Archive for the 'rpgs' Category

21
Nov
09

recap: recession-proof gaming and useful tools

C’mon – you knew this would happen sometime… so just imagine Don La Fontaine doing this voiceover!
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First there was recession-proof gaming.  Then there was the sequel.  The field got opened up with no money, no time, no problem!  Then proof that the internet provides.  The search for stuff introduced pocketmods, graphic tools and yet more generators.  Then the discovery of undiscovered toys that could save you time.

Yet it’s not just about the financiapocalypse.  It’s also about making your life as games master easier – whether you have a game in sixty minutes, need some steampunk or use kanban to help you develop characters.  Add useful web 2.0 tools, browser tricks and TiddlyWiki, mindmapping and writing tools and you have an arsenal to draw on when creating a game. With resources like these, it’s getting easier to make the game you want to play.

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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…

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.

28
Oct
09

character development: rebirth and reinvention

Rebirth – Where a character confronts certain core assumptions about their nature and place in the world with the intent of changing.  To overcome one’s flaws, they must be shown in a way that directly challenges the character and which overcomes their inertia to remain as they are.

This option is not taken lightly, rebirth is traumatic, may have deep psychological or spiritual implications from which the character may grow.  Confronting deepest fears or flaws is optional yet the option to confront these is often taken, whether as part of a point of no return or projection scenario.
 
It’s also rarely advisable to force rebirth on characters in interactive entertainment without prior foreshadowing and demonstrating why the rebirth is necessary.  The process is best served either following a dark night of the soul or a gradual yet visible apotheosis.  If you can manage both at the same time, this is powerful stuff.

Reinvention – The alternative is to either recreate a character to make them new or update an existing character to maintain their relevance, allow for new cultural sensibilities or to emphasise a particular focus – letting a character develop in ways that the original could not predict or that was unsuited to.

Where rebirth acknowledges what has gone before, reinvention prefers to focus on the renewed aspect of the character and minimise or even revise prior knowledge in favour of the new image.  As a result it grants more authorial control over the character and their environment.

This process can kill a character deader than disco if mishandled and is best done with an eye to what makes the character emotionally resonate with it’s audience.  When renovating the character, adding emotional hooks or minor details that catch attention may provide jumpstarts for strong stories.

These two processes permanently change the status quo of a character – a big step!  Done well, it transforms a character into something much greater.  Done badly and it means either applying retroactive continuity which damages their credibility or worse, forcing the character into yet another reinvention.

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.