Archive for the '4e' Category

13
Nov
09

inns and taverns: the summer swan

The Summer Swan is a narrow boat that works the river, providing ale and wine to the thirsty while avoiding many of the taxes most innkeeps pay. When it moors, a marquee and rough benches are set up and people are invited to sup the ale that is traded and brewed aboard.  On fair weather days, the marquee is sometimes dispensed with and the ale flows freely to farmhands and fishermen alike.

This has led to some antagonism with local inns, lords and sheriffs but this is smoothed over by trading small kegs of high-quality and potent pale ale and when it’s needed, some coin.  Word of the Summer Swan’s destinations travel swiftly with travellers and ne’er-do-wells, it is a welcome haven for tinkers, journeymen, gypsies, minstrels and runaways and these folk watch out for the boat and it’s captain.

The captain and landlord is a slight, wiry man of indeterminate age and gleaming eyes.  He plays chess and fiddle exceptionally well and his genial manner barely hides a tireless enthusiasm for life, high tolerance for his own wares and low tolerance for boredom.  He keeps three calico cats that only he can tell apart and these fuss over anyone except the disagreeable, the diseased and those with an air of wrongness about them.

In the stern of the boat is a remarkably lifelike wooden figurehead of a barmaid; buxom, blonde-haired and clad in brown.  The captain claims it is his wife and will jokingly tell her to stop nagging to the amusement of his customers.  On the rare times he gets drunk (late at night during certain festivals), he talks to the figurehead and even hugs it, weeping softly as if lost to something or someone.

The pale ale he brews is light, refreshing and strong.  He keeps small barrels of dark stout and heather ale as well as brown bottles of fiery whiskey, apple brandy, elderflower wine and damson spirit.  He doesn’t serve food, scarcely having enough to feed himself and his friends.  “You want food, you bring it!” is often laughingly shouted by those in the know at those the worse for wear by drinking on an empty stomach.

The Summer Swan will always move on after seven days anywhere, even with ideal conditions for trade and large crowds of customers.  Travellers and merchants are aware of the boat’s passage and sometimes form spontaneous free markets to the consternation of nearby towns.  The question is not if the captain is a smuggler, the question is of what.  Yet until now, nobody has found anything that wasn’t meant to be there…

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05
Nov
09

pretender to the throne

Regaining my armour is the beginning.  My banner shall fly anew and our fortunes will be restored. What was sundered can be made whole and our throne is within reach again.
— Simkin Lanternon, exile and pretender to the throne.

Born of a lampmaker and a disgraced lady-in-waiting Simkin Lanternon grew up in a land where noble blood assured power.  His ambition was pricked and he turned to deception.  From this Simkin learned the seeming of nobility with the blessing of his embittered mother and ambitious friends looking for a fast path to power and court.  His intellect and semblance to a former king set him on a collision course with the nobles of his homeland who spurned this newcomer and his grasping friends.

The king was newly crowned, resented by his subjects for heavy taxation and hated abroad for overthrowing the former monarch, a practice the foreign kings hoped to quash.  Lanternon travelled to their courts as a knight errant who decried the tyranny afflicting his homeland.  Nobles in exile confirmed his lineage with divinations (Simkin was a bastard of the former king’s uncle) and began to groom him for greater things while Simkin bought legitimacy with his treason and flourished as he toured.

A certain king had come to possess a demon-ridden helmet that whispered dark thoughts to it’s wearer, he presented it in a set of armour for Simkin. He knew Simkin would fail as he was skilled in tourney but not battle. Giving away the helmet removed a burden and left a trap for Simkin’s slayer. Mnemesyx and Simkin fed off the other’s incitations and the growing cruelty in Simkin was heralded as ‘the will to conquer’ by those courts who sheltered him and his exiled supporters.

Convinced he was ready, the exiles hired mercenaries and a seasoned captain eager for war. Simkin would lead a popular revolt and usurp the usurper.  When Simkin landed, he was joined by friends and disaffected nobles.  Mnemesyx saw it’s chance and rallied the forces.  The mercenaries took a coastal town loyal to the king and ravaged it then sailed up the coast to a new attack. This attack failed as Simkin resisted Mnemesyx’s influence and the resulting bad tactical decisions allowed the enemy to regroup.

Changing plan, Simkin chose to attack a town further inland at the behest of Mnemesyx. After three days of fighting, the town fell yet the conquerors were besieged as the king’s general came with a greater force who slaughtered the mercenaries and punished the treasonous.  Simkin was captured alive by a knight errant who claimed his armour as a prize and ransomed Simkin to the exiles.  The exiles plot with Simkin again for the pretender is now a scheming demagogue. Mnemesyx has taught him well.

Simkin plots to steal the armour and helm from the now-titled knight who took and keeps them as trophies, being ignorant of the demon within.  He presents himself as the unfortunate victim of a melee in which he was robbed yet ‘enemies at court’ would see him dead were he to return home to his friends.  Once the armour is restored, he will recommence his plans for usurping the king.  This time he intends to give Mnemesyx full rein in his ambitions. Adventurers may find themselves on either side of this plot.

This post is inspired by Mnemesyx, The Twice Fallen  by Nevermet Press  and Perkin Warbeck.

04
Nov
09

exclusive! review: heroes or villains? miniature pack

Review: Heroes or Villains? pack by 6d6Fireball Miniatures.
Disclaimer:
These miniatures were provided by 6d6Fireball for review purposes.  Fame & Fortune is an affiliate of 6d6Fireball.com (check the Affiliates box under the RPG Bloggers Network button for details).
Metric:
  Have to go with fireballs.  One bad, five awesome.

Metal miniatures are a binary proposition – either a must-have or you pick them up on the fly while waiting for your FLGS to re-order Pathfinder.  Recent editions of D&D encourage using miniatures in tactical play and even the hoariest grognard has a small collection gleaned over years of play.  Those looking for a motley band of all-male adventuring types may get their itch scratched here. So, going from left to right…

First Corvell, an aspiring wizard with a goatee beard and funny hat in wide sleeved doublet and breeches.  He raises a hand in some kind of invocation while clutching a scroll.  Detail is good with a spell-book shaped satchel and a glyph on his upraised hand.  Looks like he’s stepped out of Legends of the Seeker.

Next, Drax the Chain (human fighter in chain with a spiked chain) is attacking his enemy.  As many pre-gen human fighters in WotC 3.xE supplements either uses a bastard sword or spiked chain, DMs get replayability and the level of detail is good, from the closed helm to the sagging backpack and belt pouches.

Then Kiris, Mightiest of Gnomes is clad in a brigandine jack, open-faced helm and wielding an axe in two hands.  Tall for a gnome, it shows a willowy build that differentiates him from bulky dwarves but still shows a warrior capable of hacking kobolds and goblins down.  That axe still means business though and this figure would work well in any fantasy setting.

Finally, Celebhith, a bearded ranger-type in chain with detachable sprue for his arms and longsword – he’s described as a half-elf but is as tall as either of the humans here.  The slung sword and bow over his back indicate he’s ready for both distance and close-up fighting. Some assembly is needed – this figure can be customised with a little care and epoxy.. 

Summary: 4 fireballs.
The figures are comparable quality to Ral Partha and beg to be painted.  There was some minor and easily removed (by fingernail) flash on the legs of Drax and Celebhith.  The figures are good value and as a pack of four, would make a good bundle of henchmen or NPCs. You can buy them individually if you like but the pack is good value and offers variety.

Bonus Discount Code – ¬£3.00 off one order per person at 6d6Fireball Miniatures.  Type in satyre091.

30
Oct
09

inns and taverns: the zaros road taverna

At the foot of the Zaros hills, the Zaros Road is known for it’s sinister nature and as harvest shadows lengthen, the gods are placated for bright spring and gentle winter.  These sacrifices are not always heeded and the gods have seen fit to shelter brigands and worse in the hills.  As a result, the Zaros Road Taverna was built over a freshwater spring within reach of the town and used as a waystation by merchants and travellers. 

This taverna and it’s yard is enclosed within a whitewashed stone wall and painted gate.  Close to the taverna is an extensive frame holding up a trellis laden with vines and a creeping white rose at each post.  The result is a shelter thick with vines and in summer, grapes and roses.  A pair of large yet intelligent warhounds owned by the landlord lie here, keep vigil over the yard and occasionally beg food from the gullible and easily scared.

The taverna itself is a 40′ square two-storey structure made of quarried stone and geometric tiles laid out in patterns around the bar and hexagonal hearth burning pine cones and birch or pinewood.  A collection of wooden benches and tables can hold up to forty people, typically there are fifty people jostling for space and additional service; with up to another six musicians, entertainers and dancing girls working them.

The walls are decorated with icons of local gods and artifacts of hunting and shepherding.  There are eight  cell-like rooms upstairs behind the bar which command a high price – most locals sleep in the courtyard anytime but winter or curl up in the corners.  Occasionally a merchant will visit, risking the road for profit, and complain to the grim amusement of the landlord who asks if they want to camp outside.  They never do so.

The landlord is a grizzled former archer who runs his place like a barracks, his staff and family are fiercely loyal despite his appalling behaviour to them.  The locals respect him, his skill has kept them safe from the brigands and his taverna is pleasant and often drink small beer or wine (a little rough about the edges) while enjoying the skill of the cook, whose craft is considerable. 

The locals enjoy roasted goat and mutton, freshwater mussels boiled in butter and rich lamb stew packed with garlic and olives with occasional boar and blood sausages.  The prices are reasonable.  Shepherds who live near the taverna may offer one of their flock for a tab reckoned by the landlord.  The locals are a friendly bunch yet mentioning what is in the hills makes them taciturn and they suggest taking the road during the day.

The taverna is cooled by an underground cistern where ale and wine are kept.  This cistern collects water from the fresh spring, it’s design allows the water to flow away while giving enough to keep the taverna well stocked.  Food is kept in an adjacent cellar – in theory, the taverna could last for a week if it ever came under siege from whatever lives in the hills.

The stables are made of the same whitewashed stone as the wall and support up to eight horses.  Two of the stalls are permanently taken – one with the landlord’s own horse, the other holds a horse for local messengers to use.  The local town council willingly waive the price of the stables and feed from their local taxes since the taverna is a waystation and often shelters those who cannot return to the town before nightfall.

26
Oct
09

big damn dungeons

This post at Grognardia about the lack of mega-dungeons and the follow-up at Greyhawk Grognard and it got me thinking.  My introduction to the mega-dungeon proper (I didn’t know it then) was Descent Into The Depths/Vault of the Drow (D1-3) with it’s epic scale (miles of caverns) and sections you were encouraged to develop.  Big damn dungeons are one of the iconic elements (to borrow a phrase) of Dungeons & Dragons.

Undermountain, Night Below, Moria, Dragon Mountain, Rappan Athuk and The World’s Biggest Dungeon are examples with a more contemporary example being the dungeon built by Monte Cook at Dungeon-A-Day.  Demand for such exists yet few hit iconic status without re-invention or turning into self-contained mills to grind out levels and gain loot with no customisation or replayability.

Ironically, the failure of most mega-dungeons to engage may be down to granularity and scale, effectively not thinking big enough. There is a danger you create modules for the mega-dungeon setting rather than larger campaign elements.  The difference between module and campaign sourcebook is notable and it’s this divide that has caused many mega-dungeons to be definitive works, preventing individual innovation.

Mega-dungeons have been described as campaign dungeons.  Why not then treat them that way?  Provide a core sourcebook or boxed set for the megadungeon with an overview map with complete sections and gaps to allow growth. The basic model of expanding detail works but the trick here is to stop short of providing the ultimate resource.  Tabletop’s big strength is imagination and the unexpected so why not play to it?

The second part of this plan is to think larger scale when publishing to fill the gaps.  Instead of modules, using self-contained sourcebooks with example encounters and two or more adventures.  The rest is assorted new things, vignettes and elements to maximise replayability (e.g. tables, selections of elements) enabling emergent play and customisation while being effectively self-contained. 

The trick here in both cases is to inspire development by the DM, sections with three lines of text at most (something Gary Gygax excelled at) to spark imaginations (e.g. “Here lies Dragotha, the Undead Dragon.”) and deliberately leave sections for the games master to make their own.  Making your mega-dungeon different from your friend’s means you get more enjoyment out of it.

Flexibility in creating content is a desirable skill for any games master.  Providing rough flight plans for areas of the mega-dungeon and enough meat on the bones so running this game as is can be good, but running it your way is better.  Emergent play also allows the sourcebook to inspire further adventures within that common framework and gives players a taste of something they don’t get every day – the unknown.

25
Oct
09

something wicked this way comes

Review: Kobold Quarterly 11 by Open Design.  There’s a lot of content and I have to fit in reminiscences.  As it’s Kobold Quarterly, I’m using kobolds as my metric – one bad, five awesome.  Now the disclaimer as interests need to be declared.

Disclaimer: This review is of a free PDF copy provided by Wolfgang Baur of Open Design for review purposes.  Articles considered on merit and judgement, not actual play.  Games masters may vary depending on ability, confidence and your willingness to participate.  Be excellent and party on.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get moving.  Back in the day, I used to buy Dragon avidly.  I admire what Open Design have done as Kobold Quarterly (KQ) recaptures that feel without quite being the house organ Dragon used to be.  Including the kick-ass Hallowe’en issues, which this assuredly is. 

Art: 3 kobolds (a little more interior colour will go a long way.)
Consistently strong and supportive of theme.  Love the art for Ecology of the Vampire, Howling Werebeasts, Monstrous Paragons and Spell-Less ranger.  My only caveat is writing over cover art lessens it’s impact.  I’m impressed by the roll call of Mearls, Bulmahn, Perkins (I never knew More was an RPG designer) but the text makes the cover cluttered. Interior art is good if less colourful and the use of woodcut plates for some articles lends charm. Cartoons by Stan! provide levity.

Articles: 4 kobolds (consistently good concepts, minor rough edges)
A Broken Mind by Scott Gable is a neat take on 4E sanity mechanics and lends a Call of Cthulhu feel to that system.  It gives punch to encountering aberrants and undead and provides roleplaying hooks while mitigating the blas√© attitude many players display to horrific monsters and situations. It will shock 4E purists expecting empowered heroism so warn your players first, eh?

Uvandir: The Pride of Craftsmen by John Wick and Jess Heinig hammers dwarves into proud, genderless, relentless inhumans with buckets of attitude while keeping core dwarven qualities intact and offers crunch love to back it up.  I like this a lot and would use as a PC option for a stable player group.  For more dynamic or less confident groups they’d make great NPCs.  Scott Gable provides a faithful 4E conversion. 

Howling Werebeasts by John E. Ling Jr. presents the lycanthrope as player character and considers what consequences occur.  It presents balanced 3.xE level progressions in rat, wolf and bear and inspired me to outline a Les Miserables style campaign involving pursuit of a fugitive lycanthrope. It makes having an infected monster in the party much more palatable. Enjoyed this very much indeed.

The Ecology of the Vampire by Tim & Eileen Connors offers nice flavourful content then spoils it with faux White Wolf trim.  Exquisite fluff about vampiric transformation, feeding and motives with good crunch to stop the vampires going on siring orgies, player and NPC tactics and hints at variant powers. Yet it also drones on and on about heaven and hell, ending with vampires of legend sired by Lucian Twice-Fallen.  Without irony. 

Running Across The Screen is a round table of GM tips from a veritable rollcall of cool game designers who provide advice.  With dense amounts of good, practical advice this is a firehose of fresh spring water to dip into when running a game or event grinds you down.  Kudos to Robin Laws and Greg Stafford for less than corporate photos.   Killer content.

Book Reviews – Balanced and fair.  Guillermo del Toro has co-authored a modern day vampire bio-thriller? And a new Harry Dresden novel?  And a Silver John collection?  And the other books look cool too – this only happens once a quarter.  Good ideas for the primary gifting period for that gamer friend of yours…

Haunted by the Spirit of the Rules by Monte Cook is a warning to players to drop the type A dork act and for games masters to consider consistency by precedent.  It highlights roleplaying is about collaboration, entering into the spirit of the game and focussing on what makes a good time at the table rather than seeking self-validation by trying to be the Oscar Wilde of tabletop gaming.  Thought-provoking stuff.

Wishing Well by Garrett Baumgartner brings wish spells into 4E by applying a framework to the wish effect and codifies potential by tier. It also offers the Wishmaster monster template (neat) and some slightly gamebreaky items especially a ring of three wishes that recharges at every milestone!  Ditch the items and you’ve got a nice take on the Arabian Nights.

Whack Jacks and Harpy Nets by Daigle, Happ, Hitchcock and Kortes brings monster weaponry for 4E to our attention.  They remind us monsters have technology at their disposal.  While the necksnapper, gouters and giant’s arbalest and others make me smile, I would actually use the nailbiter, razornet and warcage in games.  The ideas are strong in this article and can be innovated on.  Maybe in later posts? :o)

Torture and Fear on the Tabletop by Hank Woon looks like a Pathfinder table for every occasion article yet it’s real strengths lies in core concepts.  Torture does ability and regular damage; emphasise description to get inside player minds.  The only thing missing is a reminder players can ask for a cut scene and may want to resolve breaking points mechanically (Will or Fortitude saves) rather than listen to the GM get… medieval.

Same Rules, Different Treasure by Ken Marable takes the concept of skinning stuff with a new look to provide a distinctive image and applies it to treasure.  The result is a strong article on how making an item distinctive can yield thematic information and make a game unique – a real example of campaign branding in action.  The examples show the kind of innovation that can make a good games master great.

Monstrous Paragons by Phillip Larwood offers 4E paragon paths for monsters that builds on the conceit of monsters as player characters or levelling NPCs rather than defined entities tweaked to fit using pages 42, 174 and 184 of the 4E DMG.  An 11th-level kobold anything should fill people’s hearts with fear.  Tucker would be proud.

Mysteries of the Philosopher’s Stone by Mario Podeschi provides a 4E take on the Philosopher’s Stone and provides an artifact book, a ritual to make the stone and two takes on it. Nice touches on lending wizards a scholarly rumour mill air.  Tacked on at the end is a treatment for White Wolf’s Mage: The Awakening.

The Spell-Less Ranger by Marc Radle looks at Pathfinder rangers and removes spells from them without taking out any of it’s magic; it’s a sensible and balanced approach that takes the core concept of the ranger as a wilderness warrior and gives it legs.  Certainly worthy of inclusion in any Pathfinder game.

Farragum, The Howling City by Dan Voyce describes a derro city in lavish detail while referring to other Open Design products. The article evokes eldritch secrets (gibbering steel!) and bizarre structures with monstrous ecology.  Old-school grognards will love this before converting it all to some retro-clone and there’s a very nice printable map ripe for plunder.

Road and River by Wolfgang Baur evokes the old-old school style of Minarian Legends and early Forgotten Realms by mentioning the day-to-day of mercantile travel towards Zobeck.  The map of Margau and Doresh is lush if a little tricky to read but prints out just fine.

Finally a supporting two-page sheet for the Spell-Less Ranger article.

Editorial and Letters: 3 kobolds.  (Meta stuff is meta.)
Open Design wins Ennies! I suspect because it gives tabletop gamers what they want.  Letters alternate between heady nostalgia myths of 3.x, how 4E shows it’s age and why nobody is listening due to Pathfinder’s awesomeness.  At least there’s none of that old-school renaissance going on. Now sports.

Advert/Content Ratio: 4 kobolds (13ish/85 pages (15%))
The adverts and promo boxes are not obtrusive with full-colour page ads offering things of interest. Format is professional in the vast majority of cases with artwork on a couple of ads being the only smudge but there’s minimal control over what kind of content an advertiser can put in.

Overall: 4 kobolds (“Carry on my wayward son…”)
KQ11 is excellent and the length of this review, written in one sitting shows how engaging it is. It scratches so many itches and delivers the horror theme with a subtlety that does it’s editors credit. KQ is faithful to the spirit of it’s draconic ancestor, displaying the same virtues and to a much lesser extent, the same flaws. For a magazine approaching it’s 3rd year it’s looking very good indeed and Wolfgang Baur and team can rightly be proud of their prodigal.

21
Oct
09

darksea war: tides of chaos

In darkness lit by phosphorescent fungi and the reflected light of fading magics on rushing water, the Darksea War continues apace.  New combatants enter the fray, drawn by compulsions woven by each side, formed out of horrific experiments or help from other worlds. Down the long years of war, aboleth and illithid have clashed over the limited resources, one seeks to drown the Underdark, the other seeks to civilise it.  Yet both seek to enslave those who remain and crush who resist their dominion.

The aboleth have been invigorated by the presence of the Elemental Chaos and Abyss that offers new allies to fight a war that for a while appeared to be siege-based and dependent on changes in water.  Now the aboleth plan an offensive based on sallies and counter-attacks hidden under the illithid.

  • The cultivation of failed servitors (or skum in Deep Speech) has given the aboleth a new weapon, while their fragility poses little threat to illithids, those approaching the lake-cities risk annihilation or aboleth control as they drive their former victims before them. The mere presence of skum has served to break sieges as their psychic dissonance enhances slime mage attacks.
  • Water archons have been recruited to the aboleth cause by invocations and portals to the Elemental Chaos and their presence presents the illithids with an unappetising problem.  The water archons can strike and retreat where there is water, cutting a swathe through massed illithid thralls and pulling them down to their doom.
  • Worse still, the aboleth have encouraged Dagon cults among some kuo-toa and these have led to devastating attacks on illithid thrall strongholds.  The aboleth help them by summoning kazrith demons whose hit-and-run attacks and tunnelling under key structures causes mayhem in thrall settlements.  Punitive raids by the illithids are frustrated by the supremacy of the kuo-toa in their environment.

The illithid have not been idle.  They recognise numerical superiority may not be enough and have delved into forbidden lore and experimentation to increase their superiority on land and to try and take the fight to the lake-cities where their enemies plot.

  • Bladerager trolls were created to destroy aboleth slaves and to sacrifice against the aboleth who lurk in the shallows.  Illithid-made bladeragers often display razor-edged crystals as well as broken blades and spikes and spear-heads taken from captives or thrall-forged.  The bladeragers are often transported in chains and loosed upon their intended enemies with devastating results.
  • The presence of a maw of Acamar amid some illithid raiders has provoked alarm among those few survivors; that some illithid scholar turned to a star pact for power is no surprise.  That the maw of Acamar appears to tolerate the illithid instead of just consuming them and their thralls worries many right-thinking individuals – if such terrible power can be harnessed against the aboleth, who is safe?

The Far Realm continues to provide both sides with resources beyond rhyme or reason.  The strange nothics serve both sides, mindblights are seen roaming the shores of the lake-cities hunting thralls while illithids retain cacklers as loyal if vicious pets.  The presence of fell taints have increased in the war, posing threats to all sides and making the Underdark even stranger and deadlier.  As more abominations spawn, the Far Realm comes closer.

Both sides are threatened by the duergar; vengeful former slaves of the illithid now loyal servants of the Nine Hells who have learned from their illithid captors.  The duergar are set against both sides but will make certain the illithid suffer since they are often in direct competition with the mind flayers and more than a few grudges have been passed down through duergar tradition.  The appearance of demonic allies among the aboleth has made them a target as well yet the duergar are smarter than to fight a war on two fronts.

The neogi have also escaped servitude under the illithid and intend to avoid that fate once more.  As a result they will trade with anyone including allies from both sides.  The slave markets are visited by both drow and kuo-toa; yet the neogi keep their customers at arms length while subtly sabotaging illithid expansion by a combination of proxies, treachery and magic.  On one thing everyone agrees, the neogi cannot be trusted.