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.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Excellence from the Blogosphere (March-April)

Ehh, the last two months saw so many amazing blog posts that this compilation grew way beyond what it was intended to cover. If productivity persists, I will have to do this monthly instead. Note that I tired to use whatever nickname was associated with the blogger account of the author (where applicable). Without further ado, my favourite blog posts of the last two months (or so):

Saturday, 4 May 2019

AS&SH Average Damage per 2 Rounds

I have made another spreadsheet that I thought might interest others as well. This time I was calculating the average damage output of various weapons in AS&SH.

Here's a breakdown of what's in the spreadsheet:

  • Average damage output was calculated for all FA/HD levels vs. all non-negative AC values.
  • The numbers show average damage in 2 combat rounds (!) because the number of attacks often alternates.
  • Each sheet contains details for a single type of weapon (such as bows, light/heavy crossbows, 1d8 melee weapons, etc.).
  • "Dmg" is for the weapon's average damage, "To-hit" and "DmgB" cover bonuses from high attributes and weapon mastery, while "#Atk" and "#Atk7" show how many attacks are made in two rounds level 1-6 and 7-12, respectively.
  • Melee weapon damages are calculated with fighter types in mind (other characters have the same attack rate throughout all levels).
  • Four primary circumstances are covered: (1) no mastery, average attributes, (2) no mastery, high attributes, (3) mastery, average attributes, and (4) mastery, high attributes. Details are added in notes.
  • The last four sheets cover the following special cases: (1) bow vs. damage reduction 1, (2) light crossbow vs. damage reduction 1, (3) bow vs. damage reduction 2, and (4) heavy crossbow vs. damage reduction 2.

Here are my findings:

  • Weapon mastery is even stronger than I suspected. Without weapon mastery, it takes 2 rounds on average for a 1st level fighter to kill a zombie (HD 2, AC 8). With weapon mastery, it takes only 1 round.
  • A fighter with a two-handed sword (3d4 dmg) has a lower average damage than a fighter with a longsword (1d8) having mastery (until level 6 at least). Note that these numbers don't take damage reduction into account (but also note that monsters don't usually have damage reduction).
  • Crossbows are supposed to be better against armoured opponents, but the fact is they are outperformed by bows (provided the archer is stationary). Light crossbows outperform bows against medium armour only if the archer moves before shooting (thus having a reduced rate of fire). Heavy crossbows are even worse against heavy armour: they only outperform (moving) archers from level 7 and on.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Static Damage Reduction vs. OSR Damage Rolls

Under a Reddit post concerning damage reduction in OSR systems a commenter proposed the idea that maximum damage rolls could bypass armour, ensuring that even low damage weapons (such as daggers) wouldn't be rendered completely inefficient against armoured foes. The nerd I am, I made a spreadsheet to calculate the modified average damage outputs (a perfect pastime for a lazy holiday): column A shows the die size, columns B-M the reduced damage output corresponding to the roll, and column N the average. The first sheet assumes armour may completely negata a hit (cf. zero damage), while on the second a single point of damage always goes through. These rules are summarised in column P on both sheets.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Review: Crypts & Things Remastered

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).

Crypts & Things Remastered is a sword & sorcery role-playing game built on the Swords & Wizardry Core rules and Akrasia's house rules. I do have the original edition from 2011, but I haven't read it in quite some time, so I will not be comparing the two.

Monday, 1 April 2019

G+ is Dead, Long Live Patreon

Google+, my favoured social media platform, is about to be terminated. Naturally, there is no better day in the calendar to announce that I have signed the Book of the Devil and launched my own Patreon. I will gratuitously accept money thrown at me under the guise that it would help me make more blog posts, although I fully intend to spend all the cash on blackjack and hookers.

I HAVE SPOKEN!

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Heartwarming Sandbox: Badger and Basilisk

I've shared half of this post on Google+, but since it'll soon go away, I thought putting it up on my blog would be wise. Heartwarming Sandbox is a project I've been jotting down ideas for from time to time. More similar pieces will follow shortly, some related to the project, some not.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Rappan Athuk AS&SH Campaign Data

A year ago I ran several sessions of Rappan Athuk (using AS&SH for those sweet sub-classes) - 18 sessions out of a 26-session campaign, to be precise. The sessions were 2-3 hours long each, conducted over TeamSpeak. I kept notes and maintained an ugly master sheet for XP and mortality data, of which I was just reminded by a question on Reddit (How many XP do characters bring back per session in your games?).

My answer to the question lies in the document hereby shared for all of you kind readers to see.

Most of the stuff in there should be fairly obvious, but here are some notes: In the Overview tab the PC and NPC columns show the number of characters present at a particular session, whereas in the Mortality tab the Sum columns have the number of PCs/NPCs present up to that point combined for purposes of lethality calculations (given in the mW columns). In the XP tab the "Loot XP %" value notes that over the course of these 26 sessions about 60.69% of XP came from treasure.

Excellence from the Blogosphere (Jan-Feb)

Here are a bunch of blog posts (chiefly from January and February) that I found particularly noteworthy.

  • Olav Nygård has shared a simple procedure to create "Guess who?" style investigative scenarios, along with two examples.
  • Anthony Huso is playtesting his low-level planar module for AD&D/OSRIC. His second session report is especially noteworthy because it sheds light on the importance of playtesting (the same rigorous thought process is also there in the comments while discussing the modified Incantrix class).
  • Courtney Campbell has written a good reminder about ten things you can use in a dungeon to increase your survivability.
  • After about 50 sessions (or 200 hours), Skerples presents his thoughts about the mechanical bits of GLOG.
  • Alex Shroeder shares his thoughts regarding advancement in RPGs.
  • Anne has been on fire lately. She uncovered most of the blog posts that comprised Secret Santicorn 2018, made a list of a gazillion of people making actual play reports, and analysed the ability scores we all use, love, and hate at times.
  • Dale Houston has talked about how he organises events in his megadungeon campaign using simple d6 tables.
  • Angus Warman has shared his set of GLOG-esque house rules, called Die Trying (without classes and levels, too!). While you're at it, also check out his travel rules.
  • The Lawful Neutral has blogged about the initial thoughts of a mega barcrawl and a bunch of suitable monsters.
  • Chris Kutalik made an excellent summary for his Hill Cantons sandbox campaign setting with lots of links and references.
  • Dungeons and Possums posted a great list of free resources to start playing (and running) old-school games. By the way, the blog also has a superb index, in case you want to poke around.
  • Sometimes we all need to be reminded of the other British accents, and noisms just does that using football fan interviews off YouTube.
  • Martin O. has shared 10 very flavourful bandit gangs.
  • Talysman has summarised his rules regarding search rolls and similar mechanics.
  • red_kangaroo made a memory system (for spells, languages, memories, martial art techniques, etc.) using slots similar to how slot-based inventories work. I especially like how Trauma is handled like Fatigue, eating up slots.
  • Emmy Allen has blogged about her next Ynn-like thing: the ruined market of Sharne.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Review: Eldritch Tales

Note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Eldritch Tales, as its subtitle says, a Lovecraftian White Box role-playing game. It takes place in the 1920s (like the majority of games centred around the Cthulhu Mythos), where the player characters investigate mysteries and strange phenomena (just like in Call of Cthulhu or Stalkers of the Elder Dark).

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Simple Seasonal Weather Table

Just a rather lazy post for today: a weather table I originally wrote for Grim Tales, but I will probably utilise in my Heartwarming Sandbox game.

Spring
  1. Chilly, rainy, and windy
  2. Chilly and foggy
  3. Mild, breezy, and rainy
  4. Mild and cloudy
  5. Warm and rainy
  6. Hot and sunny
Summer
  1. Mild and stormy
  2. Warm and rainy
  3. Warm and breezy
  4. Warm and sunny
  5. Hot and sunny
  6. Sweltering and sunny
Autumn
  1. Chilly and stormy
  2. Chilly and windy
  3. Chilly and foggy
  4. Mild and breezy
  5. Mild and rainy
  6. Warm and breezy
Winter
  1. Frigid and hailstormy
  2. Frigid and snowy
  3. Cold and snowy
  4. Cold and windy
  5. Cold and sunny
  6. Mild and sunny

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Excellence from the Blogosphere (Nov-Dec)

As I did in one of my earlier post, here are a handful of blog posts (chiefly published in November and December) that I found particularly noteworthy.

  • Wizzzargh shared their experiences running four different OSR campaigns using different approaches to worldbuilding.
  • Zzarchov has also been talking about iterative design with regards to his own game, Neoclassical Geek Revival, showing his way of thinking through actual examples. This is the sort of thing I like to read from game designers. (Also, did you know there's a subreddit for NGR?)
  • James Smith (most known for his OSR news blog series) has recently shared a gajillion of resources for Conan and Hyboria. James has a Patreon now as well, so if you like what you see, consider supporting him.
  • Luke Gearing posted a d100 table of locations for a haunted castle (the assumption is that d20 + [number of rooms visited] is rolled each time, so you get weirder and weirder results as you keep exploring). Simple but inspiring.
  • Lawful Neutral has made an index for their blog, so you can find all the cool stuff looking at only one page.
  • Michael Raston has automated his fantasypunk augmentation generator (with links to the original posts as well).
  • Arnold K. has talked about a way to mechanise social challenges by emulating the stakes and innate complexity of combat.
  • D. G. Chapman in the meanwhile shared some ideas about implementing JRPG-style NPCs in your tabletop campaign. Furthermore, he collected all the adventures so far shared on the blog in one place.
  • Joe Fatula has recently talked about his setting with the thesis "Signs of the Wilderness is to Colonial America as Lord of the Rings is to Medieval England". Seriously, though, that blog is just amazing (my personal favourites are wilderness dungeons, difficult terrain, and an example of using the various random tables shared so far).
  • Josh has shared an impressive article about collecting herbs and using them as components for spells. While you're at it, check out this post about campfire discussions. He also shared some thoughts about a way to describe fantasy cultures by presenting one cogent detail for each sense.
  • I don't normally talk about sci-fi stuff here, but this huge pile of starship geomorphs is too damn good not to share here as well (it's made for Traveller but usable in most other sci-fi games)
  • I generally dislike podcasts (they are way too dry and drawn out in general), but Carl Bussler's The Megadungeon is something different. I'm definitely biased as I love megadungeons.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Review: Tar Pits of the Bone Toilers

"A new trade route is being sought through the Dalgarian Canyonlands, pass the friendly Kharazan, Village of Plenty. But the last two expeditions have never returned and the merchants are getting anxious for the new route, causing bags of gold to exchange hands.

Meanwhile, the ancient portal, the Maw of Ghormaug, has opened once more and invaders, ‘bone men’, are beginning to take over territory. No one is safe. Left unchecked, these lands are destined for horror and ruin, unless a brave party steps up to the challenge.

An adventure for Levels 5-8 for Labyrinth Lord and other OSR rulesets."

Disclaimer: I was sent a PDF coupon on OBS to review this product. The link below is also an affiliate link to help me buy stuff to review. Some spoilers ahead!