One of the best pieces of advice I ever received as a DM came from my friend Mike, who told me, "Stop trying to be original." He was right, of course. Many of my stories were quite original, but all that meant was that they were garbage no one had ever been subjected to before.
When you're crafting an adventure, originality isn't required. For most of us, the games we run for our groups won't be published. They won't be recorded, or televised, or sold for profit. Your games don't go up on Rotten Tomatoes and aren't subject to a 'freshness rating.' The police aren't going to kick in your door and arrest you for copyright infringement.
Taking a familiar story and corrupting it is one of the greatest joys of running a Ravenloft game. (Of course, many familiar stories require no corruption whatsoever, just a change in set dressing!) For many people, children's stories carry some sacred memories, while at the same time reminding them of a time when the world was infinitely more wondrous and terrifying than it is now. For that reason, Disney stories are wonderfully fertile ground for adventures.
With that in mind, here's a sample of my favorite Disney stories to adapt into Ravenloft adventures.
1. The Little Mermaid
When you consider both the movie and the original story it's based on, the Little Mermaid is one of the darker and more tragic Disney films. The mermaid, entranced with a human noble, gambles her immortality that the prince will share his soul with her. The noble chooses another instead, and although the mermaid considers slaying the rival, she chooses to die rather than live at the cost of another's life.
I ran this adventure myself, with the PCs discovering the voiceless mermaid and dutifully escorted her to the noble's manor in time for his wedding. Although they interpreted and explained the situation to him, he cruelly rejected her. ("She hasn't a soul anyway, so what bother is it to me if she perishes?") Taking a page from the Disney film, I had the Sea Witch who enabled this whole situation present in disguise, attempting to rig the contest. Despite saving the attendants of the wedding from the witch, the PCs were unable to sway the prince and in the end were forced to decide whether one of them should marry the mermaid (and forever share their soul with her) or allow her to die.
If you'd prefer a darker twist, perhaps the soulless mermaid is not as kind as her original counterpart, and the PCs must protect the cad of a noble from the repercussions of his actions.
2. Beauty and the Beast
Seriously, have we checked to see if this movie was written by Laura and Tracy Hickman under a pseudonym? It has all the trappings of a Ravenloft module already. Isolated, massive, creepy castle? Check. Filled to the brim with servants that can double as guardians and protectors, and surrounded by vicious animal life? Check. Lorded over by a tragic figure cursed out of proportion to his crimes, born from his own hubris? Big ol' check. Innocent in danger, compelling a group of heroes to turn a lazy afternoon into a suicide pact? All systems go for fairy tale horror.
Welcome anywhere a big honking castle would be appropriate, this adventure can be adapted for Ravenloft with an exceptionally minimal amount of work. The boorish huntsman recruits the PCs to rescue his love, kidnapped by the lord of the castle. The adventure turns into a horrifying dungeon crawl, complete with servants-turned-furnishings that alternate between slavish loyalty and pleas to end their suffering. The monstrous lord of the castle is finally confronted, and you need only to decide the truth of the situation: is the lord's curse (no doubt laid by a Vistana) warranted? Is the huntsman the true hero of the tale, and the lord only feigning the role of supernatural victim? Or for a more modern twist, perhaps both of the men are villains, and the damsel in distress desperately wishes to be free from the attentions of both of them!
3. Hunchback of Notre Dame
One of the better offerings from Disney's 'let's completely rewrite history and/or classical literature into something child-friendly' period was Hunchback. The tale of an unethical gypsy pursued through a Renaissance-France style city by a lecherous priest and his deformed and abused ward, who vacillates between protecting her and creeping on her as bad as the priest is a story that fits pretty snugly into the Ravenloft canon. Although you could run such a story in Paridon if you wanted to, an appropriate cathedral already exists in Ste. Mere des Larmes of Port-a-Lucine, where there is conveniently a canonical ecumenical power struggle brewing as well! Either Armand Pineau or Leonie Callie are an appropriate replacement for Archdeacon Frollo, and your Esmerelda stand-in begs to be a half-Vistani. (You'll be best served by increasing the size of the cathedral a skosh and adding some non-canonical bells, but I'm reasonably certain John Mangrum won't kick in your door with a chainsaw for this affront to his creation.)
Where you go from there is limitless. While it's entirely possible the gypsy, the thieves' guild protecting the gypsy, the hunchback, the warden of the church, and the captain of the guard are all evil and selfish (certainly this would fit the backdrop of Dementlieu, given domains' tendency to resemble their darklord, as the PCs discover that even the heroes of the city are ultimately self absorbed and have no regard for others), you could have any one of the characters be the protagonist, as well. I ran this myself, and to tip the story on its ear, I reversed the moral message of the movie: Warden Armand was correct--the Vistani woman was a vile temptress attempting to seduce him and the guard captain, as well as lure out the evil in his adopted son's heart. Most of these stories feature a recurring trope where the world thinks they know who the good guy and the bad guy are, only to discover they were mistaken. If you have it turn out that they were correct occasionally, you can keep your players on their toes and keep the story fresh.
This is one you'll want to base almost exclusively on the movie; although the seminal fairy tale is a marvelous literary work in its own right, it has very little in common with the film (which inclines a bit more towards a Ravenloft campaign).
Although the notion of someone struggling with their personal demons only to eventually succumb entirely, driving away any loved ones who might be their salvation is indeed a very Ravenloft story (and gives the song 'Let it Go' a rather self-destructive alternate meaning), consider instead turning the clock forward, progressing the story as if it had proceeded in Ravenloft. The young princess is dead, slain by the negligent magic of her older sister the ice queen, who now rules from her glacial castle, her empathy and humanity dead along with her sibling. The foreign usurper rules the human population, venerated as a hero by the citizenry, who remain unaware of his sinister motives. Such a setting, devoid of any true goodness or hope, would make a wonderful island of terror, although you could always plop it into the Frozen Reaches if you wanted to limit the scope a bit.
(For bonus points, you could go with the headcanon some mouseketeers have constructed: Hans actually was a romantic, upstanding guy, and his villainous turn was only the result of brainwashing on the part of the trolls in an attempt to 'get the fiancee out of the way' in order to set up the romantic match they wanted.)
Running a game is about setting up emotional resonance, and running a Ravenloft game means that sometimes you're going to do that via tragedy, and the emotions you're going to play on will be sympathy, outrage, and horror. One of the best ways to stick a knife in your players' hearts and twist it is to put them in a situation where the culture based moral relativism pits them against a 'villain' who is justified in their beliefs and stances when viewed from a modern sensibility.
In a Ravenloft type setting, the heroine of Brave is already three steps down the path to Dark Lordship before the first act of the movie is done. (Refusing her duty to her clan for her own selfish whims, using witchcraft, and employing sorcery against her own mother, in case you're keeping score at home.) If you're a benevolent sort of DM, you can introduce your PCs during the course of the movie's plot, and give them the opportunity to compel the princess to submit to her obligations to her family after rescuing her mother from her dark transformation. If you're in a more malevolent mood, there's no reason you can't set it several years down the road, with a princess (now queen) ruling over a highland kingdom infested with all manner of dire animals that display a remarkably human level of cunning. (After all, if it worked to solve one problem, why not use it again to solve others?) Constantly fending off unwanted advances from a variety of loathsome suitors, the heirless, aging queen continues to refuse to compromise her independence, even as her extended teenage rebellion threatens to destroy her tiny kingdom.
6. Peter Pan
The Disney Peter Pan is a delightful film which bears a strong enough resemblance to the book that they are immediately recognizable as being the same core story. This is perfect, since Barrie's original book joins Beauty and the Beast in the category of 'throw a Ravenloft sticker on the side and nobody would ever notice.'
Let's see: a tiny pocket domain bordered by hazy mists, ruled over by a cruel, capricious being who forces his domain and its inhabitants to bend to his own malicious will? A murderous antagonist who represents the adulthood that stands in opposition to the child's perpetual youth? The relentless metaphor for mortality which pursues the adult, a steady reminder of their time ticking away? All of it and more cries out to be a Ravenloft domain. Perhaps the darkest turn is the truth at the end of Barrie's Peter Pan: even after returning to the real world the children are never the same, forever missing an innocent naïveté, this missing aspect of their life somehow sustaining Pan's own unholy existence, and are forever plagued by the omnipresent dread that some night in the future, Pan may return for their children...
A group could spend weeks or even months bouncing between the various factions of Neverland, trying to discern the truth behind the lies of who his allied with who, and who is the true villain (and darklord) of the setting, with each side pointing a finger at either the undying child or the well-manicured pirate captain. Of course, the most sinister possible truth is that the pirate and the child are the same person: forever cursed to play out the struggle between the desire to become an adult and embrace maturity and the impulse to cling to the wonder and cruelty of childhood.
These are hardly the only Disney movies you could turn into Ravenloft adventures, but they're certainly a great start. Remember, corrupting a childhood story is good for more than a cheap suckerpunch in the nostalgia (although it is good for that). It's also a good way to return your players to a childlike mindset: more open to change, with a clearer understanding of right and wrong, and a greater respect for stories, all of which brings your group closer to a frame of mind that will help you all get the most out of your gaming sessions.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal.
As a GM, although I don’t mind creating a setting for a rule system, I much prefer to build both side-by-side. The rules become the universe and vice-versa. As you can imagine, agnostic systems which are designed for any and all backgrounds, are of special interest to me. Today, I’d like to introduce my 8 favourite things about FATE.
In FATE, you’re expected to make your own skill list. You don’t have to, mind, however, the core-book provides a pretty extensive list. If you’re playing a futuristic setting, ‘archery’ might not be the most useful of skills. So, change it. Stick ‘Plasma weapons’ in there, or make it more generic, ‘Ballistic’ or ‘Ranged’ would do nicely. I find that this adaptability really colours the universe you’re playing in, as you can develop both (Skills and Universe) simultaneously.
When it comes to skills, you can build a FATE character in less than 4 minutes. You have a pyramid skill (one skill at max modifier, 2 one level down, etc), and you fill it with the skills you think your character is best at. #Boom. Sorted.
This aspect is really attractive. FATE’s books are – the core ones at least – unusually cheap for RPG’s. In fact, one of them (see next point) is free as a PDF. Other FATE-based core books are more expensive, but you could in theory start playing at cost zero.
There are two variants of FATE: the ‘normal’ one (the one I’ve been referencing so far) and FATE Accelerated Edition. FATE is a stripped down, streamlined version of FATE. It is less detailed, and it perhaps loses a bit of its flavour, but you can make a character, and play with virtually zero preparation. Even for new players to the system, FATE would get them playing in seconds. For newcomers to the RPG world FATE would be the perfect gateway.
This is where I think FATE shines. Beyond the skills and the stats and the mods, FATE asks that your characters have descriptors, called Aspects, which define your character. For example, keeping with the futuristic genre, a character might be ‘Expert Tracker’. Now, in game, if you ever need to track something, you expend one Fate Point (more on that in a moment) and invoke that Aspect. If the GM agrees (She should), you get a bonus to your roll to track. Fate points are the economy of the game and as you use them to invoke Aspects to make your life simpler. When you need more you get them from the GM, when she invokes one of your negative aspects. All characters need a Trouble, a negative aspect. For example: ‘Explosive temper’ or ‘Addicted to chewing wood’. These are something bad that the GM can invoke at the worse possible moment, to make your life more interesting, and they provide you a FATE point for your troubles.
After you roll your FATE dice, you add your mods from your skills and any Aspect you invoke. Then you check your number of a simple scale. This scale runs from zero (meh….), to +8 (Legendary win), to -4 (Epic loss), and everything in between. This makes it totally clear and accessible to both GM and players to determine what roll means what.
The main advantage of FATE is its almost infinite adaptability. You can make your own rules, skills, make your characters weaker or tougher…. It’s almost unending. FATE takes this adaptability to heart. You’re given examples of what to do, but ultimately it’s about you and your game. This is perhaps better illustrated by the second of the FATE core-books, FATE System Toolkit, a ‘lets dissect all of the so-called rules, and see how much you can alter them and go nuts with them’. I’m not joking. You can make any character and play it on any Universe you want, using any rules you want.
At the moment there are two aspects of FATE that I am exploring, both are pretty unusual: Free Form Skills and No Skills. Free Form Skills are when you let your players decide what skills they want from scratch. I’m serious. You’ll need guidelines and limits of course, but let them have a go. They usually pick from a narrow range (Attack, Defence, Magic), and they will make their skills much more colourful. So for example, someone that wants to be good at melee picks Fists of Fury as a skill. It makes no mechanical difference, but I find it makes the characters more colourful and personal to the players. No Skills is a total departure from most RPG. Your characters no longer have numerical skills and mods, they just have Aspects. They are described by descriptors (if you pardon the redundance), and it is up to the player and the GM to discuss and get into a conversation to decide if your aspect ‘Flunked out of the Space Academy’ will be relevant to the firing of a blaster rifle. Probably, I just need you to explain it to me.
So FATE is really effective. I recommend it. Have you tried it? What do you think?
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after a decade doing odd things in labs, became a teacher. Then, 18 months ago, RPG’ing came into his life and he is now happily juggling the two. He is currently working on a Cypher system space/superhero adventure and a Fate-based Cyberpunk one (with a dark, secret twist). He lives in England with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants and at least 3 to 4 Adventures across as many rule systems, at different levels of completion. He can be reached at @atomic_rpg
Much has happened since last my fingertips danced on these opaque keys. I’ll spare you the boring details about the who’s and why’s and why not’s. All you need to know, dearest reader is: Jaeger bombs, trippin’ ballz nightclubbin’, what I’m almost certain was chloroform, and an eventual return to consciousness upon a black asphalt mattress. No, this isn’t referencing a hard night on the campaign trail with Hillary … I’ve become a vampire. Now, before you get too excited, yes, I could teach you a ton about what life is like in this husk of a mortal shell, but what’s the rush? I’ve got a lot of time to fill up between now and eternity, so I’ll break it down into pieces so as to not shatter your delicious mental faculties. If you’re lucky, by the time your great grandchildren grow old, they may fully understand what its like to unlive unlife on earth (so take notes).
To begin our saga, let me tell you the reasons why the sun sucks.
1- It burns
Yes, it’s actually as hot as hell (I have it on good authority). Humans take precautions to shield themselves against the potent ultraviolet (ultraviolent?) rays assaulting the earth. They hide behind barricades providing shade, or slather a thick white substance over their exposed epidermis with the hopes it will act as a shield…and for the most part, if applied properly and you don’t have red hair, it does. However, that same incinerating effect on human flesh has an amplified potency for us vampires. We have to wear a special vampiric sunscreen, usually coating our entire bodies, just to walk around during the day. Gingers still burn, of course; sadly sunscreen for them remains ineffective, even in undeath. Admittedly, there are some kinks to work out- and they’re always beta testing. It wasn’t too long ago that now-mothballed formulas caused our skin to glitter and glisten like diamonds in a Tiffany display case.
But you better be careful not miss even one little patch of exposed skin…
But wait, you say, don’t vampires sleep during the day? Technically, you’re right, although with the recent presidential debate, who can get any shuteye? The fact is, sleeping during the day means long hours alone at night… with no social compass to guide you (outside of posting the odd blog for a gaming website…). Too long without keeping your mental faculties sharp with conversations, lies, gossip or excuses…. and your cravings begin to consume you. As a result, most vampires have adapted to the sleeping patterns of our unsuspecting prey. Besides, the amount of UV that’s in those ubiquitous fluorescent bulbs these days makes you have to wear some sunscreen on your face, neck and arms anyways, so you may as well go all in. You’re already sticky.
I prefer to stay inside, which suits me just fine, as it means I can continue with role playing games with friends/food sources.
2- It messes with alternative spectrum sight
Fun fact, vampires eyes get all messed up when we are turned to undead. I literally cannot see for shit in daylight without my contacts in. That’s a problem in and of itself, but it gets worse. You see contact lens manufacturers, like many medical and pharmaceutical companies, are run by demon lords. These demons, greedy as they are, have made several non-compete arrangements, in order to corner the market, and effectively produce enslaved consumers. Case in point, my contacts. There is only one manufacturer of contact lenses for vampiric eye spectrums, and you better believe they leverage that monopoly to their benefit. First of all, they only come in red, which means I‘m going around probably looking like an impressionist painting of the demon prince who runs the company (long may he unlive). Secondly, the undead market prices are ridiculous: you have to subcontract out your soul for 20 years every time you need a new pair- and they aren’t even prescription! (My contract stipulates that I must acknowledge that the demon lord is fair, and that I never had it so good)
* Update: claiming to hear the demands of consumers, the gracious demon is now offering ‘subtle’ bright yellow contact lenses or ‘classic’ jet-black eyeball covers. I might try them next time- they shouldn’t stand out, right?
3- It endlessly teases…
Yeah, you guys smell delicious. Fat, skinny, pretty, ugly, sweaty, clean, it doesn’t matter- its like a human walking up to a grocery store when they have their bakery fans pumping those sweet fumes into the parking lot. That’s hard for any hungry vampire to resist. As bad as that temptation is, the hotter it gets, the more humans sweat, and they have this infuriating habit of exposing themselves to more and more sun, drinking plenty of fluids so as to keep the aroma strong. On one particularly sweltering day last week, another vampire and I were out on a walk in our standard-issued nondescript trench coats, when a pack of joggers jiggled by. Evidently they had been running for a while, the plump ones were already puffing, shirts drenched from exertion. It was like bacon wrapped in bacon and smothered with a sweet creamy sunscreen bacon glaze and slow roasted in front of your face. If I still had salivary glands that didn’t drip a rohypnol-morphine concoction, I would have had to wear flip-flops to wade through the saliva that would’ve streamed out of my mouth in their wake; I swear that, for half a second, I had a heartbeat. I looked to my comrade, knowing full well the taboo placed on daytime hunting. But it didn’t even see me. Those eyes got that craaazy gleam in them, lips parting in anticipation. And in the horrifying bonfire that followed, I learned an important lesson: they don’t make sunscreen for the inside of your mouth.
And the vampire dark web is chock a block with videos of vampires’ mouths on fire.
Human interaction is the only place where you can taste the tantalizing agony of almost feeling alive again, and so we venture out into the daylight. Sure its self destructive, self indulgent, and tortuous, but isn’t that the driving force behind any addiction? We vampires cannot be alive, so we settle for a kind of pseudo-life: putting on manners, practicing our speeches, and looking to the world like we’re well put together. We could be your boss, your coworker, your quirky neighbor, even a presidential candidate or two. The sun damages us, sure, but it is a necessary good which we have to endure, for a greater selfish benefit.
Until next time,
Dustinopolis is a perfectly normal human who is alive and does normal human behaviors every day, even if it’s sunny. Nothing out of the ordinary. Very ho hum. Nothing that people need worry about. No need to stay on guard or put garlic in your homes or anything stinky like that. Dustinopolis could best be described as a very human human. Feel free to invite it in anytime.
Episode One - Adam's Wrath, 2nd Edition AD&D (Ravenloft) COMPLETED
Episode Two - Chronica: Age of Exploration - Pathfinder COMPLETED
Episode Three - Rifts Mercenaries Adventure - Rifts COMPLETED
Episode Four - Lost Mine of Phandelver, 5th Edition D&D (Forgotten Realms) COMPLETED
Episode Five - Night of the Walking Dead - 2nd Edition AD&D (Ravenloft) IN PRODUCTION
Episode Six - Dawn of the Artifacts 1: Dusk - 4th Edition Shadowrun
Episode Seven - Greyhawk Ruins, 2nd Edition AD&D (Greyhawk)
Episode Eight - Beneath the Mask, Dread RPG
When is it time to step up, to grab the throne of power, to seize the day, and to start GMing? Our fellow columnist here at High Level Games, Ryan, is ready to hang up his hat as a GM for the time being. He knew it was time for a hiatus and had searched the signs and had seen his future unfold. If he continued, he would be forced to cry out “DAMMIT” with every passing role-playing session.
But what are the signs for the opposite? When do you know that it may be time to make the leap from player to GM? Maybe you just came off a hiatus and want to know when to get your feet wet again. I hope to give you those hints as an expert on-again-off-again GM.
Sign 1: You’ve Got an Itch
Every role-playing session has you falling into your own day-dreams about how you would have things play out. You now spend even more time developing your character’s backstory, without any prompting from anyone else. Maybe, you even go beyond planning about your character, and also want to confer with others about theirs. Then you dream about how they all fit together. Wanting to better the world you are playing in is a good sign that the leap is imminent.
Sign 2: New Game Envy
You hear about other groups playing a game you have never played before. You maybe even listen to a podcast about it. However you find out about it, you are in love. There is one major problem though; no one you know plays this game. Not only that, your friends have interest but don’t have the time to wade through a new system. It is time to bite the bullet, buy the system, scour the internet for resources, and head up your own game.
Sign 3: It’s Arguing Time!
Wanting to assert some of you and your ideas into a game is natural. Sidelining the game to promote your better idea on how the encounter should have went is a problem. Not only does it make for a bad player, but it disintegrates the group dynamic. Maybe you are right, but maybe it is time you try the driver’s seat yourself.
Sign 4: Newbies Galore
Sometimes you have friends outside the hobby (gasp!) These friends may want to enter the hobby themselves, but are intimidated by the close knit group that already exists. Many times you can assure your friends and have them sit in on a few sessions with your current group. They may easily fall into the group dynamic. But if they don’t (which happens), there is an opportunity to introduce them to the hobby and create their own new group dynamic, with their own war stories and inside jokes. You, of course, will be the GM of this new group.
Sign 5: It’s a Whole New World
Okay, so it is more than an itch. You have plans and plans of new ideas and new worlds. Your cup runneth over. Unless, you are an aspiring author (but aren’t we all), there may be no other way to really build on those scenarios. Even as an aspiring author, you won’t get more realistic dialogue and interesting character builds than when you leave it to other people to flesh out. Make you dreams a reality. It’s time to GM. You are ready.
So you may have read these signs and found them missing a piece. These are the signs that I have seen through my own experience. What other signs have you seen?
Vanessa is a sarcastic, 30-something wife and mother. She likes things and stuff, but not simultaneously. She hopes to see these signs again in the future, but for now her time is spent keeping students on their toes. If you do see those signs you can check out her notes on GMing for the first time. She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa (though she is terrible at it)
I’m generally the WoD head around the office. The CEO keeps installing random mirrors; maybe because he wants to keep an eye on if I’ve been embraced yet? I’m not sure. What I do know is that I’m happy he’s done that because it makes it easier for me to get into the Umbra… I mean… if I was a Werewolf or something… or a Corax… which I’m not.
Right, where was I? Oh, I realized that during my illustrious career here at High Level Games, I have yet to write about Werewolf! So, here we go. Werewolf is a complex game. It’s a game of violence, rage, and horror of the fast and bloody kind. At the same time, it is a game of animistic spirituality, of heroism, and an attempt to hold back the tide of ecological disaster. Vampire has the reputation as the political game in the World of Darkness, but Werewolf has its political side with the intricacies of the Garou Nation. What follows are 4 ideas you can steal and use for a chronicle. If you love them, let me know. If you hate them, let me know. I love feedback.
1) THE LOCAL FIRST:
WtA can be an epic game of world spanning heroism, but that isn’t the only way to play it. In this Chronicle idea the pack has awakened a Caern. It’s small, weak, and alive. The only Garou currently that protect it are the pack. They have to cultivate it, strengthen it, and care for the land and local Umbrascape. This story focused on the small things the pack will have to do. Maybe make an entire session around choosing what flowers have the strongest spiritual reflection. Have the local NPC’s become really fleshed out; create bonds between the pack and the people that live near the caern. They’ll have to learn to keep their Rage in check, because they don’t want to catch the attention of greater powers. Perhaps the caern is in a small local park, or maybe it is urban and a city water fountain is also a place of spiritual power? Slowly have local politicians rezone the space, perhaps threaten to evict the pack from their squat near the site? This chronicle idea requires a subtle approach to Werewolf, rather than 10 tons of furry mayhem.
2) THE QUEST OF ATONEMENT:
This chronicle idea is almost the polar opposite of the first suggestion. In this chronicle you are sending a nomadic pack to search for a way to atone for a misdeed. Perhaps it is something massive they seek to make amends for, like the War of Rage. Perhaps it is something small, like a frenzy that takes the life of an innocent. At any rate, the pack has to undertake a quest into the Umbra to seek atonement. The pack has to decide where to go first, send them to various Elders asking for guidance on where to start. Seed them with connections to NPCs with knowledge beyond the Garou Nation. Have them seek out an old Gurahl or an ancient Mokole with memories of an event they need to be aware of. Perhaps a Ratkin has been to a rare umbral realm that holds the secret to returning the Apis to the world? The goal of this chronicle is to drop breadcrumbs that lead the pack to their goal. Perhaps they will fail, but they should constantly be moving, seeking, finding ways to succeed.
3) BRING THE WAR TO THEM:
Werewolf often feels like a game of reaction, rather than proactive attacks against the Wyrm. In this chronicle the players and their pack are given the task of acting as a squad in a pro-active assault against the Wyrm and its minions. This isn’t an attack against Malfeas story, though it could certainly head that way if you want to. Instead, focus on seeking out and acquiring targets. Perhaps a local O’Tolleys (a Fast Food Burger Joint in the WoD) is selling Wyrm tainted meat. The pack has to take out the Banes lurking in the umbra around the restaurant and at the same time decide if they are going to take any action against the physical side of the chain. Have them lead an attack against the O’Tolley’s distribution center and maybe even the Corporate Office. I’d leave the chronicle there, but maybe drop some hints that O’Tolley’s is simply a subsidiary of Pentex… and have the pack attack the Wyrm at one of its core manifestations on Gaia.
Imagine 4-5 highly strung soldiers who are experts at striking the enemy where it counts. Now imagine those same soldiers have to act as front-line diplomats. If you can imagine that, you might have an idea of how this chronicle could go. For whatever reason, the pack has been chosen to act as ambassadors. Perhaps they need to reach out to the local vampires, because allying is more beneficial than fighting. Or, as an alternative idea, the pack is tasked with making an alliance with the resurgent Nuwisha. Whichever direction you decide to take, the pack will need patience, calm, and luck to succeed at their mission. Rage makes these sorts of peace missions difficult, but if the pack fails in their mission a MUCH GREATER EVIL will destroy everyone.
These are pretty bare bones ideas, but hopefully they give you something you can work with. Werewolf is an amazing game, and there are a ton of different ways to play the game. What sort of chronicles have you run? Oh, and When Will You Rage?
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He recently launched,www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre’s and One World By Nights Vampire LARPs and is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
This is the end. All is dust. A couple of weekend’s ago my Mutants and Masterminds campaign came to an end. While no one was injured as a result of the campaign I still feel the empty hole next to my hearts that it masterfully filled every second Sunday from 2 till 6ish. I’ll miss it. I’ll miss the simplicity of the streets of Emerald City and the intrepid hero’s that defended its peoples. I won’t miss flipping through the massive binder to look up rules but it wasn’t as bad as Shadowrun. Actually, as a DM nothing has been as bad as Shadowrun. I remember when I started out playing I had no intention of ever DMing a game, and I played for years without ever having to. Then it just sort of happened, one campaign finished and an opportunity arose, and I had a chance to let someone else play so I just went with it. It’s been a few years now and I’ve GMed consecutive campaigns since then, and towards the end not because I wanted to but because I felt I had to. But that’s over now, back to the factory floor I go… but willingly. My time was over and here are a few reasons I knew it was time to hang it up.
1) COLOUR INSIDE THE LINES, DAMMIT
I started losing interest in my player creativity with their characters. I just wanted them to follow the script and quit trying to have fun. This was a rule-based game dammit, and there is no room in role-playing for developing story and characters beyond what the module defines… anyways that’s how I felt at least. I ran our Mutants and Mastermind campaign from the Emerald City Knights modules from Green Ronin. They were orderly, easy to read through, and developed the scene and scenarios well. Things were good and game-play flowed but nobody sticks to the script all the time. When my players started exercising their agency and it annoyed me I knew that maybe I needed a break.
2) HOW LONG IS THIS GONNA TAKE, DAMMIT
As easy as the modules were to read through, I started to hate setting things up before we played. I would leave things until an hour before I knew people would be arriving and then pull out the module and notebooks and start jotting stuff down. To be honest I already knew that this was a problem coming out of my GMing a Shadowrun campaign, right before we started in on Mutant’s and Masterminds but I figured it would go away with a new game. It didn’t, and it was a really great sign that I was sitting in the wrong chair.
3) DAMMIT, I GOT THIS
I don’t know how it got into my head but somehow I thought that no one else would want a chance to run the show. Maybe I had gotten so used to running campaigns that I started to believe that this would be my eternal role. Forever, until the end of days I would run module after module from system after system, until all my players got put into differing retirement homes by their spiteful and ungrateful children. Anyways, this wasn’t the case. Turns out there were more than one person who wanted a crack at GMing, and it was the perfect time to bow out gracefully.
So that’s how it all ended. I’m just a lowly player now but for a while there I was a god. Sure I couldn’t influence how the dice fell, but besides the legions of rulebooks and stat tables my word was law. Actually looking back even half-assing it was a ridiculous amount of work. Maybe someday I’ll want to go back and give it another shot but for now thank God that $%*# is over. No more whiny players, no more stupid rule challenges. I don’t care how many attacks you think you should have based on your speed the book says you only have one!
Sorry, bit of a flash back there.
Ryan tells it like it is, unless he doesn't, like that time he forgot to append a bio to his article submission and so VP Quinn decided to just make some stuff up. Ryan is is stunted and pig-snouted orc-like creature that lives alone in a basement far to the north. he has friends, but primarily out of the pity that those friends have for him.
Getting Your Fix One Box At A Time - 7 Board Games With Great Role-Play Value To Tide You Over To Your Next RPG Session
So it's Monday again and there's a whole lotta' corporating between you and your next weekend role-playing session. Like... a lot. I'm almost crying just thinking about it...
It's not so bad if you think about it – the board gaming market, a slightly more popular cousin to RPGs has been so much on the up and up lately it's just insane how many role-playing-like board games have popped up all over the place.
You know what the funny thing is?
Most of them aren't even being marketed as such... So how are you supposed to know if they hold any role-playing value if it doesn't say so on the box?! How? How? Hooow?
Settle down there, Johnny, that's where we step in... Or at least me. Hiiii!
An avid board gamer myself (as well as a budding war gamer, painter, terraining enthusiast and cat juggler – one of these things is a lie), I can most definitely give you some insight on a few gems the market doesn't really see as role-playing items, but can really take care of your craving in less than half the time a session usually takes.
So here goes...
1. FIREFLY – THE BOARD GAME
Now if I get overly enthusiastic about this game and start randomly mashing buttons on my keysjdhfbsk dhgbsd....???%#)%(@. Gorramit. Deep breaths… just take deep breaths... it's only because I love anything and everything about Firefly, may the gods defecate upon the people responsible for it being canceled!
While I do have a copy of the newest RPG from Margaret Weiss (which I wholeheartedly recommend and have done so already in one of my previous articles), at least one person in my Firefly RPG campaign has decided to up and move into Reaver Space... That's the Netherlands in plain human-talk.
Enter Firefly – the board game.
With a bit of a learning bump in the beginning (what with everyone running headlong into misbehavin' and being sent home crying after having their one crew member very likely killed off...), it turns into a sprawling, 'Verse-wide experience that will have you dodging customs inspections, boarding other players' ships and generally shooting people right back as they're trying to shoot you. It's great for that barely-getting-there space-survival feeling and it really has a lot of opportunities for roleplaying. Our crew members end up taking radically different personas from game to game, and many funny voices have been born after games of Firefly.
You end up caring about your crew, making difficult moral choices in order to keep flying and risk losing their trust and service if you go too far in fulfilling Niska's filthy plans... Uh... That guy's an asshole! But the pay is soooo good... Then again, that's... Murder!
In closing it’s a fun family game all-around.
Just remember not to let the space monkeys into the engine room and keep flying!
Heavily overlooked when it comes to the light dungeon-delving/crawling experience, this little box of wonders is so much more than people make it out to be. Not only does it have an authentic holy-dragonfire-I'm-about-to-die-but-I-need-just-one-more-piece-of-treasure aura to it that everybody gets into not 5 minutes after the damned thing's set up, but the rules are smack-dab in the middle of perfect balance between a solid backbone and the ability to house-rule the hell out of.
On top of that, with the help of a little free PC tool called Strange Aeons, you can come up with your own adventurers and content (think monsters, traps etc.) for the damned thing! And the best part is – considering you're not going overboard with your stats – there's no such thing as overpowered here! No matter what your character's special rules are, you can still die screaming engulfed in flames, or cut in twain by a swinging blade or poisoned or oh!... so many other fun ways to die...
All of this, as I've said, set against a background of old school fantasy delving with treacherous corridors, hazards, catacombs and the great, big Sma... I-I mean Khalladra guarding her golden trove at the heart of the Lonely M... Dammit! Dungeon! This is definitely not Middle Earth!
Anyway, this tends to bring out the best of your combat one-liners as well as (more often) famous-last-words-style compositions.Which is all in good fun since you can pick up another character and delve right back in... Only to die again not 10 minutes later, and then again after picking your third dude/dudette...
By my beard, this board-game is brutal beyond belief...
3. COSMIC ENCOUNTER
Aaah, Cosmic... The love-hate relationship I have with you is rivaled by none!
Also, the continuous storyline this game has put together within my game is turning into a Gilgamesh-sized backstabbing, crooked smile, subterfuge, table-flipping, friendship-threatening epic... At its core, CE is nothing more than a negotiation game with funny powers and pretty plastic bits. But after a game or two, once you've gotten the hang of it all and know a little more about what that reward deck holds, everyone turns into a mean, malformed, morally-challenged space-beast with nothing but that 5th point on their mind.
You start to get second thoughts (then third and fourth – the double bluffing in this game is just unbelievable at times...) about everyone else at the table... You remember games long passed when that smiling individual sitting across from you widened his grin as he was twisting his blade betwixt your ribs, right in the ol' thumper... You turtle up into this mean old goat that's fighting for every point, questioning your opponents' every move, wink or nod, and overthinking everything to the point of bursting veins... I do exaggerate a bit, but it does feel like that when a tense moment comes up. And it will come out 4 out of 5 attacks...
The best RP-related thing to come out of the game is your verbal negotiation skill. Anything and everything is tested here: you can coerce, con, fast-talk and outright intimidate others into helping you or giving you that deal lest they meet an untimely end via you driving AN ENTIRE PLANET INTO THEM (yes, the powers really are that bonkers...).
By the gods, you should have a +10 on all negotiation-based rolls if you have at least 3 games of this bugger won. In fact, you could pretty much con the GM into just giving you the roll by that point in time...
4. DUNE – THE BOARD GAME
If I had a top 3 games that rarely see the table, it would be made up of Dune, all on its own. That's how little I get to play this glorious, 70s-born behemoth. Don't get me wrong, it's an amazing piece of design, but it does take a little hard work to get into (not to mention some house-ruling in order to discard that awful Euro-style combat mechanism for one... Ugh...).
But once you get going, the factions in this one are so diverse and resemble Herbert's writings so closely it's impossible not to get sucked into the setting and go all-out space-crazy with one another. Harkonnens twiddling their thumbs, wide, treacherous grin on their faces, Fremen doing their best Finnish-heavy-metal-sand-viking impression by riding worms into battle, the Guild all hopped-up on Spice giving away free rides to any and all who can pay (hehe), Bene Gesserit trying to sign away in some made-up finger-dancer language, meanwhile the Emperor and Atreides butting heads over who'll actually get to control the damned planet come the final turn... and that's before the Bene Tleilaxu, Landsraad and Ix even join in on the battle! Iduali too if you feel like house-ruling again – I know I have!
It's a wild, fun romp and one of the few games to take the source material and translates it so well into the gaming medium the conflict takes on a whole new mantle with people whispering to each other, going away from the table, weaving intricate long-term plans or short-term damage control stratagems. There are some cool-looking variants floating around the interwebs too, I suggest you go find them and have some fun printing/cutting/sleeving the Spice out of them.
5. GAME OF THRONES – THE BOARD GAME
Speaking of source material translated well into the gaming medium, this one's a bit of a monkey wrench – I think the reason the game itself gained so much traction was that the saga was and is still building momentum. It's not a bad game, the mechanisms in it are solid, but the way the Song of Ice and Fire lore is slapped onto it is a bit lazy if you ask me... The thing that gets the Stark player to hate the Lannister's guts is not the way their relationship is portrayed within the game, but rather the history the two families have in the books (and if you haven't read them, what are you doing here and where have you been living for the past 10+ years??)
Again, as with Dune, the game manages to suck you into proceedings, but less on its own merits than the aforementioned might. You do get the best of treachery, betrayal, giant battles, sieges, bluffing your way into frail alliances, losing golden opportunities by being all "honorable" and everything else you might come across in the books (apart from all the sex and incest, it's a kids' game after all...). So sharpen your Valyrian steel *cough*cardboard*cough* sword, get your behind settled into that melted sword *cough*still cardboard*hawk* throne and gather your *ahem*plastic*wheeze* armies to fight over Westeros.
Caution – table-flipping dangers abound in this one, if only because some people expect other people to play "by the book" and said other people think it might be fun to go with a "what if" scenario and turn everything on its head for some people... I don't wanna talk about it.
I mean I do, but some people might take offense, so I'll just leave it at that.
6. WAR OF THE RING
Keeping to the current larger-than-life wargame board-game theme, War of the Ring had to make its way on here just because... It's Tolkien, come on! Who knows what fantasy would look like if it weren't for ol' R.R.?
The OG R.R.! Straight outta Middle Earth!
Probably the best board-game in the world (yes, yes, I stole that from beer commercials, shut up!), War of the Ring is - I think - the epitome of what Tolkien's epic means. On one hand, from the Free Peoples' side, you have the struggle, the overwhelming odds, the chances taken, the sacrifices made, the fear that creeps into your mind when you see the Orc tide flowing time and time again, those small moments of respite you seldom get and that let you breathe normally for about a fraction of a figment of an inkling of a moment...
On the other, there's Sauron and Saruman... The Two Towers, fighting, hunting, battering every wall the Free Peoples raise against their almost unstoppable onslaught, and the search for the Ring. Ah, yes. The Precious! He wants it! He needs it... He might see where the fat hobbitses are on the map, but getting the damned thing is something else entirely.
A sublime blend of game, mechanisms, dice, cards, flavour text, story (not by-the-books either!) and atmosphere, I've seen this game swing into win or loss on the last play so many times it's starting to be the norm – I'm expecting this to be a battle 'til the very end, and my expectations are seldom not met! This is one of the few games that leave me as exhausted as a good role-playing session does by the end, and trying to 4-player this puppy? By my Balrog does that multiply the fuzzy, happy feelings tenfold!
Middle-Earthish attire and latex, hairy feet optional, but they are strongly recommended.
Fresh lembas bread has also been known to help during the wee hours of the morning, 5 hours into it all. Just (don't?) try to simply walk into Mordor and you'll be fine.
Talk about butt-clenching against alien probes... No, I mean let's talk about it!
I can guaran-damn-tee you've never been put under such pressure by any of your GMs before. I rarely get to submit my players to such ludicrous levels of edge-of-your-seat action and quick thinking simply because I have way more fun tormenting them in other ways.
I am so evil-smiling right now...
To be frank, I did have them test out an X-Rivet (Steampunk Star Wars, zounds of fun...) prototype once, which they successfully managed to stall during a vertical climb. That was a fun couple of minutes while they were fumbling around their character sheets, trying to find something to help them. FYI – rerouting the pulse cannon power through the main engine sequence and firing the gun will apparently get things going again... Decent roll + laughing-his-arse-off-expectations-exceeded GM permitting. Fun times.
Back to XCOM then.
Alien threat, special task force designed to deal with said threat, countries losing faith in... humanity, I guess? You and the other players having to restore said faith, dealing with multiple attack fronts, researching, recruiting, building and oh, wow, I'm tired just thinking about it. The greatest bit here is that within the cooperative, timed (yes, you heard that right, this is as real-time as it gets!) aspect of the game, every player takes on a role – Commander, CO, Chief Scientist, Squad Leader – and tries to perform it as best as possible within a short (or very short on higher difficulty levels) span of time.
Said span of time is controlled via a neat app on your smartphone/tablet, blending perfectly into the sci-fi feel the game and the artwork bring to the table (the map looks like a satellite image of Earth which is just jumping-flippidy cool if you ask me...), maybe a better fit than what Mansions of Madness is doing at the moment – Horror and tablets don't really sync in my Necronomicon... This game has turned my adrenaline knobs higher than any before or since, doing so in a very strong role-playing, decision-making, teamworking manner that really harkens to our daily RPG bread.
Ack-Ack! Or something...
Steering clear of other more obvious examples – Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, Merchants and Marauders or other adventure-type games, and even several card games I've been playing for years now (now that I think of it, I might do a part II after I get to play Fury of Dracula, that sounds like a sure-fire hit) – you'd be hard-pressed to find better scratches of your role-playing itch than the aforementioned magnificent 7.
If'n you do, however, come across any other such masterpieces, do share them with us, we're all willing to learn as much as possible about the role-playing hobby in particular as well as its adjacent domains in general.
And by all means, refrain not from shipping said games to us for playtesting...
You will forever earn a place within the HLG Pantheon of Do-Gooders. And that ain't nothin'... more than a name on a piece of paper, but still – something is something! ...or some other witty quip.
Writer, gamer, and - provided he's got the time for it - loving husband, Costin does not rule out sacrifices to the Great Old Ones in order to get into the gaming industry. He's been role-playing for the better part of 6 years, but has been a joker, gamer and storyteller for as long as he can remember.
His greatest pride is once improvising a 4-way argument between a grave digger, a dyslexic man, an adopted child and a sheep, all by himself. That moment is also the closest he's ever come to giving himself a role-playing aneurysm... thus far.
(What follows is a brief roleplay guide to various Fantasy Flight Warhammer 40k tabletop RPGs, such as Only War and Dark Heresy.)
Imperial citizens! It is time, once again, to by thine heads in reverence to our immortal God-Emperor. Drop to your knees and pray for salvation from the hordes of xenos, mutants, and demons that plague our galaxy. What other recourse have you?
What’s this? Citizens who haven’t learned to properly praise and worship the Emperor as He is due? You low-born Underhive scum are barely worth my attention, save for the amount it would take to execute you for treason and heresy. As I am a merciful Commissar, I shall instruct you in the proper ways of veneration. Listen well, as I shan’t repeat myself. Falter again, and you shall face the barrel of my holy bolt pistol.
1 . Maintain your Sacred Wargear
You are all Guardsmen now. That means you will be issued equipment created by the holy Manufactorums of Mars and other such worlds. Your wargear is worth far more than your pathetic lives, and you are to treat it as such. Your lasgun will never fail you if you treat it with respect. Apply the necessary unguents and oils prior to use, keep your charge packs at full capacity, and practice proper muzzle discipline. The Machine Spirit of your weapon abhors an untrained caretaker. It, however, delights in the slaying of Mankind’s enemies. You shall also be issued armor, typically flak vests and the like. Do not misunderstand; your existence is not sacred to the Emperor, only your service. The armor you wear serves to keep you fighting His enemies, not to keep you alive. Waste not the opportunity He has provided you, and honour the wargear that allows you to continue to praise Him.
2 . Follow the orders of your superiors
Heed your sergeants and commanders. You may have learned how to fight, but they have learned how to win. Follow them, and they shall deliver you glory in the name of our Emperor. Disobey, and you become a danger to the rest of your squad in need of elimination. The duty of these summary executions falls upon yours truly. Let me reassure that I treat my duties as further opportunities to serve my Emperor, and I feel his presence every time I kill a traitor or heretic.
What to do, then, when your commander dies valiantly in battle? Follow the chain of command, until only I remain as your superior. Should it come to this, you need not worry. I shall lead you into the thick of the fighting, that you may serve the Emperor with your strength of arms and your final breaths.
3 . Trust not the heretic, mutant, or alien
The threat of Chaos is ever-present. The Emperor Protects, but Chaos Corrupts. Should you witness anything you believe to be the influence of psykers, demons, or xenos, you are to report these concerns to your company priest or to me. Any mutation, no matter how innocuous it may seem, must be inspected and documented. It is often better to eliminate such an aberration, lest the host be contagious in some fashion. The worship of any entity save our Holy God-Emperor is forbidden. You may have had icons or idols within your piteous Hive dwellings, but they were all destroyed when you were… “recruited” into the Astra Militarum. In addition, whilst fighting xenos, you are not to touch or even stare at their alien technology. These perverse instruments have no place in our galaxy, and all will be purged along with their foul creators.
4 . Commit your tithes to the Golden Throne
Though your life will be considered your tithe to the Throne, your family and estate must still give of its acquisitions as required by the Imperial Tithe Grade as it applies to your home planet. Fail to do so, and other members of your family may be recruited into the Guard without warning. Each commitment of wealth, power, and lives helps to sustain our great Imperium and its vast military. Withholding the tithes due to our great Emperor is nothing short of heresy, and will be treated as such.
5 . Shout his praises when you charge headlong into battle
The greatest and most powerful method one may employ to venerate the Emperor is and shall always be the battle cry. Shout praises in His name as you bear down on Orks, Tyranids, and Heretics. Scream unto the heavens so that He may hear your prayer and visit his wrath upon our enemy. Sing hymns as you engage in glorious melee combat. Hum in time with the crack of your lasgun as it fires. Feel His presence around you as you deliver death. When you have His name upon your lips, nothing can stop you from destroying His foes.
Remember, guardsmen: your faith shall ever be your shield; your fury shall ever be your sword. The Emperor Protects!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him out at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact . He plays the treacherous Tau in 40k. (#Gr8erGud). He’d like to thank THQ for the line about faith and fury.
Fresh Takes On The Unfresh Dead: 5 Non-Egyptian Themed Mummy Types For Your Ravenloft (OR Other) Campaign
Greetings once again!
Adventurers within the Mists are likely more than acquainted with what Van Richten referred to as the Ancient Dead: corpses preserved by vile thantological sciences and reanimated to spread woe and misery upon those among the living who would dare to defile their places of rest.
Although considered by some to be uniquely indigenous to the Amber Wastes, (and that region is certainly home to the alpha's share of such creatures!) mummies can be found throughout the Core, several clusters, and even a few of the so-called islands of terror. Please find enclosed a sample of the various mummies I have encountered (or that I can confirm the existence of from reliable sources).
1. Jas-jassasok (Fire Mummy)
In the land of Sri Raji, east of the city of Tvashti, almost near the misty border, one encounters ancient, crumbling ruins of a civilization long forgotten, presumably destroyed by the more numerous Rajians. Beneath one of these faded ziggurats there lies a labyrinth of twisting passages filled with the bones of grave robbers gone by. At the center of this maze of lethal traps and spiteful undead lies Jas-jassasok.
Jas-jassasok's people mummified their dead by having the aged and infirm consume a special saline solution. Once they passed on, this solution prevented natural processes from causing decay inside the corpse. The body would then be smoked over a fire and preserved internally by blowing the smoke of sacred herbs through the body cavity.
The lord of this particular tomb has never been known to speak, although reports indicate he is very capable of understanding the languages of others. He appears as a man of striking musculature, his skin withered and browned like meat jerky, and usually chooses to go about in a shocking state of nudity. His eyes glow dimly like hot coals, and he is surrounded by a perpetual cloud of grimy grey smoke.
In Play: Fire Mummies utilize the same statistics as regular mummies, but lack a normal mummy's vulnerability to fire. Attacks against a fire mummy originating from more than a single space away suffer disadvantage due to the thin cloud of smoke which surrounds them. Fire mummies can see through all smoke (including magical smoke) but not through fog or haze created by water vapor. Adjust their CR by +1.
2. Aukagaak (Frozen Mummy)
Northwest of Kirinova in the land of Vorostokov, one can find a goatherd's trail up into the mountains (long since abandoned). Well up above the heights any sane person might travel one finds the Cavern of the Hungry Winds, a place spoken of only by a few of the most ancient elders among the Voros. The cavern is crudely constructed from the stone, although its age makes it quite expansive. This cave complex has been carved so that the high, dry winds sweep through the complex constantly. The cavern is ruled over by Aukagaak, the matriarch of a tribe destroyed by famine during a particularly harsh winter.
The dry winds and unrelenting cold of the Cavern of the Hungry Winds causes a peculiar desiccation effect in living flesh. The mummies created within the cavern (done by leaving them upon high wooden plinths scattered throughout) freeze and dry out so rapidly that there is virtually no decay. The skin of the bodies is as thin as paper, and the swift desiccation consumes the eyes of the victims while stretching their eyelids permanently open, leaving them to stare widely with horrifyingly black, empty sockets. (Despite having no eyes, they seemed to 'see' and be vulnerable to vision based attacks in the same fashion as their more common cousins.)
Aukagaak is a whip-thin woman in dried animal furs, who wields a staff adorned with the horned skull of a ram. She has become consumed with an insatiable need to rebuild and restore her community. To that end, she hoards supplies of food her people will never use, much of it as freeze dried as she and her tribe. Livestock reanimated through her necromancy form roving packs of undead animals that wander throughout the cavern. The largest danger in her lair, however, comes from her tribe: Aukagaak has animated many of her people as frozen mummies like herself, and in a deranged effort to continue her tribe's legacy, she has abducted new members of her tribe from the surrounding countryside. She prefers children for her 'adoptions,' seemingly failing to understand that they will never repopulate the caverns with a living community.
In Play: Frozen mummies have the same statistics as normal mummies, but gain immunity to cold. Instead of inflicting necrotic damage with their rotting fist, they inflict cold damage. Although they possess a mummy's vulnerability to fire, they never exhibit a fear of it, or anything else.
3. Crochan (Bog Mummy)
Groups of travelers along the road south of Mordentshire have reported similar encounters with a loping, stoop-framed man dogging their steps, who seemed capable of appearing and disappearing into the swamps almost at will. Although no one who reports seeing this creature have been harmed, in recent months several lone travelers have vanished, leading me to suspect the region is being haunted by a bog mummy capable of biding his time until he finds the easiest prey.
In the swamps and fens of Mordent live tribes of strange creatures called moor men. Not quite beast and not quite human, they caper half-naked beneath the moonlight, feasting and rutting with savage abandon, venting a barbaric wrath on any civilized folk they come upon. Rarely, a living person will be entranced with their heathen ways and cast off the trappings of civilization to join them. Such fools, when they pass on, are buried according to the gruesome traditions of their new 'kin:' when they become too infirm to carry on their wild practices, the unlucky person is killed by his own tribe as a ritual sacrifice, his throat slit and his body pinned into the bog waters before the life has left him. If the conditions are right, the acidity of a bog can preserve the corpse to a remarkable degree.
I believe the bog mummy from these recent reports to be Crochan: a trapper who vanished with a tribe of moor men in 742. Reports from his widow indicate Crochan appeared at their home numerous times, attempting to entice her to come with him, although she never gave in. This longing for his bride seems to have followed him into death: the travelers who have disappeared have all been women. (A few women with male companions have vanished, although their escorts bodies have been recovered.) The reports I've heard indicate Crochan's appearance is typical of bog mummies: smooth skin gone deeply blackish brown, appearing like tanned and ancient leather. He'll likely be covered in the bizarre and primitive tattoos sported by the moor men.
In Play: Bog mummies use normal mummy statistics, except that they gain a swim speed equal to their land speed, and have advantage on Stealth checks in swampy terrain. In addition, such terrain never counts as difficult terrain for them.
4. St. Laina (Incorruptible Mummy)
The Tepestani community of Briggdarrow has had a recent flurry of activity. Laina Meath, a warrior for Wyan's inquisition, passed away suddenly last year (many say from a hex-sickness brought against her by the curse of a vengeful fey). The faithful of Belenus claim that her remains have been the subject of a miracle: her purity, legendary in life, have made her corpse incorruptible, and it remains as perfectly preserved as the day she died. Her tomb has become a shrine, her remains now on open display within. I can confirm that they appear not only undecayed, but even lifelike, as though the warrior-maiden merely slumbered.
Legends of incorruptible saints are not uncommon. Nidala and Darkon are also home to legends of holy warriors of such surpassing fortitude that even after they have passed on, not even death despoil their mortal remnants. If such legends are to be believed, then these warriors have even been known to be possessed by their spirits once again and roused from eternal slumber to help those in need.
I can verify that such is the case with St. Laina. Even in death, her zeal to destroy those she believes corrupted by the fey is unquenchable. When my companions and I attempted to stay overnight in Briggdarrow, we found ourselves pursued by her animated form: a pale Tepestani woman of surpassing beauty, wholly dead but surrounded by a nimbus of cold blue light, clad in mail and armed with a broad sword. The dread she inspired was horrific, and my companions' magics availed them little. Fortunately, she did not pursue us beyond a night's travel from her shrine.
In Play: Incorruptible mummies have all the normal statistics for mummies. In addition, they have resistance to magic, and immunity to magic from one type of being (choose one of the same patron sources available to warlocks). Incorruptible mummies can detect magic at will, and their rotting fist does radiant damage as opposed to necrotic. Despite this, they are still harmed by radiant damage, and spells which inflict radiant damage bypass their resistance. Increase an incorruptible mummy's CR by 1.
5. Eston Kohlier (Plastic Mummy)
I've received a few reports from travelers coming through the Heath of Fevered Tears in Lamordia of an encounter with a strange man. They say that he appears from nowhere. Sometimes he attacks the traveler, and other times he arrives to point out an unseen danger or aid them against an attacking enemy. Those who he's helped claim he retreats as soon as the conflict is finished, refusing any form of conversation or thanks.
This pitiable man is a victim of Dr. Mordenheim's ministrations, I believe. A courier who disappeared near Schloss Mordenheim a short time before the first sightings is the likely identity of the mystery fellow: a Lamordian man named Eston Kohlier. My reports indicate that the good doctor had been engaged in chemical research in the months leading up to Kohlier's disappearance. I believe, if my research is correct, that Mordenheim was attempting to develop a resin which would allow for the indefinite preservation of a living being, until such time as the being could be released from this preservative lacquer by means of separate concoction. Alas, I believe the first human trial proved a dismal failure, permanently transforming Mr. Kohlier even as it preserved his now undead form forever.
Kohlier's body, according to witnesses, has been permanently altered by the doctor's chemical compounds. His flesh is flexible at the joints by a process I cannot understand, yet rigid and unyielding at the same time. He is nearly impervious to physical harm, and his touch still bears the toxic remnants of his rebirth. His face is an unmoving expressionless mask save for his eyes, which are his only capacity for displaying emotion. Eston, I believe, only attacks those who are working in the interests of Dr. Mordenheim or Adam. Those on their own errands have nothing to fear from him, while those in danger from the two dark masters or their catspaws may even find the resin man coming to their aid.
In Play: Plastic mummies have all the normal traits of a mummy save for the following: they have no immunity to being frightened or charmed, they are immune to bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage, as well as corrosive or poison damage. They are susceptible to necrotic damage. Their rotting fist attack does poison damage, rather than necrotic. Increase the DC of their Dreadful Glare by 1. Increase their CR by 2.
This is far from an exhaustive list of types of the ancient dead. From the preserved, severed heads of they goblyns of Forlorn (said to reanimate and fly about, possessing the living) to the dwarven lime mummies (formed from a calcified body and as mighty as the stones they lay on), the forms that the ancient dead take are as varied as the cultures that spawn them.
Hopefully, this missive will remind you to keep your eyes and mind open for such possibilities. As to the specific locations and individuals mentioned, whether you take the information about them as warning or invitation is up to you. Should your valor prove equal to the task of destroying such creatures, please write me that I may update my own records.
As always, wishing you safe travels and happy hunting,
Frankie "Farshot" Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal.
Three words every kid hates: back to school. Summer vacation season is officially over, and the world is suddenly awash with annoying advertisements for sneakers, three-ring binders and back-packs (it’s a tough time for the kids, but gamers should rejoice: #2 pencils and graph paper are on sale, and it’s a perfect time to stock up).
The glory days of summer may be dwindling, but there’s still time to squeeze in that last-minute get away for all of you holiday procrastinators. Our Corporate Travel Department has booked several package deals with the Savage Worlds RPG to provide affordable and memorable destinations for all tastes and budgets. So get out your passports and make sure your vaccinations are up to date, because time is running out!
(High Level Games is not responsible for any tropical diseases, cursed relics or Total Party Kills (TPK) incurred while traveling. International charges may apply.)
1.) Tour a Frozen, Apocalyptic Fantasy World (for only 10 gold shields a day)
Probably the most familiar of our vacations spots will be Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams' Hellfrost setting. Take equal parts Game of Thrones and 13th Warrior, add a dash of existential despair, and let simmer in a crock-pot of medieval Anglo-Saxon flavor for a week and you'll get the idea. Hellfrost is a gritty fantasy world that is, for all intents and purposes, ending. In ancient times, a horde of every evil and cold thing imaginable invaded from the frozen North. The world united, and, after generations of conflict, pushed the horde back north; but, as the invaders retreated into the frozen wastes, a massive wall of ice rose behind them, and the far north became the Hellfrost: not only wicked cold, but literally, demonically, wicked cold. Ever since, the southern lands have begun to freeze. Winters are longer each year, summers shorter; crops fail, and refugees stream south, hungry and desperate as an endless winter reaches further and further south. As the icing (get it?) on the cake, magic has begun to change, with elemental cold growing stronger as fire magic fails.
So what sets Hellfrost apart from every other Viking-esque setting out there? First off, don't let my derivative, comparison-laden summary fool you: some of the elements are common (wall in the north, impending doom, loads of Saxon-inflected names), but Hellfrost itself feels fresh. The writing and art all convey this feeling of a world crumbling, and imminent peril creeping steadily from the north. Old alliances fail as kingdoms and races begin looking for a place to make their stand. And, through it all, there's this gorgeously envisioned world of snowy forests, fog-enshrouded tombs and deep mysteries.
Beyond just the gorgeous flavor of the world, Wade-Williams introduces some nice twists to the standard rules: not only have fire and ice magic changed, magic itself is draining from the world, resulting in what's called the Siphoning. Spell-casters increasingly run the risk of a magical backlash when working their trade, with the grim possibility of permanently losing their arcane abilities. In game terms, Hellfrost does away with Savage Worlds' standard magic system of Power Points, allowing spell-casters to cast spells at will; but, each time they do, they run a risk of an arcane 'backfire' that can range from being temporarily stunned to permanently losing their spellcasting abilities. It brings a real sense of transaction to using magic: yeah, I can blast away like Rambo-meets-Gandalf if I need to, but…is it worth the very real risk?
2.) Savage Cruise Lines: Sailing Scenic, Cursed, Monster-Ridden Caribdus
Have you ever wanted to captain your own pirate ship in a high-fantasy world of magic, strange races and endless seas? Who hasn't, right? Well, Savage Worlds creator Shane Hensley has a world for you: 50 Fathoms is a perfect way to scratch that very particular itch. When three evil sisters are found guilty of practicing blood magic rituals in the kingdom of Ograpog (man, what an awesome name for a fantasy kingdom. I want to drink beer and run amok just thinking about it), they are sentenced to death by drowning, staked at the shore as the tide rolls in. But, as the waters rise about them, they pronounce a curse upon the world of Caribdus that it will drown along with them. Cue endless rain and floods and sinking kingdoms, and the rise of a ridiculously fun campaign setting.
50 Fathoms is populated by some seriously interesting playable races, most with a maritime twist (including my favorite, a sort of giant hermit crab popularly employed as accountants / notaries by the various trading companies). The world can be played as a standard campaign setting, but comes with a ready-made story arc (the ‘Plot Point Campaign’, common to Savage Worlds) where the evil witches have become Hag Queens, threatening to destroy what’s left of the world. But a mysterious force is visiting our world, luring sailors from various places and eras with mysterious visions of a ghostly maiden that leads them through a portal and into Caribdus. This plot device really brings a fun twist, introducing historical factions and archetypes into the fantasy setting. Would you like to role-play how the Spanish Inquisition would react to meeting a race of psionic squid-people? Here you go. Real Scandinavian Vikings and Sir Walter Raleigh chasing a mysterious ghost ship? Sure, why not? If you follow the Plot Points, the visitors play a role in destroying the Hags and bringing salvation to Caribdus, but nothing is set in stone: it’s up to you as a group to play the story out.
Or you can just roll dice and enjoy playing a walrus-man who yells “Arrrrgh!” at random intervals. That’s pretty fun, too.
3.) From CIA Headquarters to Sunken R’lyeh: A Shadowy World Tour
Last on our list of Savage Destinations is a modern-day world of spies, eldritch horror, super-technology, conspiracy, and secret alien infiltration: Agents of Oblivion presents a world where anything goes, but your Agent is the only thing standing between an unsuspecting world and…well, any or all of the preceding existential threats.
Agents of Oblivion is intentionally open-ended. The back-story is of shadowy secret societies, namely the Pandora group, who are wise to Ancient-Secret-Scary-Wisdom and Oblivion, a group dedicated to containing all that scary stuff and keeping the world in comfortable, safe ignorance. As a gaming group, you can pick how much of each element you want in your game. Options are given in the generous ‘game mastering’ section of the book that details various flavors of the game, with varying levels of horror, conspiracy, technology and aliens: you can play straight spy-craft counter-terrorism, X-Files style conspiracy, Lovecraftian conspiracy, or high-tech Mission Impossible versions of the above. Personally, I like mashing it all up: aliens, Elder Gods, Illuminati and James Bond. Why not, right?
An interesting mechanical twist in Agents of Oblivion is in character creation: where most game systems (including vanilla Savage Worlds) have you pick powers and abilities as your character progresses, most of the powers in Agents of Oblivion are based on high-tech, James Bond – style gear. Depending on which branch of the Oblivion organization your character works for, you can mix and match these powers and skills, even accessing requisitions mid-game to change things up. It makes for a great way to easily tailor your character into someone you can really get inside, without being bound by (and, perhaps more tragically, defined by) the choices you made at character creation. Not to mention, it really encourages player creativity in tackling missions.
So, before you pack up the mini-van for another boring trip to Wally World, think about these Savage destinations instead. Go buy/beg/download a copy of the base rules and give it a try. And if you like what you find, be ready for a wild ride, because there are limitless worlds, and they’re all better when they’re Savage.
Jack Benner is the head bottle-washer and sole roustabout at Stick in the Mud Press http://stickinthemudgames.blogspot.com/.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Rat Queens, pictured here. It is amazing.
If I had a dollar for every time a fellow nerd’s jaw hit the floor when The Heavy Metal GM said that he has not one, but TWO women at his 13th Age game table every week, I would be a very rich lady. Before you ask, no, I’m not there just because I’m his significant other, I’m there because I am a Very Scary Murder Hobo Cleric (patent pending) who is damn good at her job, and because I genuinely enjoy playing the game. People are usually pretty quick to complain that they can never get female players to stick around for very long, so I decided to write up some pointers for doing so.
I’m writing this with the assumption that you want women at your table to balance out your game, not because you want to get into their pants; if your interest is in the latter, move along, this is not the article droid you’re looking for. These tips are also pretty universal, but ladies appreciate them! Also – creeps come in every gender, and I’m using “that guy” as a gender neutral term.
1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T FIND OUT WHAT IT MEANS TO ME~!
Simple stuff like not talking over people, listening to their ideas & taking them into account, not invading the personal space bubble, no making fun of someone’s IRL race/gender/sexual orientation/religion/national origin, no name calling (unless you know them well and they can take some friendly ribbing)… you know, the stuff you were supposed to learn in kindergarten? That goes a super long way with anyone, and especially with women. Everyone’s guilty of breaking these rules every now and again, but making a habit of it can be really detrimental for GM & player morale.
2. DON’T BE THAT GUY.
“That guy” is the usually well-meaning but still kinda creepy nerd that usually sets off what I like to call the “Spidey sense” and makes women want to run for the hills. This is usually accomplished by that guy staring at certain parts of a person’s body for a bit too long, making an off-hand rape joke (side note: not cool, at all, ever, lose 1,000,000 trust points from every woman in the group), spending a bit too much time describing their character’s sexual exploits in the brothel… you get the picture.
Usually people like this are just a little socially awkward and don’t really mean any harm, but as predators are everywhere, you do get some people who know exactly what they’re doing and get their jollies from making other people uncomfortable. If you realize you have been unintentionally engaging in That Guy behaviors, an apology to those affected will go a long way.
3. DON’T LET OTHER PEOPLE AT YOUR TABLE BE THAT GUY
If you see someone engaging in That Guy behaviors, CALL THEM ON IT. A simple: “hey, that’s not cool” about a remark made in front of the entire group or taking someone aside to tell them not to stare at another player’s bits is usually enough to curb it without anyone’s ego getting too bruised.
If you as the GM notice another player becoming uncomfortable, it’s your responsibility to ask them what’s up (privately is usually best) – your job is making sure everyone is having fun. A lot of people (myself included) are loathe to bring issues up to the GM, particularly if they’re the newest player in the group, and especially if they think complaining about another player’s behavior will lead to them being booted from the group. If one player is making someone else uncomfortable, talk to them about it – and if they don’t behave, it’s time to boot ‘em. Respect for your fellow players is important, & if Joe/Jane Schmoe doesn’t have it, then they’re not worth playing with.
4. HAVE A SYSTEM IN PLACE FOR PEOPLE TO STOP THE ACTION & REWIND IF SOMETHING THAT’S HAPPENING IS “SQUICKY” OR TRIGGERING.
“Squicky” is something that I believe was originally coined within the fanfic community (I believe it’s a conjunction of squeamish and icky), but refers to stuff that’s really aversive and uncomfortable for someone but isn’t a trigger. So, for me, something squicky would be animal abuse. It’s incredibly uncomfortable for me to think about and I’d rather it not pop up in any games that I play, particularly if I’m in no position to stop it. I have a hard enough time killing basilisks (even after being forced to make last gasp saves because I tried to pet one and it tried to end me), all right?!
By triggers, I mean, real, actual triggers for people with real, actual PTSD (which is really, really common, as in 8,585,500 people according to the 2014 US census and data from NIMH). Triggers are something that remind a person of their traumatic event, and can make it feel like they are re-experiencing that event, with a whole host of psychological and physical symptoms. Since these are supposed to be short, you get my nutshell opinions on triggers & I’m not going to give you the long as heck list of symptoms that can occur during an episode; you want more nuanced stuff, you know where to find me.
TL;DR version: it’s not a joke, mental health stigma makes talking about these things way harder than it needs to be, the whole point of playing games is to have a respite from the real world and have fun, being triggered is the exact opposite of that, capisci? DO NOT give that person a hard time, back that action train up, reroute, and move along.
5. ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE GOING TO SCREW UP.
You are going to hurt people at your table. This is a fact of life, and it’s okay! We all make mistakes. As long as you’re learning from them, it’s all good. Admitting that you done goofed can be difficult, and your first response is often trying to defend yourself; usually along the lines of “it was just a joke!” But, here’s the deal: one, you need to know your audience before making those types of jokes (i.e. I’m fine with inserting the GAAAY seal gif everywhere even though I’m queer, but someone else might not find it very amusing). Two, there is no such thing as “just a joke”
Humor is used to define in and out groups and if you’re making a joke at the expense of the demographic characteristics of a person, then you’re making it seem like you accept the –ism that goes along with that. (TL;DR version from someone who’s an expert on this: https://twitter.com/5thcircappeals/status/763098172633657344; this guy’s actual dissertation on this topic: http://jsse.revues.org/406) The best thing to do is bite your tongue when you get the urge to defend yourself, apologize (“Hey; I’m really sorry I made that joke; I didn’t realize that it would be hurtful to you, I’ll try to be more mindful in the future”), actually mean it, move on, and try to be better next time.
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress.
There are few better feelings in the Multiverse than to have your mates all siting around a table and getting ready to play an RPG. It would be more than a little cliché to say that we are all different, have different ideas, different playing types, and an overall different way to look at any given game. That said, and in a bit of a tongue-in-cheek way, I’d like to share the 8 most common types of players you might come across.
1) THE OLD ONE – A member of the Old Guard. She was there before most players were even born. In a basement somewhere, playing the first editions of the games we all know and love, they were the trailblazers, back when rulebooks were 10 badly photocopied pages. She might be used to a completely different type of play, but she has survived a hundred adventures, across as many rule systems. This player is invaluable for the sheer weight of her knowledge.
2) THE DRAMA STUDENT – ‘Take 4 DMG’ ‘AH! Curses, foul beast! You’ve wounded me most dearly! Before Oblivion takes me, I swear by the Fates, I shall cut you down!!’ He might not understand the rules, he might need help with the dice, but when the game enters a role-play moment, sit back and enjoy, its priceless. He will not only drag you in, he will weave the universe around you. He will pick up any information and build a full motion picture for you. If your RP wasn’t up to spec before, by Cthulhu, it will be now!
3) THE RULES LAWYER – Ah yes. She Who Knows The Rulebook By Heart. SO much has been written about her, mostly focusing on the negative. Yes… I can agree with the fact that if someone answers back to the GM saying ‘You can’t do that!’ (NB: I assume that the GM is being fair. I welcome player feedback, but the GM is the Creator of that adventure. What he says IS reality.), they’re not being awfully nice, but having someone that knows by heart how much damage a pike does, saves a lot of time during a game. Take sparingly, and try to ignore the side effects.
4) THE SHY ONE – He won’t say much, but is a valuable member of the group. Able to surprise all with the sheer amount of information he has absorbed about the games’ world and always a helping hand in dangerous situations. This person usually ends up opening up later on. As always, it is up to the GM to make sure all are contributing equally and having fun.
5) THE OUT OF THE BOX ONE – She often is combined with the Shy One. They speaks only rarely, but then their character does says something so amazing and complex that it floors everyone. This is the person that would use Fireball to turn a pond into steam, so the lightening attack of the baddy spreads out and forks back and knocks said baddie out. Combined with a funny and flexible GM, this person is able to turn a game into something truly memorable.
6) THE FIRST PERSON SHOOTER/FIGHTER – One of a new breed of players that cut their teeth on computer games. They are really used to fighting, really inexperienced at roleplay. Often they are a great addition to the group, as they can use their fighting skills like no other. They might need some cajoling to join the role-playing part of things, and understanding that it’s also pretty epic to do so, but they will find every scrap of cover, snipe the baddies and laugh all the way home, after some epic headshots.
7) THE SOCIAL ONE – Joins the group for the social experience. They might not have a huge interest in the game or the combat, but they are excited to participate. Most will eventually blossom into other types of player. This player is a solid companion, a trusted element of the group.
8) THE DESCRIPTIVE ONE – Able to lose himself in the colours of a random robe some random NPC was wearing, this person is often combined with the Drama Student. If allowed to dip in and out of his minutiae-covered mental image, they are able to make the world much more interesting and rich.
What class of player have you come across? Anyone I missed?
Rui is a Portuguese scientist who, after a decade doing odd things in labs, became a teacher. Then, 18 months ago, RPG’ing came into his life and he is now happily juggling the two. In this list, he’s probably a Drama Student. He lives in England with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants and at least 3 to 4 Adventures across as many rule systems, at different levels of completion. He can be reached at @atomic_rpg
aith: A Garden in Hell (FAGiH) is a new RPG from Burning Games. I came across it at this years’ UK Games Expo in Birmingham, and had kickstarted it before the end of the day. I am not usually this impulsive, but I found the ideas and the artwork for this game to be extremely compelling. Now that the P&P rewards have kicked in, I’d like to share with you my preliminary review of this new game.
1) FIRST IMPRESSIONS:
It’s clear the publishers tried to make a game that was as easy to play as possible. With a minimum of character creation, it is possible to get someone playing in minutes. Most mathematical activities (die rolling, stats) have been boiled down to card flips, and the art present throughout the game is probably some of the best I’ve seen.
2) THE SETTING:
The setting of FAGiH is one that will be familiar to sci-fi fans, but with a number of interesting and unexpected twists. In a not-too-distant future, a race of aliens pops out of a wormhole close to Earth, and takes over with very little effort. These beings rule our planet with a light touch, (they despise slavery) so humans start to be integrated into their armies as mercenaries. In a blink of an eye, humans were everywhere in the galaxy, not as a conquering wave, but rather, as adventurers. Another aspect of this universe is that the network of wormholes (The Labyrinth) that connects most star systems is notoriously difficult to navigate, so interstellar travel IS possible, it just takes a while.
These are totally new and very exciting; there are pages and pages of setting for each one. The FAGiH universe is filled with life, from lower animals and beasts to sentient races. The playable ones are:
A) The Corvo: slightly smaller than humans, the Corvo are humanoid, with long lifespans and a love for trade, and technology. They are very competent fighters, using their advanced tech to the fullest. It was in fact the Corvo that found, conquered, and eventually integrated humanity into their armies.
B) The Iz’kal: Lithe and elegant mammals, the Iz’kal are about the same size as humans. They have a tail as well as a number of other features that betray their marine mammal ancestry. They can connect to each other in close proximity in a neural link, a type of low level telepathy. This is the base of the strong social connectivity within their society. Any Iz’kal that spends too long without such link, can sometimes no longer link with others. These Voidwalkers, as they are named, become better fighters and generally stronger, if socially awkward.
C) The Humans: As varied as we are today, most humans are happy being mercenaries or living under the Corvo. Some started The Front, an independence movement, sometimes a not peaceful one, and some have been turned into The Fulcrum, cybernetic humanoids, with the human part being little else beyond a basic operating system.
D) The Raag: Also humanoid, albeit smaller and with smaller lifespans. Originally from the caves of a frozen wasteland, the Raag now live in giant space fortresses, permanently at war with each other. Fighting permeates every fibre of their being. Very few die of natural causes.
4) CHARACTER CREATION:
This is based on the Race players choose, with a few add-ons and personal customization. Even for new players, the process should take less than 5 minutes.
Gameplay has been streamlined, for both GM’s as well as for players. There is a strong emphasis on story, but the game does not shy away from old fashioned combat, be it with bare-knuckles or plasma-rifles. The key aspect is that there are no dice rolls. At all. FAGiH is a completely card-based game. Everything, from initiative, to tests, to combat, has been boiled down to card flips (one or more). Your stats, for example, be it 2, or 3 or 4, simply stand for the number of cards you can flip at once during a test. You then ad the values of said cards, and see if you reached the GM’s target number. A similar principal is used for combat. Damage will be dictated by the type of weapon, as is usual.
6) WHAT'S NEW?
A) The cards. You have decks for robots, NPCs, weapons and equipment. The GM’s work has been boiled down to the essentials – telling a story. The details have been left to chance. (The deck that you draw from can be a simple poker deck, although the publishers sell a dedicated deck, where the suits have been replaced with in-world references for in-game bonuses. Instructions are given in the rulebook on how to replace the poker suits with the game world versions).
B) The Gods. Divinities exist in the FAGiH world. You pick a God during character creation, the worship of which demands some conditions (say, protecting the innocent). If you act in this manner your God rewards you, if otherwise… You might be punished.
The artwork in this game is something to be seen. Any of the illustrations in the books could be cut out and framed. The aliens look like they were photographed, not drawn. I like to be able to see what the author means, and this game does not disappoint.
If I had to boil down this whole game to a few words, I’d say it’s the Halo series in a bottle, with engaging characters, a very interesting Universe and a great choice of weapons. The different alien races have detailed and engaging backgrounds, the card mechanics has boiled most actions down to a card flip or two. Looting a dead alien doesn’t mean the GM has to go through dozens of pages of the manual, it just means you flip a card. The Gods mechanic (unusual and original for a sci-fi setting) means your character is bound to a strict code of conduct, deviation from which might have dire results for you.
For veteran, dice-happy players, the cards might take a few tries to understand, but everything has been done to make this as fast flowing and as intuitive as possible, including a Quickstart version of the rulebook that makes it really simple.
If your players want to try something sci-fi-y, original, new, and exciting, I could think of no better game than Faith: A Garden in Hell.
Rui is still an ex-scientist and teacher. He’s currently running a sci-fi Cypher System adventure with a twist, a text-based post apocalypse old west adventure and is designing his first Faith: A Garden in Hell adventure. He lives in England with his partner Joana and spends his free time looking at mutated animals and spaceships, choosing which ones could be included in his adventures as NPC’s/locations respectively. He can be reached at @atomic_rpg
As those of you who follow my blog, The Heavy Metal GM, may or may not know; Gen Con 2016 was not only my first Gen Con, but my first gaming convention. Ever. Having the pressure of trying to maintain Pelgrane Press’ prestigious name and reputation in our beloved community was very stressful. However, as is with most nerve wracking things, once I got rolling, it was like being at home! For first time GM’s, here are some fears I had that ended up not even being remotely realized in my convention experience.
1). “What if nobody shows up?!”
Believe you me, they’ll show up. Having known that Gen Con is a crazy convention among crazy conventions, I was scared that people would say, “Meh, I’d rather go play Pathfinder.” THE HORROR! All my games sold out in a matter of minutes when the event list went live, but still there was that little voice in my head whispering your GMing sucks and every stranger knows it all the way up until my first game. Sure, I had a game or two with only three players. That’ll happen. More often than not, I would assume, enough people to run a decent game will show if your tickets are sold. So kick that little nay saying brain goblin in its ugly little nose!
2). “Convention players only want to ruin my game!”
Wrong again! You should always mentally prepare yourself for the one player that just wants to muck about, don’t get me wrong. However, people want to come to have a good time. All of the people I had contact with at the convention had that attitude, though we did deviate from the path every now and again. If you’re proficient at what you do, you can steer players into following the path without outright forcing them. People pick up on that stuff and usually are cooperative.
3). “If I don’t finish the adventure, my game was terrible.”
This was probably one of my biggest hurdles. Most of the 13th Age adventures I ran for Gen Con were pretty long (20+ pages!). It’s always a good idea to do some adventure trimming well before the convention to get all the good spots without wasting time. Running a good game in a small time slot like two hours is very difficult as is, no need to throw in unnecessary things that may promote immersion, but if they don’t propel the story forward, they’re useless. Save that stuff for the home game! After your trimming, you should be able to run the high lights of the adventure in the block you’re given. Unless, of course, you have enthusiastic players that like to spend time role playing situations to the utmost detail. Slow progression may make you sweat that the table but just remember: BREATHE! If your players are spending valuable story time role playing, it means they’re invested. If they’re invested, they’re having fun. The most memorable moments from my convention games had nothing to do with the plot, but what my players had fabricated with each other and that I had actually encouraged/fed into. It keeps people engaged and it makes them feel like they’re accomplishing something, even if they aren’t on the page. Sit back, relax, and if you don’t finish, it’s likely for a good (and memorable) reason!
4). “Role-playing with strangers is embarrassing.”
Every individual has their own feelings on role play. Some take it and run to the moon, others do it minimally and only in a third person stance. The most important thing to remember is that everybody is hanging around and playing pretend. Together. Interestingly enough, they actually paid hard earned money to do so. Looking up the word “validation” in the dictionary will be defined as such. Play to your comfort level, don’t worry about going over the top or coming short. Players will feed into the vibe that you’re laying down if they’re feeling it. You’ll know when they’re not.
5). “What if I turn them off to the system I’m running?”
This one is a bit of a double edged blade: both rational and irrational. It’s a rational fear because, simply put, nobody wants to do that! Running that system means that it’s important enough to you to play with strangers. Of course you’d want everyone to like it. The irrational bit comes in when you’re losing sleep the night before the first day of the convention, the ceiling laughing at you as cold sweat beads on your forehead. You can’t control what people like and don’t like. What you CAN control is how much effort you put forth into making the game you’re running the best it can possibly be. As a passionate GM, I have full confidence that you will convey that at the table and sell some books!
Simply put, there’s no easy way to quell the restless heart and mind before you run your first convention game. By no means do I claim to be a season convention veteran, but I certainly learned all the points I addressed above. I will be back to Gen Con, so long as my wallet doesn’t decide to hold me captive. Convention GMing was easily one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve had and made me truly see how welcoming, wonderful and personable the folks in our hobby can be.
This isn’t my personal blog but I still command you to…
STAY METAL \m/
Sean is a BMW technician by day, the Heavy Metal GM by night, and loves everything about 13th Age. If the game interests you and you want to learn more, check out his 13th Age blog here.
“Oh, wow, LARP, I’ve always wanted to try that, but I didn’t know how to get into it and I always felt a little intimidated by people playing.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or read a version of this sentence. I understand it too; LARP seems a bit overwhelming for people coming from a table-top gaming perspective. Or worse, you’ve got no role-playing experience, maybe a little bit of theatre background, but you really think the world is cool and the idea is awesome, but you can’t wrap your head around how to get started. Now, this article is for those of us already knee-deep in the hobby who might need to stop and think about things from the newbies’ perspective for a few minutes. I’ll give the new folks some quick advice though before I jump into advice for our Elders. Most of this article will use examples from World of Darkness LARP, but it’s applicable I think to a lot of different games.
My advice to you, new interested player, is to find a group, email them, and ask for someone to mentor you. Most LARPers want to help new players get into the game and will bend over backward to help you out. You can also email me at admin@keepontheheathlands if you are looking for a LARP in your area. I might not know of one off the top of my head, but I think I’ve got good LARP Google-Fu, and I’m happy to help.
1) TALK TO YOUR NEW PLAYERS
If I could give you one point of new advice, it is this. Go out of your way to talk to everyone you don’t recognize that walks through your door. This applies to both Storytellers and Players. If you see someone you do not recognize at a game you have been attending for months, talk to them. Walk up, introduce yourself, and ask them who they are. This might seem socially difficult, but it will help both the new player and you SO much. They might ask about your character, tell them what you are comfortable letting them know. Ask them about theirs, and listen for ways you can hook them into your plot. If you are a storyteller, hopefully you’ve had some character creation discussions already, but if you’ve only spoken briefly via email to approve their character, spend 5-10 minutes OOC learning about what they are expecting from the game. Then, if possible, find an established player to connect them to. If you game has an established mentor system, connect them with their mentor. Even if you don’t get to do this before the game starts, do it during and after the game. Try and talk to EVERY new player, it might not be 100% every game, but the more you do it, the better off you’ll ALL be. This is just as important if this player is with a group of other new players, or even a new player with a group of people you already know.
2) GIVE THEM PLOT
Please keep in mind this point is for Storytellers and for Players. In LARP, player driven plot is usually thicker than Storyteller driven plot. This can be hard depending on how frequently the player has gamed in the past, but try and find ways to drag them in. If you are in a position of power, offer them a quest or ask them to undertake a mission for you. If you aren’t, ask them if they would be interested in getting involved in a plot or goal you have. It can be as easy as, “Hey, new Vampire, I’d like you to bring this message to the Primogen of Clan Ventrue for me.” Bam, quick hook they now have to ask who that is, how do I find them, then go through that process, then RP out giving the message, then return. This might take 5 minutes, and it might take 2 hours. At the very least, it gets the new player’s character involved and connected to new people. If you are playing that Primogen, then give that new character another mission. “Hey new Vamp of Clan Nosferatu, can you hide yourself well? Great, then I’ll give you a minor boon if you go spy on Seneschal Toreador for me. Nah, I’m sure you’ll be fine.” This can go on forever, if you let it. From a Storyteller perspective, don’t be afraid to throw new players into the plot deep-end. You’ve got a long-running villain? Have them interact with the new player’s character, drop a few smiles and some suave discussion, and then propel the player back to the main group. That character is now important, they know *something* about the villain that might help everyone else get involved. Or, drop an item in the hands of the new player character that ties them into the plot in a way they wouldn’t know (warn them that other players might react to it) and send them to Elysium. Don’t be afraid to have you plot flow UP, rather than DOWN.
3) BE OPEN AND UNDERSTANDING
Listen to the questions this player is asking. You might not know if they are asking in or out of character, clarify when needed and then give clear answers. Every new player is going to get confused about what one rule or another means. Heck, every new player is probably going to forget what clan is what or some basic setting element. If they say something that seems odd, don’t jump down their throat. Run the scene and drop out of character if needed to make sure the player is on track. At the same time, if a player says, “Oh, I know I messed that up in-character, play it out as if I did.” Run with it. With a lot of groups we want to stay in-character as much as possible, I respect that. However, with new players we need to be willing to rope them into the game and slowly immerse them into the world. Don’t be afraid to drop character to keep them in the loop.
4) NUDGE THEM ALONG
Being a new player is socially awkward. You walk into a place without much idea of who these people are. You might join the game with a group of friends, but it is still valuable to get plot from other people that you do not know. As a storyteller, or a player, find ways to keep getting the player involved. If you see a new player on the sidelines, check-in with them. They might tell you they are fine, taking a breather, whatever. That is fine, but stay with them for a minute more if you can, ask them how their night has been, if they have a question about anything. It’s ok if they say, no. If they have a question, answer it, and offer to help them get back into play if they want to. Perhaps this is a great time to give them some plot?
I force myself to be pretty outgoing when I go to a new LARP. I will stalk you down and introduce myself. I’m not normal. Most people don’t do this. Do what you can to engage new players, grab them, and give them some of your personal plot. If they don’t take it, don’t sweat it. If they do, then you have helped bring them into your game. If someone is weird like me and does engage you, welcome them, talk to them, and ask them some questions. The worst thing you can do as a player or storyteller is to ignore the new person trying to engage you. They are doing so because they want to be a member of your gaming community. Give them a minute or two of your time, if you are busy, ask them to connect with you later and then do so. Good luck with the newbies!
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He recently launched,www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre’s and One World By Nights Vampire LARPs and is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
Well that sun is setting and summer is almost over. Time to be hitting that old dusty trail, summer campaigns are winding down and it’s time to plan ahead for those colder months. Amid the constant barrage of technological and magical based systems, beyond the call of the supernatural, falling somewhat further than those sci-fi campaigns, lies a much overlooked genre of gameplay that deserves it day; the western. Now why a western, you may ask? Maybe sometimes you just need to ride a horse and shoot a gun in the privacy of your own home, or maybe you have a hankerin’ for frontier justice, or maybe you’re just tired of the day to day mundanity of dealing with zombie /cyborg elves wielding level 8 rings of freezing and chainsaws. What ever your reasons are for wanting to try something a little different with a touch of dysentery and saddle sores, here are some the more interesting options going into your fall campaigns.
BOOT HILL- TSR
So while not the greatest western game, it might have been the first fairly decent one. This was TSR’s third game ever published and was the partial brainchild of Gary Gygax. In terms of gaming at the time Boot Hill was fairly progressive, using 2D10’s to resolve gameplay. The game itself was popular enough for TSR to issue 3 editions, however there were some issues concerning character development and the lack of actual role-playing within the game environment. The game focused primarily upon its brutal gun-fighting system, where combats were often resolved in a 1-shot scenario, leaving players high and dry very quickly in campaigns. I get where they were going with it though, gunplay in the old west was high stakes and not for the reckless. So maybe this isn’t for everyone based upon the personality types of those I play with.
ACES & EIGHTS- KENZER & COMPANY
Aces and Eights won Origins RPG of the year in 2009, focusing primary upon being a more in-depth and immersive experience into the old west than universal ‘insert genre here’ game systems… and you can buy laudanum in-game. Kenzer & Co. promised a more substantial western role-playing experience as their system was designed from the ground up and rooted in well-developed modules. Did I mention laudanum in-game is .29¢? Actions have consequences in Aces & Eights, if you just shot down everyone in the street, your future plans of being a cattle baron might not pan out. Likewise if you never shoot for greatness you might end up shoveling the livery for the rest of your days. Be aware, Aces & Eights was developed for a long-term campaign commitment (so think about how much laudanum you will need).
DUST DEVILS- Matt Snyder (independent)
So I think this one by far is the most interesting in terms of thematically based system mechanics. While not a ‘card’ game, it uses poker as the key mechanic to resolve the majority of outcomes within the game. This game is more akin to FIASCO, than what I would describe as a typical rpg. Like FIASCO, Dust Devils is somewhat GMless, while players within the various scenes can control outcome based upon the comparison of cards within their hands, it is the player with the highest card that round that both narrates and decides how the scene unfolds for the character. Matt Snyder issued a new edition in 2007 Dust Devils Revenged, with an expanded rules description.
Well saddle-up cowpokes! Get along little doggie! There are tons of western role-playing systems out there, as well as a bunch of universal systems, such as GURPS, that will feed your hankerin’ for frontier life. So polish up those 6 shooters, put on your chaps, and have a rootin’, tootin’ western explosion of fun this fall.
About Ryan: So I try to read about 50 comics a week, depending on my ability to pay the power bill. I try to read as much new and independent works as my tried and trusted favorites, and I’ve been doing this for years. Thus, I can roughly say that I am pretty decent at comicology, however I hold no formal degree. Luckily, degrees are no substitute for common sense and that’s how I got this gig.
Earlier this year, the PDF and print on demand versions of Exalted 3rd Edition were (finally) released. For mega-fans like myself and my gaming group, this was a time of measured exuberance. I immediately began to pour through the text of the new edition, searching for changes to the setting and system. Creation hasn’t changed overmuch. The Solar Exalted are still feared by the Realm, the Scarlet Empress is still missing, and the Sidereal Exalted are still fate-altering jerks. Only relatively minor alterations were made to the world map and history of Creation. The systems, however, have changed significantly. Additions or wholesale substitutions have been made to character creation, combat, social interactions, and much more. Today, I’ll be sharing five such changes so as to explore what really sets 3rd edition apart from its predecessors.
1 . Combat
Those who’ve played 2nd edition Exalted almost certainly know about the ten steps of combat. Meticulously crafted and detailed, the combat system outlined a specific step for every instance of conflict, from the attacker rolling the dice, to the defender declaring charms, even counterattacks (which could have you repeated several steps), all just for one tick on the initiative chart. While certainly well crafted, the ten steps system was very hard for new players to get into and made for some relatively long combat sessions where little “in game” activity actually occurred. This system has been completely replaced within the newest edition. The creators, by their own admission, were heavily influenced by the combat within Square Enix’s Dissidia: Final Fantasy. As such, most attacks the characters make against one another aren’t aimed at wounding their opponent, but instead gaining the upper hand in the fight. This causes fights to play out much more cinematically, with blows putting defenders off balance or setting the attacker up for a finishing strike. Each successful “withering” attack steals initiative from the defender, and when the attacker finally believes they’ve gained enough of an advantage, they may make a “decisive” attack to finish off their adversary. In my opinion, the writers accomplished their goal of creating a brand new (to tabletop RPGs, at least) combat system that delivers a truly unique, cinematic experience, especially coupled with the return of the Stunt mechanic. Does it have its share of problems and limitations? Of course, like any system. However, I believe it’s a positive change overall.
2 . Intimacies and Social Rolls
While intimacies existed in 2nd Edition, they were often used as character-establishing traits and nothing else. The new edition utilizes these interpersonal connections and strongly held beliefs more directly, and showcases them as the centerpiece of their social conflict system. Want to make that Dragon-Blooded lieutenant bother someone else? Roll to discover one of her intimacies, then roll again to exploit it. Through social skills and Charms, characters now focus on dismantling or building up intimacies that they can then use to get the bearer of said intimacies to do what they want. For example, if an Eclipse Caste Solar Exalt wants to get the local regent of a southern city-state to go to war with one of their allies, he’d first have to use his skill (often supplemented by charms) to build up a negative intimacy within the regent regarding the allied city-state. The Solar could even use the regent’s existing intimacy of “protect my people” by insisting that their allied city-state will pose a threat to his citizens’ safety. Once this negative intimacy has formed, the Solar need only cite that intimacy while they make their impassioned plea for a righteous strike against the (former) ally. Success means that the regent goes to war. While it might seem a bit crunchy, the system strikes a good balance between roleplaying and game mechanics, and provides a believable set of steps necessary to convince someone to do something, or even undermine their most firmly held beliefs.
3 . New Exalted Types
While the character options in the first and second editions of Exalted were extensive, I’m happy to report that they’ve grown even greater in the newest iteration. While only the rules for creating a Solar are included in the Core book, details regarding new Exalt types such as the Liminal and Exigent are discussed at length, and a few details regarding their powers and castes are displayed as well. We learn also about the Getimian Exalted, new antagonists born from the rebellion of a maligned Sidereal Exalt. While details about some Exalted from second edition are not present (specifically those regarding the Green Sun Princes and the Alchemicals), I imagine they will return in later supplements.
Of these new additions, I must say I’m taken most by the ideas surrounding the Exigent Exalted. The sheer freedom to create not only a character with a unique history and personality, but also with a unique set of abilities and charms, is simply enthralling. Of all of the supplements expected to release for this newest edition, I am most excited about the Exigent book, which will detail all of the customization options for this eclectic Exalt type. I just hope that it comes sooner rather than later, considering the spotty release schedule this line has experienced already.
4 . Martial Arts and Sorcery
For those characters looking for a break from the basic charm systems related to various skills, there exist Martial Arts and Sorcery. In 2nd edition, Martial Arts ended up being extended or alternate melee charms that were most often (but not always) used unarmed. The Sidereal Exalted, the unequaled masters of esoteric martial arts, received the most benefit from these techniques, but others could benefit as well. The key differences presented in the new edition are armor restrictions for certain styles, mastery effects, and the requirement to buy a merit to access martial arts. In the previous edition, martial arts became a bit overpowered at a certain point. With these new balancing mechanics, as well as the mastery and Dragon-Blooded enhancements, Martial Arts has been transformed for the better.
Sorcery has seen some major improvements as well. The previous edition left sorcery in the lurch, to an extent. It wasn’t very useful in combat compared to charms, and the practical applications were typically reserved for niche effects or transportation. In this new edition, many of the spells return, albeit with a different system powering them. More spells have been added, enhancing the sorcerer’s repertoire. The most significant addition, however, is the “sorcerous workings” system. This allows a sorcerer to create or change almost anything they can think of, limited only by their imagination and their proficiency. Given enough time, a sorcerer can create minions from nothing, raise up cities into the clouds, or alter the laws of the universe. Here, sorcery really shines as a wholly separate power of great influence and importance.
5 . Evocations
For the Core book, no change has been more intriguing to returning players than the addition of the Evocations system. While previous editions included artifacts of great power and distinction, 3rd edition now let’s those artifacts have personality and increased utility. Like charms, Evocations are purchased with experience, but are tied specifically to an artifact weapon, set of armor, or other such item. The wielder or bearer of such an artifact grows with the item, unlocking its secrets and power over time. The sample artifacts and their evocations presented in the book clearly suggest that these objects are meant to have history and presence. As Solars are the masters of Evocations, I imagine most Storytellers will get a lot of use out of them during this edition’s early existence.
All in all, Exalted is still the same over-the-top, Anime style epic game of larger than life heroes accomplishing incredible things. While the new edition deviates in many ways, some positive, some negative, it still captures that same incredible feeling players experienced playing prior iterations. Let me know what changes you noticed, and what you think about them!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him out at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games