This is the third of a series of articles where I share some of the detailed characters, places, and things created during a recent campaign. The campaign used Evil Hat’s Fate system, and took place in Edward Turner’s “The Aether Sea” world. We decided as a group to use Fate Core rather than Fate Accelerated Edition, so the subjects presented here will work better with Fate Core.
For easy playing, “The Aether Sea” has an adventure included, complete with detailed characters and backstory. Following that, it sketches out some possible adventures, but really only gives you the bones; it’s up to the group to make the suggestions into full adventures. Here is the ‘meat’ that our group put on the bones suggested by Ed Turner; the game items presented here were spun out of an adventure prompt at the end of the Aether Sea book, which I’ll quote later. First, let’s describe the setting of the adventure, then give a description of how prompt might play out.
The descriptions and characters are our group’s take on the adventures suggested in the book. That being said, Fate lends itself very easily to creating your own characters and details. Take what I write here and play them as full-on adventures - or simply take some inspiration from them and build your own adventures!
1) Julian’s Bluff
A moderate distance from Tun, Julian’s Bluff is on the border between Hegemony-controlled space and the rest of the aether. It is aptly named. The habiformed part of the planet is made of rocky red sandstone bluffs, cliffs, gorges, and mountains. Glaciers in the mountains feed high misty waterfalls and roaring blue and white rivers. Tamarack and pine trees cover every level surface, their green boughs contrasting with the red colour of the native landscape.
Sector Aspect: Currently in civil war.
Planetary Aspect: Guerrilla colonials vs underfunded Hegemony
2) Refugee ShipAs the player characters approach the sector, they will come across a ship travelling in the opposite direction. Its sails are torn, and there is a dwarf-sized hole in the starboard bow. A Good (+3) Overcome will allow characters to know that this ship is dangerous to fly in the Aether. There is no one visible on deck; a Good (+3) Notice will allow a character to see movement through the hole in the hull. It is, or was, a Royal Navy vessel. The ship will avoid them, not interacting unless physically stopped. If it is stopped, characters will discover it is an overcrowded ship of refugees that will give detailed information about the sector, creating an advantage with a free invocation on the sector aspect for the players. The townsfolk are average nameless non-player characters.
High Concept: Damaged Navy Ship
If the characters ignore the ship, set a Great (+4) Overcome for them to figure out something about what is going on.
3) Civil War…
Here is the text of the adventure, taken from The Aether Sea. We changed the contact to Katin Field; but it could be anyone giving the characters a job. Verdanteye is the moon colony from the adventure included in the sourcebook.
Contact: Grun’s Third Arkus Darkblade. (The Aether Sea, page 44.)
Cargo: A box full of plants and other alchemical material grown down on Verdanteye.
Destination: Julian’s Bluff, a human world a moderate distance away. The customer is the Royal Alchemical Society.
Complication: Julian’s Bluff is currently in the midst of a civil war, and the Royal Alchemical Society is in the midst of a battlefield.
As the crew approaches the coordinates, a blanket of white clouds covers the ground, another sign of well-established habiforming. As they approach the site, they dip below the clouds and see the landscape below is being pelted with a drenching rain. They fly over a collection of siege engines being wheeled up a muddy track to the top of one of the bluffs. The light is dim, but occasional flashes of lightning reveal a forested gully full of torch light, hundreds of people, and over the sound of the rain can be heard the clash of weapons and the cries of the wounded. In the distance, a Royal Navy ship is firing a hail of arrows down on the forces below. Some of the lightning flashes are coming from a lightning gun aboard the ship.
4) The Dominion
A voice from your magic mirror crackles throughout the cabin.
“This is Captain ____ of the Dominion. Surrender your vessel or be destroyed.”
His image winks out immediately, and you hear a bass twang. A ballista bolt sails into view, a rope unwinding quickly behind it.
High Concept: New Battlecruiser Prototype
Trouble: Still working out the bugs.
I’ll get you!!!
Building a deadly reputation.
+8 Fight, +7 Shoot, +5 Athletics, Sail
+4 Stealth, Craft, +3 Notice, Provoke, Resources
5) It’s a trap!!
If the characters escape or avoid the Dominion, the coordinates the player characters were given lead to a deserted outpost just slightly behind the rebels’ line. Rebel forces attempt to capture the ship & crew. Any attempts at magical communication will lead them into a trap at this location: Fair (+2) Deceive.
Lieutenant Precious Graves
Lieutenant in the rebel forces: handsome, strong, and dumb as a bag of hammers. Precious is a diplomatic concession - the general in charge of the rebel forces lets him stay around to keep his powerful family ties happy. He leads the ambush.
High Concept: Just a Soldier
Trouble: Easy Mark
Can't wait to be with Annabel again
+5 Athletics, +4 Shoot, +3 Fight, +2 Rapport, +1 Physique
3 Physical Stress, 2 Mental Stress, Consequence slots as normal
Honest Abe: Charming and innocent - use Rapport to inflict mental stress on people trying to harm him in social situations.
5 groups of 5 Average Soldiers under Lieutenant Graves’ command.
High Concept: Impoverished Guerilla Soldier.
+2 Fight OR Shoot
Grappling Ground Ballista: +2 to create Grappled advantage on Aether vessels, using Shoot vs Athletics. To remove the advantage requires a Good (+3) Overcome action.
If the player characters are defeated, they are captured. If victorious (i.e. they take out 10 or more soldiers), Lieutenant. Graves seeks to parley with them, unsure of what to do. He will ask them to come see General Miller, the leader of the rebel forces.
This was the first instalment of our session at Julian’s Bluff; I hope that you can have fun with it, too. If you decide to make use of these resources, please leave a comment to let me know how it goes!
Landrew is a full-time educator, part-time art enthusiast. He applies his background in literature and fine arts to his favourite hobby (role-playing games) because the market for a background in the Fine Arts is very limited. He writes this blog on company time under a pseudonym. Long live the Corporation!
Picture Reference: http://www.acrosstheboardgames.net/luke/sailing-the-vast-aether-sea/
Fantastic Reality created a splash with their 5E compatible campaign setting and adventures, World of Asatania, and Darkness Surges. They recently launched a new product Kickstarter, In Darkness Delve vol 1, a series of adventures that can be used in any campaign setting. Fair disclosure, I wrote one of those adventures, Dealing with Your Demons for this product. Michael Cerny is the main behind the curtain of these really well developed products. I can tell you, he was a great editing resource, really pushing me to make the adventure I wrote reach its full potential. The adventures in this volume are going to be awesome, and I really think you should take a look. Before you do though, I wrote up some of the experiences I had writing this adventure, with advice you can take home when you are writing your own in the future.
Writing this adventure was a positive challenge for several reasons, I’ll list those below.
1) Here’s A Great Idea
When I pitched the core idea of Dealing with Your Demons, I was riffing off the ‘pitch-a-concept’ post that Michael had made. To be honest, demons aren’t really something I’ve ever used much in my fantasy RPGs so I wanted to take that pitch, and twist it toward something I do love. I pitched the concept of a two-act adventure, with the first act having the potential to be used as a flashback instead of running it first. This type of storytelling is something I’ve used with a lot of success in White Wolf games, so I thought it would be interesting to try and pitch something like that with a fantasy game. I was right: it was a great pitch and Fantastic Reality agreed.
Advice: Pitch what you know, because writing a pitch that sounds great but you can’t really grok will drive you insane.
2) Um, Great Idea, How Do I Write It?
One of the problems I ran into is I wasn’t sure where I wanted to even start. The first act was clear in my mind. It was going to be a classic dungeon crawl, but the second act was nebulous. I wanted there to be a red herring. The first act was going to set-up the idea that the party destroyed a fairly powerful demon for 1st – 4th level characters. However, that isn’t quite the case. Instead, the party destroys a being much more precious to a specific group of beings. In this case, Kobolds! By doing so, they put themselves in spiritual and physical jeopardy. That said, I couldn’t quite get the concept out on paper. I ended up running a version of the 1st act at BlerDCon as a way to figure out how the Act would unfold. Usually my Game Mastering is a mix of moderate planning and massive improvisation, so this worked well for helping me construct the sequence I wanted to use.
Advice: Find a way to play out the story if you are stuck during the writing process.
3) Here’s What I Wrote!
My first draft was not terrible, but it really wasn’t quite what I would have been proud to publish. Thankfully the editing on Dealing With Your Demons was full throttle. My sentence structure and grammar weren’t the only things critiqued and adjusted. The themes, specific elements, and outcomes were all noted where they were not clear, or where they weren’t the strongest they could be. This process was fantastic, it really allowed me to look at what I’d created and find a way to make the adventure work. Editing is essential to creating a great adventure.
Advice: Accept all editing help. You don’t have to agree with it all, or even follow all the advice, but you do need to have an editor look through your piece. You’ll thank yourself later.
4) Four More Adventures!
My adventure is awesome, and the other adventures in this compilation are the same high-quality. There is a dark humor adventure, set in a dwarven mine, by Brian Saliba. John Teehan has two adventures in the compilation that utilize the theme of Demons to tell some self-reflective and nuanced stories about power, betrayal, and family. Beyond the adventures, we’ve created new monsters to use, and a collection of compelling items.
Advice: Read other adventures. It will help you know what to avoid and what to use to make yours compelling. Also, create something eye catching that others will appreciate.
I can tell you this, Dealing with your Demons has a twist, one that your players won’t see coming. If you love Kobolds, you should back this product. If you love surprising your players, pushing them to really question their actions, and leave them with a story they will tell tales about for years after, then you should back this project just for that. All of the stories in this product are awesome, and you’ll really get your money’s worth.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 19 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s preparing a Changing Breeds game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s other published adventures here and here.
Image Owned by Fantastic Reality and Used as Promotional Material
It’s been a long time since last we spoke. My wife wanted me to express how sorry we were that you weren’t able to stop by Carinford-Halldon on your way through Mordent, we were so looking forward to having you here for a meal. No matter, though! We can always catch up with one another at a more opportune time.
I heard about that werewolf that you dispatched near Neufurchtenburg. You’ve become quite the effective lycanthrope hunter of late. The last hunter who pursued that lead erroneously attributed the work to a rogue flesh golem, and payed for his mistake with his life.
Such mistakes can easily be the death of an adventurer. While some abominations like the ancient dead, hags, or wererats are common enough that most adventurers are familiar with them, there are a number of monsters that are so vanishingly rare that most encounter them but once in their entire career, if ever at all. Since a little bit of knowledge can mean the difference between life and death, I’ve compiled a short list of a few such unique beasts for your perusal.
While wandering (lost, if I’m honest) in the Frozen Reaches, I and my wife had the misfortune to be captured by a tribe of nomadic humans. In exchange for our freedom, we volunteered to defeat the ‘great white goat’ of an enemy tribe, a fearsome beast which allegedly possessed great magical powers. Gwen and I assumed we were dealing with a druid whose magic gave them an overly fearsome reputation with the locals. Alas, the rumors were true: the enemy tribe was being controlled by a fiendish visitor from another dimension, an infernal elemental creature known as a rejkar.
Appearing as a great horned beast (I’ve read a few fragments of adventurers’ journals that describe rejkars as goats, stags, or reindeer) with black, gnarled horns, the rejkar is a formidable combatant, capable of killing any mundane human assailant with ease. More fearsome still is their spellcasting abilities: with the capacity to cast both heroes feast and fabricate, a rejkar is a master of dominating primitive societies in resource-scarce areas, controlling them through the promise of food, tools, or weapons that only it can reliably provide.
2. Moon Rat
When fishermen on lake Vallaki reported a series of murders, corresponding with the full moon, I immediately assumed the likely culprit to be a werewolf. Unfortunately, the novice adventurer I dispatched to deal with the threat was likewise found murdered, despite being quite capable of handling a lycanthrope. Believing that I was dealing with a local, occult-savvy killer merely pretending to be a werewolf, I journeyed to Barovia myself to sort the matter out. Although my questioning proved fruitless, the first night of the next full moon cycle found the killers coming after me, when the hovel of the fishmonger that had taken me in was burned to the ground. Eventually, I was able to track the killers to an abandoned fishing shack, where I discovered the population of intelligent rats that had taken up residence there.
Moonrats, as they are known, exist as mundane rats when the moon is dark. As that celestial body waxes, the rats grow in intellect and strength. By the time that the full moon rolls around, they are as cunning as any living being. Aware of their own peculiar time constraints, moon rats make intricate plans that can span months, or even years. Able to sneak into small spaces that others cannot, they can act as astoundingly good thieves, infiltrators, scouts, or assassins. Their lairs are often packed with fiendishly clever traps or impediments that pose no danger to the moonrats’ tiny frames, but woe to the adventurer who goes against them unprepared!
About two thirds of the way from Martira Bay to Necropolis there is a village named Lendel. When a mysterious letter signed only with an ornate letter ‘A’ arrived requesting that I investigate a number of odd occurrences there, I couldn’t resist the urge to acquiesce. Although the proximity to both the shelter of the nearby forest and the ruins of Il-Aluk would normally put the populace at a high risk of attack from the undead, virtually no such attacks were in evidence, only a few disappearances (and some extremely bizarre behavior by the locals). Of course, after it became clear that we were not just passing through, our investigation into the most deranged of the locals led us to a cult worshipping a giant worm-monster which called itself an avolakia.
The avolakia is a horrendous abomination, with no real-world analogue. Even viewing one can drive people mad (which explains the high occurrence of delusions and trauma disorders among its followers). Their motives are utterly alien, but the results of their machinations are always horrifyingly sinister. Peculiarly, they subsist on the flesh of the undead, making them a boon to some communities that are preyed upon by the unliving. Most insidious, they are potent necromancers and magicians, able to change their form and masquerade as humans; the individual we encountered had slain and replaced the mayor of Lendel.
4. Gray Shiver
When Damien Charpentier returned abruptly from merchant business in Darkon and rebuilt the ruins of Brumenoire Manor, there were whispers, particularly those inquiring as to how the lord had increased his fortunes so vastly. The Charpentier family’s wine business, although profitable, generated nowhere near that level of income. When local adventurers discovered that Charpentier had transformed himself (via dark magics unearthed abroad) into a lich and subsequently destroyed him, the locals were only to relieved to let the manor go vacant. When Gwen ventured there hoping to uncover some of the wizard’s arcane lore, she was perturbed to find the manor not only occupied, but staffed by subordinates who insisted their ‘master’ was still quite ‘alive.’
The pernicious little creature she uncovered is called a gray shiver: a mundane spider magically transformed after taking up residence in a deceased lich’s skull. Such vermin gain not only a great deal of unholy might, but the spellcasting abilities of the lich whose remains they now inhabit! Nearly as damaging is the knowledge which they inherit, which includes the layout of the lich’s holdings, the power structures of their organizations, and many of the details of the deceased mage’s insidious schemes, usually enough for the shiver to pick up right where the lich left off.
Most recently, while on business in Barovia, I called an old friend now serving as an advisor to one of the local burgomasters. At his behest, I investigated a number of vampire attacks on and around Lake Krezk. Local travelers had been lured from the road and fed on by a vampire seductress. A few had survived, but most had disappeared (or been found drained of their blood). My initial confrontation with the monster nearly proved fatal. Her powers of seduction were not the charming gaze of a vampire, but instead the mind fogging song of a siren. I had nearly submitted to her fangs before Gwen was able to snap me from my malaise, and the two of us were forced to flee our initial confrontation. Only by chance did we notice the odd patterns of mushrooms swirling along the banks of the Krezk and thus deduce that the creature we faced was not an undead, but one of the fae.
The glaistig, as it is known, is a heart breakingly beautiful woman who longs to fill the void in her soul. She calls out with a haunting melody, beckoning the unwary victims that might bring some warmth and comfort to her life, but to her eternal consternation their life and their affections soon turn cold in her arms, leaving her empty and needing to feed again. I’ve heard reports of creatures in Tepest and Forlorn that might potentially be such a woeful creature, but have yet to confirm them.
Although you are wise to still heed my counsel, you’re experienced enough by now to have had some encounters with lesser-known monsters yourself. If I were to write a longer treatise on this subject, which beasts do you think I should include? I’d love to hear any experiences you’ve had regarding strange or unusual creatures. You can write me via the usual channels. Of course, if you’d like to make the trip, you’re always welcome to stay for a visit as well.
Safe travels and happy hunting,
Frankie Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon.
Rejkar, Glaistig - Monster Manual III (D&D 3.5e)
Moonrat, Avolakia - Monster Manual II (D&D 3e)
Gray Shiver (Dragon Magazine #343)
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter, or listen to Don, Jon, & Dragons, his podcast.
Picture Reference: http://themagictreerpg.blogspot.com/2008/11
During my childhood my parents exposed me to several movies that would more or less shape my career as a dungeon master. While I love the tales of heroic adventurers saving the world against evil there is a soft spot that I developed for horror and thrillers. One of the first true horror movies my mother had me watch was the first Alien movie, yes the one from 1979. Since then I have moved more toward thrillers as too many horror movies are based on jump scares, which is not what makes horror great. Many of the titles I will be including may not be horror movies at all, but would more properly be considered thrillers.
Being the seed to my horror/thriller kick as an adult, there is so much that Ridley Scott did right in this amazing movie. Even for being produced in 1979, this movie has held up against the test of time (so far) with its visuals. You can’t just watch any of the Alien movies for this inspiration; you need to watch the first, as it was really the last the series saw of true horror genre. Overall, it shows an unknown monster hunting down the crew of a ship where all they are armed with are tasers and patched-together flamethrowers.
This can be an epic theme or a short horror campaign. For systems like Call of Cthulhu or Dread, this is easy to integrate. If you are using a more combat focused system like Dungeons and Dragons, you’ll need to tailor the monster to the party entering the campaign. The focus will be to make the character feel powerless against the creature while still having a way to fight it. Removing the player's’ ability to fight back entirely feels more punishing than terrifying.
In reality, I despise these movies. If I had to recommend any of them for the sake of inspiration I would say watch either the first or second. I do not see these as horror movies so much as punishment and gore cinema. The reason I include them on this list is because the concept behind them is unique and can cause wide-eyed terror in your players.
Saw highlights one of the fundamental aspects of horror: the consumer’s imagination. I say consumer and not viewer because the person in question experiencing the horror may be in the shoes of the target, the one experiencing the situation. They are not a viewer. Saw takes the idea that you will scare yourself far more than another could, but then they take that thought and display it in all its gory detail. If you put your players in a situation where they have to follow the beck and call of some distant and terrible voice to escape, you can create several moments of absolute terror when they have to face that decision. Reinforce that decision with an in-game mechanic and it will really feel like their life depends on the roll of a die.
3) Soma, Bioshock, And H.P. Lovecraft
It might seem strange to include all three of these in the same point but they all share some similar elements of inspiration that can play off one another. If you haven’t guessed, it’s time to take your players deep beneath the waves and leave them there.
In both Soma and Bioshock you are trapped at the bottom of the ocean. Pretty simple concept, but in each story, the world below (and maybe even above) has gone insane and you might be the only sane ones left. In Bioshock, the culture itself has become the absolute primal aspects of society and it has some pretty terrifying moments for an action game. To avoid spoiling Soma, let’s just say that a pretty nasty discovery isn’t playing too nice.
If you haven’t taken the time to read some of Lovecraft’s work, you really should. Mostly for getting to experience his strange imagination. The part I am pulling from his work is his dealings with strange creatures from the deep. Mix those with the settings like Soma and Bioshock and you can create some strange and horrifying places.
System Of Use
I’m going to take a quick break right here to elaborate on something I mentioned during #1 on this list. The system you use can be critical to maintaining atmosphere and mood. Some systems are absolutely designed for it, like the aforementioned Call of Cthulhu and Dread. Some systems work harder to create that feeling, mostly in systems where failure is minimal and rewards player creativity. Dungeons and Dragons is a difficult system in which to integrate horror because the players are inherently powerful. You can turn that power against the players to enforce the feeling of dread, but you can risk turning your players off from playing if they are not told they are getting into a horror game because they may feel like they are being cheated.
4) Alan Wake And The Hangover
Yes, I am including a comedy on this list. The Hangover took a common trope used in media and turned it on its head in the best way possible: amnesia. That movie could have been a horror movie had the writers decided a different set of events or even changed the setting. Even Skyrim played off this movie for one of the most enjoyable quests in the game (see a Night to Remember quest). The basis of the trope is waking up having forgotten everything from the night (or nights) before and dealing with the consequences.
Here Alan Wake comes into the fray because it also plays on the amnesia trope to an amazing degree. We are going to ignore the monsters and crazy events that occur throughout the game because those pale in comparison to the Manuscript. Early in the game you discover that during Alan Wake’s stay at a house on a lake he blacked out, went crazy, and wrote a Manuscript that pretty much plays out like the movie Stranger than Fiction. The Manuscript Alan Wake writes details events that end up happening in the game.
Mix these together and you can get some pretty nasty surprises for your players, who knows what they got themselves into or what they or someone else wrote themselves into. Having to face the consequences and allowing their imaginations to roam as to what actually occurred can be pretty terrifying.
F.E.A.R. or First Encounter Assault Recon, plays with the terrifying little girl trope. While it may be a trope, it can sure be effective; just look at Ringu/The Ring. While the little girl is terrifying, what she actually is and how you interact with her is more terrifying. If you want to play these games I actually recommend the first two, ignore the third F.E.A.R. game as it is not terrifying at all. The small child you see is Alma, a psychic who causes hallucinations and controls people all while being in a coma.
Throw in a super powerful psychic entity that can’t be directly interacted with and has grand plans for the party or things surrounding them, and you get some terrifying moments. Be warned, with mind control you can quickly shut down a player’s sense of agency. A player losing agency can really kill the feeling of dread if used too frequently because then they feel like they are on rails.
6) Werewolf, The Darkness, And The Clue Movie
The game Werewolf is one of those “secret role” type games where one person is the werewolf and the object of the game is to figure out who is the monster. This is pretty close to the plot of the Clue movie where no one knows who the killer is and it is up to everyone to find out. This idea can be really well executed if done properly, the use of secret messages is crucial to maintaining secrecy while the party works to solve the mystery or the party tears itself apart.
But what about the murderer or the victim of a possibly deadly virus? This is where I bring in The Darkness. The premise of this game is that you are the host to an ancient evil that is called the Darkness. You have no real control over it and it sometimes forces you into situations; like watching your girlfriend get shot in the face right in front of you. You can create a truly unknown and terrifying entity that has possessed or infected the host, causing them to do the things, all while it is threatening them to keep quiet. This can create some really horrific secret dialogue and evoke dread in the player who is infected, while causing dread in those around them.
The X Card
I feel the need at this point to bring up a useful tool for at the table, especially when going into areas that can touch close to home on individuals personal trauma. Having a card available for players to raise in order to signify that the topic is crossing into dangerous territory emotionally is incredibly important, often this is a card with a large visible “X” on it. You do not want to touch on a subject a player does not want to explore because it can create real harm. When running horror campaigns I believe the X card is an absolute requirement.
In this case I am talking about the video game developed by Bungie, not the hidden power said to determine the future. While the game is not horror, the theme leans toward Dark Sci-fi. Overall there is a “Darkness” that is encroaching on the universe and you are part of the last bastion of civilization not consumed by it. Out of the darkness crawl creatures and monstrosities that are trying to consume everything.
This is a pretty common theme and one that can be used to varying degrees. You can go as far as Destiny has and make the Darkness consume the known world, or just a region of your fantasy world that traps people inside. Mixing this with any number of other ideas and themes can create lots of dread and that extra sense of being trapped that helps solidify fear.
I’ve spent a ton of time consuming media and can pull inspiration from just about anything. If you use any of these let me know what came from the inspiration!
Jacob is a writer, editor, and dungeon master for Nerdolopedia. He runs a podcast discussing and reviewing homebrewed content and streams miniature painting, video games, and D&D 5th Edition. He writes articles on the Nerdolopedia website to assist Dungeon Masters making the most out of their games and writing.
Picture Reference: http://www.picswalls.com/pic/horror-wallpapers/
Conflict is the essence of drama, or so they say. After all, there isn’t much plot to be had if there’s nothing going wrong and everybody is in perfect agreement with one another. With that in mind, the easiest way to add conflict is to utter these three words:
“Roll for initiative.”
This method can be a cop-out, but if the GM was intending for this outcome to occur in the first place, is there really anything wrong with that? After all, if you’re playing a game where a character’s defining feature is, “How do I make things dead?” you may as well opt for the violent conflict from time to time.
With that in mind: today, I am going to give you some pointers on how to effectively design combat scenarios, regardless of what game you’re playing!
1) Start Small
Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
What this meant was that if you know what your army and the enemy army could do, you would know how a particular fight would play out. However, this scenario is an ideal one; you won’t always know what what both sides in a conflict are capable of.
In RPGs, these circumstances could be that you’ve never GMed the game you’re designing a combat encounter for. Your lack of experience with the system means you may not comprehend how the combat mechanics will work. You may not know how they’ll react when their characters are in a kill or be killed situation.
The most practical way to get this information is to observe, and the best way to observe is of course to start small: use a few fairly weak or cowardly enemies to suss out how vicious the players can be. Once you get the picture, you can always scale things up later on if you decide to pose a challenge to the players.
2) Know The Terrain
If you’ve got a hex or grid map: break it out. If you don’t have one, plain paper or even your imagination will do. Draw up where the fight takes place, and for the love of Pelor, don’t make it a 25ft by 25ft square, featureless room.
A few details and features in the battleground can make for a more interesting or even challenging fight; one that might allow for characters to try things besides hitting enemies with their strongest weapon or spells.
Take for example a fight on a terraced mountainside, kind of like the ruins of Machu Picchu. In a game of D&D 5e, spells like Jump or Thunderwave become more valuable for aiding your own movement or disrupting others, respectively. Although, the booming of Thunderwave could also cause a landslide in such a locale as well!
3) Making The Most Of Using More
Bigger numbers usually make for a bigger threat. This is true not only in enemy stat blocks, but also when counting how many enemies there are. An otherwise harmless enemy could be made tougher depending on how many of their allies are present, as well as who those allies are.
I’ll give two examples here:
D&D 3.5 (and perhaps, by extension, Pathfinder) is somewhat notorious for the levels of optimization its players will put into it. Some of these players are able to get armor classes as high as 40 by level eight. However, AC is only one method of avoiding harmful effects; a high AC won’t protect against a fireball sweeping through an area.
Thus, in D&D 3.5, having weaker enemies in a group that can use a variety of attacks would be an effective way to make a battle more challenging. In the case of using templates on creatures, picking one that grants a somewhat less accurate attack that goes against a different target number could achieve a similar effect.
For my next example: D&D 5e introduced the concept of Bounded Accuracy. I’m not much for discussing theories, but the long and short of it is that Armor Class is harder to raise than Attack bonuses, meaning that one of the most heavily armored characters (Full Plate and Shield for 20 AC) can still feasibly, if unreliably, be wounded by even the least competent character.
Consider the Goblin with its +4 to attack. This means that against our 20 AC character, he has roughly a 20% chance to hit and deal damage to him. A character isn’t likely to have the 1,5000 gold necessary for a Full Plate well into their career, so one goblin getting a lucky shot isn’t going to do much.
Several of these Goblins, perhaps using ranged weaponry from a several different angles, would be considerably more dangerous.
4) Spread Out The Big Clumps
Just because more can be better, doesn’t mean you need to throw more out all at once. In fact, that can actually be a terrible idea: nobody in their right mind would think that in D&D 5e, throwing 30 goblins at once at a level 7 party is a good idea. There is a way to make that work, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
“At once” is the operative phrase here. You can throw 30 goblins at the party over time, sending them in waves of five or so throughout an adventure is somewhat more reasonable, and can used to various effects. It can be done to interrupt player characters sitting around an area too long humming and hawing around something insignificant.
On the other hand, if you have characters that are prone to stopping to rest all the time, this reserve of goblins could be used to interrupt their rest. Though, in the interest of being fair, I’d give it a certain probability of it happening. To make it seem less like you’re being a vindictive GM, have the players roll to determine if their rest is interrupted.
5) Till Death Do Us Part (NOT!)
There’s a very weird phenomenon I’ve noticed in tabletop RPGs. Enemies and player characters alike will often fight to the death. This probably happens because of the suspension of disbelief that happens when people are playing games.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth noting that there are many examples in the real world of creatures and people that flee when things get too dangerous. So, this can be used for a convenient way to end a combat that’s otherwise taking longer that you would have wanted.
For example, in Shadowrun, it’s unlikely that a Lonestar officer will be willing to fight to the death if they’re outnumbered or outgunned. They’re basically the rent-a-cops of the 6th world: overworked and underpaid. Shoot an extra hole or two into them, and if they aren’t dead, they’ll probably turn tail and run.
Most wild creatures based on real world critters in literally any game are likely to behave like this as well: wound them, they realize they’re in for more than they can handle and run. For more fantastic beasts, that’s entirely your call, Gamemaster.
So there you have it, five things I usually keep in mind when designing combat encounters. The cool thing about considering these ideas is that some of these can be mixed and matched. Remember that practice makes perfect; add everything in a little bit at a time, and you’ll eventually wind up with players whose eyes light up upon hearing those words:
“Roll for Initiative.”
According to legend, Aaron der Schaedel, was born on Gary Gygax Day. This unfortunately didn’t grant him any super special powers.. Instead, it was years of experience and practice are what made him the GM he is today, and he’s only a terrible player to help his fellow GMs get the practice they need.
Picture Reference: http://wallup.net/fantasy-battle-artwork/
Secret societies are one of cornerstones of the Ravenloft Setting, but they tend to fall into background roles of either cannon fodder for the villain, or temporary resources for the heroes. Having played many games with secret societies and made three of my own (Memento Mori, Kara’s Daughters and the soon-to-be-released Ward Zero), here are some tips for getting the most out of them:
1) Information Is The Highest Form Of Currency
Some “underdog” secret societies like the Shadow Insurrection, L’Ordures, and Sons of Gundar make obvious allies for anyone fighting the same foe, but things can get too cozy; these are secret societies, after all. To keep the mystique in a long running alliance, remember that equipment and even spellcasting is cheap, but secrets, once shared, are spent forever. Outsiders should have to submit to lengthy vetting and use excellent diplomacy to pry a single critical secret from groups like the Duskpeace Outcasts. Offering money tends to backfire, because it suggests the one offering does not know how valuable information is, or how dangerous.
2) Splitting The Party
Even if one PC is a member, the rest of the party should not be insiders by default. Some heroic groups (i.e. the Society of Huntsmen, the Lamplighters, the Circle) don’t limit fraternization with outsiders, but a member of the Brotherhood of Broken Blades draws suspicion if their party includes arcane spellcasters. Many others are somewhere in between: a member might lead the party on one adventure on behalf of the society, share a little “need to know” info on the next, and offer nothing of value on another. Variety is the key; a member of the Green Hand or The Woodcutter's Axe need not confront the group’s enemies around every corner.
3) The More, The Merrier
Any of the “underdog” groups might welcome all classes, such that an entire party could join. Likewise, any party might join the Order of the Guardians and just report on any evil artifacts they find. More options become available with restricted character creation: a Carnival-based campaign with a party of Troupers, a “special investigations” team for La Serrure et Clé composed of calibans, or an all-elf strike team for the Children of Wrath are all possibilities. In all these cases, the restriction is on race, so the party might include members of any class. Class restrictions are more difficult; if The Noble Brotherhood of Assassins needs serious muscle for a particular job, or the Knights of the Ashen Bough need a spellcaster to erase Drakov brands, they would probably contract with an outsider ally rather than recruit someone.
Even if a PC doesn’t seek membership, someone might feel they earned it. Groups like the Fraternity of Shadows or Kargatane make offers one can’t refuse based on their own sense of worthiness. The Échansons, Ildi'Thaan, Vilushka, or Witches of Hala might choose someone based on their bloodline. In cases like the Stalkers, Ata Bestaal, or even Keepers of the Black Feather, membership includes lycanthropy, such that a character might be “accidentally recruited” during a fight. In all these cases, the PC is not really an outsider, but their loyalty is in question. Even otherwise good groups may take drastic measures if someone with too much knowledge of their inner working turns them down.
5) Membership Has Its Privileges
Members of most non-evil groups should be glad they joined most of the time. Physical tokens of membership frequently include masterwork items suitable for enchanting, if not minor magical items. Support societies like Société de Legerdemain, L’Académie des Sciences, and the Veiled Palm shouldn’t require more than dues (including discounted prices for supplies), reporting anything of interest, and keeping group secrets. If social obligations aren’t part of your game, this can also apply to “underdog” or “heroic” societies. If assigned to do more, the majority of the work should be within the PC’s comfort zone and rewarded fairly. Plots that pit group loyalty against friends, family or conscience should only come after the PC has built a strong identity as part of the society.
6) That Wasn’t In The Brochure!
Many secret societies have hierarchies, and some evil ones can appear harmless or even heroic to those at the lowest levels. A PC might spend decades in La Confrérie des Rêveurs* before finally discovering who (or what) they’ve been “feeding.” Insurrectionists in Mortigny might revere the long-dead martyr Simon Audaire long before being formally introduced to him in the, er, “flesh.” Many more groups are not stated as having such a layered structure, but could easily develop one, such as the Scions of Purity, Syndicate of Enlightened Citizens, League of Nine, and The Scions of Yakov Dilisnya. Allow PC’s to benefit from such associations as much as possible before learning the Awful Truth. Such “malign paradigm shifts” are among the most devastating horror checks, and are among the penultimate thrills of playing in a horror setting.
7) Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor
Finally, while truly evil cults may only fit as antagonists, you can still get more mileage from the Dark Delvers or Cult of the Straw God by emphasizing their insidious ideology. Long after the party has destroyed Mother Fury, have them discover a Howling Clan revival among the frustrated poor of some distant town. An old ally suffering nightmares of the Dead Man’s Campaign might be groomed for membership in the Lustmorde, or a treasure-seeking rival enthralled by writings about the Seven Scarabs. This could make for a truly epic struggle to destroy not just a dangerous cult, but a dangerous idea. Such challenges have been covered previously for destroying Sinkholes of Evil (RLDMG), and for fighting bogeymen (DTDL).
Whether allies, mentors, rivals or enemies, the people who make up these groups have committed themselves to keep secrets from their fellowmen. It’s a grave choice that players may be faced with, to join them in bearing that burden of secrecy, or to drag the truth into the light of day to kill it. Either option can pose a challenge for PC’s of any level, and raise the kind of complex moral questions that keep players coming back to Ravenloft.
*La Confrérie des Rêveurs was described in an article of the same name in Quoth the Raven issue #6, a Ravenloft netbook hosted by the Fraternity of Shadows.
Matthew Barrett has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, starting with the Kargatane's Book of S series (as Leyshon Campbell). He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement. He is currently working on a Ravenloft-based experiment in crowdsourced fiction using his “Inkubator” system at inkubator.miraheze.org.
Pic Reference: http://www.theendofhistory.net/most_recent/history-terrorism-secret-societies/
For those not in the know (my way of saying “constantly trying to keep up with tabletop gaming news”), you may not be aware of this recently released title from the folks at Modiphius. I’m here to help with that. Tales from the Loop is a tabletop RPG in which players take on the roles of the Kids and solve cool mysteries in the “80’s that never was.” Let’s take a closer look, shall we? Here are five facets of Tales that intrigued me.
1) Simple System
The game system keeps things easy to learn and play. In fact, if you’ve played Mutant: Year Zero, then you’re already halfway done. If not, you’ll still have a fairly easy time learning the basics. Dice pools consist of naught but d6s and are compiled by adding attribute + skill and grabbing that many six-siders. Each six you roll is a success, and you typically only need one to pass a check. Clearly designed to be played and enjoyed by kids and adults alike, Kids (the player characters) are incapable of dying, but instead suffer Conditions when coming up against Trouble. This aspect specifically assists with keeping the mystery-solving moving along and makes it extremely playable at conventions or as short campaigns.
2) Wondrous Setting
Perhaps the most enticing thing about this game is its setting and the origin thereof. While many games are based on existing films, book series, or even video games, Tales is the first I’ve encountered that was based on an artist’s series of work. Simon Stålenhag’s paintings of a strange Swedish suburb in the 80s created, in large part, the world of the Loop. Here, bipedal robots dwell alongside Cretaceous creatures beneath three massive towers that glow in the darkness. Sounds like a place worth exploring to me!
3) Strange Themes
While the game is centered around solving mysteries in the above-described landscape, a la Stranger Things or the Goonies, the game also delves into the mundane Trouble that your Kids could be facing. Multiple gameplay examples explore themes of parental strife and even divorce, illicit affairs between teachers and parents, and other such drama. This serves to provide a contrast against the mystery at hand and its threat or strangeness. Sure, your parents won’t stop shouting at each other about who’s cheating on who, but the town is being threatened by a strange man in grey who’s face is a mess of static. This makes the bizarre occurrences and mysteries even more special and interesting.
4) For Kids Of All Ages
While it helps to have a GM who knows a thing or two about adult life, the game can be played by anyone 10+. The Kids themselves are allowed to be 10-15 years of age, not a day younger or older. When you hit 16, your character must retire from mystery solving, since you need to start preparing to be an adult and the strange no longer seems as important. The concepts of gameplay are fun and functional, all while still being digestible by a younger crowd. This is not to say that you couldn’t gather your adult buddies together and relive the days of your youth. In fact, the game provides specific advice on how to get back into that mindset. Whatever the age range of your game group, this title game delivers investigation and roleplay experiences that will delight and surprise.
5) Odd Deficiencies
No game is perfect, and so it is with Tales. The system provides enough for a short campaign, but probably wouldn’t hold up terribly well in longer form play. There’s not enough character growth on offer. Characters increase skills with experience and increase stats when they increase in age. Younger characters are luckier (and so receive more luck points needed for dice rerolls), but this stat diminishes as they age. There aren’t any talents, abilities, or unique systems on offer. Since robots and dinosaurs are part of the setting, I’d like to see them provide a supplement for pets and constructs. Building bots or taming dinos in this setting could be an absolute blast, and having a set of rules for doing so would help GMs and players get the most out of such an experience.
All in all, Tales from the Loop proves itself a great addition to any GMs arsenal, while leaving some room for improvement in a largely untapped genre. I recommend checking it out at your local game shop or exploring a preview at Drivethrurpg. If you like the setting and the concept, give it a whirl and let me know what you think!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer (and definitely a Kid at heart) 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 at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
Image reference: https://www.modiphius.net/products/tales-from-the-loop-rpg-rulebook
What happens when you transplant your fantasy adventuring into the a modern setting? You get Modern Adventures of course! We sat down with Ray Machuga from Higher Grounds Gaming to talk about their new Pathfinder supplement entitled, quite appropriately, Modern Adventures to see what they are bringing to the table.
1) What sets Modern Adventures apart from other d20 systems set in the present?
A. The sheer amount of lore that has gone into developing the setting sets us leagues apart. Fluff and lore are some of my favorite things to develop in a game, as I feel that it really is the bread and butter of any given game. The Modern Adventures setting gives a place for magic, monsters and other races in the history of Earth. The classes and races have been properly worked out, as well. Each class and race is thoroughly designed and play-tested. Finally, the levels of technology have increased dramatically since d20 Modern was published. All in all, if you placed the games side-by-side, they would barely resemble each other.
2) Modern Adventures sets up a new spell system for Pathfinder and moves away from the spell-per-day that we all are familiar with. Can you tell us what we can look forward too?
A. Absolutely! Spell casting is something that I am very pleased with. Basically, if you break it down, once your Mage knows a spell, he or she can basically cast it at any time. There is a bit more emphasis placed on learning the spells, as well. As a balance, your character can choose exactly how strong or powerful their spell would be. If your character overpowers a spell, which basically means going over a power level based on your spell casting ability modifier, he or she stands a chance of suffering damage. Typically that damage is nonlethal, but there is a small chance (rolling a 1 on a d20) of it being real, lethal damage. To expand a bit on the magical lore, the world is animistic for the awakened spell casters and they are capable of summoning spirits and binding them to service to empower spells or even your endeavors whether they be stealthing through an occupied building, firing a gun or swinging an axe. All in all, I've tried to make magic a bit more gritty, powerful and dangerous. I wanted to make it feel like magic, again.
3) You’re also adding some new races and classes. What are they like?
A. This is another aspect of life in the modern world that I've had a lot of fun with. Fertility treatments and advancements in genetics being what they are, I've added a race that seems to be very popular with play testers - Half-Gnomes. They are crafty, gnome/human hybrids. There is also a Half-Bloods supplement being released that you can grab in the rewards section of the Kickstarter. Half-Bloods will explore more "half-breeds" such as what happens when an elf and a troll breed, or a dwarf and a halfling, etc. The combinations are endless. Within the core book itself, aside from the half-gnomes, I've added the Acaroi which are a small, insect-like race of humanoids that are fascinated by humanity in a very alien manner, even though civilized races tend to despise and abhor them. The ratkin are another great race I've added, which are small rat-like humanoids that are quick and curious by nature. There are a few more, but I'm keeping them a surprise for the backers of the Kickstarter.
4) What role does religion play in your setting? Has it become more secular like the real world, or does divine magic still exist?
A. Religion plays just as much of a role in the game's setting as it does in the real world - with one exception. The gods are known to be real. Divine magic exists, but not exactly in the same sense as you'd find in Pathfinder. The gods do not typically bestow any special powers, and are basically absentee. I don't want to give away too many spoilers, as this idea will be explored in an adventure path later on, but I will say that the gods are preoccupied with very important matters of their own.The gods do not typically bestow powers to individuals as they do with their Clerics in Pathfinder. Instead, clergy is a profession that opens up mystical knowledge and abilities through ritual and theological practice. Healing spells instead become something that all spell casters are capable of accessing. In the end, as far as religion, my aim has been to recreate what occurs in the real world.
5) What was your inspiration for tying together fantasy and the modern world in the way that you did?
A. It was a long time coming. I've played Dungeons and Dragons since Revised edition, and Pathfinder was a natural follow-up to that. I've also explored games like White Wolf's World of Darkness, Call Of Cthulhu and Shadowrun. Having become familiar with mirror-Earth style games, I wondered why there weren't any urban fantasy games that really stuck to the true fantasy side of things in the modern world. That was really when I started working on Modern Adventures. I wanted to play the game, and I did. Players i ran it for loved it. I started getting ideas for it in my every day [sic] life. Soon, I started working on it professionally until it became what it is today. It was really a natural progression.
Modern Adventures is on Kickstarter now.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging, river-running nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/highergrounds/modern-adventures-tabletop-rpg
After the defeat of Smaug the Terrible and the Battle of Five Armies, there were quite a few years before the events of The Lord of the Rings took place. Cubicle 7 constructed a team to help creative folk fill in the gap between the iconic works with The One Ring roleplaying game. It sports its own unique rules system to help you and your fellowship traverse the vast expanses of Middle Earth in search of fame and fortune. As a gigantic fan of Tolkien's work, the idea of such a thing gripped my heart like a vice. A previous article had outlined the Fellowship Phase of the game, easily one of the most interesting mechanics I've seen, but that only just scratches the surface. Although I've only played this game in a play-by-post setting, reading through the core rules has instilled excitement and wonder into the core of my very being. Here are some interesting mechanics aside from the aforementioned Fellowship Phase.
1) Shadow Weakness/Points
"...the days have gone down in the West, behind the hills, into Shadow."
-Theodin, King of Rohan
A very large theme in Tolkien's work is the juxtaposition of light and shadow. This was expertly injected into The One Ring through a mechanic; every character has what's called a Shadow Weakness. During character creation, your Calling (traditionally called a class in other RPG systems) determines what weakness your character may succumb to throughout the course of your adventures. From Dragon Sickness to a Curse of Vengeance, things can get interesting when you aren't careful whilst traversing the perils of the land. This mechanic goes hand-in-hand with the Hope mechanic. Each character has a set of Hope Points that can be spent to invoke Attribute Bonuses or Cultural Virtues, stats that are unique to each character, to give them an edge over the current situation. When your Hope value meets, or is below, your Shadow Point pool, your character experiences a bout of madness that is unique to your specific Shadow Weakness.
These fits have lasting effects on the character’s behavior to reflect the taint of The Shadow on their personality. With each fit comes a new trait that the Lore Master (the GM) can make rear its ugly head at a dramatic moment. Typically, adventurers are given Shadow Points when they perform a misdeed (knowingly lying, making threats, etc), witness a distressing event, experience something disturbing, enter what's called a Blighted Area, or come in contact with Tainted Treasure. Some of these require what's called a Corruption Test, a type of skill check, to fend off The Shadow. A failure results in the accumulation of a certain amount of Shadow Points as the LM sees fit. This adds a mechanical aspect to roleplaying and mirrors perfectly the dangers of Middle Earth and the dark lord Sauron, whose evil touches all.
Beyond that, it gives players a bit of resource management in conjunction with a small amount of help roleplaying. On the flip side, it presents LMs with an interesting conflict to present to PCs other than combat, which most D20 systems get so easily wrapped up in.
2) The Eye Of Sauron, Gandalf Rune, And Tengwar Rune
"You know of what I speak, Gandalf - A great Eye... lidless... wreathed in flame."
-Saruman the Wise
For those that don't know, TOR is a d12 based system. For every task, a 12 sided die (the so-called Feat Die) is rolled with a number of d6s (Success Dice), depending on skill, are added to it. Depending on what a hero character is trying to do, they may even get no Success Dice. For the Feat Die, the 11th side has an Eye of Sauron symbol, where the 12th has a Gandalf Rune. These symbolize your critical success and failures, though they're given different names. On the sixth side of the Success Die, there is a Tengwar Rune, which signifies a critical success as well. When paired together, these dice can represent an interesting outcome. Where an Eye of Sauron counts as rolling a zero, the Gandalf Rune counts as a success, regardless of the target number (TN) of the task.
The game differs from most others in that degree of success is sometimes very crucial to the outcome of a task. Degree of success is interpreted from the result of the Success Dice. A result on that die other than the six (Tengwar Rune) is added to what the result of the Feat Die, aiding the hero character's attempt to meet the TN of the task. When the Tengwar Rune is rolled, however, it changes the nature of the success if there is one. Three degrees of success can be obtained: Narrow Success, Great Success, and Extraordinary Success. Despite its name, a Narrow Success simply means that the character has succeeded in their task but there is an absence of the Tengwar Rune in the results of the Success Dice, should there be any rolled. Great Success is when one rune is rolled and Extraordinary Success occurs when two or more are rolled. These results add the opportunity for the player or LM to add interesting details to reflect how the degree of success affects the situation for the better. Extraordinary Successes are the things that bards and poets sing about for generations to come and allow for the greatest amount of flourish and flexibility.
When using weapons, however, the Gandalf Rune and Eye of Sauron are most critical. Many weapons require a Gandalf Rune to reach what's called their Edge value. This delivers a piercing blow, one that bypasses any armor to inflict a Wound, should the target fail its Protection roll that it must make as consequence. Interestingly enough, this dice mechanic generally works backwards for the LM controlling adversaries.
3) Fellowship Focus
"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."
-Bilbo Baggins of The Shire
Once your adventuring party is formed, every hero character has what's called a Fellowship Focus. This mechanic is used to represent the unique bonds between characters. Each player chooses a hero character with whom their character has that bond, but it doesn't have to be mutual. Using the pregenerated characters as an example; Beli of the Lonely Mountain's Fellowship Focus could be Trotter of The Shire, but Trotter's focus could be Lifstan son of Leiknir. Furthermore, hero characters can share a Fellowship Focus, if it fits the story. Usually, there's no specific reason that heroes can't share a focus, but as we know, every table is different.
It's no secret that I'm a fan of mechanics that aid in roleplaying, and this is no exception. It encourages players to make their hero characters work together and protect one another, as doing so provides a great mechanical benefit. As previously mentioned, Hope is a crucial resource of the game. When your hero character's Fellowship Focus is Wounded, you gain a Shadow Point at the end of the session. On the contrary, you gain a point of Hope at the end of the session if nothing expressly bad happens to them, story or otherwise. Worst case scenario, a hero's Fellowship Focus is killed, which leads to the accumulation of three Shadow Points. In the heat of the moment, this mechanic can show its face when a hero character spends a Hope point to aid their Fellowship Focus (by invoking an Attribute Bonus or the like) and the task is successful, they immediately regain that spent point.
I love this because it very much reflects the relationships that characters can have with one another in a tangible way. For players who enjoy the roleplay aspect of games, this sort of behavior comes naturally. For those who enjoy the more mechanical aspects of games, this helps the two different styles of pay mingle in harmony at the table. Simply fantastic.
In our hobby, people become stuck on certain game systems. With Cubicle 7's recent venture into 5e D&D with Adventures in Middle Earth, many people have started to revisit the wonderful world that Tolkien has created. Hopefully, this article will inspire to those who enjoy the lore of such to venture into the unique mechanics presented by The One Ring.
Sean is the Heavy Metal GM. He’s an aspiring freelance writer and blogger that loves the hobby more than life itself. Always up for a good discussion, his blog covers general gaming advice as well as specialized advice/homebrew rules for 13th Age RPG. You can find his website at www.heavymetalgm.com, join the conversation.
Suggested image reference: http://cubicle7.co.uk/our-games/the-one-ring/
Cryptids have fascinated not only me, but the world for thousands of years. The thought of creatures staying just outside of our sight through chance or intention is mystifying and intriguing. In the real world, myths of Bigfoot are not only a huge money maker, but something that real scientists have looked into. Now, the idea of mythical beings of frightening ability that stalk in the small hours of the night sounds like it would be right up a game master’s alley. Of course, cryptids have been around on the tips of people's tongues for as long as people have had the ability to communicate. Which spawned many myths and legends throughout history that are recognizable today, such as the kraken. Without further ado, here are some of the most interesting cryptids that would fit amazingly into a number of campaigns.
1) The Nunda
Described as “the size of a donkey,” the Nunda is a massive cat that is said to stalk Tanzania. It's said to be stronger than a lion, capable of killing a man with one fell swoop of its massive paws. According to statements made by witnesses of this terrifying beast, it's fur is often dark grey or black, and it is only seen at night. Unlike other big cats, the Nunda is supposedly rather aggressive, attacking not just individuals, but entire Tanzanian tribes by itself.
This particular cryptid would fit excellently into a forest or jungle themed adventure; being incredibly stealthy, and terrifyingly aggressive, the Nunda could be the rangers proverbial Moby Dick at the lower levels. In order to stat this badass, I would start with a lion (for reference, I’m using the 5e Monster Manual) and increase its strength to 19, its dexterity to 16, and its constitution to 16. I would also make its intelligence five and its wisdom 14, then increase its bite attack to 2d8+4 and its claw attack to 2d6+4. I would also give it proficiency with intimidation and some extra hit points. Fun fact: the Nunda has had fur samples attributed to it, and might be considered a real animal. Also, now that you’ve probably already decided it's pronounced “none-da,” I will inform you it's pronounced “Noon-duh.”
2) The Ahool
The Ahool is a giant bat with a monkey or gorilla face that supposedly hunts its prey in Indonesia. With a wingspan of 3.7 meters (or twelve feet) the Ahool is over twice the size of the world's known largest bat. They’re supposed to be omnivores and will stalk their prey like most bats do. There is no solid evidence of its existence (like most cryptids). But lets face it: looking at a massive bat with a chimp-like face that wants to do anything remotely close to attacking you is pretty damn terrifying.
Much like the Nunda, the Ahool would work well in a jungle or forest setting. I would assume that its type would be monstrosity as opposed to beast. Instead of having them be the major focus of a part of your adventure, I would just add them in as a part of the flora and fauna of the world. This would make a really cool companion or familiar for someone in the group and would add so much “spice” to the situation. When statting, I would start with a giant bat. Decrease its size to medium and make its hit point max 12. Keep most of the stats but change its intelligence and charisma to four. Increase the base speed to 20 to account for it's more monkey like legs and its fly speed should be about 50 mostly in part to the fact that it's pretty heavy because of its monkey-like attributes.
3) The Loch Ness Monster
Is it really a conversation about cryptids until someone brings up Nessie? For those of you who don’t already know about this legendary creature, the Loch Ness Monster is a huge aquatic animal living in Loch Ness of Scotland. It supposedly has a long snake like neck with a rather blob-ish body and four massive fins at it's side. No accurate description of its size has been given, but the general term “large” has been dubbed. However her shape is often disputed. Most consider her how I described her above, but there are others who claim that she is far more serpentine, like a massive snake without the fins that would propel itself through the power of violent spasms. (Haha very funny I know, but actually underwater snakes are super hilarious to watch.)
A common theory with Nessie is that she is actually a plesiosaurus, leftover from the Cretaceous Period. As such it seems reasonable to start with that stat block. For the most part, I wouldn’t change much, perhaps make its armour class 15, make its dex 16, the intelligence 5 and its size should be huge instead of large. I would also increase swim speed to 60. In case you haven’t figured it out from my use of the words “aquatic” and “loch,” Nessie is a cryptid best suited for an oceanic or aquatic themed adventure. If you want to add some mystery to the reveal of everyone's favourite sea monster, you could use the name of a different, however similar cryptid found in Canada: the Ogopogo. Arguably much more fun to say.
4) The Jersey Devil
In New Jersey, U.S.A, there is a myth about a bipedal creature with a goat's head, bat wings, hooves for feet, and a forked tail that kills local children. It was supposedly spawned from the unholy acts of a witch and the devil himself. This little guy is said to be incredibly fast and has a terrifying screech that chills the blood of even the bravest of souls.
The JD would work superbly in an urban or horror setting. Now, to give it stats, I would start with a harpy. Change its type to fiend, increase its base speed to 60 and its fly speed to 80. Its dexterity should be 20, intelligence eight and its charisma a resounding 3. Give it the stealth skill and the intimidate skill. Change the claws attack to do 1d6 and exchange the club attack for a kick that does 1d6 as well. Instead of luring song, give it a frightful presence ability that activates on a screech similar to an adult dragons. It might feel like overkill, but this is a baby stealing devil that needs to scare off parents long enough to steal babies. It's what makes it unique. Give it the infernal language instead of common.
5) The Snallygaster
Besides having the most “what the hell” name on this list (that you still pronounced more easily than Nunda), the Snallygaster is also probably one of the most terrifying. The Snallygaster is a dragon-like beast that is said to roam the hills around Maryland, specifically the Washington D.C. area. It sports a metallic beak that is lined with razor sharp teeth. Its skin is scaled with feathered wings and a singular eye in the middle of its head. In the tales, the Snallygaster feasts on the blood of its victims. However, in order to accumulate victims, it snatches them up with tentacles that it can retract from its mouth or chest (depending on the story).
Now, while this one may seem rather foreign, he’s not really much stranger than a humanoid tentacle monster that eats brains and reports to a hive mind, now is he? Our Snallygaster needs some stats though, so let's start with what he's compared to: a dragon. A young red dragon to be specific. First things first, let's drop that breath weapon and replace it with tentacles. The spell Evard's Black Tentacles is a good base for it. Obviously if the Snallygaster wants to use its bite attack, it must first retract the tentacles. As such, if a creature is still being grappled by the Snallygaster when it retracts its tentacles, the creature must make one final saving throw to attempt to escape, or be swallowed by the Snallygaster. While in there a creature takes 2d6 acid damage per round and if the Snallygaster takes more than 25 hit points of damage from a creature inside of it, it vomits it up. The Snallygaster can only swallow one creature at a time. I’d also remove the blindsight and the common language.
Truly there is a good reason that cryptids have held the attention of the world for so long. They’re a massive mystery and rather terrifying to the less curious of us. But in a world of gods and monsters, these will fit right in. Of course, with names like Snallygaster and Ahool, they may get bullied a little.
Jarod Lalonde is a young role-player and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
Pic Reference: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3239479/scientists-to-test-water-of-loch-ness-for-dna-to-find-out-once-and-for-all-if-nessie-is-real/
The world is not in a good place right now.
With all the pressures of the geopolitical/sociopolitical spheres, it can be really hard to find motivation to do things that can be seen as selfish or pointless - after all, we should all be doing what we can to improve the situation we are in. I’m not discounting that in the slightest. Do what you can, as you can, how you can, when you can, for as long as you can, until the situation improves.
If you’re reading this article, you are a player of games, someone who cares about the worlds we create around our tables and on our character sheets. People are going to be asking you how you can worry about your games when the world is beginning to take on a charming wicker-theme shape with a hint of picnic about it, and the temperature is rising dramatically.
In the words of Freddie Mercury, the show must go on.
We have talked a lot, as a community, about not shaming people - be it fat-shaming, gender-shaming, genre-shaming, class-shaming, what have you - and this is a time where we have to make sure we aren’t applying those same thoughts towards ourselves and our hobbies.
Here are four reasons why you should recognize your gaming time and keep it holy:
1) Doing Something We Love Can Help Deal With Stress
I’m no psychiatrist (far from it), but even I can tell that I relax more when I have something enjoyable to look forward to, a small oasis of sanity (or at least a reasonable amount of madness) in the midst of my daily stresses. I know when I sit down at the table with my dice and my tea and my character sheet, for at least the next few hours, the world will make sense.
This is a powerful thing and needs to be approached as such. You are allowed to carve out time for yourself and your hobbies, to recharge and detox from the world as a whole. As long as you aren’t neglecting things that are necessary for a continued comfortable existence (work, relationships, feeding yourself/your pets/your spawn, etc.), you are allowed to take time for yourself, and you need to protect that time and space.
For those of us who have flown commercially, there’s that bit during the safety briefing when they tell you take care of yourself before attending to those who may need your help. This is good advice in more than one way, because if you have worn yourself to the bone, there’s nothing left to give to those who DO need your help.
2) Routine Helps To Maintain A Balance
In Making Money, one of Terry Pratchett’s final Discworld novels, the main character Moist von Lipwig says something along the lines of “When you don’t know what to do, brush your hair and shine your shoes.” Doing something small and routine helps ground you in a period of stress. “Okay, I have to get through X ordeal, then it’s time for game.”
Do you have a pre-game or post-game ritual? Maybe you always stop at the same coffee shop, or buy yourself the same once-a-week treat for game day. Do you listen to a particular song to get yourself into the headspace for a LARP game? Wear a certain perfume or cologne for your LARP character? Don’t stop doing that now.
In times of stress, I have known it to be helpful to be able to look at my LARP kit and check off the items I will need. Just seeing that I have everything laid out (or know far enough in advance to replace something that is missing) gives me a calming moment because things are as they should be.
3) Assuming Direct Control
We can’t control what a group of madmen do in the next state, nation, or continent. Hell, some of us can’t even control what goes on in our own minds. In a game world, we have so much more control than we do in this supposed “real life.” We can make mistakes and correct the consequences without any actual danger to ourselves or our situations. We can deal with crazed leaders, religious zealots, bullies, and existential threats - and live to tell the tale. We can create places where things MAKE SENSE.
If you fail in your attempt? Respawn, revive, resurrect, or reroll. Repeat as necessary.
4) Challenge Yourself To Deepen Your Own Personal Immersion
Stay off your phone during game. Really pay attention to what’s going on, and try to get deeper into your character’s head and thought processes. Attempt to distance/disconnect yourself from the modern world during the few sacred hours of gaming time. Ask your DM if they need you to play an NPC or two - anything to keep your mind on the game and not on the news.
Seize control of this part of your life. Acknowledge that there are stressors away from the gaming table, and keep those stressors away from there as much as you can. Talk to your group and your DM, make sure you are on the same page with the desire for escapism and themes that you want to avoid. Most people, when they walk into Creation or Azeroth or Golarion or the Galaxy Far Far Away, are more than happy to leave their day to day problems behind. Chances are, they are experiencing the same stress that you are (or their own variant thereof). Communicate what you need from your DM and your fellow players, and listen to their needs as well.
Most of us don’t play games to practice cost-benefit analysis - we play games to escape to worlds where we can be powerful archdruids or death knights or sorcerers or Dawn-caste warriors, capable of doing superhuman things and changing things that we need to see changed in the world. The purpose of every roleplaying game (that isn’t cooked up by some well-meaning but completely uninformed human resources hack) is to play a role - to be someone other than ourselves. Embrace that for what it is, and go be someone else.
As I have before, I will leave you with the words of the late Sir Terry, which I find particularly apt for this topic:
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ~Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as an ordinary office employee who holds vehement opinions about Oxford commas and extraneous hyphens. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
Picture Reference: https://8tracks.com/explore/apocalypse
A puppeteer captivates his audience in the town square. The heroes, returning from their latest dungeon, spot the growing crowd and approach with interest. The audience is mostly children and a few citizens taking a moment to see what the fuss is about. It’s easy to get a good view. Hanging from one of the strings is a demon, horned and wings licked in crimson. Hanging opposite of the demon is someone holding a sword. The fighter immediately recognizes the puppet. It looks exactly like him. The puppeteer speaks of a great prophecy; of a demon, locked away, approaching escape. Only our hero can stop him.
This is an NPC that one of my DM’s made in a campaign I took part in. It was this puppeteer, who introduced himself as Alvar, that showed me the potential for an NPC in a Pathfinder, or really any, campaign. Beyond just an innkeeper with an eyepatch, or a noble with a stuck up attitude, Alvar was a living breathing character with a purpose. With this article I want to show you 4 ways to make a memorable NPC, all thanks to inspiration I gained from this puppeteer.
1) Connect Them To Your Player Characters
Alvar was connected directly to one of our players, the aforementioned hero that was crucial to keeping the demon locked away. This connection establishes a bond and creates a reason for players to interact with an NPC more. How do they know this? What else do they know? The bond doesn’t need to be as grandiose as providing a backstory to characters or as an omenspeaker, but any sort of connection immediately makes players feel exactly that: connected.
Another approach is to make the players feel responsible for this character. A young squire who finds the heroes to be inspiring hopes to learn from them so he follows them out of town to the cave they are going to explore. The party can’t exactly leave him alone in the cave, he’ll be ripped apart, so they’ll need to keep him safe while they seek out their objective. This can be especially strong if you target a Good character in town with this specific squire, idolizing them and setting up for the moment where the character feels responsible for their safety.
2) Have NPCs Praise Or Condemn Aspects Of Your Characters
Characters make mistakes. There are times when players can make decisions in the moments that skirt the alignment of their character. NPCs that either push them away or pull them towards the other side can be compelling talking points to a character. Alvar would constantly tell our fighter that he believed in him and they he could do better in making this world a good place. The fighter was caught between two alignments and Alvar was there urging our fighter to make the right call, but the fighter was still lost in knowing which was which.
This method can create tension. Tension is good because it inspires dialogue between characters and can make them more involved in the story. Having an NPC show up and point out the divide in players’ morals can provide intriguing role playing potential for a party. Of course, this is by no means an excuse to become vindictive and outright insult a player for their decisions. Instead if someone merely asks the character ‘why?’ it has potential to open up a whole new avenue of character exploration.
3) Find The Drive Behind A Character And Have An NPC Amplify It
The fighter always imagined himself as the hero. Maybe that’s why he was so intrigued by the puppet performance and became interested in Alvar so quickly. There was this idea that he was something more: he sought out some sort of prophecy and Alvar delivered. There was heroic blood in his family’s lineage, and the fighter was the key to reopening what was locked away.
Some players may find that to be a bit too convenient, but Alvar is a particularly specific example of what an NPC can do. Each player gives a purpose to their character, something that drives them to make the decisions they make. A method of taking your game to the next level is incorporating these themes into your story, feeding back into the players what they crave. You can twist it and turn it on their head, but dangling a carrot on a stick, so to speak, will push the characters forward.
Most villains in a campaign will do this to the players, but there is no reason you cannot take advantage and have other NPCs do this. Especially if you can balance the idea of similar traits between your villain, your player, and their NPC. The villain and the hero both crave power, each must stop the other to get it, the NPC wants to see the hero gain this power, but which side will their methods align with? This gets to the final, most poignant point of Alvar’s story.
4) Have Your NPCs Be Wrong
This may sound obvious, but what exactly does it mean to be wrong? An NPC can give wrong directions to a dungeon, but is that something they can be remembered for? A strong NPC will provide an emotional connection to the players, and with the above methods you can achieve the framework to create a memorable bond. However the most important point of an NPC is that they are not omniscient. NPCs should not know the way everything flows and they can be just as guilty as anyone of being wrong.
Alvar was a victim of his own prophecy. He didn’t know the full explanation behind what he was preaching to the party’s fighter. He spoke of the fighter being the key to locking the demon away, when in reality the demon could never be free until the fighter approached the cage. Our fighter broke, realizing that he wasn’t the hero that was meant to save the world: he was the villain destined to free the beast who would end it. Alvar himself also broke from this and met the tragic end of dying knowing that he was wrong.
There is nothing interesting about an NPC that the players can never outsmart. A villain who is always one step ahead is boring so why should someone helping out the players have knowledge they shouldn’t have? Treating an NPC like a mortal who is just as in the dark as the players are, with their own opinions whether they be right or wrong, allows the players to relate to them. It forms a bond or a rivalry, providing players with a push and pull that inspires digging deep into their character.
Alvar’s end may have been hopeless, but our fighter did not follow the same path. He fought against his prophecy and returned to his own path. He would defeat this demon. He let the beast out, so he was going to be the one to kill it. Alvar never saw this, but Alvar was never supposed to see it. Multiple storylines are happening at a time during a campaign: the main story, the player character’s stories, and the NPC’s stories. Alvar’s story was about an old man who dreamt of a golden era of his youth, locked behind memories and prophecy. He always hoped that he would find his hero, unfortunately all he was left with was betrayal-- from no one but himself.
The greatest part of all this is that Alvar wasn’t even involved in my character’s storyline from this campaign, but it’s undeniable the effect that he had on me. My side of the story was full of its own characters, twists, and revelations that I’ll be using as an inspiration for a future article. I hope this has helped plant some seeds to create an NPC that will push your players. They want it.
Have you played or experienced any NPCs that were memorable for you? Who were they? Let me know in the comments or on my twitter!
Justin Cauti is a writer and Twitch streamer. He plays board/roleplaying games on the internet at http://www.playingboardgames.tv. Follow him on Twitter for updates on his boring life and writing projects @LeftSideJustin.
Picture Referece: https://www.bit-tech.net/reviews/gaming/pc/top-10-computer-game-npcs/1/
The OSRIC RPG, short for Old School Reference and Index Compilation, is a fantasy role-playing game system. OSRIC is what is known in the Old School or OSR (Old School Renaissance) movement, as a retro-clone, in that it is a faithful, as much as legally possible, recreation of the First Edition of the world’s most famous role-playing game, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
It’s recently been a topic on social media, and unfortunately not in a good way, because of a kerfuffle regarding some negative comments by one individual, not formally associated in any way with the authors or creators of OSRIC, regarding the laudable and evolved decision by Wizards of the Coast, current creators of Dungeons & Dragons, to foster and encourage inclusion and diversity in the game. It is an ideal that we should all embrace, and one which, as a four decade long player, I heartily support. Our game should reflect the wonderful depth and variety of humanity, and I am happy that the time has come where people of previously underrepresented groups can now see themselves in the game.
In the aftermath of the unfortunate social media incident, a lot of folks were hurt, angry and upset, justifiably so, but in their confusion some began to condemn OSRIC for the comments of a lone individual with no official standing. They began to confuse that one person’s comment with what the game stood for. Some began to wrongly think OSRIC supported and was based on an intolerant or non-inclusive ideology. All of these things are inaccurate.
It was all very unfortunate because OSRIC is a great system. Full disclosure here, I am a GM and author of OSRIC content, so I am a big supporter of the system. On the other hand, it also means, I know of which I speak! The owners of this site reached out to me after the kerfuffle, for my sort of “expert opinion” on OSRIC, as they liked my work and felt people were getting the wrong idea about the game; I was asked if I’d like to explain what OSRIC is, what it isn’t, and why you all should like it. Frankly, there’s no reason not to, and with this list I am going to show you 8 reasons why you should check out the OSRIC RPG!
8) OSRIC was one of the earliest and most successful retro-clones.
For this reason, there is a lot of content for this particular game system. Looking at current content, the last time I checked DrivethruRPG.com (a mainstay of mainstream and indie RPG content, such as my own) there were nearly 400 OSRIC titles currently for sale. Lulu.com has nearly 280 OSRIC titles for sale. In addition, looking at legacy content, there are thousands of BECMI (which stands for Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortal rules, i.e. “Basic” D&D), Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (aka AD&D or 1E), and AD&D 2nd Edition (aka 2E) publications to choose from which are compatible with OSRIC (Although separate from 1E, the BECMI and 2E rules are compatible enough to make their materials useable). So if you are looking for a game that has a lot of support, with tons of compatible legacy content and continually developed new content, OSRIC is a great system to choose.
7) Did I mention it’s free?
That’s right folks, OSRIC itself is completely free! In fact go and download it right now, here’s a link. But wait, there’s more! Not only is the game system free, but so is its version of a “Monster Manual”, which you can download via this link. But wait, it’s version of the “Player’s Handbook” is also free as well; download the OSRIC Player’s Guide directly from its author via this link. Now go back to the aforementioned DrivethruRPG and Lulu and search for “OSRIC” and you’ll find a tonne (because one of the creators is British) of free content alongside the paid content discussed above. Don’t get me wrong, I love Wizards of the Coast and their content, and as a content creator myself I strongly encourage you to support creators active in your gaming interests! However, if you’re like me, you have a lot of gaming interests, and isn’t it kind of nice to have a game you can check out and play for free? Heck yeah!
6) OSRIC is accessible.
It made me sad when people mistakenly thought OSRIC was somehow mean or cruel or anti-anyone, because one of my favourite things about OSRIC is that it is very accessible in a democratic way. As I mentioned above, the basic game is free. Go online and use a dice roller and download some free minis and you are ready to play! You can teach people to role-play via OSRIC for free. This is incredibly inspiring and democratizing! When I was a poor kid growing up, Dungeons & Dragons changed my life by offering a wonderful outlet into a dream land of magic, like Middle Earth and Narnia, but I actually got to go there and not just read about it! The books were expensive back then as well, but my friends and I scraped together the money, over a long time, and we eventually bought a set of books to share. We took turns reading them, grudgingly turning them over when our week was up. Before we got books it was really embarrassing when the rich kids would tease you about not being able to afford the hobby, as bullying kids are wont to do throughout time. It makes me weep tears of joy to know that poor kids and adults today have access to a completely free retro-clone of the game I grew up loving, and there is no more fretting or worrying about how to pay for it.
5) OSRIC is community driven.
Since the creation of the OSRIC game system and its companion manuals it would seem the gracious founders and designers Matt Finch and Stuart Marshall (our OSRIC version of Gygax and Arneson) essentially stepped back and let the world have at their creation. What that means is that the content being put out is coming primarily from the community of players and it has fostered, in my opinion, a renaissance of imaginative fantasy art and writing. I myself am an OSRIC creator, because I can be: it was just that easy. I had always wanted to send a dungeon off to TSR’s “Dungeon Magazine”, or an article to its “Dragon Magazine”, as a youth, but I was always afraid it wouldn’t be good enough or people would tease me for being a geek (those darn bullies again!). There was an editorial board and a big fancy company deciding who and what got published (or so I assumed) and it was very intimidating. Flash forward a few decades and the internet and self-publishing have reshaped our society. I found OSRIC, I was inspired to write, and I did it. There are tonnes (lol) of people like me doing this (and so can you!) and it is a great community to be a part of!
4) OSRIC is kinda British.
OK this is a quirky reason, I know, but bear with me. If you love Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and cut your teeth on that style of high fantasy, chances are you might be just a wee bit of an Anglophile. If you are, then why not play a game where the programme running in the head of one of the creators, Stuart Marshall (editor in chief), was a British view of RPGs? I feel a little twinge of glee deciding what my favourite colour of cloak might be, and I can take a fortnight deciding what armour to purchase or calculating my saving throw against petrifaction! A silly reason perhaps, but it made me immeasurably happy to write, in one of my modules, of a sword composed completely of ice: “However, extended exposure to extreme heat (38°C) may damage or destroy it.”
3) OSRIC is fairly easy to learn.
I don’t want to stir up even more controversy (i.e. Edition wars!), so just hear me out. Being a fairly stripped down, retro-clone of a forty year old game means there are not endless pages to read before you start playing. For example, an average race description in OSRIC is about half a column long. The average character class description is about one and a half pages long. The entirety of the equipment list takes up two and two thirds pages. The average monster description is maybe half a column. Part of this may be because most of the OSR folks are coming to OSRIC with a very good understanding of how to play RPGs and possibly a lifetime of rules floating around in their heads. However, if you are a new player, the rules light approach means there is not a huge amount to learn and memorize and you can fairly quickly get down to learning how to role-play. Which is the focus of all good games, in my opinion. While the rules can actually get quite complex and detailed, as anyone who has played 1E knows, OSRIC “feels” light and can be played as simple or complex as you want it to be. I have taught several people to play RPGs, who were previously scared of the “stacks of books”, by using OSRIC. As the adage says, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stu! -- remember I said OSRIC is not mean!)
2) OSRIC is flexible.
The upside to what I consider to be a “rules light” approach is that the game is very flexible and open to what you want it to be. As an example, in my very first module (“The Corrupt Temple”) I had a section where players might fall into the water and drown. So I looked in my trusty OSRIC manual for drowning rules and found…nothing. So I made up my own rules for this situation based on researching past rules and present rules and then threw in what sounded logical and reasonable to me. There are many unanswered questions in OSRIC, as in life, and I like that about it. It makes me more inventive, creative and it challenges me!
1) OSRIC is for all of us!
The last and final reason to try OSRIC is because it is for all of us, not just grognards! It is a great opportunity to see what gaming was like in the past and to get to know the roots of modern Dungeons & Dragons, an activity that seems increasingly popular with the release of Wizards of the Coast’s “Tales from The Yawning Portal”, for example. I read a great quote about OSRIC once, which stuck with me because it exactly summed it up: “OSRIC is a love letter to First Edition.” Those of us who played the game when it first came out were entranced, as are those of you who are just discovering the game now, and to us 1E is just our happy place for that reason, and likely always will be. It’s not a criticism of 5E or the progress of gaming or of our society since the 1970’s. It’s just what makes some us feel the old “buzz” of gaming excitement, and that brings us lots of happiness.
Now before I close, I feel like I should also deal with the elephant in the room: grognards. It seems the term grognard has taken on a very pejorative meaning lately, and that is a shame. For I am here to tell you that not all grognards are the angry grumbling complainers or potentially racist, homophobic, transphobic, able-centric, and mean trolls that online slang dictionaries or some blogs or social media posts would have you believe.
I have met and known a lot of folks over the years that have played a long time, for decades, and they all have one thing in common with newer players: a love of the game. Our love of the game is what binds us all together. Grognards are just folks who have a wealth of experience in a hobby we all love, who for the most part may enjoy playing the games of their youth (we tend to grow nostalgic as we get older), and who still have a lot to offer to the RPG community. Are there jerks and wing-nuts in the grognard and Old School community? Certainly, as there are in every walk of life, but I believe they are the exception and not the rule. I think many of us are kind, gentle, understanding souls who are happy to share a table with anyone who is like-minded and wants to enjoy some communal role-playing fun! So if you encounter us in the wild trying to play 5E, as we stumble on unfamiliar ability checks or look bemused as you try to explain spell slots…again, please try and be patient! Or if we invite you to try out our OSRIC game, take us up on it to see what it’s like!
Most importantly,though,I hope your take-away from this article is that OSRIC and its practitioners are no different than the modern game and its players; it’s simply another way to play one of the most exciting and inventive hobbies ever created!
Louis “sirlou” Kahn is an avid OSRIC and Dungeons & Dragons game master, role-player, and author. When he's not creating fantasy role-playing content through Starry Knight Press, he’s spreading love & unity with The English Beat!
http://starryknightpress.com || http://englishbeat.net/
1) Start thinking like your character
For me, this is the hardest advice to follow. You have to let your thoughts disappear. Your character is the one thinking, put yourself in their shoes. Prevent outside sources from influencing your decisions. Think about who you are and where you come from. Think about the experiences your character has dealt with. By letting your thoughts go away you become your character, you start thinking and acting as them. Do not let meta-gaming limit you. You know one thing, but your character doesn’t, so why would your character do something they have zero clue about? It can be hard to start thinking how your character thinks and it will take some practice but you will get there.
2) Character voices
Character voices fuel a lot of social anxiety, and that makes it awkward, and it’s why players stray away from them. My advice is to realize that you are playing make-believe with other individuals playing make-believe, don't feel awkward or weird, because in the end you're all playing a game of imagination. A character voice isn't for everyone, but it can help break the barrier of getting into character. It doesn't have to be a different accent or pitch, it can also be vocabulary and mannerisms. Practice your voice whenever you're alone or have someone listen to you and ask their opinion. I personally practice my character voices in the shower or on my way to work.
3) Five Senses (Partly on the dm)
Imagine being in your character's shoes for a moment. What are their surroundings, what sounds do they hear, what do they taste, touch, or even smell? The five senses allows us to understand what is happening to and around our characters, humans use all our senses in memory. This is mostly up to the GM to do as he is the descriptor in the game but it is also partly on you to understand what they are portraying. Close your eyes and imagine everything the GM is saying. This is about immersion, it helps to ground you in the world. In a roundabout way it will help you get into character, by getting into the scene.
4) Tell your GM the story you want to tell
What do you want out of your character? A love story or a story of revenge, maybe even a mystery? You and your GM are telling a story together, letting the GM know what you want out of them game will help you both craft a better story. As the player, you have more control than you think.. Sit down with your GM and tell them what you want to do with your character and how you might do such a thing. Knowing what you want to do already allows you to understand who your character is, allowing you to get one step closer to being in-character.
5) Let empathy destroy you
Empathy is a super power we humans have and it allows us to understand the feelings that others have. In game your character is dealing with certain situations that may make them feel a certain way and understanding the emotions behind that will get you into character. Sometimes empathy will destroy you completely, when you're attached to characters and one of them dies, sometimes you just can't help but cry. Let these emotions take over, feel the moment. This will also allow you to understand how others are feeling in the same situation. Let Empathy win.
Benjamin Witunsky, artist, writer and nerd savant. Cofounder of the NerdMantle Podcast available on Soundcloud, Itunes and Google Play Music.
Image Credit: http://www.inspirefirst.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/24.jpg
This is the second of a series of articles where I share some of the detailed characters, places, and things created during my recent campaign. The campaign used Evil Hat’s Fate system, and took place in Edward Turner’s “The Aether Sea” world. We decided as a group to use Fate Core rather than Fate Accelerated Edition, so the things presented here will work better with Fate Core. You can also listen to the adventure on our website and podcast feed.
The game items presented here were spun out of an adventure prompt at the end of the Aether Sea book, which I will quote later. First, I’ll describe the setting of the adventure. My group and I had a lot of fun bantering and sharing details of what this kind of place might be like. Here is what we came up with:
1) The Annular Necrocracy
A moderate distance from Tun, the Annular Necrocracy is in fact a group of sectors united not so much by their political ideals - similar as they may be - as by the basis of their economic system. The lich kings of the Necrocracy animate corpses to do most menial tasks, thereby freeing up the time and labour of the living for other pursuits. It works very well… if you can get over the smell. In keeping with the sector aspect, however, nobody really knows where all the bodies come from. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Sector Aspect: Far away in the deep, dark aether.
There are several sectors within the Annular Necrocracy. There is a division of labour; each sector has a kind of specialization that sets it apart from the others. They all share a couple things in common, however: a relatively small living population, and ubiquitous undead performing menial tasks. There are two that appeared in our adventure:
Noble is like the banking district of the Necrocracy. It is often where deals are brokered, though not necessarily where cargo is to be shipped. It features a single grandiose (but sparsely populated) city, and a number of outlying settlements that support it. Most business takes place in the city. If you use the Snarf racing rules, there is a stadium here!
Sector Aspect: Fancy brickwork and the smell of formaldehyde
Noble has two moons. One of them serves as a remote refuelling station for merchant ships passing through to other sectors. The whole place is ‘automated’ using corpses; it’s not much use to try and deceive them if you don’t actually have money. There is one living soul that manages the moon base. Poor guy.
High Concept: Master of an isolated moon base
Trouble: I can’t believe I’m stuck here
Grange Sector – Wheat barons, plantations, and vast crop fields. This is the agricultural sector of the Necrocracy, providing food and cotton for the living and for trade. The Makepeace plantation is on this planet (see below). Evelyn Grange (male) is the Seneschal to Lord Makepeace. He is the great-nephew of King Grange, the ruler of the planet. His life and that of the King have been magically extended, but they are not undead. Lord Makepeace and Lord Grange both hope to join the ranks of the Necrocracy’s ‘ascended’ lich oligarchy someday; the sooner the better.
Sector Aspect: Ruled by an aspiring lich king.
Planetary Aspect: A land like Dixie...
4) Makepeace Disaster
The drama of this adventure plays out on the backdrop of the Annular Necrocracy described above. The adventure centres on the character of Vanessa Makepeace and her necromantic communications equipment; I added quite a bit to her character, and we squeezed a lot of play out of this scenario.
Here is the text of the adventure, taken from The Aether Sea:
“ Contact: Countess Vanessa of House Makepeace, a Royal of low bearing.
Cargo: Several bound specters, part of some necromantic communications
Destination: The Annular Necrocracy, a short distance away, to be delivered
directly to Lord Makepeace’s estate.
Complication: The binding on the specters is weak. They’ll unbind and
start haunting the ship in transit. “ (The Aether Sea, page 44. Emphasis mine)
The player characters can meet Vanessa in any place, but her destination will always be the Grange sector in the Annular Necrocracy. She will offer a fair price to board the ship with some cargo, and will respond to reasonable attempts at bargaining. The equipment? A steampunk high-powered transistor radio that happens to be animated by bound spirits. She will also board with a small retinue of three zombies that serve as porters and bodyguards.
5) Vanessa Makepeace
A slender, beautiful woman of dark features. She is well-dressed in comfortable travelling clothes. As if by long habit, as soon as a deal is reached she will immediately begin trying to create advantages on the player characters’ trouble aspects, or other social aspects.
High Concept: Secretive Royal of Low Bearing
Trouble: Obsessed with Necronomics
Unconventional genius for using necromancy on the living
Voice like silk
+5 Rapport, +4 Magic, +3 Contacts, Empathy,
+2 Deceive, Burglary, Will, +1 Investigate, Notice, Stealth, Resources
2 Physical Stress, 3 Mental Stress, Consequence slots as normal
Focuses on Necromacy in Alteration. Use Magic to attack, create advantages, and overcome obstacles when Necromancy can be applied.
Soul Reaver. Use magic in place of Provoke to cause mental stress.
Shadow-weaver. +2 to create advantages using Deceive.
Zombie Bodyguards (3)
High Concept: Eat anything that attacks Lady Makepeace
2 Physical Stress
One mild consequence slot
6) Ghost & Spectres
Ghost: As soon as the crew takes the job, a host haunts the crew of the ship. She will only approach characters who are alone, and provoke the daylights out of them, self-compelling to avoid being able to transmit her message. I used the Ghost stats from this fantastic Fate Fantasy Creatures website, so I won’t copy them here. Save the link, though, because you’ll need it once more for...
Spectres: Once the ship is inconveniently far from its point of origin, something (I used an asteroid field) causes the communications equipment to malfunction. I used the character card on p. 43 of Aether Sea for the spectres. If your players decide to try and free the spectres from their chains (which, yes, my group did - I still don’t know why), then the spectres so freed take on the Spectre stats from the Fantasy Creatures site.
7) The Morganis Orb (a.k.a. The Soul Bubble)
This is a facinating artifact that evolved organically as our group progressed through the adventure.
To rebind the spectres, Countess Makepeace will propose a ritual to rebind them. This is not actually necessary – the ritual she wants to perform is actually just her taking the opportunity to test a theory that she can power an old Homeworld artifact by usurping the life force of the living. Players may use Lore, Magic, or Empathy to oppose her Deceive (feel free to use Fate points to win this one). Anyone who participates in the ritual gets the aspect Drained essence. This is permanent until they can deactivate the Homeworld relic – which the Countess will not do willingly. After the ritual, the Countess will go about re-binding the spectres.
The Countess knows that the Orb is an artifact from the Homeworld; she does not know what it does. To let your players shine, here are some overcome difficulties they can use Contacts, Magic, or Lore to gain more information:
Fair (+2) The name rings a bell...
Great (+4) They know the name of the artifact, and can invent one rumour about it
Superb (+5) Tell them why the Orb is a problem for the crew
Fantastic (+6) Give them a comprehensive history, and let them add details, because damn.
If characters want to do something with the Orb, it is a:
Good (+3) Challenge to steal
Epic (+7) Challenge to offload or sell it without any trouble. As you can see, this is kind of a big deal.
The Morganis Orb
High Concept: Indestructible Ancient Artifact
Trouble: Powered by the life force of sentient beings.
Aspect: Necromancy power source.
Soul Sucking - A correctly performed ritual can be used to steal aspects from player characters and replace them with the aspect Drained essence. If a character has all five aspects removed, they go into a coma until the Orb is deactivated, or they die.
Undead Army - The equivalent of 5 lives (25 aspects of living beings) will power the Orb fully. When fully powered, the Orb can animate and preserve an army of zombies.
The Orb is currently animated by the soul of Erica Makepeace, Countess Vanessa’s cousin. Erica is the ghost that is haunting the characters. She and Vanessa performed the ritual together, during which she died and her soul became bound to the Orb. If she manages to communicate with any of them, she will alert them to the nature of the Orb (providing an advantage aspect with free invocations), and ask to be freed from it.
This little episode provided us with weeks of interesting play time. I hope that you can have fun with it, too. Please leave a comment if you decide to use any of these ideas, and let me know how it goes!
Landrew is a full-time educator, part-time art enthusiast. He applies his background in literature and fine arts to his favourite hobby (role-playing games) because the market for a background in the Fine Arts is very limited. He writes this blog on company time under a pseudonym. Long live the Corporation!
GenCon, one of the oldest, and largest collection of gaming geeks in the world. This year was the 50th anniversary, and the event was amazing! This was also my first time attending, but I do plan on returning again soon! Here are my 5 best moments from the convention.
I got the chance to meet Sean, Quinn, Jessica, and a few others who do not yet write for High Level Games at GenCon. On Friday night, we made time to play a game of Dread. Dread is a fantastic game, and the Jenga tower makes for an exciting mechanic. The game we played was space horror; we were a recovery crew, salvaging a large colony ship. Quinn tells me this story is in the main Dread book so I won’t spoil things, but the plot was pretty darn heavy, which was amazing. We were playing in the hotel room, lights dim, window open so we could see the stars. Music, sound effects, and atmospheric sounds were playing over speakers. In particular, the sound of our re-breathers reverberated through the room. I played the Captain, and it was a struggle. This game gave me shivers, and it came close to actually scaring me. I was honestly disturbed at the end. This is my top moment at GenCon. Thank you Quinn for doing what you do.
2) Liz Danforth and Tunnels and Trolls
I was at GenCon on a press pass. Most of that press was audio recordings, but I picked up a few other cool things and talked to a few other people I didn’t record. Talking to Liz was one of the highlights for me. I’d stopped by the Flying Buffalo games booth for a short interview and playtest of the new video game and app for Tunnels and Trolls (excellent, full review coming in a few days). I had hoped to talk to Liz then, as well, but she was super busy and I wanted to make sure she got a chance to sell her work. Later on I swung back by, introduced myself, and we talked niceties for a little bit. I then asked her a really tough question about the games industry. She asked me to sit down, and we talked for another 30 minutes about the industry as she’s seen it over her time. This was amazing. She was fantastic, and I really enjoyed talking with her. Check out the links above to learn more about her career.
3) Running Vampire 5th Edition Alpha Playtests
The Wrecking Crew invited me to run games for them at GenCon 50. Moreover, they invited me to run playtests of the 5th Edition Alpha rules that White Wolf developed for Vampire the Masquerade. I wrote a review of that on my personal blog. I ran five sessions, each four hours long. That was, to say the least, a shit ton of storytelling. I have never run so many games in such a short amount of time. I ran two sessions on Friday, though I’d originally been scheduled to run three. Every session went really well and my players were very happy leaving the table. All of my survey comments were really positive and I am thankful that all of my players were really engaged in every session I ran.
4) The Museum
For the 50th anniversary of GenCon, there was a museum created to show off items of historical value to RPG aficionados. My highlight was seeing the first draft of Ars Magica. There were also copies of the first versions of Chainmail, a first edition of Diplomacy, and a series of other excellent games that have come out over the years. VP Quinn was particularly excited to see a copy of the first Red Box D&D set he’d started playing all those years ago. It was really amazing to see all of this history in one place, and to see the progression of game design and development. We’ve come a long way folks.
5) The Friends
Meeting and gaming with other members of High Level Games in person was amazing. I’ve likely spent hundreds of hours talking to Quinn since we started working with one another, but GenCon was the first chance we had to meet in person. Which was awesome! You never know when you build friendships over the internet if they will stay strong in person, but I would say we are clearly a good team for a reason. Meeting some of the other staff writers and their friends was great too. On top of that, I met up with The Wrecking Crew demo team. All of them are great, and I recommend you check out their games if you get the chance. They attend a lot of conventions.
This was an amazing convention folks. I hope to see you at GenCon 51!
Photo is me, on the Dized Throne: Dized is currently running an Indigogo! Check it out!
With 19 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, 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 LARPs and is running a D&D 5th Edition campaign and preparing a Changing Breeds game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games