, I'll only say it's the same setting my dear three witches dwell in.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Children of the OSR, Part Deux

I haven't done a post like this since early last year, so I might not be able to list everything important; regardless, here's an attempt to mention the latest, some of the important OSR releases that are for some reason close to my heart.

Ghastly Affair
I have mentioned this one last time: basically a free, completely OGL game that intends to capture the spirit of gothic fiction. The base mechanics are simple roll-under, and it has a set of very unique classes (with rather interesting and flavourful advantages and drawbacks). Also, it's got its sort of second edition, and it's still free.

Hydra Cooperative
Last time when I spoke about them, only Slumbering Ursine Dunes was available. Well, since then they have released the next two adventure supplements set in the same fictional milieu: Fever-Dreaming Marlinko (a city supplement) and the Misty Isles of the Eld (an island fort of the alien eld). They have also re-released Mike Davison's Ruins & Ronin (a Whitebox variant for a medieval Japanese setting).

John M. Stater
The man behind the Land of NOD magazine (which has 29 issues (!) so far, the last three available on RPGNow) has released his modern pulp game, Grit & Vigor, fully compatible with his earlier game, Blood & Treasure, which is about to receive a second edition. This year is probably the year of second editions of Mr Stater, since his superhero game Mystery Men has already got one, and his sci-fi dungeon crawler, Tales of Space Princess, is about to get one, as well.

Mateo Diaz Torres
The fantastic A Most Thoroughly Pernicious Pamphlet is currently PWYW until this Sunday. This small booklet is a sort of compendium for creating characters in the author's setting, which is easier to to be shown than explained: check out this encounter table or this treasure table or this location.

Necrotic Gnome Productions
The label have been around for some time, although I suspect people just say "Gavin Norman & Greg Gorgonmilk". Nevertheless, they have released a couple of interesting products, the first being From the Vats, a free compilation of community-created awesomeness, supplementary to The Complete Vivimancer. Labyrinth Lord-compatible rules for tweaking roguish classes is presented in The B/X Rogue (soon to be followed by The B/X Warrior). They have also slowly been releasing material for their Dolmenwood setting (dark forests inspired by Celtic myths and fairy tales) in the form of a zine (Wormskin), which has seen three issues released so far.

Sine Nomine Publishing
The ever-creating Mr Crawford has written and published another batch of wonderful products. First, it started with Starvation Cheap, a military campaign supplement for Stars Without Number, the first one to include colour pictures. After that, the earlier concept of Exemplars & Eidelons got polished and improved: Godbound can be summed up as the OSR's Exalted, but it's much more than that. Not only do we get the mechanics to build demigod-level characters and a sample setting to let them loose, but also the GM tools necessary to deal with the consequences of their actions. Similar to SWN, Godbound comes in a free and deluxe version, the latter including some extra content (like, rules for mortal characters, cybernetic and clockwork implants, themed godbounds, etc.). Both products are full colour, by the way, and as usual, the Kickstarter made it possible for the art to released into the public domain.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Troublemakers At A Viking Wedding

I used the following NPCs in our Vikings & Valkyries campaign. With all the shenanigans going on, it took quite some time until I had to introduce other name-worthy characters (except for Guldnar and Grimhulda, a vicious dragon and a conspiring witch, respectively). A measly statline for B/X type of games is also provided.

Jarl Olaf Gunnbjörn – The father
  • Fighter 4; AC 4 banded mail; Atk 1 broad sword 1d8
  • An experienced warrior in his 40s, the leader of the settlement. He has long, well-groomed auburn beard and mustache; his eyes, once sparkling with life and vigour, are old and sad, which he tries to hide with drinking and the occassional womanising.
  • He wants Ingrid to marry Varghöss for the sake of his people; he is afraid of what would happen if the two families maintained their rivalry, having lasted for generations already.

Fridha – The mother
  • HD 1; AC 9 unarmoured; Atk 1 dagger 1d4
  • Olaf's wife; not young anymore, but still beautiful. She has braided ash brown hair and eyes as blue as the sea.
  • She does everything to stop the marriage between Ingrid and Varghöss, for it's only her who knows the terrible truth that Ingrid and Varghöss are half-siblings. For obvious reasons, she will not share this information with anyone willingly.

Faraldr Eriksson – The uncle
  • Fighter 4; AC 5 chain mail; Atk 1 long sword 1d8
  • Older brother of Fridha and Olaf's right hand. He has short brown hair and finely trimmed beard.
  • He has no malicious intentions, but he may come off as obnoxious and paranoid, as he does everything in his power to keep the perceived integrity and renown of Jarl Olaf.
  • He is also very protective of his sister, Fridha, for very much the same reasons.

Ingrid Olafsdottir – The bride
  • HD 1; AC 9 unarmoured
  • Olaf's astonishing older daughter. She has flowing blonde hair, and she wears pretty colourful clothes.
  • She doesn't want to marry Varghöss, but she complies with her father's will.
  • Unbeknownst to her (and basically everyone except Fridha), she is  the daughter of the same Sigurd as Varghöss, making them half-siblings.

Helvi Olafsdottir – The sister
  • HD 1; AC 9 unarmoured; Atk 1 dagger 1d4
  • Olaf's younger daughter. She wears her raven-black hair in ponytail, and her eyes look as innocent as a doe's.
  • Underneath the soft appearance hides a wild and free-spirited Helvi, who doesn't want to have a life like her mother's or sister's.
  • She yearns for travel and adventure, although her ideas of it are more romanticised than realistic.

Varghöss Sigurdsson – The groom
  • Fighter 3; AC 5 chain mail; Atk 1 broad sword 1d8
  • A young, handsome warrior with long light brown hair, short brown beard, and deep green eyes. He is the adopted son of Sigurd, ruler of a neighbouring settlement.
  • He is engaged to Ingrid Olafsdottir, and while he understands the reasons why he must marry her, he fears she won't bear a son for him ("Just like her mother couldn't", he points out).

Amundr Björgvinsson – The best man
  • Fighter 2; AC 6 scale mail; Atk 1 broad sword 1d8
  • A tall man with dark brown hair and eyes; he is young but looks older because of his long beard. He is a good friend of Varghöss.
  • He carries a precious family heirloom, a silver-bladed broad sword with a ruby in its pommel (worth 1,000 gold pieces in total).

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Three Witches

[I've had short descriptions of weird characters and locations like this for quite some time; I think I'm going to slowly publish them on the blog, unless I find a better way of sharing them]

Anna lives in a castle that stands on a seaside cliff. She's always spying the surrounding lands through the eyes of her birds, and she herself is capable of turning into a bird. They say she's keeping a beautiful princess captive in the highest room of the tallest tower.

Esther lives in a tumbledown cottage in the Thornwoods. During the day, she wanders the forest in the form of a nice old lady, looking for weeds, roots, and mushrooms for her concoctions. When the night falls, she turns into a beautiful maiden. Moonlight, however, reveals her true self.

Mary is always on the move, interested only in the pleasures of the flesh: she seduces young men and, having laid with them, devours them. If caught red-handed, she escapes easily on her flying broomstick. Once every lunar month she writhes in torment for hours, at the end of which she spawns a gluttonous swarm of insects.

Saturday 30 January 2016

Larchmere Yys Overview

Here is an overview of the Larchmere Yys region of Hyperborea in my AS&SH campaign; the article is intended to represent information readily available to player characters.

Larchmere Yys, this small frontier region between the immense Spiral Array Mountains and the swampy Dagon Bay, was settled roughly half a century ago by Apollonian pilgrims. The people of Larchmere Yys Village (population c. 300) are a peaceful folk; they grow crops, herd goats, and continue the worshiping of Apollo to this day. The settlement is surrounded by strong larch timber walls, and watchmen are stationed in towers in the northwest and southeast; they are especially wary of strangers since people started to disappear without a trace.

To the southeast lies a deadly swamp known as the Toad Bog, infested with giant frogs and aquatic hydras. It is said the swamp is cursed and those who die here come back from the dead to feast upon the living. Just outside the swamp at the coast lies another village, Pisko (population c. 150). The seemingly welcoming inhabitants of this recluse settlement are in fact Dagonites, who have sacrificed many men who were unfortunate enough to set foot there. Allegedly, there are numerous underground tunnels connecting the major buildings to an ancient temple complex. The oldest of these tunnels might even lead down to the seabed where the fish-people and their aboleth masters live in their alien cities.

The hills to the south are presumed to be burial mounds of long forgotten kings. Further south lies a deserted wasteland, mostly inhabited by purple worms. The only notable site there is the Horrid Crater, where the infamous Witch of the Barrens lairs, whose prophetic powers are sought by many daring - and oft desperate - individuals.

To the west one finds the Spider Grove, a source of excellent timber in the region; also, giant spiders. Betwixt the forest and the great Lake of Mists stands a small community of all sorts of eccentric individuals; travellers, pilgrims, brigands, and hunstmen, these men of the road have finally found peace in their lives. Velmar (population c. 200) has an aura of unearthly languor as the inhabitants seemingly ignore the outside world and live only for the pleasures of the flesh.

To the northwest lies the Crystal Lake, whose waters are famous for their restorative powers. The lake is guarded by a vicious naga, who is known to be a collector of arcane curiosities. Further upriver stands the small Esquimaux village of Noatak (population c. 150). The people of Larchmere Yys have good trading relations with the Esquimaux; the ultimate goal is to convert them to the faith of Apollo.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Ten Magic Items

Ebony Bow: Shooting an arrow with this ebony dark short bow makes absolutely no sound; however, while in hand, it also makes its user completely mute and deaf.

Hammer of Thor: This huge two-handed war hammer should be treated as a +2 maul whose attacks make a deafening blast. Unless countermeasures are taken, the target hit and everyone in a 10 feet radius must make a Save vs. Paralysis or becomes disoriented for the next round (-2 penalty to rolls and AC), and the Referee should immediately check for wandering monsters.

Head of Habram: If a gold piece is put in the mouth of this decapitated head, Habram animates for an exploration turn. He is able to converse in all languages and he detects every lie; however, he is rather moody, so a separate Reaction roll is made each time.

Mirror of Truth: This handheld mirror shows the true reflection of everything, essentially revealing shapeshifting, illusions, and invisibility of any kind.

Not So Lucky Handkerchief: Protects its bearer from four harmful spells. For each spell blocked, however, the handkerchief's bearer becomes enamoured with the next acquaintance they make.

Ring of the Emperor: This magical ring makes its wearer's equipment (including their clothes) invisible to the eye.

Sword of Hunger: The guard of this large two-handed sword depicts a demonic face with a gaping mouth, as if the monster was about to swallow the blade. It functions as a -2 magical weapon, but upon a killing blow it transforms into a +3 sword for as many rounds as the killed creature's Hit Dice.

Vials of Capricious Fate: Three vials containing fluids indistinguishable based on colour, consistency, or scent. Their effects if drunk are the following:
  • grants superhuman strength for an hour; it also dulls the mind, meaning during this time no spells can be cast and one can only speak one's mother tongue
  • grants immunity to all magic for an exploration turn, while dramatically increasing perspiration (-2 reaction and double chances of random encounter)
  • turns one into an incorporeal shadow for an exploration turn; spells and and enchanted weapons may still affect the recipient

Wand of Sickly Green Lightning: Green lightning strikes out from the wand hitting the target automatically and dealing 2d6 damage. Every 1 on the damage roll means the wielder momentarily loses control over the dark forces and is dealt 1d6 damage.

Witch Steel Armour: The arcane symbols on this chain mail grant its wearer +2 bonus versus physically harmful spells (e.g. Fireball) but -2 penalty versus those affecting the mind (e.g. Charm Person).